By the time I forced myself to leave the comfort of Sookie’s bed, it was nearly dawn. Simza had taken our things upstairs and made herself comfortable in front of the television to watch First News on KTBS… She gave Sookie credit for using local news to help learn the accents of different regions. Until Sookie suggested it, Simza had still been using my preferred method of eavesdropping at bars and restaurants. Thanks to Sookie’s age, she had more than a few fresh ideas that broke the norm for us.
While we settled into our beds, she teased me for neglecting her… and she knew it wasn’t a book that kept me downstairs. She was willing to admit she was jealous that I had Sookie’s attention, but she had too much fun withholding any details she might know thanks to her connection to Sookie…
No sooner than I began coming back to myself, I heard noises coming from downstairs, but I was at a loss as to what was happening or who was there other than being able to isolate three heartbeats…
And even though I had my book, I still listened for clues as to who the extras were, and hoped Sookie was one of them.
The only thing I really deduced before Simza rose was that the three individuals were in the kitchen.
She staggered to join me on my bed, not fully in control of herself yet, and quietly asked, “Perfect silence, no clues?”
I nodded. “Familiar with the situation?”
“The extra heartbeat is confusing. Asa’s the only other person she’s so quiet with… the hearts are too fast to be Asa, and too slow to be a newborn’s…”
I doubted Asa would have left his baby the day after Christmas, or traveled with her to visit Sookie.
“I only rose ten minutes ago. As long as it’s Sookie…”
“It’s Sookie, and she’s in her usual Sookie mood- busy… You should give her your blood. It’s been a blessing when it comes to guarding her. I don’t know how Asa managed without a connection. She has a lock on her face. Erica is impermeable.”
“Sign language helped…” I stopped when I heard a phone being dialed.
It was so far away, I could hardly hear the phone ringing, let alone identify the voice who answered the call.
The caller started, “Hey Klaasje…”
One of the twins… That would explain the lack of conversation and two visitors.
“We’re at Aun’Sookie’s… Yeah, she took lunch to’er boyfriend at work, and then she got a delivery, so she called Daddy and asked if she could get us from Miss Stephanie… We’ll tell ya all about it when ya get here. You’re comin’ for dinner…” After a pause, he said, “I’m givin’ ya to Aun’Sookie.”
Sookie took the phone, explaining she was excited for the chance to use her kitchen and patio for something other than magic, and gave detailed directions… Then she gave the phone back to Jules and he enthusiastically told Klaasje that Sookie’s privacy fence wasn’t meant for neighbors, but to keep alligators out of the pool. Since the twins had left daycare, they’d been to the grocery store and the garden center… they’d marinated steaks, stuffed mushrooms, and planted seeds… and Klaasje was to pack an overnight bag for them because Brandon had already ‘cleared’ them to have a sleepover with Arianna at her house.
When the call was finally ended, Simza snickered, “It is Ari’s house, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “She’s in complete control. She’s the Queen of Magnolia Creek Road, has been since she began sitting up.”
“I wonder if Sookie was like that.”
“I’m not sure if she was like that when she was so young, but I’m sure you heard about how I met her.”
“I know you met her just after her parents died.”
I started, “Pam and I were holding interviews to replace our day-guy…” I paused, waiting for her to push me ahead in the story, but since she seemed to be hearing new information, I continued, “Adele applied for the job. Once she was hired, she called Jason and Sookie in from the car. Jason played Tetris and Sookie read while I went over the particulars of Adele’s contract, but Sookie interrupted to negotiate sick leave and holidays.”
Simza breathed, “She didn’t. At eight?”
“She’d just turned nine. She found holes in Adele’s contract when she was still in jelly-shoes.”
She laughed, “That’s just… perfectly Sookie… I’m not really surprised though. If you’d told me she was a silly girl, now that would have been shocking.”
“Jason told me once that she’s always been serious and quiet. She didn’t fit in with children her age.”
“She still doesn’t… She reads instead of watches television. She can afford to shop 24/7 if she wants to, but the only shops she’ll go to willingly are for antiques, books or magic. She’s not happy unless she has something to do. She does well in a group, but she enjoys being by herself. She’s not afraid of anything… She reminds me of you.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about being compared to a pretty little Faerie.”
She snorted, “Her diet’s the only thing keeping her Human. She can make jokes covered in blood.”
“You’ve seen her kill?”
