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.
For once, Sookie’s luck seemed to hold. Contractors made arrangements and showed up when they said they would. There were no unexpected delays or stoppages and the house with its barn transformed as if by magic.
Of the two buildings, it was the barn that was truly the miracle. It started as a mere shell, it’s shingle roof patched and sagging in places. A small excavator was brought in and trucks left, loaded with generations of old straw and cow manure. The carpenter told Sookie the architect was daft and for over a week, she was gifted with sideways glances and cuss words hissed low, but now, even the greatest skeptics were impressed. The main floor opened up, light and airy, new insulation and soft lights gracing the soaring ceilings. Sookie had given in, allowing a small loft of sorts to be built over the kitchen and dining room, but only after winning her argument to have the new design incorporate skylights with tunnels that cut through the kitchen ceiling, allowing shafts of light to flood in from the sky above.
As soon as the first floor was finished, Sookie moved her few belongings over from the main house. She thanked Joyce and moved permanently out of the B&B in Carreigh as well. She no sooner settled her clothes than she had Ian arrange to have the furniture from Slievemore pulled out of storage.
Sookie wasn’t exactly sure what Pam decided was hers, and so she watched the unpacking with growing curiosity. About halfway through, Sookie realized Pam had sent every piece of furniture. There were also boxes, all labeled. ‘Kitchenware,’ said one, and ‘Bathroom,’ said another. It wasn’t a large stack and Sookie could see that not one said, “Books.’ It made Sookie both happy and sad all at the same time.
As Sookie directed the movers, telling them where and how to place things, she could see there would still be plenty of gaps, more furnishings she would need to buy. The Goat House was small and the space she now owned, the combined house and barn, was huge in comparison. As each piece came off the truck, Sookie found herself lost in memories. She thought of the times she’d sat behind a particular desk, or how she and Eric almost broke the small table, making love on it. The unpacking might have gone faster, except for the attention Sookie paid in placing each chair, each dresser, with care.
The one piece Sookie found most troubling was the attic bed. Technically, it was Eric’s. It had been there under the eaves before she arrived and Sookie was surprised Pam sent it. When asked where to set it up, Sookie found herself directing the movers to the first-floor guestroom in the barn. For some reason, she couldn’t stand the idea of placing it below, and so the master bedroom remained open without a bed and Sookie slept above.
The surprise had been the copy of Wuthering Heights she found tucked in the box with the linens. Sookie had been reading it when Eric left. It was one of his books, the only one now left in her possession. Just seeing it overcame her and she retreated to the ocean, walking down the beach, the book clutched to her chest. It had been weeks since she’d given herself permission to collapse, but now, holding this reminder, she let her pain flow.
She didn’t know how long she sat there, wiping the snot from her face with her shirt sleeve, not caring how bad she looked. It must have been a while, though, because Ian came to look for her.
“Are you okay, then?” he asked, offering her his handkerchief.
Sookie took a deep breath. ‘Enough for today,’ she thought, and nodding, stood.
“Will you look at that?” Ian said, and Sookie followed his gaze toward the water. She had been seeing the seals for some time. Usually it was just one or two bobbing offshore. They seemed to like pulling themselves up on the beach to sun themselves, but today, everywhere she looked, there were bobbing heads among the waves.
“I wonder if it’s mating season,” Sookie ventured. It was the only reason she could think for so many of them to be together.
“Or the fish are running,” Ian offered. “Good fishing off these beaches. Not a lot of locals, but you’ll see the bigger boats laying line often enough.”
Ian turned, his feet leaving clear prints in the wet sand, but Sookie lingered a while longer. Most of the seals seemed intent on their play, rolling and splashing, but some seemed more interested in watching her. ‘I wonder,’ she thought. It wasn’t anything she could sense, not really, but seeing the bobbing heads and watchful brown eyes reminded her of standing on the rock on Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor, what seemed a century ago.
Ian stopped and was looking over his shoulder at her. “Coming!” Sookie called, and hurried after him, taking care to place her feet in the marks he left.
Maryann came out at least once a week. Her visits were timed for morning, before the front door opened for check-in at her own place. Together, she and Sookie inventoried each room. Maryann was a harsh critic when it came to mattresses and bed linens. Everything had to be new and then washed until it was soft. “It’s work at the beginning, but you’ll be happy in the end,” she assured her friend.
Because Maryann had been in the business so long, she could introduce Sookie to other tricks of their now shared trade. Together, they ventured into Glenglas to scout out the best place for dinner and where local shopping could be done. If Carreigh was small, Glenglas was smaller. It had two buildings that touted themselves as restaurants, but only one looked like a going concern. It was old and single-storied. There was a grubby picnic table out front and a sign making clear it only opened on particular days, and then only after a certain hour.
“The reputation is good,” Maryann assured Sookie, walking her around the back to tap on the family’s door.
The owner answered, wearing little more than a t-shirt. “Crap,” he hissed under his breath, sized them up and growled, “Give me a minute.” He hurried back into the house and returned after more like five minutes, wearing a proper button-down shirt and dungarees instead of boxers.
“What can I do for you ladies?” he asked.
“My friend is opening a B&B up the road…” Maryann started.
“Oh!” and for the first time, the man smiled. “I heard about you,” and the way he appraised Sookie reminded her of Brian in Slievemore. “I’m sorry about the way I answered the door. My neighbor across the way is having car trouble and most mornings, its himself knocking on my door, asking for a ride. I expect you’ll be asking about something else.” With a shake of his head, he looked back into the house, and called, “Mary, could you put on some tea? It’s the new B&B up the road.” Stepping back, he invited them in, saying, “I’ll expect you’d like a look at my menu.”
Sookie found she was the third person to try making a B&B at her location. “The first was a git,” the owner, also a Brian, told her. “Had a mean look and a stingy disposition. Not promising for an inn keeper.” The second was as Sookie had been told. They were a couple from further North. They’d invested everything they had, and then she took cancer. “She died there,” Mary, Brian’s wife informed them, giving Sookie a look as though asking whether that was a problem.
“What happened to himself, then?” Maryann asked politely.
“Returned to his people,” Brian nodded. “He was a good man, kindly, but young.”
“You’re young, too,” Mary observed. “But I suppose starting a new place takes a lot of energy.”
“And money,” Brian nodded. “But sounds as if you have the clink to pay folks on time. That goes a long way around here.”
“Goes a long way around anywhere,” Sookie added.
“She isn’t just relying on the B&B, though,” Maryann volunteered. “She does the books for half the businesses in Slievemore, including mine. Figured out when the employees were stealing from one place. Saved the owners a bit of a surprise.”
“So, smart, too!” and the new Brian laughed.
“We’re not so grand as Slievemore,” Mary said defensively.
“Which means you appreciate value,” Maryann replied, and the information sharing began.
There was a grocery in the next town, but Brian and Mary told Sookie she’d be better served ordering from the restaurant outfit they used. “Consistent quality. If it’s not right, it doesn’t go on the truck,” Mary told them. Deliveries were once a week, “and they’ve never missed for weather.” Sookie took the name and number.
“Do you expect to offer your folks dinner here every night?” Mary asked. Sookie could see the idea made the woman across the table nervous. Sookie had already described her accommodations, and even though ten would be a handful for breakfast, it wasn’t that many for dinner. No one wished to fill out the supplies necessary for a decent menu, only to have to throw things away.
“I’m not sure how the foot traffic will work,” Sookie shrugged. “Why don’t I plan on sticking with your normal schedule and I’ll cook on the off nights.”
Maryann asked, “Do you have music here?”
“Fridays and Saturdays,” Brian nodded. “They’re good, too. Not Slievemore, of course, but they’ve been playing together since they were boys.”
“How loud does it get?” Maryann asked.
“No TV, if that’s what you’re asking. The place across the street opens for the big sports events. Drags his flat screen in and they stay there, celebrating, or more like crying over the local heroes.”
“But no spill-over?” Maryann pressed.
“No,” Brian assured her, “No trouble here.”
Maryann turned to Sookie, “Nothing turns visitors off faster than finding themselves swept into a bar brawl. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t be your problem, but it will be because you sent them here.” Turning back to Mary, she asked, “What about the competition? I’m wondering why the nearest B&B is so far away.”
“Most of the land here is held by private owners. That’s why you don’t see many houses along this stretch of beach. Happy for the conservation folks, but wish they’d open their fists a little and let a few more people move in.” Mary glanced at Brian, “Still, for those who like the quiet and a bit of country, it’s a lovely place to live.”
Sookie shared the name of the walking service she’d contacted, and Brian gave her two more names. “Those who come through mention these folks fair often,” he shared.
It was near noon when they left and Sookie texted Ian, apologizing for running late. “Staying for lunch?” she asked Maryann.
“Worried about being alone in a house full of men?” Maryann teased.
“The workers all head out for a sandwich and a pint,” Sookie laughed, “No, it’s being alone with Ian. He needs a girlfriend and he seems to think I might be it.”
“We could tell him you’ve decided to become a sister wife,” and Maryann nudged Sookie.
“Tease away!” Sookie eye-rolled.
“Seriously,” Maryann said after a bit, “What’s wrong with Ian?”
“You know!” Sookie huffed. “Maybe someday… I don’t know…maybe never. He’s nice and he deserves someone who can love him all the way and from where I sit, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”
“Sometimes life sucks,” Maryann sighed.
“Sometimes it doesn’t suck enough!” Sookie grinned.
Sookie sat at her desk one bright morning and texted the hiking services, letting them know she was open for bookings. There were two who agreed to work with her and another said they’d see how the upcoming season went. What was in Sookie’s favor was the popularity of walking. Whether it was marketing or just the changing population, it seemed people from all over the world wanted to come to Ireland exploring well-marked trails with beautiful views, and then wake up in a soft bed, have breakfast, and do it all over again.
Sookie’s place really was perfect. The B&Bs available before hers were almost fifteen miles away and the first one available after her was another 2 miles of trail. “I do hope you stick,” one of the services told her. “We have a number of older walkers and the distance on this stretch can make the trail too challenging. If you’re there, we can start to recommend the trail again.”
“I have two rooms on ground level,” Sookie reminded them. “Easier on tired feet to be able to just walk down a hall.” It didn’t seem likely anyone walking this trail would have a disability, but she thought having rooms that didn’t require climbing stairs might still be considered an attraction.
When the calls were over, Sookie glanced at the clock. The plumber was due back. Sookie wanted a bathroom installed in the master bedroom in the barn. Because it was below ground level, it required special fixtures. The toilet had to be ordered and she’d received a text last night that the unit finally came in. Sookie decided to wait for the contractor outside. She’d started a garden patch to the left of the house in the small dip of land. The ground here was loamy, even this close to the ocean. On Maryann’s recommendation, she’d stuck to potatoes as her first try at farming.
In all her years, Sookie had never grown vegetables. There had been houses she’d lived in with room for a garden, but with the moving her family did, they never got around to planting. Pulling on her gloves, she attacked the edges of her small garden plot with a hoe, pulling up more grass, expanding the dirt area for future experiments.
“Say!’ someone called.
Sookie turned to see two women walking toward her from the trail. One was limping, the other holding her arm, helping her to walk. “Are you all right?” Sookie called back.
“Yes,” the injured one replied.
“No,” the uninjured one contradicted, then, looking at her companion said, “Marty twisted her ankle. Do you know if there’s a B&B or a hotel nearby?”
“There’s one about five kilometers ahead,” Sookie told them. “Do you have reservations?”
“No,” the one called Marty answered. “We’ve been kind of winging it.”
“Hi,” said the other, “I’m Jill.”
“Sookie,” Sookie answered, holding out her hand. “Look, I can give you a ride,” and then she glanced back at her house. “Or you could stay here. I’m just opening a B&B. You could be my test customers, if you’d like.”
Marty looked past her at the house, “Really? Here? This place is beautiful. We don’t have a lot of money…”
“You’d be doing me a favor,” Sookie assured them. “Let’s say 20 Euro for the night and you promise to give me brutal feedback.”
“Sold!” Jill exclaimed, and then, looking worried, asked, “You do have running water, right?”
“I’ll even give you a room with its own bath,” Sookie laughed, and it was settled.
Sookie helped carry Marty’s backpack in and she settled them in the larger of the ground floor rooms. “I’ll get some tea started,” she offered. “It will be out in the parlor when you’re ready.”
Sookie walked back to the main kitchen and started the water. She pulled out her tray and fixed the tea things. “Glad I baked,” she mumbled to herself, cutting some date bread and filling a jam pot.
When she walked out through the dining room, Jill was in the parlor. “This place is really nice!” her guest told her.
“I’m glad you think so,” Sookie blushed. “I hope other people think so, too.” Glancing toward the hallway, Sookie asked, “Does your friend need an aspirin? I may have an Ace bandage around here somewhere.”
“No, we have all of that,” Jill winked. “Marty and I have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. We get an extra day, or some vacation stored up and tell the spouse and kiddies to fend for themselves while we take off to hike in some country or another. Marty wanted to come back to Ireland and so, here we are!”
Jill didn’t look particularly athletic, but she was solid. Her crisp gray hair curled around her face. Marty limped into the parlor, using a walking pole. “Hope you don’t mind,” she said, holding the pole up. She’d wrapped the sharp nub with what looked like tape. “I won’t scratch the floors, I promise.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sookie assured her. She was turning to go when Marty called her back.
“You sound American,” she said.
“I was born there,” Sookie answered. “But I’m naturalized Irish, now.”
“That sounds like a story,” Jill grinned.
“Is your husband Irish?” Marty asked, nodding toward Sookie’s ring.
“Yes,” Sookie replied, and then, “as much as he’s anything. He’s a bit of a wanderer.” She couldn’t think of how else to describe the status of a vampire. Sookie kept waiting for the next question, the one where they asked when Eric was coming home, but the women didn’t. Instead, they asked Sookie what made her consider opening a B&B. They asked what brought her from America. They asked about what she’d seen in Ireland and where to find the best dinner in Slievemore.
There was a knock at the door and Sookie left to deal with the contractor. It took both the plumber and his assistant to maneuver the toilet down the stairs in the barn and then into the small bathroom. “Who sleeps in their basement?” he grumbled, keeping his voice low enough that Sookie could choose to ignore him.
When she went back to the main house to check on her guests, she searched only to find them outside, standing on the edge of the small hill leading down to the beach. “I can’t believe you have trained seals here,” Jill laughed.
“What are you talking about?” Sookie asked.
“We just watched one come up out of the water and leave you a present,” Jill told her, pointing to the deck that extended off Sookie’s barn-house.
There on the deck was a flopping fish. It was fairly big. Sookie thought it might be a cod. “Well, I never,” she huffed.
“What are you going to do with it?” Marty asked.
“Cook it, I expect,” Sookie said softly. She stared back toward the ocean. She could see the marks the seal made as it crossed the soft sand. She stared out over the waves and sure enough, there was a head, and then another bobbing just off shore. Looking at her guests, Sookie said, “Not for you, of course! I have a nice chicken in the fridge. Maybe something with rosemary potatoes?”
The fish was still flopping on the deck and Sookie realized she was going to have to kill it. She leaned down to put her hand on it and the thing gave a great flip. Sookie almost fell over, she leaped back so fast. “You have any idea what you’re doing?” Jill chuckled.
“I’ve never done this before,” Sookie confessed.
“Well, I think we should have fish,” Marty said quite definitively. “Those rosemary potatoes will go just as well and a nice fish like this will taste best fresh.”
“Got a knife?” Jill asked.
Jill showed Sookie how to hook her fingers under the gills to carry it. “I’ve been fishing a lot!” Jill assured her. “My ex-husband had a boat and we were always going out: lakes, ocean. He was a great one for fishing!”
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Sookie asked again. “I mean, it is kind of odd.”
“If the animal was rabid, he wouldn’t be making deliveries,” Jill laughed. “You have to give him credit. Not a bite mark on it, except near the head.”
“You sure it’s not some pet?” Marty teased. “You could be that girl on the Internet with the seal pup she raised…”
“A regular natural kingdom show!” Jill chortled as they walked back into the main kitchen.
It wasn’t her favorite lesson, but by the time Jill was done, Sookie felt she could clean another fish if presented the opportunity. Jill cut filets from one side, then handed over the knife so Sookie could finish the job. “Well, I know what to do from here,” Sookie nodded. “You’re sure you don’t mind eating seal fish?”
“Are you kidding?” Marty chortled. “The girls in the office won’t believe it!”
“It’s true,” Jill agreed. “They already think we’re daft already. Wait till we tell them this one!”
Dinner wasn’t exactly how Sookie imagined it would go. In Sookie’s dream, she ran the kitchen while her guests walked the beach or sat, comfy in front of the peat fire. Instead, Sookie, Jill, and Marty shared duties in the big kitchen, their talk fueled by bottles of wine.
The fish turned out well. Sookie added some steamed carrots. It wasn’t elegant, but she hadn’t really been expecting guests. “You turn out dinners like this every night and you’ll be the star of the coast!” Marty proclaimed, spooning into the bread pudding Sookie had cobbled together.
“I’m thinking most nights I’ll run guests into Glenglas,” Sookie explained. “There’s a nice pub there. Brian and his wife have a solid reputation and on weekends they have music.” She started clearing dishes, refusing any help. “You are my guests after all, and I need to earn those reviews! Relax. Finish off that wine.”
“If we do, we won’t be walking tomorrow,” Jill sighed.
“Do you think you should?” Sookie asked, staring at Marty’s tender ankle.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Marty told her. “A good night’s sleep, a couple muscle relaxers, and by tomorrow, I’ll be right as rain!”
They talked about breakfast for next morning and Sookie confirmed they were tea, not coffee drinkers. “I’ll be cleaning up the kitchen and then heading over to my place,” Sookie told them. “If you need anything, just knock,” and Sookie handed them a card, “Or call this number. It’s my cell.”
Jill was looking around. “Aren’t you lonely out here?” she asked.
Sookie bit her lip, but then she looked straight at the women, her first guests, and said, “Not anymore.”
“I’m so proud of you!” Maryann exclaimed, looking at the money Sookie had put in an envelope, wondering whether she should just frame it. “A real B&B owner.” It was one of Maryann’s evenings off. She only had a couple guests and she’d left them in the care of the young woman who now lived over the garage in Sookie’s old apartment.
“They were so nice. They’re from England and they do this all the time, take off to walk places.” Sookie gushed.
“Still, they’re foolish not to make reservations,” Maryann shook her head. “Even this late in the season, it can be a roll of the dice finding rooms in some of these places. What if you’d been full? It would have been a long walk for a woman with an injury. And what if the next place was full, too? Not a lot of places on this trail, as you’ve seen.”
“Those two?” Sookie laughed, thinking of Jill and Marty’s wry humor and no-nonsense attitude, “I could see them just wrapping up in a slicker and sleeping under some bush. They were wonderful! Inspiring!”
“Odd!” and Maryann shook her head. “You really do attract them!”
“Speaking of odd,” and Sookie told Maryann about the fish.
“And you ate it?” Maryann’s lips curved down. “That’s just… I can’t believe you did that! And served it to guests?”
Sookie shrugged, but there was something niggling in the back of her mind, something that wasn’t about whether or not eating the fish had been sanitary. She found herself remembering swimming with seals. She’d done it with Breandan, and then again with Moira. She hadn’t seen the glow she associated with Fae when she looked at the animals off her shore, but she felt a chill that had nothing to do with temperature.
“Come on,” Maryann sighed in disgust. She stood up and grabbed the small notebook Sookie always seemed to have sitting beside her. “Now that you’re official, we should start making lists of the homey touches you’ll need.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked, following her friend into the main house.
“Art for the walls, pottery, rugs. We’re coming into winter. It’s the best time to look for things. There’s the clearance sales and consignment shops. Everyone wants to clear inventory before things really shut down for the season. For example,” and Maryann looked around the parlor, “Bookcases would be a good add here. Stock them with some books, maybe something your guests can use on a borrow program. Since the services handle their heavy bags, a lot of them bring books. You could leave a sign inviting them to take one or leave one.”
“Yes,” Sookie nodded, “That would be nice.” All she could see were the bookcases in Ballytyne, and then at Goat House, filled with Eric’s library. She wondered where those wonderful books were now. She remembered how his long fingers wandered over the spines, the way his mouth curved when he pulled one out, making a choice for her.
“Sookie?” Maryann called.
With a start, Sookie realized her friend was halfway up the stairs. “Coming!” she called, shaking off the cobwebs of her memories.
Maryann walked Sookie through the upstairs bedrooms and each of the bathrooms, making notes and marking colors. Sookie kept most things neutrals, but she had made a point of selecting different bedspreads for each room, so matching had become important. They were standing in the dining room, when Sookie realized Maryann was hiding something.
“What is this all about?” she finally asked, interrupting Maryann’s monologue on the use of platters as wall art.
“What do you mean?” Maryann asked.
“You know!” Sookie challenged. “You’ve been absolutely single-minded tonight, lecturing and marshalling around the place.”
“I have not!” Maryann protested, but then equivocated, adding, “I’m just trying to make sure you succeed.”
“There’s something going on,” Sookie challenged. “I’ve known you for a while and I’ve seen this before. There’s something bothering you and you’re purposely trying not to think about it.”
Sookie thought Maryann would protest. She could see her friend’s struggle, a million emotions flashing across her face, but, in the end, she pulled out a chair and sat down at the large dining room table. “It’s probably nothing,” Maryann sighed. “I’m sure I’m just imagining it and if I say it out loud, I know it will cause trouble.”
“I’m your friend,” Sookie assured her. “Tell me.”
“Pam,” Maryann started, then took a deep breath. She glanced at Sookie and then looked away. “She got a call last night.”
“What kind of call?” There was something about this that had Sookie sitting up.
“Sophie-Ann…or someone else. Andre maybe, he called.” Sookie held her breath, waiting. “She’s going there tonight. Something important, but she wouldn’t tell me what.”
“But, you have an idea,” Sookie prompted.
“I don’t know if it’s him,” Maryann whispered.
“Eric!” and Sookie was standing.
“That’s why I didn’t want to say anything. Pam didn’t say it. I really have no reason to think this. It could be nothing, it’s just she usually tells me what’s going on and she seemed… I don’t know…different, upset,” and Maryann stood, too, reaching out. “I could be wrong. I don’t want you to get hurt. It may be just my overactive imagination.”
Sookie glanced at the darkening window. “They’ll be up,” she nodded. “Eric’s usually risen by now. Pam will be, too. It’s about three hours to Sophie-Ann’s…”
“I don’t think you should go there!” Maryann exclaimed. “Jesus, Sookie! Can’t you just call? Surely, there’s someone…”
“Oh?” and Sookie rounded on Maryann, all her frustration bubbling over, “Call who? Like any of them would answer or tell me if the truth! It’s been months and not one word! Every person I ask treats me like I’m some child they can just ignore. ‘Don’t worry, Sookie! Move on, Sookie!’ As if I could!” Sookie could feel her magic gathering around her.
“You’re frightening me,” Maryann said, and Sookie caught a look at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were flashing and her hair had started to lift.
It startled her enough to get herself under control, “I’m sorry,” Sookie stammered. “It’s just…this has been so hard. I have to go! If only to confirm he wasn’t there. If I ever found out he was, and I just sat here, waiting… I’d never forgive myself.”
It took Maryann a minute, but she seemed to overcome her fear. Sookie wasn’t sure if her friend simply accepted Sookie’s lapse, or if she was busy telling herself she hadn’t seen it, but in any event, Maryann hugged her, and it made Sookie feel better.
It had been some time since Sookie had traveled to the Queen’s palace and most times, she hadn’t been the one driving. “What if I don’t remember the way” she asked aloud, torturing herself. Fortunately, she did remember certain landmarks. It was only one missed turn she figured out within a few miles and it was only ten o’clock when she pulled into the driveway.
Sookie expected to see the parking area full. It had been the other nights she’d come here, but tonight, there was only a scattering of vehicles. She pulled toward the car park, wondering whether she had the courage to get out of her car, but she solved that mystery by turning the key off and opening the door. Her next debate was whether she’d be able to say anything when she reached the guard at the door.
“Why are you here?” he asked unpleasantly.
“I have a right,” she answered, finding her courage along with her lifting chin. “I’m pledged to a vampire. That makes me, technically, vampire.” She lifted her hand, showing the ruby ring Eric had given her. It was the last thing she’d grabbed as she left her house tonight, thinking maybe if she showed it to him he’d remember how much they loved each other. Maybe it would remind him to come home.
“You’re too late,” he sneered.
Sookie felt the breath leave her. “What do you mean?” she stammered.
“He’s already left with his Maker. The Queen’s released him,” and the guard looked pleased in a mean way. “They say you’re next.”
“What?” Sookie asked, but then Wybert walked out the front door.
The guard she’d been speaking with bowed quickly and stepped inside the house. “What are you doing here?” Wybert asked her. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Who told you?”
“No one,” Sookie stammered. “Where is he? Why didn’t someone call me?”
“If Northman wanted you here, he would have arranged it,” Wybert said, but then, seemed to reconsider. “There are things at work, Little Sookie. Eric’s Maker is a God among us. He formally requested the Northman be released and he sweetened the deal. Sophie-Ann couldn’t refuse.”
“What does that mean?” Sookie asked. Of all the vampires here, Wybert was the only one who seemed to like her, and so she waited.
He almost turned away and Sookie’s heart began to sink, but then he seemed to think better of it. “Appius means to take him away. There will be no question of his returning to Ireland again. Who knows where he’ll end up? Appius will see that it’s far away from you. He had some harsh words tonight for the Queen. I thought she’d order me to try and end the old bastard, which would have meant the end of me. No one can defeat The Roman. He’s too old! But in the end, she agreed with him. If there was a way to break the bond, we would. I’m sorry for you…and him.”
“I don’t want the bond broken,” Sookie confessed, but knew right away it was the wrong thing to say. “Do you know where they’ve gone?” she asked quickly, trying to cover her lapse.
“I didn’t ask,” Wybert shrugged. “You shouldn’t either. The Roman is bad news. If he catches you, he’ll kill you or have Northman do it. Go home. Count your lucky stars and stay away from vampires. You’ll live a longer life.”
He turned from her then, and in a gesture all too human, he shut the front door and turned out the light, leaving Sookie standing on a darkened porch.
Sookie sat in her car. Her head was a whirl. It was late, but not too late. It was possible they’d headed out to the airport. Even now, a plane could be waiting on the runway, it’s engine running, preparing to take him away from her forever. “I’ve got to choose,” Sookie thought, and then she knew. “Ballytyne!” She didn’t know how she knew, but she was sure they would go there. Eric’s things were there and there were light tight chambers. “He’ll want to see Pam,” she told herself. “He’ll want to wrap things up here,” making up reasons for Eric to linger, even if those reasons didn’t seem to include her. Only half-believing, she raced down the narrow roads, closing the miles until she’d know.
She wasn’t sure if it was relief or dread when she turned into the driveway to see the strange car. The house was dark, but she wasn’t fooled. Vampires only turned the lights on when there were people like her around, people who needed light to see. Almost immediately she felt him, cold and hoary. Not Eric. Him.
The garage doors were closed. She imagined the bays were full with Eric’s car and travel coffins. She also knew the front door was locked. She had a key, but vampires could hear so well… She wondered if they already knew she was here, alerted by the sound of the tires on pavement. “Don’t think about that!” she scolded herself.
Somewhere in that house was Eric Northman. Turning off the car, Sookie assessed things, trying to decide her best course of action. “If I can talk with him, we can come up with a plan,” she said out loud, giving herself a much-needed pep talk. “If we’re together, we can figure this out. Think, Sookie! How can you get in there?”
She was remembering each of the windows, thinking about latches and ways to break in when she doubled over, pain ripping through her. “Eric!” His name exploded from her. He was inside and as quickly as the realization settled, another wave of pain ran through her.
The time for planning was over. Closing her eyes, Sookie focused on where he was, sending him her strength, willing herself to him. She felt another wave, this time nausea, and opening her eyes, he was there. She was inside. Eric was curled on the living room floor and there was blood on him. “Eric!” Sookie cried out, scrambling toward him.
“Get out!” he croaked.
“Where are you hurt?” Sookie demanded. No sooner did her hand touch him then she was jerked back. She felt the Monster then, too. She remembered the pain in her head as he pulled her back by her hair, and the numbing cold that seemed to wrap her limbs. She felt the sharp crack as her head hit the corner of the table, and then she felt no more.
“Get up!” the voice was screaming. It was far away. Sookie tried to open her eyes, but they were so very heavy. Her head was pounding and her face was wet. She could feel some things so clearly. She could feel the air that came into her lungs each time she breathed, and the slow beat of her heart as it echoed in her ears. She felt sleepy and her fingers were cold. For a moment, Sookie considered sliding back into sleep, but there was a sound, like a hammer hitting a melon, and Sookie tried harder to open her eyes.
“I want you to see this!” the voice was shouting. It was a cruel sound and Sookie knew if she didn’t find consciousness soon, she might never find it again.
She was on her side, lying on the floor. She moved her finger. Not quite the floor, she could feel the rug. ‘We’ll never get all the blood out,’ she thought, and then her lips quirked. ‘I’m probably dying and all I’m worried about is the rug?’ It was enough. She was able to open her eyes. It took a minute and a couple blinks to focus, but then she heard the sound again and she saw Eric. He was still on the floor, lying on the other side of the table. There was a short, black-haired man standing above him. She saw him lean back and then, she saw the shoe connect with Eric. This man was kicking her husband, landing blows in Eric’s stomach. “Stop!” Sookie tried to say, but all that came out was a croak.
The man’s leg was drawn back, but he did stop. Instead, his head swiveled and he fixed Sookie with a cold, black stare that reminded her of sharks. “She is rather hardy, isn’t she?” the man said, using a tone Sookie remembered from any number of movies. It was the same tone the villain used before he started torturing his next victim.
“Not a victim,” Sookie mumbled, sure if she just thought the words, she wouldn’t hear them, or believe them over the pounding in her head. Eric looked at her. One of his eyes was swollen shut and his face was bloody. Sookie knew the Monster was coming, but she couldn’t look away from Eric. It was like finding water in the desert. “I was so thirsty,” she whispered, hoping Eric knew she meant she was thirsty for him.
He was beside her, the Monster. Just having him this close made Sookie want to draw herself into a ball, but instead, she made the chair in the dining room move. The Monster hesitated. She could feel it, and then she knew she was feeling him through the bond she shared with Eric. Somehow, the Monster had inserted himself, crouching on their shared emotions like some great parasite. It made her angry and Sookie found the will to make all the chairs move. One fell over with a thump, and then Monster was gone.
“Go!” Eric hissed at her.
“But I’m here to get you,” Sookie answered, but there was no time. The Monster was coming back as fast as he’d left. She would have to do better.
‘Tricky, just like all of them!” he hissed, his face close so all she could see were his flat, black eyes and his bloody mouth. He lifted her by the front of her shirt. Sookie wanted to spit in his face, but her mouth was dry. He touched her cheek, and inserting his finger in his mouth, sucking at it. “Delicious!” he hissed, and she was pulled closer. His eyes closed and then her neck felt as if he was ripping it open. She realized he must have already fed from her, just from the way the pain re-blossomed.
“No!” she tried to cry out, but it sounded so far away. ‘Illusion,” she thought. “Resist,’ but none of her lessons had prepared her for this. She was being drained and no amount of training could make her numb fingers move. The Monster shifted, the pulling and tearing at her neck shifting, too.
Overhead, Sookie saw the ceiling grow dim, and then she saw her Father’s face. He was smiling at her, his dark hair falling over his forehead. “Daddy!” she smiled. She longed for his arms around her, holding her, taking all her pain away.
“Hello, Sweet pea,” he said to her. His eyes looked so wise, and then he said, “Time to play our game. Quick now, before Mommy comes to check on us!”
“Like this?” Sookie asked and the little column of light formed in the air above her, near where Daddy was floating.
“Just like that, my darling girl,” he smiled, “but bigger. Bring it right to you. See if you can make it cover you up.”
“Are you sure?” Sookie asked. She blinked more. It was so hard to keep her eyes open. Her neck hurt, and her legs did, too, quick cramps making her uncomfortable.
“Do it now,” her Father urged. “Once you’re inside your toy, you’ll feel much better. Do it for me, Sweet pea! Make me proud!”
“’Kay, Daddy,” Sookie sighed. It was hard, and then it was easy, making the column grow and grow. Its white light whirling silently, stretching across the ceiling. Sookie thought of it as a blanket coming to cover her up and make her warm again.
She felt the moment it touched her. She’d balanced it on her hand so many times, but she’d never stepped inside. She felt the jerk at her neck hurting more, but then he detached. He was screaming in her ear, so loud. His hands pulled at her, and then they were gone, too. All that was left was the screaming and the beauty of swirling light that was white, but was still all colors at once.
Sookie felt herself growing stronger. The longer she kept the light around her, the better she felt. Her legs stopped cramping. She still felt cold, but she stopped shivering and the heavy feeling was gone.
Beside her, the Monster continued making noises and some part of her was glad for it. She thought of the light burning him up, inside and out, and somehow, she thought it might be happening. She imagined the Monster as some sucking organism, leeching off her bond with Eric, and she imagined his being detached from that, too, every tendril and attachment point surgically removed and made clean.
Somewhere, far away where it wasn’t warm and bright, someone was calling her name. It wasn’t Daddy. It was someone else. Turning her head, she saw what was left of the Monster, his empty eye sockets staring at her, flames that didn’t burn coming from his open mouth. The Monster’s hands were curled in tight fists as his flesh burned from his bones in a fire that generated no heat.
Sookie was standing now, her Fae face revealed, her hair floating around her. She knew she could have let the Monster go. He was dead, but somehow it wasn’t enough. Sookie held him there in the light, burning him away until nothing was left.
When even the dust disappeared, Sookie allowed the column to dissipate. She knew at some point she would feel guilty, but now, in this moment, all she felt was triumphant. She’d just killed someone. Granted, he was evil, and he certainly meant to kill her, but Sookie never thought she would be someone who took another’s life. ‘What does this make me?’ she wondered, and she worried the answer was ‘Monster.’’