Crave, p.6
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       Crave, p.6
 

         Part #1 of The Clann series by Melissa Darnell
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CHAPTER 5

 

  Tristan

  I ran up to my room and looked around. What could I put the spells in? Pens? Pencils? Paper clips? Nah, Savannah was always loaning out stuff like that in algebra. Maybe Emily had something I could use.

  I had a sudden image of my sister handing me tampons just to torture me, and shuddered. No, I'd better not ask Emily. I glanced at my bedside clock. Eight fifty-six. Not too late to call for some insider advice. I grabbed a telephone book and my cordless phone.

  "Hello, may I speak with Anne, please?" I said when a woman answered.

  "Who is calling?" It was probably Anne's mother, who worked in the accounting department at Coleman BioMed, Dad's company. Not good. If she mentioned to any coworkers that I was calling Savannah's best friend at home. . .

  Thinking fast, I replied, "Arthur. "

  "Arthur, it's a little late for phone calls. "

  At eight fifty-seven? Now I knew where Anne got her personality from. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry for the late phone call, but it's a math emergency. " That wasn't too much of a stretch on the truth.

  "One moment. "

  I heard murmuring in the background. Then Anne picked up the phone. "Why, hello, Arthur. Having trouble with that warty little problem we ran into today?" Her voice dripped with smug satisfaction.

  I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I am. I need to know what types of things S-I mean, your friend usually carries around in her backpack. " I barely stopped myself from saying Savannah's name out loud. Knowing my parents, they'd probably put a spell on my room to warn them if I ever said her name again.

  "What doesn't she have in there? The girl never cleans anything. Not her backpack, not her locker, not even her bedroom. Every time I sleep over at her house, I end up spending half the time cleaning her room just so I have some space to breathe. Drives me crazy!"

  I pictured lacy scraps of underwear and bras lying around a sleeping Savannah, and fought to exhale. "Uh, not to interrupt the venting here, but I could use your help now. "

  "Ha! I knew you couldn't handle it on your own. " She sighed. "All right, what do you want?"

  "I need access to her backpack at lunch tomorrow. Or better yet, maybe you can make the delivery. "

  "And what would that be exactly?"

  "Don't worry. I wouldn't give you anything that would get her or you in trouble. It's just something that needs to stay in her backpack for as long as possible, say a couple months, at least. "

  Silence filled the phone.

  "Anne? You still there?"

  After another few seconds' hesitation, I heard a door click shut on her end of the line before she whispered, "These things for her backpack. . . are they a. . . a Clann thing?"

  Surprise made it my turn to hesitate. What had Anne heard about the descendants? "Define what you think 'Clann things' are. "

  "You know, witchy stuff. Stuff that would make my parents go nuts. They're Pentecostal. "

  She said "they," not "we. " It sounded like she was about as on board with her family's religious choices as I was with my parents' plans for my future.

  I couldn't decide if it was a good thing or simply disturbing that Anne and I had anything in common.

  "No offense, but I'm really not allowed to talk about the Clann. " There, that was honest and still playing by the rules. Descendants weren't allowed to discuss their abilities with outsiders other than their husbands and wives. And even those outsiders had spells cast on them to bind them from ever mentioning the Clann to anyone else. The elders didn't mess around when protecting Clann secrets.

  Anne's sigh gusted into the phone. "Fine. Just tell me this. . . will it really help Savannah?"

  "Yeah. It will. "

  "Then I'll do it. Just don't use anything made out of chocolate, or she'll eat it. It's like her kryptonite. "

  I laughed before I could stop myself. "I'll have to remember that. " I scanned my room, wondering what I could use and starting to get frustrated again.

  Then I saw it. . . a box of those little conversation heart candies. Savannah had given them to me on Valentine's Day in the fourth grade. The same day we'd pretended to get married and kissed. She hadn't signed her name on the box, so Mom never made me throw them out.

  "How does she feel about really old conversation heart candies?"

  "Oh, she hates those. Apparently they make her think of a certain backstabbing traitor, or something like that. "

  I glared at the ceiling, unsure whether to be happy that Savannah had talked about me, or bugged that she still seemed to be ticked off at me.

