Sookie was overwhelmed. Holly had called in because her son was sick, so Sookie had to cover the lunch shift by herself. Truth be told, she was also rusty, especially during a rush, and her shields were a bit out of practice since she had been spending more and more time with Eric lately―luxuriating in the peace of his mind.
Of course, he’d felt her anxiety and had managed to wake himself up to call her at about 12:30 in the middle of the biggest flurry of customers. She’d not answered, instead telling Jarod to text Eric to say that everything was okay and that she’d text on her break, but that he should sleep. That earned her a bit of frustration from Eric’s side of the bond, but Sookie couldn’t help but notice that love and pride were the underlying emotions from him. She also couldn’t help but be heartened by the fact that he cared so much about her; however, she was anxious to figure out how to mute her side of the bond. She didn’t want Eric’s rest to be interrupted every time she had a bad or frustrating moment at work.
Lafayette was working the day shift as well―actually manning the bar while Terry was in the kitchen. Both men seemed to like that arrangement, and Sam wasn’t due in until 3:30 or so; thus, Sookie hadn’t seen him. She couldn’t help but wonder how her boss was doing, given his brother’s death, and was anxious to see for herself that he was okay.
Sookie wound her way around tables for several hours straight before the rush died down. Finally, at 2:30, she was able to pause to get something to eat and send a text to Eric. “Everything’s fine here. I miss you, HUSBAND. Lala, Jesus, and Jason confirmed for football tonight, and I require a foot rub. Love you.”
She didn’t get an answer from Eric, nor did she expect one. She’d felt only the buzzing of his life through her body for more than an hour, signaling that he had slipped back into his slumber. If all went well, she would be able to leave work at 4:30, stop by the store for a few things for the football-watching party, and be home right before dark, which was at 5:17 that night. If things went as they had the last few days, however, Eric would be awake before she got home, but she’d still be able to be there in case he did something foolhardy like try to watch the sunset without her there. She’d had a very hard time convincing the stubborn vampire that he needed to return to their completely light-tight room before she left for work. Sure―she trusted that he knew his own body and the dangers to it, but she wasn’t about to lose him when they’d just found their way to each other. She was pretty sure that she had agreed to light-tight, remote controlled shutters for the whole house in order to get him to their room before she had left for Merlotte’s. “Sneaky, manipulative, sexy-as-hell vampire,” she laughed to herself. Of course, she would have agreed to sun-blocking shades anyway, and had even planned to bring the topic up when they spoke to the contractor, but Eric hadn’t known that.
Sookie remembered the toe-curling kiss goodbye he’d given her, and her flesh warmed. But then when she remembered him sitting on the bed and the new kitten jumping up onto his lap right after that kiss, her heart warmed. “My two boys,” she whispered to herself with a huge smile on her face.
After she scarfed down the BLT Terry had made for her, she went to check on her few remaining tables. There was a definite spring in her step; she’d be home with Eric soon. The being apart thing―even when it was for only a few hours―was not fun. But she wasn’t about to give up her independence. That simply wasn’t her.
Still Sookie was really happy when Arlene showed up a little before 3:30. Lafayette had left an hour earlier, and Sookie had covered the floor and bar since he’d gone, not that very many people had come in.
The first thing that Arlene did was run up to Sookie and grab her hand, taking in her ring. “Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed. “I heard from Janelle Stevenson who heard from Maxine Fortenberry that you had a big ring on your finger. What’s up, Sook? You get engaged to that Vampire Bill?” she asked with some distaste.
Sookie shook her head vigorously, “No! Definitely not!” All day long, customers―especially the regulars―had been noticing her ring. Their minds asked questions and made judgments, ranging from the speculative, “I bet she’s going to Vermont to marry that vamp”; to the hurtful, “Her Gran would turn over in her grave”; to the unflattering, “Who would marry Crazy Sookie?”; to the downright evil, “Vampire-loving whore; you deserve to go up in flames with all of ‘em!” Sookie had been working very hard to keep her shields in place to block the thoughts. However, despite all their speculating, no one had actually asked her any direct questions, and Sookie hadn’t volunteered anything.
“Well?” Arlene probed.
“Well, I’m getting married; I already am sort of married,” Sookie gushed.
“Huh? Did you elope or something with somebody when you were gone for a year? How can you be gettin’ married when you already are married?” Arlene asked confusedly.
“Well, do you remember Eric?” Sookie began.
“That big, blond vamp?” Arlene asked with a little fear in her eyes. “Yeah, after you left, he came in here a few times to talk to Sam. Please tell me you aren’t with him, Sookie! He’s even more evil than Vampire Bill!”
Sookie bristled at Arlene’s words and attitude. Eric could be cruel, and some people―take Lafayette as a good example―might have good reason to fear or hate him, but Arlene didn’t really know him. She fished into Arlene’s mind for a moment and saw Eric there. He had indeed visited Merlotte’s quite a bit in the time Sookie had been missing, and he’d talked to Arlene a few times too, but he’d never threatened or intimidated her. However, Sookie could clearly see her exaggerating the encounters to everyone she’d told about them. She also saw how Terry had talked to his wife about her blowing things out of proportion and how he’d told her that Eric looked merely like a man looking for a lost loved one―like he’d seen hundreds of soldiers look when their friends went missing in war. Finally, Sookie heard how Arlene had been contemplating going to the Fellowship of the Sun church that had recently opened in Monroe. Terry, however, had been resisting. In that moment, Sookie’s respect for the veteran skyrocketed. Despite everything Terry had witnessed and experienced in war, he was an extremely tolerant and good man.
Sookie took a deep breath, not wanting to ruin her long friendship and hoping that she could convince Arlene that Eric was good for her. “Eric’s not evil, Arlene. And yes, we are together. We got married in the vampire way last night, and when it’s legal, we’re gonna do it in the human way too. I know you don’t really like vampires, but I hope you can be happy for me because I’m really happy, Arlene”
Arlene looked skeptical for a moment, and Sookie shut out her thoughts tightly. “Okay, Sook. But you be careful,” her friend finally said.
Sookie smiled appreciatively and gave Arlene a hug, “I will be.”
After quickly catching Arlene up on the few tables in the section she was taking over, Sookie gestured toward Jarod, signaling that she was headed back to the bathroom. She smiled at her bodyguard. She was liking Jarod more and more. He’d simply sat in a booth during her shift, staying out of the way, except for the occasional request for a fresh cup of coffee and then lunch. When she’d gotten really busy, she’d seen him get up to refill his own coffee a few times, instead of asking her. He’d spent most of his time reading or working on the newspaper crossword though Sookie could tell he also stayed on alert. Plus, he always had a funny comment when Sookie checked on him.
As Sookie walked toward the back, she saw Sam entering through the employee entrance. She realized as soon as she saw him that she should have warned him about the blood bond between Eric and her as well as her scent. A low growl, which sounded almost comically like it was coming straight from Sam’s alter ego, Dean the dog, escaped from the shifter’s throat.
Almost as soon as she had heard it, Sam seemed to catch himself and relaxed his body a bit. But he tensed again as Jarod came running into the back to stand in front of Sookie.
“Merlotte!” Jarod threatened. “Stand down!”
To Sookie’s great relief, both shifters immediately calmed down from their aggressive stances.
“Sookie?” Sam sounded, as she peaked at him from behind Jarod.
“Hey, Sam,” Sookie answered awkwardly. “Sorry ‘bout that.”
Though Sam seemed to be trying to stay calm, he became angry once again when he inhaled deeply. Jarod retook his protective stance in front of his charge.
“What. The. Fuck. Sook? Why do you smell so much like Northman?” Sam asked in a low, angry voice.
Sookie’s tone matched his in anger. “Sam, I told you that I’m with Eric now! What’s the big problem?”
“I know what you told me, but you didn’t say that you were drinking enough of his fucking blood to smell exactly like him, Sook! What are you fucking thinking?”
“Listen, Sam,” Sookie said, her own voice lowering as she tried to regain a bit of her own calm, “it’s none of you ‘F’-in business what I do or whose blood I drink. As it so happens, Eric and I have a blood bond with each other. Oh―and we got pledged last night. If you can’t deal with that and treat me and my relationship with my husband with a little respect, then you and I are gonna have a problem, Sam Merlotte!”
“Pledged?” Sam questioned, looking at Jarod for confirmation.
The other shifter nodded.
“Yes, Sam Merlotte. Eric and I are pledged, and I know what that means for Supes, so you’d better start gettin’ used to it!” Her tone was still harsh.
Looking chastised, but still very concerned, Sam raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry, Sook. It’s just that―well―I hope you know what you’re gettin’ into. We haven’t seen each other for a while, and now you’re hittin’ me with a lot all at once.” He ran his hand roughly through his hair.
Sookie calmed too.
“Why don’t we go into the office and talk a bit, cher? Sam asked. “I’d feel better if I knew you knew what you’d gotten yourself into.”
Sookie nodded, “Fine, Sam, but only for a couple of minutes. I have some prep I need to finish up for tonight’s shift, and I want to get out of here on time.”
Jarod looked at Sookie in question, and when she nodded and gave him a little smile, he relaxed and moved back toward the bar. “See you out there,” he said.
Sookie followed Sam into his office, and as he settled behind his desk, she sat in the chair opposite.
“I am sorry, cher,” Sam started. “It’s just that you’ve taken me by surprise here. Do you even know what a blood tie means to a vampire―what it does?”
Sookie actively worked to calm herself, given Sam’s almost-patronizing tone. She took a deep breath, “Listen, Sam. I will have to talk things over with Eric before I tell you everything about our bond, but I can tell you that it’s not like a normal tie between a vampire and a human.”
“But Sook, a tie with a vampire can give him control over you, and I have never, ever smelled a tie this strong. I’m afraid for you.”
“Sam, Eric and I don’t have a tie,” she said slowly, hoping he’d start to understand. “We have a bond. It’s different.”
“But, cher, how can you know that? You can’t trust anything that Eric says. He can use his blood to manipulate you.”
Sookie tried to smile reassuringly. “I know you are concerned for me. I just want you to know that it’s not like that with Eric and me.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Last week, I had Jesus and Lafayette do a spell on me that literally burned the vampire blood out of me―all of it.”
Sam looked at her with surprise. “That sounds dangerous, Sook.”
“It was, but I needed to know what feelings were mine and which were from the blood. You see―for a while there, I thought I loved both Eric and Bill.” She paused. “Turns out, my feelings for Eric were real―very real. And Bill―well―let’s just say that I understand why you are worried that my feelings might be being manipulated. But Eric is not doing that―he’s not even able to do that. I can’t tell you how I know that until I make sure that Eric is fine with you knowing, but you need to trust me.” She paused. “I love him. He loves me. It’s real simple, Sam. And you are just gonna have to take my word on this.”
Sam took a deep breath, noticing Sookie’s confidence. In fact, she seemed more sure of herself than he’d seen her in a very long time. “Okay, cher. I just want you to be happy, and after everything you’ve been through, you deserve it.”
Sookie smiled. “Thanks, Sam. I’ll be fine with Eric―more than fine actually.” She brightened. “You’ll have to just see that over time.”
Sam nodded and then looked sheepish, “I’m sorry that Tommy fired you, Sook. I know that I didn’t react well when you got back, but I wasn’t about to fire you.”
Sookie smiled at her friend. He looked tired. “You doin’ okay, Sam?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “It’s just a little hard, but I’m real glad to have Luna and her daughter in my life right now.”
“She’s a shifter too, right?” Sookie asked.
“Yeah,” Sam confirmed, now smiling. “I’m happy with her, Sook. I don’t know; it’s like she makes me feel okay to be in my own skin.”
Sookie smiled, “I know exactly what you mean, Sam. That’s one of the many things about Eric that I love.”
She gave her friend a quick hug.
“Are we okay, Sook?” Sam asked as he opened the office door to go into the bar.
“Yeah, Sam, we’re fine as long as you lay off of Eric. Hey,” she added, “would you tell Jarod that I’ll be out there in a few minutes? I still need to visit the ladies’ room.”
Sookie breathed in a sigh of relief as Sam left. She was really tired of having confrontations about her and Eric and was ready to just settle peacefully into her new life with her vampire.
Thinking about the irony, she laughed a little. Eric, a thousand-year-old ruthless warrior vampire, was craving peace just as much as she was. Sookie bent over to get her purse out of the bottom drawer of Sam’s desk so that she could reapply some lip gloss.
As she grabbed her purse, all thoughts of peace were lost to her as a cloth steeped in chloroform was put over her mouth and nose. She tried to struggle and to call Eric, but in the next moment, she lost herself to the darkness.