Nautical Note: When sailing, it doesn’t matter how easy or difficult the passage, there is a strange ‘letting go’ that happens when you finally enter someplace where the anchorage is known and there area barriers that protect you from the elements. It is a safe harbor.
It hadn’t made a lot of sense. The light had turned on and the nurse had been bundling me up in a blanket. The oxygen tubes were removed from my face.
“Watch your head, Sookie. “ Then the same voice said, but not to me, “I’ve given her a sedative. She should sleep for you. How far will you travel?”
There was an answer, but I couldn’t understand it. I was being pulled across the bed. My feet were kind of dragging behind and my slipper came off my foot. I could feel my toes hit the air.
“Toes,” I said. And I was smiling. Then the other slipper was off and there were socks on my feet; warm, fleecy socks. I rolled my eyes up and I swear I was looking at Elvis. “Hi,” I told him.
“Well hi back at ya, Miss Sookie,” he said. And he smiled really wide. “Boy, Mr. Bill and Mr. Eric would sure be worried if they saw you like this. You sure are skinny.”
And somewhere deep down I didn’t think this was really a dream. “Bubba?”
“Course it is, Miss Sookie! But don’t you worry none. I got you.” And he did. He was carrying me like I was a feather, all bride-style. I must have slept then. When I woke up I was in a car. We were driving in the night and there were highway lights that passed over my face as I stared out the window. Bubba was holding me close and he was humming. I tried to hum with him, but I never could carry a tune.
“You alright, Miss Sookie?” he asked. I nodded, but I couldn’t hold my eyes open. “Well, you just get yourself a little sleep. Tell you what. I’ll just sing you a little lullaby.” I remember Bubba singing Don’t Be Cruel all soft and low before my eyes closed again.
Sam fidgeted. He had been sitting in a chair across from the King’s empty desk for over an hour. A part of him realized it was deliberate. The whole waiting thing was designed to produce the nervous anxiety he was experiencing. Knowing it helped to take the edge off but it didn’t totally remove the feeling.
He had made it to Vegas days ago. He immediately presented himself at the palace gate. He had been ushered in and provided a suite of rooms. Of course, they had locked the door. He really hadn’t expected anything different.
He had thought about trying to hide in Texas. He figured it wasn’t like they would really look for him. But then he’d talked with his mom. She reminded him that vampires never forget and that loyalty is the one thing you can count on saving your ass. So he kept traveling west.
He knew from experience what vampires could do. He’d been working for them for years.
His temper had got the best of him. He had liked the girl. She was a lynx, and they ran together frequently. But she had a habit of sassing him that he hadn’t liked. He had told her and told her to behave herself. But it just seemed to make her more mouthy. They had a fight and his hand just struck her by accident. She had turned on him and attacked. He had defended himself. That was all. The Pack hadn’t seen it that way. They wanted her hospital bills and restitution. Sam had run from the state, but they had tracked him down. He had pointed out that he was no good to them dead. Next thing he knew, he was on his knees pledging fealty to the vampire Queen of Louisiana and her slimy child, Andre.
It had been just dumb luck that Sophie-Ann had picked up his marker from that Texas pack and that Hadley had come into her life all around the same time. The Queen had wanted to know about her new main squeeze’s family. She was interested in Hadley so she was interested in everything about her. She had given Sam the seed money, told him to stay low, report regularly, and maybe she would allow him to work off his debt in a few years. It wasn’t really an offer he could refuse. After all, the Queen had his mother’s address. Refusal would mean direct and possibly fatal consequences for her. It was the last thing Sam wanted. She was living a quiet life, keeping her two-natured side a secret from her husband. She had no idea that he was in trouble and he wanted to keep it that way.
So he had become a part of the landscape in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Opening Merlotte’s restaurant had provided perfect cover. Everyone in Bon Temps and the surrounding community came in, including the Stackhouse girl. He found out facts and figures about the grandmother, the brother and Sookie. He knew right away that there was something strange about her. He figured it had more to do with some kind of ‘too close for kin’ relationship in the old family tree. When you threw in the brother, the impression got even stronger. Everyone in town called her ‘Crazy Sookie.’ Sam could see it for himself. She would get this odd, spacey look and she’d plaster a demented, ‘call the short bus’ smile on her face at the oddest times. But all in all, she seemed pretty harmless and she had tits that made his hands itch.
Sam offered her a job as a waitress. He could still see her big, gap-toothed simpering smile. She was so grateful. She showed up and worked her shifts. She told him everything he wanted to know. It was like taking candy from a baby.
Then things changed. Hadley became the Queen’s child. Somewhere during the time they spent between each other’s legs Hadley had told Sophie-Ann that Sookie had a gift; a supernatural gift. Andre saw the possibilities immediately. Someone with any alleged form of telepathy would be a valuable asset. So the Queen dispatched her procurer, Bill Compton, to Bon Temps.
Sam’s instructions were to observe and provide support to Vampire Bill. He remembered standing in the tree line watching the Rattrays beat the crap out of the girl so that Bill could get his blood into her. It was the most cold-blooded thing he’d seen in a long time. He didn’t know whether to be horrified or aroused. One thing he did know – the Queen had a long reach and these people played for keeps. Sam knew he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of an ass kicking like that ever.
Once he had his blood in her Bill manipulated her into surrendering her virginity. Bill had an old fashioned view of things. He figured that any southern woman would feel obligated to stay with the man that had first had her, if he still wanted her. Bill used her frequently. From what Sam could see he wasn’t the warmest or kindest of lovers. He also wasn’t exclusive.
The nest mates’ visit had made Sam nervous about the strength of the blood tie. Sookie was simple, but sitting back and smiling while her boyfriend was bedding men and women and sometimes both didn’t seem likely. Sam could see that she was getting nervous, so he threw his hat into the boyfriend ring. He was nice to her. They went to dinner. She threw him to the side and kept right on with Vampire Bill like the stupid country hick she was. Bill told Sam later never to doubt the power of vamp blood in humans. Things seemed to settle into a waiting game.
Then waitresses in their area started showing up dead. Sookie got herself all worked up. Her brother was a suspect and she was bound and determined to find some way to clear his name. Somehow she talked Bill into taking her to Fangtasia. Bill probably thought it was harmless fun. Eric Northman had done some drive bys on the family both before and after Sam had arrived in Bon Temps. There was no reason to think the sheriff of Area 5 would be any more or less interested than he had been in past.
But it turned out that they had figured wrong. Eric Northman had become very interested. Whether it was the girl’s fae scent, her telepathy or both, Eric went into stalker mode. Sam asked Bill if he wasn’t going to bring the sheriff’s behavior to the Queen’s attention, but Bill had been certain of the girl’s affection for him.
In no time at all Bill was out and the high and mighty Sheriff Eric Northman was in. He would show up at Merlotte’s at odd times. When Sam was shot, Eric sent over a bartender to keep an eye on things. Sam smiled at that memory. The bartender had turned out to be an assassin and Sookie had almost been lost. Big embarrassment for Mr. Northman. He sure as hell didn’t look so powerful then.
Of course, then they’d all gone to Rhodes. When Sam had heard that Andre was dead and the Queen was injured, he’d just about danced in the bar. He figured his debt was done and he would be able to go home.
Instead His Holy Majesty Felipe de Castro had swung into town. The first thing he’d screwed up was not killing Northman. The second thing he’d screwed up was not taking Sookie back to Vegas and turning her.
No. Instead he’d tacked an extra year onto Sam’s debt and told him he should be grateful for his life. Then he’d told him to keep working, but expand his reporting duties to include Compton and Northman.
It had been a pretty dispiriting time. Sookie ended up being part fairy. She also ended up spending more time with Northman. She got more close lipped about what she was doing. When he wheedled or teased her for more information she’d get a sharp look on her face. Sam knew it was just street smarts. At the end of the day, Sookie Stackhouse was dumb as bread. But there was more. Sookie was actually bonded and married to Northman. Interfering at this point was tricky. If the wind blew in his direction there was money to be made. But if the wind from Vegas should shift to the Viking Sam could be killed for his actions. Something as simple as touching the girl could get parts of him removed.
Things weren’t all bad. Sam had Jannalyn. She was a real firecracker. She didn’t take shit from anyone. If you looked at her the wrong way she would end you. Sam had loved her at first sight. They had spent all their spare time with each other. Jannalyn wanted to take over the Long Tooth Pack from Alcide Herveaux. She and Sam spent hours working on the plan. They had recruited help. Sam had introduced Jannalyn to Sookie’s cousin, Claude. The fairy was volatile, but he shared their hatred of Sookie Stackhouse and Eric Northman. It all seemed to be falling into place. Once Jannalyn had leadership, she would be able to use the Pack’s financial assets to buy out Sam’s debt. They’d be free and together.
The day she was captured she’d got word to him. There was a chance that things would turn out okay. She had talked them into allowing her trial by combat. If she survived, she could challenge Alcide directly. She was sure if it was between herself and the Pack Master, she would emerge victorious. But if things went against her, she and Sam had made a pact that she would find a way to kill him before she was killed. They’d go out together.
But that hadn’t happened. The Stackhouse bitch had screwed it all up. Jannalyn had made it to him. She’d landed the blow. Mustapha was right behind her, sword poised to take her head. They’d die looking in each other’s eyes. It was beautiful. But Sookie; fucking Sookie had brought him back. She’d used some kind of screwed up magic spell. She’d robbed him, and he could never forgive her.
The Oklahoma bitch had a hard on for Stackhouse. Felipe wanted to neutralize the Viking. They both wanted Sookie Stackhouse out of the way. Felipe wanted some time and then he planned to retrieve her for himself. Freyda just wanted her dead. They both were paying him. Neither was too particular about how he went about things.
He married the stupid cracker, just like they asked. Then it was like they forgot him. The only decent money he’d been getting had been from the bitch queen for little side jobs. Felipe’s stipend had continued but there were no more bonus opportunities. Sam had decided about two years ago that Felipe had just forgotten about him; abandoned him to permanent babysitting duty.
When Sam heard about how Northman was treating Freyda, he smelled opportunity. He started sending her home movies of playtime in his living room. The more miserable he made Stackhouse, the more money showed up in the bank account. The plan to starve her to death and make it look like suicide had been the Queen’s. Freyda had been very clear that there could be no suggestion of violence or vampire involvement. It had to look like a natural outcome.
Sam hadn’t been surprised by how quickly Sookie had agreed to any and all of his terms. She was so eager to please. She had no backbone; no self-respect. He couldn’t understand what Northman had ever seen in her. She was weak. She made him sick.
When it was clear that the girl was dying, Sam had sent word to Oklahoma. Sam had waited at the house for Freyda to arrive in Bon Temps. The Queen had wanted her moment of gloating. She had been so pleased she’d handed Sam a bonus. Then she had cautioned him to make sure it was finished.
One of the things Jannalyn had done was amass a decent store of weapons and devices. There were a couple fire-starters with remote triggers. Sam had set one up in the closet near the kitchen and gas line. He waited until he was in west Texas to call the number. He was pretty sure that there was nothing left now of Sookie Stackhouse and the house at Hummingbird Lane but a pile of ash.
The door behind him opened. He could hear two sets of feet. Then Felipe came around him to sit behind the desk. “What brings you to Nevada, Mr. Merlotte? And where is your lovely wife?”
Sam tried to look confident. “My debt should be paid up. I came to make sure that we are square. As for Sookie, she’s right where I left her back in Bon Temps. She had the protection of every vampire in Area 5. I’m sure she’s fine.”
Felipe screwed his mouth up in a pout. “Oh, Mr. Merlotte! I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news.” Felipe had waited, studying Sam’s face. Sam held himself perfectly still. Then the King continued. “Yes, bad news indeed. She is in the hospital but not to worry. Sheriff Ravenscroft has the situation well in hand.”
Sam had not been able to suppress his surprise. Felipe nodded and a set of hands descended on Sam’s shoulders. “Well Mr. Merlotte. Why don’t we see what other surprises we can find out together?”
Sookie closed her eyes and crossed her hands over her stomach. It seemed years since she had arrived in this place. She thought she was in a home. She remembered being in a hospital. So many things had changed.
When Sookie had arrived in this new place, she had been so overcome with sadness that she was unable to lie down. Just being flat was enough to trigger an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and loss. She would be rigid. And then she would panic. Finally she would cry and find herself unable to stop. During that time, even her sleep was gained while being positioned upright in a chair. That way she could leave her shoes on and keep curled in a ball.
Although no one had threatened her, she had felt a constant and brooding sense of being in danger. Her head told her if she was upright, she could run. She was closer to safety.
There had been days when consciousness had only come in short bursts. A glimpse of a flower in sunlight. The sound of a soft-soled shoe. A nightmare memory of screaming in the night. Each time felt like she was breaking through a hard surface to find a world that was sharp and cold and unwelcome. Each time she found herself sinking back to the grey place in her head where she could float far away from words and struggles and the overwhelming pain that seemed to center around her heart.
She thought about the hopelessness of her life at Hummingbird Lane. She had found one morning she no longer seemed to find a reason to get out of bed. Food didn’t taste worth it. Most days she didn’t even go outside; didn’t really make it out the bedroom door.
Sam finally left one day and didn’t come back. It took a couple days to make that connection in her head. And then she thought, “Good. Now I can finally stop pretending.” And she had crawled under the covers and not come out for a long time.
She remembered bits of the car ride that brought her here. Before here, she had seen Dr. Ludwig and Pam. Maxwell Lee had come. But now she saw Thalia and Bubba. They came to sit with her at odd hours. Once she had opened her eyes to see Bill Compton. When she saw him in the chair she had turned her face to the wall and started to cry. She hadn’t seen him since.
And then there had been a morning she woke up to see a tiny, grey-haired lady sitting in a chair across from her. Sookie remembered wondering who she was. The woman was writing something on a pad. Her hair was piled on her head. Every so often the woman would stop writing, shake her hand and then start again. She wasn’t dressed like a nurse. She wore soft clothes and seemed very comfortable. She sat with one leg crossed over the other. She had short boots made of some kind of soft black leather. There was something about her that made Sookie feel that this world was not so hard or harsh. She felt a small tug of curiosity and it kept her from sinking too quickly.
Sookie remembered seeing the rug under the woman’s foot – some sort of oriental looking flat rug in an intricate pattern of red and white. She remembered feeling overwhelmingly tired. It was more than physical exhaustion. She felt like her spirit had been sucked from her. Her eyelids were dragging over her eyes. She lifted her gaze to see the woman again and found herself looking straight into a pair of bright green eyes.
“She is something more,” thought Sookie. Then she closed her eyes to return to her cocoon deep within herself.
The light made patterns on her eyelids. She recalled afternoons spent tanning in her backyard. She thought about sitting on the dock at the pond in back of her parents’ house; her brother Jason’s house now. She saw herself wearing Daisy Dukes and a tank top. Her toes were pink and her fingernails too. She could feel the sun soaking into her shoulders and cheeks. It felt like feeding through her skin, but that didn’t make sense.
“Sookie, where are you now?” The voice seemed far away, but the telepath found she wanted to answer it.
“I’m sitting on the dock behind Jason’s house.”
“What do you hear?”
“I can hear the waves making little lapping noises under me. There’s a jay making a racket in the tree across the way. There are bees busy in the flowers all around the banks.”
“Can you smell the flowers?”
“No. But I can smell the water. That funny pond water smell – like minnows and mud.”
“Is it a happy smell?”
That was a funny question. She scrunched her face as she thought about that. “Sure. I guess. I know I’m always happy near the pond.”
“Where else are you happy?”
Sookie allowed herself to think about it a minute. “Sitting at Gran’s house, listening to rain on the tin roof. Making breakfast at my table at home… and…” And Sookie could see it in her mind’s eye; the flash of flying forward and strong arms around her. There are blue eyes laughing as she is spinning and spinning, and spinning down and down and her mouth opened and she started screaming.
“Sookie! Sookie! It’s ok, sweetheart.” The older woman stroked Sookie’s back.
“I’m not thinking about bad thoughts,” Sookie want to shout. But she couldn’t because her mouth was already open and she was croaking and hiccupping so hard she couldn’t breathe.
Finally there was the pinch of a needle and Sookie lost herself in darkness again.
Every day after that, Sookie would find herself waking to the sight of the same woman. Sometimes the woman was writing. Sometimes she was looking at Sookie. Sometimes she hummed a song. There was something about the song that made Sookie anxious.
One day when Sookie woke to the sound of the song, she found her voice. “Stop.” Even to her ears, her voice sounded strange; like someone else’s voice.
She remembered the woman’s hand on her cheek. “Hello Sookie. My name is Lydia. You are safe here. I won’t hum if you don’t want me to.”
Sookie had nodded then and settled back into a different sleep then – one that wasn’t running.
From that time forward, Lydia had talked whenever Sookie was awake. Lydia talked about herself and a place called Sanctum. Sookie learned that this place was Lydia’s dream. She had created it many years ago. Sookie had the impression that the place had been around much longer than Sookie had been alive. There were times when the light in the room was slanting through the window in a certain way that Sookie thought she could see something a little off about the woman – like she was not quite what she looked like.
Lydia talked about how she had negotiated the neutrality of Sanctum. She talked about her philosophy on living an elegant life – and how decorating the place had been an extension of that belief. Lydia told Sookie that her own personal history had made the founding of this place, and its mission of helping those who had been left behind, something deeply personal for her.
Sookie found herself wondering about the story that would lead Lydia to create the place she described, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. To ask too many questions would lead to giving too much of herself away. And Sookie no longer felt she had anything left to give.
As Sookie listened to Lydia speak she found herself comparing the soft-spoken yet strong woman to her Gran, who had died violently so many years ago. While Sookie still felt that sweep of sadness and longing that she associated with her Grandmother, she felt it recede a little at a time with each afternoon. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to just ask this person the question that had been forming as her most pressing concern.
“Why am I here? Why am I alive?”
Sookie could recall with perfect clarity the look on Lydia’s face as she framed her answer. Lydia’s warm blue eyes had focused on hers. Her head had tipped just a bit to the side. Her whole being had seemed to emanate warmth and support and affection.
“Oh, Sookie. You are such a blessing to all who know you. If you had left us, you would have left such a hole in the lives of everyone who loves you. And that circle is a wide one. Maybe wider than you know. Sookie – you are loved. You matter.”
Sookie found herself wondering who had fed this person such a total line of bullshit. “Someone sure blew smoke up your skirt!” she said.
Lydia seemed to know that the younger woman was at a decision point. “Sookie, tomorrow I would like to start working on what is going on with you. I hope you will share your story with me and together we can try to figure out what this all means. Will you be willing to try?”
Sookie couldn’t answer right away. Did she want to talk about it? Why bother? But then she looked in Lydia’s eyes again. She could feel a light pressure in her head. She knew she couldn’t be glamoured. She decided to try to take a peek into Lydia’s mind.
What Sookie found was warm and light and seemed to have layer after layer of impression and emotion. What she couldn’t get was any single thought or clear pattern. Even so, it was almost like when she had found herself able to shelter her mind and emotions within the silence of a vampire’s thoughts – only this was not silent. It was comforting and harmonious.
Lydia had laughed then. It seemed like the most beautiful sound in the world – like music and bells. Lydia had come then and sat on the side of the bed. She reached for Sookie’s hand. In that touch, Sookie felt warm and safe. She thought, “Maybe, just maybe I can trust this woman.”