Michael and Ariel’s house looked rather plain when Scott and Josie pulled into the driveway—as plain as a million dollar house could look, that is. The floodlights were on outside and there was an electric menorah in the living room window with two bulbs burning, but there were no other lights or decoration. After seeing the house decked-out for Halloween, Scott expected more umpf: blue and white lights, silvery tinsel, a giant inflatable dreidel… something.
“Is… Hanukkah not a very big holiday?” Scott asked, as he looked up at the house.
“No. And don’t even think of calling it ‘Jewish Christmas,’” Josie added, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“It never entered my mind.”
“It’s very gauche to call it that,” she insisted.
“You know me: I’m the antithesis of gauche.”
She suddenly chuckled. “We sound like we swallowed a Word-A-Day calendar.”
“I got one last year for Jewish Christmas.”
She looked at him sternly, then broke into laughter. Scott took her hand and they walked to the front door. Scott hardly noticed the cold wind blowing across his bald head as he stood on the front step and rang the doorbell, but Josie shivered and huddled deeper into her wool coat.
A moment later, Michael opened the door. He smiled tightly. “Welcome to the lion’s den,” he whispered.
Josie grimaced. “Have they already started in?” she whispered in reply.
“You know how you used to call me ‘ramrod?’” he asked, as he took their coats.
“I have nothing on our parents. Nothing. I was only ever an amateur compared to them. They’re sitting in there, waiting to do battle,” he said, gesturing to the French doors which led to the living room.
Josie sighed wearily, then took Scott’s hand. “Are you ready to face the judges, Counselor?”
“Ready as I ever am,” Scott said, trying to sound braver than he felt. Despite mentally preparing for this day for months, he still felt a little sick to his stomach. He tried to tell himself that there was no reason to feel that way; Josie had sworn to stay with him—and that was before she got pregnant. Now she had even more incentive not to cut him out of her life.
But even though he told himself that, he didn’t feel one bit better. Scott had never liked conflict. He could have an intellectual argument all day long in the courthouse—he found that stimulating—but throw personal junk into the argument and he wanted to flee.
They went into the living room and found Josie’s sister, Becca, along with Mr. and Mrs. Fein. Michael was right: they were sitting up primly on the edge of couch like they had ramrods up their asses. Even Becca—who had been rather disdainful of social convention at Halloween—looked uncomfortable.
Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s eyes narrowed in unison when they saw Josie and Scott.
“Happy Hanukkah,” Josie said in a falsely cheerful voice.
“We already lit the menorah,” Mrs. Fein replied, her voice dropping the temperature in the already-frosty room by about ten degrees. “It has to be lit before sundown on the Sabbath.”
“I know,” Josie said. “We got here as soon as we could.”
“Oh, yes, the vampire can’t be out in the sunlight,” she said, turning her dark, accusing eyes on Scott. They said that he was the reason why their family holiday get-together was ruined.
“The vampire,” Josie said, her voice dripping acid, “is Scott Cunningham. Scott, this is my mother, Debra Fein, and my father, Steve Fein.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, trying to be pleasant and pretend nothing ugly had been said. Neither of them offered to stand or shake his hand, so he didn’t extend it.
“And you remember my sister,” Josie said, gesturing to Becca.
“Yes, of course. It’s nice to see you again,” he said with a more genuine smile.
Becca thrust out her hand. “I’ll shake hands with you, Scott. I’m not afraid.”
Scott was a little taken aback. He hadn’t been sure how to take Josie’s sister before. He found her to be, frankly, a little odd—almost abrasive. As Josie said, she had no tact and, furthermore, didn’t care that she didn’t have any; she said whatever was on her mind and to hell with the consequences.
It hadn’t occurred to Scott that trait could be used as a righteous weapon.
He shook Becca’s hand. “How have you been doing?” he asked her.
Ariel came through the kitchen door a moment later. “Oh, hey, Scott, Josie. I thought I heard ya’ll come in. You have perfect timing; I’m just taking dinner out of the oven.”
“Can we help you with anything?” Josie asked.
“No, Michael and I’ve got it. Why doesn’t everyone go ahead and take a seat in the dining room?”
Scott didn’t fail to notice that everyone was ignoring Mr. and Mrs. Fein, and he made it a point to do the same. If he could get through the rest of the night by ignoring them, then it wouldn’t be too awful an experience. Not pleasant, by any means, but not awful.
He followed Josie into the dining room and found the table elaborately set—like something out of a Southern Living magazine. The table was covered with a white linen table cloth embroidered around the edges in blue. In the center was an elaborate arrangement of blue and silver and gold… things; Scott really didn’t know what to call them. Some were round, like huge ornaments, and there were sprays like something out of the end of a firework, and spirally-twisty things that didn’t represent anything at all, as far as Scott could tell. It was pretty, if abstract.
