Sookie steeled herself as she pulled into her customary space at Merlotte’s—not that there was assigned parking. Still, most of the staff had their unofficial spots, determined over time by habit and the kinds of unspoken agreements that seemed to rule places of work, especially small ones like the bar and grill seemingly in the middle of the woods.
She noted that Terry Bellefleur’s truck and Holly Cleary’s car were in their usual spots too—as was Sam’s truck, which was parked next to his trailer.
She’d always found immense comfort in the familiarity of Merlotte’s, even on the days when it was a struggle to keep up her shields; the people who worked at and frequented the place of business were—at least—staples that she could count on.
“In such a lonely life,” she sighed to herself, allowing herself to acknowledge the greatest fear that she’d ever had—that, without Gran around, there would one day be no place in the world where she was wanted.
No place where she “fit.”
Merlotte’s had helped to allay that fear a bit, and her Word-of-the-Day calendar had given her that word to describe the feeling. Indeed, she’d felt both useful and wanted at her place of work, and it was with that thought in mind that she sent a prayer out into the universe: that her last two weeks at the place she’d so valued for the last several years would be peaceful.
With her shifter boss waiting inside, she feared that particular prayer might go unanswered, however.
“Time to find out,” she whispered to herself with resolve.
The telepath took several deep breaths and dropped her shields. She could pick up a few thought patterns coming from within the bar and grill; the topics of those thoughts were completely normal for the most part. Holly was filling salt shakers while she hummed Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” even though a Garth Brooks song was playing on the jukebox. Terry was studiously dicing onions for a batch of chili—as he even more studiously tried not to remember the knife he’d carried with him in Vietnam. The few customers in the restaurant were thinking about whether they should order another pitcher, bills they needed to pay, Christmas gifts they still needed to buy, or how long the week had already seemed even though it was just Tuesday.
Perfectly normal and usual.
The only unusual thinking in Merlotte’s, in fact, was from the only “unusual” brain: Sam’s. He was in his office—no doubt waiting for her to arrive since he was generally prepping the bar area at that time of day. Her telepathy stronger thanks to the vampire blood in her body, Sookie could tell that her friend was already cataloguing all the things he wanted to say to Sookie about why vampires were “evil” as a “race.”
She sighed, a part of her wishing that vampire blood didn’t have an effect on the power of her telepathy; after all, just “hearing” red snarls and getting a sense of Sam’s emotions would have been enough for her.
More than enough!
Sookie shut out Sam’s mind and let her telepathy roll outward, as if she were a pebble thrown in the water and her ability was tied to the ripples created. She touched on the minds in Merlotte’s again as she “rode the small waves” of those ripples. Further from her “center,” she “discovered” Tray’s mind to the south and Maria-Star’s to the east. She’d officially met the lead of her security team for a few minutes before she’d left for work, and she’d already gotten a sense of the Were’s mind.
The telepath smiled. Maria-Star had one of the most organized and structured brains Sookie had ever encountered, and it was quite open for a two-natured brain—though it didn’t project to her as Debbie Pelt’s V-addled brain had. The thoughts were red-tinged in Maria-Star’s brain, but they were crisp and clear—as if Sookie was seeing them through a telescope with a red lens. Oddly enough, what she’d “seen” had reminded Sookie of Thalia, for Maria-Star was incredibly focused on her duty.
Having found no others on her “radar” (and having stalled for long enough), Sookie took a few additional deep breaths before getting out of her car. She’d already mentioned to Maria-Star that she would be having a discussion with Sam and that that discussion might get heated. She’d asked her guards to stay outside, assuring them that she could deal with Sam herself.
From Maria-Star’s thoughts, Sookie had learned that the Were was willing to keep her distance—but only to a certain point. Thus, Sookie knew that her guard would be close enough to hear if things with Sam spiraled out of control.
She said another quick prayer that they wouldn’t as she knocked on his door—as she always did when he was in his office and she needed to stow her purse.
“Come in,” came his voice, his words sounding sharp.
Sookie didn’t like that tone at all, but was determined to keep herself calm. She’d run through her budget after Tara had left, and—because of the ten thousand dollars—she would be fine financially—even if her new business didn’t earn a profit for a while. Still, she’d committed to work through the next two weeks, and she was determined.
She was already second-guessing that commitment as Sam looked up at her with a frown—one that turned into a deep scowl as he inhaled deeply.
“Seems you’ve had a lot of vampire blood since I last saw you,” he judged.
Sookie grimaced, but kept her anger in check. “Are you gonna do this now?” she asked.
“Do what?” he returned her question with one of his own.
“Tell me how stupid I am? Tell me all the reasons you have for why I need to stay away from vampires? Tell me that I’m incapable of making my own decisions? Imply that you are better qualified to determine the paths I take in my life? Oh—and think all of those things right at me as well!” she added with emphasis. “Or are you just gonna call me a gold-digger again?”
Sam was silent for a few moments, but his eyes flashed yellow in anger.
“What?” Sookie asked, her hands moving to her hips. Maybe she really did want to get fired. “Are you upset because you didn’t get to say those things—because I stole your thunder by stealing your thoughts? Or are you angry because I didn’t include the thing you are most upset about.”
Sam growled, “And just what do you think that is?”
“I don’t think. I know,” Sookie corrected tiredly, even as she tapped her forehead. “You flirted with me on and off before Bill came to town. And I thought—at one point—that you liked me as more than a friend.”
“I do!” Sam said loudly as he stood up quickly.
Though his posture wasn’t exactly threatening, Sookie still took a small step back. “Before Bill came around, you never asked me to dinner, or to a movie, or for a walk, or anything,” Sookie reminded with a shake of her head. “And it wasn’t exactly as if you didn’t flirt with Dawn and some of the other waitresses too.”
“I wanted you!” Sam insisted. “You had to have known that! You’re a damned mind reader!”
Sookie sighed. “And you knew from early on that I couldn’t hear you as well as other people—not that you told me why that was.” Her shoulders slumped a bit; she already felt fatigued by her and Sam’s confrontation. “There were a few hints from your thoughts—I won’t deny that. But I tried to respect your privacy by not listening. And—as you well know—most of the time, I couldn’t tell your specific thoughts anyway. So I was never sure if you were interested in me or not; regardless, you clearly weren’t interested enough to make a move. And it’s not like I was confident enough about that kind of thing to ask you out.”
“I couldn’t pursue you like I wanted!” Sam said firmly.
“Why not?” Sookie asked seriously. “Why couldn’t you?”
“You know why!” Sam practically yelled.
The telepath’s mind told her that Maria-Star had moved to be right outside the backdoor, but was currently holding her position. One more yell on Sam’s part, though, would bring her in.
“I don’t know why,” Sookie sighed. “Not really.”
“I’m a shifter!” he hissed, as if those words explained everything.
“You’ve dated others—completely human others—during the time I’ve known you,” Sookie returned.
“Yeah—but I knew those flings wouldn’t go anywhere. With you, I wanted more! And that meant I’d have to tell you about what I am.”
“Like I told you what I am,” Sookie reminded. She shook her head sadly. “Did you think you couldn’t trust me? That I’d tell everyone that you can become any animal you want? Is that how little you think of me?”
“No, Sook. I do trust you,” he spoke vehemently.
“Then were you worried I’d reject you? Do I seem like the kind of person who’d reject someone because he was different—especially if that difference was something you couldn’t control?”
“I didn’t know,” Sam confessed. “I didn’t know until . . . .”
“Until Bill came into the bar and I didn’t immediately reject him because he was a vampire—a Supe,” she finished for him.
“Yeah. Maybe,” Sam confessed. “But there were other things to take into account too.”
“Like?” she asked.
“Like the fact that our firstborn might have shifted,” he admitted.
She scoffed and shook her head. “Talk about counting your chickens before they’ve hatched! But putting that to the side, why do you think I would have cared? Do you have a problem with passing on your genes? Were you worried that my telepathy might be passed along too? I really don’t get it!”
He ran his hand through his shaggy, ruddy hair. “When I saw you with Bill, I knew that you were open to the idea of being with someone who couldn’t give you kids.”
She shook her head yet again. “No, Sam. I don’t buy kids or a lack thereof bein’ your reason for not pursuin’ me. I think you were just scared of bein’ rejected.”
“You’re the one who said you wouldn’t date someone you worked with,” he challenged.
“After I’d already worked here for a year and a half!” she returned softly, remembering exactly when she’d uttered those words. On a slow, rainy night, she and Lafayette had been talking about the various jobs they’d had before finding their way to Merlotte’s. By then, Sookie had pretty much given up on Sam ever asking her out on a date, so she and Lafayette had come to a consensus that dating on the job wouldn’t be a good idea. In a lot of ways, taking that position had been a comfort to the telepath, helping her to overcome the sting of rejection that she’d felt when a guy whom she’d trusted with the knowledge of her “disability” ultimately didn’t want to date her.
The question of whether his rejection had been because of her telepathy or just her had haunted Sookie more nights than she cared to admit.
Sam once more ran his hand through his hair—so roughly that she wondered if the action hurt.
“Whether you felt it or not, Sam, you didn’t show any tangible interest in me until Bill showed interest,” Sookie frowned. “And—since then—the thoughts that I’ve picked up from you have been a lot more about territory than affection.”
“You are my territory!” Sam cried out with frustration. “Don’t you see that I needed to—still need to—protect you from those goddamned blood suckers?!”
“I’m not your territory. And protecting me from anything is not your job,” Sookie said softly and calmly—though firmly—knowing that the conversation was now swirling in circles. “Speaking of which, I need to do my job—unless you plan to fire me on the spot.”
“No, I don’t,” Sam returned curtly before Sookie spun on her heels and left his office, having decided to stow her purse in the kitchen so that she didn’t need to return to Sam’s office. In fact, she vowed in that moment that she wouldn’t be alone with Sam again—at least not as long as he was going to behave as he was behaving.
Which was like an asshole!
