As soon as Sookie and I walked into the bowling alley again, Jules charged in my direction.
Pam actually abandoned her attempt to kill Brandon with a look (he was tying her bowling shoes for her) to watch me lift my little friend.
There was no mistaking that demand.
“Has my business interrupted your fun?”
“Ya. Shools fun. Ride.”
“Now that Pam’s here, you can have more fun.”
“Pam? Sisser ride?”
I nodded and set her down. “Go, explain handicapping to her.”
She shouted, “Kay!” as she ran towards Pam. She was clearly on a mission…
Jules stopped at her diaper bag long enough to fish out her candy bar, toddle over to Pam, toss her candy onto the bench, and proceed to hoist herself up…
Pam leaned away slightly as though Jules were made of silver.
Jules held out the chocolate and demanded, “Ope et…” When Brandon cleared his throat, she finished, “Pweez.”
Pam opened the wrapper and handed it back only to have Jules turn around and plop down on her lap. The baby might as well have been a pit viper.
Jules happily took a bite of her Milky Way bar and glanced at Brandon before starting, “Bowden’ hebby. Gudder. Lyyk shocker. Ball not hebby. Awick sheets. Uh eeben. Candyhaps. Shools ride. Shools ride Awick. Shools ride daddy. Eeben now. Durls an duys. Siss pins. Sisser candyhaps. Shools ride sisser. Shools bowden’.”
I was actually proud of myself for understanding every fucking bit of what she said… but I was more impressed with the fact that Jules remembered the details so well. The durls had only lost by siss pins thanks to the creative candyhapping.
Pam stared blankly while the little girl nibbled her candy bar.
I translated, “Jules was frustrated by how heavy and slow bowling balls are. She was bored until the women accused us of cheating and demanded we were handicapped. Since then, Jules has been added to our arms to offset the difference. You’ll be handicapped too.”
Linda argued, “Oh hell no!”
I raised my eyebrow and watched her storm over to stand toe to toe with me.
I volleyed, “We were already outnumbered. Five females against three males… You’ve now added a sixth teammate. Pam and I will accept handicapping… if you bowl over 200 without trying again, I’m calling Jack to come even the teams.”
Jules giggled, “Awick Inda fight. Funny.”
Linda bit her lip to keep from smiling at the baby, but it didn’t help as much as she wanted it to.
I didn’t bother trying to hide my amusement. I’d already won the argument. “That’s horrible of you, Linda. Poor Jack… His feelings would be crushed if he knew you were so adamant to avoid his company tonight.”
She gasped and shoved my shoulders while I laughed at her. “YOU! You called him a monster!”
“And he called me ‘the bestest boyfriend ever’. I consider us even.”
She growled and stomped her foot. “Fine, you win this time.”
Of course I did.
I turned to address Jules and that was when I had to control how amused I was.
Jules had smeared chocolate on Pam’s face… she was holding the bar so tightly chocolate was oozing between her fingers.
“Jules, are you ready to show Pam how to bowl?”
She nodded and put a chocolaty hand in the middle of Pam’s chest to help herself stand.
“Sisser no shockit.”
I shook my head. “No. Pam’s afraid of being fat like her mother.”
I took my ball from the return and by the time I was holding it out so Jules could wrap herself around my arm, Pam’s white pants looked like there had been a diaper mishap.
“That’s fine. She can wash it.” And wash it and wash it and wash it… The linen would be gone before the stains.
I shrugged, not caring about the T-shirt and jeans I was wearing, especially since I brought a change of clothes.
Linda offered, “Don’t worry about that, cuteness… Erik grew up on a farm. He’s had worse on him than chocolate.”
It was probably better to let everyone believe one had something to do with the other.
No sooner than Jules was candy-coating my arm, Adele was licking a napkin and trying to clean the chocolate from Pam’s face.
And I thought we wouldn’t be able to fuck with her.
I swung my passenger back and forth to entertain her while I stalled to add to Pam’s misery.
“Do you know who everyone is or were you preoccupied while you were being introduced?”
I was sure she had a grasp of everyone’s names, but the family tree probably hadn’t been fully absorbed.
She shook her head as much as she could considering the grip Adele had on her chin.
I used the arm with Jules on it to point to each person. “Adele is Sookie’s grandmother. Linda is Sookie’s Aunt. Hadley is Linda’s daughter, Sookie’s cousin… Then we have Jason, Sookie’s brother. Brandon, Sookie’s half-brother. And Julie is Brandon’s mother. The Stackhouses only learned about Brandon last night, just in time for them to celebrate Sookie’s birthday with her.”
Pam raised an eyebrow and asked, “And the midget?”
“Jules is Brandon’s daughter…”
Hadley giggled, “And Awick’s her bitch.”
I might have been able to deny that if I wasn’t serving as playground equipment.
Pam almost smiled when I let Hadley’s remark slide. “And who is this ringer you mentioned? Jack, was it?”
I swung my arm around to point at Linda. “Linda’s boyfriend. We have friends in common actually. Jack is a good friend of Nestor.” Hearing the Packmaster’s name made her eyes bulge.
Brandon chuckled, “Small world. I’ve seen him a few times. He comes to the shop to see Mr. Furnan all the time. Nestor, not Jack.”
That took Pam’s attention away from stained linen.
“Oh really? Any insight as to who Nestor might be choosing as his successor?”
He grinned devilishly. “Maybe. What’s it worth to ya?”
She shook her head. “I’m just curious. My money’s on the more recently named… assistant. Nestor’s retirement rumors were already spreading so when this new guy came onto the scene, people started talking about why he’d appoint new… assistants on his way out.”
‘People’. People like the Long Tooth bitches who owned the pet store next to Pam’s florist. The walls were so thin, I think a Human could smell the cedar bedding over the flowers. She showed me the space for the florist she had to open a week after she bought the world’s most hideous cat from them. Pam was oblivious to how transparent her need for gossip was.
Brandon stared at Pam, making her wait, letting her curiosity fester until I felt anxious to hear about Were politics.
He finally offered, “They knew each other back in the day. Served together. Flood just took a command at Barksdale. From what I can tell, it was because Nestor told him he wanted him to take over.”
Pam shouted, “I KNEW IT!”
I rolled my eyes and finally approached the lane. “Brandon, now that you’ve proven you can feed her eavesdropping addiction in a whole new way, Pam is your bitch.”
Initially, I had a moment before we joined the Stackhouses again to think that I might have a difficult time ignoring what my plans for later would entail so I wouldn’t ruin Sookie’s birthday…
As it turned out, all of the plans made to fuck with Pam were a play on Pam’s redneck jokes…
None of the plans had anything to do with Pam being a Vampire…
And Pam still didn’t know they were Faeries.
Every single facet was still carried out…
Adele ‘dozed off’ in the middle of explaining the flood that killed her son… At one point, she volunteered to change Jules’s diaper because her own needed attention.
Hadley and Sookie shared my lap from time to time and asked for help with their bowling techniques…
Jules smeared more chocolate on Pam’s ensemble than she consumed…
And Brandon and Jason leered at her until it made her fidget.
Every time she turned around, one of them was standing too close, breathing beer and belching their dinner in her direction.
