After the day I turned twenty years old, during the hour I was born, the gift came to me. Like the flick of a light switching on, the rush of outside voices started to cram full in my mind and tug at my heart with need. It wasn’t totally foreign a concept to grasp. It’s not as if they didn’t warn me this would happen. Jennifer said that sometimes the depths of each gift skip a generation. “You could luck out little sis,” she had offered to me during the psychotic week before my birthday party. She spoke from experience. Her gift only came and went. The compulsion to follow through with it was choice rather than necessity. So maybe my turning wouldn’t be so bad after all? Yeah right… I thought to myself. Ian warned me I showed all the signs of being the strongest of my generation. I promptly told him to shove it. No way was I going down the way my dad had. He’d been the strongest of his generation and look where it got my family: fatherless and still grieving. All because of the stupid gift that was supposed to help us save lives. It was this gift that sent us running to a new town every couple of years. Sometimes we didn’t last that long. After so many runs the signs were painfully clear to me…a too grateful family, recognition for our service to the community, suspicious glances… Soon as the looks began we packed up and shipped out to the next podunk town on the map. For now we had settled in Nowhere, Texas, a town that wasn’t a town after being swallowed up by the cities creeping into its turf. First impressions of the place weren’t so hot. I thought we were trying for inconspicuous this time. After what happened in the last small town we’d tried to help I thought my uncle would have sworn off them forever after. I still had nightmares about the outskirts of Hattiesburg Mississippi. Instead of falling through the cracks in the city here we were in yet another small town. Most of my Clan had been forced to forswear the merits of higher education, but we were the hardest workers you’ll ever meet. We’d work any job that tolerated us and we never lived beyond our means like the rest of this cursed country. So we saved up enough to pass down the next generation sometimes, even occasionally go the extra mile and spoil ourselves. Dad used to buy and fix up old houses, often in the same neighborhood. Each time he picked a new home to patch up he carted us with him, or sent us to stay with his little brother’s brood. Within days he could turn a rundown shack into a mansion and sell it on the spot. But like most of my kind, he was too good at what he did. It brought the worst kind of attention in the end. Since then my own ambitions for higher learning had toned down a lot.

We all worked it. me. I messed people’s orders up on purpose. most of the time it was a pain in the arse from what I could tell. The day before I turned twenty I was living up the fact I didn’t suffer from any psychiatrist syndrome or chronic smiling. We were still living with my sister Jenn and her husband and toddling kiddoes. None of us had the ambition to go to college. that delirious joy using their gift gave them. go ahead and X-factor out your little theory of my being a vampire period. spilled occasionally. weren’t there enough of them running around in your TV? Aren’t you sick of them yet? I digress. we were naturally more attractive than the average Joe.A year ago my aunt finally found a spot in Nowhere to start her dream. just off the main drag through town. “Aunt Tammy? What’s up?” Her mouth twitched with the slightest of grins. The café was nice. Twisting fast enough my pigtail blonde braids whipped round my shoulders I flashed a brilliant smile. Another perk about being one of the Clan. “Bethy I know you’re the reason we’ve had trouble today. emerald eyes narrowed in on me. more of a shack than a hot spot. Just before I could turn the other way she raised a wooden spoon and called again. I’d plead the Fifth if I had to avoid the truth. laughed evilly while my cousins jumped at the chance to help clean up. We helped people with their problems. . Now don’t get any visions of Twilight vamps in your head. Talk about cramped up close and personal. Honestly. a tiny café. flaxen hair hidden in its net. How did the iced cream end up in their laps? I’ll never tell… “Bethy!” Aunt Tammy called out from behind the kitchen window.” “Trouble?” I feigned ignorance. my aunt and my cousins. Do not even get me started on what it’s like living with two screaming brats after working the twelve hour shift. Sometimes it was a simple conversation over a poured cup of coffee. across from the cemetery and a couple of gas stations. Sometimes they make it so easy… I grinned as I watched Amanda and Mike rush to help the kids at table four. I meekly skipped over to snatch the steaming orders she’d just set out. Yet within weeks people flocked in by the dozen. I watched my aunt and older cousin’s hover around customers with a painted smile on their faces. Ever since Dad died mom had been hard pressed to pay the bills. In fact. I worked the longest shift. just down the way from the Dollar General and Sonic. If you saw the real version of what people call vamps you’d wish you’d never thought about them. At least we were too afraid to dream of a bigger life than the one the Man upstairs handed us. let alone want one for a boyfriend. Uh-oh… I knew that tone. sometimes just to catch a glimpse of the beautiful service.

She was a natural cook. I turned to the table waiting for their order and glaring pointedly at me. We pulled all the stops out for you. Because Dad was our leader and had no son. Tammy loved the café. None of us were ready for the big two-oh. “Tonight’s the night of the big party. reminding me further of my exalted status among the Clan. “Sometime today Bethy!” and sashayed away. part of her gift she claimed. Here was one person who could care less if I turned the big-two-oh. eh?” My humor sucked out of me like a vacuum. “Mhmm…” She drawled.” I offered sweetly and laughed on the inside.” It was a lie of course.Leaning with her elbows over the counter she smirked. “Not my fault they couldn’t hold their cream. “Unless you expect me to believe those poor kids dropped their own ice cream?” I shrugged. Our bloodline was older. tone biting as she jerked the plates out of my hands. Amanda was there already. which sucks for me trying to get away with anything under her watch. Everyone stopped by our place once a week the last three months to tell me how excited they were about my turning. but it rolls in like a freight train and you better be ready or it’ll run you over flat!” She cackled again. snatching the orders away from my hands. They were right. I know…” I leaned the opposite edge of the counter while Tammy rushed to save her other dishes. Huffing a sigh I turned to my neglected tables and silent rebellion. she was that fast. but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.” She winked. Amanda suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “Still haven’t faced it have you? Well. supposedly purer whatever that meant. “Not everyone cares about me turning twenty. “Yeah. people looked to me to lead. eyes fierce. hands on her hips. I used just a bit of my gift to keep it from burning my skin. . People said I reminded them of her. Tammy laughed a witchy cackle and rounded on me with three new dishes. The short skirt uniform we were forced to wear was kiddy enough.” I know it’s childish. plates hot in my hands. I rolled my eyes and reluctantly listened to my aunt. Me! Ha! I did good to pay my bills every month and have time for a social life. I knew it and Aunt Tammy knew it.” Tammy gaped aghast. “I just wish you guys had done what I asked. It was BS. “And not throw a party?! Honey it ain’t every day one of the Clan turns the big two-oh! Specially not one special as you are. Yes. I grinned. I hated that nick name… Why do people give people full names just to call them something else the rest of their lives? “The big two-oh is the first day of the rest of your life Bethy. let me tell you something sweet cakes. Her mouth trembled with the beginnings of a laugh.

Elders say you can’t understand until the turning. “It’s not a friggin masquerade Amanda! It’s in the diner!” ~ Aunt Tammy wasn’t kidding when she said they’d pulled out all the stops. masques firmly in place with ribbons around their heads. It made the place look much bigger. Helping others with our gifts was the way we tried to earn back favors from Him. A dance floor had been brought in for the centerpiece. like winter nights at Gram’s house used to be. We often saw drifters like them come and go. There he was with his wife Judy and their children. ancient feel to the place. we do everything really well. His brother Chris had joined the Navy. Scores of candelabrum and candlesticks were pulled out of Clan storage and penetrated the October chill in place of a heating unit or light bulb. but maybe not exactly the same way you would. He and Amanda and my mom had done more than the usual two-oh requirement. her children serving the long tables set up around the walls of the diner. all dressed in clothing a time apart. We all believe in God. Even more ironic were the blue collar Americans dancing in clothes passed down the line. Aside from knowing a lot more about interior design than any American male should. Mike and Amanda fell in love and the rest as they say is history. Hard to miss the features of people you knew better than yourself. Not everyone owns a dress with sapphires or diamonds sewn into it. Within a few hours after I got off. if we had one. For starters there were no electric lights. And we hadn’t obeyed His orders like we were supposed to. He and his younger brother Chris had shown up a few years before to join our Clan. I don’t know just yet what I believe. Aunt Tammy bustled around the kitchens in full regalia. It had a slightly primitive sound compared to the highbrow culture dancing to it. Ironically enough it was my cousin Mike who was the expert at throwing a party. made to last by gifted hands. The old ways were part of our religion. early for once. each and every one of them. Some of us didn’t believe we had souls. Candlelight made the black tile gleam like obsidian. Even with the masques I could recognize them. No one grew gardens like Bob anymore. betraying the fact our Clan was very rich. . Tammy’s Café was transformed into something ethereally dream like. Another perk to being us. The place smelled like roses and the thousands of other flowers my Uncle Bob had stocked the place full with. Mike could bus a table as quickly as Tammy could whip up a dish of gumbo.“Maybe we should just save the decorations and throw Maija the masquerade!” I laughed. It cast an eerie. Guess you could say our origin story was a bit personal once upon a time. using his cooking gifts to help others in his own way. Cousins and closer relatives danced at the center to the beat of drums and stringed instruments.

Everyone laughed at their antics. This’ll be over soon. it was her gift. my gold diamond studded dress feeling very tight and heavy suddenly.“OMG! Bethy! Can you believe this place!” Kaylie. Everyone quieted instantly. “Just breathe in and out. But the fact of the matter was I felt trapped. I should feel loved. Kaylie always managed to make an outfit work for her. “Gotcha!” “Alfred! What the“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Everyone cheered as bottles opened with a pop and sizzle. Kaylie laughed. Rather than offset the fine clothes and jewels she was wearing it suited her. Uncle Larry was going to give it his best. when we should have comforted her. features framed with her stylishly short bob. conscious of my softly curled and pinned up hair. It wouldn’t work. I know what you’re thinking. Matt and Stevo shoved one another while shouting over the crowd. Her soon to be Alfred. “Thanks mom. I could tell because of the sudden surge of comfort that flowed from her fingertips onto my bare shoulders. raced up to me in her silver gown.” I ducked my head in time to avoid a shower of glitter my cousins preferred to confetti and groaned. My mother’s arms wrapped around me from behind.” I said as I took the glass from her hands and lifted it to the crowd. Christy always knew how to make me feel better with a touch. a relative of mine connected two different ways in the family tree. even though Alfred knocked their heads in together to shut them up. His eyes held mine and echoed every thought I was having. Drink some champagne. heels clicking on the tile. Fact was I was about to not be a teenager on the stroke of midnight and I was afraid of the thing that would make me their leader. But Uncle Larry stepped from behind the head table with a warm smile on his face and a raised glass. I couldn’t help but grin and get excited with her bubbly aura around me.” I twisted my head. obviously in on the ploy to stand on the X marking their spot. “Thanks you guys!” “Speech!” Kaylie’s two younger brothers. . another drifter from further south rushed up to me to toss a handful of the crap over my head while laughing. It should have been Dad up there right now giving this speech. whispered. Her gift was making other people happy and yes it was a welcome addiction when things got too tough. The same voice that comforted us when Dad died. Then again. wished I had had the guts to split like Ian did five years before. like the most spoiled precious pampered teen on the planet. “Yeah it’s pretty amazing. I froze. Those two were impossible to stop once they got started.

for a second betraying our true hidden natures before the roar ceased and the music began to play once again. blood pooling from his head and the stone tied with cloth and words lying beside him. braced my hands on either side of the porcelain sink and hung my head. Tonight it was hues of gold rather than emerald or red. waltzed with the elders to tunes an age gone by. So I rushed to the bathroom behind the swinging double doors. My sea blue eyes stood boldly out framed with black eyeliner and mascara. . Now I was alone. the shattering of glass and symphony of pain assaulted my ears. Bethany Miller. danced in the pit with my younger cousins. With her I didn’t manage to feel like the only person in a room full of family and friends. Never forget who you are. the same party with a different theme. was grateful when Christy placed her hand on my shoulder to calm me once again. Gram always knew how to make sense of this.” A murmur rose from behind the masked faces. almost unnatural. painted golden shadow.“You all know this lovely lady here has sacrificed more than most for the good of the Clan. I went through the motions. A chorus of piercing screams. as you Turn. I breathed. The dress clung to my waist and chest a golden silken thing. “We know who you are?! What does that mean! Who did this?!!” Tammy was frantic. for what I don’t know. It flowed down in satiny diamond studded ripples past my feet. I lifted my head and stared at my reflection. who you…” the rest of his words blurred with my tears with the sudden need to breathe. My sister and nieces showed up to help with the distraction. But this was too much. Normally only the sight of blood made me faint. It was Gram’s dress once. Eventually this served to give me a splitting headache rather than a distraction. Tonight. It was the same party in a sense that I had watched for the last nineteen years. a slightly different color. and for a moment could almost forget the intense pain I was about to go through once the clock hands came together. I gasped. Right now I wished she were here. Use them to bind to serve to live to breathe. “I’m here to tell you she is more than what any of us could hope for to take the place of those we lost. I opened a score of presents while they danced. I searched the faces of the crowd. Music pounded behind me a dull thud. Uncle Larry laid prostrate. rushed back into the party and pushed my way past the circle of dresses and suits to the center. And like the clap of thunder their cheers rose as one. keep a sharp eye on Ilu who gave your Gifts.

Several of the women lifted Uncle Larry between them with ease. “He’s got a pulse!” Mike shouted. Only the elders could help him now.Bob rushed outside with the other men. to get rid of the scent of blood on my nose. I stared at the blood and pulled myself away while everyone else rushed to follow the crowd making way to their vehicles. My hands had lifted the window and feet crawled over the seal before I knew it. That’s where we held most of our Clan meetings. I wasn’t like anyone else I knew in the Clan. almost black body fluids. I took one last glance at the diner before hauling my gifts to the apartment atop the café. but it was harder to relate to them. but stronger than humans. but the outcome of their efforts was always the same. took in Tammy’s realized dream and knew she wouldn’t try her dream again for a long time. calling threats into the night. We weren’t usually as strong as our men. the metallic scent of blood beneath my nose. The roof was my special place. followed us wherever we went. We know who you are… We had faced this before. I stayed here in their apartment most nights now. I’d carted different things up there over the last few months. I supposed. We couldn’t take Larry to the hospital. I felt sick to my very core. There was a present darkness out there. pale white. candles and blankets and armchairs. the doubt in their eyes. and I couldn’t bear to wait around and see if Larry lived through this tonight or not. the lifelessness in Uncle Larry’s eyes. . It poisoned the minds of those we tried to help. I was surprised to find the candles already lit and watched the clouds swathing the stars with the beginnings of a lightning storm. “Go get Shima!” Amanda called out. I stood alone in a sea of candles. They went by many different names. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the deep red. The party was ruined. I didn’t like the million questions they asked. evil that preyed and stalked us in the night. Not that I didn’t love my sister and her kids or my mother. I was frozen. in the guest room that was looking more and more like my room. We weren’t human enough for that. I needed fresh air. Only person who had understood left five years ago and never once came back. They would take him to the big house. Numbly I went to each candle stick and blew the wicks free of their flames. Echoes of the past were written in every aspect of this night.

Army doesn’t own me anymore. each droplet looked like tiny shards of glass and sprouted endless streams of rainbow color. His black leather jacket hid most of his broad frame. And the laughter helped. “Think I’d like to see how you adjust to leading the Clan. And I heard the voice perfectly clear in my conscience. the other voices hovering just below. When midnight struck we faced each other. his hand held the back of my neck when the first spasms shook me. Wind blew fresh and full against my face. “Hey. I stared up at the fading stars and jumped when a voice interrupted my thoughts. but it was undeniably Ian sitting on my roof. He kept his arm around my shoulders. eyes warm and unreachable as ever. I saw bursts of sharp color. shivered beneath the sudden prickle of a thousand knives on my skin. I shuddered as lightning sparked and rain began to put out the candles and drizzle on Gram’s dress. “Are you sticking around this time?” After a long silence. Bethany! Look at this! You look a little too good in that dress kiddo. “Ow! That hurt!” “You deserve it! You left me all alone with these freaks!” He laughed again and hugged her another time. “Told ya it hurts like hell.” He peered down at her and cocked a brow with a turn of his lips. Everything turned inside out. Finally I found the courage to ask. When I began to tremble he cradled me in his arms and I clutched tight to his shirt. the red ember of his cigarette burned in the night before a final stream of smoke left his lips. .Wrapping my arms around my chest I tried to ward away the cold outside and creeping inside my heart. Might need to put on a trash bag and then come back and see me. legs dangling precariously over the edge. threw his long legs from the edge and picked me up off the rough asphalt and swung me around. “I couldn’t miss your turning. Ian’s stormy blue eyes turned brilliant as the emerald salty seas. just for your own safety. he added. He laughed. huh?” His voice was deeper than it sounded last over the phone. Ian laughed. “Holy crap! Ian!” I rushed him. “Some party.” I groaned.” We sat together at the edge of the roof.” He laughed. but gets better. “My last tour’s done. I squealed. to the leather of his jacket.” He wagged his eyebrows at me mischievously and I punched him hard in the shoulder. “It’s not funny!” But I laughed too. beneath the lightning storm around my candles. How much longer we got left?” “Twenty minutes maybe. He sat on the edge of the roof.

voices I had heard all my life.And instead of hearing the voices of humans I was meant to help. The loudest and strongest was Ian’s needing me to survive the turn. I heard the fears of the Clan. needing something deep rooted…and then I saw the blurring of new color before the lights went out and I lost all sense of time and place. .

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