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Black Dog - Chapter 29

With the awful business of the full moon out of the way, a fortnight passed uneventfully. Olivia settled into her job at the library (with profuse apologies for her earlier absence) and continued work on the house. Still, thoughts of Giles's death tormented her. She should have gone to see him when Grace had asked. She could have made a difference.

She lay in the dark, neither asleep nor truly awake, the cold crush of guilt heavy on her chest. Silver moonlight shone in, silky black shadows dancing on the walls as a strong wind thrashed the trees outside her window, and a face appeared close above hers, staring down at her. Olivia's pulse quickened but she couldn't stir her limbs to throw off the phantom as it grew heavier, more real. She imagined that in the monochrome darkness she could make out the familiar green eyes and tawny hair of her nightmare, as its broken and blood-stained features split in a jagged grin. The wind howled outside her window, rattling the glass in its frame, creaking heavy branches.

Subtly, a memory slipped into place, and in an instant broke the spell.

"Get off!" she screamed, shoving the thing away and scrabbling for the lamp on her bedside table. Light flooded the room, sharp shadows jerking erratically as Olivia brandished the lamp.

The ghostly figure sat on the floor, pouting. "I was only playing," Nick grumbled.

"Get out!" Olivia shouted.

Nick's eyes kept darting towards the way the folds of the sheets hung over the shadowy recesses of the space underneath. "Wanted to see..."

"Out!"

"Pleeease?" Childish whine, more pouting.

"Out!"

He disappeared then, and Olivia leaned over the edge of the bed, her lamp illuminating the shadows, picking out cobwebs and debris. Her suitcases, the shoebox containing her letters to Uncle George. No space for a person to hide, but plenty for a ghost, she imagined.

Dissatisfied with the results of her search, she burrowed back under the blankets, taking care to keep her feet under cover with the rest of her, but it was no use. She gave up, turning the lamp back on and throwing off the blankets. Setting her bare feet down in defiance of the unpleasant mental images of a hand stealing out from under the bed, she turned on the portable heater. The cold was something more than a mere physical condition: it sank into her bones and made its home there. Something to do with all the ghosts, Verity had said. Old house, too many memories, too many brief candles snuffed out. Olivia wrinkled her nose at the smell of burning dust as she warmed her feet over the portable heater. And what could she do about the ghosts? Nothing. The house was their home as much it was hers, maybe more.

Olivia tip-toed down the stairs, wincing at each creak of the old floorboards. Four in the morning was too early to think of getting up and making a start on the day, but too late to make any serious effort at getting back to sleep. Instead she settled for a creeping patrol of the house, not expecting to meet anything but cats and lovesick ghosts, but at the kitchen table sat a small figure, curly hair haloed against the moonlight streaming in through the window.

"Verity?" Olivia whispered into the darkness, and the figure jumped guiltily before freezing like a statue.

"No. I'm not here," Verity muttered unevenly, in defiance of the evidence. "Go away."

Olivia flicked the light switch and Verity squinted irritably at the brightness. Her eye makeup was smudged.

"What's the matter?" Olivia asked, sitting down at the table with her.

"Go away!" Verity snarled, nevertheless careful to keep her voice down.

"It's my house. Why don't you go away if you don't like it."

Verity's eyes glittered madly. "Fine." She stood bolt upright and whirled round to storm off, but Olivia lunged and caught her by the arm.

"Don't be silly, I didn't mean it. Sit down and tell me what's the matter."

Primly, Verity brushed creases from her sleeve where Olivia had grabbed her. She sat back down. "I'm late," she blurted out.

"For what?"

"Not for anything. The other kind of late."

"The other kind?"

Verity rolled her eyes despairingly, and swiped at the tears that threatened to brim over her lashes. "Sometimes I could just slap you, Olivia. I'm telling you I think I'm pregnant."

"Oh. So I take it that's what you and Theo were arguing about the other night." Olivia had to admit she'd been curious.

"What?"

"At the party. He's not happy about it, then?"

Verity scowled. "I told you, I broke up with him. I don't see how this is any of his business."

"But… he has a right to know, doesn't he?" Not only a right to know, but a duty to fulfill. With a baby to look after, Verity would no longer be able to come and go as she pleased. She'd need the certainty of a roof over her head.

Verity had begun to look extremely uncomfortable. "It's not Theo's," she said, with a nervous effort at laughter. "He didn't... He couldn't have... I mean, all the literature says vampires only reproduce by mutual biting." She sat in silence, fussing with the lace hem of her handkerchief and studiously avoiding Olivia's astonished stare.

"But, Theo was your boyfriend."

Verity looked up, her expression sour. "Well, I must be mistaken, then," she said sarcastically. "Societal laws are as unbreakable as mountains, obviously. Thank you ever so much for clearing that up for me, Olivia. God, you're so naive."

Something Verity had said was beginning to sink in, something that Olivia had already known from her own reading on folklore but not thought about much until now. "Verity? What are you?"

"What am I?" Verity snorted in feigned amusement. "What kind of stupid question is that?"

"I know you're not a ghost," said Olivia, her soft voice still loud in the quiet calm of four in the morning. "You needed Grace's help with me last month, so I know you're not one of us. And with the parasol and Theo and everything, you just let me assume you were another vampire. You're not, are you?"

"I'm not responsible for other people's assumptions."

"You're not one of us at all, are you? You're still alive."

Verity lunged to clap one small white hand over Olivia's mouth. "All right, all right. I'm not actually," she stopped, bringing her voice back down to a whisper. "I'm not dead. But I am one of you."

"The others aren't going to see it that way." Olivia knew it instinctively. They barely tolerated Malcolm, who at least had the decency to be honest about what he was, and made himself useful to the vampires. "They're not going to like it, and you've made it worse by hiding it all this time, pretending that's your grave out there."

Above them, a floorboard on the landing gave a long, loud groan. Both girls froze, eyes locked, but no footsteps on the stairs followed.

Olivia let go the breath she'd been holding. "Why the hell did you want to get involved here anyway?" she demanded in a whisper.

"Oh, you think it's easy for me, do you?" Verity hissed. "You think it's easy growing up seeing all the ghosts and monsters when nobody else can? How do you think you'd like it, people telling you you're going to get locked up with all the other loonies? I don't belong with the living. If you turn me into an outcast among the dead as well..."

Olivia shook her head. "You didn't think you could keep this a secret forever, did you? If you're pregnant, you're going to start showing sooner or later, and then what are you going to tell them? Imogen's going to be furious that you lied to her when she's trusted you so much."

"I suppose she's not going to be very happy about it," Verity admitted, staring at her hands, picking at her fingernails. "But I'd been trying to find a vampire to bite me, and I'd been looking for absolutely ages and I hadn't realised it would take so long, what with Theo being so adamant he doesn't want to do that sort of thing, and I tried so hard to tempt him but he just got angry about the whole thing and stormed off and I haven't seen him since." She stopped to take a deep breath. She looked smaller and more fragile than ever: mortal and so breakable, yet at the same time she had a full lifetime ahead of her, love and family. Death, cold and barren, waited at the horizon of every life, why rush so eagerly towards it?

Verity risked another glance up at Olivia's face, gauging her reaction. "If Imogen kicks me out, I'll make your life one long nightmare," she growled.

Olivia's native Lockwood curiosity prickled at her. "You said Theo wouldn't bite you. Why?"

"Some nonsense about how I didn't know what I was getting into. Silly me, wanting to be ethereally beautiful and live practically forever."

"And you couldn't find anyone else to do it?"

"They, um, tend to pair up. It's not that easy to edge your way in."

"Hmm..." Olivia couldn't imagine haughty Theo taking it well to realise that Verity only wanted him as a matter of convenience, or that something worse had been going on behind his back. "So who is the father, if it's not Theo?"

"Oh, for the love of... Does it really matter?"

Olivia stared hard at Verity, as if she could somehow read the truth in her eyes. "Is it someone I know? You're here so much of the time that… Oh, my God," she murmured, "it's not Eli, is it?" It made a horrible sort of sense, the way Verity followed him around like a stray, starved for affection.

Verity's face contorted into a mask of horror. "Don't be so disgusting!" she hissed, as if Olivia was the one who had something to be ashamed of. "And for all I know, the same applies to him as does to Theo. I'm not sure, but I have no personal interest in finding out." She was determined not to answer the question, but Olivia was equally determined to ferret out the truth.

"Well, it can't have been Giles: he was mad about Grace. Who else? Not Malcolm, surely?"

Leaning back, Verity crossed her arms defensively over her chest and stared at the ceiling. "I refuse to participate any further in this degrading guessing game."

This was as damning an answer as a straight 'yes', to Olivia's mind. "It's Malcolm. Why? What were you thinking, Verity?"

Verity stared steadfastly at the ceiling, her lips a tight thin line of crimson, her angry eyes bright with a film of tears.

Olivia took a deep breath. What was done was done. The important thing was to get Verity away from the constant influence of the dead. Her living child couldn't be brought into this crowd, it had to have a better start to life. But where, and how? Olivia didn't know, but she had an idea of somebody who might be able to help. "Come with me." She grabbed Verity by the hand.

"What? Where?"

"We're going to pay a visit to Reverend Milton." The church had to offer sanctuary to those in need, whatever the hour, and an angel could hardly resist the chance to help a lost soul back onto the right path.

"Milton?" Verity cried in dismay, forgetting the need to keep quiet. She dug her heels in. "You need to talk to somebody who can help you through this. You need to start thinking about your baby. Ghosts can't help you raise a child." Olivia barely stopped herself from adding, 'or it'll end up just like you.'

Verity slipped her slim fingers out of Olivia's grasp and darted away, scowling and skittish, before Olivia could grab her again. "Don't be so ridiculous. If I'm pregnant, and it's very much an 'if', then I have no plans whatsoever of keeping it."

Something in Olivia's chest seized up. "What? You mean you'd give your own child away?"

"I mean I shan't allow it to get to the point of being a child."

"But," Olivia shook her head. What Verity was talking about was the nightmarish last resort of a truly desperate woman. There had to be some better way. "You can't kill it. You can't..."

"I can," said Verity. "And if necessary, then I will. I wish you hadn't come nosing into my business like that. I can face up to the consequences of my actions, thank you very much. And if you're any kind of friend, then you'll at least keep your mouth shut about all this."

 

 

 

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