chapter one | trial period From the outside, there wasn’t anything particularly outstanding about the little brick shop at 4447 Shirley Drive. Marcy had surely…
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chapter one | trial period From the outside, there wasn’t anything particularly outstanding about the little brick shop at 4447 Shirley Drive. Marcy had surely…
From the outside, there wasn’t anything particularly outstanding about the little brick shop at 4447 Shirley Drive. Marcy had surely seen more impressive businesses, even more impressive ice cream shops, than this rather dinky excuse for a two-story building. There were some such businesses on this very street, in the dusty little shopping plaza that encompassed Hambleton’s Ice Creamery like some kind of defensive wall. Or would that be more like half of a defensive wall? Beyond the shop, the rush of rubber on asphalt rose on the breeze from where the mall stopped short and the parking lot overlooked the freeway; all things considered, not that defensive… that was a bad simile. His literature teacher would be disappointed.
He tried again to look up at the little old building and see it for what he might compare it to. His attention slid from the tufts of grass growing through the gravel at its foundation, up rows of neat tan bricks, over broad storefront windows with white trim. A tower? No, it was only two stories. Two meager stories at that, topped with a grey cottage roof. A lighthouse? A beacon? Sounded too important, as if the greater good of some distant magical land rested on the moldy foundations of this building, which certainly could not be the case.
His mind ran far too rapidly out of ideas, so he ultimately just gave up on the whole metaphor thing. Instead, he sighed, lowering his gaze back down from the pastel pinks and greens of the quaint Hambleton’s sign to the newspaper clipping pinched tightly in his fingers. His shaking fingers.
It was just an unassuming ice cream shop. So why did he feel so nauseous? His palms felt clammy, stomach lurched as if it were attempting an acrobatics routine at the circus down by the pier…
The ‘Help Wanted’ printed boldly atop the clipping was echoed by a sign in the shop window, right by the front door. Marcy swallowed thickly.
You can do this, kiddo, he tried to tell himself with something akin to his father’s confidence. Your first job. It’s a big step-
His anxiety spiked dramatically with a pound of his heart and he shook his head like a dog trying to rid himself of that train of thought. He certainly didn’t need to think anymore about what a big deal this would—could? Should?—be. He’d been thinking of that the whole bike ride over. He was positive it was turning him prematurely grey, which he definitely didn’t need while attempting to start off high school as unscathed as possible.
No, he had to think of how small this actually was. How insignificant. It was just a job. It was just an ice cream shop. Nothing major. Nothing life-changing. Just average, everyday kind of stuff. Just a normal high school kid doing a normal thing and getting a part-time job. For money. Because… that’s what jobs were for.
After one more deep breath, he shoved the clipping into his jeans pocket, hiked his backpack higher, and stepped up to the door to give it a push. It didn’t open. That’s when he noticed the little sign by the door handle that read “Pull”—and at the same time spotted somebody peering at him from just inside. Somebody with big, kite-shaped ears covered in fur planted on top of their head.
For one brief, nerve-fraying second, Marcy met the werewolf’s gaze and immediately jerked his eyes back toward the door handle. His heart pounded louder in his ears, and sweat was already gathering on his neck.
That was awkward… So awkward. He tried to keep breathing, just relax. No big deal. Just a person…
He pulled the door open, slipping inside with hopes of drawing as little attention to himself as possible. The little bell over the door dashed all of those hopes away. Amidst the sudden overwhelming smell of all things sugary, several heads turned to glance his way and he dropped his gaze to his WoodNation boots to avoid their attention. For three whole seconds, he stared at those familiar boots, the suede surface in dusty tan, while simultaneously trying to play it cool. Just smell the sweets, but also give in to his anxiety at the same time. The little rational part of his brain told him he was being silly.
I know, he told his brain. And your point is?
“Hiya friend!” came a smooth, deep voice from way too close, to his right. Marcy snapped his head up and zeroed in on the source—the werewolf again. Marcy had very little experience with them, and that fact twisted his gut into even tighter knots.
Indoors, Marcy could make out more details of this person. Contrary to the shop itself, this guy was quite… unique. Aside from being a werewolf obviously, he had a rich, dark caramel complexion, and deep, slanted brown eyes that watched him intently from under a fringe of his shaggy honey-hued hair. One of his wolfish ears, his left, drooped limply while the other stood straight upright and tilted toward Marcy.
Marcy had all of his attention. That was probably his job, if the turquoise apron and pink name tag were anything to go by. ‘Hye,’ the tag read.
“Welcome to Hambleton’s,” Hye said, eyes narrowing when he beamed a smile full of jagged teeth and imposing canines. Marcy didn’t know whether to be reassured or intimidated. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Uh,” was, of course, Marcy’s intellectual first word to one of the people he could end up working with. He cleared his throat, hoping the gesture would clear his brain too. Then he remembered the clipping and, mentally booting himself for stashing it away and wasting time, fished it out of his pocket again. “Um… I saw your ad? In the newspaper?”
He held the crumpled paper out for Hye to see, trying to pretend his hand wasn’t trembling. Cool it, Marcy, nothing’s the matter. Stop being such a clunker…
Seemingly oblivious to his internal plight, Hye snatched the clipping from him—Marcy briefly noted the white gloves on his hands—and skimmed over it with a ponderous hum. “Right, Dory mentioned… something. You wanna be our new waiter?”
Marcy blinked once. Waiter? “Th-The article didn’t say—”
“Well yeah, but I mean, that’s what we really need, I think.” Hye flipped the clipping over in his hand, glanced over the random text on the back, and then was in the process of handing it back when someone else approached them.
“Hye, table six needs atten—”
An elf, wearing an apron that matched Hye’s, stopped just shy of the square of light coming through the glass door, which brought him close enough that Marcy could’ve reached out and ruffled his bright bubble-gum pink hair. Which Marcy didn’t do, of course. Not only did the idea make his ears flush hot, but he was also a bit preoccupied gaping at the elf’s face, a face he was positive he recognized from a bunch of his mom’s beauty magazines.
“Hey, are you—” he started to stammer before Hye practically dove to interrupt by wagging the newspaper clipping between them.
“Sunny,” the werewolf blurted, “this kid wants to apply!”
Kid? I can’t be that much younger than him, can I…?
Sunny—or Sundance, as his name tag read—attempted for a brief moment to follow the bouncing ad with his eyes before he pursed his gloss-covered lips and snatched Hye’s wrist to hold it still. The elf took the paper from his coworker and gave it a similar furrow-browed once-over before his dark eyes settled onto Marcy, who had never seen such heavy lashes on a dude, and hot pink to boot. Was that natural? Was that how elves worked? It wasn’t like he’d ever had an up-close conversation with one. There weren’t any at his school. Most said elf kids were too good for normal schools like West Lorian.
“Sorry,” Sundance offered, serious expression giving way to a small, warm smile that looked right off a cover of Charmed magazine. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Let me take you to Sam; he’s the boss here.”
Hye’s ears drooped—or, the right one drooped while the left drooped further. “Why can’t—?”
Sundance shot him a brief but sharp glance. With one hand, he beckoned Marcy and then pointed a rigid finger, tipped in a long seelie nail covered in professional pink polish, in Hye’s direction. “Table six,” he repeated, before turning to head further into the shop. Each step he took clipped on the checkered tile, and Marcy snuck a glance at his feet—the guy wore high-heeled boots in neon pink and he was still at least seven centimeters shorter than him?—before he dashed to fall in step behind him.
Despite the unobtrusive exterior, the shop seemed decently active. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, so he spotted several school-age kids around, some in the soft pink booths with minty tables, a few clustered around a pinball machine at the back, others perched on pink stools at the bar—counter? Wasn’t a bar, calling it a bar felt wrong somehow. All of them were sipping on milkshakes or spooning up sundaes, after all. There were a few adults or parents with kids here and there too, but the patronage seemed primarily made up of the younger crowd.
Heels clacking away, Sundance led him around the counter, through a portion where the countertop flipped up and the counter wall pushed in and then gestured toward the pair of swinging kitchen doors nestled in the wall under the chalkboard menu, right behind the antique cash register. Meaning he expected Marcy to go in first.
With a gulp, Marcy pushed through the portal, and was instantly transported from the lively shop atmosphere to a crisp industrial world of appliances and brushed steel counters. Despite the sudden assault of clean grey-and-white color palette, it still smelled overwhelmingly like chocolate and fresh fruit, with just a hint of soap or something like it. Somewhere to his right, hidden by the door he held open, water was running. To his left, where he could see a bit of movement, voices rose above said water.
“No touching!” said one, a light voice, a bit snappish. “You’re not allowed to touch. Last time you touched, you ruined. So. No.”
“Hey, you’re the one who said we were busy,” said the other, deeper, richer, almost cottony. “I’m just trying to help.”
“You can help by manning the counter like you’re supposed to.”
“Nobody new was coming in. Seppy stopped in for a drink, but I wasn’t about to ask him to break and help in here.”
“I mean, you could’ve.”
Ah, so the first voice was the Sam that Sundance had mentioned. The voice that sounded uptight and rather upset about something… Marcy gulped again.
“Go on in,” Sundance prompted behind him. “It’s okay.”
The awkward revelation that the elf was waiting on him was enough to spur him forward one stride, through the door, and the rest of the way into the kitchen. That one stride was longer and ganglier than he’d intended though, and his second one was barely a tiptoe to compensate. More than likely, he looked like some kind of drunken crane; just the impression he wanted to make. His neck was sweating again.
Cool air wafted through the kitchen, easing the flush of his face at least a little bit. As Sundance entered behind him, Marcy swept his gaze over the numerous steel cupboards and counters, the massive freezer directly across from where he stood, double ovens, and a giant industrial sink off to the right, where somebody stood rinsing dishes with the pull-down faucet nozzle. That was the running water from earlier. The door flapped shut behind Sundance and the person at the sink glanced over his shoulder in their direction.
There was something… off, about the kid’s face. Marcy didn’t appreciate the steely glare, for one, and on top of that, the guy looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. Was it really that stressful around here?
Maybe he should rethink this…
“Sam,” Sundance said, and Marcy practically flinched as the elf passed by to his left, moving further into the kitchen. Probably because Marcy had once again come to a stand-still and had been lingering there like a weirdo.
You’re doing great so far, kiddo. Marcy ran a hand over his face, hoping maybe that would serve to reset his impression. His brain too. Everyone wanted to hire a bundle of nerves, right?
Sundance said something to Sam, one of the two men occupying the left end of the kitchen opposite the haggard dishwasher. Marcy wasn’t paying attention to whatever Sundance said, but he did notice when the elf gestured his way with an open hand and he took that as his cue to step forward, toward them. He attempted to look Sam in the eye with all the faux confidence he could muster and tried not to flinch when the man held out his hand to shake.
“You’re responding to the ad, huh?” Sam said while Marcy clumsied his way through the handshake.
Sam—who had neatly combed platinum hair parted on the side and a pair of big, round brown eyes lined with distinct lashes—didn’t look very old. Which was surprising, since Marcy always pictured restaurant owners as well-established fifty-somethings. Though he dressed in a minty sweater, faded jeans, and the company apron, this guy was maybe college-age at most, and even then, he had a face as young as Sundance’s. And if your face could be compared to an elf’s, that meant ‘pretty as heck.’ It was an odd thought to think, Marcy decided, the realization that this guy was probably prettier than his mom. By normal human standards, anyway.
And it managed to be simultaneously surprising and not surprising at all that this was the person who ran this old ice cream shop.
Dumbly, Marcy nodded in response to Sam’s clarifying question. At least that gave him an idea of what Sundance might’ve said while he was sidetracked with awkwarding, which meant Marcy was less likely to repeat himself and look like an idiot. When Sam released his hand, Marcy tucked it into his jeans pocket and tried to make the action look casual and relaxed. Confidence, he tried to say with his posture. Look how confident I am.
“Yeah,” he said, glancing absently around at the kitchen again. His attention snagged once more on the person at the sink and caught him watching intently, so Marcy jerked his gaze back. “I’m in high school… seemed…” He shrugged to cover up his struggle to find words to spit out. “Like a logical step. Get a job. The ad mentioned part-time…?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam nodded, “we’re pretty flexible ‘round here. And honestly, it’s the after-school hours that really pinch us anyway, so that could work out great. What’s your name?”
Marcy blinked and instantly felt like a fool for forgetting to mention that. “Oh, uh… Marcy. Uh, Marceline, I mean. Marceline Ross. Yeah…”
“Cool name,” said Sam, reaching behind himself to untie his apron. “I’m Sam Hambleton. And if you want, Marcy, we can head back to the office and I’ll give you a proper interview before we decide whether or not you’ll be a good fit.”
Marcy nodded some more, while Sam untangled himself from the apron. Once he was finished, another man, the second speaker from before no doubt, stepped up to take it from him. The white kitchen lights made it impossible to miss this guy’s pale purple hair, propped up over a teal bandana that matched the wide gauges in his earlobes. Sam handed over the apron with a brief look of mild exasperation before he sighed and turned back to Marcy.
He gestured back out the way Marcy came in. “Just follow me.”
For a brief, panic-inducing second, Marcy drew a blank. His brain fumbled desperately to figure out what he was supposed to do in response to that contradictory combination of action and word. Move forward, with the gesture? Wait and follow, at the words? Thankfully, Sam didn’t make him suffer too long before he walked ahead and out the kitchen doors. Holding back a sigh of his own, Marcy fell into step behind him and waved a little when Sundance wished him luck before the kitchen doors swung shut behind him.
At the back of the building, down a little hall and in the opposite corner from the restrooms, Hambleton’s had a small office space, with an antique desk and chair, an umbrella lamp, a big bookshelf covered in a rainbow of spines, a fake potted plant in the back corner, and a dozen framed pictures hung in seemingly random places on the cream-colored walls. Marcy recognized Sundance, Hye, and the purple-haired man in several of them.
“All right, well…” Sam made his way behind the desk and flopped down into the plushy-looking leather office chair. “Let’s get started.”
Over the next twenty minutes or so, Sam asked all of the usual sorts of interview questions—his age, why he wanted to work there, what he could offer as an employee, if he had any experience, how was he with people. The most stressful bits were hypothetical scenarios, and when Sam asked for any references Marcy might have that could vouch for him. All things considered, Marcy thought he kept a fairly level head and gave all of the usual sorts of answers—he was just a 15-year-old looking for his first job, had little experience but was open to just about anything. He did his best with the hypotheticals and jotted down his parents’ and West Lorian High’s phone numbers when prompted.
Just as he was handing that innocent little piece of paper back to the man across the desk, the office door opened behind him, letting in a wave of crowd noise from the shop outside. Marcy jumped and jerked himself around to see who’d so suddenly intruded upon his fragile peace of mind.
The dishwasher. Or, the guy who’d been washing dishes… He looked even more worn out and pale up close, older than the first impression, and the dull grey of his baggy hoodie wasn’t doing him any favors. His jaw-length, messy black hair made him look like some kind of bum or something, and Marcy couldn’t help but fidget under the intensity with which the shorter man—elf? He had pointed ears, just like Sundance—eyed him from the shadow of his bangs.
“Sam,” the guy said, his voice sounding just about as tired as he looked, comparable to the moan of an old door, “you forgot that machine doesn’t like Dori.”
Sam peered up from his phone, where Marcy presumed he was saving those numbers. “He didn’t break it, did he?”
“No, it just refuses to work for him.”
While Marcy glanced awkwardly back and forth from his place between the two, Sam let out a slow breath. “Okay… I’ll be there in a minute.”
“A hot minute. He’s trying to ‘fix’ it.”
“Well,” Sam said, “tell him to stop!”
At this, the dishwasher allowed himself a grimace, bearing his teeth with a groan and revealing something that made Marcy’s blood run cold.
Fangs. Big, gleaming fangs, twice as long as Hye’s werewolf canines, caught and held Marcy’s stare even after they disappeared behind the man’s pale lips. Pale… oh, everything made a frightening sort of sense now. The ears, the hair, the hoodie, the bags under those oddly piercing eyes, the pallid hue of his skin that made it look as though he could be dead… That was because he was dead.
He was a vampire.
Hambleton’s Ice Creamery had hired a vampire. Any feasible reason why was lost on Marcy, drowned under the shudder that threatened to betray the sudden chill that made the hair on his arms raise.
“Whatever,” the vampire grumbled before he stepped back out into the hall and, without a second glance, closed the door behind him. Just like that, he was gone. After he’d been so close, too close. A silence followed, not one that was particularly odd or outstanding, but to Marcy, it lasted far too long for comfort. No, the silence was a poor follow-up to this new discovery, and it only allowed that uncomfortable knot to twist in his stomach and make each tick of the wall clock sound louder than it had any right to be.
What should he do? It would be both rude and suspicious if he suddenly just blurted ‘hey actually, just changed my mind; I think I’ll go home and hide in my bed for an hour before looking for a different job elsewhere.’ He did really need a job… and this place seemed nice overall, except for… that person. Was he ready to deal with that? He wasn’t sure.
“Well then,” said Sam, leaning back in his chair with an air of conclusion. Marcy got the idea that the interview was about to end, and positively. That should have been a relief. It wasn’t. “You seem like a nice kid, Marcy… I can see you fitting in well with us, even if you’ll need some practice. But you’d have Hye and Sunny to help you out, and with the rest of us here, you’d be in good hands…” He scratched the back of his head. “I’ll give these numbers a call, but I think everything checks out so far. If we were to hire you, how would you feel about starting Monday, next week?”
That was in four days. Marcy gulped, once again and tried not to make it obvious just how much his palms were sweating. Four days didn’t leave him a lot of time, no time to think, no time to prepare… He needed that time. He needed to think this over. Maybe he needed to talk to his dad. Maybe he didn’t know what he needed, but it wasn’t to just sign himself over to this fate so easily.
“Would…” he found himself saying, tongue coated lead. “Would it be okay if… I had a trial period? Or, something… just. To make sure I do okay…?”
That… seemed like a decent idea. He could test the waters. Seemed normal enough, Marcy figured, like he wanted to see if this gig really was up his alley, see if he could make it work… Maybe he wouldn’t be working with that guy much. Maybe he’d stay in the back, and Marcy would be a waiter like Hye said. He could handle that without accidentally causing problems. And the vampire might be more comfortable too… young blood, and all that. He didn’t want to be a distraction for anybody.
Yeah, this could work. So long as Sam agreed…
The man in question pursed his lips, thoughtful for a moment before he nodded. “Sure, I’m okay with that. Maybe two weeks?”
“Um… yeah.” As permanent as a sub, until Marcy got a handle on things. And if he wanted to, he could always just back out at the end of two weeks. No harm, no foul. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.
After that, it was just a matter of bidding Sam thank you and good evening before Marcy was able to get on his way. Hye gave him an enthusiastic farewell on his way out the door, so much so that several of the patrons looked up to see what all the fuss was about, which Sundance seemed to scold him for. Marcy used the distraction as an opportunity to duck out as quickly as possible and hoped it just seemed like he needed to get home for dinner. Which was half true, of course.
While the evening sun was growing peachier by the minute, he straddled his much-loved cherry red StreetLord bicycle, shrugged his backpack higher, and pedaled away, settling in for the ride home with a full brain. He had lots to think about.
Hambleton’s, and the little plaza it nested in, was conveniently close to home, in Bushfort. It sat just outside the city limits, on the border Bushfort shared with its larger, busier sibling suburb of Honeyvale. Only a twelve-minute drive with regular traffic, and Marcy could easily match that using the bike paths. Compared to some other jobs he’d found in the paper, some all the way on the other side of Lore and requiring a late subway trip every day, this commute was a breeze. There were a lot of good things about this job that would make it perfect for just about any kid looking for an easy entry-level. And yet…
There was the vampire. And that alone was enough to make him want to slam on the E-brake for this whole cockamamie scheme of his. He’d wanted to show he was ready for this chapter in his life, ready to start on the long road toward adulthood. But screw easing into this growing-up thing, screw being a man. It wasn’t worth his neck. Marcy didn’t like to think badly of anybody, but he’d heard enough stories from his father’s time in the force to know it was in a human’s best interest to steer clear of vampires.
Thanks to their lifestyle, or what Marcy knew of it, he very rarely saw them. As far as he knew, there wasn’t a single vampire living in Bushfort. He had a vague awareness of them, and knew they existed in more populated parts of the city, but they were creatures of the nightlife. Shadowy, nocturnal things he’d had nightmares about as a kid. Of course, they couldn’t be blamed for his eight-year-old self watching horror films with his friends during sleepovers, but he most definitely had never expected to find one working a regular nine-to-five in a rinky-dink strip mall. During the day. While the sun was up.
And an ice cream shop? Could vampires even eat ice cream? He’d always thought they could only eat blood.
Marcy hit the brakes at the end of the parking lot and glanced back, searching the storefronts. Despite the autumn heat, he couldn’t tame the cold feeling that was settling to his bones or the brief regard to the wallet in his back pocket. He had a little money from this month’s allowance… Maybe… maybe, while he was thinking about it, he should get something… just in case. He spotted a promising sign and, with a sigh, turned the bike around and backtracked.
Five minutes and a new purchase later, he was back on the road and headed off, taking the back route out of the plaza and onto the old brick streets of Bushfort. He knew the neighborhood, and the general route that would take him just where he needed to go: home.
Bushfort wasn’t much as far as suburbs went. Less than ten thousand people, twenty minutes from the metro, with lingering phantoms of the classic “main street” kinda town it used to be before Lore flooded over with people and became the geographical giant it was now. It was quaint, quiet. No rowdy crowds, not as much crime… Most of the population was made up of humans, as far as Marcy knew. He appreciated the shade of the caged cherry trees as he peddled past the corner store, waved at the old ladies coming out of George’s Pharmacy, stopped at the single street light on Main, and watched the automobiles rumble past. Several drivers raised a few fingers off their steering wheels in passive greeting, and he returned the favor from his handlebars until the light changed and he was off again.
He didn’t know a lot of these people, but they probably knew him. That’s what happened when you played sports in small towns, not to mention if your dad was a well-known deputy. And Marcy was pretty sure that in the same way, if there was a vampire living within city limits, everyone would know about it. Bushfort folks liked to talk, and when they talked vampires, it was with a slight tremble at best, the bite of contempt at worst. Marcy hated the latter.
But slotting himself in with the former made him feel guiltier than he thought it would. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why… They could be dangerous, sure. Deputy Ross hid details from his family, but Marcy knew how to surf the internet. He’d read articles. But despite that, vampires were still supposed to be… semi-normal people. Right?
He thought of the way the one at Hambleton’s had glared at him, a perfect stranger, and had to wonder.
In a total of ten blocks, most of them making up the grid through the middle-class neighborhood where he’d spent the entirety of his childhood, he rolled up to a small yellow ranch-style home with white trim and hedges under the windows, where the pristine white mailbox read 7412 Vernon St. With practiced efficiency, he hopped the curb, coasted up the driveway and jumped off the bike in time to bring it to a full stop at the edge of the walk that led to the door. After laying the bike on its side in the grass, he jogged the rest of the way to the rust-red door, spotted movement through the frosted glass of the oval window, and paused with his hand on the knob.
They would ask about it. The interview. They’d want to know how it went. He could mention the vampire… and that would be the end of it. They wouldn’t let him take the job. He wouldn’t have a choice.
But… maybe I can handle this… Yeah! He could. Maybe he just needed to suck it up and muscle through it. That’s what his dad did when his job got tough, uncomfortable. He just had to remember why he wanted the job in the first place. For the money. And maybe even to prove he wasn’t a kid anymore. That’d be nice.
Yes. He would handle this.
Marcy took a deep breath and entered the foyer.
Just inside, Sibyl was busy dusting the coat rack. She paused as he closed the door behind him, duster stilling and sharp brown eyes—the ones that marked the two of them as siblings—narrowing just enough to make him straighten his shoulders upon entering. Why, he couldn’t say.
Her thin, adolescent lips quirked up on one side. “Marcy’s back!” she called into the house, the duster beginning to move again, bouncing along the rack’s shelf. “How’d it go?”
He shrugged, both at her question and to slip the backpack from his shoulders and let it swing to the floor. “Okay.”
“Where’d you get the necklace?”
Instinctively, his fingers rose to press the new weight of the small silver pendant into the dip of his collarbone where it rested. His most recent purchase… His fingertips ghosted over the engraved ‘M’ for a second, before he dropped his hand back to his side. His sister’s suspicion simmered on her face.
“I just—” he began, trying to come up with something. Something other than the truth. Why was he only thinking of this now and not when he had several blocks to mentally prepare an excuse? No, he’d only just figured out what he wanted to do… he wasn’t ready for questions yet!
“Is it from a girl?” Sibyl prompted, and the heat returned to Marcy’s neck full force.
He shook his head vehemently, eager to dissuade her of this particular theory as quickly as possible. “No, it’s… I just wanted one, that’s all. Is that so weird?”
“You never wear jewelry. Except for those boring old mini hoops.” She grinned at his discomfort and he withered.
“They’re not boring…”
“They’re all you wear.”
“That… doesn’t make them boring.” He sidestepped past her, the foyer feeling much too small with both of them in it. The kitchen, and the smell wafting from it in particular, beckoned him. Much more enticing than this conversation.
“Yeah it does,” Sibyl said to his back. “And you know Mom’s gonna make you pick up your backpack!”
“Then I’ll do it when she does.” Leaving it at that, Marcy navigated through the living room, past the olive green sofas and circle-pattern rug, and the moment he came in view of the kitchen and its antique striped walls, a woman popped up from behind the island counter, short brunette curls in a mess over her eyes.
“Marcy!” his mother said, somehow able to distinguish him from behind her mop top. She puffed her cheeks and blew the fringe in an attempt to clear her vision and then, when that failed, gave her head a good shake. That was marginally more successful, and he was able to make out the blue of her eyes.
“Welcome home!” Francis Ross beamed at him and reached for the sink to rinse her hands. “How was your day?”
He knew what she was really asking about was the job thing, but if he jumped straight to that, she’d tell him she wanted to know all of it, so it was just better to sum everything up as briefly as possible. “Okay. Had a pop quiz in math, which bit, but then Jasper got hit in the face with a frisbee during PE, so that was fun.”
“Oh, don’t say that,” she scolded, but only half-heartedly. She knew what Jasper was like. She snatched up the towel from where she had it hanging over her shoulder, drying her hands while Marcy hopped onto one of the bar stools at the counter. He watched the question dance in her eyes, just begging to be spoken despite the way she regarded him with a fond smile as he settled in.
After he took a particularly deep breath, it seemed she could tame her curiosity no longer.
“How did it go?” she asked, positioning herself directly across from him and grinning. “With the job?”
He pursed his lips. The moment of truth…
Or not-truth. She was so happy for him already, and she didn’t even know anything. How quickly would that smile go away if he mentioned why he was no longer sure he wanted the job? Which wasn’t entirely true either. He did want the job. He wanted a job, he wanted cash, and this was the closest, most logical option for both.
He could handle this.
So he nodded to appease her. “Good, I think… It sounds like they’ll hire me—”
Her gasp of delight cut him off from further explanation and he stuttered to a halt to save his breath. Meanwhile, she beamed rays of excitement and reached across the counter to squeeze his hand. Marcy squinted instinctively, as if that might protect him from the intensity of her enthusiasm.
“Ohhh, my little man,” she said, giving his hand a little wiggle against the counter. He almost felt like she was trying to infect him with her energy like she should be able to shake his hand and in turn, he’ll start bouncing in his seat for joy or something.
Still. She’d never called him ‘little man’ before. That was new. Kind of weird.
“I’m so proud of you,” she finished, grin stuck on her face now. “You excited?”
“Uh…” He blinked, trying to find an appropriate response in the face of… all that. “Not yet… Probably because Mr. Hambleton—er, the boss—said he wants to call you first to check stuff, so it’s not like it’s. You know, official or anything?”
“Uh-huh.” She just smiled wider and stepped back to lean down, peering into the oven at something. “Well, I’m excited. Did you ask what the pay is?”
Marcy sniffed a little; he thought he could smell tomato sauce of some kind. What was she concocting this time? “Mm-hmm. Seven zees an hour. With a raise later if I stick around.”
His mother made a show of looking impressed, waggling her eyebrows. At the same time, she opened up the oven, letting out a waft of ominously visible fumes. “A whole zinno higher than minimum wage, how nice. You’ll buy us a trip to Feiai when you’re rich, right?”
Marcy blinked slowly. “Um…”
“Honey, I’m kidding.”
Undeterred by his lack of enthusiasm, she chuckled to herself and slipped on the fluffy pair of imitation wool oven mitts that were sitting on the countertop beside her. She reached into the oven belly and withdrew a foil-topped pan that seeped steam from the edges. “You could buy yourself a trip to Feiai, though. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”
She deposited the pan atop a hotplate beside the stovetop and gingerly peeled back the foil, revealing some sort of white cheese-topped casserole. It didn’t look half bad. Marcy leaned forward a little to try and catch a whiff.
“Well, I’m beginning to wonder if you find anything exciting,” she said with a crooked smile. She leaned her palms on the edge of the counter and fixed him with a stare, eyes narrowed as if he was a puzzle she could solve just by looking at him. “There must be something, right?”
The casserole smelled strongly of basil and garlic. He sniffed again and rubbed an itch from his nose. “I don’t… I’m okay with. Well, with not-excitement. Excitement is kinda tiring, I guess.”
“Says Mr. All-Star of the middle school baseball and football teams,” she countered with a small wink.
He fidgeted in his seat. “That’s different…”
“Hm. I still think there’s gotta be something that could get you excited. I’ve seen you excited, I know you.” She removed the mitts and from one of the many kitchen drawers, fished out a knife and spatula. “Should I guess? Hmmm…” As she pondered, she started slicing through the casserole, releasing more steam and making the cheese stretch. “Action movies.”
“How about my cooking?”
She slapped down the knife with much more force than necessary and, after he jumped from his seat, pointed a finger at him. A satisfied smirk spread across her lips, which he eyed with an appropriate level of skepticism.
“I’ve got it,” she said. “I know what gets you excited.”
He raised an eyebrow at the level of unwavering confidence in her voice. He wasn’t kidding though. In all honesty, there really wasn’t much that caught his interest, not in the way she meant it. Not much was worth the wow. He didn’t see that as a problem either, but humoring her was always better than arguing. He knew that from time-tested experience. So he braced his elbows on the counter, propped his chin on his palm, and waited for her to finish with her theory so he could head for the dining room.
“Going on rides in your grandfather’s car.” Her smile widened, hesitating long enough to look him in the eye and let the words sink in before she headed over to the corner cupboard to fetch a stack of plates. “Visiting his old garage. I know you like that.”
Ah, Papa’s car… That sleek, classic beauty. Glossy cherry red, gleaming chrome trim, tan leather interior, white-wall tires. Now that was a car. Marcy felt the corners of his mouth twitch, and he pursed his lips quickly to hide it, ducking his head.
“Aha! I knew it,” she laughed.
“Okay… I’ll give you that one.” He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck, trying to hide a wash of embarrassment that threatened to turn him red again.
“Mm-hm, see, I know you.” She set the plates on the counter between them. Her smile turned gentler, almost wistful. “And I bet this job will be exciting for you too. And you know, if it’s not and it ends up not being your thing… that’s okay. You should always look for a job that you personally find thrilling.”
When she tapped the top of the plate stack, Marcy immediately stood up and went over to gather them. He glanced sidelong at her as he did, catching her slipping the mitts on again. “Is that why you’re still an EMT?”
“Of course.” She offered him a sidelong smile in return. “It’s rough, but I love my job.”
On the other side of the house, the front door scuffed open and closed with a dull thud that lightly shook the walls. Dad’s usual entrance. Nobody else made the house shudder like that when they shut the door. Sure enough, a familiar baritone called out not a second later.
“I’m home!” A brief pause followed, and Marcy could make out the rustle of fabric. Probably Dad taking off his coat. “Marcy back?”
“Yeah,” Marcy answered himself, picking up the plates. Now that everyone was at home, dinner could really begin, and that casserole was looking more appetizing the later it got.
“You left your backpack in the entryway again, kiddo.”
Marcy winced, at the same time his mother clicked her tongue and murmured his name before shouting her own response.
“He’ll pick it up! You’re just in time, sweetie, we’re about to put eggplant parm on the table!”
Oh… so that’s what that was.
“Sounds good.” From the tone in his father’s voice, Marcy got the impression that he was as skeptical about the looming meal as Marcy was. Still. Hunger waits for no man. And Richard Ross was always starving when he got home after a long day on patrol.
“Fetch Sibyl and then we can all sit down, and Marcy can tell you all about the job thing!”
“Oh, right, the job thing…”
The house then came alive with the sounds of dinnertime. Marcy found himself roped into setting the table and dishing out portions, and then over the next hour or so, recounted his conversation with his mother in the presence of his father and little sister. He described the friendly werewolf and the elf, whom he was still positive he’d seen in his mother’s magazines (his sister said he was too boring to meet an actual celebrity, so she doubted this claim). He conveniently avoided mention of the vampire, and none of them seemed to notice his awkward glossing or his necklace. Thank everything, Sibyl didn’t say a word about it. Marcy found himself almost relaxing.
“How was your day, sweetie?” his mother at one point turned to ask Dad.
After sipping his iced tea, Dad sighed, the creases in his forehead deepening. “Tough day. Tough day… Chandler raided a coven this morning; apparently, they managed to put curses on two of our guys before Silverston got them. We got three out of seven. No licenses, no wand permits. Just another group of punks who thought it’d be cool to try throwing some sparkles around, I guess. ”
Marcy didn’t know much about magic, so he didn’t look up from his parm, but he caught his mother leaning forward from the corner of his eye. She put a hand over her mouth in a moment of concern and then removed it to speak.
“Not serious curses, I hope?”
“Nah, just a basic trance, Silverston said. He fixed them up pretty quick.” Dad took a quick bite before he continued. “He had a lot more work cut out for him after that riot we had to break up this afternoon.”
“Oh, that vampire attack,” Mom tsked and shook her head. “I saw a bit of that on the news. I wondered if you were there.”
Vampires? Marcy glanced up from his plate. An attack? “Yeah, they just… It’s everything we can do to keep them in line these days. They walked into an anti-vamp convenience store. Broad daylight.”
Mom scoffed. “The pills again?”
“Must’ve been. By the time we showed up, the manager had chased them out, but they’d essentially started a brawl. Three civilians were in…” He hesitated, eyes shifting briefly to Sibyl, who was listening with rapt attention. “Uh, bad shape.”
Marcy gulped, despite not having anything left to swallow down but the shiver creeping up his spine.
Dad shook his head. “Phillips wasted a few rounds on one of them, poor kid. Didn’t know what to do when it got right back up again and turned on him. I don’t think he’d ever dealt with them directly before. You know Silverston is the best with containment.”
“Must be nice to be able to conjure walls from thin air,” Mom said, patting her mouth down with her napkin. Then she stood. “All right, are we all finished now? I made molasses cookies again for dessert.”
And that was that. The conversation moved on from vampires as if nothing serious had been discussed. Usually, Marcy never paid Dad’s work stories a second thought. They were distant, separate from everything Marcy knew, like tales from another world. Vampire incidents had never directly affected his life. Until today, of course. Now all he could think about were those pale, slitted eyes waiting for him at the edge of town, and he hoped his parents wouldn’t notice the way he couldn’t look at them.
He clung to the feeble foundations of his resolve, reminding himself that he’d already decided what to do. He’d bought the necklace and everything! Vampires didn’t like silver. He’d be fine.
When all was said and done, he managed to get through the rest of the evening without any further incident, which he thought was a feat in and of itself. Sibyl had dish duty, so Marcy was free to retreat to his room to play Rogue Sentinel and plunk away at his homework.
He went to bed that night having won five rounds in a row and feeling rather self-satisfied about it. He lay in the dark and let the satisfaction sink in, bleed into his thoughts about the day as a whole. Sure, his father had stories... But unlike many others who might’ve taken this job, he could use those stories as guides. Warnings. And Marcy could take care of himself. He’d done it, hadn’t he? He’d answered a job ad, gone through an interview, and made an executive decision, all by himself. And his mom had called him her little man. He could do without the ‘little’ part… but the ‘man’ sounded nice.
Yeah. He could totally handle this.
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