San Antonio, Texas
The teenager in the Mazda’s passenger seat kept her arms tightly folded and the headphones of her Walkman clamped down immovably over her ears. Her mother should have known better, really. You can’t force a fifteen-year-old to move away from all of her friends and expect her to be happy about it.
Somehow, though, that seemed to be exactly what her mother was expecting. She chattered away at the unresponsive girl. “And we’ll be able to go hang out on the Riverwalk,” she was saying, as though the San Antonio Riverwalk was the be-all, end-all reason for moving anywhere. “And we’ll be so much closer to your Aunt Cecilia, and there’s the Alamo, and the culture is just so unique… Kim, are you listening?”
Kim was not listening. She was rolling her thumb across the Walkman’s volume knob so she wouldn’t have to listen.
They followed the big moving truck around Loop 1604 and off into the wilds of San Antonio. It was virtually frontier land, Kim thought. It was tiny for something called a “city”. It would never hold a candle to Houston.
The truck snaked through a tangle of residential streets, beneath a similar tangle of dark, old live oaks. The ground was thick with their powdery, yellow-brown pollen. It lay on sidewalks and rooftops and completely coated any car that had been sitting still too long. It coated the square, gray house that waited where they pulled up, and the unkempt lantanas by the door. It was a ridiculously ugly house, and Kim was pretty sure that opinion had nothing to do with her desire to live somewhere else. It was legitimately awful. Other than small, regular windows, its face was completely featureless. It looked like a prison. Maybe that opinion wasn’t entirely unbiased.
Two big men and a bent-over old one slid out of the cab of the truck and began to unload, with the two muscly ones lifting and carrying and the old one directing. Kim found the room that was meant to be hers and stayed out of the way by sitting on the floor of the closet with her music and a book. It wasn’t even a good book, but it was the only one that had escaped the packing boxes. It was also a library book, and the odds were that Kim was never going to have a chance to return it, now. She had never not returned a library book, before. One more small misery to add to the growing list.
When the men were gone, Kim and her mother unpacked a few boxes, just until they found a pot and two bowls with which to serve their improvised dinner of macaroni and lunch meat.
Two towels and a rolled-up sweatshirt served for blankets and pillows until the bedding could be found.
Some neighbors arrived the next day. One elderly couple brought a blueberry cobbler as a welcome-to-the-neighborhood present. They exchanged phone numbers with Kim’s mom and obtained a detailed description of the family car, including license plate number, so that they could be on guard against trespassers. A young couple brought a bowl of black-eyed peas and a green bean casserole. They repeated the ritual. Lasagna arrived later in the day, borne by a middle-aged couple that seemed to fall almost exactly between the old and the young. Kim was bright and cheerful until everyone was gone, because she didn’t want anyone to think her a morose teenager, even if she actually was one.
When the unpacking was finished, Kim’s mom went to work, and Kim stayed behind with piles and piles of books. She saw to her own homeschooling, which wasn’t exactly legal, but what the authorities didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. It was only for the end of the school year, anyway. She’d be back in high school come fall.
Besides, a young wizard’s education is a uniquely personal affair.
Math and science and history had their places on her shelves, but memorizing facts and formulas was easy for Kim. Magic was a lot more time consuming. The conventional wisdom was that only so much of it could be taught, and the rest had to be discovered in order to stick, and so Kim huddled in her room with a bag of chips and discovered.
The conventional wisdom, in Kim’s opinion, was crap. Her mom would have absolutely turned inside out if anyone had suggested teaching a teenager to drive by sticking her behind the wheel of a car and telling her to have at it, and if there was one thing that had been drilled into her head since birth, it was that there was absolutely nothing more dangerous than magic. It was like teaching a teenager to drive by sticking her in the cockpit of the Space Shuttle. Her cousins all got more guidance than she did, she was certain. But then, none of her cousins had mothers all set and lined up to take over North America’s most powerful Circle as soon as the patriarch decided he’d had enough.
Her cousins all had dads, too.
They had been in San Antonio about two weeks when the next-door neighbor got back to town. Kim was helping unload groceries from the trunk when a dark green Lincoln Continental coasted up into the next driveway. Its driver climbed out and ducked into the back seat to retrieve a battered brown suitcase. Then he straightened, shooting upward like a stalk of bamboo, tall and thin and wiry.
Kim gaped. He had to be six and a half feet tall, with his brown fedora pushing him toward seven. The afternoon light fragmented against the sharp angles of his narrow face, almost startlingly white beneath dark hair majestically winged with gray. Piercing, frost-pale eyes regarded her and her scrutiny with mild affront from behind wire-rimmed spectacles. A muscle twitched in his jaw, like a failed attempt at a smile.
He was spectacular. Spectacularly frightening. Sort of like her grandfather, Kim reflected.
“Good afternoon,” he said crisply, raising incredibly long, white fingertips to the brim of his hat. “Ma’am, Miss.”
English, Kim thought, or something like it. The ‘r’ was missing from ‘afternoon’, and ‘ma’am’ lengthened into ‘maahm’.
“Afternoon,” said Kim’s mom. Her fingers dug painfully into Kim’s upper arm and squeezed, pushing her toward the house.
Kim stumbled a step away and stopped. Her mother nudged her again, and she pushed back in irritation.
“Hi,” Kim said brightly. “I’m Kim, and this is my mom, Cindy. We just moved in while you were away.”
“Cynthia Reed,” her mom clarified. She gave Kim another discreet prod.
The man nodded, staring hard at Cynthia. “Daniel Leland,” he replied. “It’s a pleasure.” His sharp gaze traveled to Kim. “I think your mother wants you to go inside, Miss. It is usually best to do as your mother wants.”
Kim felt Cynthia stiffen beside her.
Daniel Leland’s thin lips twitched into an expression a little too sardonic to be called a smile. He locked his car and strode up the sidewalk to his front door, disappearing inside.
Cynthia seized the last remaining grocery bags, shut the trunk, herded her daughter inside, and locked the door.
“Holy beans, Mom,” Kim griped. “What the heck was that? I’m supposed to be polite, but you get to be a complete jerk to that man?”
Cynthia pressed her flat palm to the door and whispered a single word. Kim could feel the power that surged through the house’s walls, its windows, its roof, down into the foundation and the surrounding soil. It felt like caulk, something that was meant to stop up holes.
“That’s not a man,” Cynthia muttered. “Our neighbor is a vampire.”