VtM: Put on a Happy Face

Previous installment: Reunion

Put on a Happy Face

I use to think three Hunters having coffee in the kitchen was the most disturbing thing I could wake up to. It’s not. The most disturbing thing is waking up to my sire baking cookies with a ten-year old.

“Hi, mommie!” says Stacey, hands covered in flour and cinnamon, as she rushes over to me and tries to give me a hug without touching me.

“What are you and daddy doing?” I ask as I shake flour off my clothes.

“We’re making cookies for the school bake sale.”

I look Anton up and down. He’s standing there in a t-shirt and kitchen apron. His crisp black Italian-made slacks covered in flour. His red silk shirt draped across a kitchen chair is covered in flour as well.

“I didn’t realize the flour bag was already opened,” he says as he puts a tray of cookies into the oven.

“You know, Pillsbury makes this pre-shaped frozen cookie dough…”

“We’re bonding,” says Stacey in an exaggerated voice. She looks at Anton and smiles.

“You can bond without making a mess of the kitchen,” I say as I lead Stacey over to the sink to wash her hands.

“But it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun,” quips Anton.

I’ve been in Donna Reed Hell for the last six weeks. Anton brainwashed Stacey into believing we were her parents. The deal is, I stay with him and Stacey gets to grow up happy. I run away, Stacey doesn’t grow up period. I’m still under house arrest, since Anton doesn’t want me trying to contact any of the Justice League. All the phones are tapped. The e-mail is monitored. I can’t even mail a letter.

I get Stacey cleaned up. As I reach for the hand towel, I notice Anton leaning against the cabinet, arms folded, smiling with a far-away look in his eyes.

“What?” I ask. He shrugs and checks on the cookies.

“Did you finish your homework?” I ask Stacey.

“Not yet.”

“Well, go finish your homework.”

“But we have to decorate the cookies!”

“Decorate?”

“We can’t just send plain cookies to the bake sale. They have to be special,” says Anton.

“The cookies will need to cool.”

“But mommieeeeeeeeee—”

“Anton,” I growl at him.

“Listen to your mother, Stacey. We’ll decorate them when you’re done.”

Stacey hurries off to finish her homework.

“Why do I have to be the mean parent?”

“It’s not that you’re the mean parent. She’s just Daddy’s Little Princess.”

“You’re twisted.”

“What are you talking about? Name one twisted thing I’ve done—” I raise an eyebrow at him. “—in the last month, Alexandra.”

Anton has taken this whole Father of the Year thing to another level. Piano lessons, gymnastics, and swim classes weren’t enough. Anton found out the school was suffering a budget crisis and would be cutting its art program, so he donated enough cash to not only fund it for the next ten years, but also arrange a private party at the Museum of Art for the entire school. Stacey was upset because one of her little friends was transferring because her parents couldn’t afford the tuition any more, so he coughed up the money for her to stay. Next week the entire school is taking a field trip to the Smithsonian Institute courtesy Anton’s generosity.

Add to that taking Stacey to the movies, plays, holding skating parties…

“You have that look on your face,” he says.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.” He kisses me on the cheek. “But not for the reasons you think.” He turns his attention back to the oven.

“I want to take Stacey to the zoo.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because you won’t bring her back.”

“What, you think I’d risk—”

“Yes, I do.” He slams the cookie sheet on the counter.

“You could send a couple of your ghouls to supervise. I just want to get out for a while and not have to be the mean mom.”

“I don’t have any ghoul on retainer strong enough to stop you from running. And I’m not going to risk your cowboy antics around Stacey.”

“This from a man who had her ears fleshcrafted shut.”

I brace myself for the punch that doesn’t come. Instead, he removes his apron and throws it on the counter. “I’m going to go see if she needs help with her homework,” he says. He storms out of the kitchen.

“Oh, for the love of God, just knock it off,” I say. He stops in his tracks, but doesn’t turn around.

“Knock WHAT off?”

“This whole Mr. Mom thing. We can play nice in front of Stacey, but just stop the bullshit in front of me. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? Are you just trying to annoy me? Oh, maybe you’re trying to make up for all the little kids you and the Sabbat have left without parents. Or all the little kids that got slaughtered every time you sent a war party out to raise Hell. Or is it the kiddie porn ring Sebastian ran right under your nose all those years? Or is it the kids that get used as drug couriers for the Diablo Pack. Is that what your making up for? Or do you just have some perverse notion of embracing her when—”

“Shut the fuck up you god-damn bitch!”

We just stare at each other for what seems like forever. Anton rubs his shaking hands over his face to regain his composure. He walks toward me with deliberate steps, and then leans forward until his lips are brushing my ear. “It never ceases to amaze me how you always know what buttons to push.” He leaves the room with heavy steps.

I go down to the basement to abuse some of the gym equipment. The gym is the one concession Anton has made to help me maintain my sanity. It’s relatively Spartan, like an old dojo. But then again since I’ve already broken two barbells and destroyed a punching bag, he probably isn’t looking to dump a lot of money into it.

I hear the door open. I pretend I don’t. Maybe if I ignore Anton he’ll just go away…

“I’ll never understand why you insist on all this physicality.”

I punch through the punching bag. Sand starts to spill out onto the concrete floor.

“What do you want, Martin?”

“Just thought I would stop in to see how you were doing.” I turn around and growl at him. The Beast is so close to the surface now I can feel the blood heat in my eyes. I run my tongue over my exposed fangs. “As much as I enjoy I good beating,” says Martin, “I won’t just let you kill me. And quite frankly I don’t know if this house can handle you and I going at it.”

“What makes you think I care about this house?”

“Do you really want your daughter seeing Uncle Martin in all his glory?” I’m not sure if it was the tone or the smug smirk. I lunged. He drops the folder he was carrying and dodges out of the way. His hands turn into elongated claws and his lower jaw dislodges to allow several rows of fangs to develop.

“You betrayed me,” I say.

“I did nothing it was not in my nature to do.” I lunge again, and this time he’s a little slow. I grab him by the jaw and with a swift twist hear the bone snap. A claw finds its way into my ribcage and tears upward. I grab him by the shoulders and push him backwards into a pile of weights. His clothes start to tear as he begins to transform. Spikes begin to protrude out of the back of his now bloody shirt. His knuckles develop razor like edges made of exposed bone.

“Good, maybe we kill each other and put both of us out of our misery!” I scream.

I feel the darkness pour up from the depths of my gut. Blackness forces its way out of my gapping wound, taking shape like some abysmal serpent. Martin’s eyes become black marbles and he tries to force a smile from his dislocated jaws.

Suddenly the entire room is flooded in a cold, familiar blackness. Then I feel Anton’s arms around me, holding me in place. I don’t struggle against him. There’s no point.

When light returns, Martin has returned to his mortal form, gasping from the shadows like a drowning man. He forces his jaw back into place and starts laughing.

“Just like you, Anton, to ruin our fun,” he says. He moves and starts to pick up the papers that fell out of his folder. He hands the folder to Anton. “I was told to deliver this to you. It is the information you asked for.”

“So your sire has you doing her grunt work like a ghoul now?” says Anton. He pushes me down to free his hands. “I will be sure to let her know the damage you have caused here.”

“Please do. It has been so long since I have received a good beating from her.” He puts the folder in Anton’s hand. Before leaving he looks at me, smiles, and swats at a rather large spider scurrying down the railing. The spider jumps off the railing and crawls into a corner.

“Don’t ever…attack a guest in my house again,” Anton says to me without looking. He thumbs through the folder as he walks upstairs.

As the door slams, the spider jumps up and down once, and then races toward a slight crack in the wall. I walked over to find a piece of paper Martin had failed to put back in the folder. I picked it up, unfold it, and feel really stupid as I read the crayon message:

 Smile!

I fold Ralph’s greeting up and put in it my pocket.