I came awake instantly, as I had in the funeral home. This was a definite departure for me; usually it took me an hour, a shower, and two cups of coffee to wake up. Not anymore. One minute I was dead (ha!) to the world, the next I was wide awake and rising from my coffin. Well, my bed with Laura Ashley sheets.
The first thing I saw was Giselle, perched imperiously at the foot of my bed. She had apparently done plenty of sniffing around me during the day and had decided I would still do. So the first thing I did was feed her. Then I took a shower, changed into clean, comfortable clothes, and slipped into my tennis shoes.
I was here, I was dead, get used to it...or however the chant for vampire rights went. No more suicide games. It was time to adjust and deal. How, I had no idea, but it was important to get started. Momentum usually helped me figure out the rest of the plan. Step one: get my shoes back. Time to visit the homeplace.
A few words about my stepmother. I could have forgiven her for marrying my father. I could have forgiven her for seeing me as a rival rather than a member of the family. I could not forgive her for chasing my father while he was married, bringing him down like a wounded gazelle, then marrying the carcass. My father wasn't a saint-still isn't-but Antonia did everything she could to help him fall from grace.
My mother got the house and the humiliation that comes from your family and friends knowing your husband traded you in for a younger, thinner model. My father got Ant and a promotion-she was the definitive trophy wife, and was a great help to his career. I got a stepmother, at the tender age of thirteen.
The first thing she ever said to me was, "Be careful of my suit." The second was, "Don't touch that." 'That' was one of my mother's vases.
Yep, she took prisoners and moved in. As for myself, I'll be honest: I made no effort to get to know her. I had zero interest in building a relationship with the woman who had destroyed my mother's marriage. Plus, it's hard to be nice to someone when you instantly realize they don't like you.
About a week after she moved in, when I overheard her referring to my mother as "that cow from the suburbs," I tossed her gold ingot necklace into the blender. Over the sound of my stepmother's screams, I pressed 'puree.' This was followed by my first trip to a therapist's office.
My father, the poor dope, just tried to keep his head down. To his credit, he never gave in to the Ant's demands that I live full-time with my mother. He had been granted shared custody, and by God I would be shared. Instead he kept her quiet with trinkets, and bought me off with books, and went to a lot of out-of-town seminars. I took the books, and tried to get along. To Antonia's credit she never insulted Mom in my hearing again, and I never again had to toss precious metals into our KitchenAid. But I had little sympathy for either of them. They had made their choices.
I pulled up outside their stupidly large house-do two people really need thirty-five hundred square feet?-and hopped out of my car. Apparently my house and car hadn't been sold, nothing of my estate-pitiful as it was-had been settled. Well, heck, I'd only been dead a few days. My family-well, my mom and dad-were doubtless still in shock.
I pushed open the front door in time to hear my stepmother's dulcet tones: "Godammit, Arnie, you should sue their fucking asses off! They lost your daughter's body! Now the funeral's been delayed who knows how long, we're going to have to postpone our vacation-Jesus fucking Christ!"
A 'clink' as my father dropped an ice cube into his shot of Dewar's. "I'm mad, too, Toni, but let's give the funeral place a chance. I know they're doing everything they can. If they haven't found-" Here his voice broke a bit and I instantly forgave him for most of my adolescence. "-haven't found Betsy by tomorrow, I'll make some phone calls."
"No need," I said, walking into the living room. The look on my stepmother's face was well worth the misery of dying and coming back. "Here I am. Ant, where the hell are my shoes?"
Dead (ha!) silence, broken by the crash of breaking glass as the stepmonster's wine glass hit the floor. The color drained from her face all at once, and for the first time I noticed she had a fine network of crow's feet around each eye. She was fifteen years older than me, and right now she looked every minute of it.
"B-Betsy?" My father was trying to smile, but the corners of his mouth trembled and I knew he was afraid. It was awful-my own dad, scared of me!-but I wasn't going to do something about it right that second. I kept walking toward his wife.
"You gave the mortuary a pink suit when you know damn well I hate pink. You gave them your shitty cast-offs when you know how much I love designer shoes. Then you snuck in my house and stole my good shoes."
She'd backed up all the way to the mantel, and in another few seconds would probably crawl into the fireplace. I stopped until we were nose-to-nose. Her breath smelled like lobster. Nice! A celebratory dinner on the day of the stepdaughter's funeral. "Now. Where are they?"
"Toni, you really did that?" my father asked. This was typical. He always overlooked the giant, insurmountable problem (daughter returning from the grave) and focused on something more manageable (bitch wife stealing dead daughter's footwear). "You know how long she saved up to buy-"
"She was dead, for Christ's sake!" Even now, my stepmonster managed to sounds affronted and harassed.
"Irrelevant!" I yelled back. I heard something break behind me, but didn't turn. "Where are they?"
"Elizabeth-I-you-you aren't-you aren't yourself and that's all there is to it!"
"Antonia, you old sot, you've never spoken truer words. Better tell me where my shoes are." I leaned in closer and grinned at her. She blanched and I heard her breathing stop. "You should see what happened to the last two guys who pissed me off."
"They're probably in her bedroom," a voice said softly from behind me. I turned and there was my best friend, Jessica, standing in the entryway. Her eyes were red-rimmed. She was wearing a long black see-through skirt over black leggings, a black turtleneck, and her hair was skinned back in a bun so tight it forced her eyebrows up into a look of perpetual surprise. She had forgone makeup to show she was in mourning. I hadn't seen Jessica without mascara since seventh grade. "Mrs. Taylor would have wasted no time in putting them away, you know." Then she burst into tears. "Oh, Liz, I thought you were dead! We all thought you were dead!"
"Don't call me that, you know I hate that. And I sort of am," I said as she rushed toward me. Before she hit my embrace, I put a hand on my stepmonster's face and shoved very, very gently-she flew sideways and her ass hit the Laz-E-Boy. "It's a long story. Prepare to be regaled."
Then my oldest friend wept against my neck while I steered her toward the back bedroom. I glanced back and saw my stepmother staring in stunned silence while my father fixed himself another drink.