Updated 14th Feb : just tiding up embarrassing spelling mistakes, sorry if that generated alerts. But I'm putting up a one-shot today in compensation.
A big thank you to Charlaine Harris for the inspiration, her wonderful world and characters. I've had a blast 'borrowing' them, but they're all hers.
1. Long and detailed. 25 chapters, some more than 7,000 words.
2. Not light and fluffy. I put these guys through the wringer, and this is only Part 1.
3. Rated M – not so much for overly explicit or graphic scenes, but more for serious, adult themes. Check my profile for a fuller description if you are tender-hearted or would rather not be surprised.
I was determined to face things head-on.
I was a mess. I'd been a mess for the last fortnight.
The first week I'd stayed home, grieving and miserable. Sam had been as attentive as he could be with the demands of the bar, and he'd felt just as bad as I did. Hey, misery loves company right? We'd spent the first few days wallowing together curled up on the couch in front of mindless TV shows.
He had my responsibilities on top of his own to deal with though, one of the downsides of running a business together, so he'd reluctantly gone back to work after I'd reassured him repeatedly that I would be perfectly fine alone. The official story was flu, so most everybody had stayed away. Especially Tara, the one I least wanted to see. Michele had phoned twice to ask if I needed anything and she'd commiserated with me over my hoarseness.
Flu had certainly fit my bedraggled appearance, the half-eaten bowl of soup and the sizable pile of used tissues on the couch when Kennedy had dropped in to visit on her day off. She had known it wasn't flu. We'd had an awkward conversation during which I'd skirted around the elephant in the room and kept up the flu story, trying not to notice the pity in her eyes and hoping desperately that she'd keep the whole thing to herself. It had been bad enough dealing with the gossip last time.
The following week I'd forced myself to get out of bed every day, even if I hadn't always gotten dressed. I'd made it in to the bar for a few afternoon shifts, and I'd brought paperwork home so I could make some attempt to pull my weight. I'd stayed in the office while I was at work, speaking to as few people as possible claiming I was still under the weather. At least my pale drawn appearance had matched the flu story, and people were either too polite or too busy to question it.
I had been tired, exhausted really: that dragging fatigue that comes after blood loss hit me hard. Sam had taken to making breakfast for me. He was often gone before I managed to drag myself to the kitchen to find a plate left in the oven, and I was often asleep before he came home. We hadn't had a lot of time together to talk. What time we did, I'd been listless and he'd been tired and irritable, neither of us up to serious conversation.
So I wasn't prepared for his announcement on Sunday.
Sam had gone off to church as normal, and by the time he came back I had made it to the kitchen. I was wearing my rattiest robe and eating ice cream direct from the tub.
Yes, I was still wallowing. I felt like my skin had been sandpapered raw and the slightest breeze, the slightest pressure of even the most innocent glance or thought from anybody would set me off on another bout of tears or angry ranting. I just couldn't stand to be around people. Even Gran would have allowed me my pity party this time, I was sure. She would have understood my gnawing grief.
Sam clattered through the back porch, humming cheerfully. The happy noise grated on me, but I tried to quash my irritation. He was just happy; he enjoyed the socialising every Sunday. I told myself it wasn't his fault I was in this sensitive mood, and I gave him a weak smile as he bent to kiss my cheek. I caught the feeling of concern from him, saw the frown as he took in my appearance and my choice of breakfast foods. He smoothed that away quickly, and he smiled encouragingly at me before saying, "You need to get out of the house. I've got a surprise for you."
It was Thanksgiving in a few days, something which had barely registered with me. It turned out that Sam's idea to lift me out of my funk was to surprise me, at the last minute, with a plan to take off to his hometown Wright for the whole week for some much needed R&R. We could goof off, go to the river and enjoy ourselves, he said. Terry and Kennedy were all set to cover for us, his mom Bernie was expecting us, and he clearly thought it was a wonderful idea and just what I needed.
I wanted to scream.
I tried. I really did. I tried to explain patiently that the last thing I needed was Bernie, Mindy and Deidra all fussing over me, that I wasn't ready for a big family get-together. He insisted we go. I insisted on staying home.
Before too long we were both fit to be tied, standing inches apart and speaking through clenched teeth. Eventually my temper got the better of me, my mouth and my common sense, and I committed the cardinal sin of criticising a man's mother. Even worse, what I actually blurted out was that I damn well didn't want to hear any more of Bernie's snide thoughts about my weight or my 'tainted past' causing all our problems.
Sam's hand was on my arm so I felt his immediate flash of anger, but far worse I also caught his underlying unease that she might be right. I automatically gasped and pulled away from him, and he must have realised what I'd heard from my hurt expression.
"Stay out of my head!" he yelled in frustration, reminding me forcefully of Jason as a teenager. "I can't control every damn thought I have."
His mind was seething with regret, guilt, frustration and anger. Without another word, he stomped to our room. I stood in the kitchen shaking with anger, listening to him thumping around. He emerged with a packed bag, and he threw me a terse: "We need some time apart, before I think something else you don't like. You need to snap out of this."
Then he stalked out of the house, jumped in his truck, and left me with a spray of gravel.
I was ready to spit nails. I did some stomping of my own, threw a glass at the wall and yelled at the top of my voice. Then I cried myself miserable again.
Once I finally calmed down, it dawned on me that Sam had been struggling to prevent himself shifting. I felt incredibly guilty. I knew better than to push him at his 'time of the month'. I usually kept track of the full moon but that was just another thing I'd been neglecting. I looked it up on the kitchen calendar and found it was still over a week away. Shit. He should be fine; I'd really pushed him this time.
I called and left a very rambling guilty apology on his voicemail. I knew he wouldn't pick it up until he'd finished the long drive to Wright. He usually phoned me back tout-de-suite after one of my pathetic post-fight calls, but this time he didn't. He just sent a short text that said: Arrived safe.
It was the first time since our engagement that he'd gone to Texas alone, the first time we'd been apart for more than a night or two since the wedding.
It was not a good sign.
I woke early Monday morning.
I was curled around Sam's pillow, surrounded by his woodsy smell and more crumpled tissues. My neck was stiff from my awkward position, and my stubbornly silent phone was still right beside me on the bed.
Huh, I'd show him stubborn. I knew it was childish but I'd already reached out to him with my apology, and if he was giving me the silent treatment I was not going to humble myself further by phoning him first. It was his turn, dammit.
I rubbed my eyes and shuffled to the bathroom to take care of business. I splashed cold water on my face, washing off the saltiness and studiously pretending not to notice that the mirror was taunting me with my swollen eyes and the dark circles underneath them. Then my stomach growled loudly. I snorted in surprise and realised I was ravenous.
Well, it was time to woman up, put on my big girl panties and climb out of the swamp I'd been wallowing in.
First I checked the kitchen while the coffee brewed. Yep, we were fully stocked for the week. Nothing fancy, but enough staples and canned goods to see me through. Good. I did not feel like a trip to the store.
I grabbed that first-of-the-day, oh-so-sweet cup of coffee and gulped it down while I made some French toast. Quick and filling, just what the doctor ordered. I winced at that thought. I ate quickly, washing it down with more coffee. I refused to feel the slightest bit of guilt. Sam was not here, so there was no need to be caffeine-free today. I pushed down a swell of regret, and concentrated on clearing the dishes.
I needed something to keep me busy, keep me moving. I needed to outrun the ache, the guilt and the constant what-ifs.
So I dressed in sweats, and I cleaned.
I cleaned for three days straight, barely stopping to grab meals and a nightly shower before bed. I washed the blinds, wiped down the ceiling fans, washed windows, and pulled all the contents out of the kitchen cabinets and wiped out the shelves. I swept out all the neglected corners I could find, dusted ornaments and pictures, tidied closets and dressers. Bagged up things to take to good will. Raked leaves in the thin November sunshine.
Nobody called, nobody visited: I guess they all thought I'd gone with Sam. That was fine with me. I needed time. Space.
By Wednesday night I was exhausted. I hadn't been sleeping at all well lately, but finally I'd tired myself out enough to fall into a deep peaceful sleep. Thursday morning broke bright and sunny, and finally my mood was lifting. I wasn't turning cartwheels or singing songs, but I was calm. I made myself pancakes and bacon as a treat, and took my plate and my second cup of coffee out to the front porch to sit in the sun.
I ate slowly and allowed my mind to wander.
The pretty blue planters that Sam had given me for our first anniversary caught my eye. The flowers in them needed dead heading again, I thought absently.
