Nothing in my culinary experience had taught me what to feed a vampire when he came for dinner.
In the library I spent most of the day on the Internet looking for recipes that involved raw foods, my manuscripts forgotten on the desk. Matthew said he was omnivorous, but that couldn't be true. A vampire must be more likely to tolerate uncooked food if he was used to a diet of blood.
But he was so civilized he would no doubt eat whatever I put in front of him.
After undertaking extensive gastronomical research, I left the library at midafternoon. Matthew had held down Fortress Bishop by himself today, which must have pleased Miriam. There was no sign of Peter Knox or Gil ian Chamberlain anywhere in Duke Humfrey's, which made me happy. Even Matthew looked in good humor when I trotted down the aisle to return my manuscripts.
Passing by the dome of the Radcliffe Camera, where the undergraduates read their assigned books, and the medieval wal s of Jesus Col ege, I went shopping along the aisles of Oxford's Covered Market. List in hand, I made my first stop at the butcher for fresh venison and rabbit, and then to the fishmonger for Scottish salmon.
Did vampires eat greens?
Thanks to my mobile, I was able to reach the zoology department and inquire about the feeding habits of wolves.
They asked me what kind of wolves. I'd seen gray wolves on a long-ago field trip to the Boston zoo, and it was Matthew's favorite color, so that was my answer. After rattling off a long list of tasty mammals and explaining that they were "preferred foods," the bored voice on the other end told me that gray wolves also ate nuts, seeds, and end told me that gray wolves also ate nuts, seeds, and berries. "But you shouldn't feed them!" the voice warned.
"They're not house pets!"
"Thanks for the advice," I said, trying not to giggle.
The grocer apologetical y sold me the last of the summer's black currants and some fragrant wild strawberries. A bag of chestnuts found its way into my expanding shopping bag, too.
Then it was off to the wine store, where I found myself at the mercy of a viticultural evangelist who asked if "the gentleman knew wine." That was enough to send me into a tailspin. The clerk seized upon my confusion to sel me what ended up being a remarkably few French and German bottles of wine for a king's ransom. He then tucked me into a cab to recover from the sticker shock during the drive back to col ege.
In my rooms I swept al the papers off a battered eighteenth-century table that served as both desk and dining room and moved it closer to the fireplace. I set the table careful y, using the old porcelain and silver that was in my cupboards, along with heavy crystal glasses that had to be the final remainders of an Edwardian set once used in the senior common room. My loyal kitchen ladies had supplied me with stacks of crisp white linen, which were now draped over the table, folded next to the silver, and spread on the chipped wooden tray that would help me carry things the short distance from the kitchen.
Once I started making dinner, it became clear that cooking for a vampire doesn't take much time. You don't actual y cook much of anything.
By seven o'clock the candles were lit, the food was ready except for what could be done only at the last minute, and al that was left to get ready was me.
My wardrobe contained precious little that said "dinner with a vampire." There was no way I was dining with Matthew in a suit or in the outfit I'd worn to meet the warden.
The number of black trousers and leggings I owned was mind-boggling, al with different degrees of spandex, but most were splotched with tea, boat grease, or both. Final y I found a pair of swishy black trousers that looked a bit like pajama bottoms but with slightly more style. They'd do.
Wearing nothing but a bra and the trousers, I ran into the bathroom and dragged a comb through my shoulder-length, straw-colored hair. Not only was it tied in knots at the end, it was daring me to make it behave by lifting up from my scalp with every touch of the comb. I briefly considered resorting to the curling iron, but chances were excel ent I'd get only half my head done by the time Matthew arrived. He was going to be on time. I just knew it.
While brushing my teeth, I decided the only thing to do about my hair was to pul it away from my face and twist it into a knot. This made my chin and nose look more pointed but created the il usion of cheekbones and got my hair out of my eyes, which is where it gravitated these days. I pinned it back, and one piece immediately flopped forward.
