Previous Installment: Put on a Happy Face
“What’s in that box?” asks Stacey.
“You have to wait until Christmas,” I say as I put the last of the presents under the tree.
“Then what’s in THAT box?”
“Not until Christmas.”
“But what’s in THAT box?”
I fold my arms in front of me and try to keep a straight face. She’s looking up at me with these big blue eyes that reflect the lights on the tree. “It’s only two weeks away. I think you can wait.”
“Is it a pony?”
“Only if daddy cut it up in pieces first.”
“Alexandra!” Anton enters the room with a shocked face. “What kind of thing is that to say?”
I shrug my shoulders. Anton slaps me on the ass. “You’re gonna get coal for Christmas if you keep it up.”
“Ha Ha. Mommie got yelled at!” I look down at Stacey and pretend to pout. She gives me a hug. “Don’t cry, mommie. I won’t give you coal. I made you a present all by myself. But you can’t have it yet. You have to wait until Christmas.”
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?” asks Anton.
“But—” He waves a hand before Stacey can continue her argument. “You’ll be in to read me a story, right?”
“Don’t I read you a story every night?” he asks as he kneels down next to her. She nods and smiles. “Then go pick a story and get ready for bed. I’ll be up in a few minutes.” He kisses her on the forehead and sends her on her way. I feel the urge to vomit.
“Fire marshal sees all these lights, we’re gonna get a citation,” I say as I squint at the tree.
“It’s our first Christmas as a family. I want it to be special.”
“Couldn’t it have been special without the singing reindeer at the front door? If I have to listen to Rudolph one more time…”
“In retrospect perhaps the reindeer was a bit over the top.”
As if on cue, we hear the opening line of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as one of the ghouls go outside. We both burst into laughter. A moment later the room fills up with an awkward silence and we both look away from each other.
“I was thinking it would be a good idea for you to come with me to Stacey’s recital. We should both be there for her big debut, after all.”
“Wow, I get to go out in public? God, I hope I remember how to act around people. You got a little shock collar or something you plan on me wearing?”
“I don’t think it would look appropriate with the dress I have picked out.”
“Dress? I haven’t worn a dress since the 8th grade.”
“Well, I don’t think your normal attire will look appropriate…” He reaches into his pocket and removed a small gold-foil box with a silver tone bow. “…with this.”
My face must have twisted into a really strange contortion. “It’s not a bomb, Alex. Go ahead and open it.”
I take the box and cautiously open it. I remove the top of the box to reveal a heart-shaped diamond the size of a jawbreaker, accented with small rubies and hanging on a gold chain. My face muscles twitch as I look at Anton.
“Normally women respond a little more favorably when presented with diamonds, but then again you’re not normal.”
I look at the pendant and back at Anton several times, quite confounded. He takes the box from my hand, removes the necklace, and puts it around my neck.
“If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t actually buy it for you. I was going through some old crates and found it.” His fingertips pause on my shoulders before pulling away.
“I’ll never understand you.”
“And I doubt you’ll ever trust me, either.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
“Then perhaps the most I can hope for is to be tolerated.”
Rudolph starts singing again and breaks the heaviness in the air. A moment later a ghoul enters to announce Father Miguel had arrived for a visit.
“I am sorry the Father came all this way, but let him know I’m too busy to meet with him tonight. Perhaps we can schedule something later,” says Anton.
“Father Miguel has requested a visit with…” the ghoul looks down nervously at his feet. “…with your…your wife, sir.”
“Well, let’s not keep the good Father waiting,” I reply as the smirk crawls across my face. “Let him come in and see the tree.”
The ghoul looks up at Anton, apparently quite shaken. Anton nods to let him know it’s alright to let Father Miguel in.
“Anton, Merry Christmas my old friend,” says Father Miguel as he hands several wrapped boxes to a ghoul. Anton accepts a hug from Father Miguel rather stiffly.
“Always good to see you, Father,” he says with very little sincerity.
Father Miguel gives me a hug. “Merry Christmas, Alex,” he says, then whispers in my ear “Holding up OK?” I try not to laugh. As he pulls away, his eyes are drawn to the large pendant around my neck. He gently lifts the diamond to get a better look.
I look over at Anton. His eyes are firmly fixed on Father Miguel and he doesn’t even notice me looking. He shifts nervously.
“Daddy, I picked a story. Come on!”
Anton jolts at the sound of Stacey’s voice. She’s standing at the foot of the steps in her pink “I’m the princess” nightgown, holding a book.
