So... I might have led you on. Sorry.
Also, I'm really sorry about slacking in updating - it's just really busy time for me.
This chapter is unbetaed.
(Dis)claimer: Mea culpa.
I stood up abruptly.
"Okay, okay," I said. "Everything is best in small doses."
Eric and Pam exchanged looks as if I said something amusing.
"Oh, Sookie, Sookie," said Pam shaking her head, "You really don't remember a thing, do you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said quickly, though Eric's resulting grin after Pam's remark gave me some ideas. "Goodnight. Have fun."
Only when I was already in my bed, clean and dressed in my favourite pyjamas, I realized the danger lurking in the way I phrased my last sentence. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know what my guests' idea of having fun was; but even that thought wasn't as alarming as it should have been.
I was working an early shift at Merlotte's next day. Jason stopped for lunch: he greeted me a little more affectionate than usually, even giving me a somewhat awkward half-hug, probably because he was still anxious about his well-being and he counted on my support. It relieved me a little when he told me that he was meeting his panther girlfriend, Crystal, later in the evening. He was hoping that he could talk her into spending the night at his place. I wasn't especially eager to hear about my brother's bedroom plans (let's be honest: I had no delusions as to what kind of social program he had in mind to entertain his guest), but the very fact that the two-natured Crystal was still willing to spend time with him was a good sign. With my spirits slightly lifted I spent the rest of the day in relative peace. Even so, I still let out a relieved breath when it was finally time for me to slip out of the bar through the back door. The level of the mental noise inside the bar was rather high and being able to lower my shields at the end of my shift was like stretching tired limbs after physical exercise.
I ran into Sweetie Des Artes at the back lot. She was standing there smoking, a mystery novel tucked under her arm. She nodded at me and took a deep drag of her cigarette. She was one in line of many cooks that has worked at Merlotte's during the last few years and I felt a pang of guilt at the thought that I had made no effort of getting to know her better. Maybe this was my chance to fix that?
I waved at her friendly.
"How are you?" I asked.
"Great, thanks. I'm just taking a break. Hey, you have something on your coat."
She leaned a little closer than my normal comfort zone for strangers ranged and brushed something off my shoulder. I thought I saw her taking a sniff. I hoped it wasn't because there was something disgusting stuck to my coat. I couldn't smell anything, but my nose was probably numbed to greasy odours after inhaling the fumes from the bar food for hours. Sweetie has been standing outside for a few minutes, so her sense of smell was sharper.
"Um… thanks," I said uncertainly.
"I think Sam cares a lot about you," she said unexpectedly.
"We're friends. I've been working here for years."
"I think it's something more than that."
"Oh, I don't think so," I shrugged.
"You were there with him when he was shot, right?"
This conversation was heading toward uncomfortable ground pretty fast.
"Yeah, I was just about to go to my car and drive off when it happened."
"And you didn't notice anything?"
Sweetie leaned against the wall and tilted her head.
"Sadly, no. I hope they will catch whoever did this."
"Do you think there is some reason for why the shooter chose to attack these people, and not someone else?"
"No," I lied. "I can't see anything like that. They have nothing in common."
"Maybe they know the same secret or they witnessed the same accident?" she speculated. "Or maybe the police is going to find out that they are customers at the same launderette…"
I glanced at her novel and relaxed a little. I even smiled at her. Her theories sounded innocent enough.
"I see where you're going," I said. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid there is no mystery pattern to uncover. I think the victims are random."
"You're probably right," she shrugged. "Fiction makes everything more interesting. Real world is so dull."
I chuckled. Not my world.
Talking to Sweetie and seeing Jason reminded me that the clock was ticking and that for my brother's sake the shooter had to be found soon.
I spent the rest of the day making myself busy with the house chores. I chatted a little with Pam after she rose for the night, but she was working (of course) the late shift so she didn't have much time to talk to me.
After she left I realised that it was the first evening in days I was spending alone in my house. Since I had 'borrowed' Pam from Eric, at least one of them had been around after dark. It was an odd thought.
I decided not to dwell onto the fact how easy it would be to get used to someone else's presence at my home. Even though there was really no reason for that, I stayed up late (perhaps it was becoming a habit) and for a moment I was even considering waiting for Pam, but eventually the exhaustion took over and I listened to my rational mind which was telling me to go to sleep. I took a quick shower (since the other night I couldn't get rid of the image of a soapy, dripping Eric popping into my mind every time I even glanced toward the bathroom door and I was starting to wonder if it was something I'd have to live with from now on) and went to bed. Pam had the key, so I locked the door. It didn't take me long to fall asleep.
It seemed to me like it was only minutes later when I felt someone shaking me not so gently. A terrible smell hit my nostrils.
"Sookie, wake up," I heard. "Your house is on fire."
"Impossible," I muttered sleepily. "I didn't leave anything on."
Something was making a nasty, screeching sound.
"Sookie, get up, now!" the voice belonged to Pam.
I sobered up a little and opened my eyes. My vision was limited, not only because of the darkness, but also because of the smoke. I sat up quickly. I realised that the horrid sound was fire alarm.
"How…?" I started asking confused, but Pam impatiently proceeded to remove me forcibly from the bed and simply lifted me from it.
"Let's get out of here," she said.
I thought that she sounded tense and then it occurred to me that vampires were highly flammable. Not wasting time on waiting for my cooperation she half-dragged, half-carried me outside. It certainly got us out faster than if I tried to move using only my two legs. Nasty, pungent billows of smoke were eddying around the whole house.
Pam placed me on the cool, dewy lawn. The chill drained the last of sleep from my head. This wasn't a bad dream, this was really happening.
Much to my surprise, I saw Charles Twining, the bartender from Fangtasia, standing on my yard. He was holding his cellphone to his ear and from what I gathered, was in the middle of calling the fire department. I looked between him and Pam. The red glow from the fire made it easy for me to see everything clearly in the night.
"My house is on fire?" I asked dumbly. "But why?"
"Apparently, someone set it on fire," Pam answered my question with anger in her voice. "You're lucky that it was only starting when I got here."
"Set on fire? By whom? And what is he doing here?" I pointed at Charles with my chin. He was still on the phone.
"He says he was going to visit Bill. He caught the arsonist."
My eyes returned to the flames swallowing my house, as if pulled by a magnet.
"The arsonist? Who? Where?"
It was only then when I noticed an odd shape lying under the rose bushes. When I looked a little closer I was able to tell that it was a body – some stranger's body.
"He's dead," I stated the obvious.
"Charles found him," Pam reminded me flatly and this time I understood the full implication of the phrase.
"I didn't know Charles was friends with Bill," I said thoughtfully.
In the moments like that your mind sometimes focuses on the strangest of details.
"Neither did I," Pam stated ominously. "For Charles's sake let's hope at least Bill knew about that."
I looked at her surprised before realising what she was suggesting.
"My ID," I remembered suddenly. "All my papers. I need to get my purse!"
…and before anyone could stop me, I ran right back inside the burning house.
"Sookie!" Pam hollered after me. "Are you insane? Get your ass back here, now!"
But the heat rolling from the entrance made her hesitate for a moment and these few seconds gave me an advantage that allowed me to get inside the building, where no vampire would follow me. I headed toward my bedroom. The smoke got even thicker and I could see the flames through the kitchen door. The sight of open fire made me realise that I had made a mistake by going back, but it was already too late for second thoughts. Doing everything in my power not to panic I grabbed my things, that were luckily exactly where I remembered putting them, and with my heart in my throat I made my way back outside, stumbling a few times against one piece of furniture or another, having troubles in seeing them in the opaque fog. I breathed with relief when the clearer air hit me. That was close.
"That was very stupid," Pam told me sternly, but I couldn't reply, since I was in the middle of a cough attack.
I tried to look contrite. I wasn't about to question her assessment of the situation. I had been in shock when I decided to run back into my house, but even I could tell that Pam was right and that I shouldn't have done that.
Instead of being pleased with my docility, Pam raised an eyebrow in a very Eric-ish expression at the bundle clutched in my hands. It contained the items I had saved from the fire risking my own life. She glared at me even harder and shook her head.
"Sookie, Eric would have bought you another coat," she said, if I wasn't mistaken slightly amused.
For a moment I didn't know what she meant, until I realised, with great embarrassment, that she was right: among my purse, a pair of socks (just what the hell was I thinking to take that?) and some other things I'd deemed important enough to save in my haze, there was a cranberry coat from Eric in my hands – and though that was the last thing I should have been worried about at the moment, I felt myself blushing furiously. I didn't need a fairy godmother to tell me that Pam would happily provide Eric with that information.
Speaking of fairies…
Pam's pupils dilated suddenly and she inhaled sharply.
"Sookie!" said a merry voice from somewhere behind my back.
I span around quickly to see Claudine standing right next to me with a relieved look on her face, as if it was perfectly normal to just appear out of nowhere.
"Oh good, you're safe, I was worried it was too late!"
"I'm fine, thanks," I said overwhelmed, wondering how did she even know that I was in danger and how did she get here. "Pam woke me just in time."
I glanced over my shoulder at Pam intending to convey my gratitude for her, but I saw that she probably wouldn't even notice: I found both vampires frozen in place and staring at Claudine as if in some kind of trance.
I remembered how fairies influenced vampires and I decided to put questioning Claudine aside and maybe ask her for explanation at some better time.
"Sookie," another very familiar voice joined the conversation.
I looked up confused and saw Bill standing in some distance. He probably came to investigate when he noticed the fire. I felt my head starting to spin from all those sudden arrivals. Did they plan it, or what?
And then Bill sniffed and noticed Claudine. I could hear the sound of the siren closing in.
"Okay, okay," I said waving my hands to get their attention. "Claudine, thank you for your concern, but I think it would be best if you disappeared now."
I was trying to sound authoritative. The last thing I needed was for the vamps to lose control and attack her, least of in front of the police. It seemed like a good idea to avoid explaining the presence of one more person if possible, too.
"Oh, yes," Claudine replied smiling. "I suppose you're right. I'm glad you're okay."
Then she kissed my cheek and – following my suggestion more precisely than I expected her to – she vanished. Just like that – as if she disappeared in the thin air.
I blinked. Maybe it was all a dream? I shook my head. Wrapping my head around this unexpected, short visit was another thing that had to wait for later.
The fire trucks parking on my yard pulled me back to reality. For the next few minutes I was busy answering the firefighters questions. I could see from the corner of my eye that Pam recovered from the fae-induces trance and got on the phone with someone. She was talking fast and quiet and I could just bet that she was giving a report to the sheriff, just as I could bet it wasn't the Bon Temps' finest she was conferring with.
Especially since I could see that Bud Dearborn accompanied by Andy Bellefleur was busy parking his car in my driveway and he wasn't on the phone with anyone. I watched the men of the law get out of the vehicle. Andy opened his mouth to ask me the first question when we heard a loud crack: the ceiling in my kitchen gave up. My house was dying right in front of my eyes.
Next time: Questions are asked... and dodged.