Penny agreed to be my roommate along with Lysander and their unborn baby—she told Lysander it wasn’t the worst place to be for now, which is just another way of saying it was the best. (I’m used to reading between the lines after Saul became my BFFAE.) They told me themselves and all, but I kind of overheard Penny’s answer when I just happened to walk by the kitchen once.
“Sorry if we’re, I dunno, ruining your bachelor lifestyle or whatever,” Penny said to me.
“You can’t ruin the manliest of things,” I said, quoting one of the many lessons I’d learned from Saul. “I’ll show you where you and Lysander are sleeping!” I went over and plopped down on the futon that Saul slept in sometimes, waiting for her to follow me.
“I’ve slept on worse,” Penny said, circling around in front of me.
“Thanks!” I grinned at her. Hopefully my grin was a normal manly grin and not the one that makes Bianca threaten to sew my lips shut with a bone needle. “Saul seems to like it too.”
“A man of discerning taste, I guess.”
“That’s my man friend supreme,” I agreed. I gave the bed a nice pat. “There’s plenty of room for both you and Lysander: it’s a special double-human-capacity bed, you know?”
“He can take the couch. Or I can, I guess. But I doubt he’d let me—he’s like that. He thinks that he should have to suffer the most or whatever.”
“But there’s room for both of you,” I insisted. “At the same time.”
“…Yeah, I’m not up for that.”
“Oh,” I said, my voice lowering. “Are you…traditional?” Did that mean she and Lysander weren’t married yet? Or maybe she was afraid he’d try to jump on her for emergency man-woman relations while she was trying to sleep and grow the tiny baby inside of her without it getting squished.
“If not wanting to sleep in the same bed makes me traditional, then yeah, sure. Do you share a coffin with your sister?”
Share a coffin with Bianca? The thought made my skin crawl even more than usual—and then I realized she was joking. Just like with Saul, it was kind of hard to tell sometimes. “You’re really funny, Penny,” I said. “They don’t even make coffins that could fit us both side-by-side, unless they’re for big and tall vampires. Special order only.” Wouldn’t it be nice if I could sleep in the same bed as Penny instead…? As roommates. Bed-sharing roommates.
“Yeah, well…thanks for letting us stay here. Byron.” I shivered at the way she said my name. I wished she’d say it again. “I guess Lysander wasn’t a terrible butler if an old boss is willing to put him up. And me too, and you don’t even know me. If you did, maybe you wouldn’t. Sticky fingers.” She wriggled her fingers at me.
I wanted to feel her sticky fingers…
“I have to go to sleep now,” I said suddenly. “In my coffin. By myself. I’m really tired after almost burning to a crisp and then feeling Lysander’s medium-manly hands all over me. But I’ll see you when I wake up, yeah?”
“…Sure. Sleep well. Byron.”
But I didn’t sleep well. I think I was nervous, or maybe excited. It was hard to tell, you know? I’d never had a roommate—roommates—before, except for Saul, and he was my BFFAE so I don’t know if that counts.
At first I couldn’t even fall asleep at all.
I kept thinking about what it would be like if Penny weren’t traditional and let me sleep beside her on my double-human-capacity bed instead of Lysander. Double-human was almost the same as one human, one vampire, right?
But eventually I crawled inside my coffin and managed to fall asleep. When I finally woke up feeling completely rested and refreshed, Penny surprised me by begging me to take her to the warehouse nightclub where we’d met. She remembered! She said she had a surprise for me, to celebrate our unexpected reunion that happened completely by chance, like so many amazing things in San Myshuno.
“Byron,” she said, taking the cold, shiny microphone in her hand. “I’m so grateful that we happened to meet again by one hundred percent random coincidence in this giant human city and I really, really want to show you how comedy is done because I support your dreams. I hope you like my jokes…” She smiled shyly at me.
“I love jokes,” I said. And I did love hers. A lot. They were really, really good. My favorite in the history of eternity.
“This last one isn’t a joke,” she said, gazing deep into my eyes. “But I hope you like it.” She smiled nervously, playing with her long, molten pizza cheese-esque hair. “What do you call the manliest vampire in San Myshuno?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered, filled with anticipation.
