Vampire Code: The Road Leads Out

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Sylvia stayed late after school to tutor a friend in math. By the time she arrived home, her ma was helping Zap with his homework.

“I’ll be down in a bit,” she said. She felt tired and grungy. She’d stayed up all night before. But this time, she was so tired.

She fell asleep in the bath.

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It was night when she woke. The water had cooled and her toes were chilly prunes.

“Where’s Zap?” she said when she came downstairs.

“In bed already, dear,” replied Miranda. “It’s past his bedtime. And how are you? Home safe and sound after your adventures?”

“Oh, Ma!”

Miranda wrapped Sylvia in a hug. “Don’t think we don’t know when you’re out all night,” she whispered.

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“I know, Ma,” Sylvia said. “Nothing escapes you and Papa .”

She felt her stomach sink in a premonition of guilt.

“You are right about that,” her mother said. “For example, we know you didn’t make it to your lesson last night.”

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The guilt crashed down.

“I was going to,” Sylvia began.

“No,” replied her mother, “it’s not good enough.”

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And then came the litany of all the reasons why Sylvia should count herself lucky. Why, that the Count would even agree to see her, without her having gone to finishing school, or coming with five letters of introduction, or having to move through the progressions of supplication, was practically a miracle, and due, in no small part, to a certain standing of the family along the maternal line…

“I would think you would consider yourself fortunate, Sylvie,” her ma said, “that he would deign to accept you as a student. And now, you’re throwing the opportunity away.”

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Sylvia swallowed. Why was her throat so tight all of a sudden?

“It’s not that I don’t want to learn,” she said. “And it’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m grateful I can learn… I like some of it. It’s just–I know you went out of your way so I could study with him, and I know that’s why we moved here and all of that. It’s just–”

Her mother waited for her to continue.

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“Just that you’re a very fortunate young lady,” her mother said.

“Not really,” Sylvia muttered.

“What’s that?”

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“You think I’m lucky,” Sylvia said. “You think I should be grateful that I can learn–and I am–but not with him. And not…”

“Not what, dear?” her mother asked, in that slow way she had of showing how patient and understanding she was. It was a trick that Sylvia knew well.

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“I never asked for this,” Sylvia said at last.

“Don’t be silly,” said her mother. “Do any of us ask for our positions? Why, when I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina! Can you imagine?”

“But you are a dancer,” Sylvia said. “And you fell in love with Papa. Nobody made you you choose him. And you–you take to it all. You like your life.”

“As will you,” said Miranda. “We come from a long line, Sylvia. We have always done what was expected. We’ve always answered the pulse of our lineage. Just wait. Your papa and I have been receiving many inquiries from the finest of families. You haven’t gone unnoticed, dearest. Soon, with a little more polishing, we can put your graces on display, and once you see the line of suitors, my dear! All of this will be worthwhile!”

But it wouldn’t.

This was what she’d suspected it was all heading for.

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It was one thing to be trained in the old ways.

It was another thing to be groomed to take one’s position in the noble line.

But it was quite another to be trumped before the sons of other members of court, like merchandise–like a pawn in a play for alliances! She could never make her mother understand.

“I’ve got homework,” Sylvia said, walking towards the hall.

“Can I tell the Count you’ll make your next lesson?” her mother asked.

“Tell him whatever you like,” Sylvia said.

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She didn’t head upstairs to the garret.

She walked through the kitchen and out the side door. The night air felt crisp after the stuffiness of the parlor.

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She wasn’t a pawn. She wasn’t a piece of property to be traded. She couldn’t be made to study with that creepy old man who gave her the creeps and called her names and made fun of her clothes and her background and her way of talking.

She wouldn’t do it.

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She wouldn’t keep this going, this tradition that was nothing more than forced servitude. She wouldn’t get married to the guy her parents chose. She wouldn’t align herself with old ways that forced her into this life that she had no taste for.

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She wouldn’t marry. Not ever. She wouldn’t drink. Never. She couldn’t be forced against her will.

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There had to be a way out.

There was a way out.

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“Do you think that everyone in my life has always approved of everything I’ve done?”

That’s what Aylin had asked.

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“It’s not being a rebel that’s the important thing. It’s following your own interests, not the interests that others think up for you.”

Some things were more important.

Calculus was more important than lineage. Being a mathematician was more important than being a Contessa.

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When the time for her next lesson came, she’d be gone.

When the line of suitors formed, she’d be long gone.

When her mother stopped to wonder what would drive away her daughter, she’d be so far gone that not even the slightest sinking feeling of guilt could reach her.

She’d be with Aylin then, learning what it was she’d always wanted to learn: how to be her own person.

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The road led out, and Sylvia took it, past the forests, past the mountains, beyond the clouds, where the empty plain waited and the horizon was so far that all one could see was possibility.

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Whisper 1.31

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Marigold grows into a beautiful teen. Sometimes, I find that I take little sneaking glances at her: she’s just so beautiful to me that it almost hurts to look at her directly.

Do all mothers feel this way? I wonder what her birth mother and father looked like. Who were they? I wish I could let them know who Marigold has become and what a smart, brave, strong, kind, talented miracle she is.

She loves to exercise. Every day, she works out. I’m saving money to buy a home gym. Of course, we’ll need someplace to put it, so I’ve also begun preparations to add on a second story.

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Of course, even miracles have quirks.

One evening, when I come home from a walk, I find Marigold serving tea to a zombie.

I rush over.

“Marigold?” I say. “It’s freezing cold out. Wouldn’t you like to take your tea inside?”

“Oh, no, Mom,” she replies. “Me and my friend here, I didn’t catch your name? We’re having a lovely time here in the moonlight. Care to join us?”

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I head inside and keep an eye on her. The tea party continues in a civilized manner, and then Marigold comes in and goes to sleep.

“Sleep well!” I tell her. “School tomorrow.”

“‘Night, Mom!”

Early the next morning, before dawn, I look out and there she is at the tea table again, in the old sweatshirt she sleeps in and just her undies–no pants, no socks, no shoes. Frost blankets the ground.

“Come inside, get dressed, eat breakfast! The school bus will be here soon, and did you do your homework?”

“Mom,” she calls back. “Everything is under control. Care to join me for a cuppa tea?”

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At ten-thirty in the morning, I think she’s already off at school, when I see her in the front room, doing her homework.

“Marigold!” I say. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at school!”

“Duh! I’m doing my homework! You always say, ‘Do your homework before you go to school,’ so the plan was to do my homework and then go to school! Don’t yell at me.”

“But you missed the school bus! You’re supposed to do your homework in time to catch the school bus!”

“That’s not what you said!”

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She skips school that day and finishes her homework. She’s mad at me, I’m frustrated with her, and mostly, I’m frustrated with myself. It’s that old pattern of not having a reliable schedule coming back to bite us again. What was she doing up drinking tea with a zombie half the night? And then why did she think tea at dawn was a good idea?

I realize that with this new stage she’s at, a little older, a little more independent, a new school, I’ll have to set the boundaries clearly once again.

“OK,” I tell her later, once we’ve both calmed down and are feeling friendly toward each other again. “Here’s the deal. When you can, do your homework as soon as you get home from school. If that doesn’t work, because you’re tired or need a bath or just need to have fun, then do your best to do your homework before bed. If you absolutely can’t do that, then try to get up early enough to do it before the bus comes. Don’t miss the bus. If the bus comes, and you still haven’t done your homework, catch the bus and then finish your homework in homeroom. OK? Does that sound like a plan?”

She gets it.

“I’m sorry , Mom. I was being literal. I know that. I think I can be responsible without being a brat about it.”

I still feel badly. I know I brought a little bit of confusion on us by having been so lax when she was a little toddler. Schedules. There’s something to say for schedules.

While I reflect on this, I notice that the strange fruit I’ve been growing looks ready to pick.

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Without even finishing the weeding, I harvest the plant.

The tuberous root feels heavier than usual, and the root nodules look like a little face. Now this is something for the State Fair! Or maybe Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

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But it seems the root nodules are not roots at all.

It is a tiny nose. A little mouth. Two eyes.

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I free it from the plant membranes, and it is a little plant baby! A boy!

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“What are you?” I ask the little baby.

“Bobobo,” he says.

“Mom, who are you talking to?” Marigold asks.

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“Mari, you’re not going to believe this,” I say. “You know how you wanted a puppy and we got Zoey, and everybody’s happy? Well. What are your thoughts about a baby brother?”

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What do we do with a plant baby? How do we care for it? Do we need to return it to somebody, like to a tree? Do we take it to the forest?

I know someone who will know the answers.

I pick up the phone.

“Shea,” I say when he answers. “How have you been?”

It is so good to hear his voice.

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Shea informs me that the baby is mine: Gardener’s Gift, it’s called. He assures me that plant babies are simple to care for. “Just give talk to him, give him lots of love, like all plants need.”

Though he tells me the baby has no special needs, I still feel nervous, caring for a little green thing, come to our lives so unexpectedly.

“I’d feel better if you were here,” I tell Shea. He agrees to visit and stay for a while. He can get here tomorrow morning!

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Earlier, I’d promised Marigold that we could go to the Fall Festival that evening. Shea said it’s good for plant babies to get outside, especially in the rain, so after supper, I put the baby in Marigold’s old stroller and we head out.

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The baby reaches for the rain drops, laughing.

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“Look, Mom!” Marigold says. “Bobobo is playing!”

“What did you call him?”

“Bobobo. That’s his name.”

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He laughs and spreads his arms to embrace the rain. I notice for the first time that he is beautiful.

Marigold gets her face painted, but the artist messes up and the flower on her cheek looks like a squished spider.

“Take that!” she yells, hammering at the gnomes that pop up on the whacking game.

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“Are you mad?” I ask her on the way home.

“Mad?” she says. “No! What for?”

“The way you were whacking those gnomes,” I say.

“Mom! That’s the game! It’s Whack-a-Gnome, not ‘Ooochy, goochy, goo-goo.'”

We laugh. When she heads up to bed, she tells me that she’s happy to have a new brother.

“Surprises are cool, Mom. Just watch and see. This is gonna be great.”

I wonder. I was an older mom when I adopted Marigold, and I counted myself lucky to still be around to see her reach her teen years. I’m hoping to see her become an adult. But I have no illusions. I’m of the age to be a grandma, and not a young grandma, either. What am I doing with this little sprout? Will I have the energy to care for him when he’s an active toddler? And who will guide him into his teen years and beyond?

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