“Of all the things! You want to go swimming?”
“Miss Stackhouse, I intend to go swimming regardless. I would like you to join me though.”
She laughingly shook her head. “Oh, come on!”
I teased, “It doesn’t seem like such a trial to me, but if you’re unwilling…”
“Don’t pull that! You sound like a Baptist on Sunday with that guilt trip.”
“Is it working?”
“No. I don’t have a suit with me.”
I rolled my eyes at her, taking her hand and leading her to the patio door. “You were willing to swim in your underthings earlier.”
She wasn’t resisting. “I was going to be alone earlier.”
“I’m not inflexible. You choose how to do it. Would you like for me to get in first?”
“So that you can watch me get undressed from the pool?” The thought had occurred to me.
“I won’t watch. I’ll turn around.” I’d still have the video, after all.
Sookie stared at me, trying to look unsure. She had already decided to concede. “Bill was right. I’m not safe with you.”
I smiled at her. “We’ve already established that you are a lost cause without his help.”
She narrowed her eyes and huffed out an aggravated grunt. “Fine. Turn around!”
I choked back the urge to laugh at her ‘irritation’ as I turned around. “Does Wal-Mart by chance carry bathing suits?”
She started to snicker and I heard her shoes bounce on the pavement. “Ooooh. You think you’re funny don’t you? Yes. Wal-Mart does have bathing suits… and it’s a damn shame none of us thought about it while we were there. Huh?”
“Are you implying that I was purposefully avoiding that particular department?”
I heard the button from her shorts scrape the cement. “Of course not. What kind of sneaky jerk would do that?” Yours truly.
I chuckled at her. “You’re very suspecting of someone who only wants company for a swim.”
She laughed again as she flung her shirt over my shoulder. I listened as she padded to the edge of the pool and dove in making very little noise. I remained with my back to her, as promised, until she surfaced and invited me to turn around.
I thought, only for a moment, about teasing her for watching me as I undressed. She was treading water as I toed my shoes off and pulled my t-shirt over my head. I had just started to push my pants down when she yelled at me. Her voice cut through the still night air like a knife.
“I never said I’d go skinny dipping with you!”
I tilted my head to the side slightly and continued to take my pants off. “What is ‘skinny dipping’?”
I stood next to the pool waiting for her answer, watching her glow with embarrassment by the time she thought to turn herself around. “You know what skinny dipping is. Swimming in the buff.”
“You aren’t ‘in the buff’. You didn’t intend for me to swim in jeans, did you?”
“You could have left your underwear on.”
“That would imply that I was wearing some. I rarely do. I’m not sure what you’re disturbed by. We’re just swimming.”
“You’re naked.” She said the word as though she believed she was born in a robe and slippers.
“What are you afraid of?”
She gasped and turned around. “Nothing!”
I smiled at her. “Then can I get into the water now?”
She let a frustrated growl as I dove into the pool, lapping the bottom so that I could watch as she continued to tread water. Her legs were moving smoothly to keep her at the surface. Her arms drifting aimlessly while her hair was floating behind her in a cloud making it appear even softer than I knew it to be. The ivory lace of her underthings clung to her curves and gave me a hint of a fading tan line.
I could have circled the deep end all night, watching her body make poetry out of something as simple as a midnight swim, but she seemed to catch me. Without dipping her head under the water, she found my vantage point.
She pointed at me and followed the mime by jerking her thumb towards the surface. I was being ‘summoned’.
I laughed until I brought my head out of the water inches from her face. “Yes, Sookie?”
She was trying to hide her smile behind a scowl. “You were ogling me from underwater!”
“It only seemed fair after the way you were looking at me.”
Her mouth dropped open, aghast at my accusation. “I wasn’t looking at your… your… I was talking to you!”
“If you say so.”
“Besides, how am I supposed to keep you company if you’re underwater the whole time?”
“Hmmm. You make a very good point. What should we talk about?”
“I don’t know… Who is ‘she’, ‘her’? When you were talking to Pam and Bill earlier, was that your boss?”
I considered her curiosity for a minute, knowing that a human should be kept ignorant. “Sookie, there are certain details that vampire keep quiet. Things humans aren’t privy to. So you’ll have to keep it to yourself. I’d rather you didn’t even mention it to Pam that I’ve shared details with you.”
She smiled. “My lips are sealed.” I certainly hope not in a literal sense.
“She is the queen of Louisiana. I am one of 4 Sheriffs working for her, and she governs over her own area; Area 1 is New Orleans.”
She started to giggle and for a second I was sure that she believed me as much as I believed she could read minds initially. “Queen? Like all the states have a king or queen? Do they answer to anyone? Like, is there a vampire Parliament?”
“Some Kings or Queens rule more than one state, but yes the monarchs that rule them get to power just as human kings and queens do. They kill their adversaries. There isn’t a parliament, but if there is a serious charge against someone, it’s answered by a court of sorts. It doesn’t happen often.”
She giggled again.
“Do you think it’s funny?”
“No. I think it’s exciting.”
“What, in particular, is so exciting about this information?”Unbelievable.
She leaned away, lazily floating on her back. “Well, first of all, I’m excited that you told me anything considering you wouldn’t get a ‘do-over’ since I can’t get glamoured. And well… to be honest, Bill is really tight lipped about stuff. If I hadn’t known he was different, he might not have told me right away that he’s a vampire.”
“Your gift is part of why I trusted you with the information.”
“Why’s that? It’s not like I could hear you?”
“Other Supes know. If you were to ‘overhear’ something, I’d prefer that you know that some things should be held in confidence. Sam, for instance. You said that he was harder to read, not impossible.”
She growled at the mention of her boss. “I guess I need to talk to him.”
“Did he say something earlier?”
“No, but I need to tell him that he got tattled on and that I’m pissed at him for keeping that secret. He’s known about my disability for long enough.”
“You should know that I only told you about Sam because you already knew he is ‘different’. And… Stop calling it a disability.”
Her eyebrows went up, surprised that I’d been brusque. “Excuse me? I’m the freak. I’ll call it what I want.”
“Sookie, I wasn’t mocking you when I mentioned how valuable your gift is. You could make a living, a very good one, by using that ability. You could hardly find anyone who’d pay a cripple for a ride in their wheelchair… Well, perhaps Pam.”
Sookie’s head fell back as she laughed and switched directions to swim towards me. “What am I allowed to call it then?”
“Telepathy or mind reading.”
“You don’t know what it’s like…”
“Are we whining now? Honestly, Sookie.”
She stopped swimming, giving me a level stare. “Eric, when was the last time you went for quarter of a century without sex?”
I laughed at her as I closed the distance between us. “I’m more than willing to help end your fast.”
She snickered. “Thanks for telling me. I never would have figured that out on my own.”
I swam closer. “You are far too cheeky to be alone and defenseless with a vampire.”
She swam back slightly. “I probably need to have my head examined, huh? I should see a professional.”
Closing in. “I just so happen to know a telepath, if you can believe that.”
“That sounds like a line. I work at a bar. I’ve heard enough of them to know.”
She tried to continue her retreat, but realized that she’d reached the wall. “I’ve heard a few myself… You’re very bold; maybe you have some vampire in you.”
She laughed, putting her hands over my wrists as I grabbed the lip of the pool just behind her, effectively trapping her. “Hmmm. I don’t think I do.”
I licked my lips, enjoying her tease more than I should. “Would you like some?”
She was still laughing. “Lame. Try again.”
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Being pounced on by a giant vampire. Try again.”
“I don’t usually have to try this hard.”
“Maybe that’s why you think I’m so much fun.” That goes without saying.
I raised my eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“Yep. C’mon. Third time’s a charm. What else ya got?”
I smiled at her, dumbfounded. I was at a loss for another ‘pick up line’ that I’d be willing to lower myself to use, even in jest. Finally, “If I told you that you have an amazing body, would you hold it against me?” I wiggled my eyebrows at her. My juvenile efforts earned a wicked smirk.
“Oh, that did it.”
I pulled closer, pressing against her. “What did that do, Sookie?”
“With a line like that, I couldn’t help myself. I’d have to go home with you.”
“But since you’re already here…”
Her arms went over my shoulders as she lowered her face, putting her lips to my neck. Warm breath, soft kisses, slight nibbles… “Eric?”
My fangs jumped out and every bit of me went rigid. What parts of me didn’t want to be buried inside of her were holding back the parts that did. “Yes, Sookie?”
“I’m not a fangbanger.” It was barely a whisper as she nibbled her way to my ear.
“I wouldn’t bother if you were.”
“I don’t want you to be mean or rough with me.” If she continued as she was, she might eliminate her options.
I could only focus on the throbbing in her neck only centimeters away, pulsing its invitation. I had to force my eyes closed as I nibbled my own trail up her neck. “I know.”
“Can you be patient and gentle?” No.
I straightened my arms, trying to put some distance between us so that I could calm myself, only to find that she’d wrapped her legs around my waist and I’d been too preoccupied with her neck, her tease, to notice. “Not now, I can’t.”
Her legs fell away from my sides and her hands went to my chest, pushing herself back. “Meaning?”
My fangs were still drawn and my attention was grabbed by her pulse again. I couldn’t find the words to explain without scaring her. All I could do is shake my head.
“I’ve spun you up.” She looked so flawlessly innocent as she said it, she only made me want her more.
I confirmed with a nod.
She floated, staring at me concerned, but still unafraid. All the while none of my primal urges stopped screaming at me. “Can you explain it to me? Is it because you’re hungry or horny… Am I doing something that I shouldn’t?”
‘Spun up’ had been an understatement. I was close to stammering. “Sookie, it’s all the same. It’s all ‘need’. You haven’t done anything close to the realm of wrong though.”
She moved her hands back to my wrists to hold herself out of the water. “And what is likely to happen if we don’t calm down? If you don’t calm down?”
“I’m likely to be rougher than you are comfortable with.”
“And what if we take a time out? How would later or tomorrow be different?”
“I can’t promise that it will. I think I want you too much.” I expected her to run away, terrified. I wanted to get to the bottom of why my statement was so true. I would have lied to any other girl. For that matter, I wouldn’t have bothered stopping.
She smiled at me though. “But you might be able to control yourself?”
“I don’t know, Sookie. I don’t usually find myself in this situation.”
“Okay then. I’m going to go get a cold shower.” She turned around and lifted herself out of the pool from where she’d been between my arms and knelt on the edge. She reached out, cradling the back of my head and kissed me.
She held us together as her tongue made its advance. I should have stopped her. I should have, but I couldn’t. I barely had the control I needed to not pull her back in.
When she pulled back, she placed one last soft kiss on my lips and rested her forehead on mine. “I’m sorry.”
She smiled, too sweetly given my mood. “See you in a few minutes?”
All I could do was nod.
She left me there with frustrated fistfuls of broken concrete.
Four pints of blood and a miserable shower later, I took my laptop from my safe room to search Sookie out.
I settled on the sofa in the den since she still hadn’t surfaced and started tending to business emails while I waited.
Sookie finally joined me, smiling brightly and wearing a short white nightgown. “Did you find Gran?”
I returned her smile. “She’s still reading in the study. Is it typical for her to stay awake so late?”
“She’s kind of a night owl. She waits up for me when I close to make sure I make it home alright.”
“You’re very close.”
She lay down, using the armrest as her pillow and crossing her ankles to rest them on my thigh. “She raised me and Jason. Our parents died in a car accident when I was 7.”
“She’s the only family you have?”
Her eyes darted away as though she was hiding something. “No, just all that we’re close to.”
“Are you embarrassed about something? I’ve met your brother. I don’t think less of you because of him.” If anything, I’m impressed that she could spring from the same gene pool.
She reached for the book she’d been reading earlier and rested it on her chest. “I have a cousin who ran away from a rehab Gran couldn’t afford to help her with and she probably doesn’t know that her mother died of cancer a few years back.”
“That’s nothing to be embarrassed of. Is there anyone else?”
She cleared her throat and buried her face in her book. “Gran has a brother. Now get to work. I feel bad enough that you have to babysit us. I’d be racked if I was keeping you from what little you can do.”
“Did she call him? So that he doesn’t worry.”
“She hasn’t talked to him in years.” Sookie hadn’t bothered looking up from the book. She seemed like she was hiding in it.
“If you’re still talking to Jason…”
“He was funny.” Her tone didn’t imply that she meant he made balloon animals. It was biting.
I was left to stare at the binding. “Sookie?”
She sat up, recoiling. Her feet pulled away from my lap and the book was tucked under her chin as though it was protecting her. “Gran stopped talking to her brother because he was molesting me. It started when I was really little and when she found out about it, she disowned him. He never actually… the worst part was that since I’m lucky enough to read minds, I always got a preview of what he had in mind. My mother didn’t believe me when I told her so it went on until after my parents died and I moved in with Gran…”
She was shaking, trembling just remembering the trauma. I slid my computer from my lap and pulled Sookie to me in an attempt to end the story she obviously hadn’t wanted to tell. “Stop. You don’t have to tell me anymore. I’m sorry I pushed you.” I’d honestly thought that she meant that he was an embarrassing drunk or had a bizarre interest in sheep.
She wasn’t crying, but she grabbed onto me as though she was worried I might drop her.
I set her on her bed gently, apologizing for causing her distress and surprising myself by meaning it.
I kissed her forehead and started to back away, but she caught my hand and pleaded with me to stay with her.
I spooned in behind her and she hugged my arm under her chin. After a few minutes her trembling stopped and her breathing slowed.
After only a few more minutes, she let a long yawn… “I love that I can’t hear you feeling sorry for me.”
While that gave her some peace, the element that comforted me was that she couldn’t hear what my imagination was doing to her uncle.
I sat down in the armchair next to Adele’s. It was ‘Adele’s’ in that I might not walk into my study anytime soon and not picture her sitting in it, contentedly examining an antique tome.
She immediately closed her book and smiled at me. “Does it bother you that I’m using you?”
“Not at all. I very much enjoy having someone around who shares my affinity for the classics. Pam is a member of Oprah’s Book Club.”
“Oh. Don’t knock it because it’s new. She’s helped many a worthy author get their ground.”
“I might listen if you have a recommendation. Pam lost all of her credibility. She gave me a copy of Chicken Soup for the Vampire Soul. It’s over there if you want a laugh.”
She chuckled. “I might just take a peek. I can suggest Angela’s Ashes and Tuesdays With Morrie. Then again, one of them is an autobiographical account of a poverty stricken Irish family and the other is a memoir of a writer’s realization that once in a while an old fart has something interesting to say.”
“I’ve noticed that society doesn’t appreciate age unless there are fangs attached.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that they appreciate the fangs as much as they’re worried to ignore them.”
I smiled at her. “Fair point. Pam and I frequently feel like a side show. However…”
“Your bar sort of encourages the problem.”
“I’d like to think that it exploits a situation that would exist anyway.”
“Are they really that bad?”
“Absurd. All I see when I look at them is how ashamed their families would be to see them act as they do. They’re desperate enough for attention to throw themselves at vampire, consequences be damned. They are just as pleased to be used as a blood donor as to be kicked like livestock.” I was enjoyably stunned when her reaction to ‘donor’ and ‘livestock’ was a simple shake of her head as though she was agreeing that their behavior is disgraceful.
“You do understand that Sookie isn’t like that though. She isn’t one of them.”
I nodded. “Of course. I understand that the appeal for her is entirely different. She could too easily be used though. I’m still puzzled as to why I’m not trying to exploit her, to be honest.”
“Because you’re fond of her.”
She smiled and it was almost warm. “No it isn’t. You just aren’t used to not being ‘Harry Hard Ass’ all the time. She needs someone like you, ya know.”
This, I had to hear. I started laughing. “You’re suggesting that your grandchild ‘date’ a vampire. How do you figure she needs someone like me?”
“Who better to protect her from those who might exploit her? You’ve offered her a job when you could have just as easily blackmailed her into working for free.”
“Did she tell you what our arrangement is?”
She nodded, smiling again. “She says that you give a good enough massage that she’s already hoping for overtime… She also said that it was her idea.”
I laughed. “It was, but that’s part of the problem. In a lot of cases her gift could earn her thousands of dollars in a sitting. I’d pay a telepath that much just to screen my human employees for deceit. When a real problem arises, like this situation with Jason, she has no idea how valuable her talents could be to a vampire whose best interests aren’t in the heart of law enforcement.”
“She may very well come around, but you need to understand that she hates her gift because the first thing it ever did for her was give her nightmares.”
“She told you about her mother?” Shit. There’s more?
“Not about her mother. What happened?”
“She was scared of the poor thing. She had Sookie convinced that she was a monster. Had her at doctors and therapists. Sookie always did what she was told, but they’d all eventually call her a liar or a faker. She was embarrassed of her own daughter and Sookie ‘heard’ it every time she wished Sookie hadn’t been born… I’m going to guess that what she mentioned was about my lovely brother.”
The way she clenched her jaw as ‘brother’ fought its way across her lips left no question as to how she felt about him. “Indeed.”
“Of all the unanswered prayers… he doesn’t exactly enjoy good health, but he certainly hasn’t gotten what he deserves.”
“You shouldn’t mention comeuppance to a vampire, Adele. Settling of scores is never something that we find ourselves torn over.”
She laughed. “Honey, that bastard could go swimming in a piranha tank with a pork chop tied to his neck and I wouldn’t lose any sleep after what he did. I still regret letting him get away with trying with my little girl, Linda. If I had magic lamp, Genie would bring back my babies and take Bartlett in trade.”
“I can’t bring back your children.”
“Then if something happened to him before I find that lamp, I guess I’d owe someone that third wish.”
“Are you serious enough to give me his last name?”
She laughed as she hoisted herself out of her seat, even as she kissed my cheek. “Hale. Good night, Mr. Northman.”
“Adele, I’m almost positive that the topic of our conversation puts us on a first name basis.”
She smiled again. “Then goodnight, Eric.”
Again. Only an hour left before dawn, but far more to ponder tonight.
Business came first:
Your list items for the day:
- Find a first edition copy of War and Peace in English. It will be circa 1869 (not earlier). Delivery ASAP. Any antique English Tolstoy in addition. Not instead.
- Collect an assortment of bathing suits and have them at the house early. Size 8 bikinis. As well, an assortment of tanning products.
- Cocktail dresses and apropos accessories for the Stackhouse women. 8 dress/7 shoe for Sookie. 14 dress/8 shoe for Adele. Keep in mind that Adele is in her 80s. Don’t be a fucking idiot.
- Dinner reservations at a first-rate restaurant for 3. See above clothing options. Again, don’t be a fucking idiot.
- Contact a jeweler about having a ‘medic alert’ bracelet designed for Pam. Platinum. She prefers rope to chain. It should have a ‘PR’ monogram. Her disorder is Oniomania. ASAP.
- New windows and Security system for the Stackhouse residence on Hummingbird Lane. Don’t be cheap. It’s not like it’s your money.
- Find a company to repair the crumbled edge of the pool. Don’t ask.
- Bartlett Hale. I want to know enough about him to write a book. Use the usual firm.
Next; the neighbors:
Mr. & Mrs. Hubbard,
It has come to my attention that your landscapers need to be more closely monitored. As my companion was attempting to enjoy the sun by my pool yesterday, her peace was interrupted by your servants’ rudeness. You may want to inform them that it is in their best interest to behave more appropriately. As enticing as my companion’s ‘culo y tetas’ are, your workers should ignore them. Being too distracted by her assets could prove to be hazardous to their well being, after all, landscaping machinery tends to be unpredictable.
After tending to things, putting business to bed as it were, I checked in on my company.
Adele was snoring, lying on her side with her book flopped over and her reading glasses crushed into the bridge of her nose. I caught myself smiling as though I was tending to my own mother as I moved the book and spared her glasses from their wrenched perch. Her age was just another bittersweet line item. She was so much more conscious and perceptive than a human half her age, yet her body was failing when her mind seemed to be in prime. Mentally, she’d make a superb vampire. As a human though, I’m sure her insight was simply considered ‘quaint’.
Sookie, on the other hand, seemed far from peaceful. She was curled up, nearly fetal and the bed dressings had been disheveled in the short amount of time since I left her.
After straightening them, I laid next to her, considering taking her downstairs with me for the day.
She cooed as I swept a bit of hair from her eyelashes. “Eric.”
“Are you checking on me?”
“No. This is a figment of your imagination.”
She giggled sleepily, her eyes still unopened. “Then if you see the real Eric, tell him I said thank you.”
“How long until dawn?”
“About half an hour.”
“I hate that you have to go.”
“So do I.” Even more than yesterday.
“I’ll be waiting for you when you get up though.” I’d be lying if I said the idea didn’t make me happy, at least as much as I can be.
“Will you be alright?”
She inched over, pulling herself to me and kissing under my chin. “I already am.”
I had to pry myself away from her for the second morning in a row.