Everyone’s anxiety waned as the barrage of questions began. Jason was the only one who didn’t blurt out the beginning of our interrogation… he was focused on his sister.
I started, “We rose in another version of this house, met with the other Me, had him take us to Bon Temps where Sookie saw her mother…”
Jason interrupted, “Was she nasty, Sook?”
Funny how that was his question… rather than how she was or if his parents were still together.
I answered, “She wasn’t pleasant, but she didn’t interact directly with Sookie… After Sookie had a brief exchange with her stepfather, Calvin Norris, we drove to Adele’s house, which was occupied by Linda, Corbett, Misty and Jenny. Hadley was in court mandated rehab. Sookie had taken a semester off of school to help Corbett care for the children and Linda. He was still unaware of Brandon’s existence and Jason lived in San Francisco with his wife and infant son.”
Pam offered, “Like my visit-” Just in time for a bolt of lightning to strike a tree… News of our adventure in the braid was delayed while we watched the tree topple over, landing on and crushing the garage…
That was our cue to go inside.
Lynn raced through the kitchen and returned from the laundry room with a stack of towels, asking, “Was there anything worth worrying about in there?”
I shook my head. “Unless someone moved the cars during the day, there wasn’t anything shovels, tarps, a few containers of lye…” In an effort to get the conversation over with as quickly as possible, I continued, “The version of the braid was like Pam’s visit… Very few differences. We’d only parted ways long enough to ruin Merlotte’s evening. We returned abruptly. Sookie didn’t have the-”
I stopped when I heard the billiard balls begin rolling on the table… I actually did a brief mental roll call…
Gawain. Pam. Lynn. Jason. Sookie… Unless Adele was visiting with Jason, and was apathetic towards our return, someone else was in the house.
I didn’t have the opportunity to ask before the ‘intruder’ asked, “Somebody mind telling me where the fuck I am?”
Corbett fucking Stackhouse. His accent was diminished, but that was his voice.
Sookie slapped her hands over her mouth, but she didn’t feel excited or relieved… and Gawain grabbed Jason’s arms to keep him from trying to greet his father.
Gawain whispered, “He’s a Vampire.”
Jason gasped, “No! The other one, Pam, did the other one have cancer?”
When Corbett emerged from the hallway leading to the den (in a pair of jeans and an undershirt), he seemed understandably confused… and his focus only passed his children casually before Lynn darted across the kitchen…
No sooner than his arms were around her, he began shaking his head, repeating, “No, nononononono.”
I asked, “Corbett, who is your Maker?”
He narrowed his eyes at me and growled, “Pam is.” She looked like she’d been slapped.
He still hadn’t bothered glancing at his children… That did not bode well.
“We hooked up at a club… She got carried away… You know this story.”
“She drained me and panicked, brought me over.”
Pam hadn’t ever had ‘an accident’… it was him, his blood… his scent would have been masked by his other dancing partners… and once she had him alone…
Sookie asked, “When? You look… our age.”
He finally looked at her and shook his head slightly before answering, “Almost nine years now… Who are you? You look familiar.”
Before she could answer, I ordered, “Your life, Corbett. Where should you have risen? Who did you leave behind when you were brought over?”
He scoffed and released Lynn. “You know this.”
“I don’t. Just answer the questions.”
“I should’ve woke up where I crashed… our townhouse…”
“More specific. What city?”
“Manhattan… because you couldn’t have your child raising a newborn in his hometown, remember? You visit Pam all the time.”
“And who did you leave behind?”
“Some friends? Seriously, what the fuck is going on?”
“What happened to your mother and children? Your wife? Your father?”
“My father never had a great heart, so a flu took him… A couple years later, my mom and kids died in a flash flood… I kicked the wife out… It was just me and Lin and her little girl for a while… but then Hadley suicided…”
Lynn gasped, “Suicide!?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Suicide… Neither one of us were handling things. We tortured ourselves by movin’ home for a while… Then I disappeared. I called you a couple of times, but… well, now you know what happened.”
“No. What happened?”
“Eric faked the car accident for me, so you’d get my insurance and all… I’m still alive, but the faked death was just a ‘new start’… What the fuck…” He turned to scowl at me. “You just brought her over?”
Before I could answer, Lynn asked, “Did Hadley leave a note? What happened?”
He focused on Lynn and sighed, “The poor thing just took everything in the medicine cabinet and said goodnight, Lin… No note, but we’d been to the cemetery, made her go with us… Between that and the pregnancy, we didn’t really spend a lot of time wondering…”
Lynn asked, “How long ago? You said you’re almost nine. She would’ve been just a baby…”
Gawain mumbled, “Sookie,” and it caught everyone’s attention. “If Sookie died in the flood with Adele, Bartlett’s proclivities were never exposed… at her age she would have been…”
Corbett’s fangs ran out. “That son of a bitch ‘looked after her’ when I took Lynn to Mardi Gras.”
Gawain looked more ill than I could ever remember when he finished, “Fertile… her anxiety over the pregnancy, coupled with her mother and uncle’s depression…”
Jason shook his head and sighed, “I was only eleven when Daddy died… If I’da known how to take a dirt nap, I probably woulda checked out like Hadley… After Gran lost him…”
The empath was surrounded by emotional women in mourning… They’d lost a son, a brother, a father… and it all would have compounded Jason’s loss… The detriment of having such a close-knit family…
The lives of undiscovered empaths were fragile.
I offered, “Corbett, at some point, this will all stop. You’re currently experiencing what’s known as ‘the braid’. It’s a byproduct of your Faerie ancestry. Our reality is vastly different from yours. You and your wife died in the flood that could have killed your mother and children. Adele raised your children for you… The reason these two look familiar is because they’re Jason and Sookie…”
Jason nodded. “Yeah. Can I hug my fuckin’ father now?”
Corbett didn’t wait before speeding towards Jason to grab him for a hug, reaching out to grab Sookie to include her.
The three of them were still locked together when Jason blurted, “Gran.”
Without needing further information, Gawain left the kitchen, instructing, “Lynn, call her so she expects me. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Corbett shook his head. “No. Wait… It’ll just…”
Lynn didn’t let him finish. As she dialed the phone, she explained, “Don’t you worry about Momma…”
Adele answered the phone, “Hey baby. Is Jason already helping you to death?”
“We got distracted and didn’t get started as early as planned. Eric and Sook got sucked into the braid tonight. They’re home and all, but then we got some surprise company… Momma, Corbett’s here.”
“He’s in the braid. He’s here at the lake house. Gawain’s on his way to get you so you don’t have to drive in the weather.”
“My baby… He’s…”
Corbett growled, “She’ll know I’m not right.”
Lynn narrowed her eyes and explained to her mother, “Momma, Corbett’s worried that you won’t react well to him being a Vampire. Pam met him a few years ago. She brought him over.”
Lynn snorted, “She did…”
“The flood? Did she find his bod- No. He was gone too long before Pam would’ve been up for the day… Boil it down. What do you know so far?”
Lynn raised an omnipotent eyebrow in Corbett’s direction, and while he chuckled that he missed it, Lynn explained to her mother, “Momma, you were taking the kids home. He lost all three of y’all.”
Corbett cringed during the silence that followed, and Adele finally sniffled, “Hadley?”
“She didn’t do so good, Momma… All she had left was her mother and uncle… they were hurting from losing everybody…”
“Is Bartlett an issue for them? If Sookie died, God only knows…”
“Gawain already put that out there… We’re thinking it continued until Hadley killed herself.”
Adele suddenly shouted, “Stop talking!”
“The braid thing… comeuppance and enlightenment and all that jazz… You had a good visit with Hadley. You played with your grandbabies. Pam saved another you. If y’all are supposed to learn something before you go home again, stop talking so I can see my baby again, dammit!”
Sookie glanced at me over her shoulder. “Whatever the other Us needed to know when we left… Hadley left in the shower. Lynn laid down with Leif for a snuggle. Pam laid down to die for the day… and we came home while we were playing around…”
Playing around? I suppose ‘locked together at the mouth with our hands under one another’s shirts was more information than ‘her father’ needed to hear.
“You think relaxing after we achieve our objective has something to do with it?”
“By the time Daddy goes home, we’ll have five case studies. I think it’s worth taking notes on. Maybe we can get a handle on why it happens.”
Jason argued, “How tha fuck are we supposed to sit around and do nothing for the next goddamn hour!? I love ya, Gran, but I wanna talk to my dad!”
Corbett smiled at Jason and grabbed him for another hug. “We’ll just sit tight… There’s got to be some busy work…”
Lynn answered, “My dinner should be here in just a few minutes… and we have Maguire’s room…”
Adele chirped, “Good girl! I’m hanging up now, so I can be ready when Gawain gets here.”
Corbett chuckled at the sound of his mother’s receiver slamming onto its cradle. “Alright. Who’s Maguire?”
Lynn cringed. “If his version of Hadley is gone, that doesn’t relate to him, right?”
I shrugged. “That seems to be a safe topic.”
She sighed, “Okay then… My Hadley lived until last year. We didn’t know about her ability so it basically ate her alive. She ended up having a baby. He’s been in foster care because we didn’t know about him. Sookie’s petitioning for custody so I can raise him.”
“Hadley? She had an ability? Like Sook? She never said anything!”
Jason nodded. “Not that same as Sook. Hadley was like me. I didn’t even realize I had somethin’ goin’ on until this braid shit started happenin’…”
Sookie offered, “But there’s no mistaking it now. He’s empathic. He can sense how people are feeling…”
Pam added, “And affect others too. Sookie’s ability is a one-way street, but Jason’s a freeway.”
Corbett smiled in Sookie’s direction. “I bet that was good, finding out you weren’t the only one with something.”
Sookie shrugged and nodded, but I suggested, “Given that Pam visited a Corbett whose Sookie hadn’t used her ability since she was institutionalized, this subject should probably wait.”
Sookie turned to look at me, widening her eyes as her silent hint, and I could have sworn I felt as though she wanted me to look at the fucking barstool…
It took me longer than I care to admit, but it finally dawned on me that it was where Brandon had been sitting when he was visiting.
I asked, “Would you like me to call him?”
She grinned and nodded, giggling, “Cookie for you.”
Jason narrowed his eyes at us and scoffed, “That’s the dumbest damn nickname for sex I ever heard.”
Sookie covered her face with both hands and groaned, “It’s not a euphemism, Jason. It’s a joke… It’s funny because he can’t eat cookies.”
“Ain’t nothin’ funny about that. Don’t go pickin’ on him cuz he cain’t eat cookies.”
Lynn mumbled, “Lord help us… Eric, do you have an opinion on what’s safe?”
“Since Corbett’s dead, I think what he’s been doing for the past few years is safe, but wouldn’t Adele want to hear about it too?”
She blew a raspberry. “Fuck… Wait… I got one… Why would you make him leave your Area, but you kept me here?”
I shrugged. “I can’t begin to guess… Unless…”
Corbett shook his head. “He didn’t really push the issue. It was too tempting for me to see you, and not kill Michelle… We stayed in Shreveport for a couple of weeks, but when one of his thralls mentioned his rules, I offered. Pam picked New York because of how many friends she has there. Gawain’s even swung by a few times… Since Eric promised to keep an eye on you, there wasn’t really a reason to stay. You used my insurance to open that restaurant you always wanted and you married a cop.”
Lynn asked me, “Would you not tell him I have cancer, to keep him from wanting to come home?”
Yes. Absolutely. I might have gone as far as glamouring for her medical records and sent them to every oncologist I could find for a second opinion and experimental treatments, but I wouldn’t want to risk his post-death return to Bon Temps.
Corbett shook his head. “Naw. You ain’t sick. You better not be sick. You and Trey know I’m ‘alive’. I talk to y’all. I got pictures of your lil’un…”
“At my age?”
She said that as though she wasn’t starting over again with her grandson.
Corbett shrugged. “Trey’s first wife had something go wrong. They didn’t have a lot of luck as it was, but she didn’t live long enough to hold Margie… Y’all been married a couple of years. He’s really good to ya.”
The ‘idiot’ who didn’t understand the irony of cookie prizes for Vampires, mumbled, “Different insurance company? Married to a cop… I doubt a parish would use the same shitty carrier as the chicken plant.”
Jason needed to think more often.
“Good point… Before I call… ‘him’ should we ask Corbett if there’s reason to…”
Sookie shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Even if that didn’t happen, ‘he’ should still get to meet him… ‘It’ could be the reason Daddy’s in the braid.”
When I walked towards the front of the house, planning to stand on the porch and hope the rain drowned out my call enough that Corbett wouldn’t be tempted to eavesdrop, Sookie followed me… and grabbed Pam’s arm to tow her along.
Sookie had already visited with her father… and her regrets about not having the opportunity to say goodbye to that version of Corbett were gone. It hadn’t occurred to her how selfish she was being to be upset about not saying goodbye because at least she’d had the chance to see him… Her words, not mine.
Brandon answered, “What’s up, chief?”
“I’m not sure what plans you had for the evening, but you might want to reschedule… Sookie explained the braid to you at great length, yes?”
After a short pause, he answered, “Are you telling me there’s another Me at your place?”
“No. I’m saying you have the opportunity to meet your father.”
“We’ve been ordered to stop discussing details so Adele has the time to travel from Bon Temps. We know he was brought over and Pam’s raising him in New York…”
Sookie added, “He’s pretty much the same though, Brandon. His southern accent is the only difference.”
“Corbett Stackhouse… he’s there.”
I snorted, “I’m not sure I’d joke about this.”
“You’re inviting me over to hang out with the father I never met.”
“Yes, but there’s a catch… In light of our order to keep from sharing information that could allow him to prematurely return to his reality, we haven’t asked if he even knew your mother… but Sookie and I just returned from our own experience with a Corbett who referred to your mother as ‘the one who got away’.”
Sookie snorted out a laugh, “The braid broke him… Brandon?”
After a moment, he groaned, “Yeah?”
“You don’t have to come.”
“I want to meet him.”
“Then pack up Jules. Get your ass in the car. Get over here… We don’t know how long he can visit. Lynn and Pam visited for a whole night, but Eric and I were only gone for a few hours. It was a what-if-intermission.”
“Yeah… SHAWN!” Without warning, Brandon ended the call, leaving Pam and Sookie to snicker at his reaction…
And then Sookie hugged me.
“You’re such a good sport.”
“How is that?”
“With all this crap going on, you aren’t being impatient about getting to Needful Things.”
“I will now that you reminded me… Go…” I took her hips and turned her towards the front door. “Visit with Corbett. Make sure you take notes for Adele… I’ll lock him downstairs in half an hour.”
She giggled and leaned back while I led her into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry y’all! Change of plans! I made the mistake of mentioning Needful Things…”
While Lynn mewled and gave me a conciliatory hug, Pam teased, “The books aren’t going to get older, you big baby.”
Sookie giggled, “You don’t have to wait… Paulette’s waiting to hear from you. You could meet her about the wards once Lynn’s finished feeding…”
“Wouldn’t being alone in the house during a storm break a horror movie rule?”
“Do you need me to go with you… since I own the house and all?”
“It would probably be a good idea… I’ll bring you back when Paulette’s finished.”
“Should we even bother with dry clothes?”
I nodded. “I’ll have her meet us in a couple of hours since we know the weather will improve shortly.”
Sookie grinned and nodded. “You’re right. It had practically stopped raining by the time we showered.”
“We?” Corbett had been the one to ask, and he didn’t seem the least bit amused.
I offered, “Not together. Sookie and I just returned from the braid… The other Me almost killed her before we left the car to explain what was happening. He rolled the car… For the record, I can confirm that the prank was hilarious from our end of things, but don’t ever arrange to meet another version of me by demanding payment to keep Vampires a secret. The other Me bought the farce because Sookie was so convincing… The only thing we didn’t take into account was visibility. Between tinted windows and the rain, he didn’t realize he was flipping a car containing another version of himself.”
“She smells like you.”
“She’s accident prone.”
Sookie giggled and thumped my ribs with the back of her hand. “I am not…”
Lynn offered, “She nearly got killed a couple of nights ago… A jealous Were-bitch jumped her. Eric healed her instead of letting her bleed to death…”
Sookie sighed, “But it’s official… I could feel how bothered he was to see ‘chemo-Linda’ again.”
Lynn gave me a smile and cooed, “You should’ve taken a picture of Her so you’d remember what a hero you are.”
“I think it would be more helpful if I carried a picture of you. Corbett had to help convince Her. Pam had to convince another Me. It might streamline the debate.”
Corbett asked, “Another me? He was onboard?”
I nodded and Sookie quoted the other version of Him, “He said, ‘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.’ By the way, they had the sit-down with the doctor a couple of days ago. They were planning to make her comfortable.”
Corbett shook his head. “Chemo? Comfortable?”
It finally clicked.
Lynn nodded. “It hid behind my endo until my blood-work came back funky. That was the tipping point that made the insurance company finally want to pay for my hysterectomy… by then, it spread to my lymph nodes… My ex went to Eric to ask him to bring me over…”
Jason offered, “The doc left a message about a sit-down while she was still in the ground.”
Corbett snorted, “You were dating a Vampire?”
“A Werewolf… Jesus, we need a script. This is my third time, and it already feels repetitive.”
I chuckled, “We’d already decided there needs to be a manual of sorts. Brief personal histories could be helpful. We could experiment…”
Sookie finished, “If you and Pam are holding like a little notebook or something, it could be as simple as calling… Like, if you called the hosting You, and told him to meet you here, he’d show up and find the notebook… and he’d probably be curious enough to drive out to Bon Temps. You were… and then, if you just relax, you could come back home. I like the experiment idea. Especially for y’all, but I don’t really think I’d get bored with seeing Daddy whenever I got the chance.”
Pam snorted, “I had fun. A notebook would be a good way to make sure we don’t miss something important, but it’s not like we lose anything by playing.”
Lynn shook her head. “We should mention the other versions we’ve met too. After what happened with Debbie, it seems like the devil’s in the details. If we print them out, then…”
“Thumb drives or CDs are more compact. A binder would be bulky.”
Lynn asked, “What’s a thumb drive?”
“It’s portable media storage that connects to a computer via a USB input.”
When she stared back at me blankly, Jason chuckled, “That’s funny because he was alive before science, but they s’posedly landed on the moon since you was born.”
As tempting as it was to ask what he meant by ‘supposedly’, I decided to stay away from the topic just in time for Pam to take the bait…
Sookie and Lynn groaned while Jason offered, “Yeah… that shit was faked so NASA could give up without losin’ face. If they really made it, we’d be drillin’ for oil or givin’ pox to the locals or some shit, like we did every other time we set foot somewhere new.”
All I could do was hope he was mentioning lunar locals facetiously.
Pam asked, “I suppose you think it was filmed on a soundstage?” The carefully worded question that seemed challenging in an effort to hide how excited she was to find another conspiracy theorist.
He shrugged. “Or in the desert… It don’t matter where they filmed it. It ain’t like anyone else been’nere to call anybody out… It’s that water-landin’ that gets me… I’m sure NASA’s good at math and all, but that pod they came back in, is bullshit. If a little meteor can hit the planet and cause a crater like that one in Starman, how tha fuck you gonna tell me the can’o astronauts hit the ocean and didn’t start a tsunami. And we’re s’posed ta believe three little parachutes slowed down a bullet? My ass. Drop a rock in water, yer gonna get ripples… but nuthin’… Oh… and Earth… Ever notice in a couple’a them pictures there’s earth in the background?”
Pam nodded, eager to hear him continue.
“I ain’t no astronaut, but if earth’s like six times the size of the moon, why the fuck does earth look the same size from the moon as the moon does from earth? That don’t make no sense… How ‘bout that flag? You got the flag up there, right… They s’posedly know the moon ain’t got no wind or atmosphere or whatever, so they put that bar across the top, right? Based. On. What? Ain’t nobody ever been there before. You don’t need clouds for wind. They knew the backdrops was gonna block the breeze so Glory couldn’t fly is all. Oh, and NASA’s so worried ‘bout intergalactic germs they quarantine the astronauts… but they transport ‘em on the same ship as the president? Riiiiiiiight. I know it was just Nixon and all, but color me suspicious.”
Those were probably the most intriguing points for the conspiracy I’d heard yet. Then again, Pam thought the ‘space race’ was an epic practical joke meant to drain Russian resources, and astronauts were glamoured to believe they’d been to the moon.
Unfortunately, Jason’s points actually supported Pam’s theory.
We really needed to get back on topic before someone began sharing foil-hat techniques.
What. The. Fuck. Were we talking about?
Unfortunately, what we’d been discussing hadn’t needed much more attention. Not really. The braid didn’t seem like it would stop which meant we had plenty of trial and error experience to look forward to.
Brainstorming about how to make notes seemed to be a waste of the time the Stackhouses could be spending with Corbett.
The concerns of accidentally saying something that could result in Corbett’s return left us with plenty of time for Pam and Jason to compare notes while we waited for Lynn’s donors to begin arriving… But Sookie did decide to use a pad of paper to begin a list of topics that could be discussed once Adele arrived.
The storm seemed to delay the donors, bringing them one at a time, instead of in bulk…
It was a serious test of Lynn’s patience, but I wasn’t the only one who was impressed with how well she controlled herself between donors.
She paced and wrung her hands, she laughed when Jason teased her for pigging out while he was in the room, she complained that she hadn’t thought to tell Adele to bring photo albums so Corbett could see his kids growing up, and she cooked for Sookie and Jason…
Just as the fourth donor was being shown out, Brandon arrived with Jules…
After the greetings were out of the way, the awkward staring began… Jules left the room in a huff, declaring that she was going to watch television, but returned a moment later to grab my hand and tow me to the living room with her.
When we stopped in front of the entertainment center, she rolled her eyes and scoffed, “Nuts. Sorry. I was thinkin’ to you… Tha r‘motes too high.”
I reached to the top shelf on the entertainment center and handed it to her. “And you needed the tallest adult, yes?”
She shrugged. “You’re tha only one not freakin’ out ‘bout somethin’. Is it bad news?”
“You’re trying to get information out of me?”
She shrugged again. “I’m cute. I thought I’d give it a shot.”
I chuckled, “It’s not bad news. The special guest just doesn’t know why you’re here yet. We’re waiting for your Gran to arrive.”
She nodded astutely. “Ohhhhhh kaaaaaay… You should grab a mop just in case. My dad’s head might e’splode.”
I snorted, “Noted... Is there anything else you need?”
She rolled her eyes up to the ceiling while she thought. “Do Vampires keep snacks around?”
“I can ask.”
“Cool… Jason doesn’t think y’all need ta wait fer Gran ta talk about Daddy… He’s thinking that if everything else is tha same ‘til the flood, Daddy would be in that strand too.”
I offered a slight bow and thanked Jules before setting out in search of something she’d consider a snack…
I found a new pint of ‘Cherry Garcia’ in the freezer and while I was trying to find the drawer where the flatware was kept, I realized I was being watched carefully.
I offered, “If the details of Corbett’s life were the same as ours until the afternoon of the flood, I think it’s probably safe to discuss certain aspects. Adele shouldn’t be too far away.”
Sookie cleared her throat and asked, “Where do you think you’re going with my ice cream?”
“To the living room… Jules is very convincing… Do I have to be the one to ask Corbett if he had a brief relationship with Julie Emery?”
Sookie and Lynn’ faces pinched together the same way.
Corbett nodded. “Yeah, but we didn’t last long. Michelle and I split up for a while. The only reason I went back to her was Jas, but I got Sookie out of it too.”
Since everyone else stared as though they were watching me defuse a bomb, I explained, “Then it’s entirely possible that your Julie became pregnant during your relationship. I’d like to introduce you to Brandon Emery Rousseau. He’s just a few weeks older than Sook-”
I nodded. “It’s possible that she didn’t become pregnant, or had a miscarriage, but in our version of reality, Julie raised Bran-”
“She didn’t say anything to me!”
Brandon offered, “Because you went back to your wife and kid. She didn’t want to be a home-wrecker.”
“She brought you to the funeral! I thought I was seeing Jason!” Given their similarities, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man. “Where!? When I go back, were will I go? If I go back to New York, I’m going to have a hell of a time talking Pam into letting me come back…”
Sookie offered, “We’ve been waking up and returning to this house, but… I doubt Hadley went back to her car. Somehow she entered the braid between shopping and going home. I don’t guess we can predict that yet.”
I said, “And to be fair, it would take a fair amount of convincing for me to believe you.”
Pam chimed in, “Not if he has a video of me and you with his dead family. You’d be able to call me and feel I’m not playing a prank and vice versa…”
Sookie darted from the kitchen and ran up the stairs.
I agreed, “That would be convincing enough to investigate… The rest would be finding the needle in the haystack.”
Corbett shook his head. “I’m not so sure about that. Lin’s got a kid named Bran working at the restaurant with her. She said she hired him because he reminds her of me… He works in Trey’s garage too…”
Brandon snorted, “I bet that’s Me then… I was checking in on Jason and Sookie… Going to ball games when he played. I spent a lot of time in Bon Temps trying to keep tabs on them.”
Corbett mumbled, “And the closest My You has to family is an aunt…” on the way to hug ‘his’ son. “Don’t think I just care because I lost my other kids. If your momma came to me, my wife would’ve been turned out, not you. I never loved Michelle like I loved Julie.”
Lynn explained, “We already know that’s exactly what happened for one version of Us…”
And as Sookie returned with a box in her hand, she added, “And the Daddy we just came back from visiting said Julie was the one who got away… Gawain told me to get a video camera because of Maguire. Who wants to figure it out?”
As Pam took the camera, Jason asked, “Hey Daddy, you said you threw her out… When did that happen?”
Corbett actually took a deep breath before huffing, “It was the night of y’alls funeral… I had a little pity party for myself in your room… fell asleep on your bed… Michelle woke me up bitching that it had been bad enough to compete with y’all when y’all were alive… and asked if I expected her to help replace y’all… I gave her ten minutes to get her shit and get the fuck out, and I cleaned my gun the whole time.”
I snorted, “It’s a shame the gun didn’t fire accidentally.”
“She was drunk. I was hoping she forgot the bridge was washed out and my hands would be clean.”
As I left the room to deliver Jules’s ice cream, I chuckled, “That’s what I’d expect of a Faerie.”
I was waylaid by the arrival of another donor, but once I returned to the living room, Jules was completely engrossed in her television program…
But I was more than a little surprised that she was watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot on A&E.
“How old are you again?”
She looked up at me as though I’d snuck up on her and smiled as she took the pint of ice cream from me.
She answered absently, “I’m not normal, but I’m three… Thanks.”
“Saying ‘not normal’ has a negative tenor to it. I’m sure you can think of something more accurate. How advanced are you?”
“I’m- Can we talk during the commercials?”
“Answer this question first.”
“Tammy’s testing from tha third grade books. She’s eight. Normal… I’m testing from tha sixth grade books. Not normal.”
Atypical. Extraordinary. Exceptional. Advanced. Precocious. Gifted.
I sat next to her and offered, “Special?”
“That’s tha PC way ta say retarded… Window-lickers are special.”
That definitely didn’t fit.
Her mouth was full of ice cream when she asked, “What’s that, like, French?”
“Yes, a loanword. Originally, it referred to a military group, the leaders into battle. Now it’s used for someone who’s more progressive than what’s considered typical.”
“I like that… I could do that. Avant-garde’s good.”
“Do I have to wait for a commercial to ask why you’re so far ahead of your peers?”
She snickered, “Yep.”
She popped the P like Sookie did occasionally.
While I waited, Sookie came to the living room with a spoon, leaning over the back of the sofa, sharing the ice cream with her niece, even after I led her around to sit on my lap.
As soon as there was a commercial break, I opened my mouth, but Jules blurted, “Wait. I got a question.”
I shrugged. “It’s only fair.”
“What’s a loanword?”
Silly me. I assumed she wanted to ask a question related to Vampires.
“It’s a word borrowed from another language and used as-is instead of translated…”
“OH! Examples, I need’em.”
While Sookie snickered, I offered, “Ad homenim is when people stop debating a matter to insult their opposition. Schadenfreude is finding entertainment in the suffering of others, like laughing when someone falls. Ennui is an extreme state of boredom…”
“But they aren’t all crappy, right? Like avant-garde is good.”
“Right. Aficionado is someone with a vast understanding and appreciation for a certain topic. Technically, I imagine bikini is a loanword too. Bikini Atoll is actually an island, and the bathing suits were named for it.”
“That’s cool… So you wanna know how telepathy helped me be so avant-garde, right?”
“If you can explain it, yes. I’m curious.”
“Well, people think a million times more than they say. There’s a baby at my day-care. She thinks her own thing until someone starts talkin’ to her… What people say inner-ups what she’s thinkin’ and she goes right back… She’s crawlin’, but she still doesn’t really understand what people say to her… I get show and tell from people’s heads… Daddy would think a bottle and say bottle… and when he reads bedtime stories, th’other kids picture the story. They fill in blanks for stuff they don’t get. Like, they picture the wrong trees, or they guess about colors because the writer used a fancy word they din’t learn yet… I see the story right, the way daddy pictures it. Like I know cinnabar is red, but Archie thinks it’s brown because of cinnamon. And I see the words like captions.”
Somehow I was more impressed by that than I was by the braid.
“Can you read on your own yet?”
“I’m readin’ Nancy Drews right now… The Secret At Shadow Ranch.”
Sookie volunteered, “Those were written for teenagers.”
That’s what I thought.
I asked, “Do you have a computer at home? There are video games.”
Jules snickered, “You play Nancy Drew video games?”
“Pam does. I tease her while she shouts at the games and groans about going here and there to solve the mysteries… You mentioned that you enjoy puzzles and, from what I’ve seen, the games seem to be full of them.”
“That’s cool! I’ll ask Daddy when he isn’t locked up… Aunt Sookie, how come you aren’t visitin’ with your daddy?”
“Well, I already got to see another version of him earlier when no one else did. I’m just hanging back a little… and I’m trying to avoid Gran’s reaction to seeing her baby again. She’s gonna be completely verklempt.”
I offered, “That’s a loanword too. Yiddi-”
Jules shushed me as the commercials ended. “That’s cool, but the show’s back on.”
Once another donor had come and gone, Pam joined us on the sofa to play with the camera… I was almost sure she was trying to avoid the reunion for the same reasons Sookie was since they were both feeling a similar brand of anxiety.
She opened her mouth, but she was shushed by Jules and Sookie… forced to wait for another commercial break.
As soon as she had her chance, she asked, “How did you react to the other Corbett?”
“I didn’t have a problem controlling myself, but I’m familiar with Sookie’s scent and the house was rife with chemo. The other Me was tempted.”
“The other night, I thought to talk to everyone outside…”
“Are you wondering why you would have drained him? Really? Sookie is a generation further removed and her blood tastes incredible. There’s a Pam who’s so tempered to the Fae scent because of her bond with Jason that it’s no chore for her to be in Corbett and Lynn’s company.”
“Yes, but… would you… since all of the other Stackhouses are gone… would the other You, Corbett’s, realize that there was a reason his Me lost control?”
“There isn’t a way for me to know that for sure… and I’m not leaving my seat to find out. I’m comfortable.”
After a moment, Sookie put her mouth to my ear and breathed, “Hypothetical scenario: Two weeks ago, Pam comes to you to introduce her new child…”
“Nonpoint. I released her. She’s free to be a Maker.”
