Sound was the first of my senses to return. They were muted though, like someone was playing the pillow game with me, while I had been down for the count.
Betty? Is that you?
But I didn’t have long to ponder if she’d somehow Pinocchio’d her way into the real world because another sense made its spectacular return.
Pain suddenly radiated across my skull like it had been struck by a lightning bolt. So much that I was sure I’d have a Potter-esque scar on my forehead as a reminder of the experience.
It made sense, really. If witches were real, maybe Hogwarts was too.
But I gave exactly zero shits about that at the moment. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought a Mission Impossible-like landmine had exploded somewhere in my brain, with my synapses misfiring on all cylinders. But I couldn’t remember seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman or L. Ron Hubbard worshippers, so I remained perfectly still. Willed my thoughts around any other potential IED’s planted in my brain, hoping I wouldn’t accidentally trigger another explosion, while I tried to pick my way across the last thing I could remember.
That didn’t take long either.
I couldn’t remember anything.
But that could have been because my head seemed to be hosting a swarm of pissed off bees.
Drunk pissed off bees.
That was the only explanation I could come up with, feeling each and every one of them stumble-buzzing across my brain. Field sobriety checks were being failed across both hemispheres – left and right – before they adopted a mob mentality and came together in a massive cartoon-like horde. Forming an AK-47 and pulling the trigger, they managed to fire off the most pissed off of the bunch against the top of my skull, like a rowdy drug cartel celebrating New Year’s Eve.
Cease fire bitches! Cease fire!
The whispered plea somehow managed to breach Betty’s invisible pillow and the cartel’s angry ‘Buzz off!’ response to my mental orders, so I peeled my eyelids open and automatically stiffened not recognizing the face in front of me. It made me realize I had no idea of where I was or how I had gotten there.
“Lover? Look at me.”
Still trying to sort through the swarm of both bees and my recollections, I turned my eyes away from the woman who looked vaguely familiar – in an abstract sort of way – to see Eric’s worried face now inches away from my own.
“Do you know who I am?” he tentatively asked.
And then my eyes squinted from the light bulb going off in my head when it all came back to me.
Witches and Weres, who were maybe magically delicious – if not a bit odiferous – according to Eric.
But now that my brain was firing on more cylinders, I thought I might have remembered where I’d seen the strange woman before.
In Amelia’s head.
She was her mentor, Octavia Fant. But seeing Eric’s alarmed expression watching me squint – and having a clue as to why he would ask me a question like that when I could hear it straight from Fant’s head that Eric had overreacted – made my drunken bee soaked brain think now was a good time to mess around and pay him back for all of the times he’d overreacted to me.
And not in a way Betty would’ve voted for.
In fact, I was already bracing myself for the pillow game to recommence, but since it didn’t appear we were in any real danger at the moment, I blanked my expression and hollowly replied, “No.”
The lie fell effortlessly from my lips and I strove for an Oscar winner when I attempted to look confused as I put on the innocent shtick and asked, “Who are you?”
Eric froze in a way that only a vampire could. And knowing he would be able to feel my deception, I only kept up the shtick for a tick longer before whispering, “Gotcha!”
We were doing that matchy-matchy thing again when he suddenly narrowed his eyes into thin slits too. But now sensing I was in danger of getting a Come-to-Jesus in a way that only a vampire could give, I was quick to remind him of my brush with Tom Riddle’s twin by asking, “So…what happened?”
“The Were-witch spelled you.”
I couldn’t tell if his growled response was due to the spell or my poorly timed joke, so I went for playing the dumb blond routine and asked, “Oh? How did you fix it?”
“The only way I could,” he gravely replied. “I turned you.”
I had a feeling he was talking about something much more permanent than a blood bond, but I still grasped at straws and asked, “Like in circles?”
His small head shake told me to try again, so I gave it another go with, “Round and round in a dosey-doe?”
It was the south. It wasn’t unheard of.
Another head shake had me in the beginning stages of a full on panic attack, so I changed the country station, wondering if I’d changed species at some point during my snooze, and choked out, “You spun me right round baby, right round, like a record baby, right round round round?”
And before he could say no again, I thought maybe giving a nod to our fish-witch werewolf foes would help, by adding, “Like opening a can of Alpo?”
So I must have been imagining my heart trying to hammer its way out of my chest?
And my gasping breaths must have been purely out of habit?
You need to breathe if you’re going to pass out from a panic attack, right?
“I turned you into a vampire.”
Was Octavia meant to be my first meal?
I’d never given it any thought – not eating a human, but being a vampire – so I didn’t really know how I felt about it. But just as my lips and tongue started running over my teeth, like Mr. Ed eating a vat of Jiff peanut butter, his voice softened and his eyes twinkled when he added, “Gotcha.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat got both of our attention and I turned to see Octavia staring back at us amused – if not exasperated – as she admonished, “If you two are done, it’s past this old woman’s bed time and you both still have a lot to do before sunrise.”
