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.
Monday, the following week, Breandan left early to drive to Slievemore. They had stayed up later than usual the night before, sipping wine, and staring into the fire. As had become their habit, Breandan told Sookie stories about Ireland. Last night, he’d told her the legend of the Giant’s Stairway. He held her against him, his voice rising and falling, lulling Sookie into a sense of peace as she listened to the cadence and rhythm of his words.
“What will I do all day while you’re gone?” Sookie asked Breandan as he dressed that morning.
“You can use the laptop,” he pointed out, “and your cell phone is working. Enjoy the day. Rest.” For anyone else, this kind of sentiment might have been fine, but for Sookie, used to activity, it sounded more like punishment.
Sookie rolled over and closed her eyes, then she flipped over and closed her eyes again. After a half hour, she admitted defeat and got up, shuffling her way downstairs to the kitchen. The new coffee maker was installed and Breandan must have run it because there was hot coffee waiting. She picked up the book she’d started, but after an hour put it down. It wasn’t very nice outside and there was a stiff breeze rattling the glass in the sunroom, so the idea of wandering the beach once the sun rose wasn’t appealing. Sookie walked into the office, and then walked back to the living room. She looked around and then walked to the office again. Turning on the television, she saw a commercial about Christmas and she started to cry. “Mama!” she said aloud, then she retreated upstairs. She spent the rest of the day lying in bed, staring out the window, and allowing her grief to overcome her.
On some level, Sookie felt silly for allowing her emotions to rule her this way, but another part of her felt that her Mother deserved at least some tears from her child. Sookie wondered about Jason. She thought about Aunt Linda. She wondered if her Mother found her Father in some lovely place in the afterlife, and that thought caused her to dissolve into weeping again. Finally, exhausted, she fell asleep.
“Sookie?” The voice seemed to come from far away. “Sookie? Are you well?”
It was Breandan. He was home and she was still in bed. Her eyes hurt and her throat was sore. She rolled over, shielding her eyes from the light. “What happened to you?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Sookie sniffed. “I guess I was just sad today.”
“Are you going to eat?” Breandan asked, and it occurred to Sookie that what he was really asking was whether she was going to get up and feed him.
“Sure,” she nodded. “I guess,” and she rolled out of bed and padded to the bathroom, shutting the door in his face. When she came out, she could hear him downstairs. She didn’t really feel hungry, but when she got to the kitchen, she found Breandan had turned on the water and was making her a cup of tea. It struck her as such a sweet thing to do, she started crying again.
“I’m sorry!” she apologized, holding onto his shirt. “I can’t help it! I saw something about Christmas, and I thought about my Mom… and how we’ll never…” and Sookie couldn’t continue. Breandan held her close, but she didn’t feel the same comfort she remembered from before, and she made an effort to pull herself together. She took the stew she had in the refrigerator and poured it into a pan.
“It will only be a minute,” she told him, “I’m okay.”
Breandan made an effort to be helpful. He set the table and he didn’t try to get her to talk. Instead, he watched her as if she was some new, foreign creature he wasn’t quite sure how to handle. When the food was dished, he took the bowls, and he even held her chair while she sat down. She knew her eyes were bloodshot and her nose was red with rubbing. “Thank you,” she said, although she’d done most of the work, then, “How was work today? Are you thinking you’ll catch on at the hotel okay?”
“I’m worried about you being out here by yourself,” he said instead. “Finding you this way worries me.”
Sookie shrugged, “I think it was bound to happen,” she told him in her practical way. “I just keep pushing things back to deal with all this new stuff. It’s not like what happened before goes away. It just builds up. I think today was the first chance I had to just let loose.”
“And that’s what this is?” Breandan was still watching her as if he didn’t believe it.
“I miss her,” Sookie nodded. “I’m sure you can understand that,” but with the way Breandan’s head cocked to the side and how he just started eating, Sookie wondered if he could.
When Sookie finally ate a spoonful from her bowl, Breandan asked, “Do you think you’ll do this every day?”
There was something in the way he was watching her. It wasn’t alarm exactly; in fact, if she had to put a name to it, she thought it might have been disgust. Sookie sat up a little straighter and pasted her smile in place, “No, Breandan,” she told him. “I think I just needed today.”
He waited as if he thought she might say more, but when she didn’t, Breandan launched into the story of his day. He told her of the hotel and his role. It seemed to Sookie that for a person with no experience in running hotels, Breandan seemed pretty comfortable with the challenges thrown his way, and something occurred to her. “How old are you?”
Breandan stopped in mid-sentence. He lowered his spoon and sat back. “How old do you think I am?”
“Don’t!” Sookie cautioned. “I need Breandan O’Hara, my boyfriend, to be straight with me. How old are you?”
“I don’t know,” he told her, “but it is many ages of man. I remember when the Christians came to this place. I remember when you had to travel many miles to see any human at all.”
“Oh,” Sookie said. Her mind was reeling, and then she took a deep breath before saying, “And out of all the people you’ve met over all these years, I’m the one you chose?”
“There have been others,” he told her. “But you are unique,” and Breandan reached across the table, laying his hand over hers. “You make me feel things,” he said carefully, “and that hasn’t happened in a long time.”
“Oh,” Sookie said again, but the thought that she was that special warmed her. She turned her hand over and twined her fingers through his. “I love you,” she said. It was the greatest compliment she could pay and she trusted that he knew that.
The next morning, Sookie got up with Breandan. When she made him breakfast, he told her how happy it made him. “I will text you when I leave Slievemore,” he told her. “I missed talking with you yesterday.”
“I’m sure you’re surrounded by lots of people in a hotel,” Sookie teased, thinking he was just trying to be nice, but Breandan’s response didn’t sound like words being spoken to be polite.
“It’s the slow season. There are always things to do, renovations and changes to be made, but I missed you, your voice.” It was in the way he said it as though he was surprised and a little confused by his own feelings.
“Then call me,” Sookie told him. She hugged him, laying her head against his chest. She wanted to comfort him and his body reacted as though he could feel it.
“You love me still?” he asked.
“I love you always!” Sookie declared. It struck her that she was holding a creature who was older than anything she knew, but he still cared whether she loved him. “Guess is doesn’t matter how old you are,” she said aloud. “In the end, we all need love.”
He kissed her and it seemed a perfect start to any day. “I’m getting up to make you breakfast more often!” Sookie told him and was rewarded by his gorgeous smile.
Once Breandan was on his way, Sookie marched upstairs, showered, and dressed. The day was already brightening and she sat back down at the kitchen table and plotted her day. ‘Town – bank,’ she wrote on a piece of paper. She still hadn’t opened her bank account. Breandan insisted on paying for things, but it made her uneasy. Granted, she didn’t have many needs here, not yet, but the idea of not having her own pocket money ran against everything she’d been raised to believe. She’d paid attention driving back from Slievemore and she knew now that the road at the end of the walled lane did indeed run into Killary. It would be a bit of a hike, but there were shoulders on either side and it wouldn’t take long.
‘Emails,’ she wrote down next. There were messages in her Inbox from Amelia and Aunt Linda. There was also another there from Desmond Cataliades, her former neighbor who agreed to act as her attorney for her Mother’s estate.
“Better get cracking,” Sookie took a last sip of coffee and walked the short distance that took her into the cottage’s office space. She knew that the house she was in was very old. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that this structure, or one like it, had been on this foundation for a very long time. You couldn’t tell, though. The inside walls were finished and the exterior was tidy and clean. The wide board floors gleamed underfoot and the electricity and plumbing worked.
Sookie opened Amelia’s email first. It was full of news about preparations for Christmas and who was visiting whom. There were photos from Thanksgiving with Amelia and Sean at a football game wearing rival colors and mugging for the camera. Amelia also sent their flight information. They would be arriving right after New Year’s and planned to stay for three weeks. Sookie wrote back, assuring her friend they would be at the airport to meet them. She typed a description of the cottage and beach, and she gave a quick description of Slievemore. “I’ll need to figure out some more things to do with them,” she mumbled to herself.
Next was the email from Aunt Linda. She apologized for the way they left each other after her Mother’s death. She wrote how she hoped all was going well and how she sincerely hoped Sookie was happy with Breandan. She wrote how her daughter had read Linda the riot act, telling her how romantic Sookie’s story was, like out of a fairy tale book. “If only you knew!” Sookie whistled under her breath, and then laughed to acknowledge how she was living a pretty extraordinary life with a fairy, so that fit the definition!
Linda went on to remind Sookie to apply for dual citizenship. ‘Everything I read says marriage isn’t a guarantee that you can become a citizen and if you decide to remain living together, you are going to have to leave if you don’t have your status settled.’ “I really need to figure that out!” Sookie nodded. She hadn’t discussed it with Breandan, but she couldn’t see where he’d have any objection.
Last, she opened the email from Desmond. She remembered how kind he’d been, patting her hand, and telling her how much he missed her Mother. Sookie almost put it off for later, worried that reading anything pertaining to her Mom would set her back to the mess she’d been yesterday, but then she refused. “Just get it over with!” she said out loud and hit the ‘open’ key.
Desmond started by saying again how sorry he was for her and her family and hoping she was getting on well in Ireland. He listed the documents he’d filed and he outlined the next steps. He cautioned her that these things took time and there would be some more papers to sign. Since she was overseas, it was important she scan and email some papers, but others would require an ink signature, and she should be prepared to handle that, too. “More things to figure out,” Sookie sighed. She glanced at the printer in back of her and it had a Scan function. “Wonder if that works?” she asked out loud.
Then, Desmond told her that because of the study her Mother had been in and the fact that they donated her organs, her bills associated with the cancer center were forgiven and even more surprising, the bills associated with her Mother’s care at the other hospital were forgiven, too. Sookie sat back, trying to absorb it. She figured she’d be working here for nothing, all her money going back to the United States to settle debts. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from her. This life she was making with Breandan could really start!
‘I’m still tracking down some of the life insurance policies and other assets from the box of paperwork you gave me,” Desmond wrote. ‘This will take some time, but I think there may be a little money left over for you once this is done.’ There were a couple attachments Desmond needed her to sign and send back to him and he again expressed his sympathies.
Sookie hit the print button on the attachments and was pleased when the printer sprang to life. She signed both and then loaded them back in the printer and hit the scan button. It took a couple tries, but Sookie figured it out and she could email them back to Desmond, including her thanks for everything he was doing for her and how wonderful the news was about the medical bills. She remembered to ask about his family and she sent a few words about how happy she was here and how she was settling in.
Sookie glanced at the clock on the laptop. ‘Ten o’clock!” she sighed. “Time to get going!”
It wasn’t raining outside, but Sookie wore her new winter raincoat anyway. It was lined and completely waterproof. It also had a hood and Sookie added a hat and gloves. Since she was walking the road, Sookie put on her new leather boots. They were waterproof and, feeling very prepared, Sookie locked up and headed down the lane. It wasn’t her first time walking between the high walls. She’d dropped off a couple pieces of her cake to the Bradys after her dinner with Charles O’Hara, aka Rogan Brigant. Paula met her at the door of her house and thanked her. Sookie explained she had to head right back, saving the woman from having to invite her in. With the look Paula was giving her, Sookie wasn’t sure if the farmer’s wife was happy with the prospect of having Sookie inside anyway. Now, Sookie walked with sure strides, clearing the walls, passing the Bradys’ gate, and taking the right that had her heading toward Killary.
There was very little out here. To the right, the ground was sandy and to the left, there were electric wires topping stone walls, keeping cows in place. After a bit, Sookie passed a marker. It was brown and on the top with a symbol of a walker and an arrow pointing forward. “Wonder what that is?” Sookie asked out loud. She walked for another twenty minutes before she came to the first house. It was set off to the left. After a bit, there was another one, and soon the houses appeared at regular intervals. The markers did, too, seeming to appear every mile or so, pointing the way forward.
When the road reached a ‘Y’ turn, the marker pointed to the right, so Sookie followed it, knowing it led the way to Killary.
Sookie walked into the small bank around 11:30. She glanced at the door, confirming her suspicion that the bank would close for lunch. There was one person ahead of her and, when it was her turn, she placed her debit card and her passport on the counter. It took a little bit but, eventually, she walked out with her own bank account, a temporary pass card, and the assurance that everything would be mailed to the cottage down the street. Sookie was sure she imagined it, but when she gave the address and confirmed she was living there with Breandan O’Hara, things seemed to moved faster.
As she stepped onto the street, the bank door was locked behind her, and Sookie sighed, thinking of the long walk back. “Well, at least you know the way!” she shrugged and, pulling her gloves back on, she started back down the long road that led to her house.
She walked the opposite side of the road this time and she noticed the same markers with the hikers on them. “Wonder what they are?” she asked the cows who watched her pass.
She noticed the tall trees in one field and their bare, upper branches loaded with huge birds’ nests. As she watched, she saw a flock of black birds fly from them. “Ravens!” she exclaimed and it made her look more carefully at the landscape around her. She noticed that many of the small animals and birds she took for granted at home didn’t seem to be around here. She didn’t see squirrels or the flocks of small birds she associated with New England winter. Occasionally she’d see some smaller bird take flight in a field, but mostly she heard the raucous cries of the ravens behind her.
Cataloging the natural world helped Sookie not notice the time it took to make the trek back. Soon, she was turning into the walled lane that led to the cottage. Her stomach was grumbling and her feet were starting to ache. “New boots,” she sighed.
She almost walked past the gate that led to the Bradys when she was stopped by Paula. “Is that you?” she called. Sookie looked to see the farmer’s wife standing in her front yard. She was moving some pots around her front patio.
“Can I help?” Sookie asked, and then opened the gate and grabbed a side. Together, they rolled and lifted until Paula had the pots rearranged.
“Been meaning to get that done and it was a fine day,” Paula explained as she thanked Sookie. “It looks as though you were walking,” she added.
“To town,” Sookie nodded. “I finally opened my bank account,” and then, to Sookie’s embarrassment, her stomach growled.
“So, you just walked all that way?” Paula asked, and then “Well, then, you must be hungry! Come on in with you. Tom is away at his meeting and I could do with the company.” They both dropped their boots at the front door and Paula pointed at a pair of felt shoes for Sookie while toeing into her own. “Try those. They’ll probably be too big for you, but better than icy toes!”
Within a minute, Sookie’s toes, which were stiff, seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “It’s just leftovers from last night,” Paula warned. There was some meat Sookie thought might be mutton and mashed potatoes with something extra. Within two mouthfuls, Sookie was forking the potatoes into her mouth as if she hadn’t eaten in days. “There’s more!” Paula laughed at her. “You’ve never had colcannon, then?”
“If that’s what this is, then no,” Sookie confirmed. Paula placed a half loaf of brown bread on the table and one slice was all it took for Sookie to know she’d just found another favorite thing.
“Would you share the recipe for these?” she asked the farmer.
“I’ll tell you what,” Paula told her. “If you’re willing, you can come back tomorrow and I’ll show you how to make them.”
“Only if you let me pitch in for what you need,” Sookie dug into her pocket and put bills on the table. When Paula protested, Sookie held up her hands, “I’m not going to take no for an answer! It’s the least I can do!”
“Well, if you insist,’ Paula nodded, “Then the least I can do is give you what’s left and walk you down the lane. We can stop at the well on the way and make a wish.”
“A wishing well?” Sookie rolled her eyes. “I feel like every time I turn around there’s another reminder that I’m walking through a fairytale!”
“It doesn’t do to say such things,” Paula scolded. “For all you’re so friendly with them!”
Sookie almost said something else, but she thought of Breandan’s reaction and how he warned her to not say anything. “Breandan is devilishly handsome,” Sookie shrugged. “I’d call him a Prince Charming!”
“If you say so,” Paula wasn’t looking amused, so Sookie dropped it. They put on their boots and headed down the lane toward the cottage, but when they got to the driveway, instead of continuing down the path, Paula turned right and walked toward where the ground fell away. There was a path down the bluff. It headed toward the sea and halfway down they came to a place where the ground leveled. There was a holly tree and a place where there were stones piled one on the other in a semi-circle. “It’s a holy well,” Paula volunteered. She took two red strips of cloth from her pocket. “Make a wish and then tie your wish to the tree,” she instructed.
Sookie stared at the cloth in her hand. She closed her eyes and in her head, she thought of the most general wish she could, ‘I wish for a happy life’ and then watching Paula, she tied her rag to a branch of the holly.
She must have done it right because Paula turned right around and said, “If you’d like, I can help you cut greens to decorate your house for Christmas.”
“Maybe after cooking,” Sookie agreed.
When they reached the driveway, Paula headed back down the lane. “Around nine,” she called over her shoulder.
That night, Breandan commented on her happier disposition. Sookie thought he’d ask about her day, but instead, he told her about his. Things at the hotel were settling back into what sounded like a routine and Sookie could tell he had missed this part of his life. It made her yearn for more activity in her own, but then she thought of cooking lessons tomorrow and that seemed enough for now. Even Breandan’s lovemaking seemed happier.
“Wow,” Sookie said afterward, her heart still hammering. “Glad to see you, too! You keep at it like that and I’ll think you have someone on the side!”
“Why would you say that?” Breandan asked, but he didn’t sound amused.
“Guilt is supposed to be a great aphrodisiac,” Sookie said, telling herself the surprise he was showing was because he hadn’t heard the expression before.
“Is that why you are so lively?” Breandan asked. There was that tone again and Sookie was quickly losing her happy afterglow.
“You think I’ve got visitors out here all day?” she asked. She tried to make it sound like a joke, but she didn’t quite succeed.
“Eric Northman was very interested in you.” Breandan rolled from her and sat up in bed.
“You’re serious? Eric Northman? The bartender in Slievemore?” and Sookie shook her head, looked at Breandan, and shook her head some more. “You sure do get some weird ideas! If you’re some crazy, sick, jealous person who’s going to question me about every man I talk with, you better tell me now. I like people. Men are people. I’m going to talk with men, but that doesn’t mean I’m going any farther! Really, Breandan, if you don’t have any better opinion of me…”
“You’re right,” he conceded. “You’re right, it was silly. It’s just the way he looked at you.” He let Sookie pull him back down into the bed and he snuggled her close. “He’s a ghoul, you know, a vampire.”
“Eric Northman?” Sookie laughed, but she quieted when Breandan didn’t join in the laughter. “You’re serious?”
