We walked out 30 minutes later with shoeboxes swinging from our hands. We’d each bought a pair of strappy sandals, perfect to offset summer tans. We’d also bought espadrilles — very retro, but very cool, too. And perfect for Italy. Which reminded me.
“So how much does my mom know?” I asked Claire.
“You’ll need to talk to her about that. But Johan and I thought you should know the truth before she takes you to Italy.”
“What do you mean? What’s wrong with Italy?”
“It’s too dangerous. While Montepulciano is where the Stregonis live, only a few meters away is Volterra, home of the Velathri.”
I stared at her.
“So … the Vel, um, Velathri, are evil?”
“Well …” Claire hesitated. “Let’s just say they’re traditionalists. There’s some history you need to know. And then we need to go talk to your mom.”
“My mom? I’m not ready to discuss this with her! I’m not sure I believe it myself!”
“I know. But by insisting on taking you to Italy, she’s set something in motion, and we have to figure out what.”
“Set something in motion … you mean black-coat guy?”
Claire stared at me.
“You saw him?” she asked.
“Yes, of course I saw him,” I said. “Three times already today.”
“Three times? When? Where?”
“This morning on the way to school, at school right before the door was ripped off of Johan’s locker, and then at Johan’s house,” I said. “Is he the one who hurt Johan?”
“Uh, you’ll, um, have to ask Johan that,” Claire said, not meeting my eyes. “Let’s go to my house. I have something to show you.”
I could tell Claire wasn’t going to answer me. I shrugged, deciding I’d ask Johan when I saw him.
Claire led the way to her house, around the corner from mine on Chapel Street. Her parents weren’t home from work yet, so we went straight to her room. I looked around, wondering how an ancient being’s room could look so much like a teenage girl’s. Clean clothes were stacked in the two arm chairs grouped by the window seat. Her bed was rumpled and unmade, and dirty clothes filled the hamper, trailing onto the floor.
“So why are those other vampires called Velathri?” I asked.
Claire was digging in the back of her closet. In a muffled voice she said, “Because that’s the original name of Volterra – the name the Etruscans gave the city when they founded it.”
Those stupid Etruscans again, I thought. It was their fault my summer had been ruined. How could a civilization that had ended thousands of years ago be causing so much trouble? It was all very annoying.
Claire backed out of her closet, clutching what looked like an old leather-bound guide book in her hand. She opened it to a map of Italy, and handed it to me.
“What’s this?” I asked, examining the map.
“Look closely. The names aren’t place names — they’re family names. Different vampire families control different areas of the world. The oldest families are in Italy. For centuries, the Velathri have pretty much overseen the entire vampire world. Nobody voted — it just kind of evolved that way. They had the power; they used it. But about 100 years ago, technology began changing the way humans — and other beings — interact with each other. The automobile, the airplane, the internet, cell phones, Skype — it’s much easier to visit and stay in touch with other areas of the world than it used to be.”
I nodded, understanding the technology part, but wondering how it affected vampire politics.
“There have always been half-vampires, and the Velathri have always disapproved. But families used to simply leave Italy. They’d move to another part of Europe, or take a ship to the U.S. or Canada. Some even settled in Australia and New Zealand. And the Velathri were fine with that, as long as they controlled Italy.
“But now, their influence is wider. And they’re purists. They don’t like half-vampires — children who may or may not know about the hidden vampire side of the world, children who may or may not grow up to be vampires themselves. How much these children know, how much they’ll reveal to the rest of the world, and what they’ll do when they reach 17 is unpredictable. And the Velathri don’t like unpredictability. They like certainty. They like control.”
I suddenly remembered the man in the black coat. “So who’s the guy in the black coat? Is he a Velathri?” I asked.
“Maybe. I didn’t get a close enough look at him,” Claire said.
Her voice sounded odd, but she was looking down at the book, and I couldn’t read her expression. My mind skipped back to the book in my hand.
“So this book is what, exactly?” I asked.
“It’s a history of vampires,” Claire said.
“And what about the book Johan had?”
“It’s a history of the Tuatha de Dannan.”
“Our cousins who, I guess you could say, are traditionalists like the Velathri,” Claire said. “They live hidden, in caves and underground, avoiding contact with humans as much as possible.”
“How is that even possible?” I stared at her.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult,” Claire replied.
“So … what was the book doing in our school library?”
“Your dad put it there. The librarian thinks it’s an old book on Irish history, and it is, I guess. Your dad didn’t think it would be safe in Europe, and he wanted you to be able to read it when you were old enough. And he thought the reference section of a high school library would be a safe hiding place,” Claire said.
