Eric pulled up to Sookie's house and shut off the Vette. He went to turn towards Sookie but suddenly froze. His head jerked up, immediately detecting the presence of a human inside. His fangs elongated as he went on full alert, not knowing that Sookie had taken a roommate. Shaking her awake cautiously, his voice rigid, he said, “Sookie, stay here and lock the car doors.”
“Huh … what?” Her mind was still in a fog from her nap, but when Eric said something about intruders and was out of the car at vampire speed, she realized what was going on and called out, “Eric wait!” Too late. She heard a loud scream and a crash inside her home and scrambled to get out of the car, fearing for Tara. Eric was the kind of man that acted first and asked questions later. “Eric! Don't you dare hurt Tara!”
Inside, Eric had Tara pinned to the wall in the kitchen by her neck. “Why are you here?”
Tara was clawing at the massive arm of the vampire that had her dangling off the ground as she struggled against his choking hold. His fingers dug painfully into her throat. It had happened so quickly. One minute she was getting herself a glass of water, the next she found herself flung hard against the wall, staring into eyes molten with fury. She recognized Eric, her mind frantically trying to make sense of his attack. Her legs kicked impotently against him, her mind spinning dizzily from oxygen deprivation. She thought vaguely she just might die here, now, and it made no sense. Everything was spiraling down, going hazy and grey. She saw Sookie come running into the kitchen and turned terrified eyes to her as she rasped, “Sooook!”
“ERIC NORTHMAN! You put my friend down right now and apologize!”
His stare was narrowed, fixed upon Tara, filled with menace. “Not until she explains what she is doing here in the middle of the night.”
Sookie leaped forward and began tugging on his arm as she hissed, “Because she lives here, you idiot!”
That sparked a reaction. Looking down at Sookie, without releasing his hold on the still choking girl, he snarled, “What? She most certainly does not.”
“Eric, STOP! She's choking! Do you hear me? STOP! If you don't put her down right now, I'm rescinding your invitation!”
Fangs snapping down at the threat; he opened his hand and released a dazed Tara who crumpled unceremoniously to the floor, her knees buckling as she fell hard onto her butt, gasping for breath. Sookie fell to her knees beside her oldest friend in the world, “Tara … honey, are you okay?” She touched Tara's throat, already bruising from the ordeal.
Eric's demand was at once autocratic and unsympathetic. “Explain. Now.”
Sookie spared him an angry glare before focusing back on her friend. Mortification colored her face. “I'm so sorry! He's a jerk, and it won't ever happen again.” She glanced up to see if Eric got the message loud and clear.
Eric throttled back his rage and swallowed the possessive urge to demand Sookie recant her words. That she would be abusive to him in front of others was insulting and a behavior he refused to allow. He regarded her silently, deciding not to make demands or press her at the moment for answers. He knew firsthand how protective she was of her friends, and realized he'd just made a mistake. She would definitely not be receptive to any of his advances tonight.
He'd been hoping for another mutual exchange. He wasn't sure what had happened between them last time, but he knew he had a strong desire to experience it again. He stood back as Sookie helped her friend stand and ease into a chair at the kitchen table. Standing with his arms clasped behind his back, he waited for the woman to get over her hysterics as she was now babbling. Tuning out the shrillness of Tara's noisome ranting, he groaned inwardly. 'Really, must she act as though the world nearly ended? In the short time I've known her, Sookie has faced much worse and she was always up and ready moments later. Why must humans be so very trying?'
Tara was in a state. She was clutching her neck, sending Eric terrified looks, alternating between soft cries and grilling Sookie all at once. “Sook! Oh my God! What the hell? Why is he here? Why did he attack me? Are you okay? Is he hurting you? Do you want me to call the police?”
Shaking her head, Sookie bit her lip self-consciously, sitting down in a chair as well and clasping Tara's free hand as she tried to comfort her. A part of her secretly acknowledged Eric had only acted to protect her. But why was it always through more violence? She sighed heavily. “Tara, no ... uh ... well, Eric drives me home on the nights I work at Fangtasia. I'm sorry he did that but vampires can get pretty aggressive and he was trying to protect me. This is all my fault. He obviously thought you were an intruder and he simply reacted. I forgot to tell him you were living here now.”
This is the point Eric decided to step in. “She most certainly is not. She can stay the night since it is so late, but she will leave tomorrow.”
Gasping in shock, Sookie turned and glared at Eric. “You can't tell me what to do! Or her, for that matter! I'll decide who lives here and who doesn't! Tara is staying!”
