MARCH 28, 2005, TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE PREVIOUS SCENE
I was “functional.”
I went to work when I was scheduled to do so.
I took orders for food and drinks and served them to customers who thought I looked like shit, but stopped just short of saying aloud that they’d known “all along” that the vampire would leave me.
Of course, that didn’t stop their thoughts.
The cattier of the women—those who’d seen Eric and coveted him—were not surprised in the least that he’d moved on. Vampires, after all, weren’t known for fidelity. The women’s thoughts included their own fantasies involving my husband. And they also included uncharitable thoughts about me. They thought about every flaw they perceived in me—every one of them a reason why someone like Eric would never want someone like me. And I got to hear them all.
Often in stereo—since catty women tended to be pack animals.
But those thoughts were better than the ones from the religious “right.” They viewed me as forever “tainted.” They celebrated in my obvious pain; in fact, they thought I deserved worse than I was getting. Many had wanted for me to be found “drained on the side of the road” just so their point about vampires might be proven.
Most of them still held out hope that that would happen.
Arlene somehow managed to mix these two mindsets into one, even as she vocally tried to reassure me by saying things like “Ah, honey. Don’t you worry none. You’re better off without that Vamper.”
Of course, even as she’d been comforting me, her mind had been screaming that I was a “vamp tramp.” I think it was safe to say that Arlene and my friendship had run its course.
Holly, being a part of the supernatural world herself, had “nicer” thoughts. Of course, she’d also thought that it’d be just a matter of time before my “fake world with fake Eric” came crashing down. But at least she felt bad for my loss.
Sam’s thoughts were, in a lot of ways, the hardest to bear. He’d not come right out and said, “I told you so,” but he’d certainly thought it enough. He also wondered when it would be the right time to “step in” and ask me out; he didn’t want to have to compete with Bill if that “bloodsucker” asked first, however. Plus, Sam worried that yet another vamp might come out of the woodwork; he speculated that I’d take up with just about anyone with fangs.
Disappointingly, none of Sam’s thoughts about me had included a thought for me. He had never felt bad that I’d lost a husband. Hell—he’d never even recognized that I was married. In fact, he’d thought of my whole marriage to Eric as just a way that the vampires had manipulated me—as if I couldn’t make up my own mind about whom I chose.
I knew damned well whom I wasn’t going to choose at any point in the future! Sam Merlotte!
In fact, I’d come to a decision. I didn’t need to deal with the shit I’d been dealing with for all my life from the people of Bon Temps! I was tired of being kind to them—only to be met by their hurtful thoughts. Oh—there were a handful of people that had come through for me. Hoyt Fortenberry had never thought unkindly about me, though he sometimes had a hard time not thinking about his mother’s uncharitable thoughts. But that was only because he was thinking about how he disagreed with her.
And Tara had been great. She’d tried to cheer me up more than once, even as she’d had truly compassionate thoughts regarding my situation. And Jason, too, had come through for me—though he’d wanted to “stake” Eric at first for not fulfilling his promise to “take care of me.”
But then I’d explained the situation to Jason, though I’d not told him everything. After that, he’d been understanding and kind, even bringing groceries over a couple of times—without expecting me to use them to cook for him. I’d dipped into his thoughts the first time he’d done that—to make sure that he wasn’t craving a home-cooked meal. He was, but he didn’t have any desire for me to make him one; in fact, he’d insisted upon making me a meal that night. Of course, he didn’t know how to do much more than warm things up. But I appreciated the frozen lasagna just the same. Apparently, during his talk with Eric, my Viking had told him how men had once taken care of their female kin.
Eric’s words had shamed Jason to a certain extent. And they’d changed him—for the better. Jason had vowed to be a better brother to me—just as I’d always tried to be a good sister.
Somehow, I’d managed to hold in my tears until after Jason had left.
However, beyond Hoyt, Tara, and Jason, no one in town supported me. No one in town had even felt bad that my husband had left me. Secretly, in the depths of their minds, they were all glad for their various reasons!
They celebrated my pain.
Thus, I was done serving them. I didn’t have to anymore. The way I looked at it, both Erics had made sure that I could be happier in this life—and I’d decided to honor them.
