Lousy idea, us sitting like that on the railroad tracks. If we had had to jump, it would have been a heart-stopping drop to the lake below. But Kieren had said he could hear a train coming from far away, in more than enough time for us to scramble from the middle of the bridge to safety. And I trusted him. Liked him watching out for me, too.
To the west, the fading horizontal clouds had turned a bloody tangerine color, fuzzy and tinged with violet, like the inside of a conch shell. So, I imagined picking one up, a curved shell, and shaking it to see if theanimal within had died.
Then Kieren’s fingernails began tracing the pattern on my upturned palm, and it was hard to think about anything. I knew it bothered him, though, my laugh line, my love line, my lifeline. Slight and severed, all of them.
This was four years ago, so we were in middle school, past due for handholding. I’d been staying with Kieren’s family, helping with the baby, while my folks were in Guatemala doing whatever professors with archaeology Ph.D.s did there. Daddy anyway. Mama had just gone along for the ride. They’d be back the day after tomorrow, I realized. And tomorrow could be gone in a heartbeat or two.
"It’s not just a sunset," I said, going for poetic. "It’s a moonrise, too."
Kieren’s nostrils flared at that, which I found exceedingly manly. Besides, I’d always loved this time of day, late evening when the world went smoky and soft. Dusk. Twilight. Such pretty names. We owed somethingto the night, didn’t we?
I tried pressing my newly rounded right boob against his forearm. Even though it was well covered in a sweatstained T-shirt, even though the temperature had to be over ninety degrees. I had it on good authority that most boys my age were due to go boob crazy at any time. But my hand was all he was interested in.
As the sun melted into the horizon, I stared into the rippling water and decided to take the lead. If Kieren backed off, I’d make like I was joking.
It seemed to take forever, turning my palm until our fingers aligned, rested against one another, ready to intertwine. His face was flushed, moist from the heat, and his expression didn’t tell me anything.
Taking a shallow breath, I went for it. There. My fingertips touched the back of his hand. His fingertips touched the back of mine. And he was letting it happen. I was about to say something -- I didn’t know what -- when distant but sure I heard the train.
"Kieren?" I whispered.
I’d distracted him.
A cause for celebration if it hadn’t been for the penalty.
His head snapped in the direction of the oncoming threat, the one that would reach me first, and his eyes in the evening light looked flat and yellow. I didn’t feel the pain when I first heard the wet crunching, didn’t feel it for long even, wicked hot, turning my sweat cold. There was an instant, just one, when I looked down at my hand and felt the blood dripping and realized his nails . . . claws . . . had extended, piercing clear through, five crescent-shaped punctures, catching raw muscle andsplintering bone.
"Oh," I said, like that explained everything, and suddenly, the train didn’t matter so much anymore. Then the world swirled, faded, took me floating into the darkness.
FANGS ARE US
"You’re nuts!" I exclaimed after swallowing a bite of tender scallops twirled in garlic fettuccine. "My uncle will never sign off on this."
"No, no, not nuts, Quincie," the chef countered in an accented baritone. "Garlic. He said ‘Italian.’ Change this. Pave that. But still, Italian. So, garlic."
His triumphant smile let me in on the joke. "Ah, bambina, so predictable."
It was nearly 9 p.m., and since sevenish that evening, I’d been playing taste tester for the teasing and tiring chef. Each dish had been sensual, succulent, but none had screamed, "Presto: blood lust!" And that’s whatwe were going for.
Sanguini’s was to be Austin’s first restaurant built around a vampire theme. More class than kitsch, but not without a sense of playfulness. A reboot of Fat Lorenzo’s, the family-style Italian restaurant on South Congress that had once belonged to Gramma and Grampa Crimi, who’d left it to Mama. She’d often called the business her "other child" and seemed more at home there than she did in the house.
At least until three winters ago, when she and Daddy died on the icy 183 exit ramp off MoPac Expressway, orphaning me and the restaurant. The will had placed both of us in the care of Daddy’s younger brother,Davidson, until I hit twenty-one.
Back then, Uncle D was in his mid-twenties, barely out of Texas State University. I was only fourteen, and the marinara in my veins came from Mama’s side of the family, not Daddy’s. But Vaggio, the chef who’dknown my late grandparents since back in their Chicago days, helped Uncle D get up to speed. And from then on, I spent more time at Fat Lorenzo’s than anywhere else, even Kieren’s.
All was well until last year when Pasta Perfecto opened a few blocks south. Though our regulars had stayed regular, their parking lot was twice the size of ours. Within six months, Fat Lorenzo’s was in the red.
Something had to change, I’d said, or we’d find ourselves out of business. Vaggio had argued that we should stick with Italian, claiming he didn’t know how to cook anything else. Uncle Davidson had suggestedthe vampire concept.
"Can’t we just do a ghost?" Vaggio had asked. "It’s an old building. We could make up a story, say somebody who worked here died."
"Nah," Uncle Davidson had replied. "Haunted has been done to death."
Excerpted from Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Copyright © 2008 by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.