I sat up straight. Mom’s declaration jolted me out of my guilt and shame spiral. “No need,” I babbled. Go home? “It’s okay. You and dad don’t need to go out of your way.” I didn’t want to go home – it would mean going away from Hans and Emma and what little support I’d managed to gather to help cope with my new unlife. What had Megan told mom? Maybe I could bluff a little. A bluff wasn’t a lie, right? “Everything’s fine.”
“Fine?” My mom repeated in disbelief. “Fine?!” Her voice raised in exasperation. “The man burned down your apartment! You were held hostage! It is not fine. You are coming home, young lady. I told you the city wasn’t safe. Clearly you think I’m stupid if you’re trying to tell me otherwise now! And I think recent events have established that your judgment is obviously untrustworthy. You might feel like you’re young and immortal and nothing bad can really happen to you, but you could have died!”
Mom’s voice was more frantic than I’d ever heard it. I was too stunned to reply. I did die, I thought inanely. It wasn’t a protest I could voice.
I could feel mom pulling herself together on the other end of the line. “Where are you?” she asked. “Your father and I will come and get you. You can stay in your old room and work for Linda until we get something more permanent worked out.”
“Mom,” I protested as ineffectually as the teenager I couldn’t help but sound like, “It’s okay, I promise.” God, I sounded whiney. But I couldn’t go home. Everything was so uncertain already – how much worse would it be if I left the few people who were sympathetic to my newfound sunlight sensitivity and blood thirst? How much more dangerous for myself – and for everyone around me?
Plus, I didn’t want to throw away what little independence I’d built since leaving for college. Maybe that was a selfish reason, but I didn’t want all of the ordeals I’d put myself through to end up being for nothing – but if I went and hid at home it would just prove that my mom was right; that she’d always been right and I was hopeless and couldn’t take care of myself.
No. I wasn’t going home. I wasn’t going to get stuck working in my cousin’s salon. Linda wouldn’t want me there anyway! What did I know about being a beautician? People would see my plain appearance and unkempt hair and then they would lose faith in Linda. Her business would go bankrupt as her customers stopped coming in. Desperate for money to pay her mortgage, she’d drug me and sell one of my kidneys on the black market. Then, wracked with guilt, she’d rush me to the hospital where it would turn out that my vampire healing had regenerated the missing organ. Linda, being an entrepreneur, would realize she was sitting on a gold mine. She’d make up a story to get me out of the hospital, and then I would spend the rest of my life in a drug induced coma, sleeping in a bathtub full of ice while she mass produced semi-undead super organs to sell to rich people who didn’t want to wait on the official transplant list. Which would inevitably lead to complications when the recipients eventually died of natural causes and their undead organs refused to let them pass on peacefully, instead bringing them back as animate corpses with a vampire’s mindless hunger and no fangs, thus kicking off the zombie apocalypse.
Hell no. I was already a vampire. I wasn’t going to be the zombie queen, too.
I took a deep breath and tried to banish the whine that made me sound like a kid trying to get out of a grounding. That had never worked when I was growing up, and I knew it wouldn’t help now. “I’m not going home, mom,” I said as levelly as I could. “And I can’t work for Linda.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” mom snapped back. “Honestly, Abby, if I knew that education of yours was going to make you a snob I would have argued harder with your father. While you’ve been sitting around reading picture books, Linda has built herself a respectable business. You should be grateful you have family that’s willing to take you in, not throwing one of your hissy fits. Now where is your hotel?” Mom was frustrated and impatient. I’d pushed her into an unladylike outburst, like I always did, and I was compounding on my impropriety by refusing to see reason. Like I always did.
Except, this time, mom was the one who couldn’t see the whole picture. “I don’t have one,” I said. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was saying because I was scrambling for a way to make her understand without making her think I was just making up stories – something else which I always did and which always exasperated her. “Hans is letting me stay in his guest room.” If only I didn’t feel like I was a helpless kid trying to defy parental authority, maybe I could come up with something she’d believe. If I told her I was a vampire it would just undermine whatever willingness she had to listen to me. If only I could – oh, crap.
“Hans?” Mom asked icily. “Who is Hans, Abigail?”
I swallowed nervously. “He’s…” …a werewolf? My boyfriend? Neither were safe answers. “My boss,” I said weakly. I didn’t think that was any better.
“Your boss?” Mom shouted. “The man who attacked you?!”
“No!” I protested. “That was my old boss, Mr. Salvatore. Hans is his replacement.”
“And does this ‘Hans’ make a habit of inviting his young, impressionable, distraught female employees under his roof?” Mom’s question was sharp with loaded meaning. “Honestly, Abigail, what is wrong with you? You should know better than to trust a man like that! It is not appropriate behavior, whatever the circumstances. Especially under the circumstances! No wonder you were assaulted. How naively blind can you be? Are you trying to set yourself up to be victimized, or can you really not see that he’s setting you up to be taken advantage of?”
I bit back the urge to cry in frustration. Mom rolled on with her tirade about how she’d always known I would come to a bad end, and couldn’t I at least show the sense not to make it easy for the predators out there, and what would my grandma – god rest her soul – think if she were alive to see my disastrous choices?
One of my fangs punctured my lower lip as I struggled to form a response other than sobbing. Great, just great. Not only was I getting chewed out by my mom – and apparently the watchful spirit of grandma – but the stress was pushing me into fight or flight mode and now I was vamping out, too. This was exactly why I hadn’t called home – or it would have been if it had occurred to me to call home at all. There was no way mom would understand what had really happened last night. Not even if I skipped all the goblins and werewolves and undeath.
“Mom,” I said with a calmness that had to belong to my vampire side, “You don’t know what’s going on. Can you just trust that I’m making the right decisions?”
“Maybe I could,” my mom answered quietly, “if you weren’t so obviously making bad ones. Or if you weren’t so determined to disregard all the good advice I have to give. Does this ‘Hans’ really have his hooks into you so far you would ignore your own mother? I swear, whatever ‘help’ he’s offered you is just a ruse. He’s leading you on, Abigail.”
You aren’t trying to give me advice, I protested silently. Advice would mean I could take it or leave it. You’re trying to take over my life! Maybe you think it’s for my own good, but you have no idea what I’m really dealing with and your ‘solutions’ would screw me and everyone around me over. But even though you insist I listen to you, you aren’t going to listen to me.
The thoughts were detached. They had to be a product of my vamping out because they were utterly unforgiving. Normally when mom tried to browbeat me into something, I would think: ‘it’s only because she cares. She’s trying to keep me safe.’ I would feel guilty in the face of my mom’s good intentions. I would waver. Eventually, usually, I would give in. Whether or not I wanted to – giving in would feel less miserable than the guilt of being disrespectful.
This time… I still felt bad, but that was alive-me. Vampire Abby just continued with the logic. I tried to reign it in. I couldn’t tell my mom any of the things that vampire Abby was telling me. Mom wouldn’t listen if I tried: she’d just get mad at me for ‘telling stories.’
I managed to shut up the vamp mindset – or at least push it down. It wasn’t even all that hard: I wasn’t really thirsty, so I was still predominantly alive-minded.
Mom had come full circle in her arguments and was lamenting how Hans was clearly taking advantage of my fragile emotional state and was going to ruin me for respectable marriage, and I was just lucky I had family willing to take care of me despite my selfish, self-involved ingratitude. With the vampire’s ruthless disregard for others suppressed, I found I felt small. I felt horribly guilty, and selfish, and self-involved, and ungrateful. And I couldn’t defend myself because I couldn’t explain anything.
I was about to break down in tears. I knew that if I did, mom would stop haranguing me. She’d take care of me.
But she’ll do it in a way that gloats about how you were weak and she was right and you need her, the vampire part of me whispered in the back of my head. Just like she always does.
But… no. I mean, I’d thought that before – but that had just been me being petulant and petty. Hadn’t it?
This time, though, the thought wasn’t tinted with emotion. No petulance; no pettiness. And I was having trouble convincing myself it was wrong.
If anything, that stressed me out more. I squeezed my eyes shut. I needed to get away. I needed to pull myself together, but I couldn’t hang up on my mom and she wasn’t going to let me go until I gave in.
I felt my panic rise. I held my breath so I wouldn’t start sobbing. My heart wasn’t beating. This time, suppressing the symptoms of my panic attack didn’t help. Mom wasn’t letting up and I was going to come apart. It was just a matter of…
I squeezed my eyes shut harder and reached for another vampire power. Time stopped. Mom went silent. I dropped the phone. I covered my face with my hands.
And then I broke down while the world stayed frozen around me.