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Part 2 of 2

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It was, in a confusing way, even more intimate than a kiss. George flinched away, and covered her action by rummaging in her bag for tissues. She couldn't find any; this seemed like a massive failing on her part. Sven didn't meet her eyes when she looked back at him. This felt like a massive failing, too.

Bob sauntered out of the store, using her carefully choreographed "nonchalant" walk. But there was something unexpected in her hand. A white plastic bag.

"You paid?" George said.

"Oh, I stole the hair dye," Bob said. She opened her gigantic cloth hobo bag, and George saw two plastic bottles, plastic gloves, and instructions dumped out inside. "But one of the clerks came down the aisle right as I put back the empty box, and he made that kind of significant eye contact? So I went and bought some stuff to make them less suspicious."

Bob handed the plastic bag to George, who took it, surprised. Inside was a box of band-aids, some Neosporin, and a package of travel-sized tissues. George smiled down at the bag, which made her face hurt. "Baby, you're so good to me," she said.

Bob gave George a little kiss on her non-cut cheek and threw her arm around Sven. He toasted her victory with his Mao flask. She took a long, luxurious swallow, and leaned into her boyfriend.

Sven was a good boyfriend. What other guy would wander around the mall with you, hold your hand, be nice to your weird best friend? It had been George's fault for getting so drunk she fell down the fucking escalator. Vampires couldn't help themselves. Sven had been trying to be nice.

That was the thing about vampire boyfriends after all, wasn't it? No matter how good they were, how nice, somewhere deep down there was a monster. George had once wanted to hate Sven because of that. But Bob pointed out that every boy was some kind of monster; when you dated a vampire, at least you knew what kind he was.

On their way out of the mall, Bob took a number of victory swigs, and by the time they got to the car she was leaning heavily into Sven and shuffling her feet. "I want to sleep," she muttered. "I want to lay down."

Sven opened the door of his old black Mercedes—not really a vampire car, yet not outside the possibility of being a vampire car—and eased Bob into the back seat like she was a little girl. She curled her knees towards her chest, and he shut the door.

He turned to George, who had been watching this with weird, embarrassing longing. "Shall we?" he said.

They took Bob home first. This had been George's suggestion. There were many reasonable justifications for this. George needed time to sober up before facing Cynthia. Leaving her best friend passed out in the backseat of a vampire's car, even if he was her boyfriend, seemed like a bad idea. And a little, evil part of her wanted to keep riding around with Sven, didn't want to go home and face Cynthia at all.

Sven listened to dark, crashing house music, as was appropriate. Accompanied by the rumble of drum machines, George examined her face in Sven's passenger mirror. A long, jagged scrape ran down her cheek. She cleaned her cut with one of the tissues, then dabbed some Neosporin on a band-aid and put it over her cheek. This made her look even worse, but, hopefully, less drunk. A drunk person wouldn't think to get a band-aid, right?

George flipped the mirror back up and put her trash carefully back in the CVS bag. When she was done, Sven put his hand over hers.

"I'm sorry," he said. "About earlier."

"No prob," George said, but her voice sounded high and thin when it left her mouth. Instead of responding, Sven slid his fingers between hers and squeezed.

Holding your best friend's boyfriend's hand while your best friend is passed out in the backseat is a stupid, and mean, thing to do. But George was confused. Was this cheating? It couldn't be cheating. And at the same point her heart was pounding, hoping maybe that it was even better than cheating. Maybe he was falling in love with her. Maybe now he would spend all his time with her, talking about comics and driving her around and picking her up when she fell.

Bob lived with her mom in a little ranch house that had been her grandma's before she died. The lights were all off when they pulled up, and no cars were in the driveway. George was invisible again as Sven got out and picked up Bob, cradling her like she was a baby, or a victim of drowning. George grabbed Bob's bag and rattled around inside for the keys.

When George opened the door, she looked back at Sven, waiting for him to follow. But he just stood frozen outside the door, Bob lolling in his arms.

"She's never invited me in," he said. He actually seemed embarrassed to admit it.

Bob always brought boyfriends back to her house when her mom wasn't home. It was one of the great things about being Bob, according to Bob. Did she not trust Sven as much as she'd claimed? Or was Sven so chivalrous and good that he never asked?

"I'll take her," George said. Sven eased Bob onto her feet, and George put an arm around her shoulder. "Bob," George said. "Bob, I'm going to put you to bed, okay?"

Bob muttered something that might have been either a "yay" or a "hey," but she shuffled her feet along with George's as they went into the house. Bob led George into the bathroom first. The sink was a shade of tan no one had considered attractive since the sixties. George turned on the tarnished faucet and splashed some water on Bob's face.

"Mwha!" Bob said. Her voice was small and sleepy like a little girl's, but angry like a drunk's.

"Do you need to pee? Puke? I'm going to stand outside for a minute, okay?" George said.

