**Thursday May 31, 2001 continued**
Joyce talked for the entire drive to Kew Gardens. Thirty-three minutes of fawning and mewling about the various preparations for the event. It was almost sad she didn’t realize that if Tyson cared about the particulars, he would have tended to them himself.
There wasn’t any way of knowing if he even noticed Joyce was speaking until he rolled his eyes, but by then the limo was in queue at the Palm House. She was incredibly thorough, but it was becoming obvious that she was very needy…
I was definitely going to ask Sookie if the annoying behavior was caused by Joyce’s infatuation with Tyson, or if it was just part of her demeanor. I could avoid being the subject of her next infatuation, but if I needed to keep treats in my house to reward her for doing tricks, there wasn’t any point in offering her a job.
Perhaps because Tyson had taken Sookie’s hand, or because Joyce just seemed to need coddling, Asa paired with her as we were ushered through the Palm House towards the garden behind it.
She took his arm and then shied away from him and whispered, “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable with firearms.”
Asa shrugged slightly. “Really? I got my first one when I was five.”
“A toy though. It was a toy.”
He nodded. “You could say that. It was just a .22 rifle.”
I chuckled, “Don’t mess with Texas.”
He shook his head. “Shhhhhh. I’m required by law to shout ‘Yeehaw!’ every time someone says that.”
“I was afraid of that… What about ‘everything’s bigger in Texas’?”
He nodded. “That’s true.” He was completely serious.
Sookie glanced over her shoulder and whispered, “Show him a picture of the fish in Texas.”
I watched from the corner of my eye as he reached into his pocket for his phone…
In the photo he’d cued up, he was holding the fish, suspended from a scale, up with one arm… and Sookie was hanging from a scale in his other hand in a tiny bikini. The fish weighed twenty pounds more than Sookie did. If it weren’t for their nuptial clusterfuck, I would have joked that it looked like a redneck wedding photo.
As I passed the phone to Joyce, Gawain snorted, “That’s doctored.” It wasn’t the size of the fish, but the fish itself. The first time I’d seen one of the peculiar things, I grabbed it to get a closer look and make sure I wasn’t seeing things.
I shook my head. “They’re real.”
Asa offered, “You can see the full-size picture on my laptop if you want. Seven feet long and 140 pounds.”
Joyce gasped, “What is that!?”
“That is Erica.”
She snickered, “I meant the thing you’re holding up next to her.”
“It’s a gator gar. We went fishing on the Trinity River. That one’s an average adult.”
Joyce looked back and forth between Sookie and the phone for a moment before she breathed, “What do you use to catch something like that?”
“Astros tickets and Hank’s Ice Cream.”
Sookie giggled, “Asa behave… We were bowfishing, Joyce. We’ve got lots of pictures of that trip.”
Gawain asked, “No luxury resorts with breakfast in bed?”
Sookie glanced over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “What is it with you and your weird little habit of pigeon-holing people? No. I’m not a diva. Are you projecting? Does your perfect Saturday consist of a pedicure and a lusty paperback romance? Hoping a millionaire will climb your fire escape with roses? Eager to take a Jamaican holiday because you desperately want to get your groove back? Waiting for an adventurous young artist who’ll draw you like one of his French girls?”
It had been hard enough to hold back… but the Titanic reference broke me… and Tyson stopped in his tracks to turn around and close his eyes.
He groaned, “I’m picturing it. Make it stop.”
I was too… and that only made it worse.
Somehow, Sookie and Asa managed to keep straight faces, but Tyson and I were laughing hard enough that I was sure it looked like we’d found the bar.
Gawain let it go on for a moment before he complained, “Aren’t you the court jester.”
Sookie snarked, “I thought that was my pigeon-hole for last night.”
It took longer than I thought it would to recover from Sookie’s joke, and by the time Tyson was moving again, there was a group of party-goers behind us. We were causing a bottleneck of Humans confused by seeing Tyson laugh… it wasn’t as though it happened in public often.
Charity events were boring enough that watching socialites being shit on by adorable animals was usually the highlight of the evening for me, but other than noticing the assortment of monkeys for the maddening noises they made, I only really noticed any of the animals when Sookie stopped to handle them. While most of the women in attendance veered away from the snake handlers with great zeal, Sookie handled each one… and the vampire bat. She called him cute after it bit her.
