Fallen grace, p.9
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       Fallen Grace, p.9

           Jessica Cartwright
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  I woke anxiously in the morning. Despite my resolution last night, I worried about how Katherine would act this morning and more importantly what Alex would do after his visit to my room last night. I took a long hot shower and attempted to work out the knots in my muscles. The fight last night had not been hard but the ensuing argument and late night kiss had caused my muscles to become tight and unwilling. Eventually, I turned off the water and wrapped myself in my robe. Making my way to the wardrobe, I dressed in my school uniform and returned to the bathroom to finish getting ready. The bathroom was misty and smelt of jasmine and musk. I stood for a moment inhaling the scents that filled the air. They reminded me of my Mother and the expensive French perfumes my Father used to buy her on his trips. I was not surprised that I had chosen these scents, given my current anxious state. It did not matter that I was a vampire, I always returned to the human comforts when I felt uneasy.

  Standing in front of the mirror, I took time in applying my makeup. I wanted to make sure I looked my best for Alex when I met him for breakfast this morning. I tried to convince myself that it was merely to use his affections to my advantage in his protection but I was not sure that was true. Secretly, I enjoyed the attention I was receiving. It had been many years since I had received compliments and been the object of men’s affection. The loss of my parents and William, coupled with becoming a protector, had hardened me. Part of me wished to return to my former beauty and turn heads when I walked into a room but I knew this was no longer possible or advisable. My job now required me to be discrete and my changed appearance helped with this task. In a crowd, people tended to avoid me or fail to recognise me. My demeanour and appearance were usually neither inviting nor approachable. Looking into the mirror now I was surprised by my appearance. Small flecks of topaz and green had increased in my eyes. They were still mostly black but I could notice the subtle difference that gave my eyes some depth and life. My skin was still very pale but it appeared the hue had changed from a sickly translucence to an alabaster. I studied my skin, trying to ascertain if these changes had actually occurred or if my mind was playing tricks on me. The closer I looked, the more sure I was of the change. My skin was now highlighted by eyes and lips instead of being sharply contrasted by them.

  I carefully pinned back my hair, making sure that the curls fell softly around my face. My dark brown hair shone as the light from the window touched it. Framing my face, it complemented the alabaster tone of my skin and brought out the topaz in my eyes. I was still standing in front of the mirror admiring myself when I heard the familiar whoosh of Alex’s door opening. I had been monitoring his movements all morning and had already noticed he did not make his usual morning call to Olivia nor did he check his emails. I tried not to be happy about this but my emotions got the better of me. Reasoning that it would be necessary to ensure that his relationship was salvageable when I left, I made a mental note to encourage at least some contact between Alex and Olivia whilst I was here.

  Quickly grabbing my satchel on the way through, I left my bedroom and met Alex at the landing of the stairs. I watched him as I approached; his eyes gazed over my body and returned to my face. A smile crept across his face and a faint blush rose to his cheeks. I wondered briefly if he had noticed the difference in my appearance. Alex leant against the wall whilst he waited for me to walk down the hall. He was trying to appear nonchalant but his constant running of his fingers through his hair gave him away. I could hear his pulse quicken as I came closer and felt a small smile touch my lips. His scent reached me first. I hesitated briefly, allowing myself to adapt to his presence and quell the poison that threatened to rise. I doubted if Alex’s human eyes would have noticed my hesitation as I continued towards him. His scent was like fire, warming my blood, causing both pleasure and pain to pulse through my body.

  “Good morning,” Alex said hesitantly waiting to judge my response. Clearly he felt awkward about last night and was not sure what to do.

  “Morning,” I replied brightly, hoping that Alex would not bring up his late night visit to my room. I did not want the whole house knowing what had occurred. “How did you sleep?” I asked as I started to make my way down the stairs.

  “Um…pretty good. You?” Alex appeared confused by my cheery response. He had clearly been expecting a reaction from me about last night.

  “Not too bad I suppose. I was exhausted.” I finished thoughtfully as we made our way into the dining room. Katherine and Lucas were already seated when we arrived. Katherine looked up at me briefly and returned to her paper.

  “Good morning Lucas, Katherine,” I said lightly taking a seat next to Katherine. She looked at me concerned and I smiled at her, trying to convey my intention to make nice. The four of us made polite conversation about our days ahead and how we had slept, carefully avoiding any mention of the events that had occurred the night before. Finally, Lucas cleared his throat to gain our attention.

  “Alex,” he spoke softly and kindly. “I trust that you want to talk about what happened last night?”

  Alex immediately looked at me with fear in his eyes. I met his gaze and felt a rush of empathy and protection towards him. I knew he thought Lucas meant his late night trip to my room and was sure that he was concerned that his grandfather would disapprove.

  “Actually Lucas, I already explained everything to Alex this morning on our way to breakfast. I told him about how a wolf had gotten into our stables back home and killed one of my horses and that now I’m a little crazy when I see them.” My words tumbled out in my rush, to quell Alex’s fear and prevent him from saying anything about his late night visit.

  The relief showed in Alex’s eyes immediately. Lucas gave me a quick nod which I took to meant he approved of my story and that he and Katherine would endorse it if Alex had any more questions.

  “Well I’m glad that’s all sorted,” Katherine piped in. “We certainly wouldn’t want you thinking that you were living with a crazy person Alex.” Clearly, Katherine was not over the tongue lashing I had given her last night. She gave me a sidewards glance and I pretended to ignore her.

  “I wouldn’t have thought she was crazy anyway Mom,” Alex said valiantly trying to protect me as I had him.

  “It’s ok Alex,” I said. “Your Mom just wants to make sure that you’re not worried I’m going to run us off the road or anything on the way to school. Although with the speed you drive, you’d have to have the reflexes of a turtle not to be able to steer clear,” I teased trying to move the conversation away from the events of last night.

  “Well, seeing as though I drive so slowly, we best leave for school now to make sure we make it by lunch time.” Alex returned smiling.

  We said our quick goodbyes to Lucas and Katherine. I gave Katherine a hard stare as we left the room. I had certainly not forgiven her for her actions last night and her jokes this morning were not buying her any favours either. I picked up my satchel from the hall stand and noticed that it felt heaver than before. Looking inside, I saw a flask had been placed in my bag. I smiled and whispered thanks to Martha low enough that Alex wouldn’t hear. Having the flask made me feel more confident about the day ahead. I was already hungry, having expended energy last night hunting and killing the invaders and I had not been able to feed this morning as I would have liked.

  As usual, Alistair met us at the car and moved around to open my door. Alex was walking beside me and I saw a smirk appear on his face. He rounded, me stopping me at the bottom of the stairs.

  “What?” I asked as I became momentarily confused by his close proximity. His eyes were sparkling in the sun and his golden hair shone.

  “You got a licence?” he asked.

  “Yes,” I replied, tempted to add from which country and century would you like but I refrained.

  “Well then, Miss Speed Demon, you can drive to school today.” Alex said smugly as he made his way to the passenger side of the car. Alistair looked at me with concern in his eyes. He has seen me driv
e and I was sure he was concerned that Alex would have some questions after I took the wheel. I smiled and shrugged at Alistair.

  “You heard the man,” I commented then lower only for Alistair’s ears. “Don’t worry; I know how to drive like a human.” I winked at him as I slid into the car. Once I was behind the wheel, I made some adjustments to the mirrors to give the impression that I would use them during my driving and looked at Alex.

  “You’d better make sure you have your seat belt on Ms Daisy. This isn’t going to be a horse and cart run.” I laughed, surprising myself with my flirtatious nature. Alex looked at me smiling and gestured for me to go forward. I eased my foot onto the accelerator and felt the engine respond. Alex’s car was not as powerful as mine but it was still a very smooth ride. I ensured that I remained conscious of the speed limit and attempted to appear as human as possible while I was driving. Even with all that, we still made it to school much earlier than when Alex drove. I killed the ignition and handed him the keys.

  “Seriously, if you want to sleep in tomorrow, I am happy to drive again.” I smiled as Alex took the keys from me with a look of mock panic on his face.

  “Are you sure we are still in the present? I think maybe we crossed the time space continuum with your driving,” he countered as he opened the door. I laughed at him, shaking my head as I exited the car. I looked to my left and saw Tristan standing under a tree staring at Alex and me. His face was like thunder, despite being surrounded by several cheerleaders and his football team. I didn’t like his reaction and knew that this was not over. Tristan was a boy used to getting his way and I had been a cause of embarrassment to him. I could only imagine what he would be like when he saw Alex and I at the Fire and Ice ball.

  “It looks like your boyfriend’s not very happy.” Alex interrupted my thoughts nodding towards Tristan.

  “Shut up,” I replied. “It’s not my fault that other girls are too stupid to turn him down. Failure is good for the soul it builds character.”

  “Oh really,” Alex laughed. “I don’t see character when I look at Tristan. Hate maybe but not character.” I rolled my eyes at Alex as I started walking up to the school. He was right though there certainly was hate in Tristan’s eyes. I just hoped that dark looks were all that he had in mind. I really didn’t need anything else to contend with at the moment.