“We call them the Unseelie, the Lower Court. They’re Fae like us, but not the same. I suppose we think them a bit less than my kind. Still, we honor them and try to get along. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time that the Seelie, my people, fought with the Unseelie, but those days are long over.”
“That would explain it,” Sookie nodded. “He seemed different, him and Pam. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.” Sookie thought for a minute, “So, are all those stories true? Drinking blood and sleeping in coffins?”
“The blood thing is true enough, but they can walk during the day if the sun’s not directly on them. They prefer not to, though. As for coffins, it seems a personal question and I’ve never asked.” Breandan nudged Sookie, “And I’d prefer you didn’t. I don’t think you should see him again.”
“I really don’t like this side of you,” Sookie huffed. “His club sounds like fun and I think we should take Sean and Amelia there. You and Sean can perform. It feels like forever since I’ve heard you play and I miss it and Amelia will love the place.” When Breandan didn’t say anything, Sookie pulled away from him. “So, what? So, now you figure you’re going to start laying down the rules? I’m going to tell you that this is one of the reasons I didn’t agree to marry you. Being engaged is a promise and I wanted to be sure we wouldn’t run into these kinds of bullshit problems before I made any kinds of promises!” Breandan started to look alarmed and Sookie thought, ‘Good!’
“You need to know this about me, Breandan O’Hara!” she told him. “You may be catching me at a weak moment, right after I’ve lost my Mom,” and Sookie’s voice caught. She swallowed, squared her shoulders, and continued, “I’m not at my best, but the day will come and soon when my feet will be back under me. I am an independent, smart woman. I make my own decisions. I’m not looking for someone to fight my battles. I can fight my own, thank you very much, but what I am looking for is someone who has my back. If that’s not the kind of woman you want, you need to make that decision now before this goes any further.”
When Breandan didn’t speak up, Sookie continued, “I told you I love you and that’s no lie. If we call this off, my heart’s going to hurt for a long time, but better I get bruised now than learn down the road that the man I married is someone I can’t respect.” It was a good speech and Sookie knew it was the right thing to do, even if the idea of leaving him was making her tremble.
“I wouldn’t want you to be other than you are,” Breandan said solemnly and then he pulled her to him, kissing her with such passion that Sookie almost believed she’d heard him agree.
The next morning, Sookie was up with Breandan and almost before he disappeared down the lane, she was on her way for her cooking lesson. She loaded her bag with things she thought she’d need and things she thought Paula might like. She included one of the glass ornaments she’d purchased in Slievemore as a thank you, tied with a red ribbon.
For the better part of the morning, the women chopped, steamed, and talked. Paula told her about growing up on the farm. Tom, her husband, had married into the land when he married her. “Did you ever wonder if he was marrying you because he wanted the farm?” Sookie asked. Normally it would have been rude to ask a question like that after only a couple conversations, but there was something about Paula that just set Sookie at ease.
“It depends on what kind of foolish thing he’s done,” Paula told her, “But most days, I know he married me for the farm!” and she laughed, so Sookie knew she was kidding.
By lunch, there was bread and colcannon for both households and Sookie wrapped up her accomplishments in a cloth bag to carry back. “Why don’t I walk with you and we can cut those greens?” Paula offered.
She armed them both with sharp knives and some plastic bags and they walked first to the cottage to place the food in the kitchen, and then out toward the well. In no time, they had evergreen boughs and holly branches, bright with berries. “Now this,” and Paula held up a smaller bough of holly, “is said to bring a special blessing. Place it on your mantle and drape some over your door. Find four sprigs with berries and hang them on the four corners of your bed and you’ll never doubt your man’s passion.”
“Really?” Sookie laughed, then cocking an eye, said, “I’m not sure I’d survive much more passion than I get right now!”
“Mark my words!” Paula told her, “It’s an old tradition and a good one!” and she winked.
Sookie spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening arranging holly and evergreen boughs. There was enough for the mantle and a sprig for over the door. She placed some in a cut-glass bowl surrounding a candle and she set it on the table. When Breandan came home, the cottage smelled of cooking food and pine.
“Someone’s been busy!” he smiled and he smiled more when she served him dinner. “You have a sure hand,” he complimented her. “I’ve never had better!” He pulled out his fiddle that night and he played while Sookie read.
Breandan finished a slow ballad and Sookie deliberately set down her book and let her hair down. She unbound his hair, too. “Love me,” she commanded and unbuttoned her shirt in front of him.
“As my lady commands,” he answered and setting down his fiddle, picked her up so she was straddling him as he carried her up the stairs. When her back hit the bed, they didn’t take their time stripping clothes from each other. Everything seemed hurried and as they kissed and stroked, Breandan’s movements became more aggressive. He bit her nipple so hard Sookie flinched, but his fingers were already moving with purpose over her and within her.
“I need you!” he was breathing hard and he was in her almost before she was ready.
“Breandan!” she panted, “Slow down! We’re not going anywhere!” but he didn’t seem to hear. He rose over her, his eyes shut and his head thrown back and suddenly, he was moving across that place within her that made her tighten and she started to move with him, her pace quickening to match his.
When she thought about it later, she couldn’t explain exactly how their lovemaking was different this time, but she knew it was. She knew she was with him, but it changed and soon it was almost as if the real Sookie was standing to the side, watching an erotic dance rather than being a part of it. Her body was moving, in fact, their rhythm was perfect. She knew she was making noises and so was he, and then, just as she was about to find her happy place, Breandan pulled out of her. His eyes were wide and he scuttled back. He was ejaculating in long golden streams that fell on the bed cover and over her legs and Sookie realized it was glowing.
“What the hell did you do?” he snarled. He looked around, his eyes wild and he grabbed one of the holly twigs from where she’d tied it to the canopy frame. He leaned over her, his lips curled back, “Who told you to do this?” he demanded, shaking the greenery at her. He leaned over further and Sookie cringed, but he was only grabbing another of the sprigs, snapping the string that held it and throwing it across the room. “How dare you!” he raged. “How could you ever think I would want to create another one of you!”
He jumped from the bed, leaving Sookie stunned and naked. Sookie heard him running down the stairs and the sound of the front door slamming. “What happened?” she asked out loud, but there was no one she could ask.
Down the lane, Tom turned to his wife and said, “I wish you’d leave her alone. There’s never any good that comes from mixing with the Gentry!
“Oh, she’s as normal as you and me,” Paula chided her husband. “Sookie’s a dear girl. I don’t think she has any idea what he is,” and she put the rest of the leftovers in the refrigerator.
“It makes no difference,” Tom shook his head. “When he’s done with her, she’ll pine away like all the rest.”
“Not if she catches his child,” Paula told him. “They take care of their own and if she takes a bit of him with her, he’ll see she lives a good life, even after.”
“And that’s what I mean!” Tom scowled. “Trick the Fae at your peril, my lass!”
“It was just a small charm,” Paula shrugged. “Besides, it would be Sookie who did it, not us!”
“You’d better hope he never finds out your part in this,” Tom grumbled, then pulled on his coat to check on the livestock.
Sookie changed the bed before she filled the tub with hot water. Breandan hadn’t returned, but for some reason, she wasn’t worried. Instead, she kept going over what happened between them. She Googled holly and Christmas and pagan on her cell phone. There were many references to holly being used to symbolize the return of life at the end of winter and descriptions of hanging a sprig of holly over the door as a sure way to ward off evil spirits. Then, Sookie found an article that identified holly with fertility and fertility rites. She thought about what happened and Breandan’s reaction.
He had told her he couldn’t have children or at least, that’s what she thought he said. Now, she wasn’t sure. But it was more than that. The words he’d used made it sound as if he could. He just didn’t want children ‘like her.’ “Half Fae,” Sookie said out loud.
When the water cooled, Sookie headed downstairs long enough to drink a dram of the fine whiskey Breandan kept. Glancing out the window, she saw his car. Wherever he’d gone, it had been on foot. After an hour, Sookie headed back upstairs, “You can let yourself in, Bucko!” she told the front door as she walked past.
Still, as she lay in bed, she couldn’t sleep. She found herself listening to every sound, wondering if it was him. Finally, as the clock dropped over to three, she heard the front door open. “Breandan?” she called out.
“Yes,” he answered, and then his footfalls came up the stairs. He was naked and freezing. His hair was wet.
“Where were you?” she asked, shivering as he slid closer.
“I went for a swim,” he told her. Then he said, “I’m sorry. You didn’t know, did you?”
“Didn’t know that holly would work like some pregnancy pill or that you hate me so much you’d rather jump in the ocean than make another one of me? No, I didn’t know either of those things, but I figured it out after you left,” and Sookie waited. Her heart was aching, but she’d learned a long time ago that it was best to face bad news head-on.
“I didn’t mean it,” he said quietly. “You’re right. I don’t want to create children and for some reason, the holly in combination with you… well, it was potent, but I don’t hate you. In fact, I feel the opposite. It’s confusing. You’re not what I anticipated,” and he reached out to take her hand. “Please forgive me. Please tell me I haven’t lost you,” and he kissed her hand. Sookie could feel dampness on his face and she realized he was crying. “Forgive me!” he begged again.
Sookie’s heart melted. She knew there were reasons she should hold firm. She knew there was something here that wasn’t right, but the thought that Breandan could be so distraught at the idea of losing her caused all her good intentions to fly out the window.
When they rose the next morning, Breandan announced he’d been thinking about their being so isolated for Christmas and decided it would be better if they headed into town for the remainder of the holidays. “We’ll be here all January with Amelia and Sean. Besides, you need to learn Slievemore and then there’s Wren Day!”
“What’s Wren Day?” Sookie asked, but Breandan refused to tell her.
They packed enough clothes for a week, although Breandan told Sookie to pack more. “I have things there,” Breandan explained. They disposed of food and made sure the doors and windows were latched. As they drove past the Bradys’ house, Sookie couldn’t help wondering what part of this sudden desire to leave the cottage was sincere and what part was removing her from people who were becoming too close. It was not a kind thought and Sookie scolded herself for thinking it. After all, everything was forgiven and Breandan loved her or, at least he felt the opposite of hate.
The apartment at the hotel was nicer than Breandan’s apartment in Boston. It had a large bedroom and a separate sitting area with its own fireplace. There was a small kitchen area and the bathroom was probably the second bedroom at one point. The bathtub was the largest Sookie had ever seen and just thinking about spending time in there with Breandan made her face flush.
“Mae asked us join her for dinner. I told her we would,” Breandan tossed it out as if it was of no consequence, but the idea that he’d been here every day with Mae gave Sookie pause.
“I guess, if you’ve already said yes,” Sookie nodded, but she felt some of the joy she’d been feeling leach from her.
“You’re not jealous, are you?” Breandan purred.
“She didn’t respect us,” Sookie said reasonably. “She pissed you off enough that you sent her packing and now I find out you’ve been seeing her every day? Not jealous, exactly, more curious. Curious as to why you didn’t mention she was still hanging around before this,” and Sookie waited, her hands on her hips.
“I didn’t think there was anything worth mentioning,” Breandan shrugged. “She works here. I see her from time to time. The reason she asked us to join her is she regrets how she treated you and she wants to make amends. Since we’re all going to be living here soon, I thought it would be a good idea, but if you really want to hold a grudge…”
“No,” Sookie sighed. “No. When you say it like that, it makes me look pretty small. Of course, I’ll give her a second chance if that will make things around here easier.” It wasn’t what Sookie wanted to do at all.
Mae was pleasant, even funny. She asked about things at the cottage and a little about Sookie’s background, but soon she and Breandan were doing most of the talking. They shared stories about recent problems here and at another hotel that sounded as if it was close by. There were repairs underway and some costly upgrades, but fixtures hadn’t arrived and now things were stalled. Then they launched into a conversation about people Sookie didn’t know. Most of the talk was around a person named Claude who was thinking about visiting soon.
Finally, Sookie asked Mae, “So, is Claude related to you?”
Mae laughed, “Through marriage, but he’s Breandan’s second cousin.” There was something hard in the way she said it and Breandan’s smile slipped just a hair.
“You sure have complicated families,” Sookie said brightly, not sure what else would be polite under the circumstances.
As dinner wrapped up, Mae offered to come to the apartment in the morning to take Sookie on a tour of the hotel. “After all, you will be working here come February. You should know where everything is and get a chance to look everyone over.”
That night, Breandan took her into the street and they walked past the closed shops and open pubs, strolling hand in hand, enjoying the holiday decorations that lit up the store windows. As they passed the alley that led to Ghoul’s Kiss, Sookie couldn’t help asking, “When Sean and Amelia come, you will play there one night, won’t you? It will be like old times.” Sookie found she missed the feel of Boston and the sense that even though she didn’t know many people, she was still among friends.
“I’m sure we will,” Breandan replied noncommittally, “but if it’s music you’re after, there’s a place just ahead.” He pulled her into a pub and they found a table in the corner. There was a small band gathered around a table on the other side. They were good, but Sookie could tell the difference. Breandan was just that much better and she sighed and leaned against him.
Christmas came, and then the next day. “Wren’s Day!” Breandan announced.
Sookie had never seen anything like it. There was a parade of people, mostly men, dressed in straw. People were wearing green and gold. They paraded through the streets, stopping at pubs, and demanding offerings. There was the image of a bird nailed to a pole and it was carried at the head of the motley assembly. There were musicians and when the parade moved on, people banged on drums. One man was dressed as a hobby horse and he bobbed through the crowd, pulling women close. When he approached Sookie, Breandan stepped between them, and the man veered off. “What was that about?” Sookie asked.
“Nothing,” Breandan growled, but Sookie was sure he wasn’t being truthful.
Inevitably, the parade wound its way to Ghoul’s Kiss. The ‘wren boys’ opened the doors and filled the place and soon music started inside. “The taps are open!” someone announced and soon more people were crowding in.
“Northman won’t come out with trays, like everyone else,” Breandan made a point of saying. It was overcast, but still, the day was bright.
“If he’s a vampire, he wouldn’t be able to, would he?” Sookie rolled her eyes. Breandan tried to hold her back, but Sookie just shrugged him off. “Might as well step inside with everyone else!” she teased him.
The place was as she remembered. It seemed darker, but maybe it was just all the wood. The people around her were having a great time and so was she. The whole event smacked of something old and primitive, despite the explanation she’d heard about St. Stephen. “This used to mark the day we made sacrifices to our gods,” a voice whispered in her ear and Sookie whirled around to find Eric Northman standing behind her.
“Are you really a vampire?” It just slipped out and Sookie was horrified. She turned bright red and said as quickly, “Oh, I am so sorry! I didn’t mean…”
Eric laughed out loud. It was a good sound and it made Sookie feel a little better. “People around here call us Ghouls,” he said as if this was normal conversation. “I don’t particularly hide what I am, but I don’t make a point of yelling it out in public either.”
“Well, you don’t strike me as someone who’s all that shy about it,” Sookie sassed. “The name of this place is a dead giveaway, if you’ll pardon my pun.”
“Miss Stackhouse, you are bold!” Eric grinned. “It’s rare finding a woman who doesn’t mind speaking her mind.” He leaned forward and his eyes grew warm, “It’s an attractive quality.”
“And now it looks like I’ve said too much!” and Sookie took a step back. “I’m here with Breandan,” she added as if that would ward off the tall man in front of her.
“And yet, he’s not by your side. This boyfriend of yours seems rather negligent,” Eric was making a point of looking around, his height and exaggerated movements making clear he was ‘searching,’ before meeting her eyes and saying, “It seems once again, you are all alone.” He smirked. There was no other word for it and he leaned down a little, so his face was closer to hers. “You could do better,” he purred.
“And I suppose you think ‘better’ is you!” Sookie snapped. “You were kind of nice the first time I met you, but I can see that as always, first impressions can be deceiving!”
“You don’t think I’m nice now?” Eric grinned.
“I think you’re pretty full of yourself!” Sookie told him.
“I thought with the type of man you chase, you wouldn’t appreciate nice,” Eric straightened and Sookie was pretty sure he’d just insulted her.
“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m sure I don’t care about your opinion!” Sookie heard herself say. She knew if her Mother was still with her, she’d have a few words for her daughter on the subject of manners. Sookie couldn’t think why Eric Northman made her so mad, but she had to fist her hands to keep from swatting him.
“You’re very cute when you’re flustered,” He was leaning back on his heels, smirking again, and it made Sookie see red. She took a deep breath, turned on her heel, and stomped out. Once on the sidewalk, she glanced around, wondering where Breandan had gone, and then she saw him. He was standing several stores away, talking with Mae. She was looking very Fae under her masque, almost feline, but her expression changed once she saw Sookie. Breandan turned and his eyes swept over her and Sookie couldn’t help thinking how differently his look felt from the one the asshole inside had just given her.
“You’re here!” Sookie’s arms widened and Amelia stepped inside. Her friend didn’t look at all the worse for wear for all she’d just spent seven hours on a plane.
“We all miss you!” Amelia told her. “Fran and Pat sent a present. It’s in my suitcases.” As threatened, the suitcases turned out to be a small mountain of matching pink luggage. “I had to have it!” Amelia gushed. “I always know where it is!”
“Pepto-Bismol pink!” Sean laughed.
They’d rented a van, anticipating the need for more room and the whole way back to the cottage, Amelia told stories about Boston and people Sookie remembered from the restaurant. Sookie told them about Slievemore and Amelia pulled out a list from her purse of places she ‘had’ to see.
They picked up food on the way and set up lunch as soon as they arrived at the cottage. “This place is so cute!” Amelia gushed.
“And the staircase is so steep!” Sean groused. Breandan helped carry bags up, installing the couple in the bedroom across from their own.
Sookie and Amelia bustled around the kitchen, turning up heaters, and setting the table in the sunroom. Sookie made Amelia stop long enough to take a good, long look at her friend’s engagement ring. It sparkled on her hand and Amelia’s eyes sparkled to match. “It’s so beautiful!” Sookie told her. “I’m so happy for you!”
“I kind of thought you’d have one of these, too, by now,” Amelia told her.
“No,” and Sookie thought of the nice coat Breandan presented her for Christmas. “You know how practical I am. We’re just not ready.”
“Is that what you call it?” Amelia asked. “It’s just…” and her friend hesitated before saying, “It’s just that you don’t seem as happy as you did,” and when Sookie looked away, Amelia rushed on to say, “But what do I know? You’re probably just tired!”
“We’re good,” Sookie nodded, but that night as Breandan slept beside her, Sookie listened to her friends loving and laughing next door and she thought Amelia might be right.