Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(13)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(13)
Author: Charlaine Harris

He nodded. "My sister Mindy's gotten over it pretty well. She let me play with the kids the last time I saw them, and I'm going to try to get over to Texas for the Fourth of July. Her town has a big fireworks display, and the whole family goes. I think I'd enjoy it."

I smiled. They were lucky to have Sam in their family - that was what I thought. "Your sister must be pretty smart," I said. I took a big bite of country-fried steak with milk gravy. It was blissful.

He laughed. "Listen, while we're talking family," he said. "You ready to tell me how you're really doing? You told me about your great-grandfather and what happened. How are your injuries? I don't want to sound like I expect you to tell me everything that goes on in your life. But you know I care."

I did a little hesitating myself. But it felt right to tell Sam, so I tried to give him a nutshell account of the past week. "And JB has been helping me with some physical therapy," I added.

"You're walking like nothing happened, unless you get tired," he observed.

"There's a couple of bad patches on my left upper thigh where the flesh actually ... Okay, not going there." I looked down at my napkin for a minute or two. "It grew back. Mostly. There's a kind of dimple. I have a few scars, but they're not terrible. Eric doesn't seem to mind." In fact, he had a scar or two from his human life, though they hardly showed against the whiteness of his skin.

"Are you, ah, coping okay with it?"

"I have nightmares sometimes," I confessed. "And I have some panic moments. But let's not talk about it anymore." I smiled at him, my brightest smile. "Look at us after all these years, Sam. I'm living with a fairy, I've got a vampire boyfriend, you're dating a werewolf who cracks skulls. Would we ever have thought we'd say this, the first day I came to work at Merlotte's?"

Sam leaned forward and briefly put his hand over mine, and just then Pinkie herself came by the table to ask us how we'd liked the food. I pointed to my nearly empty plate. "I think you can tell we did," I said, smiling at her. She grinned back. Pinkie was a big woman who clearly enjoyed her own cooking. Some new customers came in, and she went off to seat them.

Sam took his hand back and began working on his food again. "I wish ..." Sam began, and then he closed his mouth. He ran a hand through his red gold hair. Since he'd had it trimmed so short, it had looked tamer than usual until he tousled it. He laid his fork down, and I noticed he'd managed to dispose of almost all his food, too.

"What do you wish?" I asked. Most people, I'd be scared to ask them to complete that sentence. But Sam and I had been friends for years.

"I wish that you would find happiness with someone else," he said. "I know, I know. It's none of my business. Eric does seem to really care about you, and you deserve that."

"He does," I said. "He's what I've got, and I'd be real ungrateful if I weren't happy with that. We love each other." I shrugged, in a self-deprecating way. I was uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation.

Sam nodded, though a wry twist to the corner of his mouth told me, without even hearing his thoughts, that Sam didn't think Eric was such an object of worth. I was glad I couldn't hear all his thoughts clearly. I thought Jannalynn was equally inappropriate for Sam. He didn't need a ferocious, anything-for-the-packmaster kind of woman. He needed to be with someone who thought he was the greatest man around.

But I didn't say anything.

You can't say I'm not tactful.

It was dreadfully tempting to tell Sam what had happened the night before. But I just couldn't. I didn't want to involve Sam in vampire shit any more than he already was, which was very little. No one needed stuff like that. Of course, I'd worried all day about the fallout from those events.

My cell phone rang while Sam was paying his half of the bill. I glanced at it. Pam was calling. My heart leaped into my throat. I stepped outside the diner.

"What's up?" I asked, sounding just as anxious as I really was.

"Hello to you, too."

"Pam, what happened?" I wasn't in the mood for playfulness.

"Bruno and Corinna didn't show up in New Orleans for work today," Pam said solemnly. "Victor didn't call here, because, of course, there was no good reason for them to come up here."

"Did they find the car?"

"Not yet. I'm sure the highway-patrol officers have put a sticker on it today, asking the owners to come and remove it. That's what they do, I've observed."

"Yes. That's what they do."

"No bodies will appear. Especially since after the downpour of last night, there won't be a trace." Pam sounded smug about that. "No blame can attach to us."

I stood there, phone to my ear, on an empty sidewalk in my little town, the streetlight only a few feet away. I'd seldom felt more alone. "I wish it had been Victor," I said, from the bottom of my heart.

"You want to kill someone else?" Pam sounded mildly surprised.

"No, I want it to be over. I want everything to be okay. I don't want any more killing at all." Sam came out of the restaurant behind me and heard the distress in my voice. I felt his hand on my shoulder. "I have to go, Pam. Keep me posted."

I shut the phone and turned to face Sam. He was looking troubled, and the light streaming from overhead cast deep shadows on his face.

"You're in trouble," he said.

I could only keep silent.

"I know you can't talk about it, but if you ever feel like you have to, you know where I am," he said.

"You, too," I said, because I figured with a girlfriend like Jannalynn, Sam might be in almost as bad a position as I was.

Chapter 5

The phone rang while I was in the shower Friday morning. Since I had an answering machine, I ignored it. As I was reaching out for my towel with my eyes shut, I felt it being thrust into my hand. With a gasp, I opened my eyes to see Claude standing there in his altogether.

"Phone's for you," he said, handing me the portable phone from the kitchen. He left.

I put it to my ear automatically. "Hello?" I said weakly. I didn't know what to think about first: me seeing Claude na**d, Claude seeing me na**d, or the whole fact that we were related and na**d in the same room.

"Sookie? You sound funny," said a faintly familiar male voice.

"Oh, I just got a surprise," I said. "I'm so sorry... . Who is this?"

He laughed, and it was a warm and friendly sound. "This is Remy Savoy, Hunter's dad," he said.

Remy had been married to my cousin Hadley, who was now dead. Their son, Hunter, and I had a connection, a connection that we needed to explore. I'd been meaning to call Remy to set up a playdate for me and Hunter, and I chided myself now for putting it off. "I hope you're calling to tell me that I can see Hunter this weekend?" I said. "I've got to work Sunday afternoon, but I have Saturday off. Tomorrow, that is."

"That's great! I was going to ask if I could bring him over this evening, and maybe he could spend the night."

That was a lot of time to spend with a kid I didn't know; more important, a kid who didn't know me. "Remy, do you have special plans or something?"

"Yeah. My dad's sister died yesterday, and they've set the funeral for tomorrow morning at ten. But the visitation is tonight. I hate to take Hunter to the visitation and the funeral ... especially considering, you know, his ... problem. It might be pretty hard on him. You know how it is... . I can't ever be sure what he'll say."

"I understand." And I did. A preschool telepath is tough to be around. My parents would have appreciated Remy's predicament. "How old is Hunter now?"

"Five, just had a birthday. I was worried about the party, but we got through that okay."

I took a deep breath. I'd told him I'd help out with Hunter's problem. "Okay, I can keep him overnight."

"Thanks. I mean, really thanks. I'll bring him over when I get off work today. That okay? We'll be there about five thirty?"

I would get off work between five and six, depending on my replacement being on time and how full my tables were. I gave Remy my cell number. "If I'm not home, call my cell. I'll be back here as soon as I can. What does he like to eat?"

We talked about Hunter's routine for a few minutes, and then I hung up. By then, I was dry, but my hair was hanging in damp rattails. After a few minutes with the blow-dryer, I set off to talk to Claude once I was securely dressed in my work clothes.

"Claude!" I yelled from the bottom of the stairs.

"Yes?" He sounded totally unconcerned.

"Come down here!"

He appeared at the head of the stairs, his hairbrush in his hand. "Yes, Cousin?"

"Claude, the answering machine would have picked up the phone call. Please don't come in my room without knocking, and especially don't come in my bathroom without knocking!" I would definitely employ the door lock from now on. I didn't think I'd ever used it before.

"Are you a prude?" He seemed genuinely curious.

"No!" But after a second, I said, "But maybe compared to you, yes! I like my privacy. I get to decide who sees me na**d. Do you get my point?"

"Yes. Objectively speaking, you have beautiful points."

I thought the top of my head would pop off. "I didn't expect this when I told you that you could stay with me. You like men."

"Oh, yes, I definitely prefer men. But I can appreciate beauty. I have visited the other side of the fence."

"I probably wouldn't have let you stay here if I'd known that," I said.

Claude shrugged, as if to say, "Wasn't I smart to keep it from you, then?"

"Listen," I said, and then stopped, because I was rattled. No matter what the circumstances, seeing Claude na**d ... Well, your first reaction wouldn't be rage, either. "I'm going to tell you a few things, and I want you to take me seriously."

He waited, brush in hand, looking only politely attentive.

"Number one. I have a boyfriend, and he's a vampire, and I'm not interested in cheating on him, and that includes seeing other guys na**d ... in my bathroom," I tacked on hastily, thinking of twoeys of all sorts. "If you can't respect that, you need to leave, and you'll just have to cry all the way home. Number two. I'm having company tonight, a little kid I'm babysitting, and you better act appropriate around him. You picking up what I'm laying down?"

"No nudity, be nice to the human kid."


"Is the child yours?"

"If he were mine, I'd be raising him, you can bet your money. He's Hadley's. She was my cousin, the daughter of my aunt Linda. She was the, ah, the girlfriend of Sophie-Anne. You know, the former queen? And she became a vampire, eventually. This little boy, Hunter, is the son Hadley had before all that happened to her. His dad's bringing him by." Was Claude related to Hadley? Yes, of course, and therefore to Hunter. I pointed that out.

"I like children," Claude told me. "I'll behave. And I'm sorry to have upset you." He gave a stab at sounding contrite.

"Funny, you don't look sorry. At all."

"I'm crying inside," he said, smiling a wicked smile.

"Oh, for goodness' sake," I said, turning away to complete my bathroom routine alone and unobserved.

I'd calmed down by the time I got to work. After all, I thought, Claude has probably seen a gazillion people na**d in his time. Most supes didn't think nudity was any big deal. The fact that Claude and I were distantly related - my great-grandfather was his grandfather - wouldn't make any difference to him; in fact, it wouldn't make any difference to most of the supes. So, I told myself stoutly, no big deal. When I hit a slow time at work, I called Eric's cell and left a message to tell him I was expecting to babysit a child that night. "If you can come over, great, but I wanted you to know ahead of time that someone else will be here," I told the voice mail. Hunter would make a pretty effective chaperone. Then I thought about my new upstairs roomer. "Plus, I kind of forgot to tell you something the other night, and probably you aren't going to like it much. Also, I miss you." There was a beep. My message time was up. Well ... good. There was no telling what I would've said next.

The tracker, Heidi, was supposed to arrive in Bon Temps tonight. It seemed like a year since Eric had decided to send her over to check my land. I felt a little concerned when I thought of her arrival. Would Remy think Hunter attending the funeral was so bad, if he knew who else was dropping by my house? Was I being irresponsible? Was I putting the child at risk?

No, it was paranoid to think so. Heidi was coming to scout around in my woods.

I had thrown off my niggling worry by the time I was preparing to leave Merlotte's. Kennedy had arrived to work for Sam again because he'd made plans to take the Were girl, Jannalynn, to the casinos in Shreveport and out to dinner. I hoped she was real good to Sam, because he deserved it.

Kennedy was contorting herself in front of the mirror behind the bar, trying to discern a weight loss. I looked down at my own thighs. Jannalynn was really, really slim. In fact, I'd call her skinny. God had been generous with me in the bosom department, but Jannalynn was the possessor of little apricotlike boobs she showed off by wearing bustiers and tank tops with no bra. She gave herself some attitude (and altitude) by wearing fantastic footwear. I was wearing Keds. I sighed.

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