Chapter Three: Group Decision
This was going to be big.
Leaning against the wall the dining room shared with the living room, I listened as my father spoke to our family about the offer. They were afraid. Robert suggested we move immediately. Mandy assumed that Wells bit me and suggested that my father kill me before we moved. That suggestion was poorly received, most of all by Justin, who yelled at her.
With what little information I had given him, my father answered their questions. Most of all, they wanted to know his opinion. He wouldn’t force the group into a truce with the seemingly friendly vampires, but he wanted to speak with Wells in person. He informed the group that I was going to arrange a meeting. There were murmurs and more questions. The tension was high, and I couldn’t be inside anymore.
For the first time in ages, I went outside at night with a lit lantern. I walked the path to the training area, and once there, I sat on a mound of pine straw at the edge of the clearing. In an attempt to calm my mind and organize my crowding thoughts, I shifted to sit cross-legged, wrists on my knees, and practiced my yoga breathing.
I never imagined that humans would be able to work with vampires. I had assumed that all vampires felt superior to humans and would therefore feel it beneath them to treat their food as equals. I found myself wondering if they were capable of caring about humans, even loving humans. If so, it meant that vampires were capable of compassion and caring but chose not to feel either of those things or any other noble emotions.
From what my parents had told me of the past, humans weren’t much, if any, better when it came to morals and ethics, but at least, in most of the world, we had put an end to legal slavery and cannibalism. At any rate, my knowledge of our world and vampires wasn’t as complete as I believed it to be. It was a lot to wrap my head around.
“I can smell you from a mile away.”
At the sound of his voice, I jolted out of my thoughts. I sprang to my feet, ready to fight. The reaction was instant, a reflex from so many years of fighting. I knew his voice now, but instinct was instinct. Slowly, I relaxed, letting the adrenaline run its course.
Wells appeared from behind a tree and walked over to me. The lantern gave off little light, but his luminous skin glowed in it.
“Excuse me,” I said sarcastically, “but unlike some used-to-be humans, we don’t have electricity. Cold showers aren’t much fun.”
“I didn’t mean that you smelled bad, just that I can smell you in contrast to the surroundings—very striking and potent.” He waved his nose around in the air.
“Okay.” That might have been a compliment. “My father wants a meeting, tomorrow night. You’re guaranteed safe passage and entry into the house.”
While he mulled over my words, I thought about the things that Mandy and Robert said in the meeting. Those two were certainly not on board, and if I didn’t know better, I would think that Mandy actually just wanted me dead no matter what. I couldn’t understand what she had against me. I pursed my lips and furrowed my brow.
“What is it?” Wells walked over and took my hand, so quickly that, even with my reflexes, I wasn’t able to yank my hand away from his grasp. “You look tense.”
“You’re very fast.” When he only looked at me, I continued, “He’ll convince them they should at least hear it from you, get a chance to ask you questions. They’ll be afraid, but I’m not. If they vote against it, I’ll seek you.”
“You’ve decided?” He squeezed my hand ever so slightly. His eyes danced in the lantern light.
“With or without them,” I sighed. “I want to work with you. I need to act. This way of life…something has to change, and I want to help.”
Sensing the contact made me uncomfortable, he shook my hand once and released it. “This makes me happy,” he said softly. “And, you shouldn’t worry about finding me. I can find you easily now.”
“I know you by scent and by sound. Your footsteps, and when you’re close enough, your heartbeat.” He stood absolutely still for a moment and bounced his index finger up and down in what I supposed was the rhythm of my heart. “I can smell when your hormones change so I know when you’re angry, when you’re afraid. By the way, you’ll start menstruating tomorrow.”
That was all incredibly creepy. “Um, thanks for the warning.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Incidentally, how long have you been watching me?”
“Since you arrived, of course.”
“I knew it.” I shook my head. “You made this house available for us, didn’t you?” All he gave for an answer was a small smile. “My dad is going to be so pissed about that.” Then, it really hit me. Wells was watching me. When my thoughts backtracked far enough, I said, “You were here, that day when Justin was throwing me. I felt or saw something. It was you.”
He laughed softly and said, “It was one of the most interesting conversations about masturbation that I’ve ever heard.”
As my face heated, I clenched my teeth and growled, “I think you must go out in the day a lot. You’re not afraid one of us would grab you, throw you in the sun?”
“You’d have to catch me to do that, and I don’t go out unless it is very cloudy. It’s unpleasant but bearable.” He seemed to shake off something. “I’ve had a long time to get over my fear of sun, as I don’t have much use for sleep. Older vampires don’t need to feed or rest much.”
This was more than I had learned about vampires since, well, ever. If nothing else, I could gain quite a bit of knowledge from Wells. From what I could tell, he was forthcoming, and it amused him to share with me.
I ventured another question. “How old are you?”
“Older than Benoit, and that will work heavily to our advantage.”
“I’ll explain more about vampire etiquette and customs later.” He beamed at me. “I will enjoy working with you. From what I’ve learned, you’re strong, creative, deadly, and an extensive planner. So much like me.” He walked in circles around me, giving me the feeling of being caged prey. I wondered if I looked like a juicy slab of meat to him. “Can you feel it?” he asked, his eyes growing wide. He stood still, spread his arms, and inhaled deeply.
Completely confused and a little mesmerized, I asked, “What?” and sniffed at the air. I smelled pine trees and straw. The air felt cool and maybe a little damp. “Rain?”
Wells treated me to one of his smiles. “It’s coming. I hope we all live through it.”
I gave a short, sardonic laugh and said, “Me, too.” I was excited about this project but worried. If I went off on my own, I had to know that someone would take care of my parents. Justin would do it, but I couldn’t decide if I should talk to him about it.
“Concerned?” Wells came over to me again. “Your mouth is quirking.”
I sighed. “I think Justin is going to be a problem.”
“Of course he will. You’ll be spending a lot of time, if not living with, another man.”
“You’re funny, Wells, you know? He’ll worry, especially after he sees you.” I waved my hand to indicate him from head to toe.
“Am I that fearsome?” His fangs ran out, and he bared them as he hooked his hands into claws. Instinct had me jumping away from him. He was just as terrifying as any other vampire that fights and bites back, and it took me a moment to regain my composure. Already relaxed again, Wells gave me a harmless-looking smile.
“I meant that you’re pretty,” I clarified.
“Well, I don’t know if ‘pretty’ is the right word.” He paused and pressed his index finger to his lips, as if in deep thought about the meaning and nuances of the proper words needed to describe his splendor. “Beautiful is more like it but so are most vampires.”
“You are exceptional, I think.” There was no point in denying it.
“The feeling is mutual.” He paused and gave me a meaningful look. “Be that as it may, our relationship is professional. Justin needn’t be jealous.” He smiled. “Still, mutual attraction has its benefits. It will be nice that we won’t have to act. Just one less piece of the façade to maintain.”
“Sure,” I said, trying to shrug it off as a given. “Okay, I’m going back. I’ll see you tomorrow night, one way or the other?”
“Yes.” When I started to walk away, I heard him call, “Camellia, I hate to say it, but part of me hopes that they won’t agree so you’ll join my family.”
“Thanks for creeping me out right before bedtime, Wells.”