I raced for the bathroom before either the vampires or my dad could see me. I had to calm down. Pretend I hadn’t heard anything. Too bad my reflection in the mirror was a worse sight than the graffiti-tagged stall doors. Anyone with half a brain would be able to tell something was wrong.
I had no color, and my eyes looked about ten times too big for my face. Vampires. Delivering something to my dad. From Damian’s dad. My stomach cramped like I’d been kicked with a steel-toed boot.
My dad was not what he seemed. The question now was: what exactly was he hiding?
“Damn it.” I took breath after breath until my skin stopped buzzing from the shock. I had to go back in there. I had to eat my food and pretend I didn’t know he was like me. Or that I was like me, either.
My dad was sitting at our table playing with a dinner roll, looking like a guy without a care in the world. Or maybe like a vegan without a stuffed horde glaring at him like he was a traitor. Underneath the façade, though, his eyes were skittish. Whether from the vampires or the taxidermy, I didn’t know. “Are you all right, Tallulah?”
“Just washing my hands. Have you been back long?” I picked up my fork and knife, swallowing as a wave of uck hit my stomach from the smell of my dinner. After tonight’s shock, I might never be able to eat chicken parmesan again.
“Who does?” I put off eating my chicken and took a sip of my soda. My face puckered; the taste was ripe enough to make me temporarily forget the vampires. “Oh, gross.”
My dad stopped mid-lift of his fork, the strands of pasta he’d twirled dripping red sauce like blood. “Is something wrong?”
“This is so not Coke. It tastes like dirty socks.”
My father set his fork down, a frown deepening the lines in his forehead. “I know the owner here. Please don’t embarrass me.”
I poked at my plate. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means drink the soda and don’t say anything to the waitstaff.” He paused. “Please.”
I let out a loud, probably obnoxious sigh. My dad had a thing about food. Even if it tasted like it was rancid, you ate it. All of it. And you didn’t complain. It must be an English thing. “It tastes moldy, dad.”
“You won’t get sick. Just drink it.”
I glared at the glass. He’d done this to me in New York, too, the night I was attacked. The berry sauce on my cheesecake had tasted funky, but he’d made me practically lick the plate clean. As a matter of fact, it had tasted almost like my soda…
“So I was thinking. While I’m out of town, would you be able to mind my plants? My Vanda coerulea needs special watering every few days. It’s an endangered species.”
“Oh.” I took a deep gulp of my soda, wincing as it coated my tongue. “Yeah. Sure, I guess.” My dad and his flowers. Endangered orchids. And those stinky ones outside his house. Which, given the recent developments with the vampire delivery guy, made me wish I hadn’t ignored my grandmother and what she was babbling about them. “So all those flowers and stuff at the house—did you plant them?”
His eyebrows came down. “Yes. Why?”
“What were the ones by the house? They smelled like copper.”
“Are you interested in botany?” He voice lifted in surprise.
“Just curious. I mean, do they need special watering, too?”
He shook his head and then took a sip of wine. “The Aconitum anthora? No. Healing Wolfsbane grows quite well on its own out here, despite being native to the Carpathians.”
Wolfsbane. Wasn’t that like a werewolf repellent? “What about the stuff in the trees? The mistletoe.”
My dad smiled. “Mistletoe is a parasite. Did you know that? I was quite surprised to see it growing on the trees when I purchased the house. It was one of the things that charmed me about the place.”
I’d actually looked up mistletoe after my first visit. The druids had used it as a magic activator. People had also believed that if enemies met underneath it they had to lay down their arms and request a truce until the following day. Given my dad’s sudden knowledge of vampires, it was handy stuff assuming the vamps believed in the truce-thing, too.
“Now enough about botany. Let’s talk about how school is going.” He leaned over, sliding my glass closer to my hand. “And drink your soda, Tallulah. If you finish it, I’ll let you order the tiramisu. It’s out of this world.”
I looked at my glass. It tasted like my cheesecake had. Thinking back, it tasted like a lot of things I’d eaten with my dad. And the vampires had just given him something. One dose, he’d said.
My father had slipped something into my drink that the vampires had made. And if I was thinking straight, remembering endless mediocre dinners over the course of a lifetime right, it wasn’t the first time