SOOKIE POV, CONTINUED
The answering machine announced there were “no new messages” as I moved to delete Sam’s message.
I probably pushed the delete button too hard.
And I may have unplugged the machine—forcefully.
But I was angry at Sam for his judgment of me. Who was Sam Merlotte to judge my romantic choices!
“For fuck’s sake! Fuckin’ Maenad anyone? Or crazy fuckin’ Were women?” I muttered (before mentally apologizing to Gran)—despite the fact that cursing seemed appropriate at that moment. After all, Sam’s latest squeeze, Jannalynn, had been prepared to help Sandra Pelt kill me! As violent as Eric might have been in some cases, he would have never killed Sam in such a premeditated fashion! Oh—I bet that Eric had imagined flaying the shifter, but he wouldn’t actually do it.
Because he wouldn’t have had just cause!
And he wasn’t a homicidal maniac!
“Because my beloved has a kind of honor that men like Sam will never know,” I said with a shake of my head.
Tired (both from good sex and bad stress) and still stewing over Sam’s judgment of me, I put the biscuits in the oven with the casseroles and set the timer before going to my bathroom to shower.
Even as I tried to wash away my worries, however, I couldn’t help but to recall the phone conversation I’d had with Sam that morning—a conversation which had clearly led to his message.
Given the sensitive situation—as well as Sam’s complicated feelings about me—I’d bent the truth (okay, I’d broken it) about his girlfriend’s death. I’d told Sam the “official story”—that Sandra Pelt and a group of fairies attacked Fangtasia and killed several vampires, Victor included. But my biggest lie was when I told him that Jannalynn had been trying to protect me when she was killed by Sandra Pelt.
Of course, from one perspective, Sandra Pelt had caused Jannalynn’s death. Had Jannalynn not succumbed to her jealousy of me and Sandra’s manipulation, she might have been curled up with Sam even then.
I’d hated lying to Sam—though the story I’d spun had been a lot kinder than the truth—a truth I realized I didn’t trust him with, a fact which made me sad.
But, even if I had trusted Sam, I knew that my lie was a kindness. It was better that he didn’t know that he was partly to blame for what happened to his girlfriend. After all, his actions had been the cause of a lot of Jannalynn’s jealousy—and, therefore, her hatred of me.
When I’d gone with Sam to his brother’s wedding, I’d seen it as fulfilling an earlier promise to a friend, a commitment that had been made a long time before, given the fact that the wedding had been postponed due to the fallout from two-natured folks revealing themselves. Still—I’d found it strange that Sam had still insisted upon taking me, even though he’d been dating Jannalynn by the wedding date.
I couldn’t even begin to speculate about how Jannalynn would have interpreted Sam’s choice, and I knew that the event had caused something of a rift between the couple.
Of course, Sam had an excuse for his girlfriend—and me. Jannalynn was a proud Were, and her presence might have disrupted the wedding, given that some of Sam’s family members were still having trouble accepting the fact that “two natures” were already in their DNA—whether they could shift or not.
In hindsight, I knew that my boss had wanted me to play the role of his girlfriend at the wedding and to like that role.
To want to keep it.
And—yes—I’d gotten that desire straight out of his head more than once during the event, though I’d tried to overlook that fact.
But my days of overlooking were over.
It had been disconcerting to “hear” Sam fantasizing about me—rather than Jannalynn—in a white dress. But—because of wanting to cling to my “normal” life (and my job)—I’d ignored his musings. Needless to say, I now wondered how many stray comments about me had fallen from Sam’s lips when he was around Jannalynn.
It was no surprise that Jannalynn’s jealousy had been encouraged by the torch that Sam had continued to hold for me—despite the fact that our brief romance (if a single date could be called a romance) years before had barely produced a hot ember.
Was I bitter about the Sam situation?
Yes. I could admit that.
Not long after I’d met Sam, I’d trusted him with the secret of my “otherness,” and that was when I’d truly thought that I was the only one of my kind—well before vampires came out to show me that there were other “oddities” in the world.
Moreover, when I’d disclosed my “disability” to Sam, I’d told him that his mind was different from other people’s minds. I’d told him that I was thankful for that, and—significantly—I’d asked him if he knew why I couldn’t hear him as well as other folks.
He’d just shrugged his shoulders.
A shrug when the truth would have taken away the isolation that had—by that time—stifled almost every part of me.
When the truth about his nature came to light, it hadn’t even been because Sam wanted to tell me. And then he’d shrugged away his omission of the truth by telling me that the secret of the two-natured hadn’t been his to tell. And I’d accepted that shrugged explanation, forcing myself not to dwell on the fact that I’d never given him a reason to distrust me.
I wondered sometimes what might have happened if Sam had been honest with me from the start—or, at least, almost the start—of our friendship. What if he’d simply taken a chance on me and told me that I wasn’t the only “different” creature in the world.
In all honesty, we might have become a real couple if that had happened. We might have even gotten married and had children. But—by not trusting me—Sam had shattered the possibility of an “us.” The fact that he still harbored the notion that we might still get together—that somehow we “were meant to be”—had become tedious.
And dangerous, given Jannalynn’s reaction to Sam’s ambivalence.
Still—despite my recognition of Sam’s shortcomings—I had listened patiently earlier that day as he’d reacted to the story I’d told him about his girlfriend’s death. That reaction had begun with him blaming and berating first Eric and then me.
According to Sam, being with Eric had necessitated that I required protection, which had led Alcide to put Jannalynn on my guard detail, which had led to her death.
Never mind that it had been a threat from Sandra Pelt, a Were, which had been the “official” catalyst for my needing Were guards. Never mind that Eric had nothing to do with Sandra Pelt. Never mind that Sam had witnessed the gnawing of Tray’s death upon me—the death of the guard who had truly died saving my life.
Never mind that he seemed to want me to feel the same kind of destructive guilt over Jannalynn’s demise.
Never mind that I’d never forget his words to me: “It seems like all your guards are murdered, Sookie, not that you give a damn since you go right on being a stupid fucking idiot!”
Instead of hanging up on Sam, however, I’d closed my eyes and taken the venom of his grief, telling myself that he didn’t really mean what he was saying.
Telling myself that, despite the negatives Sam spewed about me and Eric—and his cluelessness when it came to women in general—he was still a good man at heart.
Reminding myself that he’d once given me a job when no one else in Bon Temps would.
As Sam had shifted his tirade back to Eric, I will admit that I tuned him out, having heard his arguments against my bonded before.
Instead, to drum up some good feelings about my ex-boss, I’d forced myself to recall what my life had felt like during the weeks right before Sam had hired me. By then, I’d been fired from or quit nine jobs in the Bon Temps area. Those who had fired me had done so because they couldn’t take my “craziness” or “strangeness.” Those jobs that I’d quit—I’d done so because I couldn’t take the perversions within my bosses’ thoughts.
The last had been a week-long temp job that I’d worked in Monroe—as a clerk for an accountant named Mike Clark. His thoughts had literally assaulted me as I’d tried to alphabetize files or answer calls. Still—I’d pretended as if I didn’t “hear” him. I’d wanted the job to become a permanent thing, so I’d tried to convince myself that Mr. Clark’s thoughts didn’t matter.
But then Mr. Clark cornered me, and his immediate thoughts evolved into the actions he had fantasized about. And then those thoughts became an internal resolution that he could do whatever he wanted to me because no one would take the word of “crazy Sookie” over the word of a respected businessman.
I’d pretended to be docile until Mr. Clark’s thoughts showed me an opening; then I’d kicked him in the balls and run.
But “quitting” that job hadn’t helped Gran pay the bills.
Moreover, the temp agency that had arranged for the job wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole after that.
More than ten applications later, and I still hadn’t found anyone who would take me on. It was when I was at the courthouse applying for food stamps for Gran and me—unbeknownst to Gran—that I saw the flyer for Merlotte’s.
Sam had hired me, despite the fact that the only reference I could put down on my application was Gran—despite the fact that it looked like I couldn’t keep a job to save my life.
And then a miracle had happened; Sam had been different from my other employers—not just in what I couldn’t “hear” well, but also in the few things that I could hear from him.
For example, I could “hear” that he was attracted to me, but not in a way that made me feel dirty. And, importantly, Sam never equated his attraction with how I did my job—or whether he’d let me keep that job.
I sighed as I stepped out of the shower and toweled off. Indeed, there had been a time—more accurately, a brief window of time—when I would have said “yes” if Sam had asked me out for a real date. After I’d worked for him for a while, it was clear that he appreciated the effort I put into my job. We’d become true friends by then; in other words, Sam wasn’t just being nice to me in order to get into my pants—as Jason sometimes did with women back then. And I had found Sam attractive; heck, I still did! So—yes—we might have worked out if he’d told me about his “secret identity” back then—before years of omitted secrets (on his part) had passed.
Before his omissions became a lack of trust in me.
I also couldn’t ignore the fact that it had taken Bill’s interest in me to spur Sam into what little action he had taken to “court” me. Sam’s sudden “courage” had been more about territorialism than finally trusting me enough to pursue me as a potential partner.
Nonetheless, because of what Sam had done for me, I would always feel a certain amount of loyalty towards him—despite what his lingering fantasies about me entailed.
And that was why I’d patiently listened to his spewed condemnation of Eric (and all vampires). I’d listened to his “concern” that I was a prisoner. By the end of the call, Sam had sunk to patronizing me, calling me a “naïve little girl” and a variety of synonyms for “stupid.”
Indeed, in his anger, he’d yelled that now that Jannalynn was gone, I should be with him because somebody needed to protect me “from both that fucking vampire and my own fucked-up choices.”
And it was those words and the possessiveness that had tinged them that had finally “felt” like closure when it came to Sam and my friendship. I guess the message he later left on my machine was closure for him.
Sadly, our friendship had become too toxic for the life I wanted to lead. There would be a part of Sam that would always believe that I’d “see the error of my ways about vamps” and come running to him. There would be a part of him that would always hope that my relationship with Eric would fail miserably—regardless of my happiness—a part of him that would always believe that Eric would hurt me as badly as Bill had.
In fact, that part of Sam would be counting on my being hurt.
And—having that realization—I was truly glad that I’d finally moved on from Merlotte’s, just as Sam had agreed in his message. Oh—Sam’s putting me into a box in his imagination wasn’t nearly as damaging as the box I’d put myself into for so long in my quest for a “normal life,” but it was a box nonetheless.
And—finally—I refused to remain trapped, whether because of my own choices or someone else’s ideas about how I should behave or what I should feel.
I found it ironic—exhilarating actually—that Eric had been most frustrated with me when I’d insisted upon putting myself into a box, though he’d never torn apart that enclosure; he’d waited for me to do it myself—counted on the fact that I would.
Meanwhile, he’d been willing to “live” with it—even live in it with me.
After Sam’s rant had finally ended that morning, he’d hung up on me. And—now—having received his message, I acknowledged that my friendship with him had likely come to an end—just as my friendship with Alcide had run its course.
I was ashamed to admit that—in the past—I would have suspected that Eric had somehow manufactured the endings of those friendships with his “rivals.” But I wasn’t living in the past, and I knew that Eric wasn’t the villain in the story.
I also knew that Eric Northman wouldn’t see them as true rivals.
For the Viking had no rivals.
At least not in my heart.
“Or his arrogant brain,” I muttered with an amused smirk.
As I dressed for comfort and then double-tied my shoe laces, I found myself hoping that—in time—Sam would find happiness; maybe then, he could be happy that I’d found the same. And, perhaps—one day—we could sit down for lunch without Sam’s unrequited feelings jostling against my disappointment in him.
Or perhaps not—given Sam’s message.
Either way, I was moving on and away from the two two-natured men who hadn’t respected me and my choices because I didn’t pick them.
I’d made Calvin and Mustapha deliver food to the others before I’d invited them to my table. With the tension building as we all anticipated the night ahead, we didn’t talk much. Still—I took a moment to enjoy the meal and my company.
“You know—if things go as planned, this will probably be the last meal I have here for the foreseeable future,” I observed as I made a little sandwich with a biscuit and a few spoonfuls of the casserole I’d made.
Mustapha and Calvin only looked at me; maybe they didn’t know what to say, given the fact that if things didn’t go my and Eric’s way, my future meals would be occurring in Las Vegas.
If I wasn’t dead (finally dead).
I smiled at them both. “You know—I appreciate the fact that I’m sharin’ this meal with good company.”
“The very best of company,” Calvin concurred, raising his glass of orange juice. I could hear into the minds of the men at my table and knew that they would have Eric’s and my backs that night. I could also hear that they would do whatever it took to ensure that I would never have to step one foot into Las Vegas. What I didn’t hear from either of them was judgement about my choice of mate.
And that “silence” was golden.
Take that Alcide! Take that Sam!
I raised my glass and saluted my guests.
“It’s nearing sundown, and we’ll have to go soon,” Mustapha said after he’d cleaned his plate and rinsed it in the sink.
“We’ll be in position when you need us,” Calvin assured.
I hugged both men before they left. “Be safe. And thank you,” I said simply. After all, there wasn’t much more to say. Both of them were being paid handsomely for their work, but there was a lot more to their allegiance to my husband and me than money. I couldn’t help but to be impressed with the Were and the werepanther.
As they left, I looked at the clock. It was approximately forty minutes until sunset. I took out one of the burner phones Eric had given to me. He said that I could safely use each phone twice before throwing it away. Honestly, the disposal seemed like a waste to me, but I’d promised Eric, myself, my Gran’s spirit, and anyone else who was listening that I’d follow Eric’s lead when it came to security from then on.
In turn, Eric had promised to command Pam to stop immediately if she ever had the inclination to overhaul my wardrobe—with lighter fluid.
It seemed like a good tradeoff to me.
I dialed the number of another “disposable” phone, a number I’d memorized before leaving Eric’s safe-house.
“Sook?” Amelia answered.
“Hey yourself. Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. Are you and Bob safe?”
“Yep. And we’re all set up. Rasul is the bomb, by the way. And Indira is gorgeous! Anyway, they have us somewhere safe. Octavia got here this afternoon, and she brought some of our coven!” Amelia conveyed excitedly.
“All trustworthy?” I asked.
“Yes,” Amelia responded immediately. “If you trust me, trust them.”
“I do trust you,” I said to my witchy friend. Despite everything, I felt closer to Amelia than I ever had before. I’d worried that—after she left Bon Temps following Tray’s death—we’d never be close again. I’d even feared that our relationship might become full of more antagonism than affection.
But—during the last several days—I’d felt a shift in both Amelia and our friendship. There had always been something a little selfish about her. Or maybe “thoughtless” was a better term for it.
Oh—I knew that Amelia couldn’t control her thoughts any more than she could control the volume of them. But—at times in the past—those thoughts had been centered upon herself to the point that she really didn’t care about what happened to anyone else. For example, when she’d wanted to re-ingratiate herself to Octavia after the whole Bob-cat fiasco, she’d invited the elder witch to stay in my house (without consulting with me first) even though she’d sensed that I wouldn’t be favorable to the idea.
Back then, Amelia’s mind had unwittingly “told” me that she had planned out her “Octavia-pitch” carefully so that I would accept the elder witch as a tenant.
“Manipulating me to do as she wanted” was another way to label what she’d done.
Of course, I’d been the one to agree; I’d allowed myself to be manipulated because I didn’t want to lose Amelia. By then, I’d loved her, and I was starved for friends—as Amelia knew very well.
And then Amelia had been the opposite of supportive about anything Eric-related—until very recently. Two nights before, her mind had “confessed” that she’d been jealous that I’d found someone who might truly be transformative in my life. She’d initially hooked up with Tray partly to “match” my relationship with one of her own and had felt guilty when her sorrow wasn’t as intense as it should have been when he died. That guilt had turned to anger and bitterness toward me.
But, when she’d come back, I’d felt only contrition, acceptance, and true affection from her.
I liked to think that we’d both grown up a lot during the past several months.
“Thank you, Ames,” I said after I’d listened to all that she had to tell me regarding the witches’ plans. “And make sure you thank Octavia too. And Bob. And the others.”
“You never need to thank me for protecting my family,” she returned softly.
“Yes,” I agreed with a smile on my face. “Family.”
“You okay?” she asked. “It’s a lot. I mean—after tonight—nothing will be the same. No matter what happens.”
Indeed, after tonight, my world would shift.
The best case scenario would have Eric as King of Louisiana, and I would be his partner in that “profession.” And Amelia and Bob would be our “court witches”—or something to that effect.
The worst case scenario would have both Eric and me dead.
And Bob and Amelia would be on the run.
In between, there was a mountain of possibilities, ranging from Eric being stuck in Oklahoma to me being trapped in Las Vegas.
And—maybe Bob and Amelia could hold off Felipe and his thugs by scaring them with all the possibilities of their witchery?
Heck—even if everything went perfectly with Felipe’s takedown, that didn’t guarantee anything. If the Vampire Council decided to execute Eric for treason, rather than to support his claim to the throne, he’d be killed, and I’d be left vulnerable to a line of vampires who would want to claim me, which meant that I would become Thalia’s charge and go on the run.
“Sook? You okay?” Amelia asked again.
“Just anxious. Anxious to get everything over with—to see where the chips fall.”
“I can’t blame you for that,” she said sincerely.
We were silent for a few seconds. I knew that neither of us was ready to hang up. After all, if something went wrong that night, we would likely never speak again.
“You’re really happy with Eric—right?” Amelia finally asked.
“Yes. Happier than I ever thought I would be. I’m scared as hell because I have so much more to lose now, but I’m done letting my fear stop me from being with Eric—from finding a good life—from believing I deserve one,” I added with a nod of my head.
That nod—which Amelia obviously couldn’t see—had been just for me.
And maybe for the universe too. Maybe I wanted any unseen forces or gods or goddesses out there to know that I had found some faith in them—and in myself.
“I’m glad for you,” Amelia said, and I could tell that she meant it.
“And you and Bob?” I asked her.
There was a pause as if Amelia was moving to somewhere that she could speak privately.
“I love him,” she said after I’d heard a door close. “But I think I could survive without him. “I’m worried about you for that reason,” she whispered.
“Huh?” I asked.
She sighed. “I—uh. Look, Sookie, even right after I met you, I worried that—if you ever really got in deep with Eric—you wouldn’t want to survive without him. And you were always so sure that you’d never be enough for him. I just worry that I might have. . . .”
“That you might have?” I prompted after she’d paused for several moments.
“That I might have affected your being with Eric before—because of my worry. Because I didn’t support you like I should have,” she said softly. “And,” she paused again, “because I was jealous of what you had with him. I’ve always wanted to be a part of an epic love story. But I wasn’t. Maybe that’s just not in the cards for me. But it’s in your cards, Sook. And—even though I’m late telling you this—I’m really glad for you—and Eric.” She paused again. “Epically glad!”
“You’ll find your epic, Ames,” I said. “Who knows? Maybe your epic will turn out to be Bob? I mean—it’s kind of epic that he forgave you for the whole cat thing—right?”
She chuckled. “You know? You’re right. And the way you see things?” She paused. “Well—let’s just say that having you in my life is a good, good thing. So—uh—we’re good?”
“Yeah,” I assured. “Better than good.”
“And you promise to go on? Even if Eric is . . . .”
She didn’t need to finish her sentence. And I didn’t want her to.
“I promised him,” I stated. He’d not done the same, but Amelia didn’t need to know that.
She breathed a sigh of relief that I could hear clearly over the phone. “Thank God he made you promise! You know, Sook, your friendship is the most important relationship of my life.” She chuckled. “I don’t mean to sound creepy or anything, but I’ve rarely been accepted. And, even when I was, I’ve almost never felt as if I could just be me—instead of the over-the-top, super happy me—around another person. You taught me that I could be Amelia and that—even if I was being a bitch—you could still love me. Would still love me.”
I smiled to myself. “You know—you loved me at my bitchiest times too.”
“Maybe,” she said seriously, “but I would have never felt confident enough to get serious with anyone—either Tray or Bob—if you hadn’t helped me believe that someone could love me despite my flaws. Thanks for that, Sook.”
We were silent again—this time for almost a minute, still not wanting to end our call. I found it odd—and sad—that it was impending danger that could cause one to appreciate things with clarity when safety seemed to encourage taking things for granted.
Taking people for granted.
“Ames? Will you make sure Jason’s okay? If things go wrong tonight? I mean—Calvin is gonna protect him physically, but he’ll need someone to lean on emotionally—if the worst happens.”
“Yeah—I will,” she responded. “But I won’t need to. Things are gonna go right.”
“From your lips to God’s ears,” I whispered. “But I’m glad you’ll be around for Jase nonetheless.”
“Sook, I love you,” Amelia said, her voice coated with a sob that she was clearly trying to suppress. I could imagine the tears in her eyes. “And we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure you and your man get out of this alive—or, uh, undead.”
I chuckled, even as I wiped away a tear of my own. “I know. But you and Bob know what to do if we lose.”
“We know,” she said somberly. “Just promise me that you won’t lose.”
“I couldn’t guarantee that promise,” I said softly, “so I can’t make it.”
I heard Amelia take a deep breath. “Love you, Sook. If I could pick anyone in the world to be my sister, it would be you.”
I swallowed my emotion—my love and my fear—with an uncomfortable gulp. “Love you too, sis,” I returned before we hung up the call.
I closed my eyes.
Eric would make sure our vampire allies were in place.
Desmond would make sure our demon allies were in place.
Our witch friends were already ready.
And our two-natured friends would be ready soon.
As the sun moved ever-closer to the horizon, I knew that it was time to begin my own part.
A/N: Hello all! I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. I wanted this and the last chapter to really wrap up Sookie’s “old life” and old way of thinking. It’ll be night soon in the story, and I promise that the action will pick up. Next up, what’s going on with the demons in the story?
Many thanks to Kleannhouse and Seph!