* * *
I pulled into the student lot, braked to avoid some idiot on rolling shoes and parked in my assigned spot. The lot was illuminated by at least a dozen huge, automatic lights, beneath which students loitered in groups, bundled against the plummeting temperature.
“Look at them,” Oscar spat, staring out the windshield. “Like bugs drawn to light.”
I followed his gaze to the largest gathering, a loose knot of students clustered around Amelia Garrison and her new car. No one was obviously fawning, but everyone seemed to find a reason to touch the car or talk to Amelia.
“It’s disgusting,” Oscar continued, shoving a textbook into the backpack propped between his feet. “And the worst part is that it isn’t really their fault. We’re biologically programmed to be attracted to a certain physical ideal, to a combination of features that speaks to us on a cellular level, telling us a potential mate is healthy, and will probably produce healthy children.”
I blinked at my socially challenged brother. What kind of twelve-year-old talked about biological programming and healthy offspring? “You know, this is why people make fun of you. It’s not because you’re short; it’s because you’re weird.”
He scowled. “I’m serious. I mean, look at her.”
Like the rest of us, Amelia had the usual pale hair, skin and eyes – all the result of millions of years of darkness gradually eliminating our need for pigmentation. But Amelia Garrison was the embodiment of that evolutionary ideal. There was less than a shade’s difference between her irises and the whites of her eyes, and her hair was practically clear. To emphasize that enviable trait, she brushed some kind of glittery gel through her mane every morning, so that she virtually glowed beneath any light that shone on her. Rumour had it she’d even had her fangs surgically augmented. I wasn’t prepared to swear by that bit of gossip, but I knew for a fact that her cuspids hadn’t been that long – or that white – the year before.
“You’re just jealous,” I shoved my car door open, and bitterly cold air curled around my ankles.
“I’m not jealous. I feel sorry for them. They don’t even realize they’re at the mercy of urges and instincts they can’t control. I’d rather take a morning stroll than run that particular rat race.”
No wonder Oscar wanted to dye his hair when everyone else was bleaching. Not to blend in, but to stand out. To separate himself from the world he both envied and despised.
“Just do me a favour and don’t say stuff like that where anyone can hear you.” I did not want to have to rescue him from another pounding.
“You think I’m stupid?” He lifted one pale brow, then shoved his own door open, tossing his bag over one shoulder. “Don’t wait for me after school. I’ve got science club.”
“You got a ride home?” I slammed my door and eyed him over the roof of the car.
“I can find one.”
I frowned for a moment, then nodded, knowing damn well that his ride would come from the faculty adviser, not from any fellow student. “OK.”
He took off towards the building and I grabbed my backpack from the rear floorboard, glancing at the seat to make sure Luci hadn’t forgotten her lunch when I dropped her off.
The back seat was empty except for my phone, which I grabbed and flipped open. The display said I’d missed a call from Titus ten minutes earlier. But my phone never rang. I started to call him back, then spotted him walking across the lot towards me.
I kicked the back door shut and shoved my keys into my pocket, dropping my bag higher on one shoulder as I leaned against the car.
“Evening beautiful.” Titus dropped his bag next to mine and bent down for a kiss.
I pressed myself against him, loving the contrast between the delicious warmth of his body and the cold metal at my back. His lips met mine and I opened for him, everything else forgotten with his taste in my mouth, his tongue teasing mine.
The points of his fangs brushed my lip, not hard enough to break the skin, but firm enough to threaten. A thrill shot up my spine, tingling all the way into my fingertips at the hint of danger. At the possibility those barbs – those evolutionary remnants – represented.
Kissing Titus gave me biological urges Oscar wouldn’t understand for several more years. They made me want to do things (to let Titus do things) that I’d told Luci were unacceptable.
And in polite society, they were.
But we weren’t in polite society. We were in the grip of a desire untempered by age, unspoiled by experience. And from the perspective of youth and passion, with the tips of his fangs on my skin, the cravings of our ancestors didn’t seem quite so savage.
They seemed . . . yummy. The most pre-eminent delicacy and the ultimate penetration all rolled into one. But we’d resisted the urges, content with teasing each other so far, because the taboo was inescapable, with good reason: psychos like the Midday Mangler had rendered the consumption of fresh blood forever synonymous with brutality, debauchery and death.
Those bastards really ruined it for the rest of us.
Finally, Titus pulled away, and I let him reluctantly. “You know you’re the only reason I come to school,” he said, his voice gruff with need, as his hand wandered up from my waist.
I smiled and pushed his hand down. “After school.” I grabbed my bag and tugged him towards the building. “Hey, did you call me?” I asked, as he fell in next to me.
“Yeah, before bed this morning. And thanks for returning the call, by the way. It could have been an emergency.” He smiled to let me know he was joking and I shoved him with the hand still holding the phone.
