I stood in front of the refrigerator, nibbling on a piece of cheese (real cheese!) and trying to decide what else to eat. Yogurt was good and so was fresh milk, in moderation. I didn’t know if I could ever go back to powdered milk. I picked up both of them and, closing the door, found Justin standing behind it. I yelped in surprise.
“Jeez! You scared the crap out of me.”
“Did I?” He looked down at my bottom and gave me a half smile.
I rolled my eyes at him. “Gross. You know, we never kept anything in a refrigerator because we never had power. Now that I have one to look in, I find it’s much harder to make up my mind what I want.” I poured two glasses of milk and returned the milk bottle to the refrigerator. “How’s your head?” The bruise on his cheek had fully bloomed.
Justin rolled his eyes. “Selene woke me up every two hours, asking me who I was, if I knew where I was, all sorts of questions about my life that she wouldn’t know the answers to anyway.” He smirked. “I’m fine. Just a touch of a headache. Sorry about your hand.”
I turned my glass up and chugged the milk. Confused, Justin took my hand and twisted it from side to side.
“I swear I broke it or at the very least gave you a good sprain. I was ready to grovel and beg for forgiveness for hurting you.”
“Well, if you didn’t break it, I certainly did when I punched Leslie.”
He grinned at me. “You punched Leslie?”
“Yep, for the whole thrall thing. That really burns me.” My brows furrowed in remembered anger. “It was our fight.” I rinsed out the glass in the sink.
“Yeah, well, we were getting out of hand. You were going for a lethal blow,” Justin reminded me.
“I was going to pull it.”
“Okay, but now you need to explain to me why your hand is fine.” He snatched my other hand, looked at it, and then grabbed my chin to examine my lip. “What the hell? You have no scabs on your knuckles, and your lip is healed.”
Pulling away from him, I said, “Leslie’s a fine doctor,” and raided the pantry. I found a large container of granola bars, made by Selene from scratch, and devoured one. I liked it so much I had another.
“What did he do to you?” Justin grabbed my arm and spun me around. “Tell me.”
“He didn’t do anything to me. He presented me with three options for repairing my hand, and I chose the only one that was viable.” I jerked my arm out of his grip.
“What options?” I tried to move away, but Justin grabbed me with both hands this time. “What options?”
“I would need surgery. The bones in my hand, they were all out of place. I can’t go to a hospital, and I couldn’t let it heal on its own. I wouldn’t have had much use of it.”
“What did you do?”
I took a deep breath and spilled. “I drank his blood.”
“What?” Justin shook me. “Are you mad? You could turn. What were you thinking?”
“That I didn’t have much of a choice!” I shoved and swatted at him until he let go of me. If I hadn’t been so mad, I might have thought how funny it was that I had gained a big brother. “And I had very little, nowhere near enough to turn.”
“We could’ve set it, put it in a cast, something,” he shouted as he paced in front of me.
“Yeah, and then I would be totally useless.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“You mean you wouldn’t be as useful of a fighter.”
“That’s what I said, ‘totally useless.’”
Justin shook his head at me. His mouth opened, and he started to speak but stopped himself. He snorted and stalked toward the stairs. He got halfway there, stopped, and then came back to me.
“The way you see yourself, how you are useful, is seriously warped. So, maybe you couldn’t fight. Who cares?” He threw his hands up in the air. “You’re still human, and that is worth everything.”
This time, when he walked off, he stayed gone. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I didn’t turn. Leslie made sure to stop me before I did anything I’d regret. As I munched on an apple, I wondered what Leslie regretted. The “incident” this morning certainly upset him. Thinking back over that made me smile, cringe a little, and want to get under the covers with him. I wanted to see what he was hiding under all his clothes.
In the dining room, I spied several boxes containing things I recognized from our old house, and I found a box with my name on it. It was mostly empty, as packing light was essential. My clothes were already in Leslie’s room, but the box had my ancient backpack and my running shoes. At the bottom, I found my journal. With great relief, I took it from the box. It was time to do some serious recording of events.
I found my pencil wedged inside and took a seat at the dining room table. Out of habit, I flipped back through a few entries. I always wrote small, from top to bottom and edge to edge. I tried my best not to waste any bit of paper. The reward was that most of my life was recorded in this large book with a good many pages left.
As I scanned here and there, I noticed how activity occurred in spurts. There were long periods where I recorded nothing, and then a week or even a day consumed pages. I had written in it only once since I’d met Leslie. With all that happened at the gala and what he had planned for Florida, I had a feeling that I was on the verge of a longer period of recording.
When I finally reached the first blank page, two pieces of paper fell out of the journal. They were high quality, cream-colored. When I unfolded the first letter, embossed with a script “A,” I recognized Aster’s handwriting.
