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.
Breandan Brigant sipped his scotch. The heavy cut glass tumbler felt right in his hand and the heather scent of the liquor caressed his nose. He was seated at his favorite table in the far corner of his pub. This was the second of the public rooms in the town hotel he managed. He could say he owned it, but through a series of trusts and corporations, all hotels were owned by his family, or he should say, his Father. If Rogan ever decided to die or abdicate, all ownership would pass to Breandan as would the responsibilities of the kingdom, and that prospect was not so attractive.
‘Far better to be the pampered, trusted son of a King than the King himself,’ Breandan thought.
“Thomas? We were wondering if you would join us for dinner this evening.” The older couple were German. They were also wealthy and stayed in one of Breandan’s establishments at least twice a year. Some years they brought their extended family. They were retired now. He had been a doctor and she had been a teacher. They spent their time walking trails across much of northern Europe. The rolling hills of Ireland were their favorite.
“I would be delighted,” Breandan smiled in return. Thomas O’Hara was Breandan’s current identity. He was in his late forties. He allowed a slight greying at the temples, but kept his eyes sharp and his waistline trim. In truth, Breandan had stopped straying far from his true state many ages ago. There had been a time he had assumed blond or red tones. He even stole the raven-black hair and blue eyes of his cousin and occasional lover, Claude Brigant. It had been charming for awhile but, now, like so many parts of his endless existence, changing faces was just one more detail in a long line of details.
The couple were kind. They were also well-read, although as the years progressed, they were less so. Breandan supposed it was their failing bodies. They slept more now and the treks between towns took them longer. He had the next hotel phone him when they arrived there, a courtesy he had for all his favored guests, and he had the hotel just before his on the long, circular trail call him when those same favored guests set out on their last leg before reaching him again.
The guests here weren’t all hikers, excited about making the ancient hundred-mile trek. Many more were here for the city itself, nestled against the sea and full of history and romance. The buildings were stone and the streets were cobbled. The place had been a settlement since prehistoric times, and its history included many moments recorded in history books. People came from around the world to visit, and Breandan’s hotel in town was the premiere place to stay. He had another place outside of town and across the harbor, a former English Lord’s estate. Of course, the rates there were much higher and the rooms were fewer, but it had a beautiful view. In the past hundred years, the castle, for that’s what it was, had hosted many celebrities, and most recently, a rock star’s wedding assured that the place was booked for the next two years. Everyone wanted to stay where the stars slept, and Breandan was happy to accommodate.
For himself, he was happier in town. It was simpler in many ways. He could slip from his current persona to college student to young tough. He matched the face and exterior to the circumstances to take advantage of every experience the town had to offer. He could also flip gender from male to female, but Breandan found the work required to adapt was too straining, so he rarely did.
When he grew tired of being hemmed in by humans, Breandan would escape out into the countryside, walking the ancient trail the mile or two until it came to the hidden path that led to his old stronghold. To the unknowing eye, the stronghold was nothing but a ridge in the ground and lines of broken stone. If you got close enough, a human could see old carvings, but the true nature of the place was hidden, unless you were foolish enough to stumble into it. Woe to the human who found their way inside, for they would soon discover they could not find their way out easily. Luckily, influence and custom caused most to respect Fairy Forts. They were avoided by farmers and walkers alike, and even the law required the land they rested upon be unmolested.
Once he was inside, Breandan could slip off the masques and glamours of his everyday life. He could walk the halls as he truly was, his long brown hair resting over his shoulders, his features sharp.
There were usually others in the Fort when Breandan visited, Fae who came here almost as a vacation, to remember and refresh who and what they were. Rogan’s Fort to the North was larger and it attracted more Fae, but Breandan preferred his own place. It was near where his Mother had fallen so many ages ago. He could still see Aoife’s soft features and remember her voice. She loved him in a way his Father couldn’t. To Rogan, Breandan was an heir and a means to an end. As his son, Breandan was expected to support, obey, and fight when called upon. Breandan had also been expected to marry and produce an heir.
Breandan had married, a Fae woman named Mae. She was royal in name, her house to the East long gone. She was pretty enough and had been willing but, in the end, there had been no heir, and over time she had drifted from him, seeking pleasure in Europe and then further East. Breandan didn’t miss her. Like his Father, Mae looked at him as a title and a name. Breandan was certain that in all the time they spent together, she had never once really seen him.
