Bloodlines Chapter Twenty

Bloodlines Chapter Twenty

I ALMOST ASKED, “Are you serious?” But let’s face it: that probably wasn’t the kind of thing she would joke about, especially considering how grave her face looked. Other questions popped into my head, but I held back on those as well. They weren’t that weird, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by showing unusual interest in a grisly murder. Instead, I simply thanked Mrs. Dawson for her help with the letter and returned to East Campus.

Mrs. Weathers was at her desk when I entered the dorm. I brought her the letter, which she read over twice before tucking it away in her filing cabinet. “All right,” she said. “Just make sure your sister signs in and out each time.”

“I will, ma’am. Thank you.” I hesitated, torn over whether to go or ask the questions Mrs. Dawson’s information had triggered. I decided to stay. “Mrs. Weathers… ever since Jill disappeared, I just keep thinking about that girl you told me about. The one who died. I keep thinking that could’ve been Jill.” Mrs. Dawson’s face softened. “Jill’s fine. I shouldn’t have told you that. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Is it true that girl’s throat was slit?”

“Yes.” She shook her head sadly. “Terrible. Simply terrible. I don’t know who does that kind of thing.”

“Did they ever find out why it happened? I mean, was there anything unusual about her?”

“Unusual? No, not really. I mean, she was a lovely girl. Smart, pretty, popular. A good – no, great – athlete. Had friends, a boyfriend. But nothing that would especially make her stand out as a target. Of course, people who do awful things like that probably don’t need a reason.”

“True,” I murmured.

I walked up to my room, wishing Mrs. Weathers had elaborated a little more on how pretty Kelly was. What I really wanted to know was if Kelly had been Moroi. If she had, I’d hoped Mrs. Weathers might comment on how tall or pale she was. By both Clarence’s and the Alchemists’ accounts, no Moroi on record had lived in the Palm Springs area. That didn’t mean someone couldn’t slip through the cracks, however. I’d have to find the answer myself. If Kelly had been Moroi, then we had three young Moroi women killed in the same way in southern California within a relatively short time span. Clarence might argue for his vampire hunter theory, but to me, this pattern screamed Strigoi.

Jill was in our room, serving out her house arrest. The more time passed, the less angry I felt toward her. Having the feeding issue fixed helped. I would’ve been a lot more upset if we’d been unable to get her off campus.

“What’s wrong?” she asked me, looking up from her laptop.

“Why do you think anything’s wrong?”

She smiled. “You’ve got that look. It’s this tiny frown you get between your eyebrows when you’re trying to figure something out.”

I shook my head. “It’s nothing.”

“You know,” she said, “maybe all these responsibilities you have wouldn’t be as bad if you talked them out and got help from other people.”

“It’s not quite like that. It’s just something I’m trying to puzzle out.”

“Tell me,” she entreated. “You can trust me.”

It wasn’t a matter of trust. It was a matter of unnecessarily worrying Jill. Mrs. Weathers had feared she would scare me, but if someone was killing Moroi girls, I wasn’t in danger. Looking at Jill and her unwavering gaze, I decided if she could handle living with the knowledge that her own people were trying to kill her, she could handle this. I gave her a brief summary of what I knew.

“You don’t know if Kelly was Moroi, though,” she said, once I’d finished.

“No. That’s the crucial piece here.” I sat cross-legged on my bed with my own laptop. “I’m going to check our records and local newspapers to see if I can find a picture of her. All I learned from Mrs. Weathers is that Kelly was a star athlete.”

“Which may mean she’s not Moroi,” said Jill. “I mean, look at how terrible I perform in this sun. What happens if she’s not? You’ve got a lot of theories hinging on her being Moroi. But what if she was human? What then? Can we ignore it? It could still be the same person… but what would it mean if the murderer had killed two Moroi and one human?”

Jill had a point. “I don’t know,” I said.

My search didn’t take long. The Alchemists had no record of the murder, but then, they wouldn’t if Kelly had been human. Lots of newspapers had stories about her, but I couldn’t find any pictures.

“What about a yearbook?” asked Jill. “Someone must keep them around.”

“That’s actually pretty brilliant,” I said.

“See? I told you I’m useful.”

I smiled at her and then remembered something. “Oh, I’ve got good news for you. Maybe.” I briefly recapped Kristin and Julia’s “plan” about Jill joining the sewing club.

Jill brightened but was still cautious. “You really think that would work?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“I’ve never touched a sewing machine in my life,” she said.

“I guess this is your chance to learn,” I told her. “Or maybe the other girls will be happy to just keep you around as their in-class model.”

Jill smirked. “How do you know only girls sign up for that?”

“I don’t,” I admitted. “Just playing off gender stereotypes, I guess.”

My cell phone rang, and Ms. Terwilliger’s number flashed on the display. I answered, bracing for a coffee run.

“Miss Melbourne?” she said. “If you and your brother can be at Carlton within an hour, you can speak to someone in the registrar’s office before they close. Can you manage that?”

I looked at the time and took it on faith Adrian wasn’t doing anything important. “Um, yes. Yes, of course, ma’am. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“The man you’ll want to talk to is named Wes Regan.” She paused. “And could you bring me a cappuccino on your way back?”

I assured her I could and then called Adrian with instructions to be ready for me. Quickly, I changed out of my uniform and into a blouse and twill skirt. Glancing at my reflection, I realized he was right. There really wasn’t a lot of difference between Amberwood attire and my normal wardrobe.

“I wish I could go,” said Jill wistfully. “I’d like to see Adrian again.”

“Don’t you kind of see him every day in a way?”

“True,” she said. “Although I can’t always get into his head when I want to yet. It just happens randomly. And anyway, it’s not the same. He can’t talk back to me through the bond.”

I nearly replied that it sounded better than being around him in person but figured that wouldn’t be helpful.

Adrian was ready to go when I reached Clarence’s, excited and eager for action. “You just missed your friend,” he said as he got into Latte.

“Who?”

“Keith.”

I made a face. “He’s not really my friend.”

“Oh, you think? Most of us figured that out on day one, Sage.”

I felt a little bad about that. Some part of me knew that I shouldn’t let my personal feelings for Keith mix with business. We were co-workers of sorts and should’ve been presenting a united, professional front. At the same time, I was kind of glad these people – even if they were vampires and dhampirs – didn’t think I was friendly with Keith. I didn’t want them thinking he and I had much in common. I certainly didn’t want to have a lot in common with him. The full meaning of Adrian’s words suddenly hit me. “Wait. He was just here?”

“A half hour ago.”

He must have come straight from the school. I was lucky to have missed him. Something told me he wouldn’t approve of me furthering Adrian’s education.

“What was he here for?”

“Dunno. I think he was checking on Clarence. The old guy hasn’t been feeling well.” Adrian pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. “Do you mind?”

“Yes,” I replied. “What’s wrong with Clarence?”

“I don’t know, but he’s been resting a lot, which makes things even more boring. I mean, he wasn’t the greatest conversationalist, but some of his crazy stories were interesting.” Adrian turned wistful. “Especially with scotch.”

“Keep me updated on how he’s doing,” I murmured. I wondered if perhaps that was why Keith had been in such a hurry earlier. If Clarence was seriously ill, we were going to have to make arrangements with a Moroi doctor. That would complicate our setup here in Palm Springs because we’d either have to move Clarence or bring in someone. If Keith was working on it, then I shouldn’t have concerned myself… but I just didn’t trust him to do a good job with anything.

“I don’t know how you put up with him,” said Adrian. “I used to think you were weak and just didn’t fight back… but now, honestly, I think you’re actually pretty tough. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to not complain and lash out. I don’t have that self-control.”

“You’ve got more than you think,” I said, a little flustered by the compliment. I was down on myself so much for what I saw as not pushing back sometimes that it had never occurred to me that took its own strength. I was even more surprised that it would take Adrian to point this out to me. “I’m always walking a line. My dad – and the Alchemists – are really big on obedience and following the directions of your superiors. I’m kind of in a double bind because I’m on shaky ground with them, so it’s extra important for me to not make a fuss.”

“Because of Rose?” His tone was carefully controlled.

I nodded. “Yup. What I did was tantamount to treason in their eyes.”

“I don’t know what ‘tantamount’ means, but it sounds pretty serious.” I could see him studying me out of the corner of his eye. “Was it worth it?”

“So far.” It was easy to say that since Zoe had no tattoo yet and I hadn’t seen a re-education center. If those things changed, so might my answers. “It was the right thing to do. I guess that justified dramatic action.”

“I broke a lot of rules to help Rose too,” he said, a troubled tone in his voice. “I did it out of love. Misguided love, but love nonetheless. I don’t know if that’s as noble as your reasons, particularly since she was in love with someone else. Most of my ‘dramatic actions’ haven’t been for any cause. Most of them have been to annoy my parents.”

I actually found myself a little jealous of that. I couldn’t fathom purposely trying to get a reaction from my dad – though I’d certainly wanted to. “I think love’s a noble reason,” I told him. I was speaking objectively, of course. I’d never been in love and had no point of reference to really judge. Based on what I’d observed in others, I assumed it was an amazing thing… but for now, I was too busy with my job to notice its absence. I wondered if I should be disappointed by that. “And I think you have plenty of time to do other noble things.”

He chuckled. “Never thought my biggest cheerleader would be someone who thought I was evil and unnatural.”

That made two of us.

Hesitantly, I managed to ask a question that had been burning inside me. “Do you still love her? Rose?” Along with not knowing what it felt like to be in love, I also didn’t know how long it took to recover from love.

Adrian’s smile faded. His gaze turned inward. “Yes. No. It’s hard to get over someone like that. She had a huge effect on me, both good and bad. That’s hard to move past. I try not to think about her much in terms of love and hate. Mostly I’m trying to get on with my life. With mixed results, unfortunately.”

We soon reached the college. Wes Regan was a big man with a salt-and-pepper beard who worked in Carlton’s registration office. Ms. Terwilliger had tutored Wes’s niece for free one summer, and Wes felt he owed her a favor.

“Here’s the deal,” he said once we were seated across from him. Adrian was wearing khaki pants and a sage-colored button-down shirt that would’ve been great for job interviews. A little too late. “I can’t just enroll you. College applications are long and require transcripts, and there’s no way you can swing one in two days. What I can do is get you in as an auditor.”

“Like with the IRS?” asked Adrian.

“No. Auditing means you’re attending the class and doing the work but not getting a grade for it.”

Adrian opened his mouth to speak, and I could only imagine what comment he had about doing work for no credit. I quickly interrupted him.

“And then what?”

“Then, if you can throw together an application in, oh, a week or two – and are accepted – I can retroactively change you to student status.”

“What about financial aid?” asked Adrian, leaning forward. “Can I get some money for this?”

“If you qualify,” said Wes. “But you can’t really file for it until you’ve been accepted.”

Adrian slumped back, and I was able to guess his thoughts. If getting enrolled would take a couple of weeks, there’d undoubtedly be a delay with the financial aid filing too. Adrian was looking at a month or more of living with Clarence, and that was probably optimistic. I half-expected Adrian to get up and nix everything. Instead, a resolute expression crossed his face. He nodded.

“Okay. Let’s get started with this auditing thing.”

I was impressed.

I was also jealous when Wes brought out the course catalog. I’d been able to lull myself into contentment with Amberwood’s classes, but looking at real college offerings showed me the two schools were worlds away. The history classes were more focused and in depth than anything I could have imagined. Adrian had no interest in those, however. He immediately honed in on the art department.

He ended up signing up for two introductory courses in oil painting and in watercolors. They met three times a week and were conveniently back-toback. “That’ll make it easier if I’m busing in,” he explained as we were leaving.

I gave him a startled look. “You’re taking the bus?”

He seemed amused by my astonishment. “What else? Classes are in the daytime. You can’t take me.”

I thought about Clarence’s remote house. “Where on earth would you catch the bus?”

“There’s a stop about a half mile away. It transfers to another bus that goes to Carlton. The whole trip takes about an hour.”

I confess, it left me speechless. I was amazed that Adrian had researched that much, let alone was willing to go to all that trouble. Yet on the ride back, he never uttered one word of complaint about how inconvenient it would be or how long he’d have to wait to move out of Clarence’s.

When I arrived back at Amberwood, I was excited to tell Jill the news about Adrian’s collegiate success – not that she needed me to tell her. With the bond, she would probably know more than I did. Still, she always worried about him and would undoubtedly be pleased to see something go well for him. Jill wasn’t in our room when I returned, but a note informed me she was studying elsewhere in the dorm. The only bright part of her punishment was that it limited where she could be at any time. I decided to use this opportunity to go make Ms. Terwilliger’s crazy amulet. I’d accrued most of the necessary ingredients, and along with compliance from the biology teacher, Ms. Terwilliger had secured me access to one of the chemistry labs. No one was there this time of night, and it gave me plenty of space and quiet to mix up the concoction.

As we’d noted, the instructions were extremely detailed and – in my opinion – superfluous. It wasn’t enough to just measure out the nettle leaves. The instructions called for them “to rest for an hour,” during which time I was supposed to say to them, “into thee, flame I imbue” every ten minutes. I also had to boil the agate stone “to infuse it with heat.” The rest of the instructions were similar, and I knew there was no way Ms. Terwilliger would actually know if I followed everything to the letter – particularly the chants. Still, the whole purpose of this stunt was to report on what it was like to be an ancient practitioner. So, I followed everything dutifully and concentrated so hard on performing every step perfectly that I soon fell into a lull where nothing existed except the spell.

I finished over two hours later and was surprised at how exhausted I felt. The final result certainly didn’t seem to justify all the energy I’d expended. I was left with a leather cord from which hung a silk pouch filled with leaves and rocks. I carted it and my notes back to my dorm room, intending to write up my report for Ms. Terwilliger so that I could put this assignment behind me. When I reached my room, I gasped when I saw the door. Someone had taken red paint and drawn bats and fanged faces all over it. Scrawled across the front, in big blocky letters, were the words

VAMP GIRL

Full of panic, I burst into the room. Jill was there – along with Mrs. Weathers and another teacher I didn’t know. They were going through all of our things. I stared in disbelief.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Jill shook her head, face mortified, and couldn’t answer. I’d apparently arrived at the end of the search because Mrs. Weathers and her associate soon finished up and walked to the door. I was glad I’d taken my Alchemist supplies with me to the lab tonight. The kit contained a few measuring tools I had thought I might need. I certainly didn’t want to explain why I owned a collection of chemicals to dorm authorities.

