In The Dark
Do Your Worst
She’d hit the floor hard enough that she winced when I picked her up and carried her back to the sofa in my office. She still hadn’t said anything.
While I waited for Sookie to answer my repeated questions about how she felt, her visitor berated her from behind me. “Of all the selfish bullshit you’ve pulled, now I’ve got a voicemail saying you took your fucking boyfriend with you on Sam’s visitation. What kind of fucking bitch does that!?”
More troubling than the fact that Sookie had just collided with a cement floor while 9 months pregnant, was that she didn’t have an answer for him. As witty as Sookie had proven herself when it came to slinging insults during an argument, she didn’t even seem to be trying to think of one. “Sookie, what’s hurt?”
He barked, “Her ass. Not for nothing, buddy, but this isn’t any of your business. Take a hike.” Excuse me?
Sookie grabbed my wrist in just enough time to keep me from standing up and going after him. “My hip… and I twisted my ankle… Eric, that’s Jason. Jason, did you come all the way from California to be an asshole?” Her fucking brother?
“No. I came all the way from California to take your dumb ass back to your husband. If you want to run around and be a blood-cooze for the fanged population of Louisiana, then you leave your kids with your husband to be raised correctly. It’s not Tina and Shelly’s fault you want to grow up to be a slut just like Dad… At least he had the decency to not start sleeping around until his divorce was final. Let’s go.”
“I’m not going back to Sam, Jason. The girls aren’t going back to him either.”
“You don’t get to play God between him and his kids, you bitch. He’s got the right to see them even if you’ve gotten restless. It isn’t his fault you got bored. If you don’t want to see him, that’s fine. Where are the girls? I’ll take them to him myself…”
She tightened her grip on my wrist, grabbing the other for good measure. “Eric, he’s either been talking to Sam or he’s been getting a partial story from Daddy.”
“That doesn’t excuse…”
She nodded. “I know… Jason, I didn’t leave Sam because I was bored. I left when I found out he’s been cheating…” And shifting and fathering half-Shifters all over northern Louisiana while treating her more like a freebie than a wife.
“Be a fucking adult about it and sue him for everything he’s got. You don’t take a man’s kids to another town out of spite and parade your boyfriend in front of him when you let him see his babies. That’s just fucking wrong… Dad said that you aren’t telling anyone where you’re staying. Why can’t Sam know where his children are sleeping?”
“We’re staying with Eric. That’s all Sam needs to know.”
“Well, I need more. I need to know what the fuck got into your head that gives you an excuse to keep your husband from his kids. We were raised better than that. Calvin would’ve fought to keep seeing us and we’re ‘just’ his step kids!”
“I know! And Calvin wouldn’t have had to fight to keep seeing us. He kept putting up with Mom just so he wouldn’t have to put us in the middle of shit! I left Sam because I can’t trust him. I’m done. I found an apartment in the city and a job managing a bar that would support me and the girls. We were just breaking up and I thought everything was as simple as the first stages of divorce could be until Sam went ape-shit. He busted in the door of the apartment, broke everything we own and knocked me around while the girls hid from him in their room. We left the apartment and Eric is letting us stay with him until Sam starts acting like he’s got some sense. Eric went to dinner with us tonight and sat at a different table with me while Sam visited with the girls and he spent the whole time thinking about me and Eric being together instead of his children. They don’t want to be alone with him.”
When he didn’t have a verbal response, Sookie added, “Would you like to see the pictures of what the Father Of The Year did to their home? The land-line hadn’t been connected yet so he destroyed my cell phone so that I couldn’t call 9-1-1. Poor Tina asked for her own cell phone so that she could call on her own.”
“Are those the new phone numbers you left on my voicemail?”
“Why the fuck didn’t you say something!? Dad’s been worried sick! Sam’s been calling him and filling his head…” At least Sookie had been working on the correct assumption. Jason had been fed 3rd hand information that had been filtered through their ignoramus father.
“Because Daddy can’t do anything to help. He didn’t need to know that Sam’s been violent. He’d have gone off half-cocked and gotten himself hurt trying to confront Sam. Calvin’s done as much as he could, but Sam’s so fucking stupid right now that he’s trying to pick fights with Vampires.”
When I sat next to Sookie, I looked at her asshole brother and saw that the look on his face hadn’t changed. He was still just as confrontational as he had been when Sookie first opened the door…
“You said he was thinking about you… How do you know that? Did he admit to it?”
She barely shook her head before he clenched his fists and opened his mouth…
Before the first sound escaped his mouth, I shut the door behind him and shoved his ass onto a chair. “Before you wind up again, you need to know that if you touch your sister again, I’ll be mailing your body back to your wife in small envelopes.”
“Fuck you! This isn’t your family!”
Sookie shouted, “Yes it is! He’s been looking out for us when no one else could, now shut up and let me explain!”
He scowled at her and snarled, “How do you know what Sam was thinking?”
“Because I read his mind!”
He shot out of his seat to loom over her and flailed when I shoved his ass back onto the chair. “Where are the girls? I thought you were just being selfish… I didn’t know you’ve gone crazy!”
“I’m not crazy, Jason! I might’ve stopped reading minds when Mom sent me away, but I can still do it… I’ve been reading minds again for a couple of weeks…”
“ENOUGH! Sam might not have the heart to do it, but if you don’t tell me where to find my nieces, I’ll get a lawyer and take custody of them myself! All three of them.”
“You WILL NOT! I’m not crazy! Ask Calvin! He knows!”
“He does not! All Mom ever told him was that you went away because you couldn’t handle the divorce! She didn’t tell him that you were so desperate for attention that you lied about reading minds and getting molested!”
“You haven’t even talked to Calvin, have you?”
“I talked to him yesterday while I was packing. I tested him about how you’re doing since I haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks. He said you’re fine. He said the girls are excited about the baby coming. Since he didn’t bother mentioning that you’d left your husband for a Vampire, I figured you’d snowed him into covering for you like he did when you were getting into trouble in high school…”
“He ran interference for me when I broke curfew. It’s not like he covered up any crimes…”
“And since you’re playing your mind games again…”
“Would you like to test me, asshole?”
“No. You were a good faker when you were little, I’m sure you’ve gotten better at it…”
“I am… I was faking it with Sam for the past couple of years now, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I can read minds.”
“Fine. What am I thinking?”
“That the cab fare is adding up while you’re stuck listening to… You brought Lauren and Junior with you!?” That got his attention.
“How the fuck…?”
“I can read minds… Lauren told you that you aren’t allowed to flip out until you heard my side… Junior is just excited to get to see us…” Point for Lauren.
“That’s not funny!”
“She’s freaking out because it’s taking you so long…”
“You were going to come alone, but she knew you’d have a shit-fit and by the time you were done making an ass out of yourself, she was going to have to talk me into forgiving you.”
“Sookie, if you don’t stop, RIGHT NOW, I’m gonna whoop your ass!”
“Jason, you need to get a grip. You aren’t going to lay another hand on me without getting a hellacious Come To Jesus and you need to stop being a dick about telepathy because your boy doesn’t need you to treat him like Mom treated me.”
“THAT’S NOT FUNNY!”
“Junior and my girls all ended up with it too.”
“How the fuck did MY son end up a mind reader. I’m not! Hell, you’re not either! It’s called cold reading… Like that supposed ‘medium’ Lauren watches… John Edward… It’s all fake…”
“No, brother, it’s not. I’d be willing to bet he’s just like I am and trying to feed his family with his ability.”
“How did you… Did Junior say something to you? Last Summer? He’s always so quiet…”
“I’d venture to guess that he’s quiet because he doesn’t need to talk to y’all to know what you’re thinking. Have you chilled out a little bit now?”
“Not really. Now I’m shitting my pants over having a telepath for a kid. Why the fuck do I believe you?”
“Because you knew when we were little that I wasn’t lying. It was just easier for you to believe the lie once I figured out how to make it stop.”
He sagged against the back of his seat and buried his face in his hands. “Assuming this isn’t bullshit…”
“Assuming… how did Junior get stuck with it? Your girls I’d get, but Junior… He wouldn’t have gotten it from me. I know I can’t read minds. When we were little… I tried.” Ooh, can I tell him he’s part Faerie so I could see his head implode?
Sookie raised her eyebrow at me and shook her head. She looked like she was close to laughing and had to clear her throat to continue. “It’s just a family thing that skipped you. He doesn’t like it. The girls don’t mind it because they have each other. They think it’s normal, but Junior is alone in it. He likes to be around the girls because he has someone to ‘talk’ to about it.”
“When did you find out about him?”
“When I started listening again, I found out from the girls. I hadn’t listened to people’s thoughts in so long that when I started again I found out in one day that my husband had fucked half the women I know and that my babies were born just like me. I was going to talk to you about it when you came for Christmas. You can’t treat him like a freak for it. Of all the shit Mom put us through, that’s what I hated her for. I blamed the booze for everything else.”
He finally removed his hands from his face and sat up to look at Sookie. “I blamed the booze for all of it.”
“Go get your family. We’ll talk more when I take you to your hotel.” After he’d yanked her from her feet, she was going to… NO.
When he stood up, I backhanded the prick. “That’s for hurting Sookie.” He wasn’t going to just upset her and not have to answer for it.
I turned around, prepared to have to defend the blow, but she surprised me by putting her finger in the air. “One more, if you don’t mind.”
I didn’t give him the chance to cover himself anymore than I wanted her to have the chance to say she was just joking.
Jason was licking his blood from the corner of his mouth when Sookie barked, “And that one was for suggesting that I’d lie about what I went through with Bartlett. Asshole.” Good girl.
Once he’d stumbled out of my office, I sat next to Sookie again.
“You could have warned me that he’s hostile. How are you?”
“He isn’t usually… I’m hurting. My hip is going to be one giant bruise by tomorrow and my ankle feels sore, but not bad enough to think it’s sprained.”
“Squirming, as usual. The fall definitely got her attention, but she’s not trying to abandon ship or anything. I’m ok.”
“Your brother is an idiot.”
“He’s not scared of Vampires because he works with a lot of them. Financing and computers… There aren’t many Humans that can look at hundreds of lines of html code and know what’s not right within minutes.”
“He thinks we’re all mild-mannered computer geeks?”
“Or money minded financiers, yeah…” She started giggling, “Welcome to the Thunderdome.”
“It’s not funny. He could’ve hurt the baby.”
“He’s lucky he didn’t. I’d have beaten his ass.”
“Does he at least regret manhandling you?”
“Not yet. He’s still reeling. It’ll hit him later and then Lauren will run through all the possible scenarios and turn his guilt into an annoying barrage of apologies. The one thing from the journals that’s right when it comes to this Jason is that he’s impulsive.” She winced when she began trying to push herself from the sofa to stand. “Would you mind asking Ramon and Darius to close up? I think I can trust them to take off… we can just say your blow job wore me out.” I might’ve laughed if it had been under other conditions…
“Stay. I’m not leaving you alone with him.” Just because she was fine, didn’t mean that her fall wouldn’t put her into labor given some time.
“I doubt he’ll…”
“You promised that he’d get a Come To Jesus though. I don’t want to miss the chance to give it to him.”
She giggled as she sat back, letting me have my way and waiting for me to explain to the staff that they’d be closing without us.
Jason, Lauren and Junior were waiting next to the Escalade when I carried Sookie through the back door… and Jason was punched in the back of his shoulder by his wife when she saw that Sookie wasn’t walking.
Instead of taking them to their hotel room, Sookie took my offer to take them back to our house so that her brother could quell his curiosity about how Sookie and the girls were living… I would just glamour them to forget how to get there when I dropped them off at their hotel later.
Not only would it shut Jason the fuck up, but he could explain in detail to Corbett that Sookie wasn’t sleeping in a fucking slum.
Pam was waiting in the kitchen when we walked in and panicked as soon as she saw Sookie being carried.
I didn’t let her start asking questions before I offered, “If you don’t mind, Pam, Sookie twisted her ankle and needs ice.”
She nodded and sped to the freezer. “As worried as you were, I thought she was in labor… You’re carrying her.”
“Not yet, but since her brother yanked her off of her feet and she hit the floor with her hip, I’m still watching for it…” Lauren punched her husband in the back again. “Pam, meet the Stackhouses. Jason, Lauren and Junior. Where are Tina and Shelly?”
She stopped dumping ice into a bag to scowl at Jason. “They’re waiting for you to find them.” Perfect.
I put Sookie on a chair, lifting her swollen ankle to rest on another seat while she giggled that she knew what my priorities were.
I approached Lauren since she was holding Junior… At nearly 6 years old, he looked huge compared to the girls’ tiny frames.
“Junior, have you ever played Hide and Seek?”
He nodded bashfully while Pam lifted Sookie’s leg to put it in her lap and placed the ice to the sore ankle.
“My little telepathic friends cheat. Because they can feel me approaching, they find other hiding places… One round lasted more than an hour the other night. Care to join my team? Or would you rather hide as soon as I leave the room?”
He was still thinking about it when his mother shook her head. “He’s not telepathic. Is that… is that part of a game you play…?”
He cut her off, suddenly blurting, “Hide!”
I narrowed my eyes. “Suit yourself. I’ll be seeing you soon…”
He laughed and started squirming to get out of Lauren’s arms while his parents traded loaded glances and I dashed up the stairs…
Hide and Seek was getting more and more difficult. The longer they stayed at the house, the more their scents melded into their surroundings… it had been a given the first few times that I’d find them right away, but Pam ruined some of the mystery by explaining that I could smell them and hear their heartbeats once I was in the same room with them. Hearing those tiny details, made it all the more fun for little Tina… She coached her sister and began doubling over her tracks to create red herring hiding places… hiding with a pillow clutched over her chest to muffle the sound… keeping herself so calmed so that her breathing wouldn’t give her away as quickly.
As much fun as we had with our little ritual, it was practical too… If she could hide from me, and she had truly hidden from me, she could hide from a threat… specifically, her father who was supposedly a notable tracker.
Shelly was always easier to find… once I was close enough to her, singing ‘you’ll have to do better than that’ earned a giggle that gave her away. I tried leaving her to ‘find’ her after Tina once, thinking that she’d be discouraged to consistently be found first, only to be pouted at. She was disappointed that she didn’t get the usual ride on my shoulders while I searched for her sister.
That time she was hiding under the carefully rearranged pillows on Sookie’s bed.
I laid on the bed, making sure to use her legs as a pillow. I sighed as I began ‘talking to myself’… “Those poor girls… Since we have company, they’re going to be upset if our game goes on long enough that they miss them.”
The pile of pillows squirmed and asked, “Who’s here?”
“Well… wait. Who is that?”
She cackled and wriggled around to poke her sweaty head out from between the pillows. “Me.”
I rolled off of the bed, tumbling to the floor, pretending that she’d startled me.
She cackled again and ran from the bed to land on my chest. “Didn’t scare ya… Who’s here?”
“If I tell you, will you help me find your sister?”
She shook her head. “Nuh-uh.”
I smiled at her. “Good girl. Never give up your allies. Uncle Jason brought Lauren and Junior for a visit.”
“He is. I asked him to help me find you, but he decided to hide too.”
I nodded. “Three little hiders… I have my work cut out for me. Are you still going to make me do it all myself?”
She nodded and patted my chest. “Hurry up! Wanna visit!”
I groaned as I stood up, lifting her to my shoulders. “Why don’t I get any help?”
“B’cuz you’re big. Don’t need it.”
“You two are getting so good at hiding, you might want to start hiding with a snack in case I can’t find you right away. I’d hate for you to starve.”
Shelly giggled, “Tina says you wanna hear the wrappers.” Smart little…
I laughed, “Tina… you gave yourself away… you’re close enough to hear me…”
Shelly quickly corrected me, “She heard it in my head.” Shit.
Three thoroughly searched bedrooms, bathrooms, closets and a peek into the attic that was mostly for the purpose of breaking Sookie’s ‘no antigravity in the house’ rule… nothing…
But Shelly started cackling as I started walking down the stairs. “What are you laughing about?”
I tilted my head back to look at her. She was lying. She was trying to avoid eye contact even though my face was inches from hers.
Sookie called from downstairs, “Eric, you need to put the baby down.”
Shelly yelled back, “MOMMMMMMY!”
“Hush! I didn’t tell him why!”
I had to tickle Shelly to get her to let go of my head and once I put her down, I narrowed my eyes. “What did I miss?”
Her eyes were wide and bit her lip for a moment before squeaking, “Not sayin’,” and bolting down the stairs.
What the fuck…
I went back through the upstairs bedrooms… one at a time going over every square inch again, moving clothing in closets… questioning my intelligence when I looked inside of the medicine cabinet in the girls’ bathroom…
I went all the way into the attic, wondering if Pam had given Tina a boost.
The only place I hadn’t checked twice was…
I’d been duped by a 4 year old!
I laid on Sookie’s bed again. “You are a very, very sneaky little girl.”
The pillows started snickering quietly.
“I have to ask… were you hiding under your sister or did you camouflage yourself with her scent once we began looking for you?”
She crept out from under the pillows. Her hair was matted to her face. “I was under the bed and moved when y’all left.”
“That was brilliant. So was using the fact that your sister’s heartbeat was right next to my ears.” She was adjusting her tactics to who was hunting her. It made me want to call Flood or Norris to see how she did when hiding from a Were.
“You’re not mad?”
I shook my head. “Far from mad. I’m proud of you. Explain your tactics this time. Why did you hide in the same room as Shelly?”
“Cuz we’ve been hidin’ far apart.”
“You don’t want to be predictable. Smart. Why did you hide in the same place your sister had been?”
“Cuz you a’ready looked there.”
“And it wouldn’t make sense for me to look there again. If I hadn’t gotten that hint from your mother, I’d have searched the whole house before I started rechecking. That was smart too… The harder question is, why did you sacrifice your sister?”
Her mouth fell open, clearly insulted. “I didn’t! I…”
I shushed her. “You did. Don’t get upset. I’ve already told you I’m proud of you, but for the sake of learning, what was your reasoning behind letting your sister be found?”
She dragged a deep breath before she defended her actions. “Mommy… mommy slipped… she thought we can hide from Daddy if he goes bonkers again.”
“Ok. How does that relate to Hide and Seek?”
She blurted, “Cuz we gotta plan.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Daddy won’t hurt us. Just take us. So… Shelly gets found first ‘cuz she ‘hears’ Daddy better. I hide ‘til Shelly ‘hears’ where he’s taking us… then sneak away for help ‘cuz I talk better.” Un-fucking-believable.
“Little girl, I know Vampires who wouldn’t have thought of that. Your plan is pure genius…”
“Not Disney Princess?”
“No. Your plan is beautiful. No Disney Princess would ever think to do that. You should be proud of yourself.”
She beamed. “I’m getting’ good.”
“You are. So good that maybe I should send Booby shopping for a pony.”
Sookie shouted, “Don’t you dare!” Damn woman ‘heard’ everything.
I corrected, “So good that maybe I should send Booby shopping for pony rides?”
Sookie laughed, “That’s better.”
Tina grumbled, “She’s a party pooper.”
“She just doesn’t want you to be too spoiled… Come along. Junior might’ve fallen asleep by now and Shelly’s going to get it for lying to me.”
As I put Tina on my shoulders, she snorted. “You can’t get her… You said never give up allies.” Fuck. That was me, wasn’t it?
Junior had no practice. None. He’d chosen to hide in the laundry room next to the hamper. He’d gone directly there from his mother’s arms, leaving an unmistakable trail even if his heart wasn’t pounding like he was close to a heart attack.
He jumped when I moved his hiding place. “How did you find me?”
“You’re from San Francisco. You smell like earthquakes.” Earthquakes/smog and fish. Tomayto/tomahto.
“Vampires have an excellent sense of smell.”
He grinned. “Guess so. Is that why I can’t hear you?”
I nodded. “Your ability seems to be the same as Sookie, Tina and Shelly’s. They don’t have to hear Vampires either.”
“Aunt Sookie too?”
I nodded. “She stopped listening for a while, but she’s practicing again.”
“No. He’s just a boring Human.”
Tina giggled and faked snoring as I picked the boy up and carried him back to the kitchen. He scowled up at her, but she reached down and swatted his head.
“What are you two arguing about?”
Tina grumbled, “Junior says boring’s better than being a freak.”
“And what do you say?”
She chirped, “I say Junior sucks.”
Sookie shook her head. “Watch your mouth, Tina. Little girls don’t say suck.”
“He started it. Tel’paths aren’t freaks.”
Junior argued, “What do you call it?”
“AWESOME!” She punctuated her opinion by kicking his shoulder.
“OW! Stop that! We are freaks!”
“Nuh uh! Eric says we’re special!”
Junior rolled his eyes. “Like SPECIAL Olympics!”
I passed him back to his mother and corrected. “Special in that most Humans have 5 dull senses. Telepath’s have a mind that can ‘hear’ beyond walls. Are you in school yet?”
He pursed his lips and nodded.
“How many of the children in your class can communicate as well as you can? How many of them have the vocabulary you do? How many of them even know what the Special Olympics are?”
“None. They’re stupid.”
“No. They’re normal, boring Humans. Being a telepath isn’t freakish, it’s an extra ability.”
He gave me a skeptical look while I put Tina down and directed her to introduce him to Sunshine and Snuggles so the adults could talk.
As soon as the children were out of the room, Lauren crashed onto the chair next to Sookie. “Would someone please tell me what’s going on?”
Sookie contorted to hold Lauren’s hand. “I’m sorry, hon. None of this is Jason’s fault… I was born able to read minds. I know it sounds crazy… it’s why my mom sent me to a hospital when I was little. I learned quick and in a hurry to block it and I hadn’t used it for years until someone showed up and told me that Sam was hiding things from me… to be honest with you, I forgot about it. I didn’t even know that Tina and Shelly were telepaths too until then. Jason never had it, and he didn’t have any reason to think Junior would either since he clearly believed the crap our Mom told people about me.”
“What was Sam hiding?”
“Among other things, he thinks I’ve cheated on him with everyone I’ve ever smiled at… probably because he’s been actually cheating on me since we were still engaged.”
“You missed that?”
“I told you, I hadn’t read a mind since I was 10, give or take. Once I figured out how to use my shields, I didn’t drop them until two weeks ago. I didn’t even have to think about it.”
“Someone taught me.”
“Someone that worked in the hospital.”
“Junior… does he hate it?”
Sookie nodded. “For now.”
“Can you… Sookie, he asked me to home school him… will you teach him?” Funny that Lauren was more accepting than Sookie’s own brother.
Sookie nodded. “I can… I’d rather help him be happy with it though. The girls love it. The girls liked it before they knew I had it and before Eric and Pam started giving them more reasons to like it.”
Lauren nodded. “He… he loves it when you guys visit. He’s been marking off the calendar since he found out we’re coming in for Christmas. He’s got cousins on my side, boys his age at that, but I didn’t know why…”
Sookie patted her hand. “It’s ok… we’ll get him straight. Before y’all go home, the girls and I will give him a crash course on using his shields and over the holiday he’ll get some more bonuses. K?”
Once Sookie was done reassuring her sister-in-law while her brother remained quiet, Sookie put her feet on the floor in an attempt to make her way to her room to change.
She had to know better than to think I’d let her climb the stairs.
I carried her up, leaving Pam to snarl at Jason for wounding her friend and set Sookie on her bed.
She grinned as I turned to her dresser. “That worked out well. Like you could read my mind or something.”
“Oh really? Did you want to be alone with me in your room?”
She giggled. “I did, but only to talk…”
“I don’t want to hear more Twilight rumors…”
“Not that… I was hoping you’d be willing to let Junior stay… so he could get some coaching.”
“I sure as hell don’t want Jason to stay here. Not after the way he acted. I’ll convince Lauren that Junior will welcome the quiet while he practices on minds that can be silent on demand.”
“In that case, I don’t mind at all. Any thoughts on how to help him at Christmas?”
“First of all, he thinks Granddaddy Cal is God… I’ve already talked to him about it and he’s primed to boost Junior if he needs it. He hates what Mom did to me.”
“The more I hear about him, the more I like him. Don’t let anyone know though…” I turned around from her drawer and held up a lacy bra and panty set.
She laughed, “I don’t think so… my PJs are down a drawer. You’re letting that blow job from earlier go to your head.”
“I should be so lucky…” She stood up and hobbled over to me. “Where are you going?”
She took a nightshirt from the drawer on her way by me. “As far as the bathroom to change. Cool your jets.”
“You don’t want any help?”
“Nope… I’m good.” She didn’t bother closing the door until it latched, leaving it cracked enough that I could’ve watched if I wasn’t sure I was being tested. When she opened the door again, barely a minute later, she was in her nightshirt and holding a robe. “Want to see something sexy?”
“Like your interesting little tattoo?”
“Which one?” I’d only been joking, half-joking… Suddenly, I really wanted to see them all.
“How many do you have?”
She smirked. “Hmmmm. I see a leveling of the playing field… You only knew about one of them. Bargaining chips… You have back rubs and I have tattoos.”
“What do I have to do to see them?”
“I wasn’t talking about my tattoos. I was just going to show you the crash zone on my hip. It’s already orange.”
“How many tattoos do you have?”
“Where are they?”
She shrugged. “Here and there.” She was teasing.
“Would the other Sookies have them?”
She shook her head, too amused by my preoccupation.
“Would your family know about them?”
She nodded. “This is kind of cool. You’re hung up like a scratched record.”
“Am I going to get to see any of them?”
“Would it piss you off to know that you’ve have your hands on them all?”
“While I was carrying you?”
“Not necessarily.” Fuck. It was actually driving me mad.
“While I was massaging your back?”
Her eyes rolled up as she thought about it and she nodded. “Some.”
“I know about the peacock. I was just hoping to get a better look at it.”
She shook her head. “It’s prettier when it isn’t 3D.” It was on her waist and wrapped around her side, so I couldn’t bring myself to mind that she was a bit self-conscious about it.
“Can I see any of them now?”
She teasingly pulled the neck of her nightshirt away to peek down the front of it and narrow her eyes at me.
“They aren’t all on your front. You didn’t have them in the summer.”
“I could’ve gotten more since then. I’m still planning another one.”
“Why a peacock?”
“Which is it, do you want to know about why I got the peacock or do you want to see one of the others?” Fuck. I… fuck.
“I want to… see one of the… Wait, is there a story behind them all?”
“If I opt to see a tattoo, will I hear that story?”
“You’re going to hold them over me.”
“I have to do something. I have a finite number of tattoos with stories and you have…”
“If I offered unlimited massages…”
“What’s a deal?”
“You get to see the tattoos and hear their stories tonight, except my peacock roadkill, in exchange for massages for life.”
“No. It’s a deal.”
She giggled and started walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“To get my laptop.”
“I have pictures…”
I headed her off, blocking the door and growled, “In person.”
She snickered and rested her forehead against my chest. “I was just kidding. I’m going to go talk to Jason and Lauren about leaving Junior here.”
“I’m going to see them off and once the kids are settled in, you’ll get to see 2 of my 3 tattoos in person. Happy?”
I nodded. Yes. Yes, I was happy.
Happy enough to palm off the chore of taking Lauren and Jason to their hotel since Pam was already going home.
No sense in going out again if I didn’t have to… yes?
Not when I was still worried about possible complications from Sookie’s fall… yes?
Definitely. My excuses held water even if Sookie found them amusing.
I knew Sookie was toying with my patience by staying in the den while the children settled in to watch a movie.
I’d seen thousands of tattoos and never cared enough to ask about any of them. Seeing Sookie’s peacock peeking out from under her bikini bottoms made me curious to see it closer, if not unobstructed… finding out that she had others and that they had stories made me curious about her…
The Sookies from the journals, the ones I’d memorized, were so different… only base elements matched those of Mine.
Stubborn and outspoken, modest expectations, very firm views about trust and betrayal…
My Sookie was educated where the others struggled to complete school.
My Sookie executed control of her ability by giving herself peace while the others sought sanity by acclimating to the noise.
My Sookie traveled while the others stayed in their tiny hometown.
The same science was at work in her creation, but her history had deviated so far back in her short life… more than half of My Sookie’s time had been different from the others’.
I was anxious to see the literal debate of ‘nature versus nurture’ at work.
My Sookie was full of little surprises and I didn’t care to wait until she’d written her own autobiographical journal entry to learn them all.
Seeming dismissive about my opportunity would’ve been absurd. She knew that I was curious enough to see her little decorations… I could practically feel how amused she was until she searched me out…
I’d tried to read. It hadn’t gone terribly well considering I’d been looking at the same page for nearly half an hour… At least I thought to turn the page when she came into my study quietly to stand next to my chair.
She raised an eyebrow as she tipped my book up to see the spine and gave an amused little huff. “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, huh?”
“Is there something funny about that? It’s one of my favorites.”
She looked up to scan the shelves. “Where does it rank?”
“Top 10. Easily.”
“That says something.”
“Have you read it?”
She shrugged. “A few times. How do you want to do this? Do you want the story, then the tattoo or…”
“I’ve seen the peacock. What’s the story behind that?”
“It’s actually a cover job. I wasn’t doing much thinking when I let a friend tattoo a big green ganja leaf on my hip. I was 15. My only defense is that I turned my brain off when school let out. Lafayette actually drew the peacock on me while he waited with me at the tattoo shop.”
“Was it your second then?”
“Nope. My most recent actually. I finally covered the leaf when Tina asked me what it was. She can wait to know Mommy was a wild-child until she’s trying to corral her own children.”
“Were you that ‘wild’?”
She tipped her head back and forth. “Depends on who you ask. I’d prefer you asked Calvin because he says that I was good a girl that was just too adventurous for my own good at times.”
“I’d buy that, considering how conscientious you are now. In my experience, maturity doesn’t always come to ‘wild’ individuals… What about your second one then?”
She turned around, inching up her nightshirt and robe… and then pushing down the top of her panties slightly to reveal two little pink handprints, one monogrammed with a T and the other with an S. “I used an inkpad to get the girls’ handprints. Both of these were done within a week of them being born. Whenever they get the chance, they put their hand over them to measure themselves up. It’s sweet… they wow over how much bigger they are and I think about how far they have to go.”
“The next one you’re planning will have a tiny M in the palm like her sisters’?”
“Providing I don’t decide to stick with Winnie.”
“I can’t endorse that. It would be cruel. Pam likes you. She’d be pissed if she had to stop talking to you on principle.”
Sookie hummed quietly. “I like her too. Just this once, I’ll take baby-naming advice in order to preserve the peace.”
“You’ll have to tell her that I talked you out of it, at least. Otherwise she’ll still snarl at me for the first joke.”
“You got it… ready for the last one?”
“It isn’t a Twilight tattoo is it?”
She laughed and looked over her shoulder as she lowered to her knees. “Would you get over it? It’s fiction. It’s not anymore preposterous than the other Vampire shite that’s been printed. And if you want to file a complaint with the Pop-Fiction Commission, I’m jumping in line ahead of you. Telepaths have a handful of crappy comic book side-kicks, Jedis and Vulcans. Go ahead and cry about Edward Cullen. I’m stuck with Yoda, buddy. And don’t even get me started on how Spock’s got pointed ears. What else has pointed ears?” It was a very good thing she wasn’t facing me… I was hopelessly close to laughing.
“That’s right. Vampires have Gary Oldman in that sexy silver waistcoat. Bella Lugosi in that tux. Even when y’all are the assholes, you’re still cast with sex-on-a-stick actors… Telepathy has Leonard freakin’ Nemoy.”
“Are you done?”
“Oh, and you’d be in line behind Paulette too. Witches are always monstrous hags or filthy lunatics with cocked up teeth.”
I snorted when I laughed. “Are you done now?”
“Now that you’re laughing, yeah. Want to hear a secret?”
“Is it a dirty secret?”
“It really is… You know that sparkly, sleep-creeping, androgynous pantywaist?”
I groaned, “What about him?”
“We share that shame. He reads minds too.”
“Does he, now?”
“He never gets laid either. I’d have beat him up if I knew him in high school.”
I chuckled, “Alright, so while I’m in line behind Witch Hazel and Yoda, can I see the last of your tattoos?”
She snickered as she shook her head and pulled her arm out of her sleeve, hoisting her shirt to expose everything up to her shoulder. Instead of focusing on how temptingly bare she was, the last of her tattoos had 100% of my attention. On the back of her shoulder was a storm cloud. Unlike her other tattoos, the cloud wasn’t in full color. Black and grays, with little streaks of lightning and script… “Do your worst, for I will do mine!”
The more complete quote was, ‘Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine!’
I actually ran my fingers over it as though I expected it to change. The peacock was frivolous and ornamental… and even though the handprints were sentimental, they were still ‘cute’… I wouldn’t have guessed that she’d have a quote from one of my favorite books tattooed on her body if I’d had another thousand years and a reminder that she was amused to see me reading The Count of Monte Cristo.
Sookie turned just enough to grin at me. “You might be the only person ever that I don’t have to explain that to.”
“Edmond’s speech at Albert’s party… That’s…” Not only did Sookie wear the only tattoos I’d ever been interested in, but that one in particular was possibly the only one I’d ever seen that I could say I was impressed by. “Why that line? That one in particular?”
She shook her head slightly, pushing her arm back through her shirt to let it fall back into place. She stood up, resting carefully against the side of my desk. “Because Monte Cristo is my favorite book. That speech was magnificent… empowering… It can mean anything to anyone. It’s the quintessential sentiment of determination, especially considering who the address was delivered by. You can’t be unmotivated after knowing what Edmond went through. In my opinion it’s THE best ‘love story’ ever told.”
“Not the Iliad?”
She shrugged. “Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I love that too, but that selfish little infatuation between Paris and Helena cost everyone everything… it’s a testament of Narcissism… Now Dantes, that man loved…”
“He was just infatuated with Mercedes…”
She snorted, “I wasn’t talking about his love for Mercedes. Mercedes didn’t save him from Château d’If. No. Animus helped Edmond survive for all of those years in a cage. When Fernand perverted their friendship, Edmond fell in love with revenge. The Monk was his matchmaker. It’s always good to see the hero get what he wants, but finding out that Mercedes still had feelings for him was just a bonus.”
“You have a very cynical take on it. Most people would say the story was about Edmond reclaiming his life, by extension, Mercedes.”
She snickered and stood up to leave me. “Why argue, when you’re part of the minority?” Caught.
I chuckled, “Do you want vengeance, Sookie?”
“I already have it. I’m happy. You can’t avenge yourself from someone who tries to keep you down better than that.” I couldn’t decide if she was talking about her husband or her mother.
“Do you think he loved Mercedes?”
“Fernand and Edmond both loved her.”
“I’d be willing to debate that.”
She smirked and started walking gingerly towards the door. “You think Fernand kept Mercedes as a trophy? A shiny toy he’d won.”
“Ah, but I believe love is a selfish emotion. You don’t love the person as much as the way they make you feel. Fernand loved that he’d won in his little plot and Mercedes was the embodiment of his victory, so yes, he loved her. Mercedes still would’ve been a trophy to Edmond… He could’ve reunited with her, but she’d have been a personification of his revenge. They had different motivations and they definitely chose special ways to make that trophy shine, but they both loved her.”
She waited at the door while I floundered to think of something to say… I wasn’t going to argue with her, but I didn’t want to answer her with silence.
I was lost. I’d read that book hundreds of times, but it was like she was describing a different story…
It made me want to reread the journal with her just to get her take on it… since she’d so cleanly restructured a story I’d committed to memory…
I’d gotten exactly what I wanted.
I’d seen her tattoos for the modest price of unlimited massages I’d have been willing to provide regardless…
I didn’t realize that my mouth was hanging open until she giggled, “Goodnight, Eric,” and left me sitting there with a book I needed to reread.
The negotiations and the subsequent wait for the unveiling gave me time to realize I’d be left wanting…
But I sure as fuck didn’t imagine that I’d be left wanting conversation.