Nice girls dont bite the.., p.11
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.11

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 11

  Author: Molly Harper

  Then again, I imagine that sort of thing tends to diminish when your scary vampire boyfriend is standing right behind you.

  As sick as it was to think of a funeral visitation as a night out, it had been nice to be out of the house and childe-free for an evening. Andrea and Dick had stayed home with Jamie, which he’d bitterly resented. He’d said he didn’t need to be babysat. But then Dick had offered to show him how to hot-wire my car, which I’d bitterly resented. The trick had been getting through the visitation with my poker face intact whenever a mourner mentioned “that poor Lanier boy” and how torn up his parents were over his being turned. Jenny had—surprise, surprise—managed to keep my involvement in the situation to herself. I think she was using a combination of meditation and internally chanting her sorority’s secret motto to keep from spilling the beans.

  For my part, every time Jamie had been mentioned, I’d turned back toward the open casket and looked at Grandma Ruthie. She would have been very pleased with the delicately tinted peach suit Mama had found hanging in her closet in a garment bag marked “Visitation Attire. ” At some point, one of Whitlows was going to have to change her into the black bombazine gown that had been marked “Burial Attire. ” She’d even attached little bags with matching shoes and accessories.

  It was strange that Grandma was making her final appearance at Whitlow’s Funeral Home, where she’d been mourning husbands since 1957. I had a sneaking suspicion that they would name the room after her in memoriam. She’d left very specific instructions for how the room would be laid out, the flow of traffic through the receiving line and around the buffet, and the spray of white roses and gardenias on top of the dignified maple casket. And true to form, she had actually written her own eulogy for Reverend Neel. Mama had given the good reverend her blessing to wing it, once she saw that it was thirty-seven typed pages.

  So far, the only real sore spot in the planning had been Wilbur, who had pitched an unholy fit and made a dramatic exit from the funeral home when he found out that he had not, in fact, been included in Grandma’s will. His indignant fury that he hadn’t been left “with so much as a red cent,” confirmed my long-held suspicions that Grandma Ruthie had been another installment in Wilbur’s Retirement Through Inheritance Plan. But at least Grandma Ruthie had died of natural causes, unlike the suspicious exits of Wilbur’s previous lovers.

  Shuddering at the thought of Wilbur being anyone’s lover, I glanced at the clock and realized that I had about twenty minutes to get to Mama’s house, or she’d start to think I wasn’t showing up. Shaking Gabriel’s shoulder to wake him, I climbed out of bed and padded into the bathroom for my somewhat extensive daily dental regimen.

  I turned on the shower, letting the room slowly fill with steam and desperately trying to remember the deer-head conversation with Zeb. I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair was actually doing something seminormal, so at least I wouldn’t have to wrestle it into submission during my limited grooming window. Yes, vampires could see themselves in mirrors. And doing so post-turning was a much more pleasant experience. I basically got the bookworm’s dream makeover package. My skin was clearer. My hair had changed to an actually desirable color found in the brunette spectrum. My eyes, formerly an unremarkable muddy hazel, were now a clear and compelling hazel. My teeth were whiter, but I did have to maintain the aforementioned brushing and flossing routine.

  I didn’t expect to wipe the steam away from the glass and see the bluish, shadowy figure of my grandma Ruthie standing behind me, glaring at my reflection.

  “What the fack!” I yelped, turning and scrambling away from the ghastly apparition of my grandmother in the buttery yellow pantsuit she’d worn to her last Garden Club meeting. My feet slipped out from under me, and I landed against the closed bathroom door with a loud thump.

  “Language, Jane. ” Grandma sighed, peering down at me with that familiar disapproving curl to her lip.

  “Jane!” Gabriel called from the other side of the door. “Are you all right?”

  I pressed myself hard against the solid oak, eager to put more space between my grandmother’s sneering specter and myself. For the first time in my life, I was honestly afraid of Grandma Ruthie. Alive, she’d been a judgmental and intimidating presence in my life. Now she was just scary. Her mouth was an angry faded slash across her face. Her eyes were shadowed, opaque, and dark. I could see every bad thought she’d ever had about me reflected in them.

  “Grandma Ruthie, what the hell?” I yelled as Gabriel pounded on the other side of the door, rattling the knob. “What are you doing here?”

  She smirked at me and turned toward the mirror to adjust her smoky wisps of hair. “I honestly don’t know. I was yelling at that simpering idiot Bitty Tate, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in the foyer here at River Oaks. You were sleeping, lazy little snip that you are. So I made myself at home, and don’t think that I haven’t seen how you’ve been running things around here over the last few days, Missy. You should be ashamed of yourself, turning your ancestral home into a den of iniquity. ”

  “Didn’t you see a tunnel of light?” I asked. I reconsidered, then added. “Or maybe a large warm pit opening up beneath you?”

  “I’m not dead, Jane. ”

  I snorted as the knocking on the other side of the door stopped. “Which is a shame, since they buried you this afternoon. ”

  “No, I’m not dead. Obviously, the good Lord has another purpose for me, Jane. And it’s quite clear why I’m here,” she said, sighing happily. “It’s finally my time to be mistress of River Oaks. ”

  “Um, first of all, that’s a really creepy way to put it. And second, I’m already the mistress of River Oaks. ”

  “Not by right. ” Grandma sniffed. “The house should have gone to me. You’re just a usurper, a pretender. Jettie must have been out of her mind to leave it to you. ”

  “Well, it’s too late now, because you’re dead. ”

  “So are you. ”

  “Yeah, but I have a physical form; you don’t. ”

  “You have a choice. You can accept that I’m here to stay and stay out of my way. Or you can move out and leave the house to my judgment, as you should have in the first place. ”

  I stared at her. “You mean it, don’t you? This house means so much to you that you’d rather it sit empty and cold, a shell for you to wander around in for eternity, than for me to stay here and fill it with life. ”

  “Well, you’re not exactly filling it with life, are you?” she asked, sneering nastily and looking to my middle, to the womb that would never produce future Earlys. “Better that it be maintained by someone who appreciates the family history, who will care for it, love it. You’ll only turn it into a tomb. ”

  “You’re insane. I used to joke around about how you were crazy, but death has honestly pushed you over the deep end, hasn’t it?”

  Her misty form undulated toward me like some sort of psychotic sea creature. Her bitter, twisted face leaned uncomfortably close to mine as she spat, “You’ve had it entirely too easy, Jane. All your life, I’ve never understood what you thought was so special about you. You expect everything to just fall into your lap as it always has. Well, no more. I will be making life here at River Oaks very unpleasant for you, from here on out. How would you like to go to your death-sleep one morning only to wake up with the full sun shining on you because I’ve thrown open all the curtains?”

  “You can’t. ” I laughed. “You’re not strong enough to move objects yet. It took Aunt Jettie months to figure it out. And by the time you do, I’ll have figured out some sort of exorcism ritual to toss your flat, disembodied ass out of my house!”

  With that last syllable, the door behind me suddenly gave way. Grandma Ruthie’s spectral form dissipated as the shower steam billowed out of the doorway. I flopped back against the fallen door, my head striking the wood with a dull thud.

  “Ow!”

  Gabriel and Jamie were standing over me with crowbars in their hands and confused expressions on their faces.

  “Aw, man!” Jamie cried, throwing his crowbar down in disgust.

  “Explain,” I said, arching my eyebrow at him.

  “Gabe said we could kick the door down if we couldn’t pry it loose from the hinges,” he grumbled. “I was really looking forward to it. ”

  “Well, why don’t you go down to the root cellar and kick through a cabinet door,” I told him. “There should be plenty of the old ones left over from the kitchen remodel. ”

  “Really?” He beamed at me before scampering down the stairs. “Thanks!”

  “Do you really think encouraging wanton destruction is the best way to foster him into a mature, responsible vampi—umhpf!” Gabriel exclaimed as I launched myself at him, throwing my arms around him. “Jane, what’s the matter?”

  “Grandma Ruthie is here with us,” I whispered, knowing that in all likelihood, Grandma’s invisible self was hovering somewhere in the room, watching the havoc she was wreaking.

  “Oh, sweetheart, of course she’s still here with us. I know the two of you didn’t part on the best terms, but you’ll always carry your memories of your grandmother with you. The fond memories will outshine the bad. ”

  “No, I’m not stuck in the depression phase, Gabriel. I’m saying Grandma Ruthie is here with us, haunting the house. She was in the bathroom with me just now, basically declaring open war against us if we don’t move out. I sent Jamie away because I didn’t want to scare him. ”

  “The same boy who wanted to watch the Saw marathon the other night?”

  “Enjoying exorbitant movie violence isn’t the same as knowing there’s an angry septuagenarian poltergeist hanging around the house. ”

  “What do you want to do?” Gabriel asked.

  “Well, I don’t want her in the house, that’s for sure. Do you think Dick knows a guy who could do an exorcism?”

  “Of course he does,” Gabriel said. “Whether that will involve paying his guy with a case of stolen car batteries, that’s the real question. I’ll call him. Why don’t you get dressed and go to your mother’s? I’ll stay here with Jamie and try to sort this out. ”

  “I wish you were going with me. You’ve made this whole process so much easier,” I said, kissing him deeply. He gave me a quizzical smile. “Hey, you’re forgetting how many grandparents I’ve buried. Even with the haunting issues—comparatively, this has been a cakewalk. ”

  “I wish I could go with you, too. ”

  I bit my lip and stifled a giggle. “I would believe you’re only saying that to be nice, but I am leaving you here with an undead teenager and a dead senior citizen. ”

  “I’m stowing away in your car. ”

  I slipped into the black pencil skirt and pewter-colored cardigan I’d picked for the funeral “after-party. ” I was still strapping on my black heels when I came out onto the porch to find Jamie doing scissor kicks through a series of cabinet doors he’d set against the foundation of the house. I shook my head at him, feeling a rush of genuine maternal bewilderment.

  “If I catch you buying ninja stars from Dick, we’re going to have a problem. ”

  Jamie grinned up at me and, without looking, toed a door up from the ground and punched through it, midair. His enthusiasm for destruction was contagious. I barely contained a snicker as I accused him of being a show-off.

  Hearing a faint engine noise in the distance, Jamie and I turned to see a black pickup roll down the driveway, spitting dust and gravel in its wake. Instinctively, I moved closer to my childe, positioning myself between him and the unknown driver. Jamie seemed mesmerized by the truck as it moved toward us. I cast out my senses, and I could feel the chaotic tumble of red, angry images. Whoever was in that car wanted to rip me to shreds.
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