Time passed. As it turned out I didn’t do too badly on any of my exams. As a matter of fact I aced a few of them, and didn’t get anything lower than a C even on my dreaded social studies final. I even scraped a high B in algebra, much to the surprise of myself, my parent, and my teacher. But winter break passed quickly into the second semester and the New Year. Lilly, Liam, and I were as close as ever, and I almost forgot about the foreboding letter that last day of the previous semester. Most of the time I was focused on other things. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, the little black promise that I hoped would never be kept. It had been only a few months when that letter was drawn back to the forefront of my mind though.
We were one of the closest towns to the Academy. It made us one of the safest places in the word because even the most insane person, be they human or vampire, would hesitate to commit any major crime in a place that was so heavily protected by so many powerful vamps. It also meant that you could occasionally see them. Vampires who had the overly pale, graceful, actor-like demeanor and thus were identifiable or the students who still wore one of the Academy uniforms were actually relatively common. Whenever this happened they were watched, carefully, and from a distance. People were afraid, and rightfully so, but they had never seen any of these people actually do anything out of the norm, so, it was permitted. Lilly and I were out walking around one of the more popular sections of town when we saw a large group of them, all sporting their uniform, pass by. Lilly watched with interest as they walked passed us and into the nearby starbucks.
“Those can’t be vampires can they? I thought vampires didn’t have to eat normal food.” It was sometimes all too easy to forget that Lilly wasn’t a local. No one from around here would have thought that vampires didn’t eat, not with them frequenting trendy clubs and high quality restaurants all the time. I answered the question anyway.
“Actually it could be, they eat just like you and me, just they need blood to, to replace theirs I think is what it was. But those probably weren’t vamps, they were most likely Promises. People who already know that they’re going to become vampires someday.” She looked at me over the chai latte she was drinking. The nice thing about little diners like this one was that they didn’t mind if you brought in your own drink, especially when it was one from a big corporate chains that they couldn’t threaten in any way.
“You mean there are people who actually volunteer to become vamps?”
“No, though I’m sure there are, after all look at all the Goth kids who thing vampirism is so cool. What I’m talking about are people who’ve been seen by Vampire Prophets either as a vampire, or being attacked by one and surviving. The people who will inevitably become vampires- most likely in the near future, they go to the school because it’s important for them to know the laws and codes they will have to follow before they actually have a vampire’s power and hunger.” She nodded pensively.
“Yeah I guess that makes sense. Though it kind of scary that they can know about this sort of thing before it happens. Must be useful though.” I nodded, it was useful, and it was scary. Vampires probably could rule the world if they put their minds to it, in fact the probably already did.
I wanted to spend the rest of the day enjoying myself. I wanted to enjoy the company of someone I knew, someone who I trusted absolutely- but it was there now, nagging at my mind, coloring every action. The fact was I was no less a Promise than were those kids, and probably no farther away from becoming a vampire than they were. And I hadn’t told Lilly, who was my best friend and the one person in this world I might possibly trust with my life. I couldn’ty think of a single thing I would keep from her if she asked, except this. It was like a gulf had opened between us, and I had no way of knowing how it had opened, or how to mend the gap.
Lilly herself was more than happy to continue chattering happily while I thought. She was the sort of person who could listen when someone else spoke, but filled any silence with a stream of meaningless blather. She was a very think out loud diarrhea-of-the-mouth kind of person. It was rather endearing rather than annoying, at least partially because she was not at all shy about it, and because she knew what she was doing, and how to stop.
We wandered. We had been given the day to do as we pleased, and since our parents did not object to picking us up when we wanted to go home there really weren’t any limits as to where we could go. We wandered in and out of bookstores, cafes, novelty shops, and little boutiques. That was the advantage of living in an area with a vampire intensive population, the trendy little places that were normally consigned to the downtown areas of a big city were attracted even to smaller cities and towns. Just because our population was relatively low didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy all of the luxuries of big city life. And for a teenager that was an unimaginable blessing.
Despite the fact that we had less than forty dollars between us we looked at every interesting object and shop like we were actually considering purchasing the goods. Occasionally we were. But we were both aware that the day was long, and the warm smells that drifted from the little cafes that surrounded us would be more than tempting once we no longer had the cash to spend on food.
Even in a shop I normally adored, half because the sheer cheesiness of some items amused me, my mind was preoccupied. And only partially with the strange curios and mysterious art that lined the walls. I wanted to tell Lilly, badly. But, as always, a voice rose in me that warned against it. What would she think? How could she understand when she had never seen it before? Who could expect her to know that just because you were destined to join the immortal dead did not mean that you were any less the person you had been your whole life, just that that person was to live life eternal. Liam even had been frightened by the prospect, how much more would a girl who knew nothing of vampires, their kin, or what tended to happen around them? And so, despite the long friendship I’d had with the girl, and the fact that we could have been no closer had we been bound by blood and kinship, I remained silent. Together we passed the day, one in darkness, and the other in ignorance.
