"Then you came right in, tearing out my soul.
How could all this loss be your only goal?
I'm left standing here, desperate in the cold.
Since you took your life, mine has not been whole."
Author's Note: This is the sequel of From Her Vein to the Floor, so I would recommend reading that before attempting this. But if you've already been through the previous story, welcome back! I hope you enjoy, and as always, reviews are very welcome. :)
"Mom –" Torryn paused to take a deep breath, then started again. "Mom, I'm not completely human."
Her mother's reaction was nothing near what she expected. She looked at Torryn, her expression completely deadpan, and said, "I know."
Torryn's face went slack. "You...You knew?"
Her mother nodded, reclining into a more comfortable position on the couch. Torryn wished she could relax that way, but she could only sit rigidly in her armchair, shocked and confused. She knew? Torryn had been surprised with the information by a total stranger, after being completely unaware of it for seventeen years, and her mother knew the whole Goddamn time?
She'd known the woman was a bitch, but Jesus.
"Did you think I couldn't figure out that your father wasn't human?" she asked dryly, taking in Torryn's shocked face with no expression on her own. "Progeny have silver eyes, you know. Not gray, not some off blue; silver. And their skin is whiter than a corpse's." She leaned forward, hooking a long finger through the handle of her coffee cup and bringing it to her lips. But before she took a sip, she added, "And his hair was burgundy. Never dyed."
"Whose?" Torryn asked in a sudden hurry, sliding forward just an inch on her seat. "My...My father's?" They'd never talked about him before. Her mother had always gotten angry at the mere mention of him; she preferred to act as if no one had sired Torryn at all, as if Torryn owed everything to her and her alone.
She nodded, a solemness to her brown eyes that Torryn didn't think she'd ever seen before. "He was a good man, no matter what they say," she said softly, staring into her coffee cup, a lost look to her eyes – lost in her words, lost in her thoughts, lost in her life. Her eyes drifted to Torryn, earnest but still distant. "He was a good man, Torryn. He left because he had to, not because he wanted to." She looked back to her coffee cup and repeated the phrase in a whisper, her new mantra. "He left because he had to, not because he wanted to. He left because he had to..."
Torryn watched as the woman pulled her lip between her teeth and bit down. Tears shone in her eyes. She'd never seen her like this; she'd never known she was capable of such emotions. Her mother had always been the devil to her, some wicked witch with no feelings beyond greed. For seventeen years, she'd had no idea that she wasn't human; for seventeen years, she'd had no idea that her mother was hurting.
Was she the terrible one in their relationship?
She stood and sat beside her mother cautiously, resting a hand gently on her forearm as she looked into her glassy eyes. "What happened, Mom?" she asked in a whisper.
The woman let out a sob, rushing to hide her face with her free hand. The remnants of her black coffee sloshed as her body jerked uncontrollably. "He said he'd be putting us in danger if he stayed," she choked between sobs and gasps for air. "He took one look at you, one look, right after you were born, and he said that he had to go." The mug slipped from her fingers, splashing lukewarm coffee all over the floor and Torryn's legs, but she did nothing but bring her now-free hand to her face. "And he left right then. He left me in that damn hospital bed, all by myself. He just left."
"It's okay," Torryn murmured as she put an arm around her mother's shoulders and pulled her close. The shoulder of her shirt was soaked with tears almost instantly, coffee still dripping down her legs and into her shoes, but she did her best to focus on her mother in spite of the discomfort. "I'm sure he was right. I'm sure he would've put us in danger if he stayed."
"But I don't know," the woman wept, and Torryn felt her shake her head against her soaked shoulder. "I don't know if he really thought that we would get hurt if he stayed or if he just didn't want to be with me anymore. I'll never know."
"Well, if he didn't want to be with you, if he really had the balls to leave you alone with a baby, then good riddance, I say," Torryn said with a sharp nod, scowling at nothing.
