Nice girls dont bite the.., p.17
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.17

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 17

  Author: Molly Harper

  There was no small amount of mockery as Dick drove me to a little two-story ranch house on County Line Road. I had always pictured Ophelia living in some super-mod, black-leather-and-chrome-filled condo. Martha Stewart could have lived in this house. There were flipping geraniums in the window boxes on the front porch.

  I knew that Ophelia was going to be annoyed by my intrusion, but there was nothing to be gained from waiting. I needed to involve Ophelia now, to ask for her help before anyone else got hurt. I got out of the car and bounded up the neatly swept steps. I had raised my hand to knock on the door when it opened and swung away from my outstretched hand.

  In front of me was a beautiful little girl. Her cheeks were as white and smooth as ivory. She was wearing a little red cardigan over a pleated plaid silk skirt. She was literally the girl with the golden curl, one adorable little ringlet that hung in the middle of her forehead. Her eyes were ice and fog combined, gray and cold and calculating.

  I leaned back and checked the house number to make sure I was standing at the right address. I turned to ask Dick if this was his idea of a joke, but he was sitting in the car, avoiding eye contact with me.

  Coward.

  “Is your mommy home?” I asked, lifting an eyebrow.

  “Georgie!” I heard a voice call from the rear of the house. “How many times do I have to tell you not to answer the door without me?”

  That was Ophelia’s voice—Ophelia sounding like an actual teenager, for once, instead of the jaded, annoyed Council official. I gawked openly at the little girl and then at Ophelia, who appeared at the door in jeans and a plain white T-shirt. It was the first time I’d seen her in an outfit that didn’t feature a theme. She didn’t make eye contact with me, focusing instead on the little girl, who, I now realized, did not have a pulse or breath. This wasn’t a normal kindergartner. This was a tiny vampire.

  “That’s insulting,” the little girl drawled, sounding quite bored. “I would be perfectly safe, no matter who was at the door. ”

  “I’m more concerned for the person knocking,” Ophelia said, her tone dry. “Jane, looking disheveled. What a surprise. Please stay right there without stepping inside my home. ”

  “Ophelia, what the—?”

  “Ophelia, you’re being horribly rude. Where are your manners?”

  “Oh, I’m used to it,” I assured the little girl. “She doesn’t like me very much. ”

  “She doesn’t like anyone very much,” she shot back.

  “Jane, this is my sister, Georgie,” Ophelia said, her hand curling protectively around the girl’s shoulder.

  “And how old are you, Georgie?” I asked, instinctively slipping into the voice I used on the kindergarten students who visited the library.

  “Old enough to be insulted by that tone of voice,” the little girl deadpanned. “Ophelia said I was her sister. Do the math, woman. Do you have any deductive-reasoning skills at all? Honestly, Ophelia, is this what passes for a vampire these days? Why do the newbies always insist on treating me like one of their pwecious preschoolers? If I’m offered one more juice box, I’m going to be forced into drastic action. It will be Oslo all over again. ”

  “Oh, Georgie, calm down. ” Ophelia sighed. “You barely got away with Oslo the first time. And where would you find a crate of plague rats in this day and age?”

  “Are you challenging my resourcefulness?” Georgie demanded.

  “Does someone need a nap?” I asked, patting her head.

  “Does someone need to be defenestrated?” she retorted, whirling on me.

  I have to admit that having those little china-doll eyes narrowed at me sent a chill down my spine. So I did what any sensible person would do when confronted with a miniature killing machine … I leaned closer and provoked her.

  I smiled in that saccharine way that drove Jenny nuts. “I don’t know what sort of low-rent vampires you’re used to dealing with, but I know exactly what ‘defenestrated’ means. And if you think you’re strong enough to push me out a window, bring it on, Pocket Vamp. ”

  Georgie’s lip curled up as she ground her tiny baby fangs together. The tension in her face suddenly snapped, and she turned to Ophelia.

  “I like her,” Georgie said as Ophelia handed her a handheld game unit. She skipped out of the room and settled on top of the kitchen table to play.

  Ophelia waited for Georgie to clear the hallway and whirled on me. “Perhaps I’ve made the boundaries of our relationship unclear. We’re not friends. We do not pop over to each other’s house for a cup of sugar and gossip. If you do not walk right back out that door and forget that you ever saw Georgie, I will make your life so miserable it will make your sad spinster librarian existence a blissful memory. ”

  I frowned, screwing up my lips while I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t think you will. ”

  She blinked incredulously, as if she thought she had heard me wrong. I smirked at her.

  “Because Georgie likes me,” I added. “And I get the feeling she hasn’t met a lot of new people in the last couple of … centuries. Imagine her shock and disappointment if you dismembered the first friend she’d made since moving here. ”

  Her face shifted from its unamused stone setting with the slightest ripple of muscles. For a split second, she actually looked defenseless and human.

  “You know, I’ve heard a lot about you. Ophelia, the badass head of the local Council. Ophelia, the brilliant schemer. I’ve never heard anything about Ophelia, the undead babysitter. ”

  “Why would I possibly share personal information with you, the vampire equivalent of Jerry Lewis? She who accidentally destroys all she touches?”

  “I think you’re thinking of Steve Urkel,” I said. When she didn’t respond, I grumbled, “Fine. If you satisfy my curiosity, I will give a full report on the latest buffoonery to befall Gabriel and me. It will help you get ahead of whatever weird-ass catastrophe is heading my way. Consider it a professional courtesy. ”

  Ophelia pursed her lips. “It’s not in Georgie’s best interest, or mine, for locals to know about her. It would make both of us too vulnerable. She’s well known to the international Council. But Dick’s the only ‘civilian’ in Half-Moon Hollow who knows about her, and that’s only because of our …”

  “For the love of God, just say ‘history,’” I said, shuddering.

  “Fine, because of our history, Dick is one of the privileged few to have met Georgie,” she said.

  “I don’t understand. Aren’t there rules against turning children into vampires?”

  She sighed and motioned for me to sit on the sweet little blue corduroy couch in the living room. I could have been sitting in any family room in any home in the Hollow. The walls were painted a soft, warm caramel color. There was a throw rug that blended the tans and the blues with a contrasting turquoise. Pictures of Georgie and Ophelia through the ages lined the walls, starting with oil paintings and working toward freshly printed photos. There was a Wii console over the TV and a neatly arranged stack of games. There were several broken controllers tossed into a nearby wastebasket, next to a half-dozen still-in-the-package replacement controllers. Apparently, Georgie got frustrated when she lost. Vampire strength and childlike impulse control must have been murder on Ophelia’s Visa bill.

  “I’m only telling you this because I think it will be of value to you. If you use this information to turn on me …”

  “Yes?”

  “I’m trying to come up with a description of what I’ll do to you that won’t give Georgie nightmares,” she said, frowning. “And she saw a good part of the Salem witch trials … and the second season of Desperate Housewives. ”

  I shuddered as Ophelia cleared her throat. “Our parents brought us over on one of the crossings just after the Mayflower. They always were quick to jump on bandwagons. You can’t imagine the conditions on the ship. Hot, cramped—and the smell. It makes me shudder even now. At night, I would go aboveboard just to get a breath of fresh air while everybody else was asleep. And one night, this white face emerged from the shadows, and I was sure I was seeing some sort of ghost. Instead, I met my first vampire. His name was Joseph. He was nearly five hundred years old, and he wanted to see the New World. He’d stowed belowdeck in the hold, behind crates and barrels, feeding on rats to avoid being noticed. Now I realize that he must have been lonely and starving, but he didn’t try to bite me. He wanted to talk to me. No one had ever really talked to me. People didn’t have much use for girls back then, you know. It wasn’t just ‘be seen and not heard. ’ It was ‘you have one purpose on this planet, and while you’re not serving that purpose, you don’t exist. ’ But Joseph, he was probably the most polite, most genial man I’d ever met. And every night, we talked. About the world, about the people on the boat, about my family. I never told my parents about it. I knew they’d either lock me in the brig or decide I was mad. So I kept Joseph my secret.

  “There were problems almost as soon as we reached what would become Massachusetts. The land of promise and plenty was not as advertised. My family fared as well as any of the others, which was not well at all. Everyone was so sick. Food was scarce. We had to work constantly just to scratch out the barest of existences. My vampire friend hovered nearby, watching to see if I was strong enough to survive the fevers and the pox. I wasn’t. Two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, he turned me before I could die of what was probably the flu. ”

  Ophelia absentmindedly rubbed at the crook of her neck, as if she could still feel the sting of her sire’s fangs at her throat. “I rose just in time to find that Georgie had taken ill after I did. I couldn’t stand the idea of letting her be buried in an unmarked grave. My friend, my sire, tried to talk me out of turning her. He ordered me not to, as a matter of fact, but she was my sister. I wasn’t close to my mother or my father. Parenting, as it was then, didn’t exactly foster a warm and loving relationship between parents and children. As far as I was concerned, Georgie was my whole family. My sire was furious with me for what I’d done. He took me before the group of vampires that ruled us at the time, the precursor to what is now the Council. They decided that they would let Georgie live but that I would be responsible for her for the rest of my days. My sire left me in the care of the Council for my first three hundred years, to help foster a better respect for the order of the vampire world. And I wouldn’t be able to turn another soul until I was a thousand years old. ”

  “But what’s so terrible about a vampire child?” I asked. “Other than that she’s incredibly creepy? And she’s obviously hard on gaming equipment. ”

  Ophelia frowned at me but gave a small smile when Georgie grunted and chucked the game unit against the wall. The fragments skittered across the floor as Georgie crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her bottom lip.

  Ophelia sighed. “It wasn’t so bad at first. She was always such a sweet, smart girl. She could figure out what was expected of her, where she couldn’t cross the lines. But imagine being a teenager in a little girl’s body. Or a forty-year-old. You’ve got all the thoughts and feelings of an adult, but you’re trapped in childhood. Georgie will never grow up. She’ll never fall in love in a way that doesn’t break several laws. Other vampires will never see her as anything but a disturbing liability. I’ve doomed her to this. ”

  “But it’s better than being dead, right?” I asked as Georgie amused herself by balancing on the very edge of the kitchen counter while standing on her hands. “How much worse would it have been to watch her die?”

  Ophelia smiled fondly. “Exactly. There will always be drawbacks, little dramas and problems. But having her with me, being her guide through this life, is worth it. I try not to question my decision, because I know I did what was right. I will not feel guilty for it. ”
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