Katherine shook me again. “This is your fault,” she snarled – but then Emma stepped in front of me, forcing Katherine to let go.
“Hey, calm down,” Emma said. “Megan is probably just hiding out somewhere while she gets herself together. Have you tried calling her?”
I got my phone out to try just that.
“She isn’t answering,” Katherine said frantically.
I flipped my phone open to try anyway – but stopped. I had three text messages. From Megan.
“Abby: Sorry. Something came up and I have to go,” said the first.
“I left my keys at the bar. Or you can ask Emma for a ride home,” said the second.
“Hope you have a good evening. Sorry again. Happy New Year. Love you,” read the third.
I felt like I’d swallowed a potato whole. There was this leaden lump in my gut that was sprouting guilt out of its eyes, taking such deep root that it would never go away. I must have been on the dance floor when she’d texted. Maybe I’d been being yelled at by Katherine. Whatever the case, I hadn’t heard my phone when Megan’s messages had arrived.
“She’s gone,” I said. “She must have taken a cab. She left her keys with Mark at the bar.” I felt cold. Megan sent me those texts so I wouldn’t be worried about her when I couldn’t find her; wouldn’t leap to the paranoid conclusion that she’d run off because of something I’d done. But she had, and I knew it. She was the one who didn’t know that Katherine had outed her feelings to me.
Katherine swore. “If Megan is upset, she’s going to look for people.”
I nodded. Odds were she was on her way to the party at the office. I called her, but it went straight to voice mail.
“Megan?” I asked. “Please, please, please call me back as soon as you get this. Please.”
“Hey,” Emma asked in confusion. “Am I missing something? You two seem really freaked about this.”
“Salvatore is in town,” Katherine said flatly. “And I can assure you he didn’t come back for you or I.”
Emma’s face paled. “He came back?” She asked in a very tiny voice.
I felt sick. So, Mr. Salvatore was Emma’s ex, then. And since I’d seen the way she bounced between confidence and timidity, that was one more reason to hate him. How many people had he hurt in his unlifetime? How many had he broken?
“Yes,” Katherine said. “And when I went to confront him today, he was already half starved and wearing his gloves. You know what that means. I invited Megan here tonight to keep her away from him.”
“But… he wouldn’t drink from her,” Emma said. She tried to sound certain, but her voice wavered. “He wouldn’t! You made him promise.”
Katherine’s gaze snapped to me, but I didn’t flinch. I’d already figured out how she felt about Megan, and now Katherine knew her secret was out, too.
“I did,” Katherine said. “Because I saw how he looked at her and felt his desire. You know what that’s like, Emma. When your life is subsumed into his. He wanted her the way he used to want me. And, last year – he didn’t choose me. And he didn’t drink from Marian or Lisa or anyone else who’d stayed in town. He starved himself to kill his humanity. And when he no longer cared about his promise, he went to make Megan into my replacement.”
“No,” Emma whispered – but the protest seemed purely reflexive.
“He didn’t do it, though,” I sad. “I was there. Megan was drunk and sugar crashed, but she wasn’t bleeding. I took her home.”
“I know,” Katherine said. “That’s when Salvatore came for me. His second choice.” She shivered. “I didn’t realize what was happening until I was too weak to struggle and too engulfed by his consumption to protest. When he was slaked and alive and his emotions returned he called the hospital. Out of guilt, perhaps, or in memory of what we used to have. But while he was dead and draining me… he wanted me dead, too. Permanently, so that I’d never nag him not to overindulge or tell him who he could or couldn’t feed from. He knew he would regret it when his humanity returned – and that was why he fed with such abandon then.”
Katherine swallowed. Emma was staring at her in horror. So was I.
“He tried to kill me, Emma,” Katherine said. “I wasn’t drunk. Neither was he. That was just something he said to pass it off as an accident; something he said and I was too convalescent to contradict. And it doesn’t matter that his humanity got the better of him and the doctors could keep my body alive while the scrap of soul he left in it recovered. It was still deliberate. He knew what he would become if he let himself starve. And he did it anyway, just so it would be easier to take what he wanted. He was ready to force himself on Megan and murder me, and deal with his conscience later.”
Katherine’s gaze snapped back to me, and her eyes narrowed in a withering glare. “And now, thanks to someone’s selfish ignorance, Megan is probably running straight into his clutches.”
I blinked. I didn’t even know why my eyes were watering. I would deal with Katherine’s accusations later. First, I had to take care of Megan.
I called Fumiko. If Megan wasn’t going to the party, she’d be going to see her other friend.
When the call connected, I could hear a quiet babble in the background. “Moshi moshi,” Fumiko answered cheerfully.
“Fumiko! Did you go to the office after all?” I asked.
“Hai,” Fumiko confirmed. “What’s up? Are you two on your way?”
“No,” I said. “Well… Yes. Sort of. Listen, you were right and I royally screwed up and I need a huge favor.”
“Sure,” Fumiko agreed. “Wait. Right about what?”
“Megan!” I shouted in exasperation. It figured that I’d obsess about Fumiko’s teasing all evening while she’d already forgotten about the speculations she’d leveled at me before lunch. “You were right about Megan, and I accidentally hurt her feelings and I think she might be going to the office because she likes crowds when she’s upset, but her phone is off and I can’t get ahold of her.”
There was a moment of stunned silence on Fumiko’s end. “Okay,” she said at last. “What do you need me to do?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Go outside and wait for her, please. If she shows up, don’t let her go in. Take her to your place, or the diner, or something and get her to talk it out instead of walling it off and pretending she’s okay for the crowd. And call me. I need to talk to her. And apologize. And….”
“And tell her how you feel?” Fumiko guessed. She asked it with a shrewd tone that implied she knew the answer. I glanced at Emma and Katherine, who were avidly listening to my side of the conversation.
“And take someone with you while you wait,” I finished lamely. “It’s not safe to loiter in a parking lot at night. But not Mr. Salvatore! Or Hans!”
Fumiko laughed. Out of everyone I know, she’s probably the least concerned with personal safety. But then again, her dad is a scary, scary man and she’s taken self-defense classes since elementary school. “Don’t worry. I totally get not letting that creep or your boytoy know about this. I’ll grab Jimmy. He’ll be thrilled.”
I swallowed. Fumiko was generally more of Megan’s opinion about Mr. Salvatore than mine. “Is he being creepier than normal?” I asked anxiously.
Fumiko snorted. “Yeah, you could say that,” she agreed. “I mean, maybe it’s just that he’s quieter since he’s been sick, but he keeps popping up out of nowhere and scaring the bejezus out of me just to ask if I’ve heard from Megan or know when she’s getting here. At first he passed it off as wanting to give out all the manager bonuses at the same time, but he’s already done that now and he’s still really intense about it. I’m pretty sure he wants to corner her at midnight and play tonsil hockey again, like last year.” Fumiko laughed again. “Don’t worry, I’ll run interference for your team, Abby.”
“Thanks,” I said weakly. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem,” Fumiko said. Then I heard her shout, “Hey, Jimmy!” away from the phone and then the connection cut. I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Fumiko will keep an eye out for Megan at the office,” I told Emma and Katherine. “If Megan shows up, Fumiko will keep her away from Mr. Salvatore.”
Katherine’s lips quivered like she wanted to yell at me more, but she turned to Emma instead. “Megan might go back to her home,” she said. “Please go there and watch for her. If she does….”
“I’ll take her somewhere safe,” Emma promised.
“Good,” Katherine said. “And call me.”
“I will.” Emma turned from Katherine to me. I almost thought she was going to promise to call me, too. She didn’t say anything, though. She turned away instead, and darted for the parking lot.
Katherine turned, too. She started toward the trio of taxis that were waiting to snag fares from the club. I ran to catch up to her and caught her arm.
“Wait!” I said. “Where are you going? What else can I do?”
Katherine whirled, and all the fury she’d repressed while Emma stood between us blazed in her eyes. “I’m going to the office,” she said. “Or do you really think your friend can keep Megan safe? Does Fumiko even know what Salvatore is?” Katherine scowled at my expression. “No. So she doesn’t know what the stakes are. And if she gets in his way, she’ll be dead before she knows that, too. So I guess now we know you treat all your friends like shit, and not just the ones that love you.”
Katherine wrenched her arm out of my grasp. I fell back, stunned. Fumiko would be okay. Her dad was retired military. He taught akido and judo and taekwondo and a bunch of other –do’s at her hometown community center, and Fumiko had been his assistant instructor for women’s self-defense every summer when we were in college. She was the reason I had pepper spray on my key chain and had convinced Megan to keep some on hers, too.
Frankly, proclivity to cosplay aside, Fumiko was the most badass person I knew. If anyone could face down a monster it was her – and Mr. Salvatore wouldn’t try to pull anything in public.
Katherine glared at me. She saw my abrupt worry and smiled. It was a hateful, feral smile. “I guess you don’t know how monstrous Salvatore can be, either. I’ll tell you what: If you really want to be helpful, then why don’t you go fuck off and die, and stop throwing away other people’s lives with your idiotic selfishness.”
I gaped at her, unable to respond. Katherine sneered at me and spun away. She stalked to the nearest cab and got in. Then it pulled away.
I continued to stare. Megan was going to be safe. Fumiko would be okay. My only two friends in the world were not going to be murdered or enslaved by a vampire. I hadn’t betrayed them to that inevitability.