Chapter 9: Breathe In Breathe Out
For the next several nights, I concentrated on my presentation for the Descendants of the Glorious Dead. The night of the meeting had finally arrived, and I was satisfied with what I planned to say. I had not seen Sookie since I brought her back from Fangtasia, but planned to go by the Stackhouse home early to escort Sookie to the meeting. Shortly after first dark, I made my way to her home and waited for her to ready herself, watching her from the shadows of the tree line.
When it appeared that Sookie was nearly ready, and Adele had already left, I started to make my way back across the cemetery to retrieve my car to pick Sookie up. The sound of a pickup driving down the driveway caused me to turn back around. To my surprise, I watched as the shifter jumped out, strode up to the door, and rang the doorbell. Even from my vantage point in the tree line, I was able to clearly hear both Sookie and the shifter.
Sookie answered the door saying, “You’re welcome to come in, but I think we just have time—”
At the same time, the shifter said, “I’d like to sit and visit, but I think we just have time—”
If it had been possible, my blood would have been boiling at the sound of their shared laughter. Sookie was mine; the shifter had no business interfering with what was mine. I continued to watch as they made their way to his pickup and got in. Sookie was at least dressed conservatively in khaki slacks and a silk blouse. But I could tell from her nervousness that Sookie was being courted by the shifter.
“Need a boost?” the shifter had the audacity to ask.
Luckily for him, Sookie answered, “I think I got it.”
I took to the air and flew after the pickup, tracking the shifter and my human. My darker nature was determined to track my human and take her back from the shifter who was poaching what was mine.
Finally, the shifter pulled into the parking lot of the Community Building. Again, I watched from the shadows as the shifter and my human exited the pickup and walked together into the building. I could not stop myself from tearing a tree from the ground and throwing it through the woods. Sookie was mine; she had no business allowing the shifter to court her!
I wanted to take my darker nature out on something—someone—I wanted to put as much distance between Sookie and myself as possible—to hell with speaking at her grandmother’s club. But I soon came back to my senses. I knew I could not allow my anger and jealousy to rule me. I remembered Sookie’s words, that she would not call me again. Perhaps this game she was playing was simply punishment for her perceiving that I had not courted her properly.
I waited until my usual cool demeanor was back in place. I would continue with my plan to impress Adele. Surely, this would win me favor with Sookie. The stinking shifter may think that he could take what was mine, but I would continue to play this game that Sookie had started, and I would play it smart.
Looking down at my watch, I saw that it was past time for the meeting to begin. In my raging temper, I had not noticed the passing time. I made a quick call to explain that I would be late, sighting “car troubles”, which the humans were quick enough to believe.
Before arriving at Sookie’s house, I drank some TrueBlood, but after chasing Sookie, and uprooting a tree, my thirst had returned. I knew I should drink some more before I entered the Community Building as I would look quite pale currently, but I knew I was already late, so I simply made sure my suit was still clean and made my way in.
When I entered the Community Building, I quickly found the woman who would introduce me, and made my apologies for being tardy. As I made my way to the front, I quickly found Sookie in the crowd. My anger was still vying for control of my emotions, but with difficulty, I kept my face impassive and simply gave a small bow to her. For once, her emotions seemed subdued, and she only gave a slight nod of acknowledgement back.
After I was introduced, I began speaking about the war. I had prepared notes, and was determined to fulfill my promise to Adele, but I was also trying to skirt around anything that might be too personal. Though it was not likely to be needed, I used some subtle influence to ensure that the humans would be receptive to me. I focused on speaking about the living conditions and troop movements. I knew nothing I spoke of was any different than could be found in a history book, but the human’s still seemed to be satisfied with my accounts about food shortages, lack of clothing and blankets, and the many deserters we suffered.
Eventually, an elderly human raised his hand and asked, “Sir, did you by chance know my great-grandfather, Tolliver Humphries?”
As the sounds of sniper fire once again filled my mind, I was transported to that day once again. The sounds would haunt me for the rest of my existence.
Every part of me screamed to not answer this human’s question. My instincts demanded to keep this part of my past to myself. I looked at Tolliver’s descendant again. Tolliver had been a good man, too good for his fate. He had made a noble sacrifice, and that sacrifice deserved to be told.
“Yes,” I finally answered, struggling to keep my voice even and emotionless. I tried to steady myself by focusing on my breathing. Breathe in—breathe out. “Tolliver was my friend.” I knew I had not completely succeeded, and could hear my voice close to breaking. I had never spoken of Tolliver’s death. Not even to my wife after I had returned home, but Tolliver’s descendent deserved to know the kind of man his ancestor had been.
“What was he like?” the human prompted, his voice breaking as well.
“Well, he was foolhardy, which led to his death,” I explained ruefully. “He was brave. He never made a cent in his life that he didn’t waste,” I continued, actually remembering fondly all of the times Tolliver lost money to me as we passed time between moving to various battle encampments with various games of chance.
“How did he die? Were you there?” the human asked.
I struggled not to sigh and answered, “Yes, I was there. I saw him get shot by a Northern sniper in the woods about twenty miles from here. He was slow because he was starved. We all were. About the middle of the morning, a cold morning, Tolliver saw a boy in our troop get shot as he lay in poor cover in the middle of a field. The boy was not dead, but painfully wounded. But he could call to us, and he did, all morning. He called to us to help him. He knew he would die if someone didn’t.” I looked out at the crowd; they were reverent in their silence, showing the proper respect for poor Tolliver.
“He screamed and he moaned. I almost shot him myself, to shut him up, because I knew to venture out to rescue him was suicide. But I could not quite bring myself to kill him. That would be murder, not war, I told myself. But later I wished I had shot him, for Tolliver was less able to withstand the boy’s pleading. After two hours of it, he told me he planned to try to rescue the boy. I argued with him. But Tolliver told me that God wanted him to attempt it. He had been praying as we lay in the woods.
“Though I told Tolliver that God did not wish him to waste his life foolishly—that he had a wife and children praying for his safe return at home—Tolliver asked me to divert the enemy while he attempted the boy’s rescue. He ran out into the field like it was a spring day and he was well rested. And he got as far as the wounded boy. But then a shot rang out, and Tolliver fell dead. And, after a time, the boy began screaming for help again.”
The woman who had introduced me, Mrs. Fortenberry I believed, quietly asked, “What happened to him?”
“He lived,” I answered, forever cursing all of the Bellefleurs that the boy lived while Tolliver died. I cursed myself as well, I should have stopped Tolliver—the boy would have lived regardless. Tolliver had died in vain. “He survived the day, and we were able to retrieve him that night,” I finished.
My mind remained in memories of Tolliver and regrets of what I should have done that day. I could hardly recall what other questions had been asked, nor could I recall what my answers had been, but I knew no more of them had been very personal. Eventually, the last human had asked their questions, and I was able to begin the process of making my way out. Many of the humans however wished to greet me and thank me for speaking.
I wanted to approach Sookie, but she and the shifter made their way out before I could shake the humans. My anger ratcheted up again, but I forced myself to remain. I would escort Adele home instead, I would continue to impress Sookie’s grandmother and I would win the girl. I would not lose this battle to a mere shifter.
By this time, most of the humans had drifted away, and I made my way over to Adele whom was loading leftover food and empty serving dishes into her car.
Picking up a stack of empty serving platters, I said genially, “Let me help you carry this burden Mrs. Stackhouse.”
Adele picked up some coffee thermoses, and tittered, “Now, I thought we were past that. I’ll have to go back to calling you Mr. Compton if you can’t call me Adele.”
More and more, I found myself genuinely liking this human. For the first time all night, I felt a real smile come to my face and I replied, “Of course, Adele. I hope your club was pleased with my talk.”
“Oh, Bill. It was wonderful, to actually hear a real account, from someone who was actually there! It was so exciting!” she exclaimed as we loaded her car.
After a few more trips, everything was loaded, and Adele’s was the only car left in the parking lot. Looking around Adele said, “I know you had car trouble Bill, but how’d you get here?”
Smiling faintly, I replied, “Oh, we vampires have always managed to get around rather quickly, even before cars were invented.”
Adele thought for a moment then said, “Well, if you’re headed home, you might as well ride with me.”
I nodded my appreciation. “That would be delightful, Adele.”
After we had been driving for a few moments, Adele broke the silence. “You know, Sookie has never really had much attention from any of the males around this area. At least not any in the wanted variety,” Adele said conversationally.
Her eyes never left the road, but I found myself watching her curiously. “Oh?” I said noncommittally.
“Sookie has always been a good looking girl, but she’s pretty inexperienced when it comes to interacting with members of the opposite sex.” She chuckled ruefully, adding, “Well, I suppose that’s not strictly true, she’s pretty inexperienced when it comes to actually interacting with anyone. Sookie’s never been able to have too close of friends because of her ability you see.”
I felt my eyebrows draw together in confusion. What does this have to do with anything? I wondered to myself.
Adele glanced over at me, noting my confusion, she continued on, “What I’m saying is that she may be a grown woman, but in a lot of ways, she’s still a little girl. She’s never really learned how to handle having friends, let alone dealing with the attentions of the opposite sex. I can see that with her getting involved with vampires and other things that she might finally be finding her place in this world, but you’re going to have to be patient with her. She’ll need to find where she fits into this world yet, and learn how to behave in it.” I was startled at Adele’s statement. Did this mean that she knew that there was more out there than humans and vampires alone?
Adele shook her head sadly. “I’ve tried to do my best for Sookie, but there’s only been so much I could do for her. Growing up with her ability has matured her beyond her years in a lot of ways, but don’t you forget that a big part of her is still a little girl. I have no doubt that she’ll grow into a fine woman one day, but she’s gonna need help along the way,” she finished nodding at me.
Adele started to drive past her own driveway to bring me home first, but I insisted that I would help her unload the car first, explaining to her that it was no trouble for me to run across the cemetery afterwards.
We pulled up behind the house, unloading the car in silence. I found myself contemplating Adele’s assessment of Sookie. Adele knew her better than any other, so I knew I would have to carefully consider her words.
I made short work of unloading Adele’s car, not allowing her to carry anything in. My mind was still going over her words when I quietly bid her goodnight. Before I could turn and exit the kitchen, Adele thoroughly astonished me by gently kissing my cheek as she bid me goodnight in return. I was still standing planted in her kitchen; I’m sure looking quite shocked as Adele toddled towards her bedroom, chuckling lightly all the way.
Shaking my head, I could do nothing but make my way across the cemetery to await Sookie’s return. After weighing Adele’s words, I had decided it would be best to wait to approach Sookie and give her time and space. Perhaps it would be best to wait until tomorrow night to call on Sookie again. Not only would it give me more time to contemplate the situation with her, but it would also give her time to contemplate the shifter. From what I could faintly feel from her, she was not having a particularly good time, and actually felt somewhat uncomfortable.
Yes, it might be best to call on her tomorrow night.
I had changed into jeans and a t-shirt, and was working on some of the finishing touches of my resting place when I felt a cold terror sweep through Sookie. I had actually been contemplating making my way back to her house to make sure that she had gotten home safely.
Immediately I dropped my tools and raced across the cemetery. Long before I reached the house, I could hear Sookie’s desperate screams and smell the overwhelming scent of blood. It was not Sookie’s blood, and I could only assume it was Adele’s.
Flinging the door open, I found Sookie standing over the body of her grandmother. A quick glance was all it took to determine that she had been murdered. Blood spattered the kitchen, and from the looks of the many stab wounds on her chest and arms, Adele had put up a good fight.
An overwhelming guilt descended on me as I gathered Sookie in my arms and stepped between her and the kitchen. If I hadn’t been constructing my resting place at the time it was going on, I would surely have heard her being attacked. But not even vampire hearing would have allowed me to hear her screams over the circular saw I was running.
The smell of the fresh blood was quickly getting to me, and Sookie struggling in my arms wasn’t helping my bloodlust any. Moving quickly, I picked Sookie up and carried her into the sitting room. Because of the bloodlust, my words came out harsher than I meant them to, “Sookie! Shut up! This isn’t any good!”
My stern words seemed to have the desired affect though, and she stopped screaming uselessly.
“Sorry,” she said in a voice devoid of emotion. “I am acting like that boy.”
I stared at her, my mind obviously not making the connection between her murdered grandmother and some boy.
“The one in your story,” she explained in that flat voice.
I ignored her comment, saying, “We have to call the police.”
“Sure,” she replied, but did not move a muscle.
“We have to dial the phone,” I elaborated. I knew it would be disastrous when the police found me here, but it would be even worse if I was the one to call this in.
“Wait. How did you come here?” Sookie asked in confusion.
“Your grandmother gave me a ride home, but I insisted on coming with her first and helping her unload the car,” I explained gently. I could sense that she wanted another few moments to think about anything else before she had to make this call.
“So why are you still here?” she asked. I wondered if she thought I was responsible for Adele’s death, but her gaze held only curiosity, not recrimination.
“I was waiting for you,” I said, knowing that I would have come over before much longer to ensure that the shifter had returned her home.
“So, did you see who killed her?” she asked, never once questioning or doubting that I could have been involved.
“No. I went home, across the cemetery, to change,” I explained regretfully. I knew that just as I regretted not stopping Tolliver that day, I would regret leaving Adele alone tonight. I should have waited here for Sookie to return.
Sookie looked down at my clothing, and upon taking it in, broke into a fit of laughter. “That’s priceless,” she said through her laughter. In truth, nearly all vampires were quite fond of irony, and especially before the Great Revelation, got a great deal of enjoyment out of wearing t-shirts like this one, my Grateful Dead t-shirt. I hardly thought it was an appropriate response from Sookie, given the circumstances, but the thought had no sooner crossed my mind and then Sookie was crying again. Looking down, I saw that several buttons were undone on Sookie’s blouse. I did not want her to be exposed when the humans came, so I carefully redid the buttons.
I sat quietly with Sookie huddled into my chest as she called the police and then made several calls, trying to track down her womanizing brother. A deep anger bubbled up at the thought of her brother, who should have been around to protect the women in his life, instead of trying to solicit loose women. I listened absently as Sookie asked the bartender at Merlotte’s to relate to him that she would not be in to work for the next several days. It came as no surprise when the shifter arrived not much after the idiot Detective Bellefleur.
Bellefleur had eyed me disdainfully as he made his way into the house to take in the crime scene, but I made every effort to avoid a reaction and remained sitting with Sookie on her sofa. I absently stroked her back, trying to offer what comfort I could, but memories of my daughter and wife plagued me. Sookie’s grief was nearly overwhelming and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was how they felt when I died.
Jason finally arrived, and when Sookie explained to her brother that their grandmother had been murdered, they boy collapsed to his knees. Not wanting to intrude on their shared grief, the shifter and I moved silently out to the front porch.
“Could you smell who done it,” the shifter asked me quietly.
I shook my head, “The smell of fresh blood was too overpowering and Sookie was in no condition for me to leave her and search the house for other scents.”
The shifter nodded in quiet understanding, adding, “Too late now.”
I glanced back at all of the humans in the house, and simply nodded my own agreement.
After some time had passed, both Sookie and her brother joined us on the porch, I assumed to stay out of the way.
“What happened?” the brother finally questioned.
“I came in from the meeting,” Sookie related very slowly. “After Sam pulled off in his truck. I knew something was wrong. I looked in every room, and when I got to the kitchen I saw her,” she said, once again in that flat voice.
“Tell me,” her brother prompted.
She shook her head as though to refuse telling any more, but I could feel her gathering her courage, and she continued on. “She was beaten up, but she had tried to fight back, I think. Whoever did this cut her up some. And then strangled her, it looked like.” Her face fell down towards her lap. “It was my fault,” she said in a small voice.
“How do you figure that?” the brother asked dully. I could not believe he couldn’t make the connection. Just how many murderers did he think were running around Bon Temps, Louisiana?
“I figure someone came to kill me like they killed Maudette and Dawn, but Gran was here instead,” she explained carefully.
Her brother seemed to be turning this over in his mind as Sookie continued, “I was supposed to be home tonight while she was at the meeting, but Sam asked me to go at the last minute. My car was here like it would be normally because we went in Sam’s truck. Gran had parked her car around back while she was unloading, so it wouldn’t look like she was here, just me. She had given Bill a ride home, bit he helped her unload and went to change clothes. After he left, whoever it was … got her,” she said, finishing her rather apt narration.
“How do we know it wasn’t Bill?” Jason demanded, as though I wasn’t sitting only feet away from him.
“How do we know it wasn’t anyone?” Sookie questioned, reminding me of Adele’s statement that in many ways she was mature beyond her years. “It could be anyone, anyone we know. I don’t think it was Bill. I don’t think Bill killed Maudette and Dawn. And I do think whoever killed Maudette and Dawn killed Grandmother,” she finished.
“Did you know,” her brother suddenly said in an indignant voice, “that Grandmother left you this house all by yourself?”
I felt my anger nearly boil over at his careless words. Sookie could have been killed tonight, a fact that in-of-itself left me quiet disturbed, but now her brother was hurling ridiculous accusations at her on top of it.
“No. I just always assumed you and I would share like we did on the other one,” she answered slowly and carefully.
“She left you all the land, too,” he hurled at her. It was taking all of my determination not to interfere on a family matter between the siblings and shake some sense into the boy.
“Why are you saying this?” Sookie questioned, the quiver in her voice a telling sign that her tears were on the verge of returning.
“She wasn’t fair!” he shouted. “It wasn’t fair, and now she can’t set it right!”
The quiver in Sookie’s lip reminded me so much of Sarah’s when she would cry, that before I was aware of myself, I had lifted Sookie into my arms and was pacing in the yard with her, as though I was shushing my own child. I was glad to see that the shifter had the sense to sit down in front of her brother and try to calm him down. Sookie’s small quaking body in my arms was the only thing that stopped me from throttling the young fool for his treatment of his sister.
“Did he mean that?” Sookie questioned me, looking for all the world like a lost child.
“No,” I answered simply. She looked up at me in surprise, so I elaborated, hoping to take her mind and my own off darker thoughts. “No, he couldn’t help your grandmother, and he couldn’t handle the idea of someone lying in wait for you and killing her instead. So he had to get angry about something. And instead of getting angry with you for not getting killed, he’s angry about things. I wouldn’t let it worry me.”
“I think it’s pretty amazing that you’re saying this,” she said in shock.
“Oh, I took some night school courses in psychology,” I answered. I had hoped at one time that they might help me to reconnect with my humanity, but all the seemed to do was highlight not only the depravity of human nature, but the depravity in my own nature.
“Why would Gran leave me all this, and not Jason?” she questioned me.
I truly had no idea as to Adele’s motives, other than that Sookie was obviously more needing and deserving of the Stackhouse farm. “Maybe you’ll find out later,” I answered reasonably.
“Compton,” the idiot Bellefleur called sharply from the porch. I had been focused on Sookie and hadn’t been paying attention to him.
I was surprised when Sookie growled out, “No.”
I looked down at Sookie in surprise, shocked at the almost animalistic response Bellefleur had elicited in her. “Now it’s gonna happen,” she said, her voice furious.
Regret and angry was rolling off of her in waves, as well as a sense of protectiveness. “You—were protecting me,” I said in disbelief when her actions all finally came together in my mind. “You thought the police would suspect me of killing those two women. That’s why you wanted to be sure they were accessible to other vampires. Now you think this Bellefleur will try to blame your grandmother’s death on me.” I was shocked that she had done so much for me.
“Yes,” was her simple answer.
I took an unnecessary breath, trying to focus my thoughts. Why, oh why, does everything have to become so complicated with this girl?
Bellefleur bellowed my name again, apparently expecting that a vampire would adhere to his wishes. I ignored him and spoke quietly to Sookie, wanting her to understand that I would be ok, and could look after myself. “Sookie,” I started gently, “I am sure you were the intended victim, as sure as you are.”
I could feel her shock at my bluntness, but I forged on. “And I didn’t kill them. So if the killer was the same as their killer, then I didn’t do it, and he will see that. Even if he is a Bellefleur.”
Sookie and I began walking back towards the house. Her tumultuous emotions were distracting me, so I didn’t see Jason’s actions coming until too late. He stood in front of his own sister and slapped her. Sookie fell hard to the ground, and I finally recovered enough to crouch protectively in front of her. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to drain that sad excuse for a human right then and there.
The shifter got all of the satisfaction out of tackling him and shoved his head into the ground several times for good measure. I was considering draining the idiot boy anyway, when Bellefleur stepped in between us saying in a surprisingly steady voice, “Compton, back off. He won’t hit her again.”
I could feel my body taking deep, unnecessary breaths, desperately trying to quell the beast within me. I focused my eyes on the weeping boy in front of me, reminding myself that Sookie had just lost her grandmother and would not likely be able to stand the loss of her brother in the same night. Breathe in, and breathe out, I kept reminding myself to squelch the raging beast. Sookie stood wearily beside me, gingerly touching the already inflamed area of her cheek. Adele’s body had already been removed from the house, and tiredly, Sookie trudged back into the house.
I started to follow Sookie inside, but she seemed to sense my presence, and at the door to the house she turned around saying, “No, I just want to be alone.” She looked around at the rest of the humans and said in a clear voice, “Everyone please leave, I just want to be alone.”
Her blood told me that she meant her words with great conviction, so I merely nodded, kissed her forehead, and turned around to ensure that everyone would leave. After I heard the porch door close behind me, the humans seemed to agree with Sookie’s request and slowly left.
Jason seemed to still be sitting on the porch—still in a daze. Perhaps the shifter had knocked him into a stupor, not that he hadn’t been before. Slowly he stood, and looked back towards the house as though he meant to go in. “Go home,” the shifter growled. The boy only nodded and got in his pickup and drove away.
I was somewhat surprised that the ignorant police of this town didn’t see that Sookie was still under threat of an attack, but I supposed that they simply didn’t care that she should be in protective custody. More than ever, I cursed my very nature that the sun would tear me away from Sookie, and I would be unable to protect the girl in the daylight. I hadn’t felt this ineffectual since I had first been turned and was coming to grips with being a vampire. It was as though I was having to accept all of my limitations all over again.
Looking to the shifter, the only one left now, I grudgingly admitted, “I can only watch over Sookie until sunrise.”
The shifter seemed to agree with my silent treaty as far as our struggle over Sookie was concerned, saying, “I’ll head home until first light to get a few hours of sleep and be here during the daytime to watch her.”
We nodded our silent accord, and parted ways. The shifter headed to his pickup to get some rest, and I moved into the shadows of the tree line, wondering how in the world my life had been turned upside down. I was standing in the shadows, trying to come to terms with my desire to protect a girl who seemed just as determined to try to protect me. Everything about this girl seemed to intrigue me more.
A/N: Well, here’s another chapter. I actually really struggled with what direction to take this chapter. In my mind, I’ve always questioned if it was possible for Bill to have discovered who the killer was at this point and glamored him into killing Adele. After all, he was conveniently absent, and only across the cemetery, and let’s face it, I love Adele, but the story really couldn’t have progressed with her still there. Sookie had to be on her own, fending not only with the killer, but in the new Supe world that she was being drawn into. And no relationship, with Bill, Eric, or anyone else was going to progress with her grandmother still around. Plus, like I said, Sookie in a lot of ways is still very much psychologically at this point, a little girl. In some ways, her Gran getting killed was the equivalent of her getting tossed into the deep end, and being told to sink or swim. It’s a tough way to have to suddenly grow up, but I think it needed to happen.
Anyway, in the end I decided, and maybe my own bias got in the way because I like Adele so much, that Bill did too, and wouldn’t be part of her death. At least he’s not directly, he is in the sense that Sookie’s involvement with him was all that it took to enflame Rene, but that’s another story. I’ve been arguing with myself for weeks now what to do when I got to this point, but this was how it flowed from my fingers, and I think I’m pretty satisfied with it, but like I’ve said all along, this is all just my interpretation of things.
As always, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear what your guys’ thoughts are. Do you think it was possible for Bill to have been involved? Or is it only my own twisted thoughts that jumped in that direction, lol!