|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
The door of the staff kitchen did its usual stuttering creak behind Elijah as he entered, holding the fluttering invoice out ahead of him like a flag. Dom started and turned round from where he stood at the sink. His lips were streaked and glossy with blood. He was wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, leaving a pale reddish smear down his chin. For a second there was a bright gleam, as light from a gap in the blinds glanced off his teeth. Then nothing. The shuttered room was dim and murky.
"Dom!" Elijah sighed with annoyance. "Jesus, can't you just wait till your lunch-break, like everyone else?"
"Sorry." Dom shrugged. "But it's not exactly busy out there, is it?"
"How would you know? You're not out there, are you?"
"Kirsty's out there. She'd let me know."
"Kirsty is not out there, she's in the stockroom. We just can't afford this, okay? And would you look at yourself? Didn't your mother ever tell you not to drink blood straight from the bottle?"
"Yeah, ha ha. I liked the Dracula joke an' all."
"It wasn't a joke! Someone really fucked up."
Dom plucked a handy lemon-scented wipe from the box on the counter. "That's right, pick on the vampire," he mumbled through it.
"Nothing... I'm going, don't worry."
Halfway down the corridor, he stopped and turned round.
"It was probably Kirsty," he called back to Elijah. "Anyway, it wasn't me. It's not always me, you know."
Elijah was already halfway to the fire escape, plucking a cigarette from the pack with one hand as he fished a lighter out of his pocket with the other. He'd just have a short break. Fuck it. Apparently nobody else gave a shit. He didn't see why he should be the only one who cared about anything.
"Sorry to keep you waiting..."
Dom hardly looked at the customer as he propelled himself round the corner of the desk and tapped his sign-in number into the till. He'd honed his technique over the years until he had combined the actions into one fast, fluid movement. Doing it always seemed to give the day a bit of a lift.
"Um ... do you have... Oh, I can't remember who it's by..."
He looked up. She was pretty. Young, early twenties maybe. She leaned on the desk and smiled at him. Her hair was done in a severe bob, dyed white-blonde. It was an 'I'm fake, so what?' kind of haircut. Her eyes were wide, and her lipstick was slightly the wrong colour for her skin tone. He wanted to bite her for a second, but it passed, like it always did.
"Can you remember the title?"
"What? Oh, um ... well, no, but-I think it was something about panthers. Was it panthers? And there was a colour in it. Not magenta, but like that. Oh, you must know it, it's really famous."
She leaned further forward and giggled, rolling her eyes. "God, I'm sorry, I am so ... hey, look, forget it-stupid book anyway. It was just for this class I'm taking..." She put her head on one side, and quirked her eyebrows at him. "Do I know you? You seem really familiar..."
"I dunno, do ya?" Dom grinned at her and narrowed his eyes. His gums itched a little bit.
She ducked her head and started tracing a little pattern on the desk with her fingertip.
"Maybe not ... I mean, I do know a lot of vampires."
"Do you now? And how d'you know I'm a vampire?"
"Oh come on! I always know. You are though, aren't you?"
He leant down and folded his arms on the desk, so that they were face to face. He looked her straight in the eye.
"I might be," he said softly.
She smiled. "Wow. That is so cool! Do you know the Plasma Palace? I hang out there all the time. I am really interested in vampire culture." She looked at him with eyes wider than ever. Her lipstick was a kind of cerise. "I think it is so terrible the way your people have been discriminated against."
She held his gaze, practically bleeding sincerity from the pretty blue irises. Dom's gums stopped itching all of a sudden. Cerise, he thought, looking at her smile. Like magenta, but not.
"I don't really go to vampire bars," he said, standing up. "Was there anything else?"
"Uh, no. Thanks." She got the message. Disappointment bloomed in her face.
"Cheers then." Dom turned away and started labelling best-sellers with neon orange 'Sale' stickers. "See you."
When he looked back, she'd gone. He started taking the orange stickers off the books again, since they weren't actually in the sale.
"Yes, thank you, fuck off, ta..."
Dom shot the bolts home with unnecessary force and jabbed an upraised middle finger at the retreating back of their last customer. Kirsty eyed him from across the shop floor.
