Learning the Licks
They took their shoes off and did it again. The second time was less urgent and they tried to impress each other with their respective repertoires of mattress tricks. Jody was careful not to appear too experienced and Tommy pulled on everything he had ever read, from Penthouse to National Geographic, trying not to appear too naive, while fighting the urge to shout "Gee whiz" with her every move. There was entirely too much thinking involved on both their parts and they finished thinking, Well, that was pretty okay. Jody's fangs stayed safely sheathed behind her canines.
She said, "What was that you shouted at the end?"
"It was a Bantu love cry. I think it translates, 'Oh baby, polish my lip saucer. »
"Interesting," Jody said.
They lay there for a while, not talking, feeling uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. Whatever intimacy they shared physically was not echoed emotionally. They were strangers.
Tommy felt that he should confess something personal, something to match the outrageous trust she had put in him by telling him her secret. At the same time he was curious, and a little bit afraid. It wasn't as if she had shown him a hidden tattoo. She was a vampire. How do you match that? How do you file that? Under "Adventure," he thought. I wanted adventure, and here it is.
"Tommy," she said, not looking at him, talking more or less to the ceiling, "I'll understand if you don't want to stay, but I'd like you to."
"I've never lived with anyone before. This is all new to me. I mean, you probably have a lot more experience than I do at this."
"Well, not exactly like this. I've lived with a few guys."
"Ten, I think. But not under these circumstances."
"Ten? You must be ancient. No offense. I mean, I knew that you were older, but I thought it was just a few years. Not centuries."
She rolled over and looked him in the eye. "I'm twenty-six."
"Sure, you look twenty-six. But you've probably looked this way for years. You probably have pictures of yourself with Abraham Lincoln and stuff, right?"
"No, I'm twenty-six. I've been twenty-six for about six months."
"But how long... I mean... Were you born like..."
"I've been a vampire for four days."
"So you're twenty-six."
"That's what I've been telling you."
"And you've lived with ten guys?"
She got out of bed and started gathering her clothes. "Look, I don't use the best judgment when it comes to relationships. Okay?"
He turned away from her. "Well, thanks a lot."
"I didn't mean you. I meant in the past."
He sat on the edge of the bed and hung his head. "I feel so used."
"Used?" She leaped over the bed and stood in front of him. "Used?" She put her finger under his chin and lifted it until he was looking at her. "I've trusted you with the biggest secret I have. I've offered to share my life with you."
"Oh, like that's an exclusive privilege." He pulled away from her and resumed pouting.
Jody snatched a shoe off the floor and prepared to whack him with it, then remembered what she had done to Kurt and dropped it. "Why are you being such an asshole?"
"You drank my blood!"
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about that."
"You didn't even ask."
"And you didn't protest, either."
"I thought it was a sex thing."
"It was?" He stopped pouting and looked up at her. "Does that turn you on?"
Jody thought, Why are men never prepared for the toxic radiation of afterglow? Why can't they ride it through without becoming detached whiners or aggressive jerks? They don't get it, that cuddling afterward has nothing to do with warm, fuzzy feelings; it's just the most intelligent way to ride the wave of post-coital depression.
"Tommy, I came so hard, my toes curled. No man has ever made me feel like that before." How many times have I said that? she thought.
He smiled, feeling proud of himself. "Let's do it again."
"No, we need to talk."
"Okay. But then..."
"Put on your clothes."
Tommy scampered naked out of the bedroom to get a fresh pair of jeans from his suitcase. As he dressed, the infinite possibilities of life swam through his head. Only a week ago he had been staring down the barrel of a life spent in a factory town - of a union job, of a series of financed Fords, a mortgage, too many kids, and a wife who'd go to fat. Sure, there was a certain nobility in being responsible and raising a family - seeing that they never did without. But when his father told him on his eighteenth birthday that he needed to start planning his retirement, he felt his future tighten on him like an anaconda. His father had made it clear that the money for college wasn't there - so after he went to the City and starved, he could come home and get a job down at the factory and get down to the business of being an adult. But not now. He was a City guy now, part of the world; he was involved with a vampire, and the danger of living a normal, boring life had passed completely. He knew he should be afraid, but he was too elated to think about it.
He slid into his jeans and ran back to the bedroom, where Jody was getting dressed. "I'm hungry," he said. "Let's go out and get something to eat."
"I can't eat," she said.
"Not at all?"
"Not as far as I know. I can't even keep a glass of water down."
"Wow. Do you have to have blood every day?"
"I don't think so."
"Does it have to be - I mean, can you use animals, or does it have to be people?"
Jody thought about the moth she had eaten and felt as if she'd just downed a cocktail mixed of two parts shame and five parts disgust, with a twist of nausea. "I don't know, Tommy. I didn't exactly get an instruction book."
He was bouncing around the room like a hyperactive child. "How did it happen? Did you sell your soul to Satan? Am I going to turn into a vampire? Are you in a coven or something?"
She wheeled on him. "Look, I don't know. I don't know anything. Let me get dressed and we'll go get something for you to eat. I'll explain then, okay?"
"Well, you don't have to bite my head off."
"Maybe I do," she snarled, surprised at the acid in her voice.
Tommy backed away from her, his eyes wide with fear. She felt horrible. Why did I say that? This was happening too often, this loss of control - showing her burned hand to the bum on the bus, knocking Kurt out, eating the moth, and now threatening Tommy; none of it seemed to be by choice. It was as if vampirism carried with it a crampless case of rattlesnake PMS.
"I'm sorry, Tommy. This has been hard."
"It's okay." He picked up the jeans she had destroyed and began emptying the pockets. "I guess these are done for." He pulled out the business card that the motel manager had given him. "Hey, I forgot to tell you. This cop wants to talk to you."
Jody stopped in the middle of tying her shoes. "Cop?"
"Yeah, an old lady was killed at the motel last night. There were a zillion cops around when I got there this morning. They wanted to talk to everyone that was staying in the motel."
"How was she killed, Tommy? Do you know?"
"Somebody broke her neck and..." He stopped and stared at her, backing away again toward the bathroom.
"What?" she demanded. "Her neck was broken and what?"
"She'd lost a lot of blood," he whispered. "But there weren't any wounds." He bolted into the bathroom and shut the door.
Jody could hear him throw the lock. "I didn't kill her, Tommy."
"That's fine," he said.
"Open the door. Please."
"I can't, I'm peeing." He turned on the water.
"Tommy, come out, I'm not going to hurt you. Let's go get you something to eat and I'll explain."
"You go ahead," he said. "I'll catch up to you. Wow, I really had to go. Must have been all that coffee I drank today."
"Tommy, I swear I didn't know anything about this until you told me."
"Look at this," he said through the door, "I found that crucifix I lost last week. And what's this? My lucky vial of holy water."
"Tommy, stop it. I'm not going to hurt you. I don't want to hurt anybody."
"Oh, my garlic wreath. I wondered where I'd put that." Jody grabbed the door knob and yanked. The doorjamb splintered and the door came away in her hand. Tommy dived into the tub and peeked over the edge at her.
She said, "Let's go get you something to eat. We need to talk." He pulled himself up slowly, ready to dive down the drain if she made a move. She backed away.
He looked at the ruined doorjamb. "We're going to lose our deposit now; you know that, right?" Jody threw the door aside and offered her hand to help him out of the tub. "Can I buy you some fries? I'd really like to watch you eat some French fries."
"That's weird, Jody."
"Compared to what?"
They walked to Market Street where, even at ten o'clock, the sidewalks were crowded with bums and hustlers and teams of podiatrists who had escaped the Moscone Convention Center to seek out burgers, pizzas, and beer in the heart of the City. Jody watched the heat ghosts trailing the street people while Tommy handed out coins like a meter-maid angel trying to atone for a lifetime of giving chickenshit tickets.
He dropped a quarter into the palm of a half-fingered glove worn by a woman who was pretending to be a robot, but who looked more like a golem newly shaped from gutter filth. Jody noticed a black aura around the woman, as she had seen around the old man on the bus; she could smell disease and the rawness of open lesions and she almost pulled Tommy away.
A few steps away she said, "You don't have to give them all money just because they ask, you know."
"I know, but if I give them money I don't see their faces when I'm about to fall asleep."
"It doesn't really help. She'll just spend it on booze or drugs."
"If I was her, so would I."
"Good point," Jody said. She took his arm and led him into a burger joint named No Guilt: orange Formica tables over industrial-gray carpet, giant backlit transparencies of food glistening with grease, and families gleefully clogging their arteries together. "Is this okay?"
"Perfect," Tommy said.
They took a table by the window and Jody trembled while Tommy ordered a brace of burgers and a basket of fries.
She said, "Tell me about the woman who was killed."
"She had a dog, a little gray dog. They found them both in the dumpster at the motel. She was old. Now she'll always be old."
"People always stay the age that they died at. My big brother died of leukemia when I was six. He was eight. Now when I think of him, he's always eight, and he's still my big brother. He never changes, and the part of me that remembers him never changes. See. What about you?"
"I don't have any brothers or sisters."
"No, I mean, are you going to stay the same? Will you always look like this now?"
"I haven't thought about it. I guess it could be true. I know I heal really fast since it happened."
The waitress brought Tommy's food. He squirted ketchup on the fries and attacked. "Tell me," he said around a mouthful of burger.
Jody started slowly as she watched his every bite with envy, telling him first about her life before the attack, of growing up in Monterey and dropping out of community college when her life didn't seem to be moving fast enough. Then of moving to San Francisco, of her jobs and her loves and the few life lessons she had learned. She told him about that night of the attack in too much detail, and in the telling she realized how little she understood about what had happened to her. She told him about waking up, and of how her strength and senses had changed, and it was here that words began to fail her - there were no words to describe some of the things she had seen and felt. She told him about the call at the motel and about being followed by the other vampire. When she had finished she felt more confused than when she had started.
Tommy said, "So you're not immortal. He said that you could be killed."
"I guess; I don't seem to change. All my childhood scars are gone, the lines on my face. My body seems to have lifted a little."
Tommy grinned. "You do have a great body."
"I could lose five pounds," Jody said. She inhaled sharply and her eyes went wide, as if she'd just remembered some explosives she'd left in the oven. "Oh my God!"
"What?" Tommy looked around, thinking she had seen something frightening, something dangerous.
"This is horrible."
"What is it?" Tommy insisted.
"I just realized - I'm always going to be a pudgette. I have jeans I'll never get into. I'm always going to need to lose five pounds."
"So what, every woman I've ever known thought she needed to lose five pounds."
"But they have a chance, they have hope. I'm doomed."
"You could go on a liquid diet," Tommy said.
"Very funny." She pinched her hip to confirm her observation. "Five pounds. If he'd only waited another week to attack. I was on the yogurt-and-grapefruit diet. I would have made it. I'd be thin forever." She realized that she was obsessing and turned her attention to Tommy. "How's your neck, by the way?"
He rubbed the spot where she had bitten him. "It's fine. I can't even feel a mark."
"You don't feel weak?"
"No more than usual."
Jody smiled. "I don't know how much I... I mean, I don't have any way of measuring or anything."
"No, I'm fine. It was kind of sexy. I just wonder how I healed so fast."
"It seems to work that way."
"Let's try something." He held his hand by her face. "Lick my finger."
She pushed his hand away. "Tommy, just finish eating and we can go home and do this."
"No, it's an experiment. My cuticles get split from cutting boxes at the store. I want to see if you can heal them." He touched her lower lip. "Go ahead, lick."
She snaked out a tentative tongue and licked the tip of his finger, then took his finger in her mouth and ran her tongue around it.
"Wow," Tommy said. He pulled his finger out and looked at it. His cuticle, which had been split and torn, had healed. "This is great. Look."
Jody studied his cuticle. "It worked."
"Do another." He thrust another finger in her mouth.
She spit it out. "Stop that."
"Come on." He pushed at her lips. "Pleeeeze."
A big guy in a Forty-Niners sweatshirt leaned over from the table next to them and said, "Buddy, do you mind? I've got my kids here."
"Sorry," Tommy said, wiping vampire spit on his shirt. "We were just experimenting."
"Yeah, well, this isn't the place for it, okay?"
"Right," Tommy said.
"See?" Jody whispered. "I told you."
"Let's go home," Tommy said. "I've got a blister on my big toe."
"No fucking way, writer-boy."
"It's low in calories," Tommy coaxed, prodding her foot with his sneaker. "Good, and good for you."
"Not a chance."
Tommy sighed in defeat. "Well, I guess we've got more to worry about than my toe or your weight problem."
"Like the fact that last night I saw a guy in the store parking lot that I think was the other vampire."
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