Hans pushed the cart and followed Emma and I to the checkout counter. It was late enough that there were only two open, but there wasn’t a line. Emma and I unloaded things on to the conveyor while an overly cheerful balding man rang them up.
I made a note to buy fewer items the next time I had to get lube or batteries or condoms so I could use the automated checkout lanes instead. I couldn’t bring myself to face the cashier. I broke away from Emma so I could bag things as quickly as possible. I just knew that guy was thinking we were getting ready for some kind of orgy. Or at least a ménage-a-trois.
When he gave me my total I had to hold in a wince. My savings weren’t much – buying manga and anime is an expensive hobby – and I hadn’t really had a good idea of how badly repurchasing my wardrobe was going to hurt. I definitely had to swing by Megan’s.
We left the store and threw everything in the back seat. Hans took the cart back to the corral. Emma slipped her arm around my waist and snuck in a hug while his back was turned.
“Thanks,” I said. “For the hug and for staying over.” I hugged her back awkwardly. It wasn’t really like hugging Megan at all, but I think I needed the human contact. “I know you haven’t known me long,” I continued to ramble, “but I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” Emma said. “I mean, I don’t mind at all and I know you had a hell of a day yesterday. I wouldn’t be much of a girlfriend if I weren’t here for you,” she teased. “Now would I?”
I ducked my head in embarrassment. I didn’t really need the reminder that I was plunging into things without a second of forethought. I knew she didn’t mean anything by it other than that she was teasing – but Emma didn’t know how bad my anxiety was or how quickly I could get wound up. She barely knew me at all, while I knew more about her than I really should thanks to the glimpse into her thoughts and emotions I’d gotten with that taste of her blood.
I really hoped I wasn’t screwing things up by rushing like this. I didn’t want to hurt Emma, but I didn’t even know what kind of a girlfriend I would be.
I still hadn’t done anything about arranging the date I’d promised her.
I was starting to suspect I wouldn’t be a very good girlfriend, by whatever standards those things are measured.
“So,” I said, “how late is that ice-cream place open?”
Emma grinned. “Midnight at least,” she said. “They cater to the college crowd, after all.”
“Good,” I said. I pushed myself into my ‘pretending to be self-confident’ mode. “Would you like to go out tomorrow?” I bit my lip. If I fed from Hans a few minutes before going out I should have at least a few hours before I got hungry again. That should be enough for a date with Emma that had no risk of biting.
Hans came back over. “What’s going on tomorrow?” He asked as he went to the driver’s side door.
“Date night with Emma,” I said. We all got into Hans’ car. “I mean, as long as we’re all confident I won’t freak out and start biting people.” Shit. If I was the aggressive one, did that make me the boy? Was I going to have to pick Emma up and do the driving? Fuck.
Hans glanced over his shoulder and looked at me as though he was trying to determine if I was confident I wouldn’t freak out. I wasn’t. I didn’t let it show.
“Speaking of which,” I said instead, “Can we stop by Megan’s apartment? I remembered I left some clothes there yesterday, and they’re probably more date-appropriate than jeans and a tee shirt.”
Emma twisted around. “Are you going to be able to get in?” She asked.
“I have a key,” I answered.
“Yeah, but… Vampire,” Emma said. “I’m pretty sure the legends about needing an invitation are true.”
I exhaled. Fuck, that’s right. I’d needed Hans to invite me into his house. The fact that I knew Megan wouldn’t be there was what gave me the courage to sneak by to get my stuff – but it also meant she wouldn’t be there to let me in. Dammit.
“Maybe,” I found myself saying. “But Mr. Salvatore came into my apartment without invitation and it just wore him out a little.” I was fudging the truth: Mr. Salvatore had screamed in agony and nearly collapsed. “Plus I’m a new vampire, so I think stuff like that is supposed to have less of a hold over me. And I’m pretty sure I have a standing invitation, anyway. That might count as far as the mystic rules are concerned. I’d like to try, anyway. If I feel any resistance I’ll just scrap the errand until another day.”
Hans frowned slightly. I wasn’t sure if he thought live tests to determine the boundaries of my vampiric limitations was a bad idea, or if he knew I was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t run into Megan. It’s possible he was thinking both. He didn’t voice any concerns, though.
Instead, Hans faced forward and fished his phone out of his pocket. “What’s Megan’s address?”
I closed my eyes and rattled it off. I’m terrible with directions and navigation, but not so bad with numbers and addresses. Plus, I knew it from ordering anime boxed sets. Since Mrs. Butterson was retired and lived down stairs, Megan, Fumiko and I had decided that it just was safer for all of us to have things we ordered delivered there. We knew there would always be someone who would sign for them. Hans plugged the address into his phone’s map app.
I kept quiet while he drove us to Megan’s apartment. I wondered if they thought the silence was awkward or if that was just me.
Hans parked along the curb about twenty minutes later. Mrs. Butterson’s car was in the driveway. I didn’t see Megan’s, but I hadn’t expected to. It was probably in some impound lot by now.
“I’ll be right back,” I told Hans and Emma. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t be able to enter the apartment, key or no key. I hid the uncertainty with as much false confidence as I could muster. I got out of the car before Hans or Emma could offer to come with me.
My nervousness grew as I mounted the stairs to Megan’s apartment. The lights weren’t on in the downstairs that I could see, so I wasn’t afraid of getting the evil eye from Mrs. Butterson. But what if I needed Mrs. Butterson’s invitation instead of Megan’s? The old lady did own the house itself, after all.
Or what if the implicit invitation I had from being Megan’s best friend wasn’t enough to satisfy The Rules? I knew it was crazy, but I was starting to think of The Rules as the decrees of some malevolent entity that was just fucking with me. All: ‘Sorry, Abby, time to drink blood again, hahaha.’ And: ‘Let’s play the sunbeams are made of lava, hee hee.’ Or: ‘Nope, this house doesn’t like you. You can’t come in. Awww, sucks to be you.’
Goddamn magic being an asshole like that! Like I didn’t have enough social anxiety without having to worry about houses liking me. Or even just rooms. Mr. Salvatore’s bedroom had clearly wanted me to fuck off and leave, like it had been imbued with its owner’s personal distaste for me. My skin crawled just from remembering it.
I didn’t know if I could handle feeling that from a place that belonged to Megan. I fumbled with my keys and unlocked the apartment’s outside door. I wasn’t even worried about getting my clothes anymore. I was just afraid that I was going to have it thrown in my face that I wasn’t human. Again.
I opened the door. Then I slowly reached out with one hand. I put my hand through the doorway, into Megan’s apartment.
I breathed out in relief and stepped forward.
Still nothing. Megan’s apartment wasn’t trying to reject me. I was hit by a surge of giddiness. I closed the door behind me. Then, because I’m me, I reflexively locked it. My eyes swept the room. I didn’t need the lights on to see. My bags of clothes were still on Megan’s couch, where I’d left them last night.
And sitting next to them was a man in an old fashioned suit. His eyes were slit like a cat’s, and his ears curved up in points below the brim of his battered, rust-red tophat. One of his hands was bandaged. The other rested on the silver knob of a cane.
I stared at him. He watched me impassively until it became obvious that I was too shocked to say or do anything. Then he smiled.
“Why hello, sugarplum,” said Mr. Tophat – the faerie I’d killed last night. “Fancy meeting you here.”