Gawain was quiet during the drive to my house to fetch his bag, and he didn’t bother saying anything when I decided to bring most of my cache of gifts for Sookie along either.
It wasn’t a remarkable silence… I assumed he was ruminating over the political nonsense, and possibly planning to disapprove of the fact that I was escaping my contract by less than honorable means.
He waited until we were on the highway bound for Lake Bistineau to start, “You fucked her.”
“Why? Were you taking a test drive because of the braid, or have you been attracted to her for a while, but she was with Asa…?”
“I’m not sure there’s a short answer… but the braid wasn’t a factor. When she confronted me about faking my death I’d found her attractive. I can understand why other versions of me approached their Sookies.”
“No designs on keeping her?”
I chuckled, “I’m not sure anyone could keep her if they wanted to. No… What’s this about?”
That nothing was more loaded than my stocking had been.
When I realized I was staring at him with my eyebrow raised, I decided I definitely needed to change occupations… My facial control was getting rusty.
“You wouldn’t have said anything if it was nothing.”
“I’m curious about the braid… especially after last night… I’ve lost count of how many times someone compared her to you. It makes sense that you two actually make a good couple.”
“I know you were playing matchmaker before the braid became a factor. Nice try though…”
He argued, “I’m not trying anything… If I were playing then I would have tried to convince you to pursue Sookie while she was still with Asa.”
“How would that have had any entertainment value?”
“It wouldn’t. He either would have ended you or died trying. Either way, Sookie would have been heartbroken. That isn’t what I call ‘entertaining’.”
I would hope not.
“And you’d miss me.”
“That too… It really is a shame about Asa. They were good together… Then again, he reminds me of you too.”
“Because he’s too busy watching his surroundings to seem anything but stoic for starters. He doesn’t relax around anyone until he gets to know them. He’s pragmatic. He has the leadership mentality and he’s intelligent enough to lead wisely. He isn’t the standard machismo-fueled alpha male we’ve seen so many times… and he can be a complete cry-baby when he’s forced to do something he doesn’t want to do.”
I chuckled, “Thanks for the last part. I was beginning to wonder if you had a crush on me.”
“You’re welcome… Speaking of being a cry-baby though, why did you renew your contract if you want to leave the Area so badly?”
“I renewed because I was in a familiar Area with plenty of safe-houses. It was just a few years before the Revelation. I didn’t want to move to a new place only to be driven out as soon as we settled. I was waiting out the storm. It’s not that I want to leave, but I would like to be free to travel from time to time. I wouldn’t take Pam away from Shawn and Hadley now.”
“I get the distinct impression that Pam will be Hadley’s Maker.”
Hadley was going to be a very fortunate newborn.
“Pam hasn’t said as much, but I get the same impression. I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed.”
“But we hate Shawn, right?”
I chuckled, “Oh, that’s completely called for. Yes. We hate that fortunate prick.”
“And there are multiple versions of him with such luck.”
“Congratulations on bringing the conversation back to your area of interest.”
“Thank you… As long as we have known one another, I can’t think of a time when I would have heard you’d wed and not laughed until I broke my own ribs.”
“And your point?”
“When I heard about a version of Pam and Jason together, I thought of a sitcom…”
“That was my first thought as well, but given their history in our version of events…”
“Right, but you see my point. When it was revealed that Hadley’s ability made other versions of her completely susceptible to the tides of foreign emotions, my mind leans towards the great tragedies… If only those Hadleys had known about their nature…”
Tragedy wasn’t an exaggeration.
“And what came to mind when you heard about a you pairing with a Linda…”
He grumbled, “I knew you’d bring that up.”
“Why not? We’re exploring the romantic aspects of the braid. I only just found out you aren’t fond of her, so I’m curious. It’s not as though it would be your first long-standing relationship. You’ve married no less than a dozen women who needed a benefactor. You and Wyannie were all but exclusive for more than a decade. You spent the better part of a century with Zhang…” And we still didn’t mention his relationship with Anna.
“Fair enough… I just don’t like her. I’m sure I’m jaded because I have obvious loyalties to Sookie, but I truly don’t know how Trey tolerates her. She isn’t just domineering, she’s oppressive. For a Me to be with a Linda, she would need to be more amiable…”
“I can appreciate that. I couldn’t be more curious about the differences between strands. Perhaps, because that was the version where I’d brought her over, she had a different perspective on life…”
“I don’t really care. It made me ill to hear that version of Sookie had stopped everything to care for Linda while she underwent cancer treatments. She was providing hospice care, neglecting her own life for a woman who would otherwise judge every fucking move she made. I know it’s not completely rational, but I hate our Linda a little more knowing that she’s been shitting on someone who’d sacrifice everything to care for her.”
“Fuck. I hadn’t thought of that… I’d been hating her more because she accused me of molesting her niece even though the abuser was someone she had a good reason to keep little girls away from.”
He stared at the side of my face for a moment before snorting, “It’s good that we’ve compared notes on the matter. We were both glossing over important evidence.”
“Unfortunately, a lingering grudge won’t do anything but hurt the Stackhouses as a whole.”
“And they don’t deserve that… They’re actually quite fun to spend time with for the most part… Where were we?”
“I think you were building up to comparing Sookie and me to porn… The Pam and Jason comedy… The Hadley tragedy…”
He chuckled, “That was accidental, but… now that you mention it, I imagine it’s been a while since I’ve read an epic…”
“Good. I was beginning to wonder if you were feeling unwell. You haven’t been guilty of hyperbole all evening.”
“I’m not exaggerating… I might write it myself. The way you two met makes for one hell of a beginning. Of course the Faerie aspect complicates matters…”
“Anything related to the Fae complicates matters.”
“It clearly doesn’t complicate how you feel about Sookie.”
“You mean because I don’t mind her company in spite of her heritage?”
He chuckled, “Don’t even try to sound dispassionate. ‘Don’t mind’? Really? Quickly, name someone whose company you enjoy more.”
“Trey Dawson. We’re soul mates.”