That night we'd eaten at Crawdad Diner with Tara and JB, and Jason and Michele. Sam had had Terry set up the planters while we were out. Sam had been so pleased he'd managed to surprise me. It was the perfect ending to a lovely evening. I sighed, realising that was just fifteen months ago, but it seemed like another lifetime. There had been precious few evenings like that in the last year.
I looked out to the tree line, thinking bleak thoughts. I sighed again. Then I squared my mental shoulders. This couldn't go on. I had to face up to the state of my marriage. I wasn't a coward, Lord knows some of the things I'd done required a lot more bravery than this. But it was hard to admit to myself how screwed up things were between us.
I knew deep down in my bones that admitting that was the first tiny trickle that could grow into a roaring flood with the power to sweep away everything that seemed so permanent in my life, the life I'd spent the last three years building for myself. It could change my whole landscape and I wasn't sure what would be left amongst the detritus, broken and washed-up.
I drew in a deep breath and acknowledged my deepest fear.
Divorce that could lose me not just my husband but also my closest friend, as they were one and the same.
And worse, a divorce would tear apart more than just our friendship. The ripples would spread out beyond us: our lives, our business, our families and our friends were all intertwined.
I would be a divorced woman. Again.
It would be worse than the first time. Everybody would know. Bon Temps was a small town, and I knew the worst of what its citizens thought about divorced women, even if they didn't say it out loud.
On top of that, I would be the first of my close circle to divorce, possibly the only one. Tara, Amelia and even Kennedy all seemed to have settled into if not constant wedded bliss at least contented stability. I didn't know if any of them would understand.
Two divorces in barely three and half years. That sounded terrible. But at least this time it would be my choice to make, I thought bitterly, my choice whether to stay to salvage something or walk away.
I shook myself. Enough. I was going to meet this head-on, literally. I was going to sit here and use my head, think logically about my marriage, work out how I felt, where it had gone wrong and what I should do about it.
Right after I got another coffee, and a notebook to jot down ideas.
I got settled on the porch with everything I needed and thought back to that summer.
Everything had been so scrambled, so mixed up. The very first flicker of something between me and Sam had triggered a reflex to push him away, but I'd still been processing the emotional aftershocks of extricating myself from a murder charge and from my last relationship, which had been a difficult one to say the least. I hadn't been ready to start another.
Once things had calmed down and life was quiet, there had been plenty of opportunity to interact with Sam. Heck, we could hardly avoid one another running Merlotte's together. There had been a little awkwardness at first, but we'd soon settled back into our mostly comfortable friendship. We'd gone on a few 'dates' with other couples at first, so they were less dates and more just having fun together. I'd been aware that he wanted more, of course, but he'd been willing to take it slow as I'd asked.
I appreciated that we'd both wanted to build a firm foundation. I made a note of that. Foundation – friendship. And underlined it heavily.
Had we taken it slow? I thought carefully. We certainly hadn't jumped into bed together again immediately, but neither of us had gone looking for anyone else either. It had felt inevitable in some ways. Easy, natural. Natural like a shifter's nature I thought with a grin. By that first Halloween we'd been officially dating.
The physical side of things had progressed nicely, and I'd started spending a few nights a week at Sam's. I would bring some clothes for the morning after, and luckily the back lot was deserted first thing so no gossips witnessed my 'walks of shame'. I'd make sure to get across to the bar early, just in case.
It hadn't been just physical though: we'd spent plenty of time chilling out together and talking. And we'd spent time with friends, with Jason and Michele. We'd had a lot of fun together. I knew those things were important.
Hmm. A thought occurred to me. Did we only do the deed at Sam's trailer back then? I searched my memories. Yes, I think once we'd come back to mine after a movie and got hot and heavy on the couch, but I'd stopped him and claimed tiredness. Why wasn't I comfortable with that in my own house? I made a note on the pad to come back to that.
Anyway, things had gone so well that Sam had invited me to spend some time in Wright with him between Christmas and New Year's. Christmas Day we'd spent here, and I smiled at the memory. Tara and JB had come for the meal, and the twins had slept as much as we could have hoped, allowing Tara a chance to relax properly and eat. Jason and Michele had arrived later, and they were both glowing. I had known why of course, thanks to my little quirk. Michele had discovered she was expecting, but they'd held off on announcing it. From their thoughts they'd both been ecstatic, but Jason was cautious after what had happened with Crystal. I flinched thinking of that, but pressed on.
It had been such a good day – friends, family, boyfriend – just perfectly normal, happy, ordinary things that thousands of Americans were enjoying that day. They just happened to be things I'd never been sure I'd have, things that had been drifting further out of reach for me with all the craziness of the previous few years. That afternoon, with all of us well-fed and sprawled out in the living room, I had been extremely happy, relaxed and slightly tipsy.
Then, out of the blue, Sam had gotten down on one knee in the middle of the room, in front of God and everybody.
I'd frozen in surprise. It's not often a telepath is surprised, but I'd been shielding all day with it being Christmas and keeping out of Sam's head in particular. He'd been very secretive about my present, and I had wanted to be surprised for him.
Boy, had that worked. The last thing I'd expected was my first ever proper proposal. I'd thought: Wow, that's gonna be hard to top next year.
Sam's hand had shaken as he'd pulled out a velvet box from his jeans. I'd caught Jason smirking out of the corner of my eye, and had a sudden horrified realisation that he knew because Sam had done the traditional thing and asked for his permission. Sam had stuttered in an adorably nervous way through the traditional version of the question – would I do him the honour of becoming his wife and making him the happiest man in the world? – and then he'd waited for my answer.
I concentrated on remembering the exact moment.
Everything had stilled for a second. I'd been very happy, then surprised, shocked. Then I'd felt a wave of... what exactly? What had I felt beyond surprise? Excitement? No, not exactly, more like … anticipation.
I'd said yes and Tara had squealed at practically the same time. Sam had taken my hand to slip the modest solitaire ring onto my finger. Then it was all a confusing mix of excited thoughts and verbal congratulations, Sam and everybody crowding round to hug me and see the ring.
Jason had popped open some sparkling wine he'd obviously had hidden behind his chair. Michele had scolded him for making a mess when it overflowed, and I'd rushed to the kitchen to grab a cloth, with Tara hot on my heels. She'd gushed about how great Sam was, how she had the perfect wedding dress put by for me – all while I was opening cabinets, distracted, trying to find some suitable glasses.
Something about the memory was bugging me, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
I did recall feeling shell-shocked when everyone had gone home. Including Sam, who hadn't even asked to stay which was odd. I shifted uncomfortably. Had he not felt welcome? Surely not, I'd just agreed to marry him.
I quashed my unease by recalling the definite thrill of excitement I'd felt looking at his ring that night as I got ready for bed, thinking about finally being the bride, not a bridesmaid again.
We'd driven over to Bernie's the next day. It had been a short visit, and I'd been a bundle of nerves. The previous time I'd been to Sam's hometown some of the locals had been less than welcoming to say the least, but that Christmas I was mostly anxious about how my future in-laws would react to me as Sam's fiancée.
Deidra and Craig, Sam's brother, had already arrived from Houston and the atmosphere had been much lighter than at their wedding. Deidra had noticed my ring about five seconds after I got in the house, so there'd been another round of congratulations. I'd kept my shields up tight, and my cheeks had ached from the emergency smile plastered on my face.
I had avoided Bernie's eyes. I hadn't been sure what she'd make of it, but I'd caught Sam grinning at her like he'd won a bet. I'd chanced a glance at her to find her smiling slightly. She certainly hadn't been surprised. I'd realised then that Jason wasn't the only one who had known Sam's plans before I had.
That had made me uneasy at the time, but I'd pushed it aside.
I shook my head. With hindsight, it had been the first little sign that I should have paid much more attention to Bernie, or rather her relationship with Sam. She was very protective of him, and he deeply respected her opinion. He was her first born, her first son, and I guess that's always a special relationship for any mother. With the added shifter factor, they were even closer.
I cussed myself out again for losing my temper on Sunday and criticising her in the heat of our argument.
The visit had passed relatively smoothly. Mindy's kids had been excited to see 'Aunt' Sookie again, although not enough to stay in the house with the womenfolk when they had Uncles Sam and Craig to play with outside. There'd been a new family next door to Bernie's, replacing the late and not at all missed Mr Collins. They were Hispanic, and the children were a little older than Mason and Bonnie, but they'd played catch over the fence with them, filling the air with joyful shouts.
The only moment of discord had occurred the next day. Doke and Mindy had taken their kids home, and Deidra and Craig were staying at her parents. We'd been allowed to sleep in the back room together now we were engaged. I'd woken first and I'd found Bernie in the small kitchen making pancakes.
