19.2.17

April short story Handsome Harold



Handsome Harold

"You never fail to disappoint," she said, and walked out of his life.
Harold stared after her, stunned, wondering why she was leaving if it was true that he never failed. Did she want a failure?
Ten minutes later he realized what she had actually said. Yes, of course, she shouted and that
should have given him a clue but when hungry he sometimes thought slowly.
He brushed at the spot on his trousers where she had kicked him. Then he spit on his handkerchief and rubbed at the wine stains on his shirt.
No, he had not spilled wine. He did not drink wine, although he had no objection if its flavor was mixed in with his usual drink. Taylor, the woman he had thought loved him, had reached up and emptied a full wine glass over his head.
His main regret was that she preferred red wine to white. From experience he knew the stains would never come out and he would have to replace the shirt. As a lone drop of wine trailed down his face and dripped off his chin, he added his tie and his handkerchief to his mental list of throwaways. He now required a new shirt and tie, a new handkerchief, a new cummerbund and a new girlfriend.
Before all else, he needed a drink to clear his mind and allow him to imagine what he had done to disappoint. A drink did not require a girlfriend. All it required was a girl. As he was a hopeless romantic, he would prefer the girl to be a girlfriend, but he knew that when in the Sahara one accepts the first drink offered and hopes it is not a mirage.

After a quick glance at the corridor to avoid running into any neighbors in the building, Harold left his condo and went down the stairs. If he met neighbors on the stairs, he could hurry past, head bent, but if he took the elevator there would be no avoiding their eyes. A change of clothing would have been good, but he did not actually have a clean shirt in his closet, or a clean cummerbund. Or a clean white tie.
When he reached the street he hurried into the dark night. Flying was tricky. The city sky had a permanent glow at night. With so many camera devices available nowadays, his best alternative was to walk the ten blocks to the downtown area. Life was much simpler for him a century ago when the skies were dark and snoop cameras hadn’t been invented.
As usual, there were groups of people moving in and out of restaurants and bars. After stepping into the dark shadows of an alley, out of sight of the sidewalks, he floated slowly up the exterior of an hotel until he reached the roof. Sitting on a ledge thirty stories above the city did help clear his mind. Also, from his new location he could watch the surrounding area while he pouted.
He had disappointed Taylor? Repeatedly? Unfailingly? Really? It wasn't as though he ever lied to the woman.
From the beginning, or perhaps the day after the beginning of their romance, he had told her truthfully that he was a vampire and she had said, "Of course. I know that, Harold. That’s why I picked you. Vampires make the best lovers."
If he was her definition of a best lover, how had he disappointed her?
Far below his perch he saw a lone woman step off a curb and wave frantically at a passing cab. That was a New York habit, he had heard, but seldom used successfully in Seattle. Cabbies here were fussy. They only responded to phoned requests or to people standing in cab pick up zones in front of theaters and sports arenas where the audiences exited en masse and the price of tickets insured they could afford cab fare.
The lone lady's desperate hand waving suggested she was not in the habit of using cabs. Or possibly she had lost her credit card and hoped for sympathy. Cabbies were short on sympathy. He could do better for her. He floated down behind her.
"Madam, do you need help procuring a cab?" He spoke softly but managed to terrify her anyway. She shrieked, swung around, saw him standing in the shadows, and then saw that he was wearing a tux, not standard mugger attire. In the shadows the wine stains on his shirt were not noticeable.
She wrung her hands. "Three have gone right by me without stopping."
"They never do. You need the doorman in front of the hotel."
"I'm not staying at that hotel."
"That's all right. He will call a cab for you. Let me walk you around to the door."
She did and he didn't, that is, he walked with her until they were even with a side door and then he touched her arm. She swung around, startled, and in that moment of hesitation, he put his hands behind her head and his mouth on her mouth and kissed her. There was a two second attempt at backing away before she went limp. If anyone saw them, they saw a kissing couple, nothing more. Harold stepped to the wall of the hotel, turned around so that the woman was between himself and the wall, and had his drink.
There were many lines of vampires, some with truly unsavory habits, but Harold’s line existed on romance. And blood. A kiss immediately put his prey to sleep. A gentle sliding of fangs into a vein released a tranquilizer that prevented any pain and all memory. He took as much blood from her as was safe for her, not a drop more. Then he took her around to a side entrance, guided her sleepwalking feet into a small dark bar, and sat her in a booth. As the waitress approached, he said, "My wife wants a glass of merlot and so do I."
He asked for merlot because that was what he could taste in the woman's blood, not his favorite flavor but reasonably acceptable. In blood.
That turned the waitress back toward the bar. Harold left a fifty on the table and walked out in the direction of the men's room, in case she saw him leaving, and continued down the hall and away.
He felt a small pang of guilt about the young woman he had left in the bar and then forgot her. There had been so many women over the centuries, he usually forgot the girlfriends who stayed around for less than a year. As for one drink encounters, his notice of the woman was so fleeting, there was no memory to forget. Was she a blonde, brunette, redhead? If anyone had asked him that night, he would not have been able to supply an answer. All he had noticed was that she was a woman alone on a dark sidewalk. Afterwards, when he tried to remember her face, his only memory was of her mouth against his. Yes, she had started to push him away, but in the brief time of the kiss, he was aware of the warmth and softness and fullness of her lips.

Because he did not remember her appearance he was startled the next evening, as he stood in the outer lobby of the 5th Avenue Theater waiting for the doors to open, to have a woman approach him and say, “You! I know you!”
He didn’t know her. She was a lovely woman, dressed for the theater in a charming suit that clung to her charming curves, and wearing a little blue hat that brought out the color of her wide eyes. Harold had always thought hats so beguiling, it amazed him that most women did not wear them. He looked closely at her, assuming she was a past girlfriend he had forgotten, but no, he did not recognize her heart-shaped face or her lovely eyes or her perky nose or her narrow chin. And then, as she said something more and he watched her speak, he remembered her soft, full lips.
How had she remembered him? He had slid his fangs into her vein and released the tranquilizer that blocked pain and memory. When he first became a vampire, he had to be hungry for the kiss to work. As for the tranquilizer, it automatically incapacitated his prey. Those reactions were useful when hunting but a bother when attempting to start a romance, as he quickly discovered. Fortunately, years of practice rewarded him with excellent control and therefore a steady supply of romances.
This time something had gone wrong. Had he used less tranquilizer than usual? Or was his kiss losing power? Was that what Taylor had meant when she declared him a disappointment?
To cover his confusion, he said, “How rude of me. I remember your lovely face, but I cannot remember where we met and I must confess, I have also forgotten your name.”
She laughed at him. “What a line! You don’t remember me at all, do you?”
Before he could protest, she added, “I was trying to get a cab last night and you offered to help me and then I think I must have had a dizzy spell because next thing I knew, I woke up in a bar and the waitress was telling me my husband had brought me in and she didn’t know where he went. As I don’t have a husband, I tried hard to remember how I got there. Was it you?”
Had all that concentrating kept his image in her mind? In centuries of brief encounters he had never before had this occur. If his powers were fading, how would he survive?
He said, “We went to the hotel entrance and I went ahead to talk to the doorman and when I turned back, you were gone. Good God. I certainly never meant to desert you on a dark street.”
In front of them the doors to the inner lobby of the theater opened and the crowd moved forward, carrying them along.
She caught his coat sleeve, pulling him closer. “So you aren’t the man who took me into the bar?”
“No. No, I would never have left you alone.”
She gave him a searching look. “What’s your name?”
“Harold.”
“Well, Harold,” she said, “I need to find my friends. Maybe I’ll see you during the intermission.”
She hurried sideways through the crowd and he moved forward until he reached the ticket taker and then it occurred to him that if he stayed for the play, the chances were high that the woman wearing the little blue hat would catch up with him again and insist on a longer discussion. The 5th Avenue Theater was an historic building done in Oriental decor, the walls and ceilings covered in panels of wood carvings, with a dragon wrapped around the chandelier above the seats in the theater itself. The lobby was equally beautiful but it was also small. She would have no trouble finding him during the intermission.
For a second he was tempted to stay. She was a charmer. But he was also terrified. Having lived by the same habits for centuries, unexpected changes were difficult for him to handle. And so he turned away from the lobby doors, saw a teenager standing in the line at the outside ticket booth, said, “I’ve had an emergency call and have to rush back to the hospital. Here, use my ticket.”
“Huh? What? Really?”
The boy may have said more. Harold didn’t wait to hear him out.

The wine that Taylor had thrown at him behaved exactly as he had feared it might. The dry cleaner was unable to remove the stains from the shirt and cummerbund and handkerchief and tie.
He had a spare set of everything, which he had laundered in the wee hours before dawn and then worn to the theater that night, but that was all he owned.
A few nights later he spent an evening at his favorite store, picked out replacement items, three of everything, spent too much time chatting with the salesman comparing cloths and cuts, and ended up buying a summer tux to go with his new accessories.
As the salesman pointed out, summer was on its way and it was time to add a white tux to his wardrobe.
The same tailor who had fitted his black tux measured him again. His only bit of luck was that the wine had not left stains on the black tux. He had been forced to relocate twice in the past year and was a bit low on cash. There had been a problem in St. Louis that he preferred to forget, a woman, of course, and after he moved to Spokane a similar problem occurred.
When problems arose, leaving town was often the simpler solution. This time a friend asked him to housesit his condo in Seattle for a year as he had business in Europe. The friend could hardly rent his home to a nonvampire. Vampire housing required special locks and blackout curtains and other security measures that the owner did not want exposed.
With nothing to pay beyond the monthly fees, Harold would soon be able to add a second black tux to his wardrobe. Until then, the one he was wearing would have to be carefully maintained.
No matter where he went hunting in the city in the evening, he wore a tux. Unlike suits, which came in a variety of colors and cuts, some suitable for funerals, some for business meetings, some for nothing at all, a tuxedo was always appropriate. Wherever he went, theater lobby or hotel or shopping mall or bar or park, in his search for a lone female, people assumed he was a gentleman on his way to a formal occasion.
If asked, he usually said he was on his way to his grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary dinner.
He knew from experience that people loved sentimentality as much nowadays as they had a century ago. Even if they suspected he might be an embezzler or an addict, they were certain that a man in formal attire would be on his best behavior for that particular evening.
Harold always was, in his way.

Gathering up his tape measure and notebook, the store’s tailor said, “There, that’s everything I need, sir. Your new tux will be ready for you next week.”
Harold checked the calendar on his smart phone, where he kept a record of dates and times of formal gatherings mentioned in the news, and found exactly what he needed, a fund raiser reception for a local politician. It was in a nearby downtown hotel.
Dressed as he was he had no problem blending into the crowd, and even less trouble spotting a bored woman standing at the edge of a group of men who were so busy trying to impress each other with their opinions, none of them noticed Harold.
When the woman smiled at him, he straightened his coat and gave her a quick two thumbs up. He was wearing white gloves that made his gesture easy to see. For some reason that always amused the sort of women he picked up at this type of affair.
She answered with a nod of her head, beckoning him toward herself.
He walked across the wide room to her and pointed at the empty wine glass in her hand. “Would you like a refill?”
If the man on the other side of her was her husband, he was foolishly ignoring her, in Harold’s opinion, and the look the woman gave Harold made it clear she thought so, too.
She held out her glass and frowned at it. “There must be something better. Let me go with you and see what’s available.”
They both knew she was concocting an excuse to leave the men.  Harold leaned close enough to whisper in her ear, “I am available if you are.”
She followed him through the crowd and down a side corridor that did not lead to the reception bar. Catching his hand, she steered him into an empty conference room off the main lobby, then paused to shut the door.
“I had to sit through a meeting in here today.”
“A dull meeting?”
She laughed. “I suspect you are never dull.”
Oh, he did like a direct invitation. He kissed her to sleep and slipped his fangs into her neck, and noticed she was an attractive woman but not one he would care to see again. There had been no reason to bother with conversation. After he finished feeding, he put her in a chair at the conference table, arranged her comfortably with her forehead resting on her crossed arms, and then he checked to be sure she was breathing normally before leaving. He knew she would wake feeling rested and happy, probably confused to find herself alone in the conference room. She would not remember him at all.
Stepping into the corridor, he started to brush his mouth with his handkerchief to be sure there was no drop of blood to attract curious stares.
“There you are, Harold! I thought that was you walking out with Mrs. Lake,” a woman’s voice said.
He balled his handkerchief in his fist and spun around.
“Our paths keep crossing,” she added. “And then uncrossing or however that works. I looked for you at intermission the other night. You are a bit of a standout in that tuxedo, Harold. Where did you disappear to?”
She was as lovely as he remembered, the young lady he had offered to help find a taxi a week or so ago and then met again at the theater, but she was not supposed to remember him. She did, she remembered him and his tux and worst of all, his name. Only his first name, but still, that was not good.
Standing in front of him and staring up at him as though she was memorizing his face, she blocked his exit. Of course he could have stepped around her. If he did, what then? She was a mystery, a mystery that needed solving.
“Did you enjoy the play?” he asked.
“Yes, did you?”
Looking into those lovely eyes, he couldn’t remember what play he was supposed to have attended and so he admitted he had not seen it. “I was halfway to my seat when I met a friend who was feeling ill and needed me to take him home. Are you a friend of the Lakes?”
She shook her head. “The same people turn up at these affairs and invariably Mrs. Lake disappears with someone like you.”
“Like me? In what way?”
“Young and handsome, Harold. As if you didn’t know.”
“You have the advantage of me. You are unforgettable but I cannot recall your name.”
“Hmm,” she said and her eyebrows drew together ever so slightly, creating a small line in the smooth skin of her brow. “I cannot recall telling it to you.”
She was mocking him, using the same phrase. He was charmed.
“As I missed the play, you could tell me about it,” he said.
“How is your friend?”
“My friend? What friend?” Did she know his friends? What was happening to him? Was he finally, after all these centuries, beginning to lose his memory? He had never heard of vampires developing dementia, or if he had, he had forgotten.
“The one who was sick and needed a ride home from the theater,” she said.
“Oh! Yes! Uh, yes, he’s fine, had food poisoning, probably, because it only lasted a day. Now, tell me about the play.”
She practically acted the play out for him, she was so expressive in the retelling, her eyes lighting, her smile twinkling, and now he knew he could describe her to anyone, she was that firmly imbedded in his memory. Her hair was golden brown, her face was heart shaped, her figure was a couturier’s dream in her little black dress, and her lovely hands delighted him. She talked with her hands as well as with her mouth and with every glance.
Somewhere in that conversation she said her name was Julianne and explained that she worked for a public relations firm that was involved in the politician’s campaign, which was how she knew much of the crowd, including Mrs. Lake.
“You plan events?”
“I help plan them,” she said. “On the phone, at the office, over dinners with committees, you can’t imagine. Endless discussions with no agreements. It’s my job, not something I can escape easily.”
“Dinner meetings with groups? Escape? Is that what you were doing the night we first met?”
“After two deadly hours when nobody wanted to listen to me, they only wanted me there so they could bore me with their monologues, I finally escaped. I could have had the restaurant call a cab for me but I was afraid the party would break up and they would all come streaming out and there I would be, surrounded by them again.”
Harold raised his hands and played an air violin. “That was lucky for me. You took flight and I saw you and it was the opening scene in an epic romance.”
“Or an epic tragedy if Mrs. Lake spots you with me.”
“I’ve told you, all I did was show her the direction to the bar.”
“Um hmm. You told me.” She pointed past him.
When he glanced over his shoulder he saw Mrs. Lake looking slowly around the crowded lobby, as though she was searching for someone.
They both agreed Julianne had spent as much time at the reception as her job required and that as receptions went, this one had outlasted itself.
They ducked outside and Harold slipped the doorman a five.
In the cab the young woman reached toward him to touch his hand. He thought she was making a pass, all right, he hoped she was making a pass.
She wasn’t. She said, “White gloves, huh? Interesting. I noticed you were the only man in there wearing gloves. They aren’t driving gloves. What are they?”
“Tuxedo gloves. To be worn indoors.”
“Really? What for?”
“It’s an historic tradition but not as common as it used to be. It’s a courtesy gesture, actually, so that if a man touches a woman, to dance with her or to hand her a drink or for any reason at all, he won’t be touching her skin.”
“Wow. That must be historic. Who cares?”
“No one nowadays,” he agreed. “But as everyone shakes hands at these affairs, there are people who dislike having to touch a stranger’s clammy hand.”
“Are your hands clammy?”
His hands were always like ice, which was his first reason for wearing gloves. Instead he told her a second reason. “I must confess I wear these gloves for show.”
“Attracts the Mrs. Lakes of the world, does it?”
“Now my dear Julianne, I led the lady to the bar, that’s all.”
Julianne lived in what appeared to be a building of nice apartments, not that she invited him in to hers. If she had been of no interest to him, he would have kissed her at her door, held on to her as she fell asleep, found her key in her purse and let them both in. The next day she would have awakened on her couch with no memory of him or of how she returned home the previous evening.
Instead, he cleared his mind of any thoughts of hunger, in order to control the effects of his kiss. He wanted her to remember his kiss and yearn for more.
It was a waste of effort. When he leaned toward her she held up her hand to stop him. “I never like adding my lipstick to someone else’s.”
“What?” There was no inconspicuous way to check. He ran his fingers across his mouth. The fingertips of his white glove said too much. At least the red stain wasn’t blood. It was a smear of lipstick. “This is embarrassing.”
She laughed at him.
“What can I do to earn your forgiveness?”
“Think up another story for me, Harold. We’ll talk about it if we ever meet again.”
“What’s your phone number?”
She told him. He repeated it. And then he took his pen from his pocket and wrote her number on the palm of his white glove.
She tried to stop him. “Don’t do that! You’ll ruin your gloves!”
“The gloves are nothing. Your phone number is everything.” He knew, as soon as he said, it was a great parting line.
She must have thought so, too. When he phoned her two hours later to invite her to a concert the next night, she accepted.
They had a lovely time and a quick kiss outside her door. He was in no rush, knowing a good campaign takes time. A few nights later he took her to a ballet and after that she did invite him in.
Her apartment was small but comfortable. When he told her so, she said, “A man who wears tuxedo gloves must have a wonderful apartment, large, probably has a fireplace and an outside deck and a view of the Sound.”
As he could not allow her to visit him, he told her, “I rent a room in a friend’s house.”
“You don’t have your own place?”
“Not yet.” He did, of course, and his friend’s condo was very much like her description, plus his friend was in Europe for the year. But, like most vampires, Harold was dead during daylight hours, locked away in the bedroom. He freelanced from home, working for small companies who needed his computer skills. If he told her that, he knew she would expect him to be free on weekends. She would next ask for a key and then she would want to drop by any time, including during the day.
He explained, “I do so much traveling in my job, it keeps me out of town for days at a time. I have another trip this weekend. I should be back Sunday night, though I never know for sure.”
“Poor you, you live the life of a homeless orphan, Harold. Tell you what, phone me when you know and I will plan something.”
They were on the couch and he was working his way around her ear with small kisses. “What sort of something?”
“A bridge party? Or maybe you could help me with my tax forms? Oh, you said you know how to set up websites.”
“You’re teasing me.”
“Of course,” she said. “I suppose I could rent a movie and we could spend a boring evening alone together, if you’d rather do that than bridge or taxes or websites.”
“Excellent,” he whispered, then added, “I should leave now as I have to put together some reports to take on the trip.” He didn’t, but he knew the value of suspense.

When he woke at sundown on Sunday, home in his locked bedroom, he phoned her. “My plane just landed. Let me swing by home to drop off my luggage. I’ll be at your place in an hour and should I dress for going out?”
“Anything comfortable,” she said. “For staying in.”
Perfect, he thought, as he dressed carefully in casual slacks and sweater for an evening in her place. The only problem was that as soon as she opened the door, he remembered an important line he had forgotten to tell her.
He could smell supper cooking.
And she was wearing an apron over a velvet shirt and slacks. “Supper will be ready in five minutes,” she said.
“Supper? Darling, you shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble.”
“Yes, I should. It’s not like the airline feeds you.”
“No, oh, I am so sorry, I should have told you. I have this ulcer problem.”
“I know. That’s why you can’t drink alcohol. But you still have to eat.”
“Oh my darling, you are so sweet. Unfortunately, this ulcer means I am on a rigid diet. I had a quick supper at home.”
“You did? Oh, Harold, you should give me a copy of your diet. I love to cook. I can fix anything.”
“You wouldn’t want to eat what I eat. Most of it is terrible. That doesn’t mean I can’t take you out for dinner, anywhere you like.”
