I wasn’t a big enough asshole to interrupt the serious discussion to remind Sookie that I wasn’t finished with her scent yet. Maudlin or not, I certainly wouldn’t be likely to enjoy future treats if I basically said ‘blah-blah-blah, fuck that you were abused because I like the way you smell.’
And to be fair, I’d been distracted by Sookie… not mine, the other one… the Liberated one.
She already carried herself like a Vampire and spoke to Pussy-Whipped as though he was her Maker… I was beginning to think Liberated Sookie and Pussy-Whipped might be closer than Pam and I are.
She certainly sounded devoted enough… and she’d had enough of his blood that he’d confirmed the truth in her claims… that she was nothing if she wasn’t his… even though they’d had a certain amount of fun teasing each other about ownership earlier.
I was still reeling at the idea that he’d suggested I bring over my Sookie. Her ability was incredible, but raw as she was, she didn’t necessarily have ‘potential’ stamped on her anywhere.
She was fuckable (maybe more so than Liberated Sookie because she was blessed by a few pounds more than her counterpart), and she was articulate, but she was mousy. Mousy Vampires didn’t last long. A mousy politicking Vampire might as well take its first meal from a Daemon so it would provide some entertainment value in its short life.
I rested, trying to discretely steal as much of the ambient sunlight as possible (hopefully without being caught breathing) while Liberated and Pussy-Whipped began discussing various points of their version, successfully abandoning the dreary discussion about molested little girls.
My Sookie was still sniffling occasionally, but there wasn’t anything I could say to take her out of the mood that discussing her childhood trauma had caused, and our hosts were jokingly suggesting that they drive to Sandwich Island and steal a menu so my Sookie could take it to her grandmother as a souvenir of the braid.
I waited for my hosts to finally take a breath so I could ask about the address to her house, and when I finally had a chance, opening my mouth offered a different flavor than the sun-sweetened air of Liberated’s office.
I opened my eyes as I felt my legs sagging, straightening out because the curve of the chaise I’d been lounging on had been replaced by a flat mattress covered with a floral quilt. The white curtains were glowing blue in the twilight that passed at least an hour ago…
And I was feeling Pam’s panic in spite of the distance between us.
At least we landed safely, but I thought Liberated had been exaggerating about how smoothly we’d transition back to our reality.
She sniffled, uncovering her eyes and looking at me briefly before her eyes widened. She scanned the room and breathed, “Holy cow… I didn’t even…” She looked down at her legs to see they were curled under her just like they’d been since I released her. “They weren’t joking about a seamless return. What did it look like?”
“My eyes were closed. I was waiting for them to shut the fuck up.”
She snickered, “At least they changed the subject… Ummmm… oh nooooo… I’m home.”
“That’s a bad thing?”
“Well…” She nodded towards my feet. “The biggest shoe we have here is going to be a women’s eight. What is that? Half your size?”
I chuckled, “I’ll manage… I heard the fur trade is big in Louisiana. I’m sure we can find a trading post.”
She giggled, “Yeah, I can run up to Wal-Mart if you aren’t too pick-”
She was interrupted by a light rap on the door, and the door was immediately opened by an elderly woman who gasped, “OH DEAR!” and slammed the door again.
Sookie laughed as she left the bed, calling, “Gran! Come back! What the heck do you think you were interrupting?”
I sat up, unwilling to concentrate on how pleasant Sookie’s pillows smelled… I still had the backpacks loaded with incidentals from Liberated and Pussy-Whipped, but the sunny towel hadn’t come with us.
As I made my way across the small bedroom, the woman opened the door again and sighed, “I don’t care what I was interrupting… Are you feeling better after your nap? I was coming to see if you’re up to eating.”
Sookie sighed, “Starved…” and turned to look at me. “I woke up this morning with a headache, and then I worked the lunch shift. That’s never a good idea. That’s why I was in bed at 4:30, in case you were wondering… Eric, this is Gran, Adele Stackhouse. Gran, this is Eric Northman.”
Before I could respond to the introduction, Adele Stackhouse offered her hand to shake mine and offered, “Nice to meet you. I’ll have my hearing checked as soon as possible. I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t hear you knock… Do you like chicken and dumplings?”
Sookie giggled so I tested the water by dropping my fangs. “I can’t say I’ve ever tried it.”
I thought I’d proven a point when Adele Stackhouse slapped her hand over her mouth, but then she gasped, “How rude of me! I’m sorry.”
There had to be a camera hidden somewhere.
She walked in on her granddaughter in bed with a Vampire and her only concern was not knowing better than to offer me food?
“Think nothing of it… Your hearing is probably fine too. I didn’t knock…”
Sookie offered, “But that’s a long story… Mind if we explain over dinner?”
I didn’t realize she was asking me until I noticed that Adele was waiting too.
“I don’t mind, but I should call Pam. She’s worried. I shouldn’t be so far away from her.”
She went back to take the backpacks from the bed and frowned at my bare feet as she led the way. “Do you want a pair of socks or something? Are your feet cold?”
“I’m fine. It would need to be much colder for me to be uncomfortable.”
The house was neatly kept, but from what I’d seen of Liberated’s house, it couldn’t have been more different. There was aged wallpaper everywhere, as opposed to the simple colors on Liberated’s walls. There was a hallway full of cross-stitch samplers and family photos in mismatched frames instead of the gallery of matted Da Vinci sketches in matching frames. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the drab living room furnishings, but Liberated’s living room (what I’d seen of it when I caught her on the stairs) was pleasantly bright yet soothing…
It was safe to say Adele Stackhouse’s tastes had prevailed. Even if Liberated hadn’t made it clear that finances were an issue for my version of the Stackhouses, I wouldn’t have guessed anything from Liberated’s modern home would have found its way into Adele Stackhouse’s country farmhouse.
Sookie left me at a wobbly credenza to use the phone so she could leave the backpacks in the kitchen and then use the restroom…
And Pam answered on the first ring. “Tell me you’re safe.”
“I’m absolutely safe, and I love you a little more knowing that you were worried about me.”
After she heaved out a deep breath, she asked, “A little?”
“What do you want from me? I didn’t think I could love you more, and then I did. Besides, you get schmaltzy when I use pretty words.”
“Good point… So… What the fuck?”
“I’m not sure you’d believe me if I could explain in less than an hour. The completely condensed version is that Faeries are a pain in the ass, but as it turns out, not always a bad thing.”
Normally that answer would have made her skin crawl with curiosity that would test her sanity until she could have her answers, but… her brand of curiosity was off.
After a moment, she asked, “Can I ask where you are?”
“I’m in Louisiana.”
She laughed, “You’re joking!” but even that seemed off.
“No. This isn’t a joke… I’m in Bon Temps…”
As Sookie walked through the room again, she offered, “Reynard Parish, if that helps.”
Pam asked, “Who was that?”
“Sookie-” Before I could finish, I could feel Pam’s shock. She might as well have been suddenly netted with silver. “What?”
“I… Eric… I… Stackhouse?”
No. I’d suspected as much when Liberated started explaining the wards… but…
“What do you know?”
“I need to start by explaining that I… I thought it was a prank. Remember when I told you ‘ha ha ha, you didn’t get me, but great ward’? That’s when it happened.”
That had been a couple of years ago? And she didn’t say anything?
“When what happened?”
“Someone called me… He was claiming to be my bonded pet. He was calling from somewhere in Louisiana. He talked about me like he knew me, and even knew my Human name, but his accent was laughable and with a name like Jay-sun Stehck-howse, I thought you hired an actor… I told him I didn’t have time for a prank, so I gave him my fax number. He said he’d call back if ‘it’ didn’t work. He sent a family biography and the recipe for the ward we’ve been using, and I never heard from him again.”
The ward that kept a strung out and irate fashion school student from entering her apartment during the day to challenge Pam’s critique of his work.
Without the braid I might have lost her.
“I’ll explain in detail when I’m home, but in the meantime, make sure you’re available to take calls from anyone named Stackhouse.”
“I thought it was a prank. I thought you hired him…”
“Do you want me to fax the family history to you? It’s difficult to read, but…”
“I doubt my hostess has access to a fax machine. I’ll manage.”
“Okay…” After a moment she sighed, “You’re not pissed.”
Even if she’d told me about her call from the braid, I would have thought she was playing a prank on me.
“I can’t say I’d believe it either. It was just a phone call… I was fully immersed. If you’d risen in my circumstances and ignored it, then I’d be pissed.”
“And you’re safe.”
“I don’t think I could be safer. Resting for the day could be tricky, but I’ll manage.”
“Call me if you need anything?”
“I will…” It was almost funny, but she seemed like she didn’t want to say goodbye. “I’ll call you once I have an idea of how long I’ll be here. I have errands to run before I come home.”
“There is something you could do for me…”
“You could put feelers out for Atum. I have a message for him. Start with Tyson and Rodrigo.”
“I can do that. What should I tell him if I find him?”
“Tell him I have a message from Him, courtesy of the Fae.”
“I don’t think he will… The Atum I visited tonight recorded a video message for our version… He didn’t offer any set-up. He called it ‘vejfa’ even though my hosts had been referring to it as the braid.”
“Entangled… In Norse… I think Atum’s Maker might have been familiar with the phenomenon.”
“Ooooooh, the plot thickens.”
“Somewhat, but I think the braid falls under the heading of need-to-know information. It hasn’t ever been relevant. My hosts had a plethora of material for me, and I have more reading to do.”
She pouted, “Poor Eric has to read.”
At least she wasn’t so thrown by the situation that she couldn’t tease me.