  "So don't put them in a box, or she'll throw them away," Anne added in a softer tone. "She'll probably ignore them if they're just loose in the bottom of her backpack, though. "

  "Okay. When should I bring them to you?"

  "Before school would be best. She's always running late, so she won't be there. "

  "Right. See you then. And, Anne?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Thanks. "

  "Don't let it affect your ego there, Arthur. I'm doing it for Savannah. " I could practically hear the eye roll in her voice. Man, she was a pain. But I was also starting to get why Savannah was friends with her. Some people would think twice before doing something that went against their family's religious beliefs, even to help out a friend.

  I grinned. "Yeah, yeah, as if I could forget. "

  She hung up without saying goodbye. I hit the phone's off button with a shake of my head, then jumped up and grabbed the box of hearts, feeling good for the first time in days. This just might work.

  Back outside, I sat down in the wet grass at the edge of the patio then shook three hearts out of their box. As an afterthought, I added a fourth to the lineup for that Romeo-wannabe soccer player.

  While touching the first candy, I pictured one of the creeps, mentally whispered the spell word and tapped the candy while visualizing a surge of energy entering it. How many times might these guys want to talk to Savannah? Twenty times? Fifty? I thought about how many times a day I was tempted to say something to her. Better make that at least a hundred times per candy. I could always create more charms later if it looked like any of them were wearing out too soon.

  I went down the row of hearts, saving the soccer jerk for last. With every tap of my fingertip, more of the constant edginess seeped out of me. I finished charming all four candies, then decided to go back over them again just in case Savannah's weird pull on these guys proved to be even half as strong as the effect she had on me. But the first pass had really relaxed me. Stretching out on the grass seemed a good idea. The yard was wet and cold, but I could deal with it. This was more important.

  The dream began just as I started the second pass on Stanwick's memory confuser.

  Savannah looked like some sort of goddess, her hair down and blowing behind her in the wind along with the folds of her long white nightgown. She stood facing a setting sun, dark asphalt sparkling beneath her bare feet. We were on the flat rooftop of a building overlooking Jacksonville.

  Behind her, a crowd of guys I recognized from school stood together in a tight group. They were edgy, staring at Savannah with wild expressions on their faces, ready to lunge at any second. Like a pack of jackals snapping at her heels. What held them back?

  I would.

  I was outnumbered, but I had to try anyway. Maybe if I stood close to her when they attacked, I could cast a blocking spell strong enough to protect both of us at once. If that didn't work, I'd have to risk taking the brunt of the attack myself and focus the spell only on her for as long as I could make it hold.

  A voice whispered through the dream, hers but huskier, more sultry. The voice of Savannah as a dark seductress. And yet her lips didn't move. "Look at them, Savannah. Give them what they crave, and they will end your thirst. "

  The words made no sense.

  Savannah seemed to understand though. Tears slid down her cheeks as she shook her head and
whispered, "No. I won't look at them. It's not right. "

  "Look at them!" the voice shrieked, and Savannah's hands darted up to fidget with the gold locket she always wore at her neck.

  "No, don't, Sav," I said, trying to walk toward her. But something invisible and hot, like heated glass, held me back. I pushed my hands against that barrier, willing it to give and let me through. "Savannah, listen to me. Do not look at them. "

  The boys snapped and growled, their patience wearing out. They bumped into each other, and the group inched forward almost as a single, seething mass.

  "Savannah!" I yelled. But she couldn't hear me.

  Cursing, I hit the barrier between us. The heat burned my knuckles.

  She stepped toward the edge of the roof and looked down.

  Cold terror poured over me. "Savannah, don't! Wait for me. " I hit the invisible wall again and again with my fists, my will and power, even ramming my shoulders against it. A monstrous growl rumbled in my chest.

  "You will give in to the temptation," the evil voice whispered, already sure of its triumph. "You need them. You need the power. "

  "No. Never," Savannah promised, her voice choked and hollow.

  And then she dived over the edge.

  "No!" My roar swallowed me up until I thought it would never stop. I could feel myself losing it, right there on the edge of crazy, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the pain slamming into me in waves that brought me to my knees.

  I needed her, needed her to be alive even if we couldn't be together anymore.

  I was still yelling out the pain as I woke up the next morning, my body cold and aching in the wet grass of my backyard.

  The minutes passed as I sat there, teeth clenched against the need to keep shouting, my breaths coming out fast and harsh through my nose. My chest burned. My fists were on fire. The dew on the grass became a sweet relief to my hands, cooling the flames on my skin.

  Just a dream. But the dream had felt way too real. It had the same sharp-edged quality to it as the dreams I used to have of her in the fourth grade.

  I stared at my hands, holding them up in the light of the sunrise. They weren't even red. But the pain had seemed so real.

  Sighing, I dried them off on my sweats then scooped up the charmed candy. Time to face reality and get ready for school.

  I couldn't shake the memory of that dream, though. Its gut-twisting terror and pain stuck with me all day. I barely said more than "Here" and "Thanks" to Anne when I shoved the protective charms at her outside the main building before school. I wasn't in the mood to even fake a smile for anyone in the hallways or my morning classes, much less talk.

  At lunch, I couldn't eat, especially after seeing Savannah enter the cafeteria and join her friends. She'd worn her hair down today for a change. The ends looked wet, maybe from taking a shower after her pre-drill class. Seeing those red strands down and flowing with her every little move reminded me too much of the dream. And the way her hair had streamed out like blood as she'd flown over the side of the roof. . .

  "See you later," I muttered to my sister before ducking out. I was tired for the first time in months, definitely in no need to do any grounding. Still, my feet led me to the same tree as yesterday for some reason.

  I leaned against its trunk. The rough bark scraped at my skin through my clothes, reminding me that I was awake, that this was reality. I tilted back my head and stared up at the branches, watching the play of light and shadow above me as the leaves rustled in the wind, making a sound like someone whispering. Whispering like that evil voice in last night's dream as it drove Savannah to jump off the roof.

  I closed my eyes and swallowed the knot in my throat. I saw her again in that dream, giving up, stepping over the edge. Again and again I saw her fall. The repetition should have numbed me to the images. But the pain only grew worse, until I wanted to yell from it.

  I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to fix this.

  There was only one solution, only one way to keep myself from going insane here. I would stay away from her. Stop looking for her at lunch. No more staring at her in algebra or reacting to her laughter in the hallways. These crazy feelings she created in me were just too much. I'd have to check on her every now and then to make sure the charms continued to protect her. But I couldn't keep feeling like this.

  "She's just a girl," I muttered to the leaves, the clouds, to no one at all. "A girl. Nothing more. "

  Savannah

  I was tense throughout the morning, bracing myself for another encounter with the boys from algebra. Though I didn't have math class today, it seemed inevitable that I would run into them at some point during the day. I thought I saw one of them in the main hallway before first period. He looked at me, took a couple steps in my direction, then frowned and headed the other way.

  Lunchtime was even worse.

  "Are you okay?" Anne leaned over and whispered while Michelle and Carrie worked together on homework.

  "Sure! Why?" I pasted on a smile.

  One of her eyebrows arched. "You haven't eaten anything. And you're paler than usual. Which means you're white as a sheet today. "

  I gave up trying to fake a smile. "Just a little. . . nervous. "

  "Worried about running into the Warty Boys again?"

  Warty Boys? I looked at her, letting my confusion show on my face.

  "You know, the toads from algebra. The creeps that were bugging you before class. "

  "Oh. Yeah. Think they'll be as. . . weird today?"

  "Only one way to find out. We'll walk past them after lunch and see how they react. "

  My stomach cramped. "Maybe being around them again so soon isn't such a good idea. "

  "Why?"

  I hesitated. I couldn't tell her the truth, at least not all of it. But not telling her anything made me feel so alone here on campus. Couldn't I tell her just a little without breaking any rules?

  I decided to take a risk. "Promise you won't laugh too loudly. "

  She nodded.

