I needed Kleenex when writing this—so just in case, here’s your warning.
Last time: “Sleep well, Sookie,” Eric said as he turned away.
“Uh—you too,” she said.
“I shall sleep like the dead,” he responded, throwing a smirk over his shoulder. That one gesture made her feel better than the rest of their rather stiff conversation had.
“Wait,” Sookie said. “Don’t I need to be close to my clothes and stuff so that the potion works to cover my scent on them too?”
Eric was proud of her for remembering. “The garage is actually right under this room, so if you do it here, it is close enough. Or wait until you are in the car—if you wish.”
“Okay,” she said as he turned again to walk away.
She lay down on the bed and wrapped herself into the quilt, inhaling Eric’s scent deeply.
She already missing him.
Sookie groaned and looked at the clock. It was only 6:30 a.m., but sleep hadn’t found her yet. She contemplated just leaving Slidell early, but she felt tired to the bone, and she knew that a nap would help her to drive more safely.
The only problem was that she couldn’t sleep.
She tossed and turned—for what seemed like the millionth time since she lay down.
Her whole body felt like it was twitching a little—like it was looking for something. She knew exactly what that something was—who it was.
She knew that Eric was dead for the day in the garage that was apparently right below her room, but he didn’t seem close enough. She groaned again and then gave up any semblance of control or dignity. She figured that she didn’t need to pretend that the Fae bond wasn’t at least somewhat in control of her actions while Eric was dead for the day. She sighed and grabbed the quilt off of the bed she still thought of as belonging to Eric and her. Their first kiss had taken place there. The most important conversations of her life had occurred there.
“Too bad they were fake,” she sighed out loud. There was no one who would be listening to her anyway. She put the quilt under her arm, grabbed Eric’s pillow, and put her phone in her pocket, thankful that it had an alarm despite the fact that it was mostly designed as a communication and location device for Eric and her. She left everything else in the room and went downstairs to the garage. Mercifully, only her suitcase and the fake box hiding the structure of Eric’s resting place were in the backseat of the car. She removed them and then settled in so that her pillow was right over where Eric lay. Immediately, she felt more relaxed, knowing that it was his proximity that was making the difference.
“I wish I could touch you,” she whispered toward the front seat, where she figured his head was. “I think that—when I can—I will have to touch you when you are sleeping. I mean—I won’t do anything dirty,” she chuckled to herself. “But I don’t think I’ll be able to truly sleep unless I can be next to you. And maybe if I hold your hand while you’re asleep, it’ll be enough to get me through everything—you know? And maybe—when you’re dead for the day—I can still talk to you sometimes. I know a lot of what we had wasn’t real, but you helped me, Eric. It helped me to talk to you.”
She sighed deeply. “I’m sorry that I did this to us. I appreciate the fact that you don’t blame me. But I blame me. If I hadn’t been so weak and needy, maybe I wouldn’t have done this to us.”
She sighed and brought the quilt around her snuggly. She placed her hand flat onto the box that held him. “I just thought it was real this time—you know? Or I thought that it could be. I know that what I had with Bill wasn’t real, but it felt like . . . .” She paused for a moment. “I thought you and I were building something. And, when we kissed for the first time, I felt like my life might be starting—brand new. I thought that maybe someone really loved Sookie Stackhouse.” She let out a sob. “But you didn’t—not really.” She wiped her eyes. “Anyway, Sookie Stackhouse doesn’t even exist—does she? Am I Sookie Brigant now? No,” she answered herself. “The fairies haven’t really claimed me as family either.” She sighed. “Maybe I’m nobody.”
She snuggled into the pillow, enjoying Eric’s scent that lingered in the pillowcase.
“It’ll never be real now—will it?” she asked in a small voice. “Every day from now until the day I die, I’ll fall more in love with you, but I’ll always know it isn’t real—that it’s all because of the bond I made with you during the only day that you’ve ever been just as lost as me, except for maybe the day your parents died. And you’ll know it too,” she added sadly.
She laughed ruefully. “As it turns out, I was the reason my own parents died. I always blamed myself for them being on that bridge, and now I know that I’m even more responsible—that the fairies had wanted to kill me.”
The guilt ate at Sookie’s heart, but she tried to push it back. “No,” she said aloud, “I need to be strong. I can’t wallow. I need to develop my light so that I can help you beat Russell. Maybe then—just maybe—I will have made up for all this—at least a little.
She closed her eyes. “Gran always told me that the past had the ability to smother us if we refused to live in the present. And she still believed that after the man she loved disappeared.” Sookie sighed. “I’m glad you didn’t disappear, Eric. And even though it makes me feel guilty, part of me is glad that I made a bond with you. Maybe it’s wrong, but when you are asleep, I’m gonna let myself feel all the love I have for you because . . . .” She paused and sobbed into the pillow for a moment. “Because no matter how my love for you was made, you’re a wonderful man—a beautiful person inside and out. And if you don’t deserve all of the love I have to give, then there’s no one in the world who does. I might not deserve yours back, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have mine—that it won’t be as real as I can make it.”
After wiping her tears one last time and checking her alarm, Sookie let herself sink into a sleep where the Eric in her dreams cradled her all morning long.
The jarring sound of ringing woke Sookie up. For a moment, she was disoriented, but she soon recognized where she was—in the backseat of the Prius. She grabbed her phone and shut off the annoying noise before sitting up. She was surprised when she felt well-rested.
“Thanks,” she said, patting the box that held Eric. “I needed that.”
It was 11:00 a.m., and she had a lot to do, so she quickly got up. She put the fake box back into the car so that Eric’s enclosure would be concealed, and then she returned her suitcase to the back seat. She was about to take the quilt and pillow back inside when she thought better of it. She folded the quilt and stuck it next to her suitcase, running her fingers over the stitching lovingly.
It was one of those quilts that looked simpler to make than it had been. It was made from a patchwork of fabrics and had immediately reminded Sookie of Gran. Sookie closed her eyes and pictured Gran sitting at the old dining room table and gossiping shamelessly with her friends as they quilted. Sookie sighed; eventually Gran’s arthritis had prevented her from being a part of the quilting group, but at least she’d gotten to do it for most of her years.
For Sookie’s eighteenth birthday, she had been given the last quilt that Gran had helped to construct. It was a double wedding ring pattern, done in reds and browns and on a field of crisp white. It was the most beautiful quilt Sookie had ever seen. Gran had also passed along her own hope chest to Sookie that day—a piece of furniture that had once belonged to Gran’s own grandmother. The gifts had touched Sookie’s heart.
And broken it a little.
By then, Sookie had already given her own hopes of ever getting married. Oh—she’d ached for love—just like anyone else. She would lie in her bed for hours, just imagining what it might feel like to hold someone’s hand without his thoughts invading her mind. Or she’d imagine only nice thoughts coming through—thoughts that said she was beautiful just as she was. Of course, by the time she’d turned eighteen, Sookie had already realized that her fantasies were just that—fantasies.
Still, Sookie had appreciated Gran’s gifts, even as she’d lamented that she wouldn’t be able to fulfill her Gran’s hopes for her. Sookie closed her eyes tighter and remembered back to the morning of that birthday. Gran had been singing loudly in her head; she always did that whenever she wanted to make sure that Sookie couldn’t listen to her thoughts. That morning as she’d made blueberry pancakes, Gran had been stuck on a loop of “Light My Fire” by the Doors.
Though Sookie hadn’t had the heart to tell her matriarch, Gran’s strategy to keep Sookie out of her head had never worked. By the time Sookie was eighteen, she’d begun developing her shields, but whenever her Gran mentally “sang” so loud, it caught Sookie’s attention. And—Sookie couldn’t help but to listen until she could rebuild her shields, which—at the time—was still difficult for her. Under the song that day had been Gran’s biggest worries concerning Sookie—and her biggest questions. On the day of the birthday that marked Sookie as an adult by most standards, Gran had been questioning whether Sookie would even have need of a hope chest. Gran was kicking herself for letting Maxine talk her into making the traditional marriage pattern for Sookie, for she was almost certain that Sookie would never find love because of her “disability.” Indeed, even as she internally sang the lyrics, Gran was resolving to wait ten years and then just encourage her granddaughter to begin using the quilt whether she was married or not.
Sookie would never forget the words in that song, which had precipitated Gran’s resolution:
The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre
Come on baby, light my fire
A funeral pyre indeed.