Without pause, he agreed, “You two make a cute couple too, but I would have bet you’d say Brandon…”
“Because you’re an egomaniac, and he’s you… 900 years ago, when I met you… You were just like he is now. The way he confronted his own grandmother in Sookie’s defense, the way he proactively approached a King about Klaasje, the sentimentality, the cynicism, the balls…”
“I knew there was something I liked about him.”
“And it couldn’t possibly be that his position allowed him to defend Sookie.”
“I’m completely willing to admit I was jealous…”
“So was I… Even if it was misdirected… Adele doesn’t abuse Sookie with her negativity. She usually has a practical complaint about anything she voices. Linda’s derision was baseless…”
He scoffed, “You aren’t defending her.”
“Don’t make me.”
“Oh, trust me, I doubt I want to hear it… but I do want to hear how you can say anything she’s put Sookie through is justified.”
I growled, because I really didn’t want to defend her, “Since Sookie was a child, I’ve heard about how sensitive Linda’s ‘bullshit meter’ is and how impressive her imagination is… Without realizing she had an ability, she was left to act on her instincts. Faulting her for that would be hypocritical given how often we’ve been left to the same method… She’s just as much the victim of her ability as other Hadleys have been. The difference being that Linda was taking Sookie down with her. Keep in mind that, even if Sookie had an excellent reason to keep secrets, those secrets are why there was a problem to begin with.”
He was quiet for a moment before hissing, “Fuck… We can still hate her though, right?”
“We can hate how she treated Sookie before she was told about her ability, but the verdict is still out on how she’ll treat Sookie in light of the new information.”
“I think that’s why Sookie entered the braid. The most incredible information she learned was in regards to Linda’s ability. The journals She kept while She was dying are incredible. Have you read them yet?”
“Even if I had time, I’m not sure I want to after what Sookie mentioned. If there’s so much information in them about our friends, and I don’t already know…”
“Sookie only mentioned the worst cases from the journals, save Klaasje’s circumstances, of course. But considering the nature of Linda’s ability, that each passage was inspired by something inane, Sookie’s sure that reading the entries would bring on more gleaning for Linda. You should read them.”
“I’ll add it to my list then. Perhaps I’ll have more time to read once I’m not a sheriff anymore.”
He snorted, “I doubt that. Erica doesn’t give her guards a lot of free time… Where are we? We haven’t seen another car for miles.”
He’d asked just in time for me to slow down so I could turn onto Hyacinth Bayou Lane.
“It’s Christmas night and the only thing worth mentioning on this exit is a state park… Sookie didn’t mention the details?”
“She told me it’s where peace and quiet was invented. She didn’t mention it was in the middle of nowhere… Do I hear banjos?”
I chuckled, “No. You hear nothing. There’s a lot of it… The property was meant to be the site of a development, but only one house was built. She’s in the middle of more than a hundred acres and has a little driveway at the end of a cul-de-sac.”
While he watched the bayou scenery pass, he breathed, “That bitch was holding out on me. After one night at Pam’s house, I want to kill her neighbor.”
“The Nine Inch Nails fan next door?”
“Is he a Nine Inch Nails fan, or is he too stupid to figure out how to change the song? He listens to one song on a loop. It’s maddening.”
“He’s worse now that Pam explained to him why he’d be a horrible Vampire. He didn’t want to hear that life really is a popularity contest and if he can’t make friends as a Human, he’d be an epic failure as a Vampire as well.”
“Stop talking. You’re ruining it.”
I chuckled at him, but I let him enjoy the peace for the last few moments of the drive… I certainly understood.
It was no surprise to see Pam’s car already in the driveway, or feel that she was in Sookie’s closet… she felt like she did when she was shopping.
When Sookie opened the door she was grinning from ear to ear, and she’d already shed her costume and replaced it with a tank top… The tub was already filling and that hypnotic smell was wafting through the house…
She focused on Gawain and cooed, “Oooooooh… Gawain likey.”
He nodded. “The interior could look like a crack den, Sookie… This… is…”
“Perfectly quiet. I know… Do you want the grand tour or do you want to wander around?”
She knew him too well.
“I’ll take the second option…”
She held up a little keychain that looked like the back of a subway car and giggled, “I thought you’d say that… Your Christmas present is about half a kilometer northeast. Please come in, whenever you get around to it.”
He raised an eyebrow and asked, “Luggage?”
She nodded. “Sort of…” She traded the key for his bag and offered, “Feel free to move it.” She pointed between us towards the lake.
“How long ago was it left?”
“About a week.”
He got a hunt for Christmas.
He was off without another word and Sookie giggled as she watched him leave.
As she set his bag with his quilt on the sofa in the foyer, I asked, “What did you find for him?”
She took an unlabeled bottle of what looked like white wine from the hall tree and led the way upstairs as she explained, “Last time I was home, one of Terry’s friends was trying to sell his old Airstream trailer… I was in Beijing before I thought of Gawain, but I had Shawn and Jason gut it and lightproof it. There’s nothing in it now but a king size bed and a comfy chair. The side opens up to be a little porch… Gawain basically gets a little serenity pavilion on wheels.”
“I’m sure he’ll love it. He’s always been fond of the outdoors.”
She said, “I hope so,” as we joined Pam and Simza in Sookie’s closet. They were both perusing Sookie’s toolboxes. She snorted, “I hooked Eric with the office, Gawain with the peace and quiet, and I got you two with toolboxes…”
Pam cooed, “I’m going to Sears tomorrow night… This is a fabulous idea.”
Sookie snorted, “You know Shawn would go for you. It’ll give him an excuse to ‘get lost’ and buy baby stuff.”
Pam snickered, “That was going to be my excuse, but I might need his help and his truck.”
Simza offered, “I like him… He’s a horrible Vampire, but an adorable family man.”
Pam sighed as she held up a chandelier necklace with at least fifty carats of diamonds in it. “We’re taking our time. We’re focusing on the more academic aspects for now, but he’s actually quite formidable as a young Vampire… You’ve just never seen another man touch Hadley.”
I added, “Hadley isn’t allowed to go to Fangtasia with him anymore.” He hadn’t just been lucky to have an opportunity to end his Maker. Shawn’s strength and speed were incredible for a Vampire his age. With training, which we were working on, he’d be a match for me by the time he was through his first decade.
Sookie snorted, “Y’all are on your own. I have a bath waiting… The other bathrooms have garden tubs and they’re set up for company, or you can use the massage chair behind the bar in the den… Bon chance.”
They didn’t seem to notice when Sookie left the room, but I didn’t give them long to react before I left too… They’d gone mad if they had oil and bath salt, but they were focused on Sookie’s collection of Leiber minaudieres.
Sookie was already pulling her top over her head when I walked in. She giggled, “I’m so glad I had Ryan leave most of my stuff at the other house so I can go through it slowly. Those two could die of starvation in a well-stocked closet.”
There was more?
She stepped into the tub and adjusted the water temperature before lowering herself… She immediately let out a contented sigh that made me regret how much clothing I had to remove before I could join her.
“Who do you think fostered Pam’s love of embellishments? Simza came to London shortly after I brought over Pam… Her first outings without me were shopping with Simzie.”
Sookie snorted, “Better her than me,” as I stepped into the other end of the tub. “She’s a miserable shopping partner. She looks at everything… Dawn is the only escape.”
I didn’t think it was possible, but the salt was better than the oil… the effects came to me in a matter of seconds and the setting was much better… Not just the view. Being enveloped by warm water was an improvement to lying on a cold table in an open room.
Simza snorted, “I heard that.”
“You know I love you anyway… just like you love me even though I ruin shopping by whining.”
Simza joined us, kicking off her pumps and looking over the bathroom before sitting on the corner of the tub to soak her legs. “You’re right. You do ruin shopping for me. It’s much more fun to surprise you.”
“And you can focus on making me look fabulous instead of apologizing to shopkeepers for my bleating… Speaking of which, the red leather was a hit the other night.”
Yes. It. Was.
“Sorry I missed that… Is the salt worth the trouble, Eric?”
“It’s better than the oil.”
Sookie took a sip from her bottle before snorting, “You asked like you can’t tell how mellow I am.”
“It could be the mead.”
There could only have been an ounce or two missing from the bottle.
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Or you’re waiting to say something about me fucking Eric… or Eric fucking me… Get it out of the way so I can relax.”
Simza blurted, “That takes the fun out of it!” I could feel how much Pam agreed with her.
“I don’t see how there would be any fun in it anyway… It’s not like you haven’t had sex with everyone on the property. I’m tied for last with everyone else, having only been with two fellow Utopians. Annnnnnd I’m pretty sure ecstasy wasn’t a factor for any of them, so I should be last-last.”
I chuckled, “Ecstasy?”
Sookie nodded, “Ecstasy and tej… Asa and I had talked about threesomes a couple of times in passing… Neither of us remember everything about what happened, but we woke up the next afternoon with pounding headaches and Simza sandwiched between us.”
Simza snorted, “You make it sound like date rape. I said I never had the chance to taste tej, and you kissed me. You started it. I have witnesses.”
The aggression I’d enjoyed last night.
Sookie snorted, “I’m aware of the witnesses. Clovis’s guards couldn’t look any of us in the eyes after that… Knowing we were trashed, you could have suggested we leave the pool earlier or something. Damn.”
Simza huffed, “I still say you need to try bisexuality while you have your wits… There’s nothing wrong with my memory. You were- it was- Pam, are we ready for our bath yet?”
While I chuckled at Simza, Pam whined, “How does she have more Dior and Chanel than I do?”
Sookie shook her head and sighed, “I’ve been living in Europe for two and half years?”
Simza asked, “Where’s the rest of it? I wanted to borrow your opals…”
She might have asked. If it was the opals I was thinking of, even I knew she coveted them too much to share them. It was one of the few pieces of jewelry Sookie wore often.
Sookie argued, “My opals are- Oh no, you don’t…” Sookie’s hand shot out of the water as she demanded, “Give!”
Simza’s innocent face had always been laughable. “Give? Whatever do you mean, Sookie?”
Sookie growled, “My opals should be in my jewelry box. I was wearing them when I came home.”
Simza scoffed, “Are you implying…”
“Yes. I’m implying that you’re holding my opals hostage. What do you want?”
Simza cooed, “Your cherry pearls. They’re exquisite, and I know you’ll never wear them with love. And they’ll make up for the fact that my Christmas gift is in London.”
Sookie’s eyes rolled. “Such a twat. You didn’t have to hold my favorite jewelry hostage…” She wiggled her fingers to remind Simza she was waiting.
Simza fished a strand of opal beads from her cleavage and handed it over just as she said, “Pam, if you want a Leiber, hide Sookie’s conch pearls…”
Sookie fastened her necklace and then pinched the back of Simza’s thigh as Pam walked into the bathroom…
She shook her head as she knelt by the tub to kiss Sookie’s cheek and cooed, “I’ll do no such thing… Sookie’s already been my personal Santa…” I could have spared myself the judgment of the assholes who custom-made her pink velvet furniture apparently. “Is there anything I can do for you, Sookie?”
Simza was already pulling vibrant red pearls from her bra to decorate herself.
Sookie giggled, “You know what… Since we’re already in the tub, would you mind grabbing Eric’s game chest?”
I approved, “Excellent idea.”
Pam asked, “Anything else?”
Sookie hummed, “Ummmmmm, it would be great if you could give Sim something to do with her mouth.”
When I chuckled, Simza slapped my arm.
“What? There’s another tub. There’s more salt. There’s massage oil… Sookie has unofficially opened a Vampire resort. Go play.”
She jokingly sighed, “Sadly, no room service…”
“But the cliché bar brimming with subpar dinner options will be open tomorrow night.”
Sookie snapped her fingers and motioned for me to cover my ears.
I wasn’t sure I would have complied for anyone else, but the way Pam shrieked made me very glad I had… even with my hands over my ears… I didn’t want to move them.
I even shook my head when Sookie motioned for me to lower my hands.
No. Pam wasn’t in danger. She was giddy. No risks.
