I couldn’t take my eyes off the girl standing next to me.
I could see right through her. The green and white tiles of the restroom wall were clear and visible behind her transparent body.
‘Come on, stop it!’ I told her.
‘It’s just us, don’t worry,’ said Erin.
‘A human could come in any second!’ I moved to punch her arm, but my hand went straight through.
She had only been able to control her shifting from physical form to incorporeal since last week. She kept doing it even when she shouldn’t. Like right now, in the bathroom at Sanctuary High School.
‘Yes, that’s right, they could, Relic. Scary, huh?’
I sighed. ‘Call me Rel. Or if you have to, then it’s Rel-ick-ay.’
‘Sure, sure, Relic.’ Did I say she was a good friend? I’d known her since kindergarten, but she was so getting downgraded.
‘What about you?’ she asked.
I looked at myself in the mirror, and pushed my straight, bat black hair behind my ear. Let’s be clear, yes, I used to call it raven black. But, you know, vampire. So it’s probably bat black if anything. Which means dark brown. And no, it’s not naturally straight. Honestly, I’m like a vampire without the vampire bits. Even my eyes. Yeah, they’re really brown, but they don’t change colour, or glow, or anything cool. Also, I’ve never felt the urge to drink blood.
And obviously I can see myself in the mirror.
I bared my teeth. ‘No fangs yet.’
‘I’m sure it’ll happen soon,’ Erin said, reassuringly. ‘What did your parents say?’
All the supernaturals who can pass in human society start finding their abilities around our age. Erin could walk through walls or be invisible. Vampires could… ‘They haven’t told me.’ I was adopted, so my parents weren’t vampires. They hadn’t told me much of what a vampire should be able to do.
‘That sucks. But you’ll be at the bunker this evening, right?’
I faked a smile. ‘I can’t think of a reason not.’ Believe me, if I could, I would. But my best friend, Ariel, wanted to go.
‘I think I’m going to–’
The door to the restrooms swung open. I heard a little cry of surprise from Erin, but when I looked back at her, she was solid again. I gave her a hard stare, letting her know I’d told her so.
It was a couple of cheerleaders, so me and Erin left quickly, ignoring the giggles which weren’t aimed at us. Or so I told myself.
Peter and Bhav had been waiting outside for us. The best guy friends anyone could ask for. But they were human, and after the last few months of us coming into our abilities, I saw why not many supe adults had human friends.
Richard was with them. The new guy. The British guy. ‘Thanks, mate. Goodbye,’ Richard said, and then ambled off.
Erin raised her eyebrows at me, grabbed my arm, and started walking me towards our homeroom. Peter and Bhav jogged forward to keep up with us.
‘What was that about, guys?’ Erin asked. ‘Making friends but not sharing with us, huh?’
I didn’t want them to share. I wanted Richard all to myself. He was from England, and he was definitely the cutest boy I’d ever seen.
‘Nothing. Just being friendly.’ Peter shrugged.
‘Oh yeah?’ Bhav asked. ‘Maybe you’d be better at making friends if you stopped drooling.’
‘Don’t listen to him. He’s just jealous,’ Peter told Erin and me. ‘He was only asking for directions to the cafeteria. Have you guys seen him around?’
‘Only barely,’ Erin admitted. ‘But I’d like to see a lot more of him.’
‘So would we,’ Bhav and Peter said in unison.
‘He just knows how to dress well,’ Bhav said. ‘Can’t complain about a snappy dresser joining the school. At least that will make two of us.’
Looking him over, Bhav was almost certainly right. He was the best dressed guy in school. With the sun beating down like it usually did here in California, he managed to get away with loose white linen all over, including his turban, which contrasted perfectly with his brown skin.
‘Are you trying to tell me something?’ Peter asked, looking down at his jean shorts and black t-shirt.
‘You have such great skin tone to work with, and you’re just wasting it.’
‘I matched my t-shirt to it. Isn’t that enough?’
Bhav sighed. ‘Anyway. Richard just seems like a nice guy. Have you met him, Rel?’
Question time. Did I admit that the second I saw him I fell a little bit in love with him? No. That would be weird. Also, I don’t know if you can only be a little bit in love with someone. Better change that to completely, head over heels, haven’t had a day without pretending he’s my boyfriend since I met him, in love with him.
‘Yeah. I was the one that had to show him around his first day.’
They all gasped.
‘And you didn’t tell me?!’ Erin held her hand to her chest in mock hurt. At least, I hoped she was pretending.
‘He seems nice, I guess.’ I brushed the question away. It was hard enough to seem normal around my human friends due to the whole I’m a vampire thing, I didn’t want them to think I was weird for other reasons too. The fact that for all practical purposes I was basically a human right now, didn’t matter. Things could change.
My phone buzzed and I checked the screen.
‘I’ve got to go, guys. Meeting.’
They waved goodbye and kept walking. The space I’d left allowed Peter and Bhav to move closer together and hold hands as they walked.
‘Let the coven assemble!’
Jessica always made things so dramatic. It wasn’t like we were witches. It was just a school council meeting. And why were the lights off? It must have been hard for her to see.
‘Tonight we make our final decision…’ Why was she leaving such a long pause? We all knew the question, she’d texted us just before we came to the gym hall. ‘Can we let the new kid be part of the football team?’
The janitor turned the lights on and started sweeping.
Jessica liked to play these things up. She wasn’t even a supe. Just a normal human. And no supes I knew of met like this anyway. I mean, what were they going to do? Cast magical spells? Boy, did Hollywood mess up on that. I’ve never heard of any old guy chanting and throwing lightning balls all over the place. Although I guess they did sometimes wear big, dark, shadowy hoods, but those were just normal hoodies. Supes did occasionally get up to weird stuff, but not magic. Not magic like that, anyway.
‘I don’t know what you guys think,’ Sasha said. ‘But he keeps calling it rugby. Like, what even is that?’
She had a point. Richard had moved to Sanctuary only a month ago. He was from England, and… wow. I mean, sure, I’d heard that accent on TV, but in person it was totally unfair. He could say things and they just sounded right. Even his name was British. Richard. Ugh.
‘Maybe it’s soccer?’ Jessica asked.
‘I guess. Maybe “rugby” is what they call lacrosse.’ Sasha rolled her eyes.
Seeing this was going nowhere and everyone was getting hung up on what rugby was – I had googled it earlier when he’d asked if we had a team for it on the first day – I stepped in. ‘Umm, maybe–’
Sasha cut me off and stuck her hand in the air. ‘We don’t need anyone else on the team. I vote for no.’
She hadn’t heard me. Right?
Jessica stuck her hand up. ‘I vote yes. Ariel?’
The girl to my left looked at me. Her hair was a radiant blonde that beat even Jessica’s. She was my only friend on this council. I was only there because she’d suggested it. This wasn’t my kind of thing at all. I just wanted to do my school work and get out of here. But Ariel was always into activities and doing things. However, she was a Siren – her voice could enrapture anyone and make them do her bidding. Like all the other supernaturals our age, she couldn’t control her powers properly. So she never spoke. And yes, her parents had a sense of humour when they named her.
She raised her hand and hummed an affirmative.
‘Rellie?’ Jessica looked at me.
I didn’t like being called Rellie, but even that was better than Reliquiae. What had my parents even been thinking?
I looked at all three of them in turn. Ariel was smiling at me, happy to be involved and doing things. Jessica was smiling because she wanted me to vote her way. And then Sasha was scowling at me like she always did. I don’t know why, but I guess when you’re the most beautiful girl in school, you don’t need a winning personality. Being nice is optional for beautiful people.
Oh, I didn’t know what to vote! If he joined the team, then he’d be around all the bouncy cheerleaders and I’d never stand a chance. But did I really stand a chance even if he wasn’t on the team? I’d never felt this way about a boy before, but was it fair of me to sabotage his opportunity to be on the football team. He’d passed the tryouts, so he obviously wanted to be on it.
I mean, I could always use my powers on him and seduce him to my will or something . Except I don’t have any powers yet. Also seducing is what succubi do, not vampires. I think. Don’t worry, I don’t drink blood either. Yet. Anyway, it’s forbidden for any super to use their powers on humans. The SCIM – Supernatural Covert Integration Masquerade – would be pissed.
I raised my hand. ‘Rel. Yes.’ I couldn’t take his dream away from him.
Sasha huffed and puffed. ‘You guys always do this to me. Fine, whatever!’ And she stormed out of the hall.
‘Thanks babes,’ Jessica said with her brilliantly white smile, and left as well.
I turned to Ariel. ‘Better get to class.’
She was bouncing up and down, excited just to have taken part in a decision. I so didn’t understand why. I slouched and dragged my heels. Had I made the right choice? What were my chances with Richard now?
My phone buzzed. It was Ariel. What’s wrong?
Apparently smartphones had helped the siren community immensely. ‘I dunno.’ I hadn’t told her about my feelings for Richard. I’d only just decided it was for real. ‘Nothing. Let’s wait for Erin and the guys.’
‘No. It’s stupid.’ She punched my arm. ‘Ow! Jeez, okay. It’s about Richard.’
He likes to just be called Rick.
Oh great. I was in love with him, we’d only spoken once, and I didn’t even know what he liked to be called. How pathetic.
‘Okay, Rick. I just…’ I waved my arms in the air. ‘You know. Think he’s kind of…’
Omg you like him 😀
I sighed. ‘Yeah. Oh God, I think he’s amazing.’
She hugged me, jumping up and down. It’s so great that you can like someone even when they look like that. I mean, that nose? And forehead!
I looked at her in shock. ‘What are you talki–’ I realised she was joking and scowled at her.
She giggled silently at just how hilarious she was, but then asked, Why are you sad?
People in the hall were wondering why it looked like my best friend was practically humping me with joy. I pushed her off. She always got way too excited. I really didn’t want people looking at me as I was about to cry.
‘Stop it. I just voted away any chance I ever had with him. He’s going to be surrounded by nothing but sexy cheerleaders now. I mean, they’re all so…’
I stopped and flung my back against a locker and whimpered. ‘What am I gonna do?’
Ariel saw how much I was hurting and leaned against the locker next to me. I think I know what you can do.
A spark of hope? I held back any more whimpers. ‘Yeah?’
You’re not a cheerleader. Nowhere near flexible enough. I shot her a glare. But I heard Jessica saying his dad’s looking for someone to help him get up to speed with schoolwork. You know, ‘cos it’s different from in England.
I saw what she meant. ‘And… and I could be that tutor. Right?’
A huge grin spread across her face, happy again. She grabbed my hand and started skipping to class, dragging me along.
She was right. God, Ariel was brilliant! I could be his tutor. Then he’d have to spend lots of time with me. And only me! But what could I tutor him at? I liked reading. I could teach him English! Wait, he was English. Maybe he could tutor me? No, that didn’t make sense. Math? Science? Oh, whatever. I’d just let the teacher decide. The new teacher at school. The English teacher.
‘Well, what did he say?’ my mom asked, after I’d told her about my plan.
I lifted my head up from the marble counter top. ‘I’m not actually sure,’ I admitted.
I had been scared and a bit nervous. Let’s just say that if Rick grew up to be like his dad, then I’d never have anything to complain about. And still, that accent!
I’d told my mom all about this too. And my dad. They were demons, and they’d adopted me when my real parents had… well, I’d never known my real parents. My mother had given me up at birth. All I knew was that they were both Vampires. Yes, vampires can have kids the regular, human way. Apparently. I’ve never met another one, so I don’t know if that’s weird or not, but it doesn’t always involve blood everywhere. Or maybe it did, I didn’t know. Either way, these parents were my real parents as far as I was concerned.
My parents were made for each other. My mother a succubus, and my father an incubus. Sex demons. They fed off the essence of humans, and apparently humans were much tastier when they were… excited. Needless to say, my parents were very open about sex. So why wouldn’t I tell them about my crush on Rick?
And when I told them about my nervousness talking to Rick’s dad, Mr. Anderton, they both nodded knowingly and agreed amongst themselves that he would be a “very tasty treat”.
Yes, it was weird, but I’d gotten used to it. Still not an image I wanted in my head, though.
My dad walked over to the kitchen counter, munching from a bowl of cereal. Dry cereal. At five in the afternoon. And motioned for me to continue.
‘So, he said that yes, I could tutor Rick.’ I held my hands out to stop my parents being too enthusiastic. ‘And he thanked me for offering. Buuuut. He was very specific about what he wanted me to help him with.’
‘Well?’ they asked together.
‘He wants me to teach him to be “American”.’
My dad choked on his cereal. Serves him right for trying to eat it dry. And for laughing.
As he walked around the kitchen having a coughing fit, my mom poured me some more milk into a glass. ‘So, you need to teach him about what exactly?’
I knocked back the milk in one go. ‘I really don’t know. But I did agree to do it.’
‘Well that’s great, honey! Just take out all of the weird “u”s they put into their words, and stop him from calling football “rugby” and you’re set!’
‘I guess, yeah. We’ll see when I first do it.’
My mom turned sharply to my dad, who had recovered from his coughing fit, and glared at him. Sure enough, he looked like he was about to make a stupid dad joke. I don’t know what about. He was weird though.
‘Are you coming to the meeting tonight? Or is Ariel coming over?’ my mom asked, turning back to me.
‘I dunno…’ They always asked if I wanted to come. None of the other sixteen year olds ever went. They acted like there was no pressure on me, but they’d already explained why they always asked. Every other species of supernatural was represented at the meetings. But not vampires. Because I was the only one in Sanctuary.
‘It’s up to you, sweetie. No pressure. Maybe next week.’ All said with a smile. Right, no pressure.
‘Yeah, maybe next week. I think I’ll just go out with Ariel.’
Her face turned into a slight frown. ‘Oh. Where are you going?’
‘Well, stay in supernatural neighbourhoods.’
‘Jeez mom. I go to school with humans. They aren’t that dangerous. They don’t know we exist.’
‘That’s right, and let’s keep it that way. You know what they could do to us.’ The same story, every time. Did she think I’d forgotten since last week?
‘Most of them are my friends, mom.’ Well, only two of them were really my friends, but she didn’t need to know that. Just because the rest never talked to me didn’t mean they were dangerous.
‘I know, darling, but if rumours start spreading, then a hunter might come to Sanctuary. And we don’t want that, do we?’
Every warning they ever gave came down to “a hunter will come and get you”. Hunters were just normal humans. I really didn’t see how they could compare to the abilities and super strength an entire community of supernaturals could bring to the fight.
‘No, mom. Hunters would be bad, mom.’
My mom turned to my dad. ‘Tell her, Tom.’
‘Your mother’s right,’ Dad said.
‘Oh is she?’ I asked, seeing he was doing what he usually did. ‘What’s she right about, dad?’
My dad looked up from his phone. ‘Everything.’
He certainly knew how to cover his bases.
‘Great job, Tom. Way to be an active parent,’ my mom scolded him.
His jaw tightened. ‘I’m sorry Freya, but I’m busy arranging the meeting tonight. I’m not superman.’
‘I’m trying to teach her valuable life lessons, and you’re sending texts?’
‘How long until the meeting?’
‘That’s just enough time to…’
He caught her meaning and grinned. ‘My thoughts exactly.’
‘Wait,’ my mom said. ‘Did you just use your powers on me, Tom?!’
‘Busted,’ I said, sliding out of my chair. I knew exactly where this was going.
My dad stuttered and spluttered, having no excuse for using his incubus powers to try and get out of an argument.
‘Get upstairs,’ my mom told him.
‘Yes, ma’am.’ My dad snapped a salute and marched upstairs. Still texting.
‘Oh God. You guys. Ick.’ Just because they were open about sexuality with me did not mean I wanted to know they actually did stuff. As far as I was concerned they were both virgins. Virgin sex demons, yes. Ick, ick, icky. ‘I’m off to meet Ariel.’
‘So what do you want to do?
‘Yeah. My mom gave me another lecture. Yours?’
Same as every week. Yeah.
We walked down the street, heading out of the supernatural neighbourhood. The sun was beginning to set, but it was still warm enough for shorts.
Every week on a Thursday evening, all the parents would get together in their big meeting and talk about stuff. I’d been once, and it bored me rigid. They had spent the whole night deciding whether or not old man McGaffy who’d just moved into the big house on the corner opposite was a human or one of us. They said he was so weird and old, he had to be supernatural. They wanted to send an official welcoming delegation to his house. Long story short, after a lot of embarrassment, he was human. Then they moved on to zoning laws. Also, it turns out that we’re not allowed statue gargoyles on our houses. Too much of a giveaway. The actual gargoyles were not happy. I left after that because I had more important things to do, like sleeping.
While the parents were wasting time talking about that fun stuff, we kids had started our own meetings. All the kids got together and talked. Talked about things that really mattered! We were discovering ourselves. Our parents wanted us to integrate with humans. Deny our true natures. So we started a club to find out just what those true natures were. I’m a vampire, and all I know about my kind is that, unlike the movies, sunlight doesn’t kill me, and I can see in the dark. No fangs, no flight, no turning into mist, no super strength, I love garlic, and I don’t combust when I step in a church. I hadn’t been brave enough to stick wood through my heart – I figure that would kill most things, so wouldn’t prove much. Oh, and I was alive. My heart beat, I had blood, I was completely alive. I could hold my breath for a really long time though. That was useful on the swim team.
And again, actually going along to this club was all Ariel’s idea. I definitely wouldn’t go on my own.
She was always so keen to go. She and the other sirens huddled into a soundproof room and talked to each other. Aloud. In theory, with enough practice, one day Ariel would be able to talk to normal humans without causing them to spasm in ecstasy. Well, good for her.
You’re looking forward to this, right?
‘Duhh. Sure. It’s great practice!’
Unfortunately, this left me on my own. I’d have to talk to all the hormone enraged boys who were finding out just how strong and fast they were. Ugh. They got themselves all excited and then started showing off. It was so repulsive. Rick was far more refined.
I bit my lip at the thought of him. I hoped I could see him again soon. Maybe he’d want some Friday night tutoring.
We reached the road that separated our neighborhood from the humans. It was a normal street, just like any other. Green trees lined the road, accompanied by big green lawns and small hedges. The houses looked identical on both sides of the street. But on one side, only humans, and the other, only us.
Until a month ago.
Now there was one house filled with humans on our side. Rick and his dad, Mr. Anderton.
No one knew how that had slipped through the cracks. It shouldn’t have been able to happen. Apparently we had supernaturals in jobs working specifically to stop exactly that from happening.
Oh well! The adults were always worrying about these silly things. If they paid more attention to us, then we wouldn’t have to have our own special club.
I mean, just give me a book, let me read about it. That’s all I want. Not hanging around these testosterone fuelled numbskulls.
Speaking of testosterone fuelled numbskulls, I heard footsteps behind me.
‘Hey ladies!’ Johnny shouted, forcing his way between us. He rested his arms around both our shoulders, and as one, me and Ariel threw his arms off.
‘Hi Johnny,’ I said, rolling my eyes and stroking my hair back into place.
‘You excited for tonight?’ Johnny asked.
I wanted to tell the truth – that I wasn’t at all. It would maybe calm his enthusiasm down and get him away from me, but I didn’t want to hurt Ariel’s feelings. ‘Yeah. Going to get lots done today. You?’
‘You know it! Me and the rest of the Elves are going to find out just how strong our glamour is.’
Elves. Arrogant. Tall, beautiful, and sexy, yes, but arrogant.
‘Didn’t you do that last week?’
‘Yeah, sure. But the others need to keep practising.’
‘The others, but not you, right?’ He was so easy to see through.
‘Of course not! I nailed it last week.’
Me and Ariel looked at each other knowingly.
‘See you there, slowpokes!’ Johnny ran ahead. Well, he didn’t so much run, as just suddenly walk twice as fast as us. Elves. So annoying. I tried my best not to stare at him as he walked ahead. Elves had a thing for skin-tight clothing.
What are you going to do while I’m off talking?
‘Umm, I guess I’ll see what the Succubi are up to. Always good to know exactly what powers my parents have I guess.’
That’s a good idea, yeah. Going to try anything yourself, or just watch?
‘You do know what they get up to, right?’
‘They go in, all looking normal, and then they start using their powers. Whatever it is they’re doing, I definitely can’t do.’
Have you tried?
‘I wouldn’t even know how! They go from looking normal, to turning into the most beautiful, sexy things I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s ridiculous. Hey, maybe if I had that power, and really ramped up my sex appeal, I’d end up looking like them before they even start. Normal.’
She held my hand. Texting expertly, without even needing to look at what she wrote with the other hand. Hey. Is this about Rick still?
Well what’s up?
‘Come on. I’m surrounded by people who are all “exploring” themselves and their powers, and are getting stronger. And I’m here, just being… me. On my own.’
We were nearing the end of the street. A hole in a wooden fence marked the start of a forest.
Ariel turned, looking worried, and I realised I’d said too much. Stupid, stupid. She needed this. This gave her a freedom even I couldn’t give her as her best friend.
I interrupted her texting. ‘You go. Have fun. I’ll be finding out what my parents can do.’
Her phone started buzzing with continual texts. The other sirens were wondering where she was. I pushed her ahead so she could go meet them in the makeshift den in the middle of the woods that we’d claimed as our clubhouse. I think it was an abandoned bunker or something.
She looked back for a moment, but she knew me well enough to know I wasn’t going to talk about it any more. She waved, and pushed open the bunker door.
I debated turning around. I could just go back to my empty house. I needed to study more. Maybe I could catch up with Peter and Bhav, see how they were getting on. I knew they were having a hard time. I was sure they could use the support.
I wrapped a strand of my hair around my hand and tugged gently. Nope. I was here now. And who knew, maybe tonight would be the night something actually happened. Most of the supernaturals didn’t start showing any powers until around my age, so… any day now.
I trudged down the steps after Ariel.
On my own.
The next night I stood in front of Rick’s house. The only human house in this neighborhood. My parents loved it for that reason alone. For the last month, they’d had no need to go to the human side of town for that little extra buzz.
Well, saying “side” made it sound equal. Us supernaturals only made up about ten percent of Sanctuary.
I’d had my hand touching the door for the last minute. I had meant to knock, but I didn’t have the nerve. Now I was just awkwardly patting a door. Come on, Rel, get a grip of yourself. You’ve been invited here.
But every time I tried to knock again, I saw his face, and his smile, and heard his voice. What was I doing here? I wished I’d eaten before I came. I was too nervous to eat, and now I was absolutely starving. I’d been hungry since last night’s meeting in the bunker.
I heard rustling from inside and the door opened.
‘Oh!’ Mr. Anderton shouted, putting a hand over his heart. ‘My, Reliquiae, you gave me a shock.’ He looked around outside. ‘Did we not hear you knock?’
Okay, this was my teacher. Not Rick. I could handle this. ‘No, sir. I…uhh, I just arrived.’ Okay, not bad, only stuttered once!
‘Well, do go in. I was just marking your test, in fact. Richard’s in the living room. Not to worry, I’ll be out of your hair all night. A teacher’s work is never done!’
‘He prefers Rick.’
Oh my God, why did I just correct my teacher. And Rick’s dad. Get a grip!
‘Right. Well, enjoy.’ And with that he went outside to throw out the trash he’d been holding.
I stepped into Rick’s house for the first time. It was exactly what I had expected. A picture of the Queen hung on the wall, and the British flag hung proudly over the upstairs banister. I could see through to the kitchen where a large selection of teas were spread out.
I made to call out to find Rick, but my voice caught in my throat. I cleared it, and Rick appeared from the door to my left.
‘Howdy, Rel,’ he said.
He was wearing a blue shirt, top button undone, and comfortable khakis. He was sliding around the wooden floors in his socks. He stood about four inches taller than my five foot six. His hair was mousey brown and messy. His eyes were a darker brown, the same colour as my hair.
I giggled. Oh God, I never giggle. ‘We don’t say Howdy in Sanctuary.’
Either he was really good at acting, or I was breaking some serious cultural barriers for him. ‘Really.’
Whatever the reason, his puppy dog eyes were hitting me hard.
‘Well that’s a bit of a blow. Are you sure? The wiki was pretty clear on the subject. Next you’re going to tell me you don’t say y’all either?’
‘Well, that’s just a good contraction that you can’t go wrong with. But again, that’s more the southern states. Try saying it again.’
With his accent it sounded like he was saying “yule” as in “yule log”. So cute!
‘Maybe don’t say it, okay?’
He raised his hands as if to complain, but gave up before starting. ‘That’s probably fair.’ He looked around quickly. ‘Oh, damn it. Look at this.’
‘Uhh, what’s up?’
He pointed to the stairs. ‘My father, that’s what. So immature, honestly.’
I looked again, but couldn’t see anything out of place. ‘What’s wrong?
‘Just look at this. He knew you were coming so he thought it would be funny. I apologise on his behalf.’
Just then Mr. Anderton walked back in. Apparently he’d overheard Rick and was chuckling to himself. ‘I’m sorry, Reliquiae, I simply couldn’t help myself.’
‘Okaaay. I’m really lost though.’
His chuckling stopped. Both of them looked at me as if I was sick. Was this British humour? ‘Yes, sorry. I suppose the joke doesn’t translate well. I put up a picture of the Queen and our flag. Just teasing a bit. No offence was intended.’
‘Oh. I just assumed that was normal.’
Rick cleared his throat and they both shuffled awkwardly. Despite the awkwardness it was kind of unbearably cute to see Rick and his dad acting the same.
‘I’m afraid not. The British are rather more conservative about showing our… umm, national pride.’
‘I see.’ This really wasn’t very funny, and the longer this went on it just became more uncomfortable. ‘I guess the tea selection is a joke too?’
Mr. Anderton glanced at the kitchen in confusion. ‘Not at all. That’s just our tea selection.’ Rick cleared his throat again. ‘Anyway, I’m off to the study to mark more papers. Enjoy yourselves.’
And with that he went upstairs, pulling down the picture of the Queen and the British flag on his way.
Rick’s cheeks were flushed when I looked back at him. ‘Do you want to sit?’
‘I do. It’s one of my top three positions.’ He was so easy to talk to! I hadn’t stuttered once!
‘Oh great, this way. What other positions do you enjoy?’
‘Standing. Walking. Running, sometimes.’ I answered, not skipping a beat. But just as I finished speaking, I realised what I’d said… and then what he’d said… did we just flirt? No. We were just talking about sitting down. On a couch, to be specific!
The living room looked very ordinary. Nothing noteworthy except that one corner still had a few boxes in it. There was a picture of Rick, his dad, and another man all together on the mantlepiece. Two couches were around a wooden coffee table, facing towards a TV in the corner.
I walked up to the picture. It looked like a typical fishing picture, but Mr. Anderton and the other guy were wearing uniforms of some kind – before I could see it properly, Rick darted round the other side and picked it up.
‘Oops. That’s not meant to be out.’ He laughed nervously. ‘Just another joke from my father.’ He placed it back in one of the boxes in the corner.
‘Wow. Mr. Anderton likes jokes more than I expected.’
‘Who? Oh, my father. Yeah. He’s always getting into some sort of trouble.’
Teachers were amusing? This was new information to me. Although Mr. Anderton was probably the youngest teacher I’d ever seen. He was still really old though.
‘Would you like a drink before we start? Tea?’
‘I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that tea rack you’ve got.’
‘Oh, no. It’s simple really. Come to the kitchen and I’ll explain it.’
‘I think we can save that for another time.’ He looked crestfallen that he wouldn’t be allowed to talk about tea. I was still really hungry though. ‘But, do you have any food? I hate to ask, but… I’m really hungry. Just something small though.’ I couldn’t eat too much in front of him. He’d think I’m a pig.
‘Of course! Let’s go into the kitchen.’
I followed him in. ‘But still, no talking about the teas, okay?’
He laughed. ‘I’ve got food to talk about now, so no problem. What do you feel like having?’
As we stopped in front of the refrigerator, I waved my hand casually as if I didn’t care. But I did. I was incredibly hungry, and a very picky eater, too. ‘Oh, whatever you’ve got.’
He held his hands out as if to stop me. ‘Hold your horses, partner–’
‘We also don’t call each other partner.’
‘Oh… right, well, hold your horses, gal. You can’t just give me free rein over your food like that. It’s dangerous. I may take advantage of it.’
‘Honestly, I’m so hungry right now, you can definitely take advantage of me.’
Wait, what did I just say?
‘Right.’ His voice broke as he said it.
He cleared his throat. ‘Right.’ Deeper now. ‘How about a sandwich?’
I walked round the centre counter, leaning into the corner opposite him. ‘What have you got?’
He opened the refrigerator, his back to me, and started poking around. ‘Have you heard of marmite?’
‘No. What is it?’
He began explaining what sounded like a failed science project as he continued poking around in the refrigerator.
As I looked at his back I could feel myself getting more hungry. Hell, at this point, I’d eat the failed science project if it would fill me up.
He may not have been wearing the skin tight t-shirt that Johnny had, but looking at his back, I found myself yearning to touch him. It wasn’t an obvious thing he had. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I just liked him. I could talk to him. Even when I was feeling really embarrassed. Somehow the words just came out, and the next thing I knew I was laughing.
But wow, was I feeling light headed now! ‘Blood sugar getting low over here. Anything will do.’
He stopped rummaging and pulled something out. Then he turned to the center counter, facing me now, and started assembling a sandwich.
Okay, this was a much better view. He didn’t have the hard sinewy muscles of Johnny. He wasn’t quite as fit, but still strong. For a moment I pictured myself in his arms. Mmm.
‘Pardon?’ he asked.
Oh jeez. Had I just moaned out loud? ‘Nothing. Just a bit dizzy.’
He kept assembling a concoction involving bread and black filling. Talking all the time, something about still waiting for the rest of their belongings to arrive from England, and how much better the weather was in Sanctuary – but I couldn’t seem to concentrate. Every now and again he’d stop and chuckle to himself. What a goof.
Just him and me, enjoying ourselves in his kitchen. Him enjoying making a sandwich – very slowly. Me… almost fainting in the corner.
‘Mind if I get some water?’
‘Sure, the tap’s just there.’ He pointed to the basin. I wasn’t that light headed!
‘There’s another lesson. It’s a faucet.’ I poured myself a glass and drank. I downed the entire glass in a single gulp. Suddenly my hunger was almost gone. Instead, I was so thirsty. I poured myself a second glass. Then a third.
‘Uhh, are you okay, Reliquiae?’
‘Yeah, fine.’ I was not fine. ‘Just a bit thirsty. How’s that sandwich coming? And it’s just Rel.’
I determined to not drink any more water. A fourth glass would be weird. I turned back to him, still leaning against the counter.
Oh he looked great. And now, he was all mine for the night. No stupid cheerleaders to draw his eye. He looked so tasty.
Wait, tasty? That was a weird thing to call him. The dizziness must have gone to my head. I think that’s where dizziness started, anyway.
Oh, why hadn’t I had anything to eat back at my house. This was just embarrassing. If I actually passed out, I bet I’d be the laughing stock of the school by next week.
My head started to pound. My mouth was dry. Seriously, had I been sucking on a sponge before I got here? I realised that my head was pounding but… my heart was pounding out of synch.
My eyes snapped up, and locked on Rick’s neck. As if I was wearing binoculars my vision zoomed tightly to focus on just that sweet neck of his. So thick and strong. I found my dizziness gone. I walked slowly around the centre counter towards him. The whole time I could hear my head pounding. No, his heart beating.
I was right next to him, and he hadn’t even looked up. He’d barely even moved. In fact, he was moving in slow motion. That was very weird.
I leaned into him from behind. I breathed his scent. He’d hidden it under some cologne, but I could smell him. A strong, musky oak, with a hint of sweetness at the end. He was just tall enough that I couldn’t reach his neck from behind. I reached up slowly to touch it. Just to feel it. I wanted to feel him pulse beneath my fingers. That was all. Just to feel him.
And then time began again.
He spun around. ‘Woah! Sorry, I didn’t even see you there. Here. Marmite sandwich!’ He literally jammed the bread into my mouth, which was already hanging open.
I bit down without even thinking about it, and… I gagged.
‘Yes. It does that if you’re not expecting it. Just give it a chance.’ I was about to slap him, because whatever that was, it was an assault on me in some way. But he added. ‘For me?’
Damn it. He gave me those puppy-dog eyes as well. He was excited and wanted me to like it. I put it back to my mouth. I sniffed it. It didn’t smell bad. I took another bite.
‘This tastes like salt and ground up mushrooms mixed with dirt.’
‘That’s about right, sure. It’s great stuff.’
I put the sandwich back on the plate. ‘At least I know I don’t like whatever that is.’
‘Sorry. I’ll make you something else.’
I no longer felt dizzy, and my feeling of hunger was barely noticeable. What on earth had happened there? Was that… Did I just… I buried my head in my hands.
‘Are you okay, Rel?’
‘Yeah. I’m fine. Just the light headedness going, is all.’ I looked up and forced a smile. What was wrong with me? Was this vampire stuff? My parents would know. Yes, get through tonight, and ask my parents. ‘Let’s study.’
We walked back to the living room and I sat down on the couch.
I pulled a book out of my backpack. I might be a wreck now, but I hadn’t been before, and I had prepared.
‘So, what are you going to teach me?’ he asked, sitting down next to me. I was still feeling a bit weird, but even so I could tell he sat closer to me than he needed to. Or was this just normal in England? I looked at him, but he was looking straight ahead. I put the book on the table but all I could feel was his thigh against my own.
‘I got into the American football team. Did you hear?’
That broke the spell I’d been under. I giggled. Again. ‘It’s just football here.’
‘Right. Sorry. A bit redundant, I suppose.’
‘But yeah, I heard. Are you enjoying it?’
‘I haven’t been to any practices yet, so I can’t say. I like sport, but I don’t know if this is for me. America does sports very differently to England. Much more… organised.’
‘Oh. Well, I’m sure you’ll be happy about being surrounded by cheerleaders?’ I asked, my stomach clenching at the thought.
‘Umm, yes. Yes, they’re an interesting bunch. It was… I forgot her name…’
‘Yes, Sasha. She stalked up to me in the middle of lunch with an entourage, and was the one who informed me I was on the team.’
Oh that… acting like she didn’t want him on the team in our meeting. Did she want him for herself? Oh great, the most beautiful and popular girl in school had her eye on my crush. But I had to play it cool.
‘Oh? She’s nice, isn’t she?’
‘Oh yes! Very nice. Right after she told me I’d made the team, she told me that she would take me out and show me the best local burger bar.’
Oh. My. God.
‘That sounds… nice,’ I squeaked.
‘Yes, definitely. I still haven’t been to one in the month since we arrived.’
If he was going on a date with Sasha, why was he flirting with me? Why was he sitting so close? No. He hadn’t been flirting. Stupid, stupid, thinking he was coming on to me. This was just a study session to him. He didn’t even see me as a girl. How could he, compared to Sasha.
‘It sounds like she’ll be teaching you all you need to know about America.’ I muttered under my breath, ‘And girls.’
Oh God, he’d heard. ‘And pearls’, I said. ‘Sanctuary used to have a big oyster trade.’
‘I never knew that.’ No, because I lied. ‘I hope she teaches me all about that then. But to be fair, you’ve done a great job so far, Rel. It’s all of these small, subtle things. And at least I can stop saying howdy now.’ He grinned at me.
I wanted to chuckle, but I couldn’t find it in me. The thought of him and Sasha on a date stayed firm in my mind. And if not Sasha, then any other cheerleader. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything without betraying myself, so I patted him on the leg instead.
Oh my God I touched his leg. I hadn’t even meant to. I’d have done it with a close friend, maybe. In the instant before he could react, I imagined him jumping up, shouting at me to get out.
He looked at me and smiled. I didn’t know you could smile Britishly.
‘You have really dark eyes, you know?’ he said.
‘You have really smooth pants.’ Jeez, what did I just say?
‘Thank you. Umm, my father picked them out for me.’
‘Your dad dresses you?’ Rel, stop talking!
His face flushed. ‘No, I didn’t mean that. Just… okay, what I was about to say doesn’t sound any better. But, he just knows clothes. An age thing, I guess.’
I kept my arms tucked into my lap now. No more mistakes, Rel! ‘If you ever need help, I could dress you.’ Oh come on…
His face flushed even further and he looked away from me to the ground. He cleared his throat before speaking. ‘I actually didn’t even want to join the football team, you know? I was just trying to fit in. I like sport, and that seems to be what everyone does.’
Through my immense embarrassment I managed to motion him to continue. As he spoke, I found I couldn’t pay attention. I was looking at his cheek. He was facing straight forward, still looking at the ground. He was telling me something I felt he hadn’t told anyone else, yet all I could focus on was his cheek. And his thigh touching mine. It was happening again. Time was slowing down, and I couldn’t look away from the blood that had rushed into his cheeks. It was so obvious. So unrestrained. So tempting. Even if I hadn’t been able to hear his heart pumping blood, I’d have felt it through his thigh. Our bodies were in synch.
I wanted him.
I leaned into his shoulder. I got closer to the thumping beat I wanted to taste. My eyes were still locked on his rosy red cheeks. His blood red cheeks.
Then I smelled him. I smelled his neck. I saw his pale neck vibrate with every pump of his heart. I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him back so I could taste him. He was still unmoving, his mouth open in the middle of talking.
I didn’t know why, but some instinct told me to lick his jugular. Some weird instinct. I knew what to do. I knew what needed to happen. As I did, I felt my tongue rub against my own teeth. I had fangs. His fragile little neck beat against my tongue.
Fangs? Vampire instincts? Someone bigger than me being so easy to move? Time wasn’t slow. I was fast. What was I doing?!
Time sped up again.
Rick was thrown back into the couch. An action that had been so slow and easy for me.
‘Woah! What was that? Did you push me… ?’ He looked shocked.
I stood up and ran for the door.
‘Rel? Where are you go–’
I was out of the house. Tears streaked down my cheeks.
‘Got it!’ I shouted to Richard.
When I turned around he was right behind me.
I showed him the picture I’d located in one of the moving boxes.
‘I’m not sure. Just some old lady. But she looks vaguely regal.’
‘Fine. All right. Anyway, which one should I wear?’ he asked, holding out two different ties.
‘Honestly? No tie.’
‘But… I want to make a good impression.’
The eternal question a father faces. Should I tease him about his obvious crush or not.
‘Trust me, Richard. No tie.’ No teasing today. I let him off easy. He was already dressed up more than usual. He must be nervous.
He ran back up the stairs. I hung the picture on the wall to make sure Reliquiae saw it. Some would call this childish or a waste of time. I’d agree, but that wouldn’t stop me. I’m mid-thirties, not dead.
Still, couldn’t have a dirty house with a guest coming round. Even if she was a sixteen year old girl. Did they care about cleanliness? I had no idea. I took the rubbish out of the bin and headed for the door.
Richard was standing in the reception hall looking gormless. Poor chap. ‘Go and sit down. You don’t want to seem too eager.’
He made a face at me but walked into the living room anyway.
I opened the door and…
‘Oh!’ I shouted, putting a hand to my chest. She had scared me half to death. Why was she just standing on the porch? ‘My, Reliquiae, you gave me a shock.’
I felt uneasy. It had been a very long time since someone had snuck up on me. How peculiar. Still, it was a reminder to try and keep myself sharp. Stop slacking. ‘Did we not hear you knock?’
I looked around outside. Maybe she hadn’t snuck up on me and it was just my gut feeling telling me something wasn’t right.
‘No, sir. I…uhh, I just arrived.’
Curious. Was she nervous? And Richard was too. I see.
‘Well, do go in. I was just marking your test, in fact. Richard’s in the living room. Not to worry, I’ll be out of your hair all night. A teacher’s work is never done!’
‘He prefers Rick.’
‘Pardon?’ He’d never asked me to call him Rick.
‘Right. Well, enjoy.’
I walked round to the bins and got rid of the rubbish bag. Yes, this would be a good thing for Richard. He’d need to learn to fit in here. I’d already told him that the American football team was a good idea. Americans loved their sports, after all. Show some team pride and he’d fit right in, I was sure. Then Reliquiae had offered to tutor him. I would have just turned her away, Richard doesn’t need help academically. But I had remembered that Richard had mentioned her more than anyone else. It could have just been coincidence, but I gave it a shot. If how awkward and nervous they were both acting was any indication, maybe I should change career and become a matchmaker.
As I strolled back to the house, I could hear Richard groaning. The ultimate approval any father looks for when he makes a joke. The flag and picture must have hit their mark.
I chuckled to myself as I entered the front hall. ‘I’m sorry, Reliquiae, I simply couldn’t help myself.’
‘Okaaay. I’m really lost though.’
I stopped my laughing and looked at Richard. He was trying to tell me off for embarrassing him. I supposed I shouldn’t take the joke any further. Time to confess.
‘Yes, sorry. I suppose the joke doesn’t translate well. I put up a picture of the Queen and our flag. Just teasing a bit. No offence was intended.’
‘Oh. I just assumed that was normal.’
I shuffled awkwardly. Rick cleared his throat. Well, this had turned from an amusing and ironic joke into an awkward ignorance of state customs.
‘I’m afraid not. The British are rather more conservative about showing our… umm, national pride.’
‘I see,’ she said. ‘I guess the tea selection is a joke too?’
Tea selection? Had I put that out. I turned to the kitchen. Sure enough the tea rack was there. She had very sharp eyes. But tea was never a joke.
‘Not at all. That’s just our tea selection.’ Rick cleared his throat again, giving me a meaningful look. ‘Anyway, I’m off to mark more papers. Enjoy yourselves.’
I walked upstairs. I took down the picture of the old lady, and pulled the Union Jack down.
I entered my study, folded up the flag, and placed it on my desk. With nowhere better to put it, I put the old lady’s photo next to it. A bit odd having a random person staring back at you as you marked papers. It was a nice frame though, very sturdy, and sharp. I’d use it for something else.
But right now, I had a cup of tea that was still steaming, waiting to help me get through grading these papers.
