In the Shadows of Dryden

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CHAPTER 7 - Family matters

Claire POV

It was so very late when I finally got back home. From the outside, all the lights in the house seemed to be turned off and that alone gave me the courage to go inside.

‘Here goes nothing!’ I sighed, slowly but steadily turning the key in the lock, trying to make as little noise as possible. ‘Ok! Now, to open the door and run to my room without anybody seeing me.’ The door handle was next, barely creaking the door open enough to check if the way was clear. After confirming the non-existence of my family, I stepped inside and locked the door shut again.

Another sigh of relief escaped my lips and I decided to go drink some water in the kitchen before heading upstairs to my room. As I crossed the living room and was about to enter the kitchen, the light in the living room turned on.

“Claire Minett!” I stopped in my tracks, dropping my shoulders a little as I turned to meet the angry voice of my mother. “Where were you all this time? We were worr...” Mom gasped, rushing over to me to check me up and down.

“What in the world happened to you?” Her eyes suddenly fixated on my ripped jacket.

“What is this? Did you fall? Are you ok?” Mom was being mom, overprotective, and panicking. I was about to start answering her million questions when I got interrupted by my sister.

“Oh my God, Claire! What happened? Why didn’t you answer my text messages?” Clarisse waved her cell phone in the air to highlight her question at the same time as she pointed to it.

“I…”

“Care to explain WHERE you’ve been all this time?” Once more I got interrupted, this time by my father. He was standing in the middle of the living room, with his arms crossed and a very angry face. His voice was firm and authoritarian and yet, composed and calm as always. That must be a trait of him being a detective. Either way, I held my hands up, trying to get a chance to explain everything.

“I was on my way home but since it was already so late, I thought that if I cut through the forest, I’d get home faster. I sent mom a message saying I would.” I try my puppy eyes at mom, trying to cut myself some slack.

“Honey, you messaged me but you failed to mention the forest bit. Besides, why cut through a forest you haven’t even been to? And alone, nonetheless! You’ve never acted this reckless before, why start now?

“Guess I forgot to mention it but I truly thought that if I used my phone’s GPS, I’d have no trouble. It was a miscalculation of my part. Sorry!” All of a sudden, my dirty shoes got very interesting to look at. Gosh, I felt so embarrassed. “Clarisse should have gotten a message from me too. I was writing her message when I stumbled on a tree root and fell down. My phone got thrown off my hand and because it was dark, it took me some time to find it.” My eyes were still pivoted down, but now looking at the cracked screen of my cell phone.

“The message about the bike?” I nodded.

“My jacket ripped when I fell down. It must have caught on a branch or something. I really didn’t think it would take me so long to get home. I’m truly sorry! My shoulders dropped as I finished explaining.

Dad approached and extended a hand in front of me.

“Let me see your phone.” Immediately, I handed him my dirty phone without question. It was useless to argue with him, I knew that well.

He examined me, near out of battery phone, handing it back over to me when he was done.

“Next time, call one of us for a ride and try not to forget your bike again.” I could tell that he would stay mad for a while just by the sound of his voice so I opted not to say anything other than nod. Mom sighed.

“Ok, I believe Claire has learned from her mistakes and hopefully act differently next time.” She gave me a questioning look. A heavy sigh escaped my mouth and I nodded, wanting nothing else but to change the subject. “Now, a bit of good news. Marie called me today. Mom just got the ‘OK’ to come home from the hospital where she went for the exam. She will be arriving tomorrow morning.”

“Nice timing! She will be arriving on a Saturday!” Added Clarisse with a big smile on her face. We were all quite anxious to meet grandma. It’s been so long since last time we got to see her.

“Nice timing indeed! They will be here early and it’s late, so let’s head to bed so we can receive them.” Mom didn’t have to say it twice, I was glad to be done with this ‘chat’ and go take a shower before heading to bed.

It felt so good to finally get to lay down on my comfortable bed and close my eyes, but those emerald orbs wouldn’t leave my mind. Seems as if it was going to be hard to fall asleep this night, despite my exhaustion.

****

It was 8 in the morning when I woke up. Clarisse’s bed was already made and she wasn’t in the room. I wondered if granny was home yet. I jumped off the bed and swiftly readied myself with a green autumn dress, ballerina shoes, and a black cardigan, before combing my hair into a ponytail.

When I got downstairs, everybody was sitting by the kitchen table drinking coffee and chatting. Well, everybody but my dad. He was sitting on the sofa watching his football match.

Grandmother and Marie were also sitting by the table. ‘So, they didn’t want to wake me up. I’m both glad and sad for that but it can’t be helped’, I thought, approaching the table.

Granny was taller than me, but otherwise, I looked very much the same as she did at my age. Of course, her red hair has almost totally turned white now. She has lived for one hundred and four years and only recently got sick. Still, she managed to cook, clean, walk, and shower without any help. All the doctors she met got baffled by her energy. Her friend, Marie Kykelviyk, looked exactly like Santa Claus’ wife. Chubby rose cheeks, round glasses covering her blue eyes, and that perfect white hair cut in a puddle hairstyle.

“Good morning!” I went straight to granny to give her a big hug. I just missed my grandmother a lot. She was so funny!

“Good morning darling!” Said mom smiling before she went on to heat my milk. That’s one thing I really love about my mother. She never stays mad for long but dad… well, dad is the total opposite. He just grumbled something inaudible when I came in. Clarisse smiled as a hamster caught with its mouth full, giving me a wave instead.

“Granny! I missed you so much!” I glanced over to Marie and gave her a big smile. “Hey, Marie! Thank you for taking care of my granny! Did you two have a nice trip back?”

“Ah! Claire! My God, you’ve grown so much since last time. You’re a lady now! Look at you! Any boyfriend’s yet?”

“Eh…?!” Why did she have to ask me that? And why am I blushing?

Clarisse giggled, or should I say, she tried to giggle with her mouth full. Definitely a hamster! Marie seemed to catch on something and came to my rescue even if she didn’t know us as much.

“Thia! She’s young. Not everybody is like you!”

“Like me? What do you mean by that? I find nothing wrong with going shopping for a nice-looking guy. It doesn’t mean she has to date or marry the guy.”

“Shopping for a guy? Only you would say that, Thia! We all know your meaning of ‘shopping for a guy’. I don’t know how Ian didn’t mind that side of yours.”

“Oh, my deceased husband knew very well that none could compare to him. If I ever looked at a man, it was just to remind me of how much better he was.” Granny responded matter of factly. They were old friends, so even if it might sound like they are arguing, it was just the true and honest friendship they had with each other. Nonetheless, I took the queue to go sit beside my sister on the other side of the table.

Mom placed the little jar of milk in front of me, shooting a side glance at the two old ladies and holding in a chuckle. There was hot coffee, fresh sliced bread, cheese, sliced turkey, and strawberry jam on the table. My belly started grumbling by looking at it.

Granny and Marie kept on talking until both my parent’s phones rang. Mom and dad both answered, their faces immediately turning business-like.

“Yes, I know where it is. Will meet you there, Russo. Thanks for calling!”

“I understand. Will be right there!”

Dad turned off the TV and went to get his holster while mom hastily placed her apron over the kitchen sink before heading towards the door. Their jobs required them to be ‘on-call’ even on their ‘off days’, for more or less the same reason. There weren’t many detectives in town yet and mom was the only pathologist here too.

“Marie, thank you so much for all the help you’ve been giving my mom. Sorry, we can’t stay as planned. We will need to meet again on another occasion.” She said, waving to Marie. “Girls, stay home with your grandmother! Dad and I got emergencies to deal with.” As soon as she was done talking, dad came rushing down the stairs.

“We will most likely come home late and by the news… stay in the house and lock the doors! Don’t let anybody in! Call if anything happens! You know the drill!” He didn’t even look at us, he just got his jacket and keys as he instructed us and out the door, they both went. We were all left looking at each other with question marks floating over our heads.

“Well, by the sound of that news, guess it’s time I start heading home.” Marie stood, placing her purse over her shoulder and taking her car keys out. “Thia, let me know if you need anything. You know that you’re like a sister to me.” Granny stood to hug her friend and accompany her to the door. Clarisse and I followed behind and gave her a hug and a kiss, telling her thanks for everything and waving her goodbye.

After Marie left, we proceeded as dad instructed. Clarisse passed the day in her room creating some crafts for the kids at her workplace to do.

Grandmother and I stayed on the second-floor balcony enjoying the weather. She sat on her recliner, knitting a pair of socks, and me on the hammock trying to read a book. I was having some trouble concentrating. Every time a male character showed up, I immediately thought of the naked emerald eyed vampire. After re-reading the same chapter for about six times, I closed the book, letting out a heavy sigh. Granny promptly glanced my way with a witty expression. ‘Oh, no. What have I done???’

“So Claire, have you met someone interesting?” She asked, looking back and forth from me and her knitting project. ‘Damn, nothing escapes her!’

“Hmm… I met two girls at school the other day. They seemed nice and friendly.” I tried my best to avoid the boyfriend subject. That made me think about him again.

“That’s nice, dear. Any boy or boyfriend prospect yet?”

“You’re not gonna let me slide, are you?” I let out another sign.

“What do you think, deary?” Now she completely stopped knitting and kept her eyes fixed on me, waiting.

“I… might have met someone.” My gaze focused outside, towards the forest.

“Oh, I knew there was someone. Tell me, what does he look like? Have you two kissed yet? What’s his name? You do know his name, right?” … and here we go. That’s the reason why I wanted to avoid this subject like the plague. She added question after question, making it sound more like I was at a job interview than anything else.

“Graaannyyyy!” I unconsciously burst out, making her stop to look at me. “Before I answer any of those questions, I want to ask YOU something.”

Grandma just waited for me to continue.

“At school, when I met those two girls, they kinda freaked out when I told them I lived here. They told me about how the forest got its name.”

“Yes? What about it?”

“Well… you see, I did a little research into it and found a picture of a little girl and her parents with your house in the background.” Granny calmly looked at me, waiting for me to continue. “So?”

“So, what?” She started to knit again as if I hadn’t said anything.

“Thia…”

“Yes, deary?”

“Granny, I know you know something!” I said to her. She put her knitting down and knitted her eyebrows instead, glaring at me.

“Young lady, why do you suppose I know anything about this subject? It was your grandfather Ian that built this house.”

“Exactly! This picture was taken 500 years ago! How come the house was already built?” I had sat down on the hammock now and was returning her stare. Her glare turned into a surprise expression, her mouth slightly agape.

“You must be mistaken! Ian told me that he built this house himself. Why would he lie? It was probably some other lake house somewhere else.”

There was some silence between us. We both looked confused at each other. I shook my head.

“I will be right back!” I ran to my room and grabbed all the research material I had gathered in the library, separating the house picture on the top. When I got back to the balcony, I immediately handed the picture to her. “Look! It’s this house!” Granny studied the picture in her hands.

“It’s unbelievable, deary. It sure looks like this house but... I will need to think about it. Your grandfather told me himself it was him that built it.”

“Hmm… could he have meant his family? Maybe?” I asked, sitting on a chair beside her.

“I…” She shook her head in disbelief. “He must have meant that, yes.” She returned the picture to me, regaining her composure. “I must have confused it. Can only be…” Her eyes seemed to blurry a bit, lost in thoughts. “Anyways, now that this matter is settled…” She turned to me with a big smile on her face, urging me to answer her questions. Why did I feel that she was still hiding something from me? I sighed, feeling like a fish caught in the fisherman’s net.

“No, we haven’t kissed…”

“But you wanted to, right?” She cut me.

“No… no! He’s… too complicated.” Granny lifted one eyebrow but she didn’t cut me this time. “You see, Clarisse and I was walking through the old lake trail when we heard a splashing noise in the water and went to check. There, we saw this greek God looking man bathing. He was really strong, tall, long black hair and a pair of beautiful emerald color eyes.” I tried to explain everything as fast as I could, feeling my cheeks turning crimson in embarrassment but when I looked up at her, she had her eyes wide open in surprise.

“You’ve seen him NAKED???” She put her knitting away on the side table and completely turned to face me. “Did you get to talk with Caio?” She said in pure excitement, without taking her eyes off of me.

“You know him?” This time, it was my turn to be surprised.

“Yes, of course! I’ve known him all my life. Now, answer me. Did you get to speak with him?”

“Hum… on a later occasion, when I was walking home from the church…“ My eyes trailed off, remembering the scolding I received when I got back home that day.

“Sometimes, I see him at the church. He’s got the most perfect body I’ve ever seen in one hundred and four years. Guess you know that already, after seeing him in his natural outfit! Father Ronah is always yelling at him to put a shirt on before entering the church. I imagine what he would say if he knew certain “lucky girls” found him bathing totally nude in the lake. I bet he would flip!!” Granny let out a fit of laughter as I was left half wanting to laugh with her and the other half in bewilderment. My grandmother knows no shame!!!

Grandma smiled and for a moment she looked totally relaxed as if she was daydreaming.

“You know, I was in love with him when I was your age.” Her hand gently moved some of my hair strands behind my ear. “To be honest, part of me still is.”

“Gran! Have you two… ever… ?” I blurted out, without thinking, covering my mouth with my hands. Her expression turned into one of amusement before she giggled a little, shaking her head.

“Unfortunately, no. Caio has always been a gentleman. I don’t believe he’s ever been interested in carnal pleasures. That being said, I did try to seduce him a couple of times to no avail. I was never even able to kiss him. Not even a peck.” She said, smiling sadly. “He wasn’t into me, I guess.”

For some reason, I felt very relieved. Why did I even feel that way? Even if the vision of him bathing doesn’t leave my head, I just met him. It’s not likely for anything romantic to happen in between us, including dating. So why am I so attracted to him? As I submerged into my thoughts, grandma watched me intently.

“Deary?”

My mind was so busy thinking about those new feelings for this mysterious man, that I didn’t even hear her.

“Deary?” Gently, she touched my arm in an attempt to bring me back to reality.

“Yes? Oh, sorry! I was lost in thoughts.”

“My dear Claire, meeting him awakened some new feelings within you, huh?!”

“What? I… no…” ‘Erm… nailed!’ My gaze dropped and I suddenly found the floor really interesting to look at.

“Claire, Caio is indeed a difficult guy to catch. Don’t get your hopes too high.” She took my hands into hers, gently patting them. “He’s a haunted man.”

I didn’t know what to say but I slowly looked up at her, frowning sadly. She kept patting my hands for a moment, while I pondered what to say.

“I… do find him alluring but I’m not expecting anything from him.”

She let go of my hands to reach for her golden wing heart locket dangling from her necklace. Her hands gingerly opened it just to close it back again.

“Last time you met him… how did it go?” She asked as if in a trance. Her eyes weren’t blinking and they were now focused on the forest.

There was a moment of silence between us.

“It was kinda… crazy.” What could I say? How would I tell her everything that happened?

“Dear, I’ve known Caio since I was a child. You don’t have to hold back. I know there are things out there that aren’t human.

“‘That aren’t human’? Like vampires and gigantic wolves?” I tried to sound as if I was joking but she kept a serious face.

“And more. Com’on, tell your old granny.”

We looked straight into each other’s eyes.

“Well… If you’ve known him since you were a kid, then you must know…” Granny cut me, somewhat completing my phrase.

“That he is a vampire? Absolutely! Otherwise, I couldn’t have met him back then. Spill it already, deary.”

“He fought three werebears while he protected me and he has a huge white wolf companion who can breathe ice.” I did as she asked and resumed it all in one line, apprehension visible in my face.

“Werebears? They are tough to battle, especially three. It was a good thing that Caio was there with you.” Granny paused, rubbing her chin with a hand. “A big white wolf that breathes ice. Hmm… it must have been a winter wolf. They are extremely rare and usually stay away from people.”

Granny seemed very knowledgeable and I couldn’t help feeling surprised with it.

“Did you get hurt?”

“No, but he did...” I looked away for an instant before looking back at her. “… he bit one of the werebears. It was a big shock for me to see his beautiful eyes turn ruby red and watch as he drank the blood from that massive creature. He healed instantly! It was… amazing, shocking, terrifying!”

“Oh, yes, his vampire’s eyes. Don’t be scared of him, deary. Caio would never intentionally hurt someone.”

“He seemed to had “intentionally” hurt that bear.” I averted my eyes from her.

“Well, of course! He was protecting you. Caio absolutely HATE being a vampire. You can trust him. He’s a good guy.” She smiled, arranging some hair strands behind her own ear this time around. “Now, tell me how you two met. From the time you had this run-in with the werebears.”

We passed the rest of the time talking until Clarisse came out to let us know that dinner was served.


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