Claire woke with the sun in her eyes, again, and for a precious, sweet second she just savored the warmth of it on her body, and the fact that Shane was still curled up against her back, one heavy arm around her waist. Then, regretfully, she turned over to face him. "Hey," she said. "Wake up, sleepyhead; we overslept."
Shane mumbled something and tried to put a pillow over his head. She pulled it off. "Come on; get up; we've got things to do!"
"Go 'way, Lyss," he moaned, and opened his eyes, blinked, and finally focused on her.
And then he completely, totally freaked out.
He actually flailed around, got caught in the covers, and, when he tried to get free, fell out of bed onto the floor. Claire laughed and leaned over the side, looking down at him. "Hey, are you . . . okay . . . ?"
The words died in her mouth, because he was still freaking. He writhed around in the covers, grabbed a blanket, and wrapped it around his body as he climbed to his bare feet, backing away from the bed.
He held out the hand that wasn't holding up the blanket, palm out. "Okay," he said. "Okay, think, Collins, think--yeah, okay, this is awkward, and I'm really sorry, because I'm sure you're really--Oh, man. What the hell did I do? Was there drinking? There must have been drinking."
"Shane?" Claire still had a sheet, and now she pulled it over herself, suddenly cold and feeling very exposed. "Shane--"
He was still backing away, looking panicked and deeply uncomfortable. "So, we've obviously been formally introduced at some point in my insane drinking binge. Uh, hi. Look, you've got to keep it down, okay? My parents will kill me if--" He stopped and looked around the room. "Oh, shit. This is not my room, is it? This is yours. As in, I never went home, all night. My dad is going to--" He squeezed his eyes shut. "Pants. I need pants. Where are my pants?"
Claire felt like her heart was breaking. Really, truly shattering into sharp, jagged, bloody pieces. She wanted to scream, and cry, and most of all, she wanted this not to be happening. She couldn't bring herself to say anything, and he ignored her totally to look around. He found his pants and T-shirt, and awkwardly put on his pants under the cover of the blanket before dropping it. Before he got his shirt on, he turned back to look at her, and it hurt, it hurt so badly to have him see her like that and not know her at all.
Her utter, horrified misery must have shown in her face, because his expression softened a little bit. He took a couple of steps toward the bed and said, "Um, look--I know. . . . I'm sorry; I'm probably a complete douche bag for doing this to you, and I promise, this isn't . . . I don't really get drunk off my ass and hook up like this, and you seem . . . you don't seem like the type. I mean, you're pretty; I don't mean you're not--I'm sorry; I suck at this. But I have to get home, right now." He pulled his shirt on and looked for shoes, which he slipped on without socks or even bending over to tie them. "Look, I'll call you, okay? Uh . . . your name is . . ."
"Claire," she whispered, and tears broke free and started streaming down her face. "My name is Claire. This is my fault." "Hey, don't do that, don't--I'm sorry. It's not your fault. You seem"--he bent over and awkwardly kissed her, and it felt like he was a stranger--"nice. I promise I'll talk to you later. We'll figure this out. Oh, Jesus, did I have a . . . Did we take precautions or . . ." He shook his head. "Not now. I can't think about this right now. I have to go. Later."
"Wait!" she wailed, as he opened her bedroom door and ran out down the hall. "Shane, wait!" He didn't. She grabbed up her jeans and shirt from the floor, threw them on, stepped into her shoes, and ran after him. "Shane, please don't--"
He was standing in the living room, staring around, and when she came clattering breathlessly down the steps, he turned to look at her again. This time he didn't seem as confused. But he didn't seem to be back to himself, either. "This is Michael's house," he said. "What are we doing here?"
"Shane--Shane, please listen to me; we live here! With Michael! And Eve!"
"Keep your voice down!" He made frantic shushing motions at her, and lowered his voice even more. "Okay, you seemed nice, and now you seem a little bit whacked. We don't live here. Maybe you live here--maybe you're some cousin or something; I don't know--but I live with my parents and my sister. Not here."
"No! No, your parents--" Oh, God. What was she going to say? What could she say? Her mind went completely blank. He waited, then held up both hands and backed away.
