Like A Rock
Rising was just as miserably frustrating as it had been the night before. So close, yet so far away. And I’d risen early… the rolls of thunder in the distance and torrential downpour only made my wait that much longer… and thunder meant there was lightning… Round Robin had been rained out.
Since I was alone, no one was there to confirm if I was sulking or not… I needed a hobby. I’d painted Pam’s tiles. I’d ordered new furniture for the house I’d reclaimed. I’d made arrangements to surprise Cort. I’d retrieved my car from Fangtasia and did the few chores that needed to be done.
But I did all of that last night.
I was idle.
My messages didn’t offer many surprises. Bobby’s messages included:
- The ‘cretin’ (Trey) had met him at the warehouse and towed away two of the cars that needed servicing. He was ‘inappropriately’ staring at the Corvette though.
- He’d been in contact with the furniture store and arranged to have everything delivered.
- Miss Henrietta was very excited to hear her 1st grade class would have a special guest speaker from the Natural History Museum.
- Dr. Dziatkiewicz was armed with dozens of chrysalises and instructional items to gift to the classroom… And he suggested a herpetologist friend of his for a similar presentation if the teacher was interested.
- Pam’s tiles had been delivered to ‘Miss Gale’ so she could glaze them… They’d be ready for pick-up on Thursday.
There was also a message from Mortimer, explaining that Chief Easton was being ‘uncooperative’. He was asking me for his next step… As it turned out, Chief Easton was being uncooperative because he wasn’t making demands. As Mortimer offered amenity after amenity, Easton’s reply was ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. Apparently, the meeting room was all he needed… I called Easton personally and explained that the conference probably wouldn’t be concluded in just one night, not if everyone brought files from old cases. In just a few minutes, we established that rooms and meals would be included to sweeten the bait for his comrades to attend (as to not strain anyone financially), but nothing else would be comped. His fellow detectives didn’t need an engraved invitation to turn a conference into another Tailhook scandal. “Free booze, even for cops, is asking for trouble.” He had pictures from a career’s worth of Christmas parties to prove it.
Easton also offered the contact information for a friend of his in the National Guard. He’d contacted him as a courtesy, because the military is a different planet when it comes to investigating crimes, but the man already wanted to speak to me. Over the past few years, there have been several cases where his Guardsmen, weekend warriors, had disappeared during maneuvers and mysteriously returned without memory of where they’d been or evidence of drug use. Until Vampires came out, UFO abduction rumors had been circulating… Hearing that I was willing to help, Lou Sheppard wanted to do something about taking ‘military intelligence’ off of the list of oxymorons if he could. He wanted to bring his files and the most recent victim to see me on Sunday.
I already had an idea who was taking Sheppard’s men… Liam was quite possibly fucked.
I’d successfully killed an hour and twenty minutes… Between the messages from Bobby and my calls to Mortimer, Easton and Sheppard, and finally washing away my traces of Sookie, I ventured into the hallway testing for ambient sunlight.
And of course, my phone began ringing as soon as I was sure the storm was blocking the sun.
She started, “Your pet.”
It sounded like an accusation.
“Sookie. What about her?”
“She’s fabulous. I’m really disappointed that she’s not, at least a little, bi.”
“I wouldn’t share her even if she was. Is there a point to this call or did you just want to tease me?”
She laughed, “Who’s teasing? I want a Sookie. I think the closest I’ve gotten to sexy and smart being in the same package was a pre-law student, but she was a tweeker.”
“Methamphetamines. Her blood tasted like dirty grundle… Sookie… How does she smell like sugar? Does she taste like it too?”
“She’d spent the day baking. Her house was thick with jaggery last night when I arrived.” And talking about it just made me want to leave my static house faster.
“The kids throw me off a little… We don’t like kids.”
“Not true. Just last month we found one we both thought was cute.”
She snickered, “That kid was sleeping.”
“Fair enough. Sookie’s children are actually cute though, very bright. Their company isn’t a chore.” The chore was behaving until Sookie and I could be alone.
I chuckled, “Is that all? So?”
“You know me better than that… So all the fun you’ve had for the past couple of nights, it’s been with Sookie.”
“Have you killed anyone?”
“No…” When Pam only replied with a thoughtful hum, I asked, “What are you working up to?”
I could feel it. She wanted to say something, it was at the tip of her tongue, but she was hesitant.
“That you… That you found a little medieval family and you’re enjoying time travel.”
“I couldn’t be more confused by what you just said, so I’m sure you’re wrong.”
“Sookie’s a mother, two little men, who works to support her family that includes her elderly grandmother. The tight-knit little family gathers frequently in a humble, but well-kept, home. She’s smart and energetic, not to mention completely fuckable… I think that if you take away electricity, cars and that fabulous pair of jeans she was wearing last night, you could mistake Sookie for wife-material, Mr. Fuck-Modern-Values.”
“Wife material? Pam, what did you feed from last night?”
“Twins… Sookie doesn’t need anything from you. She’s stable…”
“I’m not arguing that.”
“She’s well-read and doesn’t need to have her hand held in conversation. She’s even funny…”
“She accepts who you are and what you do. She isn’t afraid of Vampires… For that matter, she also doesn’t seem like the type to have the slightest difference in regard to breeds.”
“That is refreshing.” She was attracted to me before she realized I was a Vampire.
“I think if there were more Sookies, because she really is a rare breed, you’d be in the practice of keeping pets.”
“I’ll concede to that. I actually enjoy her company, but Humans aren’t exclusive to my process of selection. I don’t keep many friends in general.”
“I have a prediction. Want to hear it?”
“Could I stop you?”
She laughed, “Not really… I predict that you’re going to fall for this one. I think that high moral-standard that made you the most sought-after Knight in Europe is left over from having been a devoted family man. I think the girl who’s devoted to her family already had you on the hook before she put herself out on a limb for you. I think if you’re an idiot and fuck up your relationship with her, I’m going to rub your nose in it forever.”
“You spent two hours with her, Pam. Don’t be theatrical.”
“I didn’t spend that long with her, but for the past two nights, you’ve been in such an impossibly good mood I’ve caught myself smiling. Ponder that while you’re walking to Sookie’s house. As long as we’ve been together, I don’t remember a time when a good mood has lasted so long for you… I think I’m going to be planning a wedding.”
“Those little boys of hers would be just precious in tiny tuxes.”
“I know nothing about catering anymore, but I’m sure Gran would help.”
She laughed, “Hanging up now. PS- Gran invited me to Sunday supper. If I don’t see you bef-”
I ended the call, unwilling to think about if I’d be welcome back once Pam came to Sunday supper.
As I approached Sookie’s house, my new favorite amusement park, I could hear the inhabitants of the neighboring houses… layers of machinery, conversations, televisions, music, screaming children, and the constant sound of pounding rain.
But as I crossed Sookie’s front lawn, the sound of a screaming child only became louder.
I almost didn’t knock on the door… If there had been any hesitation to answer my knock, the door would have needed to be replaced.
After just a moment, Sookie answered, offering a surprised but bright smile in spite of the hysterically wailing little girl in her arms.
She stretched up to kiss my cheek and offered, “I wasn’t expecting you to come by so early. C’mon in.” She was hoarse.
I asked, “What happened?” as I stepped in and closed the door behind myself.
The child was Hunter’s size and I couldn’t imagine what could possibly cause him to be so upset.
“Nothing… well, V went into labor today. Early. Trey’s with her at the hospital. This is Lill and she’s reached critical mass…” She kissed the banshee’s forehead and continued, “She was an angel until about five minutes ago. She’s just tired. I’m on my way to lay her down.”
Hunter didn’t behave like that when he was tired, but it took seeing Lill’s hysterics to add that detail to the list of reasons why I actually liked Sookie’s children…
But then Lill demanded, “Wan’momma’daddy!”, at least, that’s what I translated it to. It was barely intelligible.
“Was she dropped on her head?”
Sookie gave me an annoyed look and walked towards the den. “No. She’s just exhausted…” Adele was at the sink when we entered the kitchen and Sookie ordered, “Gran, fill Eric in while I put this baby down. I’ll be right back. She won’t last long.”
Adele giggled and asked, “So how’s it feel to be a free man?”
I chuckled, “The detention wasn’t so bad… but I was seriously beginning to worry about being strip searched. Did Sookie tell you about the monstrosity running my interrogation?”
The boys were nowhere in sight, but there was a little girl on the den’s sofa watching a cartoon featuring a girl with a misshapen head and a singing backpack. An acid trip for children. She was singing along and arguing for the use of ‘ticky tape’.
I asked, “Are Trey’s children retarded?”
Adele scowled at me and argued, “No. They’re perfectly normal. Be nice.”
It was the ‘nicest’ way I could imagine to challenge her about the normalcy of the girl inspecting the yellow smear on her hand by taste. She announced to the empty room it was ‘juss honey-mussert’ and licked the stain away completely.
“Yes, normal… So, V was out running errands today and her water broke. She was expecting to end up bedridden anyway because she was with Margie and Lill, but this is scary-early and since her water broke, they don’t think they’re going to be able to do much to stop things. Last update we got from Trey, V was pretty far along… Right now, we’re hoping the baby just needs to be incubated like the girls, but Nat is nine weeks early instead of just six weeks.”
“V has a history of difficult pregnancies?”
Adele nodded. “Two before the girls. Those babies didn’t make it… They might have lost Margie too if Linda hadn’t gone out to stay with them.”
I reached into my pocket for my phone and dialed while I joked, “It sounds like time to visit the vet about being fixed…” I had to catch the plate Adele threw at my head. I chuckled, “What hospital?”
She snarked, “Do you have a vet on call?”
I nodded, sure the tension and short fuse were caused by worrying for her friends.
She was complaining that I would benefit from a sensitivity seminar when Dr. Ludwig answered her phone.
“What do you want, Vampire?”
“Clear weather? I was hoping to go for a swim.”
“Let me transfer you to the right department.”
“While you’re looking up the extension, could you possibly tell me if Virginia Dawson is a patient of yours?”
“If she was, I wouldn’t tell you. Why do you care?”
“She’s a pregnant Were. Her water broke nine weeks before her due date. I owe her mate a favor.”
“Why don’t those furry assholes call me? It’s like they want to die needlessly.”
“Can you do anything for her or the child?”
After a moment, she sighed, “I can… yes… Vampire blood would help. Hint, hint. The baby’s lungs are the concern when they’re that early. If it’s given Vampire blood, nearly everything else will right itself in a couple of weeks. At your age, I’m sure you’ve heard about a runt or two dying after just a few hours.”
Heard about/held him while he slipped away. ToMAYto/ToMAHto.
“Done. I’ll have someone meet you at Bon Secours. Have a lovely evening.”
I quickly texted Malcolm because, after he chose to station himself in a McDonald’s indoor playground during a child’s birthday party for the Revelation, he owed me.
Adele gasped. “A Were doctor?”
“Not a Were, but Supernatural patients are her specialty.”
“She can help V and Nat?”
“No promises, but if anyone can, it’s her. She seemed confident.”
“Why are you sending a Vampire?”
My phone chimed and the message waiting for me was from Malcolm. “My blood?” Cute.
I dialed his number and he answered halfway through the first ring. “Good evening, Sheriff.”
“What does it say about you that you know who the fuck I am and what the fuck my position is, yet you still question me when I issue an order?” Adele’s eyes bulged.
Malcolm stammered, “I- I- I- ju- just…”
“You just think I’m out of line by ordering you to surrender a vial of blood, but you don’t have the fucking balls to say it.”
“Uhmmm- ahhhhh- I…”
“I’ll take that as a yes… How many times over the years have I had an excuse to end you?”
“At least. And after the ‘Happy Meal Debacle’ you’re lucky you made it out of the box. Every fucking drop of your blood that I’m not wringing out of my clothing is a blessing to you.”
“Yesssssss, yes Sheriff.”
“Your choices, as I see them, are to comply with your Sheriff’s demand of an inconsequential amount of blood, or I’ll take it from you. You’ll be chained and tapped as Dr. Ludwig’s personal dispensary.”
He stammered, “I- I- I- I’m leaving for the hospital now, Sheriff. I’m sorry for the confusion. I- I- I wanted to be sure it was you. It is an odd request.”
“Now you lie to me.”
“Take your friends with you. Diane and Liam. You’ll all be making medical donations tonight. Make sure they know their nest-mate’s hopelessness is why they’re being punished as well.”
“Are you going to hang up before you say something else to piss me off?”
Without another sound, the twat ended the call, leaving me to look back at Adele… all the color had drained from her face.
I offered, “If he’d said another word, he was going to find himself making scheduled donations. Are you alright?”
I hadn’t even noticed the boys had joined us until Hunter asked, “Vampire blood’s like med’cine?”
“We keep that as quiet as possible, but yes. Dr. Ludwig said it would help Natalie’s lungs… I think the word would be ripen.”
“Could it’a fissed Aunt Linda?”
If it occurred to Hunter, I couldn’t help but wonder if Adele had a similar thought… If she’d lost her color, thinking Vampire blood could have spared her daughter…
“No. Vampire blood makes cells stronger. It would have caused her cancer to progress at an alarming rate.”
“Oh… How come ya helped Trey an’ V?”
“Because I owed him a favor. He rang a bell last night that saved me a lot of trouble.”
“Why bully tha’ other Vampire? You coulda give’er yer blood.”
“That’s complicated. You see, Trey helped me accidentally. His primary concern was for your mother, but I benefited nonetheless. I chose to bully someone I already need to bully to help in a hands-off manner so Trey wouldn’t feel beholden to me if Vampire blood saves his child’s life. He helped me with nothing more than a phone call, and I reciprocated in a likewise fashion.”
Alcide still had a favor banked for watching Sookie’s house… I was completely aware of how differently Sookie could have reacted if it wasn’t for my Were alibi.
He grinned and nodded. “Pretty cool too. Took ya’ like half’a secon’… By tha way, Cort’s not talkin’ to ya’.”
Cort shook his head and folded his arms across his chest… He forgot to do something about the smile on his face though.
I chuckled, “Is he not a fan of Mariah Carey?” Having Butterfly played over the school’s PA before morning announcements might have been too much… Then again, his reason to give me the silent treatment could have been the ‘show and tell’ visit from the Natural History Museum’s resident lepidopterist.
Hunter giggled, “Dr. Butterfly spen’ up recess an’ he gave ‘em chrimasses for a classroom pet…”
“Yeah. Those… An Cort’s girlfren thinks ‘Princess Butterfly’ is a new girlfren. She din’t sit with’em on tha bus.”
I sniffled, “Awwwww. If you show me where she lives, I’ll glamour her to forget why she’s upset?”
Cort chirped, “Really!?”
“No, but you lost the silent game… Forget the girl, Cort. If she automatically assumes the worst of you, how will she encourage the best of you?”
“Dude. I’m five.”
“If that’s your defense, then my rebuttal is ‘fuck them if they can’t take a joke’. Life is too short to let someone ruin a reason to smile.”
Adele sighed, “Amen.”
Margie began shouting at the television, “Swiper, no swipin’! Swiper, no swipin’!”
Lill’s screaming flared up again, like someone tossed gasoline on a dying fire.
Hunter’s eyes rolled, “God, she’s so re-”
Adele warned, “Don’t say it.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Special?”
Adele slapped my arm for laughing, so I whistled to get the girl’s attention. “Marjorie, Lillian is trying to go to sleep. Be quiet or the television will be turned off.”
She mewled and gave a scared nod.
Cort snorted, “D’ya have ta use tha ‘comply or die’ voice? Geez.”
It wasn’t as though I shouted… I was… stern.
“She could hear her sister’s wailing. She just needed a reason to care… So, how do we decide on a bedtime story when thunder and lightning keeps us from Round Robin?”
The boys stared at each other for a moment before Hunter suggested, “Mem’ry. We got Mem’ry cards.”
“What is that?”
“I’s a matchin’ game. A bunch’a cards face down. Ya flip’em. If ya getta match, ya keep ‘em.”
Cort added, “It’s fer babies, so Aunt Linda made better tiles.”
Adele explained, “The cards are usually set up to be duplicates, like two identical apples. Linda did paintings so they could be matched by artist. If you find Lichtenstein’s ‘Happy Tears’, you’re looking for ‘Sleeping Girl’ to make your match.” Beautiful.
Hunter very seriously warned, “Wash out for tha nudie pics. There’s a bunch.”
I laughed, “Consider me warned. Thank you.”
His eyes widened as he turned for the den. “Ya say tha’ now, but then, BAM! Yer holdin’ a neck’d Peruvian guy.”
He snorted, “Who cares where he’s from. He’s naked.”
Dali, Lichtenstein, Barnes, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Van Gogh, Monet, Rubens, Rembrandt, Pollock, Degas, Cezanne, Warhol, Vermeer, Wood, Rousseau, Waterhouse, Kahlo, Picasso, Klimt, Munch, Audubon, Motley… Dozens of artists, representing every major art movement since the Renaissance.
It didn’t matter that the boys had been playing the game all along when it came to matching the famous miniatures correctly. The name of the artist wasn’t on the card and they could still name each one. They identified Van Gogh by his unique brush strokes. They knew Dali was a surrealist… Linda continued their fine art tutelage with her favorite contemporary artists and the boys actually educated me on P. Buckley Moss, the Hildebrandt Brothers and Boris Vallejo…
Whenever Linda saw a painting she liked, she’d add cards to the game… and as soon as Cort and Hunter could hold crayons, they made their own tiles. They could be confused with Jackson Pollock’s works, but it was another keepsake.
The boys had cleared the art supplies from the table in the den and the table had been covered with the laminated cards. When Margie was invited to join the game, she decided to be on my ‘team’ and was as helpful as one could expect since she sat on my lap and ogled the ‘pitty pishers’ as I made pairs… at least she wasn’t screaming at the television and keeping her sister awake.
The beginning of the game was admittedly tedious, but not much more so than the beginning moves in chess. All of us took several turns before the first pair was made (Hunter matched Audubon’s ‘SilverFox’ and ‘Raven’), and the game quickly progressed from there. And of course, there was the added excitement of ‘stealing’ another player’s set.
With 58 pairs, the game was practically a three way tie, and since Sookie was still with Lillian, we decided to play a second game… and then a third.
It had been nearly two hours. Adele had excused herself so she could go to the grocery store… and Sookie had dozed off with Lillian.
The quiet nature of the game offered a pleasant side-affect. Even if I was completely shocked, Margie had managed to fall asleep on my lap… She was slumped back using one of my arms as her pillow, and I was fine, unwilling to risk moving/waking her until I felt her drool roll over my forearm and drip to the floor. Insert slobbering Were jibe here.
I shifted her carefully while the boys mimed a silent high-five and as I stood to take her to join her sister (and retrieve Sookie), Trey walked through the kitchen… Stopping in his tracks when he saw his limp daughter in my arms. I was sure that was the last thing he thought he’d see when he walked into Sookie’s house… especially since my car wasn’t in the driveway to indicate I’d even be there.
I whispered that I’d tell Sookie he was there and continued to the book room, hoping to avoid as much awkwardness as possible.
I might as well have tossed Margie onto the bed next to her sister. She didn’t budge and was snoring as soon as she was on her back.
I ran my hand over Sookie’s hip and leaned over to whisper… and I was backhanded for my efforts. She almost woke the children, apologizing when she realized what she’d done.
Sookie hugged my arm as we left the reading room, using me to steady herself because she was still groggy.
Trey was waiting expectantly… crossed arms, clenched jaw and throat… bloodshot eyes.
Sookie urged, “Well.”
He cleared his throat twice before he started, “Two hours ago, 18:20… Four pounds, one ounce, 16 ¾ inches long… One minute Apgar was three…”
Sookie gasped, but I needed a translator.
Trey continued, “They couldn’t get her heart to keep beating without compressions. They were using a bag to breathe for her… They just…” He took a hard swallow. “They just couldn’t get her to hold on for more than a minute or two…”
Sookie sniffled and left me to hug Trey.
He sighed, “It went on for about an hour like that… 15 minute Apgar was three again, 30 minute Apgar was two…”
When he began crying I tried to think of a reason to leave… I didn’t think anyone would believe I left my oven on.
I was stuck.
He growled against a lump in his throat, “The doc shows up and kicks me ‘cuz I didn’t realize she was there, trying to give me a note… it said, ‘Vampire blood could make her strong enough to hold on’…”
Sookie gasped and stepped back, looking over her shoulder at me. That conversation was going to take a while… I immediately regretted explaining as much as I had to the boys because she wasn’t asking for details in front of them.
Trey continued, “What were we gonna do? Say no? We were gonna lose her… The next note told me to call off the resuscitation so we could hold her and ‘say goodbye’… No shit, Sook… In less than a minute, after just a couple of drops, she was screamin’ her ass off, kicking and flailing. Next Apgar was TEN. TEN! Doc Ludwig’s movin’ V and Nat to her joint so she can see to them over the next few days.”
Malcolm had finally proven to be good for something. Who knew?
Sookie sniffled and wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “Are there any side effects? People go nuts on it.”
I offered, “People ‘go nuts’ because they’re too stupid to understand blood spoils, no matter what breed, if it isn’t refrigerated.”
Trey offered, “The only thing the doc mentioned is that Nat could shift even though she’s not a first-born. It isn’t common, but… doc said she’d seen it in India with a pack of Snow Leopards. They’d take second-borns to the King for a ‘blessing’ in the first couple of nights. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not… Like we give a fuck.”
Sookie giggled, “Amen,” and hugged him again.
I offered, “It wasn’t just India. Most of the Kings of Europe still offer the ‘blessing’ to their royal guards. Thomas John is English. He kept the tradition.”
When I walked towards the table to resume my game with the boys, Trey caught my arm.
Sookie’s eyes widened because of the grave set to his face.
“The doc said you were repaying a favor… I don’t know what fucking favor you were talking about, but I DO NOT consider us even. Not by a long shot… You own my ass.”
He didn’t owe me anything. He was just lucky it worked… But I would have been lying if I tried to ignore that I appreciated his values.
I tilted my head to the side and wiggled my eyebrows. “Turn around. Give it a little shake.”
The boys laughed.
Trey snorted and went with the joke, going as far as lifting his jacket out of the way… Hunter fell from his chair.
I blew a kiss at Trey and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The boys and I finished our game while Trey showed photos of Natalie and V to Sookie on his digital camera… When Adele returned from the grocery store, and offered to keep Margie and Lill for a few days, Hunter quietly asked to be euthanized. He didn’t have the escape of attending school like his brother did and he was going to ‘get dumber’ by ‘oz-mosis’.
When Trey took his leave, promising to come back with clothing for his ‘priorities’, there was still half an hour left until bedtime. The boys wanted to read Eragon in the den because they were less likely to fall to sleep.
Sookie, still tired from less sleep than usual and worrying for most of the day, didn’t have an argument… We were all settling onto the sofa, Sookie and I at one end (the kissy-face end), and Cort and Hunter at the other, when the power went out.
Sookie hadn’t even had the chance to open the book yet… and the boys complained while the power was still seeping from the circuitry in the house.
Paranoid as I was, I left the sofa and stepped into the back yard to confirm that it was an actual power outage… I only risked going up as far as the height of the streetlights, but as far as I could see, the only area with power was a small portion of Barksdale.
When I stepped back inside, I asked where I’d find candles and matches because Sookie and the boys seemed to have difficulty tracking me… There was a treasure-trove of candles in mason jars lining a wall of the garage. Sookie’s car was the only family vehicle to ever use the garage, because the other half was known as ‘Jar-Land’. Candles and preserves. Sookie joked that the ‘country mice’ hadn’t let themselves become completely citified.
It was actually refreshing to see that they hadn’t abandoned their crafting when most would have taken advantage of the higher tax-bracket to begin buying that sort of thing. And fuck Pam’s little observations and predictions.
I’d opted for an armful of candles marked ‘Shoo-Fly’, and after delivering a couple to Adele, I spread the rest of them on the coffee table…
And since I was ‘blessed’ with ‘night-fision’, I was elected to be the narrator for the evening.
It was only a matter of minutes before Sookie began yawning repeatedly, hugging my arm and leaning against me until her breathing slowed to a soft purr. I’d learned my lesson the night before, so when my phone began ringing, I turned it off. It was only Pam.
Fate’s Gift was our first section… five sections later, in the middle of Strangers In Carvahall, there was a knock on the door.
Sookie was hardly awake, so when Cort left his seat to let Trey in, Sookie mumbled that it was pumpkin time. We’d let time get away from us… It was an hour past bedtime.
Cort ran back into the den as though he was being chased…
“Eric! There’s Vampires here asking for you!”