I was more than a little surprised to feel Sookie snuggling with me as I came back to myself. I was hypnotized by her heartbeat and the sound of rain echoing through the house.
It was more pleasant than I would have imagined feeling her warmth all but wrapped around me… A stark contrast to the stillness I usually rise to…
I’d hardly had the time to enjoy it before she giggled, “I’m not here. It’s just your imagination.”
“You have to be. I wouldn’t climb back in bed with you just to snuggle. That’s not like me.”
I reached for her leg, moving it up to my waist. “If I remember correctly, you can do anything you want in dreams.”
She giggled, “Damn it,” as she shifted to straddle me, but then her mood changed. She looked down at me like she was pained and slowly started shaking her head. “They’re…” she looked over her shoulder. “Eric. They’re gone.”
I looked towards Pam’s bed, but it wasn’t there. It wasn’t just Pam who was gone… The room looked like it had when I’d arrived at the house to prepare it for Lynn.
“We are. We’re gone.”
Sookie looked around the room. “I guess now is the wrong damn time to think we should’ve put our heads together and come up with a manual… Do you smell that Bubba guy?”
She shrugged. “Process of elimination. In the strand Pam was in, that You brought Aunt Linda to this house. You won’t leave the hole until tomorrow night, but I can’t feel your mind in the yard. I could before.”
Clever use of her ability.
“No. I don’t smell Bubba, meaning we aren’t in the version Hadley was from either.”
“Leaving the strand where…”
I finished, “We’re married… That’s assuming there aren’t more strands.”
She snorted as she left me, “That’s crazy. How many more could there be?” She went to the dresser and tossed a pair of jeans and a shirt to me. “You have no idea how glad I am that I didn’t strip before I joined you…” She walked into the bathroom and offered, “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?”
“I want to check on the sunlight situation, and check to see if you have a car parked here… I guess my next step will be to hope the other You has the phone turned on here so I can call him.”
“Not Your family?”
She stepped into the doorway and rested her hands on her hips. “Well… You’re a Vampire, so taking a Supernatural clusterfuck to the other You first makes more sense than taking a Vampire who doesn’t exist to a family who could think they’re completely Human. I mean, if you’re right about other possibilities and all… I don’t want to just show up in Bon Temps and scare the bejesus out of whoever else could be living in the family’s houses.”
“You make a very good point…” I left the bed to dress, explaining, “The den should be safe because of the rainclouds… In all honesty, I’m not sure I’d believe your story if you called me.”
She snorted, “Um. I’ve heard Gawain do you. As well as he knows you, you’d think it was him. You thought he was doing Gran at one point.”
“What do you plan on saying?”
“If I said I’m a Faerie from another dimension, you’d definitely think I’m messing with you, right?”
I nodded. “Definitely.”
“But we need to meet up with him… How about I say I know he’s a Vampire, and I want to negotiate how much my silence will cost? Wouldn’t that be better than trying to track you down? I doubt we’d have to wait long to get this adventure going either. I mean… you’d be pissed at first, but once you lay eyes on your doppelganger, you’d at least give him a minute to explain, right?”
That would definitely draw me out… and seeing another version of myself could give me pause.
I chuckled, “We’re spending too much time together.”
She giggled and started for the stairs. “And I get to spend my evening with two of you.”
“Do you think you can manage to keep your clothes on?”
She didn’t answer me until she reached the top of the stairs, turning around with an evil grin. “You do know you’re hard to resist, right?”
She thought she was funny.
I lifted the trap door enough to see the den was almost as dark as the room behind us just as a thunderclap rattled the windows.
The storm had caused an ‘early sunset’.
Sookie looked down at her thin T-shirt and rolled her eyes. “Of course it started raining cats and dogs when I’m not wearing a bra.”
I faked a sniffle as I lifted the trap door to walk out. “Poor me.”
Sookie’s first task took her to the front window to find that last year’s Mustang was waiting in the driveway… and she joked we should avoid Jason and Brandon for a while so they wouldn’t find out I have spare muscle cars sitting around.
After only a little coaching Sookie called My cell phone, making a comically anxious face while it rang…
The third ring was the last one, but the other Me didn’t offer a greeting.
Sookie forced herself to become serious, and started, “Wondering how your house on Cross Lake is calling you, Mr. Northman?”
Impressively ominous beginning.
My voice answered, “You could say that. Who are you?”
“You should be more concerned with who you are… You and I have business to discuss.”
“What kind of business?”
“I’d like your help appraising the value of something.”
“What would that be?”
“A painting recently came into my possession. It seems the Strickland family of Cumbria commissioned it.”
“Why would that interest me?”
“Because Winifred Dolores Kendal disappeared before marrying into the Strickland family. The painting’s known as ‘Vanishing Bride’… Pam’s very photogenic, Eric.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
Sookie smirked and licked her lips. “Your new business partner…”
So deliciously evil.
“What difference does it make if you have a painting of a woman who resembles my sister?”
“Because I’m not sure Sophie-Anne would be very pleased to hear you had the chance to shut me up before I took proof of Vampires to the media.”
“Careful. If you squeeze the phone much tighter, you’ll break it before we can arrange a meeting.”
During the long silence that followed, Sookie and I had to look away from one another to keep our fuckery-induced grins from snowballing into laughter.
I would never admit to how much fun it was to fuck with My mind… ever.
“You want to sell the painting to me. Blackmail.”
“You’re pretty well known as a savvy businessman… I thought you’d appreciate the offer more than if I just waltzed into your house on La Roque Boulevard while you’re dead for the day… opened the safe in your study… combination 10-24-37… of course, if you made me go to that extreme, I’d definitely have to call Pam and Gawain to tell them about it so you’d never live it down.”
He growled, “How much?”
“A million will do nicely.”
“I don’t have that much on hand.”
“Did Pam clean out your safe before she left for Milan?” As soon as she asked, she pinched her face together and made a fist that turned her knuckles white. She was furious.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the one who’ll be waiting for you at Glamour.”
“How will I know who you are?”
“Oh, you won’t be able to miss me.” Because she’d be waiting with his twin.
Sookie hung up and raised her eyebrows at me, waiting for my approval as though she couldn’t sense it from my mind.
“He’s livid. He’s trying to force himself to be rational and plan… That was a beautiful performance.”
“I almost blew it… I mentioned Pam being in Milan. There isn’t any reason to think this Pam went to Milan…” She turned for the front of the house. “I guess we should get out of here… I’m sure you’d send someone to the house to search for clues about who was here.”
She really was a clever little thing.
I offered, “But his lack of reaction is revealing. It tells us this strand is similar for Pam and Me.”
“It could have backfired though… It was dumb luck. I mean, if you’re a King in other strands, or married to a me, then God only knows how upside-down this strand can be… Hey, do you hotwire your cars when Bobby does the shuffle?”
“No. He leaves the keys in the glovebox.”
Her eyes were narrowed when she looked over her shoulder. “How the hell are you not up to your ass in stolen car reports?”
“My properties are warded against ill-will. It’s not a strong ward, but it prevents common fuckery…”
As soon as I opened the front door for her, she bolted for the car, making a mad dash in spite of the lull in the downpour.
She was already holding up the keychain for me when I slid behind the wheel, and offered, “Speaking of which… I called Paulette for you. She should be in Shreveport by now… And Bobby had already delivered your books when I climbed back into bed with you.”
“How did you manage that?”
