A/N: Hi all. I’ve been getting some reviews and PM’s that indicate that some of you aren’t a fan of the pacing of this piece. Others aren’t very pleased that I’m spending quite a bit of time “away” from Eric & Sookie being together or on characters that are secondary. You might remember from The Trunk that Sookie asked for some time to get her head screwed on straight, and Eric is giving her space to find some closure—though he’s clearly not exited from her life; he’s just letting her take the lead. It’s Wednesday (day time) in the story line, and—though Sookie and Eric will be speaking quite a bit (during the nights), they won’t see each other again until Friday. Meanwhile, there are other plot points that I am setting up. So—yeah—I’m saying all that to say this: I will understand if some of you want to give up and move on if you feel this story is not to your liking. Honestly, I don’t mind the constructive criticism I’ve gotten (and—just for the record—no one has been mean about any of their comments). However, I like my trajectory with this story, and I like its pacing. Not everyone will; I’m okay with that. So—if you are frustrated by the pacing—you might check back in after several more chapters get posted so you aren’t so disappointed. To be honest again, extra critiques aren’t really what I need right now because I’m having issues with my boss at work (whose main concern seems to be proving he’s the alpha male in the department and figuring out ways to belittle those around him), and I’m quite depressed about it all. Writing has and continues to be an outlet for me, and sharing my stories with you all makes me very happy. I’m sorry that some of you clearly aren’t that happy with me and my work right now. But I’m going to keep plodding, just as I’m doing at work right now, and I hope to keep the majority of your support.
Chapter 15: Starting Today
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2004
Sookie woke up to the sound of peace and quiet, but jetted upright because she feared she’d missed her alarm clock. She was, unsurprisingly, scheduled for a double-shift at Merlotte’s: both the noon to 6:00 p.m. and the 6:00 p.m. to close shifts.
“Shifty f-in shifter,” she grumbled, exhaling a puff of morning breath just to spite her cantankerous boss.
She glanced at her alarm clock and blinked in surprise when it indicated only 8:37 a.m. She hadn’t missed her alarm after all, but felt too rested to have slept for only 6 and a half hours.
“But I’ll take it,” she said with a grateful sigh, even as she pushed her telepathy outward. Maria-Star was—from the position of her brain—on the porch. A “new Were brain,” Mustapha, was with her, as was a human—Warren.
Sookie immediately zeroed in on the human’s brain since his thoughts were easier for her to read. Clearly, the two men had arrived not long before, and Maria-Star was giving them information about their guarding schedules and their temporary housing.
Warren turned his thoughts away from the conversation when they began arranging a time for Mustapha to officially check in with Colonel Flood as a “temporary resident” of Long Tooth. The telepath “read” from the human that his beloved had been “forced” to exist as a “lone wolf” for a while—ever since his original pack had expelled him because of his sexual preference for men. Long Tooth had no such restrictions on gay members—something which Warren was greatly relieved about.
Sookie could literally “see” when Warren went into “sniper mode,” for his thoughts seemed to be photographing the landscape as his eyes moved to catalogue potential “nests” for himself. And when he zeroed in on a tall maple tree toward the cemetery, his vision seemed to actually magnify the spot.
“Telephoto vision? Cool,” Sookie muttered as she cast her own “special vision” outward even farther. A Were and Onawa were just within her range, but on opposite sides of the property. For the unknown Were, Sookie pushed even more, and—though she was too far away to pick up his exact thoughts—she did establish his “mood.” He was bored.
Likely, he was from Long Tooth, but Sookie would “keep an ear on him” until she could confirm that supposition with Maria-Star.
Meanwhile, she picked up that the leader of “her day guards” (a label that she still wasn’t 100% comfortable with) was instructing Warren to take a defensive position and ordering Mustapha to relieve Onawa on the south side of the property so that the shifter could get a couple hours of sleep before going with Sookie to Merlotte’s.
Satisfied that all was in hand with her security, Sookie got out of bed and stretched on her way to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, she was showered and dressed in flannel pajama pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt—since she still had more than two hours before she had to leave for Merlotte’s.
She found herself sporting a smile—despite her long day ahead—as she half-skipped toward the kitchen to start coffee. Her talk with Eric the night before had left her feeling joyful—for lack of a better word.
It had been nice to have someone to share a sliver of her life with; of course, she’d shared aspects with Tara, Jason, and especially Gran—and Bill. She regretted the last of these, but she found herself grateful that talking to Bill had never “felt” the same as speaking with Eric. She smirked as she wondered if her Word-of-the-Day calendar would ever have a page on the prepositions “to” and “with.”
“There really is a difference,” she sighed to herself as she poured some cereal into a bowl. To talk to someone, as she’d done with Bill, seemed almost one-sided, and—looking back—she knew that she often hadn’t felt “heard” by the first man in her life. To speak with someone, as she was doing with Eric, was so much more of an exchange. She felt just as listened to as she was listening. And the interaction between them seemed equal in a way that she’d never fully enjoyed with anyone.
With her family and friends, she’d always held back. A part of her had been worried that they’d—one day—find her too abnormal to keep putting up with. Not to mention the fact that she’d not wanted to worry them with her daily pains and struggles.
With Bill, she’d not held back. She’d put herself out there, praying to God that he’d love her for who she was. It had been Bill who had held back. Either by outright lies or omissions, Bill had been the reason why the couple had never truly spoken with each other.
Her musings were interrupted when Maria-Star knocked at her back door. Sookie put the milk away and hurried through the mud porch.
“Hey!” the telepath said brightly. “Good morning!”
Maria-Star was all business. “Mustapha and Warren are here. They have entered the guard rotation. Onawa and Willow will be accompanying you when you go to Merlotte’s.”
The Were frowned. “What is funny?” she asked in a no-nonsense tone that rivaled Thalia’s.
“Just the thought you just had. Uh—sorry for invading,” Sookie stammered. “It’s just that I’m trying to use my ability more.”
Maria-Star nodded approvingly. “It is good that you are doing that. Good for you and the functionality of your guards. And—for the record—I cannot help but to think that I would kick Merlotte in the balls if I were the one stationed at Merlotte’s again. Yesterday, he behaved like an animal,” she smirked.
Sookie snorted out another laugh. “Animal! That’s the funny part!”
“As I was saying,” Maria-Star went back into business mode, “Onawa and Willow are likely to cause fewer issues than the men in the guard contingent, given Merlotte’s possessive nature.”
Sookie’s eyes opened widely. “Eric is the one who suggested sending female guards!” she read from Maria-Star’s thoughts.
The Were scoffed. “Sending males would have been more amusing and would have likely forced the shifter to say that ‘one more thing’ that would have made you quit,” she said, her eyes flashing yellow at the thought. “However, Mr. Northman has made it very clear to Thalia and myself that your contentment is second only to your safety.”
Sookie smiled to herself at Eric’s thoughtfulness.
“Your work guards will be here at 11:45 a.m. to drive you to Merlotte’s. I’ll make periodic patrols of the woods surrounding the area, but both of them will be staying inside the bar with you for the most part. I believe that you have stated that you will no longer interact with your shifter boss alone—correct?”
“Yeah,” Sookie sighed with a hint of regret. She hated that her relationship with Sam had come to that, but that’s where he’d put it.
“In that case, one of your guards will impede any such private interaction. Other than that, they have been ordered to watch and protect only.”
The telepath nodded in understanding.
“Mr. Northman would like to know if you would be willing to receive a visitor this morning. He instructed that this be given to you.”
Sookie took the note as Maria-Star turned her back. “Just yell out a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ when you have your answer. I will hear.”
“Oh—okay. Uh—Maria Star?”
“Yes?” the Were asked, turning around again.
Sookie closed her eyes and got a bead on the Were brain she’d not “recognized.” “There’s a Were about two football’s field’s worth in that direction,” she indicated by pointing. “Is that one of your people?”
Maria-Star smiled almost sinisterly. “You have an amazing talent, Miss Stackhouse. It is an honor to be your guard.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,'” the telepath blushed, even as Maria-Star turned back toward to woods. “And you can be as formal in your work as you want, but call me Sookie while doin’ it,” she requested firmly.
The telepath noticed a slight head nod of affirmation from the Were before she turned to go inside to escape the chill in the air. She quickly filled a coffee cup and sat down with her cereal before opening the note.
She smiled as she saw Eric’s neat, somewhat old-timey-looking handwriting.
I flew by your home in the pre-dawn hour to check in with Thalia, but you were already asleep, and I didn’t want to awaken you—even though I have encouraging news for you. I spoke with the queen last night, and during the course of our conversation, she confirmed that she had employed Compton—just as we’d thought. It seems that she wanted him to “court you” because she felt it would be the easiest way to secure you into her service, while also creating a “happy” existence for you. Her motives seemed to have been more matchmaker-oriented than malevolent.
Also, as we suspected, she learned of your ability from your cousin, who is now the queen’s child as well. I have confirmed with my spy at court that Sophie-Anne genuinely cares for Hadley. It would seem that your cousin wants to reconcile with you and your brother; that is a matter that you can consider and then raise with Jason as you see fit. If you decided to see Hadley, I feel certain that such a meeting could be arranged at any time.
The queen also seemed to accept my claim upon you, though—as I figured—she wants to employ you. I sincerely believe that we no longer have to fear her trying to take you against your will. I knew you would want to hear of this as soon as possible.
Sookie stopped reading for a moment and heaved a sigh of relief. Eric was right. Knowing that there was one less vampire to worry about trying to kidnap her was a very good thing. She kept reading.
I hate to take away some of your relief, but I must.
“Fudge!” Sookie exclaimed, but kept going nonetheless.
One of Sophie-Anne’s children, her second-in-command Andre, may not be on board with leaving you in peace. I do not believe he will be so foolish as to challenge my claim of you in an outright manner, but I felt the need to warn you that he might try to undermine us in some covert way. I do not want to cause you unrest, but I promised that I would not hide anything from you unless I had to (or unless I asked your permission to). Despite this cloud, please do take my news as an overall positive, and be comforted. However, you may also be assured that I will be keeping a close enough eye on the royal court to ensure that I am correct about the queen and that I can curb any ill-intentions Andre may have.
Also, I believe I promised you a business plan. However, I thought you might enjoy beginning your training a bit earlier than planned. If so, a messenger will soon arrive with the plan. She is a potential day-person to replace Bobby. If you open the parcel she brings, there is an envelope on top with a list of questions that you can ask her, but I’d suggest you conduct “your” version of an interview before consulting them. I’d hazard to guess that your instincts will yield things that go beyond my questions. If you haven’t the time or the desire to conduct this interview, it will wait. Just let Maria-Star know one way or the other. If it is a ‘no,’ your guard will simply deliver the business plan herself, and you can go on about your day.
I want to reiterate how much I enjoyed speaking with you last night. If you wish to call after your shift, I promise to be awake.
“Mine,” Sookie sighed to herself with a smile, even as she got up to go to the back door. She yelled out, “Yes! But give me twenty minutes to finish breakfast!”
Christa Larrabee, named for her grandmother Christine, was the nineteen-year-old granddaughter of the packmaster who’d been in charge of Long Tooth before Colonel Flood took over.
Over a cup of coffee, Sookie had learned that Christa didn’t mind running errands for Eric—even out in the “sticks.” She also didn’t have anything against vampires in general or Sookie in particular. She did, however, have a king-sized crush on Pam, something that seemed innocent enough. But—then again—Bobby’s obsession with Eric may very well have started out as a crush. And Sookie didn’t want for Eric’s child to receive the kind of danger she was trying to keep Eric protected from.
“Though a ‘single-white-female’ for Pam might be funny,” the telepath thought to herself with a smirk.
During her chat with/”secret interview” of Christa, Sookie had also already learned that a Were named Patrick Furnan had visited Christa’s grandmother to complain about Colonel Flood’s leadership. Apparently, Furnan had wanted the job as packmaster—and still did. According to Christa’s thoughts, the matriarch of her family had shut down the Were quickly, proclaiming the Larrabee’s support of Flood, but Sookie figured that Eric would still want to know about the potential issue.
“So—are you a messenger full time?” Sookie asked, as if she hadn’t already harvested a lot of information from her guest’s thoughts.
“No,” Christa answered with a smile. “I also go to college part-time, though I’m not sure what I want to major in quite yet.”
“Really!” Sookie brightened. “I’m thinking about going to college soon—probably not until the fall though.”
“LSU?” the Were asked. “That’s where I go! I really like it. It’ll be funny—the cool kind of funny—if we ended up in classes together,” she bubbled.
Sookie was impressed that the Were was neither judging that Sookie looked too dumb nor thinking that she looked too old to begin college. The telepath could only imagine what Bobby would be thinking! Christa was simply happy for the prospect of having a potential friend in her classes with her.
“That would be cool,” Sookie agreed, even as she casually opened up the parcel Christa had brought and took out the envelope on top. Just as casually, she opened that envelope and looked at the list of questions.
1. Is her family loyal to Colonel Flood? Or are they supporters of Furnan?
2. Do you think she’d accept long-term employment?
3. Clearly, she knows about the Supernatural, but does she have any animosity towards vampires?
4. Does she have any misgivings whatsoever about the kinds of errands that Bobby clearly feels above doing?
Sookie folded the sheet and put it back in the envelope. “Sorry about that,” she smiled. “I just wanted to make sure that these are the documents I thought they were.”
Christa smiled. “Oh—don’t worry about it. They must be important if Mr. Northman wanted them brought to you right away,” she observed, though her mind held no real curiosity about the specific contents of the parcel. Indeed, she felt that it was best—with any work she did for vampires—not to ask any questions.
Sookie could tell that Christa had certain limits—and the Were was a pacifist at heart—but she would clearly be fine doing the kinds of things that Sookie understood day-person duties to be.
“So how long have you worked for Mr. Northman?” Sookie asked.
“Oh—for about six months. I only run a few errands a week for him though—when they’re Were-related and/or when his usual day-guy is too busy,” she rolled her eyes.
“I see you know Bobby Burnham,” Sookie deadpanned.
“I call him Creepy Worm-man,” Christa said with a mischievous grin. “And—did you know that he speaks with a British accent? But only sometimes?”
Sookie barely avoided snorting out a drink of coffee before laughing. “That nickname fits him.”
“I swear his eyes stay glued to any chest in the area,” Christa shared as she took another sip of her coffee. “Even my grandmother’s,” she tagged on, causing Sookie to almost lose her coffee again. “But I haven’t had to deal with him too often—usually just when I have to pick up something from him in order to actually run the errand Mr. Northman needs. Like today,” she smiled. “And—let me tell you—he seemed happy not to have to come out here, though I have no idea why he’d think the drive was too far,” she said, rolling her eyes again. “Anyway, I’m sort of hoping to work for Mr. Northman more often than I already am. I like school and all, but I really like the idea of a job where no two days are the same, and—between you and me,” she leaned in, “Mr. Northman pays really well, especially to full-time people.”
“Would you keep going to school?” Sookie asked. “If he hired you full-time?” Oddly enough, Sookie didn’t want the young woman to drop out and—thus—lose her opportunity to change her mind about her future profession.
Christa smiled. “That’s the best part about being a part-time student. Even now, I tend to take classes at night, so I don’t think many errands would interfere with them. And most errands can be scheduled around classes anyway. So—yeah—I would finish my degree. If nothing else, it’ll make Granny happy.”
Sookie smiled at that thought, knowing that her own Gran would be happy to know that she was planning to become a part-time student as well.
“Can I ask you a question?” Sookie asked. “It’s sort of personal.”
“Sure!” Christa said with a shrug. “But if it’s too personal, I might not answer.”
“How—uh,” the telepath inquired somewhat hesitantly, “do you deal with a full moon when you have a night class?”
Christa giggled girlishly. “That’s not the kind of question I was expecting. To be honest, classes tend to get out before I really get the itch to shift. And I come from strong stock too,” she proclaimed proudly. “As long as I turn sometime during the night of a full moon—and don’t try to avoid the turn altogether—I have a lot of control. Just like my daddy did!” she added.
Sookie got a momentary flash of a photograph of a handsome young man and an infant. The telepath had to cover up her reaction as she picked up from Christa’s thoughts that the man was Christa’s father. Lieutenant Jeffrey Larrabee had been killed in action in the Middle East before Christa was even a year old. In fact, the only picture of Jeffrey and his daughter was the one that Christa had carefully stored in her memory. Sookie’s mind couldn’t help but to slip to a picture of her father and her that she’d stared at so often that it was similarly memorized. The telepath resisted the urge to pat the young Were on the arm in comfort and empathy.
Christa’s flash of sadness at the father she’d never known was quickly pushed aside as she continued. “I haven’t had any problems with controlling shifts since puberty.” She cringed a little. “Back then, though, it was another story. I got the ‘flu’ every time my school’s basketball team had a full-moon game. And I had to miss my Junior prom.”
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed, having never considered the kinds of ‘growing pains’ that other Supernaturals had to go through. Sure—learning to construct shields might have been a longer process for her than learning to control her shifts had been for the Were in front of her, but that didn’t mean that the process was any less traumatic in the moment.
Christa winked. “Don’t worry. Since one of my aunts was in charge of the athletic scheduling at my school, missing a game wasn’t a problem too often. And the boyfriend I was going to go to the prom with turned out to be an a-hole!”
Sookie chuckled, before catching a glimpse of the clock on the wall. “Oh dear! I lost track of time! I really hate to send you on your way, but I have to scarf down some lunch and get ready for work. Do you want a sandwich?”
“Oh—no thanks!” Christa said, standing up quickly. “I’d not meant to stay this long, but this is all I have going on today since I took my last final of the semester last week.”
“It’s fine,” Sookie smiled. “It was really good to meet you and chat!”
“Yeah! It was! And I really needed the caffeine before driving back,” Christa said with a smile, even as she helped Sookie take the coffee items to the kitchen. After that, she made a quick exit—after reiterating that she’d enjoyed her “visit.”
“Definitely better than Bobby,” Sookie chuckled.
The telepath hurriedly made herself a sandwich and then went to her room to put on her uniform.
“Who knew that training for a job could make me feel this good?” she asked herself, even as she began contemplating converting her brother’s old bedroom into an office for both her school and work stuff.
She felt her life changing in a real way. And she really liked that change.
She liked the feeling even more.
A/N: So—what do you think of Sookie’s job training and Eric’s note? He’s making the effort to keep her in the loop and to allay her worries right away (instead of even waiting for the night time). This is how I wish Eric had been with Sookie more—at least once they’d gotten “together.” It’s been so interesting “playing” with both an Eric and a Sookie who were “matured” by a near-death situation (the trunk) as opposed to using it as an excuse to turn away from their feelings. Anyway, if you have the time and the inclination, let me know your thoughts. And what do you think of Christa as a replacement for Bobby?