As I stared out the window and watched the blurred trees flash by, I decided that bus rides were the most boring things in the universe, specifically designed to induce that particular sort of monotony that gels the muscles and dulls the senses and causes you to linger in an hypnotic stupor until the ride comes to its rumbling, shuddering stop.
Field trips by bus — that's just a tiny yellow hell.
I turned up the volume on my MP3 player and shifted my head against the windowpane. The road we were on had turned bumpy a while back when we'd exited the highway, and if I wasn't careful, I'd wind up with a nasty concussion. The weather outside the bus suited my mood: grey, drizzly, and generally disagreeable with just a hint of sudden squall on the horizon. As long as it improved by nightfall, there wouldn't be any tired, opening-line clichés about dark nights and inclement weather.
I was just settling down to a good bit of sulking and my favorite band singing me into dissonant oblivion when the seat dipped and a vampire sat down next to me.
I could tell it was a vampire from the impression of pale hands and black clothes I got out of the corner of my eye. And vampires have a sort of metallic smell that clings to them, which I suppose is from all the extra iron they get. Ha ha, extra iron, get it? Nobody understands me.
"Hello," the vampire said conversationally. "My name is Vlad."
"Sure it is," I snorted in reply. Next he'll tell me Dracula's his old man, and he just moved here from Transylvania.
"My father is Dracula," he said. "We just moved from Transylvania. Not a lot of opportunities in the old country anymore — everything has regrettably dried up." He grinned at his own horrible pun.
Vampires are so predictable.
His only problem with that cool introduction was that I've heard the same story about a million and seventeen times already from most other vampire kids I've met. Every Tom, Dick, and Lucifer tries to pass himself off as the kid of somebody famous. Personally, I really don't understand why they'd want to.
I made no reply and continued to stare out the window. There were plenty of other seats on the bus, and with any luck, this idiot would get the hint and move to one of them. Preferably one of them far, far away.
My silence didn't seem to bother him. He settled down comfortably and shoved his backpack underneath the seat. "You are Frank, correct?"
I sighed, turned from the window, and got my first good look at him. I'll admit I was surprised.
He played the vampire role perfectly: jet black hair with a widow's peak sharp enough to carve a turkey — the only consideration made to modern times was his hair's messy style instead of the traditionally slicked-back-I-vant-to-suck-your-blahd look so popular among movie directors and Halloween packagers. His skin was bone white and just as smooth, drawn tightly over sculpted cheekbones for which I knew my sister Francesca would happily commit murder. All in all, A+ for effect.
His outfit was straight off the cover of a gothic romance novel; if it had been anyone else wearing a black velvet brocade coat, complete with lace cravat, I think I would have laughed at them until I seriously injured myself. But on this guy, the clothes worked. Something about him screamed "eighteenth-century nobleman."
And "evil predator." Yeah, it screamed that, too.
"Yes," I answered cautiously. "I'm Frank."
"Is your father really —?" he began.
"Yes," I said shortly, scowling in a manner I hoped would dissuade him from questioning me further. It didn't work. I really need to start practicing in front of the mirror again.
"Fascinating," he said. "Our parents must have been acquainted. The old country is not a sprawling urban metropolis, after all; they must have grown up close together. I should tell Father. He will have a bat."
I stared at him incredulously.
"Listen," he continued, leaning closer, "I know I told you my name is Vlad, but I prefer to be called Drake. Vlad sounds tiresomely old fashioned. My father is Vlad as well, and it can get confusing at times." Drake angled his head and smiled strangely, like I'd passed an important test and was now worthy to speak with him. What unnerved me was the feeling that it wasn't for show — I'm pretty sure that was exactly what he was thinking, a sort of, My, my, this one's good for more than just a late-night snack, kind of attitude.
He also had extremely long canines, even for a vampire. Now that I looked closely, I could see they stuck out a little over his bottom lip, even with his mouth closed. I must have been staring at them pretty intensely because the next thing I knew, he was up in my face, grinning like a madman.
"Anytime you desire to see them closer, let me know."
I didn't miss the underlying menace in his tone. I gulped and sat back, message received. He didn't appreciate me staring. That was fine with me. I'd be the most non-staringest person he'd ever meet.
The vampire did a neat little trick and retracted his teeth into his mouth far enough to make him look almost normal — if he got a tan, a haircut, and a wardrobe change.
"Um, yeah," was my stupid reply. C'mon, what can you possibly say to a guy like that? He gave me the willies. Suddenly, I had no trouble believing he was Dracula's kid.
Now I faced a dilemma: I wanted to turn back to the window and try to ignore this nuisance of a person, but my self-preservation instincts warned me that this would be a bad course of action if I didn't want to end up on the menu. Instead, I smiled weakly.
"So, pretty lame field trip, huh? Museum of Natural Sciences? What a goof."
Drake smiled at me, and again I was struck by how, well, dangerous he seemed. My dad's enough to keep me (and pretty much everyone else he meets) in line, but this guy seemed more the type of person who kept everyone on a hook. With my dad, I like to think people can tell he's basically good under all the nuts, bolts, and sutures. I was pretty certain Drake would be more like an onion. With really evil layers. And then in the middle? A small core of evil onion nastiness.
"Yes, pretty lame," he agreed. "You know, you must not look much like your father."
I got the feeling he wasn't referring to the fact that all my body parts had originally come attached; I looked more like a scarecrow in training than a village menace. I can't help it, I'm defensive about it.
"I don't think anybody looks like my dad," I replied, scowling again for all I was worth. I've been told that when I scowl I look more like my dad, but only because my eyebrows draw together like two hairy caterpillars and give me a protruding brow line.
"A fairly true statement," he said, smirking. "He is rather one of a kind."
I tried to decide whether that was an insult. But even if it was, I wasn't about to call the psycho out on it, so I let it slide. I can pick my battles, after all. Or be a complete weenie and valiantly live to run away another day.
I rolled my eyes, which I felt was an appropriately rebellious gesture given the circumstances, and the two of us sat in silence. Drake kept staring at me, and self-preservation bedamned, I finally snapped, "What?"
He grinned lazily. "You will forgive me, but you really are not what I was expecting. You come from such an old family, but you look so . . . normal."
I wondered then what he saw when he looked at me. I knew I was nothing special. I hadn't been pieced together by an insane doctor, but my face still didn't fit together quite right. My mom told me I'd grow into it, but I privately thought that if I did I'd be one sorry-looking guy.
"Yeah, well, appearances can be deceiving. Any minute now, I'm liable to go on a rampage and start terrorizing villagers."
Drake threw back his head and laughed. It didn't sound the least maniacal; I was a little disappointed.
"A sense of humor," he said. "How quaint."
I had a feeling this was going to be a long bus ride. We sat in silence. Drake seemed content to let me fidget nervously in the squeaky, fake leather bus seat. I was only thankful I was wearing long trousers because, with the amount I was sweating, my legs would have stuck to the seat in a painful way.
"So, um, how long have you been at school?" I asked, rubbing the back of my neck to relieve sudden tension. Then I realized that I was, y'know, bringing attention to my neck, and given present company that might not be a good idea. My hand stilled very slowly, and I lowered it to my lap, folding my hands together primly. I might or might not have slid down a little lower in the seat.
"Not long," Drake said, waving a hand airily. "Why do you ask?"
"I haven't really noticed you before now. We're three weeks into the school year already," I pointed out. Someone like him should have stood out, even in a school of freaks, geeks, monsters, and mythological creatures.
"I am good at hiding in the shadows," said Drake, and I would have laughed except for the dangerous, secretive smile dancing at the corners of his mouth.
"Um, right," I said.
"Today is my first official day," said Drake. "I am starting late."
"Right. Well, I'm sure you'll like it here?" I hated that it sounded like a question.
"Are you?" said Drake, smiling in an amused way. "Do you like it? I noticed you were not sitting with anyone. You prefer solitude?"
"People annoy me," I said honestly. "Except for one or two of them."
"Ah," replied Drake. He studied me again. "What are you listening to?" he asked, indicating my MP3 player. One of the ear buds had fallen out, and a tinny, forlorn sound was coming from the tiny speaker.
"Phooka and the Screaming Banshees," I said.
"Really? They came to my old school last year. They were quite good."
"No way! You saw them play? Oh man, I'm always trying to go see them, but every show is sold out!"
"Nothing is ever sold out for me," said Drake matter of factly.
"I'll bet. Must be nice intimidating everyone you meet."
"You would think so," said Drake, leaning back. He turned his head away for a second, and when he turned back, I saw a calculating look in his eyes that I didn't like. "The Black Hags are coming next month. I have a spare ticket. Would you be interested in going?"
My mouth dropped open. You couldn't get tickets to a Black Hags show. They were legend. It was impossible. You just couldn't. At that moment, I didn't care how unsettled Drake made me feel or how pointy his teeth were: This was the Black Hags we were talking about. "Yes?" I nearly squeaked.
"Excellent," said Drake.
The bus slowed down, and Mrs. Lamia stood up to remind us about the questions we needed to answer as we toured the museum. People groaned, and the sound of zippers opening and papers crinkling filled the bus. It was the typical educational-fun-day crap: questions about dead guys and dates and historical context.
Our bus pulled into the parking lot, and the students bent to gather their things. I put my MP3 player in the side pocket of my backpack, and when I looked up, Drake was gone. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.
When I got off the bus, Drake suddenly appeared at my elbow. "Frank," he said, falling into step beside me. I was surprised to find that Drake was actually taller than me by several inches. I didn't really like having to crane my neck to meet his gaze because vampires tended to take an exposed neck as an invitation, and I've heard when they RSVP, it's painful.
"Yeah?" I said warily.
"I imagine we could complete the teacher's fascinating questionnaire much more quickly if we work as a pair," Drake said.
It wasn't actually a question, though to the inexperienced it might have sounded that way. Drake phrased it so perfectly I couldn't help but agree, thus damning myself to a partner. The bastard was good.
"Yeah," I said wearily.
We walked into the museum side by side. Drake held his worksheet loosely in one hand as he strolled along. The wind started to blow harder, whipping his coat out and ruffling his cravat. In the grey afternoon light, with thunder rumbling in the distance, I felt like I was on the moors in some regency romance instead of in a crummy museum parking lot. Any minute, there would be swooning heroines in revealing dresses shouting stuff about Heathcliff or Rochester.
"So, what's Transylvania like?" I ventured.
"Old and smelling vaguely of garlic." Drake appeared to be studying the worksheet in his hands intently. He wasn't even watching where he was going, but he hadn't stumbled. Vampires had a preternatural grace that kept them from looking like clumsy idiots.
"Oh," I said, scratching my head. "I guess that wasn't good for the old vampire allergies, huh?"
Drake looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Indeed not." He opened the door for me, and we stepped into the museum. I nodded my thanks, grateful for the distraction of Mrs. Lamia calling us over to get our tickets and badges before she set us loose on the unsuspecting museum staff. She reminded us that she would be checking up on us periodically and to meet back at the entrance in four hours.
"Here," said Drake, handing me a small square of glossy black paper. On closer inspection, I discovered that it was a business card with a number inscribed in small red font on the bottom-left corner.
"What's this?" I asked, turning the card in the light. The black card had a faint red sheen, making me vaguely nauseous at the implications.
"It is my telephone number," said Drake.
"Uh," I said.
"So that you may contact me about the concert," said Drake patiently. "I am beginning to suspect I will be doing most of the work on this pointless worksheet."
I blushed, and I thought I saw Drake's eyebrows rise fractionally. "Sorry," I said. "Right. Thanks." I pocketed the card and wiped my hands on my jeans nervously.
"Your oratorical skills astound," said Drake, his lips curling. I think he was teasing me, which was just worlds of wrong. Our cat Bootsie liked to toy with mice before she broke their backs and ate them. I felt like one of those mice. It wasn't a good feeling.
"Shall we?" said Drake, bowing slightly and indicating the long hallway. "I sincerely doubt we will complete much work loitering here."
"Then by all means, lead on, Macduff," I said, combing a hand through my hair and suppressing a sigh.
Drake held up a finger and gave me a look, like he wanted to say something. It was the same kind of look Mrs. Lamia usually got before she corrected someone in class. Instead, Drake shook his head and dropped his hand, thinking better of it. "Indeed," he said.
"Mom, Dad, I'm home!" I called as I walked in the door later that night.
"Hello, dear!" I heard my mother call from the kitchen. "Did you have fun today don't you dare leave that book bag by the front door, mister."
Guiltily, I stopped midmotion, my backpack already halfway to the ground. Sometimes having a psychic gypsy mother wasn't cool. I walked into the living room and found my father sitting in his recliner, perusing the evening paper. I set my backpack on the coffee table next to my mom's latest issue of Monstermen Quarterly. The Wolfman was on the cover, sporting a new collar.
"Hey, Dad," I said.
My dad grunted a reply and turned a page in his paper. He wore his spectacles again. He'd been doing that more and more lately. Only one side of the spectacles actually had a prescription; Dad's left eye was the one with the astigmatism. He kept threatening to visit the doctor to get it treated, but Mom didn't want to have to get used to a new eye.
Mom poked her head out of the kitchen. "Have fun?" she asked again.
I thought about this for a minute. I had spent the day as Drake's personal chaperone, participating in awkward, inane chatter with a vampire who simply refused to take a hint and go away. I found answers to all the questions on the worksheet Mrs. Lamia gave us in record time, thanks to Drake's help. Then I endured a bus ride home, staring out the window, acutely aware of the vampire on my right who was pointedly staring at me.
"Um," I said.
"That's nice, dear," said Mom, ducking back into the kitchen.
"I met Dracula's son," I said conversationally.
Dad finally looked up from his paper. "What?"
"I, uh, met Dracula's son. Like, the Count Dracula, Dracula's son. His name's Drake. Apparently they just moved here. Drake sat next to me on the bus. And sort of . . . followed me all day."
"That's great!" said Dad, folding the paper and setting it down. He took off his spectacles. His expression was much too excited. "I wondered when the Count would finally make the big move like the rest of us. You should invite the boy over. It'd be nice to see you spending some time with a proper monstering young man."
"What? You're nuts!" I said.
"What, what about them?" Dad asked, his hands moving quickly to his neck to see if any adjustments needed to be made.
I smacked my forehead, dragging my hand down my face slowly in exasperation. "Dad," I said very deliberately. "I met Dracula's son today, and you want me to invite him over for dinner?"
"Of course," said my mother, bustling into the room. "His parents, too. You can invite them over for dinner tomorrow night around seven. I have enough to make extras, and that way it isn't a school night, either. Just make sure you tell them we aren't on the menu." She and my father both looked at each other and shared a laugh that I'm sure they thought was very grown up.
"No way," I said. "That kid creeped me out. I don't even want to think about his parents."
"But that's what monsters do, Franklin!" Dad shook his head sadly. "I knew I should've given you more terrorizing lessons when you were younger. I'd like you to spend time with some real monsters for a change. I'm sure the Count raised his son to appreciate the Old Ways."
I could hear the capitalization in my dad's voice. We've had this argument before. I knew it rankled him, how Francesca and I had turned out. Francesca was scary, of course, but that was because she was my older sister. She could do a passing impression of a vicious harpy. And me, well, I wasn't likely to win any MQ awards in the near future.
"I hang out with real monsters!" I said. "There's Flea, and Gill, and, um . . ." I trailed off, aware I wasn't presenting a very strong case.
My father crossed his arms, and the muscles all over him sort of bulged. "You call those two monsters? A puppy and a fish? No, you invite that young Dracula over here, along with his family."
"We need to do the neighborly thing," said Mom. "It's only polite."
I know when I've lost an argument. "Fine, but he's not going to be my best friend or anything."
Mom gave me A Look. "Franklin Stein, you could use a few more friends." I started to open my mouth to protest and she hurriedly continued. "Not that I don't love Flea and Gill. You know I think they're darling. But sweetheart, would it kill you to put yourself out there more? Your sister does, and look how happy it makes her!"
"I like how I am, Mom," I said. This was another old argument. My parents couldn't seem to understand how they'd produced two kids who were such polar opposites. Francesca was beautiful and popular, and I was awkward and, as far as they were concerned, socially retarded.
"I like how you are, too, honey," Mom was quick to reassure me. "I just want you to be happy."
"I am happy!" I said, frowning.
"Now don't get angry, Franklin. You know I'm not picking at you! I'm your mother, and I worry about you. Tell him I wasn't picking at him, Frank." Mom turned to Dad, gesturing impatiently.
Dad shifted uncomfortably in his chair, holding his newspaper like a shield. "Don't involve me in this, Maleva. You know I don't like confrontation."
"Our son needs our reassurances!" Mom put her hands on her hips. "For God's sake, Frank, grow a backbone!"
"I have two of them," said Dad reasonably.
"Oh!" Mom exclaimed. She threw up her hands and stalked out of the room.
Dad and I exchanged glances. "Smooth, Pops," I said.
Dad scowled. "Don't you have some inviting you need to be doing?"
It was my turn to scowl. "Yeah, yeah." I slouched up the stairs to my room, taking my backpack with me.
I dropped my backpack on the floor and flopped onto my bed, belly first. Taking the card Drake had given me out of my back pocket, I tried to tell myself it didn't feel like sticky, dried blood. The red numbers glared up at me; I noticed a tiny picture I hadn't seen before next to them. It was a pair of smiling fangs. Subtle.
Heaving myself up to my elbows with a sigh, I grabbed my cordless phone from the nightstand and quickly punched in the number before I lost my resolve.
Someone answered the call before the first ring finished. "Yes?" drawled a cold voice. It was impossible to determine the speaker's gender.
"Uh, hello," I said. "This is Frank. I'm calling for Drake."
"Drake?" the voice questioned coolly.
"Dracula Junior?" I ventured.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, as though the person were trying to figure out if I was a comedian or an imbecile. I couldn't tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Finally, the voice continued: "Wait one moment, while I fetch the young Master." The phone was placed down gently, and I could hear the click of measured footsteps receding across what I presumed must be tile. I imagined it was black tile, with bones imbedded in it or something.
While I waited, I entertained myself speculating about what a vampire's idea of decorating would be. I bet they used lots of red, so they didn't have to clean as much. Their couches were probably covered in plastic, too.
I was shaken from my imaginings by the sound of footsteps returning more rapidly than those that left. Someone picked up the phone, and I heard Drake's voice on the other end. "Hello?"
"Hey," I said. "It's Frank."
"So I was informed. I was not expecting to hear from you so soon."
I flipped over on the bed, staring at the ceiling and the glow-in-the-dark stars I'd stuck up there when I was twelve. "I didn't expect to be calling, really. My mom wanted me to invite you and your family over for dinner tomorrow night around sevenish."
"Tomorrow night?" said Drake skeptically. "Isn't that very short notice?"
"If you can't make it, that's no problem," I said hurriedly. "Really, no problem at all. I'm sure my mom would be happy to arrange another time." That would give me the chance to talk my parents out of this insanity. Mom might even take offense if they declined; the last person who refused one of her party invitations still hasn't been found. Mom takes hostessing very seriously.
"I did not say we would be unable to attend," said Drake, his tone annoyed. "I will have to ask Father."
"You don't have to bother him if he's busy or anything. Really." I had a deepening sense of foreboding about this whole affair. I'd expected Drake to refuse me right away. Okay, not expected, but hoped. Usually vampires were too good to hang out with the rest of us mere monsters.
"I imagine he is in the middle of his usual pastime," said Drake dismissively. "One moment, I will return."
I chewed on my thumbnail absently while I waited, my brain conjuring up lots of images about what "the usual" was. It involved gratuitous amounts of blood and chains and — was that a scream? I pressed the phone closer to my ear; I was positive I'd heard a scream. The sound came again, far away and its owner in obvious pain. I gulped. A door closed with a heavy slam, and the screaming was abruptly cut off. Drake's footsteps returned. I pulled at the collar of my shirt, suddenly finding it very stuffy in my room.
"Tomorrow night would be agreeable," said Drake.
"That's great," I said, forgetting to project my enthusiasm. I'd probably have to wear a suit and everything because Mom and Dad considered Drake's family important guests. Mom was big on dressing up for important guests, too.
"Yes," said Drake. "Which of your parents forced you to invite us?"
"Both of them," I answered before I could think. "Uh, I mean —" I was interrupted by Drake's laughter. I was disappointed again at its remarkable unevilness.
"I understand," said Drake. "You told me yourself you disliked social gatherings."
"I did?" I asked.
"More or less," said Drake. "Do not worry," he continued. "My father and my mothers will be on their best behavior. They are excited to meet another family from the old country. We shall arrive at precisely seven o'clock."
"Uh, ok," I said, bemused.
"Then it is settled. Until tomorrow." Drake hung up.
I lay there for a long time staring at the phone and thinking: Mothers?
The next day turned out to be pretty hectic. Mom was determined to show the vampire clan a classy, impressive time, and she was busy setting things up all day. She disappeared around noon and came back from the butcher's with seven different vats of blood. The butcher assured her they were all from freshly drained sources, and my mother, being the genteel woman that she is, decided not to question the "sources."
I wandered into the kitchen sometime in the late afternoon. Mom was stirring something thick, clotted, and red in a large pan. She had pulled her hair back from her face, but a few strands had escaped and were curling in the steam.
"I'd ask what you're making," I said, "But I probably really don't want to know."
"No, you don't, sweetie," Mom said, giving me a quick peck on the cheek. "Would you be a dear and fetch me that jar of eyeballs on the counter? And over there, take an apple to munch on too." She indicated a basket on the counter.
"Old Lady White didn't bring them, did she?" I said, eyeing the basket distrustfully.
"No, dear," said Mom. "Her daughter-in-law did."
"Cool," I said, snagging an apple from the basket and crunching into it happily. I got the jar for my mom and stood back as she ladled a spoonful of eyeballs into the mix. "Anything else I can help with?" I asked.
"Would you mind setting the table?" asked Mom. "There's the four of us and the five of them, so we'll need four plates and five bowls to start with."
"Bowls?" I asked.
"I'm making them a nice blood and eyeball pudding to begin. Then I have some slices of raw meat and a blood pie for the main course. And blood sherbet for dessert."
"What are we having?" I asked, feeling queasy.
"Right." I went to go set the table.
Dad and Francesca got home a little after five o'clock, and Mom immediately sent them to get ready. I was similarly banished with the admonition that I'd better wear my best suit for the occasion.
By six-thirty, Mom had everything ready, and at six-fifty-nine, we heard a knock on the front door. Mom clapped her hands together in excitement and went to let our guests in, leaving the rest of us in the kitchen. Francesca wore something new and entirely too pink for my taste. Like me, Dad wore his best suit. Unsurprisingly, it was custom-tailored. I pulled at my tie because it was rubbing against my throat, and I followed Dad and Francesca into the foyer.
Mom was shaking Drake's hand and exclaiming over his lovely, manicured nails. Drake looked amused. He wore a sharp, tailored black suit. White lace cuffs poked out from underneath the dark sleeves, but it didn't look silly. It looked expensive.
Drake's mothers hovered in the background — one blonde, one brunette, and one redheaded — dressed in matching dark purple dresses. I guess Drake's dad wanted one of each; there was something to be said for choice, I suppose.
"We are very —" said the blonde.
"— pleased —" said the brunette.
"— to be here," finished the redhead.
Mom's eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
Dad walked over and faced Count Dracula. The two of them stood staring stonily at each other for a long, silent moment, and then the Count blinked. Dad laughed and slapped him on the back. "You always blink first," he said. Then he pulled Count Dracula into a manly hug.
When the Count drew away, he was smiling wryly. He looked like an older, more severe version of Drake. His dark hair was speared through with white at the temples, and his face was long and gaunt. "It is good to see you again, old friend," he said. His voice was faintly accented. "It seems you have done well for yourself here. A lovely home, a wife and family," he continued, indicating Francesca and me.
Francesca executed a perfect curtsy, and I waved awkwardly. Drake started to laugh and covered it up with a cough, a hand over his mouth. I glared at him.
"Oh, well," said Dad modestly, waving a hand. "Just got lucky." Mom elbowed him. Dad looked confused. "Uh, very lucky?" Mom rolled her eyes.
"What are we all standing around here for?" said Mom, breaking in. "Why don't you come in out of the cold and take a seat in the living room? Francesca, show them the way, honey."
"Yes, Mom," said Frankie, leading the guests away.
As they walked by, Drake paused next to me. "Coming?" he inquired.
"Uh, yeah," I said, tugging on my tie again.
"It is a nice suit," said Drake, looking me up and down. "Where did you get it?"
"My mom bought it for me," I said, feeling twelve. "Yours is nice too. Less lace than yesterday."
One side of Drake's mouth lifted. "I convinced my father that it was time to update our family's wardrobe to at least the twentieth century. My mothers took up the call for new clothes and shopped as all women do. My father is considerably poorer now, but we are all considerably better dressed."
"That's good," I said. "You won't look so weird at school. Um."
"That was essentially the aim," said Drake.
When we got to the living room, everyone was already seated. Dad and the Count looked like they were in deep conversation at one end of the cream-colored couch. Mom and Francesca were on the other end of the couch, facing one of the loveseats where Drake's mothers sat. They were conversing animatedly, and I winced. The only thing that made women that animated was clothes, jewelry, or embarrassing discussion of other males. I would find no help in that quarter.
"Shall we?" said Drake, gesturing at another loveseat by the window. I nodded. Drake folded onto the chair gracefully, arranging his hands on the arms and looking the picture of poise. He reminded me of one those paper bird things my mom liked. Pretty to look at, but lethal with the paper cuts. I flopped down next to him.
"So," I said, once we were seated.
"So," repeated Drake.
"A scintillating conversation opener," I said and jerked when Drake tilted his head and laughed.
"I can smell how nervous you are," he said.
"Like how people say bears or other large predatory animals can smell your fear?" I said, cursing myself for not putting on any aftershave.
"It's quite similar," said Drake.
"Do you think assuming the fetal position helps?"
"The bear, I imagine," said Drake.
"Probably," I agreed. "I always thought running would be a wiser decision than staying put."
"Running certainly makes it more fun," said Drake.
"I'm sensing we're not on the same page here."
Drake merely smiled and replied: "You have a lovely home. It is easy to see that you and your family care for one another."
"Thanks," I said. "But I'm sure you must get lots of love at home, too, what with all the extra moms and all." Dear brain, please work before mouth speaks; I thought I sent that memo already.
Drake looked across the room, a small frown on his face. "They are not my mothers," said Drake. "They are my father's latest wives. Vampires cannot have children."
"That's . . . interesting," I said. "If confusing. Did you just spontaneously appear one day?"
"No," said Drake, leaning back in the seat. He put one hand casually on the armrest and let the other rest in the space between us on the cushion. "Vampires cannot have children with other vampires. We use humans to procreate."
"Oh," I said, surprised and intrigued despite my misgivings over anyone who actually used the word procreate. I had to admit, I was curious about this sudden crash course in Vampology 101. "So your real mom is —?"
"Human and long dead," said Drake. "When a vampire impregnates a human female, there is a chance the child will be more human than vampire. If that is the case, the child is a monster and must be killed. I was my father's ninth attempt and second success."
I felt really sick to my stomach. There are monsters and then there are monsters. I didn't miss the irony either: Vampires thought human offspring were monsters, but a blood-sucking baby would be okay. "That's totally depressing," I said. "Couldn't you have waited until after dinner to tell me that?"
Drake looked confused for a moment before his expression cleared. "Ah, I am sorry. I did not clarify. My father did not kill any of his unsuccessful attempts. They all lived unusually long lives and had a tendency to prefer rare steak."
"Okay," I said. "What about the other . . . success?"
"My elder brother," said Drake. "Gregori Nicolaie Wilbur."
"Wilbur," I repeated.
"His mother's idea. He was born several hundred years before me, so I did not grow up with him. The last time he contacted Father, Greg was in California feeding strictly on vegans. Father considers him a bit of a disappointment."
"Oh," I said. "Did he leave home on purpose?"
"Yes," said Drake. "I believe he lived for a time over the border in Holidayland, but some place like that would be too cheerful for Greg's tastes. He refuses to come to Monsterland because Father is here now."
Any more small talk was thankfully cut short as Mom rose from the couch and exclaimed, "The food's all ready now, so why don't we go into the dining room and eat? I'm sure everyone is starving."
We entered the dining room and sat down with a few mumbled words. Conversation was light and pleasant while we all worked our way through the food. I could tell by the appreciative noises the Count was making that he enjoyed the meal. I also noticed Drake ate the eyeballs out of his pudding first.
In between eyeballs, Drake and I made polite conversation. He wasn't so bad to talk to; just a little weird and formal. We had similar taste in music and film, which lead to some interesting discussions. In no time at all, I was surprised to find dinner over.
Everyone was stuffed, so Mom put off clearing the table. The adults lounged on one end of the table, and Drake and me sat alone on the other end. Francesca had excused herself after dessert to make a phone call, and I could hear her giggling in her room.
The Count leaned back casually in his chair and took out a silver filigreed cigarette case and matching lighter. He extracted a cigarette and lit it before anyone could stop him.
"Hnnnnnnrrrhh!" said Dad, standing up and knocking over his chair. "Fire!"
"Oh, demonic saints below," said the Count. "I forgot." He put the lighter back in his coat pocket as quickly as possible and stubbed out the cigarette on his plate.
"Fire!" Dad repeated, his eyes glassy.
"Now, dear," said Mom. "It was just a small fire. No torches or pitchforks at all. Okay? Honey?" Dad didn't appear to be listening. He started to stagger away from the table. Drake's mothers looked frightened; across from me, Drake looked fascinated.
I grabbed an eyeball out of the leftover blood pudding, put it on my fork, aimed, and launched it at my dad's head. It hit him between the eyes with a sickening splat and slid off his nose and onto the table. Eye juice squirted over the tablecloth.
Dad blinked and shook his head. "Thanks, Frank-my-boy. I needed that." Mom sighed and picked up Dad's napkin, using it to wipe eyeball residue from his face.
"No problem, Pops," I said, eating another bite of my tuna casserole.
"Sorry," apologized Dad. "I get flashbacks."
"It's a post-traumatic stress thing," explained Mom. "From the old country."
Drake's mothers didn't look convinced, but the Count laughed. "Yes, I remember. You were quite the runner back then. Every week a new town, every week a new father chasing after you for his daughter's honor."
"Oh, really?" said Mom archly.
"Before he settled down, that is to say," the Count backpedaled. "No angry mobs since then, I am sure."
Mom had a look in her eye that was worse than ten angry mobs, and I didn't envy Dad the Talk they would be having later.
"This was —" said Drake's first mom.
"— an excellent —" said the second.
"— meal," finished the third, breaking the awkward silence.
"Yes," said the Count. "We thank you for your hospitality. Even though it is still early, we must return to the manor."
The grandfather clock in the hall chimed twelve.
"Of course," said Mom, smiling. "I understand. It was lovely having you over. I hope we can do this again."
The Count and his wives stood up in unison, pushing their chairs back from the table. "We certainly shall. Come along, Drake," the Count said, motioning to his son. Drake stood up more slowly.
"Yes, thank you," said Drake. He turned to me. "Frank, it has been an entertaining evening."
"Likewise," I replied.
Mom showed them out while I escaped to my room. I'd survived the night, but I had the sinking suspicion that my acquaintance with Drake was far from over.
The Monday after the big dinner, Drake showed up outside my front door sporting a pair of designer sunglasses and trendy, modern clothes with nary a lace cravat in sight. The fact that Drake could look almost normal in sunlight was even scarier.
"We can travel to school together," he said by way of explanation. "It would also be neighborly of you to introduce me to your friends."
I wondered if hermits ever had to deal with being neighborly. Probably not — that was the point of being a hermit.
It turned out by a bizarre twist of fate that Drake was in all of my classes. I thought I was the only one interested in 19th Century Industrialization, because not even Flea or Gill was in that class with me, but go figure. So of course this also meant Drake sat next to me in every class. Usually Gill or Flea sat next to me because I had almost all of my classes with at least one of them. During first period Biology, Gill and Flea had taken one look at Drake lounging next to me and gone to the seats directly behind us without a word.
Three weeks later, I was walking to school every day with Drake and found myself very surprised to discover that he had become my best friend.
Occasionally we'd meet up with Gill and Flea on the way to school; they had taken to Drake immediately, and he didn't seem to mind them, either. Flea and Gill were similarly the sons of famous guys: Flea's dad was always off on photo shoots or getting groomed for photo shoots, and Gill's dad headed an aquatic scientific research station currently sailing over the Marianas Trench.
Flea was tiny and excitable and had to shave at least three times a day in order not to grow a beard. He always looked vaguely unkempt, even though I knew his poor mom spent hours trying to make him presentable. He was a year younger than me and three years younger than Gill. Originally, we kept him out of pity, but despite ourselves, Gill and I grew to like the little hairball.
"Is his name really Flea?" asked Drake one morning as we walked to school. We were supposed to stop by Flea's house on the way and help him carry his science project. "It seems an unfair name for a child, even one so furry."
"No," I said. "It's Lupus von Wulfmann. As you can see, Flea is kinder."
Drake rolled his eyes. "Will our parents ever learn?"
"You're asking the wrong monster," I said. "I don't even have a middle name. It's just an 'N' like my Dad's. I'm not sure if my parents thought they were being clever, but I can tell you what I think about it."
Gill and Drake got along because they were similar in a lot of ways. They had both grown up without any brothers or sisters in the house, unlike Flea and me (Flea was the youngest of his litter), and they discovered they both loved reading poetry. Gill's taste tended toward the romantic, and Drake's leaned toward the metaphysical or post-modern, but they still had a lot of common ground.
Gill was enormous, and at first glance, he appeared rather thick. A second and third glance confirmed this excellent observation: Gill had about seven inches of muscle over every bone in his body. He loved poetry more than anyone I've ever met and wouldn't even squash bugs because it sent him into fits of guilt. His skin was always vaguely shiny because of the scales, and his clothes were damp because he had to mist himself with a water bottle every half hour or so. This meant that his books and his homework were also in various states of sogginess.
Every year, Gill's father tried to get him to join up on some sports team, and every year, Gill very firmly said no and went on to produce and direct the spring and fall school plays. It was usually something Shakespeare, and he always cast Francesca as the lead heroine. He was so obvious about it that I sort of winced for him every time Francesca brushed by in the hallway with a new boyfriend in tow.
She did it again today. The latest model man-candy was a foreign kid who was half-djinn. He kept telling Frankie he was going to grant her every wish, and he was a complete drip. Gill watched the pair until they were out of sight. He sighed heavily and closed his locker door, turning around so that he could lean against it.
"Sucks, man," I said. "But he won't last long. They never do."
Gill looked sideways at me before closing his eyes and tilting his face up toward the ceiling. "Every minute he is with her is a hundred years to me."
"Geez, grow some balls," I said. "I know some of you fishy types can do it on command. C'mon, we're going to be late for class."
Gill shook his head. "I fear you do not have a romantic bone in your body," he said. He slung his backpack over one shoulder, clutching a volume of poetry in his right hand. He looked down the hall again.
"Nope, just regular bones in me, despite parentage," I said. I indicated the book in his hand. "Who've you got there?"
"Work by one who knows intimately la belle dame sans merci," said Gill. He sighed again. "I think I shall refrain from class today, my friend. Would you be kind enough to let Mr. Snowman know that I am working in the auditorium this afternoon?"
"That abominable guy?" I joked. Nothing, not even a smile; Gill was really in the doldrums now. I agreed to tell Mr. Snowman where he'd be and watched Gill squelch away with his shoulders slumped and his head down. I didn't think Mr. Snowman would mind because, next to Drake, Gill was the best student in our English class; Mr. Snowman also happened to be the sponsor for the drama club.
A hand touched my shoulder lightly, and I turned to find Drake standing behind me. He had a concerned expression on his face. "Where has Gill gone?"
"To mope," I said, shrugging. "Another episode of acute Francesca-itis."
"Ah," said Drake, as we walked toward the classroom. "Have you ever considered perhaps speaking to your sister about Gill?"
"Of course I have," I said, offended. "She told me she wasn't interested in anything aquatic."
"She dated that half-octopus last month," said Drake doubtfully.
"I don't think that was love," I said delicately.
Drake's eyes widened, and a faint blush stained his cheeks. "I see."
We turned a corner, and Flea ran up to us, breathing heavily. I wrinkled my nose because, let's face it, Flea has dog breath.
"Guys," he panted. "You'll never guess what!"
"The new exchange student is Hatshepsut, the Mummy's daughter?" said Drake, tone bored.
Flea looked genuinely disappointed. "Aw, man, you heard already?" Then he perked up. "But she's pretty hot, yeah? I thought she'd be all covered in bandages and stuff. There sure is somethin' about those exotic foreign ladies. Rowr." He elbowed Drake in the ribs and waggled his eyebrows knowingly.
Drake gave Flea a look that should have made him roll over and offer his belly. I decided to step in before the poor bastard got himself killed.
"That's, uh, great, Flea," I said. "You got first dibs on her. Why don't you go talk to her and tell us how it goes?"
It's hard to explain how anyone can wag their tail when they don't actually have a tail, but Flea sort of vibrates. It makes you want to give him a treat and pat him on the head. "Yeah, good idea, Frank!" he exclaimed, springing away.
"Aren't you even curious about this 'hot' new exchange student?" I asked, glancing back in the direction Flea had bounded. "Maybe she's something special. And she's fresh blood," I joked.
Drake smiled indulgently. "I'm sure she would not really be my thing," he said. "She probably tastes dusty."
I rolled my eyes. "Is food all you ever think about?" I asked.
"No," he said. "Occasionally I think about sex. And murder."
I glanced at him uneasily. "Funny," I said. I was proud my voice didn't shake. For a best friend, I'm still pretty terrified of him. "That poor girl isn't going to know what hit her."
Drake dropped a casual arm over my shoulder as we walked toward class. "As long as Flea does not try to mark any territory, I think she should be fine."
"I just hope he doesn't try to lick her cheek," I said, remembering my own first meeting with Flea all too well.
Drake glanced sideways at me. "Do not tell me the furball actually licked your cheek."
"Among other things," I said. "I don't even want to delve into the subject of where he sniffed."
Drake's laughter echoed down the hall as we walked into the classroom.
The first time Drake kissed me on the cheek, I slugged him. Well, I tried anyway. He caught my fist about a foot from his face and held it immobilized in midair. "I am sorry," he said. "Where I come from, it is a sign of affection between men who are very close friends."
I yanked my hand back. "Like French guys or something?"
Drake paused. "Yes, I suppose so. I did not mean to offend, but it is a very common gesture at home."
"It's not so common over here," I said. My cheek still tingled. "You should be careful who you go around kissing. But you're European, so you can be forgiven some of your goofy mannerisms."
Eventually, I got used to how sometimes when I'd do something nice for Drake — like bring him a blood pie my mom had baked, or invite him over for dinner — he'd smile, say thanks, and give me a peck on the cheek. It wasn't so bad. People stopped looking at us weird after the first few weeks, and Flea stopped elbowing me in the side and laughing. I guess they just accepted his weird European habits, too.
He didn't kiss Flea or Gill, but I couldn't blame him. Kissing Flea on the cheek would probably make him cough up a hairball later, and I figured kissing Gill would be kind of slimy. And anyway, I was his best friend.
He started kissing me on the cheek whenever we'd meet up, and I got a little weirded-out again until I remembered that I was a cool, modern guy. Lots of European guys did that kissy double-cheek thing when they met up, like Italians. Italians were still manly. They had coliseums and stuff.
"You don't ever eat lunch," I remarked as we sat down in the cafeteria to wait for Flea and Gill. My tray was loaded with food, and Drake had loaded his own tray with food, almost an exact replica of mine. "You always get all that food, and you never eat it. I end up eating most of it."
"I know," said Drake. "I get it for you to eat."
"Huh?" I said. "Why? Don't you get hungry during the day?" I stabbed a piece of chicken with my fork and shoved it into my mouth.
"I get hungry," said Drake evasively.
"Then why do you always let me eat your food?" I said, unbelievably curious now.
"I don't eat this sort of food," said Drake. "It makes me sick. I'm on more of a . . . liquid diet. One of my mothers usually packs me a sachet of human blood to snack on during the day."
"Wait," I said, remembering our first dinner. I was sure Mom told me it was animal blood. "You actually drink human blood? That's disgusting!"
"If I did not drink their blood, I would die," explained Drake patiently. "Like those cows have to die so you can eat your hideous burgers."
"Do the people die? I mean . . . have you ever killed anyone you drank from?"
Drake hesitated. "Yes," he said finally.
We were both quiet for a long time. I pretended to be engrossed in eating my chicken, and Drake stared out over the cafeteria.
"Do you feel bad about it?" I asked suddenly.
"What?" said Drake, pulled away from whatever thoughts he was having.
"About killing them," I said. "Do you ever regret it?" I didn't look at Drake's face, afraid of the answer.
"Yes," he said very quietly. "Each morning when I wake up. I still remember their faces."
"Did you mean to kill them?" I asked.
Drake glanced at me, clearly startled. "No," he said again quietly. "I was inexperienced at feeding." He took a deep breath and smiled wanly. "No one has ever asked me if I did it on purpose before," he said.
"That's stupid," I said, forking the last piece of my chicken into my mouth. "They should have. Thanks for the food, by the way," I said, stabbing at another piece of chicken from Drake's plate.
"You are very welcome," said Drake, his expression indecipherable. Just then, Flea and Gill sat down with us, and the conversation changed to Hattie and Francesca and long, gloomy sighs. Frankie was between boyfriends at the moment, so Gill wasn't as melancholy as usual, but apparently Hattie had been making eyes at one of the fauns in Flea's math class.
"Didn't she say she liked you?" I asked him.
Flea shrugged. "She said I was like a cute puppy. I thought girls liked puppies," he said, glancing at Drake for confirmation. "Don't they?"
"Why ask me? I eat puppies," said Drake.
I made a face. "Nice, Drake, do that while I'm eating." Even Gill looked a little green around the neck. Flea sagged in his chair.
"Man, what chance do I have with an Egyptian princess?" said Flea. "I mean, look at me, I'm barely housebroken! She's all regal and stuff."
I put down my fork. "Hey, hairball," I said. "You're worth, like, ten of her. She should be so lucky. You're loyal, friendly, fairly hygienic, and you can cook —"
"Not good," said Flea sadly. "I keep forgetting people don't like their meat raw."
"Shut up," I said. "What I'm saying is, we wouldn't be your friends if you were a moron. So if she can't see what we all see, then it's her loss." I picked up my fork again and snagged the last piece of chicken from Drake's plate. Drake put his arm across the back of my chair and leaned back in his seat, his expression proud.
Flea appeared cheered. "Thanks, Frank," he said. "You're right. I should just be me! 'Cause I'm awesome." He held his scrawny arms up and flexed his muscles, waggling his hairy eyebrows. "What dame wouldn't want a piece of this? Grr, baby!"
The rest of us groaned in unison, but we were smiling. Flea was supposed to be the happy one; he wasn't allowed to be depressed.
"Why me?" I asked one day when we were packing up after our last class. Drake was already waiting for me by the time I shoved the last book inside my backpack and zipped it up.
"Why you, what?" said Drake, tilting his head to the side.
"Why did you decide to be friends with me? Not that I haven't grown to grudgingly appreciate having you around."
Drake laughed and adjusted the strap of his messenger bag on his shoulder. I kept calling it his man-purse, and he kept hitting me with it when I did. "Most people annoy me, except for one or two of them," said Drake. "You do not."
My brow furrowed in thought. Wait a minute, hadn't I said something similar to Drake when we first —?
"Besides," he continued, opening the door and stepping out, forcing me to follow him. "You amuse me with your contradictions. You are the most marshmallow-hearted creature I have ever met, yet you hide it with a veneer of sarcasm to rival the most aged cynic."
"I am not marshmallow-hearted," I protested, shoving his shoulder lightly as we walked down the hall.
"You have a distinctly gooey center."
"I am not a nougat!" I said.
"No," Drake agreed. "Nougats are usually sweeter and less poisonous."
I tried to elbow him in the side, but he stepped out of the way in time, and once again I cursed preternatural vampiric reflexes. We left the school grounds and walked along the sidewalk in companionable silence. Chilly autumn wind blew scattered leaves across our path. It was nearly November, and we'd probably get snow in a few weeks.
"Sometimes I hate autumn," I said. "Everything starts to die."
"After the first death, there is no other," quoted Drake philosophically.
"What?" I asked.
"The words of a human poet," said Drake, ruffling my hair. I ducked out of the way and frowned at him.
"Did you eat him too?" I asked.
"No," said Drake seriously. "As a rule, I do not eat poets. They have enough to worry about already, what with the poverty, critics, and potential substance abuse problems."
I laughed. "You are unbelievably weird. And not, like, sophisticated weird. You're guy-with-a-lot-of-cats-living-in-a-box weird."
"I am a little world made cunningly," murmured Drake in reply.
"Who says?" I retorted.
"John Donne," said Drake. "A human poet who knew quite a bit about love and devotion."
"You and your human poets," I said, shaking my head. "You read them like they're going out of style."
Drake smiled, tugging on my backpack. "That is where Gill and I agree. Human poets write with such passion for the brief span of their bright lives. I think it is because they are mortal that they search frantically for the meaning of things before their time expires. They are endlessly fascinating, don't you think?"
"What I think is endlessly fascinating," I said, taking a piece of gum out of my pocket and picking a piece of lint off of it, "is figuring out what I have to say about the world, not what other people say about it. I don't want to read about what some guy says falling in love is like — I want to do it myself."
Drake gave me a startled look. Then his expression turned thoughtful, and he smiled ever so slightly. "That was surprisingly deep, Frank."
"I have my moments," I said, chewing my gum with my mouth open.
"Still," said Drake speculatively. "I think you might like John Donne."
"Why's that?" I asked.
"He lived in a time when his family's beliefs made them persecuted, and then he fell in love with someone he should not have, even though their union placed him in jail and nearly ruined his life." Drake looked up at the grey clouds hovering above us. I drew my jacket a little tighter around my chin.
"I might read him," I conceded.
Drake glanced at me and moved closer, putting his arm around my shoulder. "I thought you might. Now, on to more important matters: Do you think your mother might prepare some blood cocoa when we arrive at your home?"
I wrinkled my nose in disgust. "Only if you're really nice. Promise to get me a cup of normal cocoa, and I'll help you try to persuade her."
"Cocoa to go with your marshmallow heart?" said Drake, a teasing grin on his face.
"You are so cut off," I said, shrugging his arm from my shoulder. "No amount of groveling will ever reopen your blood cocoa supply lines."
Drake laughed and put his arm back around me. I didn't mind because I was warmer that way. When we got to the house, Drake let his hand drop, and I found myself mildly disappointed at being forced to rely on my own body heat. I'm a skinny guy, so my body isn't exactly a furnace. That's part of the reason I hated the cold so much.
Mom ushered us inside through the back door, and Drake and I were pleased to find two mugs of cocoa already waiting for us on the table. Either she was using her gypsy-powers to scry the future, or she was using her mom-powers to predict two teenage boys. Drake and I went up to my room to set our stuff down and raced back to the kitchen table.
"Mrs. S," said Drake devotedly, once we were sitting down with the steaming mugs in our hands. "I consider it a sincere pity that you are already happily married, because I could offer you so much more."
Mom swatted Drake playfully on the shoulder. "You keep that silver-tongue in your mouth, you little snake, or I might be tempted. Just get rid of my husband, and we'll talk."
"Done," said Drake, taking a long sip of his blood cocoa. "I will make it a quick death, as well, because he deserves some reward for helping to bring Frank into the world, though I am given to understand you put in considerably more effort."
Mom chuckled and shook her head. "I have to run to the store before supper. You two behave while I'm gone." She grabbed her purse and car keys from the counter. "And no killing of my husband while I'm away, either," Mom said, wagging her finger at Drake. "I want to be there to enjoy it."
"I would not think of it," said Drake, smiling.
She left, closing the front door with a smart click. "You're in an awfully good mood today," I said, eyeing Drake.
"Good company, a warm home, and blood on my tongue," replied Drake. "It is everyone's dream." He took a sip out of his mug and looked across the rim at me. "Well, not everyone's," he admitted, putting the mug down.
"The first two were okay," I said, taking a drink from my own mug. The warm cocoa slid down my throat, and I hummed in pleasure.
I looked up and found Drake staring at the chocolate on my lips, his eyes hungry.
"I'm sure this is better than blood," I said. "You want some?" I asked, holding out the mug.
"Very much," said Drake, his voice strange. "But I am afraid I cannot have it." Then he seemed to shake himself. "Normal food always makes me sick."
"Chocolate isn't normal food," I said, holding the mug aloft. "I'm pretty sure it was sent by the gods."
"Sent by the gods indeed," said Drake, his eyes sparkling.
One night near the end of first semester, Drake brought over a bottle of something Transylvanian and alcoholic. Our exams were done, holidays were looming pleasantly on the horizon, and I anticipated the results of my finals wouldn't shame my family indefinitely. I was feeling all-around warm and fuzzy, and Drake decided alcohol was an expedient way to help us feel warmer and fuzzier. I wholeheartedly agreed. Up until this point, the only real alcohol I had sampled was disgusting champagne or the occasional sneaky glass or two of spiked punch at formal get-togethers. An entire bottle of Eastern Europe's finest was a little beyond my skill level. Three o'clock in the morning found Drake and me stumbling drunkenly down the road.
Drake decided we should drink under the full moon in Hangman's Park. It was creepy at first, with the ghosts and all, but after a few rounds, they were old friends. I wasn't drunk enough to suggest we go back to my house; I realized that, fond of Drake or not, my mother would flay us alive if we showed up on the doorstep in this state.
"Drake," I slurred. "Do you think your father would maim us horribly if we crashed at your place?"
Drake laughed, better able to hold his liquor. "It is night, Frank. My parents will all be out for the day."
I opened my mouth to say something, because that sentence wasn't right. But then I remembered that I was drunk, and Drake was a vampire. Daylight savings time had a slightly different meaning in his world.
"Okay," I said. "Let's invade the vampire stronghold of darkness."
The stronghold of darkness turned out to have paisley drapes and little clown figurines. I was about to ask about them when Drake shook his head. "My third mother likes them," he said. "I do not understand if it is because they are hideous artifacts of the dark world, or if she simply has a predilection for men in pale makeup and strange costumes."
I refrained from mentioning that technically Drake's dad met those criteria because I wanted to keep my head intact and my blood firmly in my body.
Drake's house was big and decorated by three women. Three women, I began to realize as we traveled through the rainbow colored kitchen, the nautical themed hallway, and into the Victorian living room, with very different tastes. The only testament to masculinity in the room of lace, frills, and tea cushions was the enormous flat screen TV and state-of-the-art entertainment system.
"You wanna watch a movie?" I asked.
"Sure," said Drake, passing me the bottle. I took a long swig, coughing a little at the burn.
"What do you want to watch?" I asked.
"Let's see what my mothers were watching last," said Drake, grabbing the remote to turn on the TV and the DVD player. The opening scenes of Titanic began to play.
"All right," I said, settling back into the very comfortable, if unfortunately puce-colored couch. "A horror movie."
Drake snickered. "Pass the bottle," he ordered.
"I think you've had enough, young man," I said, putting the bottle in my other hand and holding it out to the far side, away from Drake. It wobbled in my grip.
"I'll show you enough," said Drake, pouncing on me and reaching for the bottle. He toppled us over on the couch, and we tussled for a few minutes. Drake eventually got the bottle from me and pinned my hands above my head, leaning over me and pressing me into the couch. I noticed his fangs had lengthened.
He looked down at me, holding the bottle in one hand, with a triumphant smirk on his face. His eyes had gone halfway red.
"Fine, fine, you're the superior male," I said. "You win, take your prize."
"I think I should," said Drake, lowering his eyelids and bending forward. He moved the hand holding the bottle so that the bottle rested against my skin in the crook of my shoulder. It was cold.
"Oh, sure," I said. "Drink it right in front of me, you gloating ass." I tried to move my leg to kick Drake, and that jarred him. His eyes snapped open, like he was remembering where he was.
"Perhaps . . . I have indeed had too much to drink," he said, sitting back and taking the bottle with him. He let go of my wrists, and I rubbed the faint red circles his grip had left.
"Told you so," I said, snatching the bottle. I tipped my head back and took another long swallow. I was aware of Drake watching the muscles of my throat work as the liquor went down. I decided maybe I had also had enough for the evening. If alcohol was supposed to free inhibitions, I didn't want to be caught unaware if it freed Drake's neck-biting inhibitions. Very gently I set the bottle down on the carved wooden coffee table. The table had clawed dragon feet at the base, and I swear I saw the toes flex.
"This movie always puts me to sleep," I said, turning my attention back to the TV.
"You can put your head on my shoulder," said Drake, moving closer.
That sounded like a good idea to my alcohol-addled brain. Drake grabbed one of the tea cushions from the end of the couch and put it between my head and his body, so his bony shoulder didn't dig into my face. We watched the movie that way until I felt my eyes drift shut.
The Count found us that way the next morning, incriminating bottle of alcohol and all.
"Good morning, Mr. Stein," I heard a deeply amused voice say. Drake's body jerked beneath my head, causing us both to startle upright.
I blinked bleary eyes at the Count, painfully aware I must look like something the bat dragged in. Which I was, sort of.
"Father," said Drake nervously. "I am sorry about the mess. I meant to awaken before you got home."
"I am certain you did," said the Count, surveying the room. "Nothing appears broken, except for perhaps the seal on my vintage Romanian brandy."
Drake and I both colored. "Sorry, sir," I said. "We were celebrating the end of term."
"I can see that," said the Count. He eyed me speculatively. "And am I to assume your parents were not party to your plans for celebrating?"
My mouth dropped open. Shit, my parents.
"I see from the look of dawning horror on your face that they were not. Might I suggest, then, that you hurry home? It is nearly dawn."
I scrambled up off the couch and winced as the sudden movement made my head throb. Drake got up more slowly beside me.
"Drake," continued the Count, "may I also suggest that you help your friend home? It would be the gentlemanly thing."
"Sir," I said. "Do you think you could, um, maybe not mention this to my parents?"
The Count considered me. "Yes, I could. On one condition."
Please don't say blood, I thought. "Yes?"
"You come and visit the manor more often. Drake's mothers worry because he does not bring friends home."
"Sure," I agreed quickly. "No problem."
"Hm," said the Count. "Then until I see you again. Good night." The first few rays of sunlight were peeking through the heavy curtains over the window.
"Goodnight," Drake and I chorused as the Count left the room. I slumped back down to the couch.
"That was lucky," I said.
"You have no idea," said Drake. "It is a good thing they had a successful hunt last night or things might have gone differently."
"How can you tell they had a good hunt?" I asked.
"Father did not bite you," said Drake.
I was already regretting my promise to visit.
We were helping Gill set up the stage one afternoon after school. During a break, Drake wandered over to the table and picked up one of Gill's poetry books. "Ah, sonnets," he exclaimed. Then he looked over his shoulder at me and smirked. It was one of those looks that usually meant he was about to make people laugh at my expense. He whirled around with the book open and faced the thankfully empty auditorium, striking a pose; Gill and Flea looked up from the conversation they were having nearby, matching amused grins on their faces.
"My Franklin's eyes are nothing like the sun," recited Drake dramatically, placing an affected hand across his forehead. He held the poetry book in the other hand, sweeping it toward me.
"Shut up," I grumbled, my face turning red. Flea and Gill were laughing.
"'Tis true," said Gill, jumping in. "Coral is far more red than his lips' red. If snow is white, why then his breasts are dun."
"Ha ha, Frank's breasts!" giggled Flea helpfully.
"Yes," said Drake sadly. "And if hairs be wires, black wires grow on his head." He let the book fall to his side and heaved an exaggerated sigh. "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any other belied with false compare." He took a little bow, and Gill and Flea clapped obediently.
"I'm pretty sure the Bard just rolled in his grave," I said. I snatched the book from Drake's hand and stalked over to the table to put the offending item back where it belonged. I don't know why Drake liked seeing me get flustered. Just because I had enough blood in my body to constantly blush was no reason to abuse it.
When I turned around, Drake was grinning like a lunatic. "Oh no," he said, with a note of false dismay. "Do not tell me I embarrassed the unflappable Frank." He was still grinning. Flea was nearly rolling on the floor with laughter, and Gill stood beside him chuckling. Clearly, I needed new friends.
"Har har," I said, folding my arms across my chest. "I may not recover from the laughter."
"On contemplation," said Gill thoughtfully. "For the spring production, we are performing Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Harkening back to the performances of old, I could certainly cast two young men as leads."
"Say that in modern English?" I suggested.
"I think you and Drake would be entirely suited to play the roles of Beatrice and Benedict. They are quite an argumentative pair."
"Let me guess," I said. "I'd be playing the girl?" Drake was taller and more broad-shouldered. I couldn't really picture him in a dress. That's not true; I could picture him in a dress, but I just didn't want my inner eye to start bleeding.
"Naturally," said Drake, looking smug.
"What do you say, Franklin?" asked Gill, growing excited. "Beatrice certainly gives Benedict a good tongue-lashing in the play."
"That depends," I said. "Does Beatrice eventually disembowel her pernicious suitor and live happily ever after without his annoying presence?"
"Alas, no," said Gill, chuckling. "She falls in love with him, and they join in married bliss. Though no doubt I imagine she makes Benedict's life exceedingly, frustratingly interesting."
"Yeah, I don't think so," I said. "I don't like performing in front of a crowd of people capable of turning into an angry mob at a moment's notice. It's a genetic thing."
Gill shook his head. "But such chemistry! It would be a wonderful production. Franklin, pluck up your courage!"
I raised an eyebrow. "Do we really want to start discussing courage, Mr. Laguna Negra?" I asked. "Because if you give me just a second, I could call Francesca and tell her to join us."
Gill blushed under his scales. "I assure you that will not be necessary."
"How come you didn't walk with me to school today?" I asked when we were in my room.
"My father drove me to school in the hearse," said Drake darkly. "He had some . . . things to discuss with me."
"Ah, bummer," I said. "Wanna play some video games to take your mind off it?"
"You know I cannot understand those games you play," said Drake dismissively. "I will read a magazine and watch you kill things on the screen, as usual."
I shrugged. "Suit yourself. I snagged my mom's new Monstermen Quarterly on the way up. It's on the desk. Unless you want to read Frankie's new issue of Monstro Girl?" I teased.
"I think not," said Drake, picking up the magazine from the desk and lounging back on the bed. I laughed and turned the TV on to play my game, sitting down cross-legged on the floor. I had just gotten to a new level when I heard Drake shift and turn a page in the magazine.
"We are going to kiss, you know," he said casually from his place on my bed. I turned from my video game to stare at him. Even at the best of times, Drake's humor is a little weird.
"Sure," I snorted. I turned back to the game. Drake laughed softly behind me. I could hear him flipping through the magazine again.
"You actually read this drivel?" he said disdainfully. Drake pretty much said everything disdainfully. I think maybe it's a prerequisite for being a vampire — all those with grumpy personalities, please move to the front of the line. Maybe a cheerful vampire would spontaneously combust from his own sunny disposition. Ha ha.
"Yes," I said distractedly. "It's not my fault your father deprived you of a normal childhood."
"Tch, all toys and fantasy."
I paused and gave him an incredulous look. "You have a hard time believing in fantasy, Mr. Dentist's-Worst-Nightmare?"
Drake displayed a rare full smile. It's more horrifying than one would imagine.
"I suppose you have a point," he acknowledged. He propped himself up on his elbows. "What is it you are playing now? It looks like you're just killing a lot of tiny creatures."
"They're goblins," I explained impatiently. "I have to kill them so I can earn experience points."
He raised an eyebrow. "It sounds ridiculous."
"Yeah, well, I didn't laugh when your dad brought out Transylvanian Monopoly the other day."
"Yes, you did."
"Ok, but I stopped after a while."
"No, you did not. You snickered every time you landed on something new or drew a chance card."
"Oh, c'mon, 'Attacked by angry mob of villagers, do not pass go, do not collect 200 lei, proceed straight to the stake'?"
"That is perfectly reasonable."
"Drake, instead of going to jail, you get burned at the stake. You have to pay for gypsies to resurrect you every time!"
"I know. My father gets nostalgic whenever we play."
I rolled my eyes. "Right. It's almost as bad as when we play Demonic Pictionary."
"You do not like that one either?"
"Oh, that one's okay," I said. "I just don't like summoning demons every time I draw the wrong line with the Cursed Pencil."
"It does take practice," said Drake. "Now, about my earlier statement."
I noticed Drake had left the bed and was kneeling next to me. The strange dead flower and metal smell that only Drake had washed over me. It was thick, perfumey, and bitter and made my head start to spin.
"It's non-negotiable, you realize," he said.
"What is?" I asked, trying to keep my attention on the game and not on the faint red glow of Drake's eyes.
"The kissing," he replied.
"What?" I turned to laugh, and he was suddenly much too close. Without warning, he grabbed my face and pressed his lips to mine, and oh my god, oh god, tongues weren't allowed to do that, I was pretty sure.
The controller dropped out of my hands, and I tried to push away, but Drake wrapped an arm around my waist, one hand still holding my chin in place, and kissed the hell out of me. I figured he realized I needed oxygen after I passed out. Damn vampires and their stupid physiology.
When I woke up, I was in Drake's lap, and the top buttons on my shirt had been undone. Drake was tracing a pattern lightly on my neck. I felt my blood run cold. "What are you doing?" I asked, my voice shaking. My head still felt muzzy.
"Waiting for you to wake up so that I can bite you," said Drake calmly.
"What?!" I tried to sit up, but Drake held me down. "That's not funny, Drake. Let me go."
"I am not joking," he said, still stroking my neck. His other arm was wrapped around me in a vise-like grip, pinning my arms neatly.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I said, struggling. "You aren't going to bite me!"
"I am afraid I have to," said Drake. "Just sit still for a moment. That will make it easier." He lowered his head to my throat, and I increased my struggles.
"Drake, stop!" I said frantically. "I didn't say you could do this! I very specifically said no! Drake, fuck off!" His mouth hovered over my neck; the feel of his hot breath made me sick. Summoning all my strength, I lurched forward, head-butted him, and rolled away.
We both stared at each other, panting heavily. Drake was rubbing his jaw and looking annoyed. "You fucking lunatic!" I nearly screamed. "What is your fucking problem? Get the fuck out!"
"Frank, please, just let me —"
"Did you not hear me when I said get the fuck out?" I said, hauling myself to my feet. "Because I remember very specifically saying that, too."
Drake's eyes narrowed. "I heard you." He stood up and grabbed his messenger bag and books from my desk, the line of his shoulders tense. When he exited the room, I followed him, just to make sure the bastard really did leave. I also shouted at him the whole way, despite the fact that my heart was beating like a rabbit jumping through a minefield.
At the front door, he turned around. "I will return tomorrow, when you have calmed down." Drake voice was strained. He opened the door with stiff, jerky movements and stepped outside, looking like he was about to snap.
I snapped instead. "No, you won't, you jackass! I — I uninvite you!" I yelled through the open door at Drake's retreating form.
Drake spun around. The whites of his eyes had gone nearly red. He bounded back up the porch, and I took several steps back and covered my face, totally terrified that he was going to rip out my throat. Drake charged through the front door, and I heard a resounding thwack. It was the sort of noise made by a person hitting an invisible magical barrier.
I peeked through my hands at Drake, who was standing on the other side of the doorframe, holding a hand to his bleeding nose and looking very unamused.
"Whoa, I didn't think that would work," I said, amazed.
"Frank," said Drake. "Let me in." His voice was dangerously low. Blood was still dripping from between his fingers.
"You can't get in? Ha ha, you can't get in!" I said. "Fuck you! Take that you weasel-faced asshole! You can't get back in, and I'm not letting you!"
Drake snarled and lunged at me; he rebounded off the barrier again. I cupped my hand around my ear. "What's that I hear? The sound of magically reinforced victory? I think it is."
"Frank, when I get my hands on you —"
"If you touch him," said Francesca, coming up behind me, "I'll kill you."
I whirled around. "Frankie! When did you get home?!"
"Right before Drake tried to bite you." She placed a hand on my shoulder, not breaking eye contact with Drake. "I mean it. Dracula's son or not, if you touch my brother again, I will kill you and rip out your insides. And then I will find a nice pair of red pumps and dance in your entrails."
Even I gulped a little. Francesca inherited more from Dad than she thinks. She and Drake continued to stare at each other. I was still completely terrified. Forget whatever my dad had said about monsters, I would never be as scary as Francesca or Drake looked at that moment.
"You don't understand —" Drake began, and then he looked at my face. He closed his mouth and pressed his lips together thinly. "Fine," he said, wiping his bloody hand on his trousers in disgust. Blood was still smeared across the space above his upper lip. "Don't worry, I won't darken your doorstep again, Franklin Stein," he said, baring his teeth. Then he turned on his heel and stalked away.
As soon as he was out of sight, I sagged against Francesca. She wrapped her arms around me and took me up to my room. She put me in bed and tucked me under the covers, just like mom used to do for us when we were kids and we realized there were people under our beds. Then she turned out the light and left.
I didn't stop shaking for a long time. I thought about Drake and about how I should have learned not to trust people by now. I don't remember when I finally got to sleep, but I didn't sleep well.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt like someone had stuffed my nose full of cotton balls and banged on my head with a hammer all night. I always get really pounding, aching headaches after I spend awhile crying. I got ready for school in a daze, not looking forward to my inevitable confrontation with Drake. Mom and Dad didn't seem to notice anything was wrong when I said goodbye and headed out the front door. Drake wasn't there to meet me. I had half expected it, but that still didn't stop the mixture of relief and unhappiness that hit me as I stood on the front porch looking down at the empty sidewalk.
On the walk to school, I met up with Flea. He had a white strip of gauze tied around his wrist and a big, toothy smile on his face. "Hey, Frank!" he said enthusiastically. "Don't forget, we're picking up Gill today. Where's Drake?"
"He's not around," I said tightly, eyes on the sidewalk.
Flea's expression drooped. "Did you guys have a fight or somethin'?"
"Yeah, or something," I answered.
"You didn't break up with him or anything, didja?"
I stopped in my tracks. "I didn't what?" I asked.
"Break up with Drake?" Flea repeated uncertainly. "I didn't think you guys ever fought or nothin'."
"What the hell," I said, very deliberately, "made you even think for one moment that Drake and I were going out?!"
Flea looked confused. "You're not?"
"No!" I said.
"Then you did break up with him! Aw, man, that really sucks."
"Flea," I said. "Drake and I were never even remotely dating. Ever. On the face of ever. Ever times infinity." My brain tried to supply me with images of a very fuzzy kiss from last night that I'd rather forget.
"Seriously?" said Flea, eyes widening briefly and then narrowing in thought. "But Gill and I were so sure! I mean all the signs . . ."
"What signs?" I asked, dreading the answer. If Flea and Gill thought I was dating Drake, what did everyone else think? I realized I wasn't as horrified as I should be by the idea of being Drake's objet d'amour, but I quickly locked that thought away and promised myself never to visit it again, no matter how many pleading letters it might send me.
"Um, well, you guys are always together," Flea said, ticking the points away on his fingers as we began walking again. "And he's always touching you. And letting you touch him. He doesn't do that with other people. And he's always at your house and walking you to school. And he always gets an extra lunch and shares it with you and kisses you on the cheek."
I shook my head. "Those are just things friends do!" I protested. "And you know Drake is very European with the man-kissing!"
"And," said Flea doggedly, with the air of someone putting the final nail in a coffin, "Drake told that mermaid, Shelly Waterson, that if she or anyone else came near you, he'd kill her and them because you were his."
I nearly tripped. "What? He did not!"
"Uh huh, he did."
"I would have heard about it," I said. "Shelly would have said something."
"And risk gettin' eaten by a possessive vampire boyfriend? Duh, Frank."
"She could have e-mailed me," I said. "It's not like he monitors me electronically."
Flea looked momentarily guilty.
"He does not."
"Sure, sure," said Flea. "But who's willin' to take the chance? Drake is sort of creepy about you. He even asked Gill and me once if we had any interest in you. We told him no, and he said that was good. For us."
I ran my hand through my hair. Well, this was new information. I digested this quietly as we came up to Gill's gate. On the other side of the gate, the sidewalk stretched on for a few feet and then abruptly disappeared underwater in a small lake. A handful of bubbles disturbed the surface of the water, and Gill emerged from beneath, dripping. He unzipped his wetsuit, folded it carefully, and put it in a small box next to the water. His waterproof backpack slowly dripped dry.
"Hello," Gill greeted us. "Where is our other Byronic companion this sunlit morning?"
"Frank broke up with him," said Flea, disregarding our entire conversation.
"Surely not!" said Gill. He seemed genuinely upset. "What could have precipitated such a ghastly action? Your beau did not offend you, did he?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. Saying, He didn't offend me so much as try to eat me was probably not what they wanted to hear. "Look, I didn't break up with him!" I said.
"That is a relief," said Gill. "You are truly a fine couple. And it gives me hope that even someone as prickly as you, my dear Frank, may find his true love."
"We were never dating!" I shouted, wanting to throw my backpack on the ground and stomp away like a three-year-old.
"You weren't?" said Gill.
I was getting tired of how surprised everyone looked when I said that. "Wait. So you guys really thought I was gay? Gay for Drake?"
"Yeah, Gill called you a 'tortured, sensitive, melancholy soul,'" Flea quoted, "'searching desperately for his other half in a cruel world that doesn't understand him.' And I said, 'Gay?' and Gill said, 'Yeah.' And then when Drake came along, we both thought you'd found your equally weird other half." Flea shrugged, as did Gill. They both looked embarrassed.
"I am indeed sorry, Franklin," said Gill with his customary somberness. He placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Flea and I should not have assumed you were in love with Drake simply because he brought that vivid twinkle to your eye or that bounce to your step."
"He did not bring a vivid, bouncing twinkle to my anything, and I don't want to talk about it anymore," I huffed. Thinking about Drake right now made my chest ache and my head hurt. For the rest of the journey, Flea and Gill stayed wisely silent on the subject of Drake and made small talk I didn't participate in. Their chatter was somehow comforting.
Drake didn't show up to school that day or the next. In fact, he didn't show up the whole week, and I began to realize just how much of my life had revolved around . . . Drakeness. I didn't have anyone to walk to class with, or talk to, or joke around with, or sit with, or a million other tiny voids Drake had filled without me noticing. It was highly disconcerting.
Flea was dating the Mummy's daughter now, and Gill and I got to hear about it every time she wasn't around. I liked Hattie and everything, don't get me wrong, I just didn't want anyone to be happy right now. Gill was good company in that respect because Frankie was dating someone new.
"It's weird," said Flea one day at lunch, after Hattie left to say hello to a friend. "She calls her mom by her first name."
"What does she call her dad then?" I asked.
"Mummy, obviously," said Flea.
"Obviously," I replied. I finished my lunch quickly and went to the library.
By the end of the second week with still no sign of Drake, I was pissed off. Flea and Gill said I was acting crazy, and Flea advised me every day to go to Drake, apologize, and take him back. After explaining to Flea for the twelfth time that Drake and I had not been, nor ever would be, an item, I gave up and started sitting by myself at lunch.
I used my newly friendless time to think up reasons I was angry. Drake had tried to make a meal of my throat; this was an important point on my Angry Reasons list. Admittedly, I hadn't given him much of a chance to explain himself, but I felt the attempted neck-nibbling provided just cause for throwing him out on his skinny, bloodthirsty ass.
Drake had also not bothered to get in touch with me in two weeks. He was making me worry about him, and that made me even angrier. I didn't like to examine the logic of that thought too closely. Instead, I decided to cling to the feelings of anger it brought.
Toward the end of the second week, Francesca found me one afternoon in the living room, sitting on the couch and staring listlessly at the TV. I hadn't bothered to turn it on.
She sat down next to me on the couch, touching my leg with a comforting gesture. "How are you holding up?" she asked.
I grunted and shrugged, hoping she'd take that for an okay and leave. No such luck.
"Frank," she said. "I'm worried about you. You hardly eat any food at dinner, and you shut yourself up in your room all the time. I saw you throw out your Black Hags CDs." She hesitated. "I thought they were your favorite band."
I shut my eyes. "They used to be," I mumbled. My eyelashes felt suspiciously moist.
"Oh, Frank. You are such a boy," Francesca said, pulling me into a hug. I half-laughed, resting my head on her shoulder as she rubbed a hand in soothing circles up and down my back. I don't know how long we stayed like that before the doorbell rang, and my head snapped up from Frankie's shoulder. I felt frozen. "I'll get that," said Francesca gently. She gave my shoulder a final squeeze as she got up to answer the door.
From my place on the couch, I could see through the open archway into the foyer. Francesca opened the door with a smile and let Gill into the house. Gill had been coming over every other day around six o'clock after drama rehearsals let out, trying to cheer me up.
"Ah, Francesca," I heard Gill say. "Beatific as ever. You were wonderful on stage today. Your . . . lines were flawless."
Frankie dropped her head a little, looking kind of embarrassed. "I've been practicing. And you're a good director."
Gill clutched one of his ever-present poetry books like a lifeline. "Yes, well, a director is only as good as his performers. Without them he is nothing."
Frankie smiled and tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear, like she always did when she was flirting. Wait — flirting? I straight up straighter on the couch. When had this happened?
I watched Francesca lean closer to Gill. "Thanks for looking out for Frank," she said softly. I don't think she wanted me to hear. "You're a really nice guy, Gill."
"I am only doing what little I can for your brother in this difficult time," said Gill, the picture of modesty.
"No, you're a regular modern day knight in shining armor," argued Francesca. She was smiling, touching Gill's arm lightly.
"I am afraid any armor I possess would rust, fair lady," said Gill, his voice only slightly higher than usual.
"Knight in shining wetsuit, then," said Frankie. She gave Gill a quick peck on the cheek before sauntering into the kitchen. "See you at rehearsal tomorrow."
Gill turned a shade of red I had never seen on another living creature, and wandered clumsily into the living room. You'd think he'd been making eyes at Estonia, the basilisk cheerleader.
"Frank," he said, sitting down heavily on the couch. "How can I cheer you up today?" he asked.
"Did you bring any movies where vampires die?" I asked. "Or cheesy romantic comedies?"
"I can oblige you on the second count," said Gill seriously, pulling a movie out of his backpack. "I chanced upon a film adaptation of Much Ado in the school library," he said, brandishing the DVD case like a sword. I sighed.
Mom and Dad noticed Drake wasn't hanging around anymore. After a few probing questions on their part, I glowered at them in a way to rival my dad in his heyday, and they left me alone. Each afternoon, I practically ran home from school, just in case a letter or a postcard or a damn singing telegram was waiting for me. I kept telling myself that if he was as obsessed with me as Flea said, then the idiot was bound to get in touch with me. I mean, if I decided to suddenly drop off the face of the earth, Drake was the first person that'd get a letter. But there was never anything for me when I got home; I didn't hear from Drake for another week.
A noise woke me up in the middle of the night, and I blinked, turning on my bedside lamp. Drake was balanced precariously on my open windowsill. "Don't just stand there like an idiot," he said. "It is freezing. Invite me in."
"Well, entrez-the-hell-vous," I said, gesturing. The shock was wearing off, and familiar, welcome anger was returning. I don't see the jerk for three weeks after he almost tries to kill me and makes me frantic with worry, and he comes climbing through my window at two in the morning. Typical.
"What do you want?" I asked as Drake stood up and dusted off his trousers. I folded my arms across my chest and tried to summon my intimidating heritage.
Drake ran a tired hand through his hair, and in the silence before he answered, I noticed something that made me smile: Drake looked like crap. He skin wasn't pale now; it was ashen. His hair was lank and unwashed, and his clothes were wrinkled. He looked like he'd been on the losing end of a wrestling match with a gargoyle. His obvious misery warmed me to the cockles of my little green monster heart, and I realized this made me a terrible, petty creature. I was okay with that.
"Frank," said Drake. Then he coughed and folded awkwardly to the floor. He didn't get up. I nudged him with my big toe, but he didn't move. I stood staring at Drake's prone form wondering what to do and occasionally blinking. It must be my defense mechanism, blinking.
I figured I'd better get him off the floor. I struggled to haul him onto my bed, grumbling the whole time because why did someone need to have such long arms and legs? Why couldn't people be flat, stubby things with handles? I managed to prop Drake up in bed and stuff a couple of pillows underneath his head.
Up close, he looked even worse, and I didn't feel nearly as angry. That bastard. I was all set to be self-righteously pissed-off, and he pulls the Melancholy-Hero-With-Romantic-Faint.
As I studied him, I noticed other things I'd missed before. The lamplight revealed dark smudges underneath his eyes and a fading bruise on his right cheek. His skin looked thin and papery; I could see the faint lines of spidery blue veins.
Drake's eyes slowly fluttered open. His expression was glassy and dead. I mean, deader than usual, since I guess he was technically kind of undead to begin with.
"Frank," said Drake again. He licked his lips; they were cracked and nearly white.
"You look like shit," I said.
To my surprise, Drake laughed, ending in a cough. "I am aware," he said.
"You passed out on my floor," I said.
"Ah, Frank," said Drake. "Whatever would I do without your cunning observations?"
"If you're going to be an asshole, I'm dumping you back out the window."
"I have not had anything to drink in three weeks."
"Why not?" I asked, startled.
"My father wanted me to drink from you," said Drake. He shifted on the bed, digging further back into the pillows.
Drake sighed, covering his eyes with one hand tiredly. "As I told you, my father is a purist. He likes to drink only from the necks of the living. My mothers are the same. I am not quite so conventional."
"Meaning you'd conventionally like to drink your draughts of conventional blood from a cup?"
Drake sighed again. "Frank, your sarcasm is not helping."
"Can't turn it off," I replied. "It's like breathing."
"Very well. My father does not think I should have friends. He thinks I should have regular meals I can hold a conversation with. I disagree."
"So, if you haven't fed in three weeks you're, what? Dying?"
"Not . . . I do not know," said Drake. "I have not been home to feed in nearly three weeks, and I barely have enough energy to walk. Climbing to your window took me three hours," Drake said, his lips twisting.
"Can you . . . go home?"
"No," said Drake. "My father is not pleased with me. I do not think I have ever directly refused him before."
"You refused him?" I asked. "Then what was that whole, 'Hey, Frank, let me suck on your juicy neck' thing?"
Drake laughed wearily. "That was me being stupid. After we fought, I went home and told my father I would not do it." Drake touched the fading bruise on his cheek, and I didn't miss the gesture. "He was understandably unimpressed."
"Then why haven't I seen you in three weeks?" I demanded. "Do you have any idea how angry I am? Or how much I — we all worried about you?"
"I was afraid you would hate me," said Drake softly, looking away. "I could not bear that thought. And I felt too guilty and ashamed to face you."
"And you figured letting me stew for three weeks was wiser, asshole?" I said angrily, holding up three fingers, and emphasizing my point with an angry slash of my hand.
"In hindsight, no, probably not," said Drake. He was studying me as intently as I had studied him earlier. "You do not hate me?"
"Of course not, you shithead!" I said.
"You will forgive me if your words are not in agreement with your actions."
I snorted, folded my arms across my chest, and glared. "If you mean the fact that I kicked you out after you tried eat to me, then I'm not going to apologize. I was scared out of my mind, and your eyes were glowing red. You were a fucking monster right then."
"Your candidness is refreshing," said Drake.
"I mean it," I said. "I've never been more scared of my best friend in my entire life." I unfolded my arms, letting them hang at my sides. "But I didn't hate you."
Drake stared at me, his face pale. "Best friend? Then we could still be . . . friends?" he asked. It nearly killed me to hear how sad and unbearably hopeful he sounded.
"Of course we can, dickhead. Just don't disappear on me like that again, okay?"
"Okay," said Drake. I watched his hands tremble where they lay on the blanket.
"You just need to take a few sips from my neck to get back in your Dad's good graces, right?" I asked. I couldn't believe I was letting myself contemplate this.
Drake went very still on the bed, sort of like a hunter afraid of startling the watery-eyed doe he has in his sights. "Yes," he said.
"And you need to drink some blood pretty soon to keep from passing out like a big pointy-toothed girl again?"
"Yes," said Drake, giving me a strange look. He was still holding himself very carefully, his fingers flexing on the blanket.
"How bad does it hurt?" I asked simply.
"It stings quite a bit," said Drake.
"So all those trashy romance novels my mom reads are giving women the wrong impression about a vampire's sensuous, darkling embrace?"
"Could be," said Drake.
I sighed. "Okay, you jerk."
Drake's eyes widened. "What?"
"I said okay. Don't make me think about this too long, because we both know I can talk myself out of anything." I could also talk myself into anything, and I realized that was exactly what I had been doing for the past three weeks, ever since Drake kissed me.
Drake moved closer on the bed and said: "Frank, be certain about this." But he was already eyeing the collar of my nightshirt, a red gleam in his eyes.
"I'm certain," I said, sitting down on the bed next to him. "As long as you promise not to drain me until I become a bloodless husk, I'm okay with sort of saving your life. And you owe me big time. Like, doing my homework for a month big time. Math homework," I emphasized.
Drake smiled. I could see his teeth had already lengthened; they gleamed in the lamplight. "Agreed." He moved closer and unbuttoned the top few buttons on my nightshirt, moving it away from my neck gently. He gave me one more searching look.
"Go ahead," I said, gulping. If I couldn't trust him now I never would.
It was like getting jabbed with two giant needles at the same time. I hissed in pain, and I felt Drake's hands come up to cup my shoulders. He made a humming noise against my neck, and I felt it vibrate in my chest.
It was strange. Drake's mouth was warm and wet on the junction of my shoulder. I could feel him sucking lightly, eliciting a stinging pressure with every pull. I don't care what anyone says: Knowing someone is slurping your blood from two gaping holes in your neck is not sexy.
He licked the wounds, and I felt them start to close over. He continued to lick until the punctures disappeared. At least vampire saliva was good for something. A few quick licks to my collarbone, and I shivered.
"Blood," he explained in response to my puzzled look. "Are you all right?" He brushed a hand across my cheek.
I swallowed, trying to keep my eyes open. My neck felt wet and sticky. "Just a little drained," I said with a tired smile.
Relief flooded Drake's eyes as he helped lower me to the bed. "Ah, making terrible jokes. Well on your way to recovery."
"So how'd I taste?" I asked, trying to stifle a yawn and failing.
"You should tell your mother to feed you more vegetables," he replied, ruffling my hair fondly. His tone turned serious. "Thank you, Frank."
For once, I was serious too. "You're welcome."
"I should go," said Drake. His color was already better; his lips and cheeks were flushed red and the dullness had gone from his eyes. "I will have a lot of explaining to do with my father."
"You can stay here for tonight," I said sleepily. "I don't mind. It's late, and you'd be a good watchdog in case any real monsters show up." I snuggled down into the pillow, suddenly bone tired. Drake smiled and wordlessly drew the blanket up over me. I closed my eyes.
"You can stay every night, if you want," I added, keeping my eyes closed.
Drake didn't answer for a long time, and I was a little worried Flea and Gill had steered me wrong. "I would like nothing more," he said finally. He stroked a finger across my eyebrows.
"All right," I said, eyes still closed.
"All right," he replied. I felt him settle down next to me on the bed. He kissed me lightly on the forehead. "Goodnight, Frank."
"'Night, Drake," I said.
When I woke up the next morning, the sun was streaming through my window, and Drake was gone. I sat up straight in bed, alarmed, until I saw the letter next to me on the pillow. As long as it didn't say 'Gone Fishing,' I was okay. Thankfully, today was a Saturday so I could sleep in to my heart's content. I picked up the letter, unfolded it, and began to read:
I have gone to see my parents. I imagine I shall come by to call on you later in the evening. If you are not amenable to that, please phone and tell me.
Also, if you should happen to hear a distant scream followed by column of fire and a plume of smoke, please ask you mother if she knows any gypsies who might be persuaded to resurrect me. I will reimburse you.
Count Dracula, Jr.
Dark Prince of the Old World
I laughed to myself and folded the letter, putting it in the drawer next to my bed. Then I went downstairs to see if my mom could whip up some blood pudding for dinner. I'd tell her I was in love with a vampire later.
Much later, I decided that night after everyone had gone to bed and I was wrapped in Drake's half-naked, sweaty embrace. Then again, Mom did seem to like Drake. But I'm sure Dad didn't have this in mind when he said he wanted Drake to teach me some new tricks about monstering. Drake was currently sucking on my neck sans teeth, and I wondered if I was going to have the first non-lethal vampire hickey in the history of the world.
"I love you," said Drake.
"That's cool," I said. I felt the pressure of fangs against my throat and heard a low growl.
"Frank," said Drake warningly. I smiled.
"I love you, too," I said.
Drake chuckled against my throat. "You are extremely difficult, you do realize that?" he said.
"But worth it," I replied, reaching around to pinch his ass. Drake made a strangled noise and pulled back.
"Infinitely so," he laughed, looking down at me with warm eyes. He dipped his head and kissed me slowly. I felt my heartbeat start to speed up, but this time it wasn't from lack of air. After a short discussion where I had explained my body's basic need for oxygen versus Drake's desire to kiss me nonstop, he eventually relented and agreed to allow me to come up for air every once in a while. The kissing had vastly improved from that point onward.
"How'd the talk with your father go?" I asked, during one of the pauses between our tongue Olympics. "I didn't have to fork over any lei to shady gypsy women, so I have to assume it wasn't too bad."
We were lying side by side on my bed, with only the glow of the bedside lamp and the moonlight from outside illuminating the room; it made everything look soft and peaceful. Drake put his arms around me and pulled me closer, resting his chin on the top of my head. "It was . . . annoying," he said.
I laughed, amusing myself by playing with some of the dark hairs on his chest. "Not apocalyptic?"
"No," said Drake. "I returned home to find my father waiting for me. It appears he orchestrated the entire — ow, stop that!" said Drake, slapping my hand away as I accidentally pulled a little too hard on one of the hairs.
"You were saying?" I asked innocently, failing to hide my laughter. Drake tugged on my hair in retaliation, sighing and kissing me on top of the head when I only laughed.
"My father told me he was not unaware of my feelings for you," said Drake, stroking my arm. "He devised his request as a test to determine the depth of my feeling. He also told me that he would never have approved had you not allowed me to drink from you."
"Your father is one slick bastard," I said. "And you're an equally slick bastard."
"I'm sorry?" said Drake, appearing confused.
"I talked to Shelly Waterson the other day," I said conversationally.
Drake had the good grace to blush. "Ah, well. You see — that is to say —"
"Save it, Romeo," I said. "You're lucky I think possessiveness is cute."
"It is better to warn potential suitors now," said Drake. "I would hate to be forced to sully my hands with their blood later, simply because they were unfortunate enough to admire your numerous charms."
"Uh huh," I said. "I think you're getting the better part of the deal. You don't have much to recommend yourself."
"Then may I ask you to tell me," said Drake, "for which of my bad parts did you first fall in love with me?"
"Pretty much all of them together," I said, smiling and kissing Drake's chest. Drake chuckled. "You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder?" I asked. Drake nodded. "It appears absence also makes the heart grow stupidly in love with overgrown bats."
Drake lowered his head and kissed me again. A lot of tongue was involved. Part of it was my new fascination with running my tongue over his canines. "Lucky for me," said Drake.
"Yeah," I said. "I read some John Donne, too."
"Did you?" said Drake, trailing kisses along my collarbone.
"He has this one line I really like," I said. "About how even if souls are separated, they're kind of like twin compasses. When one roams, the other leans after it. And it grows erect as that comes home."
"Erect, you say?" asked Drake, his hand sliding lower.
"Very erect," I said.
"Lucky for me," said Drake again, his teeth flashing.
No, I thought several hours later, with a naked, sticky vampire sprawled over me, lucky for me.
Author's Note: I would just like to add that if I had my way, this would end with the entire cast coming onstage to dance to Monster Mash as the credits rolled.