“You coming back down?”
Grace hunched forward, her shoulders rising beside her ears. “Go away, Alexander. I ain’t got nothin’ to say to you.”
“The sun’s going to be up soon.” Alexander crouched beside her, staring toward the eastern horizon. He didn’t seem to notice her mood, which bothered her more than him intruding on her solitude.
She gave him a sidewise glance, twisting the weed between her teeth and glaring back out into the night sky.
He didn’t have to remind her, she’d spent a hundred years hiding from dawn to dusk. She knew what time it was, even without seeing the light growing in the eastern sky. But he meant well, she decided. He hadn’t had to come up after her, after all, or make sure she wasn’t too angry to remember the hour. Grace let her shoulders relax and shifted to make herself more comfortable on the rocky ground. “Did y’ever watch the sunrise ‘fore turnin’?”
Alexander didn’t reply right away, gazing at the sky with an absent look in his eyes. “No. I saw it on TV and in movies, never seemed that special. Never wanted to get up that early.”
“And now you ain’t never gonna see it. Not if you live to be a hundred. Not if you live to be a million. Y’all don’t wonder ’bout them things you ain’t never gonna see?”
“Not really.” He flicked a pebble off the edge of the mesa, watching as it disappeared. He liked sitting with his legs hanging off the side of the rock. Grace didn’t understand why. A fall wouldn’t likely kill either one of them, but the height still made her dizzy. She shifted back from the edge.
“Well, I wonder. Maybe it’s different for you, you ain’t as old as me. Growin’ up with that fancy Internets and such, there prolly ain’t nothin’ for you to be curious ’bout any more. I wanna see things, though. Stuff nobody ever told me existed ‘fore I turned. I wanna ride one of them roller coasters. And see the Taj Mahal.”
“You can see the Taj Mahal in the dark,” Alexander said.
Grace gave him a dirty look. “You can see it on that computer thing you keep in your room, too, but it ain’t the same.”
He grew quiet and they sat for a time, both gazing at the sky, waiting for the horizon to turn rosy. It wasn’t far off now, the stars overhead growing dimmer, pre-dawn light in shades of blue beginning to reveal the desert before them.
“You know they’re still waiting for you to come down before they finish the meeting,” Alexander said.
Grace felt her shoulders tense again. She stretched her legs out in front of her, wiggling her toes in her cowgirl boots. “Priscilla can have her meetin’ without me, I don’t want no part of it. She already knows my answer.”
“We still have to put it to a vote.” He watched her feet for a while, his blue eyes flicking up to the hat she wore to match her boots. “Things change, Grace. Maybe not us, but everything around us does.”
She squeezed her eyes closed, pushing herself up and dusting pebbles and grit from her backside. More things he didn’t have to tell her. Change was the reason she still came to the top of the mesa every night.
“Don’t mean I gotta like it, Lex.” She paused to pick a flower from a bush beside the walkway, leaving it on the center of the Aztec calendar stone that lay in the middle of the garden where the paths converged. Hooking her thumbs in the pockets of her cut-off jeans, she started back down the garden path as the first shades of pink lit the edges of the earth. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
She didn’t wait to see if he followed, though she knew he wouldn’t be far behind. A rickety shed was all that stood on the top of the mesa, not much in the way of protection from the sun, though its only purpose was to provide a roof for the stairwell that led to the garden.
Grace had taken to tending the garden herself. Aside from Alexander, no one else had been up there since their sire’s funeral.
Few nights had passed without her thinking of the ceremony, the pyre they’d built on the calendar stone, the ashes they’d scattered through the garden and cast to the wind to be carried across the desert. It hadn’t seemed grand enough, in her eyes. Even worse was that the remaining clan never so much as visited the garden that had been their leader’s joy and final resting place.
Dusting her clothes a second time when she reached the bottom of the staircase, she made her way through the quiet caverns. Little had changed in the lair, though it felt unfamiliar now that the halls were empty. There were few of them left; without numbers to protect them, the survivors remaining after their leader’s murder fell away like leaves from a dying tree. Some had abandoned the clan in search of new homes.
More had simply gone out to hunt, never to return.
The thought made Grace shiver and she walked faster. Her booted footsteps echoed, eerily alone, though she heard Alexander coming down the spiral staircase behind her.
She might as well have been alone. Alexander tried to be friendly toward her, enough that she thought he might have been interested in her as more than a friend, but he was the youngest member of the clan. Grace was the second oldest. Aside from both of them being vampires, they had nothing in common.
