What was his deal? We’d been living in the same apartment for weeks now, but he still ran and hid in his coffin if I even looked at him funny. I knew he liked me–unless he acted that weird around every girl he knew. Was Forgotten Hollow some kind of monastery-convent thing for vampires? But that wouldn’t explain why Bianca and Lysander were in the bathroom again…or maybe it would, if they ran away from a monastery-convent or whatever.
At least them being in the bathroom meant I could escape my brother literally breathing down my neck for a few hours.
“Byron. Do I smell?”
“Like what? Penny.”
“I dunno. Like I haven’t bathed in forever. Because I haven’t.”
“I like the way you smell…you smell like Penny, but more.”
“So I do smell.”
“N-no…? I didn’t mean it like that…”
I walked out of the kitchen and toward the computer. Byron was on the computer a lot when he wasn’t hiding in his coffin. “What’re you doing?”
He raised a hand to cover the screen, then sheepishly lowered it. “Working on my jokes…”
“What do you call a vampire with only one fang?” I read over his shoulder. “Long in the tooth…really?” I snorted. “I guess that means you haven’t given up on the whole comedy thing.”
“Do you think I should…?”
“Nah. I hate people who give up. If something really matters to you…you should fight for it, I guess.”
“Thanks. Penny.” He still kept saying my name all weird, like it was a sentence all by itself. But I kind of liked it now. I kind of liked a lot of weird things that I never thought I would. Things I hadn’t even known were things.
“Sure. Byron.” I sniffed my pits again. “Okay, so I kind of swiped a couple gift cards from Bianca’s giant collection—she keeps buying dozens and dozens of gift cards after she found out they never expire. She says that’s good for people who live forever, but I didn’t feel like trying to tell her about inflation.”
“Sevens and sevens of gift cards, I think. But isn’t stealing wrong?”
“So is hogging the bathroom for hours and hours. A girl’s gotta bathe, right? And it’s not like Lysander would ever go with her to a spa or anything. But you’d go with me, right?”
“I’d go anywhere with you, Penny…”
It was kind of nice, having someone who wanted to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Lysander always had a reason Why His Little Sister Shouldn’t do something or like something or even just want something. But he wasn’t my dad—my dad was a vampire or whatever, and I hadn’t even seen him in years.
Plus I was an adult—and so began Operation: Pop the Plasma Fruit. I was hoping Isla would text and give me more advice, but I didn’t hear from her. Or from Darius…but somehow, I knew I wouldn’t be hearing from him, not for a long time.
And hey, a girl has needs, right? And only one of those needs included a bath. The brother-turkey had its head stuck in the watering can again, and Alice and the White Vampire were late for a…yeah, I don’t even know. I don’t plan a lot of secret missions, okay?
“It’s so fancy,” Byron said as we headed into the spa.
“Yeah.” I’d found all kinds of forgotten and partially used gift cards in the wallets I stole, so using Bianca’s made me feel nostalgic. She’d probably forget about this one anyway, if she hadn’t already. “Isla did a local commercial for this place once—I guess she wasn’t full of shit about how nice it is.”
“I’ve never been to a spa before…”
There were a lot of things Byron probably hadn’t done before. But I’d change that. Probably.
He got all flustered when I told him the spa fees included a private couple’s sauna—well, after I explained to him what a sauna even was. He even smacked his head against the door on the way out of the changing room.
“I didn’t see anything…” he whispered.
I’d tried really, really hard to make him see, but he wouldn’t even look.
We got lost on the way to the sauna (or at least Byron did, and I had to chase after him), and we ended up on a balcony. It would’ve been a really romantic place for him to kiss me, or at least feel me up a little.
Spoiler alert: He didn’t. I even offered to hug him, “like human friends,” but after I did he just said the city looked really pretty from up here and ran away again.
Byron thought I was teasing him when I said we were only supposed to wear towels into the sauna. Shouldn’t he be happy? I mean, I wasn’t Isla or anything, but I had a decent ass. Right? My tits could be bigger, but they were still more than Byron had ever seen up close. I mean, just in case he lost control and ripped off my towel or whatever. Or it fell off.
“Can we go home now?” Byron asked.
“We just got here.”
“It’s warm in here…”
“It’s a sauna. And you’re a vampire, remember? I need you here in case I pass out from heat exhaustion or whatever.”
“That can happen…?”
“Yeah. I’m just a fragile human girl. And I need a manly man around to save me, just in case.”
“Oh…I can do that. Penny.”
And so we sat there. Yep. Just…sat there.
“Byron. I’m bored. Can I tickle you like human friends?”
“I think so?”
“Byron. It’s not gonna hurt.”
“Then don’t look.”
Even in the sauna, his skin was still cold. It was nice. It’d be nicer if he tried to tickle me back.
But he didn’t.
“I’m getting really hot.”
“We can leave?”
“We paid for it. Or your sister did. That’d be a waste, I guess. Aren’t you hot?” Our shoulders rubbed together accidentally. Fine, not accidentally.
“Oh…I’m a vampire, remember? I’m always cold…”
“Must be nice to be a vampire right about now… Hey. Byron. Can you do that thing you did for me once? I think I’m gonna pass out from heat exhaustion in a sec or whatever.”
“You know. When you held on to me that one time on the couch, when the AC was busted. To keep me cold.”
“Oh. Penny. I’d do anything—”
Our eyes met, and then his face moved closer to mine. Almost… Come on, you can do it, boy…
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Byron announced, standing up suddenly. So suddenly that his towel slid right off.
“I know you and Bianca don’t ever have to take a piss—or a crap. Byron.”
But he was already gone. His towel was still on the floor in a crumpled heap. Great—there was a naked vampire on the loose, and he was running away from me. If only I could’ve called Isla…
Luckily, he only made it as far as the private changing room, before he could traumatize any spa patrons or personnel with all his pasty glory.
“Why do you keep running away from me?” Maybe I should’ve been the one to run away. Apparently he was a grower, not a shower–and where the hell was I even supposed to fit that?
“I’m not running away…”
“Your eyes are glowing.”
“I don’t think they are?”
“Well, you can’t look in a mirror. Byron. Lemme get a better look.”
“…Does it scare you? I’m a vampire. Penny.”
“Nah. I think it’s cute. In a pukey kind of way.”
“Hey. I smell even worse now after getting all sweaty. Wanna help me wash my hair in the shower? Like human friends.”
“Ha…ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”
He got the weirdest look on his face—and then face-planted right into my chest.
Finally—he made a move. Just the one, I guess, because he wasn’t going anywhere. He just…kept his face buried in my towel. It was kind of like having a person die on me. Literally on me.
“Byron. Did you seriously pass out just now?”
I had to call two spa personnel to help me throw a robe over him and drag his lifeless body to a “rejuvenating room” or whatever the hell it was. At first they thought he was dead and were going to call an ambulance, but I convinced them that he was just really, really weird and I really, really wasn’t a necrophiliac.
Was I? I mean, just because I kind of wanted to…with a vampire? I was just curious, that’s all. Or maybe I just wanted to annoy Lysander. It’s not like I cared if he wasn’t actually into me or whatever. Isla said guys were all the same, basically—there was always a better one out there.
But he really was the weirdest, goofiest guy I ever met, with his pukey puppy face and his scarily gigantic monster…fangs.
“Byron. I know you’re awake now.”
“…Penny? What happened?”
“I think you had an allergic reaction. To me.”
“I had the most beautiful dream, Penny. I fell asleep in a blanket of clouds—and two of Count von Batstein’s squishy little bat babies were there on either side of me.”
“…Yeah, I’m not even going to try to parse that.” I stood up and faced him. “Byron. Do you want me to leave?”
“Why would I want you to leave? Penny. You’re my favorite human in the whole world…”
I dropped down angrily onto the loveseat right beside him.
“Then why don’t you want me?” I didn’t mean to sound like I was whining. I wasn’t a stupid little kid who cried over everything anymore.
“I do. More than anything. Penny.”
“Then prove it. Right now.”
“I want to wait until marriage?”
“Bullshit. No guy wants to wait until marriage.” Isla said so, and she’d know.
“Not even the manliest…?”
“Especially not the manliest.” I slid over into his lap—yeah, it took some work—and let my arm snake around his back. Kiss me, idiot.
“O-oh. But young women are delicate flowers who will wither and die if they’re plucked from their walled gardens prematurely, which is any time before they’ve married a gentleman who’s earned the full approval of the maiden’s—”
“–Big brother?” I cut in.
“…Yeah. And Lysander is right, Penny. I’m too old for you. I’m three hundred now…”
“I probably have daddy issues. My dad and big brother abandoned me. For like, years. Almost half my life, I guess. Maybe I have a thing for older men.”
“But Penny…I think I am traditional, you know? And I want to be a successful comedian before I have a wife, so I can…you know. Be a manly husband and take care of her, and make her laugh when we’re not having man-woman relations all the time…”
“I don’t want to die a virgin. But can’t you just be my boyfriend—you know, before we even start talking about the whole husband-wife thing?”
His glowing red eyes widened. “B-boyfriend? But I can’t afford to take you out to eat fancy and weird human food in front of me at all the best places in the city…”
“I’m a cheap date—and we have gift cards. And we can skip the man-woman relations for now. If you want. But will you freak out if I kiss you?”
“I’ll try not to?”
Just climb on top of of him and he’ll either push you off or make a grab for the reins—it’s as simple as that, Penny.
And so I did.
And he didn’t push me off—he slid his hands around my hips and held me against him. Our faces were so close that I could feel his freaky cold vampire breath against my lips.
But they weren’t close enough.
“Fang,” I said.
And it was. Maybe better than fine. Even after he accidentally got a fang caught in the collar of my robe and we had to pull the whole thing off. (I’m not sure if it was really an accident, but whatever.)
I was kind of at a disadvantage since one of us needed to breathe and the other didn’t. But I could deal.
“Fang,” I said again, taking the chance to catch my breath.
The door opened. Maybe. I was kind of distracted. All these spa people were practically nudists or whatever anyway.
“Heyyyy,” somebody said with a low chuckle, “looks like we found ourselves a couple of missing persons.”
“Officer,” my brother said, in his dangerously uptight butler kind of way, “I’d like to report a homicide.” He paused. “A double homicide.”