Though the tension was thick between Sam and her as he took his place behind the bar and she started her shift, Sookie was grateful that her boss didn’t seem keen to talk to her about vampires—or anything, in fact.
Even better, Sookie’s shift had begun better than she could have hoped for. Eric’s blood had certainly given her more control over her shields than ever (as well as a skip to her step), and her ability to concentrate on her work enabled her to earn some excellent tips.
At around 8:00 p.m., right after the dinner rush, a bored Tara came in and sat at the end of the bar near the waitress station, chatting with Sookie as she refilled sodas and filled beer pitchers that Sam didn’t seem willing to get for her—as he usually did for the waitresses.
Of course, Tara noticed how Sam was helping Holly but not Sookie. The telepath was just happy that Tara’s internal frustration with Sam was “loud” enough to “overhear” so that she was able to subtly entreat her friend not to do what she wanted to do, which was to ask Sam what his “f-in problem was” (though Tara didn’t plan to clean up her language).
Happily, Tara’s tension had almost dissipated after she’d had half of the glass of wine she’d ordered. And then—about an hour after she’d arrived—Jason came in, distracting her even more. Soon enough, he and Tara moved to a table in Sookie’s section to chat. And not long after that, Sookie joined them for a short dinner break (since she’d not had one up to that point and Holly was getting ready to leave for the night). The siblings and their friend quickly fell into a light-hearted conversation, which included them planning to have lunch together on Sunday after church. Sookie couldn’t help but to smile when she thought about how Gran would have liked the idea of them sharing a Sunday meal like she used to insist upon. Sookie and Tara also made plans to have “breakfast for lunch” together that Friday, while Jason looked visibly upset that he’d be missing out on fresh biscuits—until, that is, he was promised a delivery at the intersection where the road crew was currently working.
It was then that Sam decided to insert himself by interrupting the group.
“You plannin’ on workin’ for the rest of the night?” he asked Sookie gruffly, causing all three at the table to frown in surprise.
“I’m on my dinner break,” Sookie said calmly. “I have three minutes left till it’s over, and Holly knows to get me if she gets behind,” she added, looking at the clock on the wall.
“From where I’ve stood, you’ve done more socializing than working all night,” Sam said crossly.
“What?” Tara asked, her earlier frustration returning with a vengeance. “Well, from where I was sitting, Sook shared a couple of words with me whenever she had to pour her own drink orders. And she managed to stay ahead on her tables, even though you were the one not doing your job!”
“Huh?” Jason asked, not understanding the odd interaction.
“Tara, please. It’s not worth it,” Sookie said, standing up. “I’m getting back to work now, Sam,” she sighed. “Call me tomorrow, Tara—will you? And we’ll firm up lunch plans on Friday.”
“You’re workin’ the lunch shift here on Friday,” Sam said, his voice raised in challenge.
Sookie took a deep breath. “Sam, I told you when I called you yesterday that I needed this Friday and Sunday off because of prior commitments.”
“Commitments with blood suckers—I’d wager,” Sam scoffed in a low voice that Sookie might not have heard if her senses hadn’t been more acute because of the vampire blood she’d recently ingested. “I seem to remember the part of the conversation where you agreed to work here until December 27,” he said a little louder.
“So you’re quittin’ for sure then, Sook?” Jason asked, still trying to catch up with what was going on. The night before, Sookie hadn’t gotten around to telling him that she’d given notice, though she had told him about the new career opportunity Eric had broached with her.
The telepath didn’t have a chance to respond to her brother’s question, however.
“You need to get a handle on your sister,” Sam critiqued. “She’s lettin’ herself fall in with a vamp even worse than Bill.”
Jason frowned. “Listen, Sam, I didn’t necessarily love Sook’s decision to be romantic with a vampire at first, but it was her decision. Still is!” he said maturely. “We had us a long talk yesterday ’bout vampire Bill and how she’s not seein’ him anymore—on account of him turnin’ out to be an a-hole and all. But if Sook wants to date another vampire on account of her thing,” he whispered, pointing unsubtly to his head, “or just ’cause she f-in feels like it, that’s not any of my business. Or yours!”
“Bastard vampire probably glamoured you too,” Sam growled. “Ain’t no way you’d allow for this otherwise. Think of your Gran!”
“I am thinkin’ of her!” Jason said, his temper beginning to flare up.
“Just stop this,” Sookie said wearily. “Please.” She looked at Sam. “Maybe I should just finish out my shift tonight and be done with it, Sam—if that’s what you want.”
“I need you for a double tomorrow if you’re gonna take advantage of my generosity and take off most of the goddamned weekend!” Sam snarled angrily.
It was right at that moment that a vampire walked into the bar—one with a deadly look.
And likely a deadly intent.
“Oh fudge!” Sookie muttered to herself.
A/N: So Sam’s being an ass and letting his prejudice shine through. And Sookie’s proving that she has a lot of stubbornness-and loyalty-left by not walking out the door. Honestly, there was a reason I had in mind for keeping her working there for the moment, but-rest assured-Sookie won’t let Sam continue his bullying, nor will the vampire arriving on the scene.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter and will comment if you have the time and inclination.