Frank's friends turned out to be--no surprise--kind of the dregs. A couple of vampires whom Claire absolutely didn't trust around her veins, and who had a disturbing tendency to flash fangs at her when they thought she wasn't looking. One was named Rudolph (and she had to resist the temptation to laugh), and the other just went by West. They looked exactly like the kind of friends she'd have expected Frank Collins to have--greasy, shifty, and tough. Oh, and West was a woman, a tough blond biker-type chick who wore a muscle tee to show off her biceps, which even Shane agreed were impressive.
He'd also brought in some humans--again, biker types, who were big on muscles and (Claire thought) not so much with the brains. But they were going to help, and for their own reasons--mainly because their family or friends or girlfriends had forgotten all about them. They weren't the kind of people who liked being overlooked.
The Glass House filled up pretty quickly, and Claire had to send people out for supplies; she broke out all of the vampire-fighting equipment she knew about in the house, which was considerable, but it still wasn't enough to equip what was shaping up to be a small army. She gave her recurve bow--a souvenir of her last trip outside of Morganville--to West, who said she used to be a competition archer, back in her day. Which was, apparently, back in the day when people wore armor. Claire kept a small folding crossbow for herself.
By the time the human bikers came back with more wood for stakes, and cases of beer and Cokes, the day was half over.
"Do they have to drink beer before we do this?" Claire complained to Frank, who was looking over a selection of stakes and testing them for sharpness on the end. He had a can in his hand, too. "Correction: do you have to drink beer before we do this?"
"You get ready your way," he told her, and chose his weapons. "We'll get ready ours." She started to leave him to it, and got only a couple of steps away before Frank said, without looking up from the stakes in his hand, "How is he?"
Of all the things Claire had expected, that wasn't it, and it took her a minute of honest puzzlement to try to work out why someone like Frank Collins would even care. She finally said, "He's doing okay. I talked to my mom yesterday; the doctors think they can fix his heart problem. He's feeling a lot better."
Frank nodded. "Good. Family's important," he said. "Maybe too important, sometimes. I know how much I screwed it up with Shane. Can't blame the kid for hating me now." It was almost a . . . question? And if it was a question, what could Claire say? Yeah, he hates your guts. That probably wasn't what Frank was hoping to hear.
"Just take care of him," she said. "That's what you're supposed to do. Stop using him, and start protecting him. I know he thinks he doesn't need it, but sometimes he does. Sometimes we all do."
Now Frank did look up, and Claire felt a blush building in her face as he stared at her like he was actually seeing her for a change. "He did okay," Shane's dad finally said. "Picking you."
She wasn't sure how to feel about earning the worst dad in the world's approval, so she just smiled weakly, and headed for another room--any other room.
The bikers finally drained the beer and got themselves loaded up in other ways, and they were just finishing with the preparations when the front door rattled.
Claire hushed everybody, and went to look out the window. There were two people on the doorstep. One of them was wearing a big, floppy black hat and coat, and the other one was completely shrouded in a blanket.
"What do you think--should we let them in?" Shane asked. He'd come up behind her, as close as if he actually remembered who she was. That felt . . . weirdly good, that he wasn't trying to stay out of her space. That he trusted her that much.
"I think that they probably have a key anyway," Claire said, as she heard the lock turn. "Let me take care of this."
She got to the hall just as the door swung open, and the figure in the blanket came over the threshold. Behind it, the one in the hat came in and shut the door and locked it.
"I'm telling you," Eve was saying, "something is totally wrong around here. My mother is completely mental. More mental than she was before, and that is at least ten trailer trucks of crazy." She stopped when she saw Claire standing there, and pulled off the hat. Her look of surprise turned to calculation, and then an outright glare. "Okay, who's this? Michael? You have a girl in your house? You could have told me!"
"Who's what? What girl? Get this off of me!"
Eve grabbed one end of the blanket and unwrapped, and Michael stumbled out of it, looking lightly broiled but nowhere near as bad as the last time Claire had seen him. She smiled in delight and moved toward them, then realized it wasn't a good idea, because they both looked immediately on guard.
Crap. They didn't know her. Once again, it hurt.