  I sat on the retaining wall built next to the stairs whilst Alex leaned against it, waiting for Lauren and Daniel. Even though my back was turned, I could still feel Tristan’s eyes burning into it. I tried to distract myself by asking Alex about Olivia. Alex shifted uncomfortably when I brought up the subject.

  “Um, she’s ok I guess. It’s been kind of hectic the last couple of days so I haven’t really gotten to talk to her but her email said she was fine,” he replied sheepishly not really knowing where to look.

  “Well, that’s good. It must be difficult to do a relationship long distance. I bet you can’t wait until you can head back to England.” I continued, trying to gauge Alex’s thoughts about the future.

  “Yeah. It is hard but I am liking it here,” he said honestly looking in my eyes, “I mean being with my grandfather and everything,” he added quickly a blush rising to his cheeks.

  “What about your Dad?” I asked, realising that with everything that had happened I had again missed the opportunity to meet Stephan, the man who pretended to be Alex’s father. My stomach churned at having to be complicit in this lie. John was my mentor and I felt I was betraying him not telling his son the truth.

  “What about my Dad?” Alex replied looking confused.

  “You must miss him when he is away on business?” I wanted to get a feel for Stephan’s role in the family.

  “Of course. I mean you would miss your Dad if he was away on business?” Alex answered catching himself as he did.

  “I’m sorry Grace. I didn’t mean that. Of course you miss your Father. I can’t even imagine what it must be like.” He apologised, touching my arm with his hand as he looked into my eyes. My skin burned where he touched me and butterflies danced in my stomach.

  “It’s fine,” I replied, shaking my head to clear it. I didn’t want to become distracted I needed more information. “So, does your dad travel often?” I continued.

  “Yes. More so now then before, he is trying to close a deal in New York. So hopefully, once that’s done, he will be home. You haven’t met him yet have you?” Alex asked.

  “No, I haven’t had the pleasure,” I replied honestly. I was looking forward to meeting the man who thought he could fill John’s shoes. I doubted that he would meet my expectations but I was still interested in who Stephan really was.

  “He’s great. You’ll really like him. He always lets me do the stuff that Mom won’t let me do,” Alex continued with affection in his voice. I couldn’t help but wonder what Alex’s life would have been like if John was still alive. I knew for sure that I would not be here now. John would have been able to protect Alex. I felt a deep sadness within my heart for John and all the others I had lost in my time. I was momentarily absorbed in a deep grief when Lauren and Daniel arrived.

  “Hey there!” Daniel greeted us warmly.

  “Grace, you have to tell me all about your dress and Alex’s suit. I want to know everything. Did you bring pictures?” Lauren disregarded greetings for more important topics.

  “Please tell me you brought photos,” Daniel pleaded “She has been carrying on like this the whole way here.”

  Alex and I smiled as we stood up to walk into school with them.

  “You’re out of luck, sorry. We didn’t take any pictures but I am sure I remember what Alex and I are wearing so I can give you a very detailed description that should take up most of the morning,” I replied teasingly but I could tell from Lauren’s expression she took me seriously. This was going to be a long morning. I began describing my outfit as we walked to English, frequently interrupted by the gushes and cries of Lauren. As I expected, the questions about our outfits continued as Lauren and I endured our math class. I was beginning to think that trigonometry would be a relief from Lauren’s incessant questions, when she caught me by surprise.

  “So are you and Alex like a thing?” she asked bluntly.

  “No!” I replied a little louder than I intended causing the heads of the students around us to turn.

  “Oh.” Lauren sounded disappointed. Obviously she was hoping for some gossip. “I just thought that since you were going to the dance together you must at least like each other. I mean I know that Alex has a girlfriend and all but really she’s in England how is that going to work?” I shrugged in reply, hoping that she would stop talking about Alex and me this way. It made me uncomfortable to think that people thought of us that way. I knew it was ridiculous but I was not the sort of person to intentionally court a man who was already dating someone else. Beside the fact that I would hardly agree to date someone I had known for less than a week. I knew it was old fashioned of me, especially in this day and age but I was a lady of the 1700’s at heart and some beliefs did not wavier over time.

  “Oh my gosh. I just realised I don’t even know if you have a boyfriend back home. I mean, you know sometimes long distance relationships can work. I guess I just need to see Daniel everyday I’m needy like that,” Lauren’s attempt to overcompensate for her possible faux pas made me laugh.

