I didn’t know where Fumiko was taking us, just that it was away from Megan’s house. I kept trying to see if moving around made any change in my sense of the distance between Megan and I, but it didn’t. I was developing a sick pit of dread in my stomach: I was pretty sure that wherever Megan was right now, it wasn’t in our world.
Also, I had to call Dad. I kept twitching away from that responsibility. I didn’t want to know what he thought of me now — and if he was in denial about it, I didn’t want to have to be the one to break that. But I couldn’t leave him and Mom to be found by Director Lewellan.
The Director didn’t need more hostages.
Trembling slightly as I forced myself to do it, I pulled up my phone’s dial pad. I didn’t have Dad’s number stored like I did Mom’s because he didn’t guilt me if I didn’t call him back. I did have his number memorized, though, because I’d always been a daddy’s girl. With trembling fingers I tapped out the numbers and placed the call.
It rang, and rang, and rang — and then he picked up. He sounded tired, but not like I’d just woken him. “Abby,” he said. “I thought you might call, but this is earlier than I would’ve thought. Couldn’t sleep?”
My tongue felt thick in my throat. Mom’s rules of etiquette included a set window during which it was permissible to call people without being rude. Right now was not in one of those windows: it was too early, and might possibly be interrupting a meal. “Hi Dad,” I replied inanely. “No, I couldn’t sleep. Is Mom with you?” If she was, she’d just have to cope. I didn’t think poor phone etiquette would do much to compound her poor opinion of me — not after slapping her yesterday.
Even if she had deserved it.
Dad hesitated for a second. It felt a lot longer to me. I blamed all that stopping of time for screwing with my perception of how long a second could be.
“Not at the moment,” he said. “But she was pretty upset last night, pumpkin. I’m sure you can understand if it’s not a good idea for you two to talk right now?”
“Oh,” I said. “Yeah. So, did you two make it home okay?”
“We’re fine,” dad answered. “Don’t you worry about us — you need to be getting your life back together.”
I swallowed. He hadn’t told me if he and Mom had gone home or not. I had a strong suspicion that had been on purpose. I had a stronger one that the reason was that he didn’t want me to know where they were.
“If you haven’t gone home,” I started to say — but Dad interrupted me.
“Abby, are you in some kind of trouble?” He asked quietly.
My heart skipped a beat, so I just stopped it entirely. Well, there was the opening I needed. I swallowed. Fuck. “I… yeah. I can’t talk about it, Dad. I’ll be okay, I promise. But you and Mom shouldn’t go home for a while. Maybe take a vacation?” I didn’t know if the hospital would let him go, but he had to have some PTO piled up or he wouldn’t have been able to drive Mom up here to ambush me. “Blame it on me, if you have to. Tell work it’s the family emergency, and just make yourselves scarce for a while, okay?”
“No,” my Dad answered. I recoiled in surprise, which made Fumiko glance at me before turning her attention back to the road. “Abby, pumpkin, if you’re in trouble you need to talk to me. I’m your father. I’m not going to let you go through… this, whatever this is… on your own. And I deserve — well, whether I deserve it or not, as your father I demand a better explanation than your assurance that you’ll be okay. Especially after you’ve told me to take your mother and go into hiding!”
I could hear him walking around on the other end of the line — he must’ve started pacing: a habit we shared. It sounded like he was on carpet, so I was pretty sure he wasn’t at home. Mom liked her hardwood floors.
“Okay,” I said. “But I don’t think you’ll believe it.” I steeled myself. The truth was so far fucking out there that I was getting ready to make some bullshit up about Mr. Salvatore having mafia connections or something, but Dad interrupted me.
“Try me,” he said. “I’m pretty open minded, pumpkin. I’ve seen a lot of things at the hospital, when people are badly hurt, or sick, or just at the end of their lives. Miracles and tragedies alike. And… I know what I saw this morning. So don’t just tell me the parts of the story that you think I’ll believe. Tell me all of it.”
I started to tremble as my nerves wound up worse. He’d seen. Of course he’d seen, I’d known he’d seen. Me, with blood all over my mouth, fresh from feeding on Emma — the feeding that had torn her aura apart so viciously that now she was dying from it. Fumiko glanced at me again, and then pulled into a random parking lot. “I… I don’t know if I can explain,” I stammered.
“Please, Abby, try,” my dad plead.
I trembled harder. I couldn’t make myself just blurt it out over the phone. And Fumiko didn’t let me.
Fumiko took the phone from my hand, and I stared at her dumbly.
“Sir,” she said. “It’s Fumiko — Abby’s friend. Please believe me when I tell you that this cannot be explained over the phone. You won’t believe it if you don’t see it in front of you. So, just accept that your daughter is an adult, she’s going to be okay, and what she needs you to do for her is to lie low and keep safe for a while, alright?”
Thanks to my super hearing, I had no trouble listening in on Dad’s reply.
“Fumiko, huh?” He sounded tired — more tired than he had when he’d spoken to me. “I can’t do that. My little girl is in trouble, and I’m not going to run and hide while she faces it alone. Even if I can’t do anything about it, I can at least be there instead of cowering somewhere.”
“Sir, I don’t think you understand…”
“No,” my dad said sharply. “I think you are the one failing to understand. Fumiko, can you imagine your father abandoning you if you were in need? I’m not going to do that to my Abigail. If we have to talk in person, then let’s cut the hedging on the phone and arrange that. I’m still in town — the hotel off Jackson and Tenth, room 402. Or, if there’s some reason Abby shouldn’t be out now, then I can come to you. Whatever. But if you just try to cut me out of this, then so help me: I won’t hide. I’ll turn on my phone’s GPS and start posting my location online every half hour until someone shows up to tell me what’s going on.”
Fumiko glanced over at me. I nodded. Dad would do it. When he got stubborn, he was the only one I’d ever seen stand up to Mom and win.
“It’s not too late for us to stop by,” Fumiko said. “We’ll be there shortly.” She handed the phone back to me.
I mouthed a silent ‘thank you.’ Even if Fumiko hadn’t convinced Dad to let it go, I wouldn’t have been able to handle that conversation. I would’ve floundered and panicked and been even worse of a mess than I already was — and I didn’t need that.
Fumiko started the car again while Dad and I said awkward goodbyes. Then I hung up. Inanely, I noticed that it started to rain.
After a couple minutes of listening to the drops splattering on our windshield and the intermittent whisk of the wipers, I forced myself to find a silver lining. “At least Mom is somewhere safe,” I said aloud. I glanced at Fumiko and saw her eyebrows rise, though she didn’t take her eyes off the road.
“Are you talking to me, or just thinking out loud?” she asked.
“Talking,” I said. “Is that so strange?” Of course, I knew it was. I hated distracting the driver. But, hell: the truth was my usual behavior was what was strange. Two people talking in a car wasn’t.
“For you, yeah,” Fumiko said. “Usually you’re scared stiff if Megan and I are chatting.”
I sighed and stared at my hands in my lap. “Yeah. Well, I guess I have more important things to be worried about now. Plus, I have more options now than I used to. If we do get in a horrible wreck, as long as no one is killed instantly I can probably fix them up with sympathetic vampire-bite healing.”
Fumiko didn’t reply. When she did, it was with her usual understated unflappability. “Huh,” she said. “Well, that is creepily reassuring. So, how do you figure with your mom?”
I shrugged awkwardly, then remembered that I really didn’t want Fumiko to be looking at me instead of the road. “Dad never said she was with him, and he said he was still in town and he had a hotel room. Dad doesn’t like to lie because, well, he relies on his reputation as an honest man to make sure people trust him and listen when he’s working. So when he does have something he doesn’t want you to know, he usually hedges around talking about it instead of actually telling a lie. That, or he tells you something so preposterous you know it’s just a story.”
I remembered when I was little and he was helping me find Easter eggs and I had asked him about where the Easter bunny lived. He had gotten intensely uncomfortable, then hemmed and hawed — and ultimately confessed that there was no Easter bunny…
…because it had been eaten by the Easter cockatrice, and that’s why people found Easter eggs these days instead of Easter carrots. And why it was so important for us to find all the eggs and make sure they didn’t hatch. Because, honestly: who wants an epidemic of rooster-lizard-chickens turning people into statues? No one, that’s who. And if asked why cracking open a cockatrice egg produced candy instead of some kind of gooey monster yolk? Well, that was magic for you: those were young cockatrice eggs that were still growing. The ones that had finished transforming — the ones with the chocolate shells and nougat filling — those were the ones that were about to hatch, and it was darn lucky we’d found them when we did. We’d always eat those ones first.
“Huh,” Fumiko said. “Well, that’s something. Hopefully your mom didn’t just go home, then.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. I didn’t think she would have. I was pretty surprised she’d gone anywhere without Dad, actually. I was pretty sure I got my fear of traveling from her. I tried to think of where she might’ve gone that wasn’t far from the city. Maybe to visit her sister. She had a place in some little town that was the next best thing to a suburb.
In any event, the conversation in the car broke off after that, as neither of us really had anything to add.
Fortunately, Fumiko was a good navigator. In relatively short order she’d found the hotel Dad had directed her to, and we’d found a place to park. Fumiko locked up the car after we’d gotten out, and we crossed to the hotel’s entrance.
Funny thing: it was the first time I’ve ever crossed a parking lot in the dark and not been scared. I think Fumiko picked up on it, too — she’s always been a little protective of me, but right now I was striding along beside her instead of cowering along behind her. I caught her giving me another sidelong glance and sent her a tight smile.
“Now that I can see in the dark,” I explained, “it just isn’t quite so scary.”
Fumiko snorted. “I bet being able to punch through walls probably doesn’t hurt, either.”
I paused to look at Fumiko, surprised she knew how strong I was. She stopped and faced me, too. “Yeah,” I agreed. I really should have listened when she tried to convince Megan and I to sign up for women’s self defense in college. “And that’s just brute force… Um, thanks for showing me how to throw a punch, by the way. It turned out to be really helpful.”
Fumiko looked startled, and I realized I hadn’t told her all the details about Melvin and I being ambushed last night. I started to, but thinking about Melvin made me realize I’d been overlooking something obvious. I held up a hand to forestall our conversation and turned to call out to the open: “Melvin! Hey, if you’re around get over here and show yourself!” I waited a couple seconds and sighed. Then I turned back to Fumiko.
“Either he’ll show up or he won’t, I guess,” I said. “But I should’ve thought to do that earlier.”
“Uh, yeah,” Fumiko said. Then: “That’s all it takes to call him? You don’t need to use some fancy ritual or something?”
“That’s it,” I told her. “He has a bad habit of showing up if I just use his name too much in a conversation, too.”
“Huh.” Fumiko said. She turned toward the hotel. “I’ll have to remember that,” I heard her mutter under her breath.
I frowned. Had Melvin told Fumiko she could call on him, too? I really didn’t like that idea. Melvin might be geas-bound against trying to claim me, but I still didn’t trust him around my friends. I hastened to rejoin her side. “Be careful around him,” I told her. “He likes to play with people, and to him ‘play’ means messing with their heads and taking over their lives.” A shiver ran down my spine. Like Zane, I didn’t say. I had no idea what had happened to the real Zane, but since Melvin had managed to completely replace Mrs. Butterson’s nephew, I knew it couldn’t be good. Is he trapped in faerie land? I wondered. Emma had said that doppelgangers liked to do that to the people they replaced, to keep their victim out of the way and reinforce the magic that let them steal their target’s life.
Apparently identity theft wasn’t the crime wave of the digital age: faeries had been doing it forever, and modern day hackers were nothing compared to a doppelganger.
Fumiko glanced at me again. “I will,” she said simply. I took her at her word. She was always the most level headed and cautious of the three of us.
Well, when she hadn’t been provoked into being overconfident and aggressive, anyway. Except: was it really overconfidence if you actually could break pretty much anyone you met in hand to hand combat?
I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind. I knew I was just worrying about Fumiko to distract myself from worrying about meeting with my dad. I’d been impressed with myself for walking beside Fumiko as we crossed the parking lot and entered the hotel. But by the time we were walking down the hall to Dad’s room I had to follow her, instead.
And when we stopped outside his room, she was the one who had to knock on his door, too.