Dark Hunger


CHAPTER TWELVE



"Why'd you decide to come? I-" assumed I'd have to torment you for another six months at least, since you're so frigging stubborn. I am, too, but you got both barrels: Dad's stubbornness and the Ant's. But I only got Dad and-okay, never mind, I guess my mom's stubborn, too. Sometimes.

No, no, no.

"Why'd you decide to come? I-" really feel like you're not seeing my side of the story here. I get that she was your mom-one of your moms-but come on. She was Satan! I bet the planet is stuffed-stuffed!-with people who'd line up to shake my hand.

Argh, even worse.

"Why'd you decide to come? I-" could have used more than a few hours' notice that we'd be expected to produce-ta-dah!-a Thanksgiving meal for, what, ten? Plus, even before you got here it turned into an emotional showdown because my mom hated growing up on a farm.

The Antichrist was giving me a strange look. Nothing I wasn't used to. "You've asked me that three times. Then you cut yourself off and kind of stare into space. Then you ask the question again."

"Just... um... trying to be a good hostess." Gah, did I look that dim when I was thinking? Who knew my fate was to be the undead John Dorian, MD? "So did you have any trouble finding the place?"

"Are you all right?"

"I'm a little on edge," I admitted.

"Is that why we're in the backyard where your puppies poop?"

"They're not my puppies so back off." I caught myself. Steady, moron. How can you be this bad at postfuckup playing nice when you've had to do it a zillion times? "And yes. We can go in if you want."

"Are you hiding?"

"No."

She looked-maybe I was reading into it, but for a second she went from startled to sad. "Are you hiding me?"

"No." I wanted to reach out and give her sleeve a "buck up, li'l camper!" tug and restrained myself. "Hide you? Hide you? Jeez, not ever. Well, maybe if we were both at the same wedding trying to look hot for the same groomsmen. I might hide you then."

(I would definitely hide her then.)

She let a few moments go by while she studied my face and, I figured, tried to decide if I was lying. So now I was the one who was a little sad. We'd gone from strangers to tentative friends to not-so-tentative enemies to a working relationship to no relationship. Now Laura was likely stuck as Satan 2.0, and we were gonna make nice over turkey smoothies. A little sad? Yeah. Like a little pregnant. I guess we were just sad.

At last she said, "We can stay outside if you want," and I actually staggered a little in relief. And also because in my hurry to get outside, I'd grabbed my Kurt Geiger red velvet platforms, which did not go with my blaze orange parka. They were roomy enough to wear with thick socks, though, so I was once again faced with a question mankind has long tried to solve: comfort or class? At least they weren't clogs. Though platforms were close...

"BabyJon's getting another tooth."

"Yeah, Mom told me." I winced. This was my legal ward, my brother/son, and I hardly saw him. Worse, I felt bad that I didn't feel worse about hardly seeing him.

"I come to see him at your mom's sometimes. She's nice," Laura added thoughtfully.

"The best. Not a lot of people her age would appreciate being a de facto surrogate mother." I wondered if that had been a genuine compliment or a dig ("Your mother, who you haven't murdered, is nice. You're lucky to have such a nice mom. My mom's dead, did I mention?") and that was the worst of the whole thing. That I truly wasn't sure if she was being nice or not. Once upon a time, there'd never been a question.

We picked through the half inch of snow that had fallen the night before. The oak tree where I'd buried my cat (twice) loomed in the far left corner of the yard. I'd been (and was) a city girl whose idea of camping had been the Minneapolis Hyatt and roughing it meant Red Lobster, so I could never get over the juxtaposition of a street crammed with ancient homes (by Minnesota standards) that also had sizeable yards. In a time and place where people often had to choose ("Big house or big yard, can't have both, so sorry, you should have moved here two hundred years ago.") I knew I was lucky to have both. Lucky in everything, if I was honest with myself.

The back kitchen door popped open, crashed against the outside of the house, then rebounded closed... but not before Fur and Burr made their daring flight for freedom. They made straight for me, like fuzzy incontinent cruise missiles, proving me wrong, reminding me I was lucky in almost everything.

"Ooooooooooooooooh!" Laura oohed. "Oh they're so cuuuuuuute they're adorable and sooooooo cuuuuuuuuute, come give me kisses!"

"Stop that," I said, but I was smiling. The dogs, stupid, the dogs. The Antichrist was kind to children and small animals. Why hadn't I brought them out right away as an icebreaker?

They both piled to a halt at my feet and Fur instantly clamped down on my velvet-clad toes.

Oh, right. That was why.

"Oooooooooooh so cute so cute so cuuuuuute."

"Stop it or I'll need an insulin shot." I gently nudged Fur off my toes. Well played, tiny missile with teeth. Perhaps I shall spare your life. "They can be appealing, I'll give 'em that."

Laura had knelt and scooped up Burr and was nuzzling noses with her, so: ew. "Do you know where she puts that thing?"

"How can you be so cold?"

I jerked a thumb at my chest. "Undead."

She ignored my lameness. "They're irresistible. I'd think after Giselle died, you'd want another-"

"Cat," I finished. "Not dogs, plural. Here's the problem: dogs try too hard. All the time. And it's kind of flattering for a very little bit and then it's just sad. Dogs are the awkward kid in high school who wants so much to fit in, who tries so hard to pull off cool and just can't. And then you have to pretend you didn't notice that they've been trying too hard, and that makes it awkward. Pretty soon you feel sorry for them, which is annoying. You don't want to feel sorry for them. You kind of wish they'd give up on the cool thing and go home. But they don't ever. And so you're stuck. Because who's going to have the courage to tell them, 'You're not cool and the more you try the less cool you get, it's like an equation that way'? Nobody."

"And... ?" She'd tucked the puppy under her arm like a football and stood.

"And... oh, right, my analogy: that's why I prefer cats. Because cats are the cool kids, and they don't give a shit. And the less they care, the cooler they get. That's also like an equation."

"You were like this before you died, weren't you?"

"Yeah," I admitted, and her lips twitched upward for half a sec. A tiny smile or the onset of a seizure? "Oh, and I forgot-way more apartments will let you have a cat but hardly any let you have dogs. And you can actually leave town for more than eight or nine hours if you have a cat, but dogs, in addition to being super needy, need near-constant supervision. It's like hanging around a toddler who isn't yours, who can't talk and isn't toilet trained and freaks when you leave and almost knocks you down when you come back. Yeah, a nonverbal randomly pooping toddler who you didn't give birth to but are still trapped with." Since she was looking more and more appalled, I tried to get off the dog thing. "You could have a cat at your place, right?"

She glanced away. "I'm not there anymore. I moved out a few days ago."

"Oh." Huh. Not a peep to me, and vampires could lift a lot; we were invaluable as movers. But that was understandable. It hurt but I understood. It burned like fire but I understood. The sting of betrayal was like acid on my eyeballs but I understood. "You left the Dinkytown apartment?"

"Yes. I had t-yes."

"I'm sorry." I meant it. Dinkytown was a stretch of Minneapolis near the East Bank, a neighborhood that had been around since the 1940s but was always trendy. Unlike McMansions and bomb shelters, Dinkytown had never gone out of fashion; it was a town within a town, crammed with bookstores and bike shops and quick-but-good restaurants. Laura's apartment had been in the Historic, which (also like Dinkytown) had always been cool. The building had been built in the late 1800s and had recently gone through a massive update, so the place was classically historic on the outside, but had Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs on the inside. I knew she'd loved it, not just because we all love our first apartment when we escape-uh, move out of our parents' house-but for its own schizophrenic self.

"A kid lived there," Laura was saying, "and I'm not a kid anymore."

Oh-ho. Behold the signs we are enduring the rise of the Antichrist: for nation shall rise against nation, many false prophets shall arise, and the most terrible sign, the Beast shall giveth up her cooleth Dinkytown digs.

Beware.

Time for another subtle subject change. "So how about this weather! Also, thanks for coming over. Everybody's really glad you came."

"Why?"

God, this is torture. "Why wouldn't they be? We're sisters, BabyJon's our brother, this is our family now."

"Your family." She set the puppy down just in time; she walked about four feet, then squatted and peed. The dog, not the Antichrist. "Not mine. You killed mine."

"No." All at once I was super pissed at her. Partly because the "woe, woe" thing was aging faster than yogurt, and partly out of my own guilt. "You still have your mom and dad, your real-"

She cut me off. "Our father and Little Horn were my real parents."

Little... wait, what? Never mind.

"Nope. Not at all, not for half a second. Your real parents took you in and loved you and fed you and sat up with you when you had the flu so bad you were barfing in your sleep-"

"Who told you about that?"

"The vampire queen sees all." Nope, she wasn't buying it. When was I going to consistently remember she not only wasn't impressed by vampire powers, she thought they were inherently evil? "It was my mom because you told her. And while your parents were doing all that stuff they also saved up to send you to college and did everything they could to be all-around awesome parents and when Satan popped in and played 'This is your life' they still loved you and you were still their daughter.

"Your dad's a minister and your mom's a nurse; they've spent their lives helping people and bringing you up-because you're their daughter-to do the same, and you can't get much more white knight than that." One of the perks of being a bad person is being able to spot the good ones. "They know you're the spawn of Satan and they don't give a shit. That's why they're real."

Laura just shook her head in denial and went on being gorgeous. Hard to say which one was more annoy-oh, who did I think I was fooling, the gorgeous thing was more annoying. In faded jeans-not artfully or artificially faded, but wore-them-to-tons-of-soup-kitchens faded, with a long-sleeved U of M crimson T-shirt under an unzipped dirty-brown jacket she'd had for years, hair loose and messy, her big blue eyes rimmed in red like she'd been crying or was about to start, her nose red for the same reason.

So annoying! Fuck it. No more screwing around. No more long awkward pauses or pretending things were almost okay when they were very damned far from being okay, nope, enough, it was time to grab the Antichrist by the horns.

"D'you want to know what your mother said when I killed her?"

Her (lipstickless yet perfectly red) lips parted but she said nothing. And for a second I could almost feel the air crackle between us. This could be interesting. And by interesting I meant fatally gory.

But the crackling quit because the door again popped open, rebounded, and would have smacked Sinclair if he hadn't caught it, stepped into the yard, and carefully let it close behind him.

"There you two are, you bad little bitches! You were very bad to run away and I have been just sick about it."

"I'm sor-"

"He's talking to the dogs." I sighed, rubbing my eyes. Could vampires get a fatal aneurysm? Please God, let them be vulnerable to fatal aneurysms.

"Yes indeed," Sinclair said, bounding over to us. He was in another dark suit, not cheap enough for casual wear but not expensive enough for a family dinner. "I could never refer to the two of you as bad bitches. I am certain I would dislike getting staked in the chest."

"My God," Laura said, and Sinclair politely inclined his head. "Ah... sorry about that. I've never-I knew Betsy had done something but I didn't-" She stopped in confusion for a second. "I've never seen you outside in the daytime."

"I understand your confusion."

"He knows he looks scrumptious with the sun bouncing off his cheekbones," I added. "Don't hate him because he's dazzling."

Do not indeed and by the by, my own, are you all right?

I was new to the telepathy thing; Sinclair was, too. In the movies and comics people who can read someone's mind have entire conversations in surround sound: the one in their head and the one out loud. Not this girl. I had no chance of following both at the same time. Half the time I had no chance of following the only conversation happening. Even when I was one of the participants. I prayed she wouldn't babble something I should be listening to.

It was tense, I thought at him. Or would that be to him? But she's still here and she's still blond. When you came busting out your timing was perfect and do not say "That's what she said."

Sinclair's snobbery came through our link loud and clear. Certainly not.

(Note to self: find "That's what she said" bumper stickers and slap 'em on everything he owns.)

Whew! Laura's lips were still moving. She had no idea I hadn't been-

"Right? Don't you think?"

"Yep. I think exactly that. About what you just said."

"What did I just say, Betsy?" Her eyes were squinty with bitchiness, or because she was facing west.

Before Sinclair could cover for me with a bluff, prompt me with what she'd said, or stab my sister so I could get away, I tried: "What you've been saying, Laura. And not just since you got here today. It's like you keep bringing it up because you think I've forgotten about it."

"Yes, well, my sister's murder of my mother tends to prey on my mind. I'll drop it," she said grudgingly, almost but not quite apologizing. "For now at least. No reason the rest of your guests should have to endure our-"

"Family problem?" I prompted.

"-insipid power struggle."

Hmmm.

"I'm sure we can be civil for one meal," she decided.

Her confidence was inspiring, since I wasn't sure at all. Also: "your guests"? Cold, cold. But that was a worry for half an hour from now. Right now I was exulting in the "I guessed right!" moment, which felt as good as "wait, the test results were negative?" and "I'm getting how much back for my tax refund?"

Laughter in my head: Well played, my love!

Damn right!

And so self-effacing, it's quite fetching. Out loud: "We're pleased you could join us today, Laura."

"Thanks. I wanted to see my brother anyway."

"How's your drive now? You know, since you're running over to my mom's these days."

No need for envy, darling. You know your mommy loves you best of all.

Shut. Up. Aloud: "Laura moved out of her Dinkytown place."

He politely arched dark brows. "Oh?"

"She said it was a kid's apartment and as of a couple of weeks ago she wasn't a kid anymore."

Sinclair's expression remained politely inquiring, but the corner of his mouth twitched and I didn't need a pipeline to his thoughts to know why. My husband was old. Not "isn't it adorable how when you were born I was excited about starting middle school" old or "when I was your age they hadn't invented computers yet" old. He had decades on me (I was vague on purpose about how many), so by definition he looked at the world in ways Laura and I couldn't. Thus, her whole "a few days ago I was a kid but now I'm totally an adult so, like, just be aware that I'm officially a grown-up 'n' stuff" thing was hilarious to him. Luckily he wasn't a rude jerk like me. Most of the time he wasn't a rude jerk like me.

"We should love to see your new home," he was saying.

"Even if it's Hell?"

Sinclair didn't pause. "Yes indeed."

Yeah, sure. Spoken like someone who hasn't been there.

Laura came up with an insincere smile and a "sure, that's gonna happen" shrug.

"Is Hell rent-controlled? Wait, if Hell was real estate would it be Manhattan prices or Memphis?" I'd been there (Hell, not Manhattan, though I'd also been to Manhattan) and it was like being stuck in a beehive. The beehive... from Hell! Lots of little chambers, lots going on... in Hell! My stepmother worked for Satan; she was the assistant... from Hell!

"Whenever you wish," the classy half of our partnership continued.

"And what kind of housewarming gift do you bring to Hell? A plant's out of the question. Candles, too, I bet. Maybe a gift card? But to where... hmm... IKEA? That would just suck. Did you know IKEA designed their entrance like a cow chute to the slaughterhouse on purpose? Machiavellian bastards."

Sinclair was still doggedly pretending we were two parts of a civilized and intelligent couple. "Truly, Laura, we would be delighted to see you anytime. We are glad you're here with us now."

"And let us know what you want for a housewarming present. Are you having a party or just casually mentioning to people that you're registered at whatever place you would register at?"

"It doesn't matter," she murmured, and I caught the context on that one (I almost never do, so I try to mark the occasion). There's no point in answering your question since you're not invited to my new place, big sis, and even if you were, why would you think a Galleria gift card changes one single thing?

Sinclair's sympathy came through loud and clear. Be patient, my own. I have every confidence your shrill charm will wear her down.

Thanks, asshat.

"After you, Laura." He stepped back so she could walk past him and into the kitchen, and I kicked him in the back of his right knee when her back was to us. His surprised yelp was followed by my sinister giggle, and he'd chased me through the kitchen and into the main hall before remembering to go back for the puppies.

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