Path Is Clear
Julianna felt numb, but along with that numbness came a certain type of clarity. She could see the path laid out before her, and while it terrified her, she knew it was what she must do. The brunette stood outside their small house -- it was more like a cabin, really -- that was nestled on the 'campus' of the Soldiers of the Sun. The cold metal of keys were between her shaking fingers. There a was a lone light shining in the darkness; it came from Drake's tiny bedroom. The brunette took a deep breath, choking slightly on the cold November air. Sliding the key into the lock, she entered what was supposed to be her home.
Hanging her jacket on the hook beside the front door, it was with tentative steps that she climbed up the small set of stairs. The second floor was an addition to the dwelling, and it never really fit right. But that was where their bedrooms were. Downstairs was a bathroom, a kitchenette, and a living room that was just big enough for a sofa and a television.
"Drake?," she called out. "Did you fall asleep with the light on again?" Julianna checked her watch. 5:07 AM. The sun would be rising soon, and her younger brother would begin his daily routine. Bathroom, shower, breakfast, ride his bike to school. The same routine he had when their mother was still their mother, before they knew what real monsters looked like.
A door to her right cracked open, and a teenage boy peered out, disheveled hair hanging in his tired-looking eyes. "Juli," he said, using the family-bestowed name that still awoke a pang of longing inside her. "You said you'd be home by eight. I didn't think that meant in the AM." He stepped out into the small hallway, dressed in a rumpled band t-shirt and sweatpants.
"I'm sorry," she said, sincerity and something else coloring her usually steady voice. "I was afraid."
He nodded, rubbing his eyes and brushing past her. "I'll make us breakfast." Julianna followed him down the stairs wordlessly. The Soldiers usually had breakfast together at 7, but the siblings had always preferred to eat alone. They used to take turns cooking, but lately Drake had been left with all the domestic responsibilities. Who's really taking care of who?, she wondered, taking a seat at the square wooden table. A glass of orange juice was placed before her, and she drank it gratefully.
The sound of butter sizzling in a hot skillet filled the room. Drake busied himself, pulling ingredients out of the compact refrigerator, chopping things, stirring and humming to himself. He had always been a morning person. He hated the dark; that's why she usually found his light on in the morning. She had teased him, told him that Soldiers usually operated in the dark. He replied that he wouldn't be in the dark with God guiding him. There was no irony in his tone, Julianna marveled. He really did believe in the stuff that the Fellowship fed them.
Breakfast was eaten in silence. Scrambled eggs, toast, bacon. Julianna was hungry, but she couldn't really taste any of it. She drank three glasses of orange juice before she finally spoke up. "They're making an exception for you."
Drake nodded, wiping his mouth with a paper towel. "As my guardian, you have to sign the form. It's the only way I can begin training before turning eighteen." He looked up at her. "Juli," he said again, and the pleading in his voice made her heart want to break. "This is what I need to do. This is what I was meant to do." Julianna stared at him blankly for a moment before pushing back her chair. It squeaked unpleasantly against the cheap linoleum floor.
"I can't," she replied. "It's a mistake. All of it is."
"You're just afraid," he shot back. "All you've ever been good at is fighting. Fighting with mom, fighting with people at school, fighting vampires. Now you're going to fight me, too? We've never argued, Juli. You brought me here, remember? You just expect me to live in a bubble and not become a part of this? To not try to get rid of the things that killed our mother?"
"It isn't your responsibility," she told him. "I do this because I have to. And you're right; it is the only thing I'm good at. And you want to know why that is? Do you want to know what's been keeping your sister going through all of this?"
Drake shook his head slowly. "You think I don't know," he said flatly. "You think I'm stupid, or blind. You take V. I know. I've seen you do it when you think I'm not there."
Julianna's face went through a gamut of expressions then: shock, shame, fear, and finally settling on anger. "You've been spying on me?"
Her brother sighed, took a tentative step toward her. "It's okay, Julianna. I'm not angry with you for doing it. But you need help. You need the church's help." Julianna recoiled, her mouth twisting into a combination of a grimace and a sneer.
"Where do you think I got it in the first place? Who do you think made me take it? Jesus Christ, Drake. The Fellowship gives all of us V, and you know what? They're going to make you take it, too. And it's going to make you feel great. Powerful, strong, invincible. You'll forget the fact that the monster you're fighting is now inside you. You'll forget everything, until the dose they give you isn't enough. And you'll get so desperate, and sick, that you'll do anything for more. Including killing a drug dealer and stealing it from him." The impromptu confession slipped past her lips, and her eyes widened before brimming with tears. She turned away from him and ran up the stairs.
Drake stood for a moment, trying to process his sister's words. "Juli, wait!" He galloped up the stairs after her. Her bedroom door was flung open. He stepped inside. She was tossing clothes inside a bag. On her bed lay three red vials. He crossed the room in seconds and snatched up the blood. She saw this and lunged for him, but he was taller then her. He held the vials out of reach. And then he stood next to her open window.
"Don't you fucking dare," she whispered venomously.
In one single moment, her brother dropped the vials out of the window. Outside was a concrete patio. She could hear the glass shatter and break. She could imagine the blood spilling out. Julianna clutched her stomach. She wasn't anywhere near having withdrawals yet, but the knowledge that they would be on their way soon made her insides twist. "Drake," she said. "You fucker."
He ignored this, and shouldered past her toward the door. "Go on, go out there and see if you can salvage any of it. I know that's what you're thinking."
Julianna laughed, and she couldn't even recognize the sound as coming from within her. "No," she said. "Once I go out that door, I'm never coming back." She zipped up her bag and threw it over her shoulder. "Give me the form."
"What?" Now Drake looked scared, and more like a little boy than she had ever seen him. She ignored that. Pretended she wasn't feeling anything. She had become very good at this.
"I'm going to sign the form. You've gotten your wish, Soldier."
Shaking, Drake left the room and returned a few moments later, a piece of paper and pen in hand. She set it gently on her shabby dresser, signed and dated the bottom. Turning to him, she pulled him into her arms, but the embrace was not tender or loving. "You're on your own now," Julianna whispered against his ear. Pulling back, her green eyes met his. And then she walked down the steps, and she left.