This Is Different
Having a Wolf wait in the parking lot of my nightclub was unsettling enough.
I’d walked through the back door after a long boring night of paperwork and Vampire fuckery only to see the hulk of a man bound from his truck.
The look on his face left something to be desired… and he didn’t hesitate to charge me, coming close enough for me to identify him as a Were (a were who didn’t belong behind the wheel of any vehicle by scent) even if I hadn’t seen his irises gleaming as he left his truck.
He was nearly my height and built for battle… and swaying.
As soon as I drew my fangs, he halted, opening his jacket and spreading his arms as he turned around.
“I’m not armed. I… I came to ask a favor.”
“Who are you and who told you I grant favors?”
He stammered, “Ja- Jackson Herveaux. Friends call me Jax… Nobody told me you’re any kind of Genie or anything. I asked around, folks say you’re reasonable for a Vampire.”
“If you want a financial bail-out, use a standard loan application from any bank and mail it to me here. Be sure to list all of your holdings and any talents you have.”
When I stepped towards my car, he took a step and blurted, “It’s not money!”
That had my attention. It wasn’t often that someone approached me for any other reason… the other ‘favor’ was usually of the terminal variety.
“Then why are you approaching the Area Sheriff at four in the morning?”
“You have a dispute with a Vampire you’d like to have mediated? You need to kill someone and need an airtight alibi? You-”
“My woman’s sick!”
At least it was different.
“And you heard Vampire blood has healing properties. You want to make arrangements… Dr. Ludwig is in the Yellow Pages. She’ll be able to-”
He shook his head and held his hands up in a stop gesture. “No. Hold on…” He paced for a few moments, studying his feet, seeming more and more flustered with every step. He finally stopped to look at me. “It’s cancer. I can’t lose her… I want her to be… I’m desperate.”
“You’re asking me to bring over your wife?”
“No. I’da married Lin already, but she’s been trying to cut me loose since she got sick… the treatments aren’t working…”
“I’m not in the market for a child.”
“She’s gorgeous. She’s smart. She lights up every goddamn room she walks into…” His eyes were welling and he growled against a lump in his throat. “If not you, do you know someone?”
“Weres usually suicide within a couple of years of being brought over…”
“She’s not a Were. She’s… Please… Just meet her. My first wife died a couple of years ago. My kids are adults, but they fell for Lin right away… Just… She’s amazing. If you met her, you’d see it…”
He reached into his pocket and slowly pulled out a slip of paper… and stepped towards me carefully until I could reach the note.
“Just… all I ask is that you meet her.”
I completely blamed boredom for why I went to the tiny town of Bon Temps the next night. Pam was in Milan and Jackson Herveaux’s pleading didn’t give me anything to do but think of his gorgeous/amazing/brilliant woman until I died for the day.
The address on the little slip of paper was a bungalow that had seen better times. Nearly every other house on the street had colorful flower beds full of spring flowers, but this house wasn’t receiving the same care.
I’d spent my usual hour before sunset researching the address and its owner. Linda Stackhouse Delahoussaye owned a station wagon and had been struggling to avoid bankruptcy for years. She’d been arrested for assault once, and reported her adult daughter missing more than a year ago.
Like I said… boredom was my reason to be in Bon Temps. I was sure the Were would come to his senses and renege on his promises to be my ‘bitch’ until he died… but the offer made me all the more curious. He didn’t have any preconceived notions she’d want to be with him as a Vampire, but he sobbed, over and over, that he couldn’t stand to know she was suffering.
The mailbox had a handful of crafting and cooking magazines… the bin by the back door was empty, but it smelled like bodies had been decomposing in it… the house was well kept even if it smelled stale… there was a small garden in the back yard that had been taken over with weeds like the flower beds in the front.
As I turned to go back to my car, a woman crashed through the back door of the house just behind Linda Delahoussaye’s… Her hair was in curlers and her robe looked like a Hawaiian nightmare.
She waddled towards me, barking, “I had Hoyt bring the can back from the curb ‘cuz you boys can just bounce over fences and all. I don’t know how she’s gon’ be feelin’ when she’s home, but you let your aunt know there’s a batch of gingersnaps in my oven. I’ma have Hoyt bring ‘em over in just a bit…” She stopped at the chain-link fence to lean on the bar and adjust the curlers under her scarf. “How y’all holdin’ up, Jason? Adele said this round’s really takin’ it outta her.”
At least she wasn’t demanding to know who I was and why I was lurking about in her neighbor’s yard.
“As good as can be expected.”
She frowned and blew a gust of air out of her nose that made her sound like a walrus. “You takin’ care of Linda tonight so Sookie can get some hours in?”
The woman hadn’t said anything of a hostile nature, but she still sounded like she was on the verge of pulling something apart.
“No. I’m just checking on things.”
“Alright then. You let e’erbody know Maxine’s prayin’ for ‘em. You go home and take a steam. You sound like you’re tryin’ to come down with somethin’. Linda doesn’t need a cold on toppa’ what the chemo’s doin’. Take care of yourself, Jason.”
Thanks to Maxine, I’d missed my chance to leave gracefully.
Just as I turned the corner of the house, a little yellow hatchback turned onto the driveway.
I moved to the other side of the house, watching a blonde girl (I assumed it was the Sookie Maxine mentioned) help an older woman out of the car…
Her face was pale and sunken… she didn’t seem strong enough, but once her feet were under her, she let go of her helper… moving slowly, but deliberately, to walk without assistance.
Blonde hair, blue eyes, slender build… She really was beautiful… It wasn’t that I could imagine how she’d look if she wasn’t ill. Linda was still beautiful in spite of what her illness was doing to her.
As they crossed the yard, the women quietly discussed ice cream and a movie… What caught my attention was that instead of just saying she wanted to watch Midsummer Night’s Dream, Linda began reciting it.
“Now, until the break of day. Through this house each fairy stray. To the best bride-bed will we, which by us shall blessed be; so shall all the couples three. Ever true in loving be; and the owner of it blest. Ever shall in safety rest. Trip away; make no stay; meet me all by break of day…”
It wasn’t just an excerpt. As Sookie continued to follow Linda closely, the two of them recited four scenes from the play… Linda changed into pajamas and used the restroom, Sookie helped Linda settle into bed, and Sookie left with the new movie in hand to go to the kitchen…
I watched through the window as Sookie removed the cellophane from the case. They hadn’t memorized the movie.
I’d long since given up caring if I was discovered. I moved from window to window shamelessly, intending to glamour anyone who questioned me…
Yes, boredom… it was the only reason I could think of that I would find entertainment in watching a dying woman recite Shakespeare.
Sookie set a bin next to the bed, changed into her own pajamas, and slid into the bed next to Linda with two bowls of ice cream… ‘Aunt Linda’. She referred to Linda as her aunt.
For nearly an hour, the two women watched the movie, but when Linda fell to sleep, Sookie left the bed…
She cried over the sink while she washed their ice cream bowls and when she was finished, she used the phone…
She quietly apologized to someone named Sam about not being able to work, and then just as quietly updated someone she called Gran and the Jason I’d been mistaken for. “She’s doing pretty good. At least she can look forward to a break now that this round is over, but we still have to wait for labs.”
Sookie took an afghan from the back of a chair in the living room and wrapped it around her shoulders… and went to the front door of the house.
I darted around the corner as soon as she turned the doorknob, so I was sure she hadn’t seen me…
But she called, “Don’t you dare. Get your ass back here!”
At least I wasn’t bored.
She stomped through the yard barefoot to meet me halfway and demanded, “Who sent you? Jack? Alcide?”
Peppermint and chocolate… I could taste it on her breath.
She sighed and shook her head. “This has gotta stop. I promised I’d call him… Aunt Linda will kick my ass if she finds out, but I promised I’d call him if there’s any kind of change.”
“He’s very worried.”
She narrowed her eyes and nodded. “Yeah. Me too… Look…”
“Sookie. Look Erik, I don’t mean to unload on you, but my aunt’s dying. I know Jack’s freaking out because of what he went through with his wife, but… that’s why Aunt Linda broke up with him. Go tell Jack, she’s fine. It’s really sweet of him to worry about her, but she’s not going to let him watch her die too.”
“How acute is her condition?”
“The chemo has a slim chance of working… her cancer is aggressive… the prognosis isn’t great. If this round doesn’t help, they’re talking about making her as comfortable as they can.”
“So it is terminal, yes?”
Sookie began crying so quickly, the tears were dripping from her cheeks before she could nod. “Yeah. The first two rounds barely slowed down the progression. I’m going to do what I can about talking her into seeing Jack, but…” She paused to try to compose herself. “But I don’t have much time left with her. The last thing I want to do is have her die pissed at me.”
“He’s desperate for an alternative to losing her.”
“Yeah. So is her family. Her mother’s already buried one child, my father. Aunt Linda’s daughter is probably in an unmarked grave… basically, we’re looking for a crossroads with a devil to make a deal with, and leaving offerings for fairies at this point.”
“What kind of deal?”
“What would you be willing to do? Aunt Linda and my grandmother raised me and my brother after our parents died. She’s brilliant and funny and she can turn garbage into something beautiful. She hugs anyone who needs it, and kicks asses when it’s called for… That woman is the most genuine person I’ve ever met… Jack isn’t the only one who’s going to miss her.”
“Of course, any deal you make with the devil has its drawbacks.”
