No, please no… for the love of all that’s Holy, I thought to myself, cringing and… they were off. Every single bar patron singing the Godforsaken song that had become the new anthem. Oh! But they weren’t just singing the song out loud with their mouths. Little ol’ crazy me could also “hear” everything coming out of their heads, from the lyrics to everything that went along with the title of the song. “Bad things,” indeed.
I gave Sam THE face, and he made a quick motion with his chin, giving me permission to skedaddle before I had a meltdown in his bar. He was my boss, and the only one who didn’t think I was odd for being the telepathic freak that I am. Sam didn’t mind if I needed a breather, like I did now, particularly after a long or hard day like the one I’d had so far.
Sam lived in a trailer behind his bar. It had a cute little garden and chairs set up in front. That’s where I headed to escape the cacophony of sounds and thoughts that were assaulting me. It was a cool late September night, but pleasant, and out by the trailer I could almost hear the music, but not much else.
Unfortunately, being out here by myself doing nothing gave me a lot of time to think and hold a pity party. I usually held those for myself and by myself, because my Gran would have severely disapproved, and my brother Jason couldn’t have cared less about my trials and tribulations. You’d think he care about what had happened to me today, though. I good brother would.
It all started with some college kids passing by during lunch hour. I hadn’t been exhausted then, so I was keeping their thoughts well blocked. Before I knew it, they had set up a trap to cop a feel from me. One of them got up from his chair suddenly as I was passing by their table, which made me run into another one. Before I knew it one had touched my breasts and the other my butt. Sam intervened immediately. He didn’t let things like that happen in his bar without consequences. This was a community place, after all. I would say a “family bar,” but that wasn’t right.
I knew why the college kids had done it: I’m cute, I’m bountiful, and I’m blond. Maybe they thought they could get away with it. All I know is that I was about to hit somebody with a tray before Sam bellowed that the guys had to leave or meet his bat. I haven’t made the bat’s acquaintance yet, but I’ve seen it doing its thing. Not pretty.
Once that mattered was settled and they stiffed me for tips, I was so flustered about the whole thing that I kept making mistakes. They were silly things, like giving the regular Coke to the person who wanted diet, forgetting somebody’s water or ketchup, things like that.
At around six, the Rattrays showed up. They were really the bane of my existence. They were husband and wife trash, and they seemed to always end up in my section. By the time they showed up, my mental shields had yielded, and I could hear every single disgusting thing that Mack Rattray was thinking about yours truly. Denise Rattray was just doing her usual, teasing her hair at the table (disgusting) and smacking her gum waiting for their food. They had begun their dinner when the stupid song started up.
It had been too much for my poor brain to handle. I’m not usually one to hold pity parties for myself, mind you, but I had been feeling particularly lonely lately. Everybody seemed to be pairing up kind of suddenly. My friend Arlene, who also waited tables at Merlotte’s, had just gotten back together with Rene, one of her ex-husbands. My friend Tara had gotten engaged to a guy we all called Eggs. My brother Jason… well, actually, he’d seen the same girl twice in a row. In Jason’s world that was practically a relationship.
And then there was me, little Sookie Stackhouse, the crazy girl from Bon Temps, who could read people’s minds including that of any male who dared to look her way. I’d barely ever gotten through a whole first date. The only one that had been nearly nice was a date I’d had with a guy named JB duRone, who was a very good looking man, but dumb as a rock. It would have been great to spend more time with him, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that we had so very little in common. Maybe I was being too picky.
The sky was beginning to darken as I headed back inside. The song was over and people’s thoughts were relatively calm. The only thing I could not remedy was the fact that the Rattrays were still at their table, still eating, and would probably stay there and nurse drinks after dinner. I took care of my other tables and tried to avoid them as much as possible. They didn’t tip well no matter what I did, so there was no harm if I didn’t make the extra effort.
I nearly choked when some idiot put the stupid song on the jukebox again. I was thisclose to run away screaming into the night, when the most beautiful man I’d ever seen sauntered into the bar after the first line. I knew immediately what he was. How could I not? Human skin doesn’t glow, and his did.
He was a vampire.
Vampires had made themselves known almost three years before, but I’d only seen a couple when I went to watch a movie in Shreveport, and only from very far away. No vampire would ever come to Bon Temps. We were in rural Northern Louisiana, far from the city of Shreveport, and farther still from hopping New Orleans.
Yet, there he was, in all his spectacular glory. A bona fide vampire. And he was huge. A mountain of a… a man, I guess. A vampire who happens to be male? Oh, whatever! He headed straight for my section, and I was super happy that Sam had stocked a few bottles of True Blood. It was the blood substitute of choice. Sam had said that True Blood was of blood what Grey Goose was of vodka. And then he’d said “of synthetic blood, because vampires would probably prefer the real thing, I’m sure.” That had sent chills down my spine.
I knew my nervous smile was making its appearance as I approached the vampire’s table. His hair was long, about the same color as mine, and his eyes were a glacial blue. I’d once seen a picture of a glacial lake in Canada, and it was a sort of turquoise. The vampire’s eyes looked turquoise.
“Hi!” I said, trying really hard to be my usual self, but I was too nervous and too excited… so my greeting came out breathy and high. I suddenly sounded like Britney Spears… yikes! “Can I get you anything? We have some True Blood,” I offered.
Blond vampire dude half smiled at me. He seemed to be either thinking about what I’d just said, or he was otherwise assessing me. If I wanted to keep my wits about me, I had to think he was making beverage choices. He had been hunched a little, sitting with his elbows on the table, but in a quick move he squared his shoulders and sat fully erect in his chair. He was so tall, even sitting, that he was almost my height.
Before he could order, Sam was at my shoulder. “Eric, nice to see you. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Apparently Sam knew this vampire. Interesting… and something I would have to ask about later.
“I came to see how you were doing. I haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope all is well,” the vampire, whose name now I knew was Eric, made a quick motion to Sam, asking him to sit down across from him with merely a flick of a hand.
“Sookie, bring Mr. Northman a True Blood, O Neg, warmed up like I showed you,” Sam said as he sat across from Eric the Vampire.
I nodded quickly and headed to the bar to warm up the blood. Sam had said a bottle straight from the fridge needed a full minute in the microwave to be warm enough. I had to pop the lid and save it, so I could use it to cover the bottle again to shake it after heating it. The only thing Sam hadn’t specified was the use or non-use of a glass. I was trying to decide whether to bring a glass with me or not when Arlene approached me.
“Who’s the big dude talking to Sam? Do you know?” she asked me in a conspiratorial tone. I didn’t think she had figured out that the big dude was a vampire, so I didn’t say anything. It was exciting for me, but I could understand if it wasn’t exciting for everyone.
“No, I don’t know,” I said. Of course, once I took the blood out of the microwave, Arlene gasped and remained speechless.
I decided to take an empty glass in case Eric the Vampire wanted to pour his blood in it. I put the blood on the table but dropped the glass and the tray on the floor, making all sorts of racket and breaking the glass. I had just been mentally buffeted by both Rattrays’ thoughts regarding this vampire and what they wanted to do to him. It was such a gory image, things they’d done to others, things they wanted. They wanted Eric the Vampire’s blood. They wanted to drink it. They wanted to kill him. Kill him again.
Sam was at my side immediately. He’d seen my face, he could tell what was wrong, God bless him. All I could see were the images in my head, images full of such gore that I could barely believe they were real.
“Sookie, speak chere,” Sam whispered in my ear, holding me tight because otherwise I would have sagged onto the floor.
I looked into Eric the Vampire’s eyes. He was doing that weird assessment thing, but I could barely think about that now. I couldn’t let the Rattrays attack him.
“They want to drain you,” I said in the lowest whisper I could muster.
Eric’s frown was scary as he leaned over the table closer to me. “Tell me who.”
“The people behind me. The man and the woman.” I was beginning to shake trying to shield myself from all the images coming from the Rattrays and whatever mental chatter I was getting from Sam.
Eric’s eyes turned murderous, but he barely reacted other than that. I couldn’t feel sorry for the Rattrays. They had murdered Eric’s kind to drain them of their blood. Apparently they were blood users themselves, no better than crack addicts. Worse actually, much, much worse.
“Are you alright, Sookie?” Eric the Vampire asked, his eyes softening a little as he asked the question. Mine got wide as saucers. He knows my name, I thought surprised.
Sam let go of me after sitting me on the chair he had previously occupied. I took a deep breath and noticed an unusual amount of mental nothing coming from the chair across me. I explored it further and found out that I couldn’t read Eric’s mind. Not at all. It was just one big void. I relaxed into the silence of his mind and answered him in all sincerity. “I’m much better, thank you.”
“I’ll bring you some water,” Sam said, leaving me sitting there across from Eric the really big Vampire. From the corner of my eye I saw that Sam made a motion to Dawn, one of the other waitresses, to come help out at my section.
“How do you know what they’re planning?” Eric asked, still leaning across the table so he could keep his voice low.
I leaned forward as well, so I could answer him silently. “I could… sort of… read it in their minds.”
“Are you psychic or telepathic?” Eric asked. He looked genuinely curious, and not put off by my freakishness. Why a vampire would be so interested in my curse was beyond me, but whatever. Vampires were “other.” I was “other.” We should all be friends, I thought.
“Telepathic,” I answered succinctly, and Eric nodded knowledgeably, like I was fascinating but not completely unique.
“You must be more careful with your gift,” he said, but I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I just nodded looking down at my hands on the table. The silence from his mind was a soothing balm. I would have loved to spend lots of time around vampires, if only for the silence. Nobody else in my head but me.
“What I mean,” he continued, “is that perhaps you should shield yourself better. What did you see that upset you?” His voice was still low, but now it was grave. He wanted proof.
The Rattrays had been so evil, that I didn’t think twice before telling Eric the horrible images that were now part of my memory. I did it in a low fast whisper, but he seemed to have gotten all the finer points. Sam had returned halfway through my account, and remained to listen.
“Don’t worry, Sookie. Mr. Northman is in a position to help. He will take care of it,” Sam said when I finished speaking. I had no doubt that Eric would take care of it. I just didn’t want to think too much about it.
“Thank you for your help, Sookie,” Eric the Vampire said. I had the distinct impression that I was being dismissed.
“Why don’t you go home? You’ve had a rough day” Sam offered. Any other day, I would have just pushed on through, but today had been so bad, I just wanted to rest.
Sitting with Eric had been a treat for my overworked brain. I wondered if there was any place where I could hang out with vampires. I knew there were vampire bars, and I wondered if humans were allowed, and could I go to one without becoming somebody’s meal? I just wanted some respite, some peace. What they needed to have were vampire spas, someplace where I could get pampered in more ways than one… or, at least, I would.
“Hi, Gran!” I called out as I entered the house. I knew she was in the kitchen.
“Hello, sweetheart! I’m in the kitchen,” she called out to me. I chuckled and dragged my sorry butt over there to give her a hug and a kiss.
“I didn’t expect you so early. Are you alright? Are you hungry?” my Gran asked.
“I’m okay. It was a very busy, very hard day for me, so Sam sent me home early. I’m glad he did,” I said. She didn’t wait for me to answer her second question. She was already putting together a plate of food for me.
“Guess what happened, though,” I said, waiting for Gran to say her usual.
“We got a visit from a vampire. He was huge, well over six feet tall, with long blond hair and really pretty blue eyes. Sam knew him, can you believe that?” I asked my Gran. I was actually starting to get a little excited about the visit.
“I can believe it. Sam is a businessman, he knows a lot of people. Tell me about the vampire. Was he cute?” she asked, looking almost as young as she sounded.
“Cute isn’t the right word. More like beautiful. His skin looked very soft, and he had a beautiful face, for a man, you know?”
“Who did he remind you of?” she asked, trying to form a mental picture.
I racked my brain for a suitable image. How do you describe a vampire in human terms? Words failed. One had to say what was missing, and there were no words to describe what was left. “Remember that mini-series you liked, about the reporter who went to Iraq with the Marines?” Gran nodded excited. She enjoyed war stories, no matter the war. To her the stories weren’t entertaining, but enlightening. “Remember the sergeant? Eric looked like that actor, sort of.”
“And did he talk to you?”
“Yes he did. He was polite,” I said noncommittally. I didn’t want to make Gran upset about the things I’d seen from the Rattrays, or the things I was almost positive Eric would do to them.
I ate the rest of my dinner while Gran wondered who had moved into old Mr. Compton’s place because she had seen a light. Then she was saying something about Mrs. Bellefleur and her famous chocolate cake that she had brought to someone’s funeral. Gran also filled me in on the latest antics of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead, who behaved more like crazy retirees than serious history buffs. It was nice to listen to her. Her mind was easy for me to block, and even when things drifted, they were mostly innocent wonderings, mostly about the house or Jason or me.
I dressed in my soft Mickey Mouse nightgown, the one I’d had since I was twelve or thirteen. My bed was calling, even though it was barely nine in the evening. Unfortunately when my head hit the pillow, the back of my eyelids were filled with the horrible images from the Rattrays’ minds. How could people be so cruel? And so stupid? Because, invariably, vampire drainers ended up drained.