For what felt like a minute, I was too horrified to move. My dad was just standing there. My first thought: What had he seen? Coming on the heels of spending time with my mom, I hated myself a little for thinking it. Except I didn’t care about what he thought of me as a person — I cared about whether he thought I was a monster! I scrambled to recreate the scene in a mental image. Nothing, I told myself fervently. He couldn’t have seen anything. No fangs, anyway. None of Emma’s blood. Just me, making out with and dry-humping my boyfriend into my girlfriend’s lap…
I abruptly felt very, very warm and very, very small. Now I was worried about what Dad thought of me as a person, after what he had been able to see.
Dad cleared his throat. “Hans.” He said. “I’m sorry. I was trying to catch my daughter before you left. I didn’t expect her to be…” he fumbled for a word. “Occupied.”
Dad’s eyes shied away from Hans. Was there any blood on Hans’ lip? I didn’t think so. No, I reassured myself. No, I hadn’t been as messy with Hans as with Emma. For a second, Dad’s gaze met mine — but he just looked pale, and his eyes kept right on going as he hastily looked away. “I should give her some space,” he said — mostly to himself, I think. “I’ll… I’ll just call. Later. Some other day. When none of us are quite so on edge over what happened with her boss.” Dad backed up a step, as though he weren’t entirely sure he could turn around without Hans coming after him for some reason.
“Let him go,” I whispered. I didn’t know if Hans could hear me or not. I didn’t figure it would matter: Hans had to realize Dad hadn’t seen anything supernatural related. And any mundane embarrassment would just be mine to live with. So there really wasn’t any reason for Hans not to let Dad walk back to the restaurant and pretend this encounter had never happened. Once he’d distanced himself from the awkwardness of the situation, Dad turned and bolted. Hans seemed to hesitate, but let him go. The pause was probably just from the wolf telling him to chase anyone who ran. Thank god Hans was in such good control of himself.
And thank god Mom wasn’t with Dad. Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what he’d seen. She would have an anyeurism, then come back from the dead so she could tell me she’d known having a boyfriend would turn me into one of those girls. I really didn’t need the shame trip. Although I supposed I would be able to tell her about my being a vampire, once she was undead herself. But no: even then, Mom would probably assume I’d only come back from the dead as a vampire so I would have an excuse to wear shiny, skin-tight black leather and impractically high-heeled boots so I could flaunt my non-existent ass in a less than subtle attempt to seduce victims into my embrace.
I swallowed, pulled my hood back down low, and slumped back into my seat. Tomorrow, I decided, I’m just going to stay dormant after sunrise. Nothing good came from being up during the day.
Hans got back into the driver’s seat. A minute later he started the engine and flipped off the radio. That was fine by me: it had transitioned to some DJ talking, and the music hadn’t been for me, anyway. In fact, I preferred it when there were as few things as possible to distract the driver. “Aw,” breathed Emma in mild disappointment — but I would have been astonished, and ecstatic, if she’d been able to feel anything other than mildly.
I felt the Hummer slide out of its parking spot and resumed my deathgrip on the edge of my seat. This time, however, the sensory overload was a welcome distraction from everything else going on in my head. I didn’t know what Dad thought of what he’d seen, and I didn’t want to speculate about it. I thought I had a pretty good idea of how close I’d come to killing Emma, and I really didn’t want to think about that. I kept coming back to it, though, even with every sound in what seemed like the entire city screaming at me that we were a hairsbreadth from being in an accident at any given moment.
If I’d drained her too far… what would have happened? John had said that a vampire’s bite was the only way to permanently kill a fae; that draining them prevented them from being reincarnated back in faerie land. Melvin had accused me of shrouding myself in souls stolen from others. Emma — or had it been John again? — had said that people used the terms ‘soul’ and ‘aura’ and ‘life force’ interchangeably.
If fae souls could go back to faerie land and reincarnate, did that mean mortal souls went somewhere when they died, too? I’d never been very religious, and I’d always put that worry off as a theological question I would no doubt find the answer to in some horrific way. Now it seemed to be a very practical concern. If I had drained Emma, would she just be… gone? Without even the possibility of moving on to heaven or hell or nirvana or purgatory or rebirth or whatever came after death?
I found myself blinking away tears, and was very grateful for the hood of Fumiko’s cloak. No one could see. I’d thought I was a monster when I first turned into a vampire, I thought. Now I think I realize what that actually means. Unless the atheists were right and there was no afterlife awaiting any mortal individuals, what could possibly be worse than the end I could force on someone? Which I wouldn’t even hesitate to do, if vampire Abby had been ceded enough control of my morality?
I tried not to, but I had to sniffle. Hans heard it.
“Abigail,” he asked quietly. “Are you okay?”
The question yanked me out of my thoughts. If we got in an accident because he was paying attention to me, and he and Emma and a bunch of people in another car — or maybe a school bus… yeah, probably a school bus — died, then it would be my fault. “I’m fine,” I said, but my voice cracked. Not even I would have believed me. “Just watch the road, please.”
“I am,” Hans said easily. “But I can talk, too. And I think you should. I didn’t hear everything between you and your mother — but between that, being sun-touched and how close things were with Emma… I think you probably need to,” he concluded.
“Okay,” I agreed, just to get him to stop. “Sure. But not right now. Right now can you please just pay attention to the road?” I cleared my throat, but I couldn’t make myself shut up — not if it meant he might decide he had an opening to pursue his avenue of questioning despite my request.
And who knew? Maybe I did need to talk, but couldn’t bring myself to talk about what I needed to.
“Seriously, Hans,” my autopilot said as it took over, “what if an alien saucer comes swooping down looking for abductees and grabs us because you’re not paying enough attention to the road to successfully dodge its claw hook tractor beam thingy, and then they stick needles in our bellybuttons and perform weird experiments on us and make us do kinky sexual stuff before dumping us in some field and zooming back into space.”
Hans started to reply, but I wasn’t done.
“And then,” I continued, “someone starts sending us creepy letters about how they know what happened, and trying to kill us, and we think it’s the farmer because the aliens stole some of his cows when they left and he looks like the sort who’d hold a grudge — so we try to talk to him to get him to stop it, but it’s actually the crazy old astronomer who lives on the hill and is convinced we’re the forefront of an alien invasion, and now the angry farmer thinks we have been stealing his cows, so we get arrested and then the astronomer contacts the government and they secret us off to a secret base where we’re dissected and experimented on in a desperate attempt to find a way to stave off the alien menace, only when the aliens come back the army’s silver bullets and wooden combat knives do no good what-so-ever because the aliens aren’t actually werewolves or vampires at all, and humanity is enslaved almost overnight.” I gasped for a breath my undead body didn’t actually need.
“Do you want to be responsible for that, Hans?” I demanded. “Really? Really?”
I knew my face was bright red now — and not because of accidentally making out in front of my dad. I hated it when my auto pilot took over. I didn’t even know what kind of crap would come out of my mouth when it did, but there was nothing I could do about it except hope that whoever I was talking to was so disquieted — or amused — by the insanity that they let me go before my verbal filters degraded completely.
Unfortunately, whenever I’d tried to freak Hans out like that he’d always managed to trump me. He snorted. “No,” he said, “but don’t worry: the chiefs of staff for the Vice President and current Speaker of the House are both warlocks, and most generals with more than two stars somehow wind up invited into lycanthrope packs, if they’re not already associated with the supernatural. I’m pretty sure the government would figure out what was going on.”
I looked up and caught him glancing at me in the rearview mirror. I may have been gawking: Hans’ expression turned amused before he glanced away.
“I’m sorry, Hans,” I heard myself saying as my auto pilot rallied for a different approach. “Even so… The shower was fun, but I really don’t want my first time with a man to be because some aliens want to study human reproduction and gassed our cell with some kind of aphrodisiac.” Oh god: had I really just told Hans I was a virgin?
I was blushing so hard I almost wondered if the sun had managed to scorch through the hood of my cloak to singe my ears. Dammit! Shut up Abby, I yelled at myself in vain.
Then Emma stretched out across the seats to lay her head in my lap. She looked up at me while I stared down at her, horrified by the realization that no, no she had not buckled up. “Ooooo, what happened in the shower?” She asked.
Shit shit shit. Now I had way too many things to panic about. Emma reached up and put her hand on my cheek. “You’re cute when you’re flustered,” she said. “And you get all fierce so no one will notice. Don’t worry, Abby. It’ll be okay. I won’t tell.”
I swallowed. Emma sounded like she was drunk, except without the slurring. So maybe it was more like she was high? I didn’t know: I’ve only seen people on drugs on TV. Maybe it was like she was really, really sleepy — except still wide awake. Probably because her aura is so messed up, I thought guiltily. With most of her capability for emotional depth stripped away, just how much context did she really have to assess my mental state right now? She could obviously guess what was going on in my head, probably based off of our experiences with shared souls — but if she really understood what those fears meant, she probably wouldn’t have tried to comfort me by talking about them where Hans could hear.
When I didn’t immediately cheer up, Emma started to pout — and then immediately moved on to tears. She doesn’t have enough of an aura to be disappointed without being nothing but disappointed, I realized in horror. And if I was right about negative emotions being the easiest to strip away, then that was dangerous. I immediately went into take care of Emma mode, and put on my best ‘everything is okay’ face.
“Hey,” I said softly. “I know everything is going to be okay. Look, I’m okay, too. See: I’m smiling. And joking around with Hans about aliens.” Keep Emma happy, I instructed myself. Change the subject. Don’t fight with Hans, don’t be a bitch, don’t you dare hurt her more.
“Hans, we need to stop at a gas station or something for some wet wipes,” I said. “My cloak is dark enough that the blood on it probably won’t be noticed, but Emma’s arm is going to raise questions if we don’t wash it off.”
I caught Hans glancing in the rearview mirror again and tried to pretend he was checking traffic. “Check under the seats,” he said. “I keep sanitary and cleaning supplies under them for those awkward times when I’ve had to shift shape without time to strip down.”
Emma immediately brightened. “I’ll get them!” She offered, and rolled out of my lap. I barely restrained myself from shrieking and trying to grab her like some kind of living seat belt. “Found them!” Emma cried. Then, a second later: “Hans, bullets are not cleaning supplies.”
“Oh,” Hans said. “Don’t mind the ammo. That’s just in case the shooters need a reload without the inconvenience of crawling into the back.”
I swallowed. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have a choice: “Hans, how often has that come up?” I asked with faux calmness.
“Oh, not often,” Hans said. “But you know the boy scout’s motto: be prepared.”
I swallowed again. My jaw was clenched tight with sickly fear, but I kept my lips and cheeks relaxed so I would look like I was just smiling if Emma looked up. ‘Not often’ sounded dangerously close to ‘too often.’
Emma sat up and held out a bottle of water, some cloths, and a few packets of extra large sanitary wipes. I took them and pulled her arm onto my lap. I leaned over it to keep the sun blocked, opened the water and wet down a cloth. Then I did my absolute best to ignore everything else.
By the time Hans parked, I still hadn’t succeeded. But I had managed to clean the dried blood off of Emma, and I hadn’t freaked out worse about the stuff I couldn’t get myself to ignore. Emma smiled at me when Hans got out of the car. “This is nice,” she said. “I like it when you take care of me.”
I felt a stab of guilt. If it weren’t for me, Emma wouldn’t need taking care of. I was going to have to confront her about that when her aura was in better shape. For now I just forced a smile. “I like it when you’re taken care of,” I said honestly. I just didn’t mention that I wasn’t the one who should be doing it.
Emma seemed oblivious to my thoughts, which was just as well. She reached out and caught my hand, then took one of the unused wipes from it. She smiled at me as she opened the packet. “My turn,” she said with deep contentment, and proceeded to dab at my mouth and chin. I almost started to smile at her.
Then I froze. The blood drained from my face. Emma continued to clean the dried blood that remained on it. I barely noticed. Mentally, I was trapped in recollections that I couldn’t separate from nightmares.
My dad was just standing there.
What had he seen?
Nothing, he couldn’t have seen anything. No fangs, anyway. None of Emma’s blood.
Was there any blood on Hans’ lip?
No. No, I hadn’t been as messy with Hans as with Emma.
For a second, Dad’s gaze met mine — but he just looked pale, and his eyes kept right on going as he hastily looked away.
Dad backed up a step, as though he weren’t entirely sure he could turn around without Hans coming after him for some reason.
“Let him go,” I whispered. Hans had to realize Dad hadn’t seen anything supernatural related.
Dad turned and bolted. Hans seemed to hesitate, but let him go.
Thank god Mom wasn’t with Dad. Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what he’d seen.
In the present, I forced myself to swallow, even though my mouth and throat felt dry. What had Dad seen? He’d seen the most damning thing of all, short of fangs. He’d seen my face.
My face, after I’d torn into Emma’s wrist with merciless abandon. My blood smeared, post-feeding face. And then he’d run.
Dad knew. He might not know what, but he had to know something was wrong with me. And he was smart. You had to be, to be a doctor. He’d figure me out, if he hadn’t already guessed. Maybe he’d be in denial, at first, but that wouldn’t last. I’d gotten my love of stories from Dad. Given what he’d seen, ‘vampire’ would be the first thing he’d tell himself in jest to defuse the awkwardness of the memory. But it wasn’t a joke, and Dad was too smart not to realize that, at least on some level.
And it was just a matter of time before he accepted what he knew, and decided what to do about it.