Once a week Votes: 2 66.7%
Twice a week Votes: 1 33.3%
Wednesday came faster than Maria thought it would. She sat on the floor, sorting through the clothing Clementine had given her in search of something to wear. Now that she had a choice, it was hard to pick out what she wanted. It made getting ready feel like it took hours longer than it used to, but somehow, she felt more relaxed.
Ask your husband how he would like you to dress.
That was what she had always learned in her lessons. What she had always believed. Now, as she held up a black sweater with a red ribbon, and a long tulle skirt, she wondered if Spencer Blake would have approved of it. Probably not, but he wasn’t here, and she didn’t have to ask him.
Her lips twitched in a smile, but she shook it away.
No, she shouldn’t feel that way. Where were the women in the Bible who were giddy at the thought of defying their husbands? That loved to revel in the freedom to disobey those over them?
She dressed herself, trying to clear her head of the those thoughts, the thoughts that made her chest clench. She sat on the bed afterwards, and started to work her hair into a braid.
There was a knock on the door, and she told whoever it was to come in. Carmen walked in, dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a black button up, more formal than Maria had ever seen her before, save for the same studded black boots she always wore.
“Are you ready?” She asked.
“Nearly.” Maria answered, trying off the end of her braid. Her eyes cut over to Carmen. “But I am a bit nervous.”
“Don’t worry.” Carmen smiled. “It’s just the council. They don’t bite.”
Maria tried to smile at her joke, but it was like she couldn’t force her muscles to do what they didn’t want to do. Carmen gave her a sympathetic smile and walked over to sit beside her on the bed.
“It’s really not that big of a deal.” Carmen said, placing her hand on top of Maria’s.
They had been doing this a lot lately, touching each other in small ways, and it was beginning to feel like a dangerous game. Almost like putting your hand next to stovetop, just enough to enjoy the heat, but not so close you were burned. Maria couldn’t understand why it felt like this, but some part of her knew she should be more careful.
“I guess.” This time Maria was able to force her smile. Carmen smiled back, but something told her she still wasn’t convinced.
Maria pulled her hand away, and stood up.
“Shall I walk you down the stairs?” Carmen asked, offering her arm.
The urge to say yes flooded Maria, but this time she was able to overcome it.
“I think I can handle myself.” She laughed.
“Then I’ll just have to settle for holding the door for you.”
Carmen was still smiling, but Maria could help but notice the look of disappointment that flashed through her eyes.
Maria sat quietly for most of the ride to the committee meeting. It was easy. Since Carmen was playing her loud, noisy music, there wasn’t much room for conversation. Clementine rode with them, sitting in the back seat, complaining loudly about the volume every now and then.
“You’re Just old. That’s why you think it’s loud.” Carmen said.
Clementine said something else that Maria couldn’t make out over the music.
“It is pretty loud.” Maria said.
Carmen frowned and turned the music down.
After four hours, they made it to the city of Atlanta. Maria had never been anywhere like it before. She’d never seen so many towering buildings and winding roads, a sea of blue and gray. She’d never seen so many people crammed into cars, crawling slowly along a black strip of asphalt. She wondered who they were, and where they were going.
With the way all of the drivers and passengers ignored each other, It was almost as if each and every car was its own little word, a small unit, focused and singular. What was the world she was living in, Maria wondered? She glanced over at Carmen, and at Clementine. She didn’t feel a part of this world. Not really, anyway. She’d never felt like a part of any world. Even back at the compound, she’d always felt like a puzzle piece that didn’t quit fit.
“We’re nearly there.” Carmen said absently, not really entirely to herself, or to Maria or Clementine.
After ten more minutes of Carmen cursing loudly at other cars, they finally pulled into a large building. It was filled with other cars, what must have been five floors of them, sloping upwards. It seemed like a strange place for a political meeting.
Once they had parked, they all got out of the car. The sun had set by now, about a half hour ago, but the city was surprisingly bright. There were street lights, lighted windows, and colorful flashing signs. There was still so much noise. It was nothing like inky black, cicada filled nights back in enigma.
“It’s only a short walk from here.” Carmen said.
“So it’s not here? This isn’t the place?” Maris asked, slightly confused. Clementine laughed, and Maria felt her cheeks burn. She’d done something embarrassing.
“This is a parking garage.” Carmen said carefully. “It’s just for parking.”
“Oh.” Maria said quietly.
As Carmen said, they walked for a short while, until they reached a large black building that looked almost like part of it was on stilts. A neon sign on the front read ‘masquerade’ in purple letters. Maria thought this place wasn’t anymore fitting for a meeting than the parking garage. It was even a bit dingy.
As they walked up the stairs, a few of the other members of the coven ran up behind them.
“How’d you guys get here so fast?” Edwin asked.
“Carmen drives like absolute madman.” Clementine said.
“You have to in Atlanta.” Carmen countered.
“Sure, but you would make the Autobahn seem like a school zone.”
“Alright, Alright.” Mrs. V said, cutting through the crowd. “Let’s just get inside. This might be the first time we’re not late to something and I don’t want to ruin the magic.”
Everyone continued to bicker, nonetheless, as they shuffled inside the building.
Although they weren’t late, it appeared as though they were still the last ones to arrive. The room was already full. There were so many people, no, so many vampires, walking around, drinking cups of blood, and talking in small groups.
Before long, a tall man approached them. He was balding, slightly portly, and dressed in an ostentatious suit with a white mustache that was curled tightly at the ends.
“My dear, sweet Virgie.” He said as he embraced a somewhat flustered Mrs. V in a tight hug. “I’m so glad you managed to come. These things are so boring when you and your lot don’t make it.”
“Thank you, Bram, I appreciate the, uhm… flattery.” Mrs. V said with a somewhat tight smile. Raven and Carmen snickered without an attempt to hide it.
Suddenly, Bram turned to Maria, regarding her with curiosity from under his round eyeglasses.
“Oh, and what is this? A new member?” He asked, looking her up and down. “A human? In a coven? How eccentric! I love it!”
“There are no rules against it.” Mrs. V said. “Introduce yourself dear.”
“Maria Alvarez.” Maria said shyly, before extending her hand. Bram took her hand and shook it fiercely.
“Bram Conley.” He said. “Optometrist in Statesboro. Head of the Statesboro Coven.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” She said.
“Call me if you ever need glasses. I’ll give you a handsome discount! Friend prices.”
She smiled and nodded, not knowing what else to say.
“Well, I best continue my way about the room.” He said. “Let’s talk after the meeting.”
Although Mrs. V didn’t respond verbally, she did give him a curt nod, her lips still tightly pursed.
After he had left, Clementine turned to Virgie and said. “I wish he would just ask you on a date already.”
“Clementine!” Mrs V said.
“It is about time you got back out there.” Raven added.
“Oh please. He’s far too young for me.” Mrs. V said. “Come on, let’s go ahead and grab our seats.”
Maria shuffled over to the round table in the center of the dim room. She took what she perceived as the safest spot, sandwiched between Edwin and Carmen. More than a few people shot glances over to her, and whispered to each other.
A man who introduced himself as Jake Harris, Head of the Atlanta Coven started the meeting off. He had the look you’d expect of a business man, tall and thin, with freshly cut hair and a navy suit.
“I want to welcome you all back. It’s been another lovely year.” He said. “Starting off, I’d like to list off all of our accomplishments and events for the year.”
Maria’s vision focused on the tiny, red cross pinned to his blazer, as she started to tune out his words, only vaguely picking up on his talk of political parties and something called the National Vampire Youth Conference. She caught bits and pieces of information about lobbying for better employment rights for vampires, and a little bit about a campaign to reinstate the right for vampires to go to college.
Luckily, Mr. Harris didn’t bring any attention to her. She wasn’t sure what she thought would happen when she showed up, but she was sure it was going to be worse than this. It almost, almost, seemed like she blended in, just another person sitting around the table.
“So mark your calendars, everyone is encouraged to show up and rally at the voting session for HB175.”
“Uh, what’s HB175, again?” Switchblade asked. “Ow, don’t pinch me Carmen!”
“Good question!” Mr. Harris said, unphased. “Just as a reminder to everyone, it’s the bill that could legalize marriage equality, between both humans and vampires, as well as decriminalize biting.”
There was a soft murmur around the room, and Maria felt her palms grow sweaty. Was there really a bill to decriminalize it already? Was that why the church had sent her here?
“Has the Holy Church of Apostolic Believers said if they’ll be there or not?” Carmen asked.
Maria’s heart sped up, and suddenly she felt as if she couldn’t look up from the table. Something was bubbling up in her chest, and it was making her mouth dry.
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” Mr. Harris said, drawing his mouth into a tight smile, “We’ll just have to ignore them, I’m afraid.”
Finally, Maria couldn’t take the feeling anymore. She had to get away, out of this building, away from this situation. She got up, knocking her chair over as she did so, before turning to stumble out of the room, into the dimly lit hallway.
She pressed her back against the wall, and slid down until her head was in between her knees. Why, she wondered, if she was being obedient and doing what she was told, did she feel this way? Why did she feel like she was doing something wrong? Something so wrong, she felt everyone could see right through her, into her core, filthy and rotten.
She buried her face in her hands, biting her lip in an effort to stop the burning in her throat.
The door clicked open, and she flinched as footsteps headed her way.
“Maria?” It was Carmen.
Maria was vaguely aware that she was crouching beside her.
“Are you okay?”
“Do you… want to go home?”
Maria paused, before nodding again.
“Alright. I’ll take you home.”
She looked up to see Carmen tapping hurriedly on her cell phone.
“Wait!” She said as she stumbled to get up. “Wait, I don’t wanna— I mean, if you want to stay I don’t want to, you know, inconvince you or anything. I can just stay in the hallway and—“
“It’s fine.” Carmen didn’t look up from her phone. “This place is lame anyway.”
“Oh, if you’re sure.” Maria said.
Eventually she slid her phone back into her pocket.
“Clem’s gonna ride back with Switchblade. Let’s go.”
After an hour of driving in silence, Carmen finally said something.
“You know, it’s okay for you to be upset with the church.”
Maria said nothing. She angrily squinted out of the window, back at the growing distance of the city, and at the roadside that was beginning to turn back into trees. Even though she didn’t respond, Carmen continued.
“Also, I think you should try and get out more.” She said. “You’re still pretty isolated. You can’t drive, you don’t have a cell phone, or a bank account. You don’t even really watch t.v., and you’ve never asked anyone to take you anywhere.”
“I don’t know where I would even go.” She said bitterly, still looking out of the window.
“I could show you some places around Enigma. We could go somewhere together one weekend.” Carmen said. “And me and Switchblade could teach you how to drive.”
“I don’t know if I would be any good at driving.” Maria said. “It seems hard.”
“It’s not that hard.” Carmen said, her words lifting up at the end in a sort of laugh, “most people can’t drive very well anyway.”
Maria smiled a bit. “Including you?”
“Hey now.” She laughed. “Don’t bite the hand that drives you around.”
There was another long pause before Carmen spoke again.
“I know they told you that you don’t need to know how to drive, but that’s not true. I mean, nobody’s going to die from not being able to drive, but there’s a certain freedom it gives you, and I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“A certain freedom?” Maria said, her ears peeking up.
She could hear Father David in her head, telling her she didn’t need to learn how to drive. It wouldn’t seem fair, but he would argue that she was still free. He would say that freedom how God created it wasn’t based in equality, it was based on the roles God gave us to live by. Her role was simply not to drive.
“Yeah, it’s nice to know you could just get in a car and leave your life behind if you really wanted to.” She said absently.
Maria paused, almost biting her tongue, before she asked. “Do you think freedom without equality is still freedom?”
It was clearly a phase Carmen remembered, as she wasted no time in answering.
“Do you think a dog on a chain can go wherever it wants?”
“I guess it can, but it won’t ever get very far, will it? It knows the places it can go, but not the places it could go.”
Maria felt deflated. At times, she felt like she wanted to talk to her about the church, but Carmen always got so emotional and angry whenever it was brought up. She was the one person in the coven who had the most in common with her, but Maria felt like she couldn’t even talk to her about it.
Sure, the meeting hadn’t ended with her getting her throat ripped out, but what had happened almost seemed to feel worse.