Grabbing Sookie's arm and pulling her out into the living room, Eric ordered, “A word.”
“Hey! You let her go! You can't just—” Tara started to say until Eric turned to point an menacing glare at her with his fangs drawn out.
“You will be silent, bloodbag. And you will remain here. I am going to have a word with Sookie.” Pulling Sookie deeper into the living room, he spun her to face him. His eyes swept over her body, his voice was harsh. “I forbid it! I do not want that girl living with you. You will send her away.”
Mouth agape, Sookie glared at him, her ribcage rising and falling dramatically with her indignation. He was still gripping her arm and she began trying to pry his fingers loose as she seethed, “Now wait just a damn minute! You aren't the boss of me!”
“Am I not?”
Sookie's eyes held pure poison in them. “Not here you're not! Tara is my friend and I invited her to live here long before I made any arrangement with you! She wasn't ready to move in before now, but she told me yesterday she was and I told her I was happy to have her. I don't like living alone and I want her here! I've known her all my life and she's like a sister to me.”
Sookie met his eyes head on, struggling to keep her voice calm and clear. Her eyes were bright with resentment. “Yes, Eric. YES. You have no say in this. You can either get over it or you can get the hell out!”
The air was electric with tension. Seeing the hot flare of anger in her eyes and the stubborn set of her jaw, he knew she was ready to fight tooth, fang and nail over this. Releasing her arm, he clasped his hands behind his back, shifting to more neutral territory. “Is she trustworthy?”
“She's stood beside me and defended me from people who were mean to me my whole life. One time she punched a guy and broke his nose for calling me a freak as we were walking by him in school. Tara's good people.”
A flash of movement, a glint of steel. Eric's attention snapped to the living room entrance where the object of their discussion was standing with a knife in her fist, in clear violation of his previous orders for her to stay put. He observed that Sookie was correct, Tara was obviously afraid of him, as her scent was rank with fear, but it was also obvious that she was protective and ready to help defend her friend if she deemed it necessary. 'Perhaps the girl living here will not be all bad. It will hinder my interaction with Sookie while in the house, but now that Sookie has agreed to spend time alone with me, I can get around that. I guess this is acceptable.'
Nodding his head, he said, “She can stay, however—”
“Like it's your choice anyway,” Sookie snapped.
His eyes glittered darkly. He stiffened at her disrespect, his voice a black rasp. “However, she will not interfere in our arrangement. Is that understood?”
“Perfectly. Now get out.”
Shaking his head, Eric argued, “You have not given me—”
“And I'm not gonna! You've taken enough from me tonight, and, after the shit you just pulled, there's no way I'm letting you have any of my blood. Now leave!”
“You made a deal. This is breaking it.”
“No this is me saying not tonight … and I mean it. I want you to leave. Now,” she glowered.
Seeing the storm in her eyes, Eric decided she was right, he'd pushed her far enough tonight. Any farther would only cause further animosity between them right now. He nodded and finished implacably. “Very well. I will let you have tonight. However, know that it won't happen again. Goodnight, Sookie.” With that, he turned and left but not before acknowledging Tara and the knife she was still brandishing with a cool dismissal—as though she could actually hurt him!
When he was gone, Tara raced to the front door to slam it closed, pausing briefly at the threshold to watch Eric's car pull away in a cloud of dust. She threw the bolt with a naïve sense of satisfaction (not understanding the parameters of a vampire invite) and ran over to Sookie who had sat down on the couch with her head in her hands. She gathered up her friend in her arms and hugged her.
“Oh my God Sook! What the hell was that all about? What deal? You're working at that vamp club now? Are you crazy? If you needed money, you know Sam would have given it to you! What are you thinking?”
With the simple loving embrace, the week's tensions poured out as Sookie sobbed against Tara's shoulder. All the emotions that she'd been fighting over the last week, all the stress she'd been under, all the weariness that had taken hold of her, broke through the dam she had built against them. She was flattened with the rush of her own tears flowing freely down her cheeks.
“Oh Tara! It's all gone to hell and I don't know what to do!”
Catching Sookie in her arms, Tara listened as Sookie's sobs took on a wracking, coughing sputter. All Tara could do was stroke her friend's back and let her cry it out, listening to the choked phrases that poured out muffled and incoherent against her shoulder. After long moments, Tara pushed back against Sookie and cupped her chin. Strained eyes met hers.
