As tempting as it was to hunt down the pawn shop clerk while we were still in Texarkana, because he was ultimately to blame for the mystery, we decided to return to Shreveport…
And only because of Sookie’s reasoning… Detective Brandt was already planning to charge ‘Pawn Shop Phil’ with counts of crime scene tampering, burglary, obstruction of justice, and wasting police time, and he was trying to think of a way to charge him for the fact that Mack had been a drain on social services’ resources when he could have been with his family. If Pawn Shop Phil disappeared before he stood trial and served his time in jail, all roads would point to the Stackhouse family. Lynn would have more control and patience by the time Phil was paroled, so she could tend to him.
Not only did Sookie giggle at how disappointed I was that she was right, she also pointed out that she was in a rational frame of mind and still wanted custody of Mack.
Also… driving down to New Orleans was out of the question because Carrey was already dead. Even Hadley thought of him as a lost cause… until she felt she didn’t have any options apparently.
Sookie’s eyes stayed closed for the drive back to Shreveport… she brainstormed aloud, trying to narrow down who could have possibly been speaking to Hadley about Lynn’s health.
More proof she maintained some grasp of rational thinking under her apparent hysterics. I hadn’t even mentioned it before she started her list.
Adele and Jason wouldn’t have even tried to keep contact with Hadley to themselves. They knew any news would have given Lynn hope and knew Sookie would discover the secret. Guilty consciences ‘screamed’ in a person’s mind.
Sheriff Dearborn and Detective Bellefleur would have told them something, even if they would have contacted Adele so they wouldn’t have to risk Sookie reading their minds.
She excluded Hadley’s exes (most of the ones she knew about) because Hadley usually had ‘epic breakups’ and never spoke to her lovers again.
Ricky Mason was the one ex-boyfriend Sookie knew about that Hadley talked to in spite of their breakup. He was the ‘local dealer’ Hadley sold her mother’s medications to, and he returned them… He also took sympathy on Lynn, exchanging pain medications that weren’t helping for the pot that did… and Adele thanked him for his flexibility with pie.
If Carrey knew anything about Lynn’s health, he would have known Hadley wasn’t in contact with her family.
Sookie doubted Lynn’s doctors would have given out privileged information, and Lynn started seeing a new doctor shortly after Hadley left because Lynn punched the first one hard enough that he needed dental work. When her first round of chemo hadn’t shown any effect, he suggested prayer might help. Lynn wasn’t offended by the religious nature of his suggestion, she was offended that he assumed the Stackhouses were too stupid to have thought of that.
Maxine Fortenberry would have mentioned any contact with Hadley to Adele. Hoyt Fortenberry would have said something to Jason.
Sookie would have known if one of her few friends had spoken to Hadley.
Someone would have had to completely abandon their character and betray her family by keeping the secret and Sookie’s ability would have had to completely fail her.
All in all, Sookie’s mental list was more of a Bon Temps roll call given that she didn’t come to any conclusions…
But I came to the conclusion that the sleepy tone to Sookie’s voice, and her thoughtful little hums, went straight through me.
I had felt that Pam was monitoring my moods since we left the house, but it wasn’t until we crossed into Louisiana again that I felt Lynn begin to probe… and she was immediately anxious, eager for news.
Bizarre as the concept was, it seemed as though Lynn had been sleeping while Sookie and I met with the Detective. She was fretful and overwrought, so as a Human it would have made sense for her to succumb to mental exhaustion, but as a Vampire… it was going to take some getting used to.
She was pacing the foyer, wringing her hands, when Sookie and I walked into the house. Gawain and Pam were witness to the same frenetic energy I’d seen in Sookie.
Sookie continued walking towards the kitchen and asked, “Quick like a band-aid? How do you want the news?”
Lynn nearly knocked Gawain over as she followed Sookie and answered, “Of all the times to be right… She’s really gone, isn’t she?”
Of course, we followed… A sad testament to Vampire existence, that boredom had a tendency to run rampant and we were all victims to it.
Sookie frowned as she opened the refrigerator. “We kind of already knew that, but yeah… She’s gone.”
Lynn slammed herself onto a barstool and held her head up with her hands to cry quietly… but she felt as though she’d been shot in the chest.
“Technically, it was an overdose, but… I have to warn you. It wasn’t anything like what I was picturing.”
“What were you picturing then?”
Sookie poured Coke and then Malibu into a tall glass… Gawain’s proportions had been very askew the night before.
“Honestly, I was picturing something along the lines of a maid going into a motel room one morning to clean up, stepping over a bunch of people who crashed after partying too hard… and Hadley didn’t wake up.”
Lynn choked, “Me too… How many motels did I pick her up at? Okay… what happened then?”
“She’d hurt her arm, a basic slip and fall, but someone gave her some pain killers and muscle relaxers. She’d been clean for months, so it was just too much.”
“She’d been clean?”
“She took off and then got her shit together?”
Sookie took a sip of her drink and hummed thoughtfully. “I’ve had some time to think about that… I don’t think she was using or drinking much before she left. In fact, she didn’t even have wine at Thanksgiving, remember?”
Lynn nodded. “Jason and I killed the bottle alone. Hadley said her stomach was iffy.”
Iffy/Morning sickness. ToMAYto/ToMAHto.
The puzzle pieces Sookie had mentioned.
Sookie nodded. “Right… She was already getting her act together before she left town…”
“Then why did she leave?”
Sookie took a deep breath and answered, “Because she didn’t want you to worry about her while you were sick. She went to New Orleans and stayed with her douche-bag father.”
Lynn’s head tilted to the side and her hands dropped to the counter. “She what? What on earth possessed her to think he’d even answer the door?”
Sookie shrugged. “If I had to guess, I’d say he was a last resort…”
“As he should be. I called him to remind him of Hadley’s birthday after he left… he didn’t bother.”
“I know… Alright, so you want the details quick? One fell swoop?”
Lynn sighed and nodded. “I guess so… Knowing she’s gone… the rest doesn’t really matter…”
So she thought.
Sookie took another sip of her drink and offered, “She showed up on Carrey’s doorstep, hoping for a place to stay. He took her in and she finally got to know her half-sisters. They got pretty close apparently. Hadley got a job at a bakery down there and loved it. She wasn’t using drugs or drinking. Carrey said there was a married guy who kept buying her jewelry and she turned him down. She was doing really well and she would have come home back in June, but Madeline and Gabrielle wanted her to stay for the summer. Hadley went with them on vacation, the idle talking you were worried about, Memphis and Orlando, they were stops on the trip. She left New Orleans, planning to come home, but she fell asleep on the bus and woke up in Texarkana. The stuff she sold at the pawn shop was a gun that Carrey gave to Hadley because she was traveling alone and some of the jewelry the married creeper gave to her. Carrey said she was planning to sell it once she was back here, but… in the file there’s a map, sort of, of the route Hadley took. The bus station, the pawn shop, the motel, a small grocery store, and Denny’s were the places they knew she went to, and they were all right there together. The Detective thought she was probably just killing time while she waited for the next bus to Shreveport…”
Sookie took another sip of her drink and another deep breath.
“So… she checked into the motel for the night, calls the douche-bag and tells him what happened with her nap, and said that the clerk barely spoke English which is why she was registered at the motel under the name Holly Houser. She took her meds and poured a plastic cup of wine and soaked in the tub until… you know… she’d been schlepping a couple of bags and her purse, but the motel room didn’t have anything personal in it when cops got there. Someone broke into Hadley’s room and robbed her, and then found her. The burglar called 9-1-1. Now that we have a bigger picture, the detective is planning to go after the pawn shop guy because he knew Hadley had more jewelry.”
Nothing about Mack.
Lynn sniffled, “I could be furious, jealous that she went to him and made me worry… but… I know she needed it. God help him if he turned her away once she was down there. At least he did the right thing once in his miserable life.”
Sookie sighed, “I’m kind of happy for her. It ate her up that he walked out on her. And she always wondered about her sisters.”
Lynn whimpered, “But that son of a bitch did walk out on her… and… I didn’t get to tell her I love her without a ‘but’.”
Sookie sniffled, “I know… The cops in Texarkana were great, maybe just because they didn’t like a case like this to go unsolved, but it doesn’t matter. They said it won’t be a problem to bring her home. I filed papers to claim her remains and all, and Erik is sending his lawyer out there for the formalities.”
Lynn nodded. “I guess I’ll call Mike in the morning and give him some warning. Other than that is there anything you need to do? How complicated is this kind of thing?”
Sookie snorted, “I actually left something out… You need to remember that Hadley never did anything the easy way and you threatened to embroider a warning on all of her clothes.”
Lynn actually spared a half-smile and agreed, “No, she didn’t. What did she do this time?”
Sookie squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath for a moment. She was more anxious than Lynn… and risking a glance in Gawain’s direction almost made me laugh. His eyes bulged at the clues he heard from Sookie’s thoughts.