At each seat were sparkly silver and blue woven placemats, real silver silverware, china dishes rimmed with gold and delicately ornamented with a blue filigree border and tiny gold stars of David, blue linen napkins, and crystal stemware.
One place setting was conspicuously absent, though. Instead of dishes, there was a placemat, napkin, and an opaque black champagne flute. Scott knew, without looking at the name on the place card, which seat was his. Josie was seated to his left and Becca sat beyond her, at the end of the table. Mr. and Mrs. Fein were directly across from him and Josie.
Scott wasn’t sure which option was worse: sitting across from them, or sitting next to one of them.
Michael and Ariel came in a moment after everyone sat down and began setting out platters of food. While Michael went back for another load, Ariel went around the table, filling everyone’s water glass.
She took Scott’s black champagne flute with her back into the kitchen, then brought it out again as Michael put the last of the food on the table. She sat the glass in front of Scott as if it was a perfectly everyday occurrence to serve someone a glass of blood at the dinner table. “What would everyone else like to drink?” she asked. “Wine?”
“I’ll just have water,” Josie said.
“No wine?” Ariel asked, looking a little surprised.
Josie shook her head.
“One of us has to be the designated driver,” Scott said with a smile, remembering their last holiday at Michael and Ariel’s house.
Then something struck him. He began counting days on a mental calendar in his mind. He didn’t even notice Mrs. Fein’s snarky, “Well, I hope you don’t need a designated driver too often.”
He checked his math twice, but came up with the same answer both times.
He was pretty sure he and Josie had conceived the baby on Halloween when they had secretly—and rather drunkenly—done the deed in her brother’s spare guest room.
Something about that made Scott grin—almost to the point of laughing—even as he felt a little embarrassed.
Josie looked at him curiously—as if she was trying to puzzle out why Scott was silently grinning while her mother was trying to imply that he was some sort of alcoholic.
Scott just shook his head a little; he’d have to tell her later. But in the meantime, he couldn’t seem to wipe the smile from his face, and Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s looks of outright loathing began to turn to confusion mixed with repulsion, as if they were looking at someone who wasn’t in his right mind and ought not be sitting at the dinner table with normal people.
Michael and Ariel quickly filled everyone’s drink glasses, then took their seats. Scott was surprised to find Michael sitting to his right and Ariel sitting at the end of the table, opposite Becca.
It seemed an odd seating arrangement for such a formal dinner. Scott would have expected Ariel and Michael to sit at either end, since it was their table, or maybe even to have put Mr. and Mrs. Fein at the ends as a sign of respect.
But when Scott glanced around the table, he noticed a very different kind of arrangement. He was in the middle, flanked by Josie on one side and Michael on the other. Becca and Ariel further added to the feeling that he was surrounded by his supporters. By contrast, Mr. and Mrs. Fein looked rather solitary on the other side of the table.
The battlefield had been drawn up in advance and Scott’s forces had arrayed themselves in a strong defensive front.
It made him start smiling all over again.
Michael said a short blessing, then he began passing plates of food. Scott would have expected this to be the beginning of lively conversation—as it would have been at his family’s house—but the icy silence continued, unabated except by the clink of serving utensils on china.
When the last platter was put back in its place on the table, everyone began to quietly eat. Scott cautiously sipped the liquid in his glass and found it to be non-alcoholic blood. It was the regular commercial stuff, which wasn’t nearly as good as what Scott got from Gus, but it was tolerable. The knowledge that Michael and Ariel had gone to the trouble to buy some just for him, heat it up, and serve it at the table like he was a normal person seemed to make it taste better, though.
“So,” Michael said, obviously trying to break the uncomfortable silence, “what’s everyone been up to lately? What’s happening?”
“Scott and I are going to have a baby,” Josie said baldly.
Scott spewed a mouthful of blood all over Ariel’s expensive thingamabob centerpiece.
“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Fein said, covering her mouth with her napkin, as if she might be sick. “That’s disgusting!” She turned to look at her husband. “I’ve never seen anything more disgusting in my life.”
“Drinking blood in a Jewish house on Hanukkah,” Mr. Fein grumbled. “My father is rolling in his grave.”
Scott didn’t pay any attention to them; he was busy trying to mop up the blood on his face and all over the white tablecloth and centerpiece.
“You need to warn me before you say things like that,” Scott told Josie under his breath.
“I don’t think I heard you correctly,” Becca said, interrupting both couples. “It sounded like you said you were going to have a baby.”
“That’s what I said.”
Scott discovered in that moment that silence, like wine, came in many flavors—some quite subtle. The silence in the house before had been cold, and it was quite different from the silent shock brought on by Josie’s announcement. Scott was pretty sure an unexpected announcement of pregnancy created a unique vintage of silence that was like no other.
