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Dead until dark, p.14
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       Dead Until Dark, p.14

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  I wondered if she meant Malcolm, Liam, and Diane. I hadn’t much liked their looks either, and I resisted the automatic impulse to defend them.

  “Vampires are just as different among themselves as humans are,” I said.

  “That’s what I told Andy Bellefleur,” she said, nodding vehemently. “I said to Andy, you should go after some of those others, the ones that don’t want to learn how to live with us, not like Bill Compton, who’s really making an effort to settle in. He was telling me at the funeral home that he’d gotten his kitchen finished, finally.”

  I could only stare at her. I tried to think of what Bill might make in his kitchen. Why would he need one?

  But none of the distractions worked, and finally I just realized that for a while I was going to be crying every whipstitch. And I did.

  At the funeral Jason stood beside me, apparently over his surge of anger at me, apparently back in his right mind. He didn’t touch me or talk to me, but he didn’t hit me, either. I felt very alone. But then I realized as I looked out over the hillside that the whole town was grieving with me. There were cars as far as I could see on the narrow drives through the cemetery, there were hundreds of dark-clad folks around the funeral-home tent. Sam was there in a suit (looking quite unlike himself), and Arlene, standing by Rene, was wearing a flowered Sunday dress. Lafayette stood at the very back of the crowd, along with Terry Bellefleur and Charlsie Tooten; the bar must be closed! And all Gran’s friends, all, the ones who could still walk. Mr. Norris wept openly, a snowy white handkerchief held up to his eyes. Maxine’s heavy face was set in graven lines of sadness. While the minister said what he had to, while Jason and I sat alone in family area in the uneven folding chairs, I felt something in me detach and fly up, up into the blue brilliance: and I knew that whatever had happened to my grandmother, now she was at home.

  The rest of the day went by in a blur, thank God. I didn’t want to remember it, didn’t want to even know it was happening. But one moment stood out.

  Jason and I were standing by the dining room table in Gran’s house, some temporary truce between us. We greeted the mourners, most of whom did their best not to stare at the bruise on my cheek.

  We glided through it, Jason thinking that he would go home and have a drink after, and he wouldn’t have to see me for a while and then it would be all right, and me thinking almost exactly the same thing. Except for the drink.

  A well-meaning woman came up to us, the sort of woman who has thought over every ramification of a situation that was none of her business to start with.

  “I am so sorry for you kids,” she said, and I looked at her; for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. She was a Methodist. She had three grown children. But her name ran right out the other side of my head.

  “You know it was so sad seeing you two there alone today, it made me remember your mother and father so much,” she said, her face creasing into a mask of sympathy that I knew was automatic. I glanced at Jason, looked back to the woman, nodded.

  “Yes,” I said. But I heard her thought before she spoke, and I began to blanch.

  “But where was Adele’s brother today, your great uncle? Surely he’s still living?”

  “We’re not in touch,” I said, and my tone would have discouraged anyone more sensitive than this lady.

  “But her only brother! Surely you . . .” and her voice died away as our combined stare finally sank home.

  Several other people had commented briefly on our Uncle Bartlett’s absence, but we had given the “this is family business” signals that cut them right off. This woman—what was her name?—just hadn’t been as quick to read them. She’d brought a taco salad, and I planned to throw it right into the garbage when she’d left.

  “We do have to tell him,” Jason said quietly after she left. I put my guard up; I had no desire to know what he was thinking.

  “You call him,” I said.

  “All right.”

  And that was all we said to each other for the rest of the day.

  Chapter 6

  I STAYED AT home for three days after the funeral. It was too long; I needed to go back to work. But I kept thinking of things I just had to do, or so I told myself. I cleaned out Gran’s room. Arlene happened to drop by, and I asked her for help, because I just couldn’t be in there alone with my grandmother’s things, all so familiar and imbued with her personal odor of Johnson’s baby powder and Campho-Phenique.

  So my friend Arlene helped me pack everything up to take to the disaster relief agency. There’d been tornadoes in northern Arkansas the past few days, and surely some person who had lost everything could use all the clothes. Gran had been smaller and thinner than I, and besides that her tastes were very different, so I wanted nothing of hers except the jewelry. She’d never worn much, but what she wore was real and precious to me.

  It was amazing what Gran had managed to pack into her room. I didn’t even want to think about what she’d stored in the attic: that would be dealt with later, in the fall, when the attic was bearably cool and I’d time to think.

  I probably threw away more than I should have, but it made me feel efficient and strong to be doing this, and I did a drastic job of it. Arlene folded and packed, only putting aside papers and photographs, letters and bills and cancelled checks. My grandmother had never used a credit card in her life and never bought anything on time, God bless her, which made the winding-up much easier.

  Arlene asked about Gran’s car. It was five years old and had very little mileage. “Will you sell yours and keep hers?” she asked. “Yours is newer, but it’s small.”

  “I hadn’t thought,” I said. And I found I couldn’t think of it, that cleaning out the bedroom was the extent of what I could do that day.

  At the end of the afternoon, the bedroom was empty of Gran. Arlene and I turned the mattress and I remade the bed out of habit. It was an old four-poster in the rice pattern. I had always thought her bedroom set was beautiful, and it occurred to me that now it was mine. I could move into the bigger bedroom and have a private bath instead of using the one in the hall.

