Close to Dead

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Chapter 16: Boxers or Briefs

Eric left sometime before dawn. I slept late, as I’m apt to do these days, and when I finally woke up it was 1:47 pm. I hate waking up late. I used to love the mornings. I really did. I loved to wake when the day first broke, when the grass was still wet with dew, the birds were chirping in the trees, the day was still cool, and the sun was still low in the sky. I miss morning time.

Some days, I couldn’t help but to feel as if my whole day was wasted when I woke up late, which in a way, I guess it was, in the sense that daytime was usually done by the time I woke up. It’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever become accustomed to. If Eric could ingest certain blood to stay awake during the day, why didn’t he do it more often? He and I could do things together more often—daytime things, normal things, besides nighttime things.

However, of course, he doesn’t really want people to know about the daytime blood thing yet. I wonder if he’ll ever want people to know. You would think as opportunistic as Eric always has been he would find a way to bottle the daytime elixir and make millions of bucks from other vampires. The makers of the first synthetic blood were millionaires by now. This could change things for vampires all over the world.

As I stood in the shower, I thought about Larkin. I still had so many questions about the man. What did he really want with me, if anything? What did Eric suddenly have over him, to make him yield to him? Why was Eric so intent on me NOT seeing him, and now, all of the sudden, it was fine and dandy for him and me to meet? And mostly, why didn’t Larkin try to get rich and famous by bottling his own blood, or other blood like his?

I was bound and determined to find out, but not today. Today, as I dressed after my shower, I decided to go see a man about a job. It was time to go back to work. I needed the money, not badly, but soon it would be a necessity. I needed human companionship, because being around vampires too much wasn’t good for my mental or physical health, and I needed a purpose in life.

True, being a barmaid at Merlotte’s wasn’t my life’s passion, but it helped fill all three of those things, so it would do for now. I hopped in my car and went right over to the bar. There wasn’t one single car, save for mine, in the parking lot. I found that odd. The lunch crowd would be gone, but the dinner crowd would be coming soon, and there should at least be a few employee cars in the back lot, where I parked.

I went through the backdoor, yelling for Sam even as I stepped over the threshold. “Sam? Sam, are you here?”

There was no answer, so I stepped back outside and went over to his trailer. It was shut-up tight. I knocked on the door, called out his name again, but when no one answered, I went back to the bar. I walked around the front, and the ‘Closed’ sign was in the door window. I frowned as I walked back toward the backdoor. I walked right inside the bar. This time, I didn’t call out to Sam. Instead, I kept real quiet and I tried to ‘listen’ in my own special way.

What I heard chilled me to the bone.

Sam was in his office, but he wasn’t alone. He was in there with Alcide Herveaux and two other men whom I couldn’t identify. I heard all of their voices, but I also heard what was NOT being said. I listened carefully to Sam’s mind, and though shifter minds are hard to read, (and Weres, like Alcide, are even harder), I’ve known Sam for so long that I have learned to zero in on his thoughts pretty easily.

And he was thinking about me. And the thoughts were all jumbled and messed up and he was regretting something. He didn’t like what Alcide was proposing and he didn’t want me to get hurt. He also didn’t trust Eric, or Bill, which I found interesting, because I didn’t know where Bill even fit in my life anymore, and then, as if Sam said it aloud, instead of in his head, he thought if the other Weres carried out their plan that I was probably going to crack for good this time. Then I heard him say aloud, “You know that according to vampire law, Sookie and Eric are wed, and she can never be taken away from him, under pain of final death, so I don’t see how your plan will work anyway.”

“He can’t protest if he’s dead first,” said someone whom I couldn’t identify.

“Right,” Sam spat. “Like you’re gonna kill the future King of Louisiana. He’s the most powerful vampire in our state.”

Alcide harshly expelled, “No one’s killing anyone!” He censured the other man, with low words that I could barely understand, but by this time, all I could think was: What? What were they talking about and how did it concern me? Why was someone talking about killing Eric, and did they mean that Eric was going to be the future King of Louisiana? My mind was swirling, and I actually felt faint.