School slowly became a torment. I liked my classes, and I was actually doing decently well, but being me I was being buried under and ever growing pile of homework as my teachers actually quantified the number of days they had left to cram the remaining subject matter into our skulls. Aside from the intellectual issues of the ever increasing pace, social life was less than easy. Everyone was practically holding their breath for the next Promise to be unveiled for what he or she was. There had never been so long a stretch between the letters in all our memories. Once they had begun seldom had more than a year passed before someone we knew at least by face was taken. They had no way of knowing that the ill-fated letter had already arrived. Keeping the secret was a burden that I shouldered willingly, the pressure to leave and join the academy would have been unbearable otherwise, but it was still hard.
It was a normal day by all accounts. Sure the weather was bad, alternately tepid rain and thick mist, and tempers running high, but that was normal enough. No one thought it at all out of the ordinary, and no one was prepared. Vampires rarely ventured into schools- it was not unheard of, they came sometimes to fetch a particularly reticent Promise, or to warn someone of an impending doom their prophets and Seen by chance, but mostly they avoided such overtly human places. So when a vampire, identifiable only by the intricately woven black cloak he wore, was waiting for us in the cafeteria it was understandable the people freaked. Liam, Lilly and I all pressed though the crowd to the back corner, pretending that we hadn’t noticed him. Lilly because she was freaked, Liam and I because we feared we knew why he had come. He didn’t do anything though, didn’t so much as move from the piece of wall he was leaning against. Eventually everyone quieted and sat down like nothing had changed. It was a few minutes still before anything really had. Finally, when only someone intimately familiar with the dynamic of the high school cafeteria would have noticed that anything was amiss, he crossed the room. It was almost a collective intake of breath as those who had been watching him from the corner of their eyes stiffened, and the people around them, correctly interpreting the signs- gasped. Vampires are fast, like if they aren’t trying to fit in they move in little blurs. This one simply disappeared, and materialized, seemingly out of thin air, close to the opposite wall.
Adam was not someone I was terribly familiar with, he was in a few of my classes, and for all I knew there wasn’t much more to him than his obsessive drawing and quietly bored demeanor. He kept to himself, but you could tell that the small group of like-minded people that surrounded him were close, and each and every one of them bristled with both fear and anger when the vamp re-appeared behind him. Adam tried very hard not to notice, but you could see that he was gritting his teeth and that his hand was shaking against the table. Vampires didn’t use their abilities around humans, they just didn’t, it was in their best interest that we remained tolerant, that we weren’t actually afraid of them. The fact was that if even one vampire in every hundred went rogue there would be nothing humans could do to stop them. The horror stories we saw on TV were far from common, but there were enough to give us nightmares for months. You see, a vamp can go rogue without being noticed, if they choose to let us realize what’s going on they’re going to make damn sure none of us will have any doubts as to exactly what committed the crime, and that we wouldn’t be able to forget, ever.
“Is there something you want?” Asked a girl I didn’t recognize. People around us were beginning to stand up, not to do anything, just so that they could see better. I stayed sitting. There was no reason to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to be a Promise, and I did want to be human. Forever. I already knew that no one who made the change liked it, because the only people who made the change were people who for some reason or another survived the attack of a rogue.
He spoke loudly, his tone impersonal, formal. And the room was silent save for his voice and the echoing of our staggered breathing.
“Adam Sarelli, you have been Seen. You are Promised to us. By our Blood and yours I claim your life.” He reached out one hand and grasped Adam’s arm. Adam was no small guy, he wasn’t a bodybuilder, but he had the sort of corded muscle the denoted both agility and power. Still, despite the fact that Adam was clearly trying to escape his grip the man’s arm didn’t even vibrate. He looked around, his eyes probing, scanning the whole room. Many people turned away from the gaze, afraid perhaps that they too would be taken if they faced him.
“Rose Kelledy- you have now twice been Seen by the council. Come willingly, or we will take you.” Achingly slowly for a vampire he lifted Adam, carrying him first like a baby, and then simply slinging him over his shoulder when Adam refused to lie still. And he was gone, both of them.
I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I was paralyzed- certain that the world was coming undone around me.
Sound returned first, people who were shocked, and people who were offering their condolences, people who were talking like I wasn’t there, and others who openly distained me now that it was known I would only walk among the living a little longer. Then sight returned, blessing me with the ability to see the faces of the people all around me, the fear, the anguish, and anger. Finally, as blood pumped through my veins again, pushed onward by my faulty re-starting heart, movement came, and I was able to escape.
Pushing my way through the crowd, not bothering to pick up my bag, my books, I ran. I didn’t have a destination in mind, I didn’t know where my feet were taking me, but I didn’t care. I wanted away, as though escaping the place would allow me to escape all that had happened there. My logic seemed pathetically thin, but it was something to cling to, something that made it so that my next breath, my next step didn’t feel like my last, something that made it so that I didn’t feel hunted as I ran, so that my destiny was no longer pursuing me.
I was a block and a half away from the school when I realized that I couldn’t go home- and there was no way I was going to turn back. My lungs were on fire, and I was dizzy from over-exerting. I bent over, panting. Adrenaline still pounded through me, making the seconds slow, but even under the influence of the chemical there was only so far I could push myself. I was drenched, and afraid, and above all, cold. I wanted to be home, somewhere safe. I wanted to be anywhere but here, alone. Resignedly I began to stalk back toward the school. There was no point in staying away, better to get the lecture and referral now when my truancy was still a minor offence than later when I would have ditched three classes rather than just one. It rain was almost cold enough to turn to hail, and my skin burned with every freezing impact. Giving in to the cold, and hoping the school would have a towel and a change of clothes I could use, I began to run again, slower this time, and more carefully than before. Still it took several minutes before I was sheltered inside the warmth and light of the building. Liam was sitting in the office, talking with the vice principal, his face unreadable. But my bag was there on the floor next to him so there was nothing I could do but knock.
I must have looked really pathetic standing there drenched and shivering, my hands moving up and down my arms in a futile attempt to warm myself up. My hair and nose were dripping, and I wasn’t entirely sure that all the water on my face could be blamed on the rain. Mr. Johnson opened the door quickly, gesturing to a chair without a word. To my surprise his normally stern face was compassionate, understanding. I wondered if breaking the rules endeared you to him somehow.
“One second, I’ll be right back.” He said, and left. As soon as the door close Liam looked at me, his eyes full of concern, his mouth set in a grimace.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah- what, what did Lilly say? Why are you here?” His expression darkened.
“Lilly didn’t say anything, she looked surprised, and frightened, just like we all did the first time we saw it. But she didn’t say anything, just went to class like everyone else. I’m sorry.” He looked up for a second, and I sniffled. I had been right, she hadn’t taken it well. What if she didn’t want to be friends with me any longer? “And I’m here because they wanted to talk to anyone who might have known. Your friends mostly, Lilly and the others already left because none of them knew what was going on. They asked me to stay, I don’t know why.” I nodded, there were two options. Either they wanted to know how he knew, what my reaction had been, and why no one else was aware of the situation- or they wanted to make sure that being in the know, and having helped me keep the secret, that he was ok now that I was out in the open and obvious that I would have to go to the Academy sooner or later. Probably sooner. I wasn’t sure whether I was afraid, anxious, or just plain tired. I was certainly too tired to sort through it all and decide, and I had no desire to try.
It was about ten minutes before Mr. Johnson had returned, and to my delight he was carrying a white towel and a steaming cup of what smelled like black coffee. Normally coffee wasn’t really my thing, or, more accurately, I preferred it diluted with cream, sugar, and some sort of flavoring syrup. Just then though the bitterness of the stuff raw and undiluted would be more than welcome.
“Here.” He said, handing them to me, with a slight smile. I found myself beginning to like him. With my icy hair off my neck, and hot liquid in my stomach I began to settle myself- and get even more tired than before. He sat behind hid desk, but not so that I couldn’t see him. His screensaver flashed onto the screen, and I smiled at a picture of his wife and kids, whom I recognized only through their distinct resemblance to their father. It was so mundane, so normal. My world stopped spinning quite to quickly.
“How long have you known?”
“A couple months I guess- I don’t really remember very well.” That was a lie; I remembered the day perfectly, down to the last detail. It was all preternaturally sharp in my mind. However, having learned that the key to a good lie is that it contains a grain of truth I hadn’t denied to truth entirely. I couldn’t remember the date; I couldn’t quantify the number of days and weeks since I had known because I couldn’t remember the date of the day on which I had found out. A feeble truth sure enough, but enough to keep my face smooth and to stop my hands from twitching.
“And does anyone but Liam know?”
“No. I didn’t want to go to the Academy; I don’t want to be a Promise. Had I told anyone someone would have made me go.” Every word true, yet the real reason was not among those truths. Liam cut in.
“I was afraid too, we’ve all heard about the Vampires, and their Promised. No one would want to join that, no matter how glamorous they make it seem on the outside. Who would want to be attacked by one of them and survive? Most of the promised who made the change say that they would rather have been killed than to have joined the ranks of the everlasting.” Exhausted as I was his words rang a bell in me. I started humming along to the song that had popped into my head, as I had heard it on ‘Highlander’. “Who wants to live forever?” I almost giggled.
