27 Twenty-Seven

    The next time Namid came, I greeted her with a smile. The blood in the freezer worked incredibly well. I'd had to buy a cast iron pan and heat the blood on the stove to make it drinkable, but my snack kept me sane in between Namid's visits.

    This time, I'd had to snatch a guy from the hallway to fill my blood bags.

    I'd settled Humphrey in his crib, and he screamed at me from behind the closed door while I snatched, drank, and siphoned. I wished I'd grabbed the guy before he went to my neighbor's apartment. At least then I could've kept whatever cash he'd paid for the bag of coke in his pocket.

    Once I'd filled and sealed my bags and placed them in the freezer, I went back to the corpse in the living room. I untwisted the purple twist-tie from the bag of coke, which was probably half baking powder, sprinkled it all over his face, poured the remainder into his mouth, then carried him to the other side of the living room and threw the dude out the window into the alley below, taking care to swing his body to the right so that he lay under my neighbor's window, not mine.

    Then I vacuumed the living room and scrubbed my hands.

    I peeked into the bedroom, where Humphrey lay, sucking his thumb while the other hand clutched Señor Elephant.

    For a second time, I vacuumed any spot of the tan carpet where the coke might have spilled.

    Then I called Will, not because I needed anything but because I couldn't remember now if it had been two weeks or three since I'd heard from him, and Will didn't disappear like that. I disappeared, calling from Bermuda or Quebec after a month had passed to let him know that I was fine and that he should come see me and sample the local cuisine. But Will had his lab and his parties. He didn't vanish; he rarely went across town without calling me first.

    But I told myself it was still too soon to worry.

    I still had a little blood left when Namid came again. I hid the blood in opaque cold pack bags for injuries and used a steam re-sealer to close the cold packs. My one remaining blood bag was in the back of the freezer, behind the ice cream pops and canned juice and freezable teething rings.

    Besides ice cream pops, canned juice, and teething rings, I'd stocked the kitchen with dishes, canned foods, potato chips, and sodas for Namid, plus formula and baby food and sugarless baby-friendly juices for Humphrey. I'd thought about buying juice boxes. Juice boxes epitomized childhood innocence for me. But vampires have long led the campaign for environmental awareness, and I was sure that if Will saw them, he would ensure that I repented of buying things in convenient packaging.

    The kitchen looked like a real kitchen, for once, the kind you might see on a TV show about the joys of nuclear family life.

    The living room still stood bare except for the ugly couch, but we seemed to be making progress toward "moving in," so Namid would be satisfied.

    Humphrey babbled happily when she arrived, which seemed to comfort her almost as much as it comforted me. If he was happy, nothing serious could be wrong.

    "How are you, Namid?" I asked, ushering her into the living room.

    "Fine," she said, smiling her crooked-toothed smile.

    "Can I ask, do you babysit full time? That must be exhausting."

    "Part time," she said. "Exhausting enough," sardonic smile, "plus I'm a full time student."

    "Really? Which college?"

    "Alamo Community College. Not prestigious, but cheap."

    "Cheap is good," I agreed. I almost told her that I knew someone who had gone there once.

    Namid said, "I'm transferring to UTSA at the end of the year, if they'll take me. I want to be an education major."

    She looked like an education major. "What do you want to teach?"

    "I want to get certified to work with special-needs children."

    I stared at her.

    "My cousin has Down's Syndrome," she said. "I've just...always wanted to...you know."

    I tried to stop staring and to come up with a reply that didn't include the words "angelic" or "noble.��� I couldn't imagine choosing a career path like that. My whole goal in my pre-vampire life had been to find a career that would require as little of me as possible and enable me to retire young enough to enjoy my Bermuda beach hut.

    So I stared at Namid, feeling that she and I had as much in common as Gandhi and Hitler.

    "I have to go," I said at last. I shoved my feet into shoes, then gave Humphrey a good-bye hug. "If my friend Will comes by, please try to convince him to wait for me here. Handcuff him or something. I'll only be gone a couple of hours."

    I left, plastic freezer bags bulging in my pocket, thinking both that Humphrey would be fine with Saint Namid and that the inventor of Zip-locks would never know what a service he had provided to the vampire guardian of a brown-eyed little boy.

    My appointment with Dr. Parrish began soon. Strange how I worried after breaking into his office, sure that he would refuse to keep me on as a client, yet now, having recently proven to him that vampires existed and that I was one, my nervousness had vanished. He would see me today. We had ended the charade between us.

    So long as I found him sane, I knew he could help me more now than ever.

    As soon as I walked into the waiting room, the assistant, Maria, told me to go on in.

    Dr. Parrish brooded in a silent office. The room had never been well-lit, but now a mourning darkness dimmed the few shining bulbs.

    He showed me the expression he'd prepared for me when I took my chair. He said nothing.


    The bruise-like bags around his eyes showed that he hadn't slept much since Thursday, either because he lay awake at night thinking of monsters or because he'd been up rereading his notes on our sessions. Or some mixture of the two.

    "I called the number you gave me," I said. "I left Humphrey with the babysitter."

    His face continued like a painting of a face by someone who should've gone to business school instead.

    "Namid," I said. "That's her name. She's nice. An avenging angel sent to judge humanity for its inadequacies, I think. But nice."


    "I guess Humphrey probably won't notice the whole avenging angel thing right away. Probably not for a few years. And I won't have him that long, so it doesn't really matter at all."

    A shift of the eyes, a lip in a minutely different position.

    "It's kind of cruel, isn't it? I mean, he's spending all this time with both of us, Namid and me, and we're just temporaries. He's forming whatever connections his little mind can form, whatever attachments, and then all that gets torn away. Again. God, how many times has it happened to him already? Then he has to do it all again, make those new connections. Do you think eventually kids lose the ability to do that? Do you think it's going to, I don't know, stunt him? Emotionally?"

    Dr. Parrish scrutinized my mouth movements. Maybe he'd suffered real psychological harm from my little revelation.

    "Can I get you some water?" I asked.

    He stared at me for a few more seconds and nodded. I hurried into the hall and filled a cup with water from the dispenser, the kind with the bottle that goes upside-down into the top, a design invented to confuse and infuriate those who had to replace empties with fulls.

    Then I crossed the hall to talk to Maria, who stared at her computer screen as though trying to decode alien transmissions.

    "Is Dr. Parrish feeling okay?" I asked her.

    She gave me a wary smile and apparently judged me among the saner of Dr. Parrish's patients because she said, "I asked him if he was sick this morning, but he didn't answer. He's been at home for the past two days. Today, he came in but told me to call and cancel every appointment but yours. He looks...." She twitched. "He looks like he's about to throw himself off a building." Maria hesitated. "I don't know if I should have told you."

    "I'm sure he's fine, Maria," I said. "He mentioned that he wasn't feeling well when I saw him Monday, but I'm really...going through something. He probably felt that he couldn't cancel on me."

    Maria's mouth drew into a square, like she felt something slimy in her shoe.

    "I'll leave early tonight," I assured her. "That way he can go home and get some rest."

    "Don't tell him I told you," she said.

    "Of course not," I said.

    In the office, I handed Dr. Parrish his water and watched him drink it.

    "I'm sorry," I told him.

    "Don't worry about it," he said.

    "Hey, you can talk! That's an improvement. See, you just needed a little hydration."

    He tried to smile. "I've been dreaming of searching for my keys while I'm falling off a cliff, and at the bottom, I'm paralyzed and I burst into flames."

    I gave him a grin and said, "Wow."

    He said, "Do you know what it means to dream of searching for keys, falling off a cliff, being paralyzed, and bursting into flames?"

    "No," I said, though I thought I could guess.

    He tightened his lips against his teeth twice before he answered. "Searching for something lost, falling, and being paralyzed symbolize that the dreamer feels out of control. Fire, according to Jung, represents transformation."


    "The kind of transformation that takes place when everything you know about the world has been stripped away and replaced with the script of a bad horror film."

