How To Build A Better Mousetrap
Unsettled debts had never been something I ignored. Even exchanges were my preferred method of barter.
It wasn’t as though I was ‘too honorable’… I was just pragmatic enough to know that unfinished business always resurfaced at the wrong time… usually making me regret having needed a favor to begin with.
Trying to remember my lost 12 weeks seemed to be as good an excuse as any to get access to Sookie’s life and repay her in spite of her refusals. After all, my amnesia allowed a few nights of leeway.
Sookie fell asleep against the window of my SUV shortly after we left my house. Better, perhaps, since I was fuming about the news that my Corvette disappeared from Fangtasia and had never been recovered. The idea that it had been sold piece by piece to subsidize Hallow’s coven… six fucking figures worth of patchouli, wolf’s bane and eye of newt…
It was easy to tell that Sookie was still not well. Her mood didn’t seem affected, but she was prone to chills from her waxing and waning fever, and her heart rate was erratic… all the more impressive given that she’d been party to the siege on Fangtasia.
I was disappointed that I needed to wake her, but Bon Temps had never been more than a highway exit to me before.
She sleepily giggled her apology for not thinking I’d need directions since I’d been living there for so long.
There was a long silence that I didn’t mind and it was only broken by a series of long yawns.
Her pitted driveway was bad enough that it could’ve given me whiplash and it easily made its way to my list of steps to take toward repaying the favor of her care. From the street to our stopping point in front of her house, I barely took my eyes from the way her body bounced in her seat next to me.
I was only distracted from appreciating Pam’s choice of clothing for Sookie by the way she groaned. It wasn’t the type of groan I would’ve preferred…
Following her line of sight, I saw that there was an old truck already parked and a man pacing on her porch with a cell phone to his ear.
“Is he a threat?”
She slumped in her seat. “No. That’s Sam Merlotte. He’s my boss. He’s probably worried about me since I never call in sick.”
“You are sick though.”
“I was well enough to participate in a revolution last night. I was playing hooky today… and he’s not big on Vampires.”
“I’m not looking for fans.”
She huffed and reached for the door handle. “Neither is he.”
“Then perhaps you could exaggerate your health. It’ll give us a reason to not let him stay.”
She stared at me for a moment before she gave a slight nod. “It’s worth a try… what’ll we tell him?”
“We’ll play it by ear.”
When I lifted Sookie from her seat, her boss ran towards us, “Jesus Sookie! What happened to you?”
I answered for her. “She’s suffering from exhaustion. She collapsed last night and needed medical attention.” Even if Pam was the one to administer the health regimen.
It seemed like his scent reached me at the same moment mine reached him. Shifter. Vampire. Lovely. He stopped in his tracks and gaped as I walked past him to the front door. “Who the hell are you?”
“Jan.” Sookie turned her face into my neck so that her amusement could be hidden under a phony yawn.
“How do you know Sookie?”
“I’m an old friend of Adele’s. Do you mind opening the door so that I don’t have to put her down?”
He scowled, but he took Sookie’s key from her. “How do you know Adele then?”
“There was a time when Adele and I were… very close.” Sookie snorted and turned it into a bogus cough.
“Adele… Adele Stackhouse?” I nodded as I stepped into the house and took a moment to note how fucking bizarre it was to not need an invitation.
Sookie sighed, “Jan and I go way back.” We did. Almost three whole months.
The Shifter shook his head. “Jan huh? You look a lot like that Sheriff who went missing.”
He followed as I took Sookie to the living room and set her on the sofa. “I’ve heard.”
“If you’re an ‘old friend’ of Adele, then why is it that I haven’t seen you around?”
“Don’t you mean smell me around?” His mouth opened again, I had to assume that he hadn’t told Sookie what he was, but I didn’t give him the chance to reply… I weighed my options and hoped the bathroom, more specifically the medicine cabinet, was down the dark hallway. Luckily, I found what I’d been looking for. Even though they were meant for ‘senior citizens’ the vitamins in the bathroom were better than nothing. I hadn’t needed to look for a blanket since there was already an old quilt spread over the end of the bed in the bedroom along the way and I returned to Sookie, almost proud of myself for thinking to get a glass of water.
She grinned, letting me wrap the quilt around her shoulders and taking her pills and water. “Thanks… Jan.”
Sam growled, “Jan. Jan what?”
“Jan Vanook? What kind of name is that?”
“VanLuik. It’s an uncommon Dutch variation of the Belgian municipality of Liège. In America, it’s pronounced Van Loo-Ick. It simply means ‘from Liège’. Your turn.”
“My turn to what?”
“Provide a history of your name.”
“Because you seem to be testing me. It only seems fair.”
“You’re telling me that you aren’t the asshole Sheriff of Area 5? Eric Northman.”
“Unless I’ve managed to somehow forget that I’m part of the Vampire power structure, which I find unlikely…”
Sookie cut me off by snickering. “You two stop… Sorry I missed my shift, Sam. Can I get you something to drink?”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You stay where you are. I’ll take care of it.”
It wasn’t as though I made a habit of playing butler, but I wanted an excuse to go back into the kitchen.
When I came back, I set a bowl of water on the coffee table in front of Sam and took my place next to Sookie… on the sofa I’d never sat on, but still smelled like me.
Sookie gave me a confused look when she noticed the stack of bills and phonebook in my lap and ignored that Sam was growling over his water dish… I’d put ice in it and everything.
