Read Fade Out Online

Authors: Rachel Caine

Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Vampire, #Urban Fantasy

Fade Out (5 page)

BOOK: Fade Out
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At the back, in a special Velcro pocket, were her special supplies—the vampire-related ones: a couple of heavy, silver-plated stakes that she hoped never to have to use; a couple of injectable pens that she and Myrnin had rigged up with the serum Dr. Mills had developed, just in case there were still a few vampires around who hadn’t gotten the shot and might be—to put it kindly—unstable. And she wasn’t sure Morley from the cemetery didn’t qualify, but she was glad she hadn’t gotten close enough to use the pen, either.

Folded and shoved all the way to the back was the piece of paper Myrnin had given her with a sequence scribbled on it in symbols. As she did daily, Claire memorized it. She’d test herself later, drawing out the symbols and comparing them against the original. Myrnin had said the reset sequence was only to be used in emergencies, but she had the feeling that if it really got to that point, the last thing she’d have time for would be to try to figure out his sloppy drawing.

She repacked her bag, making sure she could easily slide the books in and out this time, and hefted it experimentally. The strap creaked, and she heard another thread snap. Really need a new one. She wondered where Eve picked up her cute patent leather ones, embossed either with the pink kitty or cute skulls; probably not in town, Claire guessed. Morganville wasn’t exactly Fashion Central.

Breakfast was a family thing in the Danvers house, and Claire actually kind of looked forward to it. She didn’t often make it back for lunch or dinner, but every morning she sat with her mom and dad. Mom asked her about classes; Dad asked her about her job. Claire didn’t know how other families in Morganville worked, but hers seemed pretty . . . normal. At least in the abstract. The specifics were bound to be freaky.

Breakfast over (and, as always, delicious), Claire headed out for school. Morganville was a small-enough town that walking was easy, if you liked that sort of thing, and Claire did—usually. Today, with her gross-looking face throbbing with the heat of the sun, she wished she’d taken up her dad’s offer of buying her a car, even if it had come with the attached strings of also seeing a lot less of her boyfriend. She hadn’t told Shane that he meant more to her than having a car. That seemed like commitment any guy would find scary.

Claire stopped in at the first open store—Pablo’s Market, near the university district—and found a black cloth cap with a brim that shaded her face. That helped, and it made her feel a bit less obviously disfigured . . . until she heard a horn honk behind her, and looked over her shoulder to see a red convertible gliding up next to her on the street.

Claire turned face-forward and kept walking. Faster.

“What is it?” she heard a voice ask from the backseat of the car. Gina or Jennifer; Claire could never tell their voices apart. “It looks kind of human.”

“I don’t know. Zombie? We’ve had zombies here, right?” Gina (or Jennifer)’s vocal twin said. “Could be a zombie. Hey, how do you kill a zombie?”

“Cut its head off,” a third voice said. There was no doubt about whom that voice belonged to, no doubt at all: Monica. It was cool, confident, and commanding. “Let’s find the brain-freak and ask her—she’d know. Hey, zombie chick. Have you seen Claire Danvers, Girl Brain?”

Claire flipped her off and kept walking. Monica—black-haired again, no doubt looking shiny and pretty—was just a vague shadow in her peripheral vision, and Claire wanted to keep it that way.

And she knew, fatalistically, that it was never going to happen.

In fact, Monica didn’t like being flipped off. She accelerated the sports car, whipped it around the corner, and came to a hard stop to block Claire’s progress across the street. Monica and Gina snapped at each other, probably arguing about the specifics of how to kick Claire’s ass without breaking a nail or scuffing a shoe.

Claire gave it up and crossed the street.

Monica threw the car into reverse, and blocked her there, too.

They played the game two more times, back and forth, before Claire finally just stopped and stood there, staring at Monica.

Who laughed. “Oh my God, it is the brain-freak. You know freak is only an expression, right? You didn’t actually have to become a circus attraction just for me.”

“It’s the new thing. High-speed tanning. I’m on the way to an awesome summer glow; you should try it,” Claire said. Jennifer actually laughed. She looked immediately guilty. “I’m going to be late for class.”

“Good. That’ll move the bell curve back toward the middle.”

“Only if you actually attended to drag it down.”

“Ooooh, zing,” Monica said. “I’m crushed, because brains are my only asset. No, wait—that would be you, right?”

Claire sighed. “What do you want?” Because it was kind of obvious they wanted something—and probably something other than just the daily harassment. Monica had worked at cutting her off, after all, and Monica just didn’t do work.

“I need a tutor,” Monica said. “I don’t get this economics bullshit. There are fractions and stuff.”

Economics, in Claire’s opinion, was voodoo science, but she shrugged. Math was math. “Okay. Tomorrow. Fifty bucks, and before we get into it, I won’t take a test for you, steal the answers, or come up with some high-tech way for you to cheat.”

Monica raised her perfect eyebrows. “You do know me.”

“Yes or no.”


“Common Grounds, three o’clock. You buy the mocha.”

“Greedy little bitch,” Monica said. Business deal concluded, she flipped Claire off with a perfectly manicured finger, smiled, and said, “You look like shit. Love the hat—where’d you get it, Cousin Cletus on the short bus?”

Their laughter lingered, along with the exhaust, as the three girls sped off on their usual mission of chaos and destruction.

Claire took a deep breath, pulled the hat down lower over her face, and went across the street to enter the gates of Texas Prairie University.

Claire loved classes. Oh, not the actual lectures, really—professors were, as a rule, not that exciting in person. But the knowledge. That was right there for the taking, as much as you could grab and hold on to—more than you ever wanted, in some classes.

Like English Lit, which she still didn’t know why she had to take, and which was her last class of the day. It wasn’t as if the Brontë sisters were going to make a difference in her daily life, right? Not like math, which was underneath everything from cooking to construction to going to the moon. No, science was definitely cooler.

At least until today, when her attention was temporarily pulled in by the class assignment.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

It was the strangest thing to read those words of Oscar Wilde at the beginning of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and think of Myrnin saying them, because it was eerily like the kind of explanation he’d give. It gave Claire a strange little lurch, wondering if Myrnin had ever met Oscar Wilde, who had been quite a partyer, apparently. She’d never really considered the lives of vampires much, but now reality set in, and it was strange.

For Myrnin—and Oliver, and Amelie, and most of the vampires she’d ever met—history wasn’t just stuff written in a book, or sometimes captured in an old, stiff photo. For them, history happened day after day after day. Oscar Wilde had just happened a whole lot of days ago.

She bet Myrnin had met him. Probably borrowed his hat or something.

That thought distracted her so much, she didn’t hear her phone ring at first; she’d set it to ultrasonic, so the professor rambled on down on the stage of the stadium-seating room without noticing a thing. Those around her did, though, and she smiled an apology, switched it to silent, and checked the name on the tiny screen. It was Eve. Claire texted her back—IC for in class. It was their standard code. Eve texted CG ASAP OMG. Meaning, get to Common Grounds as soon as she could.







Claire smiled and folded up the phone, and refocused on the professor, who hadn’t noticed a thing. The last ten minutes of class seemed to crawl by, but she did try to pay close attention. If she was going to seriously ask Myrnin about Oscar Wilde, it might help to actually know something about the dude. Something other than he was snarky, and more or less gay.

After class, Claire jogged through the campus quad, across the grass, and out to the gates. It was still midaft ernoon, so there was loads of time left before sunset. That was a good thing, because it was kind of nice to be out in the fresh air before it got, as Eve liked to title it, THTL—too hot to live, which lasted from about June through October. It didn’t take long to make the trip to Common Grounds. Claire kept her head down, mostly using the cap shading her face to keep passersby from staring at her in horror.

She got to Common Grounds, and for the first time it occurred to her that the place might very well be totally packed, and she might really get stared at, for real. Wonderful. Well, nothing she could do about that.

Claire took a deep breath, pulled the door open, and stepped inside. The interior was dim after the brilliant sunlight, and she blinked away glare and looked around the room. It was crowded, all right—maybe forty people clustered around small café tables, drinking their mochas and lattes and espresso shots. Students, at this hour. The mix of caffeine enthusiasts changed after dark.

Everybody stared as she passed. Claire tried to pretend it was because of how fabulously cute she was, but that was a leap of faith she really couldn’t make, and now her sunburn was worse because she was blushing on top of it, and also, ow.

Eve was all the way toward the back, jammed into a corner and defending an empty chair across the table with sharp glares and careful deployment of harsh words. She looked relieved as Claire dropped into the seat, leaned her heavy backpack against the table leg, and sighed, “I really need coffee.”

Eve stared at her face for a few long seconds, then said, “And I can see why. Yo! Mocha!”

She snapped her fingers.

She snapped her fingers at Oliver, who was behind the counter pulling espresso shots. He looked up at her with blank contempt. “Yo,” he repeated with poisonous sarcasm. “I am not your waitress.”

“Really? Because we tip, if that helps. And you’d look really good in a frilly apron.”

Oliver slammed back the pass-through hinged section of the bar and came out to stand over their table, giving them the full benefit of his presence. And that, to put it mildly, was intimidating. “What do you want, Eve?”

“Well, I’d like the blue-plate special of you thrown out of Morganville, with a side order of dead, but I’ll settle for a mocha for my friend.” Eve tapped purple metallic fingernails against the china of her coffee cup, and didn’t look away from Oliver’s glare. “What you going to do, Oliver? Ban me for life from your crappy shop?”

“I’m considering it.” Some of the aggression faded out of him, replaced by curiosity. “Why are you challenging me, Eve?”

“Why shouldn’t I? We’re not exactly besties,” Eve said. “And besides, you’re a jerk.”

He smiled, but it wasn’t a nice sort of smile. “And how have I offended you recently?”

“You were totally going to screw us over last night, weren’t you?”

Oliver’s smile faded. “I came when Amelie called. As I always do.”

“Until you don’t, right? Sooner or later, she’s going to ring the little bell and faithful servant Ollie isn’t going to show up to save her ass. That’s the plan. Death by slacking, and you don’t even get your hands dirty.”

“And how is that any business of yours, in any case?” Oliver’s eyes were dark, very dark, and full of secrets that Claire wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“It’s not. I just don’t like you.” Eve tapped her talons again. “Mocha?”

He glanced at Claire’s blistered face and said, without too much sympathy, “That’s quite disfiguring.”

“I know.”

“A week should see it right.” Which was, weirdly, kind of comforting in its dismissal of her problems. “Very well, mocha.” But he didn’t leave. Eve widened her eyes and looked irritated.


“It’s customary to pay for things you buy.”

“Oh, come on. . . .”

“Four fifty.”

Claire dug a five-dollar bill from the pocket of her jeans and handed it over. Oliver left.

“Why are you doing that?” she asked Eve, a little anxiously. Because hey, it was cool and everything, to get in Oliver’s face, but it was also not exactly safe.

“Because they cast him as Mitch, which means I have to pretend to actually like the dude. Ugh.”

“Oh, the play. Right. I, uh, looked it up. Looks interesting.” Claire said that kind of halfheartedly, because it didn’t, at least to her. It sounded like a lot of middle-aged people having melodrama.

“It is interesting,” Eve said, and brightened up immediately. “Blanche is sort of really the symbol of the way women oppress themselves; she just can’t live without a man. Come to think of it, based on that, I guess Oliver’s casting was genius.”

“So . . . you’re playing a woman who can’t live without a man?”

“It’s a stretch, but the director wanted to do this post-modern kind of take on it, so he went with Goth girls for Blanche and Stella.”

“Goth girls, plural,” Claire repeated. “I kind of thought you were the only one in town.”

“Not quite.”

“Eve? You 911ed me?”

“Oh—uh, yeah, I did. I wanted you to meet—oh, there she is! Kim!”

Claire looked around. A girl had just come in the door of the coffee shop, not quite as Goth as Eve, but quite a bit farther down the curve than anybody else in the room. She had long black hair, dyed jet-black, with bubble-gum pink stripes. Her makeup was mostly eyeliner. She wore less-outrageous stuff, but what she did wear seemed kind of grim—black cargo pants, plain black shirt,black leather wristband, which had (of course) a vampire symbol on it.

BOOK: Fade Out
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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