Explaining to Pam hadn’t been easy. She was wildly amused that I’d ‘want anything a stray dog would drag in’… She was annoyed that I didn’t know much about Linda other than that she was well-read and had a sense of humor, but Pam couldn’t really argue because I hadn’t known as much about her… and she was actually wounded to an extent. She wouldn’t voice it, but I knew she was questioning our relationship. Once she was home from her shopping trip, I had a long conversation ahead of me.
I’d left Bon Temps and driven directly to my house on Cross Lake to make arrangements… As quiet as the property was, it was likely we could stay there if Linda needed to be in seclusion… and the safe-room was soundproof if Linda was as miserable as Pam had been in the beginning.
I’d charged Bobby with finding the quietest car possible, just in case…
I’d called my contacts at the local hospitals to send as much bagged blood as possible…
And I ordered ten strippers for a ‘bachelor party’ so Linda could feed as soon as she rose.
Taking Pam had been so different… Not only had I taken her on a whim, because she was amusingly free-spirited for the era, but the times and circumstances weren’t as privileged. I didn’t already have a secluded piece of property to take Pam to. I didn’t have the luxury of escort services to feed her. I didn’t have the added bonus of banked blood to supplement Pam’s diet.
Unfortunately, Linda’s already failing health might make up for the perks of the new comforts.
I pulled onto Linda’s driveway an hour after sunset to see a well-lit house and a silhouette waiting at the window.
The form watched until I stepped onto the porch, when it moved to answer the door.
It was Sookie who welcomed me… smiling no less.
“I’m glad you came early. We would’ve rattled apart if you waited. C’mon in.”
“You didn’t retire for the night. You and your aunt continued to discuss the situation, yes?”
That was my fault. I should have glamoured Linda too. I was sure the telepath didn’t need much convincing once she heard her aunt’s thoughts.
She shrugged. “What did you expect? She’s been sick for two years, three rounds of chemo… You said she’d feel better so she’s excited. She’s been looking in the paper for night jobs. She has an interview next week with a company that does after hours cleaning at office buildings.”
Sookie very seriously shook her head. “She took a swing at her oncologist for telling her she needed to go on disability. She knits through her chemo treatments. She hates being idle.”
“She’ll be with me for months. She can’t work right away and I’d prefer it if she wasn’t a maid.”
“What’s wrong with being a cleaning lady? It’s honest work.”
“Honest, yes, but not suitable employment for the child of someone in my position. I’ll discuss this with her…”
Linda staggered into the hallway, using the wall to steady herself as she approached me. “But I want to work.”
“You’ll be free to work once you’ve made your transition.”
“It’s different for all of us. It could be a few months or as long as a few years.”
“So… months before I can see my family again. Months to years before I can work. I’m not sure… Thank you, Mr. Northman, but it doesn’t sound like much better of a life than I have now.”
“You’d rather die of cancer than become a Vampire?”
She folded her arms at the end of the hallway and nodded. “Mr. Northman, I very much appreciate your offer, but my family is my life and if I can’t stay busy while I’m waiting to see them again, I’ll go nuts.”
Sookie shrieked, “NO!” but I was too preoccupied by how surprised I was to care about her disappointment.
“Linda, it’s only a matter of months.”
“My honeymoon is the only time I went for longer than a day without talking to someone in my family and I still regret that. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”
“You’ll be able to reunite with your family. Openly. That isn’t something many Vampires can do.”
She nodded. “I understand. I don’t mean to offend you, but I think I’d miss them too much. I’d rather die with them than live without them.”
At least I could respect the woman’s devotion.
“If you’re sure.”
She sighed, “I’m almost positive.”
I couldn’t have been more stunned, but I was willing to respect her wishes. If nothing else, I was sure she was serious about wanting to be with her family. If her nephew and niece were tending to her while she was ill, the family was closer than most. Humans didn’t tend to their elderly and infirmed any longer. They exiled them to hospices and left them to die with strangers.
I turned to leave, but Sookie ran after me to grab my arm.
“Nononononononononono… Stop. Erik. Don’t go. Wait.”
I managed to ignore her for the most part… until I glanced down at her.
I could hear that she was crying in her voice. Why did I look at her?
“If she doesn’t want it, I’m not going to force it on her. She’d only hate me. That’s not the best way to start a relationship between a Maker and a child.”
“Why can’t she see her family?”
“Sookie, I understand that you love your aunt, but this is her decision.”
“Please. Stop…” I let her put herself in my path and waited, willing to give her a minute. “I… Why wouldn’t she be able to see us?”
“Young Vampires can’t control their appetite. She could easily kill one of you.”
She sucked air past her teeth. “Damn. So how was she going to eat?”
She held her hands up, letting out a panicked whimper. “I’m trying to… like, find a compromise. We don’t want to lose her and I doubt you’ll entertain the idea again.”
I sighed, “Fine. I called strippers for her to feed from first. They’ll never know they’ve been a meal because their memories will be altered and the wounds will be healed.”
“So… you’re worried that she’ll kill one of us and regret it… Is there anything keeping her from calling us?”
“Yes. I had every intention of glamouring you so you’d forget I exist.” Storming out was premature.
“So you don’t tell everyone you know Vampires exist. We only have a year left before the Revelation. Linda would have been free to contact you then.”
“We wouldn’t say anything, Erik. You’d be saving her life… We already came up with a lie and everything.”
I chuckled, “Oh really? What lie did you come up with then?”
“A hospice. There’s a place in the Florida Keys, an old hotel on the beach. I was going to take off for a few days ‘to settle her in’. That way she can come home without the ‘where-ya-beens?’. Everyone already knows she has cancer.”
I was impressed. “That would be brilliant if she still wanted to be brought over.”
“So… you… can we do that instead of completely isolating her? She can have contact with us over the phone… maybe once in a while me and Gran can visit her when she just ate so we aren’t at risk.”
“It would be completely unorthodox, but nothing about this is conventional… I’d be willing to try that.”
“We won’t breathe a word. Me, Gran and Jack would be it. Everyone else, including my brother will think she’s reading on a tropical balcony.”
“Why wouldn’t your brother know?”
“Because we don’t think he can handle it. It’s not that he’s close-minded, but he’s really simple. He’ll be okay later, but he’s probably going to prefer the idea of Aunt Linda being on a vacation anyway… You said she can’t work right away. What can she do? Seriously, she’ll go out of her mind if she doesn’t have anything to do.”
“The first few months are usually consumed with nightly feedings and learning about all the things Humans are blind to… She’ll be with me, occasionally Pam, until her famine is under control. She… could take advantage of the time to learn to speak another language, or new skills…”
Sookie’s eyes lit up. “She only speaks English and she’s actually worse with computers than I am…”
“She’s already got those down. I’m sure you can put a different spin on that, but history and literature are family favorites…”
Sookie took my hand and began tugging me back towards the house.
“Aunt Linda is… when she lets her feelings get the best of her, she needs… she kind of needs someone else to kick-start her brain… AUNT LINDA!”
“I’ll give you five minutes to change her mind. This isn’t something she should be convinced to do.”
She stopped tugging long enough to bounce up to kiss my cheek and begin towing me again. “Thank you.”
Linda was sitting on the side of her bed, staring at the shoes she’d removed.
Sookie started, “Erik’s willing to try letting you stay in contact with us. He’s okay with the hospice story…”
I added, “If anything goes awry, your family will be staging your funeral and you won’t have contact with them again until the Revelation.”
Linda’s eyes widened. “I’ll be able to see them?”
“I promise you can see them once, and only just after you’ve fed. Future visits will hinge on how the first visit goes.”
She smiled at the floor and asked, “Did you come up with anything to keep me busy, you little buttinski?”
Sookie giggled, “Erik said you’ll need time to learn ins and outs and whatnot anyway, but you can use the extra time to study, you know, learn something new.”
Linda sighed, “Would you do it? I’m not afraid to die, Sook. The only thing this really does, is change who watches who die…” Sookie opened her mouth, but Linda warned, “I can smell a lie like a fart in a car, girl.”
