Meg tried not to doze off as the night fell fully, enveloping Grady's SUV. Hayley did doze off in the back seat, her soft snoring the only sign that she was alive, or whatever it was that vampires were, leaving Meg and Grady alone with one another. Charlotte and Jess had been gone a long time. So long, in fact, that Grady must have exhausted all of his conversation topics, since they had been sitting in silence for at least a quarter of an hour now. Meg didn't mind. She embraced the companionable silence, her head resting on the SUV window, her eyes becoming droopy. Damn, surviving an explosion sure did take a lot out of a person.
She missed her son, she thought, her mind carrying her further from consciousness. And her bed. But mostly Noah. She hoped he was okay, that he wasn't too worried about her or too angry at his close-minded father. The thought of Calvin incensed her anew, ignited the fury that had burned in her when she kicked him out of her hospital room. If her eyes would have been open, they would have burned a brilliant, but somehow deathly cold, blue.
Her groggy brain reminded her to breathe deeply, push her problems with her husband from her mind for now. These were things that were going to need to be dealt with, but at a later time. Right now her healing body needed sleep. And for Charlotte to hurry up and get back in the damn van.
Her sleep interrupted by her anger, Meg lifted one groggy eyelid to peer at Grady who was sitting in the driver's seat. His worry for Charlotte was embossed in every detail of his being. She honestly believed that his bloodshot eyes had never left Shaunee's mother's front door since his lover had disappeared behind it. For once he was not wearing his signature fedora. His orange hair was slightly ruffled in the back, and there was a faint five o'clock shadow covering his angular chin. He looked like he hadn't slept for a week and his hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles were white. Meg feared he was going to leave an indentation.
Meg cleared her throat meaningfully, causing Grady to startle ever so slightly before turning to look at her, genuine concern on his unshaven face. Though whether it was concern for her or for Charlotte, Meg did not know.
"I thought you were asleep, miss Meg." Calvin said gently, peering down at her.
"I was almost. I wish Charlotte would hurry up."
"Me too. We need to get going soon."
Unawkward silence fell over them once more as they both kept eyes trained on the door of the apartment. "She's going to be fine, you know. She's strong."
Grady's knuckles turned white on the steering wheel before he loosened his grip and dropped his hands to his lap. "Yes, I know. Yet still I worry."
"You know she would kick your ass if she realized how you were worrying yourself to death over her right now. When is the last time you slept? Or ate? Or showered?"
Grady took his eyes off of the door for the first time in a long while to stare at his hands in his lap. He sighed, realizing that Meg had a point. "You're right." He conceded. "Unfortunately neither of us have had much time to take care of ourselves lately. What with Charlotte being sick, and you almost dying, and Betty actually dying. Everything is just kind of a mess right now, honestly."
"Yes, I know it must be. But you still have to take care of yourself."
Grady didn't respond, just looked down at his hands once again. Hayley stirred in the back seat, but did not wake. And finally, the front door of Shaunee's apartment opened, revealing a tired looking Charlotte, a scared Jess, and to Meg's surprise, a steely eyed Shaunee.
When the wave of nausea finally left me and Shaunee had performed her excruciating charm extracting ritual once again, I made the mistake of mentioning to her that we were headed to Betty's to assist the VAPUR detective team. She was adamant about accompanying us, surprisingly, and I was too tired to resist her, so that's how the three of us, after what seemed like hours, were finally marching across her small patch of grass to the black SUV parked on the street.
"It's about damn time!" I heard Meg exclaim through her open window as we approached. I couldn't help but smile, even with all the shit that was happening around me. I opened the back door of the SUV to let Shaunee and Jess in only to find a soundly sleeping Hayley, her limbs sprawled out on the big backseat. Sighing, I shook her rather ungently to wake her. She sat up in the seat so fast that I had to move backwards to avoid being head butted. Her eyes were crimson as she took us all in.
"What'd I miss?" She yawned, revealing her fangs, and stretched, unconcerned that three people were waiting on her to move to get into the vehicle.
"Your job, if you don't move over." I motioned with my hands for her to move to allow Jess to climb into the last row of seats and for me and Shaunee to slide in next to Hayley. Hayley rolled her crimson eyes, evidently unaware that they had even changed color.
"Ma'am yes ma'am," she said sarcastically. "Hello witch," she greeted Shaunee as I slid into the seat next to her.
She was met with Shaunee's furrowed, angry brow. "Oh hell nah, Charlotte. I am not getting into this vehicle with a damn predatorial vampire. She got those crazy eyes I told you 'bout! I will walk myself to granny's before I sit in there with that."
I groaned, whether it was inwardly or outwardly I do not know, and began to rub my forehead. I could feel the biggest migraine coming on.
"Hayley, eyes." The girl stared down the witch as her eyes changed back to their normal color. "See? The only thing bad about Hayley is her attitude. Now please, for the love of all that is good get in the damn van."
As Grady finally pulled away, I caught a glimpse of a smile in Meg's knowing eyes in the rearview mirror. And something else, something that looked a lot like love.
When we arrived at the remains of Betty's property a few minutes later, the scene was buzzing with activity from vampires and humans alike. The VAPUR detective team and the human detective team were working together inside of the police tape that delineated the area of the crime scene, but there was also quite a crowd of nosy siren chasers and reporters on the perimeter as well. The reporters were pushing for statements from Rosemary, who I could see looked quite uncomfortable around this many humans, and from Sheriff Mayes who had his hand resting knowingly on Rose's elbow.
We parked the van safely behind the chaos and for the first time I could clearly see the exhaustion settled onto the faces of every one of my ragtag team as they took in the scene before them. They didn't bother to hide it now and I didn't blame them. I took a deep breath, mentally preparing myself to exit the vehicle.
I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the console between Grady and Meg in the front seats so that I could look my best friend in the eyes. "Meg. I know you aren't going to like this but I really need you to stay in the car."
Her brow furrowed and I could see the fight enter her icy blue eyes. She opened her mouth to protest but I held up my hand, cutting her off. "Look, you have my blood in your system. God forbid something happen out there and you get killed and turn."
"What the hell Charlotte!?" Shaunee protested at this revelation. I could feel the anger radiating off of her. But I could also see the fight leave Meg's eyes. She sighed and nodded.
"Later, Shaunee. You can take your anger out on me later. But for now just leave it." I turned my head to look at Hayley over my left shoulder. "Hayley, I need you to stay here with Meg. Please."
Hayley briefly glanced out the window, taking in the crazy again. She crossed her arms across her chest and nodded, her short hair bobbing. "Gladly boss. After all this though, maybe you should change my job title to royal baby sitter." She smirked, causing one fang to show. "And I expect a raise."
I rolled my eyes and reached over Shaunee to open the door. "Come on. Let's go before Rose eats that damn reporter."
Hey guys. I know I haven't touched this in a really long time, but I decided to go ahead and update. If any of the original followers still read this, I would love to hear from you! And if you are new and have made it this far I would also like to hear from you! I love chatting with folks and I will reply to all reviews/PMs. So my life is a little crazy right now (grad school is kicking my ass), so I honestly don't know when I will update again. I also forget where I was originally going with this one so it may take me a while to figure that out again. But Charlotte has a tendency to figure it out for me. So this will get finished... eventually. Just not anytime soon. Thanks for making it this far (and sticking with me if that's the case)!
Happy reading and writing!