I asked, “What did you do?” just in time for Pam to dart into the bathroom again, and lean over the tub to thank Sookie.
Given how tightly Pam was hugging her, lifting her from the water, I was surprised Sookie could answer, “Funny thing about collections… Once in a while, you get duplicates.”
Pam cooed, “What else are you collecting?”
Simza stroked her ill-gotten cherry pearls and answered for Sookie, “Art, crystal, jewelry, couture… If Erica reads pets for ten Vampires, there will be nine deliveries the next day. It’s usually a large assortment of whatever retail items the Master’s investments are in. Most of them gift gratuitously…”
Sookie added, “I get a lot of garnets and rubies because Erica wears black and red. Sometimes I’m lucky and they’ll ask someone about me before they give a gift… When they ask Simza, she tells them I have a passion for pearls and embellished daggers…”
I laughed, “Like Pam would tell them you love furs and pink.”
Sookie nodded. “But Gawain and Atum tell them the truth… Hey Pam, I know Leibers are cute, but since you like bigger bags, you should try Braccialini. What Leiber does with clutches and crystals, Braccialini does with totes and leather. Very cute and much more practical. I have three or four on my tree. An owl…”
Pam’s eyes lit up… because she needed a new designer bag to stockpile.
Simza countered, “Fashion advice from you? That’s rich… Pam, I need your help. Sookie doesn’t wear brooches.”
Sookie argued, “I do too!”
Simza scoffed, “You don’t wear them as brooches… You wear them in your hair.”
“I wear them on jackets and blazers too… Pardon me for not wanting to fuck up a couture gown with pin holes. You know I auction them for charity after I wear them.”
“And then you hoard the brooches. You have a drawer full of them. They’re at the bottom, unloved, like bastard children.”
Before my bath was completely ruined with a drawn out tirade about jewelry, I blurted, “Get out. Find something else to do.”
Since she could feel how serious I was, Pam left instead of arguing, but Simza scoffed, “Are we bothering you?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t complain if it wasn’t so completely obvious that we’re trying to relax. Sookie left you to your fashion chatter to take a peaceful bath. We socialized for hours at Shawn’s house, we worked for a while, and now we- Sookie and I– are going to enjoy the fruit of Sookie’s magical improvisation…”
She narrowed her eyes at me as she left her perch, and waited until she was in Sookie’s closet again to call me a belligerent cunt.
I snorted, “Perhaps I should do something to pacify myself…”
Sookie reached for a blue bottle covered with stars and giggled, “Like take a quiet soak or something?” I watched her shake more salt into our bath, wondering if she was annoyed that I’d put my foot down, but subtlety wasn’t effective with Simza.
Sookie looked like she was pouting.
I asked quietly, “What?”
“You were bitchy before we got your game chest…”
“And I think I could have gotten rid of them… I finally bought a piece of jewelry ‘just because’ while I was in China.”
Simza stuck her head into the bathroom and probed, “Not because it was a charity auction?”
Sookie shook her head.
“Not because you needed it to go with something else?”
Sookie shook her head again.
“Well, where is this piece of- Wait. Does it have historical or literary provenance. Was it hiding in a lot of books, or the base of a lamp?”
Sookie giggled, “No…”
“Is it actual jewelry, or recycled bottle caps or something? Is it from Wal-Mart? I need to see the piece of jewelry you finally bought for yourself!”
I chuckled and Sookie blurted, “The case on the left. Top drawer.”
As she disappeared again, she mumbled, “With your aquamarine and opals? That figures… Is it paisley too?”
Sookie giggled, “Sort of.”
Simza asked, “Do I get a hint? Half of this is new to me,” and immediately began mumbling with Pam about their search.
Sookie winked at me and mouthed, “They could be a while,” before slipping underwater.
She looked peaceful enough to be sleeping while she was under, and she’d only just come up for air when Simza debated that Sookie wouldn’t have bought Cartier for herself… Sookie wiggled her eyebrows and bit her lip while she waited for them to figure out which piece of jewelry was ‘the one’.
We waited, basking in Simza and Pam’s quiet deliberation for several minutes… leaning back, concentrating on the oblivion provided by the salt, and letting the faucet’s slow supply of hot water drown out the rummaging in the next room.
Eventually, Pam demanded, “Help,” and I assumed she wanted a hint from Sookie for a moment before she continued, “Sookie finally bought jewelry for herself.”
Gawain asked, “You’re both searching the same drawer, is there a reason for that?”
“This is the drawer she said it was in.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t see the headlines. Tyson told me about it… That one.”
Simza asked, “Are you sure, or is this your guess?”
“This is my guess… Where is her string of opals?”
It was impressive that he knew her well enough to realize they were missing from the drawer.
Simza offered, “She’s wearing them.”
“In the tub?”
Pam tattled, “Simza used it as leverage…”
Gawain offered nothing more than, “Ah,” and a moment later he entered the bathroom with a handful of cherry pearls. He’d confiscated them from Simza in Sookie’s defense.
He leaned over the tub to set the jewelry on the ledge and kissed Sookie’s cheek.
He started, “Thank you… How long should it take to drive from here to Los Angeles?”
Sookie giggled, “I’m glad you like it… You could do it in two or three nights since you don’t need potty breaks, but I doubt you’ll find a quiet place to set it up in LA.”
Gawain and I answered in stereo, “Joshua Tree…” Gawain continued, “I’ll tow it there and Eric can stand watch so I can take a few sabbaticals.”
She giggled, “Victory… I pitched a no-hitter this year.”
He asked, “What about Simza?”
She mouthed, “Pearls and knives.”
He asked, “Atum?” as he began unbuttoning his shirt.
“Why would I give a Christmas present to someone older than Christ?”
While he continued to strip, he answered, “Because that homeless prick is impossible to buy gifts for and you, my dear, love a fucking challenge. Plus, he mentioned what he’s giving you.”
She slid to the side to make room for him and snickered, “He really is a pain in the ass to buy gifts for… I found a few little things for him- a crocodile bag, some simple linen tunics and pants he can lounge in, scarab cufflinks, a ring. And I had Shawn make a senet game for him.”
He settled into the tub and sighed, “Oh, he’ll love the senet set… but doesn’t he get a cookie jar?”
Sookie answered, “I thought of something that would travel better…” She leaned away from him to study his face and breathed, “Gawain… the salt’s working on you.”
He moaned, “Yes… it… is… What did you get for Tyson?”
She snorted, “Nunya… Eric, Gawain keeps mentioning Tyson because I slept with him… If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I’m expected to start keeping a list of sexual references with me too.”
Was I supposed to begin reading into what she’d said last night? That if we were going to lose her to anyone, it would be Tyson?
How fucking casual was their relationship? Tyson didn’t pursue anyone, but he was buying gifts for her.
“Did Asa prefer that threesome?”
Sookie snickered, “After Asa… Tyson visited while I was in India…”
Gawain added, “And while she was in China too.”
He left his kingdom to see her?
And Gawain was pointing that out because, as far as the braid could tell us, Tyson was a variable of epic proportions. The other Sookies didn’t know him. There was no case study. We knew of other couples that could work well together, or be cataclysmic… but as far as we knew, our strand was the only one where Tyson and Sookie had met… and if there was a strand where Gawain was a King, there could be a slew of versions where Sookie belonged to Tyson.
And he was sending gifts to her, trying to spoil her.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Sookie pushed, “It isn’t just the bath. You aren’t like this when we just chill in a hot tub.”
She fucked Tyson… and the news was offered in passing?
Gawain closed his eyes and leaned back to close his eyes. “I’m aware of that… What’s different about the recipe?”
Sookie actually blinked a few times before answering, “The hyacinth oil was replaced with hyacinth root. The salt is just Epsom Salt from a pharmacy.”
“Did you brew it the same way?”
“N- noooo. No, I didn’t. The oil can just be set out in jugs, but… to brew the salt, I spread it out on a sheet, and it brewed for much longer.”
“That could make the difference, but so could the chef. The massage oil I tried was made by Witches instead of a Faerie… I’d like a cookie jar with a landscape, I think…”
She giggled, “You got it,” and kissed his cheek. She rested her head on his shoulder and whispered, “I think I’m gonna cry. I felt so bad…”
Simza and Pam returned to the bathroom with an assortment of rings and Simza scoffed, “Why does he get to join you?”
Gawain snorted, “Fuck off.”
Sookie laughed, “Because he was expecting to be ‘blah’ about the salt like he is about the oil… And because one body isn’t two. We’d be like sardines with both- Shut up… Because I said so. If you’re so worried about a bath, fill… a… tub.”
“Planning to…” She set three opal rings on the ledge of the tub and finished, “As soon as you tell me which one of these claimed your jewelry-buying virginity.”
Sookie pointed to the only black opal and explained, “I was at an auction for charity and saw this in the pamphlet for an estate auction. Four carats set in platinum. Not only did I buy this, but a week later, I bought two Wallace Chan rings, a fire opal and a blue topaz. I haven’t bought anything since then though, so I’m still a killjoy.”
Simza nodded to agree and poked Gawain’s shoulder, accusing, “You knew about it already.”
Apparently, he’d been right.
“I told you. I knew it was an opal ring… I’ve just seen her jewelry more recently than you. She’d been given a lot of opals in Australia… Go away. You’re ruining my bath.”
Pam turned for the door and complained, “Ever feel like a red-headed step-child?”
Gawain crooned after them, “I’ll make myself leave once the other tub is full.”
Sookie’s eyes began to water. “Seriously. I might cry.”
“What a Christmas this turned out to be… I was quite happy with new Doc Martens and a lovely quilt… then I found my little rolling darkroom… now this. What did Tyson get? I want to call him to brag.”
“A Monet… Why do you keep bringing him up?”
A Monet? She just… a fucking Monet?
How the fuck did she get her hands on a Monet?
“Because you fucked him.”
“You weren’t nearly as amused when you found out I fucked Simza.”
“I was furious when I found out you fucked Simza. You didn’t have any business experimenting with a pharmacologically uncontrolled mood-altering drug in an unfamiliar setting. Anything could have happened.”
She snickered, “Is that you, Tad?” with her brogue.
He was relaxed enough to almost smile at her. “You learned your lesson.”
“Righto. Pharmacologically uncontrolled mood-altering drugs are strictly for the privacy of a well-warded room, yes sir.”
“Don’t make me laugh while I’m trying to tease you about fucking Tyson. Even I haven’t done that.”
“Don’t be sad. We’ll get you a pretty dress and the right bra, and maybe he’ll notice you. He just doesn’t like the frumpy look… Until then, there’s always ice cream.”
When he finally broke, he chuckled, “Little bitch… He’s not going to be happy you’re fucking Eric now.”
Her eyes rolled. “He’s not going to be pissed about it either. It’s not like we’re a thing. I’m a fucking novelty item…”
Did she think I considered her one, or Tyson?
He opened his eyes to scowl at the side of her face.
“Don’t look at me like that. Tyson even admitted that he’d get bored with me if I stayed in London for any length of time. Nobody misses the flavor of the week for long.”
He corrected, “I can’t say a ‘flavor of the week’ ever gave me a Monet.”
“I have vanilla bean and butter pecan.”
As mind-fucked as I was, I still chuckled, but so did he.
He asked, “Who thanked you with a Monet?”
She narrowed her eyes. “I bought it.”
“I don’t remember hearing about a Monet on the auction block.”
“Because it wasn’t. The seller thought it was a forgery.”
The idiot who practically gave away three Da Vinci paintings was universally hopeless.
“Which painting was it?”
“Part of the Parliament Series. Who else was I going to give it to?”
“Instead of your playpen?”
“To hang inside. It would have been lovely.”
She snorted, “You’ll spend less time inside your playpen than Tyson will in his office… Is there anything else you’d like to tattle on me for? I mean, Eric’s a captive audience.”
“I don’t think so… Printing a list of your bedmates is more trouble than it’s worth. You can list everyone you’ve fucked in one breath. You really need to try harder.”
She deadpanned, “Yeah, I’ll get right on that. God knows you need something to talk about.”
“You should make it really interesting. Fuck Andre… or… Shawn… Fucking Shawn would be epic as far as gossip is concerned. It might be Shakespearian enough for Linda to approve eventually… Your cousin’s husband, and the protégé of a family friend. Nothing is better gossip than families at war.”
Sookie sighed, “Poor you… you’re going to have to wait until next Christmas.”
“You have time to pull off the family coup by my birthday…”
“Not this year… I have a wedding, a Disney cruise, and a pulpit destruction scheduled before Alban Eilir… Speaking of birthdays though…” She nudged my leg with her foot and wiggled her eyebrows.
I added, “And captive audiences.”
She nodded. “Have you put any thought into when we’ll celebrate yours?”
“How does one choose a birthday?”
Sookie shrugged, “Don’t look at me. I picked mine for the birthstone.”
“You picked a different birthday?”
She nodded. “Erica’s birthday is October 7th. Opals… It wasn’t necessary, but Wallace asked if I wanted to…”
“That depends on which chart you’re working with though.”
“You say that like you’d care about your birthstone… Do you have any clue about your actual birthday? A season to start with?”
“Summer. Late summer.”
Pam piped from the closet, “Onyx!”
Sookie grinned and offered, “August 24th then?”
“Why the twenty-fourth?”
“How old you were… If you don’t…”
“August 24th is fine. I was just asking…” How the fuck she made it so painless was beyond me.
Pam darted into the room to lean over Gawain to kiss Sookie’s cheek. “Thank you. I’ve been trying to get him to pick a birthday forever. What did you give him that made him cave?”
When I started laughing, Pam rolled her eyes. “You’re both assholes.”
Gawain crooned, “You saw how he looked in that sweater, Pam. It was a beautiful sweater.”
She nodded as she left again. “All three of you are assholes… Huge assholes.”
There was another respite… quiet time to enjoy nothing more than the calming effects of Sookie’s salt recipe… I listened to the other tub fill slowly while Simza explored Sookie’s house and marveled over the planetarium light in the children’s room, and she was just as impressed with the décor in the Vampire suite as I was. She called it serene and asked about Sookie’s interior designer. As many interruptions as the company had to offer, at least I had my answer; Sookie had been in complete control of the remodeling by sending paint chips, swatches and samples of everything from China.
When Gawain finally left the tub to join Pam and Simza, Sookie did too… she jokingly complained that I’d notice if she peed in the tub while she took her empty mead bottle with her…
Leaving me alone in the tub to stretch out as much as possible.
When Sookie returned to the bathroom, wearing a long black linen robe, her arms were quite full…
Somehow she’d managed to balance my game chest and a bottle of mead on the leaf from her dining room table.
She set everything on the bench and began folding discarded clothing and making neat little stacks… and then she proceeded to lay the leaf across the tub to begin setting up the chess board.
“Did you add more salt while I was gone?”
“That would have required sitting up to reach the bottle. Look how far away it is.”
All the way at the other end of the tub. Four whole feet out of reach.
She snickered, “Think we need more?”
“Not unless you want to forfeit a game by going to sleep.”
She pressed, “So… not yet.”
“No. Not yet… Was there more to why Gawain thought I needed to know about you and Tyson?”
“The fact that he’s a turd isn’t enough?”
“It usually is, but he could have told me in the car on the way here. We were already talking about you.”
Once the game pieces were in place, she hung her robe on the coat rack I’d been meaning to ask about and brought her mead to the tub.
As she settled between my knees on the other side of the leaf she sighed, “I think he’s back to playing yenta again… He probably got a little kick out of that ‘holy shit’ reaction of yours… and you know how he is anyway. The info was personal, so saying something about it behind my back isn’t his style.”
I asked, “Holy shit?” and opened the game.
She quickly made her first move… it hardly seemed like she looked at the board.
“Yeah… Have anything you want to say about it out loud?”
“No. Why do you have a coat rack in your bathroom?”
She snickered, “The American judge gives that subject change a two… I didn’t want to drill holes in my marble tiles for hooks. It’s vintage art deco like everything else…” She took a sip from her bottle and offered, “As far as I know, Aunt Linda hasn’t pictured me and Tyson together to confuse herself, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I’m not. Would you have said something if Gawain hadn’t?”
“Um… if I say no, it implies that I wanted to hide it, but I hadn’t thought about mentioning it. I also wouldn’t have lied about it.”
“You denied sleeping with him.”
“No, I denied the bullshit accusations Linda was spitting at me. She was picturing light bondage with Maximo. That was a whole other thing… Is this about me fucking your friends, or because I didn’t blurt out my exploits when I first saw you, or… is there something else?”
“Something else, such as?”
“Such as you wondering if Linda’s assumptions were prophetic… In one night, you found out I’ve fucked two of your friends.”
Our circles of friends did overlap.
“And I did fuck some random guy I woke up with, who later turned out to be not you…”
“You thought you were dreaming.”
“Then… what made your mind feel like the first drop of a rollercoaster?”
“As opposed to?”
“Checkmate…” She gave me a moment to realize I’d let her win in eight moves. While we reset the pieces, she answered, “Like a tepid bath… You’re usually pretty calm.”
After a moment, she offered, “That subject change was a better try, but it fell flat… Were you being a douche bag about sharing a fuck-buddy with Tyson?”
I managed to suppress a growl to answer, “I would like to think you’d know better than that.”
She narrowed her eyes at me and opened the next game. She waited until three moves later to sigh, “That wasn’t an answer… were you… Is the braid fucking with you? Did you start wondering how many Sookies belong to Tysons? Were you evaluating the competition, dissecting variables? You were surprised and amused to hear I was with Sim, but… I said if I had to pick a new stomping ground, I’d pick England… You were…”
Anxious? Disappointed? Uncharacteristically jealous?
She raised her eyebrow to remind me how well she could read a Vampire’s mood.
