Chapter 3: Reactions

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Mom and Dad divorced when I was ten and Jimmy was four. They split us up, but I always made it a point to see him at school, or on weekends, or whenever I could manage. We helped each other through the split, and we still do. But I didn't see how he could help me through being a vampire. The condition's terminal.

Mom's house was dark, only the porchlights casting a yellow glow across the yard. Since there was a good chance the hunters would check my parents' houses for me, I didn't run up on the porch and knock. Instead I climbed the side fence and circled to the back door.

The kitchen light was on, and Mom sat at the kitchen table in a turquoise bathrobe, sipping tea and reading Country Living. She looked up with a gasp when I knocked. "Mom, it's Dalton!" I said, waving through the window.

She got up, unlocked the back door and let me in. "Dalton! What're you doing here?" Her face had the sagging, lined look of working at the restaurant all day. Her brown hair had more gray in it than I remembered. She'd sure aged fast since the divorce. My heart ached. This news would age her more.

"Mom, tonight someone turned me. The hunters want me and I'm afraid you and Jimmy are in danger."

Her eyes widened. "Wait, what? Someone turned you?" She grabbed my chin and turned my face toward the light, frowning. "My gosh! Who did this to you?"

"A girl from school, Cindy Adams. I didn't know she was a human feeder."

Mom released my face and backed away until she bumped into the counter. One hand fluttered near her throat. "What--what kind of feeder are you?"

The million dollar question. I swallowed and looked at the ground. "Technically, I'm an animal feeder. Big animals."

There was a long silence. We stared at each other. She stared at me in stark fear. I shriveled inside. While a guy might put his mom through a lot of crap, he never, ever wants her to fear him. Respect, yes. Cower in terror? No. I hadn't expected this, but the fact remained--I was a vampire now. Most sane people would shiver in fear in my presence.

I cleared my throat. "Anyway, the hunters are after me, and I know they'll come here. I'm afraid--Cindy might come, too. She was with them. Run if you have to, right? Keep Jimmy safe."

Mom nodded, and for a second I thought everything would be all right. Then she whispered, "Get out of my house."

I backed toward the door. She followed me, the fear in her face changing to loathing. "Dalton is dead and a monster walks in his place. Get out!"

I bounded out the back door to get away from her. Horror flopped inside me like a dying animal. She screamed after me in a whisper, "Stay away from Jimmy and me! Or I'll call the hunters myself!" The door slammed and the deadbolt clicked.

I stood on the back porch, shoulders slumped and head hanging. I was dead to my family. My mother had disowned me. But she was still in danger. And Jimmy--

I crept along the side of the house to Jimmy's room on the west corner. One of the windows was cracked open. "Jimmy," I whispered. "Are you awake?"

Movement inside, and the curtain swung aside. Jimmy looked out at me, a ten year old in glasses and dark blond hair. "Hi Dalton," he whispered. "I eavesdropped on you and Mom. You're seriously a vampire?"

"Seriously," I said, rubbing my forehead.

"You didn't exactly say what you feed on. Are you really a human feeder?" His voice wasn't fearful, only straightforward. Jimmy always wanted the facts.

I drew a breath I didn't need. "Jim, I'm going to tell you a secret. Take it to your grave if you have to, but I don't think you'll have to wait that long. I stumbled across a dragon disguised as a woman, and I bit her."

Jimmy raised one eyebrow. "A dragon?"

"Yeah, an Asian one. Her blood tastes like straight chemicals, and she's using me to do her evil bidding. But I can't bite anything else, and definitely not humans."

Jimmy crossed his arms and tilted his head to one side. "Huh. I'll do some research on it. But not so any hunters would notice."

Good kid. At least my brother was on my side. A little of the desolation in my heart eased. I straightened my shoulders. "I need to go before they track down Mom's address. You never saw me tonight, right?"

Jimmy grinned. "Right. Goodnight!"

I crept out of the yard, checked out the street, and slipped through the shadows toward downtown. Time to warn Dad.

###

I saw a few people lingering in shadows as I wove my way through town. I went blocks out of my way to avoid them. They might have only been kids smoking dope--or they might have been hunters. Funny how a person's terrors change. Gang members seemed completely tame now.

Dad and I shared a little apartment down in the southern part of Pasadena. We had a view of the Los Angeles skyline some days, when the smog wasn't bad. By night the city lights gleamed through the trees in a massive beehive of lights, never sleeping.

Our apartment complex was crammed with big old trees, pine, eucalyptus and all the palm trees. It kept it shady and cool in summer, but it also provided a lot of blind corners. It was hard to pull in and out of the parking lot. Keeping this in mind, I stayed off the street and crept up on the complex alongside the back fence.

Two police cars sat outside our corner apartment, lights flashing. I froze and craned my neck, but I couldn't see over the fence. I swung myself up into a handy eucalyptus, climbed up ten feet, and peered down at our tiny porch.

Dad stood under the porch light, still wearing his post office uniform, arms folded. He was nodding to the cops, who had that belligerent stance and notepads out. Quizzing him about me and my whereabouts. Stupid hunters, they didn't need to drag the regular police into this. Dad looked all right, and they weren't dragging him off in handcuffs. As long as I stayed away, he wouldn't have a thing to tell them.

A tidal wave of additional desolation crashed over me. My mom had disowned me and I couldn't go near my father. The only person I had left was my little brother, and I had to keep away from him, too. I had nobody but the bitch dragon.

Or whatever they call female dragons.

I climbed out of the tree and crept away from the apartments. I had no idea where to go next, and I didn't want to go back to Jia's.

I wandered for a couple of blocks, vaguely wondering why my heart continued to beat so hard. I thought vampires had no heartbeat. Maybe the dragon blood was forcing my body to operate at such high levels that my tissues would wear out and I'd fall to pieces. That might be a relief. A powerful vampire with a short shelf-life.

Someone stepped out of a doorway and fell into step beside me. A graceful, lithe figure who stank of dragon. I didn't even look at her. "Hey, Jia."

"The vampiress is still alive," she said in a quiet, conversational tone. The sort of tone your mother uses when she asks you why her credit card is missing.

I shrugged. "She brought hunters. She was going to drug me with garlic and hand me over. I ran for it."

Jia-li said nothing for nearly a block. I wished I'd lost my sense of smell. Why couldn't she use deodorant or something?

Finally she said, "If she's a strike-feeder, she'll be registered in the national database. We need to return to my house and do the research." She shot me a sidelong look with her glowing red eyes. "I need to know why they want you."

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