Every mind in the convention hall was ripe for the picking. I actually enjoyed the power I had over my own mind, much more than the one I could exert over others’ minds. It was like a breath of fresh air to be able to selectively hear what I wanted and tune out everything else.
Sophie-Anne seemed to be torn on whether to kill us or keep us around, but every time she tried to think of a way to dispose of us she saw the folly of doing that. Either by accident or on purpose, letting any harm befall us would damage her reputation, this time irrevocably. Somehow, with a little help from yours truly, of course, she knew that her acquiescence to have us come back to live in Louisiana had raised her esteem in the eyes of the rest of the attendees at the summit. Damaging the little headway she had made among her peers by obviating our safety was too high a price to pay.
Then, as any good business person would do, she thought of the financial boost our presence in Area 5 would generate. It was not too far of a leap until she started thinking of a way to have us move to New Orleans and remain beside her, purely to draw money at our expense. After all, New Orleans was still recovering from Katrina. Many of her vampires had perished, and even though some of their wealth had reverted to her, not all of it had, so she had lost part of her revenue in that manner, as well as she had suffered losses herself in the form of damaged properties.
Sophie-Anne’s bottom line: we were too good for business to dispose of us because she felt jilted. She was practical and pragmatic, definitely not one to give in to baser instincts.
Russell Edgington and Bartlette Crowe made a point of meeting us as we passed by their booth, just as everyone else had that first night at the summit of the Amun Clan. The two vampires wanted to be seen with us, nothing more. However, getting closer to them gave my godfather a chance to greet me without looking improper. Now that Mr. Cataliades (I couldn’t bring myself to call him Desmond) was working for Russell instead of Sophie-Anne, he actually looked happier than I’d ever seen him. He’d always been loyal to Sophie-Anne, so his change of heart had been a shock to me.
“You look beautiful,” he whispered and held out his hands, meaning to take mine.
I grasped them and he squeezed, a look of pride coloring his expression. Who knew? I wanted to ask him tons of questions, but I couldn’t speak – per Eric’s instructions – so I decided to simply think questions at him. “Have you heard from my fairy family?”
“Yes,” he thought right back, his mind unblocking as if he willed it so. He probably had. “Niall is in distress over your turning. But he has been preoccupied because his enemies are making another bid to close the portals after a recent massacre.”
“Massacre?” I knew my face was betraying my thoughts, so I quickly smiled and hugged my godfather. Nobody in that large hall needed to know that I could still read minds and showing my emotions on my face would be a dead giveaway.
“Several fairies were attacked by a group of vampires during a wedding.”
As soon as he thought the answer, the actual events unfolded within my mind and he could read every single little thing, see what Eric, Pam and I had done to the fairies and to each other, and even the motivation behind our actions. A wave of understanding hit me. It was what Mr. Cataliades was feeling, and it was interesting to me that he could communicate feelings along with thoughts to me. He’d seen the torture I’d endured at the hands of Neave and Lochlan. He’d seen my hatred for all things related to fairies and my fear of falling victim to them again. He saw and understood my need for vengeance, even though I’d taken an anfractuous path towards it by unleashing my new nature upon innocents. I even explained my reasoning to my godfather: those fairies we killed for sport and pleasure had been doomed to die anyway.
“I will come to your room near dawn,” he thought at me before letting me go.
During the course of our travels through the convention hall we passed by several donors. Even though I wasn’t allowed to breathe in the scent of their blood, I was still hungry. My stomach clenched painfully, as if it could smell the blood. Making small talk is always a chore, to be sure, but making small talk while I’m not allowed to speak and I’m also hungry takes quite the amount of self-control. Soon we had several humans following our trio at a distance.
“Sookie!” Eric chided in a harsh, low whisper. “What is happening behind us?”
“I’m hungry,” I answered in another whisper, using up a little of my stored air. I was mad, too, but that was implied.
Since I thought Eric would be upset at my constant need for blood, I wasn’t expecting the change in his features after I explained why several humans were mysteriously following us out of the blue. His large hand cupped my face tenderly as he smiled indulgently. “That is my fault, my dearest.” Looking up, he signaled to a couple of the males that had initially followed. Apparently there was a sort of shorthand that I hadn’t yet learned for occasions such as this. Eric dismissed the rest and the two donors followed us to one of the rooms to the side of the hall that had been set up specifically for feeding.
Unlike the private feeding rooms in Europe, the ones at the summit were not nearly as comfortable. Granted, they were temporary rooms, but with the amount of vampire conferences the Pyramid of Gizeh hosted, they should have made them permanent.
“You know what to do,” Eric said to me while guiding one of the men to sit on the only chair in the room.
Indeed I did know what to do: I took control of both men’s minds to make them think about nothing while I exhaled all the stale air inside my lungs and woke up my sense of smell by taking in the air around us. The air inside the small room was suffused with the scent of blood from many donors. My fangs made a quick appearance and my hunger drove me to pierce the first donor’s skin in a flash of movement. If he hadn’t been under my control, my vampire speed would have startled him.
My greedy gulps had Eric intervening in just a few seconds, prying me gently away from the first donor and offering the second. The feeding took no more than a few ticks on the second hand of Eric’s watch, yet I was satisfied enough to let go of my second donor of my own volition. Before they left I gave them something good to think about, and Eric gave them tips for their generosity.
Once alone, Eric turned to me and watched with a hungry eye as I licked the last of my meal from my lips. But then his gaze softened the way it often did whenever he was thinking of how much he loved me. I smiled, basking in the feeling and the way he looked at me, hoping that he could feel my own love for him.
“Are you mad at me?” He caressed my hair and my face. I shook my head in answer. “You have a right to be upset, Sookie.”
“Why?” Call me what you will, but I wanted to hear exactly why I should be mad or upset – since I could no longer pluck it out of his mind. Don’t get me wrong: I knew there were many reasons to feel mad, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to rage against anything at that particular moment.
“I feel like I’ve taken away part of your independence, particularly tonight. Can you understand why I did it?”
Frowning, I answered, “Yes, which is why I’m not mad. By the way, Mr. Cataliades is coming to talk to me right before dawn at our room.”
“Of course,” he smiled wider and hugged me to him. I wasn’t feeling quite the same tenderness as him, however. Slowly, I moved my hands from his back to his waist, down to his butt and squeezed. Most of all, I loved that I was allowed to do this to him anytime. His deep chuckle told me he enjoyed my wandering hands. “Do you want me here, little one?” he purred in my ear.
“No. I need more time than we have,” I answered, disappointing (mostly) myself with my own answer, but making Eric laugh heartily in a mixture of anticipation and amusement.
We didn’t spend longer than we needed on the convention floor and headed to our room as soon as it was feasible. Pam, not to be outdone by us “lovebirds,” had found a willing partner and donor and was occupied in her room when we arrived.
Rather than the wild bout of sex I had expected, Eric slowed down my own frenzy by being gentle as he removed my clothes, his hands ghosting over my skin, his kisses soft on my mouth, or hair, or shoulders. Suddenly a wave of sadness hit me, and I could guess its source easily. Eric was once again imagining his life without me.
“I’ll be more careful, Eric. I swear.” All I wanted was to stop him from being sad.
Without a word he picked me up and set me on the bed, but didn’t join me. He stood, as naked and glorious as ever, at the foot of the bed and didn’t move, only stared at my own naked body.
“How do I stay with you forever?” he asked me.
The meaning of the question hit me like a brick, like a stake through my heart. His future was not guaranteed. He’d done everything in his power to keep me alive, but how could he make sure that he would remain alive? I didn’t have an answer, never had.
My vision turned red, but not in the figurative sense. When I blinked I could feel my tears jump from my eyes to my cheeks and I couldn’t look at him anymore.
“How do I keep protecting you when I’m gone?” he was willing me to look at him. His tears were more than I could handle.
I shrank into myself, no longer able to simply lay on the bed. Still, my own fears and insecurities sprang to the surface. “Sometimes I hate myself for telling you about the cluviel dor. Sometimes I wish I had stayed away.”
Eric sat next to me, wrapping his arms around me. “And keep me from loving you? Was I happy when I wasn’t with you?”
I shrugged, unable to know the answer because he’d always been so secretive in the past.
“Let me answer that question,” he continued. “I wasn’t happy. Were you happy? Why did you use the cluviel dor? Was everything in your life the way you wanted it to be? Did you have a solid plan for the rest of your existence? Tell me, Sookie: did I take away your dreams by turning you?”
“No,” I answered immediately. Then proceeded to think and give him a more complete answer. “My life has been a series of disappointments marked by very few good things. Until I met you, it had never occurred to me to use my ability to my advantage. It had always been a curse that I couldn’t control very well. Having a relationship with a human was impossible. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to have children… children’s minds are so busy all the time, even while asleep…” my thoughts drifted as I looked up at Eric’s face. “I’m not sorry that I used the cluviel dor to try to save your life. I am sorry that it has caused you so much anguish this time around.”
“Never say that again, Sookie.” He was livid, but his low tone of voice belied his feelings. He reined them in quickly. “I am ecstatic that you are mine in every way I can think possible. It hurts me that I might have to leave you and that you will be alone again. This summit is stressful because I keep thinking of everything you went through before, and sometimes I can’t help but be mad at myself for not protecting you better.”
His confession was astounding to me. The determined set to his face reminded me of when he’d given me massive amounts of his blood after Neave and Lochlan had tortured me, and my whole body shivered. He would have risked his life for me that day if it hadn’t been for Victor Madden’s cruel interference. In a way, I should have been grateful that Victor had kept him away.
Bill had been injured in Eric’s stead.
After that revelation entered my mind, I proclaimed, “We are exactly where we are supposed to be.”
Mr. Cataliades was very excited when he entered our room. It was nearly half past six in the morning and the sun would be making its appearance a little past seven. Eric was already feeling the call of his bed, he said, yawning into his hand. I wasn’t quite there yet, but had yet to let Eric know that I could remain awake longer than he could.
Nevertheless, we all sat in the small living room to hear what he had to say, even Pam, who had earlier dismissed her companion.
The half demon’s rotund face was full of cheer. “You have grown so strong,” he said to me, almost bouncing in his seat. “Had I known this I would have suggested that you become a vampire sooner.”
I let out an exasperated sigh. “You never knew how difficult telepathy would be for a human to handle, I’m guessing.”
“Oh, don’t be so upset. Now that I know the right ‘recipe,’ I can suggest it to the rest of my charges.”
“NO!” Eric, Pam and I exclaimed in unison.
As the oldest being in the room, Eric recited the very sound reasons why some people might not be good candidates to possess my powers. “Sookie is a true oddity, someone who was born with telepathy and brought up to respect others as well as herself. She doesn’t lack for empathy, which is probably why having her gift was such a burden when she was unable to control it. She also has a very strong grasp of what is right and what is wrong and a healthy sense of guilt. Not everyone can be expected to wield her power the way she has.”
“She kills people, Eric,” Mr. Cataliades pointed out.
“But that’s just because they’re bad people and they’re fated to die anyway,” I said, angry that they were talking about me as if I wasn’t there.
My godfather looked at me through narrowed eyes. “You’ve been correctly foreseeing deaths, I must admit.”
“Andre Paul is set to die in a couple of days,” I said somberly. Actually, many were fated to die, but Andre’s death would be the final nail in Sophie-Anne’s coffin.
“What will you do after this summit?” Mr. Cataliades looked at me.
“We’re going home,” was my simple answer.
“You could be the new queen of… anywhere, really.”
“Maybe, someday, but right now I just want to go home. And what will you do?” I turned the question on him, wondering if whatever the answer was would get him in trouble with creatures from hell. Again.
“I will remain in Mississippi for now, although I prefer New Orleans,” was his answer.
Eric and Pam tried to stifle yawns as Pam’s eyes started to close on their own. They could sleep anywhere in our rooms, but she felt more comfortable inside her coffin, and so she politely exited the living room.
Mr. Cataliades turned to Eric. “There is one more thing that Sookie can do.” He then turned to me. “The change has afforded you a greater power that you may not be aware of, and probably never thought to test: you can survive in the daylight.”
We all gasped collectively, and even Pam came right back from her bedroom to see if she had heard right.
I shook my head in disbelief at the same time that Mr. Cataliades nodded. “You may not be able to remain awake in the daytime, that is true, but you will not suffer the effects of the sun’s rays. You will not burn, and I will show you.”
Before Eric had a chance to protest or forbid it, my godfather took my hand and pulled me along, opening the door to our room and propelling us forward. Eric followed quickly, but Pam didn’t dare.
“Do not test my patience!” Eric called from behind us, but he was already weak with the fast-approaching daylight, and wasn’t able to join us in the elevator.
I was nervous and excited to find out if Mr. Cataliades was right. Of course, it could have been a trap. But if I knew anything with total certainty, it was that my godfather had always meant well. I hoped he wouldn’t let me burn in the sun.
There was barely anybody in the lobby as we made our way outside to the north side of the hotel, the side overlooking Lake Michigan in the distance. Mr. Cataliades opened the door for me, stepping outside and waiting patiently for my courage to kick in. I’d once seen Godric burn in the sun, and I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of becoming a pile of ash. But I was excited to see the sun again after so many months.
Ambivalent and timid, not words that I usually associated with myself, I walked closer to the open door and even stepped over the threshold. The morning sun was only a tiny sliver on the horizon, but I could feel its warmth radiating on my skin, through the silk of my dress, warming my otherwise cold body. I basked in it.
The sun, that everlasting fireball that was supposed to take my life, was giving me life anew. I didn’t know how, but I felt alive again. My heart actually contracted several times, pumping as if there was a need for it to do that. The smell of the morning, the smell of sunshine greeted me like a long-lost friend and I became giddy with laughter. In the back of my mind I thanked my lucky stars that Eric could feel my joy, at the same time feeling his distress settle. He was still in our room but was now calm.
“I have no words,” I said to my godfather and felt like I could cry.
“How long can you stay awake?” he asked me. He had already guessed that my sleep pattern was not the same as that of my maker.
“At least for another half hour, maybe longer.” My feet carried me farther outside. “Is there anything else? Can I fly?”
Mr. Cataliades chuckled. “That would depend on your maker, not me. But I suspect that as you become stronger you might be able to spend a longer time awake during the day.”
The horizon was brighter than ever now, like the sun had set fire to the city beyond the lake. My sensitive eyes simply refused to adjust to so much brightness, so I had to look away. Hugging Mr. Cataliades, I thanked him for the first time ever for giving his blood so that I could have my gift. For now, now I knew why he had done it.