“No, but there have been a couple of clashes she’s been in the midst of. I watched her pull a man to Clovis so he could feed.”
“Clovis was injured?”
“It was superficial… Shortly after we arrived in Paris, Erica exposed a handful of traitors. Clovis thought Sabine was making a move on Erica, so he shielded her. If Erica hadn’t snatched a handful of his hair to pull him down, Sabine would be the Queen of France. That was when I healed her. When her adrenaline rush waned, she was swaying and mumbling. Her pupils weren’t equal.”
“It’s no wonder Clovis is so eager for her to return.”
“If you ask me, and I know you wouldn’t, I think she should go back to France. If nothing else, Clovis wins just because he doesn’t want to fuck her.”
She shook her head. “No. He doesn’t fuck anything he respects.”
“Meanwhile, his neighbors will fuck anything.”
She snickered, “I think Sookie ruined Tyson. I was in London and had the pleasure of seeing him on edge over her Christmas gifts. That tipped the scales… I thought Tilda had been exaggerating.”
“Exaggerating about what?”
“How smitten he was after their rendezvous… Like a common boy, but you didn’t hear that from me. He’s completely cool about her on the surface, but his children know better.”
“Sookie should know better too then.”
“I haven’t had the chance to talk about it with her. Atum and Gawain have been with her since Tyson fucked her. Did she say anything to you?”
“She thinks she’s a fleeting phase to him.”
We were interrupted by the sound of a motor followed by a muted bell and my phone ringing…
Simza left my bed to investigate the dumbwaiter, while I answered the call from Sookie’s phone.
One of the twins chirped, “Good night!”
“Good night to you. Which twin is this?”
“Jules. Dumbwaiters are awesome. Simza’s Christmas stuff got here today. Some dude sent it.”
From a distance, Sookie offered, “I’d sent her gift to Tyson’s place, so when she disappeared he sent it to Wallace with my present because he figured she’d gone to Dallas.”
Dallas? She was planning to be one of the ‘rape victims’?
Meanwhile, Simza had ripped into the gift box that had arrived in the dumbwaiter so quickly she was already wrapping a sautoir of peacock pearls around her neck… and began singing My Favorite Things from The Sound Of Music. Sookie had packed a new set of throwing knives and a leather garter as though the pearls were packing popcorn. The box was full of them.
As she gazed into a large pearl ring in a ballerina setting, I offered, “I think she likes her gift.”
He giggled, “Yeah she does… So, do y’all need anything else?”
“Do you want an excuse to use the dumbwaiter?”
“Will Sookie let you ride the dumbwaiter?”
He gasped and a split second later, Sookie shouted, “Eric Northman, poo on you! You need a middle name so you can get the full… Jules… Jules… wait…”
I left my bed to take a pair of jeans from my collection of things and chuckled, “Simza, find something to wear other than pearls.”
Sookie took the phone and groaned, “They were angels until a couple of seconds ago, you big turd.”
“I couldn’t think of anything for him to send up. I panicked.”
Her ass wasn’t something I needed to spend any amount of time thinking about with children around.
“How was lunch with your boyfriend?”
“I successfully made Alcide the envy of his coworkers. Their girlfriends don’t love them enough to make fried chicken and spoonbread and take it to job sites for them. They were even more pissed when they tasted the leftovers, so they cursed poor Alcide to get fat from my cooking. It wasn’t even my best batch. I’m rusty.”
“Was it your cooking, or your outfit?”
Just a second after Simza tied the sash on her robe, Jules leapt from the dumbwaiter and answered, “Wasn’t her outfit. Nothin’s hangin’ out.” He immediately closed the dumbwaiter to send it down for Emery. “What’s a brotha gotta do to get some light in’nis crib?”
Simza snickered at him and turned on the desk lamp. “You’re very vocal.”
He beamed at her and warned, “You just met me. Vocal will be mouthy once ya get to know me… The necklace is awesome.”
She nodded to agree with him and sat on the ottoman to tie the leather garter for her new knives around her thigh. “So are these.”
As his brother bounded from the dumbwaiter, Jules argued, “Girls don’t like knives… Girls like puppies and movies that make them cry…”
Simza offered, “Girls also like being accomplished at something. When I was alive, I hunted with knives and I was very good at it… My family was never hungry. My fat children made me very proud.”
“Yeah? Cool. How many did you have?”
