Chapter Nine

Olivia and Ivy sat together on a bench as the last guests milled around.

Toby Decker came up to say good-bye.

"Interested in writing a regular guest column for the Scribe about what it's like to be a Franklin Grover in Europe?"Toby asked with a grin.

Ivy's eyes opened wide. "Are you serious?"

"You're the best writer we have," Toby told her.

"That would be deadly," Ivy said appreciatively. "Thanks,Toby."

"How cool is that?" Olivia remarked after Toby was gone. But Ivy didn't seem to hear her; she was staring off into space.

"You okay?" Olivia nudged her sister.

"I was just thinking." Ivy shrugged. "I've been so caught up in trying to get Dad to change his mind that it never occurred to me to do anything like this for him. He's been in Franklin Grove for more than a decade. He should have a going away party, too."

"That's such a great idea," Olivia exclaimed. "Reminding him of all the people he'll miss could be just the thing to change his mind."

"I doubt that," Ivy admitted. "But it would make him feel good. And maybe that's enough."

Olivia nodded to herself. She had known Mr. Vega - her father - for such a short time, it would be nice to do something for him before he disappeared from her life.

"What are you two whispering about?"

Brendan leaned over the bench between them.

"We want to throw our dad a going away party," Ivy answered. "Do you think it's too late?"

"Under normal circumstances, there wouldn't be enough time," Brendan admitted. He waved to Camilla and Sophia to join them. "But the good news," he said as they trotted up, "is that you have Operation FANGED at your disposal!"

At 10 A.M. sharp, Sunday morning, Ivy convened the final meeting of Operation FANGED in Olivia's family room. Camilla, Olivia, Sophia, and Brendan were all in attendance.

Ivy paced back and forth on the Abbotts' blue shag carpet in front of the couch, where the others were all sitting in their sweats.

"We have exactly eight hours to plan and execute Dad's going away party," Ivy said. "Synchronize watches."

Everyone looked at their wrists except Brendan.

"I forgot my watch," he said with a wince, "but I can use my cell phone."

Ivy frowned at him in mock seriousness.

"You'd better shape up, Daniels, or you'll be scraping cake plates at the end of the night!" She surveyed the group. "Now, to the first order of business: guests. At present time, we have none. We need invitations, and we need them fast. Any volunteers?"

Camilla's hand shot into the air. "I can design something on Olivia's parents' computer," she said, gesturing to the desk in the corner.

"Go!" Ivy commanded, and Camilla raced across the room.

Sophia raised her hand. Ivy pointed to her.

"Why are you acting like you're in a bad action movie about a SWAT team?" Sophia asked.

Olivia and Brendan both chuckled.

"Because I'm moving to Europe in three days and I can do whatever I want," Ivy said with a straight face. She cracked a smile. "Also, I found these cargo pants while I was packing, and I think they look deadly."

"They are pretty awesome," Olivia agreed.

"Now," Ivy continued, "who wants to deliver invitations and spread the word as quickly as possible?"

"Brendan and I can do it," said Sophia. "We can run faster than, you know, most people."

"I used to do track!" Camilla volunteered from where she was sitting at the computer.

But Ivy knew what Sophia meant - vampires were just superior to humans when it came to strength and speed. "Don't you worry, Edmunson," she told Camilla, "there will be more than enough tasks to go around. Besides, we have you only until sixteen hundred hours." Camilla was hosting a big online forum for sci-fi geeks this evening, so she wasn't going to be able to attend the party - which was probably for the best, since it was going to be Vamp Central.

"The next thing we need," Ivy went on, "is a guest list.We want as many of my father's friends and acquaintances as can possibly make it on such short notice. Abbott - pen and paper?"

"Check," said Olivia, holding them up.

"Commence brainstorming!" Ivy declared.

Everyone started calling out names, and Olivia scribbled them down furiously. In fifteen minutes, they had a list of almost seventy-five people. "Wow!" said Olivia, flexing her aching hand. "Your dad's almost as popular as you, Ivy."

Camilla rushed over with a sheet from the printer and handed it to Ivy. It was a jet-black square with white text and an icon of a white airplane on it.

"'You are cordially invited,'" Ivy read aloud, "'to bid a fond farewell to Charles Vega, before he departs Franklin Grove for exciting opportunities abroad.'" She flicked the paper with a black fingernail. "Excellent work, Edmunson! Let's print one hundred copies and put them in the hands of our invitation runners ASAVP."

"You mean ASAP?" said Camilla.

Oops, thought Ivy. She'd mistakenly used the acronym for "as soon as vampirically possible."

"Yes," she replied.

Sophia and Brendan put on their coats, and, the moment the invitations had finished printing, they rushed out the door to deliver them.

"What else can I do?" asked Camilla eagerly. Olivia flipped through her notes. She looked up: "We need to get to FoodMart to pick up paper plates and cups."

"Done," said Camilla, pulling on her coat. After Camilla left, Olivia tossed Ivy the phone and she dialed the number for the BloodMart. "Catering manager, please," Ivy requested.

"Hi, Mr. Bobovitch, it's Ivy Vega. I'm calling because we're throwing a last-minute surprise going away party for my father tonight." She ordered a bunch of finger foods to be delivered to her house that evening. "And I hope you can make it, too, Mr. Bobovitch," she added. "My father has always said you're the best caterer outside Transylvania. And pass the invitation along to anyone else you think might like to come."

"Will do, Ivy," Mr. Bobovitch answered.

"Everyone was sad to hear that your father is leaving us. I know lots of folks will want to say good-bye."

Ivy hung up and handed the phone back to her sister. "What's next?"

Olivia glanced at her notebook. "Now that invites and catering are taken care of, the only thing left is decorating your house.We can meet there this afternoon. If we work together, it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours."

"That won't work," Ivy realized. "Dad's going to be home all day packing."

Olivia wrinkled her nose. "How are we supposed to throw him a surprise party if we can't surprise him?"

Ivy pursed her lips thoughtfully. "This calls for a covert operation." A plan came together in her mind. "Later this afternoon, you and I will go to my house, and you'll sneak around back. You'll hide in my room while I convince my dad to take me to the mall. I'll keep him away until seven P.M., when all the guests should be there."

"Great," Olivia approved. "That gives Brendan, Sophia, and me about two hours to get everything ready." She stood up from the couch and saluted Ivy. Ivy saluted back, and they both cracked up.

They had a few hours to kill before going to Ivy's house, so Olivia invited her sister down to the kitchen to have a bite for lunch. Her parents were out visiting friends who had just had a baby, so she and Ivy had the place to themselves.

Watching Ivy pick at a patty of raw ground beef while she had tuna salad, Olivia couldn't help marveling at the differences between the two of them - and at how close they'd become.

"You know," Ivy said, crumpling her napkin, "there is one person who knows the whole truth about why our dad's moving."

"Who?" Olivia asked.

"Him," Ivy replied. She had a determined look in her eye."We have to confront our father, Olivia."

"But what if he freaks out?" Olivia said. "He might do something really drastic."

Ivy raised her eyebrows. "You mean like move to Europe?"

Good point, thought Olivia.

"What do we have to lose?" Ivy pressed.

Olivia searched her mind. "Nothing," she had to admit finally. At the very least, she thought, he ought to know that I know he's my dad before he goes. "We'll do it tomorrow," Ivy decided.

A sickly feeling crept into Olivia's stomach, but she tried to ignore it. "Okay," she said, "but in the meantime, let's focus on throwing him the best party ever."

Later that afternoon, Olivia waited the agreedupon five minutes before following her sister up the long drive to the house atop Undertaker Hill.

In the hours since she and Ivy had decided to confront their father, Olivia hadn't been able to get rid of the queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Maybe my father's not the only one who's scared of the truth, she thought.

She forced herself to put one Moon Boot in front of the other and started her climb up the frozen drive. Her duffel bag tugged at her shoulder.

It was full of leftover decorations from the All Hallows' Ball. She crept around the back of the house, slid open Ivy's basement window, threw the bag in, and crawled inside. Hiding near the top of the basement stairs, she could hear Ivy and her father talking.

"But, Ivy, you are not being reasonable.You do not need me to take you to the mall," Mr. Vega was saying. "I have to keep packing."

"You have to take to me," Ivy pleaded. "I need... a book for the plane. And I'm out of toothpaste. And my bag is too small. I don't even have a ski suit!"

"But you do not ski," Mr.Vega said.

"You want me to go to boarding school without a ski suit?" Ivy cried, sounding hurt. Olivia had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.

"This is our last chance for affordable prices, Dad. Once we get to Europe, it'll be nothing but expensive designer labels."

"All right." Mr.Vega finally gave in. "Allow me to get my keys."

As soon as she heard the front door shut, Olivia hurried upstairs to start decorating. She almost dropped her poms when she saw the living room. It was completely taken over by boxes.

They were everywhere: on the coffee table, on the couch, on all the chairs.The floor was so crowded that there was barely any place to put down her duffel bag.

Olivia had no choice: she was going to have to stack all the boxes against one wall to make room for the party. Maybe they could put a banner or something on the front of them so they didn't make the room look untidy.

She pushed up her sleeves and got to work.

Before long, she'd built a tower of boxes that was as tall as she was against the wall. She pushed it gently with her hand to see if it was stable. One more small box on top, she decided, scanning the floor. She spotted one that was just the right size and waded over. When she bent down, though, it was so heavy she could barely lift it. What's in here? she wondered. She found the word LIBRARY written on one side in black magic marker.

Olivia got her fingers underneath the box's edges and lifted with her legs. "Urgh!" she groaned. It was like carrying a boulder. By the time she finally made it back across the room to her box tower, she felt like her arms were going to come off. She shut her eyes and gave three quick breaths. Then, like a weight lifter, she hoisted the box over her head. Her arms quaked violently.

I did it! she thought.

Suddenly the box's weight shifted, and she felt it slipping from her hands. "Whoooaaa!"The box fell to the floor with a crash. It burst open and its contents spilled everywhere.

"Well, I almost did it," Olivia said to herself. With a sigh, she bent down to clean up the mess. She picked up a small wooden box and turned it over.

It was the box she and Ivy had discovered in their father's private collection, the one with the wedding day photo of their parents. Then Olivia's eyes fell on a small black book that had fallen open and facedown next to the box.

Embossed in gold print on the cover was a year.

The year we were born, Olivia realized with a shock.

She picked up the book, turned it over, and was confronted by line after line of tight, graceful handwriting.

The first entry was dated not long after she and Ivy were born. Olivia started reading.

I feel as if I am buried underground without the benefit of a coffin, trapped in the dark without hope of returning to see the light. Susannah was my sunshine. And it is my fault, my fault alone, that her beautiful light no longer shines upon this earth.

What does he mean it's his fault? Olivia wondered. She saw her own name farther down.

From the night they came - our daughters, Olivia and Ivy - I see Susannah's beauty in their faces. But what if they are as doomed as our love? I know now that there is reason behind the madness of the old legends, about the monstrous consequences of a human and vampire loving each other.

With trembling fingers, Olivia turned the page.

Susannah was killed bringing our daughters into this world. Her human body could not cope with vampire blood running in her veins. Olivia and Ivy are not the monsters.They are the angels. It is I who am the monster. I chose to flout the old traditions, and Susannah has suffered the consequence.

I cannot undo the evil I have done. But I vow to raise our daughters with the same supreme love that Susannah showed me. My soul may not be saved, but I shall do everything in my power to save theirs.

Olivia set the book down and closed her eyes. She needed a moment to digest what she'd just read. Our mother didn't die in an accident like the Andover obituary said, she realized. She died in childbirth.And our father blamed himself. Still, it was clear that he hadn't wanted to separate Ivy and Olivia at first. He'd wanted to raise them together. So what happened?

Olivia quickly leafed through the journal. A lot of it was about raising a human and a vampire infant side by side - "Olivia tried to drink from Ivy's bottle today, and I was terrified." And every few paragraphs, there seemed to be another mention of their mother, and her death. Her father's guilt seemed to get worse and worse.

Finally, Olivia came to the final entry, dated the day before her first birthday. She took a deep breath.

For a year, I have fooled myself into believing that I could safely raise Olivia and Ivy together.

Their mother died because human and vampire mixed - could there be greater evidence of the horrors that await them if they remain together? And yet I have forced them to live as twin souls, against sense, against nature, because I needed comfort in my sorrow.

I fear for Olivia most of all. Even if she could grow up in my home without incident, there is no way the Blood Secret could be kept from her. She will live her life among vampires. One day, she may want a husband. She will disregard my warnings about mixing, just as I disregarded my parents' warnings. And what if she wants children?

I swear upon Susannah's grave that I shall not make the same mistake twice. I must give up Olivia so that she can be raised in a human family. I love her more than my heart can bear.

My soul screams out against leaving her, but I will not allow my selfishness to endanger her. Not anymore.

A clear droplet splattered on the page, and Olivia realized that she was crying. She put down the book and let the tears run down her face. He isn't moving to get away from me, she thought. He's trying to protect me. She smiled through her tears. He loves me! My father loves me.

She turned to the very last page of the journal, where there were only a few lines, followed by an expanse of blank page.

I would rather tell Ivy she is adopted than ever reveal my terrible secrets. She will never know of her mother. She will never know of her sister. It is our only hope of putting the past behind us. It is the best I can do for our daughters, and the least I can do for my Susannah, may she rest in eternal peace.

Olivia closed the book and rested her head on the side of the box. I wish Ivy were here, she thought desperately. She considered calling her on her cell, but she couldn't give Ivy news like this when she was at the mall with her dad.

The doorbell rang, and Olivia looked at her watch. It's Sophia and Brendan, she realized with a shock. She quickly wiped her face on the sleeve of her shirt and shoved the journal, the wooden box, and the other library things into the packing box from which they'd spilled.

"Hey. Are you okay?" Sophia asked when Olivia opened the front door.

"You look like you've been crying," Brendan noted.

It wouldn't be fair to tell them before Ivy, Olivia decided. "Must be all the dust," Olivia shrugged, wiping her nose. She forced herself back into the party spirit. "I was just moving packing boxes against the wall in the living room. Come on in. We have a lot of decorating to do!"

As Ivy's father drove up their driveway, Ivy glanced at the clock on the dashboard: 7:05 P.M. I hope people have actually shown up, she thought nervously. And I hope my dad won't be mad at me for inviting so many people to our house!

Once they'd parked, her father went around and opened the trunk, which was filled with shopping bags. "Well," he said, "I should think you now have everything you need for Europe."

"Thanks, Dad," Ivy said. He looped his arms with shopping bags and climbed the front steps. Ivy hurried in front of him and said, "I'll get it."

She slowly opened the door for him, and he walked into the darkened foyer ahead of her. Suddenly, Ivy saw him tense, like something was wrong. "Ivy," he said quickly, "is there something - "

"SURPRISE!" a chorus of voices shouted from the darkness, and Ivy's dad was so startled he dropped all her bags.

The lights came on, revealing that the front foyer and first flight of the grand staircase were filled with guests. Olivia was perched on the end of one of the balustrades, with a party hat on her head.

Ivy's father was speechless. He sputtered and stuttered, but couldn't get anything out. Finally he turned around in shock. "Did you know this was happening?" he asked Ivy.

"It was my idea." Ivy smiled. Her dad's eyes softened, but before he could say anything else, the crowd descended on him, slapping his back and shaking his hand.

Ivy scanned the room. It seemed like every vampire in Franklin Grove had shown up - and then some! There was Mr. Grosvenor from the museum and Vincent the butcher and Dr. Pane Lee, their dentist. Georgia Huntingdon from Vamp had flown in specially for the occasion.

Alice Bantam was there, wearing what looked like galoshes and a yellow and gray plastic bag. Even Miss Everling had made it! Ivy spotted Brendan, standing with his parents and Bethany on the other side of the room, and she waved to him. He gave her a big, proud thumbs-up. In return, she blew him a kiss. He caught it right on the neck. Suddenly the crowd started calling, "Speech! Speech!" and Ivy joined in.

"Yes, yes," her father said, raising his hands in the air. "Keep your fangs in."

Everybody laughed.

"I would like to begin by thanking my beautiful daughter Ivy for planning this." The room burst into applause, and Ivy couldn't help beaming. "And I would like to thank all of you for coming," her father continued. "But more than that, I would like to thank each and every one of you for welcoming me from the day I arrived in this town. Franklin Grove will always be my home. And I will always think of you, all of you, as my family." His voice choked up. "It breaks my heart to leave you."

People said, "Aw," and cheered.

"Enjoy the party!" her father called.

Ivy noticed that, over on the balustrade, Olivia was clapping but her mouth was trembling between a smile and a frown.

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