"But we all get along. Like one big extended happy family. It's just funny. If my parents knew about your parents-and you for that matter..."
"What do you think they'd do?" Alexander asked, pulling me toward him.
"Not let me meet you in a cemetery, on sacred ground. That's for sure."
Dullsville's cemetery was decorated for a wedding. I stood at its entrance wearing a strapless white wedding dress and long white fingerless gloves. My train was as long as a coffin. Chairs, filled with unfamiliar faces, lined the soggy gra.s.s.
Mr. and Mrs. Sterling were awaiting me underneath the wrought-iron arch. Becky was standing up there in a pink ill-fitting bridesmaid's dress. Jameson, in his chauffeur's uniform, was standing as a best man. The officiator was cloaked in a grim reaper outfit.
Alexander, beaming in a vintage tuxedo, was waiting for me.
My dad joined my side and held a tight grip on my elbow. For some reason, I felt resistant to go-just as I had as a kid when it came time for swimming lessons.T'he water was always too cold, and my suit was always still damp from the day before. My dad held on tightly. "It's time to swim," he said with a wink.
We walked through the cemetery between the tombstones as raindrops. .h.i.t my veil.
I tried to find my mother. She was sitting in the front row with her back toward me. When I reached her row, I heard her mumble, "Why did you want to be like her when you could have been like me."
I was appalled by her comment, but my dad still guided me to the altar.
The grim reaper's face was hidden, but Alexander was gorgeous. He took my hand and squeezed it tightly. Becky lifted my veil. My handsome vampire leaned me back and grinned. His fangs flashed. For some reason I wasn't frightened. Two stabs gently pierced the soft flesh of my neck. I became dizzy.
I could smell blood-my own-as it dripped down my neck. It drizzled down the white dress and splattered like paint.
The guests began to clap and cheer in a contagious frenzy. They rose to their feet and smiled. All of them were vampires. Even my best friend, Becky, flashed tiny fangs at me. My father grinned and my mother sneered, both bearing pearly white fangs.
"TheSterlings have come to town!" the guests cheered.
I froze, staring at my parents. This isn't what they had wanted for me-much less for themselves. And it was now too late, for all of us.
I awoke to glares from my cla.s.smates. I must have dozed off in English cla.s.s. Mrs.Naper was tapping her pointer on her desk. "That makes the third time this week, Raven. I'll have to talk to your parents about your sleeping habits."
Trevor glanced back from the front row. He gave me a s.e.xy grin and shook his head. For the first time, I was happy to see him. It was less disturbing to see my nemesis as a nightmare ofrny reality than to see my parents as vampires in a dream.
Afew hours before our c.o.c.ktail party at theSterlings ', I found my mom tossing dresses on her bed. She was as anxious as I had been when I was first invited to the Mansion.
"What do I wear?" she asked.
"Whatever you want."
Since my mother wasn't going to paint her nails black and wear a corset over the top of a camisole, I didn't think it really mattered what her attire was. However, she didn't feel the same.
"Should I wear this-or this?" she asked, holding up the same blouse, one in white, and one in red. "Mrs. Sterling is so stylish. Not that it's my style, but nevertheless it's bold. I don't want to offend her by appearing too conservative."
"Are you kidding?" All of a sudden my mother cared about what the neighbors thought?
I think she was as taken by Mrs. Sterling as I was- just for different reasons. I wanted to be like Ca.s.sandra, a beautiful royal-bloodedvampiress with a gorgeous vampire family, residing in an eerie mansion. But to my mom, Ca.s.sandra was exotic, unique, and worldly. Different, like my mom had been in her pre-corporate days. "Mom, you are fine just the way you are." "You're only saying that because you want me to hurry up."
"No, I mean it. I don't think eyebrow piercings and spidertatts will go with your Donna Karan blouses."
"You're right. I'll just be me-plain old boring me," my mother said, folding her arms.
"You are far from boring."
