I was sitting on the front porch, reading a good book, and enjoying the silence before the drunks with explosives ruined the holiday and drove me down into the safety of my soundproof basement bunker.
“Happy Independence Day, Austin!”
The voice startled me so much that I dropped my book and almost fell out of the chair.
That earned a snicker from the beautiful creature that had appeared out of nowhere, and now stood mere inches away to my left.
Ana pushed her glasses, that were too big for her gorgeous face, back up the bridge of her nose, and then tucked a wisp of her long, brown hair behind her right ear.
“You know I hate it when you do that,” I complained as I attempted to regain my composure and some amount of my dignity. “Why do you still do it?”
“Because I know you hate it,” Ana answered with a chuckle and deposited a plastic grocery bag into my lap. “If I’m cursed to walk this Earth for eternity, you have to at least allow me my little perks.”
Ana was a Vampire. She looked like a very attractive twentysomething, but she was almost two centuries old.
“Don’t worry,” she continued as she pulled over the other chair and sat down next to me. “Your security system didn’t fail you. I was up on the roof with Gary getting the scoop on you before I scared you silly.”
“Thanks a lot, traitor!” I yelled in Gary’s general direction.
His only response was to spring off his perch, spread his mighty wings, and soar off into the afternoon sky.
“The Gargoyle is completely loyal,” Ana assured me when I returned to my seat. “He’s just concerned about you, like the rest of your friends.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” I snapped and began to rummage through the bag.
Ana owned a bookstore. Mostly used books, but some new ones. She stocked whatever tickled her Vampire fancy at any given moment.
She knew I loved books, so she was always bringing me “free samples” as she liked to call them. I couldn’t devour a book as quickly as Ana did, but I read pretty quickly.
“You’re not fine,” Ana disagreed as she helped herself to a Snapple from the cooler. “You either sit here all alone, or you’re forever walking around the neighborhood in an obsessive quest to collect as many steps as possible.”
“I’ve lost 36 lbs,” I informed her.
“You look amazing,” she replied sincerely and flashed a brilliant smile. “It’s time to take this trim, new you out into social circles and see if you can scare up some companionship.”
“Why do I need new friends when I have a Gargoyle watching over me, and a Vampire who brings me all the books I need when she’s not scaring the hell out of me?” I countered. “Both of you are going to still be here long after I’m gone.”
“Because you need human friends. Maybe a female one with whom you can start a family and continue your line,” Ana always had an answer for everything.
“I’m working on it. I promise,” I assured her.
Ana did not seem to be buying it. She stared up at the sky in the direction of where Gary looked like he was circling the Sun. Obviously, my Gargoyle had told her that I had made no progress whatsoever in finding a girlfriend.
“Let’s table this conversation for the moment,” Ana declared as she took another sip of her iced tea. “I want apple pie. I know it’s your Fourth of July tradition to enjoy a huge slab of that All-American dessert, and I’ve been craving it all day. Be a good host and go fetch us each a slice, will you?”
She put her feet up on the porch railing like she owned the place, but I did not move.
“There is no apple pie,” I broke the news as gently as possible.
While Ana was one of my best friends, she was still a Vampire. You didn’t want to excite or upset one, out of fear that basic instinct might take over and leave you with a pair of matching puncture wounds in your neck.
“What do you mean, there’s no pie?” she asked calmly as she pushed her glasses back up her nose. “I might lose track of the years, but never the days. Today is July 4th, and that means apple pie at The House on the Hill.”
“You remember that last Fourth of July was very traumatic for me, right?” I asked.
Ana nodded. “You and The Sweet Irish Girl had a horrible fight, which you still refuse to talk about, and suddenly the plan for her to move here and for you to get married was off.”
“And the holiday weekend had started off so well when she had an apple pie delivered to me at work,” I added with a soft sigh. “All the way from Ireland, she has my traditional Fourth of July treat delivered to my desk. I was so in love with her at that moment…”
Ana shook her head as she connected the dots and noticed the tears beginning to well up in my eyes.
“Now you equate apple pie and Independence Day with the fight that destroyed the relationship that you were certain was going to change your life for the better,” she summed it up better than I ever could.
I just nodded and grabbed a bottle of Snapple out of the cooler.
“Then it’s time we start a new Fourth of July tradition!” Ana announced as she sprang up out of her chair. “You must have some other treat in the house that we can declare the new Independence Day dessert.”
I just shook my head. “I don’t keep any sweets in the house now that I’m being so obsessive about my fitness. And you’re not going to find any stores open today.”
“Never tell a Vampire that something is impossible,” she said and punctuated her comment with fake, evil laughter.
“I found this hidden in the back of your freezer,” Ana told me as she popped one into her mouth and then dropped the sleeve onto my lap. “A new tradition is born. Happy Birthday, America!”
I looked up at the beautiful Vampire standing over me and had to smile. With friends like her, a paralyzing fear of apple pie might never become a reality. God Bless America and friends who genuinely care…