Last night, Sixty Minutes ran a segment on Judge Judy, which I made a point to record.
Now, with a pile of clean laundry in front of me and a pair of Anthony’s briefs momentarily forgotten over one shoulder—a pair I had dubbed “The Forever Stain”—I sat, transfixed, for the entire segment.
I watched Judge Judy’s rise from a small New Jersey Family Appellate Court judge to one of the highest-paid TV personalities today. The highest-paid part surprised me. Then again, I think she deserves every penny. After all, she is a role model for many, and the voice of reason to all. Anyway, the segment showed a softer side of the judge, and I appreciated seeing that. I like her softer side. She is a mother and grandmother. Someday, I hope to be a grandmother, too.
That I would be the world’s youngest-looking grandmother was another story. That my granddaughters or grandsons would, within a few decades, look older than me, was...well, the same story. That I might never meet them was too heartbreaking to consider. Perhaps I would be introduced as a long-lost aunt or something.
I sighed when the segment was over. The judge has a beautiful life, a challenging job, and grandkids everywhere. She has aged gracefully, seemingly stronger now than ever.
Myself, I have been a vampire now for nine years. I had been turned in my late twenties. Twenty-eight, in fact. I still looked twenty-eight, perhaps even younger. Perhaps closer to twenty-five or twenty-six. I should be on the cusp of looking like I was forty. Instead, I look like I am a few years out of grad school.
I might look young. I might have the strength of ten women. I might even occasionally turn into a giant vampire bat. But raising two kids—one of whom was a teenager and the other was damn close—seriously took a superhuman effort. How mortals did it, I would never know.
I sighed heavily when I turned off the TV, briefly jealous of the life Judge Judy had created, and wondering how the hell my life was going to turn out, knowing I would have to cross that bridge when I got there.
My doorbell rang.
I looked at the time on my cell. My potential client was early.
I glanced at the laundry piles scattered over the couch and recliner and shrugged. That’s what my potential client got for being early. Still, I quickly shoved the briefs under the biggest pile. No one deserved to see The Forever Stain. Even early clients. Hell, even my worst enemies. Truly cruel and unusual punishment.
I had long since ditched my annoying habit of reaching up for my sunglasses every time I opened the front door, or checking my exposed skin for sunblock. Indeed, those habits had been eradicated in this past year. A year I had spent “living in the light,” as Allison liked to put it. Allison is annoying too, but I love her.
Now, I confidently opened the front door and ushered in a woman I knew. A woman I loathed. A woman I nearly slammed the front door on, or tripped as she came in. Or blindsided and tackled her to the floor where I wanted to give her the world’s biggest noogie and wedgie and then drag her over to my bathroom toilet for a “swirlie,” as the kids used to call it back when I was in high school.
But I didn’t.
I had been preparing myself all day to see Nancy Pearson. Or, as she liked to be called in a former life, Sugar Pearson.
She was, of course, the woman my murdered ex-husband had cheated on me with while we were married. She had called earlier today and requested to see me. I had nearly told her to go to hell. In fact, I was fairly certain I had thought it loud enough for her to hear it, because she had said, “Excuse me” at one point.
Anyway, she needed help and thought I was the right woman for the job.
So, being the sucker that I am—or, as Kingsley puts it, the bleeding heart that I am—I allowed the woman into my home, the woman who’d helped to destroy my marriage. I led her down the hall and into my office.
I settled behind my desk, and she did the same in front of my desk, in one of the three client chairs.
“So,” I said, noticing my heartbeat had picked up its pace, which, for me, was saying something. I also noted that my inner alarm system was ringing slightly just inside my ear. “Talk.”
She nodded, took in some air and tried to look me in the eye, gave up, and finally looked away. “I’m fairly certain—no, scratch that—I’m most definitely certain, that my ex-boyfriend is a serial killer.”
Her aura glowed a light blue.
She was telling the truth, and yet my warning system was still chiming slightly. I’ve learned to listen to this warning system. The problem was, well, it wasn’t precise. I didn’t know exactly why it was ringing, only that something about this woman presented a threat to me.
I thought about that when I said, “Why not go to the police?”
“I can’t prove anything.”
“Then how do you know?”
The girl with the stage name of “Sugar,” but whose real name was Nancy Pearson, was having a hard time sitting still. She crossed and recrossed her legs in, let’s admit it, a fabulous display of dexterity. I could see how someone as feeble-minded as Danny would get seduced by such athleticism. She had probably worked the stripper stage impressively. None of which made me like her any better. Now, her high-heeled foot jiggled and bounced hyperactively. She looked like a woman with a secret, or someone who had to pee, or...
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Seriously?” she said.
“Seriously,” I said.
“You have no idea. Now talk.”
She took out her packet of cigarettes anyway, opened it, removed a slightly bent one, stuck it between her teeth, and said, “Then let me at least pretend.”
“Pretend all you want.”
She did just that, sucking on the end of it like a real pro. She even exhaled. She did this again and I tried not to laugh.
“It’s not funny,” she said.
“I tried not to laugh.”
“Well, you didn’t do a very good job of it.”
I waited as she inhaled again on her unlit cigarette, exhaled some nonexistent smoke. Her foot bounced at the end of her ankle like a fish dangling from a line. Then, she actually asked for an ashtray.
“There are no ashes,” I pointed out reasonably.
“Please,” she said. “It helps.”
I sighed and rooted around a bottom drawer and found something Anthony had made back in arts and crafts when he was in first grade. I use the words “arts and crafts” liberally. Whatever it was—a hand or a butt cheek—I set it in front of her. She shrugged and proceeded to tap off some invisible ashes.
Our last encounter was a memorable one. Sugar had tried to stop me as I approached my then-husband’s office. Tried being the operative word. I might have hit her hard enough to break her nose. And I might have enjoyed it way too much.
“I said sorry about that,” said Sugar. She had picked up on my thoughts and assumed, like most people did, that I had spoken. I had not. And, yes, earlier on the phone, she had apologized again about sleeping with Danny.
“So you said.”
“I mean, you aren’t still mad about that, are you? That was, like, years ago.”
“Two and a half years ago. And, yes, I’m still mad.”
“Well, I’m sorry. If it wasn’t me, it would have been any of the other girls. Your husband was, like, into all of us.”
“Good to know.”
“Besides, I haven’t seen him in, like, over a year. Have you?”
“On and off,” I said, referring to his ghost who appeared occasionally in my home. I usually found him in the kid’s rooms, standing over them as they slept. Sugar didn’t need to know that Danny had been murdered by a vampire who had been out to get me, too. Or that Danny had aligned with the wrong team...and had gotten himself killed. Which is why I blocked those thoughts.
She said, “Okay, well, tell him I miss him.”
And I saw it there, on her face, and heard it in her voice. She truly had feelings for him. Sadly, I didn’t miss him so much. Rarely, in fact. Perhaps only once or twice, tops. Not like the kids, who still mourn for their daddy. At least someone had loved Danny before he died, because it sure as hell wasn’t me.
“I’ll tell him,” I said, and my voice might have softened a bit, dammit. Yeah, I have a bleeding heart for sure. “Now, why do you think your ex-boyfriend is a serial killer?”
She picked up the unlit cigarette and held it loosely between her fingers. “Because he told me.”
“And why would he do that?” I asked.
Yes, she looked ridiculous with the unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. Admittedly, I admired her commitment to her habit, unhealthy as it was. I decided not to let her know that, I, too, smoked from time to time, but never in the house. Usually in the car or on long stakeouts. Even if cancerous cells did develop in my lungs, the vampire in me eradicated them instantly.
There were benefits to being what I was. And these days, now that I could go into the sun and eat and drink and be merry, the benefits far outweighed the risks.
“He talks in his sleep,” said Nancy.
“And this was recently?”
The word slut might have slipped through my mind, although I wasn’t one to judge. I’d had two relationships since my divorce from Danny, and three, if you counted my mental relationship with Fang, which I kinda did.
“You don’t like me very much, do you?” asked Nancy. Oops, the “slut” part might have slipped out. Might have.
“No,” I said. “Not really.”
“You’re probably wondering why I came to you and not, say, another detective.”
“The thought occurred to me.”
Yes, I could probe her mind for the answers I wanted. The thing was, I didn’t want to probe her mind. I didn’t want to dip down into her thoughts and see what made this woman tick. I also didn’t want to stumble across any memories of her and Danny. At present, such memories were probably brewing on the surface...all of their lies and deception and sneaking around and not-very-good-sneaking around.
“Danny talked, too,” she said, looking away.
“Not in his sleep,” I said.
“No, never in his sleep. I guess we both know that.” She laughed at that and kicked her leg a little; we were just two girls sharing memories of the same man in bed. A man she had taken from me, although he went willingly enough. Actually, I imagined him running from me. Turned out his instincts were partly true. Had Danny and I continued to sleep together, he would have been bonded to me as a sort of sex slave, as had been the case with Russell. I shuddered at the thought.
“Danny would tell me things,” she said, sucking ridiculously at the end of the unlit cigarette and blowing out her pretend smoke. I wondered if she was even aware that the fag wasn’t lit. Yes, I’m channeling my inner Brit.
“What things?” I asked. My eyes might have narrowed suspiciously.
She took the cigarette out of her mouth and looked at it, wrinkling her nose. Then looked me directly in the eye. “He said you’re a vampire.”
“Did he now?”
She nodded vigorously. “And he was scared of you. Like, irrationally scared of you.”
“Because I was a vampire?”
“That’s what he said.”
“And did you believe him?”
“I really, really want to light this cigarette,” she said.
Suddenly, I wanted one, too. I stood and said, “Follow me.”
We were in my back yard, smoking.
We sat side by side on the broken cement stairs that led from the kitchen down into my back yard. Despite being broken, the stairs sported a coat of gray paint. That had been Danny’s answer to all of our home improvement needs: paint the crap out of it.
One of us was smoking because she had an addiction. The other was smoking because she still had a need to feel normal. There was a chance I was the latter. Of course, the entity inside me wanted nothing to do with normal.
The entity inside me could go to hell.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” said Nancy, aka Sugar.
I inhaled, peering through the smoke rising before me, obscuring the neon Pep Boys’ sign that itself rose above my backyard fence. Yes, I shared a backyard fence with the Pep Boys’ parking lot. Handy for when I needed an emergency fuel filter. Danny did get one thing right: he got us a big back yard, which had proved to be kinda fun, back when we were a real family.
We’re still a family, I thought, just minus the Danny part.
Of course, Danny still came around, just minus the body part. In fact, he came around more in death than he did when alive. Funny how being dead made him a more attentive father. Better late than never.
“Did you say something?” asked Nancy.
Oops. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, my thoughts leaked out, especially when I was bonding with someone.
Oh, bloody hell, I thought. Please don’t tell me I’m bonding with her.
“I’m not that bad,” said Nancy, inhaling and looking around. “And who are you talking to?”
“Sorry,” I said, inhaling deeply on my own cig. “I do that sometimes.”
“Think out loud.”
She giggled. “So do I!”
I sighed and looked at her and exhaled a plume of smoke in her direction. I had been tempted to do so in her face, but realized the longer I was with her, the more my hate for her was quickly ebbing. Above, a seagull squawked. I was fifteen miles from the sea. This time, I kept my thoughts purposely open.