"There's too much blood there. You might lose it. Even the smell of blood might send you over the edge. The first feeds have to be controlled feeds."
Another pain wracked her body and she bit her lip to keep from screaming. "Can I die from this?" She bunched up a fistful of blanket and squeezed. She hated being scared. Hated it because it was a sign of weakness.
His black eyes met hers. "Yeah."
Another sharp pain exploded in her head. "Am I going to die?" Her thoughts shot to Lee. She wanted him to be here to hold her. If she died, she wanted to see him one last time. Then her thoughts shot to her little sister. Della had sworn to be there for her, to make sure no one ever bullied her, like they had her. For some crazy reason, her sister wasn't as strong as Della.
"No, you're not going to die" Chan said, but Della saw the doubt in his eyes. "You're too hard-headed. Hard-headed Della can't die. You hear me? You can't die, Della. You're going to be strong."
* * *
Two days later, Della slowly drifted awake. She'd slept fitfully for most of the past 48 hours. She recalled sitting up and pretending to eat when her parents came in, so she wouldn't get stuck going back to the hospital. And she remembered talking to Chan a few times. But she'd been so feverish and out of it that her memory was still hazy. She opened her eyes and quickly slapped her hand over them to block the sun spilling through her window. "Stop that," she seethed.
"Who are you talking to?" Chan asked.
"The sun!" she growled and nearly cut her tongue on her teeth.
"It pisses me off, too. We're night people now. But it's about to go down." Chan must have lowered the blinds, because the burning brightness faded. He continued talking. "As soon as your parents go to bed, we're going out. I need to educate you."
"Educate me in what?"
"Your new life."
She moved her hand from her eyes and looked around. The first thing she saw was the flowers. Red roses. Lee? Yes, she recalled her mother bringing them in and reading her the card. Lee said he loved her.
She smiled and realized she didn't hurt. Not her head. Not her gut. In fact, she felt . . . good. Strong. She felt more alive than ever.
"I'm well!" She stretched out her arms and did a little bed dance.
"Yeah, you made it. Scared me for a while there, but--"
"Where's my cell?" She wanted to call Lee.
"In the drawer, so I wouldn't have to listen to all the beeping. Your lover boy is worried."
Right then, all their talk about vampirism ran through her head. Did she really believe? And if she didn't, how could she explain Chan? She pushed it out of her mind, and decided to enjoy not feeling like day-old dog poop for a few seconds before traveling down that road. A road she somehow knew was going to cause her a lot of pain.
Sitting on the side of the bed, she remembered Chan propping her up on pillows and telling her to fake being okay, every time he heard her parents walking up the stairs. She couldn't remember how well she'd done, but probably not too badly because they never bundled her up to take her to the hospital.
She stood, stretched and looked down at the chair positioned by the bed. And bam, she was slammed with the memory of Joy, her little sister stepping inside the room. She'd held Della's hand and cried. Cried silently because even her sister knew how her dad hated weakness. Joy's words played like sad music in Della's head. "Please don't die, Della. You're supposed to help me, help me learn to be strong like you."
A big ache filled Della chest. She was so glad she hadn't died and let Joy down.
Looking at the window, she had a vague memory of . . . standing on the roof.
"Did we go somewhere?"
"Yeah, you were getting cabin fever-needed to sort of test your wings. You did good, too."
Suddenly, she recalled moving at amazing speeds and feeling the wind in her face. What was real?
Her stomach growled. "I'm starved," she muttered.
Chan pointed to a big plastic cup with a straw. "You didn't finish your breakfast."
She reached for the drink and sipped. A thousand different flavors exploded in her mouth. Berries, dark chocolate, tangy melon. Flavors she didn't even recognize, but somehow knew she couldn't live without now that she had sampled them.
"What is this?" She licked her lips and immediately started drinking again.
His right brow arched. "It's what you'll be living on from now on. Blood."
She almost gagged, then stopped herself. She'd bitten her tongue before. "Blood don't taste like this." She yanked the top off and stared at . . . at what looked like blood.
"How can . . ."
"Nothing will taste like it did before. Don't you remember gagging on the Chicken Soup your mom brought you?"
She looked at her cousin and vaguely remembered trying to eat the soup. "Tell me you're lying."
"Sorry. Everything is different now. No use in me trying to sugar coat things. Just accept it."
She stared down at the thick red substance in her cup. "This can't be real."
"It's as real as it gets."
"Oh, God!" She put the cup on her nightstand and stared at it. "What kind of blood?"
"AB negative. O is better, but I couldn't find any."
"That's . . . that's human blood?" Her stomach churned.
He nodded. "Animal isn't nearly as good. But you'll learn about that in time. I have a lot to teach you."
She cupped a hand over her mouth and stared at the cup. But even as the thought of drinking blood sickened her, even as a part of her vowed not to become this monster, her mouth watered for another taste, another swallow.
She hadn't ever known real hunger or thirst, but this . . . the feeling that said if she didn't finish what was in that cup right now she might die, had to be closest thing she'd ever experienced.
Chan went to grab the cup. Before she knew what she was doing she lunged, knocked him across the room and grabbed the cup. He laughed. "I figured as much."
She finished the drink, and looked up at Chan. "I need more."
"I know. Right after you turn, you're ravenous. I think I put down fifteen pints my few first days. But you're going to have to wait until after your parents go to bed."
"I want it now," she hissed, not even recognizing her own voice.
* * *
"They didn't card me?" Della said, following Chan into the club several hours later. The place was dark, lit up by only a few candles, but amazingly she didn't have much trouble seeing. Or hearing. Noise, crowd noise, the chattering of different conversations, and people shifting in their chairs, came at her from every direction, but somehow she could shut out parts of it that she didn't want to listen to. However, the ambience didn't stem from the noise or the lighting. Energy vibrated in the place. Della felt it, felt it feeding her, like some forbidden drug.
"The only card you need for this place is right here." He touched her forehead.
Immediately, Della remembered the weird things she's been seeing on everyone's forehead. She grabbed his arm. "What is that? The forehead thing?"
He grinned. "It's your ID. All supernaturals have the ability to read brain patterns and eventually you'll learn to tell who is what. And if you concentrate just a little bit you can get behind their shields and know if they're friend or foe."
He pointed across the room. "Look at the guy in the green shirt. Tighten your eyes, and stare at his forehead and tell me what you see."