"You're so good with the public, Dom."
"Well, fuck 'im! He always does this-comes in ten minutes before we close and then hangs around for fucking ever. And never, ever, in the history of me working here, have I ever seen him buy a single fucking book!"
Kirsty finished winding her scarf around her neck, came over and ruffled his hair sympathetically. "He's okay. Come on, it's just been a shitty day."
"Shitty and crap and fucking ... fucked." He rested his head for a moment on her shoulder. The fabric of her coat was soft and felty. She smelled of something like chalk and flowers mixed, and of her own blood. He closed his eyes, opened them again and straightened up.
"You wanna come out with us tonight? We're going downtown. That new place that just opened?"
"Erm ... I dunno."
"Cheryl's gonna be there. You two seemed to get along really well last time."
He smiled, but shook his head.
"Nah, I might just go home, I reckon. Watch telly. Crack open a bottle of, oh-blood, maybe? For a change." He grinned, camping it up a bit.
"Well, okay then." She pulled the side door open and waved a gloved hand at him before disappearing into the night. "See you tomorrow!"
He turned round and went to retrieve his jacket from behind the sales desk. Elijah was there. He was just standing there and looking at Dom, leaning against the desk with his arms folded around himself. He'd tugged the sleeves of his sweatshirt down so they covered his hands.
"Did you know," said Dom, "that when you do that, it looks like you're wearing a straitjacket?"
Elijah didn't move. He looked as though he were considering something. Dom put his hands in his pockets. The shop was empty and quiet.
"Does it taste really, really bad?" Elijah said suddenly.
Dom laughed. "What, blood? Try some if you like. I've got bucketloads." Then he stopped and looked down at his shoes. "'S'alright," he said. "I mean, you get used to it. Not like I was that much into the whole eating thing anyway. God, imagine if I'd been a real foodie or something. That'd be a bit of a bugger."
He watched his own foot as it rubbed at something on the floor and made a mark. "I do miss stuff, though. Thai. I liked Thai. And omelettes. It's weird, I really do miss omelettes." He grinned.
Elijah smiled back. "But ... are you okay? I mean, in general?"
"What? Yeah! Sure, I'm okay. Sure! Fine." He took his hands out of his pockets again.
"Good." Elijah stood, hugging himself, and looked at Dom. He was still smiling a little bit.
Dom said, "What are you staring at me for?"
"Yeah you are."
Elijah finally unwound his arms. "Okay," he said. "I am." Then he carried on doing it.
"Dom," he said. "Did you fuck up that order?"
"Well," said Dom, walking towards the desk. "I might have done, to be honest."
When he stopped walking he was close enough to smell the insides of Elijah's veins, and the blood that pumped hotly through them and made him work. Sometimes, Dom thought he liked blood best when it was this way, warm and useful and in people.
"Sorry," he said.
"It's okay," said Elijah. He put his mouth very close to Dom's ear, and whispered into it. "I'm making you wash all the cups for the next three weeks."
"Mm," said Dom, smirking and turning his head. "You're such a bastard."
He felt the light brush of Elijah's lips on his cheek, and the warmth of his breath. Warm and damp, and like nothing else, nothing else you could find anywhere. He discovered that his hands were on Elijah's hips, and imagined Elijah's skin under the denim of his jeans, with the little soft hairs, and the flesh under that, and the white bone under that. He thought about bone, and how different it is when it's light and dry and dead. He imagined the dark red world under the surface of Elijah, and all the complicated things that went on there, in secret.
Elijah's eyes were closed. They made tiny movements under the lids. His eyelashes were smudges against his skin, little dark feathery antennae. Dom stood and stared. He couldn't help it. It was amazing. It was amazing, he thought, how people held together the way they did. It was so amazing what went on inside them, and yet they hardly even thought about it.
He stared so long that the eyes opened again, and looked at him, blurry and close up, and Elijah said,
And Dom said, "Yeah?"
"Are you going to kiss me, or am I going to take it out of your wages?"
So Dom kissed Elijah,
there in the empty shop, against the hard edge of the sales desk, and
Elijah was warm, and he tasted of smoke and of spit and of life.