Sookie snickered, “I was going to say I’d be scared, but I’d rather go out on my own terms than… Aunt Linda, you’ve been poisoning yourself with chemo trying to beat this. You’re a fighter. If this is what you’ve got to do to beat the cancer, then do it. You know what Gran would say if we asked her.”
Linda nodded thoughtfully, so I asked, “What would she say?”
Sookie offered, “Gran would remind her that if she was just going to give up, she never should’ve started chemo to begin with. She’d get the grand-prize package of a guilt trip.”
Linda snickered, “And Sookie’d play dirty enough to call Momma too.”
Sookie nodded. “Don’t forget that she’d tell you it isn’t natural to outlive your children… and that she’d tell you pick a switch.”
I rolled my eyes. “I seriously doubt… how old is your grandmother?”
“You expect me to believe that an 80-year old woman would be so accepting of her daughter’s plans to become a Vampire to thwart cancer, yes?”
Linda snickered and reached for her shoes. “Sook, call her. That sounded like a challenge.”
Yes, I followed Sookie to the kitchen. I’d been sure I would need to glamour the woman, if not Sookie as well, once they realized what they were dealing with, but… I couldn’t have been more curious.
While the phone rang, Sookie whispered, “No speaker-phone,” and stepped closer to me, tilting her head because she thought I needed to share the receiver with her to hear.
She smelled phenomenal… the night before, she smelled like the industrial sanitizers hospitals used… this time, she smelled like she’d bathed in sunlight and sugar. Whatever body wash she used, I needed to know what it was.
The 80-year old woman answered, “Good or bad?”
Sookie offered, “Neutral… We have a bit of a dilemma.”
“What’s that? Lin can’t decide whether she wants Shakespeare or Shakespeare for her bedtime story?”
Sookie giggled, “Not quite… You know Aunt Linda had a beau, right? His wife died of cancer…”
“Yeah. Pig-headed daughter of mine’s being too proud to realize not seeing her is worse than letting him deal with his demons.”
“His name’s Jack… Gran, Jack knows a Vampire.”
“He. Does. Not.”
“He does… They really live forever too… Gran, Aunt Linda doesn’t know if she wants to be a Vampire, but Jack’s friend is willing to turn her into one so the cancer doesn’t win.”
“Boil it down.”
Boil it down? No hysterical panicking. No opposition. Boil it down…
I was going to be livid if the general population’s reaction to Vampires was similar.
Sookie explained, “Aunt Linda’s diet will change because she’ll only be able to eat blood, but the Vampire said donors walk away from it without realizing they were fed from. And Aunt Linda won’t be able to be in the sun anymore.”
“That’s the cons, yeah.”
“Why are you calling me? Make sure the Vampire doesn’t leave without her.”
This had to be a joke… I was almost sure it was. Not Pam. Her feelings were too genuine… Gawain maybe?
Sookie snickered and winked at me. “Gran, she’d be different. We wouldn’t be able to see her as much, mostly talk to her on the phone for a while. She’ll have to stay away from home while she makes some adjustments.”
“What kind of adjustments?”
Sookie cringed and looked to me, so I explained, “A newborn baby will suckle nearly anything put to its mouth. They’re sensitive to their surroundings and need time to adjust to the way their senses come to them because everything is a stark contrast to what they experienced in the womb. Newborn Vampires aren’t unlike babies. Newborn Vampires rise with an insatiable hunger. They rise with heightened senses and strength they can’t control. They need to be isolated, buffered from the world, while they acclimate to the changes.”
The woman grunted quietly and asked, “You had children?”
“Yes. I have one child. She’s been with me for more than three centuries.”
“So you know what you’re doing, huh?”
“I’d like to think so.”
“Then do it. I don’t care what kind of fit she throws, tell her to take it up with me. I’m not losing another one of my babies.”
“Congratulations. You almost had me, Gawain.” His talent for voices… if he’d met a southern tourist, one conversation was all he’d need.
Sookie whispered, “Who’s Gawain?”
“You wouldn’t remember him…” I took the receiver from Sookie and hung up the phone.
Sookie gasped while I dialed, “You just hung up on my Gran.”