“Sam, you got a sec?” I asked after I’d handed off my section to Holly.
“Sure, cher,” he said brightly.
I cringed a little at his endearment for me. It no longer seemed sincere, especially since his thoughts were very clear to me as he placed a hand on the small of my back and “guided” me to his office.
If I hadn’t been busy listening to his thoughts, I would have swatted that hand away and then slapped his face.
Sam hoped that I was going to “apologize” to him for being down in the dumps lately. He expected that I was going to tell him that I’d be back to my old self soon. I suppose I couldn’t blame him. I’d told him something similar after Gran’s death had annihilated me and then again after Bill and I had broken up. It was to Sam’s discredit that he’d accepted my apologies—both times—instead of telling me that I hadn’t needed to make them. I shook my head. I supposed that I had always apologized for showing my true feelings, but I was done with that.
“What do you need, cher?” he asked as we both sat down—him in his office chair behind his desk and me in the folding chair in front of it.
“I’m putting in my notice,” I said firmly. “I’ll work my shifts for two more weeks if you need, but—if you can find people willing to take them—I’d appreciate it.”
Clearly, Sam hadn’t been expecting that.
“What? But, cher, what are you going to do?” he stammered. “Don’t tell me that you are gonna work for the vamps again!” he added a little angrily.
“No, Sam,” I said, keeping calm. “I’m going to start school in the summer. I was gonna try to hold out and keep this job until then, but I can’t deal with people’s thoughts about me anymore.”
“Come on,” he said softly, trying to coax me into reconsidering. “You know how the gossip mills work around here. The talk about Eric—uh—leavin’—uh—will be replaced by the next scandal soon enough.”
“Gossip isn’t why I’m leaving, Sam. People’s thoughts have been downright cruel, and I’m tired of trying to put on a smile and be accepted by them.”
“Cher, you have to ignore the ignorant people in this town,” Sam said almost paternally.
“Then I’ll be needing to ignore you too, Sam Merlotte,” I said, my back straight. “Your thoughts are the most hurtful of all because I truly thought you cared about me once upon a time. But you don’t. You judge me—as both naïve and as wrong in all my choices. You weren’t—not even for a second—sorry for me when you learned that my husband had left me. In fact, you were glad about that, though you pretended that you felt bad for me. If I weren’t a telepath, I might have even believed you. But I am a telepath. And because of Eric, I have started to accept that part of myself as being beneficial. That’s why I can say definitively that it’s not Eric who’s the problem. It’s you—and most of the other people in this town—that don’t accept me.”
“Cher, you know that’s not true,” Sam tried.
“What’s not true? That you judge my decisions and me? That you were glad my marriage broke up because you see us together in the future?”
He seemed to be fumbling for an answer, so I helped him out. “Sam, here’s the truth. You didn’t pursue me until others did—vampire others. Have you ever considered that?”
“Sookie, I . . . .”
I interrupted. “And you certainly never told me the truth about yourself until you were forced.”
“Sookie, I’m sorry,” he said, sounding sincere. In fact, I knew that he was sorry. But he was also trying to figure out how to get me to forgive him and to overlook any mistakes he’d made.
I sighed. Strike two—for him.
“I know you are sorry,” I said softly. “And I hope that we can part as friends.” I sighed. “But it’s gonna take me a while to trust you again.”
I stood up.
“Wait just a minute there!” Sam said, standing up too. “You can trust vamps, but not me? Cher, that’s just fucked up.”
Strike three. Sam was out.
“I don’t trust all vampires. And even if I did, it wouldn’t matter in this situation.” I shook my head. “That picture you have in your thoughts—the one with us together in the future? That woman’s not me! It never was.”
“Being around them has changed you,” Sam fumed. “I knew they’d bring nothing but unhappiness to you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” I said shaking my head again. “Eric brought me more happiness that I’ve ever had!”
“And then he left!” Sam yelled cruelly, trying to drive in his point.
Point driven. If he’d not already struck out in the friendship department, he would have then.
“Yes he did,” I said to Sam, trying to keep my voice steady. “But you never bothered to ask why. You never bothered to offer me the shoulder of a true friend to cry on. You offered judgment. And you offered yourself congratulations.” I moved to get my purse. “I think staying friends is impossible at this point. Don’t you?”
“But, cher, I could make you happy,” Sam said.
Almost at the door, I spun around on my heels. I’m sure the incredulous look on my face spoke volumes. “No, Sam. You couldn’t.” I took a breath and calmed down, trying to remember that—many years before—Sam had hired me when very few in Bon Temps would have considered it. “I’ll still work my normal shifts for the next two weeks—if you can’t find anyone that wants them—but I’ll quit on the spot if you say anything to me outside of work-talk.”
“What are you going to do for money?” he asked bitterly.
A part of me wanted to yell out that my finances were none of his damned business. But I didn’t. Another part simply wanted to walk away without a word and slam the door off of its fucking hinges. But I didn’t.
I was a fucking lady!
And I was Eric’s wife!
So I looked Sam square in the eyes and told him the truth. “My husband has provided for me.”
With those words, I left.
By the time I got home, a message had been left for me on the machine. An angry sounding Sam said he wouldn’t be needing me for my shifts. I was more than fine with that.
Part of me had known what Sam’s reaction would be, but I’d hoped—for the sake of the scrap of friendship I’d still wanted with him—that I’d be wrong.
I sighed and quickly showered before doing a little work on my budget. Back in January, Pam had brought a computer with Eric’s other “effects.” The next day, high-speed Internet had been installed. Eric hadn’t known about it—or even what it was. And I hadn’t thought it worthwhile to fight Pam on it.
Together, my husband and I had “learned” to use the online world for our benefit. And—after Eric left—no one had come to pick up the computer, and no one had disconnected the Internet, so I continued to use them.
I looked at the figures on the spreadsheet. I would have to start tapping into the account that my Eric had left for me. I had a fleeting thought that new-old Eric might try to take the money back.
However, I pushed that thought aside. I knew that, as long as Ocella wasn’t involved, Eric would never do something so petty. Regardless, Pam had made sure that only my name was on the account.
I looked at the figures and resolved, once again, to use the money. After all, I’d accepted it from my husband; I’d made promises to him. There was $500,000 in the account. I intended to use it to support me while I took some college classes. Then I’d use it to start a business—maybe even the demolition company that my Eric had been planning. After all, much of the groundwork had already been done for it. And I’d helped with that work.
I smiled. Because of Eric, I knew that I could start and run a successful company, but I wanted at least a little education first. And—who knows—I might change my mind about the work I wanted to do. It was nice to have the option of keeping my options open—for a change.
At 6:00 p.m. on the dot, there was a knock on the door. I rose. I’d been waiting for the visitor.
“Great-granddaughter,” the distinguished-looking fairy greeted as I opened the door.
“Niall,” I returned, the name still sounding foreign to my lips. “It’s nice to meet you. Uh—come in. Please. Can I get you something to drink? Eat?”
“No thank you,” the fairy said, looking around as I led him to the living room.
“You have a lovely home,” he commented.
My breath caught a little as I realized that the space no longer seemed like home. I glanced at the fireplace. I’d had to move the afghan upstairs, though the pictures of my and Eric’s wedding were still on the mantle. I’d been sleeping on the couch—as I couldn’t bring myself to sleep in the bed I’d shared with Eric or in Gran’s old room. Neither one of them felt like they could be mine.
In fact, I’d been contemplating moving.
“You are troubled,” Niall observed.
“Just sad,” I returned, not feeling the need to hide my feelings from the fairy.
“Ah—yes,” Niall said, glancing at the mantle. “You’ve had a difficult time.”
I wanted to yell out that “difficult” didn’t even begin to describe it, but my manners kicked in, and I offered him a seat instead.
He sat on the couch as if the action were somehow novel. I sat in Gran’s old armchair.
“I have news,” he relayed.
“Claudine told me you needed to tell me something,” I responded.
“Did she also tell you that I was anxious to meet you?” he smiled.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“I am sorry I couldn’t meet you before.”
“It’s okay,” I lied. In fact, I was a little mad that I’d had family that I’d never known about. Jason still didn’t know about them, for Claudine had asked that I not tell him.
That was yet another source of guilt for me, but I had reluctantly agreed.
“I have met with the Queen of this state,” Niall said casually, leaning back in his seat.
I leaned forward. “You have?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “And she has graciously offered you her protection—from afar, of course.”
“In exchange for what?” I asked. I was no longer naïve. I knew that things were not freely given in the Supernatural world—not when politics were involved.
Love was another matter.
“For me not killing her and her vampire children,” Niall returned, suddenly looking very much like the predator that Claudine had assured me he could be.
“You are to be left alone by any vampires with whom you do not wish to associate,” Niall continued firmly. “If you are not, I will make sure that the Queen suffers. She has already taken one of my kin from me,” he said as his jaw clenched in anger.
“Hadley?” I asked.
“Yes,” Niall confirmed. “She is vampire now.” He shook his head. “She aimed to betray you again—you know. She was going to call you—to somehow get you to come see her in New Orleans so that the queen could take you while you were there. You must never trust her—never accept anything from her.”
I sighed. “I won’t.”
“There is a child, too.
“A child?” I asked.
“Hadley had a son before her turning. She and Sophie-Anne intended to use the knowledge of him to make you come to them. Will you trust me to take care of him? Will you stand firm and not allow yourself to be manipulated by this information?”
“How did you know what Hadley and the queen were planning?”
He grinned, and I could see his pointed teeth. “I am a very strong telepath,” he conveyed.
I took a breath. I’d heard snippets from vampire minds more than once. It seemed clear that Niall could hear them better, though I didn’t ask him to elaborate.
“The child has the essential spark—like you,” Niall continued. “I have already moved his father and him to somewhere safe, and I have given the child his own version of Claudine.”
I considered for a moment. What could I do for the child except bring unwanted attention his way? “Okay. That’s good,” I said.
Niall nodded, looking pleased with my response.
“What about other vampires—those from other states?” I asked.
“If you are not protected, Sophie-Anne and her kin will be killed. She knows this. Thankfully, I have influence with the Supernatural Council. And there are now other protections in place for you as well,” he said somewhat vaguely. I thought about asking questions, but then I thought better of it.
“Thank you,” I said sincerely.
“I don’t fear vampires harming you as much as I fear those from my own world,” he said wearily. “But I have already taken steps to bar their ability to come to this realm.”
“What steps?” I asked.
“I have closed all portals between the fairy world and this one except for one. That one is available to only me at this time, and I must expend a great deal of magic to pass through it.”
“So everyone else is stuck?” I asked.
“Fairies in this realm—like Claudine—were contacted and offered the choice to return home. Some took it. Some didn’t. I will reassess the situation in a decade or so.”
“Oh. Uh—is the danger to me really that great?”
Niall nodded. “Once it is known in Faerie that I have placed my protection over you, my enemies will guess that we are related. So—yes—it would become much more dangerous for you. But I have, hopefully, ensured that that won’t happen.”
“But your people are no longer free to travel back and forth,” I sighed.
“Most are where they wish to be. And fairies have long lives. So a decade won’t be a lot of time to wait. Like I said, I will reassess the situation then. Perhaps my enemies will be no more. In the meantime, I will keep tabs on you through Claudine, and if the Queen reneges, I will act accordingly,” he added ominously.
I didn’t ask what—specifically—he would do.
“Before I leave, I would like to give you a gift,” Niall smiled.
“A gift?” I asked. “What gift?”
He shrugged. “You decide. I wish to make up for not coming into your life sooner. Tell me—is there anything you desire? If it is in my power to get it, then it is yours.”
“Can you remove Hallow’s spell from Eric?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head sadly. “Claudine told me of the situation. I am afraid that I cannot counteract a witch’s magic.”
I closed my eyes. “Okay then. Can you help me kill someone?”
“Kill?” Niall asked with surprise. “You do not seem like the kind who would wish to kill.”
“I’ve made an exception.”
A/N: Okay—so we flipped back in time. I know that you want to know Ocella’s fate. And I also know that you want to know more about what’s been happening with Eric. There are only two more chapters in this story, and the answers to those questions will be given. And we will get Eric and Sookie interaction, too.