Sookie had a smile waiting for me.
Her hands were on my shoulders and she was straddling my lap…
The smell of sunshine and the sound of running water reached me at nearly the same time.
“Good evening, handsome.”
“It happened again.” I had died for the day in the tub with her. At least this time, I have more memory of what we’d done… the frenzied assault on each other was a blur, but it was something.
She nodded, not losing her grin. “Near as I can tell, we lost a couple of hours again. Maybe three.”
“You haven’t been stuck here though.”
“Nope. I slept here for a while, then I drained the tub and dried you off as best I could. I wasn’t sure if you’d prune up or something. I did some packing and laid out, then did more packing… Me and Gran made a grocery list and Paulette sent it off to Bobby.”
“It sounds like you had a busy day.”
She shrugged. “I called Sam too, but he let it go to his voicemail and when I called the bar, Arlene told me that he was too busy to talk. So God only knows when he’ll get his head out of his butt enough to talk to me, but Friday is his deadline.”
“Because I figure we’ll spend the day settling in tomorrow and then… if we can find that new guard tomorrow night, we can have him run out to Bon Temps with us for some errands.”
“What kind of errands?”
“Oh, just stuff like check on the house and grab some things, run Jason home, go to the bank to deposit my checks… and if he hasn’t called me back, I’m gonna corner Sam.” Careful, he might bite.
“Do you think it will help?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll use the friends-for-years guilt trip if I have to.”
“What will you tell him?”
“I haven’t decided yet…” She developed a smirk. “…Why does that make you worry?”
I smiled back. “You can feel that, can you?”
She nodded excitedly, but was still waiting for me to explain.
“With all things considered, you might be spreading yourself too thin for my taste, if you continue to work for him that is.”
“Being greedy again?”
“Absolutely… if you work days for him, then you’ll need to sleep nights. If you work nights, then you’ll be with me less. If you try both, you may very well be tired constantly.” And that’s not taking into consideration the schedule of the child she’d be keeping up with or the travel we’ll be doing.
Her mouth turned down into a slight frown and she huffed. “I was already thinking that, but I’m afraid to quit since there’s no telling how long the novelty of a telepath will last.”
“I truly don’t see your popularity dying off within the next year, give or take. It might be more fair to him to quit. If things ever do slow down for you, and you find yourself missing it, you could go back and let him know you’re available.”
“You don’t see that happening though? Me missing it.”
“No. I think you might miss the company of humans, but… I’m staying optimistic that you come to realize that you’re too special to wait tables. Besides, monetarily you’d only have to work for a week out of a year to make your waitressing income. Why wear yourself out and rob me of time with you?”
She grinned suspiciously. “In the matter of a couple of weeks, you have managed to turn my life upside down.”
I smiled at her. “Likewise. It certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks though, yes?”
She giggled, leaning in to kiss me. “Amen.”
“So, tell me, what do we need to do to be ready to leave in an hour and a half?”
Her eyebrow pitched and she slid herself further up my legs. “We need to close our suitcases after we get dressed.”
I lost myself, tracing her nipple with my thumb. “That can’t be everything.”
“It is. Gran and I made sure of it. We did everything we could… We all pitched in… Jason even helped out where he could.”
“How’s that?” Not that I cared so much about his part, but the way she rolled her eyes and bit her lip while trying to stay focused was tangibly suggestive.
She squirmed as my finger started trailing further down her body and breathed, “He went around to all the windows and doors to make sure everything is sealed up… he hauled out the garbage… he even had Paulette get some things while she was out so he could change the oil in the car you keep here.”
“Really? Do you…”
“Eric?” Her voice shook… she was practically feeding her anticipation to me with a spoon…
“Time’s a wastin’.”
Neither one of us had been satisfied by the meager hour we had together…
We’d fallen victim to ourselves, our wants and needs amplifying each other. Our only complaint was how limited we were for time…
We actually managed to overlook Pam’s taunts through the wall, fueling one another with determination to keep ourselves on course.
We’d barely given ourselves long enough to dress before our escorts were due to arrive. In fact, Sookie had washed so quickly, she was still taming her breathing as we left the bathroom, both of us grumbling about our shared aggravation over time constraints.
When I approached the closet, I noticed only empty hangers… Finding that laying over my suitcase were two clothing options: A neatly folded pair of jeans and t-shirt or a gently placed (and perfectly pressed) dress shirt and pair of pants.
Sookie grinned at me while she slipped into her underthings. “So, how are we traveling?”
“That seems to be a dilemma. Sophie-Ann wants to see us off, but I’m unsure if she’s interested in doing so as queen or an in-law of sorts.”
She giggled crossing her arms under her breasts, only making the temptation of the sheer white fabric… She interrupted my train of thought by clearing her throat. “That’s not helping.”
I laughed at myself. “My apologies.”
She giggled while I watched… she pulled a white tank top over her head and proceeded to slip into a light blue, fitted blouse and a very short denim skirt… “I figure the heels and blouse can come off on the plane?” Her nose wrinkled with her uncertainty.
I nodded, reassuring her that I liked the way she thought and began pulling on my jeans, t-shirt and dress shirt.
As she watched me dress, I could feel her frustration building with each piece of clothing I added to my body. I jokingly used her words against her. “Sookie, that’s not helping.”
She blew out a raspberry and called me a butthead, turning to her makeup and ‘casual’ jewelry…
Once I’d folded our unworn options and closed our luggage, I looked for the cord for my phone… my phone… anything.
“Your charging cord is in the pocket on the outside of your suitcase with the files from your office. Your phone is just inside my purse, all charged up.”
“You really did pack everything, didn’t you?”
“Gran had me check after her and Jason. Paulette checked after me… The hard part was packing for Pam. Did you tell her that we’d be here for a month?”
I chuckled. “She packed light because I told her that we’d only be here for 2 days. Why did you pack for her?”
She shrugged. “I was already in there sprinkling a pinch of salt into every one of her shoes.”
I carried our suitcases (making fun of the fact that Sookie liked her boutique clothing enough to keep it rather than return anything) and she carried her purse along with the flower arrangement and garbage can so that Paulette wouldn’t need to search them out.
We left our room only to see Pam emerging from hers.
Pam purred, “If it isn’t the love birds.” If my hands hadn’t been full, I might have slapped her.
Sookie leaned over and kissed Pam’s cheek, not wavering in her good mood. “If it isn’t the shameless voyeur.”
Pam shrugged. “Thank you for packing for me.”
Sookie giggled and turned to bounce down the stairs. “Someone had to do it, with you lying around all day like a slacker.”
Pam laughed shifting to one foot to remove her shoe, look into it questioningly and slide it pack on while she waited for Sookie to go into the kitchen before she said anything else. “She smells… You’re bonded?”
She smiled innocently enough. “It’s about time… What was your meeting with Hadley about?”
“We’ll discuss it on the plane.”
“This is a problem?”
I started for the stairs. “It’s a variable.”
“You hate variables.”
Contrary to what I expected, the ride to the airport wasn’t at all quiet.
Sookie was barely settled into the seat next to me when Sophie-Ann began conversation with a smile.
As everyone rattled on in cheerful small-talk, Sophie-Ann took the opportunity to present Adele with a photo album embossed with a gold fleur-de-lis that held several photos of the reception already. Adele resisted the urge to hug Sophie-Ann as thanks, but informed her that she wanted to and went on to mention that she couldn’t wait to have the pictures of the haunted trail printed to add to it.
Entering the plane for this trip was similar to the last flight with the exception of Sookie and me immediately removing our more formal outer layers…
Adele made mixed drinks for the family and warmed a true blood for Pam autonomously before settling into a recliner to remove a book from the tote bag that Paulette had given her.
Sookie snuggled into my side after relinquishing my cell phone to me…
And the four of us spent several minutes watching Jason pace nervously around the cabin. He’d never flown before.
He must’ve repeated it 20 times before Pam offered to glamour him so that he wouldn’t discombobulate. Then she had to define the word for him.
He paced for a few moments while he considered her offer, muttering to himself that if he had to be glamoured he wouldn’t have to worry about anyone feeding from him… at least this time, he wouldn’t ‘come to’ in a strange place… at least this time, he’d know about it…
Then he made himself another drink and went back to pacing as though he was certain to die.
I had to say his name 3 times before I had his attention. “What is your primary concern?”
“I saw the Buddy Holly Story, Labamba AND Sweet Dreams.”
Pam snorted at him. “Aww, noodle, you aren’t famous enough to die in a plane crash.”
I kicked her foot. “Not helping, Pam… Jason, you are aware that Mount Driskill is the highest point between us and Shreveport, yes? Barely 500 feet.”
“So, knowing that flying into the side of a glorified anthill isn’t likely, on the off chance that there is a very serious mechanical failure and the plane were to begin falling out of the sky, it would take about 2 minutes for the final impact. Are you with me so far?”
He nodded again, and finished the last of his drink.
“In two minutes, I could easily do away with the door to the plane and remove you all safely.”
“You’ve seen me fly…”
He tried to grin. “And I saw you fling Bill like 20 feet like he’s a football that night at the DGD meeting.”
I gave him a nod. “So you know how strong I am.” To some extent, at least.
He began pacing again, more thoughtfully than fretfully this time. He slowly started to nod, “Alright, alright… I can work with that… I think… I might still need to be glamoured… but… I’m cool for now.” He plopped down in the seat next to Pam and reached over, grabbing a lock of her hair and yanking on it.
“OW! What was that for?”
He snorted like an angry bull. “Not famous enough… How was that supposed to be helpful? You’re a piece of work.”
“I offered to glamour you! I was trying!” She reached over to flick his ear.
He lifted his hand to retaliate which began the most absurd slap boxing contest in history… it went on until Adele stood from her seat and ordered Pam to switch seats with her… all the while, Adele chuckled about having to separate ‘the kids’ before we took off and suggested that we never, ever take a road trip with the two of them.
And again, Pam removed a shoe, inspected it closely and then slid her foot back in… I could feel how amused Sookie was, but her face betrayed nothing. I should have thought of salt years ago.
Once the mêlée had been ‘straightened out’ and the plane was quiet, I took the chance to view my messages…
Not only did I have 44 emails asking for the use of Sookie’s talent, but I also had 21 voicemails that I didn’t bother checking because I was sure that it was more of the same.
“Sookie, it seems that you’re all the rage.”
She frowned slightly. “Like plots and…” I could already feel her distress building…
“No. Nothing of that nature. There are a few vampires that want you to screen every employee they have, but most of them simply want to make sure that they shouldn’t be concerned about their pets’ motives.”
“Oh. That’s a relief.”
“How would you like to handle it? Would you like to decline so that you don’t have to bother?”
She considered for a moment. “It seems silly to traipse all over creation for one or two people at a time… You’d never get any work done… Can you, I don’t know, assign a fee or something? Like a price per head and just have the ones worried about their pets bring them to Fangtasia, maybe? Save the traveling for bigger stuff? I’d hate to just tell them ‘no’… I’d feel bad if, you know if something happened.” Her intentions were so incredibly kindhearted that I couldn’t bring myself to mention that a vampire who needed to question their pet’s motives was a fool to have the pet in the first place… hence, my own lack of pets.
I kissed her forehead and began the reply…
“Miss Stackhouse will be available at Fangtasia to provide quality control inspections. Call ahead for availability. The cost per inspection is $1,000. A disclaimer and photo ID for each individual will be required. Contact further for group rates or situations that would require her to travel.”
I held the phone out so that Sookie could make any comments or ask any questions, but she smiled seemingly satisfied and pulled out her own phone…
I’d just sent the reply when I received a text. “The disclaimer, it should include that they aren’t allowed to dump any bodies in your area if I hear something bad. lol”
I laughed and forwarded the message to Pam… She quickly replied, “ROFLMAO!”
When I finally made way through the barrage of Sookie related emails, I had several from Bobby.
“I was in a holding pattern in re: the safe room. I met with the contractors again today. They are confident that they can install the room abutting the house so that it’s accessible through the closet in the down stairs bedroom. That plan would not interfere with the structural integrity of the house. It will make running power and water lines easier for them. They suggested that renovating the porch to make it a wrap-around would easily cover the excavation scars to the yard. Waiting for your word on the matter. Bobby.”
After a quick discussion with Sookie and Adele, I replied, “Bobby, the new plan is acceptable. Scratch the gazebo. Have the porch screened, wired for fans and lighting and furnish it with padded wicker/rattan seating. See to the new shed regardless.”
The next email from Bobby: “Pam’s bracelet arrived. It’s in your safe.”
Followed by, “The ball gags have been wrapped and left on your kitchen counter as per instructions.”
Next: “The grocery store was out of ‘cube steak’, otherwise, the shopping list has been delivered and your dry cleaning is hanging in your laundry room.”
Again (and I was really starting to get pissed): “The Lexus RX (including GPS) will be delivered as soon as I know what color to get. Options: Black, silver and gold.”
Another one… “The phone and laptop have been purchased and are on your kitchen counter as per instructions.”
I counted the remaining emails from him… 5… I’m going to kill him… “There are 300 copies of the Fangtasia employment application and a box of pens waiting on your desk in your office.”
“The sofa and rug have been removed from your office, but I didn’t want to venture a guess as to what you’d want to replace them with. A catalog is on your kitchen counter. Perhaps Miss Stackhouse would like to help you decide on new furniture.” I’m still going to kill him, but that email decided that I’d be taking my time.
“Smythe has been informed of Porter Simonette’s pending call.”
“There is a gift basket of Rome specific travel guides (Italy, not Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin) and supplies waiting for Mrs. Stackhouse in your office with a first edition of Ben-Hur.” The copy of Ben-Hur was motivated, but I was still going to make him to suffer.
“After driving through Champlain Estates and calling 16 different real estate agencies, I found only 3 houses that are 4 bedrooms/empty. All of the yards are comparable in size. 2 have pools. There is a portfolio for each one on your kitchen counter so that you can decide.”
As the plane began taxiing the runway, I quickly replied before my phone lost its signal.
“Get the gold Lexus. I’ll send you my decision regarding the houses once I look at the portfolios.”
Then I sent another…
“Bobby, I have to wonder… who the fuck told you that you’re funny?
In case you need help with the concept of ‘funny’, here’s a partial list:
- Fat people falling.
- Buttered floors.
- The movie Van Helsing.
The antithesis of amusing:
- Jerry Seinfeld.
- War memorials.
The next time you behave like a petulant child and flood my inbox with gratuitous messages when one would have sufficed since you sent them all before sunset, your track record for ‘funny’ WILL change…
If you want to be funny, I’ll gladly help you with earning a DARWIN AWARD. I always laugh at those.
What kind of fucking asshole taunts a vampire?
Be at Fangtasia Thursday. 10pm.”
When I was done, Sookie and Pam were both staring at me.
While Pam averted her eyes to avoid pissing me off, Sookie gently took my phone and dropped it into her purse. “You can’t kill him for being annoying.”
“Yes I can.”
She took my hand and laced her fingers with mine. “I know you can kill him. I know you want to kill him. But wouldn’t pissing him off be more fun… cathartic even?”
“Well… as fun as it would be to glamour him to thinking he could swim the English Channel…” The image was an instant mood lifter and Sookie smiled when she felt it. “…making his last couple of weeks as your employee absolutely wretched could be a blast with that evil streak of yours. He could clean out the Fangtasia dumpsters… you could task him with rounding up Bubba’s babysitting fees… make him deliver a singing thank you candy-gram to Flood… since he’s irritated by me so much, you can send him on a search for a nonexistent ice cream flavor for me… the possibilities are endless.”
“Can’t I do all of that… and just send him to Dover with a swim cap last?”
“Wouldn’t it be more fun to encourage his dream of being a Mary Kay rep?”
It had already been getting difficult to seem unbudging, but I finally lost the battle when Pam erupted with her evil cackle. “Oh Lord! Eric, PLEASE? That’s perfect! I’ll have his first party! We can do it at Fangtasia with all the waitresses.”
After a few more suggestions including Jason’s idea to have Bobby order a ‘Welcome to Shreveport’ cake for Paulette… and Adele’s idea to have Bobby fill a coffin with black jelly beans for a ‘guess how many’ contest at the bar… I relented and agreed not to kill him yet.
Once the joking mood had passed and with only an hour left of the flight, I braced myself to start the conversation Hadley should have launched.
Sookie had started reading one of the books that Paulette had found for Adele and seemed to brace herself, closing the cover and sitting attentively until I found it in myself…
I’ve never done sugar-coating well.
“There’s something that I need to discuss with you… It’s why Hadley pulled me aside last night.”
For once, I had Pam’s undivided attention without gift wrap being involved and the Stackhouses’ eyes were fixed on me…
“Did she tell any of you the conditions of how she became a vampire?”
Adele gave a puzzled nod. “She was vague. She said that it happened because she was too hurt to survive.” Fucking figures.
“At some point Hadley married, but the man was paranoid about Hadley having a relapse enough that she decided to divorce him.”
Sookie shook her head slightly. “What does that have to do with anything though?”
Hadley was going to owe me… “She didn’t know she was pregnant until after she left him… The injury she wouldn’t have survived otherwise was the child’s birth.”
Pam surprised me by taking Adele’s hand in an effort to comfort the woman, but she seemed fixated with Sookie’s shoes. She finally whispered, “She had a baby?”
Sookie’s mood suddenly shifted from compassionate to annoyed. “We just spent 6 nights with her! Why are you… How did you get stuck telling us?”
“I’m not sure of all of the reasons, but you saw firsthand that being the favored child of a vampire queen puts her at risk… the baby was immediately taken to his father to be raised to keep him from being a target of the kind of plots that Threadgill would employ.”
“But Hadley told you. Not Gran…”
“Hadley only told me because she wants me to protect him.”
“Why would he need protecting?”
I stared at her, trying to force myself to give her the details… “Sookie, she wants you to raise him.”
“I can’t… Is she out of her fucking mind!? Bill Compton was ready to turn me a week ago… Jason was kidnapped… I’ve had two killers after me THIS WEEK!”
“That would be her reason for wanting you to raise him… her reason for wanting me to protect him.”
“That doesn’t make any damn sense… I’ve probably got every vampire in Arkansas after me now because…” I felt it dawn on her. Her body quaked and a sickened feeling festered in the pit of her stomach. She jerked to her feet to pace the length of the cabin.
“She might not have ever said anything if she hadn’t seen what Compton was willing to do.”
She didn’t say anything and Adele was seemingly in shock over the news.
Jason wasn’t suffering from speechlessness though. “I don’t get it. Bill was only after Sookie because she can read minds.”
The squirrels’ coffee break forced me to say ‘it’ aloud. “Jason, the child is showing signs that he’s a telepath too.”
“How? I mean, how old is he?”
“He’s three… It seems he started talking early and he’s finishing sentences and answering unasked questions… His father is having a difficult time with child care because providers seem to be frightened of it.”
He lost a bit of color and looked up at Sookie. “Awww shit! Sook, you gotta take him… after what Mom put you through, you can’t let that happen to him!”
She stopped pacing just long enough to shoot him a furious glare, her contempt was threatening enough that I tried calming her. “Eric, is this why you wanted me to quit working for Sam?”
“Sookie, you know better than that. I suggested that you quit the night after I met you and we’ve already come to the conclusion that it would be rational to stop working for him without the child as a factor.”
She stared shaking her head irrationally. “So I suppose Hadley’s ex-husband will have an ‘unfortunate accident’ and I end up being… GODDAMNIT! This is just like Hadley! Never taking care of anything herself!”
I tried being reasonable. “Sookie, you can hardly blame her for hemorrhaging during delivery.”
She chuckled wryly. “Eric, no one’s trying to blame her for that, but you need to understand that tossing that kid at his father… with the money and power Sophie-Ann has, Hadley could be raising him.”
“How? She’s a vampire.”
“How the fuck do you think I’m going to do it!? Between wanting to be with you as much as possible and the hours my new job will require, I’m gonna be just as god damn nocturnal as y’all are! All she would have needed to do is shift his schedule and hire a nanny to sit with him while he’s sleeping during the day.”
“She told me that she’d understand if you’re unwilling.”
She snorted. “I bet.”
She snapped, “What?”
“Stop being angry with Hadley.”
“Why should I?”
“Because even if she had kept him, she would most likely be asking for this. You’re better suited for the child’s needs.”
“Because I’m still human?”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it and you know it.”
“Fine. What’s the plan?” She was still livid, possibly more than I had been with Bobby. She wasn’t calming down in the least.
“Regarding what exactly?”
“I’m sure all of this shit was planned out already. How is Hadley planning on passing her kid off to me so that she can stay free to keep her head up Sophie-Ann’s ass instead of show some responsibility for her own kid?”
