When I opened them again, I was lying on the floor. My mom held a cold washcloth on my forehead while Claire fanned me with a magazine.
“Ariel, you should have let Libby tell her,” Claire hissed.
Claire had called her mother Ariel. Wait. I knew this. Ariel wasn’t really her mother.
“I thought you told her this afternoon,” Mrs. Corbett – Ariel – said, unconcerned. “Isn’t that what you were supposed to be doing?”
“I only got to the vampire part. I was going to let her mother tell her the other part,” Claire said.
I pushed myself into a sitting position. “Let’s just get on with it,” I said, unsteadily getting to my feet. “I’d like to know everything. Now.”
“See? She is tougher than you think,” Mrs. Corbett said, winking at me.
I wasn’t sure I agreed with her methods, but at least I was finally getting the truth. I nodded at her and took my seat at the table, folding my hands in front of me while I waited for the others to sit back down. Johan sat beside me, looking as shocked as I felt. It occurred to me that he hadn’t known everything, either.
“I think it would be more efficient if we let Katherine ask us questions as we don’t know exactly what knowledge Claire was able to impart this afternoon,” Mr. Meyer said, looking around the group. At their nods, he turned to me.
“But to begin with, you should call us by our first names,” he said.
I raised my eyebrows and looked at my mom. I’d been raised in the South, taught from birth that you call adults “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and definitely not by their first names.
“He’s right, Katie,” Mom said. “It’s time. I’ve raised you to fit into this culture, the culture of the South, but in our culture, where people live for centuries, we go by first names.”
“So that’s settled. Now, what would you like to know?” Mr. Meyer – Edward – said.
I tried to gather my thoughts. I had so many questions, I didn’t know where to start. I looked around the table and took a deep breath.
“Okay. Let’s start with all of you. How old is everyone?”
“We’re all older than we look,” Edward answered. “Vampires age, but very slowly. I am close to 400 years old. Juliana is 300 this year.”
“What about Johan? We were babies together!”
“Babies are very rare among vampires. But Johan is really 16 years old. Which is why he thought he could handle finding the book by himself,” Edward said.
I looked at Johan, who had gone to nursery school with me. At least that part of my life had been real. Well, if you ignored the whole “he’s a vampire” part, anyway.
“So what about the book?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” Johan said, looking at his dad. “I heard you and mom talking about the book, and how to get it from the library, and I thought I could help. Miss Bell likes me.”
“But now the book is lost. And we don’t know who has it,” Adam said gravely.
“Wait a minute,” I said slowly. “Is it possible that black-coat guy is a Garda, not a Velathri?” I asked.
“Ah,” Adam said. “What makes you think that?”
I looked from Adam to Ariel to Claire to my mom. Every single one of them was fair-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed. “He had blonde hair and blue eyes,” I said. “He looked like all of you.”
“Oh, she’s quick, this one,” Ariel said. “Yes, it is possible.”
I looked down at my tanned arm, and thought of my brown eyes and dark hair. If I became a Garda when I turned 17, would I suddenly become blonde and blue-eyed? But I had more pressing questions to ask.
“Why would he want the book? And why would he tear the door off of Johan’s locker?”
“If he is Garda, then I don’t think he tore the door off the locker,” my mom said. “That sounds much more like the Velathri — violent, with a warning contained within the violence.”
“Then why would he break Johan’s arm?” I asked indignantly.
“Um, that wasn’t him,” Johan said.
“But I saw him leaving your backyard through the gate in the back corner,” I said.
“Yeah, he was there. But he’s the one who saved me. The other guy would have killed me if he hadn’t shown up.”
“What other guy?” I asked. I looked around. Apparently this wasn’t news to anyone else.
“There was another guy at the house when I got there,” Johan said. “Not a vampire. Something else, but still really strong. He was … I don’t know, ruthless. He picked me up and threw me out of my bedroom window like it was nothing. He was coming after me when the other guy showed up, and they both took off.”
“So who has the book?” I asked. “The Garda or the Velathri? Or someone else?”
There was a long silence. Finally, my mother spoke.
“We don’t know,” she said slowly. “It appears the Velathri are searching for it, which means they don’t have it. Yet. As for where it is …”
“That, we will attempt to find out tomorrow,” Adam said. “We should rest. It’s almost midnight, and tomorrow will be a busy day.”
There went my two days of leisure between the last day of school on Wednesday and graduation on Saturday. Claire and I had never gotten pedicures. I had more shopping to do to get ready for a summer in Italy … but it appeared those plans were on hold. Maybe forever.
“No, Adam,” my mother said, looking at me. “She’s too young.”
“She’s the same age as Johan,” Juliana said.
“It’s time to stop protecting her, Libby,” Ariel said. “I know you wanted to wait, but events have been set in motion earlier than we expected.”
“I need to let Anthony know what’s happening,” my mom said. Anthony is my dad.
“No, it’s too dangerous,” Adam replied. “Phones, email, texts can all be intercepted.”
“I have already sent him a message through other channels,” Edward said. “It’s slower than modern technology, but safer. He should get it by tomorrow.”
My mom sighed, but I could see she agreed.
“So why are we going to Italy if it’s so dangerous?” I asked the question Claire had voiced earlier in the day.
“Because we don’t know how your gifts will manifest themselves, your father thinks you should be in Montepulciano, where you will be safe,” my mother said. “The books both contain information about vampire-Garda children, so we need them there as well.”
“Somehow, the Velathri have been alerted,” Adam said. “At least to the existence of the book Johan had. We hope they remain unaware of the other book, and of you.”
“They don’t know about me?” I asked. That made me feel a little better.
“More to the point, they don’t know about your mother. They believe she is simply human, not Garda. So they think you are half-human, half-vampire, and that she intends to keep you in the dark about your heritage, so you will remain human. They’re simply watching to be sure this is what happens.
“If they knew you were half Garda, you would be in much more danger.”
I sat in silence, absorbing what he had said. So my parents had kept this huge secret from me to keep me safe. But now, my dad wanted me in Italy.
“So why does Dad think I’ll be safer in Italy?” I said.
“Because Montepulciano is the base of Stregoni Benifici power,” Edward said. “Velathri can’t enter, just as we can’t enter Volterra.”
Well, that was interesting. And of course it was Montepulciano, not San Francisco or Hawaii or someplace else I’d never been before and would really like to visit. I sighed.
“Claire can stay here tonight as extra protection for Katherine,” Edward said. “The rest of us should keep to our regular schedules so that whoever is searching for the book thinks we aren’t concerned.”
Claire and I went upstairs and everyone else headed for their homes. We got ready for bed, not speaking.
Claire took the other twin bed in my room, like she had so many times before. I turned off the light, and looked over at the lump in the other bed that was Claire.
It felt so normal – so much a part of my old life – to have her there. But everything was different. She wasn’t really my age. Her parents weren’t really her parents. My brain was so stuffed with new information, I was sure I’d never get to sleep. I had so many more questions for Claire. I yawned. I’d just close my eyes for a minute …