Shay rubbed a towel against her damp hair as she headed down the stairs to the kitchen. She’d changed into a new pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt after her shower and stared at her red, puffy face in the mirror for at least a half hour. Judging by the little sunlight streaming through the sheer curtains on her bedroom window, it was still early.
“Good morning,” she said to Ace as she stepped onto the tiled floor of the kitchen and saw the girl sitting in a stool at the island.
Ace nodded in acknowledgment and took another bite from her apple.
She was dressed in a sports bra, basketball sports, and running shoes. An iPod was tucked into the pocket of a band around her upper arm and the headphone were draped around her neck. A newspaper was laid out across the counter in front of her.
Vivienne had told her that Ace always woke up around dawn to go for a run around the wall’s perimeter.
“Is it nice out today?”
“Yeah,” Ace said. Her apple was bitten down to the core and she got up to go throw it away. “It’s warm.”
“I think Vivienne and I are going into town today to get a bundle of orris root for Sienna, and I wanted to pick up some mullein. Is there anything you need?”
“Maybe if you didn’t eat four a day, we wouldn’t run out so quickly,” Shay said lightheartedly.
Ace blinked at her, and Shay was afraid she’d upset her or gone too far. Then she ran a hand through her short bangs and said, “You’re probably right.”
Shay stood in the doorway for a few more seconds before realized she’d come down to get breakfast. She draped her towel over the arm of a chair at the kitchen table and then went and got a bowl from one of the cabinets. She poured herself some milk and cereal, got a spoon, and sat down in the chair.
Shay was staring at Ace when she noticed the dark gun strapped to her thigh. Ace shifted and the fabric of her shorts fell into place again, concealing it from sight.
Shay munched delicately on her Cocoa Puffs and swallowed. “Hey, Ace?”
“Hmm?” Ace glanced up from the newspaper.
“Can I ask you something?”
Ace looked taken aback, like a mother who was afraid her child was about to ask where babies came from. She turned in her chair towards Shay and straightened. “Sure.”
Shay swirled her spoon around in the bowl and asked, “Why do you hate vampires so much?”
“You mean no one has told you yet?”
“Phoenix started to, but I thought I should ask you myself. It seemed kind of personal.”
“Oh.” Ace shrugged and flipped to the next page in the newspaper although her eyes didn’t seem to read the words on the paper. In a clipped emotionless voice, she said, “When I was seven years-old, one killed my baby sister in front of me.”
“What?” Shay said, horrified.
“We were home with my grandmother, who was a bit senile in her last few years of life, and she let us both out into the backyard when it was starting to get dark. We were on the swing set when a man showed up. Before I knew what was happening, he grabbed her. He bit her, and I ran for the back door. I was smart enough to call 911, but he was gone by the time the police got there. They said it was an animal attack. They always do.”
“Oh, my God,” Shay whispered.
“She’d just turned three a month before. Her name was Allison.” Ace’s expression was blank, but there was pain hidden deep in her gray eyes.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She smiled sadistically. “When I found him, he died slowly.”
A shiver ran up Shay’s spine, and her gaze dropped to her cereal. She’d suddenly lost her appetite. “So you believe in revenge?”
“No,” Ace replied. “I believe in justice.”
Shay stood up from her seat and went over to dump the contents of her bowl down the sink. She rinsed and dried it, and then put it back in the cabinet. She passed Lacey on her way back up the stairs, who twirled Shay in a circle and almost knocked her down.
“Good morning, my lovely green gumdrop!” she sang, and then dissolved into laughter. She raced down the rest of the stairs and her long hair flowed out behind her.
There were many frames of pictures from the girls lives lining the walls of the stairway, and Shay had knocked into one when Lacey had gone by. She grabbed the side of it to straighten it in place. She almost kept walking, but then a girl in the picture caught her eye.
She was about five or six, and she was perched on a worn burgundy couch with a swaddled baby in her arms. Her raven-black hair was shoulder-length and uneven, like she’d cut it herself with a pair of safety scissors. The eyes that stared out at Shay from the picture were blissful and innocent and the girl’s face was split with a gap-toothed grin.
Shay touched the glass over Ace’s face. She wondered if Ace ever stopped to look at that picture, and if she ever cried at the memory.
There weren’t many pictures of Shay as a child on the wall because no one had ever thought it was necessary to take any. Even fewer were before she’d gotten her scars.
She moved her hand away so she could see the smiling naïve face of Ace’s five year-old self and then she thought of Ace’s sullen face that she’d grown to recognize over the past two months.
Some scars weren’t visible on the surface.
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