While Adele was in the bathroom, Jason and Brandon pretended that they didn’t know how good a Vampire’s hearing is… They placed a bet over which one of them could fuck Pam first. The bet was a 6-pack of Pabst.
No, I wasn’t faking anything… and every time Pam noticed how much fun I was having, I was given the added bonus of feeling how much she wanted to kill me.
After the party died down everyone walked to the parking lot together and fanned out to their own cars.
Sookie and Pam followed me to mine.
Pam had her mouth open when I turned around, but Sookie spoke first.
“Gran’s clueless about what’s going on, but she’s going home to pray to every God she can think of that everything’s going to go well later… and hope one of them is listening.”
I nodded. “I expected nothing less… And Brandon is going to the Ingram residence to offer his services.”
“Yeah… The rest of us are going to Jason’s place to tidy up while we wait. Nervous energy and all that.”
“Open the windows. Shawn will be fed because I’ll stop at the hospital for bagged blood, but Linda’s scent is a bit much in confined spaces. With four of you there…”
She nodded. “Say no more. Consider it done. Is there anything else you need?”
I would have loved an explanation for why she was so upbeat in spite of the possibility of witnessing an execution.
“No. I don’t think there is. We’ll be there before Patty arrives and if anything doesn’t go well, your brother will need new carpeting.”
She frowned slightly. “Got it… Ummm… Just so you know, Julie’s been thinking about things. She’s hoping she doesn’t have to say anything, but since she’s known Patty for a while, she’s kinda prepared a speech. Like a pep talk. I don’t want y’all to be offended because she has the best intentions…”
I shook my head. “We don’t offend easily… What does she have in mind?”
Sookie cringed and sighed, “That if she can get used to having a husband in a wheelchair…”
Pam snarled, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Sookie shook her head defensively. “Not like y’all are handicapped… The adjustments. Tom was always really active so when he had his stroke, they all had a lot of adjustments to make. She’s thinking in terms of scheduling and diet. That’s the gist of what Patty and Shawn are going to be dealing with.”
Instead of arguing with her, Pam raised an eyebrow in my direction and forced her irritation to me…
“You’re bothered by that? A Human just discovered that Vampires exist because a friend was brought over. You’re annoyed by how she’s processing the reality instead of impressed she isn’t calling the news or sharpening stakes?”
“Vampirism is NOT a handicap…”
Sookie snorted, “Says the Vampire who’s had a few centuries to get used to the idea. Yeah, you’re going to be beautiful forever, but you can’t tell me the differences weren’t a shock to your system. At least some of them… And I’m happy that you’re 7-flavors of proud to be a Vampire, but since the only thing he’s ever gotten any pride from is the family that he’s terrified of being rejected by, it’s a handicap to him.”
“Are you telling me your family is insane enough to feel sorry for Vampires?”
Sookie scoffed, “No. We feel sorry for his situation… We also cry when deployments and homecomings are on the news. We do just fine until those bastard cameramen pan the crowd of pregnant wives and children.”
While Pam growled at Sookie’s perspective, Sookie opted to stretch up to kiss my cheek and turn to leave.
Pam watched Sookie hoist herself into Jason’s truck… She was less than patient as each family member’s car left the parking lot…
As soon as they were gone, Pam detonated. “What the fuck is going on here!”
“That didn’t sound like an actual question. Do you care to narrow that down to specifics?”
“When the fuck did you decide to care about the Revelation enough to go to THIS extreme!?”
“Pursuing an adorable little pseudo-Supernatural Stepford pet!”
So difficult to not laugh…
“You think I have an arrangement with her to perform as my wife as PR strategy, yes?”
She nodded. “Yeah. How much is this production costing you!?”
“What would you say if I told you I genuinely enjoy Sookie’s company, that I find her family charming and entertaining, not to mention hospitable, and that our engagement is a farce, but one they’re all part of?”
When Pam gasped and stepped back, I finally let myself laugh at her.
“Technically, we’re dating. The attention we’ve been getting in the press wasn’t planned… but since Vampires think I’m brilliantly lining things up for the announcement to make Vampires seem ‘average’, and Humans have focused on my ‘love life’ instead of speculating about why I’m so reclusive, there doesn’t seem to be a downside to this situation yet.”
“You’re doing a damn good job of accidentally looking like you’re making a PR move. Do you realize that you’re buying a house next door to the Mayor?”
I nodded. “I didn’t when I scheduled the walk-through, but Sookie described the neighbors while we waited. The neighbor across the street is a deputy. He’s friendly and simple…”
“Just how you like your law enforcement… so is that where you’ll stage the wedding?”
“Of course not… We’re going to continue leaving a false trail to toy with the reporter who’s following us, but we’ll elope. We discussed it last night.”
That would be the only way to avoid alienating her friends and my associates. Otherwise we’d have to either stage our breakup or a large, grandiose ceremony.
She blinked a few times before shaking her head. “The announcement is still years away! What happens when you get bored with her? She’s going to talk!”
“I don’t see myself becoming bored with her… but they’ll keep our secret because we’ll keep theirs.”
She nodded. “Right. Of Course. What was I thinking? Of course she’d be considerate of information that could result in Vampires being hunted down like dogs… Because if, God forbid, someone found out about her ability she’d never escape the fate of reading minds for the Fortune 500, right.”
“Pamela, not only are you wrong, but you have no talent for sarcasm.”
“What am I wrong about?”
“I wasn’t talking about her ability… I meant her lineage. We won’t discuss that now though…”
When I turned to walk towards my car, she caught my arm. “You actually like these people?”
I nodded. “You most likely will too once they stop making you pay for redneck jokes.”
“You told them!?”
I shrugged. “You asked for it. What have I told you about leaving evidence?”
“Can we leave now? I want to get this over with.”
She huffed, “Because you want to get back to playtime… Fine. What am I doing?”
“I’ll go to the hospital for blood since you look like a…”
She growled, “Don’t say it.”
“And you’ll go to Leland’s home. Have him spread out a tarp. Proofread Shawn’s suicide note… Try to talk him out of being ended… Put on the show.”
“And then you’ll end Leland when he’s expecting you to end his child, and you’ll return to your little…”
I warned, “Don’t say it.”
“You want her to see you covered in blood?”
“Of course not. I thought to bring a change of clothes with me.”
Going to the hospital for blood had been an easier errand than buying Jules’s candy bar had been. I had to ask the cashier at the gas station what the messiest of the options were and since there were other customers I couldn’t glamour her to shut up about her troglodyte son shoving M&Ms up his nose…
The hematology suite at the hospital was pleasantly simple. One intern in a lab coat in an otherwise deserted wing… He practically gift wrapped several bags of A-positive in a small cooler for me.
Take out had been so easy for the past few decades…
When I arrived at Leland’s house, I was even more annoyed at the oblivious prick. Shawn’s car (I assumed it was Shawn’s Grand Cherokee because of the Webster Parrish Pee-Wee Soccer League license plate frame) was sitting in the driveway.
As frantic as Patty was about her husband’s disappearance, it was only a matter of time before the car was noticed and Shawn was recognized. It was an invitation to disaster.
Leland had the decency to put on the appearance he was bothered by the prospect of his child being ended.
“Let me get my keys so I can…”
That was funny.