“I told Paulette I’m your new day-girl, and normally Pam and Lynn’s errands are my responsibility, but you had a windfall just before dawn and needed an impromptu ward of epic proportions. I told her to use her expense account for spell ingredients and gas, and to check into a nice hotel and treat herself to dinner while she waited to hear from you at sunset. I told her you’d make it worth her while, and probably make another offer to have her replace Bobby.”
“Brilliant. Thank you… Did Gawain not have Bobby return to the Ducati dealership for him?”
“No. Since Bobby just followed a tow truck, Gawain called the dealership himself and had one delivered… I went to Office Max and got a butt-load of stuff because I figured you’d want to dive right in.”
Needful Things. The braid was coming between me and Needful Things.
Since I’d already turned in the other direction, I said, “We should have driven to the Fairchild estate to see if the house is for sale in this version. The prospect of that purchase could soften the blow of your ruse.”
She giggled, “We can still put the bug in his ear…. For that matter, I might need to tell him about it so he doesn’t kill me.”
Sookie’s prediction, that I wouldn’t wait to leave for Glamour, had been spot on…
Just one block south of Glamour, we stopped at a red light… next to the other Me.
He was focused on the road ahead with his jaw locked.
Sookie snickered while she watched him, whispering that I was even sexy when I was planning a shallow grave for someone.
Not long after I merged into the lane behind My Corvette, Sookie’s mood became more serious… He’d realized he was being watched or followed and was focusing on us.
Sookie paused for a moment, before answering, “I think it’s okay. I mean, not like when the Weres came to the house, more like when you were negotiating last night.”
“How about when I was an epic asshole and spoke so harshly to you that my child and friend interfered?”
She shook her head. “No. Nothing like that.”
At least that was something. If he was in an aggressive mood, I would have continued driving, but he was in the mindset to negotiate…
He stopped his car in the usual place behind Glamour and seemed to be staring at his steering wheel when I pulled up next to him.
Sookie barely had the chance to gasp, “Oh shit!” before the car was flipped. Side over side…
He’d darted out of his car… and began a full bore display of intimidation.
He hadn’t been thinking about buying the imaginary painting… he was planning his next move.
Sookie and I crashed into one another as the car rolled twice… If I wasn’t worried about Sookie’s safety I would have been proud of the other Me for the scare tactic.
By the time the Mustang bounced to a stop, I was surrounded by broken glass, and Sookie was unconscious.
I shouted, “You’ll stand down, or I’ll call Halfdan and tell him Pam’s part of a conspiracy against him! She’ll be dead before you can reach her…”
It didn’t matter if it had been my empty threat or the sound of his own voice that made him wait.
Sookie was covered in superficial cuts from the safety glass, but I didn’t know if it had been the airbag or our heads colliding that knocked her out… Either way, I wasn’t taking her home injured.
I ordered the other Me, “Remove the roof so I can take her out and heal her.”
He argued, “You say that as though I care. She chose the wrong way to leverage me.”
“She wasn’t blackmailing you. We needed you to meet us. If we tried to explain over the phone, you would have assumed we were part of a prank.”
When Sookie mewled as she regained consciousness, I gave up trying to explain and started pushing against the roof…
I barely lifted the roof a few inches before my hands went through it… Steel was unforgiving. It fractures like raw diamonds. Pressure has to be applied artfully or the whole thing was ruined.
While I twisted and scraped to free myself, I noticed the other Me was standing behind the car. He wasn’t making an effort to see into the car, but he was standing at the ready… his legs were further apart and his elbows were lifted slightly…
If I had to guess, he was working under the impression that I was only imitating his voice until he saw my face.
The combination of shock and fangs made me look absolutely retarded. He watched completely gobsmacked as I peeled back the roof of the Mustang and pulled the airbag out of my way.
Sitting on the dashboard and unbuckling Sookie’s seatbelt, I asked, “Can you hear me, Sookie?”
She furrowed her brow as though she was trying to answer, but given that I felt like I’d been kicked in the head, the pain might have been too much for her.
“If I heal you, you’re going to be stuck with me… I’m surprised we didn’t complete a bond the other night.”
She managed to grunt as I lowered to rest on my knees on the seat next to her legs…
I caught myself realizing Lynn wasn’t the only reason to heal Sookie… I actually hated seeing her injured…
The first time I bit into my wrist was frustrating at best. She didn’t take much blood before the wound closed because she still wasn’t in complete control of her body… The small cuts in her arms and legs healed slowly, but she still wasn’t quite healed… Her head was still injured enough for her to seem drunk. She felt dizzy and couldn’t focus…
She still hadn’t tried to speak yet when she leaned towards me to take from my wrist the second time.
All the while, the other Me looked on…
When my wound closed, Sookie leaned away, licking her lips and taking a deep breath before wrapping herself around my arm.
I could already tell whatever head injury she’d had was healed, but I still asked, “Better?”
She was so traumatized she was trembling… and crying without any sort of hysterics. Her confrontation with the Pelt bitch hadn’t affected her as much…
She nodded slowly and whispered, “That was humbling.”
“Do you think you’ll ever forget how my mind feels when I’m maneuvering?”
She whimpered, “Never.”
“Then it was a learning experience.”
As I lifted her, carrying her to My Corvette, she asked, “How are you? Did you get hurt?”
“My neck was sore for a moment. I had a few cuts.”
She tightened her arms around my neck when I tried to set her down until I promised it was only long enough for me to sit in the car… and I didn’t bother speaking to the other Me again before we settled and closed the door.
He opened the driver’s door and slid into his seat, snorting, “Are you two quite comfortable?”
“No. We’re covered with blood and broken glass, and we’re soaked. She’s freezing. Take us to the decoy house so we can clean up.”
He scoffed, “You expect me to reveal…”
“Briar Rose Circle. It’s the gray Victorian with black and lavender trim. Just go.” It was only two miles away from Glamour. It was where Pam and I took donors if they were worth spending more than a few minutes with. Pam used it much more often than I did, but we both kept clothing there.
Once he finally put the car in gear, he growled, “Are you going to tell me who the fuck you are?”
“You. I’m you. I’m another version of you. Sookie has a distant relationship to the Fae. When I brought over her aunt, we began experiencing rifts in reality. The Fae call it ‘the braid’. This morning, I died in my version of the lake house, and I rose in yours. Sookie’s attempt to blackmail you was born of knowing we needed to meet with you to exchange information. Does Leland Scott live in your Area?”
“No. I’ve never heard of him. What information are we supposed to exchange?”
“I’m trying to determine that. This is our fourth experience with the braid. In the other versions, we’ve been helpful and we’ve learned things that have helped us… It’s important for you to understand that we recently overlooked a detail that seemed trivial, and Sookie was almost killed because of the oversight… I assume Pam is in Milan with Gawain.”
“Yes. Why? Where is yours?”
“I have to assume she’s in my reality, still dead for the day. She’s been staying at the lake house because she doesn’t want to miss anything.”
“Because you have a new child.”
“Yes. She returned from Milan early. Whether it was a helpful or curious gesture, it doesn’t matter. She’s been completely supportive of Lynn and all of her adjustments.”
“Lynn is your pet’s aunt.”
“Sookie is my child’s niece.”
He scoffed, “Why the fuck would I bring over another child?”
