The Black Book

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Chapter VII

My father was seated in his chair again, and judging from the dark and roiling clouds outside, he was feeling a little tense. His posture was still casual, but there was something sharp in his gaze that set a few hairs on the back of my neck tingling. My heart accelerated in my chest, wondering if he’d somehow heard mine and Lorcan’s conversation, or if he’d discovered the book before I’d had a chance to explain myself.

I needn’t have worried. “I’ve been engaged in talks with Lorcan’s parents for most of the afternoon,” he revealed.

I slouched in my seat in relief. “That was your conference call? For the last four hours?”

He waved his hand dismissively. “Well, it was one of the calls. I’m taking a sabbatical from work, for obvious reasons, and that requires many phone calls to people who only know how to communicate very poorly. His parents were a refreshing change of pace. It was an illuminating interview.”

I smiled. “Oh, was it also enlightening?”

Marcus Colville smiled back at me. “Enchanting, even. I was positively spellbound by the subject matter.”

“I hope they were . . . very charming people?” I went on, getting caught up in the moment.

“No, they weren’t the ones who were bewitching,” my Dad went on, not even cracking a smile even though I was starting to shake, “it was the topic that captivated me. I was possessed with the urge to know more.”

Okay, the word possessed was a bit of a stretch, even for him. I opened my mouth to complain about his word choice, but then his meaning hit me a few seconds later than it should have. “Oh,” was all I could manage. “O-oohhh. Oh!” Was my Dad psychic, in addition to being some kind of telekinetic superman? Was there anything he couldn’t do? But, trust my father to break it with a bad pun.

“Indeed, ‘oh,’” Dad nodded. “By the way, you forgot this last night,” he reminded me helpfully, gesturing to the dagger. I grabbed it, remembering I had wanted to show it off to Lorcan and Vanessa, and then that reminded me of the ‘oh.’ “His parents were concerned about your rapidly friendship,” he told me, “and told me a very interesting story that filled in some gaps in my knowledge, and left me with millions of questions. Your mother tells me he arrived an hour or so ago.”

“Fuck,” I blurted out, forgetting for a second that I was in front of my Dad, and then slapped myself on the forehead and swore again. “Shit! Damn it! I mean, yes, he came over early,” I finally said over my father’s chuckles at my expense. “I mean, I told him to, so we could talk before, and explain shit. Things. Shit! Oop!”

“Scott’s language has rubbed off on you,” he noted, looking bemused. “However, this is a serious matter.”

“It is,” I agreed uneasily, “though he, uh, Lee talked with me about this exact subject just a few minutes ago. It’s weird timing. Good timing, but spooky. I thought you were psychic or something.”

My father’s eyes caught mine and bored into me. “He admitted to you he was possessed?”

I wilted, a little. “He was pretty blase about it, actually,” I confessed. “He said he’d had it since he was a kid, and played it off because he’d apparently never had any violent episodes. Which I, personally, call bull-sh-bal-fssshit on.” I gave up on trying not to swear in front of my Dad. It seemed unavoidable. “I mean, Erik is no picnic, but he’s a walk in the park compared to those GOU court videos they show in Ethics.”

“They’re no less exciting in person,” my father assured me. Dad held my eyes for a few seconds longer, before turning his attention to a point on the wall and nodding resignedly. “Yes, his parents said something similar. They believe he is possessed and there is irrefutable evidence of it. Would you believe their family and ours have a common thread in their history?”

“What, like we’re related?” My nose turned up in disgust. I had mixed feelings on that idea.

He tapped his fingers on the wood of his desk. “No, although anything’s possible. It’s more their family traditions that mirrors our own.”

Traditions? “What traditions? Like, dinner?” Dad leveled me with a droll look. It must not have been the right guess. “Oh, you mean ritual murder.” He rolled his eyes.

The story that came out ended up painting Lorcan in a different light. I still felt like I wasn’t getting the entire picture, but after talking to my father, a lot started to make sense. According to Declan and his wife, Lorcan’s mother, Ríona, had been visited in a dream on the same night, one eve when Lorcan was roughly six or seven. According to them, he hadn’t appeared to them as a demon - but what demon would? - and painted himself as an ancient, ancestral spirit that longed to help him, calling itself Solomon. According to everything Declan knew about his family, they’d trafficked with an entity that called itself that long ago, before the Niall-Logan Corporation existed, and long before the GOU had formed. There were stories of a historical figure of the same name in ancient Juda, but it could have been a naming coincidence.

It all made sense, as there were many practitioners who had to abandon their ways when the Union outlawed their traditions. Hedge witches that lived on the fringes of society still objected to the law, and then there were people like Sherece and Vanessa who defied their archaic classifications since what they practiced was technically religion and not magic, but summoning was a big-time no-no for everyone at the time of the Reformation. It was up there with ‘damning crimes of dark magick’ right next to anything involving the desecration of a corpse. (When my family was forced to sign to join, we had to give up mummifying and burying our dead, because the rising dead were an issue after the Great War. It’s cremation or nothing, with the GOU. Like I said, they ruin everything that’s fun.) Lorcan’s ancestors were summoners, and knowing the demon that inhabited him had been summoned by his parents - willingly or no - it did fill in a few plot holes in his tale. Namely, how a child was able to construct a perfect summoning and binding circle. And it explained how his parents treated him; he’d mentioned that they danced on eggshells around him, which would probably put him off of being around them for extended periods. The fact that he rarely spoke of his home life beyond the odd story, and his parents’ influence seemed absent (or their consent implied) in all of his actions . . .