“Sook! You've got to calm down! Calm down and tell me what's going on. We'll figure out what to do then. Okay?”
Nodding, she swiped at her tear-stained cheeks and wet eyes, and murmured grimly, “Okay.”
“Alright then. Tell me what's going on.”
Despite the late hour and how exhausted she was, Sookie told her everything. Nothing was held back in the retelling of all that had happened to force her involvement with Eric in the first place. Telling her friend how she'd caught his attention in Fangtasia while trying to help find the killer of the Bon Temps women (and prove Jason was innocent of the crimes). From there, she worked her way through finding Eric's thief of the Fangtasia profits; getting attacked by Maryann on the return trip from Jessica's human home and Bill taking her to Fangtasia so Eric could call a magic doctor to get her healed from the maenad's poison; finding Lafayette the next day chained in the basement at Fangtasia because of his involvement with V and agreeing to go to Dallas to get him freed; going undercover in the Fellowship church; being taken hostage; almost raped; rescued by Eric; almost killed by Lorena; nearly blown up at Godric's house; having Eric protect her with his own body and then him tricking her into taking his blood; watching Godric meet the sun; coming home and rescuing Tara from Maryann's influence (at which point in the story Tara's eyes darkened with pain); fighting Maryann to save her home; Bill getting kidnapped at the restaurant and having to call Eric; striking a deal with him to recover Bill; signing a contract to work for Eric; taking over Merlotte's for Sam; her work at Fangtasia; discovering Jessica had attacked humans; and making yet another deal with Eric to get her out of trouble, and, finally, what had happened tonight. Sookie did not, however, talk about the blood exchanges with Eric and the feelings they were invoking.
To her credit, Tara remained silent through the entire recitation, with only her eyebrows doing the talking, and when Sookie was finally done, she pulled her into her arms, and said, “Girl, you cry all you want. You've done got yourself in a whole heap of trouble and I don't know how to get you out.”
Sookie forced a watery smile. “What am I gonna do Tara?”
“Well, I guess the first question to that is, how determined are you to find Bill? Is he really worth all this? You told me that he's obviously lied to you about some pretty grave things, and you suspect he's hidden a lot more, so you have to ask yourself how much you are willing to give of yourself to get him back?”
Accepting the tissue Tara offered, Sookie kicked her heels off and curled up on the far end of the couch while her friend mirrored her at the other. She blew her nose, a honking sound that surprised them both and promptly brought on a huge peal of shared laughter. Sookie was thoughtful. “Tara, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do everything I could to get him back. He came for me every time I needed him, even in broad daylight when Rene Lenier was trying to kill me. I can't turn my back on him.”
“Then you have no other choice but to see this through. Besides, from all you've said, it sounds like since you signed that contract you're stuck reading people's minds for Eric from here on out, whether you like it or not. If you try to back out on giving him your blood, he might not find Bill and you'll still be stuck as his personal mind reader for nothing. So I guess the best thing you can do is hang on for now.”
“But what if he's the one responsible for Bill's disappearance in the first place? What if this is all just a big ploy by him to get Bill out of the way and maneuver me into doing things for him?”
Tara was pensive. She drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest, “Well the way I see it, and I'm not defending that guy, mind you, because I don't like him, but he wouldn't have to go to all this trouble, would he?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you said he's covered up murders since you've known him and has all kinds of connections and resources as a vampire sheriff, right? Well, if that's the case, he could have just forced you to work for him by threatening Lafayette, or me, or your brother, or anyone else you love. Or he could have just kidnapped you and turned you. Sounds like if he was your Maker, you'd have to do what he says no matter what. The way I see it, if he really wanted to, he could have taken you from Bill anytime he felt like it. There wasn't really a reason for him to go to all this trouble to get rid of Bill without you knowing he'd done it. Besides, the fact that he hasn't asked for sex from you, despite him wanting you so much, shows he's got some honor. I'm not saying he wouldn't lie or trick you, but I don't think he's behind Bill's disappearance.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
Tara added confidently, “Also it was pretty decent of him to pay you, too. He could have made you sign a contract requiring you to work for him indefinitely for free to get Bill back, but he didn't. He's paying you … and paying damn good! $100,000 a year! Damn, Sook!”
Sookie shared Tara's smile. “You're right. I guess that was pretty decent of him. I just hate that I have to do all this for him. I hate that I have to give him my blood, I hate that I have to date him behind Bill's back … I just hate all of this.”
