A diner is the Grand Central Station of trucker gossip, and Misty learns that her friend Charlie hasn’t been doing well since their run-in with Roland’s flash cards. She visits him and finds Roland’s influence made a worse impression on Charlie than two puncture wounds could ever do. His daughter thinks he’s crazy and his house has all the makings of an aspiring junkyard.
Charlie’s paranoia digs six-feet deeper when an unexpected delivery is dropped in his lap. He begs Misty to help him, but she has her own problems to juggle as Owen Alston walks back into her life. He offers her a second chance at a date, but life and undeath threaten to get in the way of her free meal. New friendships are forged and new snarks are made as she navigates the crazy world that is her life.
“So what happened to the floor?”
I rolled my eyes, slapped a smile on my face, and turned to the diner stools behind me. The questioner was a trucker, and the question was about the melted tiles on the floor. They had a reddish hue to them that no amount of bleach could get up.
“An accident with the chili,” I told the trucker.
It’d been a few weeks since my adventure with Rose the child vampire and her curse. My dreams had been curse-free that whole time, and it looked like I’d live out the rest of my days without her in my head, though judging by how dangerous it was living with Roland the vampire, the rest of my days wasn’t going to go much beyond the year.
The trucker frowned and looked down at the spot again. “What’d the cook put in that stuff?”
“Every chili known to man, and a few that weren’t,” I quipped.
I slid a coffee mug in front of him. He eyed it suspiciously.
“This ain’t gonna kill me, is it?”
“Only if you let it sit for a few minutes,” I warned him.
The man started chugging, and I glanced at my watch. I still had a few more hours left on my shift, and then it’d be three whole days without staring at food that stared back at me. Ralph’s greatest passion, aside from poisoning people with his cooking, was fishing. The next three days was his yearly fishing trip out into the boonies where he’d try to catch fish and a fever in knee-deep river water.
The bell above the door rang and in sauntered Ned. He took his usual place at the stools and glanced at the melted tiles.
“Ralph’s soup finally get one of us?” Ned quipped.
“The chili,” the other trucker told him.
“I guess Charlie’s not missing much, then,” Ned commented.
That perked up everyone’s ears, mine included.
“Where’s Charlie been, anyway?” one of the other regulars spoke up.
“Didn’t you hear?” Ned asked him.
“Hear what?” another wondered.
“Charlie’s changed his route. He won’t take a step on this side of the river,” Ned told them. “His route’s north of Northton now.”
“He’s not good enough for us?” one of the men growled.
Ned shook his head. “Nope. Says he won’t go where there’s vampires. Swears that pale guy he saw a while back was one of the bloodsuckers.” He turned to me. “I’ll take some pancakes, but hold the coffee with the sludge.”
“Right up,” I told him.
I turned away and pursed my lips. It sounded like Charlie was still telling his stories around to anyone who’d listen, and him changing his trucking path was a major blow to his income. Bosses didn’t like free-lance truckers who wouldn’t go everywhere. I’d have to look into this mess.
My shift ended a few hours later and I walked out the back door to the lot. The only car was Ralph’s old beat-up truck near the door. I glanced at my watch. It was ten minutes after the end of my shift.
“Where is he?” I whispered.
I yelped and spun around to find Roland standing behind me. He had a mischievous smile on his face and a twinkle in his demonic eyes. In his hands was his soul box and a thick blanket.
“Do I need to put squeaky balls in your shoes?” I growled.
“I would rather you didn’t,” he replied.
“Then stop being so quiet, or you’re getting a bell around your neck,” I warned him. “And don’t think I won’t put one around your neck while you’re sleeping.”
Roland was so terrified by my threat that he smiled. “I promise to be louder the next night, but are you ready to leave?”
I snorted and took the blanket from his hands. “I was ready to leave before I got here,” I told him as I wrapped the blanket around me.
Roland handed me the box, scooped me, blanket and all, into his arms and we jumped into the air. We flew above the diner and over the countryside towards home. The wind whipped past me, but the thick blanket kept me warm.
Believe it or not, but the Vampire Airlines idea was mine. I was saving a ton of money by not driving, and Roland had an excuse to get out of the apartment. Apart from getting his usual to-go blood meal, that is. I thought of it as quality time out of his self-imposed immortal safe space.
I looked down at the box in my hands. “So you figured out how to get your box to roll over on command?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “It won’t respond to anything I try.”
“Have you tried saying ‘please?’” I teased.
Roland smiled. “Perhaps not as nicely as it wants.”
“I guess we could put ourselves into another undeath-or-death situation,” I suggested. “That might get it going.”
“I would rather avoid a similar situation,” he commented.
“So would I. That last fun was a close enough shave that I swear I felt Rose’s fangs on my neck,” I quipped. I rubbed my smooth neck and frowned. “So how would that work, anyway? Being turned into a vampire? Are the movies true or is my entire life a lie?”
“Modern literature and film have some truths,” he confirmed.
“Please tell me the sparkles aren’t true.”
“Not at all.”
“Thank god,” I breathed. “What about that whole three-bites-you’re-out deal?”
“It’s less a matter of how many bites and more the transfusion of blood from vampire to victim, and the total blood loss of that same victim,” he told me.
“Come again?” I returned.
“A human must die by the hands-”
“Fangs,” I corrected him.
“By the fangs of a vampire,” he agreed. “And the vampire must also transfer some of their tainted blood to the human.”
“So if a vampire doesn’t give their blood, then the human dies?” I guessed.
“So it’s a blood transfusion,” I commented.
“In a way, yes,” he replied. “The vampire must give and take to ensure they create progeny.”
I wrinkled my nose. “So if I would take your blood and be drained dry by Rose, would that mean I had two vampire parents?”
“Yes, but you would remain with the vampire who sacrificed their blood to you,” he told me.
“According to what? The time-honored laws of the pointy-teethed people?” I quipped.
“According to the demand of your blood,” he explained. “A new vampire attaches to their blood kin the way a newborn attaches to its mother.”
I looked him up and down. “You’re kind of cute, but you would make one ugly mother.”
He smiled. “I fortunately have never taken up the duties of parenthood.”
“So no little baby vampires for you?” I guessed.
“I prefer not to pass on this curse,” he insisted.
I glanced down at the box. “So if you manage to get your soul back could you still make little vampires?”
“That is a question to which I don’t have an answer,” he replied.
We approached the apartment building and Roland set us down at the front doors. He took the box back and made to fly over the apartment building like he insisted on doing. Something about remaining an enigmatic creature of the night or some supernatural cow manure.
“You know, you could walk through the front doors,” I suggested.
“I would rather remain a silent partner in your apartment,” he insisted.
“And I’d rather be a plus-sized model with legs worth a million dollars a piece, but that doesn’t stop me from using doors like normal people,” I quipped.
“You forget I’m not a normal person,” he pointed out.
I folded my arms across my chest. “You could be if you interacted more with them instead of lurking in the darkness waiting to scare them into their next life.”
“I will wait for that day when I’m reunited with my soul, and then join them,” he persisted. He jumped up and flew over the rooftop.
My face fell and I glared after his shadow. “Maybe if I threatened him with a bulb of garlic. . .” I muttered as I went inside.
I walked through the lobby and found a familiar face waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.
“Good night. Or should I say good morning?” the handsome Owen Alston asked me.
“Can’t an attorney convince people it’s both?” I teased.
“Perhaps, but only if they don’t have as dazzling a beauty as yours,” he returned.
“Flattery might get you somewhere if you pair it with some shiny rocks,” I quipped. “Something with enough carats to make Bugs Bunny set for life.”
He chuckled. “Your wit never rests, does it?”
“Only when it runs out of fuel,” I told him.
“Speaking of fuel, I had meant to repeat my offer for dinner earlier than this,” he apologized.
I waved away his worry. “That’s okay. I don’t like reruns. Now that’s it’s been long enough you can call it a new season.”
“Or at least a new start. How does tomorrow night sound?” he suggested.
I grinned. “You’re lucky. I’ve got the next three nights off.”
“So that’s a yes?” he wondered.
I slid past him and up the first two steps. “I didn’t say that. But if I did agree, where would we go?”
“The Casa Rojo,” he told me.
“So you’re into the ridiculously over-priced Spanish food?” I guessed. Casa Rojo was one of the top restaurants in the area in terms of elite clientele and prices. A normal person would have to sell their first-born for a seat, and their second-born for a look at the menu. You’d need a dozen kids to get through half the courses.
“You’re not fond of spicy foods?” he returned.
“At a joint like that I’m guaranteed to be pleasantly surprised by the taste and unpleasantly disappointed with the portions,” I quipped.
“I can guarantee both. I am a rich lawyer,” he reminded me.
“Good, because I’m old-fashioned and not a rich waitress,” I informed him.
“Shall we say seven o’clock?” he suggested.
My face fell. “Only if you want me to say no.”
I looked from his left to his right arm. “Which one’s your dominate hand?”
“My left. Why?”
“Six o’clock is doable, but I might have a small snack of attorney on the drive there. I just didn’t you to have to make any serious life changes,” I explained.
“Then how about five-thirty?” he asked me.
“Five-thirty sounds great,” I agreed.
“Good. I’ll pick you up here,” he told me.
“I’ll be here,” I promised.
“Even better. Dress in something slinky and preferably transparent,” he suggested.
“Only if you do the same,” I returned.
“Or maybe a simple dress,” he corrected himself.
“Sounds great. See you tomorrow.”
I climbed up the stairs to my apartment. The hint of a sun peeked over the eastern horizon. I found a warm stew on the stove, a gift left by my shy roommate who lay in state beneath my table coasters. With a warm bowl of soup in one hand and a hot drink in the other, I plopped myself down on the couch and sighed. I looked around at the clean apartment. Roland was nothing if tidy, and my home’s natural state of decay was now a pristine mausoleum for we two night owls.
I stretched my feet out and set my heels on top of his coffin. “Now if only I could get you to go to work for me,” I commented.
“I would rather not,” came the mumbled reply.
I started and spilled half the bowl on the couch and myself. “God damn it, Roland! Are you trying to cut short my life?”
“I hardly doubt spilled soup is fatal,” he commented.
“Remember Ralph’s chili?” I argued.
“A matter. . .of my. . .soul. . .box. . .”
I frowned and knocked my fist against the lid of his coffin. “Don’t you dare go to sleep before I get my chance to argue the point!” I knocked again. “Roland?” No reply.
I threw up my hands, and what was left in the bowl spilled on me and the remaining clean spots on the couch cushions. “Brilliant, Misty. Why don’t you just dunk yourself in the pot. . .” I mumbled as I stood to clean myself off.