“Lynn’s lover, a Were, came to me and asked me to meet her. She was dying of cancer… I was bored enough to visit her… She caught my attention immediately. She’s not a full week old yet, but she hasn’t given me a single reason to doubt myself for bringing her over… And for the record, any questions I had about Pam’s attachment to her sister were laid to rest when Pam entered the braid and spent her evening convincing another Me to bring Linda over.”
“Did your willingness to bring over another child have anything to do with your little pet?”
“No. Sookie made a provoking argument, but she’s simply an incredible bonus to an already pleasant situation.”
He raised an eyebrow and looked at me without turning his head. “How has your newborn not drained your pet?”
“It helps that Lynn’s a picky eater… Her sense of taste is as strong as Pam’s hearing. She enjoys men’s blood much more than that of females. Her ability is incredible…”
“She has an ability?”
“She’s part Fae. She already had what another version of her family called retrocognition. She could see into the past…”
Sookie added, “Now, she can see the present too. I was at the checkout earlier and she was at home. She called to tell me to get a different kind of paper because what I grabbed wasn’t acid free. She had some trouble at first, knowing whether she was seeing the past or present, but she’s getting the hang of it.”
I asked, “Did she mention having a sense of where we were when she was in the braid?”
Sookie shook her head. “No… but since Lynn and Pam didn’t lose any time to speak of, I’m not sure she would. I mean, how would it seem to her? Pam experienced a whole night, but she was only gone for an hour. Y’all don’t feel anything of your bonds either.”
Yet my connection to Sookie had been just as strong as it had been before I died for the day… and was that much stronger now.
“Good point… So if everything for him is the same as it was for me until Jack came along…”
“Except for the Leland thing. That’s weird. Wasn’t he in your Area for a while?”
“He could have just opted to live in another Area… Your brother’s friend may very well still be alive… It seems like your family is the only real mystery.”
She suddenly felt slightly ill.
“Well… There’s a me who’s a student in California. There’s a me who’s married to you. There’s a me who’s a pro gambler… How the hell are we supposed to track anyone down?”
“We know you aren’t married to me. We know you aren’t a gambler. Student Sookie’s family is still living in Bon Temps though.”
She sighed, “Yeah… but there’s still so many variables. Instead of knocking on doors and having to fish for details… It might be easier to go somewhere I can get info in bulk.”
“You think we should go to Merlotte’s?”
“No. I think we should go back to the lake house and stink up his version of it until the braid goes away. I don’t want to lay eyes on that shifting piece of shit… I’ll kill him and this version of me will go to jail for it.”
I chuckled, “You’ve had a lot of my blood, but I’m almost positive I’m still stronger than you. I promise to hold you back.”
Since Sookie and I had only had one firsthand experience with the braid, we spent a bulk of the time we showered and changed, explaining Hadley’s version, and the general knowledge we’d acquired about the Stackhouses.
Being ‘King Eric Northman of the Northern Empire’ was the one major difference between the variations of My lives… Pam had visited a version that was identical to ours. Lynn had visited a version where everything had been the same until I played a prank on Pam and found a different ‘rental associate’ at the storage units.
I was almost sure Sookie wouldn’t suffer the bizarreness of being in her own company like I was… It seemed as though the most likely option for Sookie’s visit, the version Pam encountered, would have Sookie in California while Corbett nursed his dying sister.
Sookie was still desperately trying to calm herself down. While we showered, she explained that she was trying not to hold anything against the other Me…
Only one facet of our plan was flawed… We hadn’t taken into account that He could arrive at Glamour as early as He had. Everything else about our plan had been correct. He had been stunned enough to listen once He saw another version of himself. As soon as we returned home, she was planning to start the manual she mentioned earlier… and the first line of it would include a warning about posing a threat to any version of my children.
I wasn’t sure the other Me could be convinced to bring Linda over, but as a minimum, Sookie could tell her father about Brandon’s existence and help substantiate the extraordinary gifts of Hadley’s children.
Even if His staring was becoming more blatant as time went by, His curiosity in Sookie was promising enough… Specifically, he seemed more preoccupied by the way Sookie was situated on my lap as we drove to Bon Temps. Her head was resting on my shoulder, and she’d laced her fingers between mine.
Perhaps it wasn’t as much her situation, but more that I didn’t mind it.
When He parked the car in front of Merlotte’s, Sookie’s brilliant plan was to snore.
I chuckled, “You can eat while we’re here.”
“I’m not hungry. I ate a huge lunch right before I got in bed with you… Can I dump his body in the dumpster out back?”
“Dumpsters are no good. When they’re dumped, the contents are watched to be sure there aren’t any hazardous materials…”
She blew a raspberry to interrupt me. “If I hold his face in the fryer, you can glamour Lafayette to forget we were here. You like Pam’s ‘accidents’.”
“You’d splash yourself with hot cooking oil. Are you looking for reasons to need healings?”
She moved for the door quickly, growling ‘goddammit’ as she left the car.
I chuckled as the other Me and I followed.
I called for her as she reached for the front door, and curled my finger to have her return to me.
She didn’t just stop at my feet; she leaned against me to pout with her bottom lip poking out.
“If Merlotte’s inside, don’t listen to his thoughts.”
She sighed, “If I don’t know better than to trust him, because last week I didn’t, he’s the best source of info we have. I thought we were friends.”
“Don’t use his mind unless it’s a last resort. This Merlotte’s reaction will probably be worse than the other’s because you smell like me now.”
She took a deep breath and sighed, “Thanks for the warning,” as she stepped back and took my hand.
The other Me followed, asking in German, “She isn’t just a pet, is she?”
I had to think about that for a moment. By the time I answered, “Intimate friends,” Sookie had led us to sit in a booth where she could see most of the dining room.
I slid onto the bench after her, and the other Me sat across from her as she offered, “Lots of the usual faces… but not many of them recognize me. So weird.”
“As many of them who noticed you?”
“They actually noticed the Twin Towers of Scandinavian Perfection more than they noticed me.”
“Perfection?” The other Me and I asked at the same time.
Sookie giggled, “Stop smirking like that. Y’all know you’re hot… and you’re gonna ruin every woman in here.”
She said that as though she wasn’t on her way to ruining me.
At least the waitress noticed Sookie… As the generic girl (bland brown hair, dull hazel eyes, and an average figure) approached the table, she seemed preoccupied with Sookie’s hand as it was resting on my thigh.
Mindy (according to her nametag) raised an eyebrow at Sookie and tilted her head. “Comfy?”
Sookie nodded and answered, “I guess so, thanks,” cautiously.
The waitress sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Miss Popular?”
The other Me offered, “Polite service would be nice. Don’t you work for tips?”
The bitch forced a deranged smile and said, “If you two could afford a decent tip, you wouldn’t be sharin’ someone else’s girl.”
Sookie cleared her throat and offered, “Ice cream sundae and a coffee…”
“All outta ice cream and coffee.”
Sookie huffed, “Apple p-”
“All outta pie.”
Sookie growled, “Sweet tea.”
“Or you could leave.”
“Or you could get run off the road, dragged from your car…”
I clamped my hand over Sookie’s mouth and did my best to not laugh. “You’ll bring her the sundae and a coffee. If you tamper with her food, you’ll wear it.”
She made a mocking face as she turned away and Sookie mumbled, “Bitch,” into my hand.
I joked, “No wonder you don’t miss Merlotte’s,” as I released her.
