Letters from New York [Blood Magic, Book 2]

Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret.

All her secrets…

4Likes
0Comments
2710Views
AA

16. Hate for the Holidays

Chapter 13: Hate for the Holidays

When Bruce came through the door, my eyes immediately snapped to the shiny red and green box in his hands: he was holding a present. “You’re awake!” he said, his smile utterly genuine. We hadn’t exactly been on the best of terms before the thing on the roof, but it seemed that sometime during the weeks between then and now, Bruce had put it behind him. It still felt like yesterday to me.

I knew I should be smiling back at him – even just faking it – but I was too busy squinting at the gift box, trying to figure out why he had it. “What is that?” I asked, finally.

“It’s from Lucia.”

“She was just here. Why didn’t she give it to me herself?” I demanded.

Bruce zigzagged around the machines to my bedside and set the box in my lap. “She didn’t want you to feel bad about not having something to give in return.”

I blinked up at him, still not understanding.

“It’s Christmas Eve.”

What? It can’t be. When the initial shock faded, I felt annoyed. What the hell was everyone’s problem? And why’d Lucia suddenly jumped on the Withholding Express?  “And she didn’t… I can’t…” I grumbled.

“Mills, relax,” Bruce implored. “This is exactly why she didn’t say anything; we told her not to stress or agitate you if you woke up. Not until the doctor was able to assess your condition.”

When Lucia said I had been out for eighteen days, I didn’t put it together; she’d given me all the hints I needed in the most careful way she could – she didn’t have to, yet she had – and I’d missed it. The only person I could be mad at was myself.

“What happened to me?” I said.

“We were going to ask you that.”

“I remember being up on the roof, feeling like I was going to faint. But eighteen days?”

“Dr. Warrett, your father’s private physician” – the sorcerer doctor, I thought – “thinks it was more than fainting. Fainting was a symptom, just like your coma, but the ‘catalyst’ – his word, not mine – was something tearing your magic out of you.”

“My magic’s gone?” My mind reeled. Screw Christmas. What the hell, Keel?

“No, not forever. Even when drained, a sorcerer eventually regenerates, assuming the draining doesn’t kill him.” Bruce stopped and looked pointedly at me. “Or her.”

Like when I saved Keel, I thought, but that had been different somehow: that only knocked me out for a few hours. Of course, this time the magic hadn’t been my doing, not even remotely.

“I could have died?”

“Hell, yeah. The doc said you were lucky; said you must have a horseshoe birthmark somewhere.”

Keel couldn’t have known that doing that could’ve killed me. He wouldn’t have done it if he had known. My death meant his. And even in this incarnation, he was far from the suicidal tendencies type.

“What could have done that to my magic?” I asked.

“We were wondering the same thing. You didn’t use any up on the roof?”

“No,” I said, and technically that wasn’t a lie. “How would I explain that to Lucia? We were just up there, walking, talking –” I thought of all the disturbed snow “– throwing snowballs, then I got dizzy, and — well, you know what came next better than I do.”

Bruce studied me. I hadn’t yet been awake for a day and already I was being reminded of my specimen status.

“Where’s Ephraim?” I asked, distracting Bruce from his impromptu exam.

“He had to step out. Should be back anytime.”

“Oh.” I fiddled with the gift in my lap. Where could my father possibly have to go on Christmas Eve? His whole family – or the closest thing he had to one – was right here in this apartment.

“Just so you know, he’s been living here the entire time you’ve been in this coma. I know you refuse to believe it, but he really does want what’s best for you.”

“He has a shitty way of showing it,” I told him. Besides, he was wrong: I no longer believed Ephraim had it in for me – the dream cure was necessary – but he was still keeping way too many secrets. I had every right to know what he knew about my life. Everything about my life.

Bruce’s shoulders stiffened predictably. “That’s between you and him.”

I frowned at him. “Thanks for having my back.” My words dripped sarcasm.

“I’m bonded to your father –” Bruce began, but I didn’t let him continue.

“And I’m bonded to Keel, but I still make my own decisions.” I slipped most of the time onto the end, in my head.

Bruce raised his hand, as if he were about to say something else. Then he dropped it, shook his head and left, gently shutting the door behind him.

Eighteen days. Christmas. Coma. Keel’s possession. Lucia. The secret danger of ghosts.

These things cluttered up my mind. For all I’d learned about how the supernatural world worked – and I really did know things that no other living sorcerer knew – I was still just flailing around in the dark.

I had no idea how Keel had possessed me, but aside from refusing to speak to me and shorting out my magic, he hadn’t been cruel about it. He’d allowed Lucia to live, though that might have been because of my threat rather than a genuine extension of an olive branch. For all the time I’d spend with him, this Keel remained an unknown, and a volatile one at that. Even if he did save the day once, that didn’t diminish any of the horrible things he’d done or remained capable of doing. Never mind, he’d addressed me like a thing again, like a possession. It was going to take a long time to forget the tone of his words, and I doubted a lifetime would scrub away their meaning.

Things were different now. We were different now, even if we were condemned to be binary stars, forever stuck in the same orbit, until our mutually assured destruction.

Accepting that – truly accepting it – invited in an ache that trumped all of my physical soreness. Every certainty I’d once had came crashing down around me. My insides felt as if they were being clawed apart by some impossible, primordial beast.

I cared about Keel and about what happened to him, but I didn’t love him any more. I couldn’t. Not like this.

This time, when the tears came, I didn’t fight them. Crying felt like letting go. And I needed to let go – desperately. Every time I’d sworn to myself that I was doing it, part of me always kept holding on, searching for the tiniest signs, hoping for the unfathomable, refusing to give up on the boy who’d become the man, but I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I didn’t know this Keel and I didn’t understand his motives. And that was dangerous. Beyond dangerous.

Unless I got some perspective and took the reins, one of these times, one of these “experiments,” or whatever they were, was going to kill me.

I sighed, shifted and looked through the blur of tears at the present in my hands. It sure didn’t feel like Christmas. Instead of tearing into the gift – my favourite way of dealing with such things – I carefully pulled off the tape at the seams, prolonging the moment. Beneath the paper was a square white box. I held it up to my ear and shook it gently: a soft crinkling noise came from within. It was so light, it felt empty. I popped off the lid and peered inside. It was practically empty. Just some silver tissue paper and a lined sheet of notepaper, folded in four. I plucked it from the box and opened it.

Merry Christmas, Mills. You’ll get your real gift later; there’s no way you’re opening it anywhere but in front of me.

P.S. It’s great having you back, in case I haven’t had a chance to tell you that yet. Get well soon!

I shoved the note into my pillowcase, beneath my pillow, and dropped the box and gift wrap to the floor. It’d made me smile and that was exactly what I needed. I laid back in the bed, wiped the remaining tears off my face and closed my eyes. I hoped Bruce was calling the doctor. I was ready to have the rest of the tubes and wires removed. They only amplified the pervasive feeling of helplessness that I’d had since I’d awoken.

When I felt myself begin to drift off to sleep, I didn’t fight it. I was going to have to deal with Keel sometime. It might as well be now.

I had a feeling it was going to be a long night.

* * *

I dreamed of many things that first night after coming out of the coma – Mikey; my eighth birthday party, where Brian Cooper knocked himself out on our hallway banister while attempting some ill-advised stunt; a giant cartoon bear that winked into existence in my old bedroom at my old my house, only to speak entirely in riddles – but not Keel. The bond was completely absent. I was alone.

When I awoke, there was nothing but a hulking question mark in my head. Yes, I’d just sworn off him, but where the hell was he? Had that possession trick hurt him as well? Had it killed him, and I didn’t know because I was half-dead myself? Was that what all the lingering pain was about? Was I dying? It suddenly became much harder to suck in breath. No. It couldn't be. We hadn’t fought this hard to let Keel’s father to defeat us so easily.

I reached out with my consciousness, searching for any thread of connection. There was nothing there. Absolute radio silence, except for my own heartbeat loud and steady in my ears.

“Keel?” I thought, desperately. I wasn’t expecting an answer, and I didn’t get one.

Before the rising waters of my panic could reach their dam-bursting point, Ephraim arrived with his sorcerer doctor in tow. The two of them stood at the foot of the bed observing me, while Ephraim subjected me to another litany of questions. Most were similar to Bruce’s. I stuck to Lucia’s story and was rewarded when Ephraim left the room, and the doctor began to free me from the phalanx of machines.

The scowl on the doctor’s face deepened each time he touched me. When he and Ephraim had first entered, there’d been nothing particularly noteworthy about him: an average old dude, with more grey in his hair than brown and the slight sag of a pot belly making his dress shirt bulge at the buttons through the middle. But with Ephraim gone, his entire disposition switched from harmless to hostile. He slammed down his kit on the foot of the mattress, next to my feet, clipping my toes in the process. I flinched and drew in my legs. He disconnected the machines equally gracelessly, yanking cords and slapping off switches, as if the devices had personally wronged him.

“What’s your problem?” I grunted, when he ripped off one of the electrodes taped to my chest particularly viciously. He was able to keep the glee from spreading to his face, but I could see it twinkling in his eyes. They were those of a mean little boy. One who never grew up and left the playground.

“This is my job,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that this is disgusting. Most of us do.”

“Are you talking about me?” I asked, floored. I’d never been bombarded with such open hatred before, at least not by someone who wasn’t Nosferatu. Worse, he was suggesting that this was how most sorcerers felt about me – repelled. Lucia had said all the spirits were talking about me, but this was the first time I’d given any thought to the not-dead world. Seemed all the living supes were talking about me too. I felt sick to my stomach.

“Of course, I’m talking about you. Who else would I be talking about?”

“But you don’t know me or anything about me, beyond rumours and insinuations,” I argued. My words were tight and low, expelled through gritted teeth, as he slowly retracted the needle from my arm, making sure I felt every millimetre of its progress.

“You saved a vampire: that’s all I need to know. And you bestowed a gift on him that was never meant for his kind.” The way he sneered out the words “vampire” and “kind” made the Nosferatu sound like vermin.

“Maybe I did, but you don’t know the circumstances,” I argued.

“I know a vampire’s a bloody parasite,” he said. “That’s basic biology.”

I couldn’t believe Ephraim had this guy caring for me: he could’ve just killed me off while I’d been in a coma and claimed it’d been natural or whatever. Unbelievable.

I rolled onto my side and let the doctor remove the rest of the crap that was attached to me in silence. He could pull faces and make snide remarks all he wanted to, but I wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of reacting to it anymore. I closed my eyes and tried to figure out what the hell Lucia had gotten me for Christmas instead.

Ephraim returned shortly after the doctor left, and I spat out the question that I’d been dying to ask since the two of them first arrived. “Did you treat me for the dreams while I was out?”

“Why?” Ephraim said.

“Never mind why. Did you? Yes or no. Just answer. It’s important.”

Ephraim gave me a puzzled look. “No, I didn’t. Why?”

“Keel’s gone,” I said. “I can’t feel him, and when I sleep –”

“Interesting.” Ephraim didn’t let me finish. “You probably should have told Dr. Warrett about that.”

I looked down at my sheets and rolled my eyes. “That guy is a creep." I didn't want to talk about the doctor. "What do you think it means? Keel being gone.”

“No idea.”

“Do you really have no idea, or is that just something you’re saying to shut me up?” I asked, raising my eyes and searching his grey irises for any deception. “I know you and Bruce know a lot more about the bond than you’re telling me.”

“If we’re not telling you something, there’s a good reason for it.” Typical Ephraim line, typical stoic Ephraim delivery. My illness may have garnered Bruce’s sympathy, but not my father's.

“I’m so sick of that excuse,” I said, sighing. “I get the impression that you’re never going to trust me.”

“You don’t behave in ways that inspire trust,” Ephraim countered.

“Neither do you,” I shot back. This was our dance, but I just wasn’t up for it today. “And I don’t really want to do this on Christmas, okay?”

Ephraim nodded and left me to sink into a quiet reverie. He probably thought he’d lucked out and dodged a bullet, but he’d merely bought himself some time. I would keep bringing this up over and over again until there were no more secrets, no more lies. It was a scab I was born to pick.

The day got marginally better thanks to phone calls from Fredrick, Estella and Mikey. I hadn’t seen them since before the bond returned and we’d been overdue for a family dinner then. Bruce had let them know I’d woken up and they each wanted to make sure I was okay, except for Mikey who was way more interested in what it was like to “sleep” for so long and whether I’d gotten my gift buying done before “the accident.”

I spent the rest of Christmas Day hanging out in my room watching holiday movies on Netflix, avoiding Bruce and Ephraim. I paused the vids every half an hour or so, when I got up to work my disused muscles. I’d pace back and forth until I couldn’t bear the thought idea of taking another wobbly step, sure that if I did all my joints would lock up. Then I’d return to my bed, frustrated, and hit play again.

My recovery was the only thing I could control, so I was determined to control the hell out of it.

I wasn’t just doing this for myself. If I was going to pull off the protection spell for Lucia, I’d need to be stronger, more mentally together. Even though that wasn’t how I felt.

I should have been grateful to be alive, but it was easily the worst Christmas on personal record. In the middle of the afternoon, I heard Bruce and Ephraim leave the apartment. Only then did I drag myself down the hallway to steal a peek at the living room and raid the kitchen cupboards. They hadn’t put up a tree or holiday lights or anything. It was just like every other day around here. My eyes stung and my chest contracted uncomfortably, I suddenly felt more homesick – for my old home, my old family – than I had in months.

I wanted nothing more than to call Fredrick back and demand he come and get me right now; their place was undoubtedly exploding with coloured lights and shiny silver tinsel and the mouth-watering smells of roast turkey and homemade stuffing. But if I wanted to help Lucia, it wouldn’t do any good to get grounded all over again, especially since I knew Bruce and Ephraim would let me see my adopted family the moment they thought I was healthy enough to do so. This wasn’t a war that needed fighting. I just had to suck it up for a few more days.

I gave a final, withering look to the bare living room, then returned to my bedroom with the half-full box of Oreos I’d fished out the kitchen cupboard and a glass of milk. I set them on my desk, then shoved all of the medical gadgets around to the right side of my bed, one by one. Apparently they’d be picked up in a couple days when businesses re-opened. The night table was harder to move – it was short and didn’t have wheels like the machines did – but with some persistence, I got it pushed back into place. By the time I put the cookies and milk on it, I felt as if I’d built the whole damned thing from scratch, and that included chopping down the tree it was made from.

As I munched on my snack, I texted Christmas greetings to Anna and Jenny. I wondered if anyone had told them that I’d been in a coma or that I was now out of it. I supposed I’d find out soon enough.

When neither replied right away, I set my phone on the night table beside the bag of Oreos and tentatively flexed my magic. It sparked briefly, producing a dull orange flicker in my palms, then faded. I was nowhere near fully recharged. How long will that take? I wondered. Not for the first time, I wished my sorcerer’s powers came with an owner’s manual.

Jenny and Anna both texted me back later in the evening, then called. It was clear almost immediately that they thought I’d been hermiting this whole time. For all his talk of me fitting into this world, Bruce had only bothered to notify the most-persistent of my human friends about my condition.

I apologized and explained that I’d been sick, stayed light on the details – thankfully Christmas gave me an excellent excuse for that – and swayed the direction of our conversations to their holidays instead. Anna had spent most of her time off with Scott, as her father’s arrival home had been delayed by the raging blizzard that had swept across Maine the week before. Jenny’s family had rented a cottage and gone south for the week: they were still there.

Not unexpectedly, everyone was having a much more normal day than me. Jealousy cut both of our chats short. I hated feeling such ugliness at Christmas and the easiest way to let it go was to simply hang up the phone.

When Lucia called at ten, at least I was able to bitch about it – all of it – though she refused to allow me more than a couple minutes of rant time.

“I’m about to make your day,” she told me excitedly. “So stop with the pity train and throw open the doors.”

“Go ahead. Impress me,” I said, fully expecting her to fail. Doldrums this deep did not just wash away with a few words.

“Garstatt will talk to you,” she bubbled into the phone.

I said nothing for a long time as those words sank through the layers of built-up disappointment. “Okay, that I wasn’t expecting,” I confessed.

“There’s a problem though,” Lucia said, her upbeat tone darkening, but only slightly.

“Of course there is. There always is.” I should’ve known.

“He wants privacy.”

“What’s that mean?”

“We can’t cure me until after you talk to him.”

I hesitated, momentarily wondering if I was really going to say what I was about to say. “No,” I told her. My mind flashed back on her herky-jerky movements as Keel’s father dragged her towards the roof’s ledge, and I repeated the word more forcefully. “No.” We’d gotten lucky. We might not get lucky again. And there’d be no Keel if something went wrong this time, I was almost sure of it.

“This one’s different,” Lucia said. “I don’t know what happened to you after I winked out, but I do know that.”

“No,” I said again.

“What if I don’t let you choose?” Lucia asked. “And before you argue, I’m hanging up. So Merry Christmas.”

“Lucia!” I shouted uselessly into my cellphone. She was going to get both of us killed.

That thought scared the hell out of me, yet part of me thrilled at what she had done. I hadn’t wanted to say no.  After all, Garstatt might be able to tell me the one thing that no one else could right now: what had happened to Keel and the bond.

And what would happen next.

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...