Happily (N)ever After Contest

Beta: EtheHunter, Sarahblueiris

Summary: Sookie and Alcide live and work together in a theater in Chicago. When he gets a job opportunity in another city, can their relationship survive?

Here we are, you and I
Let the world just hurry by
Even while I waited, somehow, dear, I knew
You'd find me, and I'd find you

"Here We Are" by Gus Kahn & Harry Warren

The chill of Chicago winter tended to seep through the brick walls of the loft Alcide and I shared. As it often did, the cold woke me up; I rolled over in bed to snuggle closer to my love. He mumbled something in his sleep and wrapped an arm around me, pulling me closer. I brushed a stray lock of his dark, curly hair away from his face, then leaned in to kiss him. He smiled without opening his eyes and let out a little hum. It was still dark out, but the room was slightly lit by the glow of the orange streetlights outside. The sound of sleet tapping against our windows lulled me back to sleep.

When I got up, the sun was streaming through the window, warming the spot that Alcide had left empty. I scowled until the smell of coffee hit my nose. Almost on autopilot, I followed the rich aroma as it led me into our tiny kitchen. After fixing myself a cup of the only thing that could properly wake me, I went into our little breakfast nook where Alcide was reading the newspaper. Spotting a pile of mail on the table, I picked it up and rifled through it.

"Morning, sweetie," I said. "What's going on in that big, bad paper world?"

He lowered the edge of the newspaper and smiled at me. It sent my heart a-patter, as it always did. We'd been together for years and he still gave me butterflies in my tummy.

"Not much in this paper, but I got some good news in the mail."

"Oh?" When I'd looked through the mail, I had only checked for things with my name on the envelopes. I frowned when I found one addressed to Alcide Herveaux – from Ohio. It was handwritten. Who sent mail by post anymore? I considered myself an old-fashioned girl, but even I preferred e-mail. And who did he know in Cincinnati? All of his family was in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a born-and-bred southern boy; it was one of the many things that had attracted me when we'd first met.

"You know that theater that my friend Tray opened?" he asked. I shook my head, not recalling any friends of his with that name. Then again, I still hadn't finished my coffee; I took another sip as he continued. "They're looking for another stagehand. Tray told me that if I want it, the position's mine."

"For a theater in Cincinnati?" I asked, my stomach fluttering for much less pleasant reasons. "What about your application with the opera house?"

"Hon, you know that's a union job. Getting into the Stagehand's Union is damn near impossible in this town."

For months, Alcide had been trying to get out of the position he was in; he was still working as a stagehand at the small theater where we'd met. He wanted to move up in the theater world, but each step of the way was a fight for the backstage folks. Almost everything in Chicago was union-run: symphonies, orchestras, even the stagehands. Competition was fierce, and if you didn't know the right people, you weren't getting in, no matter how well you knew your job.

As a singer, I didn't have quite the same problem. I'd come to Chicago because it was the heart and soul of Blues, and that was my specialty.

Growing up in a small, poor town in northern Louisiana, there wasn't much to do. One of my first memories was of sitting on someone's lap, listening to old records playing the best hits from the 1920s and 1930s. Music was my life, and the older it was, the better.

I'd gotten my start singing in smoky jazz clubs in New Orleans, but had to leave town when Katrina headed our way. There wasn't much for me to go back to; all of the places I used to perform had been destroyed by either the winds or the flooding. I'd taken refuge with my family in Bon Temps, but there wasn't much call for old style jazz singers in that neck of the woods. My Gran and brother chipped in to help me move up to Chicago, since it was more of a fine arts town.

It had been hard when I first got here. I'd had to fall back on my skills as a waitress until I landed a job at Hair of the Dog. Sam Merlotte had gotten the idea in a dream, he'd told me once. It was somewhere between dinner theater and a neighborhood bar. Each night had a different retro theme: Bluesy Tuesday, Jazz Wednesday, Theater Thursday, Roaring Forties Friday, and Burlesque Saturday. We were closed on Sundays and Mondays, and I had Thursdays and Fridays off.

