Sookie’s eyes fluttered open when the alarm went off on the bedside table. She’d woken briefly from the… hell; she didn’t even know what to call the night before. It wasn’t just sex, she knew that. Between the blood exchange, the orgasms and then passing out, she was definitely off her game. She rolled to her right to turn the alarm off. Where it had come from she wasn’t sure. It hadn’t been there the night before but she was glad Eric had thought to set it for her.
The service was scheduled to start at one, which was good because most of Tara’s friends weren’t early risers after working at Merlotte’s for so long. Slowly Sookie sat up and winced a little at the soreness she felt. Vampire speed had felt amazing the night before but it wasn’t so great anymore. She inched her way off the bed and staggered to the bathroom. How was it possible her legs weren’t functioning fully yet?
She started the water for a bath, figuring a shower was probably a bad idea. If she were moving at her usual speed, she’d go downstairs and start a pot of coffee so it would be ready by the time she got out of the tub, but at the rate she was moving the tub would overflow first. Sookie took care of her usual morning business before carefully climbing into the big tub. The hot water felt good on her aching muscles and she leaned back against the porcelain with her eyes closed.
She relaxed almost instantly and was just about to fade out into sleep when the face she’d seen in that mystical forest popped into her head, sort of like that creepy Katie girl at the end of Paranormal Activity. One minute the slate was blank, and then BAM! there it was. Sookie jumped, sending water sloshing over the side of the tub. She grabbed onto whatever she could to keep from going underwater and ended up completely drenched for her troubles.
“What the heck?” she muttered, her relaxing bath all but ruined.
That face…the shocking thing was how much it looked like Eric, but maybe an older version of him. Flaxen hair pulled elegantly back, a dark and dapper suit, bright blue eyes and a similar cleft in his chin to the one Eric had. But it couldn’t have been Eric. So who was the man in the woods? What was he doing watching them? Had he been there before and she’d simply been too caught up in Eric to notice?
So many questions and no one available to answer them. No fucking way was Sookie going to even try to get back to that freakin’ fairy world. She would end up trapped there forever if she did and Sookie was willing to bet Eric would start a war to get her back. If she disappeared again, he would know where she was but he wouldn’t know how to get to her. There had to be something somewhere that explained it all.
Sookie suddenly remembered what Gran had said the day she’d gone to Merlotte’s. She’d been so consumed with everything else that she had forgotten that part of what Gran had said. Sookie was suddenly flooded with memories of her grandfather and how there were times when he had talked to her without moving his lips.
Why had she blocked that out of her mind? If her grandfather had the same special talent she did, he was probably trying to protect it. When folks spoke of Earl Stackhouse, they always did it with respect and admiration. How had he been able to tame his gift when it left Sookie feeling crazy most of the time? What was the missing puzzle piece that would make everything come into clear view for her?
Sookie washed her hair, shaved her legs and then drained the tub. She had to get moving if she was going to get to Bon Temps early enough to poke around in her attic before the service began. She had promised Lafayette she would be at the church at noon to make sure everything was set up. She also had to get home and locate a dress fitting for Tara’s funeral. The things she had in Eric’s closet wouldn’t do.
Sookie wrapped herself in a towel and went to the closet to find something to wear home. Much to her surprise there was a dress bag hanging from one of the bars and a card was propped on the little island in the middle of the room that contained cufflinks, ties, socks and the like. Sookie picked up the card and read the note written inside in Eric’s lovely hand.
It occurred to me you had nothing to wear to your friend’s service. I regret I won’t be at your side but I hope this will give you a little something to smile about.
Sookie smiled at the note and set it down before going over to the dress bag. She unzipped it carefully and braced herself for what might be inside. Eric had proven with the way he redecorated her house that he knew her tastes. She doubted he would leave her something slinky and scandalous to wear to a funeral like he might if she were dressing for Fangtasia or a night out with him. Which, come to think of it, she’d never really had. She wondered, with some amusement, what Eric would do if she told him she wanted him to take her on a proper date.
There were several hangers inside the bag. The first item she removed was a black trench coat that would reach about mid-shin. After that was a pretty black lace floral dress with a black silk slip underneath it. The neckline was low but not too revealing. The dress was sleeveless so it was a good thing Eric had included the coat. When Sookie peeked at the label—something she wouldn’t have normally done- her eyes bugged out a little. She wasn’t used to designer labels, having shopped at WalMart and secondhand stores for most of her life.
On the floor were two boxes. One was marked with the name Louboutin on it and she knelt down to look inside. The shoes reminded her of something Pam might wear and Sookie wondered if the ensemble wasn’t all Pam’s doing. The labels and design definitely screamed of Pam more than Eric, but Sookie couldn’t deny Pam had impeccable taste. The other box contained lingerie, jewelry and a small black clutch. Pam was nothing if not thorough.
It didn’t escape Sookie’s attention that the accessories Pam had selected were made of silver. It was a clever way to keep both vampires and werewolves away from a potential target if they didn’t want a nasty skin rash. Sookie lifted the boxes off the floor and set them on to of the island. She started with the lingerie and wasn’t the least bit surprised to find everything was perfectly sized.
She put on the lacy boyshorts and pretty bra with bows on the straps before getting the dress down off its hanger. Zipping it on her own was a bit of a challenge but she managed it. She was going to need help with the necklace, however, since she had never been able to clasp those around her neck without assistance. She got the bracelet and earrings on just fine, though. Sookie slid her feet into the Louboutins and at the last minute, grabbed a pair of black flats to take along with her.
After transferring the necessary items into the little black clutch, Sookie grabbed the shoe box and trench coat before heading downstairs. She made herself a pot of coffee and a small breakfast of a fried egg and a slice of toast. The luncheon afterward was going to be held at Merlotte’s. It seemed like the right place for everyone to end up after saying goodbye to their friend.
Sookie ate quickly, cleaned up her mess and poured the remaining coffee into a travel mug to take with her. In the garage she put the coat and shoe box in the backseat before climbing behind the wheel. The car had been refueled sometime overnight, probably whenever Pam arrived with Sookie’s wardrobe for the funeral. She knew she’d been out of it for a while, but damn.
The drive to Bon Temps took the usual forty-five minutes. Sookie pulled into her driveway at just after eleven, giving her about forty-five minutes to look around before she had to head over to the church. She sighed at the sight of the crime tape still attached to her front door. She was so fucking sick of seeing her house marked as a crime scene. It seemed like every time she turned around the place was being invaded or trashed in one capacity or another.
The smell of gardenia hit her suddenly and she stopped. Gran. Being that it was getting awfully close to November it wasn’t anywhere near the right time for that scent. Gran had grown the flowers in her yard for years and every year just before summer officially began, the air was always filled with the smell of them. Sookie had come to associate that scent with Gran, sort of like pecan pie and Thanksgiving dinner.
“Gran?” Sookie whispered but of course there was no response.
She slipped the key into the lock and let herself inside. The wretched stench of industrial strength chemicals radiated through the house and despite the chill in the air, Sookie opened the windows in hopes of chasing the smells away. She avoided the kitchen, not at all ready to go into that room just yet. She’d only caught glimpse of Tara’s body before Jason pulled her out of the room but it was enough to be burned into Sookie’s memory for the rest of her life.
Instead Sookie headed for the stairs and went straight up to the attic. She had no idea what she was looking for and with everything Gran had saved over the years, it could take weeks to go through every box, trunk or cabinet to see what might be hidden away. The things Eric had boxed up for her were neatly stacked and labeled but it was mostly clothing and photographs. If the clue she was looking for was in a picture she wasn’t sure she would ever find it.
Sookie figured it was best to start with the things that had belonged to Gran and Granddaddy. Sookie stopped cold when she realized that it wasn’t just her boxes that had been organized. The attic had once been a jumbled mess of old furniture, clothing, collectibles and whatever other odds and ends Gran had thought were worth saving. Not anymore. Now it seemed Eric had been able to sort things by generation.
Five generations, including herself, had lived in the house at some point. At the far end of the attic were the oldest things. Old coat hangers, rocking chairs and even some old dresses were stashed away in trunks. Sookie recalled finding a hoopskirt up there as a child. She’d proceeded to play her own version of Gone with the Wind until she got too old for such things.
Finding the things that had belonged to Gran was easy enough since she’d packed those things herself. She’d done so with the intention of moving into Gran’s room on the first floor. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep running the heat upstairs if she didn’t need to. Keeping herself down on the first floor would save her a small fortune in energy costs. Not to mention, she wouldn’t feel quite so trapped on the first floor. If, God forbid, she needed to make a quick exit, it would be much safer to jump out a first floor window than it would a second floor window.
Crazy that she would use that as a reason to take over Gran’s room. Sookie sighed and began to sort through what she could. It was hard not to stop and spend time remembering what each and every piece she’d saved had meant to Gran but there simply wasn’t time for it. She would have to come back and reminisce some other time. At the moment, she was on a mission and she needed to stay focused.
Sookie got through about a dozen boxes before she realized she had to get going. She hadn’t found anything that looked promising but then a box labeled ‘books’ caught her attention and on a whim, she grabbed the box to take with her. It was a heavy box, labeled in handwriting she didn’t recognize. The box was old and a little on the wilted side but as long as the bottom didn’t give way, she would be fine.
Sookie carefully went downstairs with the box in her arms and her purse balanced on top of it. She locked up after herself and put the box of books into the trunk of the Range Rover. The drive to the church took less than ten minutes and Lafayette’s fancy sports car was parked outside. Sookie was still unclear about how Lafayette had come to own the vehicle since he’d said he was out of the V selling business for good.
No doubt if he was back at it again Eric would find out and this time Lafayette wouldn’t be lucky enough to escape with just a gunshot wound. She parked beside the little eggplant colored car and grabbed the trench coat from the backseat. Lafayette was standing outside the church away from the doors, lit cigarillo in hand. Sookie walked toward him and was impressed he wasn’t dressed in his usual flamboyant manner.
He’d traded in his scarves, clip-on earrings and fake eyelashes for a nicely tailored black suit, cufflinks and loafers. He looked like a regular gentleman; something Sookie hadn’t seen in…well… it had been a long time. If that wasn’t a sign of Lafayette’s grief, she didn’t know what was.
“Since when you start wearin’ shoes that are worth more than that old car of yours?” Lafayette asked before taking a drag on his cigarillo.
“These aren’t mine,” Sookie pointed a toe in his direction. “I’m pretty sure Pam is responsible for this. You don’t even want to know what the label on my dress says.”
“The fuck I don’t,” Lafayette gestured to his suit. “Don’t let this fools ya. I am still the same fabulous bitch I always was.”
Sookie smiled and then turned around so Lafayette could sneak a peek at the label. He whistled and then released her.
“Yo skinny ass need to gain a few so a sista can borrow yo shit,” Lafayette took another drag.
“So what’s with the suit?” Sookie asked him since it was so out of character.
“I’m pissed as a mothafucka. Miss Tara and I been talkin’,” Lafayette tapped the side of his head and Sookie gasped. “Don’t worry, Sook, she ain’t blamin’ you for what happened to her.”
Sookie’s eyes filled with tears and she was grateful she hadn’t bothered with makeup or it’d be ruined. Sobs wracked her body and Lafayette cussed again before tossing his cigarillo away to hug her. The two of them stood there together until Jesus politely interrupted.
“Reverend Daniels needs to see you,” Jesus said to Lafayette who just rolled his eyes.
“Want me to come with you?” Sookie offered.
“I got a feelin’ it’s Lettie Mae who really wants to talk to me and that bitch ain’t on my happy list,” Lafayette gestured like he usually would and that lightened Sookie’s spirits a little. “Ever since I done told her to get the fuck up out Tara’s life, she and I ain’t seen eye to eye. Hell, we ain’t never seen eye to eye.”
That was the truth.
It was hard to defend a person like Lettie Mae. Sookie recalled what a horrible childhood Tara had survived with her drunk, violent mother always bringing her down. It wasn’t hard to understand why Tara was always so angry and looking for someone to lean on; she’d been denied a proper motherly influence from the time she was born. Lettie Mae was a mother only in the sense that she was a woman who gave birth. Raising Tara, teaching her to be kind to others and forgive them when they did wrong was something Lettie Mae never seemed to have time for.
As a result, Tara grew up hard. She made promises of getting a good education so someday she could leave Bon Temps and never look back. Of course those were the angry promises of a child. By the time Tara was old enough to make good on those promises it was too late. Her fate had been sealed and she was destined to go down with her mother, or so she thought. But while Lettie Mae got clean and changed the way she was living her life, Tara had sunk deeper and deeper into the cesspool she’d been born into.
“You look nice, Sookie,” Jesus said kindly and leaned over to kiss her cheek.
“Thank you,” Sookie smiled at him. “How are you doing with all this?”
“I’m fine. I’m a little concerned about Lafayette but he’s strong; he’ll get through this,” Jesus said and Sookie nodded her agreement.
“You know when we were younger he had a pretty hard time of things. Not because he was confused or didn’t know how to handle the fact that he was different, but because everyone else was confused and didn’t know how to handle him being different,” Sookie said with a big smile and Jesus nodded.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he chuckled quietly.
“But Lafayette has always been a fighter. He’s never let anything keep him down or stand in his way. He’s always kept his chin up and tried to find the silver lining to a dark cloud. He’ll get through this, too,” Sookie assured Jesus.
“Yes, he certainly will,” Jesus nodded again. “How are you doing?”
Sookie paused for a minute and said, “I have my moments. I mean, I haven’t gotten to a point yet where I can make any kind of sense of this, but I hope someday I will.”
oOo ~ oOo ~ oOo
The memorial service was a strange experience for Sookie to endure. It wasn’t like Gran’s funeral where most people had been genuinely shocked by her passing, or were grief stricken at the loss of such a pillar of the community. Tara’s reputation was muddy, to put it nicely. It was safe to say that she had insulted just about everyone in town at some point and because she never did have much of a brain to mouth filter, she had a tendency to be a little heavy handed with her criticisms and judgments.
That said, not a single person spoke an unkind word in Tara’s memory, even if there were quite a few who were thinking she got what was coming to her. Sookie tried not to listen to the thoughts of others but being sequestered in Eric’s house left her rusty and by the time the service was finished, her head hurt. And there was still the luncheon to attend afterward.
Usually the luncheon was supposed to be served in a family member’s home but since Lafayette was running the show instead of Tara’s mother, having that many people over to his little house wasn’t possible. Not to mention, most people wouldn’t be comfortable going over there. The crowd at Merlotte’s was almost as big as the crowd at the memorial. Terry was in back working the grill and Sookie slapped on an apron along with Arlene and Holly to make sure food and beverages were served in a timely manner.
“Still no word from Sam?” Sookie asked when she got a minute alone with Arlene.
“Not yet,” Arlene tapped her fake nails against the bar. “I’m worried about him. You and I both know it isn’t like Sam to just disappear like this.”
“No, it’s not,” Sookie agreed.
One of the best things about Sam was how reliable he was. He was the one person Sookie knew whom she had always been able to count on. Sam wasn’t just her boss; he was her friend. Technically, he wasn’t her boss anymore but that was beside the point. The important thing was that he had been in a tough spot before he disappeared. Maybe he just needed to go off for a while and get his head on straight. Sookie could certainly understand that, given that she’d disappeared herself for a whole year. Although she sincerely doubted Sam had stumbled into that same alternate universe she had.
Knowing Sam he was probably out in the woods somewhere, shifting to his heart’s content. Since it was getting on to hunting season though, Sookie was worried he was going to get himself killed doing that. She couldn’t handle losing another person she loved. Losing Gran and Tara was hard enough for her; she couldn’t put Sam’s name on that list, too.
“Listen, I know it isn’t my place to be offerin’ jobs but we could sure use your help if you’re wantin’ to come back. Terry and I are doin’ the best we can to keep this place afloat but with the kids ‘n all, I can’t be here sixteen hours a day,” Arlene looked at Sookie with pleading eyes.
“Oh, Arlene, I don’t know,” Sookie trailed off.
“I wouldn’t ask but this ship is sinkin’, Sookie, and I don’t have time to break in a new girl,” Arlene’s green eyes kept right on pleading.
“I’ll think it over,” Sookie said as a way of stalling.
Deep down she knew she wasn’t going to go back to waitressing. If she started up with that she would never get her business off the ground and while she’d thought Eric was nuts for suggesting it, she was excited by the prospect of working for herself. Thankfully another basket of pickle chips were ready to go out so Sookie hustled to deliver them. Her goal was to not get caught by Arlene again.
She found Jason sitting alone in a booth at the far end of the bar. Usually he’d be sitting with Hoyt, the two of them commiserating and holding court. Well, actually, Jason would be holding court while Hoyt sat at Jason’s right hand.
Judging by the bruises on Jason’s face and the way Hoyt refused to look at his friend, the truth about Jessica had come out. Sookie sat down across from Jason who was nursing a beer. His left eye was bruised and swollen. There was a cut on his lip and his right cheek didn’t look too happy either.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Sookie asked, knowing sometimes there were no words for what a person was feeling. Thoughts didn’t make any kind of sense.
“I think I lost my best friend. What else is there to say?” Jason glanced up at her and then returned his eyes to his beer.
Sookie reached across the table and put her hand on Jason’s. There were no defensive wounds, suggesting that he had willingly taken the beating that had been dished out. Sookie glanced over at Hoyt who looked equally as distraught. He was generally such a gentle creature. Hoyt was a sweet guy whose mama had done a hell of a number on him but in spite of all her bigotry and hatred, Hoyt had turned out well. Any girl would be lucky to have him.
“I did the right thing. I told the truth,” Jason continued to stare at his beer. “I didn’t touch her before they broke up; I swear, Sook. I know it don’t seem like it, but Hoyt’s my best friend. I would never do something like this to hurt him on purpose.”
“I know that, honey,” Sookie squeezed his hand.
In her mind she could see what had happened between Jason and Hoyt because he was thinking about it over and over. She heard the conversation. Jason confessed and Hoyt thought it was a joke. No way would Jason ever betray him like that and yet, it had happened. Hoyt erupted and had landed a couple of good punches and a swift kick to Jason’s torso before stomping off. Sookie cringed at the images and hurt in her brother’s mind.
“Have you told Jessica about this?” Sookie asked gently.
“Not yet,” he shook his head slowly. “She came by my place last night but I… I couldn’t see her. I didn’t want her to retaliate on my behalf and my head is so fucked up right now about Tara. I just… I need some space.”
“I understand,” Sookie retracted her hand.
“Not from you,” Jason looked up quickly and Sookie smiled at him.
“I’m just gonna take a quick trip around and make sure no one needs new drinks and I’ll be back,” Sookie promised him.
Jason nodded and then picked up his beer to chug it down. “Mind gettin’ me a refill since you’re up?” Classic Jason.
“Sure,” Sookie took his mug and walked away from the table.
She was behind the bar filling beers when Alcide walked in. So much for his promise to be by her side all day. It was actually for the best that he hadn’t been. There had been too many people to greet and talk to and most of them knew she was already seeing someone else. Having a stranger show up at the memorial service would have raised all kinds of questions that would have trickled back to Bill, which meant they would have found their way to Eric. Vampires were about as gossipy as Mrs. Fortenberry.
“There you are. I was startin’ to wonder if you got your days mixed up,” Sookie said as Alcide walked toward her.
“Sorry. I called but I think your phone must be off. Call went straight to voicemail,” Alcide explained and took a seat on one of the stools.
“It’s fine, Alcide, don’t worry about it. I’ve been busy as a one legged man in an ass kickin’ contest anyway,” Sookie smiled at him. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just water. I have to drive back to Shreveport,” Alcide folded his large hands on top of the bar. Unlike Eric’s hands, Alcide’s were tan and calloused from years of working outdoors with them. “Any word on Debbie?”
Sookie passed him a glass of water and said, “I know Eric went to see her last night. I can guess what they did to her but I didn’t ask so I really don’t know. If Eric was feelin’ at all merciful he just glamoured the bejesus out of her and sent her on her way.”
“Vamps can’t usually glamour weres,” Alcide looked down at his water.
“Oh,” Sookie hadn’t known that. “Will you wait right here a minute? I have to deliver these,” she held up the tray of beers.
Alcide nodded and stayed right where he was at the bar while Sookie went from table to table, delivering the requested beers and taking orders for more of one thing or another. Waitressing in five inch heels was a bad idea. She was tired, her feet were killing her and she would have given just about anything to be back at Eric’s place, soaking in the hot tub by the pool. That sounded like heaven.
“Jase, a friend of mine just got here and I need to talk with him a bit,” Sookie said when she set the beer down in front of him.
“Don’t worry about me, Sookie; I’m fine,” Jason said but it was obvious he wasn’t.
She leaned down and kissed the top of Jason’s head. Telling him it was going to be okay would sound so empty, especially when Jason was grieving for so many things at the moment. His feelings for Tara were complicated enough but then there was Hoyt and Jessica to compound his confusion. Sookie sighed and said a quick prayer of thanks that she had never been one of the popular kids. Sure everyone knew Jason by name or reputation but he didn’t have a lot of true friends. He’d always chosen quantity over quality and he was paying for that now.
Sookie turned in her orders and went back to the bar where Alcide was still sitting, slowly turning his glass of water in circles. He looked good in a suit, albeit slightly unnatural. She was so used to seeing him in beat up jeans and flannel shirts that it had never occurred to her she might see him in a suit, but it looked good on him. He cleaned up real nice when he wanted to. Since he was about Eric’s size she had to wonder if they shared a tailor. No way did those two men buy off the rack.
“So what else is new?” Sookie asked while fixing herself a gin and tonic. She wasn’t much of a drinker but this was a special occasion. Alcohol was called for.
“Not a whole lot. We had to do some repair work on a parking structure that went up a little over a year ago. Looked like a bomb went off in there,” Alcide sighed and drank some of his water. “How about you?”
“No bombs going off for me,” Sookie lifted the corner of her mouth and Alcide shook his head at her.
“About time,” he muttered.
Her eyes narrowed and she said, “A lot of what’s been going on recently isn’t my fault. Eric getting cursed wasn’t because of me and before you say it, he needed someplace safe to go where no one would look for him. If Bill had any kind of manners he wouldn’t have come bustin’ in my house like he did and no one would have known Eric was even there. I don’t think I need to remind you that Debbie coming after me wasn’t my fault either.”
Alcide growled at that and she could hear him thinking it over in his mind. He felt guilty and responsible, as he should. “I didn’t think she’d go this far, Sookie,” he said.
“If there’s one thing I learned from being with Bill, it’s that you can never really know someone as well as you think you do. Love has a way of hiding the things we need to see the most,” Sookie refilled Alcide’s water glass.
“No, I saw it,” Alcide admitted, looking Sookie dead in the eye. “I just ignored it.”