My house on Cross Lake had once again served a purpose… Over the years, even though I rarely stayed there anymore, the house had proven the saying ‘location is everything’.
That night in particular, I found myself in Bon Temps without a vehicle to use for my return to Shreveport. The trees surrounding the property offered cover… and the dark lake gave me more than enough room to approach the house without being reported as a UFO.
Not only did the house serve as a private landing pad, but I kept a car there.
I’d just hung up on the day-guy du jour, Sukhdeep (hired only because we could find humor in his name), when Joyce Beck called me to confirm that she’d made arrangements for me to travel with Sookie… I was told that Sookie’s immediate schedule consisted of casual time, business meetings, and a formal banquet. Joyce reminded me of the average temperatures, asked if there were any sights I was interested in touring, and asked how long I planned to be a guest of Tyson’s…
She was polite, efficient, and as helpful as I allowed her to be. Joyce’s professionalism made me miss Adele more than Sukhdeep’s plethora of retardations.
Thanks to the recent prank (which was spectacularly hilarious, even if I wouldn’t ever admit as much aloud) the job of packing was difficult…
I actually had to call my tailor to order new suits and a tuxedo… and be very grateful that they still had my measurements in their computer from last year. The only suit that survived was hanging in the closet of another house. Thankfully, it would be appropriate to wear as a wedding officiant.
If I left the house at sunset, I’d have exactly an hour and fifteen minutes to buy the rest of the clothing I would need… the incidentals I couldn’t trust Sukhdeep with. It was a sad state of affairs when I couldn’t trust a day-guy with jeans.
While I’d toiled away, trying to plan my impromptu visit to London, I’d felt Pam’s emotions come to her in peaks and valleys… but she didn’t call me until nearly dawn.
She started with, “That was completely bizarre… When you called me, and I realized where you were, I thought you… Eric, I thought I was going to find out she’d died before I could see her again.”
I almost made the mistake of asking why my mood hadn’t been of any help, but then I realized she would have felt my frustration and anger.
“At least you had an excuse to end Edward’s nightly torment.”
She scoffed, “Did my pink hair have to overlap my month of baseball hell? I don’t think I can watch another game on conference call.”
“If I were a complete asshole I would have left you to suffer with them in New York.”
After a moment she agreed, “At least I escaped that… Do you want to know how my visit went?”
“I have an idea… You were shocked that she didn’t have any regard for our state. You were excited to see her again. And every once in a while, she said something to make you feel immensely guilty… it was the same for me.”
She sighed, “I half expected you to deny it. What made you leave so early?”
“Sookie is a horse of a different color… I didn’t realize it when I glamoured her so many years ago that it didn’t take. It has something to do with her ability… She remembered everything all this time; what I did, that I was different. She said I was her hero before I left the house…”
Pam mumbled, “And then we spent several years avoiding her for her own good… Adele said Sookie didn’t react well to our ‘deaths’, that she was just as devastated as Adele was… They planned our funeral together. Adele said it all makes sense now that she knows you knew about Sookie’s ability.”
“What makes sense?”
“You know Adele. She hasn’t changed any more than we have… She just gave me that knowing look and then asked me what I’m wearing to the wedding.”
“You were invited?”
“Of course I was… And I’m not even going to make fun of the theme…”
“Do I want to know?”
“They’re Stackhouses. Ties and formals wouldn’t be fitting… Everyone is to wear denim, including you. Jeans and dress shirts for men, and denim dresses or skirts for the women. They want everyone to be comfortable. They’re planning to recite their own vows in their backyard…”
“If it was anyone other than a Stackhouse, we’d be making redneck jokes by now.”
“It makes perfect sense for them though. Not cliché, just simple and comfortable… Anyway, Shawn still has a taste for strawberries, fruit in general actually, and Hadley is craving sweets. The lateness of the ceremony allows them to spare him the odor of food. There will be a plethora of fruit inclusive desserts on the menu.”
I chuckled, “You’re excited about this wedding? Pam, did it escape you that a newborn gypsy is marrying his pregnant fiancé?”
“Shut up. You know how retarded I am when Adele’s excited… Besides…”
When she didn’t finish, I urged, “Besides what?”
“You released me.”
“Ages ago, yes.”
“Do you think I’m ready to be a foster? This isn’t the same as the strategic maneuvering he’ll need later. He needs basic help, ins and outs he didn’t…”
“You want to foster Shawn?”
“Well, I certainly don’t want to leave it to just anyone, not when he’s marrying Hadley. And I know you’ll add your insight over time, but if I’m fostering him, then it’s almost as good as if you did it yourself…”
She was actually beginning to feel insecure as she made her case… I was only surprised she’d make the offer.
“Stop. If you feel as though you’re up to the task, then I know you’ll take very good care of him.”
“You aren’t just saying that because you think he’s already doing an amazing job on his own?”
I laughed, “He. Is. Not. He’s accidentally bonded with Hadley! That’s not amazing… Granted, the amount of control he has is impressive. I’m surprised I didn’t follow a trail of bodies back to him three years ago… No, I’m not just pacifying you. I think Shawn would have been lucky for you to be his actual Maker.”
She was quiet for a moment before she offered, “It’s a girl, by the way. Arianna Delahoussaye Ingram… I’m not sure I can think of many men who’d willingly have a testicle juiced, so at least…”
“The fertility issue he had, the one that resulted in his deposit in the sperm bank… His plumbing was disconnected, so the doctor aspirated sperm with a small needle…”
Not. Unless. I. Was. Strapped. Down. With. Silver.