“Well,” said Mrs. Weathers sternly. “There doesn’t appear to be anything here, but I may do another spot check later – so don’t get any ideas. You’re already in enough trouble without adding yet another charge to it.” She sighed and shook her head at Jill. “I’m very disappointed in you, Miss Melrose.”

Jill blanched. “I’m telling you, it’s all a mistake!”

“Let’s hope so,” said Mrs. Weathers ominously. “Let’s hope so. I’ve half a mind to make you clean up that vandalism outside, but in light of no hard proof… well, we’ll have the janitors take care of it tomorrow.”

Once our visitors were gone, I immediately demanded, “What happened?”

Jill collapsed backward onto her bed and groaned. “Laurel happened.”

I sat down. “Explain.”

“Well, I called the library to see if they had those yearbooks in – the ones about Kelly Hayes? Turns out they do normally have them, but they’ve all been checked out by the newspaper staff for some Amberwood anniversary edition. And you’ll never believe who’s heading that project: Laurel.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I never would have guessed that. Isn’t she in Freshman English?” Laurel was a senior.

“Yup.”

“I guess everyone needs an activity,” I muttered.

Jill nodded. “Anyway, Miss Yamani was in the building, so I went to ask her about joining the sewing club and working for Lia. She was really excited and said she’d make it happen.”

“Well, that’s something,” I said cautiously, still unsure how this was leading up to vandalism and a search of our room.

“As I was coming back, I passed Laurel in the hall. I decided to take a chance… I approached her and said look, I know we’ve had our differences but I could really use some help. Then I explained that I needed the yearbooks and asked if I could borrow them just for the night and that I’d get them back to her right away.”

To this, I said nothing. It was certainly a noble and brave thing for Jill to do, particularly after I’d encouraged her to be better than Laurel. Unfortunately, I didn’t think Laurel would reciprocate the adult behavior. I was right.

“She told me in… well, very explicit terms that I’d never get those yearbooks.” Jill scowled. “She told me a few other things too. Then I, um, called her a raving bitch. I probably shouldn’t have, but, well, she deserved it! Anyway, she went to Mrs. Weathers with a bottle of… I don’t know. I think it was raspberry schnapps. She claimed I sold it to her and had more in my room. Mrs. Weathers couldn’t punish me without harder evidence, but after Ms.

Chang’s hangover accusation on the first day, Mrs. Weathers decided that was enough for a room search.”

I shook my head in disbelief, anger growing within my chest. “For such an elite, prestigious place, this school sure is quick to jump on any accusations that come up! I mean, they believe anything anyone says about you. And where did the paint outside come from?”

Tears of frustration glinted in her eyes. “Oh, Laurel, of course. Or, well, one of her friends. It happened while Laurel was talking to Mrs. Weathers, so of course she’s got an alibi. You don’t think… you don’t think anyone’s on to anything, do you? You said before it’s just a mean joke… and humans don’t even believe in us… right?”

“Right,” I said automatically.

But I was beginning to wonder. Ever since that phone call with my father, when he’d mentioned that there were humans who suspected and wouldn’t be silenced, I’d wondered if I’d been too quick to dismiss Laurel’s teasing. Had she simply found a cruel joke to run with? Or was she one of those humans who suspected about the vampire world and might make a lot of noise about it? I doubted anyone would believe her, but we couldn’t risk attracting attention from someone who would.

Is it possible she really thinks Jill is a vampire?

Jill’s forlorn expression turned angry. “Maybe I should do something about Laurel. There are other ways to get back at her besides freezing water.”

“No,” I said quickly. “Don’t lower yourself to that. Revenge is petty, and you’re better than that.” Plus, I thought, any more supernatural activity, and Laurel might realize her taunts have more backing than she originally thought.

Jill gave me a sad smile. “You keep saying that. But don’t you think something needs to be done about Laurel?”

Oh yes. I definitely did. This had gone too far, and I’d been wrong to let it slide. Jill was right that there were other ways to get back at someone. And I was right that revenge was petty and nothing that Jill should sully herself with. That was why I was going to do it.

“I’ll take care of it,” I told her. “I – I’ll have the Alchemists issue a complaint from our parents.”

She looked dubious. “You think that’ll fix things?”

“Positive,” I said. Because that complaint was going to pack an extra punch. A glance at the time told me it was too late to go back to the lab. No problem. I simply set my alarm extra early, with the intent to get up and head back there before classes started.

I had one more experiment in my future, and Laurel was going to be my guinea pig.