Bad: Fate of the Vampire is finished but not fully edited so the launch will be delayed by a few days.
Good: It ended up being 92K words, which is almost twice Call of the Vampire
More Good: Just so I don't leave you hanging, here is the prologue and first four chapters. I will get the whole thing out there ASAP.
Happy Valnetine's Day and I apologize for the delay. I was just trying to write a satisfying ending and it took more time than I anticipated.
xo ~ Gayla
Fate of the Vampire
By Gayla Twist
My hair is a curly tornado, and it’s always a challenge to see if I can subdue it without causing myself injury. I was upstairs in the bathroom giving it a triumphant final spray when I heard the doorbell chime. “I’ll get it!” I shouted, sprinting for the stairs like a madwoman.
My mom stepped into the hallway as I raced past, and she barely had time to get out of the way to avoid me barreling into her. “Slow down,” she called after me in her best motherly tone. “You don’t want to be too eager.”
I was always eager to see Jessie—like, rip the door off the hinges eager to see him—but what I really wanted to do was answer the door before my mom did. In fact, I needed to be the one to answer the door so that I could invite the gorgeous and enigmatic Jessie Vanderlind into our home. His coming over was a huge step forward in our relationship.
The lock on the front door gave me a bit of trouble. I’d opened the door a hundred thousand times in my life, but my fingers were having trouble obeying me. It didn’t help that I knew Jessie was standing on the other side of the door and as soon as I managed to claw through it, I would be in his arms.
Finally, I was able to wrench the door open. “Jessie,” I gasped.
There he stood—tall, chiseled, pale as moonlight, with full lips and dark, ruffled hair—a fantasy come to life and waiting patiently on my front step. He ran his fingers through his hair a couple of times and then looked at me with his gorgeous gray eyes. “Good evening, Miss Keys,” he said, one arm tucked behind his back. I had the sneaking suspicion he was concealing a bouquet of flowers.
“Good evening, Mr. Vanderlind,” I said, mimicking his formal style but feeling like I had taken a light blow to the belly. Just seeing him had knocked the wind out of me. I pushed the front door open a little wider. “Won’t you please …”
“Aurora, wait,” he said, cutting me off with a sudden urgency. “I know we agreed to this, but I really need you to think about what you’re about to do.”
“I have thought about it,” I informed him. We’d had this conversation before, multiple times.
“Please, just listen to me this one last time before we do this,” he insisted, reaching across the threshold and taking my hand. A jolt of electric tingles raced up my arm. That always happened when he touched me. “Some people get a pit bull as a pet. And they love their dog and roughhouse with it and trust it around their children,” he began. “But still, it’s an animal. A dangerous animal. It’s unpredictable.” I drew breath to interrupt, but he kept going. “Then one day, something gets tweaked in the dog’s brain, and it tries to rip the face off the neighbor who just happens to be out in his front yard planting spring tulips.” I tried again to say something to stop him, but he raised a hand to silence me. “And when the cops interview the distraught pet owners, they always say the same thing. They always say, ‘He’s such a good dog. We never thought he would ever hurt anyone.’ And they love their dog. They really love it. But that doesn’t mitigate the fact that the neighbor is in the intensive care unit. That doesn’t stop the creature they love from actually being a killer.”
“That has nothing to do with you and me,” I informed him rather stubbornly. He could use any crazy example he wanted, but I wasn’t going to change my mind.
“It has everything to do with you and me,” Jessie said, his expression very grave as he struggled to make his point. “When you invite someone like me into your home, you’re taking a risk. No matter how much I love you and no matter how much you love me, you’re still taking a risk that someday something will snap inside my head and I’ll end up killing you.”
I should have listened. I should have forced myself to hear all of the words coming out of his perfect lips, but instead, I only heard him say, “I love you.”
That was enough for me. I wasn’t going to listen to anything else. I pushed the front door open even wider and said in a clear voice, “Jessie Vanderlind, won’t you please come in.”
With a defeated sigh, Jessie stepped over the threshold. Despite myself and all of my convictions, a wave of dread washed over me. I had, after all, just invited a vampire into our home.
“Hello. I’m Helen Keys, Aurora’s mom,” a bright voice said behind me.
Once Jessie had stepped over the threshold and into our home, I wrapped my arms around his neck, eager to kiss him and practically scaling him in my attempt to do so. But he kept his posture ramrod straight, his arm clenched behind his back, and gave no indication that he had any inclination toward kissing me at all. That’s when I realized my mother was in the room. I’d been so busy battling the lock on the door and persuading Jessie to enter our home that I hadn’t heard her come down the stairs.
“Mom.” I blushed, immediately releasing him. “This is Jessie Vanderlind. Jessie, this is my mom.”
Jessie stepped forward, extending his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Keys.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jessie,” Mom said, shaking his hand. “Aurora has a lot of great things to say about you.” I felt myself blush. Mom continued. “But let’s just stick with Ms. Keys for right now.” My mother was in that awkward position of having divorced my father a decade earlier but kept his last name because I was only seven at the time and she didn’t want to traumatize me any more than I had already been traumatized. But still, who wanted to walk around for the rest of her life labeled as Mrs. Whoever when she wasn’t even married to the guy anymore? Especially because my dad was a cheating snake who always complained bitterly about having to pay child support.
“Thank you for having me into your home, Ms. Keys,” Jessie said, pulling his arm forward from behind his back and presenting her with a large bouquet of purple flowers that had sunny little yellow faces.
“Asters,” my mom said, smiling as she accepted his offering. “How sweet.” Then, looking up at Jessie and giving him an amused smile, she said, “Well, aren’t you the charmer. I never expected a date of Aurora’s to bring me flowers.” I have to admit, I felt a brief sting; I had thought the flowers were for me. But my flash of jealousy didn’t last long because I could see that my mom was pleased. She turned to head toward the kitchen. “I’ll just put these in water. Can I offer you anything to drink, Jessie?”
“I’ll have the same as the flowers are having,” he told her.
“Aurora, why don’t you get your guest a glass while I deal with these stems,” Mom said. I knew that was code for, “Come in the kitchen for a moment.”
“I’ll be right back,” I told him, squeezing his arm. An evening frost still clung to him, and I knew that he had flown over. “You can hang your coat on the hook if you want.” We had a coat rack by the door that we really only used for visitors.
When I walked into the kitchen, Mom had Jessie’s water already waiting. “I can see why you were so excited,” she said in a whisper, handing me the glass. “I didn’t know they made seventeen-year-old boys that good looking. He could be a model.”
Dinner went surprisingly well. Jessie did a remarkable job faking his way through eating a meal, going so far as to rave over my mom’s pot roast, even though it was a little dry. “So, Jessie, are you part of the Vanderlind family that lives in the big house on the river?” Mom asked. I had already told her that he was, but I guessed it was her way of trying to make conversation.
“Yes, I’m the youngest in the family,” he replied truthfully, although he failed to mention that he was closer to Grandma Gibson’s age than he was to mine.
“Do you have any siblings?” Mom wanted to know.
“I have an older brother, Daniel, and some cousins that come to stay with us from time to time,” he told her. “But usually, it’s just Daniel, my mom, and me.”
“But you don’t go to Tiburon High?” Mom asked, piling more meat on Jessie’s plate under the assumption he was a growing boy.
“No, I’m home schooled.” That was the reply that Jessie and I had worked out. It would save a lot of questions about sports and after-school activities.
I’d been watching Jessie carefully. To all appearances, he was enjoying his meal, happily chewing away. But closer observation proved that he was just using his vampire speed to quickly remove the food from his mouth and conceal it in his napkin every time my mother glanced away. It was a pretty easy maneuver when he was eating the meat, but a little less graceful when it came to things like mashed potatoes. There were a few times when I had to stifle a giggle.
After we were done eating, Jessie insisted upon carrying his plate to the kitchen and even made his best offer to do the dishes. “You made this wonderful meal; the least I can do is wash up,” he told my mom, winning her over completely.
“No, you two go on and study. I’ll get the dishes,” she told him. When he tried to protest, she added, “I promise I’ll let you scrub a bunch of pans next time,” which made them both chuckle a little.
“Okay, great. Thanks, Mom,” I said, grabbing Jessie by the hand and heading for the stairs.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Mom said, stopping me in my tracks. “There’s no studying in your bedroom with a boy,” she reminded me. “You know that.” It had always been a rule, just not a rule I’d had any previous reason to try to cross. I’d only had one boyfriend, briefly, before Jessie, and he’d only been over to our house once or twice. “You two can use the living room,” she informed us.
It was literally impossible for me to concentrate on anything but Jessie when the two of us were in the same room. It was even challenging for me to think about anything but Jessie when he was not in the room with me. Fortunately, I had all my assigned school work done already; “homework” was just an excuse I told my mom because it sounded like what normal teenage couples do.
I took a seat on the couch, and Jessie took his seat, chastely, a full cushion-length away from me. I frowned, looked down at the cushion, looked up at my boyfriend, and blinked at him slowly. A smirk spread across Jessie’s full lips as he reached over and slid me across the couch so I was sitting snugly next to him. Vampires are surprisingly strong. I pressed against his muscular, lean chest and sighed. Being with him was intoxicating.
When my mom turned on the sink and we could hear her clinking the dishes together, Jessie bent down a little and kissed me on the lips. It was a soft, tender kiss, but I could feel the hunger underneath. It sent little sparks of pleasure shooting all over my body. “I know we should be studying, but I wanted to give you a proper hello,” he whispered, his breath tickling my neck and sending my libido through the roof.
The next thing I knew, I was on top of him, straddling him on the couch, kissing him madly and burying my fingers in his thick, dark hair. It wasn’t anything I’d planned or even thought through; I was just consumed with desire for him and never wanted him to stop touching me. “Aurora,” he whispered a bit hoarsely, and it was ecstasy to hear him say my name.
“Oh, Jessie,” I murmured back, lost in the touch, the taste, the smell of him.
Suddenly, I found myself at the other end of the couch with an open book in my lap. It happened so quickly that it made my head spin.
“Would either of you like some dessert?” Mom asked, poking her head in the living room. “We have ice cream.”
“No, thank you, Ms. Keys,” Jessie said, looking up from a book of his own. “I’m stuffed from dinner.” He patted his flat stomach to show how full it was.
“I’m good, Mom,” I added. “But thanks for asking.”
As soon as she disappeared, Jessie closed his book and set it on the coffee table. “I should go,” he said, starting to get to his feet.
“Why?” I practically whined, springing across the couch and grabbing his arm. “It’s still early.”
“I know, but I can’t keep my hands off of you,” he said, extracting himself from my grip. “And I don’t want to be impolite to your mother.”
“Then I’ll go upstairs and we can meet at our window,” I told him. We’d spent many secret evenings with Jessie sitting outside on the roof of our porch while I leaned out my bedroom window so we could talk without him receiving an invitation to enter our home. “This time, you can actually come in.”
Jessie smiled at me—a lovely, happy smile tinged with lust. Pulling me into his arms, he dipped me low, letting his lips skim over the flesh of my neck. “Aurora,” he whispered, breathing in deeply, taking in the scent of me. “I want to be with you so badly. More than you’ll ever know.”
“Then meet me at our window,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. I wasn’t normally so forward with boys. In fact, I usually didn’t chase after boys at all. I really didn’t mind being a virgin. Sex in high school was so complicated for girls. If you didn’t have sex, you got called frigid, and if you did have sex, you got called a slut. I had decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to have sex with some random dude just to get it over with. I was going to wait for someone special, and that someone had his arms encircling my waist. Jessie and I had been through a lot together, and he’d saved my life on more than one occasion. Plus, the connection between us was electric; a simple caress from his hand was more thrilling than French kissing anyone else. So that was why I was so desperate to be with him. When I thought about having sex with Jessie, I was beyond ready. I did remember that one time Jessie had told me that he wanted to wait for marriage to be with me, but I was determined to erode his resolve. He had, after all, just said that he wanted me more than I could ever know.
“But,” Jessie added, pulling his lips away from mine. I hated that there was a “but.” Jessie righted me on my feet, still keeping his arms around me. “This will be the first time for both of us.” He was so gorgeous, it was hard to believe he was a virgin, but he had no reason to lie to me. “I don’t want to rush into intimacy because we’re both feeling passionate. I think we should take it slow. I want to court you. I want to give you romance. I want to make our first time truly special.”
My first impulse was to tell him that just being with him made everything special. But he was right; it was his first time, too. If he thought we should go slow so he had time to court and romance me, then who was I to say no? As far as I could tell from my limited knowledge of the world, women craved romance and men were usually pretty damn reluctant to fork it over. Here I was, lucky enough to have a romantic boyfriend. The least I could do was appreciate my good fortune.
Finally, I spoke. “Okay,” I agreed. “I can wait if you can. But promise me,” I said, pressing my forehead against his, “promise me it won’t be too long.”
Jessie released a small laugh. “You’re such a modern girl. It really does take some getting used to.” I was about to feel hurt or embarrassed or something, but he quickly gave me a passionate kiss and added, “I promise.”
“Aurora,” my mom said in a subdued voice.
I was having a wonderful dream where I was gathering colorful blooms in a lush, green field of wildflowers. My hair was loose around my shoulders, and I was wearing a favorite dress—green with tiny white flowers. There was a handsome boy by my side; the sunlight was dancing off his dark, wavy hair, and when he smiled at me, I could see happiness illuminating his usually stormy gray eyes. We were walking along hand in hand, plucking flowers as we went. I didn’t know where we were going, but I didn’t care. All I knew was I was very, very happy. And in a strange way, I felt at peace.
That’s why I did not want to relinquish the dream for school or work or whatever reason my mom was trying to wake me. None of those mundane things could measure up to being next to him with the sun warming our backs and smiles brightening our faces. Besides, I was pretty sure it was a Sunday.
“Aurora,” Mom said again, shaking me gently. There was a bit of a tremble in her throat that didn’t sound right. That’s what finally pulled me from my slumber.
“What is it?” I asked, forcing open one eye and then the other.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Mom said, taking a deep sniff and brushing at her cheeks.
I sat up in bed, immediately alarmed. Someone had to be dead. “Is it Grandma Gibson?” I asked, putting my arms around her. My great grandmother was in her nineties, so she was the most likely person I could think of to pass away.
“No.” Mom shook her head as more tears spilt down her cheeks, replacing those she had just wiped away. “I’m sorry. Don’t worry. You don’t have to be alarmed. Everybody’s fine.”
“Then why are you crying?” I wanted to know, thinking maybe she’d gotten a phone call from my jerk-face father, or maybe she’d been laid off or something.
Mom took a deep breath and said, “They found Colette’s body.”
“What?” I said, practically rocketing out of the bed, my heart hammering in my chest. “What do you mean?”
“They finally found Grandma Gibson’s sister.” Mom let out a sob, covering her face with her hands. “What am I going to tell Grams?”
I felt an ice cold shiver creeping up my spine. When it reached my scalp, I could feel my hairs standing up on end one by one. I had a very complicated history with Colette Gibson—more complicated than my mother would ever know. “Where did they find her? What happened?” I asked, struggling for breath and trying to keep a throb from creeping into my voice.
“The chief of police called just a little while ago. He said the construction crew that’s rebuilding the foundation for the town hall unearthed a body late yesterday afternoon.” Mom took a ragged breath and continued. “There haven’t been that many people who have disappeared around here, so they figured it out pretty quickly. I guess she’s …” Mom’s shoulders shook as she let out a few more sobs. “I guess she’s very well preserved. It’s been so long since Colette disappeared that they didn’t know who to call, so they called me.” Mom pinched the bridge of her nose as if fighting back a headache. “They wanted to know if I can bring Grandma Gibson down to the morgue to identify the body.”
“Oh, no,” I gasped. “They can’t make her do that. Can’t they just go by DNA or something?” My great grandmother had been mourning the loss of her sister ever since the night Colette disappeared. Grandma was eighteen at the time, and her sister was a year younger—the exact same age I was at that moment—seventeen. It seemed too cruel to make a woman in her nineties show up to identify a body at the morgue. On the other hand, Lillian Gibson had been tortured by not knowing the fate of her beloved sister for almost her entire life. Maybe knowing the truth would give her some peace.
“I’ll go with you,” I found myself saying, even though I hadn’t even fully formed the thought in my head.
“Would you?” Mom asked, catching at my hand. “I’m sorry to ask you to do this, but … You know how much you remind Grandma Gibson of Lettie and … I don’t know. I think it might somehow make her feel better if you were there at the morgue.” According to my great grandmother, I was the spitting image of her long-lost sister. Sometimes, when dementia had her in its foggy grip, she even called me Lettie, and we had awkward conversations with me masquerading as the dead girl.
I must have given my mom a horrified look because she quickly added, “Not to identify the body or anything, but just to comfort her if the person they found is Colette.”
I nodded, giving my mom another squeeze. Of course, I had to go. It was the right thing to do. The whole idea terrified me, but I also felt compelled to try to see Colette’s body if I could. It wasn’t just morbid curiosity or anything like that; there was actually a strong chance that I was somehow the reincarnation of Colette Gibson. Or at least part of me was. Or part of her was me. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the whole reincarnation thing worked. It all seemed pretty crazy to me, but it also seemed crazy that vampires existed, and I knew that they did for a fact. After all, I was dating one.
But the truth was, besides looking like Colette Gibson, I also shared some of her memories. I had always thought they were just bizarre recurring dreams that I’d had my whole life, but numerous conversations with Jessie had shown me otherwise.
I got dressed, and we both wolfed down our breakfast. Mom wanted to get over to the Ashtabula Home for Elder Care as quickly as possible. She didn’t want Grandma Gibson to accidentally find out without us there to comfort her.
On the drive over, I stared dully out the car window. The cold, miserable December day was doing a good job mirroring my feelings—such a sharp contrast to the previous night when I had been blissfully happy in Jessie’s arms.
When we signed in at the retirement home, it was obvious that everyone in the building knew something was up. Several of the staff members were staring at us, speaking in hushed tones, and the woman behind the desk said, “Oh, thank goodness. Lillian is waiting for you.”
The door to Grandma Gibson’s room was open. Normally, whenever we visited her, she was seated at a card table she’d covered with a shawl, looking down at rows of cards she’d laid out in front of her. Until recently, I’d assumed she was playing solitaire, but it turned out she was more interested in trying to see the future.
This time when we walked in, Grandma was sitting very rigidly on the edge of her bed, waiting for us. She had on a wool dress that I’d never seen before, and she was wearing her hat and winter coat. She even had her handbag already hooked over one shoulder.
“Hi, Gram Gram,” Mom said, tentatively approaching her grandmother and kneeling down by her bed.
It was always a crapshoot whether Grandma Gibson was going to be in the present with the rest of us or if her mind had drifted elsewhere. The first few minutes of any visit were usually a little awkward as we tried to get a feel for how she was doing. But this time, Grandma looked her granddaughter directly in the eyes and said in a very composed voice, “Helen, I’m glad you’re here. Would you please take me down to the Tiburon morgue?”
“Of course, Grams,” Mom said. “That’s why we’re here.”
In a way, it was a relief not to be the ones who had to break the news about Colette to Grandma Gibson. I knew that sounded selfish, but we had to take her to the morgue, which was miserable enough. Who told her? I had to wonder. Was it someone on staff? Another resident? It was so weird that she seemed to know almost before my mom did.
“Aurora?” Grandma Gibson said, reaching out to me. “Would you please help me up?”
I hurried over to the bed, and Grandma got an iron lock on my elbow. “I need your help to get to the car,” she told me as she got to her feet. There was a fierceness in her eyes that I didn’t understand, but I could see pain behind it.
At first, I thought she wanted my help because she felt weak. But as we headed down the hall and toward the lobby, I realized that it was emotional support Grandma Gibson needed. Gossip flourished in the care facility like at any nest of office cubicles or knitting bee. My grandmother pretty much kept to herself, but still everyone knew that her sister had disappeared decades ago and that a body had been recently found.
The Germans have a word, schadenfreude, which means a feeling of pleasure derived from someone else’s suffering. That wasn’t exactly what was happening at Ashtabula Care, but it was close. Everyone was staring at us from wheelchairs and walkers. Everyone was practically drooling to find out the details of the murder. It was almost as if I could hear the residents thinking things like “I can’t wait to tell my niece the next time she visits.” They were all bright eyed and more stimulated than I had ever seen anyone in the home.
No one stepped forward with a comforting word or a reassuring smile. They all kept themselves at a discrete distance like photographers documenting a tragedy, waiting for the most acute moment of grief to present itself before snapping the picture.
I hated them. I wanted to hurl swear words at them and make obscene hand gestures to their pitying faces. They were like a bunch of vultures ready to pick over a carcass, wanting to feed off someone else’s tragedy. It wasn’t just the old folks and staff at the care facility who acted this way; I knew it was human nature—people always slow down to gawk at a car crash—but I hated them nonetheless.
I took my cue from my great grandmother. Where I wanted to cower, concealing myself from their glittering, pitying, thirsty eyes, she held her head high and kept her eyes forward, her expression resolute. She never glanced once to the right or to the left, just made her determined way toward the car. We rode all the way back to Tiburon in silence.
The morgue was weird. It was kind of like a doctor’s waiting room with lots of boxes of tissues placed strategically within hand’s reach no matter where you were sitting. Most small towns don’t necessarily have a morgue, or maybe they have a small facility that is really just a room in an out-of-the-way place in the hospital. But the Vanderlinds were a very generous family when it came to making Tiburon a pleasant place to live. They kept our police force well staffed and our hospital well equipped, to the point that even the recently deceased had a nice place to rest. I found it interesting that vampires were so concerned about the welfare of the dead.
Besides the clerk behind the counter, the waiting room was deserted. Mom and I were both hesitant about how to get started, but Grandma Gibson walked right up to the counter and said in a clear voice, “Lillian Gibson here to identify the body of Colette Gibson.”
I don’t think that many people came to the Tiburon morgue because the kid behind the counter was chewing gum and reading a comic book called The Martian Confederacy: Rednecks on the Red Planet. Surprised and a bit confused, he looked up at my great grandmother. “Uh …” was all he could manage.
“This is the morgue, isn’t it?” Grandma asked, her tone letting him know she was in no mood for incompetence.
“Um, yeah,” he said, putting down his reading. “It’s just, I’ve worked here for eight months and never had anybody come in before.” He got to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”
I tried to take comfort in the fact that not a lot of people had to come to our local morgue to identify a body. That had to be a good thing. We’d barely had time to take a seat when a woman in a lab coat appeared. “Hello. I’m Doctor Kalla,” she said. “Are you Lillian Gibson?” she asked, addressing my great grandmother.
“Yes,” was her reply.
“I’m so sorry we had to call you here today,” the doctor said. She had dark skin, black hair, and a warm speaking voice, like she really did care. “I’m sure this is very hard on you.”
“Can’t you just do a DNA test or something?” my mother interjected. “Do you have to put my grandmother through this?”
“Of course, we will do a DNA test,” the doctor assured her. “I was just about to ask to do a cheek swab. That is the easiest way to get a good sample.”
“So all this is really unnecessary,” Mom said, gesturing toward the room.
“I want to see her,” Grandma Gibson interrupted. “I’m perfectly happy to give you any sample that you need, but I am here to see my sister.” There was no mistaking her determination as she got to her feet.
“Are you sure, Grams?” Mom asked, touching her on the arm.
Grandma Gibson ignored her granddaughter. She turned to the doctor and said, “Is it best to do the swab first or after?”
Dr. Kalla replied, “It’ll just take a minute. I think we should get the sample out of the way. If you’ll just follow me.”
“Aurora, I think you should stay here,” Mom said as we all moved to follow the doctor.
“No,” Grandma Gibson and I said simultaneously.
“I think Aurora should come with us,” Grandma said, clutching tightly at my hand.
I had the feeling that Grandma wanted me there for more than just moral support. She was the only person who knew the truth about Jessie, and she had done everything within her power to keep us apart. Colette Gibson had disappeared on the night she snuck out of her home to elope with Jessie Vanderlind, and my great grandmother was convinced that her sister’s death was his fault.
I knew Grandma was trying to teach me a lesson. It felt like when a parent catches a kid smoking a cigarette and forces him to smoke the whole pack. Catch your great granddaughter dating a vampire? Force her to look at a dead body. The idea terrified me, but I also felt compelled to see Colette. I didn’t know if I was somehow her reincarnation, but I thought that maybe if I could see her, it would clarify things for me. I felt like I had to see her.
“How old are you?” the doctor asked me. She gave a little frown, obviously unsure if it was suitable for me to be in the morgue.
“Seventeen,” my mom supplied.
“I’m going to be eighteen,” I told the doctor. It wasn’t exactly a lie. I had every intention of being eighteen one day, but my birthday was still a good ten months off.
“I guess it’s okay in this specific situation,” Dr. Kalla said. “As long as your family approves.”
My mom relented, and we followed the doctor down a hallway to a small examination room where a swab was used to scrape a few cells off the inside of my great grandmother’s cheek. I was surprised she even knew what DNA testing was, to be honest. It seemed to me that after a certain age, people just couldn’t absorb any more modernization.
After that, we followed the doctor as she yanked open an insulated metal door. It felt like we were entering the meat locker at a butcher shop. Grandma Gibson got a hold of my arm again in a very tight grip. The smell of spoiled meat and disinfectant assaulted my nose and made my stomach roil.
“This is a unique case for everyone here at the hospital,” the doctor said as we entered. “The body is very different from that of a victim of a car crash or something like that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well,” the doctor said, clicking the button on her pen up and down several times against a clipboard. “It’s more like a mummification. That’s as close as I can get to describing it. I’m sorry to have to phrase it like that, but I want you to be prepared.”
There were several gurneys in the room, but only one had anything on it. The body was covered with a sheet. The doctor walked over to the top of the gurney. “This can be very difficult,” she said to Grandma Gibson. “If you need a chair or want to step out of the room or anything, please let me know.”
As the doctor pulled the sheet down, Grandma Gibson gripped me even tighter, her nails biting into the flesh of my arm. “Lettie,” she said in a small gasp.
The body was curled in a ball; in her last moments of life, Colette Gibson had reverted to the fetal position. Her hair was dark and curly and wild, just like mine. She was wearing a tattered green dress with little white flowers, a dress I had grown to know well from my recurring dreams. Sometimes in my dreams, I wore the dress while in a field of flowers, but usually it was while I was being chased through the dark woods by a bloodthirsty creature.
The flesh on the body was shriveled, stretched tight over the bones. Even though her skin was dark and dry and cracked, the girl’s features were still discernible. It was like seeing a horrifying Halloween mummy dressed up to look exactly like you. I wanted to turn away, but Grandma clung to me too fiercely. Colette had died with her eyes open, staring into some unknown visage. I wondered whose face she’d seen as she gasped her last breath.
“Oh, my beautiful girl.” Grandma Gibson sobbed. “Why?” she wailed. “My poor girl. What did he do to you?”
“What was the cause of death?” my mom asked the doctor, her voice sounding a little wobbly.
“We’re still looking into that, but as far as we know, it was exsanguination,” was the reply.
“She bled to death?” Mom asked. “Is that why she … Is that why the body looks the way it does?”
“Precisely,” the doctor said with a nod.
“But I don’t see any wounds. She doesn’t appear injured. How could she bleed out?” Mom wanted to know.
“We’re still working on it, but so far it appears that, given the state of preservation, the body was somehow drained entirely of all blood. That’s why it’s so dry.”
My mother shook her head. “Who would do such a thing?”
“I wish I could talk to Mama and Papa,” Grandma said, her voice wet and ragged. “I know it would give them peace just to know what happened to her.”
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this,” the doctor said to Grandma, “but can you positively identify this body as that of your sister, Colette Gibson?”
“Oh, come on,” Mom protested, sounding angry. The answer was obvious, and Grandma was suffering.
“Yes,” Grandma Gibson said between sobs. “That’s her hair. There’s no mistaking it. That’s her dress. Her favorite dress.” Reaching out with one hand, she stroked the corpse’s hair. “She’s my dear girl. My best friend.”
“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Kalla said. “Should I cover her now, or do you need more time?”
“I’d like a minute alone with her,” Grandma Gibson said.
“Of course.” The doctor headed briskly toward the door. “Take all the time you need.”
Mom followed Dr. Kalla, and I expected to go, too, but Grandma Gibson wouldn’t release me. “Stay here with me, Aurora. Please,” she said in a low voice.
“Okay,” I said reluctantly. My head was swimming, and I desperately wanted to run for the door.
“Lettie’s death has haunted me my whole life,” she said, once we were alone. “I’d always hoped she had eloped and was alive somewhere and happy. But I always kind of knew that it wasn’t true. I knew she was gone.”
“I’m so sorry, Grams,” I said, feeling both nauseated and terrified. It really was like looking at my own dehydrated corpse.
“You know who did this to her, don’t you?” Grandma said in a low, harsh voice, clasping my arm tighter. “You know who sank his fangs into her flesh and sucked out her blood until she was nothing but a dried husk. And then he threw her away. Hid his shame by getting rid of her body.”
“No,” I said, struggling to free my arm. “He wouldn’t.”
“He did,” she hissed, leaning closer to the body and dragging me with her. “Who else could it be? There’s no one. He killed my beautiful sister, and now he’s come back for my great granddaughter.” She was wrenching me around, pressing me toward the hideous corpse; I was only a few inches away. “I’ll tell you who killed Colette,” Grandma cried. “It was Jessie Vanderlind.”
“No!” I screamed.
“What’s going on?” Mom shouted, charging into the room followed closely by the doctor.
Grandma Gibson released my arm so suddenly that I stumbled backward and crashed into an empty gurney. “Mom,” I sobbed, running over to her and collapsing in her arms.
“I shouldn’t have let her in here,” Dr. Kalla said, mostly to herself. “I should have used better judgment.”
“What happened?” Mom asked, wrapping her arms around me. “Grams? What’s going on?”
“I was just giving my great granddaughter a lesson in what happens when a girl gets involved with the wrong boy,” Grandma Gibson said, not the least bit remorseful for having terrified me.
“Well, I hardly think frightening her with a dead body is the way to do it,” Mom said, her temper rising. She always tried to give me my space but, like any mom, was also very protective of me. “Besides, I don’t think that’s a lesson that Aurora needs to learn. She’s not boy crazy, and I meet everyone she dates.”
“Do you know that she’s seeing someone right now?” the crazed woman formerly known as my great grandmother demanded.
“Yes,” Mom said, straining to hold back her anger. “He came over last night, and he’s a very nice young man.”
“You invited Jessie Vanderlind into your home?” Grandma asked, the color draining from her face.
“Yes. I said he came over,” Mom repeated. “He’s very nice.”
“You let a killer into your house!” Grandma Gibson shrieked. “He killed Colette, and now he’s coming after Aurora!”
Dr. Kalla eventually got Grandma sedated and held for observation overnight. “I think after all these years, the grief just overpowered her,” the doctor said. “I’m sure she’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
I was crying so hard, I wished I could be sedated, too, but I wasn’t the one screaming about how a seventeen-year-old boy had murdered a girl who disappeared before World War II. It was absolutely horrifying to see Grandma Gibson so upset, and I felt doubly guilty knowing that there was a strong chance she was right. None of the hospital staff knew that, of course. They all just thought she was losing her battle with dementia.
I managed to pull myself together a little once we were in the car and headed home. Mom must have been a little shell shocked herself, but she still tried to comfort me. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” she said, reaching over and rubbing my back as we waited at a red light. “I don’t even know how to explain Grams’s behavior. I’m really sorry I asked you to go with me. I just …” She gave a big sniff as the light turned green and she turned to concentrate on the road. “I was just frightened and didn’t want to face everything by myself. That was stupid of me. I shouldn’t have put you through that.”
“No, it’s okay,” I assured her, forcing myself to sound less upset. None of this was my mom’s fault, and I didn’t want her suffering because of choices Colette and I had made. “I feel bad that I lost it. But Grandma really freaked me out. And then the body was just so horrible. It’s just …” I forced myself not to break down into tears again. “It’s just, Grandma Gibson always talks about how much I look like her sister. I never thought I did from her old photographs, but looking at the body … Well, I could really see it. I really do look like her. And I was just wondering … Do you think it’s possible …”
“What?” Mom asked gently, giving me the space to breathe.
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” I finally blurted.
“Oh.” Mom nodded her head up and down several times. “I understand. I wasn’t putting the whole thing together, but now it makes sense.”
“What does?” I wanted to know. I felt a mild sense of alarm, but there was no way she could have figured everything out.
“Aunt Colette was working at the Vanderlind Castle when she disappeared. Grams told me once that she thought Lettie had run off with one of the sons.” Mom pulled into the driveway and clicked the button to open the garage. “And now you’re dating one of the Vanderlinds. I think she got confused and somehow decided he was the same boy.”
I gulped. “Yeah, maybe.”
“And to answer your question, no. I don’t believe in reincarnation,” she said while we both sat in the car with the doors locked waiting for the garage door to completely close.
“But I do look a lot like Colette Gibson,” I pointed out.
“You do look like her from what I can tell, but I think that’s genetics, honey. Not reincarnation,” she said, finally opening the car door.
I wanted to tell her the truth. I had a good relationship with my mom and I was used to being able to confide in her. I opened my mouth to start, but the words just didn’t come out. I didn’t even know where to begin. How could I explain that in many ways, Grandma Gibson was right? Yes, in fact, I was dating the same boy that Colette was in love with all those years ago. And if I was being perfectly honest with myself, there was a strong chance that he was the one that killed her.
I didn’t know how I felt about Jessie coming to see me that evening. He’d said he wanted to drop by to start courting me properly. Up until a few weeks ago, we’d mostly been focused on survival rather than dating. I desperately wanted to see Jessie yet was also terrified. I couldn’t believe that he had killed Colette, but it was the most likely explanation as to how she’d died. I felt like I was being torn in two—half of me loving Jessie so much that I couldn’t believe he would ever do something so evil and the other half knowing that it was his nature to be a killer.
I remembered reading about how serial killer Ted Bundy’s mother refused to believe her son was guilty. Even after he was convicted of numerous hideous murders, she just couldn’t accept the fact that her darling boy had done those horrible things. I began to wonder if I was suffering from the same delusions as poor Mrs. Bundy. Was my love for Jessie blinding me to his actions?
No, I couldn’t believe it. Every time I thought about it, I started shaking my head, my body fighting against my brain.
“Sweetie, why don’t you just go to bed?” Mom asked as I sat at the kitchen table, staring morosely at nothing.
“Jessie’s supposed to show up any minute now,” I told her. “I’d call him and cancel, but he doesn’t have a cell phone.”
My mom gave a theatrical double take. “There’s a teenager in America without a cell phone? I can’t believe I haven’t read about this on Yahoo News.”
I knew she was trying to lift my spirits, but it wasn’t working. I was too conflicted and miserable. Instead, I ended up just giving a heavy sigh. “They don’t get good cell reception at the castle.”
I knew for a fact that there was no cell reception at the Vanderlind Castle, the giant fortress where Jessie lived, because I had once tried to call for help from inside the stone walls, and I couldn’t even get one tiny bar of reception.
“Go take a shower and climb in bed,” Mom told me. “You look exhausted. I’ll tell Jessie you don’t feel well, and he can call you from a landline tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I said, getting to my feet. I’d developed a throbbing headache, and no matter how much I wanted to see Jessie, I knew I was in no state, mentally or physically, to be with him.
I stood in the shower for a long time. Usually I didn’t linger because we were on a budget and I didn’t want to run up our bills. This time I couldn’t help it. I lost track of what I was doing as I stared at the tiles on the wall. I couldn’t remember if I’d already shampooed and just needed conditioner or what. By the time I finished up, the water had turned cold.
Shivering, I quickly changed into my pajamas and scurried into bed. My hair would be a fright wig in the morning, but I just didn’t have the energy to blow it dry. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, rubbing my Pools of Light pendant across my lips. It was a natural crystal stone, flawless and cut into a perfect sphere. The orb was held in place by a belt of white gold that had flowers and vines crafted into the metal. Jessie had given it to me as a token of his affection when we first met, and it was my most cherished object. Originally, I had believed it was silver, but vampires can’t touch silver without being burned—something I learned firsthand in the worst possible way when Jessie had a silver net thrown over his head and was painfully seared. Fortunately, vampires also have an incredible power to heal. I would love him even if he was permanently disfigured, but it was nice that his gorgeous face was still perfect.
No, I chastised myself. You are not to let your brain drift off thinking about how much you love Jessie. You have to think about if he’s responsible for the death of Colette.
There was a gentle tapping at my window and I froze, caught between joy and panic. It could only be Jessie out there on the porch roof on a cold night in December, wanting to talk to me. But did I want to talk to him? My body screamed yes, tear open the window, and fling yourself into his arms. My brain was more cautious. I absolutely could not believe Jessie Vanderlind was a killer, but I knew the fable of the scorpion and the frog: the scorpion stings the frog while riding on his back crossing a river. With his last breath as the venom paralyzes him, the frog asks, “Why? Why did you sting me?”
And the scorpion replies as he sinks beneath the water to meet his own death, “I couldn’t help it. It’s my nature.”
I couldn’t believe that Jessie Vanderlind had sucked the life out of Colette Gibson; he loved her too dearly. But it was a vampire’s nature to drink the blood of humans. The smartest thing I could do was not open the window.
“Aurora,” I heard Jessie whisper from outside. His voice sounded ragged, and I could tell he was in pain. My mother must have unwittingly told him about the discovery of Colette’s body. I wanted to spring from my bed, fling open the window, and wrap my arms around him, but my brain kept telling me no. “Please,” Jessie said. I heard a gentle thud, and I knew he was resting his forehead against the glass. “Your mom told me …” His breath caught, and he didn’t continue.
My body did a quick coup d’état and overthrew my brain. I was out of bed and dashing across the room before I even realized it. “Jessie,” I cried, tearing back the curtains and wrenching open the window.
Jessie looked even paler than usual. A single tear ran down his cheek, tracking silver in the crisp air of a winter night. He clutched a bouquet of disheveled red roses in both hands, their petals tumbling into the dusting of snow that swirled around his feet. “They found her,” he managed to say, although his voice was very tight. “They found Colette. They found her body.”
“I know,” I said, opening my arms and reaching out to him. All I wanted to do was hold him and make it all better.
He didn’t move any closer, just shook his head rapidly back and forth. “Did you see her? Did you see Lettie?”
I nodded, lowering my arms. I felt empty without him. “Mom and I went to the morgue with Grandma Gibson.”
“And Lily confirmed it was definitely her?” he asked.
“Could the coroner tell how she died?” Jessie wanted to know, his mannerisms very stiff.
I stared at him for a few seconds, unsure of what to say. Did he kill Colette and somehow not remember doing it? Finally, gathering my nerve, I told him, “The doctor said she was exsanguinated.”
A breezed kicked up, ruffling Jessie’s hair. He shuddered. “From a wound or from …” Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to finish. “Or from a vampire?”
“I couldn’t see any wound,” I admitted. “The doctor said they don’t know for sure yet what caused her death.”
Jessie turned away from me. “I have to see her. I have to know.”
“You can’t. She’s in the morgue,” I told him. I sincerely doubted the morgue of a small town like Tiburon was open all night. “I’m sure it’s closed.”
“I can get in,” he said with decided determination.
“Jessie, I don’t think you should.” I gulped before adding, “At least not by yourself.”
Giving me a fierce look that I knew was concealing pain, he said between clenched teeth, “I have to.”
“Then take me with you,” I said, leaning out the window into the icy wind and reaching for his hand, my wet hair making my scalp ache. “You can’t see her by yourself. You’ll need me there.”
“No,” he said, jerking away from me. The next thing I knew, the roof was empty but for a few red rose petals blowing in the snow. Jessie was gone.
I had the dream. The one I had come to know and dread. It wasn’t unexpected. I had closed my eyes knowing there was probably no way for me to avoid it. The dream had become so familiar, it was almost like a memory. But I knew it was more likely a residual memory from Colette Gibson. That didn’t make the dream any less terrifying.
It started at night—it was always night—and I was sneaking out of the house. Not the house I shared with my mother—a larger house with beautiful wood floors that I also thought of as my home. I felt conflicted; a big part of me wanted to stay safe and snug in my bed with my sister’s steady breathing coming from the other side of the room, but I also felt compelled to go. He was waiting for me, and more than anything, I wanted to be in his arms.
Quietly, I slipped out of bed and put on my favorite dress—green with little white flowers. The fabric was a little light for fall, but I didn’t mind. It was going to be my wedding dress. By the light of the full moon, I pinned on a small straw hat with silk daisies along the brim.
Making as little noise as possible, I slid a small suitcase out from under my bed. I had packed it that afternoon while no one else was around. I only took a few of my best things; I wasn’t planning to be gone that long. And when I returned, I would be a bride. His bride. Just thinking about it made me feel all warm and rosy.
Once outside, I started to hurry. I knew I had to get away, or I would change my mind. It’s not that I didn’t want to marry him—I wanted to rather desperately—but I felt miserable sneaking off to do it. Still, he said his family would never approve, and I knew mine would insist I wait until I was eighteen. But the way I felt about him, I knew I couldn’t wait. All I wanted was to be Mrs. Jessie Vanderlind. It was something I needed to be before I could think of anything else.
Then time hopped around, like it usually does in dreams, and I found myself in the woods gasping for breath. My hat was gone; my suitcase was gone; and I was terrified because I knew I was not alone. There was something out there, skulking beneath the trees, and it was hungry, hungry for human flesh, hungry for my flesh. I somehow knew the beast was there specifically stalking me.
A noise behind me gave me a start, and I ran headlong, deeper into the woods and away from the road, away from my only chance to flag down a passing car or signal someone in a nearby house. Branches tore at my dress, and one of my shoes was gone. My foot got tangled in a tree root, and I fell to the ground with a sob. My lungs ached from running.
I freed my leg but did not immediately get to my feet again. I needed to calm down and catch my breath. There was a large log next to where I fell, and it afforded me some protection from the eyes of the predator. I just needed to rest for a moment and come up with a plan. I wished I knew what was pursuing me so I could better figure out how to defend myself.
Time fast forwarded. I was breathing more regularly, and I was feeling like I should make a move. The small creatures that provide the night with its music had taken up their melodies again. I thought that maybe the beast, whatever it was, had moved on in pursuit of some other dinner. With great caution, I got to my feet.
And there he was, my love, standing no more than thirty yards away, silhouetted in the moonlight. “Jessie,” I called to him, my heart hammering loudly in my chest. “We have to get out of here. There’s something …” I started hurrying toward him. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in the woods.”
Jessie came bounding toward me, eager to be by my side. It was only when it was too late for me to run that I realized I hadn’t called out to the man I intended to marry; I had summoned the beast. I barely had time to scream before it sank its teeth into the flesh of my throat.
Things were blurry after that; everything grew very dim. The world only came into focus when my body was jarred, quite painfully. I opened my eyes to see that I’d been dropped into some kind of ditch. There was loose soil all around me. I could barely move, but I turned my head to see the man who killed me standing at the lip of the deep hole where I lay. Just then the clouds drifted away from the moon, and I was able to see more clearly as Jessie Vanderlind started kicking dirt into the hole to cover my body. “Why?” bubbled to my lips and then faded away to nothing.
I woke with a start, my chest aching with fright. I was alone; I was safe in bed; I was myself again. I reached for my dream journal, which I kept by my bed. It was true that I’d had that same dream many times, but the dream had never gone that far before. I didn’t know if I’d just added the details from what I’d learned that day about Colette’s death or if they were uncovered memories. Either way, it took me over an hour to fall asleep again, even after pouring all of my thoughts out into the journal. I hated when I dreamed I was Colette.
By the time I got up Monday morning, the entire town knew about Colette. It was headline news for the Tiburon Sentinel: “Local Girl’s Body Found Eighty Years After She Elopes.” The Sentinel was barely clinging to life as a small-town newspaper, so I guess they were making the most of the story. Someone must have done some quick digging in the archives because there were old quotes from Colette’s parents about how they believed she had eloped but were growing concerned because they hadn’t heard from her. A second article referenced a tramp being arrested for trying to sell some of Colette’s clothing, which he claimed he found in an abandoned suitcase in the woods. A search of the area was done, where Colette’s hat and one of her shoes were found, but no one ever saw her again. The evidence against the tramp wasn’t enough to keep him, so he was released. There was absolutely no mention of the Vanderlinds. I didn’t know if that was because no one suspected them or if their money protected them. Either way, it didn’t sound like Tiburon police investigations were very thorough back then.
I dreaded going to school. Not that it would be the same misery as getting Grandma Gibson to the car through the gauntlet of walkers at the old age home, but teenage boys could be pretty insensitive about anyone’s pain but their own. My mom once told me about her math teacher in high school whose son was a jet pilot that had died in a crash. The boys in her class would make paper airplanes with flames drawn on them and fly them at the poor lady when her back was turned. Mom said a couple times a year the woman would get so upset she’d have to leave the classroom, and all the guys would think it was hysterical. I didn’t expect to be treated with any more consideration. And Colette was only a distant relative, as far as anyone knew, so the inappropriate humor would probably flow pretty freely.
I was barely out of my car in the school parking lot before Don Updike felt the need to shout at me, “Hey, Aurora. How’s your mummy?” The guys he was walking with all cracked up.
“Good one,” a buddy of his said, high-fiving him.
“Don,” a low voice snarled from off to the left somewhere. I turned to see my ex-boyfriend, Fred Lighton, swiftly striding across the parking lot. He stopped about an inch away from Don and looked down at the smaller boy. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Fred was tall and muscular and on the football team. In fact, I was kind of an idiot because I’m the one that broke up with him. It didn’t feel right to be with anyone but Jessie. If I was sane and living the life of a normal high school girl, I would have been madly in love with Fred.
Don Updike, on the other hand, was on the squirrelly side. He was always getting in trouble for being obnoxious to teachers or other students or anyone who was in earshot. He was definitely the kind of boy who would throw paper airplanes at a woman who had lost her son in a plane crash. I could tell he was intimidated by Fred standing so close to him, but he didn’t want to show it. “I was just making a joke, dude,” he said, trying not to flinch. “What’s your problem?”
“My problem,” Fred said, leaning menacingly over the smaller boy, “is that you’re being insensitive. How would you like it if someone in your family was murdered and then some little twerp was making fun of you for it?”
“That would be cool,” Don said. “I’d love to have a mummy in the family.” He was still trying to show off to his friends.
Fred slowly shook his head back and forth. “You think it would be cool for someone in your family to be murdered?”
“Totally,” Don insisted. “I would think it’s a riot.”
“Let me get this straight,” Fred said, still looming over him. “So your mom’s crying and your grandmother’s so upset they have to put her in the hospital, and that’s somehow funny to you?” A couple more people had stopped to watch what was going on.
“Yeah,” Don said, although you could tell he was no longer sure of himself with the way Fred had phrased it. “It’s hilarious.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Fred asked, giving the smaller boy a concerned look. About a dozen people were now taking in the show.
“Nothing,” Don insisted. “Hey, I’m not the one acting all uptight. I was just making a joke.”
“No, I think there’s something wrong with you,” Fred told him. “Maybe you should go see a therapist or something.”
That’s when Don busted out the F word. He took two steps back before he said it, of course.
“Seriously?” Fred asked. “That’s all you’ve got?”
Don repeated his expletive while simultaneously trying not to appear like he was scared witless. He probably assumed he was reasonably safe, seeing that Tiburon High had a zero tolerance policy for fighting on school grounds, but you couldn’t spend your life on school grounds.
“You’re pathetic.” Fred shook his head again. “Seek help, dude.”
“Whatever,” Don said as he slunk off, tail between his legs.
Fred turned to me. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I told him. “But thanks for standing up for me.”
“My mom told me about your grandma,” he said. “Is she okay?”
That was a complex question, and I wasn’t sure of the answer, but I said, “I think she’ll be all right. It was pretty horrible, though.”
Nodding, Fred said, “Sorry to hear that.” A bell rang, causing all us students to start scurrying. “You know where I am if you need me.” With that, he turned and headed into the school. I stared after him for a moment. When Fred first started flirting with me, I thought he was just a friendly jock. Then we tried dating and he got all sexually entitled, like some guys tend to do, and I thought he was a bit of a jerk. But he quickly matured past that nonsense and was turning into a pretty awesome guy. The kind of guy girls dream about. The kind of guy I should have been dreaming about if I wasn’t totally in love with a vampire. I wondered, and not for the first time, if I needed my head examined.
“Wow,” I heard someone say, interrupting my thoughts. That’s when I noticed my best friend, Blossom, was at my elbow, her gaze trailing after Fred. “Now that’s something you never see in a teen movie.”
“What?” I wanted to know.
“A handsome jock standing up to a geek bully.”
“Yeah.” I had to agree with her. “That was pretty bizarre.” It was time for school to start, but I sincerely did not want to go to class. Don Updike wasn’t the only wag out there. I knew more “humor” would be directed my way, and I was feeling pretty fragile.
“I think I might start crushing on Fred a little after that,” Blossom said, grabbing my arm and towing me toward the building.
“Go for it,” I told her. “Fred’s great.” And I sincerely meant it.
“I would,” she said, “if I didn’t want you two to get back together so much.”
The mummy joke was a hit at Tiburon High. There wasn’t a dork in the school who didn’t feel the need to get in on the hilarity. I was mercifully spared the jocks’ humor on the subject by way of Fred. Even though we were no longer dating, he obviously felt very protective of me and made it known in the locker room circles that he would not feel very friendly toward anyone who made a joke at my family’s expense. I was profoundly grateful, and I wished I could think of a way to show him my appreciation. Besides getting back together with him, of course.
“Let’s sneak out for lunch,” Blossom said as we passed each other in the hall between classes.
“It’s Monday,” I pointed out. Seniors had off-campus privileges for lunch but not on Mondays for some reason. It was something about “starting the week off right.”
“Oh, please.” Blossom rolled her eyes. “If anyone tries to stop us, I’ll say that you’re too stressed out from everyone in the school being insensitive and that you need a break.”
“And what about you?” I had to ask.
Blossom laid a hand to her chest and said in her sincerest voice, “I am being a good friend.”
Once we had successfully made a break from school and were happily munching on fries in the closest fast food restaurant, Blossom asked, “So, how are you holding up?”
I shrugged, focusing on dipping a fry in ketchup.
“Sorry I didn’t call you over the weekend,” Blossom said. “I was at my dad’s, and I didn’t even know anything had happened until my mom told me late last night.”
“That’s okay. I knew you were at your dad’s,” I told her. “How was it?”
“The usual,” she said. I couldn’t tell if her indifference was feigned or genuine. “How’s Grandma Gibson?”
“In the hospital. She had a bit of a meltdown,” I explained.
Blossom sipped her soda contemplatively. “I don’t blame her. And how are you doing?”
“Okay,” I said with a shrug. “Seeing the body was pretty scary. She really did look like me.”
“They let you see the body?” Blossom practically choked on her drink. When I nodded, Blossom added, “Whoa.” And a little bit after that she asked, “Were you even tempted to call Fred for a little male comfort?”
“Not really.” Even though Blossom was my best friend, she knew nothing about Jessie and me. I felt like a lousy BFF for keeping it a secret, but my relationship with Jessie had been pretty tumultuous up to that point. But seeing that Jessie had met my mom, I felt like I had to fess up to my best friend as well. Not about the vampire thing, obviously, but that I was seeing someone. “Actually,” I began. “I am kind of seeing someone new.”
Blossom did a double take. “Who?” she demanded. “Is it that Lenny kid from history? Because if you’re dating him over Fred, I am going to strangle you.”
“No. He doesn’t go to Tiburon,” I told her. “But you have met him.”
“Aurora, tell me right now,” she said, almost sounding angry. “Don’t make me beat it out of you.”
I took a deep breath and then blurted, “Jessie Vanderlind.”
Blossom’s mouth literally fell open. She stared at me for a good ten seconds, completely speechless. Finally, she managed to say, “You’re kidding. Dreamboat?”
I couldn’t help but crack into a broad smile. “Yeah. He is pretty dreamy.” The first glimpse I’d had of Jessie was at the library with Blossom. That was back in the fall. She’d started referring to him as dreamboat, and it was a pretty darn apt description.
“How did this all happen?” she wanted to know.
“The library,” I told her. “I ran into him again at the library, and we started talking.”
“The library?” Blossom wrinkled her nose. “That’s like meeting your future husband at the Laundromat.”
I was a bigger fan of books than Blossom was. “Anyway, I ran into him one night and then again the next week, and things kind of took off from there.”
Blossom scowled at me. “Why didn’t you tell me? Are we best friends or not?”
“I didn’t want to jinx it,” I told her. “I mean, who would have guessed that the hottest guy I’ve ever met would be interested in me?”
After a bit more frowning, she said, “I guess I understand. I mean, it’s kind of like seeing a unicorn or something. You’re afraid if you tell anyone, you’ll scare it off.”
I had to laugh. Blossom was being weirdly understanding. “Exactly.”
Leaning in all confidentially, Blossom asked, “So, are you dating dating? I mean, like, have you kissed him and everything?”
“More than that,” I told her, a devilish laugh escaping my lips.
“Why you little sneak. No wonder you wanted to ditch Fred,” she exclaimed. “And here I was, telling you to get back together with him.”
The rest of lunch I spent giving her what details I was willing to share. Nothing of vampires or anything like that—basically, the information I’d already told my mom with a few more details about his expertise as a kisser and how I was ready, willing, and eager to fling my virginity out the window.
“I don’t blame you,” Blossom said with a heavy sigh that came out as a light whistle. “He’s movie star good looking. And you say he’s nice? Geez! I’d fork over my virginity for that in a heartbeat. I didn’t think there were any guys like that alive on the planet.”
I swallowed a sip of my soda the wrong way and had a bit of a coughing fit.
It felt good to tell Blossom the truth. Or at least, part of the truth. I hated keeping secrets from the people I was close to, and Jessie had been the biggest secret of my life.
Back at school, I was sitting in my next class when one of the office ladies came in and had a whispered conversation with the teacher. They kept glancing in my direction, so I wasn’t surprised when I was told to go with the lady back to the school offices. “You need to call your mom,” she told me, then left me alone at her desk for a few minutes so I would have a bit of privacy.
My hands were shaking so badly I was having trouble dialing. We were supposed to go see about springing Grandma Gibson from the hospital when I was done with school, and I had the horrible feeling it was no longer necessary.
“Mom, it’s Aurora,” I said, clamping the phone’s receiver way too tightly to my ear. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, Aurora,” Mom said, sounding entirely too stressed but not all that tearful. “I need you to drive over to the hospital to be with Grams,” she said. “Something bad has happened.”
“What?” I asked, feeling my stomach lurch.
Mom cleared her throat to steady her voice and then finally said, “Somebody stole Aunt Colette’s body.”