I’d spent most of the drive to Shreveport talking to Linda as she explained her family’s dynamic. Her missing daughter’s wild behavior, her ‘simple yet slutty’ nephew, her indomitable mother… She’d been so close to her brother that their respective spouses were jealous.
She hadn’t had a charmed life by any stretch of the imagination. Her father was a proud sharecropper (taking construction side-work) who didn’t approve of his wife working, so Adele took part-time work and did odd jobs (child care, crafting, baking) for extra grocery money. As Linda and her brother became adults, they enjoyed the traditions… They’d both been gainfully employed since they were 16-years old.
Corbett developed an affinity for carpentry and began taking weekend jobs, doing anything from building custom entertainment centers and cabinetry to building hutches and crates for farm and hunting animals.
Linda began cooking and crafting with her mother. They sold their wares at flea markets and catered for small events through word of mouth referrals…
While Hadley rejected the tradition, Jason and Sookie embraced it.
I jokingly challenged her to create a ligonberry scented candle for me and pink and purple cashmere sweaters for Pam’s hideously bald cats.
She scoffed at me and told me I’d learn what I was dealing with eventually… apparently I hadn’t set the bar high enough for her. In turn, I was challenged to think of a new challenge for her because it wouldn’t take her long to complete the first one.
As a minimum, Linda Delahoussaye was amusing.
Getting rid of Sookie had been just about as simple as I expected it to be. I’d called Bobby to have him meet us at the lake house and after Sookie’s brief tour, she was at a loss.
Yes, I understood she wasn’t familiar with dealing with servants, but her cluelessness was still frustrating… Pam was already on her way home and given the lightness of her mood, Gawain had found her at the airport. I wanted to go to ground before they landed. The last thing I wanted was for Pam to try to talk me out of bringing over Linda for selfish reason I was sure she’d regret.
“I don’t use this house often, so there aren’t any books or movies. Bobby can bring some if you like, but there’s cable service. Bobby needs to know what to stock the refrigerator with and what size clothing to buy for you.”
Sookie nibbled her lip and stared back at me.
Linda nudged Sookie and without a response, she offered, “She’s a size 6. Get the skimpiest bikini you can find so she can enjoy the pool, a nightshirt and something like the shorts and tank top she’s wearing now. A stack of classic lit paperbacks will entertain her much more than the TV will, no matter how many channels you have. As for groceries, go for staples. Toilet paper, laundry detergent, fabric softener, toothpaste, toothbrush, coffee, tea bags, sugar, milk… fill it in with eggs, bread, lunch meat, and microwave dinners and ice cream. If there’s a yellow pages here, Sookie can order takeout when the mood strikes her.”
While Bobby scribbled a list as though Linda gave him the formula for cold fusion, she added garbage bags, shampoo and soap… and explained that Sookie’s hesitation was because she didn’t want to put me out.
Right… she had no problem asking me to make the commitment of bringing over her aunt, but groceries and paperbacks would be viewed as demanding.
Why the fuck did I think of it as endearing instead of annoying?
Once Bobby left, Sookie offered, “Aunt Linda’s too old and I’m too trashy for you. I look familiar to him, but he thinks it’s because all in-breeders look alike. He can’t figure out why you’d have either of us as guests, but he hopes we aren’t staying long. He was enjoying his ‘vacation’ from Pam and now you’ve ruined it with a ‘bossy bitch’ and a ‘white trash bimbo’.”
Who the fuck did he think he was? He was an errand boy, not a social director.
“Feel free to entertain yourself by sending him on redundant errands… tell him everything he bought was wrong… treat him like livestock for the next three nights.”
Her eyes widened. “Three nights?”
I nodded. “That’s how long the process takes.”
“She’ll be… she’ll be dead for three nights?”
“I’ll be with her if that makes you feel any better about the situation.”
She whimpered, “Not really.”
