Some time later, Kyler returned, and he and Santiago took Justin upstairs. Not long after that, Jay came into the dining room and helped me out of the chair. He looked showered and doctored, yet I was stiff and dirty. My scratches were red and swollen, and the gash down my right arm oozed. I suddenly realized I had no shirt on, just a sports bra and shorts, my skin pale from the cold.
Jay went with me into the bathroom, as if he was afraid I might fall over at any minute. When I saw myself in the mirror, I jumped. Dried blood trailed down my neck and chest where it wept from a big cut on my face. I looked like a teenager in one of the thriller movies Jay liked so much. Any moment now the killer would burst in the front door, except this was no movie and the killer was a pine tree.
I struggled with the sports bra to no avail and sighed in exasperation and exhaustion. I hurt all over, and I couldn’t get it off by myself. Jay started to leave, but I motioned for him to wait.
“Jay, I’m too sore, and my hands are stiff. I need you to pull this thing off me.”
“What? Your bra?” he asked. “You can’t get it off?”
“Hurts too much. Help a girl out, would you?” I gave him my best sad-eyed look. It didn’t take much effort.
“When you ask like that, who could say no?” Although he knew I wasn’t in the mood for it, he couldn’t help but smile.
I turned my back to him and lifted up my arms. I felt his fingers slide under the bottom band of the bra and grip it. As carefully as he could, Jay tugged on the bra, working it up and off my chest. I felt warmth where his fingers skimmed up the sides of my body. When the bra was over my shoulders, I pulled it off my arms.
“I can help with your shorts too,” Jay said, craning his neck around to look at me and offering me another crooked smile.
I had to smile back this time. “I think I can manage. You and Santiago okay?”
I turned toward him and tossed the bra to the floor without another thought. Fatigue overshadowed my sense of modesty. I looked over his cleaned cuts, turning his face in my hands. The cut at his hairline wasn’t as deep as I thought; it just bled a lot.
His eyes flicked between the ceiling and me. “I think J twisted his ankle. We’re a little banged up, but nothing like you and Justin.”
Satisfied that Heather tended him well, I released his face. He waited a beat while I tugged the band off the end of my braid and began undoing it.
“You saved me and J from the worst of it. If Justin hadn’t been running that little bit ahead of you, he wouldn’t have been so bad off.”
“He always has to be first. It’s a stupid male overprotective thing.” My hair, now free of the braid, fell over my shoulders in waves.
“You got some wicked scars, Cami-girl,” Jay complimented me.
“High mileage, as my father says.” I raked my hands through my hair to work out any knots.
He looked at me admiringly. “I think you must be in shock.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You know I can see your breasts right? I mean, they are lovely, top-notch,” he smiled as he saw realization come to my eyes. “In fact, there’s not much about you that isn’t, including the scars.”
I straightened my shoulders and through clenched teeth said, “It slipped my mind. Anything else you want to see before I get my shower?”
“Now that you mention it—” he started.
As I shoved him out the door, his eyes never left my chest. I slammed the door in his face.
He laughed, and I heard him call out, “J, Cami-girl’s got a rack you wouldn’t believe.”
I rolled my eyes at my reflection, which reminded me why I looked like the victim of a horrible accident. Tears threatened, so I pulled off my shorts and started the water. Debris came out of my hair and off my body, and I worried that I would clog Leslie’s drain. The water and soap stung, especially when I dabbed and probed the gash and other visible cuts. I did my best to get the bits of bark and dirt out of my wounds. After ten minutes of gingerly patting at myself and ruining Leslie’s white washcloth, I was as clean as soap and water would get me. I got out, dried off, and wrapped the towel around my torso.
As I came out of the bathroom, I asked, “Who can sew?” All the humans, except Justin, were in the living room, and they looked over at me. “Whoever can make the smallest whipstitch needs to sew me up.” I pointed to my face and my upper arm, which were bleeding but only a little.
“I can do it,” Court offered. “Heather, get the alcohol, gauze, tape, and bandages. I’ll meet you both at the bar.”
“He wants to be a surgeon,” Heather explained as she collected first aid supplies. “Leslie has been teaching him when he has time. It’ll be of good use.” She swabbed my scratches, and I couldn’t help wincing at the sting. “Justin’s been cleaned up and put to bed. Selene was so embarrassed.”
“She said Leslie normally does that sort of thing.”
“Vampires, even very old ones, are emotional about blood. Being bitten can be very exciting, so I’m told. Leslie has the best control of any vampire I’ve seen.”
I wondered how many times Heather had seen Leslie feed another human his blood. Maybe she had some herself. That was probably a very personal question and none of my business, especially since I didn’t know her that well.
Court came into view and brought with him thread, a needle, and sewing scissors. “Pink’s the closest color we’ve got.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I assured him and propped up my arm. “Do this first. It’s the worst.”
Court rubbed my arm with what looked like iodine. It burned like hell, but I didn’t complain. After that, he sterilized the needle by holding a lighter to it. Heather had slipped in and out of the kitchen without me noticing and now offered me a glass of sweet tea. I accepted it and took a long drink. The sugar gave me a boost and raised my blood sugar close to normal.
“I wish I had something to numb the skin,” Court continued, threading the needle. “I should remember to ask Leslie about bringing home more supplies. Keeping you all together is going to be a full time job, I think.”
“I’ve been stitched up so many times. You’ll do fine.”
I felt the prick as the needle pierced my skin. It was uncomfortable at first, but I blocked it. My mother was a much better seamstress than Court, but he eventually found his rhythm. My mind drifted as the needle and thread tugged through my skin. I wondered what caused the tree to fall. We hadn’t had a particularly wet fall, but I wondered if the summer had been so dry that the tree was partially dead. If so, a few soaking rains could cause it to uproot. Still, I thought someone should go check it to make sure it was bad luck and not foul play. I didn’t think that was the case, especially with how the vampires were watching the woods for anything suspicious. I couldn’t imagine who would be dumb enough to try to spy on Leslie.
Someone spoke to me, but I wasn’t really listening. I stared out the closest window, wondering where Leslie went and when he would return.
“You have an unusually high tolerance for pain, Camellia,” Court said a little amazed. “I’m afraid you’ll scar though.”
“Look at me.” I twisted my arms back and forth. I stretched out my neck and showed him my shins and knees. “And that’s just what you can see. Trust me, it’ll add to the charm.” I inspected the stitches. “This is good work. Not as good as my mother’s, but with me around, you should get lots of practice.” I leaned on the arm and turned my face toward him so that he could pat it with the same burning disinfectant goop.
Court gave a slight frown as he looked at the cut. “I wish I had some liquid stitches for this. You know, like super glue for the skin? I hate thinking about the scar this will leave, all the way from your eyebrow to your jaw line.”
“Charm,” I reminded him as he set to work.
When he was done, he smeared both areas with ointment. He wrapped the arm in gauze and put bandages over the stitches in my face. Someone, probably Heather, made soup, and Jay took a break from watching movies to bring me a bowl along with a hunk of bread. He stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders while I ate without much interest, wincing when the act of chewing pulled at my stitches. The massage felt good, and at some point, I told him so.
I drifted for a while. People spoke to me and I responded, but I had no real interest in what they said or asked. I felt drained, numb. Sometimes, it was just easier, if not necessary, to be blank.
I made my way up to Justin, tucked snuggly in the pretty bedspread. A fire crackled in his hearth. When I came over to stroke his brow, he didn’t stir. His color was back, and he slept easily. The cuts were only vague pink places on his skin, and he looked clean. I crawled onto the bed beside him and stared at him for a while, thinking about the last time we had sex and the sacrifices he always made for me.
After staring at Justin’s sleeping face for what felt like an hour, I got up and walked over to stare out his window. The rain had turned to drizzle, and night would fall soon. I wondered if Selene or Kyler would go clear out the driveway. I had no doubt that either one of them could pick up the tree and toss it out of the way.
I drifted again. This time, I went up to the third floor loft. Now that I actually looked around, I noticed that the room held a grouping of two chairs and a sofa, facing a small TV, and another grouping of two chairs and a sofa that more or less looked out over the railing. There were also several freestanding open bookshelves. After scanning a few titles, I discovered the collection was devoted to human-written stories about vampires. It made me smile a little. It must have read like comedy to them.
