The vampire twitched his lips as he weighed the various options. That one had extra horsepower but seemed too large. The machine next to it was electric and he’d heard stories about electric power equipment, none of them good. Not that Niles Gule knew a thing about power equipment. He’d lived most of his century and a half in cities where grass feared to grow.
“I guess I’ll take that one,” he said to the man in the orange vest who stood beside him in the Home Depot garden center.
Having no idea he was aiding a vampire buy a lawn mower, the man located the appropriate box with a pallet lifter and took it to check out. Ten minutes later, Niles was striding out of the parking lot with the box in his arms. Good thing night had fallen and the store was nearly closed, he thought. The handful of people leaving stared at him as he carried the heavy box. What had required a pallet lifter for a human to move, the vampire handled with ease. He hoped the people who watched him assumed the giant box weighed less than it looked like it should. He didn’t need the locals shouting vampire! to the world.
He found himself whistling as he ventured along Dundalk Ave in east Baltimore. The night was hot and steamy. A blanket of thick, tropical air had fallen over Maryland, driving those with air conditioning inside and those without out. As he jaunted along the avenue, Niles noticed a number of families sitting on their stoops, chatting, smoking, calling to people driving past in the street. Many stared hard at him. He knew he didn’t fit the neighborhood. Tall, athletic, Nordic blonde with brilliant blue eyes, Niles was the epitome of a privileged white man in a neighborhood filled with few Caucasians and even less privilege.
When he arrived at his destination, a neighborhood of tired bungalows with postage stamp yards, he set his box behind a bush and set off in search of gasoline. The closest convenience store was a High’s off German Hill Road. Since Niles had never learned to drive, he always walked or took public transportation. He didn’t mind walking. He could stretch out his long legs and cover distance in a hurry, never breaking a sweat because even in that steamy heat a vampire never lost his cool.
The long walk meant Niles did not return to his hidden lawn mower until nearly one in the morning. He broke into the box, using his stubby, filed down fangs to rip open the staples that held it closed, then unfolded the lawn mower and read the directions. A little gasoline. A few pumps of the primer button. Two tugs. Four horsepower roared to life.
Grinning, stupidly pleased with himself, Niles pushed the lawn mower through the garden gate and onto the lawn of the house he’d targeted. The night was airless, moonless and dark but the vampire had no trouble seeing the sea of grass that encircled the bungalow. The stuff was thick and probably four inches tall, too tall for a suburban lawn. Because it choked the lawn mower, Niles had to walk slowly. That annoyed a man used to covering ground with his long legs. The work was not the most pleasant, he decided, this being the first lawn he’d ever mowed. He could understand why people hired services to handle the chore. But he wasn’t going to stop now that he’d gotten into a rhythm. He worked his way up the small yard, spun around and came back. Then up and back. Up and back.
He cursed when a light flicked on inside the bungalow. He had about four swipes to go and he could have finished, stealing away into the night as secretly as he’d come. Alas, his prank had been found out. He kept mowing as the light over the back door blazed and a figure in a fluffy bathrobe appeared.
“Gule!” Mariella Cruz hissed the name as if she needed to whisper. He barely heard it over the roar of the engine. “What in the name of God are you doing?”
Niles decided he’d better talk to her or she’d be hell to work with on their next shift. She was his partner on the police force.
He killed the engine and waved at the mower. “I’m mowing your mom’s yard.”
“I can see that!” Her hands landed on her curvy hips. “Why are you mowing the yard?”
“Because it needed to be mowed.” Niles wondered why she’d asked. The lawn hadn’t been touched in three weeks. It really did need a trim. Just like his fangs.
Cruz tromped towards him, her hands on her hips. “It’s one in the morning!”
A light came on in a neighbor’s house.
Niles looked up at the night sky and shrugged. “Yes.”
Cruz shook her head with her hand to her forehead. “Lord, Gule. People don’t mow their lawns in the middle of the night.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Yes, well, no one in this house is a vampire, and we all try to pretend like we don’t actually know any vampires. You’re supposed to be acting like a human, not a vampire. So stop mowing!”
Niles felt himself deflate. “I was just trying to help. A random act of kindness, Cruz. You said your mom’s mower died and no one in the family had money to buy another one.”
“So you decided to sneak over here and mow it for us?” Cruz’s lip began to twitch.
“In the middle of the night.”
“When else would I do it?”
Cruz grunted. “When indeed.”
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Niles said in a sulky tone. “My gift to your mother.”
“A surprise.” Cruz drew a mighty sigh. “Gule! Half the neighborhood knows you mowed the lawn. That mower makes enough noise to wake the dead.”
Niles considered the mower. He honestly hadn’t thought about the noise. He’d just envisioned Mama Cruz waking up on Mother’s Day to find her overgrown yard nicely mowed by parties unknown. He shrugged.
Cruz gave him a bracing smile and removed his hands from the handlebar. Then she popped up on her toes and pecked a kiss on his cheek, startling him. “You can be so damned sweet sometimes, Gule. Really. The thought was wonderful. The timing, not so much.”
Niles felt a rush of warmth fill his icy heart. He loved to see her eyes shine. “I should finish it.”
“No. No, you should not.” Cruz pulled the mower away from him. “Actually, you need to get going. I’ll tell mom about your gift. I promise. But now you really need to go.”
Niles couldn’t decide if he was elated by her kiss or depressed that she was shooing him off before he was done. The house was now lit up and he could see Mama Cruz peering out the window. “I hope she appreciates the thought.”
Cruz laughed. “Oh, she will. Once she’s done cursing your name to heaven and earth.”
Niles’ brow puckered. “Why would she do that?”
“Because,” Cruz said, gesturing to the yard. “You didn’t just mow the yard. You mowed her vegetable patch.”
Niles comments: Wishing all the mothers out there a happy Mother’s Day.