Chelsea glanced around the tiny single room, double checking that she’d packed everything. Tears welled up as she took in the bare walls and stripped bed. She didn’t want to leave school, but her growing obsession with killing a vampire left little time for classes.
Seeing nothing else to pack, she tied the garbage bag shut and headed for the back parking lot. As she opened the door, frigid winter air robbed her of her breath. Chelsea scurried over to the dumpster and heaved the bag into it. She rushed back to the door to find it closed.
Knowing it to be futile, she tugged on the handle, anyway. “Oh, dammit.” Hands clenched into fists for warmth, she rushed to the front of the dormitory.
Sister Mary Ignatius threw the door open for her immediately. “Get in here! It’s negative twenty out there with the wind.”
“Thank you, s-sister,” Chelsea replied through chattering teeth. “I’m almost done upstairs.”
The nun hurried to her seat by the desk and the heater. “Take your time. I’ll miss you.”
Chelsea swallowed. “It’s only for half a semester. I’ll be back in the fall.”
The old nun nodded, a sympathetic smile on her face. Chelsea headed over to the elevator, hands still clenched into fists. Sister Mary Ignatius didn’t like to lie to people, and the nod covered for her when the truth didn’t work.
Chelsea rushed down the hall to her single room. Once more, she opened drawers and looked under the bed. She double checked the closet and the medicine cabinet. There was nothing left to pack.
“Where’s your young man?”
Chelsea gasped and jumped at Sister Mary Clarence’s voice. She spun around, heart thumping. “You scared me, sister.”
“Obviously.” The nun settled herself on the edge of the tiny couch, crossing her black loafers. “I thought he’d be here, though, and I wanted to talk to him.”
Chelsea’s face heated. “I don’t need any help moving out.”
The nun’s eyebrows rose. “Well, now I’m not sure what to think of him.”
I knew letting Jackson go to Dink’s funeral was a bad idea.
Mary Clarence waved a hand at her. “It’s nothing, Chelsea. I simply wanted to get the measure of him. I know you aren’t leaving because of him. Dink’s death hit you hard.”
Chelsea swallowed against her suddenly tight throat. She couldn’t shake the idea that Dink’s death lay at her drunken feet. “Yes, sister, it did.”
“And this young man has been… a comfort the past two months?”
Chelsea nodded. “Yes, sister. He only wants to help me.”
The nun raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Good. You’ve been in need of comfort, and more than myself, Father Patrick, and the Lord could provide.”
“Sister, I’ll be back next semester.”
The nun rose to her feet with a smile. “You’d better. Or I’ll hunt you down. Me and my Nunchuk rosary.” Mary Clarence rattled the beads in her pocket.
Chelsea laughed and hugged the nun. “I’m going to miss you.”
Mary Clarence’s arms tightened across Chelsea’s back. “You have my number. Call me if you need anything.”
Her face buried in the dark cardigan the nun wore, Chelsea let tears flow. She’d cried entirely too much since her parents had died, but for once, it seemed to give her some kind of release.
“Get it out.” Mary Clarence rocked from side to side. “You’ve got to find a way to live with what you cannot change. It’s eating you up.”
You don’t sister, but I’m going to destroy the monster that killed Dink.
Except she wasn’t. Chances were good the specific vampire that killed Dink had skipped town.
Chelsea pushed away the contradictory thoughts as she stepped away. If Mary Clarence sensed weakness, she’d pounce faster than any cat. “I’m done here, sister. I can’t find any more reasons to procrastinate.”
The nun flashed a mischievous grin that erased a decade from her face. “I have one.” She gestured for Chelsea to follow and hurried to the lounge at the end of the hall.
Fish and mermaids twined themselves into letters on a banner that hung over the black-screened TV: See you soon, Chelsea Childling. The eleven other girls who lived on her floor beamed at her and lifted red, plastic cups in salute.
Chelsea wiped away tears and held out her arms. Floor Three swarmed, knocking her the floor. They helped her to her feet and pressed filched cafeteria cake on her. Chelsea ate the crumbly, dry pastry with a grin as the last few months fell away.
She relaxed in a familiar sea of laughter and gossip, content to watch and listen. Sara and Danielle argued over who had seen a guy first at a party, while Mary Clarence proclaimed the natural superiority of hog bristle over synthetic bristles.
But as Chelsea’s mouth grew dry from the stale cake, her friends’ laughter turned sharp. The banter over paintbrushes seemed shrill. Chelsea forced a smile as she drifted to the edge of the party, suddenly needing to be gone.
She leaned against a window, staring at the falling snow. Jackson waited for her at their apartment. He had promised some training tonight after she had collected her things.
I should call Amber. She’s always up for fight practice.
And unlike Jackson, Amber didn’t coddle or pull punches.
She plastered on her fake smile and whipped around to face Mary Clarence. The nun sighed and rolled her eyes as her own smile crept across her face. “Get out of here already.”
“Yes, sister.” Chelsea couldn’t help but laugh. She’d known Mary Clarence all her life, and the nun wasn’t one for pulling punches either. She watched her floormates for a few more moments, before squeezing Mary Clarence’s hand, and sneaking to the elevator.
I won’t say goodbye. Not when I’ll be back in the fall.
Her car sat, unlocked, outside her dorm. Clothes and painting supplies filled the seats. Chelsea hurried over, the dry winter air sucking the breath out of her lungs. As she pulled away from the tall, brick building, a weight fell away from her chest.
She dialed through the radio to the oldies station and sang along at the top of her lungs as she drove to the edge of town. There sat the converted warehouse, light spilling out of the high windows.
Chelsea parked next to Amber’s rusted-out sedan but didn’t bother unpacking. The growing gloom meant an even more intense cold was about to roll in. She rushed to the metal door and pulled it open.
Warmth and light spilled over her as she entered the single room of the apartment. Amber sat at the island that designated the kitchen area, while Jackson fried up something that smelled delicious. Chelsea tugged off her jacket and gloves. She had barely hung them up when Jackson’s arms pinned her to his chest.
His warm breath tickled her ear. “Welcome back.”
Chelsea leaned up against him. “After dinner, fight practice?”
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