in the evening
the long way around
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.
-- Joseph Campbell
Her brother came to my trailer early in the morning to tell me she was dead and I damn near knocked his head off his shoulders. The police had called him. A car accident, of all things. After all she had survived, it didn't seem right. This makes it sound like it would seem right for her to die in a bright, glorious act of sacrifice for the benefit of some supernatural cause but I would never want that either. I would rather she just live forever and let the rest of us fall away around her, giving up our life forces to her continued existence. She could not be dead, not before I'd had a chance to say my piece to her. Though I knew she was too far gone into the vampire fold for me to pull her back to my side, I still held onto her presence in my life. I wanted that, at least. But then there was just the void of her, to be filled up.
It was a struggle to function during that first day. I ached from the center of my heart and radiating outward. All of it crashed back in on me like the Red Sea closing as the news of her death spread throughout the town and it seemed like everyone came into my bar to talk about it. In hushed tones, sneaking glances at me. I thought of the vampires, one in particular. This wasn't going to go over well at all.
Holly and Arlene had come in early to open up and work lunch and I had been the one to tell them. Holly tried not to cry. Arlene was silent and pale; her eyes seemed wide with surprise and something else, like she didn't know what to think. She was torn, I guess, about whether to grieve for someone who had been her friend or fall back on her shiny new Fellowship ideals and chalk it up to divine retribution. I hoped there was some guilt mixed in there, too, for how she had behaved these past months. I never fired her because I never had a legally sound reason to do so. As a businessman, this was something I had to consider even if it would have given me great pleasure to tell her to leave and not come back. Don't let the door smack you on the ass on your way out.
That first night I changed. I tore through the woods up and down half the state in a dozen different forms. People saw things, I'm sure, that they didn't think lived in Louisiana except in zoos. I barely made it to her funeral, exhausted beyond measure by the exertion of all that wild grieving. I missed her so, for her sweetness and humor, for her heart, even if I knew it would never be mine. A wide swath of empty future seemed endlessly stretched in front of me.
When I saw the vampires at her evening service, I could tell the three she knew best were truly affected. Eric looked the most desolate of them, with most the other vampires looking vaguely uncomfortable at being required to attend a human funeral. I felt a greater respect for him then and later in her house, seeing him slip into her bedroom and shut the door behind him. I knew only the most superficial details of their history, basically what happened and when. I had little idea what they felt for each other or how deep it went for either of them. From the look on his face when he finally emerged from her room, I could see this loss was massive. Judging from her behavior over the past several months, with its edge of depression that seemed to color everything she said and did, she loved him just as much as he did her. Well I'll be damned.
It didn't matter what I thought about the two of them when she was alive or about the zero chance I stood with her but I had decided that if I really did care as much as I thought I did, I should be able to deal with her being with someone else as long as I knew she was being taken care of. She would have been. I could see that. And I'd have moved on some time. This was something I always had to tell myself carefully and deliberately, even absently penciling this "note to self" in the margins of a balance sheet. You will move on. You will move on. Or sometimes just, Move on. Order to self. I will move through this and forward because that's the only way there is to go.
I couldn't change again for days afterward because I was too tired. I felt heavy. I felt drowned. I felt like a mechanical thing, forcing its creaking joints to go through the motions they knew from the repeated doing of them, a heart that keeps beating though broken because that's just what it does. I wake up. Go to work. Do work. Come home. Go to sleep. Dream she's alive and chose me.
It was a different blonde who walked into my bar less than a week after and asked to speak with me in private. I led Pam back through the short hallway to my office. When I walked into the room, there were two blondes: the one standing behind me and closing the door and the one sitting in my chair, running a hand over the edge of my desk, fingering the freshly sharpened pencils in a pile in the upper right-hand corner, where I always reached for them when I was working. She knew this, having seen me at work on the books often over the last few years. Then she turned to look at me and it was she. I approached her like she was a ghost easily frightened back into the invisible ether. She stood more quickly and clamped her arms around my neck before I could take another step closer. It was her, really. Paler, colder, with a stronger grip. The same but different. But her, whose face and voice and touch I knew by heart.