Claude knew him. His cousin knew him only too well, and he used that knowledge to his advantage. There had been a time when Breandan was truly and passionately in love with Claude. He yearned to see him. He dreamed of the taste of him and would awaken, burning with desire. For awhile, Claude returned his passion and for one, glorious age, the cousins had been inseparable, but, like all things for the Fae, time had dulled their feelings. Claude was the first to stray.
Claude preferred men and he personally preferred to be man-handled. He liked the feel of rough callouses and sharp stubble. Breandan had done his best to accommodate his cousin’s preferences but, in the end, Breandan lacked the stomach for what Claude truly desired. Claude needed someone who treated him poorly. It wasn’t physical abuse as much as indifference that attracted Claude, and Breandan couldn’t pretend to be that. It seemed ironic. All Breandan desired was to be loved for himself, while Claude desired to be loved not at all.
Dinner was pleasant. Dieter and Marta regaled Breandan with stories of their newest grandchildren and people they had met on this year’s trek around the peninsula. As they spoke, they would often look at each other, their hands touching. Breandan couldn’t help remembering after he’d first met them. They were newly married then, and he’d been Martin O’Hara, uncle to Thomas, his current persona. Although the couple across the table from him were human and imperfect in all the ways humans were, there was in their behavior toward each other something that called to Breandan. They didn’t treat each other in the casual way of the Fae. They treated each other as if they truly mattered, as if every moment they spent in this life was better because they could share it with their mate. Breandan didn’t see it often among humans, but it was the only race where he had, and it made him yearn for something he was sure he couldn’t have.
“Why do you look sad?” Marta asked, breaking Breandan from his reverie. “Have we said something to upset you?”
“Of course not,” Breandan protested, and then leaned over the table to clasp Marta’s wrinkled hand in his own. “It is just seeing you; it makes me wish I had found someone as dear to me as you are to each other. You are very lucky people,” and as Breandan said the words, it occurred to him that he meant them. It was a realization that shook him, and he decided it was time to visit the Forts again.
Breandan settled the bill, insisting dinner would be his treat. He pulled his phone from his pocket and started to make calls. His assistant manager, another Fae, would fill in for him for the next week. He checked in with his front desk and left instructions, and then arranged for his car to be available for early the next morning. Before he took off on the short hike, he would take a drive around the peninsula. There were wild places he hadn’t seen in some time, and he felt the need of seeing them. He remembered how his Mother loved to stand on the high cliffs, staring into the ocean, and he decided to take the walk up to the hill where she was lost.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Breandan wore his jeans and walking shoes, skipping breakfast in his hurry to start his day. The car purred on its way around the curves and through the lanes. The places he wished to see were well off the tourist paths. Some required that he park the car and scramble over fences and cross stiles. There was never a problem with landowners. Either they knew him, or they knew what he was, so they turned their faces and pretended not to see him. He reached the high hill where his Mother had passed at mid-morning. He stood within the walls of the place. Of all the forts in this kingdom, this one didn’t need glamour. It was as everyone saw it. His Father had allowed it to fall to ruin, content that its crumbling walls should serve as a grave for the dust of his people.
Breandan stood on the grass where he was sure she would have danced and he turned his face toward the sea. He listened to the wind, straining to hear any hint of a voice, but there was nothing. Breandan found himself thinking of his Father. He tried to remember the time when his Mother still lived. He thought about his Father and tried to remember if his Father’s treatment of him was different then, but he couldn’t remember his Father being any different than he was now. He was King, and that made him apart from everyone, including his son.
“I hope you are in the Summerlands,” Breandan said out loud. He didn’t know. She would have appeared to her oldest male relative, and those relatives were on the other side of Ireland. If there was a message received, his Father hadn’t shared it, but neither had Breandan asked.
The hike down the hill was somehow harder than the hike up. Perhaps it was the rise in humidity, but Breandan was happy to be back in the car with the windows down and the wind racing past him. As he pulled up to the front entrance of the hotel, he could sense something was different. The feeling stayed with him as he walked through the front entrance, and then was confirmed when he entered his office and found his Father seated behind his desk.
“Hello, Son,” Rogan was smiling. He had made himself at home and was browsing the day’s receipts. “Your staff tells me you are planning on taking a small vacation.”
“I was just at the old stronghold,” Breandan replied. He didn’t feel like sparring with his Father, and he could see his words had an effect.
“I can’t bring myself to go there,” Rogan said. Breandan nodded. He knew. “Is it much changed?” the King asked.
“It is almost as if it never was,” Breandan told him.
“We will always know,” Rogan said hotly, and he leaned forward. There was fire in his eyes, and Breandan now knew his Father had come on old business.
“What is it?” Breandan asked.
“I think we’ve found them,” Rogan didn’t bother to explain further what was found. Breandan didn’t need explanation. There was only one person, or persons, his Father sought.
Breandan seated himself in one of the two chairs facing his desk. He didn’t bother to ask his Father to vacate his chair. Rogan may have been his Father, but Rogan was also his King. A woman came into the office carrying a tea service. It would be the herbal tea his Father preferred. All the Fae staff here knew what was expected. Breandan waited until the woman had settled the tray before him and left before pouring out. He offered his father a cup and then poured one for himself. “What do you need me to do?” he asked.
“I need you to go and get them,” Rogan replied. “I can’t trust anyone else.”
“You could go yourself,” Breandan pointed out.
“If Niall knows where she is and he has her watched, and why wouldn’t he, he would suspect something if I booked a flight there.”
“And he wouldn’t if I did?” Breandan’s eyebrows pulled together. “You are saying ‘her.’ Do you think it’s Adele? It seems unlikely. She would be dead…”
“Unless Niall gave her the gift of eternal life,” Rogan explained.
That caused Breandan to pause sipping his tea. He gathered himself and then set the cup and saucer on the desk. “Do you think it is possible?” he asked carefully. “To give it to a human is highly unusual. It is something reserved for heroes of our people. A lover…”
“It would violate our laws,” Rogan agreed, “but what Niall did with her violated many laws. The person who found her described a woman much as Adele appeared. Beautiful, blond, blue-eyed.”
“This person didn’t get a picture?” Breandan asked. Phones with their cameras were everywhere. A photograph seemed likely.
“Selkie,” Rogan explained. “He spotted her from the sea and followed her to land. He didn’t have time to obtain technology.”
“And he is sure it’s her?” Breandan was getting the feeling that his Father may have jumped to conclusions.
“He was sure that she was part Fae. Beyond that, there’s no way of telling unless someone goes,” and Rogan leaned forward.
“And you are determined it should be me.” Breandan felt annoyed. His Father could send any number of functionaries. There was no reason he should insist his own son be sent on what would likely turn out to be nothing more than a wild goose chase. He was about to object when something shifted. “Where is this person?” he found himself asking.
“Boston, in the United States,” Rogan started to smile.
“Boston,” Breandan repeated. He had not been to the United States. He had traveled through Europe many times and sampled parts of Africa, and even Asia, but, for some reason, the United States had not called him, that is, until now.
“I don’t know exactly where she lives yet, but we have the name and address of her friend. We know she works at a restaurant outside the city, and she either walks or takes the subway from her home to her job. She is more Fae than expected, which would suggest she is Adele. After all, a hybrid would not be likely to manifest that kind of magic,” and Rogan made a dismissive sound. “Of course, you must determine what happened to the child she carried. It’s possible it died. Things like that happen often in the United States.” Rogan leaned forward, “I need you to find out how many there are and report. We’ll figure out how to bring them here once we know with what we’re dealing.”
“And once they are here?” Breandan asked.
“We convince them to stay with us,” Rogan said agreeably. “We gain their trust and consent, and then we let Niall know and we extract whatever we want.”
“I don’t understand,” Breandan told his Father.
“This woman, these people, are the key to my Brother,” Rogan’s voice took on a decided sneer. “He was willing to do anything for them, even go to war. If we have them under our sword, he will do anything we ask.”
“And is that what we’ll do? Have them ‘under our sword?’” Breandan knew what that meant. These half humans from America would be coddled and petted, spoiled even, but, if Niall didn’t play, their role as hostage would be revealed and they would be killed.
Rogan didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. “You’ll go?” he asked.
“As my King commands,” Breandan agreed, and it was done.
Breandan didn’t leave for Boston for almost a month. Rogan asked his allies to try to find out more about the woman.
The license plate on the car was traced to Amelia Carmichael. The car was registered to her parents’ address, but she was also registered as a student at Boston University. It was an easy job to find her on campus and then follow her. Within a week, the private detective firm had a dossier that included where Amelia worked, the name and address of her boyfriend, and some of her preferred nighttime activities.
