"Hello?"

"Hi, Beth? It's Lindy Morgan calling."

"Lindy! It's nice to hear from you, how are you doing?"

"Oh, fine, just fine, we're all doing just great, Beth. I thought I'd give you a call, seeing as it it's been a while since we've seen you and Amy Joy at the mother/daughter group, and I know you were about to transfer Amy Joy to Westbrook with my girls. I just wanted to make sure everything was going okay. You're not dropping the group, are you? We would really miss you, somehow I don't feel like the other mothers always quite get things the way you and I do, you know?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess so. Um, no, I'm not dropping the group, we've just been busy, I guess-"

"Wonderful, I'm really so glad to hear that, Beth. You know me, I don't like to speak ill of people, and they are all very nice, but it's just…they're not quite like us, if you get what I mean. I don't want to say that they aren't…well, of the same class, but you do see what I mean?"

"Yes, I…I suppose so, Lindy."

"I believe all their children go to public school, you know, and that says a lot, there. Speaking of, how has Amy Joy found Westbrook so far? Who does she have this year? She's second grade, right?"

"Oh, second grade, yes she is. She, she seems to be really enjoying it so far. She has a little trouble getting up in the morning, with the earlier commute, but I think she'll like it a lot, once she gets used to it. She has Mrs. Norton as her teacher, and she seems strict, but, well, I'm sure she's very good at what she does."

"Oh yes, Mrs. Norton. Meadow and Haven never had her, but they've spoken of her, and strict she certainly is. I'm hoping Sage won't get her when she's in second grade, you know how sensitive she is, and I don't think a teacher like that would quite understand her. Really though, Beth, I'm so glad you did decide to go through with transferring Amy Joy. I'm not saying anything against public schools, or anyone who does decide to register their children there. I know we can't all afford the tuition or the transportation, and of course some people just aren't aware of the difference in quality of private schools. But once we know better, we have to do better for our children, and your Amy Joy deserves the best. She's such a bright little girl, my girls just adore her."

"Well, I hope so, that she'll do well here. She was doing well in public school, so I did hesitate, but you seemed so sure, and I did look at the research you showed me…"

"Well, I'm glad, Beth, you'll see you've made the right choice. I wouldn't steer you wrong, not when it comes to something as important as our children. They get so much more individual time, and learn so much more. And frankly, the children in public school, well, their home life is certainly reflected in their behaviors at times. You never hear about private school children coming to school with weapons or making bomb threats, now, do you?"

"Well, I guess I haven't, no…it will be tight on the budget, but I'll figure something out."

"Tight on the budget?! Well, what is Andrew's child support not good for, if not in support of his child and her educational needs? He should be paying the cost of the school, half, at the very least. This is his daughter and her welfare we're talking about, Beth, you certainly should fight for that."

"Well…you know how it is with him, Lindy. I try, but he isn't always reliable. He says he had something come up, some unexpected expense, and then…well…"

"No, that just isn't acceptable. Amy Joy is his child, period, and she comes first. Don't let him forget that for one moment. You only have the one child, and you and Andrew both are bound to do your best by her. That means a fine education at the best of schools, and he can't reason his way out of that. Now, I'm not one to brag, but my three girls are all doing exceptionally well, and I like to think that the choices Joseph and I have made for them have something to do with that."

"Well, of course, Lindy, you're a wonderful mother-"

"Meadow is doing so well with ballet they're talking about her beginning en pointe, and she's only eleven, can you imagine? Taking classes with girls two to four years older than her! She won the young writer's award for the state, did I tell you that?"

"Yes, I believe you did. That's just wonderful, Lindy-"

"And Haven, just nine years old but such a gifted athlete! She already plays on the boys' team for both basketball and baseball, and she's not just good for a girl, she's better than boys nearly twice her size, first string in twelve and under! Not that she's one of those unfeminine girls, of course, she's won several Little Miss Lovely pageants as well."

"Yes, Haven is a remarkable child, too. I know Amy Joy really enjoys-"

"And Sage! She just started kindergarten, but she's already reading on a third grade level, and she's been voted Citizen of the Month and Terrific Kid already!"

"Yes…yes, your girls are really something, Lindy, they really are."

"Well, I won't keep you, Beth. Just let me know how Amy Joy is settling in, and anything my girls or I can do for you, you just let me know. I'm just a text or call away. Bye now, you have a good day."

"Oh, um, okay, Lindy. You have a good day too."

"Bye now."

"Goodbye."

88

"Hello?"

"Hi, Beth? It's Lindy again. I hope I'm not interrupting, I figured it was close to lunch time, and you might be on your lunch break."

"Oh, yes, I just clocked out, Lindy. How are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm doing fine, just fine, thank you! I just finished sorting through some of the girls' summer clothes to pack up for the fall, and those girls just have more than they know what to do with! Some of them brand new, never worn once!"

"Oh…well, that must be some work for you. Children outgrow things fast."

"They certainly do! Meadow in particular is already nearly as tall as I am, I'm just hoping puberty won't be hitting too soon. I'll cross my fingers on that, because I certainly don't want any boys added in to the equation just yet! Anyway, Beth, I was calling to see if perhaps Amy Joy could use some of Haven's outgrown uniforms for school, and perhaps some of her play and party clothes too. They're very clean and well kept, I assure you, and they'll be too small for Sage to use for some time now."

"Well…well, thank you, Lindy, that's thoughtful of you to think of us. But…I don't know, I don't like to take something from you that your daughter could use one day…"

"Oh, don't worry about it for a moment, Beth! Sage has plenty of clothes, just plenty, and we can certainly get her anything she needs in the future. I know pennies must be stretched for you right now, with Amy Joy's tuition and that ex-husband of yours, thinking of himself more than his daughter and the child support he owes to her, and I just wanted to see if Haven's old things could be of use to Amy Joy, that's all!"

"Well…I guess she could use some extras…but really, Lindy, you don't have to-"

"As I said, don't worry about it, Beth, I'll be sure that Haven gives them to Amy Joy, or I'll drop by with them myself. Speaking of Andrew, has he paid up this month?"

"Well… no, he hasn't, actually. But we're doing okay, Lindy. Amy Joy and I make do."

"Oh, I'm sure you do, but Amy Joy deserves more than just making do, and you do too, Beth. Don't you forget that, and don't wait a moment to ask if there's anything I can do to help. We women have to stick together, we certainly can't count on men for that. Speaking of, I was thinking of having a girls' night out real soon, just you and me, maybe a few other mothers. No men allowed, just us girls. Just let me know when you have some time off, and you're welcome to come. Amy Joy can stay with Joe and my girls, if you'd like."

"Oh…well, that's really nice of you to ask, Lindy. Thanks, I'd really like that. I guess I haven't had much chance to get out very much lately. I don't have a lot of people I depend on to stay with Amy Joy, so that…that would be really nice."

"Well, count Joseph and I as two of them, Beth. It's no problem at all. I'll expect that night out soon, all right? I don't want to keep you from your lunch, so I'll let you go for now. Talk to you soon!"

"Goodbye, Lindy. And thanks again."

"Don't even mention it! Goodbye."

88

"Hi, Lindy…"

"Beth? I saw your post on Facebook, and I was worried. You seemed so down. Are you all right?"

"Well…I didn't want to draw attention to it with some big announcement, but I guess I am a little blue. You see…it's the anniversary of my divorce, and I just…it's been a rough day for me, I guess. I'm a little…I guess I'm a little emotional. But I'm fine, I really will be fine…"

"Oh, honey, of course you're emotional! If it were me with Joseph, I'd be just furious today. Heaven help the person who decided to mess with me! I completely understand, and Beth, you don't have to hide anything about what you're feeling from me. No judgment from this girl, understand?"

"Th-thanks, Lindy. I really do appreciate it…"

"Oh, sweetie, that man isn't worth crying over. Just think about how he's hurt you and Amy Joy. You're both better off without him, that's what I think."

"I know…it's just…we did have some wonderful times, and I put so much into that relationship. I had so much hope…but the worst of it is Amy Joy. Andrew…well, he wanted to see her today, and he hardly ever asks to see her, or even calls her. I think…I really do think he just wanted to see her because it's the anniversary, Lindy. I think he wanted to upset me, having to talk with him and let her go to see him on one of the few days of the years it would hurt the most to have her gone."

"That bastard…excuse me for my language, Beth, but that's what he is, and I don't see why not call a spade a spade. You're absolutely right, he's using Amy Joy to hurt you, and hurting his very own little girl at the same time. I hope you told him where he can get himself off too."

"Well…no, not exactly. It's just…he's so inconsistent with seeing her, and it hurts her, every time her father tells her he'll call and doesn't, or when he cancels a weekend or doesn't even bother to ask her over at all. I couldn't just not let her see him, the one time he asked for her specifically…I had to let him see her, for Amy Joy's sake."

"Oh, Beth, no…I don't want to criticize, because that's your child and I completely understand, no one wants to ever do anything to hurt their child. But remember, he was the one in the wrong. He left you, he left his daughter, and Amy Joy will have to understand that one day if she doesn't now. You might as well make that sooner rather than later, because that will save you time and pain in the end. Remember, Beth, you're the one who's really providing for Amy Joy. You're the one raising her, and you absolutely have the right to tell him if he won't pay up and do his share, then he can't see your daughter. Period. If he brings up visitation and court orders, well, you just remind him exactly who it is messing up his own rights, not paying child support and taking the visits he's entitled to."

