I hated seeing my little sister cry. I don’t think anyone enjoys seeing another person cry, with the possible exception of my she-demon. Lissette didn’t seem to believe me yet, but I could tell with absolute certainty that I’d found my sister. It was like staring at a picture of our mother that had been submerged in water for a very short time. Water—or tears.
When had I last cried? These tears were different from any in my long-ago childhood: relief and gratitude, mixed liberally with joy. Something that I’d thought forever lost was now found again. How? Why? It didn’t matter, I knew, but it felt like more good fortune than I deserved.
When Lissette—or Penny, if that’s what she preferred—abruptly left me in my cell, I remained cocooned in my warm blanket of euphoria. Yes, I was locked in a cell, but now my sister knew exactly where to find me.
But what of Miss Bianca? I had a list of chores undone, thank-you note outlines to compose for her brother, bills to pay for the household… She’d refused to drink from me lately, but how would she order plasma packs without me there? She was completely ignorant of modern technology, by her choice.
Would she think I betrayed her? No—we had known each other for too long. She was likely looking for me even now. But until I returned to her with Lissette at my side, how would she manage without me…?
Hours passed, with no sign of my sister’s return. My two captors stayed away as well. Lissette seemed to be familiar with them, from the hazy conversations I’d partially overheard. Their reasons for my capture and subsequent imprisonment were less compelling than Lissette’s relationship to them. She’d been fed and housed since our separation, but had she been loved?
Could she possibly be in a relationship of a romantic nature with one of them? My mind automatically calculated her current age: nineteen, far too young for that. Anger—an emotion I thought I’d thoroughly buried years ago—flared in my chest, tangled up with a fierce protectiveness. I’d kill both of them if I had to.
My increasingly urgent biological needs provided a much-needed distraction from those thoughts. It was fortunate that my cell was equipped with…certain amenities. I could have, however, done without the mirrors lining the inner walls.
Well. I’d relieved myself in a dungeon plenty of times even before Miss Bianca had ordered me to install a curtain for privacy. With that taken care of, my next most pressing need was my empty stomach. The lingering aftereffects of whatever I’d been drugged with—though I was beginning to suspect it was magical in nature—made me feel unnaturally weak and disoriented. I needed a clear head for when I saw Lissette again.
My sister had promised to feed me, but the night wore on. The professional butler in me rebelled at the thought of eating anything off of a strange bathroom floor, but I had to be practical. At least the fruit my captors had left me was contained in a bowl and appeared surprisingly fresh, with no signs of rot or even a single blemish.
I pulled off my uniform jacket and lay it across the floor so I’d have a place to sit as I ate. Miss Bianca would insist that I burn it and buy a new one when I returned. I sank onto the floor and reached for an apple. As my stomach filled up with fresh fruit, my eyelids drooped…
Morning sunlight filtered through my eyelids as I processed the sound of the voice—my little sister’s voice.
“I was gone like half an hour and you’re sleeping already?”
I climbed to my feet and gave her a concerned look. “It’s been almost a full day, Liss.”
“What? No. I just went to the bathroom—well, kind of. First I talked to Isla and Darius about stupid crap, then I finally took a piss and came right back.” She glanced down at the empty bowl where my fruit had been. “I told you I was gonna feed you, damn it.”
I winced repeatedly as more and more unfortunate words left her lips. Where had she picked up that kind of language? Clearly her “friends” were a bad influence in more ways than one.
“Time must’ve slipped away from you,” I said quietly. I hoped those two hadn’t done anything to her.
She suddenly looked uneasy. “I guess. I’ll make you something now.” She turned to the nearest window, blinking at the early morning sun. “I hope you like mac and cheese for breakfast, because that’s what you’re getting.”
I’d eaten my fair share of cold macaroni and cheese at odd times to avoid detection by Miss Bianca. “I’d be grateful for anything you make for me,” I said honestly. “Where are your friends?”
“Gone,” she said, her face suddenly closed off. “For I dunno how long. And they’re not my friends, not really.”
Not her friends…did that mean…? My jaw clenched. Miss Bianca had a secret penchant for twins, but they were invariably male and almost always identical…
The smell of food cooking in the kitchen began to soothe me.
“I hope you’re not a vegetarian,” Lissette said. “Like Isla and D—some other people I know. I’m putting bacon in it.”
“Just like our mother used to,” I said softly. Lissette had never known our mother. “And just like when I used to cook for you.”
“Coincidence,” she muttered, still loud enough for me to hear her. “It’s bacon, not some special secret ingredient or whatever. Everyone puts bacon in everything in San Myshuno. Except at like, all those trendy vegan places.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the smell of bacon frying or the sound of her voice that made my cares float away. I was incredibly fortunate to have found her purely by coincidence. “What were you doing at Master Byron’s unbirthday party, Liss?”
“Penny.” I could hear her stop stirring the pot for a moment. “And I was gonna rob him blind.”
I stood up so straight I thought my spine might snap. “Rob? Lissette, have you turned to a life of crime?!”
“Penny. And don’t get all judge-y. Your butler-ness is showing.”
“’Judge-y’? ‘Butler-ness‘? Did you never receive a proper Simlish education, Lissette?” I felt faint. I knew I’d failed her, but to this extent?
“Shut up and eat,” she said, walking toward my cell and pulling a key out of her pocket. She nudged the door open with her foot.
I stayed in place.
“Are you coming or what?” she muttered, pulling the door all the way open and standing next to me.
I didn’t leave the cell. She stalked back into the kitchen, rattling a couple of dishes together, then returned with an overflowing plate of cheesy yellow perfection. “Come and get it,” she said.
This time, I followed.
“Thought so,” she said smugly, pulling a rickety mismatched chair out from the table and digging in immediately. There was, I noticed, no napkin in her lap. Or anywhere on the table. I sat beside her.
“So,” she began, as I inhaled the familiar, comforting aroma of my food. “Were you really enslaved by vampires?”
I immediately set my fork down. I’d sworn to protect the Blackwells’ secrets, but could I lie to my own sister? Her entire life thus far had been a cruel deception. “Miss Blackwell pays me as much as she can afford.” I tried to smile as I continued eating. I wasn’t confirming that the Blackwells were vampires, was I?
“So was I gonna be vampire food too?” She shoveled a very large forkful into her mouth.
“You were never meant to serve anyone,” I reassured her between bites that were much smaller than hers. She was a good cook, though her technique and presentation needed work. “You were always free.”
“But Isla and Darius said they saved me from ‘monsters.’”
“They stole you. They stole your childhood, Lis—Penny.” I barely stopped myself from standing up in anger. Instead, I calmed myself with more cheesy noodles.
She shrugged. “Okay, so these vampires, they paid you, supposedly. How much above minimum wage?” More and more macaroni entered her mouth, her cheeks resembling a chipmunk’s as she chewed.
Was I allowed to disclose my salary, unimpressive as it was? I wasn’t sure. I smiled apologetically.
My sister swallowed her food and tried again. “So…this ‘Miss Blackwell’ is a vampire, right? Is that…that wannabe comedian one too?”
I stayed silent. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“So Isla’s right—you’re under some kinda spell. Corruption, whatever.”
“Corruption?” I shook my head, unable to hide my smile. What sorts of stories had those two filled her head with? Well, not ones that applied to the Blackwells; I was fortunate to serve respectable vampires. “I’m afraid something less interesting holds my tongue: my honor as a Lyons butler and my absolute loyalty to my employer. Father would say that matters above all else.” Even above his own daughter, whom he never stopped searching for? Unlike his son, who let the outside world fade away and thoughts of that employer wear down his resolve, like endless ocean waves against stone…
I’d never thought about what came after meeting my sister again. This was more difficult than I expected. “You ask a lot of questions about vampires,” I said mildly. “Are they vampire hunters, then? This Isla and Darius of yours.”
Now she was the one to go silent, pushing her empty plate away. “They’re…I don’t know what they are, okay?” Her nose still twitched when she lied, just like when she was a little girl. “And they’re not mine. I’m done with them.” Relief washed over me as she glanced over at my not-quite-empty plate; she wasn’t lying about that, at least. “Well, you ate enough. Let’s get out of here before those two crazies get back.”
“I’m amenable to that,” I said, my belly full and my heart hopeful. Miss Bianca would like Lissette, wouldn’t she? Rough edges and all… I wondered if it would be too presumptuous to ask for room and board for my sister in exchange for a pay cut.
She didn’t bother to put the plates in the sink before heading toward the apartment door. I looked at the dirty dishes, conflicted, before deciding to follow her instead. I didn’t want to risk her running off without me. She stood in front of the door, staring.
“Okay, so…I’ll try opening it, I guess,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Nope,” she said. “There might be something that kills you if you try to escape on your own. But if it’s me…” She couldn’t hide the uncertainty in her voice.
Her hand reached for the doorknob, and then—
The door shimmered. Icy cold water splashed down from the top of the doorframe, collecting in a puddle on the floor that quickly began to increase in size.
“Shit,” said Lissette.
For once, I couldn’t fault her language.