After the excitement died down, Sookie and the children were exhausted…
They yawned while they ate their dinner and retired shortly afterward.
The clicking of the keys on multiple laptops coming from their rooms didn’t last for an hour after they said their goodnights and offered another round of hugs and thank yous…
The sound of their restful breathing was easily ignored, leaving me to watch a few episodes of The Twilight Zone in peace, but I still caught myself listening.
Boredom didn’t set in until nearly four o’clock when I finally went to my office to deal with drafting the email announcing Alexei’s death. Given what I’d learned about him, there was a very good chance he was the Vampire known as Der Butzemann. The carefully worded email had to be written in more than a dozen fucking languages because it would be sent to every King in South America and Europe once I could go through the plethora of boxes and bags in the trunk of Alexei’s car looking for anything that could be considered evidence. But I’d kept myself busy for long enough that sorting through his belongings would have to wait.
As I rose, I groaned to myself…
I hadn’t been even mildly hopeful that the most recent skip would give me an opportunity to see Liz again, but the circumstances of the skip didn’t allow for the inkling… By the time I knew I was experiencing a skip, it was all too obvious my reality was hosting.
This time I had the chance to hope while I waited to get enough control to make Sookie get off of me.
Whichever one she was didn’t matter.
I had the time to hope I’d skipped… If I’d skipped, I might see Pam.
Sookie’s head was on my shoulder, arm draped over my chest… snuggling against my side…
Complete silence echoed throughout the house…
As soon as I could part my eyelids, I scanned what I could see of the room.
I’d never been one to clutter surfaces with ornamental decorations, so the large jeweled egg and candle on my dresser offered as much hope as the laptop and cell phone charging on the bedside table.
The arm Sookie draped over my chest was embellished by a platinum Rolex.
As soon as I could, I forced myself to say, “Sookie.”
Getting no reaction from her I waited, trying to move my arm enough to rouse her…
Putting my hand on her hip to nudge her and try again, “Sookie. Sookie, wake up.”
She seemed to take just as long to become aware as I had…
Dragging her arm away slowly to rub her eyes… and lurching away from my side to sit up on her knees.
She mumbled, “God… Sorry. I didn’t mean to doze off, let alone be all over you. The quiet must’ve knocked me out.”
“You’re Mine? We aren’t having a skip?”
She looked around the room and shook her head. “No… it doesn’t seem like it.”
“The room is different.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I did that… It occurred to me, now that your room is clean, it would look like any of the rooms You’d have. I thought it would be good to add some fingerprints… little stuff, but enough for other Sookies to know something’s off…”
“More busywork.” Fuck. Epic disappointment.
She cleared her throat, still somewhat foggy and nodded. “I’ve been alone all day, so I cleaned out Alexei’s car and itemized the contents. I didn’t throw anything out, but the stuff I figured you’d need to do something with is neatly stored in your office. I called your Lords and left messages about coming out here tonight and I got some writing taken care of… most of the next book is outlined actually…”
Her eyes widened, “The other Eric said His Sookie wouldn’t mind if I used what happened as…”
“Fuck your books! You called my Lords? What the fuck gives you the right!?”
“We talked about it…”
“We talked about it, yes, but at no point did I authorize you to act as my proxy.”
She shrugged and moved to the edge of the bed. “I’ll call them all to cancel. Should I just say something came up and they’ll be contacted about rescheduling?”
“Why make the calls at all if you’re so quick to dismiss your plans for my evening?”
“I still think it’s a good idea, but you’re getting really pissed about it so I assume you’ve got a great reason to not want to do it tonight… I figured they’d wake up and get the message their King wants to see them and start shitting bricks about why and what you know… Seeing as how you killed a Vampire in the house last night I figure they’re going to admit to being nose-pickers when they were children once the smell hits them.”
I growled, “How did you contact them?”
“I looked them up. I made notes of all the ones I called in case I missed anyone, but they were all online… Hell, they all had their own page on Wikipedia that linked to their websites… Check-in procedures and laws for each area. Some even had a listing of Vampire run businesses.”
I shook my head… I truly couldn’t understand her audacity.
“You’re proposing to call and leave messages on machines to renege on a summons by the King. Do you have any idea how unstructured that will seem?”
“I left messages with assistants. And I wasn’t planning to be underfoot. I was going to- Nevermind. Look, I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. I’ll start calling them all back to cancel before they’re up.”
She pushed herself to the edge of the bed and began walking out, taking a small notebook with her as she trudged towards the door. She felt utterly defeated.
“What message did you leave?”
She stopped as she reached the door. “King Northman needs to discuss an important matter with Lord Whoever tonight in Eijsden.”
“Nothing. I assumed it was ambiguous enough to make them paranoid. Like I said…”
“Where are the children? You said you’ve been alone today?” Misty was too far away to think she could just be in town… she was well into Belgium.
“Allecks drove up with the horses today. They settled them into the stables and then drove out to Charleroi to visit Allecks’s Aunt. They’re staying the night.”
“Did you decide my Lords needed to visit tonight because the children won’t be here?”
She shook her head. “No. Staying over was a spur of the moment thing. I’d already made the calls…”
I had to say her name to get her attention and wait for her to turn around. “I’ll meet them tonight since you’ve already set it up.”
She shook her head. “It’s my mess. I’ll clean it up…”
“You take a lot of liberties… You changed my room enough I thought I’d skipped…”
“I was… I got carried away… trying to be efficient turned into helping you to death. Sorry.”
I was actually amused by the way she’d put it, but before I could chuckle about being ‘helped to death’, she was already padding up the staircase.
There was no business waiting for me on my computer, which I distinctly remembered leaving in my office the night before, but there was a flash-drive sitting next to it…
Sookie had updated our version of the journal and made a copy of the inventory of Alexei’s belongings. His clothing had been itemized and described and packed. She’d scanned a collection of safe deposit box keys and listed the serial numbers on each one. Imperial Easter Eggs and jewels had been photographed, described, researched and inventoried with notations of where some of the items had been reported stolen. The list included the Karelian Birch egg now perched on my dresser. Every Euro, every piece of documentation, every item in his wallet. She’d scanned every receipt she found in the car and added a latitude and longitude for each place he’d been, when he’d been there, and created a map pinning his known locations. The spreadsheet alone saved me several hours of toiling.
And the phone, the replacement for the one I’d broken, had already been partially restored because she must have found the SIM and memory cards when she cleaned my office.
That much had been efficient, impressively so. If she’d stopped there, I would have thanked her, perhaps even complimented her initiative.
The candle would have to go. I’d only sampled the room in the hopes it was different, but the scent of lavender did nothing but remind me of Appius. It was the first thing I smelled when I rose because he wore the oil to remind himself of home.
In all fairness, she couldn’t have known that.
And that scent combined with the false hope I’d had were probably responsible, at least partly, for my reaction to her plans.
There were new linens on the chair in my room. Two sets of grey Egyptian cotton, laundered… pressed… and most likely meant to replace my white linens as another flag to be raised for prospective skippers.
My closet had been refilled with clean clothing to the extent that there wasn’t room for more.
It seemed like the last of Sookie’s touches were in my bathroom… along with a small arrangement on the bedside table on ‘Sookie’s side’ of the bed, a black crystal bud vase was on the counter, home to a single pale pink rose. She was going to need to explain her reasoning for that… and if she knew pink roses were Pam’s…
When I finally emerged from my room in search of Sookie, I caught sight of more flowers… a black crystal bowl sat on my desk with a fresh arrangement of the same pink roses…
A large arrangement on the table in the hall…
Even if the flowers were beginning to feel gratuitous, I had to admit the spray on the dining room table was nothing if not elegant…
And yet another arrangement on the kitchen table…
Instead of Sookie, I found Dinh and Saskia paying close attention to their cell phones as per the usual.
Dinh looked up and offered, “The guards have been assembled and are patrolling the property. The canapés and bar items are ready. Sookie said she doesn’t expect enough Human company to warrant Saskia’s presence and mentioned that she has experience as a hostess. Are the arrangements to your liking? If not, there is another florist I can contact for next time.”
“They’re fine.” Mysterious. Out of place. But I didn’t hate them. I was oddly impressed with Sookie’s decision to use black crystal. It offset the epicene color of the flowers.
“Is there anything else you need me to do to help prepare for your guests? I can take Saskia home and return to serve as a butler…”
I shook my head. “I can’t think of a reason to keep you. You’re free to go.”
They both nodded and stood to leave… Saskia took a large box from the table on her way out and quietly asked her brother, “She didn’t say why?”
He whispered, “No, but she wasn’t happy he brought it.”
Curiosity got the best of me. “What is that?”
Saskia turned and offered a little shrug. “It’s… yarn. A lot of it.”
Dinh explained, “Herr Auers brought it with him from Bern. It arrived for Sookie after she left. As soon as she saw the box, she asked me if I knew anyone who knits.”
Saskia shrugged again. “I don’t, but we have a friend who’s expecting. I thought I’d take it to her. It’s cashmere, but it’s white and aqua. I thought it would make a pretty baby blanket.”
Sookie probably did too.
The busy work hadn’t been caused by boredom.