The saddest part about the whole thing was that Lorcan didn’t know. He probably thought he’d sought out the demon on his own, which was probably a lie that Solomon had told him. His parents had reached out to Marcus, as he was not only a powerful and knowledgeable warlock with resources at his disposal, but also the father of one of the girls that Lorcan had recently been spending so much time around. They’d probably been worried about my relationship with him and had wanted to warn my Dad off of the kid, or some defensive goat shit. Though, Dad had claimed that part of their conference had been about discussing demonic contracts; they thought that if they found a loophole in the story, they could find a way to remove Solomon without damaging Lorcan, because if Sol went willingly, it would ease Lee’s transition back to normality.

I snorted when Dad told me this. “He’s the least normal person I’ve met save me or maybe Scott,” I said when my Dad quirked an eyebrow at my derision. “Besides, he’s convinced that the demon isn’t hindering him, and I’m not sure how he’d react to the idea that his parents want to evict his passenger. I also know I’d be upset if you called my friends’ parents and warned them about my personal stuff.”

My Dad shifted in his seat so he could lean back. “Have no fear, my dear - your secrets are safe with us.” Okay, that one stung a little unintentionally, Dad. “I doubt his reaction would matter, since an exorcism is impossible at this stage. Such a traumatic event would probably result in him being comatose, or too psychically damaged to function in society. I think they’re holding out hope, and only that. Not to mention there are significant holes in the story. I’ve never heard of a demon extracting the consent of parents, in order to possess their child.”

“Figures.” I snorted again. “Lee’s fine. He wouldn’t hurt me.”

Marcus Colville regarded me with a level look. “And you’re certain of that?”

I nodded firmly, and clenched my hands around the dagger in my lap just so I’d have something to grab. “Of course, Dad. As certain as I can be. He’s my friend, and I don’t mind demons. Besides, if he was going to do something crazy or violent, wouldn’t he have done it already?” I pointed out, like it was so obvious, because it was.

There was a moment of silence before my father shattered it by clapping, and smiling. “Well, that settles that, then!” He announced and stood, touching only his fingertips to the desk’s wood. “I only wanted your opinion. I think I smell pot roast. Didn’t you say Vanessa was coming? Will her mother be joining us for dinner as well? Please say yes, I encountered the most charming physicist at the firm the other day and I think they’d both get along famously - I was thinking of introducing them to each other over brunch.”

I was dumbfounded for a record breaking third time that day, and all in the space of about three hours! Wow. “Bu-ff-probably-I don’t-wh-su-how—wh-was she-a?”

“He’s your friend,” my Dad somehow had to remind me, clasping my shoulders and talking down to me like I was an idiot, because I was an idiot, “and I know I can trust your judgment. Not to mention we owe him, or his . . . passenger, what—hmm, I’m not sure whom to thank for that, but I’d love to talk more about it over dinner. Or perhaps after, since I feel a bit parched. And, I’m hungry, and all this talking has me dehydrated.”

“Okay,” I decided, and let me Dad lead me numbly out of his office. I put the dagger back up in my room and went down the dining room, where I was immediately enlisted in setting the table with Erik by Mom. I didn’t have time to think more about Dad’s talk, as I was overwhelmed with the smell of delicious pot roast wafting in from the kitchen. Mid-way through our task, I received a text from Vanessa that she and her mother were on there way, and I cursed myself for forgetting about telling her about the attack on the way home so loud that it spooked my brother, and he yelped.

“What? What??” He wondered, his already big eyes getting wider. He was so adorable it made me want to barf, sometimes.

“It’s—I didn’t tell Vanessa about any of what happened last night, and—” I stopped myself mid-rant. “Why am I telling you any of this?”

“Pfft, Iuhno,” Erik shrugged, and went back to setting the table.

I wrung my hands for a bit. I wanted to find Lee and tell him - tell him, what exactly? That his parents had called my Dad because they were scared of him? Apologize to him for the mess I’d dragged him into, inadvertently? And then, there was the matter of my omission about the spell. That daywalking jackass had definitely already gone back to his superiors, and they now knew something about me that the rest of my family didn’t. I could probably expect a passive aggressive ‘note’ of my own any day now. Eighteen, and already pissing off the vampire mafia with dark magic. Gods above and below, but I’d never realized how much I took after my Dad’s side of the family before . . . Maybe I wasn’t a complete dud, but I was definitely going to die alone and exsanguinated. I could see my epitaph already - ‘Friday Giza Colville. Death by stupidity. Gone, and slowly being forgotten.’

I ran outside instead to get some fresh air, with the added bonus of seeing Vanessa’s mother and her pull up their blue Corolla. Nessa looked relieved and a little excited to see me, judging from the enthusiasm of the wave she gave me, and the way she jumped out of the car before it was completely parked to run up and engulf me in a hug. I was taken aback and stumbled backwards, practically getting the breath knocked out of me. I returned it after a second when I remembered that was what I was supposed to do, and she squeezed tighter stealing more of my air before letting me go. “Ow,” I complained.

Vanessa whapped me on the arm. I guffawed, a little offended. “That’s for dropping that bombshell on me yesterday morning and not giving me a follow-up,” she declared. She smiled, though, so I knew I was in the clear. “Also, wassup.”

“Hi,” I returned the greeting dryly. Out of the corner of my eye, Sherece had stepped out of her car and was adjusting her hair. She had a few long braids today, bound up in a metal cage of a bun on her head. She was wearing the most conservative garment I’d ever seen her in - a dashiki patterned jumpsuit that only she could rock. I was jealous, I admit it. I could wear black, maybe green, possibly dark reds and blues, but that was about it. Anything brighter made me look like a gangly sunken-eyed psychopath. “So, I have a lot of stuff to tell you,” I began uneasily as her mom sashayed up to join us. “But it’s probably going to have to wait until after dinner,” I finished.

