I sat on my bed and took a deep breath. Pulling out my phone, I sent Claire a text: “Sorry I freaked. Come over?”
In a second, my phone rang. It was Claire.
“Katie, are you okay?” she asked.
“As okay as anyone could expect me to be,” I said. “But I have some questions, and I’m not ready to talk to my mom about this.”
“Right. And we still need to go shopping for shoes,” Claire said. “I’ll be right over.”
Really? How could she think about shoes when I’d just found out I was a half-vampire and some crazy guy in a black cloak was loose in the city tearing the doors off lockers and breaking people’s arms? Okay, one locker and one arm. Still, shoes?
It was my mom. I checked myself in the mirror. Amazing. I still looked like the same girl who’d left for school this morning. I ran a comb through my hair, surprised that I looked so normal, and answered, “Yeah, Mom?”
“Did you get your shoes yet?” she asked, opening the door to my bedroom. She came in and sat down on the edge of my bed. Wow. She was thinking about shoes, too. I shook my head.
“Uh, no. Claire forgot something and had to go home first. She’s on her way over now,” I said.
“Okay. I’m going to take a shower and grade some papers, then,” She said, getting up and heading for her room. “We’ll eat supper when you get back. Claire’s welcome to stay if she wants.”
I pasted a smile on my face, trying to look and sound normal.
“Thanks, mom. I’ll tell her.”
I waited for my mom to leave the room, then walked downstairs. Shoot. I realized I’d left my backpack at Johan’s. My cell phone had been in my pocket, but my wallet was in the backpack. Just then, the doorbell rang. Claire stood there with my backpack in her hand. She thought of everything. I guess that was part of her job, though, as a protector. Huh. No wonder she was always so organized.
I opened the door and stepped out. I pulled my wallet out of the backpack, tucking it into the purse I’d slung over my shoulder. I tossed the backpack inside, locking the door behind me.
“First, is my mom safe?” I asked.
“Not so loud,” Claire said in a low voice, looking around. “But don’t worry. My parents take turns keeping watch over her. She’s as safe as you are.”
“Well, that answers one of my questions,” I said. “So your parents are, um, protectors, too?”
“Garda,” she said. “Yes, they are. And they’re not really my parents. In reality, we’re all about the same age.”
I took a minute to think about that. So Claire hadn’t just appeared in some unsuspecting couple’s house at age 10 and made herself at home.
“And exactly why do we need protection? You haven’t explained that part.”
“You did run off a little abruptly.”
“Yeah, well, I needed to think.”
“I understand. You’ve absorbed a lot today. But to answer your question. Your dad is not just a vampire. He’s a Stregoni Benefici.”
“A what?” I asked, wondering how many more surprises I could take today before my head just exploded, leaving a huge mess for Charleston city employees to clean up.
“Stregoni Benefici,” Claire repeated slowly. “Literally translated, it means beneficent wizard. What that means to you is that he’s a member of a vampire branch that works to protect humans from creatures that would harm them, including other vampires. Not all vampires want to live among humans, feeding from animals and adjusting their schedules away from the nocturnal. There are some who wish to return to the days of monsters ruling the world, when humans were afraid to set foot outside from dusk to daybreak, and people who traveled at night often disappeared.”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “that’s good, right? I mean, good that my dad wants to keep people safe.”
“It is,” Claire said. “But some of the other vampires have decided to focus their efforts on removing the Stregoni Benefici, or at least limiting their numbers. And you have the capability to turn into one.”
Not for the first time that day, I felt the gears in my head lock up. I slowed my steps as we neared our destination, the Bob Ellis shoe store on King Street. I cleared my throat, trying to get my brain to work again.
“You mean … I’m supposed to grow up to fight bad vampires?” I said. “And by ‘removing’ the Strego whatever, you mean ‘kill,’ right?”
It sounded so ridiculous said out loud like that. I was supposed to grow up to be a professor, like my mom and dad. They were both passionate about the subjects they taught, and loved bringing the past alive for their students. I’d always planned on following in their footsteps. I couldn’t possibly fight vampires and teach, could I?
But then I realized that my dad, if he really was a vampire warrior, was a professor as well. Apparently it was possible to do both. As if teaching classes and doing research weren’t enough to keep you busy.
Claire nodded calmly, opening the door to the shoe store. “Come on, Katie, let’s find some sandals,” she said. “We’ll talk more later.”