  “Lauren, relax,” I said slowly “I don’t have a boyfriend in Ireland or anywhere else for that matter. I agree with you. I don’t think long distance relationships last especially, not at 17. But honestly, Alex and I are just friends. I mean we haven’t even known each other a week.”

  “Hmm… Daniel and I started dating after we had known each other 3 days. I guess sometimes you just know.” She smiled obviously recalling her meeting Daniel in her mind. I decided to seize the opportunity to distract her.

  “So, when did you guys meet?” I asked sincerely. Lauren spent the rest of morning recounting their first meeting when Daniel m
oved in next door 5 years ago. We met Daniel at the doors to the cafeteria and he smiled at me sympathetically.

  “I am surprised you haven’t given up the will to live after experiencing a Lauren inquisition,” he remarked carelessly. He threw his arm around Lauren and brought her closer to him so he could kiss the top of her head. She scowled at him briefly before a smile returned to her face.

  “It was fine. Lauren was actually just telling me about how the two of you first met,” I replied, not wanting to hurt Lauren’s feelings. I knew she was excited to have a girlfriend to talk to about these things. I felt bad knowing that I would leave without explanation one day and hoped that she would not be too distressed.

  “Oh, was she just.” Daniel’s eyes sparkled as he looked at Lauren. “I bet she made herself sound like the fair maiden being hunted by the knight from next door. Don’t be fooled. She was the one bringing welcome cakes and soups and casseroles over to my house all day when we were moving.”

  “That’s not how I remember it Mr Do you have a ladder we can borrow? Do you have a hammer we can borrow? Do you know where the nearest store is? Really, it was pathetic. I think you spent more of the day at my house than your own,” Lauren countered. It was obvious that this conversation was a regular occurrence and no one ever admitted to their role in their courtship.

  Alex joined us as we waited in line for lunch. My anxiety eased as soon as I saw him. I felt better when he was nearby, especially after the attack last night. I had been constantly scanning the area all morning to ensure that there were no vampires nearby but that did little to quell my fears of another attack. I did not think that even the Acelades would be so arrogant as to attack at a human school in the middle of the day however, I did not want to take any chances. I knew that I could not change my class schedule without raising suspicion, so for now, I simply relied on my heightened senses to link me to Alex when I could not be with him.

  “How was gym?” I asked already knowing that his team had won their soccer match thanks mostly to his goal scoring abilities.

  “It was ok,” he replied. Alex was not one to boast about his win and I liked that about him. I guess it was another thing we had in common. Despite my perfect record for protection duty, I never let other protectors feel inadequate when we worked together. “I see you survived math with Lauren?” he smiled smugly.

  “It wasn’t that bad,” I replied. “It was fun to talk about my dress.”

  “I’m sure you didn’t do yourself justice when you described it to her,” Alex said loud enough for Lauren and Daniel to hear. As he walked past me to the register he whispered softly, “You looked amazing.” I was grateful that I couldn’t blush as he paid for our lunches. I wasn’t sure if he meant for me to hear his comment or if my sensitive hearing had picked up on a comment meant only for himself. Looking into Alex’s eyes, I was fairly sure he did not mean for me to hear him. I averted my eyes and involved myself in the conversation Lauren and Daniel were having about their plans for spring vacation.

  I picked at my food during lunch excusing myself towards the end and headed for the bathrooms. Once inside, I retrieved my flask and drained its contents greedily. I stood with my eyes closed momentarily, allowing the blood to flow through my system and rejuvenate me. It was only a small amount of blood, but it was enough to recharge me for the rest of the school day. I would consume more when I returned to the manor. I returned quickly to Alex, not wanting to leave him alone for long. I was thankful our afternoon would be spent together in geography and French. It would also mean that I could walk Alex to the car and check for any danger. Alex was waiting for me when I returned. He had my bag slung over his shoulder and was resting against the table, staring in my direction. Lauren and Daniel had already left for their class.

  “You ready?” he asked, standing to greet me.

  “As ready as you can be for geography,’ I replied not having to fake my disinterest. “Let me take that.” I reached for my bag but Alex was already walking towards the door.

  “It’s ok. You hardly ate any lunch and I don’t want a repeat of the other day,” he joked keeping his hand firmly over the strap of my bag.

  “What, you don’t like playing the hero?” I teased back enjoying the banter.

  “Oh, it’s not that. I just want to make sure that you’re not plotting some mystery illness to get out of the ball this weekend,” he replied. I could tell he was only half joking as he stopped, opening the door for me.

