Author's notes

Holy crap I'm sorry this took so long, I'ma suffer from these terribad headaches and I just can't write and I've been working and..anyways! Sorry this chapter is a bit short but I've pulled up and stopped before introducing a new character because I decided at the last moment that I want some artwork done of him and I've been bothering a commissioner to see if I can the job done. Also there was some research that had to be done, ahem. For those of you who don't know, I have no sense of smell (anosmia) and have been bothering the shit out of everyone to try and find something that would block the smell of blood. Everyone agrees aniseed is downright nasty and crawled out the devil's ass, etc. Plus I'm not really good with the whole Jersey accent, I'm reading House of Night books and keep getting it confused with Oklahoma accents so I sat down and watched Beautician and The Beast with Fran Drescher. Blargh, without further delay! ^,..,^

The drive there was a lot of country, a lot of cows and a lot of awkward silences. Jack had called ahead to let the receptionist know we were coming while I'd dug around in the dashboard, sifting through car registry, sunscreen, gum, various pairs of sunglasses and a self-help book on drug addiction. Even though we'd only been out a few minutes so far my skin was beginning to blush pink. I plucked the sunscreen out and slathered any uncovered skin with it, bathing in the scents of vanilla and coconut. I tucked the sunscreen back into place and frowned at the book, raising it to Jack in question. His eyes flicked off the road and back. "The blood is the drug." He said it simply like the sky is blue, the grass is green, blood is the drug.

I rammed a pair of sunglasses home and shoved the book back into the dash, closing it up with a snap. "I don't want it, just thinking about it is like.." The Beast returned from wherever it had been. It seemed to unfurl itself from a nap like a cat that heard kibble being poured, its teeth razor-sharp when it yawned. 'Needtohave-want-must,where?'

Something must have given me away. Closer to the city now we'd hit a red light, Jack leaned inquisitively towards me, ducking his head to catch my eyes. "No sense getting all balled up over it. It is what it is, there's no pretty way of putting it." He patted my leg awkwardly, just two solid pats as if to say; 'It'll be alright champ.' Riiiight.

The lights flicked cheerily back to green and I let my eyes wander out the window. People out walking dogs in suburbia quickly changed into boarded up houses before reaching the city. A glorious city. Or maybe it once had been. There were beautifully pruned trees everywhere but the sidewalks were cracked and weeds sprouted up from them rebelliously. Signs proclaimed it was the great glass city but the huge, once grand glass buildings had cracked windows that were streaked with a thousand finger prints. We passed a public bus station and the faces there were shut down, everyone waiting to get to work, working to get out of this dead city. The flower shop was so brilliant compared to the grey and brown surroundings that we had no chance in missing it. The bricks had been painted a sallow yellow color, the single floor to ceiling window proudly displaying a manic mosaic of flowers. Vibrant foliage exploded in every corner, completely overwhelming my senses. I groped for the door handle only to hear the automatic locks slam into place, Jack's hand slapping down to grip tightly on my sunburnt wrist.

"What?" I scowled up at him through my sunnies, yanking my hand away to grip it with the other.

Jack settled back into his seat and slowly turned off the car, keys wrecking at my nerves as they smattered against each other loudly before being deposited into his pocket. "I hate taking you in here but you're too new to be let out of sight. We need to set some ground rules, okay? No matter how ridiculous they may sound."

"Mhm." I sucked in my lower lip in a nervous gesture and was met with sharp pin pricks of pain and the dull taste of copper. "Ow, Jesus." I shot my hand to my mouth to cover my mistake.

"That's exactly it, rule number one; no biting people. Especially these people. Our kind has had problems with them in the past but at the moment we're at a sort of peaceful understanding which is we don't fuck with them and they don't fuck with us. Got it?"

I flicked my tongue out to clean my lip that healed as we spoke. "They're just people though, why should we be afraid of them when we're vampires?"

Jack laughed and reached up to adjust the rearview mirror. "They are not just anything. I know you haven't had time to explore yourself yet, and we are a very powerful race, but everyone has flaws, Sanka. There are other things that go bump in the night. Magic users are no joke."

"Then why even bother with them? Can't we just get blood from people?"

"Getting blood from the source is harder than you think. Even though the world choses to ignore us as we sit in plain sight doesn't mean it's not a dangerous game. There's only so much we can cover up, modern forensics are highly advanced and people are not the cattle they once were. Cameras everywhere, cell phones, satellites. People see what they want to believe but there is always a limit to it."

"But in the movies the vampires just erased people's memories..?"

"You'll soon find out that life is nothing like the movies. It's very rare that one of us ends up being able to use magic. Polite vampire society does not 'feed' on people." Jack tossed his hands into the air and made quotation gestures with them. "The vampires that do are..not litter trained, they treat the world like their cat box and expect us to clean up after them. What Riley does is barely different."

I twitched at the sound of his name, my hand going to my cheek to check for the damage he'd made that had long been healed. To try and mask the movement I forced my hand to keep going, feigning to rub my neck from stress. "So what does Riley do?"

Jack said nothing about the movement, though his eyes followed my hand before flicking back to me. "He has a website, makes a name for himself, sort of like an underground celebrity in the goth community. There are a lot of people who want to live out vampire fantasies, who want to be bitten and fed upon. He makes quite the dollar off of himself but really it's like a form of prostitution and I don't agree with it." Jack leaned over to get into the dashboard and pulled out a baby blue colored packet of gum and held it out to me.

"That is..?" I plucked the offering from him and unwrapped a stick, shoving it haphazardly into my mouth and chewing.

"Black Jack, it's aniseed based. That should keep you from smelling the blood."

I sputtered as the taste overwhelmed my mouth and nose, like the worst Dutch black licorice I've ever had in my life.

"Though in my day chewing gum really was horrible manners.." He unlocked the car and got out, slamming the door and stepping onto the sidewalk to wait for me.

I took a moment to pout, hand on the door handle and eyes at my lap. Like I'm really going to leap out of the car and chew on the first person I see, like he has so little faith in me. I can keep my cool, I'm chill, I'm relaxed. I-will-not-eat-people, that's right! I nodded sharply in agreeance with myself and pulled the door open, smoothing my hand along my jeans out of an old habit. Odd that it translated into this new bizarre life. Cell phone there? No. Wallet there? No. I sighed loudly and dove back into the car, wrenching my purse out from under Jack's seat. "Gotcha." A girl can't go anywhere without a fab purse these days. What if I got carded for this blood stuff? Do vampires get offended if they get carded? 'S'cuse me Sir, I'ma have to see some ID.' 'Back in my day,sonny, we hit the green fairy and we was spifflicated as they come.'

"Hurry up, we have an appointment to keep."

"Alright!" I crawled back out of the car and flung my purse over my arm and straightened myself out again. "Here I am," I chomped down on the overpowering gum for effect, "let's go."

The glass door was etched with the uninspired name, 'Flower Shop' and below it, 'BY APPOINTMENT ONLY!' as if one exclamation point wasn't enough.

"Mhmm." I mumbled at the door as Jack pushed it open, an extremely cheery shop bell announcing our arrival.

"Do you have an appointment?" A powerful female voice shot at us as before we even crossed the threshold, like a guard dog warning off intruders.

"Joe sent me." Jack said, you could hear the smile in his voice. I took a step forward and checked. Yep. Dorky grin on that one.

"Oh Jack darlin, I'm sorry. Go on back then, John is waiting to see you." And now I noticed her accent, a very young sounding Jersey style to it. "Hi sweety, what's your name?"

I stopped in mid gum chew, "Uh.."

"Lookit you, all ruffled up by little old me, ack, that's just adorable!" The short, slip of a woman stepped around her desk that was laden with fossil samples, a small piece of amber, a vase of flowers and a little space alien stress toy. She extended what some might consider an over manicured hand, her smile straight and white in a tan face. "The name's Sue, darling, pleased to meet you." I carefully slid my hand into hers and gave it a gentle shake, my eyes going to the poster of a T-rex skeleton behind her. Even though Sue the secretary stood at about five foot two I swear I could see a resemblance. Maybe it was the smile.

"So..is this your shop, Sue?" I let go of her hand as I launched my attempt at conversation, resisting the urge to wipe it on my pants to get rid of the tingling feeling she left me with.

"Sure it is, honey. Ever heard of money laundering? Take a good whiff of this place, mhmm, you smell it with that sharp little nose of yours. Oh I wish I was a vampire, god you guys are so cute, well..except for the eating people thing. Oh my god yes, and Stuart Townsend can bite me any time he wants if you know what I'm sayin'."

I inhaled deeply and smelled the shop, met by nothing that smelled like what it was supposed to be. It smelled musty in fact, like no one had let new air in here in a long time, the only flower smell came from the white orchids on the desk. Fake, they were all silk flowers, just an illusion. "I sort of remember a show about it. They sold drugs but they had to make the money clean somehow so they opened up a car wash and rang up false transactions."

"That's right. They think we're sellin' flowers but all we're selling is the red stuff, mhm. Have a seat, sweety, Jack should be done chatting soon." Sue waved her french manicure towards a posh leather couch in the corner, one of the modern looking ones that are always too stiff. As I turned with a Cosmopolitan mag in sight the bell above the door clanged, provoking Sue's seemingly automatic response of, "Do you have an appointment?" Which was met by a stunned man's, "No, I just-" "BY APPOINTMENT ONLY!" she shot back at him, the door whacking him once then forcing itself closed as if an invisible hand had guided it's way. "That's just how we roll." She replied to my stunned look.