The Bloodsuckers, Episode 43: We Are Family… Sort Of

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.

“Yes.”

“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.

“Good.”

“That’s good.”

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.

“Sorry.”

“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.”

“Thank you.”

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

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 42: Road to the Lion’s Den

Scott idly watched the western sky while Josie drove them to Nashville for her family’s Hanukkah gathering. The sky was dark, save for a deep pinky-purple on the horizon. He had always thought sunsets were more beautiful in the winter—maybe because the sun was at a lower angle relative to the earth, making its rays diffuse through the atmosphere instead of coming directly at the viewer.

He wasn’t sure if that was factual or not, but it sounded impressive—probable, even.

What was it that Mark’s book on lying had said?—if a person believes something strongly enough, it won’t register as a lie on a lie-detector test. Repeat a lie enough times, and the brain will simply reconstruct the memory to accommodate the lie and it will become truth.

It was one of the reasons why witnesses could be unreliable—especially if something happened suddenly or was shockingly violent. The older the memory, the more likely it was to end up altered—not because the witnesses intentionally altered it, but because they internalized other people’s narratives, news reports—hell, even dreams of the incident could introduce things that weren’t there in reality, and those things would get stuck in the actual memory.

That didn’t mean that a person was incapable of remembering something correctly—and some people admittedly had better memories than others—but it did mean that you should be cautious. Two witnesses saying the same thing were better than one—especially if they weren’t in contact. If they were close—family members, friends, or neighbors—then, as they talked about the incident and shared their version of it, their narratives would start to meld until they were more or less telling the same story—even if they had originally remembered two different things. That’s why interviewing witnesses separately and quickly was crucial; the mind did funny things with memories; it corrupted them even as it attempted to save them.

It gradually dawned on Scott that his thoughts had been wandering randomly for nearly a half hour—namely because neither he nor Josie were talking.

He didn’t like the silence; it was foreboding. It could just be because they were heading into the lion’s den, but Scott feared it was because of Josie’s pregnancy. He worried—perhaps justly, perhaps only out of paranoia—that a rift was growing between them. Did Josie blame him? After all, he was the one who was supposed to be sterile. He had put her in this situation.

The appropriate thing to do would be voice his concerns. He ought to ask her, point-blank, if she harbored any resentment towards him and if she was contemplating leaving him.

Instead, he broke the very pregnant silence—no pun intended—with: “Clarice’s birthday is right the corner and I don’t have anything picked out for her. What do you think I should get?”

“She’s going to be ten, right?”

“Yeah.” Just thinking about that made him depressed. He kept telling himself that it didn’t matter to him, since he wasn’t actually getting any older, but it still seemed sad that his daughter’s childhood was flying past. Before he knew it, she’d be grown and probably moved away.

Josie pressed her lips together, looking thoughtful. “She might like makeup.”

Scott shuddered. “She’s too young for that.”

“She’s too young to wear it out, but that doesn’t mean she can’t play with it. Most girls like playing with makeup—like dressing up.”

“I don’t think her mother would appreciate me getting her makeup.”

“Does Maggie not wear any?”

“Not much.” Saying so surprised Scott. He hadn’t ever thought about it before, but Maggie had worn very little makeup. Josie, on the other hand, was always nicely made up. It wasn’t that he felt makeup was a necessity—Josie was still pretty, even when she wasn’t wearing it—but it just further reinforced the difference between her and his ex.

“Is that because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t believe in it?” Josie asked.

“I’m not sure. That’s why I don’t really want to test it.”

“Of course, Clarice could keep it at your house and Maggie need never know,” she offered.

Scott waved his hands. “I don’t want to get her any,” he said. “It’s a short jump from wearing makeup to being interested in boys.”

Josie laughed.

“What?” Scott demanded.

“I think you’ve got that backwards.”

“What… boys come first, then the makeup?”

“Yep.”

“Are… you just speaking in general, or do you know something I don’t?”

“Both.”

Scott felt a little sick to his stomach. “Who is he?”

“Some boy named Jeremy. He’s a grade older.” Josie said this with great emphasis, as if it was very significant.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

Josie laughed. “Don’t worry; apparently he doesn’t know she exists. That’s why she was asking me what she could do to get his attention.”

“Definitely no make-up. I don’t want her to have his attention.”

“Scott, little girls get crushes on little boys; it’s normal.”

“At ten years old?” he asked incredulously.

She laughed at him again. “Hell, Scott, my first great love was in kindergarten. Actually, come to think of it,” she said thoughtfully, “I think I had two. I had a crush on David—a boy in my synagogue class—and Ian, a boy at school.”

“Both at once?”

“Yeah. That way, I never had to go too long without seeing one or the other.” She grinned. “David was my first kiss. Somehow, we ended up in the synagogue library together—it was dark because the lights were out—and I told him he should kiss me, and he did. Then I ran out, because I was suddenly bashful.”

“Your first kiss was in kindergarten?” he said, appalled. But Josie’s tone was more blissful; for her, it was a sweet memory.

