Another bed without a trace of Sookie. Another empty house. Another long drive where I didn’t waste time guessing what I might find.
Not the way I imagined rising for the first Thanksgiving I’d ever been willing to celebrate.
The façade of the Stackhouse homestead was promising. Lawn bags full of leaves decorated to look like turkeys were spaced out along the smooth gravel driveway… Pristine white paint with fresh rosy pink trim… A bale of hay adorned with decorative gourds and a scarecrow wearing essentially the last outfit I’d seen Alcide wearing. The scent of the fire wafted from the chimney as I made my way to the well lit porch to knock on the door.
Not only had I learned my lesson about just walking in, but the multitude of cars in the driveway, voices and movements, gave away that there were plenty of variables inside the house.
When the door swung open, I was face to face with Hadley and Hunter. “Happy Thanksgiving!” A very Human Hadley.
Hadley cut me off. “Don’t just stand in the cold. Come on in… Hey Gran, company!”
As I stepped into the house, a cheerful voice called, “Cuttin’ the bird, child. Who is it?”
A tiny little girl, much smaller than Hunter when he came to live with me, toddled into the foyer. Long curly blond hair pulled into a bow, bright blue eyes… Little red velvet holiday dress and black patent leather shoes. She seemed to join our company with the intention of gaping at me like Hunter was.
I heard Sookie mumble, “I got it Gran…” As Sookie came around the corner in a dress that matched the little girl’s, her smile fell at the sight of me. “Who’s the company?”
Hadley shrugged. “Dunno. Didn’t get that far.”
The little girl chirped, “Eric.” Uh oh.
Sookie told Hadley to keep an eye on ‘Erin’ for her, and put her hand in the middle of my chest to usher me out to the porch.
As soon as the door was closed behind us, she started shaking her head. “Not tonight. I can’t… it’s Thanksgiving. I can’t just take off.”
“Who is Erin?”
She sighed, “That’s not funny, Eric. Why are you here?”
“I came to see you.”
She stared up at me for a moment. “This is a social call?”
I nodded. “Who is Erin?”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m out of sorts. I’m detached enough to know this will be resolved shortly, but I’m curious. Who is Erin?”
She tilted her head and took a step towards me. “Eric, you’ve got me worried… You know who Erin is.”
“Once upon a time in Queendom not so far away, lived a telepath. The telepath had a friend who talked her into going out to Fangtasia when it first opened. Dawn has a special power too. She’s a Fling-voyant…” I bit the inside of my mouth, but it didn’t do any good once Sookie laughed at her own joke. “So the telepath and the Fling-voyant had a few drinks and ended up getting a full frontal flirt from the sexy Vampire who ran the bar. They were having a great time until the telepath heard the thoughts of a customer who was waiting for the bar to quiet down so he could drain a Vampire on his way home. So the telepath ended up passing the message on to Sheriff Sexy. He hired the telepath to wait tables and look for trouble secretly so that she wouldn’t be exposed to Vampires who would want to catch her for themselves. Sheriff Sexy paid the telepath well enough that she moved out to Shreveport and everything was fabulous for a few months until the telepath was followed home by a customer with a grudge against Fangbangers… She was raped and beaten to within an inch of her life on the porch of her own house. It was barely sunset the next night when Sheriff Sexy showed up and healed the telepath because she would’ve died otherwise… 9 months later Erin Grace was born and Pam threw the baby shower.”
“You were raped?”
She shook her head. “Eric, you know I don’t like to talk about it.”
“She reads minds like you do.”
“You know that.”
She shook her head again. “No. Hunter isn’t a telepath.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Given your history with Hadley, she’s probably keeping that from you.”
“My history with Hadley?”
“The derision you suffered as a child… Does Jason have children too?”
She furrowed her brow. “My… Eric, Jason’s dead and you know that.”
“How did he die?”
“He drowned. When my parents did… How… are you alright?”
“You could call it on the job training if you like. If Jason passed, how was your childhood?”
“Aunt Linda raised me with Hadley.”
“Hunter’s father is Remy.”
She shrugged. “Hadley doesn’t know. She… You’re really weirding me out.”
“I’m sorry. Continue.”
“She was on all kinds of drugs. She took off for a while and came home to clean up when she found out she was preggo. I… I’d know if he was… well, hell, maybe I wouldn’t notice. I’ve been living in Shreveport for 3 years. I barely see him and when I do…”
I finished, “Your shields are up because you’re around family…. What do they know about Erin’s origins?”
She narrowed her eyes. “You… you really don’t know?”
“No. Are we together?”
She shook her head. “No… we can’t be. Not when I’ve got a baby to worry about protecting. We’ve been sneaking around for ages.”
“You used one of your old Human IDs from before… You’re listed as the father so that Rene asshole can’t lay claim to her when he gets out of jail. Since I live in Shreveport, I told them I was dating a guy and it didn’t work out.”
I’d gotten smart after all the times I’d skipped and bought a larger memory card for my phone… one big enough to hold as many pictures as possible. I grabbed her hand to pull her closer as I accessed up the album. “I’m confused because I’m not the right Eric. I’m bonded to Sookie and raising a very gifted telepath…”
“We aren’t bonded. And you’re just ‘Mommy’s friend’ to Erin. We don’t have a choice.”
“I wasn’t talking about Erin… I was talking about Hunter. Hadley was made a Vampire. He came into our care when he started showing signs of mindreading because Remy couldn’t cope any better than your mother did. You and Jason were raised by Adele after your parents died.”
I handed my phone over to Sookie just in time for Erin to stomp out to join us. She stopped at my feet and lifted her arms, demanding to be lifted. Just as cheeky as her mother.
Sookie would stare at my phone for a moment before scrolling only to gape at the next photo. I had to tell her who Jason was since she’d last seen him when he was 11 years old.
Bored by not being the center of attention, Erin put her hand over my mouth and ordered me to, “Do it.”
I could only guess… when I blew air into her palm, she cackled at the noise it made. “Not that!”
Sookie absently told me ‘fangs’ while she studied the evidence that I wasn’t insane.
Once my fangs were down, Erin pulled her hand away and gazed at them, sighing, “Pwetty.”
“You’re pretty too.”
“You know you’re pretty?”
“What else do you know?”
“I’m Erin the Great. You’re Eric the Great Big.”
“I thought you were Erin Grace.”
She giggled, “That too.”
“Maybe… you should tell Mommy what you know about Hunter.”
She looked down and if she’d been standing, she’d have been studying feet like Sookie did when she was caught hiding things. That managed to pull Sookie’s attention from the photos on my phone.
I tucked a section of hair behind her ear. “It’s only fair, Erin. You don’t know how lonely it can be to be the only telepath. Hunter needs guidance too.”
She nodded and seemed to be studying my chest. Erin pouted, “Mommy…”
I hadn’t seen Sookie look so surprised since Jason and I tried to convince her that she’d skipped to a version where he and I were bonded. “Hunter reads minds too?”
Erin nodded solemnly but escaped having to answer… The Corvette inching along the driveway had been her life preserver.
I watched the windshield, waiting to see My Sookie show her rings, but I was given the bonus of seeing the other Me run out his fangs. Erin was His and he was not happy to see anyone else holding her even if it was another him.
My Sookie ran up to me with a bright smile on her face. The first thing she did was kiss me, the second was pet Erin’s hair. “Aren’t you adorable. Who are you? Am I gonna get Eric back or are you gonna steal him?”
Erin looked back and forth between both versions of her Mommy for a moment. “I’m… uhhhh…” I wanted to laugh.
I began setting her down. “Erin, it’s chilly outside. Why don’t you go inside and help Gran finish in the kitchen so she can come talk to me for a minute.”
“Can I come back?”
“If you’re wearing something warm, yes.”
My Sookie watched Erin toddle into the house as she wrapped her arms around me. “She’s just precious.”
I chuckled, “Why wouldn’t she be? She’s yours.” The other me stepped onto the porch carefully, putting his shoulder between his Sookie and Us as my ‘warning’.
I nodded. “You were raped by Lanier… followed home from Fangtasia while you were working as a customer scanning waitress.”
“Damn. What else is different?”
“Jason is dead. He died with your parents. Linda raised you and Hadley as sisters. Hadley discovered the pregnancy while still using drugs and came home to have her baby instead of meeting the Queen. Hadley claims to not know who the father is, but Hunter is exactly as ours is. Remy must’ve been her donor.”
“Jason died at 10, Hadley didn’t die at 26 and I was raped at 23.”
The other Sookie grinned. “And Hadley got married last year.”
My Sookie chirped, “Really? To who?”
“Sam. Sam Merlotte. Do you know him?”
“I do… I worked at Merlotte’s for years before I discovered Eric. Sam’s still a turd about me being with Eric.”
The other Sookie shook her head. “I was only working with him for a few months before I started working for Eric… How are y’all together? Are y’all in the open?”
My Sookie huffed, “Well… Our Hadley cleaned up and got pregnant. She ended up a pet of the Queen. Then she was turned. Hadley can’t read minds, but since Sophie-Ann has her own Fae-licious Stackhouse, she was just excited to have Eric contract me to read minds for her. It’s all good. We’re happy.”
The other Sookie snorted and poked her Eric in the ribs. “Don’t even think about it. You’re not gift wrapping Hadley so we can be public.” He didn’t let his expression change, but I could tell he was still thinking about it.
I offered, “Of course you can’t. That would be wrong to offer a young mother to the Queen… especially one related to Sookie.”
He groaned, “If only I gave a fuck about right and wrong.”
“You could, however, gift wrap something just as thrilling for Sophie-Ann and she wouldn’t care if she eventually found out that you have your own telepath…”
His eyes lit up. I could only imagine what a relief it would be to be able to claim His Sookie. Secrets can’t get official protection.
I continued, “We’ve discovered more telepaths. We know from experience that it’s wholly possible for Sookie to be hired as your assistant as your excuse to have her on hand and under your protection… If Sophie-Ann has her own mind reader, if Sookie were to ever be discovered, she wouldn’t care.”
“You’ll give me their identities.”
I nodded. “Gladly.”
His Sookie grabbed his arm. “You can’t just throw them to the slaughter. Just because they’re strangers doesn’t make their lives less valuable.”
My Sookie snorted, never taking her arms away from my side. “Yes it does. You’d kill to keep Erin safe. I know you would, because I’d do it for Hunter. We kept Our Hunter a secret, but our most frequent skip is to visit a version of Us where Hunter is openly telepathic. We’re both safe because the Queen not only has the services of a telepath already, but she knows there’s more of us out there. Give her a stranger so Eric can claim you and Erin as his. Secrets are weaknesses. Sophie-Ann won’t hurt them. She’ll offer them a contract. We’ve seen it happen… She’s got respect for the ability since she’s telepathic herself.”
Sookie gasped, “She is?”
I nodded. “She has a telepathic connection to her children. She’s claimed in her journals that she hoped to develop the ability as she aged, but she’s limited to her family. In our version, since she’s with Hadley, she experiences the skips as well.”
“Who are the other telepaths then?”
My Sookie took a deep breath and exhaled, “Barry Horowitz belongs to Stan Davis in Dallas for us. In other versions he’s all over and happily reading minds for Vampires. Michelle Johnson is engaged to the Vampire who was originally assigned as her handler and reads minds for Salome in her casino. Rory Jensen is an anomaly and can only hear Weres clearly and is bartending for Edgington at Club Dead unless otherwise needed. Pilar Trejo is kind of off limits. She’s in College Park, Maryland, but she’s a Federal Sky Marshal…”
The other Sookie gaped while the other Me let his mouth hang open. “How did you find them?”
“Telepathic interference. I got the same echo from them that I get from Erin and Hunter. All of them were reluctant to work as telepaths, be exposed, but all of them were excited to have some validation. Michelle Johnson was the only one who had a family history of telepathy. Even then, her mother was assumed to be a schizophrenic until she killed herself… I’ve got mad respect for Pilar though. She managed to kick ass and take names. She went the military route and opted to be a Sky Marshal since they can do ‘random’ searches.” The other Sookie nodded and grinned.
Eric shook his head. “You’re sure Hunter is affected as well?”
As My Sookie became still, concentrating her mind elsewhere, I watched the other one tense anxiously.
A moment later, Hunter opened the door and came outside, shivering from the chill in the air. Sookie only let go of me to pick him up, tucking him into her borrowed coat. “Hey Hunter.”
He took a moment looking around, understandably confused by seeing double. “Hey.”
“Why are you keeping that secret?”
He pouted his bottom lip. “Because Mommy says you’re weird.”
“Ahh. That’s because your Mommy needs to have her butt kicked. Little man, you need to trust your Aunt Sookie. She’ll look out for you like she looks out for Erin. Eric too. They’re gonna be able to help you a lot.”
