in the evening
I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart
the want of you…
--Amy Lowell, "The Letter"
I was in Budapest when I finally heard she'd risen. It had been a month since we'd buried her and I had gone under, into the depths of another continent. I left Bon Temps after her service and took a series of shorter night flights to avoid the hassle of traveling with a coffin. I'd recently seen enough of coffins. I used different names, to disappear completely. With the many documents I'd acquired in recent years, it wasn't so difficult. To Boston first for three days before I went to London. I traveled in short legs, moving forward through time zones, knowing the backward journey home would be longer and more difficult. Through the Chunnel to Calais, to Paris, then to Zurich, Vienna, places I'd been before in the 150 years since my death. I remembered bits and pieces of language, stringing them together where I could, and the libraries I visited always had one or two staff who spoke some variant of English.
I had never been to Budapest and even through the haze of grief knew it was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen. I should have taken her away when there was still the chance for it. I had enough money that we could have changed our names and gone missing together for as long as she lived. She would have marveled at the sights her life in Louisiana could not have shown her. I would have shown her everywhere I knew first and then we would have gone places where we were both stepping into the unknown. And Budapest would have been one of the most beautiful places we'd ever seen.
I was writing out notes in longhand, the scratch of pen on paper echoing lightly in the otherwise silent library, when one of the clerks brought me a message. It said only, Call Pam now. I very nearly killed her when I heard that she'd been present when Sookie died and had failed to protect her. I would rather she have forfeited her life if it meant that Sookie would still be here and I would have considered Eric suffering the loss of his Child as a fringe benefit after what he'd done to my relationship with Sookie. I would never have told her about the Queen's orders and I would have spent the rest of her life and as much of mine as she wanted to win her back and love her. Eric had made that completely impossible.
The night she died, I had known something was wrong and couldn't place the feeling. There was a sudden absence. All the ambient noise of the summer night—leaves rustling in slow, humid breezes, animals moving in the woods, insects singing their strange, tinny songs—seemed to mute itself in deference to Something Happening. I tried to shake it off. I stood on my porch with a bottle of synthetic that cooled in my hand before I ever took a sip of it. I left it on a step as I descended the porch and walked across the cemetery to her house. I did not allow myself to panic. That walk was the longest of my life.
When I reached the edges of her property, I could see the lights of her house blazing into the darkness. From that distance, I could hear crying but it wasn't hers. A big man opened the front door when I knocked. A Were, from the smell of him. I could see past him to her roommate—the witch—sobbing on the living room couch. The noise of the night crashed back into my ears and I knew this was bad and that it would hurt. What happened, I asked, to either of them who would answer me. The witch could not speak. I don't know that she even heard me. It was the Were who told me she was dead, the words falling from his mouth like stones.
From her house, I ran all the long way to Fangtasia, where I found Pam sitting on the couch in Eric's office, her head in her hands. I could smell the blood on her, in a scent I knew and for which I longed every night, and I fell on her with a bright and terrible fury. After a moment, she fought back and we slammed into a wall of shelving, papers and books and random things raining over us. The mallet from that long ago night when Eric had killed Long Shadow skated across the floor. I went for it, the wooden handle splintering in my hand as I discarded the heavy head. Her eyes widened and when I went for her again, I was stopped by a hand on my arm and Eric circling into my vision, his other hand around my throat. He could have killed me for attacking his Child and there have been many nights since when I wished that he had done it. Instead, he blocked her from my view and threw the broken wooden handle off somewhere behind his desk at the other end of the room. He let go of my throat and didn't lay another hand on me. Get out of here, he said and I did.
I left without filing any requests or seeking official permission. I intended to be gone for a very long time and if I did return and punishment was exacted, I wouldn't have cared.
When the clerk placed the message on the table next to me, I wondered how Pam had tracked me down. I had left my cell phone at my house and had disabled the wireless connection in my laptop. But it didn't matter. I had no idea what news she could possibly have that she thought I'd be interested in and that realization was what made me want to know enough to call. I have always wanted to know things. As I was sitting in a closed phone booth on the ground floor of the library, she told me what she'd done. I was shocked and enraged at first that Pam had turned her without her specific consent and then that it could not have been me who'd done it. Pam carefully suggested I come back to Louisiana. There will be no consequences awaiting you, she said. And the most important thing, remaining unspoken, was that Sookie would be there, alive in the most essential sense of the word. What else could I do? I went home.
When I returned to Bon Temps, I went to Merlotte's, though I knew she wasn't working there for the time being. The atmosphere of the bar was different and not just because of the buffer of a month-long absence. It had always charged a little when I or another vampire walked in, everyone with a pulse on alert. Tonight, it was different. The same people were there but their blood flowed more easily through them in my presence. The redhead waitress who'd always been so hateful just nodded in my direction and indicated the bar, where the only available seats were and where her boss was behind the counter mixing drinks. Sam set a bottle in front of me as soon as I sat down. Nice to see you back in town, he said.
From the first night I met Sookie—in the parking lot of this very bar—I knew she was different. I had been here because of her, to secure her as an asset. My life changed when she saved it. I told her she shouldn't trust me and she did anyway. Then my assignment changed, from secure her to protect her, from protect her to love her. Finally, I asked him. Have you seen her? Sam set down the mug he'd just wiped clean. Yes, he said, I have. She's different, but it's mostly still her. I gestured to the rest of the room, full of people who'd known her most of her life and many of whom had assumed her crazy at one time or another. And them? Sam shrugged and shook his head as he stared at the counter with a smile on his face. I think they would agree. They surprised me, I'll admit it. I was just so glad to have her back— He cut himself off and looked me straight in the eye. Well, he said, I don't think I have to spell it out for you.
I went by her house next, where I found her witch friend had moved back in and was eager to talk about her supervision of the daytime crew making the necessary safety adjustments. More security, doors with light-tight seals, windows of tinted, shatterproof glass, heavy curtains. She showed me the whole house, including Sookie's bedroom, which now had solid panels over the windows and a noticeably heavier door. Otherwise, the curtains, the linens and other colors were all the same. The smell was the same. The witch—Amelia—knew she'd made an error in showing me that room and quickly ushered me into the kitchen, where she offered me a bottle of blood. She was alone in a locked down house with a vampire and she wasn't remotely nervous. I know she'd want to see you, she said. I sensed she was one who couldn't stand a long silence. She's staying with Pam in Shreveport. Her cell phone number is the same. She knows your back.
I called Pam first and without saying a word to me, she immediately passed her phone to Sookie. Bill, she said and that was it. I didn't know how to start. Bill, where have you been? I told her I'd been a few places. She tries to prompt me for more details: like where exactly? Europe, I tell her. All the things I'd wanted to say about being sorry and loving her and taking her away when I had the chance all faded out at the sound of her familiar Southern lilt. How could I have been so stupid?
Everything that happened between us was my fault. From the beginning, she was lost to me because I didn't tell her the truth. I should have told her, before I ever kissed her or took a walk with her or took her to Fangtasia, before she and Eric could have even become aware of the existence of the other. I made the mistakes. It wasn't Sophie-Anne or Eric or Pam or Lorena or anyone else. It was me. Allowing this realization to finally break through brought with it an unexpected warmth. I was tired of these pointless feelings of longing and regret. They were rough against the surface of my heart.
By the end of that brief phone call, I'd agreed to meet her at Fangtasia the next night. In vampire, she said, instead of "in person." Get it? I didn't. I get to make jokes now, she said. Sam was right. It was still mostly her, although seeing her drink synthetic blood was an oddity because I knew she'd always hated it. I used to mix it with juice for her when I insisted she drink it to replenish anything I'd taken. She now favored type A. As we sat at the bar, her light blue t-shirt and jeans in stubborn contrast to the black-and-red covered patrons, I finally told her about where I'd been. I could tell her about the sights and sounds of those cities more from my past visits then the latest ones. Because those latest visits, I explained, had been numb to detail.
She smiled slightly and stared at the floor. I had no idea if Eric was even in the bar that night or if he had developed enough control over his own ego to sit in his office for a time while she talked with me. I can't help but feel like the instrument of fate that brought them together, as they were inevitably supposed to be. Now that I've played that part, I'd like to go. Oh Bill, she said. Then she looked me in the eye with her nervous grin spread across her face and said thank you. Thank you for talking to me again. She needed that from me and I was happy to give her what I could.
Which brings me to the present moment. Pam approaches and I see Eric has appeared, parking himself in his usual booth. Sookie hugs me and I hug her back, no longer afraid of wrapping my arms around her too tightly and damaging her fragile human form. She is so much more than that now. As she walks towards Eric and away from me, I feel the release. Her hold on my heart loosens its tight hands enough to let me feel peace. Pam is still beside me as she watches her Child cross the room. I'm sorry, I tell her and take her hand in mine. I place my other hand on her shoulder, leaning us together so that I can brush her cheek with my lips and whisper, Thank you.
I finish a second bottle alone. Sookie's laugh rings like church bells over the din. She is happy. I cannot feel this but I don't have to because I can see it. Eric—that lucky son of a bitch—sits back in his booth, a finger hooked in the belt loop of her jeans as she leans forward over the table to speak to Pam, who throws her head back and laughs out loud like I have rarely seen her do. Behind the bar, Felicia and Indira share the knowing look of a shared amusement, an "inside joke," it's called. The room is dotted with Area vamps, all there for the benefit of the fangbangers, tourists and Fangtasia's bottom line.
I do not belong here. Not right now, at least. Bon Temps will always be my home and I'll always come back to it but right now it is time to go, to let go. I received an e-mail from the newly formed Vampire Studies department at Oxford. With the advent of the database, my reputation soared in academic circles. They would welcome my advice on structuring their first curriculum and, if I were willing, would arrange for me to speak on my travels and findings. I replied with my answer last night, after I spoke to Sookie over the phone. Letting go, I have found, is another way of saying I love you.
And I do love her. If she were to return that love, I would revel in it. And I am glad for her resurrection and her contentment. But what purpose could it possibly serve to stay here in a self-imposed hell? The answer is none and the answer to a different question was again whispered in my ear like a secret: let go. Her death had eliminated what little bond remained between us, so there was nothing to keep me linked to her. I was free to disappear and once more go missing from my current life, to live and even love elsewhere. Oxford. Paris. Zurich. Vienna. Budapest. The most beautiful place I've ever seen. Anywhere.
What else can I do? I let go.
More to come in the series.