2,595
22.12.2018

THIRTEEN

"Owwww, enough!" I batted the ice pack away. "I'm going to heal from this in half an hour; do I also have to heal the frostbite you're inflicting on my poor face?"

"She clocked you pretty good," Marc said, which was so obvious I was amazed he felt he needed to verbalize it.

"Tell me. For someone eating for eight, she can really move when she wants to." And she had. I'd been so astonished to see her leap from her chair, grab said chair, and bash me with said chair that I didn't duck, so the chair leg caught me spang across the temple. Some people see stars after a sharp blow to the head; I saw five Jessicas, all brandishing chairs and screaming at me. Scariest. Thing. Ever.

The next thing I knew I had ice on my face, and Jessica had been hustled out of the kitchen by a rattled-yet-proud Nick/Dick.

"She did not take kindly to your revelation," Sinclair observed.

"I know … why are we all feeling the need to state the obvious? Can't blame her, either." I rubbed the side of my head. "It was really stupid of me to let that slip."

"Yes," Tina and Sinclair said in polite unison.

"And thanks for protecting me, you two," I snapped. "Good thing she didn't try to stake me, huh?"

"I have no desire to cross Jessica while she is in a family way," Tina said, and Sinclair nodded so hard I wondered if he'd made himself dizzy.

"She's rather terrifying these days," he said. He brushed his fingers across the lump on my head, and smiled. Against my will, I could feel my irritation start to fade. Dammit! Sometimes I wondered if Sinclair was a witch. "And you seem to have weathered the blow."

"Yeah, barely. Marc, stop with the ice pack! You're not a doctor anymore." Oops. Tactless. "Let me rephrase," I said, aware that rephrasing hadn't saved me from getting a chair smashed across my head by an enraged pregnant millionaire in desperate need of a pedicure. "I meant that you've got more important things to worry about."

"I'm legally dead," Marc mused. He'd given up with the ice pack, and sat back down at the kitchen table. "What does that mean? Does my social security card work? Has my license to practice medicine been invalidated or revoked? How about my driver's license?"

"I had a lot of the same questions when I died the first time."

"So what happened?"

"Uh … nothing. The whole queen gig came up, so I never really had to worry about that stuff."

"Worry about what stuff?" Antonia had stepped into the kitchen, Garrett on her heels. They weren't carrying bags of yarn or needles or what-have-you, but they were both flushed and bright-eyed. "What's the vampire sewing circle bitching about now?"

"Ah-ha! You were having sex in the spoon, admit it!"

"Sure," she said, shrugging. Her black hair had been pulled back into a messy ponytail, which for Antonia was practically a smooth chignon. "Why d'you care? Aren't you dead?"

"Well, I'm a vampire, so technically-"

"Not you, moron." She pointed. "Him."

"Hi," Marc said. "I'm back."

She stepped closer, her nostrils flaring. "You're dead," she said, as if accusing him of drinking milk out of the carton.

"Yeah." He smiled and went for the lame joke: "But I got better. Time is a wheel."

"What? You said that before, I think."

"Said what?"

"What you just said."

"What are you talking about?"

Before I could answer, Antonia was right up in his face. She was prowling around him, sniffing like a dog with a scent. Which, I s'pose, she kind of was. "You're not a vampire-you're not blank like these three."

"Blank? Oh, very nice, Antonia, just because we're not all shape-shifting seers who-"

"I mean vampires don't smell like anything, dummy. Why d'you think Pack members get so rattled around you? It's creepy, not knowing what dumbass move you're gonna pull."

"You know, some people are afraid of me." I tried not to whine, but didn't pull it off. "Some people wouldn't dare call me dummy, or dumbass, or idiot, or asshat, or moron, or dumb shit, or-"

"You're not one of them," she continued, ignoring me so thoroughly I wondered if I was even in the room. "You're just a dead guy. Except you're walking around. Ummm … why?"

"Zombie?" Garrett asked. He'd walked right past Marc to rummage through the fridge. Since Antonia was alive, he didn't give a shit about what was happening in any other phase of his life. At most, Zombie Marc popping up was mildly curious. "Did you make him a zombie, Betsy?" He held up a can of V8. He was crazy for the stuff. I tried not to think about why. "Can I have this?"

"No."

"But it's not even the last one."

"No to me doing that, not no to the V8-drink all the V8 you want, what do I care? It wasn't me … it wasn't on purpose," I said. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't have anything to do with it." Pretty sure. But I was getting a bad feeling. A bad intuition, call it. Because who could have done such a thing? The list of candidates was laughably short. And I was on that list.

So was my sister, the Antichrist.

"You're dead, but you don't smell bad," Antonia informed a bemused Marc. "There's no rot. There's not anything. You're just you. Only dead."

"Thanks for the analysis," he said wryly. "Welcome back from hell, by the way."

"Mmmmm." She looked at Sinclair and me. "I assume you two are on this?"

I opened my mouth to say, "Not a chance, so plan to stick around and help, for God's sake!" but Sinclair beat me to it with, "Assuredly." So I decided not to argue. For now.

"Antonia, there has not been time to address this, but I feel I must put it to you now: have you let your Pack know you're alive?"

"Nope! Too busy having sex in the Walker Center spoon, right?" God, I'd forgotten the pure pleasure of tattling. How come we have to give up all the fun things about being a kid when we grow up and die? "I bet it hasn't even occurred to you."

"It's none of your business, queen of the monkeys," she said with a scowl.

"Hey, hey," I warned. Monkey was the werewolf equivalent of nigger. "Put a lid on that Pack potty-mouth."

"Antonia," Sinclair said in a tone full of reproach. "It's not only careless to keep this from them, it's quite cruel."

"They weren't all that fond of me before I went to hell, and you both know it. So who cares?"

"Antonia." Sinclair knew she was right, but he also was a huge believer in all things family. His parents and sister had died when he was still in his teens. I think that was part of the reason he liked my mom so much. It didn't have as much to do with her as it did the fact that I still had a mom.

She rolled her eyes and stomped to the phone on the wall. "Fine, fine. You won't quit bitching until I do, so let's get this over with."

"Thank you so much for your cooperation."

She dialed, listened, then put her hand over the mouthpiece and said, "Got his voice mail … yeah, Michael? This is Antonia. Betsy went to hell and brought me back to life, so I'm alive again and living in the mansion in St. Paul with her and the rest of the weirdos. And I'm not dead anymore. Anybody you gave my stuff to had better cough it back up. So … just FYI." She hung up. "Happy?"

Sinclair was as horrified as I'd ever seen him. Which I understood because I was sure I had the identical expression on my face. "Oh, Antonia…" He shook his head. "You cannot."

"What?" She slashed her hand through the air like Sinclair was a giant fruit fly and had to be swatted away. "You butted into my business-"

"You live under my queen's roof," he said sharply, "and thus your business is my business, as are all things that happen in our home, and your liking of that fact is irrelevant."

"Fine, fine, don't get your undead skivvies out of joint. You said I should tell the family. I told the family. Are there any of those caramel brownies left? There better be. I'm starving."

"So…" I admired the shit out of her, while at the same time found her terrifying. Oh, and if anyone was keeping score, Antonia had been like this before she went to hell. "So, is it appealing to not be hindered by a conscience? I guess it is. It must be … So is sociopathy all it's cracked up to be?"

She rolled her eyes. "You just don't get it."

"Yep. I don't. Werewolves are weird."

"Come on," she said to Garrett, and he followed her out of the kitchen. "Way to not stay dead, jerk," was her parting comment to Marc.

Garrett's was, "Hi again. And bye."

I sighed and raked my fingers through my bangs. "Where were we?"

"Trying to figure out how I emerged from my dirt nap." Marc spotted the newspaper on the counter, got up, and grabbed it. "You guys done with this? I kind of need it."

"Nobody but Sink Lair reads newspapers, so yeah. What do you need it for? Are you potty training yourself? Eww, does that come with the whole zombie thing? Are you potty training yourself in my attic?"

"Gross. And no." I hadn't realized until that moment that a zombie could look reproving. "I don't think I can 'potty' anymore. But I need to keep busy," he replied, tucking the paper under his arm. "Dissecting the cat. Crossword puzzles. Sudoku. Stuff I have to think about."

"Okay." Weirdo. "Listen, I had a thought. I think it's time we tracked down the Antichrist. She's one of the people on my short list of who could have done this to Marc. And even if she didn't do it, she might have some ideas. Plus it's making me kind of nervous how she hasn't popped by or called in almost a week."

"Things were left somewhat tense between you," Sinclair pointed out, which was an astounding understatement.

"Things are always tense when the Antichrist is keeping secrets. Lucky for us she's a terrible liar." Secrets were, by definition, her mother's purview. So ask me how glad I was that that skipped a generation. "I'll call her again. I've been leaving messages-hi, how are you, started up any new timelines lately-like that. But if I ask her straight out to come over, or have us over, I think she'd do it."

She'd better. Because the last thing I wanted to do today was break into hell without an invitation … or an escort.