“I had two of my own, but my husband had six with his first wife. We had eight together.”
Emery looked pensive for a moment before he asked, “You don’t look old enough to- Do you know what happened to them?”
If nothing else, I was impressed that he carefully considered that question at his age.
“My Maker found a woman with a boarding house and paid her to take the children in. A friend looked in on them for me. The girls all lived to have families of their own, and the boys became soldiers.”
And we knew of at least two of her great-grandsons who lived to become artists. Looking into the familiar name was how I stumbled onto Da Vinci’s genius.
The boys breathed, “That’s really cool…” Jules continued alone, “You’re really lucky. Klaasje’s Maker was a jackhole. He took her kids from her.”
I didn’t need more reasons to hate Halfdan.
Simza tried, “We can’t all be as lucky as Shawn. The old ways took us from our families. Some of us are luckier than others when it comes to Makers. My Maker is the best… I think Eric is a close second.”
Emery tossed himself onto the sofa and sighed, “So that makes Klaasje’s Maker the best jackhole then. He didn’t just take her away. We get that. Daddy ‘splained why Shawn dipped out for a while… Klaasje’s Maker let her have kids an’nin killed ‘em. She had special blood an’ was trying to farm it.”
While Simza growled, I found it in myself to offer, “Boys, technically, you’re speaking out of turn. The details of Klaasje’s private life are hers to tell. She trusted you with those specifics…”
Sookie gasped, “What did he say?”
The boy winced and offered, “She didn’t really… Daddy was dreamin’bout it. Nightmares.”
“I’m sure… Her past isn’t any of our business until she decides to tell us, alright? She’ll tell us what she wants us to know about her life, and we’re going to respect her privacy.”
They cringed and offered, “Sorry,” in unison, and Emery continued, “We thought it was just ‘cuz Aunt Linda and Gran were being crappy about Sookie.”
“Don’t be sorry. Now you know better…” I turned my attention to Sookie and offered, “Everything’s fine. We’ll watch television or-“
Jules pointed at my game chest and blurted, “Double Dutch!”
I asked, “What’s that?”
“Four person chess… white goes twice, then black goes twice. Each player picks a move. No talking.”
That sounded interesting enough to try… and I had to appreciate that children would rather play chess than watch a mind-numbing program.
I nodded. “Set it up.”
Sookie complained, “No fair. I want to play,” and hung up on me.
Apparently, Double Dutch was one of Brandon’s innovations. Chess was an excellent way to strengthen strategic thinking, and the chaos involved in having another player throw a wrench in the gears of a plan was a metaphor for life in general. Emery quoted Herodotus via his father to explain, ‘Circumstances rule men; men don’t rule circumstances.’
Simza and I agreed that we were probably going to be almost as fond of Brandon as we were of Sookie. They seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Of course, I had the inside information that they were known as twins in the braid.
While Simza and I played Double Dutch with the budding grandmasters, we listened to Sookie puttering about in the kitchen… We were in the middle of our second game when we heard Jason and Marcy arrive, leading us to ask the children about the plans for the evening, but they claimed to be ‘just kids’. They only knew about their sleepover with Ari, and other than the list of vegetables being prepared for the salad bar, I only knew they were planning to eat dinner on the patio… Jason had asked if he should move all of the boxes that had accumulated in the dining room.
After the third game, the boys began packing the game pieces away unprompted. Sookie had told them telepathically that the house was fully shaded and it was safe for the Vampires to venture downstairs.
Half an hour early.
The house’s placement had the added bonus of limiting the amount of time early risers were confined… not that there was anything uncomfortable about the Vampire suite, but the extra freedom could be useful.
The boys opted to ride the dumbwaiter again, and Simza didn’t bother to change out of her robe before she lowered the ladder to go thank Sookie for her gifts… I was waylaid when I noticed a collection of boxes just inside the door of Sookie’s closet. More.
When I entered the kitchen, Simza had Sookie’s arms pinned to her sides from behind while she cooed about her laundry list of pearl accessories.
If Sookie’s culinary skills were ‘rusty’ then her outfit had definitely helped win over Alcide’s co-workers… Her jeans and tawny brown tank top were snug enough to follow every contour of her body. Her simple boots gave her a few inches, and she’d chosen modest gold jewelry without stones. Even though she’d pulled her hair back into a ponytail while she worked with food, there was still some curl left. She was as approachably beautiful as I’d ever seen her… I almost forgot to pay closer attention to the spoiled little bettas, swimming with precious stones on the window sill.
