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5 Five

    "Right on time, Annie. As always," Dr. Parrish said. "Are all vampires this punctual?"

    "No." I answered, then remembered what Dr. Parrish had said during our first meeting: therapy won't do you any good if you insist on giving one-word answers. So I added, "Older vampires find it difficult, maybe because they start to feel out of touch with the world, or maybe it's just hard for them to care. They get grumpy. Younger ones are usually better, if it's something they think is important."

    "How old are you?" Dr. Parrish asked.

    "Excuse me?" I felt my eyes close to slits like my mother's did when I'd said something rude.

    "I apologize. Is that still rude to ask, even though you've finished aging?" He was looking at his notebook, but he raised his eyebrows until they disappeared in his floppy hair. He was right out of a cliché therapy movie, minus the glasses. I don't know why that was so important to me. I tried to imagine him in glasses, the way they would magnify his eyes a little.

    He glanced up at me.

    Maybe I thought glasses would add seriousness to his funny face.

    Maybe I was so preoccupied with his absent glasses because I secretly thought he was cute. I suppressed a giggle. Poor Dr. Parrish. Neither cute nor appetizing. Lucky he was interesting, or he'd be short three hundred bucks a week.

    I thought about his question and replied, "I guess not." I pulled a thin wallet from my back pocket and handed him my driver's license. State of Florida. 5' 5" Brown eyes. Brown hair. But it was the date, of course, that caught the good doctor's attention.

    "You're forty-five." He looked up at me, actually looked me up and down like a centerfold. I would've blushed if I could.

    "Valid ID, Dr. Parrish. Keep it, if you want. I really can't use it anymore."

    He looked at the date, then at the picture, then at me.

    "I was eighteen in that picture. My lost weekend was later that year," I explained.

    I was cuter in the picture, which I'm sure isn't something many people can say about their driver's license photo. But I had such a cheerful smile, and my eyes crinkled. I weighed a little more in those days. Notice, I didn't point out that detail to the doctor. I don't remember now if it

    was the whole transforming into a vampire thing or the blood diet thing that finally dropped off that last tenacious little bit of baby fat. But other than that, I was the same as I had been. No extra glamour or charm in the vampirification process. No superhuman sexiness.

    Dr. Parrish was still staring at the picture. He probably thought I was cuter then, too. I suddenly regretted telling him he could keep it. What was he seeing, staring at it that way? Did he realize that he was seeing my face, my stats, but a whole other me?

    He set my ID on the table beside him, not between us, where I could take it back.

    "Lost weekend," he mumbled, turning back to his notebook.

    "It's my friend Will's term for it."

    "Will is a vampire too?" That kept impressing me, how he just took it all in stride, seemed to believe even though I knew he didn't. That psychology program must have really been something. 1+1=8 . If your client says it, it must be true.

    "Yes."

    "Tell me about him."

    About our long friendship? About the two years I didn't see him or speak to him? About how he used to come visit Keats and me in our perfect little house (perfect, except for the circles on the kitchen floor, onto which some crazy woman had glued her boyfriend's CD collection)?

    "Will is a scientist," I said.

    "What kind of scientist?"

    Will would think that was a limiting sort of question. He was a scientist, and I was fairly sure from looking at the spines of his books and from the few times I'd seen his lab that Will didn't consider science to be a divided thing. So what to call him? Physicist, chemist, botanist, anthropologist, and perhaps most of all, "Biologist. Of sorts. He calls it necrobiology."

    "Biology of the dead," Dr. Parrish said.

    "Yes. He studies vampires."

    The doctor twirled his pencil, eyes still on his pad. "'Biology' means the study of life."

    "Yes." The study of the life of the dead. King of sarcasm that amuses no one.

    "Does your friend Will know how vampires are made?"

    "Probably."

    "And he's never told you?"

    I gave a short laugh. "If Will knows, he wouldn't let on to anyone that he knows. The judges keep their secrets for a reason."

    "The judges. They would kill him?"

    "They have a range of punishments. I don't know much about it."

    "What do you know about them, Annie?"

    I gave a little cough. "They're magic."

    "Really," Dr. Parrish said.

    "I don't know. That's what people say, but people are notoriously idiotic."

    He gave his notepad a small grin.

    "The judges are supposed to be the oldest vampires. Right, I told you that already, and about how they make and enforce law and think of themselves as gods. But there are also these stories about..." This was ridiculous. I was going to pass on vampire fairy tales to this mortal unbeliever? One more checkmark on the "Reasons to Force Annie into a Mental Health Institution" list.

    Dr. Parrish looked up and answered my thoughts, "All cultures have myths, Annie. You don't have to believe them to pass them along."

    I nodded. "I'm pretty sure the judges made this stuff up to make people fear them more. The stories never talk about the judges as a group, or how they came to be judges, or what the judges actually do besides slap our hands when we're naughty. Come to think of it, they may not exist at all."

    I pondered that. How blasphemous.

    "And the stories are strange, it's always The Judge in the story, no names, no distinguishing between the judges. Reminds me of Prince Charming. He just shows up again and again, the horny little prince who goes around making out with cursed girls."

    Dr. Parrish let his notepad fall to the side of his lap. Ah, the "you're rambling" sign. Didn't take me long to learn that one.

    "Sorry," I said. "Stories say The Judge crafted the first vampire from his own flesh. Sound familiar? The Judge also saved humanity when there was danger of vampires eating it all. But my favorite...The Judge holds the memories of our race. He takes the memories of all vampires into his jar of souls and keeps a record for us. Kind of a Santa Claus historian. If you're very good...if you prove that you're worthy by some great act or great goodness, The Judge will tell you truths."

    "What truths?"

    I shrugged. "Whatever truths you want. Whatever truths you need. Or maybe it's a weapon. He overloads your mind with information until your head explodes."

    "You're very sarcastic," Dr. Parrish said. I was about to reply with a "Duh," but he continued, "But I think you believe that story. Or that you want to believe it at least."

    I nodded. "Sure. It's kind of nice to think that someday someone will reach into my brain and take all my memories for the betterment of vampire-kind. It's nice, but I don't really believe it."

    "Too much magic for you?"

    "Yeah," I said, then almost laughed. "I guess I'm a skeptic, and finding out firsthand that vampires are real didn't change that much."

    The pencil went back to the paper. I crossed my legs, suddenly wishing I could kick off my shoes and wondering what he would do if I did. Probably nothing. Probably just make a little note and go on with the interrogation. I guess it wasn't fair to call it an interrogation. I was paying him for it. And I probably wasn't his most focused or loquacious client. I wondered if I was his most interesting. I wondered if he really would suggest that I spend some time in a clinic. Was electroshock therapy still used? That would be fantastic.

    "I like your blue carpet," I said.

    He glanced up at me, then away. "Will doesn't trust you enough to tell you how vampires are made?"

    I thought about it, thought about how much time Will spent in his lab and how few secrets he had told me throughout the years. "He probably would, if I really wanted to know. But he wouldn't offer up the information. Too dangerous."

    "So he's more worried about your safety."

    "Yeah. I guess you could say that."

    "Were you and he ever involved in a romantic relationship?"

    "No."

    "Do vampires have lovers?" What a question.

    "Yes."

    "Can you reproduce?"

    "Of course not."

    "Are you a monogamist? Or I guess I should say, is there more serial monogamy or just...."

    "Wild vampire humping?"

    He gave a tilted nod that meant, "I wouldn't have said it so colorfully, but yes."

    "It varies. Most take advantage of the benefits of being a vampire-no STDs, no risk of pregnancy. There's a lot of free love in the vampire community, but there's a good deal of commitment, too, though a few centuries is a long time to put up with one person. Plus, it's difficult to get a marriage license when the system says you're a hundred and seventy years old."

    Dr. Parrish nodded as though it all made sense. "In which group would you place yourself?"

    "I...." One love. One man for life. What an absurd idea. Who could make a decision like that? Or stick to it? It was just sex, after all. Just sex, just companionship. Human rules are for humans. "I don't know," I said, then because I knew he'd lock onto that like piranha jaws, I added, "What about you, Doctor? Monogamist? Have a girlfriend?"

    "A wife," he said. "Your friend Will, is he involved with anyone?"

    "No," I said.

    "Does he have many partners?"

    I felt a little uncomfortable. "He doesn't tell me," I said, which was true enough.

    "Can I ask you a few more questions about vampires?"

    "Sure."

    He tapped his pencil on the notepad. "Can they...you...can you turn into a bat or a...pig?"

    "A pig, doctor?" I asked.

    He shifted position as if he was uncomfortable, even though I had tried really hard not to mock him. "In Moravia," he explained, "there are were-pig legends. In gypsy lore, there are were-melons, but I figured that was a little bit of a stretch."

    I held back a smile. "Hm. Yes. That would be a stretch." I imagined being attacked by a cantaloupe. "I don't know anything about were-things, though, doctor. Not were-pigs, were-melons, or even were-wolves. And I can't turn into a bat. There may be shape-shifters out there. There are enough legends about them all over the world that it wouldn't surprise me to find out a few of them are true. But it doesn't seem likely to me that they would announce themselves to the vampire community if they did exist."

    "That...makes sense."

    "Any other questions?"

    "Can you be hurt by exorcism or decapitation or a stake through the heart?"

    He was asking if we could be killed those ways, but the last time he'd said the word "killed" to me I'd freaked out and left his office. Same question, different words. Was it a real, if skeptical, interest, or was this therapy, trying to get to the root of my varied and deeply buried issues?

    "Not exorcism," I said. "Unless it involves decapitation. A stake through the heart...depends on what the stake's made out of."

    "Really? Hm. Are you affected by sunlight, silver, crucifixes, holy water, garlic?"

    "We're mildly allergic to sunlight, but not so much that we have to sleep in coffins. Well, most of us, anyway. No to silver, crucifixes, garlic, holy water, though some vampires have an aversion to water in general. Not me, though. It's steel, actually, that really bugs us. No one knows why."

    My answers were mostly true. I didn't give him any of the reasons behind any of it though. I didn't tell him that you can kill a vampire by locking it in a room long enough. I didn't tell him that the reason decapitation and steel through the chest (or stomach or head) worked was because losing your head and the violent reaction to steel through the body would both make a vampire unable to feed. And doing that-keeping it from feeding-that was how you killed a vampire.

    Dr. Parrish palmed his pencil, then gripped the top of his notepad with the same hand, squashing the pencil and notepad together. I recognized the gesture. It meant that he wasn't going to write anything down right away. It meant that he had a question he wasn't sure he should ask.

    I leaned forward. These were always the best questions.

    "What is vampire sex like?"

    I laughed. I didn't try to hold it back. I loved these moments, when Dr. Parrish went into real-person mode instead of psychologist mode. Self-contained as he seemed, I bet Dr. Parrish could party after hours. He could probably rock a game of Scrabble.

    "Like snuggly teddy bear love, Doctor. What do you think?"

    "So it's more violent?" He looked so serious. I wondered if my ID had actually convinced him. Nothing like the power of a little plastic card to change an American mind.

    "It can be. There's often a lot of biting involved. But it can be gentle, too. Soft." I looked down at my hands. I kept my nails short. I'd had them that way in my other life because I spent a lot of time typing in those days, and long nails slowed my speed. I don't know why I never grew them long. I didn't even own a computer now, probably couldn't figure out the system.

    It suddenly made sense to me in a way that it never had before, the way older vampires withdrew from human society completely, surrounding themselves with relics of the world they remembered best. It's not that we couldn't learn. Will had. It's just that most of us were too preoccupied with the thirst to bother, and once you were out of touch long enough, it was hard to get back in.

    But my hands, my nails were half here, half in the past, in a vision of slow touches, soft scratches on a back and face and arms.

    I breathed all my air out and back in, silently, and added, "There is a lot of fetishism among vampires, too. I guess when everyone close to you knows that you feed off human blood, it seems futile to hide something as comparatively innocent as liking to screw in a group with whips and Nixon masks."

    Dr. Parrish snorted, then recovered himself. "So there's variety, just like among the rest of the world."

    "Sure." I thought he was about to ask me how I liked to screw, but he shifted back into detached psychologist mode and started asking about my childhood, an incredibly boring topic, no doubt in search of the root of my neuroses.

    I told him everything, which basically consisted of the fact that my parents were normal Christian folk who would've preferred that I not listen to Janis Joplin, which I played when they were around because I didn't want them to know I was really listening to Metallica.

    I thought he might ask me to get the Crayolas off the shelf and draw my family portrait-which I would have done gladly, portraying my mother as a floating angel surrounded by lurid green vines and my father as an iguana being eaten by a shark, just to see his reaction-but he didn't, just listened to me ramble on until our hour was up.

    Then I left, feeling, as I always felt, a little lighter, a little understood.

    I glanced back from the door of his office.

    He had picked up my ID and held it in both hands, looking into it past his massive nose. His thumb cleared the plastic over my picture. His notebook and pencil lay in his lap, forgotten.
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