Vampire Games (Chapter Thirty)

It was the next day, and I was with my daughter.

We were at the Brea Mall, which was next door to the same Embassy Suites where I had stayed for a few weeks last year, back when my ex-husband, Danny, had been trying to destroy me. He's cute like that.

I was holding Tammy's hand. These past few days, ironically, she had seemed inseparable from me. She had only run away for a few hours. It had been just long enough to miss her mommy.

The mall was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday evening, although there was the usual amount of squealing teenage girls. Trailing right behind the squealing girls was a group of giggling boys. This trend was repeated throughout the mall, on every level of every quadrant. From Macy's to Nordstrom's, from Sbarro's Pizza to Wetzel's Pretzels: laughing girls were followed closely by giggling boys.

Of course, there were whole families here, too. And couples shopping, and security guards strolling, and glass elevators elevating, and escalators escalating.

But none were as loud as the squealing girls.

"You don't have a lot of friends," I said after we stopped for pretzels.

I ordered two out of habit. I wasted more money that way, and as we continued our slow stroll through the mall, I broke off a big chunk of pretzel and just held it. I waited until Tammy turned to look at a poster of the latest Twilight movie, this one called Midnight Sun, and dropped the chunk of pretzel into a trash can. That was a damn shame, since it smelled heavenly and there were hungry folk in the world.

Tammy glanced over at me and smiled. I smiled, too, and pretended to swallow the non-existent pretzel.

I hated my life sometimes.

We continued like this until we got to the downstairs courtyard near JCPenney. When Tammy conveniently turned to look at something that surely caught her eye, I quickly disposed of the last of the pretzel –

But not in time.

She quickly glanced back at me…and only then did I realize that I'd been set up.

"Mommy?" she said.

"Uh, yes?" I had looked away, feigning interest in some shoes in a nearby window.

"Mommy, why have you been throwing away your pretzel this whole time? I've been watching you do it in all the windows." She looked at her own reflection in the store window and stared at my hand-less sleeves. "Well, sort of watching you."

Caught. Dammit.

"Mommy has a stomach ache," I said.

"But you always have a stomach ache."

"I know, baby. Sometimes Mommy is very sick."

"But you're always sick. If you didn't want the pretzel, then why did you order it?"

"I wanted it, sweetie. Very badly."

She stopped walking and took my forearm. Long ago, she had quit asking me about my cold flesh. Cold flesh and Mommy were one and the same. "Enough double talk, Mom."

"Double talk?"

"Yes. Double talk. It means you are telling me one thing but mean another."

"Oh, it does, does it?"

"Yes, it does. Mrs. Marks explained it to us the other day. And I realize that you do that a lot. Double speak."

"You think so?"

"I know so, Mommy. For instance, if you wanted the pretzel so badly, then why not eat it? Then why pretend to eat it? And if you actually had a stomach ache, then why order it at all?"

I crossed my arms under my chest and leaned a shoulder against the window. I glanced at the time on my cell. He should be here any moment now. For once, I wished that Danny was early.

I said to Tammy, "I don't know, honey. You tell me."

"I think you do know, Mommy. I know lots of things these days."

"What things?" I asked.

"Secrets."

"Whose secrets?"

"Everybody's secrets."

"How do you know their secrets, honey?"

"I see them."

"See them how?"

"I just see them. Like visions."

"I see," I said. "So, what secrets do you know about Mommy?"

"For one, you've been lying to me and Anthony for years."

I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. My lips and tongue worked to form words, to no avail. Mercifully, across the mall, Danny appeared through the crowd, looking grim-faced and handsome and moving quickly.

"There's another, slightly bigger secret," she continued, following my gaze and seeing her dad approaching.

"What?" I asked with sickening dread.

"You're a vampire."

I think my eyes just about bugged out of my head, not that I could see my reflection. I pushed off the window just as Danny appeared and hugged Tammy. She hugged him back, but kept her eyes on me.

"Where's Anthony?" he asked me gruffly.

"He's with his cousins this weekend."

"Fine. Tell him I miss him."

"Will do," I said. But I was looking at Tammy.

Danny nodded and was about to turn away with the palm of his hand on Tammy's lower back, when he suddenly stopped. He looked at me curiously, then his daughter. "Everything okay here?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Tammy, "Ask Mommy."

"Yes," I said. "Everything's fine."

"Fine, whatever," said Danny, and now he took Tammy's hand and led her off for his weekly visitation.

As she followed behind him, Tammy looked back once…and gave me a knowing smile.