Bloodlines: The Fiery Heart - part five -

16. února 2014 v 12:39 | Lola Kiss |  Beletrie


WHETHER SHE GOT A PARENTAL PHONE CALL of her own or simply had to deal with Zoe's shock, I knew Sydney would've found out about the divorce by the time I visited her in her sleep.

The few spirit users I knew could all heal pretty well, but none of them could walk dreams as adeptly as I could. It was nice to know I excelled at something, and surprisingly it involved a pretty low level of spirit-just a steady hum, rather than the burst that healing required. The downside was that unlike the person I visited, I wasn't actually asleep-more in a meditative state-so I could end up pretty exhausted if the dream took a while. Seeing as I wasn't that great a sleeper to begin with, I supposed it didn't make much difference.

I pulled Sydney into a dream around midnight, making the two of us materialize in one of her favorite places: the courtyard of the Getty Villa, a museum of ancient history out in Malibu. Immediately, she ran up to me, a frantic look in her eyes.


"I know," I said, catching hold of her hands. "I was there when Zoe got the call."

"Did she tell you the ugly details?"

I raised an eyebrow. "There's something uglier than a divorce?"

Sydney then proceeded to tell me about the bloodbath of a custody battle to come. While I could appreciate their mom wanting Zoe to have a semi-normal life, I had to admit to myself that my reasons for hoping their mom would win were pretty selfish. Zoe disappearing from Palm Springs would make things a hell of a lot easier for Sydney and me. But I knew Sydney's immediate concern was her family being torn apart, and my immediate concern was her happiness. One part of her story in particular caught my attention.

"You really think your dad might be able to work some Alchemist coercion with a judge?" I asked. I'd never thought of that, but it wasn't that far-fetched. The Alchemists could create new identities, get a group of dhampirs and Moroi into a private school on no notice, and cover up dead Strigoi in the press.

She shook her head and sat down on the fountain's edge. "I don't know. Maybe it's not needed if Zoe's adamant about wanting to be with Dad. I don't really know how these kinds of hearings work."

"And what are you going to do?" I asked. "What will you say?"

She met my gaze levelly. "I'm not going to slander either of them, that's for sure. But as for what I'll advocate? It's hard to say. I'll have to think about it. I get my mom's view, and I even believe in it. But if I lean that way, Zoe'll hate me forever-not to mention the fallout with my dad and the Alchemists." A small, bitter smile crossed her lips. "When I got back to our room tonight, Zoe didn't even ask me about my thoughts. She just assumed it was a done deal-that I'd take Dad's side."

"When will it all go down?"

"Not right away. They haven't set a date yet."

She fell silent, and I picked up on the vibe that maybe it was time to switch topics. "How'd the initiation go? Was there any naked dancing or animal sacrifice?"

Her smile warmed up. "Tea and hugs."

She gave me a brief recap, and I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of Jackie loading up on wine. Sydney wouldn't tell me her secret name, though, no matter how much I tried to wheedle it out of her.

"I don't suppose it was Jetta?" I asked hopefully. Whenever I had to take on a fake name, I used Jet Steele because let's face it, that was pretty much as badass as you could get.

"No," she laughed. "Definitely not."

She then wanted to hear about my night, naturally worrying that no one got fed in her absence. We talked for a long time, and although it was hard not to be distracted by her perfect lips and the edge of her shirt's neckline, I found I liked having these dream conversations. I certainly didn't mind our afternoon make-out sessions, but I actually had originally fallen for Sydney because of her mind.

As usual, she was the responsible one who noticed the time. "Oh, Adrian. It's time for bed."

I leaned toward her. "Is that an invitation?"

She lightly pushed me away. "You know what I mean. You're never in good shape when you're exhausted." It was a polite way of saying that being worn out made me susceptible to spirit's attacks on my sanity, which I couldn't argue with. I could also tell from the uneasy look in her eyes that she wasn't thrilled about the use of spirit this dream involved either.

"Think you can get away tomorrow?" Weekends were always difficult because Zoe trailed her like a shadow.

"I don't know. I'll see what I can-oh, God."


She put a hand to her forehead and groaned. "Hopper. I left him at that witch's house. He was running around during the party, and I was so out of it after Mom called that I just walked right out the door with Ms. Terwilliger."

I took hold of her hand and squeezed it. "Don't worry. He'll be fine. Wild night on the town, staying out with an older woman. Warms my heart."

"So glad you're a proud dad. The problem is getting him home. I might be able to sneak out and see you later tomorrow, but I don't think I've got enough time to get out there. And I think Ms. Terwilliger's busy too."

