I vamp blurred over to grab her wrist just in time, working hard not to bruise her as I held her back.
"Take it back!" Emily shrieked, fighting to get loose.
I glanced over my shoulder at Savannah, expecting her to step in and help out. Instead she just stood there staring with huge eyes, her hands shaking as she gripped the roll of paper towels in one hand and the plastic bleach bottle in the other.
Ms. Evans reached back into her room and grabbed her dog. "I'm going outside."
I waited at least thirty seconds after the trailer door slammed before daring to release my sister. Then I vamp blurred back to the safety of the couch and braced myself for her wrath.
Emily surprised me, though, standing there silently for a moment, steaming behind the wall within her mind that hid all her thoughts.
Maybe getting pregnant and facing motherhood for the first time had matured her.
Then she huffed out a breath and crossed her arms over her chest. "Can you believe her?"
So much for the increased maturity.
Savannah's face shut down as she turned away from us to dispose of the used paper towels.
"She's unbelievable!" Emily continued. "Honestly, Savannah, I don't know how you managed to turn out so sane after growing up with her."
Savannah paused in the act of removing the trash bag from its metal container. Oh, like your mother was perfect? she thought but forced herself not to say out loud.
Hey, I thought before I could stop myself. Don't bring my mother into this.
Savannah's shoulders rose an inch. Sorry. But your sister really needs to stop talking about my mother right now, okay? I know Mom's not perfect. But nobody's mother is. And Mom has sacrificed everything just so we could invade her home for months with no end in sight. The least your sister could do is show a little gratitude.
Outside the trailer, footsteps crunched up the asphalt road. A second later, Ms. Evans's voice began to vent a stream of fury as she complained about Emily to Mr. Colbert.
Savannah sighed. Great, now she's dragging Dad into this. She tied the garbage bag shut, stuffed the bottle of bleach into the sink cabinet, then put a new trash bag into the can.
"Would you stop that?" Emily snapped, turning from the pantry with a frown at Savannah. "Your mother's dog made that mess. She should be the one to take it out."
"Emily, let it go," I said, watching how hard and straight Savannah's back had become. "Sav doesn't need you to fight her battles for her. If she has a problem with her mother, she can handle it herself."
"I don't have a problem with my mother," Savannah said, her voice so low Emily could barely hear her.
"Oh, please. Why wouldn't you?" Emily said, throwing her empty hands up in the air in frustration. "She shows that dog more love than she does her own daughter! It's ridiculous, the way she talks to it like it's her baby. And have you seen how she lets it lick her face? It licks its own butt!"
Okay, that was gross. But still, Emily needed to stop talking right now. Couldn't she see how upset Savannah was? It didn't take a mind reader to notice how quiet and still Savannah had become.
"And the way she leaves her dirty dishes on the counter all the time is just lazy," Emily continued, oblivious to her audience's reaction. "And then she has the nerve to complain about how I do the laundry? I wash her clothes, too, even when she can't be bothered to pick them up off her bedroom f loor and stick them in the hamper. Even though the hamper is right outside her bedroom door!"
Lazy? Savannah thought. My mother's one of the hardestworking women I know! She turned toward Emily, her eyes blazing green.
"Emily," I said. "Shut up."
Emily turned her scowl on me. "What? I'm only saying the truth."
"Savannah doesn't want to hear it," I said, pointedly f licking a glance at Savannah, who was staring at Emily as if considering which body part to rip off her first.
Emily rolled her eyes. "Right. Because she's perfectly fine being the group doormat. Well, I'm not okay with it, and-" The irises of Savannah's eyes turned white.
I jumped to my feet, not bothering to move human slow. "Emily, shut. Up. Just go away. Right now. Go away."
Gasping, Emily took a half step back out of pure instinct. Then her eyes narrowed. "Oh, so now you think you can scare me with your vamp speed, little brother? Well, I've got news for you-"
"Emily! Shut up or so help me God I will throw you into that bedroom myself!" I shouted.
"Fine!" Emily shouted back. "Side with the doormat and her mother and her demon dog!" She stomped past Savannah and me through the kitchen and to the bunk room, sliding its door shut behind her so hard it bounced open again in its track and she had to slap it closed again. The springs on her futon-style couch bed squeaked in protest as she f lopped down on the mattress and burst into tears.
Holy hell on earth. I blew out a long breath. "You okay, Sav?"
She stood there shaking. Instinct told me I should hug her, rub her arms, do some kind of physical contact to help her shake off her emotions. But then I remembered how she'd chosen not to sit directly beside me on the couch earlier. With the way things were between us lately, she might not welcome any physical contact from me after all.
Finally she took a deep breath. "I'm fine." But she said it through gritted teeth as she grabbed the full trash bag from the kitchen f loor and vamp blurred out through the trailer doorway.
