Authors: MaryJanice Davidson
I was still surprised I had managed to get inside the church without bursting into flame. But nothing like that had happened. The door had opened easily and the church was the way they all were: forbidding, yet comforting, like a beloved but stern grandparent.
I cautiously sat down on a pew, expecting a severe ass burning. Nothing happened. I touched the Bible in front of me...nothing. Rubbed the Bible all over my face—nope.
Dammit! Okay, I was a vampire. Shocking, but I was getting used to it. Except vampire rules weren't applying! I should be a writhing tower of flame, not sitting impatiently in a pew waiting for God to send my soul to Hell.
I glanced at the clock on the far wall. It was after five in the morning; the sun would be up soon. Maybe a morning stroll would finish me off.
I smelled starch, old cotton, and aftershave, heard footsteps, and turned to see the minister walking down the aisle toward me. He was a man in his early 50s, completely bald on top with a white monk's fringe around the sides and back of his head. He wore black slacks and a black short-sleeved shirt. His cheeks were pink from where he had shaved, and he wore thick glasses and sported a heroic Roman nose. A wedding band gleamed on the third finger of his left hand. He was about twenty pounds too heavy for his height, which meant he probably gave the most excellent hugs.
He took in the scene at a glance: Cleaning Guy passed out and snoring on the floor, and Dead Girl sitting in the pew looking like baked dog shit.
He smiled at me. "It must be Monday."
I ended up telling him the whole story while he fixed coffee in the rectory. I drank three cups and finished with, "Then I came here, but none of the doors or Bibles or anything are hurting me." I left out the part about the cleaning guy trying to mack on me in front of the pulpit—no need to get anyone in trouble. "You don't have a cross on you, do you?" I added hopefully.
For reply he unpinned the small silver cross on his collar and handed it to me. I closed my fingers around it, tightly, but nothing happened. I gave it back.
"You can have it," he said.
"No, that's all right."
"No, really! I want you to have it."
His cheeks were flushed, and the color deepened as I grabbed his hand, pressed the cross into it, and folded his fingers closed. "Thanks, but it's yours. You shouldn't give it to a stranger."
"A beautiful stranger."
"What?" First the cleaning guy, now the minister!
As if in response to my shocked thought, he blinked and slowly shook his head. "Forgive me. I don't know what's come over me." He touched his wedding ring absently, and that seemed to give him the strength to look me in the eyes. "Please continue."
"There's nothing else. I'm lost," I finished. "I don’t have the faintest idea what to do. I'm sure you think I'm nuts, but could you just pretend to believe me and give me some advice?"
"You're not nuts, and I don't think you're lying," he soothed. He had a faint southern accent which immediately put me in mind of grits and magnolias. "It's obvious you've had a terrible experience and you need—you just need to talk to someone. And maybe rest."
I was too tired to stab myself in the heart with my coffee spoon to prove my point. I just nodded.
"As to why the Bible didn't hurt you, that's quite obvious, m'dear—God still loves you."
"Or the rules don't apply to me," I pointed out, but even as I said it I realized how arrogant and ridiculous that was. God's rules applied to each and every person on the planet...except Betsy Taylor! Shi…yeah. "So you're saying I should stop with the attempts at self-immolation?"
"At once." He was still touching his ring, and his voice was stronger now, less dreamy. "You said yourself you helped that woman and her little girl, and you haven't bitten anybody. You're clearly in possession of your soul." He hesitated, then plunged. "A parishioner of mine works for a—a nice place in downtown Minneapolis. Could I give you her card, and could you call her? If you don't have a car I'll be glad to drive—"
"I'll be glad to take the card," I said, then added the lie: "I'll call her this morning."
The minister and I—he'd told me his name but I had forgotten it—parted on good terms, and when I left he was shaking the janitor awake.
I headed home. The minister had thought I was a nutjob, but that didn't negate his advice. My old life was over, but I was beginning to see that maybe...maybe I could make a new one. I was a heartless denizen of the ravenous undead, but there were ways and ways, and I didn't have to be a lamprey on legs if I didn't want to. For one thing, there were at least six blood banks in this city.
And God still loved me. So, apparently, did the janitor and the minister, but that was a worry for another time. It seemed pretty obvious to me now, and I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me earlier tonight: when you try to kill yourself nine or ten different ways, and none of them work, obviously you're meant to be around for a while. Incredibly, I'd been given a second chance. I had no plans to waste it.
My house looked exactly the same on the outside, but as soon as I walked in—some boob had left the door unlocked (oh, wait, that was me)—I saw a real mess. Quite a few of my things had been packed into boxes, which were stacked haphazardly all over my living room. I smelled my stepmother's perfume (
, and she used too much of it) on the air and had a horrible thought.
I rushed to my bedroom and flung open the closet door. My clothes were there, and so were my Stride Rites and the cheap flats I'd bought for casual days at the office. But my babies, the Manolo Blahniks, Pradas, Ferragamos, Guccis, and Fendis...
My stepmother had told the mortician to dress me in one of her old suits, slapped a pair of her used knockoffs on my feet, then headed to my house and grabbed my good shoes for herself.
While I was still processing this information, I heard a tentative
and looked up in time to see Giselle peeking at me from the doorway. I smiled and took a step toward her, only to see her puff up to twice her size and run away so quickly she hit the far wall, bounced off, and kept going.
I sat down on my bed and cried.
* * * * *
Crying's okay while it lasts, but you can only do it for so long. And it's weird to do it when you apparently can't make tears anymore (did this mean I wouldn't pee or sweat, either?). Anyway, eventually you're done, and you have to figure out what to do next.
I flopped down on my bed, limp as a noodle and completely exhausted. And
. But I wasn't going to do anything about that now. Except maybe snack on Giselle—no, I wasn't going to do that, either. I was just going to lie here—my room faced east—and let the sun finish me off. If I woke up dead again, I'd take it as a sign that I was supposed to move on. If I didn't wake up...well, at least that was one problem solved. Hell couldn't be worse than a Wal-Mart after midnight, right?
With that thought in my head, I fell asleep.
I came awake instantly, as I had in the funeral home. This was a definite departure for me; usually it took me an hour, a shower, and two cups of coffee to wake up. Not anymore. One minute I was dead (ha!) to the world, the next I was wide awake and rising from my coffin. Well, my bed with Laura Ashley sheets.
The first thing I saw was Giselle, perched imperiously at the foot of my bed. She had apparently done plenty of sniffing around me during the day and had decided I would still do. So the first thing I did was feed her. Then I took a shower, changed into clean, comfortable clothes, and slipped into my tennis shoes.
I was here, I was dead, get used to it...or however the chant for vampire rights went. No more suicide games. It was time to adjust and deal. How, I had no idea, but it was important to get started. Momentum usually helped me figure out the rest of the plan. Step one: get my shoes back. Time to visit the homeplace.
* * * * *
A few words about my stepmother. I could have forgiven her for marrying my father. I could have forgiven her for seeing me as a rival rather than a member of the family. I could not forgive her for chasing my father while he was married, bringing him down like a wounded gazelle, then marrying the carcass. My father wasn't a saint—still isn't—but Antonia did everything she could to help him fall from grace.
My mother got the house and the humiliation that comes from your family and friends knowing your husband traded you in for a younger, thinner model. My father got Ant and a promotion—she was the definitive trophy wife, and was a great help to his career. I got a stepmother, at the tender age of thirteen.
The first thing she ever said to me was, "Be careful of my suit." The second was, "Don't touch that." 'That' was one of my mother's vases.
Yep, she took prisoners and moved in. As for myself, I'll be honest: I made no effort to get to know her. I had zero interest in building a relationship with the woman who had destroyed my mother's marriage. Plus, it's hard to be nice to someone when you instantly realize they don't like you.
About a week after she moved in, when I overheard her referring to my mother as "that cow from the suburbs," I tossed her gold ingot necklace into the blender. Over the sound of my stepmother's screams, I pressed ‘puree.’ This was followed by my first trip to a therapist's office.
My father, the poor dope, just tried to keep his head down. To his credit, he never gave in to the Ant's demands that I live full-time with my mother. He had been granted shared custody, and by God I would be shared. Instead he kept her quiet with trinkets, and bought me off with books, and went to a
of out-of-town seminars. I took the books, and tried to get along. To Antonia's credit she never insulted Mom in my hearing again, and I never again had to toss precious metals into our KitchenAid. But I had little sympathy for either of them. They had made their choices.
* * * * *
I pulled up outside their stupidly large house—do two people really need thirty-five hundred square feet?—and hopped out of my car. Apparently my house and car hadn't been sold, nothing of my estate—pitiful as it was—had been settled. Well, heck, I'd only been dead a few days. My family—well, my mom and dad—were doubtless still in shock.
I pushed open the front door in time to hear my stepmother's dulcet tones: "Godammit, Arnie, you should sue their fucking asses off!
They lost your daughter's body
! Now the funeral's been delayed who knows how long, we're going to have to postpone our vacation—Jesus fucking Christ!"
A 'clink' as my father dropped an ice cube into his shot of Dewar's. "I'm mad, too, Toni, but let's give the funeral place a chance. I know they're doing everything they can. If they haven't found—" Here his voice broke a bit and I instantly forgave him for most of my adolescence. "—haven't found Betsy by tomorrow, I'll make some phone calls."
"No need," I said, walking into the living room. The look on my stepmother's face was well worth the misery of dying and coming back. "Here I am. Ant, where the
are my shoes?"
Dead (ha!) silence, broken by the crash of breaking glass as the stepmonster's wine glass hit the floor. The color drained from her face all at once, and for the first time I noticed she had a fine network of crow's feet around each eye. She was fifteen years older than me, and right now she looked every minute of it.
"B-Betsy?" My father was trying to smile, but the corners of his mouth trembled and I knew he was afraid. It was awful—my own dad, scared of me!—but I wasn't going to do something about it right that second. I kept walking toward his wife.
"You gave the mortuary a pink suit when you know damn well I hate pink. You gave them your shitty cast-offs when you know how much I love designer shoes. Then you snuck in my house and
my good shoes."
She'd backed up all the way to the mantel, and in another few seconds would probably crawl into the fireplace. I stopped until we were nose-to-nose. Her breath smelled like lobster. Nice! A celebratory dinner on the day of the stepdaughter's funeral. "Now. Where are they?"