Her mother drew back, something like a smile playing at the corners of her lips. "Did you get that attitude from me?" she mused, her sobs subsiding until there were only tears.
Torryn laughed lightly. "The 'fuck off and die' one?" she asked, grinning when her mother nodded and said nothing about her language. "Quite possibly. I certainly didn't get it from my deadbeat dad." Her mother's smile faded a bit, and Torryn frowned. "But I don't think he left you because he wanted to. I'd bet money on it, actually." A hint of her smile returned, and her mother nodded solemnly. "The world we live in isn't a kind one, Mom, and the underworld that those of us who aren't human live in is worse. Vampires are vindictive and cruel. He never could have saved us from them, no matter how hard he fought. We would've been noticed with him around, and we would have died because of it. Or worse."
Her mother's smile returned – at a fraction of its original strength, maybe, but returned nonetheless. Pride showed in her eyes, and she rested a hand gently on Torryn's cheek. "You know I've always loved you, right? I know I've never been the best at showing it, and that I've never really tried, but I do love you."
"I know, Mom," Torryn responded with the most loving smile she could muster – but she didn't know. How could she? "I love you, too, and I'm very grateful for how you've taken care of me over the years. I know it must've been hard."
"It wasn't that bad," her mother said, but they both knew it was a lie. She turned her attention to the coffee spilled across the floor as if noticing it for the first time; and she probably really was. She seemed embarrassed, now, dipping down to pick up her empty mug and turning awkwardly to hide her face from Torryn. "Are you living with that boy now, then?" she asked as she pretended to study the stain, keeping her face carefully hidden from Torryn.
The girl smiled. "His name is Antony, and yes, I am. He and I are both going through some...some things," she said vaguely, "and we want to be closer to each other so we can be there for each other. Plus, I didn't think you'd want me around much after the conversation we were going to have, but..." She laughed nervously. "This went much better than I thought it would."
"I still can't believe you thought I'd be stupid enough not to notice that your father wasn't human," her mother said with only the barest hint of nastiness to her tone. She leaned back to look at Torryn, her lips pursed and the tears wiped from her face, though her eyes were still red and puffy. "Really, Torryn. I know I was never an academic genius like you seem to think you are, but I'm smart enough to know that a man with shiny silver eyes isn't human."
Torryn smiled at the woman's bitterness. At least she wasn't crying anymore. "Sorry. I just figured you guys had had some kind of drunken night together or something," she said with a shrug.
Her mother stood, shaking her head, though her scowl had softened. "So I'm not stupid, just a whore," she said in what was almost a joking tone. Almost. "Jesus Christ." She turned and strode from the room with her precious coffee cup in hand, soon calling from the kitchen, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Torryn grinned as she got to her feet and started for the front door. "Love you, too, Mom. Talk to you later," she called back, pulling the door open. Her eyes landed on the spot by the couch where Samuel's ashen body had lain after Antony had killed him, and she lingered for a moment as she remembered that day.
That was the day Antony had almost died at his father's own hand. It was the day he had died at his father's own hand.
She choked back the tears of rage, of frustration, of hatred, of fear for the future, and walked out of the house, closing the door on the room and on all of her memories with a soft click.
She pulled into the rounded drive at the front of Antony's beautiful farm house and sighed. It was packed with cars, as it always seemed to be these days, and the only spot left was at the side of the crescent, between a giant silver Chevy truck and an equally large SUV, a tight fit even for the tiny Sunfire Antony had lent to her. She'd only had her license for a week. She had no experience with parallel parking, and she already knew well that she'd probably fail at it.
She was doomed.
She braked beside the spot and stared at it for almost a full minute, imagining all the possible outcomes of a parking attempt. After hearing the sounds of shattering glass and crinkling metal over and over again, she finally muttered, "Screw it," and threw the car in park right where she was. She turned the key in the ignition and took it with her when she left the car, slamming the door a bit more roughly than necessary, a steady scowl aimed at the spot.
