At night DeShawn watched the stars. He could just about see them from his small room in the basement. There was only one of those half sized windows but he was lucky and it overlooked a grassy field. He loved to see them twinkle and slowly change positions as the seasons changed. The stars were his comfort, his company. He loved the night.
Mother didn’t let him keep the window open during the day, but at night he opened it and star gazed. The sun was so bright it would probably hurt his eyes. Mother said it was a ball of fire, high in the heavens and not to worry about it. He’d never see it. He sighed. Mother never let him leave the room. She said it was for his own protection. Mother said others would want him if they knew and she said he looked different from the other children.
Mother’s skin was warm and honeyed. That must be what normal people skin looked like. His skin was almost the same color as charred wood. His eyes were as green as new grass, Mother said. Tall and thin with elegant fingers that stretched long enough to do the delicate work Mother left for him. He wove straw into dolls. He made necklaces with the thinnest silver chains and fragile beads of glass. When she was pleased with the work, she gave him cakes decorated in rainbow sprinkles. When he broke a bead, or his hay doll wasn’t as pretty as she’d like, she left a dirty cup of water and the crusts from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was enough for him to smell the jelly, smell the peanut butter but never taste them.
DeShawn loved the delicate work and he tried to make his necklaces resemble the stars that he just felt knew him and loved him. The night was his true friend. When the moon was full, he would stand in the beam of light that blasted into his small basement and made his skin glitter and shimmer. He would bathe in moonlight all night long, feeling more awake and alive than on the moonless nights.
Tonight he was bathing in the silver light when it cut off suddenly. Worried, DeShawn raced to the window. If Mother had found out he opened the window at night and blocked it, he would die! There was a shadow leaning against his window. It was probably a rabbit or a raccoon. He tapped. The shadow bounced away. In seconds it was back but the light bled in around it. The shadow backed off a bit and resolved itself into a face. The face was rounder than his own, yet still sharp, and silvered by moonlight. She was scared but she tapped back. Grinning, he placed his long fingers on the window. The girl put her hand up to match and a wonderful sound escaped her, light and breathy.
“Open up!” she called through the glass. She mimed unlatching it.
He did and a blast of icy air hit his face. She made the sound again, her eyes crinkling pleasantly. He found his mouth turning up in the corners, the feeling making his face stretch pleasantly. She reached her fingers through and grabbed his hand and shook it up and down. Her skin was several shades lighter than his but still a wonderful rich brown and her skin was cool in the winter air.
“Tia,” she said.
“DeShawn,” he replied.
“Come out,” she ordered. “I’ll buy you a soda at the corner store. I found some quarters in the laundry room. We can share a bag of chips.”
“I’m lonely. I’m not the type of girl that can keep pets or friends. I was sitting here because it’s the best view. You have the best view,” Tia said, awestruck.
“You, you are lonely. You want to be my friend and eat chips with me,” Tia informed him.
Accepting that, DeShawn asked, “What are chips?”
Tia made the sound again and it felt different this time. It was at him instead of with him. He frowned. She reached a hand through and tapped him on the nose. He sneezed. She made the sound. He echoed her, feeling oddly light. “Potatoes sliced thin, fried and salty as all get out. You’ll love them. Come out.”
“The door is locked. Mother is afraid someone will steal me away in the night,” DeShawn confided.
“Of course she is,” Tia said, “She should be. Your mother sells magical necklaces and dolls that can control others. Papa says she must have a changeling in her basement. I told her it was stupid. But here you are in her basement. Do you make necklaces?”
DeShawn nodded. “What’s a changeling?”
“I don’t know. Papa is old and he says ‘old ways are the best ways.’ You seem too young for the old ways. Come on, do you want to eat chips with me or not?” Tia asked impatiently.
“Doesn’t anyone else want to eat chips with you?” DeShawn asked.
Tia’s eyes were full of tears. “No, I told you; no pets, no friends. They don’t like me here. Do you like me?”
DeShawn felt funny as if his eyes were stinging. He reached out to touch her hand. She gripped tightly. The skin of her hand was cool and smooth, and a bit spongy. It was interesting to touch someone. He turned his mouth up again. Mother never touched him. Would Mother’s hand feel like Tia’s? Was that what touch felt like? His own hands felt thinner, less spongy.
Tia had touched him. She wanted to feed him and she liked the view.
“I like you.”
“Can you come?” Tia asked wistfully.
“Will you take me to a place where I can see all the stars?” DeShawn asked.
“Sure, we can go anywhere you want,” Tia said. “We can go out on the ocean in a boat. We can climb a mountain. We can do anything as long as you take me with you. I don’t want to be lonely anymore.”
DeShawn felt funny. His face was wet. Was this lonely?
“I don’t know how to get out,” he said.
“Take my hands,” Tia said. “You’re skinny enough to slip right through if I help pull you.”
DeShawn stared around at the only home he had ever known. There wasn’t much to look at, it was a dark room with one frayed rug and a dirty old cot. He grabbed a few of his shirts and a pair of jeans and wrapped them in his blanket. He left the dolls but grabbed a necklace. Maybe Tia would like it. He handed the bundle to her. She took it.
He felt his nerves fray. “I’m scared.”
“Me too,” Tia said. “What if you don’t like me?”
“What if I promise to like you?” he asked. “Will you show me how to live outside my room?”
Tia nodded. “I’ll show you how to live under the stars. Promise to stay with me forever.”
“Okay, I promise.”
He piled boxes of beads and hay up. Standing on them, he reached for her hands. She gripped him and pulled. She was strong! He struggled through the small window and flopped onto the grass. Tia stayed with him, while he touched the grass and felt the cold wind on his skin.
She stared at him. “That was too easy,” she said and slapped a bracelet onto his hand. It burned against his skin. “I’ve always wanted to have my own faerie.”
DeShawn shivered. He stood to run as Tia’s eyes flashed blood red. “What are you?”
“A monster,” Tia said. “A vampire that you promised to stay with.”
“Is that why no one likes you?” DeShawn asked. He wanted to leave but felt compelled to stay. The need to stay was tingling in him, warring with the need to go back home where he was safe.
“People don’t like you if you kill and eat them,” Tia said.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Tia showed her mouth full of sharp teeth and made the sound again. “No. I really am lonely.”
DeShawn sighed, shoulders relaxing. Tia was still better than Mother. Tia grabbed his hand again and squeezed in a friendly manner. She let go, and stepped back, giving him space that he wasn’t sure he wanted. He liked the feeling of connection. Maybe it would be okay. He was still afraid.
“I think I was too.”
“Not anymore,” the vampire said. “Your promise protects me from your magic. So you can’t hurt me. And I did promise to show you the stars. I can formally promise not to eat you if it will make you feel better. It’s not as binding as a fae promise, but I am a monster of my word. Besides, you already loved and lived with a monster most of your life, what’s one more?”
DeShawn stared at the night sky. He could see so many more stars from this monster’s side. He reached for her hand.
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