She shook her head. “I don’t know her. She’s Sam’s sister. I’m not sure why she’s in Bon Temps. Sam doesn’t really talk about his family… According to her, I’m a slut for being with you while Sam’s crushing on me. Apparently, I’m parading my eye-candy in front of him to make him jealous.”
The other Me asked, “But no one here knows you. Why would it matter?”
She shrugged. “Mindy was just thinking about her poor brother and how I’m all he talks about.”
He snorted, “You certainly have the sympathetic nature of the Fae.”
I growled, “Watch yourself. Our version of Merlotte was obsessed with her allure. He impregnated her cousin, and fantasized about raping Sookie. His fixation isn’t her burden.”
“What about your fixation?”
If he only knew more about her than the way she looked in a towel.
Sookie snorted, “Don’t be a turd. It’s not like-”
She stopped abruptly, staring at a customer who had just arrived.
Sookie was frozen as the woman with chin-length blonde hair sat at the bar, remarking that the bartender wearing purple eye shadow and matching nail polish was ‘fabulous as usual’ as he served a drink she hadn’t needed to ask for.
I asked, “Sam’s mother?”
Sookie sniffled, “Mine.”
Uh oh… Proof we were dealing with a new version of events.
The bartender asked, “And why are we drinkin’ tonight, Mrs. Norris?”
The very petite woman was dressed simply in a pair of jeans and an oversized flannel shirt. She sipped from her drink before answering, “The usual. My husband’s in love with my daughter.”
The bartender scoffed, “Ya know it ain’t a bad thing that your husband loves his step-kids, right?”
“We gonna go through this again? Where you tell me I don’t have any proof something’s going on?”
He nodded. “Yeah. You drink too much to be profilin’ folk.”
She lit a cigarette and began spinning her lighter on the bar. “She came over today. Made dinner in my kitchen… Sat there and ate it with my husband and daughter… didn’t say a word to me. She shoulda just stayed in California with that lost cause brother of hers.”
“You still pissed she ain’t interested in Sam?”
Sookie’s mother snorted, “She’s got somethin’ going… that guy she met backpackin’ just left town a couple of nights ago… Calvin didn’t approve of the guy. When she put him on the plane, she cut him loose, said they didn’t have a chance of workin’ out because they had family obligations… Tell me there ain’t nothin’ goin’ on when a girl will dump a guy because their stepfather doesn’t approve.”
The bartender snorted, “There’s something goin’ on… but I’d call it a miracle. You called ‘em Eurotrash anywho, girl. Why you care if she put him out?”
I asked Sookie, “Calvin… Calvin Norris?”
Sookie shrugged. “I guess so.”
“Who’s the guy she just dumped?”
“Uhhhh… Allecks… It doesn’t seem like… Eric, she wants me to hook up with Sam because she thinks it’ll ‘end’ whatever’s going on between Me and Calvin. She wants Me to get married to anyone, or go back to California…”
She’d wept just seeing photos of her father… seeing her mother alive barely made her eyes mist slightly… She was only confused about the details of the other Sookie’s life rather than overwhelmed by seeing her mother again…
I offered, “So this version seems to be like the one Pam visited, yes? For some reason, you’re in Bon Temps instead of San Francisco.”
She nodded. “I took a semester off to help Daddy with Aunt Linda… I went back to Europe over the summer, and I switched majors… I’m getting more from Lafayette than Michelle. She’s thinking horrible things… Her Sookie and husband.”
“Her plans for You seem to have honorable roots.”
Sookie snorted, “But as usual, she doesn’t have a freakin’ clue about anything…”
Before Sookie could elaborate, a man’s voice boomed from the doorway, “How did I know you’d come here?”
He wasn’t in our line of sight, but Sookie mouthed, “Calvin,” as Michelle Norris turned around on her barstool.
Mrs. Norris rolled her eyes. “Because you drive me to drink.”
The man walked towards her and balked when his wife noticed Sookie. He looked towards us and back to his wife to order, “Go home. If you want to be an embarrassing lush, you can do it at home so you don’t kill anyone driving…” She opened her mouth, but he barked, “Go. Now.”
She seethed in his direction for a moment before obeying him, and as soon as she was through the door, Calvin paid for her drink and approached us.
Without an invitation, he sat across from me (smelling of the garlic laced Italian food his stepdaughter had made for dinner) and spoke to Sookie. “Not that I mind being wrong, ‘cuz I assumed you had a hot date with that tool Merlotte, but what’s with the fangs?”
Sookie struggled to think of an explanation for a moment. “I… uhhh… They’re just friends… Why’d you assume I was going out with Sam?”
“Because you gave me a cheeky answer when I asked where you were going… Did you bring them to this dump to make Merlotte back off?”
A cheeky answer? From Sookie? Nooooo.
She nodded slowly. “Hoping for that.”
He leaned back and shook his head. “You need to git, baby girl. You’re new to all this… Seeing you with just any guy’s gonna make Merlotte try harder… Seein’ ya with another Supe’s gonna light a big fire under his ass… He see ya yet?”
She shook her head. “His sister did.”
“You oughta ask one of your friends if they’ll glamour her to forget you were here so she doesn’t run her mouth as soon as she sees Sam.”
She nodded. “Okay… Thanks.”
He gave her a half smile and moved to stand, maintaining eye contact with Sookie. “By the way, Beth had a blast with ya this afternoon. She missed you.”
Sookie smiled and nodded. “I missed her too.”
Sookie waited until Calvin Norris was through the front door of Merlotte’s and whispered, “I just started using my ability?”
Both of Me asked, “What?”
She shrugged and shook her head. “That’s what he meant by saying I was new to this. My mother sent Me to a nuthouse when I was just a kid. I shut My telepathy down. I don’t know… Something made Me start using it again. That’s when I found out I was raised by a Panther… Calvin isn’t a creep, by the way. Michelle’s completely wrong. He’s protective, but only as a parent, and now We have a ‘secret nature’ to talk about too…”
“Was she assuming he’d been inappropriate with Sookie as a child?”
She snorted, “Yeah. Ironic given that my version of her didn’t believe me when it actually was happening. Bitch… at least she’s consistent. I mean, she suspected Calvin, but didn’t bother leaving him either.”
The other Me asked, “Out of curiosity, what was his reaction to seeing his ‘baby girl’ with Vampires?”
“That my curiosity about all things Supernatural would get me into trouble… Before he left he thought a warning to me…”
“Bloodsuckers can’t be trusted.”
“No… That he’d bet his ass that Vampires think with their dicks just like any other guy. You having a quiet mind just means I’ll regret enjoying it if I get screwed over.”
I shook my head. “Not even slightly.” Considering what I’d heard of Hot Shot from Nestor and Flood, I couldn’t have been more surprised that Calvin Norris seemed so levelheaded.
Sookie sighed, “He told me to call him too… He thought y’all look like descriptions of the Sheriff. If you are who he thinks you are, then I need to know y’all have a reputation for being a prick… and I need to watch my ass… and he hopes I get bored with you soon.”
I chuckled, “So after I glamour our charming waitress, where are we going next?”
She took a deep breath and sighed, “Gran’s house… Well, it’s Aunt Linda’s now. That’s where I’m staying… with… My Daddy’s going to be there.”
The other Me asked, “Will he be as delightful as your mother?”
Sookie shook her head, but I offered, “No. Pam thought to make a video of him leaving messages for our version of his family. He seemed very pleasant. Corbett won’t be a problem.”
