A/N So this is a bit of an experiment and is completely unrelated to all my other stories. I make no promises about updating it but, hopefully, there will be more, at some stage. A big thank-you to Thyra10 for having a read over a draft of this chapter, but I've fiddled with it since so the stupid mistakes are all mine.
I hope you all like it!
Disclaimer: I am not the owner of these characters.
Wednesday nights, I went to the library.
It wasn't that I was a slave to routine, and it wasn't that my life was so empty of anything, well, anything spontaneous that I never, ever deviated from my Wednesday night errand, but I liked to know what the next day would bring and planning my trip to the library in the middle of the week gave me something to look forward to.
It felt good to have a plan for the week. So, just like Monday night I did groceries, and Sunday afternoon I cleaned my bathroom and Saturday morning was reserved for laundry and yard work, Wednesday night was library night.
My stop at the library didn't take me a great deal of time, of course. Mostly I was in and out with my books congratulating myself on getting another errand done. It helped that the librarian, Barbara Beck, kept some of the new books aside for me. That sped things up a lot, and meant I got first pick when the new stock came in.
On this day I was happily walking out of the library clutching the new Nora Roberts knowing that no one else in town had ever read this particular book and looking forward to being the first to crack the spine. I had my night planned. I was heating up a frozen lasagne when I got home, watching today's episode of Jeopardy which I'd recorded on my DVR and then I was starting my Nora Roberts.
But for some reason I dawdled on the way out and my eyes raked over the notices pinned to the cork board in the entrance to the library. They weren't something I often looked at. Mostly, these days, they were handwritten cards put up by people who were offering to do yard work, or housecleaning, or any old tasks, for cash up front. They made me a little sad, the cards and all those people who put them up there. On that day, though, there was something new pinned to the board.
I noticed it because it had sparkly flowers for one thing. Maybe some little hearts as well, in pink and silver glitter. Also, it was advertising burlesque classes, in the old dance studio which had closed down years ago. It had been one of the first places I'd ever seen boarded up, and Gran had shook her head and told me how she'd remembered going there to learn to waltz before her wedding and how sad it was that there weren't dances, proper dances, where people actually danced with one another and not just gyrated in the middle of the floor. Dances for me to go to where I could meet a nice young man. Then we'd carried on down the street and I hadn't given it a thought since.
And I didn't give it too much thought now. It was, well, interesting, I guess, that something was opening up rather than closing down, but I had my plans, and my plans didn't include any dance classes.
I turned away from the notices and I walked right out of the library with my books in my arms. It was good to have plans. It was especially good to have a plan if you came from a tiny little town in Northern Louisiana like Bon Temps. The economy was not kind to tiny little towns in Northern Louisiana and even in my twenty-five years here I'd seen a lot of people leave, and a lot of businesses close. There were rumours about the Norcross plant being in trouble, and everyone was talking about that. If that went…well, I don't know what would be left in town. But I knew that you couldn't sell things to people if they didn't have the money to buy them.
So it was good to have a plan, a goal, something that was going to make sure you didn't end up having to move to Red Ditch and live in a trailer park near the chicken processing plant. That happened to my cousin Hadley's ex, Remy, and it was a mighty tough way to be bringing up a kid. Hadley, well, she'd had a plan to escape her whole damn life and the lifestyle she had chosen had not been kind to her. Drugs were one way of escaping, I guess, but it wasn't something I could ever imagine contemplating.
Lots of the other women I knew had plans. My friend Tara, her plan had been to grow up and get married and not be like her parents. She'd achieved that goal when she'd married JB du Rone and I was more than glad for her. Lots of others had yet to achieve their goals though. Dawn Green, her one aim in life had been to find a rich man passing through town to marry her, but her plan had been thwarted on two accounts. For one thing, very few people passed through Bon Temps, for another, she needed to stop passing so much time with my brother who was never going to be a rich man or take her away from here. Hell, most of the time Dawn was lucky if Jason just bothered to drive her to a movie in Monroe.
And then there were the likes of poor Maudette Pickens, who'd been in my year in school. Stuck working at the Grabbit Kwik she thought that someday her ticket out of here would be on one of those reality TV shows. Well, no one wants a reality TV show set in a Grabbit Kwik, and I really didn't think that making homemade sex tapes was going to get her an agent. Especially not if she kept making them with my brother. Boy, Jason really got around.
That was the trouble with a small town. Everyone got around and the dating pool was somewhat limited. I knew I'd run out of options and it wasn't just because I was related to Jason Stackhouse. No, I wanted something better, anyways. I wanted a career more than I wanted a man.
I wanted to be a C.P.A.
