Broof had guided Melinda down a corridor to a small, but comfortable sitting room, full of flowers and family photos, and settled her on a plush sofa.
She tried to take in her surroundings while simultaneously trying to piece together what had happened to bring her to this house. She must have passed out at the cottage, somehow – probably from thirst, she reasoned. That must have been it. She passed out, hit her head and Sage had carried her to this house. That was a logical explanation.
She laughed as she considered that passing out from not drinking any blood was actually a logical explanation in her life now. She laughed again thinking how her life was no longer a life, but this second laugh bubbled hot with anger as she lamented who she had sold her soul for.
Beside her, oblivious to the chaos inside her head, Broof joined in with his own polite laugh.
“Transportalate always makes me a little delirious, too.” He smiled at her and added in a whisper. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m notoriously terrible at it. Give it a few minutes and everything will start making sense.”
“Transportalate, right,” Melinda sighed, surprised by the gravelly sound of her own voice. “If things ever start making sense again, I’ll let you know.”
“I apologise, Melinda,” he said, curtly. “I should have paid more attention, been more diligent, taken April out of the house… I had so many chances.”
Melinda gulped, hearing her innermost thoughts sounded out like this. She had often wondered why, as an adult, Broof hadn’t done more to intervene when Sandy started on April. Sure, he would calm Sandy down, distract her with… himself, pick up the pieces when she smashed April to bits which was more than Travis ever did. But he would never stop her, never challenge her, never risk outing her or damaging her reputation. Was it purely out of his duty, or did Broof, like everyone else in the world, genuinely just care more about Sandy than her daughter?
Maybe his guilt masked her own. Why hadn’t she done more to intervene? She could have told her parents about the bruises that appeared on April’s porcelain skin, about the way she’d suddenly cower if anyone raised their voice, or how she muttered derogatory things to herself, things she truly believed about herself even though they were downright wrong. Ugly. Stupid.
She hoped Caleb would take over her role and continue to challenge these beliefs April held, but she severely doubted it.
Broof settled on the sofa beside her and Melinda, fighting against instinct to attack him, shuffled away, ever so slightly.
“We will fix this,” he said assuredly, but before Melinda could ask how, he’d snapped back from this slightly-more-relaxed version of himself, to the professional default that she was so familiar with. “What can I get for you, Melinda? I admit that I haven’t got a great deal of experience catering for vampiric teenagers, only monstrous humans and the odd witch.” He smiled. “I doubt Sage has a good stock of your favourite animal crackers, but perhaps we can conjure some up.” He paused, as if hearing his own words for the first time. “No, ignore me; you can’t have those now, can you?”
Melinda shook her head as the mention of food somehow made the beat of his pulse louder. Truth be told, she didn’t really like animal crackers, but she’d always request them when he offered, purely because they required no preparation.
“The odd witch?” she asked politely, trying to focus on his words and not the thudding from his chest. “Do you mean Sandy?”
“No, she was the monstrous human,” Broof laughed causing the veins in his neck to twitch. “I should preface by saying that most witches are a little odd; it’s not a slight on the ones I served,” he explained casually, before he understood what she was really asking. His face fell. “Shoot. Sage hasn’t explained, has she?”
At Melinda’s blank look, Broof looked incredulously towards the closed door then back. “She teleported you without explaining… damn. No wonder you look so shocked. Melinda, Sage is a witch, as is her son, Wyatt – that scrawny man you saw back in the kitchen. And,” he took a deep breath. “And me, too. I’m a witch, too. Hello,” he said and waved awkwardly.
Melinda blinked; it was the only response her body had in it. “You’re a witch,” she said in a deadpan fashion.
“I am. Um, surprise?” he offered. “You know, I’ve never actually revealed myself to a non-witch before, would you believe? Although I did come close that night you were – well that night, in the bathroom. There was a spell I could have used, a suture of sorts, but could I ever remember it? I swear it, that tea gets me every time.” He cleared his throat.
“There are no such things as witches,” Melinda asserted, her brain refusing to accept any more strangeness today.
Broof smiled. “Until a month ago, didn’t we both think the same thing about vampires? I know that April’s new oral configuration shocked you as much as it did me. Perhaps you more so, familiar as you were with the previous setup,” he finished softly, raising a knowing eyebrow.
Melinda stared at him, wide-eyed. Broof was claiming to be a witch and yet she’d never seen him act so normal, so human. He had rarely let his guard down in the mansion, none of them had. They couldn’t afford to.
“I understand this is all quite a shock. It was for me, too. Witches traditionally aren’t friends with vampires; it’s a long and sour history and I was led to believe that vampires were extinct, at least in this country,” he fiddled with his fringe, looking away. “Sage is content to accommodate you here while we look into a possible cure, or alternative food source for you, but perhaps we’ll get into the finer details of that when you can see straight,” he finished with a small smile.
She realised that actually, she wasn’t shocked by any of this, she was only shocked at how little this information shocked her. A month ago, when her biggest worry in life was how she and Faith would sneak into April’s party, no, she wouldn’t have believed him. But the world she knew a month ago wasn’t real; it was a carefully crafted illusion; a paper-thin layer of ice over a bottomless lake that most people never fell through.
Month-Ago-Melinda wouldn’t have believed Broof but that girl was a distant memory now, as a certain rhythm was helpfully reminding her.
Broof fell silent. Melinda didn’t need to see his gently startled face to know that she had slipped form. His heart began racing, threatening to pound through his chest wall, but his voice was calm and even as he repeated his earlier question; “What can I get for you, Melinda?”
She’d heard those words many, many times at the mansion but never had they felt so alien as they did right at that moment. Sandy would bark orders at Broof but April was always polite when she ordered him to do things for her and he seemed happy to comply. Melinda, however, only saw the negative side of this kind of arrangement.
She could still remember the time April’s shoelace came untied when Broof wasn’t around. How April had coyly held her foot out to Melinda because, even at fourteen, she had no idea how to retie it by herself.
Faith, however, had never had any reservations about making Broof earn his pay, gleefully commanding him to do ridiculous things, like only singing his answers to her questions, walking backwards to exit rooms, calling her ‘Queen Faith’ or driving across town at midnight to get a specific brand of popcorn.
At his words and his waiting stance, Melinda’s empty stomach tied itself into a knot. “No,” she groaned, holding her head. “I can’t ask you for… that.”
“Very well, then I shall have to insist.” He turned down his collar, revealing two neat, semi-healed puncture holes. He registered her surprise with a smile that didn’t meet his eyes. “Lilith has a very small appetite so I’m confident I can accommodate you, just don’t ask me to drive afterwards.”
“Lilith?” Melinda whispered, picking up the faintest trace of Lilith’s vanilla and formaldehyde scent on Broof’s shirt. “Lilith drank from you?”
“Yes,” Broof replied, slightly taken aback by Melinda’s wariness. He faltered, his body jerking awkwardly like he was trying to figure out where to put himself next. “Of course, I understand; you don’t want to use her straw, so to speak. I should offer you the fresh side.” He turned his body until the untapped side of his neck came into view.
It seemed to take so little to tip her from reasoning since she had learned the satisfaction that could be gained from a warm meal. The urge to pin and devour swelled up inside her like a balloon at his sudden offering, pushing out all restraint.
Melinda choked and protested, even as her body betrayed her inching closer to Broof. Drawn like a magnet to the heat of this willing feast.
Jessica had barely anything to pack, so she was ready to leave not half an hour after her visitors. She had hesitated before walking past the staff on the reception desk, wondering if this was some sort of test and she’d be wrestled to the ground for attempting to escape, but they had clearly been informed of the situation, releasing the locks on the doors and wishing her a good day.
It was surreal, but not quite as much as the sensation of sunlight on her face for the first time in days, the feeling of freedom and the vast possibilities of the day.
Nor was it as surreal as seeing a tinfoil-hatted woman cleaning graffiti from a giant poster of her face.
“Justice for Jess!” she read aloud. “You know, when I saw this on the news I thought you were out to get me, but this kooky plan of yours actually worked, Morag.”
“Jess! It is you! It really did work?! You’ve been released?” she gushed as Jessica smiled and nodded. “O-M-G! Wait until I tell the others. You know, we have a campaign like this every so often, but this is the first time it’s ever actually worked! Statistically, it’s only possible to lose so many times in a row, I guess. But you know, I saw that Wangshaft lady and her daughter-in-law come out of here not long ago and I knew that something had happened. Anyway, I’m blabbering. How are you? How do you feel?”
It was so nice to have someone so excited to see her, someone who asked how she was like they actually cared that for a moment Jessica was speechless.
And then the tears started. They poured from her eyes almost as fast as the words poured from her mouth. “I’ve been better,” she sobbed. “Something is going on, Morag and I don’t know what, but I don’t like it. I’m going back to work tomorrow, but I’ll be working for Beth and only on restricted duties. They’ve only released me because apparently the attention was too much; they’ll still be watching me. And I wonder, if this is how it started for Ralf, maybe even for Chase, that they felt indebted and controlled, and then they tried to get out and ended up… they ended up….”
Morag held up her hand. “We can’t talk here, Jessica,” she whispered. “Do you have plans for the day?”
