Melanie Nowak

Author of the Venomous Vampire series

ALMOST HUMAN

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ALMOST  HUMAN

 

~ The First Trilogy ~

 

Volume 1

 

Fatal  Infatuation

 

by

 

Melanie Nowak

 

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the authors imagination, or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living, dead or undead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright 2004 by Melanie Nowak

Cover Photograph by Melanie Nowak

WoodWitchDame Publications

 

 

This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part,

by any means without express permission directly from the author.

eBook Edition 2.0, 2010

 

 

For information address:

WoodWitchDame Publications

WoodWitchDame@aol.com

 

 

 

FATAL INFATUATION

 

ISBN-13: 978-0-9824102-8-8


 


 

Almost Human ~ The First Trilogy

 

Volume 1 - Fatal Infatuation

 

Contents

 

Prologue

1.  Firsts

2.  Ice cream

3.  Stupid!

4.  Are you?

5.  Find me a book

6.  Rage

7.  Come see the show

8.  I got you something

9.  You’re late!

10. Make me

11. I’d go home with the nice human guy if I were you

12. Friends and enemies

13. Sleepover

14. Field trip

15. The lesson

16. Paranoia

17. Cruisin’

18. Self control

19. Aftershocks

20. Crusade

21. Interrogating Allie

22. Staying away

23. Distraction

24. Enduring

25. Look at you!

26. Scorned

27. Revelations

28. Let’s make a deal

29. Just visiting

30. Motives


 


Prologue

 

Cain

 

“Tommy’s Place”

A little bar, in a small town, Upstate New York

A Friday night in early June

 

Cain surveyed the few patrons of the bar with a practiced eye. They were much as he had expected; mostly kids, barely of age. They were probably taking summer classes at the local college. There would surely be more come September. A few older men who looked to be regulars were sitting at the bar, engaged in easy conversation with the bartender. No one was particularly worth his notice; not a killer among them.

Until... she arrived. Yes, surprisingly enough, this young teenage girl was the one he had been waiting for. She was heavily made up, perhaps to try and disguise her age, but still quite intriguing and attractive. She had no trouble entering the establishment, the doorman seemed to find her bewitching as well.

She made her way to the bar, walking with a measured stride and an air of aloofness which told those around her, that she considered them beneath her attentions. The man who followed behind her gave a glare of warning to any who seemed to find her worth more than passing notice. Once at the bar, her companion ordered drinks for them both as she scanned the room.

Her eyes fell upon Cain and he instantly knew that he’d piqued her curiosity. She obviously intended to grace him with her presence. The man she was with seemed none too pleased when she made it known that she wanted him to wait at the bar. She hushed him with an artful smile and a kiss, which left him grudgingly pacified. Good, Cain was hoping to make her acquaintance privately. She approached.

“Hi there.” Her casual tone hardly seemed in accordance with her lofty attitude. “You here alone?” she asked, as she eyed him appraisingly.

“I am. I find myself alone more often than not these days.” She would be quite fetching, without all the paint. Her long, straight hair had been tinted the deepest black. She was scantily dressed to show off her fine, lithe body to its utmost advantage. A little more blatantly than he found necessary, but effective all the same. She definitely had his interest. “I see you’re not lacking for company though,” he added, with a nod towards the bar. She gave a little shrug of dismissal.

“He’s not exactly living up to my expectations.”

“Perhaps I could help you do better,” he offered, inviting her to join him with a gesture towards an empty chair.

“Perhaps.” She said it with an amused lilt, teasing him. He wondered if she understood the meaning he’d actually intended. “I’m Sindy.” She drew the chair close to him as she sat and he gave her his name, Cain. “I dig the accent. Funny, when I think of old English dudes, I usually picture them all stodgy. You know, like with a pipe and tweed coat or something. But you’re actually kind of hot.” It was so strange to hear her speaking like an immature teenager when she had the presence of a queen.

He smiled. “Thanks, I guess I’ll take that as a compliment. It’s true I am older than I look, but I’d like to think of myself as anything but stodgy. I don’t smoke, and I hate tweed.”

She grinned and peered at him seductively from behind her long lashes. “Planning on staying in town for a while?”

“I don’t know... I might. I’m actually here on business.”

“Is that so? Well, I’m more of a pleasure seeker myself. Maybe I could show you around. Bet we’d have fun.” Unwelcome images of the blood soaked ‘fun’ she might enjoy invaded his mind as he sought to give her an unconcerned smile.

“I was hoping you’d offer. I would like to get to know you better, if you don’t think your friend would mind.” He gave another meaningful glance towards the bar. Her former companion looked as though he was barely restraining himself from coming over.

“Don’t worry about Ernest. He may not look like much, but I’ve got him wrapped around my little finger. Why don’t I ditch him for now, and we could take a midnight stroll?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”


 

 

Chapter 1 - Firsts

 

Felicity

 

The DownTime Cafe and Bookstore

Upstate New York

A Saturday in early September

 

Felicity approached the store with a stomach full of butterflies. It was her first day at her new job. She wasn’t used to ‘firsts’. Back home everything had always been pretty much the same. In such a small town, nothing changed much. You always knew what to expect and who you were dealing with. Even when she’d started working at the Quickie Mart after school, it was a place and people she had known her whole life. Going away to college had sounded like a great idea. She’d been so jealous when her older brother Edmund had gone off to school in Syracuse and she was more than happy to get away from the two younger brothers she was left with at home.

It would be an adventure! And it was; but there were so many people, and she didn’t know a single one. She didn’t even have a roommate. The lady at the desk had made a big deal about how she was so lucky that there was low enrollment this semester, and Felicity would have her own dorm room. Secretly she had been kind of disappointed. It would have been nice to have had an ‘instant friend’. Popularity was something she had never aspired to. She had always been far too shy. All of her new classes, new professors, new books and ideas. It was a little overwhelming. Now, the new job.

Her parents were paying her tuition, but she had to pay for her own books and half of her living expenses. That was the deal. At least she was here; having to work wasn’t so bad, especially since her grades didn’t exactly warrant a scholarship. Books were expensive, and she had seen this place when she first came to enroll. She had applied for the job right then and there. Good thing too, so many college kids meant stiff competition for a nice job like this. That is, if it’s as nice as it seemed. Only one way to find out.

Before entering, she paused to check her reflection in the glass of the door. She wore a knee length denim skirt with a blue and white striped tailored shirt, opened a bit to reveal a light blue tank top underneath. She hadn’t really wanted to wear the tank, but she was afraid that if she couldn’t leave the top few buttons of the shirt open, it would pull too tightly across her chest. Her friend Deidre was always telling her how lucky she was to have a full and curvy figure, but to Felicity it was usually just something to be self conscious over. She tugged down her skirt a little and hoped she didn’t look too casual.

