In the Out of the Box series, Virginia first goes to a club to find out what vampires are like, but as she meets the same vampire, Anando, over and over, their relationship slowly deepens as they explore new games. On Halloween, they trade places: this night, she will be the vampire, and Anando will play at being human...
Saturday came so fast, I barely had time to think about what I would wear. I have never really paid much attention to how vampires dress. In fact, the only female vampire I knew was Anando’s friend Lisa, and she dresses like any woman who is out to seduce. In the end, I settled on a little black dress I had worn at a friend’s engagement party a couple of years back. It had spaghetti straps, with a very tight top and an ample skirt that flowed down just past my knees. I dusted a light-colored foundation onto my cheeks, neck, and shoulders until I seemed very pale. I hunted down the eyeliner I hadn’t worn since my goth period in high school and applied it carefully, along with dark eye shadow. Dangling gold earrings and very bright red lipstick completed the look.
When I looked in the mirror, I was actually a little surprised. I looked… different. It was more than the unusual make-up and the dress I hadn’t worn in so long. Without realizing it, I had started standing straighter, and my posture showed that same confidence Anando, Lisa, and Leo all wore like a second skin. I schooled my features into a cool, distant expression. It wasn’t hard to imagine that this was what I would look like as a true vampire.
I took a cab to On The Edge, and tried not to let my excitement show too much. I had to act the part, I reminded myself, and even if I knew more would happen this night than a goodnight kiss, I had to remain calm, the same way Anando always did. I wondered if he would show any of the nerves and anticipation I always felt when I knew we would be playing.
The club was packed, even more so than usual, and extravagant costumes competed with each other on all sides. I walked through the crowd, observing, looking for Anando. As I clung to my vampire persona, however, my watching felt different. I wasn’t merely looking for him. I was hunting.
I can’t say I’ve ever been very active on the dating scene, and even when I was looking for a boyfriend, I was never the aggressive type. I placed myself in social settings, smiled and tried to look available, and let men come to me. It was strange to be actively looking for someone, even if the game was skewed from the start because I already knew whom I would end up with before the night was over.
I finally found Anando on one of the catwalks above the dance floor. Propped against the railing, he was watching the dancers below, his foot keeping the beat of the music. I approached him from behind, proud for a moment of my subtlety, but a slight shift in the way he held himself warned me he knew I was there.
I leaned back against the metal rail next to him, my hands resting on either side of my body. I observed him without trying to disguise my interest. Rather than his usual tight pants and partly open shirt, he was wearing a corporate suit, a navy blue vest matching his pants, a white shirt buttoned all the way up with a striped blue tie and silver cufflinks. Rimless glasses were even perched high on his nose. The entire time I looked at him, already imagining my hands peeling the clothes off his body, he only glanced in my direction once or twice. He seemed nervous—or at least, that was the impression he wanted to give.
I had practiced my lines in front of a mirror, and the question came out as smoothly as I’d hoped, with a confidence I rarely felt in normal circumstances. “Would you like to dance, gorgeous?” Being someone else truly did wonders for me.
He stammered something that sounded like an agreement, and I took his hand to lead him down to the dance floor. The DJ played three upbeat songs in a row. I danced very close to Anando, my hands constantly brushing over his chest and arms. I held his gaze the entire time, enjoying the small smile that snuck across his lips when he forgot he was supposed to be hesitant. When the tempo finally slowed, I took his hands and placed them at my waist before wrapping my arms around his neck. Pressed as I was against him, I could tell how much I was affecting him already, and how hard he was. A shiver ran down my spine.
I leaned close to his ear and said, “You smell good.”
He turned his face to my hair and breathed deeply. “So do—I mean, thank you. I think.”
I have to say I was rather amused by how easily I was making him forget our game. It would have been simple, then, to just cast our pretending aside and be ourselves. But I was having too much fun. Being someone else—someone stronger, more confident—was more enjoyable than I had expected.
We continued to dance until the slow song ended. When a wild beat took over the dance floor, I didn’t want to let go of him. I suggested, “I’m dying of thirst. Care to have a drink with me?”
My efforts to give those few words a double meaning and to sound vaguely dangerous seemed to amuse him, and he grinned for a second before catching himself and affecting an apprehensive look.
“Just one drink, then,” he said. “Nothing more, right?”
I smirked at him. “Not unless you ask very nicely.”
His hand tight in mine, I drew him toward the staircase that would lead us back to the bar. I could have sworn I heard him chuckle, but with the music pounding all around us, I might have been wrong.
Every time I had come to On The Edge on the weekends, the place had seemed full. I had never seen so many people in the club, though, and it took us a few minutes to find seats. A woman with fairy wings on her back slipped out of a booth at the far end of the room, holding on to a man’s hand as tightly as I was holding on to Anando. I wondered, for a brief moment, if either was a vampire, but the question quickly faded from my mind. Anando sat across from me in the booth, and hailed a passing waitress to request two glasses of wine.
“Unless you wanted something…different?” he asked, turning back to me. He tilted his head to the side in a gesture that was both completely innocent and deeply meaningful.
“Wine will do just fine.” I paused just long enough to lick my lips. “For now.”
Anando’s eyes sparkled with amusement, but he continued the charade, swallowing hard as though nervous. I wanted to point out that, just a second earlier, he had practically offered me his neck, so the nervousness was hard to believe. I guess he couldn’t decide between playing a human who was afraid of vampires and a vampire groupie. Curious as to which he would claim to be if the question came up, I asked, “Do you come to this club often? I never noticed you before.”
The waitress returned with our drinks at that moment. She gave me a strange look. She had served us before, and so my question must have been incomprehensible for her.
Anando took a sip of wine before he answered, a smile plastered on his face. “It’s my first time here. I’m new in town. I moved here for my job from Washington State, and I was looking for a place to have fun.”
I realized then that I wasn’t the only one who had rehearsed what I would say. My hand playing over the rim of my glass, I considered him thoughtfully.
“There are a lot of clubs in Haventown,” I pointed out. “Any reason why you chose On The Edge?”
“I was told the clientele here is… diverse. I like diverse.”
“If by diverse, you mean fanged, then yes, this is the right place.”
“I don’t mind fangs.”
With an artificially casual gesture, he pulled on his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, exposing the faded scars on his neck for just a second. I had seen them before, but I had never dared pay them too much attention, unsure how he felt about them. Holding on to my persona, I reached over the table and touched the scars with my fingertips. He shivered. Were they still this sensitive, even so long after he had been turned? Sparks traveled down my spine every time he touched the marks he had left on my neck, but I had never wondered whether it was the same for him.
“Where did you get these?” I asked, dropping my voice very low.
“A bar back in New York.”
I couldn’t help frowning. Resting my elbow on the table, I leaned against my closed fist. “I thought you said you were from Washington?”
A look of confusion crossed his features. “Oh. True.”
He shrugged, looking around us as though seeking inspiration. Just a few feet away, a man sitting at a table laughed. He was wearing a t-shirt printed as a tuxedo and a top hat. On his lap, his girlfriend was dressed in a miniskirt and tank top, both of them white, with a bride’s veil flowing down her back.
“I went there with friends for a bachelor party,” Anando said, looking back at me.
I raised an amused eyebrow at him, wondering what else he would invent if I pushed him. “You went on a trip to New York for a bachelor party. Did you have fun?”
“A lot of fun, yes. It was a week before I was to marry.” He leaned forward, his expression turning mournful. “But I met this vampiress there and I couldn’t go through with the wedding. I moved here to get away. It was a small town, you know. People thought I would start murdering them in their sleep when word got around I had been bitten.”
I struggled not to laugh at how much fun Anando seemed to have at fabricating these details, not even realizing that he was contradicting himself. “Wait. Didn’t you say you came here for your job?”
He blinked, surprised, maybe, that I had remembered when he had already forgotten his own story. “Oh yes, that too. It was things working together, actually, and—”
I reached over the table and pressed a finger to his lips. “You talk too much. And you’re a terrible liar.” I affected what I hoped was a mysterious smile. If he was being silly, so could I. “I can smell the lies on you.”
He snorted at my grand pronouncement and tried to cover his reaction by taking a sip of his drink.
I did the same, slipping my mask back in place, then asked, “So, tell me about that vampire who bit you. What did she look like?”
Judging from the intense look he gave me, I think he was wondering whether we were still playing or if I was back to asking him intimate questions. I wondered the same thing when he replied.
“She was a lot like you. She was just as beautiful, just as captivating.”
My heart thundered and I struggled to keep my countenance. It wasn’t the first time Anando had praised me, but the butterflies in my stomach still fluttered wildly whenever I heard such words from this particular man.
“What would you tell her if you found her again?” I asked, not quite daring to slip out of the game and ask how close he had been to his Sire. I picked up my glass and watched him think about his answer over the lipstick-stained rim.
“I’d ask her for her name. And then I’d ask her to sire me so we could be together until the end of time. We’d have a clan and minions and maybe we’d take over an island and take long strolls on the beach at sunset.”
I started laughing so hard I choked on my wine again, which I’m pretty sure was Anando’s goal. I finally understood what he was doing. He was showing me how ridiculous humans could be. All I hoped was that I had never said anything so silly.
I played his game and pointed out, “The sun could be a problem, you realize that, right?”
He took on a dumb look and blinked owlishly behind his glasses. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.” Bringing a hand to his forehead in a melodramatic gesture, he said, “My dream is shattered.”
I couldn’t pretend anymore. He was just being too silly. I rolled my eyes at him. “You make a terrible human, Anando.”
... Continued in Out of the Box (complete series)
... Continued in Out of the Box (complete series)