DECEMBER 24, 2007, 11:00 P.M.
APPROXIMATELY TWO YEARS AFTER THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER
Today was the day I’d died—in Life 1, at least.
And the day was now almost over.
One. More. Hour.
I had decided to mark the occasion with a whole bottle of champagne.
After all, my whole existence with vampires and witches and Weres and fairies had been replaced by peace and “normalcy” as I’d relived the days between “coming to” in Merlotte’s walk-in—”Merlotte’s Heaven—and now.
On December 22, I’d found myself the most nervous. After all, in Life 1, that had been the day that Niall’s last round of enemies had come to kill Hunter and Remy, Jason and his family, and Sam.
That had been the day that I’d met Margie at the mall—the day I’d bought gifts for Sam that seemed like the things a fiancé would give—rather than something from just another friend.
Of course, this time around, Sam had enjoyed a very different life. He’d never had a dalliance with the Maenad. He’d not spent years “wondering” about me. Nope. In fact, a long time before Jannalynn could come sniffing around, Sam had married Maudette Pickens!
As a matter of fact, I’d been a bridesmaid at their wedding!
Their little girl, Adele (named for Gran), had had her second birthday the previous September. And Sam and Maudette had just found out that the child they were expecting in April was actually twins—two boys.
As I poured myself another glass of bubbly, I let myself sink into my memories—both sets of them.
It was funny the things that had stayed the same and the things that had changed.
Of course, I had been able to change quite a few things myself. For example, I’d been able to “distract” Jason with homemade chicken and dumplings on the night that he’d been fated to hook up with Crystal Norris. I’d also facilitated his meeting Michele “early.” Just like in Life 1, however, they’d fallen in love quickly. And she was good for him. But, this time around, they didn’t have a Marie. They had Joshua, who was almost a year older than Marie would have been. And they were expecting a set of twins in three months.
I chuckled. Sam and Jason had been toasting each other’s “fertility” just the night before, even as Michele and Maudette had indulgently let them. However, unlike with Sam and Maudette’s twins, Jason and Michele weren’t certain of the genders of their children. Apparently, one child—a boy—had “shown” himself. And Jason had quickly dubbed him Corbett.
But kid number two was “shy,” so his or her gender remained unknown. We’d nicknamed “him/her” Pat.
Corbett and Pat’s ultrasound picture was on the refrigerator.
To my eyes, they both looked like blobs, though beautiful ones.
I took a big swig and remembered a blond little girl who would never be.
Marie’s was the first life I mourned in Life 2. She was a child whom my meddling had snuffed from the world—an egg that didn’t get fertilized. I cried for her often, even as I wondered what other horrible outcomes I’d inadvertently caused. It was enough to drive a person crazy.
But—whenever I was in danger of falling into despair—I focused on Joshua, who hadn’t existed in Life 1. Little Adele hadn’t been alive there either—let alone the twins Sam and Maudette were expecting. And the twins Jason and Michele were expecting.
So many other things had altered because of my influence on Life 2 too. And I prayed that they were mostly for the good.
Holly, who had begun working at Merlotte’s before “planned,” had—strangely enough—ended up marrying Andy Bellefleur. Halleigh Robinson, ironically, had ended up with Hoyt Fortenberry. But both couples seemed happy, despite their “inadvertent swap.” And both had a kid each.
Arlene had quit before the shifters and Weres came out. Even better, Whit had married her, and they’d moved to a Dallas suburb before she could do any damage in Bon Temps. I was sad about Coby and Lisa being lost from my life. But—because of Arlene—I’d learned that some people just couldn’t be positively influenced, even by someone who knew the future. Honestly, I just hoped that Coby and Lisa could overcome any of her “lessons” to them.
Dawn’s outcome had also been interesting—to say the least. She had been a nice surprise in my life; in fact, I counted her as my closest friend!
