Thicker than Blood: Awakening

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Bond of Brothers

“Good morning, sunshine,” Mitch said, taking his cigarette from his lips. He was still sitting on his roadster, enjoying a quick nicotine fix before going into the kitchen. His cheery face turned perplexed when he got a good look at his buddy rounding the ramp. “What’s with the cloud cover? You look sick.”

“It’s Mary.”

“What happened to Mary?” Mitch looked more concerned. “Did she have another fainting spell?”

“I don’t know,” Wes said in a grim tone. He slumped his arms between his knees as he paused to talk. “She never came home. I waited up all night, thinking she was just going to pull another oh-dark-hundred on me, but Gabriel came up just before sunrise. She still hasn’t come home.”

“Didn’t she at least call out?” Wes looked up with exhausted eyes, silently saying, ‘not cute.’ “Joking! Just trying to lighten the mood!” He waved his hands in defense. He frowned at how haggard the guy looked though. “You really look out of it, Wes. You sure you don’t want to go back to bed?”

“Can’t sleep anyway,” the parlor manager replied, wheeling forward again to unlock the door. “Gabriel told me Mary had found a lead, in his King James dialect. I just hope everything is alright. Things have been intense for her lately.”

“King James? What kind of nightwatchman did you hire, dude?” Mitch called after him before taking one last drag off his cigarette. Dropping the butt, he stepped on it a moment before swinging his other leg around the back of his motorcycle to follow.

“He’s kind of sheltered. He’s a friend of Mary’s that wanted to help us out.” Wes shrugged as he wheeled across the threshold toward his office. The door was still leaning against the wall, but Wes just rolled right by it. Mitch felt his back slump at the sight of it.

“Haha… I’ll fix that today. Promise, boss,” Mitch said with a nervous laugh. It had been his foot that kicked the door off its hinges, but it had been for a good cause. They’d stopped trying to make it look like it fit on Saturday. Too many customers had asked if they’d had a break-in.

“Sure, whenever you feel like it, Mitch,” Wes’s tired voice made the pizza chef feel like a jerk for being so awake. “As long as you don’t break down the kitchen door, I won’t rush you.”

“You make me feel like a meathead when you word it like that, man.” Mitch groaned to himself as he draped over the cashier’s counter, feeling like a violent boar. “I’ll keep a lid on the kick-ass can…” A limp salute preceded the cook’s entry to the kitchen.

Locking his wheels after parking behind his desk, Wes glanced up at his wall clock. It was nine am, opening time for the parlor for employees would be in an hour. Mary had never been late for work, but she’d never had a good lead on her sister either. It wasn’t like he was going to fire her. She had a great record with a ton of leave time, so he wouldn’t hold it against her. Still, he couldn’t help worrying.

“She’ll be back,” Wes said wearily. “She needs her serum, so she’ll come back soon.” He nodded his head, reassuring himself. Pressing the power button on his laptop, he blinked when it didn’t turn on. “Dammit… Did I forget to turn it off again?” He grunted as he reached for the power cord under his wheel. “What a beautiful morning… I hope this isn’t an omen.”

For the hundredth time, Wes sighed as he glanced up at his wall clock. Mary still hadn’t shown up, and it was time for her shift. He wanted to believe that everything was fine and dandy, but knowing she was up against bloodthirsty vampires, the manager felt like he was sitting on hot coals.

“Maybe I should get her a cell phone,” he muttered to himself, “but she only overseas when she isn’t here. Is Europe even covered by pay on the go…” He slumped forward on top of his keyboard, groaning loudly.

“You are one lucky son of a bitch to make me skip a smoke break for your company,” Mitch announced himself at the doorway. Wes glanced up to see that cocky smile aimed at him. “You look worse than the last time I saw you. Those bags are starting to really show at a distance, pal.” He tapped beneath his eye as he walked in to plop down on the couch. “What’s eatin’ ya, partner? I’m on break, I swear.”

“Are you trying to cheer me up?” Wes moaned from where he was. “Your country accent is kind of creepy, Mitch.”

“Fine! I’ll stay beach bum, today.” Mitch swatted his hand in the air at Wes. “Seriously though, what’s got you out of synch today? Is Mary never late or something, Daddy?”

“No, she isn’t, and eww no thank you,” he replied with a glare at the ‘daddy’ comment. “She at least sees me off when I leave to open the parlor. I’m getting really worried.” He sat up in his chair, making a soft grunt as he straightened up.

“That didn’t sound good,” Mitch said, narrowing his eyes in Wes’ direction. “Did you take your meds this morning?” The other blinked, realizing it had slipped his mind. “Wesley Mason, I can’t leave you to fend for yourself, can I? You know you need those meds. Where’d you put that heating pad?”

“Mitch, I’m fine.” The protest was ignored as the cook got up to search his desk drawers for the electric heating pad. Once found, Mitch plugged it in and handed it over. “Thanks…”

“Mary’s a big girl, Wes. She can take care of herself. You, one the other hand, have to take better care of yourself before you can worry about anyone else. Got me?”

“I hear you,” Wes groaned as he put the pad on his lower back. “It’s just that someone has to worry about her. You know she’s trying to find her sister. She doesn’t have anybody.” He leaned back in his chair, staring at his computer screen with concern.

“I understand where you’re coming from, Wes,” Mitch said, still kneeling next to his friend, “but I don’t see why you should lose sleep over it. She’s not in any real danger, right?”

“Well…” Glancing away, Wes thought he’d been hiding a lot from the street smart cook. It was only a matter of time before he figured things out on his own, right? “Can you… keep a secret?”

“Wes,” Mitch stared back disapprovingly, “how long have you know me?”

“Fair point,” Wes replied. “Mary has a… condition. It’s rare, and I make her the medicine she needs.”

“Is that even legal, dude?” Mitch gaped up at his friend. In a lower voice, he asked, “Seriously, could you get jail time for this shit?”

“I doubt it…” Wes stared down at his friend like he said something ridiculous. “Her condition is so rare it’s not on the books. She made an international inquiry online for a chemist about two years ago, saying she needed a family remedy. She moved here when I accepted the offer, and I let her move in with me.”

“So that’s why you had me bring her here from the airport. I thought she was just a rough flyer,” Mitch whispered as he tried to hide behind the desk from the doorway. He recalled how sickly the young woman had been, but after a few weeks, she was radiant, like nothing happened. “I knew you were back into chemistry again, but just what are you making her?”

“Mitch,” Wes whispered as well, leaning down toward the cook, “I can’t tell you about her personal business. You’ve seen her faint. Isn’t that enough to convince you I’m not a drug dealer?”

“Wes, you spill, or I’ll smoke up your office.” Mitch pulled out his carton of cigarettes. “I did skip out on my smoke break to check on your ass.” Wes gaped down at the small box. Mitch just squatted there with an irritated glare, waiting for the other to cave…

“She’s a vampire! Okay?” Even though it had been a muffled cry, Wes still looked flustered. The thought of the code violations for cigarette smoke inside a restaurant made him spasm into a panic attack.

Mitch stared back with the same look on his face. As it started to sink in, his jaw loosened. He’d never thought about how Mary’s eye color and skin tone were kind of different before. She didn’t eat on her lunch breaks either, and she did drink a weird, red juice a lot…

“You lucky bastard!” Mitch whisper-screamed up at his best friend. “You had a vampire girlfriend and never told me! Man, I outta strangle your ass! We’re like brothers! You can’t go keeping shit like that from me!”

“She is not my girlfriend!” Wes leaned down to whisper-yell back. “We’re just roommates!”

“If she weren’t, one, why do you freak-out over her so much, and two, what’s she doing living in a one-bedroom apartment with you, huh?”

“She’s in the living room, you pervert!” Wes’ cheeks were red as his ears now, making Mitch grin like a devil. “Besides, I’m not ready to date anybody! You know that better than anyone, Mitchel Johnson!”

“Yes, I do know,” he replied, falling back on his rump with a sigh. “I also know that you can’t stay in the safe-zone forever. You’re still young, dude, and it’s not like Mary isn’t hot.”

“You are such a louse, you know that?” Wes sighed heavily. He didn’t want to talk about this right now. He found a subject change all too easily. “You’re one to talk, you know. You haven’t dated at all. You didn’t even go to prom.” He crossed his arms, grudgingly.

“Neither did you! We spent prom together, dude!” Mitch pointed a defiant finger up at Wes. “Survivor-horror games till we fainted at nine am, buddy. So much cooler than some dumb dance.”

“We did faint, didn’t we,” Wes said, breaking into a laugh. Mitch followed suit with a real gut-buster as he fell backward to the floor.

“You don’t have to stay with me, Mitch. I swear, just because my roommate never came home doesn’t put you on babysitting duty.”

“Look, I’m lonely tonight. I made a pizza for myself. You’re lonely, too, so we can share the aforementioned pizza. It’ll be like old times. Let’s have some fun!” Mitch grinned, holding up his large pizza box as he locked the kitchen door to the parlor.

“I know you’re trying to keep me company,” Wes sighed as he wheeled up the first half of the ramp. “Lonely though? What kind of bluff is that, you snore-o-saurus? It’s not like you ever make plans other than going home and craft models that clog up your apartment.”

“Who are you calling a snore-o-saurus, atom-smasher?” Mitch called as he hurried up the ramp. Wes had come far with that wheelchair. There were times Mitch had to jog to keep up with him. As the pizza cook rounded the turnabout, he saw a tall man standing in the doorway, holding the door for Wes.

“You have my key, Gabe. If anything happens, let me know, all right?”

“Aye, Lord Wes,” came a thick accent Mitch did not recognize.

“You really don’t have to call me lord...”

“You must be the night watchman!” Mitch couldn’t hold back his excitement as he popped up in Gabriel’s face. The vampire blinked in surprise. They were the same height. “Nice to meet you! I’m Mitch, the head cook!” When Gabriel continued to blink back at him, Mitch frowned. “Wes… Tell him I come in peace.”

“This is my friend, Mitchel, Gabe. He’s also a friend of Mary’s. Try not to think too much of him. He’s more muscle than brain,” Wes said as he wheeled for the kitchen. Mitch could almost envision the smirk on his face.

“Not cool, Wesley. I am much to think about!” Wes just laughed as Mitch walked inside past Gabriel.

“I see,” the European said, curiously. “The honor is mine, Lord Mitchel.” As Gabriel nodded before leaving, Wes stopped breathing as he laughed at Mitch’s gawking face.

“Sheltered… right,” Mitch dropped the pizza off on the coffee table. “Wasn’t that Mary’s juice he had?”

“Yup,” Wes wiped tears from his eyes as he pulled some paper towels and plates to his lap. Wheeling out to the living room, he smiled back at his friend. “That’s actually her medicine I told you about. He takes it, too.”

“You mean he’s…” Mitch looked like a kid at the amusement park for the first time. Wes just grinned, reaching for a slice of pizza. “He’s a vampire, too? How many vamp friends are you holding out on me, man? That’s so not fair! Mary couldn’t at least told me?” The cook munched on a slice, eating straight from the box.

“Mitch,” Wes pointed at the pizza, “could you get a spatula? The cheese is sliding everywhere.”

“I did just make it.” Mitch frowned, but he stood up anyway. “Sure thing… and while I’m there, you might wanna take a load off. Go change. Pizza’s hot enough to wait.”

“I’m just fine, Mom,” the other retorted with a grin. “Stop babying me. You know I hate that.”

“I’m not babying you,” Mitch dismissed his argument with a palm in Wes' face. “I’m saying I’m no special guest. Get comfortable in your space, man.”

“Fine, whatever you want,” Wes groaned, unlocking his wheels, “as long as you leave those death sticks in there.”

“My cigarettes aren’t hurting you in my pocket!”

“You know I hate the things,” Wes replied flatly. “Hopefully they’ll get soaked, and you can’t smoke ’em.”

“Go change, jerk,” Mitch growled. Wes always knocked on his smoking. Couldn’t he indulge in his sins without being grilled by his best friend?

Wes seemed satisfied with the trade-off. He put his pizza plate on the lid of the box, wheeling for his room. Mitch sulked to the kitchen, opening drawers one after the other. Things had moved since the last time he used the kitchen. He saw the glass flasks and tubes along with a cast-iron crucible in the counter, guessing they were for making whatever medicine his friend cooked up. He smiled slightly. For two years, Wes had been doing what he loved most: chemistry. Mary had made that happen. What a lady to transform his old friend so much…

“Hey, Wes?”

“What, Mitch?”

“You never did tell me what Mary means to you,” the cook said with a solemn voice. “You ever gonna tell me, or is that just another secret?”

“Mitch…” Wes stopped trying to throw up smoke screens. Mitch had always seen through them, so there was little point in attempting to distract him. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“You still think about Carol, huh?” Mitch’s voice sounded saddened. How long was he going to be hung up on her? Gripping his fist around a wooden spatula, the cook wished he could do more to help him get through this.

