Sookie walked out of the front door and saw Alcide where she’d left him on the boys’ porch. The only difference was that there were now several dirty dishes and cups on the table.
“I’m ready to head to my house now, Alcide, but I have to stop by the grocery store first,” she said as she started gathering up the dishes.
Alcide helped her take the dishes to the kitchen. “Sure, Sook. I’ll just follow you to the store and then home. I’ll be stayin’ until Bubba shows up. And I’ll take up position outside since that’s what Northman said you’d want,” he said with an air of frustration.
Sookie responded with a bright Merlotte’s smile, “That’d be great, Alcide.
The Were added, “Anyway, that’s probably better ‘cause I can smell stuff comin’ sooner if I’m outdoors.”
“Okay,” Sookie said, actually quite relieved that Alcide would be outside. “The porch is really a lot nicer now, so we can get you settled there.”
Sookie unlocked her car and threw her tote bag into the backseat. “Oh, and I’ll be stoppin’ at the bank too.”
Alcide waved in understanding as he strode over to his truck and jumped in.
Sookie got into her car. Just as she turned on her ignition, Jesus came out of the house with both bouquets of Sookie’s flowers, their stems now wrapped in moist paper towels. Sookie rolled down her window, thankful for Jesus’s thoughtfulness.
“Thanks, Jesus. I would have missed these,” she said looking at the daisies.
Sookie stopped by the bank first and deposited the check from Pam. That got her a few stares and quite a few negative thoughts from the teller, Marilyn, but Sookie decided to ignore them. After all, just because the teller thought that Sookie had been in the “loony bin” for the last year and that now that she was back, she’d started prostituting herself to vampires―again―didn’t bother Sookie like it may have in the past. Sookie didn’t need Marilyn’s approval, and one look into the bank teller’s head told Sookie that she liked to fabricate and spread rumors to overcompensate for her own loveless marriage.
Much more painful was the stray thought that escaped Alcide’s brain when she added two four-packs of TruBlood to her rapidly-filling cart once they were at the grocery store. The picture in Alcide’s mind of Eric making love to her in the woods tinged with all of Alcide’s judgmental impressions and disappointments was not pleasant. And then the mental mantra he repeated—“Sookie is a good girl; as soon as we’re together, I can put a stop to all this vamp shit”—throughout her time in the produce section was not much better. By the time they’d reached the cereal aisle, he’d calmed down, and there were flashes of thoughts about Sookie making someone—hopefully him—a great wife. The rapidly changing mood of Alcide’s thoughts directed toward her almost gave her whiplash, and Sookie was even more sure that they could never be a couple.
When she was in the meat department, picking out steaks, Alcide’s thoughts zigzagged from wondering if she was picking them out with him in mind as a dinner companion to trying to figure out how she liked her steak cooked to scoffing mentally that she probably liked it rare because she enjoyed vamp blood so damned much. At this point, Sookie picked up the image from Alcide’s brain of Bill feeding her his blood after she’d been shot. Interested to see exactly what had happened, she stopped walking for a second and turned, putting her hand on Alcide’s arm as if to get his attention. The image of Bill trying to feed her his blood sharpened. She saw that she wouldn’t drink it at first and registered Alcide’s panic that she was probably going to die. Then she watched Bill bite into his wrist another time and basically force feed the blood into her mouth, shut her lips tightly, and then massage her throat to make sure the blood went down. Sookie saw that she had never stopped breathing and wondered why she’d not taken the blood at first. Then, inside his memory, she heard Alcide ask, “Isn’t that enough, Compton?” even as Bill kept feeding her. She also saw that when Bill turned back to Alcide, the concern that had been in his eyes had turned to the same expression she’d seen in her dreams, a look like he’d just won something. Alcide had thought that Bill was just excited that he’d managed to get Sookie to take the blood, but Sookie recognized the look of conquest that had been disturbing her thoughts so much.
Sookie removed her hand from Alcide’s arm and said, “Hey, Alcide. I’d like to have a nice lunch on Friday to thank you for all your help with everything, but I’m not sure what kind of steaks you like best.” Sookie felt bad for covering up the fact that she’d been reading Alcide’s thoughts by distracting him, but she was also past the point in her life when she refused to acknowledge the usefulness of her telepathy.
