Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease Without a Wedding Ring by Molly Harper (Nice Girls #3.5)
This is a reprint of a short story in the Jane Jameson series which was written between Books 3 and 4. Reprinted with permission of Molly Harper.
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Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease without a Wedding Ring by Molly Harper
All of Gabriel’s boxes were marked, “Boring Crap.”
Moving Lesson Number 1: Never give the vampire Dick Cheney access to a Jumbo Sharpie.
“I realize that moving in the afternoon isn’t an option, considering the whole ‘burst into flames’ factor, but do we literally have to do this in the dead of night?” my best friend, Zeb, grumped, hefting a box marked “Even More Boring Crap” up the front steps of River Oaks.
“Zeb, as I’ve told you, three times now, we’re not moving Gabriel at this hour because of solar issues. This is a full-on covert operation.”
“Because you’re still afraid of your mother finding out that you’re ‘living in sin,’ you wuss,” Zeb shot back.
It was true. My mother had made her feelings about pre-marital co-habitation very clear in a series of lectures entitled, “Nice Girls Don’t Sign a Lease Without a Wedding Ring.” Subtitled, “The Cautionary Tale of Jamie Beth Hartwell.”
Jamie Beth Hartwell’s mother went to church with my parents. She dated Junior Murphy all through high school and community college. And while Junior couldn’t afford an engagement ring, he could afford a nice single unit in the Garden Ridge Apartments, as long as Jamie Beth moved in and paid half the rent. They lived together for four years, with Junior promising Jamie Beth that a proposal was just around the corner… until he met a girl who could help him afford a two-bedroom unit. Suddenly, Junior wasn’t sure about marrying her any more. And now Jamie Beth was living with her parents again. After talking about the impending Hartwell-Murphy nuptials non-stop for four years, her mother could hardly show her face at the church potlucks.
“So you’re afraid of your mommy,” Zeb said. “That’s a great reason for me to be out this late instead of, say, sleeping in my bed under my own roof.”
“Which we wouldn’t have if Jane hadn’t given it to us as a wedding present,” Zeb’s gorgeous werewolf wife, Jolene, reminded him. Zeb’s mouth twitched into an apologetic frown. I held my hands up as if to ward off his guilt.
“’Lose’ the hideous hunting print Gabriel wants to hang in the living room and we’ll call it even,” I told him. He shrugged, and jogged down the steps to retrieve more boxes from Big Bertha.
“We would help if we could!” my ghostly Aunt Jettie called from where she and her equally deceased beau, Mr. Wainwright, sat on the porch swing. “But we’re old and frail… and non-corporeal.”
Zeb grumbled and waved them off as he hauled a rolled up carpet to my den.
“Don’t mind him, Jane,” Jolene said, patting my back as her white teeth flashed in the darkness. “He always gets antsy when we leave the twins with his parents.”
“Because he doesn’t like to be away from them?”
“No, because we left the twins with his parents,” she said, shuddering delicately. “It’s took six months for them to prove that they wouldn’t intentionally put the kids in harm’s way. Now, we just have to worry about the danger they unintentionally put the kids in.”
“Sorry,” I told her. “I really appreciate your help.”
“Oh, hell, Janie,” Jolene huffed, using her werewolf strength to effortlessly lift a carton of Gabriel’s books . “I’m just happy to be out of the house. So far, no one’s peed or spit up on me. In my book, that’s a banner evening.”
“Your book is very sad,” I told her solemnly. She snickered and called me a “pain in the ass” under her breath while she hefted the boxes into the house.
I laughed as I mentally checked another item off my move-in checklist.
Recruit hapless friends willing to be paid in beer/blood and pizza. Check.
Schedule move during Mama’s REM cycle. Check.
Get rid of Gabriel’s ugly-ass hunting print? Check.
It wasn’t as if I wasn’t making compromises in this arrangement. I’d renovated two bedrooms upstairs so it could actually be called a sunproof “master suite.” I’d cleared out quite a bit of space in my library for Gabriel’s collection. It wasn’t that difficult a choice, considering that most of his books were valuable antiques, whereas most of mine were well-worn paperback versions of Jane Austen and Roald Dahl novels. I’d also packed most of my unicorn collection away in the cellar, threatening Gabriel with permanent sunburn if he so much as breathed a word about it to Dick.
