She went to the door after the second ring of the bell, expecting her boyfriend, but instead she found a thin stick of a boy she didn't recognize. He was about twelve, thirteen at most, and pretty weird looking, with ghostly pale skin, white hair that hung past his hips, and shining red eyes. His tattered jeans and filthy tennis shoes seemed at odds with his crisp, new-looking southwestern print hoodie. He smiled as though he could see right through her, mumbling, "You look just like her," as he slowly trailed his gaze down her body.
She blocked the doorway, wondering what a child was doing out this late. "Was there an accident? You need a phone?"
"No. I'm here to visit your mother."
She leaned back inside and shouted up the stairs, "Mom! There's an albino kid here to see you!"
Her mother didn't answer. She trotted over to the bottom of the stairs and yelled louder, "Mom!" She glanced back at the kid, who stood in the doorway, studying her with that strange disconcerting smile on his face. Was he on something? Those glazed eyes and that freakishly intense, yet somehow dazed, expression on his face would seem to indicate yes.
But there was nothing to him. He didn't look strong enough to carry a twelve-pack of pop five yards. If he tried anything, she was sure she could take him. "Why are you standing there letting all the heat out?"
"I can't come in unless you invite me."
She scoffed in the back of her throat. "What are you a vampire or something?"
"Yes." He grinned. His teeth did look a little sharp.
Still, that was crazy. No, he was just some nut. Probably one of her mother's "special" students. "Whatever. Come in and close the door. My folks will freak if the heating bill is any higher this month." She turned again to the stairway. "Mom!"
She faced the kid again as the door clicked closed. He stood very still in the middle of the room, hands tucked into the large pocket on the front of the hoodie. She wished he'd stop smiling like that. It made her faintly queasy. She wished she hadn't let him in.
Finally her mother appeared at the top of the stairs. "What is it?"
The girl pointed at the freak. "This kid came to see you."
Her mother furrowed her brow for a moment, then her eyes widened. "Oh. My." She cleared her throat as she descended. "How have you been?"
"Surviving." There was a faint edge of amusement to the boy's voice. "You?"
"Fine." She looked at her daughter. "Weren't you going to the midnight movie?"
"My ride's not here yet."
"Why don't you wait outside?" Her mother sounded faintly anxious, underneath a failed attempt to appear calm.
"Maybe I shouldn't leave you alone with . . ."
"We'll be fine. Go outside."
Lights flashed in the window, and a car pulled into the driveway.
Her mother smiled. "There he is. Go on."
The girl took her jacket from the middle peg of the rack. "Maybe I should skip the movie . . ."
Her mother shooed her with both hands. "Go on. Don't keep him waiting."
"Will you be here when I get back?" She really wished her other mom wasn't out of town tonight.
Her mother nodded. "I expect so."
She barely refrained herself from asking, "Will you be alive?" Instead, she stepped close to her mother and whispered, "I shouldn't have let him in, should I?"
"It's okay. Scoot, now. Have fun."
Fat chance of that. But she let her mother push her out the door. The click of the lock between them echoed with finality.
She looked at the boy, feeling the tug of nostalgia, tainted with regret. He had not aged visibly in thirty years. She tried to remember how he'd looked when he'd been human. The boy next door, her playmate since preschool. Curly red hair, like copper coils. Green eyes. Freckles spangled across his pink nose and cheeks.
No trace of freckles on that eggshell white face now.
It was her fault he'd been taken. She wondered if regarded her with blame or gratitude.
"She looks so much like you." He nodded toward the door.
"You think so?" She shook her head. "I expect she'll have her boyfriend drive her around the block, then drop her off so she can spy on us. I think she's worried."
"Of course she is. I told her what I am."
"I watch you sometimes."
"My family is gone, so you're the one I . . ." For the first time, his composure broke. He hunched his shoulders slightly and looked at the floor. "I used to pretend you were my sister. Now . . . you're all grown up, and I . . . I pretend you're my aunt, now."
"It must be very lonely for you." She wondered where he lived. How he lived. She remembered seeing him in the cemetery once, years ago, perched between the grotesques on the roof of the mausoleum. Was that his home?
Well, then. While he'd been hiding in a graveyard, she'd had a good life. The kind of life he could never enjoy. She owed him. She understood.
She embraced him tenderly. Cupping her hand on the back of his head, she pressed his face to her throat. Might as well get it over with.
His cold lips pressed on the side of her neck. She felt the cool, clammy moisture as he opened his mouth. His fangs scraped lightly over her jugular.
Then he stepped away. She'd never felt a prick. She touched her neck, then checked her fingertips. No blood.
He tucked one hand back into the hoodie pocket. "I don't feed on people. I never have." He pointed vaguely to the north. "I go to that big farm outside town. The cows are marked with numbered ear tags, so I can make sure I'm not taking from the same ones too often."
"Oh." Embarrassment washed over her like a hot flash.
"You have a live turkey in your back yard."
She nodded. "That's for tomorrow . . . oh!" She understood, for real this time. He was here for dinner after all.
She took his hand and led him through the house, out the back door.
He glanced up at her, smiling broadly. His red eyes glowed softly. "Is it the right day yet?"
She glanced at her luminescent watch. "Two minutes after midnight."
He rubbed his hands together. "May I?"
She gestured toward the small wire enclosure with the turkey. "Drain it dry." As he pulled open the fence, she added, "Happy Thanksgiving."