July 1, 2013

I awoke at 10 am, feeling self-indulgent that I'd slept so late. But it was my birthday, so I was going to cut myself some slack. I rolled over and saw that he'd fallen asleep with a book, yet again. I pried it out of his cold, stiff hands, marked his place and put the book at his side. I combed my fingers through his hair and kissed him tenderly. Then I got up to shower and dress. After putting on my robe, I exited the secure room and went out into the main portion of the master bedroom. The hot shower felt heavenly. I brushed out my hair but left it loose for a change. I went into the closet to select clothes and found in my lingerie drawer the little gift bag that I was sure would be only the first excess of the day. I opened it to find the ruby earrings that I had seen when I was out with Pam antiquing two weeks before. Too clever by halves, I said to myself… Eric was just too sly. I was betting they'd been purchased right after I'd left the shop. I sighed and put them on. I looked at the handwritten card in the little bag, Already complaining? The day is young, Lover. I laughed out loud. Eric really knew me too well. I put on an old, comfortable cranberry raw silk shirt, a pair of black linen pants and black flats.

After dressing and grabbing my cell phone, I headed out of the bedroom and down the long hallway, past Pam's and Tan's room and that of Thalia and her girlfriend. I skipped down the stairs and headed off to the kitchen. Emily, our dedicated housekeeper, bounced up from reading the paper and beamed.

"Happy Birthday, Sookie!" There was a vase filled with columbines on the table. They were a real favorite of mine. They weren't even in season, since they were more of a spring flower. Where on earth had she gotten them?

"Thanks, Emily," I said with a smile. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down with her and started glancing through the newspaper. "Your brother continuing on the mend?" Emily and her brother were fraternal twins, both first born Were twins, thus a real rarity among their kind. The only other Were twins I knew of were Hallow and her brother. Emily and Edwin had turned out much better than those two. But Edwin had been hit by a car on the full moon back on the 23rd in June. Drunk driver. It had been a very bad accident and if he hadn't been a Were he probably wouldn't have lived.

"He's doing much better, thanks. What can I whip up for you this morning?"

"Just the usual. Wow, look at this photo from the Botanical Garden. I have to show this to Eric." It was great PR. The photo showed a philanthropic event that was held in the Northman Pavilion, and mentioned the pavilion's great popularity.

In the seven years since Eric had become King of Louisiana, a full ten percent of vampire-based revenue in the state had gone to post-Katrina reconstruction. Even now, the Northman Fund was still aiding in the rebuilding, especially among minorities who had been marginalized by some state government funded programs. There had been a fall off in public interest after about the third year after the hurricane and many reconstruction efforts had stagnated. But not the Northman Fund. The fund was still active in rebuilding. Healthcare was another serious problem in the New Orleans area, since so many professionals had departed after the storm and not returned. The Northman Fund had an active program trying to attract healthcare practitioners back to the area. Eric was even interested in the levees, which were still plagued with problems. He'd been in Louisiana for almost a hundred years and was determined to help with rebuilding and better preparation for any future storms.

Emily put my toast down in front of me with the jar of apricot preserves and said, "You sure you don't want anything special, Sookie? It's your birthday, after all."

"No, just the usual," I said, while spreading the preserves on the toast. "I don't know where you got columbines at this time of year, Emily. That's like magic or something. So is anybody else up?"

"No, just you. Anne went to bed when Thalia did according to Rico. Who knows about Tan? He was meditating or something when I got here at 8 am. I can't tell whether he's asleep or awake when he's like that. Frankly, he freaks me out sometimes. I think he went up to their room, though."

Anne was Thalia's girlfriend of the past six months. She had just started staying with Thalia during the day. We were all hush, hush about it because the idea of Thalia taking up with someone with that degree of seriousness was rather amazing. Rico, or Frederico, was one of the guards on watch from close to dawn to midafternoon or dusk. He was a mix of demon and Fae. He'd come to us indirectly through Niall. Fae blood or no, I was very sure no one would ever think about messing with Rico, though according to Eric, he smelled mostly like ash and soot. Many vampires were afraid of him. Unglamoured, he stood about seven feet tall, had a charcoal skin color and had eyes that glowed like flames. Whenever there was trouble, he dropped his glamour (that of a somewhat tall pale and freckled human man) and had been known to really terrify people just by growling. He could destroy anything just by touch if he chose, but was normally a peaceful individual. He had been much maligned by the Fae and a bit of an outcast among demons. He was really happy to have found a place with us. He lived in the entire basement of the compound along with another part Fae and demon guard and he sometimes hung around upstairs even after dark. What he ate was rather frightening. Everything from trees to cows to reportedly the occasional person who had caused him trouble. Really. But that was a long time ago. He was pretty old and said he didn't do things like that any more. I had learned an immense amount of information about the Fae, about demons, and about a host of other creatures directly from Rico, or with his help. Rico had become my friend and he was very fond of me. Which was a very good thing. Some aspects of Rico's nature were truly terrifying and I'd never want to be on his wrong side. On the other hand, he could be quite amusing. He loved music, especially Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.

And Tan? Tan Wei was Pam's fabulous Chinese boyfriend. She'd brought him home one night after meeting him in the French Quarter and three years later he was still with us. He was a martial arts specialist from Hong Kong. He had just sort of clicked, with Pam, and with us. He was frequently my partner in crime during the daytime, keeping me safe, along with the occasional Were bodyguard, like Edwin. They were very a close couple, and it was really funny to see how Pam was so mild-mannered on the rare occasions when Tan was in a bad mood. Eric and I thought she was starting to think about making a more formal commitment with him. He was not bound to her. Pam still struggled with her feelings. But Tan seemed to take it all in stride and teasingly called her 'Grasshopper'. He frequently joked with me about how 'fond' Pam was of both of us, and of Eric. Most of the time, Pam was still a real pistol. Only last week I had to replace a plate glass window in Eric's office when she said something snarky to Eric and he tossed a piece of furniture just past her. Then she teasingly insulted his poor aim. He laughed at her then. Pam just loved to live a bit dangerously. Things had been so peaceful for the past year that I thought she was just keeping things interesting at times. That Pam…

We chatted on for a while and then Emily refused to let me wash up my plate and knife, saying it was my birthday and I should give it up already. I almost invariably wanted to clean up after myself.

"Alright, just this once. I'm going to go get some work done, then. Thanks for the toast and for the company." I checked my cell phone as I walked and saw I already had an amazing six voicemail messages by 10:45 am. Missed calls from Jason, Amelia, Sam, Claudine, Claude, a number that was likely Niall, Alcide and one from Liesel, from back around 6 am. I bet that Claudine was going to call back so she could speak to me in person. That was so Claudine. She'd probably pop in later, too. We'd just had beignets at Café du Monde on Saturday morning but she loved to fuss. And Jason? He hated leaving messages. He'd stubbornly call until he got me.

I exited the kitchens to cross the courtyard and unlocked the office side of the complex, looking around and noting that all the chairs in the hall were out of place again. Impromptu meetings in the hallways drove me mad. They happened all the time and I got the feeling that Eric even encouraged them as a way to work out issues informally. But they left the halls a total mess. At least today there were no bottles and plates stacked up. I ignored the chairs and walked down to my office and saw that someone, or some people, had tacked a birthday banner to my office door before dawn. It bore more signatures than I could count and made me laugh because of all the funny stuff written on it. Pam had written, dead center (har har) in her fancy hand 'Apparently, I'm still older than you are, so you still have to do what I say, little telepath…' Thalia had written 'BEHAVE YOURSELF' in block letters. After a few more chuckles I unlocked the door and went inside. I'd save the rest for later, savoring them, like the voice messages.

Rather than turning on the overhead lights, I opened my plantation shutters and let the sunlight stream into the room. My office looked out onto the back gardens. The bougainvillea was blooming up a storm out on the trellises and pergola. I logged into my computer and waited for my inbox to load. Forty-two emails, but it looked like twelve of those were going to my personal email address rather than the work email address. I scanned through the work subject headers before indulging in the personal email folder. Some thirty odd emails, pretty typical for a Monday. Updates from various states, a couple of issues from here in Louisiana that looked mostly Were-related, although there was one that looked to be about a problem with a Fae business. The Fae had partially come out two years before. They had been clever about it, trotting out all the pretty fairies who were in films and the arts and keeping all the scary ones like the Fideal or the kelpies under deep cover. Things had worked out well for the Fae for the most part, especially that keeping of the human-eating ones under wraps. It looked like a pretty usual Monday, then. No urgent issues, requiring special negotiations. Things had been pretty peaceful for the past few months, after a flair up of fighting between a group of Weres and the vampires of southern Iowa. Iowa had been in the Alliance for only two years and their vampires had been a little loathe to follow the party line on better supernatural relations. But things were settling down. My job as the official Interracial Liaison for the Alliance had been a very active one for the past seven years. I'd started out just working in the state of Louisiana, but within less than a year, Stan had me handling Texas problems and Joseph Arkansas's, too, because of my status as a friend of multiple Were packs in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, of many covens and my protected status among the Fae. Soon enough I'd been covering most of the states in the Alliance, though Liesel had still covered Nevada until about nine months ago.

I opened my personal email folder and was surprised to see a Hallmark e-card from my Constitutional Law professor. How he even knew it was my birthday was beyond me. Maybe one of my classmates told him. He wished me well and said he'd look forward to seeing me when classes resumed in six weeks. I had loved his class and thought it was the best class I'd ever taken at Tulane. It was the proudest 'A' I'd earned as a student. I had done equally well in the first Constitutional Law class, in my first year, but it was the second year class with Mr. Abbis that had really challenged my mind. Civil Rights for supernatural races, and really for everyone, was a passion of mine. I had finished my philosophy and history degree in three and a half years and started law school two years ago. It was really grueling with my everyday schedule and my commitments with Roberto in Vegas. I reminded myself I still had it easy compared to a vampire doing it at night over five years. And I'd managed to do very well, especially in areas that were near and dear to my heart like Constitutional Law and Civil Rights or Humanitarian issues.

A slew of other emails from friends included one from Bill, pointing out that I was continuing to be officially older than he had been as a human and that this was deeply troubling, because I was getting seriously old. This from a man who died in 1867? I fired back a sassy reply. I hesitated to even log into my Facebook page until I'd tackled all the work and personal email. I bet that Hunter had posted some nutty things for me. Liesel's email wished me a happy birthday and she had also sent me photos of a party we'd attended in Vegas at the beginning of June, the last in which she ran as a wolf. She'd been turned in mid-June. After her bone-marrow transplant had failed, Roberto put his foot down and said he'd had enough. He simply couldn't take it. So here she was, two weeks in, keeping me posted daily. When we'd talked by video IM two nights before she looked better than she had in quite some time. The week she awakened vampire coincided with a waxing full moon and it was emotionally really hard on her. But she seemed as if she was coping well at present. She said it wasn't as bad as she thought it would be. But, as she pointed out to me, wolves are predators, so it wasn't as much of a stretch as it might be for someone else.

Me, I was still on the fence. I still had one year left of law school and today I was thirty-four years old. My plans extended only as far as finishing law school and passing the Bar exam. I still loved the sunlight and daytime. But I studied so much and kept such crazy hours that I hardly ever had a tan anymore. The Brigant-owned pharmaceutical consortium had come up with all kinds of cool things to make the Fae safe from the risks of vampire drainage, including a colloidal silver supplement that could actually make vampires very ill if they bit you. It gave off a strange scent in the Fae that was ever so slightly repellant to vamps still tempted to bite. Vampires seldom hunted humans in the States anymore, either. The Alliance was now eighteen states strong and the states involved were models of mainstreaming success. There was also unprecedented stability in these states, a leading reason for new members joining. In the past seven years there had not been a single regime change in an Alliance state. By any measure, the Alliance was a stunning success.

Eric seldom pressured me anymore by mentioning wanting to turn me. As patient as a glacier, Eric Northman. I think that he could see that with time, and with the wonders of pharmacology offering a chance to still see my Fae family, my resistance was waning a bit. Eric had always been like water washing over stone with me. He could wear me down so gently. The slow and steady supply of his blood had kept me looking pretty youthful. I took good care of myself, stayed fit doing pilates, and Pam said I didn't look much older than when she'd first met me almost a decade ago. No, my only indications of Eric's thoughts on the matter were when he mentioned long term plans, which in Eric's mind meant fifty or a hundred years down the road. Late at night, lying in bed, when he would casually talk about where we'd be then, it was obvious that in his mind, 'we' meant that I'd be right there with him. I can almost see it myself some days. Seven years had flown by quickly and in spite of all my fears, I loved my family, my busy life. I was, just as Eric had predicted, very happy. And I love him so. I still have time to decide. Lately though, I was mindful of something that Roberto had told me back in early June before Liesel finally agreed. Only a fool passes up the chance to be with someone you truly love.

Well, Sookie Northman is no fool.

A/N- The next story, which is already about twice this length, is called Turning Point. (I leave that to your imagination.) I'll try to put it up soon.