I took a long, slow breath in then out. There was no way this argument had come out of nowhere. It must have been brewing for months. And if I'd come around the ladies more often than just to space out in the bunk room for a few hours a week after feeding, I probably would have sensed it and been able to prevent it.
Instead, I'd been trying to give Savannah space and time to think and hopefully miss me enough to change her mind about taking out Mr. Williams. And all I'd really done was left her to get caught between the two princesses of the RV park.
I stepped outside and looked around for her, finding her on the trail past the nearest metal trash barrel. Judging by the jut of her chin and the determined, steady pace of her walking, she looked ready to escape this park on foot if need be.
"Sav, wait up," I called out to warn her of my approach as I caught up with her at a human pace for the benefit of any fellow campers who might be looking.
Her shoulders hitched up another inch. But she didn't tell me to go away at least.
"I'm sorry about what Em said," I muttered, shortening my stride to match Savannah's as I shoved my hands into my pockets. "She was way out of line."
"Yeah, she was." She snapped her mouth shut, refusing to vent the hundred and one heated thoughts thrashing around inside her head. "So was Mom, though. They're both being ridiculous."
I don't know how much more of it I can take! she thought, and I didn't know if she was just thinking to herself or had meant for me to hear that part.
"I didn't realize it was getting that bad."
She glared at nothing ahead of us. "You wouldn't believe how much complaining I have to listen to. And not just from Mom. Every time one of them's not around, the other one takes the opportunity to vent to me. It is constant. I've tried mediating. I've tried to explain why they're doing the stuff they're doing. They're both so used to living on their own and doing what they want."
"And they're both too stubborn to want to change their ways for someone else's sake."
"Exactly. And they're both completely blind to how they're so much alike!"
I tried not to smile. I could see the humor because I hadn't had to live in the middle of it all for two months. "So what are we going to do about it?"
She looked at me then. "We? Uh-uh. You. You can talk to your sister and tell her to clean up her crappy attitude and stop criticizing every single thing my mother does wrong."
"Oh, come on, Sav. That's not fair and you know it. Your mother's just as much to blame for this situation as Emily is. She was way out of line back there, talking about my family."
"Really? Because I thought she was just pointing out the facts. Your father did claim to be all 'equal opportunity' for the vamps and yet still strangely chose to marry a vamp hater. Why is that, Tristan?"
I took a deep breath to push back the anger so I could answer her in a steady tone. "I don't know. And to be honest, I don't care because it doesn't really matter now, does it? They're both dead."
She f linched and looked away. "Right. So I guess we'll never get to find out why your mother kicked you out of the Clann but not your sister."
"I can tell you why. Because Emily never told her who the baby's father was."
"Because no one can read her mind unless she lets them?" I nodded.
"That is so weird. How can she do that?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. She's always had the best mental shield of anyone in the Clann. How do you think she always got away with so much crap without getting caught?" I'd told Savannah about several escapades my sister and I had gotten into as little kids.
She sighed and looked away. "Whatever. The point is-"
"The point is, they're both in the wrong, and they could both act a lot better for the sake of the team."
"The team?" Now a hint of a smile kicked up the corners of her mouth.
"Yeah. Well, you know, it's like sports. We're all in this together, right?" At her reluctant nod, I added, "So if we all want to keep from killing each other, then we all have to compromise for the sake of others."
"Which neither of them wants to do, if you couldn't tell from that fight back there."
"Right." I sighed. "I'll talk to Emily, and you talk to your mother. We'll make them see that they've got to ease up on each other and stop focusing on every little thing the other does wrong."
Savannah hummed a grouchy note deep in her breath. "Maybe you should talk to both of them." At my pointed stare, she said, "You don't understand. She's my mother. I can't just walk up to her and tell her what to do!"
"Not tell her what to do, but make suggestions."
"Sav, she's your mother. She loves you. She'll listen to you."
"Or ground me for sassing her."
I couldn't stop a smile this time. "Ground you from what? Ever leaving the trailer?"
She smiled down at the gravel road beneath our feet.
"So you'll talk to her?" I pushed a little. "Today?"
She chewed the inner corner of her mouth, vertical lines forming between her eyes.
"Sav..." I coaxed. "You need to talk to her. I can't do it. I'm not her kid."
"Maybe I can get Dad to talk to her."
"Sav!" I said with a half laugh of disbelief. "You're a vamp now. I don't think she's going to throw you over her knees and spank you."
She looked at me with eyebrows raised. "Want to bet?"
I was starting to lose my patience. I took another deep breath. "Okay, out with it. What's the real reason you don't-"
"Because our relationship's not like that anymore, okay? Used to be, I could talk to her. Now, it's like there's all this distance between us. She's always so polite with me. It's like being around a stranger. And...maybe Emily's right about some stuff. Let's face it, Mom doesn't have to be here with us. She could just go get a new car and take off. The only reason she's stuck around is probably to make sure I'm safe."
"Have you talked to her about this?"
She shook her head. "I can't."
"You need to, or it's going to keep bugging you."
Her chin stuck out as she shook her head again. "I'll be fine. Trust me, sometimes it's way better to just keep your opinions and feelings and issues to yourself."
A memory of Emily and her mother arguing f lashed through her mind.
"Yeah, for those two. But not for you. You never tell anyone when they're upsetting you or irritating you. You just keep it all bottled up inside."
"It's called keeping the peace," she muttered through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, well, when you're the only one who's trying to do that, it's never going to work. All it does is make you miserable. How do you expect anything to change if you don't talk it out?" Not to mention how eating down all her anger instead of letting it out had nearly made her vamp out today.
Oh, like telling you my feelings worked out so well for us last time? she thought, then looked away, hating that I could read her every thought.
"Just because we had one argument doesn't mean you should be afraid to say how you feel. Especially to me."
She sighed. "Don't you get it? It's all this sharing of opinions and feelings that's gotten everyone into this mess right now. Mom, Emily, you and me. Everyone is mad at everyone else because nobody can agree on anything. I just want everyone to stop fighting and get along already!"
And then she burst into tears.
Whoa. I turned and took the risk of gathering her to me. She surprised me by not fighting me and instead burrowed into me. I bent my head, resting my chin on her soft hair, its familiar lavender scent filling my nose.
Oh, yeah, the situation had definitely gone way, way too far. But at least it had finally gotten my girl back into my arms.
Silver linings.
Now if I could just find a way to keep her here...
I stroked her back until her sobs calmed down. "Sav, you've got to stop doing this to yourself. It's not your fault that Emily and your mom aren't trying harder to get along. And you and I are going to be fine, even if we argue sometimes."
"I don't want to fight with you anymore," she said, her voice thick and muff led against my shirt. "I miss the way things used to be between us."
I turned my head, resting my cheek against her hair and smiled. She'd finally come around. "I missed you, too."
But she was listening to my thoughts instead of what I said. She stepped out of my arms with a frown. "I didn't say I'd changed my mind about killing Mr. Williams."
I scrambled to play mental catch-up. What had I missed? "I thought you said you missed me and don't want to fight anymore-"
"I do miss you. And I don't want to fight with you anymore. But that doesn't mean I agree with you." She quickly dragged her wrists over her cheeks to dry them as her frown deepened into a scowl.
Great. So we were still at square one on this. "Look, Sav, I told you killing him's the only way out of all of this. Sick of Emily and your mom's fighting? Tired of being stuck in a trailer with them in some RV park somewhere? The answer's obvious. We have to kill Mr. Williams. It's the only way."
Growling, she turned around and started walking back up the hill toward the trailer, muttering things under her breath about how stubborn and reckless and suicidal I was. Not that the muttering kept me from hearing every word.
At the top of the hill, I said, "Look, disagree with me all you want about Mr. Williams. But you can't disagree that we have to talk to those two women in there-" I nodded at the RV up ahead "-and fast, before they kill each other."
She stopped walking and stared at the RV, silently debating. But at least she was still listening to me.
"Just talk to her about the dog for starters," I said. "She doesn't have to get rid of it completely. We could board it at a kennel or something. Think short-term solutions here."
"She'll never agree to it. She'd hate the idea of sticking that dog with a bunch of strangers who might mistreat it or starve it and never pet it or give it any exercise."
"Well, what about somewhere else, like a foster family?"
She frowned. "It would have to be someone Mom knew and trusted."
"What about one of your friends?"
"Maybe. I could call Anne and see what she thinks. I'm still not sure Mom would go for it, though, even if one of my friends could take Lucy. That dog is all she has now."
I touched her chin, lifting it until she looked me in the eyes. "That's not true, Savannah. She still has you, and if she loves you, then that's what should matter the most."
Everything inside me went still, leaving me confused and thrown off track by my own words.
Savannah's soft half smile further derailed me. "I'm not sure she'll see it quite that way." She sighed. "But I do have to agree, life would be a whole lot better for everyone, including Lucy, if she went on a doggy vacay for a while." Her glance f licked down the hill and across the creek, where her mother and the dog were strolling together. Something that felt an awful lot like dread drifted from her through the air between us. "Okay. I'll see what I can do about the dog." "Thanks, Sav."
Still frowning, she turned and dug her phone out of her pocket. Dialing Anne's number, she shot me a wish-megood-luck smile over her shoulder. Then Anne answered.
I stood there for a moment, watching Savannah fall into her usual habit of pacing around the campsite while listening to Anne rattle on and on about everything Savannah had missed in Jacksonville since their last conversation. I didn't try to listen to either end of their discussion, though. I was too lost in my own thoughts.
I'd meant what I said about how having Savannah should be more important than anything else.
So why was I still holding on to my need to avenge my mother's death?
Was I acting like Savannah's mother and that dog, holding on to something even when it hurt everyone else around me?
Confused, I walked away, needing space to think. But even after I walked all the way down the hill to the bridge, across the creek and along its bank, I still hadn't cleared the mess inside my head.
The trail distracted me for a moment as I hiked over rocks and in between towering boulders the creek cut through when its winter waters f looded a wider path. Now dry from the summer drought, part of the trail branched off and upward, and I followed it, climbing over rocks until I reached the top of one of the dark gray boulders and could look down at the creek below me.
I sat there for a while, listening to the gurgling f low of the water below, thinking about my mother and all the arguments we'd had over the years about football and Savannah and leading the Clann. I had loved my mother, of course. Who didn't love their mother, even when she drove us nuts? And mine had definitely done her best to drive me crazy. Especially with that dream-blocking charm she had insisted on hiding in my bedroom somewhere so I couldn't dream connect with Savannah for years.
But I'd also always known all of Mom's arguments had come from one place...her love for me and her desire to protect me, however misguided she might have been. Maybe Savannah was right and even Mom's casting me out of the Clann had been a way to protect me as well, though at the time it sure hadn't felt like it.
Again, the questions haunted my mind... . What had Mom wanted to tell me at that dinner before she died? Had she planned to apologize? To tell me she still loved me in spite of what I'd become?
Because of Mr. Williams, I would never know.
And again, the anger rose within me. But now its heat felt more like a poison inside me, burning instead of warming me.
Was Savannah right? Was I letting my desire for revenge destroy me from the inside out?
At the very least, it was keeping me apart from Savannah.
I kept trying to tell myself that she would come around. That once Mr. Williams was dead and she saw I was still the same, she would understand. But what if I never found a way to get close enough to kill him? Already it had been months since my mother's death. Two months of distance from Savannah, of not holding her hand or kissing her. Two months of not getting to listen to her laughter or her voice whispering through my mind. These two months without her had been pure hell, taking me right back to last year when we were broken up.
I had vowed back then that if I ever found a way for us to be together again, I would never allow anything to come between us.
But wasn't that exactly what I was doing now by holding on to my need for revenge?
If I could ask my mother for advice, I knew what she would say. She would say that I had to go after Mr. Williams and never stop, no matter how much it might cost me, until he paid for what he'd done. Because that was how she had felt about the vampires who had killed her family when she was little. She had let that loss fill her with anger and fear and a need for revenge that had darkened every day of her life until its end.
And I was doing the exact same thing.
I was turning into my mother.
I buried my face in my hands and groaned. Savannah was right. I had felt an incredible amount of relief after learning Dylan was still alive after all, though at the time that relief had seemed shameful.
She was also right that for two months, I'd thought of nothing but ways to kill Mr. Williams. And in the process, I'd risked losing the one person who mattered the most in my life, even as she begged me to let go of all that darkness inside me and come back to her. I'd held on to my anger, thinking it somehow made me noble or more of a man, that only the weak would allow their family to be killed and not seek retribution for that crime. I had thought I would be like Maximus in that Gladiator movie, or Mad Max, the hero who would stop at nothing until the deaths of his loved ones were avenged.
But even after getting their revenge, what had those guys ended up with? Nothing but more death and loss and loneliness.
Did my need for revenge really matter more than my love for Savannah?
I walked along the gravel road that wound through Palisades State Park. The summer sun's heat was nice on my skin, warming me as nothing else did lately. But even the bright sun and gurgling creek-which to me seemed plenty big enough to be called a small river-weren't enough to erase the dread growing inside me with every step I took.
How would Mom react when I told her we needed to find Lucy a new home for a while? Anne had called Michelle, and both Michelle and her mom were happy to take Lucy. And Mom had always liked Michelle.
But this was Mom's dog we were talking about here. Lucy really was like a human child to her, and she never went anywhere without her.
Would Mom hate me for even suggesting this? Would she start to blame me for losing her job and the privacy of her home and her dog?
I really did not want to have this talk with my mother. At the end of the hill, I had to turn right and cross an
old-fashioned but well-maintained wood-and-metal bridge spanning the creek, which would lead me down to the f latter side of the brownish-green water's shoreline where Mom and Lucy were hanging out.
Halfway across the bridge, I had to stop and admire the view. I could imagine a lot of couples taking their informal wedding photos here overlooking the dark gray boulders that rose up several hundred feet above the creek, carved from the cliff sides by the f lowing water and shaded by shallow woods. Unlike East Texas, however, these woods were made up of mostly hardwoods. So even here in the outdoors I was reminded of how far from home the Clann had forced us.
Sighing, I finished crossing the bridge, following the road again till it led me down past an open and f lat rocky area, and past that to a grassy, shaded area with several picnic tables and fire pits where fishermen liked to sit sometimes. Today I found only Mom and Lucy at the edge of the creek, watching mallard ducks that had f lown in to swim in the smoother parts of the creek.
I couldn't believe Dad had been comfortable letting Mom go this far from our RV alone. Then I sensed his emotions, annoyance mixed with determination and that ever-present wariness, downwind somewhere nearby. I glanced around at the small wooded area to the right of the creek and spotted a slight shift in the shadows among the trees. Ah, there he was. I knew he'd never let her get so far out of his sight.
Repressing a smile at his protectiveness, I pretended I didn't see him and instead called out to Mom to warn her of my approach so I wouldn't scare her.
Unfortunately, I was also upwind to Lucy, so the dog immediately started barking before I even reached them.
Mom saw me, smiled and raised her hand, waving her entire forearm side to side in greeting.
"Hey!" Mom said as I joined her, and the dog went wild at the end of her leash. "Isn't this weather wonderful?"
"Yeah." I cleared my throat, bracing myself for what had to be said. It's for the good of the team, I reminded myself. "You know, Lucy's not looking too good lately."
Mom frowned at her. "I know. Her hair's starting to fall out. Poor thing. She's not eating much, either. That's why I've been taking her out for all these walks, to give her more exercise so she'll start eating again."
I couldn't help but wince this time. "Um, I don't think it's the lack of exercise that's the problem. I think it's me and Tristan and Emily's baby. We're freaking Lucy out."
Mom sighed. "I was hoping she'd get used to you guys."
"Mom, it's been weeks. She's getting worse, not better."
So was the situation inside the trailer.
Thank heavens Mom couldn't read my thoughts.
She stared at Lucy, who was peeing down her own legs, the dog's entire body shaking as she fought to get at my ankles with her teeth. More tufts of hair f loated out from Lucy into the air, caught a breeze and were carried over the broad greenish-brown creek.
"I think we need to find her a place to stay. Just for a little while," I added, already hating how my words would hurt my mother. But this had to be done, for Lucy's sake as much as everyone else's.
Mom's face fell, her lower lip sticking out, and I had a glimpse of what she must have looked like as a little girl. "But she's my baby! Normally she's so sweet and cuddly...."
"I know. But she's just so stressed out right now. And it would be temporary, like a vacation from the vamps for her. She could be somewhere she felt safe again, like Michelle's house. I know she'd love to dog-sit, and I'm sure her mother wouldn't mind."
Mom bent down and scooped up her dog, cradling Lucy against her chest near her face.
"Mom," I murmured, hating this whole situation. "The stress is making her sick. I don't know how much longer she can take it."
Mom closed her eyes, rubbed her cheek against the top of Lucy's quivering head, then whispered, "Fine."
I swallowed down the lump in my throat, my eyes stinging. Today I was one of the worst daughters on the planet. What kind of person took away their parent's cherished pet?
We walked back to the RV in silence, Dad following at such a long distance that I could barely make out his emotions. We took our time, none of us eager to return to the confines of our prison on wheels. A prison that had once been Mom's home. I wanted to reach out to my mother, put an arm around her, comfort her in some way. But Lucy was there and would have bit me if I got too close to her owner. And there wasn't anything I could think of to say to make Mom feel better. The fact of the matter was this whole situation sucked.
When we returned to the RV, Tristan was nowhere to be seen. Emily was on the couch with a bag of Harvest Cheddarf lavored Sun Chips, my favorite kind before my vamp side had developed too much for me to be able to keep human food down. She stiffened but didn't look at us as we entered the trailer.
Mom froze, scowled, then muttered "Good night" to me and shambled off to her own room with her dog, her door softly clicking shut behind them.
I started to go to bed. But the room was too empty and quiet, and it was still early.
Emily noticed me wavering in the bunk room's doorway. "Want to watch a movie with me?"
"What are you watching?" Too late, I realized it was the same thing I'd asked her brother earlier today.
"P.S. I Love You. It's awful. Her soul mate dies."
A snort escaped me. "Sounds great." I f lopped down on the dinette bench, twisting around to look over its curved back where it attached to the couch so I could see the movie, while Emily cranked up the volume to cover the barking from Mom's bedroom.
Emily restarted the movie at the beginning, reminding me again of her brother. Thinking about him hurt too much, though. I forced myself to focus on the movie instead, grateful for the distraction from the distance still keeping Tristan and me apart. And within minutes, I was sucked in.
The movie's beginning reminded me of Tristan and me... the couple's initial fight, the way they loved each other so much, how the heroine feared losing the hero.
And then the hero died, just like I was scared Tristan would. But unlike Tristan and me, the movie's heroine had no ability to turn him and save him, so he was just gone forever.
Like Tristan would be if Mr. Williams or one of his people managed to stake Tristan or set him on fire with a spell or decapitate him. Which the Keepers were more than powerful enough to do with one swipe of their huge clawed paws when they were shifted into panther form.
How could Tristan not be afraid of dying? Did he really think vampires were invincible, despite all Dad's and my warnings and even seeing several vamps, including Gowin, die at the Clann's hands? Even Tristan's combination of Clann and vamp abilities wouldn't be enough to protect him against an entire army of descendants and Keepers.
I could hardly stand to watch the movie's heroine as she struggled to deal with the loss of her soul mate. That would be me, if Tristan went after Mr. Williams.
For the second time today, tears poured down my cheeks. I swiped at them and tried to blink fast to keep more from forming. Then I realized I wasn't the only one crying.
Emily was hunched over on the couch as much as her huge belly would allow, her face buried in her hands as her shoulders heaved in time with her sobbing, which was getting more intense by the second.
"Emily?" I reached out for her shoulder, hesitated, then went ahead and gave in to the urge to comfort her and risk scaring her. She was crying too hard. It couldn't be healthy for the baby.
"Emily, it's okay, it's just a movie," I tried again when her sobbing only grew louder.
"No, you don't understand," she said in between hiccups. "I..."
She couldn't breathe enough to get the words out.
I patted her back awkwardly, feeling completely out of my depth. My friends were all way too proud of their tough jock status to ever break down and cry in front of each other. Even the loss of Nanna hadn't caused my mother to break out in near-hysterical sobbing like this. What should I do to help Emily? Surely the movie couldn't have made her this sad. Unless it was the pregnancy hormones?
"Shh," I whispered, getting up and grabbing a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom. I was back with it in less than a second. I held out a wad of the paper to her, which she took and pressed to her face.
I tried to read her mind, but as always it was like trying to pry a metal bear trap open with nothing but human strength to help me. I sighed. "Emily, I can't read your mind enough to help you. You'll have to talk to me."
Silently I sent up a prayer. Please don't let this be about my mother again!
Her hands dropped to her lap as she turned incredulous eyes toward me. "What's wrong? What isn't wrong right now? My mom's dead. My dad's dead. My brother's being accused of killing our mother. I'm nineteen, single and knocked up with the baby of my dad's murderer. And I can't even go home!"
She pressed the toilet paper wad to her face again, her wails muff led within its softness.
Suddenly the trailer door burst open.
"What happened?" Tristan demanded, his eyes wild as he searched the trailer for attackers.
"We're fine," I said. "Just...watching a sad movie, is all. You know, it's girly stuff."
His eyes rounded in horror. Then he frowned, his gaze caressing my face. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten my own tears from a few minutes ago. I hastily dragged the backs of my hands over my still damp cheeks and forced a smile. "Yeah, I'm sure."
Frowning, he slowly turned and walked back down the metal steps. With one last backward glance at me, he eased the door shut.
Instantly I felt the renewed loss of his presence, which pricked more tears into life in my eyes. Jeez, what was it about tears that, once you started crying, you couldn't seem to stop?
I rolled off more toilet paper, this time for my own face. "You're right. This sucks. All of it."
Emily sniffed. "I can't believe I got myself into this." She waved her hands at her stomach. "I was such an unbelievable idiot."
The pain in her words reached out through the air and joined with my own. "Oh, Emily. Everyone screws up sometimes."
A humorless laugh huffed out of her. "Not like this! If not for me, Gowin never would have been able to get close enough to kill my dad. And now I'm going to have Gowin's baby." She clenched the wet paper in one fist and pressed it to her mouth as if afraid to say more, her green eyes round with fear as she looked at me, silently pleading with me to say something reassuring.
"It's going to be okay," I lied for both of us, praying my lack of a poker face wouldn't ruin the lie.
"How? How can this possibly be okay? I mean, I don't even know what I'm doing! I don't know anything about babies or how to have one or raise it. Especially a half-" She stopped, her eyes widening still further.
"Go on and say it. A half breed like me." And there was that old familiar heat in the pit of my stomach just waiting for its chance to take over again. As usual, I pushed it back down and did my best to ignore it. I'd already nearly lost control earlier today. I couldn't afford to let the anger drive me to vamp out again.
"I'm sorry. I keep saying crap I really don't mean, and I hear myself saying it and know how awful I sound. I know you and your mom must think I'm the most ungrateful, world's biggest bi-"
"It's fine. You're pregnant," I said, lying like crazy now. It wasn't okay. But saying so when she was already miserable wouldn't help the situation, either.
"No, that's no excuse. I know better. I just can't seem to make myself stop once I get going. It's like, if I can focus on the clogged bathroom drain or the dog pee then I won't be thinking about this." She held her hands out palms-up in front of her belly. "Or what I'm going to do once it comes out of me."
She whispered the last words, and her fear filled the trailer around us, turning the air too thick for me to breathe or get any oxygen out of.
Oh, crap. Not good. Her fear was filling the air with adrenaline-laced pheromones that were doing their best to trigger my predatory instincts. And somehow I was pretty sure that Tristan would not be able to forgive me if I bit his sister.
I hopped up to my feet and tried to casually open the window over the dinette.
"I'm due any day now, you know," she murmured, staring at me.
Carefully I took a small breath then nearly sighed with relief. The fresh air would soon clear the trailer of any bloodlust inducing scents.
"Have you decided...whether to keep your baby?" I asked, hesitating now over the words, unsure whether I should even say them. It wasn't my place to be nosy about her decisions or her life. But maybe Tristan was right about everyone's need to vent their emotions and Emily would feel better if she talked about hers with someone.
She nodded, wincing. "I can't give it up for adoption. I know it's an option, but it doesn't feel right to me. I mean, it's not this kid's fault that I was stupid and fell for all of Gowin's lies. Besides, it's half Clann and half vamp. If I don't raise it, who will? The Clann would probably just kill it. And the vamps..." She didn't finish that thought, darting a glance at me and then away again.
"You know, my mom could probably give you a lot of advice," I said slowly. "After all, she has been there and done that."
She cringed and stared down at her hands clasped now over the top of her tummy. "You're right. I should have thought of that." She looked up at me with big eyes full of hope. "Do you think, if I apologized..."
"She'll forgive you," I said, and this time I didn't need to lie. For all her faults, my mom also had a really big heart. If Emily sincerely apologized, Mom would forgive her immediately.
She sighed. "I shouldn't have said all that stuff to her today. It's just, every time I see you two together I keep thinking about how Tristan said she practically abandoned you the past couple of years when you needed her most-" She clapped a hand over her mouth. "I'm sorry. See? I don't know where it comes from and it just spews out of me-"
I sighed. "It comes from what you see as the truth." I stared down at my own handful of wadded-up paper in my lap. "You're half-right. She did sort of leave me with my grandma when all my Clann and vamp abilities started showing up and I needed her most. But she was doing what she thought was best. And she wouldn't have been able to help me anyways. She can't do magic." At Emily's raised eyebrows, I explained. "She never wanted to be in the Clann and chose to let her skills fade away instead of strengthening them. So when I started turning..."
"She was afraid of you?"
"Not so much that she was afraid I would hurt her, but that her being around would make it harder on me. She knew that at least Nanna had the strength to control me if I ever lost it and vamped out at home."
"And what was your grandma supposed to do then? Set you on fire? Stake you?"
A short laugh escaped me. "No, of course not. Nanna knew how to use the old ways of magic to dampen the bloodlust around our house."
"Really? How? Because we could totally use a spell like that for your parents." At my sharp look, she said, "Oh, come on. Any idiot can see that they're still in love and fighting it. I'm assuming because of the bloodlust and the energy draining effects if they kiss?"
I shrugged. "Mostly. But I don't think they got along all that well even when they were married and had Nanna's bloodlust dampening spells to help them."
Emily stared at her stomach. "Even if your mom can help me with some things, I highly doubt she'll know what I should say when this kid asks me what happened to its dad someday."
I winced. "You're right, that discussion is going to be hard. But maybe if you just stay honest with your child..." I thought about the day my parents had told me what I really was. Dealing with that discovery had been rough. But it had been made even worse by the fact that my family had lied to me and kept secrets from me for fourteen years before finally telling me the truth. "Just don't wait too long to tell your kid the truth. Trust me, it only makes things worse for them."
"What if this kid learns how bad its dad was and decides to follow in Gowin's footsteps someday?"
I frowned. "Then that'll be its decision, not yours. As long as you do your best to show it a better path, that's all you can do. It's up to each of us to decide who and what we want to become."
Like Tristan.
Emily sighed and dropped her head back on the sofa. "Being pregnant really, really stinks."
I made the most sympathetic face I could. "I'm sure it doesn't help that this is your first time and you have no idea what to do. If only there were some kind of manual...hang on. Maybe there is!"
I jumped up and vamp blurred into the bunk room to dig through my jeans until I found it...the credit card Dad had given me the other day to buy stuff from the local gas station outside the park. He'd said the Clann shouldn't be able to trace it because it was under one of his aliases that nobody else knew about, and that it was safe for us to use for whatever we needed.
I found my phone, pulled up the internet and found an ebookstore website. A long series of fast screen taps, and two minutes later we had an account all set up and ready for use.
"Here." I tilted the phone so Emily could see the screen, too. "They've got tons of ebooks on pregnancy and motherhood. What to Expect When You're Expecting. The Complete Single Mother. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood."
"Seriously?" Emily laughed. "Let me see that." She took the phone and peered more closely at it. "Wow. I had no clue they'd have so many guidebooks for mothers." She glanced up at me, her smile turning wry. "I guess I'm not exactly the first female to ever get pregnant."
I returned her smile, glad her mood was lightening up. "Or the first girl to get freaked out about it."
Before she could protest, I went ahead and bought several ebooks for her, then happily handed her my phone to read them on. Anything to keep her happy and off Mom's back!
"Just as long as you give it back every now and then so I can talk to my friends back home."
"Right." She started to read one of the ebooks, then hesitated and looked up at me. "Thanks, Sav. For the ebooks and for listening. I didn't realize how hard it was just keeping all of that to myself."
I smiled. "Vent anytime. Just as long as it doesn't include calling my mother names."
She laughed. "Okay. And for the record, you handled yourself way better than I would have if someone were talking about my mama."
It was my turn to make a wry face. "I don't know. For a minute or two there, it felt like a pretty close call. If Tristan hadn't been here..."
She heaved herself up off the couch, then dug her knuckles into the small of her back and stretched. "Yeah, speaking of, when are you two going to work out your issues already?"
I stood up, taking my time throwing away my wad of paper in the trash beneath the kitchen sink before answering. "That's kind of up to him. He and I don't agree on some things right now."
"And what, you can't compromise and meet him halfway?"
I shrugged, not wanting to talk about Tristan's and my problems with his sister. Besides, it wasn't really the kind of issue you could compromise on. "Hey, listen, I'm really tired, so I think I'm going to turn in for the night."
One blond eyebrow arched knowingly, but thankfully she didn't push the issue. "Sounds like a good idea. All this bawling has wiped me out, too."
The bunk room was a small space even for one person to undress in, much less two. So I let Emily get ready for bed in there first while I took a shower.
When I stepped out of the bathroom, I caught myself pausing in the kitchen, looking and listening. Hoping Tristan had felt...something after our talk together this afternoon and decided to come back to me.
But the living room and kitchen were empty, the rest of the trailer silent as well except for Emily's snoring from the bunk room. Even Lucy had worn herself out for once and given up barking.
There were people within reach of me. But even still, I was alone.
And I couldn't stand it.
I slipped on some shoes and snuck outside. Dad was right where I expected to find him, sitting in the front seat of the truck's cab, the windows rolled down to let a cross breeze through while he read some book he'd found who knew where. Tristan wasn't stretched out in the backseat as usual. He must be taking a walk along the creek. Good. I didn't want to have to ask him for a private moment with my dad.
Dad looked up and smiled as I climbed into the passenger side of the front seat.
"You seem rather deep in thought," he murmured, closing his book. "A penny for your thoughts?"
I started to tell him no one said that phrase anymore, then gave up. "I was wondering about you and Mom. About... how you two always fight all the time."
"A difference in personalities, I suppose." He frowned. "You do know our arguments have nothing to do with you and that we both love you?"
I waved off the parental reassurance. "Yeah, I know. It's just..." I took a deep breath as my throat tightened. "How do you know when the disagreements are too much? When it's time to just give up and let go?"
His head rocked back an inch. "Ah. That is a deep question to be thinking about. The answer is not at all simple, because it varies for everyone. For instance, part of being a vampire for many years is that it teaches us how to have a lot of patience. After all, if you cannot die and no longer have a natural lifespan, then your perception of the passage of time is quite different from a human's. So for one of our kind, forever would not be too long to disagree with someone we loved enough."
I looked down at my hands as my fingers twisted together in my lap. "What if the other person doesn't feel that way? What if..." I swallowed hard and tried again. "What if they feel too strongly about the path they're on, and it's a path you can't or don't want to follow them down?"
Dad sighed. "You mean like your mother getting tired of being on the run with me and insisting on our divorce?"
"Yeah. Something like that."
He turned his head to stare through the windshield at the hills that rolled down to the creek in the moonlight. After a moment of silence, he said, "I agreed to divorce your mother because it was what she wanted. She needed to feel safe again, and she felt like I could not give her or you that safety. She wanted you to have a chance to grow up with a normal life for as long as possible. She also wanted freedom and independence. What can you do when the person you love no longer wants to be with you, other than to release them and allow them to live the life they choose, even though that life is not with you?"
"But couldn't you have maybe found a way to change her mind eventually if you just kept trying to talk to her about it?"
His smile was sad. "It is both human and apparently vampire nature to want to hold on to that which you love with every ounce of strength that you possess. But if you truly love someone, that is the only real way to love them. To love loosely is the hardest love to learn. But it is also the strongest and most self less form of love you can give another."
Learn to love loosely. There was a clear ring of truth in his words. Maybe that was why they hurt so much. Because I knew it was what I had to learn how to do.
I had to learn to love Tristan loosely, to let him go instead of trying to hold on to him or change his mind.
"Thanks, Dad. Good night." The words came out rough past my hoarse throat as I climbed out of the truck.
Back inside the trailer, I slipped into the dark bunk room and climbed into my bed as quietly as possible so as not to wake Emily on the futon below. Across from me, the third bunk bed where Tristan always rested while lost to the blood memories after each weekly feeding now stretched out empty and silent, waiting for his return. I stared at it until the lump in my throat hurt too much. Then I plugged my MP3 player into the wall charger Dad had bought for me at a store, put my earbuds in my ears, turned on my MP3 player and tried to lose myself in the music.