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Breathless


1. UNHAPPY FAMILIES
Happy families are all alike, Leesa Nyland had read somewhere, but every unhappy family is unhappy in
its own way. That statement certainly applied to her family, Leesa thought—it was hard to imagine
another family anywhere that had been ruined by a mom who cla imed she had been bitten by a one-
fanged vampire.
As the memories came flooding back to her, Leesa‘s fingers began to twirl in her long blond ha ir
the way they often did when she became anxious or upset.
She was three when she first realized her mom was different from other moms. Strangely, the first
thing she remembered noticing was the tomato juice. Her mom drank nothing but the thick red juice,
downing a big glass with every meal. Eventually, she even began putting it on her cereal instead of milk.
Later, she began avoiding direct sunlight, c laiming the sun hurt her skin. For a while , Leesa enjoyed the
game they made of it, pretending they were furry little moles and darting from shadow to shadow, but by
the time Leesa was six her mom had stopped going outside except on the cloudiest days, doing what
errands she could at night and leaving the rest to Leesa‘s dad.
The eccentric behavior was bad enough, but her mom‘s increasingly anxious and depressed
ramblings eventually drove her dad away. "Why couldn‘t I have been bitten by a real vampire?" her mom
would compla in endlessly. She was convinced the one-fanged version was a crippled, sterile creature,
unable to impart true vampire powers. One day, her dad simply did not come home from work, and Leesa
had not seen him since. She wondered if she was part of the reason for his leaving. She had been born
missing a small piece of bone in her lower right leg, making the limb an inch shorter than the other and
causing her foot to twist slightly inward, resulting in a noticeable limp. Maybe her dad didn‘t want a
gimpy daughter any more than he wanted a deranged wife. A year after her father left, her mom uprooted
the family, moving them from New Jersey to San Diego. Thank God for her big brother Bradley, or her
childhood would have been intolerable.
She forced the memories from her mind. She wasn‘t surprised they had returned now, while she
sat on a hard black vinyl chair in the noisy baggage claim area of Connecticut‘s Bradley International
Airport—how like Bradley to get an airport named after him, she thought laughingly—waiting for her
Aunt Janet to pick her up. This was her first time in Connecticut, the place where her mom had
supposedly been bitten by the one-fanged vampire. No wonder the story had come flooding back to her
here, triggering the memories. Her light-hearted musing about Bradley and the airport quickly turned into
a pang of loss, and her hand moved reflexive ly toward her purse and the carefully folded piece of white
paper she carried with her everywhere. Catching herself, she stayed her hand—she didn‘t need to take the
paper out to know every word printed on it.
Suddenly unable to sit still, she pushed herself to her feet and limped toward the exit. The glass
doors slid open, and she stepped out onto the sidewalk, squinting in the bright sunlight. The air was hot
and damp, and in just a few minutes her dark green cotton shirt began clinging to her skin.
So this is Connecticut, she thought. This was so not what she had been picturing. Where were the
brooding gray New England skies she‘d been imagining? There was nothing remotely mysterious,
gloomy or dangerous here. No way could she picture this as a place where someone could be attacked by
a vampire, one fang or not. Nor did it seem like the kind of place where a beloved older brother could
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