Bob fumbled for the toothbrush and toothpaste. George stepped outside, but kept the door open a crack in case Bob fell over or otherwise needed saving. The sink rushed, and kept rushing for a long time. George listened closer and heard retching.

Bob was bent over the toilet, puking up scotch and dinner. George smoothed her hair back from her face and pulled off some toilet paper to wipe her mouth. "Better?" George said.

"Mmm-hmm," Bob said, nodding sleepily. She pushed herself up and went back to brushing her teeth like nothing had happened. George flushed the toilet, and did her best not to look down.

George led Bob to her cluttered bedroom and eased her down onto her low double bed. Bob sat there for a moment, staring out the door like she'd lost something. Then she fumbled off her shoes.

"I'll go get you some water," George said and went back to the bathroom. She washed her face with Bob's exfoliating citrus soap, avoiding the band-aid, and put some toothpaste on her finger to rub around her mouth. She filled the glass with water, drank it down, and filled it again.

When George got back to Bob's room, Bob was standing with her back to the open door, wriggling out of her pants. George watched her white, skinny legs do a little shimmy. She unhooked her black bra, then slid out of her incongruous yellow underwear. Her bare back looked like a photograph, or a painting, from a long time ago.

George had always found Bob beautiful, but in that moment, watching her undress, something stirred that she recognized for the first time. They'd been naked around each other before, but it was always quick and furtive, backs turned, clothes pulled off and on again. George had thought her fascination with Bob's body was jealousy, wishing she had such beautiful breasts, such soft skin. Now George let herself watch, and she was terrified to discover what she felt wasn't admiration, or jealousy, but desire.

Bob turned around and looked at George. Her nipples stood out at little points, and a faint line of hair ran down from her belly button. Her bleached hair was mussed, and her eyes were large. Usually when Bob looked at George it was to chide her, or tease her, or make her feel small. Now Bob looked at George like she was waiting for her to do something. Like George, standing in the doorway, was the one in charge.

George just stared back, paralyzed by terror. She couldn't just cross that threshold. She had to be invited.

George stood frozen in the doorway, and Bob threw herself into her bed. George's trance broke, and she crossed inside, too late. She put her hand to Bob's cheek, leaned in to kiss her, because all she wanted to do now was kiss her. It was a unstoppable desire; George felt ridden by it. Transformed.

Bob pushed George's hand away. George reached for her again, though she knew she shouldn't. Her body was acting on its own now. Bob's hand shot up, shoved George away, hard. Then she flipped over and buried her face in her pillow.

"Dyke," she said.

The word was a slap, and it broke George out of her trance. She stumbled away from the bed, then out into the hall, then out of the house in a panicked blur that went way beyond drunkenness. Her skin pricked, and her body flooded hot and stupid with—what? Desire? Shame? She wanted to run back into the house and scream scary, true things at Bob. But instead she was running away.

Sven was back in the car. The motor was off but the lights were blaring and the radio was on. The rumbling drum machines were gone. He was listening to the classic rock station.

George fell into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. She was determined to kill off her—what? Cowardice? Desire? Whatever the hell it was that lived under her skin.

She looked at the vampire, whose head was tilted back against the headrest, his long legs stretched out as far as they could beneath the steering wheel. George didn't know what the song playing was called, but she recognized it. It was a Fleetwood Mac song, the one about thunder and rain. Whenever it came on the radio, George's mother sighed. It was the song she'd danced to with George's father at the prom. George's father lived on the other side of the city now, in a completely different kind of suburb. There were old mansions and forests and farms. George still saw him a bunch, which meant she was better off than Bob. Bob's father was in Nevada, a state with deserts and mountains, a whole other world.

George's mother always got a lost, melancholy look when she heard this song. She looked more like both George and George's grandmother at the same time. Sven's face looked exactly like that now. Like he was back to being a teenager, and contemplating the past like an old, old man.

Sven was her mother's age, George realized. Not one hundred and fifty-six years old. Forty-nine. Fifty.

This realization repulsed her, and then she was ashamed of being repulsed. Who cared if Sven was a half a century old, instead of a century and a half? He was still the same person. Except he wasn't a person at all.

Sven's hand slid towards her like it was going for her hand again. Instead it slid down her thigh. Sven didn't look at her when he said, "Where to, Georgia?"

"Um," George said. Did he want to kiss her? Have sex? But vampires couldn't have sex, not without sucking your blood, or turning you like them. Did he touch her like this because she was like him? Did he know what happened, and how much she wanted to make it stop? "Um um, I think I'm, um."

"Yes?" Sven said.

George was ready to leave with him, make the rest of the night disappear, but the words flew out of her mouth as if pre-programed. "I'm gonna stay here tonight. You know, worried Bob might do that thing where she pukes and dies—"

Sven tightened his grip on her knee and looked at her. It was that look people give in movies, full of sex and fire. The look that promised to transform you. "Is that really what you want?"

