By Blood We Live Page 13

All of me had been replaced—except the one thing that was still there.

Her face sweaty and her eyes wide. Looking at me to show me she couldn’t see me.

You get the body restart for free. The rest you have to earn.

I put my hand gently on Stonk’s forehead. (I don’t know why I call him these things. Stonk. Fluff. Frankie. Norman. He doesn’t mind. He says he likes it.) His life came to me through my fingertips. There’s species understanding, he’d told me. Telepathy ish. But you have to learn to control it, to be selective. Like screening calls. It was one of the things that had always put me off. Too late now. I knew if he woke up he’d be able to see everything, go into my mind like a burglar wandering through a house and the owner has to just sit there watching, horrified. Which would mean he’d see all of it.

As soon as I had this thought I knew he’d already seen all of it. When he drank from me. Maybe I thought he’d drink it out of me for good.

It doesn’t matter. He’s always known anyway. He’s always imagined. Everyone always does. It comes off me like a smell. (One of them, the one they called “Pinch,” had said: Honey, I’m gonna make you so dirty you won’t never scrub clean again.)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: So what? It’s not a big deal for anyone, apart from the ones who feel insecure and useless so they become social workers or therapists so they can be around fuck-ups who make them feel competent and normal. But for most people when they get the smell off me it’s just a drag they know they’ll have to deal with sooner or later because I’ll turn out to be a wacko or whatever. To most people what happened to me is just that thing that can happen, that happens. They’re right. That’s all it is. A thing that can happen, that happens. That’s all anything that happens is.

I was still in last night’s clothes, covered in blood. We both were. I lifted my t-shirt to see the place where the Cate Blanchett bitch’s sword had gone into me. Nothing. Completely healed. Not even a scar.

Fluff’s eyeballs moved behind his eyelids. REM sleep. When you’re supposed to dream. He doesn’t dream, he says. Not a vampire thing. Just him. Remshi, whose REM’s for shit, I’d said to him. He’d said: Juss, if you ever become like me, you’re going to have to do better with the jokes.

Would I stop dreaming now? Sleep without dreams would be like something cool resting on me. Like that time in kindergarten when the Sri Lankan nurse put her hand on my forehead and I hadn’t known how hot I was until I felt her cool palm on my skin.

Every now and then, Justine, I’ll take a longer than usual sleep. There will be disorientation when I wake up. There are things you’ll need to ask me to jog my memory. Don’t worry. I’ll write them down. I’ll know when it’s coming, so you’ll have time to prepare. Except I didn’t. One minute he was there, the next he was gone, out like a light for two years. Two years in Las Rosas alone. Hours and days and weeks and months. I lay curled up on the bathroom floor. I felt safest between the base of the washbasin and the side of the tub. I wrapped myself in a blanket and slept there, eventually. Slept during the day. Nights at the club. Two thousand strangers. You go into them, you imagine their lives. I don’t know how much longer I would’ve lasted if he hadn’t woken up.

And now that he had I was going to lose him all over again.

Either because the werewolf was who he thought she was, and if he found her he wouldn’t want me around.

Or because finding her would kill him, just like it nearly did the last time.

Part Two

The Fairy Tale

11

Talulla

MY CELLPHONE RANG. Factory setting ringtone. Our days of thinking it a hoot to have “Bad Moon Rising” and “Werewolves of London” are over.

“Talulla?” a man’s voice said.

It was just after sunrise. I was standing, naked, in the kitchen of the falling apart villa we’d taken in the hills outside Terracina. The window showed a coarse back garden of long grass and peach trees and sunlit floating dandelion seeds. My phone had been left out on the dining table (Jesus, woman, shape up) amid empties and ashtrays and the remains of Cloquet’s blanquette de veau. The table itself looked like a post-apocalyptic city.

I felt terrible. Less than seventy hours to transformation wulf was all muscle-jab and neural snap, the peppy violence to remind me, redundantly, who’d be running the upcoming lunar show. Walker and I had got smashed on tequila and grass last night to take the edge off. Bludgeoned awake by dehydration (and the now predictable dreams of misbehaviour) I’d come down for water.

To this. A stranger’s voice. Adrenal flash-flood and the hangover’s blur washed away, instantly. Even with the sweat coming out in my palms like stars I thought: Serves you right: All this and it’s not enough.

“Who is this?” I said.

“There’s a package for you. If you go to the front hall you’ll see it on the doormat.”

I scrolled the known voices, got nothing. The accent might’ve started in the Middle East but it had picked up tonal inflections on promiscuous travels.

“Happily,” he went on, “it fit through the letter-box. Otherwise we would have had, God help us, logistics to negotiate.”

Wulf thickened in my wrists, the ghost-claws split my nails. Trying it on. This close to full moon, my girl took any heightened state as an invitation.

“Hello?” the voice said.

I ran for the stairs.

“Are you in the hall yet?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Oh. You’ll be worried about the children. I understand. But can you at least see the package?”

I had, in fact, glimpsed a small Jiffy bag on the front doormat, but panic owned all of me. Actually not quite all. The voice had conjured, whether I liked it or not, Omar Sharif, Persian carpets, mint tea, a perfumed moustache, that big male ease that looks genial but is really just a habitually gratified ego on autopilot. Years ago when we were teenagers my friend Lauren had said: My mom likes this guy, Omar Sharif? He’s one of those guys looks like he’s got an invisible woman permanently sucking his cock.

“I’ll give you a minute,” the voice said. “But if it’s any comfort I’m several thousand miles away as we speak. I promise you, no one in your house has anything to fear from me.”

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