My mother's face stared back at me from the mirror. I thought of how beautiful she'd looked when she sat down to dinner, and I wondered what she'd done to make her pale eyebrows and lashes stand out the way they did and why her wide mouth looked so different when she smiled at me or my father. The clock ruled out any idea of achieving a similar transformation cosmetical y. I had only three minutes to find a shirt, or I was going to be greeting Matthew Clairmont, distinguished professor of biochemistry and neuroscience, in my underwear.
The wardrobe contained two possibilities, one black and one midnight blue. The midnight blue had the virtue of being clean, which was the determining factor in its favor. It also had a funny col ar that stood up in the back and winged toward my face before descending into a V-shaped neckline. The arms were relatively snug and ended in long, stiff cuffs that flared out slightly and ended up somewhere around the middle of the back of my hand. I was sticking a pair of silver earrings through my ears when there was a knock at the door.
My chest fluttered at the sound, as if this were a date. I squashed the thought immediately.
When I pul ed the door open, Matthew stood outside looking like the prince in a fairy tale, tal and straight. In a break with his usual habits, he wore unadulterated black, which only made him look more striking-and more a vampire.
He waited patiently on the landing while I examined him.
"Where are my manners? Please come in, Matthew. Wil that do as a formal invitation to enter my house?" I had seen that on TV or read it in a book.
His lips curved into a smile. "Forget most of what you think you know about vampires, Diana. This is just normal politeness. I'm not being held back by a mystical barrier standing between me and a fair maiden." Matthew had to stoop slightly to make it through the doorframe. He cradled a bottle of wine and carried some white roses.
"For you," he said, giving me an approving look and handing me the flowers. "Is there somewhere I can put this until dessert?" He glanced down at the bottle.
"Thank you, I love roses. How about the windowsil ?" I suggested, before heading to the kitchen to look for a vase.
My other vase had turned out to be a decanter, according to the senior common room's wine steward, who had come to my rooms a few hours earlier to point it out to me when I expressed doubt that I had such an item.
"Perfect," Matthew replied.
When I returned with the flowers, he was drifting around the room looking at the engravings.
"You know, these real y aren't too bad," he said as I set the vase on a scarred Napoleonic-era chest of drawers.
"Mostly hunting scenes, I'm afraid."
"That had not escaped my attention," Matthew said, his mouth curved in amusement. I flushed with embarrassment.
"Are you hungry?" I had completely forgotten the obligatory nibbles and drinks you were supposed to serve before dinner.
"I could eat," the vampire said with a grin.
Safely back in the kitchen, I pul ed two plates out of the refrigerator. The first course was smoked salmon with fresh dil sprinkled on top and a smal pile of capers and gherkins arranged artistical y on the side, where they could be construed as garnish if vampires didn't eat greens.
When I returned with the food, Matthew was waiting by the chair that was farthest from the kitchen. The wine was waiting in a high-sided silver coaster I'd been using to hold change but which the same helpful member of the senior common room's staff had explained was actual y intended to hold wine. Matthew sat down while I extracted the cork from a bottle of German Riesling. I poured two glasses without spil ing a drop and joined him.
My dinner guest was lost in concentration, holding the Riesling in front of his long, aquiline nose. I waited for him to finish whatever he was doing, wondering how many sensory receptors vampires had in their noses, as opposed to dogs.
I real y didn't know the first thing about vampires.
"Very nice," he final y said, opening his eyes and smiling at me.
"I'm not responsible for the wine," I said quickly, snapping my napkin onto my lap. "The man at the wine store picked everything out, so if it's no good, it's not my fault."
"Very nice," he said again, "and the salmon looks wonderful."
Matthew picked up his knife and fork and speared a piece of fish. Watching him from under my lashes to see if he could actual y eat it, I piled a bit of pickle, a caper, and some salmon on the back of my own fork.
"You don't eat like an American," he commented after he'd taken a sip of wine.
"No," I said, looking at the fork in my left hand and the knife in my right. "I expect I've spent too much time in England. Can you real y eat this?" I blurted, unable to stand it anymore.
He laughed. "Yes, I happen to like smoked salmon."
"But you don't eat everything," I insisted, turning my attention back to my plate.
"No," he admitted, "but I can manage a few bites of most food. It doesn't taste like much to me, though, unless it's raw."
