Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
For weeks after seeing Karin, Sookie became hyper-vigilant. Every passing breeze seemed to put her instincts on high alert. She’d stop, regardless of where she was and what she was doing, close her eyes, and mentally scan as far as she could. It wasn’t unusual for her to pick up the faint buzz that signaled witch, or, more usually, latent witch. From time to time, she would feel the snarly red of Were, but she never found the void that signaled vampire. She’d focus, stretching out as far as she could, finding that as the days progressed, the exercise seemed to improve her span.
Days became weeks and April winds went from blustery to more gentle. The first hint of spring was on the trees in Boston Common and, with the warmer breezes, Sookie allowed her guard to slip, and then to fall, as the needs of her pregnancy became more pressing.
The visits to Rae, which had been twice a month, became weekly. Sookie had counted the calendar over and over and any way she figured it, forty weeks from the first time with Sam placed this baby’s due date in June, although no one believed it.
“It’s probably a fairy thing,” Fran told her. Over the months, Sookie and Fran had become close. Fran knew Sookie’s history and insisted that Sookie’s doctor be told certain things as well. “She thinks you’re Susan Hale,” Fran reminded Sookie. “It’s not perfect, but it’s some measure of protection. If you’re really worried, I can put a block on her ability to tell anyone.”
In the end, Sookie relented. “I’m so relieved,” Rae told them once she knew. “There were some things that weren’t adding up. You know,” and she gave Sookie a close look, “you’re not the first Supe I’ve treated.”
“That may be,” Sookie sighed, “but I’m probably the first one of me.”
Arrangements were made for Sookie to deliver in Fran’s home. It wasn’t optimal as far as Rae was concerned, but the doctor understood the need without having to know all the details. Supplies were laid in and the waiting began.
One of the factors that made Rae so amenable to the idea of avoiding the hospital was Sookie’s health. Sookie was the poster child for pregnant women. Her skin glowed and her hair was extra shiny. Her nails grew long and strong and, even though she needed more sleep, she felt great. There was no sign of any of the medical challenges little women carrying bigger babies seemed to contract later in their pregnancies. Sookie’s fingers didn’t swell and she could still wear all her shoes. Her blood pressure was amazingly low and there wasn’t any sign of gestational diabetes or hypertension. Everywhere she went, people just seemed to gravitate toward her, smiling first at her, then down at the huge expanse that her pregnancy clothes were not quite covering anymore.
“I can’t see buying bigger shirts!” Sookie moaned. “It seems like a waste of money for only another month or so.”
“We could cut up a couple bed sheets,” Fran teased. “You could start wearing them like togas.”
“That’s mean and besides, you’re too cheap to sacrifice your sheets!” Sookie sassed back.
Still, since the baby was large, contingency plans were made. The local hospital was less than fifteen minutes away, as long as it wasn’t rush hour. “Even an ambulance makes slow progress in a city like this,” Rae warned.
As much as the thought of complications made Sookie nervous, the thought of being spotted worried her more.
It was the last day of April when Sean Bailey came over for dinner. In truth, he was making the dinner. It was something that started shortly after Sookie left the restaurant. Sean asked if Sookie would take over his bookkeeping and she agreed. He came by Fran’s that first Monday to talk through the accounting program he’d forwarded and to explain the stack of receipts he collected in a box. As Sookie started looking over the restaurant’s records, Sean stood up, tied a towel around his hips, and started rooting around in the refrigerator. Within no time, he’d made omelets for all of them, and a tradition was born.
From that night forward, every Monday night, which was the night the restaurant was closed, Sean would swing by. He’d needle Fran, hand the box of receipts to Sookie, and make dinner for the three of them.
Fran told Sookie that she thought Sean was sweet on her, and Sookie knew her landlady was right. Sean was over forty and a confirmed bachelor, but there was something about Susan Hale that had sparked an interest. Sean liked Fran and enjoyed her sarcastic views and sharp humor, but it was Susan Hale who made him laugh. Sookie could feel him watching her and she knew his feelings were beginning to grow. A little voice was telling Sookie she needed to put an end to it, but there was something flattering in knowing that even though she was pregnant and not at her best, Sean still found her attractive.
“You don’t have to marry him,” Fran told her after Sean left one night. “He could be your friend with benefits.”
“I don’t think that would be fair,” Sookie replied, and she resolved to set things straight, but somehow the opportunity hadn’t presented itself yet.
As they finished the dishes that evening, Sookie was surprised by a sudden pain. It felt like a cramp and she leaned over, telling Fran, “I don’t think dinner sat well.”
“Not surprised,” Fran grinned, and then turning to Sean, she said, “I told you not to add the cumin!”
Twenty minutes later, as Sookie worked on the receipts, she found she had to stand up and walk around. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she groaned, pressing her back, “but I really don’t feel well.”
“Well, I have a pretty good idea,” Fran told her, “and I think we’d better call Rae.”
Sean helped Sookie sit down and then called Rae’s emergency number, which was taped to the fridge.
“Why don’t you give her a hand upstairs?” Fran asked Sean, “I’ll call Lora. It could be a long night.”
“What can I do for you, Susan?” Sean asked as he walked beside her up the stairs, his hand under her arm.
“Just wish me well,” Sookie answered. She stared in this kind man’s face. She saw all the things she’d seen in Sam Merlotte. Sean was patient and gentle. He honestly cared for her, and she knew he was a good man who would treat her right, but Sookie also knew that wasn’t enough.
As they approached her bedroom door, Sookie stopped and looking at Sean, told him, “I know you’re building some kind of hope about me, but I wish you wouldn’t.”
Sean’s eyes showed his hurt for just a moment and Sookie wished things could be different. “Let me guess. Your heart belongs to someone else,” and he looked at her belly. Sookie could tell he was thinking she was running away from the baby’s father, and, with her southern accent, he had made an assumption that wasn’t flattering.
It stung a little, that Sean would think she was the kind of woman who would be in love with someone she had to run from, but pride seemed a small price to pay to let Sean keep his dignity. If agreeing with him meant he thought a little less of her, that was okay. She purposely laid her hand alongside her belly and said, “Yeah, I guess that’s the truth.” Smiling at Sean, she added, “Thanks for helping me up here. Fran will give you call when it’s over, if you’d like.”
“I would, and good luck,” he told her. Sean turned to walk down the stairs and he didn’t look back. Sookie heard his thoughts as he relegated Susan Hale to permanent friend status and Sookie was surprised at how it made her swallow, but then the next pain hit, like a belt slowly tightening, and Sean Bailey and his lost regard stopped feeling important.
When Rae arrived, Lora and Fran were already upstairs in Sookie’s room. Lora was changing the bed, using the special bed protector and old sheets and towels that they’d set aside for just this time. Sookie was in the bathroom. The pains were coming low and strong, and she found she couldn’t decide if she was going to be sick from one end or the other.
“That’s normal,” Rae assured her, and with Lora, they helped Sookie change out of her clothes and into the loose robe she’d wear until things were over.
“How long do you think this will take?” Sookie asked, rubbing the side of her belly as the pain subsided.
“As long as it takes,” Rae said sympathetically. “If things get too tough, I alerted the hospital and they’re on standby. As least this little one decided to get started nice and late, so you won’t have to worry about delivering in a traffic jam.”
For the first two hours, the pains came fairly regularly. They were well-spaced, twenty to thirty minutes apart, and they all lasted for several minutes. Rae told Sookie everything was looking good, but then things stopped. They had almost an hour where there were no pains at all. “False labor?” Fran asked.
“Nope,” Rae shook her head. “This baby is just taking a rest before the real show begins.” When Sookie got up to walk with Lora back and forth into the sitting room, Rae told the landlady, “The baby is big. If she starts having problems, I’m calling the ambulance. I’m not asking permission.”
“I’ll back you,” Fran nodded. “I’ve become fond of her, and, besides, she’s promised I’ll be godmother to the child. Do you know what it is?” Sookie had been adamant that she didn’t want to know the baby’s gender, refusing to look at the ultrasounds in case she saw something by accident.
“I do,” Rae smiled. “I don’t think Susan wants to tell.”
“Susan doesn’t want to know. That’s different. Besides, I’m old. No shock is good for me, so it would be better if you gave me a heads up now,” and Fran fixed the doctor with her best beady eye.
“You’re going to have to put up with a Y chromosome,” Rae whispered.
“Well, shit!” Fran said sourly, then just as quickly, “But that’s okay. I’ll finally have a chance to train one of them right.”
Sookie came back, leaning heavily on Lora’s arm, bent over, and holding her belly. “We’re moving again,” Lora confirmed, and this time, the pains came closer together.
Rae was standing beside Sookie when her water broke. Lora grabbed a towel, and Rae helped Sookie step on it, and then helped her walk to the bathroom to get cleaned up, and the long night truly began.
When it passed midnight and things seemed to stall again, Sookie told Rae, “I don’t think I can do this.”
“You’re doing fine,” Rae assured her, but she used a fetal monitoring device she’d brought with her and checked, just in case.
By one in the morning, Sookie was starting to push, but, again, things seemed to stall. “I know you don’t want to go to the hospital,” Rae told her, “but if things don’t start moving along, I am going to call it, and you’re going to be taking a trip.”
Sookie thought about things. She was tired and aching. The pains when they came had her grunting and roaring, but she felt certain that if she had this baby in a hospital, it would be a problem. She couldn’t explain why she thought that, but the certainty of her conviction gave her strength.
As the clock chimed two in the morning, the witching hour, Corbett Eric Hale slid into the world. He was eight pounds and twelve ounces of big-shouldered, big-headed, blond baby. When Rae laid him on Sookie’s chest, Fran gasped, “He’s as big as a toddler!”
“He doesn’t look premature to me!” Lora was smiling, and she stroked Sookie’s hair back from her forehead.
Sookie couldn’t stop looking at her son. He didn’t cry. Instead, he seemed to be interested in everything around him, his big blue eyes moving from one object to the next as he pushed himself up on his arms. He didn’t seem tired or exhausted by the experience, but then he lowered himself, laying his head against Sookie’s chest, and she felt something that reminded her of that sense of well-being she got when her fairy relatives breathed into her. She remembered Dermot telling her that she would always feel best when in contact with her kind.
“Mine!” Sookie sighed and, in that moment, she felt her own exhaustion. She tried not to think too much about the work still being done on her. Rae grumbled about tearing and the doctor was busy stitching her up.
Lora lifted the baby away and took him into the bathroom to clean him up. When she returned, she lay the swaddled infant in Fran’s lap until Sookie could get cleaned up, too. “He came too fast in the end,” Rae told Sookie as she sat in an armchair watching Lora change the bed. “I had to give you a lot of stitches, so you’re going to need to be careful. If you tear them, you could be in big trouble. I don’t want you picking him up on your own for a couple days. I also want you to stay off your feet as much as possible.”
Turning to Fran, Rae said, “I’m going to order her a nurse. Won’t be long, just a couple days to come in and check on her. I’m going to have a walker dropped off later today, too. I want her to use it when she goes to the bathroom. Things are going to hurt, and I don’t want her stumbling and falling. If I had realized how big this baby was, I would have insisted she be in the hospital.”
“All’s well that ends well,” Fran said sharply. “I think this one was just waiting for the opportune time.”
“And what time was that?” Lora asked as she lifted the baby from Fran and returned him to Sookie’s arms.
“The time when the veil between the world of the dead and this world is thinnest,” Fran replied. “I don’t think it’s coincidence he chose Beltane to join the world.” Shuffling closer, Fran laid her hand on his head. “He is a handsome boy,” the landlady assured Sookie, “though I can’t say he looks like some Shifter’s child.”
“Definitely not Were,” Rae agreed, “but Shifter? That was the father?” The doctor shrugged, then told Sookie, “If you’re worried about the child being different, most Supe children don’t manifest any of their differences until puberty. I don’t see anything about your boy that would hint that he’s anything other than any other normal, human baby. Well, other than the fact he’s near perfect for a natural birth. Most babies have some kind of funky feature that straightens out, but this one,” and Rae leaned over him, his eyes closed and his thumb in his mouth, “this one is picture perfect.”
Rae told Sookie (Susan) it would take a few days for her milk to come in. Sookie was resolved to try and breast feed, a decision that had enthusiastic support from both Fran and Lora. They did have a supply of pre-made baby bottles for these first few days, and Lora brought the portable cradle up close to Sookie’s bed.
A spare bed was made up in the sitting room across the hall and Lora assured Sookie that she would be there to get up to help when the baby cried. “I don’t want you messing up the doctor’s work,” she said gently.
Sookie turned on her side, her eyes full of the baby laying in the bassinet next to her. Her eyes blinked, once, then twice, then closed completely.
“Let’s get you downstairs,” Lora told Fran.
“I’ll take her,” Rae offered, and the two women walked slowly down the stairs and then into Fran’s bedroom.
“What do you think he is?” Rae asked the older woman.
“What?” Fran challenged. “You don’t think he’s a shifter’s son?”
“I can tell you don’t,” the doctor shot back.
“Fair enough,” Fran nodded, sitting heavily on the edge of her bed. “Well,” she said, “if you ask me, I think our friend has herself that rarest of the rare. I think she has her heart’s desire.”
“What does that mean?” Rae asked.
“I don’t think I know,” Fran smiled, and then laying down, sighed. “Thank you, Rae. You are a good friend.”
“And you are an aggravating woman,” Rae replied affectionately.
The next morning when Fran came downstairs, Lora was sitting in the kitchen, young Corbett in her lap drinking a bottle. “She’s sleeping so soundly, I couldn’t bring myself to wake her,” Lora sighed.
Fran nodded, “Corbett is a good name for him. He’s like a raven, I think. More than he appears.”
“Sookie said she’s going to call him Ricky,” Lora told the older woman.
It made Fran laugh. “Of course she is!” she exclaimed, then holding out her arms, accepted the child. “Well, Ricky,” she said, quietly looking into wide-open blue eyes, “I’m your godmother, Fran. Welcome to the light, little man.”
Slowly, the rhythms of the house found their level again. It took Sookie longer to recover her energy than she could find patience to endure. Lora and Fran ended up reading her the riot act. Fran threatened to cast a spell that would trap her in her bed, but, finally, the stitches healed enough that Sookie was released to walk downstairs.
The start of May brought unseasonably warm weather, and Mr. Cataliades found the new mother sitting in the enclosed backyard, leaning over her son. Ricky loved being in the sun. He was alert for an infant and his head turned when the attorney walked toward them.
“You are more beautiful than ever,” the demon gallantly saluted Sookie, bending over her hand. “And who is this?” he asked, turning a little.
“Ricky,” Sookie told him. “Ricky Hale.”
Mr. Cataliades stood very still, then he turned his head. Ricky continued to watch him, but, after a bit, the baby yawned and looked away. “That’s as it should be, I suppose,” the attorney said.
“What?” Sookie asked, suddenly anxious.
“Don’t worry!” the demon said rather guiltily, dropping into a chair next to the telepath. “I was checking for any sign that your son is telepathic, but I can’t sense anything from him.”
“So, that’s good?” Sookie said hopefully.
“Yes, I think so,” Mr. Cataliades assured her. “I’ve brought some papers for you to review and sign,” and he turned to the briefcase he’d set on the ground.
It was agreed they’d move inside, and Mr. Cataliades surprised her by scooping up her son and cradling him rather expertly against his shoulder. “It’s strange how you can realize you missed a thing, even though you haven’t thought about it in a long time,” the attorney told Sookie, and he sighed.
“Let me take him,” Lora hustled forward as they entered the kitchen. “It’s time for his nap and that will let you two visit.”
“He has many protectors,” Desmond said absently, watching the woman hustle toward the stairs with her charge. Turning to Sookie, he said, “Were you aware of the wards in place around the house? They are strong. They almost had me fooled. I would have walked right by if I didn’t know what I was looking for. Fran is an exceptional witch.”
“She is,” Sookie agreed. “I find I’m happy here.”
Mr. Cataliades pulled out several contracts, “These are the Bills of Sale for the house. The buyer was willing to pay a bonus for a promise of anonymity.”
“Am I going to be unhappy when I find out who owns the place?” Sookie asked.
“No, I don’t believe so,” and Desmond looked down to try and hide a quick smile.
“I know it’s someone I know. Let me guess. If I ever want the place back, the buyer will sell it to me,” and Sookie shook her head. “All these plots and secrets! I really don’t ever see myself going back there!”
“If not for yourself, you have your son to consider,” and the attorney gave her a knowing look. “Your son deserves to meet his family…” For a minute, Sookie thought Mr. Cataliades was talking about Sam and she opened her mouth to speak, but he finished, “His cousins. You should know your brother approached me and my agents, asking about the house. He was not pleased about the arrangement. I suspect he will search you out about it.”
“I told you Jason wouldn’t like it,” Sookie sighed. “Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
“There is something else,” the attorney told her as he watched her sign the papers that authorized all the proceeds to be deposited in a special account. “There is trouble brewing and you should be on the alert. I don’t know if you recall Stan, the new King of Texas.” When Sookie said she did, Mr. Cataliades said, “There is bad blood between Stan and Felipe de Castro. Some are saying the dispute could brew into an all-out war and there are some monarchs who are taking sides.”
“Well,” Sookie shrugged, “guess that’s one more reason I’m glad I’m here and not there.”
The attorney looked at her in a way that made Sookie feel naïve, “It won’t take Felipe long to start wondering where you are. Stan made a play to capture Barry. As you know, he is related to me and I have taken steps to hide him. Felipe will want a telepath in his retinue. It would give him an advantage. I haven’t heard that he’s actively looking for you yet, but when Stan’s frustration over losing Barry becomes more public, I think we can assume De Castro’s thoughts will turn to his own telepath.”
“No one knows where I am,” Sookie shook her head. “Aside from Karin, I haven’t seen one vampire.”
“You saw Northman’s progeny?” and the attorney’s gaze sharpened. Sookie described the encounter and Cataliades sat back. “You know there is a Summit being held in Boston in January,” he stated. When Sookie acknowledged she remembered, the attorney said, “The advance team will be here any day. They will meet with the hotel they have selected and scout out the City. It would be better if you were out of the City for a period of time this summer.”
“I can just not go out at night,” Sookie said reasonably. “Ricky and I keep pretty much the same hours, so by eight we’re both asleep.”
“It’s not just the vampires,” Mr. Cataliades chastened her, “It’s their retinues. They have day men and Weres who will do their bidding. You probably aren’t aware of it, but you have a distinct aroma. Anyone downwind of you will be drawn to you. You smell strongly of fairy.”
“Oh!” and Sookie had nothing to say.
“Well, I was planning to spend my two months in Chester, Massachusetts,” Fran said from the door. Lora was right behind her, and she pulled a pitcher of tea from the refrigerator as Fran joined Sookie and the demon at the table.
“I don’t recall you mentioning you were leaving!” Sookie blurted out.
“I don’t recall that it was my job to tell you!” Fran snapped back. “I have a place out there.”
“I’ve never heard of Chester,” the attorney sat back.
“I’m not surprised,” Fran said thinly. “Not a lot out there to attract a fancy attorney like you. Three private schools, an artists’ colony over the summer, and a theater series. It’s just a sleepy, little, New England town in the foothills of the Berkshires. I’ve had the house out there forever, but I wasn’t sure I was going to go at all unless Sookie was feeling better. I can’t think of a better place to spend the summer for a new baby,” and she turned to Sookie, “Unless you have other plans?”
“Sounds fine to me,” Sookie shrugged.
“Can you leave soon?” Mr. Cataliades pressed.
“So, you think the troubles will reach for her?” Fran asked.
“What?” Sookie felt as if she was in the middle of an adult conversation and she was the only child. “You know about this, too?” she challenged Fran.
“Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I don’t listen to the gossip,” Fran waved her hand.
“Both sides have offered Fran money,” Lora ratted her friend out as she placed the tray with the tea and glasses on the table.
“So, you will decline?” the attorney asked.
“I’ve already declined!” Fran protested. “I have no time for politics. It’s nothing but trouble and in the end, everyone loses!”
“If they’ve found you,” Sookie started to worry, and when Ricky started to cry in the other room, Sookie felt her worry escalate.
“We can leave by next week,” Fran told her after Sookie walked back into the room, her son in her arms. Ricky was making his hungry noise and Sookie excused herself to take her son upstairs. She didn’t mind feeding him in front of women she knew, but there was something bone deep that made Sookie shy about feeding him in front of others, particularly men.
“You think this is serious, don’t you?” Fran asked the attorney once Sookie left the room.
“I can’t tell,” he told her. “I’ve seen these things blow over. I’ve even seen them end in a royal wedding. What is worrisome is that they are lining up allies and assets.”
“Then I’ll make sure there is one less asset for them to find,” and the two touched tea glasses as they waited for Sookie to return.
Chester was a revelation. Sookie had read about places like this. She felt as if she’d stepped into Little Women or Eight Cousins. There were tidy clapboard houses set around a green with a white church with a high, pointed steeple positioned at the end. Fran’s house was off the green and sat on a large, green lot surrounded by perennial gardens and white picket fences. There was a barn to the back of the property and large oak trees. “This place is like a dream!” she breathed as she stood beside the Prius, Ricky in her arms.
Fran led the way and the door opened onto wide, wooden plank floors and a central hall that had formal sitting rooms to the left and to the right. The front door had a carved wood frame and a glass, half-moon transom over the top. The furniture was draped in drop cloths. Sookie took Fran’s arm and, following her directions, walked them both back to the kitchen. Fran lowered herself onto a chair with a sigh, and waved toward the old-style phone connected to the wall. “There is a number beside the phone for Sarah. Call her and let her know we’re here. She’s expecting us.”
“Do you have working people everywhere you go?” Sookie asked as she dialed. “What are you? Threatening their families? Are they in thrall to you?”
“I pay well, Smarty Pants,” Fran groused. “Now, after you make that call, you better find a fresh diaper for my godson. He stinks to high heaven!”
It was a debate between them as to what diaper method should be used. Sookie understood the negative impact to the environment that disposable diapers presented, but she wasn’t keen about using a diaper service or having to spend every day washing dirty diapers herself. Scrunching up her face, Sookie plopped her soggy son on Fran’s lap and headed out to the car.
Sookie was bringing in the rest of the suitcases when Sarah walked up the drive. “You must be Sookie,” the slight, grey-haired woman said. “I have heard so much about you! You are going to join us for sketching classes this summer, aren’t you?” and before Sookie could say one more word, Sarah had the suitcases from her and was herding her toward the house in a running dialogue that didn’t allow Sookie to add one word in edgewise.
Sarah took the suitcases straight to the back of the house and set them next to a double bed with an iron headboard, and then walked back to the kitchen. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “There you are!” and she kissed Fran’s head while scooping up Ricky at the same time. “Good grief! He’s wet! Here!” and Sookie found her son back in her hands. Fran and Sarah started talking, and Sookie realized their way of conversing seemed to involve talking louder and louder until the other acknowledged what was said. It was noisy and funny in the way best friends can be. Sookie took Ricky up the stairs to the room that was described as being set aside for her. She glanced at the steep staircase and thanked goodness Ricky wasn’t crawling yet.
Her bags were next to the bed, and, as Fran had described, there was an old-fashioned cradle against the far wall with a sheet draped over it to keep the dust out. Using the floor, Sookie started to change Ricky’s diaper, but when she saw the mess that awaited her, she picked him up and walked down the hall in search of a bathroom. What she found was a lovely modern bathroom, complete with tub and separate shower, that was shared between her bedroom and the one next door. She wondered if the hot water was turned on, but she didn’t have to wait long to find her answer. Plugging the tub, Sookie ran the water until it was about hip deep, and then after doing some triage wiping and washing of her son, Sookie stepped into the tub and sat Ricky in her lap.
Her son loved taking baths. He kicked at the water and laughed. He would try to grab the water and put it in his mouth. Sookie pulled a washcloth from the stack that was in the small cabinet beside the bathtub and squeezed the warm water over him, which made him laugh more. There was something in the way his eyes squeezed and his mouth opened that made her remember taking baths with Eric Northman once upon a time, causing a sharp pain that squeezed her heart.
As if he somehow knew, Ricky stopped laughing and looked at her, but before she could wonder, he leaned forward, trying to capture her breast, and so Sookie shifted him and she sat in the warm tub, squeezing warm water over her son as he ate. The light slanted through the little window and hit the beveled glass panels, sending small rainbows around the room. Ricky detached long enough to chuckle, and then nuzzled back to her again. It was a perfect moment.
When Sookie returned downstairs, she met Sarah’s twin sons. They were students at the nearby private school, but working for their mother over the summer. They were pulling sheets from the furniture in each room and folding them, revealing beautiful, shining, dark wood furniture. Sarah and Fran were still in the kitchen loudly talking. “Oh! There you are!” Fran greeted her with more animation than Sookie had seen in her landlady, and the best summer of her life began.
Ricky was a tanned, sturdy, six-month-old when they returned to Boston in early November. As they got into the car, Sookie found she was reluctant to leave Chester. She had formed an attachment to the town. Even after the first snows fell and Sookie fell on ice, she found she loved the little town. The house was capable of being a year-round residence, but Fran felt too fragile to face the kind of winter that a northern New England town could dish out. “You can actually lose power out here,” Fran told Sookie. “You have to use the fireplaces and that takes wood and more energy than I have!”
Ricky slept for part of the trip, but for the rest he remained oddly subdued, as if he’d caught Sookie’s mood. He stared out the window and pointed, using his noises to attract Fran’s attention. As agreed, Sookie drove and Fran rode in the back with Ricky. It was a situation that suited them all.
Lora was waiting for them as they walked through the garage and across the yard. It was almost comical, watching her struggle as she tried to decide who to embrace first, Fran or Ricky. Dinner and Sean were both waiting for them inside. “I’m glad you’re back, Susan” he said quietly, and kissed Sookie on the cheek before embracing Fran, and squeezing her until she protested.
“You’ll resume my bookkeeping, right?” Sean asked as dinner was winding down.
“If you’d like,” Sookie nodded. She could hear that Sean had missed her and that it troubled him. She sighed and tucked that away, instead wondering if she could line up a couple more bookkeeping jobs from the small businesses around them. It would keep her from having to leave the house and Ricky.
As they were cleaning up the table, Lora exclaimed, “Oh, good grief! I almost forgot.”
Sookie could tell that the news Lora had wasn’t exactly good and she felt herself tense. A moment later, she could tell it was mixed news indeed. “Your brother, Jason, is in town,” Lora told her. “He stopped by here yesterday and I told him you were on your way home. He said he’d be back again tomorrow.”
“Great!” Sookie said, and glancing at her son who was drowsing in Fran’s arms, she was pretty sure it wasn’t good news. Not good news at all.
“Well, you sure still know your way around biscuits and gravy!” Jason was being his full-on charming self. Sookie wasn’t sure it was his original plan, but then he met Fran. If there was one thing Jason did well, it was work older women. He pulled out his dimple and his cleft chin, turned up the ‘aw shucks,’ and went all out on the Southern manners. There were plenty of ‘Yes, ma’am’s’ and ‘No, ma’am’s.’ He pulled out chairs and asked opinions. If Sookie hadn’t seen it so often, she knew she would have been pulled in.
Fortunately, Fran came pre-wired with a bad attitude toward men in general, and charming men in particular. She told Sookie later that when she saw a man smile as often as her brother had during lunch, she immediately assumed half of what he was saying was a lie.
“Well, Jeez, Sook! I ain’t disputing the house was yours to sell to whoever you wanted,” Jason leaned closer, his smile slipping a little. “I’m just saying you could have offered me a shot at it first before selling it to strangers.”
“You have our parents’ house,” Sookie repeated for the second time. “I know you don’t have a mortgage right now, but you do have loans out for your truck and Michelle’s car.” Sookie was pretty sure Jason had an equity loan out against the house as well that he pulled to pay credit card bills. Michelle and Jason weren’t poor, but they didn’t live frugal either, and Michelle wasn’t working.
“But strangers!” Jason’s smile slipped pretty well off. “And now you’re telling me you don’t even know who these people are! How do you think that’s going to go over?” And there it was. Jason wasn’t really angry about the house. He was angry about how his sister bringing outsiders into the community would make him look.
“I somehow don’t think they will be strangers to us,” Sookie said, and gave Jason a look she hoped he’d catch.
“Oh!” Jason sat back, his pout starting to grow, “So, you do know who it is. You just don’t want to tell me!”
With a sigh, Sookie wiped her hands, and sat down across from Jason, “I honestly don’t know. Mr. Cataliades, you remember him?” and Sookie waited for Jason to nod once, “He handled it. Whoever it was wanted their name shielded, but I’m betting it’s our Fae relatives.”
“Those bastards are back?” Jason huffed. Jason and Dermot had formed a relationship of sorts, and you could see why since they looked almost identical, but Jason had no good opinion of the rest of the Fae, including their Great Grandfather.
“I don’t really think they are totally back,” Sookie shook her head, “but, apparently, they aren’t as far away as they once were.”
“You’re sure it’s them?” and Jason got a piggy look.
“Honestly? No, I’m not one hundred percent certain, but they’re the only ones who would want to stay secret and would have the money.”
“Could be your vampire friends,” Jason said meanly.
“I don’t have any vampire friends anymore,” Sookie replied, and the pain of that statement had her biting her lip.
“Yeah, it was a good thing that you came to your senses,” Jason’s smile returned, not noticing Sookie’s discomfort. He leaned back, and Sookie thought he was coming to why he was here. “I know you felt you had to get away. Michelle told me that most women feel they have to do that every once in a while and you did go through some pretty tough times. There was a while there when you were in the hospital as much as you were home. And then there was all that mess with Northman, but you’ve had almost a whole year and it’s time for you to come home.”
“I’m not planning on coming back,” Sookie said the words quietly, but with conviction, and Jason must have heard it because his eyes widened and his smile fell again.
“Look, Sookie, enough is enough! I get that the house is gone, but I talked with Sam and he’d rent you one of his apartments reasonable. You still have half-ownership in Merlotte’s and he’d take you back.” Jason sat back, and his eyes dropped as he said, “Of course, you probably didn’t hear that Sam found someone. She’s a Were from Minden and it’s looking kind of serious.” He glanced up through his eyelashes, and Sookie realized Jason thought Sookie would be jealous.
“That’s good,” Sookie said sincerely. “Sam deserves someone who can make him happy. It just was never going to be me.”
“Is that why you left?” Jason asked. “Because you fought with Sam?”
“There were lots of reasons,” Sookie started to say, but then she heard the front door open. “There was one big reason, and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t tell you about it before now.” Sookie stood up, “If you’ll just wait a minute,” and she walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
Lora had the stroller in the hallway and she was unsnapping the restraints. Ricky’s eyes found her and his happy, drooling smile lit up his whole face. “There’s my man!” Sookie reached in and helped to pull him from his warmer jacket. In answer to the question on Lora’s face, Sookie said in a sing song voice, “Guess who’s come to meet you? Your Uncle Jason!” She pulled Ricky up to her shoulder and kissed the side of his head, and he rewarded her with a wet, goopy mark against her cheek as he snuggled his nose into her neck.
Lora trailed them into the kitchen. Jason was pouring Fran more tea and he had his party manners face in place. Sookie waited for him to set the pitcher down before she said, “Jase? I’d like you to meet someone.” She turned Ricky a little before saying, “This is your nephew, Corbett.”
Jason’s tentative smile drained from his face and was replaced by a faint tint of pink. His mouth worked as he looked at Ricky, and then his eyes snapped to Sookie. Sookie could see that he was angry, but it didn’t make sense until he said, “You had that Deader’s baby? What the fuck, Sookie!”
“What are you talking about?” Sookie instinctively brought Ricky closer to her as he jumped a little in her arms, startled by her brother’s roar. “You know vampires can’t have babies! Ricky is Sam’s child. I’m sorry to spring it on you this way, but I didn’t want to be with Sam, and I just couldn’t stay in Bon Temps knowing I was going to have a baby. Ricky isn’t the only reason I left, but he’s one of the main ones.”
As always, contact with her skin made both she and Ricky feel better, and she felt him settle against her. Ricky lifted his head from her shoulder and looked at Jason again, curious about this new person. It was one of the fun things about her son, strangers were just another adventure for him. Sookie didn’t think her child had a shy bone in his body.
Jason sat down heavily, and then leaned back, his hands loose over his knees. Sookie walked further into the kitchen and sat back down herself. Ricky squirmed in her lap. He smiled at Fran and then looked back at Jason. Making up his mind, he held his hands out to Fran and Sookie automatically rose, deposited her boy in his favorite’s arms, and then refreshed her own tea before sitting back down.
“You are going to honestly tell me that ain’t Northman’s?” Jason said, staring at Ricky. “And what are you calling him?”
“Ricky,” Sookie replied. “Corbett is a mouthful. Ricky just seemed to fit.”
“He’s smart as they come,” Fran added. Her hands were busy, but her eyes remained fastened on Jason and it wasn’t lost on her brother.
“Well, hell,” Jason glanced back at Sookie, “He looks just like him.”
“He looks just like you,” Sookie countered. “I don’t have our baby pictures anymore, but Ricky looks like us. When he smiles, he looks a lot like Dermot.”
“Sam didn’t say anything about this.” Sookie could see the moment her brother landed on what he felt was something clever. “You’d think a man would mention he had a child somewhere if he knew,” and Jason let it hang there.
“I didn’t tell him,” Sookie confirmed what her brother was hinting. “I should have, but I wasn’t in a good place when I left.”
“A man has a right to know he has a child, Sookie. I can’t believe you haven’t told him. That’s just cold!” Jason sat back, his confidence and swagger returning. “Now you have to come back. You have to bring this boy back so he can know his Daddy.”
“You just told me Sam’s moved on,” Sookie said quickly. “I’m not arguing that Sam doesn’t deserve to know. He does, and its past time for me to tell him, but I’m not going to ruin what he has going by parading into town with a child he never wanted.”
“You got to tell him!” Jason was feeling himself on firm ground and he leaned forward. “A man has a right to know!”
“Not everyone is like you,” Sookie countered. “And by the way, if Dawn, or one of those other scores of females who couldn’t wait to open their legs to you, showed up on Michelle’s doorstep with a little Jason in her arms, how do you think that would go?” It was almost funny, watching the slow progress of an idea come into Jason’s head. When she saw he was a little less sure of himself, she pounced, “Exactly! Now, if Sam wants to meet him, I’ll take Ricky down there. But I’m going to call him first.” Jason opened his mouth to say something, and Sookie used the lesson she’d learned here and talked first. “You’re right. I should have let him know a long time ago, but now is better than never, right?”
Sookie knew that coming clean now with Sam was inevitable. Jason would return home and let it slip. It was a certainty. Her brother couldn’t keep a secret if it was tattooed on his backside where he couldn’t see it and no one told him what it said, and this was something Jason didn’t think should be a secret. Sookie knew the minute Jason was home, his mouth would run, and in no time, the whole town would know that Sookie had an illegitimate boy.
By the time Jason left, he’d held Ricky, and even complimented Sookie on his size and behavior. He talked about her coming home for Thanksgiving, but Sookie told him that wasn’t likely, but maybe next year.
“I’m still your brother,” he told her when he was leaving. “You can’t just pretend you don’t have family anymore,” and for a moment, Sookie saw the two of them sitting side by side, holding hands in those terrible days right after their parents were killed. Jason was her older brother, and Sookie could see that there was some part of his visit that was because he was honestly worried about her. When Sookie hugged him, she was sincere.
“I’m getting better,” she told her brother. “I wasn’t, Jason. I was in a dark place, but being here is good for me. It’s good for Ricky and me. It’s a new start, and I needed that. I didn’t leave because I didn’t love you, and I do miss you. We’ll figure this out.”
“You’re family,” Jason told her, and Sookie was grateful that under all of it, her brother still felt that she was irreplaceable in his life. It wasn’t something he showed often, but it made Sookie feel whole.