Traveling by car was a nightmare. I’d already discovered this, but it was hammered in on the trip home, when someone actually did almost collide with us. According to Emma, they’d cut across lanes while turning at a four way stop when they would have had the yellow turn signal and we had the right of way. All I know is that it scared me out of my skin when they laid on the horn from directly behind us. I just about turned fetal at that point, and I kind of remember Emma saying something like: ‘so what do you do if the shooters have plenty of ammo but no gun, Hans?’ but the rest of the ride was just me with my eyes squeezed shut repeating it’s okay, you’re already dead, over and over like a mantra, trying to drown out the rest of the noise.
I may have been muttering under my breath, I’m not sure. I may have been saying it louder.
Hans and Emma had to work together to get me out of the car, I was so tense. After a couple of stumbling steps, Hans just scooped me up and carried me into the house as quickly as he could. Once we were inside I pulled back my hood so I could see, and then stumbled forward to collapse in the nearest of the chairs at the table. I hurt from my muscles being clenched so hard for so long, and even though I was still plenty alive I was having trouble breathing.
At that point, my mantra became: “It’s okay, I’m okay, I’m fine; don’t worry,” as I tried to reassure Emma that I wasn’t on the verge of a nervous collapse. Fortunately for my fragile grasp on morality that wasn’t even a lie: I was way past the point where a nervous collapse would help. I was positive that I would not be going over to see Fumiko and Megan before dark… and then I’d fucking walk.
To my mortification… or at least, I’d be mortified once I wasn’t freaking out… John walked in on us during that. He looked between Hans and Emma and I, and then asked: “What’s going on?”
It wasn’t a very practical question. I just looked at him and continued spouting my mantra. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine. Its okay, honest.” I was belied by the fact that I’d dug my nails into my palms to the point that they’d drawn blood — but at least it seemed to have the consistency of ‘living’ blood, as opposed to the sludge I’d found when I’d bitten Mr. Salvatore.
John looked right past me to Hans, which was annoying. Did he think I wasn’t telling the truth? Dammit, usually I was better at covering things up than that! “It was just a little road noise,” I said. “I was startled, but I’m fine.”
“Some jerk almost ran into us,” Emma said, “and when he hit his horn it really freaked Abby out.”
“That’s not true,” I protested. It wasn’t either: it hadn’t just been the mind rending blare of the other driver’s horn each time he’d slammed it, it had been the way I could hear his car coming at ours, and the squeal when he’d tapped his brakes, and…
“Abigail has had a rough afternoon,” Hans said. “Hopefully nothing as exciting happened here?”
“Nope,” said John. “All’s calm here. I had my coroner friend stop by and redo the house wards. Other than that, it’s been positively dull. But what about you? Bad drivers aside, how did meeting Abby’s folks go? Or catching up with Linda? I haven’t talked to her yet, myself.”
My stomach felt vaguely like it was dropping out of my gut. Why did all of these topics just have to get worse? I made myself stand up. “You two can catch up,” I said to Hans and John. “I’m going to call Megan back and let them know I can’t come by until after dark, after all. Its just not a good idea for me to be out in the day.”
I wanted to run away from everyone so I could just break down already, but I couldn’t neglect Emma. I turned toward her and forced a smile. “I know we’re supposed to be pampering you,” I said, “but you were falling asleep at the restaurant. Do you want to take a nap or something while I get everything settled with Megan and Fumiko?” I needed her to be doing something so I wouldn’t have ‘you should be taking care of Emma!’ flaying me on top of everything else I had to cope with.
Fortunately, Emma nodded. “That doesn’t sound bad,” she agreed. “Especially since I think I need to finish flipping my sleep schedule around,” she added with a laugh. Then she frowned. “But you maybe you should lay down, too. I know you’re stressed, Abby, and you need to be able to relax and deal with it.”
“I will,” I reassured her — but I was already backing away from the three of them, toward the hallway door. “Promise. And I’m fine.” I didn’t think any of them believed me, but I was okay with that: I had gotten out of reach. I turned and bolted.
I knew Emma would be heading upstairs for her nap, so I went toward the basement. In the parlor, I realized that Emma might opt to nap on the couch, like she had yesterday. With my stomach doing flips and my internal mantra transformed into a barrage of things I had to freak out about, I apparently wasn’t thinking too straight.
I also needed to hide before I fell apart. Before someone could catch me at it.
I fled into the utility room. I didn’t bother with the light. I hadn’t bothered with the basement parlor light, either. It didn’t matter, though, because I could see — because I was an undead, blood drinking, murderous freak. I was a monster.
I tried to swallow that thought back, but my stomach would have none of it. Apparently I had packed down too many horrible things already. I didn’t want to cry, but my eyes were already leaking. I sank down next to the washer and covered my mouth with one hand, doing my best to stifle a sob. I didn’t know if Hans could hear me, but I didn’t want him to. It was bad enough that Emma had the insight she did — at least now that she was officially off the menu, that wouldn’t be getting worse. But I couldn’t let any of them know how messed up I really was.
It wasn’t even that I was afraid the Directors would lock me up, anymore. I mean, I was… but I had more important things to worry about. Hans and Emma’s auras were fucked up because of me. They were vulnerable to the fae because of me. And I was supposed to be the big bad vampire who kept the fae too scared to take advantage of it.
I couldn’t let anyone know how messed up I was, that I couldn’t do it, that all I wanted was for Hans or Emma or Dad to wrap me up in a hug and tell me it would be okay. But that couldn’t happen because Hans and Emma needed to be able to rely on me, and Dad…
I didn’t know if he would actually try to put an end to the abomination I had become, or if he would just grab Mom and run. In either case, my family was gone. I should have realized that my mortal life ended when I’d died. Realizing that it was gone now hurt more than I could describe. What did I even think I was doing?
Somewhere upstairs was the manuscript Hans had brought home for me to edit. What the fuck was I doing, pretending to be a normal person with a real day job?
I started to cry. To really cry and not just leak tears and choke on sobs. What was the point of making a list of things to freak out about if they weren’t even going to let me deal with them in order? By all rights, I should’ve been focused on figuring out Hans’ real age. Instead, I was a crumpled pile on a filthy floor, my face buried in my arms; wailing into the concrete because I couldn’t stop picturing all the ways my dad might put an end to the monster who had once been his little girl.
And while I was doing that? No one was going over to help Megan and Fumiko deal with Melvin, which just made me feel worse. No one could rely on me. What did I fucking think I was doing?
I sucked in a breath and slowly exerted control over my trembling limbs. What did I think I was doing? No… The question really was: What was I actually doing?
I’d almost killed Megan. I’d almost killed Emma. I’d tried to kill Katherine. I’d fucked up Hans’ aura, planned to kill Fumiko, and given serious consideration to killing Mom.
I’d hit my mom.
Whatever I was doing, it was fucking wrong. Clearly. Obviously. After all, if what I was doing was right, I wouldn’t be fucking everything up for everyone, would I? Maybe I’d be safer in a box in the Directors’ morgue. Not personally safer. Just safer to everyone else.
I pushed myself up off the floor. Slowly I staggered further into the utility room. Mr. Salvatore’s corpse sat there: a silent witness to my frayed collapse. A literal witness, if my understanding of vampire dormancy was correct.
“I hate you,” I whispered.
I didn’t know if I was talking to Mr. Salvatore, or to the thing I’d become.
I looked up from Mr. Salvatore, at Hans’ gun cabinet.
I’d be safer in a box in the morgue.
I’d considered killing myself before. Who hasn’t? But I never acted on it. Never even started to. Sure, I realized I could guarantee myself a more humane end if I engineered it instead of waiting for whatever nightmare finally did it for me, but I never had the fortitude to do the things that would need to be done. I usually told myself it was because I was too afraid of pain, too afraid of blood, too aware of how horrible it would be of me to put those I’d left behind through that misery. That wasn’t entirely true, though.
Once, in my senior year of high school, I’d realized that just because you always hear about suicidal people slitting there wrists, that didn’t mean it was the only way. Overdosing on pills might not really hurt. There wouldn’t be any blood. And as long as I did it somewhere that I wouldn’t be found, everyone could just tell themselves I’d run off somewhere and was living my own life. No one had to be miserable for me to be gone.
That had been the scariest night of my life, all the way up until the night I’d actually died, because I’d finally come up with reasons to disregard everything I used to tell myself to keep from taking that step.
Dad had saved me, although he didn’t know it. He had come in that night and told me that he and Mom had talked things out, and he’d convinced her that they should help me pay for college. It had been the first time that I’d really thought that I might have a life away from home. That should have terrified me worse. Somehow — perhaps because it was being contrasted against the utter finality of ending everything — it didn’t.
I would have lost out on all of the good things in my life if I’d given in. I would never have met Megan, or Fumiko. Never have been kissed by Hans. Never danced with Emma. Never enjoyed the number three with extra fucking bacon! Whenever I found myself looking at that kind of despair, I countered it by forcing myself to remember the best things to have happened to me since that night. At first it had just been I’m getting away, but that list had grown since that night. I still never forgot the first thing on it, though.
I wondered if Dad would regret it, if he ever found out that he’d once saved me. Saved me, just so I could turn into this. Now I didn’t even think I had the option of suicide — not when failure just meant giving in to the vampire side of the equation. Even if I shot myself in the head… would that be enough, or would I just get up, dust myself off, and murder Hans? Or Emma? Or someone.
I went through my list again now: My own life. Megan. Fumiko. Hans. Emma. Bacon. Manga. Yaoi. Yuri, probably someday. I needed to start rebuilding my collection somewhere.
Something in the gun cabinet caught my eye. I reached out, took hold of the padlock that secured the door, and almost decided to yank it off the latch. I didn’t, though. That would have been shitty of me. I’d mindlessly destroyed enough stuff. Instead, I let the padlock slide out of my fingers. I let thoughts of yuri slide away, too.
I had more important things to do than feel sorry for myself or freak out about stuff or think about manga. There were people who relied on me, and I couldn’t let them down. Not just because of something stupid like being broken. I’ve always been broken.
I turned around and went upstairs. I found Hans and John sitting at the table in the front room. They’d obviously heard me coming because I didn’t interrupt them talking, and they were watching the door when I opened it.
“Hans,” I said, “can you get something for me out of your gun safe?”
Hans’ eyes met mine. I wondered if he’d heard me crying.
“We haven’t started your lessons yet,” Hans pointed out gently.
“Oh, I know,” I said. “And I don’t want a gun. I want a set of that noise canceling headgear you’re supposed to wear while you’re on the range. If you could just put it with my cloak so I don’t forget about it the next time I go out, that would be wonderful.”
I turned to John before Hans could answer because I knew what Hans’ answer would be, and I didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep a grip on myself. “And John… I know I’m imposing, but can I ask you to go and check on my friends? I don’t really trust Melvin with them, but there have been too many close calls for me to be able to justify going out in the day anymore. Not until I figure out what I’m doing about donors.”
John straightened in his seat. “Sure, no problem,” he agreed. I smiled. It was weak, but it wasn’t forced.
“Thank you,” I said. I had to blink away my gratitude because it left my eyes wet and my voice trembling and my vision inexplicably blurry. “Thank you.”
Just like that, Hans was on his feet. Before I’d finished blinking, he’d folded me into his arms. He held me close. His chin rested on the top of my head. “It will get better, Abigail,” he promised. “It will.”
I should have panicked over being seized like that, but Hans had proved I was safe with him too many times for my body to get the message my paranoia was trying to send. Or maybe I was just that broken. In either case, I clung to him. Somehow he had managed to say exactly what I needed to hear, exactly as I needed to hear it.
Safely trapped against Hans’ chest, I let my remaining tears flow.