Alcide was one of two backstage crew, such as it was. It was a small stage so it didn't really require much. He managed the heavy-lifting aspects of the job, like swapping out the heavy stage lights and flying the backdrops or curtains as necessary. Maria-Starr managed the sound and light boards and gave cues to the performers. She and Alcide were such good friends that when I first started working there, I'd assumed they were a couple. It was actually Maria-Starr who'd pushed me at Alcide, swearing on her mother's grave that he was sweet on me.

"What about the club?" I asked, pulling myself back into the moment. "And Maria-Starr? You know that li'l girl can't manhandle those stage lights. They almost weigh as much as she does." It wasn't much of an exaggeration; she was a buck-ten, soaking wet. Some of those lights were over sixty pounds.

He grinned. "I already talked to Maria-Starr about it. She's got a cousin who'd be filling in for me."

"Filling in?" I asked, perking up slightly.

"Sure. I'd want my old job when I got back. Tray's theater is seasonal, not year-round."

I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to look happy for him. It would be difficult for us, but a great opportunity for him.

When night is creepin' and I should be sleepin' in bed
If you were peepin' you'd find that I'm weepin' instead
My lovin' daddy left his baby again
Said he'd come back but he forgot to say when

"Daddy Won't You Please Come Home" by Sam Coslow

I rolled over in bed. Again. I couldn't seem to get comfortable. It had been three months since Alcide had left for Cincinnati, and I'd tried every sleep aid I could legally get my hands on; none of them helped. The sleet that used to send me to sleep now sounded like the loneliest sound in the world. It was a cold world out there.

It wasn't much warmer in the loft. Since I was effectively living by myself now, with only one paycheck going towards rent and utilities, I had to be much more careful about pesky little things like gas and electricity. In order to save on expenses, I'd picked up a small, oil-filled radiator for the bedroom. The curtains I'd put over the doorways helped keep the heat in somewhat, but there wasn't much I could do about the high ceilings.

The only thing keeping me going was the calendar I kept tacked to the wall on Alcide's side of the bed. Every night, I would cross off another day with a big red X. The last day of the theater's season was marked with gold star stickers. That beautiful day was only a few more weeks away. I'd gotten through the worst of it, gotten past the halfway point. This was the home stretch.

I had finally started to slip into that state right between wakefulness and sleep when my phone rang. The noise of it startled me initially, but I smiled and rushed to answer it when I recognized Alcide's ring tone. My smile faded when I saw the clock: it was almost three in the morning. Was he okay...?

"Hey sweetie! Are you all right? It's so late..."

"Heyyy, Soook!"

I blinked and pulled the phone away from my head so that I could stare at it. I wasn't imagining things: that really was Alcide calling me. Sure didn't sound like him, though.

"Alcide? Are you... are you drunk? On a Tuesday?"

He giggled, which meant that yes, he was indeed drunk as a skunk. I sighed.

"Aww, I haven't had that much. Me an' the boys were just out celebrating."

I lay back down and curled up under the blankets. With both arms under the covers and my phone resting on the side of my head, I could close my eyes and try to pretend he was in the room with me.

"Whatcha celebrating? I could use some good news." After I said it, I cringed, hoping he wouldn't think I was sad. He was happy about something; I didn't want to bring him down.

"I got a promotion! The old stage manager got canned, so I got the job."

That didn't make sense to me. "Why would they fire him, when the season only has a few weeks left?"

"Oh, that's another thing Tray announced tonight," he said, almost as if it were an afterthought. "The season's been going so well, the theater's going year-round."

All of the blood drained from my face. "You mean...?"

"I mean I'm now a permanent stage manager! No more flying ropes, no more slinging lights, Sookie. I get to call the shots. Isn't this great?"

I tried to swallow, but the knot in my throat wouldn't let me. "Congratulations, honey," I managed to croak.

"Hey, I've gotta let you go. The guys just got back with some pizza. I'll give you a call soon, okay?"

In the dark of my bedroom, I nodded, forgetting he couldn't see me. It wouldn't have mattered if my voice had been working: he'd hung up before I could have said anything.

I just had a sort of feeling this morning
Something good was gonna happen today
Now there comes a sound without any warning
I just know it's good luck coming my way!

