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Authors: Zac Brewer

The Blood Between Us

BOOK: The Blood Between Us
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To Maggie Preiss,

whose spirit still roams the halls

of Spencer Road Branch Library, I’m sure


The lowest temperature possible, at which particles are essentially stationary

There’s nothing like the acrid smell of a building on fire. Even once the flames have been extinguished and the smoke has withered into nothingness, the smell permeates everything. The burned remains that the fire didn’t claim. The air that hangs above the hollowed, blackened walls. The clothing of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be nearby. The fire doesn’t just smell, either. It has a taste.

No one thinks about that. The taste of a house fire. It tastes sour. Bitter, even.

I wasn’t surprised to get called out of my eighth-grade lit class to the headmaster’s office that morning—not when
I realized that my sister, Grace, had been called in, too. The two of us were always getting lectured on our behavior toward each other. But that morning, as I tried to think of what I had done or said about her recently so I could prepare my defense, nothing came to mind.

When I walked in, she didn’t even glance in my direction. Her ankles were crossed, her hands folded neatly in her lap. There wasn’t a single wrinkle on her school uniform. Every pleat of her navy skirt was in order; her gray cardigan was buttoned precisely over her white blouse. The front of her long, black hair was pinned neatly back with a single silver barrette—the rest lay in ringlets on her thin shoulders. She was the picture of perfection, making every effort to live up to her name. It kind of made me nauseous. We didn’t speak. We rarely did, because when we actually made the effort, it inevitably ended in an argument. It had always been that way between us. Some things just were.

In contrast to Grace’s flawless exterior, I couldn’t care less about appearances. My uniform jacket was wrinkled, its sleeves rolled up and pushed to just below my elbows. I’d once again passed on the required polished oxford shoes for a pair of Chucks that had seen better days. My hair was disheveled and longer than the dean allowed in his thick book of rules. But some things were worth a few demerits. And if the Wills Institute was so concerned about outward
appearance that they would actually kick out a student because of his shoes, then so be it. At least then I wouldn’t have to look at Grace’s smug face anymore.

I scratched my head and yawned, my black hair sticking up haphazardly with the distinct air of not giving a crap. Funnily enough, I mused, our hair color was the only thing Grace and I really had in common. Maybe that’s why our parents had chosen me for adoption—because I had at least one obvious physical trait like my adoptive sister, which might make people ask fewer questions about my heritage. Or maybe they’d walked into the adoption agency and chosen me at random. I didn’t know. What I did know was that my parents had loved me just as much as my sister for as long as I could remember—adoption or no adoption—despite what Grace might have said otherwise.

The clock on the wall was the only thing in the room making a sound, and its constant ticking was driving me crazy. Crazy enough to attempt to engage in conversation with Grace. Sighing, I rolled my head to the side and looked at my sister again. “So what’d you do this time?”

Other than the slight twitch in her left cheek, she gave no indication that she had heard a word I’d said. It wasn’t a surprise. Grace was only ever semipolite to me when she was forced to be.

Mrs. Noonan, the headmaster’s secretary, opened the
door to his office and said, “Headmaster Snelgrove will see you both now.”

Grace stood, took a moment to straighten her skirt, and stepped forward with her head held high. I dragged myself from my chair, dreading every moment of whatever conversation was waiting for us on the other side of that door. Once Grace stepped inside, I stood and followed, muttering under my breath, “Nice talking to ya, sis.”

There were two leather club chairs on the receiving side of the headmaster’s desk, and I’d spent so much time in here, I even had a favorite. So naturally, when I walked into the room, I found Grace sitting in it. I bumped the chair—not accidentally—on my way to the other one, inciting a glare from her. Yeah, I’d pay for that one later.

The headmaster was sitting on the authoritative side of the desk, and when he looked up at us, everything that I thought this conversation would be about blew away like ash in the wind. The familiar chastising look in his eyes was gone, replaced by sorrow and regret. Something had happened. Something terrible.

I looked at Grace, and in a moment that I would never forget, she looked back at me in absolute understanding. Before the headmaster could even speak, we knew our parents were dead.

“Grace. Adrien. It’s good to see you again.” He cleared
his throat and glanced around the room, as if the words that he was searching for had been carved in the dark wood paneling of the walls. But there were no words there, just as there were no words on my tongue. I wasn’t sure how I knew that my parents were dead, exactly. It was just this sinking, terrible, black-hole sensation at the center of my chest. I felt like I was collapsing into myself, like if I were to succumb to the feeling of dread that was spreading out from my center down my limbs, I might cease to exist. My psychiatrist might point out that I was having a panic attack, or that I was prone to such jumps in thought and emotion due to my anxiety, but I knew that this time it was more than that. My parents—our parents, to be fair—were gone.

The headmaster opened a drawer on the right side of his desk and retrieved a box of tissues. He set the box on his desk, but neither of us made a move for it. There was no room for tears. Only the desert of shock and dread.

The headmaster cleared his throat again, and, finally, he got down to business. “I wish that we were meeting under better circumstances. I’m afraid that I have some terrible news. It seems that there was an accident. Involving your parents. Your father and mother . . . they didn’t survive. I’m so sorry.”

I swallowed, but every bit of moisture in my mouth had evaporated. I couldn’t form words. My entire vocabulary had
been consumed by my grief. There was nothing more to say.

Grace spoke, her voice just as calm and even as ever. Hearing it made my heart rate pick up in anger. “What exactly happened? An accident in the lab?”

How could she be calm at a time like this? But there she was, poised, even camera ready, her tone the same as if she were inquiring about her grade on a recent chemistry test.

“Why would you assume that? It could have been anything. A car accident. An armed robbery. Why would you assume it was in the lab?” But as the words left my mouth, that little voice at the back of my mind whispered its own poignant question,
How did I know they were dead before the headmaster said anything?

“Actually, Grace’s instincts are exactly on point. As far as I’ve been informed, there was some sort of explosion.” He shuffled a stack of papers around on his desk. “Your godfather has sent word that he’ll be here to gather you both this afternoon. You should go to your dormitories and pack. You may await his arrival in the main office. Mrs. Noonan will give you your temporary absence paperwork. I’m sure Viktor will take care of everything that you need from here on. But if there is anything at all that I or my staff can—”

“What about midterms?” If it was possible to do so, Grace sat up even straighter. Sometimes I wondered if she was a Vulcan from Star Trek. All logic, no emotion. It
bothered me. I wasn’t exactly reaching for the tissue box, either, but still, I couldn’t deny that there was a hole in me, this horrible emptiness. It was obvious that Grace felt nothing but concern for herself. The headmaster was looking at her in a kind of surprised daze. Grace said, “They’re next week. How long will we be gone?”

After a pause, he said, “You are, of course, welcome to return to class when you’re ready, Ms. Dane. But I would hope that you’d consider taking some time away from your studies to properly grieve.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

She snapped her eyes to me when I spoke, as if she’d been suddenly dropped into an ice bucket of disbelief that someone would dare accuse her of being anything other than perfect. I leaned toward her and chose my words carefully, but coldly. “They’re
, Grace. Mom and Dad are dead. And you’re seriously worried about midterms? Our parents are gone.

She drew her arms up around her and pulled her gaze away from mine. “I was just asking.”

My jaw tightened until the ache spread up the sides of my face.

Headmaster Snelgrove kept his voice calm, but stern. “Arrangements can be made for any make-up work, should either of you desire. But right now, we think it’s best that you
each take the time you need. And, of course, when you are ready to return, our counseling staff is completely at your disposal.”

There were other words, kind words, but I heard none of them. The screeching sound of my pain was growing too quickly to allow anything else inside my mind. Dead. My parents were dead. The only parents I had ever known. My father. My mother. The people who had picked me out of all the other kids to adopt. I was now thirteen. And an orphan. Again.

An hour later, we were both standing outside in front of the main entrance—a no-doubt neatly packed suitcase in Grace’s hand, a stuffed duffel bag in mine. I remember I hadn’t really packed. It had been more like going through the motions, gathering items, shoving them into a bag, and not thinking much about what they were or what I might need. I was in pure survival mode.

When Viktor’s car pulled up, a new sense of dread filled me. What would life be like now, with him and Julian as my guardians? Who would be my family? Them? Grace?

Viktor opened the driver’s side door and stepped out of the car. He still looked as he had the last night I’d seen him, over Thanksgiving break. Handsome, with his dark hair and bright blue eyes. He was wearing a suit—something
I’d never seen him without. There had always been a sense of formality to Viktor, a sense of obligation to impress. It reminded me of Grace.

His face was drawn as he helped us put our bags in the trunk. “I’m so terribly sorry, children. I’m not sure what could have gone wrong. But please know that I will be here for you whenever you need me.”

He closed the trunk with a thud and placed his hands on our shoulders. His eyes met ours in turn as he spoke. “I’m your legal guardian now, so I mean that in any sense. I’ve known you since you were this high, and we’ve always been as close as family. That’s true now more than ever. I want to help you however I can.”

With a squeeze and one last, meaningful look at each of us, Viktor let go and moved toward the driver’s door. “Shall we go? I thought it best that you stay with me until after the funeral. Longer, if either of you prefers. Whatever I can do . . .”

“Take us home, Viktor.” The words left my mouth before I could even really think them. But once I did, I knew that was exactly what I needed—where I needed to be.

Viktor nodded, not understanding. “Of course.”

home.” Viktor met my gaze and furrowed his brow in confusion and sorrow. I could feel my bottom lip
shaking, but refused to let tears fall. Crying wouldn’t solve anything. “I want to see the lab. I want to see where they died.”

Grace’s hand was on the passenger’s side door handle. As she opened the door, she shot me a glare. “You’re being ridiculous.”

But I didn’t think I was being ridiculous at all. “Aren’t you even a tiny bit curious?”

“Morbid. That’s what this is, Adrien. Can’t you at least wait until their bodies are cold before you go making this all about you?” Her eyes were bright with anger.

I remember when we were nine and I broke my arm falling off the tree house ladder. Grace went on and on about how I’d almost landed right on her head. According to Grace, I could’ve killed her if I had—broken her neck or something. According to her, she’d barely managed to jump out of my way in time. Never mind my broken arm and that stupid cast that I was forced to wear for eight weeks. The whole thing was so damn traumatic for Grace that it was the subject of every conversation that summer.

Of course, she failed to mention that the only reason I’d fallen was because she was shaking the ladder.

“Children, please.” Viktor held up a hand, stopping the argument before it had really begun. “Grace, I’d be happy to take you to my home and then drive Adrien to see the lab.
I’m sure the investigators will have all they need by the time we arrive. But if not, please don’t make a scene, Adrien. They need time to gather evidence.”

“I can’t believe you’re giving in to his whims, Uncle.” While Viktor was our godfather, he was not any blood relation to our parents. He had been our father’s best friend in college, and they had remained close ever since. He was the closest thing to family we had, now that our parents were gone. But Grace had taken to calling him Uncle several years before that day. It was just one more way for her to push me away. She shook her head and slid into her seat, closing the door a little harder than it required.

I slid into the backseat behind Viktor. Once the engine was running, Viktor said, “We all mourn in our own ways. While some of us require time to gather our thoughts and wrap our minds around whatever feelings our heart may hold—”

“Or time to realize that having a heart and feelings is something that humans were meant to do.” Viktor ignored the words that I had spoken under my breath.

“—Some of us flit about like hummingbirds, gathering nectar from here and there, trying to find some connection, to make sense of it all. Your brother is the latter, Grace. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

The rest of the car ride was silent. When we pulled up
to Viktor’s massive home and the car came to a stop, Grace simply opened the door and got out. Julian, Viktor’s partner, was waiting at the front door to greet us. I couldn’t hear what it was that Grace said to him, but I could tell the tone that she had used to say it by her body language. She stomped off, disappearing through the front door. She was angry. Maybe hurt. I couldn’t care less.

BOOK: The Blood Between Us
9.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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