In the weeks that followed Marcus becoming a vampire, things started to change. He quit his job at the gas stationand got more and more absorbed in, well, vampire stuff.Lisa was not happy about this fact.We’d gone to LuLu Lounge for a performance of some band I’d never heard of, but which Lisa liked. They werepretty good, but neither of us could really concentrate on the music. In addition to feeling exhausted (these days,by the end of my shift at Londoste I was almost always completely wiped, and even though I hadn’t worked that dayI was pretty tired anyway), Lisa had invited not only me, but Marcus, and he hadn’t come…which weighed on bothour minds.
“How are you at all okay with this?” Lisa asked. “He’s your boyfriend and he’s a vampire. He’s absorbed in all thatvampire crap and he’s barely paying attention to the real world.”“What else can I do?” I asked. “He is a vampire, so, I mean…of course he wants to learn more about that.”She raised an eyebrow. “Right.”I slumped. “It sucks. He’s never around. And I get during the day – the sun literally burns him, of course he can’tmove around – but even at night he’s busy all the time. I…I miss him.”
“Clearly you just need to beat some sense into the guy. He’s male, they’re all idiots.”I laughed, and promptly got glared at by the man sitting next to me. “Be quiet,” he hissed. Lisa and I looked ateach other, rolled our eyes, and stood up and left.
We ended up walking to Sims Gone Wired, which was still open even that late at night. Also, as I’d learned whiledoing my research on the Tricous, they had very good coffee.We bought our coffee and sat upstairs.
“So, beating sense into Marcus: can this project start now?”I laughed. “Maybe it should. I love him, I do, but…”“But?”“But he’s paying more attention to the vampire stuff than he is to me, or you, or anything else. He didn’t evenchoose to become a vampire, why is he so absorbed in this?” I rubbed my forehead. “Sorry for ranting at you, Lisa.I can’t talk to anyone else, though. Marcus is totally absorbed and Rainelle…Rainelle would just encourage me tobreak up with him, which, no. That’s not what I want. I want him to be happy, but I want me to be happy too.”
“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one he’s ignoring in favor of his new life,” Lisa said. She sounded frustrated. “I’mstill voting for beating some sense into the idiot, by the way. I’ll help.”I shrugged. “If he doesn’t come around soon…yeah. It’s going to have to happen.” I looked into my cup andsighed. The coffee was gone but I was still feeling exhausted. “I hate to do this, but…”“Time to go home?”“Yeah, I’ve been completely exhausted lately. I think I’m coming down with something.”She patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. “Sleep well.” ***
The next afternoon, when I woke up from a nap, I realized just why I’d been feeling so exhausted. “Well, shit,” Isaid to myself when I realized just what was going on.“What?” Rainelle asked, popping through the door to the living room. She looked me up and down. “Oh. Shit.”
Rainelle bit her lip. “What are you going to do?”“I’ve got to talk to Marcus.”“Are you going to invite him here?”“Yeah. I just hope he comes.”
She silently slipped out of the room and I took out my cell phone. It was pretty close to sundown; Marcus should beawake by now but still in his apartment.“Hello?”“Hi.”“Roxanna! What’s going on?”I took a deep breath. “I need to talk to you. In person.”“I’m busy tonight, can it wait until tomorrow?”
“No,” I snapped. “Absolutely not. I need to talk to you, and it needs to be now. You’re always busy, Marcus, sohow the hell am I supposed to ever talk to you? You’re busy tonight, and you’ll be busy tomorrow, and I have a job,and I don’t have every night free to do whatever I want the way you do. I miss you. And this is important. Reallyimportant.”There was silence on the other end of the line. I hadn’t realized before how odd it was to not even hear breathingthrough the phone.Finally, he spoke. “I do have to be at Crypt O’ Night Club tonight. Can you meet me there?”“Fine. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I managed to beat Marcus to Crypt O’ Night Club, as I was able to leave while it was still light. Also, I lived closer.It was pretty empty until sunset, when it started filling up, with both vampires and normal humans.
One of the vampires approached me. “Hello,” he said. “How are you today?”I shrugged nervously. “I’m okay, how are you?”“Very good,” he said, grinning. His grin showed his fangs. He reached out to take my hand but stopped an inchaway. “How strange,” he muttered.
I frowned as I realized that he was just as unable to touch me as the Tricous had been. What was keeping themfrom touching me, and why? It couldn’t be the fact that they were supernatural beings; Marcus was a vampire andhe was able to touch me just fine, and besides, I probably counted as supernatural myself, being both part alien andpart elf.The vampire tried again, but still he couldn’t take – or even touch – my hand.Suddenly someone touched my shoulder and I jumped, turning around.
“Marcus!”“Roxanna.” He turned to the other vampire. “Count Bradford.”Count Bradford inclined his head. “Marcus. You know this girl?”“Yes. She’s my girlfriend.”He looked us both up and down, then nodded. “Very well. She is your responsibility, then.” And with that, heturned and left, headed for the back of the club.
I looked at Marcus. “Did you just…claim me?”“I should have told you to wait for me. It’s not safe for humans here.”“Excuse me? What do you mean, not safe for humans?”He sighed. “Come eat with me?”
We went over to the restaurant, which seemed to cater to both humans and vampires. Marcus was able to order aglass of blood, while I ordered a salad. I didn’t want to know what a restaurant for vampires would do to a steak.I glared at him while we waited for our meal. “Not safe for humans?” I asked again.“It’s how I became a vampire. I was here, and, well, they tend to assume that any human who’s hanging out herewants to become a vampire. He clearly wanted to turn you.”“He couldn’t touch me, though.”“Strange. Something must be protecting you.”I frowned and looked down at my bracelet. Jean, Helen, and Terri had said it was meant to protect me. What,exactly, did it do?
The food arrived and Marcus looked at me as he took a drink. “What did you need to talk about?”I suddenly noticed what he was wearing and frowned. “Did you get new clothing?”“According to Contessa Trysta I was ‘setting a bad example of what a vampire should look like,’” he said, rolling hiseyes. “I was ordered to find something new.”“Oh.”“Besides, you’re one to talk. That’s not your normal outfit.”
“Yes, well,” I said. I moved the salad around with my fork, not really eating it. “My regular clothing wasn’t fittingproperly.”He frowned. “Why not?”“I’m pregnant, Marcus.”“…Wh-what?”“I’m pregnant. When a man and a woman spend all day in bed, it sometimes results in a baby.”
“But I’m dead. How the hell did I get you pregnant?”“At least you’re not disputing that it’s yours,” I snapped. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. Youdidn’t deserve that.”“But you meant it or you wouldn’t have said it.”“Marcus, you’ve barely been around. I keep calling you to talk or go on a date and you’re always busy with thevampire stuff. I know it’s important to you, I get that, but…you need to make time for me if you want to keephaving a relationship. I want this relationship to continue. Do you?”
“I do, Roxanna. I do. I want you,” he said, looking at my stomach, then my face, “and I want our child.”“Then you need to make more time for me and the baby.”He nodded slowly. “I will. I’ll come home with you tonight. Right now. Just let me tell a couple of people that Ineed to go.”I breathed in, then out. “Okay.”
