THE NEXT DAY, EARLY AFTERNOON
It was surprising to me how fast my world had changed; actually, maybe the world hadn’t changed. Maybe it had simply been my perception of that world which had altered.
I made a note to ask Pam what her beloved Dear Abby would say about my evolving situation.
From a waitress to a king’s pledged partner—which was Eric’s new label for me.
A label that I’d already grown to love.
From trying to hide the things that made me “other” to fully embracing them.
An effort that was still taking quite a lot of—effort.
From denying my heart’s desire out of fear to risking my life to be with my heart’s desire.
The best choice I’d ever made.
Even if that choice led to my death.
Surprisingly, I was okay with that.
Yes—my perception change had truly destroyed the “normal” life I’d once clung to so zealously.
Surprisingly, I was okay with that, too.
In honor of Pam—who was, I supposed, now my new daughter-in-law, at least in a sense—I passed the time on my way from the small house where I’d spent the last twelve hours with Eric to my soon-to-be ex-home in Bon Temps by mentally constructing a fictional note to Abby.
I grew up in a small town where I never fit in because of a “disability” I perceived myself to have. Although I had a loving grandmother who raised me, everyone I came into contact with—including her—thought that it would be best for me to pretend to be normal—to pretend that my “disability” didn’t exist.
But I wasn’t normal and it did exist.
Still, I wanted to be accepted and loved by those around me so much that I stubbornly stifled what made me different—what made me “me.”
But—despite that—no one really ever accepted me, not even the “fake” version of me.
No matter how much I practiced my fake smile in the mirror.
When the first person who seemed to love me—despite my “handicap”—turned out to be a liar, I became even more stubborn about wanting a “normal life.”
A fake life.
A fake life with fake emotions couldn’t hurt me, after all.
Because of the lying douchebag (as a warning to others out there, his name is Bill Compton) who butchered my name, my virginity, and my confidence in myself for way too long, I assumed that the next guy that seemed to accept me for myself wasn’t sincere or that he would eventually discard me—no matter what he did to try to convince me otherwise. It didn’t help that both he and I were new to romantic relationships—clueless really. It also didn’t help that our first days as a couple were spent while he had amnesia. And once, he was cured, he didn’t remember anything about what we’d shared. After that—in an attempt to preserve what was left of my fragile self-confidence—I acted indifferently toward him a lot of the time. Or I straight-up pushed him away. And he stayed away, not knowing how to deal with his own emotions.
Meanwhile, I was trying to cling to my “normal” life even though I’d never been accepted into that life by the others around me.
But I’m done with all that, Abby.
I’ve finally come to accept that the current guy in my life loves me and will have my back through thick and thin. (And—for the record—he’s very thick in all the ways that matter, if you know what I mean.) More importantly, he doesn’t even think about what makes me different from humans. He simply loves all that I am as if it was never a possibility to do otherwise.
Right now I’m thinking about how weird it is that my feelings about my old life and my childhood home, which has always symbolized that life, have done a complete 180 in what seems to be only a few hours. Why is it that the home I was clinging to so voraciously (yes, I have a word-of-the-day calendar) only a week ago now seems like just random wood and nails? Why is it that the very concept of home in my heart has shifted from a place to a person? Should I be worried that my perception has changed so quickly? Or should I just be grateful that it has?
P.S. Actually, those were rhetorical questions. I have finally found the courage to do the things that I know will make me happy. The drop-dead gorgeous (bad pun intended) vampirific (I know that’s not a word, but it should be) “pledged partner” and “lover” that I’ve found is just a 6’5″ bonus.
I chuckled as I imagined Abby’s response.
Dear Ms. Stubborn,
Congratulations on finally pulling your head out of your ass.
Try to avoid future holes—as well as people who want to push you into them (unless your “vampirific” lover has just turned you).
I chuckled again at the fact that Abby’s voice in my head sounded an awfully lot like Pam’s.
Of course, then again, my letter might—more accurately—be something like the following:
Why was I so stupid as to think that finding acceptance in a small-minded town—from people who mostly didn’t want me around and thought I was a freak—would be better than accepting an invitation to cohabitate from a vampire who truly loves me? Should I have an MRI to see if I have a brain tumor?
Finally Seeing Things Clearly
P.S. No answer needed this time either because my vampire will just turn me if I turn out the have a brain tumor.
I could only imagine Pam’s reaction to that letter!
I laughed loudly, this time not so much because my “letter construction” amused me, but out of unrestrainable happiness. Indeed, I was happy for both Eric and myself and for Pam and her new child/mate. Pam had “mellowed” since finding Miriam, and I could tell—even from my limited interactions with the two of them together—that they made each other quite content.
The human driving me to Bon Temps looked at me in the rearview mirror, and I heard from his thoughts that he wondered what was making me laugh.
He wondered if I might be a little “touched in the head.”
He had no idea . . . .
Of course, his thoughts were also pretty garbled at the moment—not surprising, given the fact that Eric had chosen him randomly, glamoured him to pick me up at a particular time and to drive me to Bon Temps, and then further glamoured him to “forget the details of his trip” as soon he left my property.
And that’s why I hadn’t bothered to talk to my “taxi driver,” nor was I worried about any thoughts he might be having about my arbitrary laughing fits.
In the end, Eric and I had agreed that glamouring a random human to give me a ride would be preferable to letting anyone who knew me—anyone who was “alive for the day”—know about the location of the isolated safe-house we’d stayed the night in. After all, even Weres could be glamoured by some vampires.
Of course, I could have simply driven myself to Bon Temps, but Eric didn’t have a car at the safe-house. Plus, I didn’t want to have to explain the presence of a strange car, one that might carry my “true” scent—the one that still included Eric—past sundown.
Thinking of scent, I asked my “cabbie” to pull up as close as he could to the back of my house since Bill always used the front door if he was making a “formal call.”
I thanked my driver once the car door was literally a foot away from the first step leading to the screened-in back porch/laundry room. Amelia had assured me that her spell (which would cover my Eric-enhanced scent) extended a bit beyond the actual physical structure of my house, but I didn’t want to take any chances that my “trail” would be sniffed out later. I tossed an envelope into the passenger seat and quickly got out of the car, making sure that I was squarely on the porch step before sighing with relief.
And with a little bit of victory too.
The envelope I’d given to my “cabbie” contained five hundred dollars—certainly enough to cover the man’s time and expenses. I noted again that the man had a nice car and probably an important job. But Eric had insisted that I ride in what he termed “comfort”—as if I couldn’t have ridden in something that didn’t have heated seats (in Louisiana, no less)! In turn, I’d insisted upon the payment for my driver. My vampire and I had indulged each other’s little insistences.
In other words, we’d compromised because it was too close to sun-up for us to have a dust up, followed by hot make-up sex.
That blush-inducing thought aside, I considered how Eric and I were learning to pick our battles, just as I had learned to surrender in the war to hold onto my “normalcy.” After all, that war would have left me as the biggest loser—especially if I’d won it.
What would’ve normal really meant for me?
Staying a waitress my whole life?
Marrying someone like Sam?
I shuddered at that thought. Normal just didn’t seem that appealing—compared to the path I was now taking.
As I watched the random driver (whose name was Jay) turn his car around and drive along my still wonderfully paved driveway, I followed his thoughts until he’d “forgotten” all about his excursion to Bon Temps. By the time he’d turned onto Hummingbird Lane, he was beginning to wonder how he’d managed to get so lost, and—as Eric’s glamour had “instructed”—he was resolving not to tell anyone about it because he didn’t want to be embarrassed.
I was not surprised when Mustapha Khan and Calvin Norris emerged from the tree-line. However, I was a little surprised that the two were laughing together like old friends. Of course, I was also pleased by this. If Mustapha and Calvin worked well together, that would bode well for Eric and my future security.
If we had a future after the night.
“Any issues?” I asked them, leaning against the back door—just in case Amelia and Bob’s spell needed for me to be in physical contact with my house.
“Herveaux came by at around noon—tried to enter the house,” Mustapha smirked. “When the guards he assigned didn’t check in with him, he got worried,” Eric’s day-man continued, rolling his eyes. “And then the inept male guard called him.”
“You mean the guard that was partnered with Jannalynn yesterday? The one that was glamoured last night to believe that it was fairies and Sandra Pelt that attacked Fangtasia and killed Victor?” I asked to clarify.
“The very one,” Mustapha responded.
“Alcide didn’t bother to keep the call private. The guard told Herveaux what happened to Victor—and then relayed that both Jannalynn and Sandra Pelt were killed. At that point, Alcide rushed toward the house as if he were intending to break down the door,” Calvin said with amusement.
“We did try to warn him not to do it,” Mustapha added with false contrition.
“What happened?” I asked the two grown men, who looked suspiciously like misbehaving toddlers at the moment.
“The Were bounced off of the wards,” Calvin chuckled loudly, even as clapped his hands together hard—as if to demonstrate the impact.
I worked hard to hide my own snicker.
“Did he leave then?” I asked.
Mustapha laughed loudly, snorting as he did so, something that drew more laughter from Calvin. Mustapha hit Calvin on the arm—pretty hard in my opinion. But the werepanther didn’t seem to notice the blow.
I couldn’t help but to laugh at the two. I really was glad that they were so clearly getting along. “Care to share what’s so funny with the rest of the class?” I asked.
“Besides the fact that this wolf snorts like a hyena when he laughs?” Calvin asked, wiping his eyes and pointing at Mustapha. The Were hit him again.
But—again—Calvin didn’t seem to mind.
I shook my head, knowing that I would likely never understand men.
“The funny part is that Alcide did try again,” Mustapha reported.
“Three more times,” Calvin added emphatically.
“He huffed and he puffed, but he couldn’t get inside,” Mustapha pouted, eliciting another laughing fit from both men.
I giggled a little too.
“And then he shifted and tried again!” Calvin managed as he and Mustapha practically doubled over as they continued laughing—or, in the Were’s case, half-laughing and half-snorting.
Of course, while I was amused, I also felt a little bad. Alcide had probably been trying to get inside the house because he thought I was there and might need help. That thought sobered me up quickly, something that both of my new guards noticed.
“You know,” Calvin said, “we told him that you were safe inside the house. And Alcide knows me—knows that I wouldn’t fuck around with your safety.”
“And we really did warn him about the witches’ spell—several times,” Mustapha assured, though he was snickering as he did so.
“Sook, I know that Alcide is your friend—or, at least, used to be—but the truth is that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed when he gets upset,” Calvin commented.
“What set him off was hearing that Sandra Pelt had been killed,” Mustapha informed, all traces of laughter leaving his tone. In fact, he suddenly sounded downright deadly. “He wasn’t upset at all when he was told that Sandra led an attack on Fangtasia—where you were at the time,” he growled.
“Where you were the late Ms. Pelt’s likeliest target,” Calvin added, his own tone now as cold as Mustapha’s.
“Sandra really got her claws into him,” I said with a combination of distaste and pity.
“Seems like it,” Calvin agreed.
“Fucking idiot,” Mustapha muttered.
I sighed. “Was Alcide hurt?” I asked.
“Mostly just his pride, though he was limping a little bit,” Calvin informed. “That magic’s no fucking joke!”
“He’s right,” Mustapha said, now all-business. “I can’t get within five feet of the house,” he added, scratching his arm and looking somewhat nervously at the screened-in porch—as if there were a den of rattlers on it.
“I haven’t tried to get closer than I am right now,” Calvin admitted with a nervous chuckle. I noticed that he and Mustapha had stayed about fifteen feet away from me and the house during our conversation.
“Those witches have some wicked juju,” Mustapha commented with a shake of his head.
“That they do,” I agreed. “And, by the way, you are both welcome inside.”
The men in front of me relaxed immediately, as if they’d been fighting Amelia and Bob’s magic just to be as close as they were.
Good to know.
“Thanks,” Mustapha said with a grin. “Much better.”
“Anyone else come by other than Alcide?” I asked.
Calvin shook his head. “Not a soul. The guards I brought with me from Hotshot have established a perimeter in the woods and have been patrolling since just after dawn.”
“And Warren’s found a perch about a hundred yards over that way,” Mustapha said, pointing toward the tree-line, something he actually didn’t need to do since I’d kept my shields down and had been doing my own kind of “patrolling” since I’d arrived at the house. I could tell that Warren was watching over us and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
And I could pinpoint where Calvin’s people were too. Two were men and one was a woman. They were all a little bored, but doing their jobs as vigilantly as they could. One of the men, a nephew of Calvin’s, was thinking about how the three-thousand dollars he’d already been paid by Eric would help him to buy his wife the oven she’d been wanting.
“Y’all have everything you need?” I asked the men. “I could cook you something.”
Mustapha shook his head. “No thanks. We’re good.”
“But if you make something for yourself and there’s extra, we wouldn’t complain,” Calvin said with a boyish grin.
Mustapha gave his new partner a sideways glance as if to scold him for the request.
“What?” Calvin asked unapologetically. “Her brother talks, and I know she’s a good cook!”
I chuckled. “I need to make myself something filling anyway. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to eat again after the action gets rolling tonight. I’ll yell when it’s ready.”
“Thanks, Sook!” Calvin said triumphantly, as he and Mustapha walked back toward the tree-line. I heard Calvin raise the idea that Mustapha should run with the Hotshot werepanthers at the next full moon as I unlocked the back door and went inside the house.
After a quick inventory of the food in my kitchen, I decided to make breakfast for an early dinner since it was easy to prepare for a lot of people. As I went through the motions of preparing ingredients, I thought again about Alcide.
Sadly, it had become difficult for me to drum up any positive thoughts about him.
After all, he’d been seeing Sandra Pelt, despite the fact that he’d known she despised me enough to harm me. He’d once done something similar with another Pelt sister too. Still—I didn’t want harm to come to Alcide, and Eric clearly accepted that, but between the Were’s association with the Pelts and the crazy Shaman thing, Alcide had turned out to be a shitty friend—plain and simple.
Maybe I had been a bad friend to him too, and I found myself wishing that things could have been different—but our friendship seemed as doomed as any romantic entanglement we might have ever had.
“Bad timing”—I’d called it when Eric and I had spoken about my crumbling association with Alcide.
Eric had muttered “bad dog” as his theory.
I’d ignored his snide comment. Yep. I was learning to pick my battles, and—as depressed as it made me—Alcide Herveaux wasn’t worth a fight with my bonded.
My pledged partner.
Looking out the window, I noticed that Calvin and Mustapha were checking in with one of the other werepanthers. I telepathically dipped into their conversation long enough to know that everything was fine, but was surprised to “hear” from Calvin’s head that Tanya was pregnant, though still only a couple of months along. He and his wife were waiting until she passed her first trimester to make that information public.
I smiled to myself, happy for both expectant parents. I stayed in Calvin’s brain for a few seconds longer and picked up that he was very proud, but worried. His first wife had lost more than one child, but he had great hope that Tanya would carry their child to term because of her young age and strength. Apparently, shifting was dangerous during the first few months of a pregnancy, and Tanya was stressed out over stifling her shifts two months in a row, but she was excited to become a mother. As for Calvin—I could tell that he didn’t give a damn if their child turned out to be a panther or a fox (or something in between) as long as he or she was healthy, and he was looking forward to the added benefit of Dr. Ludwig overseeing Tanya’s care—now that he and his wife were on the medical plan Eric was providing.
I exited Calvin’s thoughts as I finished putting together two big batches of egg, sausage, and cheese casserole.
After putting those in the oven, I took out ingredients for biscuits, and then I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and play the twelve messages that the beeping red light on my answering machine was telling me that I had.
As expected, most of them—eleven out of the twelve, in fact—were from Bill, who had become more and more agitated with each call he made.
Not that I listened to them fully.
Indeed, after hearing the first one, I simply hit the delete button as soon as I heard his voice on each subsequent message her left.
The last message on the machine, however, was not from Bill. It was from Sam.
It began with a sigh, and I sat down on Gran’s old kitchen stool, which had miraculously survived the fire (though it was a little more worse for wear), to listen.
“Uh, hey, Sook,” Sam’s weary voice said, “about our talk earlier. I—uh—said things in anger that I probably shouldn’t have. But I’m worried about,” he paused, “everything. And you just won’t listen,” he continued, a little anger creeping into his tone. “And I just can’t do it anymore. I was angry when the vamp made you quit, but maybe it’s for the best that you’re out of my life,” he said with frustration. “Finally out,” he added so softly that I could barely hear him. “If you ever . . . .” There was a pause long enough that I thought that the machine might have cut him off. But then he continued. “If you ever wizen up and cut vamps out of your life completely, look me up. But—if I find someone else in the meantime—well . . . .” He sighed again. “I can’t wait for you to get your head out. I can’t wait for something that might never happen, Sook. So goodbye.”
I scoffed. “My head is finally out, Sam!” I voiced toward the machine. “And it’s gonna stay out!”
A/N: Thanks for reading! I hope you will comment if you have the time and/or inclination.
As always, my work wouldn’t be the same without Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!