The truth was, George wanted sex so badly sometimes she couldn't talk, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. They said boys got this way, had to have it, couldn't help it, you had to understand. Maybe all that time around her brothers had turned her boy. She was sick of being a luser. She wanted to be a sllllluuuuuutttt.

But that song was still playing, and Sven looked like her father, and his iron grip on her knee was so tight she didn't know if she could escape it. The transformation he offered wasn't into a woman, or even into a monster, but into a child. Prey.

And the word in her mind wasn't "sllllluuuuuutttt," anymore. It was "dyke."

George's hand was on the door and then she was running. When she got to Bob's front door, she pushed against the knob but the knob pushed back; it was locked. When she looked back at Sven, he held up her purse, with her cell phone, her keys, her money, then dropped it, plop, on the seat. He leaned back in the car and waited. George pressed herself against Bob's door. The moment stretched out, Sven watching George, George watching back. Then, with a sharp motion, Sven turned the engine over and roared away, taking the corner like he was never coming back.

George sat down on the front step, her body shaking like she was crying, though no tears came. Bob was wasted and passed out, and even if Bob did wake up, why should she let George in? George could wait for Bob's mom to get home, but that would raise all sorts of questions. You didn't dyke out on your best friend, piss off her boyfriend, and then tell her mom.

Not just dyke out. Fail to dyke out. George had a horrible, queasy feeling that if she hadn't hesitated, maybe she would be inside now. She would be safe.

George sat on Bob's stoop for a long time, working up the courage to move. She decided, finally, to walk home. She walked to Bob's a couple times every summer when she got sick of sitting around the house. The walk was always hot and miserable and longer than George remembered, but right now the thick summer air was cool. The moon was hazy but bright, and there were stars.

The lawns of strangers were soft and wet with dew. George walked like a ghost, hoping not to be noticed, not to really be there at all. On the main road, traffic was sparse, but the cars that did pass roared by, shaking her. Men stared as she passed by the 7-11, the pizza place, the bar. The strip malls glowed neon and cold.

When George entered the woods around the country club, the darkness enveloped her like an unwelcome, firm embrace. The trees were thick shadows, and the only sound was her footsteps. Fear shot through her, and she wanted to turn around. Wait by the side of the road. Hope, for the first and only time in her life, to get picked up by the cops.

She looked back where she'd come from—she couldn't see the road. Her development should be right up ahead. Where were the lights?

A flash of orange on the ground caught her eye. It was a plastic ribbon tied to a wooden property marker. This one had been uprooted from wherever it was marking, and its point was still muddy from the ground. George picked it up; the wood was cheap and splintery, but she liked the feel of it in her hand.

A stick cracked behind her with an audible snap. She whirled around, brandishing her stake at the darkness. "Come on!" she shouted. The words shocked her. Once they left her mouth, the woods fell silent.

George laughed out loud once, high and sharp. She turned towards her neighborhood and crossed into her neighbor's yard a few minutes later; all his lights were already out. She picked her way around his high fence and crossed into her own yard. The pool looked deep and haunted in the dark, and the bushes were all too large, too looming. Through the window in the back door, she could see her mother sitting at the table in a gray hooded sweatshirt and pink Crocs. A mug of tea steamed in front of her. Her mother never made tea that late at night.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Georgia," her mother said when she opened the door. She didn't even bother to smell George's breath or study her pupils or do any of the shenanigans detecting she usually performed. Her eyes lit on the band-aid instead. "Where have you been?"

George opened her mouth to launch into a carefully rehearsed, extremely sympathetic story involving not getting into a car with a drunk driver, but when she stepped into the kitchen, the words flew out of her head. All she could think of was the property marker clenched in her hand.

Her purse was sitting on the table, next to an empty mug of tea.

A vision of high school rolled out before George, everyday images intercut with scenes from a horror movie. The things Sven would whisper in her ear when Bob wasn't looking at the bowling alley, the movies, the mall. The way Bob would pretend that night never happened but, sooner or later, would stop returning her calls. How Sven would stop by to have tea with Cynthia long after he'd grown tired of Bob, of George, but wanted to remind her that he'd been invited. That he always would be, until she made a house of her own.

This house would be somewhere wooded and quiet, in a place with mountains or blue lakes, or maybe in the middle of a city, with a tiny green garden in the back. She'd live there alone, with comfy chairs and wooden bookshelves and a big, shaggy dog. Whenever someone passed by, the dog would bark, and George would look out her window to see who wanted in.

Meghan McCarron was born in 1983 and grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. She has since spent time in Beijing, Los Angeles, and rural New Hampshire. Her stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and Clarkesworld, and have been reprinted in several year's best anthologies. She lives in Brooklyn and works at a tiny independent bookstore.
Current Issue
29 Nov 2021

It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that our donor's choice special issue for 2021 is titled—simply—Friendship.
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29 Sep 2021
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