“Well, Mr. Lowell, I think we have everything we need. Your references all check out, and you passed your background check. Can you start on Friday?”
What a relief! I smiled and leaned against the wall of my dingy hotel room. Thank goodness for excellent references. I inhaled the combination mildew/chlorine smell caused by the permanent dampness from the ocean and the indoor swimming pool below my room, glad . This was the break I needed, or my current accommodations would soon go from bad to worse.
“Thank you, yes. What time does the evening shift start?” I kept my fingers crossed while I waited for the answer.
“Six o’clock. Just come to the front desk and our evening supervisor will get you set up. Lexi’s great. She’ll show you the ropes.”
“Wonderful. Thank you for this opportunity.”
“We should be thanking you, Mr. Lowell. You’re overqualified for the position, and we’ve had a difficult time keeping our evening staff. I hope this works out for the both of us.”
I thanked Yvonne, the Human Resources director, once more before disconnecting. Then the victory dance commenced.
“Did you hear that, Rhonda? We’re in!”
My red Doberman rested her jaw on her paws and made an old lady noise, indicating that she’d rather be napping than dancing.
I would not be thwarted, however. I danced a West Side Story routine across the room to the kitchenette and reached into the fridge with panache. There was one last bag of A-positive that I’d been sipping on since arriving in Santa Cruz, and now I could finish it off since I’d have a steady supply in just two days’ time. Not that I needed much—especially not when I was working—but it was important to never let my energy stores deplete. It affected my judgement and my ability to do the work that was so desperately needed.
I did a spin and a box step before kicking my leg out, and throwing my arms back in a layout. Hopefully I’d find a patient who knew the old dances at Puesta Del Sol, my new place of employment. They were the most fun to work with.
I reached into my lone duffel bag, which contained seven sets of scrubs, a suit, three white t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a Harvard hoodie, two pairs of shoes, and a small photo album that contained cherished pictures of my parents and younger siblings. The rest of my belongings and resources were hidden in pre-paid storage facilities around the country for when I got desperate…or had to run.
My family was all gone now. My little sister was the last, and she’d passed away four months ago according to the hometown newspaper in Macon County, Georgia. I read every copy that I could get ahold of through the local libraries. The internet had been such a great invention. Even though I hadn’t been home in nearly forty years, I’d managed to keep tabs on everyone. They’d all lived mostly happy, satisfying lives and died of natural causes at advanced ages, which was the best I could have hoped for.
But now that I had no worry of repercussions for my family, I could finally seek out the truth.
Puesta Del Sol was hopefully the end of the line. The last assisted-living home where I’d worked in Albuquerque had led me here, to Santa Cruz, California. “Go west, young man,” turned out to be the advice I’d needed all along.
I was determined to find those responsible for sending me on this decades-long exile. It wouldn’t be long now. It was time to set things straight, and it seemed fitting to be back near where it all started.
Two months later, the trail of promising leads had gone cold. Still, I loved my new life in California. I was surrounded by a competent and diverse staff at Puesta Del Sol that knew how to run a place of healing and hope with patients who were happy and well cared for. And I loved Santa Cruz. It was almost enough to make me consider letting go of the past.
What a great place for a guy like me. It was easy to fit into the college town that was also a magnet for transients, tourists, and folks who were followers of alternative lifestyles. Not only were there practitioners of Eastern religions and schools of thought, but also those who claimed to be creatures of the night, a holdover from the vampire craze that swept the area after a hit movie in the ’80s made them cool. I occasionally even found folks who didn’t mind a little role play.
My love of music meant I was a frequent guest of The Catalyst, a large music venue, bar, and eatery located downtown that drew fans from all over the Bay Area. One night they’d feature punk, the next rap, and sometimes even classic rock bands made their way to the club.
Tonight was a perfect opportunity to blend in as a lineup of alternative bands from the eighties was playing. I’d worn my black suit, skinny tie, and black Dr. Martens. I’d even slicked my dark auburn hair back and donned black eyeliner for the hell of it, the makeup highlighting my eyes, so blue they made people stop and stare. Of course, the rest of the package could also be to blame for that. My pale, freckled skin fit the role of a night walker perfectly to round out the look.
I made my way through the crowd to the bar and ordered a beer. A willing playmate soon appeared, and the game was on.
The young man, dressed in a velvet waistcoat and ruffled poet’s shirt, saw me approach the bar and immediately perked up. I took a swig of my beer and nodded at the Goth. When I moved away from the bar, I felt him at my back as I headed to a dark corner. Once there, I leaned against the wall and waited.
The young man approached with a sly smile, and I took it as an invitation. I reached for his shoulder, turned him around slowly, and pulled him back against my chest, enjoying the way his body fit against mine.
“I have your permission?” I whispered in the young man’s ear. “I promise you’ll enjoy it.”
The young man turned to face me and his eyes widened in surprise. “Here?”
I smiled at him and ran a finger down his neck, enjoying the way he shivered. The energy from his excitement would have been enough to nourish me, but I was feeling greedy tonight.
“Yeah, just um, be safe about it.”
I bathed him in a wave of calm. The manipulation of energy was effortless for me now. “You’re in good hands, my friend.” I turned him around and stopped him when he went to loosen his belt. “Relax, I’ve got you.”
I slid his long curly blond hair to the side. I had ways of making the experience pleasurable, so I poured energy into giving this guy one helluva good time, one he’d remember for years to come. He just wouldn’t remember that a vampire sank his teeth gently into his neck and took sustenance from his body.
Give unto them what they require.
Take only what you need to survive.
I would never forget what I’d been taught.
After a few sips, I felt my playmate shudder against me and let out a satisfied moan. A few more pulls and his body tensed, gasped, and shuddered once more. It was nice to know I hadn’t lost my touch.
It had been a long time since I’d chanced feeding in public, but I felt safe here. Santa Cruz had welcomed me with open arms, and I wanted to stay.
The young man raised his arm and cupped the back of my head. He pressed his ass back against me, and I knew it was time to end this tryst.
“Thank you,” I whispered against his ear, and then pressed a kiss to his neck.
“I should be thanking you,” the guy said. “What’s your name?”
I disappeared into the crowd before the young man turned to look, and I was out of the club before he could wonder what happened.
I rarely drank blood—it was an infrequent need to maintain my existence as long as I had plenty of human energy to manipulate—and I always made sure my partner enjoyed it. But the act often left me feeling…empty. I worked hard to help others live a more satisfying life, and after all this time, I sometimes resented that I couldn’t pursue happiness of my own. I would have loved to take that young man home and enjoy more than just an Exchange. Someday I would find…someone. But not until it was safe. Not until I’d done what I came here to do.