As dusk approached, I walked over and leaned against the window just as Leslie and I had only nights before, or was it day? No, it was night because the shades had been open, and we had leaned against the cool, bare glass. I wondered if my parents were settling into a new home now. I hoped Leslie’s people took good care of them. Again, I reminded myself to ask Leslie about them.
I wondered if my parents had still been here, would they have let Justin die rather than risk him turning? It was fine to talk big when a willing and friendly vampire wasn’t around to offer, but when one presented him—or herself, the option was much harder to ignore. I wasn’t ready for Justin to die, but apparently, I was willing for him to be a vampire in order to avoid death. It was incredibly selfish, and I had no right to ask him to do that, to risk his humanity. I wanted to take it back, and I didn’t. At the time, I was so confused and scared for him that I just reacted.
Sometime later, when it was full dark, I watched the headlights of the limo come down the drive. Faint thudding noises signaled Leslie entering the house and coming into the living room. Sound carried in this house. Up on the third floor, I heard almost everything from the living room and kitchen.
“Would someone like to tell me why my house smells like a blood bank?” Leslie asked.
“You missed the show, Leslie,” Monte said. “Have a seat.”
“Before you get all worked up,” Court said in a calm, even tone, “no one’s dead. Well, Justin might change, but he hasn’t really shown any signs of it.”
“Leslie, don’t be upset,” I heard Kyler’s voice now, unusually urgent. “You can be proud of Selene.”
“And Cami-girl. That’s a strong one there,” Jay added. “Let’s tell you how it all went down.” There was murmuring I couldn’t make out, and then Jay started telling the story — what he did best. “We were running, her, Justin, me, and J. She had us run after she and Justin threw us around and beat us to a bloody pulp. You believe it?” He paused where I assumed he waited for some sort of reaction. “Well, out of nowhere this big pine comes crashing down.”
“I didn’t notice it on my way in,” Leslie said.
“I moved it so Bern could drive in,” Kyler said.
I suddenly thought, Where does Bern sleep?
“Yeah, well, if it wasn’t for her, that bloody thing would’ve smashed the four of us to mush,” Jay insisted. “It knocked us flat, and she bolts up, blood everywhere, scratches galore, pulling me and J out, checking me over like a mother hen, like I’m the one hurt.”
Kyler interjected, “That reminds me that I need to dispose of the bloody branch.”
“Don’t get upset, Les; it wasn’t her,” Jay soothed. “It’s Justin. When she goes to get him out, he’s got a branch shoved right up in his belly.” I imagined the hand gestures that were going along with this story, and I half-smiled. “He’s bleeding all over, so I set off running back here to get Ky and Sellie.”
What ridiculous nicknames he makes up for everyone, I thought. It made me smile when what I wanted to do was start crying again. As I expected, Santiago came right behind Jay, filling in the action that Jay had missed.
“She tore the shirt off her back, held onto him, and talked to him until Selene and Kyler came,” his deep voice carried easily into the loft. “She’s tough.”
“Selene and I brought them back,” Kyler said. “Camellia demanded that Selene feed him. You should’ve seen her. She was brave, Leslie. When she reached that point, you know, when she was filled with lust for his blood and his body, she called for me to stop her.”
I realized that as the humans praised me, Kyler praised Selene. Oh, everyone all around was so proud and happy and brave. Oh, and my lover for the last five years almost died and might become a vampire. I wanted to scream.
“Is she okay?” Leslie asked.
“She’s steering clear of him until the wound closes and we know for sure whether he’ll change,” Kyler said. “I don’t think he had enough blood for it though.”
“I meant Camellia,” Leslie yelled. “Is she okay? I know she would have seen to everyone before even thinking of herself. So I know you are all fine, but is she?”
“Calm down,” Kyler said. “Your queen has been cared for.”
“Don’t start with me.”
“I don’t understand this fascination—”
“Cami-girl’s tough, a warrior,” Jay interrupted. “She cleaned herself up, and Court did a fine job on her stitches. Our girl is covered in scars. She’s going to have two more beauties after today. We fed her, Heather offered to dress her, and I tried to steer her over to the sofa to rest, but she’s pretty much ignoring everyone. She’s been wandering around in a bloodied up bath towel for a few hours now.”
I had to strain to hear Leslie ask, “Why is that?”
“She’s in her own head right now,” Santiago explained.
END CH16 P2