While she bathed, I called room service and did my best to order more food for Sookie. As much as she’d eaten at dinner and the heavy snacking she’d done while we were in the lounge, she still felt hungry… eating seemed to be the only thing that was coming back to her on its own. Far be it from me to discourage anything that would help her get back to a healthier (and admittedly sexier) figure.
I changed into a pair of lounge pants that had been included in the cornucopia of incidentals, if for no better reason, I didn’t want Sookie to feel awkward about being in her pajamas with guests in our room.
With my idle time, I made calls to my Steward and Housekeeper to inform them that my house needed to be prepared for Sookie’s arrival. Since Sookie seemed unsure if not indifferent when it came to so many things, Dinh and Saskia’s orders were to cater to any possibility including the purchase of clothing options for Sookie… a full range in every size between the size 2 she was barely filling to the size 6 I was hoping she’d wear before the next season. Small goals. Dinh was annoyingly giddy with the prospect of hiring a chef and a personal trainer for Sookie, but the bulk of his excitement came from hearing he’d get to speak English daily. He was always looking for an excuse. Saskia was more excited to hear that ‘the King’ would be spending more time in the country because she would be calling everyone within 100 kilometers of Eijsden to tell them the castle was in use for once.
I was giving Dinh a list of electronics to buy for her when she emerged from the bathroom, smelling sweeter than the coconut milk and rose oil products she’d used. Her scent wafted to fill the suite and it was an instant distraction.
“Sookie, I’m on with my Steward, giving him instructions to prepare for your arrival. Is there anything you’d like to have waiting for you?”
“Eijsden is where I officially reside. It’s only a couple of hours from Amsterdam. I’ll have him tend to the other houses later.”
She shook her head and giggled, “Craziness… Okay, um… I was always too chicken, but since it’s legal there, how about some pot brownies?”
For a split second, I thought about discouraging the recreational use, but… then I considered how the ‘munchies’ could be beneficial. Not that her appetite seemed to need any help, but it couldn’t hurt. “Would you not rather smoke it?”
She pulled a face. “Ech… Not if I can help it. It stinks.”
I nodded. “Dinh, you heard her, yes?”
He cleared his throat. “Would she like just brownies or… Scooby Snacks in general?”
“She’s American so she should already know what that is…” Sookie was already giggling again. “Cookies, brownies, muffins, fudge, ice cream. It can be made into nearly anything.”
She shook her head, still laughing. “Thanks, but I’m not sure if I’d even like the brownies. I was just thinking it could help my nerves.” Dual duty. Even better.
“Dinh, a small assortment of ‘Scooby Snacks’ for her to test will suffice. She’ll let you know which she prefers.”
“Yes, Majesty. Is there anything else? Shrooms? Peyote?”Fuck. I was starting to think I should have him and his sister screened for drug use.
Sookie’s eyes widened as she shook her head. She whispered, “I’m not a stoner.”
“That won’t be necessary, Dinh… I’ll email you and Saskia if we think of any additional tasks for you.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you. We’re excited to meet Lady Stackhouse. We should have everything ready by the time you return, Sir.”
“I’ll leave you to it then. Get to work.”
Sookie practically sank into the sofa next to me. “That was… thank you. I was worried that you wouldn’t approve, but I don’t like drinking… I know I need something to take the edge off, but I don’t think a doctor could really help…” Not when she was suffering from agoraphobia.
“If the marijuana doesn’t help, I can arrange for a house-call. You wouldn’t have the added stress of travel.”
She nodded. “Thank you… I’m sorry to be so much trouble. You got more than you bargained for, huh?”
I reached over and tucked a section of her hair behind her ear. “I knew. Before long, you’ll be telling me to go fuck myself.”
She gasped, covering her mouth. “I wouldn’t!”
I chuckled. “Of course you would. ‘You’ have… I was being an asshole.”
She shook her head, still hiding her mouth. “Maybe She would because they’re married with kids and all, but… I owe you too much.”
“Kid, singular… and not married, bonded. I doubt you’d need much more of my blood to complete ours either.”
She lowered her hands and tilted her head. “You… She didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“They’re… well, they’re married…”
“Married? For better for worse? For richer for poorer? In sickness and in health? To love and to cherish? Married?” If I didn’t have so much practice keeping a straight face in the most ridiculous of circumstances, I would have been hysterical.
She nodded. “Alcide… he thought that it sucked that I was with, well, going through what I was while they were on their honeymoon…”
She sighed, “Yeah. They all went together like it was a family vacation and surprised Gran. Some place that was dark 24/7…”
“Longyearbyen?” Fuck. That sneaky bitch had said that the pictures were private. She knew I’d assume they were X-rated.
Sookie shrugged. “I guess so. You know it?”
“I do. Did you, by chance, overhear their reasons?”
She shrugged again. “Babies, I guess.”
“Gran was thinking about how Eric was flipping out and how he was going to be much worse when that kind of thing happened once she was pregnant.”
“How do… What… I…” As though there wasn’t enough about my encounter with Sookie (either of them, for that matter) that was noteworthy… I was speechless. It wasn’t a loss for words. There was an avalanche of questions, all of them dammed in my throat trying to rush out simultaneously.
“Something about insemination. They weren’t thinking about details.”
“In addition to raising Sookie’s telepathic cousin…”
“They… OH GOD!” She covered her face and the abrupt flood of tears yanked me out of the conceptual black-hole I was falling into. Children? Intentionally raising children? Human children? Me?
“What? What’s wrong?”
