Regan let the warm water flow across her face and down her body. She lifted her hands and smoothed back her auburn locks, feeling the warmth against her scalp. She definitely felt more energized than she had last night. Apparently blood straight from the source was better than out of a bag. Closing her eyes she thought about the delivery girl, some innocent student, probably an liberal arts major, just trying to make enough money to pay for school by biking all over town at night. There was a flash of guilt that she had discounted a fellow math nerd as the girl’s major. Of course when she had been a student, Regan had barely had time to breathe, let alone hold down a job. Her forty grand of college tuition debt attested well to her failures to procure timely financing.
She allowed herself a smile and turned off the water. Finding time to breathe was no longer an issue. Unless she made a point to breathe.
Wrapping a towel around her naked form, Regan stepped out into the tiny bathroom. Without thought she put her hand up to wipe off the mirror only to find it completely free of fog. She blinked at it foolishly a few times before realizing that her idea, now, of a warm shower was probably much cooler than it had been in the past.
Curious she slipped her medical thermometer under her tongue and let it sit while she dried her hair. It was always a pain to manage when it was long, making her think about getting it bobbed again. Would it grow back? She thought about scenes in vampire movies where the girl would chop her hair and in the time it took the camera angle to change was back with the same hair she had before. The thermometer beeped twice, announcing that its task was complete, and she dismissed further thoughts of mane mutilation for the time being.
Eighty point two. Well below normal, but slightly higher than room temperature.
She stepped out of the bathroom and froze. Half of her closet was displayed on the bed, hanging from the door, and draped over the chair of her small home workstation. Emma paced between various garments.
“Did my closet explode?”
Emma did not turn to look at her as she continued to review the outfits laid out on the various surfaces.
“First, I had nothing else to do while you were in there. Some of us took our morning showers nine hours ago. Second, if you’re going to meet with this Mistah Jay, you have to think about what you’re going to wear to make a good first impression on him. You don’t want a repeat of when you met that Prince guy.”
“Earl,” Regan corrected already regretting her choice to recount the events of the previous night.
Emma waved a hand. “Whatever, I’m not meeting him.”
“Hey, this is all you, hon. I’m food remember? It’s one thing to go to a party as the guest of honor. It’s another to show up at the main course.” She looked down at her body, slim and athletic thanks to her morning jogs, three-times-a-week kick boxing classes, and a decent diet. Three things that Regan hated about Emma, despite a general affection for her overall. “Or maybe,” Emma added, “more of an appetizer.” She turned towards Regan and put her hands on her hips. “Do I look like enough to be a main course?”
Regan blinked. Though not hungry she could feel that sensation in her core again as she looked at her friend. Short denim shorts showed off long toned legs, and exposed the femoral artery. A green tank top cut low showed where her heart beat with the rich blood in her body. Dark waves of hair hung down to her shoulders, partially hiding a pulsing jugular, the mythical sweet spot for all vampires. She licked her lips. “Emma... “
Emma caught her eye, color vanishing from her face as she did. She took a step back and put her hands up quickly. “Woah, woah and I mean woah. I was just kidding.”
Regan blinked. “Oh God, what the hell am I doing?”
“I’d say you looked like you wanted to eat me, but it seems reminding you that I’m food just, ya know, reminds you that I’m food.”
“Which is why you’re using the F word with me, again?” Regan gasped. “It’s hard enough not to think about it without you reminding me.”
Hastily, she picked up a blouse and pencil skirt combo that Emma had selected. “I need to get dressed.
Emma looked at the selection. “You sure you don’t want to go with something glam?” She pointed at a full length gown hanging on the back of the door. “This one really shows off your curves.”
“That’d be great,” Regan said, pulling the hanger out of the blouse, “if I actually was proud of having my curves.” She started to unbutton it.
“Fine, fine,” Emma groaned opening the door. “I’ll wait downstairs while you get dressed.” She closed the door behind herself without another word.