For two hours, Gawain’s tux might as well have been sewn to mine. He was pouting over being the butt of Sookie’s joke while he watched her dance with Tyson and mingle at his side… Meanwhile, I was more preoccupied with the way Asa was spending his time with Joyce.
To the casual observer they appeared to be on a date… for that matter, they appeared to be getting on quite well. They were actually flirting with each other…
But there was so much more to it than that.
Not only was he using Joyce as an excuse to reposition himself closer to Sookie and keep an eye on her surroundings and interactions… but it seemed like he was making efforts to remedy Joyce’s infatuation with Tyson.
To be perfectly frank, there wasn’t any contest. Asa was much more attractive than Tyson, closer to Joyce’s age, and built like he was torn from an issue of GQ. Unless Joyce was attracted to brooding and a brogue, she would be naming her hypothetical little Forbes children and practicing her new married signature by dawn.
She was already closing her eyes whenever Asa whispered something into her ear when Gawain elbowed me.
Because I didn’t know he was sitting next to me? I could feel him sulking.
“He’s doing an excellent job. Joyce is one giggle away from sucking his cock behind the hedges.”
I nodded. “I’m sure that’s intentional.”
“How is flirting with Joyce going to serve any purpose?”
“She’s smitten, but competent. Tyson clearly doesn’t want to take risks with the flood of retards he’d be forced to suffer if he replaces her. If Joyce swoons for Asa, then she isn’t watching Tyson with Erica and becoming jealous. When Erica and Asa leave in three months, Joyce is left pining instead of knitting layettes for an Ailill Jr. who won’t happen. Also, Asa would stand out if he were idle in the middle of the dancefloor alone.”
“He stands out regardless… Eric knows.”
“Her name. The feminine form of Eric and the German word for knows. Eric Knows.”
“If you faked your death while she was in high school, why would she choose Eric Knows as her stage name years later?”
“Why are you choosing now to discuss it?”
“Because everyone else is reading minds.”
I shook my head, realizing he wouldn’t drop it if I ignored his question, and explained, “Because when I found out about her ability, it was making her miserable. I did my best to offer some encouragement. I was probably the only non-relative to do that. Actually, her family wasn’t necessarily supportive as a rule either. Her mother hated her for being ‘different’.”
“What about her brother?”
I snorted, “He’s a simple creature with amazing taste in women. His personality clashed with his sister’s, but I don’t believe she suffered derision from him…”
“I meant what gift did her brother inherit?”
I shrugged. “I’ll ask her, but it’s never been mentioned that he has one.”
“I doubt she has an ability and her brother was skipped. What does he do? Does he excel at anything?”
Nosy putz. It needed to be tattooed on his forehead. Nightly.
“He’s an EMT. I’m not sure if he’s any good at the job, but I overheard him telling a friend that he loved it a few nights ago… Adele is very proud of her grandchildren and, while she worked for us, she provided a schedule of their extracurricular activities so we’d know when she was less available… Dancing, swimming, gymnastics, baseball, softball, both types of football… Whether or not they excelled at anything would be jaded by the opinion of a proud grandmother, but I know Jason was awarded several MVP awards.”
“And Erica obviously excelled at dancing.”
I groaned, “Fine. They’re all graceful dancers. I witnessed that the other night at a wedding.”
“They’re all? You say that as though there are more than just Erica and Jason.”
“There’s a cousin. Adele has three grandchildren.”
“What do they smell like?”
I laughed, “The other night, they all smelled like strawberries and liquor… and that wins the prize for the most ridiculous question anyone has asked tonight.”
He scoffed, “I asked because I’m curious about the source of Erica’s ability. It doesn’t make sense for Erica to be the only Stackhouse with an-”
I hissed, “Weiss. I told you not to use her real name. If you want to amuse yourself with her genealogy, then do so without slipping like a rank amateur.”
“Do I get to be a prick when you finally slip?”
“No, because you clearly don’t give a fuck about her anonymity or the reason for it. I do.”
“It was a fucking slip… What I was getting to…”
Don’t apologize or anything.
“What you were getting to leads me to believe you know something about Erica’s ability. I’m sure she’d be happy to entertain your theories if you stopped acting like she personally shit in your shoes by existing.”
After a moment (when I hoped he at least realized he was behaving childishly) he sighed, “Erica smells like Asa and citrus.”
