It was so funny to see how scared the fresh blood looked. Mimi remembered sitting in that same room last year, thinking they would all start planning the yearly Four Hundred Ball (Theme? D��cor? Invites?) and that would be the end of it. Of course, Jack had known something was up, nothing really got past her brother – and apparently, some of them had more of an idea about what was happening to them than others.
Mimi had had the flashbacks too – the memories that would creep up on her without warning. Like the time she'd been in Martha's Vineyard, and instead of being outside the Black Dog, she was outside a farmhouse, wearing some hideous gingham dress – believe it or not. Or the time she was taking her French test and she hadn't studied at all but she aced it, finding that she was suddenly fluent in the language.
She smiled to herself at the memory, and watched as several members of the Senior Committee, her mother among them, entered the room, their Blahnik heels clicking softly on the rose marble floor. There was a hush. The well-coifed women nodded to one another and waved gaily to their children.
The Jefferson Room was the front entry room to the Flood mansion, in the style of Monticello, a tribute to the third president. There was a high, domed cathedral ceiling, several Gainsborough portraits, and in the middle a large round table, where the new members were sitting, looking alternately bored or scared. Mimi didn't recognize all of them, as some were from other schools. God, those Nightingale uniforms were ugly, she thought. The rest of the members of the Junior Committee were sitting on the study desks, or leaning on the windows, or standing with their arms folded, watching silently. She noticed that for once, her brother Jack had deigned to grace them with his presence.
So the Wardens had thought to include the Van Alen girl after all. That was odd. Mimi had no memory of her from her past, not even from Plymouth. She had to have been there somewhere; Mimi just had to dig deeper into her subconscious. When Mimi looked around the room, she could see glimmerings of who everyone else used to be. Katie Sheridan, for instance, had always been a friend – they had "come out" during the 1850 deb season together, and Lissy Harris had been an attendant at her wedding in Newport later that year. But that wasn't the case with Schuyler.
As for Jack, well, they had been together for longer than eternity. His was the only face she ever saw constantly, waiting for her in every incarnation of her past. If Mimi practiced her meditations, perhaps she would be able to access the deepest recesses of her history, back to their creation, in Egypt before the floods.
Mrs. Priscilla DuPont, a regular presence in the city's society pages, and the financial and social force behind many of New York's most august cultural institutions, stepped forward. Like the other women behind her, she was preternaturally slim, with a soft, buttery bob that framed her line-less face. She cut a severe figure in her sharp black Carolina Herrera suit. As committee chair and Chief Warden, she called the meeting to order.
"Welcome to the first meeting of the New York Blood Bank Committee of the season," she said, smiling graciously. "We are very proud to have all of you here."
Mimi zoned out for a bit, barely listening to the standard lecture concerning civil duty and noblesse oblige, enumerating the many services the committee provided their community. The yearly ball, for instance, raised a tremendous amount of money for blood research programs, which was dedicated to the eradication of blood-borne diseases like AIDS and hemophilia. The Committee had founded hospitals and research institutions, and had been instrumental in funding stem-cell research and other advances in medicine.
Then, after the standard spiel, Mrs. DuPont looked intently at the ten young people seated at the table.
"But helping others is not all that The Committee does." There was an expectant silence.
Mrs. DuPont looked at each student intently before speaking. "You have been gathered here today because you are very special." Her voice had a melodious, cultured quality, soothing and patrician at the same time.
Mimi saw Bliss Llewellyn look uncomfortable. She had given Bliss grief about Dylan, but it was her funeral. Bliss had even threatened to skip the meeting, but somehow Mimi had helped to change her mind.
"Some of you might have noticed certain changes in your bodies. How many have started to see the blue marks on your arms?" she asked.
There was a smattering of hands, a few arms glowing with the sapphire light shining through their skin.
She nodded. "Good. That is the blood beginning to manifest."
Mimi remembered how freaked out she'd been when her marks first appeared. They'd formed an intricate, almost paisley-like pattern up and down from her shoulder to her wrist. Jack had shown her his, and it was another of those things that looked like a coincidence but weren't really – if they held up their arms next to each other's, the patterns matched perfectly.
The blood marks were a map of their personal histories – it was the blood asserting itself; the Sangre Azul, which marked them as their kind, Mrs. DuPont informed them.
"Some of you find that you are suddenly able to do things very well. Have you noticed that you are excelling in tests you have not studied for? That your memory has become like a photographic snapshot?"
There was more nodding, and some mumbling.
"Has anyone noticed that occasionally, time either slips away or becomes very slow?"
Mimi nodded. That was part of it – the memories that pulled you from the present to the past. You would be walking down a street, minding your own business, and then suddenly you were walking down the same street, but in a totally different time. It was like watching some really cool movie, Mimi thought, except you were starring in it.
"Do you find that you can eat everything and still not gain an ounce?"
There was giggling from some of the girls. A good metabolism, that's what the Red Bloods thought. Mimi had to giggle herself. As if anyone could eat as many cupcakes with whipped cream frosting as they wanted and still be as thin as she was. It was her favorite part of being a Blue Blood. One of the lucky ones. The chosen ones.
"The taste of cooked meat has become unbearable. You have begun to crave things that are raw, bloody."
There were some uncomfortable looks around the table. Bliss looked especially pale. Mimi wondered if anyone had ever experienced what she had – the day she'd devoured several raw, ribeye steaks all by herself; stuffing her face until the blood dripped down her chin and she looked like a mental patient. From the looks around the table, Mimi would bet that had happened to more than a few.
"One last question: how many of you have gotten pets in the last year? Dogs, more specifically?"
Everyone raised their hand. Mimi thought of how she'd found her chow, Pookie, on the beach in the Hamptons one day, and how her brother had gotten Patch on the same evening. Their father had been so proud.
"How many of them are bloodhounds?"
Only Schuyler raised her hand. Mimi grimaced. Her brother Jack had merited a bloodhound too – top level. That was annoying.
"We are here to tell you, you are not to worry. All the things you are experiencing are normal. This is because, like me, like your friends and classmates sitting behind you, like your parents, grandparents, siblings, and relatives, you are part of a long and noble tradition of the Four Hundred."
Mrs. DuPont snapped her fingers and all the lights in the classroom went out. But she, as well as the other committee members, were still glowing. They had an inner light that accentuated their features. It was as if they were made of white translucent marble.
"This is called illuminata, it is one of our gifts that aids us in the night and makes us visible to one another."
Some of the students screamed.
"There is nothing to worry about. You are safe here, for we are all the same."
Her voice took on a melodic, hypnotic quality.
"It is all part of the Cycle of Expression. You are the newest Blue Bloods. Today is your induction into your secret history. Welcome to your new life."
The students' faces were lined in shock. Mimi remembered how terrified she'd been, but not because she'd been scared of The Committee – it was a different kind of terror – a more complicated kind of fear. It was the terror of finally knowing the truth. She saw the same fear on the newest members' faces.
They were embarking on a journey into the darkness inside themselves.
Were they out of their minds?
The Committee was just a front for a bunch of blood-sucking B-list movie monsters? So they weren't just socialites. They weren't just rich kids. They weren't skinny because they threw up everything they ate. And they weren't fast on the field or incredibly athletic or extraordinarily smart because they were talented; it was because and this was truly laughable – they were undead?
Schuyler had watched the whole thing, half appalled and half fascinated by the cultlike ceremony. Whatever she thought she'd signed up for, it certainly wasn't this. She had to get out of there. She pushed back her chair and was about to leave the room.
But she wavered – and sat back down again. It seemed too rude and against her better judgment. There were so many things they were talking about that made sense. The blue marks on her arms, for instance. Apparently their blood was shining through the skin because it was starting to assert itself, starting to reconnect with all the old knowledge and wisdom and memories of their past lives. Because it was their blood that was alive – that was what made them undead – their blood was thousands of years old, from the beginning of time, a living database of their own immortal consciousness. It had a will of its own, and growing up as a Blue Blood meant that you learned how to access and control the vast intelligence that was available inside of you.
Your physical shell expired after a hundred years and then you rested, evolving until they called you up for the next phase in the cycle. Or you could choose not to rest, and instead keep the same physical shell and become Enmortal – like some of the Elders, but you had to be awarded a special dispensation for that. Most Blue Bloods went through the cycle. What did they call it? The three stages of vampire life: Expression, Evolution, Expulsion.
And the bit about the bloodhound – she couldn't argue with that. Beauty had followed her home one day, and it felt like the creature was part of her. Mrs. DuPont explained that their canine familiars were actually a part of their soul that had transferred to the physical world to protect them. The years from fifteen to twenty-one were called the Sunset Years for the Blue Bloods – their most vulnerable time in the cycle of Expression when they shed their human selves for vampire ones. The Blood Manifest, which brought about the memory shock, the dizziness, the sickness, made them weak, and their dogs were their guardians, ministering angels who made sure the Blue Bloods made it to the next phase intact.
Still, it was all just so unbelievable. She'd been convinced that The Committee had been playing a Halloween trick when they lit up like that. Even Jack. So that's why he was all lit up that night at the dance. Why she could see him in the dark.
Wait until she told Oliver!
But, oh. She wasn't supposed to. The Red Bloods – the humans – they couldn't know. Although human familiars – those people whom you performed some Latin thing with – their fancy name for blood-sucking – they could know, but then the ceremony made them forget it or something. There was some kind of hypnotic essence in the process that made them amnesiac, and loyal to the Blue Bloods. Schuyler couldn't imagine wanting to suck anyone's blood. It just seemed gross. But anyway, she had forgotten that she couldn't tell Oliver because he wasn't speaking to her.
Then there were all these rules that governed bloodsucking – like you could only have several human familiars at one time, and you were only allowed to use them once every forty-eight hours. Apparently, life as a vampire wasn't at all like she'd read in books or television, which were just red herrings created by The Conspiracy, a subset of The Committee dedicated to keeping the Red Bloods from knowing their true existence. A Hungarian Blue Blood with a macabre sense of humor had been responsible for the myth of "Count Dracula." The Conspiracy disseminated false information. All those things that were supposed to kill vampires – a crucifix, garlic, the sun – were all just made up. Their idea of a joke.
Because, according to The Committee, nothing could kill vampires. Nothing. Death was merely an illusion.
Schuyler found out the reason Blue Bloods didn't like the crucifix was because it reminded them of their downfall, their banishment from the kingdom of Heaven. (These people were truly deluded, Schuyler thought to herself. They actually thought they were former angels or something. Just what the world needed. More self-aggrandizing rich people.) It turned out garlic was a no-no simply because of the smell. Mrs. DuPont waxed on and on about how Blue Bloods were a very aesthetic-minded race, who favored beauty and harmony above all (and that ruled out Italian food?). And as for sunlight – well, again, it just reminded them of the paradise they'd been expelled from, but most vampires loved the sun – hence the major killer tans on most of The Committee members.
They lived forever, but not as the same person, and not always at the same time. There were only Four Hundred of them at every Cycle. They could ingest food, but most did it out of habit, or simply to be social. Once they reached a certain age, only human blood was needed to keep them recharged. Schuyler found out that taking a human to Full Consumption – draining him or her completely of all blood, effectively killing the human, was the biggest taboo of all. It was the first commandment in the Code of the Vampires – that no harm must come to their human familiars.
Since humans could only take so much blood-letting, most Blue Bloods had several human familiars whom they rotated in their feeding schedule, in the guise of various love affairs. So that was why Mimi had all those boyfriends. It was all part of the Blue Blood lifestyle. And Kitty Mullins – was she one of Jack's human familiars? She had to be, since Kitty wasn't in the assembled group. Schuyler suddenly wasn't very jealous of Kitty Muffins. She felt sorry for her.
The Warden told them that the foremost mission of their kind was to cycle through Expression to evolve into a point where God could forgive them and take them back into heaven again.
Schuyler didn't believe a word of it. This was someone's sick and not-funny idea of a really stupid prank. She almost expected a reality TV camera crew to pop out of one of the cabinets. But everyone else was muttering, and some of the people next to her were crying with relief.
"I was so worried I was going crazy." She heard Bliss Llewellyn say.
The papers they'd signed to join were also their commitment to the Blue Blood Code. The Code was like the Ten Commandments of the Blue Bloods – the laws of creation – and they were bound to its rules.
Every Monday they would learn more about their history, as well as how to control their powers. Vampire powers manifested in different ways, the most common were hyper-intelligence and supernatural strength. Most vampires could read human minds, but only the most powerful ones could perform mind-control, the suggestive forcing of their will on a weaker being. A few were shape-shifters who were able to change their physical form at will. The most rare power of all was the ability to stop time, but only one Blue Blood in recorded history had ever been able to demonstrate this power, and had only done so once in all the centuries they had been on earth.
The meetings were also intended to help the younger vampires choose a purpose for that cycle. Schuyler learned that the Blue Bloods were behind the foundation of almost all of the city's most important cultural resources, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection, the Guggenheim, the New York City Ballet, and the Metropolitan Opera. Blue Bloods sat on the boards, hired curators, and organized fundraisers. It was Blue Blood money that kept all of those wonderful institutions alive.
Mrs. DuPont explained that as they grew older, they would have a chance to serve on all the different committees. Already, the younger generation of Blue Bloods were making an impact, organizing the Save Venice ball, the Young Collectors evenings at the Whitney, and benefits for the High Line, among other worthy causes.
Oh, and of course, they also planned the yearly Four Hundred ball. The biggest social dance of the year, which was held at the St. Regis Hotel Ballroom in December was part of a tradition started during the Gilded Age by a bunch of Blue Bloods. It was called the Patrician Ball then.
But Schuyler didn't believe a word of it. After they were dismissed, several of the newest members huddled, talking to the juniors and seniors to ask more questions. Schuyler walked out quickly by herself. She didn't notice that someone had followed her.
He appeared in front of her without warning.
"Hey." Jack Force smiled. His hair was adorably disheveled as usual. His eyes were green emeralds in his sculpted, handsome face.
"God, how'd you do that?" she demanded.
Jack shrugged. "They'll teach you. It's one of the things we can do."
"Well, 'we' are not going to stick around to find out," she said, elbowing him out of her way.
"It's not supposed to happen like this. This meeting was called too early. Usually, this happens in the spring. And by then, almost everyone has figured it out, from the memories. You start to know who you are before anyone has to tell you. The meeting is just a formality. Usually when you're taken into The Committee, you already know."
"I know it's a lot. It's a lot to handle. But remember what happened Saturday night? When we were waltzing? We saw it because it's happened before. Everything she said in there is true."
Schuyler shook her head. No. She wasn't going to fall for this. They might all be drinking laced Kool-Aid in there, but she had a good head on her shoulders. Things like vampires and past lives and immortality just didn't exist in the real world. And Schuyler was a card-carrying member of the real world. She didn't want to check into CrazyTown any time soon.
"Do this," Jack said, tapping his face, motioning to the side of his jaw.
"You should start feeling them. Right here," he said, pressing a thumb and index finger against each side of his mouth.
"Yeah, I know, the Red Bloods think we have them in our front canines, but that's just one more of The Conspiracy's doings. Our wisdom teeth are the ones a bit to the side."
"Wisdom teeth? Like the ones that get taken out at your dentist?" Schuyler asked, trying not to roll her eyes.
"Oh, I forgot, that's what the Red Bloods call them too. No, not that far back. They stole that term from us, but it doesn't mean the same thing. C'mon, try it. They start appearing right around now."
She rolled her eyes. But she stuck her finger inside her mouth, trying to see if she noticed anything. "Nothing, there's no – Oh." Underneath a small tooth she'd never noticed before, on each side, she felt a sharp point.
"If you concentrate, you can bring them out."
She rolled a finger over them, and pictured the teeth lengthening, coming out of her gums. Amazingly, small sharp enamel fangs began to protrude downward.
"You can learn to extend and retract them."
Schuyler did, her finger tracing the sharp, needlelike end of the tooth. She felt sick to her stomach with an excitement she couldn't control.
Because it was only then that she realized what she had been denying all along.
She was a vampire. Immortal. Dangerous. Her fangs were sharp enough to draw blood – to pierce the skin of a human being. She retracted them slowly, feeling an ache at their disappearance.
She really was one of them.