“She’ll forgive me.”
Gawain answered, “Speak.”
“I’m sure you think you’re funny, but the joke’s over. The old woman impersonation was a nice touch though.”
“Eric! Funny coincidence. I was going to call you. Is it sunset there already?”
“Yes. Why were you going to call me?”
“Because you ruined my plans with Liz. I’ve been sent on my way.”
“She’s been using Pam for a while now.”
“I don’t care. I prefer Liz. Why is she leaving Milan early?”
“You know why.”
“I don’t… She told me you were the reason, but the tight-mouthed little bitch, wonder where she got that from, didn’t tell me why she was leaving.”
“You didn’t hire someone to prank me?”
Sookie snickered, “You aren’t being punked.”
Gawain chuckled, “I haven’t, but… this is going to be good. Tell me.”
“A Were came to me about his dying girlfriend… He wanted me to bring her over.”
Gawain laughed, “Since Liz isn’t there, you were actually bored enough to look into the woman… Eric, what have you gotten into?”
“The woman has a mother who is now insisting her daughter be brought over because she’s already lost her son. Apparently, the whole family is excited for the woman to rise.”
Gawain took a deep breath. “You’re joking. You’re calling me to accuse me of playing a prank, as part of your prank. Lechyd da! You almost had me.”
“You didn’t do this?”
“You expect me to believe you’re serious.”
“Taste her. If it’s a prank…”
“She reeks of chemotherapy.”
“She could be faking it. Someone could be coaching them. Her blood should taste like bitter dirt if she really has cancer.”
“You think a healthy Human would be willing to undergo chemotherapy to sell a joke?”
“Fuck a prank, Eric, this could be political…” Sookie had been too eager to volunteer her ability. “Unprocessed opiates, Eric. You remember China; you’ll remember the flavor of opiates and alkaline.”
I handed the phone to Sookie and left the kitchen, only to find Linda making her way down the hallway again.
“Is this a rouse? Were you paid to be part of a prank or scheme against me?”
She shook her head. “No. Why?”
“Your mother was remarkably unimpressed to hear that a Vampire is in your home.”
“She raised a telepath. Do you think she’d be so obtuse she’d ignore other possibilities?”
Yes. It would be par for the course.
I took her hand to bring it to my mouth and ran out my fangs to prick her finger.
She didn’t as much as flinch…
And she tasted horrible… her blood tasted like battery acid and mold.
She raised an eyebrow. “Tell you anything?”
I nodded. “I can taste the cancer over the medications. How long should it take before the chemotherapy begins working?”
“It should have already started working.”
Fuck. If Herveaux hadn’t approached me, the woman probably wouldn’t survive the year.
She complained when I scooped her up and carried her to the kitchen, claiming she could walk even if it was at a snail’s pace.
I set Linda on a chair just in time to hear Gawain croon, “And what do Sookies look like?”
Sookie was bright red when I relieved her of the phone, answering, “Sookies are cross-eyed, hunch-backed and the few teeth they have are black.”
Gawain laughed, “You lie… What about the blood?”
“Linda’s actually ill… If you aren’t playing a joke, do you think the boys would?”
“I don’t think they’d go to this extreme. They might just list your address on the Backstreet Boy fan blogs or something… How long have they been in the States? It’s possible their family continued the folklore. I still maintain that it was a misguided attempt to temper the public.”
“Linda, how long has your family been in the States?”
“One of Momma’s aunts was from Wales, but the rest of the family is at least four generations American. We’re mutts.”
Gawain blurted, “Wales!” loud enough for Sookie and Linda to hear him. 1600-year old child.
Linda nodded. “She immigrated with her family and married a Hale. She wasn’t much older than Gran, so they were friends for a long time.”
Gawain snorted, “I’m packing now too, darling. You sound like you’re having too much fun for you to handle on your own.”
I really didn’t need that.
“You’re bringing over a new child. I want to be there.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
He blew a kiss and ended the call before I could argue with him… not that it would have helped.
As soon as I hung the phone on its hook, Sookie and Linda began laughing.
I shook my head. “Just because you used to fuck a Werewolf doesn’t mean your whole family should be so accepting of Supernaturals.”
Linda shrugged. “And the whole ‘Sookie’s a telepath’ thing… Maybe it helps that Momma wasn’t ever religious in that way.”
“She believes in something bigger, but refuses to subscribe to any one set of beliefs. One of her favorite things to do is contradict bigots with a combination of history and actual religion. It would take me about a hundred years to explain it all. She’s a riot. She’s read nearly everything she can find so she can pick apart anyone’s faith. My neighbor, racist bitch, is one of Momma’s best friends. Maxine Fortenberry is a ‘work in progress’.”
“Did you say a hundred years?”
Linda cringed, but Sookie offered, “She’s a little creeped out by the idea of feeding from Humans… Are… Are animals an option?”
I growled, “Interview With The Vampire. Louis and his fucking rats… No. animals aren’t an option. Draining an animal doesn’t provide the nutrition you’ll need. It’s akin to a Human drinking water to stave off hunger… Once you’ve learned to control yourself when you feed, you’re welcome to feed on bagged blood. I usually do. I generally only feed from one Human per week.”
“And it doesn’t hurt them?”
“Of course it hurts. You’ll be stabbing your fangs into the veins of someone…” I ran my fangs out and reached for Sookie’s hand.
Linda blurted, “Don’t you dare!” and began struggling to stand.
“Calm down. Your niece offered to feed me last night while she was bargaining for your eternity… If you’re concerned about feeding from Humans, you should see it done.”
Linda argued, “Can’t you just… I don’t give a shit about the hateful bitch that lives behind me. Can’t you feed from her?”
“I’m not sure I could find her veins through the layer of protective flab around her neck. It’s a wonder that woman’s lard hasn’t smothered her in her sleep…”
While both of them giggled, I pulled Sookie towards me.
She clenched her jaw and sucked air past her teeth. “You should’ve just surprised me. Now I’m freaked out.”
I pushed her hair over her shoulders and offered, “Ah, but I’m demonstrating how your aunt will eventually be able to feed calmly, without terrifying her meal, without causing so much pain the donor resists. Take a deep breath.”
By the time Sookie exhaled, I’d pulled her body against mine and lifted her chin, and she was more than surprised that I didn’t bite straightaway… She giggled and squirmed while I prepared her neck, batting at my shoulders and complaining that I was tickling her while Linda kept a watchful eye on what I was doing to her niece.
When I finally bit, Sookie inhaled sharply, grabbing my shoulders and releasing a ragged breath against my ear.
Her scent had only been a tease of what her blood had to offer. It wasn’t her body-wash…
One perfect mouthful after another… It had been ages since I had so much difficulty controlling myself.
Rationale was the only thing to help me stop… wanting more, wanting it often… Sookie might have been telepathic, but what made her unique was that I was willing to keep a pet for the first time.
It was a struggle to keep from showing how affected I was. The purpose of the demonstration had been to prove to Linda that Vampires weren’t fanged marauders who lurked in shadows and tore out the throats of their victims. Not all of us.
Sookie was blushing when I pulled her away from me.
“How do you feel?”
No sooner than she answered, she slapped her hands over her mouth and her blush began to glow.
Linda covered her eyes and shook, laughing silently.
Sookie mumbled, “I’m… just… gonna… die of embarrassment in the bathroom.”
I caught her before she could leave and chuckled, “Linda, before she dies, you might want to see this.”
When she uncovered her face, I pricked my finger and rubbed my blood into Sookie’s marking to heal it… Sookie made a clucking noise and slapped my arm when I leaned over to lick away the smear.
“She’s no worse for the wear.”
Linda giggled, “Except for being mortified, you mean?”
I nodded. “Yes. Except for that… Are you ready to go now?”
Linda took a couple of deep breaths before rubbing her hands over her knees. “I guess I’m out of excuses, huh?”
“Rational ones, yes… I wasn’t pleased to become a Vampire. It wasn’t the changes that upset me. It was the loss. I was taken from my family and home. In fact, most Vampires who were happy to be brought over were facing certain death having been gravely ill or injured.”
“Are you stalling?”
She shook her head and began struggling to stand again. “No. I’m just curious because you said ‘most’.”
“Pam was excited by her new freedoms. She wasn’t happy with the course her life was taking… And a friend of mine, his brother was attacked while they were traveling together. He fought the Vampire, demanding to be killed as well even though he had a pregnant wife waiting for him. His brother meant that much to him… and still does.”
“Am I going to meet them?”
“I’m sure you will. Pam will more than likely do something as absurd as sending out birth announcements.”
Linda snickered, “She sounds like a trip.”
“That’s a good way to put it… Sookie, do you have a bag packed? Your plan to take Linda to the imaginary hospice.”
She shook her head. “I couldn’t really get past Gran without explaining and all this was supposed to be secret squirrel.”
I began leading Linda to the front door and offered, “Follow us to Shreveport. You’ll stay in my house to sell the story…”
“In your house?”
“I won’t be there. I’ll be with Linda. You’ll have run of the house and I’ll have my day-guy bring some things to you.”
She’d have to wait until after Linda fed to see her aunt, but she’d be able to take news to Linda’s mother and Wolf.
After breathing, “Ummm okay,” Sookie jogged to the bedroom and joined us with Linda’s bag and their purses.
Linda staggered slowly, refusing to use me to help her balance or let me carry her…
“Is this your way of telling me how obstinate you are?”
I opened the door for her and watched her lower herself in carefully.
“I prefer to call myself determined.”
I chuckled, “What a coincidence. Pam does too.”
Linda chuckled, “You poor bastard… two pigheaded women?”
Two of them.
“Your Wolf didn’t list tenacity as one of your qualities.”
“Of course he didn’t. I’m dying. No one has any faults when they’re dying. I’m sure you’ve seen a few assholes get treated like saints once they croak too.”
That was too true.
I walked around my car and waited, watching Sookie lock the front door.
“Fair enough…” Sookie jogged to her car. “Tenacity seems to run in your family. That girl doesn’t know how to quit, does she?”
Linda snickered, “Nope. It’s the one damn thing she can’t do… She’s practically mine, you know. My brother died when she was eight. Momma had the bigger house, but Hadley and I were there almost every day. Sookie’s my pride and joy… Twenty one years old, working since she was fifteen, spends all of her free time with family or a book. She’s not afraid of the devil himself and she isn’t one of those silly girls. Never has been. Then again, her extra ability made her a bit of a cynic…” She slapped her hands over her mouth and gasped, “Erik! Did she say if she can read your mind?”
I shook my head. “She could tell that I was lying about being a Vampire though.”
“I’m gonna cry…” Too late for that warning. “Her birthday’s in July. I’m finally going to be able to surprise her.”
“She’s never been surprised?”
“Nope. We’ve been celebrating her birthday at the bowling alley for years, spending the night out instead of trying to surprise her. We usually give her some cash. Little turd takes the money and goes flea-marketing. She ends up using her birthday money on stuff for everyone but herself.”
I snorted, “I’ll have her spend some time with Pam. Maybe some of Pam’s materialism will rub off on Sookie.”
Linda shook her head. “How bad is Pam?”
“Pam shops. Every business Pam has owned has been an excuse to shop. Her favorite businesses are hotels because she can redecorate the interior and change the staff’s uniforms at will.”
Linda chuckled, “The last time Sookie went shopping, her friend stopped talking to her for a week. She was bored after ten minutes and wandered off. Tara found her in the bookstore helping a kid with a paper on Darwin. Sookie and another customer had practically written the paper for the kid. Sookie being Sookie laughed her ass off at Tara. The irony wasn’t lost on her that she got the phone number of the other customer, who was employed and knew that books can be opened, while Tara was shopping for an outfit to impress an unemployed idiot who didn’t know she existed.”
I chuckled, “Beautiful… And how will Sookie’s employed, literate boyfriend take to her being gone for a few nights?”
“Oh, she never called him. She’s practically a nun. Poor thing’s ability keeps her from getting close to anyone… Know any nice Vampires?”