23 Twenty-Three

    I had plans. They weren't brilliant, foolproof plans. They were more like I-bet-we-can-get-this-boat-across-the-bay-and-damn-the-hole-in-the-bottom type of plans, but they were plans nonetheless.

    I'd called Will. After yelling at me for forty-five minutes, he told me that he knew a couple of foster parents, so the squishy little rat in my arms did have someone who would take him, at least until permanent parents could be lured in. But Humphrey, with his bite marks and malnutrition, couldn't go there yet.

    There were laws of secrecy, of course, laws that were passed from vampire to vampire throughout the world. You couldn't have a stable semi-dead society without secrecy. And if I took Humphrey to the foster home in this condition, Will's friends would have to contact human authorities, an investigation would be opened, our vampire judges would find out, and eventually, Lydia and Kevin and Humphrey and I would all be called in for a hearing that none of us would survive.

    And as much pleasure as it gave me to think of Lydia and Kevin dying of thirst in locked coffins under six feet of earth, I didn't particularly want to join them.

    So, having no idea if I would be any better at childcare than they were, I had to nurse the little thing back to health before I could give it over to someone else.

    That was the first part of the plan.

    The second part involved fumbling for my wallet with one hand while Humphrey took up the other. I bought a crib, a few more toys, more blankets (including this cute one covered with penguins in scarves), clothes, bottles, and a handy little stroller with a fold-out awning to keep Humphrey out of the sun and a compartment for the diaper bag.

    The third part involved balancing all the bags on the handles of the stroller without tipping it over, so that he could ride in the front and so that I could get all that crap back to my apartment. The crib would be delivered in a few days.

    The stroller almost tipped over five times, but I eventually made it back to the apartment, lifted him out of the stroller and let the rest of the damn thing fall right over like it wanted to.

    I laid him on the ugly couch Will had bought, and I watched him while I spread a blanket on the floor, ready to rush over if it looked like he was about to roll or climb off the thing. But he was still too weak to do anything but lay there and stare at me. He had the darkest brown eyes. Didn't all babies have blue eyes? Who had told me that? I'd have to ask Keats if it was true.

    I got him positioned on the blanket, and when I was sure that the worst thing that could happen was that he would roll halfway across the room and bump his head on the wall, which probably wouldn't hurt too much unless he really got up some speed, I went back to the kitchen. I dug formula and a bottle out of the bags. I was pretty sure that I was supposed to sterilize the bottle, but I would have to figure all that out later. The kid needed to eat. I ended up washing it really well and zapping it in the microwave that was built in over the stove.

    I hadn't used a microwave in twenty years, not since I bought one for my parents and taught them how to use it, less than a year before I went over to the dark side. They made popcorn in it and refused to use it for anything else.

    I punched several buttons and let the bottle spin around for a while. The microwave made an awful screeching noise, and the rotating plate periodically shuddered to a stop. Amazing technology.

    "Good enough," I said. I took the bottle out, read the instructions on the can of formula, and fixed him a bottle carefully, having no idea if I was doing any of it right.

    The finished product looked like a pale chai latte and smelled like vomit. But when I held the nipple up to the kid's face, he sucked like there was no tomorrow. He closed his eyes and gripped the bottle as tightly as he could.

    I wanted to sob and throw something. I picked him and the blanket up and sat there on the floor, holding him close in my near-empty apartment, listening to the little suckling noise he made, and staring at that couch, the only thing in the living room but me and a sad, hungry little boy who had no home and no family, no one at all.

    Humphrey couldn't finish the whole bottle, of course, not with his stomach shrunken from the hours, even days, when he didn't get to eat. The bottle was still half-full when he fell asleep; the power-sucking exhausted him.

    I held him, and he slept all night.
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