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2008-06-24 | |
Vampire in the family Chapter 8 "Problem solving"
My house is a pretty great place to be, at least if you aren't in the basement. Besides the library stocked with both rare and modern books, there was also a game room with billiards, ping-pong, table-hockey, and three pinball machines. But that wasn't all.
A sauna was located in the master bathroom, as well as a huge indoor hot tub. There was an exercise room on the first floor, stocked with all the latest equipment. The living room had a television the size of the wall, along with a vast collection of DVDs and video games.
Ever since I was little, Mother had made a really strong effort to make the house as child friendly as possible, bringing in every possible comfort, every possible entertainment, and all the things that a human girl could want. It was her way of being considerate and, for her endeavors, I had to admit that, practically every day of the year, my house was pretty darn awesome.
But not tonight.
Somewhere, down in the basement, Mother had started the process of draining Emmanuel's blood from out of his body. Because she considered the blood most nutritional when the person was freshly alive, she wouldn't do the obvious thing and slit his throat; that was the death blow, the last thing they would ever feel. Before she did that, she would open the arteries, insert I.V.s and rubber tubing, and inject them with stimulants to keep their hearts pounding strongly.
All of this, she was doing now to Emmanuel. I knew the process well enough; it would take her about five hours to drain him to the point of death before she'd slit his throat, completing the process. She was hurrying up her usual procedure. Most of the men she kept healthy and blood-pumping for at least a week before ending their lives.
Because she knew Emmanuel's death upset me, she figured she was doing me a favor if she killed him faster, because then he'd at least be spared the pain.
Maybe Mother meant well by doing this, but she really didn't help me at all. With the final draining process already started, that meant that Byron only had five hours to save Emmanuel's life.
And me? I couldn't do anything but sit on my butt and hope for the best. I didn't want to get in Byron's way, and Mother would only kick me out if I went down into the basement again.
I'd been sitting in the library for an hour and a half. Normally, I liked reading. Heck, 'liked' was too easy a word. 'Adored' would be better, or maybe even 'absolutely, utterly loved.'
I didn't have any friends in school until I went to junior high and met Anise, who'd transferred in from another state and didn't know about my reputation as The Weird Kid. We'd hit it off right away, and through her, I finally understood what the heck all those Disney movies had been going on about.
But before I'd made my first friend, my greatest escape had been books. Whenever the kids would tease me -- which they did. A lot. -- I'd open up to my bookmarked page and be completely immersed in another person's life and situation. The books made me feel better, even on the worst days, like when Greg Townsend poured glue in my hair and the teacher didn't do anything, or when Richelle Mead had slapped me during recess because of a dare.
I hadn't told Mother about those times. I'd been so ashamed of not having any friends that I'd lied and told her about all the fun times I'd been having at school. I felt bad about doing that, then, but considering what had gone on today, with Emmanuel? I was glad I hadn't said anything; probably a lot of the kids in my elementary school would've gone missing, otherwise.
But right now, when every tick from the grandfather clock was one less second Emmanuel could be alive, the books held no real refuge. I couldn't concentrate on the sentences. The words all blurred together.
Finally, I made a split-second decision. I'd go downstairs and see if I could get into the basement to argue with Mother again. If she had the door locked, I'd sit outside of it in vigil, so that way the next time she came out of the basement, I'd be able to try and convince her to change her mind.
Some people might think that those ideas were dumb. They both relied upon talking to Mother, but what other choice was there? There was no way I'd ever be able to slip past her physically. She was too strong and too quick for me to ever succeed at that. Bryon was my only hope if it came to a struggle, but if it came to that, I wouldn't fight at all, and I would try to get Byron to stop, too, in case Mother got hurt.
Emmanuel dying was bad enough, but if Mother got injured? No. No, that wouldn't happen. I wouldn't let it.
Even as mad, as angry as I was with her right now, the thought of being alone, without the only person I had ever considered family, was just...soul-numbing.
Byron may call himself my grandfather, but he was still just a friendly stranger in my eyes. Mother was family.
I tossed my unread book on the coffee table and got up from the couch. I began walking towards the hallway, mentally readying myself for another argument, when Mother appeared, looking very frazzled.
"Have you been here this entire time?"
I blinked at her, alarmed by her tone. "Um, yeah. For like the last hour or so, yeah."
"Are you lying to me?"
Why in the world would I lie about something like that? I shook my head, bewildered. "No. Really, Mother, I was here."
She paused, staring me in the eye, then nodded curtly to herself. "I thought so."
Spinning around on her heels, she marched down the hallway without another word.
"Wait!" I called out, running after her. I caught up with her by the main stairway. "What's going on?"
"Emmanuel's missing." She spit out the words like they left a bad taste in her mouth. "I left the basement for five minutes to retrieve an implement from the garage, and when I got back, the chains were empty. He was gone."
It was like a weight had just been lifted from my heart. My chest felt ten times lighter. The headache that I didn't realize I'd had went away. Emmanuel was free. He wasn't going to die.
Mother stared at me. "I can see this new development doesn't upset you, Sylvia."
"Well," I said, "I guess it doesn't. I didn't want him to get hurt. Now he won't." I forced myself not to smile when I said this, but I guess some of my true mood leaked out, anyway.
Mother raised her eyebrows, unimpressed with my logic. "Don't be so certain. Byron may have spared Emmanuel an immediate death..."
I gasped. I couldnāt help it. Mother knew he was involved?
She smiled sardonically at me. "I heard Byron enter your room, darling. It doesn't take a great mind to realize that he wants you to like him. It's fairly obvious. And what better way to impress you than to save that horrible little boy?
"But it won't last for very long," she continued as she walked down the stairs. I followed, taking two steps for her every one just so I could keep up with her. "I can track Emmanuel down easily enough; I have his scent on me, after all, and the fact that he was still bleeding when Byron freed him can only help."
She stopped at the front door, turning to glance at me with an obvious sympathy in her eyes. "I know you don't want me to do this, Sylvia."
"I don't," I said.
"But my reasoning remains the same, despite Byron's silly efforts to the contrary. Emmanuel is a danger to you and a threat to us both. If word gets out about the men and my...arrangements, then not only would we have to abandon this house and everything in our lives, we would undoubtedly have to leave the country as well, given the improvements in law enforcement."
She sighed. "Do you really want for that to happen?"
"Then don't argue. I'm leaving the house now. Lock the door behind me and don't go outside." She paused. "Try not to be too upset with me, all right, darling? I really am looking out for us both."
"I know," I muttered.
She kissed me on my forehead, opened the front door, and was gone.
Heaving a sigh, I glanced at the clock. It was a quarter till midnight, and even though I had school tomorrow, I wasn't the least bit tired. That nap I'd taken this afternoon had really been a bad idea...in every possible way.
I went to the kitchen to make myself a snack, and then flopped down in front of the TV to flip through infomercials and reruns of old sitcoms. Eventually, I grew tired of that and grabbed my backpack. I had a bunch of homework to do.
Usually, Micah and I would do it together after school, but since he'd been such a baby today - his reaction to the blind date had, by this time, seemed entirely immature, especially in comparison to what I'd been through tonight - I still had homework to do.
I flipped open my U.S. History book to the thirteenth chapter and began to read, trying to actually remember the information so that I could do well on the quiz that was coming up.
I was still doing homework when I heard the front door unlock and someone enter the house.
"Mother?" I called, not too worried, since I recognized the sound of her footsteps.
"I've returned," she said, walking into the living room.
"Did you...did you find him?"
"Not yet." She shot me a look. "Oh, don't look so hopeful, Sylvia. It's only a matter of time."
She gracefully sat down on the couch beside me, picking through my stack of textbooks with a casual interest. "I'm growing rather impressed with Byron, however." She opened my social sciences textbook, flipped through it, and set it aside. "I'd thought to merely follow Emmanuel's blood trail, but he somehow managed to stop the scent midway."
She stretched her arms over her head and gave the slightest of smiles. "It's been a long time since I've had a challenge, Sylvia. A very long time."
Silently, I hoped that Emmanual would prove to be a lasting one.
I closed my textbook, this one a math book with half the answers to the homework problems already scribbled in the sides from the previous kids who'd used it. I stifled a yawn. I'd been doing my homework for a while now; I'd been having trouble concentrating, so it'd taken me extra long.
"Oh, man." I yawned again, unable to stop this one. "What time is it?"
Mother checked her watch. "A quarter to five."
I froze. "In the morning?"
"Indeed," Mother said. "Shouldn't you have been asleep hours ago?"
I began shoving all of my textbooks and homework papers into my bag. "Oh jeez, I am so not gonna be able to stay awake today. I gotta get to bed."
Mother followed me as I dumped my backpack by the front door. "Even if you somehow manage to go to sleep now, you'll only be getting two hours worth."
"Yeah, I know," I moaned as I began to run up the stairs.
"Why don't you take a day off?"
Her voice followed me as I reached the top of the stairs and I paused as what she'd just said processed. "What?"
She smiled at me. "You've had a very, very long day today, Sylvia. I think you deserve a break from school, don't you?"
"Do you really mean that?" I asked. Mother had always treated my education really seriously. She'd never let me skip any days at school before, and the only time she'd ever let me stay home was if I were seriously sick.
"This is a one time offer," Mother said. "I'll expect you to show up on time, well-rested and bright eyed, for the rest of the school year. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," I breathed, unable to believe my luck.
She dismissively waved her hand at me. "Go on and get some sleep, Sylvia, before I change my mind."
"Okay." I walked slowly to my room, time no longer seeming so overwhelmingly limited.
"Goodnight," I heard Mother shout from the other side of the house.
"Night!" I called.
I reached the door to my room. I stepped inside and closed it behind me, smiling.
Maybe everything was going to be okay after all.
"Oh good. You've returned."
Byron was sitting on my bed, this time playing with the stuffed, cartoonish duck that I'd named, very creatively, Mr. Quackers.
"What are you doing here?" I whispered. "Mother's been searching everywhere for you."
He smirked. "Contrary to what your mother might say, she actually thinks very highly of me. Only a fool would return to the very spot he'd been the night before, and, as your mother knows, I am no fool."
He threw up his hands in triumph. "Don't you see? It's the perfect strategy."
"But why are you here?"
"Ah. About that," he said, sliding to the edge of the bed. "You must have noticed that your little human friend 'slipped the chains,' as they say."
"Yeah," I said, smiling. "Thank you so much. I just thought you were gonna talk to Mother and try to convince her to let Emmanuel free, but I guess your way worked a lot better."
"Better than you know," Byron purred. He held up Mr. Quackers and flicked his fingers against the stuffed, furry beak. Byron laughed as Mr. Quackers' head vibrated from the force and the googly eyes spun around. "What a charming toy."
"So where's Emmanuel?" I asked. "Is he safe? Mother isn't going to stop looking for him, you know."
"I'd be disappointed if she did, but you needn't worry. Young Emmanuel is now perfectly safe from almost anything the world can throw at him."
"Not from Mother."
"Oh no, never from Octavia," Byron agreed. "But let us just say that I've stacked the odds more in Emmanuel's favor."
I didn't like where this was going. "What are you talking about?"
Smiling happily at me, he patted the bed beside him. I really didn't want to sit down so close to him, but I didn't want to be rude and, besides, he had agreed to help me. I walked over and sat gingerly on the bed.
"One of the reasons I've been so impressed with you and your mother is because of your connection to one another. I mean, my gods, young Sylvia, your devotion to her is almost palpable." He ran his hand through the air in front of me, as though he were trying to feel it. "And her absolute love for you? It's astounding."
He turned to me, his handsome face turning deadly serious. "I cannot remember the last time I have felt anything even close to that. I've been fond of people, yes. Your mother, included. You as well, young Sylvia. But love? The true, honest love that a parent can feel for a child?"
He shook his head, his shoulders slumping. "I have never been so fortunate. All these centuries, and never once has it occurred to me to start a true family. Octavia has succeeded where I have not." He looked at me both tenderly and curiously, turning Mr. Quackers over and over in his hands. "She has you."
"But what about Emmanuel?" I asked.
"I'm getting to that. As I said, I've never had a family, and now, thanks to both yourself and your mother's reaction to Emmanuel's decisions, I had a perfectly interesting human dumped into my lap."
He threw Mr. Quackers high into the air before catching him again. "Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy sneaking passed your mother and getting him out. Quite thrilling, actually, but what to do with him now that I had him?
"Your mother's cuts were very deep. The boy was bleeding all over the place, only making the trail more obvious than it already was. Besides, she'd nicked an artery. Even with one of your newfangled transfusions, he wouldn't have made it."
I held my breath. I didn't like where he was going with his story.
"So, of course, the solution to mine, yours, and Emmanuel's problem was right in front of me. Thank your lucky stars that a man of my unquestionable genius was there to set the situation aright. Had someone with a lesser intellect ventured a solution, poor Emmanuel would probably have ended up dead."
"What did you do?" I gasped.
"Come see," Byron said, his eyes twinkling. "Emmanuel?"
From the darkest corner of my room, a shadow moved. Someone stepped out of the darkness and stood, his back ramrod straight, underneath my glowing ceiling light.
Emmanuel had been handsome before, but now, right now, he was absolute perfection. His pale skin had taken on an unnatural smoothness. His lips, already beautiful, no longer had the natural, tiny lines on them that everyone in the world has. They were soft, plump, and unlined. Absolutely kissable, although of course I didn't move from my bed. His eyes, which before had gleamed with selfishness and self-interest, had darkened into an unreadable, hungry black.
He was beautiful, unquestionably attractive. Like when I'd first seen Byron, I felt the same longing to be near him and obey his every command rise in me like some sick compulsion.
I forced myself to ignore it, instead concentrating on the differences between the Old Emmanuel and the New. They were everywhere: the way his hair looked, his improved posture, his gleaming teeth and the way he looked at everything, everything with a new and possessive confidence.
Byron hadn't saved Emmanuel's life; he'd turned him into a vampire.
The facts that accompanied this new understanding struck and I tensed up, suddenly aware of how dangerous my position was.
Unlike Mother or Byron, Emmanuel didn't have the centuries of experience and the strength-of-will to deal the undeniable thirst. He was hungry, licking-his-lips hungry, and he was looking straight at me.
I was the only one in the entire house with a pulse. Emmanuel stared at me like I was on the menu for dinner.
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