I’d completely expected to wake up alone. After the past few nights, it wouldn’t at all have surprised me to rise to a silent tomb of a house due to another dreadful injury or fantastic mystical occurrence.
…So when I became aware that the house was practically electric with activity, I couldn’t have been more pleased.
I could hear a vacuum being run in the distance and the hot water heater was refilling on the other side of the wall… The family was getting ready for Hunter’s arrival.
It took a few moments for me to completely comprehend my surroundings. The thick smell of cleaning solutions made their way to me just before I realized the scent of the sheets I was laying on. Rolling over, I found that the heavily stained white sheets that Sookie and I had gladly sacrificed during our, as Sookie called it, ‘carnal carnival’ this morning had been replaced with clean (and most likely pressed) black ones. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know how she managed to change them. The thought was disturbing enough without confirmation.
Sitting up only allowed me to notice more. Not that I was a slob by any stretch of the imagination, my long existence without a maid service was testament to that fact, but I’d never been particular about kicking my shoes off next to my bed or desk at the end of the night… The shoes and clothes that Sookie and I had scattered throughout the room had vanished. The comforter that might as well be a rug since it had been spending so much time in a heap at the foot of the bed was in a perfect accordion fold over the end of the bed. The carpeting had been tracked by the vacuum. The keyboard, mouse and monitor were perfectly squared on the desk… and the chair was set so perfectly under the center of the desk that it looked like it had been done with a ruler.
I laughed when I became aware that Sookie and Adele were sharing identical moods. Nervously eager.
Sookie’s crazed cleaning binge had struck the bathroom too. There was nothing but the smell of bleach under the vanilla candle that she’d left burning on the counter by the sink.
There was a brief moment while I was in the shower where I thought that it might have been a good thing that we’d had the distraction we did the night before.
That particular feeling was short lived, but it did leave me wondering about ‘them’ for the time it took for me to dress… making sure to erase my tracks, of course and that included doing my best to reset the desk as I had found it after I checked my emails.
I’d been tempted to jokingly leave something, everything askew, but undue stress would have been cruel… and asking for trouble.
The first person I encountered when I entered the kitchen was Alcide.
“Hide.” His face was so serious that I couldn’t help but laugh.
“They’re just women.”
“No they aren’t smarty pants. They’re southern women getting ready for company… Compounded by the fact that the company is royalty and they’ve both had vampire blood… Hide.”
“Adele made the pool guy cry.”
“He doesn’t speak any English.”
“Apparently Adele picked up enough Spanish to tell him that his mother and Jesus would be ashamed of his work ethic.”
When I was done laughing… “Did they do away with Jason?”
“When he refused to go get a manicure…”
“He worked today. His nails were dirty… Sookie practically held him down to clean his hands and then they sent him to get a haircut.”
“How did you not get sent?”
“They tried. I told them that my hair wouldn’t matter because I’m just a Were. The queen would be excited that I don’t have fleas.” He mockingly sniffled.
“At least they still have the capacity for sympathy. How did Sookie not know you’re full of shit?”
“She locked up. She’s concentrating on just Adele to make sure she’s holding up.”
“They have to almost be done by now.”
“They’re putting the blades and sconces back on all of the ceiling fans. Adele will probably clean the kitchen again. I was sent to ‘guard the soufflé’. Jason checks the oven when he smells stuff cooking and if the door gets opened, it’ll fall.”
I teasingly reached for the oven door slowly.
“They’ll kill you.”
“They would not.”
“They’d drag you out to the yard to do it because they’ve already cleaned the floor, but they’re vicious right now. Don’t ever fuck with a southern woman when she’s on a cleaning streak. It’s the closest to bloodlust that you’ll ever see a human.”
“You say ‘southern woman’ as though it’s synonymous with ‘fire breathing dragon’ rather than manners and mint juleps.”
“You’ve seen too many movies. A southern woman IS a fire breathing dragon… you’re thinking ‘southern lady’… that only comes out once the house is clean and their hair is right.”
Sookie came into the kitchen quickly enough to surprise him with a slap. Her hair was pulled up into tangled ponytail and she reeked of cleaner and sweat… “Keep it up, I’ll give you something to be scared of.”
“Yeah, proving my point… You’re so nasty you’re going to have to clean the tub after you shower, Pig Pen.”
She snarled at him, but turned to me. “We have about an hour before they’re here.”
“An hour?” How the fuck was that possible?
“Hadley called about an hour ago. They were about to take off…”
“Wait. Sookie… are you sure? That would mean she was up before me.”
She looked over to Alcide who checked his watch before he gave her a nod. “Yeah. She said that last night she went with Andre to talk to Remy and he was waiting at the hanger at sunset with Hunter. They rested there for the day so that they wouldn’t keep Hunter up too late.”
“I’m only able to rise so early because of my age. Pam is only just now rising.”
“That’s… Wow. Really?”
“The earliest I’ve ever risen was 2 hours before sunset and even then it was because a storm was blocking the sun.”
“You think it might be because of…”
“Who knows? But I’m asking tonight. There are plenty of…” I trailed off as a few things came to mind.
“Other than her diet and schedule… she is still as she was as a human.”
“Who said that?”
“Sophie-Ann… I was making a joke of your cousin’s rambling.”
“Eric, she could… when she was staying at your place in New Orleans… I didn’t even check… I just assumed she was dying for the day.”
“Did she mention to you if she’d gotten any gifts?”
“No… She bitched that she sucked at glamouring and that she wasn’t that much faster or stronger… But we know she shares that thing… and then the whispering.”
“It could be her gift… or it could be because…”
Alcide broke in, “Because what? Normally I wouldn’t give a shit, but I’m right fucking here.”
Sookie giggled and patted the counter in front of him. “Secret: I’m part faerie.”
“No shit! That’s funny… you know… considering.”
“Yeah. I heard.”
“So y’all are thinking that your cousin might not die because of the combo.”
We both nodded.
“Well hell, good luck confirming that shit without getting turned… Hey, you could have Pam turn Jason… that’d be funny even if the experiment doesn’t tell you anything.”
The idea of Jason being a vampire was amusing enough before I pictured Pam as a maker. Sookie snickered that it would be a ‘match made in hell’ and probably inspire another series of poorly written books.
While Sookie bathed, I tried to plan how I’d confront Sophie-Ann for information about Hadley’s condition as a vampire.
Even if it was all fact instead of guess-work, there really wouldn’t be much way to confirm whether it was a gift or a side-effect of being part Fae without turning Sookie… But knowing the possibilities would help prepare…
We’d have to wait and see… I wasn’t planning on bringing Sookie over any time soon… Not until she was comfortable with Hunter’s maturity.
We’d most likely have a couple of decades to wonder… Annoying, but… a drop in the bucket.
When Jason walked in, he took one look at me and began shaking his head. “Hide.”
Worth a chuckle, especially when Alcide groaned, “Sookie didn’t even bitch at him about his t-shirt.”
“Why would she say something about my shirt?”
“They bitched at us for not wearing something nicer.” Are there grades of flannel?
“They’ll relax soon enough.”
Jason snorted and tossed his keys onto the counter and barely had the chance to put a finger in the air in a ‘wait for it’ gesture… Adele immediately shouted from her room for him to put them in his pocket.
He then went to the refrigerator and opened the door… And in a fraction of a second I was ‘ordered’ to backhand him if he tried to use a dish… so I was ‘thanked’ for her improved hearing.
Jason gave me an ‘I told you so’ face that I’d swear Pam had taught him. “If you ain’t gonna hide, you got any tips on how we can?”
The mood of the Stackhouse women wasn’t nearly as enjoyably lighthearted as it had been while cooing over Hunter’s new things the night before… It was obscenely oppressive and belligerent. But there was a pronounced difference… While Adele seemed to be striving for perfection, Sookie was consumed with tension. Whatever was going through her head, she was only inflaming the stress that she was putting on herself.
I found her wrapped in a towel and drying the walls of shower…
“Sookie, I doubt anyone will be coming down here.”
She jumped, too lost in thought to feel that I’d been watching her. “I know… I just… I want everything to look nice. Just in case.”
“You’re going to clean until you need another bath… then you’ll want to clean again. Calm down.”
“Yes, calm down. You’ve already met the queen and soon to be king. You’ve already reunited with your long-lost cousin. You’re terrified of meeting a toddler.”
“I’m not… He’s not just a toddler though…”
“Don’t make excuses. You need to be rational. I’m aware that he’s not just a toddler… are you suffering the delusion that your mood will go unnoticed?”
She finally stopped her frenzied chore to stare at the tile for a moment. “I don’t know what to do with a three year old… I’ve babysat before, but pizza and a board game isn’t the same… I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“You are aware of how unreasonable you’re being, yes?”
“You are. He doesn’t need you.”
“What!?” Infuriated with me instead of anxious because of company was an improvement… Manipulative and opportunistic had always been two of my ‘best’ qualities. They always made up for my complete ineptitude when it came to sugar-coating.
“He has a father. He doesn’t need you. Right now there is no reason for that little boy to need you. His father might not know how to deal with Hunter’s ability, but neither did Adele. If Hadley had never mentioned him, his life would continue on and he would most likely relive your childhood… He isn’t starving or homeless. He isn’t being abused or neglected. Moving to be with you is a completely optional upgrade. You managed, he could too…”
“That’s not fair. I don’t want him to have to…”
“Then stop. If you want to help him, the worst thing you could do is let him think that someone like him is afraid of him.”
“But… I don’t think anything I do will be right.”
“I’ll say again, calm down. Your guard’s first word to me tonight was ‘hide’. Alcide and Jason are actually afraid of you and Adele at the moment. How do you think Hunter will react to that? Do you think the three year old mind reader will be amused that you two were so determined to clean the house like I am, or do you think he’ll see that two readable men are afraid to move and take that as a warning sign?”
“Adele told me to hit Jason if he tried to pour a glass of tea.”
She shrugged dismissively and walked past me to go the closet. “She’s had you’re blood. Can you calm her down?”
“It won’t work as well because it’s only been once… I’m going to influence you too.”
“I don’t want…”
“And you’re going to let me.”
“You’re either going to agree or I’m leaving for the airport now to send them back.”
“Because as anxious as you are about his ability complicating things, Hunter won’t look at you any differently than you looked at your mother. There’d be no point in having him here. What’s your decision?”
“That was a low blow.”
“Think about it for a moment… and then tell me that it isn’t true.”
She glared, inflexible and upset for a while before she accepted that I was right. She reached into the closet and huffed out an annoyed ‘fine’ as she grabbed one of her dresses.
“Good. Wear jeans. I’m going to talk to Adele.”
I didn’t have to look for Adele. She was already in the kitchen, wearing an apron over her a dress with her hair pulled back into a tight bun… She was scrubbing the sink again and Jason mouthed ‘hide’ from behind her.
“Adele, we need to discuss a few things.”
“Good luck talking some sense into these lugs…”
“Actually… something needs to be done about you now that I’ve ‘talked some sense’ into Sookie. What are you doing?”
“I’m getting the house…”
“Let me rephrase. Why are you sanitizing the kitchen sink in one of your nicest dresses? Stop cleaning. Go put the usual braid in your hair and change into one of your typical outfits.”
“Because Hunter’s father is a construction worker who’s been raising him alone. He’s not going to feel comfortable around people who aren’t comfortable, nor will he feel at home in a house that doesn’t feel lived in.”
“But the queen will…”
“When we left for New Orleans, did I or did I not make sure you would be dressed appropriately?”
“You did, but…”
“Who has more practice in dressing to suit a situation?”
“You do, but…”
“You’ve cleaned and re-cleaned an already tidy house. You’ve bullied a Werewolf and your grandson about their appearances and now you’re dressed as though you’re about to attend to business instead of meet your great grandson… If I breathed, I could choke on the airs in the room and I’m a vampire so that says a lot. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you were channeling Maxine Fortenberry. Go change.”
Jason took an animated step back as though he didn’t want to get caught between us. It was nearly impossible to not laugh, especially since the mention of Maxine Fortenberry caused an indignant flash of anger in Adele’s eyes…
“Come on, now. Even Sookie realized I’m right. I thought you were the sensible one.”
She shook her head, gasping, knowing that I was calling her difficult… hating it and owning it at the same moment before she stomped out of the room, violently yanking pins out of her hair and muttering about how I’d ‘better be right’.
Jason and Alcide had the sense to wait until her bedroom door slammed behind her before they started laughing…
And then Pam arrived… And I started laughing… not at her. Not for any reason other than being relieved that I wasn’t going to have to piss off the last of them…
“What? Do you think I should change?” She began straightening her lavender twinset nervously.
“No. You look perfect.” I’m sure every stitch she was wearing was designer, but… pumps, jeans and a sweater set… She was as ‘dressed down’ as she could get without bringing tears to her own eyes.
“So… what was going on? You’ve been… ruffled for a while now.”
“Sookie and Adele are overanxious about Hunter’s arrival. Nothing more.”
“Where are they? Did you go caveman on them? Use the ‘boss’ voice?”
I started shaking my head. “I was happy to see you.”
She blew a raspberry at me. “Has anyone heard anything, like when to expect them?”
“They’re probably close to landing. They aligned things so that they could take off at sunset.”
“It’s a good thing I was planning on coming straight over then. Should I go do some damage control? Which one of them is more pissed at you?”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Sookie is. I was too blunt.”
She laughed and punched my side on her way to the basement door.
The last thing said for a while was when Alcide laughed at me as he and Jason went to the den to watch television… The prick told me not to worry, because there’d be two more women arriving for me to piss off.
Sookie and Pam stayed in our room… Whatever they were talking about wasn’t calming Sookie down, but at least it didn’t make things worse…
Adele made a brief appearance to show that she’d changed into something casual… and gave a cheeky eye roll on her way to pout in the library. I opted to follow her… With no work left undone, I decided to fill my idle time by typing her catalog of books so that it could be sent to Paulette… It took some work, but after nearly an hour of ‘silent treatment’ I managed to get her to speak to me by asking if there were any books she’d like for me to have Paulette look for… I used Hunter… That’s right. I used a child as my way back into her graces…
We’d put together a respectable list of ‘bedtime stories’… Kipling, Carroll, Aesop and Andersen… I’d even gotten a little laugh out of her when I joked that Andersen was the only Dane to do anything notable unless she wanted to count Hamlet.
She’d just asked if all Swedes were as ‘haughty’ as I was or if there was just a Scandinavian rivalry when the knock landed on the front door.
Adele was so comically anxious that she yanked Sookie’s laptop from my legs and practically threw it onto the desk… she grabbed my hand and would’ve been dragging anyone else…
She nearly hit me with the door when she flung it open to see Hadley standing with her arms folded across her chest… and much lower to the ground was Hunter…
Not tall enough to be eye level with Hadley’s belt and wearing a plush dinosaur backpack over his jacket… he took a second to study Adele before he grinned at her. “You’re Gran.”
She beamed at him. “And you’re Hunter. Did you have fun on the plane?”
He shook his head very seriously. “No.”
“Sorry to hear that. Maybe you’ll have more fun here. Do you mind if I hug you?”
He took a step back. “I don’t like it.”
Adele tried to hide how disappointed she was as Hadley stepped forward to offer a hug from her instead. All the while, Hunter studied me. “Remy says he doesn’t like touching people.”
Adele was suddenly comforted… “Oh my! Of course he wouldn’t… What was I thinking? How was the trip?”
Hadley huffed. “Quiet. Uneventful. He stared at us the whole time.”
Adele scowled at her, but softened her tone. “You make it sound like he should’ve been happy about being with strangers… Quit being myopic.”
Hadley actually rolled her eyes… because the three year old should understand why he was no longer going to live with the only relative he’d ever known… “Sophie-Ann and Andre are in the car… they’re giving us some time.”
“Who are you?” The women looked at him to see that he was still locked down on me.
“We keep a smaller guy in the den if you like.”
He laughed. “Who is he?”
“Your cousin, Jason. He was watching television while we waited for you to arrive. Are you thinking about coming in, or would you like for your bed to be brought out.”
He grinned and cut his eyes in my direction as he walked by us and stopped at the coat rack. He fixated on the top of it while he shed his backpack and then his coat and held it out to me.
When I took it from him, my hand brushed his. He reacted as though I’d given him a static shock; a startled breath and a twitch. It only proved that touch was as much an issue for him as it was for Sookie, just not to what extent.
The surprise came when my arms were back at my side. He took the step to grab my hand and look up at me for a long while. Confusion was winning the battle to take over his tiny face.
I didn’t know if he was surprised by my temperature or what he could hear…“Hadley?”
“We… we explained that he’d be living here instead of with Remy…”
“Nothing about yourself?”
“We didn’t want to sc… No.” Worthless.
“Hunter, there’s a reason you can’t hear my thoughts.”
“We know you can hear people’s thoughts… Your cousin Sookie is the same.”
I nodded. “She’s very good at it.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“She hears more when she’s touching someone too.”
He looked at my hand, still barely wrapping his around two of my fingers. “You’re quiet.”
“Sookie can’t hear vampires either.”
“You’re a vampire?”
“And you’re a telepath. Nice to meet you.”
“Don’t you drink blood?”
“I do, but not from little boys. I hear they taste like boogers.”
“I don’t eat boogers!”
“Why would you? Your Gran will keep you too full of cookies. Would you like to go find Sookie?”
He gave an excited nod and held fast to my hand…
Downstairs, Pam and Sookie were sitting on the flawlessly made bed. Their conversation came to a screeching halt when I knocked on the jamb as a warning.
They were both surprised to see he’d already arrived.
“Hunter, this is Pam. She’s a vampire too. And that is Sookie.”
He watched her for a moment before looking to me. “She’s quiet too.”
“She’s using her shields so that she can’t hear your Gran and Jason.”
I nodded. “That’s one of the reasons why you’ll be living here now. She’s going to teach you how to not listen when you don’t want to.”
“Really. Pam, why don’t you come with me to find Jason.”
She pouted, but she got up…
She stopped in front of him and squatted down to his level. “You’re really cute for a midget.”
“I’m not a midget. I’m a kid.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Midgets are little grownups. Kids aren’t grown up yet.”
“If you say so. Should I tell Gran to put out something for you to snack on?”
He gave her a grin and a nod.
She smiled back and stood up to ruffle his hair. “Alright then, Shortie, I’ll see you upstairs.”
It was too late for Pam to pass word about snacks. By the time we opened the door, Adele had already spread the counter to look like a bakery display case. “Are we expecting more company, Adele?”
“We weren’t sure what he’d like. Sookie said she’d take the leftovers to work. Is he scared?”
I answered, looking directly at Hadley. “He was terrified for all of half a second. How the fuck anyone could be so unforgivably clueless is beyond me.”
Hadley fired back. “He was scared of Andre as soon as he saw him. We thought it would make it worse.”
“Oh, well, then… bravo that you actually thought… It’s just a shame that it wasn’t a complete thought. You said that you want to be a part of his life, but you couldn’t be bothered to tell him what the fuck you are! Instead of doing what it took 2 seconds for me to explain in the 2 hours he was in your company, you waited for someone else to do it for you. And that’s not to minimize that you took him from his father without telling him that there would be anything in it for him and had the gall to be upset that you didn’t get your Hallmark Moment.”
“I did what I thought was…”
“EASY! You did what you thought was easy for you! Don’t you dare suggest that you thought about what was best for Hunter or the rest of your family. In case you’re still at a loss, let me spell it out for you. Sookie can read minds. Jason has an impressive level of intuition and the only thing you seem to have gotten from your mysterious Faerie heritage is the gift to miraculously ignore your own culpability for anything.” Perhaps last night’s ‘adventure’ was too fresh on my mind, but how horribly everyone’s lives could’ve been for the past couple of weeks wasn’t escaping me.
She gasped dramatically and looked to Adele for some sort of defense and wasn’t happy to see that she wasn’t going to get one. “You told them?”
“Of course I told them. It would have been irresponsible of me to keep it from them… What the fuck do you think would happen if the mystery gets solved with a visit from your distant kin? The Fae clans have been at war with each other for long enough that my maker couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t. They needed to know for their own safety and Hunter’s.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Of course not… There are a lot of things that you don’t know because you don’t bother to ask. You have no idea what your ignorance and selfishness could have brought upon the family you claim to love so much.”
“Are you going to tell me or are you just going to yell at me?”
“The mere fact that Bill was sent to assess them would have gotten Adele murdered and Sookie would have been very close to it as well. Jason would’ve hated her for it in turn.”
“How could you kn…” She stopped herself and tilted her head to the side. She fucking knew something.
It had been a long time since I’d met my breaking point, but I’d had enough. “Does Andre know?”
“Fuck you then. Maybe you should’ve asked about how much patience I have for bitches that play dumb.” I stormed out through the garage, feeling Pam’s rising panic…
Without invitation I slid onto the bench in the back of the waiting limo, surprising the queen and her future king.
“Northman, you don’t look very happy to see me.”
“We need to talk.”
“Hadley is upset. Is the meeting not going well?”
“All due respect, fuck Hadley. I want answers. I’m calling in that favor you owe me.”