I decided to go to Merlotte’s for lunch and visit the folks there. They had the usual lunch crowd, but they seemed to be short-handed. I sat at the bar where Sam was doing his thing. His face lit up when he saw me.
“Sookie! So nice to see you!” he said, and meant it. Lafayette heard him and he gave me a shout out from the kitchen.
“Hi, Sam! Lafayette! It’s nice to be here as a customer,” I said, looking around.
“Gosh! And here I was hoping you’d help,” Sam said, but his smile told me he didn’t really mean it.
“Dawn didn’t make it in today. But tell me, what can I get you?” Sam asked, dismissing his struggle with Dawn. She was usually the least reliable, so the fact that she didn’t come to work didn’t really surprise me.
“A Coke,” I said, and then louder, “and a burger, Lafayette!”
“Coming right up!” Lafayette called out from the kitchen, waving a spatula.
While sipping my Coke and waiting patiently for my burger, I decided it was time to read my ex-boss’ mind. Why not? He’d never know, and I wasn’t in danger of losing my job. I stopped myself briefly. What if I ever wanted to return to work here? I’d deal with it then, I thought.
I sifted through the minds of others and focused on the one moving back and forth in front of me. There was a sense of longing, a date on a calendar two days away, a red haze. Then everything turned sort of snarly, it’s the best way to describe it, before Sam started thinking about an order of drinks he was putting together. The snarly part had scared the shit out of me. I’d never seen anything like that before.
I looked down at the bar hurriedly before he saw me staring. Then I tried again. This time I was getting images of the woods, and they looked bright in the night, but it quickly turned into the red hazy snarly thoughts, all twisted up into themselves. Suddenly, lust.
“Here’s your order, chere,” Sam put my burger basket in front of me.
Holy shit! First of all, that lustful thought had been directed at me, of that much I was sure. The rest of it was not human, it couldn’t be. Was he a demon worshipper? I knew I was staring at Sam now, and he knew it too.
“I’m… um… I’ll be right back,” I said, running away to the ladies’ room.
I took some really deep breaths. My heart was hammering in my chest like a jackrabbit, and I just couldn’t calm down.
Maxine Fortenberry, one of Gran’s good friends, walked into the ladies’ and found me using a sink for support. “Sookie? What’s wrong, sweetheart?” God bless, Maxine. She knew of my quirk but didn’t care, sort of like Gran, and she looked over me whenever there was a need.
Like now. “I just got a shock, Mrs. F. I’ll be alright in a minute.”
She had already wet a paper towel with cold water, and was now proceeding to put it in the back of my neck. “All you need is some TLC. One of these days you and I need to talk.”
Eventually I came out of the ladies’, only to find Sam standing by the door to his office in a thoughtful pose. His arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the wall, looking at the floor. He did look up when I came out.
“It’s not what you think,” he said.
“Sam,” I warned him with the tone of my voice. “I don’t want to know. I was rude. I’m sorry. I’ll pay for lunch and leave.”
“Sookie,” he sounded frustrated. “Will you at least let me explain?”
“I don’t think I want to know.”
“Yes, you do. Come into my office so I can explain. I won’t hurt you.”
This felt like a horror movie, yet my curiosity won out. Isn’t that always how the girl gets killed? She usually starts screaming first, though. In a bar full of patrons, that could draw some attention.
Sam perched on his desk while I stayed by the door. He took several deep breaths. I could have peeked into his mind again, but decided against it. Once was enough, and I was thanking my good common sense that I hadn’t done it while I was still working here.
“I’m not fully human.” That’s all he said.
I crossed my arms and struck a pose. I couldn’t help it. “Uh huh. Tell me something I don’t know. Are you… what? Half vampire?”
Sam smiled, a little patronizingly if you ask me. “No. I’m a shape shifter.” He let that sink in for a few seconds. I knew my expression hadn’t changed. I knew this because my brain had seized, like an engine without oil. “I can change into other animals at will,” he explained.
My poor brain started gearing up again. “Are you like a werewolf?” I asked, remembering that silly movie where the vampires sparkled and the girl couldn’t decide between cold and deadly and warm and sexy.
“I could turn into a wolf if I wanted to, but the Weres don’t like it when shape shifters do it. I usually turn into a collie,” he answered.
I felt my face flush in anger. Was he making fun of me? I was already half mad at him for making the vampires promise to take care of me, but now I was livid. What the fucking hell! He better not be making fun of me! I was so mad I couldn’t speak.
“Sookie, I thought once I told you, you’d understand. You seemed to take the vampires so well. Why can’t you accept this about me?” Sam asked.
That effectively took the wind off my sails. I could be fair. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked, softening my tone a little.
“Because of this,” he pointed at me, “your reaction. I knew it would be a shock, but I didn’t expect you to be mad.”
“I guess there are a lot of things I still don’t understand, and it’s making me frustrated. The vampires are obsessed with keeping me safe, and I feel like everyone is keeping secrets,” I said, feeling very lonely all of a sudden.
“You might be feeling that way with the vampires because you can’t read their minds, and you can understand why I kept my secret from you,” Sam said.
He had a point, or maybe half of one. I knew when people were keeping secrets. I didn’t need to be a mind reader to see when someone was being evasive. But I could concede the point that I was feeling unusually frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t pluck the vampires’ secrets out of their minds.
“Okay, Sam. I give in. You’re… whatever you are. I’m a freak. The vampires are a bunch of blood suckers. Life’s just perfect all around,” I took out a twenty from my purse, left it on a shelf next to the office door and left through the back door.
Instead of going straight home, I went to the library and grabbed a few books. I even stayed there to read for an hour or so, not that I was paying attention to the words on the page. And since reading wasn’t helping, I decided (against all common sense) to ask the librarian for some help.
“I’m looking for a book about Vikings, Mrs. Beck.” She guided me to a section, and pulled out the most promising book.
“I think this one is the most comprehensive,” then she pulled another book, “and this one offers a more summarized version.” Mrs. Beck smiled, probably glad that I had picked something more educational than my usual romance and mystery novels.
I took both books home with me, and locked myself in my room. Gran was knitting, so I knew there weren’t any chores for me to help with. I didn’t feel guilty for being antisocial.
Reading the books might not help me figure out Eric’s silent mind, but I could at least learn some history. Vikings were not as fearful as modern thinking would have them be. They took care of their women and children. They were into pillaging, but not much into raping. Most of the skeletons that had been found by anthropologists had not been any taller than six feet, so Eric would have towered above his own contemporaries. Fascinating, but not helpful. I set the books aside to return them during my next trip to the library, and went to get ready for work.
Jason had come to visit, and looked… well… he actually looked serious and scared. Gran was sitting with him in the kitchen, patting his shoulder and making him drink tea. I swear sometimes Gran thought she was English.
“What’s going on?” I asked, getting some water for the long drive to Shreveport.
“I just spent the whole day at the police station. The cops have been asking me questions about Dawn and Maudette,” Jason said without any preamble.
Maudette? “What happened to Dawn?”
“She died of strangulation,” Gran supplied helpfully. She looked her age, which was unusual.
“And they think you did it?” I asked Jason. Color me confused and scared too. Oh, my God! Poor Dawn! What the hell was going on? And now the cops were after Jason. Why? Oh, shit! “Jason!”
He shrugged. Obviously he’d been with them, with both of them, and the cops were getting suspicious.
“Gran, I’m going to work,” I said. She knew I couldn’t deal with Jason’s drama, so she dismissed me with an understanding nod.
I felt like my head was about to burst, so when I got to work I sought the first vampire I saw. It was Pam.
“Sookie, you look troubled,” she said, crossing her arms.
Her silence was wonderful. I didn’t know if she was mad, concerned, whatever, and I didn’t care. I felt my smile widen at that realization: I didn’t care.
“I’m good now Pam. Thank you for your concern,” I said. She raised her eyebrow at me before I left to take care of my section.
Tuesdays were not exactly wild and crazy nights at Fangtasia. We got more vampires than usual, and that was just fine with me. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have anybody sitting at the thrones, because it wasn’t warranted. There weren’t enough humans to enthrall, and most of them were already hanging on a vampire’s arm.
Ginger and Belinda looked like they had forgotten the night before, and were pleasant to me. Ginger actually came over when a particularly peppy song started playing, and we both started shaking our butts. It was innocent really, just a quick movement that lasted half a minute, tops, but it immediately lifted my spirits. My customers had noticed, and the desire to dance must have rubbed off on a few.
I was picking up some glasses and bottles from a just-vacated table, still shaking my booty a little bit to the beat. I didn’t even notice when a pair of glowing hands took the tray from me and set it back down on the table. Eric held out his hand to me, and I took it before thinking it through. He led the way to the now busy dance floor, twirled me and smiled, before letting go of my hand and getting jiggy with it. For a large man, he was uncannily graceful.
Dancing with Eric turned out to be an unexpected treat. I’m a good dancer; it’s one of the few things I can do very well. But Eric was better. We danced for several songs, and for those few precious minutes that night I forgot. I forgot I was dancing with a vampire; I forgot about Sam; I forgot about my brother and the heartache he’d given Gran. My brain concentrated on keeping time and keeping up, nothing else. Only when the music turned slower did Eric let me leave the dance floor. Somehow he knew I wouldn’t be able to handle dancing too close. He did hold my head in his hands briefly, fixing me with his turquoise eyes, and said “Thank you,” with a sincere smile. I smiled back and curtsied, like dancing partners did way back when, and he bowed a little.
It was such a little thing, insignificant really. A dance and I was set to rights. All my jumbled thoughts were now linear. Everything could make sense, everything had a simple solution. Jason hadn’t hurt those girls, and the truth would win out. Nothing to worry about there. Sam was “other.” Welcome to the club. Eric was no different than Sam. I’d been fine before, I’d be fine now.
I knew I looked happy, and when Pam handed me my check I knew my customers had noticed. I’d gotten nearly as much in tips as I’d gotten on Saturday. Even in a vampire bar, you still needed to treat people nicely. Were vampires really that different from humans?
I went to get the door. Gran had been expecting Mr. Compton to stop by. She’d even gone out to get some True Blood.
“You should have seen the looks I got! Old lady buying True Blood,” she had laughed.
“Good evening,” said Bill Compton at the door.
Now, I knew Gran called everyone Mr. This and Mrs. That, but I called vampires by their first names. “Hello! You must be Bill, come on in,” I said stepping aside. I was a little leery of him. After all, he’d come into the house when Gran was here by herself.
He was as ghostly pale as any vampire, with his glowing skin that dimmed in the house’s lights. He had very long sideburns and dark brown hair that matched his dark brown eyes. He was only a few inches taller than my five six, and looked slender but solid, muscular. Bill wore a perfectly appropriate pair of gray slacks and a long sleeve polo shirt.
Gran appeared in the living room carrying a tray with one blood and two iced teas. She gave me a reproving look, and I knew it wasn’t because of my manners, since I’d already shown Bill to a chair. I think she didn’t approve of my outfit. Hey! It was my night off. Jeans and a tee were perfectly appropriate. I was even wearing shoes.
The two lovebirds started talking about the upcoming meeting, and then got into family trees. Somehow in that conversation he found out that Mrs. Caroline Bellefleur was his great-great-granddaughter or something like that. At first he’d sneered at the Bellefleur name, but Mrs. B. had married into the name, obviously. There was no older woman down here that had kept her maiden name after marrying. My own Gran’s maiden name was Adele Hale, and had married Grandpa Stackhouse. So the house we lived in didn’t really belong to her family, but to his.
The evening had turned rather pleasant, until my Gran said she needed to turn in and practically ordered us to go out for a walk. Oh, jeez! I wasn’t about to read her mind, but I could guess she considered Bill a suitable partner for me. Why in the world she would think that was beyond me. I went out for a walk with Bill anyway, just to make her happy.
“Thank you for agreeing to speak to the Descendants. It means a lot to Gran,” I said to Bill, because I really had nothing else to say to him.
“I suppose it comes with trying to belong to the community,” he said. Okay, that made sense.
“So are you planning on staying here for a long time?” I asked, curious now. I knew he’d been fixing the house next door, but maybe he was going to sell it.
“That is my plan for now. I like to travel, but it’s nice to have a home to return to.” He paused. “How do you like working at Fangtasia?”
“It’s been very nice so far,” I answered without giving anything away.
“That’s not what I heard. I heard Long Shadow attacked you,” Bill said. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do, and because I didn’t know anything about vampire politics, I had a hard time coming up with something to say. That stinky rat seemed to go wherever vampires went, and right now it was rearing its ugly head. Was Eric in trouble for killing another vampire? If he was, I didn’t want to confirm or deny anything. To confirm would mean I was a witness. To deny would prove the same thing.
Thankfully I didn’t have to say anything at all.
“Compton.” Even irate, I knew that voice. “What did I tell you?”
“Good evening Pam,” Bill said nodding at her. She must have come out of the trees. One second we were walking down the driveway, the next she was blocking our path. I was a little thankful, if perplexed.
“Good night, Sookie,” Bill said to me, nodding at me now, and off he went through the woods to the west, homeward bound.
“Ugh! I hate repeating myself,” she mumbled. “Hi, Sookie. Walk with me back to your house.”
“Pam… I don’t even know what to ask you anymore, other than to explain,” I said.
“I will, but not here,” she whispered in my ear. “Do you know that he listens to Kenny G? How lame,” she said louder.
“Bill. He’s into easy listening. Not your cup of tea, I know.” Pam had seen me make a face and the “easy listening” part. “You dance very well, Sookie. You’ll have to teach me.” And here came that evil smile of hers. How could someone so lovely look so evil? I knew she was frozen in time, so she must have looked the same during her human days. Uf! She would have been a bitch!
“When were you turned, Pam? I’m sorry if I’m prying, but I’m curious.”
“It was the early eighteenth century,” she said, not minding telling me.
I did quick mental math. “So you’re older than Bill. Does that make a difference?”
“Sure it does. I’m stronger,” she flexed her arms. It was comical. She was just a little thing. “And I have more brains, but that may just be because I’m me, and he’s… well, he’s Compton,” she said with disdain. There was no love lost there.
Pam didn’t need my invitation to come inside the house, because she already had Gran’s. “Would you like a blood?”
“No, I already ate, thank you. Sit down, let’s talk.”
I obeyed curious and apprehensive at her tone. “Please don’t give me bad news. I don’t think my brain can handle anymore.”
“Are we alone in the house? Is your grandmother sleeping?” Pam asked. I could feel my Gran’s brain had shut down, so I nodded. “Good. Now, I’m not sure how you will take this news, and I’m sorry that I have to be the one to tell you. Really, Sookie, your family is kind of odd sometimes.”
“What are you talking about?”
Pam seemed to take a deep breath, though I knew she didn’t need it. “Your cousin Hadley…”
“You know Hadley?!” I almost yelled as I interrupted her. Poor Hadley had been lost into drugs and God knew what else for years.
“Not personally. Sookie, calm down so I can continue,” she waited until I nodded again. “Hadley is one of us now. She was turned recently.”
I blinked. “Was she dying?” It’s sad that that’s where my brain went immediately.
“No, no, she was healthy I assure you,” Pam said quickly.
“Okay, well, I can’t say that I’m happy, but at least now I know where she is,” wait, “Where is she?”
“She’s in New Orleans, and she’s safe. But she’s a new vampire, and they are prone to accidents.”
“Accidents, as in…?”
“As in it’s not safe for her to come visit her family, not for a little while.” She studied me for a moment. I was lost in thought, trying to come to grips with Hadley’s strange life, and now death. I was sad, but Hadley had been lost for so long, we all thought of her as dead already. She hadn’t even come to her mother’s funeral, although she may not have known about it. It’s not like we had her number.
“I must say you’re handling this remarkably well,” Pam said quietly.
“We all thought she was dead completely. Now I know she’s only dead during the day and comes alive after dark. I think Gran will get some peace of mind now that we know where she is.” I was trying to decipher how I felt about this.
Poor Hadley had suffered more physical abuse than I had, and for longer. Gran had tried to bring her back into the folds of the family, but she was too damaged, or else didn’t care (although I didn’t believe that). She’d sought refuge in self-destroying activities, believing herself to be less than she was. Being a vampire might actually be a self-affirming thing for her. She was now stronger than those who’d harmed her.
“Who made her a vampire?” I asked before the thought had fully formed in my head.
Pam made a face and a soft hissing sound. “I am not at liberty to say, but perhaps Eric can fill you in.” She stood up to leave. “Try not to be alone with Bill, and don’t say anything about your ability to him, or to any vampire for that matter.”
“I know I should ask why, but I don’t think I want to,” I said standing up too.
She answered anyway. “Because Bill’s an idiot and a nosy brat, plus I don’t like the company he keeps with the exception of your grandmother. As for other vampires: because nobody so powerful should know what you can do.”
“What about you and Eric?” I asked, frowning.
“We’re the good guys,” she winked.