To celebrate Valentine's Day, I present a special Half-Moon Hollow short story featuring all the vampire men we know and love.
It was 2 a.m. on Feb. 13 and Gabriel Nightengale was treading where any sensible vampire spent his time - the greeting card aisle at the super-mega-grocery store.
“It looks like one of Jamie’s zombie movies,” he muttered, surveying the picked-clean wasteland of Hallmark display shelves. Tattered red envelopes were strewn across the floor, peppered here and there by the crushed, pastel remains of candy conversation hearts. Torn, rejected cards sprawled open on their backs like wounded birds.
Gabriel was more than one hundred and fifty years old. He was a married man. His wife had spent the last month stocking extra copies of every romance title her bookstore carried. How in the name of all that was holy had he forgotten about Valentine’s Day?
Other than her penchant for attracting archenemies, his Jane wasn’t what you would call “high-maintenance.” But she did appreciate romantic gestures. And since Jane spent more than an hour helping their teenage ward, Jamie, wrap and re-wrap the bejeweled Hello Kitty backpack he’d purchased for his “Valentine” - also known as Council Official Ophelia Lambert - Gabriel knew that anything less than ooey-gooey romance would leave him looking cheap and thoughtless by comparison.
Once again, he wondered when Jamie’s period of fostering would be over, leaving the Jameson-Nightengales as empty-nester vampires.
“Word of advice, son, the novelty card with the geriatric male stripper on the front is always a mistake,” a sly voice sounded behind Gabriel. “Always.”
Gabriel turned to find his old friend, Dick Cheney, standing in the card aisle wearing a bemused expression and a t-shirt that read, “I Heart Bacon.” Gabriel rolled his eyes at the shirt, making Dick shrug. “Well, I would, if I could eat it.”
“How could you forget Valentine’s Day?” Gabriel scoffed. “You work in the shop with Andrea and Jane. They’ve run nothing but Valentine’s coffee specials and love-story book club meetings for the last two weeks!”
“I got Andrea a book by her favorite author weeks ago,” Dick protested.
Gabriel nodded. “And?”
“Turns out I bought her the same book for Valentine’s Day last year.”
While Gabriel burst out laughing, a blondish man in a dark coat and vest standing near the foil balloon selection observed dryly, “I suppose that by comparison, my mistake of ordering a book that I knew she would like, but was unaware that she already owned, wasn’t so bad.”
“No, it’s downright virtuous by comparison,” Dick assured him. “Collin, right? Miranda’s fella? I thought you were psychic. Shouldn't you have seen this coming?”
Collin Sutherland nodded, frowning, as they shook hands. “Part of the problem with getting brief glimpses of the future is that there are no surprises left. I got a preview of Miranda’s gift for me, a wonderful DVD set of documentaries about the Revolutionary War.”
“Nice,” Gabriel said, grinning.
“Yes, well, I also got a nice long look at her trying to hide her disappointment as she opened a book she’d already read twice. I’d prefer the evening go in a different direction.”
“Whatever happened to lingerie?” Dick wondered. “Aren’t we allowed to get them lingerie anymore?”
“That is a path fraught with peril, my friend,” a tall dark-haired man in motorcycle boots and jeans warned him. “Depending on your woman’s sense of humor, you are one edible panty away from relationship annihilation.”
Cal was more than prepared for celebrating his first Valentine’s with his fiancé, Iris. But then, her sister, Gigi’s, sweetheart got involved. Ben gave Iris a pair of silly red-and-pink gardening gloves and it became clear that Cal was expected to treat Gigi to some token of his brotherly affection. So now, he was debating between a sparkly pink make-up case and a less obnoxious pink grapefruit-scented bath set. Cal would get Ben for this if it was the last thing he did in his very long life.
“Is it panty, singular? Or is still panties?” Dick wondered aloud, shaking hands with Cal.
“Well, you call them a ‘pair’ of panties, right?” Gabriel asked.
“But it’s still one piece of cloth, unless they’re making new, more complicated ladies’ undergarments that I’m unaware of,” Collin said. “Up until recently, I didn’t get out much.”
“Why in the hell are a bunch of grown men standing in a grocery store, discussing panties at two in the morning?” Sam Clemson demanded, a large, slightly battered pink gorilla clutched to his side. “This is the sort of thing that gives the undead an unsavory reputation, you know.”
“Bold words from a man holding a fluffy pink monkey,” Dick deadpanned.
“I don’t know how I feel about a contractor who procrastinates,” Collin added, smirking.
Sam threw up his gorilla-free hand in frustration. “I have no excuse for forgetting, only that I’ve been working a lot lately and I haven’t kept an eye on the calendar. If I hadn’t found the special heart-shaped blood dessert thing-y Tess made, I would probably be sleeping outside tomorrow.”
“Valentine’s Day,” Dick sighed. “It’s a freaking minefield of emotion.”
“But it’s only one day,” Cal protested. “And as long as we remember this and their birthdays, we should be fine.”
Sam suddenly turned two shades paler. “I don’t know Tess’s birthday.”
“Suddenly, I’m not feeling that bad about forgetting Valentine’s Day. Jane’s birthdays are unforgettable, if only for the cake-related fires. But none of this solves my problem. I still don’t know what to get for her. At this point, I’m not above stealing Jamie’s Hello Kitty backpack.”
“I’m out of ideas as well,” Collin grumbled. “I do not think Miranda will appreciate any form of edible undergarment.”
“There’s one copy of Pretty Woman left in the DVD section,” Dick said. “It’s in a special pink Valentine’s Day Classics case and everything. I didn’t get it because, again, Andrea already has that movie.”
“I’ve never understood why women like that film,” Cal mused. “Isn’t prostitution considered the opposite of romance?”
“It’s the shopping scene,” Sam said, shrugging. “Tess says women can overlook a lot of faults in a film that includes a shopping montage.”
“Jane does love that movie,” Gabriel said.
Collin nodded. “It’s a favorite of Miranda’s, too. But she claims the DVD player at our house ‘ate’ her copy. I don’t know if that’s possible, but knowing her…”
Collin and Gabriel eyed each other for a few seconds before simultaneously bolting for the DVD racks, taking no shame in using their vampire speed to sprint across the store.
Sam’s dark eyes tracked the vampires’ progress across the store, wincing as Collin tripped Gabriel and sent him flying into a rack of yard tools. “Ten bucks says Collin beats him to it.”
“Gabriel’s married. He has way more to lose. Desperate men fight dirty,” Dick observed.
“I think the matter may be resolved by that angry security guard heading their way,” Cal told them.
Dick sighed. “This is why I always carry bail money with me.”
Sam snorted. “That’s not why you always carry bail money.”
“No one likes a smart ass, Sam.”