Sookie felt a warm tear slip down her cheek and hoped it would be her last for a while. She’d already cried enough tears over the idea of being an old maid. Hell—she’d started doing that when she was thirteen and had tried to hold a boy’s hand for the first time! Yes, by eighteen, she’d been able to accept the quilt and Gran’s “hope” without shedding any tears—at least not in front of Gran.
Sookie sighed and shook her head a little. Ironically, when it came to love, Sookie had actually gotten much farther than she’d ever thought she would! After all, she’d not died a virgin, and—before meeting Bill—she had been pretty sure that would be the case. And lots of girls lost their virginity to guys with ulterior motives. And a lot of people’s relationships were based on lies and false affection. The only difference was that they generally didn’t know it.
Luckily, she had found out about Bill’s duplicity before she was tied to him in marriage. And—no matter how painful things were between her and Eric now—there was openness between them. All of their cards—even the ones that had been dealt to them without their knowledge—were now on the table.
Sookie took a deep breath as she glanced once more at the quilt from the house. The quilt Gran had given to her had been destroyed by the Maenad, as has Gran’s wedding dress, which had also been residing in Sookie’s hope chest before Maryann had taken it. As she’d gone through the tatters of the hope chest after Sam killed Maryann, Sookie had believed that what she’d had with Bill was real, and she’d mourned the loss of those items that she had hoped to use when she made a home with him. However, it turned out that it didn’t matter that those items had been lost, after all.
However, Sookie was determined that she would keep the quilt from this house—this home that she and Eric had shared when the possibility of love had seemed so real to her. Maybe it was her just torturing herself with what could never be true, but if she was going to live as long as Niall thought—and maybe even be turned one day so that Eric could live on—she needed to have something to remind her of the days before she knew she’d trapped Eric because of her desperate need to have a connection with someone.
She knew that despite the pain and illness she had suffered there, her time in the Slidell home had been the best time of her life. She left the pillow with Eric’s scent as well and went into the house. She started coffee and quickly ate a bowl of cereal before packing the left-over food she would be taking with her. There were a couple of TrueBloods in the refrigerator as well, so she grabbed those too. She put the cooler and the grocery bag she’d filled into the car before quickly tidying up the kitchen and throwing her load of linens into the dryer. She knew that Octavia and Amelia would be coming by to eliminate all traces of her and Eric from the house, but she didn’t want to leave it a mess.
Noticing that it was 11:30 a.m., Sookie went upstairs and brushed her teeth with the travel toothbrush she’d decided to keep in her purse. She did a last, quick scan of the room, making sure to look in the dresser and closet too. The only things she had left in the room were her purse and her sweater, which she put on over the T-shirt she was wearing. The weather was too hot for the garment, but she was starting to feel cold from the thought of leaving the house behind.
She did a quick walk around the living room and dining room, marveling at the fact that there was no evidence of her and Eric’s stay there. There were no pictures. There were just shared memories. There were no artifacts. There was just the artifice created by the Fae bond.
She quickly used the bathroom one more time, refilled her travel coffee mug, unplugged the coffee maker, and grabbed her purse and the small lunch she’d made for herself before leaving the house. She settled into the car, and as the garage door opened, she placed her hand over where Eric was sleeping as she said a little prayer that she would do her job and keep him safe that day. She applied the potion that would conceal her smell once she left the safety of the home and then carefully backed out of the garage, making sure that she closed the garage door behind her.
She’d learned from Eric that most of the places they would be using as safe houses had codes to get into them. And that made sense. After all, carrying around dozens of garage door openers would be cumbersome to say the least. Sookie knew that the basic plan was for Eric and her to make their way West. Getting through Texas would take several days, as Eric planned for them to travel only about 6 to 8 hours each day, and their path wasn’t linear. They would also take a few days in New Mexico, again not traveling linearly. According to Eric, both states were run by monarchs who were not particular fans of Russell Edgington, so the Mississippi and Louisiana king would have no help from them.
On the other hand, they would travel through Arizona in a single day. The king there was named Sampson, and he was the child of Felipe de Castro, who was the king of Nevada. Felipe and Russell were quite friendly, according to Eric.
Their ultimate destination was California, which Eric had told her was the best state in the United States to hide. Not only was it large, but also the king and queen of the state were quite isolationist and preferred to think of their large territory as separate from the rest of the territories in North America. King Edwin had ruled over Washington and Oregon before marrying Queen Agnes of California. The two controlled the Western coast with a mix of efficiency and tolerance. In fact, Eric had even considered settling there when he came to the United States, but had opted for Louisiana because Godric was closer and because Sophie-Anne had a vacant sheriff’s position at the time.
Although Eric had explained that he would not ask Agnes and Edwin for direct help, they would not help Russell or his agents either. They also had a distaste for and distrust of Felipe, and they used Weres to very carefully monitor their borders with Nevada and Arizona.
Once in California, Eric said that he had a secluded home in the mountains where they could stay for a while as they planned their move against Russell. Sookie intuited that Eric really didn’t know where to start with that planning, but she trusted that he would figure out something. And—hopefully—she could get her microwave fingers to work better so that she could help more.
She turned on NPR and was quickly on Interstate 12 heading west toward Baton Rouge. Not needing to use the restroom, she decided not to stop at her first “approved” rest stop, which was just before Baton Rouge. She transitioned to Interstate 10, which would take her all the way to Houston.
About three hours into the trip, the coffee in her bladder was demanding her attention, so she stopped at the second “approved” stop, this one in a little town named Crowly, which was between Lafayette and Lake Charles.
Just as Eric had taught her, she drove by the little store once in order to determine where the best place to park would be. Eric had told her that gas stations and convenient stores often had cameras placed in various places around the building, but there were usually ways to fly under the radar. Despite her screaming bladder, she did another turn around the block until she noticed a woman going into the bathroom. Immediately, Sookie parked at the side of the building where the bathrooms were.
Listening into the thoughts of the customers at the small gas station, she waited a couple of minutes and then put on her sunglasses and a baseball cap before exiting the Prius. As she knew she would be, she was just in time to meet the woman coming out of the restroom with a key attached to a brick, which was a standard feature at roadside gas stations like this one. Sookie smiled and the woman handed her the key with a polite smile of her own.
Sookie quickly did her business and then waited until another woman was waiting outside the door to receive the key from her. She passed it along and then got back into her car. She made a note of all the cars around her and then got back onto the highway. She spent the next thirty miles with her eyes in the rearview mirror, altering her speed every five miles or so. As soon as she was certain she wasn’t being followed, she set the cruise control and found a station playing classic rock-n-roll.
Eric had taught her a lot about how to avoid cameras. One way was to pick the “right” kinds of places to stop at. Instead of the larger chain convenient stores, he’d said to pick smaller gas stations. These often had some food options as well, but—if possible—Eric told her to avoid going into the stores themselves. The best option for her would be the kind of place that had restroom facilities with entrances on the outside of the building, like the one she’d just been in. A place like that likely had close-circuit cameras around the building, but Sookie could prevent the cameras from getting a good image of her by keeping her head slightly lowered and pointed away from the corners of the building—as if she were checking for a hangnail or needing to tie her shoes. If necessary, Sookie would have to go into the store itself to retrieve the key to the restroom, and—if that were the case—she couldn’t help but to have her face captured by a camera. However, if she could use her gift to wait until she heard the thoughts of another woman using the facilities, then she could avoid going into the store altogether.
According to Eric, most little gas stations had close circuit systems and kept footage for only 36 hours or so before recording over it. The cameras, therefore, were only for internal use and were primarily utilized to catch shoplifters or dishonest workers. Thus, if Sookie had to go inside of one, it was okay—not ideal, but okay.
The problem with larger chains, according to Eric, was that their security footage was often Internet-based and patched into a corporate system. The footage would, therefore, be stored longer. Also, hackers could use the footage to run through face-recognition searches. With a picture of her, a hacker could—within only a few hours—determine if she’d been in any of the chain’s locations. With this in mind, Eric had told her of many chain stores to avoid.
Feeling good about her first pit-stop, Sookie sang along mindlessly to the music on the radio, only pausing her singing long enough to eat the sandwich and chips she’d packed for her meal. Not wanting to have to stop again before she reached her destination for the day, she sipped her Dr. Pepper slowly. However, thinking about not wanting to stop made her bladder insist upon doing just that, so she did stop at the “approved” place that was a little past Beaumont. This time, instead of a gas station, it was a little café, which Sookie immediately loved for its homey feel.