"Hey," I said, feeling mildly indignant. "You just assume if you and Jackie can't do it, it's a lost cause? I'll go rescue him. If he wants to leave."

She brightened. "That'd be great. But I thought you had your art project."

It was such a small thing I was offering, no effort at all, really, and it warmed my heart to see how much it meant to her. Sydney was so often forced to be the responsible one who had to handle every single detail that I think it was an almost shocking surprise that someone might run an errand for her. "I'll have time afterward. She won't be freaked out about a vampire coming by, will she?"

"No. Just don't elaborate on your parental role." She gave me a light kiss, but I craftily pulled her closer and made it a much, much longer one. When we finally broke away, we were both breathless.

"Good night, Adrian," she said pointedly.

I took the hint, and the dream faded around us.

Back at my apartment, I indulged in my one daily drink, hoping it would send me to a quick slumber. No such luck. In the old days, it usually took at least three before I'd pass out in drunken oblivion. Now, my fingers lingered on the vodka bottle as I teetered on the edge of getting a refill. I missed it. Badly. Aside from the bliss of the buzz, alcohol could numb out spirit for a little while, and although the magic was a pleasant addiction, a reprieve from it was nice. Self-medicating had fended off a lot of spirit's negative effects for years, but this new deal was letting it start to gain ground.

A few more moments passed, and I pulled my hand back, clenching it into a fist. I retired to my bed, throwing myself onto it and burying my face in the pillow. It smelled faintly of jasmine and carnation from a perfume oil I'd recently gotten Sydney. She wasn't a perfume fan in general, claiming the chemicals and alcohol weren't healthy. But she couldn't argue against the pure, all-natural blend I'd found, especially when she'd heard the price. She was too pragmatic to let something like that go to waste.

I closed my eyes and wished she was with me-not even for sex, but just for the comfort of her presence. Considering the danger in our brief afternoons, a night together probably wasn't going to happen anytime soon, which was a damned shame. Surely I'd sleep better if I had her with me. It was frustrating because I really was exhausted in body, but my spinning mind refused to settle down.

I finally fell asleep an hour and a half later, only to be awakened by my alarm four hours after that. I stayed in bed, staring bleary-eyed at the ceiling, wondering if I could possibly cancel the meeting I'd set up with a classmate to work on a project. Seriously, what had I been thinking? Eight on a Saturday? Maybe I was closer to madness than I feared.

At least we were meeting in a coffee shop. Unlike my lovely soul mate, I had no restrictions on caffeine and ordered the biggest cup of drip they could manage. The barista assured me there was more where that came from. Across the room, my partner watched with amusement as I approached her table.

"Well, hey there, sunshine. Nice to see you all bright eyed and ready to start the day."

I held up a warning hand as I sat down. "Stop right there. It's going to take at least another cup of this before you become charming and witty."

She grinned. "Nah, I always am, day or night."

Rowena Clark and I had met on the first day of our mixed media class. I'd sat down at her table and said, "Mind if I join you? Figure the best way to learn about art is to sit with a masterpiece." Maybe I was in love, but I was still Adrian Ivashkov.

Rowena had fixed me with a flat look. "Let's get one thing straight. I can see through bullshit a mile away, and I like girls, not guys, so if you can't handle me telling you what's what, then you'd better take your one-liners and hair gel somewhere else. I don't go to this school to put up with pretty boys like you. I'm here to face dubious employment options with a painting degree and then go get a Guinness after class."

I'd scooted my chair closer to the table. "You and I are going to get along just fine."

And we had, enough so that we'd partnered up for a project on outdoor sculpture. We'd have to head over to campus to work on it soon but first needed to finalize the sketch we'd started in a pub after class earlier this week. I'd given up my bedtime drink to have a beer with her, and while it hadn't had much effect on me, Rowena had proven to be a total lightweight. Our sketch hadn't gotten very far.

"Up late partying?" she asked me now.

I took a long drink of the coffee, feeling only slightly guilty that Sydney would be salivating if she could see me. "Just up late." I yawned. "Where are we at?"

She pulled out our sketch, which was on a bar napkin and read, Insert sketch here.

"Hmm," I said. "Promising start."

After an hour of hashing out ideas, we decided to do a model of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey and then cover it with advertising slogans and internet lingo. I'd actually gotten bored during that movie, but Rowena was going off about how it was a symbol of advanced evolution and how our designs would be an ironic statement of where our society had ended up. Mostly I was on board because I thought it wouldn't involve too much effort. I was serious about my painting, but this was just a general required class.

A good chunk of our day was spent just getting the supplies. Rowena had borrowed a friend's pickup truck, and we went to a building-supply store in hopes of finding a large concrete rectangle for our monolith. We lucked out and even found some smaller blocks to put at the base of it.