"Hi, Michael, Eve," Claire said, and tried for a reassuring smile. "You're right. There's something really wrong in Morganville, no doubt about it. Eve, I'm Claire. I talked to you on the phone, remember?"
Eve let that process for a second, then turned to Michael. "Is this your girlfriend?"
"What? No! No, I never saw her before!" Michael said. "I told you, I don't have a girlfriend! Ah, right now, I mean. Not that I never have. Or will."
"He's kind of between girls," Shane said, stepping up behind Claire. "Hey, Mikey. Eve."
Eve squealed. "Shane? Thank God, somebody sane. Well, sane-ish." She didn't give him a chance to answer, just threw herself at him and hugged him. "I looked for you at school. Figures you'd be skipping."
"Don't get all handsy, Gothica; I was busy." Eve backed off, smiling, and Shane exchanged a manly fist-bump with Michael. "Hey, man. You've looked . . . better."
"I know. I'm . . . I'm sick, that's all," Michael said. "What are you doing here? Wait . . ." He looked past them to the living room, where the bikers were crushing beer cans and checking weapons. "Okay, I think I have a better question. What are they doing in my house? And where are my parents?"
"Long story," Shane said. "You guys had better sit down."
In the end, Claire was pretty sure Eve believed it, and Michael really didn't; he seemed firmly set on denial of everything that didn't fit his sixteen-year-old-logic framework, including the fact that he was a vampire. He also couldn't get used to the idea that his parents had moved away, or that his grandfather was . . . gone. Shane had adjusted pretty fast, but Michael . . . not so much. Claire wondered if that had something to do with their personal histories; Shane had grown up adapting to whatever mood his father might have been in, learning to be on his own, learning not to assume that everything was as it seemed. Michael must have had just the opposite kind of life--stable, quiet, with parents who loved him.
Oddly, that seemed to hurt, not help, when it all got taken away from him. Claire was afraid that it was going to drive him crazy, like some of the other vampires, if they didn't fix this soon.
"Wicked crazy stuff you're telling us, you know," Eve finally said, sipping her Coke. "Not that I don't believe you. Morganville's always running on Standard Insane Time. So. What do you want us to do, exactly?"
"Ah . . . nothing?"
"Nothing? Oh, come on, you're going to go all Mission: Impossible and I don't even get to wear a fake face or pose as a spy or anything? This plan sucks. I am not the friend who holds the purses." Eve leaned forward. For Eve, she was dressed kind of plainly--a black, tight T-shirt, a silver skull necklace, the silver choker that matched the one Claire was wearing, and some temporary tattoos of roses that ran up her arms. Plain black jeans and heavy boots. "Look, I'm all Action Goth! Give me a job! I live here, too, you said. Don't I? Doesn't that mean I have as much to lose as anybody else?"
"Uh . . . yeah, you do. Okay, you come with me and Shane. But remember--the idea is to distract Myrnin, not kill him. And don't put yourself in more danger than you have to."
"If she's going, I'm going," Michael said. Eve looked at him, surprised. "What? I'm not letting you girls have all the fun."
"Hey!" Shane said. "Shut up, Goldilocks."
"I'm going," Michael snapped back. "If this needs doing, my family's always been the ones around here to step up and get things done. If . . . if there's nobody else, then it's just me. So I'll help."
"Just don't vamp out on me, man."
"I'm not a fucking vampire, Shane!"
That argument had been going on for about an hour, and evidently, Frank was really tired of it. He walked out of the living room and into the parlor, pulled the knife from his belt, and sliced Michael across the arm.
Eve screamed, and Shane jumped up and shoved his dad back. Michael stared down at his arm in shock. It was a big, ugly cut, and it bled . . . and then it stopped.
And then it slowly closed up.
Eve sat down so suddenly it was as if she'd fainted, except her eyes were still open. Shane froze, staring at Michael's arm as it healed up.
Michael looked like he'd seen a ghost. His own ghost. "No," he said. "No, it's not . . . I'm not--"
"Oh, shut up," Frank snapped. "You're a vampire. Get over it, kid. Move on. Claire, if you want to get this done, let's go. Seems like most people who forget things do it overnight. We can't wait for tomorrow. Chances are, some of us standing here won't remember what the hell we're supposed to be doing by then. We can have your therapy session later."
He put his knife back in the sheath and stalked away. Claire cleared her throat. "Michael? You all right?"
He ran his fingers over the smooth skin where the cut had been, wiping away the blood. Then, as if in a dream, he put his fingers in his mouth. "It tastes good," he said. "Eve, it--"
"Yeah, I get it; you're a vampire," she said. "Creepy. And okay, a little hot, I admit."
"You don't mean that."
"Come on. I still like you, you know, even if you . . . crave plasma."
Michael blinked and looked at her as if he'd never seen her before. "You what?"
"Like. You." Eve enunciated slowly, as if Michael might not know the words. "Idiot. I always have. What, you didn't know?" Eve sounded cool and grown-up about it, but Claire saw the hectic color in her cheeks, under the makeup. "How clueless are you? Does it come with the fangs?"
"I guess I . . . I just thought . . . Hell. I just didn't think . . . You're kind of intimidating, you know."
"I'm intimidating? Me? I run like a rabbit from trouble, mostly," Eve said. "It's all show and makeup. You're the one who's intimidating. I mean, come on. All that talent, and you look . . . Well, you know how you look."
"How do I look?" He sounded fascinated now, and he'd actually moved a little closer to Eve on the couch.
She laughed. "Oh, come on. You're a total model-babe."
"You don't think you are?" He shook his head. "Then you're kind of an idiot, Glass. Smart, but an idiot." Eve crossed her arms. "So? What exactly do you think about me, except that I'm intimidating?"
"I think you're . . . you're . . . ah, interesting?" Michael was amazingly bad at this, Claire thought, but then he saved it by looking away and continuing. "I think you're beautiful. And really, really strange."
Eve smiled and looked down, and that looked like a real blush, under the rice powder. "Thanks for that," she said. "I never thought you knew I existed, or if you did, that you thought I was anything but Shane's bratty freak friend."
"Well, to be fair, you are Shane's bratty freak friend."
"You can be bratty and beautiful," Michael said. "I think it's interesting."
Shane cleared his throat. "Look, could we get moving? You two are giving me diabetes. And if we're going to get this done--"
"Oh, chill out, Collins; we're bonding, here." Eve met Michael's eyes squarely. "So we're good?"
"Ah . . . I guess."
"Don't bite me."
He smiled faintly. "I won't."
"Then let's go save this stupid town so I can ask you out on a date already."
"Well, you don't actually have to wait," Michael said. "This is kind of a date."
"Hmm." Eve thought it over. "Potentially fatal, dangerous-- yeah, it does sound like a lot of the dates I've had, come to think of it. Only with at least twice the hotness."
Shane looked at Claire and made a gagging sound, which made her laugh. That made him smile, and for a second there it was, that connection, that feeling that took her breath away, like she was flying all the way up into the sun's warm glow.
Shane hesitated, then held out his hand to her. "We do it together," he said. "The four of us. Right?" His fingers felt warm on hers, so familiar it almost brought tears to her eyes. "Right," Claire said. "Michael, just because you're a vampire doesn't mean you shouldn't watch out for Myrnin. He's killed other vampires before. Just . . . everybody, watch out for each other."
"Hey, we're Morganville kids," Eve said. "That's what we do."
"If you're all done kissing and exchanging class rings, let's go," Frank said from the doorway, and tossed Eve a wooden stake, which she snatched out of the air. Michael got a crossbow. They looked at each other, and then exchanged the weapons without saying a word.
"We'll take Eve's car," Claire said.
"I have a car?"
"It's the hearse out there."
"But . . . I don't even have a driver's license!"
Claire went out to the skull-shaped purse sitting on the table in the hall, opened it, and combed through stuff until she found Eve's ID. She handed it over. Eve looked at it, openmouthed, and showed it to Michael. "That is a wicked bad picture, so don't judge," she said. "But look. Eighteen. I'm eighteen!"
"Come on, I've seen you with fake IDs since you were twelve," Michael said, and looked at Claire. "Is it real?"
"It's real. She's eighteen. You're nineteen, by the way."
"Huh." Michael said that like he wasn't sure how to feel about it.
"You're going to let her drive?" Shane asked Claire quietly. "Really? Even though she doesn't remember how?"
"Think of it as on-the-job training," she said. "You can co-pilot. She'll be fine." Claire left them and went to Frank and his group. "Move this." She pointed to the bookcase Michael had put in front of the portal for extra protection. The bikers shoved it out of the way, with a lot of enthusiasm that sent books tumbling to the floor. "There'll be a door here at some point. Whenever there is, get through as fast as you can. I don't know how long I can keep it open."
Frank frowned at her. "Why don't we just all go the same way?" he asked.
"Because the door's locked on the other side, too," she said. "I need to unlock it before you can get through. Trust me: this is better."
"Well, hurry up," he said. "Getting dark out there. You don't want to be on the streets at night."
"Thanks, Dad," Shane said. "Great advice. Never would have thought of that on my own, what with all the vampires and crazy people and everything."
Frank just shook his head and said, "Be careful. All of you. I get the feeling this one ain't gonna be no walk in the park."
That, Claire thought, was probably an understatement.
The streets were a mess. People had abandoned cars and left them; they passed the wreck of Oliver's limousine, too, which, now that Claire took a good look from the outside, seemed even more terrifying. Eve drove with extreme caution, steering with both hands rigidly on the wheel in the driver's-education-approved ten and two positions. She looked petrified, and that didn't get any better the farther they got from the Glass House, and the closer to their destination. By the time they'd pulled to a stop where Claire said, next to the entrance to the alley next to the Day House, Eve looked ready to collapse.
Claire looked over at her from the passenger seat and said, very softly, "Eve, are you sure you can do this? You could stay here. In case we need to get away quick." "That's true," Michael said. "We could use a reliable getaway driver if this doesn't go well."
Eve was breathing too fast, and even with the makeup, her face was flushed, but she shook her head. "No," she said. "No, I can do it. I want to stay with you guys. Besides, Collins might do something stupid if I'm not there to tell him different."
"Bite me, Goth princess," Shane called from the back. "Not literally or anything."
"Maybe you should say that to Michael."
"Not funny, Eve," Michael said.
Eve raised her eyebrows and held her fingers up, measuring off about an inch. "Little bit," she said. Claire smiled. "So. We're going, then."
"Yeah, we're going." Claire opened her door and got out. The sunset was beautiful tonight, all oranges and deep reds against a dark, endless blue. She stared at it, because the thought crossed her mind that if this didn't work, if she couldn't pull this off, it might be the last sunset she'd ever see.
Or any of them would ever see.
This is my fault, Claire thought, as she did about every minute of the day. And it's my responsibility.
Michael was holding Eve's hand, Claire saw, or at least, Eve was holding his for dear life. They joined her. Eve still looked petrified. After a second's hesitation, Michael put his arm around her shoulders. "Hey," he said, and leaned closer. "You're going to do okay."
"Really? How do you know?"
"Because I know you."
Eve smiled faintly, and then grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him close. They stood that way for a second, Michael staring down into her eyes, and then she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.
"Whoa," Shane said. "Really? Now? Seriously?"
Fifteen-year-old Shane was no kind of romantic, Claire thought, and wanted to smack him in the back of the head. Michael and Eve ignored them, and just kept on kissing until finally Eve pulled back and took in a deep breath. The white makeup really wasn't doing much to tamp down the brightness in her cheeks.
Michael had black lipstick smeared all over his mouth. Eve reached in her pocket and dug out a tissue, and wiped it away. It was sweet and sexy at the same time, the way Michael watched her, as if he couldn't believe his luck.
"Sorry," Eve said. "I needed to do that. In case I die or something."
"It's okay," Michael said. "Really. Anytime." He sounded like he meant it, too.
Shane looked at Claire, and for a second she thought--But no. He said, "Don't expect me to go all Romeo on you or anything."
She swallowed a little bubble of disappointment. "I don't," she said, and kept her voice cool and level. "Just watch my back."
"Uh . . . okay." He sounded a little disappointed, too. What was she supposed to have said? Guys.
"Let's go," she said. "We're sitting ducks out here."
Shane stuck next to her, and Michael and Eve followed behind, still holding hands. Claire glanced over at him as they walked down the narrowing, high-fenced alley. "You scared?"
He shook his head. "Weirdly enough? Not really. It feels . . . like I've done this before. Or like it's just a dream, and I'm going to wake up. I can't tell which." He made a fist and looked at it. "I'm bigger than I feel like I should be. Three years of growth, I guess. I feel stronger. That's good." "Shane, in case we don't . . . don't come out of this, I wanted to say . . ."
He glanced over at her, and she felt her whole body warm from it. She remembered that look. It made her feel naked inside and out, but not in a creepy kind of way. In a way that felt . . . free. "If what you say is true, and I guess it has to be, I think I know why we're . . . together," he said. "I think I'd fall for you no matter what, Claire. You're kind of awesome."
She grinned. "You just like older women."
"Damn straight," he said, and spun a stake in his fingers as if he'd been doing it all his life. Which, she thought, maybe he had, really. "So what were you going to say, before?"
She sighed. "Nothing."
"I was going to say that I love you."
He didn't know what to say to that, she could tell, and for a few steps there was dead silence. "I knew I didn't just hook up with you," he finally said. "You know I can't say it back, right? Because I just met you and everything?"
"I know," she said. "But I had to say it anyway. Kind of like Eve, with the kissing."
The shack was up ahead. Once they were inside, there would be no going back. Claire had a terrible premonition, a black, suffocating feeling that this was the last moment for them, that one of them, maybe both of them, wouldn't come through this alive.
She was going to lose him, and to make it worse, she didn't really even have him anymore. That hurt so badly it almost made her cry.
Shane suddenly stopped, turned to her, and grabbed her. She didn't know why at first, and then he bent his head to hers and oh, he was kissing her, and it was tentative at first, and then sweet, and then it was . . . incredibly hot and tender and lovely and it made all those brokenhearted moments vanish like snow under the sun.
He let her go, finally, and stepped back, eyes glittering, lips damp, spots of color high on his cheeks. He didn't say anything. Neither did she.
Finally, Michael leaned over and said, "If you're done, shouldn't we be moving or something?"
"Oh," Claire said, and almost laughed. "Yeah. Let's get this over with, because I want to do that again."
The moment of golden joy that kiss had sparked inside her stayed with her as she unlocked the shack's door, and even as they started down the steps toward Myrnin's lab.
It lasted right up until they were about halfway down, and she heard Myrnin say, in a silky, dark voice, "I do believe I have visitors."
Well, it wasn't as if she'd expected him not to notice, but there was something alien in his voice, something that made her completely go cold inside. "Keep going," she whispered. "Spread out. Pretend it's vampire dodgeball."
"Oh, now you tell us," Eve whispered back. Her voice was shaking. "I frickin' hate dodgeball. Good luck, new girl."
"I'm faster than the rest of you, if--because I'm a vampire," Michael said, and it was some kind of breakthrough for him to say that. "If you get in trouble, I'll be there."
"Nice," Shane said. "I'm warming up to this bloodsucking thing, Mikey."
"No, you're not."
"Okay, no, I'm not, but right now let's pretend I am."
Claire stepped down to the floor of the lab. It was silent now, and it looked deserted. The lights were burning, but somehow it seemed very dark, and very scary. She reviewed what she had to do: get to the bookcase, move it aside, unlock the door that covered the portal, concentrate, get the portal open, and hold it while Frank and his people came through.
Yeah, that was going to be easy.
Shane, Michael, and Eve were moving farther from her, leaving her on the far right side. That was good; she had a straight shot to the bookcase from here.
"I warned you," Myrnin's voice said, echoing from the corners of the room. "I told you that if you came here, you were mine. Why wouldn't you listen?"
"Because we can't," Claire said. "I'm sorry, but we have to do this. I don't want you to get hurt."
