Excerpts from DIE ONCE MORE
A woman sitting next to Gold jumps in. “For those of you who don’t already know of him, Jules Marchenoir is an accomplished artist. Perhaps those involved in the visual arts could provide him with necessary supplies, get him set up with a studio, and tell him when the life drawing group meets.”
The woman is stunning—in an exotic kind of way: long black hair, copper-colored skin, almond eyes, and high cheekbones. I rack my brain but am sure I haven’t seen her before. I would have remembered. So how does she know me?
“Thank you,” I acknowledge gratefully.
She nods, but frowns, like the interaction is distasteful to her. Like I’ve offended her.
How bizarre. I must have met her before—it had to have been at a convocation. Did I try to pick her up or something? I doubt it—I restrict true flirting to human girls for just this reason. Why risk offending someone who could hold a grudge for eternity? Not to mention the danger of them falling in love. And who wants that?
Or at least that’s how I used to think. Pre-Kate. She changed my game. Now I’d give up all the flirtations in the world just to be with her. Something pings sorely in my chest, and without thinking, I raise my hand to press it, drawing concerned looks. My kindred think I’m mourning. Let them. I am.
Gold breaks the silence. “Anyone else have a question?” He peers around the table. “No? Well, then I’ll speak for all of us to say, ‘Welcome, kindred.’ We’re glad you’re here, Jules Marchenoir.”
“Welcome!” several say together, like a cheer. People rise to go, several crowding around me to introduce themselves. Several ask about the French Champion—Kate. They want to know more details about how she emerged, and it is quickly obvious that their own numa problem is beginning to approach what we experienced in France.
My gaze drifts across the table to the girl who spoke earlier. A group of people stand around her, and the face that was stony with me is now radiant as she speaks with them.
A beautiful girl. Normally that would draw me like a moth to flame. Even with my no-kindred-lovers rule, a bit of playful banter and a shower of compliments (and the enjoyment of her inevitable response) would do my spirits a world of good. But not now. I don’t even have it in me to say hello.
Her eyes lift and meet mine, and the coldness is like an ice ray.
What? I ask her silently, shrugging my confusion.
She rolls her eyes—actually rolls her eyes!—and turns her attention back to the person she’s talking to.
Disconcerted, I look back to a man standing with his hand out and remember that I’m supposed to shake. No bises—cheek kisses—of course.
Faust appears and stands by my side as the room empties. “Need
anything?” he whispers to me.
“Yes,” I whisper back. “I would give my immortal soul to get out of here and walk.”
“With effort, Faust manages to pry his eyes away from her and hands me a leather belt with a holster on each side. ‘Two weapons?’ I ask.
He nods as I strap it around my waist. ‘Short-sword,’ he says, handing me the blade. I inspect it before slipping it into my belt: It’s brand-new, unlike the antique models we use in France, but well made. ‘And a Glock,’ he says, handing me a pistol.
I look up at him in surprise.
‘It’s enough, trust me. You don’t really need an automatic,’ he explains, misunderstanding my expression. ‘We never come up against more than a few numa at a time. And even that’s pretty rare, unless we’re zombie hunting. Today’s just a regular walk around the block.’
I glance at ‘Whitefoot.’ She’s amused by my confusion. ‘Like it or not, guns are the American way. Shoot to the head to stun, then use your blade,’ she clarifies.
That’s the way Lucien cut down Gaspard to get into La Maison, I remember. Gunshot to the head, then—while the projectile worked its way back out of Gaspard’s bullet-rejecting flesh—decapitation by sword. American way, huh? I wonder if Lucien made any trips to the States before meeting his end at the tip of Kate’s blade.”
“I remember my volant spirit’s introduction. ‘What’s Ground Zero mean?’ I ask.
‘What about Ground Zero?’ Faust asks.
‘That’s how Ryan introduced himself,’ I clarify.
