I woke the next morning to the sound of rain against the windowpane. The temperature had dropped and I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and listened to the tapping. My body was drenched in sweat, my heart thudding out of sync as I tried to gather my breath. Sleep had been fitful and punctuated by the stuttering frames of a movie that only showed half the story. Chains clanked along darkened hallways as I groped my way through the strobing landscape. A face faded in and out of focus as the world flickered black and white. Someone called my name, but I reached out, grabbing air every time I thought I might be getting close enough to find them.
I threw the covers back and forced my feet to the bathroom, turning on the shower as hot as I could stand it. I stood under the streaming water and tried to make sense of the revelations of the last twenty-four hours. There was something skittering at the edge of my awareness that I needed to know, something I needed to figure out on my own. Standing in the steam, I made the decision to call Sam and tell him I needed some time off. Thanks to the money left to me by Claudine, as well as the incredibly quick sale of Hooligan’s, I didn’t need to worry about the bills for once in my life and could take the time to sort it all out.
I hoped Sam would understand and truthfully it would do us both some good. Neither of us had considered how difficult it would be to date someone we worked with. Even though I had wanted to take it slow, seeing him all the time hadn’t really been conducive to that. I had done the exact opposite of what I said I wanted by jumping right into a relationship with him. It hadn’t helped that we had become intimate only days after the end of my relationship with Eric, but at the time I needed comfort from someone who wouldn’t challenge me. I’d convinced myself it was what I wanted, but what if Karin was right? What if there really was no way for me to live a normal life?
I admitted it was difficult, listening to the rumors about me that swirled through the minds of the patrons who frequented Merlotte’s. They thought he was just next in line. I knew that for a girl who hadn’t dated much initially, I’d certainly had a string of beaus in the last few years. But for all my declarations that I didn’t care if the Cluviel Dor had changed me, I knew I was lying to myself. I didn’t like it any more than I liked it when I couldn’t sort Eric’s feelings from my own when we were bonded.
I needed to know if it was the magic wish I’d inherited from my grandmother, or if I really did have feelings for Sam. He’d been my friend for so long that when he’d died I’d suffered a shock. Losing someone so close to you would do that. All those things you meant to do, but never did, the emotions that flitted around, but never came to full awareness, smacked you dead in the face. Was the love that I felt for Sam truly a result of the Cluviel Dor, or a consequence of losing someone I was so close to? Had I confused the love I felt in my comfortable friendship with Sam for a romantic love?
Because we’d spent so much time together in the last two months I couldn’t tell. I knew it wasn’t the same as it was with Eric, but I’d assumed that the passion that I’d felt was part of the danger that being with a vampire inevitably inspired. I needed to sort it out, needed to figure out my place in the world without the dependence on a relationship. But more than that, I needed to figure out how to reconcile what Eric had done for me with how I had treated him.
I placed my hands against the tile of the shower and let the water course down my body. It wasn’t until the water had run cold that I turned it off and stepped out, staring at my foggy reflection in the mirror. I chuckled ironically thinking that it really did echo how I felt about myself. I couldn’t tell anymore who I was. Was I just a normal girl, content to work in a bar, serving patrons whose minds buffeted mine with their small town thoughts? Or was I the woman Eric had seen in me, the one I never acknowledged? Could my telepathy be a gift, rather than the burden it had always seemed?
I toweled off, throwing on a pair of jeans and an old University of Louisiana sweatshirt. The shower had cleared my thoughts, even if I still didn’t have any answers, and I called Sam. He wasn’t up yet, so I left a message that I needed some time off, and asked him to give me a call when he got a chance. Afterwards I called Holly and Andrea explaining that I’d be away from the bar and hoped they wouldn’t mind filling in a bit. Holly was up already and happy to help, having gotten through the strenuous time of wedding planning. She and Hoyt were settling easily into domestic bliss, but she was anxious to get back to work. I left a message for Andrea, but knew she wouldn’t mind. We were just coming out of the slower summer months and she had mentioned to me on a couple of occasions that she could use the money. When Sam returned my call I’d assure him that there would be coverage for the shifts I was missing. Having succeeded in freeing up my schedule I started where I usually did, by cleaning the house. Any time I put my physical house in order it helped me to organize my mental contemplations as well.
I was halfway through scrubbing the kitchen when the phone rang. Pulling off my rubber gloves I grabbed the phone, noticing from the caller ID that it was Sam.
“Hey Sam, morning, how’s it going?” I asked easily.
“What’s up Sookie? I got your message that you needed some time off. Is everything okay?” He sounded worried, as I guess he had a right to. Every time I’d asked for time off in the past I’d gone off on some mission and come back beaten, bruised, and bloody.
“Yeah, I just need to get some stuff straight in my head. I need some alone time to sort out…” I paused, unsure of how to phrase it so that he wouldn’t freak out. “I’ve got a lot of stuff on my mind that I need to get a handle on. Besides, you know I’ve never actually taken a real vacation, and although this is definitely nowhere near lying on a sandy beach with a fruity cocktail in my hand, I think it’ll do me the same amount of good.” It was true. I’d been through so much in the last few years and never taken any time for myself. I was always running off to help save someone and then rushing back into work.
“You’re kind of putting me on the spot here Sookie, you know that right?” Sam sounded a bit put out, not that I could really fault him, but I’d hoped for more.
“Yeah, I know Sam, but don’t worry, I called Andrea and Holly and their willing to pick up extra shifts while I’m off. Most likely it’ll only be no longer than a few days, but truthfully I haven’t dealt with a lot of what I’ve been through in the last few years and I think it’ll be good for me…for us.” I hoped he understood. “I know it probably sounds silly, but I just need some alone time.”
“I get it Sookie and I appreciate you getting people to cover for you. Are we okay?” Sam asked uncertainly.
“Of course. It’s just me and my brain that need an alignment. You get that right?” I didn’t want to get into a deep relationship conversation with him before I knew what was going on inside me.
“Yeah, I get that. Just try not to take too long. Once the days cool down, there isn’t as much grilling to be done and people start heading back to the bar for their socializing.” I also knew that with October only a few days away that business would pick up with a quickness and he’d need me there.
“Got it. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“Sure Sookie. Take care of whatever it is you need to.” Sam said absently and I could tell he was already busy with opening the bar.
“Absolutely, I’ll call you in a few days.” With that we said our goodbyes and hung up.
I continued through the morning, cleaning out the fridge and straightening the cabinets. I went to work on the drawers next and found the bullet and rock that I had kept as mementos of Eric. I had no idea why kept them at the time, but it occurred to me now that both of them were from a time when he had saved my life. They were seemingly insignificant items that reminded me of him. I placed them back in the drawer and moved onto the bathroom and bedroom. I cleaned like it was springtime and though I wasn’t doing any active thinking, it helped. I stopped halfway through the bedroom when lunchtime rolled around. I made myself grilled cheese and tomato soup, the best comfort food there is, in my opinion.
Having finished my lunch I made the choice to clean out the closet, figuring I could give some clothes away to the thrift store. Using the rule that if I hadn’t worn it the last six months it could go, I piled a stack of clothing on the bed. I pulled shoe boxes out and was startled when I uncovered the trap door that opened into the hidey hole Bill had built when he wanted to stay the night. The last vampire to stay there had been Eric and because of that I almost didn’t open it, wanting instead to hide from the memories it evoked.
But this time off was about facing the difficult things I’d rather not think about and besides, I knew the room could use some airing out. With trepidation I pulled it open and sat staring at the hidden room. I finally gathered my courage and clambered down the ladder. The faint aroma of vampire lingered in the air and before I knew it I had laid down on the bed soaking it in. I could smell Eric in the pillow and I pulled the blankets around my body. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him until I was surrounded by his utterly masculine scent. It reminded me of his arms, wrapping me in his protective embrace. He had always been so strong that I had taken for granted that that would never change. I never thought any one could take him away from me.
I’d been so angry those first few days after he’d left that I hadn’t let myself feel anything for him, choosing instead to fling myself headfirst into the relationship with Sam. When he’d asked me to come to Oklahoma to be his mistress I’d been so offended that I’d shut off and shoved him away. I was a modern woman who had grown up in the late 20th century, but he was not. He was from a completely different world, and I had never even considered it from his point of view. I didn’t regret turning him down, I could never be someone’s woman on the side, but I did regret never even trying to understand what he was really saying to me. He hadn’t wanted to give me up.
The love that I felt for him came rushing back to me. Everything that we had been through, from the time I had taken him in when he’d been cursed by the witches, through bombs and fairy wars, we’d stood by each other. But I didn’t think I’d ever really given myself to him truly. I’d held a piece of myself back, sure that he would abandon me someday, and then, when Appius had sold him to Freyda, my worst fears had come true. It hurt so much that I hadn’t even bothered to fight for him. I just let him walk out of my life like he never meant anything to me.
I thought of how lonely he must be in Oklahoma, away from everything he had built, everyone he had known and cared about. I’d once said to him that he got me: the real me, but I’d never really understood what that meant. He saw the person I hid away from the world. He saw me at my darkest times: after I had been locked in the trunk of the car with Bill, after I’d killed Debbie Pelt when she was waiting for me in the darkened house, after I’d suffered through torture at the hands of two sadistic fairies. I remembered the tears he’d cried when he told me how helpless he had been. He’d had to be restrained by silver chains to keep him from saving me. He’d seen me broken and battered and loved me for surviving what would have killed most other people.
How had I been so blind? I sat up and took a deep breath. It was then that I realized I still loved him, and more than that, that I had always loved him, stupid as I had been. I looked around at the room that seemed so small in comparison to his vibrant, larger than life personality. I would not let Freyda and Appius win. Eric had suffered and survived, just like me, but he had done so for a thousand years. I wouldn’t let them keep him in slavery. Not my Viking warrior. I would save him. It wouldn’t matter if he still loved me. It didn’t matter if I was with Sam. I don’t know why I let him go the first time, but I would get him and bring him back where he belonged: sitting on that ridiculous throne and acting like he ran the world from a bar in Shreveport.
I would bring him home and I knew just the vampire to help me, even if I wasn’t sure if she’d want to see me. I needed to call Pam.