I took a shaky breath in and called out as loud as I could, “Sam? Are you here, Sam? It’s me, Sookie.”

Sam came out of his office quickly and hugged me. He looked a bit guilty, and, as he hugged and greeted me, I tried to read his mind again, but he was quick to block me. “Sook, what are you doing here?”

“I thought I would come see you about getting my job back,” I returned. “Is this a bad time? Why is the ‘Closed’ sign up? I thought I heard voices. Are you having a meeting of some type?” As I asked my questions, Sam took my hand and led me away from the office door and toward the dining room.

The door to the office opened again and Alcide walked out. He walked down the small hallway, just as the other two men walked toward the backdoor. I couldn’t make out who they were. As he approached me, he smiled, his green eyes bright and blazing. “Sookie, I’m so happy to see you. I’ve been so worried about you.” He grabbed me and hugged me tightly.

“I haven’t seen you forever,” I said candidly when he released me. “What are you doing in Bon Temps?”

“I have business with Sam,” he replied easily. He smiled again and said, “Did I hear right? You want to start working here again?”

“Well, yes,” I said, somewhat hesitantly.

“Eric doesn’t take care of his little woman? He doesn’t give you any pocket money?” he asked.

I became immediately angry, my face flushed red. I said, eyes bright with resentment, “I am not a kept woman, Alcide.”

“No, of course not, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said self-consciously, although I knew better. He did mean it like that. I frowned and Sam took my hand and gave it a squeeze.

“Go sit down and I’ll be with you in a moment, Cher,” Sam said quietly.

I nodded and went to sit down in at one of the tables out in the dining room. Sam finished up his business quickly, talking in tones that were so low I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t hear the other way, either. I didn’t get to see who the other two men in his office were, but Alcide walked toward me before he left and he said, “I’ll see you soon, Sookie.”

“I doubt that,” I huffed. I crossed my arms and glared at him. He just smiled and turned around and left.

Sam walked back out toward the table. “Now, what’s this about you wanting to work here again?”

“Oh,” I said, my anger gone. “I need to have something to do again, Sam. I’m bored, and though money’s not real tight yet, it will be soon, and yes, Eric would give me money if I asked for it, but I would never ask for it.”

He gave me a funny look, which I couldn’t decipher. “I don’t have a position open, Sookie, but seriously, you need to talk to Bill if you are having money trouble.”

“Bill?” There goes his name again. “Why would I have to talk to Bill?”

“Just go talk to him at sundown tonight, and he’ll explain to you that you really don’t need to work, Sookie. I’m sorry, but I really can’t have you work here anymore. It’s not really because I couldn’t use you, because, sure, I could always use another waitress,” Sam explained, adding, “it’s just that things have changed, and I’m not sure I could keep you safe here.”

“Safe? From the bar patrons?” I laughed. “Sam, I’ve been handling drunks and disorderly people for years now. You know that.”

“It goes beyond that, Sook, and besides, have you spoken to Eric about working here? I doubt he would want you to do that,” he censured.

“I told him I wanted to start working again,” I confirmed and then frowned. “And I do what I want, not what Eric Northman wants.”

He merely crossed his arms, sat back in the chair, and nodded. “Hmmm.”

“Fine,” I said with exasperation. I stood up. “I’ll go talk to Bill and see what the hell’s going on here.” I started to the door, but turned back around and said tautly, “By the way, you tell your little Were friend if anything happens to Eric Northman, he’ll have to answer to me.”

“How long were you out here?” Sam asked carefully. “How much did you hear?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I snapped.

I got in my car and drove all around town, bound and determined not to go home until I spoke to Bill, not even considering that I had a good few hours or so until sundown. I went to the drugstore and bought some shampoo. I went to the Library, and checked out two new books. I went to the grocery store and got some soda-pop and some snacks, and then I drove to Bill’s house, sat in my car, opened one of the cans of pop, ate some chips and read until it became so dark out that I could no longer see the printed word on the page.

I knew it was time to see Bill.

