“Wait. What’s happening?” I said, looking from Johan’s face to Claire’s, my eyes wide. “Johan’s arm was broken. I saw it.”
My two best friends exchanged a look.
“I think it’s time to tell her,” Claire said. “She needs to know before she goes to Italy.”
Great. Now my two best friends were keeping secrets from me. Between my dad’s strange email and Johan’s vague answers about the book, I was fed up.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “This isn’t funny.”
Johan grunted. “Yeah, I guess so. You go ahead,” he said to Claire as he pushed himself into a sitting position.
I gave Claire a hard look. “Tell me what?” I asked.
Claire smiled. “Katie, I’m not a 17-year-old girl,” she said.
I sat there for a minute, trying to make sense of her statement.
“Then what are you?” I asked, wondering what kind of joke they were trying to pull. “I mean, I’ve known you since you were 10.”
“I’m a Garda,” Claire said.
I stared at her. “And what does that mean?”
“Literally?” she said. “Protector, guard. But I am specifically your protector. And that’s why I showed up when your dad moved out.”
I took a deep breath.
“So my dad knows who — what you are. He asked a 10-year-old girl to protect me?”
Maybe this is what the cryptic email I’d gotten last night was referring to. But what did Claire’s being a protector have to do with my own heritage? Unless, maybe, my heritage was why I needed a protector?
But I had more questions for Claire and Johan.
“And you were supposed to protect me? From what?” I asked, my voice rising.
“I told you, I’m not really a 17-year-old girl. And I wasn’t a 10-year-old girl seven years ago. I am hundreds of years old, and can take any form necessary to protect you.”
“You didn’t answer the second part of the question. What are you protecting me from?”
Claire sighed. “That’s a little more complicated.”
“I’ll try to explain,” Johan chimed in. “To begin with, let’s start with me. I’m a vampire.”
Now I knew for sure that I was either dreaming, or missing some kind of joke.
“Okaaaay. So how are you sitting here in daylight? And why aren’t you attacking me? And why don’t you have pale skin and red eyes?” I could have kept going, but Johan held up his hand.
“Some of the things you’ve heard about vampires are true, and some were made up by the movie industry to sell horror movies,” he said.
“For instance, vampires are nocturnal, like owls. We see better in the dark. We prefer to hunt at night and sleep by day. However, like owls, we can change our routines if we need to. The sun won’t hurt us.
“We can survive on animal blood – although human blood tastes better. In medieval Europe, the first sign a vampire was around was usually dead sheep carcasses outside the city walls. And as you can tell, we look no different from you. We do, however, heal faster than the average person,” he said, flexing his arm.
“I’ve never seen you drinking blood.”
I mean, yeah, it’s not like I paid close attention to Johan’s diet, but surely I would have noticed something like that.
“Katie,” Johan said patiently. “Do you really think I drink tomato juice all the time?”
I thought about it. Johan didn’t drink sodas. He drank tomato juice, and said he did it because it was healthy and part of his training for the track team.
“You mean …”
“Yeah. It’s not tomato juice.”
“But … what about your parents?”
“They’re vampires, too. Duh. How do you think I got here?”
“I thought that couldn’t happen. I thought vampires made other vampires by biting them.”
“That’s the most common way. But every so often, say every 500 years or so, a vampire couple has a child.”
I think of more questions, but decide I don’t want to know that much about Johan’s parents’ sex life.
“What about the biting part?”
“Sometimes a vampire wants a companion, and sometimes a vampire and a human fall in love. A lot of times, the vampire will change the human so they’re both vampires.”
“So what happens if the human doesn’t want to be a vampire?”
“That can cause a problem. Usually, they eventually break up,” he said, pausing and looking over at Claire.
She gave a slight nod. Johan took a deep breath, and then continued, “Like your parents.”
Okay, this was getting way too weird.
“What do you mean, like my parents? Yes, my parents broke up. But one of them isn’t …”
I stopped speaking as the expressions on their faces sank in. They were serious. They meant it. Oh, yeah. Dad and I were REALLY going to have a talk when I got to Italy.
My voice wouldn’t work. I cleared my throat, then whispered, “Which one?”
But I already knew. My mom was a morning person. She hopped out of bed at the break of dawn, singing and opening curtains to let in as much light as possible. My dad stayed up late reading, writing, studying. He always taught afternoon classes, and worked through the night at excavation sites.
“So … my mom didn’t want to become a vampire?” I croaked out.
“No. And she didn’t want you to become one, either,” Johan said gravely.
I looked at him in horror. “Me? What does this have to do with me?”
“Katie,” he said gently. “You’re half-vampire.”
“But — I don’t have fangs. I don’t stay up all night — at least not more than every other teenager I know. I don’t drink blood! I don’t even want to drink blood! What are you talking about?”
Johan sighed. “Okay, here it is. As the child of a human and a vampire, you have to make a choice. Once you reach 17, you can choose to stay human, or become a vampire.”
That was too much. I’d reached my limit. I didn’t say a word. I stood up, turned my back on Claire and Johan, and headed for home, moving quickly from a jog into a flat-out run, as though I could outrun the things that Johan and Claire had just told me. My track coach would have been proud of me. When I reached my front door, I looked back. Claire and Johan hadn’t followed. At least that I could tell. I didn’t see the man in the black coat, either.
Uh-oh. What they’d told me had been so startling, I hadn’t even asked about him. I didn’t know why he’d been in Johan’s house, or how Johan had ended up in the bushes with a broken arm. Was the man a vampire? Something else? What else was there?
My thoughts ran in circles as I unlocked the front door and let myself in. It was 2:30. My mom would be home in an hour. I locked the door behind me, wishing we had a dog. A big, loud dog, with sharp teeth. One that would let me know if a stranger were within a block of our house. Instead, Willow, my cat, wound herself around my ankles, meowing for me to put some food in her bowl.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then walked to the kitchen and filled her dish. She twitched her gray tail as she settled down to crunch on the dry cat food. If black-coat guy showed up, maybe she could purr him to death.
I flopped down in a kitchen chair, trying not to think about what Claire and Johan had told me. I just wanted to go back to this morning, when I was a normal teenage girl with normal teenage friends, looking forward to a (somewhat) normal teenage summer.
But no. My not-so-normal friends had to spoil everything. Gradually, as I sat there trying to figure out what I should ask my mom first, I realized I was hungry. I remembered I’d never eaten lunch, so I got up and rummaged through the refrigerator, looking for something that didn’t take too much preparation. I finally settled on a cheese sandwich, stuck in the toaster oven for a minute or two so it kind of tasted like grilled cheese. Close enough, anyway.
As I ate, I tried to organize my thoughts. What about Claire’s parents? Hadn’t they noticed when Claire just suddenly showed up as a 10-year-old? Or were they, possibly, part of this, too? How much did my mom know? Why didn’t Johan think I should go to Italy this summer? And I still didn’t know why I needed protection, or from what.
I heard my mom’s key turn in the front door. I wasn’t ready to talk about this yet. I needed more time to process it. I headed up the narrow back stairs, which took me straight from the kitchen to the hallway right outside of my room.
Once inside, I closed the door and took out my cell phone. Now that I had calmed down, I needed to talk to Claire.