It was too late. She was panicking more severely than I’d seen… gasping unsuccessfully for air until her eyes started to flutter…
I couldn’t decide how to feel about the timing of Pam’s arrival. I was too preoccupied with keeping Sookie from falling to the floor so my salutation amounted to shouting over Sookie’s sobs for Pam to use her master key, and hoping she had it with her.
In spite of my best efforts to calm Sookie down, Pam, Willis and I watched witlessly as she lost consciousness.
“Eric? What happened?” I wish I knew so I could keep it from happening again.
“I’m not sure. We were talking and she suddenly began the hysterics…” And the topic we were discussing wasn’t something I was prepared to share with Willis present, no matter how close he was to Pam.
Pam went to the bathroom and came back offering a cool rag. “No ideas?”
Tears were still flowing. The weight was still in her chest. Sookie was still trembling. Her face was splotched and swollen… Ugly, unpleasant, troubling. I hated everything about not being able to help her until she could upset herself again in the process of telling me what happened.
I shook my head and laid the rag over her forehead. “She needs a sedative, but she doesn’t like alcohol. She’s afraid to speak to a doctor… It could have been anything.”
“What were you talking about? Her captivity?”
“If that were the case, I’d have a better idea…” As I lifted her to take her to the bed, I eyed Willis and hoped Pam would realize he wasn’t going to be included.
Pam rushed past me to turn down the covers. “We might be able to find something along the lines of a valium… Willis, would you mind?”
He seemed to shake off his concerned trance and nodded as he left the room. The only thing he uttered was a promise to be back right away.
I straightened Sookie’s pajamas and sat next to her, listening to her breathing and heart settle slowly.
Pam folded her arms and huffed. “He’s gone. Is there more?”
“We were talking about the longer explanation I promised you. I doubt I have time to give it to you before he returns though.”
“Is there a short-short version?”
“Somehow, there is a side effect to Vampires and Faeries coupling. When I said that I rose with her next to me in bed, it was because she popped, unintentionally, to my side. But it was another version of Sookie. A version that is already married and bonded to a version of me. In turn, this Sookie awoke next to the other version of me. It’s the only way she wasn’t left to waste away.”
I looked up, already knowing what expression would be waiting for me. I would have laughed at her ‘unicorn look’ under other circumstances…
“I want to point out that you gave me the same look the first time you witnessed a Were shift.”
I went to the small table to open the laptop and show her the photos of ‘her’ with ‘Us’, hoping it would prevent a conversation that began with ‘bullshit…’.
Oddly, after just a few of the photos set on random, she repeated the gasping and mouth covering that Sookie had displayed only a few minutes before. “HOLY SHIT!”
“Go back! Go… There was one with a man with his arm over my shoulder!”
I nodded and backed up the slideshow to stay on the photo in question. “What about it?”
“Who is that?”
I pointed as I recited the line-up. “Adele Stackhouse, Sookie’s grandmother. Hunter Savoy, Sookie’s cousin. Jason Stackhouse, Sookie’s brother. Alcide Herveaux, Sookie’s Were guard… You know the Berts.”
“That… That… FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE!”
“The funny part is that this isn’t the version we encountered. As per the journals, this is September. In that version, Sookie’s brother is your boy-toy and I am accidently King of Louisiana.”
“I met him!”
“That son of a bitch waltzed up to me in the lounge, kissed me in front of 20 of my Vampires and said he’d been looking for me everywhere.”
“When was this?”
“Mid-December. A month, give or take.” The ‘right’ version of Jason had been dead since September.
I chuckled. I couldn’t help it. “I’m assuming you hurt him.”
“He… caused a bit of a reaction. I… I practically raped him before someone called me Sheriff Ravenscroft. It spooked him. He ran off mumbling about how ‘his Pam’ was going to laugh her ass off when he told her.”
“You practically raped him? He smelled of sunlight, yes?”
“And sugar… How did you…?”
“Sookie too, but her scent is much stronger when she’s been in the sun. Why was he here?”
“I… I was delayed. By the time I tracked him back to the 6th floor, and the room he entered, he wasn’t there anymore. Vanished.”
“Delayed?” I had a feeling her delay might have something to do with her boyfriend witnessing her meeting with Jason Stackhouse.
She clenched her jaw, her tiny little tell that her lips were sealed. “This is because the Stackhouses are part Faerie?”
“Through the various journal entries there are a few notes regarding a Faerie named Claudine. She’s interacted with or in several versions, but if any of the versions have found her, it isn’t mentioned. It also hasn’t been mentioned that Jason and Pam have bonded and began skipping.”
“Have you met him?”
“Our version of Jason Stackhouse is dead. He was shot in the head during a staged gas station robbery. Adele ‘fell’ down a flight of stairs.”
“Of all the times for Compton or Ball to be thorough.”
“My thoughts exactly… Feel free to look over the journals and photos. You might be amused. Version after version of the two of us with a family.”
“You and Sookie have a family?”
“I meant you and me… children, inlaws, friends. It’s surreal enough that it might be the closest we can get to an acid trip.”
“I was almost stoned when Jason greeted me. I swear, Eric, when he walked away from me, I was breathing.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. “When I rose in Amsterdam with the other Sookie, she’d sunbathed until just before sunset and climbed into bed with the intentions of giving her husband a sunrise service of sorts. My first reaction was to hide from the daylight because the scent was so pungent. The rest of our initial meeting is hazy because I was close to bloodlust from the smell alone.”
“How many versions are there?”
“Of me and Sookie? The version we encountered has notes on nine versions that they’ve met directly, but it’s not a light read. There are more than 20 versions that they’ve accumulated notes for. Hundreds of skips between them. And that’s only since their first skip in September. It’s daunting.”
“So what were you talking about when she panicked?”
“Specifically, she was explaining that she overheard the living version of her grandmother thinking about how much more frantic the other Me would be during skips once His Sookie becomes pregnant.”
She raised an eyebrow so I braced myself for the impending joke. “Is that possible because she’s Fae?”
“What?” Not what I expected.
She shrugged. “It’s not like I know. I’ve never met a Faerie that lasted any amount of time around a Vampire.” Fair enough.
“They were planning medical insemination apparently. There aren’t any journal entries to that affect, but since there are several versions of Us raising various children, I suppose the notion took root…”
Pam wandered to the door before the elevator doors opened for Willis and she stopped in her tracks when she realized she showed her hand, that she could feel Willis through some amount of bond…
I did my best to fake indifference and returned to Sookie’s side with a can of soda and a bottle of prescription Xanex in Willis’s name… He showed his hand by slipping. He had the prescription because he needed help sleeping during the day… Hmmm. Why would a ‘day guy’ need to sleep during the day?
If the Prada was on the other foot, Pam would’ve been bursting to proclaim someone’s pants were on fire.
It only got better when Willis noticed the picture of Pam with Jason’s arm slung over her shoulder and sucked his teeth and grumbled quietly, “Never saw him before, huh?”
I only got as far as crushing a tablet for Sookie before it occurred to me that there might be some reaction to giving her something without telling her. Drug allergies were possible, but I was the only individual she trusted and she’d told me that she’d been drugged by Compton. It was all too uncertain.
Sookie’s heart and breathing had finally normalized. I couldn’t justify it. I knew she’d just panic again once she woke, but I would have the chance to warn her. She could expect the sedation and wouldn’t feel betrayed by it.
Pam sensed my hesitation and offered, “Xanex allergies are rare, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
I shook my head without looking back. “She’s calmed down for now. I don’t want to medicate her without her knowledge. She complained about an injury. Compton told her he was giving her Tylenol and gave her Ecstasy instead… four of them.”
She breathed, “Fuck me. Any ideas?”
“She asked my Steward for marijuana laced snacks. I think she’s afraid of medications on top of everything else.”
“That is doable. I’ll be right back.” She left the room so quickly the door bounced itself closed behind her.
It left Willis to fidget though. “Is there anything I can do? I feel useless.”
“We’re just waiting for her to stir at the moment. You are useless, but no more than the rest of us.”
“She’s been through a lot, huh?”
“You’re aware that there are methods Vampires aren’t shy about employing when it comes to torture, discipline or interrogation, yes?”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “To an extent.”
“Certain lines are blurred because it’s not as though you can simply slap a wrist or put someone in ‘time out’ when they live forever and heal themselves, you understand… Sookie was tortured as though she was a Vampire for the last four months. For Christmas, Santa Claus whipped, raped and electrocuted her with a car battery.”
I heard his stomach pitch before he took a hard swallow, then another. “That poor thing. Why didn’t… How… I can’t imagine.”
“The bitch responsible took her American name from a concentration camp. Gwen Ross. Gross-Rosen. She used to joke that Josephine Mengele would make her seem like a sycophant.”
“Thank God she’s got you to take care of her.”
I shook my head and gave him a level stare over my shoulder. “If there was a God worth thanking for anything, she wouldn’t need me.”
He jutted his chin towards Sookie, still looking stricken by hearing part of what she’d been through. “To each his own, Your Majesty, but I’d be willing to bet Sookie thinks you’re a God as much as Pam does… I’ll wait in the sitting area. If you need anything…”
If Pam thought I was Godlike, it only meant that I hadn’t completely fucked up as her Maker…
But if Sookie carried the notion, it would only be temporary. Eventually, she’d realize that every miserable fucking moment, every loss, every tear she had to give was because I took a joke too far and left the States to get away from how much I missed what my stubborn streak cost me. If I hadn’t retired, none of Sookie’s pain would have happened.
Instead of opening the floor to debate, I told him to keep his hands off the laptop unless he wanted to be smote.
By the time Pam returned, Willis had greeted room service for me and to his credit, he sent the server back for an assortment of drinks because I’d forgotten that aspect.
Even though I wasn’t touching Sookie and in spite of the traffic in the room, she hadn’t stirred.
Pam managed to sneak her puns into the situation, thanking her ‘doobie-ous’ employees in the kitchen for the small bag full of pre-rolled… yes, Dutches. I growled at her when she suggested that my first line of defense was a ‘Dutch shotgun’… And she seemed to have it out of her system once she apologized for being blunt.
If I didn’t miss her humor so much, if it had been anyone else, they’d have been knocked across the room.
Even though I only had to draw once to light the joint, then continually force air in the other direction, when I was done, I had to rinse that taste from my mouth. I couldn’t have been more pleased that Sookie had been disgusted by the idea of smoking regularly. The plant by itself didn’t stink, or the ambient smoke for that matter, but the resin left behind was enough to gag a maggot.
With nothing left to do but wait, Pam called the spa to have them send up some candles to mask the smoke odor and made herself comfortable against the side of the dresser.
We were left with small talk and Pam’s go-to topic had always been fashion… I knew she was still curious about ‘skipping’ and Sookie, but I was grateful that she didn’t try to discuss it with Willis nearby.
“She opted for the Juicy pajama set? Does she prefer shorts to gowns?”
“I think she just enjoys having access to her own clothing. She was caged without so she couldn’t strangle herself.”
She shook her head. “So she has nothing.”
“Everything she has, we carried into the hotel last night. My Steward is making arrangements for some things… everything was burned with her house.”
She nodded, clearly letting her wheels turn. “Why did she opt for the cream and red outfit? Or… was that your choice because you know how good red cashmere looks on you?”
“She preferred the lighter colors, but the purple ensemble was baggy.”
“The Hasbeens? She hadn’t ever heard of the brand, but she liked them enough to fuss over scuffing the heel of one.”
She gave a more finite nod and called, “Willis, we have shopping to do. Sookie’s wardrobe consists of what’s in this room.”
He appeared in the doorway with a shocked if not appalled look on his face. It begged the question of whether their mutual love for fashion brought them together or if Pam had ‘turned’ him. “Parameters?”
“Lights, brights and jewel tones. She’s looking at cold weather and we should stick to designers with a reputation for running small. The Hasbeens were a hit.”
“And the Juicy? Do we have a preference for undergarments and intimates?”
Pam raised an eyebrow to defer to me. “Comfort. Most of the items you chose for her fit well, but the underthings she chose for herself were lace.”
Pam nodded. “Call Evansville General. Have the ICU substantiate that there’s a patient by the name of Sookie Stackhouse being treated for severe malnutrition and dehydration if anyone asks. Blonde, blue eyes, questionable mental state.”
In all seriousness, he was gone as quickly as a Human could be. It was amusing to say the least. “How long have you been training him?”
She narrowed her eyes and rolled her tongue over her teeth. “Six years. I have his beastly mother to thank for his ‘training’ though. The man is part of an Interior Design legacy… He was born to shop for textiles.”
“So he’s the perfect pet for you then, yes?”
“Your little telepath spoiled, didn’t she?”
“Only because I asked.”
“I love him.” The way she blurted it made me wonder if she was being defensive or preemptive.
“Sookie says he loves you too. I sense a ‘but’ coming on.”
“But… We’re coming to the end of our course. I’m bored.”
“Not a rut?”
She huffed, “Genuinely bored. There isn’t really a reason why we shouldn’t live happily ever after… He’s part of an Interior Design legacy and the man has a passion for textiles that rivals mine… But.”
“And you’re planning to do what? Glamour him to forget you?”
“No… I’m planning to leave when my contract is up and use the distance as an excuse to end it.”
I teased, “How very grown up.”
She blew a raspberry. “I don’t want to hurt him. I really do love him… but he’s achieved pet status.”
“Have you suggested variety to reduce the monotony?”
“No need. He isn’t even interested in threesomes with another woman.”
“Then he’s an android with faulty programming.”
She chuckled, “Tell me about it.”
“You wouldn’t have to wait to move if your Maker ‘summoned’ you to his side because he’s sick of hiding how stupid he’s been under being stubborn.”
Her mouth fell open. She gaped for long enough I thought I was going to have to slap her to move her. She finally shook it off and mumbled, “That’s not funny.”
“I’m not joking.”
Her lip quivered as she asked, “You… You want me back?”
“I’ve wanted you back since before you left.”
She bit her lip, but her eyes were already beginning to rim. “I’ve missed you… I’m sorry I was…”
“I’m the one who needs to apologize… I was an asshole. My child walked away from me and took my best friend with her. I was stupid enough to think I could ignore how much I love you…” It was a good thing she was wearing a black dress. Her tears were close to dripping. “Can we possibly delay the tears?” I pointed towards Sookie. “One case of hysteria at a time, please.”
She shoved my head, knocking me over to land on Sookie’s legs as she darted to the bathroom to shut the door and cry in private.
I took that as a ‘no’.
The upside… My landing stirred Sookie.
She was obviously dazed as she dragged her hands along the bedding to limply rub her eyes.
I inched closer to explain. “You hyperventilated until you passed out. Willis brought sedatives, but I second guessed giving you medication. Since you asked for Scooby Snacks, Pam pilfered her employees. You’re high, but you haven’t been drugged.”
She blinked several times before a dopey grin formed on her lips. “Thanks…” She looked around, flopping her head from side to side. “Where are’ney?”
“Willis is shopping and Pam is crying.”
“Ohhhh nooooo… wuzzz wong?”
“We can talk about that later… What happened? What had you so troubled that you collapsed?”
Instant tears. Her breathing remained relatively calm, but she began crying the moment I asked why she had been upset. “Ohhh God… Eric, the others! What if… the others… that little boy! I… I can’t… if someone finds out…”
“Sookie, the Vampires who hurt you have been ended.”
She shook her head. “There’s more… I’ve met ‘em… You too… they aren’t all… good like you…” She covered her face to sob, “They’re gonna get ‘em. The Queen, this one… she’ll get a journal… she’ll know and you… you… you pissed her off…”
Her paranoia had enough of a foundation that I had to wonder if telepathy was so rare or if they just had a short life expectancy. Sookie’s discovery could lead to curiosity. Curiosity begets hunting. Being hunted puts any species on the endangered species list. Over time, the population increases until one slips back onto the radar to spur the cycle to start all over again.
“What do I do, Sookie? What can I do to calm you down? I can have every last telepath in the journals snatched from their beds and relocated for their safety. Will that make you feel better?”
She lurched up, wrapping her arms around my neck… still sobbing, “Can… can I… I wanna warn ‘em. Can I warn ‘em, please?” That was all she wanted? She was asking my permission to warn others like her to be leery of Vampires?
“You’re barely speaking English at the moment. Why don’t you let the rest of us do the talking while you eat something?”
It worked out that the time spent tracking down the other telepaths was comparable to the amount of time it took for Sookie’s nerves to settle into a more normal range, but only after she choked on half of another joint.
With Pam’s help, we had addresses and phone numbers for five of the six telepaths and an October obituary for the sixth. Sookie wept quietly while she snacked on finger sandwiches… Even though I reminded her that Michelle Johnson had been suicidal when the other Us met her, it was no less disappointing for her. She mumbled between bites that Michelle was probably better off to have died ‘all at once’ and on her own terms… Hearing that made Pam look like she was going to cry again.
At 1am Eastern time, the only phone call that didn’t wake someone up was the one to Barry Horowitz because he was working and we used a ‘family emergency’ as a reason for his supervisor to page him to the phone.
The initial phone calls were led by a simple script that synopsized to, “This is an emergency. Google Sookie Stackhouse. Read everything you can. We’ll call back in a few minutes to explain.”
In an effort to give the last of the contacted telepaths the time to read, I opted to make one call more private…
I couldn’t decide if I was surprised that it was answered on the first ring.
The young girl answered, “Eric?” Sookie managed to giggle.
“Ema. You were expecting my call?”
“Well, yeah. I don’t know why, but yeah.”
“It’s a long story, but I have reason to believe that you might be in danger because of your ability.”
“Yeah. Ok. What’s the plan? Where am I going?”
“Going? You’re prepared to relocate?”
She huffed, “Well, I either relocate or I check myself in because I’ve been drawing some gnarly shit. It’s been giving me nightmares. You and Sookie and Pam… I got some guy named Dinh here… where am I drawing? Venice? I got canals out the whazoo… and what the hell does ‘chill your tits’ mean?”
“No, Ema, chill your tits means settle down.”
Sookie giggled along with Ema. “Oh okay. So, what’s the plan, dude? I’ve been sitting on the phone like it’s gonna hatch for over a week…”
“I’m going to put you on with Pam so she can help you with travel arrangements if you’re interested in going to Europe.”
“Sweet! I drew her like a month ago.”
I passed the phone to Pam and noticed that Pam had her eyes pinched shut.
I whispered, “What?”
She shook her head and covered the receiver. “A psychic?”
“She’s an automatic writer in the rough…”
Pam interrupted with a snort. “And where do you send diamonds to be cut?”
Sookie giggled and tossed her arm into the air. “Antwerp for $400, Alex! Who’s King of Belgium?”
We chuckled at her… the pot was working, maybe too well… but if it helped her smile, I’d have some started in my greenhouse.
The return call to the telepaths was done as a conference call as soon as Ema’s flight was arranged.
Everyone answered by the second ring, undoubtedly interested to hear the reason they were roused and sent on an internet scavenger hunt.
A deaf man could have heard a pin drop as I started, “I’m Eric Northman. I’m the Vampire King of the Netherlands, and formerly Sheriff of Shreveport, Louisiana. Barry, Rory, Brandon, Pilar and Remy, I have reason to believe that you are in danger. The reason you were notified and told to research Sookie Stackhouse is because in September, Sookie was approached by a Vampire who summarily murdered her surviving family and friends and abducted her for the sole purpose of exploiting her for the unique ability you have in common with her. Remy, I’m sure you know that I’m speaking of Hunter’s ability…”
The only female on the line was Pilar, and since she was in law enforcement it was no shock that she was the first to respond. “Has her body been found?”
“She has been found alive. I have her in my care.”
“Is this a threat?”
“No. This phone call is not a threat. It’s a warning and an offer for assistance. We know about you because there are Vampires in power who know about you.” Not a lie.
“When was she found?”
“Last night. She managed to get a message to me once she heard that I held the post of Sheriff prior to the Sheriff who was holding her. So you all know, I’m not calling you to warn you that you could be swept away and fed bon bons. She’s lucky to have survived.”
“What do you mean by assistance?”
“At the risk of offending your ethics, Pilar, I’m offering relocation, reidentification, protection and/or asylum.”
“At what price?”
“No price. Sookie is beside herself with concern that what she suffered could become someone else’s hell. I’m doing this for her peace of mind.”
“You’re offering witness relocation out of the kindness of your heart?”
“I’m a thousand year old Vampire King, darling. My Karma is in arrears. I’m asking nothing in return.”
“You know who I am?”
“I do. I know enough about you that I could find you in a few hours.”
“That sounds more ominous than helpful.”
“That was my intention. If I can find you, someone else could.”
She was quiet for a moment before she huffed, “Fair enough. I’m going to do some research and get back to you. Is this number good?”
“Good night then.” When she hung up, there was a stunned silence left on the other end.
I offered to the remaining four, “You have every right to refuse. I’m not going to attempt to contact you again. Feel free to get in touch with me if you reconsider…”
One of the remaining telepaths cleared his throat and grumbled, “I think you have the wrong number, buddy. Sorry.” When he hung up, it left only three…
As high as Sookie was, her tension was coming back. I sat on the sofa and motioned for her to join me. She was so nervous she looked like she was being chased onto my lap.
“I’m at a loss as to who is remaining on the line, but do you have any questions?”
Before the others could answer, another one hung up… leaving more silence.
Finally one of the two asked, “Sookie Stackhouse?” Judging by the way he said her last name, I assumed it was Remy and that he’d recognized the surname from his ex-wife’s family tree.
“Sookie Stackhouse. Grandaughter of Adele. Daughter of Corbett and Michelle. Sister of Jason. Cousin of Hadley.”
It was another voice that said, “Fuck balls.”
“Hadley is how Sookie was discovered.”
The latter voice said, “Hadley is dead.”
“FUCK! What asshole made that psycho a Vampire?”
“The Queen of Louisiana.”
The voice that hadn’t said anymore than repeating Sookie’s name asked, “Who is Hadley?”
“For clarification, who do I have left? Remy and…?”
“Brandon, Hadley is Sookie’s cousin. The Queen’s youngest child is a Stackhouse and she just so happens to have a big mouth about how talented her family members are.”
“That’s fucking insane.” Sookie tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes, studying the arm of the sofa.
“Agreed… Remy, Brandon, I understand that this is a big decision, but I can tell you from experience that reinventing yourself isn’t complicated when you have help.”
Brandon asked, “What did you mean by protection?”
“It’s not something I can offer long distance, but in Sookie’s case, I ended the Vampires who were holding her against her will.”
“I… I’m not alone. Is the offer only good for me or…” The Brandon mentioned in the journals didn’t have a family, but if memory served that was the version that was the most drastically different in Sookie’s lives.
“The offer is good for your family as well.”
“I’m in. What do I do?” That was inexplicably simple.
“I’m going to have you hang up and a woman named Pam will call in just a moment to make your travel arrangements.”
“What do I need?”
“Whatever you would run back into your house to get if it was on fire. I’ll take care of everything else.”
“Um… I’m sorry to be a pain in the ass, but is there a…” He paused and heaved out a long breath. “My mom left me a couple of things. Can I ship them somewhere?”
“Absolutely. Pam will give you the address.”
“Fuck. Thanks, man. Alright… yeah… So Sookie, right? Is she going to be around… Where are we going?”
“We’ll be gathering in Indiana before we go to the Netherlands. Once you’re here, you can decide how you want to proceed.”
“Oh. Okay… Thanks. Tell her I said thanks too… you know, for looking out and all.” She was still focusing on his voice, but something he said made her eyes start to mist.
When he hung up, Sookie answered my curiosity by whispering, “He sounded like I remember my daddy’s voice. That’s all.” At least her father’s death wasn’t a fresh wound.
I nodded as I turned my attention back to Remy. “That only leaves you and Hunter, Mr. Savoy. Should I leave you in peace or would you like help with an exit strategy?”
“Does… Did Hadley know what was happening with Sookie?”
“Not at the time, but she’s made no efforts to contact Sookie about her health either.” I hadn’t exactly left a way for her to reach Sookie, but it wasn’t as though I was going to use passive techniques. Remy was a hard sell. Hunter was the primary target in this… He was the only family Sookie had left.
“Fucking cunt. She’s alive, well, mostly, I guess… she let her whole family get killed just for mind reading?”
“The Queen knows about Hunter. The gifts you’ve been receiving from Hadley’s ‘Aunt Sophie’ are from the Queen. From what we understand, you’ve been glamoured routinely for information about the boy.”
“Oh… fuck that. This is crazy! All this shit going on are you sure you can keep Hunter safe?”
“Depending on the option you choose, I’m sure you’re better off with my help than without it.”
“And… will Hunter have access to other telepaths so he’ll get some help?” Sookie nodded.
“Alright. I guess that Pam broad should call me when she’s done with Brandon.” He hung up as quickly as the first two men did.
Before I laid my phone down, Sookie’s arms were around my neck again. If I needed air, I would have been in trouble, but there were no tears this time.
She sighed against my neck, “Thank you. Thank you, soooo much.”
“We only have half of them. If I continue to contact the others, they will feel threatened. They could go to another Vampire for help and…”
She shushed me slowly, never moving her mouth away from me. “You did everything you could. It has to be enough. Thank you.”
As genuinely blissful (and not just high) as she felt… “You’re very welcome.”
“The snacks were awesome too.”
I chuckled, “I’m happy you enjoyed them.”
“I got cottonmouth though. I’ve heard a lot of people thinking about it, but now that I’ve got it, it’s weird. Sticky and dry.”
“Is the side effect tolerable?”
“Shit yeah… Hey, if I smoke more, would you feel it?” Feel what? The simultaneously heavy and light sensation in her arms and legs? The hollow feeling in her chest? The lack of cooperation between her eyes when she tried to focus?
“I already do.”
She sat back slightly, but she left her arms draped over my shoulders. “What’s that like for you? Is it weird?”
I couldn’t help but humor her. That smile. “It’s unusual. It’s, by far, more acceptable than feeling how upset you were earlier. Are you going to become a pot head, Sookie?”
She giggled and shook her head. “No… but I kinda see the appeal. It’s like a vacation from my brain… drinking just kind of messes with my shields and I can taste it forever. Makes stuff taste nasty. I bet pot could make water taste good… you know what… water sounds really good… Hey, can you feel my munchies?” I wanted to know, right that second, if I was going to have to keep her stoned to maintain that light behind her eyes. It wasn’t so bright it would sparkle by itself yet, but it was there… and it hadn’t been earlier, even when she was showcasing her ability.
Pam chuckled from the other end of the sofa. “Note to self: cheiba makes Sookie sprightly.”
Sookie took her arms away from my shoulders and covered her mouth. “Sorry.”
I took her wrists and pulled her hands down to her lap. “Don’t be. She wasn’t complaining and neither am I.”
She bit her lip and cringed. “You sure?”
Without being urged, Pam offered, “I’m positive. If you’re up for it, swing from the chandelier. The only thing I’m pissed about is that tool Crowe kept me from seeing you in action earlier… I hadn’t told Willis about your ability and since he had no idea what he was witnessing, he said it was as though Eric was reading minds. I want tickets to the next show.”
Sookie shrugged humbly. “It’s not much of a show and all it ever does is get me in trouble.”
“You’re playing in the right pay grade now. Compton saw land and planted cabbage. Northman sees land and strikes oil. You. Are. Not. A. Weed.”
Sookie cringed and asked, “Do you hate cabbage too?”
Pam snickered and changed the topic back to the task at hand rather than spend the next hour listing the scents that bothered her and the various reasons for each. “I’ll be sure to get sizes so we can shop for them. They’ll be traveling light.”
Sookie chirped, “Hunter will be easier. I met him… He showed me his room. Loves dinosaurs and dragons. Little man is beaucoup smart too.”
“What was he wearing when you met him?”
“Jeans and a grey T-shirt with a big T-Rex on it… his high tops even had T-Rexs on ‘em.”
I asked, “What do you know about Brandon? Sookie slept on the plane so I didn’t get much by way of information about them… did you hear any details while you were visiting?”
She shrugged and pulled my hand from the arm of the sofa to put it on her lap. She seemed entranced by tracing her thumbs over the backs of my fingers and fingernails. Her buzzed behavior pushed Pam to bite her lip to keep from laughing. She finally said, “Alcide said Ema’s a typical teenager. They still don’t know what she is, just what she does… That’s why she isn’t in the journals at all. They didn’t want the wrong Queen to find out about her. Sookie even went to Ema’s folks’ house to see and they’re just Human, the whole fam damily… I don’t know anything about Brandon though. I spent a lot of time visiting and only got to read a little bit about October before you got there. Did you get to read the whole thing?”
“I know he’s your age and grew up in Minden. Somehow he heard about Sookie and sought her out to see if his telepathy was a ‘family curse’ or if he was ‘just a freak’. It was mentioned that he didn’t know his father and was considering having a family. I’m not sure if the version we met introduced themselves. It’s possible that there isn’t a Brandon for them.”
She nodded thoughtfully, but never took her eyes or hands from mine. “Gotcha. I guess this one has that answer if he’s got a family already…”
I raised an eyebrow in Pam’s direction as her hint to make her calls.“We don’t know what he meant. Maybe someone should ask him. It could just be the girlfriend he was thinking about proposing to from the journal.”
She shrugged. “Idunno… He jumped on the chance to get outta Dodge kinda fast. If he meant that he was making plans to leave the country with a girlfriend without talking to her first, he’s gonna need stitches by the time she breaks up with him.”
Pam chuckled, “Points for Sookie. One doesn’t make plans to surprise a woman unless one is willing to disclose when and how to dress in advance. ‘Hey Sugar-Tits, wake up and help me pack. We’re moving to the Netherlands so my ability doesn’t get us killed’ isn’t a smart row to hoe.”
Sookie cackled and used my hand to cover her mouth instead of thinking to let it go.
Sookie jokingly begrudged Pam for needing the computer to make arrangements because she wanted to remind herself what Hunter looked like since she ‘squandered’ her visit with her family. She happily sat on my lap and compared notes with me about Ema since she’d been called a ‘word of mouth’ player because of her ability and the fluctuating tenor of Sophie-Ann’s greed.
When Pam was finally done with her calls, she put the laptop on the coffee table and then her feet. “We have Ema Oswald flying in from Dallas and landing at 2:15. Remy and Hunter Savoy arrive at 3:50 and Brandon and Julie Rousseau arrive from Shreveport at 4:25… I’ll make reservations for dinner and book them in the Family Suites on 9… Brandon is 25. Julie is 8. He’s a little scattered at the moment. Julie’s mother wasn’t cut out for motherhood and left without a forwarding address a couple of years ago so he isn’t worried about custodial problems… Oh! Ema had a message for Sookie. It slipped her mind while she was on the line because she was excited to get the call ‘finally’. She said to go to the hospital…” In an instant, I managed to think of no less than a hundred things that had been done to Sookie that could cause long term damage…
Before I could stop the barrage of horrible scenarios, Sookie blurted, “Hospital!? I feel fine!”
Pam shrugged. “She didn’t make it sound like life and death. She just said ‘check into the hospital’.”
Check into… as in ‘look into’… investigate. Not seek treatment. Alright… unfeasible Vampire panic-attack narrowly avoided. I groaned, “Pam, for future reference, all of Ema’s messages need to be delivered verbatim.”
Sookie turned to give me a confused look. “Why should I go? Is there… is it the pot?”
“No… I think she means for you to go to the hospital like ‘You’ went to hospitals in Dallas.”
She opened her mouth and formed an O with her lips as she inhaled slowly. Surprise and insight met on her face and somehow it was hilarious and tempting at the same time. “Ohhhhhhhhh. When the hell am I supposed to do that? And who the hell am I looking for?”
Pam cleared her throat to get our attention and I had to force my eyes away from Sookie’s mouth. “I’m waiting for an email from her… she warned me that it would be too big to open on a phone and it was for your eyes only.”
“The message she sent was most likely due to an augury she received about someone of interest in an Area hospital, the only thing that concerns me is whether Ema knows which hospital to send us to. How many are in the Area?”
“One. It’s huge though. The closest one other than that is in Boonesville…” She reached for the laptop when it chimed and handed it over to me.
I set it on Sookie’s lap and she began cackling again when she noticed the email address.
“Is your buzz why ‘squirrelturd’ is so funny?”
“Probably… they don’t say ‘nuttier than a squirrel turd’ in Europe?”
I shook my head. “No… I can’t say that I’ve ever heard an equivalent either.”
“C’mon. Don’t tell me the Dutch don’t do idioms or similes… Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? Crazier than a shit house rat? Loose screws? More bananas than the monkey can grab? Too many jokers in the deck?” I would have silenced anyone else before they reached ‘loose screws’, but that one sitting had been the longest we had gone without crying and I was enjoying it too much… Not only was Sookie feeding me her good mood, but by then Pam was as well.
“I’m sure there are… you’ll have to research it and get back to me.”
“K… HOLY SHIT!” She’d looked at the screen just as I opened the first attachment. It was a .jpg of a scanned drawing…
A penciled sketch of me…
Sitting on a sofa with Sookie on my lap…
With a laptop…
Sookie grabbed the front of her pajamas then looked at the drawing. She put her hand against my chest then looked at the drawing. She grabbed my head on either side to move it out of her line of sight and then looked at the drawing…
“EVEN THE CANDLE!”
I laughed at her. I couldn’t help it. “Sookie, you knew about her ability.”
She gasped, “Shut up!” She wagged her finger at the screen and shook her head. “Knowing and seeing are different! Nooooooo… nononono… the only reason you aren’t shitting your pants right now is ‘cuz you can’t!” Maybe.
Pam cleared her throat again as her way of asking if she could see and when I turned the laptop around and held it up so that she could see for herself why Sookie was so unhinged, I was given another chance to laugh at her gaping mouth.
It was as though Ema had sat in the vacant chair in the living room and drawn us… everything… the soy vanilla candle burning on the sidetable, the way Sookie’s hair was pulled over one of her shoulders, the Apple logo on the lid of Gwen’s computer.
And it was dated last week.
After a few moments, Sookie patted my leg. “Lemme up.”
I moved my arms so that she could leave my legs and asked, “Do you not want to see the rest?”
She cringed and began putting away her snacks. “Once you do… Ema said she’s been drawing stuff that gave her nightmares… but… but you said you’ve been bored. She probably just sent some samples, but…”
I shook my head to interrupt. “No. I understand.” I wasn’t about to make her defend herself for wanting to avoid reliving her hell.
The next sketch was held up because it was of Lowell Waters, the Vampire Sookie had only just exposed as the fleeing murderer not an hour before.
Followed by a drawing of Sookie and me lying on the bed in the Western Hills saferoom fully clothed as we attempted to reset. It was accurate in every detail including Sookie’s tears and a smudge that was my blood at the corner of her mouth.
The next three sketches weren’t shared. Pam had scooted to sit directly next to me when Sookie left my lap… They were what gave Ema nightmares… what Sookie had suspected would be waiting.
The scenes in question… a pronged choker collar and fresh whip, hand and cane marks, sandpaper treatments, and a fireplace lighter being held to delicate feet.
The only thing to be grateful for was that her face hadn’t been in any of them. If those three were the only drawings of Sookie’s torture, Ema wouldn’t have to know who the depicted victim was unless something pushed the topic.
Even though Pam and I didn’t dwell on those drawings, Sookie could sense what we were looking at… She only let her anxiety build long enough for me to open the second of them before she announced she was going to finish the blunt she left on the bathroom counter. Dinh was going to need to make a lot of brownies when we first arrived.
The sixth drawing was a slight improvement… As far as I could tell, it was how Sookie awoke with the other Me in his room. Her face was visible, as was the rest of her, but even though it illustrated the markings and she was covered with shading meant to be bruises, the large plush pillow she was hugging was the first stop in the end of her ordeal.
In turn, there was a drawing of me with the Sookie I rose with in Amsterdam… She was hailing a cab in front of my townhouse, wearing an artifact of a sweater and barefoot. Since My Sookie still hadn’t returned, Pam asked if the severe weight difference was accurate. When I nodded, she decided that ‘we’ had a lot of work ahead of us.
We. I took a moment to enjoy what that probably meant. We.
There was a collection of portraits including Dinh, Saskia and Hunter, and a man I had to assume was Brandon or Remy… Several drawings of water. The canals she mentioned were assumed for the most part. Only one was an actual canal in Amsterdam. The others were in Eijsden.
There was a list like the one the other Eric described… four pages of names or fragmented thoughts that we could sort later.
The last of the attachments was a drawing of a man in front of an emergency room entrance…
Pam nodded. “That’s the sign at Evansville General… Are you going tonight?”
“We should leave the night after next. If Sookie and I are on our errand, you and Willis can discuss other matters.”
She studied me for a moment while she thought about the subtext of what I had meant. “Are you sure?”
“Completely.” I placed the laptop on the coffee table and went to the bathroom door to knock. “Sookie, you know you’ve smoked too much when you consider dreadlocks.”
She was faking a smile when she opened the bathroom door, redressed in her clothes from earlier. She hadn’t finished the joint judging by the smell. “I’m ready to go when you are.”
“Are you upset that we’re going out?”
She shook her head. “Do we know anything about who we’re looking for?”
“We know exactly what he looks like and I’m assuming that we’ll find him in the Emergency Room. That’s where she drew him.”
She heaved out a long breath. “Okay.”
“Would you prefer to go tomorrow during the day?”
“No. Willis would have to take me and… and he has enough to do.”
“We should only be a little while and we’ll come back to the room so you can relax.”
“Sookie, what’s wrong?”
She shook her head again. “Can we just go? I don’t… I’m… I’m tired and…” And that light, My light had flickered out.
The reprieve was over… Ema’s drawings had proven to be a buzz kill.