Pam’s wardrobe was the lazy way out. Sure it had been more than a decade since the last time I used her clothing as my weapon, but this was a spur of the moment prank. It wasn’t going to be nearly as funny as her Vanishing Gouchos.
My new ‘personal assistant’, humorless little ass kisser that he was, found exactly what I was looking for. Of course, Bobby thought I needed a storage facility in the middle of nowhere to store my collection of books thanks to the boxes and empty shelves in my study, but Belanger Move & Store would suit my needs just fine.
It might have been nearly an hour from Shreveport, but the drive would be worth it when I’d get to feel where Pam’s search was taking her.
The lights in the tiny rental office were off when I parked the van next to the only other vehicle in the lot. A Malibu. Windows down. Graduation tassel dangling from the rearview mirror. An annoying teenager singing “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye” as though she was hired to repel the wildlife in the woods surrounding the small business.
I rolled my eyes when she waved as though she knew me and suggested I buy her album…
The door to the empty office chimed, causing a rustling behind the counter. A female huffed, “Dang it, Tara, I know you have a life, but I’m not losing my job to take off 10 minutes early. If you want to wait in the air conditioning, you have to behave.”
I offered, “I’ll do my best.”
The girl appeared, shooting from the floor, gasping with a shocked expression on her face. Tiny frame, golden bronze tone, long blonde ponytail, brilliant blue eyes, innocent little pink tank top… sinfully, deliciously, short, tight denim shorts…
Fuck. I needed to feed.
She flipped the lights on and rambled, “I’m so sorry. My friend came to give me a ride home and she got here early and doesn’t want to wait the whole 10 minutes I have until…”
“Is she singing in the hopes of scaring away customers?”
She snorted, “If you think she’s bad, you should hear me… So, welcome to Belanger Move & Store. I’m Sookie. What can I do for you tonight?”
“I’m interested in renting a block of storage units for a month.”
I nodded. “I’m moving things from 5 storage units in Shreveport.”
She took a form and a pen from the desk behind the counter to begin writing. “Bodies?”
She giggled without looking up. “Sorry. You have no idea how many people joke about it because of that Silence of the Lambs thing. There is a woman who keeps a unit… It’s creepy as all get out. She’s had every cat she’s ever owned stuffed. Her husband saw Pet Sematary and made her move them out of the house. There’s like a hundred… and they watch you.”
“It’s not as though they can do any damage. They’re dead.”
“So are Zombies… I’d have nightmares if I was locked in a storage unit with them too.”
“Fair enough… I suppose you could include Vampires.”
“Eh. Vampires, I can do. They’re usually pretty charming, aren’t they?” Cute.
“When they want to be.”
She nodded. “I’m not in the Vampire danger zone anyway. They usually prefer uppity aristocrats and disposable barmaids… Since I’m 18, just graduated, and blonde, I’m a slasher target…” She knocked on the countertop and continued, “I made it through last summer without running over the Gordon’s Fisherman though… so I’m doing good.”
“Congratulations. Cancel your plans to visit Camp Crystal Lake and you should survive the summer.”
She giggled, “Already did that. And I haven’t showered since my thirteenth birthday. You can’t be too safe… So the rules are: no fertilizers, accelerants, flammables, explosives…”
“Is the entire list redundant?”
She giggled again, “That’s what I said… and yeah, it is. Reader’s digest version: You can’t store anything that can burn or rot…”
I opened my mouth to tell her that nearly anything could burn or rot with a little effort, but she smiled and held her hand up.
“I know. It’s even more stupid when you consider we allow cars and boats without restricting how much fuel can be kept in them. And you can’t live here.”
“Because I could burn or rot, yes?”
She nodded, “Precisely… What are you storing?”
She stared blankly for a moment before asking, “And? You don’t need 5 units just for…?” One would think 5 storage units weren’t necessary.
I nodded. “I do.”
“Actually, they’re all in rolling wardrobes. Each ensemble is grouped together with its accessories and sealed into a bag. The wardrobes each have a record of its contents and a photo album on their sides. They’re color coded as to season. There are more ‘winter wardrobes’ because furs take a lot of space… It’s all very organized.”
She studied me, her eyes locking on mine as though she was trying to glamour me. She tilted her head to the side and asked, “Are you a… like an actor? Is it like a theater thing?” Not a bad guess.
“They all belong to the same person. My sister has an obsession. She returned from another shopping trip and mentioned she needed another storage unit and more wardrobes.”
“You’re going to the trouble of renting storage units as a lesson?”
