I promised that the series would be coming back from its sabbatical.
Clarice was beside herself with excitement when she came tumbling down the stairs Friday afternoon. Scott barely had time to brace himself as she jumped into his arms.
He kissed her cheek. “How are you today, Princess?”
He put her back on her feet. “How was school today?”
Po was jumping up and down, trying to lick everyone. Clarice giggled, kneeling in the floor to pet him. “Did you miss me, Po?”
“He definitely misses you when you’re not here,” Scott replied. “He doesn’t want to play with me like he does you. I think he likes running around with you more than anything.”
“Well, I’m going to be here all weekend!” she said brightly.
“I know. Po’s going to love it.” He patted her on the shoulder. “I want you to get a start on your homework now.”
The light left Clarice’s face like a cloud passing over the sun. “Now? On Friday?” She sounded scandalized.
“Yes. I don’t want to leave it until Sunday. Besides, I have a treat for us later tonight. You might as well use your time to do your homework.”
The sun came out again. “What kind of treat?”
“You’ll see in a little while,” Scott said, smiling mysteriously. “Get your homework done so we can go.”
“Can I have something to eat first?”
Scott pointed to a shelf near the table. “I got some peanut butter crackers for you. And there’s some juice upstairs in the fridge. Do you remember where the kitchen is?”
“Go up and get you some.”
She ran up the stairs with youthful exuberance and returned a couple of minutes later with a Capri Sun. “That ought to hold you until dinner,” Scott said. “Now, get your work done so we can go out.”
She went to her room and diligently sat at her desk, mixing graphite and orange cracker crumbs on ruled paper. Po ran around a little while, excited, but when he saw that Clarice wasn’t going to play with him, he jumped up on her bed, curled up, and watched her.
Scott sat on the couch in the living room and watched the evening news. Occasionally he would get up and check on Clarice, keeping her on task and helping her where necessary. By the time Josie came down the steps a few hours later, Clarice’s homework was done.
Scott watched as she put it all away in her backpack. “Now, doesn’t that feel good?” he asked her. “It won’t be hanging over your head all weekend, so you can just relax and enjoy yourself.”
“Yeah,” she agreed with a smile.
Josie stuck her head around the door. “Ya’ll ready to go?”
“Yep,” Scott said.
“Where are we going?” Clarice asked eagerly.
“You’ll see,” Scott said, still being mysterious.
Scott had purposefully left his calendar free so he could have the evening with Clarice. In fact, he had told Josie to alternate his calendar so he worked Friday nights when he didn’t have Clarice and Sunday nights when he did. It had slowly but surely gotten around town that Scott was the only lawyer that operated after normal office hours, and his business had really picked up—and mostly from human clientele. It seemed many people were willing to overlook the fact that Scott was a vampire, so long as they didn’t have to miss any work to meet with him.
They got into Scott’s SUV and drove towards Columbia. The sky in the west still had a tinge of green on the horizon, but the blackness was overtaking it.
“So, where are we going?” Clarice asked again. It was the same game she played at Christmas: constantly asking just to see if she could catch someone off guard.
“You’ll see,” Scott repeated. He was an old hand at the what-did-you-get-me game.
Josie just chuckled.
Twenty-five minutes later, they pulled into the lot of a neon-lit building, glittering and flashing in the night.
“What’s this?” Clarice asked, looking up in open-mouthed awe.
“Can’t you figure it out?” Scott asked, a little surprised. He thought the big white bowling pin, outlined in red lights, was a bit of a giveaway.
“A bowling alley?” she asked.
“Are we going bowling?” she squealed.
Scott got out of the car. “Well, we didn’t come here just to watch.”
Clarice scampered around him and Josie as they crossed the lot—running ahead, then back again.
Josie whispered to Scott. “She looks like Po.”
He laughed, taking her hand in his. “I was thinking the same thing.”
She glanced down at their hands. “Are we being obvious?” she asked, still whispering.
“Might as well. Everyone in town seems to know. Besides, Clarice already figured it out. She asked me if you were my girlfriend.”
“Did she? What does she think about it?”
“She likes you.” He grinned. “After all, who wouldn’t?”
Josie laughed. “Scott, you’re just so….”
“What?” he asked, when she didn’t finish.
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “Not like anyone else I’ve dated, that’s for sure.”
He grinned and held open the door for her.
The lanes were dark. Overhead, the ceiling had long tubes of colored neon, and they were cycling through their colors in sync with the music blaring over the speakers. There were lines of white lights along the gutters of each lane that were running up and down and flashing. The pins had light shining down on them—so you could at least see what you were aiming at—and knocking over any of them made red lights around the opening flash.
Clarice was hopping up and down and pointing out everything, as if Josie and Scott couldn’t see it for themselves. “Oh, look at that! Lookee there! This is the best thing in my whole life that I’ve ever seen,” she declared with solemn awe.
Josie and Scott both laughed.
“Hey, guys!” a voice called out over the music, the thunder of the lanes, and the other overstimulated children.
Scott waved as Darren pushed through the crowd.
“Hey, good to see you,” Scott said, offering his hand. Darren clasped it, but pulled him closer into a one-armed hug.
“How have you been?” Darren asked, pulling back. Scott could tell by the serious tone of his voice that he wasn’t asking casually; he wanted to know how Scott was handling his father’s death.
“I’m alright,” Scott said. He spent as little time as possible thinking about his family. He tried to pretend it was like before—they were all still around, but just avoiding him. For all his insistence that the surviving members of his family were dead to him, he didn’t like thinking that he would never actually see them again. Instead, he was just ignoring them, as they had been ignoring him.
Darren offered Josie his hand. “Josie, it’s nice to see you again.”
She smiled. “It’s nice to see you again, too.”
Scott reached out and drew Clarice to his side. She took a moment to focus her eyes on the person in front of her.
“Darren, this is my daughter, Clarice. Clarice, this is my cousin, Darren.”
Darren smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Clarice. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Are you a vampire like my Daddy?” she asked bluntly.
“Yes,” he replied, unashamed.
“I thought so. I could see your teeth.” She went back to looking around in wonderment, clearly not bothered by Darren’s undeadness.
“I’ve already got us a lane,” Darren told Scott. “Want to get some shoes and join us?”
“Number nineteen,” Darren said, pointing at the opposite end of the building. “Next-to-the-last one.”
Scott took Clarice by the hand and half-dragged her over to the shoe counter, which was brightly lit with normal lights. The man working behind it was clearly a pro, because he pulled shoes out of slots with one hand—hardly glancing at the size marked on the cubbyhole—and sprayed returning shoes with disinfectant.
“What size shoe do you wear, Clarice?” Scott asked.
Clarice’s eyes went wide, surprised by the pop quiz. “Um… I don’t know.”
The man behind the counter gestured impatiently. “Let’s see her shoes.”
Clarice hurriedly pulled off her sneakers and put them up on the counter. The man didn’t look inside for the size. Instead, he held one shoe up, eyed the sole, then pulled out a pair of bowling shoes and handed them to Scott.
Scott sat down with Clarice in a nearby chair and helped her into her shoes.
“Those feel okay?” he asked.
He got up again and got his own pair. Josie was already in hers.
Once all the shoes had met with approval, the man popped their regular shoes into the vacant cubbyholes. “$7.50,” he told Scott.
Scott pulled out his wallet and handed the man a ten. It vanished into the register and $2.50 materialized in his hand. “Thanks and have a good night,” the man said, with all the emotion and voice inflection of a computer. He became animated suddenly, though, when he spotted something happening in the darkness.
“Hey, you kids!” he shouted, pointing. “I’ve told you to stay off the tables. I catch you up there again, and you’re out of here!”
“We need to get something to eat,” Josie said, speaking into Scott’s ear as they snaked their way through tables and groups of wild children.
Scott stopped and pulled out his wallet, handing Josie another ten dollar bill. “Do you want to get something for you and Clarice?”
“Sure,” she said, sucking the bill from Scott’s hand as fast as the shoe guy. “Come on, Clarice.”
“Can I have pizza?” Clarice asked, skipping to Josie’s side.
“Yes, if they have some,” she replied, taking Clarice by the hand and heading towards the blinding lights and greasy smell of the snack bar.
Scott made his way through the darkness to the other end of the alley and found Darren sitting at a table with his wife Patty. Patty was having a hamburger.
“Hey, Scott!” Patty said brightly when she saw him.
Scott leaned down to kiss Patty on the cheek. “Hey, Patty. You’re looking beautiful, as always.”
She laughed. “I credit the mood lighting.”
“I think you look beautiful all the time. Especially when you’re standing next to Darren,” he teased.
“Just what are you saying?” Darren said, looking up at Scott with a mock frown on his face.
Scott took a seat. “Nothing. You’ve got a face that your mother loves.”
“Look who’s talking, Mr. Clean.” Then he glanced around. “Speaking of looking like someone’s pity date, where’s your gorgeous other half?”
“She and Clarice are getting something to eat.”
Darren leaned closer, suddenly looking serious. “So how are things really?” he asked quietly. On the opposite side of the table, Patty leaned in as well.
“Okay,” Scott replied. “My business is doing pretty good. Good enough to pay the bills, anyways.”
“How’s your mom doing?” Patty asked.
Scott’s face darkened. “I don’t know. I’m not talking to them right now.”
“Ah,” Darren said, full of understanding.
“Is that your doing or theirs?” Patty pressed.
“I suppose you can blame me, but I’m certainly not the one who started it.” She nodded knowingly.
Josie and Clarice joined them a moment later. Josie was carrying a tray with their food; Clarice was gliding at her side.
“These shoes are fun,” Clarice said, attempting to pull off an ice skater’s spin while Josie unloaded their food on the table.
“Careful,” Scott said, making a grab for her. “You’re going to knock something over.” He managed to wedge her into a chair.
“Why do we have to wear those shoes?” she asked.
“Because they have special bottoms that keep us from messing up the floor. The floor is very expensive and has a lot of wax on it. That’s what makes it slippery so the balls will roll down them better.”
“Ah,” she said, before digging into the slice of pepperoni pizza Josie had put down for her.
Josie had a plate of chicken fingers and french fries for herself. She was just dipping a piece of chicken into a tub of sauce when Darren asked the dreaded question.
“So, Josie, what do you do for a living?”
Josie didn’t miss a beat. “I’m a paralegal.”
Darren glanced between them. “Oh, is that how you two met?”
Josie nodded, taking a bite of her dinner. It might have ended there, but for Clarice. “She’s Daddy’s secretary,” she said with a certain amount of triumph.
The bowling alley suddenly seemed a lot quieter. Then Darren burst out laughing. It was so infectious, even Scott had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
“Oh, I see,” Darren finally managed to say.
Clarice looked up at Scott, solemn. “I haven’t told Mama. She asked if you had a girlfriend, but I told her I didn’t know.”
Scott felt even more awkward than he had before. “It’s not a secret,” he assured Clarice. Not anymore, anyways. “But it… might hurt your mother’s feelings if she knew. So it’s probably better if you say you don’t know.”
Clarice nodded wisely, then went back to eating her pizza. Scott felt a little disjointed, as he always did when suddenly Clarice spoke with the insight and wisdom of an adult. Did all children have such flashes of brilliance, or had living through the divorce made Clarice more sensitive to other people?
Darren looked at him with pity, then cleared his throat. “So, Scott, you want to warm up the lane while the ladies finish their dinner? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been bowling since I turned, so I don’t know what my strengths are.”
“I haven’t been bowling in ages,” Scott said, standing up. “I’d be rusty regardless.”
Darren clapped him on the back, and the two of them went to pick out bowling balls.
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee