Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(18)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(18)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Eric won't be happy," Pam said with an anticipatory smile. "You endangered yourself because of the Weres. You know he holds them in low esteem."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said, not caring one little bit. "He can go fly a kite."

Pam brightened. "I'll tell him that," she said.

"Why do you like to tease him so much?" I asked, realizing I was almost sluggish with weariness.

"I've never had this much ammunition to tease him with," she answered, and then she and Amelia were out of my room, and I was blessedly alone and in my own bed and alive, and then I was asleep.

The shower I took the next morning was a sublime experience. In the list of Great Showers I've Had, this one ranked at least number 4. (The best shower was the one I'd shared with Eric, and I couldn't even think of that one without shivering all over.) I scoured myself clean. My leg looked good, and though I was even more sore from pulling muscles I didn't use too much, I felt a disaster had been averted and that evil had been vanquished, at least in a gray sort of way.

As I stood under the pounding hot water, rinsing my hair, I thought about Priscilla Hebert. In my brief glimpse into her world, she'd been at least trying to find a place for her disenfranchised pack, and she'd done the research to find a weak area where she could establish a foothold. Maybe if she'd come to Patrick Furnan as a supplicant, he would have been glad to give a home to her pack. But he would never have surrendered leadership. He'd killed Jackson Herveaux to attain it, so he sure wouldn't have agreed to any kind of co-op arrangement with Priscilla - even if wolf society would permit that, which was doubtful, especially given her status as a rare female packleader.

Well, she wasn't one anymore.

Theoretically, I admired her attempt to reestablish her wolves in a new home. Since I'd met Priscilla in the flesh, I could only be glad she hadn't succeeded.

Clean and refreshed, I dried my hair and put on my makeup. I was working the day shift, so I had to be at Merlotte's at eleven. I pulled on the usual uniform of black pants and white shirt, decided to leave my hair loose for once, and tied my black Reeboks.

I decided I felt pretty good, all things considered.

A lot of people were dead, and a lot of grief was hanging around the events of last night, but at least the encroaching pack had been defeated and now the Shreveport area should be peaceful for a while. The war was over in a very short time. And the Weres hadn't been exposed to the rest of the world, though that was a step they'd have to take soon. The longer the vampires were public, the more likely it became that someone would out the Weres.

I added that fact to the giant box full of things that were not my problem.

The scrape on my leg, whether due to its nature or because of Amelia's ministrations, was already scabbed over. There were bruises on my arms and legs, but my uniform covered them. It was feasible to wear long sleeves today, because it was actually cool. In fact, a jacket would have been nice, and I regretted not having thrown one on as I drove to work. Amelia hadn't been stirring when I left, and I had no idea if Pam was in my secret vampire hidey-hole in the spare bedroom. Hey, not my concern!

As I drove, I was adding to the list of things I shouldn't have to worry about or consider. But I came to a dead halt when I got to work. When I saw my boss, a lot of thoughts came crowding in that I hadn't anticipated. Not that Sam looked beaten up or anything. He looked pretty much as usual when I stopped in his office to drop my purse in its usual drawer. In fact, the brawl seemed to have invigorated him. Maybe it had felt good to change into something more aggressive than a collie. Maybe he'd enjoyed kicking some werewolf butt. Ripping open some werewolf stomachs... breaking some werewolf spines.

Okay, well - whose life had been saved by the aforesaid ripping and breaking? My thoughts cleared up in a hurry. Impulsively, I bent to give him a kiss on the cheek. I smelled the smell that was Sam: aftershave, the woods, something wild yet familiar.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, as if I always kissed him hello.

"Better than I thought I would," I said. "You?"

"A little achy, but I'll do."

Holly stuck her head in. "Hey, Sookie, Sam." She came in to deposit her own purse.

"Holly, I hear you and Hoyt are an item," I said, and I hoped I looked smiling and pleased.

"Yeah, we're hitting it off okay," she said, trying for nonchalance. "He's really good with Cody, and his family's real nice." Despite her aggressively dyed spiky black hair and her heavy makeup, there was something wistful and vulnerable about Holly's face.

It was easy for me to say, "I hope it works out." Holly looked very pleased. She knew as well as I did that if she married Hoyt she'd be for all intents and purposes my sister-in-law, since the bond between Jason and Hoyt was so strong.

Then Sam began telling us about a problem he was having with one of his beer distributors, and Holly and I tied on our aprons, and our working day began. I stuck my head through the hatch to wave at the kitchen staff. The current cook at Merlotte's was an ex-army guy named Carson. Short-order cooks come and go. Carson was one of the better ones. He'd mastered burgers Lafayette right away (hamburgers steeped in a former cook's special sauce), and he got the chicken strips and fries done exactly right, and he didn't have tantrums or try to stab the busboy. He showed up on time and left the kitchen clean at the end of his shift, and that was such a huge thing Sam would have forgiven Carson a lot of weirdness.

We were light on customers, so Holly and I were getting the drinks and Sam was on the phone in his office when Tanya Grissom came in the front door. The short, curvy woman looked as pretty and healthy as a milkmaid. Tanya went light on the makeup and heavy on the self-assurance.

"Where's Sam?" she asked. Her little mouth curved up in a smile. I smiled back just as insincerely. Bitch.

"Office," I said, as if I always knew exactly where Sam was.

"That woman there," Holly said, pausing on her way to the serving hatch. "That gal is a deep well."

"Why do you say that?"

"She's living out at Hotshot, rooming with some of the women out there," Holly said. Of all the regular citizens of Bon Temps, Holly was one of the few who knew that there were such creatures as Weres and shifters. I didn't know if she'd discovered that the residents of Hotshot were werepanthers, but she knew they were inbred and strange, because that was a byword in Renard Parish. And she considered Tanya (a werefox) guilty by association, or at least suspicious by association.

I had a stab of genuine anxiety. I thought, Tanya and Sam could change together. Sam would enjoy that. He could even change into a fox himself, if he wanted to.

It was a huge effort to smile at my customers after I'd had that idea. I was ashamed when I realized I should be happy to see someone interested in Sam, someone who could appreciate his true nature. It didn't say much for me that I wasn't happy at all. But she wasn't good enough for him, and I'd warned him about her.

Tanya returned from the hallway leading to Sam's office and went out the front door, not looking as confident as she'd gone in. I smiled at her back. Ha! Sam came out to pull beers. He didn't seem nearly as cheerful.

That wiped the smile off my face. While I served Sheriff Bud Dearborn and Alcee Beck their lunch (Alcee glowering at me all the while), I worried about that. I decided to take a peek in Sam's head, because I was getting better at aiming my talent in certain ways. It was also easier to block it off and keep it out of my everyday activities now that I'd bonded with Eric, though I hated to admit that. It's not nice to flit around in someone else's thoughts, but I've always been able to do it, and it was just second nature.

I know that's a lame excuse. But I was used to knowing, not to wondering. Shifters are harder to read than regular people, and Sam was hard even for a shifter, but I got that he was frustrated, uncertain, and thoughtful.

Then I was horrified at my own audacity and lack of manners. Sam had risked his life for me the night before. He had saved my life. And here I was, rummaging around in his head like a kid in a box full of toys. Shame made my cheeks flush, and I lost the thread of what the gal at my table was saying until she asked me gently if I felt all right. I snapped out of it and focused and took her order for chili and crackers and a glass of sweet tea. Her friend, a woman in her fifties, asked for a hamburger Lafayette and a side salad. I got her choice of dressing and beer, and shot off to the hatch to turn in the order. I nodded at the tap when I stood by Sam, and he handed me the beer a second later. I was too rattled to talk to him. He shot me a curious glance.

I was glad to leave the bar when my shift was up. Holly and I turned over to Arlene and Danielle, and grabbed our purses. We emerged into near-darkness. The security lights were already on. It was going to rain later, and clouds obscured the stars. We could hear Carrie Underwood singing on the jukebox, faintly. She wanted Jesus to take the wheel. That seemed like a real good idea.

We stood by our cars for a moment in the parking lot. The wind was blowing, and it was downright chilly.

"I know Jason is Hoyt's best friend," Holly said. Her voice sounded uncertain, and though her face was hard to decipher, I knew she wasn't sure I'd want to hear what she was going to say. "I've always liked Hoyt. He was a good guy in high school. I guess - I hope you don't really get mad at me - I guess what stopped me from dating him earlier was his being so tight with Jason."

I didn't know how to respond. "You don't like Jason," I said finally.

"Oh, sure, I like Jason. Who doesn't? But is he good for Hoyt? Can Hoyt be happy if that cord between them is weaker? 'Cause I can't think about getting closer to Hoyt unless I believe he can stick with me the way he's always stuck with Jason. You can see what I mean."

"Yes," I said. "I love my brother. But I know Jason isn't really in the habit of thinking about the welfare of other people." And that was putting it mildly.

Holly said, "I like you. I don't want to hurt your feelings. But I figured you'd know, anyway."

"Yeah, I kinda did," I said. "I like you, too, Holly. You're a good mother. You've worked hard to take care of your kid. You're on good terms with your ex. But what about Danielle? I would've said you were as tight with her as Hoyt is with Jason." Danielle was another divorced mother, and she and Holly had been thick as thieves since they were in first grade. Danielle had more of a support system than Holly. Danielle's mother and father were still hale and were very glad to help out with her two kids. Danielle had been going with a guy for some time now, too.

"I would never have said anything could come between Danielle and me, Sookie." Holly pulled on her Windbreaker and fished for her keys in the depths of her purse. "But her and me, we've parted ways a little bit. We still see each other for lunch sometimes, and our kids still play together." Holly sighed heavily. "I don't know. When I got interested in something other than the world here in Bon Temps, the world we grew up in, Danielle started thinking there was something a little wrong with that, with my curiosity. When I decided to become a Wiccan, she hated that, still does hate it. If she knew about the Weres, if she knew what had happened to me..." A shapeshifting witch had tried to force Eric to give her a piece of his financial enterprises. She'd forced all the local witches she could round up into helping her, including an unwilling Holly. "That whole thing changed me," Holly said now.

"It does, doesn't it? Dealing with the supes."

"Yeah. But they're part of our world. Someday everyone will know that. Someday... the whole world will be different."

I blinked. This was unexpected. "What do you mean?"

"When they all come out," Holly said, surprised at my lack of insight. "When they all come out and admit their existence. Everyone, everyone in the world, will have to adjust. But some people won't want to. Maybe there'll be a backlash. Wars maybe. Maybe the Weres will fight all the other shifters, or maybe the humans will attack the Weres and the vampires. Or the vampires - you know they don't like the wolves worth a durn - they'll wait until some fine night, and then they'll kill them all and get the humans to say thank you."

She had a touch of the poet in her, did Holly. And she was quite a visionary, in a doom-ridden way. I'd had no idea Holly was that deep, and I was again ashamed of myself. Mind readers shouldn't be taken by surprise like that. I'd tried so hard to stay out of people's minds that I was missing important cues.

"All of that, or none of that," I said. "Maybe people will just accept it. Not in every country. I mean, when you think of what happened to the vampires in eastern Europe and some of South America..."

"The pope never sorted that one out," Holly commented.

I nodded. "Kind of hard to know what to say, I guess." Most churches had had (excuse me) a hell of a time deciding on a scriptural and theological policy toward the undead. The Were announcement would sure add another wrinkle to that. They were definitely alive, no doubt about it... But they had almost too much life, as opposed to already having died once.

I shifted my feet. I hadn't intended on standing out here and solving the world's problems and speculating on the future. I was still tired from the night before. "I'll see you, Holly. Maybe you and me and Amelia can go to the movies in Clarice some night?"

"Sure," she said, a little surprised. "That Amelia, she doesn't think much of my craft, but at least we can talk the talk a little."

Too late, I had a conviction the threesome wouldn't work out, but what the hell. We could give it a try.

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