“Well, the fairies don’t seem to be willing to come out of their hiding places. As long as the devil can keep her alive, I can’t say I’d kick him out of bed for eating crackers.”
“There’s always Vampires.” There was only a year left… if Linda’s family was as isolated as Jack implied, Linda could return to her family as soon as the announcement was made.
“Can’t find any of th-” She gasped, “Is that what you are?”
“What makes you think that?”
“That wasn’t a ‘no’, Erik.”
She shook her head and took a step towards me. “That’s what this is. Jack… Jack sent you… that’s what you meant when you said he’s desperate.”
“Calm down. I’m not saying I’m a Vampire. You mentioned devils and fairies…”
She shook her head. “Stop. Say you’re not a Vampire.”
“I’m not a Vampire.”
She raised an eyebrow and snorted, “Now say the sky is red.”
“The sky is red.”
“Grass is red.”
I shrugged. “Grass is red.”
“Blood is red.”
I repeated, “Blood is red.”
“What are you?”
She released the afghan to cover her mouth and gasp. “Lie!”
“Erik, did Jack send you to turn my aunt into a Vampire?”
It didn’t escape me that she wasn’t really frightened by her discovery, just… surprised.
“He asked me to, yes.”
Why not? I was going to glamour her regardless.
“That means… what? Which version of Vampires is true? Does that mean Aunt Linda won’t be in constant pain anymore?”
“There aren’t any fictional Vampires that are completely accurate. To become a Vampire, you have to be drained by a Vampire and then have your blood replaced by theirs.”
She urged, “Pain.”
“Her disease would die with her. She’d have to feed from Humans. She’d never be able to touch silver again. She’d never see daylight again… She’d rise every night at sunset, and die every morning at dawn… forever.”
Sookie reached for me, grabbing my shirt in both hands and ordered, “Do it!”
Peppermint and chocolate… I couldn’t help but wonder why it wasn’t off-putting…
“You don’t have more questions? More concerns? It could be months before you could visit with her safely…”
She argued, “She’d be alive! I’ll call my grandmother. She’ll ask you what you’re waiting for.”
“This is what happens when I get bored. I only came here to settle my curiosity. For someone like Jack to approach a Vampire…”
“Someone like Jack? You mean a Were? Do Werewolves not get along with Vampires?”
“Not usually… He told you what he is?”
She released my shirt, smoothing the wrinkles as she stepped back. “Yes… Were you just… You weren’t going to change her, were you?”
“I can’t say I had the chance to consider it before you discovered me.”
“What’ll it take? I’m sure you can tell we aren’t loaded or anything… What did Jack offer you?”
“He offered to be my ‘bitch’ until he dies.”
“Same here… I don’t even care what that means.”
That was actually adorable.
“What if that means I want a nude housekeeper to feed from and fuck… and occasionally share with my friends?”
Her face contorted, but I couldn’t tell if she was going to laugh or cry.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get used to anal.”
Her face turned bright red before she hid it behind her hands. “I don’t… You… Tell me you’re joking.”
“I’m imagining you dusting bookshelves now. You should have gone to the bathroom for privacy when you changed.”
“I have a better idea.”
“I doubt it.”
She uncovered her face to give me a very serious look. “What’s the best Jack can do for you? Guard dog? Bouncer? Thug? At his age, he’s not going to be much use to you for long.”
“His company could be very useful.”
“K… So, you turn my aunt into a Vampire so cancer doesn’t eat her alive from the inside out and you’ll get a construction and surveying company at your beck and call… and a mind reader.”
“Oh really? You know a mind reader? Why haven’t you enlisted his help in finding fairies and devils?”
“I don’t know where to look… I knew you were outside. And you weren’t giving away facial tics when I checked you for lying. And I’m warning you, Jack’s not going to be much help for a while because I’m going to kick his ass for not adding me to the pot.”
“Jack knows you can read minds?”
“Yeah, like I know he’s a Wolf. Do we have a deal?”
“What deal are you proposing?”
“In exchange for turning my aunt into a Vampire, you’ll have me at your service, on call. I’m sure you can think of a use for it. I can read Humans and Weres and Shifters. Now that I now Vampires are real, other stuff could be too, so maybe more than them.”
She had no idea.
“An on call telepath? I can think of more uses for a nude housekeeper.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Aunt Linda would kick both of our asses if I made a deal like that. She slapped a guy just for making rude gestures at me.”
“Is your aunt a mind reader too?”
“Nope. Just me. I’m the freak of the family.”
As tempting as that was, I’d watched too many indentured servants and slaves turn on their masters. If I thought of a use for her ability, I’d just hire her.
I shook my head. “No deal. Invite me in.”
“If there’s no deal, I’m not inviting you in.”
“I’m going to talk to your aunt.”
“She’s asleep… if you think you’re going to get a better deal out of…”
“I’m anxious to meet the woman whose boyfriend and niece are willing to bargain their lives away for. Invite. Me. In.”
She heaved out a deep breath, reaching behind herself to turn the knob and back into the house…
“Erik… don’t make me regret this… c’mon in.”
When I stepped forward, I was stopped at the threshold.
“Do you not live here?”
She bit her lip and shook her head. “Not officially.”
“Officially, does Linda live alone?”
She nodded. “Go convince her to invite me in.”
Sookie winced as she turned around, mumbling about how exhausted Linda was and hoping she could rouse her.
The bed creaked before Sookie started, “Aunt Linda… hey, I know you’re wiped out, but we have company.”
There was a very groggy, “Not up to company, sweetie. I’m sorry.”
Sookie sighed, “I know, but… his name is Erik. He’s prettier than any movie Vampire I’ve ever seen. He needs you to invite him in.”
Linda laughed sleepily. “Why would a Vampire want to see me? My blood’s gotta taste like shit.”
I actually chuckled.
I don’t know why. Really. I wasn’t always bored… I offered, “Jack came to me, Linda. He asked me to bring you over before cancer takes you. He doesn’t want you to suffer.”
Linda answered, “Jack’s soooo sweet… Erik, did you bring Pam with you?”
Excuse me? I hadn’t mentioned Pam.
Sookie offered, “Sorry. She gets a little out of it after treatments… Aunt Linda, invite Erik in.”
“Alright, but I look like crap… C’mon on in.”
I barely waited for my invitation to be finished…
As I came to the door of Linda’s room, Sookie sighed, “She’s not really awake. She’s still dreaming.”
“Since you’re a mind reader, what is she dreaming about?”
Sookie shrugged. “Some lady. I don’t know who she is. Pretty though. It’s… It’s probably because of the movie. We were watching Shakespeare… She’s sneaking out, using a window even though she’s in a pretty dress. A maid’s fussing at her about how much trouble she’ll be in if she’s caught…” Sookie giggled, “The lady said, ‘I’d rather die than be married off before I have the chance to live.’ She’s ordering her maid to sleep in her bed until she’s back…”
Linda laughed in her throat, still not awake. “She’s not from the movie… She’s Lady Winifred Kendal.”
“Sookie, you said you’re the only mind reader in the family. The family freak.”
Her eyes widened. “I am. Aunt Linda wouldn’t have… If she was too, she would have told me… Do you know the woman she’s talking about?”
I nodded, pulling my phone out of my pocket and scrolling through the photos. Pam had sent a photo when she bought her new kittens… but she’d also been sending dozens of photos every night since she arrived in Milan. Shoes, bags, dresses…
I held the phone out to show the photo to Sookie and she reacted immediately. Her eyes bulged as she slapped her hands over her mouth. “That’s her. Who is that?”
“Lady Winifred Kendal.”
Linda snorted, rolling slowly to her side to add, “Her Maker’s her hero.”
Sookie’s jaw dropped as she looked between her aunt and me.
“Linda, what about you? Do you want to die?”
She snorted, “I never lost a fight in my life… goddamn cancer… Is not dying an option? Like registering to vote when I renew my license?”
“Yes. You’ll have to sacrifice your tan and solid food, but you’ve never felt better than you will if you opt for ‘not dying’.”
“Sign me up, pal. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m sheet white as it is… and solid food and I don’t get along anymore anyway.”
What the fuck was I thinking? Yes, she seemed to be intelligent and funny. Yes, there was definitely something curious about the family. But I had Pam.
“Linda, I’ll be back for you tomorrow night. Don’t say goodbye to anyone, but feel free to pack a few things. I’ll explain later.”
She hummed and squeezed her pillow. “You got it.”
What was I doing?
“Sookie, look at me… I need you to listen carefully.”
Given how anxious she was to help her aunt, it couldn’t have been easier to take her attention. Her eyes were wide. She was eagerly waiting for instructions.
“I wasn’t here. You never saw me. We never spoke. I’m going to leave and you’re going to go to sleep… My visit never happened.”
She frowned and shook her head slowly. “Okay.”
As if the universe tapped Pam’s shoulder and told her she was missing something, my phone began ringing.
I turned to leave, walking directly to the front door… waiting to answer until I was in the yard.
I sighed, “Lady Winifred Kendal, what can I do for you?”
Pam snorted, “Holy shit. If I knew you were in this bad of a mood, I wouldn’t have called. You never give me ‘the whole name’. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong really. I’m just questioning my sanity at the moment.”
“Questioning your sanity made you call me by my Human name?”
“Someone just mentioned it in conversation.”
“Which one of those assholes? It was Gawain, wasn’t it?”
“No… actually… it was your new sister.”