  “Well then, perhaps I should let you carry my bag for the rest of the week.” I flashed him a smile as I passed through the door. His scent swamped me as I passed him in such close quarters. I felt momentarily light headed but I shut down my breathing to stop myself losing control. I didn’t restart breathing until we were seated in geography. A walkway separating our desks provided me much needed breathing space.

  I spent most of the geography class searching the area for any vampires and trying to figure out what the Acelades wanted last night. It was a frustrating hour and at the end, I was no closer to finding the elusive answer than I was at the beginning. It made no sense to me that the Acelades would break into the manor for Benedict’s cape and not take Alex when he was standing out in the open air. I knew I was missing something and the anger burned in me. I hated that the Acelades were planning something that I knew nothing about. Their plan would become obvious eventually and I only hoped that I would be able to stop it in time. The Sempre family did not need another loss at the hands of the Acelades.

  The sound of the bell brought me back into my geography class. I was glad I hadn’t been called upon to answer any questions because I did not have the faintest idea what we had learnt about in class. French was more of the same. By now, I was fluent in all European languages, so my mind was free to wander without concern. I allowed myself to sit closer to Alex, reasoning that it was due to my concerns about security. Our French rooms were the most vulnerable to attack. They had large windows that overlooked a small field leading into dense bushland. If a strike attack was their goal, this would be the room they would try. I highly doubted that even the Acelades would attempt an attack in broad daylight but it was not unheard of in our world. Humans normally passed off these attacks as random acts of violence to assuage their fears and other vampires moved in quickly to eliminate the threats to our way of life. Still, it could happen.

  I was deep in thought when Mr Geardman called upon me. His grasp of the French language was elementary at best and his over pronunciation of each syllable did not help. Annoyed that he had interrupted my division of strategy, I answered too quickly without thought to my reply. He had asked me to describe myself in French, obviously observing my lack of interest for the topic and hoping to embarrass me into paying more attention. I replied in impeccable French, giving the class a succinct summary of my supposed self. To say that Mr Geardman was astonished was putting it mildly. He had expected a stop and stuttering two sentences followed by the discharge of one of his disapproving looks. Briefly, caught up in the sense of satisfaction I gained from this surprise, I asked Mr Geardman in French, if he would like me to continue. He shook his head and turned to the class telling them to turn to their partners and practice.

  I looked at Alex whose smile was spread wide across his face.

  “You enjoyed that didn’t you?” he asked barely able to contain his laughter as Mr Geardman sat disheartened at his desk.

  “I am sure I don’t know what you are talking about,” I replied innocently.

  “Where did you learn to speak French anyway?” he asked.

  “My mom,” I lied. “She lived there for a while when she was growing up.”

  The rest of the lesson went without complaint and I had a feeling that Mr Geardman would be reluctant to call upon me in class again. The bell sounded and Alex and I made our way to the car, Alex again carrying my bag. When we reached it, Alex went to hand me the keys.

  “I’m not in a rush to get home and start hom
ework so you’d better drive,” I said refusing the keys and making my way to the passenger side. I was tired and hungry and did not have the energy to focus on driving like a human. I hoped that Martha had taken blood to my room for me to feed as soon as I returned home. Alex laughed as he came around and opened my car door. Lauren and Daniel waved at us as they headed towards our car.

  “Good. We caught you,” Daniel sounded pleased. “Lauren and I are planning on going to the movies tonight. Did you want to come?”

  “Come on, it’ll be fun. I have been dying to have another girl to come and see romantic comedies with me and Alex you can keep Daniel company.” Lauren begged.

  Alex looked at me and shrugged, clearly leaving the decision up to me.

  “Sure,” I replied with more enthusiasm than I felt, “Sounds great.” In reality, it was a protection nightmare. We would be outside at night, unarmed and Alex had no idea about the danger he was in. On top of that, I was not looking forward to sitting next to Alex in a darkened cinema given my current weakness. I wondered in vain if Katherine would refuse to allow us to attend a late night function on a school night but knowing her indulgent tendencies and her desire to keep Alex human, I doubted it.

  We made plans to meet at 8:00pm outside the theatre and headed home. Alex was obviously excited to be getting out of the manor at night. I guessed that before I had arrived, Lucas and Katherine had not encouraged such activities. I tried to be enthusiastic but my stomach was churning. As usual, Alistair was waiting for us when we arrived home. He was standing on the top step talking with Michael. I could tell instantly that something was wrong by their huddled conversation and concerned look. Their expressions changed as Alex came into view. Michael was already opening the door for Alex when I reached the top of the stairs.

  “Mr Lucas would like to see you in the library.” Michael directed his comment towards me.

  “Certainly,” I replied tensely, failing to keep the anxiety from my voice.

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