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.
Sookie took her time, not because she was enjoying the drive from Bon Temps to Boston, but because when she reached Tennessee, her car started wheezing and knocking. It wasn’t all the time, but it became more frequent as the miles slipped by. “Don’t die on me!” she chanted over and over each time it happened.
She made no hotel reservations, relying on Google Maps to locate inexpensive motels along the way. After the first night, Sookie developed her own rating system for the places she chose. The motel had to have a name she recognized. There had to be a desk person who spoke English. If they offered to rent her towels, it was a ‘no go.’ After the second night, she decided the place also needed to offer breakfast in the morning, just to make sure she wouldn’t spend another night listening to slamming doors and the sound of the mattress banging against the wall next door.
The traffic as she approached Boston wasn’t a surprise. Sookie had been in and out of cities before. What she didn’t expect was that the bumper to bumper traffic was still traveling over sixty miles an hour. Sookie found herself white-knuckled and shivering in the far right lane, cars honking at her and cutting her off with inches to spare. The sounds of the drivers’ minds started to overwhelm her before she gripped the wheel, took a deep breath, and deliberately turned off the noise in her head. Once the internal shouting stopped, Sookie found she was able to better focus on trying to keep up with everyone.
The voice on Google Maps guided her through a number of turns and cut-offs. The closer she got, the more time she seemed to spend in dark tunnels traveling under the city streets. When she turned up the ramp that promised to take her to her destination, she emerged into sunshine and a surprising number of trees. The traffic here was less frantic and the streets seemed wider. Sookie almost sighed with relief.
As she waited for a light, Sookie pulled out the printed sheet of paper with the directions Fran Miller emailed her. They were more specific, describing landmarks like, “Watch for the sculpture that looks like a clock tower,’ and ‘Count the houses. The turn looks like a driveway.’ Still, it was another tension-filled thirty minutes before Sookie found herself in the narrow alley where she parked in front of a double-garage door with ‘No Stopping’ stenciled across it in faded, grey letters. Sookie got out and found the keypad just under a plastic flap. She touched in the code and the door made a cracking sound before it jerked and started to lift.
Sookie had to back up and straighten out a couple times before she was able to nose her car in next to the Prius. Technically it was a two-car garage, but the areas along the walls were lined with yard equipment and garden tools. There were pegs on the walls, some with outlines, but it looked like most things never found their way back to their homes, choosing to grow into the car space instead.
Sookie held the car door tightly as she slid out of the driver’s side. The Prius was close and she didn’t think dinging her landlady’s door would make a good first impression. She almost made it to the door that led through the front of the garage when the wave of dizziness and nausea kicked in. “Oh, shit!” she exclaimed. Sookie ran back through the open garage and into the alleyway, managing to make it all the way out before she leaned over, her hands braced against the brick wall, and let loose on the cobbles. It didn’t take long. It never did, but she rested her forehead against her arms, giving it a minute just to be sure.
The cobbles weren’t like the grass along the highway, and Sookie realized she’d splashed on her shoes and pants. “Shit!” she exclaimed again. “Shit, shit…” while she opened her trunk, pulled out her suitcase and side-walked back down the narrow path through the garage that promised to lead to the house.
There was a pushbutton this side of the door, and Sookie smacked it, causing the garage door to start rumbling back down. As she walked out of the garage, she found herself in a strange, overgrown garden space. The yard was pretty big, and longer than it was wide. The houses on both sides had put up tall walls, giving the impression of total privacy here. There was bamboo growing along one wall and a tree that was just starting to turn color along another. From somewhere in the bushes to her left, she heard the soft sound of running water, and there was an assortment of mismatched outdoor furniture on a grassy, brick patio. As Sookie walked toward the back of the house, her suitcase banging against her leg, she caught flashes of mirrors mounted on the walls and trees.
The house rose above her. There were windows on at least three floors and what looked like a deck toward the top. The bottom floor was almost a solid wall of glass with doors that opened to the outside. Sookie could see a woman moving around inside and as she got closer, recognized this room was a kitchen.
As she raised her hand to knock, the woman turned and saw her. She grabbed a towel and bustled over, opening the door, “You must be Sookie! I’m…”
“Fran?” Sookie asked.
“No, I’m Lora, Fran’s friend. I come here a couple days a week to help out with cooking and cleaning.” She reached over and took the suitcase from Sookie’s hand, drawing Sookie inside. “So, you found it! Why don’t you come in and I’ll let Fran…”
“Let Fran what?” Sookie turned to see a short, gray-haired woman walk into the kitchen.
“Let Fran know her new roommate is here,” Lora finished. Lora narrowed her eyes at Fran as if to say, ‘Behave!’ then turned and winked at Sookie. “Why don’t you,” and she looked pointedly at Fran, “sit down, since you have clearly been traipsing up and down stairs where you have no business being, and I’ll get you both some tea.”
Sookie swallowed and said, “I don’t mean to be any bother, but you suppose I could use a bathroom and get cleaned up a little before we sit down?”
Fran was looking the telepath up and down through narrowed eyes. “When’s the last time you took a shower?” she asked. Lora made a sound, but Fran didn’t appear to notice. “You smell like you slept in a drunk tank.”
Sookie flailed a little. Her upbringing was telling her to be nice and try to be polite, but she was tired and sick and her bladder was screaming. “Well, if you mean I smell like puke, you’d be right. I was sick and right out there in your back alley. I’d like to change and rinse out my mouth, and then I can take a bucket and wash off the street, so I don’t piss off your neighbors!” she snapped.
Fran’s eyes widened, her mouth turned down, and then, unexpectedly, she laughed. “So, you have spunk! Good!”
The older woman moved toward the table and then jerked her chin at Lora. It must have meant something because Lora smiled and said, “Come on, Sookie, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”
Sookie followed Lora up two flights of stairs. They were old-fashioned, dark wood and they turned halfway at each landing. Sookie saw a glowing wood entry and a stained glass panel as they passed the front door and continued up. “You’ll be here on the second floor,” Lora told her.
“I figured this would be the third floor,” Sookie said, her eyes everywhere.
“We don’t count the first floor, the one you came in on. We call that the ground floor, but just so you know, there’s a basement below that.”
“This place is huge,” Sookie followed Lora as she dropped the suitcase in a large bedroom and then opened a door to a bathroom with a clawed tub. Everything was clean, but there was a comfortable shabbiness that reminded Sookie of her Gran’s house.
“Fran and her partner, Clare, bought it in the late seventies,” Lora told her. “It was a different neighborhood then, mostly street people and hippies. You couldn’t walk out the front door after dark. Now, you can’t touch a floor in any of these places for less than a half a mil.”
“Good grief!” Sookie exclaimed. “I didn’t know I was moving into a mansion!”
“You’re not,” Lora laughed. “Fran has money, but she’s stingy as the day is long. She comes from old money, and so did Clare, so don’t be worried she’ll be eating cat food any time soon, no matter how much she grouses, but,” and Lora looked at the faded curtains and softly fraying bedspread, “don’t expect it to show up in the way of extras. You’ll figure out that Fran is anti-capitalism. I could say it’s her being a New England Yankee, but it’s more than that. She just doesn’t believe in wasting anything.”
“Amelia told me Fran lost her partner,” Sookie didn’t want to pry but she figured it made sense to know the lay of the land.
Lora nodded, “Ten years ago. Cancer. It was long and ugly. Fran never really recovered.” Lora smiled brightly, “But believe me, you’ll be hearing all the stories. Why don’t you take a nice shower and get changed. When you’re ready, come on down and I’ll fix you something to eat. Oh,” and Lora’s eyes softened, “don’t worry about out back. A street sweeper washes down the alley every morning. Boston is a civilized place.”
When Lora left, Sookie opened her suitcase. She pulled out a sundress and a pair of sneakers. The window rattled just a bit with a passing breeze and Sookie pulled out a sweater, too. It was only September, but the weather here felt a lot colder than home.
Walking into the bathroom, Sookie stripped and used the sink to clean up her shoes and scrub her pant legs. She wondered about laundry and figured that there would have to be a laundromat somewhere close by, after all, it was a city.
It took a while for the hot water to get started, but once it did, it got real hot, and Sookie had to play with the knobs for a bit to get it cool enough to step under the large shower head. There was soap and some travel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles on the little shelf suspended from the shower head, and Sookie gratefully washed the grime and sweat of traffic and travel from her. When she stepped over the edge of the tub onto the mat, she found the bath towel was something someone had spent money on. It was thick and long, and Sookie was able to wrap it all the way around with room to spare.
Padding back into the bedroom, she sat on the bed, bouncing a little, and then lay down full length, testing the mattress. The feel of it and the way the pillow sank under her head were like heaven, and Sookie suddenly felt every bit of her exhaustion. She had to claw her way back to vertical, forcing herself to stand up and get dressed. ‘Time for sleep later,’ she scolded herself.
The staircase took her back to the ground floor, and, as promised, there was a sandwich and a glass of water waiting for her. Lora was standing near the stove and Fran Miller was outside, leaning over some plants in the back. “Hi,” Sookie said shyly.
Lora turned, “Well, hi back. Why don’t you sit down and try out my chicken salad? You’re not vegetarian, are you?”
“No,” Sookie shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
“Good,” Lora smiled. “Fran says she is, but she’ll never turn down a steak. Makes things easier for me.”
“I don’t expect you to cook for me,” Sookie said, “although I thank you for this.”
“You’ll be doing me a favor,” Lora shrugged. “Fran eats like a bird and it galls her to have to throw anything away. It’s impossible to cook for one, so you’ll just be saving me from all her bitching.”
Sookie wasn’t sure what to say, so she murmured, “Thanks,” before picking up the sandwich and starting to eat. After a bit, she glanced at Fran again, “So, is she gardening?”
Lora laughed, “Yeah, sure. She’s picking her weed. She smokes pot, says it helps her arthritis.” When Sookie blushed, Lora said, “It’s not exactly legal here, and she doesn’t have a prescription, but no one is going to mess with her. I wouldn’t mention it around.”
“I never would!” Sookie swallowed.
Fran chose that moment to walk in through the doors, “Nice of you to join us,” she said sharply, then grabbed Sookie’s face and turned it, first one way and then another. “You look like shit,” she said, making Sookie blush again. “You getting any sleep?”
“I am,” Sookie said quietly. “I’m just tired all the time.”
“Pregnancy!” Fran growled, and then sitting, said, “How far along did you say you were?”
“I’m figuring about a month or so,” Sookie chewed her lip a little.
“You haven’t been to the doctor yet?” Fran’s look was like a laser and Sookie started to feel more bullied than she liked.
“No, I haven’t,” she said a little more forcefully than was polite, “and I don’t have health insurance, so I guess I’m going to have to figure that out, too!”
Fran chuckled, “Well, it seems you came to the right place,” and the hard woman was replaced by a kinder woman whose face transformed into a delicate network of lines and comfort. “I’ve been a big supporter of Planned Parenthood and the free clinic is still operating.” She turned to Lora, “Can you call Rae down there and make our Miss Stackhouse an appointment?
Remembering, Sookie said, “About that. I know I told you I don’t have anyone chasing me, but I think it would be smart for me to take some precautions. You know who I am,” and she glanced at Lora, “and you do, too.” Lora nodded. “But I have some papers upstairs my lawyer set up for me. I’m going to go by the name of Susan Hale. Hale is my Grandmother’s name and it won’t stand out the way Stackhouse would.”
“Sounds like a sensible precaution if you’re looking to keep a low profile,” Lora said, and she gave Fran a pointed look as if daring her to say otherwise.
“My memory is shot anyway,” Fran shrugged. “Who knows what damn name I’ll call you? Probably the name of every cat I ever had.” She shook her head, “Doesn’t make no never mind to me.”
“You know your mind is sharper now than it ever was!” Lora scolded Fran. She picked up the phone, “Sookie, I mean, Susan, do you have anything set up yet, appointments or meetings I should work around?”
“Here?” Sookie was starting to feel her eyes becoming heavier. “No, nothing yet,” and then she turned quickly toward Fran, “but I intend to be out first thing to find a job.”
Fran laughed, “I think you can wait a couple days. Besides, I need some help organizing my library on the floor above you.” She turned back to Lora, “Go ahead and get that appointment made. The sooner she’s checked out, the easier I’ll feel.” Turning to Sookie, she said, “Why don’t you head upstairs and start to put your things away? Take a nap. We’ll call you down for dinner.”
“Oh, I’m not that tired,” Sookie squared her shoulders.
Fran narrowed her eyes and her lips pursed, “Anyone ever tell you you’re a terrible liar?”
“Yes,” Sookie admitted with a sigh, “all the time.”
The next morning, Sookie slept longer than she ever remembered. Her eyes were heavy, but she felt plenty lively when she sat up and her stomach heaved. It almost didn’t bother her anymore, the morning sickness, just another fact in her new life. It never lasted long, just part of the routine. Open eyes. Stretch. Sit up. Run for the toilet. Take care of other human needs. Brush teeth. One more new pattern for the new person who was Susan Hale.
Fran was waiting downstairs in the kitchen, the air carrying the slight smell of pot. “Nice to see you up,” the older woman’s voice was calm and Sookie thought she looked a little out of it.
“Nice to be seen,” Sookie replied and headed to where the coffee pot sat on the counter.
As she opened the Mason jar full of ground coffee, Fran asked, “You sure you should be drinking that stuff? Most doctors…”
Sookie turned from the counter, her hands on her hips, “You sure you should be smoking that stuff? Most police officers…” and she left it hanging.
Fran’s eyes narrowed again, but when Sookie’s mouth stayed smiling under arched eyebrows, the older woman sat back, “Touché. Okay, I won’t criticize your habits and you won’t criticize mine.”
When she finished filling the machine, Sookie pushed the button and asked, “You had breakfast? Can I make you anything?” The house was quiet around them, so Sookie figured this must be one of Lora’s days off.
“No, I’m fine,” Fran waved. “But make yourself something. There’s a pantry back there,” and she pointed at a door on the back wall, “and plenty of eggs and things in the refrigerator.”
Sookie looked at the pans and then said, “I’ll be right back!” She walked through the backyard and into the garage. She grabbed her Gran’s big skillet and the book she’d been reading, and headed back into the kitchen. Setting the skillet on the stove, she found bowls and utensils, and in no time had pancake batter whipped up. There were bananas on the counter that could be cut into the pancakes and real maple syrup, too. Sookie’s stomach felt wrung out, it was so empty, so she whipped up some eggs as well.
When the feast was cooking, Sookie turned and asked Fran, “You sure? I know I cooked bigger than I can eat and pancakes never taste good reheated.” Sookie hadn’t smoked pot, but she watched TV and figured if any of it was true, her landlady would be hungry.
“You’ll pay for your food,” Fran said sharply, but then her stomach growled. Sookie set a plate heaped with pancakes and eggs in front of her landlady and then loaded another plate for herself. She brought silverware to the table and poured water for both of them, then a mug of coffee for herself.
“Well!” Sookie grinned as she sat, looking at the steaming food, “Guess tomorrow is another day!”
“Don’t tell me you like Scarlett O’Hara!” Fran sniped, cutting into her pancakes with her fork.
“I do,” Sookie wasn’t sure she liked Fran’s tone in talking about her hero. “She was one determined Southern woman, a real steel magnolia.”
“She was a bitch who manipulated everyone to get what she wanted. She stooped to using her sex,” Fran said, not looking up.
“Well, I don’t know she had much choice!” Sookie squared her jaw, and the two of them launched into a conversation that carried through breakfast and right up the stairs. Fran waved Sookie off twice when the younger woman attempted to help her, but finally gave in as they passed Sookie’s floor. It didn’t stop their debate.
“And she was a fool!” Fran growled. “She found the love of her life, the strong man who was more than her match, and she threw him away with both hands for a man who could only have made her miserable.”
“Guess I hadn’t thought of that,” Sookie said quietly and she saw all too clearly the parallels with her own life. “You know, I always hoped that somehow they would work things out.”
If Fran noticed the changed in her companion, she didn’t give any sign. “Life doesn’t work that way,” she said shortly as she limped to the large, circular table that sat in the center of a slightly, rounded room lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves. There were beautiful chairs with ornate backs and thick seat cushions placed around the table, ‘Cherry,’ Sookie thought in passing.
“No, I guess it doesn’t,” Sookie replied, feeling her backbone drain away, leaving her sad and fragile. She could feel her lip tremble and she turned to walk briskly toward the farthest bookshelf, so she could get a handle on her emotions. The titles of the books caught her eye and she felt her sorrow recede, replaced by an appreciation of what was in front of her. “These Jane Austen books look real old.”
“Most are first editions,” Fran nodded. “The Bronte’s as well. Some were my family’s, and some are gifts from former students who know how I feel about female writers.”
“Wow,” Sookie whistled, “You must have some pretty rich students!”
Fran’s lips thinned, “I think it is more polite to refer to them as admirers with means, don’t you?” and Sookie blushed, feeling as if she’d been caught out picking her teeth. “So, are you up to earning some part of your keep?” Fran asked.
They spent the next hour with Sookie picking up books and putting them away. Fran had a system that wasn’t clear at first, but made more sense as Sookie kept working. Fran preferred to have things sorted by time period, then general topic, and then alphabetically by author. She had cards in an old-fashioned library card cabinet with summaries and the general location of the book written out in a firm, clear hand. Fran was on some sort of mailing list because she received books several times a month, but since she was having trouble getting up the stairs to this room on her own, there was a stack of books waiting their turn to be catalogued and then placed in their permanent homes.
Sookie found as she moved along the shelves, running hands across the bindings of old familiar friends, and noticing new books that sounded interesting, she became happier. “I’m not surprised you’re a book person,” Fran said. When Sookie looked at her in surprise, the older woman explained, “You’re a telepath. It was probably easier experiencing the world through the safety of a book.”
Sookie nodded, “You’re right. Some of my happiest hours were spent on my Gran’s porch, reading.”
“Can you read me?” Fran asked.
Sookie had tried earlier, and now she tried again. All she got was that high-pitched noise she associated with strong witches. “No, I can’t read folks like you.”
“What do you mean by that?” Fran’s head tilted to the side.
“You’re a witch,” Sookie explained, “a powerful one. I can read Amelia and Holly, another witch I know from home, but you? You’re nothing but a buzz of energy.”
“Good!” Fran looked pleased. “That keeps us on equal footing.”
When Sookie and Fran made their way downstairs for lunch, Sookie said, “I should probably find someone to take a look at my car.”
“Why?” Fran asked sharply. “You planning on going somewhere?”
“Well, I should spend a little time looking for that job, and I have to get a new driver’s license. It will be easier to fill out paperwork when I have my new name all set up.”
“Well, you aren’t a slacker,” Fran conceded, “but you don’t need to drive to take care of establishing your new identity. The DMV is just a few stops down on the MTA.”
“MTA?” Sookie asked.
“We’re on the Orange Line,” Fran told her, “the subway. There’s buses, too, but riding the ‘T’ is much easier. No one who’s anyone drives in the city if they can help it. The public transportation here is among the best in the world.” The way the older woman said it, Sookie could tell she had a true pride of place. Amelia had told her she’d see it here, folks who felt that there was Boston, and then everywhere else, and in that order.
“Truth is, I’ve never ridden a subway,” Sookie blushed. “I’m not sure I’d even know where to start.”
“Well, I will speak with Lora and we’ll take care of that right away,” Fran said matter-of-fact. “If you are going to live in this City, you need to fit in and using transit is key.” Fran reached over for a small pad of paper and wrote a note. “What about winter clothes? You have any of those?” and she eyed Sookie’s sundress.
By the time they finished lunch, Fran had a list of things that needed to get sorted out about Sookie. They had the leftover chicken salad from yesterday and when Sookie got up to clean the dishes, Fran asked if she would mind running up to the landlady’s bedroom to retrieve her cell phone.
Fran slept on the same level as the front door. Her bedroom has once been a front parlor and the walls sloped around like those in the library above her, forming a loose circle. Fran’s bed looked like something from another era. Sookie had a hard time reconciling the romance of the carvings and embellishments with the tart, stringy woman downstairs. The walls were painted in colors Sookie associated with the ocean and the high ceilings were bordered by carved crown moldings painted glossy white. The room shouted, ‘Refuge,’ and Sookie felt she could settle in a room like this and stay forever.
Fran’s look was speculative when Sookie returned. “Like what you saw?”
“I did,” Sookie replied. “It’s a beautiful space.”
“I don’t use my skills, my witchcraft, often. Frankly, I think it’s a dodge. People should handle life head on and take responsibility for the outcomes. Still, carrying around the power means I need a place where I feel completely at rest from time to time.”
“Folks pay witches a fair price for what they can do where I come from,” Sookie didn’t know why she felt the need to defend the witches she knew to this woman.
“The craft is not about money, and shouldn’t be,” Fran scoffed. “This gift was passed to me through my ancestors, mother to daughter. It’s not some commodity that I pull off the shelf and sell piecemeal to the highest bidder.”
“I guess you don’t think much of my charging folks to use my telepathy then,” Sookie sniffed.
“I think you know the answer to that,” Fran arched an eyebrow. “So, why don’t you tell me what Sookie Stackhouse, or should I call you Susan Hale, can do, aside from her magic tricks?”
“I’m a waitress,” Sookie said gamely, “a good one.”
“I’d imagine you’d do well in any service industry,” Fran started working on her phone. Sookie could see that the woman’s fingers hurt her, and she itched to take the phone away from her and punch in the numbers and keys on her behalf. If she sensed Sookie’s impatience, the older woman gave no sign, “You probably know what people want before they do. You just reach into their heads and find it.”
“It’s true,” Sookie nodded. “Well, except witches and vampires. I can’t read either one of you too well. And Weres, sometimes. Their thoughts feel red and snarly, but if I focus, I can usually figure them out.”
“Very handy,” Fran pushed the phone and held it to her ear. “Must make you feel very superior to the people around you,” and before Sookie could protest, Fran started talking.
The days that followed were a whirl of activity. Sookie learned how to ride the T, and she filed and picked up new identification. Her Massachusetts driver’s license showed her thinner face next to her new name.
About a week after she arrived, an older woman came over and spent the better part of an afternoon looking at Sookie’s car. When she came in, she told Fran and Sookie that it would cost more to repair than it was worth.
“I’m surprised you made it here,” the woman told them over cups of tea in the kitchen. “It needs a new engine. There’s a crack in the block and I can’t imagine you had much power going up hills.” For some reason, the woman’s words reminded Sookie of all the times Eric scolded her about her car. He’d offered to buy her a new one more times than she could count, and the memory of his face had her running from the kitchen to hide her tears.
When she came back, the woman was gone. “Hormones,” Sookie said weakly by way of apology.
“Broken heart,” Fran replied. “Can’t bullshit a bullshitter, Susan, and I recognize all the signs.”
“How do you get by?” Sookie asked her.
“One day at a time,” Fran smiled. “It’s been years for me. There are days I don’t think about her hardly at all, but then there are some days when I’ll see something, or the sun will shine a particular way, and all I know is I’d give everything to be able to share it with her again.”
Sookie sighed, dashing away the tears that just wouldn’t stop, “I think that will be me,” she told Fran. “But for me, it’s the regret. Mr. Cataliades, he’s my attorney, he said there was really nothing I could have done that would have changed anything, but I know that’s not exactly right. Even if we had to be parted in the end, I could have made such better use of our time together,” and Sookie felt ashamed as she broke, sobbing helplessly in front of this person she barely knew.
Fran got up and hobbled back with a cup of water and a damp cloth. When Sookie collected herself, the landlady gripped her hand hard, so hard it hurt. “You go ahead and cry now,” Fran told her when Sookie’s eyes widened. There was nothing soft about the woman as she spoke, “But the fact is you can’t be selfish about this. Me? I’m selfish, but I don’t have anyone depending on me. I can afford to bury myself in my memories; I’m old and rich. You can’t. You’ve made at least one decision that is going to force you to stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Sookie laid her hand on her stomach, “A baby.”
“That’s your top priority now, Toots. A child is a lifelong commitment. Now, I’ll grant you that one day that little one will grow up and you’ll be able to reclaim your life, and if you want to crawl back in your misery, you’ll be entitled.” Fran lowered her brows, “But, for now, you need to pull your head out of your ass, decide when you’ll stop mourning, and start doing what needs to be done to make sure that when your little one arrives she has the mother she deserves.”
When Sookie looked skeptical, Fran shrugged, “Or decide to terminate it. No woman worth her salt should go halfway on something like this. You’re a mother or you’re not. Make up your mind,” and Fran released Sookie’s hand and walked away, leaving the telepath alone in the slowly darkening kitchen.
One evening near Hallowe’en, snow blew through the city. It drifted down from the sky, landing in small, sugary balls that sat on Sookie’s mittened hand, perfectly round until they melted. Sookie was walking the few short blocks to The Bailey, the restaurant where she now worked. Looking up into the night sky, Sookie felt excited by the changing seasons. She had seen snow once or twice in her life in Louisiana. People told her stories of snow drifts on the sidewalks and cold, biting wind, but that hardly seemed real as the feathery snow brushed past her.
Morning sickness had all but disappeared from her life and Sookie was feeling more energetic. Her work schedule still had her on late lunches and dinner, so she could sleep late. Fran knew Sean Bailey, the owner of the restaurant. Lora walked Sookie down the street to make the introduction, and Sookie was pretty sure the fix was in before the man had even met her. Sookie did her best to make sure Sean wouldn’t doubt the wisdom of bowing to Fran’s demands.
It didn’t take long for Sookie to develop favorites. She could tell her southern accent was an attraction to some. To others, it was the way she paid close attention to them and anticipated their requests. The Bailey wasn’t what you’d consider a top restaurant in Boston, but it wasn’t inexpensive either. ‘White tablecloth,’ they called it. Sookie took time and effort to make sure her uniform was always pressed and spotless. Black slacks and a crisp white button-down shirt with a black apron that fell to her knees. Sookie had already replaced her shirts once as her chest expanded. Sean knew she was pregnant but, as her following grew, she could tell his anxiety about keeping her in the front of the restaurant eased.
It was an interesting crowd; there were business people and shoppers early and neighborhood people with the occasional spillover crowd from Symphony Hall at night. The menu was what Sean called Irish/French fusion and there was always a waiting list, even during the week.
On those nights Sookie was off, or the restaurant was closed, she worked on the library or did correspondence for Fran. It wasn’t demanding work, and mostly it was the two of them trading stories. During the day Sookie ran errands. Sometimes it was groceries. Sometimes it was the post office. When Fran had guests, which wasn’t often, Sookie helped Lora clean up and then made herself scarce.
Sookie also had a standing appointment with Rae at the Women’s Health Clinic. Lora accompanied her the first time she went. Sookie was introduced as Susan and everything was moving along, but after blood was drawn, Rae came into the room with a worried look on her face. “You don’t seem to have a blood type,” she said, clearly puzzled.
“Oh, good grief!” Sookie exclaimed. “I forgot about that!”
“That’s quite the thing to forget!” Lora’s tone sounded as if she might be accusing Sookie of something, but then she placed her hand on Sookie’s back, and said, “Well, of course you’ve been under a lot of stress.”
Sookie turned to the nurse practitioner, “It’s a family condition. I’m assuming it’s genetic.” Sookie wasn’t thinking that telling this woman the genetics involved were of the fairy variety would help.
“Well,” Rae looked tense, “I don’t want to worry you, but if something were to happen, and you needed blood, we wouldn’t be able to help you.” Sookie could read the woman. She could ‘hear’ her real concern. Rae was wondering if she should protect the clinic by sending Sookie away, but, at the same time, she was struggling with the need to do the right thing by this pregnant mother who had a real problem.
“What if I were to donate my own blood now?” Sookie asked. “Would there be a way to store it, just in case?” Sookie had heard of this being done, but since in past she had access to vampires, it just hadn’t seemed important.
“I don’t like the idea of drawing blood while you’re pregnant,” Rae shook her head, “and I don’t have any way to freeze and store your blood here.”
“We have a friend who does medical research at Harvard. If we could draw a little at a time and arrange storage, would you be okay?” Although Sookie could ‘hear’ Rae still had doubts, she agreed and Lora said, “Let me see if she can do us a favor?”