“You aren’t going anywhere. You’ll be lucky if all I do to you is put you in a box for a few days. You’ll be standing as close to him as possible so you feel the full brunt of his death.”
He swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. “Yes Sheriff,” and stepped out of my way, knowing I would have shoved him if he didn’t move on his own.
His eyes never left the stake in my hand as I walked past him.
I found Pam and Shawn in the den. Pam was sitting on the side of the desk while Shawn typed…
I growled, “Shawn, did you have life insurance?”
He nodded. “Through work there was a quarter million… Patty and I have a million dollar umbrella policy with double indemnity.”
I nodded. “Leland, call your bank and wire four million into my account…”
“Because suicides don’t benefit from life insurance. I’ll have the added chore of establishing a trust for the children you orphaned. If you question me again, I’ll double it.”
“I’m not sure I can just…”
That made things simple… I went to the kitchen with Leland on my heels and called Clariden Leu… Seeing that I knew the number made every bit of him tense…
Hearing me explain to the operator that an associate wanted to transfer money from his account to my account made him look ill…
And when I handed the receiver over and told him, “Eight for stalling,” he looked like he was going to cry.
Not that it mattered when I was only fining him so I could hear his account information… It would make his estate easier to settle.
When he was finished, I left Leland leaning against his counter and returned to the den.
Pam was smirking and tucking a sheet of paper into her bra when she winked at me. I knew I could count on her to listen.
“Shawn, did you write your farewell address?”
He cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah… yes sir… I gave it to Pam, but you don’t know Patty. She won’t buy it. I wouldn’t… not normally…”
“She doesn’t have to buy it. The police do… You heard what Jason said. The only thing he’d care about is that his father is alive. Are you sure you don’t want more time to decide? I can order Leland to take you out of my Area. Perhaps being further…”
He shook his head. “All due respect, Sheriff, these past couple of weeks have been hell. I can’t do it. I can’t… No. Thank you. For doing this… and doing the trust.”
“Where are we doing this?”
Shawn nodded towards the kitchen again and led the way to the garage where there was a large, blue tarp waiting.
There wasn’t a moment of hesitation before Shawn walked to the center of it and knelt.
So, of course, Shawn’s acting ability wasn’t the problem.
“Wait! I’ll report you to the Queen.”
Pam laughed, “For what!?”
“For interfering in my relationship with my child.”
I snorted, “I’ll wait for you to call her, but that might not be in your best interest since she’d order you to be put down as well.”
“I’m not sure why, but she has a soft spot for despondent children. She questioned Pam before I was given my Area. As I said, I’ll wait if you want to roll those dice.”
Pam shook her head and offered, “Look, you’re digging your own shallow grave. You fucked up. You fucked up big… You’ll get your turn, but for now, your Sheriff is carrying out the wishes of a Vampire in his Area. Get over it.”
I nodded. “Well said… Are you done stalling before your fine drains your account completely?”
He growled and began walking towards Shawn…
I only let him take three steps before I shoved the stake into his chest… taking him by surprise before he had the chance to suspect anything or brace himself…
As Leland’s body disintegrated, oozing to the floor, Shawn toppled over writhing and wailing…
Once Shawn calmed down, Pam left to get the cooler from my trunk.
I explained, “It’ll pass after a few minutes. It’s hardest on newborns because of how much of your Maker’s blood you were given to bring you over.”
As he flopped to his back and groaned, “You could have warned me.” It never helped. I’d seen some warned and they weren’t ever prepared.
“Does it help to know Leland would have felt this if you’d been granted your initial request?”
He grunted, “Oh yeah, it does,” as he pushed himself up and leaned against the wall. “How does… What’s next?”
“As a newborn Vampire without a Maker or tonight?”
“Ummm… Both… both, I guess.”
“You’re Mine. If you fuck up in any way, shape, fashion or form, I’ll put you in a box until you whither to nothing.”
“What’s that? The box thing?”
“Lined with silver wire, drilled with tiny holes, and placed in the middle of nowhere. During the day the sun will burn and cauterize tiny pinholes into your body. At night you’ll heal, only for dawn to start the process over again. We’ve had a couple of prisoners last as long as a month… DO NOT make me regret this little experiment…”
He shook his head. “I won’t… I know better than to bite the hand that feeds me…”
Pam returned and held up the cooler. “Funny you should put it that way. Here’s your Happy Meal.”
He took the cooler as though he was handling Pandora’s Box. “What’s this?”
He opened the cooler and stared at the bags inside with a scowl on his face. “That son of bitch… He told me this wasn’t possible. I asked… I saw a sign for a donor drive. He said…”
“I can’t be sure about his actual reason, but you do need to learn to feed without killing your donor…”
He scoffed, “Or he just wanted me to get used to men.” Or that. Most likely that.
“Because you’re so young, you need to drink as much as possible. I’m concerned that seeing your wife again might trigger the more typical feeding impulses of a newborn.”
“I told you. I wouldn’t hurt her.”
“Not intentionally. They call it bloodlust for a reason… It’s a variable I’d like to avoid if at all possible. We can arrange for frequent deliveries of bagged blood for you. The Red Cross lab screens blood for impurities and destroys tainted donations. We have a nurse on the payroll who misappropriates several pints of A and O. I’ll have your needs added to the order if you make it through the night…”
Part of me was just impressed his fangs hadn’t sprung as soon as he saw the bags.
“As for your financial situation… You’ll be more than comfortable. The so-called trust for your children was but a dent in his Swiss account. What he wired to my account will tide you over until I can settle the rest of his estate. His Maker will claim half of what’s left. You’ll be given the remainder.”
“How will you do that?”
“Because a condition of residing in my Area is that Vampires have to claim their holdings and accounts and file a will, of which I’m named executor.”
“They do that? Wouldn’t that mean you can kill them and take their shit?” Bold question.
“Yes. It’s not as though I need the money. I didn’t sign on as Sheriff because I needed the income… Did Leland mention why he didn’t leave my Area when he turned you?”
Shawn snorted, “Yeah… he said he just settled in. He liked it here.”
“Brilliant… Assuming you don’t try to drain your wife and she accepts your new state, you’ll need to move. You’ll stay in my Area, but I won’t allow you to reside with your family again until you’ve proven you aren’t a risk to them…”
Pam added, “It’s not just you. He didn’t leave me alone unless I’d just fed for the first few years.”
I continued, “Even once you’ve proven you’ve learned to control the famine, you can’t return to your old life. I’ve just bought a house in Bon Temps. I prefer the idea of you being as close to me as possible. I’m sure your wife will be able to find a house…” Fostering a young Vampire would offer the perfect excuse to stay in Bon Temps whenever possible.
He snorted, “Our dream house is there actually.”
“It’s mine now. Sookie overheard your wife thinking about it while we did the walk-through. You need to keep a lower profile than living in the most expensive house in town regardless. You need to rent somewhere modest, just as somewhere to die and store your clothing…”
“Visiting my kids though… I want somewhere they’ll be comfortable.”
“If things go well, it will only be temporary. As Jason said, you’ll have to go through the motions of divorce for a while. The long days of summer will be your bane, but in the fall you’ll be able to spend several hours every night with them. You can focus on moving in with your family later…”
Pam added, “Right now, you need to focus on proving to Erik that you aren’t going to drain them. Your Sheriff does NOT like to be proven wrong.”
He gave a very disenchanted nod and sighed, “How bad did Sookie take it?”
“Once the initial shock wore off, once she realized I’m not delusional, she took the news quite well. We’d spent several nights trying to figure out what one another are… You don’t have that going for you. Your wife is Human and she ‘knows’ Vampires only exist as monsters.”
“What is she?”
“She’s a Natural Witch… Her grandfather practiced secretly so none of them have ever as much as dabbled. That will change soon though.”
Pam raised an eyebrow. “Thinking about calling Price about lessons?”
I nodded. “If nothing else, they all need to know how to cast a ward now that their names are so public. I was planning to call him about warding my new house regardless… Just so you know, Shawn, Julie is your booster. She wants to help Patty try to come to terms with your situation. According to Sookie, in Julie’s mind the adjustments are akin to when Tom was incapacitated. As offended as Pam is…”
He shook his head to interrupt. “No… That… it’s probably better that she thinks of me as handicapped… instead of a monster. Hell, I think about it like a handicap too.”
I nodded to agree with him and started to leave. “Now that we’ve discussed the bones of your new situation, I’m going to shower. I have Leland and chocolate all over me… Pam will show you how to warm your meal.”
When I arrived at Jason’s house, I couldn’t help but wonder if there had been as many cars on the lawn when he’d had his party.
I held my hand up to signal Pam to wait in her car with Shawn to give me a moment alone with the family…
Every window in the house was open as instructed, but the voices were coming from the back yard…
I found everyone relaxing against the railing of the small deck with anxious expressions on their faces.
Without preamble, Sookie urged, “Well? How’d it go?”
“I ended Leland without incident. He’d lied to Shawn about bagged blood being a feeding option… It seems that Shawn is more accepting of his status as my foster than he was as Leland’s child. Pam and Shawn are waiting in her car until I can explain something…”
I motioned for Linda and waited for her to approach me.
I leaned over as though I was going to whisper or sample her scent, but I surprised her by scooping her up and taking her from the deck.
She squealed, not unlike Jules had, and wrapped her arms around my neck as I flew over the pond with her and stopped above the trees on the other side.
She laughed, “Warn somebody first!” and shifted to evaluate the ground fifty feet below us. “What’s up? Are you just showing off?”
I shook my head. “This serves several purposes. The most important of which is that I’m covering a lie. I told Shawn that you’re all Natural Witches but you didn’t know because your father practiced in secret. If anyone asks, that’s to be your story.”
“Ummm, wouldn’t Witches… It’s still funny to think all this stuff is real… wouldn’t Witches know better?”
“Most Witches are just practicing Humans. A Natural Witch may very well be able to sense something different about you. We’ll find out soon enough. I plan to contact an associate of mine to have him teach you all a few things. Basics really, but if you learn how to cast a protection ward on your home, the smell of magic will mask your scent somewhat. That will help in regards to Vampires taking too much notice of your family. My relationship with Sookie is publicized enough that I need a safe way to categorize your heritage to put my thralls at ease about Human discovery and it will keep your relationship to Niall safe. Write a note to communicate the ruse to everyone else so Shawn can’t overhear you.”
“Damn. Aren’t you the smarty of the party… Well done. What else are we doing up here? Testing me for vertigo?”
“Your scent is strongest. I’m adding mine to yours so the newborn Vampire doesn’t develop an interest.”
She kissed my cheek and snickered, “Thanks for the heart attack then.”
“Anytime…” I nodded towards the audience on the deck. “Wave.”
“I’m sooooo not letting go of you.”
“I’m not going to drop you. Wave.”
She cautiously took one arm away from my neck and waved just long enough to pacify me. “There. Happy?”
“No. I’m curious. Can you explain why your nephew is smiling like a Special Olympian?”
She laughed and looked back towards the deck to realize Sookie was the closest person to Jason and she was the only other one smiling. Julie and Hadley were gaping from the other side of the deck.
Linda nodded astutely. “Momma’s theory is holding more water all the time.”
“Your mother’s theory?”
“Yeah. I guess she got to you too, huh?”
“No. I only began noticing certain behaviors once Sookie and Hadley said something separately. What are Adele’s thoughts?”
“Alright… don’t take offense, but guys are more likely to be okay with a one-night-stand, right? Girls want to be treated like the center of their guys’ universes… while guys are prone to be in the market for sex and company.”
I shrugged. “I’ve never paid attention. I’ll take your word for it.”
She nodded. “Hadley’s promiscuous behavior can be explained by her ability. I don’t think that girl’s ever cried over a breakup…”
“Because the partner in question wanted their arrangement or relationship to end, so she did as well, yes?”
“It makes sense… even to her now that she knows what was going on.”
“Alright. How are we connecting this to Jason?”
“Ask Sookie. She’ll tell you… There isn’t a single girl Jason’s ever dated that doesn’t think he’s God’s gift. He’s got a stockpile of a dozen girls he rolls through depending on the mood he’s in. They all jump at the chance to be his flavor of the week. While he’s into them, he’s the perfect boyfriend. When he loses interest, they do too. No whining or conniptions. Same thing when he really wants to hang out with his guy friends… He’s been in so many fights we’ve lost count, but he’s easy to calm down with the right influence. He was raised hearing me and Momma telling him to never disrespect women…”
“While Hadley was raised to never let herself feel pressured, to only do what she was comfortable with, yes?”
She winced, “Yeah. Exactly.”
“Do we want to discuss the probability of all of you being wrong?”
“No point. I’m infallible… Is there anything else?”
As I began taking us back to the house, I offered, “If you want to have some fun, call Jack when you get home and tell him you reek of Vampire.”
“Why? What will he do?”
“Peg his speedometer driving to your house to replace my scent with his.”
She gasped and her cheeks began glowing. She covered her face as I set her on the deck and Hadley laughed, “What did you say?”
Before I could open my mouth to answer, Sookie covered her face and growled, “You don’t want to know!”
Linda elbowed me and charged into the house demanding to know where there was something to write with… ignoring her embarrassment by being task-driven…
I shrugged. “When you call someone with the specific purpose of fucking them… I can’t remember the term Pam used.”
Hadley and Jason laughed, “Booty call,” just before a football was thrown through the open door to hit my chest.
I cleared my throat instead of laughing. “That’s it. I simply suggested she make a booty call.”
Linda shrieked, “Do something to shut him up!”
Sookie reached up to cover my mouth, because that would work.
I shouted into her hand, “I was only joking, but now you’re so uptight the only thing that could possibly help is a…”
Pam filled in the blank from the front yard. “A cum-fest! Can we join the party now?”
I offered, “A cum-fest… Yes, Pam. We’re on the deck.”
Linda gasped and charged back to the door to scowl at me. “You’re only talking like that because Momma’s not here to chaperone you.”
“Not true. If your mother were so tense, I most certainly would suggest that cumming would help her disposition.”
Pam peeked around the corner and asked, “Who needs to get laid?”
