No Man Is An Island
As Sookie sped through town in her Jeep, darting in and out of traffic as though she had a death-wish, I asked, “Who have you been working for?”
“Even at the rate you’re driving, we have half an hour for you to explain… Who have you been working for? What sort of work have you been doing?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
I growled and reached into her top, taking her credit card, seeing the card belonged to Erica Weiss… Digging through her glovebox I found Erica Weiss was named on the registration, the insurance, several speeding tickets issued between Nevada and Louisiana…
“Tell me you aren’t working in Nevada.”
“How could I possibly be working in Nevada? I’m right here.”
“Sookie, really… If you’ve been working in Nevada, it’s not safe for you to be in Louisiana.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“Do you at least have a Master? A handler? A manager? Some sort of protection?”
“What have you been doing with yourself?”
“I got taller. I learned to speak Spanish and German…”
“You said you’ve been working in Houston… You’re working for Texas? Milne?”
“And you had his protection, yes?”
“No. Sookie Stackhouse is nobody… Erica Weiss is a telepath who was contracted to Texas. Being Lwizyané complicated my contract. Wallace was more than happy to provide my professional alias.”
“What was the term of your contract?”
“One year at a time.”
“He allowed you to renew on a short term contract?”
“There are only so many Humans and Weres he does business with, Eric. He had me scanning pets, guards and employees.”
“Now you’re a free agent?”
“Are you hiring?”
I urged, “Are you a free agent?”
She huffed, “No. I’ve already signed a contract for my next job… and the one after that too, actually.”
“Sookie, it’s not safe for you to meddle in Vampire affairs. We’re greedy and vicious when pushed.”
“I’ve been assigned protection for my next contract.”
“Where is your next contract?”
I growled again, and reached over to take her neck, pulling her close enough to take in her scent…
She wasn’t bonded to anyone.
“Who is your protection? Who will you be working for?”
She scoffed, “Seriously… it takes balls for you to demand information… after the way you left everyone hanging?”
“You’re under the mistaken assumption that I haven’t been curious all along. For several years Pam and I were given updates about you and your brother… How is Jason? Are you willing to talk about him?”
“I can’t exactly offer any updates about Pam or me… There isn’t much to tell. Pam says she became bored with hairless cats, but I’m almost sure they made her think of Adele. She feels melancholy any time someone mentions the breed.”
“Oscar’s still alive. That creepy little asshole lurks on the top of the fridge and scares the shit out of everyone who walks into the kitchen.”
“Adele kept Liz’s cats?”
“Of course she kept them… Liz loved those things. Gran wasn’t going to let anything happen to them. When we’re home, my cat makes a vested effort to give Oscar a heart attack.”
“When did she learn about Vampires?”
“She was a gift from Wallace, so I have to assume he told her.”
It was completely exasperating to try to have a conversation with someone who insisted on talking in circles.
“Not your cat, Sookie. When did Adele discover the existence of Vampires?”
“When I told her about my job.”
“You just blurted out that you were reading minds for a Vampire?”
“Yeah. She was more shocked to hear that I met my boss at a strip club. One of Wallace’s pets was dancing and I was there with friends.”
“And you just introduced yourself as a telepath?”
Sookie snorted and reached out to turn the radio on… reggae at full volume.
When I turned it off, she continued the song, singing at the top of her lungs, and so off-key she had to be joking.
“Is there a specific topic I’m allowed to discuss?”
She shook her head and reached for the radio again.
“If you want an update, I’m sure Gran will be more than happy to give it.”
“If you’re wrong? If she reacts badly to seeing me again…”
She raised her voice to continue ruining the song.
“How is it that you were more mature when you had pigtails and jelly sandals?”
She swerved the Jeep sharply enough that I had to grab the roll-bars to stay in my seat.
She giggled, “You should buckle up.”
That was it… the last thing she said to me was practically a threat to toss me from the vehicle if I didn’t stop trying to talk to her.
And our destination left something to be desired… She’d driven directly to Sandwich Island.
The parking lot only had a handful of cars in it, but the idea of seeing Adele again in a public setting…
Sookie deftly moved to take her key from the ignition, then stood to step out of the Jeep.
She snorted, “It closed a couple of hours ago. They’re just presetting for the morning.”
“What happens in the morning?”
“Flea market. It’s the only time they’re open for breakfast. They’re putting biscuits and whatnot together.” When Sookie opened the front door, she announced herself, “Y’all can start the party now! I’m here!”
As I stepped into the shop behind Sookie, a female voice called from the back, “Hey Sook! A messenger came by right before closing time. Plane tickets, passport, manifesto…”
Sookie giggled and took the thick envelope from the counter. “Were? Vampire? Dae?”
“Dae. One’a Wallace’s guys if I had to guess… And why did you need a passport? Didn’t you get one when you went to Rio?”
“I did, but Sookie went to Carnival…”
The voice finished, “Erica’s going to London. Gotcha.”
Sookie cringed when the location of one of her contracts was revealed. “Where’s Gran?”
“In the office. Pastor Roper’s wife came in. He needs surgery, so they’re scrambling to find another preacher to do the service.”
I whispered, “Your next contract is with Tyson?”
She nodded as she looked over the information in the folder. “Of course it is, jackass. What kind of message would it send if a guy finds a telepath and doesn’t negotiate for his Maker to be next in line?”
“When are you due in London?”
“I leave Tuesday.”
“And the next contract?”
I’d created a monster… she’d taken my advice too literally.
Something I’d told her when she was a child had snowballed until she thought she was bulletproof…
She was going to get herself killed.
Sookie rolled her eyes and walked away, taking the folder with her as she called, “Gran! I’ve got a surprise for you!”
Adele answered, “I’m sorry, baby. I’ve got to find someone who can do a wedding. Can it keep?”
“Not really. I brought company… The mystery guest can do a wedding.”
How the fuck did she know that?
“You had me investigated?”
“You were ordained when Gran worked for you, jackass.”
“Stop calling me-”
Sookie opened the office door and leaned in. “You need to brace yourself.”
Adele asked, “Why?”
“Because… long story short, Eric and Liz are alive.”
I’d finally met someone with worse sugarcoating skills than mine.
Adele scoffed, “That’s not funny, girl. I’ve got things to do, and you’re being mean.”
“I’m not being mean, Gran…”
“Eric’s cousin just favors him…”
Sookie turned to scowl at me. “Part of her glamour?”
“Of course it was, jackass. She’s clever enough to put two and two together. She was glamoured to substantiate the farce…”
Since she’d taken so many liberties with me, I took her wrist and pulled her out of my way… I wasn’t exactly gentle, but it was only fair.
Just as I stepped into the small office, Adele and Linda froze. They gazed up at me from their huddle over the phonebook.
“I’m sure you’re angry, but you need to know we missed you.”
Adele tossed the phonebook to the floor and charged towards me, hitting my body with enough force to call her hug a tackle.
She wailed, “Where have you been!? What happened!?”
Because hearing Sookie explain how much Adele grieved hadn’t already made me feel guilty enough.
“We didn’t have a choice. We delayed longer than we should have… The last straw was when a reporter asked Liz who her plastic surgeon was because she hadn’t aged a day in twenty years.”
She gasped, “Vampire!” and slapped my chest, but her arm went around my side again. “You could have just told me instead of breaking my heart!”
“You were the only reason we waited as long as we did. Liz said that if her mother had been anything like you, she would have missed her home.”
While Adele continued to weep, Linda narrowed her eyes at me and asked, “Did you at least get a nut-shot from Sookie?”
“That’s exactly what Sookie gave me.”
“Good. Call it a gift from the family. My mother put up headstones in the family plot for you and your wife… What is Liz, your child?”
I nodded, feeling completely at sea discussing the topic with Humans.
“I didn’t expect anyone to understand why we had to fake our deaths…”
She snorted and stood to leave the office, “Great plan, taking off without giving her the chance to say goodbye. That worked out great. She’d practically adopted you, jackass.”
Adele snapped, “You just hush! Don’t you pick on Eric!” and slammed the office door behind her daughter.
She took my hand and led me to the sofa and urged, “What have you been up to?”
“The usual… The past few years have been excruciatingly boring- the usually bland meetings and politics. We haven’t kept an assistant for longer than a couple of months since we lost you. Liz glamoured the first one to have ‘not Adele’ tattooed on his chest, and his successors have since been shamed by having it written on their foreheads… You’ve been missed on many levels. Even when they’re somewhat competent, they lack imagination, initiative, and/or personality. I’m sure Liz would have come to see you after the big reveal. She’s missed you enough that she started using sweet scented candles at home. I’m not supposed to realize she smells like sugar cookies or frosting.”
She offered a half-smile. “It’s good to know I was missed… What was the last prank y’all pulled?”
“After I teased her about another shopping spree and burned a pink tuxedo she’d had made for me, she placed a pink paint-bomb in my closet… And that’s why her hair is magenta. She has to keep the pink for three months. She still has nine weeks left on her sentence.”
She cackled, “Y’all are horrible! I miss that, your pranks!” but then she stopped suddenly to begin crying again.
“Adele, if it would be easier, I can make you forget us altogether. We didn’t want to hurt you…”
She shook her head violently. “No! No, I’m over the moon because you’re okay… It’s just… the pranking. My kids used to do it to each other. Sookie and Jason did it… It was just… so easy to feel like y’all were family…”
“We could tell… Liz and I tried to think of a way to include you, but I was concerned. It isn’t that we didn’t trust you…”
She interrupted, “Humans are stupid and you didn’t have any reason to think I could wrap my head around what you are. I don’t fault you. Really…”
“Sookie’s ability was a concern too. Liz almost talked me into re-hiring you, but even if you took the news in stride, there were no guarantees the obstinate little telepath wouldn’t talk.”
I nodded. “Since not long after you began working for us. She can sense that we’re different. She told me she assumed our staged deaths were a cover-up of some sort. I assume she didn’t mention the conspiracy to spare you from concerning yourself with it.”
Adele shrugged. “There’s no telling with that girl. She thinks a mile a minute… Just as much as you ever did.”
“I never saw my nut-shot coming, so I’d have to agree with that estimation.”
“Kneed a Vampire in his balls? Yes. She even did it in public… There’s something delicate about bravery. It’s vital for it to be tempered with logic… So what have I missed? Did Jason ever find a woman to play video games with?”
“Well, he never was one for studying, but he managed to get through nursing school…”
She nodded proudly. “I’m pretty sure he went that route just to meet girls, but when he was finished, he got his certification to be an EMT. He met a lovely girl, a dispatcher. Her name is Marcy. They’ve been together almost a year, and yes, she plays with him. They play softball together. When she moved in she asked if he’d mind if she did a little redecorating. He was terrified about what that meant because he’d hung onto all of his parents’ furniture. She made a man-cave out of the basement, bought matching patio furniture and slip-covers for the old furniture because she understood why he wanted to keep it. She’s a keeper… Hadley met a sweetheart. Their wedding is Sunday night. They’ve been together for over a year. They were fine just living together, enjoying a long engagement, but when we heard the Revelation is planned for the spring, they decided they wanted to do it beforehand instead of having to fight for the right to be together…”
I hadn’t given any Vampires in my Area permission to marry any pets.
“Shawn’s just as sweet as he can be…”
No Shawns in my Area.
“His kids are just precious and they love Hadley to death…”
A fucking newborn who maintained contact with his Human family?
“I’m still ordained if you’d like me to perform the ceremony. It’s the least I can do to begin making amends for all the stress I caused you.”
It was the only way I could think of that could passively allow me to be introduced to ‘Shawn’ without alarming Adele… If he wasn’t a gypsy, he was a polygamist with different flavored wives. The children could have been part of the show, just borrowed from another wife.
If a woman was foolish enough to accept whatever excuses he had to be estranged so often then that was their own problem, but the Stackhouses were mine. He’d be given the chance to break up with Hadley, but he wouldn’t be feeding from her, taking advantage of her, lying to her. If I had to, I’d just make sure Hadley was a superfluously compensated widow.
If Shawn wasn’t in my Area, how could I have possibly ended him?
Her face lit up in spite of her tears and she pointed towards the phone. “Should I call him?”
“Ask Sookie. She’s kidnapped me. I’m not sure what she intends to do with me.”
Adele winked as she left the sofa and whispered, “Be careful. She might sic her cat on you.”
While Adele explained to Shawn that she’d found someone to replace Pastor Roper, someone else entered the shop… There wasn’t any greeting and even the conversation in the kitchen stopped.
Just footsteps followed by a more distant door closing before the only noise in Sandwich Island was the same cutting/scraping sound that I’d heard when I first arrived.
Whoever had arrived was keeping whatever they had to say private… I couldn’t help but be curious since Linda wasn’t exactly bashful about asking Sookie if she was sure she’d gotten both of my nuts because she was willing to ‘go in for the assist’.
I was already regretting calling Pam so she could join us… Reuniting with Adele, behind Pam’s back, would have upset her, and with nothing else to do during my trip to Bon Temps, I had plenty of time to imagine how hurt she’d be… especially since I’d commanded her to stay away from the Stackhouses.
It was beginning to feel as though Sookie was up to something… as though the knee in my groin hadn’t been all she had planned for me.
When Adele joined me on the sofa again, she giggled, “You know, while I was on the phone, I remembered something… I hit you.”
“Not like when I’d swat your arm or leg for being evil… I slapped you. When you made fun of how Liz dotes on her cats… and it was right after she told me she couldn’t have kids.”
I chuckled, “I thought it was sweet of you to defend her… When I told her about it, she decided the slap was evidence that you liked her more.”
Adele snickered, “Of course she did… I’m still sorry. If I’d known y’all were Vampires, I would’ve gotten your joke about her stealing a baby to spoil so she’d look less silly.”
“If I’d known Liz told you she was sterile, I wouldn’t have made the joke.”
“I’d asked her why you two didn’t have kids to fight over their eventual inheritances… Then when y’all died, I was grateful she couldn’t have kids because the only thing y’all left behind was money and cats. I lost Izod. Poor thing had a bad heart, but Oscar is still just as full of himself as ever… He has no clue that the only reason Dolly hasn’t eaten him for breakfast is because she pities him.”
“Dolly is Sookie’s cat, yes?”
“If you want to call an ocelot a cat, sure. Wallace gave her to Sookie. He calls Sookie his little hellcat.”
“That worries me, Adele. I’m not sure I think it’s a good idea for Sookie to be working for Vampires.”
“Really? I think it’s funny now that I know I was working for some… They pay her really well, and provide room, board, and transportation. Wallace has done a lot towards looking out for her. He was worried that Sookie could get scooped up by the Queen of Louisiana because he’s heard she’s pretty greedy. He took care of her alias and negotiated her contracts. He said Tyson’s really excited to get Sookie because he has a ton of businesses and servants and guards.”
“I can’t argue against Sookie working for Tyson. He’s fair. As long as she doesn’t attack him or lie to him, she’ll be fine. There are Vampires she shouldn’t even entertain the idea of working for though.”
“Oh, I’m sure… Wallace already gave her a list of Vampires to avoid.”
“Sookie mentioned she has two contracts lined up.”
“Right. London for the summer… then she’ll be home for a couple of weeks before heading to New York… Someone from New York ran into them while Sookie was trying to explain baseball to Wallace at an Astros game… As it turns out, the guard Tyson hired for Sookie is going with her to New York. Hopefully, they’ll get along alright since they’re going to be together for the better part of six months.”
“Francesca will treat Sookie fairly as well… What do you know about the guard?”
She giggled, “Am I allowed to mention how sweet it is that you’re so worried? You’ve got that wrinkle between your eyebrows and everything.”
“Not in public.”
She snickered, “Her name is Tilda. Apparently, she looks young and harmless, so Sookie won’t stand out when she tries to go sightseeing with her.”
If Tilda was going to be Sookie’s guard for six months, who the fuck was going to police the fuckery in Svalbard?
I pulled my cellphone from my pocket and dialed, explaining as the phone rang, “Tilda is formidable, I’ll give you that. She’s not exactly friendly though.”
Adele winced just before Tyson answered, “I miss ya, ya lanky fuck. Is your contract oop yet?”
How the fuck did he still have an Irish accent after centuries in London?
I chuckled, “Not quite. What makes you so sure I’d return to London? Pam and I have been considering New York. She likes to shop and I’m sure Francesca will leave me in peace. She’s left Connelly alone for ages.”
“Artists like you don’t retire, boyo. Ya need action like a painter needs oils… If you’re not coming home…”
“Well, I was considering a trip to Longyearbyen this fall… but I heard Tilda won’t be there to receive me.”
I heard a loud slap followed by a sloppy slurp and a mewl.
Tyson barked, “Oy, wait in the hall. We’ll finish in a bit…”
I chuckled, “Sorry to interrupt your date.”
“Eh. Fuck it… I miss virgins. You only had to teach them how to suck a dick once and they wanted to improve. These sluts, you’ve got to unteach them all the shite their Human boyfriends enjoyed whilst trying to ignore that they think they’re God’s gift to a foreskin, then teach them what tonsils were meant for… Too much work for a squirt and a bite.”
I chuckled, “I know the feeling.”
“So… friend of mine… how did you hear Tilda won’t be north for the Dark Season?”
“I’ve known the telepath you hired since she wore pigtails.”
Without hesitation, he offered, “I’d have hired you to protect her if you were available… This contract’s been in the machine for months. Are you just now hearing about it?”
“How much has your child told you about the girl?”
“She was just a student in Houston. She’s from Louisiana, but since Wallace found her, he gave her an alias. It wasn’t a slight on you, but when he called for advice, we decided Sophie-Anne hadn’t changed. She can’t be trusted with something as valuable as little Miss Weiss, and telling you about her would put you in the middle…”
“She’s actually from my Area of Louisiana. Her grandmother was one of my employees until I renewed.”
“Are ya feelin’ protective of the garl?”
“I am. If I could leave my post, I’d volunteer to be her guard.”
“I have Atum here, but I thought they’d stand out together… Giant Egyptian, tiny calendar girl. One raised eyebrow is too many. And his English is still shite anyway.”
At least he was being careful.
“I agree Tilda and Erica would seem like friends, if not sisters, but… Tyson, Tilda’s a cunt.”
He laughed, “The same cunt you wanted to see in Longyearbyen!”
“You know I’m talking about her social skills. I doubt Erica will respond well.”
“Right. Fair enough… You’re worried about manners, so Gawain then? If I call him, with your recommendation, you know he’d do it.”
