Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick
Liz reached for her glass, bumping his arm away from Darcy. “Oops. Sorry.”
For one quick instant Brandon's eyes shot to her face, his smile fading.
“Hey,” Liz said as he stared at her, “it was an accident. Okay?”
After a moment Brandon nodded. His voice was deep, soft, and slightly husky. “Sure, Liz. Okay.”
“The Community Theatre Group is putting on their production of
,” Kyle spoke up, breaking the tension. “And Brandon just got the lead. That's great news, man. What a choice role.”
Brandon nodded. “Thanks. Now, you guys better show up to give me moral support.”
“Count on it. So when's the first performance?”
“How should I know? I'll be lucky to remember the first rehearsal.” Brandon signaled the waitress and nodded to their group as she whipped out her pad. “Cokes all around? Darcy?”
“That's fine. Thanks.”
Brandon smiled at her, and she felt an unexpected warmth inside.
“You know â¦ you're very pretty.” His eyebrows raised appreciatively, and Darcy's cheeks flamed.
Kyle chuckled. “You're embarrassing her. Can't you behave yourself for oneâ”
“Her mom dumped her,” Liz said smugly. “Just like extra baggage.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Darcy looked down at her fingers twisting together in her lap.
“We really hope you have a good visit,” Kyle said hastily. “There's a lot to do here in the summerâconcerts, museums, art showsâthere's always something going on.”
“Murder,” Elliott said.
Everyone turned and stared. He was standing behind Brandon, and he moved one hand slowly up to his forehead.
“It hurts,” he said quietly.
Exchanging swift looks with Kyle, Brandon started to get up. “Maybe we should go,” he said. “It is pretty hot in here.”
“And loud,” Kyle agreed. “I need to get home anyway. I can give him a ride. Liz, you coming?”
Liz looked up at Brandon. “Brandon can take me home.”
Brandon cast her a sidelong glance. “Hey, sorry, but I've got some stuff I've got to do.”
“Come on,” Kyle said, jerking his thumb toward the door. “Unless you'd rather walk.”
“Fine.” Liz shoved Brandon off the end of the seat, not bothering to hide her annoyance. As Brandon stood aside to let her out, she stalked past him, throwing him a chilly smile. “Don't let stardom go to your head, Brandon. Just rememberâI know what you're really like.”
As Brandon looked uneasily at Kyle, Darcy felt something brush her arm and jumped as Elliott leaned in over her. His thin, pale face was framed by wispy blond hair, and she could feel the intensity of his stare behind the dark walls of his glasses.
“I'm leaving now,” he said softly.
Darcy nodded, trying to avoid looking at his unsettling expression. “Goodbye, Elliott. It was very nice to meet you.”
A faint smile quivered at the edges of his lips. “It was very nice to meet you,” he echoed, but his voice was flat and emotionless. “It was very nice.”
Again a quick look passed between Kyle and Brandon.
“Come on, Elliott.” Kyle touched him lightly on the shoulder. “I'm parked close.”
Elliott turned obediently, following for several steps. Then without warning he spun around, his hands gripping the edge of the table as he leaned in closer to Darcy's ear.
“I can tell the future,” he whispered.
As Darcy drew back in alarm, she saw Brandon gesturing to Kyle behind Elliott's back â¦ and Liz several feet away, her face hard, but curious.
“Come on, Elliott,” Kyle said firmly, pulling on his friend's arm. “Let's just go.”
But Elliott was bending closer, his hidden gaze traveling slowly over Darcy's face.
“I can tell the future,” he said again, and his voice was chillingly matter of fact.
“Can you?” Darcy asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Elliott said. “I'm afraid you're going to die.”
s Darcy stared at him, she was vaguely aware of a long, loud silence, even though the noise around her was deafening. She could see the black lenses, so close to her, and Kyle's face somewhere off to her left, and Liz approaching silently, her arms locked over her chest. It was Brandon who broke the spell at last, who pulled Elliott away and gave a choked sort of laugh.
