Mothers and motherfucker!
“Renny and Nicky,” I said, making sure this was the final head count.
“And me,” Bracken said darkly.
“And me!” Katy interjected hurriedly, rushing in from the outside stairway. “You weren’t going to invite me?” She sounded so hurt that for a moment I panicked. I’d worked so hard to woo Katy as one of my few—three!—female friends that summer, and I was terrified I’d fucked it up.
“She was going to forget me!” Renny snarled in disgust. “I can’t believe you weren’t going to take me shopping.”
I stared at her helplessly. “I can’t believe all of you want to come shopping—with my mother, no less.” I grimaced at Bracken. He hated my mother. “Are you sure?”
He nodded adamantly. “She’s not going to get you alone,” he promised, his expression still thunderous.
“Well, obviously not!” I laughed. “Look, Bracken, I’ve got Nicky and Renny and Katy—”
“And me.” His eyes narrowed, and for the first time in quite a while, I shivered.
The shiver snapped me out of it. Oh, yeah. I wasn’t just going shopping with my mom. I was going shopping with my mom when I was pregnant and there was a war on.
“Fine,” I conceded with little grace. “Just remember—she’s the grandmother of our children, and you can’t kill her and hide the blood spatter like you can with anybody else, okay?”
He managed to look affronted. “I don’t just hide the blood spatter. I hide the entire body!”
I blinked and looked at Nicky in exasperation.
Nicky shrugged. “He does!”
“You’re just saying that because you want him to get inside your pants.”
Nicky nodded with some enthusiasm. “Well, duh. But also because he’s a damned effective killing machine. Give the guy props where they’re due.”
I shook my head, refusing to not be irritated. We could be home. We could be home, doing homework and eating whatever luxury protein-and-vegetable masterpiece Grace had cooked to entice me to eat today while making plans for how to make sure there was enough blood-drugged hamburger along the perimeter of the hill to last the bad guys until Thanksgiving.
We could be home having amazing sex.
In fact, we could be home doing any number of things that didn’t involve my family talking to my blood relations—but now?
We were going shopping.
With my mother.
There was not enough divine mercy in the universe.
My mom looked nonplussed as we all piled out of the SUV in the parking garage at the Galleria.
“Cory, you brought… brought….” She was wearing a flowered peasant tunic over tight jeans, and she shifted from one comfortably soled brown leather shoe to the other and checked her graying brown hair with nervous gestures of thin fingers.
Oh, she was not happy with this arrangement. That was clear.
“Two of my husbands and my friends? Yeah. They wanted to come.”
“Well, okay,” she said, sounding… well, funny. Odd. “We, I mean, I didn’t want to go here. I, uh, looked up a place nearby, in Lincoln, if that’s okay. It’s a strip mall by a Target, so even if they don’t have clothes in the boutique, we can go to Target afterward.”
“Well, uh, sure, Mom.” There was a Target right down the road, right? And a Baby Gap in the Galleria and a pregnancy boutique in there too. “Uh, why don’t we just go here for the day? I mean, we’re here. If you wanted to meet us somewhere else, we could have met somewhere else.”
“Well, that’s okay,” my mom said, giving a patently fake smile to the rest of the group. “Your friends can just stay here and shop. We’ll go look there and come back. It’ll give us time to talk.”
My mother was lying about something. I mean, I thought my mother was lying about something. The truth was, she’d never lied about anything, to my knowledge, which would mean that if she tried it, she’d be really bad at it.
And brother, did this seem like somebody being bad at lying.
“I’m coming in the car with you,” Bracken said unequivocally.
“Me too,” said Renny.
“I’ll drive and follow,” Nicky said, sounding serious. “Renny, you and Katy talk on the cell phone in case we get lost.”
Katy nodded soothingly, and I felt marginally better about getting into my mom’s little Sportage. In the back of the little Sportage, because Bracken’s legs were just too damned long.
“Well, heavens, Cory,” Mom said, sounding weak. “It’s not as if you need a bodyguard or anything.”
Bracken and I exchanged looks, even though he was busy stretching out his legs as much as he could in the front.
“She doesn’t go off the hill without accompaniment,” he intoned.
Mom’s eyes darted from Bracken to me until she had to concentrate on backing the Sportage out and getting out of the garage.
But it wasn’t like conversation just picked up after that. After a couple of sallies about the weather and school, Mom pretty much clammed up and kept her conversation to darting nervous glances my way, then asking if I was sure I was going to go back to school after I had the babies.
“Yeah, Mom—lots of women have their babies and then go back to take their finals. That’s what I’ll have to do.” I finished saying that—as painful as it was—then looked in dismay at the strip mall Mom had brought us to.
“Mom! This isn’t Target!”
Mom cast an apologetic look back at me and an apprehensive one at Bracken.
“Well, I’m sorry,” she nonapologized. “It’s just that you didn’t seem to be taking this baby thing seriously. In our family we need to make sure the babies are okay, do you understand?”
I looked in dismay at the little collective of ob-gyn doctors occupying a four-office suite.
“No,” I said stonily. “No, I do not understand. Renny, how far away are Katy and Nicky?”
Renny texted violently next to me—hopefully something like Abort! Abort! Abort! Mother is not friendly! Her phone beeped, and she spat softly.
“They had to get gas,” she said unhappily. My mom looked hopeful.
“That’s great, because the appointment is in about two minutes, and it shouldn’t take long at all.”
“No,” I said, crossing my arms. “No. Nicky and Katy will be here in a minute, and we’ll take off. I’m not going in.”
And then, oh horror—had we not suffered enough?
My mother began to cry.
I didn’t notice it at first, because she didn’t sob, and her face didn’t crumple. No, that would be too dramatic for Ellen Kirkpatrick. She just… shed tears and wiped them off stoically with the back of her hand.
“Cory, please. I… I know you think you’ve got it all nailed down. You’ve always been so… so self-contained, you know? All I ever wanted to be was a mother, and you popped out, and it was like you didn’t need any mothering. What was I supposed to do with a kid who could brush her own hair at four? How was I supposed to protect you when you could talk to strangers and… and order them around by the time you were six? Your third-grade teacher—”
“Yeah. She quit because you kept correcting her, and you were right!”
I grimaced. “I didn’t mean to make her quit!” I had unclear memories of a harried-looking woman with a really vast bosom and fuzzy blonde hair who kept losing kids as they dodged out the door. Well, hell, congratulations to me for winning the pain-in-the-ass award.
“Well she wasn’t that bright anyway,” Mom said, looking a little pathetic. “But that’s not the point.”
“I’m dying for the point,” I said, scowling and remembering that I had been ambushed into submitting my body for care that was potentially detrimental to the unborn nonhuman children in my uterus.
“The point is, our family doesn’t have a great history with pregnancy,” Mom said, uncertainty wobbling her lip and crumpling her chin. “You were not… not my first pregnancy, Cory. I mean, we closed up shop after we had you, because… we just couldn’t keep trying. But my mom, her mom—a bunch of only children, and the babies….” She bit her lip. “Sometimes the birth defects are just too severe. I had to abort two pregnancies because the fetuses… that much damage….”
My stomach roiled. Partly because I was beginning to suspect something, and partly because… oh hell….
“Mom—you couldn’t have told me this before?” I shoved my hands through my hair, and my rubber band went splanging out the back and rebounded. I’m pretty sure it hit Bracken in the ear. “I mean… Jesus. This might have been something to know before… I don’t know, marriage? Sex? Conception? All of the above!”
Mom looked away and bit her lip, a gesture so vulnerable that my heart broke a little. “When do you tell your daughter a thing like that?” she asked, voice breaking. “I just… you didn’t go to the doctor, and you keep telling me that Green will take care of you—”
“He will,” I said gently. “Mom—”
“He’s not a doctor!” she snapped. “He’s not a god! He can’t do everything—”
Oh, but he could. Green, Bracken, and I had flown the day before. It took a tremendous amount of power, yes, but we could fly—could hover and swoop, could scoop up werewolves and defend the crap out of ourselves. I’d seen him heal heinous wounds—some of them mine—with a touch. When his palm slid over my abdomen, I could feel him communing with our children.
Green could do everything, but my mom—my mom couldn’t know that.