Laura smiled and took a healthy swallow of her cocoa as she put the finishing touches on her latest article for the Silas University newspaper. It was a rather tame use of her writing skills about the lack of healthy vegan choices in the cafeteria commons. Sure, deep-fried Oreos were surprisingly delicious, but they were not healthy. Personally, she had zero problems with this, but her editor thought she needed to spread her wings and branch out of her comfort zone.
Now that she was in her second year at Silas, Laura was being trusted with more solo assignments, and she knew that it was only a matter of time before a meatier story came along. Like the panther sightings on campus or why girls were losing their periods last semester. She was anxious to start digging into weightier topics, something that could make the front page. But until that happened she would have to continue doing the best job possible with the assignments she was given. Eventually, Laura knew that she would be tenacious enough to earn something that would put her name out there. In the meantime, she was left envious, on the sidelines, as her fellow reporters at the paper rushed around in excitement about a possible new corruption scandal involving the school administration.
Laura glanced up when she heard the front door shut. That would be her roommate Betty. They had been paired together freshman year in the dorms and decided after the year finished to get a small apartment together. Her dad didn’t mind since the price of the apartment was about the same as the cost of the dorms. Even though her dad was paying for it, the apartment made Laura feel more independent. Like a real adult with a large snack budget.
“Hey Laura, you home?” Betty called out as she slammed the door shut. No matter how many times Laura asked her not to do that she always seemed to forget. Despite being a great student, Betty could sometimes be a little absent-minded like that.
“Yeah! I’m in my room. Hey, guess what? I finished that article about the vegan food!”
“Really? Ahead of schedule for once huh?” Betty quipped.
“Haha," Laura said, rolling her eyes. "Actually, it's due tomorrow morning. So, what’s up? You need something?”
Betty chewed on her lower lip and looked away. Finally, she said, “Uh yeah, your dad didn’t make the transfer again. Rent is due on Tuesday. So…”
“I’ll call him right now. This is weird because it happened last month too, “she mused. “Don’t worry Betty I’ll get on it. Sorry!” Laura reached for her phone and was dialing even as Betty left the room with a wave.
Her dad picked up on the third ring, sounding tired when he said, “Hey honey. How’s school?”
“Um, it's fine. But, Is everything okay with you?”
Sherman was quiet for a few seconds, then said, "I'm sorry honey. I know I haven't sent your rent yet, but don’t you worry about that. I just need a couple of days.”
Laura frowned. “Dad, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Laura I don’t want you thinking about these things. You concentrate on making good grades. Keep making me proud, and I'll make you proud. I’ll take care of everything.”
Laura groaned. “I don’t want you to ‘take care of everything’ Dad. Please tell me, what’s going on?” She knew that he would recognize the irritation in her voice and probably wouldn’t appreciate it, but she just grew tired of his attempts to protect her from the world. At some point she was going to have to learn to face these things, right?
Her dad didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, but then he sighed, sighed again, and to Laura, he just sounded defeated. Nothing at all like her strong father who could take on the world and wrestle bears. Or, in reality, effectively run from them; which was why he was so insistent upon always being prepared with bear spray. This time when she spoke, Laura made a concerted effort to keep the petulance to a minimum. “Dad, tell me what’s wrong.”
With a heavy sigh, he said, “Laura honey, I’m sorry. I got laid off, and I’ve been working some odd jobs here and there to make ends meet. I’m a little bit short with your rent payment for this month, but one of the guys is gonna give me a loan tomorrow to make up the difference. I’ll take care of it, honey, you just worry about your studies.”
Laura was floored. Her dad had a good job as the head of maintenance for a high-end hotel in Toronto. They weren't rich, but he never blinked when she said she wanted to go to Silas University in Styria to study journalism. And then she remembered that this was the second month in a row that her rent payment was late. "Dad how long has this been going on? I mean when did this happen? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“About six months ago. I didn’t say anything cause I didn’t want you to worry and you shouldn’t. You need to focus on your grades. Things have been tight, but I’ve been getting by. You remember my buddy, Hank? He’s been hooking me up with some odd jobs here and there.”
Laura groaned and felt like a poop head. “Here and there? Dad, tuition for next semester is due next month. I could have gotten a job and helped out. In fact, that’s what I’m going to do this weekend!” she said, determined.
“No!” Sherman barked in his patented no-nonsense voice. “You are my daughter, and I take care of you. That is my job, and I am going to do it. This is just a rough patch. Laura, listen to me. Your only job is to go to school and make me proud. Make your mother proud. I want you to promise me that you won’t go do anything crazy.”
Laura had been in enough situations just like this to know exactly what to say. “I won’t do anything crazy Dad. But you do realize that I am completely capable of having a job. And contributing."
“I know that, but there was that situation when you tried to be a dog walker when you were fifteen.”
With a disgruntled sigh, Laura said, “I had no way of knowing that coyote wasn’t a dog that had gotten away. I mean that couple had like ten dogs!”
“Okay, but how about that time you decided to try babysitting?” her dad asked. He used a calm tone as if he knew that she would see things his way.
Laura groaned. “Ugh. How was I supposed to know that ‘Tie up the babysitter’ wasn’t an actual game kids played with their babysitter? And seriously who toilet papers their own house?”
Her dad chuckled. “Those kids were wild. I’m glad I got so lucky,” he said fondly. “Look honey, I know you want to help, but please just let me handle this. I’m the dad and it’s my job. Promise me again that you will just focus on school. Promise me.”
“Sure Dad, I promise. I love you.” It was a complete lie, but a white one. Her dad would panic if she knew she was already forming a plan.
“Love you too sweet pea.”
After hanging up the phone Laura sat quietly for a few moments staring at her computer. Her dad always tried to protect her from everything, but this wasn’t fair to him. She knew she could help by getting a job and that is exactly what she would do. Slapping her hand against her desk in determination she stood up marched the five feet to Betty’s room. It really was a pretty small apartment.
Betty was sitting on her bed and looked up from a science textbook as Laura entered the room. “Hey, did you get it worked out?”
Laura nodded and said, “He will transfer the money for this month soon, but is there any chance you know of someone who is hiring?”
Laura found herself in quite the quandary after losing two jobs in three weeks, and only had 16.98€ to show for her efforts. She had made a decent salary at the flower shop, but her pay was docked after she had tripped into and crushed a bunch of roses. Honestly, she was just grateful that the thorns had been trimmed. A few more accidents later and Laura found herself fired and looking again.
She was able to start same day at the local cinema, and at first, the job seemed perfect. Who doesn’t love movies? But then on her second week, she managed to catch the popcorn machine on fire, and after the smoke was cleared, she once again found herself jobless.
So now she was going to bake some cookies and consult with the smartest people she knew, LaFontaine and Perry. Luckily Betty was out on a date. Laura didn’t want to lie to her roomie, but she didn’t know how to tell her that she didn’t quite have next month’s rent. Her dad called in tears two days ago telling her he could only send half of the money she would need for tuition. All Laura could do was try and comfort him by letting him off the hook. So she told him about her job—not the losing it part—and that she would be able to cover the rest. Which now meant she was officially in panic mode.
If push came to shove Danny would happily give her a loan, but Laura most definitely did not want to go that route. She and Danny had tried something for like five minutes, and while they were still great friends, Laura had learned early on not to let Danny’s protective side have any reason to show itself. So, nope, that would be her last resort and would fall somewhere selling her organs. Kidneys sold well on the black market, right?
Laura smiled when she heard the front door open. “Hey, guys. I made some cookies for us, and I have soda,” Laura said before quickly adding, “Oh and I got tea for Perry!”
“Awesome. So tell us what the emergency is. I told Perry that you probably are pre-diabetic from all of this sugar you insist on consuming. If you're interested, I've been working on an experiment that can alter the molecular makeup of your blood," Laf said, sounding entirely too enthusiastic about this prospect.
Perry slapped LaFontaine’s arm before smiling warmly at Laura. “Don’t worry Laura we will support you during this difficult time.”
Laura held up her hands to silence them. “What? No, I don’t have diabetes. Or pre-diabetes or whatever. Look I am having some money issues and was hoping you two might offer me some advice. I need to make rent in like a week. I mean I tried getting a job, well two jobs really, but I got fired from those. They also deducted most of my salary because I may or may not have accidentally destroyed some property. So right now I’m kinda in a pickle.”
After she explained the situation with her former jobs and how her finances got so tight, to begin with, Perry and LaF exchanged a glance in which they seemed to be able to communicate without words. Laura always found their connection to be pretty remarkable. Despite being friends with both of them for nearly a year now she still wasn’t sure if they were dating or not.
After another moment Perry turned back to Laura and asked, “Laura if you need money we could probably loan it-”
“No!” Laura exclaimed a little too loud before lowering her voice. “Sorry. I appreciate that I do, but I feel like I’d just be in this situation again next month. I need a solution that will help me pay the bills every month. Other college students manage; I wonder what they do?”
“Most of them manage to keep their jobs Frosh. Although I’ve got to give it to you, the fire was impressive,” LaFontaine said with a small grin.
Perry frowned at LaFontaine. “Fires are dangerous and shouldn’t be applauded.”
“But Perry, Laura is practically a science experiment all on her own. She totally should be encouraged so we can find out if this is just a trend or if she is Laura the Human Tornado.”
“That is unkind. Laura most certainly is not a human tornado. She just happens to have uncanny ability to cause destruction," Perry said, primly.
