Trouble with Debutantes – Part 2
After the presentation, the escorts lead the dolled-up young ladies onto the dance floor for the traditional waltz. Adrian and I take our places and, to the tune of the string quartet, begin to do the rigid steps. Still off-balance in these ridiculous shoes, my heel slips on the slick wooden floor during the first spin and I nearly fall. With amazing reflexes Adrian pulls me in and lifts me back onto my feet. After the dance I manage another curtsy in the nearly five foot diameter gown. There are two more traditional dances we perform: one with just the girls and the last an extremely complex dance. This involves swapping partners multiple times, figure eights, and star formations that the group executes with minimal disaster. With our last curtsy we are released to our assigned tables for dinner.
At this point my toes are numb from the shoes and I’m ready to pry off the corset with a crowbar. During dinner we are expected to entertain the guests at our table. My father, of course, chose for Adrian and I to sit at his table with the most prestigious alumni and donors.
“Miss Reilly, I hear that you are in the advanced officer training?” Mr. Charles Miller, who looks to be in his seventies, inquires from across the table.
“Yes, I attended a similar program at my last school,” I answer with as much sweetness as I can muster.
“Not very many girls join the military, do they? When I attended Newbury, girls weren’t even allowed to apply to the school,” he says with a condescending chuckle.
“I’m sure,” I growl through gritted teeth. My father gives me a sympathetic look.
“Actually, Liz… I mean Miss Reilly, is a squad leader,” Adrian declares in a rare show of social grace. “In fact we have several female recruits among our best.”
Mr. Miller sits quiet for a moment considering Adrian’s response. “Well, you kids have it much easier these days, with your GPS trackers and computer glasses. I suppose it is only a matter of time before we have female soldiers. When I served, all we had was a laminated map and a pocket compass. Do they even bother with those anymore?”
“Yes, sir. We are not given any high-tech equipment until we have successfully completed all survival and reconnaissance training with mundane tools. In our field training, nothing that runs on a battery is allowed except one radio per squad,” Adrian remarks again in that flat tone of his.
Mr. Miller smiles in approval. “Well, good to know not all the old ways have died off with us.” His attention is then diverted as the servers arrive with the next course.
“Thanks,” I whisper to Adrian.
Once dinner is over, the students are allowed to mingle, dance, and enjoy the giant dessert bar in the back. I excuse myself and walk towards what I hope is cheesecake. About halfway there I hear a strangely familiar voice from behind me ask, “Excuse me, Miss Reilly?” I turn around to see Nicolai Lambert, the Prince of Darkness himself.
“Yes? Can I help you?” I reply cautiously, trying to hide how even speaking to him bothers me. I may not try to attack vampires anymore, but I still don’t want to associate with them. Nicolai was tall, my head only coming to his broad shoulders. He was well-built, clearly not relying on his inherent strength. He had short blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. His family was from somewhere in Eastern Europe but had moved here around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century trying to stake a claim on the growing feeding ground of North America.
“May I have the next dance?” he requests with a bow of his head.
This has me stunned, appalled, and confused all at once. “Why?”
“As an example to our peers. Students socializing outside of their typical social groups is promoted at such an event, is it not?” He has such a formal tone and inflection to his speech that it emphasizes just how old these “young” vampires really are. Nicolai has probably seen a century of life, at least. Every fiber of my being is telling me to refuse and to do so violently, but I know I can’t. My superiors, especially my father, are expecting me to lead my fellow Acolytes. I have to show them we can do this.
“I… guess,” I abandon my quest for cheesecake and swallow my apprehension. He offers me his hand, which I hesitantly take. It’s warm; real vampires aren’t cold like a corpse as the stories suggest. In fact, very few of the “traditional” vampire myths are true. Vampires are pale and have a sensitivity to sunlight, but they don’t burst into flames from it. They can also be killed in all the normal ways, but it’s just ten times harder to do.
Nicolai takes my waist and I flinch. He pulls his hand away, ”Don’t be afraid. I will not hurt you.”
“I’m not afraid! It’s just… weird, okay?” I steel myself and we begin dancing. I can see faces from all around the room looking at us in a mixture of shock and disgust. I want to shrink inside of myself and disappear. I will not appear weak in front of them. So I force my head high, and try to keep any emotion off my face.
As soon as the song ends Nicolai drops his hands from me and I take several steps back before we fulfill the mandatory curtsy and bow. “Thank you for this opportunity, Miss Reilly.” Nicolai gives me a charming smile.
“Anytime.” I immediately regret my words as soon as they make it past my lips and I look up in panic. “I mean, you’re welcome… not that you can do this anytime.”
“I know what you meant,” Nicolai replies with the same smile before walking back to his table.
Before I can reach a chair to sit down and calm my nerves Adrian is beside me. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you? What did he want?” It’s odd to hear Adrian say so many words so quickly.
“I’m fine. He just wanted to dance… for ‘peer’ relations or some crap. Just let me sit down for a minute.” I wave him off and find a seat at a nearby table.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look really flushed.” He ushers a server over with a tray of water glasses and hands me one. I take several sips before replying.
“Look, you go dance with one of them and tell me that your nerves aren’t a little frazzled. Will you lay off? I’m fine. You’re almost as bad as my dad.” He takes some reassurance from my irritation and sits back in his chair.
“You want to go get some dessert?” he asks after a moment and I nod emphatically.
We stand against the wall as we devour our pile of desserts including cheesecake bites. I look up from my plate to see a rather large group of female vamp students walk by. They’re huddled closely together and whispering to each other. I recognize one of them as Charlotte Lambert, a cousin of Nicolai’s. As the girls disappear into the hall I hear a crash from behind me. When I turn, I see Laurel being held up by her escort, an Acolyte named Sam.
“I’ll get Dad,” I say and put my mostly empty plate on a table. Adrian nods and walks toward the crowd gathering around Sam and Laurel.
It takes some time to finally find him in the massive room, but when I do he’s in conversation with several alumni from before we reopened the school. “Excuse me, Dad. There’s been an accident that needs your attention,” I said insistently.
“Of course, dear. If you’ll excuse me?” We step out of earshot of the group. “What’s wrong, hon?”
“Laurel’s fainted. Sam Craig and Adrian are with her.” I point in their direction and without a word my father walks briskly to them.
“All right give them some room,” he says as he forces his way through the crowd. Laurel is still lying on the floor unconscious, Sam’s jacket under her head. Adrian is standing over them helping keep the onlookers from getting too close.
“Call Nurse Sherman,” my father tells a vampire girl next to him. Offended by his order she starts to give a snooty reply but is cut off when Nicolai puts a hand on her shoulder.
“Now, Patricia,” he says harshly. Patricia turns and walks quickly toward the exit. Nicolai then addresses the crowd, “The rest of you should be attending to our guests.” Then he looks to Laurel and Sam without waiting to see if his commands are followed.
The vampires start to slowly move away from the scene and meander back into the room. A few of the guests who had gathered also moved off into concerned conversations. I notice that none of the Acolytes had followed. “Go on, get out of here. We’ll handle this.” They don’t move at first but as I start making shooing motions they finally start to leave.
My father has been quietly speaking with Sam, ignoring the crowd. He checks Laurel’s temperature with the back of his hand, I see Nurse Sherman jogging towards us with a medical kit. Adrian and I move out of her way but stay within earshot.
“What’s happened?” She asks to no one in particular while pulling out a variety of tools from her bag.
“She just… fainted,” Sam says. “She said she wasn’t feeling good and we were going to get something to drink and sit for a while. Then she just… collapsed.” My father put a hand on Sam’s shoulder and gives him a few reassuring pats.
Nurse Sherman nods and places a thermometer strip on Laurel’s forehead and before starting to take her pulse. After a few seconds she looks over at my father wide-eyed. “We need to get her to the infirmary now.”
“What’s wrong?” Sam asks anxiously. He and Laurel aren’t particularly close, I’m not even sure if they knew each other at all before rehearsals for the ball. He seems overly worried about someone he hardly knew.
“Her heart rate is erratic and she’s running a fever. We’ll need Bob to look at her,” she says to my father. He in turn, looks at me and Adrian, “Get to a phone, call Dr. Daniels and tell him the situation. He’s probably in his quarters. Sherman and I will get her to the infirmary. Report in to Captain George when you’re done.”
“Yes, sir,” Adrian and I respond immediately. We reach Dr. Daniels in his room and pass my father’s orders along to him, then Captain George as ranking officer in the auditorium.
“Thank you, now return to the party,” she told us.
“No ‘buts,’ Acolyte. You will return to your duties here. If your father or Dr. Daniels require your assistance, I’m sure they will send for you,” Captain George says.
“Yes, Ma’am.” I turn and slowly head back towards our assigned table.
“Laurel will be fine,” Adrian says reassuringly.
“Sure, but this isn’t just a fainting spell, Adrian. Something was really wrong.” I sit down in my seat, running the scene through my head.
“Maybe’s she’s sick. You’re just over thinking things again.” Adrian puts a hand on my shoulder.
I smile up at him, trying to agree. “Maybe.” I take a sip from my water-glass and the two of us sit quietly for a while, just watching the party going on around us.
“I’m going to get some air.” I stand and head towards the main door at the back of the room. Adrian follows me wordlessly. I know that trying to tell him to stay won’t do any good.
As we walk down the hall, I hear some whispering coming from the box office, which should be closed for the evening’s events. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I stop and try to make out what the voices are saying.
“What’s wrong? Is this normal?” says a male voice, clearly afraid of whatever is happening in there.
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen this before,” another male voice in an Eastern European accent replies in equal terror.
I look at Adrian and with a nod we head inside. The room is dark except for a desk lamp in the far back corner opposite the shuttered ticket windows. Two Acolyte boys are standing over a third boy who is sitting in an office chair unconscious, his head tilted back at an odd angle.
To Be Continued…