"That's odd, considering that vampires have such perfect senses. I'd think that al food would taste wonderful." My salmon tasted as clean as fresh, cold water.
He picked up his wineglass and looked into the pale, golden liquid. "Wine tastes wonderful. Food tastes wrong to a vampire once it's been cooked to death."
I reviewed the menu with enormous relief.
"If food doesn't taste good, why do you keep inviting me out to eat?" I asked.
Matthew's eyes flicked over my cheeks, my eyes, and lingered on my mouth. "It's easier to be around you when you're eating. The smel of cooked food nauseates me."
I blinked at him, stil confused.
"As long as I'm nauseated, I'm not hungry," Matthew said, his voice exasperated.
"Oh!" The pieces clicked together. I already knew he liked the way I smel ed. Apparently that made him hungry.
Oh. I flushed.
"I thought you knew that about vampires," he said more gently, "and that's why you invited me for dinner."
I shook my head, tucking another bundle of salmon together. "I probably know less about vampires than most humans do. And the little my Aunt Sarah taught me has to be treated as highly suspect, given her prejudices. She was quite clear, for instance, on your diet. She said vampires wil consume only blood, because it's al you need to survive. But that isn't true, is it?"
Matthew's eyes narrowed, and his tone was suddenly frosty. "No. You need water to survive. Is that al you drink?"
"Should I not be talking about this?" My questions were making him angry. Nervously I wrapped my legs around the base of the chair and realized I'd never put on any shoes. I was entertaining in bare feet.
"You can't help being curious, I suppose," Matthew replied after considering my question for a long moment. "I drink wine and can eat food-preferably uncooked food, or food that's cold, so that it doesn't smel ."
"But the food and wine don't nourish you," I guessed.
"You feed on blood-al kinds of blood." He flinched. "And you don't have to wait outside until I invite you into my house. What else do I have wrong about vampires?"
Matthew's face adopted an expression of long-suffering patience. He sat back in his chair, taking the wineglass with him. I stood up slightly and reached across the table to pour him some more. If I was going to ply him with questions, I could at least ply him with wine, too. Leaning over the candles, I almost set my shirt on fire. Matthew grabbed the wine bottle.
"Why don't I do that?" he suggested. He poured himself some more and topped up my glass as wel before he answered. "Most of what you know about me-about vampires-was dreamed up by humans. These legends made it possible for humans to live around us. Creatures frighten them. And I'm not talking solely about vampires."
"Black hats, bats, brooms." It was the unholy trinity of witchcraft lore, which burst into spectacular, ridiculous life every year on Hal oween.
"Exactly." Matthew nodded. "Somewhere in each of these stories, there's a nugget of truth, something that frightened humans and helped them deny we were real. The strongest distinguishing characteristic of humans is their power of denial. I have strength and long life, you have supernatural abilities, daemons have awe-inspiring creativity. Humans can convince themselves up is down and black is white. It's their special gift."
"What's the truth in the story about vampires not being al owed inside without an invitation?" Having pressed him on his diet, I focused on the entrance protocols.
"Humans are with us al the time. They just refuse to acknowledge our existence because we don't make sense in their limited world. Once they al ow us in-see us for who we real y are-then we're in to stay, just as someone you've invited into your home can be hard to get rid of. They can't ignore us anymore."
"So it's like the stories of sunlight," I said slowly. "It's not that you can't be in sunlight, but when you are, it's harder for humans to ignore you. Rather than admit that you're walking among them, humans tel themselves you can't survive the light."
Matthew nodded again. "They manage to ignore us anyway, of course. We can't stay indoors until it's dark. But we make more sense to humans after twilight-and that goes for you, too. You should see the looks when you walk into a room or down the street."
I thought about my ordinary appearance and glanced at him doubtful y. Matthew chuckled.
"You don't believe me, I know. But it's true. When humans see a creature in broad daylight, it makes them uneasy.
We're too much for them-too tal , too strong, too confident, too creative, too powerful, too different. They try very hard to push our square pegs into their round holes al day long. At night it's a bit easier to dismiss us as merely odd."
I stood up and removed the fish plates, happy to see that Matthew had eaten everything but the garnish. He poured a bit more of the German wine into his glass while I pul ed two more plates out of the refrigerator. Each held neatly arranged slices of raw venison so thin that the butcher insisted you could read the Oxford Mail through them.
Vampires didn't like greens. We'd see about root vegetables and cheese. I heaped beets in the center of each plate and shaved Parmesan on top.
A broad-bottomed decanter ful of red wine went into the center of the table, where it quickly caught Matthew's attention.
"May I?" he asked, no doubt worried about my burning down the col ege. He reached for the plain glass container, poured a bit of wine into our glasses, then held it up to his nose.
"Cote-Rotie," he said with satisfaction. "One of my favorites."
I eyed the plain glass container. "You can tel that just from smel ing it?"
He laughed. "Some vampire stories are true. I have an exceptional sense of smel -and excel ent sight and hearing, too. But even a human could tel that this was Cote-Rotie." He closed his eyes again. "Is it 2003?"
My mouth gaped open. "Yes!" This was better than watching a game show. There had been a little crown on the label. "Does your nose tel you who made it?"
"Yes, but that's because I've walked the fields where the grapes were grown," he confessed sheepishly, as if he'd been caught pul ing a trick on me.
"You can smel the fields in this?" I stuck my nose in the glass, relieved that the odor of horse manure was no longer there.
"Sometimes I believe I can remember everything I've ever smel ed. It's probably vanity," he said rueful y, "but scents bring back powerful memories. I remember the first time I smel ed chocolate as if it were yesterday."
"Real y?" I pitched forward in my chair.
"It was 1615. War hadn't broken out yet, and the French king had married a Spanish princess that no one liked- especial y not the king." When I smiled, he smiled back, though his eyes were fixed on some distant image. "She brought chocolate to Paris. It was as bitter as sin and as decadent, too. We drank the cacao straight, mixed with water and no sugar."
I laughed. "It sounds awful. Thank goodness someone figured out that chocolate deserved to be sweet."
"That was a human, I'm afraid. The vampires liked it bitter and thick."
We picked up our forks and started in on the venison.
"More Scottish food," I said, gesturing at the meat with my knife.
Matthew chewed a piece. "Red deer. A young Highlands stag from the taste of it."
I shook my head in amazement.
"As I said," he continued, "some of the stories are true."
"Can you fly?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
He snorted. "Of course not. We leave that to the witches, since you can control the elements. But we're strong and fast. Vampires can run and jump, which makes humans think we can fly. We're efficient, too."
"Efficient?" I put my fork down, unsure whether raw venison was to my liking.
"Our bodies don't waste much energy. We have a lot of it to spend on moving when we need to."
"You don't breathe much," I said, thinking back to yoga and taking a sip of wine.
"No," Matthew said. "Our hearts don't beat very often. We don't need to eat very often. We run cold, which slows down most bodily processes and helps explain why we live so long."
"The coffin story! You don't sleep much, but when you do, you sleep like the dead."
He grinned. "You're getting the hang of this, I see."
Matthew's plate was empty of everything except for the beets, and mine was empty except for the venison. I cleared away the second course and invited him to pour more wine.
The main dish was the only part of the meal that required heat, and not much of it. I had already made a bizarre biscuitlike thing from ground chestnuts. Al that was left for me to do was sear some rabbit. The list of ingredients included rosemary, garlic, and celery. I decided to forgo the garlic. With his sense of smel , garlic must overpower everything else-there was the nugget of truth in that vampire legend. The celery was also ruled out. Vampires categorical y did not like vegetables. Spices didn't seem to pose a problem, so I kept the rosemary and ground some pepper over the rabbit while it seared in the pan.
Leaving Matthew's rabbit a little underdone, I cooked mine a bit more than was required, in the hope that it would get the taste of raw venison out of my mouth. After assembling everything in an artistic pile, I delivered it to the table. "This is cooked, I'm afraid-but barely."
"You don't think this is a test of some sort, do you?"
Matthew's face creased into a frown.
"No, no," I said hurriedly. "But I'm not used to entertaining vampires."