The Lighter Side
Pam was more amused than usual.
Irritatingly, nauseatingly amused… I was sure that she was belittling a prospective customer who’d had the misfortune of being overconfident in their choice of attire. She’d take their picture and turn them away, pointing them in the direction of the ‘right bar for them’.
Judging by her mood, I’d venture to guess someone had chosen to try to blend goth and cowboy. That was always funny, and it always ended in a dispute between Pam and I about starting a ‘wall of shame’.
After a few moments I checked my phone, expecting to find a picture of the hapless ignoramus Pam was so tickled with.
Odd, but not unheard of. I’d only looked because I was bored beyond belief and tempted to swap jobs with her for the evening as a reprieve.
The past few months had been bland enough that they might as well not have happened. Completely forgettable, mundane.
When Pam finally felt like sharing her joke with the rest of the class, she sauntered towards me with a devilish grin on her face. It was ridiculous how much fun she was having. Fangtasia wasn’t fun. Ever.
She approached me with a woman in tow… blonde, blue eyes, and a hard laugh away from going into labor. THAT was not something you saw every night at Fangtasia.
“What’s so funny about a pregnant customer?”
“She’s asking to speak to you personally.”
I looked her over again, endlessly curious about why she’d be in Fangtasia in her condition. “Do you have a name?”
She nodded. “Sookie. Sookie Merlotte. I’d like a minute, if you don’t mind Mr. Northman.”
“Well, Sookie Merlotte, I think I can save you some time. I can swear that it’s not mine.”
She giggled, “Thanks for clearing that up, but I’m still going to need a minute.”
“How can I trust that you don’t have ulterior motives? You could be hiding anything under that muumuu.”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I guess I’m kind of a unicorn, huh? You don’t get many preggos in here?”
“That’s a safe bet. What’s the nature of the discussion we need to have?”
“Private. I was told that only you and Pam should be included.” That had my attention faster than her bulge.
“You were told by whom?”
“I told you…?”
She raised her eyebrows and pointed towards the hallway leading to my office. “Privately?”
Pam chuckled and walked behind Sookie as I led the way to my office … I didn’t have to ask. Sookie Merlotte was waddling and Pam never ignored the opportunity to laugh brazenly at the way pregnant women walk.
Sookie snorted as I closed the office door behind us. “Laugh while you can. This is my last one and it’s almost over. I only have 3 weeks to go.”
Before Pam could make an offensive reply, I offered a seat to the woman. “So what is so important that we need to speak privately?”
It took her a moment to lower onto the chair carefully. “Ok… back story… I was most of the way through college when I met my husband. We got engaged quickly and I got pregnant with my oldest, Tina, right after that. I bailed on school because of the long nights and commute and I’ve been doing what I could online ever since. I’ve been helping my husband run his bar instead…” She ran her hand over the mound in her waist. “So here I am, on baby number three and last Sunday, I found out that my husband is a Shifter…”
“And why does this matter to me?”
“Well, I’m looking for work. I have experience waitressing, bartending and managing… and I hear that your old manager was killed by a Maenad…”
“How did you hear about that?” And how the fuck did she know what a Maenad was?
“You told me.” Pam shot a dirty look in my direction as though she thought I was daft enough to blather on about Maenads.
“No. I didn’t.”
“See… here’s the thing. I just threw my husband out. I’ve told my stepfather to go fuck himself because as it turns out, he’s a freaking Packmaster…”
“Your stepfather is Colonel Flood?”
“No. Calvin Norris. The Hotshot pack… anyway, everyone in my life has been lying to me, except my father who’s pushing me to take Sam back because I can’t exactly explain it to him. It’s kind of all my fault since I’m a telepath. I’m coming out of retirement, so it seems, and I think having someone here at Fangtasia who can listen for drainers and whatnot could come in handy for you.”
“I haven’t read minds since I was a kid, but for the last week, I’ve been exercising. I’m pretty good… I understand that I’ll get better too.”
“Who told you that? Me?”
She snickered, “Yeah… I know I sound like a fruit loop, but… K. Do you want to hear about the telepathy first or the other?”
“Which one will be faster?”
“I was born a telepath. My mother always hated it. When her and my Daddy split up and she started dating my stepfather, she sent me to a mental hospital. I learned how to block the thoughts of others and barely ever listened to anyone’s mind since then, obviously not when it mattered. In the ladies room you have two women and a fashionably ambiguous man, but he’s minding his own business in a stall. There’s a woman in the men’s room being fed from though. She’s willing, but I think that’s a no-no. Two of your waitresses are skimming from the till, Leena and Cindy. Both of them think Ginger was a bitch for keeping an eye on them. Go figure.”
“Pam and me?”
“I can’t hear Vampires.”
She jerked her head bitterly. “Not really. After the crap I just found out, I’d feel better if I could hear eveyone’s thoughts.”
“Until they gave you nightmares… Pam, go confirm what you can…” She stared at me, unwilling to leave when shit finally got interesting. “We’ll wait for you.” Brat.
She grinned as she sped through the door to complete her chore.
I sat back in my chair, awed if nothing else. “So you’ve separated from your husband because he’s a Shifter?”
“I thought we were waiting.”
“Small talk rather than an awkward silence.”
“Ok… I didn’t leave him because he’s a Shifter. He can’t help that anymore than I can help being a telepathic. He was lying to me. Where he was, what he was doing… he didn’t trust me enough to tell me what he was… and to be honest, it occurred to me that I didn’t trust him enough to tell him about me either. That’s not the example I want to set for my girls.”
“It seems to me that you’re even. Why not reconcile instead of adding insult to injury by supporting his children with a paycheck signed by a Vampire?”
“I’ve got a lot of time to make up for. Because I wasn’t reading minds, I was denying what I was… Sam can hide what he is like he’s ashamed of it if he wants to, but I’ll be damned if my girls grow up thinking there’s something wrong with them.”
“I’m not sure I follow. Why would half Shifters benefit from their mother reading minds for me?”
“Because I’m going to prove to them that being telepathic isn’t a curse, even if I have to fake it sometimes. They need to know that what they have is special… that they can…”
“Your children are telepathic as well?”
She nodded. “I don’t know about this one, but since Tina and Shelly are… Tina’s going to have enough going on because of shifting. The last thing I want to do is make my children feel like pariahs.”
“Keep that to yourself for now. Understand? Don’t mention it to another soul.”
She grinned and nodded. “Ok.”
“What are you smiling about?”
She shrugged. “I was already told to keep it to myself… that only you should know. That you’d keep the secret instead of exploit us.”
“Why would you believe that after you’ve been lied to by your own husband?”
“I guess that’s part of what we’re waiting for…” Sookie Merlotte jumped when my office door slammed shut as Pam sat next to her too quickly for her to see it happen. “Holy shit!”
Pam grinned from ear to ear. “Scare you, did I?”
The woman snickered and shook her head. “Startled, yeah… So how’d I do?”
“The He/She was leaving the lady’s room when I told the Vampire to get his dinner to go after he paid his fine… and I watched Leena make drinks ‘to help Long Shadow’, but she didn’t ring it up. She pocketed the cash.”
“Oh! Long Shadow is the one who’s pilfering…”
Pam shook her head. “I thought you can’t read Vampires’ minds.”
“I can’t…” She unzipped her purse and pulled out her wallet, handing over a memory card. “According to ‘my sources’…”
I took the memory card from her. “Your sources being Me?”
She giggled again. “Yeah… anyway, your accountant called a few months back and told you that your books were light by like 60 grand… so since y’all still have Long Shadow, that means that you fired everyone because you couldn’t find the culprit. He just got sneaky.”
“The reason you know that is… on this memory card?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It’s a journal. Made by… me and you… well a different version of Us. And Sophie-Ann and Hadley too…”
“Who is Hadley?” I don’t know why that was the question I asked.
“Oh. Hadley is my cousin. She’s alive, but in other versions she was made by the Queen.”
“Yeah… apparently, for them, since I’m part Faerie and you’re a Vampire once they bonded, they started like… I think the only way to describe it is Quantum Leaping…”
Before I could ask what the fuck she was talking about, Pam blurted, “I LOVE THAT SHOW!”
Sookie grinned. “Me too. I got addicted to the reruns when I was bed-rested with Shelly.”
“Favorite episode on the count of three… 1… 2… 3…”
They both said, “Doctor Ruth.” They were getting along famously… they’d clearly taken the same exit to insanity.
Pam continued, “I have the seasons in boxsets… So do they think they have a reason to be leaping?”
“They think so… their first skip was… well, it’s all on the memory card there. They help each other out. And I mean… I wouldn’t know that my marriage was an epic charade unless they came along, so I’d say so.”
Pam was too excited to stay in her seat. She bolted over to snatch the memory card out of my hand and push it into the SD slot of my computer. “This is just so… Eric steps into the Quantum accelerator and finds himself in the past… putting things right that once went wrong… hoping the next leap will be the leap home?”
Sookie Merlotte cackled, “Sort of…” She paused to calm herself down before continuing, “Sookie and Eric told me that it’s not time travel, because that’s what I thought at first too. They wake up in another version of their life in the same time frame. And they always ‘go home’ because making everything normal is as easy as going to bed… The other night when Sam and Me came home to ‘Our house’ it was actually theirs. They can’t make it happen. It’s all random though…”
“Like. Sam. Beckett.”
“Yeah… I watched the other Me beat the crap out of my husband and…”
“She bested a Shifter?”
“He’s crazy strong, but he wouldn’t hit her back. She got a few good licks in. Left bruises since she’d had her Eric’s blood. Anyway, once my kids went to sleep with their little boy…”
“Eric has a child?”
“In their version, Hadley had him. He’s a telepath and Sookie and Eric are raising him under his protection… So… Once the kids were asleep, Me and Sam laid down in a guest bedroom… a few minutes later, we were in Our bed, in Our house and the girls were in their own room too. It was surreal, but as soon as everything was straightened out, I drove to Wal-Mart to get boxes for Sam’s stuff.”
Pam cringed as she opened the file labeled ‘September Journal’. “How did he take it? Shifters tend to be a little… territorial.”
“He’s a big enough turd that he thinks I’m just being hormonal and that I’ll take him back. He moved into his old place behind his bar. He was a little egotistical about me showing up for work the next day… and pissed as hell that I changed the locks when he tried to come see the girls unannounced. Wise-ass shifted into a squirrel to get into the house via the chimney… and didn’t take into account that girls would beat the crap out of him with the broom and mop to get a squirrel out. He hadn’t taken into account that he’d need clothes to shift back and I’d already packed them up.”
Pam chuckled, “So your husband doesn’t have the sense to think ahead about wardrobe, yet you know what a Maenad is. How is that exactly?”
“I’ve always been a reader. I majored in Library Science and minored in History and Lit. Euripides wrote about them, C.S. Lewis too for that matter.”
“The preggo reads minds, knows bars, literature, classic television… Eric, why haven’t you hired her yet?”
I growled at my ‘favorite’ child. “In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t had the opportunity to say much of anything since the two of you began prattling on about television programs that I’ve never watched.”
“She’s hired then?”
I rolled my eyes at the presumptuous brat. “Get out. Take your chum with you. I have reading to do.”
After two hours of reading, I’d only finished reading about six skips/leaps…
It was more than enough though…
There was no way it was a fabrication… The first journal entry might’ve been a work of fiction with coincidental similarities.
But the facts… items like Sophie-Ann’s children…
…the fact that I’ve never changed my name from Eric…
…the fact that Pam abandoned her horrid Human name the night she rose as a Vampire…
…Bobby, Paulette, Bruce…
…the Escalade I’d been given by Malcolm in his attempt to kiss my ass that I hadn’t ever driven…
And then there were the photos. A Vampire could recognize photoshopping from a mile away and there wasn’t a trace of that evidence… Not that there were any existing photos of Pam or me smiling to be used.
All of it… one detail, maybe two could be accidental. The sum total was a startling look into enough variables to choke on.
Before I left my office, I made the leap of faith, as opposed to the ‘Quantum Leap’… calling the Queen and suggesting that she consider proposing to Milne before committing to marrying Threadgill… I gave the reason for the suggestion as Milne being a force to reckon with since DeCastro was always a problem because Threadgill would be useless in the case that DeCastro made a move.
She hung up on me to discuss the idea with Andre, ordering me to prepare for a trip to Houston to act as her envoy in negotiations.
Pam’s mood was jubilant if anything while I read and when I joined her at the bar, the two of them were chummy enough that once the bar closed Pam had dropped her ‘chilly’ façade to be discussing maternity fashion and how horrible it was.
Sookie was looking forward to getting her body back because she missed wearing heels.
The women stared expectantly.
“There are no less than 4 insolent Pams.”
Pam narrowed her eyes. “Are we hiring Sookie or not?”
“How long would we have to wait for Mrs. Merlotte…”
The ‘preggo’ interrupted, “Sookie, please. I’m taking back my maiden name anyway. Stackhouse.”
“Alright, how long will we have to wait for Sookie to begin working for us?”
“Well, I have a few weeks left…”
“Yeah. It all depends on what you want to hire me to do. If you want me to waitress, it’ll be a while, but if you want a mindreading manager then I can do that for you during the day. I can train a few new servers and restock and whatnot. I was back to work within two weeks after having my other babies.”
“And the commute?”
“I’m already moving to Shreveport. The truck comes tomorrow. I found a nice little apartment near the mall.”
“Why would you do that?” There was no guarantee that I’d hire her.
“Because there’s nothing in Bon Temps. I have enough college credits to be a substitute teacher so I’ve applied to three parishes for teaching, bus driving and library help. And I’m not staying in a town full of people who’ve lied to me for most of my life. There’s already a for-sale sign in my front yard and I filed for legal separation this afternoon.”
“What makes you think your husband won’t contest?”
“If he doesn’t accept a no contest divorce, Weres are getting outted. I told him that he’s lucky I’m not suing on the grounds of adultery so that he has to explain what he’s really doing.”
“How very proactive of you.”
“You try getting fed bullshit for 5 years… So… Is it a pain for you that I’m about to pop or…?”
“No. You’re hired. You can start managing the bar during the day. Once you’re on your feet after the delivery, we’ll shift your hours so that you can read minds during business hours. What are you doing about childcare?”
“Well, if it isn’t a problem for you, I’ll just bring them with me for now since no one will be here. I’ll use my downtime after I deliver to find a sitter for when I go to night shifts.”
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”
“I just think on my feet pretty well. Between running the only bar in Bon Temps to being a mom it comes in handy.”
“So it seems…”
Sookie stood up, taking her purse from the bar.
Pam blurted, “Can I follow you home? I want to meet them, your little rugrats.”
Sookie giggled, “Sure. They usually wake up when I first get home from work anyway. You have to excuse the mess though. Everything is boxed up for the moving company.”
Before I could resist, Pam left the barstool she’d been on and yanked my arm so that I’d follow them.
Apparently, I was going with them.
The drive to Bon Temps was annoyingly boring. Forty five minutes of trees as the only landmarks… on an errand that I only agreed to because Pam’s level of excitement was curiously akin to how she felt when La Perla’s new lines debut.
The old farmhouse seemed to be in good repair, but even the yard reeked of Shifter.
As soon as Sookie opened the front door, she issued our invitations even though Pam had walked behind her again, repeating, “Waddlewaddlewaddlewaddle…”
There was a Were waiting on the sofa… A wiry teenage girl with dark hair and yellow irises, surrounded in text books that she was trying to shove into backpack. “You didn’t say you’d be this late, sis.”
Sookie grinned. “Sorry. I didn’t realize I would be… Beth, this is Eric and Pam. Eric, Pam, that’s my sister…” Sister? Her stepfather and her mother bred?
I wasn’t given the chance to ask for clarification, but for that matter, Sookie wasn’t given the chance to finish the introduction either…
Two sets of footsteps began speeding in our direction from the back of the house. One of them squealed my name, the other squealed Pam’s.
Not only did they seem excited for us to visit, I assumed it was because they thought the ‘leap’ had been fun in some way, but they both launched themselves at Pam and me. I ended up holding the smaller of the two.
Sookie cackled after a moment and I was sure it was because of the looks on our faces since the little girls had closed their eyes and stilled the moment they were in our arms. “It’s ok, y’all. They don’t bite.”
The sister snarked, “The girls or the fangers?”
Sookie slapped her sister’s arm. “You watch it! They’re my company.”
The teen rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Do you want me to give Daddy a message? He says he’s sorry.”
“Yeah. Tell him I said sorry isn’t good enough. If I’d been lying to him for years, he’d understand that.”
“You can’t stay mad at him.”
“I have the right to stay mad at him for a while though. He needs to back off.”
“What about Sam? You gonna forgive him too?”
“Forgive, maybe, but I’m not going to forget. I’m not taking him back. And if he doesn’t chill out, I’ll find Tina a sponsor in Long Tooth Pack.”
“I’m not telling him that.”
“I already have.”
“Fine. I gotta go get some sleep.”
Sookie slapped Beth’s arm again. “Ew! I heard that!”
Beth shrugged, but she didn’t reply as she slung her book bag over her shoulder and left, slamming the door on her way out.
Pam pried, “What did you hear?”
Sookie cleared her throat and groaned, “It involved my soon-to-be ex-husband and her future. Hotshot is weird and I HAVE to stop listening to them.”
“I’ve always said they’re a Maury waiting to happen… Anyway, what’s this about? They’re catatonic.”
“There isn’t a single thought in their pretty little heads at the moment because they’re hiding in your bubbles.”
“Yeah. That’s what Hunter and Eric called it. Your minds are like valium for telepaths. The lack of readable thoughts are peaceful to us. You two are the first ones they’ve ever met. Since I’ve been listening to them for the last week, Shelly is a stronger telepath. I don’t know if it’s because Tina has more going on or what, but they’ve picked their favorites. Shelly thinks Eric is the best because he rough-housed with her, well, all of the kids really. She’s a tomboy… Tina prefers Pam because you braided hair and painted nails… And y’all blamed Gran’s pie for why they didn’t want to go to bed.”
The blissful grin on the little girl in my arms was distracting to say the least. “I rough-housed with them?”
“Well, the other you, of course.”
“How did I rough-house?”
“You took them to the yard and tossed them in the air. They looked like helicopter propellers… and y’all played ‘catch the baby’ while Sam had a shit fit. It wore them out though. They cackled like crazy the whole time.”
“Catch the baby?”
“That Pam threw a kid to That Eric. He caught them then they’d run back to Pam to get thrown again. They must’ve been 20 feet apart…”
“You trusted Vampires to play catch with your children?”
“I heard y’all are strong… and they were sneaky about it. They started close and inched away from each other… Ooooh…” She walked over to me and rubbed her hand over Shelly’s back. “Don’t you go to sleep.” That was the most impossible scenario I’d ever been in. A child was happily falling asleep in my, any Vampire’s, arms.
Shelly’s eyes opened and her smile became wider. “You sweeping over? Swumber party?”
“No. I’m going home…”
“NO. Stay here.”
“I can’t. I have to go home.”
Sookie explained, “We leapt to their version. Y’all had a saferoom installed. She’s been kicking the wall in her closet for days. She’s a little confused.” That was… adorable?
“Ah… Shelly, I’m no fun during the day.”
“You’re fun at just night?”
“Then sweep over.” I couldn’t find a hole in the logic of a 2 year old.
Pam offered, “Why don’t we have a sleepover at Eric’s house? Monday night the bar is closed and Eric has a heated pool…” Thanks Pam… “We can order pizza and watch a Disney movie on Eric’s giant TV.” It sounded like Pam was the one who wanted to have a slumber party and I could feel that she was up to something.
Shelly cheered, “Yayyyyyy! But no pwincesses.”
Pam looked appalled as she shook her head. “Why not?”
“Cus Didney pwincesses are lame.”
Sookie clarified, “My dad, my actual dad, would always take me to see the movies… but he’d always tell me on the way home that if the princess couldn’t watch her own hide, she didn’t deserve the happily ever after.”
Pam snorted, “I guess it’s a good thing you know how to think on your feet then.”
When Pam winked at me, I knew exactly what she was up to.