“It isn’t actually all that bad. Everything you’ve heard has probably been from the conservative point of view. Most people who have the public eye are afraid of vampires, and some of them are even against the continued tolerance of their activities and existence within human cultural borders. In all truth most vampires are perfectly happy with their existence, and it is a rather glamorous state of being. It’s nothing you should really fear. Hundreds of people every year have to face what you are, and they all make it through it.” He sounded so reasonable, and I was almost convinced. But there was that population, no matter how misrepresented the situation may be, that was malcontent, afraid, and without options. “And you should be happy that they gave you warning, more often than not they aren’t given enough time in advance to prepare you for the change. Most often they just take you, or send a letter announcing their pending arrival, usually later that day.” I knew that, when vampires decided to act they did so quickly. I had seen too many white letters, watched too many scenes like the one today to doubt the efficiency of the collective will of Vampires. I had seen too many scenes like today to think that anyone would go willingly, without grief.
“You mean she should be happy that they’ve let her think about it for months, that they warned her before they even actually knew when or how it was going to happen? You want her to be grateful that they chose to let her live in fear for months longer than they normally would?” Liam’s tone was cold, anger that cut like a razor blade. I’d seen it only once before, and had known then that I never wanted to see it again. It was like he had changed, that his eyes saw only in red, and he seemed to almost forget who you were and what you meant to him. The last time it had happened only a degree of self control I had not thought possible had kept him from losing it, and only just barely.
“Liam, its fine, I’m fine, they were just…” Mr. Johnson cut in, looking at Liam now, not me. I sulked, tired enough that I thought the childish resentment for being overridden a better course than to point out I have been speaking.
“They are bound by our laws and the ruling of their council to give fair warning as soon as they can determine it necessary.” Liam glowered, unhappily accepting this new information. Finally they stopped staring at each other, and I could almost feel the tension release. Somehow I was convinced that Mr. Johnson had a relative who was a vampire. Nothing else seemed to fit his stalwart defense of them.
“Anyway, Rose, I would very much doubt that you mother has not been made aware of the situation, and the school itself has received a letter that said, in few and direct words, that they did not intend to let you continue like this much longer. ‘She is a danger to all those she associates with and we cannot stand by while innocent lives are put in danger.’” He said with almost monotonous boredom.
“They threatened her?” Liam inquired, but despite the fire that burned in his eyes his voice was calm. Personally it all seemed to fly by me; I was cold and tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep. Perhaps emotions had more power over the human body than I thought.
“No, I actually think they were implying a threat to the school and her friends.” Mr. Johnson said matter-of-factly, as though he dealt with threats of death, mutilation, and worse on a regular basis. Maybe he did, he was after all mostly in charge of the disciplinary actions taken at the school. “And I also think that they are quite right in demanding that she go to the Academy, There is no reason to insist that she remain in a public school until the date of her change is known, and some very good reasons to start her learning what it is to be a vampire early.” I felt like I was listening to a lecture about someone in the distant past, not myself. Exhaustion had brought back a measure of denial, and thus a measure of peace. It also allowed me to ignore the fact that everything was happening too quickly to be comprehended, and that it seemed I was being led by the hand toward the correct response.
“So you’re saying- willing or no, that I should go to the Academy? I mean what do they teach them there that’s so different from what we learn here? How much can there possibly be to study about sucking blood?” I asked, unaware at the time of how dazed I looked and sounded. All I really remember is Mr. Johnson’s concerned face looming suddenly closer.
I woke up about half an hour later according to the clock on the wall, in warm clothes that were certainly not my own, and under several blankets. When I had the ability to focus in on my surroundings I realized that I was in the nurse’s office, the numerous don’t smoke and no drugs posters on the walls left no doubt. The intense anti-bacterial smell that hit my nose a moment later confirmed it, and made my wrinkle my nose. I hated sick people/ hospital smell.
“She’s fine, no need to worry Mrs. Kelledy, she just got herself too worked up, and then when she went outside she got a little too cold. She’ll be fine- I’m sure she’ll wake up soon and be right as rain. Just a little sleep and dry clothes that’s all she needed.” The nurse was a very nice person, but she was also very brisk and I could tell that my mom wouldn’t be reassured at all until she could assess my health for herself. Half a smile graced my face.
“I’m fine mom, really.” I said, and winced at how thin and quiet my voice was. After that it was all the nurse could do to get my mom to give me the privacy I needed to change into the spare clothing she’d brought with her. Thankfully that meant getting our of the school gym uniform which I’d always hated. I was however excused from the rest of the day, and, to my surprise, completely off the hook about ditching 5th hour. As soon as I was in the car my euphoric mood disappeared.
“Come on, you have to pack.”
“When we get home I want you to pack some clothes and things you want to take with you, I’ll drop you off tomorrow.”
