It had been three weeks since I started working at Merlotte’s, but the locals were still incessantly wondering and gossiping about me. They wondered to themselves and to each other where I’d been for so many years and if I was still as strange as I had been as a child.
Apparently, it was common knowledge that Jason and I had been split up since I was a “trouble” child, but no one had a clear grasp as to just what made me different. General consensus of course was that I had been crazy—God I had forgotten that nickname—and to themselves at least, still dubbed me Crazy Sookie. Course it didn’t help that I was having so much trouble blocking their thoughts and was compensating by wearing a too bright smile to hide what I was hearing.
I hadn’t had this much trouble with my shields in years, but then again, it had been a long time since I had been anywhere where so many thoughts were focused on me. It just made it that much harder to block out thoughts when they were about you and focused on you. It was as if the whole room of people was shouting at me at the same time. If they would all just start thinking about something or someone else, I would be able to block them out as I usually could.
I couldn’t wait for the next piece of gossip to get started around town so folks could focus on that. Would it be wrong of me to dip into a few people’s heads to find some good gossip to get the old rumor-mill started myself?
“You okay, cher?” Sam asked as he stepped through the backdoor of Merlotte’s, startling me from my thoughts.
I pushed away from the side of the bar where I had been leaning and trying to shore up my shields to finish the night. “I’m fine, Sam. Just stepped out for a minute to get some fresh air.”
I knew it couldn’t be someone at my tables needing something—I’d just come outside. Besides, things were winding down and we’d just gotten rid of a few of the hardcore drunks. But I guess I could start on some of the cleanup for the night, and do some of the prep work to get things ready for tomorrow’s lunch shift.
I was just starting to walk past Sam to make my way back inside when he lightly grabbed my arm to stop me. I could instantly feel desire coming from him, but it was laced with curiosity. So far, I had only caught a few stray thoughts from Sam’s mind—not that I was trying to. I liked to stay out of people’s heads unless they give me a reason to need to.
Sam had been real pleasant and friendly, and since I liked the environment of Merlotte’s (except for the nosey locals) I was doing my best to keep out of his mind so I wouldn’t find something that would make it too uncomfortable for me to keep working here.
But catching that wave of Sam’s feelings—his desire—had surprised me. There weren’t really thoughts with it this time, at least they were too tangled for me to really recognize. I’d come across a few people with somewhat similarly feeling minds before, but I never knew what made their minds so different.
Sure I dipped into people’s minds if I felt threatened in anyway, but if it was someone I was hoping to work for, be friends with, or just be around for any length of time—well then it was kind of self-defense to stay out of their minds. You wouldn’t be able to make friends with anyone if you knew what thoughts were going through their heads all the time. Sometimes I’d let my shields down just enough to get a sense of their intentions.
And dating? Well, that was just impossible. Too much physical contact involved. That made thoughts come through loud and clear, and it was a huge turn-off to know that your date was wondering if the carpet matched the drapes or wishing your ass was smaller.
Even though it was kind of a policy not to listen to my bosses, I decided I was curious enough about why Sam’s mind felt so different. And since his hand was grasping my forearm, I figured it was the perfect time to see what I could hear.
Strangely, when I reached out, all I got was the same tangled mess and hazy feelings of desire and curiosity. And I could tell they were both aimed at me.
Sam’s head tilted to the side, reminding me of a dog that was listening to something humans can’t hear. Finally he said, “I was just gonna say that you could stay out here for a minute longer if you want. You never take any smoke breaks anyway like some of the other waitresses do. And it’s clearing out pretty good anyway.” He released my arm as he spoke and we both leaned against the side of the bar in silence.
I tried to reason in my mind what could make Sam’s thoughts so different, but couldn’t come up with a single thing.
Sam broke the silence, saying, “You really aren’t like other girls, are you?”
I shrugged nonchalantly. “I dunno what you mean. I don’t guess any girl is just like another.”
“Yeah, but those things folks say about you … about you being different … they’re true aren’t they?”
I let my shields slid down again, but all I could feel from him was a strange sort of acceptance. I eyed him suspiciously and replied, “I guess we’re all different.”
Whatever Sam thought he knew about me, I wasn’t about to confirm or tell him more. Not if didn’t really know what I was.
Of course, it was just my luck that he floored me by saying, “You can hear thoughts, can’t you?”
My mouth was probably hanging open in my shock. No one had ever nailed it on the head so quickly. I started to cover my shock and deny it when Sam continued.
“I know you are, cher. You gave yourself away earlier tonight when you called Jane Bodehouse’s son to come get her.” His tone and half-grin was confident and self-assured.
“How?” I finally sputtered, crossing my arms over my chest.
Sam’s attention and eyes drifted downward, and I looked down to see him eyeing the way my bountiful chest was pushed up and out by my pose. My arms immediately dropped as I cleared my throat. Don’t get me wrong, Sam was a more than handsome man. He sort of looked like a young Brad Pitt or Paul Newman with shaggy strawberry blond hair, and if I’d been a normal girl, I might have been more than interested. But I was a 26 year old telepathic virgin, who hadn’t ever been able to stand having a man touch me long enough to change my celibate status. After 26 years, I was starting to believe there was no point in thinking it would change.
Sam gave a sheepish smile and continued, “Yeah, you gave yourself away by knowing right where I keep a notebook with a few phone numbers under the bar. I realized when I cut Jane off earlier tonight and asked you to call her son, that I hadn’t told you where I keep numbers for our regulars. But just as I was thinking of where the notebook was and that I needed to tell you, you pulled it out.”
I struggled for a plausible excuse. “I could have seen you use that notebook at anytime.”
He shook his head confidently. “Nope. We haven’t had to call for a ride for one of our regulars since you started working here.”
I pushed away from the side of the bar and paced a few steps, trying to decide what to say or do.
“Course, there’s also the fact that I can feel something in my mind when you do read my thoughts, like just a few moments ago when I came out here.” Now he looked smug and pleased with himself.
Well, if I was going to be fired for my little curse of reading minds, I figured I might as well ask Sam what I wanted to ask him. “Well. What are you then? Your mind isn’t like other peoples, and I’ve never known anyone who could feel it when I read their thoughts.”
Again, he looked a little sheepish, so I pounced. I knew he wasn’t a vampire, I’d obviously seen him during the day, but if they and I existed, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to assume that there might be more out there.
“You’re not human, are you? Or at least you’re different, like me.” My eyes narrowed as I came to a stop in front of Sam. We were almost the same height, so I could easily look into his eyes.
He seemed to steel himself before saying, “I’m a shape-shifter.”
I felt my eyebrows skyrocket. “A what? Is that like a werewolf?”
He rolled his eyes, the action making him look years younger. “I’m not a werewolf. They’re just one breed of two-natured. Most can only turn into one animal and are known as werefoxes, werelions, and such. Course, werewolves think pretty high of themselves and call themselves just Weres, but shifters are some of the few who can turn into any animal.”
“You’re kidding,” I finally managed.
He looked around, and then suddenly his body started changing before my eyes. I watched as the shape of my boss morphed into the shape of a dog, sitting in my boss’s clothes.
The collie easily stepped out of the discarded jeans, and then used his back feet to push the shirt off over his head. He gave a quiet yip and then sat at my feet, looking up at me.
My hand reached out cautiously as I asked, “Sam?”
He yipped again, and turned the side of his head into my hand. I laughed as I scratched behind his ear and watched him thump his back leg just like any dog would do. I guess right now he really was a dog. Suddenly the dog began morphing back into my boss, and I abruptly pulled my hand away from his ear, although I did laugh to see one of his legs still thumping for a bit.
Realizing that my boss was sitting on the ground at my feet naked, I whirled around and covered my eyes. I so did not need to be seeing my boss naked—even if he was a very good-looking man (and dog).
I heard soft chuckling and the rustling of clothes. Finally, Sam’s hand on my shoulder turned me around.
“You can open your eyes now, Sookie,” Sam assured.
Thankfully, he was fully clothed again when I opened my eyes.
“Sorry about that,” he said, embarrassment coloring his cheeks. “It’s just that scratching behind the ears is really pleasurable for a dog, and it’s almost impossible to keep your back leg from going like that.”
I tried not to think about it too much or read too much into what he said. “What’s it like turning into an animal? Are you aware of what’s going on?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
“It’s not much different than being human. Just different instincts and drives is all. We’re just as aware in animal form as human. Unless we’re fighting or one of our other animal instinct’s take over. But that can happen with us in human form too,” he answered with a shrug. “What’s it like reading minds?” he asked, gesturing to my head.
“Like hearing and learning a whole lot of things I’d rather not know,” was my sour reply. Suddenly I remembered how this whole conversation had started. “Am I fired for reading your mind?” I couldn’t imagine him or anyone being real happy about that.
“No! Of course not,” came his reply, almost sounding angry.
I’d never really made many friends before. Mostly casual acquaintances as I moved around, but I found myself really liking Sam and not wanting to make him upset.
“Aren’t you angry with me?” I asked. I was surprised when my voice almost wavered. Even after only three weeks, I had begun to think of Sam as a friend, and now to find out he was as different as I was—I didn’t want to lose that friendship.
“You don’t read minds on purpose, do you?” he asked, his voice softening.
“Only if I really need to. Most of the time I’m struggling to keep the thoughts out,” I surprised myself by answering truthfully.
“Then it’s not your fault,” he promised.
“How’d you feel it when I was listening?” I asked, figuring I should know. It would probably be a good idea to know about it if there were some people who could sense when I listened to them, and figure out a way around that if I could.
Sam scratched his jaw in thought. “It was just the vaguest sensation. Almost like those whistles for dogs that humans can’t hear. But it was faint. I really had to concentrate to catch the feeling. If I hadn’t heard some of the stories about you, I probably would have dismissed it.” He gave me another sheepish smile, as if to apologize for listening to gossip.
I smirked and decided to ask, “So if I got one of those whistles that only dogs can hear, would you be able to?”
I laughed as Sam actually grimaced and answered, “Yeah. All of the two-natured have more sensitive ears, but our hearing is even better when we’re in animal form.” He shook his head and grumbled, “I really hate those things.”
“I’ll make sure never to get one then,” I laughed.
“Thanks.” He joined in my laughter and laid an arm over my shoulders. “Come on, let’s head back in and help Arlene finish closing up. She’s probably going to have a fit since we were both gone so long.”
I found myself rolling my own eyes at that. Arlene sure seemed to be one of those women who would be nice and sweet as could be if she thought she might want something from you, but she struck me as the kind of woman you didn’t turn your back on. I’d spent years not really having any friends, so I wasn’t interested in having one who would be as selfish as her.
But oddly, even though that bit of desire I’d felt from Sam earlier worried me, I still felt like I’d made a real friend tonight.
More and more, I was finding I was happy with my decision to return to Bon Temps.
“Can we get another pitcher of beer, Sook? And maybe you could throw in a basket of chicken strips for your brother,” Jason asked hopefully.
He was sitting with Hoyt and several other friends, and I could tell they were all starting to get a bit loose. I considered telling Jason that he could darn well pay for his own food since I could see this becoming a trend with him, but I reconsidered and decided to get him the chicken strips.
He had after all slugged Tommy Jeffers for caressing my cheek. And I’m not talking about my face.
Plus, him and his buddies had just finished putting the new tin on my roof. Guess it wouldn’t hurt to give them a little food and even a pitcher of beer on me.
Actually, it was kind of nice to have someone defend my honor. I’d worked in a lot of bars, and getting felt up by drunks just kind of goes with the territory most of the time. It was strange to have someone react so forcefully. Not that I encouraged it—I assured Jason that I was more than capable of handling the wandering hands of drunks—but still it was nice to know someone cared and was looking out for me. I’d even spied Sam’s baseball bat sitting on the top of the bar.
“Here’s your pitcher of beer, boys, on me for all your help,” I said after making my way back to Jason’s table with their beer. I looked at Jason and continued, “I’ll get you your chicken strips as thanks for your help with the roof, but let’s not make a habit out of this.”
With that warning, I made my way to the kitchen and yelled through the window for an order of strips. Terry brought them to me with a strained smile. I could tell he was having a tough night and did my best to stay out of his mind. Terry had had a real bad war in Vietnam from the flashes I saw in his mind. It was enough to ensure that I did my best to stay out of his thoughts. Still, he was a sweet man, and ignored the things locals said about me, so I gently patted his hand in comfort as I took the basket of chicken. He gave a half-smile, which seemed to be momentous from what I’d seen of him.
I heard the door open again, and Terry jerked his head towards it. “Looks like you got someone else in your section, Sookie.”
It was getting towards closing, and after making lunch for Jason and his buddies for working on my roof, then coming in and working a long shift, I was beyond exhausted. It had just started winding down some, and I’d been hoping the end of the night was in sight. I was looking forward to a long soak in the tub once I got home.
Even though I didn’t normally, I reached out with my mind to see who had come in behind me as I reached over the counter to grab Jason some ketchup. He seemed to put it on everything.
The bottle fell out of my hand when I realized there weren’t any new minds sitting in my section.
There was only a blank hole.
A/N: Wow, I’m kind of impressed with myself for getting another chapter out so quickly. I’m really on a roll. But this has been fun to write so far.
Let me know what you guys think!