Faust answers, ‘Ground Zero. Twin Towers. September eleventh . . .’ and before he even finishes, I get it. ‘Onze septembre,’ I translate, ‘of course. Ryan was there?’
‘We all were,’ he responds, ‘most of us pre-council newbies you’ll meet at the Warehouse. More bardia made that day than in the entire history of New York City.’
We turn, heading toward the Williamsburg Bridge, and follow it away from the river. Frosty walks a few paces in front of us, but I can tell she’s listening to every word.
‘We heard all about it in France,’ I say, and think about the ramifications of what Faust just told me. ‘But the dead were so high profile! There were leaflets with your faces all over the place. How were you even able to stay in the New York area after animating?’
‘Gold made sure those of us he recovered were certified dead and taken off the search lists. Those who had families or communities who might recognize them were moved farther away. Ryan, Tirado, Oreo, and me . . . we all decided to stay. My parents are dead, but I have a little sister I like to keep an eye on. I visit her when I’m volant.’
He’s quiet, studying the ground in front of his feet.
It’s got to be hard for him. He still has surviving family members he can’t show himself to. Everyone I knew before I animated has been dead for generations.
As if reading my mind, Faust glances up at me. ‘At least I get to do what I love: save lives. Never thought I’d be signing up for an eternal contract when I became a firefighter . . . but I can’t think of a better reason to exist.’
Frosty slows, puts an arm around Faust’s shoulder, and gives him a sideways hug. ‘One of New York’s finest,’ she says.”
“I walk incessantly. I know the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, my two chosen boroughs, well enough by now to have an accurate street map in my head. I sign up for three four-hour shifts per day. Although that first day was an exception, and New York’s numa are staying suspiciously out of sight, there are enough cases of suffering street people, suicide attempts, domestic violence, and near-fatal accidents to keep me on a continual high from the life force I absorb from these saves.
‘Dude, this isn’t a contest,’ Faust says as I trim my hair in my studio mirror. ‘You don’t get bonus points if you save more humans than anyone else.’
He has been an impeccable welcome rep. He got me moved into my room at the Warehouse and had it furnished with what I asked for. (I didn’t really care, but he pushed me for details until it ended up looking pretty much exactly like my room in Paris . . . besides the floor-to-ceiling windows with an enviable view of the East River.) He got me weather-appropriate clothes, made sure the armory had what I needed (sending off for some antique swords so I would ‘feel at home’), and introduced me to our kindred artists—of whom there are many. Seems like every revenant artist in America wants to be here.
Faust even gamely accompanied me to my first Midnight Drawing Group meeting at the Warehouse. But after Gina, one of our bardia sisters recruited to pose when our human model didn’t show up, perched atop the stool and dropped her robe, Faust’s jaw dropped too. Her response was, ‘Draw or scram, Faust.’ He hasn’t been back since. His third-generation Italian-American upbringing and his stint in the tough-guy New York fire department never prepared him for people like the artists I hang out with.
It was Gina, drawing next to me one night, who first pointed out that the girl I was sketching looked nothing like the model posing for us on the stool. I didn’t respond—what could I say? Since then no one else has mentioned the fact that every woman I draw is the same. The position matches that of our model, the shadows and light are exactly what they are in our studio, but it is always Kate’s face, always her body. My pencil has its own will, and my fingers are its slaves.”
“Gold’s obviously been here before—he doesn’t give the room a second glance—but I am mesmerized by its contents. Art. Everywhere. I can’t help myself: I have to look, and wander from picture to picture, inspecting them carefully. There are several examples of pop art by artists whose names sound vaguely familiar. A framed Velvet Underground poster hangs on one wall, signed, ‘To Ava, my one true love (among many), Lou’ and under that, ‘Sisters in crime: Ava + Nico’. A Salvador Dali sketch stands framed on a table: a nude woman with a bouquet of flowers instead of a head, with the dedication, ‘To the divine Ava’, scrawled underneath.