Emery announced, “Eric’s a super-ninja-chess-player. Watch out for him… And Shawn needs a website ‘cuz that game box is freakin’ awesome.”
Sookie looked like she was trying to ignore her new Vampire coat. “Did they behave?”
I nodded, but Jules offered, “Eric was fine, but Sim’s gonna break somthin’. She wants to play with’er knives. She’s bein’ hyper.”
Because they were keeping an eye on us?
I chuckled, “She might need a time out.”
Simza rolled her eyes and stepped back. “I don’t need a time out… I need to shop in Sookie’s closet for a skirt with a slit…”
The boys cut her off by cackling and running from the kitchen, and Sookie rolled her eyes and snickered, “So predictable.”
The boys returned with a gold gift bag with red tissue paper in each hand. Simza had been watching the opening to the dining room with comical seriousness… Sookie was attacked again, held from behind while Simza thanked her for the assortment of skirts and dresses with slits high enough to be considered indecent.
While I shook my head, wondering how Sookie wasn’t covered with bruises yet, everyone else laughed at Sookie’s warnings that she was a ‘trained Vampire handler’ and that approaching a Vampire ‘in the wild’ could result in serious injury. Vampire handling takes hundreds of hours of training in a controlled environment. Do not try this at home.
Sookie finally earned her freedom by gasping, “Oh God, Sim! The pearl fell out of your ring!”
Simza only believed it for a second, but she looked at the floor long enough for Sookie to dodge behind me to use me for cover.
Simza began adjusting her jewelry and sighed, “Fine. I’ll behave… If I have my gifts from London… Sookie…”
Sookie asked from behind me, “You knew what he was doing?”
Jason, Marcy and the twins began chuckling.
Simza nodded. “And I packed as quickly as possible… I was already tempted because of the cruise reveal…”
Jason interrupted, “How did you manage that, Sook? Disney’s been assholes about Vampires. Ain’t like it’s a big surprise since gay couples ain’t even allowed to hold hands in Disney parks, but still…”
He made a good point. Pam and Shawn had the forethought to take his children to Disney World just before the Revelation. Given that Disney parks changed their operating hours immediately after the Revelation, it seemed like a public rebuking meant to discourage Vampire attendees… As though there was more than a handful of us interested in listening to spoiled children scream.
Then again… For every Pam, who would enjoy the park as it was meant to be enjoyed, there was a Vampire who would treat it like a buffet. It had only taken one word to keep Pam from starting a letter-writing campaign: Appius.
Sookie stepped out from behind me as she offered, “Wallace tugged the string that needed to be tugged. It’s not a big deal. The only concession they needed to be asked for was letting Pam board a couple of hours early.”
Simza cooed, “Sookie has friends in high places… I smell potting soil under all the garlic and pepper you’re soaking the steaks in…”
Potting soil? I smelled it too, and I knew Sookie had taken the children to the garden center, but… how the fuck was that associated with what Tyson sent?
Jules argued, “Why don’t you smell mulch? Aun’Sookie played with us.”
What the fuck? If I had to ask, Sookie was going to tease me just because the gift was from Tyson.
Simza nodded. “I smell that too… Well?”
Sookie snickered, “Adorable and fun and absolutely too much… I already called to yell at him and thank him…”
Simza asked, “What’s your favorite?”
Details. Really. Was that too much to ask?
Sookie hummed for a moment before answering, “It’s a toss-up, but since he meant the playground as a family thing, I think that wins… I had the guys set it up at Sandwich Island.”
A playground? Tyson sent her a playground?
Sookie finally turned to me and offered, “In the spring, some environmental group decided to propose that London do something with its leftovers… They arranged for a bunch of artists and engineers to come up with ways to take defunct London icons and do something with them. The city humored them and forked over a bunch of phone boxes and post boxes, and a few buses, just to see what they could come up with… The crappy news is that no one wants to officially endorse the recycling, but the good news is that they’re giving the stuff to people who want to recycle it on their own and use it for nonprofit…”
“He sent you a playground?”
She nodded. “A double-decker playground with slides and a climbing net… and the support that holds up the swings is actually a phone box… For another project, someone- obviously someone with welding experience- cut apart a phone box and made picnic tables, and used halved post boxes for the benches… That stuff is at Sandwich Island…”
Marcy mimicked, “I’m sorry, love, but when I saw the shite, I thought of you. The way you go on about your family and their crafting…” Her impression of Tyson was nothing if not amusing.
Sookie giggled, “He’s such a turd… Anyway… someone had the brilliant idea to weld together a bunch of phone boxes, so I ended up with my very own greenhouse. And I got a phone box minibar…”
Jason corrected, “That ain’t a minibar, Sook. One would be a minibar… Two, including works for a sink and a beer-tap, that’s a bar-bar.”
Sookie nodded. “And Marcy wants me to find out who made it because she wants one made from a police call box… She’s a Whovian.”
The British reminders were spilling out of Sookie’s dressing room and spreading across Northern Louisiana like wildfire. And she accepted the gifts.
Of course she accepted the gifts… even if she belonged to me, it wasn’t inappropriate for business associates to exchange gifts. And she’d given Tyson a painting worth millions, so his gift wasn’t out of scale… He probably spent more to have them delivered than what he spent on the gifts themselves.
Even if I was in a position to complain, she was in a position to win the debate.
But then Simza asked, “What about the ring?”
Even though Marcy and Jason shouted as though they could read my mind, Sookie raised an eyebrow in my direction as she answered Simza, “That went back… Just like Tyson knew it would.”
I asked, “A game you play?” and I sounded much weaker than I meant to.
Sookie shrugged, but Simza offered, “If by game, you mean he spends his free time trying to find the most incredible engagement rings he can, just so she can send them back to him, yes. It’s a game they play… But he’ll have a collection that shames the crown jewels by the time she accepts his proposal.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and scoffed, “You stole Gawain’s shit-stirring stick, didn’t you? I’m not going to accept. Stop being a turd.”
“What stone was it this time?”
Emery blurted, “Green and blue. The green one was as big as’er head.”
Fuck. At least he wasn’t sparing any expense, but why didn’t he know opals were her favorite?
“It doesn’t matter…”
“Did it really already go back, or did you keep it so you could send it back?”
“It went back with the guys Wallace sent it with. Why?”
Simza pouted, “I wanted to see one. I’ve only heard about the rings he sends you…”
How fucking many?
Sookie scoffed, “Tilda needs to stop running her goddamn mouth about what her Maker does… and you need to stop acting like he’s a kid with a fucking crush. I like your head where it is most of the time.”
I agreed, “She’s right. As amused as you are, if you slip and tease him, he’ll end you.”
“Sookie’s allowed to tease him.”
Sookie snatched open the refrigerator to remove a bottle of mead, “I do not tease him. I joke around with him, but he isn’t ever the butt of the joke. I know better. Why don’t you?”
While Sookie drank, Simza complained, “You’re being persnickety.”
“You’re being daft…” She stomped out of the kitchen grumbling, “I’m going to change. I smell like construction workers, mulch, dirt, and God knows what else.”
At least there had been a few enjoyable minutes before the shit hit the fan.
While Jason mumbled to Marcy that he didn’t understand how Sookie could drink the mead she buys straight because of how strong it was, Simza stared at me as though she was waiting for me to do something.
I offered, “You need to stay with Pam while you’re in Louisiana if you’re just going to upset Sookie.”
Her eyes widened and she argued, “You think I’m picking on her?”
“You are picking on her. You’ve been doing it since you arrived last night… Go dress in your carefully chosen Christmas gifts and when you come downstairs again, try to remember you’re Sookie’s guest and she’s already spoiled you much more than you currently deserve.”
She narrowed her eyes as she turned to leave and stomped from the kitchen… like a petulant child.
Jason offered, “Don’t go after her, man. Just let her chill out. She’s so pissed she might bite.”
I scoffed, “She should know better than to make fun of Tyson… She definitely shouldn’t need a Human to remind her-”
“I wasn’t talkin’ bout Simza. I meant Sook… Simza’s just embarrassed.”
“Pissed as a wet hornet’s more like it. She needs a Calgon moment.”
I didn’t think being so angry was called for, but if the empath said she needed time to calm down…
I offered, “I won’t be here for long after the sun sets. I’ll take Simza with me so we won’t be in the way.”