Granted, that maybe ain't the most glamorous of dreams, but then I couldn't see myself being like Maudette, either, and dreaming of a lifestyle that just wasn't going to happen in our little corner of Louisiana. I wanted something more out of life, and if my Gran had taught me anything, it was that if you wanted something, you went out and you got it yourself.
I hadn't always known that's what I wanted, though. It wasn't until I left school and got a job in the office of Herveaux Fine Furnishings in Monroe, that I even knew I had a talent for numbers. I answered the phones and calculated the salesman's commissions. I was good at that. And then, when there was a vacancy in the main Shreveport branch of the store, Mr Herveaux himself asked me if I'd like to apply.
So I found myself in the office there, once again answering phones but also managing the petty cash, calculating commissions and, occasionally, reconciling the bank statements. I was in hog heaven with all those numbers to play with. But more than that, it was where I met Sam.
Sam Merlotte was the accountant and he was in charge of the whole office. Well, sometimes Arlene thought she was in charge, just because she'd been there longer than any of us, but she wasn't. Sam was.
It was Sam who encouraged me to move into looking after Accounts Payable when Charlsie Tooten retired to spend more time with her grand-babies. It put Arlene's nose right out of joint. She did the Accounts Receivable, and boy, did she think she'd get Accounts Payable just handed to her on a plate. From the outside, the jobs look pretty much identical, one pays the money and one collects it, but once you've been in an office everyone knows that Payables is the better job, especially round the holidays when the suppliers all send through their gifts. Just last year a large furniture manufacturer over in Ruston sent me a lovely desk caddy, printed with their name on it in large, white letters. I have it on my desk right next to the Word of the Day desk calendar Arlene gave me as her Christmas gift.
I gave her a basket of toiletries from Wal-Mart. Not the cheap kind, mind you. The nice kind, with the real fancy smells. Frangipani, I think it was. I think our gifts matched. These things are important when you sit at a desk opposite another person for 50 weeks of the year. No one wants to think they were snubbed by a co-worker, even if that co-worker did get a desk caddy and you didn't.
I don't have a name-plate on my desk though. Only Sam has one of those. It reads S. Merlotte. C.P.A. One of these days I'll have one just the same: S. Stackhouse. C.P.A. It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
In the meantime I was happy doing what I was doing, working hard, being the best at helping Sam with balancing the ledger and getting the monthly statements printed out (and that wasn't just my own conceitedness, that was what Sam had told me when we'd worked late together doing all the month end work). I was good at my job, and one day I was going to be good at Sam's job too.
I prided myself on never being late for work. So the next morning, when I got all the way down my driveway and on to Hummingbird Road and I realized that I'd left my new book at home, sitting on the coffee table, I was mighty displeased. But I wasn't turning back. No way was I letting Jannalynn Hopper get to work before me.
Jannalynn had taken over my old job of answering the phones and handling the petty cash. I didn't think she was all that trustworthy, she just looked…I couldn't put my finger on it. And it felt downright mean to be even thinking it. After all, she was just a girl who needed a job too. A girl who had no sense about how to dress in an office and although I didn't like to gossip, when Arlene pointed out that those sandals just weren't suitable footwear, I had to agree. I wanted to think the best of Jannalynn, but it was hard. Especially when she made it more than clear she didn't think the best of me.
She was always going to Sam and saying things like "I know Sookie used to do it this way, but don't you think it makes sense to keep more money in the petty cash, so I don't have to keep on running to the bank?" And Sam agreed with her! I mean, was it really that much of a chore to go to the bank? I liked going to the bank, I liked talking to the tellers, and the walk in the sunshine just broke up the whole afternoon.
But Jannalynn didn't feel the same as me about it, and I just had to let it go. It wouldn't do any damn good to point out to Sam that he was maybe just a little bit too fond of Jannalynn and giving her far, far too much leeway. It would just make me look like a bitter shrew, and I'd be damned if I'd give her the satisfaction.
This morning my commute wasn't too bad. If I left any later, I'd have been caught up in traffic, but I cruised down the interstate and into Shreveport, singing along to the radio. I loved singing, but I didn't have much of a voice. That didn't hardly matter though when it was just me in the car, and I relished the joy of being able to let fly at full-volume, watching the scenery as it passed me by. Jannalynn, or no Jannalynn, I felt happy to be going to work that day.
I pulled into the parking lot at the store and drove around to the back where the employees parked. Sam's car was already there, and I parked my Malibu a little way down from it in one of the spaces that wasn't reserved, next to Arlene's beat-up old Honda. Arlene was always in first, she liked to finish up early so she could meet her two kids off the schoolbus and not have to pay for childcare in the afternoons, and I couldn't blame her. Sam was pretty good about stuff like that, as long the work got done and clients were happy, he didn't mind.
I got out of the car, carefully balancing my big purse and my lunch bag and the insulated cup that held the coffee I'd brewed at home, and I walked across to the big green door at the side of the brick building which housed Herveaux Fine Furnishings. I put my purse over my shoulder and tucked my lunch bag under my arm so I could punch in the right code to open the big, shiny, silver lock on the door.
"Well, good morning, Sookie" said a deep, rumbling voice on the other side of the door. I took a moment to get my bearings and let my eyes adjust to the dark interior after the bright sunshine I'd been enjoying a moment before. "Good morning, Alcide" I said, as he flattened himself against the narrow corridor to let me pass. I smiled up at him, and he grinned back.
Alcide Herveaux was Sales Manager of the store, by right of being Jackson Herveaux's only son. He was a good salesman though, mainly because that smile and his handsome face set on a muscular, six and a half foot tall body could charm any woman that came into the store, even if she was just passing the time of day while waiting for her appointment at the beauty salon. He did a passable job with the men too, managing to make enough chit-chat about sports results and the state of the economy while making sure they were left with the impression that Herveaux Fine Furnishings was the place to come if you didn't want to be ripped off by those big chains who sent all their profits north and didn't care about the little folk down here.
I liked Alcide, and he liked me, but I knew that nothing was going to happen between us. For one thing, his girlfriend (who liked to style herself fiancée), Debbie Pelt, would kill me if I so much as looked at Alcide out of turn. That might sound like an exaggeration on my part, but let me tell you, Debbie was not one to be crossed. She was the sort to protect her little patch of the world at any cost, and I'd heard some stories from Holly, who used to work in our office and who'd gone to high school with Debbie, that did not paint her in a favourable light.
And there was also the issue of Alcide being the bosses' son. No way, no how was I going to go there. It was hard enough for me as it was. Although you might think that being blonde, blue-eyed, with a full bosom and a not displeasing face might have made my life easier, I can tell you straight-up, it had not.
All my life I'd had to struggle against the idea that I couldn't possibly have a brain in my head. Of course being Jason's sister probably hadn't helped the notions my teachers had had about me because, Lord knows, using his brain was not a talent Jason was renowned for in our parish. But even when they knew me as Sookie Stackhouse, and not hey-are-you-related-to-Jason-Stackhouse, I was still considered just another poor, dumb, girl from a small town who didn't know how to add up a row of numbers if her life depended on it.
I sometimes wasn't surprised that Maudette had ended up at the Grabbit Kwik. With the encouragement we got at school, it was mostly surprising we hadn't all taken Hadley's route out of here.
I walked up the staircase to where the offices were, and stopped in at the small kitchen and lunchroom to place my lunch bag in the refrigerator the staff could use. I made sure to push it all the way to the back, behind the yoghurts Arlene liked to bring in but never ate, so they sat there and slowly went off. No one ever stole them, either, but I knew that if I left my sandwiches in plain view one of the sales assistants would snaffle them up, quick as anything.
I brought my lunch because I was saving, hard. I wanted to enrol in night school and start working towards my dream. That was my plan. And if I had to eat the odd peanut butter and jelly sandwich in order to do that, well, that was just par for the course.
Of course sometimes when I saw the other workers going off for lunches in diners and coffee shops, bringing back the delicious smells of fast food they'd picked up, or even just enjoying a store-bought sandwich I was a little jealous. I'm not too proud to admit that. But I was too proud to sign up to crippling loans in order to attend the classes I wanted to.
I'd seen what debt could do to people. Crystal Norris, one of the girls Jason had hung around with for a while, had an addiction to The Home Shopping Network and so many credit cards that she was using one to pay the other. Trouble is that she hadn't got a job no more, and now she was back with her mama and step-daddy down in a run-down shack in Hot Shot and there were rumours, rumours I couldn't substantiate, mind you, that Crystal would be more than happy to date anyone who helped her pay off a chunk of that debt.
So home-made was good enough for me.
I was Sookie Stackhouse. And I had a plan.
I walked into the office and realized immediately something was going on. While most of us sat at our desks in a large, shared office, Sam had a separate office. With a door. Which he never, ever closed.
This morning it was closed.
That couldn't possibly be a sign of anything good, I thought, as I stared at the closed door and tried to work out what it signalled. In the end, I gave up and I placed my coffee cup down, put my purse in the bottom drawer of my desk and sat down and switched on my computer. Arlene walked over from where she'd been standing at the photocopier, staring pointedly at the windows of Sam's office, but the blinds had been drawn and I doubted she could see any more than I could by looking at the door.
"What's going on?" I asked as she came over to take her place opposite me, a sheath of papers in her hands.
"Well, I only arrived just in time to see Sam close the door. But I'm pretty sure it's Mr Herveaux in there." Arlene paused. "Senior," she added, although I could gather that much from the fact I'd seen Alcide before, and, although I'd seen him move pretty fast to get in front of a customer before any of the other sales people had a chance to talk to them, I doubted very much that he could get from the back exit all the way to Sam's office in the blink of an eye.
"What do you think they're talking about?" Arlene asked me.
"Well. Work." I didn't want to gossip, I didn't think it was really our place.
"But they talk about work all the time. With the door open. Why's the door closed this time?" Arlene wondered aloud, while chewing gum. It was kind of a crass look, but Arlene's dyed bright red hair had never screamed refined anyway.
"I couldn't say," I said, as I entered my password and opened up my email. I hoped that would be the end of it. I passed the next few minutes checking through my emaisl to see if any invoices or queries had been sent to me overnight. Some of our suppliers worked in different time zones and occasionally there was something I needed to attend to when I started work.
There was also an email from Tara, from her personal account. I'd been getting those a lot lately. I got the impression that maybe Tara's dream wasn't working out for her quite as well as she'd hoped. Now that she'd had to close her store and was working out of her house as a dressmaker (albeit one who was mostly self-taught) she had a lot of time on her hands. This morning's email simply had one word as its subject matter. Lunch? it read.
I was about to compose a reply when the door to Sam's office opened and Sam and Mr Herveaux appeared. Sam looked careworn as he ran his hand through his hair. Whatever was going on, it wasn't good.
Mr Herveaux didn't give anything away. In fact he barely glanced in our direction as he said to Sam "So you'll tell me by the end of the week?" before turning on his heel and leaving our offices, presumably heading for the sales offices which were located downstairs behind the showroom.
Sam gave us both a small smile. "Mornin' ladies," he said, before he turned to sit back at his desk.
I looked at Arlene and she looked at me, but we didn't say anything. Instead she grabbed a piece of paper off her desk and hurried after Sam. "Say, Sam! Can you sign this credit note before I send it out? This is for that sofa we sent to those dentists, and they said it didn't fit the waiting room when they did the measuring…" I stopped listening and turned my attention back to my monitor, and, more specifically, Tara's email.
I shouldn't be paying for a lunch. I shouldn't. Tara certainly shouldn't, because I knew that on JB's wage from the gym, where he was a receptionist who sometimes helped out as an instructor, they were struggling. But right then, just then, I wanted a friend to talk to.
I sent back an email which read Sure. What time? and then opened up the program we used to manage all our billing.
I wasn't paying much attention to Arlene as she hustled back to her desk, but her hand waving across my desk caddy made me look up at her. "Hey," she said. "I saw something. On Sam's desk."
I wanted to say to Arlene that snooping was wrong, but, darn it if I wasn't curious myself. I wondered if the rumours I'd heard about us buying up that old store on the outskirts of town was true. Furnan's had been in trouble for a while, and while it wasn't in a great location, it made sense for Herveaux's to take it over, rather than one of our competitors.
"I think," Arlene began, and then she straightened up from her slightly hunched position over her desk, clearly warming to the importance of the message she was delivering. "I think Sam's going to fire someone."
"Well…let them go" Arlene said, in a whisper that wasn't really a whisper. "There's something on his desk, says something about restructuring the office…anyway. We're safe, ain't we?"
Arlene looked at me for confirmation. I hesitated for a moment while I thought it through. Yeah, we were. "Money's gotta be collected," I said to Arlene.
"And bill's gotta be paid," she assured me. I was quietly confident we were OK.
Just then the office door opened and Jannalynn walked in. She scowled at us. "Mornin' Jannalynn," Arlene said, with just a hint of ice in her voice. I echoed the greeting, thinking that I was much better at hiding my feelings than Arlene was, and Jannalynn barely mumbled a good morning back to us, before sitting down at her desk with her back to us. I didn't really appreciate the way she was so rude to Arlene and me when, really, we deserved a little more respect from her.
Well, that might have been a little mean. And I did try not to be mean to Jannalynn. She was very young, after all, and this was her first time in an office. Before this she'd worked at the Sonic. Who knew what went on behind the scenes there? Probably best not to think about it and just keep on enjoying the food.
Sam stuck his head out the office door. "Uh…Jannalynn? Could I have a word?" he said, and then he went back and sat down behind his desk. With a glance at us, Jannalynn followed. She'd stepped inside the office when Sam's voice said, "Close the door."
The door shut, and Arlene and I looked at each other. "Wouldn't want to be her about now," Arlene said, in a voice that was sympathetic on the outside, and gleeful at the core.
"No," I agreed. "I wouldn't want to ever be Jannalynn." Well, when I spoke that, it was the God's honest truth. It just turned out that it maybe wasn't for the reasons I thought at the time.
Thanks for reading!