“I know you do, Sook. But like you said, you only have to do it until Bill gets back, and then Eric will stop taking your blood. And while I don't envy you having to dream about that jerk, if what you say is true, and he can't force you to have sex with him by you taking his blood, then isn't it a small price to pay to get Bill back?”
“Yeah … yeah it is.”
“Alrighty then. You should still ask him for proof that he's looking for Bill, but I think you can trust that Eric didn't kidnap him and is actually trying to find him.”
“Yeah. I'll ask for proof next time I see him.” Sookie felt immeasurably better.
“Well it's settled then.” She slapped her palms on her knees and stood up. Beaming at her friend, Tara grinned, “So, how about showing me this ring?”
Sookie laughed, swinging her feet off the couch and heading to her bedroom, Tara in tow. She ended up showing Tara the ring Bill had given her, and then, as it was a little after 5am, both girls went to bed.
Tara promised to go in early and open up for Sookie so she could sleep later. Chris, the new waitress, was working out great and really picking up Holly's slack so it wouldn't kill for Sookie to go in a little late. She'd still be able to get the books done after the lunch rush. However, at 8am Tara came rushing into Sookie's room to wake her up.
“Sookie! Sookie, get up! Oh my God! Girl, get your ass up! You have to see this!”
“Uhh. Tara, unless God himself is at the door, leave me alone.” Rolling back over, Sookie put her head under the pillow and tried to ignore her friend.
Grabbing Sookie's comforter, Tara jerked it off the bed. “Get your ass up, Stackhouse! An army has descended on the house!”
Tara was evidently not taking no for an answer. Sookie sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her head was thick and drowsy; Tara was too much energy, too much noise right now for her to think straight. “What, Tara? What's so important?”
“Can't you hear it? Get your ass up, girl! And you have got to see what's outside! OH! And there's this guy named Bobby Burnham here and he says he needs to talk to you.”
'Bobby Burnham. Eric's day guy. Ugh. Now what?' Sookie started pushing through the sleep deprivation. Outside, there were the sounds of men shouting, trucks beeping as they backed up, things banging and all sorts of commotion. “What the hell?”
“That's what I'm trying to tell you, girl! You've got to come see this!”
Getting up grumpily, Sookie put her slippers on and grabbed her robe, cinching the belt quickly as she followed her friend downstairs and out onto the front porch. Her jaw fell open, her eyes popped. There were dozens of men working all around her house. Some were clustered with rakes and shovels around a truck pouring new gravel for her driveway, others were inspecting her old farmhouse and taking measurements and knocking on the wood siding. She saw lumber being removed from a flatbed truck. The unmistakable sound of a power drill to her left caught her focus for a moment and then a man carrying new gutters drew her attention in a different direction. Hearing a thump above her, she looked up and heard some guy think, 'Yep. Whole damn thing needs replacing.'
The scene was overwhelming! Turning amazed eyes to an equally stupefied Tara, she could only utter, “What the hell?”
Spinning around, Sookie saw Bobby Burnham sitting on one of the rocking chairs on her front porch. “Mr. Burnham? What is going on?”
“I believe this will explain everything,” Bobby said as he handed her another black envelope like the one that had accompanied the ice sculpture the other day.
'Don't know what Mr. Northman sees in her. Looks like plain white trash to me. Decent tits, if you like them large like that, but she's nothing but a backwater barmaid, a rube, she's certainly not in the same class as Mr. Northman. Must be a hellcat in the sack for him to go to these extremes to make her happy. Gold digger.'
Scowling at him for his nasty thoughts, Sookie jerked the proffered envelope out of his hands and tore it open. She read quickly.
My Sookie,Tara wrested the note from her hands to read it for herself as Sookie faced Bobby, clenching her fists and seething, “Absolutely not. You tell everyone to leave right this minute!”
Remember our agreement, little one. You have to accept all my gifts. I've been assured that the work men will not intrude on your time for more than a few days to get all that I've requested done. My first gifts are for your house. I have arranged to re-gravel your driveway (you mentioned previously that it needed to be done before and I didn't want you using your Dallas money to do it), have your house repainted, replace the roofing, the siding and your worn gutters.
Inside, I am having your personal bathroom remodeled. These men are the best in the trade and completely trustworthy, I assure you. You can simply leave them there and Bobby will oversee the construction while you are at the shifter's bar.
