Evra was watching TV when I got in. "Any news?" I asked.
"No," he replied.
"Mr. Crepsley didn't miss me?"
"He barely noticed you were gone. He's been acting weird lately."
"I know," I said. "I need a feed of human blood, but he hasn't mentioned it. Normally he's pretty fussy about making sure I feed on time."
"Are you going to feed without him?" Evra asked.
"Probably. I'll slip into one of the rooms late tonight and take some blood from a sleeping guest. I'll use a syringe." I wasn't able to close cuts with spit like full vampires could.
I'd come a long way in a year. Not so long ago, I would have jumped at the chance to skip a feed; now I was feeding because I wanted to, not because I'd been told.
"You'd better be careful," Evra warned me. "If you get caught, Mr. Crepsley will have a fit."
"Caught? Me? Impossible! I'll breeze in and out like a ghost."
I did, too, at about two in the morning. It was easy for someone with my talents: by sticking an ear to a door and listening for sounds inside, I could tell how many people were in a room and whether they were light sleepers or deep sleepers. When I found an unlocked room with a single man snoring like a bear, I let myself in and took the required amount of blood. Back in my own room, I squeezed the blood into a glass and drank.
"That'll keep me going," I said as I finished. "It'll get me through tomorrow anyway, and that's the important thing."
"What's so special about tomorrow?" Evra asked.
I told him about meeting Debbie and arranging to go to the movies.
"You've got a date!" Evra laughed with delight.
"It's not a date!" I snorted. "We're just going to the movies."
" Just?" Evra grinned. "There's no such thing as just with girls. It's a date."
"Okay," I said, "it's kind of a date. I'm not stupid. I know I can't get involved."
"Why not?" Evra asked.
"Because she's a normal girl and I'm only half human," I said.
"That shouldn't stop you from going out together. She won't be able to tell you're a vampire, not unless you start biting her neck."
"Ha ha," I laughed dryly. "It's not that. In five years she'll be a grown woman, while I'll still be like this."
Evra shook his head. "Worry about the next five days," he advised, "not the next five years. You've been hanging around Mr. Crepsley too much - you're getting as gloomy as he is. There's no reason for you not to date girls."
"I guess you're right." I sighed.
"Of course I am."
I chewed my lip nervously. "Assuming it is a date," I said, "what do I do? I've never been on a date before."
Evra shrugged. "Neither have I. But I guess you fust act normal. Chat with her. Tell her a few jokes. treat her like a friend. Then..." " Then?" I asked when he stopped.
He puckered up his lips. "Give her a kiss!" He laughed.
I threw a pillow at him. "I'm sorry I told you," I grumbled.
"I'm only kidding. But I'll tell you what." He turned serious. " Don'ttell Mr. Crepsley. He'd probably move us on to a new city immediately, or at least a new hotel."
"You're right," I agreed. "I'll keep quiet about Debbie when he's around. It shouldn't be hard: I barely see him. And when I do, he hardly says anything. He seems like he's in a world of his own."
Although I couldn't have known it then, it was a world me and Evra would soon be part of... and Debbie, too.
The next day passed slowly. My stomach was a jumble of nerves. I had to drink warm milk to calm it down. Evra didn't help matters. He kept reading the time out loud and announcing: "Five hours to go!" "Four hours to go!" "Three and a half..."
Luckily I didn't have clothes to worry about: I only had one outfit, so there was no problem choosing what to wear. But I did spend a couple of hours in the bathroom, checking that I was spotlessly clean.
"Calm down," Evra said eventually. "You look great. I'm half tempted to go out with you myself."
"Shut up, stupid," I shot back, but couldn't help grinning.
"Well, anyway," Evra said, "do you want me to disappear before Debbie arrives?"
"Why?" I asked.
"You might not want me here," he muttered.
"I want to introduce you to her. She thinks you're my brother. It'd look strange if you weren't here when she shows up."
"It's just - well - how will you explain?" Evra asked.
"My looks," he said, rubbing a few of the scales along his arm.
"Oh," I said, as it finally dawned on me. Debbie didn't know Evra was a snake-boy. She was expecting an ordinary boy.
"I might frighten her," Evra said. "Lots of people get scared when they find themselves face to face with a guy like me. Maybe it would be for the best if -?
"Listen," I said firmly. "You're my best friend, tight?"
"Right." Evra smiled weakly. "But -?
"No!" I snapped. "No buts. I like Debbie a lot, but if she can't handle the way you look, too bad."
"Thanks," Evra said quietly.
Night came and Mr. Crepsley arose. The vampire looked haggard. I'd fixed a meal for him - bacon, sausages, pork chops - so he'd eat quickly and leave before Debbie arrived.
"Are you feeling all right?" I asked as he wolfed down the food.
"Fine," he mumbled.
"You look terrible," I told him bluntly. "Have you fed recently?"
He shook his head. "I have not had time. I may tonight."
"I took blood from a guest last night," I said. "It'll keep me going for another week or so."
"Good," he said absentmindedly. It was the first time I'd fed by myself, and I'd been expecting some sort of a compliment, but he didn't seem to care. It was like he'd lost interest in me.
I cleaned up once he'd left, then sat down to watch TV with Evra and wait for Debbie.
"She's not going to come," I said after what felt like a couple of hours. "She stood me up."
"Relax," Evra laughed. "You've only been sitting here ten minutes. It's still early."
I checked my watch - he was right. "I can't go through with this," I groaned. "I've never been out with a girl before. I'll mess it up. She'll think I'm boring."
"Don't get so wound up," Evra said. "You want to go out with her, and you are going out with her, so why worry?"
I started to answer him, but was interrupted by Debbie knocking on the door. Forgetting my nerves in a second, I jumped up to let her in.