The station nurse, Carol Lindley, greeted Rachel when she arrived on the unit. “Good evening, Carol,” Rachel replied. Rachel was on a first-name basis with all the critical-care nurses. What would they think if they knew what she was about to do? Another Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy nutcase. They’d cluck with sympathy as they pumped her full of antipsychotics and locked her away.
Rachel set a chair at the head of the bed and combed her daughter’s hair with her fingers, brushing the silky strands away from her face. “It’s going to be all right, Jenny. A friend of mine is going to help you get better.” She took her daughter’s hand in hers and saw, as if for the first time, the marks in the skin from the countless needles and IVs.
My daughter the junkie.
Through the large window along the interior wall of the room, Rachel watched Milada approach the nurse’s station. Milada spoke briefly with the nurse. The nurse left and returned a minute later with a set of charts. Milada flipped through the papers, examined one or two of them, nodded, handed them back. Rachel noticed the casual way her fingers touched the nurse’s hand as she thanked her. The nurse did as Milada asked. With no reason to resist, it would not occur to her to question why.
Could she really overpower the will, Rachel wondered, or only make people do what they really wanted to do beneath the ever-present veneer of self-righteous civility—or were eager to do before they calculated the consequences? At what point did temptation trespass into coercion?
“So this is Jennifer.”
Milada stood in the doorway. The sky-blue jamb framed her china-white hair and pale features. Milada’s young face and old eyes looked as an angel’s must. She lacked only a pair of wings folded against her back beneath her gray Armani jacket.
She took in the rest of the room. “I see your point about the dragons,” she said, sitting down across from Rachel. “She is a beautiful child.”
Rachel nodded. She looked at Milada and, for the briefest of moments, saw a depth of emotion she had never seen before in a human being: a longing, a desire, an unearthly connection to a life lost and destroyed at some point in her distant past.
Milada touched Jennifer’s cheek with her fingertips. A look of tenderness passed across her face, then a spasm of guilt that she just as quickly erased. She cradled the child’s left arm against her right arm, her thumb resting at the crook of Jennifer’s elbow. She glanced at Rachel, her eyes asking, If you wish to say no, now is the time.
Rachel did not say no.
Milada remained still for several long minutes, her gaze focused on a point far beyond Rachel’s left shoulder. Then she raised her chin slightly, tightening the tendons in her neck. Her pupils dilated. She narrowed her eyes against the light—eyes no longer human, filled with an animal curiosity that asked, What are you to me?
Her lips parted, the slender white tips of her fangs clicked against the back of her incisors. There was an almost delicate beauty to them. She pressed her thumb against the soft tissue at the crook of Jennifer’s elbow, compressing the vein. Her head dipped, and her mouth closed over Jennifer’s wrist. The child’s body jerked once. It hardly took more than a second, and every move she made was so subtle—so practiced. This was something she was good at. Something she had done many times before.
Milada raised her head, her expression blank. She craned her neck again, and Rachel observed the ripple of muscles along her jaw as the fangs pulled back and up against the roof of her mouth. Rachel tore her gaze away. The two pinpricks in Jennifer’s wrist closed to a pair of dots. Rachel remembered the punctures in her own neck and that there were no bloodstains on her pillow.
Just another track in her daughter’s veins.
Milada placed Jennifer’s arm gently beneath the sheets, and everything returned to exactly how it was before she came into the room. She pushed the chair back, stood, and left the room.