Now that she was my roommate, Penny wanted to spend all her time with me, but I didn’t mind. We had a lot to do together.
I had to introduce her to all of my friends back in Forgotten Hollow and have manly tea parties with her.
She loved my friends just as much as I did, and would even hold the fluffiest ones against her warm, soft human skin. So, so warm and soft…
But Penny loved my new city friends, too. During the day when I was asleep, sometimes she and Saul would bond by doing outdoor human activities together, sweating humanly in the warm sunlight.
And then, because hot things go hand-in-hand with the hot sun, she’d eat really spicy, strange human food from all those outdoor stalls right outside our apartment.
Even though she’s a human and I’m a vampire, that didn’t get in the way too much, you know? Even if I could only drink plasma, that didn’t mean I couldn’t take her out to a fancy new sushi restaurant that all the cool humans were talking about. It was really hard to get a reservation, but because I was so manly, the restaurant made an exception for me and let us in right when we showed up. Penny was very impressed.
It would’ve been really rude to bring in an outside plasma pack to a fine dining restaurant—Bianca had taught me manners in my three hundred years, even if I forgot a lot of them. But that was fine, since I didn’t mind just sitting at the table and watching Penny eat slippery bites of raw fish with wooden sticks. She was really good with her hands…it must be those sticky fingers.
I was surprised when one day Penny came to my room and said she had to tell me something important that she was really, really nervous about. “I’m not sure how to say this…” she said. “But I’ll try. After telling all those jokes and eating all that sushi and having all those manly tea parties and doing all that bonding with your man friend supreme, I realized something.” She took my hands in her sticky fingers. “I can’t be with Lysander anymore. I gave the baby to the scary pale lady because it seems like she really needs a hobby, so now I can have your babies instead. Lots and lots of babies. Byron.”
“She does need a hobby,” I agreed. “And I want you to have my babies. Lots and lots of babies. Penny.”
And we did have babies. Lots and lots of babies. They all inherited her face-spots, but with their coloring it could be kind of hard to tell.
Every night, I would perform a new comedy routine in front of my human wife and all our vampire-human hybrid children.
“Please, tell us a joke. Byron,” my wife said. “I need one of your unbelievably funny jokes right now, my handsome, talented, manly husband. Right now…”
I could never say no to my wife. “So,” I began, “what do you call a vampire with only one f—”
Only one what? I didn’t get to finish.
I opened my eyes. My coffin…I was inside my coffin. And…oh. Oh, no.
I almost fell flat on my fangs trying to climb out, but I gently closed the lid after me. You have to be really careful with all the wear and tear on a coffin you’re supposed to use for centuries, you know?
Maybe it was a good thing that Bianca had sent me seven new pairs of underwear, all in exactly the same style. After I…tried a new pair on (just so I could be honest in the thank-you note she expected me to write), I slunk out of my room to look for Lysander.
But I saw Penny first.
I didn’t want to see Penny first. Not right now…any time but now. She was on the couch in front of the TV, and I could tell she was talking to Lysander…was there any way I could get his attention but not hers? Bianca was always good at getting his attention.
So I did what Bianca would do: I knocked something off the kitchen counter. A ketchup bottle—plastic, so it didn’t break and splatter everywhere.
“Allow me to get that, Master Byron,” Lysander said immediately.
“Thanks, Lysander,” I said when he bent to pick up the bottle. “I really appreciate it.”
“No trouble at all, Master Byron.”
“Hey, since you’re here, I was wondering if maybe you could tell me how to clean my coffin? As a one hundred percent independent vampire, it’s something I should know…”
“I would be happy to clean your coffin for you while we’re here, Master Byron. After all, we’re relying on your generosity, and as you know, I’m quite efficient at cleaning—”
“You’re my roommate,” I interrupted, “not my butler, remember? Can you just tell me how?”
“I can show you, Master Byron.”
“How about in pictures?”
“Pictures, Master Byron?”
“You know, drawings, maybe. Or, maybe you could just tell me…what do I use? The Birdsong brothers got me a lot of furniture, but they kind of forgot all the necessary boring stuff that you’d know about, you know? Like mops and soap and all those bottles that spray you in the eye when you squeeze them accidentally.”
“Well, it’s imperative to know what kind of filth we’re dealing with, in order to equip ourselves with the optimum cleaning supplies for the situation. What seems to be the issue, Master Byron? I’ve seen mice here; I suppose that’s similar enough to the bat dung problem we dealt with last year.”
“Not mice,” I said. I felt really, really bad asking Lysander for help after dreaming about his pregnant wife for hours and hours.
I almost jumped out of my skin when he called for Penny.
“Penny, this will provide an excellent opportunity to show you how a Lyons butler leaves no job unfinished, no matter how small,” he said, rolling up his sleeves.
“It’s…really not small,” I whimpered.
Penny looked from me to Lysander. “I think he wants some privacy,” she said quietly. “Just tell him how, okay?” She’d obviously overheard me talking to Lysander, even from the couch…what would she think about a grown vampire who didn’t know how to clean his own coffin? And who…made a mess in his own coffin.
“Ah—ah. Yes, of course.” Lysander proceeded to pull out a huge assortment of cleaning supplies from the kitchen cabinets—supplies he must’ve bought while I was asleep—and explained their many, many different uses.
I cleaned my coffin alone, my room silent aside from the sound of furious scrubbing. The conversation with Lysander and Penny replayed in my head a million times. Had she really known? Was that a look of disgust on her face? What if she knew she’d been in my dream? I didn’t mean to dream about her without her permission…
Even after I was done, I didn’t come out of my room. It was better to just…stay there. For all eternity.
A knock interrupted my thoughts.
“Come in,” I said without thinking.
It was Penny. I scrambled to stand.
“Hey. I’m hungry. Come with me when I grab something to eat.” She gave me a look. “After you put clothes on.”
I swallowed. “That sounds…nice.”
She shrugged. “Find me when you’re ready.” And then she was gone.
I almost wished I could ask Bianca for advice, if she was capable of giving any without making me want to crawl in my coffin and never leave, but the coffee apparently had killed my phone in the line of duty. I couldn’t even turn it on.
I changed as quickly as I could and followed Penny outside. Lysander said he had to take a bath after all the cleaning he did while I was busy with my coffin, otherwise he would’ve come too. I didn’t want to go with Penny alone anywhere or anything…but I didn’t really have a choice, you know? The streets were dangerous at night, especially for one human alone with a baby inside her.
She ordered some weird human food. I was kind of thirsty myself, but I’d just have a plasma pack later. And I didn’t mind watching her eat.
“Thanks,” I said, after watching her chew for a while. “For…explaining things. To Lysander. I didn’t know how, you know?”
She swallowed her latest bite of a fried, flaky vegetable-stuffed triangle. “Isla kind of explained to me that all men are animals who can’t control themselves, so it’s not their fault when that crap happens.” She shrugged. “Nothing to get embarrassed about or whatever. Darius—my old roommate, same as Isla—spent a lot of time in the shower. Had to use a baseball bat on the door to get him out sometimes.”
“Well, as long as you don’t use a baseball bat on my coffin…” I said. “I think that voids the warranty.”
“I won’t bug you while you’re in there,” she said. “Unless you want me to.”
“Ha ha ha…” I managed.
I didn’t talk much as we headed back to the apartment. I just liked being near her.
If she were a man, I wondered if she’d be my BFFAE instead of Saul. I was right behind her as she opened the door to the apartment.
And then I saw…a sight that no pregnant wife should ever see: her husband in the buff, all of his manly, sun-bronzed muscles exposed to the too-warm apartment air, carrying some…some strange woman in his arms who wasn’t even close to being as pretty as Penny, at least from this angle. The woman in Lysander’s arms was too pale and her hair was a boring black like mine, not the color of crispy cheese like Penny’s, and her bust was bigger than any man really needed, or at least any manly man like me.
“Lysander,” I snarled before I could stop myself, “how can you cheat on your pregnant wife?”