As we inched along the driveway to the Stackhouse homestead, Sookie was still scowling and scouring the chocolate sauce and coffee stains on her shirt… Mindy Merlotte had practically thrown the dishes on the table when she returned to our booth, riling Sookie to the point where it was a struggle to keep her in the booth long enough for the other Me to glamour the second-born twat.
There was a late-model black Dodge pickup truck at the end of the gravel driveway. The house was in pristine condition; whitewashed siding and a fresh coat of black paint on the trim and shutters. Even the flower beds were in full bloom…
As we stepped up to the door, Sookie lifted her hand to knock, but stopped herself and glanced over her shoulder… feeling as though she was mulling something over.
She took a deep breath and turned the knob, mumbling about a braid experiment. She turned around at the threshold and announced, “My Eric is welcome to enter.”
Even though My Sookie didn’t live at that version of the house, I didn’t have any resistance stepping into the house… but when the other Me tried without an invitation, he couldn’t enter.
That was a curious little puzzle… The braid was confused by Sookie’s address, but not who she was inviting?
She quickly shooed me through the door again, rescinding my invitation before stating, “Eric, please come in.”
That time, the invitation allowed both of Me to enter the house… Sookie experiment proved a standing invitation for any version of a Vampire would allow other versions to enter a house.
That was an interesting discovery… definitely worth mentioning when we returned home.
Sookie smiled at the other Me and warned, “I’ll uninvite you if My father’s scent is an issue.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Why aren’t you warning him?”
“Because he’s invested enough in my family to step outside if it’s too much. Chances are good that My father will reek of chemo so bad you don’t notice… Even I can smell it. Not My Eric is welcome to enter.”
I nodded and offered, “It’s too strong. I can hardly smell any traces over the acidity… and vomit.”
She sighed, “I guess it was a bad day…” She raised her voice to call out, “I’m home!”
The voice from Corbett’s recorded message to his family called from the back of the house, “Hey baby! We’re just getting out of the tub. Supper’s still on the stove if you and yer friends ain’t eat yet.”
Similar to Brandon’s voice, with Jason’s annunciation…
Instant tears. She was as overwhelmed as I expected her to be by seeing her mother and she’d only heard his voice.
I heard Linda offer weakly, “Fine. You get a cookie for being right about company.”
He chuckled at his sister, “You’re just pissed I woke you up from dreamin’ bout that sexy Italian prince.”
She argued, “He was a King… And it’s not like you interrupted anything steamy.”
Sookie cleared her throat and called out, “That wasn’t a dream, Aunt Linda. Pam’s really in Milan with Gawain. I think the sexy Italian is Maximo, the Vampire King of Appeninne, also known as Italy.”
After a brief pause, Corbett chuckled, “Was that a movie, Sook?”
“No…” Her voice cracked. “It’s the real deal. Aunt Linda was dreaming about Vampires.”
Linda took a deep breath and held it.
I left the other Me in the foyer with Sookie and walked to the back of the house.
I stood in the doorway while Corbett tied Linda’s shoes. It had been too easy to forget how haggard she was before she rose.
“You’re positively radiant when you aren’t sick.”
Her eyes shot up to me and she breathed, “Eric?”
I gave her a fanged smile. “Dreaming about me too, I see?”
“How. The. Fuck?”
“Gawain refers to you as a ‘seer’.”
“Gawain? You know h-” She kicked her brother’s leg and shouted, “Wake me up!”
I chuckled at her, and walked over to lift her from the bed. “You aren’t dreaming. You’re finally learning that your dreams aren’t dreams. I understand Sookie’s ability only recently came to light as well.”
She was too shocked to argue about being carried. “Yeah, but she was reading minds when she was wee-little.”
“And you’ve only been dreaming about me and Pam for a while, yes? Where should we have our visit?”
She nodded. “Um… kitchen… You’re real?”
I pinched her side lightly, just enough to get her attention. “I imagine I am real… for a while anyway.”
Her eyes bulged when she spotted the other Me. “What do you mean, for a while?”
I set her on a chair at the kitchen table, and did everything I could to ignore the way Sookie practically tackled her father…
While she clung to his neck, I explained, “Corbett, I’m not sure where your Sookie is, but we’re just visiting duplicates. The Sookie you have right now, lost you when she was a small girl.”
It actually took me a moment to remember the answer… I was expecting an argument or questions regarding sanity.
“Sookie was eight years old when a bridge washed out and you drowned. Am I correct in assuming that’s how you lost your mother?”
He nodded, tightening his arms around Sookie. “Yeah… she was goin’ out ta my house.”
Linda asked, “Why’d you assume that?”
“Because just a couple of nights ago, Pam encountered a similar scenario… Corbett was caring for you alone, after your father’s recent death. Misty and Jenny were here with you because Hadley had taken a vacation. Sookie was at university.”
Linda sighed, “Sookie took Misty and Jenny to the movies… Hadley’s in court ordered rehab. Sookie’s a stubborn little shit. She came home for spring break and called her professors to make arrangements to finish the semester from here so she could help with me and the kids…”
Of course she did.
Wait. If Sookie had taken the children to a movie, why did Corbett assume she’d returned with friends? Plural? That ability of his was more impressive than we thought.
When Sookie finally released Corbett, he asked, “So why does this happen?”
I offered, “Your father passed along his Fae heritage to his children. The Fae are capable of a phenomenon known as the braid. Last week, Jackson Herveaux approached me to plead for Linda’s life because chemo wasn’t working for her. He wanted me to bring her over because he didn’t want her to suffer. I was bored enough, because Pam is shopping in Milan, to drive to Bon Temps to visit. Five nights ago, Lynn rose as a Vampire.”
Linda blinked several times before she shook her head. “You didn’t pinch me hard enough.”
I chuckled. “You aren’t dreaming. My children are Pam Ravenscroft and Lynn Mitchell. I’m not sure why Jack didn’t approach your version of me.”
She shrugged. “I can’t imagine why he would. It’s not like we spent any amount of time together.”
Oh? Another difference?”
“You weren’t lovers?”
“Not really. Bad timing, I guess… We dated a few times, but Hadley and…”
Sookie gasped, feeling more shocked than she had when another Me attacked her. “You killed a guy!?”
Linda took a deep breath and sighed, “It wasn’t like the asshole didn’t have it coming.”
I chuckled, “Who?”
Her face was like ice when she offered, “Tino Campbell. I only regret not doing it sooner… And I beat Hadley’s ass too. What he did to my grandbabies…”
Corbett offered, “That shallow grave’s too good for ‘em.”
The other me chuckled, “Faeries.”
At least he was amused.
I asked, “Sexual abuse?”
Linda’s jaw clenched when she nodded.
“That only lends to Lynn’s theory… that the Fae allure could be partly to blame for your family’s track record of being sexual prey.”
“What? What the hell is allure?”
“It’s a reckoning, a temptation… Vampires in particular are especially susceptible to it…”
Sookie offered, “Now that I’ve been spending so damn much time with Gawain, I’m realizing a lot about it… You know how Daddy could walk through a nursing home and get phone numbers? It’s because of the allure. More often than not, it’s like a bug light…”
I added, “But in some cases, it inspires repulsion. When Sookie mentioned that your wife was obsessively jealous of the attentions of other women, Gawain suggested that was part of the allure. I’ve been jealous of attention Sookie’s received myself.”
Corbett asked, “Is that why Hadley’s a slut? The allure?”
Sookie shook her head. “Only part. Daddy, we met another Hadley who knew what she was all along. She’s empathic. So the allure attracts people, she feels it, it spirals… Jason too… No one in the family is plain-Jane. We’ve all got something extra going on. It’s just that telepathy isn’t as unassuming as everything else… Um… That version of Us already knew you’re a harbinger. Which is how you knew there’d be company. When Eric met my Aunt Linda, she was half asleep and ‘dreaming’ about the night Eric decided to bring over Pam. The Hadley who visited through the braid said they called it retrocognition. That Hadley had total control of her gift. She was engaged to a great guy and made it through college…”
Linda interrupted, “What about your Hadley? Why haven’t you mentioned yours?”
Sookie sighed, “Because she died last year. She didn’t ever know what she was, so she struggled with it so hard… her death was accidental though… she cleaned herself up, started taking care of business… She hurt her arm and took enough to knock her out. Poor thing drowned in the tub even though she’d gotten her shit together.”
Linda huffed, “Shit… that just adds to the conversation we need to have with her when she gets home… I went to the doctor a couple of days ago… It’s official. The doctors are going to make me comfortable.”
“Shouldn’t you be working on your bucket list instead of lying around waiting to die?”
Linda shrugged. “What am I gonna do? I spent what little savings I had on medicine that didn’t work… You know… maybe I’ll start a campaign that makes drug companies refund unsuccessful drug costs to survivors’ families.”
The other Me offered, “Or you can be brought over, and once you’ve adjusted to the change, you have all the time you could possibly need to cross everything off of your list and then some.”
Without warning, Sookie grabbed Him for a hug, but I probably looked as shocked as He did when He first laid eyes on me.
He tried to hide how surprised He was to be hugged by asking me, “What? You said you didn’t regret bringing her over. You said she gets along with Pam famously. You said she adores her new state of being. Minimally, the family needs some sort of protection and education. If you’re me, and you were willing to bring her over, why would you be surprised another you would be as well?”
“For starters, because Pam had to try much harder to convince another Me when she was in the braid.”
“Pam also tried to convince us to bring over an Imperial dressmaker…”
Corbett asked, “So… what do we need to do? Is there something she needs to do to get ready for it or anything?”
The other Me asked, “Is there anything on the bucket list that she can’t do after dark? A last meal she might want to eat?”
As Corbett shook his head slowly as though he was thinking of the list, Linda offered, “Foods I wanted to try, but… with all the chemo, I haven’t been enjoying food like I used to.”
The other Me offered, “Make a list.”
She cringed. “I’m not sure I… Do I really like being a Vampire or…”
Sookie finally released the other Me to step back and answer, “You love being strong. You love being pain free. Your dietary preferences are a little wonky, but since we’ve already been through that, you won’t have the trial and error issues ours had. Lynn needed some convincing too, but she’s amazing.”
“The kids though… they need me… I can’t go running off…”
Sookie interrupted her, “Good. Die then. I’m sure at their ages, they’ll remember how awesome their Granny was instead of how weak and miserable you are…” She patted the other Me’s shoulder and walked towards the front door. “C’mon guys, you can’t fix stupid.”
Linda scowled at Sookie’s back and Corbett started chuckling, “There’s yer proof she’s been with another you, Lin… She just crawled up yer ass and planted that guilt trip like a pro.”
Linda just stared back at her brother, but Sookie offered, “She doesn’t want to watch you get old and die too.”
He scoffed, “Tough fuckin’ shit. My lifespan ain’t a fuckin problem right now. I’ve dropped just as many goddamn roses as you have and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna drop another one if I can help it. If I’da known about Vampires, we’da had this talk before the first round a’chemo didn’t help… Me and Sook got the girls. Go pack.”
I chuckled quietly, “An obstinate Stackhouse? Say it isn’t so.”
Sookie elbowed my ribs, but she still giggled.
Linda huffed, “Break it down for me…”
The other Me opened his mouth, but she shook her head. “No offense, but he’s the one with actual hands-on experience with me as a Vampire.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough.”
I started, “I wasn’t aware of your heritage when I brought you over. Your ability wasn’t enough of a clue and your blood was tainted by your medication… According to Gawain, that’s a positive in your favor. His Maker was addicted to his blood, as he was half Fae. You rose in perfect condition, appearing as you did in a photo I noticed at your house. I believe it was when Jason was born. You weren’t consumed by your famine. You weren’t even voracious once you tasted blood. Instead, possibly because of a gastric procedure you needed to have, you were repulsed by the taste of warm blood until Sookie thought to chill it for you. For the next couple of nights, you fed from the refrigerator, but then we found a donor you wanted to feed from. You actually had the urge… It seems you have a keening towards testosterone. For the past couple of nights, you’ve been gorging on men at Glamour. You sleep for an average of six hours per day. You spend the day in a light-proof room with Gawain…”
Sookie added, “Flapping your damn chatty Faepire gums, and crafting or reading to keep yourselves busy. He’s never died for the day either, and he’s always been really cagey because he can’t go out, so he’s enjoying the company as much as you are… By the way, the taste of Fae isn’t at all tempting to Gawain. You’ve gotten an urge or two because of my heartbeat, but your attention goes to your stash in the fridge, not my neck.”
The other Me added, “As it was explained to me, they’re making plans to bring Hadley’s child to live with them. Since Lynn needs to be able to rest and will need help, Sookie’s planning to help care for him…”
Corbett asked, “Is that an invite?”
The other Me shook his head. “No. I was in a car with Sookie directly after she bathed and, even though her scent is tempting, she’s tolerable…”
Sookie confirmed, “But you’re Fae enough to make it hard for him to focus.”
Corbett pointed at me. “Why’s it easier for Yours then?”
I suggested, “I think because I’m tempered to Sookie’s scent. She’s left her traces throughout the house we live in. Everything smells like her…”
Sookie nodded, “From his laundry to his bed… so it’s not hopeless, plus we learned that orange oil is bitter enough to mask our sweetness, but you don’t want to jump into the shark tank right away. It’ll take some time for him and Pam to get used to it, but if you think about it, y’all need your own lives again. It’ll be weird to not see each other all day, every day, but you can talk on the phone as much as you want.”
I added, “As quickly as Lynn is taking control over her urges, you might only need to go for a month with supervised visits. Last night, Lynn spent two hours after feeding touring Shreveport on her new motorcycle.”
Her eyes lit up. “A bike?”
I nodded. “Lynn put 200 miles on her new Ducati last night.”
Corbett chuckled, “You and your damn bikes. I guess I can’t bitch too much about it once you’re immortal, huh?”
Linda giggled, “Nope,” and popped the P.
Corbett chuckled, “You ain’t kiddin’ about stubborn. She got it from our Mom… So… y’all covered the Faerie smell thing when it comes to Vampires… What about Weres?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. They’re attracted to it too, but it’s more of a… well…”
I offered, “That’s complicated. A full-blooded Faerie would be drained as soon as a Vampire laid hands on it. We actually become intoxicated by their scent and, for lack of a better way to put it, black out. Weres would rather fuck a Faerie than drain one. Since they’re territorial by nature, they can become obsessed. I suggest you keep an eye on Merlotte’s interest in your daughter.”
He nodded. “Does the scent transfer? Like… If someone spends a lot of time with a Faerie, would they be more tempting?”