I was almost sure she’d changed the subject intentionally, repaying me for being proud of her aloud.
“That’s enough. You’re the one with a medical fascination…”
“They would have used anesthetic, Eric…”
“Did you catch that Jason went to nursing school? You’re a bad influence.”
“It’s not like I told him to go to nursing school. I asked him what he was going to do after high school…”
“You told him he was sexy in scrubs.”
“He was knocked out during a football game. Was I supposed to let Adele fret alone in an emergency room? I was trying to make Adele laugh, and I only stayed with her until Linda could arrive…”
I snorted, “You spent years filling that boy’s head with innuendo. I’ll bet good money that his girlfriend resembles you; auburn hair, blue eyes, small frame…” After a full minute without a reply, I laughed, “Adele showed pictures to you, didn’t she?”
She scoffed, “She’s a Werewolf.”
“With auburn hair, blue eyes and a small frame…”
“It’s not really auburn… more red…”
I chuckled, “Jason has a type because of you.”
“Better than Sookie building you up to be her hero…”
That wasn’t called for.
Pam blurted, “Ha! I felt that. You feel guilty.”
“Of course I feel guilty. Those treats I pretended to eat for years had notes hidden under them. Hadley mentioned it, and when I asked Sookie what she was telling me, she lied and said they were just progress reports… She has an impressive lock on her facial expressions, but she tends to look to her feet when she’s being evasive.”
“Let it go. She was so little… and it’s perfectly understandable for her to think of you as her hero. I can’t imagine what the poor thing would have had to suffer if you hadn’t glamoured that atrocity from her family’s minds… And on top of everything else, you seemed to have an ability of your own. She had to have thought you two belonged to the same exclusive club… and then you ‘died’ before she had the chance to talk to you again… Adele said that she talks in her sleep, and that was the only way to get anything out of her. Sookie said she never had the chance to thank you…”
Pam snorted, “I felt that too… Adele said Sookie’s mother was a cunt about Sookie’s ability.”
“Adele didn’t say cunt.”
“No, she said, ‘That woman was so afraid of how special her little girl was that she drugged her and propped her up on a couch for months on end just so her nasty ole self could covet her trifling secrets’. Her father wasn’t an asshole about it, but he acted as though he was humoring a little girl with an imaginary friend. He was impressed, but tried to rationalize it as Sookie’s way of getting attention because his marriage was… tumultuous at best.”
And then I abandoned her.
Not that I could have done much for the girl without seeming like the sort of deviant that initiated my involvement in the first place, but an occasional phone call or letter…
I had to stop. I thought she’d been glamoured, and the only possible way for me to know otherwise was if I’d dug through cookies to find the notes Sookie was sending.
I didn’t have anything to feel guilty for.
Before I said anything, Pam scoffed, “Again. Would you stop feeling guilty? She took what you told her and started making seven figures per year before she graduated university. She was just upset because she thought you were dead until you were in the morning edition. She’ll come to terms with the fact that you didn’t have a choice.”
I definitely didn’t want to disappoint her again.
“I’ll be in London for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be standing in for me until Shawn returns from his honeymoon…”
“You’ll be in London with Gawain and Tyson, and a fresh generation of English pussy. Try to be home before Hadley goes into labor… I’m not sure how that will play out with a birthing mother being bonded to a Vampire his age.”
“I had to order new suits.”
“You won’t be shopping for me while you’re in London, will you?”
When had I ever not?
“I might take a camera just so I can photograph all the things I would have normally bought if you hadn’t ruined every stitch of my clothing.”
She felt completely proud of herself. “Worth it. Should I shop for Sookie? Did Milne have a cowboy boots and Stetson dress code?”
“Call Maxwell. Find out what you can about Erica Weiss.”
Pam offered, “Did you know she picked her alias because of you?”
“I figured as much. I’d hoped it was a coincidence until I heard about the messages she was trying to send.”
Pam huffed, “You aren’t even trying to hide how guilty you feel.”
“I missed something big.”
“This isn’t fair, Eric. I wanted to revel in being right about Adele all along. You’re taking the fun out of an I-told-you-so.”
By the time I died for the day, I’d received a blitzkrieg of texts from Pam. Most of them were Stackhouse family phone numbers and addresses (including Shawn and Hadley’s), but the one of most interest to me was the forwarded message from Maxwell Lee…
Our contact in Dallas said, “Miss Weiss is notorious. His Majesty isn’t prone to being beguiled, let alone by women, but it isn’t common to see him without her anymore. Rumor has it that her coming out was understated because she behaves as though she was groomed for a while. He’s very tight-lipped about her, but she carries herself like a Vampire in her second century.”
As much time as I spent trying to pick apart any subtext there might have been hiding in Maxwell’s information, it was still a good thing that Sookie had been honest about her work persona.
I re-read the message from Maxwell while I waited for the sun to set the next night (and while I shopped), still trying to decipher any hidden meanings. Maxwell was too young to use the word notorious without implying that Erica Weiss was the target of some negative gossip, so I decided to call him and hope he wouldn’t begin feeding the rumor mill himself.