Part of me wanted to point out that she was doing her best to avoid reminders of her loss…
But the rest of me actually empathized.
Sookie was sitting on her bed with her laptop, exactly as she was the first time I’d found her in her room.
She looked up at me as though she expected to be scolded.
“Are you a fan of pink roses and lavender?”
She shook her head. “No… I can’t stand lavender. It reminds me of someone I’d like to forget. I picked it because I don’t like it. I’d never burn that candle anywhere I’d be spending any amount of time. So any Me who wakes up in your room would have something nagging them before they actually wake up. I bought a ton of choices, pretty much everything I didn’t like. They’re in your closet if you want to try a different one. I can give them as gifts if you want to scrap the idea altogether.”
“Appius wore lavender oil.”
She huffed, “Shit. I’m sorry. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have bought it.” I didn’t need to feel how rueful she was… I knew she wouldn’t have left the reminder if she’d known.
“I might think the floral arrangements are part of making the house ‘presentable’ if it weren’t for the bud vase in my bathroom.”
“I did it because of the skip actually. I’m going to start a movement. My first skip was in December, but they already had a blue zircon version… the version we met last night was the second garnet entry for their hosts… They’d been keeping things straight with birthstones, but Sophie-Anne used flowers… Since there’s so many more flowers, not to mention the symbolism of them, I’m keeping our journal entry under the December file, with a flower tag… I picked pink roses because it’s Pam’s favorite flower… since we… you know, since we don’t have her it’s kind of a remembrance. I would normally pick blue and you’d pick red so I think the pink would be unique enough. Should I change it? Does it get to you?”
“Pink roses as a signature to our version of reality… Don’t change it. I think it’s fitting.”
“But you asked… it came up…”
“They reminded me of Liz. I would have been furious if you had been trying to prove I can’t avoid everything that could remind me of her or something of the like… And I think you’re right about needing sub categories for the journal. It’s only a matter of time before the flowers will need their own too.”
She sighed, “Yeah. There’s already a couple cases of versions diverging after the first skip. It’s getting kind of crazy.”
She was right about that, but in light of our respective disappointments…
I sat on the settee at the end of her bed and offered, “I burned the hotel.”
“You gave away yarn you could have put to use as hats and scarves… I burned down our hotel… Actually, I all but demolished it and then set the rubble on fire. I had to go back to Paris for a few things. It wasn’t easy since everyone knew who the fuck I was and what I’d just done… Seeing the hotel… I couldn’t bring myself to put it on the market. ”
She nodded. “Sounds therapeutic… I’m jealous.”
“Don’t be. It didn’t help.”
“Is that supposed to translate?”
“No. Just stating a fact… I had long enough before you woke to have my hopes up… I thought I’d skipped. I thought I’d have a chance to contact Pam somehow since there aren’t many versions without her.”
She instantly began crying… not just with her eyes, her entire face was pained. She growled against the tightness in her throat. “I never… I’m sorry… After I told you I wouldn’t snuggle with you… I sat on the side of your bed for a minute to look at my list… I did not mean…”
I waved my hand to stop her. “I’m sure… I only mention it because I overreacted to hearing you’d called my Lords.”
She choked, “I ran out of ways to not think about things… Alexei, that little shit, didn’t keep nearly enough stuff in his car to keep me busy. It got in my head that Sookie was probably getting an abortion today, while I was wallowing over cashmere… And then it occurred to me that eventually… Eric, it’s possible… it’s possible that we’re going to skip to a version where I didn’t lose the baby… or the others. Today was the WORST DAY EVER to be on my own in a new place.”
“You say that as though you won’t consider seeing other children a good thing.”
Her jaw dropped for a moment, widening her eyes enough to look like a tragedy mask. “God no! As soon as we reset, I’ll climb into a bottle of Absinthe. If I don’t crawl out again on my own, wring me out after a few days.”
“Why? It’s a glimpse of possibility, yes? That’s what you called it. I’m not sure I understand… You don’t show any signs of being upset that you didn’t have… is it Erin you think is the cutest? The idea of Magnusson, Tina and Shelly don’t pain you… When was your due date?”
She gulped and croaked, “Early August,” with an annoyed look on her face.
“Think for a moment about how many possibilities there are in regards to Your lives. Think about the millions of variables that genetics alone introduce. From what I understand, conception alone is a photo-finish. Next year, you could meet a Sookie with a baby born in early August, but there’s no guarantee you’re meeting the same baby you could have had. You might have been meant to have a redheaded girl and that child could be a blond boy. Stocky or petite, your nose or Allecks’s, attached or unattached earlobes, deep or shallow fingernails… There are too many variables for you to meet a child in a skip and let yourself wallow. What if You hadn’t had your ‘romantic reunion’ with Allecks that night, but the next or the one before? It doesn’t seem rational to me… Now, if you were to lose Lindy, only to see her in a skip a while later, I would pour the Absinthe for you.”
