Dancing (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22.5)(2)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

Cops don’t, but then everyone at the party knew that my two boyfriends were wereleopards. They even knew that Micah was head of the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Human and Lycanthrope communities. He’d become the public face for his minority group. Lycanthropy was a disease, but less than twenty years ago it had still been legal to kill someone on sight for having it. In some western states, even today, if you killed a wereanimal and the blood test proved it, it was deemed self-defense regardless of circumstances.

I was in the actual neighborhood where Zerbrowski lived now, driving past the three different styles of house in the development over and over, just different colors, different accessories, but it was an American suburb, which meant the houses were all vaguely alike. The Zerbrowski house was the one-story ranch style. Theirs had brick siding and a neatly trimmed lawn that was green enough to show they watered it. The shrubs were neat and trimmed low near the foundation with a small flower bed on either side of the sidewalk that led to the front door. The flowers were a brilliant splash of yellow, white, and red.

The driveway was full, but there was only one car out in front, and I pulled in behind it. Last time I’d been here the entire street had been full of cars; this time we’d arrived early so that Nathaniel could help the other “wives” with the kitchen stuff. Meat would be grilled outside by Mr. Zerbrowski and any other men he let near his grill. The arrangement was all very traditional, but then most cops like traditional roles. Their jobs can be full of such weird shit I think it makes them cling to the normal stuff. I was a U.S. Marshal for the preternatural branch of the service, which meant I was only involved in crimes that had some preternatural element. When I wasn’t serving an active warrant for the Marshal service, my night job was raising zombies for Animators Incorporated. I’d been doing a lot of historical society jobs lately—you know, raise the dead and just ask them what happened at such and such battle on this date.

All my jobs were weird shit, so I should have been more conservative than the rest of the police, and once I had been, but that had been before Jean-Claude, master vampire of St. Louis, found me, before I’d started considering vampires friends and lovers instead of just evil walking corpses. Now here I was, showing up with two live-in lovers and a child, all without the benefit of a wedding band. Matthew was with us for a week; it was the longest he’d ever stayed with us and he was taking it as normal. One of the reasons we’d brought Matthew rather than leaving him home with one of his other “uncles” was because Nathaniel realized there’d be other kids. Nathaniel had pointed out that Matthew was pretty isolated from other children once he left preschool. Monica was a busy single parent, she didn’t have a lot of time to arrange playdates for him, so we brought Matthew so he could make friends. I knew there’d be some kids around his age, and lots of older and younger ones. It might be the most children Matthew had ever been around except at a dance recital. The thought was a little overwhelming for me, but a good one for the kid.

Once the car was stopped I undid my seat belt. That was the signal for everyone else to undo theirs. Matthew could undo his own child safety seat, which is what we called it, since he’d objected to “baby seat” as a term.

Nathaniel carried the cake. Micah and I divided up the various lite mayonnaise salads, then Matthew said, “What can I carry?”

Micah and I looked at each other. I don’t know what I would have said, because Nathaniel beat us to it. “The veggie and fruit tray,” he said, pointing at a large round hard plastic tray, covered with a hard plastic lid over all the individual compartments of carrot and celery sticks, little tomatoes, grapes, melon wedges, apple slices, and sweet colored bell peppers. I knew there were different dipping sauces somewhere, but they’d be put out around the tray later; right now the tray was nearly indestructible. Matthew could have rolled it on its side like a wheel into the house and everything would have stayed in place. It was brilliant, though huge, so that Matthew struggled to see over or around it. He looked cuter than normal with the huge tray, blue T-shirt, little jean shorts, and Spider-Man jogging shoes. It didn’t show from the back, but I knew that Spidey’s eyes blinked red from the front. Matthew’s very serious face let me know that telling him how cute he looked would not go over well. I had the same reaction sometimes, so I couldn’t really blame him.

I was a little distracted from the cute kid stuff by Nathaniel’s braid bobbing down the length of his body as he walked beside and a little ahead of Matthew. With sunlight on both of them, their hair color was even more similar, and I realized that Matthews’s shirt and Nathaniel’s tank top were almost the same shade of blue. I wondered if that had been accidental. Matthew looked up to Nathaniel and copied him sometimes, but my boyfriend also liked having Matthew around a lot. Nathaniel had even started hinting that he wanted a rug rat of our very own. I was okay if the kid wanted to dress like Uncle Natty, but less okay with Nathaniel wanting them to match. It would feel like just one more bit of pressure from my most domestic of partners.

“You’re frowning,” Micah said, leaning in so no one else would hear.

“Sorry, just thinking too hard, I guess.”

“What about?”

But Katie Zerbrowski opened the door and we had to hurry to catch up. I’d worry later about Nathaniel trying to punch my biological clock.

Katie was barely five feet tall, maybe an inch below. She made even Micah and me seem not so delicate, not so tiny. She had long wavy brown hair that was nearly to her waist, and had had it that long since college. Zerbrowski had told me that with a happy smile and a sparkle in his eye. They’d been married for close to twenty years and were still crazy for each other. They gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, love could last.

I was three years and counting with Micah and Nathaniel, and six of dating Jean-Claude, but that six had included a hell of a lot of breakups in our togetherness, and then Micah and Nathaniel had come into my life and something about them helped stabilize things. Funny how the right mix of people can change everything, but there was still a part of me that kept waiting for it all to go to hell. At least I’d stopped poking at it and trying to break it myself, that was a step up. Let’s hear it for therapy and smart friends who intervened when I fell back into old destructive habits.

Katie had put barrettes in her hair that held it neatly behind each ear, showing off the diamond earrings that Zerbrowski had bought her for their last anniversary. Her summer dress was a soft blue, and she looked as beautiful and fresh as the flowers by their door.