Home > Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(8)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(8)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"I liked long skirts," he said nostalgically. "I liked the underthings women wore. The petticoats."

I made a rude noise.

"Do you even have a petticoat?" he asked.

"I have a very pretty beige nylon slip with lace," I said indignantly. "If you were a human guy, I'd say you were angling for me to talk about my underwear!"

He laughed, that deep, unused chuckle that affected me so strongly. "Do you have that slip on, Sookie?"

I stuck out my tongue at him because I knew he could see me. I edged the skirt of my dress up, revealing the lace of the slip and a couple more inches of tanned me.

"Happy?" I asked.

"You have pretty legs, but I still like long dresses better."

"You're stubborn," I told him.

"That's what my wife always told me."

"You were married."

"Yes, I became a vampire when I was thirty. I had a wife, and I had five living children. My sister, Sarah, lived with us. She never wed. Her young man was killed in the war."

"The Civil War."

"Yes. I came back from the battlefield. I was one of the lucky ones. At least I thought so at the time."

"You fought for the Confederacy," I said wonderingly. "If you still had your uniform and wore it to the club, the ladies would faint with joy."

"I hadn't much of a uniform by the end of the war," he said grimly. "We were in rags and starving." He seemed to shake himself. "It had no meaning for me after I became vampire," Bill said, his voice once again chilly and remote.

"I've brought up something that upset you," I said. "I am sorry. What should we talk about?" We turned and began to stroll back down the driveway toward the house.

"Your life," he said. "Tell me what you do when you get up in the morning."

"I get out of bed. Then I make it up right away. I eat breakfast. Toast, sometimes cereal, sometimes eggs, and coffee - and I brush my teeth and shower and dress. Sometimes I shave my legs, you know. If it's a workday, I go in to work. If I don't go in until night, I might go shopping, or take Gran to the store, or rent a movie to watch, or sunbathe. And I read a lot. I'm lucky Gran is still spry. She does the wash and the ironing and most of the cooking."

"What about young men?"

"Oh, I told you about that. It's just impossible."

"So what will you do, Sookie?" he asked gently.

"Grow old and die." My voice was short. He'd touched on my sensitive area once too often.

To my surprise, Bill reached over and took my hand. Now that we'd made each other a little angry, touched some sore spots, the air seemed somehow clearer. In the quiet night, a breeze wafted my hair around my face.

"Take the clip out?" Bill asked.

No reason not to. I reclaimed my hand and reached up to open the clip. I shook my head to loosen my hair. I stuck the clip in his pocket, since I hadn't any. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, Bill began running his fingers through my hair, spreading it out on my shoulders.

I touched his sideburns, since apparently touching was okay. "They're long," I observed.

"That was the fashion," he said. "It's lucky for me I didn't wear a beard as so many men did, or I'd have it for eternity."

"You never have to shave?"

"No, luckily I had just shaven." He seemed fascinated with my hair. "In the moonlight, it looks silver," he said very quietly.

"Ah. What do you like to do?"

I could see a shadow of a smile in the darkness.

"I like to read, too." He thought. "I like the movies ... of course, I've followed their whole inception. I like the company of people who lead ordinary lives. Sometimes I crave the company of other vampires, though most of them lead very different lives from mine."

We walked in silence for a moment.

"Do you like television?"

"Sometimes," he confessed. "For a while I taped soap operas and watched them at night when I thought I might be forgetting what it was like to be human. After a while I stopped, because from the examples I saw on those shows, forgetting humanity was a good thing." I laughed.

We walked into the circle of light around the house. I had half-expected Gran to be on the porch swing waiting for us, but she wasn't. And only one dim bulb glowed in the living room. Really, Gran, I thought, exasperated. This was just like being brought home from a first date by a new man. I actually caught myself wondering if Bill would try to kiss me or not. With his views on long dresses, he would probably think it was out of line. But as stupid as kissing a vampire might seem, I realized that was what I really wanted to do, more than anything.

I got a tight feeling in my chest, a bitterness, at another thing I was denied. And I thought, Why not?

I stopped him by pulling gently on his hand. I stretched up and lay my lips on his shining cheek. I inhaled the scent of him, ordinary but faintly salty. He was wearing a trace of cologne.

I felt him shudder. He turned his head so his lips touched mine. After a moment, I reached to circle his neck with my arms. His kiss deepened, and I parted my lips. I'd never been kissed like this. It went on and on until I thought the whole world was involved in this kiss in the vampire's mouth on mine. I could feel my breathing speeding up, and I began to want other things to happen.

Suddenly Bill pulled back. He looked shaken, which pleased me no end. "Good night, Sookie," he said, stroking my hair one last time.

"Good night, Bill," I said. I sounded pretty quavery myself. "I'll try to call some electricians tomorrow. I'll let you know what they say."

"Come by the house tomorrow night - if you're off work?"

"Yes," I said. I was still trying to gather myself.

"See you then. Thanks, Sookie." And he turned away to walk through the woods back over to his place. Once he reached the darkness, he was invisible.

I stood staring like a fool, until I shook myself and went inside to go to bed.

I spent an indecent amount of time lying awake in bed wondering if the undead could actually do - it. Also, I wondered if it would be possible to have a frank discussion with Bill about that. Sometimes he seemed very old-fashioned, sometimes he seemed as normal as the guy next door. Well, not really, but pretty normal.

It seemed both wonderful and pathetic to me that the one creature I'd met in years that I'd want to have sex with was actually not human. My telepathy limited my options severely. I could have had sex just to have it, sure; but I had waited to have sex I could actually enjoy.

What if we did it, and after all these years I discovered I had no talent for it? Or maybe it wouldn't feel good. Maybe all the books and movies exaggerated. Arlene, too, who never seemed to understand that her sex life was not something I wanted to hear about.

I finally got to sleep, to have long, dark dreams.

The next morning, between fielding Gran's questions about my walk with Bill and our future plans, I made some phone calls. I found two electricians, a plumber, and some other service people who gave me phone numbers where they could be reached at night and made sure they understood that a phone call from Bill Compton was not a prank.

Finally, I was lying out in the sun turning toasty when Gran carried the phone out to me.

"It's your boss," she said. Gran liked Sam, and he must have said something to make her happy because she was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

"Hi, Sam," I said, maybe not sounding too glad because I knew something had gone wrong at work.

"Dawn didn't make it in, cher," he said.

"Oh ... hell," I said, knowing I'd have to go in. "I kind of have plans, Sam." That was a first. "When do you need me?"

"Could you just come in from five to nine? That would help out a lot."

"Am I gonna get another full day off?"

"What about Dawn splitting a shift with you another night?"

I made a rude noise, and Gran stood there with a stern face. I knew I'd get a lecture later. "Oh, all right," I said grudgingly. "See you at five."

"Thanks, Sookie," he said. "I knew I could count on you."

I tried to feel good about that. It seemed like a boring virtue. You can always count on Sookie to step in and help because she doesn't have a life!

Of course, it would be fine to get to Bill's after nine. He'd be up all night, anyway.

Work had never seemed so slow. I had trouble concentrating enough to keep my guard intact because I was always thinking about Bill. It was lucky there weren't many customers, or I would have heard unwanted thoughts galore. As it was, I found out Arlene's period was late, and she was scared she was pregnant, and before I could stop myself I gave her a hug. She stared at me searchingly and then turned red in the face.

"Did you read my mind, Sookie?" she asked, warning written in her voice. Arlene was one of the few people who simply acknowledged my ability without trying to explain it or categorizing me as a freak for possessing such an ability. She also didn't talk about it often or in any normal voice, I'd noticed.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to," I apologized. "I'm just not focused today."

"All right, then. You stay out from now on, though." And Arlene, her flaming curls bobbing around her cheeks, shook her finger in my face.

I felt like crying. "Sorry," I said again and strode off into the storeroom to collect myself. I had to pull my face straight and hold in those tears.

I heard the door open behind me.

"Hey, I said I was sorry, Arlene!" I snapped, wanting to be left alone. Sometimes Arlene confused telepathy with psychic talent. I was scared she'd ask me if she was really pregnant. She'd be better off buying an early home pregnancy kit.

"Sookie." It was Sam. He turned me around with a hand on my shoulder. "What's wrong?"

His voice was gentle and pushed me much closer to tears.

"You should sound mean so I won't cry!" I said.

He laughed, not a big laugh, a small one. He put an arm around me.

"What's the matter?" He wasn't going to give up and go away.

"Oh, I..." and I stopped dead. I'd never, ever explicitly discussed my problem (that's how I thought of it) with Sam or anyone else. Everyone in Bon Temps knew the rumors about why I was strange, but no one seemed to realize that I had to listen to their mental clatter nonstop, whether I wanted to or not - every day, the yammer yammer yammer. . .

"Did you hear something that bothered you?" His voice was quiet and matter-of-fact. He touched the middle of my forhead, to indicate he knew exactly how I could "hear."


"Can't help it, can you?"


"Hate it, don't you, cher?"

"Oh, yes."

"Not your fault then, is it?"

"I try not to listen, but I can't always keep my guard up." I felt a tear I hadn't been able to quell start trickling down my cheek.

"Is that how you do it? How do you keep your guard up, Sookie?"

He sounded really interested, not as though he thought I was a basket case. I looked up, not very far, into Sam's prominent, brilliant blue eyes.

"I just ... it's hard to describe unless you can do it ... I pull up a fence - no, not a fence, it's like I'm snapping together steel plates - between my brain and all others."

"You have to hold the plates up?"

"Yes. It takes a lot of concentration. It's like dividing my mind all the time. That's why people think I'm crazy. Half my brain is trying to keep the steel plates up, and the other half might be taking drink orders, so sometimes there's not a lot left over for coherent conversation." What a gush of relief I was feeling, just being able to talk about it.

"Do you hear words or just get impressions?"

"Depends on who I'm listening to. And their state. If they're drunk, or really disturbed, it's just pictures, impressions, intentions. If they're sober and sane it's words and some pictures."

"The vampire says you can't hear him."

The idea of Bill and Sam having a conversation about me made me feel very peculiar. "That's true," I admitted.

"Is that relaxing to you?"

"Oh, yes." I meant it from my heart.

"Can you hear me, Sookie?"

"I don't want to try!" I said hastily. I moved to the door of the storeroom and stood with my hand on the knob. I pulled a tissue from my shorts pocket and patted the tear track off my cheek. "I'll have to quit if I read your mind, Sam! I like you, I like it here."

"Just try it sometime, Sookie," he said casually, turning to open a carton of whiskey with the razor-edged box cutter he kept in his pocket. "Don't worry about me. You have a job as long as you want one."

I wiped down a table Jason had spilled salt on. He'd been in earlier to eat a hamburger and fries and down a couple of beers.

I was turning over Sam's offer in my mind.

I wouldn't try to listen to him today. He was ready for me. I'd wait when he was busy doing something else. I'd just sort of slip in and give him a listen. He'd invited me, which was absolutely unique.

It was kind of nice to be invited.

I repaired my makeup and brushed my hair. I'd worn it loose, since Bill had seemed to like that, and a darn nuisance it had been all evening. It was just about time to go, so I retrieved my purse from its drawer in Sam's office.

T HE COMPTON HOUSE, like Gran's, was set back from the road. It was a bit more visible from the parish road than hers, and it had a view of the cemetery, which her house didn't. This was due (at least in part) to the Compton house's higher setting. It was on top of a knoll and it was fully two-storied. Gran's house had a couple of spare bedrooms upstairs, and an attic, but it was more like half a top story.

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