I arrived at work the next day in a good mood. The day was overcast and rainy leading most people to bundled up in heavy coats and hats. The wind had gotten up in the afternoon and I saw the occasional umbrella fly past, having been whipped away from its owner.
I had put on a long patterned coat in order to fit in with everyone else. Since I had woken up a few minutes early I had taken the time to put my hair into an intricate braid. I finished it with a bright red ribbon, which I wove in and out to join the pattern. When I had recently consumed blood I always felt better. When I had looked in the mirror before leaving, my eyes were brighter; the shadows underneath them almost gone. My skin was not quite as pale and my face just slightly fuller.
Bernadette greeted me, cheerful as always as I grabbed my apron. The night was busier than the previous one and I was occupied for most of my shift, running backwards and forwards seeing to the various needs of customers. I was satisfied to see that there was no trace of Nick with his suspicious books.
By around 12.30 the place had emptied. I hummed to myself as I wiped down the tables, making them clean for the next day. The sound of the door opening made me look up. I froze in surprise as I came face to face with Nick. He smiled at me in greeting, although I thought his dark eyes looked a little guarded.
Recovering from my surprise I quickly slipped back into my customer service persona, smiling warmly. “Hello again, what can I get you?” As I spoke I moved behind the counter.
“Just a coffee to go please.” He was flawlessly polite as before.
“No problem, I’ll make it for you now.” I said, “Do you want milk and sugar?”
“Yes, please.” He nodded, leaning on the counter.
Turning away from him I made up his coffee. Part of me wondered what he wanted with coffee at 12.30am. Didn’t most humans try to avoid caffeine late at night? Drinking it suggested to me that he had something he wanted to stay awake for. But that meant nothing. It could just as equally be a last minute university assignment as late night vampire hunting.
Almost as if he read my mind he sighed. “Got an assignment I need to get finished tonight.”
The fact that it fitted with my obvious mental reasoning so well only made me more suspicious.
“What’s it about?” I asked, feigning interest.
He shrugged, looking away from me. “Just some history stuff.”
“Really?” I asked, adding enthusiasm to my voice, “History is one of my best subjects.” I wasn’t even lying; I had lived through most of it.
“Cool.” He said simply, not elaborating as I had hoped he might.
I handed his coffee to him and took his money, being very careful to not come into contact with his skin. Whatever he knew about vampires, icy skin was definitely a red flag.
Thanking me again he left and for the second time I was left staring after him speculatively. He seemed harmless enough, but I still had a lingering feeling that something was off. Nonetheless, I couldn’t put my finger on it and I decided that for the time being, it was probably better not to mention it to Lillian. She would only worry.
After he left, my evening once again returned to normal. I closed up without incident and walked home. I did actually own a car, a sleek black one which I kept in a rented garage a couple of streets from my house. Still, I almost never used it. With the state of parking in the city it was much easier and faster to just walk to most places I wanted to go. The car I kept mostly in case of emergency. If I needed to make a quick getaway, it was useful to have a reliable vehicle on hand, already packed with a suitcase of clothes and essentials.
When I arrived home our upstairs neighbour Amir was just locking the door to his apartment. I waited for him to come down the stairs and pass by me before unlocking my own door. The hallway was quite narrow and my door did not leave a lot of room.
“Hey Scarlett.” He greeted me, pushing his glasses back up his nose with a yawn. “I got called in to cover a night shift last minute. You just finished work?”
“Yes, it was pretty busy tonight.” I said.
When we first moved in Amir had been eager to make friends. As far as he was aware I was the only person moving in, since I couldn’t exactly introduce Lillian to him. I didn’t want to become too familiar with someone living so close to me, in case he ever noticed anything suspicious. So, I never exchanged much more than polite small talk.
“You should try and get put on days.” He said, yawing again, “Late nights are the worst.” I remembered he had told me something about wanting to become a doctor. He worked at the hospital in between his studies at the university.
I smiled, seeing the humour in the situation.
“I prefer nights,” I said. “I’m not much of a morning person.” Unlocking my door I stepped inside. “Have a good shift.”
“Bye!” he called after me as I shut the door.
Lillian looked up from her TV show as I went to join her on the sofa. “Amir?”
“Yeah, he has to go to work.”
“Oh good, I wanted to finish checking out his book collection. He has a lot of biological texts.” She said, matter of fact.
“Lillian!” I exclaimed, “Please tell me you haven’t been snooping.”
If it was possible for her to blush, I think she would have. She tossed her head, causing her dark curls to bounce.
“A lady doesn’t snoop.”
“What do you call sneaking into his apartment and looking through his things then?” I said sceptically, raising an eyebrow.
She was silent for a moment. “Investigating?” she said with too much innocence. “Besides, it’s not exactly sneaking when he can’t see me. I could prance around naked singing the entire Les Deux Journées in front of him and he would be none the wiser.”
“Opera or no opera,” I retorted crossly, “you still shouldn’t interfere with his things. What if he notices something move?”
Ignoring my mood she let out a giggle, “he’ll think the place is haunted! Maybe the landlord will decrease our rent.”
“Or maybe he will post it on the internet,” I countered, “Maybe a whole flock of ghost hunters will show up with their new-fangled sensors and gadgets, and just maybe one of them will actually work!”
She pouted, “That is unlikely. Yesterday you said that we are safe here.”
Her expression made me feel guilty. I sighed, giving her an apologetic smile.
“We are, I just want to be careful… I’d rather not end up on the front page of the news.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.” She said reassuringly as she stood up, smoothing down her skirts. “Now… I have a book to finish!” She vanished with a ghostly laugh.
I sighed again, stretching out on the sofa now that I was alone. I loved Lillian like a sister but she did frustrate me sometimes. Once she had spotted a book she wanted to read, nothing could keep her from it.
Picking up the TV remote I started flicking through channels for something to watch. I knew she wouldn’t be back for a while.
The next few days passed smoothly without incident. Since there was no trace of him, by Friday I had decided to forget all about Nick and his strange books. Of course, that was precisely when he walked back into the Coffee Stop and the trouble started.
It was nearing the end of my shift again, but since it was a Friday the place was a bit busier. I was taking an order from a customer when he entered. I was facing away from the door, but the cool breeze blew his scent towards me causing me to freeze for an instant. Recovering quickly I continued listing the items the woman wanted as if there was no interruption. Probably for her there hadn’t been, I had only paused for the briefest of seconds. It was only after I had served her and she left that I looked at him.
I drew in a breath in surprise. He looked as if he had been in a war. A long cut ran down the side of his face, partially obscuring a large bruise across his cheekbone. I could see further bruising running down his neck before it was covered by the collar of his shirt.
“Goodness… Nick, are you ok?” I asked in shock.
He shrugged good-naturedly and leant on the counter.
“Yeah I’m fine, nothing to worry about.”
On closer inspection his wounds looked to be at least a couple of days old. The cut had been cleaned and had a couple of neat stitches in it.
“What happened?” I asked, curiosity welling up.
He looked a little embarrassed, “I picked a fight with some people I shouldn’t have.”
“Are you safe?” I asked in concern, having experienced my fair share of people looking for revenge.
He laughed, brushing it off. “Yes I’m fine… you should see the other guy.” A saying that I am sure has been around since stupid men existed to pick fights with one another.
I straightened up, having realised that I had been leaning across the counter towards him.
“What can I get for you?” I asked, resuming my familiar role as server.
He blinked, momentarily taken off guard by my abrupt change of topic.
“Just a cup of tea please, to go.”
Somewhat glad for the excuse to move away from him I switched the machine on to boil the water. He cleared his throat and I turned, surprised to see he looked a little discomforted again.
“Yes?” I asked, confused.
“I also came in here for another reason.” He started slowly. “Perhaps this isn’t the best time… what with, well this.” He gestured at his face. “But… I was actually wondering if you might like to go on a date with me.”
“Oh.” I said in surprise. It had been a long time since anyone had seriously asked me out on an actual date. I didn’t quite know how to respond. It seemed like a big coincidence that he would be reading a book on vampires and then just so happened to ask me out. Still… it would be nice to do something different.
“No pressure,” He said, laughing. “I don’t want to put you on the spot.”
I belatedly realised that I had just been staring at him like a fool. I laughed too.
“No, I… I accept your invitation.” I don’t know what made me accept, it just felt wrong to decline. I also realised too late that I probably sounded a bit too formal. A modern girl would probably have said something like yeah sure I’ll go out with you. Still, it was too late to question it now, I’d agreed.
