The Italian place my mom had insisted we meet at wasn’t a chain restaurant. It was a small place that just exuded the ‘family business’ vibe. Specifically, in my opinion, the kind of family that starts with caps and is preceded by ‘the.’ You know: the Family. That was probably stereotyping on my part, but I couldn’t help it. Every time I went there the background music reminded me of the soundtrack from The Godfather. It had a large patio porch with tables that were probably empty given the cool day, and about twice as much space inside for patrons. Big windows let in lots of sunlight, I remembered. I scowled to myself. They probably put lots of garlic in their recipes, too. Maybe it wasn’t a mob front. Maybe it was a vampire hunter front.
Regardless, I was determined to brave it. After Hans parked I huddled back under my cloak and let him help me out of the Hummer. When we went in, I was flanked by Emma and Hans. I had to pull the hood back to look around for my folks, and I squinted while I did it.
Of course they’d taken the window seat.
I sighed and resigned myself to getting a sunburn. “They’re over here,” I said to Hans and Emma, and led the way to the table my mom and dad sat at. The table was pretty small, but that wouldn’t matter since Hans, Emma and I wouldn’t be cluttering it up with plates. Dad was browsing a menu and Mom’s was folded in front of her. They were sitting on one side of the table. A single empty chair with a single menu sat across from them. Mom’s hands were folded in her lap, and she was glancing at the clock on the far wall when I spotted her. Then she looked over at the door again. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw us, and she reached over to shake my dad’s arm.
I led the way over to them. “Hi,” I said without sitting down. “Mom, Dad, this is Hans and Emma. Hans, Emma — these are my folks.”
I get most of my looks from my mom. She was rail thin, just slightly taller than me, and had blond hair and blue eyes like I do. She kept her hair long, though, and usually wound up in a bun. She also usually dressed like she had somewhere fancy to go. Today she was wearing a long dress and a tiny purse. Probably high heels, too. She had light makeup on and was wearing a tasteful silver necklace that used to be grandma’s. She’s also pretty high strung, I thought, and the observation was actually a surprise. I’d never really thought about it before: I’d just been too worried about disappointing her. Just like me. Well, not just like me. Mom wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was. But I figured if I got any of my anxiety honestly, I got it from her.
Dad, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different than me. He wore a button-up shirt and slacks, so we had similar tastes in practical fashion. But Dad was tall, almost as tall as Hans, and had gotten slightly pear shaped in the years I’d been away from home. His eyes were dark brown and his hair was almost black, but his beard and mustache were mostly a dark red. When I was little I’d ask him about that, and he would always claim he’d inherited the different color from a great great great granddad: Redbeard the pirate.
Come to think of it, I probably got my fondness for making up stories from Dad.
Hans caught the lion’s share of my folks’ attention, probably because they didn’t know I was in a relationship with Emma, yet. Mom looked at him with wide eyes that were just short of staring. Dad got halfway out of his seat and reached out to shake Hans’ hand. “Please, call me William,” he said. “And this is my wife, Helen. It’s good to meet you,” he added. “I wish I could say we’ve heard all about you, but this has all come as a bit of a surprise. Still, I understand you’ve been looking out for my girl and we’re grateful for that.”
Mom’s expression turned a little sour, but she didn’t contradict Dad. She never did: it wasn’t proper for a wife to contradict her husband, after all. I wondered why I hadn’t ever noticed that before. Had I gotten some new perspective on how my family interacted from when I’d been mostly dead and talking to Mom on the phone? Or was it just that I’d always been too worried about disappointing Mom to notice that she actually did try to live by the rules of etiquette she failed to drill into me? Today there was no way I wasn’t going to disappoint both my parents, so there wasn’t really a point in worrying about if I would. Instead, I felt my stomach knot up as I contemplated how bad it would be.
Hans accepted Dad’s hand and shook. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, but before he could really say more, Dad offered his hand to Emma.
“It’s always good to meet another of our Abby’s friends,” Dad said as he shook her hand. “To be honest, I worry about how few she seems to have. I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that when life tries to knock her down she has people who will help her keep her feet.”
Emma smiled back at him. “You needn’t worry,” she said. “Abby is a good judge of character, and a real charmer.”
Dad grinned and eased back into his chair. Mom looked like she was choking on a protest she couldn’t voice. “Please, grab some chairs,” Dad offered. “I hadn’t realized there’d be so many joining us or I would’ve requested a larger table.”
Mom marshaled a reply at that. “That’s because we weren’t informed, dear,” she reminded him — fixing the blame for that omission squarely on me.
Hans held the chair that was available for me while Emma pulled over a second. I folded back the cloak’s hood as I sat; mom scowled at it like I’d worn it to deliberately offend her sense of fashion. Once I was seated, Hans fetched another chair for himself.
“I’m sorry,” I told mom, “but I told you that you’d called at a really bad time. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to come at all — and you know I carpool,” I pointed out. “You had to figure at least one other person would be with me if I made it out.”
Mom’s eyebrow twitched as though she thought she had to do no such thing — or maybe because she thought I should’ve just started walking as soon as I got her call. Before she could throw a barb back at me, though, Hans returned. He didn’t sit immediately, but instead reached out to shake her hand. Forced to by polite conventions, she let him have it — and looked completely startled when he bent over it and kissed the back of it instead of pumping it like a plebian. “And Helen,” he said easily, “forgive the tardiness of these formalities, but it is a pleasure to meet you as well.”
“Thank you,” Mom said as he sat. She actually looked a little flustered. “I wish I could return the sentiment, but while I am grateful for the aid you’ve provided my daughter I am also quite shaken by what has happened — and we don’t know you and didn’t know of you.” She seemed to remember that she didn’t like Hans as she kept talking. “While my husband is correct to convey our gratitude, I have to ask — out of concern for my daughter, you understand — exactly where and how the two of you came to become a couple.”
I swallowed anxiously. I scrambled to think of a way to interrupt Mom’s interrogation. The truth, as much as we could safely share, was not going to be acceptable. I could only imagine how Mom would react if Hans went ahead and said: ‘We met a few days ago. Her friend roped her into going on a date, and when she invited me to her place afterward I blew her mind.’ Mom would explode. For that matter, Dad would probably blow up, too. I had always been his little girl, after all.
“Three of us,” I blurted.
Mom’s gaze skewed to me. Dad sat up a little straighter. “What was that?” He asked me to elaborate.
I swallowed anxiously, and Emma reached over to hold my hand under the table. “Mom, Dad,” I said, “Hans is my boyfriend. And Emma is my girlfriend.”
I don’t know what sort of response a reasonable person would have expected from that declaration, but I was somewhat relieved that a black hole did not consume all of us. Unfortunately, that meant I still existed and had to cope with however my parents actually reacted.
Dad sat back. He looked back and forth between the three of us, and actually seemed too stunned to respond. Mom, on the other hand, seemed to swell with outrage.
“What?!” she gasped — since proper women don’t shriek in public. She snapped around to face Hans. “What sort of man dates two women at once?” she demanded. “Do you really think that little of my daughter?”
“Mom!” I shouted. “Emma isn’t dating Hans. I am. I’m the one dating two people, not either of them.”
My protest didn’t serve to calm her though, it just caused Mom to rise out of her seat and swing her attention back to me. For the moment Hans was in the clear, but Mom’s outrage hadn’t abated. “Abigail,” she said — and her voice trembled with emotion. “What is going on? I did not raise you like this! How can you just blatantly cheat on…”
“Hey!” Emma interrupted. “Who’s cheating? I know about Hans, and he knows about me.” She gave my hand a squeeze under the table. “We’re all pretty aboveboard, here.”
Mom looked at Emma. Her eyes narrowed, and I got ready to throw myself back into the verbal fray before she could level any sort of accusation at my girlfriend. I didn’t get a chance to, though. Dad caught mom’s elbow before I could blurt anything out.
“Helen,” he said gently, “calm down. It’ll be okay. Kids these days… It’s not like it used to be. They’re all more cosmopolitan about… er, love… than we were. And I know you worried about Abby and that Megan girl, but look: she has a boyfriend, too, so it’s not as bad as that.” He seemed to hear what he’d just said, and winced. “Not that there would be anything bad about it if you’d only been interested in women,” he said toward me. “It… well, it would have been a surprise, that’s all.”
Mom slowly seemed to deflate. She sank back down into her seat. “I raised you better than this,” she said too softly for anyone without supernatural hearing to pick up. I swallowed. I could see her eyes glisten before she turned her face away.
Guilt. It hit me and faded almost as fast.
I had to say something. I didn’t know what. But something. “Mom,” I plead. I didn’t know what the plea was for, but somehow I managed to pack it into that one word. “Mom, it’s okay.” Isn’t it?
“I have to use the powder room,” Mom said. Not to me. Just: to the table. Or maybe just to Dad. She stood. Dad had taken her hand, but she slipped it free of his. “Please excuse me, dear,” she said when he let go. She didn’t even look at me before walking away.
My heart hammered heavily. I couldn’t turn back to the table. I heard Dad saying something to Hans, but totally missed it. The dull roar of every other table’s conversation fell away. My enhanced senses were doing that thing where they focused in on something, some instinctual process filtering out everything I wasn’t concerned with.
I heard my mom sob in distress before the restroom door closed behind her. And that was too much. I rose to my feet before I’d even realized I started standing.
“I’m going to talk with her,” I said.
“Abby…” my dad started to reach out a hand, maybe to hold me back, convince me to sit back down and let Mom take care of her disappointment herself. That was how the women in our family worked, after all: we hid in the bathroom and didn’t come out until we could show the world that we had not been crying.
That was fucked up. That was so fucked up.
We didn’t talk about emotions in my family. More specifically: we didn’t talk about things that upset us. It wasn’t polite to be upset. We just ignored whatever it was until the feelings went away. It wasn’t just me, running away from Hans because he was too sexy and confident and charming for me to cope. It was Mom, too. How else could it be that I’d been able to tell Hans and Fumiko about how I used to hurt myself to cope with stress, but my Mom — the woman who was now so horribly disappointed in how I’d grown up — hadn’t even noticed? Because that would have been an uncomfortable conversation, and a kid can’t force an adult to have a conversation they don’t want to have.
I stepped back before dad could urge me to sit down. My ‘self-harm’ as Fumiko had called it… didn’t they always say that kind of stuff was really a cry for help? Well, why hadn’t I just gone to my parents and begged for help? Told them about what was wrong with me, and how I was scared all the time, and worried I might be crazy?
Because this was how we coped. By ignoring anything we didn’t like. For fuck’s sake: when I’d been a kid, slamming my head against a wall so I wouldn’t feel anything inside because I hurt too much outside, Mom’s only response had been to scold me for being so loud and disruptive! To make me feel guilty for being so rude.
Well, fuck that. Maybe it was because I’d been sitting in the sun long enough for some of my issues to burn off. Or maybe it was because I’d died recently and gotten some perspective, but I wasn’t going to take that. I wasn’t going to let Mom just ignore this until it went away because that was a bullshit way of coping. And because I had a boyfriend, and I had a girlfriend, and because somehow in the mere days I’d known them I’d started thinking I might possibly actually love them both.
I didn’t know, though, because I didn’t even know what that would look like.
I stalked toward the restaurant’s restroom. What I did know was that Hans and Emma weren’t going away. I wasn’t going home, and we weren’t going to hide our relationships just to cater to my mom’s sensibilities. I’d tried doing things her way, and it had fucked up my life: I just wasn’t her. I couldn’t cope with all those damn rules, or all that damn societal opinion bullshit. So I would be damned if I was going to let her way of doing things dictate how I spent my death.
I ran my tongue over the nubs of my fangs. Mom was going to acknowledge that my relationships with Hans and Emma were real, legitimate, and none of her damn business — or so help me god, I was going to snap her miserable, critical, hoity toity, worthless neck.