I was still so consumed by my pending conversation with Pam, dying and returning to myself almost slipped past my notice.
I hadn’t managed to formulate the first step towards talking to her…
I was too busy loathing how far apart we’d grown because I offered to endorse her as my replacement. If I knew she would assume it was for any reason other than her distaste for relocating, I would have just helped her pack for Europe instead.
I wasn’t making any progress as it was, but the interruption of a knock on the door within minutes of rising wasn’t going to help.
I didn’t need the distraction. I only rose an hour before Pam and I needed that time to think.
I didn’t bother asking. I assumed it was a maid offering turn down service or trying to collect the room service cart Sookie had left.
My hand was already out, reaching for the doorknob when the knocker said, “DON’T touch the door.” Sookie.
I backed up when I heard her key in the lock. She didn’t wait to open the door before she began explaining quietly, “Because I checked your ward before I turned in. You forgot. The ward is geared towards natural enemies.” When she opened the door, she stepped in to remove the bags and place two new pouches in my hand. She didn’t pause before taking the old bags to the bathroom to flush the contents and drop the bags in the bin.
“Meaning what, exactly? Vampires aren’t fragile.”
“It’s pretty easy to end one if they’re already dead though. If I hadn’t given you so much brain-cud, you would’ve remembered to use your blood so no one could enter the room while you’re dead for the day. Since I used mine, the ward had more juice because Humans have so many vulnerabilities. If a Faerie tried get into your room, there’d be a little bulkhead of dust waiting at your threshold. Since you’re a Vampire…”
I finished, “The door would react to me like silver would, yes?”
She nodded. “If I could have stayed in my room all day, I would’ve just kept an ear out, but with everything on my to-do list, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I activated the ward and checked your curtains. Sorry I came into your room…”
I interrupted her apology. “No…Thank you.” Saying ‘thank you’ was inadequate compared to her efforts toward my security, but I was at a loss for a more fitting response. “Out of curiosity, how is Pam’s suite warded? I smelled magic upstairs, but with Humans and Vampires coming and going…”
“The penthouse is warded against ill will so tightly you can’t enter with anything wood or silver. My room has some of our shoes stored in the closet because they have wooden heels… Jason and Brandon carry guns with silver bullets in the casino, but they stash them in a safe in my room. We thought about giving them an exception, but they didn’t want any cracks in Pam’s security while she’s dead. Even the frames on the living room furniture are recycled composite and the fireplace is full of porcelain logs. There’s a separate ward on Pam’s room too, so no one but Jason can come and go during the day.”
“I have to appreciate your diligence… Do you have a Witch on staff?”
She shook her head. “Jason, Brandon and I picked up a few things. They dated their share of Witches and a couple of them were paranoid enough to share warding techniques. We did our research. We could outsource, but the last thing we need is a completely glamourable Witch on staff. Who wants that variable?” I liked the way she thought. “We aren’t practicing Witches. We’ve never explored the craft more deeply than protection spells because we’ve seen it go to people’s heads… So how are you doing with things? You were out of sorts when I left you this morning.”
Part of me, my ego, wanted to tell her to stay out of my affairs… The other part, my more practical side, reminded me of how much Sookie seemed to genuinely care for Pam…
“Honestly, I’m at a loss of how to approach her about the confusion you brought to my attention.”
She sighed, “Is it a guy thing or a Maker thing? I might have something to offer if it’s a guy thing… Hell, I can bring in a team if that’s the case. My mom and aunt are downstairs.”
“Let’s approach this as though it’s a ‘guy thing’ and keep it between the two of us.”
She nodded and pointed towards the door. “Mind if I grab my dinner so I can multitask? It’s meat and potatoes so… nothing pungent.”
I was lost enough to have all but asked for advice… from a Human… Sookie could have asked to dine from a trough full of sauerkraut and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Sookie settled onto her seat at the table with her plate and drink… she checked her phone and returned a text… and then made a show of turning her phone off.
“I’m all yours for the next twenty minutes.”
“You only take a twenty minute dinner break?”
“I don’t usually take anything because I’m too busy. Technically this is breakfast unless you count the smoothies I’ve had. This would fall under the heading of ‘extenuating circumstances’. It’s not like you have much time before Pam rises… So… Tell me why telling her the truth about how you came to be King isn’t going to work for you.”
“What makes you think I lied?”
She’d just taken a bite of her ‘shepherd’s pie’ so she held her finger up while she chewed. Finally she answered, “I didn’t suggest you lied. I wouldn’t dare… but Pam says that you’ve made bullshit an art form… like telling the parents of ugly children their kid looks ‘just like them’ instead of coming right out and calling the kid grotesque. She knows you haven’t lied about it, but she knows you haven’t told her everything too… And from what I can tell, it’s the holes in the story that are festering. Am I right?”
“So… why aren’t you telling her the rest? Is she right, at least in part?”
I shook my head. “Not at all. The last thing I ever wanted was to be King. I’ve never had the inclination.”
She nodded. “Pam said you didn’t even like the Sheriff job… She has two guesses about what happened, and since I don’t know you from Adam I can’t reconstruct her reasoning.”
“Has anyone else tried?”
She shook her head. “I’m the only one she’ll talk to about you. Jason can’t stay neutral.”
“You’re here, talking to me. I wouldn’t necessarily describe you as ‘neutral’.”
“1- I’ll tell Pam when she’s full of shit or pissed at nothing. Jason get’s upset right along with her. 2- I’m not picking sides… I’m mediating.”
“Fair enough. Did you speak to her before she died for the day?”
“No sir, I didn’t. She’s going to kick my ass for meddling. If I don’t make it, tell my family I loved them.”
I laughed and as I did, I realized how much I needed it. “You have my word… What are Pam’s theories about why I haven’t told her everything?”
“The first one, the one she’s terrified to believe… You only told her how you hate the political games because you thought she’d fail you as a Second. She said she made mistakes when you were Sheriff that nag her every time she thinks about them.”
I shook my head. “I’m not even sure what she’s remembering. She never made any significant mistakes…”
“And as her crying shoulder, I told her that everyone makes mistakes and her uncertainty made her dig too deep… You might not have cared about the Area once you left it, but I doubted you’d set her up for failure.” At least Pam seemed to have a voice of reason.
“And how does she justify continuing to wonder?”
“She says I don’t know you or how stoic you can be… She tells me that even when I tell her everything she’s told me about you contradicts her reasons for worrying…”
She straightened her spine and spoke dryly, going as far as rolling her eyes to accentuate her impersonation of Pam. “Eric is nothing if not pragmatic. He’s a master of maneuvering… He’s so good at it, he can make people do whatever the fuck he wants and they walk away thinking it was their idea…” I could actually envision Pam describing me that way. Sookie continued, “So if you’re so pragmatic, then you’d look like a right ass if you left your child behind to fill the position of Sheriff if she was unqualified… Telling her that doesn’t make one iota of difference. Every time we talk, I tell her she’s irrationally flogging herself.”
“She’s always been the emotional one of the pair. What’s the second theory she has?”
“That you went back to a colossal political clusterfuck and you ended up on the throne because you didn’t have a choice, but she couldn’t think of a reason you’d go to the extreme…”
I nodded. “Her second theory is the correct one. She’s never been a disappointment… Are there any complications I should know about?”
Sookie took a deep breath and studied the ceiling while she considered and finally offered, “She’s worried about rumors about your Maker being ended.”
“Fuck.” I would have told her if she’d only asked.
She gave me a sympathetic grimace. “We were hoping they were just nasty rumors. Sorry for your loss.”
“We weren’t close.”
She nodded. “Pam would be devastated if anything happened to you. I’m going to assume your relationship with him was closer to the norm and leave it at that… I know how to mind my own business sometimes… So back to Pam. What’s the hang-up with explaining?”
“I’m reluctant to tell you because you’re here, relaying things she told you in confidence…”
Sookie hummed and nodded. “Ahhhhh, I see your dilemma. However, you aren’t privy to how I’ve rationalized my behavior… By telling you what’s going on in her head, I’m hoping you’ll resolve the problem and then everyone lives happily ever after… Now see, this problem looks like a simple lack of communication. If you give me the bigger picture, I might have some sort of insight because Pam’s been confiding in me, making me your accidental spy. Let’s play make-believe for a moment… You explain. We discuss… If you opt to approach her, then that’s going to pave the way to you two getting things straight. If you don’t, I’M NOT going to tell her a single fucking thing we’ve talked about because if she knows we talked and you didn’t do anything in spite of hearing how she feels, it will break her heart and I refuse to do that.” Unfuckingbelievable.
“Where do I learn how to make a guilt trip sound practical?”
She smiled while she chewed another bite of her dinner and wiggled her eyebrows, making a ‘gimmie’ gesture with her hand. “Hit me.”
I growled before I started, “The King I succeeded wanted me to do something for him and I refused. It was a suicide mission. If I wasn’t ended in the process of the job, I was sure he would have ended me to tie up loose ends. He painted himself into a corner by telling me too much of his scheme. Halfdan’s way of encouraging me to take the job was having three envelopes delivered to me. I rose with them on my chest. One had pictures of my Maker and subsequent puddle. Another contained photos of Pam… the last of them were my instructions. If I hadn’t ended the King, he would have ended Pam like he did my Maker… I did what I had to do to keep her safe.”
Sookie’s throat had clenched… her mouth was still full of food she’d forgotten to chew while her eyes welled.
The silence was as awkward as I could imagine while I waited for the insight I was promised.
She finally choked down her food and sat back to study the table top for a moment. She asked, “Can I be completely frank?”
“Partial truths are why we’re having this discussion. Go a-”
Before I could finish, she swung her arm around and slapped my shoulder. “Why the hell is this a thing? You tell her what you just told me and everything’s fine. She’s been agonizing over this as long as I’ve known her.”
“Did you really just strike a Vampire?”
“Yes, I did. You gave me permission to be frank… Why didn’t you just tell her?”
“Because she would have felt obliged to return to my side…”
“Which she wanted an excuse to do anyway.” And I’d let it avalanche until she had a new dilemma… Jason and his family tied her to Shreveport.
“I didn’t have an excuse to recall her. I have Klaasje.”
“Who Pam feels replaced by.”
“NO! How could she possibly?”
“Klaasje’s your new Second… and FYI, I’ve been around for the occasional trans-Atlantic snark-war. Every call I’ve witnessed, Pam tries to play nice and Klaasje acts like ‘the new wife’ and gets as many digs in as she can.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, everything from belittling Pam’s part in the ‘silly little American sandbox’ to bleating about how magnificent and magnanimous you are and how grateful Pam should be that you’re her Maker and digs about why she would ever leave your side. It’s juvenile nastiness and it cuts Pam to the quick every damn time. That cattiness has been making the situation worse because Pam… she knows in her head that you wouldn’t talk about her to Klaasje, but it’s been feeding the idea that she’s a disappointment.”
“And because Pam doesn’t know the whole story, she doesn’t realize Klaasje’s opinion of me is based on the fact that Halfdan attempted to hire me to end Klaasje and several others. Klaasje was betrayed by her own Maker…”
Sookie jerked her head back and cursed the ceiling. “Oh, fuck a duck… and because you really wouldn’t talk about your relationship with Pam with Klaasje, she doesn’t understand how close you two were or how much Pam regrets staying behind. Klaasje thinks she’s being a booster for Team Northman and Pam thinks… Damn it, man. Go get dressed so you can fix this.”
I chuckled at her in spite of how infuriatingly insane the situation had spiraled. “I still don’t know where to start.”
“You spent three centuries with her and had no problem explaining to a stranger. You’re her God. She’s only told me that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her about a hundred times. I can tell you love her like nothing else. How could you still be confused?”
“Are you suggesting a salvo of honesty?”
“Um… Sure. You could do it in Haiku form if you want, but I think Pam would prefer a dirty limerick…” When I let myself chuckle, Sookie giggled, “Come on. I think you’re over complicating it in your head. Yes, the situation is complicated by years of misread signals, but the heart of the matter is simple. You shackled yourself to something you never wanted because you love her too much to let her get hurt. Without the truth, Pam’s imagination is hurting her. You can fix it.”
“Just lay my cards on the table, yes?”
She nodded with absolute certainty. “Don’t wear a nice shirt. She’s going to cry… Buckets.”
“I don’t want her to cry…”
“Then go tell her so she’ll stop.”
“More guilt. Thank you. You’ll have to teach me how to do that.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow and asked, “Do I need to teach you how to get dressed too?”
“You’re very cheeky.”
“Let me know if I cross any lines…” I actually liked it. It was more enjoyable than the stoic servant I met and was still interested in. “Pam told me you prefer to be more relaxed in private… I usually start with panties, then my pants. Since you don’t bother, just slide into a pair of jeans.”
“You want me to ambush Pam with the truth just as she rises?”
“Her bonded lover’s entire family is in the hotel right now and they’re all chomping at the bit to meet her Maker… Do you want her to be anxious all night, wondering where she stands? You can skip the bra too and go straight to the shirt.”
“What do you mean by his entire family?”
“Huggers, all of us. They know better than to hug random Vampires, but you’re family. I’m the only one that knows you’re a King because Pam knows how much you hate the parade of roses and ass kissing… Socks and shoes. I can tie them for you if you like.”
“Are you nagging?”
“No. I’m being encouraging.” She straightened her form-fitting skirt as she stood and took her dishes from the table. She winked as she walked to the door. “I’ll be in my room when you’re ready. The hall, my room and hers are all light-tight. I’ll take you up so I can get Jason out of your way.”
“Cheeky and pushy.”
“And risking my ass to help someone we both love. Don’t forget that.”
I was dressing (even though I caught myself realizing I’d been persuaded to do something… and by a Human no less) when I heard a knock on one of the other doors in the hallway followed by the sound of a door opening.
A female voice sang, “Sookie-ookie-ookie-ookie.”
Sookie asked, “How’s fatty doing?”
“You got a special delivery.”
Sookie breathed, “Sweet!” as the sounds of paper rustling reached me.
“I can’t believe you. That’s going a little far to put off the blue M&Ms.” I was going to have to ask what a ‘blue M&M’ was because I was sure they weren’t referring to the candies.
“It worked for you. As soon as Jude put that rock on your finger, you were a no-fly zone. It’s worth a try. Worst case scenario, I have a gorgeous ring. I’ll just wear it on my right hand when I go to formals. No loss.”
“You spent six figs on a mosquito net, cuz.”
“You can’t put a price on security… Is this the only reason you came up? I could’ve just grabbed it when I went back downstairs. You didn’t have to waddle all the way up here.”
The visitor sighed, “I’m not waddling yet… and… Fatty’s here for the good stuff.”
“He’s a nice guy. He’s a little surprised by Pam having a ‘Big Fat Geek’ family though.”
“Well, no shit. That goes without saying… With Jude, you could just call it a Greek family though. Dying to see that movie. Previews look hilarious.”
“Yes, but since several of us, including your husband, actually enjoy reading, the Geeks have the majority… And stop trying to feel me out. You’ll meet him when you meet him.”
“Jesus Sook, c’mon. You went swimming with him last night. You were naked.”
“You say that like I had much modesty before I started spending so much time in Pam’s dressing room… And I could do without the reminder that Chuck was doing his job for once and actually watched the security monitors. I feel dirty just thinking about what he did when he got home.”
“What makes you think he waited until he got home? Ever since he heard you used to do ‘The Quinn’, you’ve been at the top of his spank bank’s queue because he has hope you’ll date another Were. He probably had some ‘Sookie time’ while he was on a break.”
“You’re fired. Pack your shit and get out.”
Sookie sounded completely serious, but her company laughed, “Can’t fire me.”
“I guess not. But I can push you over and run away while you look like a flipped turtle.”
The companion gasped, “I just started showing!” Pregnancy would explain why the female wasn’t offended by being called ‘fatty’.
“I hope it’s twins.” I snorted.
“And they’re born sideways.” I bit my lip to keep from laughing as I pushed my feet into my shoes, wondering how far Sookie would go and how much abuse her company was willing to take.
“If you’re jinxing me…”
“And knowing you, you’ll name them something trite… Rose and Lily or Misty and Christy or Ann and Amber… they’ll hate you for it.”
“That’s it! I’m leaving.”
“You bitch! You’re just trying to get rid of me so I don’t pump you for info about your naked time with Mr. Ten.”
Sookie giggled, “I guess I’m busted… I’m still not telling you anything about him. Just probe your husband. He’s got more info about him than I do.” Excuse me? I’d been waiting at my door, enjoying the entertainment value of the conversation, but hearing that someone might be willing to gossip about me erased my willingness to wait.
As I crossed the hall, the visitor huffed, “He told me that he loved me too much to kill me so I should stop asking.” At least her husband seemed to have some manner of acumen.
Sookie opened the door while my hand was up to knock.
She smiled and stepped back. “Hello, Mr. Northman. Come in… I want to introduce you to my cousin.” One curiosity replaced the other. Who the visitor’s husband was, was replaced by how Sookie knew to open the door… and why she seemed so eager to explain. As I nodded, Sookie explained, “Hadley, this is Eric Northman, Pam’s Maker. Mr. Northman, this is my cousin, Hadley Cataliades. I believe you know her father-in-law. Jude’s been Pam’s one-man legal department for nearly a decade.” Fuck. That would explain it. I’d been planning to use the wedding invitation as an excuse to visit Pam until the Revelation was deconstructed and replanned.
Hadley Cataliades was taller and slimmer than Sookie, except for the slightest bulge at her waistline. I almost laughed. She wasn’t far enough along in the pregnancy I’d heard plenty about for her to be obvious.
“You’re Jupiter’s wife?”
Hadley nodded. “My family calls him Jude though. Poppa is the only one who calls him Jupiter anymore.” Poppa. He’d already began referring to himself in the third person as Papu.
“You should know that Felix has decided one of my associates is his personal source for information about pregnancy. She was a midwife and she rarely rises without a message from him waiting for her.” My lawyer’s new preoccupation made asking him how he was as a standard greeting nearly impossible.
She nodded. “First grandchild and all… I guess he’s allowed to be so excited. My parents are going nuts too. It kind of makes up for Jude being so tense he could shit diamonds.”
“Absolutely disgusting, but speaking of diamonds…” I took Sookie’s hand to examine her rings. “Miss Stackhouse, I was under the impression you were available. I was going to introduce you to…”
She giggled and took on a moony eyed look. “Sorry. I’m off the market. I couldn’t be more in love. My husband treats me like a queen.”
“How romantic. What’s his name?”
She snorted, “Darwin… Think they’ll buy it?”
“I think it’s believable enough you could be cutting your own throat. How will you ever find a husband with six carats of deterrent on your hand?”
Before Sookie could answer, her cousin offered, “The type of guy Sookie dates wouldn’t care if they were best friends with her ‘husband’. Sookie dates dirt bags to avoid settling down.” Oh really?
Sookie scowled at her cousin. “There’s another one for the post-baby punch-bank. Keep it up and you’ll look like you called Tyson a sissy by the time you’re done paying up.”
Hadley blew a raspberry and walked towards the door to let herself out. “Not scared. I’ll sick Daddy on you.”
As Hadley closed the door behind herself Sookie shook her head. “She’s a pain. You ready?”
“No. How did you know I was at your door?”
“I could tell you I heard your door open and close, but I’ll own up enough to admit it’s the same way I knew Pam was on the elevator.”
“So it’s part of the disclosure I should be getting later, yes?”
She nodded. “And in the spirit of fairness, I’ll answer any questions you have once Pam gives you the nitty gritty.”
She opened the door to her room and studied the ceiling for a moment. “Just one. Since you’re about to find out anyway.”
I nodded. “Alright.”
“A blue M&M is an abbreviated way to say ‘blue haired Match-Maker’.”
“How did you know I was curious about that?”
She tilted her head towards the hallway to remind me that my answers were waiting… with Pam.
Sookie opened the door to Pam’s suite, but instead of entering, she bent to remove her shoe. “I changed my shoes just for ‘show and tell’. Check it out…” She tossed her pump towards the opening, but the shoe bounced off of nothing to land at Sookie’s feet… just like I would if I tried to enter a house without an invitation. “When you ward your room tonight, I’ll bounce off the barrier like that.”
“Impressive, but what about the walls? I could go through…”
I stopped when she shook her head. “You can’t. No one can. The Vampire rooms are impenetrable…” She bent to remove her other shoe and leave it next to the door with the other while she explained, “One of the perks to having a Were do the remod. There’s silver chicken wire and protection bags in the spaces between walls along the perimeter of each unit. Nothing’s going through them from the outside. You could use the wall to escape into the hallway and the exterior. That’s it. ”
“Spectacular… I might have my Witch contact you.”
She nodded. “That’s why Davis was here. King Milne is thinking about converting one of his smaller hotels to be Vampire exclusive. One of his lackeys stayed here for a couple of nights and bragged about how we had our shit together.”
“And Davis found more than he bargained for, yes?”
She nodded and sighed, “He seemed like a decent guy until he started pawing at me. I asked Santa for the ability to guess a guys turn offs so I can avoid the problem. I got an iPod instead.”
Sookie walked into Pam’s suite and only a moment later, her brother called out to her. “What’s up?”
Sookie answered, “Pam’s Maker wants to speak to her. Get dressed and get out so he doesn’t have to ask…”
He finished, “Because Pam will feel awkward asking me to make myself scarce. Yeahyeahyeah… Gotcha.”
Without any pause, Jason emerged from the back hallway. He was walking quickly and straightening his tie… He looked much more professional than he had the night before. Before he slid his arms into a well tailored suit jacket, I noticed the platinum Rolex on his wrist… and again when he tugged his cuffs back into place.
Without prompting, Sookie offered, “Single malt.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, but walked behind the bar and poured a glass of Scotch. I assumed he was pouring it for Sookie, but he drank it himself and poured another before closing the bottle.
Sookie shook her head. “Just go and stop worrying.”
He sighed and knocked back his second drink and stopped to kiss Sookie’s cheek and offer a nod to me on his way past us.
“I’ve got Bran waiting for you in the lobby to keep you on ice.”
As he left, he sighed, “Thank God.”
I waited for the door to close before I asked, “Does the disclosure I’m hearing include how you contacted Brandon to chaperone Jason without my overhearing?”
She nodded and walked towards the bar. “I could have texted him while you dressed, but yes sir, it does.”
While she rinsed her brother’s glass I sat on the barstool across from her. When she opened a drawer that turned out to be a dishwasher, I asked, “Is this a bar or a kitchen?”
“For the most part, both. The only thing it’s missing is a stove. When you cook, it wafts through the whole place and clings to everything. Very annoying for Pam… The boys and I don’t have time to cook anyway. So we use room service…”
“Or go downstairs for your own late night snacks, yes?”
She nodded. “We’re mandated by Gran-Law to eat Sunday Suppers at home too, so we’re all set…” She took the coffee pot and began filling it with water. “I’m warming a pint for Pam since we scared off her dinner. Would you like me to start yours? We have a fresh delivery from the bank. Every type except B positive for some weird reason.”
“Thank you. A-negative is fine… I’m not sure why I have to wait though. You seemed willing to tell me a lot about yourself last night.”
“I promised to answer every question you have after Pam does the reveal. Are you going to spend the next few minutes trying to persuade me to betray your child?”
I growled, “You have a lock on guilt, don’t you?”
She smirked on her way to the refrigerator. “I have a big family. Best source for guilt ever.”
When her phone began ringing, she sighed, watching the water fill the coffee pot for a moment before she finally answered on the fourth ring…
She started, “Jason…” but he interrupted her.
“How the fuck am I supposed to chill out? I’ve been feeling y’all out and I’m getting nothing. Just tell me if he doesn’t approve of Pam being with a Faerie.”
I had no clue where the fuck to start.