Sookie was very thankful to be working with Arlene. Not only did the redhead take much of the pressure off of Sookie since she was such an excellent waitress, but also Sookie was feeling extremely nostalgic. Her very first shift at Merlotte’s had been with Arlene, who had patiently trained her and taught her all the ins and outs of being a good waitress.
As Sookie remembered all the laughs they’d shared over the years, she felt a few tears in her eyes. Arlene could be flawed; she liked to gossip a bit too much in Sookie’s estimation, and her automatic response to someone different than her was suspicion and borderline prejudice. However, Arlene had been a good friend to her and had accepted Sookie’s differences very soon after she’d met her―as a matter of fact. Arlene had been raised by a single mother who still had all the prejudices and attitudes of the 1800’s, and given that fact, Sookie was pretty damned proud of her friend.
Sookie had already decided that if Sam needed for her to work out a full two weeks while he found a replacement for her, she’d be up for it, but she hoped that this day would be her last day as a waitress.
Thinking that would likely be the case, she appreciated everything―from the too-red shade of Arlene’s hair, to the way that Maxine Fortenberry tried to fish for gossip, to the frazzled appearance of Terry, who was balancing keeping up with orders to taking care of little Mikey. And she shared many smiles and laughs with Lafayette, who was working behind the bar that day.
Meanwhile, Miranda had kept a close eye on Sookie from the bar, where she’d sat―almost unmoving―all day long. Sookie had never seen Miranda in her lioness form, but given the way the Were watched her movements all day—and especially the way she scrutinized all of the customers she served—Sookie had no trouble picturing her stalking her prey.
At 2:00, Sam arrived and told Sookie to take her break. She placed in an order for a bowl of Terry’s chili, which had been making her mouth water the whole day. Then she went over to Miranda.
“I’m gonna take my break now, and I’m goin’ to Sam’s office to get an envelope that Eric wanted me to give to Jesus,” Sookie said.
Miranda gave her a wry smile and got up to follow her into the back. Both took the opportunity to use the restroom before going to Sam’s office.
As they were washing their hands, Miranda perceptively asked, “Will you miss it here?”
Sookie gave the Werelioness a smile. Although she’d not directly told the Were of her plans to quit, she was not surprised that Miranda had guessed, given their conversation the day before.
“A little of me will miss it,” Sookie said honestly. “But I’m excited for the life ahead of me too.”
“Will you try school?” Miranda asked as she dried her hands.
“Yep―filled out the application papers yesterday.”
“Good,” Miranda said with a nod. “I like school very much. When you find what you want to study, it can be very rewarding.”
Sookie gave her a smile, and the two women went to Sam’s office. The envelope retrieved, Sookie went to join Jesus and Lafayette, whose shift ended as soon as Sam had arrived. Miranda turned down the offer to join them, opting instead to reestablish her post at the bar.
Arlene brought over the chili and a huge glass of iced tea to a very grateful Sookie. She went to move away but then turned back around. “Listen, Sook,” the redhead said, “Sam didn’t tell us much ‘bout why you were gone last week or what happened last Monday, but I’m not so dumb as I might seem.” She sat down in the booth next to Sookie as the boys looked on.
Arlene continued in a lowered voice, “I could tell by Sam’s behavior that afternoon and evenin’ that somethin’ was wrong with you. Heck―I knew there was somethin’ up when you disappeared without sayin’ goodbye that day ‘cause you’ve never done that—no matter how mad I’ve made you in the past. And that fella that was watchin’ over you like she’s doin’ today,” Arlene glanced back at Miranda, “well—he looked fit to be tied.”
Sookie went to speak, but Arlene stopped her.
“I know you have your secrets, Sookie, but I know you were in trouble last week. I’m also smart enough to guess that it was your vampire―Eric―that got you out of that trouble. I saw him playin’ pool with Lafayette and Jesus like he didn’t have one care in the whole wide world when Bill Compton came in here, but I also saw him zip outta here like lightnin’ when Bill left, and I’m bettin’ the farm that he was comin’ for you.”
Sookie looked nervous.
“I ain’t told no one what I noticed that day, and I ain’t gonna. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry, Sookie―sorry for what I said about your vamp last week. I was,” she paused, “unfair about my treatment of him.”
Sookie reached out and grabbed Arlene’s hand.
The redhead continued, “All I know is,” she paused and looked toward the kitchen, gazing at Terry lovingly, “that when you find the one that makes you feel like you are a princess, you gotta hang on―no matter what.”
“Thanks Arlene,” Sookie said with tears in her eyes. “I know you don’t much like vampires, but . . . ,” Arlene interrupted her.
“Sook, I ain’t got one good reason not to like your vamp ‘cept that he’s a vamp.” She squared her shoulders, “And maybe that’s my problem and not his.” She smiled at her friend, “If Terry has taught me anything, it’s that first impressions shouldn’t count for much.” She laughed in the way that only she could, “After all, honey, if I’d’ve stuck with my first impression of Terry, I’d still be thinkin’ he was plum crazy!”
Sookie squeezed Arlene’s hand as her friend rose out of the booth and quickly went to check on the few occupied tables in the restaurant.
“Well, fuck,” Lafayette muttered. “Will wonders never fuckin’ cease? Y’all’s better pinch me ‘cause I think Arlene just admitted she was wrong ‘bout somethin’ AND acted like a progressive human bein’ instead of the redneck she was raised to be.”
Jesus chuckled, “Don’t give her such a hard time, Laf. You and I both know that she’s warmed to the idea of us being together.”
“Yeah―took her ‘bout a year of immersion though,” Lafayette laughed. “And the bitch still looks at me like I’m two-headed sometimes. If she ever saw you’s other head,” he whispered to Jesus, “she’d go fuckin’ nuts.”
Sookie smiled. “I’m just glad that she said what she said. And guess what the best part was?”
Jesus looked at her perceptively. “She was thinking the same thing too?”
“Yep!” Sookie said happily as she blew on a bite of chili to cool it. “Hey,” she said to Jesus. “Eric gave me that envelope for you―something about W-4 tax forms.” She took a big bite as Lafayette grabbed the envelope before Jesus could.
“Maybe he also told you’s how much you’d be makin’. I still can’t believe that you took a motha fuckin’ job from him without negotiatin’ you’s salary first,” Lafayette said.
Jesus responded evenly, “I’m sure it will be as much or more than I was gettin’ at the hospital. You and I both know that I would have left that job long ago if it weren’t for your momma being there.”
Lafayette snorted, “Still can’t believe you got just above minimum wage for that job. Hell, Sam pays my pretty ass more an hour than you’s gots, and I ain’t never had to clean a bedpan.” He scoffed, “Though with the yahoos ‘round here, I expect it’s only a matter of time.”
Lafayette pulled a thick stack of paperwork from the large manila envelope.
Jesus spoke up curiously as Sookie took another bite. “Looks like a lot more than a W-4.” She shrugged her shoulders and took a drink of tea.
Lafayette was reading the first page when suddenly he let out a squeal; his mouth fell open. “Son of a bitch,” he whispered.
Jesus took the paper from his hand. “Shit!” he mumbled inarticulately as he also read the first page.
“What?” Sookie said, brimming with curiosity. “What does it say?”
Jesus was the first to answer, “Basically, it is a year contract that more than triples what I was making before.” He lowered his voice. “My official title is ‘Research Consultant’ for a medical company that Eric apparently owns, but according to the memo on front, I’ll be doing the research that we talked about before.” He looked at Sookie significantly; she knew that much of that research would actually be about fairies.
Sookie reached for the document. “Damn,” she said when she looked at the salary figure and read further. “This also includes medical insurance for you and your domestic partner or spouse and a retirement package.” She smiled up at Lafayette and Jesus.
“How much money does you’s man have, Sook?” Lafayette asked in a low voice.
“I have no fuckin’ clue,” Sookie said honestly as she shook her head. She chuckled.
“What?” Lafayette asked.
“He did once tell me that Pam probably couldn’t even spend it all,” she said.
“You think you’s vamp can give me a fuckin’ job too?” Lafayette joked. “I can motha fuckin’ consult with the best of ‘em!”
They all laughed, and Sookie finished her chili as Jesus and Lafayette read over the contract. As she finished and got up to return to work, she paused for a second and then sat back down. “Hey―did y’all figure out how to do that thing I asked y’all to look into?” She gestured toward her ring finger.
Jesus looked up at her and whispered, “Yep. We can do it anytime. We just need something of his—like a piece of hair.”
Sookie thought for a second. “Hey, could you do it with a bit of his blood?” she asked quietly, thinking of the silver shard and also the bullet she’d taken out of Eric’s body after the Debbie incident―both of which were still in her purse.
“Sure,” Jesus confirmed.
“Great! I have something in my purse.”
Lafayette raised an eyebrow, “You is one sick bitch if you’s carry ‘round vials of your vamp’s blood.”
Sookie reached out and slapped his hand. “It’s not like that Lala.” Then she chuckled. “Actually, it is kinda sick if I think about it. I carry around the piece of silver I sucked out of him in Dallas.”
“The one that you took out after the bombing―when his blood first got into you?” Jesus clarified.
“Yep―and also the bullet I took out of him when Debbie shot him,” she said, her voice very low.
“Yeah, I could do the spell with one of those, but I’ll have to scrape off a bit of the blood. I can probably have the result for you tomorrow,” Jesus said.
“That’s great!” Sookie said. “The silver pieces are in the zipped pocket of my purse, which is in the drawer in Sam’s office.” She looked at Lafayette. “You know which one, right?”
Sookie continued, “I’ll let Sam know y’all are goin’ back there to get somethin’ for me.” With that, she got up to return to her shift so that Arlene could take her own break.
At 4:00, Sookie was biting her nails and looking at the clock anxiously. Her shift was ending in thirty minutes, and she was becoming more and more anxious about talking to Sam. Her anxiety did not go unnoticed by those around her, and she jumped when her phone buzzed in her apron. She felt her anxiety echoing and knew it must be Eric on the other end. She quickly walked toward the back―though she stayed in Miranda’s line of sight―and answered.
“You’re okay?” came Eric’s voice, sounding sluggish on the other end of the phone.
“Yes. Just anxious about work,” Sookie said, truthfully. She knew that response was vague enough to be the truth and to prevent her husband from becoming even more concerned.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Sookie could feel relief from Eric through the vampire bond.
“You there?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Eric answered, still groggy. “I am just enjoying the feeling of you in the bond and the sound of your breathing.”
Sookie’s heart melted. “I’ll see you soon, Viking. You should go back to sleep.”
“Soon,” he echoed, “just let me listen for a little while longer.”
She smiled and sighed. After a minute, she spoke up as she sensed him fighting sleep, “Okay, vampire—back to bed with you.”
“I love you,” he whispered as he hung up the phone. Through the bond, she knew that sleep had reclaimed him a moment later.
She smiled as she put her phone back into her apron, and then she tried to keep her anxiety in check as she saw Sam looking at her questioningly from the bar. She mouthed the word, “Eric.” Sam nodded and went back to his work.
Lafayette walked toward her from where he had been chatting with Miranda. He was holding a piece of string out to her.
“What’s that?” Sookie asked.
Lafayette shook his head and chuckled. “You knows, hooker, sometimes I thinks that we’ve been dealin’ with Supe shit so much that we don’t see the logical human way to do shit no more.” He handed the string to Sookie, who looked down at it with confusion.
“Why do I need this?” Sookie asked.
Lafayette continued to chuckle. “That’s so you can forget all the ‘bullet, blood, and spell shit,’” he said with air quotes, “in order to find out you’s man’s ring size, bitch.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Miranda almost laughed her ass off when I told her ‘bout all the cloak and dagger witch shit we were plannin’ to find out the size of you’s man’s finger. And then she gave me this.”
As Sookie looked at the piece of string, realization struck her. “Jeez!” she laughed too, shaking her head. “I’ve been agonizing over how to get his ring size for days now, and I had a conveniently dead-in-the-day husband and tons of yarn and string in the house right in front of me.” She laughed harder. “We have been in the middle of Supe shit for too long.”
“Yeah, and Miranda threatened to tell Pam—after Eric’s got the ring, of course—‘cept that I promised her a batch of that shrimp gumbo like I brought over for lunch the other day.”
Sookie grinned and put the string into her pocket. “I feel like an idiot.”
“You and me both, Sook,” Lafayette said, turning back around and returning to join Jesus in their booth.
Sookie looked over at Miranda, who just shook her head and laughed. Sookie couldn’t help but to laugh too at the obviousness of using string instead of a witch’s spell to measure Eric’s finger. Then, she went to refill her customers’ drinks.
By 4:20, Sookie was staring at the clock again, and her fingernails were a mess.
Right then, Holly arrived from the back, tying her apron around her waist, and since the blonde Wiccan was due to take over for her, Sookie distracted herself for a few minutes by getting her caught up on the progress of all of the customers in their section.
At 4:34―after Sookie had spent a few extra minutes stalling as she’d needlessly filled up some almost-full-already pepper shakers―she approached Sam. “Still have a minute to talk?” she asked nervously.
“Sure, Sook,” Sam said. He yelled across the room to Lafayette, who was still sitting with Jesus. “Will you look after the bar for a few minutes while I talk to Sook?”
Lafayette rose. “Now that all depends on if I gets a free pitcher and shot outta the deal.”
“Couldn’t stop you if I tried,” Sam joked.
Miranda followed Sam and Sookie back to his office and made sure no one was inside before backing out of the door and closing it behind her. She gave Sookie a slight wink on her way out.
Sookie sat down nervously as Sam took his seat behind his desk.
“Listen, cher,” Sam began. “If this is about Eric, you don’t have to worry. I won’t be givin’ you any more grief about him, okay?”
“Thanks, Sam,” Sookie said sincerely. “I do appreciate that.” She smiled a bit. “He told me that you two came to an ‘understanding’ with each other last week when Debbie took me.” She used air quotes to mark the word, ‘understanding.’ She chuckled and then added quickly, “I didn’t ask him for details, but I’m real thankful for it. You know how important you are to me. And he’s—well—he’s everything to me.”
Sam nodded. The shifter was perceptive enough to pick up on the fact that Sookie was still nervous about something. “What is it then?”
“Sam, it’s just that,” Sookie stammered and came to a stop as a tear rose into her eye.
Sam sat back. “You’re quittin’ aren’t you, cher?”
She looked at him and then nodded.
“Your choice?” he asked evenly.
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Eric doesn’t even know yet. I wanna,” she paused, “surprise him with it and with the fact that I’m plannin’ to go to school.”
Slowly a big smile spread over Sam’s face. “That’s great, cher―real great. We’ll miss you ‘round here,” he chuckled and then winked. “Actually, we won’t miss you too much ‘cause you were gone so long, but I hope that you won’t forget us and that you,” he paused, “and Eric come in here a lot to visit.”
Sookie smiled at him, “Sam, I can take my shifts ‘til you find someone to replace me if you need me to.”
Sam shook his head, “Thanks, Sook, but I hired a temporary waitress last week to cover your shifts after the Debbie thing, and she did a real good job. She’s a single mother with a couple of kids―reminds me of Arlene several years ago actually―and she’ll be real happy for the permanent work.”
Relief flooded Sookie’s features. “So you aren’t mad, Sam?”
Her friend shook his head and spoke sincerely, “Last week, I woulda been, but that was before,” his voice trailed off. “Let’s just say that Eric left an impression when you were missing.”
Sookie looked down at her feet, once again regretting what her husband had gone through when Debbie had taken her. She looked up at Sam with a smile threading its way through her tears, “He tends to do that, you know―to leave an impression.”
He nodded and his smile widened, “So, Sook, what are you gonna study?”
“Not sure yet,” she answered, wiping her tears away with a Kleenex grabbed from Sam’s desk. “Maybe art? Maybe literature? I’m also gonna travel with Eric some―to Europe and who knows where else,” Sookie said excitedly.
“That’s great,” Sam said, “really great.”
Sookie came over to Sam’s side of the desk and gave him a big hug.
Remembering the idea she’d had earlier, Sookie asked, “Sam, would you mind if I had a little party here tonight? It’s just that last week, Eric and I were gonna have a little get-together at our house for the football game, and I wanted to make it up to Eric tonight. You see, Eric likes football, and . . .”
Sam stopped her. “Sure, Sook. We can section off part of the back for you. It wasn’t that busy in here anyway last Monday night, and the Saints aren’t playin’.”
Sookie smiled. “Thanks!” She turned to leave, “And Sam, you should come sit with us for a while if you get a chance. I know that Eric would like that.”
“Sure he would,” Sam joked. “But I will. The cook I hired so that I could have Lafayette take the bar sometimes will be here. And I’ll see if Luna can come by too; I’d like for you to meet her.”
Sookie smiled wider and hugged him again. “I’d love that, Sam.”