Back to her scent?
“I told you we limited our exposure to them, yes?”
“You did, but I assume you picked up at least traces.”
I nodded. “Jason’s girlfriend is a Were. He smelled like her and beer the other night. The cousin reeks of her bonded Vampire husband. Erica’s aunt smelled like berries, pastries and her Were husband…”
“They’re all involved with Supernaturals.”
“They are… Adele is the only family member I ever had frequent exposure to. She’s completely Human and frequently smelled of sweets. Candies and cookies. She’s fond of baking.”
He finally stopped talking for longer than a few seconds, and I was almost sure it was only because of the couple who sat across from us at our table.
His silence was short-lived. He finally breathed, “I think they’re Fae.”
I laughed at him. I probably shouldn’t have since Asa and Joyce were walking towards the table, but the idea was hilarious…
“What are you basing this on?”
“With the exception of beer, which would mask most other scents, you said her family smells sweet… and they’re all romantically involved with Weres or Vampires.”
“And Erica’s citrus scented body wash is a red herring, yes? She scents herself with something that could kill her? She’s a Fae changeling in spite of the family resemblance?”
Gawain scowled at me while Asa pulled Joyce’s chair out for her. The perfect gentleman asked, “Are we still making fun of Gawain?”
I nodded and explained in German, “According to Gawain, your girlfriend is a Faerie.”
Asa suddenly looked angrier than he did when he was correcting the King’s Guardsmen. His jaw clenched as he took his seat. “We know. Stop digging.”
Gawain had asked with me, but Asa addressed me, “We can talk about it later,” and ordered a single malt from a passing waiter, and then asked for a double.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Because Gawain’s behavior hadn’t already been needling enough, I suddenly felt like my skin was crawling. I felt guiltier… I was sure Sookie was punishing me, keeping her nature secret because that’s what I’d done to her.
I couldn’t blame her for it. It really was poetic justice… but I couldn’t help but worry about the wisdom behind choosing to work for Vampires when she was a walking dessert cart.
How the fuck didn’t I notice?
Thinking about it, I could almost excuse it…. The first time I met her was at Elevenses, a public place. The second time, Adele’s home reeked of tears… I met with Adele at least weekly for years, but with forty miles between Shreveport and Bon Temps, and the errands she ran, it was believable that she’d lose some of the traces… At Glamour, she smelled like her dancing partners, and I was fully prepared to blame the shot I’d taken to my balls for being distracted, but then I remembered that I sampled her scent when she refused to answer my questions…
I actually breathed a sigh of relief. She was either able to cloak her scent (like that vainglorious prick Niall Brigant) or her scent wasn’t potent enough to be intoxicating.
I’d been close to her. I’d been confined in the cabin of a small plane with her. I’d carried her. I’d been in her room.
Perhaps Wallace was just sensitive to the scent and flavor. Perhaps he’d done a remarkable job of choosing Sookie’s bath products…
It didn’t matter as long as it was working.
As long as she wasn’t baiting sharks.
As long as she was safe.
Over the span of the evening, Sookie detected two embezzlers, two researchers lying about project progress so they wouldn’t lose funding, a caterer who padded the bill for the buffet, a complicated (and revolting) love heptagon that was depraved enough to be used as blackmail, a waiter who was working under an alias to avoid being found by his wife, a photographer who occasionally sold photos to tabloids, and a man with plans to use the GHB in his pocket on a young girl attending the party with her parents… all of which justified Tyson’s reasons to deposit Joyce in a cab when we left the event.
Why? Because he wanted to revel in his ‘new toy joy’.
When we returned to Tyson’s house, there were no less than thirty Shifters lined up in formation on the drive.
Apparently someone had been proactive about the mustering Tyson had mentioned.
Tyson didn’t wait for the driver to open the door, or stop for that matter. He stepped out and walked directly to the formation while he removed his tie and jacket. Sookie assured us it wasn’t ‘a problem’ before Gawain and I followed Tyson from the car.
The assembled Shifters and Weres stood at attention as we approached with Sookie and Asa just behind us.
Tyson started, “Taking over for Allen, King?”
‘King’ offered a deep nod and corrected, “That would imply that I intend to act like an imbecile too, Majesty.”
“You are an imbecile.”
“I beg to differ. I prefer to think of myself as eccentric. I’m bright enough. I serve a purpose whilst helping the trees recycle air for your food supply.” He actually winked at Tyson.