“Hush!” Was all I heard before being engulfed in the second unwanted hug that I’d had in the last minute. Another new record for me. Sherece wrapped her bronze-bedecked arms around me, her bangles pleasantly tinkling against her hook and each other. I caught a whiff of sandalwood off of her before she let me go and pulled away. She gripped my jaw with her good hand and made me look into her eyes. “Dis be true, galang with me baby lion here,” she looked fondly at Vanessa, whose brow scrunched up in a way that made me giggle, “and you always be safe. ” I knew what she really meant; after all, Vanessa’s legal guardians were my parents, just as Sherece was mine and Erik’s.

“My Dad is fine,” I said, protestingly as Sherece engulfed me in another quick hug. Three. A new high score.

“She strong, like you, and strong enough to carry you when you are not,” Sherece said around the hug. I swear to shit, every time Sherece spoke to me she dropped me these weird, cryptic snippets of advice, and it kind of bothered me a lot because I felt like they were prophetical but I had no proof, except that Sherece DuFrenne fucking scared me sometimes and when she spoke, something true spoke through her. Vanessa laughed at me from behind her mother and made faces at my misfortune. When I was mercifully released and quite disturbed, I led them both inside, feeling a headache brewing. Vanessa and Sherece didn’t know about Lorcan - and I couldn’t gauge how they’d react, so I couldn’t just blurt it out without knowing how they would feel. It wasn’t my secret to tell, either, but it would inevitably come up in dinner later, and generally just thinking about the whole thing made me want to jump off of roof. (I wouldn’t, if only because knowing my luck, I’d end up having to share an afterlife with Aunt fucking Lil.)

I tried to pull Vanessa aside once we got to the dining room, pulling her into the entry alcove to maybe give her a quick crash-course of info, but she cut me off. “Actually, I’m sorta really hungry,” she told me, “so can this wait?”

“Okay,” I sighed numbly and she eagerly went into the dining room to her seat. I heard Lorcan, Erik, and my mother greet her and her mother, with Sherece dominating the conversation. Sagging in defeat, I buried my head in my hands and slumped against the wall and breathed a few times. I wished I’d had the balls to tell my father about the other vampire back in his study. If only I’d said it. If only I had. If only I had. After dinner, I told myself that I’d tell both of my parents - I’d sit them both down and come completely clean, turn over the book, everything. Hold back nothing. Just say it. Just say it. It’ll stop if you do. Just tell them all, blurt it out, come on Friday. You don’t know what will happen if you don’t. You think you do, but you don’t. Just. Tell. Him. Now. Do you hear me? Say it out loud right and none of this will ha--Shit, the preachy thoughts again. Quit telling me what to do, brain!

“Fuck’s up with you?” The sound of Scott’s voice caused me to straighten my posture and snap my head back up. He’d likely just risen, given the rumpled state of his clothes. He hadn’t even bothered with his head, so bed head was out in force.

“Nothing,” I immediately defended, folding my arms and cocking my hip, hoping it made me look more defiant than defeated, like how I felt. “Shut up. None of your business.”

He blinked blearily at me. “Why s—you know what, nope, not today,” he decided and sped past me.

My father’s hand came down on my shoulder, alerting me to his presence. “Ah good, everyone’s here,” he said and walked past me to take his own seat. I followed, unable to put off socializing any longer.

I was greeted by my mother’s pleasant smile. I returned it uneasily and took my place at father’s right, situated between him and Erik. Our guests and Scott had taken seats next to him and parallel to us, so I was unexpectedly across from Lee, who gave me a slow smile that I’m sure was meant to be reassuring, but all it did was kind of annoy me. The eldest, the seat of power, the first-born, the bread-winner - he always had dibs on the big slice. Opposite him was his partner, and the children, or other family members of lesser bloodlines, were arranged by their importance to the family name. I always sat to Dad’s right, with Erik at my right, and Scott across from me. Guests sat in Scott’s seat if he wasn’t present, or sat next to him, and so on. There was a time when I was a child, that I thought dinner was very dull and boring and useless, and I didn’t like the arrangement one single bit. Now that I’m older, I like to think I’ve gained perspective on the tradition.

A few times, neither of my parents would be at the ends of that dining table. Those nights, I or the maid would cook for Erik and myself. Mom and Dad trusted me with such things, now that I was older. Sometimes, Scott would join us, but he had no physical need for human food, so he typically skipped out. The fact that he’d decided to join the group baffled me a little. The maid, whoever she was, used to come by during the weekdays every day at two and stayed til half past eight. She would go through her set cleaning routine, and then cook dinner. I didn’t know the name or face of the maid in question, because so many different maids had come and gone in my short lifetime that, at a certain age, paying attention to them stopped becoming relevant. Dad hired them and fired them, our food wasn’t poisoned, and that was the extent of my knowledge. When the maid wasn’t there, and neither Mom or Dad were around, I would take my place in the kitchen. That night, mom had cooked, and the smell of it was making my mouth water. I hadn’t had a meal cooked by her in what felt like ages.

My Dad invited everyone to dig in. There were snippets of conversation between Sherece and my mother, and hushed conversation between Vanessa and Lee who were laughing about something. Introductions had been made, everything seemed fine. Even Erik was being chatty, around his food. Only my father and I were silent - him because he was focused on his plate, and me because my brains had fallen out of my head earlier. It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to me that I noticed my plate was even empty.

“Something the matter, Friday?” Mom asked from the other end.

No, mom, I’m into black magic and our enemies might know about it and also I’ve been hiding it from you for years. “Where’re the potatoes?” I asked. Someone handed them down to me and I did my best not to think about anything. Lee made eye contact with me from across the table and gave me a reassuring smile, which I didn’t return.

“Lorcan,” my father suddenly spoke up, arresting my attention mid-bite. I put it down and looked up, feeling worried. “Or do you prefer Lee?” Dad wondered.

“Either’s fine, Ah’spose,” Lee shot back, looking nonplussed.

