“Hey, you look really happy today,” Simza said as she paused by Adric’s chair before first hour.
His smiles were coming more readily now, and they didn’t feel so out of place. “Yeah. I worked really hard over the weekend, and I’m finally caught up on everything.” He held out his hands as if to demonstrated their emptiness. “So now I’ll only have regular homework.”
“That’s wonderful!” She bent down to give him a quick hug. “Does this mean you’ll be able to hang out when Zin or I ask, now?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I was actually wondering if you guys might want to come over and play video games this afternoon. My cousins have a really nice set up with the biggest TV I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m in,” Zindel said. “But a word to the wise, Cat’s wicked good at first person shooters.”
The bell cut off further conversation.
It wasn’t until lunch that it became clear Laurel hadn’t given up her complaint about having a vampire in her core block. Adric was sitting next to Simza, which had somehow become the default, with the rest of her circle around them. Everyone seemed pretty excited about going home with him after school, and they were discussing what game systems and games they wanted to try.
Adric hadn’t even noticed his friends getting distracted until the lunch room went oddly quiet. It wasn’t silent, by any stretch, but a lot of kids had clearly stopped to stare. A line of students led by Laurel were marching into the lunchroom, carrying posters with anti-vampire messages.
No blood suckers in my school!
Vamps go back to Europe!!
UNdead and UNwelcome
EVERY vamp is a killer!
They want you’re blood!
Kick ’em out!
A wave of garlic-scented air washed over him, and Adric doubled over, gagging. He couldn’t help but recall the last time he’d smelled it. The touch of the carpet under his fingers. His parents’ blood all over the living room.
The cafeteria was suddenly too loud, too crowded, too hot. Someone tugged on his arm, but he pulled away with a moan. Leaping to his feet, he ran blindly out of the room, crashing into several protesters without even slowing down. His vision was distorted, reduced to a sick combination of red and blue. He only stopped when he hit a wall solid enough to knock him down.
Back hunched, he pressed his face to his knees and huddled close to the wall. His whole body shook hard enough to render him useless. Mindless rage pushed at the edge of his consciousness, and it was all he could do to keep it from breaking through and taking over. His hands grasped fistfuls of his hair and pulled, trying to force himself to focus on something physical and isolated.
After what had felt like an eternity, it suddenly became easier. He was abruptly aware of his sharp uneven gasps, and moved his attention to steadying his breathing. It was quieter now, though life had surely continued around him. After all, if it hadn’t stopped for his parents’ death, why would it pause for his meltdown? After another unmeasurable time, he realized there was a voice, soothing and gentle.
“It’s okay, Adric,” Simza whispered. “You’re safe. Nothing’s going to hurt you. And you aren’t going to hurt anyone else. I’m here with you, and you’re safe. We’re both safe.”
He moaned and yanked at his hair.
“Oh!” It was a sound of dismay. “No, don’t hurt yourself,” Simza begged, her fingers ghosting over his head without really touching him. “Let me help you Adric. Please.”
She could force her magic on him. He was sure he was no match for her ability to incapacitate him, but she hadn’t. She’d shielded him in a magic bubble, and when that wasn’t enough she asked for consent. Still curled in on himself, he released his tangled locks with one hand and reached toward her. Even with his senses on overload, he knew where she was.
Her fingers slipped between his, and her magic washed over him like a warm wave. He trembled once, then stopped, relishing for a moment in the stillness. With a nudge of her free hand, he unfolded and allowed himself to be pulled against her, his face pressed to her neck. Her fingertips caressed his cheek a few times.
“Doing a little better?” she asked.
He nodded, not sure he could talk yet. He felt limp and exhausted.
“Can you tell me what happened?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Don’t wanna.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised,” she murmured. “But I think I need to know what made you react like that. I know you don’t have the benefit of a bond, so I get that you’re more sensitive. But this was more than that. You don’t have to be too specific, if that helps.”
He twisted so he could more fully lean on her, his free arm slipping around her. She was warm and safe and strong. She was so kind. She’d rescued him twice, even though she didn’t know him well. She deserved to know. “It was the garlic,” he finally whispered. “On top of the hate, it was too much.”
Her hand made its way into his hair, soothing his scalp where he’d yanked at it. “I thought garlic was just an annoyance to your people.”
“We have a… history with it,” he explained. “On it’s own, it’s nothing. But people have used it for centuries in misguided attempts to kill vampires. The association is pretty awful at this point.”
“That’s disgusting.” Her hand squeezed his firmly.
He nodded. “Almost two months ago, I came home from school and…” His voice caught. He took a breath. “My parents had been murdered.” He hadn’t spoken to anyone about this once the emergency response team had shown up. He was surprised he managed to get the words out.
“Oh god, Adric,” she whimpered. “I’m so sorry.” She moved so she could press her cheek to his. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” she reiterated.
He wanted her to know, it was almost a compulsion. “I’m the one who found them, and it was…” He gulped. “It was horrible. Whoever did it was afraid they’d recover, so they used almost all of the myths about killing us.” The wooden stakes, iron nails, and odd burns in the upholstery and carpet still showed up in his dreams. “There was garlic, and… I guess the smell just… it was like finding them all over again. It was like being alone in the living room with my dead parents, and waiting for a warlock to show up and lock me down.”
She turned toward him so she could hug him with both arms, rather than the odd hug and snuggle hybrid she’d been maintaining. “I’m so sorry Adric. You don’t deserve any of this.”
He clung to her and the sense of peace she gave him.
“I think I understand why you haven’t bonded with anyone else.” Her fingers smoothed his hair away from his face. “I can’t imagine having it ripped away from you like that.” She sighed.
“Yeah, but I’m going to have to do it… probably before I’ll be allowed to come back to school.” Just when he’d gotten all caught up and seemed to be fitting in.
“Hey, it’s going to be all right,” she promised. “You don’t really think you’ll get kicked out for this, do you?”
Adric shrugged, finally opening his eyes. He could see someone outside their bubble, and they were holding an opaque purple curtain of magic around Simza’s translucent bubble.
“That’s Master Lemire,” she explained. “He’s the school nurse and an amazing warlock.”
He groaned. It made sense that he’d been called in, but it felt like another strike against him.
“You’re not going to be suspended for having a panic attack,” she said with a snort. “You didn’t hurt anyone, and you actively removed yourself from a situation before you could lose control. Those are all points in your favor.”
“I feel like a disappointment,” he said. The energy of his freak out had dropped him into a hole of self-loathing.
“I have a suggestion, if you’d be open to it,” she said quietly.
He nodded. She’d helped him, and she knew so much.
“I think you need your new bond to be as different as possible from your old one, then it won’t feel like you’re replacing it.” She hesitated, then loosened her hold enough to lean over and look into his face. “I’d like you to bond with my circle; instead of an individual binding, you’ll be connected to every member of the circle. We’re friends, not family, and none of us are vampires.”
“It would definitely be different,” he agreed. He took a moment to consider it, surprised to find that it didn’t cause the strong revulsion the idea of bonding with his aunt and uncle did.
“Once you’ve settled into the circle, I think you should bond with some of your people again,” she suggested. “Because that’s probably important, too.”
She wasn’t wrong. “Okay.”
“Okay? Like, you agree or like you’ll do it?” A half smile crept onto her face, and he suspected she knew the answer but was just verifying.
“Both.” He snorted and slid one hand down to grasp hers. “You’re right, about what I need to do. And yes, I’ll join your circle.”