Sparkle or Bust

by bupparo
illustrated by llyse

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/148001.html)

Tuesday night study sessions with Jonathan and Scott were always pretty nondescript. We’d bury the living room of our student house in textbooks, pollute the air with eraser shavings, order some Chinese or pizza, turn on the hockey game, and get no work done whatsoever. It was a repetitive cycle, yeah, but I’m a creature of habit, and as far as I was concerned, eating the same greasy Chinese food or pizza every week was not only good for my sanity, but also good for my soul. (My arteries, not so much.)

And then Scott just had to go and ruin it all by deciding that we needed to order from this Arab place downtown that he’d eaten lunch at the other day. “Cyrus, trust me on this one,” he said, waving the menu underneath my nose. “This place is golden. Golden.” His eyes took on that sort of impassioned spark they often had whenever he saw a girl that was so far out of his league it wasn’t even funny. “You’re Arab, right? (“He’s Iranian,” Jonathan put in helpfully.) You can totally appreciate a good shawarma. I swear to God, this place makes shawarma that are so good that you’ll practically cream yourself.”

I told him, “I don’t like shawarma,” which was about the second biggest lie made by a non-politician in the last 50 years. “Can’t we just order from Splendid China again?” I knew our order by heart: vegetable lo mein, pork fried rice, General Tso’s chicken, chicken corn soup, beef with broccoli, sweet and sour pork, baby bok choy. And I had Splendid China on speed dial. (They were number 9.) It would be such a waste not to use these handy bits of ingenuity to their full potential.

“Dude, we’ve been eating Chinese food every other week since last semester began,” Scott said, already flipping through the menu to Shawarma Sultan and making little tics next to the dishes he was thinking of getting but wouldn’t get because we were getting Splendid China. He glanced up and gave me a funny look. “Don’t you get sick of eating the same stuff over and over again?”

“I’ve eaten the same thing for lunch every day since the age of twelve,” I informed him, unable to keep the pride from bleeding into my voice.

Scott gawked, and even Jonathan glanced up from his textbook, dumbfounded. “Yeah,” Scott said when he regained control of his facial muscles. “You would.” He shook his head at me then glanced over at Jonathan. “I’m not going to listen to Mr. Monk here on this one. It’s up to you, man.”

Jonathan was usually a pretty reliable ally, but we hadn’t been hooking up that often lately, which made him seem less dependable than usual. I gave Jonathan the most imploring look I could muster, which admittedly was less imploring and more constipated in nature, and Jonathan smiled sheepishly and verbally stabbed me in the back.

*

“You’re not still moping, are you?” Scott drawled as he flipped through the channels. Every other channel was some kind of ad for zit cream. He settled on some old Bugs Bunny cartoon and did a double-take at me. “Oh my God,” he said, awed. “You are.”

The couch smelled a little of stale potato chips and beer and the cushions were stuffed unevenly, causing a slight incline from the left. Scott was sprawled on the ground on top of a layer of polysci notes, which left the couch to Jonathan and I. Jonathan was sitting on the sloping left side, more or less teetering on the verge of sliding into my lap. He gave me that tentative half-smile and said, “I really am sorry, Cyrus. I hope you’re not that mad at me.”

“You have no soul and I hate you,” I said mutinously. (The biggest lie ever made by a non-politician in the last fifty years.) Clearly all those escapades in bed had meant nothing to him when it really counted—which, I guess, was something to be expected from a guy who didn’t seem keen on committing to anything beyond eight hours of sleep.

Jonathan rolled his eyes and pushed his giant horn-rimmed glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “You do not hate me,” he said, then, as an afterthought, “And I do too have a soul.” Scott and I instinctively shot sly glances at the frizzy red jewfro plotting its silent coup of Jonathan’s pasty, freckled head. Scott coughed something that sounded suspiciously like “denial.”

“Oh, hey,” Jonathan said as he craned his neck to peer out the window. “I think there’s someone pulling up to the curb. Is that the food?” I scooted next to Jonathan to get a better view and Scott scrambled off the ground to join us by the window. It was around 8 o’clock and the sun had disappeared not long ago; the only lighting came from the occasional lamppost and the dull blue glow of the campus ‘rape lights.’ There was a black Isuzu parked by our mailbox, and a dim outline of a man was shuffling away from it, box in hand.

Scott jabbed me in the shoulder three times and his face was bright enough to outshine a small sun. “Chow time!” he whooped, snatching the wrinkled dollar bills off the table and dashing down the hallway to get the door. I exchanged a look with Jonathan and we wandered over to go help Scott bring in the mountain of shawarma.

We were just rounding the corner from the living room to the hallway when one of those violent chills snuck up on me. It lasted only a moment, resonating from the back of my neck and shooting down to my toes in a millisecond. I must’ve faltered in my footsteps, because Jonathan placed a cool hand on my shoulder, asking in his soft voice, “You okay?”

I nodded, bemused. I got chills all the time these days—I chalked it up as a side effect of all the coffee I was drinking—but this one was sharper than usual. This chill was almost painful; it was like the sensation one gets after getting doused in water that was so hot that it felt cold. It was like being dumped into a bucket of blunt needles, not painful, just uncomfortable. I shuddered again. It left a weird numb sensation in my shoulders. Jonathan’s hand slid from my shoulder down my arm, fingers leaving ghost trails of goosebumps.

The scent of shawarma was thick and nearly suffocating in the hallway, and when I saw Scott, I was surprised to see him doing anything besides bouncing off the walls and stuffing his face with baba ghanouj and pita. He just stood static in front of the door, the ragged bills clenched in a fist as he stared up in dumb silence at the deliveryman.

The guy from Shawarma Sultan wasn’t some kind of hulking Schwarzenegger-Terminator beast, nor was he an obvious transvestite, so it wasn’t visibly apparent what it was about this guy that had Scott so stunned. In fact, maybe the most peculiar thing about him was just how normal he looked. He was a little on the buff side, but like I said, he was no Terminator. He looked like any other poor grad student working in some low-paying restaurant: tatty pair of jeans and a company polo with a few miscellaneous grease stains dotting the collar and chest. He even had a baseball cap with a picture of an extremely stereotypical cartoon Arab on it. By all accounts, a fairly average looking guy. The only visually remarkable thing about him was that he was a ginger. Were I not gawking at the sheer amount of ordinariness standing in front of me, I would’ve made a jibe to Jonathan about seeing another of his dying breed. But I said nothing, just reeled, chills were firing from my neurons like blitzkrieg.

What it was about this guy that was so off was just the way he carried himself. It was too much, too average, if that makes any sense. Even his half-slumped posture looked emphasised. And he just gave off this vibe… It’s the same as when you pass by a sketchy person in a trench coat on a foggy night. You just can’t help but lower your eyes and walk a little faster. This guy gave off that same feeling, made me feel like my insides had systematically turned into ice. He just made me want to look away and maybe hide under a blanket.

The deliveryman saw Jonathan and I from over Scott’s shoulder and said, “This is the order for Cyrus McTight-ass.” He didn’t even crack a smile. Just kept that grim expression plastered there. It was practically carved into his face. “Is this the right place?”

Jonathan was the first to recover. He put a reassuring hand on my back and said, “Yeah, this is the place.” He looked paler than usual, his freckles standing out against his pallid skin like soil on sand. He moved forward, sidestepping the static Scott and wordlessly prying the cash from his fingers. The deliveryman’s eyebrows rose as Jonathan fussed with the bills and slapped them into his waiting grasp. “Is that enough tip?” Jonathan asked stiffly as he accepted the box of food.

“You probably gave me a couple bucks more than you’d want to,” the deliveryman quipped even as he pocketed the money and backed away, falling into the darkness like there was nowhere else he’d rather be. He flashed a wide grin filled with crooked teeth and crooned, “Have a safe night, boys…”

Jonathan slammed the door shut and locked it with stiff, jerky motions. The click of the deadbolt sliding into place resonated through the air and it was like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Oxygen rushed into my lungs and shot to my numb brain. I leaned against the wall, heart thumping in my chest as I tried to force my breathing to even. The screech of the deliveryman’s car peeling away from the curb was like the chorus of a thousand angels of mercy.

Scott was a sagging deadweight hanging off Jonathan’s arm. “Oh my fucking God,” Scott wheezed as he shook his head vigorously, as if clearing the haze of his trance. His eyes fell on the boxed order sitting in Jonathan’s hand. “Oh my God.” He reached for the box and pulled out a shawarma. He took a long and revering inhale of the aroma before sinking his teeth in and allowing himself to melt into a sex-face that would make any B-rated porn star envious. “Oh my God,” he said again through a mouth of meat and lettuce and pita. “I think I just creamed myself.”

*

“Okay,” Scott said after five minutes of us ravenously attacking the shawarma and Greek salad and baba ghanouj. He took a sip of his Dr. Pepper and took a second to gather his thoughts. He gave us serious looks and said, “What the fuck, you guys. Just what the fuck.” He jerked a thumb at the window. “What the fuck just happened back there?” He ran a restless hand through his jagged hair. “Seriously, what the fuck?” Scott just kept repeating himself over and over, as if through all this reiteration, the what-the-fuck quality of that whole encounter with the deliveryman would just dissipate and the whole thing would begin to make sense.

“It kinda felt like we were on the brink of having our innards splattered across the walls,” Jonathan said, very matter-of-fact. His brown eyes were unblinking behind the thick lenses of his glasses. Our knees were just brushing each other and I could feel the vibrations running through his body as he anxiously jiggled his leg. When I placed a hand on his thigh, he stilled and gave me a tiny, sideways smile.

Scott nodded in agreement, waving a shawarma at Jonathan. “It did feel a bit like we were steaks in front of a starving lion.” He took a bite and considered. “Or more like we were nubile young boys in front of a paedophile.” I made a choking sound and Jonathan wrinkled his nose. “Yeah,” Scott said, pleased with our disgust. “Like we were in front of a child molester.”

We let that comment hang in the air and contented ourselves with feasting. The silence was broken with some classic remarks from Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny on television and with the occasional enthusiastic compliment to the food (mostly from Scott). “I told you it was orgasmic, Cyrus,” Scott drawled. I chose to ignore him, pretending to be enthralled by the sight of Elmer Fudd shooting Daffy Duck in the face.

