10 Ten

    Dr. Parrish's office always seemed to open like a book when I walked in, as though the plot was suspended when I wasn't there. Nothing happened, so everything was the same from the time I left to the time I returned.

    I also thought Dr. Parrish probably had seven of the same suit and tie because I could never distinguish one from another.

    "You're tense," he said, instead of "Hello."

    "I have a party later," I said. Dr. Parrish's plot must be on a continuum with my personality, which remains suspended just outside the door of his office until I pass through and reclaim it. Somewhere, something is always not in motion.

    "A vampire party?" Dr. Parrish asked, with almost a smile. He looked about ready to ask for an invitation.

    "A vampire birthday party," I said.

    "Birthday parties make you uncomfortable?" he asked.

    "I'm afraid of frosting," I told him. "Gives me nightmares."

    He tapped his pencil against his immense nose and stared at his notepad.

    "It's been a long time," I said, "since I was at a party given by this particular friend."

    "Will," he said.

    "Yeah," I answered, but there was a question in my voice.

    "He's the only friend you've ever mentioned."

    I wanted to say that wasn't true, but couldn't.

    Dr. Parrish continued, "What happened at the last party you attended?"

    I thought about it. "I don't remember. I...surely sometime after...I don't know."

    "No problem. What's the last party you remember?"

    The desk fountain made a happy, rushing noise. I wanted it to overflow.

    "Annie? The last party you remember?"

    It's not a hard story, I told myself. The beginning is easy. And the middle is easy. And telling the beginning doesn't mean that you have to tell the end. Or if you do, it will be months. With the way Dr. Parrish drags everything out, it could be years.

    "Fifteen years ago. I know there were parties after that. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. But the one I remember best was fifteen years ago. I thought Keats was...."

    I thought Keats was a scrawny little geek when I met him. He was a scrawny little geek, actually. Everyone thought so. He walked into Will's apartment in too-long slacks and a shiny button-up shirt. I had to teach him how to dress, once we were together. It was a long and painful process.

    Will wouldn't start having mixed parties for a few years; we were all vampires that night. And we mostly knew each other. We stood and sat in comfortable groups, introducing friends to other friends who had seen each other at Will's before but hadn't had the chance to talk.

    Within an hour, the comfortable pleased-to-meet-you conversation would often lead to a shared Bloody Mary or a Dance Dance Revolution contest. Just as often, it led necking on the couch, to subtle sex in a corner of the room, or to an invitation to join a group in one of the back bedrooms.

    So Keats arrived, a stranger at a family picnic.

    I saw him as soon as he walked in the door. His head-bob walk and pseudo-casual lean against the refrigerator were enough to make me wish that the instant cool, sexy, confident vampire myth was real, if only to save me from witnessing his incredible awkwardness. There were even a few acne scars across his face, to complete the image. No active acne existed, of course. Out of the million benefits to being a vampire, that one ranked in my top ten.

    "Did Will invite a snack?" Nat asked from the chair beside me, eyeing gawky refrigerator-boy.

    Lydia answered him, "Your v-dar sucks, Nat. How long have you been a vampire? Ten minutes?"

    "Hey, I-"


    I snorted, and so did several other people, especially Lydia's newfound love, Kevin. Kevin with the lemur eyes.

    No one had approached refrigerator boy yet, and I could almost see his isolation tightening around him, suffocating him like a witch's corset. He was almost cute, once you set the gawkiness aside. His light brown hair was a little too long, a little too messy, and it had a curl to it that you could tell he wanted to subdue. Green eyes that were pretty, but not remarkable. I wasn't impressed, wasn't interested, but I hadn't yet heard him laugh.

    After five minutes, he turned and headed for the door, defeat in every muscle's movement.

    I got up to go stop him from leaving. I really did.

    But then, a beautiful, exquisitely beautiful, vampire slunk through the front door and into the party. Beauty like that was even rarer in the vampire world than in the human one. Blame population control. Blame our awkwardly mysterious method of reproduction. I would blame anything if it meant more of that in the world.

    I'd laughed once, reading a vampire romance novel someone left in an airport lounge, when a moronic mortal woman unclothed her immortal vampire sweetheart for the first time and described his chest as a sculpture cut from marble, as Michaelangelo's David. I busted out laughing so hard that two people with giant carry-on bags and dripping slurpees gathered everything up and moved to the other end of the room.

    Vampires weren't marble sculptures. We weren't David. We were more like something drippy-clock Salvador Dali would have created. I can imagine his thought process-yes, we have this normal, mundane human being. But let's screw around with its DNA and make it cooler.

