Gran was cooking lunch, Jason was checking my bum car, and I was lying in the sun trying to take a nap, unsuccessfully. I had been trying to sift through my feelings, always an unwelcomed prospect. Mainly I was trying to figure out what Eric was about. It was usually very easy for me to figure out what a man wanted from me. Obviously with Eric that wasn’t possible. I had two issues: did he like me, like to date me? Or did he like me, like to eat me? Or both? I had no idea. Was Eric like my brother, looking for a quick romp in the sack and not much else? My own insecurity made me ask this question last: did I like him? To me that question carried the least weight.
“Holy God, Sookie! What did you do to this car?” Jason called out from somewhere inside the piece of metal.
“I didn’t do anything!” I called out from my spot, resenting the allegation that I had done something to the car.
“The whole engine block is cracked. You need a whole new engine, but in this case I’d say a whole new car,” Jason closed the hood with finality.
“How much is an engine?” I asked. After all, I had a three thousand dollar check in my purse, waiting for the banks to open on Monday.
“I dunno… Like four thousand. But your car’s not worth it, sis. Might as well put the money aside and get another car. This car’s worth five hundred bucks, tops.” I spared a glance at my poor car/chunk-of-metal. Jason was wiping the hood where his greasy fingers had left marks. “Keep using the vamps’ car until you set some money aside and I’ll help you find another car,” he sighed. It had been his car first, and he’d given it to me when he bought his truck. Now it was no more.
During lunch I told Gran and Jason all about my new job. Well, almost all. I didn’t want them to worry about the raid, because it had been a non-incident.
“Sookie looked like a blond Elvira when she left last night,” Gran told Jason. She had seen me in my outfit, and had liked the fact that my boobs were a little more covered up in the dress than in the Merlotte’s T-shirt. Plus, the dress was long so it covered my thighs and legs (long slit down the left leg notwithstanding), something the Merlotte’s shorts didn’t do.
“Yeah! Those dresses are badass,” Jason commented, earning himself surprised looks from Gran and me.
“You’ve been to Fangtasia?” I asked.
“Sure. I checked it out when it first opened, and I go there once in a while,” Jason admitted. Huh, who knew? “I like the little vampire with the long blond hair. She’s cute.”
Cute wasn’t the word I would have used to describe Pam. “That’s Pam. She’s my boss.”
“I thought the big guy was your boss.”
“He’s the owner, so he’s everybody’s boss,” I said, feeling my stomach do a little flip-flop remembering the stolen kiss from the night before. Suddenly I lost my appetite. I was going to have to talk to Eric to figure him out. I couldn’t go around acting like a fool with a crush, or holding up a daisy and plucking petals: “he likes me, he likes me not.” All this over a little kiss. Ridiculous.
After Jason left, I decided to come clean with my Gran. I told her about the raid and the money I had earned.
“I want to give you some of it,” I said, pleading now because Gran was shaking her head vehemently. That had been my Word of the Day, and here I was having a chance to use it.
“Absolutely not. It’s about time somebody valued your gift. Besides, we don’t want for anything, and you just paid for the new roof,” she argued. It was true. I had painstakingly set money aside and paid cash for the new tin roof we had on our house. It was the least I could do, since Gran wouldn’t take money for rent, and barely ever let me pay for groceries or electricity. “And you need a new car,” she added.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, giving in. I would just sneak the electric bill when she wasn’t looking.
That night Fangtasia was busy, but not like Saturday night. I was starting to really like working here. Because there were barely any lulls of activity, the time went by fast. I had not heard the stupid “Bad Things” song at all, and nobody started up singing anything, much less in unison. And, to me at least, it was interesting to be here. I was learning a lot. For example, I didn’t know that vampires had a sort of down time, when they became completely still. They passed the time that way if they needed to recharge batteries, sort of like a human nap, except they could do it with their eyes open. I was about to refresh a vampire patron’s True Blood when Pam guided me away and explained the down time thing to me. I also learned exactly when vampires’ fangs would come out, and it usually included some kind of extreme emotion: pain, lust, anger. Around Fangtasia the main emotion was lust, and I had a couple of lusty vampire stares come my way, although I had caught Thalia in one of her moods and she had shown me fang too. But that was because she was a nutcase.
Best of all, even though there were plenty of humans thinking plenty of thoughts, all I had to do to get some peace was approach a vampire. Every time I went to the bar I would relax into either Long Shadow’s or Thalia’s mind, sometimes into Pam’s if she was nearby, sometimes into a customer’s. I didn’t have to work on shoring my shields as hard, and I wasn’t going home mentally exhausted.
“You seem to be acclimating well,” Eric said to me after we’d closed. He was writing my tips check tonight.
“I like it here,” I said, with a little too much enthusiasm. I had just noticed that I was physically tired, but my mind felt sharp. Driving the forty five minutes to get home would be a breeze. I was looking forward to listening to my CD’s in the Prius. My car had never had a CD changer.
“I am glad you do. Can you please come tomorrow? I know it’s your day off, but I have that favor for you to do. It will be better if we do this on a night when the bar is closed,” Eric looked at me expectantly. He feared I would say no, though I’d already agreed.
“I can come tomorrow. Same time as always?” I asked, getting nervous. I’d already made up my mind that I was going to ask Eric what his deal was, but I was turning chicken at the last minute. And now it seemed our conversation was drawing to a close.
“Eric, can I ask you something?” Too late I noticed that my question had come out all mumbled.
“You know my answer to that.”
I nodded and gathered my courage. A chicken I was not. I was a woman, a grown one at that. I could do this. “Why did you kiss me last night? Is there something you want from me? Because if there is, I’m sorry. I just don’t do that.”
Eric looked surprised, but his expression softened a little. “I kissed you because you’re beautiful. I want you to like me.”
Well! No mincing words there. So I wouldn’t either. “I like you already, though I don’t know in what way you want me to like you.” Ok, that wasn’t articulate at all, but he got the gist because he rolled his eyes at me.
“The way a woman likes a man, Sookie,” he said, explaining as if I were five years old instead of twenty five. Okay, twenty six.
“I can’t do that Eric. You’re my boss,” I said vehemently. That was twice I got to use my Word of the Day.
“Pam is your boss,” he said quickly and stood up. He was standing in front of me before I had a chance to blink. “You don’t want me to kiss you?”
I gulped. Of course I wanted him to kiss me: he was gorgeous! With the added bonus that touching him wouldn’t transmit any of his thoughts to me, a major drawback to kissing human males. My mind was hopping, desire and common sense warring and vying for equal amounts of attention.
Before I knew it he was kissing me again and my brain shut off. It wasn’t one of those passionate kisses I’d read in my books. This one was sweet and deliberate, as if he was trying not to scare me. I tried not to respond, but my traitor lips matched his, kiss for kiss. One of his hands held my face in place while the other caressed my hair, and my own hands found their way to his massive shoulders.
He pulled away first. It was a good thing too, because I was enjoying this new feeling a little too much. “See? You did want me to kiss you.” Eric’s fangs had run out a little, and his pupils had dilated almost encompassing the whole blue iris.
“I don’t think it was the brightest idea,” I muttered, short of breath.
“You may be right, but it wasn’t the worst either. I enjoyed our kiss,” he said smirking smugly, proud of either his kissing ability or catching me unaware yet again.
Suddenly the office was too small. I quickly turned away and left. Unfortunately I’d left without my purse or keys, so Eric had to follow to give them to me. I didn’t dare look at his face again, so I simply grabbed my things from his hands and walked away. The car seemed to be way too far away, but I reached it without being followed. As I was backing out of my spot I noticed Eric was inside the red Corvette, waiting for me to get going. I got going and lost him on my way to the highway.
I’d kissed the boss. Holy shit, I’d kissed the boss. No, wait, it was worse. The boss had kissed me! But I kissed him back! Oh, the horror! I chastised myself every time I remembered how much I had actually enjoyed the kiss.
“Fuck!” I yelled inside the car and hit the steering wheel, making me swerve a little. “Sookie you can’t kiss the boss. You’ll end up losing the best job you’ve ever had, and then what are you gonna do?” I was talking to myself like a madwoman. At least I wasn’t answering myself. “You’re gonna go work back at Merlotte’s so people can drive you nuts!” It was official. I had answered myself. I groaned in frustration.
“This is simple. I’ll just tell him to keep his hands to himself and he’ll have to do it. He wants to mainstream and there’re laws against this. So there.” It was like two people were holding a conversation: Sookie the Nut and Sookie the Half-Nut. It was a very fine distinction. “But you can’t kiss him back, Sookie!”
I’m not happy to say that I kept talking to myself for the rest of my ride, and only shut up when I got inside the house. I didn’t want to wake up Gran. And I’m sorry to say that I took some Benadryl to knock me out. I really didn’t need a sleepless night.
“Sookie! You have company!” my Gran called from the living room. I’d been getting ready to go to Fangtasia to do Eric’s favor. All I needed was shoes to go with my jeans and shirt. I didn’t feel like dressing up and giving Eric something to look at, so I chose the baggiest jeans, the size 10’s, and a shirt I mainly used to go to church, put my hair up in a ponytail, and declared myself ready.
“Be right there!”
In the living room I found Pam, seated neatly in one of the armchairs, and looking for all intents and purposes like a soccer mom. Her hair was held back by a band that matched her pink twin set perfectly, and she was wearing khakis and flats. It was so unlike the Fangtasia dress, that it took me a minute to realize it was the same woman.
“Hello, Pam. I was about to leave to go to Fangtasia,” I said a little confused. Well, more than a little. I had made my Monday into a very busy day, so that I wouldn’t think too much about the stupidity from the night before. All I had accomplished was getting a headache, because the more you don’t want to think about something, the more you end up doing the exact opposite.
“I was in the neighborhood visiting Bill Compton. Have you met him? He’s your neighbor,” Pam said.
I smelled a rat. A big stinky fat rat, but I answered politely. “I haven’t had the pleasure, but my grandmother did. Should we go? We shouldn’t be late.” I was trying to move things along, to get this favor thing over with. I’d taken an Advil before my shower, and it was starting to work, but in a few hours it would stop working and my headache would return… most probably with a vengeance, as nasty headaches are prone to do.
“Yes, we will go. A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Stackhouse,” Pam said, holding out her hand to Gran. I didn’t know that Pam could be so charming. She was even smiling in a non-threatening way. She drove a Toyota, a big Avalon sedan. I’d half expected her to drive a minivan at this point.
In the car she started making small talk. Was she nervous? “Your grandmother is a lovely woman,” she said, and I even detected a slight accent, an English one perhaps?
“Thank you,” I answered.
“When is Bill doing his talk for her little group? I wouldn’t want to miss it,” Pam said. Was she kidding?
“It’s next week, on Tuesday.”
“We should go, you and me. I’ve never heard Bill talk about his human days.”
“Pam…” I said her name with a warning in my voice. What was she doing?
“Oh, Sookie, not everyone’s out to get you. I know what Eric did has you spooked, but don’t take it so hard. He’s used to taking what he wants and doesn’t know there are things you don’t take, things that you earn.”
“How do you know about what happened?” was the first thing I was able to say after the shock of hearing Pam be so blunt.
“He tells me everything, and was concerned he’d made you mad or worse, scared.”
“Is that why you came to get me?”
“That was part of it. But I really did see Bill.” She reached over and patted my knee. The gesture was not exactly warm, because it was Pam, but I think she meant it to be. “Eric is sorry and won’t do it again, but don’t expect him to behave. He does like you. But we did promise to take care of you.”
Again that rat was making an appearance. “Who did you promise?”
“Sam, of course,” she answered immediately.
Yeah, right. Of course. “Sam is not my keeper. What is he going to do if you don’t keep your promise? Pelt you with barware?”
Pam looked at me with wide eyes, but then started laughing. It took her a while to come back into her stoic self. Meanwhile I was fuming in my seat.
“May I ask you something, Sookie?”
I decided to borrow a page from Eric’s book. “You may, but that doesn’t mean I’ll answer.”
Pam was off laughing again. “Wait until Eric hears this one. You may be just as stubborn as he is!”
I had to say a little prayer: God, give me patience so that I don’t kill my boss, either one of them. I’m a good woman and don’t want to harm anybody. Thanks!
“Alright, okay, back to my question. Did you ever read Sam’s mind?”
I answered her immediately, if only to prove my point. “No, I never have. He was my boss and the last time I read a boss’ mind I ended up kicking him in the shins. Reading the boss’ mind is a surefire way to lose my job.”
“And you can’t read our minds at all?”
“No, not at all. It is very peaceful,” I said. I’d already been taking advantage of her presence to relax. Maybe it would keep the headache away longer. Advil and a vampire: For headaches there’s nothing better.
“That is a good thing, or you’d be mad at me as well,” she said smiling.
“Your point Pam, I know you had one.”
“I did have a point. I was trying to figure out if you knew him well, but it is apparent that you do not. There are a lot of things that you don’t know, and it’s making my job doubly difficult. That’s why you should accept my invitation to go see Bill speak. We can make it a GNO.”
A GNO? I knew Pam was serious, but sometimes I wondered. What vampire wanted to have a Girls’ Night Out with a human? A human employee, for that matter? I was curious enough to accept.
“Great! We can have dinner after Bill’s thing,” she said, the perfect picture of stoicism. How did she do it?
“Pam, you don’t eat.”
“Thank you for pointing out that very obvious fact, Sookie dear, but I can certainly keep you company while sipping on one of those blood substitutes.”
We arrived at Fangtasia and there were already several cars in the back parking lot, the red Corvette was one of them, and two that I recognized that belonged to Ginger and Belinda, waitresses like me. I was nervous on two counts. First, whether I liked to admit it or not, I had been thinking about Eric and the kiss little bit too much that day. If he weren’t my boss, I might even entertain the idea of dating him. Second, whatever I was about to do for Eric now was serious. It would be the first time I used my gift in a deliberate way, and I didn’t want to disappoint.
Inside Eric’s office was Eric, Long Shadow, and another man who looked like he was about to puke. He was sweating heavily and his face had a green cast. Pam stayed next to the door after closing it, and Long Shadow moved next to her. Eric made a motion with his hand, giving me permission to get closer. I stood next to the man, whose mind was a complete jumble. The underlying current was fear and guilt, but I couldn’t understand why he was feeling that way.
“Sookie, I would like you to listen to Bruce,” Eric said, pointing at the scared man. I immediately knew Eric meant “listen” in the “reading minds” sense.
“It would help if you told me the question to the answer I’m looking for,” I said. I felt like we were playing Jeopardy. “Things you’re not really proud of” for $600, Alex.
“Somebody stole sixty thousand dollars from Fangtasia. Bruce is our accountant and the most likely suspect,” Eric supplied.
I nodded and crouched next to Bruce. I needed to touch him, but I didn’t really want to touch his sweaty hand, so I settled on his left wrist. Immediately the images flooded in. I saw the first time he’d caught the missing amount, the fear that had crept up within him, the determination that he had to tell Eric about it, and when he did so how mad Eric had been. I could see Eric’s face contorted into a mask of rage, and let go of Bruce’s wrist. I took a deep breath and touched his wrist again, steeling myself against the images.
“Bruce, did you take the money?” I asked, because his thoughts had been drifting to his family and I needed to redirect them. Again he was thinking about how he’d caught the mistake, how he wanted to let Eric know right away, and I knew he hadn’t done it even before he answered me out loud.
“No, I didn’t,” Bruce said. He was starting to shake a little, and I gave him a smile to see if he would calm down.
“He’s telling you the truth,” I looked up at Eric, who hadn’t sat behind his desk. He was staring at me intently before he nodded and flicked his hand at Bruce.
Pam took Bruce out of the office and returned quickly with Ginger. Ginger took Bruce’s seat. She was a sight tonight. She was wearing the tightest black jeans I’d ever seen, and a halter top that left very little to the imagination. It looked like she was going clubbing, though I didn’t know of any club that was open on Mondays.
I crouched next to Ginger. “Hi, Ginger,” I said. She wasn’t nervous at all, not even a little bit. She seemed to be preening for all three vampires in the room.
“Hi, Sookie. You had something to ask me?” she asked. I touched her wrist and asked my question. But there was nothing to find inside her mind, not when I asked about the money.
I decided to try something different, to see how big the hole was. “Who’s your hairstylist?” That gave me a better picture. She was thinking of the girl that did her hair, and how she dyed it blond from its natural dark brown. Then she started thinking about the time she had a perm, which wasn’t exactly helpful in trying to ascertain who’d taken the money, but at least I knew her mind worked.
I pressed further. It was something I hadn’t done in many years. Usually I didn’t want to know people’s thoughts, so I didn’t actively read anybody’s mind the way I was about to do with her. “Did you take the money, Ginger?” I asked to redirect her thoughts. I was inside her mind. There was a big void, a black hole of information. I started pressing against it, willing it to lift, trying to move it off whatever it was blocking.
“Sookie!” I felt a large hand on my shoulder, and a smaller one prying my fingers off Ginger’s wrist. Only when I noticed this did I also notice that Ginger was wailing in her chair. “Sookie, are you alright?” Eric was asking the question. If I didn’t know better I would have said he sounded concerned.
I didn’t know if I was, so I decided to report the news instead. “There was a big hole in her brain, a void, like her memories had been removed.” I looked around me and found I was by myself in the office with Eric. “Where did everybody go?”
“Pam took Ginger away to calm her down, and I dismissed Long Shadow until you’re feeling better. What did you do?”
I looked up, and what do you know… he did look concerned. What had I done? “I tried to search the void, or lift it,” I looked around me. When did I end up sitting on the couch? I’d lost time.
“You hurt her and yourself. Obviously there’s a limit to what you can do,” Eric said. I felt like I was coming into my body slowly, and had just noticed that he was wiping my face with a tissue.
“I hadn’t done that in a very long time, during completely different circumstances, and it usually gave me the answer I was looking for,” and it was usually a bad thing. Why hadn’t I remembered that part?
“We can continue another day,” he said.
“No, no. I’m already a mess, but I don’t have to drive home, so let’s get it over with so I can just die later in peace,” I said, getting up off the couch with a little help from Eric, who let me use his arm as leverage.
Pam and Long Shadow came back in and brought Belinda. Belinda sat in the infamous chair and I pushed through. Hopefully she didn’t have a hole in her brain too. I tried something different, since Ginger was the one with her memories removed.
“Belinda, did Ginger take the money?” Belinda’s thoughts were clear. She was thinking hard about something Ginger had said, something about Long Shadow needing money to start his own business, and not wanting to borrow it because then he’d have to pay it back.
I looked at Eric, who asked me the question silently just with his facial expression. I shook my head, still listening to Belinda, and my eyes alighted on Long Shadow.
In a whirl of motion I was knocked back onto the floor, the air in my lungs leaving me, and the hands at my throat making it impossible to take any more in. All I could see was Long Shadow’s awful face, feral and terrible, baring his teeth. My chest hurt for lack of air, and my peripheral vision was starting to go black. I struggled with what was left of my strength and felt a searing pain where Long Shadow bit my arm when I was trying to knock him off me. His face turned from horrifying to horrified, as blood started dripping from his mouth into mine. A pair of strong hands retrieved me from the floor and from underneath the crumpling form of the vampire who’d just attacked me. Behind him Eric was standing like a terrible angel, a mallet in one hand and his other curled into claw.
“Breathe, Sookie,” Pam’s voice said at my ear.
The minute I did I started shaking violently. Pam sat us down on the couch, holding me tight to help with the shakes.
“I told you, Eric! Look! Now she’s bleeding!” bellowed Pam from my side, taking my arm gingerly. “Damn it, Eric!”
I felt like throwing up, but would have to settle for crying. I don’t really care who says that a brush with death makes you horny. That’s bullshit. A brush with death makes you remember all the things you could have lost and how many people would be hurt by your death. Pam let me cry on her shoulder while Eric knelt in front of me.
“I can make it better,” he said in a quiet voice, taking my arm from Pam’s hand and… well… licking it. It felt like that Neosporin balm, the one with the little bit of pain relieving medicine that made things numb.
“Did you swallow any of the blood?” Pam asked me. I shrugged then nodded. “That will help you heal. It’s the least the bastard could do,” she said with a sneer. I noticed her fangs were still out, and so were Eric’s as he licked my arm clean.
I think I passed out because the next thing I remember is that I was lying on the couch listening to something that sounded like loud hissing. It sounded like a cat or a snake. A very angry cat or snake. I opened my eyes slowly to find that Pam was giving Eric a piece of her mind. She was the one hissing. I realized that she was talking very fast and very low, and to my ears it sounded like a hiss. Eric growled from where he was standing. It was low and feral, and it meant business. Pam quieted immediately and they both looked at me.
“I’m okay. Thanks for asking,” I said, sitting up. Remarkably, that statement had a lot of truth in it. My arm didn’t hurt, my head didn’t hurt, I wasn’t shaking, and the room wasn’t spinning. I held up my arm to examine it, and noticed that the reason it didn’t hurt was because it was completely healed. Now I knew why people used (abused, rather) vampire blood. It cured me of everything that was ailing me.
“Come on, Sookie. Let’s get you home,” Pam said, approaching slowly and holding out her hand. I took it and she pulled me up in one swift motion.
“Pam,” Eric barked.
Pam lowered her head, looking properly contrite. “Yes, Master,” she said, with no hint of sarcasm. He really was her master. I was officially upgrading this night to creepy.
Instead of talking to her, Eric turned to me. “Sookie, I’m sorry about tonight. I didn’t foresee Long Shadow attacking you instead of me.”
“You knew it was him all along,” I said. I should have been a question, but it came out as a statement.
“I had a suspicion, which you confirmed. I can say, in all honesty, that I don’t wish to put you through that again.” Eric nodded, which was a vampire way to defer to the other person.
It didn’t escape my notice, though, that he hadn’t promised not to put me through it again, he merely wished not to do it. I’d accept his apology for now, and I’d bitch later.
“Thank you, Eric. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, and turned back to Pam, who was done with her submissive pose and led the way out.
“Thank you, Pam,” I said when the silence inside the car was getting to be too much.
“It would be nice to know what has made you feel grateful,” she said.
“For standing up for me. It seemed like you were mad at Eric over what happened to me.”
“Sookie…” she seemed to sigh. “It wasn’t Eric’s fault, but he should have been more careful. You think of yourself like a regular human with a quirk, and we see you as an extraordinary human who can get hurt. Now that you’re my employee, I need to make sure you remain safe. That is Eric’s goal too, but he sometimes forgets…” she didn’t finish her sentence.
“Forgets what?” I pressed.
“That you break easily, in more ways than one,” she said. I knew she was being cryptic, but I’d ask her later. Right at that moment I wanted nothing but a hot shower and a warm bed. The true meaning of her words would have to wait for another day.