Hadley snorted, “Who doesn’t? Hey Pam, I’ve got some clothes here. Nothing fancy, but if you’re sick of looking like you got bukkake’d by Cadbury bunnies… ”
Shawn was the only one of us who wasn’t amused.
At least he waited until everyone (but me) was wiping the tears from their eyes to rain on the parade.
“Nice to see you’re all having a great time.”
Hadley tilted her head to the side and sighed as she walked towards him. She looped one of her arms under his, and led him onto the deck.
“You’re with me, pal. I’m in an awesome mood tonight… maybe it’ll rub off on you.”
“I’m dead and I might never see my family again. Sorry if I’m not much in the mood to laugh…”
She pointed to a lawn chair and ordered him to sit. No sooner than his ass was on the seat, she was on his lap.
He grumbled, “Hailey? Was that it? I’m not… Please get off me.”
“Hadley, so you were close… And you’re stuck with me. I’m your paperweight… Hey Jason, invite Pam in and show her where I keep my spare clothes.”
He nodded and babbled, “Yeahyeahyeah… How do I do that? Like, ‘c’mon in’ or does it gotta be more proper?”
Pam was just as surprised as I had been by how freely the Stackhouses gave invitations.
I offered, “Since there is more than one Vampire present, you need to be specific.”
He walked into the house, waving behind himself for Pam to follow. “A’ight then… Pam, Erik, Shawn, c’mon in.”
I followed them into the house just long enough to sample the scent… Long enough to realize the cross breeze had blended the sweetness of Faerie with stale beer and cleaners to make the house smell as neutral as possible. It smelled like a frat house, but that was better than some alternatives.
When I returned to the deck I asked, “Hadley, how is he?”
She frowned and shrugged. “No change really. I’m still trying.”
“I know you can affect moods accidentally. You’ll figure it out eventually.”
She gave me a confident smile and turned to face Shawn. “You know, we were talking… We think you should stick it out. If Patty freaks out, you should just sit tight. You’ve got it better than most Vampires.”
“How the hell do you figure I’ve got it better?”
“Well, we can start with the fact that your Maker is dead and your Foster Maker is absolutely adored by his child. Think about all the Vampires who never saw their kids again or got to find out how they grew up.”
When Hadley glanced in my direction, I realized she knew something…
And I hadn’t shared it with Sookie…
I left the deck in search of Linda and found her in a bedroom, scribbling notes on a pad of paper for Jason while Pam changed into a pair of jeans.
“There she is. The Mouth of the South…”
Pam gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What did I say?”
“Not you. Linda… care to share something?”
She bit her lip. “Like what?”
“Like why Hadley would be trying to encourage Shawn to wait for the announcement because he’s luckier than a lot of Vampires… ‘Think about all the Vampires who never saw their kids again or got to find out how they grew up.’ What did you see?”
She whimpered, “It happened when Jules crashed on you last night… I saw you sitting with another baby, but bigger. Lots of blonde hair. By a fire…”
Pam blurted, “You read minds too!?”
I shook my head. “No. Linda gleans scenes from the past. I mentioned hunting once… She saw and heard enough detail to remind me of an old nickname I hadn’t thought about since I was still alive.”
“What was it?”
“Who called you that?”
“My brothers…” I turned my attention to Linda. “I told you I haven’t thought about it in years. Pam’s been with me for centuries. She knows everything that’s crossed my mind to tell her.”
“Fine! You got me… Now all I have to do is try like hell to figure out what’s imagination and what’s… not… What in hellfire would I call it?”
Pam closed her gaping mouth to snort, “Bullshit artists call it retrocognition… Seeing ‘past lives’. How much have you imagined?”
Before Linda could answer, I offered, “Winifred, Sarah, Elizabeth, Pamela…”
Pam hissed at me, so I defended, “Don’t look at me. She heard me call you Winifred, but Sarah and Elizabeth never came up…”
Linda cringed, “I got Winifred when you first mentioned her to us. Hearing you call her Winifred on the phone was just… yeah.”
Jason offered a high-five to his aunt…. She shook her head and held her hand up to let him get it over with…
There wasn’t time for more conversation though…
The sudden scuffle on the deck brought all of us out of the house as quickly as possible.
The sound of the chair being knocked over would have been enough before Hadley shouted, “No you don’t!” but Sookie called me.
I followed Sookie’s fear outside, worried I was going to find Shawn feeding from Hadley… No matter what I found, I should have known better than to leave them alone with him.
What I found was Sookie and Julie blocking the steps into the yard, and Hadley had her arms and legs wrapped around Shawn’s body.
She growled, “I’m not letting go…”
Julie finished, “The only way you’re going to get off this deck right now is by hurting all three of us. Calm down.”
When Sookie spotted me, she huffed, “Patty just pulled up.”
I took a handful of his hair and nodded, signaling to Hadley to dismount.
As soon as she was clear, I pulled him to me, turning him around to pull his face to mine.
He was terrified before he saw my fangs. I growled, “You have them to thank for your chance to see your wife again and you repay them with impatience? I free you from your Maker and you repay me by bearing your fangs to My pet!?”
He retracted his fangs and stammered, “I wouldn’t hurt them… I just wanted…”
“You weren’t thinking.”
“N’nnnnno. No Sheriff, I wasn’t. I’m sorry.”
“If you were willing to shove past two women who are trying to help you while wearing a third, how would you rate your impulse control?”
“At… at the floor, sir. I need to work on that.”
“I’m going to talk to my real estate agent with my fiancé. If you try to join us before you’re summoned, Pam will stake you and Patty will assume you abandoned her for the rest of her life. Tell me you understand.”
He gulped and nodded. “Yes sir.”
I held my hand out for Sookie’s and released Shawn. “Hadley, Jason, watch him.”
Hadley giggled, “Aye aye captain.”
Instead of just taking my hand, Sookie hugged my arm… if nothing else, it was reassuring that she wasn’t completely horrified by witnessing some of the less glamorous aspects of Vampirism.
She balked as I reached out to open the front door, whispering to ask if I left my fangs down on purpose.
When I opened the door, Patty was looking over the property with dark circles under her eyes, but she managed to fake a smile.
She offered a file folder to me. “As luck would have it, I found a sitter if you need me for a few minutes… I’m worried about your renovation plans when the house is considered a landmark.”
I nodded. “I know all about that nightmare. Renovating my house in New Orleans was like having teeth pulled.”
“Oh good… at least you know. Some people can be scared off pretty easy. So what kind of thing are you thinking of doing? I can recommend an interior designer who specializes in historic interiors. She does beautiful work.”
“I’ll take you up on that referral. Have her contact Sookie…” I tossed the folder onto Jason’s stereo. “Patty, I didn’t really need the report. I called you because I need to talk to you about your husband…”
Her eyes widened and she breathed, “Shawn?”
I nodded. “He came to me tonight…”
She shrieked, “He’s alive!”
I shook my head. “Not exactly… Shawn’s a Vampire now. His Maker had been keeping him from contacting you…”
She wrenched her eyes closed and shook her head. “What? A Vampire? Do you have any idea how cruel that is? Mr. Nordmann, I’ve got three kids at home and I can’t tell them where their father is… and you’re making jokes.”
“His Maker wouldn’t allow him to contact you, but he still tried calling…”
That caught her attention… the color drained from her face.
“He came to me tonight because he isn’t at all interested in being a Vampire. He wanted to be ended, knowing it would be impossible to act as though he wasn’t brought over.”
Her chin puckered and she whimpered, “You know what’s crazy… That sounds better than most of the alternatives I’ve been having nightmares about… Thanks for that.”
When Patty began backing away, Sookie let go of my arm to step towards her. “Erik isn’t messing with your head, Patty. Vampires are real. They blend in with normal Humans all the time. The way things normally go is Vampires move after they’re turned so no one recognizes them. Shawn isn’t the same as he was the last time you saw him, but he loves you and the kids enough he isn’t happy about the idea of never seeing y’all again.”
“And you know this because… you’re a Vampire too?”
Sookie was shaking her head when I offered, “No, but I am.”
I didn’t bother waiting for her to ask for proof, when she turned to scowl at me, my fangs were already down.
When Patty’s knees buckled, Sookie struggled to keep her upright and called for Julie to help.
Patty didn’t faint, but she was close to it. She breathed, “Julie? What are you doing here?”
“Sookie is Brandon’s half-sister.”
“Did you set this up? Why would you do something like this?”
“This wasn’t me and it isn’t a joke. Brandon volunteered to watch your babies so they wouldn’t be here, hon. You need to talk to Shawn and do some thinking without worrying about what they’re up to.”
“Vampires are real?”
“Yeah… along with a few other things.”
“He’s really here?”
Julie nodded. “Yeah… he’s really here.”
“Where’s he been?”
“He’s been in Heflin the whole time. His Maker threatened to hurt you or the kids if he tried to see you.”
Sookie looked up at me and cringed. “Pam’s already holding Shawn down. Even Jason wants to come in.”
I rolled my eyes. “Pam, bring him in. Jason too.”
Patty took her cue from Julie and Sookie, watching the doorway until her husband appeared. Pam was directly behind him with a firm grip of his jeans. Linda and Hadley waited in the doorway as silent spectators.
Patty staggered back a step, gasping for unknown reasons, making me appreciate the gifts the Stackhouses had to offer.
The initial shock allowed for me to direct Jason to stand on the sidelines and order him to rescind Shawn’s invitation if he had any reason to be concerned for someone’s safety.
Patty broke away from the support Sookie and Julie had still been offering, charging towards Shawn… balking for a moment before finally wrapping her arms around his neck to sob against him…
The unmistakable sound of a pair of fangs springing down gave me an instant cause for concern, but Sookie grabbed my hand and mouthed, “Just happy. Not hungry.”
I had to accept it. The empaths in the room didn’t react and if anything else, Sookie had pushed me far enough in recent past to know when I was struggling to control myself.
The silent greeting between the Ingrams inspired tears from Sookie, Linda and Julie and an idiotic grin from the undercover empath.
The wait was painfully awkward, but since the reunion was going better than I expected (closer to the situation I assumed Sookie imagined) I couldn’t help but make a mental list of all the Vampires I knew who would want to end their Maker if they heard about Shawn’s successful Revelation to his wife. Rational or not, I included myself.
Patty finally leaned back, holding her husband’s face, sobbing, “I thought you were dead. I thought something horrible happened to you.”
He nodded. “I am… it did…” He took her hand from his face and put it to his neck. “I’m a Vampire, baby. No pulse… No daylight. No more Saturday morning soccer games. No more Sunday cookouts.”
She shook her head. “No. Nooooo! This isn’t the same. I thought the next time I was going to see you was going to be at a morgue. Whatever the hell you call it, dead people can’t hug… There’s Wednesday night games and we can just turn the lights on in the pool and cook out later…”
She took his hands and stepped back, trying to lead him to the door.
“I can’t go home with you, baby…”
“What!? Why not!?”
When he looked to me to answer, I offered, “Because young Vampires need some time to adjust. His senses are heightened enough that he’s in a nearly constant state of sensory overload. He’s strong enough that he could easily hurt you or one of the children accidentally. And he’s hungry. He can’t eat Human food any longer and he’ll need a lot of blood before he can be trusted to be alone. If you so much as nick yourself shaving, he could be a danger to you… Your house isn’t light-tight…”
She’d finally had enough information and argued, “He belongs at home WITH HIS FAMILY!”
I nodded, trying to understand how frustrated she must be. “That’s his goal… While he’s adjusting to his new state, it’s in your family’s best interest for him to stay elsewhere. In the meantime, you need to find another house because your neighbors and friends in Minden will suspect his sudden return… While you’re shopping for a house, you need to consider a resting place for him. Somewhere light-tight that locks from inside so the children don’t inadvertently kill their father… The time you spend apart will be filled with making adjustments…”
“Where the hell will he stay?”
Jason offered, “Here?”
Sookie offered, “You just met him, Jason.”
The proper argument would have been that the newborn Vampire shouldn’t live with someone who reeks of Fae while he’s trying to control his hunger.
Jason, in all of his infinite wisdom, shrugged. “I doubt Brandon and Julie’d be going to all this trouble for a peckerhead. It’s just a couple ‘a months. I ain’t never home much anyway. I got mattresses in the basement and he ain’t gotta worry ‘bout no one goin’ down there. Bet we could block that one winda in just a few minutes. Ain’t no neighbors to see anybody comin’ or goin’ neither… Even got a mini-fridge he can use fer keepin’ blood. I already offered to let him hang out with his kids here anyway ‘cuz of privacy. It’s all good.”
That imbecile was completely fucking serious.
He was offering to let a Vampire move in and I was sure the cartoon scenario playing in his head made perfect sense…
Pam cooed, “Aren’t you just precious… I think you’re forgetting he could drain you in your sleep.”
THANK YOU! At least someone was thinking responsibly.
He snorted, “Guess making sure his fridge stays stocked is a rockin’ idea then, huh cuddles?”
He called Pam ‘cuddles’. That settled it… He was too stupid to be scared of anything.
To keep from laughing at the look on her face, I offered, “That won’t be a problem. Pam and I will check in on Shawn nightly and make sure he has more than enough blood. We’ll be chaperoning so he can see his children and not be a threat…”
Shawn sighed, “Patty, I want to come home. I want to be with the kids. I thought I was alright, but when I heard your car pull up, I lost it. I could’ve hurt someone if Erik didn’t stop me. I need a while to get a grip.”
The fact that he had a Faerie on his lap for several minutes without hurting her said a lot for how much control he already had, but I wasn’t going to take that for granted.
I offered, “A month or two of close supervision… followed by a few years of staying close enough I can check in with him easily…”
She scowled, “Who are you to…”
Shawn tightened his grip on her hands. “He’s the boss, baby. He’s in charge of the Vampires in this Area. What he says goes and I’m lucky he’s willing to give me the chance.”
“What… what about that Maker guy…”
“He isn’t a problem anymore. He broke the rules by bringing me over and keeping me in Heflin. He’s dead.”
“There’s rules to being a Vampire?”
Cuddles offered, “Most of them have to do with risking exposure. In this specific case, Leland waltzed into a bowling alley with Shawn, who he was recognized as a ‘missing man’ immediately. The bulk of the rules are centered on etiquette and politics. We’re going to make sure he isn’t left to flounder.”
