When Vlad walked into the dining room, he looked tired. “Sorry for the delay. That took much longer than I thought.”
“It’s cool,” Alice replied, tucking in her sweater. “I heard yelling. Who was it?”
“Would you believe cultists pushing their ritualistic agenda?”
Vlad sighed, “My daughter, Lilith. She is furious about my parenting style.”
“Past parenting or recent?” It was one of the questions Alice had learned to ask since Vlad and his children were immortal. His kids would always be his kids, literally.
“All of the above. Apparently, it lasts for eternity, so even when your children are well past their second century, they nag you endlessly about it.”
He sounded flippant, but Alice knew he was hurt. It drove him crazy that he could not navigate a healthy relationship with his perpetually adult children.
“If it’s any consolation, I think it’s hard for everyone,” she said with a small smile. “It’ll be hard for me when Gwendolyn grows up and starts informing me of all the ways I screwed her up. Maybe you can put in a good word.”
He laughed. “Well, tonight we shall be engaging in the riveting round of ‘Vladislaus and Gwendolyn Play Dolls, but Vladislaus is Doing it Wrong,’ though I will try.” He pulled her in for a kiss, sliding a hand down to grab her butt. “Are you sure you have to leave? We could resume our session.”
“A tempting but imprudent offer,” Alice giggled, doing her best imitation of his voice. “Seriously, I have to get the last of my boxes, and Latimer and Gwendolyn are already on their way home.”
She didn’t regret her decision to move in with Vlad, but she did regret insisting on doing her own packing. It was difficult to break the cycle of doing everything the hard way just to feel like she earned it.
Vlad, on the other hand, had no such compunction. Once, she asked him how he kept track of all the due dates on his credit cards, and he simply handed her the phone number of his accountant. Even after her bills started getting paid on time, Alice felt anxious. In a complete panic, she corned him and confessed that having help felt like cheating. But Vlad just stared blankly at her and asked who exactly she was cheating on.
It was an eye-opening lesson.
“I swear I’m not trying to do it all myself.”
“I know,” he kissed her cheek, “Because I already hired movers.” His phone vibrated, and he looked down and frowned. “But maybe you can hire the babysitters tonight? I think Lilith is in trouble, and I need to track her down.”
Alice never made it back to her place. The tiny terror came home from the park in rare form and any extra time she planned on using towards grabbing the last of her stuff evaporated.
Luckily, her regular babysitters were available. Gwendolyn shut down her tears and squealed happily when they showed up.
“Hello, Tiny Terror,” Ben chirped in greeting, “We are here to be the adults in charge of you and not run around doing your bidding for fear you’ll accidentally destroy us.”
A comment like that would have thrown her off a few months ago. But now, Alice took it in stride. Besides, it was sort of true. “Tiny Terror” was Gwendolyn’s nickname for a reason. “Thanks for filling last minute,” she pointed behind her at the bouncing toddler behind her, “You have no idea how desperate we were. I’ll pay you extra.”
They followed her to the front door so she could grab her wallet.
“Don’t worry about the money,” Grim’s voice was so soft, she almost didn’t hear him. “It’s a big enough day without all that.”
He wasn’t usually so somber, and Alice didn’t know what to make of it. “Um…okay.” She wasn’t planning on a big day. In fact, since she’d been with Vlad, her days were pretty calm. She rarely even saw a ghost anymore. “Well, thanks either way,” she looked around the room, “Have you guys seen my phone?”
Ben opened his mouth, but Grim cut him off. “No. We haven’t.”
“He’s right,” Ben’s shoulders slumped. “But we’ll keep an eye out for it.”