“Whatever. I just got the missed call. What’d you need?”
“A summary of chapter fifteen in the history book.” A stray chunk of white hair fell into Titus’ face as he blinked at me innocently.
I rolled my eyes at him, well aware that I was a big sucker. “Worldwide economic ramifications of Global Conflict the Second. It’s mostly just the same stuff she talked about yesterday in class.”
“Yeah, and if I hadn’t slept through that, I might have some idea what you’re talking about.”
“That’s what you get for playing video games all day instead of sleeping.”
“Sleep is overrated.” He pulled open the front door and held it for me as I passed under his arm, then glanced back at him, smiling.
“Well passing grades aren’t.”
* * *
The rest of the night was uneventful. Boring, even. So when the last bell rang, I was ready for a little excitement.
Titus didn’t have a car, so I drove to his house (his parents wouldn’t be home until shortly before dawn). My shirt hit the floor the minute the front door closed behind us. My pants lasted until we got to the hall, and my bra fell onto the dresser as I passed it on the way to Titus’ bed. I dropped my phone on the nightstand and turned to look at him.
He was still dressed, because I liked to help him out of his clothes. It was like unwrapping a present. A very yummy present. And I was never very careful with the wrapping.
His lips found mine as we fell onto the bed, my head sinking into a soft feather pillow that smelled like his shampoo. He held himself up with one hand, while the other roamed my body with frustrating self-control.
I wasn’t so patient.
My eager fingers urged him on. My body arched into his touch. My mouth sucked at his, my tongue flicking lightly over the points of his fangs, teasing us both. All it would take was a little bit of pressure. Just a scratch. Somehow I knew that a single drop of my blood in his mouth would be all the prelude either of us needed.
Titus pulled away from my mouth, staring down at me with heat smouldering behind his nearly white eyes. “Do you want to?”
He’s asked before – he was a guy, after all – but never like this. Of course, I’d never spent quite so much time molesting his cuspids before, either.
I thought about it. I mean, I really thought about it. Part of me did want
to. Rumour had it that several girls in the senior class had tried it. Just a drop was supposedly enough to make run-of-the-mill sex extraordinary. If it could do that for pedestrian lovers, what could it do for us? Because ordinary had never been our problem.
But in the end, I couldn’t do it. The idea of bloodletting was incredibly hot. Erotic. But that was in part because it was taboo. And it was taboo for a reason.
I shook my head, and Titus smiled. He was OK with waiting, because he viewed every no as temporary, and I was never inclined to argue with that assumption. It had held so far.
He kissed me again, exploring my mouth with renewed eagerness, as if to assure me he was OK with my decision. My fingers trailed down his back as he positioned himself over me. His muscles flexed beneath my hands. His knees parted my thighs and my legs wrapped around him.
My eyes closed as he entered me. That part was new enough to still be special. And as we moved against each other, I knew I wanted it to always be like that. Always special. And always Titus.
He made a sound of contentment against my cheek as he withdrew, only to plunge forwards again, grinding against me with delicious earnestness, and . . .
My phone chirped, signalling a new voice message.
“Ignore it,” he begged, watching me as he withdrew again.
“I can’t.” I reached for the phone, and he groaned, collapsing against me to one side. “Sorry. Oscar’s ride probably fell through. “I selected the new message and held the phone to my ear, more than a little excited by the knowledge that Titus was still inside me while I performed so routine a task as checking my voicemail.
There was a new message from my mother. Only it sounded like she’d actually left it at least a couple of hours earlier.
“Keziah, I have an office meeting late this morning, so I need you to pick up Luci from school. Love you, sweetheart, and thanks!”
“Dammit!” I shoved Titus off me harder than I’d meant to, and winced at his hurt expression. “Sorry, but I have to go.”
The elementary school got out ten minutes earlier than the high school, and Titus and I had been at his house for at least fifteen minutes after the last bell, which meant Luci had been on her own for almost half an hour. She probably thought we’d all forgotten her.
“What’s wrong?” Titus asked, pulling me close.
“I gotta go get my sister, and I’m already late.”
The disappointment on his face was blatant, and more than a little flattering. I smiled to soften the blow. “I’m sorry.” I pulled my boots on in front of the door and grabbed my keys from the floor where I’d dropped them. “But hey, my mom won’t be home before dinner. Meet me at my house in twenty minutes, and I’ll get Oscar to watch Luci.”
He nodded reluctantly, and I kissed him on the way out of the door. I jogged down the driveway to my car, deftly avoiding several solid sheets of black ice. My clunker protested with a mechanical groan when I slammed the gearshift into reverse and stomped on the gas.
The crosswalk in front of the gym barely registered as I drove through it, and a girl in tight jeans and a puffy, quilted jacket leaped back onto the sidewalk just in time to avoid my front bumper. She hissed and bared her fangs at me as I roared past. I silently cursed my second-hand cell phone.
