Chapter 1 – In which stealth is an important skill
As a child, I never slipped and betrayed my fathers’ secret. When I did, I was almost seventeen, and it wasn’t an accident. I knew exactly what I was doing when I told her.
Or at least, I thought I knew what I was doing.
My dads used to ask me when I came home from school: did you talk to anyone about us? Did you say the ‘V word’ at all, for any reason?
The answer was always no. I mean, I talked about them sometimes, or even said the word I wasn’t supposed to use. Who doesn’t, really? It’s like trying not to use the word ‘demon’; it just comes up. But I never said it in connection with them. They’d had a lot of time to learn how to keep secrets, and they taught me well. Too well, maybe.
When this all started, telling their secret was the last thing I wanted to do. I knew how much trouble we’d all be in if the authorities heard about them—and me. Either I’d be sent to a lab to be studied like a freak, or I’d be shipped to a fighting camp with them. Neither option sounded appealing. Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed having a normal life, or as normal as it could be with my dads being who they were.
One simple text message changed all that—and the course of my life.
I was pretty good at not checking my text messages at school. I was pretty good at following rules, period. Not getting the wrong kind of attention was part of the ‘keeping the secret’ deal. But that day, on my way to AP English, I checked my phone.
It was usually off, so the buzz startled me, and I checked it without thinking or breaking my stride. Crowded as the hallways were, slowing down was asking to be pushed around by the people behind you until you ended up with your nose against a locker—or inside one.
Next to me, AJ continued to go on about his kill numbers in Demon World the previous night, no doubt to convince me I should get the game so we could play as a team. I didn’t need to be convinced; I thought the game was cool. My dads… not so much. They had this thing about demons and how killing them wasn’t a game, even on a computer screen.
They’d killed enough of them in the real world to have the right to think that.
When I thumbed the phone open, I didn’t recognize the number. It wasn’t signed, either. Just two words on the small screen, and my heart first skipped a beat, then tried to cram a hundred more in the next two seconds. I felt as hot and out of breath as if I’d just finished a dozen of Coach B’s punishing skating drills. My legs continued to move forward, but they weighed as much as lead suddenly.
The message simply said “I know.”
For a second, I wondered what the message meant. But only for a second.
The thing was, I didn’t have many secrets. I had just the one. The secret of who my dads were—what they were—and by extension, who and what that made me.
So if someone thought they knew something about me, something special enough to send a cryptic text message, there really wasn’t anything else it could be about. The sender knew about my dads. And telling me that they knew like this couldn’t possibly be a good sign. It had to be a warning. Or maybe a threat. Maybe the next message would tell me what they wanted in exchange for being quiet. Maybe…
AJ shoulder-bumped me and jolted me out of my thoughts.
“Am I boring you that much?” he muttered. “What the bloody fangs is so important anyway?”
He made a grab for my phone. Any other time, it wouldn’t have been a problem. He was a few inches taller than me, but I had better reflexes than anyone I knew, except my dads. Not sure if it was genetics or magic at play but, hey, not complaining here. Now though, my head was buzzing with that message and the world of trouble it could spell for us, and I didn’t realize what he was doing until the phone was out of my hands.
“Give it back, AJ.”
He didn’t. Instead, he half-turned away, putting his backpack in my way so I couldn’t reach the phone.
“I know,” he read aloud, then turned a twisted grin back toward me. “Another message from one of your admirers, huh?”
Even in the crowded hallway, I caught a whiff of the jealousy that suddenly burst in his scent, and I had to stop myself from rubbing at my nose. To me, jealousy smelled like cayenne pepper, and it always made me want to sneeze. I usually tried to ignore scents unless I wanted to get a read on someone. I suppose deodorant, perfume, and BO are bad enough for regular noses, but with a nose like mine, you either learn to put it all in a box and ignore it, or you learn not to breathe. It was harder to ignore when it was something so sudden—even if not completely unexpected.
The phone numbers for the entire hockey team had been stolen from our coach—we thought—and posted online a few weeks earlier. We all got calls from giggly girls and ‘UR so HAWT’ text messages, but AJ didn’t get quite as many as the rest of us did. He never said anything directly, but his scent spoke volumes, and I quickly learned not to mention those calls to him; not that they mattered.
“So what does she know?” he insisted.
I gave him a hard look as I reached for the phone, and he let me have it back.
“No clue.” I turned off the phone and shoved it back in my pocket. “It must be a mistake.”
AJ let out a bark of laughter, and a couple of people in front of us looked back to see what he was laughing at.
“Vince, dude, you’re such a crappy liar.”
He’d told me as much a hundred times before. As often as I’d told him I hated to be called Vince. He only did it anymore when he was annoyed with me. At that moment, his annoyance or mine really didn’t matter on the scale of ‘things that have a potential to go through a portal in a hand-basket.’ What was I going to do about that message?
“Come on, what did you say to get an ‘I know’ in reply? Told her she was hot?”