I’d even given my older sister, Jenny, several heirlooms I’d denied her for years, to make room for the pieces Gabriel was bringing from his family’s manse on Silver Ridge Road. It was the same house Gabriel was deeding over to Jenny, I suspected, to cement the tentative sororital ceasefire we’d established a few months before.
Moving in together was the last stop on the road to “Commitmentville” for Gabriel and me. With the recent passing of the federal Undead Marriage Act and the recent nuptials of Dick and Andrea, I was feeling the pressure to let Gabriel make an honest woman of me. We’d agreed to move in together because I’d told Gabriel months before that I wasn’t ready to be engaged yet. I was still adjusting to being a vampire. I was still recovering from Zeb and Jolene’s wedding from hell. And oh, yeah, Gabriel’s psycho-childe had just tried to murder me in my own home.
I needed a bit of a breather.
Gabriel proposed again, a few weeks later, and I wasn’t ready. And then again, on my birthday, and I still wasn’t ready. Then he promised not to ask me again until I was ready. And when he said that, I suddenly felt ready. And then I felt like an idiot, because by then, he’d stopped proposing.
This is what happens when you date a guy who saves you from a gun-shot wound in a muddy ditch. There’s a certain amount of drama expected in your relationship. Gabriel and I had the opposite of a meet-cute. We had a meet-casualty. The short version is that when I was (unfairly, unceremoniously) fired from the library, instead of getting a severance check, I got just enough of a gift certificate to get rip-snorting drunk at Shenanigans. I met Gabriel, sobered, and flirtation ensued. My car died half-way home. I was spotted walking home by the town drunk, who mistook me for a deer and shot me. I was left in the ditch to die, only to be found and turned by Gabriel.
But when I tell the story in public, Gabriel had to turn me because of wounds I suffered rescuing blind orphans from a flaming, totaled van.
So, here I was, on the edge of co-habitation, trying to figure out how to propose to my boyfriend, whose pre-Civil War gender sensibilities probably wouldn’t accept such a gesture. I trod down to Big Bertha to snag a few more boxes and realized Gabriel and his sensibilities were coming down the driveway.
I could practically hear Dick and Gabriel bickering, even with the car fifty yards away. Andrea, Dick’s recently turned wife, had her face pressed against the window and seemed to be trying to beat herself unconscious against the glass.
“I’m just saying,” Dick grunted, hopping out of the car as soon as Gabriel screeched to a stop. “Fixing a game’s not wrong if they’re the only ones losing out.”
“The game of baseball lost out!” Gabriel insisted, slamming the driver’s side door as he followed his childhood friend to the trunk of the car. “The Black Sox scandal made people lose their faith in the great American pastime! I was so shocked, I disavowed popular culture all together. Because of Chick Gandil, having a conversation with Jane is almost painful on occasion.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “I’m standing right here.”
Gabriel grinned at me, and I was instantly reminded that all of this moving hullabaloo was totally worth it. In the looks department, my new “roomie” had always left me simultaneously flustered and drool-y. Black hair that curled around the collar of his work shirt. Flashing silver eyes. A lush mouth equally skilled at reading sonnets aloud and saying filthy things I will never, ever be able to repeat without spontaneously combusting in shame.
I smiled back as Andrea tumbled out of the car and threw herself at me. I thought she was coming in for a hug, but she wrapped her hands around my throat and tackled me.
“Yipe!” I shrieked, tearing at her hands as she shook my head back and forth like a rag doll’s.
“They’ve been going round and round like this the whole damn drive!” she yelled. “Whether Lee would have won the war, if Vicksburg had held the siege a little longer. Whether the moon landing was a fabricated video. And I had to sit through all of it, because of you!”
“You’re strangling someone who doesn’t need to breathe,” I wheezed. “And you didn’t have to ride with them.”
“No, I’m blaming you, because you got them together again. They’d been actively ignoring each other for decades before you started your meddling,” she hissed like an old-fashioned Scooby Doo villain.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Gabriel said blithely as he passed us, as if our friend wasn’t pinning me to the ground and throttling me. “I think this is the last load. Your sister’s already at the house, measuring for curtains,”
“How long have they been at that?” Dick asked Zeb, nodding toward Andrea and me. “And none of you had the presence of mind to video tape it?”
Jolene sighed and then smacked the back of Dick’s head.
“Thank you,” Andrea and I chorused.
Gingerly massaging the spot where Jolene had connected, Dick muttered. “I don’t like to throw these things up in your face, Stretch, but when I moved in with my lady love, I didn’t ask you for help.”
Andrea said, “Well, honey, I will remind you that you never officially moved in with me, you just slowly, over time, snuck your belongings into my house.”
Dick smirked. “Oh, yeah. Damn, I’m good.”
“Did you take Rhinehardt Lane?” I asked Gabriel. Andrea grunted as I shoved her off me and sprang to my feet. She landed in an undignified heap on the ground. Dick helped Andrea up and assured her that she would have had me if Gabriel hadn’t split us up.
Gabriel kissed me and gave me cheeky little grin. “Jane, I love you, but I will only do so much to humor you. Taking a twenty-mile detour around your mother’s house seems a little excessive.”
“Gabriel, I’m telling you, she has this bizarre sixth sense when I have something going on in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”
Andrea snorted as she brushed grass clippings from her slacks. “Well, you could always just tell her about your life, like a grown-up.”
I pointed my finger at her nose. “Shut it, you. Now that you have vampire strength, all bets are off in the ass-kicking department.”
“Five bucks on Jane!” Jettie yelled.
“Ten on Andrea!” Dick countered. When I glared at him, he shrugged. “I’ve seen you fight, Stretch… Wait, is that why we’re out here so late? Your mom doesn’t know Gabe’s moving in?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Gabriel muttered, rolling his eyes. “She knows that I’m giving Jenny the house, but Jane told her I’m relocating to an apartment complex nearby.”
“Somehow, I just don’t see you as a ‘communal laundry room’ guy,” Zeb said, shaking his head.
“Ohhh,” Dick groaned, his face somehow paler as he turned to me. “This is going to end in you hitting me. Again.”
I dropped the box marked “Gabriel’s Boring Breakables,” making Gabriel curse fluently in Mandarin. “What did you do?”
“Well, I sort of appointed myself the head of the refreshment committee for this shindig, so I went to the SuperSaver to pick up some beer.”
“Which he drank earlier tonight,” Andrea interjected,
“I told you, honey, I always have a beer when wrestling is on!” Dick cried indignantly. “Anyway, I get in line to pay-“
“Which I am now forcing him to do as more than just an occasional gesture,” Andrea said.
“Would you stop interrupting me, woman?” Dick demanded. Andrea lifted her elegant auburn eyebrow in a movement Jolene had deemed, “the bitch-brow.”
“Ignore her, Dick,” I insisted, which made Andrea scoff indignantly. “You can crash on our couch if you want, just finish the damn story!”
Dick blew out an unnecessary breath. “Anyway, I’m at the check-out line and who should appear, but Jane’s mama. And of course, being the nice young man that I am, I make conversation with her. To keep her from thinking I’m some sort of drunk- can it, Gabe – I explained that the three cases of beer were for all of us while we helped Gabriel move his stuff into River Oaks.”
“You drank three cases of beer?” Zeb exclaimed. “How are you still standing?”
“Years of practice,” Gabriel muttered.
“So she knows?” I shrieked. “She knows!” I grabbed Dick by his t-shirt and shook him.
“She seemed really happy about it!” Dick exclaimed. “She was smiling!”
“That’s her ‘I just got bad news in public face!” I yelled. “What’s she supposed to do? Wail ‘my daughter’s a scarlet woman!’ and gnash her teeth in the check-out aisle?”
Zeb seemed to be way-too-seriously considering what clearly was intended to be a rhetorical question until he caught my glare.
At that instant, a chill ran up my spine. My ears rang and my vision sparkled with a scary sort of clarity. “My mother’s on her way here.”
“You’re psychic range isn’t that good,” Gabriel chuckled.
“She’s coming,” I whispered in a high, breathy voice straight out of Poltergeist.
Dick shuddered. “Damn it, Stretch, I’ve told you not to do that voice.”
“Everybody!” I yelled, grabbing a large blue pottery vase and a random throw pillow. “Pick up whatever you can get your hands on and just throw it in the house!”
Gabriel wrapped his hands around my arms. “Jane, calm down. It’s going to be alright.”