Sookie removed the photo of Mack from her back pocket and slid it across the counter. “This is Mack. Maguire Corbett Delahoussaye. This little sweetheart is why Hadley left. She didn’t want you to worry about what was going on with her. He was born on May 13th and his social worker calls him Babe because he’s strong as an ox. From what the desk sergeant thought, he’s really outgoing and knows exactly how adorable he is.”
Lynn covered her mouth and sobbed, staring at the picture… The pain from hearing that she’d been right about Hadley’s death had just eased slightly, only for it to return with a vengeance.
She choked, “I missed it.”
Sookie shook her head. “You would have missed it anyway. His birthday is right in the middle of the week you lost in the coma…”
Pam breathed, “Good Lord, she was comatose?”
Sookie nodded. “It was an induced coma, but she was under for the whole week because she started having seizures… Aunt Linda, if you’re going to be upset about it, how about this: Think about how much stress Hadley would have put on Maguire if she watched you suffer. Those were the worst three and a half months of your life. One surgery after another until you forgot what color your kitchen is. From late March until early July, you lived in the hospital. You kept saying you didn’t want me to see it. You shut Jack out and he’s a big boy… It’s called preeclampsia, the worst case scenario of stress during pregnancy, and it could have killed both of them. Yes, you missed your grandbaby being born, and the first few months of his life, but he won’t remember meeting you now any more than he would’ve remembered meeting you then. And just so you know, he’s been walking around with a piece of you all this time. Sergeant Fogleman hoped one of us knows how to sew because he’s completely tattered Hadley’s old baby quilt. He drags it everywhere with him.”
Lynn looked at me over her shoulder and sniffled, “Do you think I’ll be okay? The foster family might think something of it if I only visit at night and then… Jesus, once we’re out I won’t get any visitation. They’ll take it away… I should probably just stay away from him so I don’t have to let him go later…”
What I wouldn’t have given to be able to dive into Sookie’s bottle of rum.
“I’ll know if you’re lying so don’t bother to try… How many times have you been tempted by Sookie’s heartbeat?”
“None… Well, I actually called for her this morning and asked her to bring me a glass of blood before she left to run errands and once I could hear it I got really antsy… but her heartbeat hasn’t set me off at all.”
“Last night, while your nephew and mother were visiting, you felt hungry.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I think all of them together might have gotten me going… maybe because of the bigger group of strippers from earlier.”
Sookie added, “The same thing happened tonight though. As upset as she was, even though she didn’t want to feed, Gawain and I felt like she was in the kitchen with us because she was so focused on the models.”
I sighed, “And how close does Sookie have to be for you to hear her heart?”
Lynn chewed her lip while she thought about her answer. “I think I could hear it once she was on the staircase. Maybe it’s the acoustics right there.”
If there was ever anything to thank a God for, it was small favors.
Sookie removed a glass of blood from the refrigerator and set it in front of Lynn… She winked at me and offered, “You were talking about feeding. You can’t hold this against her. By the way, when was the last time you fed?”
The night I brought over Lynn.
“I’m planning to go out for something, thanks… If Lynn isn’t able to hear your heartbeat upstairs, you need to do something to ‘baby-proof’ the second floor like the Sergeant suggested and choose a room to serve as a kitchenette of sorts so you won’t need to come downstairs as often during the day. Lynn will need a small refrigerator in the den with her as well… And given the boy’s zeal for swimming, deadbolts on the doors to keep him from exploring the pool and lake are in order.”
Gawain’s entertainment value was at an all-time high… if his eyes were any wider, they might have fallen out of orbit.
Pam gasped, “I could have kept my maid!”
Brat. She wasn’t actually upset.
I chuckled, “Grandchildren trump maids… You would have drained Bess before we found your first meal anyway. Blame the era in which you were born, or the small community you lived in… Cumbria didn’t have many aspiring models or strippers for you to feed from.”
She blew a raspberry. “You’re really going to let Lynn keep him?”
I couldn’t help but notice that she was slightly excited by the idea.
I shook my head. “No. Our day-girl is petitioning for custody of her orphaned cousin. If anything happens, she’ll be moving to my house in Fairfield and she’ll be taking the child with her.”
Lynn left her stool quickly enough to surprise me and hit me hard enough to push me back a step…
She soaked my shirt as she wailed, “If I’m even tempted, I’ll say something, make Sookie take him away! I promise! I won’t hurt him! I won’t make you regret this!”
I repeated, “If anything happens, she’ll move out.”
She nodded and mimicked, “Anything,” with her arms still crushing my sides.
“If everything goes well, you may have to sever your ties to Bon Temps. I’m sure there are some people who would report Sookie for exposing a child to Vampires.”
“Fuck them. Nothing is more important than family… Oh God… Thank you!”
Sookie snorted, “If you want to thank him, stop crying. It makes his brain twitch… Speaking of which, I’m going to wash my face and then graze from the fridge. I’m starving.”
She was jokingly telling Pam what Mack’s sizes were, because she’d ever needed a reason to shop, as she left the kitchen, but she ran back to her phone when it began ringing.
She looked at the screen for a moment and had a sudden mood shift… just seeing the caller ID made her furious.
She looked up at me and offered, “A possible informant I didn’t think to consider…” She put the phone to her ear and answered, “Hey Sam.”
Gawain actually growled and stepped closer to Sookie as though he couldn’t have eavesdropped from where he’d been standing.
“Hey Sook… I was just making the schedule for next week and I was wondering what you wanted me to put you in for…”
Sookie took a deep breath and forced a much cooler tone than I thought her mood would allow. “You’re gonna have to replace me, Sam.”
“Well, I took Aunt Linda out of town for a little R&R and she wants me to stay with her, so…”
“Bullshit. Linda’s been dying for years. You’re quitting because of those Vampires you were with the other night, aren’t you?”
“The Vampires don’t have anything to do with why I’m quitting. Honestly, you should have curtailed your thoughts about me until you were alone. I don’t feel safe being on the same planet as you after what raged through your mind the other night.”
“Shit. You’ve been glamoured. What the hell are you talking about?”
She snorted, “Really? You think I’m going to fall for that? No one glamoured me to think you’re a rapist. You gave me that concern by yourself… While I have you on the phone though, I want to ask you a question.”
“I just found out Hadley had been getting information about Aunt Linda’s health and whatnot. How often was she calling you?”
After a long pause, he offered, “She was calling every week. She asked me to keep up on the gossip for her so she’d know if she needed to come home. She was hoping her mom would get better, but she didn’t want… I haven’t heard from her in months though. I guess she found another spy. I’m sorry, Sook, but she didn’t tell me where she was.”
Hearing that her daughter cared enough to stay in the loop as far as her health was concerned actually warmed Lynn’s mood slightly.
“All that time… Why the hell was she calling you of all people?”
“The bar gossip, I guess. And ‘cuz I’d know what you’re up to and if you’re missing work to take care of Linda.”
Sookie studied the floor for a moment before I felt something dawn on her. She actually got chills.
“Sam… Hadley’s dead. Don’t say anything to anybody because Gran and Jason don’t know yet, but… She died in a motel room. I just got back from identifying her.”
Not the reaction I would have expected… Gawain looked over at the photo of Maguire… and then back to Sookie with a horrified look on his face.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen that look on him before… judging by the way Pam snatched the photo from the counter, she was just as shocked as I was by the development.
Sookie waited, giving Merlotte the chance to say something else, but she finally hissed, “But what about the baby? Don’t you want to ask, you piece of shit?”
“I… Yeah, I’m curious. Sure. She told me she had a baby.”
“I’m taking him.”
“You? Why you? What about the baby’s father?”
He’s dead. He just didn’t know yet.
Sookie snorted, “How much were the medical bills from the C-section, Sam?”
“How would I know?”
“How were you sending her child support?”
“I wasn’t! Sookie, you can’t think-”
Sookie laughed, “Speaking of thinking. It’s a shame I don’t know any mind-readers! Do you really want to be anywhere near me when I finally hear the damn truth!?”
He scoffed, “I don’t know if he’s mine. You know what a slut she was! Half the town could be his father.”
“But you’re the one keeping secrets for her and sending her money. Sam…”
“I didn’t think your aunt-”
Sookie cut him off, “DON’T. YOU. DARE! You didn’t stay quiet because you wanted to spare my aunt. You did it because you didn’t want me to know you did my cousin because you wanted to get into my pants… Was it an ongoing thing or just once?”
He heaved out a deep breath and grumbled, “We hooked up a few times. From not long after I opened the bar until she took off. She told me she was leaving town and why, said she was gonna put him up for adoption… Then she changed her mind and started squeezing cash out of me.”
Sookie groaned, “Poor you. Just mail my last check to me. I don’t plan on seeing you again.”
“Wait! If the baby’s going to be in the area…”
Sookie blurted, “MY ASS!” and ended the call. “If the baby’s going to be in the area, he wants the chance to screw it up.”
Pam cooed, “Playing God, Sookie?”
Sookie looked at the ceiling for a moment before offering, “Can I play the ‘uppity Fae’ card and say no cousin of mine is going to be raised by a packless Shifter that smells like cooking grease?”
Gawain chuckled and swatted Sookie’s ass. “Better to teach the boy to dance in darkness with Vampires. At least he’ll understand the meaning of honor. That twat called the mother of his child a slut… Has the opinion on his longevity changed with the news of paternity?”
Sookie whimpered, “I’m still on the fence. I mean… Sam’s the father, so Mack’s going to be a Were…”
Lynn and Pam shouted, “WHAT!?” simultaneously and I was just as confused.
Gawain gave me the ‘I know something you don’t know’ smile I’d come to loath over the years. “Faeries breeding with Weres are how there are Shifters. It’s a bit of an upgade, like breeding a Human with a Fae can result in pushers, seers or telepaths… When Shifters, half-Were and half-Fae, breed with Humans, they usually have a Were child, but since Hadley was part Fae, it’s almost guaranteed. Sookie and I will know as soon as we meet him because his mind will give him away. He won’t smell like a Were until he begins to shift.”
Linda breathed, “Mack’s a Wolf?”
Gawain shrugged. “There isn’t any way to know for sure, unless Merlotte knows of a Were in his pedigree. The most recent is usually more predominant. Mack, because of his Fae and Were heritage, is likely to have a Fae ability as well. Now Sookie, for instance, if she were to breed with a Werewolf, the Wolf would probably be surprised when his child begins shifting. Since Sookie has enough essence to attract so much attention and retain an ability, she’d probably produce a Were child.”
Sookie had said her heritage touched on other aspects of life… She was warning Alcide that their oldest would shift.
Sookie elbowed Gawain and growled, “He’d only be surprised if I kept that nugget to myself and I wouldn’t do that.”
“You should shop for a husband in the local pack so Mack can have someone to play tug of war with.”
She elbowed him again. “I’m going to kick your ass, funny-man.”
Lynn shook her head and walked to the sink to rinse the bloody tears from her cheeks. She scoffed, “You could do worse than a Were, baby. Sam Merlotte aside, you know Jack and Alcide. They’re good people. I know Alcide doesn’t like all that pressure to breed from Jack, but he’ll make a great daddy one day. God help anyone that picks on one of his kids though. You remember when Hadley called me a bitch and tossed that bowl at me? He almost put her through a wall. Jack had to call him off. And I was just his dad’s girlfriend.”
Since Lynn’s back was turned, Sookie pulled her face into a tight pucker… and Gawain chuckled at her while he tickled her nose.
Pam even bit her lip because she was in on Sookie’s secret.
I couldn’t help myself…
“Lynn, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear you’re trying to plant a seed… Are you suggesting Sookie and Alcide…”
I couldn’t finish taunting Sookie because she attacked me, advancing with both hands flying in a frenzy of slaps that left vicious stinging in their wake.
I was laughing too hard to keep going.
“She doesn’t need anyone’s help playing matchmaker! You shut your mouth!”
“You make a handsome couple, Sookie. I can’t help but think your children would be average sized… My concern is that you should avoid having girls though. His breasts are huge and could cause back problems…”
Since everyone else was laughing, Sookie stopped her assault on me and bent over to laugh, slapping me one last time for good measure.
She cackled, “You’re a giant turd!”
Perhaps, but Lynn was laughing in spite of the tragedy that had been dropped on her lap.
In all of the noise, we’d missed the sound of a car in the driveway… but we were all on alert when the front door opened without a knock first.
The visitor stepped in and sighed, closed the door and called out, “I need someone to beat my ass for shopping for gowns with Sookie and Pam. The tomboy and the diva made me feel like I had multiple personality disorder.”
Sookie and Linda gasped, seeming to know exactly who the voice belonged to.
The girl continued, moving slowly towards the kitchen as she spoke. “I need a King Kong joint and a Godzilla sandwich… Not necessarily in that order. Bran? Sook? What are y’all up to?”
The girl stopped in the doorway to the kitchen… Simple white blouse, black pencil skirt, and a pair of black Louboutins dangled from her fingers with a Birkin bag.
Dark hair with auburn highlights rather than bleached blonde. Perfectly manicured nails rather than gnawed. Complementary makeup rather than tacky.
More importantly, she was completely alive, rather than dead.
She smiled at Lynn and said, “Hey Mommy… next time you guys change the locks, try to remember I’m not a mind-reader.”
Lynn was completely frozen for a moment, feeling completely shocked, but I couldn’t say any of us weren’t just as gobsmacked by the visitor.
Lynn only managed, “Baby?”
Hadley scanned the room and asked, “Jesus… I feel like I’m at a funeral, y’all. Who died?”