2,598
22.12.2018

FORTY-SIX

No we did not. Which is to say, we were stumbling and staggering through the house (Jessica had left the door wide open for us, proving again that we had either too much security or not enough, and never any sort of happy medium) while our mouths and hands were busy.

Awesomely busy. Thoroughly busy. Big-time all-the-time busy … we were kissing each other hard enough to leave bruises (theoretically) and tugging at each other's clothes (literally). My outfit suddenly seemed to be made of buckles and rubber-stuff really hard to get out of, and Sinclair's suit was proving just as intractable.

I stumbled and he tried to catch me and went over himself. We might have had more luck if we stopped kissing long enough to take in our surroundings, and clothing, but nothing doing. So we both went down in front of the sweeping staircase that led (eventually) to our bedroom.

(my love my love my Elizabeth my own)

I rolled to my side while Sinclair yanked at my sweater. A button went flying (I was wearing a sexy old-lady wool cardigan, complete with faux pearl buttons and a Kleenex tucked up the sleeve … okay, I'm kidding about the Kleenex) but the rest of the wool was resisting him. Stupid Merino wool! What'd I ever do to those sheep that their wool should resist me now, at the moment I was most horny?

(my love my love I love my love I love you my Elizabeth)

His Caraceni suit jacket was cooperating, or so I assumed when I heard the purring "ri-i-i-p!" of a seam getting yanked. Now I only had the super-sturdy pants to tear through, the tie to shred, and the Egyptian cotton shirt to tear into strips. The stairs were going to look like they were awash in crepe party streamers. Streamers made of Egyptian cotton. Dammit! Why'd Sinclair have to be rich? Why couldn't he just shop at Wal-Mart with most of the rest of us, where any clothing he bought would rip itself to shreds after the first trip through the wash?

As we tore at each other's clothing with our mouths sealed together in the fiery sharp kisses of vampires

(my love my love dammit what is this she's wearing?)

our frustration only mounted. Frustration with the high-quality clothing we'd stupidly worn. And okay, sexual frustration, too. It had been days! Almost a whole week! I thought of the movie Zoolander, when the models find out the heroine hasn't had sex in years and are horrified: "How do you live? How do you live?" Now that I think of it, there are many wise messages hidden in Zoolander, and if we as a society could only see the genius hiding beneath Ben Stiller's ridiculous hair, we-ow!

"Friction burn," I yelped.

"I am so-nnnf!-sorry-unff-beloved!" He was now wrestling with the tank top which I wore beneath the long sleeved shirt beneath the cardigan he'd gotten through.

Of all the days to layer! Chalk it up to a hazard of living in Minnesota.

By now we'd sort of lurched to our feet and had made it up a few more of the many many many many stairs, and I felt a flash of pain zip through my mouth as he broke the skin in his urgency.

"Ow!"

"-so sorry-darling-nnf-"

I bit him back, lightly, which was a tactical if yummy error, if his increased urgency was any indication. We both fell to the carpet again, but I finally had his pants open. There is no sexier sound than the clink of a man's belt hitting the floor, even if his wife then falls on the buckle and spends a few seconds yelping and grabbing her knee. We really should separate, stand, and then carefully sprint to our bedroom, where most of the breakable furniture was already broken and thus there were less things to hurt ourselves on. Or hurt ourselves with.

I forgot all about the plan once I had my hand on my husband's dick. Yep, that plan went right out the … the thing that plans go out when … when I can't think of them … was there ever a plan? A plan for what?

I'm confused. And also very horny.

(Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh do not do not stop oh oh)

Thank goodness Sinclair wasn't confused. He'd keep us on the straight and narrow. If there had been a plan, he'd know what it was. But he didn't need to remember because he wasn't confused. In fact, he seemed more single-minded than (oh your your your fingers are are you have the face of an angel and the touch of a sorceress you you more do more harder harder oh oh) usual.

"Seriously? You guys? Right there on the stairs, huh?" Someone was talking at us. I had no idea who. I didn't remember anyone else except Sinclair. Did Sinclair and I live alone? Had we ever done anything or known anyone before each other? Cannot remember. There's nothing before his mouth and his hands and his great big-

"Hey! You realize you're leaving a trail of what appears to be cotton, Merino wool, and cashmere?" Someone else we didn't know was talking at us. This was weird because the only other person in my world was my love, my own, my king, Sinclair. Probably I was just hearing voices. Probably it was only psychosis. Probably we didn't have roommates. "You know that saying, 'get a room'? Well, get a room!"

We'd stumbled to our feet, made it up a few more stairs, and then Sinclair tripped on his shoelaces

(shoes first! Dammit! I never think of that)

(nor I, my love)

and down we went again. But now there were a mere seven thousand steps between us and our bedroom. He fell almost full-length on top of me, which would have sent air whooshing out of my lungs if I'd had any. As it was, I could feel my ribs flexing and creaking from the impact. But I never once let go of his dick. Because when Betsy Taylor starts something, she by-God finishes it!

"Aaaggghh, Elizabeth!"

"Sorry."

But victory would be ours because at last-at last-my panties were exposed and I was tugging them aside and the whole never-letting-go thing

(heh, that reminds me of Titanic when Rose is all "I'll never let go, Jack, I'll never let go" and then SHE LETS GO!)

(darling please stop nattering in my head before I take you right here on these stairs)

(oh no you don't! I'm taking YOU right here on these stairs)

(I surrender you win have your way with me I shall offer no resistance)

(now what was I-oh, yeah, since I never let go of your dick I still have your dick and will now ruthlessly)

(guide your dick)

(into me. So let that be a lesson unto you, Sink Lair, we should never let the possible end of the world and/or the hideous deaths or awful transformations of everyone we love interfere with our frequent marital nooky because it's just not a good-)

"Elizabeth," he panted, pulling my bra free with a quick yank

(yow, friction! friction burn!)

"Please stop saying those things in my head. I would really like to have an orgasm now, so shush."

Well, he wasn't alone. And I was trying to oblige him. But my foot was now caught between the banister and the wall, and my head was at a weird forty-five degree angle because of how my neck was resting on the step, and he still had his tie on although his shirt was in shreds, and I was pretty sure one of his buttons had fallen into my bra and when my bra went flying so did the button but I had no idea where, and someone was still

"Dick, don't! Use the side door, the side door! Do not go in there if you value your sanity!"

yelling from somewhere.

We thrashed and wriggled like a couple of bass yanked from the Mississippi and tossed on a dock. Horny bass. On a deck that was carpeted and looked a lot like six thousand stairs. Then Sinclair once again got to his feet, hauled me up with a yank on my elbow, kicked the part of the banister just below where my ankle had gotten lodged, freed said ankle, then slung me unceremoniously over his shoulder in some sort of undead fireman's carry, and staggered up the rest of the eight thousand stairs.

"Oh thank heavens," someone said at us. "They're … I think it's safe. They're going to their room. We can all have the courage to start our lives over and work past this domestic trauma."

I had to sort of clutch Sinclair's back to keep from jouncing off his shoulder and tumbling back down the stairs, so I dug in

(ouch! Beloved, you have the curved talons of a tree sloth)

and wondered: had I ever felt so happy, so horny, so relieved, so delighted, so insulted, and so loved like this before, ever, in either my old life or the new?

Not even close. And speaking of close-ah! The melodious sound of Sinclair kicking our bedroom door open drove all other thoughts out of my head. He nearly tripped on the sizable piece of wood that had detached at his kick, then tossed me on our bed and turned back to make sure the board was moved and the door as shut as it could be. Unfortunately, it was a brand-new mattress (we went through them pretty often), and still chock full of sproinginess. In his lusty haste, Sinclair had tossed me pretty hard. If we'd tried to re-create it a hundred times we couldn't: the new mattress spit me back out, ejected me like it was a damned launching pad, and I hit the carpet.

(-the hell?)

What was it with inanimate objects keeping me from banging the vampire king today?

Sinclair turned back from the door, surprised to see me on the carpet, but too horny to care, or speculate about physics, or discuss attempts to re-create what just happened, or wonder why every inanimate object in our house was determined to keep us apart.

"My own."

"Yes. Mine, too."

He fell on me. Or I fell on him. We didn't know. And we sure didn't care.

"You're really moving out?"

"Yup."

"I still can't believe it."

"I couldn't believe all the shrill bitching about a piece of glass. But you bitched."

"Three-thousand-dollar piece of glass," I muttered. "And you knocked over Mrs. Hemze's Christmas tree during your rampage."

"I went back and fixed it the next day."

"And Mr. Peterberg's."

"Fixed that one, too."

"And the Katzes'."

"Crybabies."

I had mixed feelings about Antonia and Garrett leaving … me, who got off on complaining about the open-door policy for roomies. But I hated to see the two of them head off into the world that had treated them badly, with no one to lean on but themselves. What was kind of cool (but I would flambe my summer sandals before admitting it to Antonia) was that the solitude was the point, for them.

They hadn't made that much of a mess of the neighborhood … frankly, people who put up their Christmas lawn stuff before Thanksgiving deserved whatever happened. But we found out later they'd been talking about moving out for a while, even before the full moon madness hit … they just weren't sure how to ask me about leaving.

Ask me. Like I was their boss or their … their … well. I wasn't, was the point. They never had to ask. They just had to tell.

So there was that.

But on the other hand, Garrett was weird and Antonia was bitchily blunt. So it was harder to stay sad … assuming I even was sad. Like I said, it was hard to know how to feel about this latest development. It had been a weird few days. Even by our standards.

"Can you wipe that sappy expression off your jowls, Betsy?"

My point! Right there in a nutshell. "Antonia, you bitch, I do not have-"

"If you cry, I'm punching you in the forehead."

"See if I ever bring you back from hell again," I sulked.

She cupped her elbows in both hands and shook her head; all that dark hair flew around like it was being sucked into a wind tunnel. I never saw the wench so much as glance at a hairbrush, but she never got tangles. Yet another mysterious werewolf power, no doubt.

"At least tell me what you use for a conditioner before you leave," I begged.

She made an irritated noise that sounded like a cross between a sigh and a snort. "I knew you wouldn't really get why we're taking a vacation from our lives."

"Because if you don't burn through your Pack vacation time by the end of the fiscal year, you lose all the hours you stockpiled since you were a fuzzy cub who peed on the furniture every ten minutes?"

"Stick to what you know, shoe girl," she retorted. "I'm saying this again. For the last time, so pay attention, bimbo queen: I died. I went to hell. And then you asked the devil to give me a second chance. And the devil-the devil, mind you-was so anxious to stay on your good side that she agreed."

"Just what I've always wanted: my very own personal recapper."

She ignored me, the ruthless tart. "You secured my freedom and put yourself in jeopardy to do it. Believe me, it pains me to be this nice to you. I haven't had any coffee yet, and these gaggingly sweet words are sticking in my throat like gristle."

"Well, I am pretty great…" Egads. Garrett would be trapped in a truck with caffeineless Antonia for how long? He'd probably go feral all over again.

"So here we are: a fresh start! Something most people don't ever get, and we both got one. Thanks to you. And you didn't know us very well." She could never not look amazed when she told this part of the story. It sort of cracked me up. "So what to do with it, right? Because when you think about it, d'you realize how many people die and then get to come back?"

"Uh…" This week? This month? Last year? Twenty years from now? Forty? A hundred?

Antonia nodded. "Right. Dumb question."

"Not for most people," Garrett said. He had just finished taping a cardboard box absolutely bulging with skeins of yarn. It was the sixth box. That guy was gonna knit the whole world a hat/scarf combo. I guess everybody needed goals. Garrett's was to master yarn bombing, whatever the heck that was (I prayed it didn't involve a yarn shop and an incendiary device). "But we're not most, so…" He shrugged and started taping another box. We were using the kitchen as a packing station … the high counters, large room (big as a restaurant kitchen at least), and acres of counter space made it ideal. It was also making me really want a blueberry smoothie.

Smoothie cravings aside, I understood Garrett's disinterest in their destination: he had no idea where they were going, and he didn't give a tin shit. He was going with Antonia. That was what mattered; it was the only thing that had ever mattered. Anything beyond that was whipped cream on the sundae of his life. Or, I dunno, the bobble in the sweater of life.

Aw, jeez, it was too late … they'd already corrupted me with their weird knitting rituals and jargon.

"Uh … the other thing…" To my surprise, Antonia looked almost … embarrassed? No way. This was the girl who on a whim had stripped on our lawn last spring and hosed herself down while waving to the occasional passing school bus.

(Werewolves are weird.)

So scratch embarrassment. But then what…

"I like you a lot, Betsy."

That was kind of a relief. Honestly, sometimes it was hard to tell with her.

"And after what you did for me and mine, my life is yours. Only right now, I'd like my life to be somewhere else for a while. You get that, right?"

"Miraculously, yes," I said dryly. "Next time just break out the hand puppets. It'll be quicker."

She didn't so much as quirk her lips in a sarcastic smile. Hung on to the poker face instead. I don't know why I expected anything else. "But if I stayed, I'd be obligated to keep the Pack abreast of your doings. I live with you, I help you, and you help me back because we all take care of each other, but at the end of the day I'm still me and you're still you. That's what I liked best about this place. About our … um, our home."

I nodded, hoping I had a semi-intelligent look on my face. Luckily Antonia took pity on me (maybe she was coming down with something) and elaborated: "I'm still Pack, and you're still not. It's a lifetime of conditioned behavior I'm not up to trying to break right now."

"But Michael, the leader guy-"

"Pack leader, imbecile, must I carve it on your forearm?"

"He knows you're alive. Again."

She nodded as Garrett began trundling box after box of yarn, needles, and patterns to the Come-N'-Go rental truck out front (their disturbing logo: "We'll Help You Come N' Go!"). Don't judge; they were way cheaper than U-Haul, even if their pink and white trucks reminded me of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. "Yes. And he's the only one, for now. He won't even tell his wife. I got his word on that, and where Michael's concerned, that's always going to be good enough. The others will find out, in time. Maybe."

"He's letting you leave us, then?" I was a little surprised Michael hadn't called her home. Or insisted she stay. But I wasn't surprised she didn't want to go. We found her annoying; her Pack was afraid of her. "Just like that?"

"Sure. He knows I want to see a little more of the planet besides New England and Minnesota before I die and go to hell again."

"Hell again?"

She puffed her hair out of her eyes, exasperated at the glacier slowness of my thought process. "Of course, dumb shit. Where else would I end up? Except…" She smiled then, an expression of dazzling warmth, and I was reminded that when I wasn't controlling the urge to staple her lips shut, she could be pretty great. "Except I want to hit the trail for a couple of years first. D'you know Garrett's never been tubing? Or fishing? Or free climbing or tie shopping? He's never made cookies or been to a zoo? He's never been to a baseball game or ridden a roller coaster. He's never been to a casino, or on an airplane. Which reminds me…" She hollered for Garrett, but she was still standing in front of me, so my ears nearly fell off. "I got the tickets!"

"Ow."

"Crybaby."

"Tickets?"

"To the California Wool and Fiber Festival," she said in her typical try-to-keep-up-dummy tone.

And what to say to that? A simple farewell to a couple of roommates had once again taken a bizarre turn. I considered various bitchy replies but in the end settled for, "I didn't know there even was such a thing."

"That's because you're a drooling moron, Betsy." She flashed her dazzling smile at me, taking every bit of the sting from her words. All her words in the last few minutes, come to think of it. "Now pay attention. I know it's going to be hard, what with you being unable to learn or adapt to any situation at any time under any circumstance, ever, but watch me." She pointed to her eyes. Uh … weird. "Listening?"

"Yeah, and staring into your eyes, which, now that I noticed them, seem weirdly far apart. Have you always had the hammerhead shark thing going, or am I only now noticing?"

I thought I'd get a snotty retort, but she nodded. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. I've lived here how long and you've only now noticed I've got wide-set eyes."

"Like a shark!"

"Shut up. Pay attention. You've got to pay attention, Betsy. Only Michael knows I'm alive, but for form's sake, he's got to send another Pack member out here. It'll be ostensibly to form and maintain friendly relations between his awesomely buff Pack members and your sneaky pale leeches. So watch for a new werewolf in the neighborhood. Or her. Because they'll be showing up soon."

"That's why he's letting you leave," I said, suddenly getting it. "He can't send a sub without the Pack finding out you're alive, so he's letting you vamoose … you get rewarded for returning from the dead, he gets to send fresh eyes and ears out here to watch us."

"Yes."

"Sneaky bastard."

"Yes. And if he heard you say that-"

"Well, jeez, don't tell him."

"-he'd be flattered," she finished. "I think that's everything."

"Really?" That would be great. I feel like I've been listening to her for a month and a half. "Okay, well, let me go get-"

"Good-bye."

"No you don't!" She turned back, and arched her brows in surprise. "You gotta let the others say good-bye."

"Why?"

Argh. The weird thing was, she was honestly puzzled. She wanted to go, we all knew she was going, she would be back, the end. Why draw it out? For what purpose?

(Werewolves are weird.)

She scowled at me. "You're not going in for a hug, are you? Are you going to cry? You'd better not cry."

"Don't worry; you've killed the thing inside me that thought this was going to be a tender farewell."

"Oh. Good. Besides, we're not saying good-bye forever. We'll head on back after a few months. Maybe a year. Okay, two years … anyway … you're not crying, are you?"

"Only from the stress of not kicking you until you've got bruises the size of softballs."

"Ha! Okay. Good. You only ever have to call. We'll come on the run. Don't lose that number-I keep that cell on me most of the time. I know you can't help being kind of stupid sometimes, but make a real effort not to lose that number."

Wow. For Antonia, this was downright warm and fuzzy. Still, it was hard to keep swallowing my irritation. Did vampires get peptic ulcers? "Yeah, thanks, and … say! Don't you think it's time you climbed into your car and drove and drove and drove away from here?"

"Past time." She started to swing the door shut, then paused and glanced at me once more. "Um … Betsy … there's one more thing…"

I braced myself, or tried, for what had to be coming: I hate your breath, I think you're dumb, pay attention, mind your own business, don't you dare cry, drop dead, stop obsessing over what to put on your feet, don't call after ten p.m., don't call at all, you can't pull off pigtails, you can't pull off plaid walking shorts, shut up, go away, get the hell out of here, can't you see we're having sex…

"I'm so happy I know you. Nothing in my life was as good as the time I spent here with you guys. Hell itself wasn't even so bad compared with how the Pack used to … well." She shrugged, and her smile trembled. "I'd … I'd do anything you asked, is what I wanted to say. Just … whatever you need, you only ever have to…" She shrugged again, embarrassed to be saying it, but unwilling to leave it out. "I'd do anything for you."

Before I could recover (My heart! Cut down in the prime of life from a shock-induced heart attack! Woe, the humanity), she was out the door and screeching, "Garrett! We can't bring another dozen boxes of yarn; we didn't rent a big enough truck! You're gonna have to choose, weirdo!"

I cried. Sure I did; it was all part of my sinister plan. I told her I wouldn't, then willfully went ahead and bawled for ten minutes after that stupid pink and white truck pulled out of our driveway.

That oughta show her.

Infant Me was gone. Infant Laura was gone. My (live!) husband also. I was still here, but not for much longer: it was time for me to be gone, too.

But I wanted to savor this feeling, I wanted to savor the emotion I was enduring for the first time in centuries: I was afraid.

Time to go back, and yet I lingered. I wasn't worried about the 'port … centuries studying at Lucifer's knee, and then Laura's, so to speak, had left me almost as skilled as she was. Would be.

But when I went back to my time, what in the world/worlds would I find?

I had not killed the Lady of Lies, my sister's mother. But she was dead by my hand.

Jessica had not lived to have children, and I, of course, had killed Nick for what he had done to her, and never mind that it had been a senseless accident. But he had done nothing to her here, and she would have children, a miracle I could still hardly believe. Interesting that in a life filled with vampires and weres and Undersea Folk, portents and spells and magic, that a rather ordinary occurrence, a normal, nonparanormal pregnancy, seemed wondrous to me. Although on reflection there did seem something odd about her gestation. A problem for the other me, another time.

I had killed my husband. Except he wasn't dead. And though I had no certainty Sinclair wouldn't die years from now, without the BoD warning him, we would not have fallen out. It wasn't the coming ice age that would wipe the globe of human locusts, but humanity's overreaction to it. Globally speaking, few worried about the steadily dropping temps until the first of the catastrophic crop losses began. Bad growing season followed worse growing season and only when millions had starved to death (in Texas and Maine and Kentucky and Florida and Wyoming), only then did humanity act. Or over-react. They meant to carpe the diem, not morte the diem, but guess what?

Sinclair reacted to my plan with horror. But how else to save the remains of a starving nation than fix it so those millions didn't need to eat? Or pee or bleed? And when the newly dead rose, who best to lead them? The ones who had led for centuries, of course. It wasn't megalomania, no matter what my husband declared. It was logic.

Sinclair disagreed. A lot. And so he died. Except maybe this time…

Somehow Infant Me had changed things. I had no idea how. I barely knew why: she saw the end, not why it had to be so. It was the reaction of a child: fix it, Mommy! And like a child who didn't understand what was impossible, perhaps she-we-had.

Time to go back. Time to go home. What was waiting for me? Who was waiting for me? I felt a bit like that movie character from ages back-Sarah Connor. For the first time in a long time, I hadn't read ahead. I didn't have the dubious comfort of foreknowledge. The instruction book hadn't been lost, or even destroyed: now there had never been a Book of the Dead.

I was afraid.

I was happy.

And beyond everything, beyond all the miracles, I dared to dare to hope: was it possible I was returning to a world where, once, Christian Louboutin had designed the most glorious shoes in the history of footgear? Could God be that good?

Time to find out. I was going home.

I had to lie to get out of the house, of course. I told Sinclair I wanted to hit the Blue Wednesday pre-Thanksgiving sales at the Mall of America. Anyone who has ever shopped at any time in America, ever, knows there's no such thing as Blue Wednesday, just Black Friday. But the vampire king was too busy setting up lawn chairs on the south side of the yard so he could sunbathe in thirty-degree temps to care where I flitted off to. When I left he had the lawn chairs arranged to his satisfaction, and was sorting through the half dozen pairs of sunglasses he'd dashed out to get after our snow/stairs/sex shenanigans.

Delk still wasn't home from his book tour (that was a fish to fry for another day, and fry I would … just not this week), but his dog sitter was. I cheated a bit and mojo'd her into selling, but I was paying what the dogs were worth and then some, and Delk would never miss two pups out of a thousand. Or however many blobs o' fur were lurking on the Delk puppy farm. From the way they liked to swarm my ankles, there were at least a hundred of the things.

I gave her a check and left contact info for Delk in case he wanted to talk, and she gave me leashes attached to small black dogs. I tucked each one under an arm like fuzzy wiggly footballs and took them to the car, picking my way through gravel and snow while Fur and Burr squirmed and yapped in my grasp.

"It must be Betsy Makes Tons of Sacrifices week," I muttered at the two blobs of black fur. "This is so nuts. They'll be in my house. My house. There'll be no escape." As I pulled out of the driveway and headed home, Burr relieved herself in the backseat, and I knew I'd been right to take Sinclair's Mustang. Not only could he fully care for dogs again, but he could wash his car in the driveway at high noon if he wanted. As Fur begin nibbling on the leather piping, I figured he'd want to get on that pretty quickly.

"That'll learn him to leave me to fend for myself on the porch while a thousand of your fuzzy brethren are chasing me in my own yard while I'm trying to bury the dead cat my zombie friend is cutting up so he doesn't rot," I told Fur and Burr, who took a few seconds from their peeing/chewing to look at me with their big dark eyes and yap in shrill response.

Aw. Okay. They were kind of cute. In a slobbery incontinent way. But it wasn't about me; Fur and Burr were about cold cruel vengeance. My wrath would go forth into the world as black lab puppies! Beware, beware, the heck-bound puppies come for thee!

You'd think the king of the vampires, of all people, would catch on: you don't mess with the vampire queen.