"I guess I just wanted you to think your mom was cool."
"You're not supposed to be cool to me. You're my mom. Do you think Grandma is cool?"
"I see your point. I didn't do too bad a job raising you after all, did I?"
"Well, if you must know, you could raise my allowance."
It was a moment I was excited about and dreaded at the same time.My parents visiting the Mansion. What would they say? What would they do? How would they respond tobloodred smoothies?
My dad inched his SUV up the Mansion's drive. Fog hovered over the bushes and candles flickered inside the Mansion.
"It looks haunted," my mom mumbled to my father. "I know why you like coming here," she said to me. "It's very... mysterious."
"I'm anxious to see what it looks like inside. I feel very privileged. Like Charlie getting a chance to see the inside of the chocolate factory," my dad said.
"Promise me you both will behave. They have very different tastes. Please don't say anything rude," I said.
I walked up the uneven cracked front steps, my parents following close behind.
I knocked on the serpent knocker.
"That is quite... unusual," my mom remarked.
"Shhh!"I said. "You promised."
The oak door squeaked open and Jameson appeared in the entrance, "Welcome, Miss Raven, and Mr. and Mrs. Madison. Shall I take your things?"
My mom immediately felt the chill in the air.
"Thank you, Jameson, but keep my sweater." She had it tied around her shoulders but loosened it and
put it back on. "TheSterlings will be down shortly. May I get you a drink while you wait?" "No thank you," my mother said. "We can wait for theSterlings .""Why don't you have a seat in the parlor room? They will only be a moment." Jameson showed us in.
Candelabras and votives filled the Mansion. Skeleton lights were strung from the ceiling. Harpsichord music played loudlyThis time I expected to see aPhantom of the Opera-type musician banging out his melodies on a giant organ, but I found neither.
My father scanned the dusty books, and my mom fascinated herself with the vintage furniture."This is the home you've always wanted to live in," she said to me. "This must be a dream come true for you."I appreciated my mother's moment of understanding.I had a feeling that everything would be okay, though there was a teensy-weensy bit of my overactive imagination that wondered if my parents would be safe partying with two vampires on their home soil.But when I saw Alexander enter the parlor, I knew that if there was a turn for the worse, he'd protect us from any harm.My handsome Knight of Night came over to me and kissed me softly on the cheek. He shook my father's hand, and my mother gave him a gentle hug. He returned to me and took my hand. His hand felt strong in mine, and I squeezed it hard."I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. May I get you something to drink?""No, we were just browsing. This room is charming. I can feel the history in its walls," my mom said."Yes, my grandmother was very proud of this mansion. That is why I'm so horrified..."We all glanced at Alexander.
"...that some of the boards need repairing." Alexander's comment was odd. The whole house appeared to need repairing-well beyond a few floorboards. We heard the lyrical Romanian accents of theSterlings as they entered."My apologies for our delay," Mrs. Sterling said, extending her hand to my mom, then my dad. She wore a lavender scarf around her neck. "I hope you haven't been waiting long.""We just got here," my mom said. "The house is... beautiful.""We were hoping you'd be longer so we could peek around the house," my dad blurted out. "A tour?"Mr. Sterling asked. "I think that can be arranged. Where shall we start?""You'll forgive us if anything is out of order. We haven't totally settled in since we've been back," Mrs. Sterling said.
The house wasn't messy at all; in fact, everything was in its place. If anything, it was bare. Only what was needed was shown or on display. Now, dust andspiderwebs; that was a different story. There was a high volume of both.
"You've already seenConstantine 's favorite room," Mrs. Sterling said, gesturing back to the parlor as we continued on. "Did Jameson tell you? When someone pa.s.sed away in the family the parlor was used to view the dead."
My dad was impressed. My mom was aghast."Fortunately, that doesn't happen very often in our family," she added cryptically."Who are the people in the hallway?" my dad asked."I didn't see any people," Mr. Sterling said. "Are you referring to ghosts?" "No," my dad said with a chuckle."Lining the hallway."We followed Mr. Sterling in the corridor. "These are portraits of our family.""If you don't mind my saying... this guy bears a resemblance to Dracula.""Dad!" "No-I like your eye, Paul. We think so, too. The artist was watching too manyBela Lugosi movies when they sat down for that one.""Alexander, would you mind going upstairs and taking over the tour? I hope I'm not being rude-I'd just like to make sure everything is in order," Mrs. Sterling said. Order?What did that mean? What was Mrs. Sterling planning on serving us?We followed Alexander up the red velvet stairs. The corridor was long, cold, and devoid of modern material possessions. "This is the library and these are bedrooms," Alexander explained.
My dad poked his head into the library while my mom checked out the bathroom. Antique fixtures adorned the ma.s.sive room. I noticed her trying to find something.
"This is a quick tour," I said. "We're not moving in."
"I wanted to check my lipstick," she said. "But there's no mirror."
"Your makeup is fine."
"Wow-there are a lot of bedrooms," my dad said as he poked his head in each one.
"This is Jameson's room," Alexander said, showing us the butler's quarters, with its single bed and dresser, "And this is my parents'."
Mr. and Mrs. Sterling's door was slightly ajar. We could see a vanity dresser topped with a.s.sorted makeup and with a frame attached, missing its mirror. My mom peered in, brus.h.i.+ng against the door. It opened to reveal the side of a coffin.
My mom gasped.
"What's wrong?" my dad asked, standing behind me.
My mother turned ghost white."Nothing. I just thought I saw something, that's all. It must have been the lighting."
Alexander shut his parents' door. "I forgot. Jameson didn't get to clean it and if it isn't perfect..."
"We understand. I wouldn't want to give a tour of our house anytime soon," I said.
"Those stairs lead to my attic room, but I wasn't expecting-"
"I think we should help your mother," my mom said hurriedly.
Alexander and my dad talked about the Mansion as my mother pulled me to the side. "I saw a coffin in the bedroom."
"Mom.Do you really believe Mr. or Mrs. Sterling would sleep in a coffin?"
She paused. Then she let out a laugh.
"I'm sorry,Raven . This house is kind of spooky. I guess I just got caught up in it. You're right. It must have been a chest of some sort."
"Duh!You think I'd date someone whose mother slept in a coffin?"
"Well...," she said, with another laugh.
"Let's hurry up before they think we're snooping," I said.
We found Mr. and Mrs. Sterling setting out napkins on the coffee table in the living room.
"Your home is very... historic," my mother said.
"I was hoping you'd like it," Mrs. Sterling said, pleased. "It's not everyone's taste, we know. We love
it because it has character."
Just then something flew overhead. My mom let out a scream.
"Sarah! Calm down," my dad said, "I thought I just saw a bird."
"Not a bird, Sarah," Mr. Sterling said, "It was a bat."
"We are so sorry. That happens from time to time, this house being so old and all."
"Jameson!" Mrs. Sterling called.
"Can we take it home?" I asked.
"Of course not!" my mom exclaimed.
Alexander was growing paler by the moment, Jameson rushed in holding abroom, I found it comical watching the creepy man struggle as he chased the flying creature into another room, "Well, that doesn't happen every day." My mom laughed.
"As a matter of fact, it does," Mr. Sterling commented.
Alexander quickly changed the subject to the weather, but when the forecast called for sunny skies, Mrs. Sterling became antsy.
"What about having a few b.l.o.o.d.yMary's ?" she suggested.
"I'm not sure theMadisons like those, Mom," Alexander said.
"Perhaps you prefer wine?" Mr. Sterling asked.
I wanted to steer my parents away from anything red, just in case there was amixup in the kitchen.
"My parents love beer and martinis."
"Raven, don't be rude," my mother scolded.
"Of course," Mr. Sterling said."Jameson, two martinis."
"Make mine dry, please," my dad said.
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