I duck into a book aisle when I get a sight of Charlie.
He tries to lean against the counter in his parka, but he misses when Doug gives him one of his fake ritual smiles. I try not to laugh as he attempts returning the smile. They exchange pleasantries, but Doug is too into himself to even acknowledge that Charlie is stumbling over his social cues. Maybe they have known each other long enough. Maybe Doug just did not care at all. I try to find a few books in this aisle, but I only find IDs from the next aisle over instead. As I rummage, I can see that bitch Gladys shifts her glasses as if she's getting ready to go off to war and approaches the old bloke. My shoulders slump.
"May I help you, Charlie?" Gladys asks.
She straightens up her posture and tries to speak from her chest, but it sounds twice as obnoxious. I grab the cart and make my way towards the scene. I think my jaw clench when she emphasizes on his given name.
"Ah, um, Miss Verch." He twirls the hairs in his mustache, looking anywhere except her eyes.
"Charlie Forks High School 1980, your junior year, you were failing English." She purses her lips, "You went to a tutor's house every day after school to bring up your grade, but told no one because you were afraid of getting kicked off of the football team."
I think he chokes on his spit as I'm closing in on them. I can sense the outside chill on him as I get closer and swear in my mind; I should have brought my gloves.
His eyes soften. "Ady."
"Quite." She grips the index cards and her knuckles whiten.
"What do you want?" She emphasizes each word.
"He's looking for me, Gladys. Fuck off with your high school drama and get over yourself."
Gladys sees that I am behind Charlie now and narrows her eyes.
"Is that any way to speak to your elders?"
"Is that any way to speak to our customers?" I match her voice.
She shifts for a beat before tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Very well then, we'll discuss this in our meeting after closing." She looks up to Charlie. "Charles."CHARLIE
"Very well then, we'll discuss this in our meeting after closing." She looks up to Charlie. "Charles."
Mildred was still looming over the book cart, looking as if she was ready to pounce. She repositions herself with her shoulders slouched, and her hip tucked to the side. She avoided my eyes.
I chew on the inner part of my lip before I say, "Hey," back.
"Look, I-" we both start and stop.
"Right, let's avoid the awkward cliche. To the break room?"
"Are you sure?"
"I can take my 15 whenever, cause laws. You should know all about that."
"Yeah. Right. To the break room sounds pleasant."MILDRED
I blink. "You're shitting me. Doctor Cullen?"
"Watch your mouth, kid." Though his words are strict, it exasperates. He puts his hand on his head for a second. "Yes. Really."
"Well damn, I wouldn't have pegged him… he's got some self-control. Must use the blood packs they keep for donations or whatever."
I look at a painting on the wall for a moment. "Can vampires get drunk?"
Charlie turned around with his face twisted in confusion.
"Right, sorry, you didn't see my shrug. Dunno." She pulls out her journal from her satchel and starts jotting things down.
"That thing is just about as goth as you are."
"Isn't it? It's so badass." I look up to him and bite her lower lip out of habit. He rolls his eyes and sighs.
"I can't believe you're the same age as my daughter." He taps his foot on the ugly, felt carpet.
"I can't believe your daughter is so straight-laced… actually… I can—Scratch that. Super can. They say people who swear are more intelligent than people who don't."
"Right," I say. I pause. "… anything on there about drunk vampires?"
"I mean… it's intoxication. I don't know if alcohol does anything to the undead. But that's interesting. I'm surprised you're willing to even out Dr. Cullen like that."
I giggle ever so slightly, but I do not think he catches it. "Like, why are you telling me something so secret?"
"I don't want you hanging around him."
"I'm surprised." I place a sticky note into the notebook and make eye contact. "I thought you'd want me to go to the hospital."
His ears boil red. "I don't want you to get hurt-"
I suck in some air. "I mean for check-ups. Don't bust a knee-cap, uncle."
His shoulders slack. "Just...be careful."
I pull down my sleeve to show tattoos of markings on my arm.
His eyes widen. "Jesus, Mills! You're sixteen!"
"They're protective runes from evil, and they're temporary. Look." I point at one of them, "this one's fading. They're made of henna ink. I try to find the better ones, so they last longer. By the by… my next birthday's coming up. I just want cash. No socks. I have too many damn socks from relatives as it is. I could honestly make a tampon bag for the homeless women out of socks and still not run out."
"It's harmless. Besides. I haven't gotten bitten in years."
An awkward silence suffocates the room.
"Oh, right, my dad didn't tell you about that. Anyway."
I look at my wrist for my watch. It was old and worn at the leather, but it still ticked.
"That your mom's?"
"My breaks almost up." I chew on my nail but refrain from biting down all the way through. The tiny scars on my thumb pulses white, and Charlie looks like he's about to vomit his lunch. "If that's all you have to say I'm getting back to work."
"All right." he straightens up and walks over to one book I have out. "Vampire for Dummies?" I cock a brow.
"You'd be surprised how informative the for Dummies series can be." I shrug. "Take it. It's an orphan book."
I watch him as he thumbs through it and set it aside.
"Not your flavor?" she offers. "What about this lexicon?" I pull another book from the pile and slide it over. "Intoxicating plants and where to find them."
He frowns. "That's not the title."
"It's the gist of what this book is about; give it a read."
"Anything else special on your end?" I ask.
He hesitates before replying. "Daughter's getting settled in school. Have you seen her on campus?"
I shake my head, "I tested out of Forks High, remember?"
"It's a shame; she could use a friend."
I pull out one of the other books that I have not shown him and flip through it.
"She's a big girl, Char. She can make friends without her daddy holding her hand and introducing her to the town." My voice suggests a lack of interest, but I am not directly looking at him in his doe-colored eyes.
"All right, I can take a hint. Thanks, Mills."
"I did nothing, you kind of wasted over fifteen minutes of your life."
"I'm sure you did enough. I'll take my leave."
"Let me walk you out."CHARLIE
Mildred eyes something in the back of the cruiser's window and raises a brow, "Richard III?"
I look back to see a book in the passenger seat with a crack in the spine and drag out an exhale.
"My kid's. She must've forgotten it."
"No, she just reads it."
"... for fun?"
I shrug. "Didn't get that from me. Anyway."
"Like did her mom force Shakespeare down her throat as a kid or something?" Mildred asks. I can hear the genuine concern under the exaggerations.
"No, she just likes beat-up books." I pull out the card from the file and hand it to her in a handkerchief. Her eyes scan it but wander back to the book. "... so?"
She has this quizzical look on her face now, one I have not seen in a long time. "The fuck you mean beat up books? She didn't do that herself?"
"She cherishes them like a beloved pet." I intercepted her view of the book by stepping in front of the window. "They're bought used. Anyway."
I feel a tug at the sleeve of my jacket. I look down to see a young girl with the most beautiful hazel eyes I've ever seen. She smiles shyly at me.
"Are you lost?"
She shakes her head. I can feel Mildred standing closer to me.
"I have a message from Michael."
I look over to Mildred, who just shrugs.
I know a Michael or two from the office, but I would hardly have the slightest idea how they got a hold of an elementary school girl. I look back towards hazel-eyes.
"He says to stop snooping around, or the girl dies."
I stagger to the side; jaw parted abruptly. "Pardon? Where is your mother, little girl?"
Mildred grips my arm and gasps. "What the fuck? Excuse me?"
"Step off the Church girl's case, or else."
"Hey!" I try to compose myself, but with Mildred clawing at my arm and my heart racing, I can barely keep my voice together. "Who are you? What is this?"
The little girl blinks. She looks around at the parking lot and whimpers. Then she cries.
I hear a cry from behind my cruiser. A woman with eyes that matches the little girl comes rushing over.
"Ma'am?" I look over, confused.
"What are you doing to my daughter-! Oh. Officer. I'm so sorry, thank you. I turned my head away for a second to unlock the car, and she was gone."
"Was… there anyone nearby?" I try to collect myself. My arm is still in a grip hold.
"Um, a man was locking up his car, but I didn't get a look of him."
"May we go?" she offers. I ponder for a minute and then nod. She picks up Sadie and hurries to what I assume is their car.
"You wanna fucking tell me what that was all about?" Mildred hisses into my ear.
I wait until Sadie and her mother are in the car.
"Can vampires control people?"
"Don't dodge the question. What' church girl?' Stop snooping about what?"
"I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."
She sighs in frustration and pushes me away. "Fine. Yes. Vampires can charm humans if they're not protected. It's like an extreme version of hypnosis."
"I'm working on an investigation. I can't give out any more information than that."
"Charlie, a schoolgirl, was just charmed by a vampire. He could have done worse! Why-"
"Because of the law, Mills."
She kicks the cruiser and storms off.
"Mildred Miller, don't you walk away from me!" I shout.
But she does. She continues to brood as she flips me off in the distance.
I wonder how long it will be this time until her silent tantrum is over.
I feel my phone go off and I sigh before flipping it open.
"This is Captain Swan, how may I help you?"
I feel my head pounding as the news rolls into my ears.
"I'm sorry what?"
"Charlie. Your daughter has just been admitted to the ER. You need to go there now."
I feel my body moving at full speed to the cruiser and I make my way to the local hospital, avoiding as many red lights as I can. I hardly bother checking if I locked the cruiser and sprint through the waiting room into the emergency room area. Some nurses try to stop me, but I barely notice some doctors pulling them off to the side, uttering my name and my daughter's name in a whisper.
My heels screech in a full halt when I see him. His white powdered skin and his slicked-back hair. He looks knowingly towards me under his spectacles and walks over, putting his clipboard under his arm.