“To the best of my knowledge his father will be glamoured to surrender the child to you in his best interest and an adoption will be pushed through the courts.”
“And Hadley, what? Shows up for family visits once in a while?”
“She mentioned that she would like to be able to see him on occasion, yes…”
She stopped pacing again to give me a defiant stare with her arms folded over her chest. “That’s you, isn’t it… You’re trying to calm me down.”
“Just enough to keep you from punching something, yes.”
“Then sit down and try to be reasonable on your own. Nothing can be undone. Whatever reason Hadley rationalized for not raising him herself is immaterial. If things had gone differently and you were simply listed as Hadley’s next of kin… would you not already be planning what color to paint his room?”
She threw herself onto the couch, resting her elbows on her knees to hide her face in her hands and promptly began crying quietly.
I waited, not knowing how to help her… feeling her strange combination of guilt and bitterness and fear spiraling impossibly quickly… seemingly constant with no signs of waning.
“What’s his name?” Adele’s sudden question interrupted the silent strain only slightly.
“Where do they live?”
“Is there any reason for them to worry right now or is it that they’re concerned for him to get older.”
“Hadley didn’t express any immediate concerns. Her knowledge of Bill Compton’s scheming is what’s prompted her suspicions. She’s worried that he could be discovered and objectified.”
She nodded and settled back into the quiet.
…but Jason had apparently decided that the calm bothered him. He slid out of his seat and rested on his knees in front of Sookie. “You know you wouldn’t be on your own, right Sook? Me and Gran’ll help… this isn’t a such a bad thing… Gran gets a great grandbaby… I get a nephew to play video games with… you’d never planned and having kids, but you’d be full of shit if you said you didn’t want to… Sook, Hunter’ll get to be raised by someone who knows exactly what he’s going through. Sounds like a win/win… Come on… If you don’t take him, I will. I know you don’t want that to happen.”
She snorted and slapped his forehead. “You can’t put beer in a sippy cup.”
“Sure ya can. You just gotta take out the stopper so it doesn’t explode like a volcano. They make pizza in nuggets now too.” Even Adele offered a chuckle, knowing that he was only trying to make Sookie laugh. It worked enough to make her snicker.
“I’m not saying I won’t. I’m just…” She started laughing wryly. “This is crazy… what were we doing 2 weeks ago?”
He scoffed. “We were reading minds for better tips. We were going home every night to read a book curled up with a cat. We were bored and didn’t know what the hell to do about it… We weren’t saving lives, riding in limos and private planes or wearing shoes worth more than your car. We finally have a life.”
“We almost got killed more than a few times too. Don’t forget that.”
He snorted and put his hand to her head to shove her over playfully as he went back to his seat. “We ain’t never smiled so damn much either… Now shut the fuck up and start thinking about how to decorate his room like Eric said… I think I’ll make him up a room at my house for visits… Football themed… wait… His name is Hunter… would camouflage be corny?”
Everyone told him ‘yes’ in unison as though it had been rehearsed and then the stillness took over again as Sookie started to come to terms with the situation.
“You ok with this, ready to start over again?”
“No. I wasn’t ready when y’all needed me. We’ll have some time to get ready.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it though?”
“Nope… sweetie, you need to understand that there’s no such thing as ‘sure’. Anything can happen. I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. I can tell you that I could fill a book with regrets and unanswered prayers, but taking in you two when your folks died isn’t one of them. I wasn’t prepared to take in two elementary aged children in my 60s, especially not one who could hear how scared I was. You can’t cash out and walk away. You play the cards you get dealt.”
Sookie snorted. “Unless you’re Hadley apparently. She’s just watching everyone else play.”
“Hadley was born selfish. Jason was born lazy. And you, little girl, were born pigheaded as hell, but I love all of you. That being said… Human or vampire, she’d never be suited for children. She doesn’t have it in her. Truth be told, if Hadley were still human and Hunter didn’t read minds, that baby would still be better off with you because you have it in you to put others first.”
“This really isn’t fair though. He’s going to know something’s off… It’s not fair to him… I’m still gonna bitch her out about this crap.”
Adele chuckled and opened her book again. “We’d be worried that you caught a fever if you didn’t.”