Friday had come and gone without incident unless I considered that Pam arrived for her shift at Fangtasia smelling of Sookie and her children. As soon as the sun set, Pam went over to Sookie’s apartment and helped her unpack and arrange furniture until she needed to leave with plans to return once the crowd thinned out. Her inexplicable attachment to the not-so-little telepath was entertaining… or it would’ve been if I didn’t know she was playing match-maker. I knew Pam well enough to understand she was working the reconnaissance angle. She was gathering information that could be useful to her plans.
While she rejected one fashion criminal after another, she found the time to send photo after photo to me… She’d bought new clothing for Tina and Shelly and helped to unpack and organize their room. She’d adopted the moniker ‘Auntie Pam’.
Somehow Pam’s ‘biological clock’ had waited to go off until she’d been dead for over 350 years. It was ridiculous considering how unlike it was. It even pushed me to read the journal Sookie had brought me again and again…
Even in other versions, Pam wasn’t as eager to be in the company of children. When I pointed that out to her, she shrugged off the suggestion by reminding me the other versions were stuck with boys and told me that she’d read the journal too… it didn’t seem like there was a way to escape being around children and at least they were ‘extraordinary little angels’ rather than ‘typical troglodyte tots’.
She was full of shit and didn’t care that I knew.
Saturday was a different story altogether. When I arrived an hour before opening, Sookie was there with both of her daughters. The children were sitting in a corner booth with a laptop, watching a movie with earphones on. They noticed me right away, possibly before I was through the door, and reined in their reaction to simply smile excitedly as my greeting.
Not only were there three unfamiliar servers and a new bartender, but the rest of the wait-staff was as well… She’d called them all in early and none of them seemed fond of her.
I hadn’t expected her.
I hadn’t orientated her.
I hadn’t placed any ads for new servers.
She greeted me, “Good evening, Mr. Northman.” She was testing the limits of the Fantasia T-shirt she was wearing.
“Good evening, Sookie. Hitting the ground running, I see. What are we doing?”
“Reminding your servers that waitresses are a dime-a-dozen and I can train their replacements just as quickly as I trained Cindy and Lenna’s if they don’t get their shit together. They aren’t my biggest fans right now because I just informed them that the tip-sharing is over because it lets them be lazy. I watched Jill slam drinks down in front of her customers the other night, but Denise vamped her ass off in spite of a migraine…”
Jill breathed, “Nasty heifer.”
I started by winking at Sookie. “Thank you, Jill, for proving Sookie’s point. She’ll be replacing you next. Get out.”
Sookie didn’t wait or give Jill the chance to argue. Moving right along, she explained, “I hired 3 new servers. Your new waitresses are Kat, Ashley and Iris…” The three new servers waved at me. All of them were varied body types and complexions, surprisingly, none of them were hideous.
“A blond, a brunette and a redhead walk into a bar…”
She giggled her punch line, “…Never let a blond teach gymnastics at a school for the blind.” Cute.
“And the bartender?”
“His name is Ramon. He applied as a server, but he has bartender experience. He’s up for floating. He’ll bar-back, serve, bus tables and fill in when your usual bartender has the night off or gets swamped.” Perfect.
“You won’t have a problem with the different pay scales?”
“Not at all. We had several floaters at Merlotte’s. A couple of our guys swapped back and forth between the bar and the kitchen.”
“Did you do a background check?”
She winked when she gave a subtle nod. “I interviewed 25 applicants. Pared them down to 6… Hired the 3 you need…”
“The other three?”
“On reserve until I could ‘check out’ your current staff.”
She nodded. “Vera takes vodka home by the bottle. Carol has been poaching Fiona’s tables because… well, she thinks she’s entitled.”
“She’s a ‘favorite’ of your partner.” Long Shadow wouldn’t be coming back to defend her. His menagerie was never my problem to begin with at any rate.
“Take a bow Vera and Carol. You can follow Jill… Anything else, Sookie?”
“I just need a minute or two with you in your office and we’ll get out of your hair.”
I motioned towards my office and waited for her to pack her laptop and collect the children…
As soon as I closed my office door, Tina and Shelly dropped the indifferent act and pounced on me, grabbing my legs and asking to be lifted.
So bizarre. When I picked them up, their little hands cupped my neck and the dopey grins took over their faces again… they looked angelic, blissful.
Sookie leaned over my desk while I was stunned by her midgets. “Ok… So Ramon Santiago’s student visa along with F1 work authorization are good. I checked both ways for that. Fiona’s is about to expire next month though. She’s already in the process of renewing since she still has a year left of school… I’ll train the other three when I come in to restock tomorrow. Do you have a replacement for Long Shadow yet?”
“Not yet. Pam is asking around.”
“Ramon is on the schedule for full time bartending until you replace him. I did the schedule for two weeks out…”
“Some of them have limitations.”
“I know…” She pointed to a disk on my desk. “I made an Excel program tracking their scheduling conflicts. I can make new schedules in just a few minutes and email them to you when I’m on maternity leave. I didn’t want to snoop around your files, so I did a quick inventory of your stock. Ramon is going to keep an eye on drinking trends for me so I know what to order. I told the waitresses that bare legs are a memory. Most of them are pasty, stubbly or have cellulite so that isn’t helping their tips. Stockings, tights or fishnets. No Gs if they’re wearing a skirt. Oh, and I told them that unless they can pass the towel test, bras are required too. I’ll change it if you aren’t cool with the rules, but I figured if you wanted to open a skanky strip club, you would’ve.”
She cleared her throat and eyed Tina and Shelly before she explained. “If they aren’t perky enough to keep a damp bar towel from falling, they fail. I can tell you right now, Fiona and one of the girls I’m training tomorrow night can pass… I’m thinking after observing the other night that you might want to require uniforms of some kind. I can look into it if you like.”
“It’s your business, but I think it might help reduce some confusion if there’s a way to tell the servers apart from the gothy customers.”
“What do you mean by uniforms though?”
“Not like Merlottes or Hooters or anything. I was thinking along the lines of blood red baby-doll dresses since most of the customers wear black. They’d stand out as servers, but still fit in the blood and fangs thing. Just an idea. Let me know.” Shopping for clothing in bulk. Pam was already rubbing off on her.
“What type of uniform did you use at Merlotte’s?”
She actually shuddered. “Replace Hooters orange with green. The place is like where ‘necks go when they want Hooters, but don’t want to bathe first so the uniforms were fitting considering the venue.”
“Find some options. I’ll look them over.”
“K… thanks for giving me the chance… I had fun today.”
“You had fun? Here?”
She grinned as she nodded. “I cleaned up and interviewed. It could be the change of scenery, but I’m happy to be here.”
“How has the move been? Smooth?”
“Oh yeah, thanks to Pam… She was a Godsend last night. Huge help. There was some stuff I couldn’t move and she’s great company.”
“Pam? My Pam?” The world was coming to an end. I had delighted children in my arms, someone enjoyed being at Fangtasia without being fucked or fed, and someone thought Pam was good company. How many signs are there of the apocalypse?
She laughed, “Seven seals. And I’m pretty sure Pam isn’t one of the horsemen.”
“You ‘heard’ that?”
“Yeah. Sookie said I’d catch a few things from you from time to time. She told me that it’s usually when your filter keeps you from saying something sarcastic… so far that seems accurate.”
“What about the boy they’re raising? Did they mention it in person?” The journal, as many times as I’d read it, it hadn’t been mentioned.
“He hasn’t. I came out and asked because of the girls.”
“So it’s just because they’re bonded?”
“No, but they thought it could be because of Vampire blood. She heard Eric early on… when she’d only had that Bill guy’s blood. Guess I shot that theory to hell.”
“She could be hearing others, but it wouldn’t be in the journal. If it’s discovered…” I didn’t bother finishing since she began nodding in understanding.
“I’ll let you know either way.”
“Thank you… Do you need some help taking your things to your car?”
She giggled, “I might need some help getting my things to let go of you so you can work.”
“I wasn’t calling them ‘things’. I meant…”
“I know what you meant. I’m not one of those uptight moms…” She walked over to reach up and pry Tina’s hands away from my neck to take her from me. As soon as Sookie had a hold of her Tina scowled at her mother. Sookie snickered, “Don’t you give me that face. Remember what Pam and I were telling you?”
She groaned, “Fantasia peoples wanna see scary Vampires.”
“It’s FANGtasia… And?”
“Scary doesn’t play. Scary is grumpy.”
“Right… So Eric and Pam can’t play and be fun here.”
Tina rolled her eyes and whined, “How long til our sleepover?”
“Two nights… Where are we going for dinner?”
“You’re not cooking?”
“Nope. I’m beat.”
“Yayyyyyyy! Can we go to Rudd Fuckers?”
Sookie snorted out a laugh as she set the girl down and ‘relieved’ me of holding Shelly. “FUDDruckers. And yeah, that’s fine. God knows your sister won’t mind a burger…”
Once Shelly was alert, Sookie had to re-explain the details she’d discussed with Tina… and then some. Shelly didn’t quite grasp the concept of ‘image’ until Sookie described it as ‘acting, like in movies’.
That night, I watched ‘Fantasia’s’ new servers outshine the ones they were hired to replace. They’d obviously been coached on decorum… dutifully submissive towards the Vampires, courteous yet frigid towards the Humans, and most importantly- NOT sickeningly flirtatious with anyone.
Considering how amused Pam was, I texted to ask if she was devastating queued customers, but she replied, “Texting with Sookie. She’s reading the journal again.”
Curiosity pushed me to send, “I’ve read it several times. What’s amusing about it?”
She forwarded a barrage of messages from Sookie, what she’d call ‘blowing up’ my phone…
“…We should rewrite the journal entries as children’s books. I’ll write. You can illustrate. It can be the new Harry Potter…” I had a feeling Pam was already trying to decide between chalks and watercolors.
“…Funny/sad story. I’ve always liked the name Tina. It isn’t short for anything. The other Mes all have/had a cat named Tina. They didn’t think they’d ever have kids bc the telepathy thing was such a prob for them…” That actually was ‘sad’.
“…OMG. I LOL every time I read about them ragging on some guy named Quinn. He can’t be that bad…” Yes he could.
“…IDK if it’s exaggerated or something changed him, but Jason’s not like that. He’s so proper it hurts. Uppity even. It’s funny to read him as a goon. My dad is actually like that though. Very bizarre…”
“…Just did some research. 4 ‘fangbanger’ murders in/around Baton Rouge. Rene Lanier left Bon Temps years ago when he broke up with his girlfriend. He’s listed in Inniswold now. Would anybody care?…” Salome would ‘care’ with extreme prejudice.
I’m not sure how Pam replied, but shortly thereafter Sookie sent, “…Cops won’t do anymore than they did in the journals. At least if that Sheriff kills him there won’t be more victims. Go. Do. Hope he rots in hell…”
“…Quick question: Do y’all have a Paulette? She was awesome. Eric could use the journal info to get her like the others did…” Funny she should mention it. I’d already emailed a ‘desperate plea’ for competent help and a excessive proposal.
I sent my own reply to Sookie. “I’ve made an offer. If she relocates like the others did, your childcare concerns could be solved as well as my annoying day guy problems…”
She quickly replied with, “I didn’t think of that. It was only suggested in the journal, but they never mentioned that Maggie ever sat for them. That would be win/win. OMG. It could be win3! I could offer the brother some sidework. He could weld my Ex’s trailer shut…”
I sent, “…Save the money. I’ll turn it over for you…”
“…I just imagined him shifting into a squirrel to squeeze in through the dryer vent. I prob shouldn’t laugh so hard…”
Just a moment later, Pam forwarded another salvo, “…BTW I want Bill Compton’s addy so I can stake him on principle…” She didn’t need his address. I’d gladly chauffeur. Then, “…Sorry. Daddy just called to freak out. Sam told him I’m working for Vampires to stir shit up. He’s just worried, but it took a few min to chill him out. Anyway. All the girls talked about at dinner was that you promised to buy them a pet. No cats. No dogs…” That was a puzzling dilemma. Excluding kittens and puppies trimmed down the possibilities drastically. The last forward, “…Dog- bc we don’t have a yard anymore. Cat-bc I don’t want Sam to get ANY ideas that I might’ve softened to ANY feline. Fn panther…” Fair enough.
The next text was actually from Pam rather than Sookie. “…Any suggestions? Cats/dogs are out. Cute animals tend to stink or make me want a new fur….” Or both.
“…You need to think of something low maintenance. You’re lucky Sookie didn’t stake you for making such a promise. She’s raising 3 children on her own, and you’re going to ‘spoil’ her children by adding to her load…”
“…Fuck. Thanks a lot. Now I feel like a right cunt for not thinking about that. What about an elephant or a panda…” All I could do was hope she meant a zoo ‘adoption’. She immediately followed up with, “…Big donations usually earn special perks. Keepers might let the girls pose for pictures and feed treats to something. The aquarium offered to let you swim with Violet…”
“…That’s something to think about. Go to an actual pet store instead of one of those pet themed Wal-Marts. They’ll be more help…” It wasn’t as though I’d be very helpful. The only pets I’d ever kept were functional. Cats, horses, messengers, spies…
“…Rats are clean…”
I countered, “…And skittish. If the girls decide to play/pet/feed it without supervision it could disappear into the furniture and devour wires. Headlines: APARTMENT FIRE KILLS YOUNG MOTHER AND 3 CHILDREN…”
“…Thank you Mary Sunshine. Birds? Something midsized…”
“…Diseases. I’m not sure Sookie would appreciate it if her children were to die of Parrot Fever…”
“…It’s called pneumonia now. Antiquated crank. But point taken. Fish? Hermit crabs?…”
“…Oooooh. Those sound so cuddly. Why not a porcupine/skunk or something exciting like coral? They’re going to want to interact with the animal. Have you asked Sookie for ideas?…”
“…You don’t have to be a prick about it. And yes, I asked. She hasn’t gotten back to me yet…”
“…How long ago did you ask her?…” I couldn’t help but wonder how hard Sookie laughed earlier.
“…The last message she sent was 45 minutes ago. I asked at 11:54…” It wasn’t until then that I realized I’d managed to kill 3 hours, one text at a time. It was probably the least bored I’d ever been at Fangtasia without blood being spilled.
“…Did she mention that she was turning in?…”
“…No. The last message I received was shameless venting. forwarding…” The next text was, “…In a 4 min call, he says he loves me, he wants me back, he misses the girls. AND he insists on seeing the apartment bc I’m too reckless to care what conditions the girls live in bc I grew up white trash (his pack btw), I’m a selfish bitch for leaving town, and I’m too stupid to realize I’m just pissed and I’m burning bridges I’ll regret bc S/L I’ll realize that I’m just as much a liar and a freak as he is. 1-why the fuck would he want a self-centered, cheap, brainless, impulsive, lying, bitchy mutant? 2-was that him trying to woo me into going back? I can’t kill the father of my children and live with myself, but I’m getting an Air-Soft rifle to get some therapy from squirrels. K. Rant over…”
It only took a moment for me to decide to call her.
She didn’t bother with niceties. “Hey, this isn’t a good time. Mind if I call you back in a little bit?”
“Are you alright? You didn’t respond to Pam’s question.”
“Uhhh… yeah. I just… have… company.”
A man growled, “Who is that?”
She snapped, “None of your damn business…” She paused, replacing conversation with a scuffle. “I swear to God, Sam, you’re going to have to hurt me to get this phone from me…”
I left my seat and was at the door before she was done saying her husband’s name, hanging up and dialing Pam to get directions to Sookie’s apartment along the way… On top of my own concerns, Pam was so generous to share her anxiety with me.
Six minutes later I rolled my window down as I pulled into Sookie’s apartment complex… I was still two cul-de-sacs away when I heard him call her a stupid bitch. There was no way Tina and Shelly were sleeping through that.
I parked around the corner, approaching the building from behind and stopping between windows to listen for anything more than yelling…
I was only there for a moment before there was a bump at the window to my left. When I turned, the curtains fluttered slightly before they were yanked aside.
In spite of their tears, Tina and Shelly seemed pleased to see me.
I quickly put my finger to my lips to hush them and pointed to the window’s latch. While they slide the window open, I pushed the screen out of the way and bent over to whisper, “Is your mother alright?”
They nodded and jumped when their father began yelling, “So what, are you fucking him now? How the fuck do you justify being some Vampire’s whore instead of forgiving me for keeping a secret!? Oh… even better! Tell me you’re fucking that mutt! That Alcide! Tell me that’s what you’re doing. I’ll kill that mother fucker!”
Sookie’s voice was quiet, but still agitated. “Seriously? No. I’m not with anyone. I’d rather be alone than lied to. And I don’t suggest you go anywhere near this Alcide. I’ve already called Colonel Flood to let him know that my ex-husband is convinced I’m cheating on him with one of his Weres because he found the number to Herveaux & Son in my phone even though I’d only ever talked to the receptionist there. If anything happens to Alcide, Flood will know where to look and hearing that you were a member of the Hotshot pack is all he needed to hear to pass the word along to the Herveauxs.” Brilliant. There wasn’t any other way to pass along the warning believably and without exposing herself.
“Yeah? Did your boyfriend suggest you do that?”
“Which one, Sam? I’ve got guys falling at my swollen feet right now. It’s hard to keep track of all the guys I’m not sleeping with… I’ve had a busy day. I’m 37 weeks pregnant and my back is shaped like a question mark. I’m exhausted. I’m asking you to leave for the 8th time. Please go.”
I whispered to the girls again, “Does your mother know I’m here?”
They shook their heads and I watched shadows moving in the hallway via the crack under the door.
“Tell her I’m here and ask if she wants me to intervene.”
Tina seemed to concentrate on my ear for a moment before she shook her head again. She breathed, “Mommy says it’ll make Daddy madder.”
I nodded and reached through the window to lift Shelly out and told Tina, “Tell her I’ll bring you back when he’s gone then.”