“What’s with you guys?” I asked. “It’s like your fashion sense is stranded in the 1920’s.”
She slid an annoyed glance my direction. “At least we have a fashion sense. Look in a mirror lately?”
“Hey, I dress for comfort.”
“Huh. You can take the boy out of the forest, but you can’t take the forest out of the boy.”
“At least I don’t wear clothes I can hardly walk in.”
She turned to look me in the eye. “You don’t like this?” Her tone was haughty, but I could hear the hurt buried deep within it. She turned back and I watched the way the black silk moved with her body, light flowing over her contours.
Damn. I’d marched right into that one. Time to tuck the tail. “Yeah, I like it,” I said, letting a little of a growl into my voice. “You look good.” Luckily there was no need to lie, she would have known.
She smiled her little smile, the one that didn’t show teeth, which meant I was forgiven. She pointed at my sweatshirt and jeans. “But I’m not going anywhere with you looking like that.” I allowed myself to hope for a moment that perhaps I was off the hook, but before I could even open my mouth she said “Go change.”
“Do you really need me there?”
She sighed theatrically. “We’ve been over this. When we get a new member it’s important that everyone is at the reception. It’s a ritual that goes back centuries.”
“Yeah, but I’m not one of you.”
“If you’re with me, you are.”
“I just can’t believe what a big deal you all make of this.”
“Listen, we have to look out for each other, and it’s traumatic for the newbies. We’re not like you. We don’t just sniff each other’s butts and then go out and get drunk.”
I let that pass. I had tried the “more hygenic than shaking hands” argument before, but it never worked. I went to find some clothes she would approve of. It didn’t take long; options were limited. Black jeans, black turtleneck, and a camel-hair coat from the thrift store. I ran my fingers through my hair (no pony tail for formal occasions), and presented myself for inspection.
“Eventually, you’re going to need another outfit. You’d look good in black leather.”
“Give me a break.”
She regarded me harshly, but she liked the way I looked; I could smell it. Maybe, just maybe, I thought…
“Don’t even try it. We’re already late.” She looked over her shoulder as she passed through the door. “Try not to hump anyone’s leg.”
When her back was turned I made a face and silently mouthed the words back at her. Try not to hump anyone’s leg.
“I heard that,” she said.
Sometimes I hate the vampires’ sense of hearing.
“I can’t believe you said that to Vlad.”
“What do you mean? The dude was being an ass-wipe.”
“Just because someone’s an ass-wipe doesn’t mean you have to call him that right in front of everyone.”
“So what’s the harm? Everyone knows he’s an ass-wipe anyway.”
“Tom, you humped his leg!”
I smiled. “That was for you. Jesus, that guy bugs me. All those Old-Europe airs, that world-weary cosmopolitan bullshit. Give me a break. He’s from Cleveland, for fuck’s sake.”
“You have no right… Really? Cleveland?”
“Guess he forgot to mention that at his big reception.”
“How do you know?”
“You’d know if you’d sniffed his butt. He’s the punchline to a lot of our jokes about vampires. He tried to join us and we shined him on. That’s when he went over to you guys.”
“He’s a werewolf reject?”
She smiled her glittery smile, the one with all her teeth framed between her red, red lips. “Oh, that is interesting.”
“Tell me a vampire joke.”
I thought for a moment. There was no way I was going to tell her any of the jokes we traded around the pub, but if I didn’t come up with something, things would get awkward. “All right, how many vampires does it take to unscrew a lightbulb?”
She scowled for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. How many?”
“That, uh, was the joke. UNscrew. Vampires like it dark.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Usually it’s screw in the lightbulb.”
“Hm. That’s not very funny.” Silence stretched for an awkward moment, and she asked, “how many werewolves does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
“I don’t know.”
She turned to the ceiling and shouted, “FUCKING LIGHTBULB!” She sold it, too, letting herself go the way vampires never do, making the answer a howl of rage, even putting a bit of a wolf growl into it, and I fell in love with her all over again, even as she blushed and regained her decorum. As I laughed I wondered once more what she saw in me.
“You know,” she said, “don’t let this go to your head, but if I’d gone to that party without you a lot of people would have been upset with me. The ones worth a damn.”
“That’s surprising. Mostly what I get is ‘oh, crap, what’s he going to do this time?'”
“Half of them say that. The other half say, ‘I can’t wait to see what he does this time.’ You’re like the yurodivy, the Russian Holy Fool who is allowed to speak the truth in a sort of code, and be exempt from reprisal.”
“My code isn’t very subtle.”
She smiled. “No, but it’s fun to watch.”