TITLE: BLOOD THERAPY
CATEGORY: SER (Sookie/Eric Romance); EA (Eric Angst)
DISCLAIMER: All characters except that of Carolyn Bishop belong to Charlaine Harris and The Penguin Group Publishers. No infringement intended or financial remuneration received for this work.
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SPOILERS: Minor references to Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, and
Dead as a Doornail
SUMMARY: The private practice of a New Orleans psychotherapist gains a new client. The action takes place between Dead and Gone and All Together Dead.
My 10 p.m. client was late. Well, that was to be expected. New patients are usually nervous and tend to be either early or late, and this one was driving from Shreveport. I always leave plenty of time between patients, so I'd have some wiggle room if I needed it. A referral, as usual, but this time from a very high source. Paying in cash, also as usual.
There is absolutely no money to be made in mental health – you can ask anyone. Freudian analysis is long gone. Feeling down? Out of sorts? A quick trip to your friendly family doctor, and you'll have a 'scrip for Prozac or one of its cousins. The painstaking work of actually talking about problems has been taken over by psychologists and social workers, and most of us are paid less – much less - than the psychiatrists and analysts we replaced. I guess even human misery has been downsized and outsourced.
I say 'most of us' are paid less because I'm one of the few who is really, really well compensated. While my classmates from graduate school are making bupkis, the balance sheet of yours truly, Carolyn Bishop, Psy.D., LLC, is embarrassingly robust. I'd like to pretend it's because of my incredible skills as a therapist, but that's not the true reason. What really pays for my Italian leather shoes, my designer clothes (purchased at a discount – I'm not stupid!) and the health club membership so I can fit into them, not to mention my decorated office in a trendy
New Orleans office tower?
Let me tell you: I discovered a niche, a specialized area of psychotherapy practiced upon clients who pay the full amount, usually in cash. These clients carry no insurance, so there are no forms to complete or HMO tribunals with whom to dicker. They are functional, motivated clients who simply need a little help sorting out life's challenges. Well, that's not entirely true. My clients need no help with their lives; their lives are technically over. It would be more accurate to say that my clients need help being dead, or rather, undead. To my knowledge, I am the only clinical psychologist in the South who specializes in treating vampires.
Of course, no one starts out professional life – whether as a psychologist or a shoe repairman - by hanging out a shingle saying, "Vampires our specialty!" Among other reasons, vampires don't exist. At least they didn't used to exist. That changed a few years ago when a Japanese company developed synthetic blood. They were intending it
for use in hospitals, but a whole new customer base 'came out of the coffin' as they say.
I was working in a social services clinic attached to a teaching hospital when I finished my degree about five years ago. I liked the clients and their predictable problems. I guided frazzled parents in deciphering the puzzle of rebellious teens. I coached stressed-out professionals to communicate with their spouses. I guided middle-aged children as they grieved for their parents.
That winter, a couple, Geoffrey and Linda, scheduled an evening appointment with me. They said they needed help "sorting out relationship issues." I figured this was psychobabble for "She wants to get married but he doesn't." Geoffrey had a slight European accent and his profession was dubious. In fact, his pale skin and his unblinking gaze led me to a completely erroneous conclusion: my notes from that time show a symbol with a question mark - the shorthand I used for a suspected substance abuser. Boy, was I off base!
The couple made zigzag progress, but the topic of their physical relationship seemed to create real tension. Finally, during an especially strained session, Linda grabbed her handbag and turned to scream at her significant other, "I can't take it any more," she yelled as her mascara ran down her cheeks. "I hate the whole feeding-and-sex thing. I
can't stand having you bite me every time we make love." With that, she opened the door, stomped out, and slammed it closed.
"I had hoped it would be otherwise, Dr. Bishop. But I am afraid you must learn a little more about me," Geoffrey said after the reverberation ceased. He smiled widely. How inappropriate, I thought, until I was interrupted by the sight of his incisors elongating into fangs.
To say I got an education is an understatement. I discovered an entire world out there in the shadows, filled not just with vampires, but with werewolves, shapeshifters, witches, fairies . . . but it seemed vampires had the most problems. Or at least vampires wanted to talk about their problems the most. Werewolves and shapeshifters just aren't that introspective, I guess.
Geoffrey and Linda eventually worked out their differences, and they were so pleased with my help that they began sending their friends to me. My evening appointments were booked for weeks in advance! Eventually, the clinic staff began to sense something unusual about my caseload, and it made sense to set up a private practice where midnight psychotherapy sessions wouldn't draw attention.
My 10 p.m. arrived, and truly, he was worth the wait. I should explain that vampires are almost always
attractive. That, or especially talented in some way. They have to possess some quality that would prompt the gift of eternal life. It was easy to see in the case of this client: he was around 6'4'', with a muscular frame and golden hair cascading away from his face. I'd been told he was very old, but he'd been in his mid-thirties when he was "brought over" and that's precisely how he looked. He was dressed in jeans and a starched white shirt with a
gold-flecked tweed sports jacket that highlighted the color of his hair.
"Dr. Bishop?" he asked. His voice was deep.
"Yes. Please come in and have a seat."
He followed me into the inner office and slid into the overstuffed chair I offered. I gave a little introductory speech I give to new vamp clients outlining the rules: no glamoring, hypnotizing, or otherwise enchanting me. I'm human, and while I'm less susceptible to the usual tricks than some people, let a vampire as old as this one catch me in
the eye and I'm done for just like anybody else. But as I point out, that would defeat the point of therapy. It would be stupid to pay me for therapy and rig the results. Vampires are just as lazy as humans when it comes to personal growth, but they hate to be cheated!
"So why don't you tell me why you're here," I opened.
"The Queen sent me," he parried. "Also, I am told you are personally recommended by the King of New York."
Well, well, well. This one had done his homework. I began my practice in New York, and before long I was
called to meet with the local grand poobah vampire – the "King" of New York. Just my luck: he turned
out to have lived in Vienna during the height of Sigmund Freud's fame and considered me a kindred
spirit. We spent hours talking about psychological theory, and he provided both the backing and the
endorsement for my private practice.
"What do you think the Queen wanted you to achieve with me?" I thrust the question back at him. I was
prepared for this game.
"She feels I've been . . . less effective, recently," he explained, his eyes searching the room for the perfect words.
"I am Sheriff of Area 5." Now his eyes bore into me confidently, and he continued to tell me about the business enterprises for which he was responsible, the vampires under his protection, and all manner of supernatural that reported to him either officially or unofficially in Northern Louisiana.
"So she feels your job performance is suffering?" I prompted.
"No, I am an excellent manager. My businesses are as profitable as ever. It is . . . more personal," he hesitated.
I waited, simply watching.
"I have been distracted, and of course, in our world, there are always rumors."
I simply nodded for him to continue.
"And there is a woman . . ." his voice trailed off and he looked to the floor.
"Ah, cherchez la femme!"
"Oui, oui, c'est toujours vraiment, n'est pas!" he smiled and switched effortlessly to French.
Damn. You can't slip the tiniest foreign idiom into conversation with vamps. They think you're changing languages on them!
"Tell me about this woman? What is she to you?" I got us back into English in a hurry and asked a pointed question to keep him going in the narrative.
He smiled then, and I noticed he wasn't showing any fang. It was such a sweet, open smile that I felt a wave of sadness pass over me to think of all he had witnessed, killed, buried in his long life.
"She is no one, really. A waitress in a small town in my area. She is human, like you, but different. A telepath." He was leaning forward now, his elbows resting on his knees.
"You have a romantic attachment to her? Or do I misunderstand?" Vampires are so different from the rest of us that I've learned to be specific about these things.
"It is . . . complicated," he began, sitting back in the chair. "When I first met her, she was in the company of another, a vampire who works for me. Most girls are eager to 'trade up' as they say today, for someone with more money or power, but she was not. She would not even consider my offer."
The story became far more complicated, involving the betrayal of the young woman by her vampire lover, several daring rescues during which she proved her courage and moral fiber, and some fancy spell work by a group of witches. My new client had eventually been intimate with this woman, it seemed, but his memory of it had been erased. He was left with fleeting impressions and an occasional sense of deja vu.
". . . and now she has local shifters and even a rich Were sniffing after her!" he finished, inviting me to share in his outrage.
"How is this causing a problem for you?" I asked cautiously.
He seemed to crumple, his savoir faire deteriorating before my eyes. "I think about her far too much," he snapped. "It is a bad habit, and one I must break."
"What do you think about, when you think about this woman?" I probed gently.
"I wonder what kind of day she is having, if her customers are treating her well. Sometimes I worry about her. She lives alone, like women today do, and sometimes I am afraid for her safety. I assign employees to check on her sometimes. Occasionally I drive over to check on her myself. Naturally, this causes gossip."
"What else do you think about?"
He hesitated before answering. "I prefer not to talk about it."
I laughed easily. "You may have lived a lot longer than I have, but you haven't heard as many kinky fantasies as I have!"
Instead of laughing along with me, he became even more sober. "No. I mean, I do think about sex with her, but it is the other thoughts that disturb me."
"What disturbing thoughts do you have?" My antennae were up! Was he dreaming of draining her in a dark alley somewhere?
"Often I think of . . . being with her. I get foolish ideas. You know the store Wal-Mart, perhaps? I bought some dishes and frozen waffles to keep at my home. And matching napkins, because women like these things." He leaned forward, eyes to the floor, embarrassed.
"So you wanted to make your home more comfortable for her?"
"I suppose so. Though she has never seen my home." He fidgeted and continued to avoid my eyes.
"Are you in love with her?"
"Pah! This 'in love' did not exist until a few hundred years ago!"
"Tell me, how do you imagine your relationship with . . . what is her name?"
"Sookie." He leaned back and closed his eyes. "I would have us as partners. Partners in bed, of course, but also partners in everything. I would share everything I own with her and she would help me. We would laugh and have fun, but we would protect each other, too."
"And how does Sookie feel about you?"
"She is not indifferent to me. I can tell. She has refused to yield to me, though, except when I was cursed," he said, the last bit coming out a bit sadly.
I hoped he'd put his offer more appealingly than that!
"How did you approach her?"
He looked at me, seemingly surprised by the question.
"Well, I kissed her and offered her my protection."
Oh my. Sometimes I think I could cut my therapy business in half just by offering etiquette classes for these guys! Of course! He kissed her and offered 'protection' in exchange for sex! This Sookie must be a paragon of virtue and patience – otherwise she would have simply borrowed a page from Buffy and staked him right then and there!
"You know, if you're correct, and Sookie is not indifferent to you, maybe you need a slightly different approach. A woman born in the last 30 years might have been offended rather than flattered or aroused," I suggested as blandly as possible.
For a moment, he seemed ready to argue or disparage this hypothesis, but then his expression changed, and he smiled again. "Yes, perhaps you are right. I pride myself on not clinging to the old ways, but who knows, perhaps I misjudged."
"Have you asked her on a date? You know, to an entertainment?"
"No. I have no time for these things. Bars do not run themselves," he said, flicking his hand with disdain.
"Okay, but maybe take her for a drive or a walk. Or to one of those new bookstores with the coffee bars. No big deal. And no sex. Just talk with her." Dear Lord, I'd spent five years in graduate school to give dating advice to a man who remembered when the Earth was still flat.
"But I want to stop thinking about her. I don't recall having this problem in the past. I cannot become attached to a human woman. They are lovely, but they are . . . disposable, no offense."
"Because?" I knew the answer, of course, but I needed to make him say it.
He slid slowly down in the seat and tipped his head back and was completely silent for two or three minutes, a long time when you're waiting for someone to speak.
"Because . . .," he whispered, "Because she will die."
He straightened up suddenly in the chair, and I saw the blood-tinged tears that had stained his temples. I motioned to the box of pink tissue I keep specifically for this purpose, and he dabbed at his eyes and regained his composure.
"You know, it's not my role to give you advice or tell you what you should do. I'm sure the Queen will be happy to do that." We both smiled at my little joke, and I continued, "If it makes you feel any better, things have changed for everyone. Vampire and human relations are different than they were before, and none of us has any experience with these new relationships. We don't know what to expect."
He glanced at his watch, a thin gold timepiece that probably cost more than my monthly mortgage. "I see my time is up," he said.
I didn't believe he cared one whit whether his time was up; he was just getting uncomfortable with the direction of our conversation. Okay – enough for one night.
"Would you like to come back again next week? Did you find it helpful to discuss this?"
"Actually, yes," he smiled, again without fang, seeming surprised at his own answer. "Yes, I actually did find it beneficial." He stood up, and his mood seemed to suddenly lighten.
"Excellent. Does this time work for you?"
"This is fine. Perhaps I will try to arrange a date with Sookie, too. After all, I myself might be staked tomorrow. We can't predict these things. It would be a shame to die without making an effort. Goodnight, Dr. Bishop."
"Goodnight, Mr. Northman."
With that, he vanished out the door, faster than my eyes could track, like vampires do.