I had expected Debbie to dress up, but she was in a pair of jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, wrapped in a long, heavy coat.
I noticed she was wearing a pair of red gloves.
"You found the gloves?" I asked.
She made a face. "They were in my room all along." She groaned. "They'd fallen behind the radiator. Of course, I only found them after I'd told Mom about walking around outside without them.
"Are your father and brother here?" she asked.
"Mr. Cre - I mean, Dad's out. Evra's in." I paused. "There's something you should know about Evra." I said.
"He's not like other people."
"Who is?" Debbie laughed.
"You see," I began to explain, "Evra's a -?
"Look," Debbie interrupted, "I don't care what kind of an odd bod he is. Just take me in and make the introductions."
"Okay." I grinned shakily and gestured for her to enter. Debbie swished confidently ahead of me. A couple of steps into the room, she spotted Evra and stopped.
"Wow!" she exclaimed. "Is that a costume?"
Evra smiled nervously. He was standing in front of the TV, arms crossed stiffly.
"Debbie," I said, "this is Evra, my brother. He's -?
"Are those scales?" Debbie asked, surging forward.
"Uh-huh," Evra said.
"Can I touch them?" Debbie asked.
"Sure," Evra told her.
She ran her fingers up his left arm - he was wearing a T-shirt - and down his right.
"Wow!" Debbie gasped. "Have you always been like this?"
"Yes," Evra said.
"He's a snake-boy," I explained.
Debbie whirled fiercely on me. "That's a horrible thing to say!" she snapped. "You shouldn't call him names just because he looks different."
"I wasn't calling him - " I began, but she interrupted.
"How would you like it if somebody made fun of that stupid costume you wear?" she fumed. I looked down at my suit. "Oh, yes!" she sneered. "I could have said plenty about that crazy getup, but I didn't. I figured, if you wanted to look like something out of Peter Pan, that was your choice."
"It's okay," Evra said softly. "I am a snake-boy." Debbie stared at Evra uncertainly. "I am, really," he vowed. "I have many serpentine qualities: I shed my skin, I'm cold-blooded, I have snakelike eyes."
"Still," Debbie said, "it's not nice to be compared to a snake."
"It is if you like snakes." Evra laughed.
"Oh." Debbie looked back at me, half ashamed. "Sorry," she said.
"It's okay," I said, secretly pleased that she'd reacted the way she had - it proved she wasn't prejudiced.
Debbie was fascinated by Evra and kept asking him questions. What did he eat? How often? "Was he able to talk to snakes? After a while I told him to show her his tongue - he had a really long tongue and was able to stick it up his nose.
"That's the grossest, greatest thing I've ever seen!"
Debbie howled when Evra demonstrated his nostril-licking abilities. "I wish I could do that. It'd freak the life out of everybody at school."
Eventually it was time to leave for the movies.
"I won't be back late," I told Evra.
"Don't rush on my account," he said, and winked.
It was a short walk to the cineplex, and we arrived in plenty of time for the start of the movie. We bought popcorn and drinks and headed in. We talked away to each other during the ads and previews.
"I like your brother," Debbie said. "He seems a little shy, but I guess that has to do with the way he looks."
"Yeah," I agreed. "Life hasn't been easy for him."
"Is anybody else in your family snakelike?" she asked.
"No," I said. "Evra's one of a kind."
"Your mom isn't unusual?" I'd told Debbie my mom and dad were divorced and that Evra and me spent half the year with each. "Or your dad?"
I smiled. "Dad's strange, too," I said, "but not like Evra."
"When can I meet him?" she asked.
"Soon," I lied. Debbie had warmed immediately to the snake-boy, but how would she react to a vampire? I had a feeling she wouldn't warm up to Mr. Crepsley, not if she knew what he was.
The movie was a stupid romantic comedy. Debbie laughed more than me.
We discussed the movie afterward as we walked back to the square. I pretended to like it more than I did. As we walked down a dark alley, Debbie took my hand in hers and held on to me for comfort, which made me feel great.
"Aren't you afraid of the dark?" she asked.
"No," I said. The alley seemed pretty bright to my vampire-enhanced eyes. "What is there to be afraid of?" I asked.
She shivered. "I know it's silly," she said, "but I'm always half afraid a vampire or werewolf's going to jump out and attack me." She laughed. "Stupid, huh?"
"Yeah," I said, laughing weakly. "Stupid."
If only she knew...
"Your nails are really long," she commented.
"Sorry," I said. My nails were incredibly tough. Scissors couldn't cut them. I had to chew on them with my teeth to keep them down.
"No need to apologize," she said.
As we emerged from the alley, I felt her studying me by the light of the street lamps. "What are you looking at?" I asked.
"There's something different about you, Darren," she mused. "It's not something I can put my finger on."
I shrugged, trying to make light of it. "It's because I'm so good-looking," I joked.
"No," she said seriously. "It's something inside you. I see it in your eyes sometimes."
I looked away. "You're embarrassing me," I grumbled.
She gave my hand a squeeze. "My dad always says that. He says I'm too inquisitive. My mind's always racing, and I'm always saying what's on it. I should learn to keep quiet."
We arrived at the square and I walked Debbie to her door. I stood awkwardly on the front step, wondering what to do next.
Debbie solved the problem for me.
"Want to come in?" she asked.
"Aren't your parents home?" I responded.
"That's okay - they won't mind. I'll tell them you're a friend of a friend."
"Well... okay," I said. "If you're sure."
"I am," she said, smiling, then took my hand and opened the door.
I was almost as nervous going in as I had been the night I crept down the cellar in the old theater in my hometown and stole Madam Octa from the sleeping Mr. Crepsley!
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