Regan watched her go, then crossed to her dresser to find some clean underwear. She sorted through piles of panties and bras, each feeling plain and course under her fingers. Eventually she settled on a red lace set that Harrison had bought her months ago for Valentines day but she had never gotten to wearing. It felt good against her skin, sensations she was not used to. Most days she barely thought about what she wore under her skirts and blouse. Feeling the silk blouse under her fingers she was aware of its textures in ways she had not thought about before, ways she tried, and failed, to quantify.
She shook her head, and dressed quickly. She pulled her hair back smartly and twisted it into a loop.
Emma was waiting for her, clicking through something on her phone as Regan came down to meet her. There had still been, thankfully, no word from Harrison, and, to Regan’s disappointment, Daryl had not called on her either. She had to get her phone back sooner than later; this disconnect from life was starting to gnaw at her. There had been a brief kerfuffle over her choice of shoes; Emma was of the mind that vampires needed to wear at least six inch spikes, while Regan remained steadfast that she would do perfectly fine in a pair of loafer styled two inch pumps.
The ride across town to Sava’s was quiet. Regan spent most of it trying to adjust to the fact that she could smell Emma in ways that she had never wanted to smell her. Emma focused, presumably, on navigating the late night traffic. They pulled up to the curb outside of the restaurant and Emma insisted that Regan take her cell phone just so that she would have one. Regan refused at first but relented, thanked her best friend for all that she had done, and then went inside, alone.
The hostess was cheerful despite the hour and quickly showed her to the private room upstairs. The noise from the main dining room faded as they climbed the stairs, leaving them in near silence as the hostess lead her across the upstairs room to a door marked private.
Inside the tables had been neatly stacked against one wall. The only remaining table was in the middle of the room, octagonal with five chairs around it, four of which were occupied. The hostess did not follow her into the room, instead stepping aside to let her enter, and then closing the door behind her. Regan quickly scanned the four other occupants of the room: a man in a wide brimmed hat, a man wearing a suit, a woman with short black bobbed hair and another woman wearing a visor over her artificially red locks.
One of the figures at the chair looked up, pushing his wide brimmed hat back on his head to better take in Regan’s form. His eyes were framed in small round spectacles, and a neatly trimmed moustache of rich brown hair lined his upper lip. With a smile of confidence he turned to the man seated next to him, the man’s suit well tailored to his smaller frame. “I told you she’d show so that’s a C-note you owe me.” He shifted to look at the woman seated across from himself, her back to the door. “And she’s here before midnight, so that’s another you note from you, thank you.” The woman nodded but said nothing.
The man in the suit grumbled something that Regan could not hear and tossed a few chips from in front of himself towards the other man. “Can we just deal the next hand?”
“Do not be rude,” the woman with the bobbed hair said, turning to see Regan. Her face was round and pleasant, her black hair framing almond eyes and blood red lips. Her skin was a near porcelain white, from her pale face to her long slender arms. “Please join us. We have, as Mr. Roise has indicated, been expecting you.”
Slowly, Regan crossed to the table and took the empty seat between the woman and the man in the suit. As she slid down into the chair she was surprised that she was not overwhelmed with their scents. In fact the only two seemed to have them. One was the man next to her, nervously stacking and restacking his chips. He reeked of expensive whiskey, frustration and something else, a smell that she could not place. She looked across at the dealer, picking up the smell of brown sugar, of vanilla and excited fear.
“She hasn’t even bought in and I’m running out of patience,” the man in the suit complained.
“Only things you’re running out of are luck and money, Wright,” the gentleman in the hat laughed. “I’ll cover Ms. Fairchild’s buy in.” He picked up some chips and put them down in the tray by Regan. “Specifically with the money you two gave me for being so cynical.”
The other woman placed an equal stack of chips before Regan as well, matching the first. “Please excuse our manners,” she said smoothly. “You may call me Serenity. Your benefactor is Mr. Roger Roise.” She gestured at the man in the wide brimmed hat and spectacles who nodded in response. “And the young man at your side is Mr. Paul Wright.” Paul did not acknowledge her. Serenity turned to the dealer. “And we are serviced tonight by Ms. Harper, who is also our main prize this evening.”
The girl in the visor did not look up, instead focusing on shuffling the cards again. She took being referred to as a prize fairly well. The messenger girl had seemed fairly okay with Regan’s bit earlier. Paul shook his head and glanced sideways at Regan. “Not for me. I’m only here for the cash.” He looked up at the dealer. “Who’s setting ante for this one?”
Ms. Harper nodded quickly and looked up long enough to shift a white disk labeled “Dealer” across the table from where it sat before Serenity to a place next to Roger. Roger leaned an elbow on the table and turned his body squarely toward Paul. “Now you be nice to, Ms. Harper. You’re here as a guest and I’d hate for the man whose seat you’re taking to lose it because his friend didn’t know how to keep a civil tongue.” He did not look away as he reached down and tossed a chip onto the table. “Texas hold’em.”
“The game is ‘Texas Hold’em’,” the dealer repeated, moving the errant chip to the center of the table, “single deck, nothing wild.” She gestured towards Paul. “The ante is twenty five dollars.”
Paul did not say anything, instead slapping down a chip on the table with an open palm. The dealer turned to Regan.
“Shouldn’t we be paying by blinds?” Regan thought she watched enough World Series of Poker to know what was up.
“Well, now, this is just a little house game with dealer’s choice,” Roger explained. “Always give a lady or gentleman a chance to chose not to play that choice.”
Regan nodded at the explanation then picked up a matching chip and placed it on the table. Serenity also laid out a chip, her body barely moving with the motion.
“All players are in,” the girl said with a practiced cadence. She scooped up the deck and deftly dealt out the first two cards to each of them. “Betting is opened by Mr. Wright. There is no maximum at this table.”
“We know,” Paul grumbled as he bent up the corner of his cards to see what he had. His face twisted into a grin and he let the corners snap back onto the table. He turned to look Regan. “Seems I’m getting my money back.” He picked up a pair of chips. “Opening with fifty.”
Regan nodded and slipped her cards up to see them, her free hand cupping over them protectively. She had been dealt a three and five of hearts. She took a few moments to consider. Close enough to make a straight, same suit to create a flush, too low to make a competitive pair. She looked up and saw Paul glaring back at her. He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“Call.” She picked up two chips and tossed them into the center of the table.
With a sigh, Serenity slid her cards towards the dealer. “I won’t be claiming you with those two. I fold.”
The dealer turned to Roger who set two chips onto the stack on the table without a word. “Mr. Roise calls,” she said formally. The two cards from Serenity were slid off to the side, and she took up the deck again. “Burning a card,” she intoned, discarding one then turning up the next three. “Queen of Hearts. Ten of Clubs. Six of Diamonds.” Placing the deck back on the table, she extended a hand, slightly, towards Paul. “Mr. Wright will open the betting.”
Regan had tried to watch the other two players while the cards were dealt. Poker was not her game of choice. In fact, the last time she had really cared about the outcome of a game she was wearing panties and a tee shirt and was desperate to keep them both Harrison had swooped in at that moment with a fresh bottle of wine and the insistence that she leave the gaming table to help him get it started. She had not returned.
“Check,” Paul finally said after another glance at this cards.
“You had to look at them,” Roger teased in a slow drawl. “To see if maybe they improved?” Paul ignored him and turned to Regan.
“Pass,” she said, quickly adding, “I mean check.”
“Free cards,” Roger said thumping the table with his knuckles. “Let’s see what else you have there, Ms. Harper.”
“Burning a card,” she said with a blush, discarding one and then flipping over the next. “Nine of hearts. The next bet is to Mr. Wright.”
