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"You should see my enemies list," Betsy said, as if Fred would find that comforting. (She was annoyed and grateful that the vampire's comment did, in fact, make her feel a little better.) "It was bad even before I died."
"About that . . ." Fred had been so caught up in Madison's mess that she'd had no time to indulge her curiosity, which was considerable. When she'd woken that morning, she had no idea more people she'd never met wanted to kill her, or that there were vampires outside of fiction. "You say you literally died? And came back? Because Madison said the same thing about her mom." And was disturbingly matter of fact about it. Guess it's true: if the weirdness is in your own family, if weirdness is all you know for the first few years of your life, it's hard to see it. "So you truly do die?"
"Oh, sure," the vampire said cheerfully. "Truly's not the word for it; I was deader than the color-blocking fad. Of course, I would have returned from the dead no matter what, since it was a huuuuge matter of personal vengeance."
"Against whoever murdered you?" Fred asked, sympathetic. What must that be like, to experience your own murder . . . and then get better? Did her killer steal her brain first, like she tried to steal mine? Did she know what was happening at the end? I cannot think how awful that must have been, and what am I saying? I don't like her and I'm not going to like her, so who cares, who cares, who cares?
"Worse. Against my stepmother, who, when I wasn't even in the ground yet, stole all my designer shoes."
Jonas, still scribbling names, gasped.
"And she's not even my shoe size! Pure spite, that's all it was. My Manolos, my Beverly Feldmans, my Zanottis, my YSLs, my Jimmy Choos-"
"Please stop, I can't bear it," Jonas begged.
"-my black satin rose Roger Vivier pumps."
Jonas shrieked like his armpit hair had caught fire.
"And left me to be buried in her crappy knockoffs that didn't even fit."
Jonas dropped the pen. "Tell me, tell me how many ways you killed her."
"Didn't. My dad would have freaked; plus it would have ruined Christmas."
"More than your dying?" Fred asked dryly.
"I did put her tacky jewelry through her own blender," the vampire admitted. "I won't deny it was super satisfying."
That had been the high point (egad!) of the last hour. When the list had reached seventy-nine-
". . . and don't forget your old college roommate. And your mom's next-door neighbors. And my next-door neighbors. And our seventh grade English teacher. And your ninth grade English teacher. And the swimming instructor at the Y. And the yoga instructor at the Y."
-Fred begged for a break. "Besides, they'll be kicking us out soon; it's getting late."
"Oooh, let me order another smoothie before they close," Betsy said, rising at once.
"Make it a double," Jonas said. "C'mon, I know where the best ones are."
Fred's hand closed around Madison's bicep. "Not you. I wanted to ask you something."
"Sounds ominous," Jonas said. Fred momentarily wondered if letting her friend go on a smoothie run with a vampire was smart, but her options were limited. And as before, she figured the chances of undead shenanigans were low. If push came to bite, Jonas was capable of handling himself. Insecure homophobes often took his extreme metrosexuality for homosexuality. This sometimes led to shoving matches escalating into punching matches, at which point Jonas would draw on his black belt(s) and make them his metrosexual bitches.
Once they were down the stairs and deep in conversation about shoes, have mercy, Fred turned her full attention to Madison.
"Oboy." Madison wouldn't meet her gaze. "Here you go with the yelling, I bet."
"Not too much," Fred lied. "Look, I get that you were in a huge jam and I know you were scared, but would you please explain what possessed you to bring vampires into this? The queen of them, no less! I understand your mom wanting to help you, but sending us a vampire was not the way." Wait. Sending a vampire? Fred flashed back to Betsy and the gorgeous imposing guy outside the NEA. He'd been trying to make a call and Betsy had been trying not to punch him. When she didn't know them, she compared them to apex predators. Mrs. Fehr sent us vampires, plural. That was her solution. Christ. Followed by, One of the vampires she sent keeps remarking on the other vampire's lack of sanity. Christ twice. "You mom couldn't control the situation from New York. They could have turned on us. In fact, Betsy did turn on me."
"She didn't; she didn't know you were my fr-you were someone I knew. It's not turning on them if they don't know you're one of the good guys."
"Big risk," she warned. "Especially with lives not your own. Right? And if your mom's on the coast and Betsy's in Minnesota, how did you-or your mom-even know her? Just because I'm half UF doesn't mean I automatically know the life story of every other UF on the planet. So how could your mom know about Betsy's history? Or even that she died and came back?"
"Yes, Madison, history: events that happened before." If you don't kick-start your neurons and start thinking, this is gonna take longer than it already has, and then I will fucking kill myself, but I'll take you with me, I swear it on your dead mom's name, I will take you with me and maybe Betsy and her insane husband, too.
"Oh, there was this whole thing," Madison said, looking (Fred would have thought it was impossible) vaguer than usual.
"There was a thing?"
"Mm-hmm, in the papers or whatever . . . I guess all this happened in Minnesota and mama's friends kept her in the loop. Mama's got contacts all over the world."
"Which makes sense; she's had centuries to cultivate them. Go on."
"I guess Betsy's stepmother made like she was dead. Or maybe Betsy was the one playing the prank . . . it was this whole thing a couple of years ago, and everybody was upset"-Madison was making vague gestures that matched her vague expression-"and my mom read about it, or heard about it, or something, and ended up getting in touch with her. All because she thought Betsy was dead."
"She was dead."
"Funny how things work out, huh?"
"Her stepmother-Betsy called her the Bug, or something-she was pretty bitchy. Maybe she told people Betsy was dead to be mean? Dunno. Maybe Betsy told people she was dead because she wanted to fool the Bug."
"Okay, as far as origin stories go, that was pretty bad." She should have guessed Madison wouldn't have sufficient details. Fred's curiosity was now bing-bonging away like Big Ben. "You know, when this is over, I'd love to sit all the parties down and have a round-table session for the better part of a week."
"Sure," the young woman said dully. "You'll want to talk to my mom, just like the Folk want to talk to you. You'll want to talk to Betsy; my mom will, too. She'll have to; I don't think she's paid tribute, but since the queen's helping me-"
"That remains to be seen. All she's done is use me as her skeleton key and chug smoothies."
"Well. Everyone's gonna talk to everyone else, and I'll just . . ." She shrugged and trailed off.
Exasperated, Fred gently shook Madison's shoulder. "Knock it off, Madison. You're a rich, gorgeous young woman who's probably had a zillion boyfriends while at the same time have never had a pimple. You're not invisible, for God's sake."
Madison just looked at her.
Oh. Is that how it is? Is that's how it's been her whole life? Overlooked in the face of her no-doubt fascinating mother? Doors open because of her no-doubt fascinating mother, but once Madison is inside, she disappears? Again and again and again?
Does she wonder, sometimes, if she can ever stand out? Orphans . . . her dead mother took in orphans. Madison's not the oldest nor the youngest; just one of a crowd of foundlings a dead woman pitied.
Fred quit shaking her. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, and did not let herself look away from the single tear that rolled down Madison Fehr's perfect cheek.
Madison pulled herself back together, which was excellent, as Fred had few talents, and comforting crying women was not one of them. So as Jonas and Betsy came back up the stairs, Jonas holding smoothies and Betsy on her cell, Fred eavesdropped. Which was simple, since Betsy's voice had all the hushed modulation of an auctioneer on crack.
"Sinclair, it's the coolest place! We've gotta come here once we get things cleared up; you will love it. You can get a smoothie and a lobster roll and a bowl of soup and a salad and a cream puff and licorice and sushi and a steak in the same building. Well. We can't, but you know what I mean." She held the phone away and called to Fred. "Our Founding Fathers invented the food court! And also democracy."
"Try to stay calm." But again, she couldn't help smiling to hear the exuberant blonde rhapsodize about the city she loved best. Funny how I had to face moving to the other side of the planet to finally appreciate my home. My true home, with my mom's people.
She would never have fit in beneath the Caspian Sea, pretending to co-rule the Undersea Folk. And she had never quite fit in on land, either. She belonged to not belonging and, as she had deduced right around the time she killed her father, likely always would. Funny how a realization that had seemed so awful at the time hurt a little less each day.
"-anyway, I'm fine and I'll keep you posted, and listen, do you know anything about this we're-here-we're-mermaids-get-used-to-it thing? Because-what? You do? Well, way to keep me in the loop, dude! We gotta talk about this . . . Yeah, I know I've had other things on my mind, but I could have . . . What? . . . No, I should not watch more news; I get enough bad news from whatever contractor has to give me an estimate on how to fix whatever thing we broke that day. Why would I want to hear about ever more death and despair, and fishing-opener advisories and state fair coverage? 'Tonight on KARE Eleven: people suck.' Pass . . . Sorry, I didn't catch-no I do not want to talk to the babies and, as I've mentioned several times before and after you went insane, they are not babies!" She glanced at Fred. "I gotta go; the mermaid's here and she looks pissed about-no, wait, that's just the way her face is . . . Yeah, that's right, I said mermaid, I've been hanging out with one all night and I'm not telling you one other thing. Love you."
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