Before anyone could answer her, explain she was the one who died, Hadley dropped her purse and shoes to cover her mouth and gasp, “Mommy!?” The scent of orange and vanilla wafted from her as she moved through the room.
If she recognized that her mother was a Vampire, she didn’t seem to care who the rest of us were.
She all but ran to Lynn, grabbing her face to study her. “No. No, it takes three nights. I just saw you this morning…”
How the fuck did she know how long it took to be brought over?
“Did…” She stopped herself, tilting her head back and laughing, “BRAN! You got me! I nearly shit!” She turned to point at Pam and Sookie and giggled, “You two twats were in on this. I’m gonna get you back.”
Lynn grabbed her daughter, hugging her as tightly as she could without breaking bones. The poor thing was completely speechless… and unfathomably delighted.
Sookie asked, “In on what, Hadley?”
“Bran’s been playing with charms again, right? I guess he cast one that made Mommy feel like a Vampire…”
Sookie shook her head. “No… I don’t even know who the hell Bran is…”
Gawain cursed in Old Welsh and growled, “This is fucking insane… Hadley, where do you live?”
She gave him a puzzled look. “Right now I stay with Mommy and Dad when I’m not at my fiancé’s.”
“Your parents are still married?”
She shook her head. “No. My real father, if you can call him that, skipped town when I was little. My dad is Jackson Herveaux. He married Mommy a few years ago and… well, he treats me like his own, so I call him Dad… Why the hell are all of you so confused? The Welsh guy is the only one that isn’t mind-fucked.”
Welsh? She’d told her father that she needed to learn to speak Mexican as though she didn’t know the difference between a language and the nationality, but she could identify mumbled Welsh?
Wait. How the fuck did she know we were confused?
Sookie offered, “The Welsh guy is Gawain. The blond is Erik…”
She turned to smile at Pam. “Yay for you… you got a surprise visit from your Maker.”
What. The. Fuck.
Pam rolled her eyes and complained, “This is a Faerie thing, isn’t it Gawain? You look like a child meeting ‘the Real Santa’.”
That was an extremely accurate description of the look on his face.
He nodded. “I think it is… Fuck if I’ve ever seen it before though. It was called the braid. My grandmother used to tell stories about comeuppance and enlightenment… layers of reality could merge for a brief time. She said she knew of a Fae, who’d been killed centuries before, who was seen getting revenge on his murderer… and then he was gone.”
Sookie scoffed, “Comeuppance and enlightenment? Now is not the time to be a drama queen, Gawain.”
He shrugged. “I’m not even elaborating for entertainment value… My grandmother said accessing the braid was difficult and only certain Fae could find it. She was retelling old stories that had been passed down. There are a lot of things a person does, moments where another option was likely or possible. Turning points. I was a child and my grandmother was telling stories while she worked…” He closed his eyes and spoke slowly as he remembered, “Every path brings new lessons, and when we’re lucky, the braid brings lessons from other paths.”
Sookie giggled, “Grandmother my ass. She was my age… and hot.”
“Fae don’t age as quickly as Humans do, brat. And don’t call my grandmother hot. You call me creepy.”
“Oh. Right… Alright, so… We know something Hadley doesn’t… or vice versa?”
He nodded. “She can start by staying away from Merlotte, pain killers, and Texarkana.”
Pam and Sookie offered, “Amen.”
Hadley lifted her hands to Lynn’s face again and sniffled, “Mommy, why are you a Vampire? What happened?”
Nevermind that she was showing no fear.
Lynn choked, “Erik, he brought me over, took pity on me… The cancer was winning.”
Hadley gasped, “NO! What cancer!?”
Lynn cleared her throat and explained, “Uterine… It hid under the endometriosis until it was too late to stop it.”
Hadley argued, “But you don’t have a uterus. You had a hysterectomy when I was ten.”
Lynn whimpered, “That would’ve been nice. My insurance wouldn’t cover it.”
