Ambrose held onto Robin and talked the whole way to The Cardboard Box.
Robin closed his eyes and listened to Ambrose’s voice.
Its dark color.
Its rise and its fall.
And he felt safe.
Ain’t nothin’ gonna hurt me with Ambrose here. He’ll protect me. He’ll keep me safe.
He startled and opened his eyes.
Gaah! Darn it!
He sat up and returned to his seat.
I ain’t needin’ his help or protection.
I ain’t no freakin’ weepin’ damsel. I can protect myself just FINE!
Robin rubbed his arms.
But now I feel all cold.
Darn it all! I’m bein’ so stupid.
stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID!
He exchanged a glance with Ambrose and returned to his side.
“Don’t just sit there, grinnin’ all stupid-like. Hug me or I’ll bite you.”
“Well. With an invitation like that, how could I possibly say no?”
Raven stopped at another red light. He glanced back at his two vampires.
Robin was all snugged up against Ambrose.
Ambrose had his arm around the younger vampire’s shoulders. He hummed a folk song Raven recognized from long ago.
It made him feel nostalgic.
It made him think of Missy.
Raven ignored the empty passenger seat next to him.
Missy is home, happily asleep. Or perhaps she is sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for our return.
Perhaps when I come home she will ask me to take her shopping yet again.
I would buy her all that she wanted. Even something as extravagant as two sheet cakes and one torte cake.
The light turned green and Raven drove forward.
Or perhaps she is away, visiting her father. Perhaps they will sit awhile and reminisce. Or he will take her somewhere meaningful to the both of them. Somewhere like her mother’s grave.
If I do not look at the passenger seat, Missy is there. Perhaps she is admiring me. Perhaps she is asleep. Perhaps she is sulking at me for some reason or other.
Or perhaps she is just there. She is sitting there, happy and content in her thoughts and my companionship.
I could pretend that is so, as long as I do not look at that empty seat.
As long as I do not acknowledge her absence.
She is here.
Missy is here with me.
All I have to do is pretend and I will not miss her as much as I do.
And I do.
I miss her so.
Raven parked in The Cardboard Box’s parking lot and got out of the car. He looked up at the large box-shaped building.
In two days, I would have come here with Missy to have our DNA tested.
I do not know what will happen now.
Ambrose came up to him. “Are you okay?”
Raven tried to push all of the hurt and grief and uncertainty down, but it bubbled back up. He shook his head. “I feel so lost without her.”
“I’m sorry, Raven.”
“There is no need for you to apologize, sir. This was my fault and my fault alone.”
“Of course. But I am sorry. You’re right. I should have taken care of getting my own tuxedo. I shouldn’t have dragged you into this when you need to be with Missy. If you want to leave, we can take care of this.”
Raven gave him a horrified look.
Robin snorted. “Ohhh, here it comes.”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I believe it would vastly unwise to entrust such an important task to you two gentlemen.”
“I knew it!” Robin flapped his hands in a an aggravated gesture. “You don’t trust us any.”
“Not for something as important as this. There are many details to attend to in the purchasing of a new tuxedo. Details that you and Ambrose are unaware of.”
“Hey!” Ambrose said.
“Besides that, I am well-acquainted with the shop owner.” Raven smiled. “He will give me a good deal, as he always does.”
“Huh?” Robin scratched the back of his head. “What? He got a crush on you or somethin’?”
“Crush? I sincerely doubt it, sir. Come and please! Please attempt to be on your best behavior. Both of you. I’d rather not send you back to the car to wait.”
Ambrose shrugged. “I’m always on my best behavior. I don’t know why you’re picking on me.”
“Ditto here. I’m a freakin’ angel.”
Raven shook his head. “I have nothing to say to that. Come.”