He nodded. “Erin says Eric’s quiet.”
I held my hand up for him. “I am. I know a little boy like you who takes his naps with me so that he doesn’t dream.”
He gasped, “At all?”
“Not at all. His bedroom is at the other end of my house, but he sleeps on a sofa close to my resting place just so he can borrow my bubble.”
My Sookie giggled. “Me too. I don’t dream when I sleep with him either. It’s awesome.”
He took my hand and closed his eyes for a moment. A smile started spreading across his lips and he held on until his grin stretched the limits of his face.
The other Eric looked through the album of photos that he knew weren’t possibly faked and copied the information about the other telepaths to his own phone. And I made sure to give him the memory card that we used to keep our journal at the ready in case of skipping.
The two of them were getting our standard briefing of dos and don’ts when Adele opened the front door, drying her hands on a towel. Erin walked right past me to her ‘Eric the Great Big’.
Adele’s face lit up when she spotted me. “Well, I’ll be! Eric Northman, I was thinking about you… wondering when I’d get to see you again!” Again? The other Me was given a dirty look by His Sookie, but he looked just as confused as I was.
She reached up and hugged my neck before she noticed that there was another Me in company.
“Two at the same time? My, my. My cup runneth over. What’s going on?”
“Adele, have you been visiting with skips?”
“Well, it looks like I’m not the only one.”
I shook my head. “You’ve got some explaining to do, woman. It’s their first time. We’re the ones that are just visiting.”
She bit her lip and cringed in Her Sookie’s direction. “Oh, don’t give me that look, girl! you’ve got your own secrets. I’ve just kept an Eric or two company while he waits for his Sookie to get to him. So… that one’s Erin’s Daddy?” Sookie shook her head, about to explain, but Adele waved her hand to stop her. “Any man can father a child, girl. It takes someone special to be a Daddy. Don’t give me any scientific horse pucky. You two fools wouldn’t be so surprised if you’d just stop wasting time and bond already.”
Her Sookie snorted, “Yeah. That’s him.”
“Good. Get your rumps inside before y’all catch cold.”
I bent over to kiss Adele’s cheek. “Actually, I think we’ll be going before Merlotte arrives. We’re expected for our own holiday. We seem to have already found a reason for the skip.”
“Hunter is a telepath too. And we had a solution to the problem making Eric need to keep Sookie and Erin secrets.”
“You still have a Me?”
I nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
“Well then good. Sookie can get her pie somewhere else…”
She hugged My Sookie as we left. It was probably the easiest skip we’d ever had.
As we drove home, Sookie was unusually content considering the skip. She was usually disappointed in her other self or something about her life. Meeting another version of herself where she had children had yet to keep her in good spirits. Then again, it usually soured my mood too.
“For a moment, I thought I was dealing with another Sookie who didn’t know who I was. I was almost expecting it when Human Hadley answered the door. Do I want to know what took so long for you to join me in Bon Temps?” She’d almost had sex with several other Mes before getting a hint to give her pause… it had been problem enough that we’d gotten to the point of including a codeword as part of foreplay. It was fucking sad.
“You flipped the fuck out. He rose with me next to him and rolled over. He said it was a pleasant surprise so I knew right away that things were Skippy. When I tried to explain, he flipped out.”
“Guilt about not being able to officially protect her?”
“He was worried about Erin. Where she was. He wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise while he called the sitter… He thought I hit my head or something. He’s very attached to that little girl.”
“From what I gather, they’ve been together since before Sookie was raped.”
“They have. Close to 3 years now…. Somehow, another You managed to flirt a Me into working for you instead of Sam… Pam made fun for a while, but she ended up throwing the baby shower. Eric said that he didn’t think Sookie’d ever bought a stitch of clothing for Erin. Pam’s been dressing her like a doll since she was born.”
“Is that so hard to believe? Our Pam has practically turned Hunter into a living doll.”
“Hunter would rather wear Ts and jeans like you. Pam indulges Erin like you do to Gran…”
“Your mood is strange. Are you having any second thoughts?”
“No. I love the name Erin though… I was thinking about how you made it a point to mention the Opal journal to him.”
“I did, yes.”
“Because of the telepaths?”
“Not just that.”
She sighed and laid her head back against the seat. “I figured. Is it so bad?”
“Not bad. Just complicated. I envy His circumstances.”
“Abso fucking lutely.”