A brisk walk carried her to the front door, and she opened the door as quietly as she could and stepped cautiously inside. She never knew when Antony would be in the middle of a deep discussion or some heated debate these days, and she never wanted to interrupt. But this evening, Antony and his cronies were nowhere to be found – not on the first floor, at least. She saw and heard no one, but she closed the door carefully nonetheless.
"He's upstairs," a voice said from behind her, smooth and clearly feminine. She turned toward the woman peering at her from the kitchen doorway, and the girl smiled to show her fangs in a way that was almost patronizing. "But I'm sure you guessed that already, hm?"
"I did, actually," Torryn replied, forcing a smile that she hoped was much kinder than the one the woman wore, "but thanks."
"He just woke up, though," the woman added, plowing over Torryn before she could even finish the sentence. "He seems a bit cranky, so I'd be careful if I were you."
"All right," Torryn said, her smile wavering just a bit. She wanted so badly to glare. This woman's name was Becca, and it seemed that the whole reason she was here was to try to wedge herself between Torryn and Antony. "Thanks." She headed up the stairs before the vampire could make another condescending remark, her steps as quiet as she could make them.
The vampires she passed in the hallway were much kinder than Becca. Some were downright friendly, but all of them were civil at the very least, whether because they respected Torryn herself or because they respected Antony too much to treat her poorly. There were more men than women this evening, and relief rolled through Torryn like a cool wave. She trusted Antony, but some of the females he dealt with were nearly undeniable. Or incredibly persistent, like dear Becca in the kitchen.
She reached the door to Antony's bedroom and slowly pushed it open, peeking in to make sure Antony wasn't in too fowl of a mood. She found the man sitting up on his bed, his body bare from the waist up. His lower half was probably naked, too, but a thick comforter hid the rest of him from view. There was a scowl on his pale face at first, but when his eyes landed on her, his lips shifted into an easy smile.
"Hey," he greeted her pleasantly, and she started toward the bed. "How'd it go?" His expression became thoughtful as his nose twitched. "And why do I smell coffee?"
She sat down on the bed beside him, and he was quick to enfold her in a hug – tight, but not too tight. He'd gotten much more accustomed to his new strength over the past few days, no longer accidentally hurting her with his touch, and she smiled proudly. "Better than I thought it would. And because my leg is covered in it."
He fell back on his mountain of pillows, pulling her down with him. "You should probably wash that off sometime," he teased, then asked, "What did she have to say about everything?"
She twisted in his grip to look up at him, her chin resting on his chest and her hand sliding along his abs. "She knew, actually," she said. "She knew what I was the whole time."
His eyebrows shot up, surprise showing in his pretty blue eyes. "She knew? Seriously?" She nodded her answer, and he asked, "Why didn't she tell you?"
She shrugged. "She never really said, but the whole memory of my father brought up a lot of bad memories for her. She even cried. I'm guessing she didn't want to tell me so she wouldn't have to think about it."
"She cried?" He looked thoroughly astounded. "What happened to leave her with that much baggage? Did he die on her or something?"
"He left," she said simply, turning her head to rest her cheek on his chest now, her sad gaze focused on the thick curtains that covered the window. "Right after I was born. He said it was to protect her, but she's not so sure."
"I'm sure there was a very real chance of danger at the time," he said, gently rubbing her upper arm. "I doubt that he would've left just to leave."
"That's what I told her. But after living with the doubt for so long, I doubt my words have changed anything." She shrugged and sighed, trying to force her mother's tear-streaked face from her mind along with the guilt she felt for having been oblivious to the woman's suffering. "So," she started, turning to look up at Antony once more, a small smile on her face, "do you have another big meeting planned for tonight?"
At that, his face instantly darkened, and he turned his scowl toward the bedroom door. "I didn't actually have one planned, but Caleb thought it would be cute to wake me up at the crack of freakin' night and call one all on his own." His glare hardened further, as if he was hoping to pierce the wood and reach the man that likely stood somewhere beyond with the power of his expression alone. "The bastard."
