Undead and undermined, p.2
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       Undead and Undermined, p.2
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  "Hey! Are you listening?"

  "Gummff ummf uhnn gunh. " My husband was as loose and relaxed as I've ever seen him; I had marital-relationed him to death. (Almost. ) He turned his head. "Allow me to enjoy the last of my postcoital coma, please. "

  "No time!"

  "Why?" he mewled.

  Note the date and time, please, and not because of all the time traveling. I didn't think Sinclair could mewl. Kittens did that. Whiny ex-wives. (Or whiny current wives. ) Kids not getting their own way did that, grown women did that, and ouch, when they made that shrill extended meeeeeewwwllll, it felt like that icky earworm from Wrath of Khan drillin' in there.

  Ech, I can hear Ricardo "Welcome to Fantasy Island" Montalban now from one of the least lame Star Trek movies: Their young enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex; this has the yucky effect of rendering the poor things big-time susceptible to yucky suggestion and as they grow, yuckier and yuckier, madness and death are waiting for them in all their yuckiness, gross.

  Anyway. I hate that noise and didn't think my husband could make it. But he could. The things I learn when I return from time travel and hell.

  Huh. He was still talking.

  "You are back, you are alive, you are beautiful and sated (at least I hope), you know all-"

  "All? You think I know all? Clearly I came back in time and found the wrong Sink Lair. I'm trapped in a weird parallel universe where you still talk all the time. " Seemed like I spent half my afterlife waiting for him to take a breath so I could jump in. Also, vampires? Never need to take a breath. So you see what I've been dealing with.

  "Phaugh, do not babble, due to your jaunts you know how we all came together in the recent past, because of the far past, and . . . " He trailed off. I waited. Knowing my husband, it'd be profound and life-changing. It'd help me see a disaster as a not-so-terrible disaster, probably. It'd convince me I wasn't alone in a cruel world. It'd . . . ". . . Mmzzzzz. "

  "Hey! Wake up!" I jabbed him in the bicep with my toe. Okay, I kicked him in the arm. He flopped bonelessly off the bed.

  "I've missed your tender love play, Elizabeth," he groaned from the (ripped) carpet.

  "We got stuff to do!" I was looming over him without looking right at him, which is quite a trick. I didn't want to gaze into those dark, dark eyes, or eyeball his "day-amn, that's a nice ab-pack" or play follow-the-treasure-trail, or anything else that would lead to another forty-five minutes of bringing down the resale value of the entire wing.

  "We've got things to explain!" I explained. Loudly. "So you need to focus. And also stop being naked. At least we don't have to deal with gross earworms from space-"

  He blinked up at me. "Ah . . . what?"

  "-but we've got other crap to wade through. Jessica wasn't pregnant when I left and I didn't know what a horse trough smelled like in Massachusetts and Minnesota. Whole planets have evolved between my ears!"

  "What?" He sat up stiffly, like Frankenstein's monster, a big gorgeous well-hung Frankenstein with big black eyes that were wide with alarm.

  "Exactly. Shit. To. Do. Are you on board now, Frank-uh, Sinclair? House meeting, stat! To the smoothie machine, Robin!" I darted off the bed, sheets trailing like a cape. I was Wonder Woman, I was Power Girl, I was-

  Sinclairenstein reached out, flash-quick, and whipped the sheets away. It was like an evil, sexy magic trick. "Darling, is it your intention to show the household the color of your nipples? And that you have not one, but two dimples on your-"

  "Shut up. I'll get dressed. Never mind my dimples. "

  "Oh, I never do," he said, surging to his feet so quickly, if I'd blinked I'd have missed it. "I don't mind this one-"

  "Hey!"

  "-or this one. "

  "Yeeek!" CHAPTER TWO

 

  "You're probably all wondering why I've called you here. " I tried, and failed, not to stare at Jessica's gigantic gut.

  "Not really," The Thing with the Gut replied. "You're back from hell and chock-full of gossip. "

  "Intel," I grumbled. "Gossip is what old ladies do after church. "

  "Gossip is what you do, every day. And given the way you can't not stare at our kid," Nick added, sitting beside my best friend with an arm slung casually across her shoulders, "I'm guessing we're living in an altered time stream. "

  I gaped. I couldn't help it. Every word I had ever uttered since the age of twenty-nine months (shut up, I was a slow talker) ran right out of my brain. I was morbidly aware my mouth was hanging open, and prayed most of the bugs in the mansion were dead on one of a hundred windowsills and not flying around looking for something to fly into. "I, uh, well, that's a real time-saver for me. I'll come right out and admit it. I thought this would take longer to explain. "

  Wordlessly, they jerked their thumbs at Sinclair. Seeing me stare and flop still more, Jessica added, "You want the CliffsNotes version?"

  "Are you two done? Sounds like you're done. Thank God you're done. " Another roommate, Dr. Marc Spangler, shoved the swinging kitchen door open and marched straight to the blender, which was oozing with strawberry-banana smoothies. It was a lava flow of delicious strawberry-icy goodness!

  He poured himself a generous cup, stared at the fridge where Tina kept her vodka, debated leaping off the wagon, decided to cling to said wagon for another hour, turned away from the fridge, and plopped onto one of the kitchen chairs around our big, wide wooden table. You could slaughter and dress a moose on the thing. We mostly just drank smoothies there, though.

  A quick word about Tina's vodka collection. Like all vampires, she was constantly thirsty. Unlike many (many being my code for less than a dozen) she tried to keep it at bay with frozen drinks made from potatoes. She also adored variety. Not that you could tell from her schoolgirl-bait wardrobe. Wait. Did schoolgirl-bait mean she was dressing to bait schoolgirls or was bait to people who liked-argh, focus!

  Anyway, in our freezer lurked cinnamon-flavored vodka and bacon-flavored vodka. Ditto chili pepper and bison grass and bubble gum. Go ahead and barf . . . I nearly did.

  "Now that you two've finished your unholy banging," Marc began, taking a monster slurp, "tell me all about the past. Is it smelly? Is the food great? Do they really say 'prithee'? And how come Laura's not here?"

  "Laura didn't come back with me. " Even as I said it I realized it was weird. "I mean, she made a doorway to here for me, but she stayed in hell. Or made herself a doorway and went to her apartment from hell. Or both. Or neither. "

  "Ah, beloved, one of the things I most cherish about you is your attention to detail. "

  "Yeah, well, I'll cherish you for shutting up now. I'm not my sister's keeper. " Though if anyone needed one, the Antichrist qualified.

  Marc was gulping his smoothie, and Jessica and Nick were watching him with some fascination. He had told me once that he'd gotten in the habit of bolting liquid meals when he was an intern. He could gulp down the equivalent of two pints of strawberries in three monster swallows. When he was off the wagon, he drank all his meals.

  It was an indicator of how little I wanted to talk about the future and the past by how interested I was letting myself get in something I was normally leery about discussing. "Uh, so, how are the AA meetings going?"

  He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Don't take my inventory, Betsy. "

  "I don't know what that means," I admitted over Nick's snort.

  "It means addicts in recovery know what they're supposed to do to stay clean and whether or not they're doing it. They dislike being reminded of it. "

  "Is that what you are?" Sinclair asked with interest. "In recovery?"

  "Nah. " Slurp. "People in recovery go to meetings. I'm a drunk. "

  I clapped a hand over my mouth, but not in time. Marc grinned at my insensitive titter.

  I'd never understand why he couldn't find someone and settle down. He was smart, he was gorgeous, he had true green eyes (d'you know how
rare that is? True green, not hazel?). He had black hair, currently cut brutally short into, I'm sorry to report, the Woody Harrelson. He was in his usual outfit of scrubs and his iPod. He was famous at the hospital for listening to heartbeats with one ear and They Might Be Giants in the other.

  I know. They Might Be Giants? More like they might be one-hit wonders.

  "But you know the old saying," Marc was saying, "tomorrow being another day and such. And I can't take credit for that . . . I think Stephen King said it first. "

  "Margaret Mitchell did. "

  "Not the another-day line. The addicts-go-to-AA line. "

  "Like you even read Gone With the Wind," I said. I mentioned how delighted I was in talking about stupid crap instead of the future, right? "Ha!"

  Don't get me wrong. I didn't think there was much funny about addiction, outside of Sandra Bullock in 28 Days. And I won't deny being mystified by 28 Days Later . . . she was nowhere to be found in that one.

  But Marc, so open about his sexuality, job, and love life, was weirdly closed about his drinking. There were times when he went to an AA meeting every day. And times when he didn't go for months. He'd made it clear ("Fuck off and die, again. ") he appreciated zero interference, advice, or tough love.

  Not that that would stop me! But I sort of had my hands full, what with an eternal nuclear winter-thing coming, my Ancient Evil Self, Jessica gestating The Thing That Made Her Eat Strawberry-banana Smoothies (she hated bananas), the Book of the Dead, and Satan doing her I'm-hot-and-plotting thing. But giving Marc unasked-for advice was on my to-do list, you bet. I was lulling him into a false sense of thinking he'd dodged nagging.

  Yeah, I know. Even as I was telling myself this shit, I wasn't believing a word. Tell you what: if you can't fool yourself, you can't fool anybody.

  I should cross-stitch that on a sampler.

  "Did so," Nick replied. "Lost a bet. "

  "Huh? Oh, reading Gone With the Wind. And again, I say ha. Listen, Nick, if you'd even give the book a-"

  "Stop that," he said with a shudder. "You know I hate that. "

  "Hate what?" The list was so long. Vampires . . . except apparently not anymore. Bananas . . . one of the few things he and Jess had in common. Bad guys . . . assuming he was still a cop. Tough to tell, because in the un-screwed timeline he'd been a plainclothes detective, so there was no uniform to give him away. But since he hung around cops and crime scenes and shooting ranges all day, he always smelled like gun powder; it was not an indicator of what his job was. In the altered timeline he could be in charge of sweeping up the men's room at the Cop Shop, or a gunsmith, for all I knew.

  Luckily, he was still talking, because I badly needed enlightening. "Stop calling me Nick. You know I can't stand it. "

  I stared at him. For the second time in three minutes, I had no idea what to say. "What am I supposed to call you?"

  "Maybe by his name?" Marc asked, pouring himself smoothie number three. Which was terrifying; I hadn't seen number two go down his gullet. I was starting to suspect sleeping with pretty boys and wolfing smoothies were his superpowers. "Just for funsies. "

  "Your name. Right. Right! Which is . . . ?" I prompted. "Sounds like . . . ?"

  "Sounds like Dick. "

  "Hee, hee!"

  "Grow up," Jessica and Nick (?) said in unison. Nick (?) added, "Come on, you know that. Or at least you knew it yesterday. Jeez, for the first year Jessica and I went out, you kept calling me by the wrong name. "

  "I do that to everyone. So your name is now Dick. "

  "It's always been Dick. "

  "But your name isn't Richard or Dick or anything like that. If you're a Nicholas, why would your nickname be Dick?"

  "Because there are a lot of Nicks in my family, so they called me Dick to distinguish. "

  "Not Nick, yup, got it. "

  He sighed and looked put-upon, then smiled at me. "If only I could believe that, roomie. "

  Roomie! I sooo did not authorize this; it was annoying enough sharing hot water and fridge space with . . . uh . . . lemmee see, how many people were living here before . . . "Are you still a cop?"

  "No, now I sell Mary Kay. " Seeing my eyes narrow into the cold pitiless gaze of a killer (or someone getting ripped at a sample sale), he elaborated: "Yes, I'm a cop. Currently Detective First Grade. "

  "And you . . . uh . . . you and Jessica . . . " I pointed vaguely at her big belly.

  "Stop staring," she told me. "And yes. And stop that. "

  "I'm not staring. "

  "You absolutely are. "

  "I-oh, cripes, what was that?" I was on my feet before my brain knew I'd been trying to get away. "It moved!"

  "Kicked," Jessica corrected, patting her belly and pushing the teeny foot or skull or tentacle out of the way. "But don't worry, honey. Someday you'll have hair on your special places and will start thinking about boys and wanting to have a baby. "

  "Fat fucking chance. No offense. "

  "Whoa, wait. " Jessica's big brown eyes went squinty, which wasn't easy since she was wearing her hair skinned back in her usual eye-watering ponytail. She was sort of stuck in a high school hairdo, but it was understandable . . . pulling her hair back emphasized her cheekbones. You could practically cut yourself on them. She looked like a big round Nefertiti. "Did you just get back from hell and call me fat?"

  "Not on purpose. Either of them. "

  "You're glowing, Jess, you're gorgeous," Nick soothed. "Betsy's just . . . you know. Being Betsy. "

  "What's that supposed to mean, Artist Formally Known as Nick?"

  "What do you think it means, Vampire Queen Lamely Known as Betsy?" He sounded pissed, but then laughed. "Jesus! You take one trip to hell and then have to be reminded of the basics. "

  "Why are you laughing? You hate me!"

  Nick frowned. "Since when?" CHAPTER THREE

 

  Well. Since I fed on him the night I came back from the dead, and my husband mind-raped him. Oh, and since he forced Jessica to choose between him and me. If we're, you know, going to get down to specifics.

  "Nicholas J. Berry!" Jessica gasped. "What is the matter with you?"

  "With me? You should have seen this psycho bitch in action. "

  "That is enough," she snarled, hands on scrawny hips. "When are you going to get it through your head that Betsy isn't the cause of all your problems?"

  I was frantically trying to signal to Jessica, making a slashing motion across my throat, the universal gesture for shush! Although it made me sad, I felt Nick's rage was a perfectly appropriate reaction to the evening's festivities. I appreciated Jessica sticking up for me-she always stuck up for me-but she didn't have all the facts.

  He had been attacked. Again. Violated by vampires . . . again. I was amazed he hadn't gone fetal in the hedges.

  "How many times do I have to say it," Jessica was saying. "How many times do you have to see it? She's a good guy!"

  "No, Jess, it's okay, he-"

  "She drinks blood, because she's dead," he said, spitting on the floor-spitting blood, I might add, and I was ashamed, because my fangs were out again. I didn't dare speak anymore; I didn't want him to know I wanted to drink and drink and drink. "She's a killer, and you know it. "

  "I love her, she's the sister I never got, and you know that. "

  "Ah, perhaps we could, ah, step into another room and discuss, ah, the new terms for surrender," Tina said, because even the Fiends looked uncomfortable to be witnessing the lovers' quarrel.

  "Or maybe you could talk about this later, when everybody's calmed down," I tried.

  "Don't make me choose," Jessica warned, ignoring us. For her, the only person in the room was Nick.

  "I'm not making you choose. I'm choosing. We're done. " He wiped his face again, and we all pretended not to notice how his hand shook and how he couldn't look at her.

  "That's right," Jessica replied coolly. "We are. "

 
; And just like that-it was over. They were over. We could all practically hear the snap. CHAPTER FOUR

 

  Except it wasn't. Because I'd never fed on Nick/Dick in this new reality. And for the first time, instead of being weirded out or scared by an out-of-the-blue change, I thought maybe that was a really good thing. How often in life do we get a do-over?

  "Are you married? Was I there? What did I wear? Tell me you got married in the spring. Tell me I got to break out the Christian Louboutin Dahlia pointy toe ankle boots. It's almost too much to hope for!"

  "It's awful that you're talking about the shoes, and everybody at this table knows you're talking about the shoes. "

  "It's not such a high heel, is the thing. I could have walked around in them no matter how long the ceremony was, without ever praying for anesthetic. " I turned to Sinclair. "I can recover from bullet wounds but my feet still hurt after a couple of hours in pumps? The hell!"

  Jessica frowned. "Wait. Who-?"

  "We aren't married. " Dick-Nick said. "Yet. But nice work making our non-marriage all about you, Bets. "

  Well, it is. I decided not to explain that out loud. It really is! A little, anyway. My Christian Louboutin ankle boots were the real victim here.

  Jessica tried, and failed, to fold her arms over her titanic gut. "Don't even start with that 'not yet' crap. "

  "Yes," Sinclair hastily put in. "Don't. "

  "Oh, come on. " Marc grinned. "Don't deprive me of drama. I need it! Like Jenna says, drama is my Gatorade; it replenishes my electrolytes. "

  Ah! Something else consistent in this universe: Marc was as devoted to Jenna Maroney's character from 30 Rock as he was when I left. Weird, the things that made me feel better.

  "And the reason the answer is 'not yet' instead of 'six months and going strong' is because your best friend," D-Nick was telling me, "has it in her head that because her mom and dad's marriage was a disaster, she, too, would be bad at it. "

  I could feel my eyes widen but didn't say anything. I thought Jess would make N/Dick a great wife. Hmm, gorgeous and smart and open-minded and cool and rich? Jessica should sink her claws into his hide and grip like an IRS agent looking for a promotion.

 
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