After Eric was done with her, which was something I’d been able to confirm because of the massive glamour job done upon her—a glamour job which I’d sometimes fantasized was an apology of sorts—Dawn had begun dating Sid-Matt Lancaster of all people! A man who was Gran’s age!
Dawn and Sid-Matt had married not a month after they’d started dating. I’d been a bridesmaid at their wedding too!
A lot of the people in Bon Temps had judged Dawn as being a “gold digger,” but I knew better.
Since Sid-Matt’s hip replacement, six months before, Dawn had wheeled her husband around dutifully and faithfully. And—despite the venom she got from a lot of people—Dawn held up her chin with pride. She was thankful for Sid-Matt. And—no offense to Eric—but Dawn cared for the octogenarian a hell of a lot more than she had for the bona fide millennial.
In fact, she loved the heck out of Sid-Matt!
And with good reason.
Sid-Matt respected Dawn and had encouraged her to get her education. For him the sun rose and set with her.
His thoughts had told me that he’d been waiting for eighty years to feel like she made him feel.
As surprising as it might have been, they were honest to God soul mates! And—from day one—their relationship was among the most heartfelt that I’d ever “heard” about. Thus, I treated them with as much kindness as I could. And, perhaps because of that, Dawn began to seek out a true friendship with me.
And—by a twist of fate (and time)—I was now closer to Dawn than I was to Tara!
Speaking of Tara, she’d gotten together with J.B. without ever having endured any “vampire drama” since I’d made a point to invite her for a girls’ night out on the day that Life 1 me would have seen her in Jackson.
Ironically enough, because she’d never endured Mickey, Tara didn’t really appreciate J.B., though she’d married him anyway. She was contemplating divorce even though she was pregnant with their second child.
Tara and J.B.’s child was my godchild, but Tara resented me for my education and my professional success. It was odd. I’d admired her for those things in Life 1.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
Marriages and children—and/or divorce—most of my friends were following this “normal” life pattern.
Even Lafayette had found a life-partner—in Terry Bellefleur of all people! I couldn’t help but to wonder if Terry had been closeted during Life 1 or if Lafayette’s charm could turn the head of even the straightest man.
It didn’t really matter.
What mattered was that Terry certainly seemed happier now that he was “out.” He still dealt with PTSD, but Lala loved him to distraction, and Terry smiled more than he ever had before. As in Life 1, Terry and his partner raised dogs rather than children.
Unlike in Life 1, the puppies were adorned with bedazzled collars.
Gran thrived more and more with each baby (or puppy) born—not just those belonging to relatives, but also those who belonged to friends. She’d smiled for a week when Sam and Maudette had named their daughter for her.
Gran’s smiles had lasted even longer when Joshua was born.
And she had laughed louder than I’d ever heard her laugh when Michele had told her that one of the children she was carrying was too “shy” to let his or her gender be known. Gran had stopped just short of questioning the child’s paternity!
Of course, both Gran and I knew that Michele would never cheat on Jason. Somehow, Michele thought that Jason was “perfect”—something I questioned her sanity about from time to time.
And, indeed, the thought of one of Jason’s children being modest was quite amusing!
And—just a few hours before—Gran had smiled so wide that it looked fake when Dawn told us that she and Sid-Matt were expecting a child. Like me, Gran didn’t judge her old friend for seeking out a younger woman. In fact, she applauded him and had invested a bit of her savings into Viagra because that stuff “had to be a miracle worker.”
I’d invested too.
Of course, Gran was the honorary godmother/grandmother to several children—including Adele and Joshua, as well as Andy and Holly’s newborn—and I made a point to babysit anytime I could so that Gran could experience the feeling of being around children again. She said it kept her young.
Still, she worried that I was alone—without a husband or children. So I made a point to smile a lot around her—even when it was pretend.
I’d become very good at pretending.
Meanwhile, despite being the only single person in my circle of friends, I couldn’t imagine feeling more “normal,” even though most of my friends considered me the least “normal” among them.
Oh well. It seemed as if I couldn’t “win” no matter what I did.
In fact, I’d tried to “date” over the years—both for Gran and myself. But human contact was still not something I could tolerate.
And Weres? Honestly, I’d avoided them and all others of two natures—other than Sam and little Adele, of course. I didn’t want to get involved in “Alcide drama” or Longtooth drama—though I’d heard from Sam that Colonel Flood was still in charge. I figured that was a good thing. Not surprisingly, I had taken pains to stay away from Hotshot. Calvin Norris was a nice guy, but he wasn’t for me in Life 1, and he wouldn’t be for me in Life 2 either!
And—as for vampires? Well—there was only one I trusted enough to want to be “with,” and I’d not seen him in years.
Still—I’d tried with humans. But a single kiss had been one too many—for a variety of reasons.
At least most people no longer thought of me as “Crazy Sookie.” And they certainly didn’t attribute my “irregularities” to any kind of “extra” ability. Nope. Thanks to Eric’s blood on the second night I’d been in Life 2, I’d had better control over my shields for a while. And, by the time that blood had worn out, I’d had the opportunity to perfect what I called my “robot skin.” Now—even when my shields went to shit—I could keep a placid expression on my face. Not a crazy smile, but a neutral expression.
Even the Viking himself would be proud of my control.
The only things that tested my control nowadays were thoughts of Eric or Hunter. And I refused to think about them where I could be seen.
Yep—I was hiding in my bedroom as I drank my champagne.
I lifted my glass as if to toast my “other” self—my dead self.
Maybe, given my control and my “new” life, I was just as much of a vampire as Eric.
I took a long swig of champagne as I watched the clock change from Christmas Eve to Christmas.
It was a new day.
My first new day in a long, long time.
In private—I still allowed myself feelings of regret.
What I regretted most was keeping Hunter from Gran.
But, in the end, I knew—absolutely knew—that Hadley’s name ought never to be spoken in the same sentence as the word “Stackhouse.” Did that choice bring me guilt? Yes it did. Every hour. Every day.
But it was the kind of guilt that I could bear because no one had died because of that choice.
And saving people had become my modus operandi, a phrase I’d learned in my online Latin class.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2007, 3:00 A.M.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite my bottle of champagne, I’d been unable to sleep.
And—in the deep of the night—I found myself out in the cold, pulling weeds from my father’s grave, which was where I spent quite a bit of my time nowadays.
Especially when I couldn’t sleep.
Since it was quite cold outside, I had brought the old afghan with me. It always seemed to warm me.
It was Christmas, so I said a prayer.
I prayed for the safety of everyone I loved. I prayed that my parents were happy in Heaven. I prayed for all the children who were new to the world and for the others who would soon be born into it.
I prayed for the Viking living less than an hour from me.
I had made a point of attending every Sunday morning service in Life 2—even though I knew that humans’ conception of the afterlife was limited. Still, I felt like having God on my side could only help. Plus, I liked what the current minister of Gran’s church had to say. He tended to preach about the practical—about the good that people could do for one another. Heck—the previous Sunday—he’d had me saying “amen” right along with the rest of the congregation as he’d preached about the second chapter of the book of James.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
I knew the answer to that. Faith couldn’t save a person, though I had plenty of faith to spare now. Faith in God. In Gran. In Eric. In myself.
But faith wasn’t meant to save. I’d learned the hard way that it was meant to test a person. I figured that I’d failed that test in Life 1 when I’d drunk from the pen that Mr. Cataliades had given to me.
But it hadn’t been faith that had given me another chance. It had been love—a vampire’s love.
His wish. His work.
Indeed, the book of James taught that one’s works—one’s actions—could outweigh any lapses in faith. Or, at least, I hoped they could.
In Life 2, I’d done my best to have faith. But I’d also done good deeds whenever I could.
It was the “big” things that I had trouble knowing how to deal with: things like Hurricane Katrina and Rhodes. But, on the night I’d told him about those things, Eric had promised me that he’d see to them.
And I trusted him.
I had faith in him.
But sitting still and trusting had been very hard.
Strangely enough, in Life 2, I knew very little about vampire politics; of course, that was partly because vampires played their hands very close to the vest. And their public personas were likely nothing like their private ones.
From watching the news, I knew that Sophie-Anne was still undead and kicking—since she was often interviewed as an AVL spokesperson; I also could guess that the vampire population of Louisiana was thriving. When Hurricane Katrina didn’t cause a catastrophic amount of damage, I’d felt a fair bit of satisfaction and relief, knowing that Eric had done exactly as he’d promised—taking care of what he could.
In Life 2, only nine people had died in Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina. Too many. But not nearly as many as in Life 1.
In fact, when no horrible images of bodies outside of the Superdome or floating corpses in the streets of the Ninth Ward were shown on the news, I’d taken a trip to the cemetery to tell Daddy all about what Eric must have done, for—indeed—Daddy had become my confidant when it came to Life 1 versus Life 2.
And, then, less than a month later, no one had died because of a terror attack in Rhodes. Because one didn’t happen! In fact, the summit had gone so well that a third one was going to be held there soon.
That wasn’t to say that the Fellowship hadn’t tried to plant their bombs. They were simply thwarted.
In fact, Steve Newlin was currently awaiting his sentencing because of the attempted attack on the Pyramid of Gizeh.
I somehow knew that Eric’s hand had been guiding the changes in Rhodes too.
I looked to the east.
As the sun rose to light up Christmas morning, I wondered at the fact that I was now living a life that I hadn’t lived before. I had no additional inside information on Supernatural activities.
Or sporting events.
It was just me—Sookie Stackhouse—flying blind.
I watched the sun until it lit all of Daddy’s tombstone, and then I hurried home.
Gran—as always—was up already. She’d told me the year before that there wasn’t a sunrise left in her life that she didn’t intend to see.
I snuck into the house so as not to worry her, shivering as the heat of the dwelling “reminded” me just how cool it was outside.
In fact, the December morning had brought a little frost with it—though just enough to dust the still-green grass.
Avoiding the squeaky boards on the staircase, I hurried to my room.
As I looked out the window at the climbing sun, I determined—once and for all—that I wasn’t in heaven or hell. That I wasn’t crazy.
I really had been wished back into the past.
With that final recognition, a single name escaped my lips: “Eric.”
I kept my eyes open and looked into sunlight that the vampire would never see. “Eric loved me enough to wish me here,” I said firmly. “And that wish must have been epic,” I added.
I vowed in that moment that—whenever I felt lonely—I would remember Eric’s wish. It had been strong enough to send me back in time. It had been strong enough to bring back to life everyone who had died because of me. It had been strong enough to give me the “normal life” I’d always told Eric that I wanted.
I’d stopped doubting Eric’s love for me even before the end of Life 1, but now—knowing what his love was capable of doing when combined with a little fairy magic—I was truly in awe of it.
Maybe it was because of that love that I’d not been tempted to seek a romantic relationship in Life 2.
Because, really, who could live up to Eric Northman?
That wasn’t to say that I didn’t long for companionship, but it was Eric’s companionship I ached for. Every. Single. Day.
As I looked into the light of the first full day that I would be living for the first time in years, I thought about all the Erics I had known.
The first—a rascal who’d wanted to make me his. An unrelenting flirt who frustrated me as much as he intrigued me.
The second—innocent and memoryless. Almost falling in love with me. Always showing an interest in all that I was. Willing to give up his “real” life to stay with me.
The third—the Eric who had gotten back all of his memories, except for the ones we’d made together. Confused and frustrated as he was, he’d still stepped in to save me from Mickey, the Pelts, and Andre. He’d endured my suspicions and my coldness. And I’d never even had to tell him why I often behaved so coldly toward him. I’d never had to admit that it was because I was scared of being rejected by the face of the man I’d fallen in love with. That Eric had only demanded “what’s” from me, not “why’s.” I was pretty sure that was because he knew what I needed—even then.
The fourth—the Eric who remembered everything, including how he’d behaved with me when he was cursed by Hallow. I’d watched him actively trying to reconcile his feelings for me. He’d mourned when he’d failed to protect me from Neave and Lochlan. He’d plotted to try to “keep” me even as our world began to spin out of his control. I gazed into the sun and remembered what his eyes had looked like when I’d rejected—when I’d killed—our blood bond.
I had never seen anyone look so lost until I’d looked in the mirror following his departure to Oklahoma. Only then had I understood. Only then had I wept for our bond.
And, of course, that Eric—the very one that I’d rejected—had been the one who had wished me through space and time.
He had loved me through space and time!
The very thought of him took my breath away.
And then there was the last Eric I’d met—the one who was, ironically enough, the closest to the first. And the closest to the last, too.
The one to whom I’d given all the knowledge I could imagine would benefit him.
I had grown to love all of the Erics I had known, appreciating every moment I’d had with them. And, though I knew that I’d disappointed Gran because I didn’t get married or give her any of the babies she fawned over, I just couldn’t imagined loving anyone who wasn’t an Eric.
But I did give Gran all that I could. Thanks to the fact that I had continued to bet on every sporting event I could recall, the mortgage was paid off, the property taxes were paid in advance, new gutters had been installed, and the front porch had been screened in. The porch swing had a comfortable new complement—an outdoor chair that looked and “felt” like a recliner. In fact, anything that had entered Gran’s mind as a “need” or “want” for the house during the past two and a half years had been gotten.
And Gran’s pride in our home couldn’t be measured. In fact, sometimes she just walked around the house, appreciating the fresh paint. Or she’d just turn on the back left burner of the stove because she could—because it had been broken for a decade before I’d been able to surprise her on her birthday with a totally functioning range.
Even though I now no longer would be betting on sporting events, I had learned how to catch my own “fish”—so to speak. I was already getting paid to do the accounting work for three businesses. And—as soon as I had my bachelor’s degree—I planned to open my own little accounting firm.
Still, I kept a weathered eye on the horizon, looking for any problems. But I also let myself contemplate the future.
Even if I wasn’t in it for some reason.
I’d saved enough money to make sure that Gran would never want for anything.
There was enough in my savings account for Jason and his family to have a nice cushion, too.
A part of me wondered if I shouldn’t just wander off into the sunrise I was witnessing—taking any potential future problems with me. But I knew I couldn’t leave Gran.
I smiled a little as I thought about her.
She always said that the future was the thing to live for, but I also recognized a likely truth—that my future would be lonely.
Gran would eventually die of old age. The lives of those around me would move in ways that mine never would. However, I had done all I could for them—with the lessons I’d learned from Life 1.
But that life was over now.
And I was in uncharted waters. I just prayed that I wouldn’t somehow sink the boat I’d built.
A/N: Time after time—indeed. Well—Sookie is back to where she “started” in “Time.” I know that a lot of you want her to have a romantic relationship, and she did try. But she’s determined that any relationship she could have (save one) would be inferior and dangerous. But, make no mistake, this Sookie thinks about Eric—a lot—but she hasn’t stopped her life. As a woman who was single for a long time, I know that the hardest part is sometimes convincing loved ones that you are happy! LOL. And Sookie is happy in so many ways. She’s been able to shine in her studies—finally! She’s a godmother and an aunt. And she loves it! And Gran is still there. Yes—she hides her inner sorrows, but who doesn’t. I know I hide mine a lot of the time.
As for Eric? I know a lot of you are frustrated at him too, but-I think-as time goes on, communication is probably more difficult. And each day is like a little reminder that the list isn’t done.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the reading!
Thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse!