Grace had assured Olivia she'd be no more than twenty minutes away by train, but the house was lonelier for knowing she wouldn't be coming back. Olivia listened to it echo every step she took as she paced up and down the hallway. More than once she thought about getting out of the house and going for a long walk or even a run, but without Grace for company she couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the idea. When she couldn't take it any more, she went looking for someone to talk to: Imogen, Lizzy, any of the other ghosts. But the news of Giles's death had spread quickly, and everybody seemed to be avoiding Olivia. She caught several of the ghostly inhabitants of the house regarding her sadly, thoughtfully, and they always made their excuses or simply disappeared before she could question them. Each such encounter left her skin crawling. They weren't simply leaving her to grieve in private, not when she'd barely known Giles herself. No, there was something else.
"Hello?" she called, wandering through the house. "Anyone home?" In the living room, Verity looked up at her from the sofa, her eyes stark and huge.
"Verity? Are you all right?"
Verity nodded, but she gripped Giles's camera tightly with both hands, and her eyeliner was smudged. She might be strange and morbid, and she might be difficult to get along with, but she wasn't heartless after all.
"I don't know about you," said Olivia, "but I could do with a drink." From the drinks cabinet, she took two small glasses and a bottle of something vividly green and quite unpronounceable. The bottle, still mostly full, had been sitting behind the dusty glass of the cabinet for the better part of ten years. "Oh, hang on a minute…" Olivia pushed the sofa back up against the wall - not an easy task when Verity didn't even get off, let alone offer to help. She did put up her feet and squeal "wheee!" as the sofa rolled heavily across the floorboards on its worn old castors.
"I only put it back here yesterday," said Olivia, scowling at the sofa. "Who keeps moving it out into the middle of the room?"
"Well it's not me, is it?" said Verity.
No, of course not: not dainty little Verity. "God, I hate this house," Olivia sighed, pouring Verity a glass of the green drink. Its peculiar smell, of must and liquorice, made Olivia regret opening it.
"What is it?" Verity asked, holding it up to the light, looking curious but rather dubious. Olivia showed her the bottle, and after trying the first couple of syllables, Verity gave up. "I'm only going to drink it, not introduce it to my friends," she rationalised.
Olivia agreed, but the first sip of the stuff made her question the wisdom of her choice even more. She considered getting up to find something more appetising, but one of the many Marmalades had made himself comfortable in her lap, so she left it. "I wonder where it came from. Auntie Imogen always liked the idea of gallivanting off to exotic places, but she couldn't stand the travel. She said she couldn't go any further than the Isle of Wight without getting horribly seasick."
"Are you sure it wasn't drinking this stuff that did it?" Verity asked. The drink was sickly sweet and sticky, with an aftertaste like nothing Olivia had encountered before, but it was having a comfortable warming effect in the chill of the living room, and she took another sip of it. The curtains were still open, the living room an island of bright yellow light in the encroaching sea of the dusk, and the ticking of the clock and the purring of the cat sounded loud.
"Why don't we get out of here?" Verity suggested. "I was going to go to a party this evening, and I don't suppose anybody would mind if you tagged along."
Excuses not to go came easily: she had work in the morning, and besides, it felt somehow disrespectful to Giles. But Verity had made up her mind to go, and Olivia didn't want to sit at home alone, dwelling on the subject of suicide. "I'll go and get changed, if you don't mind waiting a minute?"
Olivia hurried up to her room, tearing through the contents of her suitcases. She'd packed her favourite dress, the yellow one, the one that always gave her confidence a much-needed boost… there it was. She squeezed into it, let down her hair, swapped her slippers for heels and ran back downstairs. She'd have put more effort in, but she'd been afraid Verity might leave her behind if she took too long. "This'll do, won't it?" she asked.
Verity raised her eyebrows. "Well," she said. "I wasn't expecting that. You're six foot if you're an inch, in heels."
"Is the dress too short? Do I look all right?"
Verity grinned. "You look radiantly beautiful, like an Egyptian sun goddess. And you should wear your hair down more often," she added, picking up the bottle of green stuff and heading for the door. "Come on, let's go."
The girls walked into town, past the train station and the familiar shops of the high street, until Olivia's feet hurt and she no longer recognised her surroundings. A neglected park was bordered on all four sides by three-story early Victorian houses which would have been beautiful when new, but wore a century's worth of grime and decay ungracefully. Olivia felt painfully overdressed, and was about to ask Verity if they had much further to go, when a woman appeared in one of the doorways. The dress she wore, along with her skin-and-bones-physique, wooden stance and blank expression, made Olivia think of mannequins in the window of an expensive boutique. Her hair was cut very short and stylish, and her eyes were like the eyes of a Siamese cat. She greeted Verity with a faint smile. "Come in," and the two girls followed her down a long, dark corridor.
"Is this it?" Olivia hissed at Verity as soon as she thought the low, unfamiliar music would mask her voice from the hostess. They came to a room where several people were lounging about and not talking to each other much. Verity had said something about a party, but this… Well, there was music. There were people, all young and beautiful, and there was probably something to drink.
"What were you expecting?" said Verity. "Here," she handed Olivia the bottle, "have another drink, put yourself in a better mood." Then she caught sight of somebody across the dark room and headed straight for him, pausing only to say to Olivia as an afterthought, "Why don't you mingle, and I'll come back and find you in a bit."
Olivia perched uncomfortably on a large, sagging sofa. The room was grimy and horrible, a fact that she discovered more by touch and smell than by sight. These people clearly didn't have much time to waste on housework. She half-listened to the conversations around her, but soon regretted it. Vampires, at home and amongst their own kind, discussed things they never would have admitted in public.
After a while, another painfully thin girl came over and sat down beside Olivia. She could have been the twin of their hostess, except that this girl's hair was all in glossy pin curls. She regarded Olivia, her eyes vacant, her expression slack. Olivia drank more of the green stuff than she meant to, purely for the sake of doing something.
"Hallo," said the thin girl eventually. "That's an interesting look." Her accent was surely an affectation.
"Thank you," said Olivia, although she knew from experience that 'interesting' was rarely a complimentary adjective. Her previously confidence-boosting yellow dress looked horrendously out of place here.
"You should try black," said the girl. "It's very slimming."
Olivia blushed hotly. "Yes. Right. So are you a friend of Verity's?" she asked, hoping to get the focus of the conversation off of herself. "Over there, the short girl with the curly black hair."
"Oh, yes. I know her." The thin girl smiled, showing off perfect straight teeth, and leaned rather too close. "It's so crowded in here. Why don't we go out into the garden?" she purred.
A man leaned into the suddenly too-intimate conversation. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," he whispered, to the thin girl.
"What?" She backed up, scowling. "Leave us alone."
"She's a werewolf, and look at the size of her. Talk about biting off more than you can chew… So why don't you push off, 'cos I want a word with her."
The vampire's eyes had gone wide at the word 'werewolf'. "I'm not that hungry anyway," she muttered as she stalked off.
The man sat down in the seat that the vampire had vacated, and Olivia belatedly recognised him: his high forehead and buck teeth. "I remember you," she said. "You're Malcolm, aren't you?"
He smiled. "And you're Olivia. You stand out like a daffodil in a coal bunker."
"I'm not the only one looking out of place. Anyway, Verity dragged me here, said it'd be fun." She'd have to think up some excuse, find Verity again, and leave at the first opportunity, preferably before she had to fend off any more hungry vampires. She had a bit more to drink, just to steady her nerves. She leaned closer to him and whispered, quite loudly, "all they talk about is eating people. Doesn't that make you uncomfortable?"
Malcolm laughed. "Had much of that, have you?" he asked, indicating the bottle.
"Not that much."
"Well, I'll just sit here with the Big Bad Wolf for a bit, if that's all right with you. I'm sure that'll be a lot safer."
"Really, though. Aren't you scared they might try to drink your blood?"
"Yeah, I've never had any trouble with them. These girls are picky eaters, in case you can't tell by looking at them. Gorgeous though. And thick as shit."
"That's not very nice," said Olivia. She consoled herself with the thought that a man like Malcolm was never going to have any luck with beautiful women, stupid or not. His forehead was too high, and his nose too big and rather crooked, as were his teeth. She did remember noticing back at the house that he had vividly blue eyes. Like Verity; like the hostess at the door. "Are you wearing contact lenses?" she asked, peering close. She couldn't tell in the low light of the vampires' den.
Malcolm looked momentarily taken aback - it had come out more as an accusation than she'd meant. "Don't get too pissed," he warned her. "Not tonight, not here."
"I'm fine," she said. "I have a supernatural metabolism."
"What? Right. If you say so. 'Cos you do look a bit pissed."
They heard a crash from the kitchen, a shout, and somebody came storming out. He bowled through a gaggle of model-thin girls, threw open the back door, and a rush of cold air cut through the stifling haze of the room.
"Theo!" Verity shouted, chasing after him. She lunged for the door, catching it just before it closed, and screamed out into the night, "Don't walk away from me when I'm talking to you!" Then she ran out after him, slamming the door behind her. A murmur of gossip ran around the room in her wake.
"Oh dear," said Malcolm, unconvincingly.
"She's so embarrassing," Olivia muttered, hiding her face in her hands. "Why did I let her drag me here?" She felt horribly hot and sticky, surrounded by people she didn't know and didn't want to know.
Malcolm shrugged. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to." One of the beautiful girls had caught his eye, more interesting than Olivia could hope to be.
Olivia, left alone, soon found herself the target of the girl with the affected accent again. "Hallo, new girl," she said, lolling against the overly squashy cushions beside Olivia.
"I'm a werewolf," Olivia reminded her with a growl, holding tight to her bottle. "If you try anything funny, I'll… I'll bite you."
The vampire yawned exaggeratedly, showing off her perfect teeth. "Yes, yes, I know."
"Have you seen Verity?" Olivia asked. She wanted to go home, but she wasn't confident she could find her way back alone.
"No. She got in a fight with Theo, didn't she? What was that about?"
"I haven't got a clue, and I don't care, either." There was only one other person she knew at the party at all… "What about Malcolm, then?"
"Ugh. What do you want him for?"
Olivia shrugged. He'd seemed genuinely concerned for her well-being earlier, so he might at least point her in the right direction for the train station or some other familiar landmark. "Kind of a friend," she mumbled.
The vampire raised her eyebrows. "Oh, come on," she said, forgetting her exotic accent in her surprise. "Nobody's actually friends with Malcolm. Eugh. He's not even good for blood."
"He said. Said you're picky eaters."
The vampire laughed unpleasantly, shrill and grating. "Picky eaters? There are some things nobody will touch. Look, you're not one of us, but you should still try to think of your reputation. People will get the wrong idea about you, if you don't keep your distance from him."
"But… I don't know how to get home…"
The vampire gave her a pitying look. "Oh, poor darlink," she said, remembering her accent. "Nobody would mind if you wanted to sleep her tonight. Just find somewhere you won't be in anybody's way."
"But I want to go home!" Olivia hauled herself to her feet, staggering and wishing she'd worn different shoes. Verity had been right - even modest heels put Olivia at somewhere over six feet tall, and vampires moved hastily out of her path as she thundered down the hall and out the front door, into the night.