She frowned. It took a lot to cause one of his underlings to show this kind of initiative; something had to be seriously wrong. "What does he want to talk about?"
"I don't know," he grumbled. "He refused to say." He wiped the scowl away as if it were no more than a chalk drawing on a blackboard, instead smiling as he looked down at her once more. "Did you get everything moved in all right?"
"Uh, yeah," she said, a bit thrown off by the abrupt change. Only days ago, he couldn't express anything at all, but now, he was going from prick to happy like it was nothing? He must have been practicing. "Before I even worked up the nerve to sit down with my mom, actually. I left everything downstairs, though, 'cause I wasn't really sure what to do with it."
He cocked an eyebrow. "It's all coming in here, of course. If that's all right with you, I mean."
"Won't it piss Skylar off, though?" she asked nervously, her brow furrowing in worry.
"So?" he asked in return, his tone blunt. "You're not with Skylar. You're with me. He can get over it."
"I guess so," she mumbled, but she wasn't so sure.
He patted her arm a couple of times, and she sat up to obey the silent command. "I have to get going, I guess," he said, his tone one of resignation, as he slid his legs from beneath the blankets and off of the bed. "He did say he wanted me to hurry."
"Can I come with you this time?" she asked as she watched him cross the room to the dresser against the far wall.
"He made a point of telling me not to bring you along, actually." His lips were drawn into a thin line as he dug through the top drawer of the dresser. "I'm not looking forward to what he has to say for that very reason."
She didn't blame him. She knew the majority of the vampires here didn't like her, but most of them never said so outright or did anything to give Antony the impression that they might be a threat to her. If Caleb had specifically said that she couldn't come, the reason for the discussion couldn't be a good one. She had a feeling it was going to screw her over somehow.
"All right," she sighed, though she was less than pleased. "I'll just...wait here, I guess." What else did she really have to do?
He slid a dark gray T-shirt onto his bare torso and turned toward her with a smile. "Why don't you go out instead?" he suggested. "Or at least mingle with some of the people around here? I don't like leaving you alone and bored all the time." He crouched and began to rummage through a lower drawer, but his eyes remained on her face.
"You don't do it that often," she said with another shrug. "It's really no big deal. I'll be fine by myself for a little while."
"Whatever floats your boat," he said, mimicking her shrug as he stood with a pair of black boxers and a pair of jeans in his hands. He began to put them on and added, "Just be careful, whatever you do. And don't let anyone eat you."
She chuckled. "Well, damn. There goes my whole evening."
Now fully clothed, he crossed the room to place a gentle kiss on her lips, grinning down at her. "I'll see you soon. And I'll tell you everything that's said just because Caleb doesn't want me to."
She smiled back. "Have fun."
"Tons," he said, throwing a wave at her over his shoulder as he headed toward the door, and then, he was gone.
With a sigh, she fell back on the bed. The ashy scent of vampire wafted over her, and she breathed it in slowly, savoring it. The whole house reeked of it these days, but in this room, the scent had something significantly Antony to it – like the last lingering shred of his humanity.
She glared at the ceiling, her mind immediately jumping to a string of darker and darker thoughts. How could a man kill his own son? How could a man wish this half-death on his own flesh and blood?
Antony's life was over now; everything he'd known before was gone, all of his dreams for the future crushed. He couldn't go to college now. He couldn't enjoy being a teenager for those last two, glorious years. He couldn't be with her, not like he had been before.
She slipped her phone out of her pocket and sighed again, her glare melting into a frown. So this was why she never wanted to be alone these days; her thoughts just wouldn't go away. There was no more peace in isolation.
She flipped the phone open and scrolled through her contact list, calling the only number that jumped out at her now that she'd left her old life behind. "Skylar?" she asked upon getting an answer. "Do you want to, like...do something or...something?"