Gran was getting ready in her room when I got home from work, so I raced to the kitchen to make a quick phone call. I didn’t want her to hear what I had to say or she’d get nervous. I talked low and fast, trying to spark the curiosity in the recipient of my call. I hung up quickly after rattling off my address. My whole plan was in place. I just hoped it would work.
I took a quick shower and got dressed in what I remembered had been my outfit that night. The button down bronze shirt would serve its purpose later, I hoped, when I would undo a strategic button – only if needed. My pants made my butt look good. I left my hair down in waves and my neck bare. No earrings. I was going to play up as many of my feminine charms as possible for as many males as possible, so I applied and reapplied mascara, and made sure my lipstick was in my purse so I could reapply it too. When I joined Gran for dinner she looked at me approvingly.
“Sam is coming to help us and then we’re going to the meeting,” I informed her over our quick dinner of sandwiches and fruit salad.
“That’s nice of him, but you and I could have done it, and I’m sure I’ll have help at the Community Center,” she said.
“He wanted to help,” I shrugged, keeping an air of insouciance (Word of the Day). “He wants to take me out for a coffee after the meeting, but we’ll come here first and help you unload the car.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she started but I shook my head.
“No, Gran. We’ll help. Coffee can wait,” I said. That part was not open to negotiation.
“I just hate to keep you from your date,” she said and smiled, thinking Sam was the first human I dated in a long time. If only she knew what Sam was, she’d have me running for the hills just like Sam thought I would.
“It will only take a few minutes, it’s no big deal,” I said and smiled too, to reassure her.
Right after we finished dinner Sam showed up. He looked at me in open admiration. I was glad to know I’d done well. We set out to help Gran load everything in her car.
I stayed behind inside the house for two minutes to take care of something very important. Knowing that Rene would soon be inside that house chilled me to the bone, so I did what I had to do and left quickly. The stage was set, the plan was already in motion, and I was a nervous wreck. It was hard not to be anxious, knowing that this night was going to be disastrous no matter what. I was not going to wait inside the house for Rene, but neither was I going to send my grandmother to her death at the hands of that psycho.
“Need a boost?” Sam asked as I tried to scramble into his truck. All I was thinking was that he wanted to touch my butt. Without asking again he scooped me up and settled me on the seat. I started blushing furiously at my own inability to accomplish even that simple task.
We drove in silence to the Community Center, following Gran’s car. Maxine Fortenberry, Gran’s friend and president of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead was already there, and started talking Gran’s ear off. She helped carry a large plate of cookies, I carried another, and Sam carried the large coffee urn.
Since we were at the center so early, I made Sam grab us seats near the front, close to where my grandmother would sit. Many people from the whole of Bon Temps would show up, I remembered, even though only a few were members of the club. Then Bill would arrive late due to car trouble.
It was amazing, truly astounding, how everything happened just as I remembered. Bill came in late, he had his notes, he read and spoke, his stories from the Civil War were just as moving as the first time I’d heard them, but this time it was less because of the stories themselves. This time my anxiety was ratcheting up by notches the closer we got to the end of the meeting, and it was contributing to my erratic emotions.
Sam and I stuck around after the meeting, while the club members gathered around Bill to ask him questions. He, like before, was being a good sport, answering and mingling, cementing his status as a member of the community.
“Should we go?” Sam suggested, watching everything and not really caring for Bill. I looked up and caught Bill’s gaze. He wasn’t a happy camper either, seeing me with Sam.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to help Gran bring stuff home,” I said and started moving towards the table with the plates. I cleaned up while the DoGD members continued their hero worship, and Sam had no choice but to help if he wanted me to keep our date.
Finally everybody left except Bill and Gran. I asked Gran for her car keys and set out to put stuff in her car. Bill followed, carrying God-knew-what, while Sam emptied the coffee urn in the center’s kitchen.
“I will help your grandmother with these things so you can continue your date,” Bill said. His voice was cold, like I knew it could get when he was mad.
“No, I will help too,” I said, trying to convey with my tone of voice that there would be no change in plans.
“Mrs. Stackhouse offered me a ride home,” he said, still trying to reason, though I wasn’t sure why.
I put down the platter inside the car and turned to Bill with my hands on my hips. “Do you want me to be alone with Sam?”
“No,” he answered quickly, his nostrils flaring.
“Then accept Gran’s offer and help us unload her car, alright?” I said, but I couldn’t stay mad. I was too worried to stay mad. I put my hand on my forehead and looked away. Bill noticed my worry and pulled my hand off my face.
“What’s going on?” he said and held my hand in both of his. His face relaxed. Could he feel my worry? Not just see it, but feel it? I couldn’t remember how long it had been since the Rattrays had beaten me up and Bill had saved my life by giving me his blood.
“I have the same worry as before, Bill,” I said in a tiny voice. Sam and Gran were coming out of the building. I withdrew my hand from his and walked briskly away, to help Gran with whatever she was carrying.
Sam didn’t say anything as we drove back to Gran’s house, but I could feel he was either mad or disappointed. Oh, well… he’d get over it. I jumped out of the cab as soon as he parked. I had to get inside that house first.
I threw out my extra sense, pushing its limits and detecting two empty brain signatures, one shifter, and two humans. The second empty brain made my heart skip a beat, but so did the second human brain. It was filled with so much hate, such dark images, that I started feeling sick to my stomach. I was half running to the side door with a new purpose: get to the bathroom. Between the extra effort of listening to so many brains, and the images floating inside Rene’s brain, I knew I would toss my cookies any moment. I took a few very deep breaths as I fumbled with the keys. I was still tracking brains and it was becoming harder as I started feeling dizzy.
My poor heart started pounding madly when I realized Rene wasn’t exactly in the kitchen, but farther inside the house, in my bedroom. I heard Gran dismissing Bill, and my skin started feeling clammy. I hoped Bill was smart enough to stay, but I didn’t have time to ask him. I got the door opened and started turning on the lights, moving slower than I wanted.
Forget it. It was impossible for me to keep my food down. I was near panic and I shouldn’t have eaten any dinner. I ran for the bathroom and vomited violently into the toilet, making it only by the grace of God. I knew Rene had seen me, and I knew he was coming. Better he come after me, though, than Gran.
I rinsed my mouth, pretended everything was fine, followed Rene’s brain as he got closer to me. I was aware that offering up myself like this was not part of my plan, but I had to trust that the rest of it would fall into place regardless. Rene was very close, so close that I could smell him. He always wore the same musky cologne, and ever since he’d tried to kill me the scent of it had been a disgusting reminder. Apparently I had retained all my memories, even the sensory ones.
Rene’s intentions were clear now that he was behind me. He moved fast, but I was able to start screaming about a second before he wrapped something around my neck and cut off my scream. I hit the body behind mine with all I had, fighting to breathe, fighting to scream again.
My elbow made contact and whatever was around my neck slackened enough that I could take a breath. I did so quickly and screamed again, trying to turn so I could punch Rene as he deserved. He cut off my air and lifted me up. I started seeing stars before everything started becoming blurry. I kicked and tried to hurt him, aware that I was losing strength and that nobody was coming for help.
I thought it was a dream when I felt cool fingers at my neck removing whatever had been cutting off my air. My burning lungs couldn’t wait to take in breath after breath. I could hear Rene’s screams as I sagged into someone’s arms. My body checked out and I knew no more.
“Sookie, can you hear me?” I heard a male voice ask. I ventured to open my eyes. I was lying outside, with a mask to my face. I’d been in the hospital enough times to recognize it as an oxygen mask. I looked around and saw the shape of a man who was obviously a paramedic.
I had no time to waste. I sat up in a hurry, feeling like my head had been hit by a sledgehammer. “Where’s Gran?”
“I’m right here, sweetheart,” she said, moving closer. I realized I was on a gurney outside of the house. The lights of the ambulance and of several police cars were flashing in the dark, illuminating everything. This time all those people were there for me, not for Gran.
“Can you tell me your name?” the paramedic asked me.
Before I answered him I held out my arms to Gran, and she caught me in a hug. I started crying. My plan had worked, however it had worked. Gran was alive. “Sookie Stackhouse,” I said, sobbing now.
“If you think you can walk I won’t have to take you to the hospital. Your blood pressure is back to normal,” said the paramedic. I could barely believe that I was listening, but going to the hospital was not something I wanted to do if I could avoid it.
Gran let me go and helped me swing my legs to the side. The paramedic helped me off of it and I was able to stand without help. Gran walked with me towards the house. Andy Bellefleur was there, as well as several officers and Sheriff Dearborn. He approached us with a look of true concern.
“Sookie, are you alright?” he asked. He looked at me then eyed my neck. It was hurting a lot, and I was sure that I had a really bad bruise.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I croaked. Gran had given me a tissue and now it was wet with my tears.
“I’ll have to take your statement, but we can do that tomorrow morning if you like, let you heal a little bit,” he said, still looking at my neck.
“I’ll do it now, Sheriff,” I said and sniffled. I looked to my left and saw something that will stay with me forever. Occupying all the lawn chairs we owned were Bill, Sam, and wonder of wonders, Eric. I couldn’t help my smile when his eyes met mine. He returned it with a graceful nod. I was being pulled towards one of the police cruisers.
I told the Sheriff everything as I remembered it, without telling him anything about my knowing that Rene was there. I told him I’d been feeling sick to my stomach, so I ran inside the house ahead of everybody. All of it made sense until he told me who had come to save me.
“You are a very popular girl among them vamps,” he said in a low voice. I knew the “vamps” could hear him just fine.
“What do you mean?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“Well, Bill Compton was the one who stopped Rene Lenier’s attack,” he started and I gasped, surprise being the right emotion for the news he was giving me. I was getting good at this.
“Rene was the one who attacked me?” I asked him, interrupting.
“Yes, he was,” Sheriff Dearborn frowned. “I’ll tell you something, I’m not going to press charges against Compton for roughing Rene up a bit. And you owe the big blond vamp for getting you out of the house.”
Eric had been the one who had caught me as I fainted. Good to know that my plan had worked. Slowly everybody started leaving. Gran helped me get inside the house. As much as I wanted to say goodnight to Sam and Bill, and especially Eric, I wanted to get in bed that much more.
I changed while Gran made me some tea to help with my sore throat. She put some lemon and honey in it, and sat beside me while I drank, making sure I was tucked in properly.
“I’m so sorry about what happened tonight. It was a good thing that all your friends were here,” she said, clearly disapproving of how many men had their sights on me. “Who was the blond vampire? Do you know him?”
“Yes, he’s Bill’s friend. We met him in Shreveport,” I whispered. It was all I could manage.
Gran patted my leg, understanding that I needed some time to rest. She said good night and left. I finished my tea and burrowed deep in my covers. I closed my eyes, expecting to have trouble falling asleep, but in a few minutes I was gone.
My dream was wonderful. I was remembering the last time Eric and I had made love, how good it had felt, how right. I could even smell him. My own voice moaning in delight woke me up. I almost screamed when I opened my eyes and saw the large man sitting on my bed, but a hand settled itself firmly on my mouth.
“Shhh… you called me, remember?”
I nodded. I wasn’t about to scream in fear of him. He’d just startled me. He took his hand away slowly and watched as I sat up in my bed. “Hi, Eric.”
“Sookie,” he nodded in greeting, his deep voice giving me goose bumps. “Care to explain why I am here, other than to take advantage of you in this cute room of yours,” he smirked.
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. “I knew you’d come and help if there was something I could give you in return,” I said, unable to lie to him. I’d lied enough to everybody else.
His smile faded. “You knew you were going to get attacked tonight?” he asked. In the faint light coming in from the outside I could see he’d cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes, I knew.”
“With your telepathy?”
“What else do you know?”
“I know who took your money. I know who has your sixty thousand dollars,” I said without hesitation.
That’s when it was time to take a deep breath. “You have to swear to me that no humans will be harmed when you find out. A human didn’t take your money.”
Eric was silent for a moment. “You have my word. I am intrigued.”
“Long Shadow has your money. If you kill him, his maker will ask for restitution, and whatever you give him will not be enough,” I said quickly.
“How do you know this? Did you read Long Shadow’s mind?” he asked. I could see I’d blown his socks off.
“No, I cannot read vampire minds. I read it in Ginger’s mind. The rest of it… let’s just say I’m a little bit psychic too,” I said, referring to the fact that I knew Long Shadow’s maker’s future actions.
Eric moved closer. He was sitting on the edge of my bed. It indented and made me move forward towards him. He was studying my eyes. “You’re not lying to me,” he concluded.
“No, I am not,” I said slowly. Having him so close, his scent, how he looked… my hands were itching to touch him. I closed my eyes to block him from sight.
“Are you really Bill’s?” he asked, his voice low and even closer than before. I could feel his breath on me.
“No,” I said. My voice shook.
“Are you the shifter’s?”
“Is that all you wanted from me? Help with the human killer?” he asked, speaking into my ear. I could feel his hair tickling my cheek. “Is that why you invited me into your home, no other reason? I’m sure Bill told you all about me.”
It wasn’t what Bill had told me, but what I’d experienced firsthand that had me turning my face towards his. I opened my eyes. Our noses where almost touching. I knew what he was doing, I knew what I wanted, but I also knew I had to be careful with both my body and my emotions. Baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And all that jazz.
