“Shit.” Okay, I try not to curse much because it offends some people, but it just slipped out.
I scurried through the door to the kitchen and grabbed a rag to mop up the spilled ketchup and broken glass. As I stood up to throw some of the mess in a garbage can, I peeked through the kitchen window to see who was sitting in my section.
Sure enough, he seemed to have that faint glow that all vampires do, but his face wasn’t one I recognized. I tried to imagine the deep voice that I’d heard from the vampire bar that night coming from his mouth, but it just didn’t fit. I hadn’t seen that vampire’s face—Eric, the woman had called him—but I just couldn’t see this vampire as being him.
I’d almost forgotten about the vampires from that night, but maybe they’d finally found me and sent this vampire after me?
“Don’t worry about the mess, Sookie. I’ll clean it up,” Terry assured me, looking a little strained again. I instantly felt guilty. I knew dropping the ketchup bottle had set his nerves off a little bit.
I squeezed Terry’s arm in gratitude and said, “Thanks, Terry. I appreciate it.”
Wiping my hands on a fairly clean rag, I grabbed Jason’s order of chicken strips and made my way to his booth. As I walked, I concentrated on slowing my breathing and calming my nerves. After all, just because he was a vampire, didn’t mean he was after me. But as they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. On the other hand, things hadn’t turned out real well for Kurt Cobain, so maybe it wasn’t a good idea to quote him.
After dropping the food off at Jason’s table, I made my way to the vampire’s table with determination, telling myself that I was just feeling a little paranoid from my first vampire run-in.
Standing at the vampire’s table, I was proud of myself for forcing a smile and saying in a steady voice, “What can I get you, Sir?”
The dark haired vampire looked me up and down. “Do you have any of that bottled synthetic blood?” he asked in a quiet voice.
Feeling a little better about his inquiry, I shook my head. “Sorry. Sam said he’d ordered some when it first came out, but no one bought any so it went bad.”
“Then I’ll take some red wine.”
I felt my eyebrow rise at that. As far as I knew, vampires didn’t drink or eat anything but blood, but maybe he was lonely and just looking for company. Right. More likely, he was looking for a different kind of company; the kind where he could get his blood—straight from the tap.
Nodding, I turned to get his wine. I’d have to remember to ask Sam what he knew about vampires. I’d come in a little early and eaten dinner with Sam in his office so we could talk, but mostly he had been answering my questions about shifters and Weres. But I figured he’d probably know about vampires too.
Maybe it was like in the movies and if a vampire got bit by a werewolf, they’d die. Naw. I doubt I’d get that lucky.
Sam was tense as he poured the glass of wine for me, and I could see that he knew my customer was a vampire too. I wondered how he knew, because as far as I could tell, nobody else seemed to realize.
Scratch that. As I made my way back to the vampire with his wine, I could see that the Rattrays could tell. Or maybe they’d just heard him ask for a blood. Either way, they were plunked down at the vampire’s table.
The Rattrays were the epitome of white trash. And I could also see from their minds that they’d both done time. Among other things.
I set the wineglass down in front of the vampire, and caught myself looking at Denise as she fondled her neck, trying to draw the vampire’s attention there. Mack and the vampire seemed to catch my startled look.
“Don’t mind, Sookie, mister, she’s crazy,” Mack slightly slurred. He may be one of the few who didn’t seem to have any qualms about calling me crazy to my face, but it didn’t stop him from fantasizing about me.
I smiled sweetly and replied, “Crazy happens to the best of us, and to the worst of us.”
Seeing as the vampire was occupied with the Rats, I turned on my heel and saw to the rest of my tables.
I kept on an eye on the vampire as I went about my work. He didn’t seem really interested in either of the Rats, but he did glance hungrily at Denise’s neck from time to time. As I was bringing the Rats another pitcher of beer, I saw a flash of their intentions from Mack’s mind. They meant to drain this vampire of his blood and leave him to burn in the sun. I saw the images in their minds of other vampires they had tied down with silver and drained. Vampires that were quickly weakened and completely helpless.
Without a word, I turned around and looked for someone who could help me. Jason was currently sliding out the door with some girl named DeeAnne, but I knew he wouldn’t be much help anyway. Sam was behind the bar, looking at me strangely, so I made my way over to him. From the corner of my eye, I saw the Rattrays leaving the bar with the vampire. Great. Why don’t you hang a “please drain me,” sign from your neck too while you’re at it, I thought bitterly.
Going behind the bar, I whispered in Sam’s ear. “The Rattrays are vampire drainers, and they’re going to drain that vampire.”
Sam gave me a look as if to say “So?” but he responded, “Vampires can take care of themselves, Sookie.”
“They’ve drained vampires before and left them to die. We can’t just stand by while someone gets hurt, vampire or not,” I whispered back. Maybe I shouldn’t have cared one way or another, especially after Winston tried to make fast food out of me, but I could still see those images of vampires, writhing on the ground and helpless. I knew what it was like to be helpless.
“Please, Sam,” I pushed. When push came to shove, I knew how to fight and could hold my own. I was sure I could take Denise out, but Mack was still stronger than I was, and from what Sam had told me, all of the two-natured were much stronger than humans. I was more than confident he could deal with the two of them better than me, and between both of us, we could help the vampire. If he indeed needed it.
Sam grabbed his baseball bat and stalked towards the backdoor, throwing over his shoulder, “Stay here.”
“Like hell I will,” I replied, though I did make sure to stay behind him.
I reached out with my mind to find where the Rattrays had gone. “They’re over by the tree line,” I whispered to Sam.
“I can smell ’em,” he assured me as we crept forward.
Sure enough, they were kneeling over the vampire, just barely into the line of trees by the parking lot. I could see their dented red sports car parked nearby. The Rats were bent over the vampire and fiddling with a tourniquet and needle that was running into Vacutainers. I could hear Denise greedily calculating in her head how much they could sell the blood for on the street.
In addition to being a very potent drug that was all the rage in the drug-using world, it was also known as being a lot like Viagra, making vampire blood, or V as it was known, highly sought and dearly paid for.
“Now you both just stop what you’re doing,” Sam called out in a steady voice when we had crept within a few feet of the Rats.
Mack immediately popped up, brandishing a knife. Almost faster than I could track, Sam brought the bat down on his hand in an overhead arc, knocking the knife to the ground and breaking some bones from the sound of it. Denise looked up from where she had been securing another Vacutainer and made to grab the knife, but I beat her to it, snatching it away from her grasp as Mack began cursing in pain.
“Vampire draining is illegal and I won’t have it on my property,” Sam continued.
“Come’on Sam, it’s just a vampire,” Denise said in her best sultry voice. “They’re already dead. We’ll split the profit with you.”
Sam shook his head, not enticed by her offer. “I want you to clear off my property and clear out of the area. I’ll even give you a bit of a head start before I call the authorities,” he warned.
Denise made to grab the blood she’d already taken, but I stepped slightly forward, the knife in front of me. “Leave. Now.”
“Bitch!” she spit at me, and then roughly grabbed Mack to pull him towards their car.
Sam stood at the ready, watching them leave, so I turned my attention to the prostrate vampire. There wasn’t a Vacutainer in the needle at the moment, so no blood was currently coming out. I figured the first move should probably be removing the silver since I could see and smell it burning into his flesh.
I gingerly removed the long length of silver chain from the vampire’s wrists, throat and ankles. Where it had touched his bare skin, it had burned deeply into the muscle.
I hissed with the vampire as I pulled the silver away, imagining that it must hurt like hell. “I’m sorry. I’m being as gentle as I can,” I consoled him. He only nodded in response.
“Be careful,” Sam warned from behind me. With the Rattrays gone, Sam moved to standing over my shoulder, apparently guarding me. I guess that was a good thing. This was after all a wounded and probably hungry vampire.
When the chain was fully removed from the vampire, he cradled his burnt wrists to his chest and scooted slightly away from me. Sam moved to stand beside me, bat still in his hand.
The vampire looked at Sam and gave a slight sneer. Then he turned back towards me and stiffly said, “Thank you.”
I almost huffed. I guess men, even if they were vampires, didn’t like being saved by a woman. And I was guessing from the look he gave Sam, that shifters ranked even lower. I’d have to ask Sam about that later.
Instead, I replied, “You’re welcome.”
The vampire continued studying me again, and I took the opportunity to look him over as well. He was dark haired, with sideburns that seemed just a tad longer and fuller than was fashionable these days. But he was well dressed in modern slacks and a button down shirt. He hadn’t said much, though his voice still carried a southern lilt to it. I wondered how old he was and where he had been from.
I gathered myself to my feet, stretching to my full height. The vampire quickly stood as well, surprising me with his speed. But then, you did hear that vampires could move unbelievably fast.
His wrists seemed fully healed now, and he gestured to the blood on the ground. “Do you want the blood they collected? It would be a way to show my gratitude.”
I made a disgusted noise. “No. It’s your blood, you can keep it.”
“You could sell it.”
“I wouldn’t touch it.”
He tilted his head as he looked at me. “You’re different. What are you?”
Sam lightly grabbed my arm. “She’s one of my employees. What’s your name?”
“Bill. Bill Compton,” he replied, nodding to me and ignoring Sam.
Sam jerked his head back towards the bar. “Head back on in and help Arlene close up. I’ll finish up out here with Mr. Compton and help him on his way.”
I nodded in response, but as I crossed the parking lot, I heard Sam tell the vampire, “You know I’ve got to let the sheriff know what happened.”
Sherriff Bud Dearborn didn’t impress me at all from what I’d seen of him. I really doubted he’d be up to the task or even care about trying to find two vampire drainers, but I kept my opinions to myself, and went back in to help Arlene close up. It had been a long day and night, but at least I would have tomorrow off to sleep in.
The next day was bright and sunny, so I decided to indulge in a simple pleasure I hadn’t been able to partake in since moving to Bon Temps. Sunbathing.
As I sat in an old lounge chair in front of the house, I was pleased with the progress I’d made so far. The inside of the house was somewhat dated of course, but it was nearly as spotless as I remembered it being from my childhood. I’d even been able to get the old lawnmower going and mow the tall grass.
Some of the bushes still needed pruning, but the outside of the place was looking tons better too. ‘Course, the driveway could use some work, the house needed repainting, trees needed trimming and a few dead ones needed to be cut down. I sighed and replaced my dark glasses on my face as I stretched out again. At least the roof was brand new and the lawn was mowed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And I was running out of funds.
I wasn’t looking to repeat my last experience at Bossier City anytime soon, so I figured for the moment, I’d try to make do on my wage and tips from the bar. Saving money and being frugal were nothing new to me, but owning a house sure was. There were so many more expenses with owning a house, not to mention having to have insurance for the place.
I was thankful now that I had accepted that bit of money from Uncle Bartlett’s estate. I’d considered telling his lawyer where he could shove that money, but I knew even though it came from Uncle Bartlett, I could put it to good use. It would be a nice cushion for now.
Uncle Bartlett was turning out to be a touchy subject between me and Jason. He’d asked me the week before if I wanted to help him spread his ashes near Gran’s grave, and I’d told him just what he could do with those ashes. I knew it wasn’t Jason’s fault; he’d never known that Bartlett was always trying to touch Hadley and me as children. And all these years later, I wasn’t about to tell him.
Maybe it shouldn’t have upset me so much, hell, worse touching had happened with Mr. Reeves, one of my foster dads, before I was able to convince the social workers to move me to another family. And then there was Mr. Fulton who liked to drink and hit anyone he could. Somehow, it all seemed worse since Uncle Bartlett had been a blood relative. It was easier to dismiss and forget the things strangers do to you.
I might just see about using his money to regravel the driveway. It would give me some satisfaction to use his money on something I would be able to drive over every day.
More than a week passed uneventfully at the bar. I didn’t see the vampire again, so I began to think he had just been passing through. Of course, the moment I go assuming something is generally the moment I’m proven wrong.
There was a knock at the front door, and I let my hand hover over the knob as I reached out with my mind. I probably wouldn’t have done it had it been the backdoor, since the few people I knew usually came in that way, but since it was the front door, I was curious about who had come calling.
A blank void met me when I reached out, and I hated that it was starting to become familiar. I’d never been close enough to a vampire to know they left a blank void before, and now, I was instantly recognizing it.
I’d never been a coward, so I cautiously opened the door.
“Can I help you, Mr. Compton?” I asked the dark haired vampire on the other side.
He looked considerably better this evening; but then, I could personally attest that you usually did look better when you hadn’t just been drained.
“Good evening, Miss Stackhouse. Please call me Bill.”
He didn’t seem threatening, so I opened the door a little wider. I guess he’d found out my name from someone. But for some reason, I didn’t think it had been Sam. Deciding to be polite as well, I replied, “Good evening, Bill. You can call me Sookie.”
My real name still felt strange rolling off my lips. I’d been living under my false identification for several years now.
“I wanted to properly thank you again for your assistance the other evening. Your kindness and bravery were most astounding.”
I shrugged. “You’re welcome, I guess. We couldn’t very well just leave you to be drained by a couple of low-lives and left for dead—or deader I guess.”
He smiled faintly at my fumble. “Still, I thank you.” He looked pointedly inside. “Won’t you invite me in?”
“Why?” I asked, defensively.
He made a placating gesture. “I have just moved in next door, and as I have heard that you are also recently returned to this area, I thought it might be pleasant to visit, and get to know my neighbor.”
“What do you mean ‘also recently returned’?”
“As a human, I lived in and helped to build the Compton house across the cemetery.” He gestured across the cemetery that apparently separated our properties.
I smiled faintly. I knew I had recognized the Compton name from somewhere. “Well, I guess it was a good thing me and Sam helped you out, it wouldn’t be very neighborly of me to have let someone drain you.”
Bill seemed pleasant enough, and it would be nice to know who my only neighbor was, so I opened the door and stepped back from the opening to allow him through. Except, he just stood there.
He looked a touch embarrassed as he admitted, “Vampires cannot enter a mortal’s home without invitation.”
Huh, well that’s useful information, I thought, already feeling slightly safer concerning vampires. “So what if I give you an invitation and then want you back out?”
He nodded his head in a courteous fashion. “After an invitation has been extended, you need only say that you rescind that vampire’s invitation, and he will be required to depart.”
“You can come in,” I told him, but the moment he had stepped over the threshold, I continued, “I rescind your invitation, Bill Compton.” He quickly stepped backwards through the doorway with a startled look on his face.
I shrugged. “You didn’t expect me to test it out?” He schooled his features and almost seemed to be hiding a smile. “Come in,” I told him again.
He stepped cautiously through the doorway, as though waiting to see if I would send him away again. I laughed and jerked my head towards the living room. “Come on,” I laughed.
Closing the door, he followed me into the living room and sat on the couch I gestured to. I curled up cross-legged in an easy chair across from him.
I was surprised at the pleasant conversation. We talked about our pasts, and I was surprised to learn he’d been a soldier in the Civil War. My Gran would have loved that; she’d been a member of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead, and huge fan of anything from the Civil War. I wondered what she would have thought of an actual participant of the War.
I asked him a few general questions about vampires, things I hadn’t learned from Sam yet. Sam had told me a few things, but didn’t seem to like talking about them. But knowing things like the trick with the invitation seemed like smart things to know.
It was more relaxing than I knew was possible to have a conversation with someone and just be able to focus on what they were saying. I was so used to having to keep track of what they were saying, and trying to form replies, all the while striving to keep the wall in place so I didn’t fall into their thoughts.
We talked for almost an hour about general niceties, but I couldn’t shake the slightly uneasy feeling I had. It wasn’t that I was frightened of Bill, or thought he would hurt me, I just didn’t think everything he was saying was adding up.
“Where’d you come from before you came back here?” I asked him.
He looked stiff and his face unreadable. “I was in New Orleans for a time before my descendant passed away and ownership of the Compton land reverted to me.”
“Yeah, but why would you come back?” That was just sticking in my mind. He’d mentioned being married and even having children in his human life, and when I asked him if he missed his family, he had looked very uncomfortable and refused to answer. Why would someone move back to the house they’d lived in with their family, if they couldn’t even talk about them?
“It was simply time for me to return,” was his stiff answer. He looked at me and I felt that strange pressing on my mind that I was starting to associate with glamoring. Sam had explained that to me a little more, but he was shocked to hear it didn’t seem to work on me. He said he’d never heard of that before.
As Bill looked at me and the pressing in my head increased, he asked, “What are you?”
But before I could respond, my back door was flung open. Before I could even look to see who it was, or reach out with my mind to investigate, Bill had jumped into a crouch in front of my chair, growling and hissing at the intruder.
“Holy Hell!” I heard Jason’s voice exclaim.
I slid forward in my chair and grabbed Bill’s shoulder as I stood up to look over his crouched form.
“It’s okay, Bill. It’s just my brother,” I assured him. I did feel slightly better about Bill though. He hadn’t known who was coming through the door, but in the blink of an eye, he had jumped in front of me to protect me.
I stepped beside Bill as he straightened from his crouch. He nodded to us both, saying, “I apologize.”
“Lord almighty! What’s a vampire doing in Gran’s house?” Jason exclaimed.
“It’s my house now, Jason, and Bill’s my neighbor, come to introduce himself,” I admonished Jason. With his emotions running higher, I could see a flash of his resentment that I had gotten Gran’s house, but I ignored it and asked, “What are you doing here, Jason?”
He eyed Bill warily, but came to drop himself down in the chair I had been sitting in. Fighting a sigh, I went to sit on the other end of the couch from where Bill had been seated. It didn’t escape my notice that when he returned to the couch, he sat in the middle, closer to me.
“I think I’m in some trouble,” Jason finally confessed, and I could sense the turmoil in him, but I kept my shields in check and waited to see what he would say.
“They called me in today to question me about the murders.”
“Murders?” I repeated, emphasizing the plural. “I thought just one girl had been killed.” But then, it had been my day off, so I hadn’t been in the bar today to hear what the gossip was.
He shook his head. “Sam found Dawn dead in her apartment when she didn’t come in for work today.”
I was surprised Sam hadn’t asked me to come in to help out, but I had been working a lot of double-shifts to try and put some money aside, so maybe he didn’t want to bother me on my day off.
I hadn’t thought too much about the first girl’s death, Maudette, but I was used to moving around and not letting myself care too much about the lives and deaths of strangers around me. I’d never even met Maudette, but I did feel bad about Dawn. We weren’t exactly friends, and didn’t have much in common since she was real popular with the men, but we had been friendly with each other.
“How’d they die, and what’s it got to do with you?” I questioned my brother.
He cleared his throat and replied in an unsteady voice. “Well, I’ve dated them both, and they found some videos at Maudette’s place.”
“Jason!” I exclaimed, my voice full of censure. I briefly saw a glimpse in his mind of just what kind of videos they’d been. I tried real hard to wipe that image from my mind.
Clearing his throat again, he went on. “They were both found strangled, but they both had old bite marks on them.” Even without the look he threw Bill, it didn’t take a genius to know what kind of bite marks he was talking about.
Bill leaned forward. “You said they died by strangulation?”
“Yeah. So?” Jason replied.
“They weren’t drained?”
“Then it wasn’t a vampire.”
“How do you figure?” I asked.
“A vampire wouldn’t have been able to resist all of that fresh blood.” His answer came with a shrug and a small smile. It was almost—unrepentant.
“You gotta help me, Sook. I don’t know what to do.” Jason lamented.
Bill looked at me curiously, but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know what I can do for you, Jason. Maybe you should get a lawyer.”
Jason huffed. “Maybe you can go to that vampire bar in Shreveport, Fangtasia. Listen in and see if you can find out who they went with.”
It wasn’t a bad suggestion, but I wasn’t too wild about spending time in a vampire bar. I could always cross my fingers that there was more than one vampire bar in Shreveport and that Fangtasia wasn’t the one I’d been in.
Briefly, I considered telling Jason he was on his own, but then I remembered him slugging Tommy Jeffers for grabbing me and helping put a new roof on the house. He was my only family, and after having no one for so long, that meant a lot to me.
“All right, Jason. I’ll do this for you.”
Bill looked at me curiously. “It would not be wise to go to a vampire bar unaccompanied. If you wish, I’ll escort you.”
I nodded, thinking if I was going into the lion’s den, it might be a good idea to bring my own lion.
Maybe I’d even find out a little more about my new neighbor, Bill.
A/N: I know you guys were hoping for Eric, but I’m kind of trying to stick to canon when and where it fits. I know a lot of people don’t like Bill, but he serves his purposes and he’s not as bad as some people like to make him out to be. He did several things wrong concerning Sookie, but he wasn’t the monster some like to make him out to be.
Also, thanks a million to all of the reviewers! I’ve been blown away by all of the responses. I usually try to respond to everyone individually, but I haven’t been able to lately. I’ve been spending my free-time writing new chapters instead, so please forgive me and thanks to each and every one of you. I do read every review, and they just encourage me to keep writing!
Thanks everyone, and Happy New Year! Try not to get too carried away on New Year’s Eve!