Usually Julianna worked out at the facilities that the Fellowship provided for their soldiers, but tonight she had wanted the privacy that being around her peers didn't afford her. The after-work hours made the gym incredibly busy, but she knew none of the people there, so it was fine for her needs. The brunette exited the fitness center, her post-shower damp hair pulled into a messy ponytail and bag slung over her shoulder. She took in a deep breath of the cold air, her arms crossing over her chest as she leaned against a wall and watched people streaming past her, catching cabs and heading to the nearby train station. She scratched her leg with a sneakered foot and sighed.
In truth, she was delaying the inevitable. Her brother had left a note before he had headed out to school in the morning -- unlike her, he was determined to finish high school -- saying he needed to talk to Julianna later that night. Well, it was later now, and her feet felt like concrete. She knew Drake would be disappointed in her if she didn't show, but she couldn't bring herself to get on the Red Line and head home. Mostly because she had an inkling of what he wanted to talk about.
Theresa had actually just come off of the Red, and she pulled her red hoodie tighter around herself as she finished climbing the stairs to the street. She felt like she was never going to get used to how this place smelled. Inside her pocket, her hand closed around the thick leather wallet she was now carrying. There had to be a good three hundred dollars in the billfold, the light-green bills tucked safely out of sight. Her last customer the night before had taken forever to get off, so she'd lifted his wallet out of his expensive jacket before she left. If nothing else, the money would come in handy, and who was he going to tell?
The vampire crossed the street, mentally debating on whether she should go home or if hanging out was a possibility. Not that she had anyone to hang out with, at least not anymore, but she was used to that. Theresa shook her head at herself. She'd cruise for a while, see what happened. She started off away from the train station, and she'd gotten about half a block when she saw Rain slouched against a wall. Apparently she'd missed the memo about this being dilemma time. "Oh." As if she'd actually expected to find the other brunette right here and right now. "Hey. Waiting on somebody?"
Julianna blinked, then shook her head slightly as if shaking off water. A tentative smile appeared when she saw it was Theresa who was speaking to her, and she stopped slouching against the wall for support. Shifting the weight of her bag, she nodded in greeting. "No, I work out here sometimes." She gestured to the entrance of the gym behind her. "Sometimes I need a moment to adjust when I've spent a few hours in there. All these people." She tucked a damp strand of hair behind her ear.
There was a choice here. She could dump this now and not even try to have a conversation, or she could pretend she didn't suspect the other girl would want her dead if her vampirism was confirmed. Theresa sidled closer, took up a piece of the wall next to Rain. She could run if she had to.
"Crowds not your thing?" she asked. "Guess it depends on the fat slob quotient, especially once the sweating starts."
"It's not the crowds, just...the way everyone rushes around. They're only heading home." Julianna was never in a particular hurry to get there. It wasn't bad, but sometimes it was frustrating living under the Fellowship's thumb. It was cheap, and convenient, but it constantly felt as if Big Brother was breathing down her neck. She had felt more free even living with her mother. But she was afraid to strike out on her own.
"I had to get out of the house," she admitted to Theresa. "It was getting too claustrophobic."
"You dad bugging you?" In Theresa's experience, it was usually the parents running their kid out of the house for whatever reason, and she eyed the gym bag the other brunette was carrying for a second before adding, "We could hang out for a little while if you wanted. Have you eaten? I've got some cash, we could go grab something."
Yeah, because this was a good idea. Exactly the sort of idea that had gotten her killed the first time. Theresa wasn't sure she cared. "You like burgers?"
Julianna laughed and shook her head again, stepping away from the wall and interrupting the flow of sidewalk traffic. She ignored the annoyed people who shouldered past her. "Never met the guy. For all I know, he's dead." She shivered a little; the temperature was steadily dropping. "Yeah, food sounds good. Do you have any place in mind?" She caught Theresa's eye. Of course, being a native girl, she knew plenty of eateries nearby. For once, though, she didn't mind not being the one to make a decision.
"I forgot to ask last time...do you live alone?"
"Yeah, I have an apartment near U of C, a studio. Its not much, but its got a bed and a shower." Theresa propped one foot against the wall, shifted her posture. No dad usually meant divorce or death, but she could be wrong about that too. "There's a place a few blocks from here, they have cheesesteaks and good coffee. Its a little bit of a walk, but they're open twenty-four hours. Feel like staying out late?"
"You have no idea." Julianna gestured for Theresa to lead the way. There was still plenty of light to see by, thanks to the street lamps, and she studied the smaller girl's profile. She was one of those girls who appeared to be young and innocent, but turned out to be anything but. That was fine with her; if she had learned anything in the past three years, it was that appearances were deceiving, and making the mistake of trusting what one saw often cost people their lives.
So what was she doing, going off with Theresa? "I feel like I haven't eaten in days. I get practically force-fed all this healthy crap."
"Junk food's good for you, especially in winter. There's a reason some animals put on a layer of fat when the cold months roll around. And I think its gonna be extra cold this year. A lot different than Hollywood." If there was one thing Theresa missed about the west coast, it was the year-round warm season. Even when it rained, it wasn't completely miserable.
"Not that you're fat," she added off-handedly as she and Rain started to make their way down the sidewalk. "But rabbit food isn't any good for providing insulation if you need it. And girls who don't eat are so stuck in the nineties anyway."
Julianna followed Theresa as they weaved through the crowd. "My mom never really cooked," she replied vaguely. "We ended up ordering pizza a lot. But then I moved out, and..." The brunette hesitated, cocking her head to the side slightly. "I met some really fitness-conscious roommates." She smiled to herself. She wondered what Theresa would think if she saw the Soldiers of the Sun compound. It was startling to realize that she hoped the girl never did.
"What's Hollywood like? I don't think I could stand in there. I'd end up punching someone out in the first minute."
"It depends on how close you get," Theresa answered. "Those entertainment shows in TV are good at showing off the places where movies are being filmed and what actor eats lunch where, but they never get at the dirt beneath. There's just as many homeless people, drugs, and crime there as anywhere else. It just gets dressed up prettier for the cameras."
She sounded cynical and she knew it, but she'd lived it and there was no reason to act as if she hadn't. "I miss the beach, though." Almost like it was an afterthought. "We used to go there in the summers when I was a little kid. Its one of the few good memories I have of growing up."
"We have beaches here," Julianna replied. "But they're off limits to swimmers in the cold months. Not like that really stops anyone, but who wants to literally freeze their ass off?" Was she actually having a conversation with someone that didn't involve killing vampires or taking V? The realization surprised her, and she almost laughed. If Theresa was a vampire, it was pretty ironic. She remembered her strange conversation with Adam Thurston, despite repeated attempts to shove it out of her mind.
"Is that it up there?," Julianna asked, pointing to a stand-alone restaurant up ahead. Being downtown, it was allotted the minimum amount of space.
"Yeah, that's it. We can probably get a table in the back. Its late enough that not many people should be around." The half-block separating them from their destination didn't take long to walk, and a blast of warm air washed over Theresa as she opened the door to step inside. Although human food didn't provide nourishment for her anymore, sometimes she liked the play-acting of sitting down for a meal.
"I'll just have the usual," she told the waitress, watching the woman fill her coffee mug. "Whatever she wants, I'm paying."
The usual. Julianna looked up at the waitress, and there was indeed a glimmer of recognition in her expression. Most vampires she had come across, the ones who were more concerned with the brutality of it, didn't let their faces get familiar with anyplace or anyone. The ones who lobbied for vampire rights were usually more sociable, trying to fit in with humans. "Cheeseburger and fries, and...a Coke."
Not that she needed the caffeine. She was starving, though; by going to the gym, she had missed dinner. Despite separate living quarters, the soldiers all shared meals together. For once, it was nice not having to wait in a line for her meal.
Maybe that was how vampires felt. Why buy Tru Blood when you could have the real stuff fresh from the tap, right away, for free?
The server went away, and Theresa fooled with the salt shaker for a minute before adding some sugar to her coffee. "So what do you do when you're not working out or clubbing?" she asked the other brunette. She would never have called herself sociable, but she did remember how to make conversation. "I'd probably have seen you more often if you were running with a crowd or something. I think you're already told me you're done with school, so what's new in your life lately?"
Julianna stared at her empty coffee cup where it rested on the formica table, upside-down. "I work for an organization," she replied. "I suppose you could call it a non-profit. They're very big into missions, and...getting things done. Working there, you're expected to be perfect. And if not perfect, then a good recreation of it." She smiled bitterly. "Lately I've been failing on both fronts." She worried her lower lip, looked up when her soft drink was placed before her, ice rattling inside the plastic cup.
"I don't want to be there anymore," Julianna admitted. "But I don't know where else to go."
Getting things done. Theresa looked around as if expecting to see Rain's Fellowship pals come crowding through the door, then faced the mortal again. If she was wrong, it would be not only embarrassing, but probably the end of this fledgling friendship. It would be practically an accusation to imply the other brunette was a part of such a group, and way down in the recesses of her chest she kind of liked the girl.
"This organization of yours doesn't sound very friendly," she hazarded. "Like being in the army, just with more rules."
A long sip of Coke, the bubbles tickling her throat on the way down. "It kind of is like the army," she replied. "And you know what's even worse? My younger brother wants to join it, too. And I try to tell him it would be the biggest mistake of his life, but he doesn't listen. He's always been the good kid, but he's still a pretty typical teenager." Julianna leaned back against the booth, letting out a small sigh.
"I've heard these rumors. Nothing detailed, but enough to know that some pretty bad things can happen to people who leave the...group. Because I know their secrets."
The vampire sat in silence while Brenda, the waitress, came back and put their orders on the table. She'd ordered the tuna melt and a side of potato skins, and once she and Rain were alone again she picked one of them up and put it in her mouth. Chewing had always helped her think.
"I'm gonna show you something, okay?" she said once her mouth was empty. "Because I'd like to be friends and because I think I know what you're skirting around. If I'm wrong, you can yell at me, but I...I don't think I'm wrong."
The spoon rattled against the inside of her cup as she stirred more sugar into the cooling black liquid, then was set down in the nearby saucer. Her upper lip pulled back in a smile away from her teeth. Just enough to show off her canines. The teeth she ate with.
Julianna looked back at Theresa. So it was true. The girl was a vampire. She waited for her own reaction, but none really came. She leaned forward a little. "You know," she began, her voice lowered. "Even with the fangs, you still manage to be cute." Sitting back again, she put a fry in her mouth, chewing it silently and then washing it down with another gulp of Coke.
"I don't want to hurt you," she told Theresa. "And no way in hell am I going to point any Fellowship members in your direction. So you don't have to worry about that." There. All the cards were on the table now.
Theresa let out a breath, and her narrow shoulders relaxed. It had been a risk to show herself like that, but whatever loyalty Rain had to her vigilante friends, it didn't run deep enough to get her in trouble. She settled back against the molded plastic of the bench, ate some more potato skins.
"Is there anything I can do to help you?" she asked. "I don't think these people are the types to have a lot of patience. Do you...can I do anything?"
She poked at her burger. "Do you know any good motels? Cheap ones that take cash and don't ask questions, preferably." Julianna pulled out a pickle slice and ate it. When she was nervous, she picked at her food. "I have a credit card that the Fellowship provides me with, but I can't use that. I used it to buy plane tickets, though, make them think I'm flying out of here."
Closing her eyes for a moment, she opened them again. "Before you found me tonight, I was going to go home. I was going to tell my brother I was through. If he becomes one of them, if he hates me...maybe they won't hurt him when they find out I've jumped ship."
The vampire was thinking, drumming her fingers on the tabletop. Having impractical thoughts. She didn't even have the fighting skills to protect herself, and had learned to keep herself safe by flying way under the radar. But she wanted to help, even if it meant sticking her neck out. It occurred to her that she could ask Finn for sanctuary, that as Sheriff he'd want to protect a defector from the Fellowship, but it might mean a direct confrontation, an armed one. Would he risk that for a warm-blood?
"You can come stay with me." Pause. "At least until we figure something else out. I don't have much room, but I don't need much. No one would think to look for you there."
Julianna nodded. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I'm a pretty good roommate. I pick up after myself." Then she remembered something, and she put her hand over her face. "Shit. I forgot about something." Theresa might not take kindly to the small matter of her V addiction. Most vampires hated the fact that humans used their blood as a drug. Especially when said humans used that drug to kill other vampires.
Theresa was thinking about the stolen wallet in her pocket, wondering how long the money would last. Rain didn't know she fucked for money. But she'd never brought a john back to her place; it was one of the ways she protected herself. When you were small, you learned to do what was necessary to keep safe, no matter how strong you might be. "You might as well tell me," she said patiently. "We've already gotten the major stuff out in the open, right?"
She took a wavering breath and took her hand away from her face. She met Theresa's eye. "You've probably heard about this, I don't know. Word tends to leak out. In order to make the Soldiers of the Sun strong enough to fight vampires, they fed us V. Vampire blood. And I sort of...got addicted. I've been slowly lowering my doses, because cold turkey definitely does not work for me."
Julianna lowered her voice even more, knowing the other girl could hear her perfectly. "The last time I tried, I killed a dealer over it."
That gave the vampire another pause, a considering one. Drugs of any sort were dangerous, she knew that from personal experience, and the bigger the high the harder it was to quit. Brenda came over with an offer of a refill, and Theresa nodded, giving herself time to ponder. A dead dealer didn't mean anything to her. The chances of getting Rain cleaned up did.
"Before Dane got hold of me, I had a nose that could outdo a Hoover vacuum cleaner," she said, tapping her left nostril. Coke had been her drug of choice, and she'd snorted her share of it before her turning. Nosebleeds were nothing compared to the hunger that followed. "I can help you get clean, but you're going to have to listen to me about it and not argue. Okay? Promise me now."
Did she trust Theresa? More than she trusted the Fellowship, but was that really saying much? Julianna decided that it did. She had once believed that the church would make it all okay. For months, all she saw in dreams was her mother, sporting a pair of fangs, draining first her little brother and then her. Laughing as she did it. But now she saw something else. What if her mother was still there, somewhere? Not a bloodthirsty killer, but someone who just wanted to survive...
Realizing she had been drifting off, she swallowed and nodded. "Yes," Julianna replied. "I promise."
"Okay, good." That would suffice for now, although when the craving kicked in, Theresa expected more of a battle. She knew how to be stubborn, though. Her tuna melt was half finished, a nd she took a good-sized bite of it before washing it down with some coffee.
"We can take the bus to my place. I might have some stuff in the fridge you can eat, but if not I can call for Chinese or pizza. I must have half a dozen take-out menus by the phone." The vampire looked around, ate the last of her potatos. Touched the back of the other brunette's hand.
"It's gonna be fine." The determination to survive no matter what was what had kept her going for this long. She hoped some of it would rub off on Rain. "I know all about drying out. You'll learn too."