Ren was fine.
He wasn’t great. He was fine, okay, and decent. That was all he could ask for when he was soaked from the waist down and his hair was greasy from a day of trekking around. He couldn’t wait to go home, hop in a hot shower, and pretend he wasn’t wasting his mom’s money by skipping school.
The day came back to him in flashes. He said goodbye to his mom, followed the same path he took to school since he started going in the first grade, and then instead of going to class, he cut to the dark side of town. The “dark” side of town was just a bunch of old buildings that had survived the Human and Vampire War. Instead of being demolished, the homeless and junkies had made it their home. The Montis City Council hadn’t had the money to do a damn thing.
Ren wasn’t proud to say he was involved with more…let’s say, not totally legal activity. But there was a reason why he and his mom were able to keep the lights on for more than a month.
He tucked his total making of the day into an envelope. He folded that up into his worn pleather wallet and tucked it into the pocket he’d sewn on the inside of his jacket. The money was a rock against his ribcage, a reminder of what he’d done today. There was a deep shame that kept him from turning around and facing the bright moon hanging above the broken building tops. But the need and the hope that he could change their future kept him from stopping.
Money meant something in this world where humanity didn’t. When he held more money than the person challenging him, it didn’t mean a thing what was inside him. Blood meant nothing compared to wealth.
All the way home, the moon followed him. It watched over him as it had done since he was little. When he was feeling lost, he would stay out on the back porch, letting the moonlight settle into his skin. It made the buzzing under his skin better. The feeling of chaos that plagued him, always urging him to do things he knew deep down he didn’t want to do, was eased by the light.
There was always times when it wasn’t enough. Those nights he always found himself in the middle of the forest, not knowing how he’d gotten there, or if it was safe for him to leave. The small voice in the back of his head always talked him into sleeping out there until he was positive the buzzing was gone.
He wasn’t going to allow himself in the same house his innocent mom was sleeping in when he got that feeling. It made him sick thinking about it.
He arrived on the other side of town in a matter of minutes. The walk felt longer than usual. Selling blood all night without having some himself was the obvious reason for his blurry eyes and headache. He’d skipped eating today to have more to sell, but in the end it wasn’t needed. The police were starting to catch on to a drug out break on that side of town, though they didn’t know exactly what drug they were dealing with.
Synthetic blood, funnily enough, fed vampires, but human side effects varied from user to user. Ren didn’t know much about it. All he knew was that it was keeping him and his mom floating above the poverty line.
He wouldn’t have to do this for much longer. He was turning eighteen next week and by the time his mom connected all the dots, he would be halfway to Sangui.
A gust of wind blew his jacket open. He shivered, catching the end of the jacket and trying to keep it together. The zipper had broken two years ago when he was jumped by Regan and his goons. They’d torn the blue jacket right off him. He’d hit the pavement as they poked and hit him with large sticks. When his mom had seen the bruises, she hadn’t asked. She’d tried to step in when he was getting beaten up, but he always turned the tables to make it seem like she was at fault.
He wasn’t proud of that either. It was just what he had to do to keep her safe. He was okay with being the sacrificial lamb. She’d sacrificed enough for him as it was.
The brick of money kept egging at the back of his mind. It wasn’t until he was stepping onto his front porch did he begin to feel safer. He unlocked the door, stepped inside, and locked the door behind him. The motions were engrained into his head. Just like the feeling of tip toeing to not make a sound.
It was easy being half-vampire when it came to this. He just had to let that side of him take over for a little bit. It should have been easy like that. Except it wasn’t.
Letting his vampire side take over was as bad as selling synthetic blood to sad people on the street. It was what he had to do.
What he had to do to make it. At least, that’s what he told himself when he did this.
The people that bought from him made it easy too. They forgot what he was when he had that bottle in his hand. They salivated for it as much as he did when he was hungry. Their blood would have been much better—he didn’t need to actually taste it to know. He could smell it beneath their skin. In their veins, coursing through their bodies like a running fountain of delicious chocolate. Some had offered right from the source, offering up their necks like it was normal to do so. They were hard for cash.
But he’d turned them all down. Marks would lead back to him and he would lead right to his mom. A moment of freedom, basking in that dark side of him, would be the downfall of everything he’d been working for this past year.
He ended up in his bedroom on the second floor. With his hand on the wad of cash inside his jacket, he crossed the room. His free hand uncapped a bottle of synthetic blood he’d been clutching. He tossed it back before tossing the bottle into the trash can beside his bed. He squatted down and felt for the small trunk he’d uncovered one day stumbling through the attic. It was just his luck that his grandparents had left a bunch of junk in the attack his mom didn’t have a use for. There were locks and keys galore that he didn’t want to ask about. It was just another strange thing about his family he didn’t want to ask about.
He opened the trunk, taking in the stacks of cash organized carefully and wrapped tightly in rubber bands. He pulled out his profit for the day. After a year of practice, he swiftly counted through the bills and placed them where they needed to go. He wrapped the new bills with the old and then locked the trunk up tight. With a shove of his toe, it flew under his bed. The last of the synthetic blood—which he would try to sell next week at his usual meeting spot—went into the top of his dresser drawer. Exactly where his mom put it when she came home from work.
It was done then.
He stripped from his soiled clothes, tossing them into the corner where he would procrastinate washing them. What he was more concerned about right then was a hot shower and falling asleep for the entire weekend.
School was a far off thing he didn’t want to think about. He had to show up some time and since he’d been selling all this week to save up enough for when he left, he hadn’t shown up at all. Only to please his mom and keep the school from calling, he would go everyday.
At least, he was going to try. There was no guarantee that he would be able to make it that long.
There was a knock on his door. It snapped him out of his sleep. He jerked to the side, almost falling over the edge of his small twin bed.
Bleary eyed, he tried to rub the sleep from his face. “Yeah?”
The door opened. His mom poked her head through the crack.
She was smiling. That wasn’t a surprise.
“Hey. I got to go in early for the day.”
Ren struggled to get out of bed. The sheets wrapped around his legs like they were afraid of letting him go. He wanted nothing more than to fall back in their embrace, but he was more afraid of sending his mom off to work without the regular hug and kiss.
She wrapped him up in her small arms and he held her close for a brief second.
“Love you too,” he answered. Even though it was a rehearsed line, said every single day since he could remember, there was no part of him that was tired of hearing the simple words.
There was no doubt in his mind his mom loved him more than anything in the world.
He just hoped she knew how much he loved her back.
Margret pulled back with a soft sigh. She ruffled his curly hair. “Alright then. Don’t sleep in too late. I want to get the kitchen clean when I get back and I’ll need your help taking out the trash.”
“Yeah, yeah.” It didn’t sound as stand offish when he was smiling, but she knew what to do. They’d gone through this a hundred or so times too.
She playfully smacked him. “Okay. I’m off.”
The room fell quiet as she made her way out the front door.
Ren stood there in the hallway, leaning against the door frame, and waited for the sound of the car to fade.
He was fine. Better than fine this time.
His heart was till beating and no one had tried to stake him today. Morning had just begun. It was a new day.
But the buzzing under his skin was rumbling. It was searching for something. Something he was afraid to find.
The day passed uneventfully. His mom came back a few hours later and they cleaned up the kitchen. He took out the trash—one thing he could use his vampire side for and not feel ashamed. The buzzing didn’t stop though. It was dull, an ache, an itch, he couldn’t quite scratch. Margret had taken notice of his odd behavior, but she hadn’t asked. There were things she knew not to bring up. She knew when he’d rather keep her in the dark.
Sometimes he wished she wouldn’t listen to him. He wished she would make him tell her all the things he was doing and make him stop. He wished she would help him find out why he had these sudden urges.
Yet, he knew on some level where that path would lead. Her life had been snatched away by a monster like him once. He wasn’t about to be the second.
The money locked away wasn’t going change things. It wasn’t going to be enough to make up for all the things she had given up when she was young. Though, it was going to be the start. Once he made it to the Machines, settled in Sangui, he would repay every last penny she’d spent on keeping him alive.
And maybe, someday, she would forget she had a son.
Maybe she could move on from the past, start a new family, and stop being the victim in this twisted story.
Things were looking up.
At least, they were.