Dark Hunger


CHAPTER ELEVEN



Tina showed my mom in, then went off to do something Tina-ish. I gave serious thought to ditching the turkey and pretending that the plan all along had been to make pumpkin pie smoothies as the main dish-what turkey? what expensive yuppified organic turkey?-but that was chickenshit, and I figured it'd be better to stand my ground, tell the truth, and accept the horrific nightmare guaranteed to follow.

Besides, how do you ditch a seventeen-pound turkey in under ten seconds? Toss it in the yard and pray the puppies (who have bladders the size of dimes and are in the yard twice an hour) don't stumble across it? Fling open the door to the nearest bathroom, toss it into the sink, and pray none of the guests have to use the guest bathroom? ("Sorry again about killing your mom, but-don't go in there! You can't use our bathroom. Get away!") Yank open the basement door, fling the turkey into darkness, and pray no one smelled it or tripped over it? No: better to suck it up.

I. Hate. Thanksgiving.

"Jessica screwed up!" I cried the second I saw my mom. "It's her fault, not mine!" Hmm. In my head, that sounded courageous, not panicked and whiny.

Startled, my mom froze in the doorway for a second. "I'm sure there's more to it than that." She was holding BabyJon, who was dressed in a dark green fleece jacket, matching pants, and drool. A diaper bag the size of a couch was slung over her other shoulder. She liked to tease that lugging the extra weight was good practice for the coming osteoporosis. And hunchbacks ran in her family, she'd (cheerfully!) reminded me, just when I dared think there was no way for the horror to continue. "There might be plenty of blame to go around. In fact, I'm sure of it."

"But none for me, right?"

"Of course on you; you're best friends, aren't you?" Mom got that little wrinkle between her eyes when she felt frown-ey but her mouth didn't turn down. She could glare just with her eyes. It's as terrifying as it sounds. "I don't think this would be happening if you were a normal person. And honey, I love you, but you weren't normal when you weren't a vampire."

"Thank you?"

"And I think you're going to have to be the one to fix it, because I've got no idea how and I don't think Jessica is even capable of acknowledging there's a problem."

"I don't think that's right." Did I tell Miss Gestates-a-Lot to buy a fresh organic turkey? No. Did I tell her to unhinge her jaw and devour the last turkey we'd had in the fridge? No. "Or fair."

Mom raised her eyebrows and I noticed the dark smudges beneath her eyes. A drawback to having light hair and fair skin is it's much harder to cover fatigue, pox (either small or cow), or hangover-induced pallor. She hadn't been sleeping well and I tried to squash the guilt. "Fair? Betsy. You're in your thirties."

"Technically I'm thirty forever."

"And old enough to know about fair. It's a word for children."

"Okay, that's fair." Argh! "I mean, you make a good point. But the thing is, I really was the victim this time. By the time I found out it was too late to do anything. So really, this is all on Jess."

"Then you should be ashamed," my mom replied with simplicity that stunned me. She wasn't teasing and she wasn't mock-complaining the way parents do when they're pretending their kid is annoying when secretly, they love the annoying kid in question in particular when they're doing the thing the parent pretends to find so annoying. "You must have decided that attitude was acceptable from somewhere, and I can't blame everything on your late father. So I'm shamed, too."

"Don't... Mom, don't say that." I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so startled and hurt. I went to her and held out my arms, and BabyJon came to me at once with a wiggle and a "Glaarrgg!" I hugged him to me for a second, knowing I was using the baby for pure animal comfort, and too upset to much care. He was dry and-maybe it was the kitchen lighting?-looked a little jaundiced, and smelled like baby lotion and carrots. Ah! Not jaundice. One load off my mind. What do you even do for a jaundiced baby? Beta-smoothies in their bottles? Stick him under a heat lamp like those roasted chickens at the supermarket? "Hmm, I like the look of that brunet fourteen-pounder... wrap him up, please. And some potato salad on the side."

I stopped distracting myself with my brother, who was happy to sit on my hip and goggle at the two of us. I faced my mom, who still hadn't moved from the doorway. "I'm sorry you're upset, but it's just a turkey. Jessica and I didn't grow up the way you did and that's not a judgment. I think you triumphed and overcame a lot, starting with your father and ending with mine. But the stuff that bothers you doesn't always bother me, and hasn't for years."

"Betsy-"

I raised my voice. Please let the humans not hear and the vampires be hesitant to interrupt, and for Laura to be late for the first time in her life. "I didn't mean for the turkey to come across as this horrible insensitive thing I did to you. But I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one because, honestly, I promise we weren't even thinking about you when we got the stupid bird." Wait. That was kind of the definition of insensitive, wasn't it?

The thing about my mom: she grew up on a farm that, in a good year, was only decimated by one tornado or lost only one crop to drought. Living on a working farm was, outside the pages of a Martha Stewart magazine, hard, brutal work. Unrelenting work, too: the crops don't give a shit about Easter or your Thanksgiving plans or your birthday or your hangover; farms don't offer paid holidays and don't apologize for long hours. Neither do the animals who live on it. Business hours do not and have never existed on a farm.

That's not even touching on her father, who spent my mother's childhood annoyed that his wife hadn't given him a son. This was so stupid in so many ways that, decades later, I still get dizzy if I think about it.

I tried to give Gramps the "hey, dimwad, the guy determines the baby's sex, so how about you drop it before the womenfolk rise up and smite your dumb ass?" talk when I was a teen, and it hadn't gone well. ("Shut up or I'll get the gun again.") And when Grandpa wasn't bemoaning his lack of sons (and, I assume, a seventh grader's grasp of biology), he was explaining to the future Dr. Elise Taylor, Instructor of the Year, John Tate Award winner, and Morse Alumni Award winner, that college was wasted on a girl and she should just shut up and join the army already.

Fast-forward through the "disco will never die" '70s and the shoulder pad power suits (for men and women) of the '80s, and Mom couldn't believe it when it became trendy to frequent U-pick orchards.

"They're paying," she'd tell me, dumbfounded, staring at giddy yuppies slaving under a July sun and posing for pictures doing same, "paying for the privilege of indulging in backbreaking work. As if paying to ride in a splinter-riddled cart on top of itchy pointy straw behind a steaming horse butt wasn't ridiculous enough."

She had assumed it was a phase, something that sounded cool to the idiots doing it at the time but that they would admit was an embarrassing waste of time and money years later, like velour tracksuits and gold grills. Excuse me: grillz.

It wasn't a phase.

That part of it, the U-pick orchards and pumpkin patches and Saw-Yer-Own-Xmas-Tree lots ("Staggering through snow-choked woods in subzero weather to saw down a tree and drag it back is exhausting and not at all fun!"), had been incomprehensible enough, but when the "working" bed-and-breakfasts started popping up she really lost her shit. ("Gather the eggs? Feed the pigs, the pigs? Look! Look at the brochure: 'Book early enough and we just might let you help with chores.' Oh my dear God, the world has gone mad.") She despised it when the upper-middles played at what had been soul-searing drudgery for her family.

So of course when she found out about the organic turkey (I'd have to find out who ratted), she lost her shit all over again. Because I think, in her mind, organic turkey farms and U-slave orchards and winery grape-stomping and taking out the garbage at the lighthouse you're dropping $350 a night to sleep in-all that turns what she endured into a punch line and makes what she overcame something that was no big deal.

"What's worse?" she'd asked, staring in horror at Travel and Leisure. "That these farms have the audacity to charge guests for working? Or that the guests pay?" It got so bad, in fact, that she hated pretty much all parts of the organic-is-expensive-and-thus-awesome! movement. U-pick berries, organic turkeys, honey from the coop farmer down the street... it all fell under the umbrella of awful as far as my mom was concerned.

So her being upset was understandable, but (oh, there's my insensitivity: it's baaaack!) we had bigger problems.

What? We did.

"What are you going to do about this?" she cried and, seeing BabyJon's expression crumple, changed her tone. "You had better come up with something, young lady," she added in her sweetest, kindest tone, "or you will regret it always."

I threw up my hands. I mean hand (I was holding BabyJon on my hip with the other). "Got any ideas?" I replied in as soothing a tone as I could manage. "Because I've got no friggin' idea, no, I don't." I nuzzled the baby's nose. "No, I sure don't!"

"Coming through!" The kitchen door swung back and then Jessica was framed in the doorway in all her belly-licious glory. Mom came forward so she could come in the rest of the way. "I can't let you do it, Betsy. Elise, this is all my fault. Betsy didn't do anything, I promise. She's covering for me and at first I figured she was running a fever but now I realize it's not right to let her take the hit."

"Yes, well, that's the problem," Mom muttered. "She's not doing anything." To me: "Do you get feverish?"

"Irrelevant! I'm the one who said, 'Drop dead, Butterball Corporation, I've got a hankering for a Bourbon Red so you can suck it' and then wham! The deed was done." She hung her head. "And I am shamed."

"Thanks," I said, the gratitude in my voice cutting through the baby talk.

She shrugged and indulged in Jess-code: "Whatter friends."

Mom slid the diaper bag off her shoulder and plopped it on the counter with a clunk. A clunk? What the hell did she have in there? "What do booze and the color red have to do with you being under a spell?"

"Nothing," we admitted in unison. Bourbon. I hated the smell and taste of it, but I wouldn't deny a bourbon smoothie was sounding pretty good, one with extra bourbon and bourbon on the side. (Side note: I loved the part in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 where Budd made himself and Elle a booze smoothie minutes before the mamba opened a can of whup-ass all over his face: alcohol + ice + blender = booze smoothie.)

"Then why? Why are we talking about it?"

"We're confessing."

"She's confessing," I quickly pointed out. "I don't actually have anything to confess this time. I'm as pure as newborn snow or whatever."

"I am not talking about bourbon! I have not been talking about bourbon even once! Not today, not yesterday, not the day before-I have been talking about Jessica's pregnancy being unnatural!"

"Oh jeez! That!" I sat in a director's chair before I could swoon. Ahhh, sweet relief. The turkey had not been my downfall. I'm sure I will eventually have a downfall, but downfall by turkey sounds too stupid. So that was a relief. "Of course her pregnancy is unnatural. It's okay; we're aware."

"We thought you-I thought it was something else. This?" Jessica gestured to her belly. "Don't worry about this. It's gonna work out fine."

There was no relief on Mom's face, none. Which was fine; Jess and I were relieved enough for all of us. "There it is again. Nobody knows when Jessica's due, how long she's been pregnant..." She turned to me. "When I called her earlier, she told me she hasn't been to any doctor, never mind an OB. Not once. How does someone who can buy her own hospital-"

"Waste of money," Jess commented.

"-not be under the best medical care in the nation? How did she find out she was pregnant? Why didn't she find an OB? Why doesn't she know her due date? Something is very wrong."

"You're telling me; you should see the food bill."

"Betsy."

"She just needs to update her calendar."

"It's true," Jess piped up. "I hate using iCloud. I think desk blotters are going to make a comeback and I'll be there when they do. After I get all that coordinated you'll see all kinds of stuff go up."

"Elizabeth."

"What?" I asked, honestly puzzled.

Tina answered before my mom could; she pushed open the swinging door with tented fingers and said in a low voice that nevertheless carried, "Your sister's here."

Oh boy. "Here we go," I muttered. "Mom, we'll finish this later, okay?"

"No," my mother replied sadly. "We won't." To my astonishment a lone tear trickled from her left eye, and BabyJon wiggled so hard to go to her I nearly dropped him.

"Here, take him, that'll cheer you up. It's okay. I'll make it right with Laura, you won't have to worry about..." My mind on my sister, I was already walking out of the room. "About whatever."

There! That should cheer her up. I didn't know what was wrong with her, but couldn't worry about it now. Once Laura and I were all right again, I'd go back and fix... whatever.

First things first and, since she was the one who taught me to prioritize, Mom of all people would understand.

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