Paul nudged Marko. "Look, it's Amber!"
The Lost Boys filed into the video store, giving what David hoped would look like friendly smiles. Amber looked surprised to see them, but not quite as tense as last time they'd met. At least she didn't give them a look of terror like she had last time.
"Hello, Amber," David purred.
"Hi," she replied timidly.
He smiled, staring into her eyes. That's right, relax. He casually rested one hand on her arm, using the physical contact as an anchor as he silently pulled at her thoughts. We're your friends, Amber.
Max chose that moment to come out of the back room with a stack of tapes, and David reluctantly released her.
"Oh, hello Amber," Max said, smiling.
"Hi," she replied.
"These boys bothering you?" he asked, giving David a warning look.
You're safe with us.
"No," she replied quietly.
She slipped her tape in the drop-off box, saying, "I'll see you later, Max."
She smiled at him and headed for the door.
"Goodbye," Max replied cheerfully.
David gave Max a friendlier than usual smirk before he slipped outside. She's ours. It's only a matter of time.
Amber stood re-arranging some jackets on a clothes rack. She paused once to look out the storefront windows, and winced a little at the darkening sky.
I can't believe it's already heading into fall, she thought. She used to get off work around sunset, but recently the store had switched over to the autumn schedule, and the sky would be completely dark by the time she got off work. She hoped the friendly image David and his friends conveyed was sincere, because if it wasn't, they would have plenty of chances to kill her on the evening walks home. Somehow, though, she found it increasingly hard to imagine that they might mean her harm.
She finished arranging the jackets and realized that someone was standing beside her, waiting patiently for her attention.
"Can I help... you?"
David smirked as Amber realized who she was talking to. The other boys laughed at her surprise, but their expressions were friendly, not mocking.
"I think you can," David replied.
He unbuttoned his coat and pulled it back just a little. Her eyes widened when she saw the gaping holes in the shirt underneath.
David's victim on the previous night had pulled a knife on him. David was already fully healed, but his shirt made it look like someone had used his chest as a cutting board.
"I think we have some like that over here," Amber said, leading them over to a table with piles of black shirts.
"This one looks good," Marko remarked as he held a shirt up to David's chin, demonstrating all the careful attention of a mother shopping for her child.
Amber discreetly left to attend to another customer. Dwayne thought he saw a smile on her face, but couldn't be sure.
"Can we just get this over with?" David asked, scowling.
It wasn't often that David ventured into a clothing store, but he couldn't walk around town looking like he'd been attacked by a wild animal, and as Paul had pointed out, it was too suspicious to keep his coat buttoned up in the middle of summer. At least it gave them some excuse to see where Amber worked.
"This one's good--oh, wait, what about that one?" Paul asked, picking up another.
"This one goes better with his jacket," Marko replied.
"They look exactly alike," David growled, but was ignored.
Marko's face brightened a little. "Okay, this one's good."
Out of the corner of his eye, David saw Amber walk into the back room with the dressing booths.
"Buy it," he told Marko. "I'll be back in a minute."
He re-buttoned his coat and slipped into the back room. Amber was standing in one of the dressing booths, collecting various articles of clothing customers had left inside. She jumped a little when she saw him looking in at her.
"Oh! Is there anything else?"
David didn't reply. He just slipped one hand around her arm and stared at her for a long time. Amber stared back, not quite sure what they were doing, although for some reason she felt very calm.
"Don't be afraid of us, Amber," he told her quietly. "We aren't going to hurt you."
She nodded slowly, too drowsy to put much effort into it. At last he pulled away.
"When do you get off work?" he asked.
Amber blinked once as she struggled to remember where she was, then glanced up at the clock on the wall.
"I should be leaving now, actually."
David smiled a little and joined the boys on the street outside.
"You have plans?" he asked as she came out the door.
"Not really," she replied. "Why?"
"We were thinking maybe you could hang out with us," Paul spoke up.
"No biting," David assured her. "Promise."
"All right," she replied. "What are we doing?"
Amber sat in the booth with her chin resting on her hand, watching with an amused look as Marko and Paul shot straw wrappers at one another. Dwayne was sitting in the corner, carefully folding a napkin into a paper crane. David sat beside Amber, watching the other boys play.
"Here's your pizza," the waitress announced, setting it on the table between them.
Paul and Marko immediately dove in, pushing and shoving as they each tried to find the Perfect Slice. Dwayne carefully set his crane aside before joining them, followed by Amber. David took his piece last, nipping off the strings of mozzarella almost artistically.
They sat at the booth and ate pizza like any normal group of friends, which was how Amber was beginning to think of them. She still knew that they were vampires, but she was beginning to forget her fear. The memory of the night in the warehouse seemed distant and unimportant, as though it was merely the memory a dream. Had she thought through it, she might even have wondered if it really had been the Lost Boys who took her there, and not some other group of vampires.
David watched his companions with interest. He could tell that Amber was more relaxed around them after the conversation they'd had in the clothes store, and the other boys were beginning to enjoy her company now that they knew her death wasn't imminent. As if on cue, Amber shot a straw wrapper at Paul and hit him between the eyes, and Marko and Dwayne broke out in laughter.
David gave a small, satisfied smile. She was theirs. She just didn't realize it yet.
A few nights later, David spotted Amber on the Boardwalk, standing at the entrance to the arcade. Before the Lost Boys could reach her, another gang, one they had never seen before, came up and began to hassle her.
Amber glared at them and said some harsh words that were lost over the noise of the crowd, but they just laughed. Their leader stepped up and put his arm around her, despite her attempts to push him away.
David bristled. Stepping forward through the crowd, he took the other man by the shoulder and shoved him backward. The guy's feet left the floor, and when he came back down it was on his rear, three feet away.
"What do you think you're doing?" David demanded, voice low and cold as ice.
"Who're you?" the guy asked, a little startled by what had just happened.
"The Lost Boys. And this is our town, so I suggest you leave."
The guy's friends just laughed. Someone helped him up, and they turned and headed out onto the Boardwalk, making sure to jostle the Lost Boys as they passed.
Once they were out of sight, David turned back to Amber. "You okay?"
She only nodded, looking embarrassed.
"They didn't hurt you?"
"No, I'm fine," she replied, slightly surprised at the question.
David spotted the security guard scowling at them from the other end of the arcade, and motioned toward the door. "Come on."
They gathered around one of the tables in the reserved section, Amber and David seated, Paul and Dwayne on the railing beside them. Marko pulled up an extra chair to join them.
"Who were those guys, anyway?" Marko asked, looking around to see if the other gang was nearby.
"They're called the Surf Nazis," Amber replied. "I heard someone talking about them in the store earlier today. Apparently they came here from Monterey."
"They won't be here for long," Dwayne remarked.
Amber must have known what he meant, but she didn't seem particularly alarmed by the concept. David took it to be a good sign.
The next couple nights passed with no sign of the boys. They didn't show up at the clothing shop, or in the video store, or even on the one occasion that she visited the Boardwalk. Amber wasn't terribly disappointed by their absence, but life was rather quiet without them.
The stars had just begun to come out as she made her way home. She wasn't looking forward to spending another night just sitting around the apartment. Maybe she could stop by the video store a little later and rent something. And talk to Max while she was there. And maybe the boys would even show up.
She didn't notice the three figures standing in the nearby alley. Not until their leader dragged her into the shadows and pinned her against the wall. She struggled violently, then got a good look at his face, and her eyes widened in terror.
"Don't worry," he whispered to her, smiling just enough that she could see the tips of his fangs. "This'll only take a minute."
He leaned in to bite her, then glanced down at her neck, and his expression changed to one of surprise.
"Shoot, she's marked!"
He immediately released her, and he and his companions backed away as though she were carrying the plague. Then their heads snapped around and they stared at the entrance to the alley. Heart pounding, Amber turned and saw the Lost Boys standing there, looking annoyed.
"Hello, Luke," David greeted coldly.
"David! I didn't know she was yours," the one who had attacked her exclaimed.
"Well, you know now."
"We were just passing through. We... we're going now."
The three filed past the Lost Boys and onto the street, looking nervous. David watched them leave, then turned to Amber.
She nodded, still very shaken.
She followed them back out onto the sidewalk, and back down the street to the clothing shop, where their bikes were parked.
"Mind if we take the bikes?" David asked.
She shook her head, appreciating that he would ask. David climbed onto his bike while she waited beside him.
"You don't have to ride with me," he told her.
"I know, but... I'd like to anyway."
He nodded and helped her on, feeling pleased. Amber felt the tension leave her immediately, but the curiosity remained.
"Who were those other vampires?" she asked in David's ear.
"They're a gang from Santa Barbara. You shouldn't see them again."
"How many vampires are there? I've seen eight in just the past month, but wouldn't people notice if there were a lot?"
"You're right," David replied. "There aren't that many of us. There's less than forty in all of the US."
Amber winced a little in sympathy.
They rode out to a wooded hill overlooking the city. The boys slid off their bikes, and David tugged Amber's arm. She turned so she was sitting sideways on the seat.
"Do you know why Luke--the other vampire--didn't bite you?" David asked.
"I think he could tell that you'd bitten me. And he wasn't allowed to do anything because of it?" she guessed.
He nodded. "Vampires can see when someone's been marked, even if the mark looks healed to human eyes. So long as you're alive, and you have my mark, you're under our protection. But it comes at a price."
"Your friendship," he smirked. "And most of your spare time."
"Oh, then of course," she replied, smiling in amusement.
Then she noticed his eyes beginning to change color, from blue to fiery yellow.
"What are you doing?" she asked, slightly worried.
"Renewing your membership."
He slid his arms around her, and she tensed in anticipation of what was to come next. He heard her gasp in pain as he reopened the marks, but she made no move to stop him. He drank until she passed out in his arms, then turned away, letting Dwayne take her limp body.
"Take her back to her apartment," David instructed him.
Dwayne nodded and rose into the air, streaking off in the dark. David wiped the blood off his chin and smiled. Won't be much longer now.