Tyson shook his head and growled, “Do you have a specific purpose in mind or do you just enjoy wasting my fucking time?”
He leaned to the side to look past us and waved for Asa to step forward. “If the stud at the back could join us, that would be lovely. He’s the reason I’m here, after all…”
King offered his hand to shake Asa’s, and gave him a deep nod. “Lieutenant King Jeffries, at your service, Packmaster Forbes.”
“Asa. Pleasure to meet you.”
King’s eyes lit up. “Feel free to call me King… My mother should have thought about how difficult it would be to sound casual saying that… So! Whiplash, two broken ribs, a broken tibia, a broken ulna, a lacerated cheek, a broken nose, two missing teeth… and a partridge in a pear tree.”
Asa agreed, “That sounds like everything.”
King shook his head and countered, “Not quite,” and snapped his fingers.
On cue, the assembly behind him recited, “We’re sorry, Packmaster Forbes.” They sounded like a schoolhouse full of chided children.
King probed, “And, as a guest of King Tyson’s, who’s the ranking Shifter on the property?”
The collective answered, “Packmaster Forbes.”
“And why did Packmaster Forbes best three Shifters today?”
“Because they’re stupid cunts.”
King cooed, “They’re good boys and girls, really, but… well, one weak link and you can’t trust the chain for the bits, now can you?” He took a deep breath and turned his attention to Tyson. “Your Majesty, I’ve relieved the ill-mannered embarrassments to King’s Guard and replaced them with men from London Standard while I’m acting as Packmaster. Anyone harboring any lingering resentment towards Packmaster Forbes has taken a leave of absence for the duration of his visit.”
Beautiful. That initiative more than likely saved the life of a Shifter.
Tyson nodded. “They’re lucky you decided to take the reins. I intended to take one of their heads to set an example.”
King offered a respectful nod. “And I’m lucky my son expected as much when he heard you planned to muster everyone.”
Tyson turned for the house and snorted, “You’re a bloody lunatic, King, but at least you know how the game is played.”
King relaxed once Tyson was inside the house and turned to his pack. “Why the fuck not posture with a Packmaster staying at the King’s house? Sure. Sounds like fun. Count me in. DAFT TWATS!”
A scraggly, wiry Shifter mumbled, “All in favor of behaving inappropriately with Miss Weiss…” After no replies, he tilted his head. “All in favor of earning a Darwin Award by challenging Packmaster Forbes…” After more nothing, he sighed, “There. All done. We aren’t all walking hard-ons.”
King turned back to Asa and sighed, “Nigel, Miles, Kelly and Alice are available for anything you need. I understand you’ll need a driver frequently. Kelly will be organizing the changing of the guard, so she’ll be the most available. They’re all insane, but they got that from me. Their mum’s sober as the fuckin’ Pope.”
One of the Shifters mumbled, “And she’s going to wear your arse like a boot when I tell her you said that.”
King snorted, “That might scare me if I was going home. I need a pint after that debacle…” and began backing towards the street. “Get back to fucking work. Your gravy train ends if you let anyone get to Tyson…” When he turned for the gate, he growled to himself that adults should be trusted to wipe their own asses and one day he’d finally take his cousin’s invitation to move to the Dutch countryside where nothing ever happens.
He was a walking cartoon. I couldn’t think of a reason why Tyson didn’t like him.
After issuing orders to the Shifters who didn’t follow King from the property, one of the guards offered his hand to Asa. “Miles, of the aforesaid ‘Nigel, Miles, Kelly and Alice’ cooperative, and willing free-running companion. Watched you take off this morning. Looks fun…” He offered a nod towards Sookie and continued, “Might have been the totty running with you though. Pleasure to meet you… My brother Nigel. He’s retaaaarded…”
Nigel punched Miles’s shoulder and argued, “Am not! I’m smarter than you.”
Miles rolled his eyes and scoffed, “Great marks mean nothing when you lock your keys in the car weekly…” He turned his attention to Sookie and whispered, “Keep that in mind if he’s driving you, Miss Weiss.”
If I thought his father was animated…
Sookie giggled and shook his hand, then Nigel’s. “Erica. Thanks for the warning… Most of y’all are new faces.”
