Bloodshifted Page 3

I stared at the showers once I was alone. I was disgusting, the salt embedded in my clothing rasped at me, and I stank. But it was hard to feel comfortable showering anyplace it looked like a slasher film was about to break out in.

Then again—I stretched my hands out in front of me, remembering the strength I’d had when I’d lifted the coffee table. I’d never be safer here than I was right now, with Raven’s blood fresh inside me.

Okay. Let’s do this, baby.

I quickly stripped off all my clothing and cranked the water on.

* * *

Everything from Jackson’s locker seemed to have a slight manly scent—and I wondered if that was true, or if it was just me now being more sensitive. In an effort not to wind up smelling like he was my boyfriend, I borrowed just a bar of soap, swiping it over myself and lathering it into my hair, trying to take the fastest shower I’d ever taken in my life.

I wasn’t quite fast enough. Jackson came back in the room and walked past me, a stack of fabric in his arms.

I slammed the water off and picked up my clothes to cover myself with, quickly shoving my feet back into my tennis shoes.

“I thought you might need a towel,” he said, coming back to me, holding one out. I took it from him and made an indelicate transfer while he looked away. The towel was a short one, and I was nervous when he looked back. I didn’t care if he saw me, but I didn’t want him to see my stomach, just in case. I knew I still had meat on my bones despite my recent starvation, and there was no way I was showing yet. But if Raven hadn’t told anyone else about the baby and my subsequent ticket out of here in eight months, courtesy of Anna, I wouldn’t volunteer it. Just thinking about it made me want to shelter my stomach with my hand.

“Do you all usually bring in your own curtains?” I stepped out of the shower and slunk over to the clothing he’d put by the sink.

“They aren’t big on giving us any privacy.” I could tell he said They with a capital T.

I folded the towel under my armpit and picked up the shirt he’d brought me. It looked two sizes too small. “I don’t think this’ll fit me.”

“It will. It’s mostly spandex,” he said, and seeing my mouth open he cut me off. “Don’t ask where it came from.”

“Okay.” I held it up in front of me and waited for him to go away.

He made a show of turning around, arms crossed. “We aren’t big on privacy with each other either, just so you know.”

“Duly noted.” I pulled the shirt on quickly, over the towel, then held up the skirt. More spandex, ugh.

“Now’s as good a time as any for me to tell you the house rules. First off, never speak to one of them until they ask you to. And then address them as Sire or Madam. Their names are not for you,” he said, talking to the wall before him. I held the skirt open, stepped into it with my shoes on, and wrestled it up.

“Only tell them what they ask you to. They don’t want to hear your stories, they don’t care. Don’t make excuses, and don’t lie. Generally, they’ll know, and then it’s bad for you. Don’t assume they can’t hear you because when they’re up, it’s just safer to assume they can. Don’t ask about where they sleep, you don’t want to know. If you ever make one of them mad, bow and beg immediately for forgiveness. Pride will only get you killed.”

I had my underwear in one hand, the towel in the other. I didn’t want to put my old underwear back on, but I didn’t want to ask him for a “new” set, not when I suspected they were off other people and I didn’t have access to malathion. I tried to nonchalantly shove my current pair underneath my towel as he turned back around.

He took me in, black spandex much closer to Spanx, and pointed at the corner of my underwear peeking out with a head shake. “You’ll learn not to have any shame soon enough. Shame only gives other people power over you.”

I tucked my underwear in. “Does your Zen vampire philosophy come with a side of detergent?”

He snorted. “Nope. We use a laundry service.” He walked toward the door and stopped to look back. “Any other questions?”

A thousand—and none. Where in LA were we? What would I do here? Celine had a phone—could I have one? Could I call home? Who paid for things? How?

But I didn’t really need to know the answer to any of those yet. Without context the answers would be frustrating or overwhelming. I decided to ask the only easy one that I was genuinely curious about. “How often have you given this talk?”

“Too many times.” He gave me a sad smile and opened up the door. “You’ve had a long few days, I’m sure. We get the news upstairs, the Maraschino’s sinking has been all over it. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and rest? I can finish the tour this evening. I’m sure you can find your way back to Celine’s room.”

I nodded, and he stepped outside.

* * *

I washed my underwear as best I could in the sink, and then wrung it out before folding it up in the towel and taking it and all my old clothes back to Celine’s room. When I got there the door was open, and the room was empty. The lights were on, and I didn’t see a light switch, but that was fine; I didn’t want anyone sneaking up on me in the dark.

I walked across the room over to the mirrored vanity. Despite feeling healthy, I still looked wan—not even vampire blood could “fix” depression, I supposed. I hesitantly lifted my upper lip in a semblance of a smile. I didn’t have the full vampire fang jack-o’-lantern thing yet, but my teeth were on their way. I frowned at myself and turned back to the rest of the room.

Jackson had stacked sheets on the cot, in a faded forest green. I folded them out carefully, so that only one side ever touched the old stains on the cot and I could lie on the cleaner opposite side.

I’d have to figure out how to get new clothes before I did start to show—I was bustier than my top’s original owner, so there was a band of naked skin between shirt and the skirt, and the skirt was so tight it would probably show off the outline of whatever I ate next, like I was in an old-fashioned cartoon.

I looked around for someplace safe to set my underwear to dry, and thought for a dark moment about using the bars on Celine’s bed like a clothesline. Staring at her bed, imagining her horror if she did come in to see my muted blue-floral cotton panties strung up by handcuffs, I crossed the room.

Her bed, the wood it was made out of, plus the chrome playset, had to weigh several hundred pounds. I listened carefully to determine whether I could hear anyone in the hall, and then bent down. I knew about body mechanics from moving patients at the hospital. I squatted, braced my back, set my shoulders into their sockets, put my hands underneath the bed frame, and—

“What are you doing?”