And above the mantel is the pièce de résistance: a giant silkscreen of Ava’s head by Warhol himself. In it, a patterned turban hides her hair, and her chin is raised as if in defiance. With her dark-copper skin, high cheekbones, and almond-shaped eyes, she looks like some sort of native warrior: but native to where, it’s not clear.
‘Who were you?’ The words leave my lips before I can stop them.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ she says, and Gold looks up abruptly from the dog-fest. He looks as confounded by her brusqueness as I am.
‘Ava was a part of Andy Warhol’s Factory—she was his favorite for a couple of years,’ Gold says, before she shoots him a look that forbids him to spill more. ‘Now, of course, she is a well-respected art historian, specializing in American art of the sixties and seventies. Not much of an overlap with my own specialty of antiquities, of course, but we historians stick together.’
He smiles up at her, breaking her stoniness enough to let a fond smile shine through. It’s obvious: They aren’t just kindred. They are friends.
Gold stands and straightens his suit. ‘Well, this isn’t a social call, my dear, so let’s get down to business. Jules was invited to the wedding of two of his Paris kindred. It’s taking place in just under two weeks. And you’re going with him.’”
“The plane trip is interminable. There are times when I wish revenants could sleep, and this is definitely one of them. Gold chartered a four-person jet, which would normally be sufficient, but the way things are going, I wish we were on a jumbo, with rows and rows of empty seats between us.
Once he got over the shock that he’d been tapped to go to Paris, Faust had just enough time to get his hands on a French guidebook, and began practicing phrases on me as soon as the plane took off.
We’re two hours into the flight and he’s still on, ‘Où est la gare?’
‘Faust, you’re not going to need a train station,’ I moan.
He nods and flips through to another page. ‘Voulez-vous dîner avec moi ce soir?’
‘What is this?’ I ask, and pluck the book out of his grasp. The chapter is entitled, ‘Relationships and Dating.’ I toss it back to him, and, leaning my head back against the headrest, wearily respond, ‘You’re not going to pick up a French girl by asking her out to dinner. You’ve got to begin with compliments. Start with something safe: her eyes. Her smile.’
I feel little darts of hatred piercing my skin, and turn to where Ava sits ensconced behind a laptop. She has been pointedly ignoring us the whole time, but now she’s giving me a look of unadulterated disgust.
‘What?’ I ask, throwing my hands up in frustration. I don’t understand what this woman’s problem is with me.
She just shakes her head and goes back to typing. A pencil is tucked behind her ear, lending her appearance the slightest hint of naughty librarian. Interesting. Stop it, Jules, I chide. This girl is dangerous.”
Jules, Ava and Faust fly from New York and arrive at La Maison days before Ambrose and Charlotte’s wedding:
“Gaspard appears at the top of the double stairway, wearing an ancient silk waistcoat and a cotton shirt with enormous open cuffs over a pair of high-waisted dress pants. ‘Jeanne, I really don’t think period dress is necessary except for the bride and groom,’ he calls, as he fiddles with a cufflink. And then he looks up and sees us.
His crazy gray-threaded black hair sticks up as if electrified—as per norm—and an uncharacteristic broad smile spreads across his face. ‘You’re here,’ he says to me, and makes his way down the stairs. ‘We didn’t expect you for another half hour. Traffic must have been light.’
‘No, but Ambrose was driving,’ quips Charlotte, provoking a stranglehold bear hug from her fiancé.
‘You must be Mademoiselle Whitefoot,’ says Gaspard, holding a hand out to Ava. But I miss the rest of that introduction, because in from the next room walks Vincent. And his eyes are fixed on me. There’s an expression on his face that I can’t read, and am not sure I want to. Anger? Disappointment? Betrayal?
Although we spoke briefly on the battlefield, there were other things vying for our attention. Like swinging swords. And flying arrows. I said good-bye when I left. Told him I couldn’t stay. But there was blood on our skin and ash on our faces, and I didn’t even look him in the eye.
