Dark Hunger


CHAPTER FIVE



I like living with a cop. They have the best stories, it's really, really hard to knock them out of their equilibrium, they're in and out at all hours, which makes them perfect roomies for the undead, and it's nice hearing stories that don't start with I stirred from my corpse-nap ravenous for the taste of human blood, and also needed to do some Christmas shopping, so I went trolling for rapists in the Mall of America parking lots. On the rare occasions I pull my head out of my ass and take a frank look at my living conditions, living with a cop never hits the disad side.

Police work is greedy, though; it's always hungry. Some asshole is always making trouble somewhere and some cop(s) will get stuck trying to fix it, and whether they do or don't, another asshole is always coming along. I was touched and horrified to realize that Nick/Dick saw life in our mansion o' monsters as a respite, a place where he could relax and let his guard down. In a mansion full of the undead. This sort of thing relaxes him. Yeah, weird, right? Poor guy.

If I hadn't known Dick/Nick didn't need the job, I'd have felt a lot worse. But he didn't, so I didn't. Detective Berry was also a Deere, as in John Deere, as in seven-figure trust fund. That brought the number of millionaires in our household to five. (Tina had to be rich. She was too smart not to be, dressed far too well-those hand-tailored plaid skirts weren't cheap-taught Sinclair everything he knew about finance, had her claws in too many undead pies and, my God, that's such shitty imagery... claws and pies? What was I thinking?)

Minnesota was an equitable distribution state, so Sinclair being rich meant I was, too. (I learned more than I ever wanted about equitable distribution vs. community property when the Ant torpedoed my mother's marriage.)

It bugged me sometimes; it was like living in a Richie Rich cartoon as written by Wile E. Coyote: hard to believe, often illogical, always mystifying. How many people were on intimate terms with millionaires? Hardly any, right? And there lies my problema grande: I was afraid of becoming the monster Ancient Me had been, and I knew the best way to avoid that hideous future was to stay grounded. Except I was a vampire. And a queen. And rich. And lived in a mansion. With millionaires. Grounded? Shit... not even when I was alive, sharing a duplex with Jessica and brown-bagging it so I could scoop up some Marc Jacobs Caprice sandals. I was always the ordinary one surrounded by interesting weirdos. It only got worse after I died. And despite their claims, I was still the ordinary one surrounded by interesting weirdos.

(Also, how sad is it that I could start talking about living with a cop and turn it around to not wanting to be evil? No matter what the topic-the economy, 30 Rock's final season, killing the devil, hiring minstrels-it always came back to me not wanting to grow up to be me.)

All that to say I liked living with the new and improved Nick/Dick Berry. He was something else I'd accidentally changed; he was my proof that I didn't have to become the bad guy. Plus, the benefits for me were super cool. Along with not turning evil and not writing the Book of the Dead on Sinclair's skin, Nick's personality change, in my arrogant opinion, was in the win column.

The old Nick: not a Betsy fan. Well, he was in the way that deer hunters are deer fans. Nick-Not-Dick had pulled a gun on me more than once, and not in a sexy role-playing way, either. But that was fair, because Sinclair and I had forced ourselves into his mind without much thought to how he'd feel about it. He never got over it-why should he have? We'd violated him; that's the whole thing right there, there's no way to make it not awful: we raped his brain to save ourselves.

Ah! But in the new timeline we hadn't done that. My blundering through the past led to me chomping on the Antichrist instead of him. And Laura was already fucked up (see above: Antichrist). So Dick-Not-Nick never had any vampire-related trauma to work through; he thought we were all swell. He liked living in Vamp Central. He loved that he was going to be a dad. He got off on life: he liked the controlled insanity of his day job and the uncontrolled insanity of life at the mansion.

Case in point: he'd just gotten home from being on shift, a day of seeing the worst people can do to each other, and instead of heading for the kitchen to sneak some of Tina's vodka or for his room to go fetal for half an hour or to take a hot shower to scald away man's ickiness to man, I could hear him bounding up the steps to the third floor, where I was once again trying to figure out which dreadful velvet clogs to donate and which to burn. And which to (ugh!) keep.

"Hey! Is my favorite vampire queen in there?" A polite rap-rap at my bedroom door. "One preferably not having sex with my favorite vampire king? What am I saying; of course you're not exercising your marital privileges all over each other. I can't hear a bed breaking or a window shattering."

I rolled my eyes. Break two beds in the same week and people make all sorts of assumptions about your bedroom antics. "Will you come in already?"

"Which brings me back to my first question," he shouted cheerfully through the door. "Is there a vampire queen in there? I just need to talk to someone in charge. But I guess you'll do. Ha!"

"Blow me," I called back, which he knew was Betsy-ish for Come right in, dear friend. "And I'm getting more in charge every week. Probably."

"And again I say ha." He grinned at me from the doorway. He was wearing his usual off-to-fight-crime ensemble: tan dress shirt, dark gray slacks, matching jacket, and special-order cop shoes-they looked spiffy, but he could run in them. Except for the shoes it was all off-the-rack, but he was exactly my height (six feet even) and lanky like a swimmer, so he could wear just about anything and look good.

Dick-Not-Nick was not a label whore, but with those shoulders, he didn't have to be. He could throw a gunnysack over his shoulders like a cape and I'd be all, hmm, that looks pretty good, maybe I'll get a gunnysack for Sinclair.

"Ye gods, Betsy." He looked around the room at the dozens of shoe boxes, the closet door yawning open and me sitting in the middle of the floor taking notes and pics with my camera, looking not unlike something my closet had spit up. "Are you still bemoaning the whole clog thing?"

"Velvet clogs." I sulked. "And yes. Bemoaning? Really? That's how you think people talk in real life?" But just seeing him was cheering me up. I'd changed the timeline so recently, it was still a huge lift to be in a room with my best friend's lover and know he wasn't terrified of me. I liked Dick-Not-Nick for himself but I wouldn't lie. I also liked him for what he symbolized: I occasionally got it right, and not all accidents are bad.

Knowing the new Not-Nick liked me just fine would have been satisfying enough (I'm vain, but at least I own it). But he loved Jessica and he was excited about their baby. Sometimes too excited, because the baby was forcing their relationship to evolve; Not-Nick was feeling the pressure to change lives, and not just his own.

For the better, we all thought. Unfortunately, Jess disagreed. And that, I suspected, was why he'd really come to find me in my room at a time he knew Jess would probably be napping/digesting, Tina would be in her office crunching numbers or talking to a mermaid (yeah, mermaids-they existed, and who knew? I left all that to Tina, having enough vampires on my plate o' drama without adding a side of mermaids), Marc would be engrossed in Web Sudoko, and Sinclair would be scampering about the countryside with Fur and Burr.

No-Longer-Nick was looking over the stacks of shoes I had all over the room. "How come you don't do this stuff?" he asked, moving a few shoe boxes off my fainting couch and sitting down.

"Sorry, what? And be ready to move in an instant if I feel faint. You know that thing is supposed to be used mostly for fainting. I was gonna put up a sign, 'For Emergency Swoons Only,' but Sinclair wouldn't let me, that tightass." I'd had to buy the stupid Bordeaux couch because that was literally what it was: a fainting couch. Back in the day, it was something for the lady of the house to swoon onto, usually upholstered in dark velvet, with a raised back on one end, and the whole thing supported by gorgeous dark wood.

Not that I swooned, but I blacked out now and again, usually when I was about to get killed again, or just after I'd been killed again. And if I ever almost got killed in my bedroom again, I had a lavender couch to swoon onto. Progress, baby. The Boy Scouts had nothing on me, bless their little homophobic hearts. "Half an instant."

"Yeah, sure. You love this stuff so much," Nick-No-More said, gesturing to the many shoe boxes. "Which is strange to me and always has been. They're shoes, for God's sake. You stick 'em on your feet and out you go. You come back, you take them off, you're done. That's it. That's all it is."

I smiled at him. Not to go all "you're just a guy you don't get it" on the guy, but he was just a guy and he didn't get it. "That's not all it is. Not even close. As a species we've been stomping around in footgear for close to ten thousand years. We had to; the foot's got more bones in it than any other body part. We had to think up ways to protect all those teeny tiny bones, and if today shoes are more about status than need, back then it was one of the ways we tried not to get killed in our prime-so, when we were fourteen or fifteen. Man, it must have sucked to be considered elderly when you still had acne and had barely started to grow boobs."

"Um... I think you're getting off course."

"Shows what you know. Listen: the hunters with foot coverings could hunt longer and better, so those families ate better so they lived to make babies and the babies were better fed because they had good hunters, right? The circle of life, blah-blah, but what it means is that shoes are about us evolving through design, not heredity. Isn't that fascinating?"

"Um..." His eyes tipped up; I figured he was trying to think of a nice way to answer before giving it up: "Nope."

"You're just-"

"-a guy and I don't get it, but what about the guys who design the shoes?"

"I didn't say all guys don't get it. Just a guy. My friend's guy." I smiled to ease the sting. I didn't care for being marginalized, even by friends; I should try harder not to do unto others what pissed me off when it was done unto me.

"Okay, that's-" He shook his head as if trying to clear a mosquito whining in his ear. I often had that effect on people, and it was wrong that I took pride in that. "Never mind. And when I said the guys who design them, I mean, why can't you?"

Why did the me from the other timeline ever think I needed four pairs of purple velvet clogs? "Why can't I what?" Velvet's flammable, right? "Besides make sense of this madness."

"No. Design them yourself."

I stared at him.

"Right?"

I stared more.

"Are you okay?" He leaned toward me and waved a hand in front of my face. "Are you in there still? Helloooo?"

I waved his hand away. "Quit. And I'm not like them. I'm not an artistic genius whose creative outlet would vastly benefit all mankind."

"Okay, um, first I think you've maybe got shoe designers up on a pedestal."

"Do not. They are artists, some of the finest in the history of human events."

"My point. And second, why not give it a try? I don't know anyone who knows more about this stuff than you do. Shit, you reeled off the bio of that guy you accidentally made not exist, that Chris what's-his-name."

"Christian Louboutin." I could barely force my facial muscles, lips, and tongue to form the magic syllables. Gone, all gone, all his glorious works gone and worse than gone: never existed. Never will exist. Because of stupid, stupid me.

"Right, that guy. Have you considered trying to fill his shoes? So to speak?"

"Never," I replied, shocked. "Not once. I couldn't ever do it and it'd be awful to try. It'd be lying, I think, to try."

"Or a tribute to his work! Like cover bands who play Nirvana."

I shook my head again. "No." On several levels. Nirvana, ugh. "My role, it's totally different. I buy them and wear them. I don't make them. Or help them get made. That's not for someone like me, oh hell no. I can't."

"Okay, maybe." He seemed taken aback at my vehemence. I told myself to dial it down. Hmm, oh hell no... dial it down... next I'd be saying things were "off the chain," because, surprise! We were back in 2010. "But you've never even tried, right?"

I just looked at him. Of course I'd never tried. Penguins don't try to do physics, marmosets don't try to tap-dance, and I don't try to design shoes. The world was enough of a madhouse.

"So maybe you should! Try, I mean." He sat back, his blue eyes almost twinkling with confidence. In himself as a persuader or in me as a designer, I didn't know. His dimples-did Other Nick even have dimples?-appeared; he was nearly shaking with "you can do it" vibes. "Look, just think about it, okay? I bet you could do it. If nothing else you know exactly what you like and exactly what you hate. You know the styles you like and the colors and the materials."

"I know what kinds of cars I like, too, but I've got no plans to swing by Ford and drop off my resume."

"Still." He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "But that's not why I wanted to talk to you."

"Nuts." I went back to sorting. "What's up, No-Longer-Nick?"

He groaned. "Come on. Stop it. Dick, okay, just Dick. I'm just Dick. When you see me, just remind yourself it's all about Dick. No." He jabbed a finger in my direction before I could get a snicker going. "Bad vampire queen! Keep your eensy brain out of the gutter."

I won't deny it: I did have an eensy brain, and I got off on messing with I'm-Not-Nick on the subject of his new-except-not-really name. Partly because I'm an immature asshat, but also I think I was testing him a little. Because nothing says friendship like immature mind games.

Like I said, in this timeline we were pals; I was curious to see how far that went. It probably wasn't anything that would have occurred to me to do before I died, which would make me sad if I dared spend longer than two seconds thinking about. So natch, I didn't. There were lots of other sad things I could think about.

The short version: the old timeline Detective Berry went by Nick; this one went by Dick. I disliked change, even when it was for my benefit. Thus the name flogging. My inner asshat must be fed. Constantly.

"Fine, fine. Dick-Not-Nick, why'd you come into my room and dare me to design shoes?"

"Because I came into your room to get your advice on getting Jess to marry me."

Ah. That was something else that might be fun to chat about, but would never happen in real life. Jess loved Nick-No-Longer Dick more than she'd ever loved anyone, I was almost positive. So she'd never marry him. And not even the queen of the vampires could change that, any more than I could change a Louboutin-less world.

Poor bastard.

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