I looked up at his house, and noticed that a light had come on inside. I wondered if he could sense that I was out here. Did we still share a bond? I wondered if he ever still thought about me. Did he still love me? A small, selfish, self-centered part of me, (which I probably inherited from Eric during our blood bond, ha!) wanted Bill still to love me, even though I no longer loved him. I no longer doubted that Bill really did love me at one time, even though it all started out as a ruse, a ploy by the queen to secure my alliance, and although I hated Bill for so long, for all his lies, I no longer hated him. I had forgiven him.

After all, he saved my life from the fairies, and that meant a lot.

I thought of other times he had saved my life, like that very first time, from the Rats. That started everything. He saved my life, gave me his blood, and my life changed forever.

Eric had saved my life so many times I was losing count, but then again, the score was fairly even, since I had saved his life a few times, too. He saved me from being killed by Long Shadow by staking him, and he had to pay a large fine to Long Shadow’s maker after that. He saved me from being shot in Dallas, even if he did lie to me by telling me that I had to suck out the bullet. He saved me from being shot by Debbie Pelt. He saved me from being raped and maybe killed in the back of that Cadillac by Bill. He saved me after I was staked at Club Dead, he saved me from sharing blood with Andre, and though that may not have been a technical save, it was still a save in my book.

Eric and Bill were different as night and day. They had both shown how much they had loved me, but they had done it for very different reasons. They had both saved my life on different occasions, but again, they did it for different reasons. Bill did it openly, and as if to say, “I saved your life, because I love you.” Eric did it quietly, as if to say, “I love you, therefore, I saved your life.”

They were two different men, and I realized that although Bill was the first man I had ever loved, Eric would be the last.

I often equated them as being like boxers and briefs. One was stylish and modern, and hid nothing. That was Eric. He was the briefs. He was what he was with no pretense, and he was proud of it.

One was comfortable and old-fashioned, and hid a multitude of sins. That was Bill. He was the boxers. He appeared to be one thing on the outside, but on the inside, he was always something different.

I opened my purse and took out my phone. I dialed the number that was number one on my speed dial.

“Hello lover,” he answered, just as I knew he would.

“Guess where I’ve been for the last few hours,” I said.

“Oh, are we playing guessing games?” he murmured, his voice smooth as velvet. “I would rather guess what you are wearing. Are you wearing anything at all?”

I sighed. “Eric, I’m outside Bill’s house, waiting to go talk to him, because Sam told me that I needed to talk to him about money. Do you know anything about this?”

“I might,” he replied. “Are you going to go talk to Compton alone, or are you calling me because you want me to come with you to talk to him?”

“I want to know what’s going on before I go in there. I also want to know if you’re angling to become the future king of this fine state.”

“Well, you have been busy today, my pretty little beloved,” he observed with a laugh. “What other gossip do you have for me? You seem to be a fountain of knowledge this evening.”

“Well …” I drew out, “I know that Sam told some guy that was with Alcide Herveaux today that I was your wife under vampire law, so that it would be real bad if anyone tried to take me, and then this guy said something about killing you.”

That little tidbit was met with complete silence. “Eric?” I took the phone down from my ear to look to see if the call had dropped. I put it back to my ear. “Are you there?”

“Where did you see Alcide today?” he questioned, a definite coolness now lacing each word.

“I was in the bar to see Sam about getting my old job back, and I overheard Sam, Alcide, and two men whom I have never heard before talking about you and me, and about how I couldn’t be taken from you because we were wed under vampire law, and it would mean death to whomever tried to take me, and the one guy said that you couldn’t kill someone if you were dead.” That was such a long sentence that I barely had a chance to breath. I added quickly, “And they said something ‘bout you being the new King.”

Again, there was no sound from Eric’s end. I fretted, “Eric? Come on, Eric, are you there?”

The next thing I knew, Bill ran out from his house, not quite at vampire speed, but pretty, damn fast, his phone to his ear. He opened my car door and said, “Yes, Eric, I have her. I’ll keep her safe until you get here.” He literally picked me up and carried me, my purse, my phone, and my book into his house, slamming the car door shut with his foot in the process.

What kind of shit had I stepped into this time?

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