She continued to sip from her bottle and play, but all the while I felt as though she was using the time to monitor my mood… I couldn’t help but wonder how strong it was, and I found myself trying to remember how many drinks she’d had at Fangtasia… And it finally occurred to me that she was habitually talkative when she was approaching intoxication.
She glanced at the bottle before setting it on the edge of the tub and asked, “So… that was a yes before… your ‘holy shit’ was over competition.”
To some degree.
I shook my head. “I didn’t say that.”
“But you didn’t deny it either. You said you weren’t thinking ‘wow, she’s turning out to be cooz’, and you were only curious about if I’d have confessed… Hearing I was with Sim didn’t get the same reaction. Hearing details about our three-way actually shut down a curiosity zone…”
She snorted, “We have a winner. That subject could ramble and segue for hours, but I’m not biting.”
“You’re being pushy.”
“You’re not new here. You know how I am. This isn’t as pushy as I can be…”
“Can we just say the braid is ‘fucking with me’ and be done with it?”
“Because it really is and you need time to ruminate, or because it’s your last hope for shutting me up?”
I chuckled, “Do I have to pick just one?”
She licked her lips as she snickered and sipped from her bottle again. “Fine. Does that mean you’ll actually play now?”
“I have been playing.”
She moved a rook and offered, “Checkmate. You really shouldn’t have said that out loud.”
“You’ve been distracting me.”
“When I tell everyone I whooped your ass three games in a row, should I let them think you were distracted by the naked drunk blonde instead of a conversation?”
She moved, dipping underwater long enough to join me on my side of the leaf.
While I rotated the board ninety degrees, she wiped the water from her face and asked, “Care to make this interesting?”
“What are we betting?”
“Ummmm… Da Vincis? Gutenbergs?”
“You have a Gutenberg?”
“I have his press.”
“Leda was a ‘forgery’. Parlement Coucher Du Soleil was a ‘forgery’. The books weren’t anything special… The woman was in denial about the legitimacy of her father’s museum of artifacts… He’d always told her that the printing press in the corner of his office was the one Gutenberg used to print the most valuable book in history.”
“When are you taking me to that house?”
She stared at me for a moment, smirking, before reminding me, “The wager?”
I shook my head and opened. “Gutenbergs and DaVincis aren’t appropriate stakes… What else have you found?”
“Ummm… You know the rocks in the bottom of the fish bowls in the kitchen window?”
“Red fish, red rocks… The rainbow of fish was an interesting addition to the room.”
“Red fish, rubies. Orange fish, fire opals. Yellow fish, yellow diamonds. Green fish, emeralds. Blue fish, sapphires. Purple fish, black opals.”
“You’re joking. You have precious gems at the bottom of your fish bowls?”
“Hiding in plain sight… The previous owner did the same thing. They were in little trinket boxes all over the house…” She pushed herself up and left the tub for a moment, tracking water into her bedroom to return with a pair of velvet bags that were so weighted they looked like Halloween sacks.
She only offered, “Shhhhhhhh,” and tilted her head towards the other end of the house to remind me about the jewel-whores before opening the first bag and holding it out for me…
Easily ten pounds of natural pearls, so high quality they would have been fitting of crown jewels.
“These are just the whites and creams. Apparently, the guy preferred color…” She set the bag of pearls down to open the second bag and sighed, “Shit. I meant to grab the bag of colored pearls.”
Instead she’d grabbed a bag of mixed gems. The jewels in the bottom of the fish bowls downstairs had only been the tip of the iceberg… Confetti by the carat. Another ten pounds of precious stones.
“What do you know about him? Wait- Where are you keeping them?”
She snickered as she walked out to return the bags to their hiding place, making me wait until she returned to answer, “The hope chest at the end of my bed. I plan on buying a safe, but only once I know how much stuff I need to keep in it.” Not a hope chest. A steamer trunk.
“And since he was keeping Cartier, Tiffany, Piaget and Mikimoto in trinket boxes, you can’t be sure of what he’d keep in safes.”
As she settled next to me, she sighed, “Exactly,” and moved her pawn. “I set a little aside, but one day I’ll get around to doing something with the jewelry.”
“Like settling the national debt or do you mean a much larger fish tank?” When she giggled, I asked, “What about the safe at the house? Not big enough?”
“I think a few would be, but they’re set into walls so I don’t want to leave an ugly gap. At least the safe is interesting… The really big one is a custom job. Asa and I inspected the area around it. It’s not a safe as much as a vault. The void upstairs is eight by fifteen, give or take, and then there’s a chunk of the basement that doesn’t feel right.”
If I were ever going to bounce and clap…
“What do you mean it doesn’t feel right?”
“Well, the house is on an elevation because it’s lakefront, right. The house’s basement seems to be the same size as the house… there are two rooms down there, and they were locked, but there’s an area that looks like it’s in the right spot to be under the safe in the office. It juts into the layout of the basement… It measures over twenty feet squared, but we can’t even guess how thick the walls are… You have no idea how excited I am to get into that room. Dying. Seriously dying.”
“I’m changing the subject before you find yourself in Shreveport… You said you set aside some of the jewels. What are they set aside for?”
Just thinking about what she’d discovered at the house she bought just after her graduation put her perspective on jewelry into perspective for me. I’d thought she was just indifferent because Wallace had rightly spoiled her with finery.
“Oh, just the stuff for my will. Little velvet nest eggs for my nieces and nephews. I doubt they’ll ever want for anything while I’m alive, but they’ll get some cushion from Aunt Sookie as a bonus.”
“I thought you said you’d considered being brought over.”
She nodded. “I have. A lot, actually, but with my luck, I’ll die instantly in a car crash at noon. If I live long enough to become a Vampire, I’ll sit down with their folks and discuss when they get their inheritances.”
I snorted, “You say that as though you didn’t pay pocket change for millions in priceless treasures…”
“I say that because it’s entirely possible that I’ve used up my luck. Come on, Eric... I tripped over what I’m almost sure is every lost ‘pirate treasure’ on the books, and then some.”
“Good point… Then why wait?”
“I’m not really waiting… I’m scared I won’t rise, so I kind of want all of my ducks in a row, ya know?”
She shook her head and took her turn. “You’re really preoccupied with that.”
“His interest in you stands out.”
“Are you having difficulty deciding who your Maker will be?”
“No… What a situation though. I wonder how many times a Human’s ever had to make that decision…”
“As far as I know, it’s never happened… and since you aren’t Human, it might not ever happen.”
She argued, “I’m mostly Human.”
“Sookie is Human. Erica already has a foot in the grave.”
She snickered, “That’s too accurate given how quickly I make enemies.”
“So which King will have the bragging rights?”
“Not a King. I told you, I like to travel too much to be stuck in one Kingdom ad infinitum… I like what I do now, and on paper…”
“Providing your specialty one contract at a time… You’re practically already a Knight.”
I was too proud of her… She could choose to become the child of a King and have whatever she wanted handed to her on a velvet pillow… but she was opting for working, travel, adventure, experience…
She smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. “He’s already like a father to me…” That lucky asshole. “Checkmate. Good thing you didn’t bet your bible on that one.”
I started resetting the pieces, determined to win at least one game before giving up, and reminded her, “You were about to tell me what you know about the previous owner of your treasure chest.”
After a topping up of bath salt, all the information Sookie had taken from the minds of the foolish semi-Daemon heiress and her husband, and six additional chances to regain my pride… I was relaxed, well informed, and as humbled as I imagined France’s military.
Sookie modestly offered to play checkers instead while she packed the board in its chest… and I pouted from my end of the tub… and she giggled and teased me. I wasn’t really bothered, and she knew it, but the unsportsmanlike jibes were funny enough that I wanted to remember some for later…
But eventually, she announced she was ‘officially a pickle’ and decided to leave the tub. She was just climbing out when Gawain called to instruct me not to let Sookie drown while he gave Pam and Simza a ‘grand tour’ of his playpen.
Oh no. Alone in the house with Sookie?
She’d left me to my own devices in the tub, offering to bring me a volume of Clarissa to read while she sought higher ground… but with the house to ourselves, I wasn’t going to give her more evidence that I was slipping in my old age.
She gasped when I pinned her against the wall, reaching back to grab for me, but she didn’t fight when I held her hands over her head.
Both of her tiny wrists fit into one of my hands, leaving my other hand free…
Teasing… exploring… taunting…
Pushing her until she was all but hanging from my hold on her because her knees had folded…
And turning her around to lift her, wrapping her legs around me…
Every fucking noise she made racked through my body… whimpering into my mouth, panting against my neck, groaning my name when she came… and the way she whispered my invitation to bite her…
Tossing her head back to bare her neck and breathing, “Do it… Bite me… I trust you…”
Taking the time to prepare her neck took more willpower than I’d needed in centuries…
And sinking my fangs into her put me on my fucking knees before I could take my first swallow.
She was still clinging to me when she panted, “Suddenly, the details of our chess match are so hazy. I can’t remember who won.”
I don’t know how, but I fucking laughed. “Did we play chess?”
In the amount of time she spent pulling her hair into a lazy braid, finding a long caftan to wear and a book to read, I’d taken Clarissa from its hiding place and made myself comfortable on Sookie’s bed… she’d already spread her new quilt over her duvet. For that matter, it seemed like she’d already put away everything she’d gotten for Christmas.
She grinned at me before she tossed herself onto the bed to use my thigh as her pillow. “Comfy?”
“As comfy as I can be… I have Christmas gifts for you too. Most of them fit in my car…”
She snickered, “Most of them? What the fuck?”
“Your stack of gifts would be close to the same size as the one you left for me if it weren’t for one item. My car just doesn’t have much cargo room and Gawain wouldn’t ride on the roof. I left one gift at my house… It’s your fault. When you weren’t home for your birthday, you said you didn’t want gifts. They’ve been accumulating for a year and a half.”
She yawned, “That’s sweet… We’re already comfy though… Wanna wait until tonight?”
“That’s fine… What did you pick to read?”
“Les Trois Mousquetaires… I’ll be out like a light in no time…” She yawned again and offered, “Hope you don’t get too bored.”
There wasn’t much chance of that… If all else failed, I could just investigate her office.
“I’ll try to pace myself so I don’t finish Clarissa too early.”
She grumbled, “Good. If I wake up with cornrows, I’m going to light you up. I have Krazy Glue and I’m not afraid to use it…”
When she opened her book, I followed suit and tried to imagine whatever Krazy Glue experience she might have.
Sookie was only conscious for a few pages before she dropped the book on her chest, but I was so perfectly content to recline on her bed, reading while she used me as a pillow, that I could have lost track of time.
I was just opening the fourth volume when I heard everyone returning to the house… and there wasn’t anything surprising about the fact that three of the nosiest individuals I’d ever known came to Sookie’s bedroom door.
Pam rolled her eyes and scoffed, “Jesus Gawain, I think you’re right. They might be the most boring assholes on the planet.”
Simza added, “I watched a film once of geriatrics acting like children… This is the reverse. It’s very sad.”
I asked Gawain, “Do you have anything to add?”
He shook his head. “She spent last night with you, and most of the day with Hadley. She doesn’t sleep nearly enough.”
Simza sighed, “Amen. I’ll never get used to her twenty-hour days. It’s just not natural.”
Pam asked, “Do you think we were prepared for Arianna’s schedule? The only time she’s ever slept for longer than a couple of hours was when Hadley took her to Jackson for a few days…”
The think tank Hadley had been part of with Zee that led to four nights of Pam and Shawn bleating about their missing appendages and calling Hadley so often it was hilarious.
Pam sighed as she continued, “Anyway… I’m leaving. I have errands to run tomorrow night… And you’re just too thrilling for me.”
I might have had a complaint about being teased if I wasn’t completely comfortable with my situation. There were worse places to be than lounging in bed with a woman who could appreciate a good book and quiet house.
Yes, the braid was fucking with me, but I couldn’t shake how easy it was to see why another Me would want her to be his…
As it stood, I couldn’t imagine standing idly by while Sookie belonged to anyone else.