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it's a nice day for a blood wedding
"I'm crushed, crushed, by your insinuation that I would purposely antagonize the Rules Committee," I said to the family attorney, Sam Grant. "I will treat those elitist bloodsucking bureaucrats exactly as well as they have treated me."
We were in the study, all manly, dark brown leather furniture and wood paneling and stultifying nonfiction books. I'd tried bringing in pretty chintz pillows and amusing novels, but Oswald, my fiancé and the owner of this house, had recoiled like Dracula from a flask of holy water.
Oswald now leaned back against the glossy mahogany desk and said, "Milagro, we all know that you like to poke bears, so stop trying to make Sam feel guilty."
He and his cousin Sam Grant were lean men with thick brown hair. They had nice broad brows, beautiful smiles, and even features. Sam, at six feet, was an inch taller than Oswald, who had a delightful asymmetry to his grin and a gleam in his gray eyes. Oswald had changed out of his suit and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt from Buddy's Body Shop that said Pounding, Sanding & Painting to Perfection Since 1963.
Sam's features were gentler than Oswald's, and he had sincere, brown eyes. "Young Lady," Sam began, because that was their nickname for me. "I value and appreciate your, uhm, lively nature. But as your friend, I want you to have the full benefit of the rights and privileges that the Council can grant you when you become Oswald's wife, and that includes substantial financial benefits."
I held up my hand to stop him from once again extolling the mind-numbing virtues of no-interest loans and vacation time shares. "The only thing I care about is being allowed to attend your family events. Therefore, I will endeavor not to poke the bear."
Oswald's family, the Grants, and others from their original homeland had a genetic autosomal recessive disorder that made them sensitive to sunlight but gave them an excellent ability to heal from injuries. They never got sick and had an extended life span. They also had a craving for red food, including blood.
The Grant family referred to themselves as "having a condition," but others of their kind called themselves vampires. Centuries of persecution had forced them to hide their nature and form their own governmental organization, the Council.
I was one of them. Sort of, but not really. I'd been infected twice. The first time, I'd been accidentally infected with Oswald's blood, and I'd nearly died. The second infection left me stronger than Oswald and most other vampires. They could heal quickly from cuts, and I could heal from serious injury. They had terrific eyesight, and I could see in almost complete darkness. They were well coordinated, and my reflexes were faster than a teenage boy's. Best of all, I could bake in the sunlight until I got as toasty brown as a buñuelo, to no ill effect. I was a new, improved version of myself, Milagro 2.0.
Yet I was loath to call myself a vampire. After all, culturally, I was still a normal human chica, and it is culture that informs identity, isn't it? Oswald wanted me to accept that I was one of them, and he wanted the Council to put their official stamp on my membership card.
The Council resented my existence and acted as if I was trying to use a loophole to join their club. Some were wary of my status as the only known living survivor of a vampire infection, and others had a disturbing tendency to view me as a fleshy container of rare and intoxicating fluid.
I was sitting on the love seat next to Oswald's other cousin, Gabriel, who was in charge of the family's security. He was a small, lovely, redheaded man. He used the same expensive herb-scented multispectrum Swiss sunblock that Oswald favored.
Gabriel stopped twirling a strand of my black hair in his slim, pale fingers and said, "It's no use, Oz. She has that 'Where's the pokey stick?' expression on her face."
Leaning close to Gabriel's ear, I whispered, "No, I have that 'Poke me! Poke me!' expression," and we started laughing.
"I can see that we're interfering with your flirting," Oswald said wryly. "If there's anything you don't understand about the agreements..."
"I know how to read," I said. "I'll smile and sign the papers, and then I'll be an official member of the Society of the Living Undead and learn the secret handshake and get my discount membership to the gym."
Sam squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then said, "Please, please, don't say 'living undead.' Please don't "
"Don't poke the bear. I get it. Are we finished now? Because you know how cranky your grandmother gets if she shows up and I don't pour a cocktail down her gullet stat."
"I'm going to tell her you said that," Gabriel said.
Sam still looked worried, so I stood and went to him. "Allay your anxiety, Samuel. Everything is going to be dandy."
Gabriel followed me into the spacious kitchen, and he went to a window and pulled back one of the blue-and-yellow Provençal-print curtains to enjoy the view. The green fields of Oswald's ranch rolled to the base of forested mountains. The windows on the other side of the two-story sandstone house, which I'd come to think of as Casa Dracula, had views to my garden, more fields, and a small vineyard.
Before I'd met Oswald, I'd been living on quesadillas, patching together part-time jobs, and struggling to pay the rent while rats scrambled in the walls of my basement apartment.
I went to the drinks cabinet and pulled out bottles and the blender.
"Can I help?" Gabriel asked.
"Nope, I already took care of everything. Crudités and a dill dip with cocktails. Roast beef sandwiches with blue cheese dressing, roasted tomatoes, a salad, and a plum tart."
"You're quite the hostess these days." He turned from the view and said, "I'm glad Oswald bought this place. It's a treat to come visit."
"It's a treat for me, too, when everyone's here." I peeled and sliced mangoes, the juices of the ripe fruit making the knife slippery in my hand. "It seems so quiet most of the time. Especially now that Oswald is working more."
"I'm sorry about your dog."
I threw ice in the blender, sloshed in rum, curaçao, lime juice, and added the mango. I hit the froth button and the ingredients whirred together. I stared at the orange slush, trying to control my emotions, when I smelled a familiar burning odor. I quickly shut off the blender, then poured the icy concoction into tumblers and added grenadine to each glass.
When I trusted myself to speak, I said, "That's one of the reasons I don't mind leaving to meet with the Council. I'll have two days of sightseeing and shopping in a fabulous city I've never been to before, and I get to meet this mysterious cabal face-
"Only the Rules Committee, not the entire Council. Ian is out of the country."
"Or, as Oswald told me, 'At least goddamn Ian Ducharme is out of the country.'"
I had had a brief liaison with Ian, aka the Dark Lord, before I got together with Oswald. I had no idea what Ian actually did on the Council, and I didn't believe his explanation that he was called the Dark Lord merely because he'd inherited a boggy estate. Ian had given me an infusion of his blood when I'd been badly slashed by a rogue vampire, and that second infusion had given me my exceptional abilities. I still dreamed of the way his blood had burned on my open wound and how I'd bitten into his flesh to stop the pain.
"Were you hoping to see him?" Gabriel asked.
"He's very entertaining."
"And by 'entertaining' you mean he's smoldering?"
"That's what I said. And he did save my life."
"He could just as easily have...," Gabriel began. "Someone at my level doesn't know all the Council's secrets, and I wouldn't let you go if I didn't believe you'd be safe at this meeting. But I agree with Sam and Oz: Don't poke the bear."
"I wouldn't even be doing this if Oz didn't want the Council's approval so badly. He still feels guilty about infecting me. But if he hadn't, I wouldn't have all of you," I said. "I wish he could come with me, but he's got surgeries scheduled." Oswald was a board certified plastic surgeon.
"Those breasts don't get augmented by themselves."
"I do not understand voluntary surgery."
"The world is full of mysteries. Like my grandmother and Thomas Cook."
Yes, he was talking about the Thomas Cook, the actor. We'd met him when I had a job rewriting a screenplay that got tossed aside. Thomas had a thing for older women, and men of every age had a thing for Edna.
Gabriel said, "I thought she'd be tired of him and pass him along to me."
"I'm telling your boyfriend you said that."
"He already knows! Grandmama should be with someone more...more worthwhile. Have you talked to her about him?"
"I tried. I said, 'Edna, how can you put up with such a nitwit, albeit a highly attractive one?' "
"What did she say?" Gabriel asked.
"She said, 'Because my grandson appears to be fond of you,' and I said, 'Ha ha and ha.'" I handed Gabriel the tray of hors d'oeuvres.
I carried the drinks and we walked out as Oswald's grandmother and her addled younger paramour came up the gravel drive from the direction of the guest cottage, aka the Love Shack.
Edna was dressed in a lilac linen blouse and skirt, and looked fabulous for her years, whatever they were. Edna wasn't tall, but she managed to look down her straight, narrow nose at me with her exotic, glittering green eyes. Her silver hair was cut close to her excellently shaped noggin, and the skin around her eyes was delicate, like tissue paper that had been crumpled then carefully smoothed out.
Thomas looked as if he had dressed for a tennis match, circa 1920: white slacks, a white shirt, a cable-knit sweater flung over his shoulders, and dark sunglasses. His hair was sleek and jet black, and his copper skin gleamed. He looked as scrumptious as a caramel-and-vanilla ice cream sundae.
I'd had a crush on Thomas when he was Hollywood's newest Latino heartthrob and I was just a teenager. In person, he was a lot more irritating. He said, "Milagro, why are you just standing there like a lump? Does Edna have to get her own drink?"
Edna didn't even bother trying to hide her smile. "Thank you for being so considerate, Thomas," she said as she sat on one of the wicker chairs. When I handed her a glass, she looked at the drink and asked suspiciously, "What is this?"
"A Rancho Sunset. I invented it myself."
Thomas picked up a drink and took a chair next to Edna's. After a sip, he said, "Milagro was a terrible assistant, but at least she can make a decent drink."
"Bossing me around did not make me your assistant. I'm a writer."
"Then where are your books?" he asked.
Most of my income came from gardening jobs, but I'd put those on hold until after the wedding. My literary career had taken a downward trajectory after the failed screenwriting gig. I'd signed with an agent, but the last time I talked to him he told me, "There's no market for political horror novels. There will never, ever be a market for them. Call me if you ever decide to write something marketable."
I told Thomas, "For your information, I've got an interview tomorrow for a writing job. But the writing business is complicated."
"Edna sells everything she writes," he said.
In her youth, Edna had written novels, and recently she'd had success with her books on entertaining. She gave me an innocent look and said, "Not everyone is talented."
"Speaking of talent," Gabriel said, "Thomas, I remember when you used to model."
This led Thomas to launch into his monologue, "Thomas Cook: The Underwear Model Years." No matter how often I heard this thrilling tale of white cotton chones and fame, I found it enchanting.
As he was concluding his story, Sam and Oswald joined us. When Oswald stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders, I felt a marvelous zizzing, a delightful effect of my second infection.
Nothing extraordinary was said and nothing extraordinary happened, and yet I couldn't have been happier than I was here and now with Oswald and my friends, watching the sun slipping down behind the dark mountains. I was filled with espíritu de los cocteles, a mood of utter contentment, and I reached for Oswald's hand and kissed it.
He returned the gesture and said, "Where's your ring?"
My hand was bare. "On the kitchen counter. I was getting dinner ready." I hoped I'd left my engagement ring there. I had the habit of taking it off and leaving it around whenever I did any housework or gardening. "It's a nice evening. Let's eat on the patio."
The slate patio was on the other side of the house, surrounded by the garden I'd planted. I turned on the little fairy lights that wound around the trunks of the ancient oaks, and Gabriel lighted candles. The night smelled of damp earth, grass, early-blooming roses, nicotiana, and honeysuckle.
We brought out the food and opened bottles of pinot noir. It was like those evenings we'd had often when Sam and his family lived here, when Oswald and I stayed in the Love Shack, before Edna began going away for weeks at a time with Thomas.
After dinner, Thomas went back to the Love Shack to study a script. The actor had his own misunderstood genetic disorder and wasn't interested in what he saw as our boring perversion.
The rest of us walked to the large brown barn.
Since Oswald had been spending more time working, his dogs usually stayed with Ernesto, the ranch hand, at his one bedroom apartment at the front of the barn. The dogs heard us approaching and ran out to greet us.
I pushed back an ache of sadness and entered the dark, shadowy barn. One of the cats glided behind bales of alfalfa, hunting for mice. The barn had a rich, wonderful smell, and I could hear the animals moving about in the stalls.
Light came from under the closed door of a stall on the right. Oswald opened the door and said, "Evening, Ernie."
We followed him into the stall, which had been converted to a cozy den. Leather club chairs were set on a worn Persian carpet, and copper-and-mica sconces cast a warm golden light.
"Hey, Oz," Ernesto said. The compact muscled man had set everything up for our evening tasting. A bottle of dark liquid was on the sideboard as well as bottles of mineral water and wineglasses. "I got something different today. Emu."
"Emu?" Sam said.
"Tastes like chicken," Ernie responded and laughed. He poured a few tablespoons of purple-red blood into each glass and topped them off with mineral water. "I just got this sample. But if you like it, there's two birds for sale cheap."
I dropped into a chair and took a sip from the glass Ernie passed to me. After a moment of swishing it around in my mouth, I said, "It's not bad. A little too...uhm..."
"Floral," Edna provided.
"Yeah, well, the reason they're for sale is they got loose and ate someone's flower garden," Ernie said.
I was only half listening. The blood bloomed inside me, warm and invigorating. I gazed at Oswald and wondered how quickly I could get him into the bedroom. He caught my glance and gave me a crooked smile that cheered my heart.
Sam asked, "Young Lady, what are you going to do on the free day of your trip?"
"My friend from college, Toodles, is going to give me the insider's tour," I said excitedly. "She's been asking me to visit for ages."
"Toodles," Edna sniffed. "Who is this person, and do I want to know how she acquired such an unfortunate sobriquet?"
"I'm so glad you asked," I said. "Toodles lived next door to me sophomore year and we took 'Po-Mo Lit: Angst, Anguish, and Alienation' together." My education at a Fancy University (F.U.) had offered me many intellectually stimulating courses.
"I'm already captivated," Edna said.
"Of course you are. Toodles's real name is Kathleen Meriwether Hippensteele, but she smuggled her teacup poodles into the dorm and this nasty R.A. ratted her out. The headline in the campus paper was Toodles, Poodles. She has a tendency to use words with 'oo' sounds, and that cemented her nickname."
Edna said, "I shall never get those thirty seconds back."
"Just for that, I'm not bringing you back a snow globe diorama."
Edna rolled her eyes dramatically. She had a large and impressive repertoire of expressions, but she always returned to the classics. She said, "By the way, your future mother-in-law sent me her suggestions for your wedding registry."
Surprised, Oswald said, "Why did Mom send it to you?"
"She seemed to think I might exert some influence over the Young Lady." Edna slid her eyes toward me conspiratorially.
"Grandmama, you know Mom just wants to help."
"I don't think we'll need her suggestions," I said to Edna.
"Are you sure?" she answered. "No doubt her suggestions reflect the very pinnacle of suburban country club chic mallard motifs and 'deluxe' bed-in-a-bag sets."
"Grandmama!" Oswald said. Then he smiled. "Okay, she did have a family tartan and crest designed for the den."
Gabriel said, "Big deal. My mom made me dress to coordinate with the wallpaper. And she wonders why I'm gay."
"You're only gay so you don't have to deal with women," Oswald said. "Coward."
"Speaking of women, I've got to get home to mine," Sam said, referring to his wife and daughter. "It's a long drive."
We all walked to the house. The stars had come out and shone in the blue-black sky. Sam said good-bye to us at the car park and wished me luck with the Council.
Edna went back to her addled paramour in the Love Shack and Gabriel adjourned to the family room to watch television.
Oswald and I walked through the large house, holding hands. He'd had a designer decorate it, and other than the kitchen and a small parlor, it was done in neutral colors and earth tones. We went up the staircase with its black wrought iron railing.
The master bedroom hadn't changed much since I'd moved in. It had hardwood floors, beamed ceilings, ivory walls, and Mission-style furniture. However, my necessities (books, makeup, baubles) cluttered surfaces. I spotted my yellow diamond engagement ring sparkling on the dresser. It was beautiful, but I felt odd wearing something so expensive in my daily life.
"Are you all packed?" Oswald asked.
"Almost everything. I wish you were coming."
He pulled me close to him. "Me, too. I'll take you somewhere wonderful when I can spare a few days."
I nuzzled his neck. "Good. At least we'll have tomorrow together."
He was unbuttoning my blouse when his cell phone rang. Glancing at the incoming number, he said, "It's my service. Sorry." They called only for urgent situations, so he had to take the call. When he hung up, he said, "It doesn't sound serious, but I'm going to check in with a patient. I'll just be a minute." He was still on the phone by the time I crawled in bed and fell asleep.
Copyright © 2008 by Marta Acosta