“He’d probably enjoy the novelty. I’ll bring Erica to London to be sure she’s settled. I can afford to leave for a few days at a time.”
“EXCELLENT! I was planning to keep Erica here. Should I have one of your houses prepared or will you be my guest?”
“I’ll stay with you.”
“Will Liz be with you?”
“No. I’ll leave her to look after things in my absence.”
He chuckled, “What are the odds we can gang up on you, keep you, tell that childish cunt to release you from your contract or face the wrath of my Kingdom?”
“You sound like a cartoon character.”
“Fuck you. I’ve been animated since before anyone thought of cartoons… I’ll see ya Wednesday night, boyo.”
Adele was grinning expectantly when I slid my phone back into my pocket.
I explained, “I’m not familiar enough with Wallace Milne to make any demands, but Tyson and I are old friends. He won’t make protecting Sookie like pulling teeth…”
“The new guard, you know him?”
I nodded. “He’s actually saved my ass several times. If there was a threat against Pam, I’d want Gawain protecting her.”
She patted my knee and cooed, “God bless you,” as she charged towards the front of the restaurant, waving for me to follow her.
As we entered the kitchen, Adele huffed at the only person in the area, “Where’d everybody go?”
The girl turned to look at Adele and smiled… Beautiful brunette with amber eyes and freckles.
She stopped rolling dough to propose, “I’ll tell you if you tell me what’s got you so excited.”
“It’s not enough that Eric’s alive?”
The girl giggled, “You were always so sweet on him. Uncle Corbett would’ve been jealous.”
I chuckled, “The last time I saw you, you were… Scary Spice.”
She blushed when she giggled, “You don’t have any proof that ever happened.”
“Camouflage pants, a halter top, and a perm that went horribly wrong.”
She bent over, careful to keep her hands away from her body while she laughed, “I’m so glad I grew out of that before I went and got my tongue pierced!”
When she stood up again, I realized there was a new facet to the ‘Shawn’ problem…
Hadley had stepped away from the counter enough to expose that she was pregnant.
“Your phase was more justified than Liz’s ‘Material Girl’ phase… How far along are you?”
“Twenty-six weeks. I’m due at the end of September.”
Did she know ‘Shawn’ wasn’t the father? Had he glamoured her? Had he passed her around? Were his other children the product of preferring the sweetness of pregnant women? What the fuck?
I offered, “Congratulations.”
Adele interrupted, “Eric said he’d marry y’all! He’s been ordained since I worked for him…”
Hadley squealed and ripped her gloves off as she walked towards me for a hug. “That’s so great! Mommy and Gran were so worried! Thank you!”
Her scent… Pregnant and bonded to a newborn Vampire. Even better.
“Think nothing of it.”
Adele swatted Hadley’s shoulders and chided, “You owe me an answer, girl. Where’s everyone hiding?”
“They stepped outside, secret squirrel with Trey. He’s in a mood though.”
Oh goody. A variable.
Adele grabbed my hand and began pulling me towards the door. “Well, maybe he’ll cheer up when he hears that Eric just got a better guard for Sookie…”
When Adele pushed open the fire exit, conversation dropped and all eyes were on us… Sookie, Linda, and a hulk of a Were who I assumed was Trey.
Adele asked, “What’s with the pow-wow?”
After a brief pause, Sookie reached for me, grabbing a fistful of my shirt and tugging towards the front of the restaurant. “Yay. Happy reunion. Let’s get you back to Shreveport.”
What the fuck?
I didn’t budge, but Adele swatted her hand. “Girl, what’s gotten into you!? Let him go…”
When Sookie cringed over her failed effort, I’d finally had enough…
I grabbed her and took her up over the trees, wrapping my arms around her legs to keep her from kicking me (again).
As much as she squirmed and fought, I landed in a clearing a couple of miles away and set her down rather than risk dropping her.
I demanded, “I want answers now or I’ll leave you here to find your way home.”
She scowled at me before folding her arms to begin walking away from me… and in the wrong fucking direction.
She’d rather risk poison ivy, snake bites and exposure than answer a few fucking questions.
I growled, “Does Hadley even know her fiancé can’t be the father of the baby she’s carrying?”
She snarled, “Shows how much you know. He is the father.”
“Sookie, it’s not possible. He wouldn’t be the first bastard to have a pet impregnated just to sweeten her blood. If you’ve been working for Milne, you should know Shawn’s required to check in. I don’t have any Vampires named Shawn in my Area. He may very well seem like a sweetheart, but he’s hiding something.”
“Say there’s a Vampire named Bob Smith in your Area. Do you care if Bob Smith has a pet who knows him as Joe Johnson?”
“Not unless Joe Johnson’s pet is Hadley. There are Vampires in my Area I have to keep tabs on. There’s one who’s very close to being executed for what he does to women.”
She still hadn’t turned around when she huffed, “It’s not Shawn.”
“How do you know that though? He’s already on his way here and the sum total of what I know about ‘Shawn’ is that he’s lying and taking advantage of how friendly most of the members of your family are. My gut says to take his fucking head to spare your cousin from being victimized until he’s bored enough with her to discard her.”
That made her stop dead in her tracks.
She stared at the ground, holding her breath.
“Sookie, give me a reason I should let him keep his head long enough to lie to me.”
“He’s a good man. Just because you lie doesn’t mean he does.”
“That isn’t enough. Adele said he has children. How old is he?”
“Who the fuck is his Maker? He’s hardly old enough to be left to his own devices for any amount of time.”
“He’s an orphan.”
“Who was his Maker?” Before she could give me another flippant or evasive answer, I added, “I’m running out of patience for you. I can and will glamour as much as possible from your family.”
“Shawn wasn’t happy about being brought over and separated from his family. His Maker said he’d kill his family if he tried to contact them. That was it for his Maker. Poor guy couldn’t figure out how to go home and not freak his wife out by being dead, even if he wouldn’t have had major explaining to do about being gone for two weeks. So he got smart. He filed for separation. Sent her money. Hung out with the kids every night at his place… he started bringing the kids to Sandwich Island for supper and dessert. Hadley and him start flirting and eventually start dating. Actual dating. He’d resigned from his job and told his wife he found a new one, but he’s living off his Maker’s accounts. So she thinks he’s just having a midlife crisis, especially now that he’s having a baby with a 24-year old.”
“How exactly is she having his baby? Is that part of a façade? Did she go to a clinic?”
“It’s his baby. He had fertility issues with his first wife, so he had banked sperm.”
“Is he feeding exclusively from Hadley?”
“He’s not feeding from her at all now that she’s pregnant, even before it was only the occasional love-bite. He was waking up at night and going to random bars and restaurants and waiting in the bathroom. Catch and release.”
Not bad for a starving newborn.
“Now he gets regular deliveries from the blood bank in Clarice. He didn’t know that was possible until he ran into me. He knew jackshit about being a Vampire until I came home from school for the summer. I flipped out initially… which is why he tried to glamour me. They’d been dating for a couple of months by then… He’s only ever wanted to take care of his family, Eric. He doesn’t deserve to be prophylactically ended.”
“While you were helping him with feeding options, why didn’t you bother telling him he needed to report to his Sheriff?”
“Because anyone would have made him leave the Area. Any and all advice Wallace offered was hypothetical, and I promised to tell him if Shawn fucked up, even slightly, so he could take care of it. Shawn hasn’t as much as scratched his ass the wrong way though. I can tell when someone’s been glamoured and Patty, his ex-wife, is the only one with any evidence of that.”
“Why did he glamour her?”
“To buy the mid-life crisis story, and agree to a mediated divorce so he wouldn’t be expected to go to court during the day… As far as the kids know, he just works long hours in the summer. We all know, the whole family. Trey was leery enough at first that he threatened to go to the Sheriff if he hurt a single hair on Hadley’s head, but… like I said, Shawn’s behaving.”
“If you can’t read our minds, then how can you be so sure?”
“I just am.”
She spun around to scowl at me and began stomping in my direction. “What gives you the right to even ask!?”
“I’m actually concerned for your cousin’s wellbeing, Sookie. How the fuck do you justify resenting me for that?”
She snarled, “Because you’ll only care for a little while before lying and bowing out after another stellar performance.”
“Does everyone know who you are? No. Why is that? Because you can’t risk your safety or that of your loved ones by exposing what you are on the evening news… Adele said she understood why Liz and I lied to her. ‘Humans are stupid and you didn’t have any reason to think I could wrap my head around what you are…’ Tell me that doesn’t translate to you and your ability. Tell me that her perspective isn’t at all jaded by how people react to you, and I’ll glamour your whole family to forget they ever met me.”
“Did it occur to you that since she was raising a telepath, she might be able to wrap her head around the existence of Vampires?”
“It occurred to me that a little telepath might not be trusted with that information. It was too easy for me to imagine a lonesome little girl telling stories about the Vampire her grandmother worked for in an effort to seem less unique.”
She gasped and punched both of my shoulders. “You DID NOT lie to her because of me!”
“You are the only reason I didn’t let Liz talk me into giving Adele the benefit of the doubt.”
She punched me again and shouted, “NO!”
“I can tell you exactly how long it’s been since I felt any attachment to a Human. Adele broke a 518-year tenure… I’m sorry if you felt ignored or abandoned, but this is ridiculous…”
“Who!? Who was the last person you gave a fuck about?”
“The Yankees fans who optioned you for New York. Edward and Richard Page.”
“They weren’t at the time… They were just the terrified children I was sent to protect. The little pricks grew on me.”
“No. I’m not sure what the fuck we need to do to settle our differences, but we don’t have much time. You need to get a handle on your temper before we leave for London.”
She gasped, “You high-handed son of a bitch!”
I was almost to the point of pushing her just to see how many insults she could deliver.
I added, “And Tilda won’t be your guard. I’ve arranged for someone else to take the job.”
“Apparently, I can. It’s already done. If you continue, you’ll have to suffer my company in New York as well. Both of your immediate contracts are old friends of mine, and I need to see that you actually know how to behave in a way that won’t leave Adele wondering what happened to you…”
She hissed, “You really are an asshole…”
I nodded. “I hear the same thing from Liz every time I prevent her from doing something reckless… Back to the original topic. How can you be so sure Shawn’s behaving?”
She stared back at me, either hoping to kill me with her angry glare or hoping I’d leave her alone. She finally huffed, “If you tell anyone, I’ll make sure you regret it.”
“You could have just asked me to promise to keep a secret. Threats aren’t necessary.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Do you promise to keep a secret?”
“Not without exceptions.”
“Do you want me to lie? There are secrets that need to be kept, and there are secrets that are laughably defended… The difference between a very vulnerable little girl with an amazing gift, and your brother’s ‘secret’ crush on Liz… What is your secret?”
She growled, “I can read y’alls moods. I realized it hanging out with Wallace and his lackeys. After four years, my read is as accurate as Makers and children would be… I can tell when y’all are lying.”
I agreed, “That’s definitely a secret that should be kept.”
“And you can tell Shawn’s behaving like a good little Vampire because of that facet of your ability, yes?”
“Now who’s the asshole? That was much more difficult than it needed to be.”
She kicked my shin and turned away from me to pace. “You’re such a fucking turd!”
“The next couple of weeks are going to be just delightful if you maintain that attitude… Could you at least try to realize I’m going with you as a precaution? Whether you believe it or not, I don’t want you to be hurt. I wouldn’t have helped you when you were little if I didn’t care about Adele, and by extension, her family.”
“DO. NOT. Bring that up every time you want to end a debate unless you like choking on your balls!”
“Fair enough. I’ll never mention it again.”
“Good. Take me back.”
“If you’re planning to call Milne to tell him I’m picking on you, it won’t do any good. I went over his head.”
“I caught on to that. I’m not an idiot.”
“One would think even the slightest amount of acumen would make you hesitate before striking a Vampire.”
“If you don’t take me back, I’ll just walk.”
“Have you always been so stubborn?”
“It’s not even the slightest bit redeeming. If you were just determined or opinionated, that would be one thing, but you’re mulish.”
She snapped, “I didn’t realize life is a popularity contest.”
She really was committing suicide the hard way.
Before she could realize I was moving, I grabbed her, taking her down, pinning her face down so tightly she could hardly breathe, let alone move.
Her heart was racing.
She was panting.
She knew there was nowhere for her to go.
She was completely terrified…
I asked, “Do I have your attention?”
She sniffled, lifting her head just enough to turn it… If she was as smart as she thought she was, she was looking for a weapon she wouldn’t find.
“I’m surprised you don’t have something to say… I’ll take your silence as a ‘yes’… You seem to be overdue for a lesson. Since I’ve never met Wallace Milne, I don’t know how casual he is, or how passive he led you to believe he is, but you’ll be sent back to Louisiana in pieces if you disrespect Tyson like you’ve disrespected me… While your ability makes you useful, you’re still just a Human. To put it in perspective, you’re livestock. Even a good horse would be put down if it kicked. Tyson has five surviving children. I know of three he put down with his own hands. He apologized to them for being wrong about their potential. He said a prayer for them, and supported their Human families for a while, but he doesn’t play games, Sookie. He’s older and stronger than I am. You won’t have the chance to bite the hand that feeds you in London. Please tell me you understand.”
She grunted, “I understand… but I don’t have anything against Wallace or Tyson. I can keep my shit together when I’m working.”
“So disrespecting me is punishment… You’re furious at the discovery that your hero is flawed.”
She whimpered, “Get off me.”
“You didn’t think I’d care enough to come to Bon Temps. You thought you’d just rant in my direction to get things off your chest.”
She began shaking as she cried, repeating, “Get off of me.”
“You’re still not being honest with me.”
“That’s a commodity I keep in reserve for friends and family. You. Aren’t. Either. One.”
“Sookie, I didn’t break any promises. You can’t hold me to a standard I didn’t know existed. Staying the fuck away from you was the best thing I could do for both of our concerns. I didn’t know you were resistant to glamouring…”
She grunted, “No,” and began pulling against the hold I had, so I released her. “Fuck you if you think I’ll ever trust you again. I can work around you, goddammit.”
I watched her stomp away, still heading in the wrong direction.
“You’ll get lost that way.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Does that mean I can have my way with Shawn?”
She snorted, “You’ll do whatever the fuck you want anyway. Why would you care what the livestock thinks?”
If Sookie wasn’t willing to tell me how to fix the problem, we were at an impasse I could only hope she could mask while we were in London.
But I would have been lying if I said that was all I was hoping for… Her grudge was confusingly irksome.
As I let myself into the fire exit at Sandwich Island, I felt as though I was stepping onto a stage…
Adele, Linda, Hadley, and the Wolf were standing in the kitchen waiting for me along with a new face…
A panic-stricken Vampire with a firm grip on Hadley’s hand.
I demanded, “Shawn what?”
He cleared his throat and choked, “Ingram. Shawn Tucker Ingram.”
“You ended him when he threatened to harm your family, yes?”
He nodded nervously. “Yes’sir.”
“For future reference, I’m Eric Northman. I’m the Sheriff of the Area you’ve been squatting in for three years. It doesn’t matter that under normal circumstances you and your Maker would have been executed for the plethora of infractions you’ve taken part in because all you need to know is that if you do ANYTHING to make me regret trusting Adele’s opinion of you, I’ll end you. How old were you when you murdered your Maker?”
His Adam’s apple bounced a few times before he stammered, “S’ssssixteen days.”
“Did he have time to explain the bond you formed with Hadley?”
The couple’s eyes widened and Shawn shook his head.
“We’ll talk about it in depth at another time, but keep in mind that if you have any preconceived notions of bringing Hadley over and living happily forever after, you’re almost guaranteed to climb out of the ground alone. Very few Vampires successfully become Makers while they’re in their first century.”
He gulped and nodded again. “Yes’sir.”
“You live your life as though you suddenly woke up with severe allergies, don’t you?”
He looked back at me as though I was retarded for asking.
“Uh yeah, I guess… I mean… I’m not working anymore because I want to spend my time with my family.”
Part of me wanted to end him on principle… The other part wanted to congratulate the lucky prick for pulling it off.
“How are you managing your finances?”
“Leland wasn’t used to keeping track of pin numbers so he kept a notebook full of his account log-ins… and he had a stack of bearer bonds. I used those to buy my house and my ex’s, cars too. I use the accounts for the day-to-day stuff like bills and groceries.”
At least I wasn’t dealing with a complete moron.
“Do you plan to take a honeymoon?”
He looked surprised by the question. “Yes’sir. A short one. A week in the Virgin Islands.”
Awww, how romantic.
“Working on your tan?”
Hadley giggled, “He didn’t care, so he let me pick it.”
I offered, “Stay the fuck out of the rest of Louisiana. You don’t even buy plane tickets that have a layover elsewhere in the state. You won’t step foot in Nevada or Arkansas either. Word of a Louisiana Vampire in either Kingdom will reach the Queen before you realize you were spotted. As it is, I have to call the Queen of Antilles and ask her to keep your honeymoon to herself. Shawn, you’ve been lucky so far, but you need fostering… You would have eventually needed it regardless of whether Leland lived long enough to release you. I’ll figure something out, but YOU WILL cooperate…”
He nodded, seeming as grateful as he was scared.
Since I’d felt Pam’s curiosity as she arrived, the bell on the front door of the restaurant surprised everyone but me.
Adele opened her mouth, but I called out, “We’re in the kitchen,” and winked at Adele.
Adele gasped as Pam looked around the corner carefully… and her arms were out to hug Pam as she charged towards her…
While I tried to keep from laughing at the look on Pam’s face, Adele swayed from side to side, cooing, “You’re a sight for sore eyes, girl! I missed you something fierce!”
Hadley jogged towards a napkin dispenser and delivered a handful to keep the teary reunion from ruining anyone’s clothing…
And I was punched in the back of my shoulder.
When I turned around, I was expecting the Were to be waiting for my reaction, but it was Linda…
That bitch packed an impressive punch.
She narrowed her eyes and snarled, “Do you mind explaining the grass stains on your jeans and where the fuck my niece is?”
“She stormed off sure she could make her way home. I plan to go after her, but I hope she becomes lost first.”
Linda and Trey both growled at me, but Hadley sighed, “It would figure she’d take this the hardest… Jas and me always teased her about that crush she had on you…”
I’d only met her twice.
Hadley continued, “We weren’t nasty or anything, but it was really cute that she kept making cookies or brownies for y’all and hiding little notes under your goodies…”
Little notes that would have slid into the bin when I threw the cookies out and later claimed they’d been delicious. I’d started keeping milk in my refrigerator to help the farce.
Adele added, “She used to pout through birthday parties and holidays… she spent most of her time curled up by the window with a book like she was waiting for you to show up.”
In the interest of catching up to Sookie before she was bitten by a rattlesnake, I synopsized, “Pam, Sookie recognized a photo of me in the newspaper and confronted me at Glamour by kneeing me in the balls… Adele used her severance package to open Sandwich Island. Sookie is a telepath between contracts for Milne and Tyson, and she’s already optioned for a contract with Francesca as well. Jason went to nursing school before becoming an EMT. Hadley is engaged to a young Vampire who ended his own Maker. I agreed to perform the wedding ceremony. Shawn needs a foster and I won’t be available because I’ll be in London making sure Sookie doesn’t make the mistake of kneeing Tyson in his balls. And apparently, Linda is a dog person… I think that covers everything in a broad sense.”
Adele smoothed Pam’s hair away from her face and giggled, “And Pam has pink hair… How do you pull it off?”
Pam sniffled, “You’re jaded. If you like this, you might like pink more than me…”
Adele wrapped her arms around Pam again and laughed, “He told me what you did. You deserve this… and maybe I’m just that happy to see you.”
Hadley asked, “What did she do?”
“She bombed my closet with pink paint. She rose the next night in a Manic Panic wrap.” And I’d hidden all of her clothes that weren’t red… forcing her to break one of her ‘never together’ rules.
Linda snorted before she could stop herself, so Adele turned and asked, “What? Thinking about the time your brother dyed you blue?” When Linda refused to answer, Adele explained, “She used to make fun of Corbett for how heavy of a sleeper he was, so she sewed him into bed… He got her back by dumping dye into the tub with her after she dozed off.”
Pam giggled, “Smurfette.”
Linda volleyed, “Crepe Suzette.”
Hadley groaned, “Dammit, that sounds good…”
I offered, “I’ll trust Pam to relay the wedding details to me. I’m going to be sure Sookie isn’t carried away by mosquitos and I’ll go home to make travel arrangements.”
Adele ran towards me, warning me that I wasn’t leaving without a hug ‘for the road’… then Hadley hugged me to thank me for giving her fiancé some leeway.
The bizarreness of my reunion with Adele was almost overshadowed by how excited Pam was to see her again… but to be fair, Sookie was the reason for the strangeness of my evening.
In hindsight, I never should have doubted Adele’s reaction to hearing what I was.
I flew directly to the clearing where Sookie and I had parted ways, and tracked her on foot, following her footsteps for a while before I came across a large ramshackle plantation house that had seen much better days…
Through a cemetery that seemed like it was trying to be cliché… a handful of bats were playing between curtains of Spanish moss… but once I was in the cemetery, I was following more than Sookie’s scent…
What sounded like a feral cat attack just beyond the trees made me worry that Sookie was lashing out by feeding Oscar to Dolly, but as I cleared the trees, the ocelot was tearing through the lawn in a frenzied attempt to catch a wild rabbit…
Sookie was sitting on the porch steps watching, glancing over just long enough to notice me, then turned her attention back to the chase. She was ignoring me.
In an effort to eliminate my competition, I darted into the hunt and grabbed the rabbit… Dolly looked up at me, and I swear the fucking thing seemed to be on the verge of tears when I broke the rabbit’s neck and dropped it to the ground. And as if that wasn’t funny enough, it ran to Sookie as though she was tattling to her mommy.
I actually chuckled at a cat.
She leapt onto Sookie’s lap and rubbed her face against her neck and chin while Sookie mewled, “I know baby… he’s a big ole turd in my punchbowl too.”
I snorted, “That’s disgusting,” and sat on the steps next to Sookie only to be hissed at… by Sookie and Dolly.
“What do you want?”
“I thought you might want an update, and I have a question I’m hoping you’ll actually answer…”
The cat left Sookie’s legs to stalk through the yard, looking for something else to toy with, and Sookie didn’t respond.
I continued, “I warned Shawn that if he fucks up, I’ll end him. I’ll take care of Leland’s estate and find a foster for him. There’s so much his Maker didn’t have the chance to tell him… If you didn’t already know, that isn’t an uncommon scare tactic… threatening loved ones…”
“Yeah well, Shawn wasn’t really happy about the How-To-Be-A-Bottom crash course as it was… when his Maker brought him his daughter’s braid, cut right off of her head, that was the last straw.”
She scoffed, “You think that’s funny?”
“I meant Shawn… Not Leland; I wasn’t ever fond of him. Hearing that he chose to break so many of my rules and practically tortured his child, I’m not even bothered by the work I’ll have to put into covering up Leland’s death or Shawn’s presence.”
“Then why would you let him live in your Area?”
“If I limited the Vampire population of my Area to those I’m fond of, there wouldn’t be a need for a Sheriff.”
“Who will his foster be?”
“I’m not sure yet. If I weren’t going to London I’d do it myself… Hopefully, Tyson will know of someone suitable who wants to take an extended vacation. One of the Vampires who fostered me is in London, but I doubt Shawn speaks Classical Arabic or Vulgar Latin very well.”
“How many fosters did you have?”
“Four. Your new guard is one of them.”
“One doesn’t speakie the englie… What about the others?”
“One is still a friend, but the other was murdered a few years ago.”
“Are you sure he’s dead? Maybe he just staged his death.”
So much for thinking we were finally having a civil conversation.
“She was actually murdered by her husband for her wealth.”
Whatever she was thinking, she didn’t offer any hints as she stared back at me.
She finally sighed, “Ask your question so you don’t have any excuses to stick around.”
“Hadley mentioned your crush on me.”
She snorted, “That isn’t a question.”
“Fine. What were you writing on the notes you didn’t know I wasn’t reading?”
She rolled her eyes and moved to stand up, so I caught her wrist.
I sighed, “Perhaps it’s because I’m not accustomed to being hated without making an effort towards that end… Perhaps it’s because I thought you had incredible potential from the moment you began negotiating your grandmother’s contract… but your hostility actually bothers me. Adele’s reception was already enough to make me regret leaving her in the dark about my nature, but there’s obviously more to why you’re upset with me.”
She cleared her throat and pulled against my hold. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I think it does, but if I’m wrong, you don’t have anything to lose by telling me. You’re punishing me for something I didn’t realize I did. I think I’m entitled to hear the charges against me.”
“I don’t remember. I was just a kid.”
“If you’re going to lie to me, am I allowed to be bellicose towards you?”
She scowled at me. “They were just stupid little notes. Why the fuck do you care?”
“Because it’s a piece of the puzzle. It seems I missed the relationship you thought we had.”
Her lip turned up and she spat, “It wasn’t a crush, you asshole. The lonely little telepath wasn’t telling anyone about the guy who could glamour… She was coming home from school and baking cupcakes for the only other different person she knew. At first the notes were just random shit about headaches from being open.”
She took a deep breath and her chin puckered. “Progress reports. You told me to practice. I was letting you know how it was going.”
“Now that you know I wasn’t ignoring you, how was it going?”
“Fast… It didn’t take me long to get a handle on my ability… The further I pushed, the easier my shields were to use.”
“Thus begets the monster before me.”
She crashed to her ass, pulling her wrist away as she huffed, “I gave up on you after a few months. Don’t think I wasted my childhood waiting for you to decide to be my pen-pal.”
That was a lie, but I wasn’t going to push and take it for granted that she was finally talking to me. Half-truths were better than blatant lies and evasions.
“I would have bought stationary and stamps for you if I’d known, Sookie. I wouldn’t have left you to flounder. I don’t even like the idea of leaving Shawn’s fostering to someone else even though he’s a walking lie of omission that would already be putrefying if it weren’t for his involvement with your family.”
“If you want something done right…”
“So then, yeah, control freak.”
“Maybe… Is it absurd of me to ask if you’ll forgive me? If given the chance, I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.”
“Are you apologizing?”
“No. I made the best decision possible based on the information available to me.”
She narrowed her eyes and scoffed, “And you’re a big enough asshole to put it like that so my northern hemisphere has to accept it.”
“Yeah… Political and calculating… As opposed to the southern hemisphere where everything is relatively chilled out unless someone from the north is causing a problem. Say you’re driving along, singing a song… southern hemisphere, because you’re just chilling out… but then you realize you hate that band and turn off the radio. Northern hemisphere. Everything was fine until the northern hemisphere came along and ruined Bye Bye Bye even though it’s really catchy… Take France out of Europe, because they never win anyway, and Europe is the same size as Australia. Australia’s border is its coastline. They’re just mellow, minding their beeswax until the Euro-turds showed up to start kicking sand around.”
Try as I did, I couldn’t think of a hole in her theory… all of the chaos that came to mind could blame European colonization for being the lead domino.
While I was searching my memory, Sookie snorted, “Sorry. That’s what happens when a poli-sci major and psych major share a bong and bottle of Captain Morgan.”
I shook my head. “It made enough sense that I was testing my memory… So was the telepath learning more about how the mind works, or was she researching to prepare for global domination.”
“Psshhh, what do I need a psych degree for? I could’ve CLEPed those credits like I did for most of my English and History requirements… I planned to be a business major, but Wallace suggested my ability would be more valuable in a political setting. To a businessman, cash is king, but to politicians, cash is practically disposable… secrets and favors rule the market.”
At least her mentor had been one of Tyson’s ‘keepers’.
“He’s right about that-”
I stopped when Dolly returned to Sookie and dropped a heap of mutilated fur at her feet before leaping onto her lap.
While she purred like an engine Sookie rubbed her head and ears. “Joke’s on Eric, huh baby? You still got something…” She looked at me and asked, “Can you tell what it was?”
“Raccoon? There isn’t much of it left… Is she staying here while you’re in London?”
“No. She’s going with me… Wallace said Tyson has a big garden so there’s a bunch of birds. I might have to get creative while we’re in New York though. Feeder rats maybe? She doesn’t need to hunt every night, but she gets cagey if I don’t let her hunt once in a while. Bon Temps is her favorite vacation. I let her hunt at night and Gran lets her play in the morning… She even goes fishing in Jason’s pond once in a while.”
The cat looked at me like she knew she was lucky she didn’t end up as a stole.
“Why an ocelot?”
Sookie rolled her eyes and giggled, “Because Wallace had some charity shindig for the zoo as an excuse to get his business partners together… He sent me a leopard print dress, matching shoes, chocolate diamonds and Dolly. The diamonds went back to the jeweler, but Dolly didn’t go back to the breeder.”
“Is there a reason for the name? Are you a fan of musicals?”
She made a confused look at first. “Oh! You mean like Hello, Dolly!… No… Salvador Dali kept an ocelot. She’s Dali, D A L I.”
“Has Oscar developed an inferiority complex now that he’s seen what a real predator can do?”
She shook her head slowly. “No. That bald shithead still wears his diamond collar like he paid for the damn thing. He runs when someone opens the door, hides in beds from thunderstorms, and prefers his prey to come with Charlie Tuna’s seal of approval…” She thumbed over her shoulder. “Check out the fierce hunter.”
The front door was open, but the silhouette of a cat was on the inside ledge of the living room window.
I snorted, “Still a punchline waiting to happen.”
“Like the irony that Liz had a putty-tat and I have a killer?”
I shook my head. “It’s not that ironic… you’re vicious.”
She frowned and shook her head. “Not usually.”
“Should I be careful about the way I stand tomorrow night?”
She tried not to smile. “I think you’ll be safe… Going home to sit on an icepack?”
I nodded as I left the steps, and tossed the rabbit I’d killed far enough into the trees that its odor wouldn’t become a problem. “While I try to remember how to perform a wedding, and plan my working vacation… What about you? Are there more balls that need to be kicked tonight?”
“Yeah. I’m going to crawl into bed and let Edmond take care of Fernand’s balls though.”
“You’re reading Monte Cristo? How would you have confronted me if you were reading a romance?”
She answered sharply, “I would have flaccidly complained about my place in society in a letter to a cousin as though social reform was my raison d’être.” She hadn’t even needed to think about her response… it reminded me of the wit I’d seen during Adele’s interview.
I snorted, “Not a fan of Austen, are you?”
“Love her, but my favorite books have the protagonists doing something instead of waiting for something to happen.”
“Doing something could have gotten you killed tonight.”
“I’d rather regret things I did than wonder about things I didn’t do…”
“You’d rather die fighting, yes?”
“I’m not that bad… I just don’t want to sit in the window and watch everyone else have all the fun… Goodnight.”