Eric and Sookie were silent for a few moments, him enjoying her hypnotic breathing and her enjoying knowing that he was there with her—for her—even if she couldn’t see or hear him.
Both were enjoying the openness and ease of the conversation, though both realized that they wished they were speaking in person.
“You talked to Franklin Mott? About Tara?” Sookie asked, breaking the silence.
“Yes,” Eric responded.
“What did you say to him? Um—I mean—Tara came here this morning. She was pretty sad about the whole break-up. I felt a little guilty—actually. Maybe I should have just let them be. Maybe he really liked her,” the telepath sighed.
“Do not feel guilty,” Eric comforted. “You are correct in that Franklin enjoyed your friend’s company; however, he indicated that his enjoyment would have been coming to an end soon. Indeed, he’d been contemplating using your friend to settle a debt with a vampire named Mickey, who is known for his cruel usage of humans—as well as for glamouring them into complacency.”
“What!?” Sookie exclaimed. “If he liked her, why would he pass her along to someone like that!?”
“Mickey’s maker owns a casino, and Franklin is in considerable debt to her. Franklin likely figured that the entire sum he owed might be forgiven—if he offered Mickey a companion such as your friend,” Eric informed.
“That’s horrible! To use Tara like that!” Sookie exclaimed.
“I agree,” Eric sighed. “But vampires such as Franklin Mott have yet to fully acclimate to the present. They see coming out of the coffin as convenient for themselves, but have not changed—in any way—their attitude toward humans. Franklin is not as bad as some, however. He truly enjoys his companions while he has them. Likely, he was very attentive to your friend. As for passing her along, he would normally not give someone he liked to one of Mickey’s ilk; however, he clearly thought that Mickey had changed his ways to a certain extent, and since the arrangement would have benefitted him greatly, he didn’t dig to confirm that Mickey’s change was authentic. However, none of that is an issue now.”
“What did you have to give him to let her go?” Sookie asked sagely.
“I simply forgave the debt he owed to my casino. In exchange for that, he broke things off with your friend amicably. And I also made him vow not to pass along any other human to Mickey.”
“Is Mickey really that bad?” Sookie asked with a shudder as she thought of what her friend’s situation may have ended up being like.
Eric shrugged. “He has been before. His maker is not of a bad sort, but Mickey seems untrainable, and it would be best if he were not indulged. And—who knows? In the future, Franklin might reconsider his behavior towards companions of whom he’s tired.”
“Is that really likely?” Sookie asked.
Eric sighed one of the kinds of sighs that Sookie had come to associate with his past. “Some vampires seem incapable of any kind of evolution.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to wonder if Eric were talking about his maker, but she didn’t pursue the topic. It was not something she thought was right to discuss on the phone.
They were silent for a few moments.
“I’m thinking of getting a dog,” she said to break the silence.
“Not a cat again?” he asked.
“Not with Bubba around,” she responded with a grimace.
“You know—he won’t touch your pet if he understands that it is off limits,” Eric assured.
“Even so, I was thinkin’ a dog would be nice to have—for when we take our show on the road,” she explained.
“That is not a bad thought,” he observed. “Tell me—would you accept a puppy from me? As a Christmas gift?” he asked.
“Oh—I was just gonna go get a pup at the pound or wait to see if Terry Bellefleur would sell me one from his next litter,” she returned. “I don’t need anything fancy.”
“But you would need a dog that was easily trainable—a good companion as well as a guard,” he remarked.
She smiled. “If I agree, you can’t get me anything else for Christmas. And I don’t want a dog that costs thousands of dollars either!”
“I have something in mind that won’t cost much at all,” Eric responded warmly. “Actually—it will cost only the price of its accessories.”
“Food, toys, a travel crate, a bed. Things of the like,” the vampire said.
“Oh! Okay then!” Sookie said excitement entering her voice. “It’ll be nice to be surprised—but not too surprised since I’ll know a puppy’s coming and can get the house ready for it.”
“It will be pleasing to surprise you then—but not too much,” he added with amusement.
The two were silent for a few moments as both were thinking of the upcoming holiday.
“Speaking of dogs,” Eric spoke gently, “Thalia did inform me that your shifter boss has given you your schedule for your final two weeks in his employ. Sookie, you must know that you needn’t work at his bar anymore.”
She sighed loudly. “Truth be told—I almost quit tonight. But I really want Sam to have the chance to calm down. He’s been too good of a friend to not get that chance—even though he’s being an asshole right now,” she added bluntly.
“And if he does not calm down?” Eric asked. “I don’t like the idea that you will be subjected to his bad behavior for the next two weeks.”
“I won’t be,” she said firmly. “One more negative word, and I walk. And I won’t work without a guard inside the building,” she indicated, saving Eric the trouble of broaching that topic.
He sighed. “You are very loyal, Sookie. I hope that you are not hurt further if Merlotte cannot match that loyalty.”
“Me too,” she agreed with a sigh of her own.
“But—just in case—when could I begin the telepath-for-hire thing?” she asked.
“Tomorrow—if you will accept me as your first client,” he informed.
She frowned. “But wouldn’t that be weird. I mean—we’ll be working together on all this stuff. So you’d—uh—be my manager and my client?”
He chuckled. “You could consider it paid training if you wished. There are humans in my employ and many others that I do business with. Your insight into their honesty would offer me great peace of mind, so I would—naturally—pay you for that. Of course, we’ll charge more for other clients, but—then again—your payment will always be the same.”
“How do you arrive at that funny math?” she asked.
“I will generally take a cut of your payment, of course,” he indicated, even as Sookie could imagine the smirk playing upon his lips.
“Training—huh?” she asked with a slight chuckle.
“Yes. You could learn various modes of interrogation. I’ve seen you in action a few times, Sookie, and you have very good instincts. But sometimes clients will want for your ability to remain unknown. Other times, they will inform people of your gift in order to elicit fear from those being questioned. We should also experiment with your listening from outside a room and listening to many people at once—say in a conference room full of humans. The more you have experienced various kinds of situations, the more likely you are to complete jobs quickly and efficiently, maximizing both your time and your clients’ satisfaction.”
“You really have thought all this out—haven’t you?” she asked.
“I have. With the business plan, you will also find a basic crash course on vampire and Were politics. Pam or I can fill in the details that I cannot risk writing down once you have those basics under your belt.”
“Maybe I do need training time,” she observed. “Even so,” she sighed, “I said I’d work for Sam for the next two weeks, and I intend to do that—unless he crosses the line again.”
“I figured you’d say that,” Eric said.
“Because I’m so stubborn?”
“No. Well—yes. But I think you are trying to prove something to yourself. And—just maybe—you need to get your closure with that part of your life too. And I am only beginning to understand the seriousness with which you take your commitments, Sookie. Any training I have for you can wait, but I wanted you to know that you have options.”
“Maybe I am trying to prove something,” she relented. “It might sound dumb, but I don’t wanna be disloyal to Sam just because he’s being unsupportive to me about this. Like you said—some people have a hard time evolving. And—arguably—I was one of them.”
“But you are changing,” Eric said encouragingly. “And your shifter boss may do so as well. As I said during our plane ride, he showed you more trust than you likely knew. And I’m certain it has not escaped your notice that the interactions between the two-natured and vampires are sometimes strained.”
“Yet you have good relationships with some,” Sookie observed.
“I take individuals as I find them,” Eric said. “Any creature might be expected to posture a bit in his or her interactions with another species, but with those individuals who are confident, the posturing will soon come to an end. And in that moment, the observant can see who is worthwhile to associate oneself with.”
“So why do you need a telepath then?” she asked with a smile in her tone.
“To prove how good I am at judging character.”
“Hmm. I’m not sure you’re good at judging humans,” she returned, a little challenge in her tone.
“Oh? Why, Miss Stackhouse, if I am not mistaken, I dare say that you have something in particular that you feel I’ve failed a test upon?” he questioned.
“Maybe,” she said somewhat coyly. “Tell me—what does your instinct tell you about your day-man?”
“Bobby?” Eric scoffed. “He is loyal and efficient in many matters. He believes himself to be superior to most people and has affectations bigger than the state of Texas! When he learned I was a vampire, he immediately began angling to get me to turn him. I sense that his ‘man-crush’—as Pam so charmingly calls it—borders upon obsession with me, which is why he has never been given the codes to my residences—beyond the front foyers where he can pick up and leave things as required. In short, he is a worm, but he obeys without glamour. Needless to say, I don’t necessarily trust him, so his electronic devices have surveillance features as well.”
“Why keep him around then?” she asked, dumbfounded by his words.
“Before I answer, will you tell me your assessment of Mr. Burnham?” Eric asked curiously.
“Are you testing me now?” she asked with a little smile.
“I don’t know. Would you accept your normal fee for your assessment of Bobby? We could call it training.”
“What is my normal fee gonna be?” she asked cautiously.
“For non-threatening reads—like Bobby—five hundred dollars per head,” he returned.
“That much!” she asked with surprise.
“You could charge four times that much, but I know you wouldn’t want to,” Eric responded.
“Your plan already contains compromise?” she asked with amusement.
“I changed all the payment schedules before I rested this morning—as a matter of fact,” he said with a grin.
She laughed. “Well—five hundred still sounds like a lot of money, Eric!”
“Not so much for a vampire looking for peace of mind, and you can always do pro bono cases.”
“Well how about we call my assessment of Bobby one of those then—okay?” she asked.
“How about I limit myself to a small token of appreciation for your work then?” he asked impishly.
“I thought I made clear that there were to be no gifts beyond the puppy,” she said suspiciously.
“Call it a small bonus.”
“Diamonds can be small,” she deadpanned in return. “So can a single rock in a driveway. And so can a loophole,” she added with a playful snort.
“How about small as in practically free?” he asked.
“Too many loopholes there too,” she grinned. “You’ll use the old ‘I’ve had this rare emerald lying around for ages—stole it from the Sultan of South Africa in the 1500s.”
He laughed. “I do not believe that sultans have ever ruled in South Africa, nor did that country even go by that name in the 1500s.”
“Semantics,” Sookie returned, her grin growing wider.
“How about I promise that you won’t mind the token,” he volleyed.
She rolled her eyes, though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Fine. You are right on the money with everything you said about Bobby. The most amusing thing about him is that he practices an English accent during some of his errands—and in his head!”
“And the least amusing thing?” Eric asked.
“He has a very vivid imagination and would like us to have a threesome with him—though he believes me to be trailer trash without the trailer. Oh—and he believes I must be some kind of whore; that’s the only way he could fathom why you’d be giving me ten thousand dollars!”
She took a deep breath. “In fairness—he didn’t read the note or even know about the check until I dropped it. From what I can tell, he did everything you asked to such a careful degree that the only word for it would be ‘anal.’ He was in a rush to get out of here because he felt he was ‘getting dirty’ just by standing outside. Oh—and he cannot imagine that my boobs could be real.”
“Did he treat you badly at all?” Eric asked.
“Not outwardly,” Sookie stated truthfully. “But I’d prefer not to be around him—or anyone else, for that matter, who thinks I’m a gold-digger.”
“Then he will no longer be assigned errands that relate to you. And I apologize for your having to hear his nonsense at all. As for why I keep him around—it is because he is mindlessly loyal. He does nothing beyond his assigned tasks, except ‘single white female’ me from time to time.”
“Huh?” Sookie asked, mystified.
“Another of Pam’s phrases. Apparently, there is a movie of that name about a woman whose roommate tries to mimic everything about her and then steal her life. I did not see the film, but Pam often extols the two actresses in it—hoping for a threesome herself, I think. Anyway, Bobby occasionally buys himself copies of the garments I order for myself.”
“That’s stalker weird,” Sookie said, her tone echoing the frown on her face.
“You worry for me,” he observed.
“Says the vampire who sent Thalia into Merlotte’s when I got upset.”
“It is nice to be on even ground with you then,” he commented quietly.
“Yes,” she agreed.
“If your instincts tell you that I should be rid of Bobby, I will cut him lose,” Eric said.
“Despite his usefulness?” she asked.
“I trust your judgement when it comes to humans, Sookie,” he replied.
“Wow!” she breathed. “That—uh—feels really nice.”
“I’d hate to be the reason he loses his livelihood though,” she commented.
“But you think he should—don’t you?”
She took a breath. “I don’t think you should take any chances with single, white females. Oh—uh—except for me!” she added, though a blush immediately broke out on her face.
Thankfully, Eric wasn’t there to see it, though the vampire most certainly imagined it.
Eric laughed loudly. “Don’t worry. I will cut lose the figurative single, white female and keep the real one,” he stated. “And I will give Bobby a good severance package and an ample glamouring. He will land on his feet, and I will hire you to help me find a new day-person.”
She giggled. “Now—that’s a deal.”
“Uh, Eric?” she asked, after the two had been silent for a few moments.
“The database thing. It’s still here, and you haven’t—uh—asked for it.”
“It was left in your safekeeping,” he returned gently.
“I think you should take it,” Sookie said. “I wasn’t thinking about it when you were nearby last night and the night before that, I was exhausted by the time we got here. I—uh—just think it’s something you should have. And I don’t want it here anymore.”
“Alright. I’ll have Thalia collect it then,” he said gently.
They were quiet for a moment as she shut her eyes. Her yawn broke the silence this time.
“You are tired,” he observed.
“I am,” she owned.
“I enjoyed speaking with you, Sookie.”
“I enjoyed it too,” she smiled. “Goodnight, Eric.”
“Sleep well,” he said before hanging up.
The telepath dragged herself off the couch and went to the cubby. She took out the database and—without any doubt about what she was doing—walked it to her front door.
As she stepped out onto her porch, she shivered from the cool temperature.
“Thalia,” she said in a normal tone.
Not a second later, the vampiress was in front of her.
“Make sure Eric gets this—okay?” she asked.
Thalia nodded as she took the small box.
“You—uh—don’t need a TrueBlood or anything—do you?” Sookie asked politely.
Thalia frowned. “You are not the hostess to your guards, Miss Stackhouse. You will learn that in time.”
Sookie chuckled. “And you’ll learn that I probably won’t stop offering you a drink every now and again.”
“I will not take one from you,” Thalia said firmly.
“That’s not the point,” she grinned before going back inside. “See you tomorrow night!” she said after closing the door.
The telepath heard the vampiress scoff before her void fleeted back to the woods.
Sookie couldn’t suppress a giggle as she went to her bathroom to complete her pre-sleep ritual. As she brushed her teeth, she reached her mind outward, having promised herself that she would always assess her situation upon rising and before going to bed. She “found” both Bubba and the allergic-to-hospitality vampiress relatively easily. Further away, she picked up on two Were and recognized their minds as being part of the Long Tooth group that had been there the night before.
She sighed as she found herself missing Eric’s void—missing his life force just being close to her. She couldn’t help but to wonder if he “felt” her—through their shared blood—in a similar way to how she “felt” him when he was close by.
Not her emotions—just her presence.
As she climbed into bed, she couldn’t help but to think—to hope—that Eric enjoyed her “presence” within him, just as much as she enjoyed when his void was nearby.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter and Eric and Sookie’s conversation. There is method to my madness. So often in stories, Eric and Sookie’s chemistry is at the center of their interactions (I do this too, and I’m not dissing it. It’s really easy to let their obvious chemistry push things in certain directions). In this story, it’s been fun to count on phone conversations (and the airplane ride where touching was limited) in order to build their relationship. Also, I’m using this physical separation to give Sookie the chance to heal from the attempted rape by Bill (remember that Eric stopped him in time in The Trunk). Anyway, I hope you are having as much fun with this as I am.