Author’s Note: Welcome to the third ‘book’ of the Swimming series. I am thrilled to have my wonderful beta team of Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy back to help polish the words into their best presentation. I hope you enjoy this installment.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sookie stared out the window of the black car. Owen was sitting in the passenger seat next to James. It didn’t take long, this drive from the airport to the palace, and Sookie found her eye drawn to the buildings they passed. All these years later, New Orleans was still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. It was a humbling thought, but at the same time, comforting. Sookie found solace in knowing that in the big flick of things, she could have personal setbacks and frustrations, but every morning, the sun still rose and every night it set again.
“You okay?” Owen asked again. Sookie fingered the heavy gold band on her finger, using her thumb to turn it over and over. She hadn’t said much since leaving Denver this morning, but then again, there really wasn’t much to say.
“Suppose there will be many folks in front of the Palace today?” she asked instead.
“It’s pretty early. Angry folks tend to sleep in,” Owen replied.
Sookie nodded and stared out the window, lost in her thoughts.
The Silent Witness movement hadn’t gone away as so many had predicted. From a few random protesters holding placards, the Movement had grown into crowds that organized rallies and events. The Witnesses held press conferences demanding investigations and blaming Supernaturals, and vampires in particular, for every unexplained disappearance of a human over the past ten years. From what Sookie heard, they weren’t troubled by these protesters in New Orleans to the same extent seen in other kingdoms. Bartlett Crowe had closed his downtown Indianapolis offices. Eric told her the Indiana monarch now had round the clock security at his Fishers home. Rasul, the King in Michigan, and James of Illinois were likewise plagued. Nabila, the Carolinas Queen and Moshup Clan Chief, reported finding herself hemmed in by a crowd of Witnesses who rocked her car, demanding answers. Still, the trouble they had here made for uncomfortable comings and goings.
The low point for Sookie came a couple months ago. Her car navigated through the police barricades that were in place all the time now to keep humans from getting too close to the Palace. It was late afternoon and the weather had been unseasonably balmy for New Orleans. Sookie took a moment to stretch before heading into the building, and for some reason, turned to look at the faces. She saw one she never expected.
Meg was a young woman who had been a servant in the palace. She worked there before the reign of Eric and Sookie, having started shortly after Queen Sophie Ann was killed. Meg proved resourceful, but what was more, she was an optimistic person. Meg had a way of making those around her happy, and Sookie was fond of her.
It was Meg’s face Sookie saw. The young woman was standing against the barricades with the Witnesses. Sookie thought it was a mistake and she took a step toward her, but the young woman raised the bullhorn she held and heckled, calling Sookie a traitor to her race and condemning her for being a ‘blood whore’ to Satan himself. Sookie was so shocked she had just stood stock still on the pavement. Owen, her Were guard, had to almost physically lift the telepath to get her moving from the street toward the Palace door. The crowd took up the chant, ‘Blood Whore! Blood Whore!” and a couple of people had thrown things at her.
Once Sookie was inside, her housekeeper, Devrah, wrapped her in strong, warm arms. Meg had been Devrah’s favorite, too, and neither could explain what could have caused this.
When Meg left the Palace staff over a year ago, Devrah tracked her down. Devrah had had great hopes that Meg would succeed her as housekeeper, so this sudden change hit the older woman hard. Devrah asked Meg for an explanation, but Meg wouldn’t give her one. It was months later that Devrah recorded Meg on television. Meg was part of the Witnesses by then. The former servant told the television interviewer that during her time at the Palace she was terrorized and bullied by vampires, starting in the days of Victor Madden, and including the current King, Eric Northman. She described Eric as being more of a beast than a man, growling and subject to fits of rage. She said that although Sookie Northman was nice to her personally, the telepath was either too terrified or too stupid to get away from vampires.
When Sookie saw the telecast she felt sick. She couldn’t believe that this young woman that she trusted could betray them in such a cruel fashion. Since Meg had worked in the Palace for so many years, people believed she was telling the truth. Sookie remembered walking into the garden that day; the one encased within the central courtyard of the Palace, shutting the door, and crying until she had nothing left. She refused to have her husband rise to find his wife anything other than dry eyed and even keeled.
It was a matter of pride for Sookie, presenting her best face to Eric. It was her way of giving him her best support. It almost made up for the small slights and outright insults thrown his way because he married her, a woman who was not a vampire.
During the first months of their marriage, Sookie made a point of standing or sitting beside him at the Assizes Court for the kingdom. As Eric Northman’s Queen, it was Sookie’s right to be there, but it was hard to ignore the reaction her presence caused. There were some who didn’t care, but most of those who attended or came before Eric for judgment saw her as anything from a distraction to an object of ridicule. Sookie couldn’t read the vampires, but she didn’t need to. She could see it in their faces and body language. The Weres and others who brought their business couldn’t hide their disparaging thoughts. After the third session, Sookie stood behind a screen, testing to see if she was right. As soon as she was out of sight, proceedings calmed down.
When she told Eric she wouldn’t be attending anymore, he protested, but she couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t be the cause of more trouble for him. In the end, it didn’t seem to make all that much difference. Eric had his business and Sookie had hers.
Sookie’s Great-Grandfather, Niall, the Prince of the Fae, had made her his business agent for his various operations in this world. He also paved the way for her to attend on-line night business courses taught by some of the best professors from universities all over the world to help build her skills and confidence. In addition, Mr. Cataliades, the demon attorney and Sookie’s friend, presented himself as a candidate for her corporate counsel. Sookie readily accepted his offer and between studies and Mr. Cataliades’ skilled coaching, Sookie was starting to feel that she had a contribution to make.
The majority of the Prince’s money was invested in medical or pharmaceutical research. There were also laboratories, like the one now being run as a partnership by Jane, Eric’s former Sheriff, and Dr. Ludwig. Jane had come to Eric through Phoebe Golden, the famed scientist and Queen of Iowa. Jane had received her training in reproductive research in Phoebe’s labs, and now was branching out. Sookie knew that Phoebe, and now Jane, were confident that they had found a way to use bones to allow vampires to reproduce. They were piggy-backing on research being conducted elsewhere involving cloning mammoths. The technique hadn’t been fully tested yet, and Sookie had a suspicion it was because Niall had demanded that Sookie and Eric be the first test subjects.
The laboratory was located in Shreveport, adjacent to the Doctor’s hospital. There were two doors to the offices. There was the public door that humans and others saw, the one with a receptionist, high ceilings and glass walls, and then there was the second door that opened to supernaturals interested in IVF, or in-vitro fertilization.
The facility had rapidly gained a reputation in the Supe world as being the premier place for Weres with conception issues to seek help with making full Were children. The success was due to a fluke. Jane and her team had been working with a full Were couple who were trying to conceive a second child. It was well-known that only first Were pregnancies resulted in a child capable of changing. Siblings born after the first were incapable, although sometimes a second generation would show up with the ability to shift. In this case, the couple was resigned to having that second ‘normal’ child, but it had been many years, so they were seeking help.
The IVF went well. The surprise was when the child was born and preliminary tests showed it capable of shifting. Results were questioned and all the tests run again with the same result. As word traveled, a second couple presented itself, willing and anxious to try. Their first child had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They were both full wolves and wanted to bring a Were child into their Pack. The process was repeated, and the results were the same; a Were baby whose DNA and blood tests demonstrated it would have the ability to shift.
Within a month the laboratory was overrun with requests and petitions from Weres from all over the world. Some presented the same sad story as their second miracle baby’s parents, but most wanted the ability to have a family where they all could live the same lives together.
Jane requested Sookie’s help in screening potential applicants, but after the first few evenings of interviews, Sookie asked them to find someone else. The desire these people felt for children and family was overwhelming. Sookie would return home to Bon Temps, walk past the empty bedrooms, and feel every tick of a biological clock she knew was nothing more than an illusion for her.
Fortunately, the Packs approached her, and Sookie was soon spending at least two weeks every month flying all over the country assisting the Weres in creating a central authority. Sookie being recognized as Sachem, able to truth speak for those present, was considered critical to the talks being able to proceed. The movement organizers were flowery in their praise and clear in their belief that things could not move forward without her personal assistance. It was flattering and made Sookie feel valued for her skills.
The first months of working on creating the Were hierarchy had been so promising. Friendships and promises of allegiance and support were given. Vampires were few; most kingdoms rarely hosted more than a hundred individuals. There were many more Weres, and their world was complicated by the variation in animals represented. It didn’t take long for Sookie to realize there was a pecking order among them. Wolves were at the top of that order and Weres who were able to shift into a Wolf form were taught to view themselves as superior to anyone who shifted into any other type of animal. Once she realized this, Sookie made sure it was addressed early, but the many ways this prejudice asserted itself seemed endless, and many hours and opportunities were lost in the time it took to meet each example of intolerance head-on.
Unlike Louisiana, there were places in the country where Packs were predominantly animals other than wolves. It wasn’t that Sookie hadn’t heard of Packs being like this. The Pack her brother, Jason, belonged to was exclusively panthers. The problem was the underlying assumption on the part of Emil Touissant, the head of the New Orleans Pack, and some of the other leaders of the movement that there was something less evolved about these groups. Sookie had to admit that even she was not immune. She had seen the panther Pack as being somehow defective. She associated the inbreeding of the panther group she knew with their animal form, which was not fair.
Looking back now, Sookie thought the real unraveling started three months ago in San Antonio. The auditorium was filled, representatives from Packs from all over the southern part of the country sitting at tables, working through general rules that would allow them to form a single authority. A group of shifters presented themselves, asking for standing at the convention and were denied. The Weres organizing the event argued that they needed to resolve issues for Weres first. They didn’t bring it to the floor for vote, and it started a chain reaction. The organizers were accused of making themselves de facto rulers of a government that didn’t exist. This happened two days into a conversation that was already strained, and it proved the spark needed to it ignite simmering resentments.
The convention was salvaged, but it had taken almost round the clock conversations, and Sookie returned to New Orleans drained and dispirited.
The following week Sookie was due to return to Bon Temps for her monthly training session with Tamsin. Training sessions were exhausting, but just being home tended to revive Sookie, restoring her general optimism. This time was different. By the second day, the telepath still hadn’t shaken the sadness she felt over San Antonio. The following week was her first wedding anniversary and Tamsin contacted Eric. He arrived early and Sookie and her husband spend the next ten days doing nothing but swimming and walking, talking and making love. It was wonderful, and when it was time to return to New Orleans, Sookie felt ready to start again.
She flew to Seattle to meet the team. The tension was there almost from the start, but things seemed to settle down. Sookie didn’t see this convention as creating much progress, but at least no ground was lost. For four days delegates met in groups and then as a great, general caucus. Meetings ran late into the night and Sookie wondered if she got more than four hours sleep together the whole time.
Through it all, Owen and James, Sookie’s Were guards from the New Orleans Pack, were there. Initially loyalties and fealty were questioned. Did New Orleans Pack members mean Sookie was already leaning toward that Pack? Sookie told organizers and those in any host city visited that she viewed these Weres as members of her palace guard and not members of any particular Pack. Emil Touissant helped by making a statement that as their Packmaster, he had released members of his Pack working at the Palace from traditional vows of fealty. Those working directly for the Northmans were to be viewed as agents of the Vampire King and Queen. Sookie wasn’t sure what this meant personally for Owen and James, as well as the others working in New Orleans. What she did know was that she was grateful. After that, questions about her guards settled down.
Sookie returned from Seattle to find a message waiting and within forty-eight hours she was back on a plane headed to Madison, Wisconsin. One trip blurred into another. She cancelled her training week in Bon Temps and headed off to another emergency session. She and Emil laughed about becoming road warriors.
When it became a fourth week of flying, Eric asked her when she thought this would end. Sookie became angry that her husband couldn’t see how important this was and how much was riding on her participation. When she told him she didn’t know, he became angry with her. He told her she was getting too thin and that she was forgetting her other obligations. Sookie interpreted that to mean he was putting her obligations as his feed and fuck partner first and she lost her temper. Eric escalated by dipping into her head, something they realized he could do shortly after their wedding. It pissed Sookie off to no end. It was the first time they had had a knockdown, drag out fight that resulted in them sleeping in different places.
Sookie felt terrible. She was back on a plane the next morning and barely slept the whole long trip to Portland, Oregon. When she landed, she texted Eric, apologizing. She knew he was resting and wouldn’t see her message for hours. She arrived at the hotel to find flowers awaiting her. He had sent them last night and she felt terrible all over again. When Eric called her later, she stepped out of her meeting and ended up crying over the phone. “You are exhausted, Älskade,” he said, “There are so many of them and only one of you. Please, Lover, consider asking them to meet without you for their general sessions. If you collapse, who will be there when they really need you?”
Sookie promised her husband things would slow down. Of course, she returned home to Meg and Silent Witnesses. When he rose to her, Eric knew immediately something was wrong, but to give him credit, Eric didn’t ask questions. He just held her. They spent that night in their retreat within the Palace, lying on soft rugs in front of the gas fire. Sookie felt the coil within her start to loosen as she watched this magnificent man in the fire’s glow reading the words of John Donne. When he wrapped her up and carried her to their bed, all was right with the world again. He waited until the next night to tell her of the troubles with the Witnesses in the other kingdoms.
Three days later, Sookie packed for Bon Temps and Eric packed for visits with the Amun rulers, first in Detroit, and then in Indianapolis. The vampire kings and queens were gathering to discuss the troubles and come to common agreement as to what should be done. Sookie thought Eric wanted to ask her to come with him, but in the end, he didn’t. He kissed her and asked her to try and relax in Bon Temps. He reminded her she had missed her prior month’s training and that promises were worth keeping. She had smiled for him and felt incredibly alone as he pulled away. She realized that some part of what she was feeling might have been Eric.
It had been a good week in Bon Temps. She and Eric talked every night. She could hear he wasn’t telling her everything. Mostly they talked of other things. He told her about the candidates presenting themselves to Rasul as potential Queens. Rasul told him he was holding out for Sibyl of Alabama, who rarely traveled from her kingdom these days. Sookie told Eric about Tara and J.B. DuRone’s latest dust-up with the police over allowing Supernaturals to dance in an All-Supe Nights at Hooligans and Bit’s latest escapade.
Bit was Jason and Michele’s middle son. He was precocious and terrifyingly fearless. While his oldest brother, JC, worshipped vampires in a fanboy kind of way, Bit seemed to think he was a vampire. He approached those few vampires he encountered in Bon Temps or the surrounding areas, like a short, blond bee to a blossom. He would engage them in his earnest way, and so far, most found him amusing. Of course, his starting every conversation by asking if they knew his uncle, Eric Northman, might have had something to do with the tolerant reaction he received.
Last month, Bit took it into his head that if he tried really hard he could fly like Uncle Eric. He gathered materials and created a kite of sorts for himself. He managed to use the hay hoist to haul it up onto the flat roof over the tack room at Sookie’s house in Bon Temps. Bit went to the house almost every day with JC and Rob DuRone. The boys were there to care for the horses, and Michele sent Bit along most days. Michael Eric, Jason and Michele’s youngest, was little more than a year-old and running his momma ragged.
Boys being boys, Bit had plenty of alone time to construct his contraption. How he’d managed to get it up on the roof, then strap himself in without his brother being the wiser would be the topic of plenty of conversations in the Stackhouse residence for some time to come. Michele had no idea how long Bit had been on the ground, hollering before JC found him. When she asked, both boys gave her the same pushed-out lip, round-eyed defiance she recognized from both Jason and Sookie’s faces. Michele blamed the ‘wild Stackhouse blood’ as she described the incident to Sookie. Bit had broken his leg and the cast slowed him down for all of a day.
When Sookie told the story to her husband that night, Eric roared with laughter, telling her he understood Michele’s dilemma, having been a victim of that wild Stackhouse blood himself from time to time. Sookie scoffed and scolded, but she was pleased. Sookie felt the pull to be with him, even though she knew her magic had suppressed any trace of bonding sickness. She slept in the large bed that filled the doored area in their third floor suite. It was the same bed that had been in Eric’s lair in Shreveport in the Time Before.
The Time Before was what Sookie still called those days after Eric left for Oklahoma and she married Sam Merlotte. It was a funny thing about memory. Over time the memory of the pain you experienced softened, and your belly no longer clenched at those odd moments that reminded you of the person who had made your life so hellish. Sookie could still find the evidence if she chose. The scar over her lip where her tooth had come through when Sam beat her was still there.
Several months ago, Eric found her tracing the scar as she looked at herself in the mirror. He offered to remove it for her, but she declined. Somehow, she had to hold onto it. It reminded her of how far she had come and what could be waiting for her if she ever went back to who and what she had been.
After hanging up with Eric, Sookie held the pillow that was his, wishing she could smell some part of him. Finally, when it became overwhelming, she got up and walked into the closet. She buried her nose in first one suit and then another shirt, seeking him. She woke up the next morning lying in a nest of his clothes on the closet floor. She knew it wasn’t the bond. She was just missing her husband.
If Tamsin knew of Sookie’s troubles, reading her mind in that way Fae did, she didn’t say anything. They were working on growing things. There were so many permutations to be mastered. Sookie knew these lessons would lead to shaping organic materials, but for now she was still working with plants. She could make seeds burst, sending lanky stems and two pilot leaves to the sun, but her creations were not robust. Tamsin would set long lines of various seeds in the ground and Sookie would spend hours focusing on trying to make them not only sprout but include the material of a fully mature organism. It was exhausting.
Then there were other lessons. There were horseback riding lessons and training with wooden swords. Tamsin handled most of the training herself, but she would bring other Fae from time to time to help out. The most recent sword lessons involved learning steps for her feet, ‘forms’ they were called.
For Sookie, learning sword forms was like learning an elaborate dance. She remembered dancing in long lines, the steps complicated, but beautiful in her Great-Grandfather’s hall as they celebrated her and Eric’s handfasting. Sookie hadn’t known the steps, but Eric led her through them.
Feeling nostalgic, she asked Tamsin about the dances. That led to a visit from other Fae. There was a male fiddle player and two women who served as dance partners. Tamsin told her dancing was a way of worship for any Fae and that if Sookie wished it, dancing would be added to their monthly lessons. By the end of the evening, Sookie was laughing and gasping for air. She went to bed that night and slept without waking. When she rose, Tamsin was awaiting her in the kitchen, singing as she sat in the sunlight. Sookie asked to add dancing to their regular lessons.
By the next week Sookie was back on the road.
The trip to Denver with the Pack leadership was considered pivotal. Delegates were selected from all the regional conventions. The list of reservations was long. It would be the largest gathering to date. The first read-through of a proposed set of rules would be made and opened for comment in general sessions. Hopes were running high. Sookie hadn’t seen Eric in several weeks. Of course, they talked, but he hadn’t returned from his latest trip in time to see her off.
On the way to the hotel, Owen turned to her and said, “You should not put too much hope into this, Majesty. It should be considered a victory if the Weres emerge from this convention resolved to try again.” It was the first time either of her guards had offered an opinion on the work being done.
“Do you feel this way, too?” she asked James, who was driving.
“I think you should slow down,” James told her, not taking his eyes off the road.
Almost from the first, the warnings Owen made seemed to bear fruit. There were scuffles at the registration desk among delegate groups. The restaurant that night looked like a divided camp. Delegates were sitting together by animal type or by region. Sookie could hear the anger and distrust simmering just below the surface. In the past, she was able to pull groups past their suspicions and differences by revealing concerns she plucked from their heads and then used that information to facilitate open and honest conversations. For the first time, that strategy back-fired.
The first meeting between the leaders of the areas was held the second night. Sookie was seated at the head table, as always. She waited to be introduced to those she had not previously met. It all seemed the same as every other convention. Talks started, and Sookie was asked to present her truth speak, revealing the needs of the group. When Sookie started to talk, a member of the Montana delegation protested. She stated that she had no confidence in any woman who was not a Were. What’s more, Sookie being married to a vampire King should have disqualified her since any creature married to a vampire couldn’t be assumed to be neutral. “You have no authority here!” the Montana Were said in a strident voice.
The organizers pointed out Sookie’s status as Friend of the Pack. They spoke of her work so far and her undisputed skills as Sachem. “She is a large part of the reason we have all come this far,” one of the organizers protested. That hadn’t stopped the Montana delegate’s protests and then she was joined by a delegate from Missouri who accused Sookie of working with witches. He accused her of not having the skills she claimed through natural means, but instead of having gained them through witchcraft. He went on to accuse Sookie of being in the thrall of witches. He told the delegates that it was well-known that Sookie Stackhouse had welcomed witches to live with her in her past.
The noise escalated after that. There was so much tension around them that several of the delegates started shifting. Owen walked up behind Sookie and abruptly pulled her from her chair. With a hand wrapped around her upper arm, he quick-stepped her out of the meeting room and toward the elevators that would take her to her hotel room. They were overtaken by angry Weres halfway down the hall, demanding to know who Sookie was really representing. Owen placed himself between the telepath and the angry Weres, but there were so many.
Sookie was tired and summoning the sword that appeared in her hand was instinctual. The cry went up that Sookie was herself a witch and it took the organizers and hotel security in addition to both Owen and James to get Sookie to her room and then out of the hotel altogether.
As the car glided up to the Palace, Owen’s prediction this time proved false. There was a good-sized crowd in front of the Palace for all it was early afternoon. The protesters tried to press in around her car before it cleared the barricades, but it was only a moment of hands pressed to windows and they were through. Sookie sighed. It was hard to remember sometimes that for most of New Orleans, she and Eric remained the golden couple that was their own. They could still go to restaurants or museums and have people cheer and ask for photographs. Sookie knew Eric and Maxwell Lee made a point of going into the city to listen to jazz on a regular basis.
“It’s not fair!” Sookie said.
“Majesty?” Owen asked.
Sookie had not really meant to say the words out loud, but since she had, she explained, “That a small group can make everything seem so terrible.”
Owen nodded, “It’s true. They don’t represent most folks, but they sure do make a racket.” He smiled in that way he had that made her feel safe. “What do you say? Ready to take the walk to the door?” There had been a suggestion that an awning be put in place over the door. Sides would be fastened and the occupants of vehicles could pull up and exit without their identities being revealed to those on the street. Sookie had weighed in, calling it cowardly and giving in to harassment, but at this minute, emotionally bruised and feeling fragile, she would have liked nothing better.
Pulling up her big girl panties, Sookie lifted her chin and stepped out of the door that Owen opened for her. There were still those who were there hoping to catch a glimpse in the way people liked to see celebrities, but those thoughts were quickly drowned by the chanting of ‘Blood whore! Blood whore!” from across the street. Sookie almost darted toward the door, then feeling her temper rise, purposely turned, pasted on her Crazy Sookie smile and waved at the angry faces. “Hey, y’all!” she called. “Happy to be back! Always nice to see you!” and she winked before turning and deliberately strolling to her own front door.
Owen chuckled beside her, “You are something!” and he shook his head.
Once inside, though, her bravado evaporated and she felt what she was; sad, dispirited and hollowed out by travel and too much tension. Devrah walked down the corridor, waving at Weres to retrieve luggage. Owen helped Sookie get out of her coat and another Were took it from him. “There’s food in the kitchen for you,” Devrah told the Were guards. “Go grab something and the car will take you both home.”
Owen and James nodded as they walked past Sookie. James wasn’t married, but Owen was. Sookie knew this travel had been a hardship on both him and his family and she murmured her thanks. When the telepath turned back to Devrah, she could see the older woman’s concern. “I’m fine,” she said automatically.
“No, you ain’t,” her housekeeper replied.
Sookie felt her smile tremble. Devrah was right. “Is he home?” and she could hear the tear in her voice, so she bit her lips.
“No, not yet,” and Devrah wrapped the shorter woman in her arm, “But he is due sometime tonight. Why don’t we get you settled upstairs on the roof? It’s a pretty day and you can get you some sunshine.” Devrah squeezed Sookie’s shoulder before saying, “And we both know how much a certain Mister likes that!”
Sookie leaned against Devrah, feeling comforted by the woman’s touch. Saul, the Were who ran their private lift, got off his stool when they approached, “Well, look who’s back from her adventures! It makes my heart happy to see you, Mistress!”
“I am happy to be back,” Sookie replied. She could hear the Were’s unwillingness to give in to the pain that he felt in his knees and joints. Sookie had heard that Weres’ lives were shorter than humans, the process of shifting causing stress in their joints that accumulated over time. “Especially happy to see you,” she added warmly.
Saul smiled over his shoulder, “You turn my head, Majesty. You save your flirting for the King!” and he winked before adding, “Not that I blame you none for being attracted to Weres. We are devilishly handsome!”
“Devilishly something!” Devrah scolded. When they arrived at the top floor, Devrah helped Sookie up the steps to the rooftop garden. She settled Sookie on the chaise lounge under the pergola, and then said, “You wait here just a minute. The new chef downstairs made something special just for your lunch. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Sookie settled back and shut her eyes. She must have fallen asleep because she opened her eyes to Devrah saying, “What the hell? You get out of here!”
Sookie blinked and sat up to see her housekeeper grab a stick and wave it at something in the air. Sookie looked again and realized she was looking at a drone. The housekeeper swung at the drone again and it evaded her, taking off into the sky. “How long was that there?” Sookie asked, and then stood up. “I think I’ll eat inside now.” She held onto the bannister leading down from the roof. She wasn’t hungry anymore. She didn’t want to be in the city anymore. She wanted to be in Eric’s arms, stretched in front of the fireplace in Bon Temps, his naked body stretched out and his hands stroking her as only he could.
Devrah followed her into the suite, then said, “Oh no, you don’t!” when Sookie started toward the bedroom.
“I’m tired!” Sookie protested.
“You’re worn out,” Devrah countered, “There’s a difference. Now, you are going to sit down right here and eat something. I am going to run a bath for you and once you finish, you can take a nice, long soak. There’s a woman I’m going to call who will come up here and give you a massage, and then we are going to have a civilized conversation and a couple normal hours before the King arrives.” Devrah met Sookie’s defiant look with one every bit as formidable. “No one else is going to say this, so I will. You need to set some boundaries with this Were thing. You are making yourself sick. You have other things in your life that are just as important, and they are suffering. You’ve barely been married a year and you’ve spent less time with your husband than folks that are divorced.”
“Eric understands!” Sookie bit out.
“Your husband is missing you!” Devrah fired back. There was something in how the housekeeper said it that made Sookie feel guilty. Devrah must have seen the change because she added, “He watches the doors on the nights you are supposed to come home. He checks his phone for your texts. He’s proud of you. He doesn’t want to interfere with what makes you happy, but he doesn’t understand. Thalia has left him. Pam is gone. He and Max get along, but it’s not the same. He doesn’t open up to Max the way he did with that nasty little vampire of his. And now? Now you’ve left him, too.”
“I love Eric!” Sookie said.
“I know,” Devrah pushed the tray of food toward her, “and it’s time to show it.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Devrah to mind her own business. Plenty of couples had busy schedules. Eric always said she was a modern woman, and this work with the Weres had made her feel so good about herself. They needed her. The Weres really needed her. It was something only she could do.
Sookie looked at the food in front of her. She looked at her wrist and couldn’t help noticing how thin it was. She knew her hip bones were protruding again and her collar bones rose from her flesh like angel’s arms. Eric never said anything about it, but the last time they were together, he had drawn his fingers across her pointy bones, tracing the places that were no longer soft or yielding. It was possible that her days with the Weres were over anyway. How could they resolve the melt-down in Denver? “I’m ready to just be home,” Sookie said out loud.
In hearing the words, there was a part of her that felt she was admitting defeat, but there was another part of her that seemed to sigh, ‘thank goodness, at last!