Sookie couldn’t have been more right about how distracted Shawn had been.
Just hearing that his children were so close to him made his throat clench.
I knew he’d bolt before he made a move…
Being at opposite ends of the deck with more than a dozen people between us was a problem…
I had to go over the crowd to head him off… and he still tried to keep going with my hands on his chest.
“You’ll scare them.”
Dilated pupils, showing fangs, panting needlessly, still pushing…
“I’ll send Pam to my car for silver chains… Calm down. If you don’t, you’ll hurt them. Is that what you want? Do you want to accidentally crush one of your children? Dislocate their shoulders? Hold them so tightly they can’t breathe?”
I’d broken the necks of several horses just trying to halt them by the time I was a month old. I was sure he didn’t want to learn how strong he was by squeezing one of his children to death.
While Shawn continued to lean against me, Sookie breathed, “Keep talking,” and Hadley worked her way through the crowd to stand behind Shawn and put her hands on his shoulders to shush him.
“If you hurt one of them, the last thing you’ll see is their fear. One chance. It’s all you get… Your strength has been multiplied and you have no practice controlling it…”
Pam offered, “Eric breaks shit all the time when he’s upset. You should see what happens when he slams a door. We have Home Depot on retainer.”
I shook my head. “Thank you, Pam… Shawn, stand down. Do you want me to glamour them and send them away? We can reschedule-”
He retracted his fangs instantly, taking a sudden step back and bumping into Hadley in the process… He quickly turned to catch her before she landed on the ground.
She smiled at him as he helped her back to her feet…
Curiosity about her ability made me wait long enough for her to hug him.
She wrapped her arms around Shawn’s neck and took deep breaths until he was mimicking them.
Hadley was practically wafting calmness into the air, forcing not only Shawn to relax, but me as well…
She quietly cooed to him, “You were a husband and a daddy long before you were a Vampire… You can do this, buddy… You’ve got control in spades… You got this far… You don’t want to hurt anyone… You just got excited, but you can do this… Are you ready?”
He nodded, seeming completely sedated as she pulled away, but he grabbed her hand. “Go with me.”
It was actually reassuring that he recognized and appreciated Hadley’s ability to affect him.
As I walked with them towards the front yard, Linda breathed, “Remind me to hug Eric later. Thank God Hadley knew she could do that.”
Julie agreed, “We’ll get him east and west then. Shawn would hate himself if he hurt his babies.”
As soon as we came into view, Patty and the children stopped in their path to the porch.
Hadley turned her head to whisper, “Pam, we’re gonna need those balloons and guns on standby.”
Pam was already ordering, “Battle stations, boys,” when I realized Shawn’s eyes were rimmed with blood.
Brilliant… they seemed to have thought of every contingency. Water guns and balloons would rinse away his tears.
“Who thought of water balloons?”
Hadley offered, “Pam mentioned bloody tears last night. It was Jason’s idea. He said if there was ever an excuse for a guy to cry it was this…”
Even a broken clock is correct twice each day.
“The guys are going to start a water war if they need to.”
Shawn nodded. “They’re going to need to. This is worse than when they were born. I didn’t think I was ever going to see them again.”
As we approached, Patty put the toddler down and he immediately ran towards us, shouting, “Daddy!”
Shawn growled against the lump in his throat as Hadley let go of his hand, promising to be right behind him.
Shawn stepped forward, stooping to scoop up his child and I stepped behind Hadley… She was already crying.
I kept a watchful eye on the reunion, seeing the older children rush towards their father and whispered to Hadley, “You are phenomenal. In just a few nights you’ve taken the reins on an ability that made you suffer for years.”
She turned to kiss my cheek. “Thank you… You have no idea how amazing it is to feel in control for once. This might be the first time I haven’t ruined a cookout somehow. Here I am helping keep the peace.”
“Am I distracting you?”
“No… well, maybe from cryin’ harder. They’re so happy to see him. They aren’t even curious about why he was gone. They’re just happy to have their Daddy back.”
“The questions will come eventually. Do you know which is which?”
She nodded. “Yeah… The girl is Tammy. She’s five. Archer is the little fireplug. He’s three. And the baby is Tucker. He’s just a couple of months older than your little boss… Leland took Shawn’s pictures of them away, but Shawn was sneaky and ordered some reprints from Sears so he’d have something.”
“Good for him.”
“No kiddin’… Hey Shawn?”
Even though Patty was just as overcome as Shawn, she spared a dirty look at Hadley for interrupting.
With his back to us, Shawn nodded and held his hand up to show that he’d spilled a few tears… Hadley whistled, bringing forth an amusing squad of water-wielding, swim trunk-clad snipers…
Brandon, Jason and Alcide appeared from around the other side of the house… water guns in one hand, buckets full of water balloons in the other.
Sookie and Ashley approached from our end of the house to help arm Shawn’s children…
And hell broke loose when Jason fired a water balloon through the air, and it detonated directly in Shawn’s face.
It was a perfectly delivered pitch from more than a hundred feet away.
No. No physically enhanced Human-Faerie hybrids to see here.
