Rising was altogether bizarre.
Everything was just as it was normally, save one thing… my mood.
On any other night, I’d rise, bathe if I hadn’t the night before, feed, and use my computer to tend to business until it was time to go to Fangtasia…
I’d do it all autonomously because the process was exactly as thrilling as it sounded.
What made that night different from so many others was that I was looking forward to something for once.
I could’ve blamed that I was anxious to be sure Merlotte hadn’t gone to Fangtasia, but it would’ve been a lie.
I was looking forward to hearing about how the Ladies’ day with Booby went.
Maybe I was just looking forward to their company, but my curiosity about fucking with Bobby was as much as I was willing to admit since I could hardly say that I knew much of anything about them.
The Sookies I’d read about in the journal were intriguing. There was a major deviation in the way My Sookie’s life had gone from the archives I’d nearly memorized, but there were base elements that seemed constant.
One month meant almost nothing by comparison to the rest of my long life, so for all intents and purposes I was the exact same Eric that Sookie had met in ‘her’ kitchen just a week before. An Eric who was enamored, obsessed, bonded to His Sookie… and there were 2 versions of that. But those Sookie’s hadn’t been raised under the same conditions. Judging by the little bit I’d learned from eavesdropping on Sookie’s argument with the Shifter, the differences were more vast than I realized.
Somehow, I was just as interested in discovering what made My Sookie tick as much as the other Erics had been when it came to theirs.
So instead of finding the usual excuses to stay away from Fangtasia, I was actually eager for the sun to fully set so that I could leave.
I was hardly in the back door when I heard little footsteps running towards me.
Tina and Shelly jumped into my arms, but their moods were anything but cheerful.
Tina explained, “There’s Weres in the parking lot. Been here a while. Daddy’s with them.”
“Have you been listening to your father’s thoughts?”
They shook their heads. “Mommy said not to.”
I nodded, taking them into my office and putting them on the sofa. As I repositioned my computer monitor and started playing one of Pam’s animated movies for them, I explained, “I’m going to go see what’s going on. If your mother doesn’t join you, I want you to hide under my desk if you hear anything that sounds like a fight. I’ll make sure this is over soon so that we can go home and toy with Bobby. Alright?”
They nodded anxiously and rather than watch the movie, watched me leave my office and shut the door behind me.
Sookie was waiting for me, staring at the doorway to the back hallway as though it had an answer to her problem.
Everything in Fangtasia was immaculate. The floor was still damp in a couple of places from being mopped, the smell of cleaner had managed to overpower the stench of fear and desperation, and the tables hadn’t been lined up so precisely since Fangtasia opened. She’d even cleaned the ATM, polished the floor on the stage and straightened every picture on the wall when she dusted the frames. The only thing that was the slightest bit out of order was the booth where Tina and Shelly had been drawing.
“This pit’s never looked better, Sookie. Are these our new servers?”
Sookie glanced briefly at the women sitting at the bar… another varied trio. A tall, slender black girl, a petite brunette with an athletic build, and a curvaceous Hispanic girl with dark curls to the small of her back.
Sookie nodded. “Good evening, Mr. Northman. You’re looking at Lea, Julie and Marisol… Ladies, this is our boss, Mr. Northman.”
The three of them waved like the group from the night before had.
“Welcome to Fangtasia. Since there are still a couple of hours before we open, you’re free to go…” Somehow, Sookie had managed to find girls who were smart enough to take a hint. Most of the servers we’d hired had been too dense to stop kissing ass and leave.
I waited until the door closed behind them. “The girls are in my office. Have you been listening to his thoughts?”
She nodded. “He’s worse than he was last night. Calvin confronted him so Sam wants to kill us both now.”
“Have you listened to his company?”
“That’s the part that has me worried. They’re… just there. I mean, they’re Weres and all, but… I’m not hearing any concrete thoughts from them.”
“The other Sookie has been practicing with Weres. I started reading minds again the same night I decided to get away from them.” I couldn’t decide if her tone was defensive or panicked.
Sookie cut me off. “He’s here to start shit. What the hell am I… I guess you were right. If he stirs up enough shit, you’ll fire me or I’ll quit… either way, he’s doing his best to make me go back!” That was panic talking.
I started for the front door. “I’ll leave him alive. Maybe he’ll learn a lesson from having to bury his friends.”
She ran to catch up to me and grabbed my arm. “Don’t! You can’t go out there alone!”
“They’re just Weres, Sookie. Even though there are three of them, I’m not outnumbered. I know what I’m doing.”
She let go of my arm and whimpered, “Don’t you dare get hurt because of me.”
“I’ll be right back.”
I waited for her to go back behind the bar before I opened the door.
Two of them were directly in front of the building. Merlotte was in one and an older man was in the other. The third truck, further away from the door, was Colonel Flood. As a minimum, I knew Flood wasn’t a threat. He didn’t trust me, but we had enough of a ‘working’ relationship that I knew the Packmaster wasn’t collaborating with Merlotte… And if Merlotte was stupid enough to try something after dark with only one helper, he deserved the Darwin Award I’d nominate him for myself.
All eyes were on me.
“Explain why the fuck you’re here, Merlotte.”
He shoved his door open and scowled on his way over to me, being intercepted by Flood and the older man. Merlotte was smaller than either of them as strong as I knew Flood to be, Merlotte was still pushing forward..
The older man who’d parked next to Merlotte took a swing, punching Merlotte in his nose to get his attention and telling him to calm down. “Northman, this is my idea. Calvin Norris.”
“It was your idea to bring the Shifter who attacked Sookie to where she works? Brilliant. Why haven’t you run for President?”
“He has something for you and we need to talk.”
“We should go inside then. I’m warning you though, if he can’t control himself, I’ll make sure he regrets it.”
Calvin nodded. “Understood.”
Since Merlotte didn’t seem like he was willing to cooperate, Flood shook his head and rolled his eyes. “You might be the strongest thing in Hotshot, but that means jackshit here, boy. Northman doesn’t talk to hear himself talk. He warned you. He fucking meant it. Calm down.” There was a reason Flood was Packmaster… pragmatism.
Merlotte snarled at me over Flood and Norris’s shoulders for long enough that I turned to leave them there. At the rate things were going, I could have Sookie and the girls home before he knew we left the building.
The door was closing behind me before he called for me to wait and promised to ‘dial it back’.
As the Weres filed into Fangtasia, Sookie became more on edge.
Merlotte acted as though he was going to approach her, but I changed his mind by grabbing him by the back of his neck to push his ass onto a chair. “That’s as close as you get to her… Sookie, you know everyone but Colonel Flood, I believe.”
She forced a smile and nodded in his direction. “Packmaster.”
“Sookie. How are you feeling?”
She glanced over to her husband pointedly. “I’ve been in better moods. How about yourself? Can I bring you a drink?”
He grinned at her. “A beer might be called for. Thank you.”
Sam barked at her, “Where are the girls?”
Sookie didn’t even bother looking up from watching the mug fill at the tap. Nothing.
That was my cue. “Make this fast, Norris. I have business to get to.”
Norris’s eyes finally left Sookie. “Right…” He kicked Merlotte’s shin. “…Settle up.”
Merlotte growled and pulled a check out of his pocket and held it out to me. “Thirty thousand isn’t what we discussed.”
Norris nodded. “A good faith start. He can’t get to the rest of it right away. I went with him to the bank myself. He has to wait 10 business days for the bank to release the cash from the CDs he needed to cash in.” I was actually disappointed that he was making the fucking effort. I wanted a reason to be waiting for him next Saturday… kick in the door of his trailer… demolish everything he owned… mark his face so that he’d be reminded of me every time someone asked about his injuries… He had no idea how much better I was at the game he played with Sookie and my sense of fairness made that check feel like sandpaper between my fingers.
“He’s bought an extra week to gather the remainder then. Was there something else?”
Norris nodded, but waited to thank Sookie for the beer she delivered to him as the Colonel did… She’d completely ignored her husband.
“I don’t know how bad he worked Sookie over, but I can’t say it matters. If I’d known that he was knocking her around earlier, this would be going down a different way…” Bullshit. Sookie mentioned something about Norris beating the shit out of Merlotte for something he did to her while she was pregnant with Shelly. “I’m picking sides. Sookie is my kin. It don’t matter to me if it’s blood or paper. She’s my little girl. Even her Daddy’d tell you that I’ve done everything I could for her… Sam, not that it amounts to much since you’d have Northman after you, but if you go after Sookie again like you did last night, you’re abjured.” Uh oh. No pack to hide behind? What then?
Sam spun in his chair to glare at his Packmaster. “After all I did for you!? You piece of shit!”
Norris shrugged. “Family comes before everything, son. If you had your head around that, we wouldn’t be here. Men lose their wives all the time. They don’t go on a rampage with their children in the next room. They don’t beat on pregnant women. You need to get your shit together. You know we keep to ourselves out in Hotshot. That’s why I called the Colonel. He told me Northman wouldn’t be wasting time on Were shit unless you gave him a good reason.”
Merlotte snarled, “So what the fuck is this? An intervention? You’re gonna tell me how to handle my wife leaving me for a Vampire!? Fucking hick! You got no business…”
“This is your come to Jesus, fool! I got every right. Sookie was Mine to worry about first. That hasn’t stopped just because she’s old enough to vote. You sucked at being a husband. Work on being a Daddy before you lose them angels too.”
“I already lost them! That cunt…!”
Before he could finish, I’d punched the side of his head so hard that he was limp when he fell to the floor. “Sorry. You were saying.” I looked for Sookie’s reaction, but she hadn’t budged from where she was leaning against the counter behind the bar.
We watched Sam twitch for a moment before he pulled himself together enough to sit up, but standing wasn’t an option for him yet. “She told me they were sleeping last night and when I went to their room, they were gone. She’s keeping me from seeing them.”
“Your children were sleeping when you arrived. When you started breaking shit because you smelled Vampire they woke up. They were hiding in their room, listening to everything you did when I got there and took them someplace quiet. Your children knew you were there and didn’t come from their room to see you. They know you’re here now and are hiding from you under my desk. That should tell you something.”
“It tells me that you started poisoning them against me last week.”
“Tell yourself whatever you want. I didn’t meet Sookie until Thursday when she came to me and offered to replace the manager we lost recently.”
“How did you lose her? You drain her?”
“That’s right. I’m the one that can’t control myself. It must be nice in your little world… Norris, are we almost done?”
“Yeah… Except…” He pointed and nodded towards the Colonel.
Flood cleared his throat. “When he called me, I offered to come along since you and I have a history… I wanted to lay my eyes on that asshole and his unfortunate wife. I don’t know how Merlotte was brought up, but Long Tooth doesn’t play the games he does. I won’t sign off on a mixed marriage unless the Human knows what they’re in for. Too much shit could go wrong. And uh… well… call me old fashioned, but the only excuse you’ve got to hit a woman is if she’s armed and coming for ya… And if they’re as ripe as Sookie is… well…”
Norris chuckled, “Then you hide until the mood swing passes…” Sookie finally showed a reaction by gasping and hurling an orange at his head. He caught it just in time to spare himself from a black eye and laughed, “Relax, baby girl. You know I’m playin’. You still got that arm too.” He tossed it back to her and she caught it without any effort and winked at him.
Flood continued, “Anyway, that in mind… I’m offering some eyes to keep that dip-shit honest. I’m hearing that he’s only got an excuse to be in the city on Sunday for public visitation. You let me know what you need. Assholes grow from assholes and Sookie’s little Shifter doesn’t need to believe were all like that or she’ll end up thinking she’s entitled to treat folks like shit the way her lovely father does. I’ve seen it happen.” Uh oh. Merlotte: no pack to come to his rescue. Sookie: an Area full of Vampires and Weres in her corner. Not only did Merlotte look like I punched his cock instead of his head, and Sookie looked like she was about to cry… but I was very close to kissing Flood.
Since Merlotte seemed to be calming down, and once Sookie listened to his thoughts to be sure of it, I went back to bring the girls from their hiding place.
They barely looked at their father while Merlotte was given the chance to see them since there was plenty of ‘ground support’ as Flood called it.
They were thrilled to see Grandaddy Cal.
They were curious to meet Packmaster Flood.
They excitedly showed what they’d drawn to me and Norris.
They were impatient to go ‘home’ because they were looking forward to their ‘American picnic’.
They might have said 10 words directly to their father in the half hour they tolerated the delay in their plans for the evening.
Tina and Shelly were leery of Merlotte the whole time.
Since Merlotte was present and accounted for, I had Sookie leave ahead of me and had to promise Tina and Shelly that I’d be ‘home’ 4 minutes after they called me at the bar… and gave my cell phone to Tina so that she could see to the call herself.
As soon as Sookie and Flood pulled out of the parking lot, I went back inside and found an irate Shifter waiting for me.
“It isn’t right! You’ve stolen my family from me!” Calvin immediately rolled his eyes.
“How do you figure that I’ve stolen anything from you? You know that Sookie came to me because she knew I could help her without exposing her gift. I haven’t done anything but kept you from hurting her.”
“She’s Mine. Those kids are Mine. Now those kids are calling a Vampire’s house their home.”
“Perhaps they just prefer their mother not being beaten and insulted. Maybe they just feel safer with individuals who tell them what a whore is and how their mother isn’t one. It’s possible that they’re more comfortable in calm situations.”
“You’re just gonna swoop in and keep me from seeing my children.”
“No. I’m going to help Sookie keep them safe from you until you settle down enough to be trusted or push your luck until I hide your body.”
“You’re just looking for an excuse to get me out of your way, aren’t you?”
“You were never in my way. You’re just too fucking stupid to realize it.” When he made the mistake of trying to block me from walking to my office, my patience came to an end. Since he seemed to need a lesson on whose dick was bigger… I put the heel of my hand in the middle of his chest and shoved him hard enough that I had to resist laughing at his backflip….
Calvin followed me to my office, stepping over Merlotte just as I had and sat down across from my desk. “The girls… even if Sam’s too cock-bent to appreciate it, they look happy. Thanks.”
Merlotte was still struggling to get his air back, but he managed to grunt, “You’ve got balls…”
“Are you asking to see them?”
“Fucking hypocrite… put on a good show in front of Sookie… but you’re no different… you’re a violent asshole…”
“I am different.”
“Yeah. You can kill her faster.”
“Just as quickly as I could kill you. Now ask me which one of you I want to kill.”
He finally made his way to the door of my office, bent in half and holding his chest. “How long before you want to kill her? You spend a few nights with her and you think you know her… you haven’t lived with her…”
“Are you seriously suggesting that I’ll start beating Sookie once I get to know her? Do you even hear yourself?”
“Don’t act all high and mighty. I haven’t been beating on her all along. I lost it last night when I smelled you all over the place.” Oh. Well, excuse me. Everyone was allowed to abuse pregnant women as long as they only did it once. Fucking prick.
He dropped his ass on the chair next to Calvin and winced. “What?”
“I hadn’t been into Sookie’s apartment until after you left last night. The Vampire you smelled was Pam. She helped Sookie arrange the furniture you so artfully destroyed since Sookie shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting. The Vampire you smelled on Sookie’s bed had helped her put your daughters’ clothing away.”
He stared at me without blinking for a moment. “How am I supposed to believe that?”
“Feel free to go back to the apartment. It’s not as though it could be locked after what you did to the door. Flip the mattress over. Take a long drag. And then promptly begin kicking yourself in the ass for doing that to the family you claim to care so much about.”
“Go fuck yourself. What the fuck do you know about family?”
“I know that your children felt safer on the roof we waited on last night than in their own bedroom because of you.”
“And you’re some saint, right?”
“Hardly. I’m anything but a saint. I wasn’t even a well behaved Human, but… I NEVER laid a hand on my wife and my children NEVER ran from me. Don’t confuse yourself, Merlotte. I was minding my own business until a few nights ago. If you’d been doing the same, our paths never would’ve crossed… If you’d been honest with Sookie, you’d still have her…”
Not that my conversation with Merlotte held any significance before, but when my desk phone began ringing, the Shifter was reprioritized.
“Fangtasia. The bar with bite…”
The girls didn’t let me finish Pam’s usual greeting before they shouted, “COME HOME!” It was loud enough that it rang in both of my ears… and made their father look like he was going to be sick. Grandaddy Cal just seemed happy to hear them in good spirits.
“I’m sorry. Who are you hoping to speak to?”
They both cackled and Shelly answered, “Eric! It’s us! Come home!”
Tina added, “Mommy says the picnic won’t start without you!”
“But I still have company.”
“Mommy’s in the shower. She says if you’re not home when she gets out, she’s going to the library.”
“Uh oh. That sounds serious.”
They both whined, “Errrrrrriiiiiic.”
I chuckled, “I’m on my way.”
They were giggling when they hung up.
Merlotte stood when I did and didn’t have the intellectual capacity to remember what happened the last time he’d tried to block my path.
“Don’t you have other children you could be terrorizing?”
I gave him the chance to see the error of getting in my way, but when I tried to step around him, he growled and slid into my path again.
I lifted him by his neck and grabbed his ankles to pin him to the wall like a mounted marlin. “I’m going to offer some ‘friendly’ advice. Physical strength means nothing if you’re incapable of rational thought. I could’ve saved us all the trouble by killing you in the parking lot. The only reason I didn’t was because I respect Sookie’s wishes. She wants you to ‘chill out’. She doesn’t want continual posturing and animosity because she has the girls’ best interest at heart. Sookie is kind enough in spite of what you’ve done to her that she’s willing to give you the chance to be a father to your children. Wake the fuck up. Take the chance while you have it because if you don’t, your body won’t ever be found. What do you want your children to remember, Merlotte? Think about how much you retained from that age. Do you want them to remember nothing but your rage or would you rather be something other than a nightmare to them? The choice is yours…”
I took him away from the wall, but I carried him outside with Norris at my heels… Instead of putting Merlotte down, I tossed his ass onto the windshield of his truck and concentrated to enjoy the safety glass crackling under him. I probably got too much satisfaction from watching him sprawl out like a splattered bug would.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for a picnic.”