I slept most of the day away. Between the emotional stress of the day before and the night of what could only be called phenomenal sex, I was exhausted. I was also no closer to finding Gran. Her car being found in the cemetery created more questions than it gave answers.
When I rolled out of bed, I found I was sore in a way I never had been in the past. Eric hadn’t been too rough but he was definitely bigger than Bill in just about every way imaginable. Still, the sex was fantastic. Unexpected, but not unwelcome. Of course it begged the question of where we’d go from there, because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t stay just a onetime thing.
It was possible, sure. Eric hadn’t bitten me at all. It was possible he wasn’t interested in it, but I doubted that was the case. Maybe, unlike Bill’s fervent and frequent claims, Eric wasn’t just interested in draining me dry. Maybe – and this might be crazy – he was interested in me as a person and not as a meal.
As I soaked in a nice hot bath I thought it over. Doing the compare and contrast thing was a complete waste of time, considering the two vampires were about as different as two vampires could be. But as I thought through things, I came to see what a wolf in sheep’s clothing Bill was. Eric had that quality too, but he never proclaimed to be anything different than who he was. He had strode into Merlotte’s and openly warned vampire haters that he would retaliate for crimes against his kind.
Eric had made good on his threat.
It didn’t mean I agreed with his course of action, but I could respect the honesty. The bottom line was that I didn’t like being lied to. If Eric wanted more than one night with me, we were going to have to have a conversation about what happened in Dallas.
Once I was cleaned up and my sore muscles had a chance to soak, I got out of the tub. While I dressed I tried to figure out the next step in my search for Gran. I was going to have to get her car out of the cemetery before the parish impounded it for being abandoned there. It wasn’t the norm for someone to just leave their car like that. The south was littered with broken down vehicles that folks couldn’t afford to repair and they would sit on the side of the road – sometimes for weeks – before they were moved by anyone.
I dressed in a pair of shorts and tank top. More likely than not, I was going to need my galoshes after all the rain the night before. With my damp hair wound up in a bun and a pair of sunglasses perched on my nose, I went to the cemetery to retrieve Gran’s car. Since I knew where it was, it wouldn’t take me long to get to it. Assuming it wasn’t stuck in the mud, I’d be home in no…
It was gone!
“What the hell!” I stomped my foot and followed the tire tracks out of the cemetery that led up to Hummingbird Lane. I lost them there, of course. “Son of a bitch!”
Gran would have been scandalized by the string of cuss words that followed. Just who in the hell moved her vehicle, anyway? Had it been stolen? Did Bud order it to be moved? I wasn’t planning on bringing human authority figures into it unless I had to, but with Gran’s car missing again, I didn’t think I had much choice.
So I turned toward the house and walked home. If nothing else it was a good day to try out the shiny Jeep Eric wouldn’t take back. I got my purse from the house and traded in my galoshes for a pair of sandals. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, the Jeep would be easier for Gran to get in and out of when she inevitably had to stop driving herself around. Lord knew she wouldn’t be getting in Jason’s truck, although where that thing was, only He knew.
When I reached the sheriff’s office it looked like the whole force was inside. It was a tiny office, comprised of a sheriff, two detectives, four deputies and three dispatchers. I parked the Jeep behind Andy Bellefleur’s Crown Victoria and headed inside. Deputy Pryor was making eyes at Leah, the evening dispatcher, who was obviously more interested in her manicure than some awkward deputy almost twice her age.
“Miss Sookie,” he tipped his hat my way. “What brings you by?”
“Y’all didn’t impound my Gran’s Buick, did you?”
He looked surprised by my question but I was the telepath of the two of us.
“Why in the world would we do that?” he countered.
“Well you see…” I motioned for him to follow me down the counter a bit, a little further from Leah. “See the thing is Gran is getting on in years. Sometimes she forgets where she parks and the poor soul stopped by Home Sweet Home to visit my folks, but then the storm started our way.”
Deputy Pryor nodded his understanding. He was buying the senility story. Bud probably wouldn’t but he was only slightly less gullible.
“You just wait right here and I’ll check. That a Buick Lucerne she’s driving?”
I nodded. “Champagne color,” I added, as if their impound lot would have multiple, twenty-something-year-old sedans on it.
Deputy Pryor left the desk and my eyes swung over to the TV that was on behind the front counter. Leah sat at her desk, filing her fingernails with an emery board while she watched the tail end of some entertainment news show that was on between real newscasts.
“Can you believe a vampire might be nominated for best actress this year?” Leah randomly asked.
“It’s bound to happen eventually,” I shrugged.
“But the red carpet starts way before sunset,” she scoffed.
“It would be terrible if Joan Rivers couldn’t make bad jokes about what they’re wearing,” I said sympathetically.
Leah shook her head in disappointment. Clearly I didn’t get the big deal about a vampire being nominated for such a prestigious award. Ridiculous. I had more important things to worry about than the damn Oscars.
Like why I was seeing my brother on TV, for starters.
“Turn that up!” I pointed at the TV.
“What? Why?” Leah looked at me all confused and by the time she looked at the TV, Jason was gone.
It was a teaser for the reports to come but I was positive I just saw my brother. The story was about an offshoot of the Fellowship of the Sun called The Light of Day Leadership Academy. I sighed heavily.
What the twirly fuck – a Jasonism – was my brother doing in Dallas?! Even worse, what was he doing getting mixed up with those asshats? I had tried to keep what happened there from Gran, but I had told Jason about it. He knew that Steve Newlin’s number one goon had tried to rape me in the basement, where a so-called ‘man of God’ had been holding me prisoner.
I wanted to hear the rest of the story but Deputy Pryor came back with a grim look on his face. “Sorry I can’t be more helpful, Sookie, but we didn’t make a request for a pickup on a Buick,” he said.
“That’s alright. Thank you,” I said with a small smile.
I drove back home and of course by the time I got there, the story I wanted to see had already passed. Gran had no use for the internet, so we were probably one of ten households that didn’t have it. The library closed at six, so going there wasn’t going to work. Sam had internet at the bar but I wasn’t interested in the argument that was sure to come along with going there when I told him I didn’t need his help.
Then I remembered Eric’s cell number was written on the pad in the kitchen. I took my cell phone in there and programmed his number into it. It wasn’t full dark yet so calling him was useless. I wasn’t sure if Jason had internet at his place. He talked about being on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure if it was just his phone he used. I knew he couldn’t type to save his life and I never heard him talk about using a computer. If Jason had a laptop I would have heard something about it.
Feeling like I was a bit stuck, I paced the living room, trying to figure out why Jason would get involved with the likes of Steve Newlin and the Fellowship. I knew he had conflicting feelings about vampires and after what he had been through in the last few months, I couldn’t exactly blame him. Losing Amy had been hard on him, but it wasn’t a vampire’s doing. Vampires weren’t responsible for her death. René had no one to blame for his choices but himself. It didn’t seem right – or logical – to kill an entire race of people because one person couldn’t differentiate between right and wrong.
I hated the feeling of being helpless but it wasn’t like I could snap my fingers for a solution or make the sun set faster. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I picked up my phone to call Eric. My intention was to leave him a message, but to my surprise, he picked up on the second ring.
“Northman,” he answered.
“It’s Sookie,” I replied. “Do you have the internet at the bar?”
“Would you mind if I borrowed your office? I’m pretty sure I saw my brother on TV with Steve Newlin but I didn’t get to see the full news story that would explain it,” I told him. “My Gran’s car is missing from the cemetery. I went over to get it when I got up this afternoon and it was gone. Tire tracks led to the road but the sheriff’s office didn’t arrange a tow so I have no idea if it was stolen or what.”
“I can talk to a hacker friend of mine who can check state databases for any orders to move her car. Did you report it stolen?” Eric asked.
“No, not yet,” I sighed. “I don’t want to get the sheriff’s office involved unless I have to. It’s a shitshow there. I’d just as soon investigate on my own.”
I could hear tapping noises and then the familiar voice of a reporter from the Shreveport CBS affiliate, reporting on the opening of the Light of Day Academy in Dallas, which was going to be offering bible study and teaching people of all ages to be better Christians and better leaders through the Word of God.
“It is our hope that if we shine His light upon our many devoted and loyal followers that we can come together to defeat the darkness that has settled upon humanity since those fanged monsters had the gall to come out of their hell dimension,” Steve Newlin said. I could hear the smug smirk that had to have been on his face.
“What do you say to those that compare this academy to the indoctrination of Hitler Youth?” Newlin was asked by a reporter.
“I would say that’s a terrible comparison. While I don’t share the beliefs of my Jewish brethren, I don’t begrudge them the rights to their beliefs. They too were made in the Lord’s image. Judiasm isn’t a product of evil. We here at the Fellowship do not wish harm to those who choose to worship our Heavenly Father differently than we do. What we want is to stand up against the loathsome, vile creatures that were spawned in the deepest, darkest pits of hell and drive them back to where they come from,” Newlin answered spiritedly. He actually believed that horsepuck.
“He’s crazier than a shithouse rat,” I muttered.
Obviously he missed the chapter on vampire creation where it talks about the vampire having been a human to start out.
“We’re very excited to be opening our doors in new ways and to be extending our outreach programs, so that our message of hope and love through His bright light can save countless lives from an eternity of darkness and evil,” Newlin continued.
Out. Of. His. Mind.
The first class at the academy was already full and lessons would begin in the following week. It was set up like a sleep away camp for psychotics. In between bible studies there would be training sessions with weapons experts and physical education ‘demonstrations’ to help every enrollee advance in agility, endurance and nimbleness. It was mind blowing that people were lining up to get involved.
And it only cost $1,500.00 a week to attend!
Of course that steep figure covered room, board, weapons permits and two personal counseling sessions with Steve Newlin himself.
When I got my hands on Jason I was going to kill him.
“I’m going to strangle my brother,” I warned.
“How did he end up in that mess?” Eric asked.
“I have no idea but when Gran finds out, oh boy is he in for it.” I wasn’t willing to acknowledge the possibility that Gran wasn’t coming home alive. Just the niggling concern in the back of my mind was enough for me.
“You’re welcome to use my office if you want to, but I’m planning on going back to the cemetery to pick up the search where I left off. I have some exceptional trackers I can call out if I need to,” he told me.
“No, I’ll wait here. I can’t be in two places at once and at least I think I know where my brother is. Are there any pictures with that story you found?” I knew Eric knew what Jason looked like. He would be able to identify him.
“I can only see part of a face that might be your brother’s,” Eric told me. “Isabel is running Area 9. I can call her if you want confirmation that he’s there.”
“What will it cost me?” I asked without hesitation.
“Hmm… What do I charge for a phone call? I have no use for your firstborn,” he said, making me roll my eyes. “I have plenty of money, so that’s no good…”
“I could read customers for you,” I offered.
“Or I could deny this later, but just this once I could do it out of the kindness of my undead heart,” Eric suggested.
I laughed and said, “I think I’d rather owe you.”
“Have you so little faith in me, Miss Stackhouse?”
“I’m working on it,” I answered. “Should I meet you in the cemetery?”
“I’ll be there ten minutes after sundown. Until then, Lover,” he purred that last bit before he hung up.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I got goosebumps when he used that tone with me. I probably had an hour to kill so I decided to spend it in the kitchen making myself something to eat. At least cooking was a mostly mindless activity, not to mention I was starving. I hadn’t given it much thought but I hadn’t eaten in more than twenty-four hours. With everything going on around me, it was amazing I hadn’t fainted.
Then again, Gran raised a Steel Magnolia and not a Pitiful Pearl.
The air was still muggy but that was pretty much a constant in Louisiana. Eric was dressed nearly identically to the way he was the night before, only his jeans were dark blue instead of black. I followed him through the woods beyond the cemetery. There was a pond up ahead a little to the east. I could hear the chirping of crickets and the shifting of branches all around us.
All of a sudden, Eric stopped walking and I nearly face planted in his broad back. His shirt smelled of laundry detergent with a hint of whatever cologne he wore. Then again, it might have been just him. Either way, he smelled good.
We hadn’t talked about Dallas yet, but I hadn’t figured out how to bring it up.
“Why’d you stop?” I asked him.
Eric stepped to my left and pointed straight ahead to where there was an obviously disturbed patch of earth. It was about three feet wide by six feet long.
My heart leapt into my throat.
“I smell Godric here,” he said.
The patch had been dug up recently but it hadn’t been touched since before the storm. Whatever was in that hole in the ground was more than likely covered in mud or had drowned from all the rain. Maybe both.
“When was he here?” I asked nervously.
“In the last week,” Eric answered confidently.
My mouth was afraid to give a voice to the things I was thinking. So rather than go that route I blurted out, “If you ever want last night to happen again, don’t lie to me.”
Eric’s head turned to the right. He didn’t know about all of the lies Bill told me. Maybe at some point I would explain, but for the moment that wasn’t important. I just wanted him to know that I didn’t like liars. I didn’t want to be tricked into doing things because someone else decided it would benefit me, even though their interests were more self-serving than that.
His eyes searched mine for a moment before he said, “Fair enough.”
I liked that there weren’t any excuses or attempts to justify his behavior. Eric had his reasons for doing what he had done but I wasn’t sure of the motivation anymore. Day by day, the hold Bill once had on me was lessening. All of the anti-Eric propaganda started to sound more and more like desperate attempts to keep me in line loyal to him.
“Why does Bill hate you?” I asked.
“Aside from my superiority in every possible way?”
I walked right into that.
“Well not every way. I can’t see you ever having man bangs,” I snarked, earning me one of Eric’s quiet and rare chuckles.
“Pam threatened to shave my head if I ever tried them,” he told me.
“Really, why does Bill hate you?” I asked after a moment passed.
“Because Bill has never been grateful for the gift that was bestowed upon him. I don’t know if he was given a choice when he was turned, but he’s had more than a century to decide what to do about it. He claims to despise what he is and says he’s striving to reclaim his humanity, but it wasn’t so long ago that he was bathing and fucking in the freshly spilled blood of cheap whores for no reason other than he could. He is a hypocrite. He is uncomfortable in his own skin, something I never had a problem with. Mostly, I believe he hates me because he knew from the moment I saw you that it was only a matter of time before you would choose me instead,” Eric answered.
The answer was everything I would expect from the mouth of Eric Northman. He revealed secrets I knew nothing about – and I was sure Bill never wanted me to finds out – and it was also slightly arrogant. At the same time, his judgment seemed to be spot on.
“Was it your choice to be a vampire?” I didn’t know how that had come to pass for Eric. For every vampire it was different.
“I was mortally wounded in a battle. It was my third summer as a leader among my clan. Godric said it was the combination of my grace and speed that caught his attention and made him follow me,” Eric started. “My comrades carried me away from the battlefield and began to construct what would become my funeral pyre. As I lay in the woods, waiting for my Valkyries to accompany me to Valhalla, a small, dark man came along and offered me the chance to have the thing I loved most for all of eternity. The one thing I love even more than my Maker is living. Life. Sometimes it gets mundane and monotonous, but if I had given up on it I wouldn’t be here. With you. So yes, it was a choice. It’s a choice I make every morning before the sun rises. I choose life but I have Godric to thank for that choice.”
I knew the story of how Bill was turned. It hadn’t been by choice. His Maker had forced it on him and forbid him from taking his own life. Lorena turned him out of loneliness. If she wasn’t so crazy I probably would have felt bad for her. I understood loneliness and the desperation to fill the void, but it never occurred to me to try forcing myself onto someone else. Even worse, Bill was stuck with her. Presumably until the end of time.
It also didn’t escape me that Eric could be a bit cheesy when he wanted to be. I didn’t mind it. It was another facet to his personality, and one I wouldn’t have expected.
Maybe it was the moonlight or maybe it was because of the sweet confession Eric had made, but I tilted my face up to kiss him. It wasn’t particularly passionate or demanding, but there was definitely affection there. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move. Eric must have seen it too, since his head turned when mine did.
The muddy, new grave started to shift. I heard the distinct click of fangs beside me and seconds later a small, dirty hand emerged from the earth.