"Who's That Knocking?" by Gus Kahn & Seymour Simons

Alcide didn't call for almost two weeks. When I'd cried on Maria-Starr's shoulder about it, she tried to comfort me by telling me that he was probably just swamped with his new position. As soon as she said that, I realized she was right. I knew from hanging out with Alcide and local his crew buddies that there was more to stage managing than one might think. It really was an exhausting job.

When I finally heard from him, he did sound wiped. I hadn't been singing nearly as much at Hair of the Dog; there were some new girls, and competition was getting worse. For a month or so after Alcide had left for Ohio, my voice had been sketchy from all of the crying I'd done. Even though I was in better shape these days, Sam was trying to juggle all of the new performers. As much as I loved my job, I wondered if it was time for me to be moving on. I'd been there for several years now, and it was obvious I wasn't getting anywhere with it.

So when Alcide suggested I come out to Cincinnati, I jumped at the chance. Because it was another late-night call, we were too tired to talk about the specifics. As soon as I got up the next morning, I started getting my affairs in order. By the time he called me a week later, I was just waiting for him to give me the green light.

Maria-Starr's cousin had been crashing on her couch, so he was more than happy to sublet the loft until my lease was up. I had already given Sam my two weeks notice, figuring that if I was still in Chicago for longer than that, I could pick up a waitressing job for a week or two. My thrifty ways with the utilities meant that I'd had a chance to build up a small financial cushion in my savings account. Since Alcide was staying in a furnished apartment that we'd be sharing, I sold most of my furniture on Craiglist. If we got another place that didn't come with tables and chairs, well, that's what second-hand stores and Ikea were for.

Truth be told, I didn't have much to worry about. When I'd moved to Chicago, I had been able to fit all of my worldly possessions in my car. One of my going-away presents from my brother had been a small laptop and an iPod; both of them were loaded up with all of my favorite old songs. He'd done it so that I wouldn't have to lug around all of my old 78 records and the ancient turntable that I'd inherited from our grandfather.

I thought myself a fairly simple girl; I didn't need much. I had my music. I had my clothes. And soon enough, I would have my Alcide back.

You're mean to me
Why must you be mean to me?
Gee, honey, it seems to me
You love to see me cryin'

"Mean to Me" by Roy Turk & Fred Ahlert

As ecstatic as I'd been to be with Alcide again, I had known that the rest of the move wouldn't be a walk in the park. Chicago was a fine arts town; Cincinnati, not so much. There wasn't much call for old style jazz or blues singers, but every town needed waitresses.

So that's what I did. I busted my ass waiting tables; for the most part, Alcide and I had similar schedules, but he had much longer hours than I did. When I was home alone, I made sure everything around the house was clean. Every night when he came home from work, I had a hot meal ready and waiting for him, even if I wasn't awake to give it to him. No matter how tired I was, I wanted to make sure that my sweetie was well-fed and taken care of.

Even if he didn't want to admit it, I knew his new job had to be taking a lot out of him. Tray's theater had only been around for two seasonal years before he decided to take it year-round. There were a lot of adjustments to be made, and it was just a difficult time for everyone.

Money was tight. I knew that going out for drinks with the boys was one of the ways he blew off steam, so instead of asking him to cut back on his fun times, I started clipping coupons. My Gran, who had grown up during the Depression, was a great resource for money-saving tips.

We had been through so much together. When we first met, we'd both been struggling in a post-9/11 world that wanted to spend more on the military than the arts. Before we moved in together, I'd been sleeping on an air mattress in a studio apartment, and he'd been couch surfing with various friends. Chicago was such an expensive place to live; the cost of living in Cincinnati was cheaper, but the pay tended to be less as well.

Alcide and I never fought, but things were tense. He'd been happy to see me, but something about my arrival seemed to surprise him. When I asked him about it, he'd brushed it off, saying he was just expecting the trip to take longer. Since he hadn't needed to bring nearly as much with him, he'd flown out; he hadn't realized it was only a five or six hour drive.

I tried to put aside my nagging doubts. I told myself that the waning of our once-explosive sex life was due to both of us always being so tired. We still made love, but it wasn't nearly as often as it once had been. I didn't have much experience with long-term relationships, but I'd heard from my girlfriends that things tended to taper off in that department after a few years.

One night, I got home after Alcide. I couldn't recall that ever having happened since I'd moved to Cincinnati. Work at the restaurant had been just that perfect pace: fast enough to make the time go by quickly, slow enough to not be exhausting. Walking in the door, I saw him sitting on the couch, drinking a beer as he watched a game on the television.

"Hey, sweetie! You have a good day?" I asked. I sat down next to him and started taking off my shoes; my feet were killing me.

"What? Oh, yeah. Busy, but good. You?"

I tucked my socks into my shoes and put them under the coffee table. "Pretty good, actually. The new girl, Jessica? I think I told you about her. It's her first time doing the waitress thing, but she's really getting the hang of things."

"Oh? That's good, I guess."

Pulling my feet up under me, I leaned towards Alcide for a snuggle. He looked at me and wrinkled his nose a little.

"What?" I asked.

"Do you always smell like that when you come home?"

I laughed and swatted him on the arm. "You got something against eau de fried food? I know, I know. I need a shower. Usually I take one as soon as I get home, before you get off work. I think I'm gonna go do that. What do you want for dinner?"

He looked at me sheepishly. "I got a bite to eat with the guys a little bit ago. I'm not really hungry, but..."

"Oh," I said, trying to hide my disappointment. "That's okay. I think there are some leftovers I could heat up for myself. But first, I really do need that shower."

I picked up my shoes and put them by the door, taking the socks out of them so I could put those in the laundry with the rest of my outfit. As I stood in front of the hamper, I frowned and pulled out the work shirt I'd worn the day before. I held it up to my nose and sniffed. It was faint, but I could still pick up the restaurant smells from it. With a sigh, I put it back and started adding the clothes I'd been wearing to the pile. Alcide didn't have enough free time to do the laundry, it made sense that he wouldn't have noticed that kind of thing.

Halfway through my shower, I thought I heard something over the sound of the water.

"Alcide?" I shouted, hearing my voice echo in the shower. "I think my phone's ringing. Could you get it for me?"

I heard a muffled response, and the ringing stopped, but I couldn't hear anything after that. It was still early evening, but the clubs and theaters I'd applied for might be the types of places to call after standard business hours. Excited at the prospect, I hurried through the rest of my bathing routine.

I came back out into the living room to find Alcide gone. "Sweetie? Where'd you go?"

He came out of the kitchen just then, holding a fresh beer. "Just needed a new drink. You want one?"

"No, thanks though. Who was it on the phone?"

"Sorry, I didn't get to it in time. I didn't check."

I growled in frustration, then got my phone out of my purse. When I flipped up the screen, I sighed at seeing my brother's name. It hadn't been a job offer at all. My brother could wait a few more minutes. I needed to dry off a bit more and then get some food in my belly.

The phone rang again, right after I'd dropped it back into my purse. I picked it back up, surprised and concerned to see that it was Jason, again. I frowned as I started walking back towards the bedroom to get away from the noise of the television.

"Hey, Jase. What's up?" I asked.

So if your lucky star deserts you and its shadows fall
Even though it hurts you laugh through it all
Be a cheerful loser you have the world to gain
If you want the rainbow you just must have the rain.

"If You Want The Rainbow" by Oscar Levant, Billy Rose & Mort Dixon

I pressed the little red button on my phone and stared at the screen until it faded.

This couldn't be happening.

Alcide came into the room and leaned against the door frame. "Everything okay?"

"I need to go back to Bon Temps."

"Okay," he said, sounding a bit confused. "A visit might do you some good."

My eyes filled with tears, too many for me to blink away. "It's Gran. She's gone."

The next morning, I was on the first plane back to Louisiana. It took me to Shreveport, where my brother was waiting at the airport for me. He looked about how I felt. We were both a mess. Gran had been in such good health, she should have lived another ten years, easily. It had been an accident; a drunk driver. I didn't know the details just yet, and wasn't sure if I wanted to. All I knew was that my Gran was gone.

She had been everything to me. After our parents had died, she'd raised me and Jason as if we were her own kids. They'd died when I was quite young, so Gran was the only parent I really remembered. She'd been the one who kissed my ouchies and made them better, whether they were skinned knees from learning to ride my first bike, or a broken heart from my first boyfriend in high school. She'd nursed me through chicken pox and scarlet fever. From her, I'd learned that when times get tough, you break out the vacuum and clean; if the house is already spotless, you mess it up with some baking, and then clean up after that.

As I slouched in Jason's truck, I could almost hear her admonishing me. "Sit up straight, stomach in. Good posture'll perk you right up."

The next few days were a blur; there was so much to do. Gran had left a will, but she hadn't planned anything out. On a good day, Jason wasn't organized enough to keep his own life straight. He tried to help, but ultimately he was just getting in the way.

As much as I hated the things that were keeping me busy, I was grateful that they kept me too busy to really think. Each night, I dropped into my old bed, too exhausted to be kept awake by the pain I was only barely holding at bay.

Everywhere I looked, I saw Gran. There was no way around it. This house had been in the Stackhouse family for generations. Every room smelled like her. Every piece of furniture had something on or about it that reminded me of her. In my mind's eye, I tried to only see her in her happier moments.

The kitchen table was where we made and shared so many meals. The couch was where she liked to sit with a glass of sweet tea and a novel. The rocking chair where, when I was still a small child, she would hold me on her lap and tell me stories about my father and grandfather. My bed wasn't a place where I'd cried over the many heartbreaks of youth; it was where she tucked me in and sang me to sleep.

In every bit of that house, Gran was telling me to keep my chin up. Life wasn't fair. Life was rough. But that we were alive to talk about how tough it could be at times: that was good. Things had to get better, I told myself. Gran would always be with me. I could close my eyes and still hear her singing me to sleep. I could remember the lessons she'd helped me learn. I just had to get through this.

I feel too bad, I'm feeling mighty sick and sore
So bad I feel
I said I'm feeling sick and sore
and so afraid my man don't love me no more.

"Moanin' Low" by Howard Dietz & Ralph Rainger

My eyes felt heavy, like someone had dangled weights from my lashes. That didn't seem right. I had just closed my eyes for a moment; they shouldn't be so hard to open again.

I blinked in the bright lights. Everything around me was white. This didn't look like my bedroom. What...?

At the sound of someone sniffling, I turned my head to see Jason sitting in a chair a few feet away. What was he doing in Ohio? I opened my mouth to try to ask him what was going on, but all that came out was a thin rasping sound. His head shot up, and he looked at me with wide eyes. He looked as pale as the rest of the room, which had me worried.

"Thank God! You're awake. You're not allowed to scare me like that, Sook."

I lifted a hand to my throat and winced; it was so dry, it hurt to even try to swallow. Jason got up and stuck his head out the door to call a nurse.

She came in a minute or two later, holding the most beautiful glass of water I'd ever seen. She held the straw to my lips and I took a few swallows.

"Not too much, hon. You've had quite a shock."

I have? "What happened?" I asked. The sound of my own voice startled me, it was so hollow.

The nurse's eyes widened briefly, and then she patted my arm. "You just rest. The doc'll be here soon. She'll be able to discuss everything with you."

I frowned and looked at Jason. He looked about as nervous as I'd ever seen him. "Jason?"

He sighed. "You don't remember? We were at the church, and you just... dropped. I mean, you were sittin' down, but you fell outta your chair and didn't get up. And all that..." he gulped.

Just then, a short woman in a white coat walked in. "Sookie Stackhouse? I'm Dr. Ludwig. I hear you're in the business of scaring people. We managed to stop the bleeding, but we'd like to keep you here an extra day or two to make sure you're okay before we send you home."

Bleeding? "What?"

Dr. Ludwig looked over at Jason. "Were you the father?"

"No, ma'am," he said, rather indignantly. "She's my sister."

I almost laughed at the idea that Jason was my father. He was only a few years older than me, but his baby face made him look way too young to be anyone's dad. What I really wanted was for the room to stop spinning, but I'd settle for waking up and finding out this was all some weird dream. I had the sinking feeling that that wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

"Hey," I said. "Remember me? The girl who has no idea what's going on?"

Dr. Ludwig came closer to the bed and placed a hand on my arm. "Have you been feeling tired lately? More than usual, perhaps? Maybe some back-aches?"

I nodded, then explained that I hadn't thought much of any of the above. I was a waitress; all of those things went with the territory.

"When was your last period?"

As I tried to remember, that's when everything came rushing back to hit me. I should have gotten it about a week before... Oh, God, before Gran died. How could I have forgotten about that? What was wrong with me?

All I could do was cry. Cry and sleep. If I wasn't doing one, I was doing the other. One overnight turned into three days at the hospital. The story of what happened was delivered to me in bits and pieces; it was shockingly simple, really. The stress and trauma of Gran's death had caused me to lose the child I hadn't even been aware I was carrying.

The hospital in Bon Temps didn't have the latest and greatest in medical equipment, so I couldn't use my cell phone. On the second day, I woke up with the thought that Alcide must have been so worried about me. I'd been calling him every night before I went to bed. Even if he was busy working, I'd leave a message on his voice mail to let him know what was going on. I hadn't been able to call him in what, two, three nights?

When the nurse brought me my breakfast, I asked her to show me how to use the phone in my room; I'd tried to call Alcide earlier, but there was some special code I had to dial first. She gave me the information I needed, and the minute she was out the door, I was on the phone to call the last person left in my life who could make everything better.

You went away, I let you; we broke the ties that bind
I wanted to forget you, and leave the past behind
Still, the magic of the night I met you
Seems to stay forever in my mind

"Lover Come Back to Me" by Oscar Hammerstein

It had been a month since Gran died, and I was still in Bon Temps. There was really nowhere else for me to go.

Even if I had wanted to go back to Chicago, Sam didn't need any more singers at Hair of the Dog. I'd already asked him about it when he called to check up on me. I had no idea how or what he'd heard, but he'd somehow found out that all was not well with me. He called to offer condolences, not a job.

There was even less for me in Ohio. When I'd called Alcide from the hospital, it had not gone well. That might well qualify for the understatement of my life. The fact that he hadn't missed me calling for two nights was bad. That he didn't believe me about the miscarriage was far worse. I'd hung up on him before giving him a chance to explain exactly what he'd meant by that. Since he didn't have the number for the hospital, he called my cell phone and left me a voice mail letting me know that it was over between us.

When I called him a week later, begging him to take me back, he clarified things for me. He wasn't sure if he believed that I'd really had a miscarriage, but he was sure that if I had, then it wasn't his.

In retrospect, it all made a lot more sense. I spent a day soaking a pillow when I realized that Alcide had never asked me to move to Cincinnati. He'd intended for me to visit, not relocate. Once I figured that out, I couldn't bring myself to look at the rest of the puzzle pieces. I'm sure there were plenty of other signs that our relationship had gone stale for him, but I just couldn't bring myself to put them together. I didn't want to know how far back they went.

So there I sat, in what was once my Gran's house. It was mine now. Jason had a place of his own, the house that used to belong to our parents. Gran had managed to squirrel away a fair bit of money, which had been evenly split up between me and my brother. We almost fought about it, but he used some of his share to make sure the property taxes on Gran's house were paid up.

Thanks to the casserole-making ways of the women in Bon Temps, I could feed an army for a week. There was so much food, it didn't all fit into the fridge. I made Jason take some of it home to put in his extra freezer.

Sooner or later, I would have to leave the house. I knew it would happen eventually, but I wasn't looking forward to it. In this house, I could wrap myself in the memories of happier times, just as easily as I could wrap myself in the afghans and quilts that Gran made.

I took no small amount of comfort in my old records. As nice as modern technology could be, it just wasn't the same. I needed to hear the scratch of the needle as it landed on the vinyl and traced its grooves. I needed to hear the hiss as the sound came through the old speakers. I immersed myself in those dusty moments and let the songs carry me away from my pain.

The song is ended
But the melody lingers on
You and the song are gone
But the melody lingers on

"The Song is Ended" by Irving Berlin

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Charlaine Harris. Song lyrics belong to various composers (credit given per song).