A female (jet-black hair and pale blue eyes) approached and offered, “Some of the missing faces were indignant about Packmaster Forbes standing his ground. Read: Too stupid to realize they’d want blood if he’d touched one of their women… And a handful more shit in their pants when they heard King’s Guard was on the Super Shifter’s shitlist. Kelly. Nice to meet you. That…” She tilted her head towards a pretty little dark-haired Shifter with brown eyes. “Is Alice. She’s sheeeeepish.”
Alice argued, “Am not! Who can get a word in edge-wise with you and Miles around? And Nigel isn’t retarded. He’s a bloody chemist…”
Gawain snorted, “They need a sitcom.”
I nodded as I loosened my tie. “Pam would watch it.”
Miles asked Asa, “So, tips or tricks from the bloke who broke a Packmaster?”
Asa nodded. “The detail is too heavy in birds. One or two talkers on the roof is alright, but there have been no less than three extra lazy assholes on the roof since we got here. Since you’re protecting a fortified property, I recommend monkeys…”
Miles and Kelly blurted, “Monkeys!?” and Gawain chuckled.
Asa snorted, “At the corners of the property as watchmen. If the neighbors see them, they’ll assume Tyson has eccentric pets. Not only can they communicate with sign language or flashcards, but they can pull a trigger. They can stash something like a semi-auto 1911 and then shift into a Macaque or Howler Monkey. If shit goes down, they aren’t useless like a Raven is.”
If it wasn’t for the fact that he’d go mad as a Vampire, I’d say he had potential as a Knight.
Without hesitation, Miles blurted, “Dibs! I love it! I’ll be a Macaque with a gun.”
That was actually frightening.
Nigel snorted, “You would. No one’ll know you shifted.”
Alice sighed, “Jayzus, you two… Miss Weiss, will kitty mind if I mimic her?”
Sookie shook her head. “She gets along with…” She scoffed and used Asa’s shoulder to balance as she removed her shoes. “Sorry. Dancing woes. Anyway, Dali gets along with other cats and she’s used to Shifters. She’ll be fine…”
Gawain offered, “Don’t tell Atum. I want to see how long he plays with the wrong pussy.”
Kelly and Alice shared a look before asking, “Cat lover?” in unison.
Sookie snickered as she took Asa’s hand to go inside. “And he’s gorgeous. Good luck.”
As we entered the house, Asa was unzipping Sookie’s dress and offering to find something for them to eat while she bathed…
And then he nodded towards the kitchen for me to follow him.
He didn’t seem surprised that Gawain had followed, but he didn’t seem pleased about it either.
As he opened the refrigerator, he offered, “Taking something off is a signal that she’s comfortable. The Shifters on the property now are alright.”
I asked, “Were the previous guards questionable?”
He nodded while he rifled through the contents of a drawer. “We saw the problem from earlier coming from a mile away. My age invites hazing. The Packmaster in Houston was a pain in my ass for the first year I was there. He breathed down my neck like he thought I was going to take over the world one pack at a time.”
“How did you remedy that?”
He turned around with a covered dish and walked towards the microwave. While he studied the buttons, he offered, “I bagged him, drove him out to the middle of nowhere, dumped him with nothing but his cell phone which was rigged for incoming calls only. While he walked home, he got pictures of his lieutenants first, then his family, because if I wanted his fucking pack, I would have had it already… He backed off.”
I really liked Asa’s style.
I chuckled, “Beautiful… How do you manage your pack from so far away?”
“Cactus Plains is so big I have five Under Bosses…” He finally started the microwave and turned around, removing his tie and jacket. “They were loyal to my father. They would’ve held my spot for me, but a couple of peckerheads tried to be slick… They challenged me for my father’s pack before he was in the ground. I guess they thought I wouldn’t be up to battle…” He shrugged. “They were wrong…”
After he’d been shot through his leg?
He sighed, “I go home for rites, inductions, funerals… I go home to run with them every couple of months. Even if I was home, I’d only really be needed for that kind of stuff anyway, but my Under Bosses gave me a few years for school, like a rumspringa, and now I’m officially recruiting new members, and making nice with King Milne. One hand washing the other and all that. He’s hired a few guys from Cactus Plains as guards. Erica’s found a couple of unhappy Weres in other packs that relocated to Amarillo and pledged my pack.”
