It was sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to wake up. I might not have noticed it if I had been in a hurry to get to work or out of the house. But as it was, I had the day off and subsequently no place to be all day.
I reached out from my relaxed pose to pick it up. I ran my hands over its form, marveling at the exquisite smoothness. It was a little swan, carved from a pale silvery colored wood, and it was beautiful.
Normal girls might have been frightened at the sudden presence of an object in their bedroom. It certainly hadn't been there when I went to bed the night before, which meant that someone had been in my bedroom while I had slept. This fact should scare me, but I'm the first to admit that I'm more than a few brain cells short of normal.
Reluctantly I placed the little figure back where it had rested between my alarm clock and a glass of water. It might be a mystery, but it wasn't one I was going to solve before my morning cup of coffee.
My roommates had already been awake, though I knew Octavia had been and gone from her teacup in the sink. Amelia must still be somewhere about; she had the bacon frying up to a crisp over the burner. I grabbed a spatula and tended to it before it could burn.
"Oh, thanks," said Amelia as she bundled into the room again, her arms heaped high with dirty laundry. "I thought it was smelling a bit dark."
I dumped the bacon out on a stack of paper towels, and turned off the burner. I was very fire safety conscious, no sense in rebuilding twice. I toasted a few slices of bread, and poured myself a cup of coffee. By the time I settled down at the kitchen table, Amelia was back from the porch and fixing herself her own plate.
"Hey, those wards you have around the house…" I smeared a healthy amount of marmalade on my toast.
"What about them?" Amelia asked. There was an automatic defensive quality to her tone. As a rule we didn't really talk about magic much, or at least Amelia and I didn't. Amelia and Octavia talked about it all the time.
I rolled my eyes at her to show her I didn't have anything to criticize. "How do they work exactly? Like who do they let through?"
I waited while Amelia finished off a piece of bacon. "Well, they're protective wards, so they'll let it anyone as long as they don't have evil intentions to the inhabitants of the house."
"Anyone?" I asked, a little surprised.
She wouldn't meet my eyes, a sure sign that Amelia had been doing a little tweaking. "Well, that's the way its supposed to be, but I've made some…night alterations."
"Night alterations?" I repeated.
Amelia nodded. "Yeah, but don't tell Octavia, she doesn't think I'm up to spell manipulation yet, but I told her its just like with the location spells we were doing last week…"
"Amelia!" I smiled as I pulled her back on track to take the sting out of the rebuke. "The night alterations?"
I had to wait again while she fixed herself another cup of tea. "Well, don't get angry," she said. "But you have a knack for attracting unwanted nighttime attentions…"
Sighing, I nodded. There was certainly no arguing with that.
"So, at night, after we lock the doors the only people who can get into the house are people who are…" Amelia paused and shuffled her hands as if she were juggling something invisible. "Recognized," she finished.
I pursed my lips and took a sip of coffee, then immediately made a face. It was getting cold. "Okay, so who is recognized?"
I thought I had managed to make the question sound off hand, but Amelia wasn't as unobservant as she sometimes acted. "Why do you ask?" Her eyes were narrowed and her voice suspicious.
"No reason," I said, toying with the edge of my mug. I couldn't quite meet her eye. Amelia and I had had many discussions over the past few weeks about my love life, and if she knew someone was visiting me at night I wouldn't hear the end of it.
"Right," she said. She commandeered my coffee mug and took our dirty dishes to the sink.
"So who is recognized?" I asked again.
She looked at me over her shoulder, her eyes almost knowing. Now that she knew I wasn't going to focus on her spell tweaking she had the upper hand in the conversation. "Well, the people who live here obviously, and a couple others."
I huffed. Obviously she wanted to play games. "Maybe I should just ask Octavia to take a look and tell me what she thinks."
"Alright," she shut off the sink and turned to face me. "So, its…promise you won't get angry?"
I twisted my lips, but Amelia didn't seem to notice I didn't promise her anything.
"Well, it recognizes any vampires who have current invitations into the house," she said.
I ran down the list in my head. That would be Bill, Eric, Pam, Bubba, and, well okay, probably a few more that I had forgotten. Maybe I should insist on a sign in sheet, since I clearly couldn't keep track of the list myself.
"Who else?" I asked, since Amelia was still looking edgy and she knew having vampires in my home wouldn't upset me. Not much would keep them out anyways, and they'd proven more than once that I had needed unexpected nighttime assistance in the past.
"Um, Sam, for one," said Amelia. I sighed, but that one I could probably handle too. He still sometimes spent the night as Dean. I gestured for her to go on. "And Dawson," she blushed, so I let it slip. "Also…Jason."
"I told you I he has no business here anymore, Amelia," I snapped. I couldn't help but feel the rawness of the wound where I had torn out my brother. He hadn't been perfect, in fact he hadn't even been very good, but he had been mine; the only one I have. Now I had no one.
"I know," she countered. "But I thought… you know," she shrugged. "If something where to happen."
I don't like reading the thoughts of my roommates, and generally I do whatever I can to stay out of them, but I found myself flustered by the thought of Jason so Amelia's thoughts flooded in. She was thinking that Jason should have somewhere to go if he got into trouble. She was also thinking that I would probably forgive him before to long anyways so there was no sense in taking the time to pull him out of her wards. Not if she was going to have to go and put him back in again.
"Alright, fine," I agreed, none too happily. "Don't waste your time removing him then. Just make sure if he stops by when I'm not here that you send him packing."
"Of course," she agreed a bit too quickly, but I wasn't of the mind to follow up her sudden cooperation.
"Thanks for telling me about the wards, Amelia," I said more heartedly. "I really do appreciate you doing all this for me."
She waved aside my thanks with a careless gesture and a flick of her head. "Don't bother. What else are roomies for?"
"Other than protecting each other from being attacked in their sleep?" We shared a little grin at that. "What are you doing today anyway?"
"Laundry," said Amelia immediately. "And cleaning, and cooking. Then I thought I might go into town for a haircut or something."
I smiled. "So what time is Dawson coming over for dinner?"
Again, she blushed. Amelia and Dawson were still in the newness of their relationship where everything made her nervous. I was surprised since I had never seen Amelia deal with potential partners with anything but confidence. Even Pam had been treated to immediate coquettish smiles. But with Dawson, Amelia seemed to lean more towards awkwardness.
"Around six," she admitted. There was a hopeful sort of look on her face.
"I'll stay out of the house then," I said. I didn't know where I would go, but maybe Tara would like to go see a movie or something.
"Thanks," said Amelia gratefully. "I even managed to convince "Octavia to go ad visit her daughter for dinner. She won't be back until tomorrow morning."
I narrowed my eyes. "I hope you're not hinting I find somewhere other than my own bed in my own house to be tonight."
"No, of course I'm not!" Amelia said quickly. There was something in her eye though. Something very sly indeed that I'd learned to not trust. Deliberately I tried to listen into her train of thoughts, but found her running through her grocery list. Maybe I was wrong and she was just distracted.
"Well, good," I said. "I'll be quiet when I come in at least and go straight to my room."
Amelia on a mission is a sight to see. I allowed her to put me to work for the first part of the morning since the house she was so furiously cleaning was mine. I took care of the living room and the kitchen, then tried not to be offended when she went back over my work with a mop and a rag. I even offered to go to the store to pick up supplies, but she insisted that I didn't know how to pick out a properly cut steak. I tried not to wonder how rare she might be cooking that steak. It was getting close to the full moon after all.
I did however, put my foot down at being told to remove all the curtains and wash them for the third time that month. If a man like Dawson noticed a little something like coloring on the curtains then I had grossly misjudged him.
Instead I spent my afternoon sunbathing in the yard. It was still a little too cold to be out in my bikini, but the sun felt good on my skin. After a long cold winter of being kept in my house even a lukewarm spring day like today was appreciated by an avid sun junkie like me.
I soaked in the rays until my skin began to prickle with the wind chill and then happily switched to soaking in the warmth my hot water heater provided in my tub. Since I had nowhere in particular to be I took my time washing out my hair and shaving my legs. Amelia might want privacy for tonight, but if I ran a few minutes late out the door no one would mind. It was still my house, after all.
It was only five when I got out of the bathroom, so rather than dress immediately I settled back on my bed in my bathrobe. I'd managed to keep Amelia from doing a once over of my room, so everything was as I had left it that morning. Including my nighttime visitor.
I picked up the little swan again and held it in my palm. It was about the size of a plum, and it was sitting proudly as if on an invisible lake, its neck arched high above its body. Its eyes were closed, but its head was thrown back in just such a way. I had only held it for a few moments this morning, but now I took the time to admire the craftsmanship.
This was no trinket bought in town. This was something someone had poured their love and patience into. It was most certainly carved by hand; I could feel the lines where a slim knife had pierced feather patterns into the wood. But it had been a very skilled hand indeed. The slim neck of the swan had been sanded to velvety smoothness and the details in its long wings were almost unnoticeable. Each feather had been elegantly traced so that the wood was just barely indented. It was beautiful, and it most certainly had some type of meaning.
Carefully I set the little masterpiece down in its spot, and turned on my side to face it in my bed. My hands crept up to support my cheek as I considered. There were only three men who had (as of yet) dared to visit me in my own room in the middle of the night. Bill and Eric had both done so quite brazenly. Sam, too, had been known to show up, but more politely and cautiously. Of the three, he was the most likely to leave a token, but this swan was more than a side thought, and as far as I knew Sam didn't know how to carve his name in a tree let alone craft something so lovely.
Bill wasn't much of a gift giver, and though he wanted to be back in my good graces he knew enough to know I wouldn't appreciate him checking on me in the middle of the night. Though I did not deceive myself into think that he did do just that from time to time.
Eric, though the best candidate for leaving gifts, was not at all the type to give away something so personal. He liked the pomp and flash of the twenty first century more than a thousand year old man should. His gifts always reeked of name brand labels and expensive price tags.
"Then where did you come from?" I asked the little swan as if expecting an answer.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, resigning myself to getting dressed. I was hardly going to figure this out on my own, and the gift giver would likely reveal himself in time. Then I had a thought as a pulled on a blue dress covered in little daisies. Maybe my nighttime visitor had been a woman? Perhaps Claudine was the culprit? After all, she too had shown up in my bedroom from time to time, and she left me small gifts whenever she felt my mood needed a lift.
In that vein, perhaps it had been Niall who had left me the swan? Maybe it had some sort of fairy relevance that was beyond my human understanding?
The knock at my door interrupted my thoughts, though at that point I was glad to let them go. It was giving me a headache.
"You're not wearing that are you?" Amelia said as she poked her head in through the door. She hadn't waited for me to respond before entering, I noticed.
I frowned at her disapprovingly. "You're supposed to wait until I say come in."
"Fine," Amelia rolled her eyes. "May I come in?"
I nodded and turned back to my mirror.
"So, you're not wearing that are you?" she asked again.
I eyed myself in the glass defensively. I liked this dress, it wasn't new, but it was comfortable and nice looking. It would do well for a night out visiting a friend. "What's wrong with it?"
Amelia's reflection appeared behind me. "It's a bit too chilly outside for short sleeves don't you think?"
"I'll take a sweater," I said.
Rather than respond verbally Amelia nodded then disappeared back out the door. "Witches," I complained, as I picked up my brush.
I had fixed my hair back in a clip and applied a light amount of makeup before Amelia returned, with a garment draped over her arm. "Here," she said, as she laid it out on my bed. "Try this instead."
It was a pretty, in an understated sort of way. Like the dress I was wearing it was made of plain light cotton, but its sleeves and skirt were longer. It was also a deep red. "I don't know," I said, fingering the trim at the sleeves. "It's pretty, but it looks new."
Amelia shrugged, she was already shucking it from its hanger and passing it to me. "Red looks horrible with my coloring," she said. "I've never worn it anyway, so you may as well take it." Her tone was a little too casual for my taste so I crossed my arms over my chest rather than accept the dress.
"What's going on, Amelia?" I demanded.
She adapted wide-eyed innocence for a bout ten seconds before she broke down and sighed. "Alright, fine, I feel guilty."
"About what?" I asked.
"Just try it on for me and then I'll tell you, okay?" she bit her lip in such a pitiful way I sighed. Besides it really was a nice dress.
Amelia waited in the kitchen for me to slip into the dress. It really was nice looking, casual, but in an upscale kind of way. I even found a pair of white sandals to go with it, and my little straw purse completed the ensemble.
I felt good in the new clothes, but I was still annoyed with Amelia when I confronted her in the kitchen. "Spill it, Amelia," I said after waiting for her to pull a pie from the oven. We only had a few minutes before Dawson would arrive and I wouldn't put it past her to stall so she wouldn't have to talk to me until tomorrow.
"Quinn is also still allowed past the wards," she had the oven mitt between her hands and was worrying the fray on the corner. "I swear I forgot until you asked me about the wards this morning. But when he was popping in and out last summer I added him."
"So, you never removed him?" I asked. I didn't feel angry, as Amelia might have expected. I didn't even feel the raw hurt of loosing him anymore. Actually it felt strange to think of Quinn again. I hadn't seen him since the day he walked out of my house, and I hadn't heard a word from him or his family either. I did think about him sometimes though, but it wasn't until Amelia had spoken his name that I realized it had been a while.
"No." She sounded sheepish.
I smiled at her to show her I wasn't angry. "It's okay, Amelia. Just remember to remove him as soon as you can okay?"
"Sure," she nodded, and then she smiled broadly herself. "You look great in that dress by the way. Have you decided what you're going to do tonight yet?" That innocent tone was back in her voice.
Immediately I felt suspicious. "No, but…what do you know, Amelia?"
As it was I didn't need her to respond, since the next moment the back door swung open and Pam strode in as if she owned the place. She smiled slyly at Amelia, and actually kissed her cheek before turning to me.
"I heard you were on your own tonight, so we're having a girls night out." The phrase fell on Pam's tongue as if she were speaking a foreign language, and her facial expression hardly hinted at pillow fights and ice cream.
"Right," I glared at Amelia who had turned to busy herself at the stove. "I was actually going to stop by Tara's to see if she wanted to go see a movie."
"I can see a movie," said Pam. "I have seen many movies. I especially like the ones where people's heads get chopped off."
I winced. "I was thinking more like a romantic comedy or something. You know, like with Brad Pitt, or Clive Owen…"
"Or George Clooney," Amelia finished. We shared a dreamy sort of smile.
"Or John Wayne." We both looked at Pam.
"Er," Amelia supplied. "I think he's dead."
Pam blinked. "I like cowboys."
"Of course you do, honey," said Amelia, then she patted the back of Pam's hand and turned back to her cooking.
"So, we are going to the movies?" asked Pam.
I looked between her and Amelia, sure there was something in this that they were both involved in. But since I was unable to figure out what it was and since Amelia's thoughts were very firmly on the image of Dawson's backside (not something I needed to see), I shrugged.
"I guess we're going to the movies," I answered.
As it turned out Tara was not at home when we drove by her place so Pam and I found ourselves at the AMC on our own. Pam had insisted on driving and since she had borrowed Eric's red Corvette we drew attention as we pulled into the parking lot.
I was more than a little surprised to see that they were selling bottles of True Blood at the concession stand, though I suppose I shouldn't have been. Somehow, with all the commotion of the past few years I hadn't been to the movies in a while. So, to indulge myself I bought a large popcorn and was a liberal as I wished with the fake butter even though Pam looked absolutely disgusted with my choice.
"Well, we all can't drink our dinners, can we?" I commented, motioning towards her bottle of warm blood.
"No, but you may as well be drinking yours," she responded as she reached out to touch the shiny top of the melted butter.
I jerked my popcorn away. "Ew, keep your hands to yourself."
She just arched an eyebrow, looked at her soiled finger, and then reached out to clean it off on the sweater of the man in front of us. "I think I'll stick to blood," she said.
The movie was enjoyable and mindless. It would have been nice to see it with a girlfriend, someone more like Amelia or Tara. Someone I could have joked with, or who understood modern comedy. Pam spent most of the movie looking confused and asking me why everyone was laughing when the humans fell down.
"Because it's funny," I explained as we walked out of the theater. "Its slapstick, you know? You can't help but laugh when someone is clumsy and falls down and lands on something sharp, or is tripped and falls on top of a cake or something. It's just funny."
"I don't get it," said Pam again. She was unlocking the car, her hands working with great care. I wondered if Eric had told her to be careful with it, or if he often lent his precious Corvette out to her. "Humans fall down all the time and I don't laugh."
I shrugged. Sometimes vampires just didn't understand anything. "It's a movie, it's not meant to be taken seriously. You're just supposed to enjoy it."
"Ah," Pam started the engine. "I suppose its just one of those human things."
I had relaxed against the headrest of the car so I hadn't been paying attention to where we were headed until we were several miles down the road. In the wrong direction. "Pam, Bon Temps is that way," I said, pointing back the way we came.
She barely glanced at me. "I know," she said. "But I have to have Eric's car back by ten. He said he would remove one of my fingers if I was late."
That froze me. For a moment I wondered if Eric really would remove one of Pam's fingers.
"That was a joke," said Pam, shaking me out of my horrific thoughts. "I can be funny too."
"Vampire funny," I whispered, more than a little disturbed. I think I preferred vampire's preferences for puns. Sometimes they were dark, but they never got that graphic.
"Exactly," agreed Pam with a smile. "But he really will not be pleased if I am late."
I glanced at the digital clock in the dashboard. It was barely nine more than enough time to drive me back home and get Eric's car back to him. For some reason though I didn't say anything to Pam. Eric had barely spoken to me in months. At first I had been glad at the distance, since I had very little desire to engage in "the talk" he had promised me so long ago. Then when the only contact we had had dwindled down to infrequent phone calls I realized that I started to miss him. Stubbornly I had refused to make the first contact, but if Pam insisted on driving me too him, who was I to argue with that?
Some masochistic part of me even wished that my nighttime visitor had been Eric. I might not have wanted to belong to him, but I did miss him. Maybe as a friend, and then again maybe as something else…
Pam was looking at me sidelong with an almost knowing look in her eyes. "What?" I asked.
"Aren't you going to argue?" she questioned. "I had hoped you might fuss a bit, maybe even try to get out of the car?"
I eyed her. "Are you hoping I'll throw myself out of a moving car?"
She sighed unhappily. "No, but I did expect some kind of amusement."
Rather than take the comment personally I rolled my eyes. I had long since accepted the fact that though Pam did seem to like me in her own way, she would always see me as more of a pet than anything else.
"Would it make you happy if I demanded to be taken home?" I asked.
She smiled. "Yes, I think it would," she admitted. "But you know I won't."
"Which is why I didn't bother in the first place," I lied. "I knew you would do whatever you were going to anyways. Besides, I figure you'll get me home one way or another."
"Hmmm," she said rather than responding outright. "One way or another…yes, I suppose so."
I didn't like the way that sounded, but since I didn't feel like arguing and playing into Pam's game I just settled back into my seat and waited. Pretty soon we were going to pull up in front of Fangtasia and I would be facing Eric. And that was a meeting worth saving my energy for.