As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Debbie's parents were as nice as she was. Their names were Jesse and Donna - they wouldn't let me call them Mr. and Mrs. Hemlock - and they made me feel welcome as soon as I walked in.
"Hello!" Jesse said, seeing me first as we entered the living room. "Who's this?"
"Mom, Dad, this is Darren," Debbie said. "He's a friend of Anne's. I ran into him at the movies and invited him back. Is that okay?"
"Sure," Jesse said.
"Of course," Donna agreed. "We were about to have supper. Would you like some, Darren?"
"If it's no trouble," I said.
"No trouble at all," she beamed. "Do you like meatloaf?"
"It's my favorite," I told her. It wasn't really, but I guessed it would pay to be polite.
I told Jesse and Donna a little about myself as we ate.
"What about school?" Jesse asked, like Debbie had before him.
"My dad used to be a teacher," I lied, having given some thought to the matter since yesterday. "He teaches Evra and me."
"More meatloaf, Darren?" Donna asked.
"Yes, please," I said. "It's great." It was, too. Much better than any meatloaf I'd had before. "What's in it?"
"A few extra spices," Donna said, smiling proudly. "I used to be a chef."
"I wish they had someone like you in the hotel." I sighed. "Their food isn't very good."
I offered to wash the dishes when we were finished, but Jesse said he'd do them. "It's my way of unwinding at the end of a hard day," he explained. "Nothing I like better than scrubbing a few dirty dishes, polishing the banister and vacuuming the carpets."
"Is he kidding?" I asked Debbie.
"Actually, no," she said. "Okay if we go up to my room?" she asked.
"Go ahead," Donna told her. "But don't chat for too long. We've got a couple of chapters of The Three Musketeers to finish, remember?"
Debbie made a face. "All for one and one for all," she groaned. "How exciting - I don't think!"
"You don't likeThe Three Musketeers?" I asked.
"Sure. I've seen the movie at least eight times."
"But did you ever read the book?" she asked.
"No, but I read a comic book about them once."
Debbie shared a scornful glance with her mother, and the two burst out laughing.
"I have to read a little of a so-called classic every night," Debbie grumbled. "I hope you never learn just how boring those books can be."
"Be down soon," she told her mother, then showed me the way upstairs.
Her room was on the third floor. A big, pretty-empty room, with large closets and hardly any posters or decorations.
"I don't like feeling cluttered," Debbie explained when she saw me looking around.
There was a bare artificial Christmas tree in one corner of the room. There had been one in the living room, too, and I noticed a couple more in other rooms on my way up the stairs.
"Why all the trees?" I asked.
"Dad's idea," Debbie said. "He loves Christmas trees, so we get one for every room in the house. The ornaments are in little boxes underneath" - she pointed to a box under the tree - "and we open them on Christmas Eve and decorate the trees. It's a nice way to pass the night, and it tires you out, so you fall asleep almost as soon as your head hits the pillows."
"It sounds like fun," I agreed wistfully, remembering what it had been like to decorate the Christmas tree at home with my family.
Debbie studied me silently. "You could come over on Christmas Eve," she said. "You and Evra. Your dad, too. You could help us with the trees."
I stared at her. "You mean that?"
"Sure. I'd have to check with Mom and Dad first, but I doubt if they'd mind. We've had friends over to help before. It's nicer with more people."
I was happy that she'd asked me, but I hesitated before accepting.
"Should I ask them?" she said.
"I'm not sure if I'll still be here at Christmas. Mr. Cre - Dad is unpredictable. He goes wherever the job takes him, whenever."
"Well, the offer's there," she said. "If you're here, great. If not," - she shrugged - "we'll manage by ourselves."
We got talking about Christmas presents. "Are you going to get the CD player for Evra?" Debbie asked.
"Yeah. And a few CDs, too."
"That just leaves your dad," she said. "What are you getting him?"
I thought about Mr. Crepsley and what he might like. I wasn't going to buy him anything - he'd only turn up his nose at presents - but it was interesting to consider what I could buy him. What was there that a vampire could possibly be interested in?
I started to smile. "I know," I said. "I'll get him a sun lamp."
"A sun lamp?" Debbie frowned.
"So he can work up a tan." I began to laugh. "He's pretty pale. He doesn't get much sun."
Debbie couldn't understand why I was laughing so hard. I would have liked to let her in on the joke - it would be worth buying the sun lamp just to see the disgusted expression on the vampire's face - but didn't dare.
"You have a weird sense of humor," she muttered, bewildered.
"Trust me," I said, "if you knew my dad, you'd know why I was laughing." I was going to tell Evra about my idea when I got home: he'd be able to appreciate it.
We chatted for another hour or so. Then it was time for me to go.
"Well?" Debbie said, as I stood up. "Don't I get a good-night kiss?"
I thought I was going to collapse.
"I... um... I mean... that is..." I became a stuttering wreck.
"Don't you want to kiss me?" Debbie asked.
"Yes!" I gasped quickly. "It's just... I... um..."
"Hey, forget it," Debbie said, shrugging. "I don't care one way or the other." She got up. "I'll show you out."
We walked quickly down the stairs. I wanted to say goodbye to Jesse and Donna, but Debbie didn't give me the chance. She went straight to the front door and opened it. I was still trying to get back into my coat.
"Can I come over tomorrow?" I asked, struggling to find the left arm of the coat.
"Sure, if you want to," she said.
"Look, Debbie," I said, "I'm sorry I didn't kiss you. I'm just -?
"Scared?" she asked, smiling.
"Yeah," I admitted.
She laughed. "Okay," she said. "You can come over tomorrow. I want you to. Only, next time be a little braver, okay?" And she closed the door behind me.
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