“There, there, chiquita,” Damian murmured tenderly as he wiped the tears from Julie’s face with a soft cloth. The little girl sat on the counter next to the kitchen sink where Damian had put her while he washed the blood from her scraped knee. “It’s all right, little one. Dry your eyes. Does it still hurt very badly?”
Julie shook her head, but her lower lip continued to tremble and the occasional sob still wracked her slight frame. “N-no. Not too bad.”
“That’s my brave girl.” Damian saw no sense in driving home the point that the cause of her upset, the small cut she’d received while riding her bicycle, was already healed.He understood how she was feeling. He too found it difficult at times to recover his equilibrium once it had been sufficiently disturbed. His tendency to stay upset long after he ought to have recovered was something Conrad had never understood or properly appreciated.
“I told you we should have gone to the park,” Marc observed from his perch on one of the kitchen stools. “We almost never fall off when we ride our bikes there.”
Damian nodded. “Yes, Marc, you’re quite right.” The local park, with its smooth pavement and gently graded paths, was much easier for beginning cyclists to navigate than the uneven terrain and brick patio in their own backyard. On the other hand, there were usually other parents at the park, too many of whom might be inclined to notice cuts and scrapes that healed over too quickly. “But, as I’ve already explained to you, it gets dark very late during the summer months. It’s not practical for you two to spend much of your evenings at the park right now. Most boys and girls your age are already home in their beds and fast asleep.”
“Why can’t we go there during the day like the other children do?”
Because you’re not like the other children. Damian sighed. No. That was another point he need not mention. Marc was over-sensitive enough on the subject. “Because you’re already very lucky in that you get to stay up all night. I’m sure all those other children wish they could do the same.”
Julie frowned. “I don’t want to go to the park during the day. The sun makes my head hurt—my tummy too.”
“That’s ’cause we can’t ever eat when we’re there,” Marc said. “The other kids do. They have sandwiches and cookies and things like that. I bet that’s why the sun doesn’t bother them. They like it when it’s sunny!”
Julie’s eyes abruptly silvered. “They do not, Marc! You’re making that up. That’s stupid.”
Marc snarled back at her, his fangs dropping plainly into view. “I’m not making it up. You’re stupid.”
“Children!” Damian scowled at them both. “Enough! I will not stand for you calling each other names. You will both calm down—inmediatamente—and apologize at once.”
The twins scowled mutinously at him, their little chests heaving as they fought to regain control. Finally, their fangs safely back within their gums, their eyes returned to normal, they muttered, “Sorry,” in grudging tones. But then Marc fixed Damian with a stubborn glare. “Tell her I’m right. Youknow it’s true. They do like it. They said so.”
Damian nodded. “Sí. It’s very possible they did. And if it makes you feel any better, I’m sure when the two of you are older you won’t mind the sun so much either. I know it’s hard right now, but you just have to be patient, mis niños. Everything will get easier with time. When you’re older, you’ll be able to do almost anything you want.” At least he hoped that would be the case.
“But maybe if we ate the same food they eat, like cookies or something, we wouldn’t have to wait until we’re older.”
“No, Marc.” Damian shook his head. “No matter what kind of meal you ate, or when you ate it, you still would not be at your best when the sun is shining. That’s just the way things are, chico. And cookies are not even a meal—as I know I’ve told you several times already. They’re something children eat just for the fun of it.” He lifted Julie from the counter and set her on her feet. “But all this talk of cookies reminds me of something I’d almost forgotten. Are you two ready now to hear about the surprise I promised you yesterday?”
The twins both nodded.
“Bueno.” Damian smiled. “As it happens, I got up early today and went to the store while you were both still asleep and bought some supplies. Tonight I thought we would all learn how to bake cookies.And then, maybe, the next time you see the other children at the park, or perhaps if we invite them back here to play some time, you can share your snacks with them. Does that sound like something you’d enjoy, niños?”
“Yes!” Marc bounced excitedly. “I would! I would!”
“What kind of cookies are we making?” Julie asked cautiously. “Are they good? Will I like them?”
“I hope so, chica. I bought enough ingredients to make several kinds, so I’m sure at least one of them will suit you. I thought we’d make chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin and peanut butter and something called Snickerdoodles—although possibly not all of them tonight.”
Julie giggled. “Snickerdoodles? That’s funny. Why’s it called that?”
Damian shrugged. “I have no idea, niña. But they’re made with both sugar and cinnamon so I’m sure they must be very tasty.”
Julie giggled again. “That’s another silly word. Cinnamon. What does it mean?”
“It’s a spice,” Marc answered, looking very pleased with himself. “Don’t you remember? Grandfather told us all about the spices. They’re those things that grow on islands and people want them to make their food taste better, so they come in big ships and steal the spices and make everybody slaves.”
“They used to do that, Marc,” Damian corrected. “Not so much anymore.”
Julie frowned. “Ships? I thought it was camels. Didn’t he say that they piled all the spice things up in big bundles on top of camels and then rode them across all those horrible, dry, sunny deserts?”
Damian sighed. He’d really have to have a word with Conrad about what he thought he was teaching the children. “I’m sure your grandfather wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t so, chica, but once again, nowadays most people simply buy their spices in a store. And, if they’re going to travel to remote islands or cross deserts, or travel any distance at all, they generally do so by airplane.”
“We don’t,” Marc pointed out.
“Very true.” Damian suppressed a shudder as he thought about it. Like most vampires he found the dehydrating effects of plane travel intensely uncomfortable. Then again, the same could be said for long ocean voyages, or traversing endless deserts… Most forms of travel, actually. It was not too hard to imagine how the silly rumor about vampires needing to sleep in their native soil got started, given how reluctant most of them were to stray too far from the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings.
He and Conrad were lucky in that the eastern portion of this continent held an abundance of suitably obscure communities in which to hide—most of them at a reasonable distance from either oceans or deserts. Moving every few years might be tedious, but at least it did not have to be actually painful. Assuming they could continue to avoid running into any others of their kind, they stood a good chance of raising the children with a minimum of danger, discomfort or death. Still, that was not a subject he need think about tonight. He smiled brightly at both of the children. “Now, let’s get started. Shall we?”
Damian and Conrad's road has been a rocky one, and Damian is struggling to trust in the relationship he and Conrad now share -- what seems like a perfect love. After all, it's fallen apart before, why couldn't it do the same again?
Secrecy and conflict within the nest continues to grow, and Georgia's hold on the deadly secret she carries begins to erode. What she hides threatens their entire species...