A wide grin stretched across his lips. “That is great. Are you off work tomorrow?”
“Yes, I don’t usually work weekends.” I admitted. To hell with it, I thought. I’d agreed to go out with him; I may as well share some information. This could actually turn out well; I might learn what he was doing with the book.
“I could meet you at your house at five?” He asked.
“How about we meet outside here at five?” I countered. Five pm I could deal with but I didn’t trust him enough to tell him where I lived yet.
“Yeah, that works for me.” He agreed.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked curiosity peaked.
He raised an eyebrow at my sudden interest. “I have somewhere in mind, it’s a surprise.”
A surprise? I ran through possible date venues in the city but I didn’t know him well enough to guess where he might want to go. I narrowed my eyes in suspicion but didn’t comment. I was pretty sure I could handle whatever he wanted to do; I would just have to remember to act human throughout.
Realising that the water was done, I resumed making his tea. He thanked me when I slid it towards him. Spotting another customer heading towards us he smiled warmly at me.
“I’d better go, so I’ll see you tomorrow?”
I met his smile a little hesitantly, unsure of how this was going to go.
“Five o’clock.” I confirmed.
“Ok see you then.” He winked at me as he left and I frowned, unsure if I should respond. Shaking my head I cleared it of errant thoughts and focused on the customer ordering a coffee.
When I arrived home Lillian picked up on my muddled thoughts immediately. After seeing my face she followed me into the kitchen where I put my bag down.
“Is that your… I have news face?” she asked, half excited half alarmed.
“It seems I have a date.” I said, not sure how else to explain.
“A date! With whom?” she exclaimed.
I looked down at the keys I was still holding in my hand for a moment.
“A customer from work.” Whist it was technically true I didn’t like lying to her, “The one I mentioned the other day, with the book.” I admitted.
I knew she understood which person I was referencing since her face immediately changed from enthusiasm to trepidation.
“What! Why on earth did you agree to it?” she asked confusion plain in her voice.
I signed and sat on one of the stools at the counter.
“I don’t know.” I said. “He took me by surprise and I was curious.”
“Scarlett.” She groaned.
I understood where she was coming from; it wouldn’t be the first time my romantic escapades had gotten us in trouble. I had learnt from past mistakes, I didn’t trust as easily now.
“I’ll be cautious.” I tried to reassure her.
“That’s what you’ve told me before; like that time with the pirate- what was his name?”
I sniffed, “That was one time… and it was Jack.” I’d always had a soft spot for men of the sea; I’d spent a lot of my youth on the waves.
“One time!” She huffed, “He reported you to the navy and ran away with all our money!”
That was true. “But!-” I countered, “I fixed it didn’t I?”
“Well I suppose…”
“I threw him overboard, sank his ship and got our money back… in my book that counts as fixed.”
“But we were still on the run from the navy.” She muttered. “Well technically only you were since they didn’t know I existed… but still.”
I chose to ignore that point. “I have also have some successful relationships though.” I said, trying to get the conversation back on a positive track.
Finally she smiled, although it was a little wistful. “Henry was nice.”
Henry had been my partner for about 10 years in the 1990’s. He had been a student when I met him, but he eventually went on to become a great doctor. He was human and had eventually decided that he wanted to move on, when his aging had started to separate us. He said that he would rather go before it reached the point where someone actually mistook me for his daughter. We parted on good terms and I wished him well with his life. That was the last time I had had a meaningful romantic relationship with someone who knew what I was.
Acknowledging her own point, Lillian nodded, “It was nice having another person around that knew I exist, even if he couldn’t see me.”
Not wanting her to get ahead of herself I shook my head, “Well, I doubt this will turn into anything like that. There is something we haven’t considered yet.”
Her eyes narrowed, “What?”
“It is entirely possible that this is all a test.” I shrugged. “He could just be testing to see if I am a vampire.”
“So why did you agree then?” She asked, confused again.
“Curiosity.” I said again. “I want to know what his motives are.”
“What if his motives are to kill you?” she moaned.
“Easy.” I said, my grin returning. “I’ll kill him first.”
Slowly her doubtful look changed to match my grin as she caught my mood. It had been a long time since anything unusual had happened. “So… now for the next matter of life and death…” she said, “What are you going to wear?”