“I should have protected her, Mitchel. That’s what men are supposed to do.”

The conviction in his voice told Mitch that he hadn’t changed his feelings since that day. He wondered if he ever would at this point. Closing his eyes, Mitch hoped that Mary could work some miracle to take that cross off his shoulders. Pulling his cigarettes out of his pocket, he left the carton on the counter.

“Mary Black,” he whispered, hand still resting on the cigarette box, “I don’t know what else I can do for him. In these few years, you’ve done more than I ever could, so please, help him heal his heart. I got a feeling you’re the one.”

“You say something, Mitch?” Wes called from the bathroom.

“Nah! I was just telling my cigarettes to wait for me,” Mitch called back with a grin. “I found a spatula. Why do you own all wood utensils though, man? They splinter and break too easily. I’ll get you some decent ones.”

“I like the wood,” Wes replied, matter-of-factly. “I can’t explain it. Even though Mom used to swat my hands with her wooden spoon, there’s something about wood… I feel better having it around.”

“Yeah… That doesn’t sound weird. I'm gonna need you to reword that answer, or we have to reevaluate our friendship. Take it from a chef, Wes. Wood is out.” Mitch picked up a wooden spoon in his free hand to drum on the sink. “Ceramic is in. Welcome to the 21st century, Wesley Mason!” Suddenly, a loud crashing of glass was heard from Wes’ balcony. Mitch gaped in shock, rushing from the kitchen.

In a brief glance, Mitch looked to see what the hell just happened. In that second, the young man saw several, dark-skinned men standing up on the balcony. Their eyes were completely blackened out, no iris, as if the pupils explained over half the eyeball. Mitch felt the air leave his lungs once he recognized a stereotypical trait: fangs.

“Shit!” The cook made a mad dash for the bedroom. In one movement, his arm reached out to pull him inside the room and slam the door behind him. Bracing himself against it, he gaped wildly out the window. “Should’ve seen this coming, Mitch! All you see is the good vampires, so where the hell are all the bad ones?!”

“Mitch…?” Wes gaped from the bathroom doorway. “What did you say…?”

“Uh…” The pizza chef stared back, trying to calm his friend, “Maybe vampires like pizza? Eheheh…”

“Mitch…! What’re we gonna do…?” The joke did nothing for the paraplegic. He looked terrified, especially when the crash at his bedroom door occurred. Mitch put all his weight into keeping it closed though.

“Human…” They both froze at the animalesque voice. “Smell human… Two humans…”

“Damn it,” Mitch growled under his breath as he tried to think. “We’re pinned in here!”

The sound of the front door bursting inward echoed through the walls. Hisses rose up at the new arrival. No words were exchanged, but there was obviously a dominance match going on. Mitch thought he was in the middle of a catfight, a really big catfight…

“I have not the time for beasts such as thee!” Gabriel’s voice bellowed in a deep tone. “Whither is thy keeper?” Defensively, more hisses responded. “As thee wish, I shall cut it from thy bowels!”

“Wes,” Mitch whispered as a brawl broke out behind his back, “just how sheltered is this guy? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he came out of a time machine from the Dark Ages!”

“Well… Mary never did tell me where she found Gabriel…” The manager confessed, running a hand through his hair. “I think he mentioned he owes Mary his life or something though.”

“So he’s Mary’s vampire servant or something? Maybe he can buy us some time.”

Mitch paused. Time for what? He and Wes were trapped in the bedroom. There was the storage space, but there was a complete dead end. The bathroom was centered, so no exit there either. Two windows led out over the parlor awning, but there was no way Wes could make a jump for it. Unless…

“Mitch… I know that face… What are you rolling around up there…?” Wes didn’t like the idea of doing anything, but Mitch hated being trapped when he could still fight back. Even in school, he had always been a fight - no flight - guy “Let Gabriel handle the vampires… Maybe Mary will show up to help…”

“We can’t count on that, Wes.” Mitch looked back at his friend. He wouldn’t let anything hurt him ever again. Walking toward Wes, Mitch pushed his chair back into the bathroom.

“Mitch! What’re you-!” His mouth was quickly covered.

“Gotta throw the scent off,” Mitch said quietly as he turning on the showerhead.

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