Will crosses the threshold into his room and drops his book bag to the floor. Tumbles onto the bed. Watches the clock, for want of anything better to do at the moment.
He should be happy, he supposes. Classes are over. He’s free from the inane dramas of his classmates for a few months. His eighteenth birthday has just passed. He’ll start work at the animal shelter in a few days. All reasons to be elated. But he can’t muster any enthusiasm.
He wishes Alana hadn’t moved away.
He pulls his phone from his pocket. Considers texting her. But a twinge in his gut stays his hand. Things had gotten so awkward between them, there at the end. And he hadn’t talked to her since. What would he say? How could he expect to simply pick back up now, after all this time? He heaves a sigh. Tosses his phone onto the bed. Closes his eyes.
He wakes at the sound of a light knock on the door frame. His mother, standing there smiling. “Welcome home!” she chirps. “Last day of school. How was it?”
She rolls her eyes, still smiling, and comes over to sit on the bed.
“Sweetie,” she says, “you can’t mope around this summer. Not like you did last year.”
“Mom, I’m not moping,” Will protests, rubbing his eyes.
She sighs. “Well, whatever you call it, you can’t do it all summer. Come on,” she gives his leg a playful swat with the back of her hand. “Why don’t you take Winston out for a walk?”
Will sits up. “Okay,” he says, his tone guarded. Spending time with his dog is a panacea. Will knows his mother knows this. To seem too excited now would be as good as admitting that he was in a mood in the first place. He gets up from the bed, doesn’t pull away from his mother as she pats his shoulder.
“Don’t be too long,” she calls after him; “it’s almost time for dinner.”
“Yeah,” Will answers, already headed down the stairs. He stops by the front door, pulls on his sneakers, grabs the dog’s leash from its hook. “Winston!” he calls. The dog comes bounding around the corner, dashes a quick circle around Will’s legs, then sits obediently while Will fastens the leash. “Okay, come on, boy.”
Will pushes open the front door and steps out, lets Winston trot ahead a few paces, shuts the door behind him. They jog down the front steps, down the path across the lawn, out to the sidewalk. Will begins a brisk, steady pace that lets Winston not-quite-run. But instead of settling into the pace as he always does, the dog pulls up short with a little “woof.” Will looks down at his dog, puzzled, then up to where Winston is looking, ears pert.
And there, standing in the driveway next door, is a young man Will has never seen before.
He is all long, lean lines—chiseled cheekbones, shapely nose, graceful limbs and elegant hands. Will does not yet know enough to think of the young man’s clothes as exquisitely tailored; he only knows he feels shabby by comparison. The young man flicks a lock of sandy hair away from his face and turns his dark eyes on Will.
He is beautiful. That is the only word Will can think of. Will’s mouth and hands go slack, and the leash slips from his fingers.
Winston chooses that moment to become unruly, bounding toward the young man with typical canine joy. Will shoots out a hand, calling, “Winston! No!” and stumbles after the dog.
The ghost of a smile plays across the beautiful stranger’s features as the dog spins a tight circle and then darts behind him. Will pulls up short, unwilling to push past the young man, unable to approach any closer for fear of...what? Breaching the zone of easy confidence surrounding this stranger? Stumbling in front of him? Encouraging Winston into further antics? Anxiety fills his mind with a thousand terrible scenarios, any one of which would cause him to die of shame.
“Sorry,” Will stammers, unable to meet those dark eyes, “I’m sorry, he’s…” Winston yips excitedly from his place behind the young man and wags his tail. “He’s not normally like this,” Will apologizes, his face going bright red.
The young man rotates a fraction and gives Winston a serene smile. “Will it encourage him to be bad if I pet him?” His voice is smooth, accented. Something European, Will thinks. His ear can’t place it.
“Uh,” Will shakes his head a little, coming back to himself. “Uh, yeah, it’s better not to pet him when he’s acting up. It rewards the behavior.”
The beautiful stranger turns back to Will. “Then I’ll refrain.” He steps to the side. Winston stays where he is, wagging his tail.
“Winston,” Will calls, snapping his fingers. “Come on. Come here.” This time, the dog obeys, trotting over to Will’s side and looking up lovingly. Will shakes his head and takes up the leash again, firmly this time. Chances a peek over at the young man. “Sorry,” he says again.
“It’s not a problem,” the young man says. Still standing there, completely unruffled.
A silence spins out into the space between them, feeling awkward to Will, but clearly not bothering the beautiful stranger at all.
“So,” the young man says. “You live here?” He inclines his head a few degrees, toward Will’s house.
“I, uh. Yeah. Yeah, I live,” Will points over his shoulder at his house, kicking himself for sounding stupid.
The young man smiles. “Then we’ll be neighbors. For the summer, anyway.”
Will begins to feel dizzy. “Oh. You’re. You live here, too?”
He nods. “I’m staying with my aunt for the summer.” He nods to the house next to Will’s. To Ms. Murasaki’s house. The sweet Japanese lady who has lived next to Will ever since Alana’s family moved away.
“Your...aunt?” Will squints at the young man. Nothing about him looks Japanese.
As if reading Will’s thoughts, the young man says, “Not by blood. But dear to me nonetheless.”
The way he talks is strange to Will, pleasantly so, out of reach in some way. Will knows the word refined, but cannot seem to grasp it and hold it still when confronted with the personification of the concept. “Oh,” he says. Stupid, stupid.
The beautiful stranger extends one elegant hand. “I’m Hannibal Lecter,” he says.
Will can’t keep his hand from shaking a little; he hopes his palm is not too damp. “Will. Will Graham.” Winston gives a cheery little bark, as if by way of introducing himself. “Oh. And this is Winston.”
Hannibal nods. “Hello, Winston.”
Will suddenly realizes that he still has Hannibal’s hand in his grip. He fumbles away from the handshake and reaches down to scratch Winston behind the ear. Feeling soothed by the contact with his dog, he regains some composure and asks, “So you’re staying here for the summer? Where, uh. Where are you from?”
Hannibal’s mouth quirks. “From a boarding school that caters to wayward boys such as myself. We had a falling-out, and it was decided that I should spend some time away, reflecting on my crimes.”
Like a book, Will thinks. He talks like a book. And this tidbit he’s just tossed out—is this sketch of an adventure story true? Or is he teasing Will?
Before he can ask anything further, the shrill voice of his little sister hollers out from the front door, “Will! Mom says come in for dinner!”
“I’ll be right there, Abby!” Will shouts back, annoyed. To Hannibal he says, “Sorry, I gotta go.”
Hannibal nods his permission. “Until next time, then.”
“C’mon, Winston,” Will says. He and the dog trot back to the front door. Will opens the door and lets Winston in, then turns back for just a moment, for just one more glimpse at the beautiful young man next door. But the driveway is empty already.
“Will,” Abby says, snapping him back to reality. “Mom says close the door, you’ll let bugs in.”
“I’m not,” Will begins to argue. Shakes his head. Steps over the threshold and shuts the door behind him. Abby has lost interest in him and gone into the dining room, where she has begun to regale their parents with stories of the last day of school, and of her impending bright future at camp after camp for the duration of the summer. Will drifts in after her and takes his place at the table. His parents smile acknowledgement of his presence, but don’t interrupt his little sister, even as they begin to serve out the food.
Will fills his plate. Begins slowly eating. Nods when he’s supposed to. Answers when he’s spoken to. Lets Abby take the spotlight, as he so often does. Sits patiently through the meal. Helps his mother put away the leftovers and get the dishes into the dishwasher, much to her delight. Leaves the kitchen and climbs the stairs, stalks down the hall to his bedroom. Closes the door. Stands in a shaft of evening light.
The next afternoon, the doorbell sounds just as Will passes by on his way to the kitchen. He stops short, surprised. Steps to the door and opens it. Stands rooted to the spot, dumbstruck.
“Hello,” Hannibal says.
“Hi,” Will stammers.
“May I come in?”
“Um, sure.” Will opens the door wide, steps back. Hannibal glides in, stands just a foot or two beyond Will, not presuming to go any further into Will’s home.
“Our meeting yesterday was so brief, I thought I would come and make a more proper introduction.”
“Oh,” Will says. “Okay.”
Will’s mother appears from around the corner, calling, “Will? Who’s at the door?” She stops short when she sees Hannibal. “Oh. Who’s this?”
“Mom, this is Hannibal,” Will answers. “He’s staying next door this summer.”
Hannibal extends his hand, and Will’s mother takes it. Hannibal bows slightly as he shakes her hand. “Hannibal Lecter,” he elaborates. “You must be Mrs. Graham.”
“Yes,” Will’s mother says, giving Hannibal a charmed smile. “You’re staying with Ms. Murasaki?”
Hannibal nods, withdraws his hand. “You might call her my aunt; she was instrumental in raising me, and we have a very close bond. I’m on holiday from university, so we’ve arranged that I shall spend the summer here.” He gestures to Will. “Your son and I met yesterday evening, by way of Winston.”
“Oh, how nice,” Mrs. Graham beams.
Will ducks his head. “Well, actually, Winston was being kind of bad,” he admits. “He...got away from me and ran up to Hannibal.”
“He didn’t jump on you or anything, did he?” Mrs. Graham asks, aghast.
Hannibal shakes his head. “He caused me no distress, Mrs. Graham. On the contrary, I will admit I found him somewhat amusing.” He gives a slight smile. “Though I fear that was at Will’s expense.”
“Well, so long as you’re all right.”
“Perfectly fine,” Hannibal affirms.
Mrs. Graham cocks her head. “We’re about to start lunch. Do you want to join us? So we can welcome you to the neighborhood properly?”
Hannibal smiles. “I would enjoy that very much, thank you.”
Mrs. Graham turns toward the kitchen, beckoning for the boys to follow. “Come on in,” she invites. “Oh. Hannibal, are you vegetarian or anything?”
“I am a happy omnivore, Mrs. Graham,” Hannibal answers. “May I be of any help in preparing?”
Mrs. Graham turns her charmed smile on him again. “How thoughtful of you! Can I put you and Will in charge of the salad?”
“Of course,” Hannibal answers.
“Sure,” Will agrees.
Will can’t keep his eyes off of Hannibal, all during lunch. Hannibal’s movements are so elegant, his voice so refined as he regales Will’s family with tales of his pre-medicine studies in Europe (putting the lie to his earlier claim of a boarding school for wayward boys—Will feels foolish now for having considered it even a candidate for the truth), of his travels, of his utterly fantastic-sounding life.
And Hannibal eats like some kind of graceful bird, taking perfectly-sized bites and chewing almost daintily, never speaking with his mouth full. Will feels like a wild boar by comparison. He begins taking smaller bites of his food.
“So you’re essentially house-sitting?” Will’s father asks.
Hannibal gives a tiny nod. “You might call it that. My aunt will be traveling on business quite a lot, to be sure. But we will also see plenty of each other.” He smiles. “She is not abandoning me entirely.”
“Well,” Will’s mother suggests, “if you get lonely, maybe you and Will could hang out.”
Will almost drops his fork. “Uh, sure,” he agrees, and hopes his face has not gone too red.
Hannibal turns his gaze on Will, paralyzing him instantly. “I would like that very much.”
“Yeah, maybe Will could take you down to the animal shelter, too,” Will’s father adds. “If you like animals, that is. They’re always looking for volunteers. Something to do, if you’re interested.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Hannibal returns. To Will, “Perhaps we can make arrangements after lunch?”
Before Will can answer, Abby pipes up, “I’m going to riding camp.”
Hannibal turns to her, beaming. “Oh?”
Abby nods vigorously. “With real horses and everything.”
“Well, real ponies, anyway,” Will’s father says.
“I would love to hear more, Abigail,” Hannibal invites.
“It’s Abby,” Abby corrects.
Her mother leans toward her. “Abby, don’t be rude.”
“What?” Abby protests.
“No offense taken,” Hannibal assures Mrs. Graham. “And none given, I hope. My apologies, Abby.”
“It’s okay,” she chirps.
The tension broken, Abby begins pouring out her hopes for what riding camp will be like. Hannibal listens intently, giving her the same attentive respect he has shown for her parents. Will watches, fascinated, and feels an unfamiliar emotion begin to blossom. He knows he wants to—has to—be friends with Hannibal, but there is something deeper. He wants Hannibal to approve of him, somehow. He wants desperately to please Hannibal, in any way he can.
When there is a lull in the conversation with Abby, Hannibal turns to Will. “We should exchange mobile numbers,” he suggests.
“Oh, um. Yeah.” Will pulls out his phone, managing not to fumble it too badly.
Hannibal presents an upturned hand. “May I?” Will gives over his phone, thrilling as his hand brushes Hannibal’s. Hannibal enters his information into Will’s phone and hands it back. “There,” he says with a slim smile, “now you will be able to reach me, and we can spend some more time together.”
“Yeah,” Will agrees, “sounds great.” He looks down to his phone, texts Hannibal, Hey it’s Will Graham.
Hannibal pulls a slender, clearly brand-new device from the inner pocket of his elegant jacket and spends a moment saving Will’s information. Gives Will another smile. “And now I will be able to reach you.” His keen gaze spears Will, makes him feel as though something else lurks behind those words, makes him think of razor-beaked birds and great, sharp-clawed cats.
A little shiver races up Will’s spine. He feels as though he’s just sold his soul, for something rich enough that he doesn’t mind being damned.