“We do?” I asked.
“But…what happened to me?”
I really couldn’t remember that part, but seeing as how Eric could still one-up me – memories or no – I didn’t want to say it.
With the way he tended to overreact, I really might be a vampire the next time I woke up.
But no time to think about that now. Apparently we had a lot to do before sunrise.
I still wanted to know what I’d missed out on though. One minute I was mentally sorting laundry along with the bored housewife and the next I was here.
She waved her hand in the air like she stumbled across unconscious women all the time – and from what I’d seen in Amelia’s head with the cat incident, maybe she did – but she rolled her eyes and looked nonplussed as she explained, “I’ve known of the Stonebrooks for years. None of them have any business attempting any real magic. There was no real cause for concern over a hastily chanted spell from one who had no business practicing the art.”
She said it with all of the passion a college professor would use critiquing a kindergartener’s art work.
Pfft… He colored outside of the lines.
But since I was new to the art and had no business being knee deep in it either, I bolted upright on the couch I’d found myself on and shrieked, “He abracadabra’d me?”
Magic of any kind that didn’t involve David Copperfield was still abstract to me too, so it had taken a moment to really settle in. My hands and eyes quickly ran over my body, looking for signs of his hocus pocus, but there were none to be found. And remembering Amelia’s telepathic confession, I checked my ass for a furry tail.
Although if I’d found one, I could’ve blamed it on Betty if she was still on her Lee Meriwether kick.
But still not satisfied – where was Snow White’s magic mirror when you needed one? – Gran would’ve tanned my hide if she’d seen me snatch the teacup from Octavia’s hand, but I strained to see my reflection in the amber liquid, searching for something other than my future.
Teacup, teacup in my hand. Who’s the craziest bitch in the land?
And…that would be me.
There was no eye of newt staring back at me. Only the two crazy orbs I already knew.
Eye of Sookie.
“You’re fine, Sookie,” she kindly reassured me. And when I looked up, I watched her eyes dart over to Eric as she said, “But this one, I’m not too sure about.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, no longer giving a shit if I ended up shitting out all seven dwarves. “Do you know what’s wrong with Eric?”
The fact that he’d contacted her at all – a complete stranger to him now – told me how desperate he must have been. And finally taking a look around the room, I realized we were at Amelia’s place.
And seeing her glamoured to sit in a corner, I also realized where the buzzing in my brain had come from.
Another indication of Eric’s desperation, if she was as vampire-repulsive as he’d claimed earlier.
Octavia reached over and grabbed a book from the coffee table, showing it to me and saying, “Mr. Northman was kind enough to retrieve this from the Stonebrook residence, while we waited for you to wake up.”
The sarcasm in her voice was as loud as Eric’s responding low growl, I assumed because he hadn’t been too happy about that.
Either from being made to fetch a Stonebrook book or leaving me, it was a tossup.
I didn’t know if she usually used her powers for locating overdue library books, but then I’d already known her protégé used hers to turn her lovers into cats. So I kept my trap shut and listened as she explained, “This is their family book of spells.”
A magic trapper keeper?
She went on to explain, “Marnie Stonebrook has frequented my shop on several occasions, but on her most recent visit she requested several ingredients. Each has their own special powers. Passion flower, for instance, can cause mild confusion and drowsiness. Kava Kava root is known for calming anxiety and stress, but is also thought to have aphrodisiacal qualities. When combined with a little knowhow and a few other minor touches, they can cause a much different effect. A very powerful effect. After speaking with Mr. Northman, I had him locate this book and I believe I have an idea of what has been done to cause his memory loss.”
“What?” I nearly shrieked when she’d paused to take a sip of her magic mirror tea.
“A love spell.”
“A what spell?” I asked in disbelief.
Surely she wasn’t telling me Eric had been Sandra Bullock’d, with her Love Potion #9.
“A love spell,” she repeated, as though it was no more unheard of than slapping some red lipstick on and spritzing Calvin Klein down into your cleavage.
What else? Vampire oysters on the half-shell, perhaps?
But I’d never seen a bloody oyster, so I doubted he would gobble any up.
‘How about Red Tide in Clam Harbor? You know what next week is!’
Put a cotton cork in it Betty! Now’s not the time!
But when her words – not Betty’s – had finally sunk in, my heart sank along with them as I clarified, “You think he’s been under the influence of a love spell?”
Was that why he’d been acting so lovey dovey with me?
Was it magically induced affection?
“Yes,” she nodded, on her way to confirming my worst fear. “Or something similar. An all-purpose devotion spell, of sorts. I believe I can reverse the effects, but there will be risks.”
“Risks?” I asked, not liking how risky that sounded. “What kind of risks?”
She flipped the book open to a page she’d already marked and explained, “I believe this was the spell she used. If she drank the potion herself and Mr. Northman had consumed any of her blood, then he most likely would have forgotten who he was. He would have cared for – or about – nothing but her.”
My eyes narrowed at just the thought, but she only narrowed hers at Eric and said, “But as it was explained to me, no consumption took place. However, transdermal contact with her blood could have conceivably affected him as well.”
Contact? He’d been covered in her blood.
I still had his killing jeans as proof.
And making me wonder who the telepath in the room was, she gave me a knowing look, while she kindly put her hand over mine, adding, “With Marnie no longer alive, it is possible he would have shown the same symptoms and only projected them onto someone else.”
Symptoms – like a disease.
Someone – like me.
It was true.
He’d only come to me because I’d had his blood and he could feel that.
None of it was real.
My mood plummeted into dark depths that surpassed even that fateful night on the docks. Even Betty was MIA.
Oddly, that was what scared me the most.
I knew then I was well on my way to being broken.
“You said you can you fix him?” I eventually asked, in a voice deader than my no-longer-mine companion.
More like patient.
But seeing his now even more worried face staring back at me, I forced my grief into a hidey hole buried deep in my heart, knowing he could feel it, and listened to her say, “Probably.”
Wasn’t shit bad enough?
She couldn’t humor me with an ‘absolutely’?
“Only the basic outline of the spell is notated in the book. Without knowing the precise details of all that it entailed, I can only guarantee the bulk of his memories will return. But his memory of the time while he’s been in an altered state may be lost.”
I would be left to suffer alone.
“No,” Eric finally chimed in. “If I can’t have my memories of both now and before, then I don’t want to remember. I’ll remain as I am.”
But I ignored him – just like the pain threatening to burst out of my hidey hole – and looked at Octavia, saying, “Do it.”
I could never live with myself otherwise.
“NO!” he argued again.
But Octavia ignored him too and only looked at me, seeming even more regretful when she said, “It would be best to return him to somewhere that is familiar to him. He’s said you both had been staying at his home, while trying to figure out what to do. I can mix the potion here and write down what you need to do. The spell will take effect while he’s resting for the day, but if he doesn’t retain his memories of the last few days and rises in a strange location – or with an unexpected companion – it could be dangerous.”
Dangerous – for me.
The unspoken truth I’d plucked from her head.
Eric could rise in the unfamiliar-to-him upstairs apartment with me and kill me.
At the moment, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t prefer that option.
“Well I don’t!” he roared.
But it was too late. I’d already disembarked and had my feet firmly planted on the banks of the River of Denial.
Our relationship had sailed.
But knowing it had to be done, I glanced up at Octavia for a moment and asked, “Can you give us a minute?” before dropping my eyes to the floor again.
“Of course,” she agreed and stood up. “I’ll go and get everything ready for you.”
When I finally thought I could speak without bursting into tears, I looked up at Eric’s miserable face and mustered as much conviction as I could when I opened with, “We’re doing this.”
“We’re not,” he argued.
“We are,” I countered. “I’ll do the magic mojo as soon as you’re down for the count, whether you want me to or not. I’m not leaving you this way if I don’t have to.”
“Does what I want not matter?” he seethed. “I don’t want to lose you! To lose what we have together!”
His words only pained me more, so I let him in on a painful truth and replied, “I don’t want to be with you if none of this is real. Whatever it is you think you feel for me isn’t real.”
My words, while harsh, were true. As much as it hurt me to even think of not having him in my life anymore, I couldn’t fathom living a lie.
No matter how lovely it was.
I didn’t even know whether to feel relieved or mournful that I managed to keep us from going too far with one another.
Never getting to the Super Bowl that he would never remember.
But he hadn’t been in the right mind to agree to play anyway.
Both emotions were equally upsetting.
“And how do you feel about me?” he asked in a voice so low I’d barely heard him.
So I pretended I hadn’t and ignored the question.
My harsh words and lack of a response seemed to knock the wind out of his sails because he didn’t say anything more.
Not when Octavia gave me her bottled magic and written instructions, telling me to follow them precisely.
Nor when we got in the car and headed back to his house.
But seeing an image of Amelia’s kitty boyfriend pop into Octavia’s head, I vowed to be extra careful when it came to unleashing Eric magical memory restorer.
The next couple of hours passed by in a fog. The drive back to his country estate was long and yet not long enough. Neither one of us had said a word after leaving New Orleans.
But what was the use in saying anything when he would just forget about it anyway?
I could feel his eyes drilling holes into me, but I’d refused to look. To give in.
Only a little while longer. The sun would come up and then I could lose it. I just had to hold out for a little while longer.
It wasn’t until we were back in his home – in his bedroom that we’d shared more than I wanted to remember at the moment – when the silence was finally broken.
“I don’t want to do this.”
The words and defeated tone had been Eric’s, but they could have just as easily been mine.
“Neither do I,” I admitted. “But we have to.”
As unfair as it all felt, it was the right thing to do.
So before I could chicken out, I uncorked the bottle Octavia had given me and poured the powdered mixture in a circle surrounding the bed. I would have to read the words she’d written down out loud before daybreak, but we still had time.
A few minutes left to share the pain that would soon be all my own.
I climbed up onto the bed and patted the space beside me, hoping I wouldn’t have to fight him into taking it, and tried to lighten the mood by saying, “This is where the magic happens.”
He either didn’t get the joke or didn’t find it funny, but now he appeared just as resigned as I felt and took the spot without argument.
So when he took me into his arms, I didn’t argue about that either.
Without a clock or any windows in the room, and knowing he could sense dawn’s approach, I asked, “How much time is left?”
“Five minutes,” he sighed. “Maybe less.”
My world was going to irrevocably change in five minutes.
The waiting was sheer torture. If I could, I would have stopped time itself. I’d always been a child of the sun, but now I longed for the night. The moon and stars were what gave me him, but my beloved sun was going to take him away.
For good this time.
In five minutes.
“Will you leave while the sun is up?” he asked, sounding as though he didn’t want to know the answer.
“I’ll leave you a note before I go,” I offered. “You’ll probably smell me here in your room and might want an explanation.”
Lying there with the knowledge that things would never be like that between us again, I decided there was one more thing I needed to do.
One last thing I needed to say.
So I pulled away from him to look back into his eyes and before I could chicken out, I uncorked my bottled up emotions and said, “I love you Eric.”
His small smile was just as sad as it was joyful, when he responded, “And I love you.”
Our lips met for one final kiss, a heartfelt and heartbreaking goodbye. But when I could see him struggling to stay awake, I knew it was time.
So I climbed out of the bed, standing just outside of the circle like Octavia had said to, and read the words she’d written out loud. His eyes stayed locked onto mine for as long as he was able and when they closed – when I knew he was well and truly taken from me – I was finally able to let go.
All of the emotions I’d kept locked away came crashing out, with my hyperventilating sobs dimming the edges of my vision as I struggled to remain conscious.
He was gone.
We were gone.
But when the sobs eventually dissipated – when my body stopped shaking and I could finally see straight – the logical part of me, in its desperate attempts to spare the devastated part of me, tried to remind myself we had never really been a ‘we’ to begin with.
The only problem with that was it had felt so real.
Had it all be a magically induced lie?
Chemistry wasn’t something Eric and I had ever lacked. It was there from day one – even when I’d still thought he was a serial killer.
Of course his baby face leather pants hadn’t hurt that cause.
But who’s to say the Eric without his memories wouldn’t feel that too?
I also knew deep down there was no maybe about it. Eric would want to know what happened while he’d been out of it. And he would be able to feel what I felt.
But would that be enough?
Had I done enough that he would forgive me for everything I’d done up until then?
My heart and head continued to mimic a WWE wrestling match long after he’d closed his eyes, with neither one really getting the upper hand on the other and at some point I’d inched closer to the bed.
At first just to take one long last look at the most beautiful man I’d ever laid eyes on.
And then to lean down and give one long last kiss to the man who I knew would forever hold my heart.
And finally I climbed in beside him – just for a moment, I told myself – wanting to hold the man I would always love for one last time.
I don’t know how long I stayed that way. All I knew was that I was fighting against my eyelids want to close, but when I eventually convinced myself it was time to move on. To get up and get out before it was too late, I heard it.
Go to sleep, Sookie. All will be well when you wake up.
Claudine’s voice floated across my mind and I was once again filled with the kind of love and safety – up until Eric – I had only ever found in her arms. And before I knew it that was precisely what I did.
And precisely where I was when I woke up hours later.
To piercing blue eyes staring back at me.
Similar in size, color, and shape to the ones I’d become accustomed to over the last few days, these eyes were familiar too.
Just like I’d noticed on the first night we’d met, there was lifetime upon lifetime of all that he’d seen and done behind them once more. It had given away his older age long before I’d ever known he was a vampire – even if I hadn’t known that was the cause.
The weight of the world that had been missing from his shoulders was back too.
And heavier than ever, by the looks of it.
But his expression was nothing like my Eric’s. My Eric was happy. Carefree.
This one just looked angry and confused.
And I knew – deep down in my heart I knew – what it all meant.
And my heart broke all over again, with tears rimming my eyes, when he confirmed it by saying the one thing I hadn’t heard since I’d woken up on our first last night together.
Something I’d never heard coming from my Eric’s lips.