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8 Eigh

    I went over to Will's apartment Sunday night to tell him I wasn't going to be at the party Monday. "I'd have to cancel therapy," I told him.

    "You go to therapy at nine o'clock at night?" he said. We sat down together at his dining room table, which was devoid of all the crumbs and wayward royal blue crayon marks that I remembered from the table of my childhood.

    "No," I said. I wished I had a good excuse. Of course, the fact that I had no better excuse was testament to how badly I needed to go to a party, or get a job, or start attending church, something to fill the void of time I spent reading mystery novels and staring out windows.

    A job would be best. I needed to stop living off the money Keats had left.

    Keats had been an excellent investor. He took the money he'd saved from real work and bought stocks or bonds or whatever it is you buy that means, when you do it well, that real work is henceforth optional.

    But then we spent five years traveling. We bought a house and furnished it. And even though there were some expenses we missed, being vampires (health and life insurance, groceries), our life together had drained both of our savings to the four-figure mark.

    Will was saying, "You have therapy at six-thirty, Annie. You have time to go to therapy, grab a meal, and attend a yoga class before the party starts." Will crossed his arms and looked at me as though he had just proven some irrefutable point. He needed to start getting more sleep or hunting more. He looked a little tired, a little dry around the mouth, a little restless, and he was annoying me.

    I examined him, then propped my feet up on the chair across from me because I knew he hated it. "But...but at nine, the moon's reflection of sunlight is at its highest. I might get hurt."

    He grinned, ignoring my feet. "You're talking crap, and you know it. You wouldn't know the moon if it bit your ass."

    "Are you really picturing that?" I said.

    "And that wouldn't be a good excuse even if it were true. You have a higher tolerance for sunlight than anyone I know. And even if you didn't, you'd still have to come to my party."

    I whined and kicked the underside of the table. "But I'll get a sunburn."

    "Wear a hat and some SPF five thousand. It's been good enough for centuries of vampires, Annie; it should be good enough for you."

    "I doubt SPF five thousand has been around for centuries."

    "Since we only have SPF eighty or ninety these days, I'd say you're right," he said. "SPF five thousand would be...a roof."

    I watched Will, watched him leaning back in his dining room chair, wondered why he had a dining room set, wondered why we always sat there instead of in the living room with the fluffy couch and matching armchairs. Even though they were no more comfortable for our kind than these straight-backed chairs, surely there was some sort of psychological comfort in squishy furniture. Aren't the curves more reminiscent of nature? Weren't those seats the first to be taken when the apartment began to fill with people during any one of the hundreds of parties Will had thrown over the years? Even hundreds seemed a low estimate. Surely there had been thousands.

    "Why is it important for me to come to this party?" I asked.

    Had Will ever dodged a direct question? I couldn't remember.

    "It's my birthday," he said.

    Damn. "I'm so sorry, Will. I totally forgot."

    "It's no big deal, really. And I'm not throwing myself a birthday party tomorrow, nothing so pathetic as that. I just didn't want to be alone that night, you know? And I didn't want to sit around here with a handful of people and bemoan the passage of time. I did that last year, and it wasn't so great."

    "I remember."

    "So," Will said, tapping on the table, "I just want to have a nice party with a good group of people. And I want you to be there, but I don't want you to say anything about it being my birthday, okay? And no presents."

    "How about no public presents," I suggested, "but maybe something mysteriously left on your bed?"

    "You?"

    "Never mind. No presents. But I'll be there."

    "Good," he said.

    He rubbed the side of his face as though it itched, but I knew it didn't. We didn't itch, didn't grow stiff with stillness, weren't bothered by heat or cold, weren't truly bothered by anything but thirst.

    "Hey, does adrenaline affect the taste of blood?" I asked, remembering.

    Will's whole face lit up, and I was sorry I'd asked. There was no one-word answer forthcoming. There was an explanation the size of a doctoral dissertation coming my way.

    "And not a short one, either," I told him. "A dissertation that destroys whole forests and brings the next ice age ten years closer."

    Will leaned forward and tapped the table in front of me. "Hey, Annie, it helps us non-telepaths if you say the first part of the conversation out loud and not just in your head. That way, when you chime in with the second half, we're not all confused."

    "Do you think we'll be alive to see the next ice age? I mean, barring a late night drunken fight with a stake-wielding vampire hunter?" It was all of a sudden really important to me. And then, just as suddenly, it didn't matter at all. I realized I was thirsty.

    Will was shaking his head at me. "I...Annie, wouldn't you rather talk about how adrenaline affects the body?"

    "No. I would rather talk about whether or not it makes blood taste differently."

    "Short answer?" he asked.

    "God, yes."

    He raised his eyebrows and continued, "When the adrenal gland-"

    "Shorter," I said.

    "Right. The answer is yes, in theory at least. But I've never bitten anyone who wasn't afraid or...running. So I can't say, you know, empirically."

    "That's all I wanted to know," I said. "Thanks."

    I evaluated just how thirsty I was and decided it could wait.

    It was nice to have a normal conversation with Will.

    Nearly a year ago, we had been sitting at that clean table. And without flashing warning lights or showing me how to use my seat as a flotation device, he'd said, "You want to go to dinner tomorrow night?"

    "We don't eat," I'd said.

    "Well, no, but-"

    "You want to go out on a date."

    "Yeah," he'd said.

    Ten points for a straight answer. But.... "No."

    "But-"

    "I'm sorry, Will."

    He looked at me, really looked, like he was trying to see into my brain. "Because of Keats?"

    That day, a year ago, I'd wanted to say that Keats was just part of the reason. I'd wanted to say that it was complicated, that even if I had romantic feelings for Will, which I did not, there would be more considerations than just whether or not I wanted to go have a fake dinner with him.

    But it was easier to just say, "Yeah."

    He put a hand over mine, and if he hadn't been such a good friend, I would've been really annoyed. You tell a guy no, and then he goes and tries to-

    "I'm sorry, Annie. You know, sometimes I think, if I had been around more, back then, if-"

    "Stop," I'd said. He did. He even let go of my hand. "You have always been amazing. You've always been there. We both...we both loved your visits."

    He'd given a cute half-grin.

    "I have to go," I'd said.

    "Okay," he'd said. And because he said it that way, I'd stayed, played a game of dominoes, watched a late-night Mystery Science Theater rerun, and went home just as the sun was beginning to rise.

    A year ago.

    But it had been the end of some things. Will had been so good at shielding me, and not making me think about all the moments that had led up to now, that when he stopped shielding me, it was as if I'd found myself naked in a hailstorm.

    I didn't call him or seek him out after that night. I stayed away from places I might see him. I started trying to build my own flimsy shield.

    But the vampire world is small.

    And after a while of seeing him around, of small talk and avoiding eye contact, some of the weirdness fell away. Will wasn't really into me.

    Now, after a year of getting back to where we'd once been, I thought that maybe it could all just be forgotten.

    But that night, we talked about adrenaline, then the ice age, then a mechanical problem at Will's lab that left several burned surfaces and made the whole place smell like broccoli.

    Then I left, even though it was still early, and blamed it on the thirst.
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