Maxwell knew better than to ask me why I was inquiring about Erica Weiss. He elaborated on his original texted explanation, freely describing that he’d only been in Erica’s presence once, but she stood out in a room full of individuals as though there was a spotlight on her. Her behavior was perfect and she was ‘an engaging conversationalist, the perfect blend of charm, cleverness and sass’. Even though he hadn’t spoken to her personally, he’d been too curious about her to do much more than eavesdrop at the affair held at Milne’s ranch. He’d heard rumors that Milne was keeping a young Wolf as a pet, and that Erica was sharing their bed, living with Milne conceivably as a pet with potential. The Sheriffs of Texas doted on her, presenting her with lavish gifts of jewels, art, and clothing. Underlings, however, were left in the dark as to her significance, so they very predictably gossiped about why Milne seemed so keen to have her company whenever he was seen in public for the past few years.
I shouldn’t have called Maxwell. Speaking with him only gave me more questions.
It was just before ten o’clock when I arrived at the address Pam sent as Shawn and Hadley’s.
The large antebellum mansion at 821 Magnolia Creek Road in Bon Temps had either been painstakingly maintained, or exquisitely restored… The walkway, steps and porch were lined with candles that hadn’t been lit yet, and the bannisters and pillars were wrapped with bright pink satin ribbon to match the little bows around the candles. The flower beds were full of roses, spiderwort and meadowsweet in full bloom.
It had enough curb-appeal to bolster the typical post-nuclear family image.
The hillbilly music blaring in the back yard was overkill.
Sookie opened the door in a pair of tiny shorts and a bikini top, but before I could joke about being overdressed, she grabbed my hand and tugged me into the house… She nearly spilled her oversized daiquiri.
Before the door slammed shut behind me, she started, “I’m willing to exchange favors if you glamour Gran and Aunt Linda to chill the fuck out. Hadley was fine until they got here… and we missed a detail last night. Aunt Linda had already called the mayor to ask if he could do the wedding, being the next door neighbor and all. He was already in bed, but he called back excited to be asked. I couldn’t think of a reason why you would need to do it, but Mayor Norris is unknowingly in reserve just in case there’s a detail I’m not thinking about… It’s not unlikely…” She raised her glass and took a long swig.
“Are you drunk?”
She nibbled her lip and offered, “Buzzed. Sandwich Island doesn’t have an ABC license, so we’ve been comparing recipes for a couple of hours. Shawn’s recipe for lemon-berry daiquiris is to die for.”
“Does he have a recipe for bloody Marys?”
She shook her head while she giggled and leaned closer to me. “That’s a family joke. Shawn’s mom’s name is Mary. She’s a drinker and just hateful, but we don’t know if it’s related because we don’t have any evidence. Anyway, that’s what we call her, Bloody Mary…. The good news is that Shawn’s aunt is here too. She’s an alcoholic, but she’s friendly. So they’re chilling out on the patio, enjoying Aunt Linda’s strawberry wine, canceling each other out. Mary says, ‘The berry theme ish a little exchesshive’. Jane says, ‘But ish show purdy n schmells nahss’. Mary says, ‘Sho mush fuss for a shotgun wedding’. Jane says, ‘Hadley’s jusht glowin and they’re sho schweet togedder.’”
“I didn’t realize Shawn’s family was in the Area. Have they caused any problems?”
“He has his mom, his aunt and a cousin left. His father died; hepatic failure… Jane’s only here for the free booze. He hadn’t seen her since he was a kid. And his mom is a train wreck, so she’s achieved holiday-only status. They like Hadley in general, but they don’t trust her.”
“I’m sure she seems like a gold-digger on paper. Young girl with a much older man…”
“Except she fell for him when he was just taking his kids out to eat at a place where you can color while you wait… And he fell for her when she offered to give the kids a cupcake for every day Archie was accident free while he was potty training… Anyway, do you need to do the ceremony?”
I shook my head, tempted to laugh at how forthcoming Sookie could be with just a few drinks.
“No. I’m actually relieved. I’m not accustomed to performing actual weddings.”
She giggled, “Stage fright? You? Wow…” and reached up to loosen my tie. “You’re overdressed if you’re just a guest. Get rid of that.”
“Should I go home for jean shorts and a bikini top?”
She nodded. “Sure. We’ll wait…” Her reaction was impressively deadpan, until she looked me over… then she began laughing so violently she barely managed to pass her drink to me without spilling it…
By the time she began calming down, she was crying and she was red from the neck up… and Hadley had come to the foyer to investigate with two friends… One of them just so happened to have auburn hair and blue eyes (not to mention that she had a small frame and an ample smile).
Sookie was still giggling when she explained, “I need to be cut off. It was just funny when he asked if he should’ve worn jean shorts and a bikini top… but Malibu made me picture it…” I’d figured as much, but then, she added, “The shorts were too short… way too short… falling out…”
Hadley bit her lip and giggled, “What’s my excuse? I haven’t been drinking.”
The one I assumed was Marcy snorted, “Hormones. Go with that.”
Sookie wiped her eyes and offered, “Eric, you already met Hadley. Ginger-Wolf is Marcy Taylor, Jason’s girlfriend. And the sexy brunette is Zelina Landry, Hadley’s bestie and soon-to-be business partner. Everyone just calls her Zee.”
“Nice to meet you. Am I the only fox in the henhouse?”
“Trey, Jason and Shawn are outside cussing at lanterns. Archie and Tucker are running around. It takes a brave man to go anywhere near Gran and Aunt Linda when they’re setting up. No one’s allowed to get here until eleven…”
Hadley snickered, “That’s not true. Anyone who wants to be helpful can get here early… I don’t care what Asa says, he’s not getting into my house until eleven. I refuse to go looking in cars for my maid of honor because she decided she needed a quickie.”
Sookie gasped, but Marcy asked, “Cars? How does a guy that big manage in a car?”
Hadley shrugged. “I dunno. How does a guy that big not break somebody as little as Sookie?”
Marcy joked, “He’s a litter of pups waiting to happen… Little warmonger half-Wolves running around…”
Zee offered, “They’d be average sized though.”
Sookie elbowed me for snorting.
Sookie sighed, “Are y’all done yet?” They were already shaking their heads when Sookie continued, “He’s already here you catty bitches… He’s in the front yard.”
Hadley scoffed and walked to the window by the front door and pushed the curtain aside. “You aren’t coming in. Bad dog. Back yard.”
A deep voice drawled, “What if I promise to stay in my pants?”
“No. You go out back and help the men. You and Sookie can wait until after the wedding…”
He growled, “How many times do we have to apologize? You know she keeps her shields up at home. If we knew you had an announcement to make, we wouldn’t have snuck off.”
Hadley hissed, “If you want to be a good boy, why do you care that we don’t have a doggie door?”
“Because I don’t think you want me to piss in your roses.”
Hadley growled again and opened the door for him, and as he stepped into the house, she kept her hands on his chest and her body between him and Sookie…
He was taller than me by an inch or two with his long hair carefully combed back…
He humored Hadley, focusing on her with a dimply grin. “I wouldn’t do anything to annoy the bride.”
“Don’t kiss my ass, Asa.”
He shook his head. “No ma’am. I’m just going to the bathroom. Then I’ll run out back and play like a good little boy.”
“Because I have a gun.”
“Because I was raised right. I know better than to interfere with a woman planning a party.”
“You’re just trying to get me to drop my guard. I’m not an idiot.”
“I’d like to think I can be trusted to talk to Sookie.”
When I snorted, Asa finally looked in Sookie’s direction and growled as Hadley pushed him around the corner…
Marcy rolled her eyes and whispered, “Do I want to know?”
Sookie shrugged. “Probably not.” She seemed to finally realize I was still holding her glass and took it from me, leading me through the house…
The large veranda was prepared for buffet service; dishes, flatware, candles… everything but the refreshments.
The floorshow was interesting though… Shawn, Trey, and Jason were standing in the lawn amongst what seemed like miles of decorative lights, debating the best way to arrange them. They seemed to have made as much progress on the matter as the two small boys playing with light sabers in the grass.
Sookie asked, “Do y’all need a swing vote?”
The three ‘men’ stopped debating to look at her and shake their heads.
Trey offered, “We have a three-way deadlock on pros and cons. The only reasons we haven’t said fuck it and lit the citronella torches…” He tilted his head towards the children. “Screaming alphas would probably kill the mood.”
Without pause, Sookie asked, “Cons?”
“Sagging lines and ugly wires… the only way to fire up this much is to come out of the garage window from the aux power outlet.”
Sookie stared into the space, nibbling her lip for long enough that Shawn grumbled, “We’ve been out here for an hour and she’s going to unfuck us in under five minutes.”
She snickered, “If y’all weren’t too proud to go to Aunt Linda, she would’ve unfucked y’all in sixty seconds,” as she wandered from the veranda, down the steps, across the lawn, and into the garage…
She emerged again dragging several two by fours and a staple gun.
She arranged the planks along the perimeter of the lawn; the out building, the garage, the veranda, and the privacy fence while the drunk women seated on the patio told the men they’d had their chance, and that it was time to get out of the way to let a woman take care of things… At least, I think that was what they were saying.
She demonstrated with one plank, unraveling strands of lights and plugging each one into a surge strip, then stapling the end of each strand to the wood… And then she disappeared into the house while the three ‘men’ followed her lead with the rest of the supplies…
She passed through the lawn briefly on her way to the garage with a roll of muslin and a spray can of some kind… the sounds of an aerosol being sprayed and shaken were the only hints anyone was given while Shawn and Trey joked about how they felt smarter before they met the Stackhouses.
An empty construction bucket…
A bag of playground sand…
Hibiscus planters dragged from the front porch…
Twine and hammers…
The finishing touch was the nine-foot section of PVC pipe that had been covered with muslin and wrapped with strands of lights…
The PVC pipe was set in the bucket and anchored into place with sand. The planters hid the ‘ugly’ base of the pipe. The light strands were gathered together with twine, and a pair of hammers gave the center added weight before being threaded into the pipe… Paper lanterns were grouped at the top of the pipe to hide the knot of wires…
I was too impressed to refuse when she asked me to lift the two by fours and tuck them into the rain gutters. While I made short work of my contribution, Shawn, Jason and Trey scattered to crack windows enough to plug in the lights…
In fifteen minutes of work, Sookie had arranged to tent the backyard with little white lights…
She’d clearly inherited Adele’s ingenuity.
I’d heard Hadley and Marcy jokingly bickering with Asa inside the house… Hadley had ordered him to go outside, but once Sookie was outside, his orders had changed. He was being held hostage in the kitchen.
And when all was said and done, Shawn hugged Sookie… and held her still so Trey and Jason could run inside and take credit for the work.
She laughed and squirmed and cursed his ‘asshole-super-strength’, but she never took the very available opportunity to knee him in his balls.
Shawn held Sookie’s face under his arm while Adele, Linda and Hadley fawned over the ‘mantastic exterior illuminations’ (knowing better, of course).
Humans, Weres, Vampires, and I was almost sure Zee was a Witch… all getting on marvelously.
The Stackhouses had established their own counterculture.
Once Shawn released Sookie, he led his children into the house to dress for the festivities… and Sookie declared ‘waste not, want not’ before refilling her daiquiri glass from the jug of strawberry wine from Mary Ingram and Jane Bodehouse’s table.
She winked as she walked towards me. “I’m allowed because I clearly passed the sobriety test.”
I nodded. “I wouldn’t think you could drive, but I’ll attest to the fact that your mind is in working order.”
She was grinning when she finished a long sip. “So… You’re completely fascinated… and pretty damn curious. Surprised by the menagerie?”
“Somewhat. Would you think of me as a spoil-sport if I said I wouldn’t be surprised for this to end in a bloodbath?”
She shook her head and giggled, “Not at all… You know how Gran is though. Be friendly or hit the bricks. Everyone’s invested enough to play nice. Besides, you’re forgetting that none of us have a choice but to blend. I’m sure you’ve come across some Weres you like more than others. You just didn’t have a reason to be social with them.”
“Fair enough… Why aren’t you in the kitchen with the rest of the women?”
When she tried to keep from giggling, she snorted.
“I meant because of the otherwise obvious separation of the sexes.”
She nodded. “I know what you meant, it just came out funny… I was in Houston for the planning process. They question my competence in the kitchen now that I’ve spent three years with a private chef… I was starting to get in their way earlier because I wasn’t part of the hive-mind.”
I chuckled, “It seems like Asa’s arrival would have been an excuse to get rid of you.”
She giggled and began leading the way into the house again. “Last Christmas, after brunch and presents, we went outside for a smoke and didn’t come back for an hour… How were we supposed to know that Hadley and Shawn were going to announce they were getting married and that they were trying for a baby? We felt bad right away. All that ‘keep them away from each other’ is mostly a joke.”
Asa’s eyes were already on Sookie when I stepped into the kitchen behind her.
She announced, “The cutie with braces is Tammy, Shawn’s oldest…” The little girl waved at me with icing all over her hand. “And the monster is Asa Forbes…”
Not her ‘boyfriend’. Just his name.
That was curious…
He offered a nod in my direction, watching both of us carefully as Sookie warned me, “No picking. Try to control yourself.”
“I’ll try…” I wasn’t sure how much the little girl knew, but I almost slipped and mentioned that I would have needed to be tied down to be kept away from so many sweets when I was alive… and then it occurred to me how long it had been since I’d thought about food I’d enjoyed while I was alive.
Asa left his beer on the counter and grabbed Sookie’s wrist to tow her from the room.
Adele called after them, “Eric’s gonna listen to y’all, and he’s gonna break it up as soon as he hears the first shoe hit the floor.”
Linda chuckled, “Momma, how did you have two kids if you think shoes have anything to do with it?”
I snorted at Linda’s joke, but Hadley sighed while she sliced oranges, “I was giving him a hard time, Gran, but it’s just growing pains… I’m gonna miss him.”
Adele offered, “It’s better this way,” but that was my only clue towards the bigger picture…
I hadn’t heard anything from Sookie and Asa, making me wonder how they were communicating, so when Shawn arrived in the kitchen (and enjoyed a pear flavored kiss from Hadley), I began explaining that Pam had volunteered to foster him. I’d only just explained that she was too invested in the Stackhouse family to feel comfortable trusting Shawn’s guidance to anyone else, when she arrived…
Marcy had been too eager to answer the door, so Hadley explained that Jason had actually blushed when he heard Pam would be in attendance for the wedding… Jason hadn’t even denied that Liz had been his first crush, so Marcy was as curious as one could expect.
The silence in the foyer (and Pam’s surprise) was hilarious.
They finally managed to introduce themselves (albeit dryly), and when Marcy showed Pam to the kitchen they were still showing how awkward the situation was…
Not only was Pam’s hair blonde again, but she had fresh highlights. I’d already given her a brief stay from her punishment because the pink hair would most likely be an attention magnet, but I was surprised she found the time to visit the salon and shop.
Before Pam could say anything, I nodded towards the box in her arms and asked, “Did you bring video games so you could catch up with Jason?”
At least Adele thought it was funny.
Pam scowled. “Adele mentioned the menu, so I brought a case of dessert wine.”
Hadley reached for the box and cooed, “That’s so sweet… thank you,” but Shawn took the box to keep Hadley from heavy lifting. “You look great. I’m not surprised though. I still covet the pair of Blahniks you gave me to wear to prom.”
Pam was wearing a long bright pink dress, but she’d found a denim corset belt and denim sandals… I was impressed.
Pam beamed. “I enjoyed the challenge. The only denim I owned was actual jeans unless you count the skirt that would only be suitable at a rave.”
Hadley and Zee nodded and offered, “I’ve got a few of those,” in unison.
Adele finally offered, “You’re a beautiful blonde, Pam.”
Pam nodded. “I know… And I’m only blonde again for tonight… I didn’t want to be the Dame Edna of Bon Temps…”
Sookie entered the kitchen impersonating Dame Edna, “Helloooo possums!” with Asa and Jason just behind her…
While Sookie had been gone, she’s changed for the occasion… Her simple pink dress was gathered with an under the bust denim corset, and she’d donned a pair of crocheted sandals.
Pam actually gawked at her for a moment before shaking her head. “Good Lord, Sookie… You… are… stunning.”
Pam’s opinion of Sookie’s appearance might have had something to do with the fact that they looked like they’d dressed to match intentionally. It was uncanny that that they’d even opted for large bouncy curls in their hair.
Sookie grinned and replied, “I know,” to tease Pam for her answer to being complimented. “I was looking forward to the pink hair.”
Pam was hugged… and I might as well have been kicked in the balls again. It didn’t matter if Sookie was ‘buzzed’. I was the one she’d been angry at. I was the one who’d ‘saved’ her… and then lied to her.
I couldn’t even enjoy the anxious look on Jason’s face when Pam hugged him and complimented Adele for ‘astounding efforts in genetic research’.
Sookie scowled briefly at Asa before pouring a tall glass of fresh sangria for herself, but other than that, the collective was just as I always imagined missing when we turned down our invitations.
The Human guests began arriving shortly thereafter…
Talking, laughing, enjoying company… and as soon the candles were lit and the food was in place, Adele declared that I was her date… When Pam complained that Jason was spoken for, Zee volunteered to be Pam’s ‘buddy’ for the evening so they could quietly make fun of the ‘redneck jamboree’ together.
Adele held my arm and sipped sangria while she greeted everyone, introducing me as the cousin who inherited everything from her dearly departed employer… Several of the wedding guests (including the mayor’s wife) offered consoling remarks about how special my cousin had been to Adele and offered the occasional ‘bless his soul’.
Marcy seemed to be especially attentive towards Jason, giving me and Adele more than a few chuckles.
Pam and Zee seemed to be getting along famously… They played bartender and critiqued most of the other guests as needed until they decided to make a game that declared the best and worst aspect of each person’s appearance.
And… I. Met. The. Maxine. Fortenberry.
Adele had been telling me little anecdotes about the woman the entire time she worked for me. Maxine Fortenberry was legendary… like Medusa and Moby Dick rolled into one beast. Pam and Zee had their own fun with the woman’s appearance, but while I was averting my eyes to spare myself from seeing what happened to beignets, I noticed Sookie and Asa. He was watching her from the opposite side of the lawn. She was only talking to Zee and Pam while she waited for another daiquiri, and his attention didn’t seem to be because of how much of her legs or cleavage were showing… just watching while he slowly sipped a beer. It was odd behavior for a ‘boyfriend’. Then again, I had watched her with similar interest while she ‘unfucked’ the lighting dilemma.
It wasn’t as though it was terribly interesting, but it was safer than trying to figure out how Maxine hadn’t been trapped and sold to a passing circus.
There were no chairs. There was no procession. There wasn’t a march.
No flowers. No music. No traditional vows. No pageantry.
There was nothing about Shawn and Hadley’s wedding that was anything like the handful of Human weddings I’d attended in recent years except for the fact that Hadley wore a white dress; even then, it was a sundress paired with denim sandals.
When the guests had begun to arrive, Hadley excused herself to change, but she didn’t sequester herself away from her company. She mingled with everyone beforehand.
Jason lifted Tucker to his shoulders and whistled so the boy could announce that it was time for the ‘I dudes’ with berry-stained lips.
Everyone gathered around Shawn and Hadley on the patio while they promised to put their family first and remember why they love each other, instead of reciting prefabricated empty promises.
Of course, they exchanged rings and kissed, but they began laughing when her new step-children cheered ‘Shawn and Hadley INGRAM!’
The ceremony portion of the event hardly lasted ten minutes, as opposed to the usual protracted affair, and was inserted into the reception, which was the part of the wedding that most attendees enjoyed… a freeform gathering of friends and family.
The added perk to the buffet of sweets was that there wasn’t a cake, or the obligatory husband-wife cake tradition. Hadley reminded everyone that the sweets would spoil while they were on their honeymoon and invited everyone to take advantage of pastry boxes, and then called for someone to turn the music on so she could dance with her husband as a diversion.
It was the most enjoyable wedding I’d been to since I was alive.
I’m almost sure everyone but Asa danced… The Stackhouses and Ingrams spent the better part of the hour following the ‘I dudes’ dancing on the patio. Asa watched Sookie dance with seven different men while he sipped from his beer.
I was curious enough that Adele caught me glancing in his direction while we were dancing. She offered, “He’s her guard.”
That would explain his wallflower behavior.
“I was beginning to wonder if he was shy. I was going to ask him to dance to loosen him up.”
She snickered, “That would be a sight. Let me get my camera…” She left me and grabbed the closest camera (which was dangling from Linda’s wrist over Trey’s shoulder).
I chuckled, “You think I won’t do it?”
Adele turned bright red while she giggled and waved the camera as my challenge.
As I walked towards Asa, Adele whispered that she was happy the song was something romantic.
Asa was so focused on Sookie that he didn’t seem to realize I’d approached him until I asked, “Care to dance?”
He glanced in my direction, but only briefly, before he cleared his throat and shook his head. “I’m working.”
“You aren’t very good at your job if you let me get this close to you.”
“It’s not my ass I’m paid to watch.”
I offered my hand and chuckled, “I promise to let you lead…”
“Adele dared me. It’s either you or Maxine Fortenberry…”
He cringed and mumbled, “Sucks to be you.”
I shook my head. “If I have to dance with Maxine, I’ll glamour her to sit on your lap and have her way with you.”
He actually gagged, but I couldn’t blame him. “Those are my choices? I can either be molested by the psychedelic bigot…”
“Or a Vampire, yes. That seems to be the case. At least I’m sexy.” Adele started cackling when I blew a kiss at him.
He growled as he set his beer on the top of the privacy fence and warned, “If your hands-”
I chuckled, “It’s just a dance.”
He narrowed his eyes and growled again. “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Kiss From A Rose was playing, so he would have been put out of his misery soon enough, but he only made a bigger joke out of the whole situation with the look on his face…
And the way he squirmed away from me when I put my hand on his back…
He whimpered too…
And Adele laughed so hard that she ran to Pam to have her act as photographer instead.
I might have ‘danced’ with Asa for a grand total of thirty seconds, before I was tapped on my shoulder, but the smile on Adele’s face was worth it.
I glanced over my shoulder to see Sookie’s face puckered up in her attempt to not laugh as hard as Adele.
She sputtered, “Can I cut in?”
I made a show of sighing as I turned back to Asa. “I hope you don’t mind.”
He choked, “Not a fuckin’ bit,” but then he yelped when I grabbed his ass and he ran back to his station by the fence.
Sookie rested her hands on my arms and laughed at her feet for a moment before we actually began dancing. She finally offered, “I don’t know what’s funnier… the look on his face or the fact that you’re fool enough to dance with me again.”
“You have your guard, and I have Adele. You won’t get away with kneeing my balls again.”
She snickered, “Good point… Do you realize how happy it makes her that you’re here tonight?”
“I think I have an idea.”
“Good… Did you hear from Joyce?”
“Yes, and it reminded me how much I hate Sukhdeep.”
She snickered, “You might be the first guy to say that in the history of ever.”
I chuckled, “It’s our current assistant’s name. He’s a complete idiot.”
She scoffed, “Isn’t Sukhdeep a girls’ name?”
“Apparently he inherited his idiocy from his hippie parents who were too enlightened to read a baby naming book.”
She shook her head and breathed, “Some people need to be detoured to a pet store, I swear… Anyway, she called me today. Asa and I were all set to fly commercial, but you rated a charter.”
Asa was traveling with us? What good can a Wolf be when he’s surrounded by Shifters?
“Of course I do. I told you Tyson is an old friend… Do you have a contract planned for after New York?”
“Not officially, but Wallace said he was sure Tyson would fill my dance card. I have my fingers crossed for a run with Spain though. I’d end up spending a few months on the beach… Poor Sookie, tanning away in Spain and the Caribbean.”
“Does Wallace not have allies in the States?”
“He’s got plenty of them, but none he actually trusts. He calls American Vampires power-mongering twats. He said Europe is a different game. There’s camaraderie between most of the Kings, and they still use Knights and whatnot, so there’s something akin to moral standard. Besides, I’m not really working by referral. I’m working for references. I need an impressive work history as a Terracotta Army if I’m going to work in the States again. I mean, there are only so many annexes over here, and the Kings and Queens here don’t take each other seriously, but they’re all terrified of the Old World powers.”
At least she wasn’t suffering from a lack of strategy.
“Did Milne see to your Vampire politics tutelage?”
She shook her head. “He said it’s a fresh game of Monopoly in America, and the problem is that there are more players than there are neighborhoods. Everyone’s grappling to own more and build up, fucking each other over with rent because they aren’t thinking far enough ahead. No one plans for variables… Wallace said Europe’s like chess, a gentleman’s game with finite rules of cause and effect that don’t allow for much fuckery… Apparently, there’s one guy over there who thinks he’s playing Monopoly though.”
“I’m beginning to wonder why he’d want to be in the States. He seems painfully aware of how annoying the climate is.”
She giggled, “But he’s also painfully aware that there’s no escaping the bullshit… Wallace knows his particular eccentricities fit Texas like a glove. His favorite forms of entertainment are money, muscular men in tight clothes, and hypocrites. Computers and energy, the three biggest packs in the US and year-round sporting events, and gun-toting pro-life Southern Baptists. He’s in hog heaven.”
I chuckled, “His own paradise… He was a lucky bastard before he found a telepath.”
“I think so too. We should all be so lucky… So, Wallace schooled me on Tilda, but you kind of pulled the rug out from under me. What do I need to know about my new security?”
“I can’t tell you anything about him. I’d have to kill you. That would defeat the purpose of securing him as your guard.”
She rolled her eyes and snorted, “Is he that bad?”
“No. He’s very friendly… I’m not sure Asa will enjoy your new guard’s brand of humor though.”
She sighed, “He’s just uptight right now.”
“But you seem relaxed… Do I have Shawn’s daiquiri recipe to thank for how much more enjoyable your company is tonight?”
She nodded. “Maybe the daiquiris… maybe all the tossing and turning I did after I flipped my lid… Do we have to talk about how guilty I feel for flying off the handle or can I just say I’m sorry?”
She felt guilty? That was fucking rich.
She might have been belligerent, difficult to rationalize with, but she was justified for being upset.
She sighed, “I overreact. It’s my weakness. I don’t take surprises well… It’s not like when I’m working, because I can compartmentalize all that shit. Chaos comes with work, Erica’s work. Sookie likes life to stay calm, like Antarctica calm… I can take just about anything when I’m in ‘Erica mode’, but Sookie was eating biscuits and honey and…”
I was very concerned about that… the fragmented realities… all I could do was hope she was speaking figuratively.
“There’s no need to apologize. I’m just happy to hear we might be able to settle our differences.”
She shook her head. “No. You’re worried.”
I tried, “You’re defensively backpedaling.”
She bit her lip and cringed. “I should probably get a fresh drink… Are we okay? I don’t want you to think I need babysitting.”
I nodded as she stepped back. “If you don’t need supervision, then I suppose I’ll just enjoy seeing you work.”
She actually blushed. “Who knows, maybe we’ll get to have some fun or something. I don’t work 24/7… Hey, don’t damage Asa. I’m gonna need him later.”
“I’ll try to behave.”
By the time Sookie turned away from the bar with a fresh drink, I was sitting on Asa’s lap… with my arm across his shoulders.
I was tempted to taunt him, but it seemed like remaining quiet only made him more anxious… or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I showed him my fangs when I licked my lips.
That time, Sookie laughed too hard to save him because she ran into the house to use the restroom… It was Linda who rescued him by swatting my legs and shooing me from the boy’s lap, trying to keep from laughing while threatening to kick my ass if Adele’s laughing fit damaged her health in any way.
Other than being rosy-cheeked and watery-eyed, Adele didn’t seem to be the slightest bit damaged. When I sat next to her, she grabbed my hand, giving it a squeeze as she thanked me for the laugh.
As the night pressed on, the ‘extras’ began to take their leave, and by two o’clock, the crowd had been reduced to who was at the house since Asa arrived.
I spent the bulk of my time with Adele, not necessarily speaking to her the entire time, but staying in her company… and I watched Archie fall asleep while Hadley danced with him. I listened to Tucker debate for leaving the wedding lights up for the summer. I watched Shawn carry his daughter inside…. And it made me wonder if assholes like Ingram were the rarity, the accidentally lucky bastards who inspired the occasional inkling that a Vampire could be trusted to return to their family after they were brought over. There didn’t seem to be anything about him to give him away as a Vampire. Shawn Ingram was just a family man. His fangs were incidental, a footnote.
With the children in bed, and the other guests gone, the wedding reception became more raucous. High heels and dress shirts were tossed aside. The blender was retired and shot glasses were lined up. There wasn’t any behavior that could be considered crude, but I was almost sure Adele’s presence was responsible for why Shawn and Hadley’s lawn couldn’t be considered part of the Glamour franchise.
Sookie borrowed me from Adele for a dance, and then I was loaned to Hadley, then Marcy (so Pam could dance with Jason), and while I was dancing with Linda we realized her mother had fallen to sleep… Adele was leaning back in her seat with a smile on her face.
Linda snickered, “If I try to get her to go to bed, she’ll make herself stay awake…”
“She’s staying here tonight, yes?”
“Yeah, we’re staying with the kids tonight so Shawn and Hadley can take off.”
I pointed towards the back door and offered, “Lead the way,” as I approached Adele.
She only stirred slightly when I lifted her, mumbling to chide herself for being tired while someone snapped photos of me carrying her inside.
After I tucked Adele into the bed in the guest room, I said my goodbyes. I still had too many things to do before my trip to London and only little more than one night to finish…
I would have stayed.
On any other occasion, I would have offered my congratulations (and not meant them) and left directly after the service, but I was actually enjoying myself enough to want to stay.
When I finally returned to my car, I found a pink pastry box sitting on the passenger seat, and I knew right away what it was…
I actually covered myself with powdered sugar trying to find the note buried under the beignets…
I remembered one. It went something like this:
The funeral was today, and it made me sick to stand around while everybody thought Bartlett was a saint. It makes sense, since they don’t know certain stuff anymore. I guess I should’ve thought about that ahead of time, huh? Gran and Jason were already doing it. It’s bad enough I’ll see his grave every time I visit my dad’s now, I couldn’t stick around to hear everyone talk about how much love he had to give. I snuck away and came home, but I couldn’t sit still and Gran did all the housework. Hence the cookies. I hope you like Dutch cocoa. Don’t be afraid to eat them because they’re red. I put dye in them on purpose so I could ‘accidentally’ stain my funeral dress. I never want to see it again.
So there you have it. Gran sent me to a therapist a few times because she thought my parents’ deaths was causing issues, but there was only so much I could say. I had a feeling, even then, that there was more to why you never got back to me, but since Gran always told me how much you liked the treats and looked forward to more, I took that as you asking for updates. Like you knew it was how I worked through anything I couldn’t talk about. It felt safe because no matter what I wrote, you didn’t give me any reason to think I was wrong or damaged. And writing it (actually, alluding to it would be more fitting) was less mortifying than having to say anything out loud. It was all just brain sewage you’re pretty lucky to have avoided.
Part of me was sure Sookie had taken the time to write the note as evidence that she wasn’t harboring a crush, but it was maddening to think of all of the possible situations that could have warranted an intervention, all of the dilemmas a child shouldn’t have been expected to solve on her own… so many fucking things could have gone wrong… and her therapist, me… I wasn’t listening.