Once Penny and I left the high school grounds -- thankfully without getting caught -- she led me to a small hybrid silver car parked at the curb a block or so away from the school. The homeowner stuck his head outside as we got to the car and yelled something nasty. (My school unfortunately was in the middle of the city and parking was pretty hard to find. The residents cursed anyone who parked on the street automatically.) I waved and got into the car without comment. Penny bit back a grin and joined me. Once we were inside I immediately noticed that it smelt like shiny plastic and very new car. She smiled and said, "Stop looking at me that way, Esmeralda, it's a rental, naturally."
How that was natural I didn't have a clue, but I nodded like it made any sort of sense. Oddly enough, I hadn't been looking at her in any sort of 'way,' but she had been pretty defensive about the rental and I shelved it inside my head as mildly amusing. We put our seatbelts on and headed out. She wasn't an overly chatty driver but instead had her hands precisely positioned at the ten and two spots like I'd been taught in the required driver's ed courses I'd taken at school. Most people around us drove with a cell phone in one hand glued to an ear while the other hand was placed at some random spot on the wheel, all the time chatting or texting. I watched her driving and figured out quickly that she was terrified of traffic. I didn't blame her but found it pretty funny given she probably was tons older than me.
She must have caught my smile because she said, "My dear, cars are far more dangerous than planes. I mean think about it, a thousand to two thousand pounds of metal hurling around narrow lanes trying to vie for two feet of distance further along the path with other people viciously screaming and gesturing behind the thin glass windshields separating them all the while thinking that will protect them from any sort of harm. Add in that the rest of these humans aren't even paying attention to the road much less the other motorists they are threatening." She was appalled and vibrating slightly as she kept carefully driving in the middle lane ignoring the people zooming around her like she was standing still. I'd glanced over to the dashboard and saw to my amazement that she was actually driving a bit over the posted speed limit.
"Please, open up the glove box."
I complied, not sure why, but she took her eyes off the road long enough to meet mine and I nodded and opened. She turned back to the road and tightened her grip on the steering wheel while I explored the glove box.
Inside was a thick owner's manual, and a few other sheaves of folded papers. There was also a dehydrated bit of something in the corner and a few packets of sugar that probably were left by one of the previous renters. I sort of doubted those were the things she was talking to me about and sighed.
Instead I simply pulled out the three folded sets of paper and waited.
"Go ahead, open them," she insisted while letting another SUV swerve within inches of the hood while continuing at the same speed, not even tapping her brakes. I was pretty impressed because I knew I would have freaked out at the invasion of my personal space.
Semi-reluctantly I unfolded the first set of paperwork. With an arched eyebrow I saw it was the contract she'd signed to rent the vehicle -- nothing exotic or special. Somehow I doubted that was what she wanted me to see.
"So you supplied a driver's license that said you are only twenty-five?" I barely resisted snorting at the idea -- but come on, she was more than nine years older than me at the very least.
Her head spun rapidly to me and she made a loud squeaking noise, "Oh, shit, not that. Esmeralda, look at the other stuff."
I let out my own eek sound as she nearly collided into the back of some idiot who'd just swerved in front of her and suddenly slammed on their brakes. She looked back in time and swore as she was then forced to slam on her brakes to avoid crashing the little clown car we were stuck inside into the huge SUV that was now right in front of us. We slid to a grinding halt mere inches from the bumper of the twisted metal license plate with the vanity license 'Because'. Sadly, the folks right behind us weren't as fast on the brakes and I felt my seat belt snap me back when they crashed into us causing us to careen into the SUV.
At this point I had to admit that I hadn't been overly comfortable with the whole spontaneous trip and my backpack was between my feet. I didn't hesitate, but instead snatched up the strap and held it to my chest, closed my eyes tightly and concentrated on the picture in my back pocket. The folded paperwork was also smashed up against my chest and I immediately thought of Harry's place.
I heard Penny scream, "Fuck me no! Harry's going to kill me."
And then I was standing in front of the picture.
Okay, not really, but I was standing in front of the house that was in the picture that Penny had given me. I wasn't in the middle of a car wreck. I felt slightly bad, then not so much as I looked around at the house and felt the cool breeze coming off the ocean in the background.
It wasn't night, but the middle of the day. Mentally I did the math and figured it was at least three or four hours until dark. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do when the front door opened up a little, beckoning me inside. I stuffed the folded papers inside my backpack then hoisted it over my shoulder, stiffened my spine and headed to the dark entrance.
Not knowing if I should knock or push the button and ring the doorbell I stood indecisively on the doormat with my face scrunched in puzzlement. Of course, that was when the door was yanked open completely and I nearly tumbled in as I'd half raised my hand to knock.
"Well, what are you going to do, stand there all day?" A booming voice pounded my ears as my eyes found the middle button of yards of tartan plaid flannel. The man was huge. His face was covered with a thick pelt of fur and his hair hung down to his shoulders in corkscrewed ringlets of deep mahogany.
"Nope," I unnecessarily hitched my backpack well over my shoulder and boldly paced inside the foyer with a stumbling swagger. I figured in for a penny, in for a pound. Like there was anywhere else I wanted to be.
A booming laugh followed me as the man shut the door with a thump. He said, "Good, you don't scare easily."
"Not likely." I retorted, while meeting his steady gaze. Admittedly had I been out on the street back home and seen him coming towards me I would have ducked into the first shop or building in a heartbeat but I didn't think Harry would have anyone inside his walls he didn't approve of and that was my basis for my decision to enter.
Still laughing he turned and said, "Want me to carry your bag?"
"Why do I need both my hands free?" I wasn't backing down or giving up my worldly possessions. I still hadn't had a chance to glance at the folded pages Penny had me grab from the glove box before I'd popped out of the car. I wondered if she was okay. Her scream hadn't been one of pain but frustration when I'd fled.
Chuckling he said, "Well, you aren't what I was expecting, that's for sure. Harry definitely has bitten off more than he can chew this time. I am sure going to love watching him try to tame you."
Unable to resist I replied, "I don't think I need taming, thank you very much."
His longer legs easily passed me and he walked through the foyer before I had a chance to fully get a look at everything. All that registered was that the walls were painted a light eggshell color and there were huge wall hangings on either side of the doorway. There weren't any lights on so everything else was a blur as I raced to catch up with him. He didn't slow down a bit for my shorter legs but went into an even darker hallway once he cleared the foyer.
There were paintings and pictures framed along the rather wide hallway and I raced to keep up with the big man. He wasn't overweight, but just built on a massive scale. He was at least six and a half feet tall and his shoulders were broad. His body tapered nicely and I did think his tush was pretty cute for an old guy. He wore dark denim and work boots. He didn't fit my image of what seemed to be somewhere in California. I could picture him up in the mountains with a hefty axe over his shoulder. Yep, he looked like a mountain man more than a surfer.
He slowed as he came to a set of large mahogany double doors.
"This is going to be good," he said to himself as I nearly stumbled into his backside with the dark hallway. He flung open the doors and roared, "Harry, wake up, you have company!"
His bellowing announcement was followed by laughter -- his -- he was really amused about something.
My eyes adjusted to the dark room and I saw it wasn't completely black but lit with flickering candles here and there. I felt like I'd jumped into an old movie about a time before electricity. The scent of candle smoke was in the air along with wet fur. I looked at the man who'd brought me into the home and felt a flicker of something from him not normal. But then my definition of normal wasn't exactly the same as it had been a week ago, I had to acknowledge, if only to myself.
There was a huge canopied bed that took up a large portion of the huge room. The dark wood was accented by draped burgundy swaths of fabric that were tied to the posts. A thick charcoal comforter was covering the sheets and a half dozen pillows were haphazardly strewn at the head of the bed against the thick headboard. And propped in the middle of the bedding was Harry.
He was wearing a black silk robe, for which I was thankful, because I felt flushed at seeing the vampire in bed.
Looking up from some papers in his hand he said, "Angus, you're an ass. This child has been through enough. Stop trying to scare her."
"Harry, she doesn't scare easily from what I can tell." He paced into the bedroom and lifted up a large chair from the wall and set it next to the bed. The flooring was hardwood and rugs were scattered around tastefully. The chair was placed in the middle of an ornate rug and Angus gestured grandly saying, "Park it, little girl. Master Harry is receiving."
Still laughing, he departed, but left the doors open. I cautiously perched on the edge of the dark brown leather chair. I set my backpack between my legs and waited. It didn't take long.
"Esmeralda, should I ask where Penny is?" He seemed mildly amused. Just then the phone on the nightstand next to the bed near me rang. An itch ran between my shoulder blades and I hazarded a guess, "Probably on the other end of that call?"
Sighing and shaking his head, he reached over and grabbed the receiver before the phone rang again, "Hello, Penny."
He winked as I could hear Penny panicking on the other end. I'd guessed right. I doubted I'd get a gold star, but still was happy to hear Penny's voice because it meant that at least she hadn't been killed in the accident.