"Whatever, crazy chick who maybe lives here and maybe also breaks into Michael's house when they're all gone. I'm out. Have a nice delusion."
She couldn't let him go; she just couldn't. As he walked down the hall, she ran after him. "Shane, don't. Don't go home. You can't!"
He didn't even argue with her at that point; he just opened the front door and walked out into the morning sun. She hesitated in the doorway, wondering if she should go back and get her backpack, get something, call someone, but he was walking fast, and she had no idea where the old Collins house had once been. He'd never once told her, or pointed it out to her.
She locked the door and started following him.
Shane never looked back; maybe he knew she was there and was determined to ignore her--she wasn't sure. She kept a good distance between them, careful not to look too creepy and stalkery, but it couldn't be helped. If she let him out of sight . . .
He turned the corner up ahead, and when she hurried to catch up, she saw him sprinting, putting a lot of distance between them, fast. No, no, no! If she lost him now, she might never find him again. It was too terrifying, not only for her, but for him. He just didn't know it yet.
She was passing an alley, sure he was still up ahead, when Shane grabbed her and slammed her hard up against the side of a building. She hadn't realized in a long time just how big Shane was, or how strong. Or how he usually didn't show it, unless he wanted to. Like now. There was a fire in his eyes, and an angry, stubborn set to his jaw. Shane in fighting mode.
He pinned her in place for a long moment, as if he were trying to decide what to do.
"Enough," he said then, and let go. "Look, I don't want to hurt you, but you need to stop following me. It's creepy and weird. Walk away, or next time I'm not going to be so nice about it."
"You wouldn't hurt me," Claire said. "I know you wouldn't."
"Yeah, well, don't count on it. I don't like hitting girls, but it doesn't mean I won't hit back if you start the fight. Ask Monica." He frowned then, and she saw real anger in his eyes. "Monica. Did she set this up? What was it, some kind of roofie thing; she took pictures? She's going to Facebook the hell out of it? Blackmail me?"
"No. I don't have anything to do with Monica." "Bullshit," Shane said bluntly. "Stop following me. I mean it. And quit crying; it's not going to work."
He walked out into the sunlight and kept going. She didn't know what to do. She knew he meant it; she was acting weird and crazy and dangerous, and in Morganville, nobody could afford to ignore that. So he'd probably do something if she followed him. Maybe even get her arrested.
She didn't care, but there had to be some other way. Something. She couldn't just let him go.
A woman passed by on the street, looking confused and checking the addresses of buildings. Probably trying to find a store that wasn't there anymore. Claire waited until Shane was out of sight around the corner, and then walked up to the stranger. "Hello," she said, trying desperately hard to sound polite and helpful, and not as deeply freaked-out as she felt. The woman gave her a distracted smile. She had on a bracelet, so she was a Morganville native, which was a relief. "Um, are you looking for something?"
"Oh, it's so stupid. I think I got turned around," the woman said. "Can't understand how; I've been working here for years--Grant's Dry Cleaner's. I could have sworn it was . . . right here. . . ."
"Oh, I think it moved," Claire said. "Isn't it one block over now?"
"Is it?" The woman frowned, and Claire saw fear and confusion in her eyes. She wished she could help her, but she didn't know how, really. "Oh, that must be it. I can't imagine why I . . . Guess I'm losing my mind. Isn't that odd?"
We all are, Claire thought, but she said, "I can't remember anything before I have coffee," and smiled. The woman looked a little reassured. "Um, maybe you can help me? I was looking for Frank Collins's house; I think it's around here somewhere?"
"Oh, Mr. Collins." The woman didn't look as if she were very fond of him, but she nodded. "Yeah, he and his family live two blocks over, then one block to the left. It's on Helicon Drive. Big two-story house."
"Thanks," Claire said sincerely. "I hope you get to work okay."
"Oh, I will. Maybe I'll just stop for coffee first, though."
Claire gave her a little wave and took off running. The lady called after her, "Dear, you're going the wrong way!"
"Shortcut!" Claire yelled back.