Sookie and Ashley closed the gap between them and the children, quickly delivering the loaded guns and showing the baby that the water balloons were meant to be thrown…
Shawn wiped the water from his face, greeting his wife with a brief kiss and joining the fray… and getting pummeled by two Faeries and a Were.
How could I not fight?
I hadn’t even moved before Sookie snorted, “This is going to get ugly.”
I threw three water balloons, one at each of our opponents and hit them all square in their chests.
Jason yelled, “Oh, it’s like that, huh? You’re goin’ down!”
I had no clue what that meant, but it sounded enough like a challenge that I took advantage of the children’s cache to throw a salvo of balloons at him until he begged for mercy.
Sookie laughed and took Patty’s hand to lead her towards the deck, explaining, “It’s probably better if we don’t get in the way while the kids play.”
Who was playing?
Even after Ashley joined the Were/Fae team, Shawn and I gained ground (with the children’s help, of course), pushing them back little by little until we’d herded them to the pond…
We let the children lead (Jules included by then), while we fired from behind them until our opponents surrendered and jumped into the pond voluntarily.
I lifted Jules to my shoulders as we walked towards the house and she pointed and laughed at her father, calling him a ‘woozer’.
She drummed her little hands on my head and kicked her feet happily as he called her a traitor.
By the time I’d finally changed into a new bathing suit and returned to the deck, Jules was sitting on Sookie’s lap at the picnic table while they ate.
Sookie giggled when she realized Adele and I were watching her. “Don’t stare. I’m starving. I slept all day and then I forgot how hungry I was because of that nasty reporter. Famished. Best batch of chicken ever, Gran.”
The last time she’d eaten was dinner the night before. It had been more than 24 hours… I might have worried, but she hadn’t felt starved earlier.
Patty asked, “Are you nocturnal now?”
Sookie giggled, “I’m getting there, but mostly it’s because I had a busy couple of days… and last night was really exhausting. How are you holding up?”
Patty sighed, “I haven’t slept yet… I’ve been busy. Julie came over for a while to help keep me sane. I made the mistake of blabbing to the kids early, so they’ve been going nuts all day. I had to tell somebody though, you know?”
Sookie nodded. “I bet… I’m sure you’ll sleep like a rock tonight though. Shawn’s alright and he’s doing great with the babies. Being worried about him and then how he’d do with the kids, that’s all over.”
Sookie frowned before she could catch herself and whispered, “It’s going to be alright.”
Patty nodded, lifting her youngest to place him on her lap. The boy looked at me and pointed. “Derkah durggle goo…” There was a long series of like-sounding syllables that followed and I was sure I wasn’t going to pick up that language.
Jules gave him a frustrated look while she finished chewing her food. “Water’s fun. Tina’s nice. Lotsa peepo here. Assi gwoled a’Teena. She gwoled back. Is funny.”
I definitely wasn’t going to learn Tucker’s speech patterns before he outgrew them.
Shawn was toweling off as he joined us on the deck and chuckled, “See what I mean? Makes sense now that we know, but we fired two pediatricians for telling us he was fine.”
Adele offered, “Tell me about it. Poor Jason is three years older than Sookie and she was translating for him by the time she was this age…”
I argued, “But Jason’s actually retarded.”
Adele slapped my chest and pinched her face together, trying to keep from laughing.
The conversation waited when Hadley arrived on the deck with a beer bottle and a slice of watermelon for Shawn. She whispered, “Camouflage.”
He quietly hissed and explained, “The kids’ll know better. I used to love this stuff… and I spit the seeds at them.”
She grinned and took a bite out of his watermelon. “Brandon mentioned that. Check the beer bottle.”
He held the beer bottle up and we both realized there were seeds at the bottom at the same time.
Even if it was a brilliant gesture, Sookie was disappointed by something and I was almost certain it was the way Shawn’s wife was watching the exchange.
The honeymoon was already coming to an end for Patty… The relief she’d felt after weeks of searching and praying was already beginning to make way for skepticism.
She broke a land speed record too… Less than 24 fucking hours.
Sookie all but confirmed it by subtly turning down the corner of her mouth.
I spent the next two hours watching, in tandem with Sookie and Pam…
Hadley seemed to be watching Shawn for cues he might need her help, but by and large, she was enjoying the cookout.
Hadley played chicken from Alcide’s shoulders against Jason and Ashley, and Linda and Jack. Hadley ate two pieces of chicken, a piece of pie and a large slice of watermelon. She took Jack to the side to apologize for being ‘so bitchtastic’ to him and asked for a clean slate. She talked to Janice for a while about music. She showed Shawn’s older children where the bathroom was because she was going inside for towels…
All the while Shawn played with his children… exhausting the supply of water balloons, spitting watermelon seeds at them, pushing them on the swing-set, and enlisting Brandon and Jason’s help in a less aggressive game of chicken…
Patty’s behavior could have been taken as reserved. She could have been giving her children time to reunite with their father…
But her laughter was faked, her posture was tense, and she paid more attention to the bikini-clad traffic moving around her oblivious husband than she did to the reunion.
