Chapter 18: (Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I
It was just after 4:00 a.m. when Eric pulled into Sookie’s driveway; to the telepath, it felt as if she’d been up for days—despite the nap she’d enjoyed in Eric’s car.
Even if Eric’s pensiveness when he’d hung up on their ‘extra layer of protection’ hadn’t stirred her minutes before, the bumping of the low-ride vehicle in her driveway would have.
“I’m sorry about the bumps,” the telepath apologized. “Gran and I tried to save up to get the driveway re-graveled—or at least, patched—but somethin’ always came up. Uh—I’m hoping to have some funds to spare when I—uh . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“When what?” the vampire asked curiously.
She blushed. “When I get the—uh—Dallas check,” she muttered as if apologizing for her words. Despite their intimate conversation earlier—despite everything that had passed between them—she still felt awkward mentioning the payment.
Indeed, she could almost hear Gran rolling around in the nearby cemetery; in fact, she caught herself glancing in the direction of the cemetery—just to make sure Gran wasn’t running out of it in ghost-form. The matriarch had often preached that money wasn’t to be spoken about “in polite society.” In many ways, it had been a more taboo subject to the older woman than sex!
“Get the Dallas check?” Eric asked, his voice taking on an unexpected edge of irritation that made Sookie squirm a little.
“Yes. Uh—I’m sorry to have mentioned it though. Gran would have my hide. And—uh—I’m sure you’ve been busy, and I don’t want to seem impatient or ungrateful about it. As long as I get it by February—um—if I that’s not a bother to you, that is. That’s the deadline for the property taxes. ‘Course maybe—if I start that new profession—I’ll be able to do more around here—more of what Gran always talked about doin’.” She chuckled with a mix of caution and embarrassment. “Anyway, this old driveway has suited me well enough for years. It’ll keep for a while longer.”
Despite her conciliatory tone, however, Eric’s growl filled the car.
Sookie looked at the vampire pensively. He was facing forward, his knuckles testing the strength of the steering wheel. His fangs were down, and his eyes seemed to be glowing.
“Eric, please,” Sookie pled, her voice quivering. She couldn’t help but to clutch the door handle, her body yelling at her to get out of her current confines. Somehow, however, she stopped herself from running and spoke to the vampire calmly. “Eric, I know you won’t hurt me, but I really don’t wanna be trapped in a car with a mad vampire right now—especially when I don’t know why you look like you want to tear something apart.”
“Sookie,” Eric sighed contritely, coming back to himself immediately. His fangs snapped back into his gums and his hands relaxed. He leaned away from her in every way that the car allowed him—towards his door and also the back of his seat—in order to make sure he didn’t continue to spook her. “I am sorry to have frightened you. It was insensitive—inexcusable—especially given what happened earlier,” he apologized softly, his eyes pleading for forgiveness from her. “It’s just that I sent Bill a check for your services the night after we returned from Dallas.”
“You sent it to—uh—Bill?” Sookie asked with a frown.
“It’s protocol,” Eric answered, thrusting his fingers through his hair as he parked the car.
“Because I was his,” Sookie observed bitterly.
“Yes. You had not renounced him at that time. And, because he is Area 5 Investigator, I had to go by the book. But, if I had even suspected that he might hold back the money from you, I would have burned that goddamned book!”
“But why wouldn’t—uh—he—um . . . ?” Sookie stammered.
“To keep you dependent upon him,” Eric growled, though certainly not as menacingly as before.
“And to keep you the villain,” Sookie said with a growl of her own. “He said a couple of times that he’d help me pay my taxes because he figured you wouldn’t come through. He would’ve had to have had the check by then!” She took a ragged breath. “Or—uh—is it possible he didn’t get the check? Could it have been—uh—lost in the mail or somethin’?”
“It was cashed,” Eric said flatly.
“Fuckin’ asshole,” Sookie muttered, holding back her tears for the vampire who didn’t deserve them.
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “He is.”
Just then a figure walked out from the tree-line.
