Undead and Unsure


CHAPTER NINE



Before I could wallow further in the black hole of my vanity and pride, Mom and Tina came into the kitchen. They would have collided but Tina saw it coming and courteously stepped back. Mom, I was sure, had no idea Tina was anywhere near. Certainly not right behind her, as in Look out! The vampire is right behind you! Also, the call is coming from inside the house!

"All right." She took a breath, like she was bracing herself to tackle something tricky. Were we out of toilet paper in one of the guest bathrooms? "I want to try to talk to all of you about this again." She'd shoved open the swinging door (I awaited the day somebody would get smacked with it-swinging kitchen doors always led to smacking hilarity according to every TV show about swinging kitchen doors ever made), then came forward enough for it to swing shut behind her. It didn't, though; Tina had caught it and held it, waiting for my mother to notice and step further in.

"I knew something was wrong yesterday. And now that I've talked to Jessica and Marc-and you, too, dear-" Dick-Not-Nick beamed, always happy to be included. A smoothie vote, faithful "forward this to everyone you love so they know how much you love them!" FB follower, the occasional bar brawl: this timeline's version of Nick was a joiner. "-and I think, yes, I think you may be in real trouble. Something is very-yeek!"

Mom's sluggish senses had finally tipped her to Tina's presence. Not for the first time I thought it was amazing and a little scary how quickly you got used to superkeen senses. I'd heard Tina while she was still upstairs. Heck, I practically heard her before she got up that night. At any point up to her arrival in the kitchen I could have told you exactly what part of the house she was in. I knew she was almost out of fabric softener and had switched shampoos. I knew she hadn't cracked open one of her treasured flavored vodkas today, and that she'd spent some time in the attic, likely chatting with Marc (she'd gotten protective after he came back a zombie).

Not bad, right? Then there's this: I knew those things without thinking about them. Without trying to listen, without walking over to her and sniffing her, without keeping an eye out for her. I just knew them. Just like I could shut all that stuff out if I wanted. I tried to think of a nonvamp parallel and the best I could come up with was when you're in an airport headed to your gate, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of people around you all the time. They're all having conversations and eating and working and using bathrooms and you know all that's going on, the stream of life just flows all over and past you and maybe even through you, but you don't have to pay attention to any of it. You just know it's all happening. And if you're looking for something specific, you can filter through the stream and come up with just what you want.

That was the best I could do and as analogies went, it sucked. Still, I wondered-

"Good God, Tina, you scared the hell out of me!" Followed immediately by, "Oh, I'm so sorry!"

Tina, who'd flinched at "God," managed a smile. "Quite all right, Dr. Taylor."

"Yes, the other Taylor girl breaks the third commandment several times daily," Sinclair teased. He was dressed casually: a Joseph Abboud suit in gray wool he'd had for years, my husband's version of blue jeans and a sweatshirt. He'd been sneaking toast to the puppies, who, now bulging with toast, had abruptly decided, as babies do, that they were going to nap right now. Clunk. Snore. "Yet we soldier on."

"I thought the third one was to not have other gods before the big guy," Marc said, at once interested in a new puzzle. "Right?"

"No, that's the first one. A lot of people think it's the most important, but I think it's just the most important to the big guy." Hearing God out loud was like ground glass in their ears, to vampires. Don't get me started on what Christmas carols did. This whole month Tina likely wouldn't go near a retail store of any kind. Thus our big guy euphemism. "Put me down for number six. I think the 'thou shalt not murder' is the most important." I caught some of their stares. "What? Sunday school. I occasionally remember something useful. Sometimes more than once a day!"

Sinclair was leaning toward my mom, his body language radiating "solicitous." "Are you all right, Dr. Taylor? You seem distressed."

"Distressed! Yes!" Mom ran her fingers through her curls and made fists, then winced and let go of her hair. "I've been trying to tell all of you that something's wrong with Jessica's baby, and all you want to do is talk about Laura and-"

"Speaking of Ms. Goodman," Tina said, waving her phone at me, "she called."

No, she was waving my phone at me. Now where did I leave it that Tina could-oh. I dared not look at Sinclair. It was possible that when we'd come home the night before, BabyJon-less, we had badly wanted some fun. So much fun that we couldn't wait to get started with the fun, and our bedroom was too far away for instant fun, so we'd ducked into the first unoccupied room for our fun, which was Tina's office.

This part would not be fun.

"Yes. Well. Here it is, Majesty." She handed it over. I took it silently. Still didn't dare a peek at Sinclair. "In your, ah, anxiety, you must have dropped it."

"Don't feel bad." Marc gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder. "They've left things where I've stumbled across them, too. Terrible things."

"I would not have minded so much if they had let me leave before starting."

"Wait, you were still in the room?" Huh. Strange how our keen vamp senses hadn't picked up on that. Horniness apparently correlated with dulling senses. Or Tina turning invisible?

Sinclair lost it and started to laugh, which got me going, too. Tina just stood there, emanating Disapproving Elder, which didn't work. I knew she was old and brilliant, but today she looked too much like a cheerleader for me to be cowed. "Give me a Q! Give me a U! Give me an I! Give me a T! Quit banging in my office, yeeeaaah!" Cue waving pom-poms and her hair in pigtails.

"As I was saying," she said, raking us once more with a glare and then giving up like a sensible brilliant vamp, "Laura called you. I saw her name come up and snatched it; I pray you will pardon my familiarity with your equipment, and with the Antichrist."

"Sure, sure, no prob." I waved all that away. I wasn't sure if I was thrilled or terrified that she'd called so soon after visiting. "What'd she say?"

"That she is free to join you for Thanksgiving, if you can do it tomorrow. December fifth," she added, in case none of us knew what tomorrow meant.

I was so startled I almost dropped my phone. "Wha-? But that's so great!" I turned to the gang, delighted. "Isn't that so great?"

"What's so great about having to buy another turkey at the last-hmm. Turkey. And stuffing and mashed potatoes and cranb-I'll help you shop." Jessica was looking sadly at her (now) empty plate. "Let's go right now."

"Hell yes right now!" I was halfway to the door. "I can't believe it! I thought she'd hold out for weeks!"

"Betsy, please." Mom had stepped in front of me, her hands up, palms out, like she was being arrested. "We haven't settled-"

"Mom, I know, and I promise we'll go over whatever it is later, but I've got to head to the grocery store. C'mon, Jess, I'll drive. We can stop at Dairy Queen on the way." Jess loved eating ice cream (or whatever Dairy Queen claimed that stuff was) when it was cold. She liked her insides to match her outside. "Okay, so." I gave Mom a quick kiss. "We'll talk later, I promise."

"But-"

"Dr. Taylor, as long as you're here, I have been in touch with an old friend. She has agreed to allow me to show you original letters to Clara Barton for the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army."

Mom, still pissy about whatever was bugging her, whipped her head around to look at Tina so fast I heard tendons creak. "What? No. What?"

Tina, who could be pretty literal, began again: "I have been in touch with an old friend. She has agreed to show-"

"That's so kind, Tina, but I've seen them. The archives-"

Tina smiled her "I look like a cheerleader but I've been to the rodeo a few times" smile. "No one has seen these except Miss Barton and my friend, who found her brother on her own and thus had no need of Miss Barton's services." (Tina never said Ms. She was old-fashioned.) "My friend took her letter back along with a few other things you may find of interest."

Whoa.

"Whoa." My mom disappeared in a puff of Civil War gunpowder and Dr. Taylor took her place. Long before she made her living teaching the Civil War, Mom put the buff in Civil War buff. For her sixteenth birthday my grandpa gave her some Civil War canister shot, which looked exactly like big dirty rocks, and she cried. Not for the reason I would have cried; apparently certified authentic dirty rocks are a sweet gift. So natch, Tina had been almost a literal gold mine of info. Sometimes I had the idea Mom wanted BabyJon and Tina in her house all the time.

Too bad! They're mine! But hey, Mom was distracted and thus off my back, so all was well. Also: they're mine!

On that possessive note, we left.

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