Dying is a business. It must be, because I found myself in a little room inside the hospital signing paper after paper. Because Gran had died right after Rene’s attack on me, the D.A. was requesting an autopsy. They wanted to see if they could charge him with her murder, as well as my assault and the assault on Eric. I still had no idea what he’d done to Eric, but whatever.
Eric had dispatched Pam to find out what had happened to Rene, since we all left the house in ambulances, and Rene had left in the back of a police cruiser. Eric’s phone kept vibrating at regular intervals with text messages. Apparently Rene was starting to spill the beans.
“He’s confessing many murders,” Eric mumbled while I was reading yet another piece of paper. “Including the one of his sister, a woman named Maudette and another named Dawn in Bon Temps. It seems Alcee Beck is a better detective than Bellefleur.”
“How is Pam hearing all this?” I asked shaking my head. I must have been in shock because that was my only reaction.
“Super vampire hearing,” Eric answered, trying to lighten the mood. Well, I gave him brownie points for trying, anyway. He had remained at my side and he really didn’t have to.
“Pam is on her way to pick us up. She’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” Eric said, glancing at his phone one last time.
“I’m sure we’ll be done by then,” I said. The social worker came to pick up the paperwork and left to make copies. She was scared of the vampire next to me. Just as well, because she didn’t linger long enough for me to read her mind any further.
I felt Eric’s hand alight on my hair, pushing a strand behind my ear. I made a soft grunting noise. I really didn’t need this right now. He shushed me and kept smoothing my hair. Maybe he was fixing it. God only knew what it looked like. Whatever connection we’d had right after I’d taken his blood, I couldn’t feel it anymore. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but for now it was good that I could once more relax into his silent mind.
The hospital was quiet at three in the morning. Eric matched his stride to mine, which was slow. I was leaving my Gran behind inside this hospital, and I was doing so reluctantly. I reminded myself that Gran’s body was just that: a body. Her soul was already well on its way back to God, or wherever it is we all come from. I wasn’t feeling like a believer at that particular minute.
Pam came in through the main doors to the hospital, and made a bee line for me. She held my shoulders, looking me over. “Your hair’s a mess,” she said, then hugged me. It was like hugging a small tree with soft flesh. I knew Pam wasn’t good about expressing feelings, so the hug was unexpected, though not unwelcomed.
Jason finally walked in through the main door of the hospital as we approached it. “Where’s Gran?” he asked, looking like somebody had just hit him with a sledgehammer. I probably looked the same way.
“She’s gone,” I said. I didn’t know how else to say it.
Three things happened in quick succession. I felt a sharp pain on my left cheek, where Jason’s fist had made contact with my face. Jason found himself lifted off the floor by the throat by a very pissed off vampire twice his size. And I had another vampire standing in front of me, guarding me in a semi crouch, tiny hands curled into claws. Suddenly the hospital’s silence was pierced by my cry of pain, and the growls issuing forth from Eric and Pam. They were the kind only a demon could make.
“Eric, please put him down,” I said in a calm voice. Eric opened his hand and Jason fell to the floor in a heap.
I stepped around Pam to look down at Jason. “Don’t you ever lay another hand on me, are you listening? And don’t you dare come to my house for as long as you live.” And just to show I was better than him, I walked away without so much as a kick to his groin, though I really wanted to.
“You should have let me hurt him,” Eric grumbled from the driver’s side of Pam’s car.
I curled up in the large backseat. It was a half hour ride back to Bon Temps. “I couldn’t let you sink to his level,” I mumbled, half asleep already.
“Sookie is a woman of honor,” Pam reminded Eric.
He grumbled a little more and then said, “I know.”
I woke up feeling like I couldn’t move. I quickly discovered that the vampire’s idea of tucking people in was extreme. Eric was still working at tucking my feet.
“Eric, can you un-tuck me a little bit? I can’t move,” I said lifting my head a little.
“I’m sorry I woke you,” he said, pulling on the covers a little. “Pam let me tuck you in when I promised I’d behave. Though she wasn’t very specific with her request.”
In the dim light coming in from the window, I couldn’t tell if he had waggled his eyebrows. I imagined he did. He knelt by the head of the bed and touched my cheek, the one that had gotten the blow.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
“No, it’s a little sore.” I took a deep breath. It was time to put on my big girl britches and be gracious. “Thank you for staying with me through this.”
“You haven’t cried yet,” was all he had to say.
I frowned. “I think I’m all cried out for now.” From the time I got to the ICU I had cried. Not sobs, just tears. When the doctor said there wasn’t anything else they could do for Gran, he’d let me sit beside her before they took her off the machines. I told her I loved her, that I’d miss her, and that I’d see her someday.
“I could feel your grief,” Eric said in a quiet voice.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I picked the first thing I thought of. “I’m sorry. I took your blood and it didn’t make a difference.”
“It made a difference to me,” he said immediately in a sure voice. “You matter, Sookie, and not just to me. You are very dear to many people and you make a difference every day.”
I tried to decipher his expression, but I couldn’t see very well. He’d sounded mad. “I meant I couldn’t save Gran’s life,” I mumbled.
“Even the great Sookie Stackhouse can’t defeat Death. Go to sleep, Sookie, and take the time you need to get your grandmother’s affairs in order. I’m sure Pam will blow up your phone every night,” he paused and chuckled. “Who knew that Pam would have a human woman for a friend?” I smiled, since I’d been wondering the same thing about myself.
Eric kissed my forehead and left my room. There were no other sounds except the crickets outside, and I fell into the dreamless sleep of exhaustion.
“One of us should call,” Jason said.
“Jason, I don’t want to talk about it. If you want to call, you go on right ahead, but that man does not set foot in my house, on my property, or within my view,” I said to him. My voice had come out a little shrill.
We were at the funeral home, the only one in Bon Temps, finalizing things for tomorrow’s viewing and funeral. It was a tentative truce, and it had only come about thanks to Mrs. Fortenberry and her grandson Hoyt.
Timid, quiet Hoyt, who was usually Jason’s shadow, ripped Jason a new one when he found out what he’d done to me. Mrs. F. called me up and had acted as mediator. “This isn’t the time to be apart, even if he is an asshole.” I was floored. Never in my life had I heard any sort of curse word spoken by Mrs. F.
So now, here we were, talking about Gran’s brother, who really didn’t deserve to be called such. Ugh! Now I could use Hadley’s presence. A short visit with a new vampire was what that man deserved. Although, an older vampire could draw out the torture a little longer… hmm… something to think about.
“I just don’t understand…”
“Quit it, Jason! If you don’t understand by now I ain’t telling you! Respect my wishes or leave,” I shouted.
“People will ask,” he muttered.
“I don’t give a fuck!” I stood up and left the little office.
If I were a smoker I’d go for one right about then, just to have an excuse to get away. I settled for the ladies’ room instead. I took some deep shaky breaths and glared at my reflection. Jason hadn’t left a mark on my face thanks to Eric’s blood. I was sure I would have gotten a shiner otherwise, and then I might have been tempted to deck him at this particular junction.
I didn’t want to see Uncle Bartlett, and Jason knew why. He’d never believed what that man had been capable of. I fixed a stray strand of hair with a shaking hand, and I knew I had to leave.
Mike Spencer was the M.E. and the Funeral Director. Convenient, since he did the autopsies in record time so he could collect for putting the bodies in the ground. Gosh, you’re cynical today, Sookie! He was just coming out of the little office, which was serendipitous (a Word of the Day I’d learned a few months ago).
“Mr. Spencer, do you need me for anything else? I have other appointments,” I lied, but it sounded good.
“I think we’re good with all the major points. If anything I’ll call you,” he said. I had to block him because I’d started getting some weird signals from his brain.
I nodded curtly and left quickly. I stopped at the hardware store and bought several boxes and packing tape, and headed home. More like empty house, since Gran wasn’t going to be there.
Once inside the house I looked around. She had left it to me in a very detailed will. Sid Matt Lancaster had drawn it up a few years before, and said there would be no need for arbitration, which was one significant weight off my shoulders. I had cleaned top to bottom for the past two days, waiting for the funeral, really. I had started cleaning out Gran’s room as well. I was thinking of moving into it. It just needed a little paint and new curtains.
I sat on the floor in the middle of Gran’s room with all her small jewelry boxes. She’d never had much, and what she’d had she’d already given to Aunt Linda (Hadley’s mom) or me. I did find her engagement ring and tried it on. It was a perfect fit. She must have been my size when she was my age. She was slimmer than me in her later years. I also found a flower brooch that I’d never seen before. It was silver, and it wasn’t tarnished, which was surprising. The long stem of the flower had emerald leaves, and the petals were of some stone I’d never seen before. I wanted to call it amethyst, but they weren’t the right shade of purple. It was a lavender color. No, lighter: lilac. The inset was a yellow stone, probably citrine. I was fascinated by it. I remembered a little tidbit of information: silver didn’t tarnish if you used it every day. But Gran had never worn this. I set it aside to keep. I would give away all the fake stuff, and keep the real things.
The next day at the funeral I wore a gray suit I’d bought for the occasion and the flower brooch on my lapel.
It was amazing to see how many people mourned for Gran. Mrs. F. was very sad, leaning heavily on Hoyt. Jason’s whole crew had shown up. At one time or another they had all met Gran. Sam closed Merlotte’s so my friends could come, and he looked very dapper in a suit I would have never imagined he owned. He reminded me of someone in the military, actually, that’s how pressed and upright he looked standing there. Lafayette was wearing a purple suit, and I just knew Gran would have loved it. She always wore a pink suit herself to funerals.
There were a few people I didn’t recognize, but I figured they must have known Gran in some way. One man in particular was striking. He reminded me of a vampire, with long blond hair, but of course, he wasn’t. He was out in the early afternoon sunlight, after all. I only saw him while I was saying a few words for Gran, and didn’t see him anymore. Unfortunately I did see the sorry shape of Uncle Bartlett.
“I honored your wishes, sis. I did not call him,” Jason said when he pulled me aside at the house. Everyone had gathered there, and the house felt horribly small. It was particularly horrible for me because all those minds were pressing against mine relentlessly.
“So who did?” I asked in a hushed angry voice. I sounded like Pam when she hissed.
“He might have read it in the paper,” Jason whispered, but put his hands up to me. “I’ll take care of it, Sookie. He’s not doing that great anyway.”
“Get him out of the house,” I hissed after him.
Jason kept his word and had Uncle Bartlett out of the house within the next few minutes. Jason’s theory was probably right. Uncle Bartlett had read of Gran’s death in the paper. Or, my own theory, some busybody had taken it upon him or herself to call him. Thankfully I never got close enough to read his mind, and there had been no small children at the funeral or at my house.
When the sun set, there were still people at the house. What was this, a party? My head was pounding and my shields weren’t holding. I seriously considered asking Pam to let me come to work, even late, just so I could let my mind rest.
I escaped when nobody was looking, and sat at my chaise lounge in the garden. Before I could feel the presence, I felt the mind. A vampire was nearby and making noise deliberately. I smiled. It could only be one of two people.
Eric folded himself onto the ground to my left, wearing cargo pants and a Fangtasia T-shirt. He leaned forward a little and backed off with a hiss.
“Oh, sorry!” I said, quickly removing my brooch and tucking it into a pocket. “I wasn’t expecting company.”
“What do you call that in your house?” Eric smiled.
“Moochers. They done ate all of Mrs. Bellefleur’s chocolate cake, and I didn’t even get to try it,” and I was pissed about it too, which was why I wasn’t speaking properly. “What brings you here?”
“A friend in need. You seemed to be in a great deal of emotional distress,” he explained, then took something out of one of his cargo pockets and waved it.
“What’s that?” It looked like a DVD case. I wondered if it was Interview with the Vampire. That would have been kind of funny, actually. I just hoped it wasn’t any of the most recent vampire movies. I didn’t think I could handle all the angst on that particular day. Van Helsing might have been nice, if only to stare a Hugh Jackman for two hours with a good reason.
“It’s a movie,” he rolled his eyes. “Let’s go get rid of people.” He stood up in one fluid movement and helped me up, pulling me towards the house. He stopped right at the front door, put his hands on my shoulders and leveled me with a gaze.
“How badly do you want to get rid of these people?” he asked seriously.
“With a passion,” I answered immediately. I had an idea what he was thinking of doing, and if it would get rid of people without me flat out telling them to leave, then I was all for it.
Eric’s mischievous grin told me I was right. “Follow my lead.”
With one hand he opened the door ajar, and the other was already on the back of my head, followed by his lips on my neck. “Should I bite?” he whispered. I could hear the smile in his voice, but I turned my head quickly anyway. Bad idea. His lips found mine immediately, and I had to hold onto his neck not to fall backwards. I pushed forward, which didn’t do anything to rectify our posture, and only served to crush me against him. Little by little I began to lose the light hold I still had on my brain, until it completely disengaged and I began kissing Eric back. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it felt good when I copied what he was doing.
I’d never been kissed like that, not even by Eric the first time. The most anybody had ever gotten from me had been a peck, before my date’s thoughts overwhelmed me and I ended up kneeing him in the balls. I didn’t know a kiss could be so sensual. I breathed deeply to take in Eric’s scent. I opened my eyes a little and saw that he was looking back at me through half-lidded eyes. When his tongue asked permission of my lips, I opened my mouth and let him in, tasting his sweet saliva and almost getting cut by his fangs.
Eric moaned a little and disengaged, looking away from me. I pulled him to me and reached his neck, planting a couple of soft kisses to remind him I wanted his mouth again. I stopped when I heard someone clear their throat to my right… at the door!
We were standing straight, but still very close, and I realized why. Eric’s… um… need?… was evident and pressing against my stomach. I didn’t push away, even though I really wanted to. That was the first time I’d ever been poked, and it was in front of other people.
“Sookie, we just wanted to say goodnight,” some faceless person said. I knew it was one of Gran’s friends, but I wasn’t looking at anybody too closely, and my brain was taking its sweet ol’ time getting back in gear.
My house was empty once again in two minutes. Now it was time to clean up. Eric let me go reluctantly, and helped. We worked silently until all the plates were clean, all the food was put away, and all the trash was taken out.
“Go get comfortable, Sookie,” Eric said when he saw me reaching behind leftovers to fetch him a True Blood. “I can do that.”
“Oh, okay. Do you mind if I take a quick shower?” I asked, reluctantly leaving the blood in the fridge.
“No. Now go,” he said, making a shooing motion with both his hands.
I took a quick shower and wasn’t planning on washing my hair, but once the rest of me was clean I could tell it needed to be washed, so it took me longer than the ten minutes I had allotted for myself.
Now I had a dilemma. Eric told me to get comfortable, and I was all for it, but to me comfortable was one of my old nightgowns. Then I decided to try on a PJ that Tara had given me years ago, that I had found while moving my things to Gran’s bedroom (now mine). I’d never worn it because I thought it would be too fancy for what I actually do in bed, but it would be perfect now because it covered all the juicy bits. It was a pink tee (which would cover my bra perfectly) and a long pair of PJ pants in a pink and fuchsia plaid.
When I padded over to the living room, I heard Eric chuckling and the TV was on. He’d turned off all the lights except for one on a side table. He was sitting sort of cattycornered against the corner of the sofa facing the TV.
“What’s funny?” I asked, settling at the other corner. I would have sat on a chair, but I would’ve had to move it to watch the show.
“That commercial with the pig screaming and holding the… what are those?”
“Whirligigs,” I supplied. “I like that commercial too,” I said snickering.
“Movie time?” he asked, eyeing me carefully.
“Go for it,” I said. He was already holding on to all the remotes, so I figured he knew what he was doing. Apparently males are technologically inclined, no matter when they were born. “What are we watching? Underworld?”
Eric smiled. “You actually know several vampires and you want to watch more of them on TV?”
“I watch humans all the time,” I shrugged.
“You have a point,” he conceded. “Hold on,” he said standing up. He was back in half a minute and handed me a Coke, in a glass. With ice.
“What’s this?” I asked, stupidly, of course. He arched an eyebrow, daring me to ask the question again. “Thank you,” I mumbled, taking a sip and setting the glass down on the table beside me.
I had to wait until the movie started to play to figure out which movie it was. Robin Hood: Men in Tights, one of Mel Brooks’ movies. I started laughing even before it began, and continued laughing throughout. Eric laughed too, and actually knew some of the lines. We both said “I have a mole?” at the same time, which sent us into another fit of giggles.
“So you were alive in those times, huh?” I asked when the credits started rolling.
“I’m guessing you mean around the time of Robin Hood,” Eric smiled.
“Yeah,” I said nervous. I wasn’t sure if it was okay to ask, but I really wanted to know. Forget the Civil War. Imagine every war since the tenth century.
“Sookie, calm down, you’re making me nervous. Yes, I was alive then, if you can call this a life.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said biting my tongue. I decided to explain myself. “It’s kind of weird to think of y’all as dead, because you move and think and care about other people. To me you have a different kind of life, held together by a different kind of magic.”
Eric looked at me thoughtfully. “Not many people think like you.”
“It can’t be a new theory. But answer my question.”
“I already did,” he winked. Oy!
“Okay… what was it like?” I tried again.
“For me or for humans?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question. It’s rude.”
“Then be more specific,” he was smiling wide now because he knew I was getting angry. “Unless you’d like to remind me of my manners.”
He moved forward, bridging the gap left by the middle cushion of the sofa and getting awfully close. My heart skipped a beat. Why him?
“Come here,” he pulled me and lifted me easily, sat against the armrest and settled me between his legs. He’d done it fast and with no effort. “I know my whole history, but I know nothing of yours except for these past few weeks.”
“There’s not much to tell,” I mumbled. He’d taken my brush and was doing something to my hair.
“Sure there is. Where are your parents?”
“My parents died when I was seven. They got caught on a bridge during a freak rainstorm and were swept away by the rising water.” I stopped talking.
“And… Gran took Jason and I in, instead of letting the State put us in foster homes. I’ve lived in this house ever since.”
“You’re smart, why didn’t you go to college?” he asked, making me cringe, at least mentally.
“High school was bad enough, what with my mental condition and all.”
“Your gift,” he corrected me.
“Whatever. I was a freak, I’ve always been a freak, will continue being one as long as I can read minds. And now I’m bound to a vampire and I don’t know how I feel about that, no offense.”
“None taken. Sookie the bond becomes permanent after we exchange blood three times, sometimes it takes more. With my blood in you I can sort of feel you, your feelings rather. It’s not as strong as the bond between maker and child, but it’s there,” Eric was trying to explain.
I blinked. “I don’t recall you taking my blood the other day.”
“I took a little bit from your hand.” Apparently he was done with my hair because he took the hair band from my wrist to secure it. I touched my head. He’d parted my hair down the middle, and braided each side, bringing them together at the bottom.
“Now what happens?” I asked.
“It depends on what you want. I can protect you better if you bond with me.”
“Protect me from what? Am I in danger?” I turned to look at him.
He did a quick assessment-type of thing, studying my face for some reason or thinking about how to answer. “The what is a ‘who.’ The ‘who’ is your Cousin Hadley’s maker. You’re not in danger yet because I have not acknowledged that I’ve found you.”
“You were looking for me?”
“Under another’s orders.”
I shook my head to clear it. “The queen of all vampires.”
“The vampire Queen of Louisiana.”
I stood up and paced the living room. Too much information. Too much information close to too much grief. “The vampire Queen of Louisiana is Hadley’s maker, and she sent you to look for me because of my quirk.” I stopped talking as a realization hit me. “Hadley is just a regular person. To get a Queen to notice her she told her about me. The Queen sent you to get me for her.”
“No, Sookie. She sent me to protect you until she could come to get you herself, probably with Hadley in tow to make you obey. I don’t want that.” He stood up but didn’t attempt to come closer. “Sookie, they’ll make you do what you did to Ginger the other day, and they’ll make you do it over and over until you’re no good anymore. Or they’ll turn you and hope you can keep your gift.”
“Why do you care, Eric?” I wondered out loud, too exhausted to muster the proper amount of ire. It sounded more like whining.
“Because you are different, you are good. You’re the first friend my child has had in three hundred years. Not only did she befriend you. You looked past what she is and befriended her.”
“Pam is your child,” I whispered, understanding suddenly dawning on me, why she was allowed to stand up to him when others weren’t. The love and care I felt emanating from one to the other.
“How you put up with her is beyond me,” Eric said in a softer tone.
I stood still in the middle of the living room, feeling limp and dejected. “Now what?”
Eric sighed. “Now you choose.”