“Jennifer Leticia what is the matter with you? You’ve been acting dopey all day. Is this by any chance about Bess Ann’s visit?”
“She pulls hair, and she’s bossy. She always calls me Lootie.”
“Well, that is one of your nicknames: when we call you Lootie you don’t get upset. And if she pulls your hair, pull hers right back.”
“It’s the way she says it, Mother: like it’s something nasty.” I tried to demonstrate but I could tell she didn’t get it. “Bess Ann says if I pull her hair she’ll tell Aunt Wilta. Then Aunt Wilta will get mad and yell at me.”
“Well, just try and stay out of her way then.”
In view of that advice, I thought it odd Mother would put Bess Ann and me in the same room that night. Lying there I got to thinking about my cousin’s mouth. Her lips poked out just like a vampire's: or at least the way I imagined a vampire’s would. My brother had been telling ghost stories earlier.
What if she really was a vampire, just waiting for me to go to sleep. I wondered what time it was. Didn’t Dwayne say midnight is when people turn into vampires? I thought about her laugh: kind of gritty and gleeful. A vampire would laugh like that. I felt sweaty, yet cold, and I kept making excuses to get up and do stuff. It must have been really late when I finally fell asleep.
Next morning first thing I did was look over at Bess Ann’s bed. It was empty. I could hear the clatter of dishes and people laughing and talking in the kitchen. I touched my neck and it seemed like right under my Adam’s apple I could feel a ridge. I got up and dressed. I headed toward the kitchen and sat down in my usual place.
Mother was making waffles and they smelled delicious. Syrup and butter were on the table. “Will Bess Ann want one- or two?”
Aunt Wilta shook her orange fuzz. "None. She says she’s still full from last night."
“How about you, Jen?”
“No, ma’am. I’m not hungry either.” I scrambled out of my chair and dove for the bathroom.
“You WHAT?” Bess Ann and I shared a quilt of picnic fare at family reunion number ten. This year another of my cousins was hosting it at the city park of a nearby small college town. “Listen, I know I was a huge brat, but where in the world did you get the idea I was a vampire?”
I almost spewed my tea but somehow managed to choke it down before laughter engulfed us both. “I think it was those awful stories dear brother Dwayne entertained us with, just before bedtime. That and an overactive imagination.”
“I remember Dwayne got in trouble for that… after I told on him.” Bess Ann grinned. “Among other things I was a terrible snitch.”
“And I a hopeless dreamer. I used to pretend I had a perfect cousin: meaning of course a cousin who thought I was perfect. Truth was none of my cousins could stand the sight of me and I hadn’t a clue why."
Bess Ann held out the bag of chips. “Judging by what I felt at the time there was probably a grain of truth in your daydreams. You had the ideal parents, who kept a spotless home by the way, and you were so obedient. Mama used to tell me I should try to be more like you. I have a sneaking suspicion the other aunts did the same thing. It’s called parental manipulation.”
“Oh, bummer. And all those years I thought I must have had childhood body odor or something.” I dug in the bag.
“Since its confession time I’ll make a make a clean breast of it. I was more than a little jealous. But don’t you dare tell Mom.”
I laid my hand over Bess Ann’s. “It’s too bad kids get so mixed up and don’t know how to express what’s really going on inside their pea brains. Think of all the fun we missed.”
“It’s not too late is it? We can still be close.” Bess Ann leaned forward to give her perfect cousin a hug.
I returned a quick squeeze but then slewed back. “Close is good, cuz; but I'll thank you to stay away from my neck.
This time it was Bess Ann who nearly lost a mouthful of tea.
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