My father was drinking out of a wine glass and had set it down to regard my Irish friend. Lee’s eyes sought out mine, but I looked away, only to catch Vanessa giving me some raised eyebrows. Any more of this, and I would start to feel guilty. “I have many questions, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh, not at all, not at all,” Lee said with a smile. “Er, questions about what, now?”

“Oh, just, everything.” That wasn’t good. My father was curious about my new boy friend. I mean, the friend I had, that was a boy. Would suicide be a complete cop-out, or was that a viable option? “If you wouldn’t mind indulging me, that is, after supper.”

“Should’ve killed myself after breakfast,” I mumbled into my glass of water. “I could have been in Hell by noon, and then I’d have a good enough excuse not to be here.” Scott was the only one who heard me, and flicked a pea at my head while no one was looking. It bounced off of my drink and landed in my glass. I glared daggers at him while I fished it out with a spoon. I caught my brother giving me a weird look as I did it and stuck my tongue out at him. Vanessa, who had seen the whole thing, retaliated on my behalf by catapulting a few peas at Scott with her own spoon, making us both snicker as one of them hit its target, causing Scott to swear.

He looked pretty annoyed with me, and I saw him eyeing the potatoes. Not wanting it to erupt into a full blown food fight, I blurted out, “Hey, did anyone else know that Scott had a girlfriend? What was her name again, mom? Yasmin, or Jasmin Epi-pen? Something like that. Sounded Russian. Hey Erik, did you know Scott had a Russian girlfriend?”

There were a few different reactions to this revelation around the table. From my family, there was complete nonchalance, though Erik perked up. What puzzled me were the other reactions. Vanessa choked on her food, Sherece was completely oblivious and was pouring gravy over her potatoes with her hook, and Lee was staring at her hook-hand and looking baffled. “Jasmin Efimoff, the movie star?” Vanessa coughed out, once she had regained control of her breathing. I nodded. “Augh, wrong tube. You used to date a movie star??” She was in disbelief.

I snapped my fingers. “That’s why her name rung a bell!”

Scott slumped in his seat and groaned, eyes rolling up to the ceiling like a drama queen. My dad, Marcus Colville, started laughing at Scott’s expense. “I’m surprised you tried to keep that a secret,” Dad said. “Surely it was bound to come up—”

“Never, Marc, it was going to come up exactly never,” Scott interjected, sounded petulant. “See, this is why I lie all the time.” He folded his arms and sat back, and actually pouted like the child I knew he really was. Dad continued to chuckle.

“Blimey, you shagged Jasmin Efimoff?!” Lorcan cut in, in awe.

Scott raised his eyebrows. “Aren’t you like, the richest kid in the world? I mean, you’ve probably met people way more famous.”

Lee poked at his potatoes petulantly. I couldn’t really blame him for getting starstruck for a second. Jasmin was a public figure for vampires these days, but had gotten her start in the silent movie era. It wasn’t until the sixties that she was able to come forward as alive, or undead, I guess, and kicking. She was notoriously reclusive, and made a career off of her dramatic persona, and is the highest paying undead actress (and consequently, singer) in the world. Truth be told, I thought she was a bad actress and didn’t deserve her second Oscar, but what did I know?

“Who is Jasmin Efi-Efimoff?” Erik asked, sounding out the name but still somehow getting the pronunciation wrong.

Before anyone could answer him, I supplied, “she was the villain in that King Arthur movie.” His eyes lit up in recognition; I’d watched it with him on TV a few weeks ago, when we were home alone. It had been geared at a younger audience, so it was met with critical disdain; her worst performance, in my opinion, though maybe that was the script doctor’s fault for not cutting out Morgana’s shitty tendency to monologue the audience to death. Then again, Vanessa was kind of obsessed with her old movies, so maybe I’d have to watch my mouth. There was something that didn’t make sense about Scott’s admission, though. They couldn’t have been dating while she was an actress - he’d been clanless for at least my entire life, after all. “Just when did you date this chick?” I demanded. “And why am I only hearing about her right now?”

“It’s none of your freaking business,” he defended. I was kind of in a mood, though, and he was always a good target. Besides, picking at scabs was our thing.

“Scott’s love life isn’t a very proper dinner topic,” my mom put in, probably to try and salvage something before Scott stormed off in a huff.

“Seriously, though?” Vanessa added. “I mean, daaamn.

“I know, right?” Lorcan was still in disbelief. “There’s got to be a story there, mate.”

“I met her when she was still alive,” Scott admitted, which seemed like such an out of character thing for him to say that I felt almost literally thrown aback. He was never forthcoming with details - at least, not to me. “I didn’t turn her into a vampire, before anyone asks, and we parted ways long before she became a celebrity. That’s it, that’s the end of the story.”

“I refuse to believe that.” I told him. “Your stories never end.”

My father laughed. “Now you’re in trouble,” he commented, and my godfather scowled.

“People don’t magically fit together like they do in stories, Friday,” Scott snapped, “alright? Shit is complicated! Really, intricately, crazily, and stupidly complicated.”

“Why, was she high maintenance?” Lorcan threw in. “I heard she only drinks from vegans. Seems like you’d only discriminate that sorta thing if ya could afford to - especially with the safer blood alternatives bein’ common. Strikes me it’d be like powerin’ an oil rig with solar energy.”

Vanessa looked like she was going to say something around a mouthful of potatoes, but Scott sighed out a surprising agreement, “yeah. Also, she’s kind of a bitch. I mean, I love her, or used to, I guess, but damn, you know?”

“No, not at all,” Lee chirped. “Not really.”

“I bet you drove her away,” I accused.

“Exactly,” Scott agreed, “except the other way around, dipwad. Or maybe we drove each other crazy. Kind of hard to remember, it was over a century ago.”

“What was she like?” Vanessa wondered, sounding awed.

Scott rolled his eyes. “It’s like you heard nothing I was saying. She’s always been a bitch. Sorry to, whatever, burst your bubble.”

