The paramedics arrived on the heels of the firefighters and I gave up my hold on Megan to let them take her. In fact, I insisted she let them load her into their ambulance despite her protestations that she felt fine. I wasn’t going to let her take chances with her health even though I was pretty sure she was okay.
Besides, it wasn’t like she couldn’t afford a trip to the ER – and maybe she’d meet a nice doctor or two and forget about me. I was still grappling with the fact that I’d become a monster. An occasionally soulless monster. I was pretty sure the only way to keep her safe from me was to keep her away from me.
A police officer kept Hans and I from going to the hospital until he’d gotten statements from us. Hans did most of the talking. I stammered a few things that had nothing to do with werewolves, goblins, or vampires and counted it as a win. The officer seemed to conclude that I was in shock and went back to pumping Hans for details on what had gone down.
Truth be told, maybe I was in shock – but I was also terrified that the officer would realize I was a menace to society and lock me in a cell forever. I mean… I was a fucking vampire, now. Before I’d just been crazy. Now I was a crazy vampire. I did my best not to giggle. The last thing I needed was to start giggling like a madwoman while my house burned and an officer of the law was watching.
When the police officer let us go, Hans guided me into the passenger seat of his car. I sat while he went and spoke to one of the firefighters. It was a brief conversation, but I smelled smoke and ash through all of it. I wasn’t sure if that was my apartment or Mr. Salvatore’s corpse in the back seat. In either case, my stomach roiled unpleasantly.
When Hans came back he got in the driver’s seat. “I told him we were going to the hospital and gave him my number in case anything could be salvaged, but it isn’t looking likely,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s a write-off,” I said glumly. Everything I owned in the world. All of my manga. Shit, the only clothes I had left were the ones I was wearing – a gothy corset top with a too-short, frilly skirt. Some torn stockings. High heels. Jewelry. And after last night none of it was looking exactly like new.
I choked on a lump in my throat and looked away. I didn’t want Hans to see my face all flushed. I had to look like hell. It was particularly mortifying since this was the sluttiest outfit I’d ever owned. I’d never intended for Hans to see me in it, but if he’d been going to I would’ve preferred it not to have been right after I’d been murdered in it. God, what would my mom have said if she’d had to go to the morgue to ID me and I’d been dressed like… like… Like a gothic ballerina hooker who’d just set her pimp’s house on fire after he’d slapped her around?
Hans reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. Then he started the car, backed out of the parking space, and carefully maneuvered around the fire trucks.
We sat in silence while he drove. I suspected Megan had coached him on some of the things that freak me out. Driving is one of them, though I can manage it if I have to. Riding along is easier, though. At least, it is as long as I’m not distracting the driver with conversation.
If I ever am in a gruesome car accident I don’t want it to be my fault. Not since dad had made a point of drilling me on how easy it would be to miss some detail, kill a bunch of people, and then have to live with the guilt of it for the rest of my life – a life I’d probably spend as a functional paraplegic with a severed spine, being tube-fed pudding and unable to do anything except think about what I’d done.
Yes, I have issues.
I was especially glad Hans was driving, though, because I didn’t have a clue where we were going. I don’t go out much. I’m afraid of getting lost, and I get lost easily. I can reliably travel between my home, my work, and Megan’s home – but that’s about it. I suppose there’s the store and Fumiko’s house, too. But anywhere else? I wouldn’t be able to find it without a map, a GPS, and a few hours of intermittent panic attacks.
Eventually we pulled into a great big parking lot at the hospital. I blinked my way out of my fugue. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be anywhere near Megan.
I’ve always been scattered, flighty; a little bit crazy. Often my imagination hasn’t been nice. But now? Now I couldn’t even trust myself to not be murderous.
“What are we doing?” I asked Hans.
Hans looked at me. Maybe he thought I was in shock, too. Maybe I was. “We’re going to check on Megan and see what she remembers,” he said. “And I’m going to have to call some people about Mr. Salvatore.” He hesitated, then sighed. “And about you,” he said.
I nodded. I guess that was to be expected. I was dangerous, now. There was a whole center dedicated to containing and rehabilitating out-of-control vampires. I was probably going to spend a few decades locked up. After all, I’d killed Mr. Salvatore. You don’t really get more out-of-control than ‘murderous arsonist.’
“Okay,” I said. Hans started to get out of the car, but I stopped him. “But Hans,” I said, “I don’t want to. See Megan, I mean.” I stared at my hands. I was too ashamed of what I’d done, what I’d wanted to do – what I could have done, to explain why.
But maybe Hans understood, in his own fashion. He was cursed, too. “Alright,” he said quietly. “Come inside, out of the sun. I’ll check on her and make sure the appropriate people know what happened.”
I nodded. I could do that.
Hans took me in through the ER’s walk-in entrance. He set me up in the waiting room and went to the desk to inquire about Megan. I felt guiltier. I should have been the one checking on Megan. She was my best friend. But now… now I was in no position to watch out for her. She needed someone else.
I could still remember the taste of Megan’s blood; the rush I’d felt from just tasting it. And how badly I’d wanted more. If Mr. Salvatore hadn’t gone off the deep end and leapt at us, I might have….
I squeezed my eyes shut against the thought. ‘Might’ was a lie. I would have. Megan didn’t just need someone else. She needed someone who could protect her from me. My eyes opened. I felt like my heart had dropped out of my chest.
I knew exactly who she needed.
Katherine had kept Megan away from Mr. Salvatore before I’d even known he really was a vampire – back when I’d just accused him of it because he was my boss and I needed an irrational reason to explain my irrational fear of authority figures. Katherine had managed Mr. Salvatore’s harem of blood donors, and she had managed to keep Megan out of it. Katherine knew vampires backward and forward.
Best of all, Katherine loved Megan.
Oh, and hated me.
My hands were shaky as I rummaged through my purse and dug out my phone. I didn’t have Katherine’s number, but I did have Emma’s. Emma was Katherine’s friend. She could convey a message.
I pulled up the text I’d received from Emma when she’d decided I should have her number. It was a somewhat out of focus selfie of us kissing last night. I was supposed to share it with my boyfriend on the premise that I’d asked him if it was okay if I made out with her and it had turned out that he was into that. In actuality, I’d freaked out and called Megan when Emma had propositioned me, and Hans was still completely in the dark about her.
More guilt for me. Yay. At least I had a good shot of getting the emo vampire thing down.
I hit dial before I could talk myself out of it. Emma picked up on the second ring.
“Abby?” She asked frantically. “Is everything okay? Did you find Megan? Katie is freaking out.”
I winced. Katie was Katherine. Or rather, Katherine was Katie to her friends. I still couldn’t quite believe that there were people who dared be that familiar with Katherine – or that Katherine didn’t have them flogged for it – but I’d heard both Emma and Megan get away with using the diminutive name. I’d used it myself, once, to trick Mr. Salvatore into thinking I was a friend of Katherine’s. And even though Mr. Salvatore was now a lump of charcoal in the back of Hans’ Hummer, I still sort of expected Katherine to find out about it and take off my hide in strips for retribution.
“Megan’s okay,” I said. “She’s at the hospital but she’s fine. I’m here too. Can you tell Katherine? She should know.”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Yes, of course. Which hospital? We’ll be right there. What happened?”
I answered Emma’s first question, but ignored the second. “I’m in the waiting room by the ER,” I told her instead. “Hans is checking on Megan and letting the authorities know about Mr. Salvatore.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Emma assured me.
“Okay,” I said shakily. The sooner they got here and someone was with Megan, the sooner I could leave and get far, far away from her. And the sooner the better, because if I started getting hungry again I might start forgetting how wrong it would be to murder my best friend and chug her blood like a frat boy with a rubber hose and a beer keg. “Thanks,” I said before I hung up.
Then I stared at the phone in my hands for a while. I could leave when Katherine got here, but where would I go? My apartment was a burnt out ruin. I was dirty and stank of smoke. I wanted a shower and a fluffy bed piled high with blankets and quilts and pillows I could hide under and sleep until I didn’t feel so damn emo anymore, but I didn’t even have a change of clothes.
Normally if I’d been struck by a disaster like this I would have gone running to Megan. I’d have a panic attack, she’d get me over it, and life would go on without this descent into depression. That wasn’t an option anymore. My only other friend was Fumiko, but I wasn’t about to put her at risk, either.
I could possibly afford a hotel for a few nights, but that was it. I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. But I didn’t really think a hotel was a good idea, anyway. I don’t do well around strangers in the best of circumstances, and I didn’t even want to think about what I would do in a crowded place if I got hungry. I used to liken my studio apartment to a canned lunch waiting for a zombie apocalypse. And that made hotels the vampiric equivalent of a vending machine. I bet since the rooms weren’t really ‘homes’ I wouldn’t even need to ask permission to enter one. And I had no idea how long it would be before I got hungry. Was it like normal food? Would I need three ‘meals’ a day? What the hell would I do about that?
I was lost in that depressing spiral when Hans came back. “I checked in with Megan,” he told me. “She is fine. They moved her to the second floor for observation and to wait for a policeman to get her statement. She didn’t witness anything supernatural, so that went smoothly enough.”
Hans sat down next to me. “I haven’t called everyone I need to yet, but I did talk to a witch on the hospital staff. He assured me that Megan’s aura is in good shape, so it’s unlikely she’s feeling traumatized. She should make a full recovery, all around.” Hans took my hand gently. “Megan did ask for you.”
I nodded. “You should make your other calls,” I told Hans. “I’m waiting for Katherine to get here so Megan has someone to sit with her.” I stared at my hands, and at Hans’ hand engulfing one. I turned to look up at him. Hans was doing a much better job of coping than I was, but when he looked at me I could see the worry and concern behind his normally cheerful eyes. “Hans,” I asked tentatively, “When Katherine gets here… Can I go home with you?”