Her long wavy auburn hair had been pulled back from her face to be held behind with a clip. She’d worn only the usual spare make up that she preferred. A little eyeliner to help bring out the green of her eyes, a hint of blush to her cheeks and some light peach lipstick. After a last glance at her reflection, she resolved not to be shy, to project a confident attitude and hopefully make it through the day without making any embarrassing mistakes. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

It was bigger than she remembered. It was actually like two stores joined together. One side was a cute little café where they sold coffee and cookies and stuff. The other side was a book store; that was where she would be working. Felicity made her way over to the registers, but the line was long, and the pretty blonde behind the counter paid her no attention. Felicity looked for a manager or someone who might know she was coming. The store was awfully busy. What few other employees she saw, were rushing around on some errand or other. No one seemed to notice her. A leftover skill of hers from years of trying to be invisible, most likely. Finally she saw someone she recognized, it was the man who had given her the job, Mr. Penten.

As soon as she made herself known, she was put straight to work. Mr. Penten was an older man who wore a very dark toupee, which hardly matched his graying eyebrows. He was kind, but had a very business-like attitude. He said the first week of school was always incredibly busy. Most students got their books from the school book store, but they never seemed to have enough to meet everyone’s needs. So, then the students came here. It would die down in a few days.

She learned to work the register and help people find what they needed. The day flew by and before she knew it, it was time to close. She was shown how to count out the drawer and record everything. At least that part wasn’t all that different from her old job back home. Mr. Penten seemed like he’d be an okay boss, and the job itself was easy enough. She could do this. He had her follow him over to the coffee counter. “You’ll be trained to work the café too, in case you ever need to cover a shift for someone.” He turned towards the kitchen, calling into the back. “You got a cup of coffee for me Ben?”

“Yes sir. Just brewed it fresh.” A young guy came out from the back and indicated a cup on the counter. “Light and sweet, just fixed it for you.” He looked to be barely twenty, tall and slim, with short dark wavy hair. He was very attractive and wore a friendly smile.

“Benjamin here has been with us for… three years is it now?”

“Actually, it was four in June,” Ben answered while wiping down the counter top. He paused to flash Felicity a welcoming grin.

“This is Felicity, just finished her first day.” Mr. Penten sipped his coffee as she tentatively nodded hello. “Benjamin manages the café. He’s the best employee I’ve got.”

Benjamin laughed as he began to count out the cash register. “Can I use that when I ask for my next raise?” he asked with a smile.

Mr. Penten glanced up from his coffee. “Just as long as it’s not tonight. Let’s get through hell week first, okay? I’ve shown Felicity how to close out the cash register – we’ll go over it again tomorrow,” he assured her, “but you two are closing together Monday, so if she’s got any problems, she’s coming to you.”

Felicity was pleased to hear that she’d be working with Ben. She liked him already. He had such a friendly and casual attitude, but at Mr. Penten’s words, Ben looked up anxiously. “I thought Lucy was closing?”

“Nope, she just called. She needs some time off, so you and Felicity are it. Now finish up, I’m closing the office and getting the lights,” Mr. Penten answered.

“Damn,” Ben muttered as Mr. Penten took the cash register bag and walked away.

Not exactly an encouraging response. “Sorry,” she offered quietly.

He glanced up at her. “It’s not you,” he said, slamming the register closed. “Lucy was my ride home.” He walked over and held the door open to the employee lounge, gesturing for her to get her bag. “You don’t have a car do you?”

“No,” she answered apologetically as she opened the locker and grabbed her purse.

“Great,” he uttered sarcastically. His friendly demeanor had quickly fled. He seemed very disheartened by the prospect of losing his ride home. She wondered if it were only that, or if he simply preferred to work with Lucy.

Mr. Penten had returned from the office, and was heading for the front door. “Come on you two, you can get to know each other better on Monday.” He held the door open for them. They walked outside and watched Mr. Penten set the alarm. He said goodnight, and left them to go to his car.

There were lots of people around. Mostly congregating around a bar called “Tommy’s Place” a little down the street and across the way. Felicity waved as the boss drove off. She looked around, but the lot was now empty. “Are you walking tonight?”

“Yeah.” Ben had been looking around too, although if not for his ride, she couldn’t tell for what. “You in the dorms?” he asked as they started across the parking lot.

She nodded. “Wesley Hall. Are you a student too?”

“I’m a junior, but I’m still living at home for now. I grew up here.” He put his hands into his pockets and kicked at the rocks on the ground as he walked.

“Oh, so why don’t you just have your folks pick you up?”

“My mom passed away a few years ago, so it’s just me and my dad,” he said sullenly.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she responded awkwardly. From the tone in his voice when he’d said the word ‘dad’, she knew family was a topic she should probably stay away from. She wished she could find something to talk about that would bring back that winning smile he’d first had. She felt responsible for causing him to lose his friendly casualness.

“Thanks,” he replied without looking at her. “Anyway, it’s after 10. That means dad’s Jack Daniel’s started about 3 hours ago. I’m probably better off on my own.”

Felicity was saved from having to comment on that by a terrible noise approaching. An old Bronco came screeching around the corner with guys hollering out the windows. It pulled into the lot across the street and they piled out to join the line forming in front of the bar. “Is it always so lively around here?” she asked with a little laugh.

“Mostly on the weekends.” Ben paused for a minute as he noticed a small group of teenagers gathered around a street light up ahead, on their side of the road. Then he moved a little closer to her and began to pick up the pace. “Come on, let’s get outta here.” She was given the impression that he would prefer to avoid them if at all possible.

Felicity stole a glance at the kids as they drew near. There were only three actually, two guys and a girl. They looked like they belonged in a grunge garage band. The guys were wearing baggy clothes that looked like they had been salvaged from Goodwill, and had never been washed. One had a head of long dark curls, fighting their way out from under a knit cap. The other had shaggy blonde hair down to just above his shoulders. Neither looked like hygiene was much of a concern.

In sharp contrast, the girl was stunningly beautiful. She looked like a runway model; with high cheekbones, full pouting lips, and a fine and delicate structure. But she had so much black make-up around her eyes that she seemed to be peering out of twin black holes. Her long straight hair had been dyed the same jet black. Felicity lowered her gaze as they came closer. She could see the girl had on a red micro-mini skirt with fishnet stockings and combat boots.

Ben was giving them pretty wide clearance, when one of the guys approached him; it was the blonde. “Hey man, they’re chargin’ cover tonight. Think you could spot us a twenty?” Ben didn’t answer. He just glared the kid a dirty look and moved around him. The kid turned his attention to Felicity. “What about you babe? Buy me a drink?”