“Yeah. I seem to recall I told him our parents had arranged our marriage when we were born, so we might as well start acting like a married couple.” She laughed at her own boldness. “I have no idea where I came up with that. I think I might have just lied to get him to kiss me.”

“So, what you’re saying is you lied to seduce a boy in synagogue? And here I was worried about what the boy might do. You’re obviously ten times worse.”

She just laughed unapologetically.

He shook his head. “I can’t imagine what my Sunday School teacher would have said if I had done that. Condemned me to hell, I’m sure.”

“Welcome to the differences between Jew and Gentile.”

Scott looked out over the dark road, the white line reflectors flashing in the headlights. “I have a feeling I’m going to get schooled in those differences a lot tonight.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 41: Girding the Loins

Scott lived life in a fog after Josie’s announcement that she was pregnant. He went to court mechanically and, if not for his notes, would have forgotten he had met with most of his clients.

Clarice had been a planned baby. That Clarice didn’t have any siblings had also been planned.

Come to think of it, everything in Scott’s life had been planned well in advance. He took his time and thought through his decisions and mapped everything out in advance. He saved his money and paid cash for nearly everything.

Then he had become a vampire quite unexpectedly, and nothing had gone as planned since.

Josie got in the habit of waking up earlier in the afternoon so she could go ahead and get the puking out of her system, then she came to work, as robotic and mindless as Scott. Whereas she had always been the one to keep him on track, sometimes he had to remind her to do something two or three times. She was always exhausted by the end of the night. When she stayed the day with him—which she had started doing again—she curled up on his couch and usually cried herself to sleep before the Today show came on.

Scott wished he could make her feel better—both physically and mentally—but he had no idea how to do it. His own mental stability was questionable at the moment.

So, needless to say, he was brutally jarred on Thursday afternoon when Josie mentioned them going to her brother’s house the following evening.

“What? We are?” Scott asked, snapping out of his stupor.

“Yes, it’s Hanukkah. Remember? I told you it was the first Friday of December.”

Scott’s eyes grew wider in panic. “I have to meet your parents tomorrow?”

“Yes. We planned this over a month ago,” she said, sounding annoyed.

“Well, I’ve had a lot on my mind,” Scott snapped back, “like, you know, that whole unplanned pregnancy thing. That kind of threw all my plans out the window.”

He immediately regretted his words when he saw Josie’s lower lip quiver.

He pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I didn’t plan this either, you know,” she said, her voice heavy with tears.

“I know, sweetheart. I know.” He sighed heavily, feeling weary. The last thing he wanted to do was battle with Josie’s parents in the middle of their current crisis. He felt lost—like he was wandering in circles, unsure of which way to go.

Sometimes he thought about the possibility of an abortion, but he felt uncomfortable bringing it up to Josie, in case the mere mention of it caused her to have a come-apart; after all, he knew her to be somewhat religious, and he wasn’t sure what the Jewish position on abortion was. Besides, he wasn’t sure if he was okay with the idea, anyways. Besides the usual moral questions, there was an extra layer of: was Josie’s pregnancy some kind of miracle? There had been times when he had wished he had more children; in fact, he had daydreamed on more than one occasion of what life might be like if he wasn’t a vampire and he and Josie could have a child or two together.

Now he had his wish. So why did it bother him so much?

Maybe it was because he and Josie weren’t married. Scott would admit he was rather old-fashioned; the idea of having a bastard child made him cringe inside. He felt like a failure as a man—that he hadn’t done right by Josie. Her pregnancy was his fault. He led her on with false promises of sterility.

And when he had time to worry about anything else, he worried about the baby’s health. Could Josie even carry it to term? Would it be grossly deformed? After all, he had been exposed to a strong dose of radiation; that mutated your sperm, didn’t it? What if the baby had three eyes or no face or an extra arm? And even if it looked normal, would it really be normal? What if it was a vampire, like him? Would it drink blood instead of milk? What if it never aged, like him? Could he and Josie handle having a newborn baby for the rest of their lives?

And what was he going to tell Clarice? The thought of confessing to her that he and Josie were having a baby out of wedlock started his cycle of shame all over again.

He tried to look at the situation as glass-half-full. Compared to the unexpected news that they were expecting, Josie’s parents—whatever their treatment of him—would be a walk in the park; they couldn’t be worse or more devastating. And he and Josie had a uniting factor in the face of her parents’ attempts to split them up: a baby’s future was on the line.

Somehow that twisted logic made him feel a little better. He gave Josie a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll get through this,” he said, with renewed resolve.

“The baby or my parents?”

“Both.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 40: Surprise!

Scott was growing concerned. Josie’s stomach bug had lasted most of the week. He had always thought those things were 24-48 hour deals.

She came in to work a couple of nights, after midnight, saying that she was feeling better and thought she might finally be shaking it loose, only to be sick again the next afternoon. She finally gave up and went to see her doctor.

When Scott got up that evening, he tried calling her to see what she found out, but her phone went straight into voicemail. He tried texting her off and on throughout the night, but she never responded.

That wasn’t like her; before, she had always called to tell him she either wouldn’t be in at all, or would try to come in late. He wondered if the doctor gave her something strong that knocked her out. That wasn’t a very comforting, though, though, since she lived alone. What if she wasn’t able to take care of herself?