He walked around the club and stopped by a few vampires,speaking a few words to each. A few of them didn’t lookpleased, but they all acquiesced.When he was done, he came back to me and offered his hand,and we left the club together. ***
He did get better after that. There were still nights Marcus had to be involved in vampire stuff, but he tried toschedule it around my schedule at Londoste, often meeting me after work to walk me home to spend time together,or to walk back to his apartment to spend time together. As I didn’t get out until at least 11 most nights, if notlater, this still left him a significant amount of time for his vampire business while I was at work.Of course, there were still times when his presence was demanded for the entire night. But that was okay. As muchas I loved Marcus, I also needed time to spend with my friends. And, frankly, there were occasionally days whenbeing alone sounded like heaven.
Even though Rainelle tried to give me space, it wasn’t something she was very good at.She’d been alone for so long, other than the people torturing her, that, well, I think she’d latched onto me as hersavior, and as her only point of contact to the outside world.She did try, I will admit. She didn’t disturb me while I was sleeping, she never entered the bathroom while I was init, and she’d managed to stop watching me wistfully when I left for work.But when we were at home, I felt bad asking for privacy, even when I needed it.
Therefore, I started spending more time out of the house. It wasn’t what I was used to – in the past, when I’dneeded alone time, I’d retreated to my bedroom. Even when I’d shared a room with Astraea as a child and teen, ourbedroom had been my quiet place, and she’d always understood that and even shared it. Now, however, I left thehouse entirely.I spent a lot of time exploring Sim City, discovering all the places I’d never been, from parks to clubs to restaurantsto stores and everything in between. It made me realize that I loved the city. As much as I’d come here to escapefrom my past, I’d grown to love Sim City in a way I never knew I would. It had become my home.
I even got to show Marcus some places that he’d never seen before, even though he’d lived his whole life in SimCity. We had a great time wandering through the Lost in Love Hedge Maze, finding all the hidden secret spots.
Though, admittedly, the elderly woman who insisted we were “defiling the tranquility of the park” did spoil the moodquite a bit.
I wished, sometimes, that he’d been able to see it during the day, when it was a very different place. But it wasn’tto be; Marcus was a vampire, and there was no going back. ***
“Are you sure?”I rolled my eyes at the phone, which was on speaker on top of my dressing table while I did my hair after myshower. “Walter said we’re full up today, so I’m sure we’ll be closing on the late side tonight. You know howSaturdays can be.”“Yeah. You’re sure you don’t need me to walk you home tonight?”“I’ll be fine, Marcus. You’ve got a council meeting, right?”“Right.”“That’s important. You go to that, I’ll go to work, and I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay?”
“Okay. Love you, Roxanna.”“Love you too, Marcus.”I hung up the phone and finished getting ready for work, then headed out.
As I’d told Marcus, work was very busy that night.I didn’t have much break time, as I mixed drinks for the people at the bar and for the waiters to bring to the peoplein the dining room.By the time I got off, I was completely exhausted. My shifts hadn’t gotten any longer, but since I’d gotten pregnant,it had taken more and more effort to stand on my feet for that long, to stay up that late, to do my job the way itshould be done. It was just as well that Marcus wasn’t coming to pick me up, because I was seriously ready to justgo home and collapse straight into bed.
Kathy invited me to hang out once we were finally done – she and Anne were headed to some party at The Hub –but I had to say no. I was just too tired. She was disappointed, but at least she seemed to understand.Instead, I simply headed home.
As I walked by Gothier Green Lawns on my way home, I heard a noise.I briefly considered investigating, but…well, first off, I really was exhausted, and home was just so close and my bedsounded incredibly inviting. Second, I had promised Marcus I wouldn’t investigate ghosts on my own, and whileinvestigating a graveyard alone at night might not exactly be the same thing as investigating ghosts, it was probablya very bad idea anyway.
I passed the first gate, then the building that had bathrooms in it (who had put bathrooms in a cemetery, I had noidea, let alone all the other things that were in that graveyard).When I reached the second gate, someone stepped out of the shadows into my way.I jumped.
I recognized her after a moment: it was the zombie gypsy who had been talking with Jean, Helen, and Terri when I’dmoved out.The look on her face was just as calculating as it had been that day. She looked me up and down. I moved myhands instinctively to protect my child from that penetrating gaze. “Hello, Miss Doran.”How did she know my name?“Hello,” I said cautiously.
“I am owed,” she said. “I require payment.”“I…I have no idea who you are,” I said. “I don’t owe you anything.”“I was promised,” she hissed. “They died before they could pay, but I will have what I need!”
And with that, she tried to grab me.As had happened with the Tricous and Count Bradford, I once again seemed to be untouchable.However, unlike the others, she seemed to realize what was happening.
Instead, she looked at my left wrist – at my bracelet – and shook her head. “I should have known,” she said. “Theyseek to protect you, but that toy cannot protect itself as well.”Then she grabbed for my bracelet. That she managed to touch, though the inch of untouchable air still separatedher from my actual skin.She pulled, hard. The bracelet dug into the side of my wrist but didn’t come off.
We grappled for control of the bracelet, as she pulled harder, causing me to fall to my knees.She was smart, smarter than the others. She’d realized quickly that she wasn’t able to touch me, and now that thebracelet probably wasn’t going to come off, which was more than anyone else had ever done.Instead, she picked up a rock from the nearby path and flung it at my head.I had no idea if the bracelet protected me from flying objects, but I didn’t wait to find out. I ducked andoverbalanced, ending up on my side on the ground.
She stood over me with another rock, clearly ready to slam it into me. I put an arm over my stomach and anotherover my face – ineffective protection, but what choice did I have?
“ROXANNA!” I heard. I recognized Lisa’s voice – she must have been on her way home from work – but I didn’tlook. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the zombie.I waited for the blow to fall.
It didn’t come.There was more noise and I saw the zombie pulled backward, her wrist twisted so the rock fell harmlessly to theground. I sat up, moving gingerly, as Lisa ran over to help me.
Jean, Helen, and Terri stood around the zombie, forming a circle. I may not be able to do magic, but I can recognizeit when I see it, and they were definitely performing some sort of magic.“We told you to leave this place,” Jean said. Her voice was commanding in a way I’d only ever heard hints of before.“You are not welcome here.”“I am owed!”“Not by this one,” Terri said. “She has no part in your bargain.”
“You protected her,” the zombie hissed. “You used your powers to protect her.”“We did,” Jean said. “Did you expect otherwise?”“Why wouldn’t we?” Helen asked. “It’s a spell we could only perform once. We were waiting for someone whoneeded our protection, for someone who deserved it. For the one we knew would come. It is our goal to protect theinterests of the Dorans, for though they bring chaos, they also bring change.”“Their mere existence defies the elves of the North Forest,” Terri added. “They have survived things that wouldbreak the best of us, and will continue to do so. It is our honor to assist Roxanna.”