"So…you think I did wrong, letting her go see her father?"

"Well, you know me, Beth, I don't want to overstep my marks, but since you asked, yes, yes I do. If something ever happened with Joe and I, God forbid, I would never, ever let him go against his girls and me like that. And if he did, well, my girls would know what's up and just who their father really is at heart. No, Amy Joy needs to know the truth about her father, and what men are like overall. A girl is never too young to learn."

"I guess so…it's just so hard, and it will break her heart to tell her no…"

"I know, Beth, I know, but it really must be done. Speaking of men, Meadow mentioned to me today that there's a new nurse at school. And here's the thing, she said the nurse is a man! Isn't that odd? It seems very strange to me, whoever heard of a male nurse?"

"Well…I guess there must be some out there."

"Still, it seems odd. What sort of man would rather be a nurse than a doctor, and for young children too? I wonder if he's gay. Not that I'm against that, or anything, I say live and let live, what people do in their own homes is their own business. Let everyone make their choices and I'll make mine. But you do hear things, and you can never be too careful."

"I guess not…Amy Joy hasn't said anything about him, though."

"Well, I told my girls to let me know if they notice anything, well, off, about him. Like I said, you just can't be too careful, not with your children."

88

"Hello?"

"Hi Beth, it's Lindy. How are you doing?"

"Hi Lindy, I'm doing pretty well, I guess. It was really nice to be able to sit down and talk with you the other day. I'm a little busy now, but-"

"Oh, I'm sure you are, and don't let me keep you for a minute. I just wanted to tell you quick, I thought it was something you'd be interested in hearing."

"Oh? What is it?"

"Well, I just got back from Sage's field trip today with the kindergarten, you know, the trip to the pumpkin patch? She's been so excited about it, goodness knows why, it's filthy out there and it isn't as though she was decorating any or doing anything but looking at them and having cheap apple cider. Anyway, once the children were back at school, I decided to stop by and introduce myself to the new nurse. You know me, I like to know the people who are working with my girls, and I wanted to see what kind of person he was after Meadow mentioned him."

"Oh? What was he like? Amy Joy still hasn't said anything about him, or anyone other than her teacher, really."

"Well, his name is Duvall, apparently- Sebastian Duvall, he said. Sounds French, very hoity-toity. He didn't have an accent, but it does make you wonder what sort of people he's from. There certainly aren't any names like that around here."

"No, I suppose not."

"There were a few kids in the office with him when I stopped by, scraped knees and sore throats and the like. I kept my distance, of course, I certainly don't want to take on any of those nasty bugs some of those children carry around. You never know how some of them are raised, even in Westbrook, you can't count on everyone teaching their children about blowing noses and washing hands properly."

"No, I suppose not…Lindy, I really am interested, but-"

"Oh, I know you're busy, Beth, I won't keep you! Anyway, what I was saying is, the man was very odd, very, very strange, even for a male nurse, if you could believe it. I noticed he didn't hardly meet my eyes, and his grip was very, well, very strong when he shook my hand. You know, Beth, I like to think that I'm a well dressed, attractive woman for my age, and I know I'm married, but you know how men are, don't you, their eyes do tend to wander, and you come to expect certain looks when meeting a man."

"Well, I guess I know what you mean. Do you mean that he-"

"No, no, he didn't look me over at all, Beth, that was the weird part of it. No, he barely looked at me, even though I was standing right there. All his attention was on the little girls in his office. There was a little boy too, but it was the girls he kept looking towards, not him. It was very odd, Beth, I can't say that I liked it."

"Was he…well, did he do anything…you know, inappropriate?"

"No, no, nothing like that. It was just…he's an odd man, a real funny looking man. Very outdated clothing, I would bet he's been wearing them for the past few decades, or else he bothered them from his own father. And that hair of his! He's already got a widow's peak, though he looks young, and he doesn't bother to hide it. Pale, too. No, not a very attractive man."

"He doesn't sound as though he was. Well, Lindy, I really have to run-"

"Oh yes, yes, I know it, and I'll let you go. I just thought I'd let you know I met him, and there was something off about him, something that I just didn't much like. I'd keep an eye on him if you get the chance, all right? And I certainly will myself. Bye now!"

88

"Hello?"

"Beth? It's Lindy. Listen, you remember that new nurse at the school we've been talking about- Sebastian Duvall? The man?"

"Um, yes, Lindy, I remember. Did something…"

"Well, yes, I suppose it's not a big deal, Beth, but it was just something Sage mentioned today about him that struck me as real odd. I thought you might be interested. He really is a strange man, don't you think?"

"Well, I guess it sounds like it. I still haven't met him myself-"

"This morning Sage's teacher sent her to the nurse to get a band-aid. She has a scab on her leg, and I swear, I tell that child, I tell all my girls not to pick at scabs and scrapes, not only is that impolite and unladylike, but it leaves scars if they aren't careful. Who wants to look at a girl's legs all riddled up with scars? But of course, she's testing her limits at her age, and she didn't listen, so her leg started bleeding in class."

"Amy Joy is the same, only with her, it's mosquito bites. She's allergic, and she'll scratch them until they scab over and bleed and just look a mess."

"Yes, well, Sage went to the nurse like the teacher told her to, and she said the oddest thing, Beth. She told me she doesn't want to go see him anymore, and when I asked her why not, she said- well, she said she doesn't like his smile."

"His…his smile? What did she mean, Lindy? How could she not like his smile?"

"Well, that's exactly what I thought, Beth. I thought that maybe he wasn't really smiling at all. You know how some people fake a smile, and it looks more like a grimace? Or the way some men are when they look at you in that leering kind of way, like they see under your skirts? Children are perceptive, you know, I certainly think Sage would know it if someone looked at her that way, even if she didn't have the words for it. And with him being a man nurse, in a child's school-"

"Well, what did she say, though, Lindy? Did you ask her to explain?"

"Of course I did, of course. But she didn't say what we were thinking. Sage said she didn't like his smile because it was funny and pointy, those were the words she used. She said his teeth looked too sharp."

"Oh! Well…I suppose that's a relief, then, in a way. You know? At least he's not, well, looking at her like that. I guess, well, a person can't help if their teeth are a little strange looking."

"Can't help it?! Why, Beth, of course they can help it! Modern dentistry can do wonders, what with braces and bleaches and root canals, dentures and just plain surgery! It says a lot about a person, the state of their teeth, you can tell so much about who they come from and how much they take pride in themselves. Why, I've spent a fortune on Meadow's braces, and Haven's dental flipper for her pageants, and I don't think Sage will be too far behind with her dentist bills that are sure to come up. No, the state of that man's teeth can certainly be helped, and it says plenty about him that he hasn't bothered to address that sort of malformation. No wonder he wouldn't look me in the eye when I met him, he must have known that an adult with any sense would see immediately how he had neglected himself."

"Oh…well, I guess you're right, Lindy. Still…that does seem…"

"What sort of example does that set for young children, the school nurse having a terrible state of teeth as he's telling them the importance of dental hygiene? Just like a man, the sort of man who would choose to be a male nurse and not even care about his own health. What with that pale complexion and the funny teeth, it really does make you wonder about his genetics. I really don't know what they were thinking, Beth, hiring a man to be a nurse."

"Well, I've got to go, Lindy, but you take care."

"Bye now, Beth, give Amy Joy a hug for me!"

"Goodbye."

88

"Hello?"

"Lindy? It's Beth, I'm returning your call. I saw you called me four times in the past hour, is something the matter? Are you and the girls all right? Is Joseph?"

"Oh, Beth, I didn't know what to do, or who else to talk to. You know how men are, Joseph wouldn't understand this, he would just shrug it off, and the school, they're going to back up their own men before they listen to a word from a woman, let alone a mother and her child. But I needed to tell someone, and I needed to let you know, just in case Amy Joy ever-"

"Lindy, slow down, you're talking so fast I can hardly understand you. I know something's wrong, what happened? Did something happen to one of the girls?"

"It's…okay, give me a minute, Beth. I'm so sorry, I've just been getting more worked up thinking about it, and after everything I've been looking at, I guess I've just…all right, I'm starting to calm down. I'm okay, Beth, and the girls are too. I'll make sure of it."

"What happened?"

"It was that man, Beth, that nurse of theirs at the school. I knew it, I knew from the moment I heard about him that they had made a mistake, no normal man would work his job, and everything I hear about him just adds up to more evidence of my being right. But this, this is too much!"

"The nurse? Sebastian Duvall? What happened, Lindy, what did he do?"

"Well…Meadow came home today, and she's usually got plenty to say, you know Meadow, she's so talkative and lively I can't hardly get her to sit still some days. But today she didn't have much to say, and she snapped at her sisters too, more than a few times. I went up in her room after I'd settled the other girls and I asked her what was wrong, because a mother knows when something's happened, you know? A mother knows her child."

"Yes, of course…what did she say?"

"She said that her teacher had sent her up to the nurse with a little boy from her class to get some Q tips, some class project they were doing, I guess. She said he handed the Q tips to the little boy and sent him ahead of Meadow, back to class. Then he looked at Meadow and smiled at her, that horrid pointy smile that Sage already told me about, and told her that her hair looked- can you believe the nerve of this, Beth- he told my daughter that her hair looked messy, and wouldn't she like to have him fix it for her!"

"What? That seems very strange…"

"Strange, nothing, it's not even true! Meadow is always very well kept, and she hadn't had PE that morning or recess that afternoon yet, there was no reason that she should have had messy hair, nor would it be a man's business to tell her if it was! Then, that man actually took out a hair tie from a drawer in his desk, put his hands in my daughter's hair, tied it into a ponytail, and sent her back to class like that!"

"Wow…Lindy, that does seem really strange."

"What kind of man keeps hair supplies for little girls in his desk drawer and feels free to put his hands on their hair, uninvited? But that isn't even the worst of it, Beth."

"No!"

"Yes. Meadow said that when he had finished tying back her hair, he put his hand against her neck, flat-like, so the palm touched most of her skin, and just held it there. Just touching my child's neck. Of course, she didn't like it, and stepped away, went back to class. I'm so glad that my daughter has the sense to leave a situation like that, and that she told me what happened, because god only knows what that man meant to do to her!"

"Did you tell her teacher? Or the principal? Are you confronting him yourself? Lindy, what are you going to do?"

"Well, I thought it through, Beth, and I know what they would all say. You know there aren't any cameras in the health room, they said they keep personal health information in there and it would be a violation of children's privacy, but what that means to me is anyone can mess with a child and there won't be any proof but the child's word. I could have Meadow tell everyone exactly what happened and the man would say he simply helped her fix her hair, nothing more than that. But I've done some of my own digging, Beth, and the man has no social media whatsoever. No Facebook profile, no twitter, no LinkdIn, not even a Myspace page. I can't find a record of his name in any articles online. It's as though he doesn't exist, he has no public persona."

"Wow…not anything?"

"Nothing. I even called the school and asked if I could get some information about his credentials, at least, the school he graduated from and his previous work employment, but of course they shut that down. Privileged information, they say. Well, I say it's pretty damn privileged that a man could touch my daughter's neck and hair and no one bats an eye!"

"Right…what are you going to do, Lindy?"

"What WE are going to do is tell our daughters not to go to that nurse for any reason, none at all. They can keep bandaids in their backpacks and use them if they need, but they shouldn't be playing roughly enough to need them as it is. And I'm going to keep looking into this Sebastian Duvall, trying to figure out just who this man is and where he comes from. The both of us are. Between the two of us, we can protect our daughters. We can figure this out."

"I hope so, Lindy. I hope so."

88

"Hello?"

"Beth? Beth, I just can't believe this, it's so terrible, beyond even what I imagined possible. I'm, I'm just so shaken up, I saw it for my own self, with my own eyes!"

"Lindy? Lindy, you sound so upset, you're talking so fast I can barely understand you. Slow down, slow down and take a breath. What's happened, is it the girls?"

"Yes, yes it's the girls, my girls, your girl, all our girls! Beth, it's just so terrible, it's unbelievable! But I swear to you, I'm a very logical person, Beth, and I saw it with my own eyes!"

"I believe you, Lindy, I do. But just, just try to take some breaths. Maybe sit down? Are you okay? Where are you? Where are the girls?"

"They're…I have my neighbor watching them for me, Beth. I just, I don't know what to say to them right now, and I couldn't have them at that school, not for another moment- not after what happened. Not now that I know. If I were you, I'd be scared for Amy Joy, I'd go get her right now, right away, until we can decide together what to do."

"Get Amy Joy? Lindy, I still don't understand. Is…is someone hurt? Something happened at the school? Has there been an accident, or…oh my goodness, please tell me there hasn't been a shooting!"

"No, no, this isn't anything like that, this….honestly, this is worst. This is beyond human thought. What I've found out…it's monstrous, that's what it is, Beth. Unnatural, inhuman, and just…monstrous."

"Lindy, please just tell me. What happened, what did you see?!"

"Well…I was at the school, it's the birthday lunch day for children with birthdays in October, you know? So I was there for Meadow's birthday celebration, and I was going to stop at the book fair to get a few things for the girls as well. One of the fourth grade classes was in there, and I noticed that it was Haven's class. Well, I looked around for Haven, and she wasn't there, so naturally, I got concerned, because my child was missing, you know?"

"Yes, yes, of course…what did you do?"

"Well, I asked the teacher where Haven was, and she told me that Haven had gone to the nurse because she had tripped and cut her knee on the blacktop at recess. Of course, that alarmed me, because after what happened with Meadow and Sage, I've told those girls not to go to the nurse, I've told them, but I suppose the bleeding must have hurt enough that Haven didn't remember, and she went. So I went to go see her for myself, and to see what was happening. Beth, the door to the nurse's office was shut, but I didn't knock, I didn't give that man time to cover up what he was doing. I just opened that door and came right in. And what I saw…god, what he was doing in there, Beth…"

"What?! Lindy, what was he doing, what happened?"

"He was…he had Haven sitting in a chair, and he was knelt down in front of her. He had his hand on Haven's leg, right about at the thigh, maybe to steady himself, because he was leaning pretty far forward. I couldn't tell what he was saying, because he had his head bent close to her ear, but Haven's face was just rigid, Beth, just frozen. Her knee was bleeding, and he had a tissue pressed up against it, even though any nurse worth a dime ought to know to use a washcloth or a gauze bandage to stop bleeding, not some flimsy tissue. Then I saw him put his hand up against Haven's chest, his palm flat against it, and you know, she's only nine, Beth, she doesn't have anything up there. It was like he was trying to feel her heartbeat under his hand, or her pulse."

"He was touching Haven's thigh and chest? Oh, Lindy…"

"That isn't the worst of it, Beth, you haven't heard anything yet. He had his back turned from the door, and he was so focused on her and what he was doing to her that he didn't hear me open the door or see me. So he didn't know I saw it when he raised up the tissue, all stained with my baby's blood, and lifted it up right near his face. Beth…I swear to you, Sebastian Duvall was smelling Haven's blood. Not only smelling it, he was savoring it. If I hadn't said something right then, I know, I'm absolutely positive, that he would have liked it, right off the tissue. He would have drank my little girl's blood."

"No! Oh, no, Lindy, surely not!"

"Yes, Beth, I saw it. I saw it with my own eyes."

"What did he do when he saw you, what did he say?!"

"Well, I told him to get his hands off my daughter, and he jumped up, he started stammering some nonsense about her hurting herself, needing to check her pulse and see if it was fast enough for the blood flow to continue long enough to need stitches, but I tell you, Beth, it was absolute nonsense, complete malarkey, and his eyes were darting around like a kid trying to cheat off someone's test paper. He knows that I know, Beth. And I think that makes him even more dangerous now, to us and to our girls."

"Oh my goodness…oh Lindy, oh no. I just can't believe…what did you do? After you saw? Did you talk to Haven, what did she say? What did he say?"

"I don't suppose I could think what to do in the moment. I didn't say anything to that Sebastian Duvall at all, I didn't even dignify his lies and excuses with a response. I just took Haven by the hand and led her out, and I left the door open behind us. Haven asked me where we were going and I told her we were getting her sisters and going home for the day. I wasn't about to have my children there a moment longer while that-that creature was still in the building. I took the girls home and told Sage and Meadow to get started on their homework, and then I took Haven into my room and asked her to tell me what had happened, and if Mr. Duvall had ever done anything like that to her before."

"He….he didn't, did he? Oh, Lindy, please tell me he didn't."

"That's the thing, Beth, I just don't know. Haven wouldn't really look at me while I was talking to her. She said no, that she hadn't ever seen him before like that, and the only place he touched her was her leg and her chest, just like I saw, and of course, her knee, where she'd been hurt. She said she couldn't remember what he was saying to her and it was all okay, that everything was okay. But I know what I saw, and the way her eyes looked…he said something that scared her to death, something that she's too scared to even say to her own mother. He was going to hurt her, Beth. I know it."

"Oh Lindy, that's just…that's so terrible. You must be so upset. I'll do anything I can to help you and the girls. Poor Haven…you told the principal what had happened, didn't you? Have the police been called? Of course, they'll have to investigate, if Haven hasn't been questioned already, she's going to have to be prepared-"

"No, no, I didn't tell the principal. I didn't tell anyone, Beth, no one but you."

"What? But Lindy, you have to, people have to know what sort of man he is, what he could be doing to the children- our children! People have a right to know what's going on and what he could do, certainly the school will want to know about their employee's conduct!"

"No, Beth, I can't do it, and let me tell you why. I've been…well, since it's happened, I've been doing some research, and some reading, and this is what I was getting to with my call. This is the unbelievable part of it all, the very worst part. I just knew that out of everyone, you would be the only person I could trust with this, the only person who would understand. I can trust you, can't I, Beth?"

"Oh, Lindy, yes, of course you can, I wouldn't breathe a word of anything private you might want to tell me, anything. What is it? What did you find?"

"All the signs are there, Beth, we've both seen it now. The way he looks at the children and touches them…the odd clothes and hygiene, the strange hair style, the pallor of his skin, the strangeness with the bloody tissue…I know what he really is."

"A pedophile…yes, I thought so, Lindy, and it's terrible. But that's something we have to report, as shocking as it is, we have-"

"No, no, Beth, no, didn't you hear me? Don't you see? Sebastian Duvall has all the characteristics of the undead! Sebastian Duvall is a vampire."

"…a vampire?"

"I know, it sounds crazy, but all the signs are there. I haven't checked whether he shows a reflection in the mirror, but I did notice that there was no mirror in the nurse office. I don't know that he can turn into a bat, but he certainly wouldn't do it in front of me, and of course, I haven't seen his house to see the coffin. Of course, there's no crosses in his office, and this is a religious school, Beth, don't you think that's a big sign?"

"But Lindy…vampires aren't real, and even if they were, what about…well, that just can't be!"

"There's more, Beth. I wouldn't say this if I wasn't completely sure. I asked around, and he doesn't eat lunch with the other teachers in the cafeteria, or attend any of their parties or gatherings. Not ever. He's not been seen drinking coffee, and what grown man doesn't? And the times that they order pizza to serve for the celebration days, he doesn't come out of his office at all. And you know that pizza comes with garlic sauce. It all adds up, Beth, it all adds up."

"But…what about the sun? I thought…they always say that vampires can't come out in the sunlight, it will burn them!"

"Well, yes, they do say that, but some of the websites say that this is just a myth, and perhaps he comes early enough in the morning that it's still dark outside, and leaves after sunset to go home. We can't know everything, Beth, but we certainly know enough to be certain of the truth. Sebastian Duvall is a vampire in hiding, preying on our children, and we can't risk one more day of his feeding off them. Who knows what could happen? He could kill them, or sicken them, or even…how would you feel, if he turned your Amy Joy, your only child, into one of his kind?"

"Oh Lindy, don't say it…don't even breathe it!"

"I've thought and thought about it, Beth, and this is the only way. I know what to do, how to protect our daughters and all the other children. But I'll need your help."

"Of course I want to help you, Lindy, of course I'd do anything to protect Amy Joy. But…but what do you mean, what would we have to do?"

"I've been thinking hard on it, Beth, and I've been reading everything I can, reliable websites only, of course. I even instant messaged with a lady who's something of an expert of the undead and she told me it's much more common than we all know. She confirmed all my fears, that Sebastian Duvall shows all the signs, and the sooner we deal with the problem, the better. And I've come up with a plan."

"What is it?"

"Well, we have to get rid of him, of course. With the threat gone, our girls are safe."

"But…what do you mean, get rid of him? Report him?"

"Beth, Beth, I've already explained, we can't just report him. No one would believe us, no one would take us seriously. Even our girls, no matter what they would say, no one believes children, and they just wouldn't be able to understand without seeing what I've seen, and having the sort of open mind that you do. Not everyone is like us, Beth. There are very narrow minded people in this world, and we just can't take that risk, not when it comes to our girls."

"Then…what will we do? How would we get rid of him if we don't tell anyone about him?"

"We would just have to end the threat for ourselves. You know…we would have to, well, I suppose you could call it we would have to end him."

"End him? But…Lindy, surely you don't mean…kill him?"

"Now, Beth, you know me, I'm not a violent person, and I would certainly never even consider such a thing, not against a human being, or even an animal. But Sebastian Duvall is not a person, Beth, or an animal either. He's something evil, something unnatural and wrong, and he will taint our girls with his very nature if we let this go on. This is the right thing to do, Beth, the only thing to do. For our girls."

"But…killing him? It just seems…Lindy, it's so terrible!"

"Of course it is, but how much more terrible would it be if it was one of our girls instead? How would you feel if it were your Amy Joy he chose first? No, we have to do this, Beth, it's the only way."

"Well…how…how would we…how would we…"

"I've got it all planned, don't you worry about a thing, all I need is your presence and your support. What you're going to do is get Amy Joy from school, just like usual, and take her home. I'm going to leave my girls with the neighbor until the school day lets out and Joe gets home. When Joe's home, you bring Amy Joy over, and we'll leave the girls with Joe again, say that we're having another girls' night out. Then, we're going to drive together to Sebastian Duvall's address, and we're going to knock on the door, like the civilized people that we are, and invite ourselves inside. Of course, we'll park the car a few blocks over, just so no one puts two and two together."

"You know where he lives?"

"Oh, you can find out anything online, Beth, if you know how to look. Once he lets us in, we'll do what we have to do. I have crosses, holy water, silver-"

"Lindy, what if he doesn't let us in?"

"Well, with all that we'll have, he won't be able to refuse, will he? Vampires have to back away from holy items, if he blocks the doorway, that will be enough to make him step back, just enough for us to come in and shut the door behind us. I told you, Beth, I have it all figured out."

"And once we get in…"

"Well, then we'll stake him, of course. Right through the heart. Only, it turns out that the part about the stake needing to be wood is only a myth, which makes it that much easier, doesn't it? The lady vampire expert says any knife will do, as long as it's sharp enough."

"Oh no…Lindy, no…"

"We can do this, Beth. We have to do this. Don't worry, we'll make certain no one sees, and no one will hear, either. The lady assured me that vampires are much too proud to scream or beg, and if we strike from behind, why, he won't even see it coming. Just because he's merciless doesn't mean that we have to be like him, now, does it?"

"Oh, Lindy…I just…"

"I can count on you, can't I, Beth? You told me that you would help. You told me that you would do anything for your daughter, anything she needed. You did mean that, didn't you?"

"I…yes…I…"

"Good. Then I'll see you and Amy Joy at the house, say, 8? I'm sure we should finish up by 9:30 at the very latest. The girls will be in bed by then, so Amy Joy can stay the night, if you like. We can make sure she's ready for school tomorrow."

"I…I…yes…"

"Good, I'll see you then. Oh, and Beth? Remember, we can't send out any texts or emails about this, or any Facebook messaging, either. You never know how those might get read or intercepted somehow, and even though we know this is the right thing to do, other people just wouldn't understand. We wouldn't want someone to think wrongly about us."

"I…no…"

"Good, I'm glad you understand. I'm so glad I can count on you, Beth, you're really such a wonderful friend. I'll see you at eight. Goodbye!"

88

"…."

"Beth? Beth, are you there?"

"Yes…."

"It's Lindy….I was just calling to see…well, to check in on how you're doing. I know it was hard, last night, and you were so upset afterward. It was a shock for us both, of course, but I wanted to make sure you were okay?"

"I'm…Lindy, it was so terrible. He just…he let us in, he didn't know what was going to happen, he was trying to talk to us…to talk to me…"

"I know, Beth, I know, he was very cunning, very manipulative. It's just awful to think how he must have manipulated the children, how he could have lured them in as his prey, seeming so nice and ordinary, isn't it? It's just such a relief to know it's all over now."

"But Lindy…the way he looked, after the…after you…all the blood, and his eyes…that look in his eyes…"

"I know, Beth, it was all so convincing, wasn't it? He really did seem like a person, right up to the end. You just have to remember, you just have to keep telling yourself, it was all an act. That's what vampires do, that's how they fool everyone for so long. He could have been doing this for centuries, we just don't know, Beth."

"You said…Lindy, you said he wasn't going to scream. You said-"

"I was sure the lady told me he wouldn't, but I suppose she may have been confused, or maybe I misread what she meant. Anyway, it's all going to be okay, Beth, it's lucky that pillow was so close, so I could cover his face and block out the sound. It wouldn't have done for a neighbor to hear. But just remember, Beth, it's all right now. Our girls are safe."

"Oh Lindy…I just keep thinking about it, over and over…I just wish we hadn't…"

"Now Beth, don't do this to yourself. We did the right thing, the only thing we could have done to save our girls, and all the other innocent children too. Everything will be just fine now, you'll see. Just put it completely out of your mind, just don't give it another thought."

"It's just…it was just so horrible, and it's so hard…"

"Of course it was, it was hard for us both. But what's done is done, and now we can move on with our lives. You know, Haven's birthday is coming up soon, and after all this unpleasantness I could certainly use a new focus. Can I count on you to help me with the planning? And of course, Amy Joy will be there too, won't she?"

"I…I suppose…I guess…"

"Great, Haven will be so pleased to have her. You know, Beth, I'm just so happy, so blessed to have a friend like you. Can you even imagine how our lives might have been, if we had never met?"

"I…"

"By the way, just to let you know. I saw the gym teacher this morning, standing with the children on safety patrol, and I wanted to give you a heads up to keep an eye on him. He has such long, straggly hair, and that beard of his…very unkempt, for a school teacher, and those nails of his are so long too. It was almost alarming, Beth. Now, you know me, I'm not one to jump to conclusions, but if one can come across vampires in every day life, we can't rule out the possibility of werewolves either. Just keep an eye on him for me, would you?"

"I…"

"Have to run, Beth, but I'll see you real soon! Goodbye, and thanks again for all your help."

(End conversation; end story)