“Ireland? Irish history? I thought we were talking about Italy and vampires,” I said, confused.
She closed her eyes and sighed. “The seat of vampire power is in Italy – Volterra. The seat of fairy power is in Ireland …”
“FAIRY power? When did we start talking about fairies?” I yelled, startling Claire into opening her eyes.
“Garda and Tuatha are fairies,” she said. “I thought you understood that.”
“NO!” I shouted. “How was I supposed to know that?”
Claire sighed. “I’m trying to explain, but your parents have made it hard by letting you think you were human all these years.”
“Well, I’m really sorry to inconvenience you,” I said through gritted teeth. “But we are talking about my ENTIRE LIFE here.”
“I think I’ll let your mother take it from here,” Claire said. “Let’s go back to the book Johan lost. It’s the companion book to this one.” She pointed to the book I held. “Your dad found them on one of his digs. There’s supposed to be a third one, but your dad hasn’t been able to find it.”
“Why do the Velathri want the books? Don’t they know their own history?”
“Yes, but as I said, they like control. And having both books, or all three if the third one can be found, gives them power.”
I thought about the implications of what she’d just said. “Control over …”
“Well, vampires they don’t like. Garda, like me. And all the other creatures listed in the books — witches, wizards, werewolves, trolls, giants …”
I held up my hand. “Stop,” I said. “You mean …”
But of course. If vampires really existed, then the other creatures had to as well. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I’d written my English paper on Celtic myths, and that’s exactly what I’d thought those creatures were – myths, stories, an ancient culture’s attempt to explain natural phenomena that modern science had demystified.
I felt like the earth was crumbling under my feet — the world as I had thought it existed was a lie. Instead, a world of danger and legend had been going on around me while I naively worried about what color nail polish would look best.
I decided to worry about what else was out there later.
“So does black-coat guy have the other book?”
“We don’t think so, because why tear up Johan’s locker and search Johan’s house if he’s already found the book? But Johan doesn’t know what happened to it, and that’s bad.”
“Why did Johan take it out of the library anyway?” I asked.
Claire sighed. “He wasn’t supposed to. Your dad had a witch place a spell around your school, to protect both you and the book.”
“A witch? A spell?”
“Yes, Katie,” Claire said patiently. “The books were lost for a long time. Everyone thought all three of them were destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius buried Pompeii. But apparently some enterprising vampires snuck them out, at least the two your dad has found, before the lava reached the town’s library, and hid them in separate areas of Europe.
“Your dad found the first one, the one you’re holding, about 20 years ago. It was hidden in a Catholic monastery outside of Rome. He found the other one a year ago, in a grotto in Ireland. Remember when he came to visit at the beginning of junior year? He brought the book and hid it in the school library then.”
“How did you get this one?”
“It was given to the Garda for safe-keeping. And where better to hide something than in the back of a teenage girl’s closet, under clothes and shoes and pocketbooks?”
“Yeah, even my mother the neat freak would probably leave that alone,” I said.
I sobered at the thought of my mother. “We need to talk to her, don’t we?” I asked.
“Yep,” Claire said. “Maybe we can find out why she’s so determined to take you to Italy this summer.”
“Oh, I forgot! She invited you for supper.”
“Perfect,” Claire said. “Let’s get moving.”
Claire buried the book in the back of her closet again, artfully arranging clothing so the floor of her closet looked like a perfectly random mess.
I grabbed my Bob Ellis shopping bag, and we headed for my house. As we walked, another thought occurred to me. “Do the Velathri know you have one of the books?” I asked.
“No, and neither does Johan. So don’t say anything,” Claire said. “If the Velathri knew they were both in Charleston, they would do anything to get them. They might even start a full-scale war among supernatural beings. And if there’s a supernatural war, humans get hurt, too.”
So this was a lot bigger than just me. I felt like I’d aged about 10 years in the past 10 hours. Not only was there a whole other world out there, but it was on the verge of a war, over two books my dad had unearthed.
“Um … I get the feeling my dad’s pretty important in all of this,” I said.
“Yes, he is,” Claire said with a grin. “It’s not every half-vampire who gets her own personal Garda.”
I shook my head. “This feels really … unreal.”
“I know,” Claire agreed. “And I’m sorry you had to find out like this. Usually, children are taught these things little by little as they grow up, and have years to absorb what you’ve just learned today. I don’t know why your parents decided to keep you in the dark.”