She'd given me a very level look with my coffee and said, "Sam is almost back to his old self now. He seems very happy with you. Keep it that way."
Her thoughts had been determined, fiercely protective. I'd bristled immediately – hadn't I been a good friend to her son for years? Looked out for him, worked extra shifts, and looked after the bar when she'd got shot. Heck, I'd even brought him back to life. Of course I was going to keep him happy. I wasn't some hard, ambitious, violent bitch like Jannalynn.
I would be good to him, and I'd said so. She'd given me a long appraising look and finally a quick nod. Sam had joined us shortly afterwards, and I'd avoided being alone with Bernie for the rest of that visit.
I'd sworn to myself then that I would be everything Sam needed. I teared up suddenly thinking about yelling at him on Sunday. I wiped at my eyes with my sleeve.
I needed to stay on track, think about the way things had started out before I got to the mess we were in today. Then maybe I could make some sense of it.
Back in Bon Temps, after we'd survived a wild New Year's Eve party at Merlotte's – it had turned into an impromptu engagement celebration when Kennedy had spotted my ring – we'd settled into our comfortable routine again.
I thought back on that time with longing. I'd been so happy. Our relationship had been easy; we'd known each other for so long.
We even had fun with my little quirk. Once Sam realised he could send me thoughts, he would send silly comments about Maxine Fortenberry's latest piece of gossip or Michele keeping Jason leashed with just a look, trying to get me to laugh. It had been great to have someone to play around with it just for fun, not because my life was in imminent danger.
We'd had to be careful though. One busy night I'd been working in the office and he'd 'sent' for me to get some hard liquor from the stockroom while Andy Bellefleur was at the bar. When I'd turned up with exactly what another customer had just asked for, Andy had given me a very suspicious look. I didn't need to be a mind reader to understand the hungry flash of interest on his face a second later; he'd been reminded how useful I could be to him. Thankfully we hadn't had any more missing children or murders, so I guessed Andy had worked out he didn't need me to solve the run of the mill traffic violations and domestic disputes that passed for crime in Bon Temps these days.
Yes, my quirk had been a bonus early on in our relationship. I'd even thought that being able to read Sam's thoughts brought us closer. Of course he could shut me out if he wanted to, and I wasn't going to go rooting around in my fiancé's head all the time, but it was nice to have private conversations in public even if they were one-sided.
In fact the first time Sam had told me he loved me was like that.
We had thrown a cookout here at the house, the first one that spring. We'd had a mess of people over, and Jason had been standing at the grill with Sam having a serious conversation about how to cook steak just so. I'd come down the porch steps with Tara, both of us carrying side dishes. Sam had looked straight at me and sent 'I love you' to me clear as a bell. I'd managed not to drop the salad, and I'd grinned madly at him, giving him a quick kiss and a quiet 'me too' on the way back to the kitchen.
That was one of my favourite memories. It especially warmed my heart because my quirk had brought me more pain than joy over the years. It was one of our couple things too: he would send a warm, snarly thought of I love you and I would always answer out loud: "Me too."
I doodled idly on the corner of the notepad, thinking about that sunny day. It had been particularly warm that spring, and I'd been pleased I'd already got such an intense tan when we decided on that August for the wedding. I glanced at my list and frowned.
That cookout had been four months or so after we'd got engaged, and only four months before we got married. Had we really not said 'I-love-yous' before we got engaged?
I was certain that was the first time.
Well, I thought doubtfully, we had known each other very well. It surely didn't matter if we hadn't said it, we knew what we meant to each other, didn't we? If I hadn't loved Sam I wouldn't have said yes to him. He knew that. And I knew he loved me. I'd known that for a long time, deep down. He was safe, warm, my haven from it all.
I suddenly wished fervently that I could find some way back to that happiness for both of us.
The sun was getting higher. I got up and stretched away the stiffness, then headed inside to potter around the kitchen, heating myself some chicken noodle soup for an early lunch. It was a pretty pitiful Thanksgiving meal, but I wasn't really hungry anyway. I just needed a break.
Once the soup was ready I took it outside again, and sat out at the picnic table Sam had put out back. I felt better out in the fresh air, even the weak sunshine was enough to perk me up. I thought about the wedding while I ate.
We'd had a small church ceremony. Thankfully there were no protesters like there had been for poor Deidra and Craig. Either Bon Temps had become more tolerant than Sam's hometown, or the fact that it was a very small wedding and we didn't publicise it much kept that sort of thing at bay. I'd even made Sam check that the shifter website hadn't breathed a word about it.
We'd planned for an informal reception of sorts at the house. Sam, Jason and Hoyt had offered to man the grills and we'd organised a traditional Louisiana cookout with plenty of seafood and meat to keep all the menfolk happy. That part of the day had been very relaxed.
I'd found the build-up to the wedding quite stressful. I'd insisted on August so I could be sure that Karin, who I'd occasionally felt out in the woods as late as July, would have gone back to wherever the hell she came from. I hadn't felt comfortable planning a family cookout with children present that would likely run past dusk when she was still patrolling the woods.
I'd been relieved when Sam had suggested talking to Amelia about reinforcing the wards on the property before the wedding. He hadn't trusted the one Bellenos had set. So, in July – on the pretext of a weekend get-together for my birthday, said weekend fortuitously including a full moon night which was apparently good for casting strong spells – Amelia, Bob and some of their witchy friends had come up from New Orleans and put up new wards.
There'd been enough of them to put a larger 'think-no-evil' one out at the tree line to prevent anyone with intent to harm entering the yard. Then they re-warded the house itself with an invitation-only ward like Amelia's original one, but including Sam. So we both had control over who came into the marital home, Sam said.
I'd also been secretly glad when, one night at Merlotte's, I'd overheard Bill tell Catfish that he had an out of state trip around the time of the wedding. I hadn't asked where, our friendship had been a little strained ever since he found out I was marrying Sam. I'd known he wasn't too thrilled about it, but honestly I'd told him often enough we were never going to be a couple again. Even if he was a good kisser, that ship had sailed a long time ago.
I snorted, remembering that spring when he'd asked me if it was true I was getting married. He'd said he wasn't surprised as I'd clearly had a thing for Sam even back when we'd been together. I had spluttered in outrage at that accusation, and he'd laughed sadly, commenting that I didn't know my own heart. Then he'd had the nerve to ask for one last kiss before I married. I'd refused indignantly – a fiancée doesn't kiss other men, even handsome vampire exes. Especially knowing her fiancé would be none too happy about it. Bill had seemed surprised at my refusal, but then he'd given me a deep look and a strangely satisfied smile.
We hadn't really spoken much beyond polite small talk since. Our lives didn't often cross one another's anymore, and I guessed we'd just drifted apart. I thought I should feel a little sad to lose a friend, but really it was probably for the best. I liked my new uncomplicated life with its peace and its lack of life-threatening danger and near-fatal injuries. Sure, some people might think my small circle of friends, the domestic chores, the round of familiar seasonal holidays was all a bit limiting, but I was a small town gal. It sure beat all that supernatural excitement.
Of course, that was why the build-up to the wedding had been so stressful.
Not organising the flowers, the church, the guests, the food and the dress, oh no. Tara had helped with those; she'd thrown herself into it all with gusto, and I hadn't minded that she kind of took over. I'd caught the odd wistful thought about her own elopement hardly fulfilling her dream of a romantic white wedding, the one we'd both longed for as little girls, and I'd known that she was just trying to make up for that through me. And she hadn't made it too fancy a wedding. Neither I nor Sam wanted fancy.
No, what had been stressful was worrying that even though things had been quiet for a whole year, something supernatural was crouched out there, waiting to ambush me.
It did, but not in the way I'd expected.
We had invited Sam's family; all that was left of mine – Jason, a ready-to-pop Michele, Hunter and Remy; Tara, Amelia and Kennedy, and their menfolk and children; and Holly and Hoyt. I'd been glad to invite Terry and his lady friend, Kennedy and Danny, and I'd been obligated to ask Halleigh and Andy as I'd been her bridesmaid. A few of Sam's friends had driven over from Wright. They'd stayed in Sam's double wide, and one of the duplexes he owned happened to be empty for Craig and Deidra, and their little one, Matthew.
We'd planned for me to host Bernie, Sam's sister Mindy and her husband Doke, and their kids, Mason and Bonnie.
The month before we'd put in extra air-con units upstairs for them, readied the rooms, and put fold-out beds in the attic for the kids. When we'd been shopping for those beds, Sam had shyly pointed out a great bedroom set in pale oak. I'd realised then that my bedroom was really too feminine for a married couple, and the whole room needed a makeover. So I'd moved back across the hall to my childhood room and we'd got rid of the old furniture, painted the room in the more neutral cream with blue accents it had now, put in a new carpet and curtains in navy blue, and replaced the furniture. It had been hard work, but fun to do together as a couple.
Everything had been finished in time for Bernie and the family, who'd arrived the day before the wedding.
That night Sam had stayed at Jason's and Sam's family had gone to eat at Merlotte's, so I could have a last minute pamper session with Tara. She'd given me a mani-pedi, and marvelled at how still my hands were. My nerves had disappeared once we'd got to the night before without any hitches.
I was up early the next morning thanks to Mason and Bonnie. Breakfast was a loud and rushed affair. It had been strange to have children in the house, and I'd found myself missing Gran intensely. The atmosphere amongst the grownups had been a little strained, but I'd put it down to sleeping badly in a strange house, and then I'd been too busy getting ready with my bridesmaids, Tara and Amelia, to think on it.
The church ceremony had flown by in a blur. Sam had carried me into the house and I'd rushed to get changed so I could be the gracious Southern hostess Gran raised me to be. I'd run myself off my feet getting drinks for everybody, sorting out the food, trying to be in ten places at once, until finally Tara had run me out of the kitchen. I'd finally stopped buzzing like a fly in a hot truck and caught up with Sam. He'd been relieved to see me, and clamped me to his side. I'd found that sweet, until I realised later that he'd been shielding me from unpleasantness.
I closed my eyes, as if to ward off the next memory. With hindsight, it was a bad omen.
I'd been surprisingly nervous getting ready for my wedding night. I'd put on the lovely lacy white underwear that I'd bought and waited on the new bed I had yet to sleep in.
I'd waited. And waited.
Finally, I'd stretched out my extra sense gently, searching for Sam. I'd found him in the kitchen, along with Bernie and Mindy. My gut had clenched with anxiety; they were arguing. Mindy's mind had been clear, easy to slip into before I'd even realised what I was doing.
Less than friendly things had been said about me by some drunks at Merlotte's the previous night. Crazy Sookie this and Crazy Sookie that. Watching it play out in Mindy's memory I'd seen Bernie pulling her and Deidra aside in the parking lot afterwards, grimly telling them about my quirk to explain the comments. Mindy had been thoroughly shocked. She hadn't had much contact with supes.
That slideshow had given me an awful sinking epiphany: the adults in Sam's family had been treating me oddly all day because of Bernie's revelation.
I'd followed the argument in the kitchen through Mindy's eyes. Sam was livid with Bernie for doing that right before our wedding day, but Bernie had hit back. She'd said that they had every right to know I could spy on them, that they had no defence as humans. Then she spat he should have told her everything else. Mindy hadn't understood what she meant, and Sam had shut Bernie down, told her in no uncertain terms not to stir any more shit and stormed outside.
I'd been devastated, angry at Bernie, fearful of my in-laws reaction to my quirk, and worried about Sam.
By the time Sam came in, I'd decided to act as if nothing had happened so it wouldn't spoil things between us. I'd already turned the lights off to hide my red eyes. As he'd slid quietly under the covers, I'd turned into his embrace and we'd christened the bed without a word said. I'd felt his distraction but he'd been as determined as I was to see it through. It might not have been the sweetest loving, but I'd clung to him for comfort afterwards and he'd finally radiated contentment.
The next day things had been awkward, but once his family had left things got considerably easier. We hadn't had a honeymoon as such – we couldn't leave the bar for a whole week – but we'd had a lovely long weekend at a hotel down in New Orleans. Not that we'd seen much of the city, especially at night, but we'd sure had a lot of fun in that room. I smiled at those memories.
The next few months we'd learnt to live together, sanding smooth the rough spots in our relationship.
That had been a new experience for me: learning to deal with muddy boots, muddy paw prints, men's toiletries in the bathroom, someone to do those little jobs around the house. Mostly it had been normal things, plus adjusting to the nights Sam shifted and his moods around full moon. I didn't mind those nights alone when he ran the woods. It was a small price to pay when he dealt with my differences without complaint.
He never mentioned the argument with Bernie on our wedding night, and I'd gratefully ignored it too, not wanting to be the source of friction between them.
I snorted. How naive that sounded now.