I’d barely sat down before a cat jumped onto the back of the sofa and began rubbing her face against mine. She purred enthusiastically and licked the side of my neck… the cat clearly remembered me.
Sookie giggled weakly, “Tina missed you.”
“What can I say? I’m a pussy magnet.”
Sookie blushed and nodded to the assortment of envelopes on my lap. “What are you up to?”
“I’m making sure that missing a few days of work doesn’t cost you more than a few tips… Would you like some privacy? Tina and I can go to another room.”
She cut her eyes from my ‘project’ to my face. “No. You’re… you’re fine.”
I put my hand on the back of her neck, giving her another chill and making Tina jealous enough to bite my other hand. “Your fever is back. Can you take more medication so soon?” She’d only taken a ‘fever reducer’ that Pam had given her an hour earlier.
“No. I’ll take a cool bath in a bit though. That’ll help… So, Sam… What’s up?” She never took her eyes off of my hands as I pulled the first bill out of the envelope and paid the phone bill.
He stuttered, “I… I… Arlene said someone called last night because they found you really sick.”
“Yeah. He took me to Shreveport. They kept me overnight. I’m fine though.”
“You work too hard.”
While I listened to phone prompts for the power bill, I offered, “Not for long. She’s cutting back her hours drastically.”
He cocked his head to the side… like I made his favorite toy squeak. Cute. “Oh really? Does she know that?”
“She doesn’t need two jobs any longer. If I had my way, she wouldn’t work at all, but she’s choosing which position to quit.” She raised her eyebrow.
He snapped, “Who the hell are you to say…?”
“Jan. Van. Luik. We’ve met. I’ve seen monkeys with better memorization skills…”
“You know what I’m talking about. Why should she quit either of her jobs? You don’t own her.”
“Do you enjoy that she worked 90 hours last week?”
“Then perhaps you’d like to reconsider your position. As her friend, you should discourage her from working until she needs to be treated for exhaustion.”
He nodded towards the mail in my lap. “And what’s she gonna have to do to repay you?”
“Shelter me, clothe me, feed me.” Sookie giggled, knowing the debt was already paid in full…
Sam was not as amused. “You son of a bitch! Sookie’s a good girl! She doesn’t need your Vampire shit…!”
“Vampires don’t shit.”
“You know what I mean…”
“We also don’t piss on trees.”
“Or turn around several times before lying down…”
He stood up to loom over me as I ignored him to enter my card number to pay her brother’s old power bill and toss the bill into the fireplace for kindling later. “You’ve got no right!”
“I’m waiting for you to make a rational argument… Is this common etiquette? Visit an ailing friend to argue with someone trying to care for them?”
“Then sit down.” When he did, I let myself laugh, “Good boy.”
When my laughter seemed to piss him off again, Sookie laid her head on my shoulder and cooed, “Sam, I know you’re a Shifter. Stop making yourself an easy target.”
Judging by the look on his face, he was lucky to already be sitting. “How?”
“When I started working at the service station, I met a Wolf. His mind is just like yours. He was actually honest about what he is…”
“Sook… I’m sorry… I just…”
“I’m over it. I was bitter at first, but I have more on my plate than worrying about why you’d hide it …” Sookie was interrupted by the sound of another vehicle bouncing up her driveway. “….I get it. It only hurt because you know what I am.” She lifted her head and looked at me. “Am I allowed to answer the door?”
When I got up, she snatched the bills from where I set them on the coffee table and put them under her… as though that could discourage me.
Tina followed me to the foyer and paced between my ankles while I opened the door. The young female Were staring back at me managed to look puzzled without tilting her head like a cliché. “Um… Is… Is Sookie here?” The child on her hip tilted his head up to stare and the expectant grin on his face diminished.
I nodded. “She is.”
“Is she alright? She wasn’t at work today. Either job…” She stopped herself, like she’d decided not to say what was on her mind. “Shit. Sorry. I just didn’t know Sook has any Vampire friends. And… Well, I smelled Shifter on the porch here…”
“She has a couple of ‘Vampire friends’… She’s not well. Fever and exhaustion… The Shifter you smelled is her boss…”
“Ew… Merlotte? Yeah… I uh… Tray told me she was under the weather… This works, you answering the door and all… tell her Becky stopped by and I’m not talking to her. Give her this please.”
I took the basket from her hand and Tina stopped pacing to hiss at it. It was full of conflicting odors. Food items. “How were you planning to give her the silent treatment when you came to see her?”
“She’ll know what it means… Are you tending to her or just visiting?”
“I’ll be here for a few nights.”
“Good, good… Just a tip, she’s a mule, that one. You might have to sit on her to make her take it easy.”
“Tell her I’ll be by to not talk to her tomorrow.”
I almost laughed. “I’ll do that.”
As she turned to leave, the tot argued, “See Sookie.”
“Sorry Nate, Sookie’s sick.”
“Sookie sick? Like me?”
Becky grumbled, “Yes sir… Probably just like you were.”
I followed her to her car, accidentally startling her. “Since you know how stubborn she can be…”
“I’m at a loss when it comes to groceries. Would you mind? If I took her shopping…”
“God knows she’d make you want to roll in silver by the time you’re done… yeah, yeah. No problem. She’ll kick my ass though…”
“Not when you tell her that I threatened your boy.”
“What? My boy?”
I nodded towards Nate as I pulled out my wallet. “Of course. If you don’t go shopping for healthy groceries for Sookie, then he’ll have to suffer without his favorite snack.”
She giggled and took the cash from me. “You’d better not tell her where you’re resting for the day. That’ll get you a broken nose… I’ll be back tomorrow.”
As I returned to my seat, Sookie waited for news of the visitor that left without entering. I quickly slid my hand under her ass, pinched her and took back the bills. She squeaked, but I didn’t give her the chance to argue. “Becky isn’t talking to you.”
She smiled as she looked through the care package and called her a ‘mother hen’.
Sam huffed when he smelled the Were on the basket, “So you’ve got Vampires and Wolves crawling all over the place now.”
She sighed, “Seems like it.”
“I think so.”
“Weres are freaks. You need to watch your ass…”
“Jan, can I uninvite Shifters with attitude problems?” I was sure she already knew the answer.
“No, but I can take him outside and pull his head off.”
“Echhhh. Messy… Sam, thanks for stopping by and all, but you’re being a jerk about my friends and I’m not up to arguing with you about it.”
“Sookie, what are you doing with him?” One thing could be said for the Shifter… at least he had the balls to be an asshole to my face.
“I’m sitting on the couch, hoping Jan doesn’t take advantage of me being too sick to resist having the roof redone.”
Fabulous idea. When I smirked, she grabbed the phone book from my lap and tossed it into the fireplace.
“That would’ve been more effective if there was an actual fire burning.”
She crashed her head into my shoulder and snickered.
Sam didn’t seem to care that Sookie wasn’t regarding me with any fear, but it was almost all I could think about. “Fine. I can’t get anything outta you… Y’all have fun. I’m gonna hope the next time I see you that you aren’t a Vampire.”
Sookie snorted, “K. I’m gonna hope that you get your head out of your ass.”
“You don’t know what they’re capable of, you stupid kid!”
Without warning, Sookie lurched forward to grab a candlestick from the coffee table and threw it at his head…
There were speckles of blood on his shirt before the candlestick shattered against the floor. “Get out!”
He fingered the gash in his forehead and scowled at her. “You little shit! This is how you act when someone worries about you!?”
“No! I usually ignore their paranoia and do whatever the hell I want anyway. That is how I act when someone calls me stupid. Screw you, Sam Merlotte.”
“You’re letting a Vampire pay your bills! You have no idea what he’s going to want in return!”
“Jan’s such a big scary Vampire, he could glamour me anyway.”
“If you know that then…?”
“Jan is more welcome here than you are. He practically lives here and he can do whatever he wants. End of story. Get out.”
“I want to talk to you alone. UN. IN. VITE him!”
“No! You don’t own me! You don’t get to boss me around!”
“He doesn’t own you either, but he can still control you!”
She struggled to get to her feet and grabbed the candlestick’s mate. “Get out or you’re gonna regret it. I’ll put some ass behind the next pitch.”
Her heart was racing and she was short of breath… he’d upset her past his worth.
His posture straightened when I stood up. Amusing at best. “You’ve become an outside pet. Let’s go. Don’t make me roll up a newspaper.”
“Go fuck yourself. I’m not leaving you with her!”
“You don’t have a choice…”
“I can’t be uninvited!” He said it as though he wanted to punctuate the remark by saying ‘nanny nanny boo boo’.
I moved quickly enough that he didn’t see anything before one of my arms was pinning his to his sides and the other had pulled his legs up to keep him from kicking… And started walking for the door. “Magic notwithstanding, you can still be banished from a home, pooch.”
He struggled in vain as I carried him to the door. As soon as I got there, I realized the flaw in my plan… I needed another hand. Fortunately, Sookie had followed and turned the knob, swinging the door open for me.
He was lucky that he’d left his window open so that I could toss him through the opening instead of through the glass. He bounced into the floorboard of his truck and was still fighting to right himself when I issued his warning. “Leave. Don’t return. If I smell you anywhere near this piece of property, what’s left of Longtooth and Hotshot will be offered a mint to bring your head to me.”
I closed the door behind me as Sam’s truck dug into the already suffering gravel… Sookie cringed with her hands on her curvy hips. “I’m sorry. He’s been a jerk to me for months. Rejection doesn’t look good on him.”
“Ahhh. A jilted lover.”
“Pshhh. He wishes. We were friends for a long time, but he started being a real pain in my ass when our only date didn’t go like he planned. Such is the landslide. This is where we’ve been for a while. He freaking smells me when I come in from my other job. Creep.”
“I’ve smelled you.”
“Because I smell different. Not because you’re smelling for other Supes.” She made her way back to the sofa, wrapped herself in the quilt again and slumped over.
“You promised that you’d take a cool bath, not insulate your already elevated body temperature.”
She blew a raspberry. “Thanks Dr. Northman, but…”
“We can play doctor once you’re health improves if you’d like.”
“Take your bath before your fever worsens.”
“You’re like a tall, beefy version of Gran… Don’t be such a bully. I don’t feel well.”
“You’re a tempting, curvaceous crybaby with thighs made for snacking from. Don’t be such a whiner. You don’t want to see what I’m like when I’m being a bully.”
She gasped and covered her head with the quilt and mumbled, “I just saw you carry a grown man and toss him like a sack of potatoes. I’m pretty sure that was bully behavior.”
“So you know that I only have so much patience.”
“It’s a shame you don’t remember Gran. I’m sure she warned Jan that I’m pretty stubborn.”
“As much was mentioned in the video.”
She grumbled from her hiding place. “There you have it then.”
“I suppose so.”
She squealed and kicked from the moment she realized that I’d picked her up. From her wrapping, Sookie fought strong enough that I almost lost my grip on her on my way to the bathroom.
Her feet were still flailing as I set her in the bathtub and took the blanket off of her.
Sookie clenched her fists to complete her ensemble of pouty lips and narrowed eyes.
She breathlessly started, “You big…!” but she stopped herself and stepped onto the side of her bathtub, giving herself a slight height advantage to restart her tirade. “You big bully! I just got done defending you! Refusing to uninvite you! And then you toss me into the tub like… like a big brute!”
“Are you done?”
“No. I’m. Not. You don’t get to do this! You’re my guest! Not my keeper!”
I waited a moment… “Now?”
“Nice touch, standing on the tub… I was almost scared.”
She tried, I’ll give her that, she tried to continue her nasty glare, but she couldn’t hold back… She stepped down and shoved my shoulders, laughing, “You were not!”
“I said ‘almost’. Take your bath.”
“You just want to go through my bills.”
“I’ve already proven that I’m not shy about doing that in front of you.”
She groaned, “Do you always get your way?”
“Usually. Would you like some help undressing?”
She shook her head, pretending that she wasn’t blushing. “I think I can manage.”
“Wash your back?” Tongue bathe your thighs…?
She raised her eyebrow. “You’re unintived from my bathroom, perv.”
“It doesn’t quite work that way.”
“Oh well. Shoo anyway.”
“Vamoose. Depart. Scram. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. Make tracks. Skedaddle… GÅ BORT.”
“I’m starting to think you don’t want me around.”
She giggled and stepped onto the side of the tub again to kiss my cheek. “Go on. You have snooping around you want to do anyway.”
For the next half hour I paid every bill I could find and arranged to have the driveway ‘repaired’ posthaste.
I went back to the bathroom, only leaning in to ask a question while she showered, but I was met with a wall of steam. “How is that supposed to help your fever?”
She shrieked, “You didn’t knock!”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m washing. I have this thing… I don’t like soaking when… What do you want?”
“Do you prefer a compact or is it just what you could afford at the time?” Her car was appalling. Good taste aside, that ‘vehicle’ had no less than one tire in the proverbial grave.
“You’ll answer or I’ll surprise you.”
The towel draped over the shower curtain rod disappeared and it only took her a second to wrap the towel around herself, shove open the curtain and advance… She stopped with her chest against mine. “Stop.”
“I don’t have to. Just because Jan…”
“Stop. I’m putting my foot down. You can either stop or I will actually uninvite you. I don’t want it. I don’t expect it. What the hell do you think you’re going to accomplish by buying me things?”
“Thank you properly.”
“The best way for you to thank me is to respect my wishes.”
“You were dependable when no one else could be trusted. The least I can do…”
“You repaid me and my Gran for the damn True Bloods and then some with the phone bill if that’s what you’re worried about. You don’t owe me anything else.”
“If it hadn’t been for you and Adele, I’d be quite dead. Without knowing who put me in a position to not have a memory, I’d have exposed myself. Everything I have is yours.”
“Fine. I’ll let you know if I need any of it. Until then, stop.”
“I already chose a new car for you… I was simply looking for validation of my selection.” I could order it quickly enough while she was finishing in the bathroom.
“No you didn’t. If you lie to me, you’re outta here too.”
“Why would you accuse me of lying?”
“I can’t read your thoughts, but your mind was doing the same busy, twisty thing as it was when you were double-talking to spin Sam up. Let me guess, you were about to call to buy me a car, but thought better of it because it isn’t a compact.”
I smiled, wholly impressed with her pluck and sagacity. “Actually… I was about to call… I thought better of it because it IS small like your Civic.”
“That’s sweet, but I don’t want your money or anything it’ll buy me. Now… stop smiling at me when I’m naked.” She grabbed my arm and I let her push me through the door and slam the door behind me.
I could practically feel her leaning against the other side of the closed bathroom door. “Then you’re open to the idea of having a chauffeur… the car would still be mine, yes?”
She growled and hit the door while I laughed…
After sweeping up the broken glass from Merlotte’s visit, I used the ample pile of now paid bills to build a fire in the fireplace and tried to find something to watch on Television only to discover that Sookie had as few channels as she did movies.
With nothing else to do while I listened to the water drip, and refusing to let myself envy every drop of water that got to be in the tub with Sookie, I took the copy of Crime and Punishment from the pie-crust table…
Printed recently and overdue by two weeks, the library book reminded me that Jan suggested making a donation to the library in Adele’s name. I had the thought that Sookie might condone the expense, if not offer some ideas on tactics.
Doing my best to not move the book any more than necessary to avoid the grating sound of the cellophane covering, I scanned through the story quickly while absentmindedly letting Tina put my idle hand to use…
Marmeladov had just been run over by the carriage and when I turned the page, I found a bookmark…
A simple strip of hide… if I had to guess, I’d have said deer, but there was no animal scent left. It smelled of aloe and lanolin…
And I could imagine too vividly seeing it worked and rubbed between aged fingers like a worry stone…
I’d seen it.
Adele Stackhouse, sitting in the tapestry chair across from where I was resting… crocheted throw over her legs by the fire, reading and manipulating the pliable strip of leather between her fingers while she read…
“…Adele, are you anxious about something?”
She looked up at me and then to her hand when I nodded towards it. “Oh this? I don’t even realize I do it. I wear ‘em out… My husband started it as a joke because I frayed the ribbons I used to use. My boy kept it up and then Jason…” She stopped at his mention and her eyes welled before she forced her thoughts away from him. “They start out rough and stiff, but by the time they’d bring me another one, they’re like butter.”
Her eyes… her smile… her ease…
It was small.
It was brief.
A little piece, only a moment, of a much larger puzzle…
But it was a memory…
And I caught myself toying with the poignant souvenir while I remembered the scene over and over, trying in vain to push the bounds of the conversation.
I’d only gone to the bathroom to check on Sookie once I realized that she’d been in the tub for more than an hour.
She’d fallen to sleep…
And my view couldn’t have been better…
She was so still that the water barely moved with her gentle breathing… the cool water had made her little pink nipples draw up and stand above the water level… like little periscopes.
I quietly closed the lid on the commode and took a seat, prepared for an exciting show of indignation when I woke her.
Still mostly asleep, she purred, “Yeah?” I dipped my hand into the water to test it and it was cool to my touch. I was surprised her teeth weren’t chattering. “Would you like some company?”
“You wouldn’t fit in this tub.” Talking in her sleep?
“We could try and if it doesn’t work, I could have a bigger one installed tomorrow.” An amused little grin crossed her lips as she rolled over, resting her elbows on the back of the tub to use them as her pillow. The new view of her ass was just as tempting as her nipples had been… and the gap between her thighs… and the way her ass buoyed in and out of the water… and contour between her small waist and curvy hips…
“You’re bad.” And suddenly starving…
“I know. I’m also bored.”
“I have a deck of cards. You can play solitaire.”
“Since I’m naked too, we can play poker for sex acts.” If reminding her that she was nude didn’t rouse her, maybe the thought of being nude with me could…
“That wouldn’t be fair.”
“I promise to not cheat.”
Her giggle echoed off of the tub water, making it sound musical. “I meant because our pots are lopsided. I don’t even know if I’m a good kisser… I’m sure you’ve had plenty of time to perfect more than a few techniques.”
“I wouldn’t hold that against you.”
“How very magnanimous of you, Sheriff.”
“Then it’s settled. Wake up and entertain me.”
I couldn’t have taken my eyes from her body if I tried… She rolled over, her eyes still closed as she pushed herself to a sitting position and stretched her arms out… What I wouldn’t have given for a video of that… arching her back until her nipples begged to be adored, pinched, bitten…
The slight heart attack she may or may not have had when her eyes finally opened notwithstanding, I was too enthralled to move an inch.
She gasped suddenly enough that she choked as her hands grappled to yank the shower curtain over her body.
“Eric! Oh. My. God!” That was a pleasant start. “You… You’re… I’m… What do you want!?”
“I’ve been here for a while. I used boredom as an excuse to check on you.”
“While I’m naked!?”
“Would you be more comfortable if I removed my clothes?”
She gasped again. “No!”
“Then what are you waiting for? Get out of the tub. You agreed to playing cards for sexual favors.”
“I. DID. NOT… wait… Was I talking in my sleep?”
“I can’t be sure… You don’t have cable. You don’t have many books… unless you’re hiding a Twister mat…”
“You can’t hold me to something I said while I was sleeping.”
“Then you need to think of another way to entertain me… I’d be fine with poker for…”
She put her hands up to stop me, dropping the shower curtain and then scowling as though it was my fault.
“It’s a little late for the curtain, don’t you think? I’ll wait in the living room.”
I hadn’t been waiting long when Sookie stomped into the living room carrying a flashlight. She’d covered her body from her chin to her toes; hooded sweatshirt, flannel pajama pants, thick socks…
She tossed the flashlight onto the sofa next to me and began rooting around in the bottom of the hall closet. “Adding layers for strip poker?”
She giggled, “I’m a lot of things, but I’m not dumb enough to spend any amount of downtime next to a roaring fire with you and a deck of cards.”
“I’m offended, Sookie…”
“No you’re not.”
“The video didn’t mention how cheeky you are.”
She grunted as she pulled a rubber boot on. “Pam didn’t warn me that you’d start flirting as soon as we’re alone. I guess we’re even.”
“So then, what are we doing?”
“We’re going to go for a walk…”
“A walk? A quiet romantic walk?”
She nodded towards Tina who was happily lying across my lap. “As long as your girlfriend doesn’t mind, we’re going to walk over to the old Compton place. That’s where you were dying for the day. I think it might jog your memory.”
“We could do that here. I already miss your nipples.”
“I’m going to just assume that 3 months is a long time for you… but if I can last as long as I have, you’ll manage.” Three months wasn’t a ‘long time’, it was unprecedented, but I was relatively certain that I’d have a reaction to her regardless of a ‘dry spell’.
“How long has it been for you, Sookie?”
She huffed, “Years,” while grabbing the flashlight and a package from the basket Becky left and started for the door.
I let her get half way to the cemetery before I caught up to her. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to believe that. Is Bon Temps full of Sam Merlottes?”
She finished chewing a mouthful of some sort of sandwich before answering. “The world is.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“You’re being… I suppose the word would be frigid.”
“Uh oh. That’s gotta be bad… for a Vampire to call me frigid.”
“You were more good-natured in the video… more sociable.”
She shrugged and took another bite of her snack to delay answering. “You’re just here to try and get your memory back. No point in complicating things by being friends. You’ll be going back to your life when you remember what you missed.” I had to assume that she was operating under the belief that I could ignore what she’d done for me.
“I suppose then that you aren’t at all curious about what made Eric and Sookie seem so content to be a couple.”
“Maybe a little… but… her life hasn’t fallen apart. We’re on a different page I guess.”
“They all are from what I can gather… you’ve met 2 versions of yourself who were Mine. Both of them told you about other versions of reality where they’re together.”
“And there’s versions of me who were with some guys I’ve never heard of and even Sam… I’m not sure that curiosity is enough.”
“Would it sway you at all to know that I’m very curious?”
She snorted, almost choking on her food. “Tell you what, why don’t you run up to Waller’s Inn and find yourself a date… You’ll probably come to your senses once you’ve scratched that itch.”
“Do you really think so little of yourself? Do you really think that my interest in the creature that saved my ‘life’ would be strictly sexual?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Then what would you like to talk about?”
She stumbled through some overgrown weeds. Once she corrected herself, she huffed, “I dunno… While I was in the tub, did you trigger anything or did you just pay bills until you decided to be creepy?”
“Creeps lurk. I spoke as soon as I entered the room. You responded coherently. And yes, actually… I remembered part of a conversation with Adele. She explained her bookmark.”
Her eyes lit up when she looked at me, anything but apathetically. “Really? That’s… it’s something, right? Have you remembered why Tina was molesting you yet?”
“No… Do you know?”
She nodded. “I know a few things… I got them from Gran’s head. I’ll tell you if you want, but I think it’ll be more legit for you to learn on your own…” When she stumbled again, she dropped what was left of her sandwich and complained that the raccoons didn’t deserve Becky’s homemade bread.
I chuckled, reminding her that there were more sandwiches in the care package and picking her up.
“I don’t need you to carry me. I’m not a baby.”
“No. You’re a Human weakened by a fever. I’d hate for you to get hurt running an errand for my benefit.”
She groaned, but stopped arguing.
The flooring buckled under every step we took. The house was so ramshackle that it was hard to believe that a Human inhabited it less than a year earlier.
Sookie opened a closet door only to stir several moths when the door fell from the hinges. She laughed at herself for shrieking and took a moment to catch her breath. “We thought Jesse Compton died of old age…”
“Well, now… I think he was eaten alive by termites and earwigs… Either way, I’m glad I wasn’t over here while you were still cursed.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, I… we have spare bedrooms. I wouldn’t have wanted you staying here. This place is horrible.”
I looked up at the sagging ceiling. “I don’t think there’s much that can be done for it… It’s a shame too. Perhaps there’s an Extreme Makeover, Vampire Edition.”
She laughed, “It would be easier to demolish it and start over with the same plans.”
“It’s an impressive house. At least 300 years old… Is there a local contractor that could handle the restoration?”
She shrugged and raised an eyebrow as she strolled past me and into the parlor. “You’re the one with the phonebook.”
“I didn’t know if maybe you have friends that need the work.”
She sighed as she ran her finger over the brittle wallpaper. “No… not construction. Most of my friends are waitresses and mechanics. You don’t want to buy this place anyway… You have a life in Shreveport to get back to.”
I wandered in the other direction, towards where the kitchen would be. “In theory. Watch your step. I don’t trust the flooring.”
She quickly caught up to me. “What does that mean? ‘In theory’? You promised Pam…”
“I’m simply weighing my options.”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head over it. As you said, ‘no point in complicating things by being friends’.”
She huffed, clearly about to bicker, but a small nutria scurried across the floor between us and she yelped and leapt onto the counter. “I. Hate. That. You. Lived. Here!”
I backed up to her, offering to carry her. She instantly latched onto me, wrapping her legs around my waist. “I’ve stayed in less luxurious places. Believe me.”
“I’ve seen your house… for God sakes, Eric, the sheets in your guest room cost more than my car!”
“I was born well before Egyptian Cotton sheets were available online. Look at it this way… that little rodent saved us from looking for my resting place under the house.”
She buried her face against my back as I walked towards the stairs and whimpered, “How?”
“Nutria are water-lovers. If there was one inside that means under the house is too wet for me to rest there. The stench of mildew alone…”
She giggled, “Ok, so we’re going upstairs… You had to have lied to Gran. She wouldn’t have let you stay here if she knew.”
“We can’t be sure.” Adele had been as far as the parlor. I could smell that much, but there wasn’t any way to be sure of her reasons. It could’ve been as simple as wanting to protect Sookie from me. It could’ve been something I suggested.
When we reached the second level, I offered to set Sookie down, but she held fast and said that she was fine as long as my back held out.
As soon as I started climbing the stairs to the third floor, Sookie shook her head. “You don’t want to look around on this floor?”
“The house is old, built during slavery, yes?”
“Yeah. Gran has a parish record. 1740s, I think.”
“The second floor is where the family would have lived. Wardrobes were used more often than closets and all of the rooms have windows… The third floor is where the house servants were housed. The butler, the mam, the cook… slaves kept on hand. There weren’t any third level windows that I noticed.”
“Good God. It’s a wonder how they didn’t bake to death in the summer.”
“The actual wonder is why they didn’t start escaping to cooler climates before the 1850s.”
“No joke. I have a window unit and I think about snow-birding.”
“Snow-birding?” Before my foot fell on the top step, I found my resting place. I couldn’t help but be surprised. Old habits must truly die hard. The dependable defensive measures that I’d used hundreds of times before had been hiding in the recesses of my thoughts… I’d even taught Pam to pull up the floorboards at the threshold of a temporary resting place and rearrange them unevenly to give out if they were stepped on as a deterrent to would be intruders.
“Oh, it’s kind of a joke… maybe a fairy tale… People talk all the time about retiring and splitting their time between the north during the summer and south during the winter… to get the mildest of the seasons. You never hear about anyone who actually gets to do it though.”
“Pam has her own version of that. Instead of pleasant seasons, I lose her for February and October to her quest for ‘ultimate couture’. New York, Milan, Paris, London… Come to think of it, I doubt she indulged this spring. She might need a shopping vacation for therapy.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Next October might cost more than usual, but I think having you back is all the therapy she needs right now. I think she’s hurt that you came back to Bon Temps with me. She missed you. A lot.”
“If she doesn’t recognize that I want all of my memories back, then I’ll explain it to her in more detail. She’d be less troubled if I hadn’t left her to act as Sheriff.”
“Y’all have been together for a long time though… And you just took off with some strange Human.”
“Pam and I have been together as long as we have because she does understand me though. She’ll be fine. If she isn’t, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.”
She nodded, but didn’t reply.
I’m not sure if Sookie noticed that I hadn’t stepped on the planks of wood that might have given way without being disturbed. She seemed perfectly content to keep her forehead nestled against the nape of my neck…
Once completely in the room, I moved to set her down, but she gripped more tightly.
I chuckled, “Not that I’m complaining, but there’s nothing in here but a few mice.”
She took a deep breath as though she was bracing herself before she loosened her grip and let me lower her to the floor.
She set the flashlight on the floor to reflect off of the ceiling and stood next to me, taking in the crude surroundings. Not the crudest I’d ever wallowed in, but rudimentary nonetheless.
There was a large plastic storage container set in the corner with three library books stacked on top of it… a large garbage bag next to it that looked like it had been used and reused… and a perimeter of primitive mousetraps set around an area large enough for me lay out.
Sookie whispered, “Eric?”
“Nothing comes to mind. Why are we whispering?”
She snickered and walked over to the storage container. She looked over the books before tucking them between her knees. “It’s a good thing Muriel forgave me for Gran’s late fees.”
“How charitable of her to mention it at all.”
“I know right…” She opened the container and rifled through the contents. “Well, here’s your ‘dresser’… nothing but clothes. It’s a shame you’re so tall… Jason’s got a house full of clothes he’s not using.” As she mentioned her brother, there was a slight echo in my thoughts.
I smiled at her. “Adele told me the same thing.”
She smiled at me and tossed the books into the container to seal it again. “His pants might’ve fit in the waist, but… capris haven’t crossed over for guys yet.”
I chuckled, “Maybe there is a God.”
She leaned over to untie the garbage bag, but shoved the opening closed no sooner than she cracked it… she gasped and gagged, covering her mouth. She wheezed, “Moth balls?”
“And what, blankets?”
She prodded the lump, unwilling to reopen the bag. “Seems like it.”
I nodded. “The scent was strong enough to turn you away… imagine what it does to mice.”
“Good Lord, Eric, with your senses how can you stand it?”
“Since I don’t have to breathe, I don’t have to inhale. I can avoid it for a few moments before I die… it would explain why I was adamant to bathe. I’d have numbed my sense of smell to be covered in the scent continually.”
“No kidding. I might need another bath… these are going out on the line for a couple of days before I even try to wash that funk out of them.” I was just hoping they weren’t heirlooms because I was sure the blankets were ruined…
Her curiosity was doing my inspection for me. I watched her kneel to pick up one of the 20 True Blood bottles from the floor.
“Now, I wouldn’t have figured that you’d be a slob.”
I took one that wasn’t as empty and handed it to her. She examined it and squeaked, almost dropping it when she realized what was in it… and that it was looking at her. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Mouse traps.”
She shoved it back into my hand. “What did you do, glamour them into the bottles?”
I shook my head and sniffed the bottle. “Peanut butter and molasses. Bait. I put the bottle on the edge of something, like this board, and when the mouse takes the bait and crawls into the back end of the bottle, the container stands up from the shift in mass. The mouse is trapped.”
“Why not just kill them?”
“Because it makes a mess and they stink when they decompose like anything else does… both of which attract other pests. This way, they get a ‘last meal’.”
I whispered in a syrupy tone, “Then I replace the lid and as the air runs out, they gently fall to sleep…” She covered her mouth to stifle how amused she was in spite of how gruesome the topic was. “No odor. I can just throw them out like normal garbage.”
She snorted. “Jas would be bitter. When he gets out of jail, I’ll have to tell him… He could use his empty SoBe bottles.”
“Do I want to know why your brother would collect mice?”
“Bass fishing…” She got up and started screwing lids onto the bottles. “I’ve got this if you want to look around.”
“I wouldn’t have spent any time here. We can go… don’t seal them all.”
She smirked and stopped her task. “Why?” She asked as though she already knew the answer.
“Because my girlfriend might be jealous if I don’t take a gift back for her.”
“Oh really? You expect me to let you take a mouse into my…”
“Why not? Adele never minded.”
I’d have killed to see what could’ve possibly made Sookie’s smile any wider… her eyes sparkled in spite of the minimal light in the room. She crooned, “There ya go. You got it.”
I smiled back as I remembered Adele standing at the door to their mud porch, watching through the window as Tina enjoyed the activity of a ‘hunt’. The woman was practically giddy because she was worried that being a ‘lap cat’ had made Tina lazy. “What did you get from your grandmother?”
Sookie was practically beaming, proud of or for me, I couldn’t know which. “That the first few nights you brought one to her, you set them loose in the bathroom and closed the door, but then one squeezed out under the door, so Tina’s ‘hunting grounds’ were moved to the mud porch… Then Gran moved the plant by the window because Tina came close to knocking it over looking for you to come over… I heard it when I asked why the plant got put on the coffee table. You told her that predators were meant to hunt, that keeping her bowl-fed would deny Tina’s nature… It worried Gran that you wouldn’t behave… that you’d get sick of True Bloods and need to hunt for a live donor…”
“I wouldn’t have… I don’t think I’d have…” I couldn’t have been less sure of how to explain.
“Bite the hand that fed you? She knew that. I never once heard her question her safety, just yours. She was worried when you started to get pale, ashen… she was close to giving you an address or two.”
“Oh really? Who would she have served?”
“Oh, trust me, when you know everyone like Gran did, she’d have been able to give you a list of people no one would miss.”
Sookie and I walked around to the back of her house so that the moth ball stench coming from the blankets wouldn’t ‘funk up’ the house…
Tina had watched us come through the cemetery from her perch on the window sill and looked more crazed with every step we made… She bolted out of the window to meet us at the back door, scratching and meowing desperately by the time we came in. Sookie giggled and called me Tina’s ‘dealer’. I’d seen enough addicts at Fangtasia to know that Sookie wasn’t far from the mark.
Sookie left me to release Tina’s mice since we’d brought her two. By the time I went back inside, Sookie had put her care package items away and was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me.
She nodded towards the upstairs and led the way with a pair of quilts in her arms and ushered me into one of the rooms.
She sighed, “Even before I saw what it was like over there… ugh… call me a snob, whatever. Anyway, after Gran passed, I did as much as I could to not think about it… including setting up this room for you. When you finally approached me, you ‘glamoured’ me for True Bloods, I figured that you just felt safer that I didn’t know about you… anyway… I’d raided Jason’s linen closet. There’s a black sheet over the window, two layers of canvas drop-cloth over that and his black comforter on top…”
She closed the door to take a doll from the knob and lay its legs out to cover the gap at the floor. “That’s a ‘draft dodger doll’. We’ve had it so long, I don’t know where it came from. It’ll block out the light in the hallway… I know the bed is just a twin, but it’s got to be better than laying on dryrotted wood…”
She put the quilts on the bed and patted them. “Those are the heaviest ones I have, well that don’t stink of moth balls… I don’t get much by way of company, but just in case, you should push the dresser to block the door…” She was rambling somewhat nervously.
“Sookie, thank you. Really. This was very considerate.”
“You think it’ll be enough? To keep the sun out? I sat in here when I did it. I felt blind… but I don’t know how sensitive…”
“Sookie, it’s perfect. Thank you.”
“Are you sure. I mean, I hate for you to come back from being cursed by a freakin’ Witch and end up dying from a sunburn.”
She nodded and hung the doll on the doorknob again as she opened the door. “K. I’m spent… Make yourself at home. G’nite.”
“Can I ask you something?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
“Will you tuck me in?”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she turned to go downstairs.
I followed her, scooping her up before she got to the bottom of the stairs and putting her on her bed before she was done gasping. “You’re right. You aren’t well. I’ll tuck you in.”
She gave me a level stare. “This isn’t cool.”
“This… I mean, you’re macking on me while poor Pam gets stuck working in Shreveport?”
“I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.”
“I’m not like that. You’re sweet and sexy and all, but… I wouldn’t want a jealous Human to be gunning for me, let alone a jealous Vampire… Pam loves you.”
It might’ve taken me more than a minute to realize what she was saying. “Sookie?”
“Sookie, Pam and I aren’t a couple. We’re a team. I’m her Maker. She’s my child…” She might badger me like a dominant wife, but… no. No.
“You…?” She pushed herself up to lean against her headboard. “She… y’all have been together for centuries though… she was looking for you… she thanked me for helping you… she treated that other Sookie like crap! Human’s are just cattle.”
“We’ve been together so long because I’m her Maker…”
“You slept together last night!”
“We died on the same bed because it’s the only light-tight room in my house.”
“And other Sookies have ended up with other…”
“Yes, but there isn’t a version yet where I was with Pam.”
“I think I was too preoccupied with what I know for it to occur to me that you might need a tutorial… Everything you know about Vampires, you learned from…?”
She sighed into her hands, “Gran’s thoughts and Weres… Dammit.” That was one less mystery to solve. Her ambiguity had been misled.
I kissed her forehead and left to turn off her light.
“Eric… I assumed… I’m such a dunce… I’m sorry.”
“Get your rest. We’ll start your lessons at sunset.”