Lora called Fran and not even ten minutes later, it was agreed Sookie (now Susan) would go to Harvard every other week to have blood drawn until they had three pints on standby. “You have good friends,” Rae told Sookie.
‘Don’t I know it,’ the telepath thought.
Time passed, and by March, Sookie had gone from thinking of herself as blooming to downright exploding. It was strange. If you looked at her from the back, Sookie really didn’t look much different, just a little broader than before, but when she turned, all you saw was belly. The pressure on her back made carrying trays uncomfortable, and Fran and Sean had convinced her it was time to take a leave of absence. Sookie agreed, but marched right down the street and found a part-time job helping out the night desk for a boutique hotel, also within walking distance of Fran’s home.
It was Sookie’s last week at The Bailey, and she was holding her own when she walked up to her newest table and found herself face to face with Karin the Slaughterer.
Karin was just as surprised as she was, and didn’t bother to hide her shock. “What are you doing here?” she hissed at the telepath.
“I work here,” Sookie stammered, then glancing at the handsome human sitting across from Karin added, “although this is my last week.”
“You’re breeding,” Karin’s eyes remained wide, her nostrils distended.
“Well, you’re a real quick study,” Sookie snapped, her shock turning to irritation. Of all the places to run into any of Eric’s progeny, this seemed so unlikely!
“How long will you be here?” Karin demanded.
“I’m gone after tonight,” Sookie lied.
Karin’s eyes narrowed, and Sookie could see she was recovering her balance. “Who else knows you’re here?” she asked.
“The people I stay with,” Sookie told her. She could see Sean watching her from across the room, so she purposely smiled in her professional way, and said, “We do have Royalty, if that would suit you, and has Monsieur selected a wine for this evening?”
“The Bon Temps people assume you were kidnapped,” Karin persisted.
“I left a note, and Mr. Cataliades explained things to my brother. I told Sam I was leaving. I needed a new start, and here I am,” and she turned to Karin’s companion who was watching them with a kind of glassy fascination. “You glamoured him?” Sookie whispered.
“It makes things easier later,” Karin shrugged. “He’ll have the lamb and the Caesar salad, plenty of anchovies. I don’t need blood. I’ll have mine later.” Sookie suspected the menu choices were purposeful.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t mention seeing me,” Sookie kept her smile pasted on her face, hoping Sean wouldn’t choose to investigate.
“Who would I tell?” Karin asked. “Technically, I’m still supposed to be guarding you. You running did me a favor. My agreement with my Maker prevents me from sharing this information, and there’s no one of our mutual acquaintance who would be interested, so…” It hurt, hearing Karin talk like this, but Sookie supposed she meant it to.
Sookie took the order and assured Sean, who caught her on the way to the kitchen, that all was well. “An old friend,” she told him, “Caught me by surprise.”
When Sookie served the main course, Karin said, “You know, Boston is popular with my kind. It’s only a matter of time before someone else spots you.”
“I appreciate that,” Sookie told her. “It has been months, though, and you’re the first vampire I’ve seen, so maybe I’ll do okay for a while longer.” Sookie didn’t want to tell Karin that she was reluctant to leave the City. She liked Fran and she liked the circle of friends she was forming. She liked Rae and the folks at the clinic, and she wanted to be here for her baby’s birth.
Karin tilted her head, “This end of the city is off the beaten path. We don’t come to this part often. It’s too close to their sports center and drunken humans don’t mix well with vampires. If I were you, I’d stay away from the financial district and Quincy Market. Those are prime hunting grounds. Oh, and the Clan Summit will be held here in January. There are many planning to attend. The demon can tell you when it will be held. You should stay out of sight until we leave.”
“Thank you, Karin,” Sookie said, meaning it. “I appreciate it.”
As Sookie moved among her tables, she would see Karin staring at her belly, her mouth pulled down in an all too apparent look of disgust. It was hard to ignore, and Sookie had to work hard to keep her mind focused on her customers.
That night Sookie wept. She cried for the unfairness of fate and she wished, not for the first time, that the child resting under her heart was Eric Northman’s.