You're the first non-vampire to know, said Pam, from behind me. Sookie pulled back and looked into my eyes with the benevolent smile of a friend. I insisted, she said and then frowned. I knew what she was thinking and asked her if she wanted me to tell Jason. She did want me to tell him and that's why she had to do it herself. In my view, this was too dangerous, he being of such an unpredictably stupid nature that he might do something rash without thinking or knowing what he was seeing before him, which was his last shred of family, restored. It was a gift.
Can I tell people, I asked. Might as well get it over with, said Pam, as if the telling of it was the most difficult part. That's when it occurred to me to ask how this came to be. I had not heard any details of the accident; just that whatever happened had killed her. I was there and she is my Child, said Pam and I finally turned to face her. She looked proud and wary with her thin arms crossed over her chest. I remembered seeing her accompany Sookie to work on those last few nights. I knew how the process worked and didn't feel the need to argue. Okay, I said and that was it.
I led the way out to the bar and they just filed out behind me and I clapped and called out to get everyone's attention. I felt like an idiot, like the emcee of an amateur comedy night. The slightly drunk emcee of an amateur comedy night. They were all looking at me. We all know what happened, I said. Or most of it. I don't know how to put this. Everyone… I trailed off. Most of the people in the room had quieted down in shock, looking past me to where she stood with Pam. The silence spread into noise like fire eating a trail of gasoline. I told her she'd better go see her brother right now before he got a call and went nuts hearing it from someone else.
She and Pam were about to go out the back door when the sound of breaking glass rang out, followed by Arlene's shriek as the pieces jumped around her ankles. The sound in the room again dropped suddenly. She was on edge with terror and rage and shock. As she tried to gather the pieces into a small pile, she sliced her finger on one clear shard, the blood welling up to the surface. Pam and Sookie both tensed, Pam on alert for the need to hold back her Child. Sookie just stared at her former friend, who was cradling her hand and trying not to get blood on her white t-shirt. Arlene suddenly realized what fresh blood in the presence of two vampires could mean but she was literally against a wall, with no viable route of escape. Sookie was in front of Arlene, taking her hand in a flash. Pam was at her right elbow with an arm across her chest in gentle restraint, I was on the left doing the same. Everyone else in the room was standing and closing into a circle around us.
I could see the difference in her more clearly now. There was an intensity to her gaze as she stared at the wound, an animalistic tilt to the stance of her body, which, though it looked the same, was coursing with a different kind of blood and a different kind of soul. She fed on human blood for sustenance. And it didn't matter to me because she was no longer buried and gone and because my hand was wrapped around her left bicep, feeling the strain of the muscle beneath my fingers. This was not a dream. She had risen, was here in front of us all, come back. A gift. My heart trilled with freedom as grief faded and released it.
She seemed to reign herself in with the help of the pressure Pam and I were applying to her arms. She grinned. I already ate, she said and swept her head back to acknowledge the crowd with a cunning smile, wisely free of fang. There was a collective release of held breath and even a few slight laughs as Pam and I eased our hold on her. Then she just grabbed a towel from where it perched on the edge of the kitchen window counter and pressed it to the cut, which was actually quite deep. It was more care than Arlene deserved and from the look on her face, she knew it. Plenty of people had seen how she'd behaved towards Sookie and it would have served her right to have the shit scared out of her by a hungry vampire licking blood from her finger and enjoying it. Then Sookie pressed her own thumb to a newly extended fang and pierced the soft pad of it. She removed the towel and swiped the sluggish, dark red droplet across Arlene's finger. After toweling away the excess, Sookie smiled again, more gently this time. Good as new, she said. Arlene was cowed with shame but managed a quiet thank you. Sookie just reached forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. Just forget it all, she said. Then she and Pam left the bar.
The quiet buzz of shared bad news was replaced with something almost euphoric. After all, we'd seen vampires but never someone we knew as a human first. There was excitement and shared good news. I couldn't help smiling like a jackass knowing I could call her on the phone some night to say hello and maybe even ask her to cover a late shift. Speaking of… We'd have to talk about her job. She might not even want to come back but if I knew her as well as I thought I did, she would want to keep some things the way they had been, even if she herself was dramatically changed.
I closed up for the night—late because so many people stayed to talk—and drifted out the back door into the balmy night. The lot was empty save for a sleek black Mercedes parked under a light, with two blonde vampires leaning against it. Sookie straightened and walked toward me while Pam slowly blended away into the darkness, giving us our space.
I could tell her now. Should I? Second chances like this one don't come around often. Sookie. I— A breath here, a pause to consider how much she really needs to know. I'm really glad you're back. She finished her walk towards me and wrapped her arms around my neck in a firm hug. Of course, I hugged her back as equally in strength as I could. Then I let her go. Catch and release. Thank you, she said, if it weren't for you, I don't know that I could have come back here at all. People always thought I was nuts. And now… I told her not to worry. They'd get used to it. You're my best waitress, after all, I said. We talked a while more, both of us now leaning against the car. I saw Pam in the shadows of my trailer, sitting in a lawn chair with her legs stretched out in front of her, gazing at the sky overhead.
Her brother had been in a state of mellow drunkenness and seemed to take the news fairly well, but she was pretty sure she'd have to visit him a couple more times before it sunk in. I said I'd check on him the next day, make sure he understood. Then she seemed to wilt a little. I checked my watch and saw that it was almost five am. I'd kept the bar open late and we'd talked longer than I thought. She was young in vampire terms and would need more sleep. Pam was already climbing into the driver's seat of the car. I opened the passenger seat for Sookie and helped her in, reaching across her to buckle her seatbelt. As I pulled away, she took my hand and again said thank you. I loved her very much. Part of me always would even though I knew I'd meet and maybe even marry someone else and I would love that woman, too.
Any time, I said and shut her door.
Over the past several weeks, I've felt a new kind of normalcy fall over my bar, reaching all the way to my trailer and through the parking lot, to the very edges of this little town. Bill came in after having been gone for over a month and I could see it. He was acknowledged and welcomed not so much as the only vampire who regularly visited here but as the regular he was, a citizen of our town. Even Arlene offered him a nod of recognition before showing him where to sit. Anyone who was afraid or wary of vampires now seemed to decide that if one of their own—and for all her perceived craziness, everyone did consider her as belonging in and to Bon Temps—could change over and just be different instead of just be gone, well, they would rather handle it than know someone to be completely dead and lost forever. They all seemed to see the miracle in it and I have to admit that surprised me.
We are growing here. Our hearts and minds are prying open new depths, allowing more things in. We are acknowledging, more and more, the presence of real, true magic in this world. Of course, I already know of this presence. But there is always more to learn, like how you can love someone and still make room in your heart for what else may be coming.
Tonight, I have plenty of paperwork and bookkeeping to do in my office and I could make a dent in it if I just let Terry work the bar like he knows how to do. But for now I'd rather be out in the open, with the people I know, who welcomed me here five years ago, who have known her all her life and welcomed her back again. She comes in around ten, with Pam and her brother and her friend Amelia. I know her preferred type now, and Pam's, too. They leave as a group, a couple of hours later, she waving to me as she steps out the door.
I close up myself, flipping off all the lights, killing the glow of the neon signs. I lock up the deposit, figuring I'll take it to the bank in the morning. A full moon is coming up and I'll change and run and feel strong and free. Right now, I'm just human and tired but in a nice way that means I'll sleep deep and long and wake up tomorrow feeling rested and content. This is how I know it's been a good night.