I let go and whirled. I’d been concentrating too hard—and I’d just gotten a lesson in how quiet another daytimer could be.

Celine was standing in the doorway, lips pulled into a frown, her dragon-red lipstick the only bright color on her.

“I—I was just looking around.”

“Don’t ever touch my things.” She stalked over to the vanity to survey her belongings, in case I’d stolen some. Where would I have hidden them in this awful stupid outfit? I imagined her looking for her favorite bottle of perfume in my vagina. When she was done with her circuit she looked back at me critically. “You’d better lose that weight soon. If you’re not careful, you’ll get stuck with a muffin top for eternity.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I said drily. She didn’t know I was pregnant, at least. Maybe if I ate a lot while I was here I could pretend to just be gaining weight, like those people on TV who didn’t find out they were pregnant till they were hovering over a toilet.

Despite my shirt’s high collar, the necklace Asher’d given me popped out, its amethyst stone like the first volley from a Roman candle. Her eyes leapt on it like a cat. “Pretty.”

I quickly tucked it back inside. “Thanks.”

I stared at her, and she stared at me. I wasn’t physically tired—or sore, or hungry, or thirsty, or any of the other thousand feelings I should have a right to be—but I was emotionally exhausted. So far, being a daytimer was like walking on knives. If couldn’t be alone, then at least I’d like to close my eyes and keep to myself and pretend, even if that meant sleeping on a grungy cot without a pillow.

She kept staring. Daytimers must always win at the staring game—unless they were playing against vampires.

“I think this is the part where if we were in a Western the harmonica would start playing really fast,” I said.

Her frown lessened by point zero zero zero one degree, and she snorted. “I’m going to get ready for bed now. Stay on your cot. I’ll know if you get up, so don’t, not even to pee. And if you snore I’ll smother you in your sleep.”

I nodded and, always keeping one eye on me, Celine walked to a black lacquer panel ornamented with carved fans and stepped behind it. Once she was hidden, she started taking her own clothing off.

I crawled into my bed, such as it was, my stupid skirt hitching up around my waist. I didn’t want to keep watching for her, because I felt like some kind of voyeur, but not watching her felt dangerous, like turning your back on a dog known to bite. She must have felt the same way because she kept watching me, her eyes peeking over the panels until she took off her heels and bobbed down four inches, emerging immediately afterward in a simple black slip.

She crawled into her bed-palace, drew all of its curtains, and with a remote turned off the lights. I could tell she was still awake by the sound of her breathing—had vampire blood made my ears better too, taken them back to the pre-bass time of my youth? Or had it changed my brain somehow? How did it work? Now that I was a daytimer—and because the only daytimers we’d ever treated in Y4 had been ones who weren’t getting enough vampire blood on their own, the sick ones on their way out who hadn’t been chosen to change—I realized how much I didn’t know about vampire physiology.

Her breathing was still distracted, and I heard the sound of her skin rubbing on her silk sheets as she turned, waiting for me to sleep first.

Maybe you can sleep for the both of us, baby, because I don’t know how I’m going to.

It was going to be a really long eight months. I didn’t have to enjoy it or make any friends—it would be like biding my time at any other shitty job, and it wouldn’t be the first one I’d had. But I could do it. For the baby, and for Asher.

I concentrated on the thought of seeing him, trying to conjure him up out of the darkness in my mind. I thought about the house we shared and how my things seemed to fit just right after I moved in, and how much happier Minnie was with all the windowsills and sun.

If I thought hard enough on it I could imagine walking up to the door knowing Asher was already home, the fireplace roaring, see him sitting on the couch, reading a book, looking up as I walked in—

CHAPTER THREE

“Edie?”

He put the book down and stood up like he always did when I came home. I stopped in the doorway and covered my mouth with one hand.

Was this a dream? Or had everything that happened before just been a nightmare?

“Is it you?” I whispered, scared I’d break the bubble of this fragile reality.

A familiar smile creased his lips. “Who else would it be?”

I ran across the room to hug him, almost tackling him in the process.

“Hey now—” he began, defending himself while hugging me back.

I knew it couldn’t be all the way real. But it was real enough. I could feel the muscles of his back, the heat of his body, smell the scent of his skin.

My hands ran up into his hair, pulling his face down so I could see him more clearly. He beamed down at me. If I wished and hoped and clicked my heels three times—I leaned up to kiss him and closed my eyes and—

Maybe if I hadn’t had Raven’s blood I wouldn’t have noticed it. But the moment before our lips touched, after my eyes shut, when I was already replaying what was about to happen in my own mind to milk its full sweetness, because knowing what’s about to come is almost as good as when it actually happens—I realized his eyes weren’t right.

I pulled my head back, still holding his in place with my hands. He was beaming down at me, and the fireplace was reflected in his eyes, but there wasn’t any of Asher’s own light.

I shoved him away, and the thing that looked like Asher but wasn’t released me. “Who are you?”

He tilted his head to the side. The gesture was still Asher’s, but the longer I looked into the eyes the more wrong they became.

“How did you know?” he asked, taking a step toward me.

“Stop that.” I gestured wildly at him, and around the room we were in. “Stop all of this. If it isn’t real—or at least really from me—stop pretending.”

“I thought you would appreciate the familiar surroundings.”

I did. Oh, God, I did. “This place is mine. You have no right to be here. Stop it.”

Asher’s living room shimmered and blurred, as if I were looking at it from a great height. “What would you like to see instead?” he asked.

I shook my head strongly. “Nothing. No more games. Who are you? And why did you try to trick me?”

“I thought it would be easier to talk to you if I appeared like this.” He gestured to himself, Asher’s form that he wore like a suit.

My eyes narrowed, even in my dream. “What are you?”

“A vampire.”

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