“Naw, don’t go takin’ off… ‘Case ya didn’t notice, Gran and Aunt Lin are a little overbearing. Gran’s been memorizing every pore on Bran and Klaasje’s faces for the past couple’a nights an’ Aunt Lin’s got questions for days. We’re just getting’ together and cookin’ out. Ain’t nothin’ to get in the way of.”
Emery blurted, “I’ll light the fire pit!”
That was funny.
I corrected, “You and your brother can stack the wood for the fire pit. An adult will light it when you’re finished.”
Both twins puffed out their cheeks, making a show of how disappointed they were that someone knew better than to let small children play with matches… It made me wonder how many times they’d tricked Klaasje, but helped support why Brandon had been so distracted while he was in the braid.
They’d only just closed the patio door behind themselves when I heard the front door open and close quickly. Given that I hadn’t heard any cars approach the house, I assumed it was Gawain, but Jason announced, “That’s the dragon.”
He nodded as he returned to peeling vegetables. “Yeah. The Welsh flag’s got that cool dragon on it.”
With nothing else to do, I took a seat at the bar and asked, “Can you use your gift to tell us apart like Sookie can use hers?”
He nodded. “Yeah, I guess… sort of… I mean, she says she gets like a fingerprint. She compared y’all to snow globes… different sizes and there’s all kinds of ‘snow’ and filler and all… Ya gotta shake some up really hard to get glitter-snow to move around, but then ya got the ones with chunky snow that ya barely got to pick up to get movin’… Brandon said that was a good way to put it, but when me and Hadley compare notes, we get like shadows.”
He stopped working to focus on the ceiling for a moment before continuing, “Yeah… Sook and Brandon can find a mind from a mile away, ya know, ‘cuz the snow globe bumps into their mind, or whatever… Unless a person’s right there with us, we gotta be searchin’ for their moods and shit. Like, I know you’re here, so when you go outside to light the pit, I could focus on you, follow ya, track your mood when it changes, but before, when you was upstairs with Sim and the boys, y’alls moods was all the same.”
Marcy added, “Brandon said he’d be able to pick them all apart with practice though. Jason’s just starting to practice.”
I chuckled, “Other than gambling for months, you mean?”
Jason narrowed his eyes and grumbled, “Yeah. Other than that. You tryin’ to get me in trouble?”
I shook my head. “I’m trying to bait you into a card game. I’m curious about how well you’ll do against Vampires given that Clovis and Maximo watched Sookie play as sport.”
I nodded, wondering if I’d just put my foot in my mouth. “Clovis owns several casinos scattered throughout his Kingdom… He hosted baccarat and poker tournaments in each district as excuses for his subjects to have their pets scanned… She annihilated her opponents.”
He shared a look with Marcy before offering, “That’s cool… I wanna play against some Vampires anyway, just to get a feel. It probably won’t be much different. Sook said y’alls moods and whatnot are like another language. Bran said he had a lot of learnin’ to do when Klaasje came to town. He’s used to Weres and all with work… It’s all the same to me and Hadley though.”
“I’m still curious about the differences. Seeing as I don’t see Sookie often, I try to refrain from talking shop…”
He nodded. “But now that she’s home for a while, you could pin her down… Didn’t ya get to see her work though? Where was it?”
“London… but watching her work doesn’t allow for much Q and A. At the time, I was worried she wouldn’t conduct herself in a way that would do anything but get herself killed.”
He snorted, “You ain’t the only one. That temper of hers? As much as she trusts Gawain, he ain’t calmin’ her down any.”
Fuck. There had to be more to why she was upset than Simza’s blatant disregard for Tyson’s pride.
“Yeah, him too… If I didn’t know better I’d swear she’s venting-”
But of course she wasn’t venting to Gawain, because one would be able to hear that.
In an effort to avoid the temptation to go upstairs and become part of the problem, I left my seat and explained, “I need to bring some things in from my-”
Jason stabbed his knife into the cutting board and reached into the sink to quickly rinse his hands. “I’ll help.”
“Kitchen’s no place for me. No power tools.”
Jason followed me through the house as though he was on a leash, and waited attentively at the trunk while I opened it.
“Nice not having to seal it up out here, huh?”
“I don’t usually lock my cars overnight as it is. My properties are warded against ill will, but I didn’t give the locks a second thought last night.”
He snorted, “Better things?”
I knew what he was implying, but I still nodded. “The political nonsense that interrupted the holiday, and Gawain and I were discussing the braid… and when I arrived, Pam was in Sookie’s closet.”
