Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(3)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(3)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I took a swallow from my bottle. I wasn't much of a drinker - I saw too much overindulgence at work - but it had been impossible to turn down a cold beer on this bright evening. "I wish I knew where Dermot was, too," I said. Dermot was the fraternal twin of our half-fairy grandfather Fintan. "Niall sealed himself into Faery with all the other fairies who wanted to join him, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Dermot's in Faery with him. Claude stayed here. I saw him a couple of weeks ago." Niall was our great-grandfather. Claude was his grandson from Niall's marriage to another full fae.

"Claude, the male stripper."

"The owner of a strip club, who strips himself on ladies' night," I corrected. "Our cousin models for romance covers, too."

"Yeah, I bet the girls faint when he walks by. Michele's got a book with him on the cover in some genie costume. He must love every minute of it." Jason definitely sounded envious.

"I bet he does. You know, he's a pain in the butt," I said, and laughed, surprising myself.

"You see him much?"

"Just the once, since I got hurt. But when I picked up the mail yesterday, he'd sent me some free coupons for ladies' night at Hooligans."

"You think you'll ever take him up on it?"

"Not yet. Maybe when I'm ... in a better mood."

"You think Eric would mind you seeing another guy na**d?" Jason was trying to show me how much he'd changed by his casual reference to my relationship with a vampire. Well, give my brother points for "willing."

"I'm not sure," I said. "But I wouldn't watch other guys take off their clothes without letting Eric know about it ahead of time. Give him a chance to put in his two cents. Would you tell Michele you were going to a club to watch women strip?"

Jason laughed. "I'd at least mention it, just to hear what she'd say." He put the steaks on a platter and gestured to the sliding glass doors. "We're ready," he said, and I pulled the door open for him. I'd set the table earlier, and now I poured the tea. Michele had put the salad and the hot potato casserole on the table, and she got some A-1 steak sauce from the pantry. Jason loved his A-1. With the big barbecuing fork, Jason put one steak on each plate. In a couple of minutes, we were all eating. It was kind of homey, the three of us.

"Calvin came into the dealership today," Michele said. "He's thinking of trading in his old pickup." Calvin Norris was a good man with a good job. He was in his forties, and he carried a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He was my brother's leader, the dominant male in the werepanther community centered in the little settlement of Hotshot.

"He still dating Tanya?" I asked. Tanya Grissom worked at Norcross, same as Calvin, but she sometimes filled in at Merlotte's when one of the other waitresses couldn't work.

"Yeah, she's living with him," Jason said. "They fight pretty often, but I think she's staying."

Calvin Norris, leader of the werepanthers, did his best not to get involved in vampire affairs. He'd had a lot on his plate since the Weres had come out. He'd declared that he was two-natured the next day in the break room at work. Now that the word had gotten around, it had only earned Calvin more respect. He had a good reputation in the Bon Temps area, even if most of the people who lived out in Hotshot were regarded with some suspicion since the community was so isolated and peculiar.

"How come you didn't come out when Calvin did?" I asked. That was a thought I'd never heard in Jason's head.

My brother looked thoughtful, an expression that sat a little oddly on him. "I guess I just ain't ready to answer a lot of questions," he said. "It's a personal thing, the change. Michele knows, and that's all that's important."

Michele smiled at him. "I'm real proud of Jason," she said, and that was enough. "He manned up when he turned panther. Wasn't like he could help it. He's making the best of it. No whining. He'll tell people about it when he's ready."

Jason and Michele were just startling me all over the place. "I haven't ever said anything to anyone," I assured him.

"I never thought you would. Calvin says Eric is like a chief vampire," Jason said, hopping into a different topic.

I don't talk about vampire politics at any length with nonvamps. Just not a good idea. But Jason and Michele had shared with me, and I wanted to share a little back. "Eric's got some power. But he's got a new boss, and things are touchy."

"You want to talk about that?" I could tell Jason was uncertain about hearing whatever I chose to tell them, but he was trying hard to be a good brother.

"I better not," I said, and saw his relief. Even Michele was glad to turn back to her steak. "But apart from dealing with other vampires, Eric and I are doing okay. There's always some give and take in relationships, right?" Though Jason had had scores of relationships over the years, he'd learned about give and take only recently.

"I been talking to Hoyt again," Jason said, and I understood the pertinence. Hoyt, Jason's shadow for years, had dropped off my brother's radar for a while. Hoyt's fiancée, Holly, who worked at Merlotte's with me, wasn't a big Jason fan. I was surprised Jason had his best buddy back, and I was even more surprised Holly had consented to this renewal.

"I've changed a lot, Sookie," my brother said, as if (for once) he'd been reading my mind. "I want to be a good friend to Hoyt. I want to be a good boyfriend to Michele." He looked at Michele seriously, putting his hand over hers. "And I want to be a better brother. We're all we got left. Except for the fairy relations, and I'd just as soon forget about them." He looked down at his plate, embarrassed. "I can't hardly believe that Gran cheated on Grandpa."

"I had an idea about that," I said. I'd been struggling with the same disbelief. "Gran really wanted children, and that wasn't going to happen for her and Grandpa. I was thinking maybe she was enchanted by Fintan. Fairies can mess with your mind, like the vamps can. And you know how beautiful they are."

"Claudine sure was. And I guess if you're a woman, Claude looks pretty good."

"Claudine really toned it down since she was passing for human." Claudine, Claude's triplet, had been a stunning six-foot-tall beauty.

Jason said, "Grandpa wasn't any picture in the looks department."

"Yeah, I know." We looked at each other, silently acknowledging the power of physical attraction. Then we said, simultaneously, "But Gran?" And we couldn't help but laugh. Michele tried hard to keep a straight face, but finally she couldn't help grinning at us. It was hard enough thinking about your parents ha**ng s*x, but your grandparents? Totally wrong.

"Now that I'm thinking about Gran, I've been meaning to ask you if I could have that table she put up in the attic," Jason said. "The pie-crust table that used to sit by the armchair in the living room?"

"Sure, swing by and pick it up sometime," I said. "It's probably sitting right where you put it the day she asked you to take it up to the attic."

I left soon after with my almost-empty casserole dish, some leftover steak, and a cheerful heart.

I certainly hadn't thought having dinner with my brother and his girlfriend was any big deal, but when I got home that night I slept all the way through until morning, for the first time in weeks.

MARCH

THE FOURTH WEEK

"There," said Sam. I had to strain to hear him. Someone had put Jace Everett's "Bad Things" on, and just about everyone in the bar was singing along. "You've smiled three times tonight."

"You counting my facial expressions?" I put down my tray and gave him a look. Sam, my boss and friend, is a true shapeshifter; he can change into anything warm-blooded, I guess. I haven't asked him about lizards and snakes and bugs.

"Well, it's good to see that smile again," he said. He rearranged some bottles on the shelf, just to look busy. "I missed it."

"It's good to feel like smiling," I told him. "I like the haircut, by the way."

Sam ran a self-conscious hand across his head. His hair was short, and it hugged his scalp like a red gold cap. "Summer's coming up. I thought it might feel good."

"Probably will."

"You already started sunbathing?" My tan was famous.

"Oh, yeah." In fact, I'd started extra early this spring. The first day I'd put on my swimsuit, all hell had broken loose. I'd killed a fairy. But that was past. I'd lain out yesterday, and not a thing had happened. Though I confess I hadn't taken the radio outside, because I'd wanted to be sure I could hear if something was sneaking up on me. But nothing had. In fact, I'd had a remarkably peaceful hour lying in the sun, watching a butterfly waft by every now and then. One of my great-great-grandmother's rosebushes was blooming, and the scent had healed something inside me. "The sun just makes me feel real good," I said. I suddenly remembered that the fae had told me that I came from sky fairies, instead of water fairies. I didn't know anything about that, but I wondered if my love of the sun was a genetic thing.

Antoine called, "Order up!" and I hurried over to fetch the plates.

Antoine had settled in at Merlotte's, and we all hoped he'd stick with the cooking job. Tonight he was moving around the small kitchen like he had eight arms. Merlotte's menu was the most basic - hamburgers, chicken strips, a salad with chicken strips cut up on it, chili fries, French-fried pickles - but Antoine had mastered it with amazing speed. Now in his fifties, Antoine had gotten out of New Orleans after staying in the Superdome during Katrina. I respected Antoine for his positive attitude and his determination to start over after losing everything. He was also good to D'Eriq, who helped him with food prep and bused the tables. D'Eriq was sweet but slow.

Holly was working that night, and in between hustling drinks and plates she stood by Hoyt Fortenberry, her fiancé, who was perched on a barstool. Hoyt's mom had proven to be only too glad to keep Holly's little boy on the evenings Hoyt wanted to spend time with Holly. It was hard to look at Holly and recognize her as the sullen Goth Wiccan she'd been in one phase of her life. Her hair was its natural dark brown and had grown to nearly shoulder length, her makeup was light, and she smiled all the time. Hoyt, my brother's best friend again since they'd mended their differences, seemed like a stronger man now that he had Holly to brace him up.

I glanced over at Sam, who'd just answered his cell phone. Sam was spending a lot of time on that phone these days, and I suspected he was seeing someone, too. I could find out if I looked in his head long enough (though the two-natured are harder to read than simple basic humans), but I tried hard to stay out of Sam's thoughts. It's just rude to rummage around inside the ideas of people you care about. Sam was smiling while he talked, and it was good to see him looking - at least temporarily - carefree.

"You see Vampire Bill much?" Sam asked when I was helping him close up an hour later.

"No. I haven't seen him in a long time," I said. "I wonder if Bill's dodging me. I went by his house a couple of times and left him a six-pack of TrueBlood and a thank-you note for all he did when he came to rescue me, but he never called me or came over."

"He was in a couple of nights ago when you were off. I think you ought to pay him a visit," Sam said. "I'm not saying any more."

MARCH

THE END OF THE FOURTH WEEK

On a beautiful night later that week, I was rummaging in my closet for my biggest flashlight. Sam's suggestion that I needed to see Bill had been nagging at me, so after I got home from work, I resolved to take a walk across the cemetery to Bill's house.

Sweet Home Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Renard Parish. There isn't much room left for the dead, so there's one of those new "burial parks" with flat headstones on the south side of town. I hate it. Even if the ground is uneven and the trees are all grown up and some of the fences around the plots are falling down, to say nothing of the earliest headstones, I love Sweet Home. Jason and I had played there as kids, whenever we could escape Gran's attention.

The route through the memorials and trees to Bill's house was second nature, from the time he'd been my very first boyfriend. The frogs and bugs were just starting up their summer singing. The racket would only build with the hotter weather. I remembered D'Eriq asking me wasn't I scared, living by a graveyard, and I smiled to myself. I wasn't afraid of the dead lying in the ground. The walking and talking dead were much more dangerous. I'd cut a rose to lay on my grandmother's grave. I felt sure she knew I was there and thinking of her.

There was a dim light on at the old Compton house, which had been built about the same time my house had been. I rang the doorbell. Unless Bill was out in the woods roaming around, I was sure he was home since his car was there. But I had to wait some time until the creaking door swung open.

He switched on the porch light, and I tried not to gasp. He looked awful.

Bill had gotten infected with silver poisoning during the Fae War, thanks to the silver teeth of Neave. He'd had massive amounts of blood then - and since - from his fellow vampires, but I observed with some unease that his skin was still gray instead of white. His step was faltering, and his head hung a little forward like an old man's.

"Sookie, come in," he said. Even his voice didn't seem as strong as it had been.

Though his words were polite, I couldn't tell how he really felt about my visit. I can't read vampire minds, one of the reasons I'd initially been so attracted to Bill. You can imagine how intoxicating silence is after nonstop unwanted sharing.

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