I knew I was floating somewhere between the state of sleep and waking. For several moments, I could not figure out why there were voices under the sea. As the voices became clearer, I began to realize I wasn’t swimming underwater with the turtles—don’t ask me why I was swimming with turtles—and that the voices were coming from somewhere outside of my dream. And thank goodness, because turtles give me the creeps! I couldn’t figure out why I’d be swimming with them in the first place.
Still hovering in a state of half-sleep, I let the dream fade away and strained to focus on what the voices were saying.
“…found the girl being drained by that fool Winston. I warned him once again that if I found him getting carried away with a human I would end him,” a deep, slightly accented voice said. His voice was laced with obvious frustration.
A woman’s voice cut in. “You should end him anyway, Eric. If you send me to clean up one more of his messes I’ll end him myself.”
I could hear what sounded like papers being shuffled around. Then the woman’s voice continued, “So, you’ve paid for Ludwig to tend to the girl, now what will you do with her?”
There was a long, suffering sigh, and from the deep tone of it, it came from the man. “When she comes around I’ll glamor her and send her on her way. Winston is lucky this human had been caught counting cards in the casino or I might have ended him. I’m willing to overlook his indiscretion since the human was so foolish as to try cheating one of our casinos, but I cannot leave the memory in her mind. I think I’ll also instill in her an aversion to ever returning to our casino. Let her try her little stunt in another casino somewhere else…” His voice began to fade away as the sound of a closing door cut off his voice altogether.
Yeah, cause I really would have tried that in a casino I knew was vampire owned, asshole, my mind supplied.
The sound of the door shutting was enough to bring me fully awake, but still I laid there for a moment with my eyes closed. I couldn’t hear anything, and as I reached out with my mind, I was hit with a wave of drunken lust. My mind was still a little foggy and it took several moments of trying to push the minds away to throw my shields back in place.
I wonder if he’ll bite me again tonight.
Man, these drinks are really over-priced, but at least the vamps are smokin’ hot.
Damn, that chick looks like she’s gonna bite someone’s hand off.
He’s so hot; I wish he would bite me.
Finally, I was able to push my shields back in place and push the thoughts from my mind. From what I had seen and heard in the drunken minds, this appeared to be a bar, and I was putting my money on it being one of those vampire themed or maybe even owned ones. And that was for damn sure not somewhere I wanted to be.
Opening my eyes, I saw I was laid out on a black leather couch with something sticking out of my arm. The plastic tubing ran up to a bag nearly empty of blood that was sitting on the back of the couch. I gingerly pulled the tape and needle from my arm, rubbing the area where the needle had been inserted to stop the small trickle of blood.
My other hand slowly lifted to my neck to feel gauze and bandaging taped to the side of my throat. It hurt like hell, but I still felt better than I thought I would for nearly being drained to death. Guess it was my lucky night. Oh yeah, I was just having all the luck tonight.
I appeared to be in an office, and going by the fact that it was a bit quieter, but I could still hear the bar music playing in the background, I was guessing it was an office in the back of the bar. Suddenly I spotted my purse and keys sitting on the edge of the desk.
My purse was open, and had obviously been gone through, but surprisingly, the money from the casino was still there. Without a second thought, I grabbed the purse and my keys and made a beeline for the closed door. No way was I waiting around for that vampire to come back and “glamor” me. I was also thanking my stars that I had my other ID in the purse. My real ID was hidden away in my car. Or at least I hoped it still was. I hardly ever used my real ID as I traveled around.
I counted my blessings once again for having found Chase Barton, who had lots of connections with crooked government officials, and had gotten me a fake Alabama driver’s license. I always used it at casinos, just in case I did get caught. Hell, over the years, I’d been using it more than my real license.
As I considered what the male voice—and I was starting to think he was a vampire too—had said, I was starting to think that whatever glamor was, it was probably that strange pressing feeling I had sensed in my mind. I sure hadn’t felt compelled to do anything like people said happened if a vampire hypnotized you, but I wasn’t about to wait around and see for sure what it felt like. Other people might have been excited about vampires when they came out of the coffin two years ago, but I knew from experience that anything older than you—and therefore more experienced—was just more likely to know how to dominate and manipulate you. And I wanted no part of that.
Looking down at my clothes, I was amazed at how clean I still looked. I had expected to see the shoulder and front of my blue long-sleeved shirt stained with blood, but there was only a small drop, I was guessing from when Winston hit me. Guess I should be thankful Winston was such a neat eater. Yeah, I was real thankful for that.
Pushing out slightly with my mind, I searched outside the door to see if anyone was nearby. I couldn’t find anyone, but I remembered that those two vampires’ minds from the casino had been silent. Were all vampires’ minds silent?
As I carefully pushed the door open, I kept expecting vampires to jump out from every corner and every shadow. But thankfully, I made my way to a door to the outside without seeing anyone. I definitely wasn’t at the casino anymore, but I was beginning to think that I might be having a bit of luck after all when I saw my beat-up car parked at the end of the staff parking lot. Or at least that’s what the sign said. I wasn’t sure how it got here, or how I did for that matter, but I wasn’t hanging around to ask anyone.
I slid into my car, and saw that all of my things seemed to be undisturbed. Before anyone could come along and discover I was missing, I had thrown my car in gear, and made tracks for the closest interstate or highway I could find.
Maybe I was having some luck tonight.
My luck continued and the random direction I started driving in, just happened to be the interstate towards Bon Temps. After I’d been on the interstate a few minutes, I’d been able to determine that I had been in Shreveport. But again, I wasn’t hanging around to ask someone how I’d gotten across the river from Bossier City. Some things were better left alone.
I pulled off at the exit, and was amazed when I managed to drive to Gran’s old house from memory. I’d forgotten the name of the road, Hummingbird Lane, but I’d remembered how to get there. I was also happy to see that my real ID was still tucked away underneath the upholstery on the floorboard in the back.
The outside of the house was peeling and the roof looked like it probably needed to be replaced. But all in all, it wasn’t much worse than some of the apartments I had lived in.
I knew from the letter that the lawyer had sent me that no one had lived in the house since my Gran had died (Uncle Bartlett had continued living at his own place) but that my brother Jason had come by from time to time to look after it for Uncle Bartlett.
The doors of course were locked, but I vaguely remembered Gran keeping a spare key under the rocking chair on the porch, and it still happened to be there. Even more surprising was that the electricity was turned on, though the house was a bit dusty.
What really shocked me was the wave of old memories that hit me as I walked around the house. I could remember my Gran making pies in the kitchen on Sundays, and my father coming over to mow the lawn or chop wood for Gran. I remembered Gran reading me stories at bedtime and tucking me in at night. I had really felt loved here.
It surprised me the things that I remembered. Things I hadn’t thought of or recalled in years. I had originally been thinking I would sell this place, take the money, and then move on. But maybe I could stay here for a while. Maybe this could be home.
Whatever I decided to do, I figured I’d spend the night here. I didn’t want to sleep on any of the old linens, but there had been old sheets covering most of the furniture, and when I uncovered the old sofa, I found that it was pretty clean. I drug in some old blankets and pillows from my car and collapsed on the couch in exhaustion.
It had been one hell of a night, but strangely, I felt like I was finally home.
It was three days later when a nock came at the door. I dropped the scrub brush on the floor of the kitchen where I had been scouring at the years of collected dirt. I grumbled to myself as I went to the backdoor, rubbing at the nearly healed marks on my neck. Whatever the white ointment had been on the bandaging had really worked wonders on my neck. I’d peeled the bandage away the next morning, expecting to look like a bad horror movie reject, and found the skin to be pink and shiny where it was healing over the bite mark. Now the marks were nearly gone, and I doubted it would even leave a scar. It was amazing really.
I shook my head as I made my way to the door, if this was one more old friend of Gran’s who was coming by to “welcome” me home, I think I was gonna decide to pack up and move on.
I appreciated their sentiment, and the casseroles and hot dishes they brought over were great to have since I hadn’t been grocery shopping yet, or even got any of the appliances in the kitchen besides the refrigerator going, but I was sick of that being the excuse for their nosiness. Maxine Fortenberry had been by far the worst, asking a million questions, almost none of which I’d really answered. I swear, if this was what having a home meant, maybe I was better off moving every few months or years or so.
The backdoor swung open in my hand with a huff, but it wasn’t another little old lady waiting. Staring back at me was a handsome young man, with a face similar to the one I saw in the mirror every day. I could feel his nervousness rolling off him, and knew in an instant that this was Jason.
He looked me up and down, I’m sure taking in the sight of my dirty cleaning clothes. I was wearing stained jeans that had been cut-off at the knee and an old ratty t-shirt that I’d cut the sleeves off of years ago. My hair was pulled back in a messy bun with the stray hairs being held back by an old blue bandana. It wasn’t exactly the best outfit for seeing your brother again for the first time in almost 19 years, but in my defense, it wasn’t like I’d known he was coming.
Looking up and down at him, I felt a little less self-conscious of my ensemble when I saw he was wearing an old worn and stained pair of jeans, work boots, and a t-shirt with its sleeves cut off as well. Hell, we fit right in with each other.
“Sweet Jesus. Is that really you, Sook?” he asked, disbelief tingeing his voice.
The corner of my mouth drew up at the nickname. I’d almost forgotten that as well. I nodded and said, “Yeah, it’s really me, Jase.”
He started forward, stopped, then closed the rest of the distance, pulling me into an awkward hug. He stepped back after a moment and we both looked at each other, casting about for what to say to each other.
“I heard during my lunch break that you’d moved back to town and I came right over to see if it was true. Why didn’t you come see me as soon as you came back?” he finally asked.
I shrugged and answered truthfully, “I guess I just didn’t think of it yet. I figured I’d get around to it eventually. I’ve been a little busy fixing this place up.” I jerked my hand towards the inside to indicate all of the cleaning I’d been working on for the past three days.
Again, there was a strained silence, so I stepped back from the door and gestured inside. “Why don’t you come in for a bit? I don’t have a lot to offer, but I do have some sweet tea that Mrs. Stevens, I think it was, brought over.”
He shrugged, but stepped over the threshold and followed me into the kitchen. I poured us both glasses, thankful that I had gotten around to washing all of the dishes I found the day before, and we sat across from each other at the kitchen table.
Jason took a long drink from his glass and seemed to be struggling with what to say. I thought about dipping into his head, and most of the time I would have done it, but for some reason, it felt wrong to since he was the only family I had left.
“How come it took you so long to come home?” he finally asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked, leaning forward in confusion.
“You’ve been gone for years. I know you had to stay wherever the state put you when we were in foster care, but why didn’t you come home when you turned 18? I tried looking for you a couple of times, but I never could find you.”
I was shocked to realize there was hurt coming from him.
“I guess it never occurred to me to come back. I was only 7 when we got split up. I was just used to living on my own I guess.” I shrugged, not knowing what else to say. It was strange to sit across from Jason, knowing he was my brother, but feeling like there was very little connection there. I knew we were family, but I’d grown up alone. My head knew he was my brother, but my heart knew I didn’t have any family.
He was silent for a moment, and then he said, “I wish you’d come back sooner. I missed you.” He looked up from the table at me and added with a sad smile, “But I guess you were so little you probably don’t really remember me do you?”
As much as it might hurt, I answered truthfully. “Just a handful of memories. There’s not a lot I remember from before. Just snippets here and there, though being back in this house has brought back a few.”
He nodded sadly. “I always felt like I failed you for letting them split us up and not being able to find you. I wondered if you were all right all these years. I’m glad to see you look real good.”
I was floored by his guilt. “Jason, you can’t hold yourself responsible for that. I was a ‘difficult’ kid,” I said, using the term they’d always labeled me with, “there was no way they could keep us together. You were just a kid yourself. There was nothing you could have done.”
“I guess. Where’d you end up?” he asked, some of his guilt slipping away. I could see from his memories that he knew I was different, but all these years later, he’d convinced himself that all the social workers were right and I was just a “difficult” child. It hurt that he didn’t believe in what I could do, but maybe it was better if he didn’t.
“Oh, all over for several years, but when I was 12, I finally ended up with a real nice lady over in Bonita. How ’bout you?”
“I lived with a family over in Ruston for a little bit, but then I ended back up with the Clarks here in Bon Temps till I turned 18. Then I moved back into the folks’ place,” he replied, relaxing a bit and leaning back in his chair.
We spent a few moments talking about living with foster families we’d liked when I realized what time it was getting to be.
“It must be well after your lunch break, don’t you have to be getting back to work? I don’t want you getting fired.”
“Aw, don’t worry. When I heard that you had moved back, I asked the guys to cover for me. I’m boss of the road crew anyway, so I can get away with taking the afternoon off, especially when my long-lost sister comes back to town,” he laughed. “I only wish we knew where Hadley was too or what happened to her.”
“Hadley? Oh! Cousin Hadley. Shoot, I haven’t thought of her in years. What happened to her?” My memory was sketchy of her, but I seemed to remember that she had been living with Aunt Linda. A memory of my mother telling me that Aunt Linda was sick with cancer surfaced in my mind. I figured that was probably why we didn’t move in with her when our parents died.
“Well, Aunt Linda managed to hang on for a couple of years; you remember she was real sick with cancer, right?” I nodded since I had at least vaguely remembered it. “And after she died, Hadley was put in the system too. I tried looking for her a couple of times too, but she seemed to disappear.”
I could tell from thoughts that pushed past my shields that Jason had really missed Hadley and had been close with her. I didn’t have more than a couple of memories of her, so it was hard to feel sympathetic with him. She was just another stranger to me. Even farther removed than he was.
“Well Sook, the place is sure looking better,” he said, looking around with an admiring eye.
I smiled, pride filling me. “There may be a lot of things I can’t do or fix, but I’ve cleaned my way into some real rat hole apartments over the years. I know how to put some elbow grease into cleaning and make a place look darn good again.”
He looked around with an appraising eye. “Is there something you’re needing fixed?”
“Honestly, I’ve mostly just been working on cleaning so far. I got the fridge cleaned out and running pretty easy, but things like the stove and washer and dryer, I really don’t know about. I’ve never worked on a gas stove before, and the apartments I lived in always had community washers and dryers or you went to a Laundromat, so I’m not sure how to get them up and running again.”
He quickly made his way to the stove and started looking it over. “Well, I can see you got the water turned on for the house, but why don’t you let me take a look at a few things and see what I can help you with.”
My mind instantly reached out to see what his motives were. I could hardly hold back the tears when I saw that he just wanted to help me out. Because I was his sister. No one ever helped me just because of who I was to them.
“I’d really appreciate that.” I managed to say in a steady voice. It would be nice to at least get the stove and oven going, so I wasn’t just eating the leftovers cold, straight from the fridge.
Hours later, I had managed to do some more cleaning in the house and I was now currently standing on the porch, handing tools to Jason as he tried to get the washing machine running. He’d rebalanced the drum, and was now finishing repairing some fittings on the hoses.
“So, have you found a place to work yet?” Jason asked over his shoulder.
“Not yet. I met with the lawyer yesterday to start paperwork for the house, and I’ve been spending the rest of my time cleaning.”
“What kind of work are you looking for?”
“Probably waitressing. It’s what I’ve mostly done over the years, so I’ve got lots of experience,” I answered as I handed him another wrench from the toolbox he’d hauled in from his pickup.
“Well, Sam’s always looking for help at his place. It’s Merlotte’s Bar and Grill. Me and the boys eat lunch there sometimes and have drinks there too when we can. I can put in a good word with Sam if you want.” I knew where it was, I’d seen it several times as I drove by it. It wasn’t too far from the house.
I shrugged and handed him the Teflon tape to keep water from leaking around the hose threads. “That’s okay. I can get work on my own.”
Too late I realized that I had gotten too comfortable working and talking with my newfound relative and my shields had slipped. Jason had been thinking about needing the Teflon tape, but he hadn’t asked me for it yet. His mind was a fairly strong broadcaster, so it took a constant effort to keep his thoughts out.
“You really can read minds, can’t you? We were all right about it back then, weren’t we?” he asked, sitting up and looking at me. I could tell he was uncomfortable, but I had to give him credit for catching on. He seemed a bit slow at times, but he was smarter than I figured most people gave him credit for. Hell, I gave him credit just for not tucking tail and running as soon as he realized I read his mind.
“Yeah, I can Jason. But it’s not something I talk about, or like for other people to know,” I finally responded. It wasn’t like I could lie now.
Surprisingly, he just nodded and laid back down on his side to reach behind the washer. His reply came out muffled. “I figured as much. I remember Mom and Dad always telling me not to talk about it with my friends. Don’t worry, Sookie. I won’t tell no one.”
I let my shields down a bit, just to make sure he was sincere.
He sat up a bit again to look at me. “Just make sure you stay out of my mind. Probably all sorts of things that aren’t fit for you to hear,” he said gruffly.
I actually felt a faint blush tinge my cheeks as I pulled away from his mind, feeling like I was caught red-handed. “I’ll do my best to stay out, but I assure you, I’ve seen far worse than anything in your mind.”
“I bet you have,” he laughed as he turned his attentions back to the washer.
By that evening, Jason had managed to fix many of the major issues around the house and promised to come by that weekend to help me tackle several more things and even bring me an old microwave and TV he wasn’t using. In no time at all, I could tell this place was going to start looking pretty livable. Maybe even homey.
“What are your plans going to be for the night?” Jason asked me as I walked him to the back door.
“Actually, since you got the showerhead working in the bathroom, I thought I would take a shower and go on in to Merlotte’s and see about getting a job there.”
The money I’d made from the casino in Bossier City would last for a little while yet, but I was already making a dent in it with supplies for the house, and I’d agreed to pay for tin for the roof if Jason and a couple of his friends could put it up. So the money wouldn’t last too long. I was either going to need to make another foray to a casino—something I was a little leery about doing after the last time—or get on finding a real job.
“I was gonna meet Hoyt there later anyway, so maybe I’ll see ya there. Good luck, tell Sam he’s a fool if he don’t hire ya,” he said with a lopsided grin.
I smiled in return, and this time when he hugged me, I fondly returned it, even if it still felt a bit strange to me. It might take a while, but maybe I could figure this family thing out yet.
“When can you start?” Sam Merlotte hopefully asked me, when I went in that night to ask about a job. He ran a hand through his shaggy strawberry blond hair as he waited for me to respond.
We’d met in his office to go over my experience, and since one of his waitresses hadn’t shown up for work, he was desperate for help.
“I can start right now,” I assured him.
He smiled gratefully and reached into a box in the closet to dig out a white t-shirt that had the logo of the bar across one breast. “Usually the waitresses wear shorts in the summer and black pants in the winter, but what you’re wearing will do just fine for tonight,” he informed me. “You can leave your purse on one of the shelves in the closet here too, and change in the restroom down the hall.”
“Thanks,” I confidently replied as I left to change. My khaki pants didn’t really go with the black short shorts the rest of the girls were wearing, but thankfully, I’d worked at other bars with similar dress codes so I would be able to get by with what I already owned for my uniform.
I relieved a grateful older woman named Charlsie, and quickly familiarized myself with the simple menu and layout of the bar. I could feel the curious stares of the patrons all night as they came and went, and hear the rumors spread through their minds and mouths as they whispered about the Stackhouse girl coming back to town. But it was all easy to ignore. I’d gotten used to the curious looks and thoughts every time I moved to somewhere new, especially in small towns.
And even though I was tired by the time the bar closed from cleaning all day and slinging beers all night, I found myself really smiling. I actually owned a house for the first time in my life and I really felt like I had a home again. And now, I had a home, job, and family. Things were beginning to look up.
A/N: I know, I know, there wasn’t really any Eric in there. At least we didn’t see him, but remember: all good things come in time. It was kind of a filler chapter, but it was needed to step forward.