No, the last time we talked—truly communicated—was at the airport in New York. When I told him I was in love with his girlfriend and that it was tearing me apart to see them together. I admitted to my disloyalty. And then abandoned him.
Ignoring the others, he walks straight up to me, eyes burning, and I think for a moment that he’s going to hit me. Punch me right in the face. But instead he grabs me and wraps me in his arms, squeezing the breath out of me. And speaking quietly enough that the others can’t hear he says, ‘All’s forgotten. There’s nothing left to say. I’m just glad you’re back. We missed you. All of us.’”
Walking into my room is like traveling back in time. It’s like nothing ever happened to drive me away. I breathe in the paper-and-ink smell of my workspace and realize how much I’ve missed my home. I brush my fingertips over my drafting table and know how much I love my kindred. I belong here, not in New York City. What the hell is wrong with me? I think, as I stretch out on my time-worn couch in the middle of my attic room. Surely this thing with Kate isn’t traumatic enough to keep me from all of this. My mind wanders and I begin to relax, cocooned in the safety of the familiar surroundings.
And then there is a knock on the door and she walks in. And all those thoughts disappear like smoke in a gust of wind, and the full-on pain hits me square in the chest.
She is ravishing. There is a wild look to her now that she is undead. The look all bardia have, the one that attracts humans, that makes them lay their lives in our hands. It’s a complete lack of fear of death. A recklessness coming from knowing we are almost impossible to destroy. And it has turned Kate’s natural loveliness into a savage beauty. The golden bardia aura surrounding her amplifies the effect, and my heart has no chance. I am once again lost.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you,” she says, and her voice hasn’t changed and she is once again the Kate I knew.
I prop up on my elbows and say, “That’s okay. Come in,” but immediately regret it. I want to see her, but I need her to leave. She sees the struggle in my eyes, and then looks down at the couch—the historic couch, where for a couple of wild, passionate moments she was mine—and her face turns red.
“I didn’t try to contact you because I thought you didn’t want it,” she says.
There’s no correct response to that, so I watch her, silent.
“But now that you’re here, I was hoping we could talk,” she says, still standing in the doorway. She waits, and I have to say something.
“Okay, let’s talk.” I try to sound nonchalant, but my heart is beating a million miles an hour, and I’m having a hard time breathing. “Let me just open a window.” I get up off the damned couch, throw open a couple of windows, and, returning to the rug in the middle of the floor, sit down on it, cross-legged. I motion for her to sit across from me, and she does.
I wait for her to speak, trying to look her in the eyes without flinching. Those eyes. My chest hurts.
“I want to apologize,” she begins.
“You don’t have to—” I say, but she holds a hand up to stop me.
“I never knew,” she says. “I saw how you were with other girls, and I thought I was the same. A harmless flirtation. A bit of fun. I thought you did the things you did and said the things you said just to make me feel good—to get a reaction—not because you meant them.”
“That’s how it started,” I say honestly. She’s watching me with sad eyes, and I have to look away. I swing my gaze to the ceiling, run my fingers through my hair, and take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. “Then things changed.”
“I wouldn’t have been as friendly if I had known,” she says.
“Then I’m glad you didn’t know.”
“I wouldn’t have allowed Vincent to possess you . . . to use you to kiss me. I wouldn’t have let it go that far.” There are tears in her eyes.
I don’t know what to say. I wish to God that hadn’t happened either, because seeing her expression when she realized it wasn’t Vincent she was kissing was like a knife to the chest. On the other hand, it was my one and only chance to have her, so I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, even with all that pain.
“Come here,” I say, and she scoots across the rug toward me until she can lean into my open arms. I hold her while she cries and feel something inside me snap into place. A piece of me that began shifting when I walked through the front door and realized this is where I belong. I am finally accepting it. This is the only way it will ever be between me and Kate. And it hurts like hell, but there’s nothing to do about it except to pick myself up and move on.