"That's sweet. And very unlikely, because I'm going to eat you and your friends, little Claire, just as soon as you tell me what you've done with Ada."
The vicious darkness in his voice took her by surprise, but she should have known it was coming; she should have known that just as Amelie had assumed Sam was being held captive, Myrnin would think the same thing--or worse--about Ada.
He loved her, and he thinks we have her, hurt her, or killed her. Myrnin wasn't going to help them. He'd do everything he could to stop them.
"We have to move," Claire whispered to Shane. He nodded.
"Are we playing a game?" Myrnin asked. Well, of course he could hear her. "I like games. This looks like . . . chess." And he leaped out of the shadows and up on top of one of the granite work-tables toward the back of the lab. "Your move, little pawns. But do try to play well. It's no fun, otherwise." He was wearing a black velvet coat that reached down to his ankles, a bright red silk vest, black pants, and high boots, like some escapee from a pirate movie. He crouched down on the table, watching the four of them as they slowly spread out. "So many choices. I think I'll move . . . this way." And then he leaped.
She screamed and dived forward, rolled, and he missed her by about a foot where he landed, but he was already turning and grabbing at her, so fast that it was a blur. . . .
And another blur hit him from the side and knocked him into an uncontrolled slide across the floor toward the other side of the room. Michael, who stood there over Eve, fangs down, looking pale and dangerous and angry. "Your move," he said. "You hurt her, and I'll take your arm off and feed it to you."
"Oh, it's the littlest vampire," Myrnin said, and rolled to his feet. "Really? You're already in love with one of them? That must be some sort of record, boy. Don't worry. It'll wear off by dinner-time."
"Would you stop?" Claire yelled at him. "Stop with this cape-twirling stupid act? This isn't you, Myrnin! You're a good person!" Even as she said it, though, she kept moving toward the bookcase--careful not to look like she had a purpose.
He got to his feet and dusted himself off, with special attention to a spot of dirt on his coat. "Am I really?" he asked. "And how would you know? Oh, yes, you think you know me. I assure you, you don't. Not at all, little girl."
"You bit me, once," she said, and showed him the healed scar on her neck. "And you cared enough to stop."
"Oh, I think I'd remember something like that. And I can't think why I'd ever decide to stop drinking from such a delicious fountain," he said, and without a flicker of warning, he was suddenly coming toward her, a shape that almost disappeared in the dark as he moved between the wall sconces.
She didn't wait. She whirled, grabbed a glass beaker of something from the worktable next to her, and threw it right in his face. Whatever the liquid was, it surprised him, and it must have hurt, because he gave a choked cry and veered off course to slam into the table and send it, and the glassware on it, crashing to the floor.
"Go!" Shane yelled to Claire, and jumped on Myrnin's back, trying to pin him down. She couldn't watch, couldn't afford a second's hesitation. She ran for the bookcase, hit it at speed, and sent it squealing out of the way. She already had the keys in her hand, but adrenaline was making her shaky, and it took two tries to get the key into the silver lock on the door. She finally got it open and threw the padlock aside, swung the door open, and stared into the darkness on the other side.
It was so hard, because she could hear the fighting behind her. Michael and Shane had Myrnin, but he was throwing them all over the place, and glass was breaking, and Eve was screaming, and she had to look back; she had to. . . .
Claire closed her eyes and visualized the living room of the Glass House: the sofa, the TV, the table, the bookcases, the guitars, everything all in a rush. When it was stable in her mind, she opened her eyes and sent the image out into the dark.
Colors swirled like ink in water, and started to make an image in the darkness. It was the Glass House. She'd gotten it right.
Frank Collins was standing on the other side. She raised a hand to tell him to come through. He jumped, and she felt the stir of air against her face as he passed her, heading for the fight. Then West came through with the bow. Rudolph was following her--
Something hideously strong grabbed her from behind, and she lost control of the portal. Rudolph screamed, and something terrible happened to him as the opening snapped shut--she didn't know what; she couldn't see; there was a hand over her eyes and her mouth; she couldn't breathe, and the hand was cold, very cold. . . .
Myrnin's voice whispered in her ear, "Checkmate, little pawn. Your move."