I’ll admit I was in a bit of a rush to leave at the end of the day. Mr. Salvatore’s car hadn’t moved, and I had a suspicion that he didn’t intend to leave until after the office party. Probably with Megan in his trunk. So, combined with my belief that the best place to be was as far away from him as possible… Yes, I was eager to leave. I left the office while Megan was still saving her files.
“I’m almost done,” she assured me absently while shutting out her programs. I did my best not to fidget, but I was practically dancing with the desire to leave. I was glad no one else was around and Megan was distracted with her computer. I probably looked like I was about to wet myself.
Then Megan finished. She logged out, rummaged in her purse for her keys, and stood. “Let’s go,” she said with a smile for me.
I breathed a sigh of relief – which is the only reason I didn’t scream when Mr. Salvatore idly said: “Dear me, is it quitting time already?”
It’s hard to scream when your lungs are empty.
I hadn’t seen him leave his office. I hadn’t seen him coming down the hall toward us. In fact, I hadn’t seen him at all until he’d spoken up. Ordinarily, I would have assumed I’d just been being flaky and unobservant. Now? I didn’t know if he had super vampire speed or if he’d been using some undead mind technique to hide his presence – but either possibility was terrifying.
Megan didn’t bat an eye. “Afraid so,” she said. She laced her fingers together and stretched her arms to the side. “But I assure you it was a productive day, and our departure is well earned,” she said cheerfully.
Mr. Salvatore chuckled appreciatively. “That is as it is,” he agreed amicably, “but I do hope you’re planning on coming back tonight. As one of my department leads I have set aside some awards and recognition for you in specific.”
Megan smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “And, yes. We are planning to come by before the night closes.”
“Wonderful,” Mr. Salvatore replied. Despite Megan’s use of ‘we’, he hadn’t looked my way once. He rested one hand idly on the edge of Megan’s desk. “I look quite forward to seeing you there.” I got the impression he was giving her the old ‘vampire mind control stare.’ Hans had said vampires couldn’t really do that, but could I really trust what Hans said? Besides, even if I could, maybe it was actually just that vampires couldn’t really do that to werewolves.
I slipped my arm around Megan’s without thinking and pulled myself next to her. “Yep!” I said a little too loudly – but it forced Mr. Salvatore to shift his attention to me. “We’ll totally be there,” I continued. “Wouldn’t miss it. Working for you has been great, you know? I still can’t believe I have a job I enjoy enough to have done as a hobby.” I was babbling, and Mr. Salvatore was staring at me with distaste – but that was fine, because it kept his attention off of Megan. And, frankly, it would be a lot worse if the vampire were looking at me like I was tasty, right?
“It’ll be weird working for Hans,” I continued to ramble. “Oh! But I’m sure we’ll get used to it. Anyway, we should go. Lots to do before the ball drops, you know? But we’ll totally see you at the party,” I lied – I still had no intention of letting Megan near it. I started to drag her down the hall with me. “Bye! See you later!” I chattered.
Megan gave up and let me lead her away. Mr. Salvatore didn’t move from her desk, though he did turn to watch us depart. Megan waved goodbye to him as I hustled her into the parking lot. Goddamn hypno-vamp.
Once we were outside, Megan matched my pace. “What was that about?” she asked as we split up at her car.
“He’s creepy,” I told her from the passenger door. “Creee-eepy,” I reiterated as I got in. “A creepy old vampire.”
Megan laughed and buckled in on the driver’s side. “You know, he can’t be that much older than us. No gray hairs.”
Only probably a few hundred years, I thought. I felt a little sick. Against a few hundred years’ experience with hunting nubile women, what chance did I really have of keeping Megan out of Mr. Salvatore’s clutches?
“You think he’s creepy, too,” I obstinately posited. “And we have lots to do. So I was just saving you from being drooled over so we could get going.” Drooled over and bitten. “You’re welcome.”
“I do not,” Megan protested. “And we don’t have that much to do. Just stop by your place for some clothes and then kill time at mine for a while. It won’t take too long to get gussied up for the party at Luminescence. Just an hour or two.”
I blanched. I had no idea what Megan had in mind to do to me that would take an hour or two, but I had a mental image of myself in full goth makeup with dyed punker hair.
“Yes you do,” I said as Megan started the car. I was too distracted by my mental image to think about what I was saying – I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear with all that makeup. I would look like the deranged offspring of a mime, a rockstar and a librarian. “You don’t touch him.”
Megan stopped and looked at me. “What?” she asked.
I blinked out of my reverie. Rockstar seduces librarian made for a good fantasy, but in a three-way with a mime? How was that supposed to work out? I shook my head and thought about what I’d said – but it was true. “You don’t,” I said in surprise. “You like to touch and hug people. Me, Fumiko, Jimmy… even Hans, and you only met him yesterday. But you don’t go out of your way to touch Mr. Salvatore… Because on some level you know he’s a creeper, creeping out on you!” I concluded triumphantly.
Megan frowned at me. “That’s not it,” she said. “It’s just that when I started hanging out with Katherine, she asked me to stay away from him. And I got the impression that there was some history there, so I thought I should respect that. But I don’t dislike Mr. Salvatore the way you do.” Her frown deepened. “I hope keeping my distance hasn’t been this obvious to everyone. I would hate to have hurt his feelings,” she added worriedly.
I blinked. Katherine had told Megan to stay away from Mr. Salvatore? That didn’t make sense. Unless he liked the chase, or something. “Oh.” I said. “Well. Um. We still have lots to do,” I said to justify myself.
Megan looked at me askance. “Like…?”
“Um. I don’t have anything to wear,” I said. “I mean: nothing that would be appropriate at Luminescence, you know?” Club L catered to the goth-punk crowd, and my wardrobe leaned heavily toward ‘comfortable and work appropriate’ instead. “So I thought we could do some shopping since the parties aren’t going to start until late.”
“Really?” Megan asked in surprise, and I nodded.
“Yeah,” I said – though the truth was I’d just thought of it. The mental image of me in goth makeup… I really didn’t have anything to wear with that, and if I did I’d be too mortified to be caught in public in it. And it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for work. But I didn’t want us to go back to the work party… and Megan is always trying to get me to add something flashier or frillier or fancier to my wardrobe. So I knew she would agree because she’d be getting something she wanted – and I could deal with being mortified at Club L if it gave me an excuse to refuse to go to the party at work, after.
“Okay,” Megan said. “Actually, when I was out with Fumiko last week we saw some things that would be great on you.”
“Uh-huh,” I said as Megan pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the shopping district. I felt a little queasy; I was already starting to regret this. Especially since I was basically manipulating my best friend. That was shitty of me. But I’d warned her about Mr. Salvatore and even told her he was a vampire – but she hadn’t believed me then and it hadn’t magically become more believable now that I knew it was true.
I took a deep breath. Just setting myself up with a reason to refuse to come back to work and trusting that Megan wouldn’t either was a terrible plan, anyway. It was entirely possible she’d decide to go without me, which would leave her with no one watching out for her. I’d try it if I had to, but if it came down to it I knew I would cave and go with her.
No… If I really wanted to keep Megan away from Mr. Salvatore, my only real chance was to keep her distracted at Club L. If we just stayed there late enough we could miss the office party entirely. Plus, the club wasn’t either of our homes – I didn’t know where Mr. Salvatore would go hunting first if Megan didn’t show, but I was betting the club was further off his radar than the addresses on our employment records.
But I already knew from Megan’s conversation with Katherine that Megan expected me to want to leave early, and was planning on dropping me off at home and swinging by the office before heading back to Luminescence without me. Which implied that she wanted to spend the evening at the club, anyway, and the office was just a detour she planned on making when I inevitably started to freak out. I swallowed. Oh, hell; I’d known the night was going to get worse, but this took the cake and threw it through a fan at a bridal party.
If I wanted to keep Megan from calling it at Luminescence I was going to have to be enjoying myself convincingly enough that she wouldn’t think I wanted to leave – otherwise we’d be on our way into Mr. Salvatore’s clutches and Megan would think she was doing me a favor.