When I got to the front room, I hurried to the door and opened it, taking care to keep it between myself and the outside. Fortunately, the late morning sun didn’t have as good an angle for shining into the house. But even so — and even though I was well fed — the diffuse light coming through the door made my eyes sting painfully. I closed the door again as soon as Emma came in.
I hadn’t known who to expect first, but it made sense that Emma would arrive before John. Katherine had been Mr. Salvatore’s harem manager and emergency donor, so her place was probably really close by. That was just an idle thought, though: one I had and clung to in order to keep from getting angry again. I didn’t really know what to say or how to start comforting Emma, so I just sort of stared at her dumbly.
She had changed after going home. Now she was wearing a pair of pajama pants with unicorns printed on them, another spaghetti strap top like she’d worn to bed last night, a bathrobe and a pair of shoes without socks. She didn’t get her shower here this morning, I remembered. She probably took one at Katherine’s, then changed into jammies. Maybe took a nap, since she wasn’t planning on going anywhere until evening. I had told her to sleep and do other aura-restoring activities. Assuming sleep was restorative. What did I know?
I was distracting myself from the issue that was immediately in front of me. That much, I knew. Emma looked absolutely miserable — and I still didn’t know how to comfort her. I tried to think of what Megan would do — eat her soul until she stopped feeling bad — and decided not to try that. Fortunately, Emma knew what she needed and didn’t wait for me to try and figure something out myself. She flung herself at me, wrapping her arms around my neck. I reflexively caught her and belatedly turned the catch into a hug.
My nerves twitched. I’ve never been the touchy feely sort. I hugged Emma closer, anyway. If I could put up with hugs for Megan, who’d been very casual about physical displays of affection — or Hans, when he had me in his lap — then I would be damned if I couldn’t put up with it for Emma when she actually needed one.
“Thank you,” Emma whispered.
I couldn’t form a reply. I hugged a little tighter.
I was going to kill Katherine. Or at least seriously hurt her. It depended on how hungry I was when I caught up to her next.
Hans had entered the room while I fumbled and failed with replies. “Emma,” he said while we hugged, “I’m sorry. I heard what happened. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like.”
I could’ve kissed him. He hadn’t mentioned that I’d asked for her, which made his offer sound completely unsolicited. I didn’t know if it would really matter to Emma, but I hated asking for help — or having someone else ask for me. How ever she felt about that, Emma’s response to Hans’ offer was immediate. She lifted her head and turned to face him — letting go of me with one arm as she did. I kept one arm around her waist, but let her turn. Her eyes were watery, and I was almost grateful when she looked away from me because it wrenched my heart to see.
I’d started dating Emma because of how vulnerable I knew she was, and because I liked her, and because I wanted to protect her. And I was doing a shitty job of it.
“Thank you,” Emma told Hans. Her voice shook a little. “Thank you so much. I don’t know where else I could have gone.”
I let my arm slip free of Emma’s waist, but caught her hand so I wouldn’t be the one who ended physical contact, in case she still wanted that. “Come on,” I said, “Your backpack is still up in our room. We can get you dressed and you can tell me what happened.” I was pretty sure that talking about things that upset them was something normal people did to feel better. And I wanted Emma to feel better. “Hans,” I added, “Can you wait here for John? You can get him caught up on what’s going on, and then we can head out together.”
Emma swallowed. “Where are you three going?” she asked.
“Us three,” I corrected her. “John is just going to house sit while Hans and you and I are out.” I started leading her toward the hall and the upstairs.
“Oh,” Emma said. I wasn’t sure what emotions were behind that syllable, but given how I knew she felt about being abandoned, I could guess. Teary-eyed relief was probably pretty high up there.
I gave Emma’s hand a squeeze. I didn’t know how to vocalize comfort for her, but physical touch I could handle. Even if it wound up my nerves, at least hugs and hand holding weren’t things my verbal auto pilot could fuck up.
When we passed Hans, Emma pulled her hand free from mine and threw herself into a huge hug with him, too. Hans didn’t bat an eye. I watched him smile kindly and loop one arm around her shoulders while his other hand stroked her hair soothingly. I made mental notes: I was positive he would be better at the whole giving comfort bit than I was, and I would take whatever pointers I could get. My note taking, however, was derailed by a surge of emotions I couldn’t process. I shoved them aside for later. The only one I really recognized was the one that wanted to spin up into an indecently inappropriate fantasy of how Hans would comfort Emma if I weren’t around, and even I knew that now wasn’t the time for thoughts like that.
“Thank you,” Emma whispered to Hans again.
Hans’ smile lifted into something a little more genuine and a little less sad. “You’re completely welcome,” he said softly. He then enveloped Emma with both arms and gave her a gentle squeeze, then let her go and turned her back toward me. “I’ll let you know when John gets here,” Hans said over Emma, to me. “Just holler if you need anything,” he added for both of us.
