The first time I thought I was being followed, I was taking TJ for a walk in his stroller. We were walking to the park. I don’t know if I was really being followed, but I couldn’t shake the feeling, so I cut the walk short and headed home.
The second time I felt it, I was coming home from the courthouse where I had been invited to speak to the Capital City mayor’s cabinet about a street cleaning initiative they were planning. The mayor, Bernie Thompson, asked for my advice on how best to pitch the idea to the city populous because it would increase taxes slightly.
I left the building and decided to walk to the subway station instead of taking a cab home. Mass transit was better for the environment than riding by yourself in a car. I looked around me as I walked, but I didn’t see anyone. Still, I hurried my step and rushed into the station where I lost myself in a crowd of people heading away from the center of town.
I told Keenan about the feeling I had and how I felt like I was being paranoid. “I’m being an idiot. Who would be following me?”
“You’re pretty well known, Lil. You could have a fan or a stalker or something.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not. Have you received any fan mail or strange phone calls lately?”
“I don’t think so. Most of the time my phone goes straight to voice mail. And I haven’t received any fan mail since just after Franklin’s memorial. And that was a condolence letter from a little girl who’s dad had died. She was really writing to TJ because she thought he might be sad.” That letter had made me cry. The little girl’s dad had been in the military. I found out where she lived, sent my own letter back along with a huge basket of flowers and a teddy bear dressed as a soldier. I sent a picture of TJ holding a similar bear. Then I donated a huge sum of money to the father’s unit in his name and in Franklin’s. Franklin had always supported members of the military.
“Maybe I should come with you tomorrow if you have to go somewhere,” Keenan said, snapping me out of my memory.
“What? No.” I shook my head. “Don’t you have to work…Detective?” Keenan had just been promoted. He was finally a forensic detective.
“I can take a few days off. Or I could get one of the other guys to do it. Someone who is off duty?”
“I don’t need a police escort.”
“Lila. If someone is following you, a police escort might be nice.”
“Absolutely not. The police force has a lot more to do than follow me around. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
But it wasn’t. I managed to get Keenan to back off. I promised I’d take an escort if I felt like I was followed again, but I said that two ‘feelings’ were probably just a coincidence and paranoia. I was wrong.
When I felt it again, I was walking home from the elementary school in our neighborhood. I was a volunteer reader there while TJ was in the pre-school program. One of the other mothers had offered to take TJ on a play date with her daughter Kellie, so I was walking home myself. I was enjoying the sunshine and the solitude of the quiet neighborhood.
And then I realized I wasn’t alone. I heard footsteps behind me, but when I turned to look who was coming, there was no one there. I sped up, but the footsteps stayed with me. Finally I stopped.
“Look. I know you’re following me. Just come out already,” I said bravely. I had no idea if I was inviting trouble. I didn’t care. I hated feeling scared and I’d rather face my attacker.
That’s when a man materialized from behind a tree. Actually, he wasn’t a man. He was a vampire.
“Hello Lila.” He looked at me as if he knew me. He smiled.
“Who are you?” I demanded, stepping back. I knew he’d catch me if I ran, but that’s what I wanted to do.
“My name is Julian. Julian Fields.”
He looked at me as if I should recognize his name. Well, I knew it was my last name, but beyond that I didn’t know him. There were no Fields vampires….oh.
“Candice’s son…?” He nodded. “You had a brother…?”
I felt like I’d been slapped. I stumbled back away from him and nearly fell. Julian was instantly behind me, keeping me from hitting the pavement.
“Be careful,” he admonished. Needing to get away, I tried to get out of his grip but he held on to me.
“Walk with me…sister.”
We walked along the street until we got our house. Julian started leading me toward the front door and I balked. “No. I do not want to invite you inside.”
“Then let’s go sit in the back.” He chose a shaded spot. I could tell that the sun was starting to make him uncomfortable. Small tendrils of smoke were coming from his exposed arms. Briefly I felt bad for not asking him inside, and then I remembered he was a crazy vampire stalker. If he needed to speak to me during the day, then he could just burn a little.
I didn’t want to sit, but forced myself to join Julian at the patio table. “We’re here,” I said. “What was so important that you had to follow me around and practically kidnap me to speak to me?” During our walk I had gotten angry and that anger had made me braver and bolder than I normally would have been under the circumstances.
“Can’t a brother come talk to his sister?” Julian raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“We may have the same mother, but we are notfamily.”
“Oh but we are, and it is our mother of whom I wanted to speak.”
Candice Fields. I knew that she had given birth to me, but I had never thought of her as my mother. Glenna had always been mother to me. “What does Candice know about me?”
Julian shrugged. “What doesn’t she know? It’s not like you haven’t been living in the public eye.”
True. But still. “Ok. So what difference does that make? Whydoes she want to know about me?”
“That’s a good question. It’s one that I’ve been trying to answer, but Mother has always been difficult to pin down.”
I didn’t say anything to that. What could I say? I had no knowledge of Candice Fields other than the fact that she was a vampire, a murderer, and a kidnapper.
“What do you know of what happened when Glenna Fields died?”
“Not much more than what was reported. I know that your grandfather killed her because she killed your father. I also know that she was a vampire.”
“Yes, but do you know what happened next?”
“Candice Fields went crazy and ran off. Royce Kendrick also disappeared.”
Julian nodded. His eyes got a sort of faraway look, as if he was reliving the moment of his father’s death and his mother’s abandonment.
Getting up, I said, “Look. I just don’t see what this has to do about me.”
“Everything!” Julian exploded, instantly at my side. Then he calmed himself. More quietly, he said, “Everything. Candice wants you.”
“She wants you. We don’t know why. It’s probably because you’re opposing her plans.”
“What plans? I thought she had disappeared. What plans could she have? And why would I know about them?”
“She did disappear. She ran off that night and never came back to Barnacle Bay. But she didn’t really hide herself. Instead, she went to Bridgeport and became the head of the vampire mafia.”
“The vampire what?”
“Mafia. Candice is now the Boss. Emperor of Evil, so they call it.”
“The Emperor of…”
“Evil. Yes. And she’s decided that running the vampires of Bridgeport is not enough. Now she wants to rule all of the vampires.”
For some reason I found this pretty funny. It was so melodramatic. I started to giggle. “So she’s planning to take over the world?” I asked in a suitably dramatic voice. “What are you going to do, Pinky?” I couldn’t resist asking Julian. He just looked disappointed in me.
“Come on,” I said. “You can’t be taking any of this seriously. How can one person…even one vampire person…take over the world? She’s totally crazy as you know. There’s no way she can succeed.”
“Lila. Get it through your head!” Julian was clearly getting annoyed with me. “You don’t know our mother. Yes, she’s crazy, but she’s also pure Evil. Her brand of crazy is like Hitler, totally capable of world domination.”
I stopped laughing. “But we defeated Hitler.”
“Eventually. And Hitler was not a long-living vampire with vampire strength and vampire speed and the vampire ability to hypnotize and lure you in.”
Feeling a little weak in the knees picturing Candice Fields draped over me like Franklin’s attacker had draped over him, I sat back down and Julian followed suit. “So she’s behind all of the vampire rights politics?” I asked. “She’s the one behind the scenes?”
“Actually, that’s just Malcolm. He’s trying to make things better for vampires. Mother thinks politics aren’t worth the trouble. She’d rather vampires go back to being monsters in the dark out to drink people’s plasma.”
“So Malcolm doesn’t support your mother’s agenda?”
“No. The vampire rights campaign is his way of fighting it.”
I had trouble processing this. Malcolm was fighting on the side of what was right? His vampire policies were supposed to be good things? But Elmira City was becoming infested with vampires because of him. How could that be a good thing?
“You know that I can’t support your brother’s cause. I don’t agree that there should be equal rights for vampires. I think we should regulate vampire feeding more. Vampires have plasma fruit. They don’t have to feed from people.”
“I’m not here to debate you, Lila. Malcolm will do that when the time comes. I’m here to warn you and maybe to protect you.”
“You’re here to warn me about Candice? Why is she after me? It seems like she should be supporting me to oppose Malcolm.”
“Mother doesn’t see things that way. In her mind, you and Malcolm both are a threat to the way she wants things to be. If you have your way, then vampires won’t be able to feed from humans. Your plan involves registering vampires and cultivating more plasma fruit. As it is now, she has control of most of the plasma fruit supply. She realizes that a lot of vampires find it simpler to drink plasma juice than it is to feed from a donor. If you have your way, plasma fruit would be publicly grown and free for all.”
“I see. So I’d be taking away her livelihood. Cutting off her cash flow.”
“Yes. So she has to stop you. And you’re much easier to stop than Malcolm is.”
Standing I said, “I’m not weak.”
“No, you’re human.” The way Julian said it, ‘human’ sounded like an insult.
I finally invited Julian into the house. I offered him some refreshments which he turned down. He quirked his eyebrow at me again, and I realized that the only refreshment I could offer him would be my plasma. I was an idiot.
“I never thought I’d have a vampire in my house.”
“If it helps, you can think of me as a brother instead.”
“That doesn’t help.” I said. I was even more uncomfortable thinking of him as family. “Sorry.”
“I don’t think of you as a sister, either. Don’t worry.”
Julian poked around the front room before heading into the living area where Keenan’s big screen TV was located. He found the remote and flipped until he found the sports channels.
“When did you say your boyfriend gets home?”
“Six…and he’s not my boyfriend.”
“What is he then?”
I didn’t know. Keenan and I were sleeping together, but we hadn’t really talked about the future. I was beginning to wonder if our relationship was simply sexual. I answered, “He’s my friend. We grew up together, and he let me stay here when my husband died.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. Malcolm and I both were. We liked Franklin.”
“You knew Franklin?”
“Of course. He’s the one who introduced us to Ross Trippie.” Julian went on to explain how Malcolm had tried to get an internship with Franklin before he became the mayor, but that Franklin didn’t have any openings. Malcolm worked for a few other candidates before running for local representative himself.
“Franklin never lost touch with Malcolm. He sent Ross to us to help Malcolm get elected.”
“What? Did you think that Malcolm sent that guy to attack Franklin so that he could become mayor instead?”
I looked down at my feet. Of course I had thought that. It had crossed my mind more than once, I was ashamed to admit.
“Not everything is a conspiracy, Lila. Heath, the guy who attacked Franklin, wasn’t even one of Mother’s vampires. He was just an insane, homeless man who was turned probably on accident. It was a coincidence that he attacked Franklin. But that coincidence has had unfortunate consequences.”
“So he didn’t even know Franklin?”
“No. But when Franklin was killed, everyone knew about it. That’s why Mother knows about you now. That’s why she’s planning to kill you.”
“So if Franklin had lived…”
“Mother would have no reason to kill you.”
The mother who had taken TJ for the afternoon dropped him off just before Keenan got home from work. I wasn’t sure how I felt about TJ meeting a vampire, even one he was related to, so I rushed him up to the nursery, took him to the potty, changed him into his pajamas, and gave him a bottle. I told Julian to make himself comfortable downstairs while I was gone. I tried not to let it bother me that I was leaving him alone in my living room.
When I came back down, Julian was still watching sports, but he wasn’t alone. He and Keenan were sitting on the couch yelling at the screen the way guys do. Momentarily I wondered what Julian had done to Kee. Keenan didn’t even seem to be surprised or shocked to have found a vampire in his living room.
“Um…Hi, Kee. I see you’ve met my…um…Julian.”
“Hey Lil.” Smiling, Keenan got off of the couch to kiss me. Then he said, “I had no idea that you and Julian knew each other.” I had to force myself to smile. I didn’t understand what was going on.
“How do you two…”
“…know each other?” Julian finished for me. That damned eyebrow of his was up again. I was suddenly so glad that I hadn’t grown up with him. I bet he was a pain in the ass as a little brother. I felt a little sympathy for Malcolm.
“Yeah. Keenan has never mentioned you. You didn’t say you were a friend of Kee’s, either.”
“Oh, we went to the Academy together,” Keenan grinned. He seemed to be oblivious to the tension in the room between me and Julian. “Harold here, was the first vampire to graduate. He’s head of the vampire division in Twinbrook now.”
Julian was a cop? “Twinbrook has a vampire division?”
“Did I not mention that?” Julian asked. “Yeah. Detective Julian Harold.”
“How do you know Julian?” Keenan asked me.
“Um…” I floundered for a reply. Julian decided to answer for me. I was shocked when he answered with the truth.
“You don’t know this, but Harold isn’t really my last name,” Julian said causing Keenan to look confused. “My mother was a Fields. Candice Fields.”
Much like he had with me, Julian told Keenan the entire story about what happened after Candice had left Barnacle Bay.
“So you’re the one who’s been following Lila?” Keenan asked.
“Actually, no. I just got here today.” He turned to me, “Have you been followed?”
Keenan explained the feelings I’d had recently, and Julian began to look more and more concerned.
“She knows where you are Lila. I’m sure she’s sent someone to take you out.”
“I told you you needed police protection!” Keenan said. The two men started talking and planning how to keep me safe. I listened for a few moments, but my heart was in my throat.
Julian hadn’t been the one following me. Candice had sent someone for me. She knew where I lived. She knew all about me! She knew about TJ!
I ran upstairs to reassure myself that my son was fine.
Keenan found me upstairs in TJ’s room. I had never come back down. He and Julian talked for over an hour and then I heard the front door open and Julian leave.
“Everything will be fine, Lila. Julian and I have a plan to keep you safe.” Keenan came up behind me and kissed the nape of my neck.
“I won’t let anything or anyone harm you,” he whispered against my skin.
“Keenan,” I closed my eyes. As always I was overwhelmed by my physical awareness of him.
“Keenan,” I repeated. “Are you going to marry me?” I asked, completely shocking us both with the question. I guess Julian’s comment about Keenan being my boyfriend had gotten to me. We hadn’t made it official, but I wanted to. And I wanted more than just to be his girlfriend. I guess this answer was even more important than knowing that TJ and I would be safe from my homicidal vampire mother.
“I think we should get married,” I turned to look into Keenan’s eyes, see what he was thinking. He seemed frozen, shocked, his eyes glazed and faraway.
“You love me, right? You dowant to get married…right?” I was beginning to panic, afraid that he really didn’t love me.
Finally, Keenan managed a nod. Seeing that nod, I smiled in relief and he smiled back.
“Say something,” I whispered.
We laughed and Keenan kissed me.
Everything about Julian and my mother was forgotten after that. It faded away as Keenan touched me. I knew that those problems didn’t matter as long as Keenan was with me.