Jean-Claude moved to my side. Micah came to my other side. I just stared at Samuel.
"I mean you no harm, Anita, but I am not as insecure as some. The insecure ones will be your danger."
"If we can't tell the truth, what do you propose?" I asked.
"You couldn't simply lie?" he asked.
"I'm not very good at it," I said.
He smiled and looked at Jean-Claude. "How have you managed with her and the Ulfric? They are both most unwieldy."
"You have no idea," Jean-Claude said.
Samuel laughed again, then his face stilled, as if the laughter had been a trick of the eye. "Tell the masters that you wish to see how powerful their candidates are, and whether they can withstand your full powers. Tell them that if their candidates are too weak, they may be enslaved as any servant, for Jean-Claude is so powerful that that has happened with some lesser vampires of the Church of Eternal Life."
"That actually did happen with some of the church members," I said.
He smiled again, but it never reached his eyes. "So I had heard."
I glanced at Jean-Claude. "Did you tell him?"
"You have spies in your lands, Anita. You are too great a power not to have spies from all the masters that agreed to come here. None of us would have come to your lands without some intelligence of our own finding. None of us trust any of us that much."
"Great," I said.
"But it sets up the situation perfectly, Anita. You can tell the truth, that you wish to see if the candidates are strong enough to withstand your powers, for a true pomme de sang, as you so accurately stated, is not so closely bound to you metaphysically. To eat only from those who are already bound to you is like eating your own arm. It may fill your stomach, but it takes more energy from you then it gives to you."
"It took us a little while to figure that out," I said.
He gave another small bow. "Your new pomme de sang must be independent, and strong enough to play his part. It is a reasonable request."
"It is a good plan," Jean-Claude said.
"And what if they all fall under my, whatever, spell? What if I'm too much necromancer for any of them?"
"Then the ball is canceled," Samuel said. "You cannot play Cinderella if all the princes will want you."
"I'm not Cinderella," I said, "I'm the prince."
He smiled, but again it didn't reach his eyes. "Very well, Prince Charming, but the point remains the same. You cannot play Prince Charming if all the princesses want you, because as good as you may be, no one is that good." He looked at Jean-Claude then. "Not even Jean-Claude."
That look, and that comment, made me wonder if they really were "friends" the way that Jean-Claude and Augustine had been. They said that they weren't, but the look meant something.
"We will do as you suggest, Samuel. I know that I can rely on your discretion not to share any of this."
"You have my word," he said, then he looked back at me. "I would never endanger you. I want you to try to bring Sampson into his power, Anita. I would not insist it be done first, but I would prefer sooner to later."
"I know it won't be tonight," I said.
He smiled and this time it filled his eyes with soft humor. "No, not tonight. I think your plate is quite full enough without adding Sampson to it."
He bowed to Jean-Claude. Sampson followed suit. They turned on their heels and left.
Claudia's voice broke the silence. "Do you want me to go out and get a pregnancy test?"
"We have two of them in the overnight case," Micah said.
My throat was suddenly so tight I couldn't breathe.
Nathaniel and Lisandro came through the far hallway. "What did I miss?"
I looked at him, and the look on my face must have been a bad one, because he came to me, and wrapped his arms around me, and I let him.
"She's missed a month; you don't have to wait until morning to take the test," Claudia said.
I wanted to tell her to stop. Stop talking, stop helping, but she was right.
I wasn't just two weeks late like I'd told Ronnie. My period could move around by up to two weeks, later or earlier, depending on my hormone cycle, I guess. If I used the count that most women did, I was nearly four weeks late, not two. Two weeks into the month of November, but four weeks past when I should have bled. Four weeks, yeah, the test should work.
A PREGNANCY TEST is just this flat piece of plastic with little windows in it. So small, it fit in my hand with room left over, and my hands aren't that big. Such a small thing to have so many people so upset. But then, if I was pregnant, the baby would be smaller than the pregnancy test. Tiny bits of plastic, and even tinier bits of cells, and my whole life rested on them. Okay, I wouldn't die if it was a yes, but it sort of felt like I would.
First, there's no dignity to it. You have to pee on the little stick. Or pee in a cup, then put the stick in it. Then you put the cap on, and wait for lines to appear. One line: not pregnant. Two lines: pregnant. It seemed simple enough.
I prayed not to be pregnant. I prayed, and I bargained. I'd be more careful. I'd use condoms and not trust just to the pill. I'd, well, you get the idea. I'm sure I wasn't the first single woman to sit in a bathroom wishing, hoping, praying, bargaining with God, that if this mess passes me by, I'll be better. Shit.
I didn't want to sit in the bathroom for the entire three minutes. But I didn't want to go outside and face the men either. I compromised; I paced inside the bathroom. It was ten steps from the door to the edge of the tub's raised marble. Ten steps, back and forth. Marble is cold on bare feet, but I usually didn't spend this much time walking on it. I was either coming in and out, or sitting in hot water in the tub. I concentrated on anything, everything, but that little piece of plastic where it sat on the side of the sink. I tried not to look at it. If you peek early, it may not be conclusive. I was carrying a man's watch in my hands. Micah's watch. He'd taken it off his wrist and handed it to me, because mine was still sitting on the nightstand beside our bed.
I tried putting the watch in the pocket of the robe, but that made me nervous, as though if I couldn't see the watch I'd screw the time up. I tried sitting on the edge of the tub staring at the second hand, but that made the time go even slower. Now that I was only minutes away from knowing, I wanted to know. No more guesswork. I needed to know, one way or the other. I needed to know.
What I didn't know was that Micah had set an alarm on the watch. It beeped at me, and scared me. I gave that little eep scream that only girls seem to do.
Claudia knocked on the door. "Anita, you all right?"
"Sorry, alarm startled me. Sorry." I was already in the middle of the room, opposite the sink. All I had to do was turn around. I had a death grip on the watch. My heart was beating so hard I was sure that everyone outside the door could hear it. I didn't want to look. I wanted to know, and I didn't want to know. I wanted to have someone else look. Micah would do it, or Nathaniel. God, I was being so cowardly, and stupid, as if simply not looking would make it not true. But I had to look, I had to.
I took those last few steps to the sink, and looked down. Two lines, two f**king lines. The world swam, and I had to grab on to the sink edge to keep from sliding to one side. All I could hear was my own blood roaring in my ears. I was not going to faint, damn it. I was not going to faint.
I lowered myself to my knees, still clinging to the cabinet edges. I put my face against my arm, and waited for the dizziness to pass. Fuck.
When I thought I could do it without feeling worse, I raised my head up. The room didn't swim. Good. But I wasn't at all sure I trusted myself to walk to the door. I hated it, but apparently my body had decided that it just wasn't working yet. I could either sit on the floor until I felt less weak-legged, or I could yell for help.
I knew the men were almost as tense about it as I was, so waiting seemed cruel, or maybe it wasn't cruel. They had a few minutes more of believing the worst hadn't happened. I hated to treat the miracle of life like a disaster but that's how it felt.
I finally called, in a voice that almost sounded like mine, "Claudia."
She tapped the door, and said, "Do you want me in there?"
"Yes," I said.
She came through, and one look at me on the floor made her close the door behind her. She walked to me, looked down at the test, and said with real feeling, "Well, shit."