Sookie was able to settle herself onto the porch swing just before Bill broke through the tree line. She could see Bubba and Bill exchange silent nods, and she felt comforted by the fact that Bubba was nearby. She looked inside, and even though the privacy spell prevented her from seeing him, she knew that Eric was also watching over her. She gave the window a little smile.
With difficulty, she managed to sustain that smile as Bill approached the porch. “Bill, I didn’t expect you until tomorrow night,” Sookie said politely.
Bill smiled warmly at Sookie before answering her implicit question, “I came to check on your safety for myself this evening. I noticed that Eric’s car was still here and wanted to make sure that he was not bothering you.”
Sookie shook her head, “No―actually, he came by briefly a while ago and asked if he could leave the car here for a bit longer.”
“Strange,” Bill said, his face heavy with what Sookie thought was exaggerated concern. “I wonder why he did not just pick it up when he was here.”
Sookie responded, “He said something about stopping by to see you and then having other business in the area. Frankly, I don’t care if the car is here, and I didn’t want to know what his business was about, so I just said okay. Anyway, he said that Bubba would be returning it to him right before dawn, so I don’t expect that Eric will be back tonight.”
“With Eric, it is hard to know,” Bill said. “If you wish, I can send a guard over, or I could stay myself to make sure you remain safe.”
“No thanks, Bill.” Sookie smiled her best Merlotte’s smile. “I’m just gonna go to bed early tonight. And Bubba is stayin’ till almost dawn anyway, so I’ll be fine.”
Bill leaned in a bit to whisper to her, “Sookie, Bubba is a good guard in some ways―and very loyal―but I would feel better providing you with someone less―uh―damaged.”
With even more difficulty, Sookie kept her smile in place. She felt her fingers warming up at Bill’s proximity, her body instinctually preparing to zap him if he tried to bite her. She was also offended for Bubba’s sake.
She spoke firmly, “I’ll think about your offer, Bill, and we can talk about it tomorrow. But for now, I feel comfortable with Bubba,” she said, putting an end to the discussion.
Bill straightened, backed off, and then smiled. “That’s fine, darling.” He inhaled deeply and then looked at Sookie with sincere concern, “You have been crying. Are you alright?”
“Yes, Bill,” Sookie said stiffly, trying to hide her anger. “I have been thinking about Gran all day―about how much I miss her and how I’ve not been facing my grief over her death for too long.” She looked at him right in the eye but kept her countenance even.
Bill shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. “I know how much your Gran meant to you,” he said. “She was an extraordinary woman.”
“Yes―she was very extraordinary. Good night, Bill,” Sookie said with an air of finality to her voice. She managed, however, to keep her expression from showing her anger for the man in front of her.
The Civil War veteran looked like he wanted to say more, but seeing the resolved look on Sookie’s face, he simply said, “Until tomorrow night, darling.” He leaned in again and kissed her cheek gently. Sookie had to concentrate very hard not to give away her uneasiness.
“Bye Bill,” she said.
He turned and walked away, still going at a human pace as if he were inventorying his surroundings.
Sookie waited for a few minutes until Bubba approached her. “He’s gone, Miss Sookie. Mister Eric told me to tell you that it’s okay to come back inside.”
Sookie walked back into her house and slammed the door behind her before locking it. “He was here to spy again!” she said loudly. “I’m about to blow a gasket with him! And if he calls me ‘darling’ one more ‘f’-in time, I’m gonna shoot him with my light!”
Eric laughed. “Remind me never to make you mad, min kära.”
Sookie also chuckled, releasing her anger. She continued more calmly, “He’s not gonna take it well when he finds out that I don’t want him. I know he thinks that I’m gonna pick him.”
Eric reassured her, “I will put a stop to his bothering you tomorrow, Sookie― whatever we decide tonight. I won’t have him making you uncomfortable.”
Sookie sighed. “You need to get Bubba to take away your car near dawn. That’s what I told Bill to make him think that you weren’t coming back here tonight.”
“My clever one,” Eric beamed.
Sookie smiled back at him, “I just need to run to the bathroom to wash my face, and then I’ll meet you in the living room for our talk, okay?”
Eric laughed out loud. “That’s a good idea, min kära. I’ll be waiting.”
Sookie knew she was being petty as she scrubbed the cheek that Bill had kissed, but he was seriously starting to give her the creeps and piss her off. While she was in the bathroom, she also took care of her human needs. Then, she paused a long minute to look in the mirror. This was it―the moment when she was going to tell Eric that she wanted him. She had no more doubts about her own choice and hoped that he felt the same way. She grasped the pendant and pulled it so that it was outside of her shirt and visible. The entwined “E” and “S” fell to her breastbone, and she admired the carving’s beauty. She thumbed the small piece of silver in her pocket. She was ready.
Sookie returned to the living room and sat on the couch, leaving room. She knew that Eric would join her there. His back was still turned to her as he completed a fire, and she took in the strength of his movements as his muscles rippled gracefully. Not for the first time, she wondered how she had been so lucky as to end up with a man who seemed made to pose for statues.
He turned and looked at her, seeing the necklace he had carved around her neck. He smiled slyly and joined her on the couch, slowly raising his hand to thumb the pendant he’d made for her while she’d been in the fairy realm.
“Do you know of tokens?” he asked softly.
“Tokens? You mean like subway tokens?”
“Not that kind,” Eric said, his face becoming serious as he looked her in the eye. “The kind of token I mean is an object given as a gift to a beloved. In Medieval times, ladies would give their knights tokens for luck, and in many cultures even today, a groom will give his bride special coins as tokens of love. In my culture, small gifts like this one were made to represent similar things. We used them to show our affection, and they were given as a sign of a couple’s faithfulness and promises to one another as they joined together in marriage.”
“Oh,” Sookie responded, enchanted by the beauty of his eyes. “Did you make this as a token for me?”
Eric nodded, “I did, min kära.”
Sookie smiled and reached out her hand to take his.
“Sookie, you asked me to consider whether I wanted to remake the bond with you, but there is nothing to consider. I know that I wish to bond with you. I have wanted it for a long time, but I did not know how to tell you before. I did not know how to show you. I relied on my thousand years as a vampire to try to make you love me, but I failed.
He continued as she grasped his hand more tightly, holding onto it as if it were her lifeline, “The witch tried to harm me, but she actually gave me the opportunity to let go of everything except the human that was left in me. And you helped me learn how to show love, how to be in love as a man. Now that I remember everything, I will spend the rest of my days, both as man and vampire, loving you―if you will let me.” He looked at Sookie earnestly, “Please―let me.”
Sookie’s eyes welled with tears. She asked softly, “Eric, what do gardenias mean?”
He spoke with a fervor, “They mean ‘secret love’, the kind of love that I have felt for you for so long. They mean ‘beauty’, just like the beauty that I see before me now, the beauty of your love for me. And one more thing, Sookie―they mean ‘joy’.”
Tears slipped from Sookie’s eyes as she took her hand from Eric’s and reached down to pull the fragment of silver out of her pocket. Somehow, through her tears, she managed to whisper, “My token to you, Eric,” as she put the silver on the coffee table in front of them.
Eric’s eyes clouded with confusion.
Sookie reached out again and took Eric’s hand in hers. “Do you know what that is?”
Still confused, Eric shook his head. “Sookie, that’s silver. How can that be a token for me?”
“Eric,” Sookie began, her voice taking on a teasing lilt despite her tears, “use your nose.” She touched his nose lightly with her free hand as she said it.
Still very confused, Eric bent toward the silver and inhaled sharply. He sat up in surprise. “Sookie, my blood is on that. How . . .” he couldn’t complete his thought.
“That silver was inside of you, Eric,” Sookie stated simply.
“Dallas,” Eric said, realization hitting him.
“Yes. It was the second piece of silver I sucked out of you. I spit it out right next to you as Bill was coming in, but for some reason, I reached out and grabbed it. And even though I was so angry at you for tricking me, I put it in my pocket.”
“Why did you save it?” Eric asked, mystified by the woman in front of him.
“I cannot say for certain, except that it felt somehow important. I thought that I hated you, but when I got back to the hotel, it was still in my pocket, and then I put it into my purse, and then I brought it home, and then I hid it away in a little box that I kept under a loose floorboard in the attic―a box that has always held my secret treasures. I thought about throwing it away lots of times at first, but I couldn’t. I thought it was your influence and your blood at the time, but now I think it was something else.”
“I think it was that part of me that was drawn to you from the minute I laid eyes on you at Fangtasia, it was that part that knew you wouldn’t hurt me when I challenged you in front of other vampires that night I questioned people for you, it was that part that saw the concern in your eyes after the Maenad attack, it was the part that hated the effect you had on me even after I found out about Lafayette, and it was that part that knew I could trust you in that church. Maybe it was my fairy blood or my instincts that told me all these things―that made me predisposed to want you, to love you, and―yes―maybe even to hate you a little. I can only tell you that now when I look at this little piece of silver, I can see only the vampire that saved my life from the bomb―only the vampire that didn’t trick me into taking his blood with selfishness in his heart, as it turned out. I see the man that I would always be willing to save because he would do the same for me. I see someone that I want to bond with now, just as much as he wanted to bond with me―even when I took this little piece of silver from his body.”