As we walked up the front steps, my mom threw open the front door. “Katie, Claire!” She exclaimed. “You’re okay!” As my mother threw her arms around me, I saw Johan and his parents, Edward and Juliana Meyer, standing in our parlor.
Johan looked like his dad — light brown hair, green eyes, a dusting of freckles across his nose. His dad’s hair was shorter than Johan’s, and he wore a pair of wire-rim glasses, but that was about the only difference. He was the image of a forgetful college professor, but I guess that, like everything else, was a lie – or just partly true.
Mrs. Meyer was beautiful. Her smooth dark hair was pulled into an elegant chignon. She wore a red dress that showed off her tan skin and brown eyes, and matching red lipstick. I looked at them with new eyes, trying to fit together my years of knowing them as simply my friend’s parents with what I had learned earlier that day.
“Of course we’re okay,” Claire said. Then she saw the Meyers. “What happened?” she said, squeezing past me and my mom, who was still standing in the doorway refusing to let go of me.
“Johan told us the book is missing,” Mr. Meyer said. “This is serious, and we need to talk about it. Your parents are on the way over, Claire.”
I looked at my mom. She didn’t seem surprised at all.
Mom let go of me and turned toward Mr. and Mrs. Meyer.
“Let’s go into the kitchen,” she said. “I’ve got supper ready, and there’s enough for everyone.”
Mom had prepared a huge pot of spaghetti, salad, and a platter full of garlic bread. Had she known there would be more than three of us? It certainly looked like it. I shot her a look, but she was busy setting the table and I couldn’t catch her eye.
“Let’s go ahead and start,” Mom said. “The Corbetts can join us when they get here.”
We sat down and filled our plates. The room was quiet for a few minutes as we all ate. Every person at the table seemed familiar with the European custom of twirling noodles with spoon and fork.
Huh. I’d never noticed that before. I was pretty sure my other American friends didn’t know how to do that. In fact, my friend Bethany’s mom didn’t even put out spoons when she served pasta. I’d always assumed my mom had picked up the custom from my dad.
I snuck another look at my mom, but she kept her eyes on her plate. Suddenly, she jumped up and headed for the front door. “I hear the Corbetts,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ll get the door.”
I hadn’t heard anything. What was she talking about? But sure enough, when she opened the door, Claire’s parents were standing there. She must really be on edge, I thought.
Claire’s parents, Adam and Ariel, came into the kitchen, talking and laughing with my mom. As they ate, the rest of us began to clean up the kitchen.
“This is wonderful, Libby,” Adam said. “I really miss authentic Italian cooking. Ariel has never mastered it, despite our years in Montepulciano.”
“No, I am French,” Ariel said. “The cooking I do is much superior.” Funny. I’d never noticed the slight accent that colored her words.
So these guys all knew each other. And they’d apparently been in Italy together at some point in their lives. I narrowed my eyes at my mother. She looked the other way, pretending she didn’t notice me trying to imitate the death stare she’d used on me when I was younger.
Claire and I washed pots. Johan rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I fidgeted, wondering what other surprises I was in for.
When we were all seated at the table again, Mr. Corbett cleared his throat and looked a question at Claire, who began describing our day. When she got to the part about black-coat guy at Johan’s house, she stopped for a second, then said, “Katie saw the guy three times today.”
“Where, Katie?” Mr. Corbett said. “What was he doing?”
“I saw that guy this morning, on my way to school,” I said. I described seeing him enter the house near the school, while I waited for the light to change. “And I thought I saw him in the school while we were on the way to the gym,” I added.
Everyone at the table stared at me.
“What?” I asked. I looked down at the front of my shirt, checking for spaghetti splotches.
“You shouldn’t be able to see this man,” Mr. Meyer said, wrinkling his forehead. “Supernatural creatures are able to hide their movements from humans.”
“Actually, Katherine is unique,” Mrs. Corbett said, studying me as though I were a bug under a microscope. “Vampire-Garda children are rare. We do not know what will happen when she turns 17.”
O-kaaaay. She’d said vampire-Garda, not vampire-human. I looked around the table. The Meyers — Edward, Juliana, and Johan — were vampires. The Corbetts — Adam, Ariel and Claire — were Garda. And if I was half vampire, half Garda, and I knew my dad was a vampire, then that made my mom … I looked at her. Her face was serious as she returned my gaze. Garda. My mom was an ancient being who protected others. An Irish fairy, if I believed Claire. I closed my eyes, feeling faint.