“Well,” I said, “I think that’s it! David, I hope you had a happy birth—”
“No, no!” Gerald interrupted. “There’s one more! I almost forgot it in all the excitement! Hang on, I’ll go get it, okay? You just sit tight, champ.”
He got up from the table, ruffling David’s silky hair as he passed behind our son’s chair. I looked at Gerald, one eyebrow raised, but he avoided my eyes as he left the room. I itched to follow him, to ask about this present that was a surprise even to me, but David was a bundle of 5-year-old energy, bouncing in his seat chanting “Present! Present! Present!” so I stayed put.
“Clear a space! Come on, clear a space!”
Gerald was back, carrying a large gift-wrapped cube with both hands. David saw the size of the box and his eyes nearly popped from their sockets. He began swiping wildly at the presents already on the table, scattering action figures, a football and new socks to the floor. I slid the rest of his horde across the table, out of his reach, and Gerald placed the box right in front of our birthday boy. As he released the box I saw something that had been hidden by his hands and arms as he carried it, and my heart sank: air holes.
“Gerald,” I began, but got no further as David yanked the lid from the box and began to shriek with excitement.
“A puppy! Oh, Daddy, Mommy, a puppy! Yes! It’s just what I wanted!”
A quick dip with both hands and David was sitting in his chair holding a squirming ball of fur that seemed to be all paws and tongue as it covered our son’s laughing face with wet puppy kisses. While David was occupied, I shot Gerald a glare.
“Oh look, a puppy,” I said through my frozen smile. Gerald stood behind David’s chair giving me a look that told me he knew he was in trouble but was hoping it wouldn’t last that long.
“What’s his name, Dad?”
“Well, David,” said Gerald, happy to have an excuse not to meet my gaze, “he’s your puppy now. That means you get to name him.”
“Champ,” said David promptly. “I’m gonna call him Champ. That okay?”
“Champ it is!”
David slid from his chair, the wiggling Champ held in his arms like a baby.
“Come on, Champ! I’ll show you my room. You’ll be sleeping on my bed…”
The little voice faded as David walked down the hall, and I rounded on Gerald.
“I thought we agreed he was too young for a puppy!”
Gerald began collecting the presents from the floor, avoiding my gaze again.
“No,” he said, “you agreed. I thought nothing of the sort. I had a dog when I was a boy, and—”
“That was a long time ago,’ I snapped. “And a completely different situa—”
My own words were cut off by a terrible, high-pitched scream of pain coming from down the hall. The scream lasted all of a second and a half before it was cut off, but we were already moving by the time silence returned to our son’s bedroom. I was in the lead, but Gerald was right behind me as we practically flew down the hall. I burst into the little room, one thought crowding all others from my mind.
David was sitting on the floor of his room, sobbing, blood covering his face.
I scooped him into my arms, shushing him, stroking his hair. “I’m sorry, Mommy,” David babbled into the crook of my neck. “I just wanted to taste, I just wanted a little taste, but I think I broke him! Did I break him, Mommy? Did I break Champ? I’m sorry!”
I looked over David’s shaking head at Gerald, who was looking at the torn and bloody pile of fur lying at our feet.
“I told you,” I hissed, my fangs extruding in rage as David ruined my blouse with a combination of puppy juice and blood tears.
“I told you, but you wouldn’t listen! You can’t give a pet to a vampire child!”