Bill was dead. Finally dead. I witnessed it myself, standing by Eric’s side. We returned home in the pre-dawn hours and slipped without speaking under the covers. I curved against his cool body, glad for the comfort, and he stroked my hair soothing me until I drifted off. For the first time in what felt like forever, I slept without fear or nightmares. I woke early, sitting in the kitchen enjoying the chill fall day and the sun that filtered through the small window above the sink.
We had survived and come home. All of us except Bubba and I felt the hole that his death left behind. There was no body to bury. Vampires didn’t have funerals, but I had grown up human, and I was used to the closure that a funeral gave those left behind. It didn’t fill the empty space, but somehow it helped, even if it was only a little bit. I wondered if Eric would object to having some kind of a memorial service for him. I’d ask him.
Right now, I needed to head into town. There were people to see and conversations to have, one of them certain to be difficult. Between Eric’s coronation and our wedding, it was sure to be a long week. I didn’t want to wait to reconnect with the people I’d left behind thinking I’d never see them again. I showered and threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater, putting on my coat and grabbing the keys to my pretty new convertible. I climbed into the front seat and backed out of the driveway, heading into Bon Temps. I would stop by my brother’s house first, and I wondered how much I should tell him. I considered having him meet me at Merlotte’s so I could have back-up when I talked to Sam, but that wasn’t fair to him. The conversation with Sam was something I needed to deal with on my own, even if I had no idea what I’d say to him.
I pulled up to Jason’s house, turning off the car and just sitting there. I wished I could have told him the truth in the first place, but I hadn’t wanted to risk someone snatching him to find out what we had planned. But he was my brother and if anyone would understand, it would be him. Isn’t that what families were good for? I mean, he’d probably give me what for, but in the end he’d support me, as I’d supported him through all of his decisions throughout the years. I got out of the car and the gravel drive crunched beneath my feet as I walked to the door. I didn’t even knock before my brother came barreling out, crushing me in a hug.
“How’s my world travelin’ sister? Didya bring me a present?” He let me go, looking to my new car parked in front of the house. “Wow sis, that’s fancy. Don’t tell me you brought that home from Rome. There was no reason to go to another country even if you did wanna get a foreign car.”
I laughed hard. “Sorry Jas, but can we go inside and I’ll explain everything to you?”
“Uh, sure…everything?” Jason asked confused. I nodded and pushed past him into the house. We’d end up having the conversation on the porch if I didn’t head inside.
“Michelle home?” When Jason indicated that she wasn’t, I sighed in relief. It was one thing to tell my brother the truth, it was quite another to involve his wife. Sure she knew he was a werepanther, but she wasn’t actively involved in the supernatural community and I’m sure Jason wanted to keep it that way. She accepted him, of course, but telling her that I had planned a coup against a vampire Queen might be pushing the situation.
Jason grabbed a beer out of the fridge and I gave him a questioning look. “I’m fairly certain what you’ve got to say will go down smoother with a beverage, so sue me. Now, spit it out. What’d you do now?”
I took a deep breath. “I wasn’t in Rome.” My brother raised his eyes as if to say no duh. I continued, “You remember how I told you that Eric had gone to Oklahoma with the vampire Queen there?” He nodded and waved a hand for me to go on. “Well…Me, Pam, and Karin, a bunch of us really, went to rescue him.”
Jason jerked into a stiff position, “Holy hell Sook, what were you thinking?” he shook his head in disbelief.
“I was thinking that Eric had saved me like a hundred times and that I owed it to him to free him from her, but that’s not the end of the story.” He leaned back trying to settle into the couch, but his posture was still tense. “We succeeded in freeing Eric, but then Bill turned out to be a psycho stalker who abducted me. I woke up in Nevada.” His jaw dropped and he took a long swig of his beer. “He’d gotten it into his mind that he and I were meant to be together and didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. Luckily Eric and the gang had a way to track me and we kicked some more vampire butt. Before you ask, Bill’s dead. He won’t be a problem anymore.” I didn’t expand on how he died thinking there were things that Jason really didn’t need to know.
Assured that I wasn’t in any danger from Bill he lightened the mood, “Jeez louise sis. You really shoulda just taken a vacation.”
I chuckled. “You’re telling me, but then I wouldn’t be here giving you the good news.” I hesitated. “I’m getting married.”
Jason froze mid-sip. “What did you just say?”
I repeated it for him. “I’m getting married,” and then finished my sentence, “to Eric.”
“That’s a mighty big change. I thought you and Sam were all set to settle down and have a bunch of little rugrats. What happened?” He asked showing brotherly concern.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. I decided the blunt and honest response was the best answer. “I thought I loved Sam. I was wrong. I mean I do, but as a friend and nothing more. It wouldn’t have been fair to use Sam just because I was lonely. I broke up with him before I left. I realized that I’d never really stopped loving Eric. He proposed in the middle of the battle,” flutters dancing in my stomach when I remembered. It wasn’t traditionally romantic, but to me, it was perfect. “I accepted.”
“Truthfully I never thought you’d be happy with normal, but you wanted it, so I supported you. Eric makes you happy?” I beamed at my brother letting him know just how happy I was with my choice. “Then that’s all that matters to me.”
“Good, cuz we’re getting married on Sunday night. It’ll just be a small ceremony in the backyard and I’m really hoping you and Michelle will come. You will come won’t you?”
“If you think I’m letting my sister get married without me, you must be as crazy as everyone else thinks you are,” he said joking, but his face took on a serious look. “You’re all the family I have left.” He fell silent and I moved to sit next to him on the couch. He threw his arm around me and I curled my legs underneath me snuggling into his side.
“I love you Jas.” I said simply.
“Yeah, right back at ya.” I smiled knowing he wasn’t one for overflowing shows of emotion. “So new car then eh? Present from your vampire? How’s it drive?”
“Yup, he decided my old beater wasn’t safe anymore. The new car’s amazing. I love it.”
“Well it wasn’t safe and if I coulda bought you one I woulda done it years ago, but I would have made sure to buy you a good ol’ American car.” I laughed at him.
We spent the next hour gossiping and I relaxed, glad that my brother accepted everything. He’d come such a long way in the last few years and it warmed my heart. It was mid-afternoon before I realized I needed to head to Merlotte’s. I couldn’t put it off any longer. Word of my marriage would get around town soon enough and I really should be the one who told Sam. He shouldn’t hear it through the rumor mill. Hugging Jason I told him I’d see him on Sunday and slid behind the wheel of the Beetle, heading towards Merlotte’s. I wasn’t looking forward to the drama that was sure to ensue.
Luckily it there was time before happy hour and the bar wasn’t too busy: just Jane Bodehouse and a smattering of others in the booths. Sam wasn’t behind the bar and I headed back into his office, waving to Terry in the kitchen, and thinking it was a better place for our conversation anyway. His head was bent over the bills and the mutterings of his brain greeted me before he even knew I was there. I put up my shields and knocked lightly on the open door and his head popped up.
“Sookie! Oh thank god you’re alive.” Sam exclaimed, jumping out of his seat and shocking me when he wrapped me in a crushing hug. “I’m so sorry I was an ass before you left. I was just so afraid of losing you. As soon as you were gone I knew that I’d been wrong, but by then it was too late. I thought about leaving you a voicemail, but I assumed you had bigger things to worry about.” He finally let me go and a worried tension inside me released a bit.
“Sam, it’s okay. I can’t say I was real happy with you, but I wasn’t entirely blameless for the problems between us. Can we sit down? There’s a lot to tell you.”
He eyed me warily, but went back and settled himself behind his desk. “So what happened?”
I took a deep breath and filled him in on most of the details. There were certain things that, like Jason, he just didn’t need to know. I wasn’t ashamed of my behavior, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to share with him. When I got to the parts about Bill’s treachery, I knew he was angry, seeing it in the line and tick of his jaw, and I made sure he knew that there wouldn’t be any more trouble from that court. Thankfully he held his tongue until I got to the end of the story, though I still hadn’t told him about Eric and me. His eyes roamed over my body scouring for injury.
“You don’t look like you’ve been through a battle.” He said a thread of anger lacing itself through his words.
“No. Eric healed me.” I said looking at him directly.
“Eric…” Sam exhaled heavily. “So you’re back together then?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
His shoulders slumped. “And you came to tell me, why?”
“Because you’re my friend Sam. I knew that no matter how mad at me you were you deserved to hear it from me firsthand. I know things didn’t work out between us, but I’d like to think we can get beyond that eventually.” I paused gathering my strength to tell him the rest. “But there’s more. I made a few decisions during the whole ordeal. First, it’s time for me to move on from Merlotte’s. As much as I’ve loved working here, and I’m really thankful for it, I want more. I don’t want to be a waitress for the rest of my life. I want to use my telepathy to help people. It’s a part of me that I’ve denied for too long. I can’t keep ignoring and calling it a curse because it’s not like it’s going away.”
I saw a shadow of hurt flicker across his features. “That’s why I gave you part of the bar, Sookie. So you wouldn’t have to wait tables. You knew I couldn’t pay you back all at once and I thought it would be better to give you something you could use. Obviously it wasn’t enough.” He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest and looking everywhere but at me.
“That’s not it and I think you know that. I was grateful for what you tried to do for me.” He still wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Please Sam. Look at me. My life here meant everything to me, but in the last few years my life has changed. There’s a bigger world out there for me. I know you’re happy owning the bar, but it isn’t enough for me anymore.”
Sam twisted my words around. “In other words, I’m not enough for you.”
“Stop it Sam. You’re one of my best friends and you mean the world to me. But we want different things out of life. You’re happy here and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not, or I wouldn’t be if I stayed. Maybe I’d be content. Maybe we’d stay together and raise a family, but eventually I would regret never challenging myself. I would always wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t been too afraid to try. I won’t be afraid anymore. We’re still going to live here in Bon Temps, but I ready to see what kind of life I can make for myself.” I realized I’d said we’re when Sam froze and stared at me.
“We?” His voice was quiet and I almost didn’t hear him. I thanked the Lord for my enhanced shields because I wouldn’t have wanted to hear the thoughts that raced through his brain right now.
“Yes, we. Eric and I are getting married on Sunday night. I’m expanding the house so that we can live here together.” I braced myself for his reaction.
Instead we just sat in stony silence. The tension thickened until I almost just walked out, but I didn’t want to give up on our friendship. I didn’t want to take the easy way out. That had been the way I’d dealt with so many things in the past. I didn’t want to be that person anymore.
“Sam? Talk to me…please?” I began to wonder why I’d come here in the first place. I had to remind myself that it was the decent thing to do. “I’m sorry that I can’t love you the way you deserve…” I let my words trail off knowing, even as I was saying them, that they were inadequate.
He finally spoke. “I know you’re trying to make things easier on me Sookie, but it’s not going to work, not this time. I need time. I’m not saying we’ll never be friends again, but right now…” He sighed. “I know I should just be happy that you’re alive, and I am, but I had hoped that you’d come to your senses. I could have given you a long safe life. I’d hoped that you would see how perilous your life would be if you chose Eric, but I don’t have to agree with your choices.”
I went to interrupt him and he held up a hand, setting it back down on the desk. “No. I don’t want to argue about this. I wish you all the happiness, I really do, but I can’t help but worry about your decisions. You choose a dangerous path.”
I exhaled. “I know, but I’m not going into it with my eyes closed this time. I’m learning to defend myself. It’s too late for me to turn back the clock and I don’t think I would even if I could.” Sam looked miserable and my heart broke for the rift between us. I reached across to place my hand on his. “I understand you need your space. I just hope that one day you’ll consider me a friend again. Just let me know if you need anything.”
He pulled his hand back. “Thank you for telling me, but I think it’s time for you to go.”
I took a ragged breath, holding the tears at bay. I had known this was going to be hard, but I had hoped for so much more. “Okay. When you’re ready…”
He’d already turned from me, busying himself with paperwork. I stood and waited for the moment he would change his mind, and when he didn’t I slowly walked out of the office, closing the door behind me. I succeeded in holding back the tears until I was behind the wheel of my car. Only then did the sobs overtake me. I didn’t regret my choice, but it was hard to know that Sam and I might never be friends again. He had been in my life for so long. I considered charging back into the bar and shaking him until he came to his senses, but I realized that I needed to respect his choices too, even if I didn’t agree with them.
I wiped away the tears with the back of my hand. It was just about sundown and Eric would be up momentarily. Part of me wanted to drive straight home and curl into his arms, but I still had one last trip to make. He knew that I wouldn’t be back to the house until later, and I knew that he would have to head into Fangtasia to take care of some of the details of running his new kingdom. It would be late before I finally saw him.
Pam was meeting me at Tara’s shop in a little over an hour, and I turned the key in the ignition, knowing that the trip would cheer me up. It would serve a dual purpose. First I’d get to invite Tara to the wedding on Sunday and we’d get the chance to pick out my dress. Pam would string me up if I didn’t invite her, but I wanted Tara there as well. We’d known each other since childhood after all. I knew it’d take Pam a bit of time after she woke to get out here, which gave me enough time to let Tara know I was getting married. I really hoped she’d react better than Sam had.
The shop was busy when I opened the door and walked through. She smiled broadly at me and waved in between answering customers’ questions and I knew she’d be over when she could. I’d consider going to a traditional bridal shop, but I didn’t want a traditional dress. I wanted something that was as unique as Eric and I were. David’s Bridal just wasn’t going to cut it. It would be difficult to find something white since it was November and not April, but I was okay with that.
I browsed randomly waiting to be joined by Tara. I was hoping she’d have time to talk before Pam arrived. I scanned the store noticing that the customers were thinning out. It wasn’t long after when Tara came over and hugged me.
“Hey Sookie. How was your trip?” Tara asked and I remembered that I was supposed to have gone to Rome. God, I hated lying. I couldn’t tell her the truth, but I could at least give some semblance of it.
“Tara, it’s good to see you again,” I responded hugging her quickly. “My plans changed unfortunately. That’s what I’m here to talk to you about. Eric is back from Oklahoma and we’re back together.”
“Didn’t he leave you for that Queen?” She asked letting a slight anger slip.
I didn’t want to fight with her too so I tried to explain so that she would understand. “Not willingly. There’s a lot that I can’t tell you, but know that he would never have left me if he hadn’t been forced into it. I know it’s hard to understand, but I love him and he loves me. I don’t ever want to be without him again and the feeling is mutual.”
“It’s what you want?” She asked tentative.
“Absolutely,” I said simply.
“Then that’s good enough for me.” I released the tension I was carrying, worried that she wouldn’t understand. I grabbed her fiercely. She pulled back getting a good look at me, and seeing in my face that I was absolutely sure in my decision, she enveloped me again.
“I’m so glad Tara, I can’t tell you how much it means to me. We’re getting married on Sunday night and I want you there. It’s just going to be a small ceremony, but I want you to be my matron of honor. Would you do it?”
She grinned at me. “Of course, Sookie. I’d love to. Now, I’m assuming you’re here because you need a dress?”
My relief was evident and now I could really get into this. “Yes, I was thinking something sleek and classy.”
“I hope you weren’t going to pick one out without me,” Pam’s voice came from the front of the store.
“Hey Pam, no of course not, we were just getting started. I’d never hear the end of it otherwise.”
Her laughter tinkled as she joined us. “Good. Now we can start. Hello Tara. It’s good to see you again.”
There was something in her voice that I didn’t understand, but Tara responded before I could voice my concern, “Yes it is.” She turned to me to explain, “Pam gave me a wake-up call the last time she was here.”
I looked confused glancing between the two of them, but it seemed that everything was okay now, so I decided to accept it for the gift it was.
“Did you get the delivery?” Pam looked at Tara and I saw clarity dawn on her face.
“So you’re the reason I had a random group of wedding dresses show up with yesterday’s shipment. I figured it was just a mistake and was going to send them back.” Tara laughed. “I’ll go get them.”
“Pam?” My voice questioned her. “You arranged this?”
“It took some doing, but what good is having the ability to glamour if you don’t use it? I couldn’t have you getting married in some two bit prom dress.”
I chuckled at her, “Thank you. You’re alright for a vamper,” I joked at her.
“Right back at you breather.”
Tara rolled out several racks of dresses and walked to the front of the shop to lock the door. She came back with a bottle of wine and two glasses, as well as a True Blood for Pam. I couldn’t hide my shock. She smiled slightly and opened the wine, pouring a glass for both of us and the three of us dove headfirst into the variety of dresses. I felt like the Barbie doll I’d joked about to Eric and several times we broke into hysterical laughter at something poofy and ridiculous.
Finally I saw it. I unzipped the thick plastic garment back and took it back to the dressing room to try on. It was antique white with off the shoulder half capped sleeves. Tiny buttons ran up the back. The bust line formed a heart shape and the intricately embroidered bodice tapered down to my waistline where it flared out in gentle layers of lace and silk. The lace was swirled with fleur de lis and it had matching gloves that slid over my elbows. It was absolutely stunning. If I had searched the entire world, this would have been the dress. I came out of the dressing room.
“Button me up?”
“Gladly,” came Pam’s seductive response.
She did and I turned around to look in the mirror. It fit perfectly and I fell in love with it.
“Oh Sookie,” breathed Tara. “It’s magnificent.”
“Exquisite,” Pam added. “Eric’s heart might start beating again once he sees you in that dress. You look like a Queen.”
My hands glided over the layers, staring into my reflection. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I looked. I really did feel like a Queen in this. It was real. All of it. Everything that we had gone through to get Eric back. And I was going to get to marry him. It felt like a dream and I blinked back the tears that threatened again.
“God. Don’t cry again or at least take the dress off!” Pam practically shouted at me.
It made me laugh hard. I motioned her over to unbutton it and I headed back into the dressing room, hanging up the dress and putting in safely back into the garment bag. I carried it back out into the shop and Pam took it from me.
“I’ll keep this safe til Sunday.”
“Oh crap! I just realized that I still need a dress for the coronation. I hope you don’t mind staying a bit longer Tara, it shouldn’t be as hard to choose that one.”
Pam’s face wore a look of utter satisfaction. “No you don’t.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll have one come Saturday night. I’ll come over early enough to help you get ready. I’ll have to make sure you are presentable anyway. Looks like I’ll get to see you naked on both Saturday and Sunday. Lucky me.”
“Oh Pam, what am I going to do with you?”
Her eyebrows rose at my unintentional double entendre. “Anything you like my fairy princess. Anything you like.”
I couldn’t help it. I erupted in a fit of giggles. Tara joined in with Pam standing to the side smirking. When we’d finally gathered ourselves, Pam had disappeared. I searched for her until I saw her returning with a shoe box. She opened it and I saw a pair of shoes that matched the dress impeccably. They were elegant heels, tiny beading decorating the toes. She knew my shoe size by now, so I didn’t bother to try them on and she added them to a pile of lingerie she must have grabbed when Tara and I were having our laughing fit. I didn’t argue. She was obviously having fun and after all we had been through, she earned it.
Tara shimmied around the counter and rang up the purchases and, surprise surprise, Pam insisted on paying.
“I don’t want Eric paying for my dress Pam. I may not be the typical bride, but still.”
“He’s not,” she said simply and handed her card to Tara. “It’s my gift to you little sister.” She grabbed up the bags and headed out, leaving me alone with Tara.
“So I’ll see you on Sunday?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Would you mind if I came over early to help you get dressed too? I know that JB won’t mind staying home with the boys and I’d really like to be there.”
My throat choked with emotion. “Nothing would make me happier.”
She hugged me and we parted better friends than we’d been in a long time. I walked out and met Pam who was leaning against the Beetle.
“About damn time you let Eric buy you a new car, though I would have chosen a Mercedes for you.”
I ignored her comment and said instead, “I don’t know what you said to Tara, and I don’t need to know, but thank you. Her friendship is important to me.”
Pam shrugged as if it was nothing, but I knew better. She’d done it because she knew how much our fractured friendship hurt me. She bent down and kissed me on the cheek. Turning swiftly she headed to her BMW and sped out of the parking lot. I pulled out behind her in my beautiful new car and headed towards home to wait for Eric. I knew I had some lingerie I hadn’t shown him yet and I was thinking that tonight I had a surprise of my own for him.