*

It was difficult to keep from smirking outright when Scott staggered into the living room one day at four in the afternoon with what appeared to be the hangover from hell. One hand clung to the wall for dear life and the other shielded his eyes as he screamed at me to close the blinds. Once the sun had been hidden away, Scott shuffled into the washroom and went rummaging around in the medicine cabinet. The sight itself wasn’t anything new, but it never got old seeing the guy reduced to anything less than his usual shit-eating self. The sound of rattling pill bottles echoed off the tile and I heard him grumble a pained, “Please don’t tell me we’re out of fucking aspirin.” Through trial and error, we had discovered the most fast-acting painkiller available on the market. We were all very proud of this find—a lot of headaches and hangovers had been suffered for the sake of this research.

Scott stumbled back into plain sight and even from the couch, I could see his enflamed bloodshot eyes bulging from the sockets. “Cyrus,” he said, a manic tick forming in the right corner of his mouth. “Where the fuck is the aspirin?”

“It’s on the counter where you left it last night,” I told him, flipping through the channels until I found the most politically sincere news station on cable. (A rather close contest; there was something of a four way tie, but I liked the logo of this one the most.) The news reporter was a young Indian man, and he was obviously new to the business. Sweat was shining just above his eyebrows and his eyes were large and glued to the teleprompter. It was a little disheartening, watching him stutter through a breaking report of the sudden and gory emergence of a local serial killer. I found his performance more depressing than the idea of dead university students and cat ladies.

“Where’s Jonathan?” Scott asked as he gingerly seated himself beside me, aspirin in one hand and a beer in the other. I decided not to question the logic. His eyes were still glazed and more than a little unfocussed.

“Still in bed,” I replied, eyeballing the bloodied crime scenes with a calm apathy that would make sociopaths proud. I nodded my head at the screen, asking, “Did you hear about this stuff? It’s pretty messed up.”

Scott squinted at the carnage and popped his pills and swallowed a gulp of beer. He swallowed and grimaced. “That’s fucked up,” he said at last, summing it up succinctly. “What kind of a psycho hangs his victims upside down from meat hooks and just continually sticks it to them? Asshole.”

I thought ‘asshole’ was being a little forgiving. “Maybe he’s a psychopath like the deliveryman,” I said half-jokingly as I leaned back in my seat and stared at the images on the television. The bodies had been removed by now, but there was enough narration from the reporter to give a gruesome idea of what had transpired. According to the police reports, the victims had been lured into sketchy places like public washrooms and old warehouses (how people willingly wandered into such suspicious locations was beyond me) and were dispatched, bound, and hung by their feet from meat hooks. The killer then proceeded to stab his victims with what police reports were tentatively deeming “brass knuckles with spikes.”

“That’s bullshit,” Scott snorted. He rubbed at his forehead and the lines forming there as his frown deepened. “What kind of fucking psychopath keeps a random set of brass knuckles on him? And anyway, wouldn’t such a unique weapon like that make him easy to track? There can’t be that many brass knuckles being purchased in the province.” He chugged his beer in a way that could only be called ‘contemplative.’ He belched. I wrinkled my nose.

“You know what else is weird,” Scott continued with another thoughtful sip. “For a bloody crime scene, there isn’t all that much blood.”

I paused to stare at him for a second, because he’d made a surprisingly good observation. I turned up the volume, and leaned forward. The Indian reporter stumbled through the rest of his report: “Initial autopsy reports have not yet revealed a direct cause for murder, however, it has been noted that all of the bodies display identical trauma and puncture wounds primarily in areas critical to blood flow. In fact,” he paused to make a nervous smile, “all victims have been reported to have lost a large amount of blood in a very short time. Now, the bodies themselves had significant bloodstains on both clothes and skin, but the missing litres of blood have yet to be found.” He let out a high-pitched giggle and trilled, “It sounds like Canada’s first vampire is out of the coffin.”

*

There must have been nicotine or something in the shawarma, because after that one evening, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get food from Splendid China or Nico’s Pizzeria. It just wasn’t satisfying. Never before had I ever felt such sympathy for my mother when she was suffering from cravings while pregnant with me. We were totally addicted to Shawarma Sultan. It was all we could think about and all we ever wanted to eat.

Two months into summer semester and there were two local situations that hadn’t improved:

First, the neighbourhood serial killer, now popularly dubbed the ‘vampire killer,’ was still at large and was making kills one or two times a week. We were now scared shitless by the idea of leaving the house after dark, and since night-time was the only time that we were all awake, we were getting severe cases of cabin fever.

And second, we had eaten shawarma every night for five weeks straight.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” I told Scott one evening as I picked at my stuffed grape leaves. “I don’t have enough money to cover this kind of food budget.”

“So get a job, idiot.” And Daffy Duck got shot in the face again by Elmer Fudd.

I could have dealt with the gaping hole in my pocket. I didn’t mind being totally broke in spite of how much I bitched and moaned about it. I was a university student. Being constantly broke was part of the occupation.

No, the thing about it that really niggled me was the fact that Shawarma Sultan only had one deliveryman, and it was that same guy who Scott quasi-affectionately referred to as ‘That One Guy I’m Def Going to Find Standing Over My Bed With a Knife One of These Nights,’ or just ‘Randy.’ Because he was ‘randy for young boys with large appetites for Middle Eastern cuisine.’

But yeah, so we ordered shawarma every night and were thus made to see Randy every night. Scott fell into a habit of having Jonathan get the door because he was easily the least neurotic out of the three of us and clearly had the highest tolerance for creepers. Jonathan didn’t seem too ruffled by this, so I worried about him enough for the two of us.

“I have it all figured out,” Scott gasped one night after a few too many beers. “I understand it all perfectly.” A slice of onion fell out of his wrap and he stared at it, mourning. Then he ate it. “For seriously, you guys. You guys.” He smacked the table and an empty bottle toppled over, inciting a minor freak out over the possibility of wasted beer. “I have it all figured out,” Scott said again. “You guys,” he leaned forward and whispered, “Randy’s totally a vampire—but not the gay-ass one Tom Cruise played in that boring movie. He’s that vampire killer asshole who’s keeping us locked inside the house. Yeah.” He nodded to himself. “Randy’s a legit vampire.”

“Don’t be stupid,” I said, not Muslim enough to be sober, but still not drunk enough to agree to just anything. “He is not a vampire, and neither is the killer, for that matter.”

Scott’s blue eyes were bulbous and glazed beneath the brim of his baseball cap. “He so is. I saw a freaky red stain on his collar tonight—don’t you try and tell me that was ketchup, you son of a bitch.”

I didn’t argue. I had been the one to notice the stain while fearing for/cowering behind Jonathan.

“That bitch-ass motherfucker vampire killer is still pounding the cops’ asses, man. Pounding them,” Scott yelled, indignantly waving his shawarma around. “No human is capable of that shit. And dude, I don’t care what the hell the cops keep saying—the killer is actually a vampire. All these dead people that show up are always totally drained of fluids. Seriously? Who do they think they’re kidding? The authorities won’t say it, but we all know what the fuck that means.” He tore an aggressive bite out of his shawarma and said, through a mouth full of food, “And like, haven’t you noticed that Randy’s never around here when these crimes happen?!”

“That’s retarded,” I said, flicking a cucumber at Scott, who screamed upon impact. “He doesn’t live here, genius. Him not scaring the pants off us while some creep is knocking off people is not even worth discussing.”

Scott frowned at his empty bottle, conceding a little and seeing some logic. “Well…don’t try and tell me you haven’t noticed how we all get the willies from him.”

Jonathan was slumped at the other end of the table, owning up to his uncontested title of Extreme Lightweight. “I thought that was just ’cause he’s a serial killer-slash-rapist,” he slurred through folded arms.

“Nuh uh,” Scott argued, waving a wrap at him. “He’s a vampire. It’s our human instinct kicking in, man. Flight or fight.” He paused. “No, wait, ‘fight or flight.'” He reached for another beer and I pulled the case away from him, unmoved by his indignant squawk. “And, like,” Scott went on, giving up on the beer and returning to his shawarma, “have you guys ever noticed that he never is out in the sunlight?”

I took a bite of hummus and pita and licked my fingers while watching Jonathan out of the corner of my eye. He wasn’t watching. I frowned in disappointment. “That’s not true. Remember that one day we ordered in for lunch? He delivered that.”

“He was wearing sunglasses!” Scott exclaimed. “Sunglasses! How is that not suspicious?!”

This was getting ridiculous. I reached for the beer Scott wanted and said, “It was like 40˚ outside. Everyone was wearing sunglasses—dude, you were wearing sunglasses.”

“Temperature has nothing to do with the fucking sunglasses!”

A huge belch from Jonathan’s end of the table shut us up pretty quickly. His head was propped up on his arms and he was swaying back and forth, looking a little sick. It was both sad and adorable. “Randy can’t be a vampire,” Jonathan said, looking remarkably serious for someone who was about to double over and vomit. “It was sunny out, right? Guys. He can’t be a vampire. He didn’t sparkle.”

*

This is where I have to make a quick interlude to put out a little background info on the guys. Bad timing, I know, but it’s important and needs to be done.

The three of us met in the fall semester of first year. We all had the same seminar and Jonathan was in another of my night classes and in the GSA with me. (He slept through every meeting.) We learned pretty quickly that none of us had much interest in being awake before 2PM, and from there the friendship blossomed. The seminar class itself was stupidly boring and useless, and we fell into a habit of ditching class and playing Modern Warfare II and HALO. By the time freshman year concluded and headed into the summer semester, we’d all decided it was only logical that we move in together.

Scott was an aspiring fascist dictator. That was not an exaggeration. The first thing he ever said to me was, “I’m trying to come up with my own salute, but it’s difficult because everything looks like some version of the ‘Heil Hitler.'” He was a pretty dedicated polysci major, and while he never felt compelled to attend half of his classes, he was still roaring through university with a stellar 4.0 average. It was sickening.

His mom was the head of some huge corporation that made its profit off making infomercials for German products, and some of her trade must have rubbed off on Scott, because if there was one thing he was good at, it was convincing people to buy stuff they don’t need. I’ll cite the Shawarma Sultan incident as a prime example.

