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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chapter 10 ~ Sookie Multitasks

Sookie slept until 9:30am that next morning and she felt well rested when she woke up. Today was Sunday: Merlotte's was only open until 10pm and she didn't have to work at Fangtasia tonight as it was closed Sundays and Mondays. She remembered that Eric had paid extra to have the contractor come back today to finish work on her bathroom and he and his team would be here shortly. Last night had been one of the most amazing nights of her life, and she couldn't believe she had spent it with Eric.

Rolling over in her bed she hugged her pillow to her chest and smiled at the sight of Eric on her nightstand. She knew it was silly to name the fish after the badass Viking vampire sheriff, but she couldn't help herself: it was a remembrance of their wonderful night together. As she watched the flashy Beta swimming in his bowl, she thought, 'I never would have thought that Eric was capable of something like last night. Other than that kiss (oh GOD, that kiss!) he did nothing inappropriate. He just … hung out with me the whole night. I never would have pictured him doing things so mundane … and human.'


A smile lit her face and she rolled onto her back to stare up at the ceiling. She didn't have to worry about getting to Merlotte's. Tara was going to open and Sookie had agreed to close so that her friend could leave early with Eggs so they could go out on a date. Lafayette had generously agreed to work the bar after a little persuasion on her part. So since she had a few hours to kill she knew she had plenty of time to think about her situation. Well, except for the fact the contractor would be there in 30 minutes. With that in mind, she decided that she'd get up and dressed and fix herself some real food for once. 


Rolling out of bed, she quickly dropped a few flakes of fish food in Eric's bowl and watched the Beta rise to the surface, its mouth skimming along the trail of flakes. As she put on her bra, she felt the loose fit around her back and clasped it closed from the farthest end. Was that half an inch? An inch? With a frown, she realized she hadn't eaten much in the past week, and she'd noticed her clothes were starting to get pretty loose. She threw on some sweats and headed downstairs. 


She could do her thinking over breakfast, and more importantly, after the contractor arrived and was out of her way upstairs working.

She was making the coffee, when she heard a knock on the front door. Opening it, she was surprised to see Bobby with the contractor and his crew behind him. She greeted them with a broad smile. "Hello! Come on in."


Bobby waited for the workmen to say their hellos to Sookie before heading upstairs, then he turned to face her. "Where shall I wait?"


"Wait?"


"I was instructed not to intrude upon you, so where would you like me to wait? I can sit on the front porch if that will be convenient for you."


Realization dawning, Sookie asked, "Is Eric making you sit here all day just to watch them work?"


"It's my job."


"Oh lord! You don't have to do that. I'm here, and when I leave I can just tell them to lock the door on their way out when they're done." Her hunger died a resentful death at the thought of spending the morning with Eric's day man.


Bobby shook his head firmly. "No. Mr. Northman told me to stay and oversee their work, and not to leave until they were done for the day, and that's what I'll do. I won't get in your way, if that is your concern."


"No, no! That's not what I meant. I just … well, won't you be bored?"


Cocking his head at Sookie, Bobby regarded her down his long aquiline nose as he might some insect on the ground. His chest expanded with his indignation. "My job is never boring. So, where may I sit?"


"Oh, well, you can sit anywhere you'd like. You can watch TV in the living room, if you want. I have some books you could read, but I'm afraid they're mostly romances. I just feel bad you having to sit here the whole day."


"If you have somewhere I can set up my laptop, I have some work I need to do … if that is acceptable."


Even in that, he had to inject his contemptuous air. 


"Sure! You can spread out here in the kitchen if you'd like. There's an outlet on the wall by the fridge you can use." She had planned to eat breakfast and putter around the house, but now that she knew Bobby was going to be lurking around all day, and that he still didn't like her and since his obvious dislike made her uncomfortable, she thought she'd run some errands and maybe grab some breakfast on the run.


Bobby nodded and headed out to his car to retrieve his laptop. Sookie took the opportunity to head upstairs and get dressed. He did nothing but glare at her and think about how unworthy of Eric's attentions she was, and she didn't want to hang around for his disdain. Keeping her shields up around him was a chore she didn't like having to do in her own home. She needed to drop some books off at the library, thankfully it was open until 2pm on Sundays, and she'd pick up some new ones. 


She needed to go by Jason's house and check on things. He might live alone but he sure as spit couldn't take care of himself. Gran used to go over there once a week to do a load of laundry and straighten the place up, and now that she and Jason had that little heart-to-heart in Dallas she was determined to do the same. Then she'd do the grocery shopping and drop everything off at home before going to Merlotte's. She'd decided she'd do today's and last night's totals after the bar closed.

It didn't take her long to dress in shorts, a t-shirt and tennis shoes. She was definitely dropping weight. The shorts were a good inch, maybe even two, baggier than before and she threaded a thin gold belt through the loops to tighten them. 


After telling the workmen and Bobby to help themselves to anything in the kitchen, she grabbed her purse, library books, and keys and skipped down the porch. Smiling as she slid into her new car, she closed her eyes, breathing in the rich leather new-car scent before she backed down the driveway humming to herself. Jason was on the way into town so she decided to make him her first stop, hoping she wouldn't find him passed out with some strange girl in his bed. 'That would just be gross.'

When she arrived, his truck wasn't there so she knew he had spent the night somewhere else. It was the only logical explanation as he did NOT get up early on Sundays as a rule. Using her key, she let herself in the house and then crinkled her nose. The place was a disaster and the stench of rotting food hung ripely in the air. 'Oh yeah … can't take care of himself at all.' Setting her purse down, she immediately pushed open his living room windows to start airing the place out and then headed down the hall to his bedroom to gather up his clothes and open those windows too. She'd get his clothes in the wash before starting to clean. She took one look at his sheets and sighed, realizing they, too, would need to be washed.


After starting her first load of wash, she grabbed a trash bag and started stuffing it with pizza boxes, fast food bags, cartons of half-eaten food, beer cans, empty drink cups, and all kinds of other trash, all the while forcing herself to breathe through her mouth so the scent of the food didn't roil her stomach. By the time she'd picked up all the clutter, she had three bags sitting on his front porch that would need to be taken down to the trash at the end of his long driveway. 'Jason can do that, at least.' With the surface area now free of debris, she grabbed the cleaning bucket from under the sink with all the supplies stacked in it. Slipping on the gloves, she got to work.


As she dusted and scrubbed the main living area of Jason's house (let's face it, she wasn't going to do more than gather up scattered clothing and bed sheets in his bedroom because she was afraid of what else she'd find), she let herself think about everything that was going on in her life. 


'Bill's gone, and the more time I spend away from him, the more I'm questioning our relationship. Maybe it's good. Maybe this time apart, as bad as the circumstances of it are, was needed for me to see the whole picture better. Eric and Pam told me what having a vampire's blood will do. Bill lied to me about that. I asked him outright what it would do, and he lied to me. He didn't tell me it would make me attracted to him. He just so conveniently withheld that information. And he hid so much about the vampire world from me. Why wouldn't he tell me from the beginning how dangerous it was for vampires to know what I could do? That certainly was something I should have known before ever going to Fangtasia. Why wouldn't he tell me they would try to exploit me or possibly even force me to work for them? Why wouldn't he tell me there is a vampire monarchy and some kind of ruling council? He kept his whole world from me and yet he asked me to marry him. Why all the secrecy? Who did it serve? Why did he keep all of it from me? I just don't understand that.'


She moved on to Jason's refrigerator. Getting on her knees, she tossed several science projects into the trash before starting to scrub out the now practically empty fridge. The shelves were thickly coated with spilt liquids and food residue and she wrung out her sponge again and again as she washed off week's worth of grime.


'It just doesn't make sense. If he wanted such a permanent relationship with me, why would he hide so much about himself and his world? Why would he commit to me like this without telling me what I was getting into? It just doesn't make sense to me. Of course, none of this is going to matter if Lorena won't give him back.'

Sookie shook her head, feeling a tumult of emotions at the idea Lorena might indeed continue to keep him with her.  'If Lorena has him. Tara made some good points, but it's hard for me to trust Eric. After that stunt he pulled in Dallas, I'm always second guessing everything. Aside from last night, which was great, I'll admit, Eric has made it very clear that he's out to get as much from me as possible in all this. He could very well be the one responsible behind Bill's disappearance. Despite last night and how much fun I had with him, I have to keep in mind that Eric is devious and always has an agenda. He's made it clear he wants me for his own.'


She pushed back an errant lock of hair from her face with the back of her hand and squeezed out the sponge again before tackling the shelves on the inside door of the fridge.  


'And that's another thing … what exactly does he want me for? He told me that initially he wanted me for a toy. I could have slapped him when he said that, but then he goes and says he wants more. More? What the hell is that supposed to mean? He didn't say he wanted to be my boyfriend, and, really, is that even a title that can be used with Eric? I mean come one! This is Eric! Besides, I don't think it would work even if I did leave Bill. From what I know of Eric, and admittedly it's not a lot, he's not the monogamous type. And I don't share. There's a lot I'm willing to put up with, but that is definitely not among my "willing to let slide" list. And it's not like I can ask Eric if he would be capable of monogamy. Even if he did tell me the truth, instead of just telling me what I want to hear, it would only lead him to think he's making headway in getting me away from Bill. Which I don't want.'
 
She closed the clean refrigerator and moved Jason's cleaned clothes into the dryer and threw a new load in. Coming back into the kitchen, she wiped down his kitchen table and then looked around for some clean towels to lay down over it. She set to work washing the massive pile of dirty dishes stacked in and around the sink and counter. As she scrubbed dried food particles off, she let her mind continue to ponder her choices.  


'There's no way I'm going to hook up with Eric while Bill is gone. That is the one thing I do know. Even if I find out that things between Bill and I are worse than I think now, it's not something I can do. It's just not. Despite the lies I now know Bill has told and all that he's kept from me, he deserves the chance to explain himself. I owe him that much, and he damn well better too! Because from what I know now about what a vampire blood does when ingested ….'

The thought languished as a strong current of anger and sadness swept through her. As much as Sookie hated to admit it, she was beginning to suspect that many of her emotions regarding Bill were a result of her ingesting so much of his blood. Why hadn't he told her it would affect her so strongly?


'I mean, I have to face facts. I never had a boyfriend before Bill. I never had a intimate relationship with a man before I met him. I'm completely new to being with someone, and he knew that. We talked about it before we ever got together officially. He knew I was a virgin and he didn't tell me his blood would make me attracted to him. I'm not saying that knowledge would have changed what happened between us, things could very well have gone exactly as they have despite that. But maybe not. I wasn't given the full picture. I didn't make a … what do you call it? Ummm, a knowledgeable choice? An educated choice? Things could have gone very differently.  God, that's hard to admit.


'Would I have gotten in so deep with Bill as quickly as I did if I'd known? I don't think so. I would have doubted my attraction to him, and been more cautious about what was happening between us despite being so excited about having the chance to be in a real relationship. And I have to admit that part of the reason I jumped into the relationship with Bill so quickly is because I was afraid that if I didn't, I'd die an old maid. I can also admit that part of the reason I got so involved in so little time is because I felt such a strong pull to him. I've been attracted to lots of guys, but it was never like what I felt towards Bill ... well, of course, after I had his blood, that is. How could he do that to me? Could Bill have sensed that if I knew what having his blood was doing to me I would have backed off a bit? That I would have been a little more hesitant in getting involved with him? He
must have. Is that why he didn't tell me? Oh Lord, I can't stand to think he manipulated me into our relationship, but I have to recognize the possibility is there. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm going to have to start facing the hard truth that everything between Bill and me might not have been as perfect as I thought. I … I have to talk to him. Eric has to get him back so that I can talk to him. It's the only way. He has to explain all of this to me. I need to sort this out. It's my only option.'


Sookie moved on to thoughts about Eric. 'I need to explain to him that nothing is going to happen between us while Bill is away. I need him to know that I don't see a relationship working out for us, if he is even looking for a relationship, which I can't believe he is. I'm not sure what he wants but I doubt it's anything I'd be comfortable with. I don't want to be some chick on the side he hooks up with in between all his other "conquests". Even if he were looking for a committed relationship, it wouldn't work out. All of the same problems I spoke to Bill about that night in the restaurant would still exist. Let's face it, what possible future could we even have? I'm going to grow old and die. I'm going to get all bent over, wrinkly, and gray in a few short decades and he will always be all Viking Sex God as he is now. I had hopes that Bill would stand by my side to the end, but Eric? I don't see him escorting a little old lady around as his date in 40 years. I just don't see it.'


'So I have to keep in mind that no matter how delicious being with him might be, and I can admit it is a delicious thought, it can't ever really happen. It might be good for a while if he were capable of a committed relationship, but ultimately everything would go downhill and I'd get my heart broken. He'd either leave me or let me rot away in my house while he took other women to his bed and just came by for a visit from time to time. Neither prospect is very appealing. And I need to make Eric see that, because as much as I hate to admit it, it's getting hard not to like him. Last night … that was amazing. I never even had that much fun with Bill. I've never had that much fun with anyone ever, and oh God, that's a scary thought. So I need to make Eric see that all of this … this whole seduction thing is just a bad idea. I'm not a quick fling kind of girl, and the possibility of anything else between us simply isn't realistic. Next time I see him I'll get him to understand that … after he proves to me that he is looking for Bill and he wasn't involved in his disappearance.'


Sookie finished the last of the dishes and set them on the towels to dry. Jason could put them up when he got back. Wiping off the counter, she headed to the basement to finish up the laundry. She took the first load out of the dryer, put the load from the washer in, and then started another wet load. Jason would be home soon and she'd leave him a note to put his sheets in the dryer when he got here so he could make his bed. She folded the finished clothes quickly before going back upstairs to put away them away. She left a note on his fridge, there was beer in there so he'd see it, and headed out.


She swung by the library to drop off her old books and, on a whim, took out one on Norse history and one on Norse mythology and then headed to the local grocery store. She needed a few essentials like milk and eggs and feminine products. She was due to start her period any day now. Bill had always acted weird around her when it was her time of the month, and she was somewhat apprehensive about what Eric would be like as well. She'd already figured out that vampires with their keen sense of smell and craving for blood knew when a woman was menstruating and she had to assume Bill was put off by it. 'Well, if it bothers Eric, he'll just have to get used to it. I'm not going to be ashamed of being human.'


Her groceries loaded into the car, she headed home. Pulling up behind Bobby's car and the work trucks, she headed inside. As soon as she walked in, she saw the stack of boxes in her living room and mentally sighed. 'Eric.' Bobby was still in the kitchen on his laptop and she said hello before starting to put her groceries away.


"Mr. Northman sent you some packages," Bobby remarked as he continued to tap away on his computer.


"I can see that. I'll open them when I get off work tonight."


Raising his eyes, he asked, "You aren't going to open them now?"


"No. I have to get ready for work. I'm already running behind. Whatever is in them can wait until I get home tonight."


"Mr. Northman, and any business associated with him, should be considered a priority," Bobby replied scornfully. 


'Ungrateful white trash bitch.'


She heard that one loud and clear and winced. He really was insufferably opinionated and overbearing. "Eric isn't the center of my world, and he isn't going to be. I'll open them when I get back."


It only took her a few minutes to change into her work uniform and head back out. She stopped by the kitchen and told Bobby that Tara would be home soon to get ready for a date, reminding him she lived there. She quickly turned and headed out, not wanting to hear how Bobby would weigh in on their living arrangement too. When she got to Merlotte's, she checked in with Tara who told her things were fine. For the next two hours, she waited on the few patrons that came in since there wouldn't really be a crowd till about 4 or 5pm. In between doing that, she cleaned around the bar and restocked supplies behind it. Tara and Eggs headed out at 4pm as Lafayette moved to work the bar in Egg's absence. It was about that time that Jason strolled in with Hoyt.


"Sook!"


Turning to smile at her brother and his friend she said, "Hey Jason!"


Returning his sister's smile Jason made his way towards her and asked, "Can I talk to you a minute?"


"Sure. Here, or do you want to go into Sam's office?"


"Office." Jason followed along behind his sister and closed the door behind them. "I saw what you did at the house today and I wanted to say thank you."


Sookie smiled broadly and waved her hand to show it was no big deal as she replied, "I should have come by sooner, but things have been hectic with me lately."


"Yeah … so I went by your house figuring I'd fill in some of the holes in the driveway with dirt to return the favor."


Alarm bells went off in her head. She saw where this was going. Until now, Tara was the only one who knew the extent of what Eric was doing for her … the only one that knew of her arrangement with him actually. "Uh yeah … about that …." She trailed off, not trusting herself to finish the sentence. 


"The place looks nice Sook, and one of the work guys told me about the bathroom being remodeled when I told him I was your brother, but, well, I'm wondering how you paid for all that? I know Gran didn't leave much in the way of inheritance."


"I didn't pay for it." She frantically cast about in her thoughts trying to come up with what she could tell him. How to tell him. 


Jason's eyes widened before narrowing. He was silent a moment before saying, "I heard about the new car. Saw it on the way in, too. Nice."


Busted!

His voice was reproving; she found it insulting. Sookie put her hands on her hips and said, "Jason Stackhouse, if you've got something to say to me, then just say it." She was tempted to dip inside his head, but felt it would be an intrusion. Jason had always made it clear he didn't want her reading his thoughts, and she felt she needed to respect that as much as possible.


Running a hand through his thick mane, Jason replied, "Look, Sook, I'm not saying you did anything to get any of this—I know you're not that kind of girl, but guys like Eric don't do things like this without expecting something in return. Trust me, I know, and besides, what's Bill going to think when he gets back in town? He ain't going to like that his girl has been taking gifts, real expensive gifts, from another guy."


In the space of a heartbeat, Sookie thought about filling him in on Bill's disappearance and her resulting deal with Eric, but decided it wouldn't be wise. Jason had a history of reacting not only badly, but in unpredictable ways and she couldn't afford for him to make things worse. While touched by his brotherly concern, she decided on a little bit of the truth mixed with a lie. 


"Look Jason, you know I was in Dallas to help Eric right?" When he nodded, she said, "What you don't know is that the vampire I was going there to find was Eric's Maker. He was very worried about him as they had a close relationship. What Eric did for the house and buying me the car he did to say thanks. It seems like a lot to you or me, but apparently Eric has more money than Donald Trump and it was nothing to him. I made it clear that while I was thankful, I wouldn't be giving anything in return. Okay?"

Smiling, Jason replied, "That makes me feel better. I'm just worried about you Sook. A lot has happened to you since you got involved with Bill. I'm okay with you being with him now, I think Bill's okay for a vamp and everything, but Eric? He's not someone you want to mess with."


'If only you knew,' Sookie thought. "I know, Jason, and I appreciate your concern. It really means a lot to me. Just trust me when I say that I can handle Eric. Nothing is going to happen."


"You sure you're alright? 'Cause if he's giving you trouble I'm here for you."


Sookie grinned, nodding. "Yeah, I'm sure. Hey … how about I make plans for Sunday dinner next week? Today's shot as I'm closing here, but I can get Tara to close next Sunday and me and you can sit down to a home cooked meal together."


Jason pulled his sister into a bear hug, kissing the top of her head. "Sounds good Sook … fried chicken and all the fixings?"


She wrapped her arms around his waist and enjoyed the sweet moment between them. "Gran would skin me alive if I did it any other way."


Her words brought silence to both of them as they considered their beloved Gran and the loss that was cavernous to both their hearts. Jason murmured, "She'd like it, you know, the house. She'd be real pleased. It looks …."


"I know, I thought the same thing. I wish she could have seen it like this … she deserved it more than I do."


Jason shook his head firmly, pushing Sookie from him to meet her eyes, a small frown beetling his brows. "Now don't go thinking that way, Sook. I know it's been hard on you all these years … people sayin' shit about you and whatnot, but you deserve this too. I don't like that it's Eric doing it for you, but you deserve it all the same."


"Thanks Jason,” she smiled gratefully. “Now come on. You look hungry and I'm in a good mood so I'll get you and Hoyt a round of free drinks and I'll pay for your dinner."


"Now you're talking!"


As Sookie led the way out to the bar area Jason grabbed her arm. "Hey Sook? One more thing."


"Yeah?"


"Well, Hoyt told me how he'd been dating that vamp of Bill's. The redhead?"


"What about it?"


Jason looked around to make sure no one was listening and murmured confidentially, "Well apparently they had a fight and he hasn't been able to get a hold of her since. He asked me to ask you to give her a message if you see her. Apparently she's not staying over at Bill's anymore."


Taking the folded note Jason pulled from his back pocket, Sookie smiled and replied, "You tell him that I'll give it to her as soon as I see her, but it won't be for a few days. She's … uh … well she's been going through some things, but I'm sure they'll work it out soon. She won't be back at Bill's house until he returns."


"Okay. I'll tell him, and thanks for this."


"No problem. Hoyt is my friend too."


Sookie got back to work as Merlotte's started filling up with its usual Sunday crowd of families. There was a game today so, of course, guys turned out in droves to watch it on the huge flat screen Sam had bought last year to go behind the pool table. She was kept busy waiting tables and refreshing drinks for the rest of the night. They ended up closing around 11pm and, after the last of the employees had left, she sat down in Sam's office to do the books. It was a little after midnight when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she spun around to see Eric leaning against the doorway, observing her. 


"Eric!"

Eric let his eyes travel intimately over Sookie as she sat in the shifter's chair. While he didn't like that she worked for the shifter, and was determined she wouldn't for much longer, he could admit he liked the way she looked in her uniform. Her short shorts cupped her incredible ass, and her t-shirt clung to her full breasts. Meeting her eyes, he said, "You have not answered your phone. I've been trying to reach you."


"Huh?" Reaching for her purse under Sam's desk, she grabbed the phone and saw that she had 5 missed calls and 3 texts. "Oh! I never heard it ring."


Swiftly moving forward, Eric snatched it out of her hands and said, "You wouldn't—it's on silent."


"How did that happen? I didn't put it on silent."


Eric snorted, hunkering down beside her, his long legs ending in an inviting vee. He held the phone up, showing her the screen. "You really aren't tech savvy, are you? You're not locking it. You're just throwing it in your purse. This isn't a cheap phone and it's sensitive. You need to lock the keypad when you're not using it. See this symbol? The one that looks like a megaphone with the dash through it? That means it's on silent. You put your phone in your purse and it rolls around in there getting the buttons depressed as it comes in contact with other stuff you carry, and it ended up on silent."


"So, how do I take it off silent? And how do I lock it and unlock it to keep it from doing this again?"


"Did you not read the manual?"


"Too long … and way too boring"


Shaking his head, Eric replied, "On the side here, there is a button that slides up and down. Push it up and hold it and the volume will increase. Move it down and hold it to decrease. As for locking, hold the menu button down for three seconds and the phone will lock. To unlock it, press the menu button and then the star key. I take it you haven't learned to use the planner or alert system either?"


Sookie gave him a sheepish look, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Eric, I have been running ragged. I've only got the basics down. I figured I didn't need much more than that."


"You should go through the manual. I picked this phone since it's fairly easy to operate but comes with many features. It has a camera and video recording capabilities, you can access the Internet, check your email, and a number of other things. It is a good phone. Do not let it go to waste."


"I'll read the manual as soon as I can. So what did you call me about? I thought I was off tonight. And I was going to call and check in later, like you told me, so couldn't it have waited until then?"


Still crouched down beside her, Eric reached over to stroke a lock of hair that had come loose from her ponytail behind her ear. His touch raced right down her spine like wildfire, landing molten between her thighs. "Did I not tell you that we were to spend more time together? I had planned to spend the night with you, and you would have known this if you'd opened the letter that came with the packages I sent before you came to work, however, Bobby informed me you did not. I knew Merlotte's closed at 10pm tonight and figured that would still give us time. Yet it is after midnight, and you are still here. I started calling at 10, but you didn't get my calls, obviously."


She shifted uncomfortably, squeezing her legs together to stop the fluttering there. "Oh, well some of the people didn't want to get going so we ended up staying open until 11pm, and then I had the books to do. I'm sorry, I just got behind. I'm just about done now, though."


Standing, Eric picked up the accounting book and flipped through it. The nearly illegible cramped backhand of the shifter's filled most of it and he resisted the urge to sneer at the sloppy bookkeeping. 'It's a wonder he hasn't gone out of business yet,' he thought. However, as he neared the last few pages he saw the transition into Sookie's softer, rounded, forward leaning writing, and much clearer and concise approach to the accounts. She obviously had some skill with numbers as she'd easily rectified the shifter's mess within a few days to straighten out the finances. "You are good with numbers."


"In school, it was one of the only things that made sense to me. Most of the time, people's thoughts were bombarding me and it was hard to focus on anything, but, when I was in math class, I was so focused on the problems, and everyone else was as well, that I could tune people out. Math is what taught me to build up my shields. I learned that if I focused hard enough on one thing, I could make the noise go away so I could do other things. So I learned to focus on not hearing people all the time so that I was able to live my life without being bombarded by their thoughts. Eventually it became second nature, and now if I want to hear people I have to focus on doing so."


This startled Eric. "So, at all times, you are thinking of two things at once?"


"Pretty much."


"That is … unusual."


Cocking her head, Sookie stared up at him in confusion. "How so?"


"You have been in human minds, have you not? Do you not realize they are incapable of thinking of more than one thing at a time?"


"That's not true. People think of lots of things at once."


"No … people jump from one thought to the next. You are describing having two completely different thought processes at the same time and humans don't do that. You know this Sookie. You just told me that part of your mind is constantly focused on keeping the thoughts of others out, while the rest of your mind works on something else. Humans don't do that … can't do that."


She tried to shrug it off. "It's no big deal. I've been doing it since I was a kid. I did it because I had to or I would have truly gone crazy from all the voices in my head."


Putting the ledger down in front of her, he said, "I want you to work on the books while I speak to you. Don't stop while we talk, understood?"


"Why?"


"You have your shields up now, yes?" He wanted to see if she could do and think of more than two things at once.


"Yeah. As I got older, my range of hearing increased and I can hear thoughts for a good four or five miles now, if I'm not careful. I keep my shields up because I'd pick up everything, and it would hurt me."


Raising a brow, he asked, "Then, how do you tolerate listening for me at Fangtasia? How do you lower your shields if all of these thoughts would overwhelm you?"


"I kind of have layers of shields. Kind of like an onion. Flimsy ones on the outer level and stronger ones closest to me. So when I'm at Fangtasia, I lower the ones closest to me to hear the thoughts of those in my immediate surroundings, and my outer shields keep out the thoughts of those further out."


'I cannot believe what she is telling me. I have never heard of anything like this. There have been telepaths before, but never with this much power. To be able to hear for miles? With practice and training, she could learn to focus in on a person and hear them from a great distance. I will have to think on this.' He looked her in the eye and asked, "So you are thinking of keeping the outer shields up at the same time as keeping or lowering the inner shields?"


"Yep."


"That is quite the skill you have there. Now, I want you to focus on keeping your shields up—"


Sookie interjected with some exasperation. "Eric, I'm always focused on that. Even when I'm asleep."


Now that definitely got his attention. Crouching down in front of her, gently holding her chin between his forefinger and thumb, he stared into her eyes. "You are thinking even when you are asleep?"


So blue. His eyes were so blue. He was mere inches from her face and she felt that surging tension again as her eyes hypnotically focused on his lips, their softness, remembering the feel of them on—NO!


She shook her head, heat coloring her face. She'd die if he knew, just die. "Well … yeah,” she stumbled forward. “If I didn't think about keeping the shields up, all the voices would get in and I wouldn't be able to sleep. I have to keep the noise out."


