Die for Her
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There is a particular painting of his, The Card Game, that I love to visit, mainly because I’m in it—I admit. But also because it resides just across town at the Musée d’Art Moderne. And since I’m going on a month since reanimation, I make my regular pilgrimage to see it.
The painting depicts a group of soldiers playing cards—soldiers Léger said were from his own battalion. I recognize my pipe, but he made my face look like a robot skeleton. He painted me as an image of death, soon after I died saving his life. The scene takes me back to those endless nights of card playing as we waited for the enemy to shell our trenches. Cards were the only thing that could take our minds off our feeble hold on mortality.
And now death is no longer a concern for me. It is something that I crave. That I welcome. That I need in order to remain immortal. Although Léger was depicting his soldiers as automatons—easily expendable, easily replaced—the metal armor he used to represent our skin seems like a posthumous way of protecting all of us. Of making us less destructible. I know the wars affected Léger deeply, as they did everyone in Europe. But he left visible records of his battle wounds.
That’s enough. I have had my fill of The Card Game—at least for this life cycle. I turn to make my way out of the room, and freeze in place. My heart is pounding like a bass drum.
It’s the situation that every revenant dreads, and the reason bardia who live in small towns have to move every time they die. It’s not supposed to happen in a city of two and a quarter million people! We avoid getting to know the humans in our neighborhood. We avoid making friends with humans at all (okay—temporary girlfriends, but that’s different because they’re . . . temporary). Because if a human sees us die and then recognizes us after we reanimate, we are up shit creek.
But Vincent made a friend. A friend who saw me die. And she is sitting across the room, staring straight at me, her mouth hanging open in incredulity. She gets up from her bench and walks toward me. “Jules!” she says, and her voice is a squeak because she can’t believe her eyes. I have one second of shock before I’m able to pull the mask down over my face.
“Hello,” I say, and c*ck my head slightly to the side. “Do I know you?”
“Jules, it’s me, Kate. I visited your studio with Vincent, remember? And I saw you at the Métro station that day of the crash.”
I give her the kind of smile you give someone you feel sorry for. “I’m afraid that you have confused me with someone else. My name is Thomas, and I don’t know anyone named Vincent.”
Kate takes a step toward me, and anger flashes in her eyes. “Jules, I know it’s you. You were in that horrible accident when . . . just over a month ago?”
I shrug and shake my head.
“Jules, you have to tell me what’s going on,” she insists.
People are starting to look at us, and I need to diffuse the situation before Kate goes into a full-out hissy fit in the middle of a public place. But what can I do? I can’t tell her the truth. And she’s not going swallow my obvious charade. I take her gently by the elbow and lead her back toward the bench. “Let me help you sit down. You must be overexcited. Or overwrought.”
Kate jerks her arm away from me. “I know it’s you. I’m not crazy. And I don’t know what’s going on. But I accused Vincent of being heartless for running away from your death. And now it turns out you’re alive.”
Kate’s basically yelling now, and I feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead. Everyone in the room is watching us. A security guard walks briskly toward us from the front desk. “Is there a problem here?”
“No problem, sir. The lady seems to have mistaken me for someone else.”
“I have not!” Kate hisses, and does this fist-clenching foot stomp like an angry schoolgirl. She huffs off, out the museum door, and I shrug at the guard, who has lost interest now that the storm has passed. As soon as he walks away, I’m off, down the stairs, booking it back out to the car I parked on the rue Rambuteau. I know where she’s going: Vincent had the idiotic idea of taking her back to La Maison after I died, to “calm her down.” If she takes the Métro, I’m going to have to make record time to beat her back to La Maison.
The worst that can happen is that JB will turn her away at the gate, I think, but I’ve got a really bad feeling about this whole thing. Vincent is volant. If she insists on seeing him, we won’t be able to produce a walking, talking Vincent until tomorrow afternoon. And Kate looked damn well determined as she marched away from me. She’s not the kind of girl who’s going to easily give up.
Paris traffic is working against me on this all-crucial occasion, and by the time I run in through the front door, Jeanne is arguing with JB about a young visitor he said was waiting in the sitting room with a note for Vincent.
The sitting room is empty now, except for a handwritten letter signed by Kate. So I rush straight to Vincent’s room, and there she is, standing next to his cold, dead body and freaking out like an actress in a black-and-white horror film.
I can feel a volant spirit in the room. “Looks like the game’s up, Vince,” I say.
KATE’S INITIATION INTO LA MAISON HAPPENS the next morning when she sees that Vincent reanimated and we tell her what we are. She handles it better than I would have expected. Not that I expected her to go running, screaming out of the house. But discovering that there is a whole world of undead superheroes existing side by side with the regular human world would freak most people out. Kate takes it in stride. Only a teenager, and she accepts what we tell her with courage and grace. I am officially amazed.
However, Jean-Baptiste is furious that a human who wasn’t preapproved by him entered our house and learned our secrets. And while he’s chewing Vincent out, Kate actually comes to the kitchen and has breakfast with us—not only a crowd of people she’s just met, but people she’s just discovered are basically monsters. She stands there at the door looking uncertain until Ambrose bids her to “Enter, human,” and laughing, she comes to sit next to me.
She meets Jeanne, and I can tell that knowing there is another human in the room comforts her. And by the time she digs into the bread and coffee Jeanne serves her, she’s chatting with the group like she’s known us all her life.
When Gaspard sticks his head in and tells Kate she’s free to go, I leap at the opportunity to walk her out. After she says good-bye to Vincent, I put on my very best nineteenth-century manners, bow, and place her hand on my arm as I escort her to the front door. And when we get there, I do what I’ve been wanting to all morning: I apologize.
“I’m sorry I was rude before today, you know . . . in my studio and at the museum. I swear it was nothing personal. I was just trying to protect Vincent and you . . . and all of us. Now that it’s too late for that, well, please accept my apology.”
She watches me quizzically, as if she’s trying to decide whether I’m serious or not. And then she picks up her bag and slings it over her shoulder. “I totally understand,” she says. And she gives me a lips-closed smile with a teasing sparkle in her eye. “I’m a mere mortal. What else could you do?”
This girl is oozing with graceful charisma, like a teenage Audrey Hepburn, and I totally get what Vincent sees in her. Knowing she’ll probably be around a lot, I really pour on the charm.
I press my hand to my chest. “Whew—she forgave me.” And I step toward her so that only a few inches of space separate us. “You’re sure you don’t need me to walk you home?” I say, lifting an eyebrow and giving her my most flirtatious smile.
She refuses, but blushes deeply—hot pink spreading across her cheeks. As usual, I feel a wild rush of success. I love flirting more than food. Or even fighting. And evoking a blush is one of the most satisfying results I can hope for.
I like this girl, I find myself thinking. I’m actually looking forward to her being around.
The next week Vincent comes home two days in a row with this grin on his face that’s got to mean he’s been hanging with Kate.
“So you’re going to keep her to yourself,” I joke with him as we jog down the stairs to the armory. “Finally we’re allowed to have a pretty girl in the house and you’re hoarding her.”
“No, I’m not,” he insists. “Ambrose is going as Kate’s sister’s date with us this Saturday.”
“Um, excuse me,” I say, grabbing a pair of short swords off the wall. “Best friend, here? The guy who is always offering to set you up with hot babes, and you leave me out?”
“Jules. Saturday. You’re volant,” he reminds me as he chooses his own weapon: a Japanese katana.
“Oh, right,” I admit. “But that still doesn’t mean I can’t tag along. You guys could use some ghostly backup if you’re going to be out on the town with two very distracting ladies on your arms.”
Vincent laughs and faces me in a two-handed assault pose. “I knew you’d want to come. I was just waiting for you to ask. You know . . . grovel a bit after treating Kate so rudely.”
I lift my swords. “Dude, I’m done with the groveling, and fair Kate agreed to forgive me my misdeeds.”
“Did she, now?” Vincent asks, looking amused. “I can only imagine the way that you apologized.” And he launches toward me, swinging his sword downward to strike my crossed blades. I pull the short swords apart in an upward thrust, sending Vincent back a step.
“Hey, pouring on the charm is what I do best,” I say between breaths, and ready my stance for his next lunge. “What can I do? The ladies can’t resist me.”
When we meet Kate and Georgia at the Métro station, I immediately see a kindred flirtatious spirit in the sister as she coos over Vincent and Ambrose in turn. The sisters couldn’t be more different in looks, but there’s still something there that says, We share genes. However, it’s Kate who attracts my attention. She’s glowing. Radiant. No trace of Sad Girl left.
Georgia answers her phone, and Vince and Ambrose start talking about whether or not they should go to the place Georgia suggested, which happens to be in a numa-frequented neighborhood.
Hey, Ambrose, I say, interrupting, tell Kate ‘Hi, beautiful’ from her ghostly lothario. He laughs and tells Kate what I said, winning me my second blush in one week.
“Hey, watch it,” Vincent jokes.
Tell her it’s a shame she had to fall for someone as boring as you. Being an older, more experienced man, I know how to treat a lady. Vincent roars with laughter. “Looks like someone’s got a crush,” he says, and then relays my message.
Kate gives this flattered smile as Vincent reminds me that even though I’m technically twenty-seven years older than he is, at the moment, we’re both nineteen.
We take the Métro to Denfert, then walk a few minutes down a pedestrian street to Georgia’s restaurant, only to find a large crowd outside waiting for tables. While Georgia goes in to cajole one of her friends into getting us in, I decide to take a quick spin around the neighborhood. And within seconds I feel that disturbing, about-to-be-sucked-into-a-black-hole feeling that I always get when numa are around. I move toward the source of the unease only to see the numa leader himself—Lucien—walking with two of his men just a few blocks away from where Vince and Co. are standing. I rush back to alert them to the situation.
I’ll go back and watch which way they’re heading, I offer. By the time I return, Ambrose is on the ground, and Kate crouches beside him trying to get him to respond.
I see a pair of numa with a drawn knife heading away from the scene, toward Lucien. A few minutes and they’ll be back with reinforcements. I get closer to Ambrose and see he is dead. There’s no way Vincent will be able to lift him to get him out of here, so I do the only thing I can think of: I possess him.
Talk about heavy. Ambrose weighs a ton. Luckily he has the muscles to go along with the bulk. But I feel like I’m wearing one of those fake sumo costumes—stuck inside a fat suit. Kate and Vincent help me get Ambrose’s body into a taxi.
And that’s when it hits me how special she is. She’s brave enough to stay with Vincent, even knowing what he is. But accepting one of the more bizarre details of our existence with just a wrinkled nose and not a full-on freak-out—now, that’s impressive. It’s been a long time since there’s been an addition to our clan, so new blood, even though it’s human, is a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to getting to know this unique specimen of girlhood better. If she weren’t Vincent’s girlfriend . . . But I’m not going to go there.
But something happens to prevent us from spending time with her. Charles saves a kid who falls off a boat. Gets himself mangled in the propeller. And Kate decides that watching him come home in pieces is unbearable. It reminds her too much of her parents. She tells Vincent that if that is what being a bardia is all about, she can’t stick around to witness his own violent deaths.