Linda shook her head and sighed, “You fussed at me for poisoning myself with chemo… Sweetie, you’ve been torturing yourself by sitting through every damn treatment with me, tending to me when I’m sick afterward, and dealing with my crazy ass nightmares. Three nights of peace and quiet is probably what it’ll take to set you back to rights. Don’t worry about me. Enjoy your little break. Sleep. God knows it’ll be the first good sleep you’ve gotten in months.”
As I led Linda through the house, Sookie followed… Like a lost puppy, Sookie followed.
The kitchen, the den, the deck…
I was beginning to wonder if she planned to go to ground with us, but she stopped.
She watched from the deck while I helped her determined aunt descend the stairs to the patio… Just under the deck, where the pump for the pool was housed, was the perfect hidden patch of dry land… and I didn’t even have to risk being seen digging by the neighbors.
As soon as I replaced the ornamental panel of lattice behind us, Linda whispered, “The poor thing’s been taking care of me for so long she probably won’t know how to act.”
“Your mother and nephew haven’t tended to you?”
Linda sighed, “Jason does what he can. He runs my errands for me, keeps things around the house in working order, takes my garbage out, keeps the neighbors from complaining about the lawn… But I swear, I don’t feel sorry for myself until that boy looks at me. Momma keeps my fridge full, but she’s a mollycoddling somebody. When Sookie works weekends and Momma sits with me, she’s all over me, watching me like a hawk… Poor Sookie… Her ability makes for an amazing nurse. Best I could ask for. I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve gotten sick, but anyone who doesn’t need to hear you say you need to run to the bathroom before they’re pulling covers back and ready to help you out of bed is worth their weight in diamonds, my friend, worth their weight in diamonds.”
“I’m sure… It’s been a thousand years, and even then, I just leaned to the side and vomited over the side of my horse.”
She covered her mouth when she started laughing. “You were drunk, weren’t you?”
I nodded. “I think the word they use now is ‘shitfaced’. I think my horse could have gotten drunk from my breath.”
She continued laughing, “That mental image, thanks for that. And congrats on the aging beautifully thing too. I guess Vampires really don’t age, huh?”
“Not since the night I died, but you’re dying of cancer and still don’t appear old enough to have a daughter Sookie’s age.”
She snorted, “You should’ve seen me when I was Sookie’s age. I was a knockout. Am I always going to look haggard?”
I shook my head. “Pale, yes, but not haggard. The circles under your eyes will go away. Any bruising and blemishes you have will be healed when you rise. You’ll keep any old scars or tattoos you have, but stretch marks and cellulite will be memories…”
She interrupted, “Shhhhhh. You don’t want that getting around.”
I chuckled, “Don’t worry. It’s not included in the brochure.”
She gnawed her lip and whimpered, “There’s a hole under that tarp, isn’t there?”
I nodded. “There is. The common terminology is ‘going to ground’. It’s not exactly glamorous, and you won’t have to rest in dirt every day, but this is where Humans become Vampires.”
“I had three courses of chemo trying to avoid that hole, goddammit.”
She wasn’t refusing or whining, but she certainly wasn’t happy about the irony…
I chuckled as I moved the tarp to expose the ‘grave’ and stepped into it. I looked up at her and offered, “But you aren’t being somberly lowered by pallbearers, my dear. You’re going to climb in on your own terms… and this isn’t the worst of it.”
“Jesus. What’s worse than the twisted symbolism here?”
She was not going to be happy.
I patted the ground and waited for her to lower herself to sit on the edge.
She looked as braced as she could be when I placed my hands on her knees. “There’s no instruction manual. The steps are too simple… The Vampire drains the Human. The Vampire gives the Human his blood. They go to ground. Magic takes care of the rest. The Vampire stays with the potential child and three nights later the Human should rise as a Vampire.”
“There are a few variables that cause a Human to remain completely dead, but Vampire don’t tend to discuss their failures. My Maker failed several times before me, as well as after, but Pam is my one and only attempt… Also, I’ve heard of cases where the newborn Vampire rises early. Since there isn’t as much science involved as magic, there isn’t a way to predict outcomes.”
