Sookie could feel three Weres, including Tray, and Onawa begin to circle around the vehicle bringing the human onto her land. She concentrated her telepathy even more on the unknown human as he got closer.
He was growling—as much as a human could, that is—about the fact that his car was being scratched by her pitted driveway.
In addition to cursing his battled Buick, he was already judging “whatever a Sookie Stackhouse was” for a litany of things: where she lived, the rundown appearance of her house, the fact that the pole her mailbox was on was a little crooked.
Even her name, which he thought was “white trash personified.”
But then his thoughts transferred to Eric, specifically going over the errand he was to run for his “master.” Sookie rolled her eyes at herself as she realized that the thinker—though an asshole—was no threat to her; he was Eric’s day-man! Quickly, she went to the door, grabbing a sweater on the way. She didn’t like greeting people without a bra on; plus, it was a cool day.
Sookie opened her front door just as Tray Dawson approached the vehicle. The other two-natured beings in the vicinity seemed poised, their minds buzzing with energy as they readied to shift if need be. Out of the corner of her eye, Sookie saw a graceful hawk land in an oak near where her lawn met the woods.
“Bobby Burnham!” the man identified quickly in Tray’s direction as if he’d been prepped to do it. “I’m here on an errand for Mr. Northman.”
“I.D.,” the large Were ordered. From Tray’s mind, Sookie picked up that Eric had informed him that Bobby would be dropping by that day. Still, the Were had never met Bobby before and was in “protective mode.”
Of course, Sookie could tell that Bobby was who he said he was, and she almost said something to Tray, but then she realized that Mr. Burnham might not know about her ability.
Sookie smiled to herself as she realized that she’d not thought of her telepathy as a “disability,” nor had she revealed her ability when she’d not needed to.
They were baby steps, but she was proud for having taken them.
While Tray carefully checked his I.D., Sookie continued to listen to Eric’s day-man’s thoughts, even as she took a moment to study his appearance. Bobby looked to be in his early-to-mid 40s. His brunette hair was styled in order to best cover his clearly receding hairline—though to Sookie’s eyes, the styling seemed mostly to draw attention to the places where he no longer had hair. Despite his hairline, however, Bobby could have been considered handsome—if he didn’t have such an unpleasant, pretentious “air” about him. Sookie recalled how Gran used to say that even the prettiest people couldn’t really hide their ugly—just as beauty often shined right out of a face the world might label as hideous.
Sookie almost laughed when she heard Bobby regretting that his current errand did not afford him the opportunity to try out the British accent he’d been practicing in order to sound more sophisticated. He had to save that “skill” for errands involving people that would not have the opportunity to mention his “Britishness” to his “master.”
Having sniffed the day-person’s car and finally satisfied with his I.D., Tray turned to walk back toward the woods.
“Uh, Mr. Dawson?” Sookie asked before Bobby could begin the errand she’d already heard about from his head.
Tray turned back around. “Tray is fine,” he said with a little nod.
“Um—okay, Tray. Uh—then call me Sookie. I—uh—don’t know the protocol, but my brother is comin’ to take me Christmas tree shopping and then to the store this afternoon about 4:30.”
The Were nodded as if making mental calculations. “Not a problem,” he indicated before turning once again to resume his post. She felt the other two-natured minds withdraw further from the house as well. It seemed clear that Eric hadn’t been lying when he’d promised that the guards would be as unintrusive as possible.
“Mr. Burnham, would you like to come in?” Sookie asked the man, who’d been looking around her yard with disdain.
From his thoughts, she knew that he was trying to figure out two things: how to complete his work “politely,” as the “master” had ordered, and how to complete it quickly so that he didn’t “get fleas from the redneck.”
Sookie sighed. She knew that she had two choices: to either perform the role of the perfect Southern hostess, despite the tenor of Bobby’s thoughts, or to do them both a favor and hurry along his “errand.”
His reticence to proceed further than the porch made up her mind for her. “I’d offer you tea, but you look anxious to be on your way, Mr. Burnham,” Sookie said evenly—professionally.
Bobby frowned a bit, remembering again that he needed to be “polite.” Of course, even in the next moment, he was worried about the lint that would likely be in Sookie’s home and how that would affect his heavily starched clothing. “Yes—uh—Sookie, I have other errands for Mr. Northman this afternoon. And you may call me Bobby,” he added, as if he were being threatened with fangs.
Maybe he was.
Sookie bit her tongue. She was tempted to tell him not to call her Sookie. She was even more tempted to tell him that she would prefer calling him Mr. Burnham. However, she knew that such a clear sign of distaste on her part would not hurry him along. And she had a shower to take and Christmas decorations to pull from the attic.
“What did Eric need?” Sookie asked.
Bobby frowned, and—from his thoughts—Sookie could tell that he disapproved of her calling “the master” by his first name.
He’d have to get over that.
“He asked that I give you this,” Bobby said, handing her an envelope.
“What is it?” she asked curiously.
“I did not look; it is not my place,” he huffed, as if Sookie had made an accusation against him.
Sookie rolled her eyes and opened the envelope. Inside were a folded piece of paper and a check for ten thousand dollars! She gasped and dropped both items.
Bobby stooped immediately to retrieve them. Unfortunately, he happened to see the check and the memo line, on which was written: “consultation work: Dallas.”
The day-man’s mind immediately—and grotesquely—went to the gutter. He eyed Sookie’s breasts as he rose to his feet and concluded that they were just the kinds of things that Mr. Northman wouldn’t mind “consulting” with.
Indeed, Bobby wouldn’t mind such “consultation” either—though he figured he’d need a long, sanitizing shower afterwards. Of course, his preference would be that Eric would be involved. A myriad of images involving her, Eric, and himself jetted through Bobby’s mind, even as the bile rose in Sookie’s throat.
The telepath didn’t know what she was more disgusted with: the nature of Bobby’s thoughts about her or the level to which he seemed to worship Eric. Either way, Eric would be hearing about the situation. Number one—she simply wasn’t willing to accept dealing with someone like Bobby. Not anymore. Number two—she didn’t think it was safe for Eric to have someone obsessed with him in a trusted position.
But, of course, her disgust over Bobby’s thoughts was nothing compared to her shock at seeing all the zeroes on the check. “Hold that,” Sookie said about that check as she grabbed the note from Bobby and opened it, making sure that the day-man couldn’t see what was written.
First, I wish for you to know that I found myself missing you as soon as I left your home. I look forward to our date on Sunday.
Now for business: I want to immediately right a wrong that was done to you. Your work in Dallas went above and beyond anything that I expected of you when I hired you. In just a few days/nights, you did the following: 1.) You found a listening device that could have interfered with a sheriff’s interests. 2.) That same listening device could have harmed ALL vampire-kind had it “heard” the wrong things. 3.) You rooted out a spy that might have continued to operate within Stan’s nest. 4.) You saved Farrell from certain death—placing yourself at great risk to do so. 5.) You stopped Steve Newlin from carrying out his sick, distorted version of a crucifixion. 6.) You saved an unknown number of lives—mine included—when you warned of the attack on Stan’s nest. 7.) You helped me to avoid intense pain and, perhaps, short-term silver poisoning when you removed the bullet from my body. 8.) You impressed the hell out of me.
Okay—perhaps you might not feel as if the last item qualifies as an accomplishment, but I assure you that it is no small thing.
I anticipate that you will be aching to argue about receiving this payment since I’ve already paid it once—to Bill. But the money was never to be for Bill. It was for you. Indeed, if I had thought I could avoid the wrath of your pride—then or now—I would have included a bonus. But I know better than to push my luck on some things.
Sookie chuckled, even as she tried to avoid the thoughts of an impatient, still-dirty-minded Bobby.
Also, you need not worry about any financial burden I will bear in paying you; indeed, I intend to recover the original fee—now that I know it was misallocated.
Oh—and remember how I said that I knew better than to push my luck on some things?
On others, I may not know as well.
P.S.: Bobby has another envelope for you.
Sookie looked up at Eric’s unpleasant minion, who was—indeed—holding a second envelop, this one larger. With it, he gave her the check back and then indicated that he needed to “take his leave.”
The telepath was just glad that he didn’t bother to lie that it had been “nice to meet her” before he all but ran to his vehicle.
She frowned at the check again as she walked into her home—a home that badly needed a new roof. A home with a stove with only two working burners—and one of those only half-worked. A home that needed its property taxes paid by February. Eric had been right in his letter. A big part of her wanted to rip up the check—not because she was angry at Eric, but because she didn’t feel that it was right for him to pay twice.
However, was it her fault that he needed to do that? No.
It was Bill’s fault
“Bill was a shitty boyfriend,” she muttered. “Even before he tried to rape me and drain me,” she added bitterly.
If there was one truth that Sookie was really coming to understand, it was that one. Indeed, part of her soul-searching—her journey to get “closure,” as Oprah might say—was to figure out why she’d let herself become so meek with Bill.
So that she could avoid making the same mistakes again.
“I’d been afraid to do anything that would have made him leave me,” she sighed to herself. “I lost a part of me when it came to Bill, and I can’t blame all that on him or the blood.”
She poured what was left in the coffee pot into her cup and sat down at the kitchen table. As she sipped the strong brew, she determined that she needed to let herself off the hook in one important way; it was, after all, natural to lose oneself—at least somewhat—in a first “real” relationship. Indeed, her telepathy had shown her that phenomenon many, many times. The truth was that most people did one of two things the first time they were “off the market.” Either they became “actors,” presenting to their partners what they hoped might be an “ideal version” of themselves so that they wouldn’t be rejected, or they truly altered themselves for their partners. For example, Tara had always despised baseball, but when—as a Sophomore in high school—she’d begun dating a Senior named Craig, who loved the sport, she’d suddenly “loved” it too, even spending hours hanging out with him when their main activity had been perusing his baseball card collection together. Hell! Tara had beamed when he bought her an Atlanta Braves jersey for her birthday!
Though she was ashamed to admit it now, Sookie had judged—at least to a certain extent—the people who lost themselves in that way, especially when they continued to do it well into adulthood—like Arlene did with the steady stream of men in her life. Sookie viewed her chameleon-like behavior as a character weakness.
Of course, at the same time, she had unconsciously envied the people who were given a chance to behave like or even become a “different” person for “love.” After all, she forced herself to behave like a “normal person” every day, yet she had never attracted a man who would have been willing to do much of anything for her.
The closest she’d gotten before Bill walked into Merlotte’s were J.B. du Rone and Sam. But—to be honest—J.B. was simple and spent a lot of his time with her fantasizing about her breasts and thinking about the single football play the coach had been hounding him to “really learn.” J.B. had been trying and failing to learn the simple play—for weeks!
And as for Sam? Well—Sookie had been both flattered and apprehensive about his initial interest; in truth, in the beginning, she would have been receptive to it.
But—for years—Sam didn’t act on that interest. And—like anyone who wanted to feel a little less rejected—Sookie had eventually told herself that she was “glad” he didn’t “make a move” because Sam was a good boss, and she didn’t want to jeopardize the best job she’d ever managed to keep. Given the nature of Sam’s thoughts—swirling, reddish, and often difficult to distinguish—she even began to doubt whether he’d ever actually been interested in her at all. Or—on her more confident days—she would tell herself that Sam must have an unspoken (and “unthought”) policy not to date any of his waitresses. Of course, after Bill showed up, Sookie knew that wasn’t true.
The telepath frowned as she thought about how Sam had finally verbalized his interest only after she’d shown an interest in Bill. No—after Bill had shown an interest in her! Sadly, even when she and Sam had “enjoyed” their single date (if it could be called that), a lot of the shifter’s energy had been spent telling her why she shouldn’t have anything to do with vampires, rather than focusing on why she should have more to do with him.
Or telling her what he really was—a being who could shift into animals.
Was Sam more interested in keeping her away from others—specifically, from a vampire—or in having her for himself? As Sookie got up to rinse out her cup, she realized that it was likely the first of the two, and that just made her even more frustrated with her soon-to-be ex-boss.
Of course, she was frustrated with herself too. She had allowed Sam to belittle her choices, just as surely as she had allowed herself to become altered by Bill.
Because she’d wanted to keep him.
Bill had seemed to be a “white knight”—though with shark-like teeth. He’d shown an interest in her from the start. He’d pursued her openly. She’d been intrigued and then enamored. And—after Gran had died—she’d been alone and vulnerable.
Perfect prey for a shark.
Was it any wonder she’d ignored all the bad things that had occurred during her and Bill’s early interactions? Was it any wonder that she’d forgiven him after each glitch in their “relationship,” even when he’d prioritized revenge over her safety in Stan’s nest?
Though it was difficult to do, Sookie felt that she needed to give herself “a pass” for the way she’d behaved during her first relationship. Yes—she’d accepted things she shouldn’t have. Yes—she’d changed herself to try to fit what Bill seemed to want. And—yes—she’d stayed with her “first love” longer than was healthy for her—both physically and mentally.
In other words, she’d been “normal!”
“Maybe ‘normal’s not always a good thing after all,” she chuckled to herself as she put her cup into the drainer.
Maybe the key to not losing herself again was to not settle for someone who would want for her to “get lost.”
“If that makes any sense,” she muttered to herself, shaking her head.
And what to do about Eric! Should she even be starting something—even if it was casual? Was it too soon? Too complicated?
“Too combustible?” she asked aloud, looking at the refrigerator where that word was displayed on her word-of-the-day calendar.
She smiled to herself. “Eric,” she whispered, turning her focus to the check still on the table. In that moment, she determined two things: 1.) that she was going to put that money into her bank account that very day—because she had earned it—and 2.) that she wasn’t going to put mental restrictions around the time-line of any relationship she had with the Viking. They’d take it as fast or as slow as seemed right to them.
Because they’d both earned that.
Unlike Bill, Eric didn’t want her to be anything other than herself. Sookie was certain of that.
In fact, he was encouraging her to embrace all the things that made her who she was—her telepathy being just one of those things. No—with Eric, she didn’t think she’d be in danger of losing herself. On the contrary, she was already looking forward to finding herself—whether or not a relationship worked out with the Viking.
The thing was that—now that she was open to the prospect of a relationship with Eric—she felt their chances of working out were pretty damned good! And that thought made her laugh to herself a little.
Because she felt truly happy—and hopeful—for the first time in a long time.
She was certainly attracted to Eric—for the obvious reasons! Hell—that man left a department-store’s-worth of melted panties in his wake wherever he went!
Sookie was interested in the Viking beyond his looks, however. She’d seen enough of Eric to know that he wasn’t just a pretty face—and body. He could be playful, but he could also be contemplative. He could be flirtatious, but he could also be tender. He certainly looked down on people—fangbangers being one of the more obvious groups. But he wasn’t shy about accepting good people into his life—Bobby notwithstanding. And—importantly—he treated her with respect—like he saw himself and her on equal footing.
And he “felt” something for her.
She couldn’t deny that she “felt” quite a bit for him too—already—though those feelings had snuck up on her.
“They shouldn’t have,” she sighed as she recalled the butterflies that had surged throughout her battered body when she’d seen him floating outside her hospital window following Rene’s attack of her.
He’d stirred her even then.
Glancing at the clock, Sookie realized that she really did need to get her shower taken, but she could no longer resist the second envelope that Eric had sent to her. She ripped it open and read.
I believe I know you well enough to speculate that you have decided (or will soon decide) to accept the payment you are due. That whether or not to accept it was something you needed (or still need) to contemplate at all says much about your character.
As I said in my previous letter, I knew that you would balk at receiving a “bonus” for Dallas, but I hope that you will not deny a gift from me. Is it not customary for a man to bring a token to a woman on a first date? Is it not customary, even, for people who are dating to exchange gifts for the Christmas holidays?
Sookie chuckled. “The odds of you celebrating Christmas are about the same as the odds of me keeping out of trouble.” She read on.
I could shower you with diamonds, but I know that kind of gift would not be acceptable to you. You would see such jewelry as impractical and excessive.
I could buy you a new car—to replace the box of metal you currently drive. However, that gift, too, would be too much in your eyes. You would see it as unnecessary since your own stills functions.
Of course, you likely believe that I should get you nothing.
But did we not agree that compromise was a good way to go last night?
Thus, I have decided upon a practical gift for you—somewhere between a car and nothing. It should be arriving when you next leave your home—waiting as a surprise for when you return.
After you receive your gift, I very much hope that you will call me to complain, for I would very much like an excuse to speak with you this upcoming night. Riling you seems a failsafe way ensure that—I think. And I am nothing if not an opportunist.
Sookie couldn’t help but to laugh at the note as she placed it on the table and grabbed the check to put it into her wallet.
“Somewhere between nothing and a car. That gives him a lot of room to maneuver,” she said shaking her head at the highhanded vampire.
A/N: Hi all, I don’t have time to write a longer author’s note. I hope you “enjoyed” my Bobby. I didn’t want to make him a complete caricature, so I focused on highlighting his delusions of grandeur and pretentious nature. The “meat” of the chapter is definitely Eric’s notes. I hope that I’m keeping him “mostly” in character. What I’m trying to do it show that “the trunk incident” brought out a different side of him, one who is beginning to admit that he doesn’t “hate feelings” so much after all. However, at the same time, I wanted him to retain some highhandedness and a lot of craftiness, while the threat of his brutal nature is waiting in the wings as needed. With Sookie, however, I’m letting him be quite free and honest—playful and upfront about his desires and hopes with her. I hope I’m accomplishing these things.
If you celebrate a holiday this season, I hope that it is a happy one! If you don’t—well—I wish you great happiness too. I celebrate Christmas, and—so far—it’s been a lovely season for me (a bout of mild food poisoning aside). I’ll catch you close to the New Year.
P.S. I completely forgot to ask Seph to do a character banner for him and didn’t notice until today. I’ll have her work one in after the holidays; meanwhile, I have made one of my “character plates” to show you who I have in mind.