Laura shoved an entire cookie in her mouth and tried not to glare at them as they bantered back and forth about her ability to destroy things inadvertently. Perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea after all. Laura was just starting to brace herself for the pride eating experience of asking Danny for help when LaF cleared their throat.
“You know Frosh, you could always go to a blood bank,” they suggested. “Hey whoa! Perr stop hitting me! It’s a valid suggestion, and even the Student Handbook says a little bit about it.”
Laura looked embarrassed when she said, “Yeah I kind of gave my handbook away to that shaggy guy with a dog. He said smoking the papers gives you a great high.”
Perry slapped LaF’s arm a few more times. “No, it is not a valid suggestion! She doesn’t need to go to one of those places.”
Laura felt like she was missing an important detail. “Wait, do they pay you to donate blood? I thought the whole point of a donation was that you gave freely.”
“Well yeah that’s if you are donating for medical purposes. Vampires, on the other hand, are willing to pay.”
Hold the phone. What? Vampires? Laura knew they were out there, but people talked about them the same they did Rube Goldberg competitions. Yeah, they existed, but it seemed safer never to bring him up. Being homeschooled, Laura never really had much exposure to vampire lore. She was almost positive that there hadn’t been any in the small town just outside of Toronto where she grew up. In fact, she could say with complete certainty that this very moment was the most thought she had ever committed to anything otherworldly.
Meanwhile, not even dissuaded by Perry’s objections for a moment, LaF continued to sell the idea. “Look I know it sounds crazy, but it’s pretty safe. I decided to try it out once when I was a sophomore, you know, for science. It was extremely clean. Almost clinical,” they said with a side-glance in Perry's direction. “It's an efficient operation. Nurses draw your blood, and the cashier draws up a check. For the new people, they have a hostess who will show you the layout of the place.”
“Did you see a vampire?” Laura asked, trying not to sound too excited. Perry obviously disapproved of the conversation topic.
“No. At least I don’t think so. They didn’t seem willing to answer too many of my questions without getting unnecessarily scary.”
As fascinated as Laura was, Perry appeared to be equal parts furious and shocked. “I can’t believe you did something so, so, so very stupid. What if those evil menacing vampires had dragged you out back and drained all of your blood? What if they had turned you into a vampire? What if something had happened Susan, and I never even knew?” Perry practically screeched.
LaF laid a comforting hand on Perry’s shoulder and spoke in a calming tone that they often deployed when Perry started freaking out about something. “Hey, Perr seriously it was safe. I did my research ahead of time. You know how I sometimes get when it comes to science. I promise it won’t happen again if you promise never to call me Susan again. Deal?”
Perry sniffed. “I only call you that when you do something stupid. Like allowing a dead creature to snack on you. It's unsanitary. I know you can’t promise me that you won’t do stupid things again, but yes, I’ll try and refrain.” She drew in a deep breath. “Although, if you ever go to one of those places again I won’t be held responsible for my actions. That goes for you too Laura. Places like that aren’t safe. Vampires aren’t to be trifled with. Who knows what germs they carry?” she said firmly and neither LaF nor Laura felt the need to argue with her.
A little while and almost thirty cookies later her friends left with the promise that they could loan Laura some of the money she needed to make rent this month. She smiled gamely and assured them that if it came to that, she would consider asking them. Even if she had no intention of letting that happen.
After shutting the door, she managed to last all of 0.4815162342 seconds before she racing to her computer. Her first query of “blood banks” turned up some local donation centers. “Vampire blood banks” provided links to some weird porn she felt like she couldn’t unsee. Finally, she decided to simplify her search and Googled ‘where can I sell my blood to vampires?’. That did the trick. At the top of the page was a listing for a place called Succombez à Moi. It certainly sounded… French? She needed more details; this could just be some BDSM club or the place where one hit wonders go off to die.
After clicking the link to the Succombez à Moi website Laura tapped on her fingers nervously on the desk while she waited for it to load. Soon enough she was looking at the site and found it almost welcoming. Sure, there was a substantial use of blacks, reds, and purples, but mostly it seemed to provide basic information about the establishment.
Apparently it was multi-level with the first level being a 5-star restaurant. Humans were welcome to dine and mingle with vampires. Potential “donors” were instructed to introduce themselves in the lobby, and they would then be escorted to a hostess who would lead them through the process. Unfortunately, no payout amounts were given on the site. In fact, the site was remarkably light on the necessary details of donating. It seemed that its sole intention was to create curiosity. Which was definitely working.
“Oh. My. God. Am I considering this?” Laura asked aloud. She wanted to deny it, but what was the point? Of course, she was considering this, because it seemed like a better option than approaching Danny. And her Dad didn’t need to know where she got the money. Laura had already confessed to having a job a few weeks ago so she could just let him assume that was working out. Was a lie by omission still a lie? Best not to overthink it.
Looking at the clock and seeing that it was still early she decided that there was no time like the present. Why sit around thinking about a solution when she could be out there getting something done? Besides time was of the essence.
An hour later Laura found herself standing outside of what appeared to be an incredibly expensive hotel rather than a vampire blood den of antiquity. Not what she was expecting. Outside the building, a few well-dressed employees, wearing suits, opened the doors for even better-dressed patrons. She wasn’t even sure that she was in the right place since everyone seemed so…normal.
Finally, after a few minutes of contemplation she walked up to a friendly looking doorman and asked, “Hi is this the blood bank?”
He smiled politely. “Yes ma'am, it is. Succombez à Moi. Are you looking to become a donor?” he asked.
“Um, maybe. This seemed like a great idea, but now I’m starting to wonder what I was thinking. It was probably sugar rush. My friends and I ate like thirty cookies earlier. At least twenty-five of them were me,” she admitted, without shame.
He smiled again, and said, “Hey no shame in that. Maybe I can introduce you to someone who can answer your questions? I mean you came out here, right? No need for a wasted trip.”
It was a reasonable enough suggestion, so Laura found herself following him inside. If she had been impressed with the outside, she had to admit that the inside was ridiculously lavish. Everything was marble or gold. She wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the crystals on that massive chandelier were diamonds. All this opulence made her feel self-conscious in her jeans and an old pair of slip on shoes. Apparently, this excursion hadn’t been very well thought out because she stood out like a sore thumb amongst all the wealth.
The doorman seemed to notice her sudden hesitation. “Hey don’t worry about it. I mean tons of students come through here. Our employers want us to make everyone welcome, but the donors most of all. I guess it makes sense since they are vampires and all,” he said with a laugh. “Seriously though, if you come back again we have a back entrance that is a little more low-key. You can always come through the front, but a lot of the students prefer to go there. Okay, here we are. I’ll just hand you over to Natalie who can help you decide what you want to do. Good luck!”
Laura watched him walk away before turning back to Natalie, a pretty Asian girl, who was watching her with a friendly smile. This all seemed way too welcoming, and Laura wondered if she might feel more comfortable with the whole “gothy children of the night” setup she had been expecting.
Laura smiled and tried to keep the nervousness out of her tone. “Hi, my friend did this and said it was safe. Or maybe they just said clinical. I can’t remember. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Natalie humored her with a wink and said, “Nobody does the first time they do something. But if you like, I could give you a tour?”
Natalie led Laura to an elevator and explained that they would be going up to the second floor which is where the donating stations were located. When the doors opened, they were greeted with large brightly lit reception room. Several people sat around in chairs, and there was at least one person she vaguely recognized from school. How had she not heard of this before? Maybe she really should've read the Student Handbook.
“So this is our reception area. If you choose to be a donor this is where you will wait until you are called back. You’ll just sign in here at the desk. Now if you will follow me through this door. These stations are where our nurses will draw your blood. If you’ve ever donated at a medical clinic before then you will find the experience very similar,” Natalie said in a professionally.
Her hostess led them over to the center of the room where there was a large help desk with several employees who were either answering questions or cashing out the donors. Natalie kept talking, but Laura only heard half of what she was saying about safety regulations. The pricing chart had her full attention.
“Ah yes. Most new donors are usually interested in this part. We get a lot of college students. I assume you go to Silas right?” When Laura nodded, she continued. “We provide spending money for a significant portion of Silas University. Each donation will earn you 150€.”
For Laura it wasn’t spending money though. And inside her stomach was rolling because the 150€ she would earn wouldn’t be nearly enough to pay for her expenses. Somehow she had banked all of her hopes on this being the answer to her problems.
“It’s not enough,” she unintentionally whispered out loud.
Natalie dropped her smile and regarded Laura for a moment. “Well, there is another option. Most of our donors choose to go this route, preferring no interaction with vampires. But some opt to become Source Donors.”
Laura frowned as she tried to work out what that meant. Source? Like as in from the source? Oh. Interaction with vampires likely was code for fangs.
With a serious nod, Natalie said, “Yes, the source donors allow vampires to drink directly from them. It’s perfectly safe, but it does leave a mark. No pun intended. There are risks, and you will have to be evaluated by our doctors first. The payout for an SD is 1000€, quite a significant bonus.”
Laura’s eyes widened. This is what she had hoped to hear. Not the part about the vampires, but this amount of money would be enough to keep her in school and pay this month’s rent. It would also give her enough to time to find a job—that wouldn’t fire her—so she could start paying her bills the normal way. Trying not to think too hard about the idea of a vampire biting and then drinking blood from her neck she said, “Okay I’ll do it.”