Mark lived in a brick, split-level house a few miles north of town. It wasn’t anything fancy on the outside—it had obviously been built during the housing boom in the 70’s—but it was a good size and was located on a quiet, dead-end street. A child’s red and black bike left in front of the garage door attested to the fact that it was a good neighborhood for kids.
They went up the stairs to the front door and Scott rang the doorbell. A few moments later, a drop-dead gorgeous woman opened the door. Scott was momentarily stunned by the petite, red-haired beauty.
She smiled brilliantly. “Hey! You must be Scott. Come on in. Happy Thanksgiving.” She stepped back to let them enter.
Scott was still struck mute and couldn’t even mumble a reply. Josie was more gracious.
“Hello,” Josie said, offering her hand.
“Hi, I’m Carol,” Mark’s wife replied, shaking Josie’s hand. “You must be Josie.”
“Yes. And this is Clarice,” she said, gently tugging a shy Clarice into the house.
“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman said, bending down to look at Clarice at eye-level. “I have a son who’s your age.”
Clarice smiled tentatively, but looked as awkward as her father.
Josie offered the bottle of wine. “I brought this for you.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said, studying the label appreciatively.
“You can have it with dinner or save it for later—whichever.”
“Oh, I think I’d like some with dinner.”
“I got white so it would go with turkey.”
“I noticed.” She smiled. “I like a woman who knows her wines.”
She led them into the living room. “Please, make yourselves at home.” She walked through a door into the kitchen, calling out as she went, “Mark, our guests are here.”
Josie and Scott sat next to each other on the couch. “You’ve got a little drool right here,” Josie whispered to him, indicating the corner of his mouth.
He started to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand, then stopped. “Smart ass,” he muttered.
She perked a brow. “I wasn’t the one with my mouth hanging open.”
“Are you the jealous type?” he asked, deflecting the accusation and putting it back on her.
“No, not really,” she replied, unfazed. “Are you the drooling type?”
“Not usually.” He glanced sideways at her. “With you around, other women pale in comparison.”
He thought that was a good save.
“Are you implying that Mark’s wife is prettier than me and that’s why you noticed her?”
Scott pulled back, looking at her in confusion. Then he made a disgusted noise. “Only a woman would take a compliment and turn it into an insult.”
“Hey, I wasn’t the one drooling; what did you expect me to think?”
“Well, you certainly don’t complain when I drool over you regularly.”
Scott was starting to feel hot under the collar—he really wasn’t into that “I’m so jealous you can never look at another woman again” thing—then he noticed the wicked glint in Josie’s eyes. She was working him up on purpose.
Mark bustled into the living room—wiping his hands on a dishcloth—a moment later, saving Scott from having to come up with a retort so witty, it would shut the game down for good.
“Hey, guys” Mark said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Scott replied.
“Are you ready to eat?” He laughed, catching himself. “Let me rephrase that: ladies, are you ready to eat?”
“I can eat,” Josie replied.
“Good. I just got the turkey off the smoker. It needs to cool down a bit before I can carve it, but Carol has appetizers she wants to serve—something she got from one of those cooking shows.”
Scott sighed wistfully. “I used to love a good smoked turkey—smoked anything,” he corrected.
“Well, I do have something for you, but I’m afraid it’s not as good as my smoked turkey. But then, few things are,” he said with no small amount of pride.
Mark showed them into the dining room, where a few extra chairs had been squeezed in.
“Kids, dinner!” he called out.
A moment later, a thunder came rumbling from one end of the house, and a boy about Clarice’s age came dashing into the dining room. On his tail were two girls who looked to be about four years old.
“I beat!” the little boy said triumphantly. One of the girls took that news rather badly and kicked him in the leg.
The two girls started to laugh.
“Mo-om!” he whined in a tattle-tale voice.
“Hey, you guys, settle down,” Mark fussed. “We have company.”
“Lizzy kicked me,” the little boy replied, pointing an accusing finger.
“I saw. And you know there’s no running in the house.” He pulled out a chair and made the little boy sit in it. “Scott and Josie are going to think you’re hoodlums if you don’t start acting better.”
He bent down to the girls, looking at them seriously. “No kicking. Next time I catch you doing that, it’s a whipping. Got it?”
They both nodded and made an attempt at looking contrite.
He picked them up and put them in their chairs. Scott noticed Mark put all the kids on one end, leaving a space for himself and Carol on either side of the table at the middle—as if they felt the need to cordon-off the children from their guests.
Scott felt thankful that Clarice had always been a well-behaved kid. She was generally pretty good at entertaining herself and not getting into trouble in the process. Being an only child may have helped that; she didn’t have anyone to fight against or conspire with.
“Who’s he?” one of the little girls asked, pointing at Scott on the other end of the table.
Mark pushed her hand down. “That’s Scott. I work with him in court. Remember, I told you he and his family were coming to dinner.”
Mark gestured to them. “This is Miss Josie and Scott’s daughter, Clarice.”
“Hi,” the other little girl said. The other two children just stared.
“Guys, these are my little spawn: Elizabeth, Anna, and Houston.”
“Daddy, I’m Lizzy,” Elizabeth said, sounding horrified that her father forgot her name.
Mark smiled. “Your name is Elizabeth. Lizzy is a nickname—what we call you at home.”
“I want a nickname!” her twin declared.
“I thought you had one,” Mark said, looking puzzled. “I thought you were my little Stinky Feet.”
“Daddy!” she complained, even as she laughed.
Carol came into the dining room a moment later carrying a large tray of hors’oderves.
“Carol, can I help you do anything?” Josie asked.
“Nope,” she replied, putting the tray in the middle of the table. “Everything’s ready.”
Scott looked at the tray. There were miniature pigs-in-a-blanket, cucumbers with pimento cheese, chips and salsa, carrots and ranch dressing, and little triangles of pita bread with what looked like a bowl of hummus.
“It looks wonderful,” Josie said, leaning forward to examine the offering, too.
“Thank you,” Carol beamed. “Help yourself.”
Josie picked up Clarice’s plate and asked her what she wanted, serving her first. Scott was pleased to see Josie taking an interest in Clarice, and that Clarice liked her, too. Another woman might be jealous of his child from a previous marriage or view her as annoyance, but Josie seemed to like children and didn’t feel the need to compete for Scott’s attention.
“Here’s something for you,” Mark said, snapping Scott out of his thoughts. He turned to see Mark offering him a Star Wars thermos-cup. Before Scott could ask, he smelled the sweet—albeit nicotine-y—smell of bottled blood.
“You didn’t have to do this,” Scott said, taking the cup from Mark. While he wasn’t surprised that Josie’s brother, a doctor, was able to use blood to mix drinks, he thought that most other people would be squeamish about it. It was pretty icky when it was cold and came glopping out of the bottle with the consistency of ketchup. Scott’s own stomach would have turned a flop the first time he poured some up cold, if not for the smell being so enticing.
“Well, we couldn’t eat and you not have anything.” Mark leaned a little closer, whispering. “I hope you don’t mind the glass. It was the only one we had that wasn’t clear….”
“Not a problem,” Scott hurried to say.
“Alright, let’s eat,” Mark declared, taking a seat beside Scott. Carol sat on the other side of the table, next to Josie.
“Let’s hold hands,” Mark said, holding his out. Houston made a pained face—as if he was embarrassed—but his mother took his hand. He tried to get away with putting his other hand on top of his sister’s head, but after a stern look from Mark, he sighed and took Anna’s hand.
“Houston, why don’t you say the blessing?”
“Rub-a-dub-dub, thank God for the grub,” he said eagerly. Clarice and the other two girls laughed.
“How about something more serious,” Mark said wearily.
“Oh, alright. God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By His hand, we’ve all been fed; give us, Lord, our daily bread.”
“Amen,” everyone responded.
“That was very nice,” Scott praised Houston.
He smiled, looking pleased for a brief moment, then he noticed what his mother was loading onto his plate and he immediately began to complain that he didn’t like hummus. They entered into negotiations. It was a scenario Scott could relate to; Clarice had always been a picky eater.
Everyone loaded up their little plates and a hush fell over the table as everyone dug in.
Mark leaned closer to Scott and whispered in his ear. “How did two bald, lawyer-types like us wind up with such beautiful women?”
Scott looked across the table at Josie and Carol. They certainly were quite the pair.
“Whenever something good happened to my Dad,” Scott whispered back, “he used to say, ‘It pays to be kind to old people and little children and dogs.’”
“What are you to conspiring about?” Carol asked, eyeing them.
“Oh, nothing,” Mark said with false sincerity, shooting Scott a grin.
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee