The traveling vampire sh.., p.19
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       The Traveling Vampire Show, p.19

           Richard Laymon
 

  “Maybe. If you’ll be here.”

  “I’ll be here unless you throw me out, I guess.”

  “I wouldn’t throw you out.”

  “What about Rusty?” she asked.

  “What about him?”

  “He really wants to see that show.”

  “He’s probably grounded.”

  “He’ll find a way to get out.”

  “Maybe.”

  “He will. And then he’ll show up here, all rarin’ to go.”

  “I almost hope he doesn’t,” I said.

  We suddenly ran out of words, so we stared at each other. Again, we both seemed awfully aware of being together in an empty house. Nobody to see us. Nobody to tell on us. Nobody to stop us.

  We were only a few feet apart. A couple of steps forward and I’d be close enough to put my arms around her, pull her up against me, kiss her…

  I couldn’t move.

  She wasn’t moving either, just gazing into my eyes. She looked solemn and hopeful.

  I ached to take those steps and hug her, feel her body against mine, feel her lips…

  A smile broke across her face and she said, “Maybe we’d better eat.”

  Saved! But disappointed.

  “Good idea,” I said. “Cheeseburgers sound okay?”

  “Cheeseburgers sound great.”

  “We can do ’em outside on the grill.”

  “Why don’t you get the fire started and I’ll make the patties?”

  “Great.”

  I hurried to the refrigerator, found the package of ground chuck, and gave it to Slim.

  “How many you want?” she asked.

  “I don’t know, how many do you want?”

  “I haven’t thought about it.”

  “Do you make ’em thick or thin?” I asked.

  “Thin’s better. I don’t like them raw in the middle.”

  “Me either. So if you’re making them thin, I’ll have two.”

  “Okie-doke. Maybe I’ll have two, too.”

  We both smiled like idiots.

  Slim set the package of meat down on the counter, then stepped over to the sink and started to wash her hands. I watched her standing there, bent over slightly, the bottom of her T-shirt hanging crooked across the rear of her cut-off jeans. Her rump filled the seat of her jeans. A fringe of threads brushed against the backs of her thighs. Her legs were smooth and tanned all the way down to her ankles.

  She looked over her shoulder. “What?” she asked.

  “Nothing.”

  She smiled. “Nothing, huh?”

  “Just looking,” I said, and blushed.

  We had another of those staring contests where I wanted to go to Slim, but was afraid to, and she looked as if maybe she hoped I would come over and kiss her.

  This time, it didn’t go on very long before she said, “Maybe you’d better go out and start the fire.”

  “Yeah, guess so. Back in a while.” I hurried outside.

  Nowadays, most people have grills that run on propane. It’s easy to use and doesn’t pollute the environment (God perserve us from the fumes of backyward barbecues!) When I was growing up, however, we never had a propane grill. We never had charcoal lighting fluid, either. Dad claimed the fuel odor gave food a bad taste, but I’m pretty sure he was just trying to protect my brothers and I from the scourge of doing something “the easy way.” So while every other family in Grandville started their barbecue fires by squirting fuel on the briquettes, we had to build ours the “natural way,” like Boy Scouts on a campout, by crumpling paper, piling on the kindling, then adding the briquettes on top.

  At least he allowed us to use matches. Could’ve been worse.

  Usually, I resented that we weren’t allowed to use fuel. Tonight, though, I welcomed the distraction of building a fire the hard way.

  For one thing, it kept my mind occupied so it wouldn’t dwell too much on Dad’s accident…or on the murdered dog…or on the chewed book or the missing yellow roses…or on my betrayal of Bitsy…or on the Traveling Vampire Show…

  Also, it kept me out of the kitchen.

  I was glad to be outside in the murky afternoon, watching flames lick at my sticks and briquettes, with Slim safely out of sight.

  Alone with my fire, I missed her and longed to be with her—but! I felt a wonderful sense of relief. At least for a while, there was no need to worry about how to act with Slim in a house without adults.

  It remained in my mind, along with all my other concerns, but didn’t overwhelm me because my main thoughts were focused on adding sticks and briquettes to the fire.

  I jumped a little when the screen door banged shut.

  Slim came trotting down the back steps with a bottle in each hand.

  They weren’t bottles of soda pop.

  “You think your parents’ll mind if we drink up some of their beer?”

  If she’d been Rusty, I would’ve blown my stack.

  But she was Slim, and she looked so good, and she had that smile.

  “They’ll just kill us is all,” I said, smiling.

  “Never fear. My mom drinks the same brand. We can replace these with some of hers.”

  “Then she’ll have missing bottles.”

  “She’s keeps a zillion of them around. She’ll never know the difference.”

  “We will,” I said. I must’ve said it funny.

  Slim laughed and said, “Gad-zooks, I hope so.”

  Chapter Thirty

  We sat on the stairs outside the back door and sipped our beers. We were side by side, so we didn’t have to worry about staring at each other. We could look straight forward at the lawn or grill, or down at the beer bottles we were holding, or somewhere else.

  When we first sat down, there were a couple of inches between us. As we talked and sipped, they disappeared somehow, through no fault of mine. I didn’t move, so Slim must’ve. Before you know it, her upper right arm was touching my upper left arm.

  I tried not to think too much about it, but I couldn’t quit thinking about it.

  Even though Slim and I had been best friends for all those years and done so much together, it was almost as if we were on a first date. Everything about her seemed new and wonderful and scary.

  When our bottles were about half-empty, Slim said, “Think the charcoal’s ready?”

  I considered jumping up to check, but that would’ve broken the contact between our arms. We might not be able to get our positions just the same when I came back.

  “I’d give it another ten minutes or so,” I said.

  She nodded, sighed, took another sip of beer, then said, “I’m not in any hurry.”

  “Me neither.”

  “It’s kind of nice, just sitting here.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Just the two of us,” she added.

  My heart started pounding like mad. Afraid to look at her, I stared toward the barbecue grill and nodded.

  “Not that I’ve got anything against Rusty,” she said.

  I managed to laugh. “You don’t?”

  “He’s okay.”

  “For a pain in the butt.”

  This time, she laughed. Then she said, “What really bugs me is that he’s always around. I know he’s your best friend and all, but…”

  I was tempted to turn my head toward her, but I stopped myself. “But what?” I asked.

  “Sometimes I just wish he’d take a long walk off a short pier, that’s all.”

  “Same here.”

  In a low voice, she said, “Thing is, it’d be nice if just the two of us could do stuff sometimes.”

  Now I had to turn my head. Looking her in the eyes, I asked, “Really?”

  “Yeah. Not that I want to hurt his feelings or anything.”

  Our faces were so close together that her eyes made tiny jerking movements from left to right as if she couldn’t make up her mind about which of my eyes to look at. I could smell a sweet warm scent of beer on her breath.

  “J
ust that I sort of like being alone with you,” she said. “Like now.”

  “Same here,” I whispered.

  Then Slim reached down between her legs and set the beer bottle on the next lower step. Turning herself sideways, she put her arm around my back. I set down my bottle. When I turned, my knee pushed against her knee. We both leaned toward each other and put our arms around each other and kissed.

  Her lips were cool from the beer, and soft, and hers. I’d kissed girls before. A few times, anyway. In fact, I’d kissed Slim before, at least on the cheek a couple of times when she was going away on trips with her mom. But there’d never been another kiss like this one.

  The way Slim kissed me, I figured she must be in love with me just the same as I was in love with her. She hugged me so hard it hurt. I took it easy on her, though, because I could feel the bandages under her shirt.

  The kiss went on and on. I felt as if I were sinking into Slim. I was in her and she was in me. I had her breath in my mouth and in my throat and in my lungs. I had the tips of her breasts touching me softly through our clothes. I wanted it to go on forever.

  Way too soon, she loosened her hold on me. Her lips moved away from mine. Her breasts stopped touching me. But she remained so close that our noses almost touched, and she stared into my eyes.

  I stared back into hers.

  This time, the staring didn’t make me nervous. This time, it just felt good.

  After a while, she tilted her head sideways and kissed me again. This time, her lips barely touched mine before she took them away. “You’re all spitty,” she whispered. She eased away from me, but not very far. She was wet around the mouth herself, and a little bit red. Smiling softly, she leaned toward me again. She stretched out the neck of her T-shirt and rubbed it across my mouth. Then she moved back and wiped her own mouth in the same place. “Kissing can be messy, huh?” she asked.

  I opened my mouth. For a moment, I thought I might’ve forgotten how to talk. But I managed to say, “Guess so.”

  “Think the fire’s ready yet?”

  “Maybe. I’ll be right back.”

  Leaving my beer on the step, I stood up and started toward the grill. As I walked, I could feel a slippery wetness in the lining of the swimming trunks that I wore under my jeans. It dismayed me. I mean, we’d just been kissing. It had been the most wonderful kiss of my life. It had been overwhelming, but sweet and pure, not sexual. At least that’s what I’d thought while it was happening. I hadn’t had a hard-on—at least I didn’t think so—and I certainly hadn’t ejaculated.

  I’d sure leaked, though.

  A hot, sick feeling flooded through me.

  While I still had my back to Slim, I glanced down. The front of my jeans was safely hidden by the hanging front of my shirt. Rusty’s shirt, actually.

  Vastly relieved, I looked down at the fire. The paper and kindling had burnt away, but the charcoal briquettes were just about right: the gray had almost reached their black centers.

  “Looks ready,” I called to Slim.

  “I’ll get the burgers.” She took another swig of beer, then reached down again and set her bottle on the step. Standing up, she plucked at the legs of her cut-offs. Then she turned around and rushed up the stairs. At the top, she swung open the screen door. She vanished into the kitchen.

  I waited for the door to bang shut. My back to the house, I looked down and pulled aside the front of my shirttail.

  No wet spot on my jeans.

  One less thing to worry about.

  Pretty soon, the kitchen door swung open and Slim came out with a platter of burgers in her hands. Though her hair wasn’t much longer than mine, a wispy flap of it draping her forehead and the fringe around her ears bounced as she trotted down the back stairs. So did her bikini top. I could see it jouncing up and down ever so slightly through the front of her T-shirt. The crew neck of her T-shirt drooped a little to the right from when she’d pulled at it to wipe off our mouths.

  “I put salt and pepper on them,” Slim said as she came toward me. “Also, I found the buns.”

  “Good deal,” I said.

  While she held the platter, I removed the patties one at a time. They felt cold and greasy in my fingers, and sizzled when they hit the grill.

  I looked at my hands. “Guess I’d better wash.”

  “You could’ve used this.” Slim reached behind her back. Her hand returned holding a spatula, which must’ve come from a back pocket.

  “Now you tell me.”

  She grinned. “Go ahead and wash up. I’ll watch the burgers.”

  “Right back,” I said. Taking the platter with me, I ran to the house. I set it on the counter next to the buns. The buns were already on another plate, open and slathered on both sides with mayonnaise.

  Slim knew what we liked.

  I hurried over to the sink. When I tried to wash my hands, I found that cold water wouldn’t take off the grease. I had to use hot water and soap.

  Through the window in front of my face, I could see Slim standing by the barbecue. Pale smoke was rising in front of her and drifting away on the breeze. She was frowning slightly. I couldn’t tell whether she was worried about something or just thinking hard. Maybe she was concentrating on the burger patties, trying to judge when to turn them over. She had the spatula ready in her right hand, but wasn’t using it yet. Her left arm hung by her side. She stood with her left leg stiff, all her weight on it, that side of her rump sort of pushing out against the seat of her cut-offs.

  I might’ve kept staring at her forever, but the water burnt my hands. I gasped and jerked them out from under the faucet. They were stinging, so I let cold water run on them for a while. Then I dried them on the dish towel.

  Slim was a big fan of cheeseburgers. So was I, for that matter. So I hurried to the fridge and took out our Velveeta. Carrying it to the counter and unwrapping it, I found myself remembering the Velveeta at Rusty’s house. And his mother’s bridge club. And Bitsy catching us. And how we’d run away from her.

  Life had seemed wonderful for the past few minutes, but now I started feeling a little rotten again.

  In my mind, I saw the eagerness on Bitsy’s face when she thought we’d be taking her with us.

  Then I heard Rusty’s mother. Elizabeth has always been very fond of you.

  I found our cheese slicer in a drawer.

  I must say I’m terribly disappointed in you.

  I pushed the tight wire of the slicer down through the block of Velveeta. When I had four slabs, each about half an inch thick, I put them on the plate with the buns. Then I picked up the plate and hurried outside.

  Slim watched me trot down the stairs. She still had that frown on her face. As I neared her, she smiled. “Velveeta,” she said.

  “Yep.”

  “Just a sec.”

  Fire was leaping around the patties, fueled by their dripping grease. Slim had already flipped them over. Their upturned sides were brown and glistening, striped with black indentations from the grill. They sizzled and crackled and smelled delicious. As I watched, Slim pressed down on each of them with the spatula, squeezing them flatter, making juices spill out their sides. Each time she mashed one, the fire underneath it went crazy.

  After pressing all four of them, she switched the spatula to her left hand. With her right, she picked up the slabs of Velveeta. She laid them out, one on top of each patty.

  Until she came to the fourth slab of Velveeta.

  She gave me a quick grin. “This’ll be mine,” she said, and took a bite. A blissful look on her face, she started to put the remaining three-quarters of the slice on the fourth patty. Instead of letting it go, however, she brought it quickly back to her mouth and snapped off another quarter of it. “Gotta even up the sides,” she said through her mouthful. Then, reaching through the smoke and flames, she neatly set the remaining strip in the center of the patty.

  By then, the cheese on the other burgers was starting to melt. “These are going to be great,” Sli
m said.

  “Yeah.”

  “But you know what?”

  “What?” I asked.

  “I’ve been thinking about Rusty.”

  “Uh.”

  “He really wants to see the Vampire Show.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “I’ve been thinking, it might not be so easy for him to get out of his house tonight. They probably won’t let him out, and he won’t be able to sneak out in time if they’re keeping an eye on him.”

  “Maybe it’s just as well,” I said. “It might be better if we all miss it.”

  “He really has his heart set on it, though.”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “He’d be so disappointed,” Slim said, and looked at the grill. Melted Velveeta was starting to spill down the sides of the patties and drip into the flames. “Uh-oh.” Quickly, she stabbed the spatula underneath one of the burgers, lifted it off the grill and slid it onto a bun.

  “Should we go to Rusty’s rescue?” I asked.

  “I think we’d better.” Slim scooped off another burger.

  “I thought you liked it better without him around,” I said.

  “I do,” she said. She flashed me a sly smile, then transferred another burger from the grill to a bun. “But he’s still our friend.”

  “Yeah.”

  “More appreciated in his absence than in his presence…”

  I laughed.

  She took off the last burger, the one with half as much Velveeta. “This one’s yours,” she said.

  “Okay.”

  “I’m kidding,” she said. “It’s…”

  “No, really, I’ll take it. I’d rather have that one.”

  She laughed softly and shook her head. “If you want it that much, you can have it.” She set the top of the bun in place and pressed it down with her open hand. “She’s all yours.”

  Chapter Thirty-one

  The sun normally would’ve been blazing in our eyes at this time of the evening, but it couldn’t get through the heavy clouds. Though the air felt muggy, a breeze came along every so often. A warm breeze. It felt pretty good, anyway.

  We sat at the picnic table near the back of the lawn. It was painted green and had benches along both the long sides. Slim and I sat across from each other.

 
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