When he drops by her house unexpectedly, a misanthropic teenager must play hostess to the one and only Florian Werther Bathory Byron, a vampire with a tragic life story, a luminous complexion, and a dangerous reluctance to actually kill anything he decides to eat.


6. Breakfast

The next morning started off almost normally. When I crawled out of bed and stumbled blearily down the stairs, Akasha was waiting for me at the bottom, ready for her breakfast.

I proceeded into the kitchen, and she followed with an alacrity that belied her age. As I did every morning, I stumbled and barely avoided tripping on her on my way through the threshold, and was about to foot her (gently!) out of the way so I could actually open the refrigerator, when a foot that wasn't mine did it for me.

Oh, ok, that's nice, I thought, and reached in reflexively for Akasha's insulin and her gluten-free cat food. It was only when I turned around again and tried to cross the kitchen to put it in her bowl, that I nearly had a heart attack.

Florian was standing in the way, wearing red satin pajamas and a pair of moccasins which I recognized at once.

"Those are Drusilla's moccasins!" I cried.

"Ah? These holey old things? Really?"

"Yes, she's very attached to them. They're not supposed to leave her room. What are you doing here?"

"What am I - Well, I assumed my invitation extended to the house, not only the west wing. I don't have whiskers, you know."

"Neither does Momow," I grumped, glopping Akasha's all-natural breakfast into her bowl by the door. I jabbed her swiftly with the insulin as soon as she started eating. "Not anymore, anyway. And even he doesn't have the run of the house."

Florian re-seated himself at the breakfast bar, looking a bit less comfortable than he had before.  "Yes, and thank heavens for that, " he said.

I was slightly mollified when I saw that he hadn't helped himself to anything to eat yet, but not yet mollified enough to offer him breakfast.  

"So..." I said, "Where are you headed?"

"Why, nowhere, really, now I'm here."

"I mean, after here."

"Must there be an after?"

I remembered what Florence had said about the will over the phone last night. I wondered if he'd even consulted a lawyer before stopping by. Probably not. He didn't seem like he had many qualms about anything.

"Look," I said slowly, "Are you sure you never heard anything else about my great aunt's will?"

"No, nothing. I was quite surprised that she died so young, in fact. And while offering succor to disadvantaged felines, to boot. Awful affair."

I frowned. Had I told him about the circumstances of her death? I didn't think I had.

Florian pressed onwards, unmindful of my hesitation. "Anyway, Sabilla," he said, leaning forward and fixing me with his clear, almost childish blue eyes, "why do you ask about the will?"

I wasn't in the habit of lying to people. I mean, that's something which I don't do. Sometimes I think I might really improve my circumstances if I were more willing to lie - at least for some things. Like this past fall, when I should have been lying through my teeth on all my college applications, saying I was looking forward to advancing my studies and passionate about A, B, X, Y and Z, that I had "humility" and "drive" and "leadership potential", a "renewed zest for life" in the face of personal tragedy.

But I couldn't then. Or wouldn't. I'm never sure exactly which. And I couldn't hide the truth from Florian now, either.

"My lawyer told me last night that you were written into the will, as a Byron," I said.

He lit up like a kid on Christmas at that. "Oh! That's wonderful! She did care. I knew it! Clever old Cordelia. My own descendant! Who would have thought. But that's not all, is it? What else is there?"

"I think you need to get a lawyer," I said. "And you need to leave. For now, anyway."

"What ever for? Why, Sabilla, you couldn't possibly think -! Listen, even if she did give me priority in the will, I have no intention of letting you go anywhere. After all, you're her descendant. You belong right here. We'll just be - roommates, and I won't pursue any legal claims. And social standards have relaxed wonderfully these days, no one will dare say a thing."

He was right. There really wasn't anyone else in my world who would say a thing. Besides Florence, that is. And I could dodge her questions and ignore her calls indefinitely.

Why wasn't that thought as comforting to me as I wanted it to be?

"I need time to think," I said. It was true. I needed space. Every time I spoke with him, I felt like I lost another couple feet of mental ground. "I'm going to feed the cats. There's cereal in the cupboard if you want some."

"Actually, may I use your blender? I'm a big fan of smoothies."

"Whatever, just don't use the kale or the strawberries, they're for the cats."

"I wouldn't dream of it. Aha! Sturgeon! ..."

I left the kitchen, still frowning. Was I going to have to walk him through getting a lawyer? For his own sake... I knew enough to know that verbal promises don't really cut it, when it comes to strangers and living arrangements. And there was a part of me that completely didn't trust him. The smart part, not the one that had almost melted the last time he smiled.

He had shut the door to the west wing hall behind him, I was surprised to note. But when I pushed it open and stepped inside, no cats were waiting for me in the hall. In fact, all the doors to their rooms were closed, and the flaps latched: something only Florian could have done.

It was an odd thing for him to have managed on his own, given how ambivalent they'd all been towards him last night. Still, maybe they'd warmed up to him. I began to portion out the morning's rations one by one, letting each one out as I did so. Their doors all had framed portraits hung on them, with names, so I wasn't completely surprised to find that each feline had been put back in its proper "exhibit" (Though, he had mixed up the tortoiseshells: and Selene was absent from hers. But knowing she liked to sleep on a person when at all possible, I assumed she must still be camped out in the sunroom, and moved on to the next.) Drusilla was in a foul mood, and in the absence of her slippers had resorted to tearing strips off her climbing tree and nursing on those: I left her the pair I was wearing as a substitute, and narrowly missed being clawed for my consideration.

When I came barefoot to the thirteenth and final door, Momow's door, I found it empty.

Inside, all was silent and still. The window facing the garden, which I had left open the other day for the sake of the breeze, had had the screen knocked out. From the inside. And when I turned around, I caught sight of a small, limp body lying in  a heap behind the door.

It was Selene, and she definitely wasn't still breathing.

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