“Come here, honey. Mommie wants to introduce you to somebody.”
In one fluid motion, Anton intercepts Stacey before she gets to me and cradles her in his arms. “This is Father Miguel Sabado Rodriguez, Stacey,” says Anton.
“Nice to meet you. Are you going to come to my recital?”
“Well, if I am invited how could I refuse?” replies Father Miguel.
Stacey’s arms wrap around Anton’s neck as he take her upstairs. He doesn’t even bother to say good night.
“I guess somebody told him you’re no longer part of the fan club?” I quip.
Father Miguel comes and stands next to me, looking at the tree. He leans slightly toward me. “Do you have your petition? Such blackmail only adds to your cause. The Friends will be eager to issue a judgment in your favor.”
“And what happens to Stacey?” I say. “He finds out and…”
“Did you and I just see the same thing? He has grown soft. He left the Sabbat, you know. Not over philosophy, which would be acceptable. But just because he would rather live in his little fantasy world here. He grows increasingly delusional. He will not harm that child. I would be more concerned with the Sabbat if I were you. If he is not destroyed they will seek retribution for his betrayal. And it is a small matter to abduct a child. You know they will do it. It is the only way to protect her.”
“Just let me get through the holidays, then my head will be clear to discuss this,” I say, hoping that the recent spider infestation in the house indicates my friends had a plan of their own.
“I expected more practicality out of you.” He looks away for a moment. “May I use your phone? I left my cell in the car.”
“I know. I would suspect nothing less. I just need to see if my next appointment is waiting.”
I wave my hand toward the phone. He dials, waits for a few rings, then hangs up.
“I will speak to you later then,” he says. “Enjoy the holidays.”
Anton comes downstairs a short time later and sits next to me on the sofa. He leans forward and puts his head in his hands.
He nods. “Did you give Miguel your petition?”
“I haven’t lost ALL my allies among the Friends.”
“I told him maybe after the holidays.”
“That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about you. You’re so honestly blunt.” He sits back and turns to me. “So what do we do now?”
The phone rings just as we hear a commotion starting outside. Anton goes toward the window and I answer the phone.
“Get down!” I hear Heather scream at me over the phone before I can even get a greeting out. I drop.
A hail of bullets crash through the bay window, knocking over the tree. Anton flies backwards, his clothes covered in burn patterns from the phosphorous rounds. Four wild-eyes vampires jump through the broken glass. One has a crossbow, the others rifles. I help Anton to his feet.
“Well this isn’t good,” says Anton.
“Oh, it could be worse,” I say as I try to get a grasp on what is going on.
Then worse comes through the front door in the form of a seven-foot tall rabid looking werewolf with red eyes and some strange puss oozing from its open wounds.
Glass shatters and Stacey screams upstairs.
We both instinctively move toward the stairs. I get caught with a crossbolt square in the metal plate over my heart. I call up a room full of shadows and shout to Anton to keep moving. As the vampires and the werewolf stumble about in the darkness, I pull the bolt from my chest and find the nearest vampire. I return the favor by imbedding the bolt in his chest to immobilize him. I manage to wrestle a rifle from one of the other vampires and unload into the lupine. Unfortunately, I give away my location in the process, and it makes a blind swipe with its claw and catches me across the side of the head.
I see another similarly deformed werewolf crashing through the doorway and hear a mutated howl upstairs. I grab one of the vampires and put him in front of me as another blind swipe comes my way. The vampire’s guts spill out onto the floor, and the smell sends his remaining comrades into a blood frenzy.
“I can’t help if I can’t see!”
I drop to the floor to avoid another swipe and drop the shadows as Jason rolls into the second werewolf, impaling it on two mutant horror movie spider legs. My werewolf steps on my back, forcing my face into the pool of guts and blood on the floor. I look up to see a vampire with an axe in mid swing with another werewolf behind it.
But this werewolf grabs the axe handle in one hand and rips the vampire’s head off with the other.
George lets out a triumphant howl and leaps at the tainted werewolf using me as a floor mat. The two of them tumble to the ground clawing and tearing at each other.
“We got this, GO!” screams Jason just before he ensnares his quarry in a heavy coat of webbing. I take off up the steps.
I just hit the top of the steps as an explosion below knocks me off my feet. Then I hear Stacey scream again. As I enter her room, I almost trip over the carcass of a dead werewolf as another puss-covered one rips Anton’s right arm from the socket. Anton collapses to the ground.
Something snapped in my head. The knuckles on my hands break through the skin to form razor like ridges and I feel the blood pump through my muscles.
“This ends now!” I scream and throw a hard right. I hear the creature’s cheekbone break and black blood begins to pour out. Before it can react, I follow with a kick that shatters its kneecap. Black tentacles pour up through the floor and entangle the lupine. I dig my nails into its eyes and pluck them from its head, causing it to thrash about as it tries to escape from its inky chains. With a final snap of the neck, it falls lifeless to the floor.
I rush over to where Stacey lies huddled in a corner of the room. The bestial rage gives way to maternal fear when I see she’s not moving. I regain partial clarity when I see she is breathing. Smoke from the raging fire below fills the room.
“Get her out of here, Alex,” I hear Anton whisper.
I pick Stacey up with one hand and grab Anton’s bloody collar with the other.
“Suck it up, you big baby, you still got both legs.” Then I notice the gapping wound in his side where it looks like a claw tore out his kidney. “That’s probably gonna leave a scar.”
“You can’t carry both of us out of here.”
“Watch me.” I toss Stacey over my shoulder and try to brace Anton.
“Just leave me, Alex. I deserve this. Go free.”
“Knock it off,” I say heading for the hallway. “This family only has room for one tragically hip hero, and that’s me.”
We make it as far as the servant entrance when a frenzied vampire jumps in front of us. Before it can take advantage of the fact that my hands are full, a glowing blue stake jams into its back and it collapses.
“Well, it’s about damn time,” I say as I hand Stacey to Heather.
“What’s that suppose to mean? I got here as fast as I could. I can’t travel through the umbra like Jason and George, you know!”
“I’m confused,” says Anton as he tries not to slip into torpor.
“He’s confused,” says Heather. “Why isn’t he dead?”
I motion for Heather to argue later and get moving. She runs ahead of me to get Stacey out of the smoke filled house. Anton becomes dead weight against me. I lean him against a wall.
“Come on! Work with me here!” I slap him and his eyes open back up. “You should have made short work of those two things. What happened?”
“I was limited in options. I didn’t want to frighten Stacey.”
“I will never understand you.”
“At least you seem to tolerate me.” His eyes suddenly grew wide, and with his good arm pushed me down.
The round strikes him directly in the forehead and exploded. He falls to his knees, then his body collapsed into a pile of ash.
Father Miguel aimed the gun at me and sighed.
“So much potential, destroyed by so much humanity. You two really did deserve each other. I guess it’s not your fault. But Anton should have known better. I mean-”
I don’t remember much of what happened after that, only that I gave the beast free reign to do what it wanted. I came out of the stupor surrounded by flames and full of Father Miguel’s blood and soul. I crawl over to the pile of ash that had been Anton and find his signet ring. Then I dig through the ash and bone fragments and find his keys. I need to make sure the insurance claims get done. Stacey needs to be taken care of.
I wave a hand and a sea of black washes in front of me, silently extinguishing the flames. I enter the courtyard. Heather sees me first. Her smile turns to a look of horror at the sight of me. I can tell she knows what I have done, and I can tell she is fighting her very nature not to destroy me for it. I look away from her to see George cradling Stacey, her little arms wrapped around his massive neck.
As I get closer, I hear her saying, “It’s OK., don’t cry Mr. Wolfman.” Her tiny hand twirls the fur on the back of his head to comfort him. Before I reach them, Ralph approaches me cautiously.
“Alex?” he whispers as he takes my hand and pulls me away from them. In the distance I hear fire engines and police sirens.
“Why is everybody still here?”
“George broke down when he saw Stacey,” says Ralph in quiet monotone. “He started to cry and howling praises to Gaia.”
“She’s garou. Still to young to go through the first change, but old enough that he can tell. The sept hasn’t found any new garou children in years. They thought they never would.”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing we found out now. That would have made for an awkward Sweet 16 party.”
“This is serious.”
I look at Ralph and consider the possibility that an alien may have possessed him. “And when did you become the expert on werewolves?”
“George and I talk a lot.”
“We need to get going,” says Jason as he comes behind us.
“They’ll take care of her, won’t they Ralph?”
“I don’t think George will ever let her go.”
I hand Ralph Anton’s signet ring. “Tell her that her father wanted her to have it.” I give Jason the keys. “Anton probably had safe boxes all over the city. I’m sure you’ll find enough resources to make sure she’s taken care of.”
“Alex, it’s over. Let’s get out of here,” says Jason again.
“It’s not over. I still have one more thing to do.”