  "I think it's because. . . because I made eye contact with them after lunch. "

  "You think, just because they looked into your eyes, you did something to them? Like you hypnotized them, or something?"

  "Um. . . yeah. "

  She snickered. "Oh, sure. Because I do that all the time, too. All us girls do. One look in any girl's eyes, and poof! All the boys are gaze dazed. "

  Irritated, I forgot and glared at her, making eye contact in the process.

  Within seconds, she shivered and looked away. "Huh. Okay, maybe you have a point. "

  I didn't know whether to feel smug about winning the argument or sick to my stomach. Part of me had really hoped I was wrong about yesterday and that my friends would prove it by acting normal after I made eye contact with them today. But they didn't. They just kept getting weirded out.

  Anne cleared her throat. "Have you made eye contact with anyone else and had strange reactions?"

  "You mean other than you guys?" I gestured at everyone at our table. Carrie glanced up from the biology book she was using to tutor Michelle, then went back to their studying.

  Anne nodded.

  I tried to remember, but there was no telling how often I'd made eye contact with people since getting sick last week. "I don't know. Maybe Greg Stanwick? I can't remember now. "

  The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. I shuffled after the others to the trash cans, taking my time dumping my tray and adding it to the stack at the dishwasher's window.

  "Maybe we should go out the other exit," I suggested, my chest growing tighter by the second.

  "Come on. We'll go together. " Anne linked her arm through mine. The contrast between her tan and my milky-white skin was awful, but at least the contact was reassuring, a reminder that I wasn't totally alone.

  We stepped out into the spring sunlight and its blast of warmth, which actually felt good. I'd been a li
ttle chilled indoors all morning, so stepping outside was like thawing at first.

  But even being wrapped in bright sunshine and warmth couldn't make my muscles loosen up. The picnic tables were only yards away from the cafeteria building.

  Too soon, I saw the three algebra guys from yesterday.

  "Hello, boys," Anne called out, making several heads pop up.

  "Anne, shut up!" I muttered, trying to steer us closer to the cafeteria wall and away from the tables. If Anne would only cooperate a little, we could sneak by without being seen. But she was hardheaded as ever and literally dug in her heels.

  "Oh, hey, Anne," one of the algebra boys replied. Then he frowned and rubbed his forehead. "Huh. I could've sworn I wanted to ask you something. I guess I'll remember it later. "

  I carefully avoided direct eye contact with any of the Warty Boys, as Anne had called them. But looking at their noses still let me indirectly search their expressions for the dark, crazed obsession from yesterday.

  And what I found was. . . only confused frowns, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. They didn't even look at me, ignoring me just like they used to.

  Had the gaze daze, as Anne had called it, worn off overnight?

  I stopped shielding and allowed myself to sense their emotions, bracing myself for that churning, black turmoil from yesterday. And instead found only more confusion from them.

  Maybe the gaze daze was just a temporary effect.

  As Anne continued to chat with them about our latest algebra homework assignment, something dangerously close to hope filled me, and I took a deep breath. If the gaze daze-effect on guys was temporary, then maybe everything would be okay, after all. I just had to be sure I never, ever made eye contact with a boy again. Simple, right?

  Yeah, sure.

  The algebra boys didn't bother me anymore, so I could actually focus on prepping for my studio's dance recital at the end of the week. Not that I needed as much practice as before, now that my dancing was quickly improving. Still, I wanted to be sure I did the best I could at the recital. If I could blow away my family with my dancing, maybe they'd quit watching me all the time when they thought I didn't notice. If I could be good at something for a change, then maybe it would show them that I was normal, after all. Not a freak. Just a regular teen doing something she really had fun doing.

  The only thing that continued to bug me was Greg. I couldn't tell if I'd gaze dazed him, too, or not. He hadn't spoken to me again since Monday. And the few times I saw him in the cafeteria later in the week, he always looked away with a frown.

  Boys were just plain weird.

  Including Tristan, because he'd started acting differently all week, too. It was like the wall that separated us in my frequent dreams about him had stretched out to divide us in my waking life, as well. Even with my senses wide-open, I couldn't feel his magnetic tug anymore when we were in algebra class together. And while I'd never thought it possible before, I missed having his legs and feet at either side of me now that he'd started to keep them folded under his desk. I also missed the way he used to whistle Nutcracker music to annoy me. And the way he used to stare at me in the cafeteria. Lately, he'd started skipping lunch, choosing to stand outside against a tree near the picnic tables instead. I caught myself searching for him in his new spot as my friends and I left the cafeteria each day. Some crazy part of me yearned to make eye contact with him, to see if he could be gaze dazed, too. But he always kept his eyes closed. My head said that was a good thing. My heart said something else.

  And then there were all the other little things that added up to make the hours at school long and lonely. I still had my friends, but not being able to make eye contact with anyone made me feel like I was cut off from the world around me. Even weirder was the Red Sea effect that happened every time I walked through the halls. It was subtle, but people moved away from me as if I had something contagious they didn't want to catch. Worse, they didn't even seem aware that they were doing it.

  But why? I didn't feel that different from before I got sick.

  The one good thing that came out of it all was my continued progress in dance. Because of those improvements, dancing had become my one relief. When the music played, I got lost in it. For a few precious minutes, I could forget the craziness, the family secrets, all the weirdness that set me apart from everyone around me. When I danced, not only was I no longer a freak or an embarrassment, but I was actually good at something. And getting better at it every day.

  So deciding to try out for the Charmers Dance/Drill Team was sort of natural. Where else would I ever fit in at this school, unless it was among other dancers? If I became a Charmer, I wouldn't be a freak anymore. The Charmers were like mini celebrities, not just at our school but in Jacksonville, too, because of all the awards they won every winter at dance competitions. Every time they brought home another trophy, they were featured on the front page of the Jacksonville Daily News, earning our school's and entire town's approval.

  If I made the team, I would get to be a part of all that, and I'd be doing something I loved while I was at it.

  But first, I had another approval to earn. . . Dad's. If being a great dancer didn't do it, I didn't know what would.

  So when he called on Wednesday to check up on me, I took the biggest risk of my life so far.

  Suddenly nervous, I played with the laces on my sneakers and tried to be patient as we went through our usual list of questions about school. A long pause filled the conversation after a while, and I spotted my opening.

  "Um, Dad? You know how I've been taking dance lessons this year?"

  "Yes?" His voice had turned cautious, like he was bracing for bad news.

  Even more nervous now, I hesitated, forced my tight chest to expand and take a deep breath, then pushed the words out fast. "Well, the studio is having its annual dance recital this weekend and I'd really love it if you could come. " Please say yes, please, I chanted in my head, holding my breath in the dead silence that followed.

  Why didn't he say something?

  "Dad?" I whispered, my voice tiny. Oh, crap. He was going to say no, that he couldn't make it, just like when I played volleyball, and basketball, and ran at the junior-high track meets. . . .

  More silence.

  Finally he spoke. "I suppose it is time that I come see how you have progressed. Give me the details and I will be there. "

  Yes! Grinning, I told him the recital's date, time and location, then gave him quick directions to the local junior college's theater where the show would be held.

  "Hey, you might even be surprised by how good I've gotten," I joked, excitement making me relax and be myself more than I usually was around him.

  Silence.

  Okaaay. Did he doubt my judgment about my own dancing? Or was he simply not looking forward to sitting through a recital in general?

  I'd just have to make sure my performance impressed him enough to make attending worth the effort.

  Two days later, I joined my ballet class in the dark wings of Lon Morris College's theater. Finally, the night I had been working so hard for all year long was here. Now was my chance to prove that having me wasn't the biggest mistake my parents had ever made.

  The three-year-olds were wrapping up their cute version of the Sugar Plum Fairy dance from The Nutcracker. A sudden memory of Tristan whistling the tune made me smile and my eyes burn a bit. I blinked away the unexpected sensation. Better to think about something else. Like the people who were in the audience waiting for me to dance.

  My friends couldn't come to the show. They had volleyball tryouts tomorrow morning and needed to practice this evening. Plus, their parents wanted them to go to bed early so they would be rested for their early start. Though I was sort of irritated, I also tried to understand their point of view. Volleyball was everything to them, just like dancing was for me now. So I'd faked yet another smile for their sakes and wished them good-l
uck.

  But there were three people somewhere in those dark rows of seats who had been able to come and cheer for me. I just hoped I didn't screw up and disappoint them yet again.

  The spotlights dimmed, and polite clapping sounded from the audience while mothers volunteering as stage crew herded the giggling girls offstage and into the wings.

  This was it.

  Determined yet also breathless with wound-up nerves, I walked with my classmates onto the dark stage as the audience grew quiet again. My heart pounded against my ribs. I found my opening position and posed. I could hear the audience a few yards away, shifting in their creaky seats, the occasional cough or murmur.

  The recorded piano notes began, so much louder than at the studio. I would have jumped in surprise, but last night's dress rehearsal had braced me for the difference in volume.

  The spotlights brightened in tiny increments, bathing me and my classmates in soft blue light as we began to dance in fluid movements. Though I knew I was dancing, a rush of adrenaline made the moment surreal. It seemed just a dream, and I was separate from it all, feeling myself turn and leap as the music built faster and faster toward that peak note.

  Then the music slowed toward its quiet ending. I reached for the light above, everything inside me held captive by the music and the moment. And then I blinked, and it was over. I was in my final pose, smiling so hard my cheeks hurt, as the audience clapped and cheered far louder than politeness required. The harder they clapped, the faster my blood rushed through my veins, until it seemed I could jump out onto that sound and fly on it like a strong wind.

  Ohhh. So this was what the Charmers felt when they performed. And they got to experience this all the time.

  I could definitely get addicted to this.

  Forming a horizontal line with my classmates, we walked to the front edge of the stage to take our bows. In midcurtsy, I looked out into the audience, squinting to see Nanna and Mom beyond the spotlights. And Dad's back as he walked up the aisle toward the exit.

  He was leaving already? I still had a jazz routine to perform!

  My throat choked up. Breathing was nearly impossible as I finished the curtsy and followed the other dancers offstage on legs that had suddenly turned awkward and stiff. As soon as I reached the wing's darkness, I started running, weaving down the hall past props and mothers and dancers. Didn't Dad know I had two routines to perform tonight, not just one? I had to reach him, had to stop him before he left.

  Rain poured down outside. I could hear the water pounding the building's front cement steps as I reached the foyer. The glass doors thudded closed after his retreating figure.

  I slapped the door open again. "Dad! Wait!" Could he hear me over the rain? Oh, wait, of course he could. He was a vampire with that same supersonic hearing I had.

  Despite the weather, he carried no umbrella to protect the dark suit he always wore, now soaked and clinging to his trim figure. The water didn't seem to faze him as he stopped halfway down the sidewalk and turned to face me with those emotionless eyes so like my own.

  "I-I'm glad you came. " I couldn't close the distance between us. I was still in my ballet slippers, and rain had splashed under the entrance's metal awning. My slippers' leather soles would be ruined if I got them wet. I edged out as far as I dared so the door could shut behind me and block my voice from carrying back into the theater.

  "Um, did Mom mention that I'm doing two routines tonight?"

  I thought he would be surprised. Instead, he nodded.

  He knew I had another routine to perform. . . and was still leaving?

  I forgot about the wet cement and took a step forward. "Well, the second routine is a jazz number. So if you don't like ballet, you don't have to worry about it because all the ballet routines are done now. "

  "I enjoy ballet, Savannah. But I must leave now. "

  "You've got somewhere else you have to be? Right now?"

  "No. But I watched your ballet routine and have seen enough. Probably too much, in fact. "

  "I. . . " What could I say to that? I played with the stiff, scratchy folds of my romantic-style tutu. "Was my dancing that bad?"

  "No. Your dancing was beautiful. "

  My head popped up in confusion.

  He sighed. "That is the problem. Your performance was too good. You should not be able to dance even half so well for a beginner. How long do you think you will be able to outshine the others in your classes before someone begins to ask questions?"

  "So. . . you're saying you'd rather I danced like crap instead?"

  "No, I am saying you need to stop performing. Completely. As you continue to change physically, you are sure to improve at everything you do. Eventually, you will dance better than even the professionals. And then the inevitable questions will begin. People will want to know how you can leap so high, turn so fast, balance so well. They will see you for what you are. . . as something different. Something not quite human. "

  A freak.

  My heart hammered faster, and I found myself shaking my head without even deciding to. "No. " He had to be wrong. No way could my one happiness in life make me an even bigger freak. "I. . . I can control it. You know, not push myself so hard. I mean, I only did so well tonight because I wanted to impress you and Mom and Nanna. To make you proud of me and show how much I've improved. "

  "If you really want to make me proud, you will stop dancing. Immediately. "

  He might as well have slapped me. I struggled to breathe for a second as I tried to imagine never dancing again. And couldn't. "But dancing is a really big deal to me, Dad. It's the only thing I've ever been good at. "

  "I am sorry. But if you do not stop dancing, your actions could risk the exposure of our world. " He glanced around as if to point out the potential for eavesdroppers. Like anyone else would be dumb enough to hang out in a downpour in East Texas during tornado season just to listen to us. "And if you risk exposing our world, the council will have no choice but to step in and stop you. "

  I bit my lip. Everything seemed to be about the big bad vampire council. What the council wanted. What the council demanded. What about what I wanted for a change? Whose side was he on anyways? "Can't you just tell them that I'll be careful? I can learn to blend in, honest. Just give me time to practice at it. "

  "It is too high a risk. You have no idea what the council is capable of. The only safe course is for you to never dance again. Ever. "

  "Mom wasn't worried about my dancing. Aren't you just being. . . overly cautious?"

  "I am doing what your mother should have done. . . protect you. You should never have begun dance lessons in the first place. I warned your mother that this would happen, but she was as headstrong as ever. " He took a step closer to me and held out his hands palms up. "Please, Savannah. Do as I ask and do not persist in this. "

  Or what, his oh-so-important council might be even more unhappy with him? What was with him and this stupid council? Couldn't he care about his own daughter's needs for a change?

  And yet. . . he was practically begging me. And despite it all. . . the fact that he hadn't bothered to come to a single game of mine last year, despite every Father's Day event he'd missed when I was a kid and how little I saw him every year. . . despite how much I loved to dance and the chance it gave me to finally fit in at school, I was tempted. Out of sheer habit from years of trying to make him happy, I was tempted to give up on my dreams, to throw away everything I wanted, just because he wanted me to. He was my father, vampire or not, and I loved him. Even though it made no sense to. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally make him proud of me. All I had to do was give up the only thing I'd ever been good at. The only thing I'd ever wanted to do.

  But if I stopped dancing, what would I be? What would I have? It was my one chance to fit in somewhere. He had no idea what my life at school was really like, or how becoming a Charmer could change it. He didn't understand what he was asking
me to turn away from.

  No. I couldn't do it. Not even for him.

  "Dancing is all I have, Dad. I'm sorry if that doesn't matter to you or your council. But Mom and Nanna know the risks, and they were still okay with my dancing this year. So as long as they stay okay with it. . . I'm going to keep dancing. "

  His face hardened, making him look like a cold statue in the rain. "I am very sorry to hear that. "

  And there it was, all that I had worked so hard for years to end. His disappointment in me.

  Almost too tired to reply, I turned to go inside. "I'm sorry, too. " Sorry I couldn't be the kind of daughter he wanted me to be. Sorry I'd cost him so much. Maybe he and Mom shouldn't have decided to have me, after all.

  I opened the theater door, but something made me stop and look back at him over my shoulder. Finally I could see a hint of emotion in his eyes. But it was nothing I wanted to see. He looked. . . worried. And that made my chest ache even worse.

  "You don't have to worry, Dad. I promise I'll work hard to blend in. I won't expose your world. "

  "I believe you will try. Let us hope the council has equal faith that you will succeed. " Then he turned and walked away.

  My ballet shoes were ruined. I stared at them in the backseat of Nanna's car on the way home.

  Dad's words kept echoing inside my head. With every echo, I heard his stinging emphasis on the word try. He knew I would try to blend in. . . but he obviously didn't think I could succeed.

  I gritted my teeth and took out my anger on my soaked shoes, my hands crushing them around their middles.

  Why should I care what Dad thought? I hardly saw him; we were practically strangers to each other. It was just like with Tristan, this stupid need to care about someone who barely even knew I existed. Both of them had hurt me countless times. Why couldn't I just cut them out of my mind and heart so they couldn't hurt me anymore? Was I some sort of masochist who needed to make myself miserable?

  "Hon, what exactly did your father say?" Mom asked from the front passenger seat, her voice gentle even as her words poked at me. I wanted to forget everything he'd said.

  "Well, according to him I have a new problem. I used to be terrible at everything. Now he says I'm too good. He wants me to stop dancing, and says if I keep dancing I'll end up exposing the entire vampire world. Or something stupid like that. "

  Mom's face creased with worry under the flickering light of the streetlamps we passed. She turned to look at Nanna behind the wheel.

  "Savannah, maybe. . . " Nanna began as she guided the car around a corner.

  "Yes, maybe you should listen to your father this time," Mom finished.

  I stared at Mom. "You've got to be kidding. "

  "Well, how often has he asked you to do anything?" Mom said.

  "Because he knows he has no right to!" The words exploded out of me. But I wouldn't take them back, because it was the truth. Just because my father had helped create me didn't make him a real dad. He had never been there for me when I needed him. What gave him the right to tell me what to do now? And not even for my own good. He was only worried his precious council would get mad at him.

  "He's just worried about you," Mom insisted.

  "Oh, come on! You know that's a load of bull. He's just trying to make his council happy. Bunch of paranoid dictators. Did you think that my dancing was too good tonight? That people would look at my dancing and know I was a freak?"

  "Stop using that word!" Mom snapped.

  I was too mad and desperate to care. I just stared at her and waited for her to answer me.

  She sighed. "No, I don't think your dancing is a problem. At least, not yet. "

  "And that's with me trying to impress everyone," I added. "I know I can learn to blend in with a little practice. Until tonight, I didn't even know I needed to worry about that. "

  "Hon, you really don't want to upset the vampire council. They aren't the nicest of vampires. " Mom's hands twisted together in her lap.

  I rolled my eyes. "But they don't rule the world, do they? I mean, who are they to say whether I can dance or not? If you two say it's all right, shouldn't that be what matters? You could watch me practice at home and tell me when to. . . to tone it down, or whatever. "

  Mom looked at Nanna.

  Nanna gave a sharp nod. "Savannah's right. They shouldn't get to tell us what to do. "

  "Mother. . . " Mom whispered, her eyes widening. My heart beat sped up with hope.

  "It'll be all right, Joan. " Nanna's eyes narrowed as she stared at the road. Her gnarled hands gripped the steering wheel harder. "Remember who we are, the strong line of women you've both descended from. If Savannah wants to dance, I say she ought to do just that. We've gotta give her a chance to learn how to control herself through all these changes. And have faith in her that she can. Michael's people can just butt out of things and mind their own darn business. "

  Smiling through fresh tears of a different kind now, I took one last risk. "So, if I wanted to try out for the high-school dance team in three weeks. . . ?"

  I stared at them and waited, my heart hammering at the base of my throat.

  Mom sighed. "Then I guess you'd better bring me the permission form to sign. And start practicing in the backyard for your Nanna and me. "

  Letting out a short whoop of victory, I reached through the front seats and hugged Mom, then squeezed Nanna's shoulder in thanks. So what if my crappy excuse for a father and his council didn't approve? The two women who had raised me, my real family, who had always been there for me, supported me now. And that was all I needed. Once I became a Charmer, I would show him, all the rest of those controlling vamps and everyone else in Jacksonville that I could fit in just fine.

 
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MELISSA DARNELL SERIES:

  • The Clann
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