She smiled apologetically and shook her head. “Sorry, not tonight.” She tried her best to sound friendly and unconcerned by his approach. Not that she really should find them intimidating, not one of them could have been older than sixteen.

Unfortunately, his friends seemed to find their exchange pretty funny. “I don’t think she likes you Chris,” the girl purred.

He tried again, giving her a creepy smile. “Come on, I’m real thirsty.” As usual, Felicity was at a loss for a response in an awkward situation. People always seemed to know how to make her uncomfortable. The best course seemed to be to continue walking. “Guess I’ll take a rain check then,” he called after her.

Ben took her by the arm, making her very grateful for his presence. “Let’s go.” They moved on down the street and left the kids behind, without further event. They came to the corner, and she could see her dorm at the end of the block. Ben looked back towards the street light, and then turned to face her. “I’ve gotta keep on this way,” he said, nodding straight down the block. “You going to be alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. They’re just kids,” she said, trying to make herself feel the “older and more mature” young woman in college, which she was now supposed to be. They probably were a year or two younger than she was, but she still found them intimidating. You will not act like some little high school girl, terrified of being singled out and criticized, she chided herself. She smiled at Ben, but he didn’t even notice; he seemed pretty eager to get home. She wondered what he thought of her. She couldn’t really tell what to think of him yet. “Do you have far to go?”

“Just a few blocks. Walking’s not so bad on a Saturday.” He turned again in time to see the kids head towards the bar. “Like you said, it’s pretty lively tonight. See ya.”

“Good night. It was nice meeting you.” She took a few steps backward toward her dorm, and then turned to head in, after he gave her a wave. Ah well, at least she felt like she knew someone now. So far, all of her classes had seemed to be full of this big crowd of nameless students that she hardly felt a part of. Maybe Ben would ask her to go for a soda or something after work on Monday. Or maybe she should ask him. After all, she had gone away to college to feel like she was starting fresh. She’d spent last night on the phone with her friend Deidre who was away at another school, comparing dorms and classes, and talking about how exciting it was to be able to have a fresh new start. A new start, with people who didn’t know Felicity as the quiet little mouse of the neighborhood. She could totally reinvent herself; be more outgoing, a risk taker!

This was definitely an interesting change from the town she grew up in, even if it did sport a few less than desirable types. It was certainly a far cry from the big city, but still… Her hometown had one pub and it was mostly patronized by the same three or four old men every night. Not that she was looking to dive into the bar scene, but at least this place had potential for a little adventure. She smiled to herself as she jogged up the dorm steps thinking that Ben was cute too!

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It was Monday night and Felicity was only half listening as Ashley told her how to enter special orders into the computer. Ashley was nice enough, but she barely seemed to know what she was doing. In fact, Felicity could already see that she would probably be able to figure it out for herself before Ashley could manage to explain it to her properly.

Ashley pushed a strand of long blonde hair back behind her ear. “I think that should work. But maybe you should ask Mr. Penten to show you again tomorrow, just in case. I’m not really very good with computers. I’m really more of a people person,” she said as she turned to smile at Felicity.

You could probably make a good argument for both sides of that statement. Ashley seemed to be one of those endlessly cheerful people, as long as she felt you were worth the effort. Felicity had noted that the young male customers especially, were greeted with a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. Ashley was friendly and eager to help them, with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary. While any guy who seemed over the age of thirty, or not particularly attractive, was given minimal service.

Girls seemed to be judged by some other system that Felicity hadn’t quite figured out yet. There must be a certain criteria in Ashley’s otherwise empty head, which deemed a girl worthy of her friendship. For whatever unknown reason, Felicity seemed to have made the cut. Ashley had taken Felicity under her wing and decided they should “get to be good friends”! Training with her was like working with “Cheerleader Barbie”. Thank God she would be going off shift soon.

“Don’t worry; I think I’ve got it.” Felicity returned her smile. “You want me to go put away the new children’s books that came in?”

“Well, do you think you know where they go?”

“In the children’s section?”

“Oh, right. Good for you! Sure, I’ll stay on register for a while longer. Then I’ll come see how you’re making out. Okay?”

“Super,” she said with feigned enthusiasm.

She grabbed a box and headed over to the children’s section. She wanted to like Ashley, really. Here was the perfect opportunity to make a new friend. She’d be seeing her at work, and it even turned out that they had a class together. Ashley was a sophomore but she was taking freshman algebra over again. Apparently once wasn’t enough. Didn’t exactly come as a big surprise after witnessing Ashley’s computer skills. Math didn’t sound like it would be a strong subject for her either.

Considering they would be seeing so much of each other, it would be nice if they got along. In fact, Ashley had said that next class, she would save a seat for her “new best friend”. She was... nice, but Felicity couldn’t help it, this girl just got on her nerves. Ashley joined her just as she finished putting the last of the books away. “Wow, you even divided them by author! I forgot to tell you that.”

“It’s okay, I figured it out.”

“Terrific! There’s another box of children’s stuff in the storage room. Same thing, I know you can handle it.”

“Thanks.”

Ashley looked at her watch. “Oh, I go off shift soon.” She actually looked concerned to leave. “But don’t worry; we hardly get any customers after 8:00 anyway. And if you do, don’t worry about putting away the rest of the books. I wouldn’t want you to feel overwhelmed.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll manage,” she responded. Okay, I’m seventeen, not twelve.

“I know you’ll be just great! But if you do have any problems, just ask Ben. He’s such a doll!”

“Yeah, we’ve met. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’m not working tomorrow.”

Ashley made a little moue of disappointment. “Oh no. I wonder who I’m on with.”

“Don’t worry; I’m sure we’ll work together again soon.”

“Sure, and there’s always algebra,” Ashley said, pretending to shudder. “Hey, are you on facebook or MySpace? I’ll add you.”

Felicity dropped her eyes to the floor for a moment. “No, I’m kind of technologically challenged at the moment. Only computer I’m on is at the library.” Ashley looked as though she couldn’t believe it. ‘Great,’ Felicity thought, ‘now she’s goin to think I’m some backwoods hick without a clue.’ “I’m hoping to get a laptop for my birthday,” she quickly added.

“Oh, that’d be cool. You know you can do facebook from your cell,” Ashley said helpfully.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Felicity admitted. Explaining that she didn’t have a cell phone either was not going to make her look any better, right now. It’d be easier to just end the subject. For the millionth time she wished her parents had more money to set her up with these things, so she could fit in a little better. She felt like such a country bumpkin. “Well, I’ll see you in class.”

Ashley gave her a sympathetic smile, as though she pitied the poor girl. “Bye.”

“Tootles.” Felicity gave a little wave as she mentally chastised herself for being sarcastic. Not the way to win friends. It wasn’t Ashley’s fault Felicity didn’t have a computer. She watched Ashley walk over to the cafe. She came to the counter just as Ben was coming out from behind it. Rather than wait for him to pass through the entrance, she just turned to the side and squeezed past, rubbing up against him. She did it as if it was nothing, but it seemed awfully familiar to Felicity. Ben certainly didn’t seem to mind. Considering the fact that Ashley looked like a swimsuit model, most guys probably wouldn’t. Not that there was anything wrong with Felicity’s figure. It was far from perfect, but she was okay with it... usually. However, watching Ben notice Ashley did make her feel like eating less burgers and more salad.

She watched Ashley come out of the employee lounge and blow Ben a little kiss goodbye as she left. Could they be dating? She hadn’t mentioned it. Could be that Ashley was just like that with every guy. The way she was flirting with some of the cuter customers earlier, it would be like her. But maybe Felicity shouldn’t ask Ben to go for that drink after all. She’d have to see how he acted towards her. She didn’t want to make things uncomfortable; it was a pretty good job.

The evening passed uneventfully. She had a few customers, but was still able to get all the books put away. Ashley would be so impressed. She glanced over at the café. Ben was washing tables. Felicity had seen the last customer leave a few minutes earlier. She closed out her register, and everything worked out evenly, just as it was supposed to. She was relieved that she remembered how to do it by herself. It was easy really; this job was a snap. She straightened up the counter and went over to the cafe. Ben was still counting out his register. Wow, had she actually finished before him? “You’re not done yet?” Ben looked up, annoyed. He didn’t say anything, but sighed and picked up the money he had put off to the side and began counting… again. “Sorry,” she whispered.

He finished and looked up at her. He didn’t seem to be in a very good mood. “Did you need help with something?”

“No, I’m done. I guess I’m a quick study.” She smiled and hoped that hadn’t come out too pretentious.

“Yeah, well you didn’t still have customers until about ten minutes ago.”

“Oh.” Where was the Ben who had seemed so approachable and welcoming when she had first met him? Had he decided that he didn’t like her? “Well, is there something I can do to help?”

“No, just get your stuff. I’ll be done in a sec.” He waved her towards the back, distractedly. Felicity went into the employee lounge to get her purse from the locker. Probably not the night to ask Ben out, though he looked like he could use some fun. She wondered if he was twenty-one yet. She didn’t think so, but maybe he wouldn’t drink anyway, considering what he had said about his dad. Good thing she hadn’t asked him to go for a drink, he might think she was being cruel.

She came out from the back just as he turned off the lights. There was only the glow of the light over the front door and a few dim night-lights placed in the back of the store. They walked out front and she waited while Ben set the alarm and locked the door. She wanted to ask if he was dating Ashley, but wasn’t sure how to bring it up. She didn’t want to sound forward or rude. He didn’t seem to feel like talking anyway. Some doll.

Felicity glanced around the empty parking lot. “Couldn’t find a ride huh?” she asked as he put the keys into his jacket pocket.

He gave her a look that made her wish she hadn’t asked. “No.”

This ought to be a pleasant walk.

He looked up at her apologetically. “Sorry, just a sore subject. I have a car; it’s just not running right now. It’s a little more than I can fix myself, so I’ve been saving up to get it in the shop. It just seems to be taking forever to get up enough cash.”

She smiled. “I know what you mean. I’m pretty short of cash myself right now. Stuff’s more expensive than I thought it would be.” Ben just gave a little shrug and started walking. They crossed the empty parking lot and stepped out onto the road. It was so dark. There were a few street lights in front of the stores, but after their immediate glow the world seemed pitch black. There were no lights on the actual street, and no houses in the area. Of course, Felicity had grown up in a town even smaller than this one. She was used to the open fields and forests of the country, but she had never done much walking at night. When she first got the job, she kept telling her parents how convenient it would be, everything was within walking distance. She never stopped to realize that some of that walking would be in the dark. She was glad Ben was in the same boat. She wondered if he’d drive her, when he got his car fixed.

Not that he was such good company. He walked along the road at a brisk pace with his hands in his pockets. Since they left the store, he hadn’t said a word. She found herself hurrying to keep up. “Hey, slow down. My legs aren’t as long as yours.” He dutifully stopped and waited for her, then started walking again, though not much slower. “So, what do you do around here for fun?” she asked, eyeing the bar across the street as they walked by. The lot was pretty empty, and the sound of an old country song drifted out an open window to them over the road.

“Not much to do around here.”

“This is college, where are all the wild parties and stuff?”

He laughed. “You watch too much T.V. If you’re looking for wild parties, you’ll have to find a frat guy to ask. Not really my area of expertise. I’m just trying to get my degree and save up enough money to move out of this hell hole of a town.”

“Oookay. Well, I wasn’t really looking for wild parties anyway. Just curious. But you must do something besides work and go to school. Isn’t there even a movie theater?”

“You want something to do, you have to head over to Binghamton or Oneonta. Without a car, the pickings are pretty slim.”

Just then, someone stepped out of the trees from the side of the road. “Oh, I don’t know. The pickings seem pretty good to me.” It was a kid, one of the guys from the other night in fact. He was dressed the same as before, with a wool hat pulled down low on his head. He went to stand in the middle of the street in front of them.

She heard Ben mutter a curse under his breath as he backed up a step. He spun around at a noise behind them and she turned to see the punks’ friend come up to block the road behind. “Guess it depends on your idea of a good time.” He looked closer at Felicity; he was the one who had approached her the other night. She remembered his friend had called him Chris. “Hey, don’t you owe me a drink?” he asked.

“Leave her alone.” Ben said in a strong voice. He was clearly alarmed. Felicity was a bit spooked as well, but what did he think they were going to do? They were just kids.

“Oo, a tough guy.” Chris laughed. “Want to know my idea of a good time?”

Without waiting for an answer, he launched himself at Ben. She felt Ben shove her out of the way, as the guy tackled him. He pushed Chris off just as the guy with the hat came up behind and tried to grab Ben by the back of the neck. Felicity stood there for a minute in a panic. She had no idea what to do!

The guy with the hat jumped onto Ben’s back as the other came at him again. Ben leaned back against the first and kicked the second square in the chest, knocking the wind from him. Felicity ran over and grabbed the guy on Ben’s back by the jacket to try and haul him off, while yelling at them to stop and leave Ben alone. Nobody paid her any attention. Ben somehow managed to slip out from underneath the guy, and as Felicity let go, Ben turned and punched the guy in the face. He looked at Felicity for a second. “Run, get out of here!” He turned back around just as Chris got up and came running at them.

She was just supposed to leave him here with these guys? She looked around; they were in front of the drug store, but of course everything was closed. They were almost at the corner, right down the road from her dorm. She’d get help. She saw Ben rip something from his pocket just as she turned to run. Did he carry a knife or something?

She ran. She had just gotten to the corner of the building, when she thought she heard someone coming up behind her. Before she could even turn to look, she felt herself being thrown to the ground as someone shoved her in the back. The air pushed out of her lungs in a great whoosh as she hit the grass.

Felicity raised herself up to see the girl from the other night standing before her. She had her hands on her hips and was sneering at Felicity on the ground. “Going somewhere?” she asked in a throaty snarl. She had the superior and condescending demeanor shared by every girl who had ever picked on Felicity back in high school. So much for a fresh start! She was in college now, wasn’t this stuff supposed to have been left behind her? Felicity didn’t even know this girl or her friends. Did she have a big target painted on her for every bully in the world to see? This girl looked to be at least a year younger than she was. Did they have something against Ben? What did they want?

Felicity was surprised that the girl actually let her get up, when something strange happened. The girls’ face changed. Suddenly her cheekbones seemed to shift and her mouth widened into an impossible grin as unnaturally long fangs were revealed. They appeared thin and as sharp at the ends as hypodermic needles. Her eyes glazed over into a bright crimson red, with only a long black slit of a pupil in the center of each. The girl smiled and sprang at her; before Felicity could think to do anything but scream.

The girl knocked her to the ground again, and Felicity found herself trying to hold her off as the girl pressed her to the grass. Felicity gasped and struggled but couldn’t get out from under her as the girl strained to bite at Felicity’s neck. Then suddenly, the weight was lifted, and the girl seemed to fly off of her into the street.

There was a man standing over her, he must have thrown the girl. He reached down a hand and pulled her up off the ground in one strong swift motion. He was very handsome, though in a rugged sort of way. His light brown hair nearly reached his broad shoulders, and he had arresting blue eyes. Before she was barely standing, Felicity saw him turn and run towards Ben.

Ben was in the middle of the street. One guy was lying in the road, Ben was wrestling with the other; it was the one without the hat, Chris. Suddenly Chris let out a sharp exclamation of pain, and jumped off of him. Ben still held something in his hand; good, she hoped he’d stabbed the guy. Just as Chris backed off, the one on the ground kicked Ben’s feet out from under him and he went down, hard.

Their rescuer reached the road just as the guy who had kicked Ben was getting to his feet. Chris came running at him from the side, but the man reached out an arm and elbowed him in the throat just as he got there. Chris backed off choking as the other guy turned to face his new opponent. Ben got up but was ignored. Chris joined his friend, and the two guys squared off against their new foe. Ben spotted Felicity standing on the grass and came running. “What happened to you? I heard you screaming. Are you okay?”

The girl! Felicity quickly looked for her but she was gone. She must have taken off. She looked back to the street where she saw Chris get punched in the head. In the same fluid motion, she saw the man who had helped her, spin around and kick the other guy high in the chest. She turned back to Ben. “That girl, she was... there’s something wrong with her! She wasn’t human!” She felt herself edging into hysteria. What the hell was she? What was going on?

Ben took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes, trying to calm her. “I know. Are you okay?”

“I think so. Shouldn’t we help him?” she asked, glancing at the fight in the street. Just then, she screamed and stumbled backwards as Chris was thrown by their rescuer. The boy came flying over the pavement to land at their feet. He rolled over and his slightly parted lips revealed fangs fully as long as the girls’.

Ben took her by the arm and pulled her away, while glancing back up at the man who had thrown Chris. “He doesn’t need any help.”

She realized that Ben held not a knife, but a large wooden cross. What in the world was he doing with that? Some slight movement from Chris drew her attention, and she looked down to see his eyes flick open to reveal a bright sickly orange color, similar to the girls’. He struggled to his feet. Ben began to approach him, but he got up and ran off into the woods. She looked back into the road and was amazed to see that the other two guys were gone. She spun around nervously. “Where’d they go?”

Ben took a quick glance around and started herding her down the road. “They’re gone. Let’s just get out of here before they decide to come back.”

She let herself be pulled around the corner and ran with Ben down the block to her dorm building. As they reached the lighted porch, she made him let go of her arm so she could turn to face him. “What the hell is going on? What were those things?”

He stood catching his breath, his hand pressed to his side. She suddenly realized that he might be hurt. He looked up at her, shoving the cross back into his pocket. “I still have a few blocks to go. I’d like to get home before they decide to come back for more.”

“Are you crazy? Come inside, we should call somebody!”

“No, I’m okay. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

“Ben,” she fixed him with a concerned stare, “what were those things?”

He looked around, as though mentioning them might bring them back. “Vampires.”

“What?” she exclaimed in disbelief.

She was about to say more when he held up a hand and cut her off. “I have to go. I’ll see you tomorrow. When do you have a free period? I’ll meet you for lunch.”

“12:30, but...”

“Good, me too. I’ll meet you outside, at the picnic tables.”

Before she could say anything else, he turned and took off down the steps and across the lawn. She watched him go. Every time he passed a bush or a tree, she kept thinking something was going to reach out and grab him, but nothing did. He turned the corner and was out of sight. She slowly turned and opened the door. Vampires?

Felicity entered the parlor and shut the door behind her. No one was around. She turned around and locked the door. You weren’t supposed to lock it until curfew - 11:00, but she wasn’t about to leave it open. She slowly climbed the stairs to her room. She heard someone brushing their teeth down the hall. It sounded weird and mundane. She was just attacked by a vampire! She opened the door to her room and slipped inside as if she were in a trance. Vampires?

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

College Campus, Outdoor Student Commons

12:30, Tuesday afternoon

 

It was so warm for September. Felicity sat in a patch of sunlight at a picnic table. She had purposely chosen a table placed away from the stream of students pouring out of the cafeteria. She felt like there was enough buzzing going on in her own head without having to listen to everyone else as well.

She couldn’t have answered a single question about any of her classes that morning. She’d hardly gotten any sleep, and every time she so much as closed her eyes, they were there. She would see those things. That awful girl with the red eyes and those unnaturally long, sharp teeth. Vampires.

When Ben had said the word, you could have knocked her over with a feather. This is New York! Okay, it was the back woods upstate mountains of New York, but still! It’s not as if she were going to college in Transylvania or something. This type of thing only happened in really bad horror movies that she never even bothered to watch the whole way through. Maybe she should have stayed awake until the end, then at least she might have some idea what she was supposed to do in a situation like this! But in the movies, the vampire was always some suave mysterious rich guy in a cape, not a pack of street thugs who looked like they’d want your wallet more than your blood.