He hemmed and hawed about going to her house to check on her, but he finally talked himself out of it; if she was resting, he didn’t want to disturb her. And she had obviously turned off her phone for a reason.

But when he got up the following afternoon and she still hadn’t responded to his texts and still wouldn’t answer her phone, he resolved to go to her house immediately. He threw on some jeans and a polo shirt—both gifts from Josie because she felt sorry he didn’t have anything to wear except suits—and paced the floor of his living room impatiently, waiting for the daylight to fade sufficiently. Po watched him anxiously, as if he knew something was wrong.

Half an hour later, he took Po out for a brief walk, then shut him up again in the basement. The building was dark and empty and echoing as he walked up the hallway to the front door.

Scott had really missed Josie over the past week; he had never fully appreciated how much she lit up his life until he had to spend long amounts of time alone. And even when she had been at work during the past week, she had clearly not felt well, because she didn’t smile and joke and laugh like she normally did.

Scott went to the grocery store first to pick up a dozen pink roses for her, then he swung back by her house. From the outside, everything looked normal. Scott wasn’t sure what he expected it to look like, since Josie had only been sick a week, but he felt like the house or yard or something should reflect its owner’s illness.

He hid the flowers behind his back and rang her doorbell. It only occurred to him afterward that if she was too sick to answer her phone, she was probably too sick to get the door. What if she was lying in the floor, unable to get up?

He resolved to break down the door if she didn’t answer the bell after a few minutes.

But, before he could be driven to heroics, Josie opened the door. Scott was shocked by how pale and weak she looked—and how un-Josie. Her hair wasn’t combed, much less styled, she had on no makeup, and she was wearing a pair of knit pajama bottoms and a tank top. She looked like death warmed over. Whatever the doctor had given her, it didn’t seem to be working.

She looked almost surprised to see him. “Scott, what are you doing here?”

He pulled the flowers out and handed them to her. “I hadn’t heard from you since you went to the doctor, and I was afraid you might be so sick or drugged out that you couldn’t take care of yourself. So I came to help.”

She briefly smiled, then he watched her face fall again. “Actually… I need to talk to you,” she said, her voice hollow and a bit resigned. “I… just didn’t know how to do it. So, I guess it’s good you came by.” She stepped back to allow him into the house.

But Scott didn’t budge. His lifeless lump of a heart had just fallen to his feet.

“Josie…” he began to plead. He wasn’t sure what to say, but he knew he had to say something. A “Dear John” talk was eminent. If he didn’t head her off at the pass, the next thing out of her mouth was going to be “it’s not you; it’s me.” Or the dreaded “I still want to be friends.”

She took him by the arm, gently tugging him inside. “Don’t look like a sad puppy or you’re going to make me cry.”

He let her lead him into the living room. “I can’t help it; you’re about to make me sad, aren’t you?”

“‘Sad’ isn’t the word I would choose….”

He sat down on her couch. “Give it to me,” he said, sounding more steeled than he really was. Inside he was flinching, knowing the pain was about to come.

Josie put the flowers down on the coffee table, sat beside him on the couch—turned to look at him—and took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant. The doctor did a pregnancy test on me yesterday and…” she spread her hands helplessly, “I’m pregnant.”

Scott was stunned into silence. That hadn’t been what he was expecting at all. In fact, nothing could have possibly been further from his mind.

Crickets chirped somewhere in the living room. A dust bunny rolled across the living room floor.

“Whose is it?” he finally managed to ask in a choked voice.

“I knew you were going to say that!” she accused him angrily. “I knew it!”

“Well, what did you think I was going to say?” Scott said, raising his voice. “Vampires are sterile, so I know it’s not mine.”

“Scott, I haven’t slept with another man since we started dating. No, scratch that—since I started sleeping with you. Even before we actually started dating, I wasn’t sleeping around.”

He continued to look at her skeptically. Vampires were sterile; that was a known medical fact.

Josie glared at him, then stomped off into another part of the house. She returned a moment holding a large, hardback book. “What do you think about this?” she asked, thrusting it angrily into his face.

The red-bound book glowed with the light of the sun, blinding Scott; at the same time, he felt an invisible force push him back. He was lying on the couch before he knew it.

Josie pulled the book back, and the force and light went away.

“What the hell was that?” Scott demanded.

Josie knelt in the floor on the other side of the coffee table and put the book on top. “It’s a Torah,” she replied. “I told you I don’t believe in a Christian bible, but I do believe in this—as you can see.”

Scott sat up slowly, feeling very confused. “What has that got to do with anything?”

Josie put her hand on top of the book. “I swear on the Torah, and on my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, that since you and I have been together, I have not had sex with another man. I am pregnant with your child, so help me God.”

Scott sat there for a long moment in silence. Looking into Josie’s fierce eyes—and knowing she was swearing an oath before a God she very much believed in—he couldn’t help but believe her.

“O-okay,” he finally stuttered.

“Do you believe me?” she demanded, still looking fierce. Even if he hadn’t, he might have lied just because he was a little afraid of her.

“Yes,” he replied honestly.

“Good,” she said, getting to her feet and returning the book to the case in the dining room. When she came back into the living room a few moments later, she plopped down on the couch next to him, still in a bit of a huff.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I have never had unprotected sex before in life,” she said, sounding rather bitter. “I only did with you because vampires aren’t supposed to be fertile or have any diseases.”

“I didn’t have any diseases before,” Scott hurried to assure her.

“Good. Because if someone’s lied about vampires’ fertility, they might have lied about the STDs, too.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. Scott was almost afraid to say anything, but he finally decided that they had to move—either forward or backwards; they couldn’t sit still forever.

“So…” he said slowly, “now what?”

“I have no idea,” she said helplessly, before bursting into tears.

“Hey,” he said soothingly, “hey, it’s okay. It’ll be okay.” He reached for her and gently pulled her to his side. She wrapped her arms around him, clinging desperately as she sobbed.

Scott rubbed her back, and took stock of the situation. He was forty-four—nearly forty-five—years old, and in defiance of all known medical science, he had gotten his twenty-nine year old secretary pregnant out-of-wedlock.

Either God hated him, or He had a twisted sense of humor.

 

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 39: Going for a Walk

Scott was at his parents’ house, setting the table for dinner. His father was in the kitchen, cooking something. His mother appeared a moment later and tried to take the plates from his hands.

“You shouldn’t do that,” she fussed.

“It’s not like I’m contagious, mom,” he said, feeling annoyed.

“Yes, but still….

“Let the boy do it,” Scott’s father said, coming into the dining room carrying a smoking-hot skillet in one hand and a spatula in another. He started putting hamburgers on each plate. Scott wondered why he didn’t wait for the buns, but he didn’t say anything. In fact, he suddenly realized that his dad was dead. But for whatever reason, he was alive now. He had been allowed to have one last dinner with his family before he had to go back. Scott wanted to tell him what he hadn’t had time to tell him before.

“Dad, I hope you know I love you.”

His dad looked a little surprised. “Of course, Scottie.”

Scott hugged him, and his dad hugged him back tightly and patted him on the back. “You’re a good boy. You’re my son. And I’m proud of you.”

Scott felt tears of pride and happiness well up in his eyes.

Scott woke up when his tears wet his pillow and his face. He sat up and turned on the lamp beside the bed, bringing light into the pitch-black of his basement bedroom.

He wiped his face with the top of the sheet, sniffing.

That hadn’t been the first dream he had had about his dad. In all of them, he realized that his father was dead, but his mind made up some excuse for why he happened to be living at the moment. In any event, he always took the opportunity to tell his dad that he loved him—as if he could make up for not getting a chance to tell him before he died.

Scott glanced at the clock; it was less than an hour before he had to get up anyways. He knew he’d never go back to sleep.

He felt incredibly lonely and wished Josie was with him. He wondered if she was awake yet—he thought she got up earlier than he did, so she could get some things done while it was still light. Finally, he gave up and reached for his phone and called her.

“Hey, Scott,” she said when she answered. She sounded tired.

“Did I wake you up?” he asked anxiously.

“No, I’ve been up for the last hour throwing up.”

“I’m sorry. Do you need anything? I can bring you something in a little while, if you need it.”

“I think I’m okay,” she said warily. “I just feel like shit. But I’ve been feeling this coming on for a couple of days; I think I must have a bug.”

“I understand. Stay home.”

She half-laughed. “I wasn’t planning on coming in. I was just waiting for it to get a little later before I called you. So, what are you doing up early?”

“I had a dream about my dad,” he admitted.

“Oh?”

Scott told her about the dream and the others like it.

“You know,” Josie said thoughtfully, “the rabbis say that sleep is like 1/60th of death, and that when we go to sleep, our souls actually leave our bodies, and dreams are… like visions of other realms… or something like that. In any event, dreams aren’t wholly real, but they’re not wholly made up, either.”

“So… what does that mean?”

“Well, I don’t know what a rabbi’s position on your situation would be, but I, personally, think that you can talk to the soul of your father when you’re asleep. And I think that he can hear you.”

Tears sprang to Scott’s eyes again.

“I think it’s a good thing you dream about that,” she continued. “Maybe if you do it enough, you’ll feel like things are balanced between you and your dad—it will feel like you’ve said everything you needed to say to him and you won’t feel like things were left incomplete.”

“And you think that he can hear me?” Scott asked hopefully.

“Absolutely. I think he’s there with you. I think you… conjure him up, if you will, because your heart longs to be with him. He comes because you call to him, and he’s there just so you can say what you want to say.”

Scott had to wipe his face with the sheet again. But before he could say anything, Josie spoke hurriedly. “Sorry, Scott, I’ve got to go.” And the line went dead.

Poor Josie. He didn’t envy her that part of being human. Since he had become a vampire, he had not suffered from any illness. The closest thing he had felt to sickness was when he drank Michael’s extra-bloody Bloody Mary and the liquor had hit his stomach like a ton of lead.