She hadn’t been the only one to leave the meeting in a huff, she discovered as she returned to the sitting area in the main cavern. Only Priscilla, the clan’s leader, remained seated. The rest of the red-upholstered couches drawn around the table were empty, though Oliver and Lawrence were coming back. The two men reached the couches before Grace did, sitting without looking at each other. If they’d fought, she’d missed it, and didn’t really care. She didn’t know either one well, but aside from herself, Priscilla and Alexander, they were all that remained.
Priscilla looked at Grace out of the corner of her eye, then turned her head to watch Alexander slip in. Once all of them had settled, she smoothed her glossy dark hair and straightened. “Shall we get back to business?”
No one spoke.
She went on. “As I said, moving northwest is our best option. Our clan is too small to defend itself in an area like this, which has been oversaturated with our kind for too many years. They’re used to us. They watch for us. If we move northwest, we have the option of joining one of the larger clans there.”
“But how far northwest?” Lawrence asked. “I stayed in the desert as an adult because I liked the climate.”
“Seattle, probably,” Alexander murmured. He flinched when the others looked at him.
Grace felt sorry for him, but said nothing.
“It is an ideal location.” Oliver gave a toothy grin. “Large metro area, high populations… Not to mention the rain, which would let us get out during the day sometimes.”
Priscilla nodded. “Yes, Seattle. Since if we’re going to merge into a larger clan, we might as well merge into the largest possible.”
“Why not Louisiana, then?” Grace asked, crossing her arms. “Why’s it gotta be somewhere so dang gloomy?”
“The clan in New Orleans can’t support any more than they already have. And they don’t offer much in the way of protection. There’s a reason New Orleans is such a popular setting for books and movies about us.” Rolling her eyes, Priscilla waved a hand. “I’ve been over all the possibilities a dozen times. That’s why I called you together in the first place. To vote. Moving to the northwest. Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Oliver said without hesitation.
“No,” Grace snapped, almost as fast.
Lawrence frowned, staring at the floor with his eyes narrowed in thought. Grace and Priscilla both looked at Alexander.
Swallowing, Alexander leaned forward, rubbing his thighs. “Abstain.”
Priscilla quirked a brow. “Why?”
“I joined the clan not long before Huitzilopochtli’s death,” he explained slowly. “I have no attachment to this location or any other. I’m also still adjusting to being part of the clan at all. I don’t think my vote should have as much weight as the others.”
“Suit yourself,” Priscilla murmured.
Grace hugged her arms to herself. She’d hoped for Alexander to side with her. She had thought he might, since he’d seemed upset by the idea of leaving.
Lawrence sighed, straightening. “Yes,” he said, though his tone was reluctant.
Grace’s stomach sank.
“One no, two yes, and one abstain.” Priscilla smirked, clapping her hands together and rising from her seat. “North to Seattle it is. I’ll take care of preparations with the other clan. I don’t expect it will take any more than three weeks, but the rest of you shouldn’t waste time packing, just in case things go a little faster. Clan is dismissed.”
Oliver popped up from the couch in a heartbeat, hurrying toward his rooms. Lawrence was more reserved, but he didn’t linger, either. Both of them were gone by the time Priscilla had swayed her way out of the great room, leaving Grace and Alexander alone.
For a long time, they both were quiet. Then Alexander gave her a somber look, searching her face but refusing to meet her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Grace forced herself to shrug. “Can’t be mad at you for speakin’ your mind.” She kept her voice level, but emotions swirled in her chest, making her throat tight. “You’re right. The mesa ain’t home to you like it’s been to me.”
“It’s not like you’ll be alone in Seattle. I’ll be there, and Priscilla will be there-”
She cut him off with a laugh. “Boy, I don’t give a donkey’s dusty behind where Cilla is! You think I was stayin’ here for her? I was stayin’ here because this was home! This was where Big Daddy settled us, and don’t you pretend that don’t mean nothin’, because he was your sire too!”
“Huitzilopochtli is gone,” Alexander said, voice so firm it surprised them both.
Her lips thinned until her jaw ached from pressing them together.
“He was all that held the clan together, I know.” He managed to sound apologetic, but his eyes didn’t look sorry at all. “But that’s why we have to move on. Without his strength to guide us, we have to rely on Priscilla. And if she thinks we’re better off in Seattle, she might be right. We’ll be better off wherever we aren’t alone.”
Turning her eyes to the floor, Grace twisted one of her strawberry blonde braids.
Alexander pushed himself from the couch, pausing to pat her shoulder. “There’ll be someone there for you, Grace. I promise.”
She grunted, turning her head to watch him leave. “Wherever we aren’t alone,” she repeated thoughtfully.
— Keep reading: Chapter Three