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Toxic #19: Sentimental Hairwork: Not Just for Victorians

May 21, 2014

The dean’s house was a giant Tudor, all grey stone and wood beams slashing through stucco. There were hedges, flowers, and little stone paths carving the grass into geometric swatches. One of the green spaces looked big enough to land a small plane on.

As we slammed the car doors shut, something rustled in the maze of hedges next to me. I glanced over, expecting to see either the dean or Julia coming to greet us. Instead, I came face to face with a black dog out of a Bronte novel. It was massive, at least four foot tall, and its teeth were meant to splinter bone. “Jeez—is that a dog or a horse with a hair problem?”

My dad didn’t hear me, but the dog did. It curled up a wet lip and snarled at me. I stumbled back; it knew what I said. Which made it someone on Scott’s family tree. Without Scott’s sense of humor. “Nice boy?”

A low growl came from the thing’s throat. Either it wasn’t into small talk, or it wasn’t a he. Maybe I’d just insulted her. But honestly—how could I tell sex without being rude?

I hurried up the porch steps, my back burning from the thing’s stare. The gardens were swarming with the werewolves, their backs and ears peeking over the hedges like fins in a shiver of sharks.

The door opened before my dad could ring the bell, and the mustard-stained vampire from the Dragon peered out. He was in the shadows of the entry hall, far enough back that no spot of sun touched as much as a cuff. “Dean Rorbauch,” my dad gushed. “May I introduce my daughter Tallulah?”

The dean’s eyes focused on my dad’s boutonniere. “Lovely flower, Richard. From your garden?” My dad blushed as if the compliment embarrassed him, and the dean twisted his lips into a small smile. I tried to smile, too, as his gaze swiveled to me, but his eyes had the same Jeffrey Dahmer-class light I’d seen in the Dragon. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tizzy.”

“You too, sir,” I replied, dropping my eyes to look at my shoes. The dean was throwing out more creepy vibes than the Times Square subway tunnel threw out stink, and he knew my nickname. Not a good sign.

The foyer didn’t do anything to calm my nerves. It was straight out of another century. And another country. But before we had time to check out the muddied paintings above the ornate, if faded, wainscoting, the dean led us into a cluttered parlor. It was more antique store than functional room, complete with stuffed ravens and framed hair art scattered among fussy high-back chairs. There was a full-sized concert Grand in the far corner, the piano keys stark white against the perfectly polished black shell. “I hear you’re going to Ithaca Prep with my daughter.”

There was a bead of sweat on my upper lip, and I debated if I could wipe it off without anyone seeing. That hair art was morbid, and knowing this guy was a vampire? I had to wonder if it’d come from his victims. “She’s in my art class.”

“Indeed. She’s mentioned you. My son has, too.” He let a squirm-worthy few seconds pass, looking me up and down. “I’m afraid she’s not here. She went to the library to work on a paper.”

I let out a breath, feeling as if I’d been paroled. Which was stupid since Julia and her nasty tongue were nothing compared to her father.

“My son is around, however. We’ll see if he comes out of hiding long enough to join us.”

“College boys. They’re incorrigible.” My father gave him what was probably a sympathetic smile, but to me it looked like a toothache.

And Damian and college? “I thought they were twins.”

The dean sniffed. “They are. He’s advanced. A chemistry prodigy.”

My father laughed, sounding like a nervous hyena. “He’s certainly not a literature prodigy. He doesn’t know his Cynewulf from his Chaucer.”

The skin around the dean’s eyes went tight. “Yes. Well. He gets his love of movies over books from his mother.”

My dad blanched, clueing in that he’d been rude. “A valid art form. Tallulah is a movie buff herself. She even has a blog. Don’t you, Tallulah?”

Great. He was tossing it to me to save things. Luckily, the dean didn’t seem interested. “Sadly, being brilliant isn’t a trait Julia shares with him, despite the shared DNA.” He steered us through the maze of furniture and into the adjoining dining room. “Her genius is in spending my money. Now please sit. I’ll see if I can find my errant progeny.”

My father took a seat across the table from me, his face dropping its forced cheer as soon as the dean was gone. “This is going all right,” he mumbled. “He’ll forget my blunder. Yes. It’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t so sure the dean would forget, but I wasn’t going to burst my dad’s bubble. He’d probably have a nervous breakdown. “So. Damian’s in one of your classes?”

He jerked and gave me a wide-eyed blink. “I didn’t know you knew him.”

“I wouldn’t say I know him. We talked for like five minutes.” And he put his tongue down my throat, but that wasn’t something to share.

“Oh. Good,” he muttered, dropping his napkin onto his lap. “That’s okay, I suppose.”

“What’s okay, Richard?” The dean came back in minus Damian but plus a waiter. Or maybe a butler. I had no idea what rich people called the help.

“Nothing important. Tallulah and I were just making small talk.”

The dean perched at the head of the table like one of his stuffed birds, idly watching as the butler put our plates in front of us. “I have to apologize for my chef. I’m afraid he forgot my instructions for a vegan meal.”

“It’s fine,” my dad said, going pale as a steak so rare it was almost mooing landed in front of him. “I eat meat on occasion.”

The tiny smirk that lifted the dean’s lips made it clear the chef hadn’t forgotten anything, but I was too busy gawking at my father to register it. My dad wasn’t vegan for the health benefits but because he was deathly opposed to eating animals. There was no way he was so afraid of his boss that he’d eat animal protein. Was there?

As my dad picked up his fork and knife, cutting into his bleeding mess of meat, I realized he was. And since he didn’t know about the vampire side of the dean, the question was, why?

© A.M. Schilling  2014. All Rights Reserved.



Toxic: Installments