Hadley stepped back and shook her head. “No… You and Aunt Julie, y’all made sure when you picked the insurance carrier for the shop… Y’all made sure it covered your hysterectomy.”
Sookie grinned. “How did that happen? They couldn’t ever afford it.”
Hadley shrugged. “We lived with y’all while they saved up. I mean, with Uncle Cort, Aunt Julie, and Mommy all working and saving, I guess they pulled together the cash.”
“Uncle Cort?” She didn’t wait for an answer before she darted to Hadley’s purse and breathed that Hadley better have pictures.
Sookie dumped the bag onto the floor and spread the contents out, snatching a large wallet from the pile of debris…
She collapsed to the floor and cried as she flipped through the small photo holder. “Was it just my mom in the flood? How is Daddy still alive?”
“What flood? Your mom nearly killed you when she skidded off the road into the lumber yard. If it wasn’t for that, Uncle Cort wouldn’t have known you were born. You were young enough you weren’t even sitting up yet.”
Gawain helped Sookie from the floor and led her to sit on a barstool. “I think, perhaps, this might go more smoothly if you started at the beginning with your family history, Hadley. It doesn’t seem like life as you all know it has many similarities. You said your parents divorced when you were young. That might be a good starting point.”
“Okay…” She took a deep breath and started, “After Carrey left, we moved in with Uncle Cort and Aunt Julie…”
Lynn shook her head. “Julie who? The only Julie I can think of is Julie Emery.”
Hadley nodded. “That’s her. Uncle Cort and his first wife split up for a while. He started dating Julie. He ended up going back to Michelle for a while, long enough to put Sook in the oven, then he ran into Julie and she was preggo. Turns out Michelle had gone to Julie and lied about being pregnant so Julie would cut Uncle Cort loose, but Aunt Julie didn’t know she was pregnant with Bran yet. So when he took Jas and moved in with Julie, nobody believed Michelle when she said she was pregnant because of the first lie. She started drinking like a fish and eventually killed herself DWI with Sook in the car. Bran’s only four months older than Sook and they’re totally twins, separate wombs or not…”
Sookie pushed a picture across the counter to Hadley and she nodded.
Lynn gasped and took the photo from the counter. “Jesus. Fucking. Christ. That’s him, Gawain. The ‘nephew’. God bless you, ya nosey asshole!” She turned to Hadley and explained her outburst, “I keep getting these mental images, like my imagination…”
The color drained from Hadley’s face. “Y’all don’t know? Why the hell don’t y’all know?”
“You already know I have an ability?”
Hadley snorted, “A badass ability. You’re dead on balls accurate to within an inch… You’re retrocognitive. Any little thing can trigger it. You’ve always had an impressive imagination too, maybe that’s why you didn’t realize it… Sookie’s a telepath. Y’all aren’t treating her as a schizo or anything, are you?”
“No. We know she’s a mind-reader.”
“Bran is too… And Uncle Cort’s a harbinger. That guy is scary-intense when something bad’s about to go down… And… well, you know about me and Jason, right?”
Sookie mumbled, “My daddy was crazy for like a month before he died. He tuned up every car the family owned, painted all the houses, spoiled the hell out of us kids, made sure to take extra pictures… like he was bracing us for something bad to happen…”
Linda sighed, “I remember that… Hadley, what about you and Jason?”
Hadley tilted her head to the side. “We’re empathic.”
Gawain slapped the counter and shouted, “I was right!”
Hadley shook her head. “The biggest kids I know are older than dirt, I swear… If Uncle Cort died, y’all don’t have Josie and Jessie, do you?”
Lynn shook her head. “More kids? With Julie?”
Hadley nodded. “Evil little pushers, both of them. Josephine Emery Stackhouse and Jessica Emery Stackhouse. They’re smart enough to get bored and get into trouble…” Hadley reached across the counter to take a photo from her wallet and to show her mother. “There. The twin teen bombshells with Bubba. I had to bail Bran out last month because he went off on some guy who thought they needed to do porn.”
That got Pam’s attention… she moved to join them and gasped, “Mother of God,” as soon as she laid eyes on the picture.
Hadley continued, “Of course, they call him Uncle Bubba because he’s Gran’s new bestie. Uncle Cort’s known him for a few months and still acts like a fangirl. The girls’ ability doesn’t wear on them like ours do, so they go to a real school. They talked him into singing at a dance so that’s why they’re all dressed up in formals.”
Gawain raised an eyebrow. “They pushed a Vampire?”
Hadley shook her head. “No. They actually convinced him the normal way. Gran helped, of course… So… This is so weird. I don’t know what to say, because it’s my life and I don’t know how different everything is for y’all.”
Gawain offered, “Since your ability is a new development, start there. When did you discover it?”
She shook her head. “I don’t remember because I was so little. Jas and I paired off a lot because Sook and Bran were Siamese twins. Mommy said they caught on to me and Jas’s thing shortly after Sook and Bran started talking. Mommy would take me over to their house so she could visit or after she fought with Carrey. Jason would always be Johnny-on-the-spot with guessing what I was in the mood to do. Gran likes to joke about how Jas and I made Sookie and Brandon feel hungry, so we could sneak outside and swim in the pool unsupervised. Brandon and Sookie waited until they had their ice cream to rat on us. Turds.”
Sookie sighed, “So being together all the time, the four of us, it just kinda came out.”
“Yeah… Well, Mommy and Uncle Cort didn’t realize something was up with them until later, but yeah. We didn’t even know why, or that we’re Fae until you dated Nilos.”
“Yeah. He’s Dae. He rescued you from a swarm of hungry Vampires while you were trolling tables in Vegas. You describe him as bland enough to need salt.”
“Dae? Vegas? You’re going to have to back up again.”
Hadley grinned wide enough to wrinkle the corners of her eyes. “You Stackhouses went to school in Vegas. I can’t remember a time when it took more than a deck of cards to keep us happy for hours. We’d use our abilities, practiced, plotted… Y’all were pro gamblers for the whole damn time you were there. I just dabbled when y’all were home and we hit the riverboats. Just this weekend, you walked away from a table with eight figures, a boat, and a peacock egg, of all things. You’re all partners with Pam at The Palace…”
Impressive take, but… “Why is Pam owner of The Palace?”
Hadley shrugged. “Um… I think I’m the only Stackhouse who knows and that’s only because I’m marrying your Lord Counsel’s son… Poppa- Felix joked that our baby could be a lawyer for Pam’s future children… You left, retired and went back to Europe. Became a King. Pam stuck around as Sheriff and she runs things from there.”
Gawain chuckled, “I’ve been telling you for centuries…”
“Not the time, princess.”
Hadley giggled, “Yeah. King Eric Northman of the Northern Empire.”
Gawain cackled, “Fucking beautiful! It sounds so sexy… Can I book our plane tickets? I’ll even be a Lord for you, Majesty.”
“Long enough for me to abdicate to you. Fuck that. Have you noticed how many times Area business hasn’t come up while you’ve been here? Boredom is better than chaos and a target painted on my back.”
Hadley offered, “You’re bored there too. Apparently you appointed a shitload of old friends as Lords, Gawain included. Badasses no one would ever fuck with… Um… I remember a few names… Carlyle, Cornelius, Mee, Bronna…”
I corrected, “Bronya. How nice… For your version of a reality which I have no interest in experiencing. I can’t imagine why I would have ended Halfdan unless Pam or I were threatened.”
Hadley shrugged. “I don’t think you’re happy about it on my side of things either. There aren’t a whole lot of details floating around… All I know for sure is that whenever your name comes up, Pam feels like she’s been gut-punched. She misses you really bad. Jas doesn’t even distract her from that.”
Gawain chuckled, “Pam and the beautiful window-licker… Does she dress him?”