He shook his head. “That ain’t what I meant. Now I’m bummed for ya. I wanted to make Vampire sleepover jokes… So what’s all this?”
“This is for Sookie…”
He gasped, “But Secret Santa!”
I might have expected that reaction from one of the children.
I chuckled, “She started it. Apparently, she’d been holding onto a gift for me and she gave up waiting to draw my name in the Pollyanna… I’d been behaving. Most of these were bought for the birthday she missed playing with peacocks along the Ganges.”
“You didn’t send that stuff to her anyway? The rest of us ignored her.”
“Thanks for telling me now that I’m breaking Secret Santa rules.”
“Looks like late birthday presents to me. I mean, ya even used blue paper.”
“Snowflakes? For her July birthday?”
“K… Don’t bring up the paper then… uhhhhhhh… Wait- what did she get you?”
“A book I’ve been trying to find for years… It was on the list of first editions Adele was to watch for.”
He grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah? That’s awesome. Did ya piss your pants over it like Pam did for the cruise?”
“I was alone when I opened it. I don’t have to admit to how I reacted.”
He chuckled, “Right on, I gotcha,” as he reached into the trunk. “So what did she get?”
Between the two of us, we managed to grab everything, but it helped that most of the gifts were wrapped like matryoshka dolls…
As we schlepped, I explained, “It all started with a globe I found at an auction shortly after her last birthday…”
“On account a’her tattoo, huh?”
“Yes… When I hired Mahalia, she noticed the globe. She found a set of luggage printed with maps later and asked if I wanted them too…”
Jason chuckled, “And it grew.”
I led the way to Sookie’s office and stacked everything in the corner by the bar. I’d peeked into the dining room; given how many boxes had accumulated, it seemed as though Sookie had Ryan bring some things from her other house.
“It did, but most of the gifts are… incidental…” I nodded towards the large parcel he’d just added to the pile. “That one is just a collection of boxes for her photos.”
“I was wonderin’ why it didn’t weigh nothin’. Thought maybe ya packed somethin’ little in with a bunch a’ ping pong balls… But… none’a this stuff feels like a globe.”
“It wouldn’t fit in my trunk. You saw how full it was. I had Gawain…”
He scoffed, “Well shit… ya can’t give her the rest of it without the globe…” He turned and stormed down the stairs as though he was on a mission, shouting, “HEY HONEY!”
Marcy met him at the doorway to the kitchen and grumbled, “Damn goober, yelling at a Were like I’m not twenty feet away…. What?”
“I’ma ride with Eric to his place real quick to get something…”
“To get something? You could just say you don’t want to help cook.”
I was chuckling when he said, “Fine. I don’t wanna help cook… but this is legit. I’ma take the boys with us so none’a us is under foot. We’ll get back about the same time e’erbody else gets here.”
“If you’re taking the boys, you don’t have an excuse to steal Sookie’s Mini. She was complaining about cargo room earlier.”
“Fuck. Taking the truck then…”
Jason almost missed the turn to my neighborhood because he’d been autonomously driving toward the house I’d been using when his voice was still cracking. I had to interrupt him because he was explaining to the twins that once they boarded their ship, they should make friends with children who had already been on a Disney cruise because they would have insider information… He was encouraging them to use their abilities to improve their vacation. And they could fill their time while they waited for their cruise to research the ship and make lists of all the activities they wanted to enjoy. Apparently, Marcy had been ‘researching the shit out of’ a cruise as their honeymoon until she found out Jason had been saving to take her to Italy.
The mention of Italy turned the conversation around… The twins began warning Jason that Klaasje had been in Italy for years and was bored until Sookie and Asa arrived. For the past couple of months, Brandon and his children had been hearing about Klaasje’s adventures with Sookie and Asa… They spent the better part of the drive back to Sookie’s house giving examples of why Klaasje cried when Sookie and Asa left Italy. Brandon’s offer to take Klaasje in was a relief, but the promise of reuniting with the first friend she’d had in decades was why she accepted…
The drive was much more informative than I’d expected given that my company was ‘just kids’ and Jason, and when we returned to Sookie’s house, a white Town & Country, a red Mustang and a black BMW had parked in the cul-de-sac… The Ingram and Rousseau parties had arrived for the generation exclusive gathering, and Pam had been invited.
So much for her trip to Sears…