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28 Twenty-Eigh

    Our momentary silence stretched into minutes. I was supposed to be telling another Keats story, continuing the series. But what could I say? Dr. Parrish waited to hear it, both of us aware that this was the first story he would hear as a believer.

    I wanted to say, that's all there is. He was kind. He became a vampire. Sometime later, he loved me. The end.

    I wanted that to be the end, to be the whole story.

    "What happened to Keats from the time he became a v-vampire to when you met him?" Dr. Parrish asked. "It was about a year, right?"

    I accepted this time frame. Not Keats, the later years. Keats, the early years, the easy years.

    "Yes," I said. "It was a year, almost to the day. I think that was why Keats went to Will's party that night. Didn't want to face all those hours alone, remembering. But first you need to know how Will and Keats met."

    I told him how Keats suffered through those first few months. Trying to figure out what happened during his three missing days almost turned him crazy. And he spent all his time wondering how to live with himself.

    He suffered from his parents' voices in his head much more than I did. Every time he drank from someone's wrist or neck or thigh, his parents' voices shouted that he was an abomination, he was on the road to hell, he should cover himself in lighter fluid and strike a match and let the impurities in him burn away.

    And since both his parents had died in a communal suicide ritual years ago, he couldn't shout back.

    "Communal..." Dr. Parrish interrupted.

    "Arsenic bubblegum. Pretty creative, I thought. They just passed it around and chewed their lives off."

    Dr. Parrish faded into his own thoughts for a minute, then said, "Okay, I.... Okay."

    "Keats suffered the way we all suffered, maybe a little more than most."

    And Will was a compassionate man when he wasn't possessed by the laboratory demons. But the demons grip tight, and they don't let go for a long time.

    Eight months passed. Keats struggled alone.

    Will found the UPS guy dead in the hall between his lab and Keats's office late one afternoon, a package still in the man's hands.

    Will looked around, listened, then kneeled beside the man and touched his face. There was warmth in him still, and he was pale enough to be made of paper. Will checked the man for bite marks and found one on the side of his neck, not just a little two-tooth mark, but a full set of teeth marks, deep.

    A young one, Will decided, one who hasn't figured out his feeding schedule yet, one who still waits until he can't control it, attacks whoever or whatever's near.

    Will took care of the body, then went back to the building and walked through the offices. Most of the chairs stood empty at this hour. Will checked desks and trash cans for half-eaten sandwiches, burrito wrappers, cookie crumbs.

    In the whole building, nodding as he passed the few stragglers, Will found three desks with not so much as a crumb or a cup of water or a spoon. He remembered the desks' owners by sight, two of them by name.

    Will never forgot a name. He missed my birthday four times and twice missed his own, but not names, not faces-those remained in a neat mental spreadsheet forever.

    After the desks, Will checked the restrooms. The young vampire might be home by now, but he or she also might still be around, trying to decide whether to go back for the UPS man, wondering if anyone had found him yet.

    There, in the only men's restroom with a working hand-dryer in a two-block radius, Will met Keats, who stood with his hands gripping the sides of the sink, trying to extract the courage to look up from the sink and into the mirror.

    Every day, Keats was sure that he would look up into the mirror and see no one there.

    "Hey there, Keats," Will said. "You feeling okay?"

    "Flu," Keats said. "Can't seem to shake it."

    Will checked him over, noticed the darkness under the eyes and the pale skin. Those weren't rare traits among hackers, but maybe...

    "Hey, Keats," Will said, watching. "Did you hear about the UPS guy?"

    No one had ever taught Keats how to lie. I learned this soon after I met him. Do you like my new shoes? I didn't ask unless I really wanted to know.

    Will watched how Keats didn't say a word, didn't move any part of his body, didn't change the expression of his face, and he realized that Keats was trying to decide how to act, what he could say that would sound normal, believable.

    Will crossed to the far wall and pretended to use a urinal. "They took him out a few minutes ago. I'm surprised you didn't hear the ambulance." Will lied as easily as he breathed, and almost as often.

    Keats murmured something.

    Will washed his hands.

    "Kid," he said, "if you're going to protect the secrecy of the vampire community, you have to learn how to lie."

    Keats stared into the dingy sink. Then his head snapped up, his eyes meeting Will's in the mirror.

    Will almost laughed. "I took care of the UPS guy, so don't worry about that. If you've got time, I think we should talk."

    In the quiet of Will's lab, where he had spent decades doing research of the kind that would never be published in any journal, Keats talked for an hour, hiding none of his shame, even celebrating in his suffering because here was someone who understood.

    Will listened, and then he told Keats about all the basics of the vampire life.

    At work the next morning, Fernando slapped Keats on the back. "I haven't seen you smile in weeks, kid," he said. "I kind of missed your jolly mug."

    Dr. Parrish listened, occasionally biting his lips together, as though reminding himself that interruptions weren't welcome.

    I paused after the bit about Fernando, waiting for questions.

    "Will didn't invite Keats to the vampire parties right away?" Dr. Parrish asked.

    "He did," I replied, "but Keats was glad enough to know one likeable vampire. I think he wasn't quite ready to chance the rest of us yet. Keats describes Will as his savior. He says...said...that he owed Will everything, that if it were possible to give a vampire an organ transplant, Will could have all of his."

    "They were always friends after that?"

    "Yes. Always."

    Dr. Parrish observed me and said nothing.

    "What?" I said.

    "I was just thinking," he said, "that you're awfully naïve for a vampire."

    I raised my eyebrows at him and waited.

    "How long were you and Will friends before you met Keats?"

    "About five years."

    Dr. Parrish scratched his mammoth nose and said, "For five years, you and Will were friends. Were you close to him? Back then?"

    "As close as someone can be to a walking biology textbook."

    "Did you sleep with him?"

    "Will? No way. We were buddies."

    Dr. Parrish nodded.

    "Don't nod at me like that. Tell me what you're thinking." I sounded angry. I didn't know why.

    "I was just thinking," he said again, "that you and Will were close, with no barrier, nothing to obstruct your becoming intimate. Except. Except, he was your first vampire friend. For a while, he was your only vampire friend. Just like he was Keats's. Keeping him as a friend meant keeping him forever, but to risk something more...." He held up his hands and shrugged.

    I crossed my legs and burrowed into my chair. "People don't just sleep together every time there are no obstructions."

    "Yes, they do. Five years, then Keats shows up, and you get everything you've been hoping for. You get to keep your close vampire friend. And you get the relationship that you want."

    "Your point, Freud?"

    "What kept you and Will from forming a relationship once you and Keats were no longer together?"

    "The fact that neither of us was interested in the other, to start with. And since Keats had...so recently...."

    "How many years has it been since you were with Keats? Six, isn't it?"

    Not for another two and a half months. Then it would be six years. "Will isn't interested in me," I said, as firmly as I could without shouting.

    "How do you know?" Dr. Parrish said, and I realized I'd made the wrong excuse. I should have said that I wasn't interested because that was something I was sure about. I opened my mouth to say it, but another word sprang out.

    "Humphrey," I said. "All your blathering doesn't matter right now. I have to take care of Humphrey, and I have to tell you the rest of what happened with Keats. By then, you'll know how wrong you are."

    "Bet you five bucks that Will is totally in love with you."

    My mouth fell open. "You're my therapist," I protested. "Surely there's some kind of rule about betting with your patients. And five bucks? What kind of cheap-ass gambler are you? Make it twenty."

    We shook on it.

    On my way out, I passed Maria's desk and said, "I think he's feeling better now."

    She smiled at me, and I tried to smile back, but all I could think about was hunting fast and going home.
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