Saturday, December 18
Sookie woke up feeling much less drained than she would have thought, considering how much she’d cried the night before—how distraught she’d been.
She allowed herself a moment to feel a bit of embarrassment for crying all over Eric the night before, but she found herself feeling mostly grateful that he’d been there.
“Here with me,” she whispered, placing a hand on the slight indentation his head had made in the pillow next to hers. She found herself wishing that he was still there—holding her. “Even in your sleep,” she mused.
“Your bein’ here is probably why I don’t feel like a wreck,” she speculated.
The telepath had slept in starts and stops for a while as Eric had held her, waking for periods of crying before being lulled back into sleep by the gentle presence of the vampire she’d once thought was incapable of gentleness.
“I was so wrong,” she sighed, sitting up.
She cast out her telepathy and quickly found things as expected. Maria-Star was nearest to the house, and Warren was in his sniper’s nest. Mustapha was further away, and Sookie tracked his mind for a moment before casting further out to find a couple of other Weres that she was beginning to recognize as “usual add-ons.” Sookie would have complained, given the fact that her guard detail was larger than what she and Eric had discussed on the plane, but she had read from Maria-Star that her godfather, Colonel Flood, had asked Eric if more people could be sent since the Colonel saw the situation as an opportunity for some of his younger Weres to gain guard experience, while making a little money. Learning that, Sookie didn’t mind the additions so much.
Then Sookie cast her gift upward, “looking” for Willow. Not finding her in the air around the house, Sookie speculated that Willow and Onawa were probably off duty and would show up right about when Sookie needed to leave for Merlotte’s.
Speaking of which, Sookie looked at her clock. It read 9:30 a.m. She blew out a loud exhalation and quickly got up. She would be training the two new waitresses that day, and needed to get showered and ready to leave by 10:30 a.m.
The telepath almost missed Eric’s note as she determined to start her coffee before showering. However, as soon as she saw it, she put the brakes on her movements and prioritized seeing what he’d said.
I hope that you rested well after I had to seek out my own rest. I took the liberty of calling the shifter to let him know that you might need to cancel your work obligation today. He was surprisingly civil when I explained that you had confronted Bill. He asked only that you call him if you do not feel up to working.
Also, I took the liberty of checking to see if the part Britlingen therapist, Dr. Smith, was available to speak with you today—if that is something you need.
In frankness, I was at a loss when trying to figure out what I could do for you once I needed to leave you. I found that I wished to continue holding you, and you were one impulse-loss away from awaking with me in your hidey hole, where I am now at rest.
Please forgive any overdoing (or highhandedness) that I may have done in calling the shifter and the therapist. Remember, however, that the choice of going to work is still yours, as is the choice of seeing the doctor.
If you are home, I will see you when I awaken for the night. If not, please call me to tell me how you are.
Sookie sighed and re-read the vampire’s words. It was somehow comforting to know that he, too, had been at a loss the night before.
Except he’d somehow known exactly what she’d needed—his arms, his comfort. Himself.
“I probably wouldn’t have minded waking up in the hidey hole,” she thought before cringing a little as she had a flash of being locked in the trunk. “Wait! Never mind—still too claustrophobic to even think about that kind of thing.” She sighed. “I bet you thought about that too when you decided not to take me with you.”
Sookie quickly went to what was now a guest room and looked at the floor of the closet where the hidey hole was located.
“Thank you, Eric. I’ll see you tonight,” she said before kissing her palm and then bending down to place her hand onto the hatch to the hole.
“I love you,” she said as she rose.
She was halfway to the kitchen before she stopped in her tracks, realizing what she’d said.
In a bit of a stupor, she progressed to the kitchen and started her coffee.
Did she love Eric? If she did, shouldn’t she try to put the brakes on doing so since it was so soon since they’d even contemplated beginning a relationship? After all, they’d not even had their first official date!
However, the words—”I love you”—had fallen from her lips in such a natural way that she’d not even noticed them at first. “Oh crap! What if I let them slip when Eric’s around? What if they scare him off?”
She could just imagine him flying away at top speed. “Runnin’ for the hills,” as Gran might say.
“Fuck!” she muttered before returning to her room and looking—once again—at Eric’s note.
“Dear one,” she said softly. “Yours,” she added, reading the way he’d started and ended his note.
She felt her heartbeat quicken, and she closed her eyes tightly.
“What if he feels the same as I do?” she asked almost silently, almost afraid to put the thought out into the world because it seemed so fragile—so precious.
She shook her head and hurried into the bathroom.
She’d shower. She’d have a cup of coffee—or three. Then she’d decide whether to go into Merlotte’s that day or to ask Dr. Smith for a full-day session in order to prevent herself from driving herself crazy!
“Good plan,” she congratulated herself as she grabbed clean underwear and a robe.
APPROXIMATELY FIVE HOURS LATER
“Um—hi, Dr. Smith,” Sookie greeted as she opened her front door. “And—uh—thanks for meeting me here,” she added with a shy smile.
After her shower that morning, Sookie had felt much calmer. She’d not used her “get out of work free” card either, and she was now glad that she hadn’t. Both of the new waitresses had caught on very quickly, and—by the end of the lunch rush—Sam and she were both confident that they could run their own sections. Following the rush, Sookie had even taught them about the stocking and the cleaning procedures before leaving Merlotte’s at 2:00 p.m. so that she could meet the doctor at 3:00, an appointment she’d arranged as soon as she realized just how quickly—and how well—the training was going.
From the door, Dr. Aphra Smith, smiled back at the telepath, her greenish brown eyes sparkling with kindness and understanding. “Meeting with you here is easier for me too. In fact, it is rare that I actually meet with a patient at my office. Supernaturals seldom feel secure opening up unless they are on their own turf,” she informed as she followed Sookie into the living room, where the telepath had laid out some light food and drinks.
“Oh—uh—I won’t mind coming to your office from now on. I don’t have a—uh—turf or anything,” Sookie shrugged.
Dr. Smith chuckled. “Do not take my statement the wrong way, Miss Stackhouse. I work mostly with the two-natured. However, I have found that almost everyone is most comfortable speaking in a familiar setting.” She gestured around the room and then toward the family pictures on the mantle and the wall. “There has been pain in this home, but the love overbalances that pain by a lot.” She closed her eyes. “Yes—this is a good place for you.”
“You can tell that?” Sookie asked with interest.
The doctor smiled and opened her eyes. “Yes. My Britlingen grandmother is known for her tremendous instincts, though she does not apply them to psychology.” She laughed as if imagining such a thing. “Clovache is a skilled warrior.”
“Oh? Is she—uh—in this realm?” Sookie asked, recalling the little that Eric had told her about Britlingens.
“Not right now and not for close to one hundred years,” the doctor responded. “But she will be here again soon. She was recently hired by the vampire King of Kentucky and will use part of her time in this realm to see the progress of her part-human line. I have not met her, but look forward to it.”
“Uh—Eric said something about some Supes having really long lives. I’m sorry, but I don’t know much about Britlingens,” Sookie apologized as she motioned toward a chair.
“Part-Britlingens enjoy longer lives that humans and Weres,” Dr. Smith responded. “However, as with part-Dae and part-Fae beings, our length of life is determined mostly by the amount of magic found within us.”
“Can I—uh—ask how old you are, Dr. Smith?” Sookie requested shyly. “I—uh—don’t want to offend you. I just want to learn.”
“I am not offended in the least,” the doctor chuckled. “And—please—call me Aphra. ‘Smith’ is a surname I use only with humans.” She shook her head. “Having no last name makes humans feel uncomfortable, but Britlingens do not use them.”
“Oh—okay. Please, call me Sookie,” the telepath said, gesturing toward the tea. “Would you like some?”
“Yes. Thank you,” Aphra accepted. “And to answer your question, I just turned seventy-three years old.”
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed, taking in the woman who looked about thirty-five years old.
“My mother, who is half Britlingen, of course, looks even younger than I,” Aphra winked.
“Wow! Uh—how do y’all explain why you stay so young looking?” the telepath asked.
“We must move around every decade or so once we reach adulthood,” Aphra explained. “Since the Great Revelation, my mother and I have contemplated pretending to be vampires so that we can stay settled in a place for longer, but neither of us wants to be limited to nighttime business.”
“That must be hard—gettin’ used to a place and then havin’ to uproot,” Sookie observed compassionately, as she handed Aphra a glass of tea and a plate with a piece of banana-nut bread.
“Sometimes,” Aphra admitted. “But I am often ready to move on when we go. Do not worry about my picking up and leaving here any time soon though,” she assured. “I have built my life in the Shreveport area so that I am social with only Supernaturals. And I recently agreed to a fifteen-year affiliation with Dr. Ludwig. And I would not dare to back out of such an agreement—with one such as her.”
“I don’t blame you,” Sookie laughed a little nervously. “I only met Dr. Ludwig once, but she scared me more than the Maenad who’d been the reason for my needing her help to begin with!”
Aphra smirked. “Ludwig can be intimidating.”
The two sipped their teas for a moment.
“So—Mr. Northman said that you would let me know within minutes if you wished for me to be your counselor,” Aphra said, her eyes shining with intrigue. “Tell me—are you able to tell me yet?”
“Did Eric tell you why I’d need that time?” Sookie asked.
The part-Britlingen shook her head. “He told me very little actually, except that you might wish for my help. So—did I pass whatever test you had for me?”
“Everything I say to you is confidential—right?” Sookie asked.
Aphra nodded and then pulled a small sphere from her bag.
“What’s that?” Sookie asked.
“It is from the Britlingen world. When turned on, its magic creates a field of covalency around us.”
“Covalency?” Sookie asked.
“In this world, the word ‘covalent’ refers to the formation of bonds between atoms. And that connotation is not far from what the word means in the Britlingen tongue. To us, the concept of covalency is sacred, a trust created between beings that cannot be broken. I have tied my Britlingen essence to this sphere, and it is—quite literally—my bond. On this world, the sphere also has the convenient effect of making anything we say within this room unhearable to the outer world.” She placed the orb on the coffee table and then drew a pattern on it, making it glow a soft, soothing blue light.
Aphra smiled. “Anything you say to me when it is activated could never pass from my own lips without your permission.”
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed, looking at the light. “That makes what I can do seem pretty ordinary!”
Aphra chuckled. “And what can you do, Sookie?”
Sookie took a deep breath, deciding in that moment that she did—indeed—want to hire Aphra. “I’m a telepath.”
Not seeming surprised at all, Aphra tilted her head to study Sookie for a moment. “Do you know the lineage that created such an ability in you?”
Sookie shook her head. “Eric has some theories. I think he’s leaning toward fairy. He’s even offered to help me make contact with one. But I’m not ready for that right now,” she sighed, swirling her glass in her hands before setting it down on a coaster. “There are other things I want to focus on right now.”
Aphra, too, set down her drink and then sat back in her chair. “Can you hear my thoughts?” she asked curiously.
“No,” Sookie said.
“That was the test—yes? If you had heard my thoughts, you would not have wished to work with me?”
“No offense, but no,” the telepath answered honestly.
“I cannot say that I blame you,” Aphra commented. “And I am glad that you cannot hear me.”
“You aren’t completely silent,” Sookie relayed. “I am picking up feelings from you.”
“I’m an empath,” Aphra informed. “I emit my feelings to the point that many Supernaturals can, at least, get a sense of them. I imagine that your gift helps you to tune into them. Do you mind? I can block my gift—if you wish. Supernaturals, by rule, are an untrusting bunch, and I find that they are usually much more willing to share if they have a sense of my authentic reactions.”
“Thanks for the offer, but no. Please don’t shut them off,” Sookie said. “Right now, I think it’ll be good to get an idea of your reactions to things—uh—just so that I know that . . . .” Her voice trailed off as she looked down at her hands in her lap.
“You wish to be certain you can trust me and what I say,” Aphra guessed, neither her emotions nor her voice indicating any anger.
“Yeah,” Sookie admitted. “I’m sorry. Once bitten, twice shy—you know? Um—literally bitten in some ways.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Aphra reassured. “So—I am hired?”
“Yes,” Sookie nodded.
“Then we will begin wherever you wish to begin,” Aphra said, “perhaps with the biting part.”
“You—uh—don’t have questions and stuff?” Sookie asked.
“I might as we go along, but not right now. You needed me today. We can start with why that was if you like, or we can start with any part of your story.”
“Oh—okay,” Sookie said a little nervously, her hands twisting together in anxiety-induced patterns on her lap.
“There is no right or wrong way to do therapy,” Aphra comforted.
“Well—uh—do you think there’s a right or wrong way to do love?” Sookie asked.
“No, but clearly you worry that there is,” the doctor observed perceptively. “Do you wish to tell me why?”
Sookie bit her lower lip and nodded. “I thought I was in love with a vampire named Bill Compton. But he turned out to be a fraud. Now, I think I’m falling in love—or—uh—maybe I already am in love—with Eric. And I’m freaking out!”
“Do you fear that Eric is a fraud?” Aphra asked calmly in order to offset Sookie’s high-strung emotions.
“I know he’s not!” Sookie responded immediately—vehemently. “But I am worried that I haven’t given myself long enough to get over Bill. I—uh—have seen people do the rebound thing. And I don’t want that kind of thing with Eric!”
“You want the real thing,” Aphra posited.
“With Eric? Yes. Yes, I do,” Sookie responded, surprising herself with how certain she felt about her words.
“Well—then. Tell me about what you are feeling for Eric so it’ll be easier to tell if it’s real,” Aphra suggested.
“But that’s not why Eric was so worried about me! Not why I was so upset yesterday night,” Sookie said, shaking her head. “Uh—actually, I don’t know why I was so upset last night. I was breaking things off with Bill—officially severing him from my life. And I was glad too! Am still glad! And then I just started cryin’ and couldn’t stop.” She huffed impatiently. “There are so many things to talk about—the trunk, Bill, the queen, Hadley!”
“Things that you think you should deal with fully before you fall in love?” Aphra asked perceptively.
“Yeah,” Sookie sighed after a moment of contemplation.
The human-Britlingen smiled kindly. “Sookie, I’ve been a therapist for several decades, and I’ve never known love to cooperate with an individual’s timeline. In other words, it doesn’t always wait for us to get our shit together before it hits us.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to chuckle.
“You have likely heard more brains than I’ve had clients. Tell me,” Aphra said, leaning forward, “what is your impression about how love works?”
“It’s hard to say, but—uh—real love is pretty rare,” the telepath said thoughtfully. “I mean—people think they’re in love all the time, but—yeah—after hearing so many heads, I’ve come to believe it’s rare.”
“And what does it feel like? When it’s real?”
“It’s never the same—not for any two people,” Sookie explained, “but there are some things it always has in common.”
“Oh?” Aphra inquired with curiosity.
“There’s a kind of calmness—a strength—a certainty,” Sookie expounded.
“Yes,” the doctor agreed with a slight nod, “that corresponds with what I feel from those who find reciprocal love.”
Sookie looked at her in question. “Reciprocal?”
“Love exchanged—love equally given and returned,” Aphra supplied.
“Yeah—that’s the rare kind.”
“How do you feel with Eric?”
“Freaked out!” Sookie repeated with a shake of her head. “But calm too—like I just know that something about him—about us—is true and right. He makes me feel stronger than I’ve ever felt,” she continued softly. “But I’m scared—scared to believe that I really am as certain about us as I think I am.” She shook her head. “What if it’s too good to be true? What if it’s too soon to be true? What if he doesn’t love me back?” she asked the last question in barely a whisper.
Aphra replied softly, her voice warm. “Nothing true could ever be too good, Sookie. And you must have seen yourself that love—perhaps especially the truest kind—can come on like lightening. As for what Eric feels? Well—does that matter?”
“Yes!” Sookie exclaimed. “Of course, it does!”
Aphra chuckled. “Yes. But what I meant was that your feelings won’t alter, even if he does not share them. So you must deal with and face them.” She took a drink of tea as Sookie absorbed her words.
“You’re an empath,” Sookie said.
“You can tell what I feel?”
“Yes,” the doctor confirmed.
“Will you tell me—if I really do love him?”
“If you ask me to,” Aphra said.
Sookie nodded. “I want you to. I know it’s cheating, and I won’t ask you to help me cheat again. I promise. But I’m looking for the easy way today. I need it,” she pled.
The counselor nodded. “Yes. I think you do need the easy way today. And—yes—what you feel is love, the true kind. I cannot, however, tell you if Eric feels the same. Even if I knew, I could not share with you the feelings of others. But I can guide you toward the facts.”
“Facts?” Sookie asked, still looking a little shell-shocked from the doctor’s confirmation that she was in love with Eric—even though she’d not actually needed it to know the truth.
“Tell me why I’m here—how you came to know of me,” Aphra requested.
“Tell me why he suggested that you speak with me.”
“He’s worried about the changes happenin’ in my life and about the bad things I’ve gone through,” Sookie responded.
“Tell me why he’s worried.”
“He cares about me,” Sookie said softly.
“Do you believe he loves you?” Aphra asked.
Sookie closed her eyes and thought about the question for a moment. A single image came into her mind—the look on Eric’s face as he’d pulled her from the trunk. It was the same way he’d looked at her the night before—when he’d scooped her up as she’d fallen apart about another man. “I know he loves me,” she declared quietly.
“Then time is your solution.”
“Time?” the telepath asked opening her eyes.
“In time, you will be ready to tell him of your love. Or he will be ready to tell you of his. Until then, I suggest that you simply enjoy feeling it. From what you have said, you two are just beginning.”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m freaking out,” Sookie admitted.
“Beginnings can be frightening,” the doctor concurred. “But being frightened shouldn’t diminish your other feelings, including the ones you have for Eric. Let the fear,” she paused, “happen. Experience it; that way you can deal with it,” Aphra advised.
Sookie contemplated for a moment. “Do you know what I’m most scared of? Losing him altogether. I wouldn’t just be losing the man that I love; I’d also be losin’ the person that is quickly becoming the most important friend in my life.”
Aphra smiled softly. “Perhaps that is your answer then—for the short term anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked. “Bein’ afraid I’ll lose Eric is the answer?”
“No,” the therapist clarified. “And, by the way, that fear you’re talking about is felt by everyone who truly loves. It’s a fear as old as love itself, so—at least—you need not worry that you are alone in it. What I meant as your short-term answer, however, is the love you feel for Eric as a friend. It might be easier—feel safer—for you to speak of that with him if you are not yet ready to speak of the romantic kind.”
“Oh. Yeah. Maybe,” Sookie considered.
Aphra smiled widely. “I believe you will be just fine, Sookie Stackhouse, though I do think we will have a lot to talk about in our future sessions!”
Sookie chuckled ruefully. “Do I seem that messed up to you?”
“Not at all!” Aphra responded. “It just seems that you have been through a lot and will be going through even more in the coming days. And—importantly—it seems that you are ready to face that which is in the past, but threatens to hold you back. You are making a brave choice so that you can move into the future as a healthier version of yourself. Those are good things. However—with that being said—I must wrap up our current session.”
Sookie glanced at the clock, surprised to see that eighty minutes had gone by since Aphra had arrived. The session had been meant to last only an hour.
“Oh! I’m sorry I kept you,” the telepath apologized profusely.
“I would stay longer if Mr. Northman were younger. But—as it is—he will awaken soon.”
Sookie frowned. “You know he’s here?”
“He called me from here mere minutes before dawn,” Aphra shared. “That is how I know. And I am speculating that—since he is quite old—he can rise well before sundown.”
“He won’t be able to come out of—uh—where he is though,” Sookie said, a little disappointed.
“A thick, dark quilt, double folded—at least—and hammered over the window. Duct tape around its edges and another quilt under the door. Get the Weres outside to help, and it’ll be done within ten minutes,” Aphra smiled.
“Huh?” Sookie asked, confused.
“I had a relationship with a vampire once. We were together for a few years, in fact. He was just over five centuries old, so that’s how I know about the getting up early thing. And we often stayed in regular hotels, so I learned all about how to temporarily light-proof places,” she responded.
“Oh!” Sookie said with realization, glancing anxiously at the clock. “I can get Mustapha and Onawa to help,” she said, after “finding” their brain patterns nearby.
“Shall we meet again next Saturday then? Same time, same place?” Aphra asked. “Unless you need me earlier. Then just call me.”
“Oh. Okay. Yes. Thanks!” Sookie responded.
“I will see you then,” Aphra said as she picked up the sphere. She did not turn it off right away though. “Until then, enjoy this time. Young love is precious, Sookie.”
The telepath nodded. “I will.”
“Good,” Aphra smiled as she ran her finger over the orb. Its pale blue light immediately dissipated and then it—and Aphra—literally disappeared!
“Okay—well—that’s one way to make an exit!” Sookie commented before moving into action. She had just the quilt in mind for a quick light-proofing job: the thickest one in the house, of course. And she’d put a dark tarp over it.
“I can’t be too safe with him,” she mused.
A/N: Hello all! I hope you had a great week! First off, thanks to everyone who read my new story “Romjul” (part of the Gift Horse Series). I very much appreciate it!
Now-for this chapter: I didn’t feel like I needed to spend too much time on Sookie’s shift at Merlotte’s here-despite its being her last shift (YAY! Onto bigger, better things!). The new waitresses aren’t important for this story, so I didn’t want to have to introduce (I know-lazy on my part). What I opted to concentrate on about this day for Sookie was her meeting with Aphra. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: It was a shame that Sookie never got any kind of help in the books/show, esp. after the trunk incident. Just being locked up and powerless with someone she KNEW beforehand WOULD hurt her would have brought back the same kinds of horrors that the Uncle Bartlett situation raised for her: to believing she was powerless to stop Bartlett-even though she KNEW what he planned; to not have justice or closure as a child; to feel the need to “keep it all a secret” instead of Gran shining a light on the pedophile (which still makes me dislike Gran to a certain extent-though I know that often hiding situations like this is “just how things get done” even now); to finally confide in someone-Bill-just to have that individual kill Bartlett; to have that murder cause her to feel guilt; etc. Yes-I think that Sookie needed help, and sometimes I wonder if her not getting it was why CH had Sookie digress as a character. Without help dealing with everything, after all, one’s natural inclination for “flight” and isolation from the outside world can be extremely strong (Hell-I once had anxiety so badly that I was borderline agoraphobic for a while!). Anyway, those are my two-cents worth. As someone who has sought and benefited from counseling, I am an advocate-and I’m unashamed that I’ve needed it, though I have sensed a stigma from others at times. My belief is that seeking mental health help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and I really hope that society continues to progress toward viewing it that way.
Okay-off my soapbox now.
I hope you’ll leave a review to let me know what you think of the chapter and Dr. Aphra Smith.
Thanks to Seph for the new banner for Aphra!