“Come on, Elliott, we're
going to dieâ”
“So much for your psychic powers,” Kyle joined in, and turned on Liz. “Did
put him up to this? This
like something you'd doâ”
“I wouldn't give that weirdo the time of day.” Liz was indignant.
“The gypsy said so,” Elliott faced them solemnly. “She told me I could tell the future.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “I thought we weren't supposed to tell what she said. You blew it, Elliott.”
“I didn't blow it. That's not all she told me. I've always been able to tell the future. I can't say what else she told me.”
“Okay, I can tell the future, too.” Kyle nodded, pulling on Elliott's arm. “I see a car and a ride and Elliott feeling much better. See you later, guys.” He took Elliott's elbow and guided him firmly out the door, Liz following behind.
Brandon slid in beside Darcy and offered her an apologetic smile.
“He's always been â¦ different, you know? But after he had that wreck â¦ well â¦” He spread his hands, his face puzzled. “I don't know. He's just Elliott. He doesn't mean anything. He just gets mixed up.”
Darcy nodded slowly, rubbing the chill from her arms. “What was all that about a gypsy?”
Brandon smiled again, resting back against the seat. “The five of us went to a carnival a couple weeks ago and got our fortunes told by this old gypsy. It was just for funâthe place was closing up, and it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
“Fortune-tellers are kind of creepy,” Darcy said. “You always wonder where they come up with all that stuff they tell you.”
“Well, they make it up. Nobody really believes it. But then â¦ God only knows what she told Elliott. He's not like other people. We shouldn't have let him go in.”
“What happened to him? In the accident, I mean.”
“Head injury. He's lucky he's still alive.”
“You all seem so close. Have you known each other long?”
“Since grade school. We all grew up around here â¦ go to school together. Except Liz is a year ahead, so she's already out. Guess the rest of us will be graduating together next year, too â¦ at least, I hope Elliott will.â¦” His voice trailed off, and he frowned down at his napkin. “Look â¦ I want to apologize for the way Liz was acting.”
Darcy tried to shrug it off. “It's not your fault. I just wish I knew what I've done to upset her so much.”
“You haven't done anything,” Brandon said quickly. “She's not the easiest person to get along with. And I should know.” His laugh was humorless. “We haven't been getting along for a while now.”
“That's too bad.” Darcy wished she could sound more sympathetic, but Liz's insults were still too fresh.
“Well”âBrandon shruggedâ“I don't like feeling smothered. But that's not your problem. Sorry.”
“It's okay. She must really care about you.”
Brandon said nothing. The waitress came with their order, and he suddenly grinned over at Darcy.
“We have a lot of Cokes to drink. Good thing I'm thirsty.” He grouped all the glasses in the middle of the table, and they each chose one. “Guess you haven't had time to see any sights.”
“Just the Dungeon of Horrors.”
“Yeah, it's cool, isn't it? All those great exhibits. Now that it's summer, you'll be swamped with tourists.”
“Really? It doesn't look like anybody could even find it.”
“Westonport looks different in daylight. It's the oldest part of the whole city, and they've rebuilt a lot of it, tried to save all the historical stuff. There are still neighborhoods around it, though. We all live pretty close.”
“Does Jake really live at the Dungeon?”
“Yeah, his apartment's upstairs. I guess he told you how he ended up with the place, huh?”
Darcy shook her head. “My mom just told me he's always been kind of eccentric.”
Brandon laughed. “Eccentric. That's pretty good. Eccentric. I like it.” His eyes sparkled and they swept Darcy's face. “He was really close friends with this old guy named Gusâwe all knew himâhe had the Dungeon for years and yearsâabsolutely
horror movies. Anyway, Gus dies and leaves everything to Jakeâthe Dungeon, the apartment, what money he had, and
his debts.” He laughed again. “Jake said it'd be more trouble than it was worth, but Gus said Jake was the only one who'd take care of the place after he was gone. And Gus was rightâJake really loves that Dungeon.”
“So what was Jake doing before?”
“Before Westonport? Drifting, I guess. He never talks much about his past, and some of the guys I've seen him with, I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, know what I mean? This club is the best thing that's ever happened hereâit's a place for kids to come and have a good time without drinking or getting in trouble. Jake's toughâbut he's fair.”
