In an instant I felt the blood drain from my face. Not because of the malice in Katherine’s words — though I felt a stunned disbelief that after all my worrying I’d ended up outed like that — but because I hadn’t even considered the possibility that Mr. Salvatore might have some kind of control over me. He didn’t, but would that remain true if the Directors decided to revive him? In the movies, older vampires could practically mind control the people they turned. How much of that was true, and how much was an exaggeration of the mental and emotional sharing between a vampire and her donor?
Then Fumiko scoffed. “Seriously, Katherine? I know Abby used to call Mr. Salvatore a vampire, but it’s a little too soon to be making jokes like that.” Fumiko started to step toward me.
“Don’t!” I shouted. I hadn’t intended to say anything, but my panic triggers had overloaded and I was on autopilot. Fumiko stopped in surprise. “It’s true,” I babbled. “I’m sorry. This isn’t how I wanted to tell you. I wanted to let you see Hans turn into a wolf and back. That’s actually pretty cool, in a ‘fuck you, laws of nature’ kind of way.”
Fumiko looked at me, then at Megan and Katherine. I couldn’t read the content of their glances because I couldn’t make myself look at their faces. I stared at the floor.
“Where’s Salvatore?” Katherine asked grimly when no one else spoke. “I know he’s not far.”
“He’s dormant,” I told her. ‘Dead’ didn’t seem accurate, since I knew he could come back. “He went up with the house. Hans pulled him out of the fire, but by then he was already a briquette.”
“Bullshit,” Katherine said flatly. “I saw you at the hospital the morning after the fire, so I know you weren’t turned then. And Salvatore couldn’t have converted you if he was dormant. You’re working for him. Hell, you’re probably still enthralled from whenever he first drained you. He wouldn’t have converted you if he didn’t have some kind of hold over you. Don’t try to jerk me around, Abigail.”
I laughed bitterly. “I was already dead at the hospital,” I threw back at her. My eyes started to tear up. “I was only on my feet because Hans agreed to be my donor.” Not that I’d really given him a choice at the time. “I was dead before the fire even started. Mr. Salvatore didn’t convert me, he murdered me!”
That actually shut Katherine up. Mr. Salvatore had almost murdered her once, too. I couldn’t make myself care about whatever sympathy I may have inadvertantly drummed up, though. I sagged down until I was sitting on my heels, crying. This wasn’t how I’d wanted Megan and Fumiko to find out what had been done to me. Why was Katherine such a bitch?
“This… this isn’t funny,” Fumiko said. I swallowed and tried to wipe away tears. It didn’t work: more just got in the way. I could tell from the hesitation in Fumiko’s voice that she didn’t think Katherine and I were joking anymore. She just couldn’t accept what we were saying as true, either.
“Oh, Abby,” Megan whispered — and I knew she believed me. Or at least she believed that I believed. Megan has always been able to tell what I’m feeling, and the heartbreaking grief in her tone matched my despair perfectly.
I sniffled and made myself look at Fumiko. “It isn’t funny,” I agreed. “But it is true. It’s horrible and nightmarish and true. I’m sorry. I really wanted Hans here to ease you into the ‘magic is real’ stuff. I’m a vampire.”
“No way,” Fumiko insisted. “You’re not a vampire, Abby! Mr. Salvatore isn’t a vampire. Hans isn’t a vampire. Vampires aren’t real — that’s just crazy!”
I stood. “Hans isn’t a vampire,” I said, and some of the tension wound out of Fumiko. Then I ruined it by adding: “He’s a werewolf.”
I turned to Katherine while Fumiko struggled with that statement. “I’m safe,” I told Katherine. “I fed right after sunset. You know I’m safe because if I hadn’t I would be dormant right now. And you know I wasn’t working with Mr. Salvatore, because if I had been then my apartment wouldn’t have needed to be burned down, now would it? Megan would have wound up in his basement or interred, not in a hospital.” Katherine scowled at me, but didn’t reply. I stamped my foot angrily. My patience with Katherine was worn thin. “Tell them!” I insisted.
Katherine didn’t say a damn thing, but she did let go of Megan’s elbow. I sighed in relief. If that was as much of a victory as she was going to let me have then I would take it.
“Look,” I said slowly. I held my mouth open so they could see my fangs — they hadn’t quite gone back up after I’d heard Megan outside. “See? But I’m not asking you to trust me or anything. The whole reason I wanted you to come over was so I could tell you about this, so you could take the sane precautions to be safe around me.” I swallowed. “When I get thirsty, it’s like the human part of me shuts down,” I explained. “I get vicious, and I’m dangerous, and I need blood to get back to normal. And I need you to know that. You’re my best friends. I… I couldn’t deal with it if I did something to hurt either of you.”