I hope you find this letter. Isn’t it odd that we can communicate in our dreams? It’s never happened before or with anyone else. Maybe it’s the blood tie. Who knows how these things work or why?
Just in case I can’t reach you again, I want you to know how happy I am knowing that you’re alive. I figured you and Mom and Dad would’ve been killed by now, but I should’ve known you’d find a way to survive. You were always brave and smart. I’m glad that, if you had to be found by a vampire, it was Mr. Wells.
I want you to live with me. If you would ask, maybe Mr. Wells would reunite us. I miss you every day. Please consider it. I plan to speak to Mr. Wells about it.
I love you,
As I read the letter, the dream came back to me. I thought about how giving up—because that’s what it would be—would release my parents from their obligations to me. Justin would move on with his life. I would be back with my original best friend. A cold woman, Justin called me. A cold woman wouldn’t have to stifle herself from crying over her sister and an impossible decision.
My resolve failed. I swore to kill Aster, and now, I seriously considered whether I could bear to live with her as a vampire. No, I wasn’t cold, not anymore. I was slipping.
I carefully refolded the note and took out the other one. It had an “L” on it in an even more elegant style than Aster’s A. I smiled, thinking it might be from Leslie, and read.
La Belle Fleur, Camellia,
I like this name, your name. It’s much better suited to you than a tender lily. Lady Aster requested that I write to you, and I find this form of communication sadly lacking. I would prefer to speak to you in person. I suppose this will have to do for now.
I will be punished for my transgression against you and Monsieur Wells, and I have given my promise to respect his wishes. You need not fear me, should you desire to visit your sister or even, if Monsieur Wells will grant her heart’s desire, live here with her. You would hold a place of high honor in our household, and you would be well cared for and protected.
I trembled as I read the letter. I would be even less safe at Benoit’s than I would be walking down a street full of vampires who knew my identity. Still, maybe safe wasn’t the answer. In this case, sorry made more sense. I wondered how strong the bond between Guillame and Luc was and if Guillame would give up Florida in order for Luc to have me. The freedom of thousands was more than a fair trade for my freedom.
I stayed at the table until I calmed my breathing to normal. I needed to stay. I wanted to run. I hadn’t been outside the house, and suddenly, it felt too much like a cage.
I tore a blank page from my journal and stuffed the letters back in it. I chucked it into my box and dragged out my running shoes. As I tied the laces, I felt a little bit of the stranglehold loosen. I scratched down a quick note and left it on the kitchen counter.
By the time I stepped out the front door, where the cool November air hit my face and blew back my hair, I felt light. It didn’t matter that unfamiliar forest surrounded the house. I needed to run. I needed to be outside. Down the drive and back, I decided and set my pace. I would run until I reached the end of the drive or I couldn’t run anymore. Exhaustion would certainly ease my tension.
As I jogged, I thought more about my dream. Aster seemed unstable, and I wondered if her relationship with Benoit contributed. I hadn’t known vampires could cry, and perhaps it was just part of the dream. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t. One thing I was sure of: my knowledge of vampires was terribly incomplete.
Thinking about dreams and Leslie, my fingers almost tingled at my memory of how his skin felt as I traced his features. In the dream, the cryptic answer had become clear: love. Love was why he cared, why he trusted, why he slept in the open at my side.
Preposterous, I thought. Attraction, yes. It was mutual, as we assessed at the beginning of our partnership. It was growing. That was unprofessional but controllable. A form of friendship had become a part of it. That wasn’t unprofessional. There was respect on both sides. Love, on the other hand…nonsense, and definitely unprofessional.
I saw the end of the drive and felt as though I’d run about half a mile. As I closed the distance and prepared to turn, I heard car doors slam. Suddenly, two huge human soldiers stood in the driveway, armed with shotguns.
Shotguns! Guns were rare and used only in desperate situations. At the moment, the situation was desperate for me. Even if they had been unarmed, I still might not have stayed to fight. Since they were armed, I didn’t take a chance on being able to disarm them both.
“That’s her,” a red-haired giant muscle man said.
He and a brown-haired giant muscle man advanced on me. I skidded to a halt and bolted back down the drive as fast as I could, weaving a little in case they opened fire. My adrenaline kicked in and with it, a little something extra. I didn’t know if it was their footsteps or my heartbeat that pounded loudly, but I yelped, and I shot forward with an additional burst of speed. The trees flew past me as I ran down the gravel drive. I nearly lost my footing twice.
As the house came into view, I felt relief followed immediately by dread. There in the shade of the covered porch stood Leslie, arms crossed. I bounded up the stairs and right past him, barely slowing when I hit the door, and ran straight into the bathroom where I proceeded to vomit violently.
END CH12 P2