If Dad had stuck around, we could afford shit that actually works!
I wasn’t really worried about Luci getting lost. Her school was only four blocks from our house, and she’d been driven that route every school day for the last year and a half. But it was awfully cold, and she always forgot to zip her coat. And if she got sick, Mom would have to take time off work to watch her all night, which meant her cheque would be short next month.
However, as I drove, our financial worries slipped to the back of my mind, replaced by a much grimmer possibility. What if something went wrong? Six years old was too young to walk home alone, even in a kid’s own neighbourhood. Especially with some psycho out there draining children and exposing their bodies to fry at dawn.
Suddenly my errand seemed much more urgent, even as I told myself that she was fine. There was no way the school would let her walk home alone.
I ran two stop signs and one yellow light on my way to the elementary school and, when I finally got there, my heart seemed to sink into my stomach, anchoring my fear. The parking lot at the rear of the school was where kids usually waited for their parents. They stood on the sidewalk next to the building, watched over by a selection of teachers until their parents’ car made it to the front of the line wrapping around the school.
But when I got there, there was no queue of cars and no children lined up on the sidewalk. Instead, a single adult presided over at least a dozen kids fighting for a basketball lit from within by a flashing LED.
I didn’t bother inspecting the children. The lot was well lit and Luci was not among the players. Even if I hadn’t known what she was wearing – and I did since I had dressed her myself – I knew she hated basketball.
My keys jangled as I pulled them from the ignition and shoved them into my front pocket. I licked the car door shut and crossed my arms over my chest to hold my jacket closed as I ran across the narrow strip of crunchy grass and shoved open the rear entrance.
The halls were a maze of mostly closed doors and walls covered in student artwork. An antiseptic smell permeated the air as the custodians cleaned in the children’s absence, and it took every bit of self-control I had left to keep from running full-out to the front of the school.
I settled for a fast walk instead, my shoes squeaking on the tile, my heart pounding at least three beat per step. Logically, I knew Luci was most likely perfectly safe. Probably sitting in a chair in the principals office, snacking on whatever they had handy, filling in pages in a colouring book. But every moment that passed without Luci throwing herself into my arms and pouting over how late I was, deepened the sense of panic rapidly tightening my chest.
Something was wrong. I was sure of it.
I rounded the last corner and the office came into sight, its two windows covered by white mini-blinds, blocking the view from within. I jogged the last eight feet and pulled the office door open much harder than I’d intended to.
Inside, all heads turned my way. Two secretaries stood between a tall credenza and a broad dark window with a view of the front parking lot. In one corner, a teacher’s aide was making photocopies on an ancient, rumbling machine. But there was no little girl with soft white curls. The child-size bench across one wall was empty.
“Lucinda Cartwright,” I said, panting from exertion I hadn’t even felt until that moment. “Where’s Lucinda Cartwright?”
“She’s . . .” One secretary looked to the other for assistance, tapping a stack of papers on her desk to even the edges, then turned back to me when the other woman merely shrugged.
“She’s gone. All the children have gone for the day except for the after-care kids playing ball outside.”
Oh shit. Fear traced my veins like ice, and my panic suddenly felt justified. “Where’d she go?” I demanded laying my palms flat on the credenza, crinkling a volunteer sign-up sheet.
“I don’t . . .” That same secretary looked to the side then, whose tag read ‘MS CYNTHIA’.
Cynthia cleared her throat and flashed small, delicate fangs in a smile designed to placate small children and calm worried parents. I was neither, and her smile didn’t do jack-shit for me.
“She was picked up with the other children, about fiftenn minutes ago,” Cynthia said.
I turned my full attention to Ms Cynthia, whose left index finger now hovered over a green button on the photocopy machine.
“Who picked her up?”
“I didn’t see.” She shrugged. “But she was gone before the last student left.”
My hands clenched at my sides and my jaw tightened. “You don’t know what happened to a six-year-old placed in your care?” She started to answer, but I cut her off. “So, you either let her wander off on her own, or you sent
her home with someone who didn’t have permission to pick her up. I know this because my mother and I are the only ones who have permission to take Luci from school, and she just called and asked me to do it. So for the last time, where is my sister?”
“I don’t know,” Cynthia finally admitted, her copies now forgotten.
Damn it. I spun towards the secretaries again and felt my upper lip curl back from my teeth, exposing my fangs in what I hoped was an obvious and terrifying threat. “Call the police.” No one moved, so I slammed my hand down on the desk again. “Now!”
The secretaries jumped, and one snatched the phone from its cradle, already dialling when I whirled on the aide in the corner. “My mother works for one of the largest law firms in the state, and if anything happens to my sister, she’ll name you personally in a lawsuit. By the time her boss is done with you, you’ll wish you were born on a beach at high noon.”
The Midday Mangler Meets his Match Page 2