“One hundred.” There was no hesitation as the chips were dropped from between his fingers into a stack on the table. Regan blinked a moment and looked at her own small stack. She picked up some chips and considered the possible hands. The odds of turning up another heart were fair, roughly one out of four, allowing for the hearts already in play. Paul’s excitement could easily be due to a completed straight, which her flush would beat. With the cards on the table a full house was fairly unlikely, unless matching card was turned up on the final play. That probability was actually very close to the likelihood of another heart.
“I’m sorry,” Paul said leaning towards her. “If you’d prefer I understand they’re going to have a game of cribbage downstairs a little later, once the senior center closes.”
Regan put her chips out on the table. “One hundred, call.”
Roger handed his cards to Ms. Harper. “I’m done.” He turned to look at Paul. “A shame too as I do love taking this fool’s money.”
The dealer slid the chips into the center of the table, deftly organizing them into neat stacks with the other wagers. “Burning a card, and, ace of hearts.” Before she could say thing else, there was a knock on the table from Paul.
“Check. Your play, Ms. Fairchild.”
Regan looked at her remaining chip. She shrugged and flipped it out into the table. It landed on its edge and rolled towards the center before hitting the neat stacks and falling to its side with a dull thud. “Twenty five.”
“It’s time to see what else you’ve brought to the game. Maybe that anklet, or those shoes. Are they a name designer?”
Roger cut in before he could go any further. “You going to bet, you windbag?”
Paul turned to glare at him. “I will see your twenty five and-”
Again Roger cut in. “Which means you’re done, boy. Once you say ‘you see’, you’ve completed your bet. How many times we gotta tell you that if you want to raise you need to announce it as a raise first?”
Paul continued his glare. “You know that I meant I was going to raise.”
“Don’t matter none what I knew,” Roger countered. “You said you saw her bet and that’s the end of it.” He turned to the dealer. “Ain’t that right, Ms. Harper, sweetpea?”
The girl did not answer right away. Regan stole a glance at Serenity who sat with her hands folded on the table before her looking positively bored with the conversation. Finally Ms. Harper found her voice. “Mr. Roise is correct, sir. And you have been reminded of betting protocols twice before.”
Paul turned to glare at her then suddenly thrust his seat back in his chair. “Fine.” He flipped his cards out on the table. “Ace high straight.”
Regan shrugged a little and laid her cards carefully face up infront of her. “I believe that a flush is a higher hand.” She tried not to sound smug and was not completely sure if she succeeded. She could smell the anger coming from Paul now, focused and primal. She turned to see the dealer carefully organizing the chips and sliding them towards her. Then with a hand she moved the Dealer token from in front of Roger to Paul’s chair.
Paul watched Regan collect her chips. “The night’s young,” he said in low tones. “You won’t be leaving with those.”
Regan tried to ignore him.
“Miss,” a voice said over her other shoulder. The restaurant hostess was there with a small tray. “This arrived for you.”
Regan took the note off of the tray and unfolded it, holding it low to keep it private.
“Welcome to my weekly game of cards.
“You are sharing a table with a Mr. Wright. In his coat pocket there is a gold plated cross pen. Please procure it for me. I shall consider it a release of your debt for my assistance with sustenance when you have needed it the most.
“Once it is in your possession come down to my car.
Regan stared at the note. Was he serious? More hoops to jump through? She was starting to feel less like a vampire and more like a summer intern. Was a run to pick up his laundry next? Or maybe to buy a present for his mistress or wife, whichever had a birthday coming up?
Paul put two chips back on the table. “We’re playing draw, say, queen’s wild in honor of our last winner. Fifty bucks to play.”
Ms. Harper nodded and repeated more formally. “The game is five card draw, single deck, queens wild. The ante is fifty dollars.” She looked at Regan and smiled, slightly, waiting for her response.
Our story continues into the Chapter 5: Addendum