He got up and watched the evening news for a little while. Po was curled up asleep on the couch and barely cracked an eye open to look at him, before going back to sleep. Scott had long since given up trying to keep him off of it, and, instead, put a blanket down to try to keep the worst of the golden dog hairs off the upholstery.

But, when Scott go up and started getting ready for work, Po hopped off the couch, slowly stretched, shook himself out, and was suddenly a ball of energy. Scott could hardly put his shoes on for Po jumping up on his hands.

“Po, down!” he commanded.

Po got down, ran around in circles for a minute, chasing his tail, then he was right back on Scott.

There was a reason why every drawer in the apartment and office had a lint brush in it.

He managed to make it up the stairs without Po tripping him, and as soon as he opened the basement door, Po dashed out and went clattering down the hallway for the front door. Scott got a regular bottle of blood out of the refrigerator—he had a few bottles of good-quality stuff that he got from Gus, the chef he had met in Nashville, but he tended to save that for special occasions, because it was none too cheap—and he poured it into the coffee pot to warm. Then he got a leash out of a drawer in Josie’s credenza.

Po was sitting by the front door, waiting on him. As soon as Scott approached, he jumped up on the door.

“Po, no! Down!”

He got down, but whined the entire time Scott was attaching his leash.

At last, Scott opened the front door. He felt the familiar tug of his arm nearly coming out of the socket as Po sprang forward, straining at the end of the leash.

“You act like I never take you out,” Scott muttered, as Po half-dragged him down to the end of the block and to his first stop: a round boxwood bush.

In fact, Po acted like every day the world was made anew—like everything had changed since he had been asleep, and he had to go explore it all over again.

Scott waited while Po sniffed the bush and found out who all had been there before him. Then he lifted his leg and left his own mark.

It was like Facebook for dogs. Or maybe that was “Facebush.”

Speaking of which…. As he walked Po along their usual route—Po’s nose to the ground, sniffing out all the news—Scott slipped the leash over his wrist and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Time for me to see what’s happening, too,” Scott said to no one in particular, before being sucked into the World Wife Web.

Occasionally someone would drive by and honk. Scott would absentmindedly raise a hand and wave. Everyone in the neighborhood was used to seeing him out, wearing his suit, and walking Po at twilight. One day, after he had passed two ladies sitting on their front porch, he heard one of them tell her friend that it was time for her to go home and lock all the doors if the vampires were out and about. The other lady scoffed.

“That’s just Scott, the lawyer. He’s probably more likely to sue you than bite you,” she said with a chuckle.”

“I don’t care,” the other one asserted. “They give me the heebie-jeebies. They shouldn’t be allowed to just… wander loose. Especially at night.”

“I like it,” her friend said firmly. “And I hope everyone in town knows he comes through here every night. It keeps the punks away. You notice no one’s messed with my mailbox since he came.”

Scott had just smiled as he walked out of hearing range. He made it a point, though, to greet both of them every time he saw them. The one lady was always pleasant, but the other one looked like she might bolt.

Scott crossed the bridge and sat down on a bench next to the walking trail that followed the little river. He let go of Po’s leash, letting him run down to the water to get a drink. He never wandered too far away, and he always came when Scott called, so he wasn’t too worried about it.

Scott noticed that Josie had posted on Facebook about being sick. Her mother—who he only knew through Facebook—had replied with a snarky, “I hope your vampire boss lets you take a sick day. It’ll only get worse if you don’t rest. And drink plenty of fluids!”

Josie’s mother always referred to him as “your vampire boss.” Scott wasn’t sure if she was in total denial that Josie was dating Scott, or if she hoped to somehow shame Josie with the constant reminders that Scott was her boss.

Scott posted a reply below hers. “Yes, her vampire boss told her to stay home. He’s surprisingly squeamish when it comes to vomiting.” Scott always referred to himself in the third person when replying to Josie’s mother, as if he could shame her into referring to him by name.

So far, she hadn’t shamed Josie into dumping him and he hadn’t shamed her into calling him by his name, or at least acknowledging that he was her boyfriend.

A moment later, Josie’s brother Michael replied with, “LOL.”

Josie and her siblings—Michael especially—got a kick out of seeing Scott dueling with their mother. In fact, Josie actively encouraged it. Maybe she thought it was good practice for the real battle that was coming up. Michael and Ariel’s Hanukkah party was less than two weeks away. Then the gloves were going to come off and shit was going to get real.

Scott wasn’t sure if he was raring to go at it, or if it made him sick to his stomach. Sometimes it depended on what mood he was in. Sometimes it was both.

After a few more minutes of reading through everyone’s post—his friends list was sadly short after he had de-friended everyone in his family but his cousin Darren and his wife, Patty—Scott whistled for Po.

He saw Po’s head shoot up, over the embankment. A moment later, he was running up the hill, the leash trailing behind him.

He was wet up to his back.

“Po!” Scott fussed, picking up the wet leash. “Why do you always get in the river, but you act like I’m killing you when I give you a bath?”

Po replied by vigorously shaking water everywhere.

“Ack!” Scott said, trying to turn away. But it was too late; there was water all over his suit.

