I barely slept. That’s the curse of being a mind reader: you get to dream about somebody else’s life while trying (in vain, I might add) to consolidate yours. I woke up several times after either bad dreams or weird dreams. You know… why couldn’t I have some wishful-thinking dreams? Why couldn’t Eric the Vampire have made an appearance in my dreams? Was that really too much to ask?
During one of my wakeful moments I realized that everything outside had gone utterly silent. There were no crickets, no froggies, no owls, not even the sound of the wind in the trees surrounding Gran’s house. It was so quiet that the silence itself was pressing on my ears with a sort of whistling sound. I supposed a predator had passed by. Some of the men that came to the bar would tell stories about panthers and razorbacks. Most of the time I dismissed them, but that morning as I read the new entry in my Word of the Day calendar, I wondered if they were true. Iniquity: a wicked act or thing.
I followed the scent of fresh coffee and looked out the kitchen window to see that Gran was already planting little things in her garden. She liked to do it early in the morning, she said, because she liked the way the air smelled. I wasn’t sure what the air smelled like this morning, but for sure it was an absolutely gorgeous day. As soon as I was finished with breakfast and helping out Gran, I was headed for the sun.
I know, skin cancer and blah-di-blah… I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs or have sex. I have to die of something, and by golly I’m going to die tanned! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Gran had left the newspaper on the table, and I started skimming through it while eating some cereal. The first page was saying something about some rogue tornado that had overturned a trailer and caused serious damage in the southern part of Bon Temps. Two people were killed. I scanned the names: Mack and Denise Rattray.
I almost choked on a Cheerio. What in the world?! I looked closer at the grainy picture, and it looked like a tree had been uprooted and dropped on the trailer lengthwise. A car had been wrapped around another nearby tree. Things from inside and outside the trailer were strewn here and there.
Well, it wasn’t up to me to tell the investigators that there was no way in Heaven or Hell that a tornado did that. My money was on a pissed off vampire. I had been up during the night. I would have heard the wind or the rain. But there was neither. It was hard to believe that a vampire was strong enough to do all that, yet I wasn’t going to discount it completely.
The funny part was that I wanted to feel guilty. I really did. A good Christian woman would have felt guilty for the Rattrays’ fate. I couldn’t, not after the horrible things they had inflicted upon others. In my view, they had played with fire, and they’d gotten burned.
Another part of me was wondering if I’d done it to save the creature that had walked into the bar last night. I couldn’t imagine anyone hurting someone so beautiful. Maybe I was having a crush because I couldn’t hear his thoughts. Maybe his thoughts were the same as any other man’s thoughts. Oh, well… I’d never know.
After folding some laundry I decided it was time to worship Mr. Sun. I was a little happy with myself because I had been able to wiggle into the size Small white bikini I hadn’t worn in ages. Sure, if I wiggled too much my boobs would fall out, but my butt was staying covered. Yay, me!
Jason showed up about half an hour later, driving his monster of a truck. I was sure he was looking for grub, judging solely by the time of day.
“Yo, sis! Are you alright? Sam told me to check on you,” Jason said, walking closer to me and blocking my sun.
I made a motion with my hands to tell him to move before I answered. “I’m fine. I was only tired last night. When did you see Sam?”
“Last night. I went to Merlotte’s at around eight, but you had already left. I thought you were working a double. Sam was talking to some big dude, and everyone was saying he was a vampire and had talked to you. They said you sat at his table and everything.”
“Yes, we spoke very briefly,” that was all I was willing to concede.
“I don’t like it Sookie. Why you have to go talk to some vamp?” Jason was spoiling for a fight. He was always looking for a fight, either with me or with somebody else. I was always an easy target, what with sibling rivalry and all.
“Listen, Jason, I wasn’t talking to some vamp. I felt sick and Sam asked me to sit in his chair while he got me a glass of water. It just so happens that Mr. Northman,” at this Jason harrumphed. I ignored him, “was sitting across from that chair. He asked me if I was alright, something any polite person would have done, vampire or human. Got a problem with that?” My voice had gotten higher and louder as I spoke.
“Fine,” Jason put his hands up in the air, like the victim of a holdup, and started walking away backwards. “I just don’t want people thinking my sister’s a fangbanger.”
“Excuse me!” Oh, I was livid!
“I’m just telling you what people were saying last night.”
“Not that is any of their business, or yours Jason Stackhouse, but no.”
“Are you done antagonizing your sister?” Gran was standing rather close and had probably heard the whole conversation.
“Yes, ma’am,” Jason answered, looking almost sorry. Almost.
“In that case you two come inside, lunch is ready.”
We followed her inside the house. It smelled of fried chicken and fresh biscuits. She still fed us like she used to when we were kids. We tucked in for lunch and eventually Jason joined in the conversation like a regular person.
“Did you hear about that tornado, Gran?” he asked.
“I read it in the paper. Do you know anything more about it?” she asked Jason. I tried to stay completely uninvolved, just listening.
“The people that died, the Rattrays, were at the bar last night. That Denise was trying to come on to the vampire that was at Merlotte’s last night,” Jason said, and I felt my heart and stomach do a quick flip-flop. “But he wasn’t having none of it, ignored her sorry ass.”
“Jason!” both my Gran and I bellowed. There was no reason to be crass at the table.
“Alright, alright! Anyway, they left after the vampire and that was it for them,” Jason finished.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Eric the Vampire was fine. The Rattrays would never bother me or fill my mind with their iniquity (my Word of the Day) ever again. I decided to never think about them ever again. Why give them immortality in that way?
“Did y’all hear about Maudette Pickens?” Jason was asking now.
“What happened to Maudette?” I asked. I remembered her. She used to work at the Grab It Quick, and had applied to work at Merlotte’s not too long ago. She was one of those girls that were easily forgettable, I regret to say, but nice to me. I never forget people who are nice to me.
“They found her dead at her house. They think a vamp did it,” Jason said.
I gasped, shocked, and immediately my mind went to working. “Was she drained?”
“No, they said she died of…” Jason drifted.
“Of what?” Gran pressed.
“Oh, my!” That was me. I was the one who was taken aback by that. “So why do they say it was a vampire? I don’t get it.”
“Because they found bite marks on her, though they said they were older marks,” Jason said.
There was a minute of silence. I felt really bad for Maudette. She wasn’t a bad person, and she was young. “How did you hear about this? Was it in the paper?”
“Andy Bellefleur was talking about it last night at the bar, too loud if you ask me,” Jason answered. Andy Bellefleur was one of two detectives we had in Bon Temps. It goes to show the level of professionalism of our police force. Things like that don’t happen in Law & Order. “He said it was an accident during sex.”
I shivered. An accident? During sex? What kind of accident could that be? I wasn’t naïve, but who would agree to such a thing? Well, the who we knew: Maudette. So who had hurt her? I hoped Andy Bellefleur was going to actually do his job and quit talking out of his ass while he was drunk.
We kept bouncing ideas off each other while we finished lunch, and it was time for me to get ready for another night of work. At least I didn’t have a double this time.
It was still warm enough for me to wear the summer Merlotte’s uniform. I put on my shorts, my Keds, the white T-shirt with Merlotte’s stamped over the left breast, put my long hair up in a high pony tail, and bothered with a little mascara and tinted lip gloss. My tan looked awesome!
Sam was in his office when I arrived and asked me to close the door because he wanted to talk to me. I had a deep feeling of dread and wondered if last night was Sam’s last straw putting up with my quirk.
“Sit down, Sookie, please,” he said, pointing to a chair next to his desk. I sat and fidgeted. “How are you feeling today, Sookie? Did you rest?”
I frowned a little, confused. “Yes, I rested. I’m feeling much better, thank you.”
Now Sam looked nervous himself. “I was wondering if I could ask you something. I don’t want you to think I’m prying.”
“Please Sam, ask me anything. You’re making me nervous,” I said, wanting to get it over with. Off with the Band-Aid!
“Can you hear vampire minds? Could you hear Mr. Northman’s?” he asked, finally.
I thought about it, and saw no reason to not answer truthfully. “I couldn’t read his mind. He was one big void, a blank. It was very peaceful.”
Sam took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. “I thought so.”
“Is that good or bad?” I asked, unsure why he was asking.
“It’s very good for you. Now you know that it doesn’t have to be so noisy all the time.”
I couldn’t agree more.
“Would you like to go visit Mr. Northman’s bar? He owns a vampire bar in Shreveport. Maybe a place like that would be better for you to work…”
“What?!” I screeched. I admit, not my most ladylike moment.
“Sookie,” Sam pleaded, “just listen to me for a moment, please.” I nodded and he proceeded. “I see what working here does to you. I spoke to Eric, and when he saw you lose it he agreed to help. It’s not that I want you to leave. I want you to be happy, to have some peace. You don’t need to decide anything right away. I’m only asking you to go visit the bar one night, and see how you like it. If you don’t like it, then you still have your job here.”
I didn’t say anything or answer. I stood from my seat, and left. Merlotte’s was already busy with the after-work crowd, and the girls needed my help. Lafayette, our cook, was calling orders at the kitchen when he saw me grab an apron.
“Girl, it looks like you just seen a ghost. You okay?” he asked. He was the brightest person in the bar, quite literally. He was wearing a shocking pink tee, fuchsia jeans, and blue shoes. Where he’d found blue shoes to fit him, I had no idea. He was also wearing much more makeup than me. But his cooking was good, he was quick and efficient, and I liked him. He was honest.
“I think I might have,” I said, forcing a smile.
“Nuh uh. Come here, give mamma some sugar,” he said, holding his arms out. I went in for the hug. Touching people made me hear their thoughts whether I wanted to or not. Lafayette’s thoughts were warm and full of comfort, and a little something about the food he was keeping track of. Pity he was gay. I could have dated someone with a mind like his.
Too bad it was a short rest. The remainder of the night went predictably wrong. My brother left with Dawn, Andy Bellefleur made an drunken appearance, everyone was talking (and thinking) about either Maudette or the Rattrays, and some were still marveling about the vampire that had come to visit.
And me… I wasn’t sure whether to be mad at Sam for intruding, or feel touched that he was looking out for me. Since I refused to read his mind (he was my boss; there are limits), I wouldn’t know his true intentions unless I asked him directly. Was he trying to get rid of me? I couldn’t blame him. He was too good to fire me, I knew that.
If I was honest with myself, the invitation intrigued me enough to at least accept it, if only to see what a night surrounded by vampires would be like. Knowing I would accept it, I started thinking about what to wear, how I would do my hair and makeup, and if I should bring somebody with me.
“Sookie?” Sam called to me. I was almost to my car. We had closed up shop for the night. I turned and looked at him expectantly.
“Have you thought about going to Eric’s bar?” he asked, looking around us a little nervous. I wondered why, but answered his question first.
“Yes, I gave it some thought. I think it would be a good idea to check it out, even if you went behind my back to set it up,” I said, still a little peeved.
He didn’t take the bait. He knew I was spoiling for a fight. Maybe I was more like my brother than I cared to admit. “Alright. I’ll call Eric. When are you going?”
“Tomorrow,” I said immediately. I was scheduled to work, but screw it. This was Sam’s idea; he would have to live with the consequences.
He moved faster than me and was on his cell phone before I knew it. “Eric? It’s Sam. Sookie will be there tomorrow.” There was a brief pause. Was Eric giving Sam instructions concerning me? This was going to get old quick.
“I’ll let her know. Good night,” Sam hung up and looked at me. “Eric said to give your name at the door so you won’t have to pay the cover.”
“They pay cover? Is it a bar or a club?” I asked a little concerned. I was expecting a bar closer to Merlotte’s, but it sure didn’t sound like that.
“They don’t serve food, Sookie. Vampires don’t eat. So it’s more like a club, and they have a dance floor,” Sam explained.
I was a little apprehensive, but swallowed it and nodded curtly. Then I went home. I was done.
Alright, soooo… My choice of dress hadn’t been exactly smart. Oh, I looked good! It was a white dress with big red flowers scattered over the fabric. I was wearing tall red heels, my hair half up, and I had spent some time doing my makeup just right. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t fit in Eric’s bar any more than Eric would fit in a Sunday church brunch. Oh, well… too late now, I thought, as I followed a very tall vampire woman to the back of Fangtasia.
The name of the bar was witty, I thought. It was like the vampires didn’t take themselves too seriously. The outside was just a gray mass in the middle of a strip mall, dotted with red doors. The inside was even darker, with black walls and shots of red here and there. All the chairs were red, for instance. The booths had lights with red shades. The top of the bar was red. And the final and more important part of the restaurant: two chairs that looked more like thrones upholstered in (you guessed it) red, sitting on a raised dais at the far end of the dance floor.
Eric was sitting on the left chair (or, actually, I supposed that was stage right, huh?), and a beautiful petite blonde was sitting on the right chair. Both were glowing dimly in the bar’s gloom, and both were regarding something or somebody at their feet with contempt. They were both dressed in black. Eric had black slacks, and a black button down dress shirt with a black tie, and the blonde was wearing a gauzy black dress, a la Elvira. I was positive this is not how they dressed usually. I distinctly remembered Eric had been wearing jeans and a T-shirt the night before.
Eric looked up first, his blue eyes widening considerably when he saw me. I gave him a polite smile while the tall vampire announced me. The blonde sitting next to Eric switched her gaze to me as well, and I immediately wished she hadn’t. She looked like she had just seen one giant beignet.
The thing they had been looking at was a man who was trying to kiss the blonde’s boots. She gave him a quick shove on the shoulder, losing her patience, and he left. I shielded myself quickly, because I really didn’t want to know what he was thinking. At all.
“Sookie, how nice to see you,” Eric said getting up from his chair in a move that was extremely graceful, considering his size. He extended his hand to me. At first I thought he was going to shake my hand, but quickly realized he meant to kiss it. Oh, boy! What had I gotten myself into?
“Sookie, this is Pam, my second,” Eric said, pointing at the blonde.
“Aren’t you sweet?” Pam said to me. Her fangs were starting to come out in slow motion. I’d never seen it in person, so I was a little anxious, but I didn’t let it show.
“Not particularly,” I answered her, and then bit my tongue.
Apparently there was no danger. Eric let go a big guffaw at my side and Pam’s fangs came out fully, though she was smiling wide. I was comic relief.
“Come, let me show you my bar,” Eric said, not letting go of my hand. Maybe vampires were touchy-feely creatures? I usually wasn’t, since thoughts transferred so easily through touch. Eric’s hand was cool and soft, and there were no thoughts coming through. This was what normal people felt like.
Eric walked us to the bar and introduced me to Long Shadow the main bartender, a vampire who looked American Indian, with a flat nose, thick lips and long black hair. He had on a pair of black jeans, a black vest, and nothing else. The other bartender was a short black-haired beauty who looked like she could rip somebody’s throat if that somebody even thought of talking to her. Thalia, Eric said later conspiratorially, was a very old vampire. She was created during the height of Greece, and she didn’t have much patience left.
By the time Eric told me this we were sitting at a booth towards the back of the bar. He was sipping on a True Blood and I was very carefully nursing a white wine. I relaxed into Eric’s mind-silence and enjoyed his company.
“And may I ask how old you are?” I asked him, figuring if he had told me Thalia’s age, maybe he would tell me his.
“I was a Viking when I was turned,” he answered cryptically. I may be blond, and I may have this stupid disability, but I’m not stupid. Vikings haven’t been around for about eight or nine hundred years. I knew that much.
“Wow…” I breathed out before I could stop myself. “Can I ask you something?”
Eric smiled and looked like a seductive devil. “You can ask me anything. That does not mean I will answer.”
I leaned forward a little so I could lower my voice. Eric mimicked my movement and we ended up mere inches away. “Did you… do that… to the Rattrays?” I asked, not quite wanting to say did you kill ‘em. That would have been rude, I think.
Eric arched an elegant eyebrow but otherwise didn’t move.
I put my hands up in surrender and backed off a little. “Okay, alright, rogue tornado it is. People who mess with the weather have no hope of sunny skies.”
Eric chuckled and sat up straight, hands behind his head. The perfect picture of ease. “How do you like my bar so far?” he asked.
I had already given it some careful thought, because I knew the question was coming. They played a radio station over the speaker system, WDED, so that right there meant there was no control over the music. That might be a drawback, except I wouldn’t have to listen to the same song over and over. There was a good ratio of human to vampire patrons, not enough to relax my mind completely, but it would definitely offer a bit of rest. So far the vampires had been quite polite to me, and they seemed to be polite to the rest of the human servers as well. It was the human patrons who were looking for the wicked vampire side, and the vampires were happy to oblige.
“I think it’s very nice. I’m a little more used to Merlotte’s, where they serve food, but I’m sure I can handle just drinks,” I said smiling.
Eric smiled back, but it looked like he was trying not to. “Do you think you can work here?”
“I’m a little concerned about the commute. It’s kind of long,” I said, trying to hide the fact that I was more worried about my car not being able to make the round trip every night, than the actual commuting time.
“The pay is higher here. It would be better for you,” he said, weighing in the pros.
“Do I have to wear one of those dresses?” I asked, looking sideways at one of the servers. She was wearing a dress not unlike Pam’s.
“Sookie… it covers more than your Merlotte’s uniform,” Eric countered. He was right.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” I took a deep breath, gathering my courage. It would be a change, one for the better. My brain needed rest, and this was the way to get it, other than staying home. “I would like to work here, Eric, if you’ll hire me.” I cringed a little.
“You’re hired,” he said. There had been no hesitation.