The Whole Famn Damily
As I came back to myself, I wondered where Sookie was because the house was completely quiet.
No movement. No breathing. No telltale heartbeat.
She’d already left for Bon Temps… I should have assumed as much, but since she’d fallen to sleep shortly before dawn while she was trying to catch her breath, we hadn’t discussed her plans for the evening.
The complete silence reminded me of how much I would have been willing to pay for the property… but it hadn’t taken but a moment for me to realize that if the house was mine, I would have cancelled Christmas to enjoy the peace and quiet from the library.
Before I left the bed, I made the decision to use Sookie’s bathroom to shower instead of being tempted by passing through the office to use that one. Just walking by Sookie’s Da Vinci would have been difficult… and I wouldn’t ever live it down if I missed Christmas to stare at a painting.
Once I was sure the sun had set, I opened the ladder well to find neatly stacked gold-wrapped gifts with red ribbons, a small plate with a few crumbs, a glass with milk residue, and a Christmas card.
I was smiling before I opened the card to see a cartoon of Santa using a chimney as a toilet. ‘How to tell if you were on the naughty list.’
On the inside, Sookie wrote:
“After last night, I’m glad I don’t have a fireplace.
I had already done a lot of shopping by the time everyone drew names for Secret Santa. I give up waiting to draw your name. Seriously, pick a damn birthday already.
See you soon. -E”
At least I wasn’t the only one frustrated by the Secret Santa lottery… and it always seemed like I found suitable gifts for Sookie between her July birthday and Christmas… and they almost never fit in a stocking.
Of the handful of gifts I’d accumulated for her, I could have called a couple of them housewarming gifts. The rest would have needed to wait for her birthday if she hadn’t initiated a violation of Secret Santa procedures.
The first few boxes were clothing. More cashmere sweaters like the one she’d already given me, silk shirts, jeans, and a pair of alligator cowboy boots. The note enclosed explained that she’d found them in Japan, and thought it was funny that the shop had my size given that her feet were considered large there.
I thought the paperback of Clarissa was another joke when I unwrapped it. I knew she’d heard about my ongoing search for a first edition because it was on the standing list of books Adele was to watch for while she’d worked for me…
But the note inside… written on the back of a scanned copy of the title page to a first edition…
“I’m not dumb enough to think you’d open a first edition of Clarissa after searching for it for so long, and do anything but read for the rest of the night. I know I would. I’ll tell you where it is later.”
The real thing?
Merry fucking Christmas to me.
That was one of the best gifts I’d ever been given, and I hadn’t even touched it yet.
I might have been giddy as I unwrapped the computer program- software that would catalog my library and print an itemized list for my insurance company… When I was finished reading my own first edition of Clarissa, I could fill a few hours playing with the program.
The last of the gifts were the largest… four twelve-drawer mid-century card catalogs in excellent condition. The drawers were unmarked except for one…. ‘C’ held one card… the title card for Clarissa. The rest of the drawers were full of blank index cards.
I’d known Sookie had a talent for giving gifts ever since I listened to Tyson’s housekeeper weep appreciation for her thank you gift, but Sookie had outdone herself.
Pam called as I was stepping out of the shower and started, “What the fuck are you so happy about? You hate Christmas.”
I didn’t hate Christmas. I hated the madness it inspired.
I chuckled, just because I was caught in a good mood. “I think I might be reformed.”
“Are you going to tell me what did it?”
“I don’t think I’m allowed.”
“Is Sookie responsible?”
After a pause she asked, “You went home with her last night… and you’re still at her house… Did you fuck her?”
If she needed to ask, she’d clearly been distracted with her own activities.
“Pam, when was the last time sex put me in a good mood for long?”
“Good point… but you’re in the Christmas spirit.”
“And contemplating possible birthdays.”
I could feel her thinking, trying to decipher my hints before she finally offered, “Ahhhhhhhh… Sookie gave you a gift off the books. What was it then? I won’t tell anyone.”
“Bullshit! Sweaters don’t make you giddy.”
I chuckled at her. “A sweater was part of it. I’m wearing it tonight. It’s a lovely sweater. You’ve always complimented me when I wear dark blue.”
“You’re such an asshole sometimes… Sookie got me.”
“Got you? Asshole Day?”
“The. Secret. Fucking. Santa. I want to know what I’m dealing with. I can’t handle the stress.”
I set the phone on the counter while I laughed at her.
As I pulled on a new pair of jeans, I explained, “As I understand it, you aren’t supposed to know who your Secret Santa is until you open your gift.”
“I’m with the Stackhouses all the time, Eric. I know who almost everyone drew. By process of elimination, Sookie got me.”
“You were always very good at Clue.”
In spite of being amused, she deadpanned, “Is that it? Did she get me Clue?”
“The only gifts we discussed were Trey’s. She asked whose name I’d drawn. I didn’t know she ‘got’ you until just now… Do you know if Brandon and Klaasje were included in-”
“Sookie volunteered to buy for Klaasje because she’s known her for a while. Jason took- Damn it, Eric!”
I laughed at her while I pulled my sweater on, waiting for her to say more. When she didn’t, I asked, “What do you want me to say, Pam? I don’t know what she bought for you.”
“You aren’t just fucking with me?”
“You aren’t in cahoots with her?”
I couldn’t find my clothes from the night before, so I began searching for my boots… I was almost sure she hid them so I’d wear the alligator boots until I found my neatly arranged belongings on the ottoman in her closet.
“What does her house look like?”
“It looks like the Kings of Europe were part of an interior design challenge. It’s eclectic, but nicely done.”
“Ew. Shit. That tells me nothing. Her closet then? Hadley and Marcy unpacked it for her…”
“You’d probably have a lot of fun playing dress-up with her. She converted a room to serve as her closet… But she mentioned most of her clothes are gifts.”
“Fuck. That means we’re back to what she gave you that put you in such a good mood.”
“Why are you so worried?”
“Because you’re a snob.”
“I. Am. Nnn- Okay, maybe a little, but I like being surprised in a good way… I mean, last year…”
“You mean when you found out at the last minute Trey had drawn your name, so you proceeded to panic until you opened your pink chandelier…”
“It’s a perfect match for my new pink velvet daybed. Thank you... I think it’s my favorite thing in my house.”
“Not the shoe trees Jason made for you the year before?”
She sighed, “He really should patent that design.”
It was ingenious enough for Sookie to have six of them.
“Are you doubting Sookie for a particular reason, or are you practicing the Stackhouse family tradition of assuming the worst about her?”
She gasped, “Never! I’ve tried to explain… In fact, you didn’t say anything to Linda last night that I haven’t already tried to convince her of, but she’s pigheaded as hell. I mean, she’s married to a fucking Were and she still assumed Asa was sharing her… So confusing.”
“Sookie mentioned Linda’s ability contradicted any assurances she was given… I assume that for every promise that Sookie wasn’t fucking every King in Europe, Linda was imagining various liberties they’d taken. Sookie mentioned a specific instance of Linda visualizing Tyson and me fighting for massages… Why didn’t you mention anything to me? I didn’t know Sookie was being treated like the black sheep until a couple of nights ago.”
“Hadley said nothing short of glamour would make Linda trust Sookie because she was too worried to listen to reason. Linda has a serious aversion to secrets. Gran just worries about Sookie, but it doesn’t evolve into judgmental derision like it does with Linda… Shawn and I have both offered to glamour her, but Sookie said it’s tolerable because she isn’t exposed to Linda often.”
“And you failed to gossip about the fact that Sookie can’t have children.”
“That’s just… It’s not as though we could have helped. Ovarian cysts happen. It’s a shame that she lost her ovaries, but by the time Adele explained it to me, Sookie was mostly well again. The only thing we could have done was ease her recovery.”
She’d known all along that Sookie had been unwell, but it didn’t seem like she knew the facts… Ovarian cysts weren’t the same thing. Sookie said she still had an ovary… Pam had been told the lie… as close as she was to Shawn and Hadley, I had to wonder if they were part of the lie, or operating under it.
Pam asked, “What was that? Just now, you were confused by something.”
“Sookie has a jeweled clutch shaped like pig… and a cupcake ba-”
Pam gasped, “Strawberry or chocolate!?”
“Both… Her collection of bags might rival yours. Most of her bags are relatively normal though.”
“Are you going through her things?”
“I was just stepping out of the shower when you called. Her closet adjoins her bathroom, more of a dressing room, really… In fact, I’m sitting on a Union Jack ottoman big enough for Sookie to nap on while I put my shoes on. Jason’s been holding out on you if he didn’t modify a shoe tree to be used for purses…”
“God damn it. You changed the subject again.”
“Should we still be discussing the gift I don’t even have a hint about?”
“Yes, but when you put it that way… Do you know who has you?”
“Do you want to?”
“No. I can wait.”
“What do you mean about the purse tree?”
I snorted, “I’ll see you at Shawn’s. I’m hanging up now.”
Since Sookie initiated my reunion with Adele, I’d been told there weren’t any excuses not to celebrate Christmas. It didn’t have to be about religion. The fact that I’d always spoiled Pam for the holiday was enough proof of that. The canonical observance was only a backdrop for how the Stackhouses celebrated. They used Christmas as an excuse to give gifts and gather for elaborate meals… the gifts were the only thing to make Christmas different from any other Sunday.
The children and Adele were excluded from the Secret Santa, as everyone gave gifts to them… but the rest of us had our names dropped into a hat, and names were drawn after Thanksgiving dinner. Spouses couldn’t draw their partner’s name, and one couldn’t have the same Secret Santa two years in a row… After last night, I couldn’t have been happier about that rule because I’d originally drawn Linda’s name again. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about her…
Even though I was aware of the fact that most victims are abused by someone they know, it made my skin crawl to think that she thought I’d do such a thing. There were lines even I wouldn’t cross…
But that didn’t matter as much as how she’d been treating Sookie. It infuriated me to know she assumed the worst of Sookie instead of realizing Sookie was considered a hero to some of the most powerful beings on the planet… the way Linda assumed Sookie was fucking and feeding Vampires rather than hindering coup attempts.
The incomplete puzzle she was holding thanks to her gift was no excuse to make assumptions… Questions would have been answered for her if she’d only asked.
When I knocked on the door to the Ingram home, Simza answered the door.
I might have expected to see Atum because he was already planning to stay in Shreveport as auxiliary security for Erica, but Simza hadn’t been mentioned.
She stared at me, waiting for a moment before cooing, “You’ve been a very naughty boy, Eric.”
Yes. I. Had… and thanks to the fact that Sookie had taken her blood, she had a respectable lead on the breaking news.
Sookie appeared in the foyer holding Ari, and mouthed ‘kill me’ before explaining, “Simzie wrapped herself up like a Christmas present and flew to Shreveport… She got here just a few minutes after sunset. Surprise.”
Sookie’s jeans were embellished with gold foil stars… gold pumps, belt and sweater… gold star choker and earrings… She was festive in an understated way, except Ari’s little gold holiday dress and tiara made her seem like an accessory.
Simza repeated, “You’ve been a very naughty boy, Eric.”
“I didn’t bring a gift for you, if that’s what you mean, Simzie.”
She laughed in her throat and backed away from the door. “You know what you did.”
Ari chided, “Stop jokin’. Y’upset Klaasje.”
Simza rolled her eyes and turned to the girl. “That wasn’t intentional, Little Sookie. I apologized.”
I asked, “What did you do?”
“Nothing really. I only knew who she was, and joked that her Maker would be beside himself if he knew how good the Stackhouses will be to her.”
Not knowing how happy she was in her new life, Klaasje would have taken that with a sinister tone.
Sookie sighed, “That was all it took. Gawain and Brandon calmed Klaasje down. She was freaking out a little. I mean, Simza was being friendly, but Klaasje has been doing her best to be a wallflower, and now she’s surrounded by Vampires with reputations. It’s just culture shock.”
“Understandable… Her holiday hasn’t been ruined, I hope.”
“No. She bounced back already. This is her first Christmas since she was alive. Her Maker didn’t let her celebrate, but she was Catholic…”
Asshole. Halfdan was just as pagan as I was, and I never deprived Pam even if she was celebrating excess.
Simza offered, “I only came because I was with Sookie when she made certain arrangements. I need to see this reveal. My life will be incomplete without it.”
I chuckled, “Pam called me earlier. She wanted to know if Sookie let on to what she was getting for Christmas.”
Sookie looked shocked. “Me? Why me? I got Marcy.”
Pam darted into the foyer to argue, “No. Hadley got Marcy.”
Sookie repeated, “I got Marcy. I don’t know who got you.”
Pam looked like her face was trying to turn inside-out for a moment before she stormed towards the den again. “Goddamn it! I think we need to have a family meeting… Secret Santa is for the birds. Too much stress…”
Adele called out, “Pam, you’re worse than the kids. Get on in here and settle down or Secret Santa’s giving you coal and switches next year.”
Pam mumbled, “How about black diamonds and whips?” and she was answered with a whack to her thigh that I felt.
Simza snickered as she followed Pam’s footsteps. “I’d be lying if I denied that I love this family. Who else slaps Vampires?”
Just the Stackhouses that I’d found.
Sookie rolled her eyes and kissed my cheek. “Pam really is worse than the kids. Maybe you should give her a toy to open early so she can play while she waits.”
“I had her presents delivered at sunset… and she’s wearing part of it.”
Ari giggled, “You made a brat.”
I nodded. “I’m afraid so… I had presents waiting at sunset too. I’m very excited for my chance to play with them.”
Sookie giggled, “It’s not ‘later’ yet.”
Later… when the location of Clarissa would be revealed.
“I know… I wasn’t just talking about the book. I need to hang my new painting in my house.”
She was still gasping when I darted past her to the den. I quickly lifted Adele and placed her on my lap as ‘protection’ by the time Sookie came after me. By then, all of Shawn and Brandon’s children had greeted me, and the puppies, Libby and Sadie, stopped wrestling to sniff my shoes.
As Sookie joined everyone in the den, she huffed, “You’re gonna get it, Northman.”
She already knew I was joking about taking Leda, but I added, “I already got ‘it’. I can’t believe you left me alone in your house… Merry Christmas everyone. You all look absolutely wretched.”
They looked overstuffed as they usually did when I saw them on Christmas, except for Linda… She looked like she hadn’t slept a wink and spent most of the time since she left Fangtasia wallowing in hindsight.
Everyone was settled into usual positions… Shawn and Hadley nestled together at one end of the L-shaped sectional, Jason and Marcy at the other end, Trey and Linda in the corner. Adele had been using the armchair until I joined her, and everyone else was comfortably situated on floor pillows. The children were gathered in the center of the room surrounded by a mountain of gift boxes.
Marcy leaned on Jason and groaned, “We’re sooooooo full. Gran and Hadley made us eat too much… The kids stacked your presents over there.”
Adele moved to leave my legs slowly. “And I’ll get up on my own. One more jostling and I might make a mess.”
I should have thought of that earlier.
I couldn’t help but wonder if my gifts had been set next to Sookie’s intentionally, but I couldn’t say I cared since I had an excuse to run my fingers over my stocking.
Before I finished feeling the toe for a little glass bottle, Trey grumbled, “No oil.”
Fuck. At least I still had Sookie’s flask.
Gawain rolled his eyes from next to Pam. “You too?”
Trey nodded, “Hell yes, me too. This old dog’s been shot and banged up enough that I can track hurricanes with my shoulders. That oil makes me so relaxed I could skip a full moon…”
Sookie giggled, “I’m brewing a batch, but now that I have the recipe, you have to be super nice… special occasions… like Gran’s fried chicken. The special ingredient is a pain in the butt to get your hands on.”
Trey narrowed his eyes. “You’re going to emotionally blackmail us for massage oil?”
Marcy snorted, “I’m fine with that.”
Pam, Shawn, Jason and I agreed, “Me too.”
Arianna chirped, “Klaasje’s confoozed.”
Sookie answered, “That’s because nothing’s supposed to affect a Vampire’s state. They don’t get sore muscles because they heal too fast, and they can’t take medicine or anything to calm them down. The massage oil that makes your daddy act sleepy is magic. She’ll get a demonstration when we’re done with presents if she wants one.”
I added, “I’ll volunteer to prove the safety of the procedure… if she’s leery, of course.”
Klaasje actually giggled. “That’s very generous.”
Emery piped, “Yeahyeahyeah, but after the presents. Can we get this show on the road? The kids have to wait until the Secret Santas are done and all the massage talk is holding things up.”
Brandon grumbled, “Don’t be greedy.”
Emery pointed at Pam. “She glamoured me to say that.”
Adele cackled, “She did not! Telepaths can’t be glamoured! She gets in enough trouble on her own; she doesn’t need your help.”
He shrugged unapologetically while Pam offered, “Thanks… I think… So… for the sake of the children…”
Adele giggled at her and offered, “How about we start with Brandon and Klaasje this year?”
Pam added, “And then we’ll go clockwise around the room.”
Making her next.
I offered, “Maybe counter-clockwise, just to be different.” Suggesting the children go first would have caused an uprising.
Ari leapt from her place on the floor, shouting, “On it!” as she went to a cabinet. “Y’all start. I got dis!”
While she shuffled through a deck of cards to remove all of the diamonds, Adele explained to Brandon and Klaasje, “We open Secret Santas first and play with what’s in our stockings while the kids open their stuff.”
Sookie pointed towards the armoire and told Klaasje, “Go for it.”
Klaasje’s eyes bulged. “It was too big to wrap?”
Sookie giggled, “No sweetie… The gift includes the armoire. A little birdie told me you only shop for groceries.”
I translated that to Klaasje having been released with practically nothing.
Simza urged, “Hurry along. Sookie gives amazing gifts. Whatever’s in there won’t bite you.”
Klaasje looked frightened as she left her pillow to approach the armoire. The piece itself was nice… the white finish minimized the rococo details so it was feminine, rather than extravagant. Klaasje’s hands shook as she untied the purple satin ribbon keeping the doors closed… and she sniffled as soon as she opened them. It didn’t seem like Sookie had left any stone unturned in searching for purple clothing. Coats, blouses, dresses, jeans… the bottom of the armoire was lined with shoe boxes and handbags. Casuals to formals, it was all there and nearly all of it was a shade of purple.
While Klaasje stared into the armoire, Sookie explained, “Lots of mix-and-match in there… the boys told me they think your favorite color is purple, but if it’s not, I’ll re-shop…”
Pam offered, “And I’ll take the horrible purple things away so you don’t have to- Is that a Louboutin box?”
And she complained that I couldn’t focus.
Jules offered, “There’s a Vans box, but I bet they’re purple too. Jeez Aunt Sookie, did you get a Teletubbie to help you shop?”
She snickered, “The Count from Sesame Street. I’m old school like that. The Vans aren’t purple, but they have lavender laces… Brandon, why don’t you take your turn so she can have a minute?”
He stared at her for another moment before reaching for his gift. “I was waiting to hear about that leather mini-skirt I see.”
Sookie nodded. “I bet. It was tough to find minis this time of year though. Believe me, I looked. She’s got amazing stems.”
Brandon snorted, “Poor me,” as he began unwrapping his gift… meanwhile, Arianna began circulating with a fan of cards.
“The number ya pick is the number ya go… like a deli.”
Pam asked, “Is the ace the first one, or the last one because it’s highest for some games?”
Ari giggled, “No ace. Aunt Sookie werned me.”
Pam stuck her tongue out at Sookie, but before she could deny that she would have debated the value of an ace, Jason began explaining Brandon’s gifts.
The box had several leather-bound photo albums, rolls of carpentry sketches, a bowling team shirt and a baseball jersey with ‘Stackhouse’ embroidered on them, and a small wooden box.
“I got the family pictures together, but copies’ll take a couple of days. I got some home movies if ya want ‘em, but Daddy was usually the cameraman so our Mom’s in them long enough to shoo him away. He uh…” He paused to clear his throat. “He never got to wear his team shirts. He ordered them before, but… well, everything took a while back then… and he made the box. Me and Sook still have ours, but that one was his. It’s a puzzle…”
Brandon cut his eyes in Sookie’s direction and chuckled before sliding the panels that would allow him to open it.
Jason continued, “He collected all kinds of stuff in that thing… stuff we drew for him mostly, and a friendship bracelet I made…”
Tammy snorted, “Uncle Brandon got robbed.”
He laughed at her, “I did not… If I got the mother lode o’purple, I’d be pissed. This is perfect for me… How you doin’ over there, Klaasje?”
Klaasje sighed, “If purple wasn’t my favorite color before, it is now,” before she excused herself, asking that no one wait for her.
Jules seemed to be talking to the other children when he explained, “She’s over 800 and this is her first Christmas. Her Maker is a jacktard… She came to Shreveport with two suitcases and some money from a friend. That’s it.”
Fucking criminal… Klaasje needed to be fostered more than Shawn had.
Gawain’s jaw clenched before he announced, “Show your cards. Who’s first?”
Pam shouted, “Me!” even though she was holding the eight. She really was a brat.
Trey held up the two, and blew a raspberry at her as he scooted to the edge of the sofa so he could unwrap his light fixture and cue stand. He jokingly sniffled that we were soul mates and promised to take photos of the installation for me.
Marcy had drawn the three… The surround sound system Hadley had given her was perfect because ‘gadget’ was her favorite color… As it turned out, the pair had drawn each other’s names. Hadley was just as pleased by her assortment of yellow kitchen appliances.
That’s when Sookie started to sporadically giggle at the glares Pam was giving her… Even though Sookie’s joke only lasted a few minutes, Pam had been confused about who her Secret Santa was… and she was not happy about being assholed, even slightly, for Christmas. When Klaasje returned from the restroom, Pam gave her an extended testimonial about how evil Sookie was.
Jason had drawn four… Trey had given him a new police scanner, so Jason wandered away from the group (with the young boys close behind) to play with his new toy… He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that Sookie loved the small white CD player and audio books he’d given to her. Marcy had to explain that Jason intended for Sookie to use it while she was in the tub so she wouldn’t drop her paper books in the water.
Of course that led to several jokes about what would happen if Sookie dropped the CD player in the tub instead, and by the time Shawn was reminded that he’d drawn the six, Tammy had taken Sadie and Libby outside.
Shawn’s gift wasn’t exactly cumbersome… It was nothing but an envelope, but he was clearly excited by the contents. Linda had managed to find a cruise line that catered to Vampire clientele, so Shawn and Hadley would be leaving for a ‘cruise to nowhere’ in just a couple of weeks.
Linda promised the children would be taken care of, but… Simza leaned forward to look past me and wink at Sookie.
That was more than a little intriguing…
That was when I began waiting for the reveal Simza mentioned.
Linda was so pleased with her gift from Pam that she immediately put her new crochet needles and luxury fibers to use.
And then Pam finally had her turn…
The wicker chest that served as a gift box hadn’t given away any definitive hints when Pam had shaken it, and it looked a bit like a laundry hamper, not at all like Klaasje’s wardrobe. Pam ruined the bow quickly enough to remind me why I prefer giving gifts to her from afar, and flipped the lid from the basket as though she was racing to defuse a bomb. She removed a parcel, made shreds of the wrapping paper, and gasped over the couture inside… Four parcels, each with a Louboutin box and a coordinating outfit and bag.
When she was finished with her mission, she gasped, “You bitch! You assholed me, then you Louboutined me!” And she couldn’t have been happier.
She could also say she’d been ‘pinked’ and ‘hoboed’ since all of the ensembles in the basket included Pam’s favorite attire criteria.
Sookie giggled, “Merry Christmas, bratnik.”
Ari blurted, “M’kay Eric, now ya gotta go…”
I asked, “Do you think Sookie bought clothes for you too?”
“And I’m stalling the-”
“But I’m still trying to figure out who-”
“Daddy got you. Open. Open.”
“I need to use the restroom.”
While everyone else snickered, I waited for her next move…
It started with a trembling lip.
“Don’t do that.”
She sniffled, “Please… Iz gettin’ late… an’ we been busy all day…”
“That’s not fair.”
“But iz werkin’…” She forced herself to yawn and sighed, “I might go sleep b’fore I get my stuff.”
Sookie snickered, “Cave, Eric. You aren’t that strong.”
I was… but maybe only barely.
I reached for my gift and blew a raspberry at the child. I was still pulling the giftwrap away from my present when the boys rushed into the room to sit with their respective mountains… They’d even left Tammy to be notified by Jason.
Shawn watched me carefully (if not anxiously) while I opened my gift that easily weighed thirty pounds… The lid of the teak chest was beveled and inlaid with teal and cream marble. The inner case was lined with black velvet cubbies for chess pieces and had a separate compartment for checkers, smaller backgammon checkers and dice, and the rainbow of marbles for Chinese checkers. The boards for the games were shelved underneath, below drawers for betting chips and dominoes…
The chess set alone would have been enough; it was one of the nicest I’d ever owned… the case was a lovely addition, but the collection was incredible. The artistry alone…
“This is exquisite, Shawn. Thank you.”
While Simza took my gift from me and began setting up the board so she could play with Gawain, Sookie whispered, “He was nervous you wouldn’t like it, but when he sent me pictures, I asked him to make more so I can give them as gifts.”
Simza nodded. “This is beautiful craftsmanship, Shawn. I can think of several friends who’d enjoy a set like this.”
Gawain added, “And it seems like it would travel well.”
I offered, “A horse wouldn’t even notice the additional weight, and it would have been nice to have something like that… better than the escritorio I used for a while, but by then we were in Europe again…”
Gawain finished my thought, “Compendiums came along so late… and it’s a long fucking ride to Constantinople.”
Brandon sang, “Istanbul,” followed by Jason, Marcy and Pam in turn.
Trey asked, “Why didn’t you take a boat? You could have killed time fishing or something.”
Gawain answered, “It wasn’t safe at the time. I was acting as an envoy between Zhang, who rules most of Asia, and Marcos, who rules Greece…”
Simza offered, “Greece as it is as a Vampire Kingdom though. Think Byzantine Empire. Marcos rules Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the northern half of Egypt…”
Gawain nodded as he continued, “The political climate, both Vampire and Human, made it unsafe to cross the Black Sea… Going on horseback added a month to the journey because we had to go around…”
I offered, “Imagine going around Arkansas to get to Missouri on foot,” to give them some perspective.
Adele gasped, “My stars! Sookie, how are you supposed to read minds with all of those languages in one Kingdom?”
“Atum’s been teaching me Arabic. It’s not too hard because I’m only learning the spoken language. I have a few months to pick up Greek. Most of Marcos’s businesses are in Egypt and Greece, and he’s headquartered in Athens. I should be alright, but I warned him about the language thing.”
It still amazed me that she’d already become fluent in so many languages… at her age… by the time I’d been a Vampire for twenty years, I only spoke three.
I offered, “Once she learns the basics, she’ll pick up conversational Greek from the thoughts of his house staff…”
Klaasje agreed, “That’s what she did in Italy. Atum had taught her Vulgar Latin, and she’d used CDs to learn tourist Italian, but by the time she’d been in Venice for a week, she could chat with locals.”
Just like Gawain did when we were in Bangladesh. Asshole. My Bengali was still complete shite.
To avoid the topic of telepathic multilingualism, he reminded, “Weren’t there more gifts to be opened?”
I was actually surprised the Human children were so interested in the topic. Arianna usually hung on every mention of Sookie’s work because she wanted to follow Sookie’s footsteps… so much so that she asked Atum to teach Shawn how to be her guard… Seeing that Emery and Jules were just as enthralled by the topic made me wonder if there would eventually be a new crop of telepathic spies on the horizon… Especially since Brandon had already expressed an interest in a ‘telepathic ride-along’.
The children didn’t need to be told twice. They began ripping into their gifts in an energetic frenzy while Adele left her seat to begin taking parcels from under the tree to pass them out… Last year, Sookie had given Adele a quilting machine because Adele’s hands were becoming uncooperative with the craft, and judging by the shape and size of the packages, we were all reaping the benefits of Adele’s toy.
Everyone was given bed-sized quilts tailored to their specific tastes, mine was a simple geometric gradient made from various shades of blue denim and backed with navy blue chenille… Pam’s was decorated with pink and purple flowers… Brandon and Klaasje’s was dark purple with a paisley pattern, and Adele apologized if it wasn’t fitting and promised to make one specifically for them until they repeatedly told her they loved it.
Gawain and Simza were given their own quilts… They deserved ‘something special’ for being Sookie’s guards. Gawain’s was gold and blue with a compass design, Simza’s was a garden scene, and Atum could expect a quilted reproduction of Starry Night. The painting he’d made for Sookie had inspired Sookie’s quilt (birds on a branch covered in blossoms), so she recreated a Van Gogh for him.
Sookie had already sent Simza’s gifts to London, so while Gawain opened his gifts, Simza watched the children… I had a feeling she would have been doing that regardless.
Adele was rightfully proud of her gifts, and we were all still complimenting her and thanking her when Tammy shouted, “HOLD UP!”
Simza immediately began snickering.
Tammy’s hands were full of items when everyone turned their attention to her… sunblock, sunglasses, a bathing suit… she was concentrating on the purple duffle bag she’d pulled everything from.
After a moment, Ari, Emery and Jules grabbed gifts shaped like duffle bags and ripped into them… Just like Tammy’s, theirs were full of swimwear and cameras and sandals and beach towels… Archie and Tucker quickly followed the other children’s lead.
They were all staring into or riffling through their new luggage when Tammy found a brochure in one of the pouches of her duffle.
Sookie Claus had struck again.
After they all shouted, “DISNEY!” Sookie explained, “Not Disney World… Parents take their kids to Disney. Aunts take nieces, nephews, and Grans on Disney cruises. We leave in two weeks.”
Emery fell onto the floor and groaned about two weeks being forever.
Tammy asked, “Daddy, do you think Mommy will let us go?”
He nodded. “I cleared it with her a while ago. You’re all set.”
Hadley gasped, “You knew!? Wait- of course you knew, but if I knew…”
Ari cackled, “I wouldn’t be so surprised! This. Is. Awesome!” She lunged at Sookie to hug her and ran from the room with a bathing suit to change.
Adele was failing miserably at not smiling when Sookie nodded towards Adele’s pile of gifts. “Don’t try to fake it. You know you’re thrilled. A whole week of fun in the sun with the grandbabies.”
It was the time with her grandchildren that excited Adele, not the setting.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen Adele move faster than when she began opening her gift from Sookie… Just like the children, she’d been given luggage (but she was given a full set of Globetrotter bags in ivory and blush) filled with a plethora of vacation accessories.
Sookie explained, “When Aunt Linda told me about Shawn and Hadley’s trip, I started thinking… Our cruise leaves from Galveston the night before theirs. Wallace is already expecting us. He wants to take the kids to the zoo and aquarium before we sail…”
Hadley bounced and clapped her hands as she squealed. “So AWESOME!”
It was almost funny that Pam felt jealous… She’d been given four Louboutin inspired ensembles, and she seemed like she’d rather have a suitcase full of sunblock and Ray Bans.
While everyone continued with gifts and stockings, Sookie explained the itinerary and sent Tammy to fetch the informational DVD from her purse, and most of the children watched the video with their new sunglasses on.
The most intriguing item in my stocking was a brass scoop with a little red satin bow around its handle… I’d found mine at nearly the same time as Shawn found his, so Sookie left the room and returned with large gifts.
“These are stocking-stuffer approved by Gran… there isn’t really a way to get these into a stocking, but everyone gets one.”
Like everyone usually got a bottle?
She could only carry three at a time, but I managed to wait while she came and went. In the meantime, Adele opened Simza’s gift… a large Wedgewood cameo locket on a long chain and a gift certificate for a local photographer so a family portrait could be made. After Adele slipped the necklace over her head, she left her chair to thank Simza with a hug.
Even though Sookie had passed a wrapped box to everyone, she left the room again and returned with a basket full of smaller gifts and urged us to open the boxes first.
Trey seemed to catch on like I had, ripping into his and Linda’s gift and looking back and forth to compare the contents…
They were all different, but they were all cookie jars. Mine was crystal, Pam’s was a pink ceramic rosebud, Jason and Marcy’s was green carnival glass…
And they were all filled with crystals that looked like raw sugar… but they didn’t smell like sugar.
Sookie explained, “Miles is to thank for this… He had the idea because he isn’t keen to being touched by strangers… He thought the oil recipe might be converted to a bath salt. Powdered hyacinth root replaced the oil. The only trial and error involved was getting the ingredient ratio right… Here’s the best part… this makes more.”
I pushed, “How much more?”
“A gallon of hyacinth oil only gets about a cup of additives… The same cup of ingredients went into a twenty gallon bin of Epsom salt, but Miles fell asleep as soon as he settled in the first bath he tried. One cup makes forty gallons of salt. In a large tub you only need two of those scoops…”
The scoop was only a couple of tablespoons.
“The same amount of ingredients makes forty times as much salt as it does oil?”
She nodded and began handing out little boxes from the basket. “Which is why we’re going to use the oil sparingly now… The salt is almost as good, so it’ll tide us over.”
Gawain chuckled, “How very green of you, Sookie.” The boxes contained full flasks with everyone’s initials engraved on them.
Sookie stopped in front of me to clear her throat and remove a photo from her back pocket… Evidence of the potency of the salt- Mee and Zhang were in a tub, wearing stoned grins.
My plans for the rest of the night had been made.
Sookie moved to sit next to Klaasje to offer the demonstration she’d promised.
Klaasje swept her hair over her shoulder and asked, “Why didn’t I hear about this when you were in Italy?”
Sookie warmed the oil between her hands before she started in German, “Do you remember when Asa pouted for a couple of nights? We were out of oil by then, and we’d run into a Faerie while we were out. Asa was tempted to kill him just for the oil. He was very disappointed in his ethics.”
Klaasje groaned, “I… can… see… why… Oh my… this… is…”
The rest of us (except Gawain) finished her sentence… wonderful, amazing, incredible, splendid, awesome, marvelous, superb, unbelievable…
She agreed, “Completely,” even though Sookie was only rubbing her neck. After a moment, she asked, “Have you known about this oil long enough to have used it on someone during a pregnancy?”
Shawn’s eyes lit up. “No. Why?”
“Because it… if it can relax a Vampire, it might… stave off contractions… Since you seem worried about missing the event.”
He smiled from ear to ear along with Hadley. “I think we just added this to the birthing plan. Thanks for the idea.”
She hummed, “You’re very welcome… and a pinch of salt might be added to a baby’s bedtime bath… ohhhh, it could be a cure for colic…”
Simza joked, “And someone could stake your Maker while he’s in the tub.”
Klaasje doubled over to lay her body on her legs and giggled, “That too… I wish you all the luck in the world.”
Brandon chuckled at her, “She’s never… She’s never been this relaxed before.”
I was sure it was more of a blessing to her than the rest of us… I was happy for her.
“Good… Is Christmas over so we can part ways to bathe?”
There weren’t many gifts left, but it seemed as though the children were making an effort to fix that problem.
Sookie was already shaking her head, but I assumed it was the way she usually shook her head at my preoccupation with the relaxing nature of the massage oil…
But then Pam asked, “What’s this?” and held up a keychain she’d found in the bottom of her stocking. It was a little brass P with Mickey Mouse clinging to it.
Sookie offered, “It looks like a keychain to me.” Simza giggled.
“I know it’s a keychain. It’s a very cute keychain, but there’s a key on it.”
A tiny key… like a luggage key.
Adele leaned in to get a closer look and nodded. “That looks just like the key to my luggage.”
Uh oh… and I thought ‘the reveal’ was over.
Pam blurted, “WHERE!?”
Sookie smiled and shrugged coyly while the children laughed.
Pam left her seat and tackled Sookie… She couldn’t have been more hilariously excited by what that key could mean as she began tickling Sookie for the whereabouts of the lock in question.
Sookie cackled and squirmed until her face was red, but she wasn’t giving up the location of the luggage… not that I was surprised. There was probably going to be a hundred photos of Pam’s tickle torture by the time the children were finished testing their new waterproof cameras.
Emery finally groaned, “We’re all gonna be deaf by the time she breaks, Miss Pam.”
I added, “And she’s using energy she should be saving for massages.”
That got Simza’s attention. “Good point…” She left her seat and offered, “I’ll help you search, but she needs energy for later.”
No. Sookie was MY masseuse. Mine.
I didn’t want to take turns.
Was it my turn to pout?
Sookie giggled and crawled towards me and Gawain, crashing onto Simza’s pillow to checkmate Gawain.
When he growled over his loss, she breathlessly giggled, “My damn hot tub wasn’t plugged in when I checked the thermostat earlier, so we can’t do a group spa thing with the salt.”
He grinned at her and teased in Spanish, “With Simza in town, I assumed you two would be a threesome tonight.”
Marcy and Brandon started laughing, and Trey chuckled, “Did I hear that right?”
Sookie’s jaw dropped and she tossed a pawn at Gawain, but he caught it before it could bounce off of his forehead. “Jerk! Spanish? Really? You’re gonna get it…”
Especially when he could have teased her telepathically…
Sookie rolled her eyes and growled, “Yes. You heard him right. Try to be grownups about it though.”
Pam shouted, “EUREKA!” from upstairs and immediately returned to the den with a suitcase like Adele’s. “What did I miss?” Simza was just behind her, carrying Arianna. She’d successfully changed into a little peacock bathing suit, and kept her tiara on.
Sookie sighed, “Gawain might as well have told the whole damn family I hooked up with Simza.”
Adele looked at Simza and asked, “Like a couple?” The tone of her question was wretchedly hopeful. If I had to guess… while Linda was hoping Sookie would settle down to avoid the pitfalls of promiscuity, Adele wanted Sookie to settle down so she wouldn’t be alone.
Sookie took a deep breath and leaned forward to slap Gawain’s leg. “No. Not like a couple. Like a test drive… Sorry to do this on Christmas, y’all, but I’m coming out… I’m straight.”
Cute, but the Spanish-speaking members of the family knew there was more to it than that.
As soon as Pam unlocked her suitcase, she put a pair of embellished sunglasses on and offered, “I should be jealous, but at least Eric still has a shot…”
That’s when Brandon, Marcy and Trey started laughing.
I couldn’t even fault them for it. I would have laughed too, and not just at the pruned look on Sookie’s face when Adele asked, “Did I miss something?”
She didn’t seem to mind that her family knew she’d fucked Simza… not nearly as much as she hated the idea of telling them she fucked me.
She actually looked like she was going to cry.
She cleared her throat and said, “Nothing I can repeat in front of the kids….”
Lovely. I was a dirty little secret.
She began resetting the chess pieces and when Gawain reached for a pawn, she slapped his hand away and mumbled, “Not you. I’m not talking to you.”
He actually looked hurt.
He sat there and watched Sookie play chess with me, which apparently was an acceptable activity for us, until Adele announced that she was going to begin setting out dessert.
As soon as she left the room, Sookie swung her leg over and kicked Gawain’s shoulder… since the children were still in company, she growled in Spanish, “I’m going to kick your ass. That wasn’t funny. She’s old-fashioned enough to think sex is for couples… There are other happily married strands… are you trying to fuck with her head? The kids’? I can’t believe you.”
I didn’t realize how offended I’d been until I heard that Sookie was upset because she wanted to spare Adele from picket-fence expectations.
Gawain huffed, “I’m sorry. The only reason I spoke in Spanish was because of the innuendo… I meant the boring massages… I didn’t know you fucked Eric.”
Pam’s eyes bulged.
The peanut gallery began laughing again, but Trey offered, “I took it the other way too, and I didn’t know about either of them…”
Brandon and Marcy agreed, “Same here.”
Sookie covered her head with Simza’s quilt, so Gawain chuckled, “You did that to yourself… I’m going to help Adele with her pies.”
Sookie yelled into the blanket, “I wouldn’t have assumed that’s what you meant if you didn’t have your very own shit-stirring stick!”
That was an excellent point.
I waited long enough for Trey and Marcy to translate the misunderstanding to the other adults, and then I pulled the blanket off of Sookie’s head.
“I’m not sure I can play… I’m choking on my foot.”
“You’ll live. At least most of the problem happened in another language.”
She snorted, “I’m actually embarrassed. I don’t get embarrassed…” She finally moved a bishop and narrowed her eyes at Simza. “Maybe I wouldn’t have been on that track if the first thing Simza said to me wasn’t along those lines… Nope… This was all me… And I can’t even be pissed at how amused Gawain is right now.”
“Is he the only one who’s ever broken you on cross examination?”
She shook her head. “Sookie fucks up all the time, but this was a prize-taker… Erica is infallible. She has to be.”
More keeping them separate… Like the partition in her closet that separated the femme fatale wardrobe from the more vibrant side…
I couldn’t help but wonder how often it bothered her… It had to… Fangtasia was only open for a few weeks before I began hating the sight of my ‘Vampire costume’.
Sookie was just a few moves away from initiating a checkmate, even though she was establishing a verbal contract with the children regarding swimwear guidelines (specifically a ban on thongs), when my phone began ringing.
Why would I have Christmas off?
I answered, “Northman.”
Andre started, “Why is Fangtasia closed?”
The better question was why did he call that number first instead of my private line?
When I left the game to find somewhere quiet, Sookie followed me, and Jules and Emery took over our game.
“The few businesses that are open on Christmas don’t make any money… I was actually planning to call the Queen later tonight.”
The back porch was as good of a place as any.
Andre scoffed, “You were going to call after your Christmas party?”
“Yes. It wasn’t as though my reason for calling was a pressing matter, and the Queen usually throws a party. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
He huffed, “Do you have a way to contact that telepathic cunt?”
“I have her phone number.”
Such a prick… He was easier to suffer while I was picturing him behind Sophie-Anne’s settee with her cell phone though.
“What am I to tell her?”
“The uppity cunt thinks she’s too good to deal with me…”
“In her defense, Andre, she’s accustomed to dealing directly with the regent she’s working for.”
“I don’t care.”
Sophie-Anne wanted something he couldn’t provide, so he was going to take it out on the rest of the world.
I reminded, “Your reason for wanting me to call her…”
“I have a Christmas gift for her…”
Oh, this was going to be spectacular.
I actually felt sorry for Sookie… I rose to Sookie Claus, but she was being visited by Santa Cuif.
“Yes. I’m putting a man in place. A liaison.”
“A liaison? I’m calling her to tell her you’re giving her a Human for Christmas.”
“Not Human. Vampire. She thinks she’s above Vampires, she’s getting a pet.”
He had to be fucking joking.
“The liaison’s purpose is what exactly?”
“Are you questioning me?”
Gawain joined us, draping Sookie’s jacket over her shoulders, just in time to hear me reiterate, “I’m expected to call Miss Weiss and tell her there’s a Vampire in her stocking. I’ll need to explain.”
Sookie’s eyes bulged.
“He’s going to negotiate her contract and offer any backup you might need. He’s a failsafe if your methods of wooing her are inadequate.”
“I’m supposed to tell her she’s being assigned an envoy. That he’ll work with her towards drafting a contract. Basically, you’re assigning someone to do the same job I was given.”
“And you think she isn’t smart enough to know the Vampire’s actual purpose is to gather information about her and report back to you on an hourly basis.”
The long pause Andre gave was ridiculous. It was as though it hadn’t even occurred to him that a child would have known better.
He finally ordered, “Call her. We’re waiting at Fangtasia.”
Sookie and Gawain were identically slack-jawed when the call was ended… It didn’t matter that she had seen Andre’s brilliant maneuver from a mile away… it was still completely galling that he thought she was so foolish.
How the fuck did he live so long while habitually underestimating his opponents?
After a moment, Gawain sighed, “Do you have a bag in your new car yet?”
She groaned, “Yeah… Fuck Christmas, I guess,” as she turned to follow him inside, but I caught her arm.
“Sookie, you know this is a trap. You can’t go.”
“He needs a wakeup call, Eric. If I don’t go, this is going to escalate. Right now, he thinks I’m an idiot who would basically spy on myself.”
“Granted, he needs to realize you’re smarter than him, but at least one version of him has gone to the extreme of bringing you over.”
“Gawain isn’t going to let him lay a hand on me.”
She said that as though I would.
I growled at her and asked, “What do you want me to do then?”
She sighed, “Just call him back and tell him I’m on my way, but I don’t know why.”
“And when you arrive?”
“And when I arrive with Gawain, I’m going to spell it out in no uncertain terms… for the Queen, since that seems to be what needs to happen.”
Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!
“Be careful. If I call you, don’t answer it. Just turn around.”
“Got it.” She stretched up to kiss my cheek and led the way into the house where Gawain was waiting with a garment bag, and Simza looked positively giddy at the chance for action.