Shawn nodded. “It’s all stuff my Maker would have explained. Don’t be upset with them. When I met up with them earlier, Erik tried to talk me into waiting until the announcement because I just wanted him to stake me, get it over with. He asked Jason and Hadley how they’d feel if their dad’s showed up after being gone for years…”
When Shawn trailed off, Pam finished, “Jason and Hadley were too encouraging. They managed to convince us to give Shawn the unprecedented opportunity to stay in contact with his family because your children will still be quite young when Vampires reveal their existence to the Human population.”
Patty shook her head, understandably confused by the wealth of new information.
Shawn sighed again and asked, “Sheriff, would it be alright if… can we have a minute alone?”
“You’re aware that I can catch up to you if you try to leave and I’ll have someone monitoring both of you, yes?”
He nodded. “Yes sir. Thank you.”
I stood with my back to the front door while Shawn and Patty used Jason’s front porch as the venue for their discussion…
Jason invited Cuddles to inspect his basement and after several minutes of silence, the sounds of drilling made eavesdropping on the Ingrams difficult.
Sookie joined me, leaning back and wrapping my arms around her…
I didn’t have to explain that the mixed feelings would confuse Hadley, leaving Sookie with the only ability of use at the moment.
Linda, Hadley and Julie had taken their curiosity to the deck, leaving Sookie and I alone.
After a few minutes, she whispered, “She has a lot of questions. She’s embarrassed to ask some of them.”
“Aren’t I lucky you were honest about your curiosity?”
She tilted her chin up to smile at me. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Some of the stuff she’s thinking about hadn’t occurred to me.” Uh oh.
“Well… She’s worried that she’ll have to go a week every month without seeing him so he doesn’t go nuts while she’s on her period.”
I chuckled, “Unless he’s a freak of Vampire nature, that won’t be a temptation. It’s old blood. The smell is more likely to repulse him.”
She whined quietly, “Oh come on… like girls aren’t insecure enough about that… echhh.”
I chuckled at her reaction. “What else?”
“She wants to know if it would be weird to talk to me since we’re together. If you’d be weird about it… but she feels weird about it anyway because I’m just a kid to her and she’s basically asking a stranger about the man she’s known since before I was born.”
“She may very well have questions Shawn doesn’t have answers to. Leland was trying to train him to prefer men, which is a slightly different medium. If you’re comfortable, don’t think you need to reject her questions on my account.”
She hissed out a quiet laugh. “You only say that because you aren’t thinking about waking up at night to 101 Vampire questions in your voicemail…”
“What you don’t know is how happy I was to listen to your messages when I rose tonight. I listened to them again while I was waiting for the sun to set.”
She grinned and stretched up to kiss my chin. After a moment, she volunteered, “She isn’t afraid, you know. She’s angry that she can’t just take him home tonight. She wants to bring the kids over right away.”
“Good. I’ll have the excuse to see you again tomorrow night while I act as bodyguard for his children.”
She giggled but fell quiet for a few minutes until Shawn began explaining the inheritance he was going to receive from his Maker’s estate.
“How did Leland manage to pull together that kind of cash at his age?”
“I’m sure his Maker educated him to the importance of diversifying. Real estate, stocks, bonds… all of them are long term investments that most Humans don’t have the patience for. For instance, my personal property tax on the house I bought when I first arrived in the Area is now higher than what I paid for it. It’s only been a few decades.”
Sookie snorted, “Shawn said that not having to worry about money anymore almost makes what he went through worth it and Patty’s kicking herself in the ass for agreeing with him for a split second.”
“In my experience, a few million dollars can soften a variety of blows. I didn’t expect it would help this though.”
“Not softened as much as… she’s worried, now that he has to die for the day, he’d have to sacrifice being with the kids to work at night… She’s thinking about hiring someone so she can spend more time at home too.”
I tapped on the back of the door to get Shawn’s attention and offered, “Tell your wife that she’ll need to hire someone for the office anyway. Now that she knows about Vampires, I’ll be referring new check-ins to her. Business will increase.”
He stammered, “Uhhhh, damn… thanks Sheriff…”
Eventually, the conversation between Patty and Shawn become slightly lighter for a few minutes…
She teasingly asked him if he was still afraid of spiders. Since his eyesight had improved enough for him to see how many eyes the ‘eight-legged spies of Satan’ have, he hated them more than he did while he was Human…
He made a joke about not needing the physical he’d been avoiding…
She laughed that she’d never have to apply aloe to his sunburns anymore…
He appreciated that he wouldn’t have to stop playing with the children because of an aching back…
But the lighthearted optimism was weighted down by more melancholy topics.
He’d never go to a parent-teacher conference…
…but if they went to school, they’d have to sleep at night. She declared homeschooling was worth researching.
Being a Vampire would affect their summer vacations to Disney World…
…but they could go for Christmas instead because the nights were longer. Heat stroke wouldn’t be a concern in December either.
She was going to grow old and haggard while he was perpetually frozen at his ‘prettiest’…
…but he could bring her over once Vampires came out.
It was all very endearing that she was so accepting of the adjustments Sookie seemed sure they could make, enough to consider being brought over to be with him, but that’s when I had to interrupt.
I took Sookie’s hand and stepped out onto the porch. “No.”
One word… they both looked like they would cry.
“You won’t be strong enough to bring her over within her lifetime. If you try, you’ll be her murderer rather than her Maker.”
“There’s no chance?”
“I only know of a handful of successful Makers who were young… and even then, I think their ‘luck’ came from a Vampire gift. I doubt you’ll want to risk it.” Sophie-Anne’s vainglorious little sycophant wasn’t at all typical.
He swallowed and stared at the railing of the porch for a moment while she wept.
“My Maker was my age before he was successful bringing me over. I was over 600 before I made Pam. I dare say it’s not in our design to be able to bring over our Human mates… You also need to consider that you’d be at a loss for childcare while you’re both dead for the day…”
Not only was it obvious, surprisingly so, that Patty was disappointed, but I felt Sookie’s heart sink.
“There is the alternative of bonding though. Did Leland explain that?”
Shawn cleared his throat and shook his head. “No… He usually just bitched at me because I spoiled his fun.”
“By giving Patty your blood in small quantities, she’ll age much slower. Eventually, you’ll be bonded and you’ll feel and affect each other like a Maker and child will. It will buy you some time together, prolong her life… After the Revelation, after your children are grown and independent, if you’re still interested, I can arrange for her to be brought over.”
“Have another Vampire do it?”
“I have to execute a couple of miscreants every year… It would be someone slated for execution already, but yes. You’ll have to be stable enough for me to consider you a suitable foster. Tell me you understand.”
He nodded eagerly. “Yeah. Yes sir. I understand. Thank you… So we’re talking about… 17 years?”
“Give or take. Her appearance will be affected by the strength of your blood. You’ll need to stay well fed so that she doesn’t look like your mother by then… And you won’t try to give her your blood before I approve of it. Your famine needs to be your first priority.”
He nodded and thanked me again, and Patty chimed in to echo her husband’s sentiments.
