FEBRUARY 5, 2005 (ONE MONTH AFTER THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER)
I’d worked the lunch shift at Merlotte’s, and I was on my way home; it was 3:30 p.m. It was a sunny day and unseasonably warm for early February. The warmth made me long for spring and sun bathing.
“I’m sure that Eric will love me smelling like the sun all the time!” I said to myself.
Despite Sam’s vocal and loud internal disapproval of my actions—something that really made me question our friendship—he had agreed to give me only lunch shifts beginning the second week of January. As the most senior waitress at Merlotte’s—other than Arlene, who had gotten to pick her shifts for years, I might add—I’d figured that I should have the right to choose mine as well.
Sam wasn’t happy about my choices, but the other waitresses weren’t sad at all about my picks! Holly, who’d come out of the Witch War unscathed—but heavily glamoured—was especially glad to be able to get more of the “prime” shifts that I’d needed to take in the past.
Truth be told—the lunch shift was preferable to me—for a variety of reasons. First, working during the days allowed me to have more time with Eric. That’s why Sam was upset. But there was another reason, and this was that one that Eric had focused on as we’d discussed my choice.
Other than the fact that the tips weren’t as good, lunch shifts had always been my favorites. Merlotte’s tended to be quieter. Oh—there were still ugly thoughts to endure, but they were fewer and farther between. The tables filled more slowly and then tapered off in the afternoons. My own shields could build and then relax with the crowd. Thus, I could keep up my practice with my shields without coming home with a headache.
It was nice.
Of course, I would never have been able to take just lunch shifts if it weren’t for Eric. I smiled when I thought about my husband.
I looked down at the relatively plain, but beautiful wedding band on my finger. It was white gold, but etched with runes from Eric’s human time. The runes conveyed Eric’s vows to me: to love me, to honor me above all others, and to take care of me.
Eric had, funnily enough, gotten work on Alcide’s construction crew. Basically, his job was to do any demolition work—whether it was ripping out a set of cabinets that needed to be replaced or gutting an entire house that had been damaged by mold. Alcide paid Eric by the task—not by the hour.
And, let me tell you, Eric quickly finished tasks! He was already thinking about starting his own demolition company, though he would still work for Alcide on a freelance basis and at the same rate.
I still found it weird to see that Alcide and Eric were friendly, but that’s exactly what they were.
Of course, I hadn’t seen them together that much, but Eric talked about his “boss” in a warm manner. And the novelty—and oddness—of the situation had apparently worn off for Alcide, too. His employee was Eric, not the Sheriff.
Given the fact that the Were had gotten back together with Debbie Pelt—who’d even fought beside him during the Witch War—I didn’t socialize with Alcide beyond a wave hello the few times I’d dropped Eric off at a site. I had seen enough to know that Alcide and my husband shook hands each time they greeted each other. It wasn’t a “normal” handshake, however. I figured it belonged to either the Viking culture or the Were one. It didn’t really matter which.
I truly did hope that things worked out for Alcide, and—if he wanted to be with Debbie—then so be it.
Luckily, I hadn’t seen her. And, hopefully, my being married to Eric would keep her crazy brand of jealousy well under wraps.
I smiled again as I glanced at my ring.
After the Witch War, it had taken Eric only a few days to decide upon a job he could do. And then he’d contacted the person that he wanted to do that job for. My Eric, it turned out, was just as convincing as that other one, though in a different way.
Mine presented his arguments with the logic of his counterpart, but with none of the threats.
Nonetheless, Alcide had hired him.
After a week of working, Eric had gone to see Jason—without my knowledge—and had asked for “my family’s permission to wed” me.
Those had been Eric’s exact words, according to Jason.
My brother had apparently been too flabbergasted to speak as Eric listed his attributes and made promises to care for my wellbeing. Jason did have the good sense to turn down the bride-price that Eric had offered to pay for my hand. And—thank God—he’d also had the cultural awareness enough to know that Eric didn’t intend his offer as him buying me.
Sometimes Jason was smarter than he looked. Or maybe he was too dumb to think about how a bride price might have appeared to some.
Regardless of his reasons, Jason gave his blessing. Neither my husband nor my brother gave me too many details about their meeting, but I do know that Jason hadn’t been glamoured, and I took that as a good sign that things had gone well.
Later that very night, Eric had gotten down on one knee and had presented me with the ring I now wore, as well as plane tickets to Vermont. We eloped the next weekend—after I’d gotten Pam’s blessing, too.
She was much less of an enigma to me now than she’d been before.
And she’d become an ally to me—and to the “new” Eric. I just hadn’t known why at first.
The night after the Witch War, Pam had come by the house to give Eric and me a “report.” The witches had been “subdued”—which I figured really meant killed and/or tortured.
The spell that Hallow—a.k.a. Marnie Stonebrook—had used on Eric and its “cure” had been “extracted” from the Were-witch and had been “confirmed” by her brother, Mark Stonebrook.
Eric and I had been told that the spell could be broken at any time, and when Eric told Pam to lock away that information, the vampiress had nodded and left—only to meet me at Merlotte’s the very next night, the night of my last night shift at the bar.
I sighed as I remembered that meeting.
FLASHBACK: JANUARY 7, 2005 (TWO NIGHTS AFTER THE WITCH WAR)
“Hello, Sookie,” Pam purred out of the darkness as I made my way to my car.
“Eric was supposed to meet me here,” I said by way of greeting.
It was my last night shift at Merlotte’s, and Eric was quite protective.
“I stopped by the house on my way here—to deliver some of Eric’s clothing. And other incidentals,” she said offhandedly. “I asked if I might escort you home tonight and convinced him that we needed some ‘girl-talk.'”
“Girl-talk?” I asked.
“Yes. Eric thinks it’s something we do all the time,” Pam smirked. “It is good—in many ways—that he doesn’t remember everything.”
The way that she’d said “many” made me cringe.
“Get in,” Pam said, gesturing to the driver’s side, though she seemed to hate the idea of riding in my vehicle. “Or I can drive if you want,” she added with an evil grin.
“No thanks,” I responded.
She shrugged and waited for me to get in and unlock the passenger door for her.
Once we were on our way to Gran’s house—or my and Eric’s house now—Pam didn’t pull any punches.
“I’m letting Eric stay as he is because I love him and he is happier now,” she opened.
“Uh—huh? Uh?” I asked, with decided unintelligence.
“Since I’ve known him, Eric has had times of what could be called happiness. And he does have a certain joie de vivre. But, every night—before he was supposedly cursed by Hallow—he had to work very hard to conceal and suppress all of the many things that have hurt him. Every. Single. Night.”
“Things?” I asked with trepidation, having to concentrate to keep on the road.
“Eric’s maker introduced him to a kind of hell that I cannot imagine,” Pam answered bluntly.
At these words, I did pull over.
“I knew I should have driven,” she stated flatly.
“Just tell me, Pam,” I ordered.
Her eyebrow rose.
“Please,” I added.
She nodded, but looked sad as she began. “Appius Livius Ocella saw Eric—in all of his human glory—and he couldn’t resist turning him. Ocella made Eric to be his plaything. Heterosexual to the core, Eric was raped night after night—from what I’ve been able to infer from his vague and enigmatic comments over the years. So his virgin body experienced pain each time Ocella took it, for it would heal each time. But one can get used to physical pain. It doesn’t lessen, but one can steel himself to it.”
Pam paused, but didn’t bother to even “seem” as if she were taking a breath. “As you can imagine, a being such as Eric can never become accustomed to the idea of losing his ability to choose.”
“Oh God!” I gasped in horror as Pam’s words sunk in. I closed my eyes tightly.
“My sister, Karin, has implied that Appius found other ways to take the spirit of the Viking as well—though Eric has been trying to rebuild that spirit since his maker let him go.”
“Eric’s first child,” Pam explained. “Eric put me into contact with her about a hundred years ago, but he and she remain estranged. I know only that the estrangement has something to do with Appius.”
“Eric has another child?”
“He is a thousand years old,” Pam stated as if that answered my question. “What is important is that she knows more—saw more—though she, too, talks in riddles.” Pam rolled her eyes. “Karin did tell me that Ocella doesn’t allow even Eric to call him by his first name and that Ocella,” she paused, “liked him on his knees.”
I let out a sob.
“Do try not to cry. He will smell it on you,” Pam chastised.
I nodded and did my best to suppress my tears.
“I cannot be sure, but I think that Eric was forced by Ocella to turn Karin and that it was most decidedly against her will. I think that Eric was forced to do other things that were against her will too. And I believe that is what finally broke him,” Pam sighed. “But I have no confirmation of any of this—just intuition.”
I couldn’t hold in my tears anymore.
“I knew it,” Pam said with longsuffering as she pulled out tissues—seemingly from her bra.
“Sorry,” I sniffled.
Pam shook her head, but went on. “Once he was broken, Eric held no more fascination for Ocella. He was a finished project—a perfect creation in that bastard’s eyes. The only good thing about that was that Eric became tedious to Ocella, and—though he has never released Eric as a maker should release a child as old as my master—Ocella sent him from his sight and took up other pursuits. I firmly believe that Eric keeps himself in a simple, boring portion of the world because he fears Ocella would want him back, otherwise.” The vampiress paused. “Even in his businesses, Eric has never chosen what he preferred most, though he does have a way of making anything work. I think that he fears Ocella will sweep in and take anything good away. He even keeps even me at arm’s length—to a certain extent. And I think that his fear of Ocella somehow harming you is why he fought against his feelings for you for so long.”
“Feelings? For me?” I asked.
Pam snorted. “Dumb blonde, indeed,” she chided under her breath. “He has wanted you from the start and cared about your wellbeing since you cared about his.”
“I warned him about the undercover cop,” I said with realization.
“Yes—since then,” Pam confirmed. “Why else would he have protected you from Long Shadow—when the fall-out from that was so damned substantial?”
“Huh?” I asked, again not being able to ask a question properly.
Pam sighed as if I should already know the answer. “The payment to Long Shadow’s maker alone was astronomical, not to mention the fines for protecting a human at the expense of a vampire. Hell! The Supernatural Council threatened to put him in a silver coffin for a hundred years! It was only telling them that you were no ordinary human that got him out of that. Of course, he told only the six current Council members and demanded their secrecy!”
“Foolish woman! Why else do you think you got roped into helping King Stan of Texas?”
“Stan’s on the Council!” Pam said as if she were speaking commonsense and not Vampirese! “You don’t think that Eric would have put you into that situation unless he had no other choice—do you?” She shook her head. “Anyway, that’s not why I came to speak with you. I came to tell you that Ocella wounded Eric beyond repair, but now Eric’s not wounded anymore. I also came to tell you what Hallow’s curse truly entailed.”
“What?” I asked, though I was afraid to.
“That Eric would find his heart’s desire only to lose it and then be slowly driven insane by the loss, for the spell will cause him to despise what he loves most,” she said flatly. “He will be literally torn in two.”
Pam continued. “Hallow didn’t, of course, know specifically where the initial spell would take him, but she did know that it would take Eric to the thing that would make him most happy. But—ironically—it was when she went to lift the initial spell that the curse would have truly set in.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, tears still in my eyes.
“Hallow always intended to lift the curse. Lifting it is actually quite easy. Just a few words chanted by a witch—even a weak one—when Eric is within fifty miles will do the trick. Eric will get his memories back—all except the ones related to his heart’s content. Those will be taken from him, though he will be cursed to feel as if there is something missing. He will be compelled to despise that something, thereby slowly going insane. A truly horrible curse,” Pam explained, almost as if she admired it.
“He’d forget me? Hate me?” I asked with horror. “He’d be destroyed by not remembering?”
“Eventually—yes,” Pam said matter-of-factly. But, like I said, he’d forget just the time that has occurred since the initial spell was cast. He’d get everything else back: all the pain and the suffering. And the good things too,” Pam commented, “like me. But he’d lose the life that would make him happiest—the one that is making his heart content, and he’d be cursed to feel the pain of that loss all the days of his remaining existence. On top of everything that he’s already gone through.”
I cried again.
“Sookie, the part of the spell Eric is stuck in is his ‘best life’—his ideal life,” Pam summed up. “I won’t take that from him and will endeavor to protect it.”
“Oh God, Pam. What do I do?” I asked.
“Protect that life even more fiercely than I will,” she said resolutely. “I think it will be a good life for you, too.”
“He’s already said that he will take back his old memories once I die,” I whispered.
Pam nodded. “That will, hopefully, be many years away. And—after that—maybe I can tell him about you after the ‘true’ curse takes effect. Feeling the loss of his memories might not be as bad as feeling the loss of you—by that time. Plus, I am already trying to find ways to counteract Hallow’s work.”
She paused as uncertainty entered her eyes; I’d never seen that look from her before.
“I don’t know,” she shook her head, sadly. “Maybe it will become worse for him with time, but,” she straightened her back, “I would rather he get the happiness he can—wouldn’t you? And you could always choose to become vampire—to prevent him from ever losing you.”
“Pam, I . . . ,” I started.
“Shhh,” she sounded. “Don’t think about that now. That thought is for a future night. Plus, you know Eric would want you to make the right choice for you. So make that one. Anything else would make him more miserable.”
I nodded. And then I had a horrible thought. “Can Ocella feel Eric?”
“Only that he’s alive. According to my Eric, Ocella keeps tabs on him, but only in a cursory way. Most of the time, their bond is closed on Ocella’s end. Also, the rat bastard’s on the other side of the planet in Vietnam right now. Thank God! And—as long as he stays there—he won’t be able to feel that Eric is finally happy.”
I sighed with relief.
“Eric told me once that Ocella checked in on his general state of being only once every half a century or so, and the last time was just four years ago,” Pam shared. “I say we don’t worry about the next check-in until it’s time to.”
I nodded, though my heart still held some dread. Forty-six years was a long time. But I now felt a different kind of ticking time bomb in my mind than there had been before. I no longer feared Eric’s leaving me—not after what Pam had said—but I did fear Ocella returning.
“You make him happy,” Pam said, pulling me from my fear-filled thoughts. “A fundamental part of himself knew you would, but Eric resisted that because of,” she paused, “what had happened to him long ago. Just continue as you are—okay? But stop with the guilt you feel. Stop the worry that you are taking something from him. He mentioned those things to me last night and tonight. He worries for you, and his worries may cause him to leave this life,” the vampiress sighed. “And if he orders me to undo Hallow’s ‘curse’ and thereby induce the ‘real’ fucking curse, I will have to. Just let yourself be happy with him, Sookie.”
I sobbed again.
“You are his heart’s desire. Know that,” the vampiress soothed, even as she prompted me to get out of the car so that we could change places and she could drive us the rest of the way.
When we got home, I explained my tears to Eric by saying that “girl-talk” was always emotional. I hadn’t been lying.
A/N: Thanks so much for everyone who has already commented on / favorited / or followed this piece!
P.S. Once again, I’d like to thank Seph for the amazing story banner. I love this one–so pretty!