“Wait, where are you dropping me off at?”
“White Rose Academy.” Otherwise known as the Academy. Otherwise known as the last place I could have possibly wanted to be. Otherwise known as accepting that I’m a Promise and preparing myself for the day a vampire will attack me and shove its blood down my throat. No freaking way.
“No mom, I don’t want to go, and you can’t make me, and neither can they.” She didn’t even bother glaring, or sighing, or even skipping a beat before she answered.
“Yes I can, and so can they if they really wanted to, which they will soon. I’d rather you go now then later when there may not be enough time. At least this way I’ll still be able to visit you, and you might be able to come home for the weekends sometimes.” So that’s all she wanted, an occasional visit and me home on the weekends. Didn’t she realize that by sending me there she was pretty much consigning the remainder of my ‘life’ to be spent amongst the un-dead, who, I might add, would like nothing better than to end it themselves?
In the end she won, of course, she was my mom, what was I supposed to do. So I packed, most of my clothes fit inside the suitcase she’d given me, and there wasn’t anything that wasn’t ‘vampire appropriate’ no garishly bright colors, little pink, mostly subdued tones and flirty styles. I figured that even if I had to be one of the undead I might as well look like myself some of the time. I packed some books, I had always liked to read, but there was a pretty good library close by so I wasn’t worried about running out, and a few odds and ends that it would have felt wrong to leave behind. Packed an ready to leave I found myself with nothing to do. My room looked really bare with all of my favorite items tucked away safely for transport the next morning, and I didn’t want to go downstairs. What would everyone say, what would my brother say? Already a gulf had opened between us, as though they were still human and I was already something more, something less familiar. Somehow I felt less myself than I had in a long time. I wanted some physical sign of the change that was coming- something that I could point to and say ‘that is the change, not me, that.’ But there wasn’t- and I couldn’t blame them for thinking of me differently. A few tears streamed down my face, silently for I had never been big on sobbing. I could only watch as one after another they fell to the ground.
I wondered if I’d ever see Liam and Lilly again as I sat in the front seat of my mom’s car. I sort of doubted it. Lilly would want nothing to do with the new stranger that was me, and Liam probably wouldn’t be able to handle seeing me when I was about to enter a while new state of being and leave him behind, just like his brother had before me. That made me want to cry again, but all my tears had been shed the previous night. I was ready, if not willing, and I would go forward. I always had. It wasn’t a long ride, but I thoroughly intended to enjoy it. Mom let me pick the music, and I blared Evanescence almost as loud as the speakers allowed, rolled down the windows and sang as loudly as I could the whole way. Somehow, as we pulled up outside the gate I was smiling.
We were conducted inside by two vampires that were practically the twins of the one I had seen the day before. At least they were twins in demeanor. Both wore dark and dangerous like a cloak. I did my best not to let them intimidate me, but it was more than a little difficult. Humans didn’t scare me, these two, and the knowledge that if they chose to they could kill me before I knew what was happening, set me on edge. Mom even seemed to be a bit nervous, an impossibility. Yet she was smiling, and her eyes said that everything was fine. More than a little of me wanted to be about two, I wanted to cling to her and thus be reassured by her stolid presence. Instead I walked with my head held high, shoulders back, proud and confident. Outside I may have appeared the arrogant teen; on the inside butterflies aplenty fluttered their colored wings.
We only were in the company of the silent pair of guards for a few short minutes; soon we were met by another vampire, one that seemed to come from a different breed entirely. This one wore bright colors, and smiled. She seemed to glow with her own special inner radiance. I thought her smile was genuine, and so offered on in return- but her eyes disturbed me. Intense, brooding, and wholly other worldly, they also seemed to be somewhere very far removed from here. She welcomed me warmly, and nodded at my mother, who nodded back, seemingly unconscious of the condescension that saturated the movement.
“Welcome to White Rose, Rose.” Her grin wasn’t mocking, but I could sense that it would not be the last time the irony of my name and the schools was brought up in conversation. “I hope you are well?”
“Well enough thank you.” I said curtly. She may seem more open than the others, but there was an aura about her, and the raw power of it did nothing to sooth my suddenly growing fears. Her smile flickered, but it might have just been my imagination. I blinked and her face had assumed it’s all encompassing happy radiance once more.
“Would you like to see her dorm room?” She asked, addressing my mother, most of the warmth gone from her voice. I thought it was going to be a very rough first week if everyone was this condescending of humans here- I’d probably punch people, and be punched, far more often than was good for my mental health. I’d never been very good at controlling my emotions- and I’d learned a thing or two from some of my more violent- back alley friends, but I didn’t relish the idea of a fight. My mom however looked nervous. And I knew what was coming even before she opened her mouth. I resisted the urge to sigh.
“Uh, no, I really need to be getting home. Sorry.” The vampire nodded understandingly, and Mom gave me a quick parting hug, kissing my forehead, she waved goodbye as she walked away. I would have given anything to have been able to run after her. Instead I faced the vampire, my head held high, sure that my eyes were teary, but determined to make sure she knew that I was not going to give in, that I was not going to cry. At least not until I was good and alone.
“My name’s Natalie- I already know yours is Rose so there really isn’t much reason to tell me now is there? I would assume you would like to see the campus? Or should we just head straight to your room?” How to choose, how to choose- which poison did I want to drink? Straight to the solitude of my room, where I was sure to break down- and from which I doubted I’d be able to emerge for a while after I had retreated there, or see the campus, and possibly socialize, or at least see, the people with whom I would be spending my last days? I couldn’t really see much difference, one game of mental eni-mini-miney-moe later…
“The campus please.” I picked up my suitcase in both hands, almost annoyed. The first chance these people would get to see me would be with me struggling with a too large, awkward weight. Natalie looked behind at me, as if wondering why I was so far behind and amusement crossed her features for once.
“Don’t worry about your things; someone will take them up to your room.”
“Ok.” I was pretty sure no one would be interested in stealing my things, and that even if someone did I would have no problems recovering them, so I saw no reason to embarrass myself by demanding that I keep the suitcase by my side.
She was fast; I took one and a half steps for her every one. She didn’t seem to notice. One thing was to be said for White Rose Academy, it was beautiful. The gardens were well tended, and plentiful, the buildings had a unique architecture that combined modern and ancient seamlessly as well as elegantly. The windows were all colored glass, and I was sure that some of the paintings and tapestries hanging on the walls of common areas must have been original works. It was strangely empty though, as if not many people lived there. Maybe it was just that the school itself was huge, and the grounds almost impossibly large, but we didn’t run into many people. When I asked she dismissed my question.
“Many of the students will be in classes- or else off campus.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. More worrisome was the fact that of all the students I saw only one looked at me openly. Most were wary of meeting my gaze, and blushed at having been spotted looking at me. I didn’t dare point it out to Natalie.
We concluded the tour with a brief peek into the cafeteria. It was a large room, with white walls and a marbled black and green stone floor. So far, of all the rooms I’d seen, including the library, this one was the most inviting. I smiled, perhaps it was the very teenage feel to the place, or perhaps it was the way it seemed to get bigger the more I let my eyes roam over it, but it was more homey and familiar than anywhere else. The strange beauty of the Academy could not be denied, but after a time it had grown to be as unnerving as vampires themselves. There was something about perfection and grace that seemed to frighten humans. Imperfection was more our style.
“Your room?” She half asked, but she was moving again before I had the chance to answer. We went up several flights of stairs, which made me less than happy, and finally arrived in what must have been a tower. There were only three doors in the whole section, and from the looks of it all three were locked. My door was small, and I opened it cautiously, half afraid I’d find a rough hewn stone room with barely enough space for a bed and dresser. The room was large, well furnished, and everything a teenage princess would have wanted. The canopy bed had layers upon layers of thing flowing curtain; the floor was plain wood, but a rug more beautiful than any I’d seen lay proudly on the shimmering surface. There was a desk, and if I wasn’t much mistaken the thin square that was sitting on it was a laptop, there were lights everywhere, and shelves that were just begging to be filled. I could see two doors in this room alone, leading, I assumed, to a closet and a bathroom. I couldn’t help but let a grin cross my face. It was wonderful. I began to think that maybe, if I was allowed to keep this room, this school might be bearable after all.
Natalie drew my attention back to her by placing her hands on my shoulders. I looked back at her, and she smiled indulgently.
“It’s all yours, our gift to you. Feel free to stay in here as long as you like today, though supper is at 6 o’clock, prompt. Tomorrow you will get a letter with your classes, you can change them if you would like, but I think you’ll enjoy them. Good Afternoon Rose.” She made as if to kiss my forehead as my mother had done, but thought better of it long before her lips brushed the sensitive skin on my face. As soon as she was gone I closed the door, and locked it with the deadbolt. I didn’t want anymore visitors.
As Natalie had promised my suitcase was sitting on the bad, still closed, and one glance inside assured me that no one had looked through it, not that I really cared if someone had. Moving it to the floor I flopped onto the bed, covering my head with my pillow. The Academy was beautiful sure, but I didn’t want to be here, there was nothing I wouldn’t give to be at my normal school, taking normal classes, around my friends, my family. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t give to have never been Promised. I wasn’t big on crying, and much sooner than I would have expected my eyes ran dry. So I was a Promise, it wasn’t like it was the end of the world, not just yet. A lot of people became vampires, hundreds every year. I wasn’t the first, nor the last- and somehow I was going to make it through this just like every one else that came before me. I may not want it, but since when had I gotten everything I wanted? Somehow I was going to make this work.
My stuff was in a rough and tumble pile inside the suitcase and sorting through it took a while. I was glad of the distraction though, and of the familiar scent of those things. It was strange how much I could miss simple things, and how much the feel of being home seemed to be tied to the smell of my room, my things. If I closed my eyes I breathed through the thin cloth of one of my favorite shirts I could almost imagine that I was in my room, surrounded by me family, and that nothing had changed, that nothing ever would. It was short lived though, and I found myself wiping away the renewed wetness about my eyes.
I folded my clothes into neat piles, sorting through the things that could go into the dresser, and those I wanted to put in the closet. It was a simple, mindless task, but it was enough to keep my mind off worse things. Aside from clothes I had brought only a few small articles, things that were as much me as my hair or eyes. After I had put away my clothing I turned back to the small pile that was still on the floor. Some were just necessary, a brush, toothpaste, and things like that that I would have brought for just a vacation. Others, like the intricate statuette of an astral fairy, were things that I wouldn’t have been able to bear leaving behind. I wasn’t quiet ready to deal with those things yet, that would be admitting that this was my new home, and I was still hoping that when if I fell asleep I’d wake in my bed, the last months only a dream. Carefully I put them back into my suitcase.
Grabbing the toiletries I opened the door to what I had assumed to be a bathroom. Instead I found myself in the doorway to what could only be described as a den. Bean bag chairs and a couple couches provided seating; there was a high quality stereo in one corner, and a large flat screen TV in the other. The only thing it was missing was a pool table, but I didn’t much care. It didn’t make my situation much better, but it certainly was a bonus. The remaining door, that was on the opposite end of the game room, was a bathroom, and deposited my toothbrush, tooth paste, and brush there. Glancing at a clock I sighed, it was still hours until supper, and I had no intention of browsing the games for the Xbox I hadn’t noticed when I first entered the room. I did not want to turn into my brother. Instead I decided that I shouldn’t hole myself up here much longer. I had already decided that I was going to make the best of this, and one cannot hide from the truth and make the best of it. I didn’t want to go outside particularly either, but I had better get used to it now, rather than later.
I descended the stairs rapidly, trying not to notice how tight the turns were, or how dizzy I was becoming. Maybe I would get used to it with time. I was alone when I reached the bottom, the air was motionless, and the light that filtered in through the colored windows was still. Feeling almost claustrophobic I cringed. Maybe I’d get used to it, maybe I wouldn’t. Hopefully the dead aura of this place would dissipate some when it was occupied. Hopefully. Instead of dwelling on that I walked purposefully across the hall, to the door on the other end. This revealed yet another large, ornately beautiful, and depressingly empty room. Tapestries decorated the walls, and there weren’t as many windows, making me think I was closer to the main building that I had been in the unlit hall leading to my room. Some bookshelves could be found here, even though I knew that I was no where near the library- I looked at the title of one, only to find that I couldn’t read it, it wasn’t even written in an alphabet I knew. Confused I looked up and down the shelves, only three were in characters I knew, most were in runes, or some other form of writing I had no name for. I opened one of them, staring at pages I certain were hundreds of years old. Half afraid that I would be in trouble for touching these books, much less pulling them out, I replaced the one I was holding, but not after catching a picture that imprinted itself in my mind.
I was certain that the girl depicted by the artist’s clever hand was a vampire, no human looked so perfect, so pristine, and no human would be represented with the finely pointed fangs of the girl. She was tall, her skin mildly luminous, her hair dark, her eyes shadowed and misty. What caught my eye though wasn’t her beauty, or the skill with which the page had been rendered- it was the pale, almost invisible tattoos that covered her bare skin, patterns of stars, writing that I knew nothing of, but that called to me- and the crescent moon upon her forehead all written in ink that was barely lighter than her skin, that glowed only a little brighter. Shaking I traced the thin lines of spidery script on the spine, disturbed, afraid, and more than a little curious. Curiosity killed the Cat, but maybe, seeing as my days were already numbered there was no need for caution. Something within me stilled my hand, warning me against undo carelessness. I turned away, but knew that I wouldn’t be able to forget either the book, or the strange picture it contained.
White Rose Academy was justly named, many of the gardens featured some of the most purely white roses I had ever seen, and I was more than tempted to pluck one. Instead I headed the warning of the oft repeated story, Beauty and the Beast. I had no desire to repeat the fatal mistake of a man caught in a fairytale, for it certainly seemed that I too had fallen, unwittingly, into one. More than once I saw other students, but they all darted away quickly, without really looking at me, or giving me the chance to look at them. Finally I gave up on trying to find one, and just wandered content for once in the beauty of the gardens, and the pleasantly sweet scent on the air. That was when I stumbled into one of the little havens that were so common there, a small enclave with an ornate fountain adorning the middle of the circle. He stood quickly, almost before I had noticed him,
“Wait! Please!” I almost yelled, hoping that he would hear me, or that my request would startle him into stillness. It did neither, but he did turn to look at me, and he smiled.