“I… I don’t understand,” Ariel finally said, helplessly.
“What’s to understand?” Josie replied. “Scott and I are going to have a baby.”
“You mean… like adopt?” Becca said, grasping for something she could understand.
“No, I mean like have a baby,” Josie retorted, her voice growing more forceful. “As in: there is a small person growing inside my uterus at this very moment.”
“…Scott’s baby?” Michael said, looking—and sounding—highly skeptical.
“Yes, Scott’s baby,” Josie said, her face growing dark. “I wish people would quit thinking I’ve been sleeping around on him.”
Scott squirmed with embarrassment. But at the same time, he could hardly blame her family for being skeptical. He still felt that there must be some sort of mistake.
“Michael, tell me this isn’t true,” Mrs. Fein said desperately.
“I… have to say I’ve never heard of a vampire being able to have a child. Medically, they ought to be sterile. I mean, their body temperature is too low for live sperm.”
“Oh, God, she doesn’t have a tumor or something does she?” Mrs. Fein gasped. “My Aunt Sarah on my mother’s side died from breast cancer. Maybe we’ve got that gene.”
“Would you quit talking to him like I’m not here,” Josie said, her annoyance increasing. “I’ve been to the doctor, okay? He’s quite sure I’m pregnant. He was just as skeptical and he did extra tests and stuff to be sure. And I have all the symptoms of pregnancy—morning sickness and all that.”
“Boy, do I know some people at the hospital who would love to talk to you guys,” Michael said.
“I’m not one of Becca’s lab rats,” Josie snapped.
“No, but you’re not exactly a normal expectant mother, either. Did your doctor classify you as high risk?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Hm,” Michael said with a disapproving frown.
“What does that mean?” Mrs. Fein asked anxiously. “Should he have? Does she need a better doctor? Michael, you better look at her.”
“I’m not an obstetrician, Mother.”
She looked at her husband, but he threw up his hands. “Unless she’s got something wrong with her heart, I’m as clueless as anyone else.”
“What good is having a bunch of doctors in the family when no one can save Josie?!” she demanded.
“Mother, you’re being hysterical,” Josie said.
“I am not hysterical!”
“There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m pregnant—just like millions of other women. It’s no big deal.”
“What if your baby is a vampire like him?” she said in horror. “What if it sucks the life out of you? What if it tries to eat its way out of you? I’ve seen it before!”
“Mother, this isn’t a Twilight movie; that wasn’t real.”
“It’s still a valid possibility!” she said, before turning to Michael, as if looking for him to back her up.
“I don’t think that Josie will be in any danger,” Michael said slowly. “I’m more concerned about the baby. I mean, Scott’s a vampire because of radiation exposure. And we still don’t understand how vampires can even exist; they defy all medical knowledge. So the likelihood he passes on some or all of his condition, or that the baby is in some other way deformed or abnormal, would seem to be pretty high.”
“So… she shouldn’t keep it?”
“I am not aborting my baby,” Josie said hotly. “Especially when we don’t even know that there’s anything wrong with it. It could turn out perfectly healthy.”
“That’s a possibility,” Michael allowed.
“And it might turn into some sort of monster that tries to kill you,” their mother argued.
“Or it might be your very first—and possibly only—grandchild,” Josie retorted. “You might want to rethink your position on this.”
That seemed to bring Mrs. Fein up short. Clearly the desire to protect her daughter warred with her desire to be a bubbe.
“There are some diseases that might mimic pregnancy,” Michael said hesitantly, as if still trying to wrap his doctor’s brain around something that should be medically impossible. “I wonder if your doctor checked for them?”
“I assume so. He ran a bunch of tests and said he was absolutely sure I was pregnant.”
“An ultrasound will prove it once and for all, won’t it?” Scott asked Michael.
“Yes. How far along are you?” he asked his sister.
“About five weeks.”
He nodded. “You should have one soon, then.”
“Michael, I wish you would do it,” his mother pleaded.
“Mother, I told you—”
“Get one of your doctor friends to do it, then—one that you trust.”
Michael sighed wearily, then looked at his sister in a “are you willing to humor her?” sort of way.
She perked a brow, as if to ask, “do I really have to?”
“I must admit,” he said, rather reluctantly, “I would feel better if you were seeing someone who deals with high-risk pregnancies—not so much for your sake,” he hurried to add, “but for the baby’s.”
“It’s not like anyone has any experience with this sort of thing, since everyone is sure a vampire can’t father a child,” Josie argued. “One doctor operating blind is as good as another.”
“A specialist might be better at detecting problems, though,” Michael argued.
“I don’t want to have to drive to Nashville constantly, though.”
“Well it might be that you see your regular doctor for frequent checkups and only see the specialist at certain milestones or if your doctor reports a problem. They may work in concert. I don’t know,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’m not entirely sure how obstetrics works. But I know with cancer patients who live out of town, they usually see their local GP for monitoring and only come see me at certain times, or if their GP finds something out of the ordinary.
“You won’t know until you talk to someone. And I think you should at least talk to some,” he added.
Josie looked questioningly at Scott. “It’s your call,” he said hastily. “You should do whatever you think is best for you. I’ll drive you up here every week myself, if that’s what you want or need.”
She sighed, sounding defeated. “Alright, I’ll talk to a specialist. But if I think he’s just as clueless as my regular doctor, then I won’t see him anymore. Clueless at home is cheaper and less time-consuming than clueless in Nashville.”
Michael nodded his approval. “I’ll ask around at work and get a name of someone for you.”
“And don’t you not go to the doctor because you don’t have money,” Mrs. Fein said fiercely. “We’ll pay for you to go.”
“I am capable of taking care of Josie myself,” Scott said frostily. “We’re not exactly impoverished.”
“Yes, we see how well you’ve taken care of her so far,” Mrs. Fein spit back. “Pregnant with some half-vampire monster out of wedlock. You’ve done a real fine job of taking care of her.”
Scott leapt to his feet, slamming his hand on the table, making all the china and crystal rattle. But when he opened his mouth to say something, nothing came out.
He couldn’t deny Josie was pregnant with his bastard child. And that shamed him. Furthermore, he couldn’t deny that he was worried about her, too, and he blamed himself for putting her in that situation.
Good God, could he possibly be siding with Josie’s parents against himself?
“Yes, he has taken care of me,” Josie responded instead. “He’s worried with me and nursed me through my morning sickness. He’s made it clear that whatever decision I make, he’ll support it. And I’ve seen him with his daughter; he’s a good father. And he’ll be a good father to this child, too.”
Scott sat back down. Under the tablecloth, he found Josie’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Despite the fact that they hadn’t been together very long, she had a way of summing up and expressing his emotions better than he did. She understood what he felt and wanted to say better than his ex-wife—who had been with him for more than a decade—ever did.
“You do realize this child will be Jewish when it’s born, don’t you?” Mrs. Fein said, switching her attack.
“Yes,” Scott replied.
“It needs to be raised Jewish,” she said, almost threateningly.
“I’ve already told Josie I don’t have a problem with that,” Scott said calmly.
Mrs. Fein looked confused and a bit put out—as if she had been spoiling for a fight, only to find her opponent had suddenly become a pacifist.
“Well… good,” she said rather awkwardly.
“I think,” Michael said, interrupting before his mother could regroup and launch another offensive, “that we need to take this thing one step at a time. Before we start worrying about how to raise the baby, it needs to be born first. And that could be a long, dangerous eight months down the road. Or it could be a quick, easy eight months,” he hurried to add, as if afraid of worrying Josie and Scott. “But, regardless, that’s eight months down the road. And easy or hard, a lot is still going to happen between now and then.”
“Agreed,” Becca said. “Right now the only thing that we should be concerned about is keeping Josie healthy and making sure the baby has the best chance possible to be born healthy and normal. And stressing Josie out by attacking Scott isn’t going to help in either regard. So I think we need to call a truce and focus on what’s important—which isn’t that Scott’s a vampire or a Gentile, but the fact that, God-willing, we’ll have a new baby in the family next year.”
“I agree with Becca wholeheartedly,” Ariel chimed in. “Fighting over things that don’t matter while ignoring the important issue is stupid. We ought to be above that as adults and as a family.”
Mr. and Mrs. Fein had the good taste to look at least a little abashed.
Michael looked at Josie. “I’ll see if I can’t get some information for you when I go back to work tomorrow.”
Slowly, everyone resumed their meal. It was silent again, but this time it was full of awkwardness, not hostility. Josie’s parents didn’t make so much as one snide remark throughout the remainder of dinner, and as soon as dessert was finished, they excused themselves for the evening, pleading that they had an early day tomorrow.
“I’m not sure if I would want to be a fly on the wall during that car ride back home or not,” Michael said once they were gone.
“I wonder if they’ll really mend their ways, or if they’re just momentarily stunned and will regroup?” Ariel said aloud.
Becca, Josie, and Michael all looked at one another. “They’ll regroup,” all three siblings said simultaneously.
“Well, then, I suppose we should enjoy the interlude while we can,” Scott said.
“Yes, you should,” Michael said. Then he laughed. “I just had a thought,” he said, looking at his wife: “this should keep Mom and Dad from hounding us to have kids—at least for a little while.”
“True,” she said, brightening.
Scott had to chuckle. “Glad we could help you out.”
Michael clapped him on the back. “We’re a family; we always help each other out.”
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee