A/N: The several lines in bold in this chapter are quoted from Charlaine Harris’s Dead and Gone. Credit to her for writing these wonderful lines.
With difficulty, I managed to keep thoughts about Eric from my mind as I finished the new waitress schedule. I smiled at it. Happily, I would have to work only one more double that week—if Amelia agreed to the two evening shifts I’d put her down for. And I’d even given myself Monday off, though I’d have to come in before opening in order to do the books from the day before. There was no way I could do them Sunday night after my double!
Glancing at the clock, I noticed that it was 11:15 a.m.; that meant that the lunch rush would begin soon. I put my useless red phone into my purse so that I wouldn’t forget it on Sam’s desk as I’d done the night before and then put my hair up into a ponytail before grabbing my waitress apron. After giving myself a lecture to keep my exhaustion to myself so that I could get some much-needed tips, I mustered my smile and hurried into the dining room where Holly was just about to get overwhelmed.
She gave me a grateful look as I went to see to the customers who’d just sat in my section. After putting in their food order to Terry, I began pouring drinks for both my table and for a couple of Holly’s, which she’d not gotten around to doing yet. As I was putting hers on a tray, the restaurant phone rang.
“Merlotte’s Bar and Grill,” I answered, as Holly gave me a thankful grin and bustled off with the drink orders for her tables.
“Sook,” Amelia greeted brightly.
“Hey Ames,” I returned, hoping that she was calling to confirm the evening shifts I’d asked her to do on her voicemail. If not, my one double would turn into more.
“Um—Octavia called and wondered if I—or, um, either of us—would have time to drive her to Wal-Mart today,” Amelia said somewhat apologetically. She knew how busy I’d been; in fact—truth be told—I was a little frustrated at her for asking.
I sighed as I watched Holly seat more people in my section. “I don’t think I will, Ames,” I responded. I felt bad that Octavia was in my house without a car and that she’d lost most of her worldly possessions during Hurricane Katrina. But all I wanted was to sink into a bed when I got home. “Maybe you could do it during your lunch hour?” I asked. Amelia had recently started working some dayshifts for an insurance agency since the regular receptionist was out on maternity leave.
“Um—I was hoping to meet up with Tray for lunch. Since he’s gonna be working so many nightshifts there,” she added with a hint of blame in her tone, “our time together is gonna be limited. Uh—what time do you get off work? Maybe you could take Octavia then?”
I almost gave in, but my nerves were already fried. “Not till at least 5:00 p.m.,” I said. “And then, honestly, I’m not in any mood to do anything but rest my feet.”
“Uh—do you have tomorrow off?” she asked.
“I won’t have a day off till Monday,” I returned calmly, though I was beginning to get a little pissed off that Amelia was pushing.
Amelia sighed with disappointment, obviously having expected me to give in. If I’d not been torn from my sleep that morning and just begun my fourth shift in a row, I might have.
Proving that a bad day could get worse, Bobby Burnham strode into Merlotte’s, looking around like the very air would soil his impeccable suit.
“Shit,” I muttered.
“What is it?” Amelia asked.
“Look, Ames. I gotta go. Sorry about Octavia, but my plate’s already full. I have tables filling up, and—to make things even worse—Eric’s day-man just walked in.
“Oh!” Amelia said as if remembering something. “Octavia said that Eric called several times last night and left you messages. And then when he called again after she’d gone to bed, she answered and told him to stop. I think she might have left the phone off the hook after that too,” she added as if tattling on a naughty child.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, still trying to keep calm. “He called that many times?”
“Filled up the answering machine,” according to Octavia. “That’s why she finally picked up when the ringing didn’t stop. It was before either of us got home though,” she added.
I sighed. I’d gotten home at 2:30 a.m. the night before, and Amelia hadn’t been there yet. I’d figured that since she’d picked up Tray from Merlotte’s, they were together for the night.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that my situation was my own doing. Letting Octavia move in had been one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions that I’d not thought fully through before I made the offer. I’d felt bad for her. And now I was going to have to have a “talk” with the older woman. Don’t get me wrong—I understood how annoying getting calls late at night could be, but I still didn’t think it was her right to take my phone off the hook!
I sighed. In some ways, living with Octavia felt as if I was living with Gran again, just without the loving grandmother part. Since she’d moved in, I had felt as if I needed to be as quiet as a church mouse when she went to bed—and that was often by 8:30 p.m. And since she was so “early to bed,” she was “early to rise” too. She was often banging pans around in the kitchen by 5:00 a.m. Heck! I didn’t mind being considerate of others’ needs, but I sort of wanted them to do the same. But now was not the time to think about Octavia.
“Listen, Ames. I really do have to go,” I repeated as Bobby approached the bar, though he was careful not to touch it. I wanted to smack him already.
“Sure, and—uh—I’ll deal with Octavia,” she said, though she sounded a little put-out by it.
“Great! Thanks!” I responded, trying to sound chipper, though I really felt frustrated with Amelia in that moment, especially when I remembered that she’d not confirmed her schedule.
“Miss Stackhouse,” Bobby said with barely disguised distaste.
Because of that, I felt absolutely no need to try to be nice.
I pointed to a chair. “I will be happy to talk to you after my tables are caught up,” I said, gesturing toward my impatient customers. Thankfully, Holly had come around and delivered the drinks for my first table. But now I had four other tables that needed to be tended to.
“And when will that be?” he asked.
“Around 2:00 p.m.,” I smirked, though I was exaggerating a bit.
He sighed. “2:00 p.m. then,” he returned.
“You want lunch?” I asked, ready to thrust a menu into his smug face.
“I will come back at 2:00,” he responded with a little bow and a click of his heels.
His words sounded almost like a threat, though I knew they weren’t meant to be one.
For Bobby, this was “good” behavior.
I shook my head and hurried off to my tables. Between them and the bar, lunch hour moved rapidly, and I felt as if I was always behind. Thankfully, by 1:30 p.m., people weren’t ordering much food, and Terry was able to step away from the kitchen and help me get the bar back in order and the tables bussed. Several loads of dishes later, and I justified a trip to the ladies’ room that I’d needed for more than an hour.
As I washed my hands, I recognized the fatigue in my eyes and the black bags under them. I honestly didn’t know how long I’d be able to cover bartending, waitressing, and managerial duties. I sighed loudly, contemplating using Sam’s absence to call Eric and ask him for help. Of course, the last time I’d done that, Charles Twining had been introduced into my life. And I lost a kitchen and almost my life out of that acquaintance!
“Actually, you do know how long you can do this,” I said, trying to instill confidence into my own voice as I looked at the haggard face in the mirror, “until Sam gets back.” I gave myself a nod of resolution as I dried my hands.
When I stepped out of the restroom, it was only to be greeted by Bobby.
Suddenly, the fact that Eric had left me multiple messages the night before was forefront on my mind, and my anxiety level skyrocketed.
“Is there a place where we can speak privately?” he asked.
I sighed with both weariness and wariness, but nodded and led him to Sam’s office.
I gestured toward the chair in front of the desk, but I didn’t wait for him to sit before taking Sam’s chair. Gran would have given me “her look” for that act of rudeness, but I needed to get off my feet—and quickly.
“Miss Stackhouse,” Bobby said, laying the courtliness on thick. “My master asks that you come to Fangtasia tonight for a sit-down with the new king’s lieutenant.”
“Fuck!” is the word I thought in my head. But I didn’t say it. It had been months since I’d last seen Eric. Thus, it shouldn’t have surprised me that I was getting a summons rather than an invitation to speak privately with Eric about our “issues.” And, as the air seemed to disappear from the room for a moment, I realized that a part of me had been excited that he’d called, excited that he wanted to see me. It turned out that it was business.
I pushed my disappointment to the side—just as I’d been doing for months.
A few times, during the week or so after the takeover, I’d actually imagined that Eric would invite me out for a date—like I’d initially thought he’d done the night he took me to meet Niall. I even mentally picked out what I would wear—a simple, but elegant black dress that Tara had put aside for me until it went on sale at her store. Having given up, I’d finally worn the dress in December when Amelia had talked me into a girls’ night out with Claudine.
I know that it was my disappointment over being summoned—by Bobby of all people—that made me bite out at him.
“You ever hear of a phone?” I asked—and not very kindly either.
“He left you messages last night—” Bobby informed, “several. He told me to talk to you today, without fail. I’m just following orders.”
I huffed even though I knew I had no right to be angry at Bobby—for once. In truth, given my full answering machine, my frustrating/frustrated roommate, and my uncharged phone, Eric would have had a very difficult time getting ahold of me the night before. I wondered briefly why he’d not just called the bar, but then I realized that he might have been thinking about privacy. That thought made me even more nervous.
Bobby went on. “He said, ‘Track her down, deliver the message in person, and be polite.’ Here I am. Being polite.”
He was telling me the truth, and it was just killing him. That was almost enough to make me smile.
But “almost” only ever worked with horseshoes and hand-grenades.
The truth was that Bobby hated having to be nice to me. He thought me little better than trailer trash. And he definitely found me unworthy of his master’s attentions.
With quick, efficient movements, he took two items from his briefcase: a velvet bag and a thick letter.
I stared at the items as if they were rattlesnakes.
“He said 7:00 p.m. would be perfect,” Bobby informed, closing his briefcase and getting up.
“Perfect for what?”
“My master did not elaborate.”
“What are these?” I asked, gesturing toward the items.
“I didn’t asked,” Bobby said as he left Sam’s office.
Staring at the items Eric had sent, I waited for Bobby’s mental signature to be out of the range of my telepathy.
And then I stared a little longer, though I couldn’t bring myself to touch either item.
After a few minutes, I admitted to being a coward and went to check on Holly—actively trying not to think about the items that had been delivered as I prepped the bar for the night and then helped Terry get the kitchen ready for D’Eriq.
Of course, my attempts not to think about them were in vain.
Would the note be a Dear John letter?
And what of the item in the velvet bundle?
Bill had once tried to pension me off. Would the bag contain some kind of vampire version of a parting gift? A cheap gold watch for past telepathic services rendered?
Or maybe there was nothing to fear at all! Maybe the envelope contained a more official version of my work agreement with Eric, and—by extension—Felipe de Castro. It would be just like Eric to have things put down in black and white. I could imagine a clause limiting the time commitment I was willing to make. Hell—knowing Eric—he would work health insurance and a life insurance plan, given my history. He was a practical vampire, after all.
In this case, maybe the bundle just held a “welcome officially to the Nevada team” gift. I found myself wondering what the vampire equivalent to a plant would be.
Or maybe there was a fountain pen in the bundle—something that I could use to sign the contract in blood?
As I continued trying not to wonder what was in the Bobby’s deliveries, my nervousness turned to anger.
How dare Eric? How dare he steal away my evening—an evening that I really wanted to be full of a comforting soup, a long bath, a good book, and an early bedtime.
How dare he take away my first free evening in days with his summons!?
By 3:15 p.m., my nervousness and anger had morphed into rebellion. Screw Eric and his letter and his package! Screw his summons!
I resolved not to go to Fangtasia at all and began to help Holly with the prep work at the waitress station.
“Sook,” Holly said gently when I accidentally sliced my finger, ruining a batch of lemons, “why don’t you go ahead and take off for the day.”
“Huh?” I asked, even as I brought the little wound up to my mouth, thankful that it would have time to scab over before my meeting with the vampires—not that I was going, I reminded myself.
“Clearly, you are stressed out about something,” Holly said compassionately.
“What? No I’m not!” I insisted.
She chuckled warmly. “Ever since uptight, fancy-suit guy left, you have been buzzing around this place like a bee on crack! You’ve been stocking and chopping like it’s an Olympic sport.”
I had to laugh at her descriptions. I always had been one to work and clean when I was stressed out. Of course, I had also always been one to put off dealing with things—like the two things on Sam’s desk.
“Why don’t you take off for the day, Sook,” Holly suggested again.
“Oh—I couldn’t,” I said guiltily.
She waved me off. “What will staying till 5:00 p.m. really get you? You know that Tanya will pick things up real quick since she used to work shifts here. And Danielle’s a good waitress too. Meanwhile, Terry and I won’t have any problems at all covering things till the next shift gets here—right Terry?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Not a problem!” Terry responded loudly from the kitchen.
I sighed. Generally—given how tired I was—I wouldn’t have hesitated in taking her up on the offer, and I knew that Terry and Holly could handle the afternoon traffic easily. Plus, I trusted both of them.
However, if I went home now, then potential problems with Octavia and Amelia would arise. After all, I’d told Amelia that I would have no time for Octavia’s Wal-Mart trip this afternoon, and if I got home before 4:00 p.m., then the older woman would think I’d been lying. And she would likely mention it to Amelia, who would likely be mad that she’d had to skip her lunch with Tray for “no good reason.”
I sighed again, wondering when my house had become a place to be avoided.
I did like having roommates—in a way. And it was better than the alternative. After Gran had died, I’d spent a lot of lonely nights there—too trapped in my own thoughts and regrets to get any real peace.
With the exception of a single, beautiful week more than a year before.
Undeniably, Amelia was fun, and we’d become fast friends. Still, it was often tiring being around her. And then I’d felt obligated to let her mentor move in. With yet another tired sigh, I realized that I’d been spending more time in my room lately—even avoiding the “public areas” of my house at times because I missed the quiet.
Apparently—when it came to having roommates—I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.
It was then that an image popped into my head. After I’d learned to drive, I’d found a pretty pond on the property caddy-corner to Gran’s, and—if anyone owned the land—they’d never bothered to go there. There was a rough road leading to the pond. Teens sometimes went there to swim in the summer—or to make-out on warm nights. But in January, in the afternoon/early evening, I figured it would be the perfect place to hide out and read Eric’s letter.
To be honest, I was reticent about reading it either at work or at home. My gut was telling me that the words in it were private. And my heart was telling me that it was likely about to be broken. Who wouldn’t prefer to be alone when something like that happened?
“Thanks, Holly. Thanks, Terry!” I said, hoping that they heard the appreciation in my voice. “I think I’ll take you up on that offer!”
Holly gave me a little smile.
After I put a Band-Aid on my cut and gathered up my things, including the bundle and the letter, I made my way to the pond.
As I thought it would be, the place was deserted. I quickly got out of the car to retrieve the quilt in my trunk so that I wouldn’t get too cold with the car—and its heater—shut off. I dropped my shields and stretched out my telepathy as far as I could.
I sighed with sweet relief. Nothing.
I would be able to leave my shields completely down, resting them.
It was a rare treat for me nowadays.
After draping the quilt over my legs, I took the items Bobby had delivered out of my purse. Then, I put both on the car seat next to me.
Fearing the letter more, I opened the bundle first and gasped as I took out the same ancient-looking knife that Eric had used to cut his flesh in Rhodes—the same knife that had enabled me to drink from his chest so that he and I could maintain a little privacy from Andre when we exchanged blood.
I shivered at the implications of the item in my hands. Was Victor, like Andre, demanding that Eric and I exchange in front of him?
Taking a deep breath, I put the dagger down and bit the proverbial bullet—which I’d also done in a literal way a time or two.
I opened the envelope carefully since the paper that it was made of seemed too fancy to tear. The sheets inside the envelope were made of the same thick parchment.
Carefully, I opened the pages—though my eyes closed for a few moments.
What was that prayer that Andy Bellefleur always said to himself when he’d been attending his A.A. meetings regularly? If I remembered correctly, it was called the Serenity prayer. I’d never been much of a drinker, but it struck me that the prayer was perfect for the occasion, so I said it aloud, hoping that voicing it would give it just a little more power.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
After I was done praying, I opened my eyes and began reading.