Jonathan, on the other hand, was from an unobtrusive Jewish Ukrainian family from out west in Saskatchewan. He was working towards a biology major, which was confusing because he was very vocal about how he hated science more than anything on earth—after cockroaches. But Jonathan was like that, full of contradictions. He loved sitting in the sun, but he burned like it was his purpose in life. (He even had specially prescribed sunscreen to protect him.) And after he got home from barbequing himself, he would sink into a bathtub filled with ice cubes and oatmeal and yell at me for letting him do that to himself. Every time we hooked up, he left hickies that would sting for days, but he always flipped the fuck out whenever I tried to bite him.

He was a confusing guy, as was Scott, but unlike Scott, Jonathan was logical.

Except when it came to one subject, and this is why this brief intermission is here.

Jonathan was a fan of the biggest waste of paper in the history of the universe.

Yes. Jonathan loved Twilight.

*

We all gathered in Jonathan’s bedroom one late Thursday night after cleaning up the remnants of our nightly whammy of shawarma and Randy. When Scott called an ’emergency meeting’ so we could plan our defence against the ‘vampire menace’ Jonathan complained, “I don’t see why we can’t just have a pub crawl like any other normal university students.” Even as he said this, he scooted over on his bed to give me space to sit with him. His words were filtered through a slight lisp because he’d already put his retainers in. He said, irritably, “We’ve been locked up in here for so long that I don’t even remember the last time I got laid.” I winced, not wanting to think about the unpleasant images that slyly rose up behind my eyes.

Scott shoved us aside so he could join us on the bed and retorted, “That’s because you’ve never had the pleasure of coitus.” He gazed up at the ceiling for a moment, collecting his thoughts—or perhaps admiring the poster of Jacob Black that Jonathan had taped above his bed for the purpose of late-night masturbation sessions. I looked up as well. While I couldn’t understand the obsession, I could at least understand the lust. Taylor Lautner had abs that would spring even the most impotent of grandfathers. I couldn’t help but glare up at the poster. It probably got to see more of Jonathan than most people.

“Now,” Scott said, dragging his eyes away from the poster and meeting my eyes. He started to say something then paused, amused. “You okay there, man? You’re lookin’ a little hot and bothered.” He was talking to me, shit-eating grin threatening to break his face. Jonathan gave me a sideways look and I hit Scott with a pillow. Scott easily batted away my assault, leering and drawling, “You better keep that pillow, Cy.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “From the looks of things, you need a bit of cloud cover.” I kept the pillow and pretended to ignore both the burning in my cheeks and how Jonathan averted his eyes up to the poster.

illustrated by llyse

Satisfied with my embarrassment, Scott clapped his hands and announced, “I’ve taken the liberty of dividing all the duties towards our defence. We’ll begin our counter strike against Randy first thing in the morning.”

“Do we have to?” Jonathan groused. “It’s almost five in the morning and I’d like to get some sleep in before I go to class.” The bedroom had a pair of opaque blue curtains drawn tight and dark over the windows, blocking out any possibility of the oncoming sunrise inflicting misery on sleepy teenagers.

Only a sorely unimpressed gymnastics coach could have rivalled Scott’s thunderous expression. “Excuse me if the fate of the human race comes before your beauty sleep.” Jonathan wilted and his shoulders slumped, instantly cowed. Scott paused and gave him a funny look. “And anyway, your class is at five in the afternoon. I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine with like…” He looked upwards and started counting off his fingers. He gave up not even a second later and muttered, “Why the hell do you even need so much sleep anyway? You sleep more than my grandmother.”

“It keeps the acne down,” Jonathan simpered, patting at his face. We all had some pretty atrocious sleeping habits, and none of us were fans of waking up early. Jonathan was rabid about getting his eight to twenty-four hours (during the day) and Scott, meanwhile, was a huge fan of sleep deprivation. The two agreed to disagree. I met them halfway with some hippie compromise about sleeping a couple hours at night and getting in a few power naps during the day.

“So, um,” I said, eyeing Scott and Jonathan and the imaginary lightning zinging between their glares. “What was it you wanted us to do…?”

Scott’s eyes lit up again, his fight about geriatric sleeping behaviour in teenagers completely forgotten. “The plan is as such, gentleman, Jonathan will do research on vampires and—”

“Why do I have to do all the bookwork?” Jonathan interrupted, frown back in place and creases forming between his eyebrows. His lower lip stuck out as he pouted, pink and soft and full.

Because,” Scott said long-sufferingly, “you’re totes the most bookish out of the group, eh? And you’re the bio major. And you’re into that Twilight bullshit anyway, so I figured it’s right up your alley.”

Jonathan blushed an attractive shade of pale pink and his eyes darted up to the Taylor Lautner poster and back to Scott. “It’s not like vampire biology is commonplace in Prentice Hall,” he sniped. “Or anywhere, for that matter.” I had to agree with him. No one had actually said it out loud, but we were accusing a man of being a supernatural creature simply because he was a creeper. “Do you realise how obnoxious it’ll be to find information on vampires?” Jonathan went on. “Everything’ll be stupid-ass bull from weird goth kids and teenybopper girls with strange fetishes.”

“Isn’t that what Twilight is, anyway?” Scott asked mildly, picking at a hangnail and wincing as it pulled at his skin. “Take this as a favour, man. I’m keeping you out of harm’s way and you get to utilise your skills as a professional homebody. So sue me for thinking you’d dig the chance to stay home in the dark for days and watch shit like Vampire Diaries for research.” He tugged at the hangnail and it tore. A small spot of blood beaded near his fingernail and he stuck his finger in his mouth, sulking. “Just stop being such a bitch for one measly sec, Jon.”

Jonathan said nothing, just clamped his mouth into a firm line and folded his arms across his chest. His eyes were focussed anywhere but on Scott and his fingers were clenched into white fists in the cloth of his bed sheets. I bumped my knee against his and he pressed his thigh flush against mine.

“Anyway,” Scott said, loud and final. “Cyrus and I’ll be running around town collecting info on Randy and following him around and stuff.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So we’ll be stalkers?”

Scott frowned at me. “It’s not at all like stalking,” he said. “We’re observing. That’s an entirely different beast. Stalking is motivated by perverted impulses and hysteria.”

Jonathan rolled his eyes and slumped against me, murmuring beneath his breath, “I’m pretty sure this counts as hysteria.”

“God damn it, man!” Scott exclaimed, doing a fantastic impression of William Shatner doing a not-so-fantastic-but-about-as-much-as-co

uld-be-expected-of-Shatner impression of an incensed lawyer. “This is reconnaissance. This is for justice. This is for the motherfucking Canadian nation! It’s a dangerous but necessary task!””It’s ridiculous is what it is,” Jonathan said as he sank down into his blankets and squinted over the edge of the green duvet.

*

Whatever I had imagined Shawarma Sultan to look like ended up being a polar opposite to the reality that sat wedged on the corner of a busy intersection. I had expected something with more panache. Or at least with an actual restaurant.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Scott said dreamily as he tugged me across the street, dodging oncoming traffic with luck that could only be the result of an extremely stressed out and overworked guardian angel.

We skidded to a stop in front of the roadside stand. ‘Beautiful’ wasn’t anywhere near the word I would’ve used. Shawarma Sultan looked like it had sprouted up out of the ground and evolved from a lemonade stand; it was just a small kitchen surrounded by four walls and a dilapidated roof that was probably once someone’s picket fence. A few tables and cheap-looking plastic chairs were squished on the sidewalk beside the stand, crammed with people wearing blissful expressions and devouring food by the carton. Inside the stand, two men and one woman were pressed along the counters and ovens and grills, bustling and cooking and barking at each other in rapid-fire Turkish. Kebabs were lined up neatly across the grill, giant tubs of baba ghanouj and hummus sat on a shelf, the oven was nearly overflowing with pita and lavash, a couple of coffeemakers were gurgling in the background, and three shawarma rotisseries stood towering on the back counter, making three awe-inspiring pillars of meat.

One sweaty man with red cheeks and a black moustache the size of Cambodia was leaning out the large window of the food stand, panting up a storm and giving us the stink-eye. “What do you kids want?” he huffed at us through the veil of a heavy accent. “It’s dinner time. Can’t you see we’re very busy here? If you are not here to order, then get out of line.” He threw a rotten eggplant at us. Scott pulled an impressive backbend that was torn straight from The Matrix and easily evaded the spoiled fruit. I wasn’t so lucky.

“My good sir!” Scott exclaimed, bounding over to the counter and gazing up at the man with adoring eyes. “You have no idea what joy your food brings to our lives.”

The man raised an eyebrow at Scott and turned to me, asking, “Is he high?”

The stink of mouldy eggplant was coming close to overpowering my senses. I could already feel the fumes getting to my head. I wiped off my shirt as best I could, wincing and yanking the bottle of Purell out of my back pocket. “I wish,” I grumbled as I squeezed a liberal amount of anti-bacterial chemical goodness onto the stain on my shirt.

The man took pity on my spoiled eggplant stain and handed me a wad of napkins. “You should get a new boyfriend,” he told me, then frowned, puzzled by my sputtered negatives and Scott’s hysterical laughter. “You two are not…?” He made a lewd hand gesture that nearly made me want to cry. He nodded, as if confirmed by my response. “Do not fret,” he said. “This is good. You look like a good boy and you deserve someone less…” His voice trailed away as he roved his eyes over Scott’s form; he wrinkled his nose and gestured to all of Scott. “Someone less.”

Scott gawked, abashed, and I just said nothing, frowning inwardly at the mental images of Jonathan that came to mind and the interesting feelings that bloomed in my chest.

“What is it you need?” the man asked me, brushing off the previous discussion with an air of profession.

Scott adjusted to the abrupt change and brightened. He leaned into the window and flashed a cheesy smile that he probably thought looked charming. “We are here to discuss the possibility of one of your employees being a vampi—mother of pearl!” I kicked him in the shin and he dropped to the ground. The other cooks in Shawarma Sultan turned around to stare at us.

“We just had a few questions about one of your employees,” I said quickly.

“Which one?” The man asked.

“Randy!” Scott replied from the ground.

The man furrowed his heavy brows. “Who?”

I coughed. “The deliveryman that works for you.” I made a vague gesture at my face. I was dimly aware of the sweat clinging to my forehead; it was sweltering outside today. “The one with freckles and red hair.”

