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31 Thirty-One

    "Hey, Namid. How did the colonial history exam go?" I asked, passing Humphrey into her arms as she walked into the apartment.

    "Wonderful, Annie. Thanks. Turns out that Jeanne's keggers are good for my study habits."

    "That's excellent. See you in a few hours." My shoes already on my feet, I stepped out the door and reached the stairs at a run.

    If I hurried, I could hunt before therapy, then again after. I thought that I could use the mood-lifting effects of the blood today, if Dr. Parrish was expecting another Keats story.

    I hunted and drank, delighting in the taste of fresh blood, not blood that had been stored in my freezer for days and heated over the stove.

    Giddiness so overwhelmed me that I apologized to the stranger before I lit him on fire, and I wiped his leather wallet clean of my fingerprints and left it outside the flames so that identifying him would just be a matter of checking his driver's license.

    I considered it a mark of the gods' approval that I found five hundred dollars in the wallet, plus a pair of gift certificates to a day spa. Namid would appreciate those.

    I pocketed the money and the certificates, then stepped into a computer store to check the time. I had plenty of it.

    The Bath and Body Works near Dr. Parrish's office had a new window display: Cherry Dreamland. I bought the bubble bath and the skin yogurt, then wavered between vanilla and berry-wonderful lip glosses.

    Keats was partial to vanilla. One Christmas, he bought me a gift basket of Warm Vanilla products. The basket hardly fit on the bathroom counter, and although the bubble bath and body mud and gloss were all long gone, the skin yogurt, body spray, and five other varieties of vanilla were still lined up in the cabinet under the sink, next to extra bottles of my favorite bubble bath, Lemon Berry Paradise.

    I bought both lip glosses, then went on to therapy.

    I had Dr. Parrish's waiting room to myself, so I slathered cherry-scented yogurt on my arms and neck while I waited.

    A few minutes later, I entered his office smelling heavenly and feeling twenty shades lighter than I had an hour ago.

    I saw the notebook before I saw Dr. Parrish, who was half-hidden behind it. I welcomed it back. The fountain, also, had returned to normal. It bubbled with the joy of the resurrected.

    Without the eerie silence and focus of Dr. Parrish's gaze, I fell comfortably into my chair.

    Dr. Parrish's notebook hadn't moved. I examined what I could see of him. He seemed to be adjusting well, except that he hadn't combed his hair, and it had lost some of its floppiness.

    He smiled, though he still didn't look up from his notebook, and said, "Nice to see you, Annie. How are you today?"

    "Fine, Dr. Parrish. How are you?"

    "Fine," he said, then he looked up from his notebook in time to see me raise my eyebrows. "Fine enough," he said. The flippancy was gone from his voice.

    "Rough week?" I asked.

    He gave a sigh that was half a laugh.

    "Have you talked to your wife about all this?" I asked.

    "Can't," Dr. Parrish said. "Confidentiality laws. Even if I could...."

    "She wouldn't believe you."

    "Would you?" he asked.

    "No way. I would suggest you see a therapist."

    He smiled. "I don't know any good ones."

    "It might not be a bad idea to talk to someone though. I mean, I can sign something, if you need...."

    He was shaking his head. "How about I talk to you, if I need to talk?"

    "Okay," I said, though we both knew that wasn't good enough. If someone hits you with a lead pipe, you don't go to that person for stitches.

    "But not right now," he continued. "Now, I want you to tell me how things are going with Humphrey, and then I want you to tell me more about Keats. Or Will." He said "Will" the way I would say "Kurt Cobain" to my Nirvana-freak friend Suzanne in high school. But one's therapist would never tease one, so I must have misheard.

    I told him everything was going wonderful with Humphrey, that being a surrogate mother was far more exhausting than I'd expected, but also far more wonderful. And I assured him again that I would pass Humphrey along to more capable parents as soon as he recovered. Then I allowed myself a few moments to brag on how well he was doing, how happy he seemed, before I moved on.

    Dr. Parrish listened with his poker face on, making notes. When I first started therapy with Dr. Parrish, I thought his poker face meant that he was bored, so I started slipping nonsense sentences in the middle of stories to see if he was paying attention. He caught me every time.

    "A story about Keats, now?" I asked. Strange, how eager my voice sounded. Hadn't I been dreading this a little? Hunting and lotion must be better for my mood than I'd thought.

    "Yes," he said. "When you left off, Keats was having trouble adapting to the vampire lifestyle."

    "Right. Keats waited a full week, sometimes longer, between hunts. He wouldn't drink until the animal part of his brain took over and forced him to hunt. He tried cow blood and rat blood and bird blood, but they didn't have all the nutrients he needed, and more often than not, they just made him sick. So he waited until he could hunt without thinking about it. After he moved in with me, we argued about it often."

    I won the arguments, but nothing changed. Keats would give in, tell me that I was right, of course, but he continued waiting too long. I would watch him, see him try to sleep night after night, then see him give up, see him start to pace, then while I was in the next room one evening or late one night, the door would slam. I would sit at home, not knowing whether it was the thirst or something I'd said that had driven him out. That first year, I took up yoga, then knitting, then voodoo, all in an attempt to occupy myself while Keats's inner animal rampaged the city.

    Then he would come home, six or seven hours after he left. He would be grinning, bouncing toward me, his stomach stretching his blue jeans out as far as they would go.

    That blood elation, the joy of feeding, would wear off before the sun set again, and I would hear Keats in the bathroom, trying to sob silently. I think he felt like even more of a murderer when he couldn't cry for those he'd killed, as though repentance could change anything.

    Most vampires controlled the thirst as well as they could, eating much more often than necessary to stave off that horrible loss of control and the half horrible, half fantastic feeling of having drunk more than their bodies can absorb.

    Keats needed that loss of control. If he hadn't become a vampire, I think he would've been an addict of some other, more desperate, kind.

    But he became a vampire, and some time later, he moved in with an opinionated woman, and we fought about his feeding habits more than we fought about anything else.

    "It's not healthy to wait until you're near starvation before you give in. And why does it make such a difference to you?" I asked once. We stood face to face in the blue kitchen of the little house we���d bought together. Our voices were loud, but our neighbors, accustomed to all sorts of sounds coming from our house, never complained.

    "Healthy?" he said with a laugh. "I don't have to care about being healthy anymore. I can eat greasy burgers and chain smoke and quit exercising. I can get tattoos with hepatitis-infested needles. Fun, right?"

    "Have at it. Be the first **ing vampire to die of lung cancer or heart failure or stupidity. Will hasn't proven that it's impossible."

    He stopped arguing. He always did when Will was mentioned. Sometimes I was tempted just to shout the name randomly in the middle of our fights-our word for "peace," "ceasefire," though I never knew why.

    Keats walked away, heading for the front door.

    I, however, wasn't finished. "You didn't answer me, Keats," I said. "Does it make a difference to wait to feed until you can't control it? Does it make you less of a murderer?"

    He walked out, of course, even though he knew (or maybe because he knew) that I was only mocking him. I didn't think we were murderers. But he did.

    I threw lots of things while he was gone. We had things to throw then, a whole houseful of useless crap.

    I broke all the bowls, the cookie jar in the shape of a fat penguin, and the last surviving houseplant.

    He should have known better than to buy plants. I never touched them, never watered them, and tried not to stare in their direction. And I'd killed every one.

    Three hours passed before I realized that I was terrified that he wasn't coming back. After all, he'd left his apartment when he moved in with me. Packed nothing, never went back to his place. It would be so easy, easier, to do it again. This time he wouldn't want to take anything with him. Everything would remind him of the **ed up young woman he'd tried to love.
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