Nice girls dont bite the.., p.25
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.25

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 25

  Author: Molly Harper

  My legs went to jelly, slipping out from under me as I collapsed onto the floor. I heard Mama calling my name, her voice muffled as if my head were underwater. Gabriel walked into the room, and some strange instinct had me wanting to hide the dress. Since it would be bad luck for him to see it. And then the fact that I was trying to shove ribbons of unrecognizable fabric behind my back made me giggle, and then I was all-out laughing hysterically as my vision blurred and my eyes rolled up.

  I didn’t know that vampires could black out, but there I was, lying on the floor in my parlor with Andrea and Jolene standing over me, tutting sympathetically. Andrea helped me sit up, while Jolene handed me a warm cup of O-negative. Aunt Jettie and Mr. Wainwright were standing in the corner, Jettie wringing her hands and wiping at her cheeks while Mr. Wainwright stewed. I blinked hazily as my eyes adjusted to the lights, and I saw the pile of rags that used to be my wedding dress.

  And I started to cry, like a big old hysterical bridezilla. Mama dabbed at the streaks of blood on my cheeks with a tissue. “I haven’t really cared about any of this wedding stuff. That dress was the one silly wedding thing I was really excited about. Why’d she have to take that away? What the hell did I ever do to her?”

  “What is she talking about?” Mama asked. “Is she hallucinating? I don’t think she hit her head when she passed out. ”

  “Where’s Gabriel?” I asked, sniffing.

  “Pacing outside the door,” Mama said. “I called Andrea, and we convinced Gabriel that this was more of a lady issue. I didn’t think you’d want him to see you like this. Also, Jamie heard you screaming and ran for the root cellar. What were you saying, anyway? You were talking so fast I couldn’t understand you. ”

  Huh. My mother had actually done what was best for me. Based on what I needed. I think that’s one of the seven signs of oncoming Armageddon. But instead of being a jerk about it, I said, “Thanks, Mama. ”

  “Jane, I am so sorry,” Jettie cried, while Mr. Wainwright patted her shoulder. “She’s gotten so good at hiding from us, operating under the radar. I had no idea what she was up to. If I’d had any idea …”

  “I can’t believe she did it,” Andrea said. “Imagine the energy it took to shred your dress like that. ”

  Jolene growled. “This is it. We’re takin’ this dead bitch down. I don’t care who she is, Jane, you don’t go messing with a girl’s wedding dress. ”

  “What are you two talking about?” Mama asked. “Why are you calling Jamie a ‘dead bitch’? I know he can be a little disagreeable sometimes, but all teenagers are. ”

  “What does Jamie have to do with this?” Andrea asked.

  “Well, he ran for the cellar, so I assumed that he destroyed Jane’s wedding dress in some sort of adolescent snit. Jane did it to one of Jenny’s pep-squad uniforms when they were in high school. ”

  “It was her away uniform. And she tore down my wall-sized collage of Keanu Reeves pictures. She had it coming. ”

  “Agreed,” Andrea said.

  “But if Jamie didn’t do it, who did?” Mama asked. “You said ‘she. ’ What did you mean?”

  I tried to picture telling Mama that her own mother was (a) hanging around the earthly plane and (b) spending that time threatening/annoying the bejesus out of me. I didn’t see that going over well. So, of course, I was preparing a completely plausible story about further retaliation from the Chamber of Commerce, when Jolene said, “She means the ghost of—”

  “The ghost of River Oaks!” I exclaimed, shaking my head at Jolene.

  “Honey, that’s silly. The house isn’t haunted. River Oaks has been in our family for generations, and we’ve never heard anything about a ghost, much less a ghost that goes around cutting up dresses. Besides, there’s no such thing as ghosts. ”

  “Mom, your daughter’s a vampire, and you can’t believe there’s such a thing as ghosts?”

  She frowned. “Good point. OK, if it’s a ghost, who is it?”

  Jolene, ever freaking helpful, said, “Oh, it’s—”

  “A poltergeist,” I ground out, glaring at her. “A poltergeist with absolutely no backstory or personality whatsoever. It was most likely attracted by the chaos of Jamie’s adolescent energy. We only call it a her because it does such petty, teenage, dirty, vicious, bitchy, hateful—”

  Andrea cleared her throat. “OK, Jane, we get it. ”

  “Yes, and I’m going to get something, too. An exorcist, do you hear me, old woman? I don’t care who else you take to the next plane with you. You’re out. ”

  “Well, I didn’t understand any of that,” Mama said. “And right now, I think we need to focus on your dress. Is there any part of it that can be salvaged?”

  I held the two largest scraps. “As a formal blindfold, maybe. ”

  “Save that for the honeymoon. ” Andrea snickered.

  “Really? You’ve got jokes?” I muttered.

  “We’ll just call the costume shop and see if they have anything like it,” Mama said. “And if they don’t, we might have to go back to the bridal shop. ”

  I groaned.

  “I’m sorry, Jane, honey. ”

  “No you’re not,” I shot back.

  She nodded. “You’re right. ”

  I barked out a soggy laugh and swiped at my cheeks. “Well, at least you’re honest. ”

  Mama hitched her purse over her shoulder. “I’m going to call Iris, honey. Don’t you worry about a thing. Mama’s going to take care of everything. ”

  With that, she kissed me on the forehead and walked into the hallway.

  She called over her shoulder, “And you might let Gabriel know you’re OK, because he’s out here pacing a hole in the carpet. ”

  Gabriel came rushing into the room and threw his arms around me. “I’ve never heard you make a sound like that before. It was terrifying. Please don’t do it again. All screaming in this room should be of the pleasant variety. ”

  “Ew,” Andrea muttered.

  “We are exorcising Grandma Ruthie,” I growled. “Tonight. She’s gone too far this time. Call me names, fine. Move stuff around, OK. But this is where I draw the line, do you hear me, Ruthie?”

  I heard an indignant hiss behind me, but Ruthie wasn’t able to do much more than move a few strands of my hair. She was exhausted by her efforts. Now was the best time to strike.

  “I just happen to have pulled out your ‘Exorcising Grandma Ruthie’ file while you were, er, indisposed,” he said, handing me the stack of papers I’d collected on exorcism rites. “You circled the ritual you thought would work best. I sent Dick out to collect a virgin goat. ”

  “You are so the guy for me. ” I sighed and stood on my tiptoes to kiss him thoroughly. “Aunt Jettie!”

  “Yes, honey, I’m standing right behind you,” she said gently.

  I turned around to find her and Mr. Wainwright eyeing me as if I were one of those performing bears that turned on their owners. “I need you and Mr. Wainwright to get as far away from here as possible. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I don’t want to accidentally send you into the white light. ”

  “If we go, we go,” Jettie said. “I don’t want you to keep her hanging around the house because you’re afraid of hurting me. ”

  “What’s existence without the risk of the unknown?” Mr. Wainwright said, stroking his cool, misty hand along my cheek.

  “We’re not leaving you until the time is right. ” Jettie’s cold arms embraced me, sending shivers down my spine. “We’ll come back tomorrow night, unless, of course, you jettison us into the great beyond. ”

  “That’s very helpful, thanks,” I said.

  As the pair of them faded away, I turned to my favorite werewolf.

  “Jolene, honey, I love you, but you and Zeb need to take the kids and go home. I don’t want some sort of creepy accidental possession thing to happen to the twins. ”

  Jolene opened her mouth to protest but quickly shut it. “You’re right. I know you’re right. And I hate it. I’ll find some other way to help. Be careful. ”

  Zeb and Jolene gathered up their brood and headed out. Dick arrived with the goat. I didn’t ask questions about where he got it or why he chose to load it into the backseat of Andrea’s car, rather than his El Camino. While Jamie and Gabriel helped him wrestle it off of the half-devoured backseat, Andrea asked, “Are you sure that you’re not rushing this?”

  I shook my head. “No. ”

  “Do you have any clue what you’re doing?”

  “No. ”

  “Are you sure this is going to work?”

  “No. ”

  She wrapped an arm around my shoulder and clapped me on the back. “Excellent. It will be just like running the shop, then. ”

  13

  There will be times when you will have to discipline your childe. Remember, a fair sire is a sire who doesn’t wake up chained outside at dawn covered in suntan oil.

  —Siring for the Stupid:

  A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

  Four hours.

  Four hours spent chanting and dancing around that stupid goat, surrounded by protective sea salt. And not one peep out of Grandma Ruthie. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. For all we knew, Ruthie was lurking in the attic, sharpening a stake. The only good news was that we hadn’t accidentally sent Jettie and Mr. Wainwright into the next plane. Mr. Wainwright was hard at work searching through the inventory, trying to find ways to determine whether the exorcism had worked and, if not, how to perform a far more effective one.

  I will admit that I’d sort of gone into the whole thing half-cocked. There were all these warnings about meditating and centering oneself before the ritual that I’d completely ignored, because I was pissed. Given my half-assery and my shaky emotional state, I was lucky that no one had gotten hurt during the exorcism. Although Dick might never forgive me if the footage Jamie surreptitiously shot with my cell phone showed up on YouTube.

  Even with a few clarifying days’ worth of hindsight behind me, I still had occasional crying jags when I realized how much animosity Grandma Ruthie had to feel toward me to do something like that. The very woman who had been after me my entire life to be more feminine and traditional had taken my wedding dress and turned it into confetti. Iris had already sent me pictures of dress designs that were similar to the one I’d found. I’d tried looking through them a few times, but then I would start thinking about shopping for another dress with only a few more weeks before the wedding. I would start crying at the very idea. Gabriel would get uncomfortable with my blatant and heretofore unprecedented show of girliness and call Jolene. Jolene would bring over dessert blood and a Jane Austen DVD. Gabriel and Jamie would hide somewhere in the house.

  My young ward had been suspiciously quiet lately. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he’d heard me have a complete nervous breakdown. Or whether the snippy antics of the little-old-lady ghost in our house had scared him. Knowing my luck, he was having some sort of Internet romance, and I’d come home to find some sixteen-year-old Goth chick from Kansas City sleeping on my couch.

  I didn’t even know how to begin to approach him. What if it was some guy problem that would gross me out? What if it was some adolescent vampire problem I was completely unprepared for? I’d asked Gabriel to step in and talk to him, and although the conversation was cordial, Gabriel said Jamie hadn’t coughed up any information about what was bothering him and kept trying to distract Gabriel with discussions of Civil War history—clearly a desperate measure on Jamie’s part.
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