“Yet you still keep in touch,” my mother pointed out with a smile.

She keeps in touch,” Scott corrected, irritated, and it looked like that really was the end of the story.

Boring. “Aww,” I pouted, poking with a fork at my roast.

After the conversation lulled, I noticed that Lorcan had started eying Sherece from across the table, looking conflicted about something. “Er, Sherece, is it?” He began, nervously. Vanessa stopped mid-chewing for a second to look between him and her mother, before returning her attention fully to her food. Her mother leaned forward to eye him. “I’ve been meanin’ ta ask—er, is it rude to ask about the hand? I’m incredibly curious, and now I’m worried that asking offended you, but I didn’t to offend you - I just wanted the story behind your hand, because there’s got to be a story about it, right? You don’t just wear a hook on your hand, do you? I gotta admit, that’d be amazing if you did.” He blurted it all out in one go. Guess he must’ve been holding in the question for a while.

Sherece laughed, and my parents smiled. “A teif took it from me.”

“A-a thief? That’s such an odd thing to steal, is all,” he rambled on. “How did a thief steal your hand?”

“She’s messing with you,” I said. “Next she’ll tell you she lost it to a shark.”

Sherece scoffed at me. “Bah. Pikny. Ease up, you too young to be bitter.” I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at her, but I did roll my eyes exaggeratedly.

“How did you really lose it?” Lee wondered.

“A teif take it,” Sherece replied simply, like this explained everything, and stuffed a biscuit in her mouth.

Lee’s brow furrowed, and Vanessa laughed. “It’s a, kind of a weird story,” Nessa offered.

“I don’t know,” my father mused, “I think Lorcan might be able to top that tale. Wouldn’t you agree?” And suddenly my Dad’s attention was on the object of my newfound-affections. This was not good. This was whatever the polar opposite of good was - not evil, since evil doesn’t usually know it’s being evil (evil is rarely smart enough to be self-aware), but definitely not good.

Lee met my father’s gaze evenly. Everything was civil, so far, but I felt like a wire somewhere inside of me had been drawn taut. “I’m not sure what you’re referring to,” Lee said, keeping his tone even.

I stabbed at my pot roast, accidentally hitting the plate and making a loud scraping noise that grated at my eardrums. “Sorry,” I mumbled, wincing.

“I had an interesting conference with your parents earlier,” my father went on, oblivious to my suffering. Across the table, Vanessa’s eyes sought out my own, but I had nothing to offer her. “Nothing sordid, don’t look so harried.”

“Sordid, that’s a good word for it, yeah,” Lee muttered.

“Perhaps your questions can wait til later, dear,” my mother, once more interrupting to save the table. “After all, he’s trying to eat.”

“Oh, very well.” My Dad actually appeared to pout about this. I gave Lorcan a sympathetic look, and ignored Vanessa’s questioning foot kicking my shin under the table by pulling my legs under me and staring at my fork.

Towards the end of the meal, I’d accidentally started a tangent that set my Dad’s eyes rolling to the ceiling. Marcus Colville heaved a sigh that I felt was directed at me, though I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even remember what the conversation was about, honestly. I made to ask, but reconsidered when I saw my father put his elbows on the table. I frowned, mid-steak-bite, a guilty instinct welling in my gut for some reason. I heard him murmur something.

“Nudity,” Scott said matter-of-factly, as if this explained everything. “Perfect way to get a man’s attention - flash us a pair, we shut up instantly. Van Wilder took advantage of that weakness, like a jealous suburban housewife pouncing on an innocent Mexican poolboy.” The way Scott accented his point with hand puppetry almost made me choke on my food. “And it worked, distracting us all from the fact that, secretly, it’s a terrible movie.”

Erik was glancing between me, Scott, and Dad with wide and curious eyes. Lorcan had almost choked on his drink and was coughing between laughs. I chewed on my steak thoughtfully. “Boobs are always a surefire marketing strategy,” I commented once my mouth wasn’t full. “But it wasn’t secretly a dumb movie. I mean, it wasn’t a secret that it was dumb.”

“It’s only a good marketing strategy if your target crowd is a collective of horny idiots hot for young Ryan Reynolds . . . Which actually summarizes our half of the Nation perfectly, so that is true. Good point, Cheese Fry.”

Yes, I occasionally had good points. A moment of silence passed around the table while most of us finished peacefully. I saw Vanessa’s shoulders shaking, but she managed to contain herself. Sherece was engaged in a hushed conversation with my mother at the other end of the table.

My brother decided this was a good moment to throw his two cents in: “Why do I always feel like I’m left out of the loop when you guys talk?” He whined.

“Oh please, you little nerd,” I scoffed around a mouthful of black beans, “you were born out of the loop.”

“Friday,” my father scolded, and something in his tone made my spine snap straight up, like a switch had been flicked on in my brain’s control center. “You shouldn’t be unkind to your brother.”

I made eye contact with Scott on the other end, who was failing to hold in a smirk at my discomfort. I imagined a scene that didn’t play:

Scott: You heard the man, Cheese Fry, he didn’t say, be nice to Er-ry.

Me: I’ll be nice when lions speak in Swedish.

Scott: Why are you such a bitch, Cheese Fry? No, don’t tell me, I want to guess!

Me: I was born that way, I’m a bad sister, I harbor abandonment issues that I transfer onto my brother. Take your pick.

No, instead of all that, I looked at Erik and apologized sincerely. My little brother stared at me with those green, pale eyes of his that I wasn’t-at-all-jealous-of-shut-up, before looking back down to his plate and finishing what was left.

When everyone was finished, Sherece and my father became absorbed into a conversation while Scott ran off to his den. While I was helping my mother clear the table, along with Lorcan who decided to help for chivalric principle, I became genuinely surprised that I was still alive and intact. And that the whole thing hadn’t turned out to be a complete fucking disaster like I’d been worried about. It easily could have been, but it wasn’t. It had actually been nice, despite my anxiety, which probably meant that the real poop wouldn’t hit the fan until later.

After finishing helping my mother clean up, I mussed up Erik’s hair as he passed me by and made my way towards the Conservatory, where I could hear Vanessa and Lorcan’s voices engaged in a conversation. I stopped behind one of the trees so that I could listen to them without them realizing. Have I ever mentioned how great eavesdropping is?

It went something like this:

Vanessa: -a little nervous. I mean, it’s just, don’t take it personally or anything. I-it’s not that I don’t like—

Lee: She’s your best friend, I get it. Don’t worry, I like her fine. I’m not out to hurt her.

Nessa: You may unintentionally. I don’t think (this part was muffled, I had to strain to hear it) interest. (?)

Lee: Not on yer nelly. I like her. (Now he sounded defensive. Aw, Nessa was looking out for me! She’s such a good friend.)

Nessa: And not me?

Lee: (a lot of flustered noises)

Nessa: (she laughed) Relax, I like girls. Well, Fry and I, we’re not like that, but she knows.

Lee: Oh, I didna realize.

Nessa: No big deal, and I ain’t interested in anyone right now. Like you said, she’s my best friend, and as long as you don’t hurt her, I won’t have to squish your head into a brainy pulp, and use your skull as a bowl for my morning oatmeal. (That’s my Nessa.)

Lee: You say it so casually, should I be frightened?

Nessa: I’d wear your lacrimal bones as earrings.

While she laughed, I revealed myself. They both smiled while I fidgeted. “Hello,” I greeted with a half-hearted wave.

“Hey,” Nessa poked me in the shoulder. “You were supposed to ’splain to me what happened this weekend.”

I shared a look with Lee. I turned back to her. “I swear I’ll explain later, but I gotta talk to him for a sec.” I grabbed Lorcan’s arm and dragged him off before either of them could object.

“My Dad probably has a list of questions he wants to ask you, now,” I warned Lorcan as I pulled us back into the empty dining room. He was pushing in the chairs. I wanted to tell him that the maid would take care of it when I remembered we didn’t have one anymore.

Lee snorted, his expression twisting into a rare one of distaste. His posture tensed and his fingers clenched, the knuckles turning white. In a strange way, it was a relief to see him express any emotion other than ‘fine.’ He was always ‘fine,’ unbothered, and upbeat all the time. I couldn’t understand how he maintained that cheer. I’d yet to see him worried, or angry. I don’t think I’d want to see what would worry the guy who brushed off possession. “Can’t believe they called. Unbelievable,” Lee ground out.

I pulled him into the alcove between the connected rooms. The sun was off in the greenhouse, but there was enough light from the dining room that we could see each other in the dark. He’d been perfectly normal-seeming today; maybe, just like me, he had only been barely managing to hold it all in. In the dim light, his face looked older, more lined than I knew it was. “Everything is fine,” I assured him as best as I could, which probably wasn’t very good considering I had trouble variating my voice from my natural monotone. “Your parents told my father, well, actually, they just told him a slightly different version of what you told me. We talked, they all know that you saved my life. That’s all that’s important to them. Alright?” He made a vague sound of agreement, but I don’t think he was convinced. Oh well. I done my best. “Did you tell Vanessa anything?” I asked, changing the subject.

He appeared surprised. “I didn’t think to.” He appeared to mull this over for a bit. “I’m still getting used to the idea that someone outside my family knows about this. Maybe I’m still waiting for it all to get banjaxed. It’s . . .”

“I kinda know how you feel,” I muttered. “I could tell her it’s your secret, and you can decide, if that’s alright.”

He nodded. We were interrupted by Vanessa, who poked her head into the room and squinted at us, curiously. “You two are being ooooddly secretive tonight,” she noted, clucking her tongue.

I rolled my eyes at her and sat back down at the dining table, feeling exasperated. “A lot happened,” I summarized for my benefit more than hers.

“Since someone tried to kill your dad?” She drawled.

I perked up. “Oh right!” I got up and bolted upstairs to fetch the trophy knife. I had a new toy to show off. Lee and Vanessa were sitting at the table and on it, respectively, when I got back, and it looked like my parents had carried their conversation with Sherece to the living room. Erik and Scott were who knew or cared. “Check it out.” I presented the knife.

“Oooooh,” Vanessa cooed with a crooked grin. “Shiny.”

“Very shiny.” Lee’s face was indifferent toward it, other than a strange small smile that piqued my curiosity.

I let Vanessa take the enchanted knife out of my hands. “So is it just shiny? Or special?”

“Shiny things are always special,” I told her, “but this one is super shiny, so it’s enchanted. We don’t know with what yet, or how. Dad’s letting me look into it. Wanna help?”

“Is that a serious question?” She scoffed. “Who else do you know that loves medieval weaponry as much as I do?”

“Doesn’t look medieval,” Lorcan pointed out, “I mean, it looks new.”

It wasn’t medieval, no, but I doubt he just guessed that off hand. That, or he was smarter than he pretended to be. Magical weapons like this just weren’t made anymore, which is something he would’ve known. Of course, it could be that he had some kind of demonic insight into it. I’d have to ask him another time, when we were alone. “I don’t actually know where it’s from, only that the etchings are hieratic numerals. Dad thinks it might be an equation.”

“Mama might be able to figure it out,” Nessa offered as she examined her reflection in the chrome of the knife.

I hadn’t considered that. Sherece was a font of interesting and unexpected knowledge; she’d been the one who’d made all the calculations for our miniature sun. Sometimes I forgot she used to be a super big nerd (’mathematician’ is the correct term, or so I have been repeatedly told) in her home country, before she traveled and found her calling. If anyone in my vicinity might have insight into weird numbers on a mysterious magic breadknife, it’d be her. Still, a part of me balked at the idea of asking her, because I wanted to find out what the knife was for myself. Dad had entrusted me with it, and part of me felt like I had to do it, if only to prove to him that I was useful for something (other than illegal black magic that he didn’t know about and oh shit I kept forgetting how doomed I was) . . .

Ahem.

“I kinda wanna see how far I can get researching it myself,” I told Vanessa after my brain stopped dripping anxiety. “But, yeah, she’d probably know something.”

“Well, I’ll definitely help,” she warmly offered. “I’ll grab some of her books for you when I get home.” She offered the knife to Lee, who declined, and ended up handing it back to me after little examination. “So, um. What’s the big thing you’re not telling me?”

I fiddled with the knife in my hands and had to put it down on the dining table so I’d stop twitching. Damn it, Vanessa, there was too much. “She got jumped by vampires on the way home from your house,” Lorcan suddenly explained, saving me the trouble and also causing me to slap my forehead. “They was havin’ a stroll out in the sunshine.”

Vanessa’s brown eyes widened and she leaned forward. Though she refrained from touching me (which I was grateful for), I could feel the weight of concern in her eyes. “Baron’s balls, man, are you alright?” She exclaimed.

Something about her exclamation made me want to smile. It seemed so quintessentially ‘her.’ “I’m fine. We got away in time. It was probably, definitely the vampire mafia.”

“And she says it so casually too,” Lee huffed, with a derisive snort.

“It’s really not a big deal,” I defended.

“The vampire mafia,” Vanessa repeated blandly.

Did she have trouble hearing me? Was I going to have to repeat myself? “Yes,” I confirmed, annoyed. “Or, one of them. Anyway, don’t faint on me. Just, you know what, just don’t even worry about it.”

“Don’t even worry about it,” she repeated in the same oddly bland voice, again. “Yeah, okay, I’ll try that. Uh. So, is there a reason you’re all not going to the authorities about this?”

I snorted derisively. As if the police have ever been helpful to our family. The last time the police came over to my ancestral home, they arrested my great grandmother and burned her alive. They’d also never stopped any of the attempts in the past from getting through to my family after the Trials, though I was sure my Dad had reported his incident at work. As for the one this weekend, no. I couldn’t afford to have any authorities involved, for very good reason. Anyone who looked too deeply at this situation would start asking uncomfortable questions about Lorcan and I - at least as long as that blabbering blabbermouth witness was still around. At least I could be assured that they wouldn’t be going to the police either. “Yes,” I told Vanessa. She clearly expected more of an answer, but I stood firm. “The authorities are useless. This is the mafia, they own the police,” I dismissed.

“I been havin’ a hard time wrappin’ my head around it too,” Lee offered to her, sympathetically. What room did he have to talk?

“Your life is even weirder than mine,” I pointed out to him, feeling irritated.

Vanessa sighed and propped her chin on her hands. “We’re all weird, loser, loners with weird sack lives,” she said. “Hence why we’re all friends.” Lee laughed, and his eyes brightened. This distracted me from defending myself from the ‘loser’ comment, since I wasn’t even sure what that meant. (What am I losing, and why am I losing it? I don’t get her sometimes.) “So what’s going to happen?” Nessa eventually asked, after a few seconds of silence. “With the vampire mafia coming after your family, and boy does those words sound weirder out loud than they did in my head.”

I shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe they’ll pull Erik and I out of school again. I’ll have to stay on property most of the time since I’m safest here, because of my Dad and the house wards. You can probably still come over here, but not vice versa. My parents mentioned a few new rules, so no ride-sharing. I imagine it’ll last only as long as it takes for these guys to slip up and make the wrong move, and then my Dad will kill or sue them, whichever he gets to first.” I was a little more worried about it than I was playing it off as, but not by much. I knew my Dad could handle it. I was more worried about my dumb lying butt getting murdered. No one asked any further questions, though.

Lorcan did eventually talk to my parents, one on one, and not even I dared eavesdrop on that conversation. I assumed it went well because everyone was smiling, but something about smiles had never put me completely at ease. Smiles were clever. Lee did eventually go home, and seeing him out the door was the only one-on-one moment I had with him for the rest of the evening. He invaded my personal space with a hug, but the hug was nice, so I didn’t make a big deal about it. It was warm and fuzzy feeling. He whispered a reassurance in my ear before letting go and leaving, which left me with the realization that he was an unmitigated sap, and for some unfathomable reason I liked it.

I don’t get it either. He was the exception to my every rule.

Vanessa, I had to literally talk into leaving. She clearly hadn’t heard me when I told her I was fine, and didn’t believe me when I said it again. I didn’t know what to tell her because it felt like she was acting crazy on me, so I promised I’d ask my parents if she could stay over the following night after school just to postpone the conversation. I didn’t want to make her late to school and ruin her perfect attendance or grades with my vampire drama. She was one of those dumb people that believed those things mattered, so it was important to her. Gotta love her.

Later that night, wouldn’t you believe it, I somehow pestered Scott’s entire life story out of him when I started poking him while he was trying to play a game.

“Fucking hell! Will you not leave me alone?! I’m trying to—ff-fffiiine. Fine. Yes. Okay. Fine. I was born in . . . Okay I don’t remember the year, but it was like, two and a half centuries ago. Or some shit. I think it was . . . 1790? Right before the turn of the century. Or maybe after. M-my parents, ah, fuck it’s been ages. I can hardly remember. You’re kinda putting me on the spot here, you know. Oh, right, I remember - they ran a bakery - I had two brothers, Arturo, Fabricio. Arturo was the oldest, I was the youngest, and he ended up going off and getting his ass killed at Waterloo . . . I think. Man, it’s hard to think about this in English - my human memories, I feel like I have to sit here and mentally translate. So, you gotta understand back when I was a kid, the Minervals were in charge. And their shit was everywhere. Arturo kinda bought into it, he was a cruzado - I actually ended up joining him when Napoleon decided to invade. It’s hard to remember specifics, because a lot of crazy shit was happening everywhere at the time. Artie and I used to get into arguments over what would later be defined as liberalism. I felt like I had to join my brother because someone had to watch his back while he was watching everyone else’s. I didn’t really care about Minerva, or the war, or Spain in general. It was just where I lived. So when Arturo got shot, I left him and the army, went home only to face my parents bitching at my non-stop about how I’d been the one who’d gotten him killed. Pfft. Like, I fucking shot him?”

I nodded.

“Anyway, I guess they were more mad at me for deserting the army than my brother, because they didn’t disown me, which was nice of them. Disowning was really ‘in’ at the time, for disobedient sons. But I ended up getting tired of working there, and eventually I left the country. I was in my mid-twenties, I got sloshed in bars, I learned how to pick-pocket, I fell in with intellectuals and philosophers and got swept up in radical political ideologies that sounded even more tantalizing with the copious amounts of liquor I was imbibing. But, that’s what fascism will do to you. I eventually ended up paying this Swede who fished the Mediterranean to take me to Sicily . . . I don’t remember when exactly. I don’t know. I figured an island had to be better than the mainland, where everything was going insane, since France was still fucking beheading people and shit, and Spain was shitting itself, and fucking Britain was stomping over trade unions and tryna take a bite out of India, and just. The same shit. That’s all life is, man. That’s all it is for anyone. It’s the same shit over and over again. The same. Shit. War, and fucking nonsense.”

“. . . You stowed away on a ship?” I pressed.

“Oh right. Anyway, I ended up in Sicily, which was low key under the control of this coven of vampires after they assassinated the Bourbons. So, Syracuse was basically a mob city. It was crazy. I-I actually met the guy in charge, accidentally in Catania when I was bumming around. Like, THE mob boss head guy. You gotta understand, drugs weren’t what they are nowadays. Nowadays, drugs are amazing, you can just pick them up at the pharmacy. If you wanted to get messed up back then, you had to know people, and literally all of the people to know were bumming around Catania - including just, a total shit ton of bohemian pricks all writing books on the beach, visiting from America to drink absinthe and get shithoused with Sicilian senoritas. Actually, speaking of getting shitfaced on beaches, would you believe Ernest Hemingway is the reason I decided to move to—”

“I don’t give any fucks about why you were bumming around Catania, Scott,” I cut him off, feeling the attention leaking out of me the more he droned on. The stories never ended with him. “You were saying?”

He stuck his tongue out at me, but kept speaking while he navigated the game lobby less out of a sense of direction and more something to keep his attention divided. “Anyway. So, this guy, he seemed like. You know. The guy. So I schmoozed him a little, tried to impress him. I was kind of an amateur historian at the time and I was really well read, especially for someone in my economic class - our parents were big on literacy despite being god-fearing Gnostics, who were usually stereotyped by Napoleon as being angry and poor and illiterate. Anyway, I knew what I was good at - making people at ease. So, I made him, the big mob guy, laugh. It was a racist joke about Cossacks, which wouldn’t translate well if I tried. Vlad would probably get it. Heh, I gotta remember to tell him some time. I haven’t thought about this in ages . . . Anyway, head mob guy decided not to bite me because I guess I impressed him and he introduced me to the rest of the family, and I started to take notes of shit so I could put it in this book I was planning on writing about them. You know, because they hadn’t come out publicly yet, so the fact that they were real was, I thought, a big deal at the time. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out it’s total bullshit, just like everything else in life, but that’s hindsight for ya. Anyway, he turned me after I tried to explain why I didn’t want to become undead for like, the ninth time. Ultimately he was like, ‘you know too much about our operations. You either join the Famile, or you don’t.’ And you know, you know that ‘don’t’ is going to be an icepick to the back of the fucking head, but they never say that shit out loud because they think it makes them sound cool if they imply all of their threats, but all that did was piss my cocky ass off, so I went, ‘and what if I don’t?’ And he said, ‘then you won’t live to regret your decision.’ So, I was like, ’the only thing I regret is not shoving my f—”

And then I started to tune Scott out, because his story devolved completely into ‘he said’ and ‘then I said’ and I generally got the gist of it. When he finally stopped speaking, he stared at the television’s colorful screen blankly for a few moments.

“You know, it may or may not be true, but I feel as though Marcus is my brother Arturo reborn. He is my brother,” Scott said softly. His eyes had a shine to them that I’d never seen before. “On some level, I know that, even if I don’t know how. I think it might be some . . . PL-recog, sorta like Erik? Maybe that’s impossible. It feels true, though.”

I gave him the flattest stare that I had in my arsenal. “That might be the lamest thing you’ve ever said.”

“Bah,” he scoffed. “What do you know?”

“I know you’re a simpering sentimentalist,” I scoffed. “You’re getting all teary-eyed about this. I get it, you and my Dad are like brothers, just stop it with the emotionality. You know I how I hate looking at people’s tears.”

“I’m not,” he sniffled. “I’m not getting teary eyed!”

I mercifully allowed us to fall into silence. Once he regained himself, I patted his shoulder with one flat palm, feeling rather unsure of myself as I’d never tried to comfort him before. Experience told me that this was normally where people just leapt straight into hugs, but I had rarely ever hugged Scott. He rolled his eyes at me. “Stop petting me, you idiot. I’m fine. Fuck this game, let’s just watch a movie.”

I fell back, feeling more comfortable. I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but I woke up in the dark on the couch later with a blanket thrown over me and a pillow under my head. I rationalized my mother must have done it, and went back to sleep, deciding to forget all about the horrible-bad-stressful day and wake up to a better one.

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