“Is he happy?”
Brandon thought a minute. “Yeah, I guess. Whoever knows with Jake?”
“What do you mean?”
“He's such a loner. Jake only lets you know what he wants you to know.” Brandon nodded to himself. “So what's the situation between him and your mom?”
no situation.” Darcy gave a short laugh. “She was older when he was born, so they pretty much led separate lives. From what I hear, he was pretty unconventional, and she was pretty intolerant.”
“So your mom's never in touch with him?”
“Only when she wants something. Like when Gran and Gramps died, and Mom fought the will. And when my father died, and she needed money.”
“Wow.” Brandon's eyes widened. “She came to Jake for
Darcy nodded, looking puzzled. “Yes, and he even gave her some. So all these years I thought Uncle Jake was very rich.”
Brandon threw back his head and hooted with laughter, making Darcy smile.
“Now that I've seen the Dungeon, I guess I had the wrong picture of him.” She laughed along.
“You sure did.” Brandon gasped for breath. “Wow â¦ Jake gave your mom money. Yeah â¦ Jake's all right. But he's not rich.”
“He shouldn't have given her anything,” Darcy said seriously. “Not after the way she's talked about him and ignored him. If I were him, I wouldn't have given her a penny. Oh, well â¦” Her voice faded, and she leaned her elbows on the table. “She won't have to worry about money now.
husband comes with all the trimmings.”
Brandon watched her, his face softening. “So â¦ how long are you staying?”
They hadn't heard Jake approaching, and now he nudged Brandon over.
“I hear you got the part.” Jake nodded approvingly. “Didn't I tell you not to worry?”
worried.” Brandon looked sheepish. “Trying out in front of everyone like thatâI was scared to death.”
“You were not. You loved it.” Jake looked as if he doubted Brandon's sanity. “Look at him,” he ordered Darcy, “the hair, the eyes, the voiceâhe's a natural, I told him that. All that's missing are the teeth.”
“I tried to get
guy to audition, too.” Brandon nudged Jake, who looked at them askance. “I mean, he knows so much about vampires.”
“Knowing and being are two
different things,” Jake said. “There's having the knowledge â¦ and having the heart.”
Brandon chuckled. “Jake thinks there
still vampires in the world.”
“There are.” Jake sat straight, his eyes going from one to the other. “It's not just a myth. It's a whole race of beings. They've been around since time began. They're here with us now.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Where? In this club?”
“Here. In this universe. And where you least expect them.” Jake shrugged as if discussing the weather.
“Right. Drinking people's blood and sleeping in coffins.” Brandon took a long swallow of Coke. “Dancing out there, even as we speak. Dead people.”
“Not dead. Undead.”
“No. It's worse than being dead. It's being trapped in some hideous twilight state
life and death. Doomed to live forever with no hopeâeverâof dying. Of finding peace.” Jake leaned slowly forward, taking Brandon's collar, pulling him closer until their faces practically touched. “If you're going to be a vampire,” he said quietly, “then you'd better understand how they think.”
As Darcy stared at them, she saw Brandon's head nod, a strange, trancelike movement, and Jake eased himself back into the shadows against the wall.
“Can we talk about something else?” She shivered. “Something normal?”
“Why don't you take Darcy home?” Jake stood up and handed Brandon a key. “She can use this one to go in and out. I'll be home late, Darcy, so don't wait up. Your room's on the third floorâthe attic.”
As he walked away, Darcy turned anxious eyes on Brandon. “But I thought you told Liz you had something to do.”
“Yeah.” Brandon smiled, offering his hand to help her up. “Take you home.”
The rain had slowed to a fine drizzle, blurring the streets into ominous gray shadows. As Brandon kept ahold of her hand, they passed bars and cafÃ©s and narrow alleys leading off into nothingness. The sidewalks were practically deserted, and heat hung in the air like a thick fog.
Darcy heard a noise behind them and glanced back, seeing nothing. “Are we close yet?” she asked nervously. Brandon didn't seem to have heard anything. He looked down at her, pointing vaguely with his free hand.