I waited long enough to roll my eyes before going after her. I quickly, but calmly, scooped her off her feet and placed her in front of the mirror.
“Save the tantrum. Brush the knots from your hair. You’ll leave when I leave.”
“You’re holding me prisoner?”
“No. I’m fulfilling my promise to Alcide.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Can you? What street is your salon on?”
“How can you help with that? You don’t even live here!”
“I left, but I lived here for years. Put your shoes on. Brush your hair. I’ll be ready to leave in less than a minute.”
She scowled at me. “Do you think you could at least try to be less of a jerk? It really sucks to not know anything about myself… you thinking this is hilarious is just making it worse.”
“I wasn’t amused until you mentioned your sore throat. If anything, this is bizarre… And, for the record, I don’t approve of going on with Pam’s surprise party as planned. Sullivan could escape too easily, if he hasn’t already. Letting his trail grow cold is foolish…”
“Then why wait?”
“Because I owe you. My child is your best friend and you’d be furious if her birthday were ruined for the sake of killing the Witch who altered your memories temporarily. If this happened to someone else, I can imagine you’d ward them into a room until after the party.”
“Who said anything about killing him? I just want the spell or whatever to go away. I want to remember something before this morning.”
“When I kill him, the spell will be broken. A happy ending for the Faerie Tale.”
She gave me a confused look and shook her head. “Am I a bitch? What kind of person would call a dead guy a happy ending?”
“You’re very good at being a bitch when it’s called for, but I don’t think it’s elemental to your nature… I think it’s one of the things you have in common with Pam. She’s sentimental and prone to weeping when the mood strikes, but there’s a very good reason most people know better than to cross her.”
“So… you… you basically just said yes. I’m a bitch.”
I shrugged and returned to my clothing so I could dress. “That isn’t what I said at all… You wouldn’t normally have misconstrued the information either. We’ll have to work on that.”
“What? I’m usually not good at reading between the lines?”
“Again, I didn’t say that. You’re adding imaginary subtext to the words actually coming out of my mouth… Sookie Stackhouse is generally a compassionate person. Because of her ability she knows when to be more forceful and exactly how hard she needs to seem in order to achieve the desired results… Look at yourself. You’re petite, blonde, bright-eyed… You look like a co-ed, a trophy-wife in the making… As a gambler, you’ve taken advantage of how attractive you are, but as a businesswoman, your approach is based on what you know of your opposition. You can be saccharine or hostile, a sweetheart or a cunt. Whatever is needed to get the job done. I’ve witnessed it.”
When I looked up from tying my shoes, she was cringing.
Whether she was confused or not… at least she let me finish without interrupting again.
“So… it’s not like mood swings.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you just say so?”
Fuck her. I did!
I took my cell phone, room key, and wallet from my nightstand… inventoried the contents of Sookie’s purse to be sure she had hers as well (while being accosted for invading her privacy)… and took the garment bag containing my tuxedo from the closet as I walked out.
She ran after me, shoes in hand, whining, “You’re being mean again… Hey, why’d you take your bag?”
“I doubt your errands will take very long. Once we leave the hotel we can’t return until it’s time for the party, unless we want to risk running into Pam and ruining her surprise.”
“Oh nuts. I didn’t think of that. What the hell are we going to do then?”
Instead of taking the elevator and leaving my scent behind, I opted for the stairs.
“The boathouse should suffice. I’ll call Alcide to be sure it isn’t Jason’s center of operations…”
“You plan to go back to my place?”
“We broke your television last time I was there. If you haven’t replaced it, you have books.”
She groaned, “Is that all you think about? Sex?”
“I didn’t say it was broken while we fucked.”
“Oh… Sorry. How’d we break it then?”
I chuckled, “Fucking.”
She scoffed, “So this is what I’m stuck with? I don’t know anything about myself and my babysitter is a mean pervert. Awesome.”
I stopped on the landing to the lobby level and turned around.
Two steps higher and she was still looking up at me.
“If anything, I’m frustrated because I’m usually quite fond of your company… Not only am I partly responsible for your situation, but I’m forced to go along with delaying what will help you for the sake of a birthday party for our best friend. I can only imagine how bizarre it would feel if my memories had been taken from me. Don’t mistake my aggravation with a lack of sympathy… As for being a ‘mean pervert’. I’m normally a sarcastic asshole, but this is the first time you’ve been bothered by it. And perverts lurk in shadows, augmenting plush animals or masturbating outside bedroom windows. I’m not a pervert. I’m immodest.”
She gnawed her lip for a moment before asking, “How are you responsible for this, me not having a memory?”
“I should have taken you more seriously last night when we discovered Sullivan had been in my room. In hindsight I should have killed him before I went to rest. I’m curious about what Sullivan’s intentions were for the spell, what purpose depriving you of your memories had, but I’d be content just to listen to his heart stop beating while I choke the life out of him.”
“So we’re like… close friends?”
“I like the way you flirt with me… We usually have a rapport.”
I wouldn’t have admitted to missing it. Months had gone by and I’d let myself make excuses to think of her. During sub-par blow jobs… comparing Sookie’s sweetness to other scents… I was completely ruined for the Children’s Fair because of candied apples…
But her amnesia suddenly shed light on how comfortable she was with me being a considerable part of my attraction to her.
She cringed and whimpered, “I flirt?”
I chuckled, “No. You vehemently deny the accusation. You’re a tease… In fact, last night you tried to make a case for not fucking while you were on my lap.”
“You being grumpy and all… it’s because you want your Sookie back, huh?”
“I don’t have a Sookie.”
She sighed, “You know what I mean.”
“I’m sure everyone prefers the fearless and determined Sookie they know.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t think I’ve been grumpy, but yes, I am looking forward to your personality returning to you.”
Her chin trembled as her eyes welled. “What if it doesn’t? What if this is permanent? I could be stuck like this, stupid forever.”
“You won’t be ‘stupid’ forever. I’m sure we can find someone to reverse the spell if killing Sullivan doesn’t reverse its effects.”
She sniveled, “I hate this… Nobody likes me.”
“No one’s accustomed to you needing anything. You’re very independent.”
“Do I like myself?”
“I wouldn’t presume to know the depths of your inner-workings, but if you don’t like yourself, you hide it remarkably well. You seem very confident.”
She studied my chest, still crying with her mouth turned down. She finally nodded. “I guess we should get on with this then, huh?”
I nodded and when I offered my arm, she took the invitation. “You won’t be forced to keep the charade for long. I’m sure Pam will want to leave the party early. You can retire then and I’ll search for Sullivan. I’m sure Alcide and Brandon will be looking forward to solving this problem.”
She sighed, “K. Thank you.”
No sooner than we were on the road, Pam called Sookie’s cell. After several rings, we decided it would be better if Pam thought Sookie was ignoring her for the time being and her phone was turned off. Alcide had my number if he needed to contact us for any reason.
For most of the ride to her salon, Sookie was quiet as she watched the scenery pass. She only said anything to voice the understandable frustration caused when nothing looked familiar to her. Nothing. Not even the façade of her salon.
What’s more, she hurt her wrists when she bounced off of the doors to land on the sidewalk because they were meant to be pulled open.
She refused to accept my help when I offered my hand… she was indignant and embarrassed as she pushed herself up again, blaming Jimmy Choo for making ‘stupid shoes’.
When we walked in, we encountered a new problem… One of the women recognized her.
An Asian woman, so petite she made Sookie seem statuesque, charged in Sookie’s direction with her arms out for a hug.
The problem… Jie (according to the plaque on her smock) spoke to Sookie in Mandarin.
“There she is. I was right! It was so warm last weekend, I thought of you. I knew you wouldn’t need any time in the tanning bed!”
I opened my mouth to translate as nonchalantly as possible, but Sookie giggled nervously and answered in a language she shouldn’t remember, “You know me. Love the sunshine.”
She gave me a tense smile so I offered, “Fishing with your father again?” to explain her tan.
She nodded, following my lead.
Jie gasped, “Oh Sookie, can I have him? He’s pretty and he speaks Mandarin! He could pretend to be Beijinger when my parents call and everyone’s happy!”
Sookie giggled, “Sorry. He doesn’t live here.” Her accent wasn’t perfect, but she was fluent.
She looked past Sookie to ask, “Where did you learn Mandarin, sexy?”
“I lived in China for nearly a century. Beijing mostly.”
I was waiting for ‘it’ to get old… but I still loved the look on people’s faces when they realized they were speaking to a Vampire.
Jie’s jaw dropped and she was suddenly less interested in me than she was in Sookie’s hair.
As Sookie was led to a chair, Jie chided her for bringing a rat’s nest to her and began brushing out the tangles I mentioned before we left the hotel.
I texted Alcide to ask where Sookie learned to speak Mandarin, and realized how much longer her hair had gotten thanks to her visit with Minerva, while I waited for an opening to suggest a hairstyle. Since Sookie’s dress was a mystery, pulling her hair up was a better bet than leaving it down… and we had the same reason to opt for a French manicure rather than accidentally choosing a color that could clash.
Jie was buffing Sookie’s nails when Alcide finally replied to my text… “They learned from neighbors while they were at school. Bran picked it up too. They can speak most of the dialects, but can’t read them.”
Fuck. Even without understanding the litany of characters, that was impressive.
I replied, “She failed your tests. Hated the drink. Enjoyed the steak. Hates her own taste in clothing. You’re 0/3. But she didn’t balk when her hairdresser spoke in Mandarin. Not everything is gone.”
He replied almost immediately, “At least that’s something. No lead on Sully. Keep me posted.”
Between ‘The Bee Hive’ and the boutique, I explained how she knew another language… Sookie quietly absorbed the information and asked if I thought her ability helped her learn to speak several languages… Because I would know the answer to that, but I couldn’t help but feel more sorry for her. Learning more about herself only spawned more questions.
Seeing Sookie so disillusioned, so lost, was trying my patience. I knew her state wasn’t her fault, but comparing the personalities made me realize how much I enjoyed Sookie when she had her wits about her. I was torn between making Sullivan suffer, and killing him quickly just to relieve Sookie of her affliction.
The boutique offered another test altogether. When we walked in, the clerk snorted rudely, “One of the Sheriff’s little blood-bags? Ohhhh goody.”
She balked and looked to me so I offered, “Her name is Sookie Stackhouse. You should have an ensemble for her already.”
He scoffed, “I told her on the phone I wouldn’t hold it indefinitely. I sold it to another customer.”
At least she wasn’t attached to the dress… since she couldn’t remember it.
When I stepped towards the counter, Sookie grabbed my wrist and tugged back. “It’s not worth it, Eric. Let’s just go.”
“It’s nine o’clock on a Wednesday night, Sookie. We can’t risk trying to find a formal gown in Pam’s über-closet and the mall will be closed before we can get there.”
She whimpered, “This asshole is my only shot for a dress, isn’t he?”
I nodded and showed my fangs, listening carefully for signs of more employees. “He’s alone.”
His eyes bulged and the sound of trickling liquid was loud enough for Sookie to hear it.
Sookie’s face crashed against the back of my arm and she snickered, “You totally made him pee.”
I nodded. “Would you like him to shit too? That could be arranged. It just takes a little more effort.”
The man blurted, “I still have it! No one wears that color in October!”
Games? He picked the wrong fucking night for that.
I growled, “Where is it?”
He fidgeted and sniveled, “In the back… it’s in the back. The shoes and everything are in the bag… I’ll get it…”
Instead of giving him the time he needed to find a weapon, I barked, “STOP! Sookie will go.”
Sookie took a step towards the doorway leading to the back room, but paused to sample the air… confirming the man had shit in his pants.
She giggled evilly through finding her dress, paying for it, and all the way to the car.
After she laid her garment bag over mine in the trunk, she kissed my cheek. “That might be the funniest thing ever… even after I get my memories back. Thanks.”
There it was… that wicked little sense of humor I’d seen the night I met her.
Seeing her smile, actually enjoy something, was promising.
The jeweler was closed when we arrived. From the sidewalk, Sookie pouted at the darkened façade of the building until a man practically ran from the back room to open the doors. Mr. Desai very cordially (more importantly, professionally) greeted Sookie as Miss Stackhouse and mentioned he resolved to sleep at the store if she didn’t show up. He’d been in the office trying to contact her. After making sure Sookie’s diamond and platinum choker and bracelet were to her liking, then gave a box to her (for Mr. Stackhouse) and told Sookie to pass his best wishes along to ‘the birthday girl’. I even bought a pair of pink diamond cuff links while we were there.
As we left the store without incident, Sookie wrapped her arm around mine and handed her bag to me. She snorted, “I dare anyone to try getting that from you… Did you buy those pink diamonds as a joke?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Pam’s always tried to sneak pink into my wardrobe. Everything from pink shirts or jeans, of all things, to calling my tailor after I placed an order to have him make an entire suit. I would have looked like a flamingo.”
She giggled, “It’s sweet that you bought pink diamonds to wear for her birthday though. I hope she notices… I can’t believe I just bought a diamond choker. Am I usually like a walking Barbie? I mean the dress and the fancy shoes…?”
“Not usually. You prefer jeans when you aren’t working. Pam laments your sense of style because you don’t share her obsession. It seems we’re both willing to play dress-up for the sake of her birthday party.”
“Yeah… but there’s a difference between ‘formal attire’ and custom-order diamonds. I can’t believe I just spent that much for one outfit.”
That was interesting… what did she have to help her gage? It wasn’t as though she could have known every dress didn’t cost $4,000.
She leaned against her car and shrugged. “I dunno. I just feel like I should have a house to show for it. It just feels weird, like wasteful.”
“I think that might be because of your more humble beginnings. Your father was a carpenter until just a couple of years ago.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really? I mean, that one house Alcide took me to was little, but it was nice. I don’t know how they raised three of us without us killing one another, but…”
She giggled, “Right… I get it. There was five until we killed the others…”
That would have been funny, but… “I’m not kidding. Jason is the oldest, then Brandon and you… You were six years old when Jessica and Josephine, Jessie and Josie, were born.”
She breathed, “Nooooooo.”
“You were annoyed. Until they were born, you shared a room with Brandon, but even though your father built a loft bed for you, you didn’t want to share a room with babies just because they were girls. You used to sneak out of your room to sleep next to Brandon’s bed.”
She whimpered, “I told you that?”
“No. Jason did. He was elaborating on your family’s dynamic. He explained you and Brandon might as well be conjoined twins.” And it had been Brandon’s email that caused the most hurt for the Sookie who’d been secretly brought over.
“That’s why you asked about Brandon’s take on waiting, huh?”
I nodded. “Your whole family is very tight-knit, but you and Brandon are inseparable… How did he react to your state?”
“He thought to me. He said, ‘If you’re just fuckin’ with somebody let me know and I’ll go along, but don’t do this to me.’ He was really upset… he stormed out when he was done showing me how to use my shields… said he couldn’t stand seeing me like this.”
I nodded and opened the car door for her, hoping to give her eyes the chance to stop watering. “I’m sure. I’ve already told you I can’t imagine what it’s like to have no memories… I think it might be worse for Brandon. You’re looking at a stranger, but he’s looking at the ghost of his closest friend.”
She sighed as she slid into her car. “Thinking about what it would be like if Pam didn’t know who you were?”
“More like trying not to think about it.”
The longer drive to Western Hills gave me the time to consider Sullivan’s plans… I doubted very seriously Pam would have continued to encourage him. Not when she was protective enough to worry about Stan Davis flirting with Sookie. Not when she should know I wouldn’t have hired a mediocre Witch to perform the wards on my properties.
Any glamouring Pam might have done should have long since worn off… unless the asshole had developed genuine feelings for Sookie in the interim. Considering what I knew about Sookie, I wouldn’t call the idea far-fetched. She was beautiful, yes… but she wasn’t lacking in intellect or charisma either. And if she’d fucked him before he was obsessed, even casually, Sullivan was a lost cause.
I had to wonder, since Sookie ‘played nice’ while Davis was groping her, how much she placated Sullivan… if she seemed too flirtatious when she tried to reject his attention.
I couldn’t think of a time I’d heard of a memory-based spell erasing someone’s memory… restoring something lost to glamour or over time, yes, but not erasing it.
It didn’t make sense.
There had to be a certain amount of operator error on Sullivan’s part. That much was evident. There was no way he meant for Sookie to be retarded by his spell. If he was vindictive, he would have just killed her…
As I remembered last night, I tried to think of a time when he could have entered my room without my notice…
I fucked Sookie against the wall next to the door… then on the floor… then I cornered her in the bathroom… then the bed…
As vocal as Sookie was, I could have missed hearing him, but I wouldn’t have let his figure walk past without notice.
The only time he could have entered without being seen was when we were in the bathroom. He had to have been listening, waiting for the opportunity… and he concocted the wards for the hotel, so he could have easily breached the one on my room.
When something occurred to me, I reached over, fishing Sookie’s phone out of her purse and waiting for it to turn on…
Looking at her call history…
The call I answered, the last incoming call that was answered, lasted for 88 minutes.
When I growled at the screen, Sookie asked, “What’s wrong?”
Just to be sure Sookie’s phone didn’t offer any surprises, I pulled my phone out and called hers…
I chuckled when she actually answered, but had her wait when I ended the call. Within seconds, her phone gave her the message that the call failed. I hadn’t ended the call before I tossed the phone aside…
“Fuck. He listened to my blow job… and…” Our conversation about the etiquette of edging and patience. “Nearly an hour of you moaning and carrying on before the call was ended.”
She blushed again. “So what does that mean?”
“It means this, your condition, is most likely my fault… If he was embittered enough to want to hurt you or murder you, he could have done that. I’m assuming he wanted you to forget, possibly that we have fun together, and the spell was stronger than he anticipated.”
She gaped at me and shook her head. “He… I don’t remember anything because he wanted me to forget being a booty call?”
“I thought we were calling it ‘friends with benefits’?”
“Whatever! That’s just shitty!”
I nodded. “You say that as though we were operating under the assumption he had a rational reason to curse you… It makes more sense when you consider he’s been trying to convince you you’re ‘too good’ for casual relationships. Whether he wanted you to forget your preferences or just me, I’m sure his plans went awry…” When a thought occurred to me, I added, “Text Alcide and ask him if your family teased you about fucking me.”
“I’m not asking him that! Isn’t he my cousin?”
“His father married your aunt while you were at university. You’re very close friends and, as far as I know, the only boundary you have pertains to his protective nature over his sister.”
She took a deep breath and began texting. “So what’s this about? Why does this matter?”
“I don’t know. Something about this isn’t sitting well with me… outside of the obvious reasons… I’m wondering if your family or Pam teased you, because if they made an issue out of ‘us’ then Sullivan could have viewed me as a threat.”
She snorted, “So it doesn’t matter. It’s not like you can kill him harder.”
“I most certainly can.”
When her phone chimed, she jumped. She looked at the screen and cringed. “Alcide said, ‘We ragged on you with a vengeance for hooking up with him. You acted like you had a thing for him. Since you jumped right back into bed with him again, be prepared for more.’ I’m asking what he means…” She began typing and mumbled, “Have a thing. How would they know how I act when I have a thing? I like to keep things casual, right? Assholes.”
I chuckled at her annoyed rant and waited for his answer.
Of course I was curious. Who wouldn’t be?
Sookie watched her screen until the phone chimed again. She snorted, “You tore off in the middle of an off-day and then you avoided work until he left. You moped for a month and Pam was the only one you’d talk to. Say that isn’t a thing. I dare you.”
Sookie started at me, waiting for me to elaborate while I tried to think of a way to explain, without explaining everything.
“We… we refereed a dispute between your brother and my child…” In duplicate, but I was sure that fact would just confuse her. “You care a lot about their relationship. I’m sure their conflict affected you.” But she didn’t defend her actions or explain to anyone. She kept it to herself in spite of, what I was sure was relentless, taunting… That, by itself, was noteworthy.
“Did they almost break up or something?”
“You could say that… Jason and Pam both said a few things they didn’t mean. Your feelings were hurt, yes, but you avoided work until I left because you wanted to keep your distance from me. Neutral corners.”
“If we hooked up again last night, that means we worked all that out, right?”
I nodded. “There wasn’t anything to work out between us, just calming down to be done. You and I never argued. In fact, I was livid because of something Pam said to me, but you distracted me long enough to see a bigger picture.”
“Is that what you meant? Earlier when you said you owe me, I mean.”
“I owe you for that instance and for bringing something to my attention. A miscommunication between Pam and me became a rift and it wasn’t obvious because we rarely see one another. You pointed that out so I could discuss it with her… There probably isn’t a favor you would ask of me that I’d refuse just because of that.”
“Wow. Pam means a lot to you, huh?”
Nothing meant more, but I simply nodded.
It was just after ten o’clock when we arrived at Sookie’s house… and since I confirmed with Alcide that no one was using the boathouse for anything, the footsteps I heard inside were unwelcome.
Sookie issued my invitation in advance and quietly muttered to herself that seeing her family was going to ‘fuck everything to shit’. Apparently telling her how close the Stackhouses were was a mistake.
When she opened the door to the boathouse, the visitors’ heads whipped around.
Josie and Jessie.
At least they were alone and dressed.
One of them rolled their eyes and scoffed, “Damn it. Now we gotta go deal with Mommy and Gran…” She used the remote to turn off the television and stood up to address Sookie. “They’re bat-shit. For serious…”
The other growled, “You’d think Pam never had a birthday before. They’re pissed we don’t want to go nuts with our hair and whatnot. Called us tomboys and told us to try not to fart or belch during the party.”
Sookie giggled, “It’s her first birthday. Give ‘em a break.”
The twins sighed identically and one of them whined, “Because it’s the first one since they’re out? Really?”
The other whined, “That would explain why Jas bought that dump.”
Since Sookie couldn’t, I asked, “What dump?”
I really couldn’t tell them apart and that had never been a problem for me. There was always something to distinguish twins. Always.
The one who mentioned the ‘dump’ shrugged and explained, “One of Pam’s red-herring gifts. He tracked down her house, the one she lived in with her family while she was still alive…”
The other finished, “It’s just a pile of rubble now, but they’re gonna build a summer house there.”
Driving distance… or a short flight… only one time zone…
I couldn’t decide if his gift to Pam was symbolic of her origins or to help her be closer to me.
I couldn’t say I gave a fuck about Jason’s reason. I was excited enough to hear about the summer house it might as well have been my gift. Even just a couple months of the year, to have Pam so close…
Sookie giggled, “Jason just racked up a load of points,” and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I nodded. “You could say that.”
The twins cleared their throats in unison and walked towards the door. “We’ll leave y’all to your booty-call. Don’t break the TV again. This is the only place we can hide from Mommy when she’s detailing us to death. She caught Daddy already.”
Both of them. Perfectly harmonized.
Sookie called, “Jess, you left your sneakers.”
I waited for Jessie to run back for her shoes and listened to confirm that, like last time, their footsteps were so perfectly cadenced they sounded like one person as they walked along the path.
“How did you tell them apart?”
Sookie’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth to gasp, “I don’t know!”
“I really want to know how they aren’t confused. Even identical twins aren’t that indistinguishable. It’s as though they’re mirror images…”
Sookie’s eyes were still bulging when she nodded. “But mirror image twins have tiny tells too.”
I raised my eyebrows, hopeful she’d remember more details, even if it was just scientific trivia it was something.
She dropped her hands and shook her head. “How crazy is it that I’m so excited I know that?”
“I don’t think it’s crazy at all. You spent the day staring at a blank page. You’re allowed to be excited when something comes to you.”
She began chewing her lip as she scanned the room slowly.
She wandered, peeking in drawers and cabinets, rearranging throw pillows, looking through the collection of fashion magazines on the coffee table…
She finally huffed as she tossed herself onto the sofa. “Yeah, like before when Alcide brought me. Nothing… Except that fucking bird is creeping me out. Does he always stare like that?”
I sat next to her. “I thought he was stuffed at first… I might need to think of a way to kill Sullivan even ‘harder’. Normally, you’d gladly offer details to Jason’s plans for the summer house.”
“It seems so sweet… Living where he’s from, vacationing where she’s from… best of both worlds… Is that closer? To you, I mean. I don’t even know where that place is.”
I nodded. “Much. Pam was raised in the Lake District, England, and I live in the Netherlands.”
“God… Jason got her a vacation house. What did you get her?”
“Her own line of jewelry. I had the idea when we went to Antwerp recently. I’m sure she’ll be calling to curse at me for making her cry in front of Klaasje in just a few minutes.”
“Does she get emotional over jewelry?”
“She’s passionate about nearly anything that can be worn, but she’ll be opening a case full of prototypes and samples. She’ll be collaborating with a designer… and I arranged for her line to be on runways in the spring.”
“Oh. My. God! She’ll shit! Alcide was explaining the über-closet and… Oh. My. God!”
I chuckled, “That’s the reaction I’m hoping to get from her.”
“I’ve got no clue what the hell I got her, but I know it’s got nothing on y’all. Way to make everybody look bad.”
“Does it make you feel better to know it’ll be a while before I think of something to top it?”
“Maybe… No, it does. I might have a fighting chance next year.”
Her competitive streak was trying to shine through.
When my phone began ringing I wiggled my eyebrows.
I knew better than to put the phone to my ear after surprising Pam in any way, so I turned the speaker on and set the phone on the cushion so Sookie could listen.
“It’s not your birthday yet, brat. Did Klaasje surrender and let you…”
She cut me off, “OH! MY! GOD!”
Klaasje was laughing in the background.
“Are you using the time zones as your defense again?”
“Do you like it?”
“You know I do! I love it! I thought this was going to be the worst birthday since… 1929…”
“Stock market crashes aside… how bad could your night have been so far? It’s still early there.”
“Jason’s phone is so fucked up he can’t keep a signal. I haven’t heard from Sookie all night. I was about to give up and go to the lake house just so I wouldn’t be bored when Klaasje surprised me…”
Klaasje snickered, “She cried, just like you said she would…”
“I did not!”
Klaasje continued, “It was the name that did it.”
Pam blurted, “Of course it was the name that did it! He named the line ‘Perfection of Cumbria’! That son of a bitch does this to me on purpose!”
Sookie used a throw pillow to cover her mouth.
I offered, “You can change it if you want.”
She snorted, “I love you, you know that, right? The diamonds are beautiful, but the name…” She paused to clear her throat. “You’re a bastard. I’m crying again.”
“I imagine it’s a good thing I sent Klaasje. You’re happy, yes?”
“I couldn’t be happier. Thank you.”
I hated that I couldn’t enjoy it, but being greedy enough to access our bond risked her feeling how close I was to her.
“Good. Are you going to play now?”
“Probably until dawn. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
As soon as I reached over and ended the call, Sookie jumped from the sofa and ran to the counter where I’d set our things. She rifled through the bag from the jeweler and pulled out the smallest of the boxes, the one Sookie was supposed to give to Jason.
She nibbled her lip for a moment before starting with a sharp breath. “We can blame my amnesia, right?”
“I was already curious about it, but… now that you got Pam her own line of jewelry, I kinda want to see what Jason got for her. I kinda want to warn him to save it for later.”
“You could warn him regardless, but far be it from me to keep you from prying.”
She snickered, “You didn’t see this.”
She opened the box and stared at it for a moment, only looking more confused as time went on.
“What is it?”
“It’s a pendant. A monogram.”
“That should be fine. Pam has a collection. Several letters, at that. Eventually, she’ll have a whole alphabet.”
“What names has she used?”
“I was hoping you’d remember at least one of them… Winifred, Sarah, and Elizabeth.”
She cleared her throat and her eyes still hadn’t left the charm. “What about the family?”
“Julia, Adele, Linda, Hadley, Minerva, Janice, Jessica and Josephine. Should I name men too?”
“Can you think of any ‘O’ names?”
“No. The monogram is an ‘O’?”
She nodded, finally looking up at me.
I couldn’t imagine who the fuck he could have bought an ‘O’ for… I’d been told the most intimate details about their family. Jason and Pam were almost always side by side.
I grabbed my phone, texting Alcide to ask the only polite question I could think to ask…
Hoping my attempt to kill an unpleasant idea before it had the chance to fester, but already regretting trusting Jason Stackhouse.
Sookie asked, “Texting Alcide?”
I nodded, watching my phone, willing it to give me the answer.
“I asked him if he’d heard Pam mention a possible name change.”
She nodded and set the open jewelry box on the coffee table and sagged to her seat next to me. The gold ‘O’ was pavé set with dozens of tiny diamonds and attached to a delicate chain. I only looked at the fucking thing hoping it was unisex or heavy enough to be a keychain.
Sookie stared at my phone with me until Alcide answered with a simple, “No.”
Sookie winced and mumbled, “Maybe… Mr. Desai said it was for ‘Mr. Stackhouse’. Brandon’s got a girlfriend. Maybe?”
I nodded as I texted another question, feeling a little better about there being another possibility.
We waited again. Sookie actually held her breath for nearly a minute.
When Alcide replied, she leaned closer to see, “Maria-Star. Her info should be in Sook’s phone.”
I have no idea how long I stared at the glass doors to the deck trying to think of another alternative.
Sookie finally broke the silence by sniffling, “Say it.”
“Say what? That your brother seems to be ordering jewelry for another woman? When Pam loves him enough to let his absence ruin her birthday? When she’s bonded to him? When she’s considering bringing him over? If they’ve taken extra lovers or they’ve ‘opened’ their relationship, that’s one thing, but Pam hasn’t mentioned anything to me… If he’s taken a mistress, behind her back…”