The short answer is ‘yes’… but it only took a fraction of a second to wonder if Shawn had been in contact with Brandon or Julie before he had his unfortunate encounter with his Maker.
“So…” He trailed off, and it was a moment before he continued, “If a woman’s Human, and got a Faerie husband… When she goes to work, she’d smell like Fae… a Were might be interested, right?”
I nodded, but Sookie offered, “Definitely. Why?”
“Because poor Cal cain’t figure out what the hell he ever saw in your mom. Beth don’t even like her… We get along great though. Been thick as thieves since we met…”
Sookie blurted, “OH!” and flapped her hands in the air. “Daddy, did you date a lady named Julie Emery for a while?”
He shrugged. “Yeah… she was…”
Before he could finish Sookie darted out of the room and returned with the phone book, flipping through to the Rs, quickly finding a listing for ‘J Rousseau’…. Then to the Is, finding ‘Shawn Inagram’… then back to the Rs again…
She took the phone from the wall and started dialing, but I grabbed her hand to stop her. “I think your father should probably approach them.”
“But…” She didn’t finish… she bit her lip instead because she knew she didn’t have a logical argument for calling Brandon and blurting everything out over the phone.
I chuckled, “Corbett, in other versions we know of, your relationship with Julie produced a child. She didn’t tell you because she didn’t want to interfere with your marriage. She married a man named Tom Rousseau.”
He shouted, “I fuckin’ know the boy! Brand! He played ball with Sook! They’re… oh hell, they’re like the same age… same age bracket…”
I nodded. “In our version, Julie died last year. Brandon knew about his father’s family, but was afraid to approach them because his telepathy was an obstacle in other relationships.”
He asked, “Who’s in the phonebook, Sook?”
“Julie. She’s still alive… There’s a version where you and her stayed together… You went back to Michelle for a while, but then you ran into Julie and found out she was pregnant with Brandon. Y’all had more babies together too. Twins.”
Linda groaned, “If I’d known that, I would’ve cut Michelle’s throat as soon as Sook was born. Loved Julie to death. Fucking hell.”
The other Me chuckled and asked me, “How many victims has yours claimed?”
“We’re actually planning her first one tonight. Dear Uncle Bartlett.”
Linda gasped, “You! I’m!? We…”
I nodded to answer all of her questions. “There’s a version where Bartlett vanished shortly after attempting to molest you. He never laid his hands on Hadley or Sookie… The situation raised the question of whether Hadley’s victimization might have masked the facets of her ability…”
Sookie added, “Because we had it backwards all along… It wasn’t that she was promiscuous because of what Bartlett did to her. Her ability is actually why she didn’t say anything. She thought she enjoyed it, because…”
Sookie stopped to swallow a hard lump in her throat…
Corbett snorted, “We didn’t find out about Hadley until after… wasn’t long after Calvin married Michelle… Sookie smelled like Bartlett and she wasn’t actin’ right… Shame ‘bout that Panther wanderin’ into the burbs.”
The other Me chuckled, “I remember hearing about that. I even asked the Packmaster of Long Tooth if he knew anything about it… He blamed Hot Shot, but… they keep to themselves.”
After a moment, Sookie blurted, “You should shave.”
It was out of the blue enough to make me chuckle, but Linda gave her a puzzled look. “Does it come back really fast?”
Sookie nodded. “If Eric shaved his head right now, there would be enough to pull in just a few minutes. Gawain shaved his arm and I watched it come back in under a minute… Pam joked that Lynn was lucky to have done it anyway because Eric didn’t mention it, but she’s really grateful that her maid gave her lice. She sugared right before Eric found her, like two days.”
I snorted, “She still blames her maid for giving them to her, but she was fucking a farmhand in the haystacks.”
Sookie giggled, “How has that argument stood up all this time? She’s lucky she didn’t die with mange scars.”
“Your guess is as good as mine… Have we already covered everything? Pam spent the whole night…”
Sookie nodded. “But Lynn didn’t do as much business as she did visiting… And then Hadley just vanished before dawn.”
“You could leave some telepathic pointers for the other Sookie. You’re so much further along than she is, she’ll probably appreciate it…”
Corbett asked, “Why are ya further along? You start readin’ minds again a while back?”
Sookie shook her head. “I never stopped… I mean, there was a summer I spent doped up because my mother convinced a doctor I was schizophrenic, but that just made it worse. Like telepathic roofies. I was too stoned to block anything or even complain.”
Linda stared at Sookie and shook her head. “You’ve got no love for her at all, do you?”
None. She didn’t even spend any amount of time considering the question.
Sookie shrugged. “I just don’t remember anything good about her. I was only eight… I remember her fighting with Daddy. I remember her hating me. Not much to love… All of my warm-fuzzy memories are of Daddy… After the other Hadley left, after I met Brandon… I’d really like to meet Julie. She sounds great.”
That spoke volumes.
Sookie was more eager to speak to a stranger who could have been a step-parent, but her mother was in the same parish…
Corbett was nodding, agreeing that Julie had been ‘the one who got away’ when we heard a vehicle in the driveway…
Only a moment passed before Sookie’s mood darkened. She asked, “How persistent has Sam Merlotte been?”
Corbett offered, “He’s pretty damn sad. Michelle took Sook and Beth fer lunch when she first got home from school. He’s been callin’ and comin’ by ever since… How bad is he fer y’all?”
I inched the curtains over the sink to the side and watched the Shifter slide out of his truck. “He’s bad enough to fantasize about raping Sookie. He’s already been taken care of in our version…”
Sookie pinched my side to get my attention, but I didn’t take my eyes off of the prick.
“Are you gonna behave?”
She sighed, “Then you might as well have fun.”
I wasn’t going to give her the chance to reconsider or issue limitations.
Merlotte’s hand was up to knock on the door when I opened it… his practiced boy-next-door smile pulled to a snarl as his brain processed what he was looking at.
I could feel Sookie behind me, watching as I grabbed Merlotte’s shirt and belt and tossed him onto the lawn…
He didn’t stop rolling until I pounced on him, pinning him in the grass with my hand on his throat and my knee locked under his ribs.
He choked and hissed, trying to free himself, still wearing a comically confused look on his face…
Until he glanced over just long enough to see that Sookie was standing on the porch.
She offered, “Sam Merlotte, I’d like you to meet my Master, Sheriff Erik Nordmann.”
I knew she was only helping the cause, playing up my status to make my scare tactic more profound for the sake of our hosts’ lives, but… it had a certain ring to it.
His eyes shot back to me… He was beginning to wheeze and his face was swelling…
Sookie giggled, “He thinks you’re here for me because Hot Shot did something to piss you off.”
I chuckled, “Isn’t that precious… I don’t suppose he can breathe well enough to know I reek of you…”
She added, “I guess not,” as she stepped off of the porch, stooping to take a bag from the lawn. “Ice cream? The Sixth Sense?”
That was hilarious.
“Did he think you’d snuggle up and watch a scary movie with him?”
Sookie groaned, “Sure did. Casanova, that one… Taking a stab in the dark to try to woo- Ooh, you’re losing him. You might want to give him a little air.”
That was a helpful warning.
I released him (I might have kicked his ribs too) and went to stand next to Sookie.
While he sputtered and writhed in the grass, I peeked into the bag to see a shrink-wrapped DVD case and a pint of ‘Chocolate Therapy’.
