Chapter 3

Chapter 3

I guess I need to talk some more about the whole freshie and exclusive thing. I keep thinking I've covered it all, and I keep running up against more that needs to be said.

First off, I never intended to have a whole flock of freshies in and out of my place. When I talked to Josef about the matter, what I had in mind was more—casual—a few women who would come by, and not to be too vague about it, feed me and leave. Sorry if that sounds uncaring, but there it is. I had as much of a relationship going with a human as I could handle—more—and I didn't want to get to know these girls, didn't want to take a chance on caring about them.

Besides, the way that it's worked out—having so many and so constantly—it's been, well, distracting. Every time I wake up or walk in the door I'm hit with this wave of scent—the warm intoxicating knowledge that there is all this human blood right there and it's all available to me. Willingly, in some cases lovingly, available. After all these years, it's almost more than I can stand. What happens when you take a man dying of thirst out of the desert and throw him head first into a mountain spring? He drinks and drinks and drinks. More than he needs. For weeks after the girls started coming around, I drank too often just because it was there.

And when I tried to talk to Josef about it, he laughed his ass off and told me to enjoy the rush. For a best friend, sometimes he's not that helpful.

See, there are a couple of things the humans who write vampire books often get wrong. We don't need to kill people—we don't need to take more blood than you can afford to lose. Yeah, a vamp can drain you, and I won't say it's never done. Happens pretty frequently, as a matter of fact. But think about it—the human body holds about eight pints of blood. That's a lot to put into your stomach at one time. Too much for most vamps to absorb all at once. I remember one time—well, let's just say I had my reasons for wanting this creep dead—I drained him, and I got about 100 yards before I lost it all. Not my finest moment as a vamp. But that's another story.

About exclusives—I keep reading beautiful and vaguely worded statements about immense devotion and so on. That's good, that's true. What they're failing to state clearly enough is that what is understood between a vamp and a casual freshie is that things do not progress beyond the offer of blood and feeding. We'll feed from an arm, maybe the classic throat bite, but that's about it. At least for vamps who have any sort of boundaries—and in this century most of the vamps I know have learned all about boundaries. To remain secret, we cannot afford to indulge our inner predators the way they want. The word Josef uses is "circumspection." Myself, I call it careful. So how does it differ with an exclusive? Maybe it's like the difference between a rental car and one you own. I don't want to put it into any comparisons between human relationships, partly because that wouldn't express it right, and partly because the closest thing I can think of isn't very flattering to either the vamp or the freshie.

With a freshie, if you're smart, the line is drawn pretty clearly, and it's drawn at a very safe distance. Sure, human contact is always tempting, and sure, with these girls there's a willingness—sometimes a need—to go beyond the bite. But you don't. Or at least not far. With an exclusive, the line is a lot farther out, or maybe I should say closer in. It's not just the blood—although I never knew until recently how much taking blood repeatedly from the same source can start to mean. It's that the emotional attachment makes the blood so much more sustaining. Makes it stronger, richer. Makes a true bond between you. With an exclusive, you can see spending hours curled up together like lovers, listening to her heart and feeling her warmth spread through your cold body. It's as good as the blood, that feeling. Comforting. But it only works that way if you actually care about the girl.

And that's why freshies don't usually start out as exclusives. Until you know this is someone you might want to actually spend some time with, it's too much of a risk. Josef told me, "pick a freshie for looks, but pick an exclusive for her heart, and her brains." Josef can be a pompous jerk, but, hey, he knows what he's talking about when it comes to freshies.

And yeah, that kind of closeness is dangerous in another way. I may be a vampire, but I was a man first, and when you get so close to someone, when you know that she trusts you completely, that she would do anything you needed—the temptations are not just for blood. Sometimes caring goes farther in breaking down restraint than sudden passion will. Some vamps—and I think my friend Josef is one of them—find that the torture of testing their restraint is a pleasure in itself. I don't know about that. Maybe it makes them feel. And they tell me that the older a vamp gets, the harder it is to feel—anything.

All this being said—I told you it was one of the darker sides—it does come up that humans being what they are, even exclusives aren't always true to their word. I suppose we should expect it. Most of the freshies are young, even by human standards. They make mistakes, change their minds, do stupid things. That doesn't make it right, or acceptable. See, when a vamp agrees to have a freshie as an exclusive, there's some emotional commitment on his side, too. Even if it's not a love relationship, exactly, not a romance, there can still be betrayal. In the best cases, when that kind of breakdown happens, the vamp will walk away. Although in that case the freshie ought to be aware that chances of her becoming exclusive with someone else are slim. Most of the time, no other vamp will touch her for anything. If she's addicted, if she can't stay away, well, she can go to the feeder pens, and get those last killing bites. In the worst case—I've known a vamp who killed an exclusive for infidelity. Not the way she wanted, not with his fangs. But a snapped neck will make a human just as dead as bleeding out.

And a vampire who poaches another vamp's exclusive, well, he'd better be prepared to relocate. Or he may find himself ostracized. There aren't that many of us, it's a small community. And even if we're solitary hunters by nature, we have our ways of communicating. Word gets around.