Dark Hunger


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR



I was seated at Dr. Taylor's kitchen table, watching the Antichrist and Jessica split a cereal bar the size of a brick. My mother-in-law lived in a three-bedroom home with two and a half bathrooms (the and a half always amused me as a younger man; I would picture a bathroom neatly cut down the middle, with a real estate agent extolling the virtues of a half toilet). Her home was charming-cream and lavender walls, pale blue carpeting-and well kept. Dr. Taylor's various awards and certifications were framed in the living room; pictures of her and my wife were everywhere. When my wife had lived here as a teen, the third bedroom had been devoted to her shoes. Now that room was for my ward, BabyJon, and filled to bursting with infant detritus. Dr. Taylor was an indulgent parent.

On my occasional visits, I enjoyed getting a sense of who my wife had been before she became my queen. One of the pictures was Elizabeth's mug shot. She was glaring at the camera and had the beginning of a black eye. Her hair was quite short, what Tina called a pixie cut. She was not yet out of her teens.

Sheer stubbornness prevented me from asking about that particular photograph. Both women knew I was curious and confidently waited for me to break down and ask. I knew they thought I would break and so I would never ask; I would go to my grave again having no idea what Elizabeth had done to get arrested in downtown Minneapolis. Tina or Not-Nick could have found out for me in less than an hour; still I would not indulge. A mystery for the ages! Assault? Breaking and entering? Grand theft? Kidnapping?

"I'm still pissed at you," Jessica said to Laura with her mouth full, lightly spraying my mother-in-law with cereal crumbs. Dr. Taylor was so used to such treatment (not only from Jessica, alas) she merely blinked and brushed the crumbs away from her eyes. "But my babies come first. Hate you though I must, I've gotta feed them. It's my maternal imperative and stuff. It's the only reason I'm sharing anything with you."

"I understand," Laura said gravely and almost (ah, so close!) kept the smile off her face.

Dr. Taylor rapped the kitchen table, a blond wood piece with a white ceramic tile top, a sharp sound that almost cut through Jessica's crunching. "To the matter at hand. My daughter's safe." I noted it was not phrased as a question.

Laura looked startled, then hurt. Absurd. "Of course she's safe."

"Where?"

"Uh..." Incredibly, her gaze flicked to me as if she expected me to spring to her aid. I looked back and said nothing. When I sprang to her, it would not be to help. "Uh... nothing you need to-she's safe. She's not hurt."

"Did you dump her in the past?"

"No!" The Antichrist shuddered. "Oh, gosh, never! Never, ever again. Oh, God!" Her horror and dismay were understandable. I love the queen. I love the queen. And I would go to my death smiling if it meant she was safe. Those things are true. And the thought of her gaily tripping through history, accidentally stomping a fish as it tentatively flopped on land to breathe and then walk; choosing a man at random in her desperate hunger, draining him, then leaving Paul Revere to sleep off the remainder of April 18, 1775; stumbling through England while accidentally seducing Henry VIII, who would succumb to blood loss before he met Anne Boleyn; inadvertently helping Napoleon escape his St. Helena exile and liberating Central America; finding herself drawn by the smell of blood during William Seward's assassination attempt, but unable to keep the brave admiral from bleeding to death, thus preventing America's purchase of Alaska... no, that was too absurd a consequence to contemplate. However, I could foresee any or all of the others happening.

I love the queen. And I could foresee any or all of the others happening.

"Once was enough." The Antichrist was still shaken at the thought of what would happen to the universe had she exiled Elizabeth to the past. As I saw Jessica and my mother-in-law nod in unison, I had not thought there was anything the four of us could agree on, but apparently, this was most definitely it. "For both of us. No, I wouldn't-even if I hated her, dumping her in the past could-could-even if I hated her I wouldn't do that to the universe. And I don't."

"Oh, sure you do," Jessica said easily. She was jouncing BabyJon on her lap and sneaking him tiny bits of her cereal bar. She was so casual about what she was doing and saying she didn't bother to look up. "You hate her almost as much as you want to love her."

"I-what?" Laura shook her head in such adamant denial, her face was obscured by blond waves for a full ten seconds. "No."

"Laura." This in an exasperated tone. "You absolutely do. You liked her at first-no, that's not true, either. You..." Her dark gaze shifted to the ceiling while she sought das richtige Wort.

"You liked the idea of her," she said at last. "Of a big sister. But she wasn't much like the fantasy, huh? Pretty much the opposite, I bet. Especially when you want so badly to be good. It must have been horrifying to find out that big sis was the queen of the undead. There's not much positive spin you can put on that."

I was struggling not to let my jaw unhinge in astonishment. Had I not thought earlier that no one knew Elizabeth better than her dear friend? That had been truer than I knew; I had been a fool to consider it so lightly. Jessica had outstanding insight, and while I was fond of her, and respected the trials she had endured, I had dismissed her as not much more than a trust fund child, someone who was given everything and earned nothing. My embarrassment was only outweighed by my admiration.

"How d'you know that?" Laura asked.

"Hmm?" She looked up from the gurgling infant, who was now drooling cereal. "Which part?"

"That I want so badly to be good."

"Because Betsy knows, you silly cow. And she told me. She wants to be good, too. You guys have lots more in common than either of you'll admit. Yes, you do. Yes, you do." She fed a chortling BabyJon more cereal.

"I don't hate her," the Antichrist said in a low voice. She would not look at any of us. "I just want her to be better. I want to be better. She says she's scared about turning into-" A glance at my mother-in-law; a glance at me. I moved my head a quarter of an inch to the left and right. "-a bad person," she finished, recalling that Dr. Taylor didn't know much of anything about the woman the queen referred to as Ancient Awful Me. They had met only briefly, and Betsy's destiny had been kept from her mother; the queen had insisted and we had sworn. Elizabeth shared quite a bit of her new life with Dr. Taylor, but (understandably) not everything. "But I don't think she's scared enough, you know? Sometimes I think she talks about it because she thinks she's supposed to. It's not so much that I hate her. It's-"

"You fear her," I finished.

"Well. Yeah." Laura's clear gaze swept all of us. "Aren't you guys? I mean, really: aren't you?"

"Of course," I replied, and now it was my turn to receive startled glances. "Anyone who isn't is surely a fool. I am many things, and in the past I have been a fool, but not about this, I trust. I fear the queen. How else could I love her and follow her?"

I should have anticipated the uproar that followed. I did not. So perhaps my days of being a fool were not as far behind me as I had assumed.

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.