She sniffled and questioned, “You see my paranoia and neutralize it with a rationalization I can live with?”
Actually, she was being irrational. I was just trying to make her shut up.
I nodded. “You could meet a Sookie with a little boy with the same birthday as Lindy. For that matter, do you not have a half-sister named Beth?”
She shook her head and smiled. “No… Cal Jr. is going to school in San Francisco. He’s older than Beth… Thanks, you big asshole.”
“What? No hug?”
She scooted to leave the bed with a wicked little smirk in spite of the rest of her soggy face.
“I was just joking.”
She shook her head as she walked towards me. “Too late. You brought it up.”
“I was making fun of your propensity for hugging.”
When I leaned back to discourage her from following through with her threat to hug me, it actually made it easier for her to wrap her arms around my neck…
She laughed, only hugging me for a moment before releasing me and giving me a grateful peck…
“If you don’t like hugs, you shouldn’t suggest them.”
“That argument is moot unless you’re willing to deliver blow jobs whenever I mention them.” I could taste her on my lips.
She laughed as she stepped back, but I caught her hips.
“Wait… Have you had honey today?”
She rolled her eyes and snorted, “Nice try. You know your Lords, especially the ones you can’t trust, are going to show up with a donor buffet…”
I shook my head. “I know. That isn’t what I meant… Your lips… they’re sweet like Hers were.”
“What? You mean the other Me?”
I nodded. “Her kiss distracted me because her mouth tasted like honey. She said she’d had tea, but…”
I took a moment to try to think about the difference, but other than realizing something was ‘off’ in regards to My Sookie’s theory that the other Sookie was pregnant based solely on her taste, I was at a loss until I realized she’d put her hands on her hips to smirk down at me.
“I have an idea, but it’s going to seem like I’m nagging.”
“You’re going to call your Vampire friend and have her drive to Eijsden to smell you?”
She snorted, “How the hell would that be nagging? No. I was going to suggest you smell me.”
I shrugged. “What point would that prove? I didn’t sample the other Sookie to have anything to compare it to.”
She rolled her eyes. “Again, I have an idea.”
“The blind taste test?”
She snickered, “More like scratch and sniff,” and leaned over to offer her neck. She snickered again when I hesitated. “Jesus, you act like I’m the one with fangs.”
In an effort to get it over with, because if I knew anything I knew she’d be a pain in my ass if I didn’t cooperate, I inhaled her scent.
Sweetness, overpowering and tempting sweetness, and… “Sunlight?”
She whispered, “Maybe a little from walking out to the stables. The sky was clear today… Sweet?”
I growled, “Yes…”
I was tempted to grab her again to keep her from standing upright. That scent was meant to be enjoyed…
She held her wrist out, cuing me to the other step of scratch and sniff…
I cringed, pulling away after barely taking in the scent. I was expecting more of the scent trapped in her hair.
Bitter, floral, manufactured. “That’s horrible.”
She nodded and whimpered, “Like fabric softener maybe?”
I nodded and pulled her arm to bring her neck back to my nose and take what I could to get rid of the stench from her wrist. “This is much better.”
She didn’t as much pull away from me as turn enough to sag onto the edge of her bed.
She huffed, “Is it possible you were tasting our skin when you took our blood?”
I nodded again. “Of course I tasted… Oh.”
“Yeah… Like they haven’t been through enough… He told me I smell the same as the other Sookies… There’s so many pregnant Sookies… I assumed… FUCK A DUCK!”
Her yell put an unshakable image in my head.
“Do they not have sheep where you’re from? Why would you blurt something like that?”
She shook her head, cringing… “Tortured. Raped. Passed around. Finally freed… Only to have some stupid bitch all but guarantee she was knocked up when she was raped… If we skip to see them again, don’t interfere. I’ll deserve the ass-whoopin’.”
“Then it hardly seems rational to punish yourself if you’re so sure They’ll do it later. Besides, I’m sure by the time They know you were wrong, They’ll be too relieved to carry a serious grudge.”
“That’s sweet and all, but… yeah… I’m gonna flog myself over this one for a while…”
Before Sookie could finish babbling about feeling guilty for an honest mistake, the bell rang in the front hall…
Since none of my Lords lived close enough for them to have gotten to Eijsden so soon after sunset, I wasn’t surprised that Sookie seemed to be expecting the visitor.
She took my hand began tugging me, explaining excitedly, “You’re either going to hate me for this or try to hide how cool you think this is.”