Your final gift for today is around the back of the house and Bobby will escort you to it. I had it placed in back to keep it out of the way of possible construction debris. I hope you enjoy it. I received your text with your email address and I've sent you a note there. Be sure to check it. Our first date will be tonight so be ready by 8pm. Dress up.
Until then, lover.
Bobby quickly produced another envelope from the inside of his suit pocket and held it out to her. He said firmly and clearly unperturbed, “I was instructed to give you this one if you said something like that.”
Growling and all but ripping the envelope out of his hand this time, Sookie reminded herself that people had the right to their thoughts, and so did she; and she was growing in her dislike for this pretentious, officious creep! She tore the second envelope open and read it.
Sookie,Ignoring Tara as she took this note from her as well, Sookie crossed her arms under her chest and huffed. She asked, “What's in the back? Is it going to piss me off even more? Because if it is, I think it would be better if I waited to see it until after breakfast. I need coffee.”
Tsk! Tsk! We had an agreement, pet. Jessica will pay the price if you go back on it. Smile and enjoy getting nice things. You deserve them … and will be getting more.
Nudging her friend, Tara chuckled, “Speak for yourself girl! I want to see what that vamp got you!”
Casting a disdainful look at Tara before focusing back on Sookie, Bobby said, with thinly veiled exasperation, “I don't know whether it would please you or not. Considering the condition of your house, I would have thought having all of these repairs done would please you. You'll have to just find out. Now, will you be getting coffee first or can I take care of the responsibilities Mr. Northman designated to me?”
“Hey! You don't have to be so mean to her! Sook is tired! She's had less than three hours of sleep. You've got no idea what that boss of yours has put her through!” Tara had easily picked up on Bobby's disdain for Sookie, and she didn't like it.
Casting his eyes around the work being done to Sookie's house, Bobby arched a brow and deadpanned, “Such crimes my Master has committed. Paying exorbitant amounts of money to have crews come out without notice and work nonstop so as not to intrude upon Miss Stackhouse more than necessary. Not to mention what is in the back. Indeed, my Master is cruel to your friend.” Looking at Sookie, his smile held only contempt. “Coffee or the back?”
Huffing, Sookie replied, “Let's get it over with. The sooner I see it, the sooner I can get past being pissed with whatever he's done now.”
Bobby led the way off the porch around the side of the house with Sookie and Tara following. The moment they rounded the corner, both women gasped before Sookie screamed, “THAT JERK!”
“Oh my Lord! Sook! Look at that!”
Sitting there under a big black bow was a brand new Mercedes SUV. It was metallic red with flashy alloy rims and Sookie just knew it would be fully loaded with every imaginable accessory available.
“Jerk?” Bobby asked before adding, “This car cost $145,000 with everything Mr. Northman had added for your safety and convenience. It's the most powerful, luxurious and advanced SUV money can buy! It's got a handcrafted biturbo V-8 engine that produces 545 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque."
Sookie suppressed a grin realizing this arrogant little asshole was practically salivating. He continued, unaware that he was gushing.
"It accelerates from 0-60 in under 5 seconds, it has a 7-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. There is a state of the art Bose sound system that works in conjunction with its Media Interface, an 80GB hard drive navigation, voice control, heated seats, dual-zone climate control with a dust and pollen filter, in-vehicle WiFi, a rear seat entertainment system, power liftgate and power-folding seats. There is an onboard voice activated navigational system with touch screen options, it's Bluetooth enabled for hands-free calling," he trailed off as he tried to remember more features.
"Air suspension, soft close doors, Active Curve system, multi-color ambient lighting, crosswind stabilization," he said by rote.
He caught himself smiling and quickly altered his expression to glare at her once more. "The Nappa leather is hand sewn and he had your initials stitched into the seats. He had to pay a considerable charge to get all of this done on such short notice, including paying a premium to the insurance company to get it covered within 24 hours. Mr. Northman did all of this overnight, and you call him a jerk?”
Spinning around to face him, Sookie replied, “Yes! He is a jerk! And you can just take it back and tell him I said so!”
'Stupid and ungrateful.'
Shaking his head, clearly out of patience, Bobby pulled yet another envelope from his suit pocket and held it out to her. Ready to scream now, Sookie yanked it out of his hand and ripped it open.
My hardheaded, stubborn Southern belle,“AHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Sookie threw the note to the ground and stomped back around the house. Even over the noise of the work crews Bobby could hear the front door slam. 'Probably need to replace the door frame too,' he thought contemptuously.
A deal's a deal, pet. Besides, I do believe something unfortunate has happened to your car. Notice it is missing from the driveway?
Tara watched her friend storm into the house before facing Bobby and holding out her hand. “Keys?” When he arched his brow at her, she assured, “I'll get her to see reason before you do. She can't be bought, just so you know, but if anyone deserves a car like this, it's Sookie. Besides, I didn't see hers out front by mine when we came outside and something tells me we're never going to see it again. She'll need a way to get to work.”
Dropping the keys in the girl's hand, Bobby walked away. He had to meet with the contractors and see how much of the house would need replacing. He was guessing a lot.
Heading inside, Tara found Sookie opening and slamming the kitchen cupboards as she muttered to herself. “You should take it, you know.”
Sookie spun around, distrust, embarrassment and something more flickering deeply in her eyes. “How can I? He's treating me like … like I'm his mistress! I'm not a whore and I won't be treated like one!”
“Seems to me he's just doing an awful lot of good things for you. Face it, Sook, this house is falling down around you, and how much longer would your car have lasted? A month? You've known you had to get a new one for a while now.”
“Then I'll buy it myself! And how can you side with him about this? YOU! You should be on my side about him treating me like a whore!”
“No, he's not, Sookie. A whore gets cash thrown in her face as the John walks out the door. Do I think he's trying to buy you? Hell yeah, he is. So let him try. You and I both know your love can't be bought. Let him find that out for himself. You won't compromise your morals, and if he wants to throw away his money on doing things you can't do for yourself, but that need doing anyway, I say let him. The way I see it, he took advantage of you being in a bad spot and got a whole hell of a lot out of you in the process. He's got his own personal mind reader now. Why shouldn't you cash in too?”
Shaking her head, Sookie leaned back against the counter. Her voice was stiff with tension. She admitted, “I don't feel right about it.”
Tara crossed the kitchen to reach the cupboard where Sookie stored the coffee and acknowledged, “'Course you don't. But that's because you have a massive inferiority complex and don't believe you deserve nice things." She opened the cupboard, yanking out the bag and brought it to the counter. “People have been puttin' you down and thinkin' such bad things about you your whole life you just started to believe them.”
Tara filled the coffee maker with water, then measured out a few scoops of grounds and tossed them into the filter. She opened the refrigerator to grab the milk and brought it to the counter. “You deserve this, Sook. More than anyone I know.” She flipped the machine on before turning back to her friend. “You've spent your whole life taking other people's shit and never once did you use your head trick to hurt them back. You could have gone around spilling the secrets of all those people that were mean and hurt you, but you didn't. Not once did you use what you can do to lash back at anyone. Even those who deserve it. That means something, Sookie. You've always helped people when you could, even if they spit in your face about it afterwards. Remember Mrs. Toole?”
The shock of remembrance brought tears to her eyes. Sookie turned and looked out the window over the kitchen sink. Seeing the men working outside, she winced, her voice an aching whisper, “I don't want to think about that.”
“Too bad, cuz I'm bringing it up.” Tara grabbed Sookie's shoulders and forced her to look at her. “That woman was nothing but nasty to you. Calling you Spawn of Satan and freak, railing that you shouldn't be allowed to set foot inside the church because you were a witch child. Her daughter was just as bad. Her daughter made your life a living hell at school just because she was unhappy with her own sad, pathetic life. But when you heard in her daughter's mind that she was planning to commit suicide, you marched right over to their house and told Mrs. Toole that her daughter was intending to slit her wrists that night. You warned her. That warning saved her daughter's life.”
“She didn't believe me.”
Tara snorted. “Yeah I know. That bitch didn't want to believe her bleach blond, captain of the cheerleading squad, do-anything-to-fit-in-because-she's-a-closet-lesbian-stuck-in-a-small-town daughter would do something like that. She ignored your warning and had it not been for the father overhearing the whole conversation and checking on their daughter that night, she would be dead. But Mr. Toole found Bethany in time and he called 911. Your warning saved her life. But did Mrs. Toole thank you? No! The next time she saw you in church she slapped you, spit in your face and said it was your fault. Said you put the idea in her daughters head through witchcraft.”
Sookie sat down at the table as Tara poured out two mugs of coffee and topped each off with milk before returning the carton to the refrigerator. She set both mugs on the table and sat down next to Sookie and reached for the sugar bowl, ladling in two full teaspoons into Sookie's cup and pushing the mug towards her. She threw three teaspoons into her own and brought it to her mouth.
“Oh boy, did I need this!” Tara exclaimed, closing her eyes as she inhaled the aroma.
They drank in silence for a few moments, while outside, the sounds from the workmen continued their inharmonious drone.
Sookie said quietly, “He thanked me.”
Nodding, Sookie continued, “He thanked me. Mr. Toole. He came by the house that afternoon and said he'd talked to Bethany at the hospital. She told him why she did it, and that she was afraid of her mother. Her mother was so devout and always going on and on about how gays were going to burn in hell. He told me what I did opened his eyes to the fact that his wife was never going to change. He filed for divorce the next day. That's why he and Bethany moved away. Mrs. Toole didn't move with them, she just let people think she did.”
“Geez, Sook, why didn't you tell me that? You just told me Bethany had done it because she was gay and felt she didn't fit in. You told me the family moved away so that she could be who she really was without facing prejudice.”
“I didn't want to hurt Mrs. Toole. I didn't like her but her husband and daughter had just walked out on her and I didn't want to add to that pain. She suffered enough for her hate.”
“See Sook?! Right there! That woman hurt and humiliated you, and you let her walk out of this town with her head held high! You let her lie and make people think her husband and daughter hadn't left her. You did that!”
Sookie was silent and contemplative as they continued drinking their coffee. After a long moment, she asked, her voice heartbreakingly vulnerable, “You really don't think it's wrong to take the car? To let him fix my house?”
“Fuck no! He's getting a hell of a lot more out of this than you are, Sook. How many telepathic people do you think there are in the world? And with everything you told me you've already done for him, you've saved him a hell of a lot more money than he just spent. Take this Sook. Take it, and don't feel bad about it in the least.”
“What will people think when I show up driving that?”
Scoffing, Tara persisted. “Let them think whatever the hell they want to think. Just because you can hear people's thoughts doesn't mean you have to take them into account. Your true friends will stand by you, Sookie. Anyone else can go fuck themselves.”
Sookie nodded her head, softly grinning. “Okay. I'm going to take it … but I'm going to talk to Eric and tell him nothing this extravagant ever again. Knowing him, he'd buy me a different car for every month.”
“Well then, feel free to send one of those bad boys my way,” Tara said as she drained the rest of her cup.
Sookie's breakfast ended up being only a piece of toast with her second coffee as her emotional morning had her stomach in knots. With all the construction noise, there was no way she could sneak in another hour of sleep so she decided to go into work early, get the books done and head home sooner than she had planned. Tara gave her the car keys, Sookie grabbed her laptop and headed out the back door. She stopped briefly to inform Bobby that she was headed to work and that she'd told Tara to leave the house unlocked so that they could get in if needed. Bobby barely acknowledged her as he was involved in a discussion with some of the crew. He waved her away and Sookie had to choke back a laugh. She decided he really was a supercilious ass. No wonder he and Eric got along so well. She felt a little unsure about leaving men she'd never met at her home without supervision since Tara, too, would be heading out soon, but, these workers were under Eric's orders, and she seriously doubted they'd be stupid enough to steal from her or mess up her house.
She spent the next fifteen minutes admiring the inside of her car, basking in the new car aroma, the solid feel of its door and the whoosh it made when it closed and encased her in silence. The seats actually were monogrammed with a double S. Had she ever even been in a new car before? She couldn't remember. Her eyes caught the sunroof. This was beyond luxury, beyond even her wildest fantasy. And it was hers! She played with all the dials and buttons, and admitted to herself that she felt a little giddy over the whole thing. She realized it would take more time than she had to learn about all its features and how everything worked, especially since the instruction manuals in the glove box were about six inches thick. She turned the car on and finally understood what guys meant when they talked about an engine purring. The elegant dashboard lit up and she quickly dimmed the interior lights and engaged the car, pulling out slowly from her property, gently rolling over a portion of the new gravel, praying none of it flew up against the new car finish. She caught some of the men ogling the Mercedes through her rear view mirror as she adjusted it for her height—at least, she assumed their interest was the car.
Arriving at Merlotte's she was glad she decided to go in early since no one was there yet to question her about the car. She made her way into Sam's office and immediately got to work on the books. A short time later, she heard Tara arrive and the other employees filing in after that, but she tuned them out as they opened the bar for the day. After completing the accounting, she spoke to the produce man on the phone and paid the electric bill online with the account information Sam had given her. She was ahead of schedule and decided to take a break and check her email from Eric. Powering up her laptop, she connected to the Internet and logged into her account to see what Eric had sent her.
ERIC: I'm sorry if you are disturbed by the workmen, but, be assured, they are being paid to work quickly. The driveway should be done by the time you get home from the shifter's. Most of the outside work to the house should be done today as well. However, I have ordered extensive work done to your inadequate and antiquated bathroom and this will take somewhat longer. I believe once the improvements are finished, you will find it much more satisfactory. Remember, I shall be at your house at 8pm to pick you up. I would be pleased to see you in that red and white dress you wore on your first visit to Fangtasia. It has been the object of many of my fantasies. In fact, my favorite involves you wearing it while spread across my desk with me thrusting between your thighs. Perhaps one day you will bless me and make that a fact instead of fiction. Have a nice day, lover.
Reddening furiously, she was about to log off and shut the computer down without replying before she thought better of it. His provocative email demanded a response. Hitting the reply button, she firmed her chin and thought for a moment about what she wanted to say before typing out her message. She read over it a few times to make sure it sounded good, her smile more a satisfied grin, and hit the send button. She logged out, turned off the computer, and packed it up so she could head out to the main area to start her shift. The lunch rush was just ending. Tying her apron around her waist, she walked into the bar and nearly ran into Arlene.
“Sook! Sorry, didn't see you coming. Hey, did you see that Mercedes in the parking lot? Whose is that? Do you know?”
Looking over the redhead's shoulder to see Tara leaning against the bar giving her an encouraging nod, Sookie squared her shoulders and replied, “It's mine.”
Mouth dropping open in shock, Arlene cried out, “YOURS?! Holy shit, girl, where did you get a car like that?”
Arlene's outburst had caught the attention of everyone in the bar. There were only about fifteen people or so left of the lunch crowd, but Sookie knew that whatever she said now would make its way around Bon Temps before the sun set. That's just the way it was in a small town. She also knew that everybody had certainly noticed the car and knew exactly what she and Arlene were discussing.
Deciding to take Tara's advice, she set her shoulders, met Arlene's eyes straight on and volunteered, “It was a gift.”
“A gift? Who gives a gift like that? Shoot Sookie, that car costs more than you and I make in two years combined!”
“If you have to know, it was Eric.”
Arlene's eyebrows nearly disappeared up into her tinted hairline. “Eric? That tall blond vamper that was in here threatening you the other night?”
'Wonder what she had to do to get that car? Gift? My ass! No guy gives a gift like that unless a girl is puttin' out. I didn't think Sookie was like that.'
Bombarded now with similar thoughts from the other patrons, Sookie fisted her hands on her hips and bellowed, “Now you all just get your minds out of the damn gutter! Don't act like you don't know that I know what you're thinking. I am not that kind of girl! I was the oldest virgin in this town up until I met Bill, and none of you have the right to judge me! I did not sleep with Eric, and even if I did, it wouldn't be any of y'all's business. He gave it to me as a gift! Gift!”
She was fuming with a mix of disgust and anger at all the small minds that so easily and predictably believed such awful things. “I helped him out using that thing I can do that none of you likes to admit I can do, but shun me for anyway. I saved lives doing it! And I'm tired of all of you making me feel ashamed for being different!” Pushing past Arlene, Sookie went behind the bar with Tara to start unloading the crates of beers there and put them in the cooler.
Tara smirked as Sookie walked past her and busied herself. Scowling at everyone in the bar who were looking dumbstruck at what had just happened, she snapped, “Y'all heard her! It was a gift and I can verify that fact. You've all known Sookie her whole life and know she's not that kind of girl! Don't let your own jealousy that she's got something nice for once put stupid thoughts inside your head. And don't let me find that any of you have gone off and started spoutin' hate about her over this neither! Y'all know me! I'll tear your asses up if you do! Now put your heads down and mind your own damn business!”
Lafayette came sauntering around the bar from the kitchen and said, “Ooooooh! Sookie, Sookie now! 'Bout time you stood up for yourself. Get on with your bad self, girl!”
Sookie laughed as Lafayette knelt down to help her finish unloading the crates. Thankfully everyone promptly went silent. Their thoughts were still buzzing noisily, but she tuned them out. Tara was right. She didn't have to listen to any of them. She only had to answer to herself and God, and right now he wasn't saying anything about what she'd done. 'To hell with them and what they think,' she thought vehemently as she dived into work. She had to get done early today so that she could get home and ready … for her date with Eric.