We sat there silently for a while with all of us lost in our own thoughts when the sound of Jason’s stomach growling rumbled through the room. It was enough to pull Sookie from her thoughts and pull the corners of her lips upwards when her eyes darted to her brother as she snickered, which then made Jason chuckle and it only grew from there. Before long the two of them were laughing so uncontrollably that there were tears streaming down their faces and I couldn’t help but smile watching their little sibling exchange. I figured they both needed it to blow off some of the stress of the day, but it also reminded me that Sookie and I hadn’t eaten anything in hours either, so I asked, “Are you two up to going out and getting something to eat? Or I can go pick up a pizza or something?”
Sookie shrugged and looked over at Jason, saying, “It’s up to you brother. You’re the one that’ll get stared at if we go to Merlotte’s.”
I’d remembered seeing the bar and grille when we passed by it earlier so my eyes turned to Jason as well waiting to see what his decision was. He reminded me a lot of his father at the moment because he physically shook off his earlier gloom and stood up smiling as he said confidently, “Fuck’em. I ain’t done nothin’ to be ashamed of and I ain’t hidin’.”
Corbett had had the same ability to shake off something as gloomy as his own death, so I wasn’t too surprised by Jason’s attitude, but that only made Sookie laugh again while telling him, “Just remember to tell that to Gran when she finds out her grandson is a porn star.”
“Shit,” he laughed while we all climbed into Sookie’s car with me behind the wheel again, “I doubt there’s much I can do anymore to surprise Gran. That woman knows I been up to no good before I even done it and besides, she always liked it when I was up on the stage back when we was kids, so who knows? Maybe it’ll get me one a her batch a cookies ’cause she’s so proud.”
If her reaction that night over dessert to Jason’s teasing of Sookie and I was any indication, I imagined she might bake those cookies only so she could dump them into the garbage disposal with him standing witness to their demise.
I knew they were probably still just releasing some of the built up tension and my own grandparents had already died before I’d ever been born, so I couldn’t guess what they’d be feeling since I’d never met them. At least I don’t think I’ve met them, but who the fuck knows. It’s not like I handed out genealogy questionnaires to every ghost I’d ever come across, but after meeting Mrs. Stackhouse I couldn’t imagine she’d be too pleased, so I asked, “Should we stop by her house to tell her everything? You know, before she finds out some other way?”
If she knew when Jason was ‘up to no good’ before he even acted on it then it stood to reason she’d find out about him being a murder suspect fairly quickly, but then I also didn’t know if anyone else had stepped into the role of town crier once Mrs. Fortenberry had passed away. Sookie’s hand found its way to my leg and even though it didn’t stray any higher than the middle of my thigh, it was enough to make my short term memory take a hit and I struggled to remember what we’d been talking about when she answered, “No, Gran is away for the weekend on one of her trips with the Descendants of the Glorious Dead and she doesn’t have a cell phone.”
“The what?” I stuttered, while struggling with the urge to shimmy down in my seat only so her hand would slide up higher on my leg. With Jason in the backseat, now certainly wasn’t the time for that, but Sookie had a way of making me want to act on nothing but pure instinct instead of logic.
It was scary and exciting all at the same time.
“It’s a group she belongs to that’s full of Civil War buffs,” she explained. “They went to go visit some old battlefield.”
I remembered visiting such a place as a child on a school field trip. I was only seven years old and still struggling with my curse at the time, so I’d thought I was watching an all too realistic Civil War reenactment. Well, I guess I was, I was just the only one that could see it and I’d since learned that when ghosts appeared to be opaque, they weren’t like the rest I that could see. Those seemed caught up reliving the final moments of their deaths and didn’t have any awareness of the living around them, and, for all I knew, they would be like that for all of eternity.
Things quickly went downhill when I’d refused to walk through the middle of the battlefield with the rest of my class. My teacher at the time eventually reached the end of his rope and had to physically drag me kicking and screaming along with him. And even though he was left unhurt, watching the ghostly apparition of a bayonet pass through his chest made me piss my pants, literally, with me screaming in terror and from that day on none of the other kids would come near me, much less talk to me, if they could help it, unless it was to taunt me.
And I never went on a field trip to another battlefield either.
The sound of Sookie’s voice brought me back from that horrible day and I tried to shake off the disturbing feelings as I turned to face her. I could see the concern there before she even asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah…” I answered, a little too softly. I took in another lung full of air and pushed away all of the bad memories out with my next exhale, trying to sound more normal as I answered, “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
Her eyes darted out of the windows before coming back to mine, saying, “We’ve been sitting here for a couple of minutes now and you haven’t moved.”
My own eyes darted out the window and saw we were parked outside of Merlotte’s Bar and Grille, and then to the backseat to see Jason must’ve already gone inside, so I smiled sheepishly, saying, “Sorry. Just lost in my thoughts I guess.”
She didn’t seem very convinced, so, like a coward, I hurried up and got out of the car. The last thing I wanted to do was admit to my pissy childhood, nor did I want her pity. It was my cross to bear and I’d accepted that fact a long time ago, so I was happy when she chose to make a joke by asking, “Are you worried about Jason trying to strangle you? Because I’m armed and I doubt he could reach all the way up to your neck anyway.”
“Funny,” I smiled down at her and was even happier when she took a hold of my hand as we made our way inside. It seemed like any other bar and grille I’d ever been in and it took Sookie only a second to spot her brother who was sitting in a booth off to one side.
It also seemed to only take a second for Jason to find his groove again since the waitress was giggling and practically undressing him with her eyes, but as we took a seat across from him, those eyes turned towards me; all of me. I could only assume that it was my height she seemed to be marveling over when her smile brightened as she said, “Hi! I’ve never seen you around here before. If you’re new in town, I’d be happy to show you around.”
Sookie made some sort of noise from her chest and before I could answer, her hand tightened on my own as she brought them to rest on my lap, in full view of the waitress since her eyes were looking down there, saying, “You haven’t seen him because I rarely let him out of bed.” I turned to see her angry face staring up at the waitress as she added with a much harder edge to her voice, “I don’t share either.”
Did I miss the part when we’d been in bed?
I surely hoped not, but since I’d missed the drive over there, I supposed it could’ve happened and after a brief stare-off between them that Sookie won, she took our order for our drinks and walked away while Jason snickered and asked, “Damn Sook, why don’t ya piss on him and be done with it?”
Sookie’s chest made that same noise again as she said, “That girl’s seen more mattresses than a Serta assembly line,” before turning to me, looking slightly chagrinned, and said, “Sorry. The word ‘no’ isn’t in Dawn’s vocabulary and if I didn’t say something then she’d spend the rest of the afternoon trying to show you around; the bathroom; the back storeroom; her backseat out in the parking lot…”
It appeared Sookie was under the impression that the waitress had been hitting on me, but I’d just thought it was just a friendly offer that could be found in any small town. I couldn’t imagine they’d see a lot of new faces around there, but between Jason’s question and Sookie’s explanation, I could only come to one conclusion. And I liked it.
Sookie was jealous.
It was nice to not be the only one, but I shouldn’t have pondered for so long because I felt Sookie trying to remove her hand from my mine as she said, “Unless I misspoke…and…you know…you wanted…”
I tightened my grasp on hers and smiled, leaning down to whisper in her ear, “I only want you.” I would’ve thought that fact would’ve been obvious by then and couldn’t stop myself from kissing the spot just beneath her ear and grinned again seeing the goose bumps rise up on her skin, but the sound of Jason clearing his throat made me pull away.
Only it wasn’t Jason I’d heard.
“So, you can see me?”
Officer Kevin Prior was standing next to our booth and I was grateful Sookie had mentioned his death earlier otherwise I would have acknowledged him, and thereby my curse, without thinking twice about it. However, I couldn’t stop my eyes from initially meeting his when he spoke which clued him in that I could see him, but both of us glanced down when Sookie’s hand started trailing up my thigh. She seemed to be feeling better about us and was bound and determined to make me feel something else entirely. Officer Prior chuckled and my face enflamed knowing he could see what she was doing, so I gently tried to dissuade her without calling any more attention to her actions.
My pleading eyes met her mirth filled ones and then darted to Jason, who was thankfully staring down at his menu. She seemed to get the hint and she gave me one more deliberate rub before moving our hands back down my leg.
“Quit feelin’ him up Sook or else I’m gonna use that as my get out of jail free card with Gran. She’ll forget all about my video escapades and turn her rollin’ pin on you. At least what I did was in private.”
Jason’s eyes never left his menu so I could only assume he had supernatural x-ray vision and I blushed ten times harder hearing, “Jesus Christ.”
Again, my eyes were naturally drawn towards the sound of his voice and Officer Prior turned to him, saying, “Hey Stackhouse. Where ya been hidin’ yourself these days?”
His somewhat angry eyes turned towards me as he answered, “Lately? Lately I’ve been trying to hide myself from what these two have been gettin’ up to.”
Thank God he wasn’t into sparkly vampires and their teenage brides.
Corbett never talked much about what he did whenever he wasn’t around me, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that he had other friends. I was the only loser that didn’t have other friends, until now that is, but I should’ve looked passed them to see the waitress returning with our drinks because Sookie saw me looking that way and must have assumed I was staring at her. I only knew because she made that sound again, which I now knew meant she wasn’t happy, and pulled her hand from mine.
The waitress leaned over far enough that her breasts were coming dangerously close to my face, so I leaned back and over towards Sookie, resting my hand on her leg, and refused to look at anything but the menu. “So, what can I get you all?” she asked, a little too friendly and still a lot too close.
Officer Prior laughed, “Ooohhh…Sookie’s pissed!” while Corbett added, “Why don’t you order some kibble since it looks like you’re in the doghouse?”
Sookie was pissed and it wasn’t like I could explain the two laughing jackasses no one else could see, so out of my own frustration, I snapped, “How about a little breathing room? Would you mind backing up? Because the only breasts I see on the menu are made from chickens and I don’t want those either. I’ll have a burger.”
The waitress huffed, but took a step back, but all I cared was that Sookie smiled into her menu and her hand found mine again as she gave it a reassuring squeeze. While they both placed their orders, I heard Officer Prior say, “So, you know he can see us?”
I knew better than to look over at them and heard Corbett answer, “Yeah, but I used to like him better when he wasn’t trying to feel up my baby girl.”
He didn’t sound angry so I knew he was only trying to embarrass me which was why, when the waitress stormed away, I turned to Sookie, asking, “So, your dad’s nickname was Doodlebug, huh?” My eyes flicked towards him and I smiled, adding, “Cute.”
I heard Corbett mutter, “Shit,” while Officer Prior howled, crooning, “Doodlebug?”
I did my best not to laugh hearing Corbett saying, “Shut the fuck up Kevin,” only to get a snickering response out of Officer Prior, “Yes sir, Detective Doodlebug.”
“Yeah,” Sookie smiled wistfully, but Jason broke in, asking none too pleased, “You took him to see Momma?”
He dropped all friendly pretense and stared hard at me, but Sookie swatted him with her menu, answering, “Yes, and she loved him.”
She was certainly affectionate with me with her hugs, but since I was still reeling at the time and not paying too much attention to what they’d been saying, I missed most of the visit. Jason paid no attention to Sookie’s swat and studied my face, asking, “And what did you think of her?”
I didn’t hesitate, replying truthfully, “I think she’s a beautiful and friendly woman. I can see why your father would’ve wanted to marry her.” My eyes automatically went to Sookie when I quietly added, “I could only hope to be so lucky.”
My answer seemed to un-ruffle Jason’s feathers while I heard Officer Prior tell Corbett, “He’s a good one,” but it was Sookie’s response that I paid attention to.
I hadn’t meant to be so candid, but her eyes got glassy and she appeared to melt a little before leaning in to put a soft kiss on my lips, saying, “You’re very sweet.” Her lips were very sweet as well, but before I could go back for seconds I felt someone come up to the table. I was afraid to look in case it was either the waitress or someone only I could see, but it turned out I was wrong on both counts.
“Hey Sookie. Long time no see.”
I turned and saw man staring down at me. He appeared to be around my age, but had a much smaller almost wiry build and brownish/reddish hair. He also appeared more interested in my presence next to Sookie since he had yet to take his eyes off of me and I had to wonder if he was one of those competitors Corbett had alluded to.
“Hey Sam,” Sookie replied. “How’ve you been?”
“I’m surprised it took him this long to come and sniff her out,” Officer Prior chuckled.
What’s THAT supposed to mean?
“Good,” Sam responded still staring me down. “Who’s your friend?”
I didn’t care for his jealous tone and since Sookie had already declared me her frequent bed companion to the waitress, I decided that I didn’t share either and felt no remorse when I answered, “Boyfriend, actually. Eric Northman.”
I was hoping Sookie wouldn’t correct me since we actually hadn’t discussed much more about our relationship other than she wanted to practice deep throating me and I was more than happy to let her, so I was relieved when I felt her wrap her arm around mine and lean into me, saying, “Eric, this is Sam. He owns this place.”
He actually seemed to puff his chest out, proud of his accomplishment of being a quasi-successful businessman, and asked me, “So, what is it you do for a living Eric? You do have a job, don’t you?”
My muscles automatically tensed with my instincts overriding my logical side once again. Normally I didn’t do posturing, but, then, normally I had nothing to posture over. In my mind he was challenging my place at Sookie’s side and I felt her hands stroke soothingly up and down my bicep, but I sat back and squared my shoulders, forced a smile on my face and said, “I’m a doctor,” silently adding, ‘asshole.’
There was so much snickering in the background I couldn’t discern who was who when Jason slid an unfolded napkin on the table in front of us, saying, “You all need this? You know, to measure whose Johnson is bigger so Sook can make an informed decision?”
“Jason!” Sookie chided, poorly hiding her amusement with her giggling out loud, but it was enough to make us both stand down.
Sam finally turned away from me, saying, “I’m surprised to see you here Jase. I heard about Bud stoppin’ by earlier to talk to you about Maudette’s murder.”
Maybe Maxine’s love for spreading gossip actually superseded the finality of her death?
“What?” Corbett yelled.
“Yeah,” Jason and Officer Prior replied in unison. Jason continued on with, “But I didn’t do it, so there’s no reason for me to not show my face.”
His angry tone was enough to make Sam begin backpedalling, but I was too distracted listening to Officer Prior filling Corbett in on everything he’d missed. In my peripheral, I could see Corbett running his hand through his hair as he asked, “Well don’t they have security cameras? What did the video show?”
That hadn’t occurred to me, but then I wasn’t a cop. Officer Prior was already shaking his head as he replied, “No. Well, they have them, but they haven’t worked in over a year. The bastard that owns the place was too cheap to get them fixed and just hoped having them up on the walls would be enough of a deterrent.”
“You been by to see if she’s still hanging around the Grab-It Kwik or her place yet?” Corbett asked.
A sudden realization dawned on me that I could help Jason with my curse and I was so caught up with the conversation no one else at the table could hear that I replied, “No, but that’s a great idea.”
Very quickly another sudden realization dawned on me that I’d answered the dead while having no clue what was being said by the living at the same time and my eyes darted first to Jason and then to Sookie to see them staring back at me confused. I didn’t bother to acknowledge Sam since I was sure he’d be proud of my fuck up, if only to further his chances with Sookie, and I heard Officer Prior whisper to Corbett, “Oh, that’s got to be embarrassing.”
Cue my eternal blush.
My head was spinning trying to come up with a way to explain my outburst when the waitress reappeared with our food, so everyone was thankfully distracted for the time being while Sam finally wandered off to be the quasi-successful businessman he was so fucking proud of. I knew better than to hope all was forgotten and was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, but God must’ve been smiling down on me because no sooner had the waitress walked away when Hoyt Fortenberry dropped down into our booth next to Jason, saying, “Here you are! I stopped by your place, but you weren’t there.”
“Eric!” I heard in an all too familiar voice and I then realized God wasn’t smiling down on me. He was laughing his ass off.
Even in death, Maxine Fortenberry couldn’t stray far from her one and only son.