Nice girls dont bite the.., p.32
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.32

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 32

  Author: Molly Harper

  She frowned. “No, you jerk, ‘ta-da’ as in ‘Welcome to the wedding-planning section of our shop. How can we separate you from your hard-earned money today?’ You would not believe how many people have become interested in vampire weddings over the last couple of weeks—whether it’s because of the stories circulating in the human community about your wedding or because it just became legal, I don’t know. But we’ve had several customers come in and request books and planners for vampire nuptials, and they were extremely disappointed that we didn’t have any. So I looked up a couple of distributors online and found these. A Novice’s Guide to Planning a Charming Vampire Wedding, Elopement for the Eternal, Weddings and the Dysfunctional Undead: A Vampire’s Guide to Establishing a New Family Without Killing the Old One. They’re great. Informative, thorough, and occasionally pretty damn funny. ”

  “And you didn’t think to tell me about these books while I was planning my own wedding, because?”

  She chuckled. “Because the line was just launched!”

  “And because seeing me drive myself crazy amuses you. ”

  “Jane, if you’d been able to read these books, would you have felt more prepared, or would you have worked yourself into an information-overload-fueled frenzy, convinced that you could arrange the whole wedding yourself, and eventually killed one of your loved ones in a glue-gun-related mishap?” she asked, her lips quirked.

  “Probably that second one,” I admitted.

  She hiked her fists on her hips. “OK, then, I think the words you’re looking for are ‘Thank you, oh newly promoted assistant manager, for finding yet another revenue stream for Specialty Books. Without you, my shelves would be empty. I would have few customers. And my coffee would burn holes in those customers’ throats. ’ “

  “I think that was implied. ”

  She shook her head. “No, no. I’m going to need to hear it. ”

  “Thank you, oh—” I stopped as I heard the little cow bell over the door jingle, indicating that a customer was walking in. “Oh, thank God, ‘cause there was no way I was going to really say that. ”

  I turned to find a familiar blonde tentatively poking her head through the front door.

  “Mrs. Lanier?”

  I reached under the counter for the pepper spray we kept there. Andrea circled the coffee bar to stand at my right. Her face was neutral but not friendly. Clearly, Andrea believed she was the only one allowed to abuse me. Mrs. Lanier was going to have to line up behind her.

  Rosie Lanier tried to smile, but her muscles couldn’t seem to form the expression. She cleared her throat. “Jane. ”

  “Is there something I can do for you?” I asked gently, although my hand was still firmly on the pepper spray.

  She cleared her throat again. I reached into the mini-fridge and pulled out a bottle of water for her. She stepped back, as if she wasn’t prepared to accept any sort of kindness from me.

  “I can’t pretend I’m happy to be here, Jane. I never thought …” She crossed to one of the little tables and plopped down in one of the comfy purple chairs.

  I took a stool near the coffee bar.

  “When I heard what happened to you, I thought, ‘Oh, poor Sherry. ’ I never even considered that something like that could happen to my own child. I thought we were safe. We were a good family, good people,” she said.

  “So was my family … with the possible exception of Grandma Ruthie. ”

  Mrs. Lanier ignored me as if she’d already planned her speech out in her head and any interruption would only put her off her place. “I was so angry with you when I found out what happened. I mean, it was bad enough that Jamie had been turned, but that it was by someone we knew? It felt like you should have known better, like you should have been more loyal. ‘After all the time we’d spent together with her family,’ I thought. ‘After all those Labor Day picnics and camping weekends and New Year’s Eve parties, how could she do this to us?’ I hated you so much. The more I thought about it, the more you seemed to morph into this hideous monster in my head—this dangerous, vicious tramp who’d stolen my son’s life away. ”

  “I don’t know how to respond to that,” I muttered.

  She chuckled, and for the first time in months, I saw her smile. “That changed one night when I was looking through some old albums, looking for pictures of Jamie. I found this. ”

  She slid an old, battered four-by-six photo across the table. I groaned as Andrea swooped in, grabbed the photo, and guffawed. I glared at her.

  “Right,” she said, slapping the photo into my hand. “Sorry. ”

  The picture showed Jenny, Jamie, and me during a camping weekend at Barkley Lake. Jamie must have been six or seven, his straw-colored hair sticking straight up from the back of his head like a peacock’s tail. Somehow, paired with the thumb-width gap between his top front teeth, the freckles across his nose only made him more adorable. At twenty-one, Jenny was still blond, polished, and perfect and clearly humoring the both of us as we forced her to help us sing some old Oak Ridge Boys song, just because Jamie liked to sing the “oom-papa-mow-mow” chorus. And there was awkward, buck-toothed me, with the unfortunate bangs and knobby knees. I smiled goofily into the camera, with a sort of bemused confidence that this picture was going to come back and haunt me. Even then, I had a pretty profound grasp of future humiliation.

  “I saw this picture. And I remembered this trip with your family. I remembered, even then, how good you were with Jamie, how you kept him out of trouble all weekend by telling him stories about Huck Finn and Daniel Boone. I remember telling your mama what a good mother you were going to make someday and how she just beamed at the thought. And I realized that girl would never do anything to put Jamie in danger. That girl, who devoted most of her adult years to helping kids learn to love books, couldn’t change so drastically. That girl would give her last breath to keep someone she saw as a child safe. ” Her lip trembled, and her eyes filled. “It was me. I brought this down on us. It’s my fault. When you were turned, I felt so sorry for your mama, for such a thing to happen to her. But all the while, I was feeling smug and superior, because it could never happen to me. Not in my family. I’m being punished, don’t you see? I was so proud, so arrogant. I gave the Lord no choice but to smack me down. ”

  “It doesn’t really work that way,” I said. “I wasn’t turned as part of a great karmic payment plan. It just happened. The same with Jamie. It just happened. Trying to find a villain here is like trying to pin the blame on someone when a meteor lands on them. ” I judiciously decided not to tell her about the driver who mowed her son down and how he may or may not have tried to do further damage to members of the household. That struck me as a “need to know” sort of thing.

  She bit her lip, her eyes filling as she asked, “Is he happy?”

  I reached across the table to pat her hand, but she withdrew it. I tried not to let that hurt my feelings. “He misses you. He’s confused, scared, but no more so than any kid who’s growing up. He’s a good kid, Miss Rosie. You did a wonderful job raising him. And he’s the very best kind of vampire. He’s just like he was as a human; he just has fangs. He doesn’t hurt people. He doesn’t abuse his powers. He’s still your boy. And he would love to see you. ”

  “I’m not sure if we can do that yet,” she said. “I’m afraid of what I’ll see when I look at him. It will break my heart if he still looks like my little boy. And it will break my heart if he doesn’t. I don’t know when I will be ready. I know your mama’s all onboard with the Friends and Family of the Undead, but I’m not ready to march in any nighttime pride parades. It’s going to take me some time. ”

  “Please at least consider it. ”

  She smiled, tight-lipped but sincere. “I will. ”

  “So, you’re not angry with me anymore?”

  “No. I’m not going to be sending you a batch of macaroons anytime soon, but I think we’re going to be OK. ”

  “Damn, I wish you hadn’t reminded me how much I loved your macaroons. But thank you for forgiving me. You wouldn’t mind passing word around about our newly established peace treaty so I don’t get variations of ‘murdering bitch’ painted on my windows, would you?”

  She cringed. “I’m sorry about that. I’ll admit, the first time was me. But I’ll call the phone tree and cancel it for everybody else. ”

  “That is a clear misuse of your PTA organizing skills. ”

  “We work with what we have,” she said, blushing sheepishly.

  “I’ll keep you in mind the next time I’m arranging a vampire carpool. ”

  16

  It’s important to take time for yourself. Siring is a difficult, draining business. Set aside little treats for yourself: a hot bath, a good book, a battle to the death. A tired sire is an ineffective sire.

  —Siring for the Stupid:

  A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Newborn Vampires

  It was apparently the evening to resolve feelings with problematic maternal figures, because I came home from work to find that Gabriel and Jamie had helped Mr. Wainwright set up an exorcism ritual space smack in the middle of my parlor. There was a huge symbol drawn in white chalk on the hardwood, circled in sea salt. It sort of looked like a cross between a sperm and a beached sea cow. Unlit white candles were placed at each compass point. Jamie was chattering excitedly about following Mr. Wainwright’s careful instructions from a book called Spirit Rituals and Rites.

  “Mr. Wainwright found just the right ceremony. He’s sure of it this time. And now, Gabe and I have to go out back and take a bath, because we’re not supposed to carry the ritual objects’ energy around with us. You’re going to have to take one, too, before the ritual. Isn’t that cool?” he cried as Gabriel kissed me.

  I laughed at Jamie’s puppy-doggish enthusiasm and wondered if I’d sired a closet D&D freak. I tousled his hair, and for once, he didn’t complain about the gesture, instead dragging me around the room to examine all of the different crystals and herbs involved in setting up my grandmother’s spiritual eviction.

  In that moment, I decided against telling Jamie about his mother’s visit to the shop. If she came to terms with his condition and was able to attempt a relationship with him, he wouldn’t need to know that she’d needed a pep talk first. And if she decided against seeing him again, I didn’t want to give him false hope. For now, he was mine. And he seemed to be thriving.

  “Yes, bathing in the yard, using the hose,” Gabriel deadpanned as I picked up Spirit Rituals and Rites and shuffled to the page Mr. Wainwright had marked. “I cannot believe the luck, especially when you consider that there are hired mercenaries watching the house who will no doubt enjoy the spectacle. ”

  “Dude, Mr. Wainwright told you about what would happen if you entered the ritual space. ”

  “After I’d already entered it, so the warnings were a bit of a moot point!” Gabriel exclaimed as Jamie jostled him on the way out the back door to their chilly evening toilette.

  Mr. Wainwright and Jettie materialized at my elbow. I compared the page to the symbol marked on the floor. “Mr. Wainwright, I think you have this wrong. This isn’t an exorcism ritual. This is a summoning ritual. ”

  Mr. Wainwright grinned at me. “Quite right. ”

  “But we don’t want Grandma Ruthie to stick around. We want her gone—possibly in another dimension. Are there dimensions without support hose? Because that would be sort of funny. ”

  “Jane, have you ever heard the expression ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’?” he asked.
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