Jessica looked at her shoes; tacky, plastic pink sandals that she had opted to wear without the supplied socks. “I was going to go home. Change… into pyjamas,” she added hastily. “Spend the afternoon wallowing and reading pregnancy books.”
Morag grinned. “As fun as that sounds, maybe you’d like to come with me to the HQ and talk freely amongst friends? You can head back to yours and change your outfit first, though if you like. Don’t tell her said this, but I always thought Pixie’s style was a bit out-there.”
Wallowing in pyjamas with a huge tub of ice cream was what Jessica wanted, but after days in isolation she was not going to pass up a social invitation, especially as she had a lot to thank the GliTS for. She could spare them a few hours of her time, she supposed, a brief foray into the wild before she fell back to normality tomorrow.
“Okay,” she said. “Yes, let me just swing by my place and then sure, we’ll head over to HQ.”
“Great!” Morag enthused, leading the way down the path. “Oh, one small thing; I’ll need to frisk you for bugs and wires before letting you in. Are you ticklish?”
Lilith managed to resist the temptation of drowning herself at either the river or the pub to arrive back at the flower shop. She opened the door, locked by neither key or charm, and descended the stairs to the basement room that lead to the tiny, underground apartment Sage shared with her son.
Before she’d even opened the door that led into the kitchen, she could hear the sound of Sage complaining, followed by a loud bang and Wyatt’s laugh.
The sound of gushing water echoed behind her as Lilith left the kitchen. The water seeped beneath the door as it closed behind her then promptly evaporated before Lilith’s eyes as Sage’s screeching intensified. It was clear that April was feeling better and that Sage had her hands full with some other drama, which brought Lilith a little time to tie up some loose ends.
All she had to do was find Melinda and convince the attentive little vampire to keep schtum about a certain behatted twat, and everything would be as close to fine as it was going to get.
She pushed the door of the spare bedroom open, expecting to see Melinda in there, but the room was empty. Deciding that she must be in the sitting room, Lilith headed over, her eyes landing on the bar as she passed it. How anyone got through the chaos of normal life without veins full of alcohol was beyond her, let alone with what the poor girl had been through today.
Lilith poured a small gin, for Melinda’s nerves. Or her own, she hadn’t decided. She abandoned her glass as a scream rang from the sitting room.
Was this some hidden camera show? Was someone having a huge joke at her expense?
“Lilith,” Melinda sobbed. If the girl hadn’t turned her head, Lilith would have no idea if she was looking at her; her face was an eyeless mess of black tears and snot. “I can’t!” she wailed. “After what I did to Dad, I just can’t!”
Lilith yanked Broof back from the jaws of death that were steadily losing their fight to spare him. She dragged him from the room by the collar, ignoring his strangled cries and flailing limbs.
“Lilith!” he managed, when she had righted him in the hallway. “What on earth—“
“What are you doing?! Don’t offer your throat to a fledgling. We have no idea what she’s capable of!”
Broof bristled, clearly alarmed and embarrassed by this turn of events. “Lilith; she’s a sweet, terrified, eighteen-year-old girl—”
“Driven by the uncaring urges of a bloodthirsty millennium-old curse.”
Broof swallowed, looking towards the room where Melinda’s whimpering could still be heard. “I just thought, with April previously only taking a little, you only taking a little that maybe female vampires—”
“Bloody typical,” Lilith growled low in her throat. “So, it’s only the big, scary vampire men that can drain you dry, huh? Is that a theory you want to test, Broompig?”
“I didn’t think—”
“Well you’d better start,” Lilith hissed. “Do you think this is easy for her? She has no idea who she is, where she is or what’s happening and you think she can just tap into you like a juice carton like it’s nothing? You witches are all the same. You can clean shit from a toilet with a wave of your hand and suddenly you think you know everything; think you have the answers to everything.”
“Lilith, you barely know me,” Broof gasped. “Watcher. I’m a decent bloke. I’m donating my blood—.”
“Aww,” Lilith cooed sarcastically. “Does that make you feel better about yourself?”
“Excuse me?!” Broof choked. “I’m only trying to help!”
You had her whole lifetime to help and you did nothing.
Broof barely startled as Lilith’s voice reverberated through his head. Her angry little brain needles penetrated his skull without permission but before she could stop them, for the first time since she’d met him, she began to hear – and see – the briefest whispers of his thoughts.
“Daddy, why don’t fish drown?”
He shuddered. He was wanting to challenge her, to explain, but instead he only dropped his shoulders, defeated.
“I clearly still have a lot to learn. I apologise,” he said calmly.
“I’ll go and draw Melinda a drink, shall I?” he offered, without a hint of derision.
“You do that,” Lilith agreed, returning to the sitting room and, for no good reason, she slammed the door in his face.