“Okay, no more running loose for you,” Scott said. Po looked up at him with a happy face and wagging tail, clearly not understanding a word Scott had just said.

He suddenly felt guilty. Why should he take away Po’s happiness? All he had to do was put on some regular clothes before taking him for a walk, then change into his suit when he got back to the office. He’d have to spend a little less time on Facebook, but Po would be so much happier with a little freedom.

“I don’t know who’s worse about giving me the guilt trip,” Scott mumbled as he and Po started to walk back to the office, “you or Clarice or Josie.”

 

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 38: Thanksgiving Dinner

Mark lived in a brick, split-level house a few miles north of town. It wasn’t anything fancy on the outside—it had obviously been built during the housing boom in the 70’s—but it was a good size and was located on a quiet, dead-end street. A child’s red and black bike left in front of the garage door attested to the fact that it was a good neighborhood for kids.

They went up the stairs to the front door and Scott rang the doorbell. A few moments later, a drop-dead gorgeous woman opened the door. Scott was momentarily stunned by the petite, red-haired beauty.

She smiled brilliantly. “Hey! You must be Scott. Come on in. Happy Thanksgiving.” She stepped back to let them enter.

Scott was still struck mute and couldn’t even mumble a reply. Josie was more gracious.

“Hello,” Josie said, offering her hand.

“Hi, I’m Carol,” Mark’s wife replied, shaking Josie’s hand. “You must be Josie.”

“Yes. And this is Clarice,” she said, gently tugging a shy Clarice into the house.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman said, bending down to look at Clarice at eye-level. “I have a son who’s your age.”

Clarice smiled tentatively, but looked as awkward as her father.

Josie offered the bottle of wine. “I brought this for you.”

“Oh, thank you,” she said, studying the label appreciatively.

“You can have it with dinner or save it for later—whichever.”

“Oh, I think I’d like some with dinner.”

“I got white so it would go with turkey.”

“I noticed.” She smiled. “I like a woman who knows her wines.”

She led them into the living room. “Please, make yourselves at home.” She walked through a door into the kitchen, calling out as she went, “Mark, our guests are here.”

Josie and Scott sat next to each other on the couch. “You’ve got a little drool right here,” Josie whispered to him, indicating the corner of his mouth.

He started to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand, then stopped. “Smart ass,” he muttered.

She perked a brow. “I wasn’t the one with my mouth hanging open.”

“Are you the jealous type?” he asked, deflecting the accusation and putting it back on her.

“No, not really,” she replied, unfazed. “Are you the drooling type?”

“Not usually.” He glanced sideways at her. “With you around, other women pale in comparison.”

He thought that was a good save.

“Are you implying that Mark’s wife is prettier than me and that’s why you noticed her?”

Scott pulled back, looking at her in confusion. Then he made a disgusted noise. “Only a woman would take a compliment and turn it into an insult.”

“Hey, I wasn’t the one drooling; what did you expect me to think?”

“Well, you certainly don’t complain when I drool over you regularly.”

Scott was starting to feel hot under the collar—he really wasn’t into that “I’m so jealous you can never look at another woman again” thing—then he noticed the wicked glint in Josie’s eyes. She was working him up on purpose.

Mark bustled into the living room—wiping his hands on a dishcloth—a moment later, saving Scott from having to come up with a retort so witty, it would shut the game down for good.

“Hey, guys” Mark said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Scott replied.

“Are you ready to eat?” He laughed, catching himself. “Let me rephrase that: ladies, are you ready to eat?”

“I can eat,” Josie replied.

“Good. I just got the turkey off the smoker. It needs to cool down a bit before I can carve it, but Carol has appetizers she wants to serve—something she got from one of those cooking shows.”

Scott sighed wistfully. “I used to love a good smoked turkey—smoked anything,” he corrected.

“Well, I do have something for you, but I’m afraid it’s not as good as my smoked turkey. But then, few things are,” he said with no small amount of pride.

Mark showed them into the dining room, where a few extra chairs had been squeezed in.

“Kids, dinner!” he called out.

A moment later, a thunder came rumbling from one end of the house, and a boy about Clarice’s age came dashing into the dining room. On his tail were two girls who looked to be about four years old.

“I beat!” the little boy said triumphantly. One of the girls took that news rather badly and kicked him in the leg.

“Ow!”

The two girls started to laugh.

“Mo-om!” he whined in a tattle-tale voice.

“Hey, you guys, settle down,” Mark fussed. “We have company.”

“Lizzy kicked me,” the little boy replied, pointing an accusing finger.

“I saw. And you know there’s no running in the house.” He pulled out a chair and made the little boy sit in it. “Scott and Josie are going to think you’re hoodlums if you don’t start acting better.”

He bent down to the girls, looking at them seriously. “No kicking. Next time I catch you doing that, it’s a whipping. Got it?”

They both nodded and made an attempt at looking contrite.

He picked them up and put them in their chairs. Scott noticed Mark put all the kids on one end, leaving a space for himself and Carol on either side of the table at the middle—as if they felt the need to cordon-off the children from their guests.