“You are not welcome here, Barbara,” Jean said. “It is time for you to go.” She, Helen, and Terri joined handsaround the zombie and began chanting something that almost sounded familiar, but not quite.After they finished chanting, they broke their circle and the zombie began walking mechanically, as though she werenot fully in control of her own body, in the direction of the main highway out of Sim City.
Helen sagged onto the ground next to me and Lisa. “She’s gone,” she said. “She won’t be coming back.”Lisa and I exchanged glances, then looked back at the three women. “What was that?” Lisa asked.“Magic,” Terri said. She smiled down at us. “Are you alright?”I tried to stand up but stumbled. Everything moved fuzzily and my head swam. Lisa caught me before I fellcompletely.
My memory is a bit hazy on exactly what happened next, but I assume they decided to bring me home, because thenext thing I clearly remember is sitting at my kitchen table with a mug of tea shoved into my hands and Rainellestanding in the table, asking frantically if I was alright.I took a sip of the tea. It was overly sugary. Jean put a sandwich in front of me on the table, and I vaguelyrecognized the cold cuts I’d had in my fridge. She sat down next to me. “Eat,” she said firmly.I obeyed automatically, taking bites of the sandwich and drinking tea to wash it down.
When I was done, I felt slightly better and finally realized more of what was happening. The first order of businesswas dealing with the still very frantic ghost. “Rainelle,” I said. She stopped babbling. “I’ll be okay. Sit down andyou can hear this explanation with the rest of us.”She bit her lip, but sat in the chair on my other side. When Lisa tried to sit there, I gestured her away from it, andshe took the next one farther down. Helen and Terri joined the rest of us at the table.
“So,” I said, “explanations would be welcome right now. How did you know who I was? What did you mean youwere waiting for me? Why are you protecting me? And how? What exactly does this bracelet protect me from?Who was the zombie and what did she want? How did you know she was going to attack me tonight? And whydidn’t you tell me any of this?”I knew I was being rude, but I’d had a very long day at work, and I’d been attacked by a zombie on my way home.I wanted to know what was going on, and I wanted to know immediately.
“You did introduce yourself, you know,” Jean said. “When you first came to the house, looking for a room to rent.”“Yeah, but…”“But how did I know what that meant?” I nodded. “Your family is well-known in mystical circles, Roxanna, both foryour defiance of the elves and your sheer ability to survive whatever is thrown at you. The name Doran has spread.We support you and what you stand for.”“But…waiting for me?”The three of them exchanged looks and Jean finally shrugged. “I have a touch of the sight, probably from somenon-human ancestor many generations ago. I knew we were waiting for someone, and when you appeared on mydoorstep, I knew it was you.”
“So…the bracelet?”“We’re not powerful,” Terri said. “We could be, if we wanted, but the power is not worth the cost. Witches – truewitches – have a certain amount of power that they can use in their lifetimes, before it’s gone. And then, if theywant more…they have to feed.”“Feed?” Lisa asked.“On the souls of children.”I rubbed my forehead, trying to concentrate. This all sounded familiar…and then I remembered. “Witches. Theones who tried to steal Mom’s soul, and her sister’s. Sisters’. Plural.”
“Yes, those witches,” Jean said.“But you’re not witches.”“No, we’re not. We have some power, but not that level, and we have chosen not to kill children to gain more. Instead, wework as a coven, combining our power. It allows us to perform more complex workings than any one of us could alone.”“We live by a code,” Helen added, “and we ration our use of magic to only the most important things, so that when somethingis necessary, we can actually do it.”“Barbara broke that code,” Terri said. “As far as we know, becoming a zombie tends to…well, it makes you go a bit insane.She used her magic to help two other zombies have a child, but they died before they could pay her what they owed.”“For some reason – don’t ask us why, because we don’t know – she seemed to think that you needed to repay her,” Helen said.
Susanna, I realized. They had to be talking about Susanna, even if they didn’t know it. It would explain why we’dnever met her parents or her aunt, why her house had had all the zombies.“Will she come after me again?” I asked.Jean shook her head. “She cannot return to Sim City. We placed a geas on her.”“But if I leave the city…”“You still have the bracelet.”I shook my head. That wasn’t entirely what I’d meant, though that needed to be addressed. “Rainelle,” I said. Shesnapped to attention. “Remind me to email Seren and Ma’or in the morning. They need to know she might comeafter them.” She nodded.
“And we’re back to the bracelet. I want an answer.”“It’s a spell that can only be done once, with our power level – even working as a group,” Terri said. “It will staywith you until you die.”“Yes, but what does it do?”“It protects you from those who wish you harm. They cannot touch you.”“Everyone who wishes me harm?”Jean nodded. “Everyone. There are flaws – Barbara was able to throw rocks at you – but it will stop anyone whowishes to harm you from actually touching you.”
I looked at the bracelet. “Did you know I was going to go after the ghosts that night?”“We knew you were up to something,” Helen said, smiling. “You’re not as sneaky as you think.”I thought I should be upset, but I couldn’t bring myself to care that they’d noticed I was up to something. Thatbracelet, that protection, had almost certainly saved my life that night.
“What about tonight? How did you know she was coming after me?”“We knew she wouldn’t give up,” Terri said, “not after she saw you. So we tracked her.”“And we made that bracelet,” Jean added. “We are aware of it. While we couldn’t help with the ghosts, we couldhelp with her.”
“One final question,” I said. All three of them looked at me. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” There wassilence. I clenched my fists in exasperation. “I know there are people who want to kill me because of who I am.Believe me, I know. The three of you were all – all creepy with your strange questions and strange looks and thismagical bracelet that you didn’t tell me anything about and that I couldn’t get off my wrist. I thought you weretrying to hurt me.”“…Oops?” Helen said, blushing.“We didn’t realize that’s what you’d think,” Jean said. “We’re sorry.” Terri nodded in agreement.“Just…tell me next time,” I said as I put my elbows on the table and rubbed my forehead. They nodded.
“You need to sleep,” Rainelle said suddenly. I looked at her groggily. “You really need to sleep. You’re fallingasleep right there.”“Sleep does sound good,” I said.She stood up and glared at the others. “They need to put you to bed.”Though they didn’t hear her, they seemed to get the message, and Lisa – who had been strangely silent, for Lisa –helped me up the stairs to my bedroom while Helen opened doors and Jean and Terri cleaned up my midnight snack.
The instant I was in bed, I fell asleep.It had been a very long day. ***
When I woke up the next day, I took some time to just lie there and think back over the night before and everythingthat had happened. It was good to know that Jean, Helen, and Terri were on my side, and that the bracelet actuallywas benign. Though I’d mostly put it out of my mind after it hadn’t done anything harmful, it had always worriedme that it might one day hurt me.
Rainelle poked her head into the room and I sat up and gestured for her to come in. “How are you feeling?” sheasked.“A lot better. I was exhausted even before I got attacked by a zombie last night, and after…”She nodded and sat down on the bed next to me. “You slept forever.”I glanced at the clock. She was right – it was already almost four in the afternoon, meaning I’d slept well overtwelve hours. “I guess I needed it.”
“Roxanna?”“Yeah?”“When’s the baby due?”I shrugged. “Soon. A month or so.”“Are you going to keep working after you have the baby?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. I’d have to get a nanny. You’re here, yes,” I said, cutting her off when she opened hermouth to speak, “but you can’t change a diaper, feed a child, or even use a telephone to call and let me know thatsomething’s wrong – or come get me at work. Marcus can’t be around every day and night when I’m working, and Iknow you don’t want him here every day anyway.”She shook her head. “Especially not when you’re not here.”I nodded. “I figured. I’m not sure I can afford to hire someone – it may be cheaper for me to stay home most ofthe time. And I do have a little saved up, since I haven’t had to pay rent since I moved in here.”“I think you should quit sooner than later if work is already making you feel like you did last night. You could go intolabor at any moment. And you definitely shouldn’t walk home alone anymore. You could faint, or be attacked again,or something.”
I had to agree with that. I had almost fainted last night, and I did seem to be a magnet for supernatural beings whowanted to attack me. There had been the ghosts (though that one had only happened because I’d disturbed them),the vampire, and the zombie. Who knew what else there might be out there? “I’ll have Marcus walk me home whenhe can. He already does, anyway.”“What about the other days?”“Kathy won’t mind if I tell her why.”“You’re going to keep working then?”“As long as I can. I’d rather save up a bit more before I have to quit. I’m not in dire straits monetarily, but…”
Rainelle nodded. “I’d help if I could, you know that.”“I do. Thanks.” I looked at the clock. “Marcus is supposed to meet me here around eight.”“Are you staying here?”I shook my head. “Dinner and dancing, then we’ll go back to his place.”I noticed she relaxed when I said that, and I shut my eyes for a moment. I truly hated hurting Rainelle, but I alsowanted my…boyfriend? lover? to feel comfortable in my house.“Want to help me pick out an outfit?” I asked. “I need something that fits and looks good.” She grinned as Iheaded to the dresser.
Marcus met me at eight, as we’d planned, and we headed out to dinner. While there, I told him about the zombieand what had happened, and what my bracelet meant.“I wish I could walk you home every night. If there weren’t these meetings…”I tilted my head. “What would happen if you skipped them?”He shuddered. “Nothing good.”
“Something happened.”He nodded. “There was a new vampire from Sedona who came to town two weeks ago. She didn’t show properrespect to Contessa Trysta – the one who turned me. They put her on trial and found her guilty, then put her in acage outside and waited for the sun to rise.”He didn’t give me details, and I didn’t particularly want to hear them. Based on his reaction to the sun the day I’dfound him in my garage, it couldn’t have been fun to watch.“You have to go,” I said.“Yes. It’s the best way to keep myself – and you, and our child – safe.”
“I’ll get Kathy to walk me home the nights you can’t, I promise. Or I’ll call Jean if she can’t.”“I suppose that will have to do.”
After we finished dinner, we headed to P.U.R.E. There was a crowd waiting to get in, but the bouncer took one lookat Marcus and let us in immediately.“How’d we get through so fast?” I asked as he twirled me around the dance floor.“One of the benefits to being a vampire. People don’t want to risk our wrath.”I wasn’t sure what I thought of that statement. ***
I did quit my job at Londoste when I simply couldn’t do my job anymore. Walter was sad to see me go, but heunderstood.They even held a small leaving party for me after we closed that last night with a cake and everything, which wassweet. I really had liked working there.
It was just as well that I quit when I did, because I went into labor less than a week later.I woke up from a mid-afternoon nap and I knew what was happening.
I don’t think I need to explain the actual process of giving birth; suffice it to say that Rainelle was the only one in thehouse other than me, and she was no help at all. I wished that the baby had been able to wait until sundown, butthere was nothing I could do to change that.
When I was finished, I looked at my son and my heart melted. This child was a part of me, a part of Marcus. Hewas perfect.
I called Marcus while Rainelle cooed at the baby, who clearly didn’t realize she was there, as he’d managed to fallasleep despite the noise she was making.“Hello?” he said groggily.“Congratulations, Daddy,” I said.He was instantly awake. “You had the baby?”“Just now.”“I’ll come over as soon as I can.” He hung up the phone.
He was at my house barely five minutes after the sun set.I greeted him in the living room, holding the baby. “Hi,” I said.“Hi.” He barely glanced at me before looking at the baby. “Is it a boy or a girl?”“A boy. We have a son.”He smiled at me as I handed him the child. “What did you name him?”He wasn’t looking at me, but that was okay. I didn’t mind that his attention was on our son. “I haven’t yet. I waswaiting for you.”
“Whatever you pick will be great.”I looked at Marcus, then our son. “Grey,” I said. “Grey Doran.” He frowned momentarily at the fact that I’d usedmy last name instead of his, but I was ready to be firm on this. We weren’t married, we weren’t discussingmarriage, and my name was important to me. As Jean had said, the Dorans were well-known. My children wereDorans; they would carry our curse, and so they deserved, too, to carry our name.
“Where did he get red hair and blue eyes, anyway?” Marcus asked as he looked closely at Grey. “He has my skin,well, my skin before I became a vampire, but other than that he doesn’t look much like either of us.”“The red hair is most likely from Mom,” I said. “I got my black hair from Mum, but it’s possible Mom’s red hairskipped a generation. As for the eyes…I have no idea. Probably some more distant ancestor, unless it’s your side.”Marcus shook his head. “Nope. No blue eyes in my family.”
Grey woke up then and started to cry. Marcus juggled him rather awkwardly. “Why’s he crying?”I shook my head. “I have no idea. I’ve never taken care of an infant before. All my friends growing up were reallyclose to me in age. Maybe he’s dirty? Or hungry?”“He doesn’t smell dirty, I don’t think.”“Hungry probably. I got bottles, I guess we should give him one?”
We managed to muddle through feeding Grey and putting him in a crib in the room down the hall from my bedroom,which I’d outfitted as a nursery. He promptly fell asleep.We held hands and watched him for a while. Eventually, Marcus turned to me and stroked my cheek. “Come tobed?”“In a minute.”
“Rainelle?” I called.She floated through the wall a few minutes later. “Yes?” she asked. She was in the room, but as far from Marcus asshe could get.“Can you watch Grey and let me know if he starts crying?”“Where will you be?”I smiled up at Marcus. “In my bedroom.”She shook her head. “Sure. I’ll be your glorified baby monitor. At least the kid – Grey, you said? – at least he’scute, even though I have no idea what to do with a baby. Getting you if he cries…I can do that much.”
As we left the room, Rainelle moved closer to the crib and smiled down at Grey. “Hey, cutie,” she whispered eventhough he couldn’t hear her. I smiled. My son was in safe hands. ***
Life did change after Grey was born. Rainelle spent a lot of time with him during the day, while Marcus came overevery night he could. I was in and out all the time, feeding, playing, cuddling, and changing Grey’s diaper.
It didn’t take long for me to realize I was pregnant again.
And it didn’t take long for me to realize that we were running lower on money than I’d hoped. Infants aren’t cheap.I couldn’t go back to Londoste, though. Rainelle was around, but as I’d thought, she couldn’t actually take care ofGrey. Marcus came when he could, but that was only at night.And, anyway, when I talked to Kathy, she told me that they’d hired a new bartender, who seemed to be doing quitewell.
I began spending my mornings scouring the internet for job ads, preferably for something I could do from home. IfI could work from home, Rainelle could watch Grey and get me if there were any problems, and I wouldn’t have topay someone else to be a nanny.Finally, after a month of searching, I saw an ad in the Sim City Times for a food critic, for a weekly column.I could do that. I knew Sim City, I knew restaurants, I knew food (and alcohol, after all the drinks I’d made as abartender), and I could afford a nanny for as long as it took to actually go to the restaurants, or if it was at nightMarcus could watch Grey. And then, after I went, I could write the review the next day at home.I applied immediately.
I was very excited when I got the job, and I started as soon as I could. Kathy was nice enough to spend her day offwatching Grey while I went to FM (the first place I chose to write about) and had an excellent meal.I wrote the review the next day and sent it in to my editor, who sent it back a day later with “You have a talent forthis!” at the bottom of her notes, and only minor corrections – a couple of grammar errors and a few places whereshe thought things could have been phrased a bit better.I sighed in relief and sent it back, errors corrected.
I continued to write restaurant reviews, going to restaurants while either Marcus, a friend, or a hired nanny watchedGrey. According to my editor, I was getting positive responses from the readers, and she wanted me to continue mycolumn indefinitely.
Both my stomach and Grey continued to grow, until it was time for him to become a toddler.I decided not to hold a big party; my second pregnancy was making me exhausted again, and I’d never been muchfor parties anyway. Marcus came over and held Grey to blow out the candles on his cake while I waved anoisemaker, but it was just the three of us, and that was okay.
Grey looked more like me than I’d thought. As far as I could tell, the only thing he got from Marcus at all was hisskin tone, and maybe his chin. Everything else came from me, or at least from farther back in my family line, andonce I thought about it, I realized that his skin tone was also the same as Mom’s had been.
As soon as he was done growing up, he asked for hugs from Marcus and me (and managed to tug on my hair in theprocess), then immediately crawled over to the matching toy I’d put in the office and began matching blocks to holeswith an intensity you don’t see in many toddlers.
Marcus snuggled me. “Well. We have one very serious toddler.” He put his hand on my stomach. “I wonder whatthis one will be like.”“Maybe he or she will look more like you.”He smiled. “I think it’s great that Grey looks like you.”“Do you have any naming ideas?” I asked.“Hm. Let me think and I’ll get back to you on that.” ***
It was lucky that we had discussed naming options before the second baby was born, because Marcus was at avampire council meeting that he absolutely could not miss when she decided to make her appearance.At least I wasn’t alone this time; I’d invited Lisa over for the evening since we hadn’t spoken for a while. I’d beenbusy with Marcus and Grey and my new job, she’d been busy with…well, I had no idea until I saw her.
“Jean asked if I wanted to be trained in witchcraft and possibly join a coven or start one of my own,” she told meover dessert. “Apparently I have some talent for it.”“I wouldn’t have thought it would be your thing.”“I wouldn’t either, but after you had that fight with the zombie…it’s a way to help. And it’s surprisingly fun. I’mliking it much better than I’d have thought.”“Are you still working at the gas station?”She shook her head. “Once Marcus quit, it stopped being, well, at all enjoyable. I’ve started doing some freelancephotography instead.”
“How is that going?”“Okay but not great. I don’t have enough contacts. I could use more work.”I took a bite. “I’m working for the Times now, writing the new restaurant reviews.”She nodded. “I saw. You’re a good writer.”“Thanks. I can mention you to my editor if you want?”“Would you? I’d appreciate that.”
“It would be–” I gasped in the middle of the sentence from the pain of a contraction.“What is it? What’s wrong?”“Baby,” I gasped out. “Coming.”
Sadly, even though Lisa was there, she wasn’t much more help than Rainelle had been, though at least she couldactually touch me. And Rainelle was just as useless as she’d been at Grey’s birth.I did all of the hard work, anyway, bringing my second child out into the world.
I named her Desdemona.She had my hair and Marcus’s eyes and skin; it was too early to tell anything else quite yet.
Lisa took Desdemona (Rainelle was cooing at her as she had with Grey, but once again I was the only one who couldsee or hear that) while I went up to the nursery to get Grey.“Mommy?” he asked when I picked him up, carefully disengaging him from his toy. He looked at my stomach.“Mommy tummy not big.”“No, Mommy’s tummy isn’t big anymore, because Mommy has another baby. You have a little sister, Grey.”He looked at me seriously as he grabbed a piece of my hair. I winced. “What sister?”“A sister is someone you take care of. Someone you love. Can you do that for me?”He nodded solemnly.
I brought him downstairs and held him so he could see the baby in Lisa’s arms. “This is Desdemona, Grey. She’syour little sister.”“She baby?”“Yes, she’s a baby. She’ll be a baby for a little, and then she’ll get bigger.”He nodded, then reached out a hand to her. “Hi Desi. Love you.” He wasn’t as gentle as I would have liked, but itwas the thought that counted, and he was still a toddler anyway. He didn’t know enough to be gentle, but he didknow enough to love his sister, and that was much more important.
Lisa helped me juggle the children, getting them both ready for sleep – Desdemona in the crib, Grey on the mat I’dbought when he’d become a toddler.Two children were that much more difficult than one. As much as Grey had promised to be a good big brother…well,he was still a toddler himself, and he wanted his mother’s attention, and so did Desdemona. Lisa helped as much asshe could, but there were things they would only accept from me.
When they were finally asleep, we left the room, leaving Rainelle standing watch once more.I looked at my hair. “This needs to change.”“Sick of the kids tugging on it already?”“It’s more painful than you’d think.”Lisa looked me over. “Why don’t you do a full makeover? New clothes and new makeup as well as the new hair?I’m not sure that outfit is so practical when you have a toddler.”
I thought about that suggestion, really looking at what I was wearing for the first time.I hadn’t picked my outfits.Oh, I had, physically. I’d been the one to go to the store, to choose what I was going to put on, to choose how Iwas going to wear my hair.But mentally…I wasn’t dressed as myself. Everything I wore these days was pink, I suddenly realized, from myeveryday clothing to my formal dress to my underwear to my winter clothes.I hadn’t picked pink because I liked it. I’d picked pink because Astraea had.
I took a deep breath. “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s pick something new.”
When we were done picking clothing, I felt more like myself, which was a strange feeling. Hadn’t I always beenmyself? Or had I? I’d gotten Astraea’s freckles when she died – had I gotten more of her? Had I beenunconsciously trying to become her, to fill that gaping hole in my life?I sat down at my dressing table and braided my hair into a thick braid. This way it wouldn’t get in my way with Greyand Desdemona. It also revealed my ears…but there was no real danger in that. Enough people knew that I waspart-elf. There was no need to hide anymore.Then, for the first time since Astraea’s death, I put on makeup. Not as much as I’d worn as a teen – while I’d likedthat purple lipstick then, it felt very…young, now that I was a mother of two. Instead, I used some light gloss andjust a little eyeliner, not the heavier eye shadow I’d used as a teen.
It was a more grown up look than I’d ever had before, but I was a grown up.I smiled at the mirror. This would do. ***
I’m not sure what Marcus thought of my new look, but I am sure that he was absolutely enchanted by Desdemona,who he met the night after she was born.“Who’s Daddy’s little girl?” he asked as he swooped her around the nursery.
“Daddy,” Grey said, tugging on Marcus’s pants.Marcus kissed Desdemona once more and handed her to me, then picked Grey up. “And who’s Daddy’s little boy?”“Me!”“Yes, you are.” Marcus tickled Grey, who giggled.
“So, Grey, guess what it’s time to learn?”“What, Daddy?”“It’s time to learn to walk. Now, let’s get you standing to start…”
As I fed Desdemona her bottle and put her into her crib, I smiled.No matter what arguments Marcus and I had about his vampirism and the vampire council, he did truly care aboutthe kids. ***
The kids were important, and amazing, and all that sort of thing…but occasionally, every parent needs a break and,ideally, the chance to spend time with their significant other.Most of the time I left the house was devoted to my job – I’d been asked to make my column twice a week, andwhile I was happy about the increased exposure and larger paycheck, it also meant that I had to go out to lunch ordinner that much more often.The food was usually excellent, yes, and I didn’t mind writing up reviews. But it was still one more thing on myschedule, a schedule that seemed to get fuller by the minute.
I decided to kill two birds with one stone by inviting Marcus to join me on a date to Red’s Famous ‘50s Diner, whichwas the next restaurant on my list of places to try.Helen was kind enough to babysit while we were out.
“Roxanna.”“What?” I asked as I hastily scribbled a note about the dessert in the little notebook I always carried in my purse.“Is this a date or a job?”“What?” I looked up. “Huh?”
“You haven’t paid attention to anything I’ve said all meal.”“I’m sure I have…”“Other than to ask me if I would order food so you could try two dishes, no, you haven’t.”
I looked at the notebook, which was full of notes, then at Marcus.What had he said during the meal? I couldn’t remember.I blushed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to ignore you. I just…I need to get this review done by tomorrow, but I wanted tospend time with you too. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.”“Next time, don’t. You had to remind me to make time for you. Now I’m reminding you to make time for me.”
I nodded and put the notebook away. “Alright. I’m sorry. What do you want to do?”
We ended up at one of the parks that was still open late in the evening, and we sat and talked for a while.I made sure to listen as well as talk, and I think Marcus did the same.It seemed to be enough to salvage our јdate, especially when we got home to find that both of the kids were actuallyasleep at the same time. Helen simply smiled as I hugged her. “Go have fun with your boy,” she whispered.I grinned. And then I did. ***
I did also set up a little play table for Grey and a mat and dangly toys for Desdemona in my office, so that they couldbe in the room while I was writing.“Mommy, Mommy!”I saved my review and came over. “What is it, Grey?”“I make pit-cher for Desi.”I looked down at his drawing. It actually looked like a picture, rather than a random collection of scribbles. “That’slovely, Grey.”
He put one of the crayons in his mouth. “I make for Daddy now.”“I’m sure Daddy will like that very much.”Then he bent back over the table, his full concentration on his drawing.I checked on Desdemona, who was happily batting at the dangling plumbbob, then went back to my writing.
Even with the distractions, this was nice. I could work, I could play with my kids. I still had to go out to get thematerial for my reviews, but I could write them here.
I could also wind up vomiting up my lunch in the bathroom off the office.Grey toddled in after me. “Mommy okay?”I tried not to gag, and once I thought I wasn’t going to throw up anymore, I smiled as best I could at Grey.“Mommy will be just fine.”
Rainelle popped through the wall and looked down at the toilet. “Ew.” Then she looked at me penetratingly. “So,flu or another pregnancy?”I sighed. “No idea.”“Knowing you and Marcus, it’s another pregnancy. He’s amazingly fertile for a dead man.”I managed to grin. “He is, isn’t he?”
Grey tugged on my arm. “Mommy, who talking to?”I flushed the toilet, then sat down and tugged him into my lap. “I’m talking to Rainelle. Rainelle is a ghost.”“What’s ghost?”“A ghost is someone who died, but who stays around. Rainelle lives here with you and me and Desdemona.”He tilted his head. “Don’t see ghost.”I smiled at him. “You wouldn’t. But she’s there anyway.”
He seemed to think about this for a moment. “Okay.” Then he climbed off my lap and went back to the activitytable, where he got out some blocks.Rainelle watched him wistfully. “I wish they could see me.”“I’m sorry.”“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. I’m glad I have you, at least.” ***
Soon enough, it was time for both of the kids to grow up. Grey was becoming a child and Desdemona was becominga toddler. Marcus came over, but, again, we kept it small, just the four of us. (I’d invited Rainelle to stay, but she’dshaken her head and headed for the tree by the back fence.)I held Grey and Marcus held Desdemona, and then we blew out their candles.
Desdemona looked much more like Marcus than me. In fact, other than her nose and her black hair, I don’t thinkshe got any of my features at all.
I mixed one of the pieces of cake to mush and Marcus put her in a highchair to eat it, while the rest of us ate actualcake at the table.“Dad?” Grey asked. I blinked at him calling Marcus Dad instead of Daddy. Was he really old enough for thatalready?“Yes?”“You’re a vampire, right?”Marcus glanced at me, then back at Grey. “Yes, I am.”
Grey tilted his head. “Do you eat blood?”“Yes, I do.”“So why are you eating cake with me and Mom? Does it fill you up? Does it taste good?”“Real food for me – including cake – is like cake for you. It has no nutritional value, but it can still taste good. AndI’m eating with you because it’s your birthday and Desdemona’s birthday, and we should celebrate.”Grey thought about that for a moment, then he nodded. “Cake is yummy.”“Yummy!” Desdemona yelled, flinging her bowl of cake in all directions.
I shook my head, then went to clean up the mess. ***
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was definitely pregnant again, and that this pregnancy seemed to bedraining my energy even more than the last two had.And now I had two children to take care of, instead of none or one.
Grey was a godsend in some ways. He was a very focused child, and he entertained himself – and Desdemona –very easily, though he sometimes got frustrated when she scribbled all over his drawings or knocked down his blocktowers.He still demanded my attention, though, for help with homework and hugs and sometimes just talking.
And setting up his new bedroom took a lot of energy.I couldn’t leave him in the nursery with Desdemona, not when I was expecting another child, and he was old enoughto need a real bed and more space anyway.I let him choose between the two bedrooms on the third floor. He took the slightly smaller one, which confused meuntil I asked him why.“Well, Desi will need a bedroom soon, right? Cause the new baby will be in the nursery. And she’s my little sister.She should have a nice room.”
When I thought about it, I realized it was probably a good idea to give Desdemona the bigger bedroom anyway. Itwas the one next to the bathroom, and while they didn’t care now…well, when she was a teen, I suspected she’dappreciate the convenience.Grey could have one bedroom upstairs, Desdemona could eventually have the other, and we could turn the nurseryinto a real bedroom for the new baby once it was old enough.Therefore, we bought Grey a full set of bedroom furniture and got everything set up.
While Grey was a very focused and fairly self-sufficient child – and had been the same as a toddler –Desdemona…was not.She constantly demanded attention from whoever was around, whether that was me, Grey, or Marcus, and, well, sheknew what she wanted and was determined to get it.
Between Grey’s bedroom and homework, Desdemona’s demands, the exhaustion from the pregnancy, and my job –which was going well, but seemed to take up more time and energy every day – some things, such as cleaning, fellway down the priority list.Not everyone was happy about that fact.
“You’re just going to leave the dishes there?” Rainelle asked when I didn’t clean up my dish after lunch one day.Grey was at school, Desdemona was playing upstairs until it was time for her nap, and I had a deadline in four hoursand an unfinished review that needed to be written. “You’ll get bugs. Bugs! It’s gross.”“Rainelle. You’re dead. Bugs don’t affect you.”“They’re still gross.”
“I’ll put it in the sink, okay?”“You did that with the breakfast dishes. And last night’s dinner is still there too.”“Well what do you want me to do?”“Clean!”“When? And with what energy?”
Suddenly, there was a noise from the front of the house. “Did you hear that?” I asked Rainelle.She shrugged. “Didn’t sound like anything major.”“I’m going to investigate anyway.”
First I stood at the bottom of the stairs, but I could tell it wasn’t Desdemona. She was still happily babbling at herbunny head, and it didn’t sound like anything had disturbed her. Nothing else looked different either.Rainelle shrugged again. “Maybe it was something outside.”“It must have been.” I looked outside and could see the mailwoman walking down the street, away from our house.“It probably was the mailwoman. She must have been louder than normal.”“Maybe you should get the mail then.”“I guess.”
I managed to force myself outside to the mailbox, where I discovered the usual pile of bills. I brought them insideand dumped them on a table near the front door, on top of the bills from the week before.“You haven’t paid those yet?” Rainelle asked disapprovingly.“Rainelle. Stop telling me how to live my life.”“But you’re leaving the house a mess, and the bills unpaid, and it’s just so, so messy!”
“I am pregnant for the third time, Rainelle. I have a toddler who is possibly the most demanding toddler on theplanet, and a child who may not be super demanding, but he’s still a child and he needs things. I have a boyfriendwho can only be here at night, and even then it’s not all night or even every night. I have a job that has to be doneif I want to have enough money to buy food so that my children can eat. I do not need you harping at me about thestate that this house is in. That is so far down my priority list that I just can’t deal with it right now.”
Screaming started from upstairs and I rubbed my forehead. “And now Desdemona needs her nap, which means Iwill spend the next half hour reading her at least two, and more likely three, storybooks before she’ll fall asleep.And by then, Grey will be home, and I’ll have to check his homework. And once that’s done, I’ll have maybe twohours if I’m lucky to finish my article which is barely started and needs to be done today. When on earth am Isupposed to find time to clean the house?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize, I just…messy. I don’t like messes. They never cleaned up.”“Well, if you dislike the mess so much, why don’t you do something about it?”“I’m dead.”“So?” I took a deep breath, trying to put my thoughts in order. “I was thinking about this, back when I first movedin. The floor is basically solid to you, right?”“Well, yeah.”
“But does the floor have to be solid?”“What do you mean?”“Well, walls aren’t solid for you. Is the floor solid because you think it’s solid? What about chairs? I’ve seen you sitin chairs, but I’ve also seen you walk through chairs. They seem to be solid or not for you depending on what youwant. And the Tricous clearly had some powers of solidity, if they were able to affect the living – Jennicor tried totouch me when she wanted to kill me. So maybe if you try, you can sink through the floor or lift a dish orsomething.”
She looked stunned. “I never thought of that.”“Maybe it takes practice, but if you want it hard enough, it will work.”“Though…they had magic.”“They did, but you’ve lived here for over 35 years. You’ve been surrounded by magic. Maybe you absorbed some ofit, or maybe it wasn’t actually magic but just knowing that they could.”
“Knowing that I can,” she said. “The floor is solid because I know it is. I can make objects solid. I can.”I grinned at her. “There you go.”“And – let me try something.” She shut her eyes tightly, clearly concentrating hard.
As I watched, she began to change. Her hair grew longer, her dress changed color and a jacket appeared, and hermakeup got, well, classier.When she finally opened her eyes, she looked very different, though still clearly herself.“How do I look?”“Great,” I said. “I’d tell you to look at yourself in a mirror, but…”She nodded. “But.” Then she twirled around. “I don’t have to wear the same outfit for all of eternity!”
“Was that what you died in?”She nodded. “Yeah. It’s not me anymore, though. This is much better.”I had to agree that she looked nicer.“Now,” she said, “to try and make the dishes solid.”I sighed. “And I’m going to go get Desi to sleep.”
Then I blinked. There wasn’t any screaming coming from upstairs. “Did she actually fall asleep on her own?” Iasked, amazed.“That would be the first time, wouldn’t it?”“It would.”
I walked up the stairs, being careful to be quiet. When I peeked in the door to the nursery, I saw that Desdemonawas asleep on the mat.I carefully closed the door most of the way, then smiled at Rainelle and headed back downstairs. “The utter bliss ofsilence,” I whispered.She grinned. “Have fun with your job stuff.”“And you have fun with the dishes.” ***
After that, Rainelle did learn how to make objects solid to her, though it seemed to take a lot of concentration – shebroke a couple of plates while carrying them from the table to the dishwasher because she stopped concentratingand they fell through her hand.Therefore, she didn’t try to pick up Desdemona, because, as she put it, what would happen if she forgot to focus anddropped her?But Rainelle wandering through the house, cleaning up the various messes that the children and I made, became acommon sight – or, at least, a common sight to me.
The kids clearly just saw the objects moving.Desdemona would happily watch the mop that moved on its own or the plates that floated back and forth betweenthe table and the dishwasher.
“Mommy, why books fly?” she asked one day. Rainelle was happily putting away the books that I’d been reading toDesdemona earlier in the day.Grey looked up from his book. “That’s Mom’s friend Rainelle. She’s a ghost.” He shrugged. “She likes to clean.”Desdemona managed to crawl over to where Rainelle was and reached out. “No one there,” she said, frowning.“She’s not solid to us,” Grey said. “Just stuff she wants to be solid to.”
Desdemona thought about this. “Bottle!” she said. “Bring bottle!”I shook my head. “You don’t have to bring her a bottle, Rainelle.”“It’s okay,” Rainelle said. “I don’t mind.”
When the bottle landed in Desdemona’s lap, she clapped. “Bottle!”“Say thank you, Desdemona.”“Thank you!”I shook my head as Desdemona happily drank. “My little princess.”Rainelle shrugged. “She knows what she wants. That’s not always a bad thing.”“As long as she doesn’t end up spoiled.”
“She won’t. She’ll have a little brother or sister soon enough. You and Marcus are good parents, even though Idon’t like him very much.”“Are we? Marcus isn’t around all the time and sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing a good enough job.”Grey put down his book and came over to hug me. “You are, Mom. You and Dad are both great.”I smiled. “I’m glad you think so.”
“We know you guys both love us, even though Dad’s not around all the time. You’re…you’re Mom and Dad.”“Thank you,” I said quietly. That child was wise beyond his years.Desdemona came over then and squeezed into the space between me and Grey. “Love Mommy,” she said.I grinned down at her. “Mommy loves you too.” ***
Marcus finally managed to actually be at the house when I went into labor. Third time’s the charm, I guess.Luckily, Desdemona was already asleep, but Grey, Marcus, and Rainelle all watched me give birth.…Sadly, Marcus actually being there wasn’t really any more helpful than anyone else had been.
We had a little girl with my eyes and skin and my mother’s red hair.We named her Lily.
“Hey, Lil,” Grey said, as I held her so he could look at her. “I’m your big brother Grey. I’ll always take care of you.”She gurgled happily and he grinned. “I think she likes me.”“I think so too,” I said. I looked at the clock. “And I think it’s time for you to be in bed.”“Can I help with Lily first?”I glanced at Marcus, who shrugged. “Sure.” Technically, it was past his bedtime, but I wasn’t going to discourageGrey from helping with his sister.
We put Lily to bed (making sure to be quiet so as not to wake Desdemona) and left Rainelle on watch, then Marcusand I tucked Grey in.“Goodnight, Mom, Dad. I’ll see you in the morning?”I nodded. “If you wake up early enough to see your dad before the sun’s up and he has to go.”“I will, if you’ll still be here, Dad.”Marcus nodded. “I will.”Both of us kissed him on the forehead, then we headed back downstairs to my bedroom.
“It’s been a while,” Marcus said, taking me in his arms.“It has, hasn’t it? Pregnancy really is exhausting. But I feel a lot better now.”He leaned down and kissed me, then took me to bed.
I think I must have fallen asleep when we were done, because I woke up when I felt Marcus leave the bed. He wasbeing very quiet and careful, but I woke up anyway.“Where are you going?” I asked.He glanced over. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” He pulled his pants on.
I sat up fully and twisted around so I was facing him. “It’s okay. Where are you going? Why are you gettingdressed?”“I have to be at Crypt O’ Night Club.”I frowned. “You didn’t tell me that this evening.”“I didn’t know. I’m being called now, though.”“What do you mean, being called?”He finished getting dressed and turned to face me. “The vampire who made me, I can feel her sometimes. There’sa pull to the club right now.”
“Grey and Desdemona are going to be upset when they wake up and you’re not here.”He shrugged. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do. When I’m called, I’m called. I’m sure it’s important.”“So you’re just going to leave?”“What else can I do?”
“Be a parent. These are your kids. You told Grey you’d be here when he woke up and now you’re, what, just goingto wander off to go play with the vampires instead?”“If I had another option, I would take it. But I’m not willing to risk my life, your life, and their lives by skippingsomething that could be important.”
“And why didn’t you tell me that you could feel the vampire who made you? Was this not important informationbefore?”“No. It’s just the way vampires are.”I shook my head. “I can’t believe you never told me this. And I can’t believe you’re just leaving because she calledyou. Am I not important? Are the kids not important?”
He took me in his arms. “You are completely important, Roxanna. Look – why don’t you come with me?”“What?”“Come with me, to Crypt O’ Night Club. See what vampirism is all about. You could become a vampire too.”
I stepped back. “And who would take care of the kids if I did that?”“You have that ghost.”“Who can’t let me know if something is wrong, who can’t talk to the kids, who still sometimes drops things when shetries to pick them up. Rainelle is great, but I cannot leave her alone with three kids and expect her to actually beable to take care of them.”“Then call someone.”“At this hour of the night? I know 3 am is a completely reasonable time for vampires to be holding meetings, but it’snot reasonable for the rest of us.”
“You don’t want to come,” he said flatly.“No, I don’t. Marcus, you’re already absent a lot of the time. In a lot of ways, I might as well be a single mother. IfI became a vampire, who would do all of that?”“The vampire council doesn’t take up that much time…”“Yes it does. You’re gone a lot of nights, or parts of nights, and you’re not here during the day.”“I could stay during the day more.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know if that would be a good idea.”“Why not?”“You know I promised Rainelle she’d have some time when you weren’t here. You still terrify her, though she’sgetting better at managing it.”“I’m supposed to give up time with my kids to make a ghost comfortable? Why?”“Because I promised, and because it’s her house more than mine or yours. She lived here before we did.”
This conversation wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. Not that I’d thought about it, but…there were times it was soeasy to get upset with Marcus, and everything was pouring out. How could he just leave like this?I shook my head. “If I became a vampire, would I be at the beck and call of my maker the way you seem to be?”“Yes, but if I turned you…”“If you turned me, would I be at the beck and call of your maker? Or the rest of the council?”“The council yes. My maker…I don’t know.”
“It’s impractical anyway. I don’t want to terrify Rainelle, I couldn’t be a proper mother–”“Are you accusing me of being a bad father?”“I’m accusing you of being an absentee father.”“I am doing the best I can for our kids.”“No, you are doing the best you can for the vampire council, and only after that are you doing the best you can forour kids.”
He closed his eyes, visibly trying to calm himself down. “You’re not going to come.”“No. I’m not. And don’t even think about trying to turn me against my will, Marcus. It won’t work.” I held up myhand so he could see my bracelet. It would stop him if he tried to turn me, like it had stopped Count Bradford, andhe knew it as well as I did.“I have to go. I’ll see you tonight. After sundown.” He kissed me quickly, then left.
I was left standing, watching the door swing shut. Had he really just left like that? I knew the vampire stuff wasimportant, but he’d told Grey he would still be here in the morning. And how could he suggest that I become avampire? I couldn’t afford to be at the beck and call of the vampire council, not with three children to raise.Clearly Marcus didn’t understand just how much work that took, and how much of it was during the day, or hewouldn’t have suggested it. He wouldn’t have.
As I neatened up the room, I suddenly had a thought.Marcus was younger than me.Oh, he’d been alive – or alive or undead, anyway – longer than I had. He’d been born first. But he had stayed thesame age, unmoving and unchanging, while I had passed him, growing older all the while.I’d been forced into adulthood, by the death of my sister, by the need to run, by the attacks from the ghosts andvampires and zombies, by having three children and raising them mostly on my own. He had none of thoseexperiences.
I climbed back into bed, but my mind refused to rest. I tossed and turned for the next two hours until I heard aknock on my door.“Mom? Dad?”I closed my eyes, then opened the door. “Your dad had to leave, Grey.”His face fell. “He said he would be here.”“I know. But the vampire stuff is important. He’ll be back tonight.”
He kicked the floor with his feet. “I hate when Dad has to leave. The vampire council sucks.”“I know, sweetie. I know. But don’t tell them that, okay? It could be dangerous.”He looked at me closely, then nodded slowly. “Okay.”I held out my hand. “Want to come help me get Desdemona and Lily their morning bottles?”He smiled halfheartedly. “Okay.” ***