She felt even worse when she heard from Alcide’s mind that he thought Sookie was going to use their lunch to tell him that she was ready for them to be together as a couple. She let him pick out two large steaks, which he placed in the cart while giving her a meaningful look. The expression on his face mirrored his thoughts perfectly: Alcide imagined eating these steaks as an appetizer and then having sex with her as his dessert. Sookie grabbed three more steaks after picking up Alcide’s thoughts and decided that she’d be inviting Jason, Lafayette and Jesus too.
Were or no Were, Alcide was a strong broadcaster, especially when he was thinking directly of her or at her. And without the vampire blood and the rise in her libido to tinge her reactions to him, she was catching his thoughts more and more. She resolved once again to get Eric to replace Alcide when she saw Eric on Wednesday and even thought about calling him to come by after Bill left tonight to talk to him about it. But she stopped that last thought. She had committed to giving Bill a real chance tonight. She was certain that her love for Eric had not been just about the blood. Now she needed to know about Bill so that she’d never regret any decisions she would make. If she still loved both vampires, she’d have to reassess once again, but she owed Bill a chance.
As she paid at the checkout stand, she realized she’d never spent so much money at the store before, but she was also out of most everything at home, and a lot of her staples either had been thrown out when the house was sold or had expired, so she needed a lot of basic items. At that moment, she was very grateful for Pam’s check even though she’d felt bad for taking it. That money, along with the money Eric had given her for Dallas, gave her a nice little nest egg, and now that she was going back to work part time, she knew she wouldn’t have to use it all up just to pay bills. She might even be able to pay Eric back for some of the improvements he’d made to her home, and she resolved to talk to him about the house that he’d basically just given her the next time they spoke. Sookie couldn’t believe that she’d gone this long without mentioning it to him, especially given the high-handedness in the way he’d done it.
At that thought, she made a mental note that she’d have to change all the utilities back over to her name now that she actually owned the house again. She wondered if Eric had to do anything to cancel his before she started hers, and she made another mental note to add that to her list of questions for him.
As Sookie pulled up into her newly redone driveway, she smiled. Gran would have been so happy by the way everything looked. She chuckled to herself as she parked. Gran had immediately taken to the genteel Southern charms of Bill, but Sookie knew that she would have been put off by Eric at first. She couldn’t imagine Eric doing genteel at all. But Sookie also felt that Gran would have soon fallen for Eric’s particular brand of charm. If nothing else, Eric had proven that he could wear down the stubbornness of a Stackhouse woman.
Sookie decided to put a lock on her thoughts about Eric for the time being even though that was difficult given the fact that she had memories of both their physical and emotional intimacies in almost every room of her house now. Plus, he’d been the one to restore her home, and she was still finding little touches of his care with it here and there―like the pretty light fixture with dragonflies on it that had replaced the bare bulb that had been on the back porch. She’d seen that touch as Alcide had helped her bring in the groceries.
After giving her a hand, Alcide spent a few minutes checking the inside of the house before going outside and literally sniffing around. Sookie busied herself in the kitchen putting everything away and taking the opportunity to reorganize things a bit. Most of her dishes had been destroyed during the Mary Ann clusterfuck/debacle and had been replaced by beautiful ceramic turquoise-patterned dishes. She smiled to herself, thinking that they were an unusual choice for a farmhouse, but the interesting and unique patterns on the dishes were exactly to her taste, and she loved the color. “High-handed vampire,” she smiled to herself before she once again resolved not to think about Eric Northman.
She looked out the window and noticed Alcide’s clothes stacked up on the hood of his truck. She figured he must have shifted, so she lowered her shields to make sure there were no threats. She picked up only Alcide’s mind and breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that he was probably just scouting around. She then resolved to keep her eyes inside until he came back and was fully re-dressed.