Sookie saw some fresh pies in the case and, feeling nostalgic, she asked if she could have a whole pecan pie and a coffee to go; then she used the small bathroom while the kind-faced middle-aged woman running the café packed the pie up for her. Sookie used her telepathy to double check the thoughts of the customers before leaving the little place.
Of all the kinds of places she could stop, Eric suggested small, private businesses as being the best. A little café that was several miles from the Interstate was the perfect choice, according to Eric. If there was a camera system, it would likely be older and most certainly close-circuit. But—more likely—there would not be one in a place that small. To avoid suspicion, Eric had suggested that she always buy a little something—either food or some kind of a trinket when in places like that.
Once back on the road and confident she’d not been followed, Sookie understood what Eric had been doing when he planned her route for the day. He’d researched a variety of types of places that would be relatively safe for her to go to. He knew that she might have to one day select her own spots, and he’d wanted to give her the training she would need to stay safe. That thought warmed her up more than her coffee did as she traveled the final leg to Eric’s house just outside of Houston.
Given that she’d left Slidell just before noon, it was no surprise that she pulled up to her destination just after 6:00 p.m. The sun would be down in a little while, and Sookie was glad that Eric would rise soon.
She parked the car in front of the garage and got out. She quickly grabbed her keys. According to Eric, she would use the same process to enter all the safe homes from then on. There was a master key—the one now on her key ring—that would unlock all the doors. In addition, there was a new code to enter for each house. She put the key into the lock and noticed that a panel opened to the left of the doorknob. From memory, she entered the code and then went quickly inside before entering another code to disarm the security system. Without taking a look around, she went into the garage and found the button to open the garage door before quickly going back to the car and driving in. Once the garage door was closed, she reset the house alarm and sighed with relief, knowing that she and Eric were once more under cover and that her “shift” would soon be over and that Eric would take over their security for the night.
Despite her relief, she stretched her telepathy out as far as she could. The houses in the modest neighborhood were pretty close together, so she “heard” several humans. None of them were thinking anything of concern. Given the fact that there was no concealment spell around this house, Eric had asked her to make a scan of the area every half hour or so, and they’d intended to work together on controlling and strengthening her telepathy.
Sookie hoped that was still the plan, but she decided to wait for Eric’s cue on that subject.
According to Eric, the sun would set around 7:20 that night, give or take a few minutes. Thus, Sookie decided to use the hour before then to get settled. She scoped out the house, finding that it had a basement, but—unlike the Slidell home—it was only one story otherwise. There were two bedrooms on the main floor, but one was completely empty. Although she knew that they’d only be staying the night and that they’d be moving on the next day, she still brought in her suitcase and the quilt. She placed them in the furnished room. Next, she took the cooler out of the car and put the perishables into the otherwise empty refrigerator and the cooling blocks that took the place of ice into the freezer. That done, she milled around the house for a little while. There was no television, so—after another mental scan of the area—she got herself a piece of pie and took out her book from Niall.
So—we are on the road now. This was a hard chapter to write because Sookie’s emotions are so poignant and raw to me here. I usually empathize more with Eric, but—here—Sookie’s memories and feelings just got to me (thus the Kleenex warning at the beginning). I found that I was crying for her. In this chapter, she’s truly struggling with the whole concept of “hope,” even as she accepts the fact that she loves Eric—no matter where that love came from.
Another hard part was writing this without letting it seem as if Sookie is having a pity party. I didn’t want it to seem like she’s doing that at all! And we see that—after she allows herself a few minutes to think about the quilt Gran made her (because she cannot yet think about all of the implications of her relationship with Eric)—she goes on with the practical steps needed to get her and Eric from Slidell to Houston safely. I also wanted to show—through the two quilts—the character progression of Sookie. She—like the quilt Maryann destroyed—was in tatters in a lot of ways after Bill. That quilt had represented traditional love and marriage, which is something Sookie knows and accepts she will never have. Before vampires entered her life, she’d not had any hope. Then Bill gave her false hope and left her in tatters. With Eric, her hope had been relit and then squelched—but notice that she doesn’t let herself get ripped apart. By keeping the quilt from the Slidell house, Sookie is latching on to a symbol of hope. She might not currently feel hope mixing with her love, but she’s not willing to give it up completely either. I was trying to show the “good” kind of stubbornness that I think Sookie has.
So—yeah—trying to say all that in this chapter, without making it too cheesy, was my goal. I hope I accomplished it.