    But I was apparently wrong. Michaelangelo did make a vampire, one that looked a good deal like a mildly unhealthy, un-grunge Kurt Cobain, but even hotter. If I'd been able to drool, I would have. But then I would've been too humiliated to walk up and introduce myself.

    Are there shy vampires? There must be. But most of them get over it pretty fast.

    "Hi, I'm Annie," I said. I'd sauntered up to him like I didn't care that I looked like a too-tightly-wrapped burrito in the dress Will had picked out for me.

    "Hello, Annie," he said, and he looked me up and down without trying to hide it. And a leer spread across his face like fish paste on toast. And I thought, hm, not Michaelangelo's Kurt Cobain. More like Marvel Comics' Captain Slimeball.

    "Sorry," I said, before he could introduce himself, "but I was talking to someone behind you," and I reached around him, grabbed an arm, and pulled out Bill Gates. Except, no, this was Bill Gates' geeky little brother. And it took me another second to realize that this was refrigerator boy, whom I'd been walking over to save from social pariah-hood when something shiny caught my eye. Refrigerator boy still hadn't made it to the door through the crowd. I tightened my grip on his arm.

    The Captain accepted my answer, probably thought it was better to be lied to than outright rejected. He walked away.

    "Hi there," I said to refrigerator boy.

    He couldn't have looked more shocked, staring right into my brown eyes like he'd fallen in love. Cute.

    "I'm Annie," I told him. "Would you like a Bloody Mary? Will made a whole batch. He thinks it's hilarious."

    He nodded, then nodded again. "I'm Keats," he said. "We can't have vodka, can we?"

    Too cute. "How long have you been a vampire, Keats?"

    "Few months. Actually, a year, I guess, but I had to...figure it out."

    "Not a story for a party, I'm guessing."


    "They're virgin Bloody Maries. Two cups of human and a celery stick." I led him into the kitchen, where Will was pouring a new batch, deep in an argument about something to do with cellular decay or RNA with a girl who looked like all the color in her clothes had seeped into her blue and green hair, leaving her torn shirt and pants a heavy black.

    He slammed the empty pitcher back onto the counter, too busy to notice Keats and me, and said, "Reread your college biology textbook, Dorn."

    I reached around Will for two full glasses and took them back to my new friend.

    "Careful," I said, handing him one. "It's disgusting."

    He took a drink and gagged.

    I saw the Captain making progress with Lydia, across the room, while Kevin watched and pretended not to care. Too funny.

    I turned back to Keats and sipped my drink. "Is it the vegetable taste or the temperature that's worse for you?"

    "Cold as **," he sputtered, and I had to laugh.

    And then he laughed, too. That engaging, mystifying laugh. "Keats," I murmured, and smiled.

    Keats brought me flowers that next Friday after Will's party, showing up just after sunset with a dozen each of three species of lily.

    I opened the door, saw him standing there, said, "No thank you," and closed the door. Gawky kid needed to know where he stood. Besides, plants did not do well around me.

    Saturday, he brought chocolates.

    I cracked a smile, though I really didn't want to. "Why don't you go right ahead and eat those yourself. I'll see you in a week, when you've started to recover."

    Again, I closed the door on him.

    Sunday, he showed up with oatmeal. Steaming hot, cinnamon oatmeal in a brown glass bowl.

    He knocked on the door, then held the bowl out when I answered, like a child offering up an awkward hunk of clay that's supposed to be an ashtray or a UFO or Abe Lincoln.

    I just stared, laughed, and let him inside.

    He never went back to his old apartment.

    Dr. Parrish had stopped writing at some point, and he stared at me while I talked. I think I'd wanted him to have glasses so that some of his emotions would be hidden. I think I wanted a glass wall to separate me from that look of expectant pity.

    I didn't have to tell him the end of it all. I would eventually, of course. But there was foreshadowing in my voice, every time I said, "Keats." I couldn't hide it any more than Dr. Parrish could hide his reaction to it-belief that maybe this was the tragedy that had led his patient to her vampire hallucinations.

    Maybe one day I'd bite him for proof.

    "Thank you, Annie," Dr. Parrish said. He opened his mouth and closed it, a water beast in dry, dry air, drowning and teased by the happy desk fountain.

    Finally he added, "I hope you can enjoy your party."

    I nodded and left, realizing when I passed the hula hoop-sized clock on the lobby wall that Dr. Parrish had let me talk fifteen minutes over my time.

    I felt a little bad for thinking of biting him.
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