THE NEXT DAY
“Sook?” Terry Bellefleur yelled worriedly from the kitchen.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Um—you just been standing there for a few minutes,” the war-worn veteran observed. “Not movin’!”
“Sorry!” I returned, trying to sound more light-hearted than I felt. “Just lost in my thoughts. Tired I guess.”
“You did a double yesterday—right?”
I nodded in confirmation—though it had been more like a triple. “And I had to be here at 7:30 a.m. since a shipment came in this morning.”
A shipment that Sam had forgotten to tell me about.
Of course, I really couldn’t blame him. He had other things weighing him down.
Terry gave me a little smile—one that told me that we were “in this together.” I could tell that he didn’t just mean covering for Sam while he was with his mother either.
I gave Terry another little nod—this time of appreciation.
He and I had both faced wars of sorts, but I suddenly felt more than a little ashamed. Terry had been in war for an extended period of time—long enough to make him twitch at the sound of a breaking glass or a dropped pan. Hell—not even two years before, I’d seen him cower into a corner at the sound of a car backfiring.
But—despite all he’d been through—I’d never seen nor heard Terry feeling sorry for himself.
By contrast, I’d been doing too much of that lately.
A part of me wanted to justify my self-pity—to remind the world that I’d had a bad fucking year or two.
Finding out the man I loved had lied to me from the start of our relationship.
Falling in love a second time—only to have my beloved forget our time together.
Being beaten up, sliced up, and “staked up.” Being shot at. Almost being raped.
And then actually being raped—by my first love no less.
Being threatened with a blood-bond to the creepiest vampire I’d ever met.
And that was only a warm-up!
I mean really! A cluster of bombs going off all around me in a hotel!
“Sledding” down the side of that pyramid-shaped hotel on a Pam-loaded coffin with a half-asleep Viking vampire!
The same vampire I’d just been forced to complete a bond with—a bond I still didn’t know much about!
FBI agents looking for me because I’d decided to use my cursed telepathy to find survivors after the blast!
A takeover—seemingly held at my house!
An Eric who—right afterwards—remembered the most vulnerable week of my life!
The best week.
The week that—if Eric hurt me or rejected me—would be lost to me yet again.
In an even worse way.
I didn’t think I could survive Eric ripping into that week—criticizing the “him” who had loved me. It would be as if he were telling me that I couldn’t be loved. And—so far—my Eric had been the only being who had ever truly loved me.
The sad thing was that—in many ways—I was the one to blame for others not loving me. Most of the time I was too scared to give them a chance.
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” I muttered to myself.
“What’s that?” Terry asked.
“Holly’s pulling up now. I think I’ll go ahead and unlock the doors and then do the schedule before the lunch crowd builds up,” I informed.
“Oh—sure!” he said with a lop-sided grin as he peeked out the kitchen window.
I grinned back at him. It looked as if he were having a good day today. In fact, he’d had mostly good days for the past year or so and seemed a lot calmer.
I thought briefly about checking his mind to see what was making him happier; maybe I could borrow some of that happiness for myself. But then I remembered a time when my shields were worn and I had inadvertently heard the troubled thoughts of Terry Bellefleur.
I shuddered. No—his mind wasn’t a place I needed to visit.
“Annie’s gonna have another litter of pups!” Terry yelled out excitedly as I rounded the bar.
Annie was Terry’s beloved dog, a Catahoula. I smiled to myself; Annie was likely one of the sources of his calm. Taking care of her and the puppies she’d had the year before had been downright therapeutic for him.
“You should reconsider and take one this time,” he said brightly. “There would be no charge for you—of course!” he added, taking away one of my arguments against such an idea.
I’d always considered myself a cat person, but living with Bob the “cat” had changed my preferences a bit. Oh—it wasn’t that he was a “bad” cat; it was more that it was a little disconcerting knowing that there was a “person” underneath the fur. And, of course, then there was the Bubba factor. Though I didn’t see my vampire friend too often, he was excessively fond of cats—or at least their blood. I shivered a little at that thought.
“I’ll think about it,” I smiled at Terry over my shoulder.
And I would think about it. In fact, I made a deal with myself. If I wasn’t taken out of town on vampire business during the time it took for the pups to be born and weaned, I would take one.
“Knock on wood,” I whispered.
I rapped quietly on the front door before unlocking it.
“Howdy y’all!” Holly said loudly as she came in the back door.
I smiled to myself again. I always enjoyed working with Holly, who was still dating Hoyt. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he proposed soon.
Since the delivery had been so early and I didn’t want to go all the way home and come back just for twenty minutes in my bed, I’d already prepped the waitress station and the bar, as Terry had prepped the kitchen, and—in exchange for coming in a little later—Holly had agreed to stay a little later in order to retrain Tanya Grissom. And for that I was extremely grateful! I’d had to call Tanya Grissom to help cover Arlene’s abandoned shifts until Sam got back and hired a permanent replacement. I knew that Holly and the other full-time waitress, Danielle, might be willing to work a double or two, but both of them had kids. And, because of her new temp job, Amelia had agreed to cover only a few night shifts—and even that agreement was offered begrudgingly. It looked as if there would be quite a few doubles in my future, but having Tanya would help. I just hoped that Sam didn’t try to get her to stay on permanently.
My history with the werefox who’d once spied on me for the Pelts was complicated—at best.
“You mind if I do a bit of paperwork for a while?” I asked Holly as she put on her apron.
“No problem! I’ll let you know when it starts getting busy,” she winked.
“And I’ll cover the bar as much as I can,” Terry volunteered brightly.
After thanking them both, I snuck back to Sam’s office and picked up the schedule. Thank goodness Tray was willing to cover most of the evening bartender shifts! And with Amelia and Tanya doing a few shifts apiece, I hoped to get the schedule filled out relatively quickly. The only problem was that Arlene had been given several day shifts, and neither Tanya nor Amelia could do those. So I’d have to shuffle things around a bit without saddling Holly or Danielle with too many day shifts since the tips weren’t as good.
“Okay, you can do this before the rush, Sookie,” I whispered, trying to give myself a pep talk. “Otherwise, you will have to stay later than you’ve planned,” I added a warning.
In fact, after my double/triple the day before, I was hoping to sneak away by 5:00 p.m. that evening—before the dinner rush. In the meantime, I’d man my tables during the lunch rush and try to cover most of the bar duties since Sam had been originally scheduled for bar duty that day and I couldn’t get anyone to cover the shift.
I sighed. I was looking forward to a full night’s sleep!
A sliver of red caught my attention on the desk, and I closed my eyes as I ran my fingers over the phone Eric had gotten for me. I remembered then that he’d left me a message the night before, but the bar had been very busy, and I’d not had time to listen to it. In my haste to get home so that I could crash, I’d forgotten my cellphone when I’d left the night before. As I picked up the phone, I recalled seeing that the answering machine at home was flashing too, though I’d not taken the time to listen to any messages since the delivery man was already waiting. Something told me that Eric was responsible for that flashing, too.
I grunted at the cellphone when I saw that its battery was dead.
“Darn it!” I muttered, knowing that I didn’t have my charger in my purse.
I sighed. I wasn’t gonna lie and claim that a part of me wasn’t glad about that. Since the take-over, Eric and I had been long overdue for a discussion about “us”—since the Viking had finally remembered the time he’d spent at my home when he’d had no memories.
Of course, until his messages, he’d seemed about as anxious as I was to have our talk—which meant he’d been putting it off. In fact, there had been very little contact between us since the takeover.
Okay—there had been none, a fact that hurt me not just a little.
A fact that filled me with more and more dread with each passing day.
Given the months of no communication, I figured that it was more likely than not that Eric had decided against further entanglements with me. After all, we already had a blood bond—a mysterious sort of connection that even Amelia and Octavia couldn’t find out much information about, despite Octavia’s connections in the supe world and Amelia’s savvy with computer searches.
Eric certainly hadn’t volunteered much information about it—though he did tell me that I would come to like it.
I wasn’t so sure.
It had been odd “feeling” Eric’s presence in my very being. I felt it when he awoke each night, and I felt it when he had a strong surge of emotion. Mostly, that emotion had been frustration during the months following the night he’d remembered “us.”
I couldn’t help but to wonder if he was frustrated that he’d let himself “almost” love me when he had no memories. I couldn’t help but to wonder if he regretted the time he’d spent sharing my life with me. I shook those thoughts away.
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” I muttered again.
I’d once truly believed that Bill wanted to share a life with me—that he would put me first in his life, just as I had prioritized him. I’d believed in “our love story” to my very core. Maybe that’s what everyone thought of his or her first love. I only knew that I’d been happy and truly hopeful for the future, probably for the first time in my life.
But the ugly truth was that our relationship was never as wonderful as my rose-colored glasses had made it look. My suspicions about the Rattray attack aside, there was the situation with Malcolm’s nest that should have given me a lot more pause. And then there was the intense possessiveness, especially when the topic of Eric was brought up. And then there was the argument we’d had which had left me in the woods and ripe for the pickin’ by the Maenad. And then there had been Dallas—when my rose-colored glasses got a few more cracks in them.
Though it probably shouldn’t have bothered me so much, I’d been upset when Bill had fed in the next room when we’d been at the Silent Shore Hotel. However, if that was a little “paper cut” of hurt, Bill’s behavior after the attack on Stan’s nest had been a hit to the gut. Bill had prioritized revenge and a snack over checking on me. Maybe I was selfish to have wished that he’d done things in a different order.
Maybe I was selfish to wish that he’d not tried to make me jealous by taking Portia to the football game right after the Dallas trip—that he’d truly grasped why I’d been upset with him in Dallas.
But he hadn’t grasped anything—except at the straws that had been holding up his lies.
I shook my head, judging myself.
Despite his lack of understanding, I’d ignored my doubts and pain, and I’d taken him back.
However, the life that I’d wanted with Bill was proven to have other holes once we’d fallen into the routine of couple-hood following the Dallas trip.
Goodness knows that I didn’t need a man to fawn all over me all the time. But I did want one who asked me about my days—one who seemed to want me around. For Bill, that had been asking too much, I guess. After Dallas, he became buried in his work, and there were many nights when I felt utterly ignored by him. And then, without telling me much at all, he’d left to be with his maker. He arranged for Eric to be the bearer of the news that our separation was permanent and that I was being “pensioned off.” Still, when it became clear that Bill was with Lorena against his will, I’d helped him. I’d killed for him. I suppose it was only fitting when he almost killed me in return.
I think that—in the moment that Bill was draining me and violating my body, even if it was because of bloodlust—all of my dreams about finding a man who loved me and valued me enough to put me first were smashed.
However, despite this fact—or maybe because of it—I’d broken things off with Quinn without putting up a real fight. And, even before I’d dated the Weretiger, I’d used my fears to justify why I could never be with Sheriff Eric Northman.
Indeed—the duo I’d pursued relationships with since that horrible night in the car trunk had been the very definition of men I was guaranteed to fail with.
When I’d let myself fall for—and with—the memory-less Eric, a part of me had known that it was not going to last. Okay—most of me had known it! How could it last? While it had been nice to live in the brief fantasy world of domesticity with Eric—nice to be the being that he prioritized and cared for—I’d known that the clock had been ticking down.
Five. Four. Three. Two. Done.
Still, I could have done things differently when Eric was restored to himself. I could have taken a chance and told him about “us” right from the start. I could have asked if he and that “other” Eric were alike in any way. I could have asked if he would like to pursue a relationship with me.
But I didn’t. Without even considering an alternative, I’d already resolved that Sheriff Northman would not—could not—prioritize me over anything else. He had his sheriff duties. He had his allegiances to other vampires. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that I’d been anywhere near the top of Eric Northman’s list of priorities.
So I’d never tried to be on that list at all.
Though I now recognized that I had loved my Eric with everything in me.
And I knew that I wouldn’t have fallen nearly so hard and so fast if I hadn’t already desired Eric before then.
Okay—more than desired. I’d liked him. Cared for him in a way.
But could a vampire like Eric really be satisfied with a simple barmaid like me? I’d answered my own question without ever asking him.
Getting involved with Quinn had been another example of that concept brought to life. I’d known from the start that our relationship would be marked by geographical distances and time separations. I suppose that such a “relationship” was safer for me emotionally at the time—given the fact that I was still battered by losing two “loves” on the heels of each other. Of course, I’d not known that the separations between Quinn and me would last so long. I hadn’t known that the communication between us would be so sparse. I’d felt low on his priorities list even before I’d learned about his mother and sister.
In fact, truth be told, I’d felt like a booty call to him the last couple of times we’d been together.
With him, I’d chosen another relationship that was doomed to fail.
“Who would want Sookie Stackhouse, defective barmaid?” I muttered to myself. “Who would want her enough to put her first in his life? Who would want a happily ever after with a person whom even her own mother thought of as a freak?”
Answer? No one.
“Or maybe I’m wrong,” I whispered, glancing back at the phone Eric had given me.
“No,” I assured myself. I’d not seen Eric in months, and he’d popped in and out of my life irregularly before that. Yes—many of our encounters had been full of tension, often of the sexual variety. And, other times, he’d been downright tender. But then there would be times when he’d regard me with tepidness.
“No use getting your hopes up,” I said, thumbing the phone back a few inches.
“Hopes,” I whispered again, closing my eyes.
I recalled Eric and my dance together in Rhodes. It was difficult to quantify the joy I had felt in those few minutes—the lightness. I had felt right in Eric’s arms—safe and cherished.
But then the dance had ended—and so had the fantasy that I was in the arms of a man who loved me—or at least felt something close to love.
That something “close” was likely to be the best I’d ever get.
I opened my eyes and sighed, filling Sam’s office with the sound of my dreams and longings and knowing that it was useless to think about them. Oh—there were moments when it seemed as if Sheriff Northman had more in common with “my Eric” than he let on. But then there were times when he seemed almost indifferent to me. He was enigmatic (thank you word-a-day calendar)—to say the least.
Indeed, Eric Northman confused the heck out of me. And I wasn’t ashamed to admit that—except maybe to him.
“But it’s useless to think about him. Several months of no contact is a pretty good indication of how he feels about you,” I whispered to myself, even as I shored up my shields since the first customers of the day were entering Merlotte’s.
If I wanted to leave by 5:00 p.m., it was time to get to work.
A/N: Thanks so much for everyone who has already favorited, followed, read, and/or commented on this story! Before writing this story, I reviewed the beginning of Dead and Gone—when this story is set. And I remember sharing many of Sookie’s frustrations w/ Eric. She had to have been confused. Eric goes from remembering their week together and saying they needed to talk after the takeover to basically ignoring Sookie for months. Of course, Eric had his reasons (dealing with Victor), but he could have used Bobby to get her word of his reasons for staying away from the start—in my opinion. And, granted, she could have called him too. But if you think about their dynamic, Eric didn’t need Sookie to make that first contact as much as Sookie would have needed Eric to do that. And then the day after the takeover she woke up with creepy Quinn in her room watching her sleep and had to go through the “official break-up.” If I were her, I’d be raw from everything for a little while. And then I would have woken up one morning only to realize that Eric hadn’t been in touch in days, then weeks, then months. In a similar situation, I would have figured that Eric didn’t want a relationship. Anyway, as frustrated as I got with Sookie at times during the series, I was more frustrated at Eric at this point. Silly Viking.
Well—I’ll stop rambling now.
As always, thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia! And congrats to Seph for her nomination for the Multifandom Awards.