Why on earth had I chosen to be a teacher again? So much homework. I could have been a plumber, or a carpenter. Lord knew I wasn’t teaching for the pay! Still, a teaching job gave you a sort of acceptance in the town, and an instant source of gossiping colleagues and kids to… interrogate about events.
I sat down and stirred my tea, breathing in the steam. My guilty pleasure. This was my reserve stock I’d brought over from England. I didn’t tell Richard I had this. He wouldn’t approve at all. But this was the good stuff. And I took it with plenty of milk and sugar. To the point where it was barely tea at all. Oh yes, Richard would definitely not approve.
Still, I was an adult. His adult, even. What he didn’t know, couldn’t hurt him. If only I’d been a bit wiser when he was younger, and known that then.
Oh well. You can’t change the past. And it was all down to me now. I’d keep him safe. He could be a normal teenager here. Join sports teams. Date girls – or boys. No need to be reminded of the past for him. For me though…
I rubbed my forehead. ‘Getting sentimental in your old age,’ I muttered to myself.
I took a sip of the tea. Oh, I was a bad person. It just tasted like syrupy hot milk. This wasn’t even tea!
‘No. This is your fault, old friend,’ I said, looking at the tea. It was reminding me of the past. Maybe I’d have to kick the habit. Still, it wasn’t my worst one. Not by far.
I placed the cup back on the saucer,picked up my pen, and twirled it in my fingers like a dagger. Practice makes perfect. I looked at the pile of paper in front of me. Time to get to work.
Or not, it turned out, as I started admiring my pen. I’d had it specially made. I had decided that regardless of the job one was doing, one could always use a good pen by one’s side.
It was fashioned from a smooth oak wood, worn by my fingers over the years. The pensmith had assured me that the wood was from the heart of the tree and had been prepared exactly as I’d requested. Simple on the outside, but all the innards, and the visible nib, were a silver alloy. Some top of the line stuff, the man had assured me.
I liked the metaphor. Old and time-tested on the outside. New and cutting edge on the inside.
Anyway. That was enough procrastinating. On to the marking.
I checked my phone. Nothing. Damn. I really would have to grade the papers.
I knew who’s was first. Reliquiae’s.
At least this would make it an easy start to the session. I might have only been here a month, but I already knew who would be worth keeping an eye on. Reliquiae was definitely one of them. She was smart, and engaged with what was being taught. Just the type of student any teacher looked forward to having in their class. But… there was something else about her.
No. I must be trying to procrastinate again. I forced myself to start marking. Oh dear. She had put the wrong date.
A bad start, but we all had off days. And… the first answer was wrong too. Okay, not every test can be a winner.
Second answer, also wrong. On the plus side, it was good that I was managing to challenge such a bright student. Job well done, me!
Third answer wrong. Okay, she must have just been feeling bad in today’s class.
I heard Richard shout.
Then the door slammed shut.
Perfect! A reason to not mark the papers.
I stood up and went downstairs. Richard was standing in the living room looking lost, holding Reliquiae’s school bag.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. She just ran out!’
‘Richard. Did you… say anything to her? Do anything?’
‘What? No! God no, of course not.’
I held up my hands to calm him down. ‘I just had to make sure. Tell me what happened.’
‘I don’t know. I made her a marmite sandwich–’
‘That explains it.’
‘Father!’ he chided me. ‘It’s not funny! Then we sat down and started talking and she seemed fine and I was telling her about the football team and cheerleaders but then I must have slipped or fallen or–’
‘Slow down, Richard. Take a breath.’
He looked up with the same boyish eyes as ever, and I thought he was about to cry. I knelt down in front of him on one knee. Standing, we were the same height, but it made him sit back down on the couch. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way.
‘Richard. Is it possible that she didn’t like you talking about other girls? Perhaps she likes you, and you hurt her feelings?’
His mouth flapped open a few times as if he wanted to argue.
‘I didn’t mean it like that though. I don’t like them.’
‘Well, maybe you didn’t make that clear enough?’
‘I… I suppose that’s possible.’
‘And she left her bag.’
‘Should we look through it?’
‘What?’ Clearly I hadn’t taught him everything he needed to know about girls just yet. ‘No. No, you never look through a girl’s bag.’
‘But just to find out where she lives, I mean. To give it back to her.’
‘Don’t worry. I can get her parents’ number from school files. I’ll do that tomorrow.’
‘And then you can go and give it back to her. With an apology.’
‘Okay.’ I could see there was no point trying to get him to do anything productive with his time now, so I’d let him get on with whatever it was he did when I wasn’t around.
I went back upstairs to get on with the marking.
I sat down, musing at how fun it must be to have girls be your biggest problem. Oh yes, those were the days.
And what luck! In the time I’d been talking to Richard, I’d received a text. Perfect time-wasting material.
I picked my phone up and looked at it. A thrill of anticipation ran through me as I saw her number pop up. Claire.
One of only three numbers I’d already known when I moved into Sanctuary a month ago, Claire was the local chemist.
Her text was a simple “It’s ready”.
It had been too long. Who knew the damage that waiting a month had done. I pushed to the back of my mind the thought of how many people I might have already failed by having to sit idle.
I got up, left my bedroom, and walked to the guest room. I kept the door locked, and the key always in my pocket. I opened the door. It was empty apart from a bed. I walked to the closet. It was almost a walk in closet, ideal for this purpose, instead of the closet in my room which was far more modest.
This was definitely one of the benefits of moving to America for someone in my line of work. Well, my previous line of work. In England, this had involved a lot of logistics, and keeping a contact at the local police station to tip me off if someone might be doing a search. A lot of hiding places around the house. But here? No problem.
I stepped into my armoury. I kept the guns up high. That was a reflex from being a parent with a small child. Of course Richard could reach these now, but old habits died hard. Below that were a collection of weapons ranging from baseball and cricket bats, to katanas and broadswords. Even a Gladius. Name a material, and I could probably find a weapon made out of it in here. Everything had a use.
At the back was my old uniform. I didn’t plan on wearing it again, but you never knew.
My phone buzzed and I looked at the screen. It was Claire again.
“You coming, hunter?”