Now that she knew where the house should be, she cut along a side road and through a couple of alleys--dangerous, but necessary if she wanted to avoid looking like she was following Shane again. She ran hard, and came out on the right road, and a block farther over, just as he came walking from the other direction.
There was a big, ugly empty lot in the middle of the street between them, with a rusted, leaning mailbox. The lot was overgrown with weeds, but the remains of a house were still there . . . cracked concrete foundations, some steps leading up to a door that wasn't there. Nothing else but some burned pieces of wood too big to haul away easily. Claire stopped and stood where she was, watching as Shane came toward the lot . . . and stopped.
He looked at the ruins, then at the mailbox. Then at the cracked foundation again. Finally, he opened the mailbox to look inside. The door fell off of it, but he found some aging, yellowed papers inside.
Bills. With his family's name on them, Claire guessed. He stared at them, shook his head, and slowly put them back into the box.
She saw it hit him, the same way it had hit all the others--the knowledge that things weren't like they were supposed to be. That time wasn't where it should have been. That everything was wrong.
He staggered and tried to catch himself against the mailbox, and knocked it over into the weeds. Shane frantically tried to pick it up, fix it, make it right, but the post was rotted through, and he finally had to lay it down. Then he sat beside it, holding his head in his hands, shaking.
Claire walked over, very slowly. "Shane," she said. "Shane, I'm so sorry. I didn't know how to tell you. I'm so sorry."
"My house," he whispered. "It's here. It's supposed to be here." He looked up at her, and there were tears swimming in his dark eyes. "Something happened. What happened?"
She felt sick, and she loathed every second of what she knew she was about to do to him. "There was a . . . an accident."
"Where are they?" Shane asked, and looked at the devastation where his life had once been. There was a rusted swing set in the back, bent and broken. "Alyssa. Where's Alyssa? Where's my sister?"
Claire reached out a hand to him. "Get up," she said softly. "I'll take you."
"I want to see my sister! I'm responsible for her!"
"I know. Just . . . trust me, okay? I'll take you."
He wasn't in any shape now to be angry, or even suspicious. He just took her hand, and she pulled him up to his feet and held on, leading him down the street and on. The sun blazed down warm, but the breeze felt colder, bringing winter in short, sharp bursts.
"Where are we going?" Shane asked, but not as if he cared much. "I can't believe . . . It must have happened last night when I--"
"Shane, you saw that. The weeds are waist high. The mailbox was rotted out. There's nothing there." Claire pulled in a deep breath. "It's been years since that happened. It didn't happen overnight."
"You're cracked." He tried to pull free of her, but she held on. "It's not true. I was there yesterday!"
"Listen to me! God, Shane, please! I know you think it was yesterday, but it's been a long time. You've been . . . other places. You just don't remember right now." She swallowed a lump in her throat and tried to go on sounding brave and calm. "You'll be fine. Just . . . trust me."
"Take me to my family."
"I'll take you to Alyssa," she said. "Please. Trust me."
She knew the way.
The graveyard was cold and silent, and the wind felt even more like winter here, even with the sun sparkling off of granite head-stones and white marble mausoleums. The grass was still a little green, but mostly brown.
The headstone read, ALYSSA COLLINS, BELOVED DAUGHTER AND SISTER, and it gave her dates of birth and death.
Shane read it, and his face went white and very still. His eyes seemed strange when he looked at Claire. "It's not true."
"I'm sorry," she said. "But it is."
"It's a sick joke."
"No," she said. "Shane, Alyssa died in the fire. She died three years ago, before you left Morganville with your mom and dad. Before I ever came here. I know you don't remember that, but it happened. You left town, and you came back, and you moved into Michael's house with him and Eve. Then I came and moved in, too." "No," he said, and took a big step back, then another one. He almost ran into another headstone, and braced himself when he staggered. "No, you're lying; this is some sick little game of Monica's, but this is low even for her--"
"Shane, Monica didn't do this, and it's not a game! Shane! Listen!"
"I've listened enough to you!" he yelled, and shoved her so hard she fell and almost cracked her skull on Marvis Johnson's memorial stone. "You stay the hell away from me and my family, you crazy bitch! This is sick! This is fake!"
He tried to push over Alyssa's tombstone. It didn't move. He kicked at it, panting, and Claire lay where she was, watching him, heartsick. She'd thought maybe this would convince him, maybe it would force him to remember . . . but he didn't. He couldn't.
"Please," she whispered. "Please stop, Shane. Stop hurting yourself; I can't stand it."
He collapsed against his sister's tombstone and just sat there, his back to Claire. His shoulders were shaking. She got up and went to kneel beside him. He looked destroyed, just . . . broken. She put her hand on his shoulder.
He didn't hit her, at least. He didn't seem to notice she was still there. He was pale and shaking and sweating, and hunched in on himself as if somebody had punched him really, really hard. "She can't be," he said. "She can't be dead. I just . . . I just saw her. She was making fun of my shirt. My shirt . . ." He looked down at himself, pulled his T-shirt out, and said, "I wasn't wearing this. This isn't even my shirt. This is wrong. This is all wrong."
"I know," Claire said. "I know it feels that way. Shane, please come back with me. Please. I'll show you the room you have in Michael's house. You'll recognize some of the things in there; maybe it'll help. Come on, get up. You can't stay here; it's cold." He didn't move. "Alyssa wouldn't want you to stay here."
"Why didn't she get out?" he asked. "If there was a fire, how did I get out if she didn't? I wouldn't leave her. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't . . . just . . . run--"
"You didn't," Claire said, and put her arm around him. "You tried to save her. You told me, Shane. I know how hard you tried."
He finally swiped at his eyes and looked at her. "I don't even know you," he said. "Why are you doing this?"
There it was again. How could her heart keep on breaking? Why didn't it just do it once and get it over with? Claire struggled to keep the hurt she felt from echoing in her voice. "I know you think you don't," she said. "But honest, Shane, you do know me. We're . . . friends."
He stared at her for what seemed like the longest time, and then he said, "I'm sorry I pushed you. I don't . . . I don't do things like that."
"Is it true? Is Lyss really . . ."
Claire just nodded without speaking. Shane's hair blew in his face, but he didn't blink. She reached over without thinking and moved it back. He caught her hand against his face.
"You touch me a lot," he said. "Don't you?"
She looked down and felt the blush mounting in her face. "I guess I do," she said. "I'm sorry." She risked a quick look up at him. He was studying her, as if he were really seeing her for the first time. "What?"
"Are we going out?"
She nodded. He didn't say anything at all. She didn't know how to feel about that. Before she could think how to ask what he was feeling, he stood up, and she hurried to do the same.
"So I have amnesia," he said. "That's what you're telling me. I got some kind of kick in the head and I lost a bunch of time and forgot all this. And you."
That was . . . so much easier than what she'd been trying to say. "Yes." She nodded. "Amnesia. That's why you need to trust me, Shane. It's dangerous out here. You don't know how dangerous."
For the first time, he gave her an ironic expression she recognized--classic Shane. "It's Morganville. Of course it's dangerous." He glanced back down at Alyssa's headstone, and that moment of the Shane she knew flickered and almost disappeared. Almost. "She wouldn't want me moping around the cemetery like some dumb-ass. Alyssa wasn't like that. She'd make fun of me if I did." Shane took in a deep breath. "So I guess . . . I guess I can go to Michael's house. At least I know him, even if I don't know you."
She smiled a little. It felt forced. "We'll work on it." She held out her hand, but he put his in his pockets.
"No offense," he said, "but I've got a lot to think about, here. I need some time."
Her shattered heart broke all over again.
It felt just as bad this time.
"Sure," she managed to say. "I understand."
There was still nobody at the Glass House when they returned, but Claire still shuddered in relief at just being home. Shane looked a little mistrustful, but he came inside and didn't protest when she locked up behind him. "Do you want to see your room?" she asked. He shook his head, hands firmly in his pockets. "Do you want coffee?"
"I hate coffee," he said. "Never touch the stuff."
"Really?" Maybe that had been something he'd learned on the road, with his mom and dad. "Okay, how about . . . Coke?"
"Sure. Who doesn't love Coke?"
She left him looking at the TV and the game controllers, and went to pull the last two cans out of the fridge. Somebody was going to have to go shopping. She supposed she'd better do it soon, before she lost her mind, too. Even in an apocalypse like this, surely running out of Coke qualified as a disaster.
Shane was sitting on the couch when she came back, and she handed over the can and sat on the other end, leaving plenty of comfort space between them. He nodded and popped the top. "So, I live here?"
"Yeah. Right up there."
"That's Michael's room."
"No, he's over there now."
"Huh, he always liked that room better." He poked at the controller. "And we have an Xbox."
"Actually, you've got an Xbox 360," she said. "You bought it last year."
"Sweet. What's the difference?"
"Do you really want to talk about games right now?"
He stopped fiddling with the controller and put it down. "I guess not. Those other people out there, the ones acting so weird--they've got what I have, right? This memory problem. I didn't just get kicked in the head or drugged or something."
"No," Claire said. "There's a machine underground; it's what wipes people's memories when they leave town. But it's not working right. It's wiping memories inside town."
He stopped to think about that. It said something about his childhood in Morganville that he didn't, in fact, find that unbelievable at all. "How many people have it?"
"A lot. Maybe all of us, eventually. Michael got it yesterday. So did Eve. So did Amelie."
Shane looked at her sharply. "Who?"
"You know. The Founder."
"You know her by name?"
"So do you. But right now, she's stuck in three years ago, just like you. She doesn't remember me. She doesn't remember Oliver or--"
This was going to be harder than she'd expected. "Never mind. The important thing is that before we went to sleep last night, we agreed we were going to find other people who could help us and we were going to try to turn off the machine."
"We went to sleep together," he said. "Without clothes."
"Uh . . . yeah. We had underwear on, though."
"Right. Why do I think that maybe it's come off before?" He stared at her for what seemed like an uncomfortably long second, as if he were remembering her almost naked. "Okay, sounds easy enough. Let's do it, if this is going to fix things." He watched her expression, and said, "But it isn't that easy. Is it?"
"The vamps won't let us anywhere near where we need to go," she said. "I can't think of any of them we can count on now. Not even Michael."
"Wait a second, what? Michael Glass? He is not a vampire. I think you mean his granddad Sam. Are you sure you really live here? Because that's a pretty gigantic mistake."
"I'm not talking about Sam," Claire said. "Michael . . . Michael got bitten. And now he's a vampire. But he doesn't remember becoming one, and that's a big problem. So if you see him, don't, you know, hug. He bites. He doesn't mean to, though."
"You are freaking insane; I was right the first time about you. Michael, a vampire? Never happen." But even though he said it, Shane didn't try to get up and leave. "You're not from Morganville. If you were, I'd remember you, right? So who are you, exactly?"
"I came to the university. That's how I met you guys."
He laughed. "Me? In college? Yeah, make up another one. Look, I barely got through last year in high school. I don't think anybody's going to be giving me college admission, not even to TPU, the crappiest school in Texas."
"It's not that bad," Claire said, although she had no idea why she was trying to defend the place. It hadn't done her many favors. "I didn't meet you in college. I met you because of college. Because of Monica."
"Bitch queen of Morganville," Claire said. "Well, she's still all that, and more. I guess she was pretty bad in high school, but trust me, she's worse now."
"Nice to know some things haven't changed." Shane pulled in a deep breath. "Okay, I didn't want to ask, but . . . what about my mom and dad? Where are they?"
She just looked at him, and he finally turned his head away. "Okay," he said. "I get it. They're dead, too."
"Your mom . . . your mom is," Claire said. "I don't know where she's buried. Your dad's . . . well--"
"Still an alcoholic jerk? Big shock."
"No," she said. "Your dad's a vampire."
Shane froze, eyes wide, and then laughed in a bitter, shocked kind of way. "Like hell he is. He'd kill himself first."
"Trust me, I think he thought about it after it happened. But I guess he's decided to hang around after all. Wait. . . . Maybe we can find him. Maybe he's not affected yet. He might help us."
"My dad? Even if he wasn't a vampire--and I'm not buying that he is, by the way--he wasn't big on doing favors for anybody. Not even his own kids. Maybe we'd better skip the family reunion."
Claire wasn't so sure, but she didn't want to freak Shane out any more than she had to, and Frank Collins as a vampire was enough to freak anybody out. Much less his own son. "Okay," she said. "But we have to find a way to get to that machine and shut it off. And we need help. Any help."
"I'm glad you said that," said a voice from behind them. "Because you've got no idea how much help you need."
Claire and Shane both jumped off the couch, suddenly and completely on the same side; he even got in front of her, the kind of protective instinct Shane had always had, since the first time she'd met him. He might not believe her, or trust her, but he'd still fight for her.
Maybe because somewhere, deep down, he did remember.
Claire realized who was standing there, in the shadows by the stairs, about the same time that Shane did. It was the scar on his face that registered first, and then the rest of it . . . long, tied-back hair, a hard, unforgiving expression, a tough, thin body. He was wearing a leather vest over a Harley T-shirt and old jeans, and combat boots. He had a big, scary knife in a sheath at his waist.
"Dad," Shane whispered.
"How did you get in here?" Claire blurted, because she knew--knew--that the house itself had been on guard for Frank. But she hadn't felt anything when he'd entered--no warnings, nothing.
Maybe the house thought they needed his help, too. Or, more worrying, maybe the machine had robbed the house of its protective ability, too. It was slowly destroying everything good in Morganville.
Frank shrugged. "I've been following the two of you around for a couple of days. Had to know what you were planning to do about all this," he said. "Not too surprised about what my son said about me, if that's what's worrying you. I deserved it. Still do." He looked over at Shane. "But I don't drink much anymore. Well, not booze, anyway." He smiled and showed vamp teeth.
Shane backed up a step and ran into Claire. She steadied him and whispered, "I told you."
"It can't be," he said. "There's some kind of--"
"Mistake?" Frank said, and jumped over the couch in one smooth, ominous vampire move to land right in front of them. They were up against the wall now, next to the TV. "Only mistake I ever made was coming back to this cursed town in the first place, Shane. And sending you back here to help. If we'd stayed on the road, we'd still be running, but at least we'd be together."
"Running. Running from what?"
"Oh, come on, son. You think they really let us leave, just like that? We had help getting out, but they'd have brought us back, or killed us, if they'd caught us. Just like they killed your mother."
Shane's breath went out in a rushing moan, as if his dad had punched him. Claire put her hand on his shoulder and glared at Frank. "Stop it," she said. "You started it," Frank said. "You told him part of the truth, didn't you? Told him about Alyssa? Well, he needs to know everything. He needs to know how his mother got into drugs to forget the pain. He needs to know how we got chased from one ratty motel to another across the state. He needs to know those bastards cut her wrists and dumped her in a tub to pretend it was suicide--"
"Stop it!" Claire screamed, and put herself in front of Shane, like she could protect him from the words the way he protected her from fists.
"And how he found her," Frank finished, softly, "floating there. Dead. I thought I'd lost you, too, son. You didn't talk for days, didn't sleep, didn't eat. But then you told me you wanted to come back here, to Morganville. To make them pay."
Shane had gone almost as white as his vampire father now, and his eyes were huge and dark and empty. Claire turned toward him and put her hands on his cheeks, trying to make him look at her. He didn't. He couldn't look away from Frank. "Shane, Shane, listen, he's trying to hurt you; he always tries to hurt you--"
"Not always," Frank said. "Somebody's got to tell the boy what he needs to hear, even though it hurts. He needed to know what happened to his mom. You weren't going to tell him, were you?"
"There wasn't any reason! You just like to watch him suffer!" Claire snapped. "You're a mean, vicious, evil--"
"I love my son," Frank said. "But he had to grow up in those three years after Alyssa died. And he has to do it all over again, now even faster. Can't sugarcoat that, Claire."
Shane put his hands on Claire's shoulders--the first time he'd actually touched her gently, she thought, since waking up this morning--and moved her out of the way. "So I'm what, eighteen now? Not fifteen?"
"Almost nineteen," his dad said.
"Good." And Shane punched him in the face.
Well, he tried to. Frank caught his fist about an inch away from landing. He didn't punch back, or shove, or squeeze Shane's hand into a mess, although Claire knew he could have. He just held it there, even though Shane tried to pull back. "Son," he said, "I was bad at being a father, just as bad as I was at everything else. You were the one who took care of your mother and Alyssa. You did the job I was supposed to do, being the man of the house, from the time you were eight years old. And I'm sorry for that."
He pulled Shane forward and hugged him. Shane was stiff as bundled wire, but after a moment, he relaxed a little, and then stepped away. Frank let him go.
"So now you want to make it up to me," Shane said. "Well, you can't. I didn't trust you before. I damn sure don't trust you as a bloodsucker."
"Right now, you two need a bloodsucker," Frank said. "At least, that's what I heard the girl saying. Isn't that right, Claire?"
She didn't like agreeing with Frank Collins, ever, but she had to nod. "You aren't affected yet."
"There are a few who aren't," Frank said. "Don't know why; maybe our brains are just wired different, or maybe it's just random. Most of the others are hiding out; can't say I really blame them. I might be able to get a couple of people on board if we need them."
Frank bared his fangs. "I've still got friends on both sides of the bloodline. You want'em or not?" Claire and Shane exchanged a look. He still didn't know her, she thought. He still didn't really trust her. But clearly, next to Frank, she had gotten a major boost on the cool scale.
"Up to you," Shane said. "You're the one who knows what's going on. I'm just the muscle."
"That's not true. You're smart, Shane. You just hide it."
Frank smiled. "You never had to sign his report cards."
"Shut up, Frank; I wasn't talking to you," Claire said sharply. "Go . . . lurk, or something. I need to talk to Shane alone."
Frank shrugged and walked away. He picked up Shane's Coke can and drained it as he toured the living room, messing with things.
"And don't you dare touch Michael's guitars."
He waved without looking back.
Claire grabbed Shane by the shirt and towed him with her into the little-used parlor at the front of the house, the farthest she could get from Frank, although she knew it really wasn't any use. He was a vampire; he could probably hear ants walking. Well, at least it felt like privacy.
She let go of Shane, who looked down at her with what seemed like a kind of amusement. "You know," he said, "most people were scared to death of my dad, at least when he was drinking. Including me, mostly. Now he's a vamp, and you just ordered him around like you don't give a crap."
"I don't like him very much."
"Yeah, got that. You look like a strong wind will snap you off at the knees, but you're a tough little thing, aren't you?"
She smiled and wished that for once she wouldn't blush at a compliment, but that was a lost cause. "I guess," she said. "I'm still here. That counts."
"Yeah," he said, and moved a strand of hair back from her face. "That counts." He suddenly realized what he was doing and cleared his throat. "Okay, so what's the plan? We get Frankenstein and his friends to back us up?"
"I heard that!" Frank called from the living room. Shane silently shot him the finger, which Claire slapped down.
"Don't do that!" she whispered.
"What, you think he can sense it with his magic vampire powers?"
"We need him, Shane."
He smiled bleakly. "Yeah, well, Frank's never been around when I needed him, so don't put a lot of faith in that."
"We need to come at this two ways," Claire said. "First, you and I are going to go in the front entrance to the lab. Second, right about the time we get Myrnin distracted--"
Claire controlled an urge to roll her eyes. "Badass crazy vampire scientist who's my boss."
"You realize no part of that sentence made sense, right?"
"Just stay out of his way. Don't let him get close."
"Yeah, that's easy."
"If you can get a crossbow bolt or a stake in him, do it," Claire said. "It won't kill him if you don't use silver, but it'll put him down and out of the way until we're finished."
"What if he has friends? You know, backup?"
"We do the same thing to them."
Shane pointed a thumb at the living room. "And what about him and his friends?"
"They come in the back way," Claire said. "Through the portal." "Good plan," Shane said, and then paused. "What's a portal?"
Claire sighed. "We've got work to do."