"And Alexander, too," Becky added. "I bet every girl across the country would buy a copy."
"But he couldn't be on the cover."
"Uh..." I almost blurted out the true reason, but I caught myself."Because it's my magazine. Not his.
He'll have to get his own.How aboutGQ.Gothic Quarterly" I said, covering my tracks."Awesome! Now that we've decided on your career, we need to pick your outfit." We matched a few outfits together and voted on them until only one was left.A black mini lace dress, black tights with knee-high boots, and a lace bodice."A marriage made in heaven-or in my case, h.e.l.l."We both laughed."Well, what do you think?" I asked. "Drop-dead gorgeous!"
The first time I had a dinner date with Alexander I was nervous. Would he like me? Would he ask me out again? Would it end in a pa.s.sionate kiss?This dinner would be different. I brushed my hair a thousand times and reapplied my makeup. Was I too pale or not pale enough?
On this date I'd be judged by Alexander's parents. Would theSterlings think I was a good fit for their son? I knew they had approved of Luna-but I wasn't Luna. I didn't come fromRomania or have vampire blood or a vampire family. My whole relations.h.i.+p was riding on this one meal.
I was getting ready when my mom poked her head into my room.
"So, are you excited about your big night?" my mom asked.
I tried to downplay its importance and hide the panic attack I was having. "Sure, it's no big deal."
"Of course it is. You are going to meet your boyfriend's parents!"
"You are supposed to make me feel better-not worse!" I whined.
"That's not what I meant. I meant it is exciting."
I felt tears welling. Any minute my eyeliner was going to bleed down to my shoes.
"No- it's a make-it-or-break-it night. I'm not like them."
"Why do you have to be like them? You are you." My mom smiled.
"TheSterlings have royal blood. Alexander's grandmother was a baroness. I'm sure they've dined with
kings, queens, and n.o.blemen. They live in mansions! They are fromRomania . I'm from Dullsville." I plopped down on my bed.
"How can I relax? You have no idea what it's like."
"You don't think I do?" she asked, sitting down next to me. "Your father and I were both hippies, remember? Our parents were ultraconservative. When I first met Grandma Madison, I was in a tank top and cutoffs.I'm surprised she ever let me in her house again."
"It's normal to be nervous. Think of how Alexander feels. He wants you to like them, too,"
"You think he's anxious, too?"
"Of course he is. He probably thinks his parents will embarra.s.s him, just like you think we will."
I felt relieved knowing that I wasn't carrying the entire burden of our meeting.
"I'm sure as soon as theSterlings meet you," my mom continued, "they'lllove you like I do."
"You have to love me; you're my mother," I rolled my eyes.
"Let's see what you chose to wear."
"Are you kidding? Becky and I already decided on it. I can't go back now."
"I'm sure you chose something appropriate. I'll go downstairs until you're ready,"
I retouched,rebrushed , and fussed until my EdwardScissorhands clock flashed, "You're late!"
I flew down the stairs to find my family hanging out in front of the TV. I modeled my outfit.
"Shouldn't you wear somethingmore.,.conservative ?" my mother asked. "How about a pretty knit sweater?"
I ignored my mother's remarks.
"You look wonderful," my dad said.
"I think she looks awesome," I heard Henry say to Billy Boy.
"I think I'm going to hurl," my brother retorted.
I hugged my parents exceptionally hard. I was goingto be dining with adult vampires. Who knows-I might lever come back.
A few minutes later our doorbell rang.
I was too nervous to answer, so Billy Boy opened the door.
"One moment," he said in his politest voice. "Raven- it's for you."
I took a deep breath and started for the door. Jameson stood before me, complete in his butler's uniform and gloves. "Miss Raven, your car awaits you."
My mom winked and my dad gave me a thumbs-up.
As Jameson and I walked down the driveway, I glanced back. Billy Boy and Henry were spying through the front window. Then two more heads popped into view-former hippies Paul and Sarah Madison.
Jameson led me to the parked Mercedes and kindly opened the back door.
My parents were impressed with my chauffeur and gothic limo service, even if the chauffeur was unusually creepy.
It seemed as if it took an hour for Jameson to drive me to the Mansion. I was afraid by the time we reached its gates, dinner would be stone cold.
We parked in front of theMansion, It was quite the celestial sight. Candles flickered inside the house like a festive holiday party.
Jameson opened the car door for me.
I reached the top of the crumbling stairs, and, as if on cue, the front door creaked open. On the other side were the first adult vampires I would ever meet. At first I didn't see anyone.Then out stepped Alexander, stunning in an oversized blue silk s.h.i.+rt and black jeans.
"Wow! You are beautiful." He offered his hand to me and kissed me on the cheek.
Somber violin music faintly filled the Mansion.A pewter umbrella stand containing at least half a dozen parasols sat by the front door.
"Miss Raven is here," Jameson called to the second floor, and retreated to the kitchen.
"My mom takes forever."
The Mansion's air was unusually chilly, and I was s.h.i.+vering.
"Are you nervous?"
"My mom likes the thermostat set to freezing. I'll fix that."
"That's okay-," I started to say.
But Alexander had already taken off.
A ghoulish and magnetically morbid woman descended the red velvet staircase like an apparition. Her
perfectly straight jet black hair, streaked with a vivid violet, cascaded over her bony and beautiful shoulders.She continued to come down the stairs, with the confidence of Cleopatra but the attire of Elvira. Deep eggplant-hued lipstick and nails were ghastly and gorgeous against her corpse-white skin.
Strong black eyeliner intensified her blue catlike eyes, and her long, purple, flirty eyelashes sparkled. A tattoo of a black rose crept out from her dark velvet corset, which shaped her chest like a heart. Her small cinched-in waist was accentuated with a fabric belt and a long, flowing black mermaid skirt. Her frame was pet.i.te but curvy in all the important places.
I was mesmerized by her beauty.At the end of the staircase a man appeared out of the shadows. He was tall, with broad shoulders and blazing black and gray shoulder-length hair. He was utterly handsome, as striking as any fifties film star. His dark eyebrows were in sharp contrast to his frost-toned skin. He wore a dark silk suit with a bloodred tie and a matching cape. He had a sharp antique wood walking stick, capped with an ivory skull. Alexander's father formally took his wife's hand and led her toward me.I froze. I was standing in front of Alexander's parents. I didn't know if I should bow or salute. To me, they were the most normal-looking parents I'd ever seen.Mrs. Sterling extended her hand to me. In the most lyrical Romanian accent, she said, "It is our pleasure to meet you, Raven."I couldn't help but notice the two purple bite marks on her neck.I tried to speak, but I was so in awe. My words stuck in my throat.Just then Alexander returned."This is Raven," he said proudly, "We were just introducing ourselves," his mother stated.
"I'm so happy to meet you, Mrs. Sterling," I finally said.
Her hand was cold but firm. "Call me Ca.s.sandra."
"And this ismy father, Constantine," Alexander said.
Mr. Sterling extended his hand to me. "It is lovely to meet you, Raven." His voice was deep, causing s.h.i.+vers to flow through my body. His dark eyes were intense and hypnotic.
"You are just as beautiful as Alexander described," the das.h.i.+ng seniorSterling complimented. "And he has exquisite taste." He grinned, and the candlelight caught the edge of his icicle-sharp fangs.
I wasn't sure if he meant "taste" literally. I was, after all, being greeted by a vampire.
"Alexander has told us so much about you," Mrs. Sterling said.
"Come, we'll be dining outside tonight. I'm bloodthirsty and starved to the bone."
We walked to a side door, where an umbrella was leaning against the wall.
"The moonlight can be so strong." Mrs. Sterling opened her umbrella and went down the back stairs. The violin music grew louder.
The backyard was grimly festive. Awaiting us was a grand gothic affair. A long black runner ran along the gra.s.s from the bottom of the steps to a morbid dinner party under the stars. Four torches burned, presumably to repel insects (but in this case, more likely, to attract them) several yards away from a long, dark wooden table. On closer inspection, I could see that a coffin lid had been transformed into a dining-room table. Several floor-length candelabras surrounded the table, wax dripping like trickling blood. Alexander offered me a chair and gently pushed it in for me as Mr. Sterling did the same for his wife. Mrs. Sterling sat at the head of the casket and Alexander's father at the end, while Alexander and I sat at the other sides.
I was surprised to see a string trio in the gazebo-two men dressed in tuxedos and a woman in an evening dress- playing ina minor key unmelodious funeral-type music. I didn't recognize the musicians as being from Dullsville. I had a.s.sumed the music was coming from an entertainment center, I had no idea it was being played live.Or rather undead.
This was unbelievable. It was as if they had transformed the backyard into a cryptic dining hall- All that was missing was a china cabinet.
If Becky and my parents could see me now, they'd never believe I was at the center of this macabre dinner celebration. If only I could immortalize it with a photograph-but then again, most of the diners wouldn't come out, Jameson quickly tended to Mrs. Sterling. He poured her a gla.s.s that appeared to be champagne mixed with blood.
"I like mine bubbly," she said with a laugh.
Jameson approached me with hisUnderworldly concoction. "I'll have a c.o.ke," I said.
"Of course, Miss Raven."
Then Jameson attempted to serve Alexander, but my boyfriend covered his gla.s.s with his hand. "I'll have what Raven is having."
He finished by pouring Mr. Sterling a tall gla.s.s and, from a neighboring chest, retrieved two sodas.
"Let's toast," Mrs. Sterling said, raising her drink. "To Raven and Alexander-may your friends.h.i.+p last an eternity."
Friends.h.i.+p?I wondered. Hadn't Alexander told them we were dating? Or was she just being polite? I gazed atmyboyfriend, who seemed distracted. Our gla.s.ses clinked underneath the twinkling stars.
"So how did you and Alexander meet exactly? You know men can be so vague when it conies to details."
I snuck into your house and found him standing behindme,I wanted to say,Or do I count Becky almost running your son over inthe road outside the Mansion ?
"I saw Raven several times before I had the courage to invite her here for dinner," Alexander answered for me.
"How romantic,"Mrs ,Sterling remarked, "A private dinner date.Mr. Sterling and I met at the cemetery."
"Wow-that's romantic, too," I said truthfully.
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