I spent my lunch shift at Merlotte's mentally planning my next three days off. Sam could sense my distraction. I just smiled back at his quizzical glances, took orders, and refilled drinks. He had been a bit preoccupied himself lately. I wondered why. My preoccupation with how I would face my newly-found seclusion helped to block out the entire bar. That was an unexpected relief. After work I finished my grocery shopping, stopped by the library, picked up a few movies, and called Amelia. We talked daily since she returned home last weekend. It has been five nights now. It was the first time in my life that I was alone, truly alone. I hadn't heard from any weres, supes, or vamps for over four months now, including Jason. I haven't even exchanged more than pleasantries with any human, other than Amelia, in the last month. This was for the best, I reassured myself. No longer would my disability be abused by people who view my life with indifference. Tonight I would not be attacked, or shot at, or staked, and my house would not be set on fire. For the first time since before gran died, I felt safe. I was out of politics, forever. Yeah, yeah, I was a little lonely too.
It was dark by the time I arrived home. Tonight was pasta night, pasta with garlic bread. Perhaps I missed garlic, but most likely it was a spark of deviousness in me that placed garlic in nearly every dinner lately. A subconscious "Take that, Eric!" for not calling, checking up, or even sending Pam or Bill to see how I was doing. Of course, I hadn't attempted to contact him either. Not to mention that I don't need to be checked up on! A couple (ok, many, many) times I picked up the phone with intentions of calling, but I never did. It was always when I was feeling strong emotions from the bond. Or were they my emotions? I can't tell anymore. I cleaned up and put on my nightshirt and shorts. I drug an old blanket out of the hall closet and stacked an astronomy book from the library, a flashlight, and can of Diet Coke on top of it. The security lights were off tonight. They were not needed anymore because my life had returned to normality. Normality, my word of the day. Danger no longer followed Sookie Stackhouse. No, I was in full control of my life now. Thank you.
I turned off the lights in the kitchen and living room so the yard would be fully dark. Guided by the flashlight, I walked out barefoot and unfolded the blanket in the yard. I aimed the flashlight at the sky map, setting it to March and studying the constellations. Every night I am going to quiz myself to see how many stars and constellations I can identify without use of the sky map or star chart. This will be a new hobby. I turned off the flashlight, opened my can of soda, and lay on my back. The sky was mine.
I quickly found Orion, Ursa Minor, Cancer, Leo, Andromeda… It was very peaceful. I could actually see the Milky Way. Huh. I wonder if gran ever did this in this very yard, and if so, with whom? Gran wouldn't overlook the beauty of the night sky. I miss her. I miss Jason, even though he is a selfish jerk and I never want to see him again. I miss Amelia's energy and drama in my house. I miss Sam being my friend, we have been cordial, but that's it. I miss having friends at work, Arlene is too deep into the Fellowship. Even though I haven't seen, or spoken to, a vamp in months, she is still repelled by me. Quinn flashed through my mind, my tiger, my very ex-tiger. I even miss Pam, a little. Pam wouldn't pass on an opportunity to tear my throat out in a dark alley, but I always liked her. Yeah, yeah, I know, I miss Eric too. He remembers everything. Yes, everything. Yet we still haven't discussed anything, not that I want to. It was better when he didn't know. Now he is never around. Maybe this is for the best. I don't want drama in my life. On nights like this I even miss Bill. He is always there lingering in the back of my brain. Bill was my first love, my first lover, my first heartbreak. My first everything. He was also the only man I flat out professed my love to. But is he my only love?
Suddenly I was shocked out of my thoughts by the sound of gravel crunching as footsteps approached from behind. My guard was already down. I listened. Void. A blank mind, but the footsteps of a human, not the silence expected of vampire speed. My heart raced and I silently grabbed the flashlight as a weapon, slowly turning to my side. I tilted my head up, just as I heard a voice out of the darkness.
"Sookie?" said a calm, cool voice.
"Bill! You scared me. Why are you walking like that?"
"I didn't intend to scare you, Sookie." He said, stepping closer until I could make out his face in the moonlight. He had intentionally walked on the gravel so I would hear him approaching. At least I had finally gotten across to one vampire that I didn't like them sneaking up on me. His nose twitched slightly as he stepped closer. The garlic. Ha! Several days' worth of garlic.
"Perhaps I should buy you a cowbell for future visits?" I smiled up at him. He met my gaze and I continued hastily, "What do you want? I am not going to Shreveport. I am not participating in vamp politics. I am not traveling for the new king, or any king, or any sheriff for that matter. I am not…." I trailed off. By this time I was sitting up, I turned my gaze down. I was being rude. Gran would not be pleased. I looked back up at Bill. He was expressionless. That's Bill for you. I sternly asked, "Are you here to check up on me for Eric?"
"No." he simply replied. There was something in his eyes behind that stone exterior. I wish for one moment I could read his mind. Or do I? His eyes moved towards the book. The corners of his mouth turning up, just the slightest, "I have no motive, and I ask nothing, Sookie."
"Well, I have a star map and constellation guide. Care to join me?" I asked politely after a minute had passed. Gran would approve of my friendly smile. It was a genuine smile. Bill would know otherwise. It was a hostess smile, not a hey gorgeous, come hither smile. Naturally, I wanted my intentions to be clear. To be honest, I was a little lonely and company would be nice. Other than taking orders and exchanging pleasentries at Merlottes, this is the most human (albeit dead) contact I have had since Amelia left.
Bill hesitated, his eyed boring into my skull. He looked, what was it? Bewildered? Had he finally put me in the crazy Sookie category like everyone else in Bon Temps had? Perhaps he was repulsed by the garlic, but was attempting to formulate a more polite reason to say no? Without a word he moved over the star map, took the flashlight from my grip, and lay on the blanket next to me. His hands interlaced to form a pillow under his head.
I laid back down where I was prior to the interruption. He had placed himself as far away as possible while still having part of himself on the blanket. I pointed out the few stars (ok, I could only remember four) and constellations (I was up to five) I had memorized and could relocate without the charts.
Silence followed for a minute or two. Finally Bill said hesitantly, "Sookie?"
Oh boy, here it comes. I still love you, or I will prove my love to you, or I have a favor to ask of you…
"Actually, this one is Ursa Minor," he said gently, pointing south of my previously identified constellation, "That is Ursa Major." Oh, well, I guess I was down to four. I let out a long breath, disappointed with my progress for the night. Actually, now that I think about it, he knew more about astronomy than I did, but he let me ramble on like that. My anger started to flare. Should I be angry? Yes, this is my night!
"Anything else, Carl Sagan?" I snapped.
Bill huffed out a sound. Was that a near-laugh? Really? I glared at him. He grinned back at me. Vampire smiles are a rarity. Their only regularly occurring expressions are smirks and provocative sneers. After a minute my anger had subsided, but he added, "Well, you did get Orion right" he was downright beaming now. What was next? Was he going to pat me on the head? His lips creeped up higher. Was he about to laugh, actually laugh, a real human-like laugh? He did! Bill let out an audible laugh as my eyes widened in response. It was a flashback to my Bill. The Bill I knew before everything that happened to us. More correctly, everything that happened to me! I couldn't help but laugh in response. I was down to one for the night, only one constellation in memory. Well, three, I will never forget Ursa Minor or Major again.
"Bill, I am going inside now. I am going eat buttery popcorn, drink soda, and watch a movie, Gone With the Wind, actually." He stood at vampire speed and offered his hand to help me to my feet. He shook out the blanket, folded it, and handed it to me. As I thanked him he nodded and turned to walk away. A part of me, a soft part in me, didn't want him to leave. I wasn't sure if I wanted him to stay, or if I just didn't want to be alone. He had taken a few steps before I added, "I do not have True Blood, I haven't had visitors, so haven't bought any…" I trailed off to silence. Damn Eric. Why aren't you here? "I don't have anything to offer you, my house smells like garlic from my dinner and I am going to eat popcorn without brushing my teeth and rinsing three times immediately after," Ok, that was a little uncalled for. Sorry gran. I continued, "But if you would like to join me you are welcome to do so." Did I just invite Bill in to watch Gone With the Wind? Vampire Bill? Gone With the Wind? I laughed out loud.
Bill turned around and looked at me curiously. He did think I had finally lost it. Of course, I did just invite him into my house to watch a classic romance movie, and now I am laughing out loud. Have I actually lost it! Or maybe he was questioning if there was more to the invitation. I did just admit that I haven't had vampire visitors, which would include Eric.
"No funny business, nothing other than a movie. I truly don't have anything to offer you." I added, emphasizing the truly.
He paused, glanced in the direction of his house, and slowly turned back to me. He had a date, didn't he? Was someone waiting at his house for him? He was pale, so clearly didn't eat yet for the night. Ick. I know, I know, it's not my business. He is not my business. Why do I feel the slightest bit jealous? Is this natural?
"I will return." was all he said, as he disappeared at vampiric speed.
I stood speechless. Was he going to return in a minute? Tomorrow? Next month? I stood motionless for a minute. Was he going on a date, just to come here afterwards? Was he going to feed before returning? Ick. Again, ick! Who was he dating anyway? Whoever it is I don't like her. I shook my head at myself, disappointed at my thoughts. I headed to the door guided by the flashlight, balancing everything in my arms. I opened the door with my elbow and held it open with my back and I swung everything inside on the table. As I turned to close the door, I heard returning footsteps, again with the footsteps on gravel. Bill. He was carrying True Blood, type O negative.
"Please, come in" I invited, allowing him to cross the threshold.
He followed me in and sat at the kitchen table. While I waited for the microwave to finish my popcorn, I searched in the cabinet for a large bowl worthy of my buttery indulgence. I filled a glass with ice, and poured my remaining soda over it. As the microwave dinged, Bill handed me the bag of popcorn and put his "meal" in the microwave. Aren't we just a happy little couple I smiled to myself, glancing out the corner of my eye towards Bill. He was visibly deep in thought. Or was it discontentment? Perhaps this was a bad idea. Perhaps we will never be able to be just friends and these old feelings will always come back. Perhaps it was because he realized I was going to eat in front of him. I know he hates it, but I am human and must eat. Perhaps it was simply the lingering garlic aroma. He had such a sensitive sense of smell. Okay, now I felt a little bad, just a little, about my recent garlic immoderation. It had to be the garlic.
"Should I open a few windows to let the garlic air out?" I said quickly. Bill gave me a puzzled look. His eyes focused on my face for a few moments, a few long moments. I guess garlic had not been on his mind.
"That will not be necessary" he replied, nodding his head to the gesture. He began shaking the bottle to distribute the temperature evenly. He looked nice tonight, straight out of Dillard's. Khaki pants, brown belt and shoes, blue button up shirt. Handsome, simply handsome, that is if I were interested in any way, which I am not!
"Shall we?" I nodded to the television. I sat at one end of the couch, Bill on the other. He was as far away as possible, while still remaining on the same piece of furniture. I guess garlic can cancel out the fairy blood. Interesting. I settled in with the popcorn on my lap. I hit the play button and set the remote between us.
"Sookie, before we enjoy the movie together," he turned towards me, "as friends," he carefully added, his eyes were poignant "I just want you to know that someday, not today, but someday, I would like to explain my side of…"
"No!" I yelled forcefully, holding my hand up to stop his words.
Bill looked shocked. What was he going to say? I definitely know. Forget it, I've heard enough. Yeah, yeah, you are sooo sorry for working too hard and ignoring me; for running away to your ho maker; for arranging a Sookie pension through Eric and Pam; for the incident in the trunk; for making me wait in the other room while you order "room service"; for taking off after a human meals-on-wheels after gunfire in Dallas – oh yeah, you forgot to make sure I was alive before you did so; for saying you loved me under false pretenses; for not telling me your true reasons for moving here until Eric forced you to; for not telling me about Hadley, I could seen her before she was murdered had I known; for flaunting your girlfriend in front of me, day after day at Merlotte's! Did I miss anything? My teeth clenched and I could feel my face turn red. This is my night and I am not going to have it ruined.
I glared at him and through my clenched jaw I began, "Bill, I rescind…."
"No! Sookie, I will leave on my own" he said in his cool voice. He looked hurt. He nodded before standing to head for the door. He walked at a human pace. Okay, as I said, I do not have a heart of stone. He would die for me, I do know that much. He only wanted to tell me that someday he would like to explain himself. I just don't want to hear his story.
"Bill, stop." I said glumly. He stopped, but didn't turn to face me. I continued, "There is only one question I want answered. Just a simple yes or no, nothing more, okay?" He turned to look at me over his shoulder, and gave a single nod. He appeared to be to mentally bracing himself. I continued again, "The first time we made love. It was my first time ever. Well, you know that." I paused, looking him in the eye. He looked overwhelmed, like I punched the air out of his lungs (had there been any). I'm not sure if I want the truth or not. But this is the beginning of the new Sookie, and she is strong! I hurried the rest before I lost my nerve, "At that point did you really love me or not?" At the time it felt so pure and idyllic. I considered it the most perfect first time a girl could ask for. If he didn't really love me, I will never trust my instincts again. I seem to have bad luck in the men department.
He walked back, leaned over me, and gently took my hand, never looking away from my eyes, and replied "Yes. I loved you before that night and I have loved you ever since." He slowly released my hand and stood up, his eyes still on mine. He finished with a gentle, "Sookie, may I stay for the movie?"
What? No pushing? No attempting to explain further? Sure, he replied beyond just a yes or no, but he did as I requested (or demanded) and answered my one question. Who was this sitting next to me? Could we get past this drama and hurt and someday be friends? Did he just say that he still loves me? I guess I knew that. He did say he would stay away and never force himself on me, didn't he? He did say he would give it all up for another chance with me, didn't he?
"Yes" I finally replied.
The movie began and we sat there together in silence. Had we just crossed the ex-boyfriend to friend border? I have never been here before. I don't know. It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps a movie set during the Civil War was not the best pick for the given company. On the other hand, this was Sookie night. And I love this movie. My popcorn was delicious. Bill finished his dinner and rose to rinse out the bottle in the sink. He refilled my soda while he was in the kitchen. Now that was a first! I tightly wrapped myself in a blanket and relaxed.
Bill retuned, sitting a little closer this time. He reached around me and gently pulled me towards his shoulder. I looked at him hesitantly; ready to rescind his invitation if needed. He simply grinned and said, "As friends," I leaned my head on his shoulder. It was comfortable. Here we are, Bill and I, after so long, snuggling on the couch watching a movie and eating. I thought of the nights when Eric and I watched TV together. It was also comfortable. I was his everything and I was all he ever needed, or so he thought at the time. I know it wasn't the full Eric, but I nearly loved the Eric that was here for those glorious nights. Oh yes, every detail of those nights… I could almost hear his voice, could almost feel his lips on my body, could almost sense a shiver down my spine as he called me lover, could almost feel his gracious plenty…
"Sookie?" Bill inquired slowly, sensing the rapid shift in my mood. His head remained forward, but I could feel his eyes on me. Hopefully he wasn't sensing the direction my mood was heading, surely that would give him the wrong idea, as my impure thoughts were not of him, but of my Viking lover, former Viking lover. Damn Viking. Yes, the one that never calls me, or checks up on me. That's the one.
Before I could think I blurted out, "Bill, I believe you when you say that you did love me at some point when we were together," I added did, ignoring his still do, and continued, "and I believed you when you said that you would die for me." I looked away, remembering how Eric refused to match Bills words that night. "You certainly won the who loves Sookie more contest," I added with a hint of sarcasm. I looked back into his eyes. He looked shocked at my outburst. To be honest, I was shocked as well. What was I doing? His shock morphed into hope before my eyes. Oh no, he thought this was headed in another direction altogether. Were we about to reconcile? I panicked, quickly adding, "Bill, I trust you with my life, I really do. I believe that you would die for me. The thing is, while I trust you with my life, I do not trust you with my heart. I gave it to you once, but you returned it shattered." Any look of hope left his entire body; he went rigid. My jaw dropped open, as if I had just slapped myself in the face. I had just lost complete control of my mouth. What was happening to me? What was I doing? Whose words were those?
"You love Eric" Bill stated, looking down towards the floor. It was not a question.
"Bill, I am alone, all alone…" I said sadly. He just tilted my head back to his shoulder and we continued the movie in silence.
As the sound of my own words registered in my ears, tears began to pool up in my eyes. I looked up to force them to stay in. My efforts were unsuccessful, and several streamed down my cheek. Would I spend the rest of my life alone? Would I ever be loved like I wanted to be? Would I ever have an uncomplicated relationship? Without verbally acknowledging my given state, Bill folded a tissue into my hand and gently patted my shoulder. It was comforting. I relaxed and let the full weight of my head rest on Bill's chest. We remained like this for the first half of the movie. I felt loved. Not the intensely romantic and lustful near-love Eric had for me at one time, which was great, and I missed those days he stayed with me. No, this was a selfless and unconditional kind of love I was feeling from Bill. I hadn't felt this loved since gran's premature departure from my life. New tears formed and followed the paths of old ones down my cheek. "I miss you gran," I whispered out to nobody. Bill's hand lifted from my shoulder, and his fingers began softly running from my temple and down through my hair, returning back to the temple. It was soothing and I felt my eyelids grow heavy.
When my eyes opened again I was laying on my back, cocooned up in my blanket. My head was resting in Bill's lap, his hand still gently stroking my hair. I looked up at him. He was thoughtfully watching the movie. I didn't need to see the TV to know the famous scene that was playing – Scarlett just realized that she truly loves Rhett. She rushed to him to finally declare her undying love, only to find that Rhett was leaving her, his love for her finally drained. I wondered if Eric's love, near love, for me had finally drained as well. I still had feelings for him, or maybe it was the emotions I was feeling through the bond. What did this bond mean and would it end?
Bill looked down into my eyes. His mouth opened briefly to say something to me, but he hesitated. His lips shut and he closed his eyes for several seconds. I began to ask what was wrong, but stopped at the touch of Bill's fingers on my cheek, following the paths of my tears. He turned off the TV and scooped me up in one motion. He carried me into the bedroom and tucked me under the covers. His hand tucked my hair to the side of my head and out of my face. I felt his cool lips briefly touch my forehead. I didn't resist. It was intimate, but not intimate. After a moment, he left my room and walked into the hall.
"Don't leave me," I whispered. Silence followed. I couldn't see through the darkness, but I knew he was standing in my doorway, full of hesitation. My eyes drifted shut. Without a word he lay on the bed next to me, leaving space between us. He was on his back, above the covers. I rolled over to meet him, and rested my head on his chest. His closest arm wrapped around me and pulled me into him. His other hand began to stroke my hair. Bill began breathing (I always appreciated that) and I drifted off into a deep sleep.
The last thing I heard that night was a cool voice whispering in my ear, "I will never leave you again."