The Dinner Shift
The agonizingly long drive out to the tiny backwater of Bon Temps was made more unbearable by my Second.
Pamela had chosen tonight as her night away from the bar and was less than pleased when I explained that she’d have to fill in for me. She had no intentions of disobeying me, however making sure I knew how displeased she was with my orders seemed to dilute her mood. She bemoaned and cursed at me in six languages for nearly 20 minutes of my drive.
The putrid stench of fried food hung heavily over the parking lot of Merlotte’s Bar & Grill and if not for the saucy blond within that held the unexplainable ability to amuse me, I’d have left in a phantom heartbeat.
No sooner than I stepped inside, I noticed Sookie. More accurately, my attention was drawn to her as she cheerfully took an order for a group of customers.
As the crowd inside slowly registered me as a vampire, the dining room fell to a hush and Sookie turned to give me a bright smile for a moment before giving her attention back to her table.
When done, she turned and almost ran over to me, throwing her arms around my neck and kissing my cheek. She whispered, “That was the sweetest thing… I could’ve cried when she opened it. Thank you.”
“She liked it?”
“Are you kidding? She even wants to frame the note you wrote.” I found myself obscenely pleased.
I’d simply taken a copy of The Innocents Abroad from my study and sent it with a ‘thank you’ to Adele Stackhouse. She’d proven herself to be a very interesting person. A rarity. I excused my behavior by reminding myself: sending a gift to a gracious hostess is a custom older than even me. “She doesn’t mind that I’m using her to flirt with you?”
Sookie laughed into my neck, causing an enjoyable chill. “No, I don’t think she minds one bit. Neither do I, for that matter. She was half way through it when I left for work.”
She let go of my shoulders and stood in front of me, straightening herself and clearing her throat. “Ok. Message delivered. Now that that’s out of the way…” She reached up again, putting her delicate hands on either side of my face and pulling me down to kiss me. Her full, sweet lips warmed mine and it was over far too quickly. “That was for my flowers. Thank You.”
“You’re very welcome. What will you do if I send you a car?”
She smiled with her eyes, blushing. “Cherish your note and send it back. Flashy doesn’t do it for me.” That was very good to know, indeed.
“Now that you’ve attacked a large vampire, everyone is staring, Miss Stackhouse.”
She giggled and spun around flapping her hands in the air. “Y’all mind your own business! Go back to your dinner.”
She seated me in a booth near the back of the ‘restaurant’ so that I could be facing the door and leaned over the table to whisper. “I’m going to bring you a true blood…”
“No thank you.”
She leaned in closer, setting her cheek to mine. “Unless you’re going to sit back here with your fangs out, you’ll need something to make you look like a vampire. Hoyt and Rene might not be able to notice like I can.”
Shrewd thing on her part, but… “Miss Stackhouse, you can see a difference?”
“It’s a bit like… mmm, maybe a milky phosphorescence. Does that make sense?”
I had to ignore the unique urge her hum had given me to appreciate that she saw vampire as other vampire do. “You’re incredible.”
Her soft laugh made the urge harder to deny. “So since you’re going to be sipping on a true blood, what type would you like? Sam stocks O neg and A positive.”
“What type are you?”
She let another light chuckle tickle my ear. “Ahhhh… Speaking of flirting, how am I doing?”
“No complaints.” That was a lie of epic proportions. I most certainly had a complaint. It had to do with public propriety and how angry she’d be about replacing her uniform.
She set the bottle of gritty sludge in front of me with an apologetic smile. “Does it irk you to see people eat?”
I gave her a curious grin. “Not people with breeding. Why do you ask?”
“Then I’m waiting to take my dinner break until Jason gets here. I’ll keep you company while I eat. Are there any smells you can’t stand?”
I suddenly got an unidentifiable feeling. Perhaps I was touched that she was considerate enough to ask. Not confirmed. Not confirmed at all since I could only guess what ‘touched’ might feel like. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. Thank you.”
I watched her. I was technically waiting for her insipid brother and his coworkers to arrive, but I’d found something far more favorable to do. She cheerfully ping ponged between her tables, anticipating refills and dessert requests. Knowing which condiments to bring out with orders and when a party wanted their bill and to-go boxes.
She had, indeed, found a way to put her ability to good use, even if it was in the most mundane of venues. Comparatively, the other two waitresses were constantly being flagged down by their customers and were looking more ragged as the shift progressed, while Sookie’s talent allowed her the foresight to save steps time and again.
I’d seen a red headed waitress make three trips to the condiment station within moments.
Sookie had been saved the trouble. When asked for one thing, she returned with three, dropping mustard and a drink refill at another table along the way without being asked. Sookie was enjoying twice the tips and turn over because of her ‘disability’.
It seemed as though pitchers of beer were meditative for her. She’d close her eyes as they filled from the tap, taking deep breaths and not only did she consistently fill them to the brim without spilling a drop, but there was a fresh smile on her face when her bright blue windows opened again.
When Sookie’s brother came in with his friends, he went directly to a table not far from my own.
As I was trying to control the surprising excitement I was getting from knowing Sookie would be joining me, her smile found me. I watched her put an order in, practically bouncing, and start filling pitchers.
Impressively, on her way towards me, she delivered 3 baskets of food and requisite beer to her brother’s table, drink refills to another, two bills, and a small cup of lemons to the last one before sliding into the booth opposite me with a tall glass and paper lined basket filled with a sandwich.
“I’m sorry. You must be bored.”
“Quite the contrary. You are extraordinary.”
She laughed. “Oh, you poor thing! You need to get cable.”
I smiled at her. “You should come work for me.”
“I should not.”
“Why is that?”
“Oh, because then I’d have to sue you for sexual harassment, Mr. Flirt.”
“Only if you stop liking it.”
She smiled innocently. “Besides, at least at Merlotte’s the customers are usually thinking about everyday stuff. At Fangtasia the thoughts are like a horror, porn crossover.”
“Mind if I ask? ‘Everyday stuff’?”
She grinned as she closed her eyes. “That woman over there is trying to decide what kind of cake to make for the office party. That man over there is worried about coming up with $800 for the parts he needs for his tractor. That couple over there wants to break up, but neither of them wants to hurt the other. That family is here because the parents had a fight about money that was really about his mother and the woman is upset because she wanted to tell him she’s pregnant tonight. The man at the pool table can’t decide whether he wants to bend me over it or lay me down on it and the cook is pissed that I got to you first. He wants to know how to find ‘sexy’ stacked like you. ”
“That is fascinating.”
She giggled. “Maybe to you. Imagine a panel of TVs that are all tuned to a different channel. All of them at the same volume.”
“I understand bittersweet, believe me. Your gift though, it’s as unique as it is remarkable.”
“Imagine being strong enough to demolish a house, fast enough to pace a bullet and being completely vulnerable during daylight hours. Factor in how repetitive things can be after a few centuries and for the record, I have such perceptive senses of smell and hearing that I know what the man in the bathroom is doing as we speak.”
She gave me a wide grin. “Ok. You win.”
“Really? What’s my prize?”
I rolled my eyes at her.
She laughed. “Don’t knock it. I don’t give it out often. I can’t even date because of this crap.”
More. “You don’t date.”
“It’s nearly impossible. On the few occasions that I’ve been asked by someone that wasn’t being a pervert, they would eventually ruin it by wondering what color my nipples are or what kind of panties I’m wearing. Without fail.”
“How are you so sure that I’m not thinking those things right now?” Pink, light pink. Bikinis, white. I’m sure of it.
She smirked. “Oh, I’m quite sure that you are, but it’s wonderful to not ‘hear’ it.”
I reached under the table, putting my hand behind her knee to pull her foot into my lap. She eyed me questioningly until I started kneading her calf muscle.
Her eyes rolled back and she involuntarily moaned. “Oh god, that’s… fabulous.” It seemed like a good way to elicit a reaction from a would-be killer, but that was only an afterthought. Touching her had been my goal.
“Out of curiosity, what did you get at Fangtasia?”
She grinned, eyes still closed as she rested her head against the bench. “Sex, sex, sex. Most of it with biting or feeding.”
“If I decide to not answer you are you going to stop massaging?”
“Absolutely.” As soon as I found another excuse to touch her.
“Longshadow is having sex with 2 waitresses and a bar back. By the way, the bar back is going to cost you your liquor license. He gave you a fake ID. One of the waitresses was near tears because Pam read her the riot act for messing up a bunch of orders because she was too busy flirting. There was an undercover cop in there last night, but he didn’t see anything. I’d still keep an eye on things though because it’s ongoing surveillance. They’re waiting to make an example. In general your customers think that the overpriced, watered down drinks are worth the chance to bask in your awesomeness. Sex was the topic of choice. Everything ranging from romanticized Twilight fantasies to lusty hopefuls wanting to be turned and rough to violent daydreams. There were 2 men at the bar watching Pam. They have a weird combination of fetishes. They wanted her to hurt them. Oh, and Roxie hates herself for what she did with you, but she’d do it again.”
She nudged my leg with her foot. “Uh unh. I answered. You massage. We had an arrangement.”
Not realizing I’d stopped, I went back to her muscles, getting a low hum for my efforts. “Roxie?”
“I’m sure you look silly when you pretend to be confused… The fangbanger you had in your office last night. I was in the bathroom when she was. You were mean to her. She liked it.”
“They tend to.”
“I know. I can read their minds.” Without opening her eyes, she lifted her other foot to my lap. “This one’s jealous.”
I laughed as I switched legs. I was rewarded again with a quiet moan.
“If you’re not careful, I could lock you up for personal use. I’d have no remorse either, since you don’t need sunlight or a bathroom.”
“Who says you’d need a lock?”
“Oh, eventually you’d want to roam.”
I released her leg and set them both on the floor. “Join me over here?”
She smiled but her eyes stayed shut for a moment before she moved. I lifted my leg to the bench, having her slide to me and rubbing her shoulders and back.
As I worked, she rested her forehead on my knee. Her breath, gentle sighs. She was practically purring when the red headed waitress came over.
“Sookie Stackhouse, where did you find a man that can give a decent back rub?”
Sookie laughed into my leg without looking up. “Fangtasia. Go get your own.”
The other waitress laughed nervously when she realized what Sookie meant. “Well, don’t go to sleep. Sam’s been givin’ ya the hairy eyeball since you got over here.”
“Has he now? If he has a problem, you tell Sam Merlotte that I am perfectly aware that I have 6 minutes of my dinner break left and if he wants to stare at something, remind him that Lafayette wore a thong tonight.”
“No way. You tell him!”
“You know it.” She wandered away, looking back at me from time to time.
Sookie sat up, extending her arms over her head in a cat-like stretch and leaning back against my chest.
“I want to propose a deal.”The way her body felt, laying against mine, I might have agreed to anything.
“Hmmm. I’m listening.”
“In exchange for one of those back rubs a week, I’ll come to Fangtasia and poke brains for surprises.”
“Like the bar back you’re gonna fire as soon as my break is over.”
“That’s a very valuable service you’re offering. Are you sure that a back rub is all you want?” Her neck being so close wasn’t something I was willing to deprive myself of. I put my mouth just below her ear, keeping my fangs in check with herculean effort as I kissed slowly to her shoulder.
She shuddered a deep sigh. “Simple is better. This way we can consider bonuses as needed.”
“Bonuses?” I wrapped my arms around her ribs, pulling her closer and resting my chin in the crook of her neck.
“Of course our arrangement would be beneficial for both of us, so heroic efforts should be rewarded with fitting bonuses.”
“Oh, Miss Stackhouse, I think we have ourselves a deal.” I put my hand out and she cupped her tiny hand into it, shaking on our contract.
She hummed. “Alright then. I need to get back to work.”
“Mr. Northman, I can’t pay bills with back rubs. Besides you need to call your bar and then focus on a new task.”
“What task would that be?”
She patted my thighs and started to sit up and slide away from me. “You need to think of something more aggressive. This may have done wonders for me, but Rene and Hoyt aren’t paying us any attention.”
Wonders for her? If she only knew… “Aggressive?”
“I suppose that I seem like more of a fang-snuggler.”
The booth felt inexplicably vacant the moment she was gone.
“I’m at Fangtasia. What else do you want?” Congeniality would be appreciated.
“Pam, I might have a way to make you hate me less.”
“I couldn’t hate you more. I was vomited on.”
“That certainly isn’t my fault.”
It was hard to not laugh. “Pam?”
“Eric, it was the first time I’d worn them.”
“Are they replaceable?”
“Then I’ll replace them.”
“You already did.”
“Do you feel better?”
“Not yet. What are you offering?”
“A quick chore, but one you’ll enjoy immensely. It’s come to my attention that one of our employees used a fake ID when they were hired.”
“Which one?” She sounded too excited to get to fire someone.
“The bar back.”
She was quiet for a moment, already feeling much better about her evening. “Longshadow’s bar back?”
“Must you sing it, Pam?”
“Oh yes. Yes, Eric I believe so. I’m firing Longshadow’s bar back. Ooh. I love the way that sounds.”
“The best you’re going to get is that I keep it to myself until this call is over. How did it come to your attention? Where are you?”
“I’m in Bon Temps trying to keep these murders from becoming an issue.”
“You skipped the first question. Eric, what’s going on?”
“Nothing to concern yourself with for now. I’ll let you know eventually.”
“Very well. Can I hang up now?”
“Pam, I’m too far away to protect you.”
“Noted. Hanging up.”
The task: Something ‘more aggressive.’
There was no way she meant for me to be more aggressive. It would scare her. She was far too interesting to want to frighten her away so quickly.
‘Fang-snuggler’. That was charming and certainly worth telling Pam about later.
Sookie was right though. Her brother’s friends had barely looked in our direction. The only real notice was taken by her scraggly boss.
When she glanced in my direction, I gave her a nod so that she’d come over.
Just a moment later she was standing at the end of the booth, exchanging one full true blood for another with a bright smile.
“The waitress, she said that your boss was staring. You said that you can’t ‘hear’ him very well.”
She shook her head. “Sam? No.” She leaned over to get closer. “He was really fond of Dawn. I don’t think he could’ve done that. Not to her.”
“But you can’t know for sure because he’s one of the people you can’t listen to, yes?”
She didn’t need to say she saw the logic, the disappointment on her face said it for her. “Did you think of something?”
“Not yet. Is there anyone else here that you have a similar problem with?”
She looked frustrated as she shook her head. “Not all night. It only happens once in a while.”
I grabbed my red herring true blood and slid out of my seat. “I think I’ll sit at the bar then. Maybe being more visible will be helpful.”
From my new vantage point, I could see the restaurant floor in its entirety. The front door wasn’t a concern, it was the customers and at the late hour, business was starting to die down.
Sookie stopped by to check on my true blood a couple of times before her boss made his way out to work behind the bar.
He glared at me while he poured a beer and I had an idea right away of what might make him more difficult for Sookie to read.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m a paying customer.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m here for Sookie.”
“Even if I hadn’t seen that for myself, she reeks of vampire.”
“And you’d prefer she smell like shifter.”
“She smells just fine on her own.”
I smiled, licking my lips to taunt him. “You’re very right about that.”
He snarled at me. “She doesn’t need your bullshit. Leave her alone.”
“You should calm yourself. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
He leaned over the bar, looking angry enough to be amusing. “I know exactly who I’m dealing with, Sherriff. Leave Sookie alone.”
I started chuckling, only because a full laugh would have attracted too much attention. “As fun as this is, you should mind your own business.”
“She is my business.”
“That’s funny. I thought we’d already established that she doesn’t smell like shifter.”
Sookie made her way over once she noticed we were talking. She smiled brightly as she put her arm around my waist and mine went around her back pulling her close again. “Mr. Northman, are you behaving?”
“Of course not.”
She giggled. “Did you two already introduce yourselves?”
“We did. Seems he’s already heard of me.”
“Really? Sam, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’ve only heard about his reputation.” He’d said it bitingly and Sookie giggled at him and looked up at me.
“Well there you go, Sherriff. I think I might have been the last person on the planet to hear about you.”
I smiled at Sam. Every word she said deflated him more and more. Any idiot could tell that he was posturing. He considered Sookie his. “You think this is bad, I’m HUGE in China.”
She turned her head to laugh into my shoulder, “You’re an office building in China… Let me get back to work.” She kissed my neck and as she slipped away, she told me to behave with a wink.
Merlotte didn’t miss a beat…
“Did you take her from Compton?”
“No. She came to me.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“I don’t particularly care.”
“What do you plan on doing with her?”
“Tonight I’m visiting her between tables and then I’m taking her home.”
“YOU’RE TAKING HER HOME!?!?”
“Do you have an inside voice?”
“You’ve got no business being alone with her.”
“That’s your opinion. Don’t you have something else you should be doing?”
He growled at me and threw a beer mug into the sink before stomping away.
Sookie gave me a disappointed look when she arrived behind the bar. “What was all that about?”
“We should talk about that in private, but it boils down to him being very protective of you.”
She huffed as she pulled a trash can out and started cleaning up the broken glass. “He likes me.”
“I caught on to that.”
She smiled at me. “I mean in a ‘married with children’ way though.”
“If you can’t hear him, then why haven’t you dated?”
She cringed. “Are you familiar with the term ‘friend zone’?”
“I can’t say that I am.”
“Well, he’s a good friend, brotherly even. The friend zone is the kiss of death for a guy who likes a girl. When he gets trapped there, there’s no way being anything else will work. Dating Sam would be too weird.” More than she realizes.
“So is there a way to avoid the friend zone?”
She shrugged. “It just happens.”
“I see. Am I in danger of being in the ‘friend zone’?”
She looked up at me with a smirk riding her lips. “It could happen. You are helping me, watching out for me…”
I don’t think she knew I was off of my stool before my arms were around her. “Miss Stackhouse.”
“Yes, Mr. Northman?”
“You shouldn’t tease me.”
“That’s good to know.”
Her eyes never left mine. She wasn’t scared even as I let my fangs drop. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be slightest bit frightened.
Her eyes were wide open as she lifted her lips to mine, first for a kiss then to nibble my lip.
Her tongue was waiting for mine, but when they met her eyes closed and she whimpered into my mouth.
There was no possible way for that kiss to have lasted long enough. I felt as though a current, a charge was coursing through me and if I didn’t know better, I’d say I felt as breathless as Sookie.
When I felt her hand pushing against my shoulder, I almost ignored her. Stopping was the last thing on my mind…
…Until I smelled her tears.