“I’ll call you if I think of anything I need. I should go. Sookie and I need to explain why I’m in her grandmother’s house.”
“Alright… Is this a good number for you?”
“Until I say otherwise, this is the only way for you to contact me.”
“Do you foresee missing any games?”
“Owners don’t go to every game. If I miss a few, I miss a few. I’m hanging up now.”
If I had to guess from her mood, Pam stared at the phone for a while before going about her task of finding my vagabond friend.
Sookie and Adele Stackhouse were waiting for me in the kitchen… the grandmother seemed to be keeping herself busy while Sookie stared into a phonebook weepy-eyed…
She smiled at me and offered, “I think a phone call can cross one of our errands off the list. Shawn Ingram’s listed. This isn’t the new-new phonebook, but… I think his widow would have changed the listing at some point in the past few years, right?”
“Sound theory… Did you look up Rousseau?”
She nodded. “It’s a shame those backpacks didn’t come with a script. I don’t have a clue how to approach him.”
Adele Stackhouse snorted, “I’m prepared to use my age as an excuse to get some answers. I’m not young or immortal. Give an old lady a break… Where did you get those bags from? And I thought Vampires need to be invited into a home.”
Sookie giggled, “And you want to know how old Eric is and how many questions you can ask before he escapes.”
She swatted Sookie’s ass and blushed. “You stop that.”
Sookie snickered at her grandmother and nodded for me to join them as they sat at the table. She started, “Eric was born around 1000, but he missed all of your favorite wars because he didn’t come to the States until the Nazis started making it hard for Vampires to trust their resting places…”
It was completely bizarre for her to already know so much about me.
“Vampires do need an invitation, so I think it’s possible that someone might have already invited him into the house… And that topic leads us to how we got those backpacks full of awesomeness… I crashed earlier and when I woke up, I was eye to eye with a reaaaaaaaalllllllly big Vampire and I was in a pretty house on Lake Bistineau… Eric was there too even though he went to bed in New York. He’s never been to Louisiana…”
The old woman blinked several times before asking, “You were kidnapped?”
Sookie shook her head. “No-no-no… No one did anything to us. We just went. I’ll get to that. Promise… Apparently, my thing is because I’m part Faerie. It came from Granpa, but he didn’t know what he was. I’m not the only one with something extra either. Jason and Hadley are empathic. They can feel and affect the emotions of others. It’s a passive thing that doesn’t usually come out until they’re around Vampires because Vampires have empathic connections to their Makers and children. Daddy and Aunt Linda had extra stuff going on too.”
Adele shook her head. “Who told you all of this? A Faerie?”
The odd part was that Adele wasn’t asking as though Sookie claimed to be Tinkerbell; it was more like she was taking notes.
Sookie nodded. “A Faerie hybrid… Me. That’s where we went. We ended up hanging out with another Me and another Eric… We were there for a couple of hours, I guess, but we didn’t seem to lose much time here… Together Sookie said that was normal. She said she spent hours with her hosts, and when she got back to her version of things, she only missed a few minutes… So Eric and I, we woke up at Together Sookie’s house, so it was really weird to hang out with an extra Me and Him, but damn if she doesn’t have complete control of her ability. I watched a bunch of versions play out like a movie in her head in just a few minutes…”
I interrupted, “Good. I’d like to hear about them. While you were being uploaded, Pussy-Whipped only had time to offer a brief synopsis of their version of events.”
Sookie snickered, “You call him- Ohhhh, that’s funny. She went on vacation without him, while they had unresolved issues, and so… their friends teased her and… well, she said she was whipped too… And no problem on the sharing notes thing.”
“Yeah. Apparently the braid messed with their heads, and it wasn’t easy for either of them to say what was on their minds. They’re fine now obviously… those two were like sewn together.”
“I don’t think He would have minded being sewn to you too.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m sure that has something to do with the deceptive packaging that implies I’m something like the Sookie he has. I think fingerprints are the only thing I share with her.”
That wasn’t necessarily true… Both Sookies had the same unfortunate childhoods. Tattoos and vocations aside, Liberated didn’t have anything my Sookie couldn’t eventually achieve… Except for the Biblia Aurum.
Then again, Liberated had warned ‘life’s given her so many thorns, she doesn’t trust the beauty of roses’, and Pussy-Whipped suggested my Sookie might need to be reminded of her potential… and in her sheltered minimalistic lifestyle, she tried to refuse the offer of a few thousand dollars, but didn’t seem to realize how much more the jewels were worth than the straps of cash.
Since Adele seemed confused, rightly so, I reached for one of the backpacks and began unloading it onto the table.
Adele’s eyes bulged at the sight of the cash.
“I hope you aren’t referring to your potential as a telepath.”
Sookie snickered, “From what I hear, the big money’s in snuggling.”
I chuckled, “Don’t tempt me… How big is your bathtub?”