“No. This is payback. I made fun of her infatuation with clothes, so she had my antique book collection replaced with second-hand paperbacks.” She was lucky I was hiding her clothes instead of having a bonfire.
She gasped, “Did you get them back?”
I chuckled at how serious she was… as though hiding my books was akin to kidnapping an only child. “Not yet.”
Her mouth pinched together as she balled up the form. She took another and began filling it out. “I’m giving you the non-profit rate. If anyone asks, you’re doing a clothes drive for charity. We do the same thing for churches when they do it. $20 per month for the first two months, then the rate goes up to the normal amount.” Not that expense was a factor, but…
I reached into my pocket and laid my credit card on the counter. “I admire your spirit for revenge.”
“It’s not revenge… going after books is just wrong. If it wasn’t so wasteful, I’d suggest you use the paperbacks as kindling for the wardrobes.”
“I thought about it. I’ll get them back. I know where she’s keeping them. As we speak there’s an envelope on its way to her with nothing but charred zippers and buttons from thrift store clothing.”
She laughed as she held her hand out asking for my ID. “That’s hilarious… so, Erik with a K, y’all just screw with each other, huh? Brother/sister boredom?” There hadn’t been much else to do since the 50s.
I was nodding when her friend honked the car horn and shrieked, “JESUS SOOK! COME ON! I’M GONNA BE STUCK WAITING FOR YOU TO EAT AND SHOWER TOO!”
She shook her head and offered, “Sorry about her,” while she lifted a large key ring from the desk. “Let me show you to your units.”
I took the two steps I needed to reach the door and held it open for her, but she stopped just inches from me. Her comment about avoiding showers was a blaringly obvious exaggeration, but her scent… I didn’t care why she paused. Before she could explain, I took what I could of the air around her, trying to place her scent… I couldn’t remember encountering another person who smelled like her. I was certain I wouldn’t have forgotten. She should have smelled like toner, moth balls, cheap paper and cardboard boxes… like the office, but other than smelling like what I wanted for dinner, I was at a loss for making out her sweetness.
I was already dazed when she mumbled, “If you aren’t in a hurry, we can walk instead of taking the golf cart just to annoy Tara.”
I nodded, smiling to cover my curiosity and hoping to stay downwind of her. “I only have one other errand. I have to find a landfill for the paperbacks.”
She motioned to her friend to wait as she led me to the gated entrance for the alley of storage units. “Don’t do that… I’m sure they aren’t as cool as your antiques, but someone would want them.”
“No one I know of.”
“Donate them to a library maybe?”
“I already filled one night drop box. I’m not invested enough to spend the whole night donating them.”
She snickered, “How many books are there?”
“Over a thousand. I think she went to a used book store, pointed to a wall, and made an offer.”
“Fine. I’ll take them.”
“You want over a thousand random books? Kosher cookbooks, car maintenance manuals and pulp romance novels.”
“Sure. I’ll take them home. Me and my Gran can sort out the ones we want to read first and have my brother take the rest to the library in his truck… You’re rid of them and the library’s night drop doesn’t get too crammed. Win/win.”
“How do you propose to get them home?” I had to borrow the van from Pam’s florist.
“You could follow us. I know for a fact I live closer than the closest landfill.” A completed errand with the added bonus of learning her address? Win/win.
“If you’re sure the chore isn’t an imposition.”
“Are you kidding? No problem at all… I love reading, but Gran considers all books sacred… She’ll call your sister a blasphemer or something.”
“Is she religious?”
“Yeah, but not like that… Gran says the bible is full of metaphorical hooey. It’s the tenants she lives by. Calls herself Omni-denominational because all religions have the same traps.”
“Given her generation, it’s remarkable for her to be so open-minded. What does she mean by traps?”
“Basically the Ten Commandments translate to every one of them and there’s loopholes galore… Your grandparents more God-fearing?” Gods-fearing was more fitting.
“You could say that. My grandmother used to take a storm during a full moon as a bad omen…”
She nodded thoughtfully before she asked, “Did she go all out and cover everything in valerian and juniper?” Yes. How the fuck would a girl her age know that if she wasn’t a Witch or an anthropologist?
“And what did you read to learn about warding against evil spirits?” Witches didn’t have a distinct scent, but she could have… fuck. I was grasping at straws.
“I was half joking, that isn’t from reading… that’s being born and raised in the VooDoo State… Where’d you grow up?” I couldn’t decide if she’d answered my question or avoided it.
“Sweden…” Her friend interrupted by honking again. “Is she in a hurry or just bored?”
Sookie shrugged. “Both. There’s a new place in town. We’re just going to hang out and maybe shoot some pool, but since we aren’t 21, we have to be out by midnight.”
“What kind of place?”
“Bar & Grille. Don’t ask me why Mr. Merlotte moved all the way from Texas to open a restaurant in a tiny place like Bon Temps, but he seems nice enough…” She stopped in front of an aluminum door and worked to remove the lock. “Here we are. 36, 38, 40, 42, 44…”
“You were allowed to graduate when you count like that?”
She laughed through her nose and shook her head, eventually moving to the next unit. “I got extra credit for not being pregnant at graduation.”
“That explains it… But doesn’t that mean you failed sex education too?” She must be doing it wrong.
“I skated through. The final was true/false…” She lifted the door of the middle unit while her impertinent friend honked again. “Ten by twelve… We have twelve by fifteens, but they aren’t all together like this. Think it’s enough room?”
“Will you be here tomorrow night when I come back if it isn’t?”
She grunted when she closed the door again and turned to walk back to the front. “Nope. Tomorrow night you’ll see Curtis. I’m off tomorrow. I’m taking Gran out to breakfast and a flea market to celebrate my first full-time paycheck.”
“You aren’t giving me much time to convince you to give me your phone number.”
She giggled, “Need a babysitter?” I didn’t look that much older than her.
“I might need to have you distribute more books.”
“Ohhhhh, good thinking. Hell, you wouldn’t need to work for it with Gran. She’d give it to you in a heartbeat if it meant free reading material.”
“Good. I’ll go that route.”
She laughed and pointed to the van full of books as we turned the corner. “You’ve got the van… why not just bait me into the back with a puppy?”
“Will that work?”
“It would have to be a really cute puppy… See you at the house. Don’t follow too close. Tara loves her brakes.”
As I followed the strobing brake lights of the Malibu through the small town, I was still at a loss…
There was something bizarrely unique to the girl… she was too tempting.
Her ‘farmer’s daughter’ appearance, while pleasing, wasn’t it. I wasn’t a sucker for a pretty face… not after as many as I’d seen.
It was wholly possible that I was simply taken aback by her personality. Her friend… her obnoxious, loud, impatient friend was much closer to the standard for teens. That had been the case for far too long. But Sookie didn’t carry herself like the overgrown child I would have expected… She carried tones of innocence, but was well spoken and outgoing. Her sense of humor wasn’t fitting of a child either. A lot could be said for the fact that she was capable of engaging banter… I had to struggle to pinpoint the last time an adult didn’t bore me within the first 5 minutes of conversation.
And her scent… that fresh, sweet fragrance… puzzling and nearly intoxicating… I might have called it alluring if it weren’t for the annoying Fae related connotation the word carried.
She was attractive. She was charming. She smelled heavenly.
Sookie had my attention.
The gravel driveway wasn’t in perfect repair before I turned the van carrying a cargo hold of books onto it. Every few feet there was a new divot that could potentially trap one of the tires. I was lucky to have made it as far as I did. Under normal circumstances, if I were alone, I would have been able to lift the van out of a rut…
Sookie bounced out of her friend’s car while it was still moving and jogged over to stand on the porch steps.
Her friend honked and waved as she drove by, leaving again and Sookie called, “Just back up to the steps so you don’t have to carry them as far.”
While I was adjusting the van, I heard another female voice… “My stars, Sookie, what’s this!?” The grandmother.
I was still backing up when Sookie explained, “This guy came into the office to rent some units. His sister is a shopaholic and he teased her for it. Sister got him back by hiding his antique book collection and replacing it with paperbacks…”
The woman gasped, “HERETIC!”
Sookie giggled, “I told him you’d do that… anyway, his sister’s payback is that he’s hiding her clothes from her… He was going to throw away the paperbacks, but I figured we could sort through them and…”
The woman finished, “Find proper homes for them… You make me so proud…” I couldn’t help but be amused. Sookie hadn’t been exaggerating. “I thought you were going out with Tara. I heard her honk.”
I put the van in park and slid out as Sookie huffed, “I still am. Erik got to Belanger’s just before closing. She’s been chomping at the bit to get to Merlotte’s for a while. She’s afraid she’ll miss Paul and she’ll have to go a whole week without having her existence validated by accidental eye contact. I’m going to call Tara’s cell when I’m ready to go.”
“Sookie, you’re being sanctimonious. It’s perfectly normal for girls your age to be boy-crazy.” I had to wonder why Sookie was so cynical… and what was abnormal about her that she didn’t fall in line with the standard.
Sookie snorted, “So… Gran this is Erik Nordmann. Erik, my Gran, Adele Stackhouse… I was wrong. Your sister is a ‘heretic’, not a blasphemer.”
The old woman swatted Sookie’s ass and shook her head. “You think you know everything, don’t you…” She stepped from the porch with her hand out to shake mine. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Nordmann… Come on in. Any friend of books is a friend of mine… What kind of books do you collect?”
That invitation was easy to get. As I followed the women into the house, I was led to the kitchen. The house was in need of a handful of repairs and there weren’t any matching pieces of furniture, but it was immaculately kept. “Most of my collection consists of first edition novels. Pam crossed the line and took my Guttenberg Bible, replacing it with a pocket edition of the New Testament.”
Adele Stackhouse stopped so suddenly, Sookie bumped into her. I wasn’t as surprised that an ‘avid reader’ knew what a Guttenberg Bible was… I was surprised Sookie, a teenager barely out of high school, was giving me an impressed look rather than needing an explanation about the significance.
The old woman seemed frozen with her back to me while Sookie opened the microwave and shouted, “Chinese food!? Bonus!” As soon as the scent of cabbage reached me, I decided to be grateful her scent wouldn’t be as much of a temptation. She took the containers to the counter and pointed to the table. “Erik, you might want to take a load off. Gran’s still locked up. It could be a while.”
I chuckled and moved around the statue to sit facing her. “I don’t suppose I should mention my First Folio is missing as well.”
That broke the woman’s trance enough for her to shout, “NO!” as though she was trying to keep a child from licking a light socket.
I nodded. “She won’t harm the books. She knows better. In fact, she’s hidden them at one of my houses, so technically, they’re still in my possession…”
Sookie added, “Gran, it’s just brother/sister nonsense. He said they mess around like that all the time… Erik, are you hungry? There’s plenty. Except eggrolls. Not sharing those.” Wonderful. She was going to completely ruin her scent with fried cabbage. She’d smell like a Beijing ghetto. I changed my mind about being relieved of temptation as she took a large bite of eggroll.
“No thank you… Is there a spare room I should take your books to? I’m not sure either of you can move them if they’re in the way.”
Sookie nibbled her food, waiting for her grandmother to say something. She tilted her head and leaned to put herself in the woman’s line of sight and giggled, “Gran? Gran, Erik wants to know where to put the books… Sewing room? Gran?”
“She took a Guttenberg Bible and a First Folio!?”
I laughed, “What is your favorite book?”
Adele Stackhouse blurted, “Vanity Fair,” as Sookie hummed, “Count Of Monte Cristo,” past a mouthful. Neither of them had to think about their answers.
Remarkably, neither book had a fairy tale ending. Both were on my own list of favorites.
“Those were taken as well…” I stood to go back to the van. “I should get started. Sookie, if you like, I can take you to meet Tara when I’m done.”
She laughed, “Awesome!” and practically shoveled noodles into her mouth from the carton until her mouth was full. She grabbed two eggrolls and kissed her grandmother’s cheek on her way out of the kitchen. “I’ll show you where you’re taking them… Gran’s probably planning to quit her job so she can stand guard over your books for you.”
I followed her through the house to a dark bedroom with a sewing machine and a wardrobe, not much else. “Does she have any combat training?”
Sookie giggled as she turned the light on. “She’s handy with a rolling pin, that one. Watch out…” She turned to jog back towards the front of the house calling back, “It won’t take me long to get ready. I’m low maintenance.”
I was carrying the 14th box into the sewing room when Sookie emerged from the hall bathroom in a haze of steam. Another scant tank top, a denim skirt that managed to be shorter than her enticing little shorts from earlier and a pair of tall sandals…
That skirt alone… knowing she was planning to be bent over a pool table… fuck.
Imagination is a cruel cunt.
She smiled and shook her head. “Gran’s still locked up, huh?”
“She washed your dishes, but she hasn’t left the kitchen.”
“It’s all your fault, you know… Did you have to mention you own the Holy Grail of books?”
“I didn’t realize it would cause a stroke.”
She giggled, “Now you know. She’d kill to get a look at it… You almost done? Leaving her alone with the boxes might bring her back to the land of the living.”
“Only two boxes left…” She followed me to the front door, grabbing a small purse along the way. She leaned into the kitchen and said, “Gran, Erik’s just about done filling your sewing room with brain candy. Are you going to sort while I’m out?”
The woman actually answered, “Until I find something to read.”
Sookie giggled, “Don’t do too much. We need to be up early and I wanna play too.”
“Alright baby, have fun.”
“Gran, is eye contact too much to ask?” Nothing was said for a moment before Sookie cackled, “I guess so! I’ll see you when I get home. Love you.”
Sookie giggled as she pulled the seatbelt over her lap. “She’s so silly… tell me it’s incomplete so she doesn’t…”
“She’s going to grill me about it when I get home. How did you find it?” It was offered in exchange for services rendered.
“It’s belonged to a Nordmann for centuries.”
She pointed to the right when we reached the end of the driveway. “The First Folio too?” I bought it directly from the publisher… in 1623.
I nodded. “You seem to know a lot about books.”
“Told you I love to read… Thanks for giving me a lift.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“What are you going to do now that you made my Gran retarded? You didn’t get my number.”
I chuckled, “Adele Stackhouse. 200 Hummingbird Lane. Bon Temps, Louisiana.”
She stomped and tossed her head against the seat. “Nuts! No puppy for Sookie.” For the first time in years I was tempted to keep a pet… Her company was entertaining to say the least…
“You’re already in the van. Why would I need bait?”
“You jerk! You’re throwing me off!” She wasn’t the only one. “So which ‘van-guy’ are you? Are you the guy that leaves a messy body on the side of the road after a thrill kill or are you going to stalk me for a while?”
“I’m a stalker… I enjoy a chase.” As far as she’d know, she’d have a night owl ‘boyfriend’… all I’d have to do is glamour her to forget feedings.
She nodded thoughtfully and offered, “Good looking, older guy with a sense of humor beyond potty jokes finds a pretty, naive blonde… Pretty blonde doesn’t realize what she’s getting into because she’s flattered by the attention. Everyone ends up a bloody mess… Yup. I deserve it.” If she only knew…
“I think Pretty Blonde’s only viable option is to accept Van-Guy’s attention.”
“You’re probably right. He could get bored and move on if he isn’t jilted. She can enjoy his company until he gets bored rather than rejecting him and facing his berserker rampage.” I was going to have to try to remember the standard for ‘dating’. Remember. As though I’d ever… Pam rambled about keeping her pets, but I ignored her and I certainly wouldn’t ask her… There would be no end to the jokes about Sookie’s age. My only justification for that was she didn’t seem like a ‘silly little girl’.
“Pretty Blonde isn’t as naïve as she thinks.”
Sookie giggled, “I have my moments… Turn left… So are you going to follow me into Merlotte’s and hang out? You didn’t eat anything earlier. You could use starvation as your excuse to go in and stalk me.” It wouldn’t be a lie.
“Perhaps. It might be telling if I don’t order anything.”
“You’ll have to order an obligatory basket of chicken fingers just for appearance’s sake. Even if you don’t eat it, you need it as a prop… Right here.” The parking lot for the dump was packed, making it obvious it was the only option for a Friday night in Bon Temps.
I nodded. “Thanks for the tip.”
She unbuckled her seatbelt as I pulled into a parking space at the far end of the lot. “Anytime… Brace yourself. This place is pretty much the afterhours club for the high school cafeteria now that school’s out.” Thankfully, she opened her door and slid out rather than catching me bracing myself.
Droves of teenagers. What the fuck was I thinking? I should have fed, glamoured, and left.
Sookie waited for me behind the van, eyes closed, taking deep breaths as though she was the one who needed to be prepared for the noise and chaos of a crowded bar.
She mumbled, “I don’t know how Tara talked me into coming again.”
“Did you not have fun the last time?”
She shook her head before she opened her eyes. “I got a headache the last time… truth be told, you’ve been a great stall tactic.” Social anxiety? I wouldn’t have guessed. I would have pegged her as a social butterfly like Pam given how pleasant her company had been. Large groups, perhaps?
“You’re using me?”
She giggled, “Just this once. I’m usually a homebody.” Hence the books. The beautiful bookworm? Stepping close enough to offer my hand, I could smell her again. She’d eaten 3 eggrolls stuffed with cabbage that I saw and she still smelled as sweet as she did before. Impossibly hypnotic.
She looked at my hand and cringed so I joked, “You aren’t rejecting me, are you?”
Her cringe deepened as she took another deep breath…
When her hand touched mine, she gasped and I prepared the stock explanation for my cold hand. Generic thyroid disorder.
But she didn’t ask.
She didn’t mention it even though there was an obvious contrast between our body temperatures.
She looked up without saying anything.
“Is something wrong?”
She tilted her head to the side slightly, letting a grin creep to her lips slowly, concentrating on my eyes. “No… No, everything’s… amazing.”