Undead and Unsure


"Dammit! I can't remember if the Antichrist likes terrible cranberry sauce or real cranberry sauce."

"We went through this last time we shopped," Jess reminded me.

And wouldn't need to shop again, or go through this again, if you didn't devour... steady, steady. Creating life, she's creating life. Or something.

I gulped down the sarcasm and forced a smile. "I just don't want to get off on the wrong foot when we're close to reconciling." Say it twice. I'd almost dreaded opening my eyes this afternoon, unsure if the new day would bring reconciliation or horror, or reconciled horror.

"Good point," Marc agreed, looking up from Foster's With Friends Like These. "Killing her mom... that was a huge faux pas. You definitely don't want to make things worse by feeding her canned cranberries. There's only so much a person can take."

"Exactly." I held a sack of cranberries in one hand and a can in the other. We were in the kitchen again, starting to prep the big family meal while fighting the vague feeling we should have gotten started hours earlier.

But it wasn't my fault. This one thing, at least, probably wasn't my fault maybe. What with sipping supper with my husband (okay, from my husband), dropping off over a dozen pairs of shoes at the Fairview Avenue Goodwill branch, faking admiration for the wallpaper swatches Jess had picked out for the nursery (that afternoon), faking admiration for the way Fur and Burr would scamper outside to poop after eating (Sinclair swore this was a trick he and he alone had taught them), faking interest while Marc explained all the reasons why Daenerys was the queen foretold to usurp Cersei (if HBO hadn't shown it, I didn't want to hear about it), and returning Fred the mermaid's bitchy e-mail #7 (long story), the afternoon had vanished. Along with the morning and the previous week and, also, the previous month and two years. Why did my life speed up after I died?

"Enough mistakes have been made," I decided, still weighing the bag against the can. "Even though killing Satan wasn't a mistake."

"That's probably something you want to keep to yourself," Jess suggested while Marc nodded in agreement so hard I thought he was going to topple out of his chair.

"Duh, and thanks. But that still leaves the question: terrible cranberries or real ones?"

I wasn't so dim I couldn't see fretting over the meal was a little hilarious; most of us wouldn't be able to eat any of it. Not without the help of Mr. Food Processor. Still, Jess was eating for nineteen, Not-Nick always had thirds, Marc liked to smell the food, Laura ate like a twenty-year-old who didn't have to cut calories or work out to look hot and assumed it would always be that way, my mom would take a bunch of the bird home for sandwiches to bring to the U, and Fur and Burr would stand ready to snarf down scraps. I didn't foresee a lot of leftovers cluttering up the mansion fridge(s).

Jess glanced at the horrible clock (it was one of those creepy ones with a black cat whose eyeballs clicked back and forth, and it had followed us from my dorm room to our duplex to the mansion). "What time's dinner?"

I shrugged. Ina Garten I was not. In life my most valued kitchen tool had been the microwave, my mom still cooked like I was living at home and often dropped off leftovers, and if I had extra money I put it in the shoe fund, never toward the food budget. In undeath I couldn't keep solid food down; I was doomed to centuries (at least!) of smoothies and blood. There'd never been much point in learning to cook.

But I wasn't the only one who lived here, and I'd tried to take advantage of that. When I'd explained to Marc that, as our resident gay zombie, he should sort of just know things about entertaining and cooking and such, I got a lot of backtalk about how stereotypes aren't just hurtful, they're lazy. Then he threw his Gray's Anatomy at me, which is how I discovered how heavy the unabridged version is. Then I halfheartedly apologized (he could have broken my nose, so it was like I was a victim, too). Then The Physiology Coloring Book, which was much lighter, followed Gray's Anatomy. He was out of books but within clutching distance of a one-hundred-count box of markers, so I upgraded my apology. Then I changed the subject. Lesson learned.

"I've never done this before," I said, hoping for a few brownie points from the zombie who had unerring aim, "but the important thing is we are going to do it together and not hide behind hurtful stereotypes while wrongly expecting one person to do all the-"

"It's already past four," Jess pointed out, as if I'd lost my ability to tell time along with my ability to have any sort of control over anything in my life. "Turkey'll take at least three hours. It has to be cooked all the way, Betsy; I can't eat undercooked poultry-that might hurt the baby whose due date I never remember."

"That's okay," I soothed. "If it comes out not cooked enough, I'm a creative genius with the microwave."

"That's true!" Jess brightened. She was super pretty anyway, but when she beamed like that she could be on magazine covers. "You found so many things to blow up. It was incredible; I've-still!-never seen anything like it."

"Oh, Christ," Marc muttered to his book.

"I got the idea when we bought all those Peeps for half off-remember? It was just before I started my last SDJ (Stupid Day Job), and we were gonna throw that Peep-themed party but had to cancel to hit the sample sale. Soooo many Peeps. So many ways to destroy them. Before I died it was the closest I'd been to being a Bond villain: "No, Mr. Peep, I want you to die." I'd sort of impressed myself; at the time I had no idea an evil genius sometimes skulked under my lowlights.

Marc was shaking his head and refusing to look up from Foster.

"Anyway, I'll zap any turkey you think is underdone, just to be safe. And if it takes a long time to cook, that's not so bad. It'll give Laura and me more time to talk. That's all we need, you know-clear communication. I can explain some stuff and she can vent and then we'll gorge on tryptophan and sink into food comas. And God bless us," I added, waving the can like a crutch, "every one!"

"You won't, though." Marc finally dragged himself away from With Friends Like These. "It's a myth. There's tryptophan in all poultry, not just turkey, and really not much more than what's in lots of other meat. People get tired because of all the carbs they wolf down with the turkey, and the legend spreads. Isn't that great?"

Not especially, but I nodded. Oh-he probably meant it was great that he'd remembered that. And it was. "Keep the useless food trivia coming, big guy, some of it might come in handy. Meanwhile, I'll add all the turkey I want to my T-day smoothie. Which reminds me, where is the food processor? I'm not gonna drink this dinner alone."

"It broke when Sinclair was grinding up-"

"Please don't finish." Probably a handful of diamonds he would sprinkle into Fur and Burr's coats to make them shiny and durable. Nothing was too good for those two fluffballs.

"And your mom's on her way." Jess plunked into one of the director's chairs Tina had ordered. That had come about after Jessica hopped up on one of the bar stools only to lose her balance and take out almost the entire group as she plunged, shrieking, to the floor. She was the bowling ball; we'd nearly been the pins. After that, the bar stools went bye-bye, replaced by comfy red director's chairs (Jessica had declined the offer of a seat belt attachment for hers). "Did you leave your cell in your room again? Anyway, she called mine and started to bug me about whatever the hell's been up her butt lately-I was making monkey tails so I wasn't paying much attention."

"Do I even want to-"

"Chocolate-covered frozen bananas," I told him. Delish! I enjoyed them in life and death. Reminder: buy another food processor. And possibly more blenders.

"I've got to admit, I was surprised. That's not like your mom. In fact it's one of the reasons I love your mom: if something's up her butt, she doesn't let the entire world hear about it ad nauseam. She works through her shit and doesn't drag anybody else into it."

"Betsy, I had no idea you were adopted," Marc said in feigned (I think) astonishment.

"Blow me," was all I had for a witty rejoinder. "You're right, though. Something's been on her mind lately."

"Maybe she and Clive are getting-"

"If you finish that sentence I'll buy your kid a drum set for his fifth birthday. And his sixth. And... you get it, right?"

Jess obeyed but, to prove she was uncowed, didn't stifle the snicker. That was fine; one battle at a time. "Okay, well, once we get the Antichrist cooled out, maybe I can sit down with Mom or take her out for supper or something, let her get whatever it is off her chest. I can't imagine what-" I'd dropped the can and bag o' berries on the island, then turned and opened the fridge and was reaching for the turkey when I realized what it was. "Ohmigod. Oh, you guys. We are dead. This is a fresh turkey."

"We had that talk last time we were planning Thanksgiving, too." Jessica let out a long-suffering sigh. "How can you concentrate when you've got deja vu all the time?"

"This is a fresh, organic, heritage turkey." Words could not express the horror. I yanked the thing off the shelf and turned to Jess, clutching it like it was the One Ring made of turkey (and tryptophan, but not enough to make anyone sleepy).

"So? What's the-"

"This thing..." I shook the turkey at her. "It was alive, alive! What, two days ago? At most? You ordered it fresh! Or they had one in whatever Rich Girl Supermarket you decided to shop at. This is a Royal Red or a Midget Palm or something." At Marc's blank look I almost screamed, "This was never a Butterball turkey genetically manipulated and raised in squalor then abused and killed and then trapped in a grocery store freezer for weeks on end! And somehow my mom found out!"

For a moment Jessica sat, frozen, and I figured I'd have to refresh her memory on a few facts of life regarding Dr. Elise Taylor. But I'd mistaken her immobility for incomprehension instead of dawning terror. She slid off the chair and was on her way out the door in one smooth movement that I admired even as I cursed her for leaving me alone to face Mom's wrath.

"What?" Marc was looking around, probably expecting an assassination attempt. "What's wrong? What's your mom going to do? Wait, is that an adrenaline surge?" He paused and got the strangest look on his face, like he was listening for something inside himself. "It is! Woo-hoo!"

I listened, too, because I knew time was running out and, yep, there was a car pulling in. Since it wasn't being driven with the care of an eighty-year-old woman plagued with vertigo, that ruled Laura out. It could only be my mom, BabyJon (she'd insisted on taking him back to her house again last night), and (may God help us in our darkest hour) Cliiiiiive.

"Flee," I advised my friend, who looked equal parts startled, intrigued, and frightened. "Save yourself."

"I don't under-"

"No, really. Get the fuck out of here." Marc read my face, then bolted to his feet and did the zombie shuffle right the hell out.

Sadly, I knew I must face the horror alone. And in socks, no less-there wasn't time to grab a pair of power heels. It was difficult to feign indifferent cool in my sock monkey socks, but I'd have to manage.

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