“The boyfriend is a musician,” Rogan observed, then laughing, added, “and he plays Irish music! He is with a band that plays the local bars.”
“It seems providential,” Breandan shrugged. Breandan, like most Fae, was an accomplished musician. He played most traditional instruments, although he preferred fiddle. He rarely played in public. ‘It never did to draw attention to yourself’ was a lesson most Fae knew, a lesson Breandan embraced.
“If she’s watched or protected, we would need the meet to look natural,” Rogan was talking as a way of plotting. Breandan suspected his Father was quickly forgetting his son was even sitting in the same room. “She must consent. Consent is always important. Glamour could help, but if the consent to go with you isn’t sincere, the magic won’t hold if it needs to.”
“If it is Adele, it’s unlikely she’ll be open to seduction,” Breandan observed.
His Father looked up now, his voice sour, “She’s human! It’s been seventy years. She won’t have been celibate all this time, and she was attracted to a Fae before. Why should this be any different?”
“Would you have taken any Fae, Father? Or was Mother special?” Breandan made sure his Father felt the point in the question.
“I would have taken any Fae,” his Father replied. “It wasn’t until later I realized the gem I had in your Mother. I believe that is how things work with us. We discover with time. We don’t realize at once.”
“Interesting theory,” Breandan shrugged. He felt it was in some ways disloyal to his Mother, but he also knew there was no point in arguing with his Father. About what Rogan wanted, there was never any point.
The Selkies were contacted and arrangements made to shadow Amelia Carmichael again. This time, the assignment was more specific; find the places where the shining woman intersected with the driver of the Jeep.
The Selkies hit pay dirt almost at once. The first night they went to the diner, the shining woman showed up there, too. She was working there, but there was a hitch. Almost at once, she seemed to notice her stalkers. She stared directly at them more than once, so the Selkies quickly paid their check and left, but not before they found out her name, Sookie Stackhouse. Rogan decided to hold off any further surveillance. He didn’t want to tip her off too soon.
Rogan shared the report with Breandan, along with a photo snapped while the woman was working another table. “It’s her!” he sighed. “I never saw her up close, but I am sure this is Adele!”
Breandan looked at the photo. She was attractive, but nothing special. Her smile was a little crooked and her chest was too big for her body. She had a bubble butt, which Breandan found unfortunate. He preferred women and men with slim hips. “Now what?” he asked.
“We finish arrangements here,” his Father was gleeful. “Preston Pardloe is ready?” Preston was Breandan’s assistant manager and every bit as meticulous and proficient as Breandan. His family had served the Brigants forever as had most of those in managerial positions in the hotels.
“He is,” Breandan sighed. He had already informed his staff he was taking an extended leave of absence. He cited the cover story he and his Father had agreed upon, that he would be heading to Boston to look around. There was an historic tie between Boston and western Ireland. At one time, humans from this part of the world had found their way to Boston, looking for a new life. Now the descendants of those immigrants returned to spend their American cash here, looking for their roots.
The cover story Breandan would use once he was in Boston was one of a young man of means scouting possible business opportunities for his family business and spending a little leisure time before he got down to the serious job of taking things over. It was a story that hinted of money, comfort, and availability. “It would get any female sniffing,” his Father chortled.
“So, there’s no way to get me living closer to her?” Breandan asked. His Father had arranged for a flat just outside of Boston across the hall from Amelia Carmichael’s boyfriend. The relationship between the two seemed serious and Rogan felt that being introduced as a friend of the boyfriend would ease any suspicions.
“She seems to be in a small neighborhood, living on the second floor of a former home. We think she’s got someone else living there with her, maybe the child, but we haven’t seen anyone with her.” Rogan shuffled through the papers, “There’s a landlord. He’s disabled. He lives there, too, but he seems to stay on the first floor. No,” and Rogan seemed to read to papers in front of him, although it could be his just taking time to think things through, “it’s definitely another person up there with her. I have set a guardian to keep an eye on her. If she moves before things are ready, we will be alerted.”
A date was set and Breandan started the job of packing. He would drop the persona of Thomas O’Hara. Instead, he would become Breandan O’Hara. Usually he eased into new names. It wasn’t easy, answering to a name that wasn’t yours. Using his real name was a risk, but it was safer than stumbling.
Breandan looked at himself in the mirror. The grey would be gone. He would look young again and, for some reason, Breandan decided that for this trip, he’d drop most of his glamour. He wanted to look like himself. He couldn’t account for it, but Breandan wanted to spend time, some vacation time, without the false feel of masques.
His Father and he had talked about this. If it was Adele, he would have to change identities once he was there, finding out what persona would be most attractive, and then manufacturing a way to become that person. Seduction was a key tool in any Fae’s arsenal, and everyone knew humans were most compliant when they were in love but, for now, Breandan would use the guise of a younger, college-age man of means to wend his way into the lives of those this woman had gathered around her.
“Will you miss me?” Breandan had been so intent on his own thoughts he hadn’t heard Claude enter, but he rarely did. Claude was so much a part of him, his cousin’s presence never raised any alarm.
“How did you hear?” Breandan asked. For a minute, Breandan wondered if Claude knew the full extent of his mission, but then he dismissed the idea. The only two who really knew why he was headed to Boston were him and his Father.
“Everyone on your staff is buzzing about this. You know,” and Claude stepped forward, cupping Breandan’s cheek with his pale, long-fingered hand, “you could have asked me to come with you. Or, is it that you need a vacation from me, too?”
Breandan stared into his cousin’s forget-me-not blue eyes, his lovely mouth, and then leaned forward to kiss him. Claude sighed and the heat between them quickly flared, but it was Breandan who pulled back, and he could see the hurt in Claude’s eyes. “You haven’t been to see me for a very long time,” Breandan reminded Claude. “You told me you had to pursue your ‘other interests.’ I respect that you told me we can’t be exclusive, cousin. Now show me the same respect. Allow me to pursue some ‘other’ interests of my own.”
“You’ve met someone?” Claude hissed.
“No,” Breandan shook his head. “No, no one in particular. I just need a change of scenery.”
“Are you jealous?” and Claude looked almost triumphant. In that moment, Breandan didn’t love him so much.
“No,” he said flatly, “I gave up jealousy with you, Claude. Being jealous every time you fall to your knees in front of someone else would be a full-time occupation.” Breandan realized he was becoming angry, so he stopped himself by saying, “Let’s just agree that pretending we could ever be enough for each other is just that, pretending,” and he turned back to his suitcase.
Claude walked closer, running his fingers across the curve of Breandan’s ass, making the Fae’s cock waken. “So, how long will you be gone?” he whispered in Breandan’s ear.
There was something about all this that awoke some suspicion in Breandan’s mind, “Why do you care?” he asked and deliberately stepped away. “It occurs to me I haven’t seen you in some time. You haven’t called or made any effort to contact me. You have fed me nothing but silence and now, when I’m getting ready to take a trip for my own purposes, now you show up with questions. Why, Claude?” and Breandan stepped forward, grabbing Claude’s forearm and pulling him so they were face to face. “Why? Is this interest more than just two ‘old friends’ catching up? Are you running errands for your Daddy?”
“My Father and I barely speak!” Claude hissed, pulling his arm away, his mouth downturned.
“You did fight against him,” Breandan reminded his cousin.
“Many ages ago,” Claude snapped back. “And since then, I’ve been a model son.”
“The memory of the Fae is long,” Breandan quoted an old saying.
“Fine,” Claude pouted, clearly changing direction, “Keep your secret. We could still have mind-blowing sex for a few days.”
“What’s happened, Claude?” Breandan smiled, “Your latest truck driver thrown you aside? Or has the bricklayer gone back to his wife?”
“You’re an asshole!” Claude hissed. “No one leaves me!”
“Of course,” Breandan nodded before saying bitterly, “Not even your loving cousin.” Breandan looked around the room and sighed. “I’m leaving in five days. I have things I must finish packing and final arrangements to make. If all you are offering me is sex, I’m not interested.” He turned back to his cousin who looked crestfallen, and then almost remorseful.
“I did come here to tease you,” Claude admitted, “but I can see you are resolved. Perhaps dinner, then? We could catch up. Did I tell you I saw your Lady Wife in Morocco?”
As things turned out, they did end up in bed, fueled by Scotch and nostalgia. Breandan found he couldn’t sleep afterward. He stared up at the ceiling, Claude draped across him, snoring softly. ‘Does nothing new await me?’ he wondered. ‘Is this all my existence will ever be?’ For some reason, he thought of Marta and Dieter, his German guests, and how they had been. ‘What I would give to find someone who sees me as you do each other,’ he thought. It was many hours until dawn, and after breakfast, he sent Claude on his way.
Days passed, then weeks. The leaves had changed from dull green to blazing colors and the hint of crispness in the air was consistent enough that Sookie closed the windows at night, instead of leaving them opened. Of course, being in the City, the windows didn’t open far in the first place but, even with mere inches, Sookie’s toes were like icicles in the morning.
Mother’s second round of chemotherapy had started. The researchers told them the plan was for six rounds to be followed by radiation. After this round, though, they’d be doing some scans. If there was no sign of a tumor, things would continue. However, if the tumor reappeared, there would be other discussions, and the way it was said made clear those discussions would likely lead to less pleasant things.
That wasn’t to say chemo was pleasant in any way. Their apartment resembled some crazy kind of pharmacy. One counter in the kitchen was lined with large bottles of pills Sookie divided into so many doses over so many days. There was one kind for one day, and then another for a span of days. Twice during this month Sookie and Michele would be taking the ride to Dana Farber for a different drug injected using a shunt that was permanently implanted too close to Michelle’s spinal column for Sookie’s comfort.
Sookie would either bring in the pill at breakfast, or, for most of them, remind her mother to take it before she went to bed. As her mother’s forgetfulness increased, another side effect of chemo, Sookie started writing notes she’d tape to the bedside lamp.
At first, the routine made Sookie anxious, which was something Sookie wasn’t used to feeling. She was the responsible one, she was the one who arranged things to make sure her and her Mother’s lives worked, but the life they now led seemed as if it was nothing but one long series of terrible surprises. In the beginning, Sookie had worried she would never get control of it, but now, all too soon, she felt herself settle into something that started to feel normal and that felt worst of all.
The day on the island seemed very far away. From time to time, Sookie would catch herself looking out the window or absently stirring sugar into coffee, dreaming about her life before the cancer. She remembered sunshine and laughter. Things that had seemed hard at the time, like finding scholarships or studying for finals, seemed easy now.
Sookie spent her nights working. Pat and Fran asked about her mother and shared experiences they’d had, caring for relatives with illnesses. Amelia remained friendly, willing to help, but there was nothing Sookie could ask of her. The things that needed doing were small things, but they were as many as ants and they never let up.
When the day came to go to the hospital, Sookie wondered how any day could feel so long. First, her Mother was injected with anti-nausea medications. They waited for over an hour, and then started the slow drip, drip of the poison that was supposed to put the cancer cells that created tumors to sleep.
There had been much discussion over whether to do chemotherapy at all. The tumor her Mother had was aggressive, but the preliminary tests for the combination of drugs they were using had been promising, and so Sookie’s Mother decided to go with the recommendation of the team working with them. Sookie worried that her Mother’s decision was more about cost than belief in the approach but, when Sookie asked her point blank, Michele told her she was being crazy.
“You think I’d do something to purposely to leave you alone?” her Mother challenged her. “What kind of a mother would that make me?”
Sookie let it go, but she couldn’t stop wondering if her Mother had already decided that since she was not going to be cured, she’d make sure she cost the least amount of money.
That had been the hardest part of all this, wrapping her head around the fact her Mother would never be well again. “It’s not the kind of cancer that ever goes away,” the doctors explained. “This is rare and there’s no proven treatment. The best we can hope for is finding a way to make the cells go dormant.”
“How long would that give me?” Sookie’s Mother asked.
“We don’t know,” the doctor told her. “Could be years. Could be months.”
“Best case?” Michele pressed them, and Sookie marveled at how her Mother could ask these questions so calmly.
“Five years is your best outcome,” the doctor told her. Michele held out her hand and he shook it. It was the bravest thing Sookie had ever seen her Mother do until now.
Sookie sat beside her Mother and together they talked until Michele’s eyes closed. That was another fact of chemotherapy. Her Mother was exhausted. She would sleep for many more hours during the day than she was up. Just walking from her bed to the bathroom was so taxing, it left her Mother gasping for breath. Sookie worried about Michele needing to get up in the night to pee and being so tired she’d stumble and fall, breaking something.
A nurse came by, adjusting the blanket over her Mother. “She’s doing really good,” she told Sookie.
Sookie smiled, but what she wanted to do was yell, ‘Compared to what? She’s under a death sentence and you’re making her feel like shit every day! What’s good about that?’ Instead, Sookie stretched her lips into a smile and said, “Thanks, I think so, too.”
When they returned home the next morning, Michele was chilled. Sookie piled blankets on her and monitored her temperature all day. Infection was a constant worry, but when she woke the next morning, her Mother was sleeping more normally. By that afternoon, her Mother said, “Why don’t you go into work tonight? You know you’re on the schedule. I’m fine. I’ll be drifting back to sleep in a little bit and I doubt I’m going to be waking up again. I’m just so tired!”
Sookie was mortified when she had to struggle to keep the relief off her face. She needed to get out the house. She needed to get away from the sight and smell of sickness, and she felt guilty that she felt that way after just twenty-four hours of concentrated cancer care.
“Go on!” her Mother was insisting. “I need a break from you, and if I do wake up, I have the television in my room. I’ll just go through the million and one channels you insist on paying for!”
Sookie took a shower and was heading down the stairs almost a full hour before her shift was supposed to start. Pat and Fran had put her on the schedule, but told Sookie if she needed another night to let them know. Sookie realized she had been deliberately holding off on making the call; that somewhere deep down she wanted to be out of the house and away from this. She wanted to be ‘in charge’ Sookie for a few hours, even if all she oversaw were her tables and the orders she brought.
Sookie finished around three in the morning and when she walked up the street toward her apartment, the thugs were back in the playground. She kept her head down, but tonight one of them started walking toward her. “Hey!” he shouted, “Yeah, you, Blondie! Why don’t you say hello? Too special or something?”
Sookie started walking faster. She heard one of his friends say, “Leave her alone.”
“All I want is some company,” the stranger said, “and she should be nice to me.” Sookie felt her blood run cold and she tried to pick up her pace. He was on the other side of the fence and they were approaching the place where the stairs joined the sidewalk. He started to run a little and she knew he would catch her when out of nowhere, a black dog was at the stairs. He was looking at the man and he growled. There wasn’t much light on this part of the street, but Sookie could see the hair on the back of the dog’s neck bristle.
“What the…” the man cursed, and Sookie saw him step back from the corner of her eye.
Sookie didn’t stop. She kept going as fast as she could. She could hear a commotion behind her and, for a minute, she worried about the dog. She ran up her steps and fumbled with the keys. As the last bolt slid open, she listened to the quiet. She realized she’d been waiting for the sound of the dog crying or something worse, a gunshot, but she didn’t hear a sound, so she glanced over her shoulder.
What she saw made her hand still. Under the streetlight at the fence, where her walk joined the sidewalk, sat the black dog. It seemed to notice she was looking its way because it yawned wide, and then laid down across the gate that led to the house. Sookie couldn’t explain it, but it’s being there made her feel safe.
Sookie stepped inside the house and quickly ran up the stairs. There was some leftover hamburger from last night and she crumbled it on a plate, then laid a piece of cheese over it. She grabbed a bowl and poured some water into it, then walked back down the stairs and carefully opened the front door.
The dog was still there and it lifted its head and watched her as she walked down the path toward it. Sookie hadn’t appreciated how big the animal was. It’s large, broad head seemed almost as big as hers and it growled low while she approached.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her cheeriest voice. She thought of the little bird that used to come sing to her in Pennsylvania and she thought as hard as she could about how much she liked the dog. As if it could sense her thoughts, the dog stopped growling and instead, cocked its massive head to the side and started panting. It was loud, and it rose to all four legs once Sookie was within a few feet. “You sure are a big boy!” Sookie tried to sound brave, but she was starting to have doubts.
Determined, she stopped about a foot from the dog and breaking eye contact, stooped down to lay the plate and the bowl in front of the animal. When she looked up, she found the dog almost nose to nose with her and she leaned back quickly. “Boy!” she exclaimed, “You sure do like getting in folk’s personal space!” and almost without thinking, she raised her hand and stroked the dog’s head. She could have sworn the dog was just as surprised as she was by her actions. It didn’t jump, but it stared at her for a long minute before turning its head into her hand, and then leaning down to snuffle and then lap at the water.
“Good dog,” Sookie said as much to herself as to the animal, and then turning, she walked back up the path and into the silent house.