When he drops by her house unexpectedly, a misanthropic teenager must play hostess to the one and only Florian Werther Bathory Byron, a vampire with a tragic life story, a luminous complexion, and a dangerous reluctance to actually kill anything he decides to eat.


5. The Genuine Article

I stared at Florian blankly.

"Where I come in?", I repeated. "Um. Right. You're going to need to elaborate there. Because if you're saying what I think you're saying -"

"Oh, do tell, Bill. What do you think I'm saying?"

He flipped open the locket, and held it out to me, both faces open. One side held a wrinkled old photograph, behind cracked glass, and in the other was tied a curling lock of red hair. The woman's features were blurry and indistinct with age, and the paper was arched and mottled, as though water had been spilled on it repeatedly.

"You can't expect me to take that as proof," I said. "I don't look like that. No one looks like that. She's practically melting!"

"I've been known to shed a tear over her upon occasion, in solitude. It's been so long, you see, since I met someone who really had the likeness of her, not just the blood."

"There's no such thing as reincarnation, you know," I said, "And my great aunt was not a natural redhead."

"What?!" Florian exclaimed, with real surprise, to the latter. 

"There's a safe in the attic filled with L'Oreal. Go look yourself if you don't believe me."

"I don't believe it!" He flipped the locket shut, and pocketed it. "So that's why she hexed the upper house against me... "

There was a long silence, while he brooded darkly. Then - 

"But you - you are the genuine article, aren't you?" And saying this, he reached out a hand, in that easy, natural way he had, and caught a loose tendril of my hair.

"Th - that's none of your business!" I stammered, batting his hand down and turning away.

Suddenly, there came a burst of muffled sound from outside in the garden. I flinched, and turned sharply to gaze outside. The ringtone was unmistakable. 

"Is that - " Florian began, glancing past me with a note of triumph in his voice. "Christina Perri's Thousand Years?"

"Absolutely not!" I cried, springing to my feet. And that was true! It was a remix of Christina Perri's Thousand Years. Technically that didn't count. Besides, I had bought my smartphone second-hand from a kid at school, and she'd programmed it like that. Me, I just hadn't bothered to change the tone settings... for the last six months...

"I knew you had it in you somewhere, Bill." said my guest, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. "One step cloooooser...."

I noticed suddenly that his canines were very pronounced, and took several steps back towards the door.

"It's not my ringtone," I mumbled weakly, as I wrenched open the outside door, and fled into the dark garden. When I glanced back over my shoulder, it was to see him pulling open one set of heavy curtains, so he could peer out after me.

Heart pounding, I followed the last strains of the song to a tangled patch of pachysandra. My fingers found my phone just as the music rose to a mortifying crescendo. I hastily slid my thumb across the touch-screen and took the call.

"Hello," I said, breathlessly. "This is Sabilla."

Florian turned away from the window, still smiling ear to ear, and began to occupy himself collecting the various lotions and potions he'd dug out earlier, piling them all back into his handbag.

"Oh, good," said a familiar voice on the other end of the line. "I was worried I might have to leave a message again. This is Florence, from Meyers & Steele. Is now a bad time?"

"No," I said. Florence had been my parents' lawyer, and now she was mine. She had an overly developed sense of personal responsibility and I had been dodging her calls for months. "Actually, it's fine, I was just... out doing a bit of night gardening."

"Oh. Well, I know it's late, but I'm calling because – "

"Florence," I interrupted, my mind on one track and one track only, "It may seem like an odd question, but was a man with the last name of Byron ever mentioned in my aunt's will?"

There was a long silence. On the other end of the line, I heard her sigh.

"So you've had a look at the will again? Oh, Bill, there's no need to worry. The short answer is yes, but it's not something you need to worry about. Cordelia specifically willed her house to him and his descendants, but we weren't able to find any. The house is yours now. Really, you don't have anything to worry about, unless one of them has been living on a desert island and pops up on your doorstep. Has anything happened? "

"No, not at all!" I cried, "I was just wondering..." 

And my heart sank as I gazed back towards the island of light that was the sunroom. Inside, it looked as Florian had returned to the sofa and was having some sort of an altercation with Momow. I heard a faint growl, and saw him lean gingerly over, trying to retrieve his trench-coat where he'd hung it over the back. He dodged with impeccable grace as a paw batted up at him, and Momow's melodious voice rang out on the evening air.

All of a sudden I wasn't sure I wanted to break news of my guest to Florence. She'd probably yell at me for even talking to him, let alone letting him into the house. And I'd been dodging her concern since my high school graduation – what difference would another ten hours make? 

She wasn't my mother, and I was an adult. A legally emancipated adult.

"Look, um I'm sorry I haven't been in touch recently," I said into the phone, trying my best to sound grounded. "It's just - I've got to go – it's the cats again - I'll call back in the morning."

"All right," said Florence. "But - do make sure to, Sabilla. A friend of your father's contacted me the other day. One Mr. Blue. He's looking for an intern – a trustworthy young person who understands social media and has a sense of - discretion as well. I mentioned your name to him, but you will need to apply in the next two days if you want consideration. Call me tomorrow. I mean it."

"Yes, I will," I said, trying not to wince. "Sorry. Thank you. Bye."

I dropped my phone back into the pocket of my shorts and hurried back inside.

"Thank heavens you're here!" cried Florian, as I entered. He pointed at Momow. "Look at him! All I did was try to move him off my coat – he hopped right up on it after you left! He's got two tones of color in his fur, it shows up on everything! I thought short-haired cats were supposed to shed less, not more. Do I deserve this kind of hostility, Bill? I don't think I do."

"He has gastro-intestinal lymphoma," I said, "Cancer. And he's shedding because of chemo..."

"Cancer! Pah!" Florian was magnificantly unimpressed. "Cancer! Give me brain fever and tuberculosis over cancer any day, now those were diseases which made for great literature!" 

He leaned over the sofa again and wrenched the trenchcoat up with a flourish: Momow yowled and dug his claws into the armrest as he did so, and only narrowly avoided being upset onto the floor. 

"We're all dying every minute of every day, Bill," Florian continued, picking the cat hair off his coatsleeves. "Some of us - " - and here he brandished a two-toned bristle at me gravely -"are just doing it in a less interesting fashion than others. Not me, of course,  as I'm immortal. But the point remains. Cordelia wouldn't have stood for this sort of inhospitality, even from him. I simply don't deserve it!"

"Rrrooow! " added Momow, in a key that could have peeled paint, staring implacably up at the both of us.

"Well, Bill?" said Florian expectantly. "What are you going to do? I can't sleep on the floor. It gives me terrible lumbago..."

What century had Florian even been born in? I looked from one to the other, and suddenly I didn't feel like doing anything to help either of them. Suddenly, I had a very strong feeling that they deserved one another.

"I  didn't provoke him," I said. "And I'm going to sleep. Goodnight. "

And I did. The door to the west wing slammed shut behind me with a satisfying bang.

(If I'd known beforehand what consequences that exit would entail, I never would have. But I guess that's the fun part about being a heroine. Sometimes you get to do very stupid things for the sake of the greater plot. )

And as it turned out, leaving Momow alone in that room with Florian was a very, very stupid thing to do.

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