“I can’t do that, Harold! I can’t eat in front of you.”
“My doctor says I am healing and if this boring diet keeps me out of surgery, it’s worth it. Come on, you need to eat your supper and I can tell you about my trip.”
He made up a trip in Denver, a beautiful city where he had lived one year and knew well enough to describe.

Although he had to confine his life to nighttime, which made most travel impossible, he did have to travel now that he was dating her. He could hardly count on hunting downtown where she might see him. He was forced to travel to Seattle’s outskirts to find nourishment, an inconvenience but Julianne was worth it, he thought, and knew he was falling seriously in love.
Other than her curiosity, Julianne was his definition of a perfect girlfriend. She was funny and lovely and when she wrapped her arms around him, he held back hunger to insure she remained awake to kiss him.
Ahead of them stretched years of happiness, he was certain, well, at least a year or two. He had not found the courage to tell her he was a vampire, which at some point he would have to do. As vampires are not a subject that comes up in small talk, possibly because most people think they are fictional creatures and Julianne was a realist, he knew she would think he was trying to make a joke. She would laugh at him. She laughed at all his jokes, even the very weak ones.
Instead he moved slowly. He moved on to kissing her to sleep and then feeding lightly to insure her dreams, but nothing more. She dreamed they were having an affair. He dreamed that some day they would, stretching out the anticipation to please his own love of suspense.
Now that he had explained his ulcer problem he could court her in his usual way, taking her to expensive restaurants. He had been using the ulcer excuse for so long, he knew exactly how women would react: horrified at first, unsure, sympathetic, and finally, to please him, they went out to dinner with him and let him entertain them with stories while they ate.
The advantage was that eating out avoided attempts on their part to cook for him. The disadvantage was that he talked while they ate and Harold occasionally heard himself talking too much.

Like so many of his past girlfriends, Julianne was curious about his last romance.
“Why did it end, Harold? Did she leave you for someone else?”
In an attempt to make the story amusing, he told her Taylor’s parting remark.
“I must be very stupid. After she slammed the door, it took me a few minutes to figure out what she had said.”
“Slammed the door? Where were you?”
Dementia, he thought again, obviously he was developing it or coming down with it or whatever people did. He had told her he had a room in a friend’s house, not a place where he could invite her. Dementia or not, he could think quickly when panicked.
“At Taylor’s apartment. I opened the door and started to leave and she pushed the door shut with such force, I went flying across the corridor.”
“Honestly? And she really said you never failed to disappoint? What on earth does that mean?”
“Hmm. I can only guess she referred to my lovemaking.”
Julianne’s eyes sparkled. “She was obviously a terrible judge.”
Harold was not sure why he never made love to Julianne, but possibly in the back of his mind was a fear, put there by Taylor, that the dreams he gave women were far superior to his skills. As he was falling madly in love with the woman sitting across the table from him, he said, “Lovemaking is so much better when people are in love.”
“You didn’t love her?”
“I thought I did, but now that I have you, I know you are the only woman I have ever truly loved.”
Yes, he had given that little speech before, too, and every time he gave it, he was sincere. He always meant it. He could not remember how many times he had said it and meant it. Harold loved falling in love.
She reached across the table to touch his hand. “It seems to me she insulted you enough with the remark about you disappointing her. Throwing her wine at you was overkill.”
“It killed my favorite dress shirt,” he agreed.
Some, like Taylor, knew immediately what he was. Others never guessed and he finally had to tell them, at which point they either left screaming or decided to stay with him. He always fed lightly on his ladyloves, which was not enough to fulfill his nourishment requirements. And so, between times, he went hunting for the Mrs. Lakes.
His new wristwatch, with its apps for calendars and maps, made life so much easier than it had been in the days of fountain pens and notebooks. And before that were the quill pens.

When Julianne asked to see where he lived, she added, “We don’t have to go inside if there’s some reason you don’t want to introduce me to your friend who owns the house.”
“He’s so much better looking than I am, I’d be an idiot to take a chance.”
“What’s the real reason, wise guy?”
He had never told her he worked at home. He had made that mistake with the girlfriend in Spokane. She had started stopping by, unannounced. His only choice was to move to Seattle without telling her.