"We can make a ring," Rowena explained. She'd recently dyed her hair lavender and absentmindedly tucked wayward locks behind her ears as she spoke. "And then paint the various stages of evolution. Monkey, caveman, all the way up to some hipster texting on his cell phone."

"We didn't evolve from monkeys," I told her as we wrestled the rectangle onto a pallet. "The earliest human ancestor is called Australopithecus." I wasn't entirely sure where vampire evolution fit in, but I certainly wasn't bringing that up.

Rowena released the block and stared in amazement. "How the hell do you know that?"

"Because I mentioned the monkey thing the other day, and my girlfriend had a, uh, few things to say about that." A "few" things had actually turned into a one-hour lesson on anthropology.

Rowena laughed and lifted one of the smaller blocks. They were still pretty heavy but didn't require both of us. "I'd really like to meet this mythical girlfriend of yours, if only to see who in the world could put up with you. I could get Cassie, and we could all go out for a drink together."

"She doesn't drink," I said quickly. "And she's eighteen anyway. Well, almost nineteen." With a start, I realized Sydney's birthday was fast approaching at the beginning of next month, February, and I didn't have anything for her. In fact, after my investment in vinyl, I didn't have much money at all until my dad's next deposit came in mid-month.

Rowena smirked. "Younger woman, huh?"

"Hey, it's legal."

"I don't want to know about your sordid sex life." She hoisted another block. "We'll go to Denny's or something. If you don't bring her around soon, I'll think you made her up."

"I couldn't make her up if I tried," I declared grandly. But inside, I couldn't help but feel a little wistful. I would've loved to go out on a double date with Rowena and her girlfriend. I was pretty sure Sydney would hit it off with her, if only to gang up and tease me mercilessly. But public appearances weren't an option, not unless we went for a night on the town with the Keepers.

We took our concrete haul back to Carlton College's campus and began the arduous task of transporting the blocks to a large quadrangle that our class had gotten permission to use. A few of our classmates were working as well, and they helped us carry the centerpiece, which made things a lot easier. Even if it wasn't up to scale with the movie's monolith, it was still a bitch to lift. That left us to bring in the small blocks, and our conversation quieted as we worked. We were both tired and glad to be nearly done for the afternoon. The actual painting would happen tomorrow. It was Rowena's specialty too, and we wanted to be ready and fresh to make the most of our strengths in this project. It was cool out, but the sky was clear, leaving nothing between the sun and me. That was why I'd consented to the early time, sparing me from the worst of the light. I'd be able to rescue Hopper from that witch soon and then go home in the hopes that Sydney could get away.

Once all the blocks were on the quad, Rowena grew obsessed with arranging them perfectly. I didn't care at this point and busied myself texting a message to Sydney on the Love Phone, letting her know that my art was a paltry thing compared to the brilliance of her beauty. She texted back: This is me rolling my eyes. To which I replied: I love you too.

"We could do this," said Rowena, setting three of the smaller blocks on top of one another. "Mini-monoliths."

"Whatever you want."

She decided against it and started to lift the top one. I'm not entirely sure what happened after that. I think it was just a subtle shift in her hand gone wrong. Whatever it was, the block slipped from her grasp and fell hard-slamming her hand between it and the brick-covered ground below.

Her scream rang through the diag, and I moved with a speed that would've impressed Eddie. I grabbed the block and lifted it, but as I did, I knew it was a little too late. A few tendrils of spirit told me she'd broken some bones in her hand. And in those split seconds of chaos, I acted. It was her right hand, and breaking it was going to put her out of commission with painting for the rest of the semester. She could do intricate, delicate things with watercolors that I could only dream of. No way could I endanger that. I sent a burst of spirit into her hand, drawing from my own life energy to mend the bones. Healing usually felt like a tingle to the recipient, and I could tell from the shock on her face that she had noticed.

"What did you do?" she gasped.

I fixed my eyes and sent out a burst of compulsion. "Nothing," I said. "Except move the block. This is a pretty traumatic and confusing experience for you.

Her eyes glazed over for a brief moment, and then she nodded. I let go of the magic, the sudden emptiness within me the only indication of just how much I'd pulled out for the healing and compulsion. With the tingling gone from her mind, Rowena cradled the afflicted hand as our classmates came running over.

"Holy shit," said one of them. "Are you okay?"

Rowena winced. "I don't know. It doesn't feel . . . I mean, it aches . . . but nothing like when it first hit."

"You need to see a doctor," the same guy insisted. "It might be broken."

