(Cover art created by Kaitlyn Davis from Flickr Creative Commons Attribution Licensed Images by Andrew Kuznetsov and Leland Francisco)
"I hate packing," Kira whined and collapsed onto the heap of clothes piled high on her bed. She didn't want to move another muscle.
"Just pick out some outfits," Tristan chuckled, not looking up from the pad of paper he was currently scribbling on.
Kira arched her head up, glancing in his direction. He sat with one leg outstretch and one knee bent, leaning against her headboard in relaxed concentration. With squinted eyes, he focused on rubbing in the graphite pencil marks he'd just made with his already blackened fingers. If she weren't so tired, Kira would have crawled a little closer to see what he was drawing, but she just dropped her head with a sigh.
"Easy for you to say. You just have to sit on my bed looking all artistic and mysterious while I run around like a crazy person trying to get ready for two months at conduit boot camp."
"Then my plan is working perfectly," he smirked and finally put the sketchbook down. Kira peeked over at the pages, wondering what image of her he was crafting, but saw the last thing she ever expected, a self-portrait. Fighting her exhaustion, Kira jumped up in curiosity.
"What are you doing?" She spun the image to look at it closer, noting the strong cheekbones and crystal eyes he'd drawn perfectly. The hairs that always threatened to fall over his eyes seemed just ready to spill and Kira saw the faint outline of her own features. She realized he'd been sketching both of them.
"Just something for you to take to Sonnyville, to carry around and show everyone, especially any guys ages eighteen to twenty-two..." Kira rolled her eyes.
"You know I don't date men who are younger than a hundred. I can't stand the immaturity level." Kira giggled as he grabbed her hand and pulled her against his chest. With arms wrapped around his waist, she let her breath slow to the pace of his heartbeat. Tristan's arms encircled her, hugging her as tightly against his body as he could, and he sighed.
"I'm going to miss you," he whispered and Kira's mouth widened into a smile. She rested her chin on his chest so she could look at his face, taking in each hair on his head and memorizing the features she already knew better than her own.
"I'm going to miss you, too." She leaned up and kissed him quickly, her thoughts already wandering to what lay ahead.
A few weeks had passed since Kira had awoken from the coma. Luke had convinced the council to let her recuperate before forcing her to go to Sonnyville, and they'd all agreed that the day after graduation would be, what Kira liked to call, doomsday. That morning, her and her friends had all donned their robes and received their diplomas, and before she knew it, time had all but slipped away. She dreaded saying goodbye to Tristan. Luke had promised to sneak him in to Sonnyville at least once, but Kira wasn't sure if it would even be a good idea to bring Tristan around so many conduits. Tomorrow morning they would have to say goodbye, and, even though Kira knew it wasn't for forever, two months was starting to seem like an impossibly long time apart.
"It's going to be fine," Tristan said and kissed her forehead. "And you'll be safe there, which is the most important thing."
"I know. I just wish it wasn't for so long. Do you think you'll be able to find Diana soon?" Kira questioned, bringing up the topic they skirted around for the past few weeks. Tristan knew Diana was still a threat. While Kira had been in a coma, Diana had come back multiple times. She'd managed to evade Tristan, but he still sensed her presence and both of them knew she was planning something. But, neither Kira nor Tristan had known what, until about a week ago when a pack of vampires came to Charleston after hearing a rumor that a mixed breed conduit was alive and in the neighborhood. Tristan had managed to persuade them, forcefully, to leave but more would come. And, the safest place for Kira was with the conduits, not her vampire boyfriend.
"I know where to look. She can only run for so long." Tristan tried to reassure Kira.
"And you'll find out about my mother?" She asked.
"I'll try," Tristan said, but he wouldn't look her in the eye. They'd had this conversation before, with Luke too, and Kira was the only one with hope that her mother was still part of the living. Luke and Tristan agreed that Diana had used it as a dirty trick to shock Kira, giving her the chance to escape, but Kira felt something deep inside, urging her that her mother was still alive. She almost brought it up, but decided against it. The last thing Kira wanted was to argue with Tristan on their last night together. Instead, she inched up his chest, noting the glint in his eye and leaned in for a kiss.
He slid his hand up her back to cup the base of her neck, pulling her face into his, letting her know he was thinking the same thing, and their lips met.
Kira's pulse quickened. She felt her heart begin to race as she lost herself in the sensation, but she felt something else too, almost like a hint of anger was stirring distantly in her mind, and then she heard a cough in the doorway.
"Sorry to interrupt," Luke said with a smile on his face and a steely look aimed at Tristan. Kira sighed and pulled back, fighting against Tristan's hold as he tried to keep her from standing.
"Hi Luke," she smiled, happy to see her friend, but slightly annoyed at the interruption and very annoyed at his obviously smug face. Yup, Kira mused, the coma hadn't really changed a thing. Their mutual fear for her health had allowed Luke and Tristan to stand in the same room once in a while, but they were a long way away from friendship.
"Clearly, you're almost ready to go. Now, if we could just find a way to teleport your room to Sonnyville..." He surveyed the empty suitcases and piles of clothes all over the floor. Kira threw a small pillow at him for the sarcastic remark, and he jumped out of its path, holding his hands up in surrender.
"Alright, alright, but in all honesty...what the heck happened in here? It looks slightly like a Tasmanian devil tore this place apart."
Kira shrugged. "This is just how I pack."
"So, there's a method to the madness?"
"No, trust me." Tristan spoke up, still lying back against Kira's pillows. Traitor, she thought, your hair is still rumpled from our make-out session and you're siding with Luke.
"So, it's a little messy. I'll be ready by tomorrow, don't worry." Luke copiously surveyed the room again with eyes wide in doubt.
"It's not like your going to see the Queen-"
"There's a conduit queen?" Kira interrupted, ready to freak out.
"No, the Queen of England. Did you hit your head again?" Luke questioned, barely able to contain his laughter.
"No," Kira huffed and picked up the closest thing she could find, which happened to be a dress. She looked at it and debated if she would need sundresses in Sonnyville. It wasn't like she would be trying to land a date; she was going there to learn how to fight. Kira cocked her head to the side, going back and forth between the options.
"What's the big deal? Just put it in your suitcase." Luke said, exasperated.
"That's what I said," Tristan chimed in again and Kira dropped her hands to her side giving him a stern look. It seemed they had no trouble ganging up against her, but when she wanted everyone to get along they were enemies again. I mean really, Kira thought, this is absurd.
A beep sounded from the street, and Kira threw the dress back onto the ground, excited for the escape. Their whole gang was going out together, one last hurrah before Luke and Kira left, which meant she could put packing off for a few more hours.
"Time to go!" Kira chirped and raced from the room, not waiting for either of the boys. Her parents were gone for the night, at a pre-preschool summer event for Chloe, so she walked right out the door and into Emma's car. Luke appeared a minute later and hopped in the backseat, and Kira knew Tristan had slipped away. Her friends liked Tristan, but the tension with Luke was always obvious, and Kira and Tristan had both decided it wasn't worth the battle.
"So, where to?" Kira looked around, eyeing her friends. As per usual, Emma drove and Kira got the front seat, while the boys piled in the back. She took in Emma's short jean skirt and professionally applied make-up, and looked back at the boys again, seeing that Miles had replaced his usual comic book t-shirt for a button down. It seemed they'd gone fancy for their last night. It suddenly dawned on Kira how strange it was that this would be the last time the five of them could hang out, at least for while. They were sort of her family, especially after helping with her recovery. But, with Miles going to Harvard, Emma and Dave both going to Texas, and her and Luke 'taking a year off,' things would definitely be changing. Kira wasn't sure what she thought about it yet, but decided to just try enjoying this night. She needed to have fun, because even though Luke hadn't said so, Sonnyville would be far more work than play.
"Well," Emma began, and Kira knew there was a saga of a story about to begin. "I wanted to go out to a fancy dinner, and the boys wanted to play video games. So we decided that we needed to meet in the middle. You know, not go too fancy but still have fun. So, we thought about it and thought about it-"
"We're going to my place," Miles voiced up, knowing Emma could have easily talked for another ten minutes without reaching the point. She shot him daggers through the rearview mirror.
"So, yes, we're going to Miles' house. His parents had to leave right after graduation, so we'll have the place to ourselves, not that we really need to, but-"
"Now we can throw that rager we've always wanted to!" Luke cheered, and Kira heard the slap of a high-five, knowing it had to be Dave and Luke.
