Monster Under The Bed
I was almost sure Gawain knew what Sookie and I had been up to while he’d been gone, but he didn’t say anything. He’d delivered Sookie’s snack and complained about the stench of struck matches… and Sookie successfully got rid of him by giving him the disc of information from her skip. Then she proceeded to tease and push me until I had to leave her just before dawn… I was in pain, but I still hated leaving her.
When I rose the next night, there was a voicemail telling me to switch my laundry over because she’d washed our oily sheet, towel and blanket… Since Gawain had overheard the message, he carpooled with me to Bon Temps just so he could spend forty-five minutes advocating Sookie as wife material…
He was not amused when I opened the floor to discuss how different other Sookies must be to actually be happy as housewives… Of course, the Sookie we knew would never really be wife material. She was pigheaded and free-spirited… Adventurous, independent women with wanderlust aren’t wife material. Knight material, maybe, but definitely not wife material.
Not only had I turned the tables on him and rationally argued against his matchmaking attempt, but I purposefully compared Sookie to Simza and Bronya… He practically pouted when he realized I’d basically claimed Sookie was fuckable, but not keepable.
It didn’t matter that it was only half true. He was too bothered, focusing on how uninterested I seemed to be in Sookie, to realize I didn’t think of her as a Human.
Given that Sookie’s Jeep was the only vehicle unaccounted for, I had to wonder if she’d managed to think of a reason to avoid the family meeting. As we approached the house, Gawain jokingly suggested I could expect a Canadian ‘postcard’.
Since most of the Stackhouses seemed to be present and accounted for (because Magnolia Creek Lane looked like a used car lot), I was surprised Shawn and Hadley’s house seemed so quiet. A normal Sunday supper could be heard from a block away…
It didn’t bode well, but Adele had the same smile waiting when she opened the front door… even if she seemed to want to ignore that Gawain was with me.
She stretched up to kiss my cheek. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hard time holding off a conversation. I’ve been itching for this get-together all day.”
“You didn’t need to wait for me. I would have understood if you went ahead without me.”
She grumbled, “Now you tell me. C’mon. Let’s get this show on the road.”
“Where is everyone?”
“Linda, Trey, Pam, Jason, Marcy, Hadley and Shawn are in the den. Brandon, Klaasje and Sookie are in the playroom with the little ones…”
Sookie called, “Nope…” and appeared on the landing. “We’re coming. We were just negotiating with the short people.”
As Brandon and Klaasje walked down the stairs, Sookie slid down the railing, earning a swat from Adele. “You stop doing that before you end up with your own Darwin Award… And you weren’t negotiating. You were bribing children.”
Sookie scoffed, “They’re going to stay out of everyone’s heads for ice cream, Gran. Don’t make it sound like a contract killing and blood diamonds.”
Sookie made an excellent point, but Adele huffed, “Watch out how she spends her time with those angels, Brandon. She’ll have them wheeling and dealing if you aren’t careful…”
I had a feeling I was going to miss being ignorant of the derision Sookie suffered. I hadn’t left the foyer yet and I already wanted to correct Adele.
The family was gathered on the large sectional sofa when we joined them in the den… and Sookie went to the pile of floor pillows to pass them to the rest of us while Adele settled on the large ottoman.
Sookie looked completely innocent, as she was. Not the frigid leather-clad professional telepath who came to Fangtasia. Not the evil little trickster who sent me to bed with my fangs down.
Jeans, an open-knit cardigan and boots without much heel… all whites and icy blues…
I couldn’t decide which look I preferred.
While Gawain and I settled on the floor to lean against the entertainment center, Trey joked, “Want me to bring your car in so you can play with it, Sook?”
While she giggled, I asked, “What car? I noticed your Jeep wasn’t outside.”
She opened her mouth to answer, but Adele beat her to it. “One of her friends sent her a car for Christmas.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and explained, “Tyson sent me a convertible Cooper Mini to thank me for the oil he got. He bought it weeks ago and just had it delivered now because I’m finally home.”
I snorted, “Why was I forced to wait?”
“I struck a deal with the Sullivans. In exchange for some of my dust, I got a jug of oil for Tyson and the recipe… I can make my own now.”
Adele shook her head and snorted, “God forbid one of your friends send you a practical gift. I’m still waiting for one present to have a real use…”
I had to assume Adele would have preferred Tyson had sent a minivan thanks to my enlightenment.
Sookie argued gently, “Most of the presents my friends have sent me have been clothes, Gran. They know I don’t like shopping…”
“Trashy clothes with matching jewelry.”
Sexy. Not trashy. Pam even felt annoyed, and I hadn’t had an opportunity to warn her not to contribute to Sookie’s roast.
“Work clothes. I can’t exactly blend into business meetings and night clubs dressed in sundresses or cut-offs.”
She was right about that… If Sookie tried to walk into Fangtasia dressed as she was, she’d attract the wrong kind of attention. Even with Erica’s coolness, she’d still be considered fresh meat. She looked too innocent to fend for herself.
Before I could say anything, Brandon asked, “When’s my turn?”
Adele asked, “Your turn for what, baby?”
Sweet as pie.
“My turn to be picked apart. I want to know so I can stay the fuck home. How do y’all work it? Does everyone get a set day, or does everyone’s name go into a hat?”
Adele’s jaw sagged for a moment before she started, “It’s just that…”
He shook his head and held up his hand as a stop. “Since I got here, it’s just that her friends buy her things you don’t like. It’s just that she spends too much time with bachelors. It’s just that she watches what she eats. It’s just that convertibles aren’t safe for children. It’s just that she should have worn a bra. It’s just that her hair’s getting too long. It’s just that she spoils her nieces and nephews too much and needs to think about starting her own family. It’s just that she doesn’t have any business talking to an ex-boyfriend or sending Christmas presents to him. It’s just that it’s inappropriate that he named his kid after her. It’s just that she shouldn’t bargain with children, because apparently the concept of give and take isn’t something they should ever have a grasp of… Did I get everything you actually said aloud before I touch on the shit that didn’t make it through your filter?”
Oh my. I liked Brandon already… And Gawain actually moved to sit next to him and kiss his cheek.
While Adele was completely gobsmacked by being called out (and the rest of the family seemed to be just as shocked), Brandon looked at Sookie and offered, “Well I’m not used to it and you shouldn’t be either. I’m surprised she doesn’t follow you into the bathroom to make sure you aren’t wiping wrong… Let’s get this shit over with so I can get the fuck out of here.”
Linda scoffed, “You need to watch your mouth when you talk to your grandmother. I don’t care how old you are…”
“You need to kiss my ass if you think I’m going to jump face first into a family who’s just going to shit on me. I don’t get it… The other Gran I met was pretty sweet… She had a man, so I guess there’s something to be said for getting laid, but that’s no excuse for you two to gang up on her.”
Jason asked, “Grampa was still alive?”
Brandon shook his head. “No. Gran shacked up with some Witch. He seemed like a really nice guy too. He moved up from New Orleans. His daughter hooked up with Alcide. They had a little girl named Hattie.”
Marcy’s eyes bulged, “Alcide and a Witch? They named a baby Hattie? After his mom?”
He nodded. “She’s fucking adorable too. Bright green eyes and jet black hair… Looked like the mom though. Baby just got Alcide’s coloring.”
Since the ball was rolling, I asked, “Names?”
“Gran’s beau was Price Simonette. The kids in the family called him P-Paw. Alcide’s baby-mama was Paulette. Hattie was an oops, but they got married once she was old enough to dump flowers. They just didn’t want to jump the gun and get hitched for the wrong reasons. Alcide’s genes are strong enough she’ll shift, so yay for him… Uncle Jax officially gave up on being a dick about Alcide adding to the pack when he fell in love with his grandbaby too. He didn’t even know she’d shift at the time…”
Before I could point out that I’d known Price since his adolescent voice was still cracking, Trey whined, “Uncle Jax?” and gave me a dirty look for chuckling at him.
Brandon nodded. “Yeah. Jackson Herveaux married Linda. Funny story: They got married on Eric and Sookie’s official wedding date…”
The collective gasp from the rest of the family was hilarious. I couldn’t have been more grateful to have not been taken by surprise by that information.
Pam asked, “Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse?”
He nodded again. “King Erik Northman of Louisiana and his bride Sookie Stackhouse Northman. They started dating a few years ago, and he was getting stalked by the press. One reporter in particular. So, they went on some date, something about a theme night at a bar. Pajama party. He wore black pajama pants and Sookie wore a white nighty… The reporter started printing wedding rumors. They faked an engagement to fuck with the crazy reporter and Pam…”
Pam shouted, “Me!?”
Brandon chuckled, “Apparently, you were teasing him about his Redneck Barbie girlfriend. You hadn’t met her yet so, yeah, you were getting it. Eric even went to your favorite jeweler for Sookie’s ring… Anyway, planning the big fake wedding was stressing Sookie out. Eric got sick of it, kidnapped her to some quiet island, did it the simple way just for them. Her bouquet was made up of flowers she picked during the walk to the beach they got hitched on… After that, everything was just planning a party… When the big day came around, they just went through the motions. Whoever was doing the fake wedding said he wanted to marry a couple for real. Jax surprised Linda with a ring. It was a setup.”
Even though Pam had her laptop on her legs because she planned to take minutes, she hadn’t touched a single key. While the details were still fresh, I reached for the computer and began typing.
She watched me for a paragraph or two before she scoffed, “No reaction from you? You married Sookie. You became King. Nothing?”
I nodded. “Brandon, what circumstances surrounded my ascension?”
“Oh right! The Queen heard about your wedding and started digging even though you told her it was just a PR stunt. It happened Pre-Revelation and as high profile as you are, being Mr. Big and all, you were setting it up to make Vampires look like Wonder Bread. She sent someone to Bon Temps, and they tracked down the family, and glamoured Jason about what was so special about Sookie Stackhouse… Badda bing, badda boom, the Queen finds out you’re hogging a telepath. That cunt had Pam abducted and demanded Sookie as a ransom because she couldn’t get to Sookie; y’all warded the house.”
“Until Sookie shared her recipe for wards, our houses have always been warded against ill-will. Did they abduct her in public?”
“The Queen sent Weres to do it during the day while Pam was at Fashion Week… So, you got the call from the Queen, and while that cunt’s acting like she already won, a bonus Sookie tiptoes downstairs. A skipper. The Queen’s henchmen were standing in the street with Pam in a silver box. The skipper’s all ‘I got this shit’. Y’all faked a sappy goodbye on the porch and did the trade. The skipper went back to New Orleans with the Queen’s assholes. They tossed her in a room and she reset… Y’all knew she’d disappear, but you knew you’d have a night to rally troops. By the time the Queen’s guys came back the next night, there was a fucking army in the house. Y’all took your time with the Queen’s children just to get the point across to the cunt, and then y’all stormed New Orleans. From what I gather, she was all fucked up from losing three children at once. She couldn’t even put up a fight. I know y’alls friends from New York were helping out, and Gawain, and a couple of women. Gran’s beau and Alcide’s wife did their thing to protect the neighbors from being collateral damage. Y’all were playing with a stacked deck.”
Gawain chuckled, “One Sookie is a stacked deck. Two is just blatant cheating.”
Sookie blushed, but Linda snorted, “Reckless is what it is. Why volunteer for that? She couldn’t have known the Queen’s guys wouldn’t hurt her.”
Sookie argued, “Except a dead telepath isn’t exactly useful, now is it? A Human hostage who’s cooperating and playing the game isn’t going to be too roughed up. If she intended to reset ASAP, then she was just going as a passive decoy.”
Brandon pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and leaned over Klaasje to pass it to me. “Here ya go, chief. Sookie said that could ring a bell for you?”
And he might be able to put Shawn’s mind at ease if my visitor wore the same ring as his hostess.
The drawing itself was actually impressive even though it was just pencil on college-ruled paper torn from a notebook. And the ring was such a close match, I probably wouldn’t have drawn it any differently.
As soon as I nodded, Brandon whistled in Shawn’s direction. “You can calm down a little. The nearly dead Hadley Eric helped out wasn’t just six months into her pregnancy. She was at the end of it… and the pregnancy was a bitch from the jump…”
Shawn relaxed so quickly he would have shit in his pants if he were still alive.
Hadley grabbed his hand and asked, “How so?”
Brandon huffed, “For starters, it was going to be triplets. That whole implanting extra embryos thing… A couple months into the pregnancy, she lost one. It just stopped developing. The doc had to go in and take it so it didn’t cause problems for the two that were left… Then a few months later, she was knocked on her ass and went into labor, so the docs had to stop her contractions and she got bed-rested. A lot of shit went wrong, but if she made it all the way to a few nights ago, she was only a couple of weeks shy of her due date… If nothing else, you’re bonded to her. You can tell if she’s tired or not feeling right. Keep an eye on things, but stressing out a pregnant empath is bad juju, man. Chill out a bit. There’s only one bun in the oven.”
Hadley left her seat next to Shawn to kiss Brandon’s cheek. “That’s probably the best news I got since the little plus sign showed up. Thanks.”
“No problem…” He took a deep breath and began pointing to everyone in turn. “Eric’s King of Louisiana. Pam’s Pam. She’s been pairing up with Jason who’s also single, and they play wingman for each other. Not to cause trouble or anything, but Eric and Sookie joked that they’re waiting for them to realize they can spare themselves a lot of trouble and just start fucking each other because they met other skips where they’re a couple… Sookie’s Queen Consort and having gnarly hot flashes and weeping jags because of some medication she’s on to help in vitro…”
Linda interrupted, “Wait. What?”
“Yeah. She lost it when I told her I didn’t have a little girl because she couldn’t imagine me without Jules… and then she lost it again when she saw the pictures of the boys I keep in my wallet. The house was like a walk-in fridge, and she must’ve put on and taken off her sweater about a dozen times while I was there… So… Gran’s shacked up with P-Paw… Linda’s married to Jax Herveaux. No Trey in the picture… Jason’s single and BFFs with Pam… No Marcy in the picture…”
Shawn asked, “If they told you so much about Hadley’s health, how did you not know about me?”
He smirked. “Because I’m an idiot… They asked me about you and I told them you’d had a midlife crisis and ran off with someone, but Hadley was married to a guy and ‘they’ had a little girl. I wasn’t exactly picking up on everything. I was still tripping out that I woke up from a catnap in my recliner with a pregnant Fox.”
I asked, “A Fox? I was under the impression you woke with Klaasje.”
“No. Ashley Matthews was ‘my’ girlfriend. We’d been together almost as long as Sookie and Eric had. She was breathing morning sickness breath on me and crying. I didn’t know her, but she thought I was having cold feet or some shit. Craziness… I was blessed with a vacation into Crazy-Hormonal-Womanland. I wish all you motherfuckers luck if you get a ticket on the same train…I’ll be waiting for y’all at the Fuck-That-Shit-Ville Station.”
Jason asked, “Where was the other you? Did you have that fresh hell to deal with? I missed my double because I reset too fast.”
“He was still at work… I think that’s it for my first hand stuff. I mean, other than Klaasje, but you don’t all need to know the details of what happened there. She’s with me and the boys now. She isn’t going anywhere. If Eric has any concerns about where she came from and whatnot, we’ll have a little aside.”
Knowing pieces of what she’d been through made me appreciate that Brandon was willing to put his foot down in regards to her privacy… And judging by the way Gawain looked at her, there was too much about her on the disc Sookie gave him last night.
When Linda raised an eyebrow at her nephew, I chimed in to prevent more bickering. “I told you last night… I respect Sookie’s opinion of Klaasje. She’s entitled to her privacy. I only ask that you notify me if there’s any news on the European front.”
When Klaasje’s eyes rimmed with blood, Sookie left her pillow to crawl across the floor. She sat next to her friend and kissed her cheek, whispering in German, “Not all bad-asses are monsters, sweetie. You get to be happy now. It’s allowed.”
Linda asked, “Where did you two meet again?”
I wasn’t sure if Linda meant Klaasje and Brandon or Klaasje and Sookie…
Brandon scoffed, “What the fuck did I just say? She’s a Vampire, making her presence in Area 5 Eric’s business.”
“I was just asking because MY NIECE knows your GIRLFRIEND. I don’t think asking where they met is prying.”
“Italy. Anything else?”
“But Sookie keeps speaking to her in German.”
He nodded. “Klaasje speaks Latin too.”
Smart asses and huge balls ran in the Stackhouse blood apparently.
Linda was not amused, but before she could continue the argument, Klaasje mewled, “Please don’t argue about me. I don’t want to cause a rift… My seed language is Czech, but it’s changed a lot since I spoke it; German is my strongest language. Sookie’s Italian was still humble when she came to Italy…”
Sookie added, “Because my Italian came from Latin spoken by a guy who used it in the raw.” But Atum’s tutelage had done the job of teaching Sookie functional Italian in only a few months.
Klaasje finished, “We socialized in German because Sookie was more familiar with it. She taught me some English too.”
Linda nodded. “And Italy was Maximo, right? He’s the one who sent you furniture.”
Sookie sighed, “Yeah. Maximo sent me furniture for Christmas.”
Sookie offered, “And living room and patio furniture too.”
Brandon interrupted the back and forth to say, “For the record, I’ve got no tolerance for the two-faced bullshit. I did high school once. I refuse to do it again. Come the fuck out and ask why he’s sending her expensive gifts so everyone has the benefit of hearing what a nasty bitch you are.”
Gawain beamed, “I really like him.”
Linda looked like she was very close to leaving her seat to kill Brandon when the children entered the den…
Jules and Emery sat on Brandon and Klaasje’s laps respectively, and Arianna plopped down on Gawain’s legs to lean back and use him as her chair.
She announced, “Y’all need kid p’lice. Yer bick’rin…”
Emery added, “Daddy’s got no threshold for bullcrap and you’re being mean about Aunt Sookie.”
Sookie snorted, “What happened to not mind reading?”
Jules gave her a very serious look and answered, “You lowballed us. A family meeting we aren’t invited to and we’re supposed to mind our own beeswax for ice cream? Puhhh leeez.”
I might have tried harder to keep from laughing if a majority of the adults in the room hadn’t broken too.
Jason chuckled, “Sook was always like that. Smart as a whip, thinking a mile a minute… What about you, Brandon?”
He nodded. “I’ve been called a sneaky bastard a few times.”
I could imagine… after all, he did convince a Vampire King to send Klaasje to him.
Jason shook his head. “Apparently, you’re the sneakiest bastard of all of us…”
Hadley giggled, “Jason’s turn!” but when a phone started ringing from elsewhere in the house, Linda gave Sookie a dirty look.
Gawain carried Arianna with him to the front of the house to answer Sookie’s phone for her.
Sookie urged, “So… Jason and Pam… Sittin’ in a tree…”
He scoffed, “More like swimming’ in Pepto. That room was crazy-pink… I got a question, though. How long were y’all gone? I didn’t learn much from mine.”
Brandon offered, “I was gone for a couple of hours, including the time it took for me to drive from ‘my’ house with Ashley to Eric and Sookie’s place, but when I got back the boys hadn’t noticed I’d been gone. They were locked in a heated Tomb Raider race. They thought I just went to the bathroom, but I’d dozed off watching them for game-rage.”
The Tomb Raider competition explained why there was a second television and game console in the den.
Emery nodded. “Lara Croft kills controllers.”
Jason, Marcy and Pam agreed with the boy while Sookie said, “I was gone for a few hours…”
I urged, “How long is a few hours?”
She pinched her face together and specified, “Six, give or take… And when I got back, I was alone and I hadn’t missed my wakeup from Miles. I told him not to let me sleep past four. We were bouncing between time zones a lot and I needed to stay on schedule. I was still getting my bearings when he came into my room and sat on my bed to ponder sushi.”
Jason nodded thoughtfully for a moment before continuing, “A’ight… see, I mighta been gone twenty minutes. I’d worked three shifts in a row, and when I got home that morning, I crashed. I woke up with Pam, and she was the only one I talked to… I-”
Gawain called from the front of the house, “Sookie, I’m taking your Mini to Sandwich Island. There’s a delivery waiting for you.”
Sookie didn’t have time to thank him before Linda huffed, “Which one’s sending a present this time?”
Gawain answered, “Rodrigo. Should I go to the pet store and bring a scratching post and some catnip for you?”
She redirected her questioning to Sookie. “Rodrigo? Sookie, he already sent you a present.”
Sookie shrugged. “Maybe it was something on back order. I don’t know…”
As curious as I was to hear about Jason’s visit with Pam, I offered, “I’m assuming you’re put off by the cash value of the gifts Sookie receives.”
Linda looked at me like I was stupid for saying it aloud. “You could say that. Furniture and electronics. Clothes and accessories, and we’re talking high-end stuff.”
“Do you expect Kings to shop at K-Mart?”
“Do you expect Kings to insult someone who secured their lives and/or livelihoods by sending forgettable tokens?”
“Are you completely oblivious to how much Sookie is paid for her services, even though you mentioned she paid more income tax last year than a recent lottery payout?”
“But what? Sookie is a valuable asset. It’s in their best interest to send gifts she’ll use. When she drives her Mini Cooper, she’ll remember how appreciative Tyson was for her help. When she makes her bed, she’ll remember Maximo. Something she can just buy for herself at Wal-Mart isn’t going to remind Sookie of the time she spent in each Kingdom or the King who sent the gift. What she’s receiving are reminders that there’s a job offer on the table… And trust me when I say a few thousand dollars’ worth of furniture and cars is pocket change to the individuals sending them.”
Jules moved to Sookie’s lap and asked, “Is there a King in Disney World?”
Sookie snorted out a laugh and kissed his head. “You’re absolutely adorable.”
Arianna padded into the den, towing a wagon behind her. “I’m cuter. Iz my curls...”
When she passed me with the wagon, I had to bite my lip… I had to assume Gawain had helped her before he left… There were three bowls of ice cream and an assortment of topping choices…
“Misser Gain says we still get a prize an’ if inybody got somethin’ to say, they can say it to him.”
Brandon offered, “But he’s not here.”
Arianna nodded. “He said sombody’d say that… He said’ee woodn’t listen eeder way.”
Of course he did.
I asked, “Did he mention why you’re being rewarded without fulfilling your part of the bargain?”
She pulverized a cookie over her bowl of ice cream while she answered, “Misser Gain says some deals needabe broken. He said we coulda been seffish an’ let ebrybody bicker jusso we’d get ice cream…”
I argued, “But you were listening all along.”
She shook her head and defended, “NUH UH! We took turns scannin’ you an’ Auntie Pam. We din’t listen ‘til y’all got bodderd.”
Sookie took a cookie from the rolling ice cream cart and sighed, “So… since we can’t argue with that logic… Jason was saying…”
Jason nodded and sucked his teeth. “Yeah. Jason was saying he changed his mind about wanting kids. My nieces and nephews are already smarter than me. I’d be fucked.”
Sookie snorted, “Bullshit. The working theory is that since you’re Mr. Feelings, school bored the hell out of you because you were feeling all of the boredom and confusion from the other kids. You aren’t stupid; you just aren’t in your head all the time like telepaths are. My hosts told me about a version of you who was homeschooled. You breezed through college and kicked asses in business meetings. It’s all concentration for you.”
Hadley breathed, “Holy smokes…”
Sookie nodded. “Yep. You too… You’re not smarter than me, but you’re taller, so it evens out.”
Hadley giggled, “Okay, back to the pink bedroom.”
Jason started, “Right… I wasn’t there long. I woke up and thought someone was being a smartass. Pam dragged me through this big ass apartment and showed me our den, and then there was a room that was just as big as the bedroom that had been turned into some über-closet. My clothes- well, clothes that fit me. Armani jeans and shit… Pam grabbed an album and basically gave me the family tree… She got a call from the other Me, ‘cuz he woke up somewhere else. She sent me to the bathroom to get a shower and get dressed ‘cuz God knows what I smelled like after a triple shift… I closed my eyes under the water, thinkin’ I was havin’ the weirdest dream ever… I opened ‘em again when the water petered out, and I was standin’ in my own bathroom. Thought I was sleep-walkin’. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
It hadn’t been a chore to keep up with Jason’s narrative, so I cued, “The family tree then, as you remember it.”
“Right… Gran was good. She’d adopted some Vampire named Bubba…” Jason paused when Pam began snickering, but she promised to explain later, so he continued, “Aunt Lin was married to Jackson Herveaux. Brandon, Sookie and Alcide were singles. Jan, Alcide’s sister, was engaged to some friend of Trey’s, a cop. Cain’t remember his name though…”
Brandon urged, “You got a fragment in there. Picture him…” The telepaths began staring at Jason and Brandon finally offered, “Nat King Cole… Nat Ken Doll… Nate Kendal?”
Jason blurted, “Holy shit… That’s it! Thanks man… So, uhhhhhh… yeah, okay, Hadley was engaged to some lawyer. Jupiter something…”
Sookie asked, “Cataliades?”
He shrugged. “Might be… The family called him Jude, but I made a fat joke because of the planet. I didn’t realize Jupiter was a god too.”
After a moment, Sookie nodded, “Yeah. Jupiter Cataliades. He’s one of Francesca’s lawyers. I cleared him for takeoff as soon as I got in New York.”
Hadley offered, “Cataliades is the name of the lawyer who was going to tend to Hunter.”
I explained, “Jupiter Cataliades is the son of Felix Cataliades. Felix has been Queen Sophie-Anne’s lawyer for a long time… Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This would be incredibly confusing if we tried to channel surf.”
Jason snorted, “Like it ain’t already… so Dad was still alive. He split up with our mom ‘cuz of that shit she pulled…”
“What shit?” Linda and Brandon spoke in stereo.
Jason rubbed his face and took a deep breath before starting, “The way I remember it could be wrong, but… Corbett and Michelle split up for a while, right? Corbett met Julie and they hit it off really good, but then Michelle caught wind of it and told Corbett she was pregnant to get him back. Julie broke up with him when she heard about it because she didn’t want to keep Corbett from his kids. In the meantime, Corbett finds out Michelle’s full of shit. He goes to a lawyer to see what he can do about the other me ‘cuz he didn’t want to lose his kid in the divorce. He runs into Julie who didn’t know she was pregnant when they broke up, but was obviously preggo then… Corbett’s all ‘oh hell no’. He went home and packed and took his kid to find a place for him and Julie… It was a while later, but Corbett and Julie got woke up in the middle of the night. Michelle got tanked and went for a drive with Sookie asleep in the floorboards. Killed herself. Michelle had gone home to her folks, and none’a our family knew about Sook until the cops was lookin’ for father. None of those kids had any memories of Michelle. They considered Julie their mom. ‘Cuzza ages and all, Jason always paired up with Hadley, and Sookie and Brandon were still calling themselves twins, so Julie joked and blamed them when she actually had real twins. Josephine and Jessica, AKA Josie and Jessie. Not just identical, freakishly identical. The telepaths needed to see their markings to tell them apart.”
Brandon smiled and offered, “It’s nice that one version of my mom got to have more kids. Mine wanted more, but Tom always said I was enough for him. His health was so bad he didn’t want to put a huge family through it.”
Linda sighed, “Your daddy wanted more too. Five sounds just about right for him.”
Jason said, “Pam told me they would’ve had more, but he got clipped ‘cuz he didn’t want to put Julie through that again. The twins were real hard on her… There was a picture of ‘em in the apartment… Christmas picture… I tried, and I couldn’t remember seeing Daddy that happy.”
I assumed Jason was remembering the photo because just as Sookie and Brandon cleared lumps from their throats, Arianna chirped, “Your mommy was pretty, Uncle Brandon.”
After a painfully drawn out silence, Pam offered gently, “Maybe, back to Jason’s skip? Any other details?”
Jason cleared his throat and nodded, “Yeah… ummm… So… big newsflash, Sookie’s a telepath. Brandon’s a telepath. Hadley and me are empathic… Pam said Josie and Jessie are pushers. They can basically glamour…”
Brandon blurted, “Shit! I forgot Leif! Eric, go back to my version, please. Hadley’s oldest kid’s name is Leif and he’s a pusher… I’m sorry, but I forgot all about him. Little troublemaker got discovered when he was still a baby. He was telling other kids to sneak candy to him.”
Arianna narrowed her eyes in the direction of Hadley’s stomach and growled, “Doessit work on telepaths?”
He chuckled, “Nope. You’d be safe if that one’s a pusher.”
She declared, “Good,” and shoveled a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth.
“You’ll have to watch out for your mom though… Sorry Jason, I had a brainfart when you said the twins were pushers.”
“No prob… I was gonna pause for effect anyways… Daddy was a harbinger of doom and shit.”
“What!” Linda, Brandon and Sookie had all shouted at the same time.
Jason nodded. “Yeah. Since the other night I been thinkin’ about it, like things from when I was little… That version of Daddy would get a feeling. Something bad, something good, he just already had a clue about it… It wasn’t just things like events either. I remember him steerin’ away from some folks, makin’ easy friends with others… And right before he died, he started goin’ to work earlier so he could spend more time with us kids after school, and we tuned up all the cars, and we painted all the houses… and he said he loved us so much that last couple’a weeks…” He paused to clear his throat. “So yeah, our dad didn’t know what, but he knew something bad was on the way… The other version knew what he was, so he practiced enough he could be pretty sure about who he was thinkin’ about.”
Linda breathed, “And the one I visited with was pacing like a caged cat, worrying about Sookie… Good God.”
Jason scoffed, “Jesus… That’s gotta wait though. One more thing.”
“What did Gawain go pick up?”
“Why are you asking me?”
He shrugged. “I want to hear your guess before…” Sookie interrupted to giggle. “What did she think of?”
“Tableware. I had a long talk with Rodrigo in Morocco about how pretty the place settings were. Jewel-tone glass, decorated with intricate gold patterns… absolutely gorgeous.”
Arianna giggled, “Misser Gain tested Granny too. Wha’s in the freezer, Granny?”
Linda growled, “What am I missing?”
Arianna demanded, “FOCUS! Wha’s in the freezer? You can do it!”
After a moment, Linda replied, “Sookie’s purse?”
Arianna giggled and clapped her hands, so Jason chuckled, “They were calling you retro-cognitive. Let me guess, you imagined Moroccan tables, and then you saw Gawain put the purse into the fridge…”
Arianna added, “Misser Gain called Granny a seer.”
Jason elaborated, “Random shit can trigger it, but when she thinks the hell out of something, she can get all kinds of stuff as long as it already happened…”
Trey groaned. “Goddamnit… we were together for months…”
Sookie snickered, “If it makes you feel better, She did the same thing to Jack.”
“No Sookie, but thanks for trying to make me feel better. I mean it’s one thing to have a Vampire grab my package and ask how I smell like Faeries because Lin didn’t even know at the time, but… she knew all along I’m a Wolf because she’s got an ability… I was sweating about how or if to tell her.”
Brandon snorted, “You’re preaching to the choir, my friend. Apparently, I smell like candy. One of the Weres I work with, his bitch came to me at the shop because he was saying my name in his sleep.”
Marcy offered, “No comment.”
Jason snorted, “Yeah. No comment… Because you’re an angel, right?”
“I’m still surprised Sook can be around so many Vampires and Weres and not have a problem…”
I wasn’t the only one who noticed the way the color drained from Sookie’s face, but she offered, “I’m telling ya, it’s the orange scented stuff I wear. I still smell good, but not Faelicious… So was Aunt Linda’s ability the last of it, Jason?”
And we were changing the subject.
He narrowed his eyes at her and nodded. “Yeah. Aunt Lin’s turn?”
Everyone seemed to still be focused on Sookie’s sudden mood change when they slowly began nodding.
Linda took a deep breath before starting, “Well, like Jason, I just had the one host… The shop was slammed that morning, and by the time my shift was over, I had a killer headache. I went home to lie down… I woke up and it was dark outside. I staggered to the bathroom to turn the light on, but the switch wasn’t there. I was at Jason’s place, but it was still Corbett’s because he was alive. His sister had just died, so he thought he was seeing a ghost. I thought I was just dreaming because I have some pretty vivid dreams…”
Sookie offered, “On that… You’re going to the doctor. I know you had a hysterectomy years ago, but we know of enough Linda-cancer-victims. I’ll be happier if you have blood work done just in case… Especially since the consensus is that the braid thing strikes when we need to know something or be proactive. All in favor?”
Everyone raised their hands, including Linda, but her middle finger was raised.
She blew a raspberry. “I was wondering how I already had an appointment scheduled when I called. I’m not playing with cancer either, smartass. I don’t have time for that. I have grandbabies to spoil.”
Sookie snorted, “That was easier than I thought it would be. Shut up and get on with the story.”
Linda closed her eyes and shook her head, grumbling, “Bossy little turd… Okay, so Corbett was pacing. He said he’d been at work and all of a sudden he started feeling like he was going to pass out. It hit him really hard and fast. His sister had only died a couple of weeks earlier. Sookie and Jason had come home for the funeral, but they had been gone again for a couple of days. Momma had died in a flood and it seemed to both of us that it was the same one that washed out the bridge. Same circumstances and everything. We couldn’t figure out what was up with his version of Hadley. She was with some abusive asshole and she had two kids she hardly took care of. Misty and Jenny…”
Brandon interrupted, “It’s her ability. The version I went to made that really clear. There are versions of Mean-Slut-Hadley who don’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. Then there’s Sweet-Controlled-Hadley who’s completely sane and loveable. It comes down to influences for her. When she’s around dirt bags, she spirals… Eric spotted it, nailed it right on the head. That one was a wreck, but she straightened right out as soon as she realized she needed to take that second to figure out whose feelings she was reacting to.”
Hadley agreed with a nod. “That sounds logical… Even the part about Eric figuring it out. I mean, he’d know, since he’s got a Maker and a child, how empathy could affect a person on a small scale… Go ahead, Mommy. What about Jason and Sookie?”
Linda cleared her throat before continuing, “Jason lived in San Francisco with his new wife. Pretty blonde named Lauren. Sookie had been planning to stay with them and go to school there too, but when she was backpacking through Europe between high school and college, she fell in love with Switzerland and stayed there. She ended up meeting a guy. Allecks Auers. She stayed in Switzerland for school. Corbett and Michelle broke up shortly after Momma died in the flood. Michelle remarried. Corbett still wasn’t a fan of hers, but he said he was really good friends with the guy she married. Calvin. Sook and Jason grew up out in Hotshot…”
Pam, Trey, Marcy and I began chuckling at the same time.
Pam offered, “From what I’ve heard about Michelle, I can’t think of a better place for her than Hotshot.”
Linda nodded. “Yeah, I told Corbett his replacement was a Panther… That news didn’t hit him as hard as the news that Sookie really was a telepath… After he split up with Michelle, she took advantage of the situation and sent Sookie to a hospital. Poor thing had been hiding she was a telepath since then…”
Fuck. That had to be miserable.
“It wasn’t bad enough that she doped her up the summer before…”
Brandon looked at Sookie and breathed, “Shit, really?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. My mother was terrified of me.”
Jason scoffed, “Ain’t no need to sugarcoat it, Sook. She beat your ass just for the hell of it… I remember this one time we were going to Sunday supper at Gran’s house. All Sookie did was ask who was gonna be there… She had to wear pants because Mom’s hand left welts on the backs of her legs.”
Adele mentioned that Sookie had tried to tell her mother he’d touched her.
And judging by the way Linda looked at Sookie, her ability was going to conflict with Sookie’s secret.
Sookie took a deep breath and asked, “The end? How did you reset if you thought y’all were dreaming?”
Linda continued to stare at Sookie for a moment before answering, “We were on the couch in the living room and he got up to answer the phone. He said, ‘Thank God. It’s a Swiss number,’ but after he answered, he told Allecks to calm down and start again. He said there’d been an accident… I closed my eyes for a second and when I opened them again, I was sitting on my bed at home… So, I guess, the end… Except Sookie was really-really pregnant. So I have to wonder how you had PID and-”
What the fuck was PID?
She was interrupted when Gawain returned singing the Cherifian Anthem…
When he was finished with his grand entrance (he sang the whole fucking song), he settled onto the floor again and offered, “Rodrigo had Moroccan iced tea glasses made for you after you joked about the tiny tea glasses. Plates, bowls, gold flatware, table linens, jars of spices...”
Proving my point about the gifts having a purpose… he’d used an anecdote as inspiration for his gift.
Sookie tilted her head towards Linda and offered, “I know already.”
He whined, “I missed the good part for dishes.”
Linda snarled, “This is funny to you?”
He shook his head. “Not at all, but since I’m not fond of you, I was expecting a certain amount of schadenfreude from your reaction.”
“You don’t have to be here.”
“I’m aware of that.”
Brandon chuckled, “I think I have a tidbit that could be more fun… There’s a version of Linda and Gawain… to… geth… er.”
While Linda and Gawain shouted, “LIE!” the rest of us laughed at the disgusted looks on their faces.
Once Brandon calmed down somewhat, he chuckled, “It’s a friend-of-a-friend version. Jax Herveaux went to Eric as a last ditch effort. He wanted Linda to be turned because cancer was winning. Eric brought her over. Gawain’s nosy ass comes to check shit out… Those two assholes have been together ever since. He’s the King of Louisiana.”
Gawain argued, “No. No. No. I used to like you…”
“Don’t kill the messenger, man. I got nothing to do with it. I can tell you about the War of the Worlds, but that doesn’t make me HG Wells.”
I agreed, “You make an excellent point. What details do you remember?”
“It’s all on the disc Sook and I put together. I made copies for everybody… That Hadley was a messed up version, but she started getting her act together. She had a kid and died a few months later because of a bad medication combo. Linda’s a fresh Vampire, but Sookie stepped up to be the kid’s guardian officially. The skips caused a problem for once. There are other Hadleys who are Sophie-Annes’ pets, bonded pets. She had a skip that told her about Hadley having a telepathic son. Whoever told them about him was chilling out, waiting for the kid to be old enough to work, right? But that one, without her own Hadley and everything, she flipped out and tried to have the kid kidnapped. Thing is, different kids. Hadley had a telepath in a couple of versions, but that one was a little empathic Were. Dad was a Shifter… They sure as shit weren’t expecting the kid’s grandparents to be Vampires when they tried to take him. Granny and Tad, that’s what the kid called them, fucked those assholes up.”
While Linda and Gawain gaped at Brandon, Jules and Emery began whispering, “Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor…” It only added to the entertainment value of the situation.
I said, “So the moral of the story is that there are no less than two versions of Sophie-Anne who make their sense of entitlement our problem.”
“Right. This Sookie being Erica though, playing nice and working for her willingly is the safer route. Apparently, the Queen is the inspiration for Veruca Salt. She has to have ‘it’, but once she gets ‘it’ she doesn’t really do anything with ‘it’.”
Pam blurted, “PERFECT!”
Says the woman with miles of couture that still had tags on it.
Klaasje mumbled, “Like hiring one of the most sought-after Knights in history as an American Sheriff?” She immediately covered her mouth and looked like she wanted to disappear…
But Pam and Sookie agreed, “Exactly like that.”
I winked at her and tried to get everyone back on track. “Linda, we’re still waiting to close out your adventure in the braid. Was there anything else?”
“Since the other night when I realized it wasn’t just a dream… I’ve been trying to figure out… You know, now that I know it’s real, I’ll ask better questions… Brandon, you said Sookie was planning kids…”
Sookie rolled her eyes and leaned back against the wall with her eyes closed… and Hadley and Jason looked at the ceiling as though they were hoping they weren’t included in the conversation.
Brandon answered, “Yeah. She wasn’t even pregnant yet, but she was already so miserable and moody from the meds that she decided ‘one and done’.”
“Did you hear about other versions who had kids?”
He answered simply, “Yeah.”
Hadley groaned, “She had a little boy named Cort.”
Gawain scoffed, “Is what comes out of Sookie’s cunt the topic of normal family gatherings?”
Vulgar as that was, I knew he was trying to change the subject (take one for the team) by using shock value…
Arianna snapped, “Eww! Misser Gain, that’s nasty! Granny’s just try’n ta figger out how come some Aunt Sookies can hab babies an’ ours can’t.”
Fuck. That was the something I missed…
And Pam’s computer wasn’t connected to the internet so I could look up PID.
Sookie grumbled, “The doctor said PID is a fickle thing. It happens… Hadley, take your turn, please.”
Hadley started, “I think uteruses are fickle in general, sweetie… I watched a Me bleed to death.”
Why the fuck would her family rub her nose in the fact that Sookie couldn’t have children? If she wanted children, adoption was an alternative, but constantly reminding her… Fucking sadistic.
Sookie urged, “In the pretty apartment building in New Orleans. Jake the Wolf was your tour guide…”
Sookie growled as she continued for her cousin, “Hadley bled out in the bathtub. She didn’t get any details of her own life. The other her smelled like Vampire, probably Sophie-Anne now that we’ve got more info. She referred to the baby as Hunter without naming the boy’s father. Hadley was to take Hunter to Sookie because he’d need her. She called Jake and he drove her to Bossier City where Sookie DuRone was living at 1012 Daisy Circle. At the time, Linda was undergoing chemo. Gran was living there to help care for Linda and Little Corbett Beauregard Stackhouse DuRone. Hadley remembers seeing a photo of Jason, Brandon and Sookie in the house, but hates that she got distracted by seeing JB’s flag hanging on the wall in Cort’s room. Sookie was dating JB because his mind was blissfully simple, and when they had an oops, he enlisted so he could support his family. The prenatal care was the big thing. There were also several photos that included members of the Herveaux family scattered throughout the house and a couple that included Trey. Aunt Linda had been dating Jack, and Trey was a very close friend of the family. He met Sookie shopping for a new truck. Sookie had taken a job as a receptionist after JB was killed in action. Hadley followed instructions, mostly because she was having the same dream notion the rest of us had. She told Gran, because Sookie was still at work, that she needed someone to take care of Hunter because she couldn’t. Gran could tell something was up and took the baby. On the way out of the neighborhood, Jake the Were mentioned that ‘this shit happens’, indicating that the phenomena of the braid wasn’t a new concept to their version. He suggested it was the result of a hybrid sharing blood with a Vampire because the dead Hadley was bonded to Sophie-Anne… Did I miss anything, Hadley?”
Hadley gave Sookie a doleful look and shook her head even though Sookie’s eyes were still closed. “I think you got it. I couldn’t ask many questions without looking like I needed to be hospitalized. There were recent-looking pictures of Jason, and I think Brandon had a little girl in that version, but yeah…”
Sookie took a deep breath and continued, “Fast forward a couple of years to my visit. Hadley’s memories of the house are almost identical to the house I had my pow-wow at… I fell asleep sunning myself and reading a book in Japan and woke up with My husband in Bossier City. Sookie and Eric had only been married for a few weeks. Gran was still alive and kicking. Aunt Linda had been gone for a year. Hunter Lyndon Stackhouse DuRone was absolutely the most tenacious little man. He was mad at me for delaying his plans for the evening. The little telepath blew mental raspberries at me… Klaasje had just moved from Florida. My hosts found the exact moment when things for them changed from the situation for a very similar version… We’ll get back to that. The family history for my hosts was the same as Hadley’s. Sookie pregnant at graduation, Aunt Linda with cancer, Hadley was in the wind, and Hunter’s adoption. Alcide and Janice got really tight with the family while everyone watched cancer kill Linda. Sookie took the job as a receptionist at the Chevy dealership across from Furnan Motor Sport where Brandon was working as a mechanic, but when she sold a car right away, she was promoted. Brandon had taken the job in the shop because Weres were less distracting for him at first, but since that was already shot to hell by then, he gave sales a go and sold a bike on his first try. They’d been selling cars or bikes ever since, and making decent money too. He was the proud papa of gorgeous little Jules, short for Julia, and engaged to the foxy Fox, Ashley Matthews. Jason had started making custom cabinets on the side, but he did well enough that it became a full-time thing with a partner… Any questions so far?”
Pam was the only one with a suggestion. “As long as you don’t think you’ll get away with glossing over Eric’s wedding.”
Sookie snickered, “I wouldn’t dream of it… So, Eric and his Anniversary Edition Corvette…”
Trey started chuckling… He was the proud owner of his own ’03 Corvette because he accepted the challenge to make mine less infuriating. His vanity plate read THX ERIC. Funny asshole. At least my car ran smoothly.
Sookie continued, “Since that Eric didn’t have a Trey of his own, he was fit to be tied by October when the dealership put an ’04 on display. He sent his retarded day-guy in to buy it, but he got shot down, so Eric went in to take care of it himself, come hell, high water, or glamour… Except that nasty sales-bitch punched him for trying to glamour her. They ended up getting their flirt on… Eric got sucked in by kids who beat his ass at chess and a bathroom tiled with Shakespeare quotes. Since Trey was a family friend, Sookie hooked Eric up with some modifications. After a few nights, Cort and Hunter dropped a hint for a vacation around Eric, and that guy just so happened to have a house on a secluded beach that would fit their ‘shipwrecked’ ideals. They lined everything up to go to the Caymans and the kids camped out on the beach for a week Robinson Crusoe style. The house was actually part of an estate Eric hadn’t settled yet. The Vampire it belonged to had taken off because she pissed Wyannie off. So the added bonus was that the boys got a pet macaw out of it because the previous owners left the poor thing behind. Blue and gold, so they named him Swede. The damn thing talked up a storm…”
Pam interrupted, “Are we getting close to the wedding part yet?”
Sookie smirked. “Hey Eric, you know that ‘Pam’s up to something’ feeling?”
“Be scared of it…”
Sookie took another deep breath. “Pam had been teasing Eric in the backfield about how perfect Sookie was for him. Basically spinning the little bit she knew about Sookie to get under Eric’s skin just because she could tell how much fun he had with her and the kids, but he’s a guy and wouldn’t dare say it out loud… Except he did, and that took the fun out of teasing… so as soon as Eric told her he was taking his new pet and her kids to the Caymans, Pam started plotting. She brought Wyannie in on it. While Eric and Sookie are chilling out on the beach, watching the kids try to improvise fruit salad with a scallop shell, Wyannie ‘stops by’ like the Caymans are on her way from Trinidad to 7-Eleven or some shit. She’s ‘just hanging out’… and she asked Eric how many weddings he’s done because she was finally planning to get ordained… Eric fucking fell for it… He demonstrated on Brandon and Ashley, a fake run through since they were planning to get married anyway… but then Wyannie ‘practiced’ on Eric and Sookie… The next day, she had their damn license and rings delivered to the house.”
Marcy gasped, “Dirty bitches! Were they planning to annul or what?”
Sookie snickered, “Getting there… So, Sookie’s left standing at the door to the house holding a pair of abalone and white gold bands and her wedding license… and trying to figure out how bad Eric’s going to freak out… and she’s got most of the day to give herself an ulcer… She’s downstairs in the lightproof room when he rises… and she goes through this big long explanation in full panic. He gave zero fucks. He puts his ring on, says he had plenty of time to get Wyannie back, calls Pam and tells her he’s married cool as a cucumber, so she broke and said she was part of it. The last thing he wanted to do was imply to the kids that the idea of being married to Sookie was a bad thing. He said if they didn’t work out, he’d have Wyannie do an annulment quietly. So, Sookie’s heart had barely started beating at a regular pace again, when the kids run in to tell Eric they decided on a name for the bird. Swede. Y’all caught that before, right? Sookie was all, ‘yeah, y’all named him Swede last night.’ But the kids said they’d fallen asleep waiting for Wyannie to leave. She skipped to a nearly identical version of her life. The first thing they did was decide that Wyannie had done a ‘practice wedding’ for both versions.”
Hadley argued, “How does it make sense, if we’re supposed to learn something from the braid, then why would we go to a version that’s exactly the same?”
“But it wasn’t… The version I went to spent a couple of weeks together before they went to the Caymans… The version they visited took a detour. The exact moment of divergence between the versions can be blamed on the gentleman three asses to my right.”
I actually watched Gawain count to confirm he was the one being blamed. “What did I do?”
“Nothing bad. You were joking around. Edward, Richard, Connelly, Simza, Bronya and you were all on a plane, flying between New York and Miami. Y’all had already sat through a couple of games, so while Edward and Richard were listening to audio books, you, Simza and Bronya decide to glamour the pilot to land in Shreveport instead of going to Miami. Y’all ditched Connelly and the boys to spend a few nights with Pam… That left the baseball fans with three extra tickets to the Series. They tracked Eric down at Sookie’s house and invited him to go along. He took Cort and Hunter to the Series. Sookie tagged along so the kids wouldn’t be unsupervised during the day… The reason y’all are hearing about both is that while they were at the Series, they found Klaasje. The only thing my hosts could do, that their hosts did, was take her in. Eric put her in one of his houses, set her up with a car and cash, brought her in on a project working with local law enforcement to get their ducks in a row, and set Klaasje up to work with the local Supe doc because she’s been a midwife forever… I’d already met Klaasje, even suggested she give Louisiana a run if she could get here, just because I knew Eric would understand being hassled because of guilt by association. I had every intention of sitting down with Eric when I came home, after I paid a visit to my new brother, and telling him about the situation so we could put our heads together about getting her here, but… then she showed up for the Pageant with Brandon and the wee men.”
While everyone else was relatively gobsmacked, I proposed, “We’re assuming Linda needed to tell Corbett his daughter is really a telepath, Jason needed to learn about Brandon, Brandon needed to learn about Klaasje, Sookie needed my blood to heal Hadley… Do you have any thoughts on why you skipped?”
Linda offered, “Maybe so she’d buy a house in Bossier and start selling cars?”
Gawain snarked, “Or so her hostess could realize she had more potential than selling cars.”
Ari warned, “Bick’rin. Hush’it.”
Sookie huffed, “I have a couple of theories. 1- Alcide. My hosts hadn’t been together long and he’d already had Eric’s back a couple of times. I researched him from Japan, and he’s exactly what Wallace and I were planning to shop for. 2- That Eric was the Sheriff, but when I did my family tree rundown, he had no clue who Shawn was. He tried calling the number he had stored for Leland to see if maybe something went differently. Maybe Leland never met Shawn? But Jason answered the phone. It turns out, Shawn hooked up with Jason-”
Shawn and Jason blurted, “WHOA!”
Sookie giggled, “Jesus you two… Friends. Y’all were doing the carpentry thing together… Shawn was using the name Tucker Archer. Are you both past your little ‘exit only’ moment?”
They both nodded and Jason offered, “Friends. Friends is good.”
Sookie snorted as she continued, “And 3- Aunt Linda’s death bed journals. Brandon and I went through them today and edited out the…”
Linda interrupted, “Wait. You have journals I made, but you edited them?”
Sookie finally opened her eyes to give Linda a level stare. “Yes. The other you was gleaning private details of other people’s lives. If you come by the information on your own, that’s one thing, but there are things in them that no one needs to know. It doesn’t make any difference to this family which one of Eric’s friends was a Shifter before he was brought over. And to be fair, there’s stuff in there Linda wrote that she wished she didn’t know. The family stuff is untainted, but a bunch of private stuff about people you’ll probably never meet is gone… Since we know random things can bring on your gleanings, reading the entries could bring on more.”
“What makes you and Brandon an authority on what we should know?”
Honestly, that was a fair question.
“Because we can tell you from first-hand experience that knowing everything isn’t all it’s chalked up to be. Because there isn’t a single thing we edited out of those diaries that’s worth anything. It’s all anecdotal, and considering how long ago it happened, it doesn’t make any difference… Let’s play a game. A rebellious baroness who didn’t want to die of boredom was discovered by her Maker while she was sneaking out of her castle window… Not bad, right? That isn’t a big deal… but how about a loving mother carrying her sick daughter to see a doctor. She was saved by her Maker from the man who decided to rape them both. She watched her little girl die while she was being raped…”
Linda breathed, “Stop.”
“One more… A girl who was captured, beaten and raped repeatedly, and sold to her Maker as a slave. She was so damn tough, she spit in her Vampire’s face between contractions and demanded that her child be a freeman…”
“There are kids in the room.”
“And you’re getting a really good picture of all of it. Do you want more? Do you want to read that kind of shit and have it floating around in your head?”
“You can have them, but they gave me nightmares…”
“Stop. I’ll drop it.”
I couldn’t have been more curious about who they were. I had an idea, but I could have been wrong. The former Shifter was the one who piqued my interest. Shifters, as a rule, went mad as Vampires.
Pam offered, “I was the Brat, Linda. I met my Maker sneaking away from boredom.”
Sookie replied, “She knew that. She pictured everything down to the embroidery on your lavender dress… She thought I was being a snot to exclude that, but then she got a very clear picture of the other scenes. Right down to hair and eye color… If she ever meets anyone I mentioned, she’d probably see the same thing, but without that catalyst, there’s no reason for her to put herself through seeing someone else’s misery.”
Brandon offered, “Don’t worry about the kids. I warned them to block Linda… Who’s going to start razzing Eric and Sookie for being married, and married, and married…?”
Jason snorted, “I will… Did she wear stilts or are their wedding pictures of the top of her head and his chin?”
I actually laughed.
Shawn asked, “Who wants to help me tie tin cans to the back of the Vette?”
At least Sookie was giggling… they weren’t nagging her about settling down, just teasing the same way they’d done to Pam and Jason.
As I passed Pam’s laptop back to her, she complained, “It really does take the fun out of it when you don’t have a reaction.”
Awwww. Poor Pam.
Sookie pouted her lip and offered, “Poor you… I had a couple of weeks to wrap my head around it, and I warned him last night…”
Pam gasped, “Not fair! How did he react?”
Gawain groaned, “She gave him a massage so he wouldn’t overreact.”
Shawn chuckled, “Yeah, that’ll do it… Smooth move.”
Sookie snickered, “Thank you… Sooooooo… should we part ways and get ready for Santa?”
Jules, Emery and Arianna looked like they didn’t know whether to laugh at Sookie or feel sorry for her.
Sookie rolled her eyes, “I know Santa’s not a real person, you little turds, but Santa is what happens once kids are in bed on Christmas Eve. It’s when parents have to remember where they hid all the presents, and do last minute wrapping, and grab a few kisses under the mistletoe, and clean up so there isn’t any clutter in the Christmas morning pictures, and kiss under the mistletoe, and lock up pets so they don’t eat stockings full of chocolate and poop all the way down the hall, and kiss under the mistletoe, and y’all need to go to bed extra early because y’all need to wake up before dawn so your Vampires can see you open your presents before they turn in for the day.”
Jules cringed. “They wouldn’t need so much time to get ready if they didn’t spend so dang much time under the mistletoe.”
“They didn’t make the rules. If you don’t like it, write your congressman.”
“We aren’t old enough to vote.”
“They wouldn’t pay attention anyway. They like the mistletoe rules.”
“So what do people without kids do?”
“They go home and take long baths, and wrap some presents they’ll get fussed at for buying, and if they play their cards right, they can sleep through the day so they can skip the boring part and wake up in time for dinner and for the atomic gift-bomb to go off.”
Brandon narrowed his eyes in Linda’s direction, but Sookie seemed to ignore whatever thought inspired her brother’s irritation.
Arianna asked, “No mistletoe?”
Sookie shook her head. “Nope. Singles don’t have to conform to mistletoe protocols…” She cupped her hand over Arianna’s ear and whispered, “Mistletoe is a trick to make couples forgive each other for farting in bed.”
The children were already laughing when Marcy sighed, “We need more mistletoe.”
Jason countered, “Yeah honey, we do.”
Marcy gasped, “I do not fart in my sleep!”
“Then we need a dog, ‘cuz something big’s living under our bed.”
“You’re one to talk!”
While Jason and Marcy continued to jokingly bicker, Sookie whispered to the children, “See what I mean? C’mon… I’ll help y’all clean up your ice cream stuff.”
I needed a telepath.
Adele had been uncharacteristically quiet since her confrontation with Brandon.
I wanted to know why.
No. I needed to know why.
There were too many possible reasons for her silence to narrow down options…
Sookie was hogging the other telepaths. She’d taken the children upstairs (Brandon had gone with her) when they were finished washing dishes… She was distracting them so I could discuss the Santa charade with Shawn.
And it wasn’t as though I could ask Gawain… because he was closeted. Asshole.
Linda and Trey stayed in the den with Adele while the rest of us gathered in the kitchen…
My part of Santa’s visit was simple enough… His ex-wife was probably going to stake him for buying his children a puppy, but I had to admit the delivery was inspired. He could have just left a puppy to roam the house, but the reason he was originally planning to walk around on his ex-wife’s roof was so the children would hear it and be curious enough to go downstairs to check under the tree. Since Shawn refused to feed from Hadley while she was pregnant, she put her foot down in regards to any activity where he could be injured. When Pam heard them debating the matter, she volunteered me, and the only reason Hadley accepted my offer was that I could fly. Shawn would take the dog into the house, and then I’d walk around on the roof until I’d roused the children… We were only waiting for Terry to deliver ‘Sadie’. He was scheduled to arrive within the hour.
There were worse places to be in a holding pattern. Klaasje was the only ‘stranger’ in the room, but I found myself eavesdropping on her conversation with Hadley about her pregnancy with Arianna. Klaasje had been a midwife since she was tall enough to reach into a birthing chair… Shawn’s eyes lit up like his children’s probably would when they found their puppy. I couldn’t even bring myself to make fun of him for it either… I could only imagine how settling it would be to know a midwife was ten minutes away.
But Klaasje gave me a nervous look when Shawn asked her what midwives do.
I corrected, “Eric. We aren’t in public.”
She nodded. “Eric… It’s illegal to practice here, is it not?”
“Vampires have been run out of the medical profession… however, I believe there’s a loophole. Good Samaritan laws in Louisiana state that you can be prosecuted for turning a blind eye to a medical emergency if you have training that could aid the individual in need. And you wouldn’t be ‘working as a midwife’. You’d only be on hand as a supportive member of the extended family…”
Jason added, “What are ya gonna do, let the baby fall out?”
Klaasje gasped, “I’d never!”
He chuckled, “Sorry. Forgot you’re still on training wheels. I was jokin’… I’m happy to have you on board. I was afraid I was gonna know way too much about my cousin. Ari didn’t come fast, but… Hadley didn’t want to leave for the hospital until Shawn was up… then she didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was afraid the blood would trigger Shawn and his fangs would expose him as a Vampire…”
Hadley groaned, “Shawn glamoured me so I didn’t try to talk him into a homebirth at the last minute.”
Shawn snorted, “Bet your ass I did. I was shitting my pants.”
Gawain groaned, “Please tell me Eric told you what a spoiled son of a bitch you are.”
Yes, I did… when he complained that a sonogram wasn’t able to tell him what sex Ari was.
Shawn nodded. “Remind me… please. Really. I was just as bad with my older kids.”
Gawain chuckled and shook his head before becoming more serious, “How about listening to screaming so loud, so intense, so horrific, and for hours on end, that you feel guilt in every fiber of your being… imagine how maddening that must be… then imagine standing over your wife while she bleeds to death, because there’s nothing that can be done but let her hold the baby that killed her, waiting to catch it when she goes limp while you listen to her blood pour out of her body… How is that for perspective?”
Klaasje shook her head and sighed, “Too many times.”
Jason mumbled, “Shit dude… that’s…”
Gawain cut him off. “My brother’s wife. Not mine… I have more. Call me when you need a booster.”
Shawn nodded. “I might do that.”
“And if contractions start during the day, she can have a large glass of wine… It’ll relax the muscles and buy some time.”
Klaasje nodded. “Oh, he’s right about that. I know doctors suggest abstaining completely nowadays, but I’m wholly convinced it’s because…”
She seemed to stumble over the translation so I offered, “Moderation?”
She smiled at me and nodded, “Yes. Thank you… Moderation isn’t popular.”
Pam snickered, “Moderation is for pussies.”
Gawain crooned, “Speaking of pussies… We need to discuss Fangtasia.”
I chuckled, “Is this my cue to ask what you mean so you can complain about the range of disgusting to grotesque customers as your lead in to convincing Pam to be your ride back to Shreveport?”
“Yes. Thank you… You’re a very accommodating conversationalist.”
Klaasje actually snickered.
Pam offered, “Doable,” just in time for Sookie and Brandon to join everyone in the kitchen with the children.
Jason announced, “Shawn’s gonna steal your old lady in a couple of months. He’s one’a those tweaked out dads-to-be.”
Brandon grinned and nodded. “I remember. Archie’s the same age as my boys. My mom used to tell him to fake being calm about shit around me. She didn’t want me to wig out too…”
At his age why wasn’t he anxious?
He lifted himself to sit on the counter next to where Klaasje was standing and asked, “So when are we hitting Vegas, folks?”
Not only was he serious, but no one seemed surprised.
Jason chuckled, “I’m down whenever. Sookie’s the one with the definite schedule.”
Sookie shook her head. “Negative on Vegas. de Castro is a snake-bite you don’t walk away from… I have friends in Atlantic City. We could do riverboats here too.”
Jason hummed, “Ummmm, if we wait ‘til summer, Hadley won’t be able to go, new baby and all. But if we do New Orleans for Mardi Gras, we can party and gamble, and she can have fun too…”
Sookie nodded, “We can go to the Queen’s casino and lay it to waste… then I can tell her how fucked her staff is.”
Brandon beamed. “Oooooooh, a telepathic ride-along too maybe?”
Sookie shrugged. “We’ll get you a sidearm and you can pose as one of my guards. You can have a front-row seat. If we leave on Monday and come back on Saturday, I won’t even have to miss church to gamble.”
Jason offered, “We’ll have a sit-down about details so we can line up time off and everything.”
Sookie smiled and breathed, “Sweeeeeet,” on her way to kiss Hadley’s cheek. “Call me and let me know if you need me to bring anything tomorrow night.”
Hadley pouted, “You’re never the first to leave a party.”
“I know, but I have a thirty-page contract to read, revise and fax, and I have a bunch of presents to wrap too… No rest for the wicked…”
I was going to be very disappointed if I wasn’t part of her plans to lose sleep.
Sookie made her way around the room, kissing cheeks and saying goodbyes… and Brandon announced he was going to leave too because Libby needed to be taken for a walk before mistletoe protocols could be observed…
Once the front door was closed behind Sookie and Brandon, I asked, “Do the empaths of the group have a gauge on Adele’s mood? She’s been mute since Brandon confronted her.”
They both nodded, but Jason answered, “She got hit by a Mack truck. She deserved it.”
Hadley gasped, “Jason… She’s critical of Sookie, but that doesn’t mean she needed to be slapped in the face all at once like that. I understand Brandon not putting up with it, but…”
Jason scoffed, “But what, Hadley? How many times have we tried to get her to lay off? And how many times have we been whacked with a spoon or spatula for speaking up? Brandon hit the nail on the head when he ran down that list of shit. They’ve been nit-picking her to death for years.”
Pam asked, “Defense mechanism? Perhaps they miss her enough that it’s easier to…”
Jason snorted, “No offense, Pam, but even that ain’t right. And it’s fucking stupid to make her not want to be home because they want her here. If it wasn’t for Brandon, she’d be lining up another out-of-town job already… Hell, I bet that contract she’s reading tonight is for Alaska or some shit.”
I offered, “If I had to guess, I’d say it’s for California, but the contract has been in the works for a while. It’s for the summer.”
He snorted, “She can’t do anything right.”
Hadley mewled, “You know why though… They weren’t like this before she got sick.”
It wasn’t adding up… Still… How did an illness make them start judging every fucking thing she did?
The good news: Pam wasn’t as confused as I was.
The bad news: The puppy barking in the front yard meant that I was out of time to ask questions.