Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(14)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(14)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Have a nice night!" Kennedy told me brightly, and I straightened my shoulders, smiled, and wiggled my fingers good-bye. Most people thought Kennedy's big smile and good manners had to be put on. But I knew Kennedy was sincere. She'd been trained by her pageant-queen mom to keep a smile on her face and a good word on her lips. I had to hand it to her; Danny Prideaux didn't faze Kennedy at all, and I felt like he'd make most girls pretty nervous. Danny, who'd been brought up to expect the world to beat him down so he better throw the first punch, lifted a finger to me to second Kennedy's farewell. He had a Coke in front of him, because Danny didn't drink on duty. He seemed content to play Mario Kart on his Nintendo DS, or to simply sit at the bar and watch Kennedy work.

On the other hand, lots of men would be nervous about working with Kennedy since she'd served time for manslaughter. Some women would be, too. But I had no problem with her. I was glad Sam had stepped up for her. It's not that I approve of murder - but some people just beg to be killed, don't they? After all I'd been through, I was forced to simply admit to myself that I felt that way.

I got home about five minutes before Remy arrived with Hunter. I'd had just enough time to pull off my work clothes, toss them in the hamper, and put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt before Remy knocked at the front door.

I looked through the peephole before I opened the door, on the theory that it's better to be safe than sorry.

"Hey, Remy!" I said. He was in his early thirties, a quietly good-looking man with thick light brown hair. He was wearing clothes suitable for an evening visitation at a funeral home: khakis, a white-and-brown-striped broadcloth shirt, polished loafers. He'd looked more comfortable in the flannel and jeans he'd been wearing the first time I'd met him. I looked down at his son. Hunter had grown since I'd seen him last. He had dark hair and eyes like his mother, Hadley, but it was too early to say who he'd favor when he grew up.

I squatted down and said, Hi, Hunter. I didn't say anything out loud, but I smiled at him.

He'd almost forgotten. His face lit up. Aunt Sookie! he said. Pleasure ran through his head, pleasure and excitement. "I have a new truck," he said out loud, and I laughed.

"You gonna show it to me? Come on in, you two, and let's get you settled."

"Thanks, Sookie," Remy said.

"Do I look like my mama, Dad?" Hunter asked.

"Why?" Remy was startled.

"That's what Aunt Sookie says."

Remy was used to little shocks like this by now, and he knew it would only get worse. "Yes, you look like your mom, and she was good-looking," Remy told him. "You're a lucky young man, Son."

"I don't want to look like a girl," Hunter said doubtfully.

You don't. "Not a bit," I said. "Hunter, your room is right here." I indicated the open doorway. "I used to sleep in this room when I was a kid," I said.

Hunter looked around, alert and cautious. But the low twin bed with its white bedspread and the old furniture and the worn rug by the bed were all homey and unthreatening. "Where will you be?" he asked.

"Right here, across the hall," I told him, opening the door to my room. "You just call out, and I'll come a-running. Or you can come climb in the bed with me, if you get scared in the night."

Remy stood, watching his son absorb all this. I didn't know how often the little boy had spent the night away from his dad; not too often, from the thoughts I was picking up from the boy's head.

"The bathroom's the next door down from your room, see?" I pointed in. He looked into the old-fashioned room with his mouth hanging open.

"I know it looks different from your bathroom at home," I said, answering his thoughts. "This is an old house, Hunter." The claw-foot tub and the black-and-white tiles were not what you saw in the rental houses and apartments Remy and Hunter had lived in since Katrina.

"What's upstairs?" Hunter asked.

"Well, a cousin of mine is staying up there. He's not home right now, and he comes in so late you may not even see him. His name is Claude."

Can I go up there and look around?

Maybe tomorrow we'll go up together. I'll show you the rooms you can go into and the rooms that Claude is using.

I glanced up to see that Remy was looking from Hunter to me, and he didn't know whether to be relieved or worried that I could talk to his son in a way he could not.

"Remy, it's okay," I said. "I grew up, and it got easier. I know this is going to be tough, but at least Hunter is a bright boy with a sound body. His little problem is just ... less straightforward than most other kids'."

"That's a good way to look at it." But Remy's worry didn't diminish.

"You want a drink?" I said, not sure what to do with Remy now. Hunter had asked me silently if he could unpack his bag, and I'd told him - the same way - that unpacking was fine with me. He'd already unloaded a little backpack full of toys onto the bedroom floor.

"No, thank you. I got to get going."

It was unpleasant to realize that I spooked Remy in the same way his son spooked other people. Remy might need my help, and I could tell he thought I was a pretty woman, but I could also see that I gave him the creeps. "Is the visitation in Red Ditch?" I asked. That was the town where Remy and Hunter lived. It was about an hour and a quarter's drive southeast from Bon Temps.

"No, in Homer. So this is kind of on the way. If you run into any problems, just call my cell and I can come pick him up on the way home. Otherwise, I'll stay the night in Homer, go to the funeral at ten tomorrow, stay for the lunch at my cousin's home afterward, and pick Hunter up later in the afternoon, if that suits you."

"We'll be fine," I said, which was sheer bravado on my part. I hadn't taken care of kids since I'd sat with my friend Arlene's young 'uns, way back when. I didn't want to think about that; friendships that end bitterly are always sad. Those kids probably hated me now. "I've got videos we can watch, and a puzzle or two, and even some coloring books."

"Where?" Hunter asked, looking around like he expected to see a Toys "R" Us.

"You say good-bye to your daddy, and we'll go looking for them," I told him.

"Bye, Dad," Hunter said, waving a casual hand at Remy.

Remy looked nonplussed. "Want to give me a hug, champ?"

Hunter held up his arms, and Remy picked him up and swung him around.

Hunter giggled. Remy smiled over the child's shoulder. "That's my boy," he said. "Be good for your aunt Sookie. Don't forget your manners. I'll see you tomorrow." He put Hunter down.

"Okay," Hunter said, quite matter-of-factly.

Remy had been expecting a big fuss, since he'd never been away from the boy for so long. He glanced at me, then shook his head with a smile. He was laughing at himself, which I thought was a good reaction.

I wondered how long Hunter's calm acceptance would last. Hunter looked up at me. "I'll be okay," he said, and I realized he was reading my mind and interpreting my thought in his own way. Though I'd had this experience before, it had been filtered through an adult's sensibility, and we'd had the fun of experimenting with combining our telepathy to see what happened. Hunter wasn't filtering and rearranging my thoughts as someone older would.

After hugging his son again, Remy left reluctantly. Hunter and I found the coloring books. It turned out that Hunter liked to color more than anything else in the world. I settled him at the table in the kitchen and turned my attention to supper preparation. I could have cooked a meal from scratch, but I figured something that required little attention would be best the first time he stayed with me. You like Hamburger Helper? I asked silently. He looked up, and I showed him the box.

I like that, Hunter said, recognizing the picture. He seemed to turn all his attention back to the turtle and butterfly scene he was coloring. The turtle was green and brown, approved turtle colors, but Hunter had gone to town on the butterfly. It was magenta, yellow, blue, and emerald green ... and he hadn't finished it yet. I noted that staying in the lines was not Hunter's main goal. Which was okay.

Kristen used to make Hamburger Helper, he told me. Kristen had been Remy's girlfriend. Remy had told me he and Kristen had broken up over her inability to accept Hunter's special gift. Not so surprisingly, Kristen had come to believe Hunter was creepy. Adults had thought I was a weird kid, too. Though I understood that now, at the time it had been painful. She was scared of me, Hunter said, and he looked up for a second. I could understand that look.

She just didn't understand, I said. There aren't many people like us.

Am I the only other one?

No. I know one other, a guy. He's a grown-up. He lives in Texas.

Is he okay?

I wasn't sure what Hunter meant by "okay" until I looked at his thoughts a little longer. The little boy was thinking of his dad and some other men he admired - men who had jobs and wives or girl-friends, men who worked. Regular men.

Yes, I answered. He found a way to make a living with it. He works for vampires. You can't hear vampires.

I never met one. Really?

The doorbell rang. "I'll be back in a minute," I told Hunter, and I walked swiftly to the front door. I used the peephole. My caller was a young vampire female - presumably Heidi, the tracker. My cell phone rang. I fished it out of my pocket.

"Heidi should be there," Pam said. "Has she come to the door?"

"Brown ponytail, blue eyes, tall?"

"Yes. You can let her in."

This was all very timely.

I had the door open in a second. "Hi. Come in," I said. "I'm Sookie Stackhouse." I stood aside. I didn't offer to shake hands; vampires don't do that.

Heidi nodded to me and stepped into the house, darting quick looks around her, as if openly examining her surroundings were rude. Hunter came running into the living room, skidding to a stop as he saw Heidi. She was tall and bony, and possibly a mute. However, now Hunter could test my words.

"Heidi, this is my friend Hunter," I said, and waited for Hunter's reaction.

He was fascinated. He was trying to read her thoughts, as hard as he could. He was delighted with the result, with her silence.

Heidi squatted. "Hunter, you're a fine boy," she said, to my relief. Her voice had an accent I associated with Minnesota. "Are you going to be staying with Sookie for long?" Her smile revealed teeth that were a little longer and sharper than the general run of humans', and I thought Hunter might be scared. But he eyed her with genuine fascination.

Did you come to eat supper with us? he asked Heidi.

Out loud, please, Hunter, I said. She's different from humans, but she's not like us, either. Remember?

He glanced at me as if he were afraid that I was angry. I smiled at him and nodded.

"You gonna eat supper with us, Miss Heidi?"

"No, thank you, Hunter. I'm here to go back in the woods and look for something we're missing. I won't disturb you any longer. My boss asked me to introduce myself to you, and then go about my work." Heidi stood, smiling down at the little boy.

Suddenly, I saw a pitfall right in front of me. I was an idiot. But how could I help the boy if I didn't educate him? Don't let her know you can hear things, Hunter, I told the child. He looked up at me, his eyes amazingly like my cousin Hadley's. He looked a little scared.

Heidi was glancing from Hunter to me, obviously feeling that something was going on that she couldn't discern.

"Heidi, I hope you find something back there," I said briskly. "Let me know before you leave, please." Not only did I want to know if she found anything, but I wanted to know when she was off the property.

"This should take no more than two hours," she said.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you, 'Welcome to Louisiana,' " I told her. "I hope you didn't mind too much, moving here from Las Vegas."

"Can I go back to color?" Hunter asked.

"Sure, honey," I said. "I'll be there in a minute."

"I gotta go potty," Hunter called, and I heard the bathroom door close.

Heidi said, "My son was his age when I was turned."

Her statement was so abrupt, her voice so flat, that it took me a moment to absorb what she'd told me.

"I'm so sorry," I said, and I meant it.

She shrugged. "It was twenty years ago. He's grown now. He's a drug addict in Reno." Her voice still sounded flat and emotionless, as if she were talking about the son of a stranger.

Very cautiously, I said, "Do you go see him?"

"Yes," she said. "I go to see him. At least I did before my former - employer - sent me here."

I didn't know what to say, but she was still standing there, so I ventured another question. "Do you let him see you?"

"Yes, sometimes. I called an ambulance one time when I saw he'd overdosed. Another night, I saved him from a vamp-blood addict who was going to kill him."

A herd of thoughts thundered through my head, and they were all unpleasant. Did he know the vampire watching him was his mother? What if he OD'd in the daytime, when she was dead to the world? How would she feel if she wasn't there the night his luck finally ran out? She couldn't always be on hand. Could it be he'd become an addict because his mother kept popping up when she should be dead?

"In the old days," I said, because I had to say something, "vampires' makers left the area with the new vamps as soon as they were turned, to keep them away from their kin, who'd recognize them." Eric and Bill and Pam had all told me that.

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