Hadley wiggled her eyebrows and snorted, “She spends more time UN-dressing him… So… uh… I’m here, at the lake house, because Sook and Bran use it as their ‘quiet place’ away from the hotel because they practically live there. Bubba’s here more often than not too. Mommy and Jack live in Paramount Acres. When I stopped by there, Dad was sawing logs and Alcide couldn’t hear the doorbell ring over his date, so I figured I’d crash here instead of driving back to the hotel. Jude’s in Amsterdam for the week.”
Sookie didn’t have to say anything… It felt as though her stomach was in her throat.
Gawain immediately, and unapologetically, slipped his hand into Sookie’s pocket for her cell phone and escaped to the den with it.
While Lynn probed about who Jude was, Gawain called Alcide to postpone his plans to pick up the nitrogen tank and promised that Sookie would call him when she was free. A brilliant reason to call, but with all the chatter about Hadley’s fiancé (Jupiter fucking Cataliades), I couldn’t hear Alcide’s side of the conversation. The only thing I knew for certain was that Sookie’s mood improved. Whatever Gawain learned by calling Alcide, reversed the upset caused by the idea that he had a date.
By the time Gawain returned from the den, Pam was explaining what he’d meant when he suggested Hadley avoid Merlotte, pain killers and Texarkana.
Gawain opened the refrigerator and began moving food from the shelves to the counter and Sookie practically lunged for a package of food and joined him… And Hadley turned to the cabinets, removing two plates from the first cabinet she opened without coaching, then glasses, then a loaf of bread… As though she was somehow familiar with where everything was stored.
The conversation continued while Sookie and Hadley made sandwiches (and kissed Gawain for reminding them they were hungry)… Hadley was shocked to hear that she died until she heard the circumstances.
Even though Lynn was crying again, it made perfect sense to Hadley that she would have been uncontrollable without knowledge of her ability. Hadley explained that it was nearly impossible for her to reject advances from men. She’d found herself ‘caught up’ several times and felt horrible about leaving a date ‘high and dry’ when she finally ‘got a grip’. And it didn’t help that she was Fae because her allure only amplified how attracted people were to her. Since she was a child, she’d gotten into the habit of asking why she felt a particular way, as she asked why she felt as though she was at a funeral when she arrived. Her best position in groups depended on the size. In smaller gatherings (like the one she was part of with us), being in the center was the best way to gauge everyone’s moods. It explained how she knew ‘the Welsh guy’ wasn’t confused. In large crowds, her best position was along the fringe. She compared her feeling of the mass of sensations to a plant absorbing sunlight by a window. Emotions would hit her from a single direction and she could still identify her own. Hearing as much caused a whimper from Sookie… she’d realized why the Hadley she knew never made curfew when she was going to a party or a club.
Hadley attended community college locally for her first couple of years (rather than take her chances with roommates) and finally went to Old Miss with Alcide for her last two years because he understood her ability. The only complaint she had about him as a roommate was that he was ‘OCD clean’ and she wasn’t. She couldn’t ever find anything, but that wasn’t much different than living at home with Lynn and her aunt. Janice had joined them in Mississippi when she started university while Alcide and Hadley were in their last year. The passive-aggressive sibling bickering left Hadley a victim to her ability as she was constantly choosing sides between them.
Hadley explained, no matter how much love and support she received from her family in the confines of her home, she would have been subject to the emotions of others…
“Without anyone knowing about my ability, I would have been a bitchy slut. One horny guy at a party, one person who had a bad day is all it would take to affect my mood. When I drive by hospitals, I feel ill and have the urge to pray. When I drive by malls, I feel greedy and want to shop. When I drive by office buildings, I feel stressed out and obsess over work. I have to avoid rush hour because of road rage. I can’t work the night shift at the hotel because I can hardly keep my eyes open with so many people sleeping upstairs. Eating at restaurants is weird because even if I’m starving when I get there, some people are just finishing their meal, so I feel stuffed…” She punctuated that statement by reaching into the refrigerator and removing two glasses of blood. Lynn took them before Hadley could place them in the microwave. Hadley gave a quirky smile as Lynn drank and continued, “Everything affects me when I’m not paying attention. When Jude’s age jumped and he moved, I couldn’t have been happier that he was leaving his condo for a house. His neighbors downstairs were on the verge of a divorce. Even when they weren’t going at it like cats and dogs, they hated each other. It would have ended our relationship if Jude was Human.”
Mentioning Jude’s age jump sparked Lynn and Sookie’s education of all things Dae. Both of them looked completely shocked to hear that Daemons didn’t age progressively, but in spurts. Jude had gone from looking like a college student, to appearing to be 40 overnight… and I’d seen Felix, Jude’s father, in his twenties and his eighties, but at the moment, he appeared to be close to 50. Sookie and Lynn gaped as though they weren’t standing in a room with three age-defying Vampires and Gawain actually pointed out that he was in his second century when he was brought over. The brief tutorial was, at a minimum, amusing.
As for Jude… Jupiter had been given the nickname by Corbett Stackhouse accidentally. He sang Hey Jude (serenaded Jupiter) during a drunken karaoke night, but the nickname stuck. The fact that Jude’s emotions were a mystery to Hadley was just a perk to their relationship because he treated Hadley like a queen, loved her family, and understood her ability. Alcide was slated to be Jude’s best man and Sookie was to be maid of honor. Jack and Linda were both planning to give Hadley away even though Jack was giving her the silent treatment. She’d surprised him by changing her name to Herveaux and let him find out when the wedding invitations arrived. The silent treatment was punishment for ‘making the old hard-ass choke up’.
As it turned out, Hadley wasn’t shopping for a wedding gown. Linda, Adele and Julie had made that within a week of the engagement being announced. The trio needed formal gowns for the plethora of charity functions on their social calendar. Hadley listened to Sookie rant about how lucky men were because one tuxedo was all they needed… and watched Pam buy eight times the number of gowns she needed.
It was all too revealing. A day late and a dollar short… If anyone had known about our version of Hadley’s ability she wouldn’t have been miserably conflicted, out of control, floundering in the simplest of social situations… It had gone on for her entire life which had been one battle after another… and it was all because she was bonded to everyone without realizing it.
What was more… It occurred to Sookie that the Stackhouse family had been blaming Carrey’s abandonment and Bartlett’s abuse to an extent. As it turned out, our visitor blamed herself for her parents’ divorce for a while because she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t prefer Corbett to her distant father. Corbett was fun and always included her with his own children, while Carrey was jealous of Linda and Hadley’s closeness to the rest of the clan… As for Hadley’s abuse… Hadley was shocked to hear about it. She only knew of Bartlett because he disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again, shortly after ‘being creepy’ with Linda when she was a little girl. Everyone, including Adele, has a different theory, but no one knows for sure what happened to him.
While Hadley and Sookie washed dishes, Gawain announced, “Jacuzzi.”
Just ‘Jacuzzi’. No elaboration… Sookie and Pam still laughed at him.
Lynn raised an eyebrow and asked, “What about the Jacuzzi?”
“We should adjourn to the Jacuzzi. The girls could benefit from a buzz. I could certainly benefit from four bikinis. Fresh air… Standing in the kitchen makes it obvious that the rest of us are just nosy twats.”
At least he didn’t try to pass off the Jacuzzi as a portal to the braid.
Before anyone could argue, Hadley offered, “I’m down. My feet are killing me.”
Sookie sighed, “That actually sounds good… Gawain, no Tarzan thong this time. It doesn’t do any good anyway.”
Unless there were photos I could send to everyone we knew, I didn’t want to think about Gawain in a ‘Tarzan thong’.
Pam walked towards the den and snorted, “But it made you laugh. I’ll find suits.”
Gawain offered, “I made a bikini for Sookie earlier. She can wear that.”
Sookie narrowed her eyes and I tried not to think about it… trying to remember if I had swim-trunks at this house seemed much safer.