For a minute I just stared at the phone. Well, shit, I thought. Then I called Hans. He answered right after the first ring. “Hello, Abigail,” he said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I answered on autopilot. But then I made myself backpedal. “I mean: no. Well, sort of. I called Megan and Fumiko, and they decided they couldn’t wait for this afternoon to find out what I’ve been up to. They’re on their way over with Katherine. Which is fine except I’ve never given the whole ‘magic is real’ speech before. I’d really appreciate it if you could be on hand for that.” There was nothing quite like watching a man turn into a wolf and back to prove that magic was real.
“Alright,” Hans said. “I just called an office-wide meeting, so as soon as I send everyone home I’ll be on my way back. As long as you’ll be okay for a few minutes if they get there first.”
I frowned. I had no idea who was closer or what their travel times would be. But, hell, I figured I could distract Megan and Fumiko for a little bit should it be necessary. If nothing else, I was really good at bullshitting. “Yeah, I should be okay,” I said. “They seemed to be mostly freaked out about the fact that I’m alone in Mr. Salvatore’s house and as far as they’re aware he’s still out there.”
“Ah,” said Hans. “The Center would have had their contacts in the police report him as apprehended once they’d taken custody of his body. Would you like me to try and get that announcement pushed up?”
The offer was tempting. Sorely tempting. But my paranoia would have none of it: I didn’t want to rely on special treatment from the Directors. Asking for it would probably come back and bite me in the ass later. It would probably be a black mark in the judgment of whoever they sent out here to see if I was stable.
“No,” I answered. “I mean: it would be nice if my friends weren’t worried, but allaying their concerns with lies right before trying to tell them the whole truth seems a little counter productive.” Maybe I could get Katherine to vouch for it when I said Mr. Salvatore wasn’t a threat. She was in on the whole ‘magic is real’ thing. “Just hurry home, and call me if you get stuck in traffic or something.”
My palms were cold and clammy when I hung up. It was just nerves, I knew, so I laughed to convince myself I wasn’t going to have another panic attack already. It sounded pretty shaky, even to me.
I kind of wished I still had something left to throw up: I was not ready to see Megan again. I started to pace. I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready: not after how I’d treated Megan when she’d been unconscious. Not after how that had made me feel.
I realized I was chewing my bottom lip when the memory of Megan’s blood made my fangs descend and puncture it. I yelped – as much in surprise as pain – and covered my mouth before I could bleed everywhere. Not that I bled much: the punctures had already closed by the time I took my hand away to check the damage in the mirror. The tips of my fangs were still descended, though.
Shit shit shit, I thought. I was not hungry. I stared in the mirror and tried to calm myself down. So Megan’s blood was pure bliss. So what? I was not going to take more of it. Just… No. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally managed to get my fangs to recede the rest of the way.
This was going to be hard. I took deep, calming breaths. My nerves were wound tight. Why was this so hard? Megan and Fumiko coming over was a good thing. I’d resolved, like, a hundred times in the last two days to tell them the truth.
I managed not to hyperventilate. I also managed not to stop breathing all together. I didn’t dare do anything that might make me get hungry faster. Not with my friends coming over.
My hands were still unnaturally cold. My palms felt sweaty. I wanted to shove them under the sink faucet, under a stream of scalding water. I wiped them on my jeans and got out of the bathroom before I could do anything masochistically stupid, instead.
I didn’t know how long I had before people would show up, and I didn’t know what I should be doing to get ready for them since my usual stress management techniques were verboten. I did have one idea, though, so I went down to the basement. Then I went into the backroom to double check that Mr. Salvatore’s corpse was still there.
For a minute I just glared. After my experience with being dormant this morning I was willing to bet that Mr. Salvatore was still conscious in that husk. What’s more, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he turned out to be aware, too, and watching everything around him from that out of body point of view.
“This is your fault,” I told him. “I just want to make sure you know that. And that I really dislike you.”
Mr. Salvatore’s corpse didn’t reply, unless sitting there and creeping me out counted. I turned on my heel and stalked away before he could psyche me out.
What a jackass.
I couldn’t wait for the Directors to show up and take Mr. Salvatore away. The idea that he was floating around with some sort of semi-omniscient perspective of what was going on in the house – or even just the basement – combined creepiness with way too much squick. I mean… I already knew Mr. Salvatore was a creepy stalker and blood-thirsty pervert – and presumably a peeping tom, too – and I’d made out with people down there.
Seriously: being peeped on by a sentient corpse? Squick.
Once I was back upstairs I went into the front room. I double checked that all the curtains were drawn and no sunlight was getting into the room. Then I turned on the lights for when Megan and Fumiko got here. Being a vampire and waiting for people in the dark would have just been unnecessarily ominous.
Well, maybe it would’ve been okay if only Katherine was coming over – although the thought of me trying to intimidate her made me choke on an incredulous laugh. I paced. I wished I had a manga, or anything to distract me from my own thoughts. Oh god, I mentally bemoaned. She really, really hates me, too. She’s probably going to go full-on vampire hunter over this. I’m going to end up staked, dismembered, and priority mailed to seventeen different countries.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
Why couldn’t this be easy? Hadn’t I had a hard enough time for, oh, the entirety of my unlife? It was enough to make me think some omnipotent being had some inexplicable grudge against the unholy undead.
I giggled nervously and then froze when I heard someone pull into the driveway. Shit! The engine didn’t sound like Hans’ Hummer.
I flitted to the door, but didn’t dare peek outside. The last thing I needed was a face full of sunlight. I pressed my ear against it instead. Maybe it was just someone innocently pulling into Hans’ driveway to turn around, and I would hear the car back out and pull away.
The engine stopped. Car doors opened and closed.
Okay. I still held out hope that it was just a bunch of robbers who’d heard Mr. Salvatore was gone, somehow, and were just here to burgle the place in his absence. In broad daylight. With me inside. Boy would they be in trouble if I didn’t freak out and surrender!
When I heard Katherine and Fumiko talking, my mental swears drowned out their conversation. Why couldn’t it have been robbers? Hell, I would have settled for Canadian slave traders. Cannibalistic Canadian slave traders, even! I was so not ready to see my friends like this!
Then I heard Megan interrupt them and suggest they try the door, and my fangs jabbed into my lower lip again. I muffled an audible curse under my hand. Then I undid the door lock and bolted for the front corner of the room. From there I would be visible to anyone who stepped into the room but the angle from the door wouldn’t allow any sunlight to accidentally spill over me. I hoped.
I almost jumped out of my skin when they rang the doorbell. I shouted: “Come in, it’s open,” once I’d gotten a hold of myself. Yeah, like that’s not suspicious, I berated myself. The last time I’d left a door unlocked, Megan had walked into a trap. I halfway expected Fumiko to turn them around right then.
Instead, the door opened.
I had to squint against the sudden slash of light that leapt across the floor. It wasn’t even that it was that much brighter than the lights I’d turned on – it just hurt to look at. It made my eyes sting, and a phantom itch from the memory of being burned by it made my skin crawl. I swallowed and forced myself to deal with it.
Fumiko came in first. Fumiko was tall and lithe, and she moved with the controlled grace of someone whose dad is proficient in twenty different martial arts – and had been training her in self defense since she was two. Seriously: Fumiko could be intimidating when she wanted to, but her dad just defaulted to terrifying. Even though he’d retired from the Army Rangers, I was pretty sure he still did the occasional ninja-for-hire wet work just for giggles.
Fumiko’s gaze swept across me and scanned the room even as she kept moving forward. When she stopped she’d positioned herself so that her quick sweep of the room even had the angle to see if anyone was behind the open door, hiding. Then she glanced at the ceiling before facing me. I felt a twinge of respect from my paranoia. Fumiko didn’t quite relax, but she did slip the canister of pepper spray in her left hand into her jacket pocket. She frowned at me.
“Okay,” Fumiko said. “Abby, what the heck is going on?”
I tried to reply, but I couldn’t quite make myself. I was so glad to see someone familiar that my eyes started to tear up. I tried to blame it on the sun. “You wouldn’t believe me,” I said while Katherine shuffled sullenly into the house. “I need Hans to help explain, but he’s still on his way from work. Everything is okay, though, and Mr. Salvatore isn’t dangerous anymore, I promise.”
Fumiko’s frown deepened and Katherine looked up from her feet to scowl at me. Before either of them could say anything, though, Megan came through the door.
As soon as she saw me, Megan’s smile lit up brighter than the sun. “Abby!” she shouted joyously. She started to run towards me with her arms spread wide to fold me into a hug.
For just a second, my heart soared. But then, before Megan could take another step into the room, Katherine grabbed her by her elbow and yanked Megan back.
Megan turned toward Katherine. “What…” she started to ask, but Katherine interrupted her.
“Don’t step out of the sun,” Katherine snapped. She was staring at me, eyes narrowed and lips curled with suppressed fury and hate. “No one go near her,” Katherine said.
“Katherine, what the hell?” Fumiko asked, clearly taken aback.
Katherine spared Fumiko a glance before snapping her eyes back to me. Her lips twisted in a spiteful scowl. If I’d thought she hated me before, I evidently needed a new word for how she felt about me now. Katherine didn’t let go of Megan or look at Fumiko again, but when she spoke she was talking to them and not me.
“Stay here if you want to talk to her,” Katherine said. “Don’t go near her, and don’t trust her if she tries to convince you to.” Katherine jerked her chin toward me. “Do you see how she’s cowering back there, out of the light? I know it’s going to sound crazy, but you’ve got to believe me: Salvatore must have turned her. She’s a fucking vampire.”