Nice girls dont bite the.., p.9
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.9

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 9

  Author: Molly Harper

  “But there’s no rule that says we have to have the funeral services during the day. We could push it back until after sunset,” Mama offered.

  I smiled. “Ruthie would roll over in her casket if she knew you were doing that. ”

  “Jane!”

  “Right, sorry. Too soon. I’ll be fine, Mama, honestly. I sort of said my good-byes when she, you know, declared that I was a soulless monster and no longer her grandchild. And really, most of the town knows about my condition now; they won’t question why I’m not there. And really, I don’t think Grandma Ruthie would want me there with her friends, anyway. ”

  “Well, at least come to the visitation. ”

  I was ashamed at the sheer length of the pause.

  “Janie, I need you there, please. ” Her voice rose a couple of octaves, and my resolve crumbled.

  “All right, Mama, for you, I’ll be there. ”

  We discussed logistics and food. Turns out I was expected to prepare a macaroni salad, a cheese platter, and corn relish, despite the fact that I couldn’t eat any of it, and we both knew that Grandma Ruthie’s church-lady friends were going to bombard Mama with enough casseroles to sink an armada. But it was the gesture that counted. If I showed up to the service empty-handed, it would be seen as thumbing my nose at Grandma one last time. And even if I was inclined to use an entirely different finger, I wouldn’t subject Mama to whispers from the church ladies about how heartless her child was.

  For once in my life, I was going to get through a situation with a little dignity. OK, I probably wasn’t, but I would fake it as if my life depended on it.

  I hung up the phone, and for the first time in my life, human or undead, my first instinct was to pick the receiver right back up and call my sister.

  Weird.

  Gabriel climbed back into bed, burying his face in a pillow. Shell-shocked, I leaned against the headboard. “My grandma died. ”

  Gabriel raised his head, his brow crinkled. “But I thought you said meanness was a preservative. ”

  “Clearly, I was wrong,” I sighed as he twined his fingers through mine. “I’m OK. Really. I’m a little sad that she died with things so bitter between the two of us, but I’m also smart enough to recognize that was never going to change unless I magically transformed myself into the person she wanted me to be. I didn’t owe her that just because she happened to be related to me. But I do owe it to my mother and my sister to help them through whatever mourning process they’re going to go through. ”

  Gabriel put his arm around my shoulder and tucked my head under his chin. “What do you need from me?”

  “I need you to be well rested, so when this all comes crashing down on my head, I have a safety net,” I said, nuzzling his neck.

  “Excellent. I can do that,” he said, closing his eyes and seeming to doze off in a sitting position.

  I listened for sounds of movement in the house but heard nothing. Apparently, the phone didn’t wake Jamie. Carefully unraveling myself from Gabriel’s grasp, I went downstairs and found that my childe had not risen for the evening, which wasn’t surprising. But the trail of empty synthetic blood bottles scattered from the kitchen to the stairs told me that at some point during the day, he’d managed to get out of bed and drink the last of our Faux Type O supply. I never heard of a newborn doing such a thing. I’d practically been comatose during my first few days as a vampire. But I supposed all bets were off when you were dealing with any food source and a teenage boy.

  “It would be wrong to kill my childe,” I muttered, sorting through the debris to try to find some semblance of food. I settled on a half-empty bottle of Sangre left over from a party a few weeks before, hidden at the back of the fridge. “It would be wrong to kill my childe. ”

  My teen-o-cidal thoughts were interrupted by a knock on my door. I still had the bottle to my lips and was mid-swig when Jenny burst through the door and wailed, “Jane!”

  I nearly choked on the fancy dessert blood, reminding myself once again that giving Jenny a spare key to the house had been a gesture of good faith. Taking it back now would be a leap in the wrong direction. “Jen?”

  I’d never seen my prim, polished sister look so disheveled, and that includes the time we got into a mud-wrestling match at last year’s Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival. Her dark blond hair was scraped up into a limp little ponytail. Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. And she was wearing a raspberry-colored track suit. I wasn’t even aware that Jenny owned a track suit.

  Jenny sniffled and threw her arms around me. Gabriel came downstairs and saw Jenny sobbing quietly into my neck. He lifted his eyebrows in amazement. I shrugged. When he moved back toward the steps, I mouthed, “Coward!” silently to him.

  “Jenny, calm down,” I said, awkwardly patting her back. “Let me make you some coffee. ”

  “OK. ” She whimpered soggily as she dropped into one of the kitchen chairs. “I just couldn’t go by Mama’s house and worry her, so my first thought was that I should go to you. ”

  “Really?”

  “I know, I was a little surprised, too,” she admitted as I set up the coffeemaker. “I mean, I know she wasn’t perfect. I know the two of you never really got along, but it’s still hard, you know? I hate that we were so close for most of my life, but at the end … we were barely speaking. ”

  A little pang of guilt twinged in my chest. Grandma Ruthie had been such a divisive force for the two of us. I was Daddy’s clear favorite. We operated on the same wavelength. As much as I thought Jenny was Mama’s favorite, our mother’s loyalties had always been divided. While she asked me why I couldn’t be more like Jenny, she was constantly fussing to Jenny about how worried she was about me. Jenny was just looking to be someone’s favorite. Grandma was more than willing to provide her the kind of attention she wanted, if Jenny was willing to jump.

  As Jenny and I started to mend our fences over the past few months, she and Grandma Ruthie spent less and less time together. Grandma couldn’t understand why Jenny was “wasting her time” with me. And Jenny lost patience with Grandma’s continued criticisms and complaints about me. It felt terrible to be the wedge that drove the two of them apart, but I had to admit that Jenny was more relaxed, more human, without our grandmother’s influence.

  I was glad that Zeb and Jolene spent so much time at the house and occasionally required sustenance. Otherwise, I would only have the creamer and the sugar left over from my human days to offer Jenny. I poured her a cup of coffee and sat down across the table.

  Jenny smiled as a thank-you and sipped. “Mama said for the visitation, we should come up with our favorite memory of Grandma. In her notes to the pastor, Grandma said she wanted us to show what a kind, loving woman she was. I thought I’d talk about all the times she took me on special little shopping trips or when she’d take me to the Teeny Teas to show off the dresses she’d made me. What about you?”

  Hmm, a nice, sweet story about Grandma Ruthie. The happiest memory I had of her was when she and my ghostly aunt Jettie had a screaming match through a dry-erase board. The memories of her dragging me kicking and screaming to the Teeny Teas would hardly qualify as memorial material. Nor would her disappointment with my low placement in the one Little Miss Half-Moon Hollow pageant she’d managed to force me into. Or the time she refused to speak to me for an entire summer because I wouldn’t date some mouth-breathing cretin grandson of one of her bridge club friends. (Best summer of my life. )

  “Jane?”

  “I’m thinking,” I muttered.

  The tantrums, the scoldings, the faked medical emergencies, the many, many reminders that I was not what she expected in a grandchild. I can’t say they made for warm, fuzzy Grandma memories.

  “There has to be something, Jane. I mean, you weren’t always at each other’s throat. ”

  “You know, in some cultures, the bereaved hire mourners to make sure it looks like the deceased is beloved and missed. Maybe I could hire someone to do my special memory?” I suggested. Jenny frowned at me. “Look, Jen, I didn’t measure up for Grandma Ruthie. She didn’t make any effort to hide that. Why pretend now? If I get up in front of a crowd of people and wax poetic about my poignant, life-affirming moments with Grandma, everyone will know I’m lying. So why do it?”

  “Because at least you’ve made the gesture?”

  “Jenny. ”

  “Funerals are for the living, Jane, not the dead,” she said, right before realizing how inappropriate that statement was and starting to giggle. She rolled into allout guffaws and sat there, braying like a donkey, with tears streaming down her cheeks, until I handed her a wet paper towel to wipe down her face.

  “You done now?” I asked, bemused.

  She sniffed and nodded. “It was worth a shot. I don’t even know why I’m saying this stuff. My therapist says it’s a coping mechanism. I think I can control or fix the situation by making comments like that. ”

  “Whoa, back up, did you say ‘therapist’?”

  “Yeah, Kent and I actually started a few years ago after he threatened to move out. He said my need to organize was crushing his will to live. ”

  “There’s been a lot going on with you that I never knew about, huh?”

  “Yep,” she muttered, sipping her coffee.

  “Is Mama in therapy, because that would be—”

  “No. ”

  I sighed. “Too good to be true. ”

  Jenny nodded.

  Jamie came sauntering into the kitchen without a shirt. He was yawning and stretching his arms over his head, his ab muscles flexing for all they were worth. My sister spewed a mouthful of coffee into her cup.

  “Hey, Jane, we’re all out of blood. ”

  In the upset over Grandma Ruthie, I’d completely forgotten about the undead teenager sleeping upstairs. My eyes darted from my flabbergasted sister to my young ward. I decided to play it off as if nothing was wrong. Maybe Jenny would assume that she’d had some sort of nervous breakdown and was hallucinating.

  I frowned. “Yes, some mysterious force swept through the kitchen last night and sucked up all the available sustenance. ”

  “Yeah, I got a little hungry. ” Jamie gave me his most charming smile, which did less for my motherly instincts than it had the day before. “Oh, hey, Miss Jenny. ”

  I internally snickered at the fact that he called her Miss Jenny. She was just as old and frau-ish as I was. It was hilarious, right up to the point where the warm, rich scent of Jenny’s pumping blood wafted toward him. His nostrils flared, and I could see the muscles in his jaw working as his mouth watered. His eyes darted toward me, panicked. I shook my head. His fangs snicked down with a click, but he slapped a hand over his mouth to cover them.

  “Gabriel!” I crossed the kitchen, putting my body between Jamie and my sister. I pressed the bottle of Sangre into his hand and, in the best persuasive voice I could muster, said, “Jamie, you’re going to go upstairs and drink this. You don’t want to drink from a human, especially a friend of your family’s. You’re going to stay up in your room until you hear Jenny’s car start, do you hear me?”

  Jamie seemed to be calculating the distance between us and the table. I could practically see him mapping the acrobatic leaps it would take to get around me and sink his fangs into Jenny’s tempting jugular. I curled my fingers around his biceps and pushed him back with all my strength.

  “Jamie,” I growled. “No. ”

  The tension in his arms was immense, as if he was struggling against me and himself. I saw the tiniest smidge of saliva pooling at the corner of his mouth. I shook his shoulders, and he seemed to snap out of his predatory haze.

  “But she smells so good!” he cried.
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