Once the meeting was adjourned, Bliss was still reeling from everything she'd learned. She was a vampire, or as she corrected herself; a "vam-pyre," which meant fire angel in the Old Tongue, a Blue Blood. One of the undead. So that explained the memories, the nightmares. The voices in her head. It was strange to think of her blood as alive, but that's what they said - that they had all lived before, a long time ago, and were called into service when they were needed. One day they would be in command of all their memories and would learn how to use them.
The knowledge brought a profound feeling of relief. So she wasn't insane. She wasn't losing her mind. What happened at the Met the other afternoon, when she'd blacked out before kissing Dylan, was probably just part of the whole process. That's what Dr. Pat had meant. So she was normal. She was supposed to feel dizzy and sick. After all, her body was changing, her blood was changing. Maybe now that she understood why she was having them, her nightmares wouldn't scare her as much in the future.
Mimi was grinning from ear to ear when the meeting was over. She walked over to Bliss.
"Are you okay?" she asked gently. She knew it would take some getting used to. But finding out about being a Blue Blood was like a kind of graduation or something. When she and Jack had been inducted, their parents had thrown them a surprise party at the 21 Club.
"C'mon," Mimi said. "Let's go get some steak tartare."
They walked a few blocks toward La Goulue, then took a table on the sidewalk. It was late afternoon, but it was still sunny and warm enough to sit outside. They ordered quickly.
"So, let me get this straight. We can't get killed?" Bliss asked, pulling her seat closer so that no one would overhear their conversation.
"No, we live forever," Mimi said airily.
"Like, forever?" Bliss didn't think she could handle that. How could she live forever exactly. Like, wouldn't she get all wrinkly and stuff?
"Like, forever," Mimi echoed.
"What about the silver stake through the heart?"
"Only if it's from Tiffany's!" Mimi cackled. She took a sip of her Pellegrino. "No, seriously, you've watched too much Bulb. There's nothing that can hurt us. But you know Hollywood. They had to think of ways to kill us off somehow. I don't know how we got such a bad rap." She smiled sweetly, a beautiful monster. "It's all created by The Conspiracy, you know. They like to mislead the Red Bloods."
Bliss's head swam. She still felt confused. "But we die after a hundred years?"
"Only the physical shell. If you choose. Your memories last forever, so you're never really dead," Mimi said, clutching the tiny green bottle of sparkling water and taking another gulp.
"What about sucking blood and all that?"
"It's fun," Mimi said, her eyes glazing over dreamily, thinking about her Italian hunk. "Better than sex."
"Don't be such a prude. I've had tons of humans."
"You're like a vampire slut," Bliss joked.
Mimi's face darkened, but then she saw the humor in it. "Yeah, a real vamp, that's me."
Their food arrived - rare pink slices of tuna carpaccio for Mimi and a mound of steak tartare soaked in a raw egg for Bliss.
Bliss thanked whoever made eating uncooked beef not only acceptable but fashionable and dug into her entr��e. She wondered how Dylan would feel if she wanted to make him her human familiar. Did she just, you know, start necking and then chomp on him?
The tables on the sidewalk were quickly filling up with diners from the surrounding neighborhood, mostly women in chic leather and suede coats and pristine denim trousers, holding bulging shopping bags from Madison Avenue stores, stopping by for a quick reprieve from an exhausting day of trying on clothes. Bliss looked around. Almost every table was picking at similarly uncooked foods. She wondered how many of them were Blue Bloods. Maybe all of them?
"What about the sun? Doesn't it like, kill us?" she asked, between bites. The steak melted on her tongue, cold and tart.
"Are you shriveling up and dying right now?" Mimi snickered. "All of us go to Palm Beach every Christmas. Hello!"
Bliss had to admit she wasn't. Dying, that is, from sun exposure. But she did get itchy, and told Mimi about that.
"You just have to see Dr. Pat. There's a pill you take if you're allergic. Some of us are; it's genetic. But you're lucky, the pill you get, it clears acne too. Isn't that great?"
Mimi put down her fork, wiped her lips with a napkin, then took out a Tweezerman file and began sharpening her back teeth with it.
"It's good for the fangs," she matter-of-factly informed Bliss.
Bliss was disconcerted. For a moment, she had looked past the Mimi sitting there and into the face of a person whom she felt she used to know.
"It happened, huh?"
"You saw me. Or, you know, some version of me, in some past life of yours."
"Is that what it was?"
"Who was I?" Mimi asked, curious.
"Don't you know?"
Mimi sighed. "Not really. You can go into meditation and learn about your whole history, but it's kind of a pain. You don't really need to."
"You were getting married," Bliss said. "You were wearing a crown."
"Mmmm." Mimi smiled. "I wonder when that was. I don't remember that one. I've been married in Boston, Newport, and Southampton - the one in England, not Long Island. That's where we're from, you know. At least, until we came here. I remember when we settled Plymouth, do you? That's how far back I can go. For now."
But Bliss didn't tell Mimi that in her memory, she'd seen Mimi kissing her groom passionately. And that groom looked an awful lot like her brother, Jack. It was just too creepy. Maybe there was some kind of Blue Blood explanation for it, but for now, Bliss would keep the disturbing image to herself.
Cordelia had asked Schuyler to meet her for tea in the St. Regis lobby after school. She was waiting for her at their usual table when Schuyler arrived. Her grandmother was sitting in the middle of a bright, beautiful room, Schuyler's bloodhound resting at her feet. The St. Regis didn't usually allow pets in the dining room, but they made an exception for Cordelia. After all, the Astor Court was named after Cordelia's great-grandmother.
Schuyler walked up to her, feeling a mixture of anger and apprehension.
Her grandmother sat serenely, her arms folded on her lap. She looked vibrant and energetic. Her skin glowed, and her hair was a pale, platinum blond, with just a hint of the lightest silver. For the first time, Schuyler noticed that her grandmother always looked like this after her weekly treatment at Jorge's. But now she wondered - was the flamboyant South American merely her hairdresser? Or one of Cordelia's human familiars? Schuyler decided she didn't want to know.
"May I be the first to offer congratulations," Cordelia said.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to be so happy about," Schuyler replied.
Cordelia motioned to the chair across from her. "Sit down, granddaughter. We have much to talk about." A tuxedoed waiter approached, and Cordelia ordered the three-course tea service. "Chinese Flowers for me, please," Cordelia decided, closing the menu.
Schuyler sat down, and Beauty nestled her head on Schuyler's lap. Schuyler patted her dog absently, wondering if Beauty were really her guardian angel, or just a stray dog that she'd found on the street. She took a cursory glance at the leather-bound menu and paged through it. "Earl Grey is fine for me, thanks."
"Why didn't you tell me before?" Schuyler demanded, when the waiter had left.
"It is not our way," Cordelia said simply. "The burden of knowing oneself shouldn't be cast until you are ready. And we have found Priscilla does an excellent job with the induction ceremony."
Priscilla DuPont. The Chief Warden. Committee Chair. Socialite. Whatever she really was.
"Cordelia, how old are you exactly?" Schuyler asked.
Cordelia smiled. A rueful, knowing smile. "You have guessed correctly. I have gone beyond the usual cycle. I am tiring of this Expression. But I have my reasons for staying."
"Because of my mother ..." Schuyler said. It dawned on her that Cordelia had been allowed to live longer so that she could take care of her, since her mother was ... what was her mother doing exactly? If she was an all-powerful vampire, then why was she in a coma?
Her grandmother looked pained. "Yes. Your mother has made some terrible choices."
"Why? Why is she in a coma? If she's invulnerable, why won't she wake up?"
"That is not for me to discuss," Cordelia said sharply. "Whatever she has done, you should count yourself privileged to have her heritage."
Schuyler wanted to ask her grandmother what she meant by that, but the waiter had arrived bearing a silver three-story tray laden with scones, sandwiches, and petit fours. Shiny silver teapots filled with brewing tea were placed next to their porcelain cups.
Schuyler hastened to pour and was admonished by her grandmother. "The strainer."
She nodded and placed the silver tea-leaf catcher on top of her cup. The waiter took the teapot and poured the hot tea into the cup. The pleasant aroma of steeped bergamot filled her senses. She smiled. Ever since she was a little girl, she'd enjoyed the afternoon ritual. In the background, the harpist was playing a gentle melody.
For a few moments, nothing was said as she and her grandmother helped themselves to the treats. Schuyler put a lavish spoonful of Devonshire cream on a scone and topped it off with a dollop of lemon curd. She took a bite, murmuring her delight.
Cordelia dabbed her napkin on her mouth. She chose a small finger sandwich filled with crab salad, took a tiny bite, then put it back on her plate.
Schuyler discovered she was starving. She took a sandwich - a thin, square cucumber one, and another scone.
The waiter silently refilled the top two levels of their tray, gliding in unobtrusively.
"What did you mean by lucky?" she asked her grandmother. She was confused. It sounded like she'd had some sort of choice for being who she was, but from all she learned at the meeting, being a Blue Blood was her destiny.
Cordelia shrugged. She lifted the lid of her teapot and frowned at the waiter who was standing quietly against the wall. "I'd like some more hot water please," she said.
"Are you really my grandmother?" Schuyler asked, between bites of the smoked salmon on rye.
Cordelia smiled again. It was disconcerting, as if a curtain had been raised and Schuyler was finally allowed a real peek at the old woman.
"Technically, no. You are wise to discern that. There have been Four Hundred of us since the beginning of time. We do not have progeny in the traditional sense. As you have learned, through the cycles, many are called but some choose to rest. More and more of us are resting, slumbering, choosing not to evolve and staying in the primal state. When our bodies expire, all that is left is a single drop of blood with our DNA pattern, and when it is time to release a new spirit, those of us who choose to carry are implanted with the new life. So in a way, we are all related, but we are not related at all. But you are my charge and my responsibility."
Schuyler was bewildered by her grandmother's words. What exactly did she mean by that? "And my father?" she asked tentatively, thinking of the tall man in the dark suit who visited her mother.
"Your father is of no concern to you," Cordelia replied coldly. "Think no more of him. He was not worthy of your mother."
"But who ...?" Schuyler had never known her father. She knew his name: Stephen Chase, and that he was an artist who had met her mother at his gallery opening. But that was all. She knew nothing of her father's family.
"Enough. He is gone, that is all you need to know. I told you, he died soon after you were born," Cordelia said. She reached over and smoothed her granddaughter's hair. It was the first time Cordelia had shown Schuyler physical affection in a very long time.
Schuyler reached for a strawberry tart. She felt deflated and uneasy, as if Cordelia wasn't telling her everything.
"It is a hard time for us, you see," Cordelia explained as she surveyed the plate of petit fours and chose a hazelnut cookie. "There are less and less of us who are choosing to go through the proper cycles, and our values, our way of life, is quickly disappearing. Not many of us are adhering to The Code anymore. There is corruption and dissent in the ranks. Many fear that we will never reach the exalted state. Instead, there are those who choose to fade away into the darkness that threatens to take us. Immortality is a curse and a blessing. I have lived too long already. I remember too much." Cordelia took a long sip from her teacup, her pinky finger pointed down daintily.
As Cordelia put down her cup, her face changed. It sagged and withered in front of Schuyler's eyes. Schuyler felt a wave of sympathy for the old woman, vampire or not.
"What do you mean?"
"It is a coarse time we live in. Full of vulgarity and despair. We have tried our best to influence, to show the way. We are creatures of beauty and light, but the Red Bloods no longer listen to us. We have become irrelevant. There are too many of them now, and too few of us. It is their will that will change this world, not ours."
"What do you mean? Charles Force is the richest and most powerful man in the city, and Bliss's father is a senator. They're both Blue Bloods, aren't they?" Schuyler asked.
"Charles Force," Cordelia said grimly as she stirred honey into her tea. She released her teaspoon with such anger, the other patrons looked up at the sound. Her face was set. "He has his own agenda. As for Senator Llewellyn, holding political office is a direct violation of our Code. We do not interfere directly with human political affairs. But times have changed. Look at his wife," Cordelia said, with a hint of distaste. "There is nothing Blue Blood about her taste and clothing - 'downwardly aspirational, I believe it's called." She sighed as Schuyler rested her hands on hers. "You are a good girl. I have told you too much already. But perhaps it will help when you realize the truth one day. But not now."
It was all Cordelia would say on the matter.
They finished their tea in silence. Schuyler ate a bite out of a chocolate ��clair, but put it down on her plate without finishing it. After everything Cordelia had told her, she was no longer hungry.
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