The sound of a beeping truck woke me up. I rolled onto my back and turned my head toward the alarm clock on my rickety old nightstand. It was barely seven o’clock in the morning. My feet were still sore from the previous night at work. I’d run my tail off on my first night back since getting home from Dallas.
When I looked up at the ceiling I was mostly grateful I hadn’t dreamed of Eric again. Stupid vampire blood messing with my head. It annoyed me that it felt like his blood was trying to sway me away from Bill. The strange thing was that I had dreams about Bill too, but those dreams had been scary. I had woken up in a cold, terrified sweat more than once because of those dreams.
My dreams of Eric were… sexier. There was something disturbingly soothing about them.
Wait, why is a truck here?
I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs to find a delighted but confused Gran standing on the front porch, talking to a strange man in a landscaper’s uniform. My assumption was that he was a crew leader since two men were getting riding mowers down from the trailer of a truck. Two more were getting hand tools out.
“Uh, Gran?” I said politely, not wanting to be rude to her guest. I hoped the landscapers weren’t trying to scam a sweet old lady. They were from Shreveport, supposedly, so it was possible.
“Oh, good morning, honey. Please excuse me a moment, Xavier. I’ll be right back.” Gran patted the strange man’s hand and stepped closer to me. She handed me a black envelope with shiny red embossed printing on it. Adele Stackhouse was printed on the outside of the envelope.
The Fangtasia return address told me instantly who the sender of the card was. I opened the envelope to find a card inside with Eric’s monogram on the front of it. Inside the card was a short message.
Dear Mrs. Stackhouse,
Please accept these services as my way of thanking you for raising such a thoughtful and generous child. Sookie has given me a gift I can never repay her for, but I’m going to try.
To say I was stunned would be an understatement.
Nothing about Eric struck me as being grateful or thankful. At least not before we located Godric.
I was never going to forget how quickly and easily Eric dropped to his knees out of respect for his Maker. There had been genuine awe and his devotion to the significantly smaller vampire was nothing short of inspiring. Truth be told, I liked Godric.
There was something quiet and gentle about him. He lacked Eric’s bravado and innate ability to flip every single one of my bitch switches in record time. Being that he was twice Eric’s age I was sure Godric hadn’t always come across as being so sweet and cuddly, but it was Gran who taught me not to judge a person on whom they were in the past. People made mistakes.
To err is human; to forgive is divine.
Of course part of earning someone’s forgiveness is to apologize and mean it. As far as I could tell, Eric apologized for nothing. I had a better chance of seeing him go for an afternoon stroll than I did saying he was sorry.
“Xavier and I are going over the list of options I have to treat that nasty patch of crabgrass I can never seem to get rid of,” Gran told me. It looked like Christmas had come early for her.
Now Gran believed vanity was a sin. She also believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and she was willing to accept whatever punishment there may be in the afterlife for being houseproud. Gran kept the house as if she was expecting Jesus Christ himself to come for tea. When Jason was fifteen and Gran found pornography under his bed, the only thing that saved him from the whoopin’ of a lifetime was reminding Gran that Jesus had buddied up with a known prostitute.
That is until Jason threw in, “You know Jesus had to be tapping that.”
I was pretty sure he still had an imprint from Gran’s wooden spoon after that comment. My brother rarely quit when he was ahead.
“That’s wonderful, Gran,” I replied. I didn’t know what to make of Eric’s gift but I knew Gran was happy so I let her be. She was already imagining her dream garden– sans crabgrass.
I already had an idea of what Bill was going to say about it when he found out what Eric had done. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me happy to see Gran so tickled. She deserved a treat. Gran had sacrificed a lot for Jason and me. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell her she shouldn’t accept the gift.
At the same time I also wondered if there was a catch.
Vampires – particularly the tall, brooding ones – were sneaky. I still wasn’t entirely sure what Eric wanted me for, but I was sure he wanted me. I wasn’t pretty enough that Eric wanted me for my looks or my pinup girl figure. My blood might have been unique but I doubted it was that big of a draw. Bill had told me I smelled better than most humans but I didn’t think that was a very good reason to pursue someone. That left my telepathy, which seemed like the most obvious reason to try wooing me.
I went in to the kitchen and poured myself some coffee. I had no doubt Gran would be hard at work soon to feed the young men fixing up her lawn. It wouldn’t matter to her that they were being paid to do it. The important thing was that they were making a dream of hers come true.
As I was buttering two slices of toast, I heard the screen door bounce against the jamb. Floorboards creaked as Gran made her way back to the kitchen. I looked over my shoulder to see she was carrying a Breck’s catalog and I knew then that she had died and gone to heaven. If there had been any hope of talking her out of allowing the workers to continue, it was wiped out by a flower catalog.
It was no surprise to me later on that night when Bill turned up at Merlotte’s with a scowl on his face. Not that he was usually a happy-go-lucky kind of fellow, but he looked a little more sourpuss than usual. Since it was a Tuesday night it wasn’t terribly busy. Bill took a seat in one of the booths and I was instantly glad it was Arlene’s night off.
She was never thrilled about vampires being a real thing, but the arrival of the damn maenad in town only made it worse. Maryann was an unsavory character and I wasn’t going to be forgiving her any time soon for clawing me up and poisoning me like she did. And all to send a message to Eric. Truly, if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.
Without bothering to ask I went over to the cooler behind the bar to put a TruBlood in the microwave for Bill. I gave him a wave to acknowledge his presence and then turned to refill Jane’s tumbler of whiskey. Long ago I gave up on trying to read her thoughts. Everything but song lyrics was incoherent. I gathered that once upon a time she had dreamed of being like Stevie Nicks or Janis Joplin, but had given up on that possibility. It was sad, really.
It wasn’t as if I was a big time dreamer or anything. Simple things had always appealed to me. Because of the ability I had, I really wanted a quiet life more than anything. I didn’t hate being around people but I liked that I lived out in the sticks. It meant I didn’t have too many nearby neighbors bombarding me with thoughts at all times. Getting married might have been nice but I wasn’t sure how it would work. I thought about being a mom sometimes but then I’d think about Bill.
We wouldn’t be having children together. Even if it was biologically possible, I wasn’t convinced it would be responsible of us. I was pretty sure I would have to choose between motherhood and spending time with vampires. Pregnancy was preventable but keeping away from vampires wasn’t as simple as just rescinding an invitation. Vampires didn’t just go away because someone told them to. Lord knows that would have made my life much easier.
The microwave beeped and I reached down under the bar to retrieve the bottle of TruBlood for Bill. I walked around the bar toward Bill’s booth. He had his back to me but I was sure he sensed me coming anyway. I knew Bill could tell I was struggling with something. He rightly blamed Eric for the dissension in my emotions but it wasn’t just Eric’s blood.
It was something Bill said to me after I swallowed some of Eric’s. Well, more accurately it’s what he didn’t say after I had his the first time. Bill had told me there would be side effects but he had left some of them out. He had told he would know if I was in trouble but he hadn’t mentioned he would know everything I felt. I didn’t like the idea of someone having that kind of insight into my life. Maybe that was hypocritical coming from a telepath, but I didn’t like using it to circumvent arguments or to gain the upper hand in personal relationships.
I had warned Bill once already that I didn’t like liars. He had hidden Jessica from me and swore up and down that he knew nothing about Uncle Bartlett’s death. Now I knew he hadn’t even told me the truth about what taking his blood could do. If he was concerned about Eric using the connection to control me, how could I be sure Bill wasn’t doing it too?
I needed a break from vampires.
All of them.
I set the TruBlood down in front of Bill and sat down across from him in the booth. My brother was absent from the bar, but that was par for the course. Ever since Amy died, something in him was different. He wasn’t coming to the bar as much and he seemed to be a little more thoughtful in the things he said. He had become a better brother and a better grandson so I couldn’t complain.
“Is something wrong?” Bill asked as I stared at my hands on the tabletop.
“I’ve been doing some thinking about things,” I told him. The slight downturn of his lips told me he knew that was no good.
“About what?” Bill reached across the table in a rare public display of affection and placed his cool hand on mine.
“You, me, us, everything,” I answered. “Being a telepath, I’m used to hearing the truth whether I want to or not. I don’t know if you had an agenda but it seems like you might have. I very distinctly asked you what your blood could do and you left out a few things.” Bill opened his mouth to argue but I kept going. “Since you’re not an imbecile, I assume you knew that telling me the whole truth might have meant I’d run the other way. I don’t like being lied to, Bill. And I really don’t like how many times I’ve had your blood since the night I asked you to tell me the side effects of having it when you knew it could do things to me that I didn’t know about.”
Bill shook his head with that angry kitten look he got sometimes.
“Northman,” he hissed.
“This isn’t about him or whatever competition you have going on. I’m not a trophy, goshdangit,” I said firmly. “This is about your chronic inability to be completely honest with me. I told you after Jessica that I wasn’t going to look the other way the next time you lied to me and I meant it.”
“Sookie, this is Eric using his blood to control you,” Bill argued. His deep blue eyes were pleading with me to reconsider the things I was saying, but I found in my gut that I couldn’t trust him.
Something in Dallas changed me. It wasn’t Eric’s blood but Eric was involved. Talking Godric off the ledge… I didn’t know that was in me. I had an ancient vampire who felt like he was eternally in my debt for giving him his Maker back. I wasn’t sure how to deal with that.
“No,” I shook my head. “This is me, Bill. This isn’t about me leaving one to run to another. This is about how I don’t feel like I can trust you. This is about trusting my instincts and doing what’s best for me. Right now I need some space. I have to get back to just being Sookie.”
“Sookie, any one of those things I kept from you was to protect you–”
“Bullshit!” I interrupted. “You lied to protect someone but it wasn’t me. You lied to protect yourself and no one else, Bill.”
I was the first person to admit I didn’t know everything. There was a ton of things I didn’t know anything about and probably never would. By the same token, I was no fool. But I felt like one. I felt like Bill had taken advantage of my ignorance and I didn’t know how to get past that.
“We can get through this, Sookie,” he said.
“I don’t want to.” I took my hand back.
It was hard to decipher the look on Bill’s face. Getting a read on any vampire wasn’t easy. They had decades, if not centuries of practice masking their emotions. Sometimes I wondered if they ever felt anything at all. Bill was good at saying the right words but it was the actions I was more interested in.
Trust me… Don’t use words you don’t understand.
You love him… Don’t use words I don’t understand.
Eric may have claimed that he didn’t understand love but his actions up on the roof right before sunrise proved that wasn’t true. He had been prepared to die up there with Godric. I had no way of knowing what would have happened if I hadn’t gone up to the roof, but it was a safe assumption that Godric would be gone. I wasn’t sure what I said to change Godric’s mind but it didn’t matter.
He was alive.
Well, undead, but that was semantics.
Bill left his untouched bottle of TruBlood on the table and got up. He walked out of the bar without a word. I sighed heavily and tilted my head back. My eyes closed and I inhaled deeply. I felt a weight lift from my shoulders and I knew then that I had done the right thing.