I continued, “Patty, if for any reason this… relief, this excitement, wears off and you begin to doubt your ability to function as a Vampire’s wife, feel free to discuss the matter with anyone here. There isn’t a therapist you can go to. There isn’t an advice column you can write to for help. The Stackhouses have proven they’re willing to help and I wouldn’t have agreed to this little experiment if I wasn’t willing to follow through with the collateral responsibilities. If you can’t cope with this change, you’ll be glamoured to believe Shawn was killed in a car accident and he’ll decide how to proceed from there. Understand?”
She nodded. “I get it… I doubt that’s going to be the case since we both opted for community college when we didn’t get accepted to the same university, but I get it… Is that what y’all are going to do? In a few years is Sookie going to be a Vampire too?”
For a moment I struggled, trying to think of a way to vehemently deny any plans of bringing Sookie over without offending her.
Before I could formulate an answer, Sookie offered, “I think that after a long engagement and a few years of marriage, the last thing he’s going to want is to put up with me forever.”
It may have been the most politically correct answer for her to give considering who she was speaking to, but… she felt there was truth to it. She thought she was some sort of phase to me.
I hadn’t spent any amount of time thinking about being Sookie’s Maker… I’d spent so much time trying to solve the various mysteries concerning her and defending the accusations that I’d become bored with her that I hadn’t had the chance to think about it…
But I could picture her as a Vampire, as my child, as my companion…
As much fun as I’d had with her over the past couple of weeks, I could say in all certainty that I’d miss her if I lost her.
And it needled me to no end that she either thought little enough of herself that I’d cast her aside, or considered the time she spent with me fleeting.
It was as though the universe was in a laughing mood for a while…
While seeing Patty on her way so she could relieve Brandon and begin shopping for the home she’d eventually share with her Vampire husband, Sookie waved with her left hand…
As Sookie and I walked down the stairs to Jason’s basement to inspect the impromptu Vampire suite, her left hand slid along the railing…
While I explained to Jason and Shawn that under no circumstances were they to make a rental arrangement so Jason had rescinding Shawn’s invitation as a safety measure, Sookie used her left hand to sip from a soda can…
More hugs, and waving, and farewells as everyone went their separate ways…
And as I drove to her house, her left hand rested on the back of mine.
I couldn’t decide if Sookie had always used her left hand so often or if I was just noticing her ring more often because for the first time I was looking at a ring as something other than ‘just’ a piece of jewelry.
No, not a romanticized symbol of ‘our love’…
But it was significant nonetheless. That ring did nothing but remind me of how much I enjoyed its owner.
She’d added to the prank I played on Pam.
She added to the elaborate hoax on the press.
She made me want to check my messages as soon as I rose.
She even made Leland’s fuckery less galling by working with me instead of adding to the chaos.
She was too good to be ‘just a pet’… She was Mine.
Sookie was uncharacteristically quiet (not to mention neutral) in the car, but as I pulled to a stop at the end of her driveway she just stared at the house.
“Is there something wrong?”
She shook her head and sighed, “No… not really… Do you mind if…”
When she paused, there was enough time for me to worry that she’d somehow hidden that something she’d seen or learned tonight upset her… or harbored some resentment for her ruined birthday.
“Just say no, if you’re against it… Do you mind if I stay with you tonight… well, today?”
“I don’t mind… Is there something you want to talk about?”
She shook her head and released her seatbelt. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to leave a note for Gran and grab some fresh clothes.”
I stewed while I waited for her, trying to decipher her mood until she returned with a small backpack…
And only suffered more silence between Hummingbird Lane and The Chancellor Hotel.
Thanks to Sookie’s exaggerated yawn and sleepy wave, the concierge let us pass through the lobby without stopping us.
Once we were in my room, Sookie went directly to the bathroom. She used the toilet and the sink and finally emerged wearing an oversized T-shirt.
She sighed, “That’s much better. I thought I was going to need to cut those shorts off.”
“You were uncomfortable? That’s why you’ve been so quiet?”
She folded the bedding down and sat on the edge of the bed. “No… Do you have a bunch of stuff you need to do before you can turn in?”
“I need to make a couple of calls. It won’t take long.”
She nodded and scooted to lay down, rolling to her side and pulling her knees up.
Not only was I sure something was wrong, but I was baffled about how the fuck she wasn’t giving me any hints.
It took me longer to convince Nestor’s daughter to hang up on her boyfriend so I could speak to her father than it did to arrange for the Packmaster to have someone follow Patty for the next couple of weeks to let me know if Shawn decided to deviate from the rules I laid out for him. Even though our conversation was less than five minutes long, Ashley still used another extension to nag her father until he made an apology for how impossible she was. “…But I think all 19-year olds are a pain in the ass…”
Not all of them.
Calling Price was a different affair… Yes, one of his children answered the phone, but as soon as he heard my name, he eagerly took the phone to his father and politely told him who was calling. After I arranged for Price to pay a visit to my Area to teach the Stackhouses basic wards, I joked that Porter should teach Packmaster Matthews’s daughter phone etiquette. His reply was, “You can’t get a Vampire to tan any easier than you can get a teenage girl to shut up…”
Rather than argue and explain that wasn’t always the case, I ended the call so I could turn my attention to Sookie.
I slid into bed behind Sookie and she instantly snuggled back against me.
“I’m sorry your birthday was ruined by business. Is there any way I can make it up to you?”
She took a sharp breath and jerked her head to look at me. “My birthday? No. It wasn’t ruined. It was perfect. I had so much fun I’m already looking forward to next year.”
“Then why are you being so painfully quiet? I’m not getting any hints to your mood…”
“Jesus…” She paused and when she did, her moods came back to me in a wash…
Melancholy was the only way to describe it.
“Sorry. Brandon and I were comparing our shields. His process is different. It takes less energy. I didn’t realize you wouldn’t be able to feel me. I put them up while we were at the house to give Patty some privacy.”
“Damn her. I’ve been trying to figure out what upset you.”
She sighed and reached back to pull my arm over her. “Nothing upset me really. I’ve just been worrying about you.”
“Me? Why have you been worrying about me?”
She grimaced and offered, “I’m thinking that this Shawn thing has stirred up a few demons for you… Pam was even keeping tabs on your mood.”
What? Losing his family because his Maker was shopping for a toy? What could possibly give her the idea any of it would cause any stirring for me?
Any other time, Pam would have been surprised by how quickly I ended Leland.
“You could say that… It’s not rational though. Shawn has the benefit of good timing… I don’t think I want to talk about it though.”
She breathed, “Okay,” and let out a long yawn.
She nodded slowly. “I didn’t think you’d want to talk about it… I figured we could not talk about it together. I just didn’t want you to be alone.”
“Will you be alright waking next to a dead body?”
“As long as it’s you.”
“Will you be with me when I rise?”
“I’m so worn out, you might get up before me.”
She hummed sleepily.
“This is a first for me.”
Her eyes sprung open. “What!?”
“I’ve never let anyone be with me for the day.”
“No. Not ever.”
“Do you… I can… Damn it, you should have just said something. I’ll go home.”
I had to catch her to keep her from leaving the bed. “I don’t want you to leave. I only mentioned it because… Well, it’s worth mentioning.”
She chuckled, “That you usually push dates out before dawn?”
“No. It’s worth mentioning that I trust you.”