“Stop worrying, Gil!” I tell him. “Nothing bad is going to happen tonight.”
“Why did you say that?” He looks back at me, but only for a second. “It’s like you’re daring the universe, and the way things have been going lately, it seems the universe has it in for me.”
Cheese and crackers, he walks fast!
Feels like I have to take two steps for every one of his just to catch up, and it’s hard with all these people out for a night on the town in the way. And it’s cold. This vintage black velvet jacket is so cute, but it’s not very warm. Good thing I bought these cute little black boots last week. Glad I didn’t go for that pair with high heels. I wouldn’t be able to run in those. “Your Uncle Ian isn’t going to find you.”
“There you go again, daring the universe.”
“You’re a scientist, right? There are like a billion people—“
“Less than ten million, and that’s the entire city of New York, not just Manhattan.”
Sigh. My new best friend forever is like Google. He has an answer for everything. “And in the miles and miles of places he can be at any given time,” I ask him, “what are the chances that you’re going to be in the same place at the same time?”
“Given that he’s looking for me?”
He stops, stares at me, and frowns.
I can see the calculations going on inside his head behind his eyes. He’s probably multiplying the number of people in the city by the number of blocks, by the number of minutes in the night, or something.
He’s cuter than he used to be, now that he’s a vampire, his zits are gone, and I made him cut his curly dark hair. But he’s still not my type at all. He has the nicest eyes, though, so big, brown and kind. Not dark brown, but milk-chocolate caramel with little bits of gold. They remind me of my dog Cookie’s eyes. Well, Cookie’s eyes before I became a vampire, and he wanted to kill me. Even when he’s mad, Gil doesn’t look like he really wants to kill me. Gil has the prettiest long dark lashes, too. Wish I had lashes like that.
“There’s no real way of knowing,” he says. Oh, good, not an exact number. Of course, that probably means he realizes how ridiculous he’s being. “But it’s certainly much higher than if we hadn’t left the hotel. We should go back.” Maybe not.
“We went out twice last week,” I remind him. “You were worried about your Uncle Ian then, and did anything bad happen?”
“Yeah!” He looks around us. We’re surrounded by people, but they’re all too busy going somewhere to care about us. Still, Gil gets close so he can whisper in my ear. “The man in the train station, and the old lady in the alley.”
Oh, come on. “I mean to you. Did anything bad happen to you? Did your Uncle Ian track you down and stick you somewhere so small it makes your old room look like a palace?” He’s said it so many times that I don’t need his eidetic memory to repeat it word for word.
He smiles one of his narrow-eyed sarcastic smiles. “You know what they say. ‘Third time’s a charm.’”
“I agree with the Admiral.” It’s Captain’s voice with his English accent coming out of Gil’s wristwatch. Of course, he’d agree with the guy who invented him. “It would be safer if we returned to the ship.”
“It would be safer if we spent all night in bed rolled up into a ball,” I say. “But that wouldn’t be much fun.”
“Guess that would depend on who you’re rolled up into a ball with,” Gil replies. “That’s two votes to one. We should go back.”
What do I say? I love the hotel, but I don’t want to be stuck there forever. And I’m sure Gil doesn’t either. “I get that you’re all about the future, but maybe just this once can you try to enjoy the moment? Please? Look around you. Look at the people. Don’t they look—“
“I was going to say colorful.” And they do. It’s one of the things I love about being a vampire, how all the colors of everything are so amazing, especially living things. There are all these colors that human eyes can’t see. They shimmer and glow, and there are so many of them. The crowd is this beautiful, shimmering, rainbow flowing around us.
Gil looks to the left and right. I know he sees it, too. And even though he tries to hide it, I see one corner of his mouth go up in a bit of a smile. He loves it. He’ll never admit it, but he does.
And then there’s the way people smell like different foods. Funny, though, everyone here smells kind of the same.
“And don’t the people smell—“
“Gil!” I laugh and whack his arm with my handbag, not hard, just a little whack.
He laughs, too.
“I was going to say like chocolate. They smell like chocolate.”
“That’s not the people. We just passed the best chocolate store in Manhattan.”
Is he kidding? Really? “Then why don’t we buy some?”
He sighs. “I bought chocolate for my Uncle Ian there.”
Groan. “This is ridiculous.”
“We should head back to the hotel.”
“No, you only get two nights off a week, and I don’t want to—“
A light flashes red on his watch, and I see words scroll across it. He has a text message. He turns his back to me to check it. I try to get in front of it to see, but he keeps turning so I can’t. When he turns back to face me, the text is gone.
“What’s it say?” I ask.
“What’s it say?”
“Giiiiiiiillllll . . .” I can make him crack. I just have to stare at him long enough.
He crosses his arms and looks away. Then he grumbles, “Mr. Ramirez says the ladies in room 1204 want Mario to fix their Internet connection.”
I laugh, but I try to do it only on the inside. Poor Gil. Those girls from the bachelorette party will not leave ‘Mario’ alone. I had to go and give vampire charm to the one guy in the world who would consider it a curse. “You’re right. We should head back to the hotel.”
“I only get two nights off a week.”
“But we wouldn’t want to disappoint the ladies in room 1204.”
“Yeah, we would.”
We’re approaching a corner, but I really want to head back for some chocolate. I can smell it everywhere, and it smells so good.
Ooh, I have an idea.
I grab Gil’s arm and pull him back into a little boutique that sells fancy dresses. I keep pulling him, until we’re both standing in a poorly lit corner at the back of the store. He looks nervous.
“We’re not going clothes shopping for you again, are we?”
“No, in fact, I’m going to make that up to you. Those clothes I bought helped me get a job, so I have money now. I’m going to go back down the street to buy chocolate, while you wait. Unless you think your Uncle Ian is going to find you here.”
“Oh, yeah, I bought him a little black dress from this boutique for his birthday. He wears it all the time.”
I laugh. He’s so funny. I picked the right guy to be my best vampire friend forever, I really did.
I start heading to the door.
“Chocolate covered pistachios or apple and cinnamon white chocolate, please,” he calls out to me.
They have chocolate with cinnamon? Ooh, I love cinnamon! “You got it.”
Gil steps back into the shadows, and I step outside.
I retrace our steps around the corner and back half a block down Broadway. Ooh, that chocolate smells so good. Here’s the store, so bright and shiny. Now where does this line of people end? Oh, cheese and crackers, it goes all the way down the block and around the next corner.
This could take forever.
Unless . . .
My friends, Rob and Jessie, always say, “If you got it, flaunt it.” I have vampire charm. I just need to figure out who to use it on . . .
That big guy in a fancy suit with big cowboy boots and a big cowboy hat. A guy that big must be from Texas. I just need to casually sidle up to him and play the damsel in distress.
“Oh, heavens to Betsy, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Not a bad Texan accent, even if I do say so myself.
He turns to look at me and smiles.
I blink back fake tears.
His smile turns into a look of concern. “Is something wrong, little missy?”
“My best friend told me this place sells the most amazing chocolate, but this line is so long. I don’t think I’ll be able to buy anything and get back to the hotel in time. Oh, I could just cry.”
“Well, I would hate to see such a pretty little thing like you in tears. Why don’t you join me in line? You other fellers wouldn’t mind, would you?”
I look wide-eyed at the people behind him, my lower lip quivering like I’m about to cry. The big Texan looks at them, too. After a few seconds, they shake their heads.
“Thank you!” I say and flash them a big smile. They smile back.
Vampire charm, it works every time.
I step in line next to the gentleman from Texas. “You’re my hero.”
He looks down at me and blushes. “Well, shucks, little lady. It weren’t nothing.”
It still takes a few minutes before we finally get to the counter. He indicates that he wants me to go first. I thank him.
Gil said he wanted either the chocolate covered pistachios or the cinnamon apple white chocolate. I’m going to surprise him and get both.
The woman at the counter puts the two little light-blue containers in a bag, rings up my order, and tells me how much I have to pay.
“Cheese and crackers, that’s expensive.” Gasp. I cover my mouth. Can’t believe I said cheese and crackers out loud! I should never, ever, ever say that in New York. Back home it’s cute, but here it just makes me sound like a hick who should have stayed in Hicksville.
The big man is looking down at me and grinning so wide.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, darling.” He hands his credit card to the woman behind the counter. “I’m paying for hers,” he tells the woman, “and I’d like the biggest box of truffles you got for me.”
“Oh, no,” I tell him. “That’s way too generous! I can afford to buy my own. I was just surprised, is all.”
“No, I insist.” He turns back to the woman behind the counter. “And I want you to put a little box of truffles in the little lady’s bag, too.”
I try to protest, but he refuses to hear it.
“You called me a hero,” he says, “and that has been the highlight of my entire trip. Now let me pay for your order, so I can feel like I actually deserve that title.”
The woman carefully puts together a small box of truffles, puts it in the bag with the chocolate I ordered, and hands me the bag. The big man turns his back to me, as he asks the woman about the different truffles and decides how many of each he wants in his own order.
Oh, what the heck.
I put one hand on the counter to help me jump up so I can give him a peck on the cheek.
He turns to me in surprise, blushes, and gives me a big smile.
Oh, wow, he has a gold tooth.
I smile back and wave. Then I slide past the line and out the door.
Better rush. Gil is waiting for me. So many people in the way. You’d think this was a Saturday night, not Monday. I pause to let a large group of people heading the other way pass. This might be a good time to count my blessings.
I could start with these gorgeous new boots. And my new blue jeans. And this stylish black blouse. And this vintage black velvet jacket that I love. And Gil, of course. I could not have found a more perfect best friend forever, even if he does have a huge ego. Of course, he’s super smart, so I guess he has a right to think he’s the guy who’s going to fix the world. Maybe he will, who knows? And I’m so lucky to have a job where vampire charm helps me get great tips, even if some of the guys who eat at the café just want to look at my boobs. And I’m really lucky to be living in the hotel, even if it isn’t the nicest room.
Mom always says that I should “Choose to be happy.” Until about a week ago, that hasn’t been easy. Everything I owned fit in this little handbag. But all that has changed. Now I have Gil. I even have his amazing friends, well, except for Jenny. She hates me, because she has a crush on him. I know she does, even though she won’t admit it. She’d probably stop hating me, if she realized he loves her back big time. Wish I hadn’t promised him I wouldn’t tell.
Enough of that. Breathe in . . .
Ooh, that chocolate smells so good.
I have a great best friend forever. I have chocolate. I have everything. I am happy, because I choose to be.
There’s a break in the crowd, and the sidewalk is almost clear now. I make a dash for the corner.
When I get back to the boutique, Gil is still hiding in the back.
“I’m surprised you’re not wearing a costume by now,” I tell him, talking again in the New York accent I’ve adopted. “There’s a big pink hat at the front that would look divine on you.”
“Laugh all you want,” he replies, “but I have every reason to be, you know, careful.”
I hold up the bag of chocolates. “So do you want to eat these outside? Or do you think we should head back to the hotel so you can share them with the ladies in room 1204?”
He shudders and walks up to take the bag from my hand. He looks in the bag and tilts his head in a puzzled expression, just like my dog Cookie. “Wait, you bought all of this with your tips?”
No need to tell him the truth, but I don’t exactly have to lie. I shrug. “What can I say? I am a very good waitress, and it pays well.” Because I am, and it does.
“I guess, but shouldn’t you be saving your money?”
“Well, you never know what’s going to happen.”
“Sounds like a better reason to spend it.”
He shrugs, reaches into the bag, and pulls out the chocolate-covered pistachios.
“Can’t we open the cinnamon apple white chocolate first?” I ask sweetly.
He sighs, puts the light-blue container in his hand back, and takes the other one out.
I take his elbow, and we step out onto the sidewalk.
His eyes dart around in every direction, his body tense. Then he relaxes and opens the container. I guess he didn’t see his Uncle Ian. Why would he? It’s just ridiculous.
He hands me a piece of chocolate. It’s a tiny lumpy off-white cube with little bits of sparkling golden apple showing through the white chocolate in places.
I pop it in my mouth and let it melt. “Oh, my gosh, that’s so good! You’re right. I think that’s the best chocolate I’ve ever had. I just love the cinnamon.”
“I’ll remember that,” he replies. Of course, he will. He remembers everything. He pops a piece of chocolate into his mouth and smiles. “It has this weird salty-spicy taste it didn’t have before. I kind of like it.”
“See?” I bump elbows with him. “There are advantages to being a vampire.”
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, well, they don’t exactly make up for you ruining my life.”
“I’m working on it.”
He starts walking quickly through the rainbow river of people crossing the street and on the sidewalk again. He seems a bit more relaxed, though. I guess that little piece of chocolate helped. I know chocolate usually cheers me up.
And he really doesn’t have anything to worry about. Nothing bad is going to happen tonight. That’s just in his head. His ridiculously brilliant head. Wish I was half as smart.
Again I have to walk in double time just to keep up with him. I fall a few steps behind.
Suddenly he stops, and I bang into him.
“What is it?” I ask.
He points down the block ahead of us. “That’s the dog that used to follow me home.”
What dog? All I see are people.
A man and woman step into the street, and there it is. It’s big, and it has long thick silvery fur that shimmers under the lights of the city, but . . .
A shiver runs up my spine, and my heart skips a beat.
“Gil, I don’t think that’s a dog.”
“What do you mean?”
I look up into the dark sky. Yup, there it is. “See the full moon?” It shines pale gold between the tall buildings, like a perfectly round spotlight. “I do believe that is a werewolf.”
He looks at me, his eyes narrowed again. “Why would a werewolf start following me home when I was twelve?”
That’s a good question. Why would a werewolf follow him home? And why would he run into that same werewolf tonight of all nights, when I’m trying to convince him he doesn’t have to worry about his Uncle . . .
“No!” he shouts.
“Funny, you have the same look on your face that you did in Bucky Bee’s when I told you you were a vampire.”
“No! My Uncle Ian cannot be a werewolf. It doesn’t m—“
“Make any sense. You’re using a lot of the same words, too. But look on the bright side.”
“What bright side?” he shouts.
“At least this time, it’s not my fault.”
The werewolf is staring at us. It sits on the concrete, raises its head, and lets out a long and loud howl. Cheese and crackers, that’s creepy.
“Why did it do that?” Gil asks.
I shrug. “Any ideas?”
“Just one: run!”
He grabs my hand. We dart between the people. I look over my shoulder. The werewolf is coming after us, but it doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. Why isn’t it in a hurry? I have a bad feeling about this.