Having discovered my real family wasn't exactly normal shouldn't have come as any great surprise, but then I was pretty sure that my background even without the latest tidbit of craziness wasn't ever going to be considered normal by anyone I'd ever meet in life -- except for the other freaks out there I didn't know yet. Because now it seemed that I was told that I was some weird freak that was able to physically pop around in her sleep to other places. I was so lucky enough to be greeted by vampires who brought me this breaking news with fangs and outlandish claims. Yeah, all this seemed to be something easily found on a greeting card at the local card display in the grocery store.
Easily I pictured the card with a red background and black script, "Sorry I missed your visit last night, I was out with fanged folks on the West Coast."
Inside the card would be black with a set of white fangs that were appropriately enough, blood-tipped, with the words etched beneath -- in red naturally, "Maybe we can grab a bite together next time?"
Yup, I could buy a couple hundred of those little missives and leave them on the doorstep for all the news teams gathered outside my home. I ground my teeth thinking about all those vultures with their cameramen and bright lights camped on the lawn, waiting for me to stick my head outside like a groundhog from its hole on February second. That definitely wasn't going to happen any time soon.
Given all that I'd figured out in the past few hours, I could safely assume now that my food probably wasn't drugged by one of the neighbors who'd dropped off the casseroles and lunchmeats after my parents' funeral. So all things considered, I was good for at least a week before I'd even have to crack open the stuffed freezer.
Slowly I dragged the covers back off my face, and reluctantly switched back on the television to see another update of the ongoing saga of my life. I groaned and flipped stations. Another pretty woman with a slight frown, gripping a microphone in her fist, staring directly into the camera lens, as if her intensity would make me open the front door, greeted my sleep-blurry eyes. I rubbed away the sleep with a tightly clenched fist. The pretty lady's name was framed in the left corner of the screen opposite the station number. The woman was Tina Tremaine -- sounded like a fake name.
Then I masochistically raised the volume enough with my remote to hear her say, "Esmeralda Meredith has had a bad week. This poor child hasn't been seen since she buried both her parents yesterday." The top right corner now sported my freshman year picture complete with the slight frown I had worn after the photographer groused to his bubble headed assistant how much he hated his job and that there weren't any pretty people. Shaking my head at that memory, I watched as Tina pouted and fluttered her Bambi-like doe-eyes like that would make her innocent of being a vulture.
Well, that stupid statement of hers wasn't true, since several people had seen me since the funeral. Her little pout didn't make her lies facts. I groaned, remembering that I'd had a whole house full of people who'd littered my family home with plates and glasses that I'd cleaned up less than a dozen hours ago. The house had been full to the brim with visitors until last night when they finally left.
Little Tina Tremaine added with a quiver of excitement in her voice, "And here we have someone pulling up. Let's find out who is visiting the poor orphan."
The next shot was of a medium-sized dark car pulling up into the driveway, obviously not a television anchor since there wasn't a camera crew popping out first, and the driver nearly rolled over two other news teams without slowing. Already I was focused back on the television.
I watched, glued to the fishbowl view of my world outside, transfixed by how quickly Tina spun on her plum-colored stilettos and moved to stick her microphone towards the man exiting the car. The back door directly behind the driver had opened once the car had stopped, and I saw a long leg clad in nicely creased slacks hit the cement with an expensive leather shoe, and the rest of the man followed. What was interesting besides the unknown visitor was that his driver hadn't turned off the engine, but was being filmed by Tina's cameraman. The driver had a dark cap and ducked his head denying the lens a straight shot. His hands were firmly gripping the steering wheel and encased in black leather. The blazer he wore had some emblem I didn't recognize and was denied any further view as the camera spun back to the perky Tina who was stridently asking, "Sir, why are you here to see Esmeralda? Are you family? Are you her attorney?"
Mouth slightly gaped, I stared at the television and I certainly didn't have a clue who was parked in my driveway. The dark car was surrounded, I saw. Then the cameraman panned back to Tina Tremaine as she waited with the rest of the vultures for an answer.
At least I was smart enough to realize that the man who emerged from the sedan was in no way an attorney. The suit he wore cost more than most people's cars and his smile was whiter than white. For some reason I expected him to have sharp fangs, not just perfectly aligned teeth. His salt and pepper hair was longer than most older men wore, brushing his cream-colored shirt that peeked over his suit coat, and his heavy black-framed sunglasses hid his eyes very well. The dark shades reflected all the microphones being thrust in his face and the eager faces of the reporters with their insincere smiles and odd questions. He was being asked a half dozen questions every second, and there wasn't any time for him to reply, had he wanted.
Then I saw that the reporters all suddenly grasped that they hadn't given the man a chance to answer -- well, that or their production crew were screaming into their earpieces. As if someone pushed a button on the reporters they stopped asking questions. Silence fell and the strong microphones of the reporters had to have picked up the idling sound of the engine and the birds singing in the distance. I know my television set definitely did and I watched, totally glued to the drama unfolding outside the walls of my home.
The man stopped, finally completely out of the sedan, and I saw that he was really tall. Not freakishly tall, but well over six feet and not an ounce of fat on him from what I could see. From the indiscreet little glances and smiles on the faces of the surrounding men and women, more than a few of the seasoned reporters had also noticed. Staring directly into the camera lens that Tina Tremaine's cameraman was holding, I felt like he was speaking directly to me as he began to talk.
"I am here because the child, Esmeralda Meredith, needs protection. She has nothing to say to any of you jackals. I have called the police and reported the trespassing. All of you must leave." His voice was strong and firm. There wasn't any room for negotiations from what he'd said, but still someone compelled to shout out a question.
"Who is she to you?" The man's head swung towards the location of the reporter who'd asked the question. His eyes still covered by the sunglasses seemed to pinpoint the eyes of bold reporter. The man was standing a couple feet behind the trunk of the still-running car and didn't notice that the driver had let his foot off the brake and the car was slowly rolling backwards down the slanted driveway.
Reporters not near the man edged away, and waved for their camera crews to get the shot. They didn't shout warning but waited to see the outcome. I saw a few reporters touch their ears with their free hands obviously hearing directions from their producers in the news studios. Tina's own cameraman was able to frame both the unidentified visitor and the other reporter mere inches from the moving car. Again I found that the notion of jackals and vultures colored my view of all the reporters waiting to see something horrific happen before their eyes. On the other hand, I nearly buried my eyes in my hands, worried that I would see a man die.
The news station must have worried that would happen too, because abruptly they went to a commercial break. Irritated I flipped channels to see every station was also in the middle of advertising pills or soda pop. I ended up back on the station with Tina Tremaine holding the camera standing back on my front porch. She'd taken the time to run her fingers through her perfectly-cut hair making it slightly disheveled. With her large eyes fluttering like trapped butterflies in a jar she breathily spoke intimately into the lens.
"Well, the unknown man has returned to his vehicle after stating he was here to protect Esmeralda Meredith, the poor orphan girl. He also caused a fissure of concern as his driver nearly ran over a pedestrian." I liked that she'd reduced the other reporter to a mere spectator.
"Obviously Miss Meredith is still inside but we here at News Team Eight are going to respect her mourning and leave for now." In the distance there were sirens approaching. It was odd to hear them both on the television and outside my bedroom. The slight delay between telecasting and reality made the live sirens sound like echoes of the news program. The reporter gave her pout and the news switched back to the studio, not wanting to show their reporter run for the television van I figured.
I flipped off the television and flopped back on my pillows. I didn't have a clue who that man was waiting outside. But somehow he worried me more than all the reporters. There was something in how he held himself that marked him as someone with power. After my strange dream slash new reality with vampires, and popping over the country like it was across the street, I was more than a bit worried.
Someone had sent Rory, the first vampire I'd met, from a "Council," from what Harry had said after he showed up. And there was Harry, who also was a vampire, who had more than a bit of charisma. I had yet to meet the man sitting outside in a chauffer-driven car, but from what I'd seen on the news that man also had an amazing amount of personal charisma.
There was no way in hell I was going to go outside to talk to the man, and even I wasn't stupid enough to open my door to strangers. I nibbled on the edge of my thumb again, a habit I hadn't been able to break since I was a child, hoping to come up with some plan. The shrill sound of the house phone cut through the air as if amplified by my thoughts. I wasn't going to answer the call and yet I walked into the hallway towards the nearly-full answering machine. The ring cut off and the message played, telling the caller to leave a message. I choked back a sob at the sound of my dad's voice.
"Esmeralda Meredith, hello?" The voice filled the house with a slithering feeling and I shivered at the tone. The man had skills.
He continued, "I know you can hear me, little girl." He made the words sound dirty and tainted. I shivered and leaned against the wall waiting to hear what he had to say. I didn't have long to wait.