She ripped open her plastic packet of Caesar dressing and began to squeeze it over her salad as she watched the students flow in and out of the building. Where was Benjamin? She needed someone to reassure her of her sanity.

He came up from behind. He put his hand on her shoulder and she managed to squirt dressing clear over the table before she knew it was him. “Ben! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” she scolded.

“It’s a bright sunny day ‘Liss. I think all of the vampires are still tucked snugly in their coffins right about now.” Ben dropped his lunch tray on the table and swung a leg over the bench next to her.

No one had ever called her ‘Liss before. She kind of liked it. It seemed his confident and casual attitude was back. Sure now, when she was not in the mood for it. “How can you make jokes? Aren’t you totally wigged out?”

“I’m not joking. They are nocturnal you know; and yeah, I’m a little unsettled. But it’s not like it hasn’t happened before, unfortunately.” Benjamin sat straddling the bench next to her and began to unwrap his sandwich.

She turned to sit sideways and face him. “They’ve attacked you before?” she asked, astonished.

“They’re not the first in this town, but I’ve seen that particular group half a dozen times. They’ve attacked me twice; the girl’s name is Sindy. I... used to know her. I think it was in 9th grade that she started spelling it with an ‘S’. Pretty stupid huh? Anyway, I don’t know the guys, but Sindy ran away from home a couple of years back. Then a few months ago she shows up again, sporting her ‘new look’. They like to hang out in the parking lots of the bars late at night and wait for someone to stumble out after a few too many.” He paused to take a bite of his sandwich. “Not a long wait in this town.”

“Oh my God! Doesn’t anybody else know about this?” She looked around at the oblivious crowd of students eating lunch around them. No one really seemed within easy hearing range, or even paid them any attention. She lowered her voice anyway. “Doesn’t anyone investigate, like the police? There must be... bodies.”

He shrugged. “There was a big scene a little while back; they found a bunch of bodies that’d been dumped, but they never solved it. I guess the fiends got scared off for a little, but they never left. Lot of milk carton college kids around here.

Vampires seem to like this town. You know when they’re around, if you pay close attention. Though I must say, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard of anyone missing. No bodies in the paper since early summer. I have a theory; I think they’ve gotten smart. Now they don’t kill you, not usually. They drink you unconscious and then move on. I’ve seen it happen. You’ll wake up after sleepin’ it off in the parking lot. Sometimes they’ll even put you in your car if they can.” He looked around at the college students scattered about. “Think half these guys’d notice?”

“Seen it?” she asked in frightened awe. “Has it ever happened to you?”

He gave her a serious look. “Na, I’ve lived here my whole life, never been bit. I’m too smart for that,” he said with a little smile. “They won’t bother you if you’re careful, and stay out of their way. I wouldn’t recommend walking home during the week, but on the weekends, there are enough partygoers around to divert their attention. They like easy targets; people who don’t even notice they’re different, until it’s too late.”

“But their faces, that girl, her eyes and her teeth... she was so pale and inhuman.” Felicity shuddered just to think of her.

“Oh they were human once. But now, they’re just evil dead things. I’m not an authority or anything, I’ve just been around here long enough to open my eyes.” He took another bite of his sandwich.

How could he eat while thinking about this stuff? “They were hideous monsters. Evil dead... wasn’t that a movie?”

“Those were zombies not vampires. Jeez, don’t you know the difference?” he teased. “The movie stuff works though. I mean they can’t turn into bats or smoke or anything. At least I don’t think so, and I think the garlic aversion is strictly silver screen; but you can hold them off with crosses.” He pulled the wooden cross from last night out of his back pocket, where it had been hidden by his shirt. “I don’t leave home without it.” She noticed he also wore a small gold cross on a thin chain around his neck. “I’ve also heard holy water burns them like acid, although I haven’t tried it myself. Mostly, I just stay in at night.”

“Good plan. Thank God that guy was there! Do you know him?”

Ben didn’t seem thrilled to be reminded of his ‘rescue’. Typical prideful guy. “He’s been coming into the cafe almost every night since June, his name’s Cain. Buys a coffee and book and just sits and reads ‘til closing. I’m not proud to say, he’s the one who saved my ass the last time I got attacked. I don’t get it, he’s...”

“Benji!” It was a petite little blonde girl from across the commons. At least she used to be blonde; her short wild hair was now streaked with just about every color of the rainbow. She wore a pink t-shirt that would better fit a five year old and a pair of purple leather pants. She waved and started pulling some guy over by the arm to join them.

“That’s Alyson.” Ben smiled with obvious affection. “We’ve been friends since we were like, three. And her boyfriend of the month. I think his name is Greg.”

They made it to the table and Alyson directed her guy to drop an armload of stuff. Two Twinkies, a Yoohoo, a package of mini chocolate chip cookies, a bottle of Sunny D, a squished Devil Dog and a bag of Raisinettes. They sat down and made themselves at home.

Felicity had never cared for punk hairstyles, but even under that, Alyson was pretty, in an honest and unpretentious sort of way. Apart from the wild colors in her hair, she didn’t wear much make-up. Ben and Felicity turned to sit straight again, and face them across the table. “How do you eat all that crap?” Ben asked as they got settled.

“Life’s short. You want me to waste it eating salad?” she asked with a smile as she ripped open the bag of cookies and shoved one in her mouth whole. Felicity glanced at her bowl, then back to the girl. Naturally, Alyson was thin as a rail. “No offense of course.” Alyson said around the cookie, wiping her hands on her pants. She reached over the table to shake Felicity’s hand. “Hi! I’m Allie.” She shook her hand and then ate another cookie. She had a little diamond stud in her nose that glinted as she chewed. “This is Greg.” She nodded to her boyfriend who was staring into space while popping Raisinettes. Tall thin guy, with a long, dark mass of hair. He seemed to be in his own world at the moment, or quite possibly every moment from the look of him.

He gave her a nod without making eye contact. “Hey.”

She took her hand back. “Hi, my name’s Felicity.”

Really?” Alyson asked. “You must have died when they came out with the show! Did it give you the urge to go out and get an Ogilve?”

Ben rolled his eyes and shook his head at Felicity’s confused stare. “Felicity just started working over at the DownTime,” he added helpfully.

“Oh, that’s an exciting job...” Alyson began making loud snoring sounds until Ben waved a hand in front of her face.

“Shut up, I make more money than you,” he taunted.

“Hey, I am very proud of my job as a professional groupie!” she said, sitting up straighter.

“You wish.” Ben muttered, as he turned to Felicity. “Allie waitresses, and works the sound board over at Tommy’s... the local chug-a-lug.” He turned back to face Alyson. “Any good bands playing this month?”

“Na, just the local red-necks. We never get anybody good anymore.”

Ben directed his gaze over to Greg, who looked as though he had fallen asleep with his eyes open. “Hey Greg, aren’t you in a band?”

He came out of his daze, it took a minute. “Yeah, the PowerHouses.”

“If he could manage to write something original, they might actually get a gig sometime,” Allie added accusingly.

“I’m waiting for inspiration.”

“It doesn’t have to be inspired, it just has to have a beat you can drink to.” She leaned over the table as if speaking to Felicity confidentially. “There’s only so many times you can listen to ‘Shook Me All Night Long’ you know? Even the vamps are getting bored.”

Felicity almost choked on her diet soda. “Oh my God, you know about them?” Even though Ben knew about them, and had said he’d known Allie well, she just couldn’t imagine someone else actually believing in this stuff.

“Who doesn’t? Observant much? Freakin’ parasites are all over this damn town.” Alyson twisted open the Sunny D and managed to swig it all down without coming up for air.

“And you work in a bar, late at night? Aren’t you terrified?” Is this girl for real?

“Fuck that. Lived here all my life. I’m a brown belt, Jui Jitsu. They don’t need a piece of me, there’s much easier hot lunches walkin’ around.”

“They still try,” Ben cut in, “show her your souvenir.”

Alyson pulled down the collar of her tee a bit to show the healing scab of a jagged bite mark on the side of her throat. “That skanky whore Sindy. Kicked her ass, but not before she got a taste of me. It wouldn’t have left such a gash, but I was ripping her off me at the time. Bitch. I almost wouldn’t mind another chance at her alone. I’d love to finish her off.”

“Danced with her and her boys last night.” Ben sounded awfully nonchalant for someone who had been on the ground the night before.

“No way! And you are just telling me this now? You clown, what happened?” she asked, ripping open a Twinkie.

Ben shrugged, eyes on the ground. “Nothin’ really, we got away. But I’ve gotta get my ‘stang runnin’, it sucks not havin’ a car in this town - literally. I talked to Penten though, and at least I’m not closing again until next week. Maybe by then Lucy’ll be back.”

Felicity had wanted to talk more about their attack when something occurred to her... “Hey, I’m closing on Thursday.”

“With Harold?” Ben asked.

She nodded. “I haven’t met him yet. Tell me this guy has a car.”

“He’s got a car, but he’s a real jerk,” Ben added, looking disgusted.

“You don’t think he’d give me a ride?”

“Well, he doesn’t give me a ride, but he’d probably drive you if you asked him.” Ben finished off his sandwich, while looking at his watch. “I have to get to class.”

Greg stood up and looked down at Allie, who had been watching the whole exchange with some amusement. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, we should go.” Alyson began gathering up what was left of their stuff and shoving it into her purse, which looked more like a small duffle bag.

“Oh, do you have class too?” Felicity asked her.

Alyson let out a sharp laugh. “Oh, we’re not students. We just come for the food.” She smiled at Felicity’s bewildered look, and then glanced over at Ben who was getting ready to leave. “See, ya.”

Ben just gave her a nod and turned to face Felicity. “Good luck Thursday. Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll be fine. Harold’ll drive you home.”

Felicity was left staring at her salad. Maybe she should call in sick.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

DownTime Cafe and Bookstore

Thursday night

 

Felicity finished shelving the last of the books from the new shipment. She stood, slowly, waiting for the pins and needles to leave her legs and picked up the empty box. At least it was almost time to go home.

Home. She had gone home for real the other night, for dinner with her family. She had hoped to surround herself with familiar comforts and maybe even broach the subject of not returning to school at all, but it hadn’t gone quite as she had hoped.

Her mom had gotten called into work. She was a nurses’ aide at the local hospital, and they were always short staffed. Her younger teenage brothers had friends over, filling the house with raucous chaos. Even when her dad wasn’t playing ‘referee’ to her brothers, she couldn’t really bring herself to talk to him about her concerns. It was so hard to talk to him about personal stuff.

She sat at the dinner table and listened to him complain about his job at the factory and his new jerk of a boss. ‘Good thing you’re going to school young lady, earn yourself a job where you can get some respect’. After dinner, she tried to get her friend Deidre on the phone. If she could talk to Deidre about things, she knew she would feel better. She and Deidre had been best friends since kindergarten. With Deidre, she could talk about anything. But Deidre was away at her own school, and the phone number her mom gave her was busy for a half an hour.

When she finally did get through, some girl told her that Deidre wasn’t around, but she would give her a message. Felicity asked the girl twice, to be sure that Deidre called her back. ‘It’s her best friend, Felicity Snow; please make sure she calls me.’ She left specific instructions that she would be at her home number this evening, Deidre knew it by heart. She left her number at school too, in case Deidre couldn’t call back until tomorrow. Deidre never did call. After an hour her dad said that he wanted to drive her back to school. He wanted to get home in time to catch the end of her brother Eddie’s college football game on T.V., which he also made them listen to on the radio all the way back.

So she found herself back at the dorms, forced back into the routine of school life. She never heard from Deidre. The next time she talked to her mom, she felt that she hardly knew what to say. Her mom apologized for having to run out on their dinner, and then began regaling her with stories of an old friend she’d bumped into at work.

Her parents were wrapped up in their own stuff and busy with her brothers. Felicity had never felt them all that approachable about private concerns anyway. Now they were supposed to believe stories of vampires? She knew that they loved her, but she felt as though she was pretty much on her own.

So here she was, on her own, with closing time looming ever nearer. Getting home, how was she going to handle that one? Benjamin had been right; Harold was more than willing to give her a ride. He had also been more than willing to help her pin on her forgotten nametag earlier. He seemed to be undressing her with his eyes ever since. He was also very fond of calling her ‘sugar’. This was not a ride she was looking forward to.

But what was the alternative? Walking home alone in the dark? Of course, here in the brightly lit store, her memories of Monday night seemed almost dream like. They weren’t really vampires were they? She had turned it over in her mind a million times since it happened. It seemed so unbelievable, though Ben certainly seemed to believe it. Maybe he was just playing with her, embellishing stories to tease her. But she had seen them! There was definitely something wrong with their eyes, and those teeth! Why else did they attack her and Ben like that? Could they really be vampires?

She made her way to the storage room and tossed the box into the corner, vaguely near the garbage. All she needed to do now was close out the register. She was glad she had gotten this job. Now that classes were under way, it was usually quiet. Most of it was mindless work, but that was okay. She loved to have access to so many books. Sometimes during the evening, she could sneak into the corner with a newly discovered story and lose herself for a little while. But no time for that now, the cash register awaits.

As she worked, she could see Harold across the store in the cafe. He was in his early thirties. He had a large build, dark greasy hair, and somehow seemed to think women should adore him even if they weren’t good for much else. He wasn’t all that unattractive really, but his attitude far outweighed any appeal he might have had. The worst part of it was, it seemed totally unconscious. As though he had no idea that he was talking down to her, because after all, she really should be flattered that he was talking to her at all. He noticed her looking and grinned. Okay, walking might be the better option here.

Harold glanced over at the corner table, behind the bookshelf. “Hey buddy, you’re gonna have to take that somewhere else. I’m tryin’ to close here.” He must still have a customer.

The man stood up from the table, leaving his coffee and book behind. “I’m finished.” She was almost afraid to hope, but as he turned for the door, she saw it was him. The man from the other night. Benjamin had called him Cain.

She wasn’t sure what she’d say, but she couldn’t just let him leave. He was halfway to the door already. She forced herself to call after him. “Hey, wait!” He kept walking as if unaware of her. “Cain!” That stopped him in his tracks. He slowly turned to face her. He looked a little confused, did he even recognize her? She closed the register drawer and came around the counter to him. “Hi, I’m Felicity... from the other night?” His eyes warmed to her and he gave a small smile. “I never got a chance to thank you.”

He looked almost embarrassed that she had brought it up. “You don’t have to thank me.” He had a slight British lilt to his words she hadn’t expected. He was so handsome! It was kind of intimidating. ‘I will not be shy. I will not be shy!’ she kept telling herself.

“Well, of course I’m going to thank you! You probably saved my life. Ben said you’ve helped him out before too. What is it, like a hobby of yours?”

He studied her for a moment. “More like business, actually.”

 He was even more attractive here in the light, than when she’d seen him in the dark the other evening. She kept looking at the blonde highlights in his sandy hair and the blue of his eyes. He was definitely older than her, but not much. “Wow,” she said, feeling incredibly stupid as it came out of her mouth.

An idea popped into her head, but she was unsure whether she would actually have the guts to ask. ‘Take a risk!’ she thought, trying to goad herself with encouragement. Here it goes... “Um, listen. I know I don’t really know you or anything, and you don’t know me. But, I was kind of hoping, maybe you could do me a favor... again?”

He simply stood there, patiently taking her in with his eyes. She took a deep breath to try to get up some courage, but her words still came out nervously rushed and rambling. “See, the thing is... I live at the college, in the dorms; which is like right down the road, really, but, um... Well, Monday night kind of freaked me out, and... see... Harold over there,” they both glanced into the cafe, to find Harold staring at them. He winked at her and smiled. “He’s my only ride home.”

Cain took his eyes from Harold to give her sympathetic smile. “I don’t have a car.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I don’t mind walking; I just... didn’t want to walk alone,” she clarified.

“You want me to walk you home?” He seemed to think this was strange.

 “If you wouldn’t mind,” she said, hopefully.

He glanced back at Harold. “And you think you’d be safer with me, than with him?” He almost seemed amused.

“Well yes, considering the fact that you saved my life the other night, and Harold seems a little too eager to get me alone in his car. So, I think I’d rather walk. You’re not going to make me walk home alone are you?”

He thought about it. “Alright, I’ll wait.”

“Thank you so much! I really appreciate this. I’ll just be a minute.” She quickly ran around the counter and finished tallying up the register sheet. She grabbed the register bag for Harold to put in the safe. “I just have to grab my bag and coat.” She crossed the store to the employee lounge behind the cafe, dropping the moneybag for Harold on the counter as she passed.

“You about ready to go sugar? ‘Cause I know I am.” Harold was running his eyes up and down her body again as she put on her jacket.

“Actually, I’ve decided to walk. Thanks anyway.” She started back to Cain, who was watching them from the door.

 “You sure that’s wise?” Harold called after her, casting a disapproving glance at Cain. “A sweet thing like you shouldn’t chance talking to strangers.”

‘Couldn’t be much stranger than you’, she thought. “I’ll risk it.” Cain opened the door for her as she approached. “Thanks again, really,” she said gratefully.

He just smiled as they exited the store out into the night. They walked in silence. He seemed so self-assured and at ease. She was a wreck, he was so good looking! She needed to get him talking. Now she wished the dorms were further so she’d have time to think of something witty and mature to say. “Ben says you come into the cafe a lot, almost every night.”

“Yes.”

Well, so much for her great conversation starter. They both watched the ground go by as they walked. ‘Quick, say something before this silence gets longer!’ she chided herself. “I guess you have a lot of ‘Down Time’, huh? Get it?” She laughed nervously. “‘Cause the name of the cafe... God, that was so lame.”

He chuckled. “I’m around, but not every night, so you should probably find an alternate way home; unless you fancy getting to know Harold much better.” He gave her a sidelong glance.

She smiled, “Yeah, really trying to avoid that.” She tried to gauge his reaction to her without being too obvious. “I guess I should get myself a can of mace, huh?”

He stared at the pavement flowing under their feet for a moment. “Won’t really help... unless you plan to use it on Harold. You ought to learn some self defense.” He cocked his head to look into her eyes, lowering his voice in all seriousness. “The running and screaming, very rarely works.”

She tore her gaze from his eyes to look back at the ground. “I noticed that.” ‘Okay’, she thought to herself. ‘Time to take a risk for once in your life. This guy is gorgeous, and in about five minutes you will probably never see him again. Do something!’ “Hey, maybe you could teach me?” She looked at him expectantly. He didn’t answer. “You certainly taught them a lesson...” She trailed off into silence. “Okay, that seemed much funnier before it actually came out of my mouth; but you do know how to handle yourself, obviously, and I sure don’t.”

“You’d probably be better off taking a class or something,” he said quietly.

‘Way to throw yourself at the guy’. “I’m sorry; I’m not usually this forward. I just thought, maybe... you’d like to...”

They came to the dorm and stopped at the steps. She looked up to find him staring at her with the strangest look of wonder on his face. “I would... like to,” he began hesitantly. “I just assumed...” He shook his head. “Where? When?”

She couldn’t believe it; maybe he didn’t think she was pushy and annoying after all! “I think they keep the school gym open.”

“You working tomorrow?”

“Yes, but only until eight.” She tried to keep the excitement from her voice.

“Alright, then I’ll see you at eight.” How did he manage to sound so casually in command of the situation and still come off as sweet, and a little vulnerable?

“Great! I’ll see you tomorrow!” She wished she could wipe the dumb smile off of her face.

“G’night.” He returned her smile, then turned and walked off into the dark.

 

 

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