Rowena flinched, and I could guess that the same fears I'd felt were running through her head. I knew there was no permanent damage but had to play along because it was the reasonable thing to do.

"Give me your keys," I told her. "The campus clinic's open."

Triage got us in quickly, since having a thirty-pound concrete block fall on you was pretty serious. But after an examination and X-rays, the doctor simply shrugged. "Everything's fine. Maybe it wasn't as heavy as you thought."

"It was pretty heavy," Rowena said, but relief filled her face. I even thought I caught a glimmer of tears in her eyes as she looked at me. "I guess you just got the block off fast enough." There was no sign that she remembered that burst of healing.

"Because I'm manly and brave," I said solemnly.

They discharged her, and as we were leaving, her girlfriend, Cassie, showed up. Rowena was pretty, but Cassie was a knockout. She flung her arms around Rowena, and I shook my head ruefully.

"How in the world did you pull that off?" I asked.

Rowena grinned at me over Cassie's shoulder. "I told you: My wit and charm are always on."

We made arrangements to finish the project tomorrow, and I headed back to my apartment. I hadn't used such an intense amount of spirit in a long time, and the rush was heady. The world was full of life and light, and I practically floated on air when I walked inside. How could spirit be a bad thing when it made me feel like this? I felt glorious. I felt more alive than I had in days.

I picked a random record from one of the boxes. Pink Floyd. Nope, not in my current mood. I swapped it out for the Beatles and then threw myself into my self-portrait with a renewed vigor. Or rather, portraits. Because I couldn't stop. My mind was abuzz with ideas, and it was impossible to pick just one. Color flew fast and furious onto the canvas as I experimented with different concepts. One was an abstract of my aura, the way Sonya and Lissa always said it looked. Another was more accurate, as realistic as I could manage from a picture on my cell phone, save that I painted myself in reds and blues. On it went.

And bit by bit, the energy began to fade. My brush slowed down, and at last, I sank onto the couch, feeling drained and exhausted. I stared around at my handiwork, five different paintings, all drying. My stomach rumbled, and I tried to remember when I'd last eaten. A muffin with Rowena? I was getting as bad as Sydney. I put a pizza in the microwave, and as I watched it cook, my mind began to spin with thoughts of a different nature.

Sydney's birthday. How could I have forgotten it? Well, I hadn't forgotten it. I had the date burned into my mind, February 5. It was the logistics of getting her a gift that had eluded me. Turning toward the haphazard boxes of records, I stared at them with dismay, suddenly hating them for the dent they'd made in my monthly funds. Sydney had been right about how foolish the purchase was. What could I have bought for her instead? I imagined a dozen roses showing up at her dorm anonymously. Maybe two dozen. Or even three. Equally appealing was the thought of a diamond tennis bracelet on her slim wrist. Something subtle and classy, of course. She'd never go for anything too outlandish.

Thinking of diamonds made me remember Aunt Tatiana's cuff links. I ignored the microwave beeping that it was finished and trotted off to my bedroom. The cuff links were still sitting out, a dazzling array of red and white fire that glittered in the overhead light. Sell these and you'd have allowance for life, Sydney had joked. Not just allowance or my car payments. I could get her a present. Presents. The roses, the bracelet, a romantic dinner.

No. No dinner, nothing in public. The thought descended heavily on me as I contemplated our future together. Could we have one? What kind of relationship was this, grasping at these stolen moments? She was too reasonable to do this forever. Eventually she'd realize it was time to let it go. Let me go. I put the cuff links back in their box, knowing I could never sell them and that I was in the full throes of a spirit crash.

It happened with these bouts of magic. I'd barely been able to drag myself out of bed when I'd brought Jill back. The toll of wielding so much life was just too great, and the mind crashed from the high. Well, mine did. Lissa didn't have these dramatic ups and downs. Hers was more of a steady darkness that lingered with her for a few days, keeping her moody and melancholy until it lifted. Sonya had a mix of both effects.

My little brooding artist, Aunt Tatiana used to say with a chuckle when I got in these moods. What's gotten into your head today? She'd speak fondly, like it was adorable. I could almost hear her voice now, almost see her standing there beside me. With a shaking breath, I closed my eyes and willed the image away. She wasn't here. Shadow-kissed people could actually see the dead. Crazy people only imagined them.

I ate my pizza standing at the counter, telling myself over and over that this mood would pass. I knew it would. It always did. But oh, how the waiting sucked.

When I finished, I returned to the living room and stared at the paintings. What had seemed wonderful and inspired now seemed shallow and stupid. They embarrassed me. I gathered them all up and tossed them into a corner on top of one another, not caring about the torn canvas or wet paint.
Then I hit the liquor cabinet.


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