Windenburg Island, Bjersten House
After she hung up with William, Alice turned back to Vlad and his little monster-in-training. She had to admit, it was kind of adorable. The fact that he insisted on real weapons because Gwendolyn needed to “learn the joy and folly involved in severing a muscle” was disturbing. But there were only so many edges you could round off the living embodiment of Fear itself.
She worried about that…rounding those edges off. Vlad looked amused when she told him he couldn’t kill Gwendolyn’s foster parents, but deep down, Alice had been horrified. Sure, wielding her will wasn’t automatic but this was all so new. How would she know if she was doing it? What if she was unknowingly controlling him? She always felt safe around him, but she had never once considered if he was safe with her.
She wanted him to be free to move through the world and do things like teach Gwendolyn to defend herself even if Alice thought his methods were nuts. And she wanted to disagree with him, strongly, without being afraid that she was imposing her godly will upon him.
It was funny though, catching a glimpse of Vlad like this. Maybe it was because she was stressed out, but it made her think of her own father. Cyrus Martin taught Alice everything from riding a bike to picking a lock. The latter he considered a legitimate skill given his line of work, which was [redacted].
Every summer they’d drive out to Granite Falls for a father/daughter camping trip. Even after Maverick and Mayra were born, he kept it as a tradition between him and Alice.
She loved getting up early in the morning and mapping out their hike. They’d sit at the table, her with her hot chocolate and Cyrus with his coffee, and discuss the news or school or whatever was on Alice’s mind. He treated her like an adult.
It was a tradition she kept until her 13th birthday. The summer came and Alice was friendless and miserable, scared of her new power. Her father made every arrangement for their trip but the morning of, Alice refused to come downstairs.
Her mother told him she just growing up and being a teenager but the truth was that Alice couldn’t imagine spending a weekend with her dad and not having her secret come out.
The past was present sometimes. Here she was again, another summer, scared of her new power…
But not miserable…not alone…
She watched Vlad instructing Gwendolyn on the arc of her swing.
“Look alive, hell spawn, there are things out there that mean you harm. You will be underestimated because of your size. People will assume your only skill is magic—”
“But I don’t know any magic,” Gwendolyn interrupted. “My foster parents said I probably never will because I’m a covenless—”
“Not another word!” Vlad snarled, “You will never, never describe yourself as such. Do you believe you are wicked? Unworthy? Deserving of your abandonment?”
Sniffling, Gwendolyn shook her head and lowered her small sword. Alice held her breath, waiting for him to reel it back in.
“That phrase is superstition,” Vlad said, voice gentler than Alice had ever heard it, “Your foster parents said it because they are simpletons. But you are not a simpleton, unless I am mistaken?”
“Good,” He shot Alice a wicked look, “Now, if you can manage to stab me in the heart, I’m sure Alice will bake you some cookies.”
Rolling her eyes but relieved, Alice walked back inside. Trying to make herself comfortable on the Bjersten’s formal bench-like couch, she dialed her home number.
Her mother answered, “Damn it, Sullivan, tomorrow I want iced coffee at the entrance of the lab not at my house. Why is that so difficult to—”
“Mom,” Alice interrupted, “It’s me.” She cringed a little, feeling bad for whoever her mother’s new lab assistant was.
“Alice!” she sounded excited. “Hold on!” she covered the receiver but Alice could still hear her as she shouted, “Cyrus, tell the secret service dinner can wait! Your daughter is on the phone!”
Her dad picked up the line, “Hey pumpkin, how ya doin’? We’ve been watching you on the show! You’re doing great.”
“Oh,” was all Alice could croak out. She hadn’t realized she was about to cry.
“Everything okay?” her dad asked.
“Cyrus! What ails you? Don’t baby her. She’s a grown ass woman,” her mother snapped.
“Alice honey, are you okay?” her mother continued, “Do you have enough mace? Are you safe?”
Alice glanced out the window to where Windenburg’s Vampire King and Fear incarnate, sat on the ground with nine-year-old Gwendolyn Barrister discussing llamas knew what. Probably murder.
“Yeah, I’m good. I’m definitely safe,” she laughed.
“And happy,” she added after a beat.
“Good,” they both said at the same time.
“So you met someone,” Cyrus observed. Alice had forgotten how perceptive her father was. The government didn’t pay him exorbitant amounts of money to do undefined clandestine work for nothing.
“Er…what do you mean? Define meet,” she stalled.
“Oh. It’s that serious?” her father replied knowingly.
Alice was quiet for a moment. Serious did not even begin to cover it. But how did she explain Vlad? How did she explain herself?
“So how are you guys?” she laughed, changing the subject. “How’s home? I miss you.”