After dinner Hans decided it was dark enough for me to go out. I was both relieved and anxious. Relieved because going shopping meant I’d actually be getting something done. Anxious because… well, I’ve never been a fan of ‘going out.’
Emma reclaimed her cardigan before we left. Oddly, the cool night air didn’t bother me as much as it should have. Another side effect of being undead, I guess. I also had no trouble seeing in the dark. That was still weird.
There was a green car parked next to Hans’ hummer. I assumed it was Emma’s.
We ended up in Hans’ vehicle. I was okay with that – I knew Hans was a good driver despite some of the blatant traffic violations he’d performed last night when he’d thought I was in danger. I sat in the back so Emma could be up front and give directions.
My seat smelled faintly of smoke, charred flesh, and some sort of aerosol odor eliminator. Suddenly I was significantly less okay with taking the Hummer.
I swallowed the queasy feeling in my stomach and buckled myself in. I closed my eyes and leaned back. I didn’t think deep, calming breaths would be all that effective given the undercurrent of eau-de-sun-crisped vampire, so I stopped breathing instead. I’d just fed so I figured I could afford to use some of my vampire perks without worrying they’d drive me over the edge.
I would have worried anyway but Emma interrupted my thought processes.
“So, where to first?” she asked. When I looked I saw that she had twisted around in her seat to address me. “What’s on your list?”
I bit my lip. Megan liked the fancy down town mall, with its upscale or niche shops. I usually just went to the grocery down the road from my apartment. I wasn’t even sure where to get some of the things that had wound up on my essentials list, but I didn’t think either of those options would cover most of it – I didn’t need groceries, and while I did need clothes the mall was too expensive. Besides: I didn’t even know how late its shops were open.
“Uh… is there a department store you can get us to? Like, a twenty-four hour one? I’m going to need a lot of stuff and I don’t want to break the bank before my renter’s insurance comes in.” If renter’s insurance even covered acts of the supernatural. Or arson.
“Sure,” Emma said. She turned back around and started giving Hans directions. I closed my eyes again and tried to review my list.
A lot of it was impractical. Not because I didn’t need or want it, but because there was no way I could look for it with Emma or Hans around. Not unless I wanted to die again from embarrassment.
I tried to focus on the practical. Enough clothes to get through a work week. Pajamas. Toiletries. Some kind of watch with an alarm so once I had a feeding schedule I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting it… although I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand a watch beeping at me, either. Maybe I could get a guy’s watch for Hans instead. And while I was in electronics I should probably look for a charger for my phone, too.
At least in a department store I should be able to get as much stuff as possible in one trip. And it was late enough that maybe it wouldn’t be too crowded.
After about half an hour Hans parked. When I got out of the car I had to squint – I don’t think my vision liked the juxtaposition of darkness and the illumination of street lamps. Or maybe I just needed to make a psychological adjustment over being able to see things equally well in both. In either case, the parking lot was mostly empty. I was grateful for the small blessing.
Emma looped her arm through mine and led the way. Hans followed and claimed a shopping cart for us when we entered the store.
I scanned the ceiling for department signs and led them in a loop. First personal care, then electronics; then clothes. Hans surrendered the cart to Emma and slipped away when we turned down the hair-care aisle. I knew Hans had plenty of shampoo, conditioner, soap and bubble-bath… but I wanted my own hairbrush, dammit. I went ahead and got my preferred brand for shampoo and conditioner, too. Maybe that was an unnecessary splurge, but I wanted – maybe needed – familiar things. With my apartment torched, rebuying my usual picks was probably as close as I was going to get.
I stopped when we got to the end of the aisle. The back wall of the store was apparently where they kept the ‘feminine care’ items.
Emma was behind me, browsing idly. “What do you think of…” she trailed off when she caught me staring.
I felt like I was eleven again – only Emma was definitely not my mom and I hadn’t just ruined the new skirt I’d gotten for my birthday two weeks ago. I felt just as stupid and ignorant of my own body, though.
I made myself turn to Emma. My ears felt like they were burning. “Am I going to need pads?” I forced myself to ask.
Emma’s mouth opened in a little ‘o’ that she covered with one hand. It turned into a hastily smothered giggle as she consulted her past experience. “I honestly don’t know,” she said. “It never came up with Salvatore.”
I scowled, which made Emma cover up another giggle. I decided it would be better to be safe than sorry and added a pack to the cart.
I knew it was stupid to feel so self-conscious, but I kind of hated that the two people I was dating were going to get to see all of my personal items. If Hans so much as raised an eyebrow – or if it turned out I didn’t need them anymore – I… I was going to tell him they weren’t for me.
In fact, I was going to go with that anyway. Those were for Hans, now. If I happened to need to borrow some, I would do so discretely. But if he didn’t want to have pads – with wings! – plastered to his chest like oversized bandages then he was going to have to do a better job of not getting stabbed in the future.
I pulled the cart around the corner and hastened to move on.
Body soap, deodorant, tooth brush, tooth paste, a hair brush, dental floss and mouth wash joined the contents of my cart. I stopped again at a small section at the end of tooth care. Why they had that stuff there, I didn’t know. I pushed past it. Then I stopped and came back. I turned to Emma. “Any preferences?” I managed to ask.
My ears were burning, but I didn’t feel quite as embarrassed as I knew I had to look. Lots of conversations with Megan had probably desensitized me.
Emma considered the products and plucked a bottle form the shelf. “I’ve used this before,” she said. Then she spotted another package and picked it up. “Oh, and this could be fun.” She flipped the package over. “Cupcake, cherry, chocolate? There’s an assortment if you want to try them.”
I blushed hard and hastily added the lubricants to the cart. I wanted to run away before anyone else saw us here or the conversation could continue. But I couldn’t. Running draws attention.
I tried to remind myself that I was supposed to be the aggressive one. It didn’t really help. I tried to think of something to say, but that failed, too. For some reason I was mortified just by my own inexperience.
For an even more inexplicable reason I decided to cover up my embarrassment by upping the crazy. I caught Emma by the cardigan, tugged her close, and kissed her. Emma made a startled noise and then practically melted against me. I belatedly realized that kissing in public was probably the sort of thing that would get her seriously worked up. I broke the kiss before I could lose even more control.
“Um,” I said. “Electronics next?”
“Okay,” Emma said breathily. I hurried away; she followed me with the cart.
We ran into Hans on our way. He came out of the grocery section and rejoined us.
“I thought I would scout out breakfast,” he said as he took over pushing the cart. “I promised Abigail breakfast today,” he added for Emma’s edification, “but last night did not go as planned.”
Emma sputtered out a laugh. “Yeah,” she agreed, “I bet.”
Hans grinned at her and then turned back to me. “I’ll loop back for the refrigerables when we’re closer to done. Shouldn’t take but a moment since I know where everything is.”
“Alright,” I said. “It shouldn’t be too long. I just have electronics, shoes, and clothing left.”
“Electronics?” Hans asked. “What are you looking for?” He sounded genuinely curious. Was it stereotypical for the guy to be interested in gadgets? Maybe he already had a watch or an alarm or something.
“Batteries,” Emma answered for me.
I flushed in embarrassment.
“Batt…?” Hans started to ask – but he stopped mid word when he finally took in the contents of the cart he was pushing. “…ah. I see,” he concluded. Hans smiled at Emma, then at me. “Excuse me a moment,” he said. “I’ll catch up.”
Hans disappeared back the way we came. Emma reclaimed the cart. I led the way for her so she wouldn’t see my scalding face. I did not stop at the battery display rack on my way to cellphone accessories.
Somehow, I noticed after I found a charger for my phone, a twenty-four pack of double-a batteries had appeared in the cart anyway. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t stick around to look for an alarm, either. Of course Hans wouldn’t want a watch: he dressed light to facilitate his shape shifting. If I ever did want to get him any accessories, they would have to be tear-away.
I tried not to think about that too much. I owed Hans a lot, and I didn’t even know when his birthday was. I tabled that for further panicking later. If I found myself in a crunch for a birthday present – or a thank you gift – maybe I could find a nice male stripper to ask for suggestions. They were probably listed in the phone book. With luck I’d never even have to meet my consultant. Although I would feel bad about taking up someone’s time if I wasn’t going to hire them. Well, maybe I could arrange a private party for Megan to cover that. Sort of an “I’m sorry I lured you into the clutches of a psychopath” present. She’d probably approve.
I was starting to really want to get home. Even ignoring my embarrassing mental tangents, I knew that Emma had to know I didn’t have anything those batteries could be used with. The one vibrator I used to have was doubtlessly a melted puddle of silicone in the charred remains of my nightstand drawer. I could only pray that it would be unidentifiable to whatever firefighter sifted through that part of the wreckage. But that meant those batteries had to be for something Emma owned, and I did not need to be obsessing about what that could be.
I mean… a twenty-four pack? Either she had a lot of things, or she had something she thought we’d be using a lot, or both.
I shoved those thoughts away. I just had to get shoes and clothes without dying from embarrassment or giving away my dirty thoughts. How hard could that be?
I really shouldn’t have wondered that. I should have known better. Hans caught up to us outside the shoes department. He gave me a roguish grin, a quick kiss – and subtly dropped a box of extra-large condoms into the shopping cart’s basket.