I start walking. “There’s a park not far from here. I’m going for a walk.”
“Alex, it’s less than an hour until sunup.”
“I know.” I say as I walk away.
Three months later…
Just like my friends not to let me die in peace.
“If you two don’t stop this argument right now I’ll call George and tell him you’re both grounded!” yells Heather.
“That’s not fair!” whines Stacey.
“But it’s not my fault,” complains Ralph.
I stagger up the steps to have both children rush me to present their case first.
“Alex, tell Stacey she’s too little to play with the blaster rays!”
“Mommie, tell Ralph he should share his toys!”
“This isn’t a toy! It’s an experiment.”
“I can do experiments. I’m smart too!”
“Not as smart as me.”
“Enough!” I say. “Stacey, you can’t play with the blaster rays, but I’m sure Ralph has other toys you can play with.”
“Why does HE get all the cool toys?”
“It’s not a toy!” says Ralph. “Besides, I’m older.”
“Am too! I’m at least thirty…days…thirty days older than you.”
Heather and I look at each other, then to Ralph.
“Go get changed. George will be here soon.” The two of them race upstairs.
Heather grabs her coat. “I gotta go. Martin is expecting me.”
“Yeah, he bought a new torture rack and he wants me to help him break it in.”
“What? You’re kidding right?”
Heather tries to maintain a serious face, but finally bursts into laughter.
“If you could see your face!” she laughs. “Seriously, he knows a guy who owns four gyms who is looking for an assistant manager. So this is actually a job interview.”
I sit down and turn on the TV, hoping to find something mindless to kill the time. Jason lets himself in without knocking.
“Where are the brats?”
“Upstairs getting ready.”
He sits down on the sofa next to me and gives me a kiss. “So I was thinking after George picks up the kids, we head down to Little Italy, grab a bite, and then maybe go back to my place and…you know.” He starts nibbling my ear.
“Watch it, I bite back.”
“Sounds kinky.” He starts kissing my neck.
“They’re gonna be downstairs in a minute.”
“You’re point?” He stops fondling me when he notices the heart-shaped diamond around my neck.
“Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” he says.
“Get that look on your face whenever I wear it.”
“I don’t mean to.”
“You want me to get rid of it, don’t you?”
“Even if I did, I have not right to ask you to. I know what it means to you.”
Fact is, I’m not even sure why I keep it. It’s one part guilt, I guess. I hated the wrong man for the wrong reasons for so long. I have remnants of Father Miguel’s memories trapped in my brain. How Father Miguel had killed Anton’s wife and children all those centuries ago when the clan was grooming him. How it had been Father Miguel who sired Anton, and Bishop Mendoza only pretended to be Anton’s sire in order for Father Miguel to keep up appearances that he was not Sabbat. How Father Miguel had originally send Anton to kill me back in Chicago because I had gotten too close to the truth, and how Anton went behind Father Miguel’s back to get the Bishop’s blessing to embrace me instead of kill me. And how at that betrayal Father Miguel had decided Anton had to die, and die by my hand.
I guess I turned out to be a disappointment, too.
George arrives just as the brats come downstairs. Even though he’s in his human form, he still looks like a werewolf to me with his thick shaggy beard, bushy eyebrows, and long straggly hair. He extends his hand to Ralph.
“Give it to me,” he says.
“Huh?” says a sheepish Ralph.
“I can smell it.”
Ralph removes the camera from his jacket and gives it to George, who proceeds to crush it in his hand.
“I just figured we should record it so Alex can see it.”
“Mommie, are you sure you can’t come?”
I think about the idea of me being surrounded by twenty werewolves. “Just go have fun, honey.”
The sept is holding Stacey’s naming ceremony. Somehow Ralph got himself invited by George. I’m welcome to attend but nobody wants to guarantee my safety. As Jason takes the kids outside, George turns to me and howls.
“What was that for?” I ask.
“I thought you would want to be the first to hear her garou name.”
“Thank you. Can I get an English translation?”
“It means Angel Born of Shadows.”
“Damn, George, did you actually drive here in that thing?” says Jason as he comes back in.
“What is wrong with my Pinto?”
“Well, for starters, it’s a Pinto.”
George growls at Jason.
“Take care of my kids, George,” I say.
He nods and leaves.
Jason wipes a bloody tear from my cheek. “They’re gonna be fine.”
“I know,” I say as I wrap my arms around him. Right now they’re probably the safest two kids on the planet. “I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat.”
I grab my coat, and we step out into the night.