Short Story: For Your Own Safety, Lock the Door

Title: For Your Own Safety, Lock the Door

Length: 5383 words

Summary: A long-lost cousin on his doorstep should have been a good distraction from Steve’s misadventures with a zombie tiger snake, except that Abe’s pretty sure he doesn’t have a cousin called Bob Clifton. Great-Aunty Lizzie would never let a relative escape her claws. Right?

Setting: Sequel (in theme) to For Your Own Safety, Call First; prequel to Whatever Great-Aunty Lizzie Says.

Note: This one has a touch of character arc. A little bit of set-up for Whatever/continuation of Death is Only a Theoretical Concept. Features references to Port Carmila locals and the many female Browning family relatives who have a curiously egocentric naming scheme. Because I’m all about writing non-binary characters, this is where we start to see more of Steve’s expansive attitude to gender.

Content warnings: Abe is anxious. Abe’s cousin Valentine calls Steve a slut in the best possible way. Steve may or may not have the best regard for his personal safety. Valentine isn’t a whole lot better.

Abe opens the front door, his fingers shaking in anxiety. Steve live-tweeting about a day spent trying to get a zombie tiger snake out from underneath the YA shelf has done nothing for his sanity in no small part because Steve ignores suggestions that Thanh or Bill should be handling the zombie snake: it’s too easy for Abe to imagine someone, possibly Johanna or Debra, about to impart some horrific news. It doesn’t help that Steve never actually responded to his text message about whether or not he killed the snake. For all Abe knows he’s in the hospital or shambling about town in search of brains. Why else will Steve not be answering? He must be okay, surely? Surely?

The tall, round man on his stoop, though, isn’t Johanna, Debra or anyone else Abe expects to deliver news about Steve’s untimely but not unexpected demise.

It’s not outside of reason to expect Steve, one of Steve’s hunting friends, Valentine or Great-Aunty Lizzie to just turn up without warning. Since Steve is most often correct in assuming Abe’s plans are able to be interrupted, Abe doesn’t mind too much about the lack of warning. Steve’s friends, on the other hand, seem to think that everyone is free to hunt zombies or go fishing at any given moment—or that one hunt means he even wants to. Great-Aunty Lizzie believes that every family member should be ready and waiting to welcome her into their abode; even voicing the opinion that she should, well, call first resulted in a two-hour tirade on rudeness in the young and the cataclysmic fate society must soon face because of it.

As for Valentine … well, sometimes he remembers to update Facebook, so Abe has the surreal sense of reading that Valentine is staying with him before Valentine even arrives. Valentine is Valentine, though: he doesn’t even use the spare bed. He drops his stuff, says hello and sits down in Abe’s kitchen for half an hour to discuss family and work before rummaging through Abe’s cupboards, sighing at the lack of food and heading out to the supermarket and what will inevitably be a hook-up with one or several hot people in a way that has Abe envying his charisma. How the hell is it a trans man, in a society that in no way treats Valentine with anything resembling security or legitimacy, manages to go out and get himself laid with such confidence? It took Abe almost eighteen months after moving here to snare a boyfriend!

Not that he wants another. Steve Nakamura is already about three boyfriends too many—or two boyfriends and a girlfriend, considering he spent yesterday walking around Abe’s kitchen in a pair of silver kitten heels.

Abe didn’t expect Steve to actually be good at walking in heels.

This man, however, is a complete stranger. Young, grinning, wearing running shoes and a rear-facing bright pink cap, leaden down with a whole bunch of things: a child’s My Little Pony umbrella, shoe boxes tied together with orange wool, multiple red-white-and-blue striped bags, a belt looped over one arm, a closed-lidded basket resting at his feet. A somewhat-rusty red ute—the twin to Steve’s own, in fact—is now parked in the drive behind Abe’s car, the tray laden up with more bags, sundry cardboard boxes and a dingy brown-and-orange upholstered couch.

“Hey, cousin!” he yells in a voice that doesn’t quite match Steve for enthusiasm—but is surely vibrant enough for normal mortals. “Abraham! It’s me, Bob, your long-lost cousin! I’ve come to stay!”

Abe rests his hand on the lock for the screen door, but he doesn’t open it. “I’m sorry. You must be mistaken.” He tries to be as polite as possible, because it must be embarrassing to turn up on a stranger’s door and mistake them for family. “I don’t have a cousin called Bob. Maybe there’s another Abe in Port Carmila.”

Steve should know, he thinks, and if Steve doesn’t know, either Greg or Debra will. According to Greg, who seems to spend all his non-working hours leaning over the fence or watching footy in Debra’s lounge, he’s been to every house in the Port Carmila municipality at least once. He’s been to Lee McGillivray’s place twenty-seven times, making him the current record holder, and only half of those were for suspected heart attacks.

Bob, however, gives him the warm grin of a man ready to grab Abe by the shoulders, hug him once and settle down on the porch with a stubby. “Abraham! You’re pulling my leg, right? You always did have a sense of humour.”

Abe’s fairly sure that nobody ever accused him of any such thing. He blinks. Bob? No, he can’t have a cousin Bob: there isn’t even a Robert, since Great-Aunty Lizzie won’t let any of her progeny bear such a common name and won’t let the family forget it if they ever even think of naming a child contrary to her wishes. Abe’s mother had to do some fast talking just to convince Lizzie that ‘Abraham’ is a suitably old-fashioned and appropriate name, and because of that Abe has spent the last few years being mistaken for a vintage vampire who of course can’t figure out how to add HTML to the council website or install an app on an Android device.

“I, uh … I could get you the phone book?” He pulls out his phone. “Abraham. What’s his last name?”

“What are you talking about, Abraham?” Bob jerks his head and shoots Abe another grin, as if that is going to help Abe recognise him. “It’s me! I know I haven’t seen you in forever—dude, I didn’t even know you got turned, you being a vampire is so fucking sweet!—but you remember your cousin Bob, right? Aunt Elspeth’s son? I moved up to Darwin when we were in Grade Two.” Bob reaches forwards with the bag-bearing hand and rattles the door. “You going to let me in? I didn’t remember you as the sort of guy who left family standing on the doorstep, cousin. That’s a bit cold when you used to sneak over to our place at all hours of the night…”

He resists the urge to mention that he’s a vampire because of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but honestly. Can there be a good reason, ever, for becoming a vampire?

Cousin, though? Yes: Aunt Elspeth, unofficially married to Aunt Rhonda and writing obscene letters to her local member of parliament to do something about that, but since when did she have a son? Abe just shakes his head. There are no long-lost Browning cousins. Over the two hundred-plus years since Great-Aunty Lizzie and her breather daughter were transported to Australia for the crime of becoming undead, she has kept an almost obsessive eye over her family, recording every marriage, birth, death and turning of everyone who can be considered tangentially related in a series of cracking leather journals and a calligraphic family tree hanging on her lounge room wall. It is a rite of passage in the Browning family to spend far too many evenings listening to Lizzie recount the lengthy family saga that, to Abe, doesn’t seem all that interesting despite their vampiric and convict heritage. It is also a rite of passage, growing up, to avoid his undead aunt’s tedious retellings through any means possible. No, he would remember a Bob up in Darwin because Lizzie would have visited him on a yearly basis as she does everyone else, and the teenaged Abe would have cheered for a few extra weeks of vampire matriarch respite. No, Abe belongs to the kind of extended family people try to escape, not join … and if a long-lost cousin existed, Great-Aunty Lizzie would have found him and introduced him to everyone at their twice-yearly family reunions. What else does she have to occupy her time?

The thought of introducing Steve to the Browning family is enough to make Abe want to vomit. Valentine will surely get on well with a talkative zombie hunter—too well, actually—but even if Lizzie doesn’t lose it over the thought of Abe’s dating a breather, even if she is miraculously okay with the idea, how well is Steve going to fit in at a Browning Sunday barbeque? Aunt Beth will—oh, no, forget Aunt Beth, what about Aunt Tetty and Uncle Anatolius with the touching?

“I don’t know you,” Abe says. He tries to show as much fang as possible as he speaks: usually it leaves him wracked with guilt for descending to the behaviour of a monster, but what else can he do to get this stranger off his doorstep? “Sorry.”

Bob doesn’t even as much as blink at the words or Abe’s fangs. Admittedly, Abe didn’t exactly luck out in the fang department. Lizzie has decent-sized fangs, enough to make a real impression; why did he end up with ones that barely even count? Louis’s fangs are extreme, sure, but so are fangs that are barely bigger than common incisors! Even so, Abe expects non-locals to get at least a little awkward: they’re not used to being around the undead, after all!

No, Bob steps closer, presses himself up against the screen door, takes a rather curious sort of look. A local, then? Is this another one of Steve’s friends? Did Jack or Phil put Bob up to it—say, a birthday dare?

He racks his brain in memory of a Bob—there’s Steve’s boss Bill, and Rob who works with Phil’s Uncle Jorgen at Port Carmila Mechanics, and Johanna’s brother Other Robert who mans the front desk of Port Carmila’s police station, and Doc Roberts in the Port Carmila Emergency Department, and supermarket Bobbi who flirts with Steve—but can’t come up with any references to the man in front of him.

He sighs and taps his fingers against his phone. Will Bob just go if Abe shuts the door in his face? Or will he just set up camp and wait for Abe to leave for work the next morning, only to insist that they are related all over again?

“You really must be mistaken. I know all my relatives, and I don’t have a cousin called Bob. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, but I just don’t know you…”

“You … you hurt me so bad, man.” Bob’s smile finally dims, replaced with a look of stubborn desperation rendered all the more emphatic by his round face and shock of tangled brown hair. He clenches the umbrella-holding-hand tight around the handle. “How can someone with such a cool set of fangs be so hurtful? Is this because of those marbles I stole when I left? Because, man, it’s been twenty years. Shouldn’t you be over that already? The Abraham Reynolds I knew would never hold that kind of grudge.”

Reynolds. Abe could have gotten down and kissed the floor in sheer and brilliant relief. “My name’s Abe Browning. Not Reynolds.”

Bob stares at him. “Say what?”

“Browning. I’m Abe Browning.”

Bob stares and twirls the umbrella; he taps the tip against the basket and something makes a sleepy-sounding growl in response. “Are you sure? Because you look so much like him. You didn’t get a name change or something, did you?”

“I swear, I didn’t.” How did it come to this—having to justify his identity to a complete stranger? “I can, uh, get my driver’s licence if you want.”

“That’d be good.” Bob gives a very definite nod. “Just to make sure. Because I’ve got no way of knowing if you’re not lying to me just because you don’t want to do the cousinly thing and put me and Snookums up for a few months, dude. People do that sort of thing, you know?”

Abe gapes and then jumps as the thing in the basket—Snookums?—lets out a long, mournful howl.

“Ah. Right. I’ll be back in a sec.” Abe glances at the lock on the screen door, just to make sure it is still fast: he can’t help being struck by the image of Bob pushing the unlocked door open and making himself and Snookums at home on Abe’s spotless white couch, the umbrella propped in the corner of the hall and gathering dust while Bob insists for the rest of eternity that they are related. He runs into the kitchen to grab his wallet off the sideboard, skids on the floor and sprints back out to the front door, ignoring the clicking in his knees, relieved to only find Bob standing with his nose smushed against the screen door and peering as far as he can into the lounge. It takes Abe a moment to fumble his licence out of his wallet and hold it up to the door. “See?”

His breaths come quick and frantic. One day, surely, he is going to kick that habit of breathing when anxious?

Bob frowns, his eyes as close to the door as his nose allows. The press of the screen door against his skin doesn’t seem to bother him. “It looks official,” he mutters. “I suppose it could just be a good forgery, but…” He tips his head back and looks up at Abe. “How do they take a photo of you, anyway?”

If he had a dollar for every time he’s been asked that question, both in seriousness and because breathers think it funny… Abe grits his teeth. “Quite aside from the fact that digital cameras don’t contain mirrors, the mirror thing is just an urban myth.”

“Oh.” Bob shrugs. “What about garlic, then?”

“It’s an anticoagulant.” This time Abe doesn’t care that his grimace shows his fangs. “The best time to feed on a breather is after they’ve been to an Italian restaurant.”

He doesn’t mean it as a joke, for all that Abe hasn’t even once fed on a breather and can’t see himself ever doing so, but Bob breaks out into hoarse, shoulder-shaking laughter. “Dude! You so sound like my cousin!”

Is it unforgivably rude to make a phone call in front of the door? Will ringing Steve help—if Steve is even alive? Steve will show up armed to the teeth, yes—possibly rocking those silver kitten heels and an assault rifle, as coming out seems to have been an opportunity for him to entirely eschew the trappings of binary gender—but Steve is the kind of person who might like Bob, and since Bob doesn’t seem scared of ordinary things like vampires, Abe can’t see Steve being that terrifying either. Perhaps he can ring one of Steve’s friends? Johanna seems to be the most logical of Steve’s friends, and she’s not going to want to friend Bob, is she? Plus, she works for the police, even though the Port Carmila Police Department aren’t likely to regard an annoying would-be-cousin as more important than a feral zombie attack, loose stock roaming the highway or someone knocking off one of Aggie Skipton’s pig sculptures on the main drag.

There is one way to get rid of Bob for all eternity, he realises, and just the thought is enough to freeze his undead bowels. There is someone he can ring, someone who will come, someone who will get rid of Bob and his pet in all of thirty seconds—if he doesn’t mind putting up with Great-Aunty Lizzie for a few weeks afterwards. If he doesn’t mind dealing with whatever explosion Lizzie unleashes when she finds out Abe is dating a breather. An anaphylactic, allergic-to-venom breather who carries the HDT-2 strain of the virus that turns dead breathers to zombies and puts Steve forever beyond vampirism. Is getting rid of one would-be relative for a real relative a fair trade?

“I’m not your cousin!”

“Yeah, I ‘spose not.” Bob’s face sags. Snookums gives a pathetic, dejected sort of a whimper. “I don’t suppose you know Abraham Reynolds, do you?”

Abe sighs in relief, shakes his head and crosses the fingers of his mobile-holding hand. “I don’t. You could ring Emergency and ask for Aggie Skipton—she knows everybody. Or she can ask Greg, who knows everybody else. Or the police station—ask for Other Robert. Or go to Bill’s Books on the main drag and ask the short Japanese boy polishing his axe behind the counter. Not the tall Vietnamese boy with the machete. Uh, good luck?”

Six weeks ago, he thinks, he wouldn’t have known those people at all.

Steve, though, not only knows everybody but makes sure he introduces Abe to everybody he meets.

“Hey, thanks.” Bob shrugs. He seems strangely unbothered by the idea of an axe-wielding bookstore sales assistant. “And … well, dude, if you ever get lonely and think you could use a housemate, give me a call, okay? Bob Clifton; it’s in the phone book. I think. Online, anyway. Definitely on Facebook.”

Right. Sure. Over his undead body. “No worries.” A lifetime of good manners screams that it’s wrong, but Abe grabs the front door and swings it closed. Not a slam, no, but loud enough for emphasis. He sighs, leans against the door and lets out a deep, unnecessary sigh of relief. Now. A few refreshing shots of blood, a few more text messages to Steve and one finished crossword, and then Abe can peer out the window and discover Bob and his umbrella and his whatever it is gone from his doorstep. He will go. He won’t just keep standing there, surely? Abe wonders how obvious he’ll look if he tries looking out through the lounge room curtain, but then he heads towards the safety of the kitchen. Just a glass or two of fresh blood—well, cold blood, as fresh as anticoagulants and preservatives can make it, which isn’t that fresh at all, but it is blood—and then he can make sure that Bob is well and truly departed.

He can’t help tapping his fingers against the screen of his mobile, though, struck by a sudden unsettling doubt. Just a quick conversation to confirm. That’s all. Better to know for sure, right?

It only takes a few rings for Valentine to pick up. “Hello? Abe? Is this about what Aunt Beth posted on Facebook?”

Abe makes a mental note to stay off Facebook for a few days. “Uh, no. What—actually, no. Hi. How are you?”

Abe can’t remember where in the world Valentine is right now—at any given time he might well be under water—and for once, he doesn’t care if he woke Valentine up from a post-orgy snooze. It makes up for all the times Valentine has turned up on Abe’s doorstep unannounced. It makes up for the time Valentine ruined Christmas by gifting Great-Aunty Lizzie with a ball gag. It makes up for Abe’s acute embarrassment four minutes later when he unwrapped the largest purple dildo known to humankind. It makes up for Valentine’s incomprehensible luck with breathers, vampires, zombies, fae and merfolk of all genders and sexes. It makes up for Aunt Betty’s funeral.

“Quite content.” There’s a particular lilt to Valentine’s voice that makes Abe think he’s grinning. “I met this gorgeous zombie chick in Reykjavík. Her stitches, Abe, are just amazing, and her body—well, she’s got the biggest cock I have ever seen, and, mate, does she know how to use it—”

“I don’t want to know!” Sure, Abe’s gay—and Valentine is an attractive man, the kind of boy that looked so weird wearing dresses Abe can’t understand why anyone in the Browning family responded with anything close to surprise when Valentine came out. Not that Abe will ever tell him that. Nobody, though, can possibly be gay enough that hearing about his cousin’s sex life in explicit detail is anything but weird. The fact that Abe learnt everything useful he knows about sex through Valentine is already weird enough. “Uh … we don’t have a cousin called Bob Clifton, do we?”

“Cousin Rodbertus? Sure. The one who kept on stealing my marbles and getting everyone’s names confused?”

Abe stares at his phone in acute, stomach-twisting horror. “We have a cousin Rodbertus?”

“Sure! We were just kids when he went to live with his dad—when Aunt Elspeth first started dating Aunt Rhonda, remember? I was just amazed that Ed put his foot down on Lizzie’s visits and Lizzie actually took it. Mum said he outright banned her, and Lizzie never spoke about him afterwards. I bet she still nurses that grudge to this fucking day.”

Cousin Rodbertus. The name rings a vague bell now that Valentine mentions it: spoken in hushed whispers whenever Great-Aunty Lizzie’s back was turned, yet never spoken to the children just in case someone made the mistake of mentioning it. Sure, Abe overheard it once or twice, but it seemed less important than playing in Grandma Lilibet’s front lounge: Abe tried to dress Valentine’s My Little Ponies in Barbie clothes and Valentine—Leanna, then—coloured in Abe’s Transformers colouring books before attempting to cut his own hair with Great-Grandma Isa’s pinking shears.

“Probably.” It’s all he can do to get out that single word. Shit, shit, shit…

“Why are you asking? Because I have a gorgeous woman who—”

“Nothing!” He stops, draws a breath, leans against the kitchen sink. The kitchen sink he’s spent the last two weeks not looking at. “I just … found the name in a diary somewhere, and I was curious. That’s all. Nothing.”

“Send Aunt Tetty an email,” Valentine says. “You know she’s on a quest to point out all the factual errors in Lizzie’s version of history.”

Abe would rather die again, personally. “Sure. Thanks. Good whatever time of—”

“Hold on.” There’s an evil-sounding pitch to Valentine’s usually-deep voice. “You, mate, are holding out on me. I heard a rumour you’ve been spotted around town with a boyfriend? Steve Nakamura—Louis says he’s notorious for hair dye, a zombie kangaroo and being the subject of about a hundred bets as to when he was going to come out already? You, Abe, actually picked up a zombie hunter?”

Shit. Abe hoped he’ll have longer to figure out what to do about that, and the spike of fear is enough to make him forget, for a moment, the problem of Rodbertus Clifton, the cousin Abe turned away from his door. It does remind him of Steve, wrestling a zombie snake in a pair of welding gloves, who still hasn’t replied to Abe’s texts. “It wasn’t really like that, but … yeah.”

“Fuck.” Valentine whistles. “Impressed! I wouldn’t have figured it of you, but I guess even an undead dog can learn new tricks. Good lay?”

Abe pauses. Too long.

“You haven’t fucked him yet? Louis said he was a slut. What the fuck are you waiting for?”

Valentine is possibly the only man in the world who can say that word and mean it as a most sincere compliment, but Valentine … well, Abe can’t quite find a less loaded word to describe Valentine Browning, a glorious, most unashamed slut.

He thinks of Steve, sitting behind the steering wheel, casually and bluntly laying out just how they are in a relationship and, oh, he stares at Abe’s arse while Abe abseils and climbs. He thinks of Steve, that first night at Feeders and every time since, quite happy to grind against a vampire in full public view and yell dirty things into Abe’s ear—and not caring if the music stops for long enough for the rest of the room to hear ‘suck your cock’ before a new trance song plays. He thinks of Steve, who had absolutely no objection to the notion of seducing and fucking a strange vampire in order to get the money for his car stereo—objections to the gender of said vampire, at least initially, and objections to the notion of using a vampire that way, but not, as far as Abe can make out, to the sex, even if it makes him something of a whore.

There’s a most uncomfortable thought brewing about Steve and Valentine, but Abe is not—never, ever—going to think on it. He turns his head and looks out the window, but Bob parked his ute too far down the nature strip for Abe to be able to see if he’s still there or not.

“Abe?”

Louis, apparently, didn’t see fit to mention the rest of it. He can lie, Abe supposes … except that he can’t think of a reason, off the top of his head, why Steve won’t want to fuck Abe, not when Steve too-clearly does. Not when Steve sat on a bed in a cubicle not even an hour after drinking from that damn water glass and outlined, in full view of a nurse and Doc Roberts, just why he thinks sex isn’t a problem.

Steve is many things, but subtle is not one of them.

“He’s, uh, allergic to … to vampire venom,” he whispers.

Valentine pauses for perhaps fifteen seconds, if that. “So? He can still suck you off. You can still fuck him, or he you.”

“Anaphylactic allergic. I nearly killed him. Twice.” The first time was understandable, in a way, although Abe should have warned him. The second time? He should have thought to warn Steve that he only rinses the glass on the draining board, should have thought that Steve would blithely reach for the glass on the sink and not grab a new one from the cupboard, should have stopped to think about dishes and cutlery and anything at all that comes into contact, ever, with Abe’s mouth. He should have washed the fucking glass. “I could spit on him, and he doesn’t seem to care at all that just being around me is deadly, but I can’t—”

“I don’t know it’s that big a deal,” Valentine says. “Mask. Medical kink—hey, actually—”

“I’ve got a call coming through,” Abe lies, even though he’s got no such thing. Medical kink—no, fuck no. He should’ve known, anyway, that Valentine will be no help: Valentine won’t let anything but consent get in the way of sex. Anaphylaxis is only a challenge, not a restriction—something like the fact that Steve could die doesn’t seem to matter. “Thanks. Talk to you soon.”

“Abe—”

He hangs up, puts his phone down on the kitchen table and sinks into the closest chair, his hands over his head. What to worry about first? Valentine knowing about Steve? Steve killing himself because he’s too macho to step back and let the equally-armed Thanh take on the zombie? Abe turning away his own fucking cousin? What if everyone else finds out? What if they find out about that and Steve? What if Great-Aunty Lizzie finds out about Steve? What if Bob rings Valentine and they all find out what happened? Aunt Beth’s ramblings on Facebook will be downright poisonous. Will they ever let him live down the fact he didn’t recognise the cousin on his doorstep or do anything at all to help him? Why didn’t he ask Valentine to keep Steve a secret? Why—

The buzzing from his front door is loud enough to make him lurch upright. No. He’s still there. Bob, with his nose pressed up his screen door, his bags, his umbrella, his covered basket containing a creature called Snookums. He’s rung somebody and he knows he got Abe’s name wrong, he knows Abe is his cousin, he knows and he means to stay for a few months, and the only way to get out of that is to invite a worse hell into his home, and for all Abe knows Bob and Lizzie will get on like a house on fire!

“Abe! You going to let me in?” Steve’s holler is just loud enough to be heard through the open lounge room window.

Relief makes him almost dizzy. “Are you … alone?”

Eigo wa nan desu ka? Um, yeah?”

He still doesn’t understand why Steve says what’s that in English, at least according to an online translation service that may or may not be dodgy—not when his tone sounds closer to what the fuck. Not when Abe’s speaking in English to begin with. “Coming.” He sprints the rest of the way to the front door and opens it, relieved again to spot Steve and only Steve, wearing nice jeans and the button-down shirt he wears for work. The effect is slightly spoiled by the rainbow-striped bandanna knotted over his hair and a pair of pink platform sandals with purple love hearts on the straps. “You’re okay,” he says as he opens the screen door. “You wore those shoes to chase a zombie tiger snake?”

Steve raises his eyebrows. “Do I look like that kind of idiot? I chased the snake in a pair of steel-capped combat boots—its fangs didn’t go through. But I wasn’t going to wear them after they got saliva all over them, so I went to PCASSO. Do you know you can buy purple steel-capped combat boots online? I’ve always wanted a pair, so I’m probably going to buy them.”

He walks down Abe’s hallway as though he’s been wearing platform sandals all his life instead of a few weeks, leaving Abe to imagine just what Bill, Thanh and old Sian MacGillycuddy, who volunteers at the Port Carmila Atheist Society Shop of Opportunity, thought of Steve’s choice in footwear. He shakes his head, not knowing whether to be amazed, bewildered, confused, horrified or impressed, and closes the screen door, although not before looking down the street to check that the other rusting red ute is nowhere in sight. Gone. He lets out a sigh, shuts the door and leans against the frame for a second, by which time Steve and his ridiculous-but-somehow-endearing shoes have vanished into the kitchen.

Steve is safe. Far too casual for Abe’s anxiety to handle, but safe. This time.

“Your glass is in the cupboard!”

“Sun rises in the east, too, Abe.” Steve’s words are followed by a clatter that sounds like Steve grabbing a kitchen chair and standing on it to reach the top cupboard. “So, how was your day? Read anything good? You’re right to hit Feeders tonight, yeah? Do you think Swanston’s going to say anything if I wear my new shoes?”

“Of course he’s going to say something.” Abe grimaces, pulls himself up and heads down the hall. “Um. I had a long-lost cousin turn up on my door and try to move in. He had an animal called Snookums. But he was … he was mistaken.”

“What is it with weird strangers rocking up lately? The god squad’s been busy, too, but at least they’re easy to annoy.” Steve jumps down off the chair, a tall green glass in his right hand, just as Abe reaches the kitchen doorway. “I’m glad he was wrong. It’d be weird trying to fuck you with a roommate, and while I suppose I could take you back to my place, the morning after—no. Chichi and Mum—fuck, no.” He turns around, beams. The expression lights up his dark eyes and broad, slightly wry-set lips, and Abe wonders, not for the first time, if Steve knows just how devastating his easy grin actually is. “Feeders?”

Abe lets out a breath. Valentine, who knows everything and doesn’t understand why Abe keeps secrets from Great-Aunty Lizzie. Steve, who has absolutely no regard for his own life when it comes to hunting zombies and dating a vampire. Bob, who is out there somewhere, and will sooner or later figure out that Abe is his cousin. The Browning family, who will surely react in fury when they learn that Abe all but chased a relative off his doorstep. Great-Aunty Lizzie—no, no, no.

He wants to curl up in a ball and weep.

“Feeders,” Abe says, because there is a strange and profound glory, after all, in his fearless, heel-wearing, zombie-hunting boyfriend, and Abe can’t let him go even though his better sense screams otherwise—even though his anxiety, surely, will thank him for it.

He just prays that he has a little longer before the storm hits.

 

 

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