Could I really see myself married to a... vampire?
The diamond ring on my finger sparkled in the early morning light. My bicycle nearly ended up in the ditch more than once as my eyes kept straying to the golden band. Married? Me?
It wasn’t that I didn’t love Sebastian. It had been easy to say yes, and I’d meant it. But, Sebastian was a vampire, and, well, neither of our lives was terribly conducive to marriage. I had a tendency to pick up and run in the middle of the night, although usually that was because I was being chased by Vatican assassins or the FBI or Voodoo Queens or because the Goddess I harbored in my belly had gone all destructo-wacko on somebody.
Things had been calm for a few months now. In fact, I’d started negotiations with the owner of the occult bookstore I manage, Mercury Crossing, to buy him out with whatever loans and spare change I could patch together. I guess that must have gotten Sebastian thinking about settling. Settling!
Did I mention he’s a vampire?
My mind continued to try to wrap itself around the idea of the white dress when some kind of wild dog jumped out of the ditch. Okay, actually, it was just sitting there on the side of the road, munching on the road-killed remains of Bambi’s mom, but seeing it made me nearly fall off the seat of my bike.
At first I thought it had to be a wolf, except the animal was too mangy and too leggy. As it hunched over the deer carcass, its chin dripped with blood. Our eyes met and I had that freakish feeling of a keen intelligence behind the glittering alien, inhuman gaze.
So I did what any Witch who harbored the dark Goddess Lilith within her would do; I shrieked like a girl.
“Argh! Go away, you big scary thing! Run! Scat!” I pedaled like a maniac, waved my arms, and tried to think bigger, threatening animal thoughts, instead of I-could-totally-be-eaten ones.
The wolf, or whatever it was, cocked its head at me as though it thought I was the biggest dork in central Wisconsin. Then, it padded into the cornfield.
At least my close encounter with the wild kingdom got me thinking about something other than Sebastian for at two or three minutes. But once my heart rate had settled to normal, it shot back up again.
Are there wolves in Wisconsin? Maybe, but was I really ready for marriage?
The sun beat down on the concrete mercilessly, and it wasn’t even eight a.m. yet. Sweat slicked my arms and my legs. Hopping off my bike, I leaned it against the cast iron fencing around a scrub oak, not bothering to lock it.
I’m sure there are plenty of bike thieves in Madison, Wisconsin, but State Street, where my bookstore Mercury Crossing is located, has a kind of hippy sensibility. I’d actually had my bike stolen once... and returned. I only knew it had been taken because the lock was broken and very carefully replaced.
Having my bike “borrowed” was one of the reasons I loved Madison. That and the fact that no one even gave me more than a cursory glance in my bright-blood red mini and black, sparkling halter top. I wore spider web tights and black Converse high tops. My hair was a mess of short, dyed black spikes. I passed a guy in a suit, maybe even a politician, on his way up to the Capitol building, and he gave me “the nod” of stranger-small-town greeting.
I loved this town.
Could I see myself living here as a married woman? I chewed on my lip. I’d think about that later. Right now I had a shop to run.
“Hey,” William said with a bright smile. “’Raise your right hand!’”
I slowly raised my hand, confused. I’d been shelving the discounted remaindered Wiccan books in the used section when William bounded up.
William had been my friend since I started work at Mercury Crossing. He’d recovered nicely from having been possessed by his former girlfriend, the Voodoo Queen. You’d think William might have considered giving up on his constant search for “true” religion, given that several of the ones he’d found jumped up and bit him in the butt. But, like our friendship, William was remarkably resilient. In fact, our friendship hardly faltered despite the fact that he tried to kill me; and William went on to try an on-line UFO cult the very next day.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t tell what religion William was into today; he looked fairly normal. His mouse-brown hair hung in lanky curls to his shoulders and his round John Lennon glasses perched on the end of his nose. He wore a basic brown shirt, slacks, and then I noticed the red string on his wrist: Aha! Kabala!
“Oh,” William said after studying my upraised palm for a moment. “You’ve got your right-hand ring on the wrong finger.”
“Right-hand ring?” William sounded less sure. “I’ve seen the ads in the New York Times Magazine You know, treat yourself to a ring instead of waiting for a man. Oh.” I watched them slowly dawn in William’s eyes. “But, you’ve got a... well, a significant other of male variety, er, species, or former human, or ex-human. Uhm.”
I thought I’d better put him out of his misery. “Yes, Sebastian asked me to marry him.”
“And you said yes? Are you insane?”
It was a question I’d been asking myself. But, before I could reply, he went on. “It’s going to be all Highlander, ‘Blossom.’ Think about it, in a dozen years it’s going to start looking like Ashton Kutchner and Demi Moore around your place. After that? Hello, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Well, except gender reversed. You know what I mean. Anyway, yikes! When you’re eighty, people are going to think he’s your grandson. How awkward is that going to be?”
I should never have gotten William a subscription to InTouch for his birthday, yet I had to concede that he brought up a rather salient point. If Sebastian never aged and I did, how would we explain our apparent age difference to other people? Then, there was all the physical stuff. I’d have the advantage of always having a hot, young body next to me in bed, but Sebastian, well....
I shook my head; I didn’t want to consider fifty-six years from now when we hadn’t even set a date for the wedding yet. “We’ll cross that bridge and all that,” I said to William, who was still clucking his tongue at me.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, unconvinced.
“Anyway, didn’t that dude in Highlander love his wife forever, even when she was a hundred years old?”
William frowned as though trying to remember. He sounded disappointed to have to admit, “Yeah, I guess he did.” He tapped a finger against his cheek a few time, then pointed it at me. “What about the ghouls? Are they going to be bridesmaids?”
“Come on, that’s hardly fair,” I said sharply. “Now you’re just looking for reason not to be happy for me, William.” Truth of the matter was that I sincerely didn’t want to think about the ghouls right now. The whole needing-other-people-for-sustenance thing was an issue Sebastian and I had yet to tackle.
“Sorry,” William said curtly. “Congratulations.”
I opened my mouth to say something, anything, to break the increasingly awkward silence, when he said, “Oh, and that lady from Bear Claw Press is here.”
His abrupt switch of subject startled a laugh out of me. Pretty soon William smiled, too. I flashed him a fond look as I made my way to the counter where the publisher’s rep waited. What did I say? Resilient. William and I were cool again.
I spent the rest of the morning listening to pitches about the newest books on aromatherapy, holistic living, and acupuncture for your pets.
The afternoon was so slow that I let William go home early. Then, wouldn’t you know it? About a half-hour to close everyone and their dog decided today was the day to buy candles, tarot decks, and smudge sticks. I was ringing up items and answering phone calls, while trying to direct people where to find the section on Rolfing.
In the middle of all this chaos, a woman came up to the counter and introduced herself as Marge. Marge had a broad, smiling face, long graying curls and a loud Hawaiian shirt on. “I saw your poster about the open audition for the coven.”
I’d warded the poster so that only people with magical talent could read it. I squinted at Marge, giving her my aura test. She had an earthy green aura, held tightly against her body, but very strong. I’d guess she was a green witch or a kitchen witch with that kind of energy. There was something else that caught my magical eye momentarily. A bright glow emanated from a dog-shaped charm that hung around her neck on a silver chain.
I was about to ask Marge about the necklace when business interrupted. A long line of customers formed behind Marge. “Are you buying anything?” I asked her. She smiled and shook her head.
I expected that she’d move to the side, but she didn’t. Thus, I had to reach around Marge to take an amber necklace a customer offered. Marge, meanwhile, seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was blocking the flow of paying customers. “I’m looking forward to the meeting tonight,” Marge said.
“Uhm, oh yeah, me too,” I said, suddenly remembering I had been hoping to slip out early myself to go grab munchies and lemonade for the meeting tonight. Sebastian and I had decided it was time to start our own coven. It was a big step for me, committing again.
My last coven had been murdered by the Order of Eustace, a rogue paramilitary organization bent on destroying practitioners of true magic, who take very literally the line in Exodus about not suffering a witch to live. I’d only survived because I was late to the meeting, and because I had the presence of mind to call the Goddess Lilith into me when the agents attacked. The whole event left me scarred, both mentally and physically. My eyes changed color that night in Minneapolis, and so did my whole world. I hadn’t dared form a coven since.
But I’d put a lot of demons to rest since then. The Order wouldn’t be bothering to look for me any more. Thanks to a powerful spell that co-mingled my blood and Sebastian’s, their agents think I’m dead.
My name had even been cleared with the FBI, which had been led to my doorstep by following an investigation into the death of the Vatican agents Lilith killed in Minnesota. Parrish, my vampire ex lover, had taken the fall for me, actually. In fact, Parrish sacrificed his life – or unlife, given that he’s also a vampire – so the case could be closed.
I wondered where he was and if he was okay.
A customer standing behind Marge cleared his throat noisily. “Oh, sorry. Miles away,” I muttered as I rang up the customer, took his money and made change – all the while maneuvering around the immovable Marge. “Do you need directions or something?” I asked her.
“No.” She rocked back on her heels, smiling. “Nice wind chimes.”
I glanced over my head at the crystal chimes hanging on hooks from the ceiling. We had all sorts. There were jade beads strung with gold chain for prosperity; heavy, wire-wrapped amethyst crystals supported by silver wire for psychic clarity; and jangly glass bells that, well, just annoyed me. “Did you want to buy one?”
“No, just admiring them.”
I gave the next person in line an I’m-sorry-about-this-oddball-standing-in-your-way smile. She pursed her lips into a thin, disapproving line and glared at Marge. For a second, I thought she might give Marge a shove, but instead she thrust the book around her with an exaggerated sigh.
Glancing at the title I suppressed a snarky smirk and explained to the lady that it would cost her 24.99 plus tax to find Inner Peace: The Tibetan Way.
Marge said, without preamble, “My grandmother was a Witch.”
“Really?” I murmured politely.
“Yes,” Marge said, apparently feeling emboldened by the merest hint of interest. “I’m FamTrad.”
FamTrad was short for Family Tradition, which meant that she was a hereditary witch and may have come from a long line of women who secretly kept the Old Religion alive after the Inquisition, or Burning Times. I had no problem with the first claim, but the second always raised my eyebrows a little. There is a lot of contention in the witchy community about the origin of our religion and whether it was made up in the twentieth century or if it has been practiced as is since some prehistoric matriarchy. I’d be happy with either answer, honestly, because it’s my firm belief that all religions were made up at one time or another and just because something is new doesn’t make it any less real or true.
I had no doubts that the power itself was old. I had Lilith in my belly, after all. It didn’t matter to me, however, if She came to me because there was an unbroken method of practice since time immemorial or if the first modern witch just happened to stumble on the key through meditation and good fortune. For me, what mattered was that it was real. It worked.
However, that breezy attitude can get me in a lot of trouble with hardliners. So I just smiled and nodded at Marge.
Another customer frowned at Marge’s back. This one must have been from out of town, because, without the customary Midwestern hesitation, he actually said, “I’ve got a lot of stuff here, lady, can you move out of the way?”
Marge startled and took a step to one side. She mumbled an apology and gave me a sheepish look. I smiled kindly back. I knew she didn’t mean any harm. Marge just seemed like one of those oblivious people who never seem to get the hint that it’s time to go. I was about to be blunt with her about it, when she said, “I think in my past-life I was Mata Hari.”
It wasn’t that I discounted the idea of past-lives. I was more than certain that, like perennials in the spring, souls passed this way again. However, a little red flag always went up when people mentioned having lived the life of a famous, or infamous, person. The majority of us weren’t kings or queens. If souls did recycle, then a vast percentage had spent their previous lives much as they do now: toiling through an unremarkable existence. Again, personally, I think that’s perfectly wonderful. Even as a middle-manager in the 1930s, a life lived is a worthy one, lessons can be learned and wisdom gained. You don’t have to be Cleopatra to have been blessed.
Between this and the FamTrad stuff, all these outlandish declarations made me wonder what Marge felt she had to prove to me. I already knew she had power. Not only had she seen the poster I’d bespelled, but I’d sensed it flowing from her aura.
It was now about five minutes to close and there were still three people waiting to be helped. So I put on my kindest, most charming smile, looked Marge directly in the eyes, and said, “Listen, I’m sorry. I’ve really got to ask you to leave right now, but I’d love to hear all about it tonight, Marge.”
And that was my fatal mistake.
Six hours later, I was cornered -- literally pushed up between my bookshelf and the window – by Marge, who was, in point of fact, telling me all of her past-life sexual exploits in excruciating detail.
I eyed the pewter statue of Kali that sat within arm’s reach on the second shelf. If Marge didn’t stop talking soon, I planned to use it to bludgeon my way back into the middle of the room. Thing was, I hadn’t had a chance to talk to anyone else tonight, and, worse, we were running out of lemonade.
The sun had gone down several hours ago, but it was still eighty-seven degrees. At least the breeze coming in off the lake through the open windows brought a little relief. My apartment was the upper floor of a creaky, old Victorian with wiring nearly as ancient as the plaster and lathe walls, which meant no a/c. Every time I tried to plug in an air conditioner, the breakers blew. Strategically placed fans shifted the hot air around, and I had provided lots of pitchers of ice cold lemonade to mitigate the heat – except now we were running precariously low.
“Hmm, mm-hmm,” I muttered as Marge continued to regale me with her former prowess in bed. I had tuned Marge out the first time she mentioned cunnilingus, because while it might be nice to experience, it was not a word I found palatable when bandied about with impunity.
I tried to catch Sebastian’s eye, but he was completely focused on a leggy, blonde foreign exchange student named Blythe. She was a comparative religions major and a Londoner. Neither of them noticed me frantically trying to get their attention.
Marge seemed to notice my focus drifting. Her eyes darted to Blythe and Sebastian furtively, and then she’d blurt out something awkwardly embarrassing about sex and espionage. All the while, she twiddled with that dog pendant of hers.
Marge started explaining some Kama Sutra position the Mata Hari had found particularly useful, and I broke in, “I’ve been admiring your necklace. Where’d you get it?”
She stopped mid-sentence and looked down at the pendant between her fingers like she’d never seen it before in her life. “Uh, this?”
Marge at a loss for words -- this was interesting. “Yeah. Is it Anubus? Is it magical?” I asked, knowing full well it was from my earlier aura scan. Still, I thought maybe I’d seen one on someone else here tonight and I wondered if it was associated with some local coven I didn’t know about. “Do you think I should carry it in the store?”
“Oh no, you couldn’t do that,” she said quickly, as if I had suggested doing something rude to her grandmother. Her eyes flashed to Sebastian and Blythe and then to the floor. “It’s just something silly and personal. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Marge just lied to me. I looked at Sebastian, who still only had eyes for Blythe. Why had Marge glanced at them? Was the dog some kind symbol that involved Sebastian? Legend would have you believe that vampires can transform into wolves, but Sebastian always flatly denied he had the ability to change shape. He always started getting all nerdy when ever I brought it up, quoting laws of physics and the conservation of mass, whatever that was.
Could the pendant be another vampire’s symbol? Was Marge a ghoul? “So,” I said, trying to act like I was changing the subject when I really wasn’t, “How’d you get interested in magic?”
“Uh, well, my family, you know,” she stammered, taking a step backwards.
What was going on here? Most witches loved talking about when they “came out of the broom closet” and how they discovered, or re-discovered, the Craft. Actually, the analogy with the gay and lesbian community was a good one. We often lived in a kind of secrecy in a world dominated by a religion not only very different from our own, but which actively despised and misunderstood us. In safe places like a coven gathering, people tended to like to bond over “war stories” of growing up in a hostile environment.
“So you’ve always been a witch,” I prompted. Stepping forward, so Marge would have to move back. “What kind?”
William inserted himself smoothly into my advance, like that rescue I’d wanted ten minutes ago. “Hey, Garnet, you’re out of lemonade. Do you have more you can make? Maybe in the fridge?”
“In a second,” I said, but Marge had already fled into the crowd. “Damn.”
William frowned. “Oh. Did I interrupt something?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s fine. I’ll talk to her about it later.”
So, with William in tow, I refilled the lemonade and chips, and then went to check in on Sebastian. Or, at least, I tried to.
“Hey,” I said, coming up to where Sebastian stood. Sebastian looked good despite the heat. Sebastian was cool and collected with his Old World-style long hair tied back at the nape of his decidedly unsweaty neck.
Looking at him, I could hardly believe this amazing man had asked me to marry him only yesterday. He was wickedly handsome – long, straight, black hair; sharp aquiline nose; and the sculpted, graceful body of a dancer... or, more accurately, a predator.
Okay, so that last part shouldn’t have been sexy, but it was. Sebastian had intense gold-brown eyes, not unlike that wolf I’d met on the road. It had been the first thing I’d noticed about him. I’d never met a real person who had an honest-to-Goddess “penetrating gaze,” but Sebastian did. It was captivating.
That is, when he was looking at me -- which he wasn’t right now.
Not at all.
Sebastian had murmured a quick hello, but he and Blythe were deep into a conversation about some obscure British television show I didn’t even know he watched. I listened to them for a few minutes and realized I had nothing of substance to add.
Blythe’s chuckle cut above the ambient noise. Sebastian’s broad smile showed off the tips of his canines.
His fangs had dropped! They only did that when he was excited, if you know what I mean. Sebastian was totally into Blythe.
Lilith roiled in my stomach.
I had the urge to interrupt Sebastian and Blythe’s nostalgia fest to point out that I harbored the dark Goddess Lilith in my body and so could crush any newcomers like a bug, but, well, that would just be petty.
Lilith clenched my stomach again as if to say: petty, yes, but satisfying.
I didn’t like to think of myself as jealous, but being engaged to a vampire would make the most laissez-faire person a bit twitchy. The problem was blood, of course. Sebastian needs a lot of it, more than one person can physically provide. There have to be others.
Add to this the fact that while I found the whole biting thing to be an absolute rush, I hesitated to become my boyfriend’s main supply. Sexual politics were complicated enough without adding one’s place in the food chain into the mix. I wanted Sebastian to desire me for me, not for my fabulously salty and iron-rich O-positive-ness.
Which was why my nerves prickled around Blythe -- who knew what interest Sebastian was showing? In a weird way, I’d be happier if he was just into her. However, as a potential meal, things got complicated fast. If she was rival girlfriend, I had legs to stand on when I told him I’d rather he stayed focused on me especially given the ring on my hand. But a ghoulfriend? What could I say? Pick something else off the menu, I don’t like who you’re having for lunch?
Lilith rattled uneasily against my ribs.
That’s when I realized the room had hushed, as if everyone were suddenly holding their breath. People were staring. At me. Or rather, they were gaping in wonderment and horror at the fraction of Lilith that had slipped up into me.
Even Sebastian stopped talking, and he and Blythe turned slowly in my direction as if expecting to see a monster lying in wait for them. Which, I suppose I was, except the slow burn I’d had on evaporated under the intense scrutiny of a room full of Witches.
I decided to use this opportunity to turn the situation around. I cleared my throat. “Uh, we should probably get this meeting started, eh, Sebastian?”
“Ah, right,” he said, though I knew he could sense that something ugly had nearly erupted a moment ago. He and I shared custody of Lilith, kind of. Thanks to a spell that had involved co-mingling of our blood, Sebastian was sensitive to Lilith’s moods. At least, he used to be. Over time, I’d noticed that our connection had been fading. Because Sebastian had regular blood transfusions, our empathetic bond grew weaker with each new ghoul.
Humph. Another reason to hate them.
Blythe gave Sebastian a possessive glance, and put a hand in the pocket of her loose-fitting, cotton capris. She looked great, standing there. Her hips were full, her stomach, which I could see plainly thanks to the tan belly shirt, was slim and rippled like a rock star’s.
“So, uh,” I said, feeling suddenly kind of foolish to be caught with Lilith hanging out. “I guess everyone noticed the Goddess, eh?”
There were nods around the room.
“Is that what that was? A Goddess? It felt more malevolent to me,” said a character I’d mentally dubbed “broody warlock-guy” in my head. His t-shirt glorified some death-metal band and silver skulls on his knuckles advertised his general bad-ass-itude. He had long, blonde Viking hair and wore a Thor’s Hammer necklace.
“Well, yeah,” I admitted. I looked over at Sebastian for support. Taking my hand, he smiled and nodded encouragingly. I squared my shoulders. I knew this part was going to be tough. I had a hard time talking about Lilith, especially with new people. Worse, fellow witches might take umbrage with the fact that I pulled down such an awesome power and unleashed it on anyone, even if they had just murdered my coven. I’d used magic to kill. No matter how you sliced it, that was black magic.
“That’s the first order of business,” I said. “I kind of harbor the dark goddess Lilith.”
“Kinda? Isn’t that like saying you’re sort of pregnant?” A woman who’d introduced herself to me as Xylia said. Xylia perched on the window sill, gnawing on a carrot (the only thing I’d provided that a strict vegan could eat). Rail-thin with a super-butch buzz-cut and a muscle shirt from the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, she stood up now and narrowed her eyes at me.
“Okay,” I confessed. “Lilith is a part of me, and I’m not just talking about when I call down the Goddess as part of a ritual. I mean, all the time.” I surprised myself by bringing up the central aspect of seasonal gatherings – the moment when the High Priestess symbolically becomes the Goddess. I hadn’t really celebrated the usual Wiccan holidays since merging with Lilith, partly because I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that I now was a Goddess full-time, and partly, I realized for the first time, because I missed having a group.
“Lilith?” Marge said in a small voice, as though she just now absorbed the information I’d laid out earlier. She stood in the archway between my living room and dining room, gripping a sweating glass of lemonade with whitening knuckles. “You mean, like the Lilith.”
“Isn’t Lilith primarily a Christian goddess?” Blythe asked no one in particular.
“Judeo-Christian,” Marge added. “She’s a succubus and baby killer in Jewish folklore.”
“Excuse me! Baby killer...?” I sputtered in protest, “Now just wait a minute—“ But the conversation continued right over me.
“Like with a lot of the vilified ‘demons’ of the Judeo-Christian myths, I believe there’s a root Goddess much older – Assyrian, maybe?” William added.
“She’s associated with screech-owls, I think,” someone I hadn’t been introduced to yet added. I was pretty sure he’d come with Marge. He was short and doughy in a pleasant I-love-cooking sort of way. I thought maybe his name was Max, but I couldn’t remember. He had long, straight, brown hair that he wore pinned back from his face. Large, thick glasses balanced on a pug nose.
“Lilith kicks ass.” Broody Warlock nodded his approval.
And so the debate began. Well, as far as reactions to my admission of harboring a Goddess known as the Mother of Demons went, it wasn’t necessarily a bad one. At least no one had run screaming for the door. Of course, we still hadn’t gotten around to mentioning Sebastian was one of the living dead, as it were.
One major hurdle at a time.
I gave Sebastian a return squeeze to let him know I was okay and let go of his hand. Since everyone was talking around me, anyway, I moved over a step in order to slump down into an empty spot on my bright orange couch. Sebastian perched on the arm, which creaked dangerously under his weight.
The breeze coming in from the windows behind us finally brought a little relief. As darkness deepened, the buzzsaw hiss of cicadas gave way to the soft chirp of crickets.
Barney, my cat, sneezed delicately from somewhere under the couch. She’d been hiding out since the first potential coven member arrived. Usually she was fond of company because it meant more attention for her, but she was allergic to magic – or, at least, she wanted me to believe she was.
“How’d it happen?” Trust Broody Warlock to turn the conversation back to me. “Isn’t trapping a demon major dark arts type stuff?”
“Not demon, Griffin,” William said to broody warlock guy having apparently learned his name at some point. “Goddess.”
“Whatever,” Griffin said dismissively. “The point is you don’t control something that powerful by accident, do you?”
Griffin’s question bothered me because I didn’t have a good answer for him. I shifted my seat, feeling the rough upholstery stick to my exposed, sweaty skin. Shrugging, “I didn’t trap Lilith.”
He squinted at me like he didn’t quite buy it. “Yeah sure,” he said. “But why? What makes you so special?”
There was the million dollar question. Thing is, I never did know exactly why Lilith didn’t just return to the ether afterwards. Why was she trapped with me? Or was it that she chose to say? I mean, I’d known other Witches who’d summoned the strength of Gods and Goddesses during times of crises. None of them ever reported having gotten “stuck” with one on a permanent basis. Perhaps, part of the problem was that I didn’t just call on the strength of a Goddess, but on the Goddess herself.
Actually, when I admitted it to myself, what I’d asked the universe for that night was much more visceral than just naming some Goddess for protection. I’d wanted vengeance. I didn’t care who or what aided me as long as they served up an eye for an eye.
Uh. That was so not cool. I tried not to think about that or about the fact that Lilith might have been attracted to just that kind of thinking.
“Back off, dude,” William said in my defense. “Garnet didn’t ask Lilith to stay, okay. It just happened.”
“Yes,” Sebastian said, his voice smooth with just a hint of threat. “You sound jealous, boy.”
Griffin took a step forward at Sebastian’s words, and I thought there might be a fight, so I stood up. “Look,” I said, “I really don’t know why Lilith stays with me,” I admitted. “It’s something I’d love to know that answer to. Maybe that’s something we could find out as a group.”
I saw a few wan smiles that were beginning to warm to me.
Griffin and Sebastian still eyed each other threateningly, so I thought maybe this was a good time to nudge Sebastian about item number two on our agenda. “So, Sebastian,” I said. “Should I tell them or do you want to?”
“I will,” he said, with a particularly hostile look at Griffin. Then, he let his steely gaze sweep the room. “The other thing you should know is that I’m a vampire.”
Nobody said anything for several minutes.
The problem was Hollywood. Everyone in the room was scrutinizing Sebastian trying to decide if he fit their image of a vampire. Other than the long black hair and sharp, handsome features, he probably didn’t. He did have a penchant for wearing black, but not exclusively. Tonight, in deference to the heat, he wore a UW-Madison t-shirt. He had faded, scuffed jeans he usually wore to work in his garden and tennis shoes. If I didn’t know him, I might guess he was some kind of hippie, the kind to grow his own herb, if you know what I mean.
No leather coats, no slow-mo high-kickin’ ninja moves. I’d been telling him for months that he should invest in a lot more leather or at least some cool, blue-tinted sunglasses or something. The more people looked at him, the more incredulous they seemed.
My eyes strayed to the spider plant hanging on the remaining bit of longbow arrow shaft still stuck in my wall. The Vatican witch hunters had transfixed Sebastian to the wall there. They’d “staked” him through the heart, but to everyone’s surprise -- other than Sebastian’s, of course --- it hadn’t killed him. That’s when I realized that everything I thought I knew about vampires from the movies was suspect.
“So you’re like a psychic vampire or something?” Max asked, clearly voicing the question on everyone’s mind.
Sebastian glanced at me because he’d just lost our bet. Now he owed me a dinner out at Portabello’s. I’d told him that the group would much more easily swallow my Goddess than his vampirism.
He sighed. “No,” he said.
“So... you’re a bloodsucker?”
William cringed about the same time I did.
Having been on the receiving end of the glare that pinioned poor Max right now, I pitied him. “That’s not the word I’d use,” Sebastian said.
“Okay. You’re a blood drinker,” said Blythe. “That’s cool. I mean, it’s your thing, but what does it have to do with the coven?”
It took me a few seconds to figure out what Blythe was talking about. Then I suddenly remembered that there were regular humans who called themselves vampires who got turned on by cutting or biting people and drinking their blood.
“He’s a real vampire,” William said. “Not just someone into blood.”
“Vampire,” Xylia said. “You seriously expect us to believe the whole coffin, risen dead thing?”
Sebastian opened his mouth to reply when Marge said, “To rise from the dead, you’d have to be really old, like from before the Civil War.”
Everyone looked to Marge askance.
She blinked a little under the scrutiny, but continued. “Embalming,” she said. “It’s not required here in Wisconsin, but it’s really unusual for someone not to be unless they’re Amish. Although embalming is kind of a stupid practice. Doesn’t really preserve the body, not long-term anyway, and then you have all the pollutants that leach into the ground water. But, the thing is, even if you managed to not be embalmed, you’d still have to bust through coffin, plus the sheer amount of concrete you’d have to break through in the vault,” she counted each point of on her fingers. “Nope. You get buried, you’re staying put, I say. Plus, most people are cremated these days, anyway. It’s a real problem for monument manufacturers. Although cemeteries prefer it. Saves space, you know.”
Some people were looking a little green in the gills. William asked, “And why do you know all this?”
“Oh,” she said, her hand fluttering to that pendant of hers. “I’m the secretary at Sunset Memory Gardens”
“You work at a cemetery?” I couldn’t tell who’d said that, but they sounded pretty ooged out by the idea.
“I answer phones,” she said a bit defensively.
“Well, okay then.” I said, steering the conversation back on track as best I could. “I know this is a lot for everyone to take in. I also figure you have some decisions to make now that you know our secrets. Some of you may choose not to come back. That’s cool. I only ask that you respect our need to keep secret what you’ve learned here.”
“Like anyone’d believe me, anyway,” someone muttered.
“Someone would,” I said sharply. “The Order of Eustace has come here once before. If they caught wind of us....” The Order of Eustace was the official name of the witch hunters that had come after my coven before. They took very literally the phrase from Exodus in the Bible which reads, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” They considered themselves a modern offshoot of the Inquisition, and they used any means necessary to destroy practitioners of true magic. For them to find us? It didn’t bear thinking of. I didn’t want to go through all that again. My voice broke a little, despite myself. “I’m just asking you to be careful.”
“We’re meeting at mine next time,” William said. “Interested parties can talk to me about getting directions and stuff before you leave.”
“That’s great, William,” I said with a smile. “So, everyone should feel free to ‘eat, drink and be merry’” I said, quoting a bit of the Charge of the Goddess.
People instantly started talking among themselves. I noticed Marge eyeing Sebastian from the archway. Her gaze was steady and measuring. I’d been surprised how accurate she was about vampires. Parrish had explained to me that the practice of embalming pretty much wiped out vampirism post-the Civil War. I guess embalming had been put into common practice at that time because so many dead soldiers needed to be transported long distances. Given that part of the process involved exsanguination, no turned vampires survived it. Burial, it seemed, was a necessary part of the magic of transformation. You could still do it, of course, you just had to make sure that no one else took care of the body. Harder to do in this modern era.
Her knowledge made me suspect she was someone’s ghoul. I turned to Sebastian. “Are you eating Marge?”
“Sorry, what?” Though he tried not to show it, I could tell by the way he slumped against the back of the couch he’d been pouting.
Poor baby. Sebastian wasn’t used to being regarded as a loony. Most days he passed for normal.
Not like me. I didn’t even dress normal. Tonight, I’d chosen a black, sparkly, spaghetti-strap tank top and a black mini covered in red bats. My hair was spiky and dyed jet-black, like the eyeliner I used to ring my eyes. Plus, every time I opened my mouth to comment on someone’s aura or the alignment of the stars people looked at me like they furtively eyed Sebastian right now. I patted his thigh. “Marge,” I said. “Is she one of your ghouls?”
“None of my ghouls are here. In fact, I’d be surprised if anyone’s were. Ghouls are discouraged from practicing magic,” Sebastian said.
I snorted. “There are rules about this?”
“Certainly. Think about it for a second, darling. What would happen if all the cows in the world could cast spells?”
Should I be offended he was talking about people as cows? Still, I got the picture. “There’d suddenly be a lot more vegetarians.”
“Right,” he said.
“You said the ghouls were ‘discouraged,” I repeated. “But how do you enforce it?”
“There are ways,” he said cryptically.
I raised my eyebrows. There was a lot I didn’t understand about ghouls, mostly because I didn’t really want to know. I tried not to have any contact with them, and honestly, this was about the most Sebastian or I ever talked about ghouls or ghoul culture. Given my jealousy issues, I was okay with that, so I let it go.
Anyway, the lemonade needed refreshing again.
Sometime after midnight, everyone, even Blythe, who hung on until the last possible moment, went home. Sebastian and I were alone at last.
“So,” he said as he closed the downstairs door. “What do you think? Anyone worth having?”
Having? That was an interesting way of putting it. Was he thinking about having Blythe or just being inscrutably British? Instead of asking him that, I decided to swallow my jealous impulse. “I don’t know. Who did you like?”
We started up the stairs. My bare feet slapped noisily on the hardwood. We were in the foyer, which was the public space between my apartment and the downstairs neighbors. The foyer had vaulted ceilings covered in pressed tin. The wainscoting was worn in places and the plaster was cracked, but you could still see the ghost of its former glory in the oak trim and the tulip bulb chandelier. I stepped past the blue recycling bins heaped with the neighbors’ cheap brown glass on my way to my apartment door.
“Blythe seems promising,” Sebastian commented casually.
I’ll bet. “You think?”
“She’s studied a great deal. That sort of knowledge can be very useful.”
Sebastian would be turned on by smarts. It was kind of his thing, being an alchemist himself. He approached a lot of things with an Age of Enlightenment kind of scientific approach. Me, I’m like Barbie; math is hard.
Sebastian held the door to my apartment for me like a gentleman, and I slipped through under his arm. As I passed, I caught the scent of him – a strangely compelling combination of axle grease and cinnamon.
“Yeah, but book-smarts will only take you so far in real practice,” I said.
“I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
Hmmm, there was so much I could say to that, but I couldn’t seem to formulate any response other than pursed lips.
“What about you?” Sebastian asked as he flopped himself down on to the couch. “Anyone you liked?”
“Griffin,” I said just to be argumentative.
Half-filled plastic cups and potato chip crumbs littered my apartment. Despite the post-party/post-apocalyptic décor, I couldn’t summon the energy required to tidy up. Just looking at the clock on the wall made my eyes gritty and my throat scratchy with a desire for sleep. Clean-up would have to wait until morning.
“You liked the metal-head?”
I settled into the oversized bean bag on the floor opposite Sebastian. It smelled a little like nacho dip and someone else’s aftershave. I made a mental note to spray down the vinyl with Lysole later. “You just don’t like him because he gave you grief.” Plus, despite the death-metal look, he was kind of cute.
“Well,” Sebastian said, sitting forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “It does present some problems if he remains resistant to me.”
Resistant to him? Did he want to have everyone in Thrall so he could have them for lunch? My lips twisted up before I could stop them.
“What’s that look for?” he demanded.
“I think it’s good to have someone in the group who pushes a bit, someone who doesn’t take everything on faith. I think it makes the coven more honest.”
Sebastian’s eyes roamed over me for a long moment before he spoke. “I get it,” he said. “He’s like you used to be.”
“Hardly,” I laughed. “I was the earth mother sort. Birkenstocks and hemp skirts.”
“Yeah, but you were the one who riled things up, weren’t you? Who asked the questions no one else would.”
I gave into a smile. “Yeah, I guess I was.”
“All right then. You can have Griffin if I can have Blythe.”
Again with the “having.” “Okay,” I grudgingly agreed, hoping we were only talking about coven membership and not anything more.
“Anyone else?” Sebastian asked. His eyes glittered with excitement. Despite being able to wander about in the daylight, nighttime energized Sebastian. I could tell he was ready and willing to spend all hours debriefing and comparing notes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have his superhuman stamina.
“Can we talk about it in bed?” I said around a yawn.
His eyes twinkled. “Absolutely.”
I smiled, but my shoulders sagged. I wasn’t really in the mood for sex, but I also didn’t have a good reason to turn down the offer. For once, I had the day off work tomorrow, so I could sleep in. The hour was late, but once things got underway I’d certainly forget all my sleepiness. Still... I couldn’t help but wonder what prompted this sudden interest. Was it really me or was he still thinking about Blythe?
Of course, if I said “no,” she’d seem ten times more attractive.
“You’re not up for it, are you?” Sebastian asked. “Too worn out, love?”
“I’m never too tired for you,” I said. Smiling, I held out my hand. I was tired, but I was going to be damned if I was going to let that other woman occupy his mind. He wanted sex? I was going to take that boy and show him why he came home to me every night despite all the other ghouls.
His grin widened as I led him to the bedroom.
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