“I didn’t say anything to anyone.”
I’d probably have to explain the same things to my dads when I told them about the message. Demon blood! They were going to flip. They’d want to know who it was. But who was it?
“I don’t even know if it’s a girl. I don’t know who it’s from.”
We had reached the bottleneck in front of Mrs. Rinehart’s room, and as we slowed down, AJ looked at me full on, as though searching for the lie on my face. He was right: I was a terrible liar. The only thing I could lie about as easily as I breathed was my fathers’ secret. Everything else… Well, it was like I used all my lying skills on this one thing, and I couldn’t lie with a straight face about any other topic. Which was why I didn’t keep secrets.
Whatever AJ saw on my face caused him to frown, then shrug. He stepped in front of me in the line, and with no one else to focus on, I was back to my quiet panicking. This was bad. This was very, very bad. If I’d been given a sword and told there was a demon waiting for me outside the school, I wouldn’t have been half as worried. I knew how to wield a sword, and I could, in theory, fight a demon. I might not be strong enough to kill it, but I could probably save my own skin. This, I had no idea how to deal with.
My body fully on automatic, I stopped on the threshold of the room for Mrs. Rinehart to do her visual inspection. My ID was around my neck, proclaiming to whoever cared to look that I was Vincent Stevens, Junior at Freemont High, my t-shirt was plain blue with no writing, my pants didn’t sag halfway to my knees, all of which earned me a stern nod of approval and the right to enter Mrs. Rinehart’s classroom.
Still caught up in my thoughts, I didn’t react immediately. She had given me the same evaluating glance every day for the past year and half, only now I couldn’t help but wonder: would she look at me any differently if she knew about me, about my dads? Would she refuse me entrance? Would she be scared? Disgusted? Angry?
“Mr. Stevens, you’re holding up the line,” she said in that clipped tone of hers, the one that usually accompanied words like “I expected better than an A minus from you” or “Your article isn’t quite the depth we expect for Viewpoint; you’ll need to rework it.”
I jumped, ducked my head, and hurried inside. Half the class was already seated. I slinked over to my desk toward the back of the room.
In front of me, AJ twisted around in his seat to frown at me some more and ask, “You really don’t know who it’s from?”
I shook my head and hunted down a pencil at the bottom of my backpack.
“You gonna answer back?”
Before I could tell him that I didn’t know, the bell rang and Mrs. Rinehart closed the door. Instant silence fell over the room, and AJ turned back to the front of the class.
Mrs. Rinehart started to tell us about our next assignment, but my mind drifted back to the more immediate problem of my whole life coming apart because of those two little words. I had to do something, but what?
If I told my dads, I already knew what would happen: we’d leave town faster than I could say goodbye to anyone. We’d get new names; the documents were already prepared, just in case. And even if I claimed otherwise until I turned blue, they wouldn’t believe I hadn’t broken their trust. I had no desire to leave all my friends or be known as ‘Jeremy March,’ but what would hurt the most was my fathers thinking I couldn’t be trusted. So, I wouldn’t tell them, or at least not right away. First I needed to figure out who knew, how they had found out, and what they intended to do about it.
Should I answer the message? And say what, if I did? Or maybe I should just call the number back, speak to whoever answered and see if I recognized their voice. But again, what next? I couldn’t let them tell anyone, but what could I do to stop them? Bribe them? I had some cash saved, but would it be enough to buy their silence? Were they even interested in money?
A message like that meant they expected something from me. Once I knew what that was, I’d know how to move forward. I had no choice but to answer.
Now that I’d made that decision, I couldn’t wait.
I had never texted during class, but really, how hard could it be? Kristen, who sat in the row on my right and two seats forward, checked her phone or sent messages at least once per class. I should know; I watched her often enough.
She made it look easy. She managed to take her phone out of her backpack, hold it in her lap hidden by her crossed legs and type messages with just one hand without looking at the phone until she was ready to send. Talk about touch-typing. Mrs. Rinehart had never caught her.
She caught me before I could even turn the phone on.
That was all she said. Her hand, held out expectantly in front of her, said the rest quite clearly. I stood by sheer reflex and almost stumbled over Kristen’s backpack as I made my way up the row. I caught myself on her desk and got a glimpse of her apologetic look before I straightened up and hurried forward. My face was burning, all the way to my ears and neck. I could feel the collective gaze of the entire class when I handed my phone to Mrs. Rinehart and surrendered my only link to that text message.
I was halfway back to my seat when things took a turn for the worse and Mrs. Rinehart said, ostensibly for me but clearly as a warning for the rest of the class, “And I trust you remember the contract you signed at the beginning of the school year. Your parents will need to retrieve this for you.”
I had to stop whoever from spilling the secret to everyone. For that, I needed to know who they were. To find out, I needed the phone back. To get the phone, one of my dads would have to come to the school.
There was just this slight problem about them being deathly allergic to sunlight, like all vampires.