“Gregory works at home. He let me have the room because he knows I won’t bother him. Our agreement is that I will never bring anyone into the house.”
He could have concocted a longer explanation, but they were back at her apartment after enjoying an evening out and he didn’t want to spoil her mood or possibly start an argument and so he fell back on an old routine. He kissed her to sleep, had a light feed to fill her mind with romantic dreams, and then carried her into her bedroom. With great care he removed all of her garments except her lacy underwear, which he spent a minute admiring because she really was lovely to look at, and then he put her into her bed and pulled the sheet up to her chin.
       He walked to the other side of the bed, flipped back the covers, sat down and rumpled the sheet and pillow, removed one shoe, left one of his sox on the floor where she would find it, put his shoe back on his bare foot, paused to kiss her sleeping face, found pen and paper on her desk in the front room, wrote, “Sorry, I have an early appointment. I will phone you tonight. Between now and then, remember how much I love you,” went back to her bedroom and put the note on the pillow she would assume he had used.
Sometimes he felt like a theater director.
At their next date, Julianne said, “Harold, I know I don’t have enough closet space for both of us, however, we both know I do have a bed big enough for us. Maybe we could manage until we can find a larger apartment.”
He could have said he wasn’t interested, which would have the same effect as saying he did not love her.
He did love her, very much. “Darling, that sounds wonderful. It does. We’ll talk about it Friday, shall we? I have something to tell you and you will want to think about it before making any decisions.”
“What sort of something, Harold? Don’t tell me you have a wife and seven children you forgot to mentioned.” She laughed at her own joke and he laughed along with her.
He said, “Wait and see.”
Her expectations never occurred to him.
Or they did, but not quite what he guessed. She was saying it was time for them to move in together. He understood that, but she had to accept him as a vampire before they could work out arrangements.
Taylor had kept her own apartment and Harold always left before dawn, a solution that worked well for both of them. She occasionally stayed over at his place and he called a cab for her and put her into it before dawn. She hated that but he could hardly let her stay and wake up in bed with a dead body. That’s what he became each dawn, a dead body. He wondered if that was what cooled her love for him, his insistence that she leave before sunrise.
He knew the time had come to tell Julianne the truth. And explain the complications of living together but the simplicity of maintaining separate residences. The best way to handle a difficult situation was to make oneself as attractive as possible, and then charge in.
Attractive was the easy step, with his new summer tux hanging untouched in his closet.
He dressed carefully, examined the shirt for wrinkles, examined the tie and cummerbund for loose threads, examined the coat and trousers for specks of dust. There were no flaws in his summer tux. The tailor had done his usual magic. He had never looked better. Julianne was right, he was handsome in a black tux. Tonight she would see he was beyond handsome, he was a complete knockout in a white tux.
The only flaw was the need for an explanation. He stood in front of his mirror and tried several speeches. They all sounded like poor jokes. How many ways were there to say, “Darling, I am a vampire.”
Perhaps it would sound believable after Julianne had a glass of wine. For humans, almost anything went better with a glass of wine.
They had the evening planned, a symphony concert at Benaroya Hall and then a late dinner at Julianne’s favorite restaurant. He would have to remember to continually top off her wine glass during dinner. If he kept her amused with stories, she might not notice how much she was drinking. Would that put her in a receptive mood by the time they returned to her apartment and he told her the truth about himself?
Or he could have a small snack, filling her with exciting memories, and then tuck her into her bed to continue the fiction of their affair before leaving.

He rang the bell at her door. She was ready, dressed to perfection as always, her hair shining, her smile bright. And then she rose on tiptoe and brushed his mouth with her warm lips. “I love that tux, Harold.”
He looked at her and went wordless with admiration, a bad omen for the speech he planned to give later on. He managed to gulp and say, “You are too beautiful for words.”
“You sound like you have a dry throat,” she said. “We have a few minutes. Here, this might help.” Turning to her sideboard, she poured a glass of water for him and wine for herself.
He pretended to take a sip before setting down his glass.
“Are you going to give me my surprise now or are you going to make me wait?” she asked.
‘Give’ seemed an odd word. Telling her he was a vampire would be a surprise but not a gift.