“He said you were a cad and that you’d use me and leave me,” I said, lying my butt off. Again.
Eric chuckled. “What else did he tell you?”
“That you’re very old, the oldest thing in Fangtasia. But I know more about you than what Bill told me.” My heart was beating fast. I wasn’t sure how Eric would receive what I was about to tell him.
“What do you know? I am the owner of Fangtasia, and Pam is my business partner…”
“You’re the Sheriff of Area 5,” I interrupted. His eyebrows shot up into his hairline. Humans were not privy to that information. Bill had told me about Eric’s political office, but it wasn’t until much, much later in our relationship. “There’s something that, as Sheriff, you should know about Bill.”
“I doubt you can surprise me any further,” he said, waiting to listen.
“Brace yourself then,” I said and took a deep breath. “Bill was sent here by Queen Sophie-Anne to procure me. My cousin, Hadley, told the Queen about my telepathy. The Queen sent Bill. That’s why he’s here. You can ask your people about Hadley if you don’t believe me.”
“I know of Hadley. She’s the Queen’s new favorite. What I don’t understand is how you know all this. Having this knowledge is very dangerous,” he said. He was serious as a grave. I didn’t give him any more information, nor was I going to. “What do you need from me?” he asked. It was a fair question, I thought.
“Protection. I was almost killed tonight and Bill didn’t do anything to stop it. I’d told him that Rene wanted to kill me for dating a vampire.”
“Bill knew you were a target?” Eric asked, his voice getting hot. “He knew you were a target and he’s supposed to protect you for our Queen, but he didn’t.”
“Yes,” I said and looked down. I knew what I was saying about Bill was wrong, very wrong, so I tried to fix it. “Sort of. He said nobody would harm me.”
“And you didn’t believe him?”
“I was desperate,” I said in a harsh whisper, and it was the truth.
Eric ran his hand in his hair, thinking. “When did you tell Bill about this man wanting to attack you?”
“The night we went to Fangtasia,” I said.
“Do you know if he was planning on addressing this problem?” he asked. He was making decisions, I knew.
I shook my head. “I don’t know if he was making any plans, or I wouldn’t have called you.”
“Do you know if there are any other threats against your life?”
“None that I know of at this time.”
Eric nodded and leaned forward, placing his hands at either side of my hips. We were so close, so close. I closed my eyes again, trying to keep my sanity in front of this man that I loved so much.
It didn’t matter. He asked me to open my eyes and I obeyed. I had no choice. I was his. If he asked me to get naked and have sex with him right then and there, I would do it. I’d missed him terribly, and now he was flirting… except he wasn’t smiling.
So I smiled and gave in to the happiness I’d been trying to push away for so long, even longer than the time I’d spent now, in the past. Eric smiled in return. I put my hands on his.
“Thank you for catching me,” I said. His smile widened. I loved this side of him, the side I knew from when he’d lost his memory, the side of him that enjoyed his life.
“Don’t mention it. Thank you for falling on me,” he chuckled. His smile turned into a frown and he withdrew a hand from mine. He brought it up and caressed my neck with one finger. There must have been a bruise there, alright. “That must hurt.”
“A lot,” I agreed.
“I can heal you, if you’d like,” he said in a soothing voice. His finger roamed south a little, following the neckline of my nightgown.
“How?” I feigned ignorance. Again.
“I could give you a little bit of my blood.” He put his whole hand on my cheek and looked intensely into my eyes. He wasn’t trying to glamour me, just talk me into accepting.
“Isn’t your blood like a drug?” I asked, knowing exactly what effect his blood had on me, and also knowing what it did to him when I drank.
“Vampire blood is only drug-like when it was been separated from the vampire by force. I’m giving it to you as a gift.”
“Why?” That was a perfectly good question, I thought.
“Because I like you, and to be honest it will make it easier for me to protect you,” he explained, flooring me with his honesty. I guessed he didn’t have to be sneaky knowing that Bill wasn’t anything to me and that I felt no attachment to the other vampire.
I kept asking questions about him giving me blood, and he kept answering them, never taking his eyes off me. I accepted, because this would bring us closer to what I had wanted to begin with: a blood bond. With Eric.
When I agreed he moved closer. I thought he would kiss me but ducked his head at the last minute and kissed my bruised neck. His lips were like feathers, soft and gentle. I loved him more than ever at that moment, even if I was only the Queen’s asset to protect. He would fall in love again.
He helped me out of my blankets so I could sit beside him, our hips touching. Without being told, I put my arm around his waist, and he did the same. My heart was responding to the closeness the way it always did. Eric bit his arm and I took it with my free hand, bringing it close and sucking to encourage the flow.
Eric grunted as he watched me take his blood. His hand at my waist started making a soft grabbing motion, and then reached for the hem of my nightgown. He snuck his hand onto my thigh and I was powerless to stop him. I wanted him to touch me. I stopped sucking, knowing I had more than enough, but Eric didn’t stop his attentions. He leaned in, kissing my earlobe. I turned my face to him, with my mouth still a little bloody. He grunted again and crushed his lips to mine, lifting me and sitting me on his lap.
I returned the kiss with wild abandon. It felt so familiar and so new all at the same time. His mouth tasted the same. His moves, how he kissed me, it was all the same, even the way I kissed him. But we’d never kissed like this before, with him sneaking into my bedroom, my Gran sleeping peacefully in hers, and after having met him twice. I pulled away reluctantly.
“I’m not a fangbanger,” I said, out of breath.
“I can see that,” Eric said, licking his lips. “Maybe that’s why I like you so much.”
I acted shy, which wasn’t very hard. His eyes were intense and they bore into me, right down to my heart. I could barely take it, so I rested my head on his massive shoulder, caressing his upper arm, pretending for one brief moment that we were one again.
“I will take care of you, Sookie. I will protect you,” he said. I could hear his voice resonate through his chest. He was running his hand over my back. I wanted him so badly… I scrunched my eyes together as if in pain, trying to drive away the memories of our times together.
He stood up, holding me against him, then set me on the bed as easy as you please. “I can feel your hesitation,” he said, still bent over me. “Do you not want me to seduce you? I’m sure we both fit in this small bed just fine,” he winked.
Again I had no choice but to smile. “Seduce me another day. It’s almost dawn,” I said, my voice faltering even though I felt perfectly fine.
Eric ran his eyes over my body. “So it is, and it is a pity.” He gently laid the covers back over me, his face changing again from a soft smile to that frown. He leaned closer, his face just inches from mine and his hair falling like a cascade at either side. “Consider yourself mine now, Sookie. Nobody is allowed to touch you, not Bill, and not… the other man.”
“He’s a shifter, his name is Sam,” I said, just to let him know I knew things, so he could speak freely. “I don’t want Bill or Sam to touch me.”
“Only me? Do you want me Sookie?” he said, the smile returning.
“Depends on how you treat me,” I said without blinking and smiled too.
He nodded, like he hadn’t expected anything less. “We shall talk. Sleep now, rest.” Eric brushed his lips against mine. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.
But… he had kissed me.
I woke up very late the next day. It was almost noon and the house was silent. Gran must have let me sleep longer, figuring I was recovering from the night before. I felt great, though. Eric’s kisses and his blood had lifted my spirits and made me feel healthy. I felt good enough to go to work, even! With that in mind I set to get ready for my day.
I took a long shower, washed my hair and conditioned it, even though Eric’s blood would make it look exceptional. I put moisturizer on every corner of my skin, feeling sexy and wanted, and for once at peace. I had done it! All that fretting and panicking had paid off. Gran was alive, I was alright, and I had even managed to bring Eric closer, thereby pushing Bill away. The minute his acute sense of smell got a whiff of Viking blood in me, he’d know I wasn’t his. It wasn’t nice, but I had to remind myself that he hadn’t been very nice to me either.
I was so chipper that I sang as I got dressed. I went out through the front door to call Tina, knowing that she liked to run around under the house or around the cars, and she came out from under my car, trotting inside like she owned the place. We both made our way to the kitchen. I was sure Gran wasn’t home because everything was so quiet. Maybe she was outside in the garden or something. I began making breakfast, or lunch as the case may be, making it count. I fried up some bacon and eggs sunny side up. I toasted two pieces of bread and smeared them with apricot preserves instead of strawberry. Before I sat to eat I put the hot pan in the sink, meaning to put it in a little water so it would wash easier later. I looked out into the yard and saw Gran’s car still parked where she’d left it the night before. No Gran.
Thinking it was strange, I made my way outside, looking this way and that. There was nobody outside. I came back inside, putting out my feelers and finding nobody in the house. A sinking feeling settled deep inside my stomach. I moved slowly back to the hall, noticing that Gran’s bedroom door was closed. She only closed it to sleep, so I opened it slowly, knocking as I did.
Gran was still in bed, sleeping on her back, looking peaceful. Tears smarted my eyes as I approached her. I didn’t need to touch her to know, but I took her hand anyway. It was cold.