“I don’t know if ‘sane’ really applies to the sort of precautions you’re implying we should take,” Fumiko said dryly. But she said it with an awkward smile. Was she giving me the benefit of the doubt? I’d take it!
“I know,” I gushed. “I know it sounds crazy. Hell, it sounds like something I would make up most days, which has to make it insanely difficult to take seriously coming from me. But as soon as Hans gets here, you’ll see. He can turn into a wolf, and that’s got to convince you.” I jumped when my phone rang. “That’s probably him now,” I blurted.
I had my phone out before the second ring. I flipped it open and brought it to my ear before the third. “Hans!” I gasped. “What the hell is taking you?”
“Watch your language, young lady,” my mom snapped back.
I physically recoiled. “Mom?” I squeaked. “Mom, this is a really bad time. Like: really super bad.”
“Oh,” Mom said dryly. “Then it’s just as well that I’m not calling to chitchat.”
“You aren’t?” I asked. A pit of dread yawned open in my stomach. I didn’t know what Mom wanted, but if it wasn’t to berate my life choices over the phone then it was bound to be something worse.
“You’ve made it clear that you won’t be persuaded to see reason over the phone,” she said, “so I’ve had your father drive us up to talk to you in person. We can meet for lunch at that quaint little restaurant we ate at when you first moved here. You remember it, don’t you? You mortified us by asking the server to estimate how many customers it would take to dispose of a body, if it had been diced up and concealed in the spaghetti.”
I did remember. And I especially remembered that given the way he’d sputtered and tried to avoid answering, he was clearly concerned that I’d caught on to his nefarious underworld activities so easily. But worse than that… lunch. Noon. Sunlight.
“I can’t,” I croaked.
“You will,” Mom countered crossly. “And if you have any belongings you’d best pack them and bring them with. We’ll be leaving for home directly after dining. And Abigail… don’t be tardy. You’ve given us little enough reason to believe you can manage your own affairs, but while we are taking care of you we will expect you to behave like a respectful, polite, grateful young woman should.”
Mom hung up before I could muster a reply. I took the phone from my ear and stared at it as though I could just will that conversation not to have happened.
No one said anything. I didn’t know how much Fumiko, Megan and Katherine had overheard — but Fumiko and Megan knew how my mom could be. I didn’t want to, but as I stared at the phone I started to laugh: the laugh of a hopeless, defeated person.
Finally I looked up at my friends. And Katherine. “That was Mom,” I explained. “She thinks the city isn’t safe. She wants to meet me for lunch so she can ‘convince’ me to come home.” I laughed again. “This is so fucked up,” I said to myself.
An idea struck me and I turned to Fumiko, hopeful that she could help. “Do you have, like, a spare cloak in your display closet that I can borrow? Mom wants to see me for lunch and if I go out in the sun I will literally start to roast if I don’t keep covered up.” Did that restaurant have a lot of windows? I couldn’t remember, but I didn’t think so. I remembered not being able to come up with a satisfactory escape plan for the possibility of our server coming out with an Uzi because I’d known too much and needed to be silenced, instead of our spaghetti.
“Yeah,” Fumiko said — and her hesitation let me know she was still off balance. Normally Fumiko would leap at an excuse to put someone in costume.
“Thanks,” I said weakly. I felt like I was shrinking in on myself. I didn’t think a mere cloak would be all it took. I’d probably have to take Hans along, too, just to be safe — except that would mean inflicting my family on him. I shuddered. He’d be on his own: I didn’t even know how I was going to face down Mom. Maybe I could just not go? But that was no good. Mom would never understand.
No matter what I did, I was going to lose. Because mom couldn’t have what she wanted, and that meant that one way or another I was going to end up pissing her off. And when Mom was pissed, she wasn’t above paying down a Mom-scale guilt trip. It would start with a Mom-sized silent treatment. I’d be effectively cut off from my family, ostracized by the only two people who’d loved me when I’d been a kid. The only people who, as mom had pointed out to my younger self, had been obligated to.
I sank down against the corner wall, crushed by depression. I’d lost my life. Megan and I would never be the same, even if she still didn’t know it yet, and now I was going to lose my family. And even though I had to confess that might be a good thing — sure, I’d be disappointing the only two people who’d cared about me for the first seventeen years of my life but at least they’d be safe from me — I could still remember how awful it had felt the last time.