Shawn’s oblivion was defined by several key moments…
Knowing Pam had her modesty surgically removed at birth, I untied her bikini top… Nestor, with a wife at home and his daughter present, suggested she take it off completely. Shawn didn’t look up from the cooler a few feet away. He was preoccupied with searching for an orange soda for his son.
As Linda tried to walk past me, I caught her by the waist and asked if I could buy her bikini top from her. While Linda knew I was joking, Jack growled, causing a chain reaction of feigned posturing that included the subtle show of fangs and flashing of irises. Shawn should have heard two other pairs of fangs descend. His instincts should have made him look up from the diaper he was changing.
Even though Sookie was suffering from an undercurrent of disappointment while she focused on Patty’s thoughts, she still interacted with the other guests and enjoyed the company.
My final test… a final attempt to catch Shawn’s attention…
I straddled the bench next to Patty, leaning inappropriately close, and complimented Hadley’s taste in bathing suits. Patty stiffened nervously as I tucked her tag into her suit and suggested Hadley might have a future as a personal shopper.
Shawn’s reaction… he joined me in congratulating Hadley’s shopping savvy.
I touched his wife, leered, made her feel uncomfortable… While Jack postured over a joke, Shawn showed excitement for Tucker and Archer’s Spiderman trunks…
Shawn might have loved his wife, but he was in love with his children.
I hadn’t even heard the details of what Patty had been thinking and I was already sure we had a problem on our hands.
Tammy asking, “Why do we need to move so you can live with us?” was our cue.
I motioned to Hadley and Sookie and called Pam and Shawn… It was the first time I’d interfered in their visit since I left the opening games.
He followed me obediently to his makeshift room and raised his eyebrows as soon as we were at the bottom of the steps.
“We have a problem.”
He cringed. “I thought I was doing fine. How did I fuck up?”
“You’ve barely spoken to your wife since she arrived… Shawn, how perfect was your marriage before you disappeared?”
He shrugged. “Every relationship has its ups and downs. We were good though. You think she’s upset because I’m focusing on the kids? I told her I would. I’ve been dying to see them and I saw her last night.”
Sookie bit her lip and shook her head. “She isn’t jealous of the kids… She knows Pam and Hadley stayed last night…”
Sookie winced sheepishly. “I’m so sorry… She’s spent the last couple of hours sure you slept with at least one of them…”
He turned to go up the stairs, no doubt to correct his wife, but Sookie stopped him.
“You haven’t heard the worst part.”
Hadley grabbed Sookie’s hand and their eyes welled at the same time… Shawn turned around slowly, making it obvious that he didn’t think there could be something worse.
Sookie took a deep breath and offered, “She’s okay with it. She thinks it’s better this way because she’s really freaking out. She doesn’t think she can handle this… She’s been imagining different ways…”
When she trailed off, he urged, “Different ways to what, Sookie?”
“Different lies to be glamoured with… She’s leaning towards being glamoured to believe you two split up amicably.”
“NO! Because I’m a Vampire!? NO!”
“She’s imagining a scenario where you two talk it out and decide to split up. You’ve been together 14 years. She loves you, but she’s afraid that if she doesn’t get used to this, that she’s going to hate you. She was thinking about y’all promising to not end up like your parents. Y’all got stuck in the middle of nasty divorces, right?”
“Yeah, but… Sookie…”
Pam interceded, “Shawn… She should still be on cloud nine that you’re still… alive. If she’s already frightened… Supernaturals almost never couple with Humans because there are too many things to hide. You can’t glamour her to accept it forever, and you can’t glamour her nightly because she’ll end up too retarded to function. Some Humans can’t cope with anything abstract. Supernatural abilities can be viewed as loaded weapons.”
Hadley held her empty hand up. “You can include me. I told you last night about what a cunt I’ve always been to Sook. I’m her blood. We’ve got a lot in common and I treated her like shit. It makes me an even bigger bitch since I have an ability too… Shawn, if things get nasty, your babies are going to be stuck in the middle.”
He shook his head and asked Sookie, “Did Patty know you were reading her mind?”
Sookie nodded. “Not the first couple of times I caught something that worried me… but then she started thinking directly to me, asking yes/no questions so I could signal the answers. She… She knows a lot about divorce. Y’all almost got one.”
“Years ago. Before the kids. Are y’all standing here saying I should cut my losses and give up my wife?”
I was finally given the chance to say something. “I touched her. I touched your wife in your line of sight… Sookie knew I was testing for your reaction and even she paid attention. You didn’t. You focused on the children.”
He gave me a level stare and argued, “That’s what good fathers do.”
“I’m not denying that. We aren’t questioning your devotion to any of them… I’m suggesting, in light of new information, you weigh your priorities. Fear spirals into hate much easier than it dissipates. A friendly parting aided by a single glamour may be better for your children than the possible courtroom drama with tears on one side and fangs on the other. You also need to consider the timing of things. If Patty’s feelings don’t change, you’re very likely to be asking a Baptist republican judge for visitation of your children in the midst of the initial revelation.”
“I’d glamour her myself before I let it come to that. I haven’t given her any reason to want to keep the children from me.”
Hadley sighed, “Shawn?”
“I think you just… don’t think I’m being nit-picky, but you just said you’d rather control Patty’s mind than lose your kids…”
She made a fair point.
He groaned, “Fuck me… Hadley…”
She waved her hand and backed up a step. “I’m sorry. I’ll stay out of it.”
He shook his head. “No. You’re right… Fuck…” He threw his head back, shouting ‘fuck’ at the ceiling while he paced a few laps around the small basement… He finally stopped to complain, “If I only have visitation of them, what the hell am I going to do? I can’t do anything for them during the day.”
Hadley offered, “You’ll have them Friday night to Sunday morning… We’ll help you out for Saturday’s day shift and you can feed them breakfast Sunday morning before dawn.”
Sookie added, “And you’ll spend one evening a week with them… Take them back to Patty after dinner.”
Hadley nodded, “Patty will get an evening to herself and time to run errands without the kids on Saturday.”
I managed to add, “And the house I’m buying has other available properties nearby. You’ll buy two of them, since you already approved of the neighborhood. You’ll be close to your children. I’ll be close enough to supervise you… and Patty won’t be able to accidently rescind your invitation if you own both houses. Just tell her you’ll be taking care of the mortgage as part of child support. You’ll have a day-guy to make sure your pantry is stocked for them…”
Pam added, “You’ll be in the same school district, so you won’t necessarily be limited to weekends. You can hire a nanny for you to share with your wife. In fact, Nestor might know of a Were who could do it. She could take the children to and from and sit with them in the interim between pickup and sunset. What woman doesn’t want help with housework?”
He nodded, suddenly less unsure about his pending change in marital status. “Yeah yeah yeah… We were thinking about getting a nanny already. With our schedules, we wanted to spend time with the kids, not do chores.”
Hadley offered, “And your babies won’t notice the little stuff… By the time they’re old enough to pick up on tells, Vampires will be in the open. No matter how you look at it, three out of four ain’t bad.”
“I guess I better… Do you think you can entertain the kids while I talk to Patty?”
Hadley nodded as Sookie offered, “Patty’s hoping that’s the reason for our pow-wow. She was afraid of bringing it up. She didn’t want to hurt you. She knows this isn’t your fault. She knows how much you wanted everything to work out.”
He sighed and began trudging up the stairs to break up with his wife, like she wanted him to…
When Pam, Sookie and Hadley moved to follow him, I blocked their paths.
“I’ll pay your tuition so you can work towards psychology majors. You can be inter-breed family counselors.”
They shared a look and Sookie cringed as she offered, “We totally steamrolled over your Sheriff thing, didn’t we?”
“That wasn’t an official matter. That was a private matter… And exactly what he needed. I’m more than willing to invest in your practice.”
Hadley snorted, “Fuck that. I’m going to be Pam’s personal shopper…”
Pam cooed, “How perfect. You’ll start at dawn and you’ll need a cargo van.”
I never should have made that joke.
Sookie giggled, “And apparently I’m going to be a politician’s wife… Maybe I’ll get fat and Hadley can go buy me psychedelic dresses and matching hats with their own zip code.”
Hadley’s eyes lit up. “Ooooh, like Hoyt’s momma. Don’t forget the brassy hair dye…”
Pam asked, “Does waddling come natural when you’re fat?”
Hadley nodded. “Yeah. From the way your lard keeps your knees from touching… Don’t forget to apply lipstick directly to your teeth, Sook.”
Sookie nodded. “And I’ll have to learn to look like someone farted when I smile.”
The three of them looked at each other, practicing their ‘shitty smiles’ before turning them on me.
Given how Sookie felt about her cousin just a few days earlier, it was nice to see them getting along so well… not to mention how much Pam was genuinely enjoying the gravitational pull of the Stackhouses…
But those ‘smiles’ were frightening.
The children (including Jason) had been completely and obliviously distracted by a range of pies (thanks to Adele) until Shawn and Patty came to collect them. I only left the deck long enough to glamour Patty. Glamouring a donor to forget being bitten was one thing. Long-term glamouring was much more delicate and I was sure Shawn hadn’t had the practice required.
Once Patty left with the children, Shawn’s new plan was quietly explained to the peanut gallery. Adele, Linda and Julie unanimously decided it was a good idea to wait until Patty left before telling them… It seemed Patty would have gotten a ‘come to Jesus’ for rejecting a man who would rather die than be kept from his family. Julie was so disgusted, she volunteered to do anything Shawn needed, starting a riot of offers. Shawn might have lost his wife, but I felt the family rallying to do anything he needed more than made up for it.
Adele took her leave after cleaning the kitchen, then Nestor left alone because Jack offered to take Ashley home later… When Julie left to take Jules home, leaving nothing but ‘adults’ behind, that’s when the real fuckery began.
Shawn had gone to his room for a while, but he was drawn out by the laughter coming from the deck and pond.
Brandon and Jason teamed up against Pam, diving underwater and striking her feet from unknown directions… Pam retaliated by diving down and grabbing their cocks when they were otherwise distracted…
That led to a lengthy discussion as to what Linda would call a Stackhouse sandwich with Pam filling. Linda was glowing bright red and laughing hysterically when she declared it would be called a ‘TMI’ sandwich. While Sookie explained the TMI stood for Too Much Information, Brandon laughed that Linda was actually thinking about adding it to the menu.
Plans were made for Independence Day… With only two days to plan, they devised menus and music and placed bets on who could find the ‘most badass’ fireworks. Pam volunteered my house on Cross Lake because it was big enough for everyone to be comfortable for the night… She’d beaten me to it.
Sookie enjoyed the company of Ashley, Janice and Hadley… reveling in not having to hide what she was.
Not only did I catch myself having more fun than I thought I would, but Pam hadn’t been so amused in ages.
The fucking Stackhouses weren’t just infectious… somehow, Bon Temps had become a Supernatural melting pot. A strange dimension that ignored the reality of rivalries between breeds. The Stackhouses had sucked us all into their vortex.
It was nearly 2AM before everyone seemed to calm down enough to decide who was crashing where.
After much deliberation, and a call to Nestor, Ashley, Alcide, Brandon, Hadley, and Janice decided to stay at Jason’s house… It gave Jack the opportunity to spend the night with Linda without trying to sneak home (past his son with impressive hearing) just before dawn.
I’m sure it was all just an excuse for the underage drinking to begin. Alcide and Jason were the only ones old enough to legally enjoy the keg that was rolled out of the house and they were already, as Pam put it, ‘what-happened-last-night drunk’.
Sookie relaxed against me, lounging on a deck chair and visiting with her family and new friends… and I waited. Maybe it was the suggestion she made about staying at Jason’s when we first arrived, but I expected her to want to stay and enjoy their company. As much as I wanted to take her with me, I would have understood… Pam had already offered to stay, using supervising Shawn as her excuse to continue partying.
I would have left Sookie, but eventually she apologized for being worn out by swimming and announced we were leaving.
After hugging everyone before going through the house to change (and keeping her new bikini), she asked me to watch her back and went to the refrigerator to pilfer a grocery bag full of food, whispering that room service wasn’t as tempting as Adele’s fried chicken.
But no sooner than we were on the road back to Sligo, Sookie’s mood deteriorated.
It was so sudden it was a shock. She’d been calm and relaxed, enjoying the visit… but within minutes she was so furious she was clenching her fists.
And I was clueless as to why.
She snapped, “I want to kill her.”
“Who? As far as I could tell, you were enjoying the party.”
“Patty… I’m so mad at her I could spit. What kind of idiot…?”
I interrupted her, “That was hours ago.”
She clenched her jaw and turned to stare at me for a moment before sighing, “Crap… I bet Hadley was trying to be positive for Shawn.”
“She could be blamed… We’ll have to congratulate her later. If that’s the case, it could explain why Shawn seemed to take the change so willingly. Why do you want to kill Patty?”
She took a deep breath and started as though she hadn’t been momentarily sidetracked. “Because that woman knows Shawn better than anyone and she’s scared of the most ridiculous scenarios…”
“They aren’t ridiculous. They’re plausible. They’re why I’ll be watching Shawn and keeping him close for a few years.”
“Erik, after what she saw tonight… I want to call Pam. She was annoyed by the handicap thing. I’ve got prize-taker. How about- Patty doesn’t like that we’re all so accepting of Shawn. How about- Patty thinks she doesn’t want her kids to think Vampires are ‘okay’. How about- Patty thinks we’re all a bunch of circus freaks and she doesn’t want her kids to grow up and want to join a circus. How about- She went from skipping a heartbeat when she saw him alive and wanting to be a Vampire so she could be with him forever to thinking she doesn’t even want her kids around Brandon and Jules anymore.”
Oh. That change of perspective happened fast enough to cause whiplash.
“You lied to him.”
“Not a single word I said was a lie. She loves him, but her fear is taking over. I just avoided the details like the plague. If you think he needs to know, we can tell him, but… I vote for kicking her ass until coins fall out.”
I chuckled, just because of how she worded her suggestion. “Sookie, Humans are stupid. You know that too well.”
“She was fine, happy even, until tonight… until she was the minority. Until she felt outnumbered by freaks… half-naked freaks.”
“Yeah. The pond and the water guns weren’t a good enough reason for everyone to be in bathing suits. She’s self-conscious about how she looks in a bikini and decided to take issue with the eternal hotness that is Pam. Granted she’s sure she’ll lose him ‘to his own kind’ eventually, and this all could be a defense mechanism, but it’s crap. It’s hateful crap. I don’t care if she knows it’s irrational and doesn’t like it. PS- she also doesn’t have a single reason to think Shawn would cheat. He never as much as came home from work late. I don’t care what she’s afraid of because she’s turning her back on the man who loves her because of a small thing.”
“Being a Vampire isn’t a small thing.”
“Bullshit. If I wasn’t a telepath, you could have hidden what you are indefinitely.”
“We don’t live together. We don’t have children together. He couldn’t just…”
She interrupted, “You’re splitting hairs. The hours you keep and the diet you’re on. That’s it. You’re huge, so you’d be stronger than me anyway. Some people have stronger senses than others. This sickens me. I’m not even a romantic type, but love kept them together for fourteen years. Love should be enough for her to give him a chance.”
“Are you that naïve?”
I knew it was a new saying, Pam loved to use it, but given that she was talking to me…
When I looked at her, she cringed and let herself giggle.
“Sorry. I’m just venting. It’s not fair. Shawn wasn’t asking for too much. He deserves better. I’m just angry for him.”
“Now he’s free to find something better, yes?”
She shrugged and rested her head against the seat. “I guess. Part of me wants Patty to end up with a Human asshole who treats her like crap so that every time he does something sleazy, she can kick herself in the ass.”
I nodded. “Until coins falls out.”
“You’re making fun of me?”
“No. I like it. I might adopt it. When I hired Bobby, I warned him that I’d celebrate each of his failures by treating him like my personal piñata.”
She snickered, “That’s horrible… You aren’t going to be mean to James are you?”
“What makes you think I’d want to hire James?”
“Because you like him. He has personality and Bobby, even though he does his job, has all the charisma of a wet mop… By the way, James wasn’t impressed either. He’s almost sure Bobby got his job because of nepotism.”
I chuckled, “Fair enough… I doubt I’ll need to ‘be mean’ to James. It seems as though he enjoys doing his job well and he isn’t too busy kissing my ass to try to correct me. When I told him to buy your roses, he carefully pointed out that it seemed like an apology… When Bobby was hired, my options were several people with similar resumes and background checks. I chose him because I was sure he’d be fun to fuck with.”
“Bobby thinks about advancing. James thinks about customer satisfaction. What are you going to do with Bobby?”
I shrugged, “His references were clean. I imagine I’ll retask him… perhaps I’ll loan him to new check-ins…”
She hummed and nibbled her lip before offering, “Executive Hospitality Director?”
I shrugged. “He’ll probably get hard over that title.”
She giggled, “I guess it’s less of a blow to the ego than being demoted to ‘floating go-fer’.”
I nodded. “Do you feel better now that you’ve vented?”
She sighed, “I don’t know… I guess. Thank God Hadley was accidentally helping out. I probably would have lit Patty up.”
“Is that the same as a ‘come to Jesus’?”
As I stopped the car under the hotel’s portico, she nodded. “It can be. A ‘come to Jesus’ can be either/or. Verbal or corporal. A ‘come to Jesus’ is a ‘puttin’, as in putting someone in their place. Lighting someone up is also known as opening a can of whoop-ass. I’m not sure about where the saying came from. Maybe comics. You know, the big stars that say POW! and BAM!”
“I finally have a source. The businessmen I usually have contact with don’t use Southernisms.”
As the valet opened her door, she giggled, “Who the hell would take them seriously?” She waited for me to meet her on the curb to continue, “I mean, you can’t take Jason seriously. I know he’s a master of every craft he’s ever put his mind to, but…”
“Which crafts are those?”
“I didn’t mean actual crafts… He likes playing. He’s a walking rule book for any game he’s ever played. Then again, he’s really good at carpentry and mechanics, but that’s guy stuff.”
“How well do you think he’ll absorb Price’s warding lessons?”
“He’ll be fine… He’s already excited about it, probably because Gran is flipping out. She’s dying to learn something new.”
I was explaining I wasn’t surprised to hear that when we entered the lobby to see James Arkady manning his counter.
Rebecca Mills had hit him hard enough to make his cheek look like raw meat, but he was still smiling as he walked towards us with a large envelope in his hand…
“I’m sure you’re ready to turn in, but I have a message for you…” As I took the envelope from him, he continued, “Charges have been filed against Rebecca Mills. The detective doing the paperwork told me to pass along the invitation for you to file stalking charges if you want… The message was delivered while I was here. It’s from another reporter, but she explained she wasn’t looking for an interview like the others. She already works for your newspaper and is offering to be somewhat of a publicist for you. She suggested that at this point in the game, you’re getting enough attention that the speculation could be detrimental to your privacy and public image. She’s willing to practice responsible journalism and only print facts that you and Sookie substantiate. Her name is Virginia Dawson. She left samples of her work and her resume for you. She seems genuine. Not altruistic, but not delusional enough to think she’ll win the Pulitzer with gossip like Ms. Mills was.”
Sookie raised her eyebrows and looked up at me. “You know, that might not be a horrible idea. If she’s on the level, we won’t have to worry about being stalked. God knows if Ms. Mills hadn’t been arrested, she would’ve followed us tonight. Who knows how she could have spun a family cookout? ‘Supernatural Symposium’? My fried chicken and watermelon would have become a headline. ‘Vampire Feeds On Unicorn And Fruit From The Leprechaun Tree’.”
I nodded. “Do you think you’ll be awake to meet with her for lunch tomorrow? You can interview her to see if she’s ‘on the level’.”
She nodded excitedly. “Yeah. I can do that. It won’t just be me either. I’ll be at Sandwich Island.”
“She’ll be scrutinized by the entire family then. Even better… Thank you, James.”
He shrugged. “You’re welcome. Before I clock out, should I arrange for breakfast and a car for Sookie tomorrow?”
“She’ll be driving my car, but she’ll need breakfast and a wake-up call… and your resume.”
The color drained from his face and his jaw dropped. “M’wha?”
Sookie giggled and patted his shoulder. “Your resume, James. You know Bobby’s a goober. Erik needs a personal assistant with social skills… Unless you want to keep your job here.”
He stared at Sookie for a moment, then at me… then back at Sookie…
She elbowed me and groaned, “Thanks a lot, Erik. You broke him before I could tell him what I want for breakfast.”
I chuckled, “How was I supposed to know a job offer would make him retarded?”
“Because you’re a tycoon, for God’s sake…”
She sighed and turned back to James to put her hands to his face. He didn’t show a reaction to being forced to focus on her.
“James… bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. Just a standard breakfast. Ten o’clock wake-up call… Got it?”
He nodded as much as her hold allowed.
“Thank you… Now, Bobby runs errands for Erik, his sister and another one of their associates. He’s on call, but Erik’s gone several days in a row without using him for anything…”
I offered, “Don’t make empty promises that he’ll be paid to do nothing. Shawn and I have new houses to furnish and we have a wedding to plan.”
She sighed, “I was getting to that, but you act like Pam wasn’t dead-serious about hiring Hadley… James, did you catch that? Errands and shopping when Erik’s busy pissing off the Pope and Bill Gates.”
When did she hear about the Pope’s attempts to acquire my codexes? No sooner than I asked myself the question, I realized it had to be Pam.
He nodded again and breathed, “I got it… Me? Really?”
Sookie nodded. “Why not? You’ve been awesome. Go on. Finish up so you can go home and relax, K?”
He nodded and turned away, still dazed and mumbling about his resume.
Sookie waited until the door closed behind us before she offered, “James is thinking about every little mistake he made as a concierge… He sent room service to the wrong room once and the guest nearly died because of a food allergy.”
I sat at the small table and opened the folder to look over the information left by the reporter. I was, at least somewhat, surprised Pam hadn’t already suggested the tactic. She followed the local media so closely, I didn’t have to.
“That hardly seems like his responsibility. If the guest in question has food allergies so severe, they should be more careful… And we need to take into account that same fool with a severe allergy ate food he didn’t order.”
“You think James should nominate the guy for a Darwin Award?”
As I leafed through the articles, I shook my head. “He’d only earn an honorable mention. The actual awards are only given posthumously.”
Sookie sat next to me and opened her bag of leftovers… She snacked while reading every last article with me.
At first glance, the articles written by Virginia Dawson were well written, but they seemed to have a theme…
LA Purchase Welcomes A Gaggle of Egyptian Geese…
The Reality of Cat-Scratch Fever…
Animal Control Discovers Reptile Hoarder…
Wolf Sighting In Western Hills Debunked…
The articles, one after another, were all centered on animals…
Either she was an animal rights activist, or she was telling me she was a Were without risking a Human reading what she left as her resume.
Sookie, as new as the Supernatural world was to her, mentioned she had the same suspicion before I mentioned my own.
The most outstanding of all of the articles was the one about the recently busted puppy mill operation… The situation had nearly gotten away from me… When I rose that night, I had an urgent message from Nestor. The brilliant venture had been run by a nest of Vampires who hadn’t bothered to insulate themselves from sunlight. They died in an open room and as soon as law enforcement broke the door down, they blistered and burned to death in the sunlight pouring into the house. If it hadn’t been for State Police using local backup, including a few of his Weres, I wouldn’t have been able to catch the officers involved before their reports were full of eye-witness reports about the spectacle of four alight Vampires. More than a dozen police had to be glamoured to forget that detail.
I was reading the last of the samples when Sookie began scanning Virginia Dawson’s resume…
Sookie volunteered the reporter attended a ‘real deal’ university, just in case I hadn’t heard of Chapel Hill. And Sookie noticed the woman’s maiden name was Furnan (a detail I’d forgotten) and questioned the connection between the reporter and Brandon’s employer.
She made a list of questions she wanted to ask during their meeting, taking my input as she added to it, and when she was finished cleaning up her snack and storing the rest in the small refrigerator, she excused herself to ‘wash away Jason’s pond’.
I had every intention of joining her, so I was dialing Nestor before Sookie was finished brushing her teeth.
He answered the phone by demanding, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Why would you ask that?”
He groaned and grumbled, “Nordmann? A phone wakes you up in the middle of the night when your kid isn’t home… just a gut reaction. What do you want?”
“What about her?”
“What do you know about her?”
“Not much. Her and her husband aren’t real active. She’s a reporter. He’s a cop. He’s solid. Good head on his shoulders. His partner, Nate, he’s a member of the pack. I could tell you about him all night, but her… She’s not hard on the eyes and her brother’s a hothead, but Brandon would know that. He works at his shop… What’s this about? She harassing you now too?”
“No. Sookie and I returned to find an envelope from her. She seems to be offering to solve our problems with the press.”
“Ah… I know Nate and Trey were part of that whole puppy mill thing… She might be thinking about exposure.”
“That seems to be the case. She left a message with the concierge and mentioned speculation, privacy and image.”
“Good… I get the impression she’s pretty bright. She could be the best fix for you… When you left, what were the kids up to?”
“We left because they were all inebriated and pairing off… I can’t remember who was on top, but Ashley was with Alcide and Jason.”
I let him stew in the mental imagery for a moment, chuckling at the fact that he wasn’t breathing.
“I’m joking. She was planning to go to see a movie with Janice and Hadley. My Best Friend’s Weddng, I think.”
“I hate you. I’m going to have nightmares.”
“Then you won’t mind hanging up so I can make my other ca-”
He slammed the receiver down before I could finish.
Since my call to Nestor had been as simple and brief as possible, the universe made sure Bobby balanced everything out… and reminded me why I was so happy to be replacing him.
I was forced to call him twice because he didn’t answer the first time.
I was forced to wait for him to wake up enough to say something coherent.
I was forced to use small words to explain a task as simple a gathering an archive of every article Virginia Dawson had written (because Sookie and I were sure she’d written about more than just animals) and deliver it to the hotel by ten o’clock.
And by the time I was finished giving him a single chore to complete, I’d been forced to miss my chance to join Sookie.
She was already stepping out of the tub when I reached the bathroom.
“Bobby is going to pay dearly for this.”
She giggled, “It’s not like I’m going anywhere,” and kissed my shoulder as she passed me.
My shower was annoyingly uneventful and when I left the bathroom, Sookie was laying on her side under the blanket.
She breathed, “Is it weird that the Human end of all this is what’s bugging me?”
“I’d say it’s surprising… Your mind wandered back to Shawn’s situation.”
“Yeah. Now that I’m not distracted by something else… Patty didn’t have a single negative thought about him, all the time they spent together, even their almost-divorce was because of a rut rather than conflict or anything like that. She was terrified of him and even that didn’t distort her mental image of him.”
I slid into the bed behind her and pulled her back to me. “Are you surprised?”
“Yeah. Maybe because this is the first time I’ve seen it as it happens, but yeah.”
“As what happens?”
“Prejudice. Like Gran isn’t prejudiced despite how she was raised. She chooses to ignore that she was raised to think of black people as second-class citizens, but her parents’ voices still play in her thoughts. But her friend, Mrs. Fortenberry, she thinks black people with opinions are uppity and someone needs to put them in their place… But Patty… Erik, we sugarcoated the hell out of Shawn being a Vampire. She got a prettier version of Vampirism than I did. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Humans have always known about other races of people. However they feel about diversity is a mixed bag of what they were led to feel while they were being raised and personal experiences. She Why doesn’t she…”
She stopped herself with an annoyed sigh, so I pressed, “Why doesn’t she what?”
“Why doesn’t she… why doesn’t she realize there’s miles between what people can do and what they would do? You’ve actually had to end another Vampire this week, but you also brought candy to a baby as part of a prank war that’s been going on for 350 years… She’s known Shawn for half of his life. She knows he’s a good man. But she’s scared of him anyway.”
“Are you worrying about the children’s reaction to the Revelation?”
She sniffled, “No… I’m scared for y’all. It won’t matter that you donated the window units that kept some of them from dying of heatstroke. It won’t matter that Pam donated the coats that kept some of them from freezing to death… Folks are going to hate you even though you’re good people.”
If she distanced herself from me now, she could probably avoid being labeled a ‘Vampire lover’, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the suggestion.
“Are you trying to call off our engagement?”
It was the best I could do… and I barely managed to make it sound like a joke.
She put her hand over mine and sighed, “No. I’m trying to talk myself into telling you I love you. I don’t know how it makes you feel that I think of you as a guy who just so happens to be a Vampire, but… you’re sweet to little old ladies and babies. You make me feel special instead of damaged, and you don’t make me feel like an idiot about the mile-long list of stuff I don’t know yet. I respect your opinions and traditions. I can trust you with my feelings and I know you wouldn’t hurt me. You’ve taken an interest in my family instead of just putting up with them. I love spending time with you even if we’re just reading newspaper clippings… I know we haven’t known one another for long, but you’re who I want to spend my time with, so… yeah. I love you.”
I couldn’t be sure how many times I replayed what she’d said in my mind… it didn’t matter since I was still reeling… She loved me.
I didn’t have a fabulous reason to be so shocked. Pam told me she loved me often enough. Granted, gift wrap was usually a factor, but I could feel it even when she wasn’t trying on something new.
I’d been silent for long enough Sookie became anxious and looked over her shoulder. “You don’t have to say it back to make me feel better or anything, just don’t make fun of me. It’s poor form.”
“I wouldn’t placate or tease you… Can you accept that I feel privileged that you love me?”
“Of course. I told you I don’t expect you to-”
“I feel the same way about you. Most of what you said applies to why you’re who I want to spend my time with. It truly doesn’t seem to matter what we’re doing. I just enjoy you.”
She sighed, “If you’re not careful, you’re going to end up saying it without actually saying it and then you’ll never get rid of me.”
“I thought I already did.”