A/N: I thought you might be interested to know that Back and Forth actually started in my head with the scene that you are about to read. This was the first part written too!
Sookie was a smart girl―maybe not book smart in the traditional sense, but she had what Gran had called, “good old-fashioned common sense.” And Sookie had also gained a lot of insight into the way people worked―from the inside out―over the years. She’d learned that her instincts about people often matched the nature of their thoughts, and she’d become excellent at reading what people’s faces meant by tying their expressions to the thoughts they had in their heads. She’d become so proficient at this, in fact, that even when she had her shields up to keep others’ thoughts at bay, she was still good at reading people’s intentions through their faces.
She was also very well-read for someone with her level of education. With books, she got to know people without their thoughts invading her brain. She could form her opinions only from the words on the page, and she liked that aspect of reading most of all. Therefore, she read all the time, not only the fun romance novels and mysteries like Gran had gotten her hooked on, but also histories, biographies, and what some might call ‘academic’ literature. She was just as likely to be found reading Wuthering Heights as she was reading a bodice-ripper.
When some people looked down on her because she was checking out romance novels at the library, she dismissed their elitism. The thoughts of people who posited that she read romances because she was too simple to understand anything more complicated were harder to dismiss and hurt her a bit more. But there was only one time that she truly questioned her reading choices, and that had been when Bill asked her why she didn’t choose something of “substance” to read.
He had come over unexpectedly one evening, and she was sitting on the porch and reading to try to forget some particularly mean thoughts she’d heard from a rowdy bunch of boys who were at Merlotte’s to celebrate one of their 21st birthdays. When she’d tried to explain to Bill that she enjoyed a good story that she didn’t have to think that much about, especially after a hard day at work, he’d given her a smile that could only be described as indulgent or patronizing. And Sookie had put the book down for a whole week before finally deciding that she refused to feel bad about anything she chose to read no matter what anyone―including Bill―thought about it.
In fact, Sookie felt that her reading choices and the diversity therein were actually a sign of her good, old-fashioned common sense. She read the romance novels and mysteries, what some thought of as low literature, in order to unwind and relax her mind when it was over-tired from the demands of her gift. Those stories might not change her life, but they could stretch her imagination, and she had learned from them. The historical romances she liked so much were often set in historically accurate pockets of time, and the mysteries were great for helping her see things in different ways.
On the days when her mind was not strained by her so-called gift, she enjoyed more demanding pieces; like many young women, she loved reading Jane Austen and had read each of her books several times, always returning over and over again to Persuasion, which was about a girl who turned down the man she loved because of her family’s influence, but who got a second chance years later. She also loved Pride and Prejudice, which was about a young woman who formed a quick opinion about a young man―that he was reprehensibly prideful―before she really got to know him. It turned out that much of his behavior and attitude were justifiable and that he was actually just reticent about sharing himself with new people; he was shy. Sookie giggled a bit as she realized that Mr. Darcy, the man from the story, and Eric Northman had more than a few things in common. Then she blushed as she recalled the crush she’d formed as a teen for Mr. Darcy’s character. “Yep, definitely a lot like Eric,” she chuckled to herself.
She also liked to read Shakespeare; her Gran had a big book with all of his plays, and she used to like to speak out the parts when she was growing up and felt isolated due to her telepathy. She’d been reading from that book since she was twelve, and even though she still didn’t get some of the lines, she got more with each new read. Plus, she loved how the language would flow from her lips, even when she didn’t understand everything she was saying.
She also had an extensive vocabulary, both because of her reading and because of her desire to feed what she called her “word muse.” She kept lists of words that she didn’t know from books just so that she could look them up. Tara had thought this was so funny that she started getting Sookie a word of the day calendar when they were in their teens. Sookie thought about Tara for a moment and shook her head, wishing more than anything that her best friend could find peace.
“Hmmm, best friend,” Sookie thought to herself. In that moment she realized that her best friend right then was probably none other than the Sheriff of Area 5―not only the one in her dreams, but also the one who had come to see her the previous evening, first for moral support and then to assure her of his safety. He was the one that held her when she cried, the one that talked to her like an equal, the one that stayed with her until she fell asleep. She shook her head, wondering how the world could become so topsy turvy that Eric Northman―the whole man, not the memory-loss version―would become her closest friend.
Sookie shook herself out of this thought with a smile and resumed her previous train of thought.
She also tried to increase her vocabulary by looking up unknown words that she caught from people’s heads. Just the day before, she’d caught Jesus saying “debacle” in his head, and after she had looked it up, she’d actually laughed out loud. She’d discovered that “debacle” was basically another way to say her new favorite word, “clusterfuck.” Indeed, she sighed, that was what she was in the middle of now, a debacle―a cluster-debacle. She giggled at her new made-up combination.
Before she developed her shields, Sookie had become an excellent student of human behavior; she had had to be in order to survive school without being hauled off in a straightjacket. Sure―the town called her crazy Sookie in their heads or behind her back, but Sookie had learned―by using her common sense―how to survive, despite her telepathy. She’d also learned that even though there were times to shield out the thoughts of those around her, there were also times to use her gift to make sure she wasn’t getting cheated or to check the motives of people she wasn’t sure of.
People might make fun of her old ‘clunker’ car, for example, but it kept running, and she’d picked that car only after she’d picked the brain of the used car salesman, who had been trying to unload several real clunkers onto her. She heard from his thoughts that only one car within her price range was worth anything, but he didn’t want to waste it on some stupid blonde. After that, she hadn’t felt guilty at all to read his thoughts in order to figure out what the lowest price he’d accept for her car was.
Sookie was also very aware that her telepathy had made her more familiar with “the ways of the world,” so to speak. She’d seen some dark things in people’s heads. She knew at ten years old that the minister of her church had cheated on his wife more than once and with more than one woman who was sitting in the congregation that day. She knew that the man who often rang up her groceries was in counseling for anger management problems because he’d hit his fourteen-year-old son in the face. She also knew that he’d hit his wife a few times. She had learned about sex, violence, hatred, bigotry, prejudice, resentment, loneliness, bitterness, and grief from the brains of the people around her―all when she was very young. In all these ways, her telepathy had been a curse.
But she had also gotten to learn about love, tolerance, acceptance, perseverance, courage, and strength from people’s brains. She knew that Mrs. Warren, who owned the beauty salon in town, had marched with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s when she was only sixteen. She’d been one of the only white people to march in the rally she’d attended, and she had faced down questions from not only those she’d gone to fight against, but also some of the people that she was fighting with and for. Sookie had learned about courage and strength from her thoughts one day when her Gran was getting a haircut. So her telepathy was also a gift at times.
By far, the hardest thoughts that she had to face were the ones that people let slip or those that they directed at her. She would never forget her fear and helplessness as she had to listen to her uncle’s thoughts as he touched her inappropriately. But then she’d used her gift to know where he was and what he was thinking so that she could avoid him from then on, at least until she’d found the courage to tell Gran about it.
Over the years, Sookie had had to learn to ignore the thoughts―or at least to try to ignore the thoughts―of the people she loved most in order to keep her sanity intact. She knew that Jason occasionally resented having to stick up for her so much when they were kids and had wanted a “normal” sister at times. But she also knew that most of the time, he thought just the opposite and loved her as she was.
Sookie knew that her mother had preferred Jason and that she felt guilty for loving one child more than the other. Michelle Stackhouse had even blamed her daughter’s telepathy on her own inequitable love for her children, and that blame had led her to drink too much. At times, she’d even hated Sookie because of what she called her mental handicap and wished that they’d stopped at one child. But Sookie also knew that her mom had actively tried to think of things to do for Sookie so that her daughter would feel love from her even if Michelle didn’t feel it herself. The trip to the beach on that winter’s day, for example, had been done with Sookie in mind since she had loved digging in the sand and collecting shells. And looking back, Sookie could see that this was the best her mom could do at the time.
Sookie knew that Tara blamed her for Eggs’s death. But she also knew that Tara didn’t want to blame her and fought hard not to.
She knew that the first boy she’d ever kissed thought she was crazy and that it would be easy to grab her boobs. She knew that the second and third boys she’d ever kissed thought basically the same thing. The last guy she’d kissed before Bill, JB Du Rone, had thought that she was sweet and smart, and he’d genuinely liked her, but as they got into heavy petting on one occasion, his thoughts turned to analyzing her body, and hearing that he thought her thighs were too big and her boobs were too small wasn’t pleasant, especially when he was groping them at the time. So she’d stopped dating anyone after that and had basically given up on love―until Bill, that is.
So, yes, Sookie was a smart girl, but sometime―right after she’d met Bill―she had left her smarts at the door, and if she was being honest with herself, it was even before she took his blood.
She’d been fascinated by his otherness and excited that she couldn’t hear Bill’s thoughts. She was so enamored by his silence that she’d become immediately infatuated by the handsome, dark-haired vampire. And she’d not consulted her good, old-fashioned common sense at all.
If she had, she would not have gone after Bill and the Rattrays by herself. For goodness sakes, Jason was in Merlotte’s at the time, as were Sam and Hoyt and about ten other guys. Even if they didn’t want to help a vampire, they would have certainly helped her! Why had she wanted to go after Bill alone? She wondered if vampire glamour might not have some kind of effect on her after all. Either way, it wasn’t something that good, old-fashioned common sense would have allowed her to do.
Then, the very next day, she agreed to meet a vampire she’d known for 20 minutes all together alone in a dark, secluded parking lot. Even though she’d thought she could trust Bill, she was showing zero common sense. The thought of that shook her a bit. Then, right after that, she’d had his blood, and then the tie was there to possibly twist around her feelings or at least make them stronger.
Again, her common sense should have told her to be cautious, but between the tie, her thirst for companionship with a man, and the fact that she could not hear Bill in her head, her common sense was lost to her for a good, long time.
Now that her head felt clearer and she knew her thoughts were her own, she was anxious to move forward with the help of her good, old-fashioned common sense and her trusty instincts. She shook her head. If there was one thing that the lack of vampire blood in her body had already shown her, it was that she’d been using the blood as an excuse to avoid making her own choices. And she knew that Gran would tan her hide for that.
It wasn’t that she shouldn’t be trusting, Sookie thought. It was that she had to remember―especially when dealing with vampires and others she couldn’t “hear” well―to use her common sense and instincts to evaluate situations and judge people’s characters. Sookie felt especially proud of this resolution. After all, her problems with vampires were her responsibility.
She was also proud of the fact that she’d gone through with severing her blood tie with Bill and her bond with Eric so that she could find her way to the right answers in her life using just her sense and instincts.
For the first time in a very long time, she felt completely confident in herself; she liked the feeling and resolved to keep hold of it no matter what she decided.