Scott felt thankful that Clarice had always been a well-behaved kid. She was generally pretty good at entertaining herself and not getting into trouble in the process. Being an only child may have helped that; she didn’t have anyone to fight against or conspire with.

“Who’s he?” one of the little girls asked, pointing at Scott on the other end of the table.

Mark pushed her hand down. “That’s Scott. I work with him in court. Remember, I told you he and his family were coming to dinner.”

“Oh.”

Mark gestured to them. “This is Miss Josie and Scott’s daughter, Clarice.”

“Hi,” the other little girl said. The other two children just stared.

“Guys, these are my little spawn: Elizabeth, Anna, and Houston.”

“Daddy, I’m Lizzy,” Elizabeth said, sounding horrified that her father forgot her name.

Mark smiled. “Your name is Elizabeth. Lizzy is a nickname—what we call you at home.”

“Oh.”

“I want a nickname!” her twin declared.

“I thought you had one,” Mark said, looking puzzled. “I thought you were my little Stinky Feet.”

“Daddy!” she complained, even as she laughed.

Carol came into the dining room a moment later carrying a large tray of hors’oderves.

“Carol, can I help you do anything?” Josie asked.

“Nope,” she replied, putting the tray in the middle of the table. “Everything’s ready.”

Scott looked at the tray. There were miniature pigs-in-a-blanket, cucumbers with pimento cheese, chips and salsa, carrots and ranch dressing, and little triangles of pita bread with what looked like a bowl of hummus.

“It looks wonderful,” Josie said, leaning forward to examine the offering, too.

“Thank you,” Carol beamed. “Help yourself.”

Josie picked up Clarice’s plate and asked her what she wanted, serving her first. Scott was pleased to see Josie taking an interest in Clarice, and that Clarice liked her, too. Another woman might be jealous of his child from a previous marriage or view her as annoyance, but Josie seemed to like children and didn’t feel the need to compete for Scott’s attention.

“Here’s something for you,” Mark said, snapping Scott out of his thoughts. He turned to see Mark offering him a Star Wars thermos-cup. Before Scott could ask, he smelled the sweet—albeit nicotine-y—smell of bottled blood.

“You didn’t have to do this,” Scott said, taking the cup from Mark. While he wasn’t surprised that Josie’s brother, a doctor, was able to use blood to mix drinks, he thought that most other people would be squeamish about it. It was pretty icky when it was cold and came glopping out of the bottle with the consistency of ketchup. Scott’s own stomach would have turned a flop the first time he poured some up cold, if not for the smell being so enticing.

“Well, we couldn’t eat and you not have anything.” Mark leaned a little closer, whispering. “I hope you don’t mind the glass. It was the only one we had that wasn’t clear….”

“Not a problem,” Scott hurried to say.

“Alright, let’s eat,” Mark declared, taking a seat beside Scott. Carol sat on the other side of the table, next to Josie.

“Let’s hold hands,” Mark said, holding his out. Houston made a pained face—as if he was embarrassed—but his mother took his hand. He tried to get away with putting his other hand on top of his sister’s head, but after a stern look from Mark, he sighed and took Anna’s hand.

“Houston, why don’t you say the blessing?”

“Rub-a-dub-dub, thank God for the grub,” he said eagerly. Clarice and the other two girls laughed.

“How about something more serious,” Mark said wearily.

“Oh, alright. God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By His hand, we’ve all been fed; give us, Lord, our daily bread.”

“Amen,” everyone responded.

“That was very nice,” Scott praised Houston.

He smiled, looking pleased for a brief moment, then he noticed what his mother was loading onto his plate and he immediately began to complain that he didn’t like hummus. They entered into negotiations. It was a scenario Scott could relate to; Clarice had always been a picky eater.

Everyone loaded up their little plates and a hush fell over the table as everyone dug in.

Mark leaned closer to Scott and whispered in his ear. “How did two bald, lawyer-types like us wind up with such beautiful women?”

Scott looked across the table at Josie and Carol. They certainly were quite the pair.

“Whenever something good happened to my Dad,” Scott whispered back, “he used to say, ‘It pays to be kind to old people and little children and dogs.’”

Mark laughed.

“What are you to conspiring about?” Carol asked, eyeing them.

“Oh, nothing,” Mark said with false sincerity, shooting Scott a grin.

 

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 37: The Delicate Holiday Dance

Scott was reviewing a contempt petition that Josie had drafted—she was really good at document production; he only ever changed things to suit his own personal flavor—which today was a bit prickly with a dash of snotty—when Josie buzzed him on the intercom.

“Yes?” he asked.

“It’s Mark for you.”

“Okay.” He picked up the receiver and selected the line. “Mark, what can I do you for this evening?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just calling to shoot the shit.”

“Slow night?”

“Yeah, I don’t have court tonight and there’s nothing else going on.”

“Come over here and I’ll put you to work,” Scott laughed.

“Things busy?”

“Busy enough. I don’t have any complaints.” Which was true enough. Scott saw a dozen or more clients every week and was retained by most—and that didn’t count his court-appointed cases in City and Circuit, which averaged another four or five clients per week.