Recognition flashed in his eyes and he nodded once and dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief. “He’s a quiet boy,” he told us. “He’s not much of an early riser and he has other priorities during the day, that’s why we rarely offer delivery before five or so.” He shrugged. “He just got hired a little over a month ago. I never saw him here before that.” He pocketed the handkerchief and continued, “He admittedly makes me nervous, but he hasn’t done anything wrong so far and he works quickly. He’s a good worker, albeit a strange one. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk about himself or his life outside of delivering shawarma.”

Scott clambered back up to his feet. “Have you ever seen Randy come out in the daylight?” He leaned in closer. “What about eat food? Ever seen Randy’s reflection? Does he have a fear of garlic? Of crosses? Holy water?” He was practically nose-to-nose with the man. “My good man, have you ever seen Randy transform himself into a bat and then fly away?”

“Why do you keep calling him Randy? His name is Harrison MacAvery.” The man frowned. “And why are you asking these questions anyway?”

I quickly said, “It’s just passing curiosity, sir, it’s really nothi—son of a bitch!” Scott smirked down at me as I clung to my bruising shin.

“Sir,” Scott said morosely. “My good friend and I are of the belief that your employee Randy—”

“Harrison,” he corrected.

“Randy,” Scott said again with a manic smile. “We are of the belief that Randy is, in fact, not what he seems to be.” He raised his hands to his face and mimed fangs with his pointer fingers. He just ended up looking like Daniel Radcliffe in that one Harry Potter movie. “We have very good reason to believe that your employee is a vampire.”

The man rubbed at his moustache and gave Scott a long look. He finally said, “Son, I hope to God that you’re high.”

Scott replied cheerfully, “That’s what my mother has been saying to me every day since I learned to talk.”

*

An hour and two orders of shawarma later found Scott and I stuffed into a phone booth, eyeballing this month’s issue of the yellow pages with a diligence I never gave the Qur’an. While the trip to Shawarma Sultan had been all but useful, we had gained one titbit of handy information: Randy’s actual name was Harrison MacAvery. And even though that piece of knowledge didn’t affect us in the slightest (the name Randy had grown on me like fungus), it was helpful for our stalking cause. And, as luck would have it, in spite of MacAvery being a semi-typical sounding name for any Canadian of Scottish descent, it turned out that there was only one Harrison MacAvery in our area. Life was funny like that. It was getting late, so after Scott had defaced my arm with our alleged vampire’s home address and deflected my complaints with benign neglect, he dragged me through rush hour (read: certain death) and back home.

Jonathan was leaning against the door, fumbling with his cell phone when we got home; his skin bore harsh sunburns beneath the dusting of freckles. One look at Jonathan’s distinctly uncomfortable expression and the violent red hue in his cheeks made me instantly feel the need to pet his hair. Jonathan’s eyes nearly welled up with tears when Scott pulled his lanyard from his pocket. “I was just about to call! Thank goodness you guys are back,” he exclaimed in a rush. “The bus company is on strike, and I had to walk back from class, and the sun’s been beating down, and I forgot my key—”

Scott wordlessly unlocked the door and Jonathan flew inside, dropped his stuff, and bolted to the washroom like the devil was on his heels. “Cy and I would still love you even if you were a soulless ginger lobster,” Scott called after him as we stepped inside and he closed the door behind us.

“Hey,” Scott said as he belly-flopped onto the couch, “I’m gonna order some kebabs and shit from Shawarma Sultan in like…thirty minutes. Okay? Oh, and can you tell Jon the details on the plan of attack? ‘Kay, sweet, thanks.” He tossed his cell phone onto the coffee table (Shawarma Sultan was number 4 on speed dial) and grabbed the remote to put on the news. The weatherman was in the middle of a bulletin about tomorrow’s solar eclipse when he was interrupted by an urgent report on the serial killer. There had only been one kill the past two weeks and it looked like the murderer was getting sloppy. According to the anchor, the vampire killer had left a shred of evidence behind at his most recent crime scene—the apartment of a twenty-something year old woman. There was a forgotten napkin with bloodied smears and fingerprints. And a small tin of fresh falafel, tzatziki, and vegetable kebabs.

Scott gesticulated so wildly at the screen that he nearly fell off the sofa. “Come on!” He shrieked, near hysterical. “How can that just be a coincidence?!”

Brushing off Scott’s semi-frequent frenzied fits was something I was very accomplished in, and I demonstrated that by serenely retrieving two beers from the fridge and strolling over to the washroom.

I knocked on the door. The water had been running for a while and had only just shut off. Jonathan’s hissed swears could just be heard through the wood. “Jonathan,” I said, “can I come in?” I clinked one of the cans against the door. “I brought you a drink.”

The door creaked open, and I was greeted with the sight of Jonathan clad only in his boxers. He eyed the beer in my hands and opened the door wider to let me in. The sunburn on his arms, legs, neck, and face was so garish that it looked like the area within the lines of his exposed body had been meticulously coloured in with a magic marker. The pale skin of his chest and belly looked bleached next to the angry red. The bathtub was filled with cloudy water that smelled like diluted oatmeal. His shirt and cargo shorts were strewn across the tile. It made my mouth water.

“How was your trip to the restaurant?” Jonathan asked as he took the beer can from my limp grasp and lifted the tab. He brought the can to his lips and slowly tilted it, the amber liquid trickling into his mouth. His eyes never left mine as he drank.

After a moment or two of dumb silence, I stammered out, “It was pretty awful.” One of Jonathan’s eyebrows quirked in response and it made me feel like I was being scrutinised. “Um.” Jonathan continued staring at me as he drank. I took a hasty gulp and nearly choked on the beer that sloshed down my throat. “I mean,” I coughed. “I guess it was sort of useful. We learned Randy’s name and got his home address.”

“Randy’s name?”

I nodded. “Yeah, he’s actually named Harrison MacAvery.”

Jonathan pursed his lips in thought. “I like the name ‘Randy’ more,” he said blandly and I nodded in agreement. He cocked his head to the side and his eyes flickered from my face to the arm that was covered with Scott’s chicken scratch scrawl. “Is that Randy’s address?” he asked and I nodded again. He hummed and resumed drinking and I resumed staring. The curve around his collarbone was neatly outlined in pink and peach.

“That’s a pretty nasty looking sunburn,” I said foolishly and he winced in response.

“It’ll go away soon enough,” Jonathan murmured into his beer. “I have this bottle of stuff from the organic pharmacy—it works pretty quickly.” His eyes were averted as he spoke. He tipped the can back and downed the rest of the beer. He tossed the empty can at me with a sigh and removed his glasses. The flush on his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose was crossed with lines of peach where his glasses sat. Jonathan blinked at me a few times. “I forgot to mention, I did some research today on vampires. Scott’ll probably want to hear that, eh?” He rolled his eyes and pivoted to crouch down by the tub to swirl a single hand in the water, testing the temperature. He turned on the tap again and set it to cold. “Mind you,” Jonathan went on, “Most of everything is likely to be pure BS. A lot of crap about vampires sparkling in the light and having golden eyes.” These words confused me, since he identified as a Twilight fan, albeit a rather mum and somewhat ashamed fan. (With regards to that series, anything short of rabid was mum.) He stood up, one hand on his hip and the other gingerly rubbing the back of his neck. He let out a low hiss. I gave him what was left of my beer and he downed it in one go.

I flipped the toilet lid shut and sat down, watching Jonathan alternate between checking the bath temperature and altering the tap. “By the way, they found some evidence at yesterday’s crime scene,” I said, remembering the news report. Jonathan gave me a sideways look, his face unreadable. “There was a container of take out Arabic food found there,” I told him. “The food had just been delivered—it was still warm when the police found the girl.” I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees and staring down at the small pile of clothes Jonathan had made. “D’you think it’s really all just a strange coincidence?” I wondered aloud, raising my eyes to look at him. He had stood up again and I could see the two soft dips in the small of his back, right above the hanging waistband of his boxers.

Jonathan was staring at me from over his shoulder, auburn eyebrows drawn together and lips pressed into a small frown. “I dunno, Cyrus,” he finally said, voice dissipating into steam as he said my name. He turned the faucet off. “But I will tell you one thing. I do not feel comfortable having Randy coming by our place as often as he does—serial killer or not.”

“Or vampire, you mean,” I added compulsively and Jonathan just hummed vaguely and slid his thumbs under the elastic of his boxers and pulled them down over the curve of his ass to meet the ground.

I stared. And Jonathan, in only the way that he could, mutely stepped out of his boxers and quietly sank down into the tub, his body turned at a deceitfully shy angle, both hiding and flaunting at the same time. He peered over the edge of the tub at me, face still blank, and crooked a finger at the white bottle sitting on the edge of the sink. “Hey, can you pass me that? It’ll help heal the burn quickly.”

It all felt a little surreal, but I grabbed the bottle and tossed it to him. He missed it by a long shot and the plop of it in the bathwater splashed him in the face. I laughed and the haze vanished—then I saw the trickle of water dripping from his lips and chin. And suddenly I was on my knees next to the tub, lips crushed hard against Jonathan’s, tongue pressing into his mouth, and fingers slipping over his slick skin and tangling in his curly hair.

Every time we’ve hooked up, it was always Jonathan in control. When he kissed me, it was always with more teeth than lips or tongue, it would be his long fingers pulling at my clothes and unbuckling my belt. He was always the one drawing me into dark closets and alleys, pupils dilated and his smile faint but thick with hunger. The contradiction of his personality, of his stillness and his voracious appetite was as unpredictable as the sensation of scorching skin and icy water folding and unfolding around me. It was strange to think that this was the same guy who fell asleep if he lay down for too long, it felt like I breathed life into him and roused him from his deep slumber.

I kissed him, pushing past the smooth teeth and into the soft space of his mouth. His response was forceful, the crowns of his teeth dragging along my tongue and tugging at my lips. He tasted like beer and smelled like oatmeal. The air was heavy in my lungs, like I was breathing smoke.

Jonathan’s arms wrapped around the back of my neck, pulling me in closer and gasping puffs of hot and cold as I slipped a single hand beneath the surface to grasp the shaft of his dick. Jonathan’s moan was long and gratifying, and I curled my fingers around the head of his cock. Water was sloshing over the edge of the tub with every twitching buck of Jonathan’s hips and every twist and pump of my hand. His teeth were back out, leaving a trail of bruises along my neck and shoulders. A wet hand palmed at my crotch and my vision blurred.

My heart hammered away in my chest, blood drained from my head and my vision went foggy as Jonathan bit into an especially tender spot. My hand reflexively clenched around his dick and his fingers dug into my back, his soft panting deepening and evolving into growls. His tongue traced the lines of my bruises and a series of sharp shudders rocked up my spine. Jonathan groaned into my skin and his teeth grazed against the shell of my ear. I wondered if he could hear my blood rushing beneath my skin. My thumb brushed over the head of his cock and Jonathan’s head jerked to the side, exposing a length of flushed skin. The fog in my mind was thick and his skin was sweet and scorching in my mouth.

Sh-shit,” he growled into the crook of my neck. I pumped him hard and fast and he jolted in my grasp, water splashing all over my shirt and onto the tile. Jonathan’s lips were back at my neck, forming mute words into my skin and whimpering pure want. The tip of his cock had broken through the surface of the water, red and engorged and it looked so good with my hand wrapped around it.

Jonathan’s fingers groped at my crotch, unbuttoning and unzipping my jeans with clumsy excitement. I nearly bust myself when his hand pressed soft against my hip, his thumb fitting into the groove of the bone. My breath hitched and he bit hard into my neck and his hand slipped under my boxers.

Then the bathroom door flew open and Scott burst in. “Cyrus!” he exclaimed, his eyes not on us but over his shoulder, as if watching for a hidden spectre. “You gotta get out here and give me some support, man!” He spun his head around. “The—” He paused. And stared. I slowly pulled my hand out of Jonathan’s lap. Jonathan removed his jaw from my shoulder.

“You guys…” The biggest shit-eating grin spread across Scott’s face. This would be a lot less embarrassing if it wasn’t such a frequent occurrence. “You know I’m as big a fan of copulation as the next guy, but I’d totally appreciate it if you could put it away for the next few minutes. I need to borrow Cyrus.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Jonathan. “Nice blush you got there, buddy.”

Jonathan slumped into the bathwater, probably trying to drown himself. The bottle of sunburn medication was floating along and he grabbed it and popped the cap open. The air stunk of rotten herbs. Scott placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “Maybe you should get a towel.” That damn smirk was splitting his face in two. “And maybe examine your zipper while you’re at it.”

*
“Okay,” Scott said, when we’d left Jonathan in the washroom to drown in mortification. He clutched his cell phone in his hands while pacing back and forth across the living room and eyeing the window. “So, I called in the food, eh?” He flipped his phone open and closed. “And the food is supposed to get here right around now…”I towelled my hair furiously, all the while squashing down my serious case of blue balls. All the previous frustrations I’d suffered at Scott’s hand didn’t even come close to this. I glared at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. “So? What, am I supposed to congratulate you for using the telephone?”

Scott smiled sweetly. It made me want to punch his face in. “You’re upset with me,” he observed. For some reason, this just made his smile wider. “That’s all right, you’ve got good reason. However,” he placed a comforting arm over my shoulder, only to quickly remove it when he realised I was still sopping wet. He went on, undeterred, “However, I am in great need of assistance at this time, Cyrus. See, Randy is on his way, but our knight in shining armour is busy shining his helmet, if you get what I mean.” He tapped the side of his nose with a jaunty albeit manic grin. “And see, that leaves us with an uncomfortable situation: Randy is almost here, and we are lacking one ginger to open the door.”

“Whaddya mean, ‘open the do—oh.”

“Yes, oh,” Scott said, rolling his eyes. He glanced out the window and promptly dropped his phone. “Oh, shit.” The sun had all but set, and the black Isuzu was barely visible as it pulled up to the curb, slicing through the dusk like a glowing black bullet. The headlights beamed at uneven intensities, making the car look like it was raising an eyebrow in scrutiny. Scott immediately grabbed me by my collar and dragged me down beneath the windowsill, hiding us from view and effectively disfiguring my shirt. “Okay, Cy,” Scott whisper-shouted, “here’s the plan.”

I asked, “Why are you whispering?” Scott clapped a hand over my mouth and made a huge show out of pressing a finger to his lips and shushing me.

“Here’s the plan,” Scott hissed, all the while glancing sneakily over the ledge. “I’m going to hold down the fort over here, and you can get the door. ”

“Wait,” I said, pushing his hand out of the way. “Why am I the one getting the door?”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Because it’s your turn!” He subtly began leading me down the hallway and towards the door. My eyes grew large and I dug my heels in, weakly fighting him off.

“What do you mean, ‘my turn’? Why can’t you go? When have you ever gotten the door?” That chill was back and creeping up my spine, my legs grew heavy and the breath in my lungs felt viscous. One look at Scott told me he wasn’t feeling any happier about this than I was, his face drawn as he kept me secure in his clammy grip.

The words began rushing out of Scott’s mouth, like he couldn’t bear to hold them in and wanted nothing more than to cast them away as quickly as he could. “Dude, I got the door the first time! Time for you to pull your own weight, eh? And anyway, what’s the big deal? You just open the door, hand him the tip—” he pried open one of my fists and shoved two sweaty dollars into my hand “—take the box, and close the door. Easy.” We inched down the hallway, Scott pushing me forward like a shield. My skin was cold, and I no longer knew if that was from my waterlogged clothes or my nerves. The whole corridor swam before my eyes, the dim fluorescent bulbs trembling, the light collapsing in on itself as darkness spread from the corners. My head felt dizzy and I could feel my stomach twist with every step we took. Scott continued babbling, “Don’t worry Cy, it’ll be quick and painless. Like ripping off a band-aid. And if he is a serial killing vampire…well…” His voice trailed away and he let out a high pitch laugh. “We’ll worry about that later!” His smile was wide and blinding and just a little insane. “But don’t get your panties in a twist, buddy. It’s not like you believe he’s any of those things, right? Right.”

“But I—”

The doorbell rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Scott shoved me forward, hissing, “Look alive!”

I slammed into the door, face pressed near the peephole. Against my better instincts, I glanced through and was greeted with the sight of Randy’s racist hat and his pallid freckled face. With numb fingers, I unbolted the door. Scott and I shared a glance. I braced myself. And pulled the door open with a grinding screech.

Randy stood slouched on our stoop, illuminated by the flickering light like one of the mosquitoes that buzzed around his head. His polo was adorned with another vibrant red splotch along the inside of the collar; the stain was dark and smug, shining out against its white canvas. Randy smiled at me, and my stare fell to his canine teeth. Did they look a little sharper than usual? Why were his gums so red? His teeth shone out from the cavern of his mouth, pearly bones imbedded in raw meat.

He said, “Ah, my two favourite customers.” He licked his lips. “How are you two fellas doing this fine evening?”

Somewhere behind me, Scott twitched and laughed nervously. “We’re doing all right, thanks… Um, how are you?”

“I’m doing well, thank you.” He smiled at us and my breath hitched unpleasantly. “Hey,” he said, leaning forward and lowering his voice. I automatically took a step backwards. If Randy noticed, he made no mention of it. “You guys have heard about that killer, right? That vampire killer?” The irony.

I coughed, trying to brush off the tremors in my chest. “Of course we have.” The irony. “Why?”

Randy shrugged. “That’s some scary shit, eh? You guys aren’t out running around late at night, are you?” We shook our heads mechanically and Randy gave a firm nod. “Good. People who go walking around dark alleys late at night are just asking for trouble.” He glanced back at his car. The engine was still running. “I’m actually not to comfortable with running these deliveries at night, either,” he admitted. “But I can’t stand driving around in the daytime.” He made a vague gesture at his eyes. “Very sensitive to light.”

“I’ll bet!” Scott coughed. I glared at him over my shoulder and mouthed, shut up!

I looked back at Randy. He stood maybe ten centimetres over me, and all his brawn just made him seem that much larger. I swallowed and he raised an eyebrow. Our food was still in his hand. His eyes seemed very dark and deep. I stared. “Um, that’s too bad,” I said, mouth dry and numb as cotton. Why was he still here, anyway? I stupidly asked, “Do you want to come in…?” Randy’s smile stretched wide, revealing all his teeth, and Scott took a few quick strides forward, sidling alongside me and effectively blocking the doorway. I blanched at my error, recovering and blurting out, “I mean!”

Scott gave me an alarmed look and interjected, “Cyrus means that if you ever, um, need to come in…like…if someone suspicious is following you… You can always come in and do that.” His eyes were bugging out of his head.

“That’s very kind of you to offer,” Randy drawled, his voice purring as low and smooth as syrup.

“Of course!” Scott chirped, voice rising steadily in pitch. “I mean, what would we do without our nightly fix of Shawarma Sultan?” He gave me a wide-eyed look. “Am I right?” I raised my eyes to the ceiling.

Randy nodded sedately, his weighted gaze shifting from my face to Scott’s. A small frown tugged at his lips, hiding away his white teeth. He asked randomly, “Hey, where’s your friend? The one who always gets the door?” The door wasn’t opened all that much, but the bugs were getting in. I slapped at one that landed on my arm. I noticed none seemed to be bothering Randy.

My eyebrows rose at the sudden change in subject. “Jonathan?” I asked.

“Is that his name?” Randy asked pleasantly. “The ginger? Is he not here?”

The frigid prickling on my back subsided as my mind drifted back to Jonathan. The warmth in my belly was a welcome sensation, pushing the tension away. I cleared my throat and replied, “He’s busy.”

“Who’s busy?” Jonathan asked briskly, rounding down the hallway, a towel wrapped around his waist. His red hair was damp and the curls hung limp against his face. He wasn’t wearing his glasses. A stray droplet of water skipped its way down the column of his throat. His gaze came to a halt on Randy standing on the doorstep.

Randy waved at him, smiling. “Nice evening, isn’t it?”

Jonathan squinted and furrowed his brows. “Very. Cyrus, did you need cash for tip?”

I blinked. “Tip?” The bills crumpled in my grasp became tangible and moist. I jerked my hand forward across the threshold of the door.

“Why, thank you,” Randy said graciously, his cool fingers sliding over my damp palm as he plucked the money from my hand. He pocketed the cash and flashed his wide bone and meat smile. “Pleasure doing business with you guys. As always.” Scott took the box from him and Randy waved goodbye—not even: he waggled his fingers at us—and strolled away to his car. It rumbled as it drove away into the night.

After a few minutes of silence, Scott glanced over at Jonathan and said, “Hey, your sunburn doesn’t look that bad.”

Jonathan raised his eyes to the ceiling. He did look a little less like a cooked lobster and more like a boiled shrimp. “Thank God,” he said.

*

Jonathan looked down at the small black vinyl case he held in his hands. “I don’t know and I don’t want to know why Scott has a lock-picking kit.” He tossed the kit to me and asked, “This is the place, right?”

We stood in front of a row of stout duplex houses, the top apartments resting heavily on their sagging lower partners. The paint on each of them was a chipping white that peeled away in thin flakes from the warped boards. The houses all bore an exhausted and aged appearance, as if the small flock had been forced to endure so much more time and weather than they could. None of the shrubs had grown in pruned or trimmed and the plants were more twigs and matted branches than leaves; each lawn was wild and filled with naked dandelions and more than one garden had an ugly gnome proudly sitting sentinel.

My eyes flickered down to the faded words scribbled across the inside of my arm. Scott had kindly agreed to share some of Jonathan’s researching burden, and since there was no way any of us were going to break into Randy’s house during the evening, it was eventually decided that Scott would hang back while we did the deed. “Yeah,” I said at length, double-checking the address. “This is the place.”

“What a dump.”

Truer words had never been said.

“Okay,” I said, leading Jonathan down the crammed, gravel road to a particularly ugly house. I pointed at the upper level. “According to the yellow pages, one Harrison MacAvery lives right there.” We scuttled over to the doorway, with Jonathan glancing up at the surroundings every few seconds. The afternoon sky was bright blue and free of clouds—he was probably concerned about his skin. His faint pink sunburn was healing nicely, but Jonathan had been instilled with a healthy dose of paranoia and ended up slathering on a shocking amount of sunscreen before heading out with me to the local ghetto.

The lock gave in with just the smallest amount of coaxing from the lock-pick and the door opened with a haggard groan. We trekked up the rickety stairs to the flat, watching each of our footfalls with care. The door at the top of the stairs was unlocked and simply fell open with the slightest touch from my fingertips. We peered into the apartment, not moving, half expecting Randy to jump out from hiding. Jonathan’s eyes flicked across the immediate surroundings and he took a few hesitant steps inside, watching for any signs of motion. The floorboards squeaked beneath his feet, but that was it. No Randy bursting out of thin air, eyes glowing and fangs extended. He turned to give me a reassuring nod and offered his hand. I released the breath I unconsciously held and laced our fingers together tight before following him in.

The apartment was mostly bare, the living room and kitchenette holding no more than a single threadbare rug, a ratty couch, and a single coffee table laden with a small stack of books. The whole place gave off the impression that Randy either had not been here for very long (true), or that he had no intention of staying here for very long (desirable). The three tiny windows squashed onto the browning walls had ragged dark green curtains drawn tight over the glass. I pushed them aside and opened the windows. The air in the room smelled stagnant and musty, sort of like an attic. The sun outside was blazing hotter than any day this past month; it was stifling.

Jonathan paced the room’s perimeter slowly, creeping around the area before dropping down to his knees and lifting up the edges of the carpet. When he saw my blank expression, he coloured and muttered, “The Internet said that some ‘vampires’—” he raised a hand and motioned bunny fingers “—sleep in hidden crawlspaces beneath their floorboards.” I knelt down beside him and helped roll back the carpet. There were no secret crawlspaces. Jonathan rolled his eyes. “Crazy vampire fangirls,” he muttered.

I laughed and pulled the carpet back into place. “You’re really not much of a Twilight fan, are you?”

He ducked his head, abashed. “Well… I like the idea of vegetarian vampires,” he said. “Especially ones that are sex personified.” I chuckled and he grinned, his face losing some of its stress. “And Taylor Lautner is not bad on the eyes. At all.”

“Undeniable,” I agreed, rocking back on my heels and standing up to go poke around Randy’s books. They were all second-hand dime novels.

“Yeah,” Jonathan said. “I like the idea of vampire romance, but not the consequential romanticism of the vampire race in the minds of girls today.” He made a flippant gesture with his wrist and rose to his feet. He started rummaging in the cupboards. “I still associate vampires with Dracula and Lestat, you know? The lack of grit in the nature of these newer interpretations—pansy-ass Edward Fucking Cullen—doesn’t strike me as truthful. It’s like writers are going out of their way to humanise vampires as much as possible. Which would be okay, I guess, if they could just do it properly.” He shrugged and closed the cabinets, joking, “No human remains.”

I restacked the books and reported, “No books on how to make Bloody Marys, either.” I waved a single flimsy book at Jonathan and added, “Although there is a copy of Sweeney Todd here. Is that evidence?”

Jonathan rolled his eyes, amused. “Of being a vampire, no. Of being a psycho? Yes.” He glanced into the freezer, finding nothing. Then he opened the refrigerator and his shoulders hunched over, tense. “Cyrus?” he said, voice low and feathery, “You might want to see this…”

Sitting innocently on the second shelf of the fridge was an unlabelled two-litre bottle of…something. Something red.

Jonathan stretched out a hand and took the soda bottle, resting it in his arms. His eyes were magnified behind his large glasses. The red liquid in the bottle was thick and sticky, leaving oozing dark stains on the clear plastic as the contents shifted. Our gazes locked and he carefully unscrewed the cap. And shakily, we both leaned in to have a sniff.

“Pomegranate juice,” I gasped, nearly passing out from the vertigo of relief. Some of the colour returned to Jonathan’s face and he resealed the bottle with jerky motions and shoved it back in the refrigerator.

“Do we have to keep looking?” Jonathan asked as he shut the door and collapsed back against it. His hands were clenched into tight fists and his lips were pursed into a thin line. Dark circles framed his eyes—he was missing out on a few hours of his normal sleeping time, and the gravity of that was taking its toll. “I mean, what are we even looking for? A coffin?”

I rubbed at my forehead. “I’m not even sure,” I answered truthfully. Jonathan’s eyes slid closed and he banged his head back against the freezer. “Look,” I said reasonably, “Let’s just take a quick look in the bedroom and washroom, okay? So that way we can at least tell Scott we did.” I gave him a reassuring nudge. “I mean, we probably won’t find anything, anyway.”

The weary half-smile he flashed me was reluctant at best.

There was a small passage in the apartment that served as a wannabe hallway. It was no longer than three metres long, leading on the left to the washroom, and on the right to the bedroom. Above our heads was one of those old-fashioned pull-down ladders that led to the attic. The creep factor of the attic was through the roof, and neither of us wanted to even pull the ladder down, let alone head upstairs. The unanimous decision was that we’d leave that whole corridor alone. Who actually still used an attic, anyway?

Or that’s what I tried to convince myself of as we shuffled away down the right to the bedroom, tails shamelessly between our legs.

The bedroom yielded just as many secrets as the kitchen; a mattress lay inert on the floor with an old off-white flat sheet and a chewed up Tempur-Pedic pillow thrown over it. The wardrobe sitting in the corner had some serious water-damage and probably a case of black mould growing somewhere along its backside. A couple pairs of dirty jeans and underwear were piled in the opposite corner. The window had been boarded up with cardboard and the only light in the room came from the flickering naked light bulb that hung from the ceiling like a dead spider. I wrinkled my nose. The set up just felt weird. Like something that’d be in a display in a hobo design magazine.

At my side, Jonathan shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His gaze kept falling towards all the dark corners and the rugs. We didn’t exchange any words, just moved the bed over to check the floor for any hidden rooms. Jonathan’s hand brushed over mine as we pulled the mattress across the room. The glance he gave me sent a zing to my chest. The tiny smile he flashed was pure heat. And that was such a good look on him, and I wanted to see that smile on his face always, see it glowing because of me.

We wandered back to where the mattress had laid. There weren’t any hidden rooms in the floor here either. Jonathan looked relieved, and that smile was just as gentle as the first. That something warm in my chest swelled at the sight.

And maybe I kind of knew I had it bad, that I always wanted him to smile like that at me, but that wasn’t the point. I took a deep breath to steel my will. This was neither the time nor the place. (An inward cringe at the latter. This was definitely not the place.)

Jonathan cocked his head to the side and his hair curled around his ears so sweetly and his freckles were the same colour as cinnamon and his mouth was shaped to fit perfectly against mine. “Cyrus?” he said, and my name sounded wonderful in his voice. “You all right? You’re zoning.”

Not the right time or place, I reminded myself. I nodded energetically at him and with the most content beam I had ever smiled, promptly blurted out, “I kind of really like you.”

He stared. I gawked.

Alarm bells and wailing sirens and babies’ screams immediately went blasting off in my head, all of these sounds moshing together to form an overall message of: way to fuck up, retard. I turned bright red and averted my eyes from his, dropping my gaze to my feet, completely mortified. I said loudly, “There’s no vampire shit here.” And when I raised my eyes back to Jonathan, he was looking elsewhere and the spell was broken. I tried to push the aching throb in my chest to the back of my mind.

“Forget what I just said,” I muttered stiffly. Jonathan had politely crossed to the other side of the room, leaving me to die of embarrassment in peace. “I know you aren’t into relationships.” Jonathan gave me a helpless look and I rubbed at my chest, self-conscious. “Um, did you, uh, wanna go check the washroom quickly?” He turned away to examine the wardrobe—or to avoid looking at me; both were reasonable things to do. I swallowed, clambered to my feet, and kicked the mattress back into its original location. “I just wanna get out of here ASAP, if you don’t mind…”

Jonathan hummed in agreement from where he stood over by the wardrobe and its nearby trashcan, eyeballing the contents. There wasn’t anything inside except a few cardboard cartons from Splendid China and an empty bottle of sunscreen. “A website I saw said that certain prescription sunscreens are powerful enough to protect vampires for short periods of time,” Jonathan said distantly as he surveyed the bottle. “But if the website was right, then he clearly hasn’t been in the sun for a while—the expiration date on this past ages ago.” He dropped the bottle unceremoniously back into the garbage pail. When he turned to look back at me, his cheeks were a little pinker than before. But I didn’t notice that at all. “But that’s assuming he’s a vampire, of course.”

“Sensational,” I said, my shoulders tightening. “That doesn’t tell us anything. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” My words came out rough and jagged, and Jonathan flinched, cut.

His eyebrows drew together in a concerned arc and he wetted his lips. “Look, Cyrus, it’s not that I don’t want a relationship, I just—”

I glared at him, affronted. “You better not be giving me this speech, man. I’m your friend,” I snapped as I stormed out of the room and down the little hallway towards the washroom. Jonathan hurried after me, reaching out those same pale, gentle hands to touch me and I quivered beneath the contact, refusing to yield to the fingers that I kissed and worshipped and loved. “Fuck!”

“Cyrus…”

“Do me a favour and shut up.” I grabbed the doorknob in my hand, squeezed and turned the metal hard, and spun my head around to growl at Jonathan, “I’m not made of glass, you know.”

And suddenly his lips were pressed against mine and there was heat coursing through my body, melting all the ice that I had never even noticed, filling me with molten warmth. And his hands were cool and hot, cradling the base of my neck and the kiss was on my lips, soft, no teeth, and my brain shut off and my heart turned on. All too quickly, all too soon, Jonathan pulled away, and there on his face was the most peaceful, most honest smile I had ever seen.

He said, breathlessly, “Cyrus,” and I crumpled into his arms, utterly boneless and never so euphoric.

The doorknob slipped loose from my grasp as my hands fell away, distracted by the way Jonathan’s skin and the folds of his shirt, the shift of his curls, felt against the pads of my fingers. Our mouths met again, tongues searching and exploring this new, soft world, where teeth remained tame and hidden away. Jonathan backed me into the door, his arms wrapped tight around my body, and mine around his, both of us afraid to let go of this new reality. I held him close and kissed him again. The reality was still there after three kisses. After four.

The door fell open against my back, and the lights in here were bright white and the bones in my body seized all at once, the chills shot up my spine, short-circuiting my brain as sharp and bitter as the thick smell of metal the bathroom was soaked in. The arms wrapped warm and strong around me clenched and tightened. My eyes snapped open and Jonathan was dragging me back into the hallway, towards the bedroom, away from the glowing white room bathed in red blood.

Fuck!” Jonathan gasped as he staggered back, arms still wrapped tight and solid around my waist. “Fuck!”

The bathroom was completely drenched with blood. Grotesque splashes of scarlet spattered across the plastic shower curtain and crusted dribbles and cascading drops of rust-coloured blood were dried like sap against the vanity mirror. The floor was sticky with coagulated black jelly and small puddles of gummy plasma and the whole thing smelled of viscous and sour metal and my vision swam and I could taste the bile and feel my throat spasm and fight the need to retch.

Holy shit!” I choked out, fingers digging into Jonathan’s skin. His face had completely lost its colour and he quickly sidestepped me, moving himself forward into a protective stance, shielding me. The world tilted wildly and the only thing I could hear was the petrified beating of my heart. “Jonathan! We have to get the fuck out of here! We have to—”

Jonathan slapped a hand over my mouth. The air was humid and stifling and I felt my breath die in my lungs. The light in the apartment wavered and puttered away, the satanic illumination of the gory washroom drowning the hallway in a sinister red glow. I pressed my fingers into Jonathan’s hands, begging him to move, but he stood rooted to the spot, his eyes large and darting from side to side. Then slowly, they rose. And focussed on the ceiling.

It was dead silent.

Then, soft as a sigh, came a creak from somewhere in the attic.

Fuck!

Jonathan’s hand twitched against my mouth and he led us back one quiet step. Two. His eyes were peeled and unblinking, glaring holes into that attic door.

The whispering groan from the attic grew, multiplying into a rolling wave of raspy breath.

I hissed, “Let’s go!” Jonathan’s head snapped down to me, eyes large.

The noise above our heads abruptly ceased. Jonathan tensed. All was silent.

Then the pull-down door fell open and a man dropped down from above, landing in a feline crouch. His body unfolded in a stretched, watery motion, slowly righting itself and cracking a few vertebrae before flashing us an ugly smile full of snaggleteeth. “Welcome, boys,” Randy purred, raising his arms in a welcoming gesture. “Sorry about the mess, I wasn’t expecting company.” His upper canines were long, extending over his lower lip in two pointed fangs. “You guys are either really brave, or really, really stupid.” He ran his tongue over his teeth. “But I’ll give you guys the benefit of the doubt—how ballsy! Breaking into the house of a vampire.” He looked almost pleased.

“We won’t say anything,” Jonathan said, voice steady. Randy gave him an amused look, but he pressed on. “We’ll keep quiet if you just let us go.” Jonathan moved back a touch, pressing his back to my chest, as if trying to provide a meagre sense of comfort. “And then you can just leave and go somewhere else. What good is there in staying in a place that already knows about your kind?”

“You’re a funny specimen,” Randy remarked, taking a deep stride forward and pressing a single finger into Jonathan’s chest. His eyes were endless pools of darkness. His smile grew and he poked Jonathan again. “One,” Randy counted, his lips moving slow and exaggerated around the sound of the number. His eyes roved over to me and I sucked in a breath, which made him laugh. “Two!” He put his hands on his hips, delighted. “Where is your other friend?”

My heart jumped into my mouth. “Scott?”

“Is that his name?” Randy checked his wristwatch. “Is he at home, then?”

“Yes.” Jonathan’s voice steeled itself. “You can’t enter the domain of a human.”

Randy nodded. “Yes, that is true.” I felt some relief seep into my bones. “However.” Randy smiled horribly at me. “However, this young man you have here with you made a very big boo-boo last night.”

I stiffened and Randy laughed. Jonathan turned his head, eyes large and foreboding. He mumbled, “You didn’t…?”

Randy laughed, “Oh, he did! He invited me in. And let me tell you, it warms my little heart to know that goodwill is not dead.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “It’s been getting increasingly difficult to find such charity nowadays—especially after all these silly murders.” He checked his wristwatch again, smiling to himself. “What luck!” He clapped his hands and the lights flicked on, flooding the hallway with lights. “Now, much as I’d love to stick around and chat, I really must be going.” He gestured towards the windows. “You see, normally I wouldn’t be running around during the daytime, but, if you’ve noticed…”

I chanced a quick glance at one of the windows I’d pulled the curtains back from. And double-took. It was one in the afternoon, and the sky outside was pitch black.

“I have the convenience of a solar eclipse on my side today,” Randy chuckled. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he backed into the living room, drawling, “I have to go grab some takeout.” And he pivoted sharply and tore across the flat towards the door.

Jonathan spun around to me and shouted, “Take back your invitation!”

But Randy had already vanished in a blur of movement, moving so quickly he was nearly invisible, shooting across the living room and down the stairs, scattering the loose pages of the dime novels like falling ash.

“Fuck!” Jonathan hollered, seizing me by my wrist and sprinting to the stairs. “We have to save Scott!”

“How the hell are we going to beat that guy home?” I asked shrilly. We skidded to a stop and the end of the driveway. Jonathan’s face was the colour of paper. “He’s a motherfucking vampire! You saw how fast he moved! How the fuck are we supposed to beat that? We don’t have a car or a bike or a motherfucking tricycle! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any big rescue plans that start with us running back home.”

“Son of a bitch!” Jonathan clapped his hands over eyes and let out a feral scream. The sky above us was dark, the once beaming sun was hidden and the only breath of light over the town came from the fine silver film licking at the edges of the moon. “Okay, fine. You want a solution? Here it is.” Jonathan staggered his legs into a half-crouch, leaned forward, and made a jerking motion with his head. “Get on.”

“Excuse me?”

Jonathan clenched his eyes shut and scowled. “You humans just don’t get that time does not stand still.” He grabbed me by my arms, looped them over his neck, slipped his hands beneath my thighs, and straightened, slinging me up into an awkward piggyback ride.

Excuse me?” I said again. “What do you mean, ‘you hu—holy shit!

We took off with a crack, Jonathan moving us so quickly that the whole world washed away like a chalk drawing beneath water. We sliced through the air, leaving ripples of sound and broken gasps in our wake. Jonathan’s whole body seemed to have been built solely for this task, his posture was low-slung with me clinging to his back as his legs moved swift and soundless. All the absurdity of the moment was cemented by the firm line of Jonathan’s back. I tightened my arms around him, and his fingers squeezed my leg back. The reality was still there, as lopsided as it had become.

The stop was sharp and sudden and we went toppling into the grass by the front walk of the house. Jonathan was back on his feet and hefting me towards the door before I could even think straight. “Jonathan?” I choked out as I fought to get air back into my lungs.

“I’ll explain later,” he shouted, nearly ripping my arm out of its socket. His glasses sat askew on his face and his jewfro looked crazier than usual and he had a new stress zit and he looked like a total wreck. But none of those things even came close to approaching the shock and wonder that slapped me cold in the face when I saw the two pearly fangs gleaming out from between his lips.

*

The door looked like it had been completely bulldozed in, and that sight alone was enough to convince me that we’d bitten off more than we could chew. Jonathan stepped delicately over the splintered wood and murmured, sotto voce, “Try and see if you can find a long, pointed piece.” There was one: about the length of my forearm and lined with slivers from its base to its unforgiving point. The undertones were ominous and I didn’t want to dwell on them for very long.

The house was filled with an overwhelming silence that weighed heavily on my shoulders. Jonathan led us down the hallway, around the corner, and through the living room and kitchenette. Nothing looked a hint out of place; everything was still right where we had left it. It was just so. For some reason, that just made us edgier.

Jonathan halted unexpectedly, and I walked into his back. He pressed a finger to his lips—it fit right over the space between his two fangs—and warned me to be silent.

We were standing in front of the washroom, and when my gaze dropped to the ground, I could see the spectral shadows moving beneath the door. My grip on the stake tightened and I could feel the splinters digging in.

Jonathan shot me a determined look and waved three fingers before pointing at the door. On the count of three, we charge, he mouthed. I nodded and the adrenalin pumped in my ears.

One

Two

Three!

I let out a war cry that would make all of my Persian warmongering ancestors proud and I charged forward, kicked open the door, brandished my stake and bust in on the sight of Scott sitting bound and fully dressed in a bubble bath while Randy was perched on the lid of the toilet, a rubber ducky in hand. Randy raised an eyebrow and even Scott rolled his eyes.

From behind me, Jonathan muttered a defeated, “We were supposed to charge on ‘go.'”

Well, fuck.

“Nice one, Cy,” Scott sighed. “I appreciate the effort.” A beat later, “Nice fangs, Jon. Totally called it.”

Jonathan facepalmed and Randy guffawed. “Look at you, you’ve got your own support group.”

Scott sank down into the water. “Please tell me you guys have a Plan B.”

The stake in my hand suddenly felt very useless. “Plan B?”

There was a burst of wind from behind me, causing water to leap out of the tub, and Jonathan was at Randy’s neck in a flash, pressing him into the wall and growling, “How’s this for Plan B?” Randy bared his teeth and Jonathan shouted, “Go untie Scott.”

The fog in my head dissipated and I nodded and scuttled to the tub, dunking my hands in the water to unknot Scott’s restraints. Scott’s head kept whipping from me to the two vampires clashing in the walls. “C’mon, c’mon,” he rushed me, then to Jonathan, “You got this, man?”

Jonathan’s nod was curt. “You guys just get out of here. I’ll deal with this.”

Randy’s laughter was breathy. “Deal with me?” he jeered, eyes flashing. “I’d like to see you try.” He clamped a gnarled hand around Jonathan’s wrist and threw him back into the hallway like he was nothing more than a fly. Jonathan’s eyes went glassy, dazed, as he hit the wall and slid down. Randy bounded out of the washroom, after him, fangs extended as he pounced and they went tumbling down the corridor in a savage flurry of pale limbs and sharp teeth.

“Shit,” Scott gasped as his hands came loose and he plunged his hands into the water to free his feet. “We’ve gotta call the police or something—get that guy out of the house!” He scrambled out of the tub and scooped up the stake I’d dropped and his phone, punching in the numbers to 911 with trembling fingers. We went tumbling over our legs and feet as we took off after Jonathan and Randy.

Both vampires were ripping through the living room, slamming into walls and smashing furniture and scattering stacks of video games and books with each pass, snarling as they launched and sank teeth and fangs into whatever flesh they could reach. The sky outside was still pitch black and the sun was nowhere to be found.

Randy threw Jonathan down into the ground with a sick crunch and pinned him down; red blood was dribbling from his lips as he howled with hysterical laughter. He jerked Jonathan’s head to the side and descended, teeth plunging into soft skin and tearing a startled yelp from Jonathan’s lips. The limbs of my friend twitched and writhed beneath the strangle hold of Randy, convulsing like a dying insect.

I cried out in horror and Scott dropped the stake with a shout. Randy slowly lifted his face up from Jonathan’s neck, his chin was coated in a fresh layer of dark blood and his lips were spread in a macabre leer. His tongue lapped at the deep puncture wounds and he crooned, “So delicious…” Jonathan shuddered beneath the touch. Randy chuckled softly, eyes locked with mine, “It’s always such a pleasure doing business with you guys.” He crept up from Jonathan’s prone body, slinking over to Scott and I, dragging bloodied fingers across my cheeks and neck. His fingers pressed sharp lines into my shoulder and Scott’s arm.

His breath was an insect squirming across my skin as he took a deep sniff of my hair. He sighed, blissful, and his eyes fluttered up to the ceiling. “You boys,” he murmured into my hair. He hummed. “You boys made a mistake last night,” he whispered. His eyes were shot through with bold capillaries and surrounded with shadows.

My eyes rolled upward; I could just see the hints of light filtering through his matted red hair, glowing like a fiery crown. The glow strengthened and I sucked in a gasp. The eclipse was finishing. And Randy couldn’t go out in the light.

Randy nuzzled into the crook of Scott’s neck. “You should always…be wary of strangers.” There was a piece of Jonathan’s collar wedged between his teeth and I fought down the bile rising in my throat. “You invited the wrong vampire into your home this time.”

My eyes grew large. Of course.

“Hm?” Randy’s watchful stare fell back on me, a single corner of his mouth twitching upward. “You have any last words, boy?”

My lips moved soundlessly. Then, a croak, “Leave.”

The effects were instantaneous. Randy’s entire body seized and he demanded, voice low, “What did you say?”

“Get out,” I whispered, eyes large and filled with moisture. Jonathan still lay motionless on the ground.

A single drop of blood slid down from one of the vampire’s nostrils. The sky was breaking into twilight, grey light bathing the window.

From beside me, Scott chimed in, equally hoarse, “Get the fuck out of our house.”

The glacial burn slowly peeled away and Randy’s hands left us, blood freely flowing from his nose as he backed away. His eyes were lined in tears of blood, sticky in his eyelashes. He growled, “I know where you live. You can never leave this house. I’ll be waiting. I will. And just when you think it’s safe for you to come out, I’ll be there and I’ll—” His lips moved and his voice vanished as his mouth fell slack. A thick stream of blood gushed from his mouth and all of our eyes descended to his chest. A long spike of blood-soaked wood protruded from his chest, pushing steadily forward. Randy choked and his knees buckled as he swayed on the spot. Jonathan rose up behind him, fangs shining and blood cascading from his neck. The two of them backed down the hallway to the front door, each step speckling the carpet with red.

Jonathan said, quietly, “You are not welcome here.” He opened the door with one hand. Up in the sky, the moon had almost finished its passage across the sun and the world was a drained, bleached colour. Randy shook as the unfiltered light fell on him. His face paled.

“You wouldn’t,” he gasped. “How can you do this to your own kind?”

Jonathan’s expression was thunderous. “You and I are nothing alike.” He spun around and threw Randy out on the lawn.

Scott and I crept up behind Jonathan, watching as the sun finally broke free of the moon’s shadow and scorched the earth with light. A faint red vapour began steadily rising from Randy’s body as he lay there in the sun, his skin blistering over with harsh pink sores. He just lay there, bleeding out and shaking in the grass.

At last, Jonathan grit his teeth, and ducked back into the house, muttering a sullen, “He’s not going to die anytime soon. I’ll call the police.”

I nodded dumbly at him, my eyes never leaving the curled up form of the vampire. Scott and I remained frozen on the doorstep, watching the sun render Randy helpless. Then Scott spat viciously on the grass, muttering. “Sparkle or bust, you fucking asshole.”

*

We were relocated to a smaller student house on the same street shortly after the cops finished collecting Randy and prodded his prostrate form into a prisoner transport lined with all sorts of ridiculous things like garlic and crosses. Jonathan shook his head, exasperated by the sight, but didn’t say anything.

The cops went on a heyday and drove us up the wall with all their incessant interviews. How did Harrison MacAvery break in? Was this your first contact with a vampire? (We all had an unspoken agreement to lie about that one.) Was anyone hurt? Who got bitten? How did you restrain Mr. MacAvery? Why do you keep calling him Randy?

The police didn’t leave until around five that evening, and even that was only with the solemn promise that they’d return in the morning with more obnoxious questions

We didn’t talk to any of the reporters.

Jonathan took the first shower that evening; he was worn thin and near listless when I led him to our shared bedroom to get dressed for bed. His sunburn had healed completely, but now he sported a couple nasty scratches on his forearms and an ugly bite mark on the side of his neck. A thick strip of gauze was taped white and clean over the bruise-lined puncture wounds.

He lay on the bed, curled in on his side, dark eyes half-lidded as he watched me change. The large glasses that had always been so present on his face were no longer there. He muttered, “I should’ve tried to stop this thing. I didn’t realise it’d get out so out of hand.” He sighed and rolled onto his back, itching at the bandage on his neck. “I owe you an explanation, don’t I?”

I frowned and sat down at the opposite edge of the bed. His freckles were the colour of cinnamon. I smiled and inched closer to him. His eyes were brown and just a little afraid. I reached a hand out to hold his, voice quiet as I asked, “How old are you?” I pulled his hand to my lips.

Jonathan blinked, confused. He raised an eyebrow at me. “Nineteen.” Pink tinged his cheeks as I pressed his fingers to my mouth, one by one, placing a kiss on each tip. He shifted slightly, moving to get a better look at me.

“And how long have you been nineteen?” I asked, voice innocent as I traced the space between two fingers with my tongue.

His eyes lit up and a slow smile spread across his face. “Nineteen years,” he said, playing along. “Vampires age the same way humans do.”

“That’s probably good,” I murmured as I drew even closer, glancing touches against his skin. His eyelashes fluttered and his breath hitched in his lungs as he nodded his head in agreement. I drew back slowly and murmured, “And how did you become a vampire?” I nestled close to him, running my tongue along two fingers and setting wet kisses against each joint and along his palm.

“I was born a vampire,” Jonathan breathed. “Red hair plus freckles equals a pair of fangs. Always.” I pulled closer, the heat of his body meeting mine as he sat up, dropping kisses like butterflies along my cheek and neck. A slow glide of tongue along my collarbone and I sighed into a kiss against his wrist. He lapped at the juncture between my neck and shoulder, bracing me and holding me steady.

“How do you go out in the light without burning?”

Another kiss pressed against my neck. His words were intangible breaths against my skin. “There’s a place in the city that helps us. They give out ointments and protective glasses, so we can try to live normally. I go there to feed, too.” I must have stiffened against him, because he added, softly, “Just once a week. I don’t need that much blood.” His shoulders were tense and I turned to look at him, dropping a gentle kiss on his lips. He exhaled against my mouth, relieved. He admitted, “I have never had a boyfriend, because of…” He made a gesture to his mouth and I nodded, understanding. “But,” he continued, “if you aren’t already totally put off by me,” he swallowed, eyes downcast and timid, “I’d like you to be my first.”

I was silent for a moment, soaking that in, and Jonathan’s face grew fearful. He averted his eyes and said, quickly, “But I would understand if you didn’t want to. Having a vampire boyfriend would probably be a bad idea, and the blood thing is kind of creepy, I know. Don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you. I mean, I wouldn’t even want to date a vampire, and I—”

He quieted when I pressed two fingers to his lips. I smiled fondly. “Jonathan,” I laughed, “you need to shut up. I’m not freaked by your vampirism or anything.”

An enchantingly hopeful light sparkled in his eyes. “Are you sure?” he asked, lips moving against my fingers. “Because it’s kind of weird, even to me, and I completely understand if you—”

I laughed. “Shut up and kiss me.”

And he did. His lips were soft against mine and he smelled like oatmeal. There were no teeth.

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