Why did everything have to keep falling apart?
I was barely cognizant of Megan catching Fumiko’s elbow. “Why don’t you go home and get that cloak,” Megan whispered. “Katie and I will stay here with Abby until you get back.”
Poor Fumiko hesitated. “Are you sure?” She asked uncertainly — and normally uncertainty was a rare thing coming from Fumiko.
Great: apparently my insanity had even broken the strongest person I knew.
“Yes,” Megan said firmly. “If something comes up, Katie brought her car — so it’s not like we’d be stuck here. And… maybe it is crazy, but I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Mr. Salvatore.”
Fumiko nodded choppily. “Okay,” she said — and then she slipped out behind Megan and Katherine. It didn’t escape my notice that at no point did Fumiko step out of the triangle of sunlight cast through the doorway. I almost smiled. Whether she believed any of this or not, Fumiko was still taking precautions.
“We should wait outside,” Katherine said to Megan once Fumiko had left. “We’ll be safer away from that,” she added with a scowl for me.
“That?” Megan repeated. She sounded hurt. “Abby is my friend, Katie. She is my friend, and can’t you see how upset she is? I’m not going to hide from her while she’s stuck dealing with this… Whatever it is that this is.”
Katherine stepped closer to Megan and took a hold of her arm again. “She’s not your friend anymore,” Katherine said. “Your friend died. Meg, that isn’t Abby. It’s dangerous. Especially to you.”
I sniffled. I didn’t know how Katherine knew Megan’s blood was irresistible — maybe from watching Mr. Salvatore? It didn’t matter, though, because it was true: I was dangerous. Especially to Megan.
Megan jerked her arm out of Katherine’s grasp. “Enough!” Megan shouted. “Abby has been my friend for years. I never asked you to like her, but I am sick of you tearing her down! Whatever is going on, the one thing I know is that she needs our help, and I’m going to give it to her.”
I looked at Megan, wide eyed. I didn’t think I’d ever seen her angry before. It had to be a blood sugar thing — but before I could find the words to offer her the chocolate bar I kept in my purse, Megan whirled away from Katherine and stalked toward me.
Out of the safety of the sunlight.
“Megan, get back here!” Katherine shrieked She started after Megan, but stopped at the edge of the sunlight — more afraid of me than afraid for Megan. “Megan?!”
Megan’s lips were set in a grim line as she ignored her friend. I looked up at her with a mix of awe and horror. I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve her in my life, but I would never survive it if Megan was hurt because of me. When she knelt down and wrapped me up in a hug I started crying again.
“There, there,” Megan whispered. I buried my face against her shoulder. She stroked my hair. “It’s going to be okay, sweetie,” Megan told me. “It will.”
I cried harder and clung to her. I’d missed this. I’d needed this. Megan had been my rock ever since I’d met her. She never batted an eye at my fits of crazy. She always knew how I was feeling. She gave me the encouragement I needed to face my irrational fears, and when I inevitably freaked out she offered the solace I needed to calm down. Megan was always there for me. She took care of me. And no matter how bad things got or how messed up I felt she always managed to make me feel better.
Megan continued to stroke my hair. She whispered soothingly to me — like I was a frightened, injured animal. I felt all of my panic and worries and fear flow out of me with my tears. I started to feel better, just like every time Megan had ever taken it upon herself to comfort me.
Except this time there was one difference. This time, I had something else I could compare the sensation to.
I felt a brief spike of horror. I shoved Megan back even as that horror was whisked away. Megan sprawled on the ground, but I’d acted too late. I’d recognized what was happening too late.
I didn’t feel better. I felt empty.
I rose to my feet. My cheeks were wet, but I wasn’t crying anymore. Crying was something I did when I was sated, alive, and stupidly emotional. I was none of those things now.
Megan looked up at me: confused, shocked; hurt. I didn’t care. I bared my fangs at her. They were fully extended now, and I didn’t give a rat’s ass about sentimentality or life-long friendships or any of that bullshit. I cared about myself — and I seethed in fury at the realization that I had been misled for so long. I knew that if I took things into my own hands now I’d probably do something excessively stupid once I’d fed again, but I was past caring about that, too.
“You fucking bitch,” I accused. I quivered with outrage at the emptiness inside of me; the emotions — the life — she’d taken away while ‘helping’ me. “You’re a god damn changeling?!”