    "Dr. Parrish-"

    "Annie, what did you think when you first realized what you had become?"

    I wondered if I would ever hear him say the word, "vampire." I answered, "I thought, 'whoa, that's weird,' closely followed by, 'cool.' I read a lot of fantasy novels when I was a kid, though."

    He gave me a snorting laugh. "I've been thinking, this isn't possible. And if it is possible, which it must be because it's true...well, then everything I know is wrong, isn't it? If you're a vampire, then Bernard might really be from one of Jupiter's moons. Rick might really be Hamlet. Hell, Zoe might be Jesus."

    "I'm sorry," I said again.

    "I'm supposed to play along, you know? I'm supposed to keep you talking until we uncover the deep issues, the problems that might make you believe this fantasy, and face them, deal with them. And the point is that eventually you won't need to believe you're the **ing tooth fairy anymore, and you can lead a normal life instead of spending the rest of it sharing a bunk bed with Elvis."

    He thrust his hands into his hair, then pulled them down and hid all his face except that beak of a nose poking out from between his fingers.

    "And I keep thinking," he said, "of all my stupid notes."

    My eyes searched for the notebook, but didn't find it. Now that I noticed its absence, Dr. Parrish seemed vulnerable without it, shieldless.

    "You know what I wrote?" he asked.

    I shook my head, but didn't say anything, understanding that he only needed to talk, realizing suddenly that I was the only person he could talk to about this. I'd made him as lonely as I was.

    His face dropped toward his lap as though he could read his notes there. "'Absorbing story. Seems convinced by it. Consistent in details. Creative. Explore the story of "Keats." Will may be an actual friend. Shares delusions with him?'" He stopped, chopping off his recitation, and leaned toward me. "It was an absorbing story," he said. "I even thought it would be neat if it was true."

    Dr. Parrish shook his head and leaned back again.

    I watched him, listened, wondered if being a psychologist made it easier or harder to accept something impossible.

    But mostly, I only listened as he talked about his confusion, his inability to believe or disbelieve, and what that meant for him.

    Eventually, he finished talking, and we listened to the silence together, both of us listeners now, united in this and so many other things.

    Then I realized that no burbling sounds, no happy trickling interrupted the silence. No one had plugged in the desk fountain.

    Once I noticed the quiet, it became almost eerie, like a sound from another room when no one's in it. I dredged words up from the muck of my mind so that I could give sound to the room, but Dr. Parrish still sat back against the cushions, a frown on his disheveled face. So I allowed the words to sink back into the sludge.

    Then Dr. Parrish said, "Tell me more about Keats."

    I twitched when his sound hit the quiet air. I'd sunk so deep in my own muck that seconds passed before I processed what he'd said.

    "Keats?" I asked.

    Dr. Parrish looked at me, not his psychologist look-a look that was full-aware of notebook and pencil, when they were present-but a conversational look, not friendly, not the look of a casual questioner, but a look that said, "I want the same answers I wanted before you slapped my steel paperweight against your cheek."

    "Tell me what really happened," he added. "Skip all the details, all the foreplay. Just tell me what happened."

    "I will," I said, and I examined every bit of sludge before I flung it out there. Dr. Parrish deserved no half-truths from me, even if he were about to fling himself off a building. "But not today. It's more than you can handle today."

    Despite careful sludge-screening, there it was anyway: my half-truth.

    It was more than he could handle today. But it was also more than I could handle.

    "Besides," I said, "that's not how you tell a story. You have to lead up to it. You need more information-plot, character development, suspense-before you get to the climax. Foreplay is important."

    He almost smiled.

    "Okay, Annie," he said. "I can wait. Tell me when you're ready."

    He moved his hand like he was reaching for his pencil, then put it back on the arm of the chair.

    But he didn't crush himself into the cushions like he had been. Instead, he waited for whatever story I would bring him.

    Maybe I'd taken away some of his innocence about the creatures that lived in his world, but at least I could give him back this: I still needed him.
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