“Okay… So the worst part is that you’re going to drain my blood and… God… Your blood can’t be worse than… Nevermind. I don’t want to insult you by trying to talk myself down.”
“Bile?” I was sure she’d tasted enough of it if the common depiction of chemo side effects was accurate.
She frowned and offered a timid nod. “I didn’t mean it to sound… harsh.”
I shook my head. “I’m not easily insulted. I would have known what you meant… Exchanging blood isn’t the worst part though. This is a unique situation. Your blood is rank with cancer and chemotherapy. I can’t be sure what effects, if any, your condition or medications could have on me. I can’t afford to be weakened.”
She gulped. “Oh fuck.”
“I need to take some of your blood, but…” I stooped down to take the knife I’d planned to use. “I can’t risk taking it all.”
She might have looked everywhere but at the knife or me before she clicked her tongue several times.
She blew out her cheeks and huffed out a deep breath before saying, “This is a whole new level of irony.”
Opening her veins and climbing into a grave… in an effort to survive the illness that would kill her otherwise.
I nodded. “I understand that.”
“If I was a fly on the wall, I’d be laughing my ass off.”
I chuckled, “Me too.”
She sighed and reached for the knife, but I moved it, setting it to the side and taking her foot to untie her shoe laces. “You’re going to want to remove as much clothing as you’re comfortable with…”
“Oh, this stuff is wash and wear…”
I slid one of her shoes off, trying not to laugh as I moved to the other one. “You might find it amusing that most Vampires don’t know they’re about to die. Case in point, I didn’t see the grave I would spend three nights in… I didn’t understand the process until my Maker explained it to me later… and I was more than slightly annoyed that I’d ruined my best clothing.”
“Yoo- Oh Goddammit, Erik!” She slapped my shoulder and complained, “Why the hell did you have to tell me that!?”
I laughed, “I thought you’d be preoccupied by other aspects. All Humans do it. Does it make you feel better to know it’s the last time it’ll happen?”
“I thought the last time it happened was before I was three years old!”
I chuckled, “I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to laugh, but… Of all the things you could be worried about, it’s your panties that have you riled.”
She tried to scowl at me, but she was too close to smiling.
She shrugged her jacket from her shoulders and folded it, then pulled her T-shirt over her head and laid it over her jacket…
She sighed and shook her head as she unbuckled her belt and opened her jeans, sucking her teeth as she pushed her pants over her thighs… She struggled, but she managed without my assistance.
She rolled her eyes. “When I went in for my first treatment, there was a woman in a chair next to me who chatted me up. She told me to invest in granny-panties and sports bras… Sweats and slippers… soft food is easier to puke… air fresheners to cover the funk in my house because there would be days on end when I didn’t feel like showering or cleaning… Fuck. That. I ate what I like. I got dressed and bathed every day… and I didn’t give up on my daily routine. Some days, a bath and fresh clothes were the only things that made me feel Human.”
She really was a fighter.
“Do you feel Human now? In your last few minutes ‘alive’?”
She nodded. “Yeah, chilly, but Human.”
“Good… I’m going to bite your wrist and take as much as I can. When you feel lightheaded tell me. That’s when I’ll use the knife to sever your femoral arteries… When you begin to lose consciousness, I’ll put my wrist to your mouth. Concentrate on taking my blood. Your reflexes will do the rest, alright?”
She nodded. “You forgot the part where I rise in three nights ready to kick ass and take names again.”
“I did. You won’t be weak. You won’t need help. The only thing you’ll need a bathroom for any longer will be to bathe. Your cancer will be dead.”
When she smiled, her eyes welled. “From your lips to God’s ears… Erik… If I don’t rise… there’s letters in my nightstand. For my family and Jack. Let them know, please.”
I nodded, hoping that was a message I wouldn’t have to deliver. Her illness offered too many variables.
But… fighter that she was, Linda was already lifting her wrist when I let my fangs down.