“Okay,” I answered him. Then I caught Emma’s hand again and led her upstairs.
We didn’t talk until we’d gotten to the guest room — our room, I corrected myself. I pulled Emma over to the bed, realized her backpack was actually still in the downstairs bathroom, and muttered a swear. I sat her down and scurried to the bedroom door. “Hans,” I hollered, “I left Emma’s backpack in the downstairs bathroom. Can you run it up?” I heard him start moving almost immediately, so I turned back to Emma.
“I’m really sorry,” I said as I returned to her side. “I kind of raided your clothes again this morning, so the selection that’s left is going to be a little thin.”
Emma managed a weak smile and nodded at my attire. “I noticed,” she said.
I blushed. “Yes, well, my own clothes were kind of ruined and I didn’t want to get more from downstairs in case Mr. Salvatore was being omniscient.”
Emma blinked at me in confusion.
“When vampires are dormant, they go into this sort of out-of-body awareness mode,” I explained hastily. “Or at least I did. I didn’t want to risk letting Mr. Salvatore peep while I changed.” I shivered. Creep.
“Oh,” Emma said. She turned this information over in her head and then focused on me again. “What happened?”
I shook my head. I was not ready to have that conversation yet. “You first,” I said. “My story probably has some bearing on yours, so I kind of think you should get yours off your chest now so you’re less upset when I tell you mine.” Did it work like that? God, I really hoped so.
“Okay,” Emma said. She flopped back on the bed. “There isn’t really a lot to tell, though. When I got home I decided to take my shower. After that, I thought I’d try to take a nap since I figured I’d be up late again tonight. So I made some herbal tea, and then I stretched out on the couch with Fuzzbutt — um, that’s what I call Katie’s cat. His name is actually Sneaker.” She stared at the ceiling in silence.
“Anyway,” Emma continued after a few seconds, “I woke up when Katie came home and slammed the front door. She was pissed. Sneaker ran off to hide in his cave under the big arm chair, and I sat up to ask Katie what had happened. But when she saw me…” Emma rolled over to face me. She hugged herself. “She was just mean,” Emma said. “I know she has a temper, and I’ve seen Katie get worked up before. But not like this. She just started yelling at me like I’d betrayed her or something, all: ‘How could you!’ and ‘You of all people should know better!’ and how she wasn’t going to watch all her effort taking care of me go to waste, so I could just get out.”
Emma blinked a couple times to clear the tears that started to pool in her eyes. Her voice was strained when she continued. “She chased me out. Didn’t give me time to explain, let alone pack. She took my keys off the wall and took her house key off the ring and threw them at me.” Emma’s voice grew ragged and soft. “She called me a whore when she did it. She accused me of selling my body — my blood — in exchange for being bit. She said that being enthralled was my drug and I was no better than any addict in the street, so I could go join them.” Emma blinked again, but this time it wasn’t enough to keep the tears from leaking free.
I grit my teeth and tried to keep from showing how furious I was. I don’t know how successful I was at that — just like I didn’t know what to do about it. Emma turned away from whatever she saw. Or maybe she turned away so I wouldn’t see her. I heard her sniff. I also heard Hans, outside the door. He quietly put down Emma’s backpack in the hall. He didn’t come in, but he did whisper: “I don’t want to interrupt. It’s good for her to be able to get this out to someone. Let her know that she’s safe here, and we won’t send her away. Hug her for me, too.”
He had to know I could hear him. There was no way Emma could. Hans’ instructions jolted me into action, though. I lay down beside Emma and wrapped my arms around her. “You’re safe here,” I said. “You aren’t going to live in the street. Hans and I won’t ever kick you out.” I choked on a lump in my throat and tried to figure out how to tell her that she should keep talking; let everything out — let someone else share the burden of those emotions. I didn’t know how to say it, though, so despite my best efforts I was silent.
Emma didn’t reply to my words, but she did wrap her arms around mine. After a few minutes, she started talking again of her own volition. “I tried to explain,” she said. “I really did. When I wouldn’t get out of the doorway, Katie threw my shoes at me. Then she locked me out. I… I tried to talk to her through the door. Tried shouting for her to just listen. She shoved my phone through the mail slot. She said that if I didn’t care about myself, then neither did she. And if I could think of anyone who did, I could call them — but if I didn’t get off her porch she would call the cops.” Emma took in a ragged breath. “That’s when I went to my car. And I called you. And then I… I just sat there.” She sniffled. “You know the rest,” she concluded.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I…” I trailed off, at a loss. Emma had started crying.
I held on to her and buried my face against her back. I didn’t know what else to do. I held her like that until she stopped.