Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(11)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(11)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"What have you done?" he asked. He was deadly serious.

"I haven't done anything," I said, startled by his vehemence. "It was Eric's doing." I told Sam about the knife.

"Didn't you realize there was some significance to the knife?"

"I didn't know it was a knife," I said, beginning to feel pretty pissed but still maintaining my reasonable voice. "Bobby didn't tell me. I guess he didn't know himself, so I couldn't very well pick it up from his brain."

"Where was your sense? Sookie, that was anidiotic thing to do."

This was not exactly the reaction I had anticipated from a man I'd been worried about, a man on whose behalf I'd been working my butt off for days. I gathered my hurt and pride around me like a jacket. "Then let me just take my idiotic self home, so you won't have to put up with my idiocy any longer," I said, my voice even enough to support a level. "I guess I'll go home now that you're back and I don't have to be here every single minute of my day to make sure things are running okay."

"I'm sorry," he said, but it was too late. I was on my high horse, and I was riding it out of Merlotte's.

I was out the back door before our heaviest drinker could have counted to five, and then I was in my car and on the way home. I was mad, and I was sad, and I suspected that Sam was right. That's when you get the angriest, isn't it? When you know you've done something stupid? Eric's explanation hadn't exactly erased my concerns.

I was scheduled to work that evening, so I had until then to get my act together. There was no question of my not showing up. Whether or not Sam and I were on the outs, I had to work.

I wasn't ready to be at home, where I'd have to think about my own confused feelings.

Instead of going home, I turned and went to Tara's Togs. I hadn't seen a lot of my friend Tara since she'd eloped with JB du Rone. But my inner compass was pointing in her direction. To my relief, Tara was in the store alone. McKenna, her "helper," was not a full-time employee. Tara came out of the back when the bell on the door rang. She looked a little surprised to see me at first, but then she smiled. Our friendship has had its ups and downs, but it looked like we were okay now. Great.

"What's up?" Tara asked. She looked attractive and snug gly in a teal sweater. Tara is taller than I am, and real pretty, and a real good businesswoman.

"I've done a stupid thing, and I don't know how I feel about it," I said.

"Tell me," she commanded, and we went to sit at the table where the wedding catalogs were kept. She shoved the box of Kleenex over to me. Tara knows when I'm going to cry.

So I told her the long story, beginning with the incident in Rhodes where I'd exchanged blood with Eric for what turned out to be one too many times. I told her about the weird bond we had as a result.

"Let me get this straight," she said. "He offered to take your blood so an even worse vamp wouldn't bite you?"

I nodded, dabbing at my eyes.

"Wow, such self-sacrifice." Tara had had some bad experiences with vampires. I wasn't surprised at her sarcastic summation.

"Believe me, Eric doing it was by far the lesser of two evils," I assured her.

Suddenly, I realized I'd be free now if Andre had taken my blood that night . Andre had died at the bombing site. I considered that for a second and moved on. That hadn't happened and I wasn't free, but the chains I wore now were a lot prettier.

"So how are you feeling about Eric?" Tara asked.

"I don't know," I said. "There are things I almost love about him, and things about him that scare the hell out of me. And I really ... you know ...want him. But he pulls tricks for what he says is my own good. I believe he cares about me. But he cares about himself mostly." I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I'm babbling."

"This is why I married JB," she said. "So I wouldn't have to worry about shit like this." She nodded, confirming her own good decision.

"Well, you've taken him, so I can't do that," I said. I tried to smile. Marriage to someone as simple as JB sounded really relaxing. But was marriage supposed to be like settling back in a La-Z-Boy ? At least spending time with Eric is never boring, I thought. Sweet as he was, JB had a finite capacity for entertaining conversation.

Plus, Tara was always going to have to be in charge. Tara was no fool, and she'd never be blinded by love. Other things, maybe, but not love. I knew Tara clearly understood the rules of her marriage to JB, and she didn't seem to mind. For her, being the navigator/captain was a comforting and empowering role. I definitely liked to be in charge of my own life - I didn't want anyone owning me - but my concept of marriage was more in the nature of a democratic partnership.

"So, let me summarize," Tara said in a good imitation of one of our high school teachers. "You and Eric have done the nasty in the past."

I nodded. Boy howdy, had we.

"Now the whole vampire organization owes you for some service you performed. I don't want to know what it was, and I don't want to know why you did it."

I nodded again.

"Also, Eric more or less owns a piece of you because of this blood-bond thing. Which he didn't necessarily plan out in advance, to give him credit."

"Yep."

"And now he's maneuvered you into the position of being his fiancée? His wife? But you didn't know what you were doing."

"Right."

"And Sam called you idiotic because you obeyed Eric."

I shrugged. "Yeah, he did."

Tara had to help a customer then, but only for a couple of minutes. (Riki Cunningham wanted to pay on a prom dress she'd put on layaway for her daughter.) When Tara resumed her seat, she was ready to give me feedback. "Sookie, at least Eric does care about you some, and he's never hurt you. You could've been smarter. I don't know if you weren't because of this bond thing you have with him or because you're so gone on him that you don't ask enough questions. Only you can figure that out. But it could be worse. No humans need to know about this knife thing. And Eric can't be around during the day, so you'll have Eric-free time to think. Also, he's got his own business to run, so he's not going to be following you around. And the new vampire execs have to leave you alone because they want to keep Eric happy. Not so bad, right?" She smiled at me, and after a second, I smiled back.

I began to perk up. "Thanks, Tara," I said. "You think Sam will stop being mad?"

"I wouldn't exactly expect him to apologize for saying you acted like an idiot," Tara warned me. "A, it's true, and B, he's a man. He's got that chromosome. But you two have always gotten along great, and he owes you for you taking care of the bar. So he'll come around."

I pitched my used Kleenex into the little trash can by the table. I smiled, though it probably wasn't my best effort.

"Meanwhile," Tara said, "I have some news for you, too." She took a deep breath.

"What is it?" I asked, delighted that we were back on best-friend footing.

"I'm going to have a baby," Tara said, and her face froze in a grimace.

Ah-oh.Dangerous footing. "You don't look super-happy," I said, cautiously.

"I hadn't planned on having children at all," she said. "Which was okay with JB."

"So ... ?"

"Well, even multiple birth control methods don't always work," Tara said, looking down at her hands, which were folded on top of a bridal magazine. "And I just can't have it taken care of. It's ours. So."

"Might ... might you come around to being glad about this?"

She tried to smile. "JB is really happy. It's hard for him to keep it a secret. But I wanted to wait for the first three months to pass. You're the first one I've told."

"I swear," I said, reaching over to pat her shoulder, "you'll be a good mother."

"You really think so?" She looked, and felt, terrified. Tara's folks had been the kind of parents who occasionally get shot-gunned by their offspring. Tara's abhorrence of violence had prevented her from taking that path, but I don't think anyone would have been surprised if the older Thorntons had vanished one night. A few people would have applauded.

"Yeah, I really think so." I meant it. I could hear , directly from her head, Tara's determination to wipe out everything her own mother had done to her by being the best mother she could be to her own child. In Tara's case, that meant she would be sober, gentle-handed, clean of speech, and full of praise.

"I'll show up at every classroom open house and teacher conference," she said, now in a voice that was almost frightening in its intensity. "I'll bake brownies. My child will have new clothes. Her shoes will fit. She'll get her shots, and she'll get her braces. We'll start a college fund next week. I'll tell her I love her every damn day."

If that wasn't a great plan for being a good mother, I couldn't imagine what a better one could be.

We hugged each other when I got up to leave.This is the way it's supposed to be, I thought.

I went home, ate a belated lunch, and changed into my work clothes.

When the phone rang, I hoped it was Sam calling to smooth things over, but the voice on the other end was an older man's and unfamiliar.

"Hello? Is Octavia Fant there, please?"

"No, sir, she's out. May I take a message?"

"If you would."

"Sure." I'd answered the phone in the kitchen, so there was a pad and pencil handy.

"Please tell her Louis Chambers called. Here's my number." He gave it to me slowly and carefully, and I repeated it to make sure I'd put it down correctly. "Ask her to call me, please. I'll be glad to take a collect call."

"I'll make sure she gets your message."

"Thank you."

Hmmm. I couldn't read thoughts over the phone, which normally I considered a great relief. But I would have enjoyed learning a little more about Mr. Chambers.

When Amelia came home a little after five, Octavia was in the car. I gathered Octavia had been walking around downtown Bon Temps filling out job applications, while Amelia had put in an afternoon at the insurance agency. It was Amelia's evening to cook, and though I had to leave for Merlotte's in a few minutes, I enjoyed watching her leap into action, creating spaghetti sauce. I handed Octavia her message while Amelia was chopping onions and a bell pepper.

Octavia made a choked sound and grew so still that Amelia stopped chopping and joined me in waiting for the older woman to look up from the piece of paper and give us a little backstory. That didn't happen.

After a moment, I realized Octavia was crying, and I hurried to my bedroom and got a tissue. I tried to slip it to Octavia tactfully, like I hadn't noticed anything amiss but just happened to have an extra Kleenex in my hand.

Amelia carefully looked down at the cutting board and resumed chopping while I glanced at the clock and began fishing around in my purse for my car keys, taking lots of unnecessary time to do it.

"Did he sound well?" Octavia asked, her voice choked.

"Yes," I said. There was only so much I could get from a voice on the other end of a phone line. "He sounded anxious to talk to you."

"Oh, I have to call him back," she said, and her voice was wild.

"Sure," I said. "Just punch in the number. Don't worry about calling collect or anything; the phone bill'll tell us how much it was." I glanced over at Amelia, cocking an eyebrow. She shook her head. She didn't know what the hell was going on, either.

Octavia placed the call with shaking fingers. She pressed the phone to her ear after the first ring. I could tell when Louis Chambers answered. Her eyes shut tight, and her hand clenched the phone so hard the muscles stood out.

"Oh, Louis," she said, her voice full of raw relief and amazement. "Oh, thank God. Are you all right?"

Amelia and I shuffled out of the kitchen at that point. Amelia walked to my car with me. "You ever heard of this Louis guy?" I asked.

"She never talked about her private life when she was working with me. But other witches told me Octavia had a steady boyfriend. She hasn't mentioned him since she's been here. It looks like she hasn't heard from him since Katrina."

"She might not have thought he survived," I said, and we widened our eyes at each other.

"That's big stuff," Amelia said. "Well. We may be losing Octavia." She tried to stifle her relief, but of course, I could read it. As fond as Amelia was of her magical mentor, I'd realized that for Amelia, living with Octavia was like living with one of your junior high teachers.

"I got to go," I said. "Keep me posted. Text me if there's any big news." Texting was one of my new Amelia-taught skills.

Despite the chilly air, Amelia sat on one of the lawn chairs that we'd recently hauled out of the storage shed to encourage ourselves to anticipate spring. "The minute I know something," she agreed. "I'll wait here a few minutes, then go check on her."

I got in my car and hoped the heater would warm up soon. In the gathering dusk, I drove to Merlotte's. I saw a coyote on the way. Usually they were too clever to be seen, but this one was trotting along the side of the road as if he had an appointment in town. Maybe it was really a coyote, or maybe it was a person in another form. When I considered the possums and coons and the occasional armadillo I saw squashed by the road every morning, I wondered how many werecreatures had gotten killed in their animal forms in such careless ways. Maybe some of the bodies the police labeled murder victims were actually people killed by accident in their alternate form. I remembered all animal traces had vanished from Crystal's body when she'd been taken down from the cross, after the nails had been removed. I was willing to bet those nails had been silver. There was so much I didn't know.

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