She had mentioned going househunting. Did she think his surprise would be keys to a larger apartment? How stupid he felt. He should have guessed. Or had she been expecting a bottle of wine? Or a bouquet of red roses? Or jewelry? That’s what he decided he should do, buy her a bracelet. Fifty years ago he had given a girlfriend a pearl necklace and then got his fangs caught in it and spent the night crawling under furniture to retrieve every last bead. Now he stayed with bracelets.
To cover his confusion, he said, “Darling Julianne, you are exquisite.”
She smiled. “And you could be the model for one of those little bridegroom dolls on a wedding cake.”
His mouth dropped open. He loved her enough to want to share all his nights with her if she could accept his identity problem. But marriage?
Surprise. He had mentioned a surprise. His thoughts spun. Panic rose. Had she thought his surprise was a proposal?
Marriage required a license which required a daytime visit to a government office, an impossibility. His mind raced. Or could a license be ordered online? Not that it mattered. There were more serious problems.
“Weddings take place in churches,” he exclaimed. Harold had been in churches to attend the weddings of others. “At the front of the church.”
“What are you talking about?”
He had occasionally been near the front of a church, but he had never touched an altar. The closest he came was a time he was a best man. At weddings the couple moves to the front, very close to the altar and the attendants step back a safe distance from the altar, he knew that much. He shocked himself by blurting, “That’s impossible! I could burst into flames!”
It seemed to shock her, too. Her eyes went wide. The little line between her brows deepened. Her mouth tightened. In fact, she looked furious.
“You! You are ridiculous! That is the weakest, stupidest, most outrageous excuse I have ever heard a man give for avoiding marriage.”
“No! That isn’t what I meant!  It’s only, I can’t do that, Julianne.”
“Did you think I was proposing?”
“You did mention living together.”
“I thought you would like more space than one room in a house where you can’t have guests. That doesn’t mean I want to marry you. What an egotist you are!”
“I can’t go near an altar, that’s the truth!”
“You suffer from altarphobia, do you? Now I have heard everything!” Her lovely little heart shaped face was turning a deep red and her wide beautiful eyes were mere slits and he tried not to look at her soft mouth, now turned down in a scowl.
“Let me explain. It’s not what you think. Julianne, I am a vampire and I cannot go near an altar!”
Her voice rose to a scream. “You win, Harold! I hadn’t heard everything. Vampireitis tops altarphobia!”
Before he could say another word, she threw her glass of red wine at him. He caught the glass but he could not catch the wine. It splashed into his face and dripped and ran down the front of his shirt and tie and cummerbund and soaked into his new white coat and trousers. While he stood gaping at her, she walked past him, opened the door and said, “Out!”
“But, darling, I didn’t mean, oh, I mean, oh,” he rambled.
“Out! Now! I never want to see you again!”
He backed out, the empty wine glass in one hand and his handkerchief in his other hand, trying to look at her and manage a smile while dabbing away at the wine on his clothes. “But, Julianne, what have I done?”
She glared and he thought she would slam the door in his face without telling him. He was wrong about that. She screamed, “Now I understand what your last girlfriend meant! She was so right about you! You never fail to disappoint!”
And then she slammed the door shut between them.
There was nothing more to say. And very little he could do other than go home, as he could hardly enter public places with red wine stains on his white clothing.
This was the first time Harold had worn his new tuxedo and in four minutes she had destroyed it. As he walked home through the dark streets, he calmed his seething emotions by dividing the cost of the tux by four and then again by sixty until he knew exactly how much he had paid per second for the use of his ruined evening clothes.
As people do, when it is too late, he thought of what he should have said to her. “You are equally successful at disappointing,” he should have said to her. “I had such wonderful plans for the evening,” he should have said. “I wore my new tux because it seemed appropriate for going down on my knees and begging you to marry me,” he should have said, although that last sentence would have been a lie.
Going down on one knee to say, “Live with me for a year or two,” would possibly not have gone over well, either.
Instead he said all those thoughts to the night sky.
He was angry, yes, about the ruined evening and the ruined romance and the ruined tux. But most of all, he was angry because his planned snack had thrown him out and insured he was inappropriately dressed to go hunting. Once again a woman he had thought he loved madly had left him brokenhearted. And hungry.

END
Copyright (c) Phoebe Matthews
Harold appears in Book 4 of the Turning Vampire series.
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