I. Accepting Reality

It had been exactly one week since Claire received the call.

At first, she didn't believe it; someone was playing a trick on her. She gave the caller a few choice words and quickly slammed the phone down. Death was not something you joke about and it certainly wasn't something you announced over the phone.

But, sure enough, she clicked on the T.V and tuned into the first story the local news decided to cover.

"Good evening everyone, this is Melissa reporting to you with breaking news," the reporter's grave expression had Claire's heart pounding double its normal rate, "Tonight, three young adults were involved in a fatal car crash. The exact cause is unknown, but it's suspected that the breaking system malfunctioned, preventing the car from slowing down and causing it to run head-on into a tractor trailer…"

The remote slid out of Claire's palm, crashing to the ground as she failed to fathom exactly what was going on inside of the protective bubble that she had constructed once she received the dreadful phone call. Her ears may have refused to believe the lies, but somehow her subconscious knew. From the minute she put the phone down, a puddle of fear formed in her stomach. Her mind refused to accept what the caller said, but some part of her realized it was true. Even without confirmation, a tiny piece of her heart broke away and fell to the pit of her stomach, filling it with bitter blood that poisoned her soul, making her nauseous.

The world stopped. Her life stopped. Everything around her came to a screeching halt as the news confirmed the phone call and her worst fears.

She wasn't sure how long she was in a complete trance, but it was long enough that she didn't even realize someone was behind her until she felt a hand on her shoulder. A shrieking scream filled the air and pierced her eardrums. It took a few moments for her to process that it was her own cry. Her senses were delayed, yet on overdrive at the same time. She could feel her heart threatening to pound out of her chest, taste the bile that rose in her throat and warned of an eruption, hear her shallow breaths that echoed in her ears, but she was completely numb to her surroundings.

She glanced at the officer behind her with wide eyes and a heaving chest.

Richard Morrell held up his hands in surrender, "Shit, Claire, I'm so sorry. I knocked about twenty times, but no one answered and I wanted to talk to you before…" He trailed off as he heard the T.V in the background. His eyes widened as he realized he was too late, "God damned it, Claire, I…" He trailed off and tugged at his hair in anger or annoyance, maybe both. He dragged his hands across his face before he began with a heavy sigh, "This wasn't supposed to happen. It was the stupid rookie down at the police office. I should have known better. He was supposed to break the news face to face, but he kept giving me shit about how you weren't immediate family, so breaking the news over the phone was perfectly acceptable. I should have done it myself, but I was at the accident scene, so I couldn't…"

His rambling made her heart hurt. She wanted to tell him to stop, but the lump in her throat prevented her from doing so. Her esophagus was on fire, each attempt at speaking scorching it even further.

Even though she already knew from the news report, she had to ask. She wanted the details, even though she certainly wasn't ready for them. "How?" Her voice was deep, rough, and broken, completely foreign to even her own ears.

"Claire, are you sure you…"

"How?" She repeated with somewhat of a conviction, only having the strength to force out one word. Things were beginning to blur together as her head began pounding, matching the rapid rate of her heart. She was aggravated at having to ask twice. How dare he come here supposedly to break the news, but not tell her what happened?

Richard carefully observed her, even though she wasn't sure what he was looking for. He must have sensed her irritation was rising, because he sighed and reluctantly retold the story, "They were on the back road headed towards the coffee shop. We're not sure how or why, but Michael lost control of the car and swerved onto the other lane, running into oncoming traffic."

"Into a tractor trailer," she mumbled, wincing as pain stabbed and slashed at her heart. She was bleeding, but she didn't have the strength to nurse her wounds. She wasn't even sure she wanted to. Her friends were dead and she wasn't; suffering somehow made her feel better. In fact, her mind seemed to want to cause her more pain, because graphic and gory images filled her head. She was assaulted by the unrelenting, vivid scenarios playing in her head.

Suddenly, a bittersweet thought crossed her mind. She knew her two human friends were long gone, but what about the immortal one? She needed someone, anyone, to be alive. "How d-did M-Michael d-die?"

Richard scrunched up his face, as if he wasn't sure if he wanted to tell her. As he began explaining this time, a hesitant and nervous tone laced his voice, "Well, uh, the tractor trailer was carrying gasoline…So when the collision occurred, gas started to leak," he glanced up at her, hoping the pieces would click and excuse him from having to give a further explanation, but he wasn't that lucky. Processing information was the last task on Claire's mind, so he was forced to continue, "The truck driver got out of the vehicle to help them, but that's when he noticed a, er, fire start under the hood of their car. He knew it would only be a few seconds before the flames met the gas, so he took off in the opposite direction for cover."

She stared at him blankly. He still hadn't answered her question, and even though any other time she would have been able to conclude the story's outcome, she was currently in no condition to think. Her head was pounding, reality beating down on it. He had only provided details that made her stomach twist in knots, worsening her nausea.

Richard took her empty stare as his cue to continue, "Well, uh, the fire did eventually meet the gas and an explosion occurred. Vampires…especially young vamps, well uh, they don't do too well in fire. Even someone of Amelie's age would have only lasted twenty minutes at the very most…"

"They burned to death," she spoke in a dull voice. She didn't understand why her voice was so emotionless, while her insides were anything but. She had such a whirlwind of emotions going on inside of her that she couldn't seem to grasp onto one long enough to process it. She didn't want to process it, though, if she was being honest. Where was the numb feeling that people often described when faced with tragedy? Being devoid of emotion wasn't considered ideal, but anything was better than this. A raging fire formed in her gut, her eyes stung with tears, and her throat was scorching. Fire consumed Claire's insides, a harsh memoir of the death her best friends went through.

"But they didn't all die in the fire," Claire's head snapped up as she looked at Richard with hopeful eyes. Maybe the news report got it wrong. Maybe Eve and Shane were still alive. Two was better than none, at least.

Richard quickly realized the mistake of his wording and scratched the back of his neck, wondering how to correct his statement without crushing the poor girl. "No, wait, I'm sorry; that's not what I meant. Eve and Shane were, um, already gone before the fire. I thought I should tell you that, so you would know they didn't suffer."

Yeah, good news. Michael got to be burned alive, while Eve and Shane only had to experience running head-on into a massive truck. No pain and suffering at all. Claire excused herself then and went up to her room, not coming out for three days while she wept in grief.

Now, here she was, standing in the middle of the Glass House's foyer, mere minutes away from going to the funeral and saying her final goodbye. Bittersweet warmth surrounded her, and she knew that this was the house's way of expressing his sympathies to Claire, as well as his own sorrow at the loss.

"Claire, sweetie, it's time to go," her mother gently rubbed her back. She had tried to convince Claire not to go into the Glass house, saying that it would only make things worse, but Claire didn't listen. She had to come back just one last time and remember the good times they had when she lived here. They were the first real friends she'd ever had and she would never forget them.

(...)

The service was coming to a close and Claire took a few deep, calming breaths. She had been requested to get up and speak on behalf of her deceased friends, but couldn't. Her best friends and the love of her life were dead. She acknowledged that, but she didn't want to focus on it this soon. It would be awhile before she would have the nerve to talk to anyone about her friends and recall the fond memories they shared.

The preacher stood at the podium and cleared his throat, "Is there anyone else who would like to share a story or speech?"

Silence.

The preacher was about to continue when a voice in the back spoke up, "I'd like to say a few words." Claire's eyes widened as she placed the voice. She slowly turned and watched Amelie walk down the aisle, ignoring the perplexed stares of the other guests. Morganville citizens were baffled as to why she would prepare a speech for a girl who dressed mockingly towards vampires and a boy whose father hunted them.

When she finally reached the podium, she adjusted the microphone towards her. Multiple gleaming eyes focused on her, breath baited as they sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation. It was unnerving for Claire, and she wasn't even the one giving the speech.

Everyone seemed to inhale at the exact same moment Amelie took a deep breath. She gazed at the crowd before beginning in a calm and serene voice that filled Claire with warmth. Claire was glad that, for once, Amelie had abandoned her ice-queen persona and decided to be an actual human being for once.

"Almost everyone in this town knew of the Glass residents, which means that everyone can attest that they all had good qualities and will generally be missed," Amelie glanced up to measure the crowd's reactions. Some people nodded their head in agreement, but most were too shell-shocked to register anything.

Amelie spent more time than necessary inspecting Claire. A curious look crossed her eyes, and though Claire would never know for sure, it was almost as if Amelie was trying to measure her pain. For Amelie, that was probably the closest thing the ice queen would ever do to resemble sympathy. Vampires, especially vampire queens, didn't care about other's pain. Claire knew that the minimal emotion Amelie expressed was significant and tears filled her eyes at the consideration.

"Eve Rosser was quite a unique being. She had peculiar habits that were often questioned, but she was a good human being, nonetheless. She was bold, daring, and fiercely loyal to the people she cared about. I imagine she was exactly the type of person you would want as a friend," Amelie paused to glance at Eve's family. Although her face was impassive and blank, she gave a quick reassuring nod to the dramatic Mrs. Rosser and abusive Mr. Rosser. Claire shook any ill thoughts of them away. They may not have been the greatest parents, but Eve was still their daughter, and they had a right to grieve.

"Then, there was Michael Glass. As many of you know, I was good friends with his uncle Sam. In a way, Michael had many of the same characteristics as his uncle. They were charming, caring, and full of love. For anyone who was in need of a friend or a protector, he was there. Michael didn't have a bad bone in him and just being in the presence of him could lift some of the heaviest hearts," Amelie, just as she had done for Eve, glanced over at Michael's parents and gave a nod. Claire felt horrible for his parents. It was only a few months ago that they had dealt with Sam's death and now they had to deal with their son's departure. Unlike Eve's parents, the Glasses were exceptionally sweet people who didn't deserve such heartbreak.

"And finally, the last of the victims was Shane Collins. Out of all of the three, he was probably one of the most controversial. To some, he was considered to be arrogant, rude, and lazy. He was hated by many."

Amelie paused for what seemed like hours. Claire's heart began to once again beat at a racing pace and she feared that she would need a transplant if things continued to carry on this way. There was no way Amelie couldn't end her speech there, she just couldn't. Sure, she and Shane may not have been very close, but only a cruel monster would give such a harsh speech at a funeral filled with grieving victims.

"Well, to those people, I say they didn't know the real Shane," Amelie continued and Claire sighed as her heart regained its natural pace and position in her chest, rather than her throat. "He hid behind that persona, while underneath laid a gentle, considerate, protective, and loving boy. For those who didn't truly know him, I must inform you that you missed out on meeting an exceptional young man. But, now that he's passed on, he will finally be reunited with his beloved sister and mother." Because Shane's family wasn't present, Amelie paused to stare at Claire. Her usual cold eyes seemed to be swimming with a thousand messages that she wanted to convey to Claire, but had no idea of how to properly do so. Regardless, Claire knew Amelie was stepping completely out of her comfort zone to express her sympathy and Claire greatly appreciated it.

"I may not have known these children very well, which was in part my own fault, but I knew them well enough to know they were good people. They will be forever in our memories and I send my condolences," Amelie finished by peering at the audience as she had before beginning her speech. She nodded towards the preacher and stepped down.

Claire wiped at the endless streams of tears that lined her cheeks; glad she had opted out of wearing make-up. She was amazed at how well Amelie had described her friends in her short and rigid speed. If she didn't know Amelie was against affection, she would have hugged her for such beautiful words, but it didn't matter.

Amelie was already gone.

(…)

The preacher had closed the funeral and now everyone was gathered outside, talking about how wonderful the ceremony was. Claire knew she should have stayed around to talk to the deceased's family and friends, but she was exhausted. She decided to head for the car and wait for her parents while they showed their respects.

Just as she turned the corner, her head crashed into a hard and cold chest. "Well, I suppose this is an unconventional form of greeting. I probably shouldn't have been following so closely. My apologies, dear," Myrnin apologized as he waved his hand out in front of him in an honorable gesture.

Claire wondered if he was ever sad. She had seen him giddy, angry, insane, and hungry; basically every other emotion except for sorrow. "It's okay Myrnin. Is there something you wanted?" Her voice was monotonous and scratchy, but she was trying. It was one of the longest sentences she'd said all week.

He narrowed his eyes in assessment, "Yes, there was something I wanted to say, but it seems I've forgotten…"His eyes suddenly widened with realization, "Oh, I wanted to express my sympathy for your loss. Well, more like sympathies for your losses, but tomato potato."

A ghost of a smile formed on Claire's face, "I believe its tomato, tamato."

Myrnin frowned, "But everyone knows that it's pronounced tomato. Have you ever heard someone order a cheeseburger with mustard, ketchup, and tamatoes?"

In that moment, she had never been more thankful for Myrnin's peculiarity. She was completely aware that he was he was only pretending to be insane, because the cure for the disease had been discovered, but she appreciated the gesture. Someone was trying to help her escape the dreariness of the day and she would be forever thankful.

Claire wanted to stay away from the harsh reality for as long as possible, so she played along, "Well, we live in Texas. I'm sure someone here has a Southern accent and pronounces it like tamato."

"Hmm, I've yet to come across that person. I must get out more often."

The first real, albeit weak, chuckle in a week slipped past Claire's lips, "Thank you, Myrnin." Before she realized what she was doing, she crushed herself against his chest and wrapped her arms around him. He was tense, but wrapped one arm awkwardly around her, patting her a few times on the back. Claire took that as her cue to let go.

"You're welcome, but I must be going now. I injected some rats with vampire DNA before leaving. They should be transformed by now, so I better be on my way before those buggers wreak havoc in my lab."

Claire wondered why he made vampire lab rats. They had already found the cure for the vampire disease. Was there some other epidemic she was unaware of? "What are the lab rats for?"

"Who said they were lab rats? Vampire rats make quite nice companions. They're the ideal pet; I can relate to them. I've named them Myrtle, Mimi, and Myra."

Claire shook her head with a chuckle, "Go home to your babies, Myrnin. I'll see you around."

"Farewell, my dear."

Claire turned back in her original direction, but a familiar head of hair caught her eye. What was he doing here? He had vanished into thin air over a month ago, and the fact that he was back seemed a little suspcious to her. In addition, the fact that he was lurking in the shadows caused red flags to pop up left and right in Claire's mind. She raced in his direction, fully intent on confronting him and his motives for showing up.

Her intentions, however, were prevented as a man in a black suit intercepted her, "Are you Claire Danvers?" She nodded, stretching her neck to search for him. She swore in her mind when she couldn't find him. The man continued, "I'm Detective Marcs and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions?"

The detective had Claire's full attention now. "Questions?"

"Yes, I have some very important questions. Are you aware that the break line in your friend's car was cut?"

No.

"At first, we thought it was a mere malfunction, but upon further examination, we discovered this was intentionally done."

No.

"Ms. Danvers, may I ask why you weren't in the car that night with your friends? They were all headed to one of Michael's concerts, which you usually attended. Why was that night any different?"

No.

"Do you know how the break line managed to get slashed, Claire? Did you have anything to do with the death of your friends, Claire?"

No!

"Claire Danvers, you are under arrest. Place your hands behind your back. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

As the cold steel of the cuffs wrapped around Claire's wrist, she bit back tears as she was forced back into the harsh reality. She didn't murder her friends, but someone did. She had no idea who, but she vowed to get to the bottom of it, even if she had to do it while sitting in a jail cell. No one was going to get away with murdering three of the people she cared most about in the world.

They were going to pay.

Raise your hand if you're glad I decided to continue this instead of leaving it as a one-shot?

Oh, and on a side note (You can skip over this if you want. It's completely irrelevant to the story and just some of my ramblings): Has anyone ever been in Amelie's position and given a funeral speech? My aunt died recently and my family requested that I speak on her behalf, which is why I decided to go back and add more detail into that section of the story. I can honestly say it is one of the most nerve-racking things I've ever done.

I'm terrified of speaking in general, let alone public speaking. No joke- there are probably some kids that I've gone to school with for over five years and they wouldn't be able to pick out my voice in a crowd. I'm a writer, not a speaker ;)

But anyways, the morning of the funeral, I was so nervous that my throat was achingly dry, so I kept downing soda. Well, within the first four hours of waking up, I'm pretty sure I had drunk well over twenty cans of caffeinated Diet Coke. Then, at the funeral, my hands are shaking so bad that I can't unfold the piece of paper that the speech is written on, so I grow even more nervous and once I completely unfold it, I slap it down on the podium harder than I intended.

Did I mention that the podium has a microphone attached to it? So yeah, it picked up on my paper slam and echoed it throughout the church, but I shake my head and prepare to start my speech anyways. I take a peek at everyone who was kind enough to come out and honor my aunt.

Horrible idea! Over fifty pairs of inquisitive, beady eyes are all staring at you and focusing on every word you say. And I'm only an insecure sixteen year old girl, so I begin to feel inferior because I've already screwed up once and I doubt that my speech is going to meet the standards of all the adults staring at me. I use my hair as a curtain and belt out the whole speech in under two minutes, thanks to my caffeine rush, and do my best to keep any tears or cracking voice at bay.

I was horrified at what people were going to say to me afterwards, but it actually wasn't as bad as I thought. They thought it was a well-written speech and laughed at my rushed pace. So, yeah, that was my long and irrelevant story that I felt like writing.

Anyone else have any public embarrassment tales they'd like to share? Just click the review button and write away. I read what everyone has to say :D