My mom had made sandwiches. There wasn’t time for much else. As I ate, Adam outlined the plan for tomorrow.
We would travel in three groups. Mom, Claire and I would fly out first, carrying the book I’d found today. Claire reasoned that if the spell protecting the book had let me find it, then the book would probably stay with me instead of disappearing again.
Adam and Ariel would go back to their house, get the book Claire had hidden in her closet, and travel together to Italy.
Edward and Juliana would leave the house first, then circle back to make sure none of us were followed as we left for the airport. They would fly out with Johan as a family, leaving last.
Our tickets had been purchased online, and our passports were all up to date. Good thing I’d already packed.
I finished my sandwich and started loading the dishwasher. That way, I could keep my back turned on everyone. Johan came over, carrying plates from the table. He began helping me, standing close but not speaking. As we worked side by side, I finally relaxed. At least one person in my world was who I had always thought he was. His presence comforted me more than any words could have.
“Our success depends on speed and surprise,” Adam said. “We must be quick in the morning. No hesitation. Now off to bed, everyone.”
Apparently, everyone was staying at my house. Johan was on the couch in the den. Adam and Ariel were in the guest room. Claire was with me again. Edward and Juliana took guard duty. I wondered when they planned to sleep, but I was too sad and exhausted to worry about it. Claire and I went upstairs, and only a few tears leaked out before I fell asleep.
The next thing I knew, my mom was shaking me awake. It was still dark outside. Claire’s bed was neatly made, and her suitcase was gone.
“Katie, wake up. We need to go,” Mom whispered.
I nodded, threw back the covers and stumbled to the bathroom. I threw on a t-shirt, jeans, and my running shoes. I pulled my hair into a pony tail and tossed my make-up case in the suitcase. I picked up my new espadrilles, shrugged, and added them. I tied the arms of a lightweight fleece jacket around my waist in case I got cold on the plane.
My phone, my wallet, and my passport were already in my backpack. I grabbed my suitcase and headed downstairs. As I entered the kitchen, I could smell bacon, eggs and grits. My mom was putting steaming platters of food on the table.
“Mom,” I said. “Cereal would have been fine.”
“It’s going to be a long day,” she replied. “And you know they don’t feed you much on the plane. Eat while you can.”
Claire and Johan were at the table, already eating. Edward and Juliana were unloading the dishwasher. I sat and served my plate.
We all froze at a knock on the front door.
Adam put his finger to his lips. He and Juliana headed for the back door while my mom headed for the front door. Once outside, Adam and Juliana split up – one going left and the other going right. My mom waited at the front door until Adam yelled, “Okay, Libby, open the door!”
Mom opened the door to find Adam and Juliana holding up the blonde guy in the black coat that I had seen on the last day of school. “Alex!” my mom cried, pushing Juliana out of the way to take his left arm and help him in to the house.
What? She knew this guy? And she also acted like she really cared that he was hurt. Okay. That was weird.
Adam and Mom gently helped the guy onto our couch. He was even paler than he’d been two days ago when I’d seen him on the way to school. Blood oozed from two small puncture marks on his neck.
“He bit me,” the guy rasped. “Sergio. He bit me.”
Adam nodded. “He wants to warn you, not kill you,” he said. “Here.”
As I watched in amazement, Adam held out his wrist, and the guy bit into the artery and began drinking. After a minute, he stopped and my mom took Adam’s place. After another minute, he stopped and leaned back, his eyes closed. Claire sat beside him, her face pale, holding the guy’s head in her lap.
“Mom! What’s going on here,” I hissed as she came out of the parlor into the hallway.
“Come to the kitchen,” she whispered. “I’ll explain.”
“Don’t you need a bandage?” I asked.
She held up her wrist, and I realized that the wound had already healed.
“Okay,” I said as we reached the kitchen. “Answers, mom. I need answers. I thought that guy was a Garda.”
“But he was drinking your blood.”
“He is also a vampire. He is the only other half-Garda, half-vampire that we know of,” she answered.
“Only other … besides me, you mean,” I said.
“Yes. He’s my half-brother, and your uncle. The blood from a vampire and a Garda will heal him. That’s why Adam and I both gave him our blood.”
Just then, my new-found uncle walked into the kitchen. Up close, I could see he looked a lot like my mother. He had a kind face, and twinkling blue eyes.
“Hello, Katie,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just took his hand and shook it.
“I understand you have some questions,” he said.
I did know what to say to this.
“Yes. And the first one is why didn’t anyone tell me about any of this sooner?”
“Your parents thought it would help keep you safe if you didn’t know,” the man who was my Uncle Alex said. “But the time of your adulthood is nearing, and you need to know what is coming.”
“Why are you here now?”
“Because I, like you, am half-Garda and half-vampire. What happens to us is not like what happens to half-human/half-vampires. They get to choose. And many of them choose to remain human. We have no choice. We receive parts of both beings, becoming something entirely different.”
“Will I,” I swallowed. “I know this is silly, but will my hair turn blonde? Are my eyes going to turn blue?”
Finding out I wasn’t just an ordinary teenage girl looking forward to college was hard enough. I didn’t know if I could take a complete physical makeover.
Alex and my mother both laughed. “No,” he answered. “You’ll still look like you. I’m fair because my father and mother were both fair. You look like your father, and you always will.”
Well, that was a relief.
“So what about drinking blood?”
“You’ll be able to drink blood for sustenance and for healing,” Alex said. “But it’s not necessary to your survival, as it is for full vampires.”
“Will I live forever?”
“We don’t know that yet, now do we?” Alex said. “So far, so good, though. I’m 200 years old, and I show no signs of aging. You are fast, you are strong, and you heal quickly. You may manifest other gifts later, after your 17th birthday.”
Two hundred years old. Maybe that explained why he talked so weird. Manifest? Seriously?
Just then, Adam came in, looking tense.
“Libby, you and the girls have to leave now if you’re going to make it to the airport on time,” he said. “I’ve called a cab and it should be here in five minutes.”
My mom nodded. “Katie, Claire, get your suitcases. We’ll continue this conversation in Italy.”
She gave Alex a hug. “Be careful,” she whispered, kissing him on the cheek.
He looked at her fondly. “I always am, little sister,” he said, hugging her back.
Claire and I took our suitcases and stood by the front door. My new uncle stood beside her, his hand resting on her shoulder. So they knew each other, too. Adam went out to make sure that Sergio, our Velathri friend, wasn’t hiding in the bushes.
Juliana checked the back yard, and Johan joined us awkwardly in the hall. I looked at him. “This isn’t what I thought summer vacation would be like,” I said.
“Me, neither,” he said. “But at least I get to go with you now.”
As the taxi pulled up, Adam waved all clear to us. My mom went first, then Claire. Uncle Alex followed, helping the cab driver load the luggage in the trunk. As I took the handle of my suitcase, preparing to step off the porch, Johan leaned down swiftly and kissed me on the cheek. As I turned toward him in surprise, he stepped closer and wrapped his arms around me. I wrapped my arms around his waist and leaned my head on his chest, realizing he was tall enough for his chin to rest on the top of my head. Wow. When had that happened?
“Katie, come on!” Claire hissed, leaning out of the door of the cab. “This is dangerous!”
As I stood there, unwilling to let go, Johan said, “Katie, it’ll be okay. I’ll be there soon.”
I turned and ran down the steps, feeling confused but peaceful, too. Like the world had just righted itself. I folded myself into the back seat beside Claire, trying not to look at her. I was sure my face was bright red, and the last thing I needed was questions about why, when I wasn’t really sure myself what had just happened.
“We’re going to the airport,” my mom told the driver. “International terminal.”
We were silent on the ride to the airport. It was still dark outside, and traffic was light. I could see a sliver of light edging over the horizon, turning the sky pink. I concentrated on breathing slowly and getting my emotions under control. Hopefully my mom and Claire would think my confusion was due to fear.
Johan’s embrace had left a storm of emotions in its wake. He had always been there, a part of my life. Our mothers had been friends since before we were born. We’d been pushed down King Street side by side in strollers even before we would walk, as our moms went shopping and out for coffee together. Later, as toddlers, we’d played in either his kitchen or mine as our moms visited. We’d gone to school together since kindergarten. I’d always thought of him as, well, kind of as a brother.
I mean, please. We’d gone to our Junior Prom together, and he hadn’t even held my hand.
But his arms around me had felt like more than just friendship. And my reaction told me that somewhere deep inside, I felt the same way. I was glad I wouldn’t see him for a couple of days, because I needed some time to let this new knowledge sink in.
As we pulled up to the International Terminal of the Charleston airport, I realized that until now, to me, Claire had been my best friend. I’d shared everything with her. But she wasn’t really a 17-year-old girl. And she wasn’t just a protector. She was the perfect chaperone.
I stared at the back of my mom’s head. Super sneaky, there, mom, I thought, narrowing my eyes.
And maybe, just maybe, that was why Johan had never let me know how he really felt about me. He’d known I’d tell Claire. But now I wouldn’t. Some things were private, and not meant for the ears of ancient beings who’d known my mom who knows how many centuries – and probably told her everything I had ever confided.
I thought through conversations we’d had about my parents’ divorce – how I’d told her how angry and hurt I was. How I’d complained about going to Italy this summer.
Okay, now that made me angry. Having a Garda as a best friend was turning out to be bad in lots of different ways. A super powerful nanny disguised as someone my own age was more like it. She had said she loved me like a daughter. Yeah, I was beginning to understand what that meant.
My mom paid the taxi driver, and we lined up at the Lufthansa counter. Flying the German airline to Italy would be unexpected, and we hoped that would throw off anyone who might be watching our movements. Claire looked around, on alert as my mom checked us in. All of our luggage could be carried on – nothing to check, nothing to slow us down at the airport in Rome.
My mom walked us toward security at double time. It was so early, there were only a few people in the airport. A young couple with a baby was going through security ahead of us. The security guard was going over the stroller and diaper bag as though the infant were hiding grenades between his diapers and wipes. An elderly couple came to stand in line behind us. Claire gave them a sharp look, then went back to scanning the area around us.
We took off our shoes and put them in the gray bins along with our cell phones, keys, and quart zip-lock bags of liquids and gels.
We walked through the metal detectors and collected our belongings. As I straightened up after tying my sneakers, I realized Claire and my mom had moved ahead of me. I grabbed my backpack and suitcase and hurried after them.
The only warning I had was a flash of movement on my left, and then everything went black. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. I realized something had been put over my head. I let go of my suitcase to pull at whatever was over my head, and I heard a clatter as my suitcase fell over.
Suddenly, the hands holding me down released me. I managed to pull the cloth sack off of my head, and saw Claire had pinned my attacker. He groaned as she twisted his arms.
“Who sent you?” she hissed.
“It’s not worth my life to tell you,” the man said, moaning as Claire twisted his arms again.
“Katie, get your bag and go. I’ll follow you.”
Stunned, I did what she said. My mother was waiting at the entrance to the walkway to the jet.
I turned, watching as three security guards surged toward Claire and the man, their guns pulled.
“I’ll handle it. Go,” my mom said, shoving me onto the walkway.
I entered, wobbling a little as I rubbed my neck where the man had clutched the sack closed after pulling it over my head.
I smiled at the stewardess, trying to look like I hadn’t almost been abducted on my way to board her plane. She looked at my ticket, and said brightly, “About halfway down on the left. If you need help putting your suitcase in the overhead bin, let me know!”
The man who was sitting in the seat behind me lifted my suitcase up for me. I didn’t really need the help, but I thought it might be better if I didn’t let anyone know that. I sat down in the window seat, fastened my seatbelt, and waited for my mom and Claire. The plane gradually filled. Passengers trickled in, found spots for their suitcases, settled in to their seats, held whispered conversations, pulled out books, sent last-minute text messages.
But the two seats beside me remained empty. Where were my mom and Claire? They were supposed to be right behind me. I saw the two stewardesses holding a whispered conversation at the front of the cabin. Then the one who had welcomed me onto the plane closed the door and locked it.
I started to stand, then realized my seat belt was fastened. “Wait,” I said, waving my hand to get their attention.
The other stewardess came toward me. “There are two passengers who aren’t on board,” I said. “My mom and my friend …”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We paged the airport, and we’ve waited 10 minutes past the time we should have left the gate. We have to leave now.”
“Then let me off!” I said, struggling to unhook my seatbelt.
“We can’t. It’s too late,” she said. “I’m sorry. They’ll have to catch the next flight.”
I felt a jerk as the plane began to back away from the terminal.
“No!” I said. “I can’t go to Italy without them!”