She blushed, but she was still laughing, “It’s barely big enough for me… and she warned me not to try the salt alone because I’d drown.”
“You should have a lifeguard then…” I opened the Cartier box containing a platinum and diamond set. “You might not be Her, but you could eventually be… Mrs. Stackhouse, the Sookie we met with tonight has been a professional telepath since she was at university. She works under the name Erica Weiss and earns ten million dollars per month.”
The woman gasped, “DOING WHAT!?” and Sookie kicked my shin under the table.
I waited, leaving Sookie to answer her grandmother’s question just so she’d have to say it.
She huffed, “Specifically, Kings tend to hire Her to look for jerks in their companies, and then She scans Vampires’ pets to be sure they’re just pets and not spies or turds with clandestine motives.”
Adele blurted, “And she makes ten million dollars a month!? Sookie, baby, what are you waiting for? All this time you’ve been trying to make sense of your ability. Don’t you dare go back to that diner and wait tables when you could be-”
Sookie held her hand up to interrupt. “Wait Gran… The King of Texas didn’t discover Me and give Me four years of practice and a list of people I can trust not to take advantage of Me. It’s not as easy as that, and I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
I offered, “You can start with Francesca. Sookie said She was ‘particularly fond’ of her. Your springboard would be different, but working for her would put you on a path similar to our hostess’s.”
Sookie asked, “How’s that? She went from Texas to his Maker in England, then all over…”
“I’m sure that included Francesca’s Maker in Rhineland… from Texas to Britain for Her, from New York to Rhineland for you.”
“If you really want practice, you can do that anywhere there are people… This… Bon Temps seems like the place to be if you want to avoid practicing. I haven’t heard the first car drive by.”
Adele sighed, “You wouldn’t. There’s only one other house on our street and the man that lives there hardly leaves… What about that other house? Big subdivision?”
Sookie cleared her throat and shook her head. “No. It’s completely isolated. No one for miles… but She bought it so She could relax between jobs… and She’s got nieces and nephews with telepathy too, so She wanted to give them a little breathing room.”
Adele gasped, “Nieces and nephews? Jason has a family?”
“Not yet. He’s got a fiancé though. They’re planning to get married in the summer… That Sookie’s really close to Hadley and her husband. He has three kids with his first wife, and Hadley’s expecting their second… And the name Eric mentioned earlier, Rousseau, is… Gran, Daddy had another kid he didn’t know about… That funeral you had me go to, the one for Julie Rousseau… Her son is my brother.”
She nodded. “According to Sookie, Brandon knows about us, but he’s telepathic too, so he’s always been scared of our reaction to finding out about him…”
Adele darted from her chair and snatched the phonebook from the counter.
Sookie laughed, “Gran, Gran, Gran… chill out,” while she tried to head Adele off. “Hold on! I’ll call him in a little bit, but there’s other stuff going on.”
“What could be more important than this!? You’ve got a brother!”
“And Eric needs to get in touch with a friend about a woman whose Maker has been torturing her for 800 years.”
If I had a heart, it would have been warmed by the fact that Klaasje’s situation was a higher priority to her than her brother, or cousin for that matter…
I offered, “Pam was feeling a little thrown about the braid and offered to help. She’s trying to contact Atum for me… On that, she’s feeling guilty for not telling me she had an experience with the braid…”
Sookie gasped, “Shut up! When?”
“A couple of years ago… I suspected as much when Sookie explained the wards. Pam and I have been using something very similar to them for a while now, including, but not limited to when someone tried to break into her apartment… The ward recipe Jason provided, saved Pam from being at least discovered, if not murdered while she was dead for the day.”
Sookie plopped onto her seat and huffed, “Dear God… that’s just… Um… I need to talk to Sam anyway, but he has a fax machine. Should we send the grimoire to her? I mean, if last time was a safety thing…”
“We learned so much, we certainly have plenty of possible reasons for our trip.”
“I know, right? I guess we should cover our bases… Politically, they’re dealing with someone named Sophie-Anne, and she died ages ago for us… and Francesca has a Sheriff Sookie told me she should keep an eye on. Thaddeus… but there isn’t much else on that…”
“Keep an eye on how?”
“He uses his import company to hide cash and immigrants. It’s practically indentured servitude, but post 9-11 and all...”
“It could be a clusterfuck… She’s right about that… If Shawn Ingram is indeed still alive, then my ticket to the braid is either you or Klaasje via Atum.” Most likely Sookie though.
“Pussy-Whipped vehemently believed that you could have traveled alone if your family history was the only reason for your visit… and to be fair, I think it would have made more sense for Atum to have entered the braid if Klaasje was the reason. He’d healed Sookie.”
“You think we went into the braid just so I could get my shit together and be a really expensive lie detector?”
“It’s possible, but I’m willing to pursue your services as a professional snuggler …” I reached out and took the phonebook from Adele. “We can start by eliminating variables.”
Adele finally returned to her seat, watching me just as pensively as Sookie while I leafed through the phonebook, and finally dialed the phone hanging next to the refrigerator.
A man answered, “Hello?”
“Shawn Ingram please.”
“You got him.”
“Leland Scott, calling to remind you that your bill for Belanger Move & Store is delinquent. You owe for December and now January.”
“Belanger Move & Store? Patty, do we have a storage unit?”
He was either a remarkable actor, or the name truly didn’t ring a bell.
A woman in the background said, “No. We haven’t had a storage unit in ages. Why?”
“Because our bill is delinquent… Umm, I’m sorry, but the wife doesn’t know anything about it either. When was it rented?”
“November. You paid cash for the first month when you took possession, but the bill hasn’t been paid since then.”
“Part of me wants to see what’s in there, but I’m kind of afraid to find something from Silence Of The Lambs. It’s not my stuff. Did whoever rented it use my ID?”
“I have a copy of an ID on file… 5’9”, 170 pounds, black, born April 9, 1940.”
He chuckled, “Okay, you just don’t have a good number for another Shawn Ingram. I’m 6’2”, 200 pounds, white, and I was born September 29, 1962.”
“I’m sorry for the trouble then.”
“No problem. Good luck tracking the right Shawn down. I definitely don’t want a storage unit full of heads to come back and haunt me. Have a good one.”
I held my thumb over the switch on the phone and offered, “Shawn Ingram seems to have a pulse. He didn’t react when I mentioned his Maker’s name.”
Sookie’s eyes welled. “Good for him… You probably don’t want to know what his Maker did to him.”
“I have an idea… Shawn has officially been-” I paused when I finally heard a vehicle. “Company?”
Sookie looked towards the door, but Adele offered, “That’s probably just Jason. I called to let him know I made chicken and dumplings for dinner. He lives off of pizza unless I call him with a better option.”
After a moment Sookie nodded and groaned, “Yeah. Jason… and he’s got Christmas music stuck in his head again. Frosty The Snowman.”
Adele snickered, “It’s still better than after he got that Gameboy. You wanted the US to bomb Russia just because of Tetris music.”
She looked at me and gave me a very serious nod. “The Cold War was anticlimactic.”
I chuckled, “It could be worse. Pam whistled Steamboat Bill for long enough that I fantasized about hunting down and killing the entire Disney clan.”
Sookie snickered, “Jesus… Now that I know about the braid, I wonder if there’s a Disney-free version of the world.”
“I doubt it. I wouldn’t have actually done it, but there’s only so many times one can be stuck in Midtown traffic with someone whistling the same song before arterial red becomes their favorite col-”
Jason blustered into the house, making a bee line for the kitchen, “I ain’t even gonna get in the way. I’m just gonna grab supper and head out…”
He’d left his truck running, but when he saw me he stopped cold.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”
I knew that look. I saw it often enough.
Apparently, Jason Stackhouse was a sports fan.
Adele left her seat to slap his shoulder and chide, “Jason Stackhouse, you watch your mouth! And mind your manners!”
He pointed at me and argued, “But… but… but…”
“But what? That’s Eric Northman. He’s our company. You’ll be polite, or you’ll fetch a switch.”
I had to assume that Adele was defending ‘the Vampire’ from her ‘startled’ grandson.
Sookie took a sharp breath and began looking back and forth between me and her brother.
I left my seat and offered my hand to shake Jason’s. “Nice to meet you, Jason.”
His chin bounced and he only managed to move his arm enough to hold my hand. I had to do the shaking.
He finally choked, “The Rangers suck this season, but the Knicks is doin’ a’right.”
“I usually break even… The Yankees just returned from the Series, but the Giants sucked so much cock this year I had bibs made for them.”
He sounded retarded when he laughed, “You’re the Eric Northman. In my Gran’s kitchen. Eric Northman… You get mugged? Carjacked?”
“Your sister gives an incredible shoulder rub.”
Sookie snorted when she laughed, “It’s a long story, Jason… Want to cancel your date so you can stick around for it?”
Jason was still staring at me like I was glamouring him when he nodded. “So I can eat chicken and dumplins with Eric fuckin’ Northman? Yeah. I don’t even care if nobody believes me.”
Adele gave me a long look before asking Jason, “Why are you going on like this?”
Jason finally looked away from me and scoffed, “This is what you get for not having cable… He owns everything in New York, Gran! Rangers, Knicks, Giants, Yankees, stadiums, arenas… I know you know who Ted Turner is…”
Adele nodded. “Who doesn’t?”
“Ted Turner is to TV, what Eric Northman is to sports.”
I corrected, “He owns the Braves, but I don’t own any television channels.”
“But you have newspapers.”
I chuckled, “Fair enough,” as I returned to my seat. “You left your engine running.”
“My wha- OH! Damn! Be right back.”
As he ran out, Sookie shook her head. “Sookie said you aren’t a sports fan. She said you think it’s funny when your friends get riled up about their teams. You contribute Kleenex to Sunday suppers during football season.”
“I’m not really a sports fan… I’m also not a gambler. I’m an investor… There’s a lot of money to be made in professional sports. The best part of those particular acquisitions is that as an owner, I can’t place bets, so my friends don’t goad me into wagers.”
Sookie mouthed, “Wow,” and leaned back in her chair. “That’s just… You own all of them? A team in all four major American sports…”
“And a few casinos. I considered NASCAR long enough to do some research, but the noise is tremendous. I didn’t sit through a whole lap.” I still didn’t understand how Bartlett Crowe could stand it.
Her eyes widened to the point that she looked like a startled rabbit. “Yeah, I could see how that would be a con.”
“I’m just… I offered to run to Wal-Mart to buy shoes for a mogul.”
I chuckled, “You have me confused with Pam. She’s the one who would hide somewhere until a shipment of designer clothing arrived… Any ideas on how we should we go about finding out about the origins of your boss’s child?”
She sighed, “Hadley could lie to me over the phone, but… If I ask Sam in person, I might be able to get the truth out of his head.”
“I could beat it out of him too. Sam it is.”
Given that the Stackhouses were eating their meal, I ended up offering most of the braid tutorial until Sookie was finished eating. Adele was the one who asked questions, and Jason was the one who gawked silently.
Even though a Jason had contacted Pam, he hadn’t ever experienced anything ‘braidish’ and neither had Adele. Out of curiosity, I left the house and returned again without an invitation, proving (as far as I knew) that I’d been invited into that house… especially once my invitation was rescinded successfully and reissued.
The fact that Liberated had taken Atum’s blood, giving him access to the braid in theory, made it all the more obvious that Klaasje wasn’t my reason to rise 1500 miles from where I died… And given that Shawn Ingram was alive, well, and obviously not in need of fostering, I was left with the lingering concept that Sookie, and all of her potential, had been my ticket to the braid.
Sookie may very well benefit from knowing her half-brother, and I was sure if Hadley had secretly had a child, it might be worth the time to look into that, but…
It very much seemed like the braid had swallowed Sookie and me for the primary purpose of ending her frustratingly bland and practically penniless existence as a stymied wallflower in a pissant town like Bon Temps…
This is what I get for saying I was bored.
And to drive the point home, when I was sure Sookie and I had explained as much as possible about our experience, Jason asked, “Ya want help packing?”
Sookie shook her head. “What?”
He scoffed, blowing bubbles into his tea, and clarified, “For New York! Ya want help packin’ for New York? Only a dumbass would stay here and wait tables when they could be rollin’ in so much cash they give it away…” He grabbed a strap of cash and fanned the bills. “You got this heap’a startup cash and everything. Ain’t no reason to not try.”
The idiot made a fair point… with a dumpling stuck to his chin… but Sookie looked hesitant before she glanced at the phonebook… hinting that Brandon and ‘Della’ would most likely be catalysts for any decision she made.
I offered, “If that’s what she wants to do, I’m sure the Queen of New York would offer protection and plenty of time and opportunities to practice. I can offer the auxiliary instruction she’d need and a place to stay. It’s up to her.”
Adele snorted, “Not if I’ll evict her.”
Sookie laughed, “Gran! That’s just… You’re a turd.”
Adele nodded. “The same turd that’s got a huge I-told-you-so for you. I’ve told you all along that you didn’t need to be miserable. God love that other Eric for getting to that other You when he did. She’s had Her troubles, but She isn’t miserable. Sounds to me like Supernatural University is the best thing for you. Why in hades would you stay in a wheelchair when you can run marathons, Sookie? Go to New York, make millions, and take me on amazing vacations between contracts.”
Sookie’s chin puckered and her eyes welled… and then she excused herself.
Jason waited long enough for her to shut a door in the back of the house before whispering, “She’s scared. I know I’m just hearin’ bout my thing, but you’re hopeful and proud, Eric’s pretty neutral on things, and Sook’s scared.”
Adele huffed, “Of course she’s scared, Jason. Bon Temps is the devil she knows, but it’s always going to be here… If she doesn’t like New York, she can come home… but as much as I’ll miss her, I hope she loves it there.”
I corrected, “She couldn’t actually retire. She’d be forced to continue working unless she wanted to do something as drastic as a witness relocation type of guise. The other Sookie uses a false identity to keep her family secret.”
“But she comes and goes. It’s not like she can stop reading minds. The other Sookie works, comes home for a while, and then moves on to the next job. It’s not like she’d have to work for the same jerk forever.”
“And from what I could tell, she loves what she does…”
Jason added, “And I think Sook wants to want to do it… when she was talkin’ about the travelin’ and stuff, she was kinda jealous, but not in a bad way.”
I scoffed, “Really? That quickly? You’ve known you’re empathic for less than half an hour and you’re already picking apart the moods of a small group?”
He shrugged. “It ain’t all my ability, dude. I’ve known Sook all her life… but yeah, I guess it’s quick… but I guess it helps Gran’s feelin’ the same as me ‘bout most stuff, so it’s just… I dunno, amplified? So sometimes Sook was…”
When he trailed off, I offered, “Contrary?”
“Sure, I guess… Like when she was talkin’ bout that massage stuff… I almost felt like I was gettin’ a rub ‘cuz she was rememberin’ how it felt. That was kinda cool. Do I get some?”
I called out, “Sookie, we need to leave. I don’t want to kill your brother to protect my share of the massage oil!”
Jason chuckled, “Don’t be stingy. I’m an empath. I can share the effects, right? Once I learn how.”
“I need to find a Faerie. Only one of those bottles are meant for me…”
Jason snorted, “Fuck that. Keep ‘em all. Those others don’t know what they’re missin’ and if all y’all run out at the same time, New York’s gonna be full’a bitchy Vampires. Keepin’ it to yerself ‘til ya got a stockpile ‘a ingredients, is tha right thing ta do.”
Sookie sighed as she joined us again, purse in hand, reaching for a strap of cash. “I’m ready when you are. I guess Wal-Mart is first.”
“Nevermind. I changed my mind about your brother. He has some good ideas.”
She snickered, “I heard… And if you’re feeling appreciative of his advice he prefers to be tipped in salt.”
I turned to ask Jason, “Why the salt?”
He cut his eyes to Adele briefly before clearing his throat. “Uhhhhh… Because ummmm…”
Sookie giggled, “Since Jason’s not testing your patience anymore, should I call Brandon before we head out?”
“Yes, but why are we changing the subject?”
“Because I don’t speak a thousand languages, so I can’t tell you what Jason doesn’t want to say in front of Gran.” Jason’s face puckered.
“But you’ll tell me while we’re at Wal-Mart?”
I nodded. “Alright. Call Brandon then… Out of curiosity, why aren’t we visiting him?”
“Other versions met him in person, but we don’t know if he has kids, so I don’t want him to feel cornered with another telepath in the room… especially if he needs to work up his shields like I do. I thought I’d call him and tell him to get his butt over here to meet his family… That way he has time to brace himself and rehearse if he wants to.”
“What if he tells you to fuck off?”
She snickered, “Then so be it. I’d rather be told that over the phone anyway.”
When she reached for the phone, Jason shook his head and shifted to pull his cell phone out of his pocket… He explained, “Speakerphone.”
She huffed while she punched the keys, and there were three rings before she found the button to control the speaker.
Liberated had typed at an impressive pace and was burning discs for us… my Sookie was going to need some technical tutoring.
Brandon answered the call with a loaded, “Hello?”
Sookie nibbled her lip and asked, “Brandon?”
“Yeah. Who’s this?”
If I didn’t hear music in the background I would have thought the call had been dropped. He was holding his breath.
Sookie sighed, “So you know who I am.”
“So… we just found out about you. We really want to meet you.”
“Who is we?”
“Your grandmother, your brother, and your sister.”
There was a long pause, followed by the sound of a door closing. “You’re serious.”
There was an evil glint in her eye when she asked, “Can you read my mind from work?”
Jason and Adele threw lemon wedges at her for fucking with him, but I was amused.
Sookie didn’t make Brandon wait for any form of relief before she giggled, “Sorry. Gran and Jason just threw food at me for that… I guessed that you’re at work because of the Celine Dion in the background, and I know you’re a telepath. I am too. Jason’s empathic. You aren’t a freak, but I only stopped thinking I was one a little while ago.”
“You can read minds too?”
“Yes sir. Since birth… I can tell you more about that too… When are you coming over?”
“Ummmm. No time like the present?”
He scoffed, “You were right about me being at work. I don’t get off until eight…”
“We’ll see ya around nine-ish then?”
“You’re really pushy.”
She snickered, “I just found out I have another big brother. Cut me some slack.”
After yet another pause, he asked, “If you’re like me then… you know why I didn’t want to approach you guys. I didn’t want… I never felt sorry for myself. I never felt like I was missing out… I didn’t want to end up being ‘the bastard’ or ‘the freak’… I didn’t want to hear that my mom was a home-wrecker… I didn’t want my dad, the one who adopted me, to think he wasn’t good enough… I was curious about you and Jason, but that might be because I was an only child. I just didn’t want curiosity to kill the cat. Don’t fix what isn’t broken…”
I honestly couldn’t fault him for a single one of those concerns… it seemed reasonable for any child to have the same fears, and taking his ability into consideration only added a layer of anxiety. Even if the Stackhouses greeted the new family member with open arms, Brandon would have known about every unspoken curiosity and concern they had.
Sookie offered, “I can tell you right now that you would have heard about how much you look like our father, and your voice gave Gran chills because you sound so much like him. Jason would have been happy to have a partner in crime, and I would have been over the moon just to know I wasn’t the only telepath on the planet… And… Gran’s thinking about how sad she is that your mom thought she had to do it on her own.”
“She was awesome. She didn’t need help.”
Sookie snickered, “Gran thought that too… She liked your mother just because she made our father happy. See you in a little bit.”
As soon as Sookie handed Jason’s phone back to him, Adele chided, “You didn’t ask if he has any babies.”
Sookie shrugged, “I doubt he does… They don’t play Celine Dion in garages. Together Sookie said other Brandons went to Vo-Tech when he found out he was going to be a daddy and ended up working as a mechanic somewhere…”
I offered, “I think he’s working in a bookstore, if that helps. Someone asked for the new James Patterson book before he left the floor for privacy.”
“Sounds about right. Sookie said he’s a wiz with computers and inherited the bibliophile gene from Gran.”
Jason snorted, “Great. I got a brother, but he’s a geek too.”
He was joking, but Adele still swatted his leg as she left the table to begin pulling ingredients from the pantry.
Sookie explained, “He played sports with the other version of us when we were all little, but his dad was really sick and couldn’t coach or practice with him anymore. He switched to computers and gaming because he knew Tom was pushing himself too hard.”
“Damn… Good on him then… You played sports?”
Sookie looked as surprised as Jason did when she nodded. “She pitched the Bon Temps softball team to state championships, and did gymnastics, and dance… She learned how to control Her ability so early She didn’t mind big groups of people.”
“Yeah? Is She a reader too? I always thought you read just ‘cuz ya didn’t like bein’ round people.”
“She has a ridiculous library. I almost didn’t want to come home.”
I chuckled, “Did that have anything to do with the massage I gave you?”
She blushed when she snickered, “No. That oil was a perk, but I would’ve stayed just for the books She had in Her nightstand.”
Jason looked back and forth between Sookie and me for a moment before clearing his throat. “So since Gran’s making a pie, we should go get some shoes for Mr. New York and then go beat the shit outta Merlotte until he gives up his baby-mama.”
I nodded, but Sookie shook her head. “No. I’m pretty sure Eric can take care of a Shifter. You’re not going with us.”
“Because you’re already riled up, jackhole. You don’t need to go into what could be a conversation and turn it into a bar fight.”
I argued, “But that could be fun.”
Jason added, “If he lies to ya, tha Vampire could crush his head before Merlotte can answer ya.”
Sookie scoffed, “I got some pointers, so even if he lies to me, I should know better. And if Eric couldn’t control himself, I’d have a few broken ribs already…”
“What tha hell am I s’posed to do while I wait fer Brandon to get here then?”
“Ummm, you can go through the family pictures and look for good pictures of Daddy. The Walgreens on the highway has a photo-lab. You can have copies made for him.”
“As opposed to riling up Gran by pacing the floor here, or going with us to Merlotte’s to exacerbate an already awkward conversation? Yes.”
He was growling when Adele asked, “All in favor?” and raised her hand.
As Sookie and I raised our hands, I offered, “Emotions don’t have any place in interrogations or negotiations… I think your newfound ability could complicate things because we don’t know how well you can handle stressful situations without practice.”
He blew a raspberry in Sookie’s direction. “Only ‘cuz a’that, damnit! And ya better not waste no time either. I’ll have all yer shit packed b’fore ya get back!”
Adele abandoned her work at the counter long enough to swat the back of Jason’s head and warn, “If you’ve got extra time, you’ll lightproof upstairs for Eric. He’s going to need somewhere safe to stay for the day and he can’t risk checking into a hotel without being recognized.”
Jason stared at me for a moment with an expression I couldn’t read… it went on long enough that I almost had the chance to tell him to not go to the trouble… It’s not as though I could tell what gave him pause…
He finally nodded and sighed, “Yeah, that’s good. That’ll get me through waitin’. Thanks Gran.”
I chuckled, “Shouldn’t you be more worried about having a Vampire stay with your grandmother and sister?”
He shrugged. “Nah. It’d take a week for me to unfuck my basement for ya.”
They were all mad.
It was one thing for Liberated to have her home prepared for Vampire company given her line of work, need for guards, and future Maker…
But the Stackhouses seemed so hospitable I wanted to question their sanity…
I probably would have if I didn’t feel so bizarrely welcome in a Human home…
‘Pussy Whipped’ might not have been as fitting of a nickname for the other version of Me… Hearing he’d been attending family gatherings with them, and that Pam had adopted a Stackhouse in-law as a foster, might have just added to the astonishing situation…
Maybe he wasn’t as pussy whipped as I thought… it might have just been that he was simply enjoying the culture shock.