“Sorry, I thought for a moment you were one of the vampires.” He said with an abashed grin.
“One of the vampires? Hardly, I’m a Promise, like you.” His expression darkened,
“Yeah, its kind of obvious once I look at you.”
“What is that supposed to mean? And why would you be running away from a vampire? I thought they taught all the classes here, shouldn’t you be used to them?’
“You must be Rose- they said you would arrive today. And I would be running away for that exact reason, classes. Some people have this hour off, but I don’t, and they don’t take kindly to ditching.” He shrugged.
“I wouldn’t think anyone would ditch if it was a vampire enforcing the rules.”
“Not many would, but I’m new, like you, and I guess I haven’t been properly intimidated yet. Besides, there isn’t much they can do really, we’ve already gotten the penultimate threat, remember?” I smiled a bit at that, he reminded me of Liam, always doing as he pleased.
“That’s true.” I said. “So what would happen if they caught you?”
“Honestly? I have no clue. They haven’t so far have they? Besides what are they going to do? Give me extra bookwork? I already live here so detention isn’t going to do much. And I would like to see their faces; I want to know what a vampire looks like when they get mad.” I didn’t know what to say to that, it seemed like a suicidal prospect, especially when we already knew that one of them was going to lose it and kill us, sort of. He seemed to know what I was thinking, and blushed.
“I know that it’s not exactly a good idea, but who knows? Maybe I’ll end up staying here until I’m an old man if I don’t piss one off, maybe my annoyingness will be what makes me change, what they saw make me change.” I nodded, it almost made sense, but there was one thing I was certain of, now. This wasn’t really all that different from any other high school, or at least the kids who went here weren’t. He sounded just like some of the kids who had attended Carawin. I could almost feel the tension in my muscles begin to relax.
Twilight came slowly, and with it a sudden outpour of students into the gardens, and I found that this time I was the one who was being cautious, hiding. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to meet more than one of the Promised at a time, and everyone here seemed to be intent upon herding.
“Hey!” I whirled, surprised that I hadn’t gone unnoticed. “You’re the new kid right? Rose?” The girl who was speaking raised her hand and motioned me over. The first thing I noticed, to my embarrassment, was that her skin was the color of a good espresso; somehow I had always thought that all vampires had to be white. I smiled and walked over, trying to ignore the shiver that ran down my spine.
“Yeah, that’s me.” I whispered. She laughed,
“Speak up, we can’t hear you!” I smiled and repeated myself, this time louder.
“Knew it!” Said the lone boy in the group, “I told you she wasn’t vampire!” I laughed; it was so ridiculous that someone would mistake me for a vampire that I couldn’t help myself. It occurred to me that this was the second time it had happened today, and I buckled over. It was stupid, and I knew it, but I needed to relieve stress somehow.
“Are you ok?” Asked one, which only made me laugh harder.
“Yeah- I’m fine; it’s just that I can’t even imagine being a vampire, much less being mistaken for one, and this is the second time today.” I said, once I was under control. Smiling I looked at them.
“It’s not really surprising. You’re not in our uniform- plus you have the not human look.”
“The not human look?”
“Well, aside from pale skin, which a lot of people around here seem to have, just the way you move, how you distance yourself from everything, it’s very ethereal.”
“Yeah, no kidding, even your voice is different, smoother I guess.” They were almost talking more to themselves than to me, I didn’t mind really, they were strangers to me, and it was obvious that they were very close. Plus they were giving me a lot to think about, and there was no way I was going to get answers to my questions any time soon.
They had been talking for a while without my notice before the girl who had called me over noticed my preoccupation.
“Hey! What’s up?” She asked, looking severely tempted to wave her hand in front of my eyes.
“Nothing, I’m just thinking.”
“Eh, nothing really.”
“Right. Well I think we all need to get back to fit in some much needed studying- so um, see you at dinner I guess.”
“Yeah.” I nodded, half relieved and wondering how stupid I looked. I certainly felt like an imbecile, perhaps if I didn’t limit myself to a four word dialogue next time. I hated appearing dull.
As much as I enjoyed wandering through the many gardens of my new home I found that I was growing bored soon after they had departed. So, even though my dorm was still a little too big and still a little too empty for my liking that was where I returned to wait out the remaining time until dinner. I settled on one of the many bean bag chairs, surprised by how little time was actually left, and turned on the TV. To my surprise they actually had a good selection of channels, more even than most fancy hotels. I smiled and flipped on one of my favorite no-brain-required shows.