“Good,” Mark replied, sounding as if he meant it. “So, I was wondering, do you have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving?”

Scott felt Mark was finally getting around to the real purpose behind his call. “I don’t have any plans yet.” He chuckled dryly. “Of course, a holiday centered around food doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.”

“I didn’t think about it like that, but… yeah… I guess it wouldn’t have much appeal to you.”

“But I do have Clarice for the night,” Scott added, “so I suppose I ought to think of something to do with her.”

“Oh, well, then,” Mark said, perking up again, “ya’ll can come to my house for dinner, if you like. And Josie, too, if you were planning on spending the evening with her.”

Scott could hear the smirk in Mark’s voice. “I don’t know what Josie’s plans are,” Scott replied with cool professionalism. “I assume she’ll be with her own family.”

“Ah, well, then just you and Clarice. Whatever. Invite a bunch of people; I don’t care. We always seem to have a lot of strays at the table. My kids are always bringing someone home. I’m starting to have a hard time telling which ones belong to me,” he laughed.

“I appreciate the offer. Let me see if Clarice wants to go; she might have wanted to do something—go see a movie, or something.”

“That’s fine. How old is she again?”

“Nine—nearly ten. She’ll be ten the first of December.”

God, that made him feel old. Where had ten years gone?

“Oh, she’s the same age as my son. They’ll have a good time together.”

“I don’t know if I should let her around a boy related to you,” Scott teased.

Mark laughed. “He’s a firecracker, that’s for sure. He breaks more stuff than any kid I’ve ever known. And he does it with such innocence—like it never occurred to him that hitting a stereo with a hammer would break it. He’s not malicious—just clueless.”

“Sounds like he needs to become a demolition engineer or something like that,” Scott laughed.

“Yeah, that’d be right up his alley. So, anyways, call me about Thanksgiving once you know.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

As Scott hung up the phone, he couldn’t help but feel touched that Mark thought about him. His family might be sorry, but he sure had some good friends.

* * *

Josie was all-too-happy to go with Scott to Mark’s on Thanksgiving.

“My family always does lunch,” she explained, “and I was already dreading having to go up there on only a few hours of sleep. I can just tell them that I can’t get do something that early, and that I’m just going to do supper with you, instead.”

“If you need to take a half day Wednesday night, so you can go home and sleep, you can do that,” Scott offered.

“Shut up. I want it to work out this way.”

“But… won’t your family blame me for keeping you away?”

“Just my parents,” she said dismissively.

“But I’m meeting them in a couple of weeks, aren’t I? We shouldn’t be antagonizing them this closely to our first meeting, should we? I mean, can’t you go and maybe… I don’t know… smooth the way a bit?”

She looked at him incredulously. “That’s not going to happen,” she said bluntly. “And the fewer holidays I have to spend listening to them bitch, the better. Besides, it will be easier to face them if you’re with me.”

Scott began to wonder if Josie’s brave defiance of her parents was a bit more bravado than actual courage. But, as long as she didn’t cave completely, he had enough fight in him for both of them. After all, he’d already been disowned by his own family; what was Josie’s family to him?

Maggie dropped Clarice off at the office shortly after dark. As soon as she was out of sight, he turned off the lights and drove the few blocks to Josie’s house.

“Where are we going?” Clarice asked.

“We’re going to eat supper with one of my friends.”

“Oh. I thought we were going to Grandma Melly’s.”

“Not this year,” Scott said elusively. He hadn’t told Clarice that he wasn’t on speaking terms with any of his family. It wasn’t something she would understand.

“I miss going there,” she said wistfully. Scott glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed she was staring out the window. “I liked playing with Wyatt and Barrett,” she added, speaking of her two cousins.

“Mark—my friend—has a son your age; you and he can play together.”

“Okay,” she said, sounding as if she was reserving judgment.

He pulled into the driveway at Josie’s house. A moment later, the lights in her living room blinked out and she emerged, locking the door behind her.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she told Clarice, as she got into the front seat of Scott’s SUV.

“Happy Thanksgiving.”

“What’s that?” Scott interrupted. Josie had some sort of bottle in her hand.

She showed it to him. “Wine.” She grinned sheepishly. “I can’t go to someone’s house and not take something with me. It’s a Jewish thing, I think—always have to have wine or food available.”

“Mama doesn’t drink,” Clarice said from the back seat.

She said it matter-of-factly, as if she was just throwing out a piece of semi-related information, but Scott wondered, though, if there was something more to it than that. Had her mother told her to watch and report back if anyone drank around her?

Josie look at him questioningly; obviously she didn’t know what do make of Clarice’s statement either.

Scott decided to take the same tack he used when she asked him questions about being a vampire: honest, but unconcerned, like it was no big deal. “No, you mother has never liked to drink,” he replied casually. “But I’ve always liked to have a beer or a little wine now and again.”

There. He acknowledged that Maggie didn’t drink—not that there was anything wrong with that—but that he drank sometimes, so there was nothing wrong with Josie having some wine.

Clarice didn’t reply; she seemed interested in looking out the window as they drove through town.

Crisis seemingly averted.

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee