More than a week passed without a single word or visit in the fanged variety. Somehow in my mind, I’d assumed once I’d signed those papers for Eric, I’d be relegated to his beck and call. But so far, no beck. No call.
The wording of the contract said I would be hired on an as needed basis, and that the specifics of each job would be agreed on verbally before the job began. But still, I’d assumed working for vampires would mean my freedom was gone. Or at the very least limited. But a week later, and nothing in my life had really changed. I was still going into Merlotte’s to work every shift I could and trying to put money away.
I guess one thing had changed though. I’d gotten a check in the mail from Eric as payment for catching his thief. The new gravel on the driveway had been more than enough in my mind. But the added cushion of that check did help to set my mind at ease. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about going to another casino to make ends meet.
Not yet anyway.
Sam hadn’t been pleased when I’d explained my new status within the vampire world, but after reading the contract himself and seeing who wrote it, he did agree that it seemed to give me pretty good leeway.
And apparently, the demon who drew up the contract was well-known and respected as the best demon lawyer. I guess demons seemed to make pretty outstanding lawyers. But heck, who’d want to argue a case against a demon anyway? I wasn’t sure what demons were like, but I doubted they were all kittens and rainbows.
After a week of working every shift I could, Sam even seemed to relax about the whole working for vampires thing. I think he’d been just as worried as I had been about what my life was going to be like.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I was in no way assuming a week of peace and quiet meant any kind of a trend. I’d had patches of quiet before in my life, and something always came along to chip up those patches. ‘Course, the stuff that had happened in the past to cause me to pull stake and move on to my next destination had been nothing like the things I’d been through since moving back to Bon Temps. And pulling stake and moving on no longer seemed to be an option. Or at least it was only a last resort.
Maybe I should have examined a bit closer why I seemed to be finding worse kinds of trouble than I’d ever found before. But since I knew I probably wasn’t going to like the answer, I decided it was best not to ask the question. “Never ask a question if you’re not going to like the answer,” Jeanie had always said.
It wasn’t quite the original, “Don’t ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to,” but I figured Jeanie’s version was probably a whole lot more applicable to most people.
Ignorance was bliss, but there was a reason — other than the obvious — why most people preferred it. It wasn’t that they were stupid; they were simply smart enough to know they’d rather not know a bad truth about something they couldn’t change anyway.
I knew my week of quiet would never last. It never did. And throwing vampires and all sorts of other supernatural beings into the mix only seemed to exacerbate things.
So it really came as no surprise when my uneventful week was shattered. Even if who my visitor was did surprise me.
The knock came at my front door and I was instantly wary. Experience had already taught me to be on alert for people who came to my front door. Everyone I knew just pulled around behind the house and came in the back door.
I’d been in the upstairs going through old boxes looking to see if there was anything worth keeping when the rapping sounded downstairs. My feet quickly carried me back downstairs, but they paused in the hallway by the closet for the water heater in the back of the house. After the Rene incident, Jason had brought over one of his old shotguns for me, and I’d been keeping it there.
My hand hovered on the doorknob, but I reached out with my mind to gauge just who my visitor was. I was met with three voids in my front yard. Knowing a shotgun wasn’t likely to do much against the already dead (Sam had filled me in a bit on what a vampire’s weakness were and what they weren’t) I let my hand fall away from the doorknob and slowly made my way towards the backdoor.
Only three vampires had invitations to enter my house, and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair from a one of them in a week’s time. But the sinking feeling in my gut told me that the three vampires I knew weren’t standing outside at the moment. I’d considered rescinding Bill’s invitation from my home after his confession from last week, but I didn’t think it was truly necessary. I hadn’t even seen Bill at Merlotte’s since that night, let alone around my home, but I also didn’t really see him as a threat.
If I trusted Eric’s explanation of things — and for some reason, I did — because I worked for Eric, I was under his protection. At least to a point. We’d see just what that point was.
And though Bill had angered me by lying to me, I couldn’t really blame him. He’d just been following orders. It wasn’t like he knew who I was when he’d been told to come find me and seduce me if need be. I was just some faceless human. But it did bother me to wonder just how far he would have carried his scheme to acquire me for his queen.
Oddly, I still considered Bill a friend. Maybe it was because I’d never really had friends before. And the chance of having friends that I didn’t have to hear their every thought? Well, that meant more to me than I could explain. I’d just have to decide how much I was willing to risk and sacrifice to have that semblance of normalcy.
Drawing in a deep breath, I pulled the front door open, careful to stay back from the threshold. I almost laughed at the sight that greeted me. But that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach held me immobile and inaudible.
“Are you Miss Stackhouse?” a young girl asked.
No. This was no girl. She was definitely a vampire. The glow of her skin and the void of her thoughts confirmed that much. But her skin glowed approximately as brightly as Eric’s did. Maybe even slightly more. And I was starting to get the impression that it had a little something to do with the vampire’s age. Which meant despite appearances, this was no girl. She may have looked like a frail teenager, but she was probably a very powerful vampire.
“Yes. I’m Sookie Stackhouse,” I replied, finally finding my voice. No sense lying. She obviously was here looking for me.
Her eyes traveled up and down me in an assessing manner. I once again felt like I was a horse being examined for purchase. Maybe I should do a little spin so she could see the whole package?
“I am Sophie-Anne Leclerq. Won’t you invite me in?” she politely asked, but didn’t bother to beat around the bush with pleasantries.
I looked over her shoulder to see who else was around, but couldn’t spot anyone. A limo was parked in the front yard, and I could tell by the void that one vampire was in the driver’s seat.
“Who else is with you?” I asked her directly. If she was going to be direct, I figured I would be as well.
With an elegant gesture of her small hand, she waved towards the limo. “Only my driver,” she said with a slight nod to me. But her eyes took me in again, this time in a more appreciative manner.
She had to be the same Sophie-Anne that both Eric and Bill had talked about, so she obviously already knew about me thanks to my cousin. And she seemed to appreciate my directness, so I decided to stick with it. “Who’s that you’ve got just in the tree line,” I challenged with a gesture.
Now Sophie-Anne gave a half-smile. “You really are something,” she murmured appreciatively.
Suddenly, another teenage looking vampire was standing beside her on the porch. I could tell he was old too, but not as old as Sophie-Anne.
“This is my child, Andre,” she explained, gesturing to the other vampire. He nodded to me, but didn’t say a word.
The silence stretched on, and finally I asked, “Why are you here?”
“I had hoped to see you and speak with you myself. See just what all the fuss was about.” She looked pointedly in the house and added, “Won’t you invite us in?”
I held my breath and considered my options. I could tell her to stuff it and leave her on my front porch, or I could screw up my courage and invite her in. Well — I’d never been accused of being a coward. But I wasn’t a fool either. Sophie-Anne might be smaller than me, but she could kill me in a hundred different ways before I could even blink. So I really didn’t see her needing to have her child/bodyguard with her.
“Tell you what; you can come in by yourself, Miss Leclerq. We can sit down and discuss whatever you want. Just us girls.” Maybe it was bold, but I figured it was my house and my right to only accept one unannounced visitor at a time in. I didn’t think she’d hurt me. She was queen after all, so I worked for her indirectly through Eric.
But Andre? I just plain didn’t like the way he was looking at me. Sophie-Anne looked at me with an appreciative assessing manner. But there was something cold and calculating about Andre’s stare. And I almost swore I could see a glint of jealousy there.
Sophie-Anne gave a full smile this time. “‘Just us girls?'” she repeated. “I very much like that. Very well. It shall be just us girls for our discussion.”
It seemed to me that I should make some sort of gesture when I invited a queen into my house, but damned if I was gonna curtsey. I wasn’t even sure if I knew how to. Instead, I gave a small head bob to be polite and asked, “Won’t you please come in, Miss Leclerq?”
She seemed to float more than walk over the threshold, and I carefully closed the door on Andre’s scowling face. He was obviously upset about being separated from Sophie-Anne, but I wasn’t going to put any money on me in a fight between her and I. So I wasn’t so sure what he was worried about. Maybe he thought all telepaths were rogue vampire drainers too.
Sophie-Anne slowly walked around the living room, taking in the little knickknacks that decorated it. They were almost all old family pieces that had been in the house. I had moved around so much that I hadn’t accumulated much of anything in the way of decorations. All I really had to my own name were my clothes.
Seemingly satisfied with her examination of my abode, she surprised me by slipping her shoes off and sitting on my sofa with her legs drawn in close to her side on the cushions. I paused in the entryway to take her appearance in.
I knew she was old, and girls were considered women at much younger ages, but I still figured she was somewhere in her teens to late teens when she’d been turned. Maybe she’d been a woman then, but throw some hip-hugger jeans and a t-shirt on her, and she could have passed for a high school student. Instead, she was dressed in an elegant blue pantsuit with a purple blouse. It somehow seemed fitting on her too, not like a child playing dress-up. She carried herself with a regal poise that left little doubt that she was a powerful woman.
I let my body fold into the overstuffed chair across the coffee table from her and asked, “So what did you want to talk about, Miss Leclerq?”
She gave a small smile and responded, “Please, let us be friends. Call me Sophie-Anne.” I nodded and she continued. “I have come to meet you and to gauge the usefulness of one of my best sheriff’s new assets.”
I didn’t like being called an asset, but I bit my tongue and remained silent. At least on that subject. Still, I couldn’t help but ask, “And just how do you intend to gauge my usefulness?”
The smile and calculating gleam in her eye this time almost gave a hint to the woman I was sure was beneath the carefully constructed mask she was presenting. “I am very adept at gauging the worth of individuals. Human or otherwise. Sheriff Northman has reported that you were quite useful in catching a thief for him. And not only were you able to catch the thief, and thereby put an end to money being stolen, you were able to do so with no harm being done to human employees. That too saves money, as he was not required to replace them. This pleases me. The more profitable my sheriffs are, all the more they are required to pay me in tithes.”
Well, I couldn’t argue with her logic. Vampires it seemed had more in common with humans than their past. They were just as greedy. Or maybe it was just that need to be the best at everything. I guess it would be hard to live that long if you were okay with mediocrity.
“I did wish to see what all the fuss was about however,” she continued.
“What fuss?” I questioned, feeling my eyebrows skyrocket. Fuss was definitely something I hadn’t experienced from any humans. They usually didn’t want anything to do with me. That’s if they noticed me at all.
“I can only assume you are the reason Bill Compton has requested to remain in Bon Temps, even after you have been adequately secured for my retinue.”
Not sure how to respond, I opted to keep silent.
“And my best sheriff has acquired you for himself right from under me. A lot of trouble to go to for a human. Even a telepathic one. Though, you seem to have proven somewhat useful. We shall have to see to what extent you prove your worth.” She almost seemed to smile at admitting that Eric had “acquired” me under her nose.
“You’re not angry that I’m working for Eric and not moving to New Orleans?” I couldn’t help but ask.
She flicked her fingers like it was inconsequential. “It matters not. You work for Eric and he is loyal to me. If he wishes to take the responsibility of your care and protection, so be it. I had mostly wished to bring you to New Orleans in the hopes of cleaving my Hadley’s melancholy and ease her homesickness. But that plan does not matter anymore.” She stopped speaking and for the first time, I saw real emotion flicker across her face. Pain.
“You really loved Hadley, huh?”
“I love all my children,” she responded, her face once again carefully composed. But for just a moment it softened as she looked me in the eye and said, “But yes, Hadley was special to me.”
“I’m real sorry for you.” It seemed inadequate and somehow backwards to console her about the death of my cousin. But she’d obviously meant something to Sophie-Anne, and at best, she was a stranger to me. At least she’d been loved before she’d died.
For the next half-hour, I listened and talked with Sophie-Anne about Hadley. Mostly I listened to her talk about meeting my cousin and turning her. She even explained what they knew about how she died and who had killed her.
“What happened to this Waldo?” I asked. I still wasn’t interested in dealing with the vampire who’d killed her, but I was curious to know what had happened when I’d refused her gift of him.
That pained look flashed in her eyes before a hard look replaced it in her eyes. “He too has met his final death.” Her words were quiet and deadly. And I had no doubt that she had been the one to kill him, even if he’d been her child too.
Rising to her feet, Sophie-Anne slid her shoes back on and made her way to the door. “I have granted Bill’s request to remain in Bon Temps,” she informed me as she turned to face me by the door.
I followed her and crossed my arms over my chest at her words. “What does it matter to me?” My words came out with an edge of bitterness. Maybe I understood and even forgave Bill for his actions, but I guess I hadn’t quite gotten over it.
She tilted her head as she looked at me. “You are offended?” she asked. She seemed genuinely puzzled.
“You sent him to spy on me and seduce me if need be to ‘acquire’ me for you. He lied to me after I risked my life to save his. Why should I care what he does?” I responded, fighting to keep the anger out of my voice.
Her face was still clearly puzzled. “My actions displease you?”
The sincere confusion on her part deflated my anger. “I guess I’m not so much mad at you as I am mad at him. You didn’t know me and had never met me, so why should I matter at all to you. But Bill professed to wanting friendship or more. He shouldn’t have lied to me.”
Sophie-Anne remained motionless for several moments before she spoke. “I do not understand your anger, but you were dear to my Hadley, and she was dear to me.”
With that, she opened the door and made her way back to her limo. Andre held the door open for her, and then slid in after her. As the limo made its way down the drive, I realized I’d never even seen the third vampire.
I was just making my way through the house to climb into bed to sleep and contemplate my strange visit when a knock sounded at my back door. The void confirmed it was another vampire.
The vampire standing on the other side really was no surprise, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk to him yet, and especially not after my weird visit with the queen. I couldn’t even really decide what the purpose of her visit had been.
“I wanted to check on you after your visit with Queen Sophie-Anne,” Bill quietly told me when I didn’t offer him any response to his appearance.
“Well, as you can see, I’m just fine,” I replied, my voice coming out short and clipped.
Picking up on my mood, Bill responded, “You must realize I could not tell you what my task was, Sookie.”
“Not even after I’d saved your life?”
His head hung down. “I wished to tell you the truth, Sookie. But I found myself drawn to you. I knew if I told you the truth, that I would only dash all hopes of ever becoming closer to you.”
“And were you trying to get closer to me for your own reasons, or for your queen?” I challenged.
“Both,” he sighed.
“And how was I supposed to honestly know what was real and what was because you were ordered to?”
His head came back up as he gazed at me. “I have no orders now, and I am still here.”
A lot of my anger had already deflated with Sophie-Anne’s visit. But I still wasn’t ready to sweep it all under the rug. I wasn’t even sure if that was possible. “Maybe we can be friends, Bill. But I don’t ever think it’ll be more than that. I just don’t think I could ever trust you again.”
“If I can have nothing else, I would like your friendship,” he replied earnestly. I could see the hope in his eyes, but I just didn’t have the heart to completely dash his hope. I’d enjoyed conversations I’d had with Bill, but I just didn’t see us having much in common. Besides a hometown.
I started to close the door again. “You’re gonna have to earn my friendship,” I told him as I shut the door.
Over the next several weeks, Bill did work hard to regain my trust and friendship. He came in to Merlotte’s several times a week to sit and visit when I was on breaks and even came by the house to help with little things. Bubba tagged along with him several times, and I was glad to grow my friendship with him. At least with Bubba, I didn’t have to worry about ulterior motives.
What really surprised me were Bill’s ideas about how to improve my telepathy. He’d asked a lot of questions about how it worked, and when we were sitting in Merlotte’s I’d experiment with my shields and how to partially lower them to hear just one person and even better ways to block everyone out. I’d never had anyone try to help me with my telepathy, and after practicing with Bill, I was able to get through a busy shift at Merlotte’s without a headache. It still wasn’t the same as being in a large crowd, but I was happy with any improvement.
In those weeks, I didn’t see Eric once. He called once to request my presence to screen several of his employees and even his day man who ran errands for him, but he sent Pam to pick me up and oversee my work. I wasn’t sure where he was, but I wasn’t about to ask Pam about his absence.
She was droll, and mostly silent, but a few times I saw her dry humor shine through. But she definitely didn’t have the same humor Eric did.
Life fell into an easy rhythm. More than a month had passed since the queen’s visit, and nothing out of the ordinary followed in her wake. At least, nothing followed in her wake until five weeks had passed.
I should have chastised myself being lulled by the apparent peace. Peace never lasts in my life.
My mind was busily fantasizing about a warm bubble bath with my name on it that would soak away the long hours of waitressing as I lugged the bags of garbage out to the dumpster behind Merlotte’s.
My shields were still easily in place, and I never even heard the large man coming as he came up behind me and shoved me forward into the side of Merlotte’s.
His hand clamped over my mouth to silence me. “You keep your mouth shut, bitch, and do as you’re told, and you’ll live through this just fine,” his graveled voice hissed as he whispered his tobacco laden words into the side of my face.
Why the hell do I ever let my guard down? I wondered to myself.
You’d think I’d know better by now. But my mind was consumed with one thing. Who was attacking me now, and what did he want?
A/N: Hmm… who could that be? Poor Sookie. One thing after another. She just can’t catch a break.
Any who, I finally got this chapter out. As you can tell, some things are going to start slightly deviating from canon a bit more here. I’m still going to use it when I can, but I’m also going to leave out some story lines. It just doesn’t make sense to follow everything.
And no, before someone asks, I’m not setting this up for Bill to be a romantic interest. Sookie only sees him as a friend.
And hmmm…. Where’s Eric? Guess you’ll have to tune in for the next chapter to find out when he pops back in.
Also, for anyone interested in chatting with me or other readers about this story, I will be participating in the Fangreaders chat room about this story on Saturday the 26th. Check out their blog Fangreaders Chat Room to get an invite to the chat room if you’d like to participate and ask me any questions you may have. Chats begin at 9 PM GMT (4 PM EST).
As always, let me know what you think, and I hope to see some of you in the chat room on Saturday!