Sookie continued, “She explains that she got carried away and brought over a local… And then she moves to New York. As bored as you were while she was in Milan, how bored do you think you’d be after a few years?”
“What are you implying?”
“Maybe there’s a rift? Maybe Brandon isn’t the only lesson Daddy’s learning. Unless Pam’s still feeding from him like Gawain’s Maker was, then it’s possible they don’t know Daddy was Fae… Which means they probably don’t realize that they can get away with being together. Pam could begrudge Daddy because she wants to be with you. You could begrudge Daddy because he’s why she had to go away. There could be a big ole emotional mess festering in their version… Daddy doesn’t have nearly as much love for Pam as he does for his sister… That’s not true for Lynn.”
Pam grumbled, “I could see that happening. Once the novelty of being a Maker wore off, I probably would have started resenting my own child… I have a grudge against Wouter and Nicholas for keeping us apart for just a few years.”
When Sookie leaned back, she had her eyebrow raised… and then I realized that Pam and Jules did too.
I pointed at Pam and offered, “Feelings are her department.”
Sookie offered, “You have feelings. You just don’t talk about them…”
Jules added, “It won’t be too bad. You won’t be talking ‘bout your feelings. Hyberetical feelings.”
I corrected, “Hypothetical.”
“Yeah, that… and you don’t gotta get up right now… If there’s a rift thingy, then you should wait ‘til Gran’s here. He could go home once he hears that. New York sounds like fun, but Grampa needs to come home. If Aunt Lynn can lay low in Shreveport for a year, Grampa can too. His family can just visit him from Bon Temps.”
“I imagine I could simply say that on video. The only complication I can think of is that Corbett’s death was faked. I’m not sure of the details…”
Sookie called back, “Daddy how did your Eric fake your death?”
Corbett entered the living room and offered, “I didn’t ask. Why?”
“Um. Can’t really say right now. We’re kind of brainstorming.”
“Oh. Pam said he took care of it. Lynn cussed me out after the insurance guy visited her… I know Eric did it so I could visit after the reveal… He said her timing was for shit because he’d just renewed to stay in Louisiana for another decade. He’s stuck here. Pam’s already planning on coming back though, after the Reveal and all.”
That settled that, but instead of being proud of herself for finding a way to help Corbett, she felt more morose than I would have expected… so did Pam.
I offered, “With that in mind, what I probably did was let you believe I’d faked your death, perhaps glamoured your sister to believe it as well… That way, after the reveal, there wouldn’t be any risks attached to your return.”
Corbett argued, “But Lin got a check and the deed to my house.”
“I would have purchased your house and had a cashier’s check drafted.”
Corbett tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes. “Why would you do that? You’re an asshole.”
That all but solidified Sookie’s proposed rift.
“I can be. It’s actually one of my strengths.”
As tempting as it was to explain that he could probably return to Louisiana as soon as he could wrap up his dealings in New York, Adele’s arrival saved me.
No sooner than I could hear the engine of my Corvette, Corbett darted from the room and let the door slam against the wall…
The teary reaction to Adele and Corbett’s reunion that Pam and Sookie had been trying to avoid was almost hilarious… They both wept (along with Lynn) and proceeded to blame each other for starting the crying fits. My joke, that Kleenex could begin a marketing campaign specific to the braid, made them stop slapping and poking each other long enough to attack me…
Once the swell of emotions brought on by Adele’s arrival waned enough, ‘talking’ was allowed to begin… Adele clung to Corbett while the various versions of the braid were explained.
Pam and I didn’t wait for the lecture to be complete before having Gawain act as our cameraman while we recorded messages that we hoped would help clear up any misunderstandings and hostility for the other versions of us… Of course, Pam began crying again, but it wasn’t as though the video would do any good if I didn’t explain how important she was to me. It wasn’t my fault she was so maudlin over hearing how much I love her.
After our ‘testimonial’ was filmed, Gawain panned the crowd of company, making sure to zoom in on the Stackhouses’ driver’s licenses and Pam helped him spread out the family photos that had been collected from various visits…
The videos had been recorded. The photos had been shared (and a note was made to scan them all for easier sharing later). And the list Sookie had made of details had been folded and used for the envelope for the video disc…
In one hour, we’d shared all the info there was to be shared and Corbett completely substantiated that there were hard feelings in his version of events. He’d been spending most of his time with Edward and Richard, and had been ‘seeing’ Francesca for a while, but it had been a few years since he spent more than a couple of hours with Pam and he was completely excluded from my visits to New York to see her…
Unfortunately, there was no way to get to the root of the matter, and I surprised myself by complaining that the braid had worked in the wrong direction. It would have been much easier if Pam or I had visited Corbett’s reality… but at least he’d had the chance to see his family again.
As for being a Vampire, Corbett experienced a similar taste for females that Lynn had for males… He didn’t die for the day either… And his gift of foreshadowing was so heightened, he could now predict eventualities. The only catch was that he had to focus on a specific event… He urged us all to bet on the Diamondbacks and the Lakers and to ‘get the fuck out’ of whatever stocks we had. Whatever crash was in the future, wouldn’t last long, but there were millions to be made by backing out early and then buying while everything was bottomed out… Our deadline was the beginning of September, but Corbett volunteered that the investments weren’t going to be something his version would enjoy. Edward, Richard and he had already taken care of the problem that caused the crash… But his Vampire ability (the sense of being able to find anything) was ‘on the blink’ he couldn’t help us do the same. For some reason, when he tried to imagine the location of his mother while Adele had been en route, he still pictured her headstone…
He was more than encouraging in regards to Lynn’s new abilities… he went as far as suggesting that Lynn had a similar new ability to his once she explained that her first thought of Hadley had been from the perspective of the unmarked grave. Lynn had also witnessed Sookie’s lunch with Alcide as though she was with them… and the conversation I had with Sookie while she was bathing. Corbett explained that when he was first brought over, his abilities crossed over enough to confuse things, but he only needed to practice to realize the difference between them.
Since it didn’t seem as though the information we’d shared had caused him to return, I pulled Sookie aside when it was time for me to leave to meet Paulette…
“If Paulette needs you for any reason, I’ll have her meet us tomorrow night… She’ll probably want to look over the property before warding it in any case.”
She cringed. “I don’t mind going… we can take separate cars and you can still play after Paulette’s through with me.”
“You should visit with Corbett while you have the chance… You helped me find my treasure. It’s only fair for you to be there when it’s unearthed. I might collect the little puzzle boxes and bring them back. Pam’s reaction to them will tide me over.”
She gave me a half grin and stretched up to kiss my cheek. “Being an asshole isn’t your only strength.”
“Of course not. I’m an impressive swordsman as well.”
“And an accomplished car-tosser… I owe you.”
No she didn’t… leaving her behind wasn’t for her benefit as much as it was for Corbett’s. I would have killed for even the briefest of visits with my children through the braid.
Being Fae certainly had its advantages.
“I won’t be gone long.”
She gave me another kiss, and as I turned for the door, Corbett entered the foyer…
He nodded towards the kitchen as a signal for Sookie and waited for her to leave.
He started, “I’m not used to seeing you like this.”
“Like what exactly?”
“Uhhhh… I guess… Nice.”
“I blame your family. I’m not usually.”
“Sookie’s… Uh, Sookie’s yours?”
I nodded. “She is.”
He nodded for a moment, making him look a bit like a parrot, before offering, “We’ve got a pretty strained thing goin’ in my version of things…”
“I can say with all certainty that I wouldn’t be fond of anything that would take Pam away from me, Corbett. It doesn’t have to necessarily be your doing, but the situation isn’t ideal. Pam and I miss one another when we’re separated. We’ve always been close friends in addition to our Maker-child relationship. I’ve always considered myself to be infinitely lucky in that aspect. Your relationship with your Maker should improve once she can be closer to her Me.”
“Your lips to Gods ears… I love her, but it just… I realized a few years ago that it was pretty much how Sook must’ve felt with her mom. Nothing she ever did was good enough. If I’d known that staying in Shreveport would have made it better… Hindsight’s a bitch.”
“Staying in Shreveport as a newborn wouldn’t have been wise. The other Me has to know that. You couldn’t have gone nine years without running into someone you knew from Bon Temps. The timing and Lynn’s illness are the defining factors for us.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. I get that… I guess… I guess I just want to say, thanks for looking out for this version of them. Even if they’re gone, I like knowing they’re still out there somewhere… and somebody’s taking care of them.”
That would have been enough for me too.
“You don’t have to thank me. It’s no more an imposition for me than it was for you.”
He grinned and offered his hand for a shake, and I was finally on my way…
Or so I thought.
Just as I pushed the seat in the van back, so I could at least move my other books into Needful Things, I heard Adele shriek, “NO!”
As quickly as I moved to return to the house, I found Lynn holding her mother and everyone else standing in the kitchen with them, wearing disappointed expressions…
Everyone else, save Corbett.
Pam nodded sadly. “At least he had the disk in his pocket. What did he say to you?”
“I think it was more what I said to him… I told him his relationship with his Maker should improve once the clusterfuck was remedied.”
Jason huffed, “Hey Gran, knock it off. We got to see him again. Brandon got to meet him. Fuck that we didn’t get much time. It was time we didn’t think we’d ever get again, goddammit. Dry it up… There’s four of ‘em out there. FOUR. At least. We’ll get to see him again.”
Sookie took a deep breath and offered, “You know how I hate to agree with Jason, Gran. Don’t make me say it.”
The woman choked out a laugh and wiped her eyes. “Y’all hush. I just wasn’t through with him.”
Gawain offered, “You were through with him when he died, Adele. You did a fine job of making sure your son knew how much you loved him. And you raised him to be a father whose children missed him. That’s all you can do.”
Lynn threw a pen from the counter at Gawain like a dart and scoffed, “You really don’t want to make me agree with Gawain, Momma…”
He caught the pen and argued, “I’m allowed to be beautiful and smart. Don’t be jealous… Besides, I have very compelling evidence… Sookie had the opportunity to speak to her mother tonight. She wasn’t the least bit inclined… That might have had something to do with her double-date, but I’m sure it had more to do with the fact that Corbett’s mother taught him how to love his children; a lesson Michelle’s parents failed to teach. Corbett wasn’t in couple’s therapy because you made him feel guilty for wanting more out of his marriage. He was in therapy because he felt like he owed it to his children to not give up… You aren’t to blame for his death.”
Adele snorted, “I guess you are allowed to be beautiful and smart…” She swatted Lynn’s ass and scoffed, “You be nice to him!”
Gawain actually blew a fucking raspberry at Lynn before asking, “So, now that we’ve made it through a double-whammy, do we get to play in Eric’s new house now?”