Eric's hand dropped, his lips curling in knowing satisfaction. The warm scent of her arousal filled his nose with its bouquet. She was speaking about noise and he remembered the trauma of being a newly made vampire with the sense of hearing so sharpened that even the sound of a dog barking was deafening. Only with practice had he learned to tune out ambient sounds and regain an inner sense of peace. He understood her.


Quickly dipping into their bond, he knew she was telling the truth. 'Amazing, her mind is simply amazing.' He rose, absently straightening his jeans. "That is interesting, but for now, I wish to test you."


"Test me?"


"Yes. I want you to think of keeping your shields up, work on the books and carry on a meaningful conversation with me. Can you do this?"


"I guess. I've never tried before. I was always taught that when someone is speaking to you, it was polite to focus on them, to give them your undivided attention."


Eric's grin was wry. "I will not be offended. Now, start on the books." When she turned around and began pouring over the numbers and adding things up, he asked, "What did you do today?" Just like that, she started talking. She filled him in on everything she had done all day in vivid detail, remarking on how dirty her brother's place was, and her hands never stopped writing or working the calculator. When she was done with the books and turned to face him, he shook his head wonderingly. "Amazing."

Her response was guileless. "Amazing? I didn't do anything."


"Sookie, do you not realize that what you are doing is far beyond the realm of anything other humans can do?"


"You're making too big a deal out of this. It's just something I learned to do to keep from going crazy. I'm sure if other people were telepathic, they'd learn to do it as well."


'She thinks so little of herself. All of the degradation she has been subjected to among these vermin has made her believe she is beneath them. I will make her see she is so much more.' Taking her hand and pulling her to her feet, he stroked calm into her furrowed brow. "Your mind is an incredible thing, little one. You should use it more. How often do you truly multitask? How often do you work on two things at once while keeping your shields up?"


She couldn't understand why Eric was getting so worked up over this. Sookie said, "I don't. Gran always told us we should give a 100% to what we were doing and finish one project before starting another."


"I'm certain that your Gran was unaware that you were capable of giving 100% to several things at once or she would have encouraged you to hone this skill."


"Eric, if you're doing more than one thing at a time, you are not giving 100%."


"You are wrong, my Sookie. I understand the concept your grandmother was trying to teach you, what you don't understand is that other humans are incapable of doing two things at the same time while doing both to the best of their ability. That is why they believe their undivided attention must be given to a task to give 100%. You are once again the exception to the rule. I know of no other human that could focus on our conversation in such detail while doing complex math problems … and you were focused on keeping up your shields. You did both to perfection, thus you were giving 100% to each task. Just because you can do them at the same time, does not mean you gave any less effort to either task."


She chewed her lip, lowering her gaze as she weighed his words. "I'm not sure about that, I'm going to have to think on it."


"Please do. For now you have been here long enough and I want to follow you home and see you open your gifts. It is time to go."


Nodding, Sookie grabbed her purse, put her phone back inside (making sure this time to lock it), and shut down Sam's computer before following Eric towards the door. As she was locking it she said, "Just so you know, Tara and Eggs might be there."


"Eggs?"


"Yeah … Tara's boyfriend."


"Strange name."


"Yeah. His name is actually Benedict.” 


Seeing the confusion in his eyes, she explained, “Eggs Benedict? Get it?” 


Then realization struck and she guffawed, slapping his arm teasingly. “Oh, probably not. I'm sure they weren't serving that dish the last time you ate real food! Forget about it. I'll see you at my house."


Eric watched her begin to walk away and called out, "Sookie …." When she turned to face him, he ordered, "I found the door unlocked when I got here. That's how I entered without having to break in. When the bar is closed and you are here alone, you are to lock the doors. Understood?"


Her mouth twisted with no small amount of indignation. "Yeah … got it," she grumbled.


When they arrived at her house, Sookie was surprised to see that Tara and Eggs weren't there. 'They must still be out on their date. Good for them. I know it's taken them a while to get past what happened with Maryann.' 


She parked in the driveway as Eric pulled in behind her. Letting them both in the house, she said, "I'm just going to get a drink. You can go ahead and make yourself comfortable in the living room."


Eric strolled into the living room and took a seat on the couch. When Sookie returned, he indicated the packages. "Open them."


She grabbed one of Gran's doily coasters and set her tea atop it on the coffee table before sitting cross legged on the floor. She grabbed the note attached to the top box. "Do you want me to read the note?"


"You can read it if you like, but it's not necessary as the information within is no longer pertinent. You may open your gifts."


Putting the note aside, she grabbed the first of four packages; it was the smallest one. Opening it, she found a decorative mahogany box inside. Pulling it out, she flipped it open to find a silver dagger with a sheath she could use to strap the blade to her body, and several other small silver throwing knives. She stared at the weapons incredulously. "Is this supposed to be a joke?"


"Absolutely not." Leaning forward, Eric acknowledged, "As I told you, Sookie, one day other vampires might get it into their head that they want to take you. While I doubt you would be able to do much in way of protecting yourself, I want you to have some means of defense, nonetheless. At night, when you are not with me, I want you to carry these on you."


Shaking her head, Sookie put the box aside before picking up the next package. Pulling the lid off, she found a martial arts uniform inside. Her eyes went out on stalks. "You're kidding, right?"


"Again … no. I have arranged for an instructor to come here to meet with you whenever you are available. He is an Aikido and Kendo master and you will learn both from him. He has been well paid to work around your schedule. You will train for an hour at a time, and no less than three times a week, though I would prefer more. He will email you tomorrow for you to give him time and dates."


"Eric, you can't be serious!"


"I am very serious." He held her gaze. "Godric told me what happened in the basement. Had he come a second later, you would have been raped. This will not happen again. You have been attacked by drainers and were nearly killed, and you yourself told me that this Rene fellow posed a considerable threat to you. So far, you have survived on dumb luck. I will ensure the next time some human scum attacks you, they get a nasty surprise."


'I guess it would be nice to be able to defend myself, and not always be relying on someone to come save me.' 


She nodded. "What are Aikido and Kendo?"


"They are both forms of Japanese martial arts. Aikido is the style of fighting I felt you would be most suited to and comfortable with. Aikido focuses on using your opponent's momentum against them; however it is more of a defense style than anything. It is not used for aggressive pursuits. Aikido is about disarming and taking down your opponent while causing them the least amount of damage. It is more about redirecting a forceful attack than meeting it head on with equal violence. You will be trained to use the least amount of energy possible so you'll be able to last longer in a fight. This will be especially helpful if you have more than one attacker."


"That actually sounds kind of nice, but it surprises me you'd like it. If you want me to be all Ninja Sookie, wouldn't you want me learning a deadlier style?"


Smirking at the idea of his little temptress a "Ninja Sookie", Eric replied, "While the idea of you being deadly pleases me, I also know it is unrealistic. Martial arts is a respected field of combat, and I have found that in order for one to be proficient to an acceptable degree it is best they are paired with the style most suited to them. You are not an aggressive person, Sookie. Other fighting styles would not be appropriate for you or your morals, and thus you would not excel in them. Though after you have passed a certain level in Aikido, I will look into you possibly learning Ninjutsu, if you'd like."


"What is Ninjutsu?" Sookie asked, tasting the syllables carefully. Eric watched her tongue's struggle with amusement. 


"Ninjutsu is the true art of the ninja. It is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes stealth in movement and camouflage. There are two sects of the art called Iga Ryu and Koga Ryu. Of course, if you wish to learn Ninjutsu you will have to take up Jiujutsu as well, but, know it is a more lethal form of martial arts."


Shaking her head, Sookie replied unsteadily, "I think I'll stick with the Aikido. I don't want to be a warrior. I just don't want to be hurt."


"And that is why I selected Aikido. You are perfectly suited for it."


"Okay, so what is Kendo and why do you want me to take it?"


"Kendo is a modern form of Japanese sword fighting that incorporates martial arts."


Sookie laughed. "Why would I need to know how to wield a sword?"


"You never know. I wish you to learn this, Sookie, and as it is a gift, you must accept." What Eric didn't say was that this was a skill he wanted her to have as a vampire. She would no doubt never use it as a human, but, once he turned her, she would more than likely use it often. Supernaturals were not fond of modern weaponry. They were very much creatures of the past and favored hand-to-hand combat above all. Most supernatural disputes were settled with sword fight, and when he turned her, and she stood at his side, he wanted her to be able to defend his back as he would hers.


Shaking her head at his foolishness, Sookie laughed, "Okay … I'll learn how to swing a sword, but I still think it's silly."


"You can think whatever you like, as long as you learn it. Now the next package," he urged.


Putting the box with the uniform aside, she grabbed the third one. Tearing this one open, she found another wooden case inside. It was heavy and she joked, "Is it a sword?"


"No … but you're close."


Opening it, Sookie fell silent. Her eyes looked up uncertainly at Eric, an unspoken question on her parted lips.


"Do you know how to use them?"


"Why? I … I don't want to."


"Sookie, that's not what I asked. Can you use them?"


Nodding uncomfortably, Sookie replied, "Yes."


"Do you know what they are?"


She nodded. "Like I said, my brother taught me a few things, and, while I don't like violence, I do live in a small rural Louisiana town. I was brought up to respect these." 


Picking up the first gun, she elaborated. "This is a Kel-Tec P3AT. It's .380 auto double action with six round capacity. It's the lightest .380 auto ever made. It's smaller than the P-11, but just as deadly." 


Setting the pocket pistol down carefully, her hand moved onto the next. She held it in her hand, feeling the weight of it as she examined it closely. "This is a Berretta Px4 Storm Sub-Compact pistol. It's one of the most advanced sub-compact sidearms on the market. It has a locked breech and tilt barrel system that makes it lighter. It should have come with interchangeable backstraps when you bought it to fit to different hand types. Like the Kel-Tec, it's made to be a concealed gun, though it's heavier and larger. It's a 9mm with 17 mag capacity."


She grabbed the last one and studied it. "This is the Berretta 90two Type F. It's every bit as good as the 92FS Berretta model that has been used by the US military for the past two decades, but has some significant improvements. Starting with the technopolymer removable single-piece wraparound grip to fit alternate hand types. Looks like you have the slim grip on, which is best for women. It has increased mag capacity with optional 10, 15, or 17 round clips. And best of all, it has an advanced internal recoil buffer. That about right?"


Sitting back on the couch, Eric regarded Sookie coolly. "You will never cease to amaze me, Sookie. That is exactly what they are."


Putting the Berretta down, Sookie replied, "I won't use them."


"I hope you never have to, but that doesn't change the fact you might need to. They are registered and in the case is a license for you to carry them. I want you to have either the Kel-Tech or the Berretta Storm on you at all times. Extra clips are in the box, but if you need more ammo, use the credit cards I got you to buy more. Can you shoot them with accuracy?"


"I haven't shot a gun in years, but, last time I did, I was a better shot than my brother, and he's an expert marksman."


"This pleases me, but I shall take you to a gun range within the next week to assess your skills for myself."


Shaking her head, Sookie pressed, "I won't carry a gun. The only purpose a gun has is to kill people. It's not for defense. I appreciate the Aikido lessons, and I don't have a problem with defending myself, but I won't kill people."


"You already said that if you're in a them-or-you situation, you will defend yourself, Sookie. You told me this when you informed me about Rene. That is all I'm asking for here."


Looking down at the box holding the guns, holsters and clips, Sookie said quietly, "You're really starting to freak me out. Is someone already after me and you're just not telling me?"


Eric shook his head, feeling her fear palpable and raw between them. "No. Not to my knowledge at least. However, I told you that my world is dangerous, and in order to make sure no one does take you we have to be prepared. I believe in always staying a step ahead." 


Blue on blue, her eyes implored him and he found himself hurrying to explain. He swept his hand to indicate the knives, the uniform and the guns, and said, "That's what all of this is. Precautionary measures. Tools to keep you safe … and free. I'm not asking you to kill indiscriminately; I'm asking you to protect yourself. And you'd be surprised how large a deterrent a loaded gun can be pointed in the face of someone trying to harm you. Even a vampire would hesitate with a gun in their face. Being shot hurts. It won't kill us, but it hurts like hell, and can slow a younger vampire down considerably."


"But not you?"


"Being shot would hurt me, yes, but not slow me down much, unless someone was able to blow my head off with a shotgun. As an older vampire, my senses are more acute and my reflexes much faster. I would hear the bullet coming and be able to dodge it before any damage was done. Younger vampires have not mastered their skills enough to be able to do this."


Shaking her head Sookie ground out, "I still don't like it."


"I know, little one, but the world is filled with things you won't like, yet can't ignore. We must defend ourselves. I have my vampire strength, senses, and healing ability. You have these,” he gestured to the arsenal. “Carry them with you and hope you don't have to use them, but always be prepared to do so if the situation arises."


"Couldn't you have just gotten me mace?"


Eric laughed, "I don't want anyone to get close enough to you for you to use mace, and, even then, mace works only once. Once you've used it all then what would you do? Be captured or hurt, that's what. No. This is a better solution. Carry at least one of the knives and guns with you at all times."


Nodding, Sookie put the box down to retrieve the final one. It was very large and too heavy to pull into her lap. "Let me guess … a rocket launcher?" 


Throwing his head back and laughing, Eric motioned for her to open it. "No. It's not a rocket launcher … this one you should actually enjoy."


Sookie scooted closer to the box and opened it, peering inside hesitantly. "Oh!"


"Do you like it?"


Her smile was beatific. "Oh Eric! Thank you! I love stargazing." Inside the box was an advanced telescope, book of constellations, and a star map. "Thank you so much!"


"I'm glad you like it." Eric smiled. He didn't mention that it was a Meade 12” LX200-ACF Advanced Coma Free Telescope with UHTC & Giant Field Tripod that cost $5,000. He knew she'd only make a fuss. "Unroll the map and see what's inside."


Pulling out the large map she unrolled it all the way and a piece of paper fell out. Picking it up, she read it over before looking up at him and smiling, "You bought me a star and named it after me!"
He nodded. "I had intended to lay outside with you and teach you to use the telescope by showing you your star. We can still do this tonight, if you are not too tired."


"I'd like that."


"Put your things away. I do not want anyone to know you are now carrying weapons. I'll take the telescope and its supplies outside and set it up while you're doing that."


As Eric gathered up the telescope, book of constellations, and star map, Sookie stacked her other boxes together and carried them upstairs. She knew she couldn't just leave boxes of weapons out on her bed so she slid them beneath it. Straightening, she was about to turn and head outside before it struck her.


'He's so worried about protecting me.'


Taking a seat on the side of her bed, she thought, 'No one has ever gone to these lengths to protect me. When Rene was after me, and none of us knew it was him, Jason, Sam, Bill, Tara, Lafayette, Arlene—they all offered to stay with me or for me to stay with them so I wouldn't be alone. Bill asked Sam to watch out for me during the day, and later, when he had to go before the Magistrate. None of them offered to help me learn to protect myself. None of them thought to get me self defense lessons so I could protect myself. None of them thought to get me a concealed firearm so I could stop the killer before he got me first. None of them thought enough of me to think I could defend myself … and yet Eric does. More importantly, he expects me to. Wow.' 


She felt her stomach flutter thinking about all of Eric's expectations and decided she'd think about them later. Right now she was going to go look at her star. The one Eric had bought her.

Outside, Eric was finishing attaching the telescope to the tripod.
'Tonight will be the third mutual blood exchange between us. After that, Sookie will be so bound to me that she'll never be able to walk away again. She'll feel the severance of that paltry connection to Bill, that she is probably unaware she even has.  I'm not sure how she will react to this. Nothing with her is ever normal. She seems to be the exception to every rule. I'm unsure of how tonight is going to go. She will know that something has changed between us the moment we complete the third blood exchange. From what I have heard from other vampires that bond humans to them, there is a decided shift … a tied feeling that arises as though there is a cord connecting them and the human. After it is done, she will be able to feel my emotions as I am now able to feel hers. Of course, I'll be able to close the bond on my side whenever I choose, or only allow her to feel what I want her to feel from me, but I won't tell her that. It will only make her feel more controlled than she is.'

Looking up, he saw Sookie making her way down her back porch steps to join him. He held his hand out to her and returned her smile.
 

'It does not matter how she takes it … all that matters is that, after tonight, she will truly be mine. Not just in the eyes of the Council. Not just in the eyes of other vampires. Not in the eyes of her family and friends. Not even in her own eyes. She will be mine in blood. There is no escaping that. She just won't know it.'

2 comments:

  1. He is so sneaky, she is going to have a cow when she realises the bond thing. Wonder when the fairys will be making an appearance.

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  2. he is so coniving sometimes... he does nice and sweet things and then BAM asshole alert..... she is slipping for him ever so slowily but what i dont think he gets is when the final connection/blood exchange is made he will be lost to her as well.... my best Kristie

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