"Wait, you threw a party?" Kira turned to look at the three boys in the back seat, each with a goofy smile plastered on his face. She'd been hoping they would have some time just the five of them, not a crazy high school party.
"Not my idea," Emma threw an apologetic look in Kira's direction.
"C'mon. It'll be awesome. We'll be leaving with a bang," Luke said and landed his hand on Kira's shoulder. He shook her a little, trying, she assumed, to shake her into the idea.
"So, where's Tristan?" Emma asked, clearly trying to change the topic. Kira knew Emma was on her side. She could already envision the two of them chatting by the punch bowl, watching Luke and Dave try to convince Miles to talk to some girl, knowing that it would fail miserably. Kira hoped he would have better luck at Harvard; a fellow nerd would really love him, much more than the cheerleaders or Goths that Luke and Dave antagonized him to asking out.
"I didn't realize we were having a party, so I told him to go home for a while. He has some packing to do. You know he leaves for his backpacking trip around Europe tomorrow." Kira added the cover story her, Luke and Tristan had all decided on - Tristan was spending the summer in Europe, while, totally randomly, Kira got a job in a restaurant in Orlando and Luke was working at Disney World.
"Don't worry, I told him before we left. He's going to stop by." Kira turned around to look at Luke, shocked, and heard Dave mutter "Dude" under his breath. "What, what? I'm a nice guy," Luke said and shrugged. Kira turned back around in her seat, stunned. It was no secret that Luke hated Tristan; it meant a lot to her that he made the gesture. Maybe, she thought ruefully, he was only being nice because he knew she would be with him and not Tristan for the next two months.
By the time Emma pulled over outside of Miles' house, the party was already in full swing. His house had been closed off, but his family owned an old plantation, so their backyard was gigantic. Kira knew his parents would freak out when they got home, because everyone had parked their cars on his yard and turned on their headlights. She couldn't imagine those tire tracks would go away very fast. And, it looked as though their entire class were here, dancing on the grass to music blaring from a ton of cars set to the same radio station. Plastic cups already spotted the ground and Kira saw that the football team had set up multiple kegs in the beds of their pick-up trucks. She almost felt strange as they approached the house she had visited so many times before.
"We barely know these people," she whispered to Emma. The two of them were arm in arm, a few feet behind the boys who were rushing to join the fun.
"I know, but it'll be fun! And now, we'll be the people who everyone remembers for throwing an awesome party after graduation," Emma grinned at the thought. Kira started to smile too; she could get on board with this. It would be far better to be known as a member of the party-throwing brigade than the weird coma girl. Yeah, the last few weeks of school had been fantastic with her friends and Tristan, but everyone gave her strange looks. No one in the school really knew what happened that night except for her, Luke and Tristan. When Tristan had rushed Kira to the hospital, Luke stayed behind to clean up as much of the blood that spilled on her yard as possible. The cops still came to her house, and they found traces of human blood despite Luke's attempts, so they started investigating. There were rumors that Tristan beat her up and Luke had to stop him, or that Tristan and Luke tried to kill each other. The three of them tried to play it off as an animal attack, but it was still the town gossip for weeks. After a while it became old news, but, in high school, old news almost never disappears completely. Going out with a bang suddenly didn't seem half bad, and Kira let Emma lead her forward into party.
They both grabbed diet sodas and walked over to the boys, who were stationed on Miles' porch, looking out over the party to see who they could get him to dance with.
"I say Susie Harp," Luke pointed at the small, pixie-like girl with brown hair, and Kira slapped his hand down when her and Emma got closer.
"Stop pointing," she chastised and rolled her eyes. Maybe Miles wasn't the problem; Dave and Luke could easily be holding him back.
Luke ignored her and pointed at Susie again. "Come on, she's cute and this is the last night I get to watch you in action."
"No way man," Dave put his arm around Miles' shoulder, steering him in the opposite direction. "Amy MacDougall, she's the girl you should go for."
All five of them looked over at Amy, who was currently dancing on the hood of a car while one of the basketball players stood at the ready in case she fell over. Her dress had wet spots from where she spilled her own drink all over herself, as Kira had witnessed five minutes before. They all looked back at Dave - he was clearly going for the 'she's drunk so she'll definitely dance with you' approach.
"David," Emma started, pulling him away to reprimand him for basically telling the group Miles' only hope was someone who had no control over her senses.
"So, I win. Susie it is," Luke said, pushing Miles forward. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say okay, shook his head to get in the zone, and then straightened his glasses before walking over.
"This is going to be good," Luke put his arm around Kira so they could watch together.
"Why, what do you know?" Kira asked, not liking the mischievous glint in Luke's eye.
"Nothing, nothing," Luke shushed her.
"Luke," Kira said harshly. He looked over at her, slightly deflated, as if Kira was totally ruining his fun.
"Okay, so I might have already told Susie that Miles had a crush on her, and she might have already told me she would love to get to know him better, if you know what I mean." He wiggled his eyebrows and they watch as Miles led Susie to the pseudo dance floor that the circle of cars created. He shot both of them a not so discrete thumbs up and Kira silently prayed he didn't screw it up.
"You're quite the matchmaker," she laughed.
"I do what I can," Luke said and looked over at her. Their faces were close together, and Kira could almost feel his pulse quicken. Not for the first time, she thought maybe she was reading his mind, because Kira knew, before Luke even made a move, where his thoughts were going. She broke his gaze, pulling away, and Luke released his hold on her arm to step a few feet backwards. When she heard his shuffling feet pause, Kira turned her eyes back around to face him, and eased her body back to rest against the railing. The small space between them might as well have been miles.
"So, what about you?" She asked, trying to break the tension. "Amy's up for grabs, you can always try for one last high school hurrah before we leave tomorrow." Luke grinned at the joke; trying to ignore the fact that Kira had very clearly just blown him off. She wondered what would happen when they went to Sonnyville. He hadn't been overtly obvious about his feelings for her, and sometimes Kira thought she was making it up in her head, but at moments like this, when she caught a glimpse of his small tendrils of longing, Kira wondered what really went on behind his goofy exterior.
"So, are you excited for tomorrow?" He asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall opposite her. Under the porch lights, Kira thought his bleach blond hair seemed to glow, and she realized she'd be the only person for the next few weeks who didn't have almost white locks.
"It's strange, to think about being surrounded by conduits. I'm excited, but it's a little nerve-wracking too," she said, honestly.
"Everyone will love you, don't worry. My little brother can't wait. I think he thinks you are shiny new toy for him to play with." Kira smiled, already picturing a miniature version of Luke running around with a wide smile on his face, fascinated by everything around him. Luke's family would be interesting to finally meet. Kira wondered what his sister and parent's would think, had he told them about Tristan? "And," Luke continued talking, recognizing that Kira still needed reassurance, "the council really isn't that bad. Everything is going to be great, you'll see."
"I hope so," she said and glanced back out at the party. Miles and Susie were still dancing, getting friendlier and friendlier Kira thought, and Dave and Emma had disappeared. So much for the five of them hanging out. Everywhere she looked, she saw her classmates, but they seemed more like strangers to her now than ever before. She wasn't sad to be leaving this town, just the few amazing friends she had made there.
Kira looked back at Luke, ready to ask more questions about their travel arrangements for tomorrow, when she saw him focus on something beyond her shoulder. The muscles in his face tensed, his usual laugh lines disappeared, and Kira saw his whole body stiffen. It could only mean one thing.
"Loverboy is here," he said and Kira turned to see Tristan weaving his way through the crowd. Like a shadow sneaking between the rays of the headlights, he molded into the dark. Every part of him was hidden except for his pearly skin. Kira tried to smother the smile threatening to spread across her face, and turned back to Luke to silently let him know she wouldn't abandon him to spend time with her boyfriend.
"I'll leave you two alone," Luke said, pushing against the wall to straighten his body and prepare to walk away.
"Luke, stay. I want to hang out with both of you." He shrugged, as if to say that's not possible, and started to leave. Kira heard the porch steps creak behind her, knowing it was Tristan, and spun around.
"We need to talk," Tristan said, his voice full of concern. Luke stopped walking and looked back, alert.
"What's going on?" He asked. Kira could tell he had transitioned to business mode and had let the personal drama go for the moment.
"Privately. Can we get inside?"
Luke nodded and walked over to the door. Reaching above the doorframe, he pulled out a spare key Miles must have told him about and opened the locked door.
Tristan grabbed Kira's hand, entwining their fingers, and quickly kissed the top of her head before following Luke inside.
Luke shut the door behind them. The kitchen was eerily dark and the soundproof glass dulled the strains of music coming from the party. Heavy shadows crept around the lines of light peeking through the windows making the three of them seem very alone. Kira shivered with a sense of foreboding and dropped Tristan's hand to lift herself onto the granite countertop. She knew she would need a seat to hear the news Tristan clearly felt was urgent.
"What's going on, Tristan?" She asked.
With traces of sadness lining his clear blue eyes, Tristan looked at her and responded, "You and Luke need to leave now. Immediately. I brought Luke's car and packed your stuff." He ended quietly, as if not wanting to believe the truth in his words. Kira reached out to grab his arm, pulling him closer. There was something else, something he didn't want to tell her. In the corner of her eye, Kira could see Luke pacing around the kitchen, thinking.
"They're here, aren't they?" Luke stopped walking and faced Tristan, who just nodded.
"What?" Kira asked, feeling left out before realizing Tristan of course meant vampires. "Wait? They're here? As in Charleston or the backyard?"
Tristan ran his free hand through his hair and turned to Luke in full protection mode. Kira had seen this act before, and she didn't like it. "The pack of vampires I sent away last time, they're back. We have five, maybe ten minutes before they reach the party and tear this place apart. You both need to leave now."
"But, what about everyone else?" Kira jumped from the countertop, not allowing them to ignore her. She couldn't leave these people to fend for themselves.
"We need to do something," Luke said, walking closer to the two of them in order to figure out a plan. Tristan nodded in agreement. "Okay, Kira and I will just have to face them. We're powerful enough to bring down a few vampires, this will all be fine."
"No, that's way to risky," Tristan said, looking Kira in the eye. "You have to leave. You and Luke get in the car and start driving. I'm going to lure the vampires away, pretend I'm with them and that I saw you leave. Hopefully, I can lead them in the wrong direction for a while so you and Luke have a chance to escape."
"Oh, and your plan is totally foolproof," Kira smarmily replied. "I'd rather fight them. It's what, eight or nine vampires? Luke and I can handle it. You can't do this on your own, Tristan." She reached her palm up to cup his face, letting her finger brush against his hair. She wouldn't let him do this alone.
"No, Kira," Luke spoke forcefully. "Tristan's right. He needs to do this. It's the best way to make sure you don't get caught."
Kira turned to Luke, angry. "It's not like you wouldn't gladly watch him die." She hissed, then looked away, instantly sorry for the remark. Luke was better than that - she knew he was better than that.
"This isn't about that, okay?" Luke replied softly, while staring at the ground to try and hide his involuntary wince. "Everyone at this party is at risk right now, and you being here only amplifies that. Tristan's plan is the best way to keep everyone safe. So, let's go." He grabbed her hand and started pulling her from the kitchen, towards the front door of the house.
"Wait, Luke. Wait!" She tugged against his hold and stopped walking to glance back at Tristan. Drenched in shadow, he stood in the kitchen alone, turned slightly away from her and Luke as though he knew this was goodbye but couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Meet me at the car," Luke said and dropped Kira's hand to leave the two of them alone. He disappeared out the door, and before Kira could blink, Tristan was by her side. His hands gently cupped her face while he stared into her fire-laced eyes.
"It's going to be alright," he said, urging her to believe him. Kira tried to quell her racing heart and believe his words, but even if it was alright tonight, neither one of them knew what the future would hold in these next two months apart. He would be chasing down Diana, and though Kira knew he could take care of himself, even vampires could die.
Kira rested her forehead against his, enjoying the brush of his cool breath on her cheek in this one moment of peace.
"I love you," she whispered.
He leaned in to kiss her and Kira pulled him closer, not wanting to let go and lose the touch of his soft lips on hers. Tristan lifted her off the ground, hugging her close to his body, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. Everything felt perfect at least for an instant, before Kira felt his body stiffen. He broke their kiss, pulled her in even tighter for a final huge and then set her back down, still holding her.
Kira stared into his sapphire eyes, reading the sadness tinted longing in his irises, and knew the vampires were here. Tristan let her go and stared, moving his eyes so he could take in every inch of her face. She ran her hand through his hair, pushing the ebony locks off of his forehead one last time, breathing in the moment.
In the time it took for Kira to blink away a tear, Tristan had vanished, leaving just a memory, and she was left alone holding only air.