“You don’t know what we’re in for. The nagging. The guilt trips. The questions. ‘Why are you doing this to me?’” I said, mimicking Mama’s martyr tone. Gabriel did his own creeped-out shudder. “’Don’t you know what people are going to think about you two living together? Why aren’t you two getting married? You don’t think it’s hard enough to see your daughter die and not have the chance to bury her. Now you’re going to deny me the chance to see my youngest child married?’”
Gabriel shrugged and pulled me close, so my face was tucked against his collar. “We’re not getting married because you’re not ready yet.”
“But I am ready!” I wailed, my voice muffled against his chest.
Gabriel’s arms instantly went lax around my shoulders. “What? NOW? You’re telling me this now?”
“Yes!” I cried, ignoring Dick’s loud guffaw from across the lawn.
“I thought you were excited about moving in together? I thought we were doing this because you weren’t ready to get married!”
“But I am!” I cried. “I’m ready now. And I haven’t known how to tell you, since I made such a fuss of not being ready. But I trust you. You’ve stopped carefully editing information for me, and treating me like a child. You actually tell me when something’s bothering you or you’re angry or you just need a hug or your hair won’t do what you want it to. Frankly, I kind of wish you’d share a little bit less with me, but I don’t want to regress. I know that you love me. And I love you so much, I don’t think I could stand not being with you every day-”
Gabriel spluttered. “But- but, you’re telling me this now?!”
“Maybe we should go inside,” Zeb whispered.
Andrea shook her head, her eyes fixed on us. “It’s like a car wreck, I can’t look away.”
“Well, what if I’m not ready?” Gabriel countered.
It was my turn to splutter indignantly, “What!”
“Maybe I’d like to sow my wild oats for the next decade or so, stretch out my remaining bachelor days,” he said, his lips twitching into a smirk.
“Those days are dwindling, even as we speak,” I deadpanned.
Aunt Jettie snickered behind me. “That a boy, Gabriel. Give her hell.”
“Whose side are you on?” I shot back.
“So, just to clarify – because our conversations practically need subtitles – I’m free to propose again, at any time?” Gabriel asked.
“Well, yeah, but don’t feel like you have to do the whole down-on-one-knee, candlelight and roses thing.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed, nodding.
“Or the whole ‘scoreboard at a sporting event’ thing. I’ve always thought that’s kind of tacky.”
“When have we ever gone to a sporting event together?” he said, arching an eyebrow.
“I guess, it would be rude to mention my aversion to rings hidden in food products of any kind.”
“Jane, a lesser man would interpret this as you being a control freak.”
I threw my hands into a surrendering gesture “Shutting up now.”
He shot me a speculative look. “So just so I understand, the dangerous inner workings of your brain- we’re not engaged, in any official or unofficial capacity, but I’m free to press my suit at any time.”
“As long as you mean proposing and not pressing an actual suit of clothing, yes.”
“Thank you, I was confused for a moment,” he said.
“What are going to do next, call a damn notary?” Dick yelled. “Kiss the girl!”
Gabriel threw the box of boring breakables in Dick’s general direction and was about to do just that, when I heard my mother’s car pulling into the driveway. I could feel her brain vibrating at the sight of catching us “in the act” of moving Gabriel in.
“Not one word about proposals, no matter how much she pushes,” I told my friends. “No matter what she says or how loud she cries, don’t try to throw that up as a distraction.”
Gabriel’s lips twitched. “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad. It’s one woman against five supernatural creatures… And Zeb.”
“You laugh because you haven’t heard my mother’s thirty-minute verbal dissertation on appropriate seasonal flower choices. We’re better off letting her yell at us for being dirty, premarital fornicators.”
Before Gabriel- or Dick, mercifully- could respond to that, my mother screeched to a halt and cut her engine.
“Jane Enid Jameson!” my mother cried, stepping out of her sedan as her face turned an unnatural eggplant color. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“Forget the engagement,” Gabriel whispered, “We’re going to tell your mother we’ve already eloped. She’ll have nowhere to go from there.”
“We’re going to lie to my mother?”
He cringed as she stomped toward us, her huge Aigner pocketbook flapping against her arm. “I think that would be for the best, yes.”
I nodded, kissing him just before I whispered back, “I’m OK with that.”