Sookie unpacked her overnight bag and added the dirty clothing to the rest of her laundry. She noticed that it included some jeans and a flannel shirt worn by Eric; she allowed herself a moment―but only a moment―to breathe in Eric’s scent from the shirt. She smiled; he did smell like the sea on a cold day, she thought. Then she took everything to the new, top-of-the-line washer and dryer that sat on her now-fully-finished and screened-in back porch and started a load. “High-handed,” she muttered again, under her breath. Once again, she mentally chastised herself. “You’re not supposed to think about him,” she whispered to herself in a sing-song voice.
Just as she was starting some light dusting in her living room, she heard a knock at the back door and saw through the screen that it was Alcide, fully clothed thankfully. “Come on in!” she yelled, dust rag in hand.
Alcide came in looking a bit sad. “What’s wrong, Alcide? Everything okay outside?”
“Umm, yeah. There isn’t any sign of trouble, but I did want to ask you something, Sookie.”
“Shoot,” Sookie said sitting down on the couch and gesturing for Alcide to sit in the seat opposite her.
“It’s just that I smelled Debbie’s scent outside and inside your kitchen too. It’s not fresh, so don’t worry about that,” he added quickly. “Do you know why it’d be here?”
“Well,” Sookie explained carefully. “Debbie came here last week. It was actually the day after I’d been shot. She wanted to be my friend, I think.”
“Oh,” Alcide said. “She would have smelled me here then.”
Sensing that Alcide needed a minute, Sookie waited before she spoke, “You know that I don’t trust Debbie―on account of the stuff last year―but I listened to her thoughts, and they told me that she loved you and wanted to do right by you. They also showed that she was real scared of disappointin’ you,” Sookie said quietly.
Alcide nodded, taking in the new knowledge.
“And then she actually helped me out by distracting Marnie while I snuck into the Moon Goddess Emporium and talked to Eric, who’d been cursed by the witch to be some kind of zombie-type killer for her.”
Alcide looked up surprised, “The witch was able to do that?”
“Yep, but I was able to find out from Eric that the plan was to kill Bill, so I stopped that at least when I zapped Eric with my magic fingers and broke Marnie’s spell.”
“Debbie helped with all that?”
“Not all of it, but she did help at the Moon Goddess, and then she drove me to the Festival of Tolerance where the rest of it happened. For what it’s worth―and I know that she made a lot of mistakes right after that, so it might not be worth much―I think she was really tryin’ to be a better person for you.”
“It’s worth somethin’, Sook,” Alcide said quietly, “but not enough anymore.”
Sookie nodded as Alcide got back up. “Well, I’ll be headin’ back outside to keep watch.”
Sookie smiled, “Feel free to take a glass of water, or there’s fresh iced tea in the fridge.”
Alcide went to the kitchen and grabbed some water before heading out to the front porch. Sookie looked at the clock and saw that it was 5:00. She went over her mental list of things to do before Bill arrived. She needed to prepare the casserole she was making for herself and put it into the oven, she needed to finish straightening the house, she needed to take a shower and get dressed, and she needed to write out all the questions she wanted to ask Bill so that she wouldn’t forget anything.
If Bill thought he was in for a night of romance, he had another thing coming, Sookie thought to herself. She envisioned the meetings she was having with Bill and Eric for the next two nights as just that―meetings, business meetings even. And she was either going to get the honest answers she needed to all the questions that had been collecting in her mind since she’d met Bill and Eric, or she was resolved to cut them both out of her life, whether she loved them or not.
She put away the dusting supplies and surveyed the living room. It was good enough. She transferred the newly washed clothes to the dryer and then started another load. “I’ll wash the sheets tomorrow and then hang them out to dry,” she thought with a smile as she remembered the analogy that Eric had made regarding sheets dried outside.
Then she quickly put together her casserole before sitting down at the table to write out the list of questions she wanted to ask Bill.
At a little after 5:30, right after sunset, the front doorbell rang.
She listened with her telepathy, and heard that Alcide was at the door with a void. She smiled when she saw it was Bubba.
“Hey, Sook, I’m taking off now,” Alcide said, sniffing into the house. “I’ll be here bright and early,” he continued after a pause.
Sookie barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes as Alcide thought about lingering long enough to try to get a dinner invitation from her. She put on her brightest Merlotte’s smile and said, “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow, Alcide.” Then she invited Bubba in to show him around and tell him where he could find some TruBlood.
“Oh, thank you kindly, Miss Sookie,” Bubba said, “but I don’t like to drink that stuff if I can help it, and there looks to be some good huntin’ in your woods, so I’ll just do that for my dinner.”
Sookie cringed slightly at what Bubba might mean by good hunting, but then smiled at him warmly. She had to admit that Eric was a bit of a genius to send him. Sookie found Bubba’s manner to be both innocent and sweet. Perhaps he was no longer the king of Rock and Roll, but Sookie found that she liked Bubba just as he was―with, perhaps, the exception of the cat thing.
Bubba broke her thoughts, “Mister Eric said you’d be gettin’ a visit tonight from King Bill from across the cemetery.”
Sookie nodded, “That’s right, Bubba.”
“Mister Eric also told me that I needed to stay within hearin’ distance in case you needed me, so I’ll wait to go huntin’ until after he leaves.” Bubba paused, “He also said that I shouldn’t get upset if King Bill gives you a hug or a kiss later.”
“Why’d he say that?” Sookie asked, a smile on her face at Bubba’s serious expression.
“Well, since you are Mister Eric’s girl, he knew that I might get upset if someone else was huggin’ on you or kissin’ you, so he told me that it was okay and that you and King Bill are friends too. He said that I could only do somethin’ to get King Bill away from you if you asked for help.”
Sookie smiled at Bubba, “That’s just fine, Bubba. And I appreciate you waitin’ for your dinner like that.”
Sookie couldn’t help herself as she gave Bubba a little peck on the cheek and said, “Thank you so much Bubba.”
With an even bigger grin on his face, Bubba excused himself to go outside.
As Sookie walked back to the dining room table, she wondered if Eric had told Bubba that she was his girl or if Bubba had just assumed it. She felt equal parts frustration and amusement if Eric had been the one to tell that to Bubba, but she put thoughts of Eric aside once again in order to focus on finishing her list of questions for Bill.
She’d also decided during her talk with Bubba to get herself a new kitten in the next week or so if she decided to stay in Bon Temps. She missed Tina a lot and had loved the comfort that a furry companion could give. She’d just have to make sure that Bubba knew her new kitten was off limits, but she trusted Eric could help her with that.
At 6:30, Sookie was surprised when thoughts from a human brain―Bobby Burnham’s brain―filtered into her head. As the doorbell rang, Bobby’s thoughts were a mixture of fear―that Bubba might actually hurt him―and frustration―that he’d once again been sent to this ‘God-forsaken town in the middle of nowhere’ to drop off something for the ‘country-bumpkin’ blonde.
As Sookie opened the door, she had to make a Herculean effort to stifle her laughter. Bubba had a hold of Bobby by the collar of his very expensive suit, and the unpleasant little man looked about ready to pee his pants.
Bobby spoke slowly, “Bubba, Mr. Northman sent me with a message for Miss Stackhouse. Didn’t he call you and let you know I was coming?”
Bubba returned, “Sure, Mister Eric called just a little while ago, but I don’t like the way you talked about Miss Sookie when you asked if she was inside. Miss Sookie is Mister Eric’s girl, and you need to talk about her with respect. My momma always told me that a man without respect for a real lady ain’t much of a man at all!” His grip got even tighter, and he raised Bobby up so that the diminutive man had to stand on his tiptoes.
Sookie couldn’t hold in a slight giggle but quickly regained her composure, “It’s okay, Bubba. I’m sure Mr. Burnham here didn’t mean nothin’ by it, right Bobby?”
“Nothing at all, Miss.” Bobby managed to sound almost respectful even though his thoughts betrayed him. If Sookie hadn’t already also picked up from his thoughts that Bobby was completely devoted to Eric, she would have told him to immediately hire a new day person, but the little weasel worked hard to make sure that all of Eric’s requests were met in a timely fashion even if he did sometimes have to work a twenty-hour day to do it. Sookie decided that she could stomach the man if Eric could.
Reluctantly, Bubba let go of Bobby but stayed close to him. Hoping to appease Bubba, Bobby bowed to Sookie. “Miss Stackhouse, Mr. Northman has tasked me with giving you this.” He handed her a manila envelope.
“Thanks, Bobby,” Sookie said politely. Her Gran had taught her manners, after all.
Bobby bowed again and said, “Unless you require something more of me, Miss Stackhouse, I’ll be going.” His eyes shifted back towards where Bubba was still standing menacingly.
Sookie couldn’t help herself, “Bubba, would you make sure that Bobby gets safely to his car?” She smiled even as she heard Bobby say a very clear, ‘Oh shit,’ in his brain. Sookie thought, “Gran may have raised me with manners, but she also didn’t raise no pushover!”
After a cursory goodbye to Bobby and a genuine smile for Bubba, Sookie went back inside, anxious to see what Eric had sent her. She opened the envelope and was surprised when a laminated Calvin and Hobbes comic strip fell out into her hands. She looked inside the envelope again to make sure there was no note and then read the comic.
In the strip, Calvin was waking up Hobbes so that they could go to bed. Sookie laughed. Hobbes, the cat, was commenting on the fact that he’d been woken up just to go to sleep again. What really got her attention though was what Hobbes said in the middle of the strip; the words had been circled in red pen: “I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can play together all night.”
A tear formed in the corner of Sookie’s eye, and she sniffed deeply so that she wouldn’t cry. Immediately, however, she laughed when she noticed that a fang―also drawn with the red pen―had been added to Hobbes’s mouth at the end of the strip. The words, “Sweet dreams,” had been added in Eric’s idiosyncratic handwriting.
“Well fuck!” Sookie exclaimed out loud. “You make it impossible not to think about you, you high-handed vampire!” She stomped into the kitchen and put the comic up on the refrigerator with two magnets. She smiled widely at it, wiped a tear from her eye, and stomped upstairs; she was thinking only of Eric at that point.
By 7:00, Sookie was showered and dressed. She had decided to dress casually, not wanting to look like she’d gussied herself up for a date or anything. She’d put on a pair of tan cargo pants that she’d picked up the summer before―actually that’d be two summers before―from Old Navy. They were comfortable and casual, which were her main concerns. She also threw on a V-neck navy T-shirt that was cut so that it was form-fitting but still pretty conservative. Since it was a long-sleeved T-shirt, she had opted not to grab a hoodie despite the fact that the house had cooled down because she’d had the windows open until about 6:00. She finished off her outfit with white socks and practical tennis shoes and looked in the mirror. “Nope, you definitely don’t look like you’re havin’ a date,” she said out loud to herself, pleased by the overall effect of her outfit.
She grabbed the list of questions she’d been working on and went to the kitchen to check on everything. For a while, she busied herself with setting the table and adding last-minute questions to her list.
At 7:45, Sookie took the casserole out of the oven so that it could cool. It had been a recipe of Gran’s, and the smell of it couldn’t help but remind Sookie of her. Sookie also took out a bottle of TruBlood and put it next to her new microwave.
Under her breath, she muttered, “Bill Compton and Eric Northman, I invite you both into my house.” For some reason, she didn’t want for Bill to know that she was the owner of her home again, and she felt better knowing that Eric could get in. As an afterthought, she said, “Oh, and Pam Ravenscroft can come in too.”
She took the vase that she’d filled with the red roses Bill had brought her and put it on the buffet next to the dining room table. Then she took Eric’s daisies as well as her list of questions and walked them into her living room, where she knew she’d be having the main part of her conversation with Bill. She put the vase and the list on the coffee table. She was sticking to her resolution to give Bill a fair shot and to see if she still felt love for him, but she was also glad that she’d have the daisies there. She laughed at herself, knowing that she needed Eric’s moral support―even if it was just in the form of his daisies―tonight, just as he’d needed hers the night before.
She took a deep breath. She was ready.
FYI: Here’s the Calvin and Hobbes strip.