“Just Thalia,” Eric identified immediately so that Sookie wouldn’t fear that it was another enemy. “I should speak with her,” he added regretfully.
“Okay. I’m just gonna sit here for a minute or two and stew. I don’t want my anger to follow me inside,” the telepath informed.
“Follow you inside?”
“Gran used to say that,” Sookie recalled fondly. “Jason and I used to squabble—especially during car rides. She’d make us work out any disagreements while we were in the car—before we came inside. ‘Course, she wouldn’t stay to see just how that happened.”
Eric took her hand briefly and squeezed it in silent support before exiting the vehicle.
Once he shut his car door, Sookie took a moment to fully descend into her thoughts and her emotions. At the forefront was anger at Bill. Ultimately, she knew that it didn’t matter why he’d kept the money from her. What mattered was that it would have given her peace of mind if she’d had it. However, Bill had withheld that peace—despite knowing good and damned well just how much she was struggling from check to check!
From tip to tip!
Heck—she’d had to borrow a couple of “helpings” of Bill’s shampoo just three weeks before because she’d used all of hers (and what Gran had left behind) and needed to get groceries before hygiene items that week! She closed her eyes, thinking about how she’d saved money on tampons just the week before by counting on thick wads of toilet paper from Merlotte’s to deal with all but the heaviest days of her menstrual cycle. She’d felt guilty—felt like she was stealing from Sam. She’d never—in a million years—speculated that Bill had stolen from her.
But that week had been horrible for tips, and she’d been a little desperate.
And certainly too proud to ask anyone for a loan.
And, of course, Bill hadn’t seemed to notice her plight.
In truth, he’d probably celebrated all the more knowing how apprehensive she’d become about pinching every drop out of every penny!
So—yes—she was mad.
But she was also very sad. She felt betrayed. She felt as if Bill had taken another of her deepest fears, her worry that she might not be able to take care of herself—to make it on her own—and manipulated it.
She let her anger and sadness simmer for a few more minutes as she watched the vampires converse.
And then she made a choice. “Bill doesn’t matter anymore,” she resolved to herself. “He didn’t matter even before I learned about the fact that Eric already paid me for Dallas. And he’s not gonna matter again. Anything new I learn about him is just another nail in a coffin that’s already full of nails—and full of shit,” she finished with a raised voice.
Both vampires turned to look at her then, and she couldn’t help but to notice Eric’s smirk. He’d clearly heard every word she’d said—even when she was just muttering. And—like always—he got her sense of humor.
Determined more than ever to discover her own path in life—without “Bill baggage” weighing her down—she got out of Eric’s car and approached the two vampires.
“You okay?” Eric asked her.
Sookie nodded. “Yes. Bill being a lying bastard isn’t news. The lengths to which he went to keep me powerless will be addressed on Friday night,” she added with venom and determination in her voice.
Eric moved toward her and offered his hand.
Thalia’s eyebrow went up noticeably when Sookie took the vampire’s hand as if it were the most natural gesture for them in the world.
“Telepath,” the ancient vampiress greeted sharply, stepping forward, “you are—apparently—my responsibility now. And there are rules.”
“Rules?” Sookie asked with a frown.
“Yes rules. First and foremost, when there is danger, you will do what your guards say—without question or hesitation,” she instructed bluntly.
Sookie felt her hackles rising, but she took a deep breath and—once again—recalled her promise to change her mindset. She nodded. “When I’m in danger, I will,” she agreed in a clipped tone that echoed Thalia’s.
“That was easier than I thought it would be. Will you also promise not to ask for danger?” Thalia smirked.
That particular expression on her lips was much less playful than it was when on Eric’s.
“I’ve never wanted danger!” Sookie insisted.
“Yet you foolishly court it,” the ancient vampiress stated.
“Thalia!” Eric said warningly.
“I am courting Sookie now,” he informed.
“See then? I am right. Always. Right,” she cackled before disappearing quickly into the woods.
“Well—at least she’s good at what she does,” Eric stated once the vampiress was well away from them. “And her personality can actually grow on you.”
“How long does that take?” Sookie asked with a little chuckle.
“In my case? Only a century or two,” Eric deadpanned.
Sookie rolled her eyes as Eric led them back to the car to get her things. Their hands stayed locked until Sookie needed to fish her keys from her purse.
“Eric Northman, you are welcome into my home. Thalia—uh—whatever your last name is—if you even have one, that is—you are welcome into my home. Bill Compton, I rescind your f-in invitation,” Sookie added firmly.
“Had you rescinded mine from before?” Eric asked curiously.
“No, but I wasn’t wholly behind that invitation; plus, you’d better not enter my bed again without my verbal invitation!” Sookie challenged.
Eric chuckled. “Do you know the best part of that sentence, Sookie?” he asked, his voice lowering an octave.
Sookie pondered that he probably had nicknamed that tone the “panty perishing pitch.” Whatever he called it, it was effective.
“Sookie?” he interrupted her thoughts.
She blushed. “What?”
“The best part of the sentence?” he smirked.
“What?” she asked.
“You said ‘again.’ That I better not enter your bed again without your say-so. That implies there will be an again.”
“Oh, hush, you perv!” she giggled.
“Pam?” he asked.
“Invite her,” Eric suggested.
“To my bed?!” Sookie exclaimed.
“No!” Eric responded quickly and then laughed. “Into the house—in case of emergency.”
“Pam, you are welcome into my home,” Sookie stated.
“Did you not mean hers before either?” he smirked.
“Actually, I did rescind hers and Chow’s when they left last time,” Sookie admitted, causing an even louder laugh from Eric. “Should I reinstate Chow’s?”
“There’s probably no need,” Eric said after a moment. “Thalia will let me know if there becomes one.”
“Um—you want to try your invitation out?” Sookie asked motioning toward the entryway of the house, which they’d yet to enter.
“Just far enough to deliver this inside,” he said, lifting her small bag. “You are tired, and I have Weres to deal with and a king to pacify.”
“Oh—of course. I am tired, and I have to call Sam tomorrow so I can get back on the work schedule while I think things through.”
Eric looked ready to say something, but stopped himself.
“You were about to offer me money so I didn’t need to work while I’m makin’ my decision,” she speculated wryly.
He smirked. “A thousand years of perfecting my poker face, and you decipher it in months, Miss Stackhouse. I don’t know whether to be thrilled or frightened.”
She chuckled. “So—uh—I know I’ll see you Friday, but—um—could I call you in the meantime? Um—if I have any more questions about anything?” she asked tentatively, looking down at her feet.
He gently raised her chin. “Of course. Do you have your phone? I’ll program my number in.”
Sookie frowned as she thought about the damnable contraption. “It doesn’t have any charge right now.”
“I guess I’ll have to come in for a while then,” he sighed dramatically, finally stepping over the threshold, “if only to write down my phone number for you.”
The telepath giggled as she looked for a pad and pencil in the drawer of the small table near the door. Eric had already put her shabby suitcase next to the door to her bedroom and returned to her side by the time she’d found what she needed.
“I’m writing down Pam’s and Thalia’s numbers too, as well as one for Colonel Flood,” he informed after he’d taken the writing implements.
“Colonel?” Sookie asked.
“The leader of the Long Tooth pack. But keep it to yourself that you have his direct line—especially from your shifter friend. I will tell the Colonel about you, and he will send help during the daytime if you need it. However, very few people know that he and I have as close of a working relationship as we do. One such person is Maria-Starr, which is another reason why she is ideal for being one of your guards.”
“The secrecy stuff? Is that because of Supe politics?” she queried.
“Exactly,” he smiled at her. “Vampires are supposed to believe that all Weres are worthless, rabid mongrels.”
“And Weres are supposed to think that vampires are all bite-happy bloodsuckers?” she smirked.
He chuckled. “Bite-happy—that part for sure.”
He handed her the pad of paper back. “Flood can do much during the day—if there is an immediate threat to you or your loved ones. Your two-natured guards will have his contact information too. And—if you cannot get me on my direct line for some reason—call Fangtasia and ask for Leif.”
Sookie snorted out a laugh. “Why do you use that name for your spy stuff? Leif?”
“I had a son named that—when I was a human,” he responded, his eyes taking on a faraway look.
“Do you mind talking about your human life?” she asked. “I’d like to know about it—about that part of you.”
“No, I don’t think I would mind—at least I wouldn’t with you,” he answered with a sincere, but slightly melancholy, smile. “Some vampires avoid the subject because they do not like to remember that part of themselves or because they still mourn what they had to leave behind.”
“That’s understandable,” Sookie replied.
A moment of silence grew between them as neither quite knew how to say goodbye for the night.
“Sookie,” the vampire finally said, stepping closer to her, “you don’t need to have a specific question in mind in order to contact me. I’ll give you your space unless you want to see or speak with me, but—for the record—I would enjoy any interaction you initiate.”
She gulped somewhat nervously as she looked toward the floor. “Okay. Uh—you’re sure Friday night’s okay for you to come while I—uh—deal with Bill? I just realized that Fangtasia must be busy that night.”
“And I have priorities,” Eric said meaningfully, lifting her chin once more.
This time, he gently held onto it as their eyes locked.
“Would it be presumptuous of me to ask you for a goodnight kiss, Miss Stackhouse?” Eric asked softly after they’d spent many moments lost in each other’s eyes.
“Yes, it would be. But I’d like one anyway,” Sookie said with a shy smile.
Eric leaned down slowly as she leaned up.
They’d kissed before—once in Dallas when bloodlust had caused Eric to lose his restraint regarding her and once on the night he’d accompanied her to the orgy. Of course, just the night before, they’d done much more than kiss, but the soft, chaste kiss that Eric placed onto Sookie’s welcoming lips was certainly the most intimate moment the two had ever shared.
He pulled away just as slowly as he’d leaned down and then took a step back from her. “Thalia and the others will be close and will keep you safe,” he emphasized, assuring himself as much as her.
“I know,” she whispered.
“I know you need your space, Sookie, but call on me if you need. Or want.”
He seemed as reluctant to leave as she was to see him go, and they hesitated at the doorway.
“If you would like, I will make sure that Compton knows not to approach you until Friday one hour after sundown,” Eric offered.
“And if he tries anyway?” Sookie asked.
“Thalia will put him under silver,” the vampire warned.
Sookie nodded. “Okay. I think I’d rest easier knowin’ I won’t have to see him until I’m expecting to.”
Having stepped onto the porch as she remained in the doorway, Eric turned to face her. He lightly ran one cool palm against her cheek. “You will have your time to think and to find your closure—your peace, Sookie Stackhouse,” he said as if he were swearing an oath.
“And—after that—my life will change,” she whispered—as if both fearful of and welcoming to such an idea.
“For the better—whatever decisions you make this week,” Eric said confidently.
“Goodnight, Eric,” Sookie whispered.
“Goodnight, Sookie,” the vampire replied before going to his car. Sookie noticed that he waited until she’d locked her door before driving away.
And that thought made her smile.
Until she fell asleep.
The End of The Trunk
A/N: Don’t worry! This “universe” isn’t finished! There is a sequel forthcoming. It is called The Boot. I will get it started two weeks from today and will try to post one chapter per week after that.
I hope you enjoyed this story. I want to thank valady1 & ncmiss12 for the inspiration for this tale. Obviously, it’s going to be growing past SHORT status, but the original idea to present the “trunk incident” in a different way was theirs. And I greatly appreciate it!
Please leave me a comment if you have the time and inclination.
Thanks to kleannhouse for being an amazing beta! Thanks to Seph for the wonderful artwork! I couldn't have done it without you two! Thanks also to all you readers!!!! You all don't know how special you make me feel when you "talk" to me about what I've written. And thanks to STARS Library for this wonderful honor: