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44 Forty-Four

    On my way over, I thought about how much easier it would be to stop and buy a picnic basket and line it with his penguins-in-scarves blanket. That way, I could leave him in it on their porch. Ring the doorbell and run. Because the thought of handing him over, watching someone take him-I wasn't strong enough for that.

    I was sure that my skin wouldn't pull away from him. My hands would stick themselves to him, and I would just have to take him home again.

    I looked at him as he napped in my lap. The bus rumbled through the streets, tossing us like an ocean lifeboat, back and forth, with every start and stop.

    I wanted to tell him so many important things, but I didn't know what any of them were. And he wouldn't remember, anyway. Thank god he wouldn't remember anything. Thank god he'd never know how he was passed from hand to hand, family to family, like a sick relay race, until he wound up stuck with me. A detour, nothing more. He would have a family soon, a real won't-suck-your-blood one, to care for him and love him and teach him.

    I tightened my arms around him, feeling how warm and round he was. Healthy, now. About to be safer than he'd ever been, as soon as his new mother separated us. As soon as I could rip my skin away from his. It was impossible to be a human in a vampire family. I'd told Lydia and Kevin that in the beginning.

    I got off the bus and walked the four blocks from the bus stop, Humphrey in my arms, the diaper bag slung over my shoulder. Will had called them, so I knew they'd be waiting, probably there now with their faces against the window, eager to add a new member to their cult.

    I found the house too easily. It was nice, too cookie-cutter, too perfectly landscaped for my tastes, but nice. The smiling-dog knocker made me cringe, but Humphrey and I survived it.

    I set the diaper bag down on the porch and looked at his face again. He was still sleeping, his cheek flat against my chest.

    That was good. He would go to sleep seeing me, wake up seeing them. Maybe he'd believe that everything up to now was a dream.

    And there was no need to wake him up, really. He wouldn't understand good-bye.

    I wiped invisible slobber from his chin and said, "You managed to charm a vampire, kid. I'd say that bodes well for your future."

    I didn't mention that potty training and intelligible sentences would help. He would figure that out on his own.

    A clean young couple opened the door, both of them. I hadn't knocked. They'd been waiting. They were younger than I expected, though probably about as old as I looked to them.

    They said something to me, but I was wrapping Humphrey's blanket tighter around him, making sure he hadn't lost a sock.

    I should have told him that this pair might be duds, and he should be prepared to deal with that. I should have told him that when he's seventeen and he gets in a fight with his mom about breaking curfew, then he could come talk to me about it. I should have said that my empty apartment was always open if he needed a place to stay, or money, or even a soda. I could buy soda.

    I squeezed him for a second, then handed him over, amazed at how my hands just seemed to let him go, as if we weren't connected by flesh after all.

    I leaned down to hand over the diaper bag, but it had already been taken inside, hauled away into the sanitary depths of that fortress.

    They were still talking to me.

    But my job was done. I turned and walked back down the driveway.

    I made it eight steps before I turned back, just to look at the house again.

    The door was still open halfway, the couple facing each other, Humphrey's face toward me. He was awake. I got one last look at his big brown eyes before the door closed.
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