After some argument, Jessica and I parted ways, and I drove to my mother's house. Now that I had decided to make a new life for myself (not that I had any idea how), I couldn't let another minute go by with Mama thinking I was still dead.
"That's fine," Jessica had said, "but you might have explained to Papa and Mrs. Taylor that the reason you're walking around is because you're a vampire." Her voice broke on 'vampire' and she smothered a giggle. I couldn't blame her. It did sound ludicrous.
"You saw them," I retorted. "Did they look like they were up for any explanations? Dad wouldn't even come out to say goodbye."
I had asked Jessica to share the news with whomever she thought needed to hear it, but she was horrified by the idea. "In the movies, the vampire always goes underground," she argued. "Stays dead to their friends and family."
"A) This isn't the movies, and b) I'm not having my friends and family think I'm dead when I'm walking around. This is not a secret! I'm not skulking around in the shadows like some anemic idiot for the next two hundred years."
"What about the government? Scientists? What if they want to capture you or study you? Plus, you've got a death certificate. So your social security number doesn't work, your credit's no good…you can't just pick up where you left off. Betsy, think it over."
Those thoughts hadn't occurred to me. How was I going to make a living? Maybe I could be a clerk on the night shift at a motel, or something. "Tell or don't tell, it's all the same to me. I'm just saying, I'm not keeping it a deep dark secret. How'd you like it if I hadn't told you?"
"That's different. We're practically sisters."
"People can tell," I said brightly, "by the close family resemblance."
Jessica rolled her eyes. "I'm just saying, you don't have to tell everybody. Your family and me, I think. Maybe Officer Nick. You could invite him over…have seductive music playing-something awful by Sade, maybe-and then pounce! He could be your first meal."
I shied away from the thought, even while part of me surged hungrily at the mental image of Officer Nick being my first. "You're ill," I told her. "Go home and get some sleep."
"I'm not ill, I'm freaked out. Which is a good problem to have, given the alternative. Say hi to Mama Taylor for me. And think it over, blabbermouth. The movies can't be wrong about everything." Which just goes to show, Jessica hardly ever goes to the movies.
I was parked outside my mom's small, two-story house in Hastings, a suburb of St. Paul. Although it was almost midnight, all the lights on the lower level were blazing. My mom suffered from insomnia at the best of times. Which this certainly wasn't.
I bounded up the porch steps, knocked twice, then turned the knob. Unlocked-one of the things I loved about Hastings.
I stepped into the living room and saw an old woman sitting in my mother's chair. She had my mother's curly white hair (Mom had started going gray in high school), and was wearing my mom's black suit, and my mom's pearls-a wedding gift from her parents.
"Who-?" '-are you', I almost asked, but of course it was my mother. Shock and grief had put twenty years on her face. She'd gotten pregnant with me one month out of high school, and we'd often been mistaken for sisters. Not today.
She stared. She tried to speak but her mouth trembled and made speech impossible. She gripped the arms of her rocking chair so hard I heard the bones creak. I rushed across the room and threw myself at the foot of her chair. She looked so dreadful I was terrified. "Mom, it's me-it's okay! I'm okay!"
"This is the worst dream I've ever had," she remarked to no one in particular. I felt her hand come up and gently touch the top of my head. "Yes indeed."
"It's not a dream, Mom." I grabbed her hand, pressed it to my cheek. "See? It's real." I pinched her leg through the skirt, hard enough to make her yelp. "See?"
"You wretched child, I'm going to have a bruise the size of a plum." I felt her tears dripping down on my face. "You awful, awful child. Such a burden. Such a-" She started to cry in earnest and couldn't finish the familiar, well-loved fake complaints.
We held each other for a long time.
"Don't be scared," I said about half an hour later, "but I'm a vampire."
"As Jessica would say, 'I don't give a shit.' Also, you move faster than the human eye can track. Did you know?"
Mom tossed a handful of freshly grated Parmesan into the risotto and stirred. "When you ran to me. I blinked and you were at my feet. You moved faster than I could follow. Either you've been involved in some sort of secret scientific government-sponsored experiment and never mentioned it-"
"No, but that's a good one. I'll have to remember it."
"Or there's a supernatural explanation."
I blinked. Mom had always had a strong practical streak, but she was adjusting to my undead status with unbelievable aplomb.
She must have read my expression, because she said, "Sweetie, you were dead. I was at the morgue. I saw."
I was silent, picturing her agony. The long walk down the sterile-smelling hallway-sterile, with a faint whiff of death underneath. Burning fluorescent lights. A professionally sympathetic doctor. Then, the identification: "Yes, that's my daughter. What's left of her."
"Just about every culture has legends about vampires. I've often thought there must be some truth in the stories…else why would there be so many of them?"
"By that logic," I said, "I can assume the Easter Bunny will be stopping by this month?"
"Funny girl. Risotto?"
"Please." Mom had stopped crying, washed her face, changed out of the suit she wore to my funeral, and cooked my favorite meal: pork loin with risotto. Like Jessica, she couldn't stop touching me. Like I minded! "I'm so hungry, and that smells terrific."
I wolfed it down in about thirty seconds. Then I spent five minutes in the bathroom throwing it all up. Mom held my hair back from my face and, when I finished and slumped dispiritedly on the bathroom tile, she handed me a damp washcloth.
I started to cry, that weird tearless crying that was now my specialty. "I can't have regular food anymore! No more risotto, shrimp cocktail, lobster, prime rib-"
"Cancer, AIDS, death-by-mugging, rape, homicide."
I looked up. Mom looked down at me with the compassion/practicality combo that was her trademark. I'd seen that look when I told her I was going to flunk out of college. "I'd like to be more sympathetic," she said, "but I'm so happy to have you back, Elizabeth. As awful as it's been for you, you have no idea what the last three days have been like for me, for your father and your friends-I thought Jessica was going to collapse at the funeral home. I didn't think the girl could cry, but she practically melted today. Your father didn't even recognize me, he was in such a daze."
"But I never have to worry about going to the morgue again, unless you trip on a stake on the way home. As to the rest of it: we'll deal."
I scowled. "I don't think people who can eat risotto should have an opinion."
"Silly child. It's just fuel. Brush your fangs, and then we'll talk some more."
"Very funny!" I yelled after her.