Home > Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(7)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(7)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"And now, if you'll excuse Sookie and me, maybe we'll take a walk. It's a lovely night." Slowly, so I could see it coming, he reached over and took my hand, rising and pulling me to my feet, too. His hand was cold and hard and smooth. Bill wasn't quite asking Gran's permission, but not quite not, either.

"Oh, you two go on," my grandmother said, fluttering with happiness. "I have so many things to look up. You'll have to tell me all the local names you remember from when you were..." and here Gran ran down, not wanting to say something wounding.

"Resident here in Bon Temps," I supplied helpfully.

"Of course," the vampire said, and I could tell from the compression of his lips that he was trying not to smile.

Somehow we were at the door, and I knew that Bill had lifted me and moved me quickly. I smiled, genuinely. I like the unexpected.

"We'll be back in a while," I said to Gran. I didn't think she'd noticed my odd transition, since she was gathering up our tea glasses.

"Oh, you two don't hurry on my account," she said. "I'll be just fine."

Outside, the frogs and toads and bugs were singing their nightly rural opera. Bill kept my hand as we strolled out into the yard, full of the smell of new-mown grass and budding things. My cat, Tina, came out of the shadows and asked to be tickled, and I bent over and scratched her head. To my surprise, the cat rubbed against Bill's legs, an activity he did nothing to discourage.

"You like this animal?" he asked, his voice neutral.

"It's my cat," I said. "Her name is Tina, and I like her a lot."

Without comment, Bill stood still, waiting until Tina went on her way into the darkness outside the porch light.

"Would you like to sit in the swing or the lawn chairs, or would you like to walk?" I asked, since I felt I was now the hostess.

"Oh, let's walk for a while. I need to stretch my legs."

Somehow this statement unsettled me a little, but I began moving down the long driveway in the direction of the two-lane parish road that ran in front of both our homes.

"Did the trailer upset you?"

I tried to think how to put it.

"I feel very ... hmmm. Fragile. When I think about the trailer."

"You knew I was strong."

I tilted my head from side to side, considering. "Yes, but I didn't realize the full extent of your strength," I told him. "Or your imagination."

"Over the years, we get good at hiding what we've done."

"So. I guess you've killed a bunch of people."

"Some." Deal with it, his voice implied.

I clasped both hands behind my back. "Were you hungrier right after you became a vampire? How did that happen?"

He hadn't expected that. He looked at me. I could feel his eyes on me even though we were now in the dark. The woods were close around us. Our feet crunched on the gravel.

"As to how I became a vampire, that's too long a story for now," he said. "But yes, when I was younger - a few times - I killed by accident. I was never sure when I'd get to eat again, you understand? We were always hunted, naturally, and there was no such thing as artificial blood. And there were not as many people then. But I had been a good man when I was alive - I mean, before I caught the virus. So I tried to be civilized about it, select bad people as my victims, never feed on children. I managed never to kill a child, at least. It's so different now. I can go to the all-night clinic in any city and get some synthetic blood, though it's disgusting. Or I can pay a whore and get enough blood to keep going for a couple of days. Or I can glamor someone, so they'll let me bite them for love and then forget all about it. And I don't need so much now."

"Or you can meet a girl who gets head injuries," I said.

"Oh, you were the dessert. The Rattrays were the meal."

Deal with it.

"Whoa," I said, feeling breathless. "Give me a minute."

And he did. Not one man in a million would have allowed me that time without speaking. I opened my mind, let my guards down completely, relaxed. His silence washed over me. I stood, closed my eyes, breathed out the relief that was too profound for words.

"Are you happy now?" he asked, just as if he could tell.

"Yes," I breathed. At that moment I felt that no matter what this creature beside me had done, this peace was priceless after a lifetime of the yammering of other minds inside my own.

"You feel good to me, too," he said, surprising me.

"How so?" I asked, dreamy and slow.

"No fear, no hurry, no condemnation. I don't have to use my glamor to make you hold still, to have a conversation with you."

"Glamor?"

"Like hypnotism," he explained. "All vampires use it, to some extent or another. Because to feed, until the new synthetic blood was developed, we had to persuade people we were harmless ... or assure them they hadn't seen us at all ... or delude them into thinking they'd seen something else."

"Does it work on me?"

"Of course," he said, sounding shocked.

"Okay, do it."

"Look at me."

"It's dark."

"No matter. Look at my face." And he stepped in front of me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders, and looked down at me. I could see the faint shine of his skin and eyes, and I peered up at him, wondering if I'd begin to squawk like a chicken or take my clothes off.

But what happened was ... nothing. I felt only the nearly druglike relaxation of being with him.

"Can you feel my influence?" he asked. He sounded a little breathless.

"Not a bit, I'm sorry," I said humbly. "I just see you glow."

"You can see that?" I'd surprised him again.

"Sure. Can't everyone?"

"No. This is strange, Sookie."

"If you say so. Can I see you levitate?"

"Right here?" Bill sounded amused.

"Sure, why not? Unless there's a reason?"

"No, none at all." And he let go of my arms and began to rise.

I breathed a sigh of pure rapture. He floated up in the dark, gleaming like white marble in the moonlight. When he was about two feet off the ground, he began hovering. I thought he was smiling down at me.

"Can all of you do that?" I asked.

"Can you sing?"

"Nope, can't carry a tune."

"Well, we can't all do the same things, either." Bill came down slowly and landed on the ground without a thump. "Most humans are squeamish about vampires. You don't seem to be," he commented.

I shrugged. Who was I to be squeamish about something out of the ordinary? He seemed to understand because, after a pause, during which we'd resumed walking, Bill said, "Has it always been hard for you?"

"Yes, always." I couldn't say otherwise, though I didn't want to whine. "When I was very small, that was worst, because I didn't know how to put up my guard, and I heard thoughts I wasn't supposed to hear, of course, and I repeated them like a child will. My parents didn't know what to do about me. It embarrassed my father, in particular. My mother finally took me to a child psychologist, who knew exactly what I was, but she just couldn't accept it and kept trying to tell my folks I was reading their body language and was very observant, so I had good reason to imagine I heard people's thoughts. Of course, she couldn't admit I was literally hearing people's thoughts because that just didn't fit into her world.

"And I did poorly in school because it was so hard for me to concentrate when so few others were. But when there was testing, I would test very high because the other kids were concentrating on their own papers ... that gave me a little leeway. Sometimes my folks thought I was lazy for not doing well on everyday work. Sometimes the teachers thought I had a learning disability; oh, you wouldn't believe the theories. I must have had my eyes and ears tested every two months, seemed like, and brain scans ... gosh. My poor folks paid through the nose. But they never could accept the simple truth. At least outwardly, you know?"

"But they knew inside."

"Yes. Once, when my dad was trying to decide whether to back a man who wanted to open an auto parts store, he asked me to sit with him when the man came to the house. After the man left, my dad took me outside and looked away and said, 'Sookie, is he telling the truth?' It was the strangest moment."

"How old were you?"

"I must've been less than seven'cause they died when I was in the second grade."

"How?"

"Flash flood. Caught them on the bridge west of here."

Bill didn't comment. Of course, he'd seen deaths piled upon deaths.

"Was the man lying?" he asked after a few seconds had gone by.

"Oh, yes. He planned to take Daddy's money and run."

"You have a gift."

"Gift. Right." I could feel the corners of my mouth pull down.

"It makes you different from other humans."

"You're telling me." We walked for a moment in silence. "So you don't consider yourself human at all?"

"I haven't for a long time."

"Do you really believe you've lost your soul?" That was what the Catholic Church was preaching about vampires.

"I have no way of knowing," Bill said, almost casually. It was apparent that he'd brooded over it so often it was quite a commonplace thought to him. "Personally, I think not. There is something in me that isn't cruel, not murderous, even after all these years. Though I can be both."

"It's not your fault you were infected with a virus."

Bill snorted, even managing to sound elegant doing that. "There have been theories as long as there have been vampires. Maybe that one is true." Then he looked as if he was sorry he'd said that. "If what makes a vampire is a virus," he went on in a more offhand manner, "it's a selective one."

"How do you become a vampire?" I'd read all kinds of stuff, but this would be straight from the horse's mouth.

"I would have to drain you, at one sitting or over two or three days, to the point of your death, then give you my blood. You would lie like a corpse for about forty-eight hours, sometimes as long as three days, then rise and walk at night. And you would be hungry."

The way he said "hungry" made me shiver.

"No other way?"

"Other vampires have told me humans they habitually bite, day after day, can become vampires quite unexpectedly. But that requires consecutive, deep, feedings. Others, under the same conditions, merely become anemic. Then again, when people are near to death for some other reason, a car accident or a drug overdose, perhaps, the process can go ... badly wrong."

I was getting the creepies. "Time to change the subject. What do you plan on doing with the Compton land?"

"I plan on living there, as long as I can. I'm tired of drifting from city to city. I grew up in the country. Now that I have a legal right to exist, and I can go to Monroe or Shreveport or New Orleans for synthetic blood or prostitutes who specialize in our kind, I want to stay here. At least see if it's possible. I've been roaming for decades."

"What kind of shape is the house in?"

"Pretty bad," he admitted. "I've been trying to clean it out. That I can do at night. But I need workmen to get some repairs done. I'm not bad at carpentry, but I don't know a thing about electricity."

Of course, he wouldn't.

"It seems to me the house may need rewiring," Bill continued, sounding for all the world like any other anxious homeowner.

"Do you have a phone?"

"Sure," he said, surprised.

"So what's the problem with the workmen?"

"It's hard to get in touch with them at night, hard to get them to meet with me so I can explain what needs doing. They're scared, or they think it's a prank call." Frustration was evident in Bill's voice, though his face was turned away from me.

I laughed. "If you want, I'll call them," I offered. "They know me. Even though everyone thinks I'm crazy, they know I'm honest."

"That would be a great favor," Bill said, after some hesitation. "They could work during the day, after I'd met with them to discuss the job and the cost."

"What an inconvenience, not being able to get out in the day," I said thoughtlessly. I'd never really considered it before.

Bill's voice was dry. "It certainly is."

"And having to hide your resting place," I blundered on.

When I felt the quality of Bill's silence, I apologized.

"I'm sorry," I said. If it hadn't been so dark, he would have seen me turn red.

"A vampire's daytime resting place is his most closely guarded secret," Bill said stiffly.

"I apologize."

"I accept," he said, after a bad little moment. We reached the road and looked up and down it as if we expected a taxi. I could see him clearly by the moonlight, now that we were out of the trees. He could see me, too. He looked me up and down.

"Your dress is the color of your eyes."

"Thank you." I sure couldn't see him that clearly.

"Not a lot of it, though."

"Excuse me?"

"It's hard for me to get used to young ladies with so few clothes on," Bill said.

"You've had a few decades to get used to it," I said tartly. "Come on, Bill! Dresses have been short for forty years now!"

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