Sookie snorted, “Because girls like chocolate and being scared?”
I shrugged, “Like I know? To the best of my knowledge, he would have been better off with vanilla and The Great Gatsby.”
“Hmmmmm… And that’s why I’ll be going home with you.”
From inside the house, the other Me snorted, “Good to know.”
Considering the fact that he watched me heal Sookie as though I had grown an extra head, his interest was, at the very least, amusing.
When Merlotte finally managed to roll over and pull his knees under himself, I closed the gap again… I pushed him over and pinned him with my knee on his chest.
“Do you want to leave the property alive?”
The color drained from his face, but he still looked like he considered testing me before he eventually nodded.
“Then listen to me carefully… Sookie Stackhouse is MINE. If you continue to pursue her…”
He finally spoke to whine, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… You’ll drain me and-”
“I won’t drain you… I’ll take you and your adorable little sister, Mindy. Since you have a problem taking ‘no’ for an answer, I think it’ll be fitting for your sister to say it, if not scream it, while you watch. Do you understand or would you like a first-hand demonstration of how livestock reacts to pheromones?”
He snorted, “I get it.”
“Mindy isn’t necessarily petite, but the right horse could split her in half. I’m sure of it.”
He turned green and shook his head, shouting, “I. GET. IT!”
“I’ll stay away from Sookie!”
“And as your reward, you won’t have to watch your little sister be bred to death… Who says Vampires and Shifters don’t get along?”
He growled, “Get off me so I can leave.”
I chuckled as I joined Sookie again, giving the Shifter a wide berth… No sooner than Merlotte put his feet under himself, he was knocked over again… Sookie had pitched the pint of ice cream at him, and it bounced off of the back of his head with enough force that Merlotte hit the ground before the carton did…
It actually knocked him out.
He sprawled out, face down on the lawn…
Sookie mumbled, “Oops,” biting her bottom lip while her father laughed like a lunatic and complimented her pitching arm from the house.
The other Me came through the front door, doing his best to seem unimpressed as he walked towards Merlotte’s body.
He nudged the Shifter with his toe and chuckled, “Should we put him in his truck and give him a lift home?”
The other Me dragged Merlotte by his ankle, and tossed him into the cab of the truck as though he was moving laundry…
And Sookie was trailing behind me.
I stopped to offer, “We’re just planning to place his truck on the roof.”
Her eyes lit up. “Ooh! Put it on his trailer. It’ll crumple slowly and scare the shit out of him.”
I chuckled, “I’m definitely keeping you.”
When I turned back, Sookie continued to follow me… and just as I reached down for the frame of Merlotte’s truck, Sookie climbed the tire and placed herself in the back of the truck.
“No. Get out.”
She scoffed, “You’re high if you think I’m going to miss this. C’mon. Giddy up.”
“If something happens, if the frame on the truck gives…”
“If you drop the truck, are you going to be torn about who to save?”
“In the middle so you don’t throw the weight distribution. No risks.”
She gave an excited squeak and kissed my cheek. While she moved to the middle of the truck’s bed, she offered, “And think of all the threesome double-entendre you can use to make Gawain twitch.”
As we passed over the trees between Hummingbird Lane and Merlotte’s, the other Me offered, “She’s fun,” in German.
“She’s a lot of things.”
“Worth the trouble?”
“There’s a version of Us who married her. He didn’t have any complaints either.”
“You mentioned that…”
“But after the life we’ve lived, you can’t imagine wanting the attachment.”
“To put it mildly.”
“Give her a week. I doubt you’ll regret it.”
“Life and death, something happens to her, right now, would you bring her over…”
“If you’re suggesting dropping this truck…”
“No. I’m asking if you’re attached enough to her to bring her over, to take responsibility for her forever.”
Since I enjoyed her too much to be willing to lose her, “Yes.”
It didn’t occur to me until I answered, that I could have blamed Lynn’s feelings for why I’d bring Sookie over…
Come to think of it, Gawain would probably be willing as well.
When he turned to gawk at me, Sookie chided, “Keep your eyes on the sky.”
He snorted, “Yes ma’am.”
For the rest of the short flight, He kept his eyes on the sky, probably wondering if her Faerie-laced blood had anything to do with my attachment. To be fair, I probably would have too.
As we approached the trailer stationed behind Merlotte’s dive, Sookie confirmed it was empty…
And as we lined the truck up, the rusted out cherry on top of a slice of trailer park pie, Merlotte finally stirred… His head popped up from the front seat to look behind himself to see Me, while Sookie was already giving me an impish grin.
I tilted my head back, signaling Sookie to come towards me, and as she crawled, she asked, “Can we watch it go down like a house of cards, or are we going to run like the wind?”
I scanned the property, finding a more secluded place, knowing the customers inside would be drawn out by the noise.
“We can stay… When I release the truck, you’ll jump for me. I’ll catch you. One… Two… Three…”
She sprang from her position, quickly taking hold of my shoulders…
She giggled, “Such a trip,” as I landed, and raced to gain her footing because the frame of Merlotte’s trailer was already creaking.
She covered her own mouth to mute her laughter while the Shifter looked for a way to escape his situation… it seemed like the only option he didn’t consider was shifting.
The sudden high-pitched scraping of aluminum on aluminum cut through the clearing and the trailer collapsed like a house of cards.
Sookie giggled evilly, bouncing and clapping her hands. “I’m sorry, this is… This is closer to what I had in mind for the other one.”
The other me chuckled, “Enjoy yourself. Feel free to continue bouncing.”
She giggled again, and spun around to leap up and kiss me.
Not me… the other Me.
And the asshole allowed it.
I growled even though I was almost sure I wouldn’t have… Well, I didn’t do it any differently.
When Sookie realized she’d kissed the wrong Me, she punched his ribs and backed away, calling him a ‘giant turd’… but when she turned to me, she was giggling.
“There’s no point in being surprised. He’s You.”
“Do I get a kiss then?”
She rolled her eyes and lifted her arms to my shoulders. “If you’re gonna pout about it…”
I had every intention of pouting… especially once I watched the other Me lick his lips approvingly.
Sookie whispered, “You really are a giant turd,” just before her lips met mine.
My sense of fairness was responsible for why I continued our kiss, pushing Sookie until she was struggling to breathe… and I probably enjoyed it as much as I did because she was practically inviting me to prove the point.
Honestly, I would have stood there as long as Sookie was comfortable, but the reason we finally stopped was that we were suddenly being doused in a torrential downpour… the rain that had waned during the drive between Shreveport and Bon Temps had returned with a vengeance… and the violent roll of thunder that followed didn’t give me much hope for talking Sookie into ‘taking a walk’ in the woods.
A bolt of lightning shattered the sky… and completely illuminated the lawn… of the lake house.
Sookie gasped, “Already!?”
She hadn’t been able to say goodbye to her father.
“That… it was bizarrely inconspicuous.”
Sookie’s chin trembled as she nodded. As quickly as the rain was falling, we were both already soaked, but the pain in her chest was more profound than her chill.
“You’ll see him again, Sookie. The other Me is planning to knock over the same dominoes I did. They’ll be in the braid in just a few nights.”
She nodded and laid her head on my chest, hugging my ribs… she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that our return had been discovered.
While Gawain, Pam, Lynn and Jason surrounded us, Sookie whimpered, “Don’t ever let me do that again.”
“We’re gone… and I didn’t get to say goodbye.”