Chapter 20 - Another Beginning Ends
When I woke I sensed someone in the room with me, but it wasn't Evangeline. Nora sat on the carpet by the large, curtained window. A sharp sliver of sunlight slipped through the curtain and fell on the floor. Nora was sitting in front of it, her legs tucked under her, peering at it with great interest.
She showed no signs of noticing my new found consciousness, so I watched her covertly for a moment. She leaned forward, closer to the sunlight, lifting her hand as if she were about to touch it, then pulling it back at the last minute. She repeated these actions three more times before I finally sat up.
"You're going to get a nasty surprise if you stick your hand in that light." I warned her, being sure I used French, not that her accent didn't have it's own charm.
"What is it?" she asked, still absorbed by the sunlight. "I can sense it, the way I do fire, but I cannot control it. It's so different, so... clean."
"Sunlight isn't everything it's cracked up to be." I said assuredly. "It's something humans and cats make a fuss over."
"I brought something for Angie." She stood up, a flat wooden box in her hands. "Will you return these to her?"
I took the box and lifted the lid. Inside was a bundle wrapped in blue silk. I lifted a corner of the silk, revealing silver. I closed the lid. "I'll be sure to return her weapons to her." I promised, tossing the box onto the bed. "Eventually."
Nora walked back over to the sliver of light on the ground, but she didn't sit. "You went back home for a bit?" I asked curiously.
"I had a few things to drop off. Kieran was kind enough to drive me." Her brow furrowed. "He reminds me of someone, but I cannot place who." Her expression cleared and she looked back at me. "You'll be going home soon, and I will admit I'm going to miss you a little."
I lay back on the bed. "Honestly, going home would be a relief, I am done with Paris for at least a century. I am just so tired of everyone trying to kill me. I promised Evangeline that I would help her here until the Black Rose stops harassing the school, and vice versa..."
"I don't think you will have any more worries." Nora said. "Everything has been taken care of."
I sat up again quickly. "What do you mean?"
Her smile was mysterious. "You will find out when Ms. Brun announces it to the school later on."
"If you've found a way to solves everyone's problems, then there really is no reason to stay..." I mused. "You should come back to New York with us." I said impulsively.
She gave me an incredulous look. "Whatever for?"
"Because..." I clenched my right hand reflexively. "I need you... you're my salvation."
Understanding dawned in her expression and her eyes grew sad. She began to shake her head and pain stabbed right through my heart. "You said that earlier, but I am not your salvation."
I was off of the bed and kneeling before her in an instant. "No, I know it now." I gripped her shoulders tightly with both hands. "You're Nora, and I saved you, didn't I? You're finally out of that hole in the ground. You're the only one that can save me." This little girl was the only vampire in all of Paris that hadn't tried to kill me on sight. The one thing I knew though, was that I didn't deserve her. I had killed the only person I had ever truly cared about. It was only natural that the whole world turned on me.
"I will not save you, Gabriel." she said softly. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't. Because, you see, I'm grateful for what you did. If you had not killed your wife, then I would not be Nora. How can I save you from the act that I benefited from?"
My bones ached with the weariness of dragging my worthless hide around. I bowed my head before this little girl, too shaken by pain and grief to even look at her. "Please... please... If you don't, then..." There was a gaping wound in my heart, large enough to swallow me in darkness. "How can I forgive myself?"
Cool, tiny hands cupped my cheeks gently. Hot tears spilled from my eyes, sliding down over them. "You do not need me." She smiled at me kindly, an endless well of sympathy in her golden eyes. "You have someone already who has forgiven you. You've hurt her, nearly killed her, but she is still standing beside you." she whispered. "She thinks so little of her own life that she throws it away to drag you from the flames of your guilt." Nora pressed her forehead to mine and laughed softly. "Just imagine what she would do if she liked you."
I shook my head. "I don't understand. Are you talking about Evangeline? She's only-"
Nora smacked the side of my head lightly, her expression turning stern. "She is human, and frail. She is foolish, and reckless. She is there for you, and always will be... as long as you don't force her away."
"You're wrong, she's just-" I started again.
"It's time for you to go." Nora interrupted, releasing me. "Get up and get out of here."
"Are you ordering me around?" I asked her incredulously as I got to my feet.
"Yes, I don't want you to miss the announcement." She turned and headed for the door.
"Wait, what's this announcement about?" I scooped the box up off the bed and followed her.
"I'm not going to spoil it, you'll have to wait and see."
Everyone in the school packed themselves into the church, which was the only open place with enough seats for everyone. A black banner hung over the stained glass behind the altar. A silver urn sat on the altar, looking beautiful and grim at the same time.
All of the students were in uniform, but wore black sashes tied around their upper arm. Franceska and Aiden walked up to me silently. Despite their stylistic differences they both wore heavy eyeliner, and it had streaked down their cheeks from now-dried tears. Franceska reached out to me, without looking at my face, and tied one of the black sashes around my upper arm. Aiden stared at me with wide eyes that were full of questions, and fear of the answers.
Amie was behind them. She planted herself at my side immediately. "If you need to cry, no one will think anything wrong of it." She told me.
"I don't think I have anything left right now." My voice sounded hollow to my own ears.
She nodded, her eyes welling up. "I, on the other hand, seem to have an unlimited supply."
"Did she suffer?" Aiden asked suddenly, as if she couldn't hold it in any longer.
Her sister gave her a stern look. "Aiden!" she hissed. "Ne demandez pas à quelque chose comme ça!"
Aiden brought her hands up to her mouth. "Je ne peux pas l'aider. Personne ne nous dira ce qui s'est passé. I want to know if she was in pain." Fresh tears slipped down her cheek.
Seeing Daisy's friends in this state, I wanted to lie to them, to tell them that Daisy's death had been quick and painless. But... that would taint her memory, that had to be carried by their hearts.
I looked down at my hands. "She... um, she didn't die easily." I began. "She fought back, and protected the children. She was hurt because of it."
Aiden nodded, sniffing hard, trying to blink back her tears. "That sounds like her."
"Professor Barnes!" Amie called suddenly. The professor had been walking past us, but turned when he heard his name. Amie pulled a paper out of her pocket as he approached. She separated from me to meet him just before he joined the group.
The paper was an envelope, plain white, with a pink sticker closing it. "Daisy told me to throw this away, but I kept it." Amie started shaking a little as she spoke, till the envelope trembled. "I knew that she might give it to you, one day." She held it out to him.
Professor Barnes looked truly surprised, his glasses slipping a little. "What is it?" he asked, not taking the envelope.
Amie frowned, thinking hard. "I don't know the word." she said helplessly. "She thought of you, a lot."
Professor Barnes shook his head and swallowed. "I cannot take that." he said. "It wouldn't be right."
Amie's shoulders sagged. I stepped up then. "Please take it, Professor." I told him. "A girl's feelings are in there."
"That's why I cannot take it. I've never done anything to suggest-"
"No one thinks you did." I told him. "It's one-sided, yes, but please just accept her feelings, for her own sake."
"You don't have to read it, just keep it." Amie said. "Please, Professor."
He looked at me, and I nodded encouragingly. He lifted up both hands and Amie gently dropped the envelope into them. "Thank you." he said quietly, and Amie hurried back to her friends.
I lingered, watching the Professor's face. "It's heavy." His voice was soft as he stared at the envelope.
"It's only paper." I assured him.
"It feels so very heavy." He tucked it away into his inside jacket pocket. He looked at me. "Still, I will carry it."
"I'm sure that's more than Daisy could have hoped for." I told him.
"Excuse me, I'm needed at the altar." he turned quickly and walked towards the front of the church.
Ms. Brun stood at the Altar, surveying her brood. All of the muted conversations immediately hushed.
Kieran was suddenly at my side, his attention on his mother. "Shouldn't you be up there?" I asked.
"Then who will translate for you?" he asked.
"Thanks." I said shyly.
He took my hand in his and kissed the back of it. "Anything for a pretty woman."
A strange feeling washed over me. "What?"
He smirked. "I said 'Tout pour une jolie femme'. It means-"
"Anything for a pretty woman." I interrupted him.
His smile widened. "Your French is improving."
"Yeah, I guess." I pulled my hand from his, my stomach tightening uncomfortably.
Ms. Brun began speaking, so we both turned our attentions back to the altar. Kieran began translating for me, keeping his voice low.
"Tonight, we say goodbye to a student and a friend, someone who was caring, thoughtful, and had more strength than anyone could imagine. When a good friend leaves us, we must hold them in our hearts, so that they are never forgotten."
"Daisy risked her life protecting our most vulnerable pupils. At a time that the entire school was defenseless, she faced the threat by herself, with courage and strength. She symbolizes everything this school was built for."
"Many who see St. Katrina's School for Girls from the outside see a school that raises hunters. There are those inside the school that also believe this. But that assumption is not correct. Every student here was once a victim of a very specific threat. Our school's goal is not to thrust ourselves back into the position of 'victim' by hunting, but to understand our threat, so that we are never victims again."
Ms. Brun paused, letting her eyes fall on each face in the church. "It is with the goal of the school in mind, that I will acknowledge and present another individual. A person that risked her existence to protect this school. She is not one of us, but we have become a part of her. Without her actions last night, our casualties would have been much greater."
"As we say goodbye to one student, we also welcome another. May I introduce Nora Manigault, Saint Katrina's first papillon student."
There were gasps and cries of exclamation throughout the church. I looked at Kieran, but he didn't seem surprised. I looked back to the altar as Nora climbed the steps up to it. She wore a school uniform, the crimson and maroon contrasting with her long golden hair. The pale pink shirt gave her face some color, and when she smiled, she practically glowed.
She bowed deeply to the other students. "I understand my presence here must be confusing and unwanted, but as long as I am here I promise that the Black Rose will never harm any of you, and neither will I."
She appeared to take a breath, preparing herself. Despite her smile, I could see she was nervous, unsure of herself. It was almost unbearably cute.
"You want to understand papillons, and I want to understand you." She looked around the church. "This place, it feels so new here, but also comforting, I want to understand that as well." She folded her hands in front of her. "I met Daisy the first night I came here, she was taking care of the children. She didn't know who I was, but she still welcomed me warmly. She was kind to me and let me read to the girls." Nora's smile was wide, but tears shimmered in her eyes. "The girls will miss her so much, I'm sorry that she is gone now."
Franceska and Aiden looked at each other, their expressions identical in their confusion and doubt. Aiden's eyes welled up again and Franceska wrapped her arms around her sister.
"That girl is either the purest creature in the world, or the greatest manipulator." Kieran said softly.
"Manipulator?" I asked.
"How else could she get every student to accept her, even begrudgingly, except by shedding tears for one of their own, right in front of them? She is either a genius or a complete innocent."
"Hmm." I said. He had a point, but I couldn't bring myself to think anything bad of Nora. "If she's going to be staying here, then you can keep an eye on her, make sure she stays out of trouble."
"There is that."
"I think it's a good idea, you guys can learn a lot from her. Then again, I already live with two vampires, so maybe I am biased." I shrugged.
He looked me up and down. "Perhaps."
The cafeteria was empty, except for one figure, leaning back against a table, staring up at the large painting that dominated the room. The broken glass and debris that had littered the floor just hours ago was now all swept away. The gaping hole in the stained glass window was covered with cardboard and duct tape.
I tucked the large book under my arm securely before stepping inside. "You didn't go to the church." I commented.
"I don't like them any more." Gabriel said with a shrug. "I listened from here."
"I find it hard to believe that you could actually hear everything from this far away, in a separate building."
"I heard all the important information." Keeping his eyes on the painting, he lifted up a box and held it out to me.
I took it from him and found it to be rather hefty. I opened it and gasped with sudden relief and joy. "I thought these were gone forever." I pulled out the 9mm and silver glove.
I slipped the glove on and flexed my fingers, finding it still in perfect working order. I checked the gun and found bullets still in the clip. They hadn't been changed or damaged in any way. Strange, considering they had been in enemy hands. You would suspect at least a booby trap.
"Have you always been this drawn to weapons?" Gabriel asked, his voice sounding strange.
I paused. "No. I used to hate guns when I was younger. Chris tried to take me hunting with him and I never wanted to go. How could anyone hurt something that couldn't fight back and didn't do anything wrong?"
"When did you change your mind?"
A shadow of pain flickered inside of me. "I met someone who was into guns, but he practiced at a range. Just black papers on the wall, nothing to hurt. That's where I really learned." I stared at the gun in my hand, flashes of buried memories going through my mind. It was a beautiful piece, and I thought about how he would probably agree.
"He taught you to shoot." It wasn't a question, but I nodded anyway. "He must be special, to go against yourself for him."
My smile was swift, automatic, and false. "Not really." I lied. "Just someone I used to hang out with. He probably doesn't even remember me anymore." That last part was most likely true. "It's a good thing I got into guns, though, or I'd probably be dead by now."
Gabriel closed his eyes for a long second. This was odd, as he didn't need to blink. "I don't think so. You would have found another way to survive."
Heat flared inside of me, burning my cheeks. "How long are you going to look at that painting?" I asked, covering up a sudden shyness. "We should probably be heading home."
"I'm almost done." he answered.
"Are you memorizing it?"
"No, I already know every detail. I'm just thinking."
"What's on your mind?"
"I'm wondering how much she did in the fifty years I was gone. How many secrets am I going to discover as I live in that house? And... how many will I never find out?"
"I think I can help you a little bit there." I said. I held out Great Aunt Katrina's journal to him.
Finally, he turned to me, his eyes falling to the book. He took it from my hand gingerly, then lifted his eyes to me. "You kept your promise." He seemed genuinely surprised, which made me feel a little insulted.
"Well, you kept yours. Come on, you can read it on the plane." I turned to leave. "I bet Callie has turned the house upside down by now."
I turned back to him, surprised by his tone. He was looking straight at me. "You are not Katrina." he said.
"I know that." I laughed. "Though I think that's the first time you've said that to me where it didn't sound like an insult."
His shrug was slow. "It is what it is."
"Well, I don't plan on becoming Katrina."
"That is probably for the best."
"Do you think the house is still standing?" I asked as we turned onto the little road cutting through the trees, leading to the house. The black taxi we had taken from the airport sped off, eager to get another fare that wasn't so remote.
"It had better be." Gabriel said, Great Aunt Katrina's journal open in one hand, his suitcase in the other. I hadn't seen him put the book down since I gave it to him, even reading it while he walked. He was so absorbed in it at the airport that I had to steer him out of the way so he wouldn't walk right into someone. Twice.
"I say there's a fifty percent chance the house is still all together, I know my brother, and we both know Callie." I teased.
"Let's hurry." he said, walking faster. He snapped the book closed just as we emerged from the trees.
The house loomed silently in the moonlight, like a lighthouse in a sea of white gravel. A feeling of peace washed over me. I was home. "It's quiet." I sighed happily.
"Too quiet." Gabriel said suspiciously. He was at the door before I could blink, pressing the doorbell button.
It flew open right away. Callie pushed Gabriel to the side rudely and skipped down the porch steps to me. "Angie!" she called, hugging me tightly. "I missed you so much!" She loosened her hold on me only a little. "And I'm sorry about your friend." her voice turned sympathetic.
"Hey, can you stop smothering my sister for a second, Callie?" Chris said, right behind her.
Callie sighed. "Fine, you can have a turn smothering her."
She released me and Chris immediately wrapped me up in a huge bear hug. "You're trying to kill me." I managed to gasp out.
"If I did, would that mean I inherit the house?" Chris asked teasingly as he set me back on my feet.
"NO." Gabriel said sternly from the porch.
"Doesn't Gabriel get any love?" I asked as I popped two new kinks out of my spine.
Callie and Chris looked over at him. He was back to leafing through the diary. "Meh." they said at the same time.
"Oh! Cassie brought over some chocolate cake." Callie grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door. Chris scooped up my suitcase and followed. "So, how was Paris?"
"Well, I didn't fall in love." I laughed.
There was a sudden pang in my chest when I said that, like the shadow of an old pain, but this one was new. It was small and flickering, but it still hurt. My hand instinctively went to my heart. Callie gave me a curious look, and I forced a smile.
I buried that small pain, covering it under the scar tissue that had built up a long time ago. It was so small, so easy to ignore. I wasn't going to let it bother me.