Despite the breeze, the stench was no better than it ever had been before. I usually got much more enjoyment from errands that required an immediate shower.
Even if the Shifter wasn’t working, one of his employees would run through the back door to his aluminum castle to alert him of my presence. I would have just gone there, but watching him twitch in public was the only collateral (albeit selfish) perk to my purpose in the putrid diner.
I was immediately rewarded. When I walked in, his face fell from its usually numb expression because he was drying beer mugs behind the bar and had seen me arrive through the front window.
I settled onto the barstool in front of him, next to a woman who was more jaundiced than any doctor would think was possible. “Good evening, Merlotte.”
“It was until you got here. What do you want?” I wanted Sookie to stop thinking about him.
“I thought I’d put a bug in your ear. It’s gotten back to me through Flood’s ranks that Hotshot is eager for fresh blood… It should settle your confusion between Petfinder.com and Match.com.”
“Oh, you’re a fucking riot. Are you that bored that you thought you’d come into my place just to insult me?”
“No. I don’t have to be here for that. Alcide and I have developed a points system since I can’t partake in the Lassie drinking game he plays with Jason. I’m winning.”
He rolled his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“You should relax. I hear that the more wound up breeds don’t last long…”
“Would you shut the hell up? I have to live here!”
I turned to look at the lush on the stool next to me. “Darling, when was the last time you didn’t pour yourself into bed and forget everything about the night before?”
Her grin was hindered by a hiccup and she cooed cheep whiskey. “I’d remember you. I’m Jane.”
I chuckled. “We’ve met. Thank you for proving my point.”
Sam snorted, getting closer. “She’s not the only person here. Knock it off. I didn’t run around talking about Vampires before y’all came out.”
“Fair enough. I’ll behave for now.”
“Thank you. Now what do you want?”
“I want you to call Sookie.”
“Because she misses you.” She hadn’t said anything about him, hadn’t visited her old haunt or even halfheartedly fussed about Shifter jokes, but she felt like she was attending a funeral every weekend when we drove by… No matter what else was on her mind, she mourned the sight of the bar.
“She told you that?”
“She doesn’t have to.”
“How do you know she misses me then?”
“Because she has the same reaction every time we drive by.” She forces herself out of the mood quickly, but it’s still a nagging… as though she wants to go in.
“How often is that? Do you let her come home often?” That type of brazen ‘shit-mouthing’, to use Jason’s poetic verbiage, was why I knew this chore was going to be so fucking irritating.
“We spend three nights every week at the Bon Temps house. We have for months.”
His mouth fell open. “Months?”
“Unless we’re traveling, yes.”
“Are you prone to repeating yourself or is your hard drive fried?”
He shook his head. “Months? She’s been that close… She’s never come in to say ‘hi’ or…”
“Since September, so it’s been closer to a year.”
His shocked expression was taken over by a scowl. “Then how do you know she misses me? It could be Arlene or Lafayette or Terry… she always liked him…”
“Arlene has been getting her nails done with Sookie when we’re in the country. Lafayette visits her at Fangtasia… And Terry was just at the house last month for her birthday party.”
“She’s been seeing everyone… She’s been sneaking around to see everyone behind my back?”
“Yes. Keeping in touch through emails and phone calls too. You’re the only exception.” Finding out that Maxine Fortenberry hadn’t been taking notes every time she visited the house just to use Merlotte’s as her podium was more than a little surprising.
His ass slammed into the counter behind him and it was the only thing to keep him from falling over.
“She doesn’t like that you aren’t friends anymore.”
“Then why doesn’t she call me? She apparently doesn’t have a problem with phones.”
“You’d have to ask her.”
“I don’t have to. She knows why I don’t want to stand by and watch her circle the bowl.”
“It seems more like you don’t want to see that she’s thriving, but it’s just as likely that you’re bitter that you never wanted to be her friend to begin with and you don’t like being reminded of what your hesitation caused for you.”
“What the hell do you know?”
“Oddly, I know for a fact that you have every right to be embittered.”
“Oh really? How do you know that?”
I shrugged, unwilling to explain our skips. “You two could have made a very cute couple. Unfortunately, you dithered. You’re the reason I know what the ‘friend zone’ is.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant for stopping by just to rub that in my face.”
“I thought we weren’t making that kind of comment…”
“Go fuck yourself… I don’t appreciate…”
“I care less than nothing for your opinion, mutt. I care about Sookie’s.”
“How sweet. So this phone call you want me to make, what am I supposed to say? That I hate her and don’t ever want to see her again? That I don’t mind seeing her knowing that eventually you’re going to get her killed or break her heart…”
“Don’t confuse yourself with shit you don’t understand. I’m not going to get her killed, I’m going to kill her myself…”
“That’s not funny!”
“I wasn’t making a joke. I’m going to bring her over.”
“She wants it. Her family knows and my child shopped in the sister section for Sookie’s birthday card.”
“Congrats. Why are you waiting?”
“Because, you insolent prick, there are aspects of life she enjoys enough to want to continue for a while longer. Children for starters…”
He cut me off, “Yeah. Heard about the kid… Why the fuck don’t you just turn him too while you’re at it?”
“Really? Do you even hear yourself? He’d perpetually be a preschooler. What’s wrong with you?”
He had the decency to look slightly embarrassed. “What am I supposed to say? She can read my mind. I tried to start mending fences a while back and you saw how that went.”
That had been nearly a year ago.
“Adele called your visit to Fangtasia ‘the deep end’. You were in over your head and out of your element. I’m sure Sookie would’ve been upset over your conversation for a while had it not been for Adele’s heart attack the next day.”
“She was a bitch.”
“She was on the defensive. She was still raw from how quickly your opinion of her changed.”
“Then what do you suggest I do?”
“I already told you. Call her.”
“And say what!?”
“Whatever you want to. You’re clearly not going to improve your attitude by letting your imagination run riot. Talk to her.”
“That’s it? That’s what you came here for? To tell me that your future child misses me.”
“Do yourself a favor. Don’t waste a lot of time thinking about the future… For now, she’s just Sookie Northman.”
“You married her!?”
I nodded. “And I’ll do it again once it’s legal in the US.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you can’t love her.”
“Honestly, I would have said the same thing a year ago… And I think that perspective may very well be your biggest problem. I very much do love Sookie. I don’t give a fuck if you understand it or believe it… No more than I have to understand why she’d miss a bigoted asshole like you.”
“She became a fangbanger overnight, all because that damn disability makes you tolerable to her!”
“You can’t say with any amount of honesty that her ABILITY isn’t part of what attracted you to her in the first place. On top of the fact that Sookie isn’t a ‘normal’ Human, knowing that she has something extra made you think that she’d understand your nature easily, yes?”
He growled, “What’s your point?”
“The difference between us in her eyes is that I don’t make her feel disabled or weak or stupid. I won her by letting her be who she is…”
“Until you turn her and have complete control over her.”
“I have it now, but I don’t use it. She’d do anything I told her to do, but I don’t want a puppet. I didn’t break Pam. I won’t break Sookie.”
“She’s already lost. Do whatever you want with her.”
By the time I realized that I was showing my surprise, it was too late to try to hide it. I left my barstool and turned for the door.
“You’re leaving? Just like that?”
“I came here to make the effort, extend the metaphorical olive branch… I tried. I’m not going to argue with you to convince you. All that will do is hurt Sookie.”
“Why should I think you really care?”
“I’ve already told you that I don’t give a fuck for what you think, Merlotte. My problem now is that I’m going to have to explain to Sookie that you do hate her. I’m going to have to disappoint her.” She was going to be hurt, but maybe I’d get lucky and she’d be just hurt enough to let me kill him.
“Or you could just keep your fucking mouth shut about coming out here and butting into shit that doesn’t concern you.”
“First of all, if it concerns Sookie, it concerns me…”
He rolled his eyes and it made me want to pluck them out of his skull. “Is your follow up something I can swallow?”
“Probably not… I wouldn’t lie about where I was or what I was doing even if she didn’t already know.”
“You told her you were coming out here?”
“No. While we were driving by, she had that feeling again. I made a U-turn. She refused to come in and she can feel how close I am to hurting you. She’s calling me back to the car.”
“She’s here!? Lie to her.”
“Of course not! Why wouldn’t you tell her the truth when it makes me look like the asshole!”
“You are the asshole… I haven’t ever lied to Sookie. I’m not going to start for you. You aren’t worth it.”
As I slid into the car next to Sookie she shook her head. “I told you he’d just spin you up.”
“You should have come with me. The look on his face when I told him we’re married was priceless…” I reached over and rubbed my hand over the ‘aliens’. “If he saw you right now…”
She giggled, “You’re so damn evil.”
“You know I didn’t enjoy that… Did this help? Are you going to stop having that feeling every time we drive by?”
She narrowed her eyes as she thought about it and nodded, but she reached down to unbuckle her seatbelt.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, you’re both already riled up. The damage is done. The babies might as well get a fresh burger Lafayette.”
I followed her from the car. “Burger Lafayette? Tell me you’re joking.”
She paused and put her hands on her hips, exaggerating the size of Elizabeth and Kendal. “I told you I didn’t miss him. Blame the babies.”
“You’re craving burgers.”
She raised her eyebrows and nodded. “I’ve told you that. If I’ve learned anything from the skips it was that Sam was only attracted to me because of my allure. Why did you think Lafayette’s been bringing burgers to me?”
I thought he was bringing her junk food because we didn’t keep much in the house to tempt Adele. I thought he was making offerings to the ‘preggo’; even Pam had been bringing junk food to Sookie. Chocolates and ice cream, junk food.
“I thought you were joking, being dismissive…”
She sang, “Craving… C’mon. Buy me dinner, sexy.”
She took my hand and let me open the door for her… As shocked as I was by how wrong I was, all I could do was laugh at the look on Merlotte’s face when I walked into his dive with my pregnant wife.