“As long as I don’t put off getting married… Ouida can’t keep up the Dueña gig. She’s got arthritis in her hips and shoulders so bad she doesn’t trust herself to drive some days. Valerie’s already taking notes on the job, but we picked her a year and a half ago, so waiting will look like a stall. The fogies in the pack won’t chill their tits until there’s a ring on Val’s finger.”
“You realize Vampire blood will fix that, don’t you? Your stepmother’s ailment.”
“Yeah. Val even suggested it. We got some Vampire living a few miles away who sells his blood to Valerie on the DL. Oui’s not interested. She smokes weed when the pain meds don’t work. I gotta hand it to her though. She’s not scared of the blood. She’s scared of the example it’ll set for the pack. She doesn’t want anyone to think they’re unbreakable because there’s a magical band aid.”
At least the woman had a redeeming quality somewhere.
Gawain offered, “As strong as you are, you do realize Erica would probably produce a Were, adding to the pack.”
Asa finally, for the first time since we’d entered the kitchen, looked at Gawain… and he was completely disgusted.
And he didn’t bother to dignify Gawain’s suggestion that he impregnate Sookie to pacify his pack with a response.
Asa shook his head and turned back to me, whispering, “So… the Faerie bomb…”
I nodded. “Bomb is fitting.”
“It went down like that when we found out too… Wallace tasted her blood on a hunch.”
Proof Vampires couldn’t shit. If I could, I would have needed a new tux.
I asked, “Why didn’t she mention it?”
“Because it’s a sore subject. She wasn’t exaggerating about pissing on graves for Cunt Day. On top of everything Michelle did to Erica, she apparently cheated on her husband too.”
Gawain probed, “You’re sure of that because you sampled her family’s scent, yes?”
Asa was doing his best to ignore Gawain. “She’s the only one with an ability. She even tracked down a couple of distant cousins on her mom’s side to be sure… I can’t tell a difference between her and her brother. Hadley smells too much like her husband. Trey would shoot me in the face if I tried to smell his wife. Gran’s Human… It’s usually subtle, but Wallace could get high off Erica’s beach towels. She used to bag them up for him. He bought her the Jeep so he’d have an excuse to smell her hair.”
“She works for Vampires.”
“The first time Erica came back to the house smelling like candy to Wallace, he kept a mall open so he could find products to mask her scent. I mean, for Wallace to get hard for a woman, that’s incredible. He isn’t even into effeminate men.”
I asked, “Did Wallace not meet Jason?”
“No… Erica was thinking about bringing it up to the family, hoping she was wrong, but then she talked to Gran and her update included a visit from an old ex of her fathers. She came into the sandwich shop for lunch with a friend. He’d dated her while he was separated from his wife back when Jason was still in diapers. The timing is right for her mother to have gotten pregnant then. Erica never got a single clue that her father doubted her as his. And Gran mentioned that Michelle got pregnant with Erica as soon as they reconciled, so Erica doesn’t want to know the truth. She doesn’t want to know if her mother lied to her father. She doesn’t want to know if the pregnancy was why they got back together. They actually died because they were in counseling eight years later. She was already blaming herself for their deaths. She doesn’t want to find out that her father would still be alive if she wasn’t born. She won’t discuss it and if you try to bring it up, your balls will be in your throat.”
I couldn’t help but be surprised that she wasn’t a berserker little bitch when I met her… after everything she’d been through. She had every excuse to lash out at everyone who spoke to her.
“Why would Adele mention the timing of Erica’s conception? Is there any reason to believe she might suspect?”
He shook his head. “It was more of a ‘I really liked Julie, but if they stayed together I wouldn’t have you’ type of thing.”
“That definitely sounds like Adele… Why would Erica blame herself?”
“Because her mother resented Erica a little more for every smile she put on her father’s face. She felt guilty for the fact that they were in counseling at all, and then they died on the way home from a session.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Why would you? She won’t talk about it and the rest of her family blames Michelle.”
“But she talked about it with you at least.”
He shook his head. “Another reason you can’t mention it to her… She’ll kill me. She talks in her sleep…”
He turned his attention back to the microwave when the timer dinged, and just seemed to be stirring the food inside until a maid walked in.
“Mr. Forbes, can I help you with anything, sir?”
He smiled at her and nodded. “Dishes? I found the chicken tikka masala Mrs. Donovan made for us.”
The maid happily found plates and forks, then offered a container of rice and a package of naan before Asa excused her gratefully.
Once she closed a distant door behind herself, I pushed, “She hasn’t even discussed it with you?”
He shook his head. “She’s got some serious demons, but they’re boxed up like she’s afraid they’ll kill her. When we went shopping to find your ASL book, we ran into a Faerie in the mall’s food court. The woman spotted her from a mile away. She tried to introduce herself, but Erica told her to fuck off. Erica can’t read their minds, but she didn’t want to risk finding out how the hell the woman knew her name.”
“Then why tell me?”
“A- because I know you already know at least one of the monsters under her bed. And B- your friend needs to stop picking on her before she declares war on his ass. She’s already sick of having him on her lap.”
Gawain actually had the audacity to look insulted.
I asked, “On her lap?”
“Yeah. When y’all concentrate on something, your mind drifts towards it. It’s your call. Like when you call a Maker or child. What do you do? You focus on it…”
He raised an eyebrow and continued, “Like when you’re pretending to study sign language, but you’re trying to decipher a phone call you overheard.”
I chuckled, “I wouldn’t have eavesdropped. You were only a few feet away, and the first thing I learned about you regarded a pending wedding.”
“It’s all good. You were looking out for her, pissed at the idea that I could be dogging Erica. I can’t be pissed about that… Better than Gawain. All he is is nosy. Like a kid trying to find out what’s under a Christmas tree.”
Gawain finally scoffed, “You’re beginning to irritate me.”
Asa nodded as he moved the rice into the microwave. “Look how many fucks I give.”
“Exactly what have I done to annoy you?”
“Probably the same thing that’s pissing off your friend of God knows how many centuries… She’s not a fucking crossword puzzle to be figured out. Do you want a pat on the fucking back for reaching the same conclusion a Vampire half your age came to? Way to go, sport. Yay for you… I bet you’re real proud of yourself for poking old wounds without being fed any information too. God knows if you tried to approach her like a grownup, she’d expect some reciprocity.”
Asa tilted his head with his eyebrow pitched as though he was daring Gawain to admit to his ability.
If I were Asa, I would have been thinking of the sound of nails on a chalkboard just to drive the point home.
They were still staring at one another when Sookie joined us in the kitchen. She’d wrapped her hair with a towel and she was wearing a little tank top with baggy pajama pants.
She cooed, “Whatever that is, it smells phenomenal.”
Asa’s posture relaxed as he explained, “It’s the tikka masala stuff Mrs. Donovan promised.”
“I have a feeling I’m going to be sending spices and a recipe home with Eric.”
I offered, “For Adele, I might be willing to transport samples.”
Sookie’s eyes widened excitedly, but she sobered, shaking off the mood. “I’ll buy a cooler bag you can toss into the fridge. I will not fill a suitcase. I will not fill a suit-”
I chuckled, “Feel free to send as many nonperishables as you want. Just keep the refrigerator’s size in mind.”
She smirked, “I will not buy a bigger fridge for the plane…”
Asa swatted her ass and reached for the microwave. “See what I meant about her shopping for other people?”
“I’m beginning to, yes.”
She backhanded his ribs and giggled, “I’m investing in my future home-cooked meals.”
When the microwave chimed again, Gawain left the room without a word, and Sookie and Asa began their choreographed movements again… plating their food, taking bottles of water from the refrigerator, and settling at the table…
I’d excused myself to shower, but when I returned to my room, I could smell Sookie had been there… two gris-gris bags were on the bedside table, and there was a napkin on my pillow with a chocolate on it.
Two things. 1- I need you to settle something between me and Gran. Every time I’ve been able to tag along with her when her errands end up at your house to drop something off, you’re there. I know you’re there because I can feel you. She says she doesn’t see you. I’m not crazy. I know it’s you. Darkroom? Quiet office? Do you sleep with headphones on? Please, just say something so she doesn’t think I’m imagining things anymore. 2- I found somebody like you at the craft store. That probably should’ve come first, huh? I wish I thought about asking you before, if you know someone else like you. She was really pretty. Old, like in high school, and looked Indian (not like Native American, like Hindu). She was buying Halloween decorations. I got her license plate number.
Sorry, Little Me forgot the license plate number, but in her defense, you got it twice. Once when I covered it with, get this, cupcakes decorated with headstone cookies (for Halloween), and again on the receipt I first jotted it down on. The receipt was from Gran’s purchase of your lye (clogged drain, my country ass). Anyway, what made me think about that note tonight was the photographer. My best theory for why you didn’t answer Gran when she announced herself was that you were in a darkroom listening to heavy metal while you developed pictures of God knows what. Hey, give me a break. It’s a long way between Shreveport and Bon Temps.
Knowing that I wouldn’t have much time before Sookie was finished with her meal, I quickly found a pen and a tablet in my carry-on…
“Dear Little You,
Between you and me, I spend most of my days enjoying long bubble baths with a mud mask and my hair in curlers. I can hear your Gran announcing herself, but I’ve yet to dry and unfurl my hair in time to greet her. It’s very embarrassing. Liz would taunt me if she found out.
As for the person like me, I think you’ll discover more and more of us now that you’re using your ability. What I am isn’t as uncommon as you might think. I’ll look into the license plate number you sent with the delicious (and apropos) cupcakes, but I think I already know who you encountered. Did she, by chance, have henna on the palms of her hands?
If I don’t hear from you before then, Happy Halloween. If I remember correctly, you’re planning to dress as d’Artagnan. Excellent choice.
The lye was to make soap for my bubble baths. I swear.
If it was the Vampire I’m thinking of, Indira might have been buying a tombstone and ‘dead’ flowers for a little game that could have been played with Liz’s assortment of day-glo clothing. She probably never found them.
And fuck your brother (and his Mario Bros costume) for teasing you about dressing as a male for Halloween. You had an excuse to carry a sword while he had a plunger. The sword wins.
I thought to test the threshold of Sookie and Asa’s room with my hand before stepping in to leave my note and the truffle on their bedside table…
And I was just rinsing off when I heard her start cackling. Honestly, I assumed Asa was tickling her again until I heard him ask what was so funny…
And she was still laughing when he started. “Is this… you’re being repaid for making Eric picture Gawain wearing the Heart of the Ocean and a Mona Lisa smile.”
I chuckled, “I wasn’t even thinking about that. Gawain might want revenge, but I enjoyed the laugh.”
Sookie giggled, “Thank God,” just before she knocked on my doorjamb. Once I wrapped myself with a towel and greeted her, she stretched up to kiss my cheek and offered, “It was the unfurling that did it. G’night.”
When she returned to her room, she closed the door, and Asa asked, “You were d’Artagnan, huh?”
She sighed, “I sure the hell was. Loved those books. Still do… and Eric loaned me the sword that nudged me into first place for the costume pageant that year.”
He chuckled, “Nice… Van Dyke and all?”
“Damn straight. Go big or go home… You know what…”
After a moment, he chuckled, “You go right on with your bad self. You’ll be snoring by the time I’m out of the shower.”
“Pssssh. I might already be asleep and not realize it as tired as I am…” She let out a long yawn. “A full belly, a little buzz, a comfy bed, a good book… Hey. Where’s my pillow?”
He snorted, “I’m goin’. I’m goin’…”
He’d been right.
Even though I was reading a room away, I was a witness…
The water in the shower… turning pages… Dali began purring… then Sookie began snoring… and then the water in the shower was turned off.
I heard Asa laugh through his nose when he left his bathroom…
It was very close to dawn, only a hundred or so pages later, when I heard Sookie mumble, “I know what you did.”
Asa sighed, “They knew. Did you want me to lie to them?”
“Not Eric. You could’ve told Gawain I’m a fucking unicorn for all I care. He’s a turd.”
“He has theories. Turd or not, you should probably hear him out.”
She groaned, “How about… You and Eric hear him out… That way I’m not mind-fucking myself while I’m working for a guy with his fingers in every pie in the UK.”
“Can’t agree to that. You’re sleeping.”
After a moment, she countered, “I won’t remember this, so if you find a problem, don’t tell me. If you find something that won’t make me miserable, then I’ll forgive you for listening to me while I’m asleep.”
It made sense. I was certainly willing… if it banished one of the monsters from under her bed.
“You win… but only because I love you too much to let you-”
Before he could finish, he let out a loud grunt, followed by a long pained groan…
He’d warned me. ‘If you try to bring it up, your balls will be in your throat.’
I wasn’t even her victim that time and I was still cringing.
Why didn’t he take his own advice?
I still felt sorry for him when I slipped away at dawn.