Vampire Games (Chapter Eighteen)

"Hey, booger butt," I said, sliding next to her.

She turned her face away. "I'm not a booger butt."

The hem of her jeans were rolled up, exposing her pink socks and cute tennis shoes. She was wearing a pink Hello Kitty T-shirt. The purse sitting next to the handbag was also Hello Kitty. The gym bag was my sister's. She continued kicking feet that didn't quite touch the gum-covered cement ground.

"Then what are you?" I asked, knowing it was a leading question.

"A young lady. A woman."

"A woman?" I said and it was all I could do to not laugh. She looked at me sharply and I literally swallowed my laughter as surely as if I'd swallowed food. Liquid food, of course.

"Yes, a woman," she said, sticking her chin out. A sharp chin. Danny's chin.

"I see. Well, I thought women were, in the very least, teenagers."

"No, Mom. That's why they're called teenagers."

It was all I could do not to point out that she herself was still three years shy of being a teenager. I said, "So, you're a young lady now."

"Yes."

"More mature than even teenagers."

She made a sort of "as if" noise. That my daughter considered herself superior to teenagers told me a lot about her. It also told me that she was a handful.

I said, "Mature enough to travel alone?"

She shrugged. She still hadn't looked at me. "It's just a bus. Kids take buses every day to school."

"A bus to where?" I asked. I was part amused, part horrified. Jesus, what if she had actually gotten on board the bus? Maybe nothing, actually. Bus drivers were trained not to let kids on board alone, unless Tammy came up with a really good story. She was, after all, a gifted storyteller. I often thought I might have a little writer on my hands.

After all, Tammy was the creator of Lady Tamtam, a crime-fighting superhero mom who could fly and shoot lasers from her eyes.

Lady Tamtam, I was certain, was based on me. And maybe a little bit of Lady Gaga, too. Except Lady Tamtam fought crime, while Lady Gaga, apparently, had sex with it.

Of course, Lady Tamtam shot lasers from her eyes, which I doubted I could. Only one way to see. I focused on an empty Cheetos bag sticking out from a nearby trash can. Nope, no lasers.

Tammy didn't know her mother's super-secret identity. Unless Anthony had spilled the beans. But I didn't think he had. He would have told me. Or I would have heard about it before this.

No, there was something else going on here.

"Tammy," I said, reaching out to her and taking her hand. She resisted at first, but then let me take it. She still wouldn't look at me. "Tammy. Why did you run away?"

I sat like that for a second or two, unmoving, holding her hand. She sat unmoving, too, although she bit her lower lip. A sure sign that she was thinking hard. Finally, she turned and looked at me for the first time, and there were tears in her eyes.

"Because I'm horrible, Mommy."

I squeezed her hand. "Why would you say that?"

Now her lower lip was trembling. "Because I hate Anthony."

"Why do you hate your little brother?"

She shrugged and lowered her head.

"Out with it, young lady."

"He's just such a jerk."

"A jerk, how?"

"I dunno."

"Yes, you do."

"I just hate him."

"Yeah, you said that. He's your little brother. You can't hate your little brother. I forbid it."

She stuck out her bottom lip. Anthony did the same thing, a habit he picked up from his older sister. A sister he idolized growing up. A sister he followed tirelessly.

I waited for her to sort out her thoughts and feelings. And since I couldn't dip into her thoughts, I had to wait just like any other mama.

"He's…different somehow," she finally said.

"So that's why you hate him? Because he's different?"

"No. Not really. Well, kind of."

"Tammy…"

"Everyone talks about him, Mommy. I mean everyone. I'm so damn tired of it."

"Watch your mouth, young lady."

"Sorry."

"Who talks about him, Tammy?"

"Everyone. Everyone at school. Everyone at home. You, dad. Teachers, doctors. I'm just so sick of it."

"So you don't really hate your brother. You're just tired of people talking about him."

"No, I hate him."

"What did he do to you?"

"He's just a butthead."

Despite myself, I laughed, and shortly, Tammy started giggling. I reached out and tickled her and she laughed even harder, and as we both laughed I saw a pair of headlights appear in the parking lot, then another and another. Three cop cars closed in, with Sherbet in the lead.

I looked at Tammy. "Sweetie, someday we need to talk about something very important."

"I know, Mommy."

I opened my mouth to speak but stopped. I tried again, changing directions. "You know what, baby?"

"About you."

"You know what about me?"

"You're special, Mommy."

"Special how?"

She smiled sweetly and said, "You know, Mommy."

As Sherbet appeared, looking red-faced and relieved, I thought of Lady Tamtam and her supernatural powers. The mother who could fly. The mother who fought crime. The mother who shot lasers from her eyes.

Still, two out of three weren't bad.