Paula and I piled into her car in all our vampiric glory, and she started wending her way toward the freeway.
"So, uh, where are we going?"
"It's a surprise!"
Paula shot me a serious look. Man, how did she even drive in that dress without tangling her feet up? "Xavier, do you not know the meaning of the word 'surprise'?"
I may or may not have growled under my breath.
"Don't worry!" she said blithely. "I told your parents, and they approved. And I won't keep you out too late. Probably." She spared me a much less serious glance, and dropped her tone down to sultry levels. "Unless you want me to keep you out late, that is."
I just stared at her deadpan. I'd been practicing in the mirror every chance I got all week, and was pretty proud of my ability to avoid breaking face.
Paula returned her attention to the road with a shrug. "More importantly, you're my date tonight, got it?"
Ah, I'd been wondering how the genre was going to intrude. Evidently this was the "girl needs a date, so she asks her guy friend to pretend and it gets their hearts fluttering" event. "Your date, huh? I don't recall that being part of our agreement."
"Shush, you. I didn't spend that much time on your costume just because you're cute."
"You don't even like cute things."
"What are you talking about? I love cute things! Why do you think I hang out with Samantha so often?"
"Uh, because you could probably press her buttons from outer space?"
Paula grinned. "Well, it's not my fault she's cute when she's angry."
I just rolled my eyes and changed the subject. I couldn't very well back out now, so it looked like I was stuck being a fake date, but maybe I could kickstart a more serious discussion now and get a little payment ahead for suffering through what was undoubtedly going to be a difficult evening. "So about what we were talking about when you strong-armed me into this…"
"Ah ah ah!" Paula scolded. "No serious talk before a party. Ruins the whole thing."
"I said I'd correct your misconceptions, and I'll stand by that, but no free lunches."
Well, damn. That was too much to hope for, I supposed.
At this point we'd been on the freeway for several minutes, and I was baffled about where we might be headed. I'd assumed that a high school Halloween party would be at someone's house, but at this point I was pretty sure we were well out of our school's district. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"Didn't I say? We're headed down to Samner tonight."
"What? Who the hell lives all the way out in—oh, excuse me, I mean I'd hate to have the surprise spoiled! Boy howdy do I ever love surprises!"
"That's the spirit! Though if you say 'boy howdy' again tonight I might have to bite you. You're Dracula, remember? Class it up a little!"
If I weren't afraid of what would happen to me should I mess up the hair style or makeup she'd forced on me, I would have buried my head in my hands.
We arrived in a housing development on the outskirts of Samner about 15 minutes later. Paula didn't quite bound out of the car—I don't think she could have bounded in that dress to save her life—but she was certainly feeling perky. As soon as I'd climbed out, she hooked her arm through mine, and swept us both toward the front door. I guess there's one thing to be said for late Victorian clothing styles: I was expecting a classic manga breast-against-the-arm moment, but she was barely pressed up against me at all.
The doorbell had barely had time to die out when the door was ripped open and a lanky blonde woman dressed in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat had yanked Paula off me and into a hug. "Paula! Welcome! I haven't seen you in ages!"
Paula hugged her back for a moment, then pushed her away. "Get off!" She was smiling, though, so evidently she didn't actually mind being hugged by this woman.
Meanwhile, I was very confused. Maybe this was the mother of one of Paula's friends? She didn't look that old, though.
"Oooh, and who's this?" said the woman, catching sight of me. Without pausing for a reply she shouted back over her shoulder, "Paula's here, and she brought a boooooooy!" Before I could get a word in edgewise, the woman had grabbed my wrist, pulled me into the house, and shut the door. "Aren't you just the most dashing Dracula? Paula must have handled your costume, you lucky devil. Undead. Living dead. Whatever. Ever since she hit her teens, none of us have been able to compete with Paula's Halloween getups. Anyway, when are you going to introduce me, Paula?"
"Come on Rita, you haven't stopped talking since you opened the door. This is Xavier. Xavier, Rita."
"So nice to meet you, Xavier. I'm the youngest cousin from the older set," Rita confided in me, as if that made any sense at all. "Well, except for Paula, of course."
But we'd arrived at the end of the hall, and without further ado Rita preceded Paula and I into the living room of the house with a shouted, "Paula's here, everyone, and she brought her boyfriend Xavier!"
"I'm not—" I began, but Paula forcefully linked arms with me again as she pulled me fully into the room.
"You are for the evening," she said under her breath.
And then I looked up.
The living room was absolutely chock-full of people in costumes, ranging in age from what looked to be maybe six or eight all the way up to the upper thirties or forties. And their attention was universally riveted on Paula and me.
I felt like a goldfish who had been happily swimming along through a pond, only to round a bend and discover it had somehow ended up in the deep ocean surrounded by sharks. I might have frozen in place for a moment under the sudden onslaught of attention.
There was a moment's calm while Paula and I were scrutinized. The room seemed to hold its breath.
Then an older woman swept in from the adjoining kitchen and strode our way. She was wearing a sexy nurse costume, of all things, but was definitely old enough to be someone's mother. "Paula, welcome! You didn't tell me you were bringing a date!"
"Well," said Paula with a sly glance my way. "I wanted it to be a surprise, Mom."
Oh you have got to be shitting me. We skipped straight to meeting the parents?!