It’s A Long, Lonely Highway
I stopped after I unlocked the door to my room, focusing on the sounds coming from Sookie’s room…
The occasional droplet of water falling into the tub… a page being turned regularly… and restful breathing in spite of how often her phone chimed. The water in the tub would move followed by the clicking of the buttons on her phone…
Monitoring Sookie to be sure she didn’t fall to sleep in the tub gave a more profound meaning to her earlier statement about not sleeping when she stayed at the hotel.
While I worked, I heard the tub begin to drain and the shower turned on…
A few minutes after Sookie was finished with her shower I heard the rustling of bedding and a contented sigh…
Once an hour went by without chiming or clicking, I had to assume she’d turned her phone off. While I finished answering emails, Sookie seemed restful, yet not breathing deeply enough to be sleeping.
I finally heard Sookie huff, and possibly toss a pillow, before a succession of rustling and thumping and banging came from her room. It wasn’t until she cursed the laces of her shoes that I knew for certain that she was dressing.
I opened my door a split second after she opened hers.
She offered, “Insomnia. I’m going down to the kitchen for a therapeutic dose of Häagen Dazs. Are you all set in there?”
“Why not just call room service?”
“Because if I can’t put myself into a sugar coma, I’m going to wear myself out in the pool.” Bathing suit… wet… ‘the girls’…
“Would you like some company?”
“You in the mood for some vanilla bean too?” No. ‘Plain old O neg’.
“I’m bored. I finished my work.”
“Were you asked to babysit me? Because I’m not uspet.”
“I was asked to listen to make sure you didn’t fall asleep in the bathtub and drown. Nothing more.”
She nodded slowly and pulled her door shut behind herself. “Okay. Suit yourself.”
She gave me a couple of inscrutable glances on the elevator, then a few more as we traveled through service hallways on the deserted second floor…
Neither restaurant was operational the last time I’d visited… and I did remember Pam mentioning that they’d been remodeled and opened successfully… Come to think of it, The Palace also only had one boutique the last time I was there as well… Pam’s partnership with the Stackhouses had brought on an additional shop being opened as well as what appeared to be a small convenience store and a snack counter that provided computer banks. There also hadn’t been a spa adjoining the gym…
Pam’s choice of partners seemed to have been a brilliant maneuver.
Sookie was practically race-walking until we reached the door to the employee entrance of the less formal of the two restaurants.
I waited, watching Sookie scoop her ice cream into a cone and drizzle honey over it and rather than finding somewhere more comfortable to sit, she hopped up the sit on the counter in the mostly dark kitchen.
She took a spoonful of ice cream and declared, “You’re being awfully quiet for someone who’s supposedly keeping me company.”
“I was noticing several changes since the last time I was here.”
“Ahhhhh… Pam was getting shwacked. She had the basics down pat, but she was swamped with the Sheriff job and didn’t have any help dealing with all the Human staff she needed… How was she supposed to know the gym was outdated? It’s not like she works out. The restaurants weren’t up and running because of staffing problems. The one boutique she had was hemorrhaging red ink because there wasn’t any traffic on the mezzanine. All she really needed was a Daemon manager to kick things into gear and protect her interests during the day, but she ended up with us instead.”
“And how is it you and your brothers came to be her partners?”
“We always wanted our own… since Brandon and I were about 10.”
“While other children idealize growing up to be princesses and baseball stars, you and your brothers wanted to run a hotel?”
She snickered, “Not exactly…” She took a spoonful of her ice cream and studied the ceiling for a moment. “We wanted a casino. I told you we liked playing cards growing up. We had a plan and everything.”
“Oh really? What was your plan?”
“We went to Nevada for school. Gaming, marketing, tourism, hotel management…”
“And your parents don’t mind you used your trust funds to buy into a Vampire’s establishment?”
She giggled, “Blue collar family. No trust funds. Hell, we went to school on student loans. We were lucky to get those because we were home schooled.”
“You and your brothers made enough money playing poker to pay off a house and then become partners in a resort?”
She nodded. “We’ve been playing cards since we were wee-little. We paid off Mom and Dad’s house, and our grandmother’s, paid off our student loans… You’d be surprised how quickly it adds up when high-rollers decide to start a grudge match. Private games and whatnot. Brandon still takes the occasional game. Last week he took 4 mil off a table to prove a point.”
“What’s your record?”
“Nine. We started small, so we were really excited when we had enough to settle Mom and Dad’s 5-digit mortgage… Once we banked enough for the higher buy-ins, we coasted through. We had enough to buy half of The Palace and help Pam update… and we socked enough to buy her half if she opts to move on.”
“Did you not finish school? If you’ve been here since you were 21…”
“Homeschooling. We were done a little early because Mom didn’t give us summers off and we all knocked out some of our freshman requirements because she pushed us. I’d just graduated… We kind of needed to get the hell out of Nevada anyway. We were on de Castro’s radar from taking so much at his casino one night. Vampires don’t like losing.”
“So Pam didn’t have to expose herself as a Vampire. I was wondering why she’d change her tried and true methods of pretending to still be Human.”
“Nope. We already knew. They aren’t as careful out there. I found out when I was four mil up at a heavy table and the game was called on account of dawn… Then there was the pit fighting. We already knew about Weres, but we went to a few, small bets just to see what it was all about. I ended up dating a fighter…”
“Did he eventually lose?”
“He still hasn’t lost that I know of. Graduation was my excuse to break up with him. He was a vacuum… more trouble than he was worth and one of the reasons I was on de Castro’s radar.”
“It’s nice to see you’ve come to your senses.”
She raised her eyebrows and sassed, “Watch it. I have Were kin.”
“You have Weres in your family?”
“My Aunt married one. Uncle Jack’s a sweetheart until you fuck with his family or his pack, in that order.”
“How did your boyfriend put you on de Castro’s radar?”
“Screwed up family situation. His mom needed special care and he was in hock to de Castro. Brandon, Jason and I laid the poker tables to waste one night to buy his walking papers. de Castro was not amused when my EX boyfriend paid him back with stacks of cash with his casino’s bill straps on them.”
“I don’t think I would be either… Did he expose you?”
“Not intentionally. He was followed back to our apartment. The next night we were given a not-so friendly warning about going back to de Castro’s establishment… He was given the equally unfriendly warning that if he came after any of us again, the gaming commission would be sicked on him so fast and hard he wouldn’t be able to glamour them all. We’d spent enough time in his casino to see enough violations to jamb him up with legalities for a while. Specifically, we got our fake IDs from a guy who worked out of his lobby.”
“You threatened a Vampire King.”
“We adjusted his perspective of the situation. We didn’t take money out of his pocket so he couldn’t be too pissed… we were followed for the last few months we were there. We were getting snubbed at the heavier tables. Word was getting out… When Pam proposed the partnership we jumped on it because we were pushing our luck. It was only a matter of time before we were officially blackballed. She actually caught a little flack from the Queen about taking us on because of our ‘ties’ to Nevada. We could have been spies. Funny thing about that though… we spent enough time there to be able to recognize the actual spies. de Castro thinks we were Pam’s spies all along now. I called him last month to ask if he wanted his latest mole back.”
I snorted, “Brilliant… did Pam approach you to flirt with you or threaten you?”
She giggled. “Both… I’d just pissed off a table full of guys too busy looking at my rack to keep their head in the game. She bought me a glass of wine, sat next to me, explained that if she caught me or my brothers cleaning her out, dental records would be required to ID us… and then she invited me to her room.”
I laughed, “Pam hasn’t completely changed her approach then.”
She shook her head as she pushed herself from the counter. “Shame it didn’t work… My snack was good, but I’m not tired yet. Time to hit the pool.”
While she nibbled at the waffle cone and led the way, I asked, “You weren’t swept off your feet by her proposal?”
She giggled again and shook her head. “Poor thing. I used her to play a joke on Jason. He had a thing for her. I kissed her just in time for him to walk in on us.”
“Jason was interested in Pam?”
“From the jump. He and Brandon worked the floor here a few times already… they were taking advantage of Pam’s old staffing problems. He’d seen her making rounds.”
“I’m sure the kiss went over well.”
“Like a turd in a punch bowl.”
“That’s absolutely disgusting.”
She laughed, “Sorry… my blue collar background sneaks out once in a while. All the way home, he yelled at me about ‘bros before hos’ too.”
“Bros before hos… what does that mean exactly? I’ve been out of the loop when it comes to new Americanisms.”
“It means if I were a good sister, I’d have known Pam was off limits. It took Brandon and me three days to convince him I was just joking around… even then, I had to tell Pam I wasn’t interested in front of him…” As soon as she pushed open the swinging double doors to the indoor pool, she began pulling her sweatshirt over her head. A wet T-shirt contest came to mind… She was wearing the tiny tank top from earlier. As soon as it became wet… When she caught me staring, she explained, “My bathing suits are in Pam’s closet because she buys most of my clothes. I only keep a fresh suit and a duffle in my room.”
I tried to ignore it… I failed. I couldn’t decide what was harder to ignore, the way she shimmied her pants over her hips to reveal scant, black lace panties, or the fact that she’d said she rejected Pam’s advances.
I watched Sookie take a stack of towels from a cart and place them with her cell phone on the edge of the pool.
I finally managed to ask, “Why not just stay in the penthouse?”
“I do sometimes, but the last thing I want to do is listen to my brother have sex all night.”
“Jason. Brandon and I share a room. It’s just a crash pad. We have rooms at home, but we’re almost never there.”
“You share a room with your brother, while the other brother uses Pam’s suite to take his dates?”
I’d asked just as she stepped up to the edge of the pool and bent her knees to dive in, but she straightened quickly to spin around to give me a confused look. “This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I could read Vampires’ minds… What do you think our dynamic is?”
“You’re bonded to Pam.”
She threw her head back and cackled, “Oh God! No… No wonder you wanted to ‘keep me company’… No… Nononono. I’m sorry. You wasted a lot of time with the wrong Stackhouse. She’s bonded to Jason.”
“I called her your Master and you didn’t correct me.”
“I knew she hadn’t mentioned us to you because she wanted to do it in person. I let you assume so she could do it. If I had corrected you, by the time she got back from the concert, you would have come to the conclusion she was hiding something.” Fair enough.
“You licked her.”
She snickered, “I was just playing around. I licked my cousin earlier too. Not bonded to him.”
“You aren’t Pam’s?”
“No. I’m Pam’s friend, her pseudo sister-in-law, and her business partner… but she gets sex and blood from Jason. Exclusively, at that. She…”
“Wait. She said you taste… she used the word spectacular.”
She tipped her head from side to side as she said, “We went to my cousin’s bachelorette party a few months ago. Things got a little crazy…”
“And you fucked your brother’s Master.”
She gasped, completely offended, “No! I’d never! Most of us had too much to drink and we got a little rowdy… the owner of the club came over and threatened to toss us. Turned out the bitch was a Faerie. Pam being there spooked the shit out of her and she tossed the table to get away from her. I got a nasty gash on my face. Pam healed me in the bathroom so I wouldn’t need stitches… she ended up with some of my blood on her hand.”
“You aren’t Pam’s?”
“No. I’m not Pam’s.”
“Jason is Pam’s… Why didn’t she introduce me to him?”
“She was… she was just a little surprised to see you… Honestly, she’s been over-thinking how to bring it up. He was laying low just to give you some time to catch up. He’s dying to meet you. I don’t know… I guess she figures I was more specific while we waited.”
“Apparently. She didn’t seem as though she was hiding anything.”
Sookie shook her head. “She wouldn’t. You’re her zenith… Well… damn…” She turned back to the pool and bent over to dive in, slipping through the water to the other side before she surfaced. She turned to face me and offered, “At least we cleared that up before it turned into a big deal.”
“You’re still confused about something.”
I shook my head. “I’m replaying a few things I should have noticed.”
She nodded as she treaded water. “I do that all the time. What have you come up with?”
“She told you that you needed dick.” But she’d always pointed out when I needed pussy too.
Sookie laughed, “She always tells me that… Are you just going to watch me swim?”
“I didn’t bring a suit.”
She sighed and rotated in the water to turn her back to me. “I won’t see anything once you’re in the water… So what else popped into your head?”
I thought about it while I pulled my shirt off… even if she assumed I wore underwear, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to swim with her. “You don’t smell like her.”
“I don’t smell like me either though. I wear orange scented oils and sprays.”
“You have your own room.” She might not have been able to see through the water, but I was taking my time kicking my shoes off and removing my pants just to watch her.
“Vampires who don’t check in and get separate rooms for their donors are rare though. That’s a push… and I had jammies in her apartment.”
“She didn’t feel jealous over your contact with Davis. Just protective.”
She nodded. “Okay… that was a clue. She’d have cut a bitch if Isabel was calling for Jason. What else?” And I thought Sookie was just pacifying my ego by rationalizing my assumptions. How refreshing to meet someone who didn’t mince words…
“She only mentioned business when she spoke to you…”
“Nope. Throw that one out. She was playing with my hair and listening to my gripes about the AARP matchmakers. That’s something that falls on the intimacy spectrum. You couldn’t have known it was on the BFFs end rather than the lovers end.”
I dove into the pool taking a moment under water to watch Sookie rotate to face me… I couldn’t remember a time when I enjoyed a tank top so much. She watched me come out of the water a few feet from her, waiting for me to make my next point.
“She told me you were the second best friend she’s ever had after you stormed out.”
“Unless you’re in the number one slot, I’m offended… and that isn’t too sappy for Pam. I mean, we’re talking about a woman who cries over cartoons for God’s sake. Thanks to Bambi, Jason isn’t allowed to hunt for deer anymore. She could have meant we were ‘soul mates’ or something.”
I nodded. “Alright… I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.”
She smiled and turned to swim away. “Glad to help.”
“Would you mind explaining how you seemed to notice her return before I did?”
She didn’t balk. She didn’t turn around. She said, “Yes sir, I do mind. She has every intention of giving full disclosure tomorrow night.”
“Because you don’t want to talk out of turn?”
“Not when it comes to this. She loves you… but she knows you’ve been guarded for the past few years. She’s worried that her decision to stay in the States didn’t have the desired effect.”
“And what is that?”
“She stayed because she wanted to make you proud of her… She’s afraid it made you think she wanted to get away from you all along… She doesn’t just have Jason, she’s got a whole family now and she’s afraid you’ll feel replaced somehow… And she’s working under the assumption she was holding you back because of how quickly you became King once you left the States.” FUCK! NO!
“She told you that? That isn’t… she’s wrong.”
“Maybe you could drop hints to that effect then.”
“For someone who doesn’t want to talk out of turn, you’re meddling.”
She turned, swimming towards the edge of the pool. “Telling you something before Pam has the chance to explain is talking out of turn. Telling you something might need to be fixed is maintenance… But… this is me shutting up since you’re not comfortable discussing it with me.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m fine. I just thought you’d like to know. I’ve seen enough Maker/child nightmares to know how awesome it is that Pam is excited to see you at all… Just… Please realize I told you because I love her and I’m just hoping for the best. I know the Maker/child thing is nobody’s business, but Pam’s important to me and I want her to be happy.”
“Noted.” It was a stock answer… I couldn’t think of anything else to say. If Sookie knew as much as she implied about Maker/child relationships, then she understood she was going out on a limb for Pam… I had to appreciate that much… That she truly cared for Pam.
Sookie lifted herself to sit on the lip of the pool and dried her hands to check her messages…
And I reeled.
Pam couldn’t have been more wrong about the situation…
She should have known I was already proud of her. Our friendship wasn’t one-sided… she knew too well that our relationship was unique. Children almost never stayed with their Makers once they were released. She’d been free to leave me since she learned to control her hunger, but we enjoyed one another for more than three centuries. We were a team. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
I thought she stayed because she liked that we’d put down roots for once. We’d spent 30 years in Shreveport and she’d always hated the adjustments of moving. When I ‘retired’ I joked about spending every night in a different country because I developed a certain amount of wanderlust being tied to Area 5…
And I wouldn’t have ever felt replaced. Not by a pet, or a lover… or a child. I’d never denied her… Not seriously. She’d only jokingly suggested bringing over fashion designers. Whom she selected was another matter, but I had no doubts about Pam becoming a Maker. She would excel at that just like she did everything else she put her mind to.
Apparently I wasn’t going to get my way in regards to keeping my reasons for becoming King to myself… I’d spared her my reasons so she wouldn’t feel as though she was accountable for my unwanted responsibilities… I was not going to let her believe she was ever my yoke. She wasn’t holding me back. For the first few years after I left, I constantly considered calling her to join me… She was the only thing to make being in Shreveport tolerable… I didn’t want to use her to lighten my burden. Every fucking thing that had gone wrong once I returned to Europe was my fault. I’d gotten used to being in the company of underachieving, pretentious whiners. The old world was a different game… My failure to remember that is the reason I found myself in the predicament I was in… The burden of being King was mine and mine alone.
I watched Sookie swim lap after lap… She seemed completely aware of the fact that I needed time to think about my situation…
Losing track of time…
Treading water, lost in how one secret spiraled…
Until Sookie swam up behind me and touched my shoulder.
There was a sympathetic look waiting for me when I turned around.
She gently urged, “We should get you upstairs.”
I shook my head, confused enough to ask, “Why?”
“Well, I’m finally tuckered out… but you’ve been… We’ve only got about 30 minutes left before dawn. I’m sure you don’t want to die for the day stinking of chlorine.” I’d let that much time pass?
I nodded and swam to the edge of the pool, angry I’d lost the hour I could have spent talking to Pam.
Sookie was right behind me as I pushed myself out of the pool… she passed a towel to me… pushed my shoes closer to me… waited for me to dry off because there was no such thing as pulling jeans up wet legs without either ripping the fabric or skin…
The maze of service corridors was traveled silently…
Not a word was uttered in the elevator…
Sookie left me to my thoughts in the hall between our rooms and I heard the water turn on in her shower almost as soon as her door closed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I’d left my key in the room until I reached into my pocket.
I knocked on Sookie’s door, hoping I wouldn’t wake her brother.
She had another sympathetic look for me when she opened her door.
I huffed, “Do you have a master key? I left mine in my room.”
She nodded and walked into her room for a moment and quietly passed me to unlock my door.
“Just to be sure, are you being quiet because of what you said earlier, that you were shutting up?”
She shook her head with her eyebrows knit together. “Noooo. You’ve got plenty on your mind… Don’t forget to ward your room. Goodnight.”
When she tried to walk back into her room, I caught her arm. “Thank you.”
“For giving you some time to think or for meddling?”
“Both… mostly for meddling though. Pam probably never would have let me know.”
She nodded and put her hand over mine. “Anything for Pam.”
I nodded. “That’s always been the case.”
“I meant me… but I like the way you think. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”