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.
“You seem to be doing well for yourself.” Thalia made a point of looking around at her surroundings. She meant the gesture to put Indira at ease, but too late, realized her eyes sweeping past doors might be taken as something else.
Thalia’s concern was confirmed when Indira asked, “Are you here to kill me?”
Thalia couldn’t help it. “No,” she said, shaking her head, but her lips twitched. It was her version of a smile. “If I were, you’d be finally dead. I registered my visit with Queen Maude. I notified you in advance. No, I’m not here for that,” and Thalia settled back on her heels, crossing her hands in front of her. She meant her gesture to appear friendly, but instead, Indira just looked tenser. Giving up, Thalia got down to business. “I’m here to deliver a message, one best delivered in person.” She waited, but Indira remained silent. Sighing, Thalia gestured toward a chair, “Do you suppose we could sit down?”
Indira leaned toward her front door once more before making her decision. “Of course. You’re right. If you were here to end me, there is little I could do to stop you.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Thalia replied reasonably, “You have a dancer’s way with a sword. Don’t forget, I’ve seen you in action. You lose yourself in the fray of battle, the mark of a true warrior.”
“From you, Thalia, that is high praise,” and Indira bowed her head. Still, she waited to sit until Thalia had, and even then, perched on the edge of her seat. “What message has King Northman asked you to deliver?” When Thalia looked surprised, Indira huffed, “Don’t insult me! You are Northman’s. You can’t think I’d believe you’d come here on your own business. Only the order of your King would bring you all the way to Minnesota.”
Thalia’s lips twitched again, “You’re partially right. I forgot how cold this place can be. It reminds me of steppes and barren wastes. No civilized person would choose this when there are places in the world that feel like liquid heat, their nights full of sound.”
“Listen,” Indira shrugged, “The nights here have sounds, too.”
“The moan of wind over ice,” Thalia grimaced.
“Cold lands, welcoming hearts,” was Indira’s reply.
Thalia nodded, “Pam told me Maude was happy to offer you a place.” Thalia didn’t elaborate, she didn’t need to. Indira’s ‘place’ was public knowledge. On her arrival, Queen Maude pointed the Indian vampire toward a decent job at an all-night call center. The pay was adequate, but not what she might have earned working in the Queen’s guard. The message was clear: The Queen would honor her friendship with Pam by finding places for her friends, but honor didn’t equal trust.
Thalia couldn’t imagine the position suited Indira. The vampire seated opposite her was used to command. Being ordered about, closely supervised, would have to sit hard. Thalia waited, hoping Indira would give her an opening, but as time stretched between them, Thalia decided it was her move, again. “I am pleased you found acceptance here. What happened in Shreveport was unfortunate. It was not truly your fault.”
“Sometimes what’s true is not right,” Indira shrugged, and then smiling a bit herself, said, “I blame it on the curse.”
Thalia didn’t recall witches being active in Shreveport at the time of Sookie’s turning. In fact, most witches had kept their heads low during most of de Castro’s reign. “Curse?” she asked. “Which witch was involved?”
“Not witches,” Indira explained. “Sookie Stackhouse. Every time she comes to Fangtasia, bad things happen to vampires. She came the night before the takeover. She spoke with me. I’m thinking that was enough to seal my fate and now, I’m here.”
Thalia’s mouth twitched. She looked aside, but it was hard to hide. Her shoulders shook, and Indira hurried to say, “I meant no disrespect!” It was enough, and Thalia laughed. It was a hoarse, croaking sound, harsh with disuse. Indira’s own laugh followed, and, in that moment, they were friends again.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and Thalia shook her head, wiping at her face. “Sookie does have a way of being in the middle of bad things.”
After a moment, Indira’s face settled. “I was so sorry,” she said. “I never wanted her to be hurt. The King was right to do what he did. I was to blame”
“Truly, no one is blamed, now,” Thalia assured her friend, “except Compton. He was the villain in Sookie’s turning, not you.”
“How is she doing?” Indira asked. “I was happy to hear Sookie survived the first years. So many don’t…”
“It was hard for her,” Thalia nodded. “It is still hard, for both of them. Sookie spent those years hating being vampire and the Viking hated himself because he couldn’t prevent it.” Thalia sighed, before adding, “But now, things have changed. What is it humans say? A corner is turned? Things are better between them.”
“Sookie doesn’t hate being vampire anymore?” Indira had caught the slight change in wording, and Thalia couldn’t miss her hopeful look.
Thalia nodded, “It does appear the famous Sookie Stackhouse has accepted her fate. She is trying to step forward to take her place beside him.” Thalia allowed that to sink in before saying, “I am not here at King Northman’s request, I am here at Sookie’s. The Viking would have held his grudge against you, Indira, nursed it. Sookie has changed all that. She wants you to come home.”
“If Eric is still unhappy with me, I don’t think my return would be kind to any of us.” Indira tried to keep her voice neutral, but Thalia could hear her disappointment. It resolved any reservation Thalia held for this plan. Indira’s reactions told her that returning to the vampires, Weres, and humans of Louisiana was something her friend still desired.
“Surely, you remember how it is between them,” Thalia said lightly. “He postures, but we both know who rules that Palace. Sookie’s forgiveness is Eric’s forgiveness. The Viking will do anything to make his Princess happy. “
When Indira remained still Thalia continued, “Sookie has been clear she never blamed you. She has said in the hearing of others that had it not been for that night, she wouldn’t have found herself beside the King. She has said many times one can’t question the hand of fate and, in the end, she’s grateful to you. You acted with honor and saved Rubio’s wife. She told many that you are her friend, and in Northman’s presence.”
“And he agreed?” Indira asked.
“I am here,” Thalia shrugged.
“Sookie was a good friend,” Indira sniffed.
“Sookie is a good friend who would like you to return to Louisiana,” Thalia pressed.
Indira stared at her hands, giving herself a moment. She didn’t make eye contact when she said, “I hear Rubio Hermosa is doing well as Sheriff of Area Five.”
Thalia’s lips twitched again. With one sentence, Indira’s decision was made, and now it was down to negotiating for position. Thalia nodded, “Yes. Rubio has stepped into your old territory. It was a good thing for all of us that you were such an effective Sheriff. Your rules were already established and most of the troublemakers identified. When de Castro fell, it was easy enough to round them up. Now, the only challenges he faces have to do with money and contracts. It’s not like the old days. Area Five is too tame for my taste. Hermosa does what he does best, boring meetings with boring people, and he has you to thank for it.”
“You sell him short, Sister,” Indira answered, slipping into the titles they’d once reserved for each other. “Rubio is smart. He would do well in any Area.”
“Don’t make me question your judgment,” Thalia huffed. “Hermosa can wield a blade, but he lacks the killer instinct. I don’t trust him to tell friend from foe. He has yet to prove he can turn casual supporters to loyalists or fool spies into betraying their masters.” Thalia nodded. “You, my friend, have all those qualities and more. You are a proven quantity.”
“So,” and Indira stood, her sari making a faint sound as she moved toward the window. “If not Area Five, what Area does the King have in mind?”
“It’s your choice,” Thalia answered. “Pam and I have been covering both Two and Four. Were it up to me, I’d choose Two. The Mississippi border is more interesting. Russell Edgington is quiet, but there are rumors among the Weres that things are not as they appear. His marriage to Indiana is intact, but not as time-consuming as it once was. He may be thinking it’s time to expand his influence.”
“A takeover?” Indira frowned.
“No,” Thalia demurred, “Russell’s too lazy for that. Why take on the trouble of a crown when you can simply work your assets and skim your neighbor’s cream for yourself? His alliance with the Weres is strong. They do his bidding. There are thefts, break-ins. He isn’t smart enough for cyber crimes yet, which makes the challenges more appealing.”
“And Texas?” Indira asked. “I hear Stan visits Louisiana often.”
“It’s friendly,” Thalia nodded, “for now. Stan is younger than Russell, so his thirst for glory is stronger. He will soon stage a takeover of New Mexico. He gave us advanced warning but, in my experience, I find that once a vampire starts acquiring things, it’s hard to stop.”
“How’s Maxwell doing?” Indira asked.
“Why ask me?” Thalia challenged. “You can tell me far more than I know on that score.” Thalia waited for Indira to meet her eyes, and then, she waited some more.
“I have kept in touch with him,” Indira confessed.
Thalia decided this was not the time to play with her friend, “I know how you two have been communicating. You were clever, but even burner phones can be traced.” Thalia let that sink in before adding, “You have been a steadying force there. I, for one, would like to have you continue, but your efforts would be more effective if you were closer to home.”
“Maxwell is clever, but even he knows he’s not cut out to be King,” Indira volunteered, defending her friend.
“I understand Maxwell’s reluctance,” Thalia nodded, and when Indira simply looked patient, Thalia added, “Because I support him, it doesn’t mean I don’t see the Viking’s failings. He was a great Sheriff, strategic and deserving of loyalty. His performance as King has been less, but I believe if he were to dedicate himself to it, he would be a King worth serving.”
Indira visibly reacted, and Thalia knew her statement startled her friend. Thalia’s words hinted at disloyalty. It was well known in the vampire world that Thalia found her way to Eric’s side dozens of times over the centuries, taking on the role as his shield. It was a friendship that was legendary. “You’re surprised?” Thalia asked aloud, and then she winked. “Just because I’m his friend doesn’t mean I’m blind. His doubts this time were different, and I was worried, but now, I believe things have changed. Sookie has stopped fighting her situation. Even when she was a breather, she showed tremendous strength. She’s finally stopped pitying herself and she’s turning her strength toward our kingdom.”
“Persistent,” Indira added. “No matter how many times she was knocked down, she always got back up.”
“Her unhappiness clouded his desire to see anything but her, but now, that’s over. Northman is starting to take notice of his world again. At last, he may finally realize his potential.”
“Eric never wanted to rule,” Indira said doubtfully. “How many times have we heard him say it? He hated being put in display,” and they both smiled, thinking of Eric’s grumbling when taking his turn on the throne at Fangtasia.
“I don’t think this would be his first choice, no,” Thalia agreed, “but for his mate? He wishes to provide a place for her, and since nothing’s too good…”
“…For his Princess? A kingdom will have to do!” and Indira laughed. “I missed you!”
Thalia nodded, “And I, you.”
Indira looked up from under her lashes, “You should know those outside Louisiana don’t have nice things to say about our King.”
Thalia wasn’t surprised. A King who neglected his kingdom usually didn’t survive as long as Eric. “How bad is it?” Thalia asked.
“Nothing he couldn’t overcome,” and Indira stood. “But he needs to start making progress and advertising his successes. Maude is hosting the Summit in November. If he were to make an appearance…”
“It gives the Viking and his Sookie a month to prepare,” Thalia agreed. “But if he is still without Sheriffs…”
“He need only worry about Area Four,” Indira nodded. “I will make my arrangements. I can be in place by Hallowe’en.”
Standing on stage with Talcott Mountain reawakened everything Rick loved about playing music. He realized he’d been making a point of punishing himself since moving further East. He wanted reasons to hate being in Cambridge, so denying himself the pleasure he found in playing music was a piece of that picture.
It was as if the flood gates opened. He couldn’t get enough. He skipped classes, taking up position in one or another of the underground subway, or ‘T’ stations near campus. He played for hours, watching the faces of passersby, hoping he’d catch a glimpse of Brigid coming to see her friends.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t seeing her. He met her for coffee the Wednesday following their gig, and then for lunch the following day. When he’d pressed to see her Friday, she’d begged off, and he felt a stab of jealousy. He’d made a point of running into Todd at the vegetarian restaurant near MIT where Meg worked. He unashamedly probed the bass player’s mind, searching for hints at what Brigid might be doing, but found nothing. Saturday passed, and then Sunday with no word from her. A dozen times, his fingers hovered over his phone, but each time he pulled back. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, Brigid called him.
“I got everything handed in,” she told him. “I didn’t think college would be like this. I thought I’d play, but they have me writing down my songs. There’s all this software to learn…” She’d sighed. “I guess I thought it would be fun.”
“I thought something happened to you,” Rick stumbled. If he’d been honest, he would have told her he’d started to worry she’d tired of him. It was the kind of impulse that left him feeling vulnerable and needy, and that made him angry with his Mother. Rationally, he knew he wasn’t being fair, but it was his Mother’s situation that introduced this emotional combination into his life. Until his Mom was turned, he’d never doubted his place in the world. He faced each day, secure in the knowledge he was the center of his Mother’s universe. Now, he knew he wasn’t and it shook his self-confidence. Experiencing that same feeling in connection with Brigid brought it back.
Then, in the next minute, he was pulled from his gloomy thoughts when she suggested they meet for coffee. Within twenty minutes, he was sitting across from her in the little bistro near Berkeley. She waited until they’d sipped for a few minutes before saying, “I thought you’d text me. Are you tired of me already?”
Rick was startled. “No!” he stammered. “I thought maybe you were, I mean you told me no last Friday. If you wanted to see me, why didn’t you text?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Old fashioned, I guess. I figured since we were pretty much together every day. I didn’t want us to burn out…”
“I missed you,” he blurted.
“Me too,” and her smile lit up her face. Rick had never seen anyone look lovelier.
Rick checked his watch. He’d promised Aunt Fran he’d come by for dinner tonight, but as one hour became two hours, he found himself reluctant to end his conversation with Brigid. On a whim, he asked, “Would you come to dinner at my Aunt’s? She lives just a couple blocks from here. I know she’d like to meet you, and the food’s always great.”
“You’re sure she wouldn’t mind another guest?” Brigid asked. “I mean, it’s kind of late to tell someone a total stranger is going to be showing up.”
“I’ll text right now,” Rick offered, pulling his phone from his pocket. “If it’s not convenient, believe me, she’ll let me know! You don’t have other plans, do you?” It was kind of late to ask that, too, but Brigid just smiled shyly, shaking her head, and Rick’s heart swelled.
Aunt Fran’s answer was quick, maybe too quick, and as they walked the short blocks to the brownstone, Rick decided to give Brigid some warnings. “About my Aunt Fran, she’s a little outspoken… oh, and she’s in a wheelchair, but don’t mention it.” The more he said, the more he found himself worrying. What would he do if they didn’t get along and who would he side with if Aunt Fran decided to be rude and Brigid was rude back? By the time they reached the sidewalk in front of the house, Rick had fallen silent, and he was squeezing Brigid’s hand a little too tightly.
“Are you sure?” she asked, stopping short and disentangling their fingers.
Rick almost said, ‘No,’ but one look at her face changed his mind. “They’re going to love you,” he said aloud, as much for himself as for her. Taking her hand back in his, he tugged her to the metal gate that led between the houses toward the back of the house. He glanced at the solid brick walls and felt his nervousness return.
As if she knew, Brigid squeezed his hand and said, “It’s nice, you wanting to introduce me to your family. In case I forget to say it later, thank you. I had a really nice time.” Rick couldn’t explain it, but her words calmed him. He pulled Brigid close, kissing her, and she kissed him back. He knew the city was behind them and the sanctuary of Fran’s garden ahead, but here, in this in-between place, she was his, and he was happy.
As they stepped out into the garden, Rick could see both Aunt Lora and Aunt Fran through the large glass windows, waiting for them in the kitchen. They’d turned on the twinkle lights out here and Rick glanced at Aunt Fran’s pot plants, swaying along the fence. Soon the frost would take them, but for now they were tall and all too identifiable. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, he quickly led Brigid forward to meet two of the most important women in his life.
Lora hugged him before offering to take their coats. “Did you get the girl’s last name?” Aunt Fran asked from her wheelchair.
“I did, Auntie,” and Rick laughed. He made introductions, first to Fran, and then to Lora when she returned from the hall.
Brigid glanced around, her eyes shining, but before she said anything, Lora said “I hope you’re both hungry. Dinner’s ready, and you know how Fran is if she doesn’t eat on time, so let’s sit down.” They were set up at the kitchen table, the informal setting making things easier. Lora had lit a couple candles, but that was the only nod toward formality. “Sean sent over chicken marsala from the restaurant, but I made my own roast potatoes,” Lora told them, pulling platters from the oven.
“Find out what everyone wants to drink,” Fran scolded Rick, setting him to work, leaving Brigid sitting at the table alone with Fran.
“I’m sorry if my coming last minute was an inconvenience,” Brigid stammered to the sharp-eyed witch.
“I’d call you more of a Godsend,” Lora interjected, cutting off anything Fran might have said. “This one,” and she gave a pointed stare toward Fran, “picks at her plate, that is, when she chooses to eat at all, but then she carps about throwing food away. Believe me! Your being here is doing us all a favor. Rick doesn’t have a big refrigerator, and he’s just as bad about taking food home with him.”
“You’re not a vegetarian, are you?” Fran asked.
“No,” Brigid smiled, and Rick did, too, thinking of their band mates. Rick sat down beside Brigid and almost without thinking, reached under the table to take her hand. Brigid glanced his way and their eyes locked. It seemed so right that it wasn’t until Aunt Fran made a noise that Rick realized they’d been staring at each other. He smiled self-consciously, and Brigid blushed. “It all looks wonderful,” she stammered.
“It does,” Rick echoed, but he didn’t really mean the food.
No sooner was the food plated then Aunt Fran went to work, and to Rick’s embarrassment, Aunt Lora joined in. They showed a certain mastery, prodding here and nudging there, but the dinnertime conversation was nothing less than a gentle but thorough interrogation of Brigid Meaney. “So, tell me about your studies at Berkeley,” Aunt Fran opened.
“I’m focusing on composition,” Brigid answered, but then repeated the same concerns and doubts she’d shared with Rick earlier. Rick watched with growing concern as Aunt Fran’s eyes got harder and Lora’s face more mournful.
“So, you aren’t thinking that composition is for you,” Fran zeroed in.
“I’m not thinking college is for me,” Brigid shared.
“Aunt Fran is a big believer in college,” Rick blurted, trying to give his friend the hint. “She was on the faculty at Wellesley College before she retired.”
Brigid’s head cocked to the side as she said, “Really? My Mom was a Wellesley girl.”
“Well, and what does she have to say about your ‘interesting’ attitude toward higher education?” Fran asked in that sharp tone Rick knew meant trouble.
“I don’t know,” Brigid answered. “My parents died when I was eight. We never discussed college,” and then Brigid smiled, and resumed eating her dinner. It was the first time he remembered seeing his Aunt Fran silenced once she’d got on a roll, and part of him applauded Brigid for handling herself so well, but another part of him, the bigger part, despaired, thinking it likely he’d never see this woman again.
“Tell me, dear,” Lora said gently, “What was your mother’s name when she was at school?”
“Barbara Crane,” Brigid answered, “but, of course, after she married my Dad, she was Barbara Meaney.”
Fran’s eyes softened then, and she leaned forward. “I’m sorry,” she offered. “I knew your mother, not well, but I met her several times. She was a bright, well-spoken person.”
“Thanks,” Brigid smiled in return. “If there’s anything you can remember, well, I’d be most appreciative. I don’t really remember either of them. I’ve been told that’s not unusual when young children go through something like I did. You just kind of block it out.”
“Plane accident,” Fran said and Brigid nodded. “I heard you were all living in Ireland at the time,” Fran continued.
“I’d been left with my Gran,” Brigid confirmed. “My parents were on their way to Rhode Island to see my Mamere.”
Lora glanced at Fran, but Fran seemed lost in thought. “I suppose after, you were brought here.”
“Mamere convinced Gran I’d be better off here,” Brigid shrugged. “I remember being upset at the time, but she was right. I’ve attended all the best boarding schools. I’ve had wonderful tutors and I go to interesting places during breaks.” She grinned at Rick, “I don’t think there’s a museum in Western Europe I haven’t seen. I usually get the itinerary a week or so in advance. I’d say I’m pretty lucky.”
“It sounds lonely,” Lora remarked.
Brigid smiled, “Not at all! I meet people from all over the world. I have places to stay almost everywhere!” She turned toward Rick, “I mean, Rick and I met hang-gliding. I scuba dive, I sail…”
“You play music,” Rick added.
“And now, I’m here meeting someone who knew my Mother. I’d say that’s lucky,” and Brigid leaned forward.
“She looked like you, around the eyes,” Fran shared. Rick found himself watching Brigid. He’d had no hint of her past, and even now, she didn’t present herself as someone he might pity. She seemed to live entirely in the moment, enjoying Aunt Fran’s memories, and he found his admiration for her growing.
They finished dinner, and Brigid jumped up to help with dishes. “Perhaps, you’d indulge me a little longer,” Fran said from the table. “We could have tea in the library. I think I have some photos up there, and I’m pretty sure there’s one or two that include your Mother.”
Brigid looked shy, so Rick said, “If you’d like,” and she nodded.
Rick sent his Aunt up the elevator on her own, and then raced Brigid up the stairs to meet the car at the top. By the time Lora got off the elevator, rolling the small tea cart, Rick had fished the shoebox of photographs from one of the higher shelves and he and Brigid were seated on either side of Fran, the older woman happily identified the faces of her past. When Fran saw the face of her former lover, Clare, she hesitated.
“You loved her a great deal,” Brigid said.
“So much I forgot to breathe when she walked in the room,” Fran said gently.
“That’s how people said it was with my Mom and Dad,” Brigid shared.
“I remember someone saying he was a musician, your Father,” and Fran glanced at Brigid.
“He was,” Brigid nodded. “Mom met him when she was in Ireland on a school trip.”
“Yes,” and Fran turned the next photo over, “That’s what I remember.”
When Fran yawned twice, Lora touched Rick’s shoulder. “Don’t you two have school tomorrow?”
Rick checked his watch and realized it was close to midnight. “I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t realize it was so late!” He got up, agreeing to help Aunt Fran to her room downstairs, while Brigid picked up the tray to help Lora.
“So, you like our boy?” Rick heard Lora ask, and he almost broke his promise not to dip into Brigid’s head to pull out the answer.
It took him fifteen minutes to make his way downstairs and he was sweating the whole time, worried the interrogation had resumed, but on entering the kitchen, he found Aunt Lora and Brigid laughing together, and the way they looked at him let him know who they found so funny.
As they walked back to Berkeley, Rick felt his general sense of uneasiness return, but then, Brigid leaned against him, lacing her arm through his, and something within him just settled. “I’m glad you came with me,” he told her.
“I’m glad I came, too,” she answered, and when they got to her dorm, they kissed for a long time. “My roommate is here,” Brigid said, glancing over her shoulder. Rick wasn’t sure why she said it until she whispered, “Otherwise, I’d invite you in.” He couldn’t stop himself. He peeked, and confirmed she meant what he thought she was saying, and he became hard even as he let his breath out in one, long exhale.
“How did I find you?” he asked aloud.
“I’m wondering the same thing,” she answered, then kissing him one last time, turned and walked inside.
“I knew it was her,” Fran said. Lora was sitting on the edge of the bed, tablet in hand. They were reading a newspaper article about the Crane family. The photo featured Elizabeth Crane. She stared straight forward, her sharp nose and high cheekbones softened by the flint in her eyes. The matriarch with her head of white hair was standing in front of a large house set on the ocean. There were smaller pictures; one featuring a famous son and another, two of her daughters. There was mention of another daughter who died prematurely in the famous air crash that had claimed the lives of so many, but no mention that daughter had been married or was survived by a daughter.
“It was quite the scandal,” Fran mused. “Elizabeth blamed Wellesley for her daughter’s meeting and eloping with an Irish musician. She threatened to sue the College for negligence. Of course, her daughter was counted an adult, so her leaving school and staying in Ireland was something the old lady couldn’t do a thing about, but she could cut off her donations, so she did. She tried to pressure some of the other parents to stop giving, too, but people only take those kinds of actions for friends and I don’t think Elizabeth Crane ever had a friend in her life.”
“Still,” and Lora scrolled past the photos, “her family looks happy. Most of them have done well for themselves.”
Fran’s mouth pursed, “Old money, but without the manners that come with it. Did you hear what that girl said about school breaks?”
Lora changed the conversation, shifting to another favorite subject, “Rick seems very taken with her.”
“He’s in love with her,” Fran snorted.
Lora eye-rolled before huffing, “Now, who’s the romantic? He barely knows her! You heard what they said.”
“I don’t need to pull out my crystal ball to know I’m right,” and Fran leaned back. “You mark my words, Lora, she’s the one. She’s adventurous, musical, and has problems with her family. Our Ricky is a goner, and that tall drink of water is going to be leading him around by his pecker from here on out.”
“Oh dear,” Lora sighed. “I had hoped that when the time came, he’d find some nice, supernatural type to fall in love with.”
“Why?” Fran asked.
“You know why!” and Lora rose to put away Fran’s clothing. “I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to explain things to someone who has no idea…”
“That he’s a vampire?” and Fran chuckled until it transformed into a cough. When she got herself under control, she wheezed, “The revelation is behind us. Unless she’s been hiding under a rock, she knows there are Supes in the world. Besides, what makes you think this girl doesn’t know already? She’s in school. He’s in school. To hear him tell it, the whole of Harvard knows.”
“If she did know, he would have mentioned his parents tonight,” Lora said with an arch look.
That gave Fran pause. There had been any number of openings in the conversation, but when it was his turn to discuss family, Rick restricted his remarks to Fran, Lora, and a couple mentions of Peter and the people in Chester. “Sookie complains that he doesn’t call,” Fran muttered. Settling back, she added, “I thought they might be fighting about something, but she says no.”
“This started before he left Chester,” Lora sniffed. “I think Sookie scared him with all her downtime business. I know we all thought his going back to Chester for boarding school was a good idea, but now, I’m not so sure. I can’t tell what’s going on in Rick’s head, but I do know he’s not comfortable being around his parents. He’d much rather spend time here with us.”
“He’s just trying out his wings,” Fran sniffed. Lora made her opinion clear, glaring with her mouth pursed, but Fran rolled over and shut her eyes. “We can talk about this more tomorrow,” she growled. “Right now, I’m tired.”
“You’re being very selfish,” Lora scolded, but she turned out the lights without arguing further and made her way downstairs. She thought about texting Sookie, letting her know about dinner and the new girl in Rick’s life, but then decided against it. ‘This is Rick’s news to tell,’ she thought, tucking away her inclinations. Bustling around the kitchen, she assured herself the affection that existed between mother and son was bruised, not damaged, and when the time was right, Rick would do the right thing.
There was no going back. Rick was drawn to Brigid and her to him. Late October was unseasonably warm, the last full flush of summer before winter settled in. The maples were ablaze and the oaks were just gaining their russets. Together, Rick and Brigid walked hand in hand through Boston Garden, talking of seeing the country. Rick missed Chester, but he didn’t feel comfortable inviting Brigid there, especially knowing the B&B would be crowded this time of year.
It was the weekend before Hallowe’en and when Todd suggested they take an overnight trip to Northampton in the western part of the state, Brigid and Rick jumped at the idea. Rick had been there a handful of times and liked the college feel of the town. “We’ll drive out, camp over, and return late Sunday,” and the plans were made. As soon as classes were over, they all piled into Todd’s car and headed west. It was late when they got there, caught up in traffic, and it was later by the time they found a place to pitch their tent.
During their three-hour drive, the temperature had dropped. Where this afternoon in Boston had been balmy, here in western Mass, the wind blew chill. After another fifteen minutes of fumbling, Todd swore as one of the tent poles snapped and, as if on cue, a cold, steady rain started to fall.
“This is a disaster!” Meg cried.
They all looked at the small car. “I’ve slept in worse,” Brigid shrugged.
“Let me try something,” Rick sighed, and he pulled out his phone and texted Peter.
Another twenty minutes down the road and they were pulling into the driveway at the B&B where Rick had grown up. Peter strode out the front door, wrapping Rick in a great bear hug almost before the younger man had cleared the car.
“You’re Peter Chandler!” Todd exclaimed. “Hey! I know you! You’re awesome!” He glanced at Rick, “This is the Peter you talked about? Shit, people talk about the dances out here all the time. I didn’t know you were that guy!”
Rick felt his face warm, and he felt even warmer when he saw the approval on Brigid’s face. “Come in,” Peter invited them. “You’re in luck. The folks who had the place booked had a flight back to India today. The whole family was here to see the schools, but they cleared out a couple hours ago.” He pointed toward the front hall, “Just drop your stuff here. Dinner’s ready, lentil tacos and winter squash bisque,” and then he man-hugged Rick again. “Jeez, it’s good to see you, Chub!”
“Chub?” Brigid asked.
Rick was laughing. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d heard so many words spill from Peter at one time. Seeing Peter and this place felt good, more home than anything he’d felt in months.
Peter had made changes to the décor over the years since he’d started working here, but Rick recognized every one. Until he’d left for Cambridge, Rick spent many nights sitting right here at this table, playing music and sampling Peter’s cooking experiments. He knew where to look for silverware and plates, and Peter welcomed the help carrying things from the kitchen. Brigid and Todd set the table while Rick grabbed a pitcher and headed out back to pour some of Peter’s newest ale.
Peter turned down the electric lights, lighting candles, and soon they felt warm both inside and out. Peter laughed at their misadventures and offered to take a look at the tent pole before lifting his glass, “To Chub and new friends.”
“You have to tell me where that nickname came from,” Meg prompted.
“My brother, Seth, and I were Rick’s first babysitters when he moved out here,” Peter explained. He shot a lop-sided grin Rick’s way. “It was like lifting a stone. He was a brick with blond hair. We started calling him Chub then, and it’s stuck.”
“Only for you,” Rick blushed. “No one else out here calls me that!”
“But we’re the only ones who count,” Peter laughed, and turned the conversation toward them, easily leading Meg and Todd to talk about themselves and MIT. Rick watched his friend, still not exactly sure how Peter maneuvered it, but in no time, he’d prompted in a way that had everyone else doing the talking and him leaning back, taking it all in.
As they finished dinner, Peter glanced at the clock. “Still early. We could play, if you’d like.”
“You bet!” Todd said quickly, his eyes wide.
They all helped carry dishes to the kitchen, and Rick automatically tucked the towel into his waistband. He knew Peter rarely ran the dishwasher, preferring to wash by hand. For a moment, it was just them in the kitchen, and Peter smiled, “The girl, is it?”
“What do you think of her?” Rick asked.
“Doesn’t matter what I think, Chub. You like her?” and Peter grinned, “But, I can see you do. Karin’s back tonight.”
“Where was she?” Rick asked automatically, “New York?”
“I worry about her,” Peter said softly.
It was an admission for his friend, and Rick leaned over to one-arm hug Peter. “But, she’s back, right?”
Peter nodded, and then pulled the smile back on his face, “Yes, she is.” The swinging door opened as Meg and Brigid came in carrying more dishes. Brigid glanced Rick’s way and picked up a towel, positioning herself beside him, hip-chucking to let him know she’d dry.
When they finished, Rick walked back to the front hall. Meg and Todd’s things were gone, and Rick could hear them upstairs. Peter handed Rick a key, saying, “Why don’t you get settled. I’ll wait down here.” It was the key to the large, front master, and Rick felt his mouth go dry as he and Brigid walked up the stairs. As the door swung open, the only thing Rick could see was the large, canopy bed.
Setting down his duffel and fiddle case, he said, “There’s other rooms here. I can move.”
“Why would you?” Brigid asked, and laying her hand alongside his cheek, she kissed him. As nervous as he was, he felt himself go hard, then in the next moment his fangs itched, and he found a whole new level of nervousness.
“There’s something you should know about me,” he stammered.
“Why don’t you tell me later,” Brigid answered, and she smiled a mysterious smile that promised new things. She’d left her mandolin case downstairs, and Rick opened his fiddle case, removing the instrument and busying himself with tuning as they made their way back down the stairs.
Peter was in the front room. There was an assortment of instruments around the room. Meg was softly tapping the strings of a hammered dulcimer, but when Rick and Brigid walked in, she picked up her guitar and sat, pushing finger picks in place. Peter walked in, his mandolin in hand, and he winked at Brigid. “Figures you’d be a player of the best instrument there is.”
“Everyone knows the fiddle is the heart of any song,” Rick answered, dropping into their usual teasing.
Beside him, Brigid set her instrument down and walked over to pick up a bodhran. Rick recognized the gesture. She wouldn’t play over their host, but Rick trusted Peter. His friend would find a way to make this right. “Irish, is it?” Peter laughed, and turning toward Rick said, “Let’s see how clumsy you’ve become!” Peter’s fingers flew over his strings, the jig faster and more complex than Rick remembered. It was a challenge, and Rick rose to it. Meg blended in although she didn’t try to match the picking, sticking to playing backup. Todd pulled up the stand-up bass and Brigid soon set the rhythm, drumming in time, and when Peter winked at her, picked up the pace, pushing the song even faster.
In no time Rick was sweating, his attention focused on Peter’s fingers and the feel of Brigid’s drum. He stroked and ran, his fingers flying, his bow sliding and then jumping gaily through the forms and chorus. When Peter called, “Last time!” Rick felt it, that moment when his life was the song that wrapped around him. They ended together, and it felt so wonderful, everyone in the room let out a whoop of joy.
“That kind of playing deserves a reward!” Peter announced. “There’s pie in the other room. Baked it myself this morning.”
“You were wonderful!” Brigid breathed, and Rick swooped her into his arms, kissing her, making this moment even more perfect. It went on for some time, music, home, and the promise of the bed upstairs adding to Rick’s love for this woman. ‘Love,’ and the thought made him back away. He looked at her, her eyes half-closed and her lips soft, and he thought this must be what he was feeling.
He took a deep breath and looked away to find Karin the Slaughterer watching him from the door. “Hi, Karin,” he stammered and his nervousness returned.
“Brother,” Karin returned, but her eyes were on Brigid.
Rick’s instinct was to pull Brigid behind him, but he mastered it, making introductions instead. The whole time Karin’s eyes flicked between them, and Rick worried she’d say something vampire, like remarking on how they smelled like each other. His fangs itched again, and he figured he’d have to raid the refrigerator for TruBlood soon. He knew he had to tell Brigid about this part of his life, but he pictured the bed again. She hadn’t hinted she knew and he was pretty sure if she reacted badly, he’d be heartbroken.
“Hello, Darling One,” Peter interrupted, walking up behind Karin and wrapping her arms around her. Peter’s eyes flicked to Rick, “Take over, okay, Chub?” and turning, he led Karin toward the apartment in back.
“She’s your sister?” Brigid asked.
“Stepsister,” Rick nodded. “Our father is the same.”
Brigid didn’t press for more information, and Rick loved her even more. Together, they walked into the dining room. There were two pies, and Meg and Todd had already pulled out silverware and plates. “I’ll see if there’s some ice cream,” Rick offered, using it as an excuse to check for TruBlood.
Fifteen minutes later, Peter and Karin returned. Their hair was wet and Rick figured they’d done their reconnecting in the shower. Peter looked a little pale and that gave Rick pause. “Have you spoken with our Maker recently?” Karin asked.
Rick flushed at Karin’s use of vampire terminology, and Meg flashed him a quick look. “No, not since summer,” Rick shrugged.
“Your Mother worries about you,” Karin scolded. “I know she has no need, and you know I’ll let her know I’ve seen you, but you would make her happy if you called her.”
“She’s pretty busy,” Rick shrugged.
“Chub, that’s an excuse,” and Peter shook his head. “Moms worry. It’s how they’re hard-wired.”
“I’ll call her,” Rick said quickly, hoping the nagging would be over.
“You heading to Louisiana for Thanksgiving?” Peter asked.
“We’ll be in Boston,” and Karin glanced at Peter. “We’re vacationing there and Fran Miller has invited us to dinner.”
“I figured you’d stay here with your Mom,” Rick said quickly, figuring to score a point of his own on Peter.
Peter’s lips twitched, letting Rick know he’d been found out. “Normally, I would, but Seth is coming home and he’s bringing his New York wife.” Rick heard that Seth, Peter’s twin brother, had married. Peter hadn’t been invited. Even Peter’s Mom, Sarah, hadn’t been invited at first. Instead, she’d been notified about a week before the ceremony. It had been a society wedding, important enough to feature in magazine pages, but his mother was the only relative Seth invited, and even that felt reluctant. It was a slight Peter took seriously.
When Peter headed into the kitchen to put water on for tea, Rick followed him. “Do you mind if I help myself to the TruBlood?” he asked.
Peter glanced toward the dining room. He didn’t need to ask about Brigid, and Rick just shrugged. “Sure,” Peter answered, “but go easy if you can. Something happened in New York. Karin isn’t showing it, but she took some damage.”
“She okay?” Rick wasn’t used to thinking of Karin as vulnerable in any sense, and in an instant, she was in the kitchen with them.
Karin had opened her mouth to protest, her vampire hearing working perfectly fine, but Peter cut her off. “I’m worried about you,” Peter said without being asked, and then, in a rare show, gathered the slight vampire against him. “I love you, Karin. You carry my heart everywhere you go.” It was so intimate, Rick turned and left the kitchen. He knew Karin and Peter weren’t bonded, and if Rick’s suspicions about Karin’s work were right, doing so would place her in more danger, but seeing them together, it looked just the same.
When Rick returned to the dining room, three sets of eyes fastened on him. Karin’s moving at vampire speed hadn’t gone unnoticed. “My father’s a vampire,” Rick volunteered. “My mom was human.”
Brigid stood up and walked over to him. “We know,” she nodded, and taking his hand, said, “I guess we were just wondering when you’d say it.”
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“Mind what?” and Brigid grinned. “What matters is who you are, and I like that person just fine.”
Meg shrugged, Todd grinned, and Rick realized that’s what made staying out of their heads so easy. It was jarring thoughts of anger, suspicion, and fear that pulled him, his natural defense mechanisms coming into play. These people knew about him and had known, had accepted him as he was. “I love you guys!” he proclaimed, but his heart whispered that the shining woman beside him, might, in the words of Peter Chandler, be carrying his heart.