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24 Twenty-Four

    Thursday. Therapy, usually the only thing I did on Thursdays. Today, I was fixing bottles, changing diapers, organizing clothes and blankets and toys, trying to figure how the hell I'd gotten myself into this situation and how I was supposed to get out again. I still hadn't hunted, and Will hadn't answered the phone the last three times I called. I needed someone to watch the kid, but there was no one.

    Yesterday, rescuing Humphrey had seemed the good option, the only option. Now I could hear what my mother would say if she were here instead of in her kitchen in Florida, yelling at my father to leave that damn boat alone and come take out the trash. He kept the garage radio turned up.

    She would say, "Annie, dear, you've never had a hamster survive a week. You're the reason I don't even have houseplants. Or a son."

    Except in twenty years, I bet she'd bought some houseplants. Probably not in the first year, but before five had passed she would have realized that I might not be coming back. She would have vines growing up her own legs if she could manage it. There was no chance now of going back. Even if I thought they would understand what had happened, why their daughter hadn't changed since the day she disappeared from her apartment over the garage, I wouldn't go back. I wanted her to have her plants.

    Inez probably had new plants now, too. I hoped so.

    Humphrey lay on a blanket on the floor, surrounded by toys he didn't touch. He stared at the ceiling.

    I didn't know what else to do with Humphrey that evening, so I took him with me to Dr. Parrish's office.

    "I'm sorry," I said when I walked in. The thirst made my throat feel dry and prickled, as though I needed to cough.

    Dr. Parrish looked up, but it took his eyes a moment to travel from my face to the little wrapped bundle in my arms. "Well, who's this?" he asked. I sat down, and Dr. Parrish leaned forward to look into the blanket.

    "His name's Humphrey," I said. "He was adopted by some friends of mine, and they weren't...weren't able to keep caring for him."

    Dr. Parrish leaned back, his hands gripping the pencil and notepad in his lap. He examined me, and I thought Humphrey and I probably made an interesting tableau. The sad, lonely vampire and the tiny orphan.

    Finally, he said, "You can't just take custody of someone else's kid, Annie." But I knew what he was really saying: you can't have custody of a kid in your unstable condition.

    "They were biting him," I said. "What was I supposed to do, just leave him there? Besides, we'll be fine. I think my biggest challenge might be finding someone nice to take care of him while I...while I'm out." Bringing up hunting at this point didn't seem like the best idea.

    "They were biting him," Dr. Parrish repeated. He stared at Humphrey. "Annie, you have to let social services take him."

    "I will when those bite marks heal. It's just too big a risk, handing over a baby with vampire teeth marks all over him. What if they investigate?"

    "Vampire teeth marks," he repeated. He shook his head and sighed and shifted position-every symbol of exasperation he could squeeze into that five second silence. "This isn't a game, Annie," he said. "I think you should let me take the baby."

    I didn't want to let my arms tighten around Humphrey, almost crushing him into my chest, but they did anyway, and Dr. Parrish saw it.

    I had to prove it to him.

    "I have to prove it to you," I said. He wouldn't understand anything until I did.

    He sank further into his chair.

    "Relax. I'm not going to bite you." I looked down at Humphrey and forced myself to think of a plan. I wished mirrors didn't reflect my face, wished for retractable fangs or an aversion to garlic or any of a thousand superstitions that could make this test easier.

    "Look at my skin," I told Dr. Parrish. "No blemish. No tan. Feel my wrist. No pulse."

    I shifted Humphrey to one arm and thrust the other one toward Dr. Parrish. He didn't move.

    I was close to assaulting him. I thought about shoving his head against my chest and asking if he heard a heartbeat there, but instead, I offered him my wrist again, holding it up to his face as though I expected him to see the absence of a pulse there.

    He wouldn't touch me. Psychologists apparently have rules about that.

    Proof. Proof.

    I stood, Humphrey still in my arms, moved to Dr. Parrish's desk, and grabbed the tiny pyramid paperweight from Dr. Parrish's desk.

    "Steel?" I asked.

    "Yeah," he said, "I think so." He was half-turned in his chair, watching me.

    I pressed the paperweight against my cheek. It tingled my face and fingertips, then prickled, then seared. I stared at Dr. Parrish, who looked uncomfortable until I dropped the pyramid back onto his desk.

    Then he could see the triangle of charred skin beside my mouth and the blackened fingers I held up for him to see.

    His face whitened. He seemed to fall up to his feet, a fast, focused motion. He grabbed my Humphrey-free hand, looked at the burns on my fingers, then felt my wrist. He felt it with both hands, felt it at every angle. Then he put his hand around my throat, a gesture that would have terrified me as a human, but as a vampire, I knew he couldn't do anything with that little hand that would hurt me much.

    It took me a second to realize that he wasn't about to start shouting bible verses at me. He was feeling for a pulse there, too, then he was just standing with his hand at my throat while he watched the charred triangle on my cheek redden with healing and begin to fade. It would take hours to disappear-nothing like the instantaneous healing in the movies, but still pretty un-**ing-believable.

    The triangle burned, but I would have slit my throat to give him proof today.

    Humphrey shifted in his sleep, a weak turn of the head.

    Dr. Parrish let go of my throat and backed up until he was across the office from me.

    "Shit," he said. "Shit." He was starting to hyperventilate. "There are no vampires," he breathed.

    "I will bite you to prove it, if I have to, Dr. Parrish," I said with a slightly shaking smile.

    Minutes passed, both of us listening to the desk fountain burble, but it sounded like someone drowning now.

    "Everything you've said to me," he said at last, but he couldn't finish. He alternately stared at me and stared away.

    Maybe it's easier to believe if you're living it. Maybe there's something about the transformation, the first thirst, the first kill, the desperation for an answer that makes a vampire believe it. Some of us, not Keats, but some of us, believe it quickly because it's the only answer. Something in us knows this.

    But how can a human, even one with dream interpretation books and Stephen King novels, believe it? Where can the answer root itself if there is no faith already burgeoning inside?

    Dr. Parrish was all eyes. I gave him credit for standing here with me, for not running and calling for help, or just running.

    "Sit down," I said. "I'm not going to hurt you, moron."

    He obeyed, falling back into his chair in the same quick passage as before. His notebook lay on the ground at his feet. He didn't reach for it.

    I wondered if he would feel the same about his notebook after this. He recorded everything, and I thought that he must get his answers there, looking back through all his pages after he locked the door at night.

    But his notebook had never told him that the stories this delusional patient revealed weren't delusions.

    I took the chair across from him again.

    He tried very hard not to flinch as he met my eyes. Then he looked at Humphrey again. "You have to give me the kid, Annie," he said.

    "What?"

    "You can't take care of a baby."

    "But I have to," I protested with a nervous laugh. I didn't want to laugh. It seemed like the most ridiculous thing in the world to do, but I did it, chuckling out into the quiet office with foolish, cheerless cheer.

    "You're...you're something different, and I just don't think-"

    "I'm a **ing vampire, Dr. Parrish. Do I still have to bite someone to make you believe?" Hadn't I said a minute ago that I wouldn't hurt him? I tried to swallow, but there was nothing there to be swallowed. I needed to hunt.

    He shrank back into the cushions of his chair, until I could imagine him flat against the surface, a Dr. Parrish stripe on ugly office furniture. But he persisted, "You said you were only going to keep him until he was healthy anyway. I can do that."

    "And what do you think your wife would think?" I protested, not sure why I protested or why I knew that I must protest.

    His eyes flickered to his desk, as if he too were remembering the picture and the bright blue scarf and how her joy was a floodlight that outshone anything he or I could feel.

    "Would she accept a baby with bite marks all over its body?" I asked. "Or would she nag you until you ended up calling social services and everyone who has tried to help this kid ends up being prosecuted for child abuse?" I had no idea what I was talking about. I sputtered anything I could think of, but I said it all insistently, as though it were my conviction and not my logic that mattered.

    But I think bringing up his wife had been enough.

    Dr. Parrish sat staring at the two of us, and concern replaced his terror. I wondered if he had set the terror aside to deal with at a more convenient time. I couldn't have done it, but surely psychologists had tricks like that.

    "I don't know how to help you," he said.

    "I didn't ask," I said, my head tilted up so that I looked down on him. "I have other people who can help if I need it. Will."

    We sat in near-silence, both knowing I was a liar. I had no one.

    Eventually, Dr. Parrish jolted to his feet and left the office. He returned with a phone number on a sheet of orange memo paper.

    "My secretary, Maria, uses this babysitting agency. Her kids really like their babysitter," he said.

    He handed me the memo, and I took it from his hand.

    "Thank you," I said.
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