  Suddenly, that was exactly what I wanted to do. The furniture I’d been using in my bedroom had been moved over here from my parents’ house when they’d died, and it was kid’s furniture; overly feminine, sort of reminiscent of Barbies and sleepovers.

  Not that I’d ever had many sleepovers, or been to many.

  Nope, nope, nope, I wasn’t going to fall into that old pit. I was what I was, and I had a life, and I could enjoy things; the little treats that kept me going.

  “I might move in here,” I told Arlene as she taped a box shut.

  “Isn’t that a little soon?” she asked. She flushed red when she realized she’d sounded critical.

  “It would be easier to be in here than be across the hall thinking about the room being empty,” I said. Arlene thought that through, crouched beside the cardboard box with the roll of tape in her hand.

  “I can see that,” she agreed, with a nod of her flaming red head.

  We loaded the cardboard boxes into Arlene’s car. She had kindly agreed to drop them by the collection center on her way home, and I gratefully accepted the offer. I didn’t want anyone to look at me knowingly, with pity, when I gave away my grandmother’s clothes and shoes and nightgowns.

  When Arlene left, I hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and she stared at me. That was outside the bounds our friendship had had up till now. She bent her head to mine and we very gently bumped foreheads.

  “You crazy girl,” she said, affection in her voice. “You come see us, now. Lisa’s been wanting you to baby-sit again.”

  “You tell her Aunt Sookie said hi to her, and to Coby, too.”

  “I will.” And Arlene sauntered off to her car, her flaming hair puffing in a waving mass above her head, her full body making her waitress outfit look like one big promise.

  All my energy drained away as Arlene’s car bumped down the driveway through
the trees. I felt a million years old, alone and lonely. This was the way it was going to be from now on.

  I didn’t feel hungry, but the clock told me it was time to eat. I went into the kitchen and pulled one of the many Tupperware containers from the refrigerator. It held turkey and grape salad, and I liked it, but I sat there at the table just picking at it with a fork. I gave up, returning it to the icebox and going to the bathroom for a much-needed shower. The corners of closets are always dusty, and even a housekeeper as good as my grandmother had been had not been able to defeat that dust.

  The shower felt wonderful. The hot water seemed to steam out some of my misery, and I shampooed my hair and scrubbed every inch of skin, shaving my legs and armpits. After I climbed out, I plucked my eyebrows and put on skin lotion and deodorant and a spray to untangle my hair and anything else I could lay my hands on. With my hair trailing down my back in a cascade of wet snarls, I pulled on my nightshirt, a white one with Tweety Bird on the front, and I got my comb. I’d sit in front of the television to have something to watch while I got my hair combed out, always a tedious process.

  My little burst of purpose expired, and I felt almost numb.

  The doorbell rang just as I was trailing into the living room with my comb in one hand and a towel in the other.

  I looked through the peephole. Bill was waiting patiently on the porch.

  I let him in without feeling either glad or sorry to see him.

  He took me in with some surprise: the nightshirt, the wet hair, the bare feet. No makeup.

  “Come in,” I said.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes.”

  And he came in, looking around him as he always did. “What are you doing?” he asked, seeing the pile of things I’d put to one side because I thought friends of Gran’s might want them: Mr. Norris might be pleased to get the framed picture of his mother and Gran’s mother together, for example.

  “I cleaned out the bedroom today,” I said. “I think I’ll move into it.” Then I couldn’t think of anything else to say. He turned to look at me carefully.

  “Let me comb out your hair,” he said.

  I nodded indifferently. Bill sat on the flowered couch and indicated the old ottoman positioned in front of it. I sat down obediently, and he scooted forward a little, framing me with his thighs. Starting at the crown of my head, he began teasing the tangles out of my hair.

  As always, his mental silence was a treat. Each time, it was like putting the first foot into a cool pool of water when I’d been on a long, dusty hike on a hot day.

  As a bonus, Bill’s long fingers seemed adept at dealing with the thick mane of my hair. I sat with my eyes closed, gradually becoming tranquil. I could feel the slight movements of his body behind me as he worked with the comb. I could almost hear his heart beating, I thought, and then realized how strange an idea that was. His heart, after all, didn’t.

  “I used to do this for my sister, Sarah,” he murmured quietly, as if he knew how peaceful I’d gotten and was trying not to break my mood. “She had hair darker than yours, even longer. She’d never cut it. When we were children, and my mother was busy, she’d have me work on Sarah’s hair.”

  “Was Sarah younger than you, or older?” I asked in a slow, drugged voice.

  “She was younger. She was three years younger.”

  “Did you have other brothers or sisters?”

  “My mother lost two in childbirth,” he said slowly, as if he could barely remember. “I lost my brother, Robert, when he was twelve and I was eleven. He caught a fever, and it killed him. Now they would pump him full of penicillin, and he would be all right. But they couldn’t then. Sarah survived the war, she and my mother, though my father died while I was soldiering; he had what I’ve learned since was a stroke. My wife was living with my family then, and my children . . .”

  “Oh, Bill,” I said sadly, almost in a whisper, for he had lost so much.

  “Don’t, Sookie,” he said, and his voice had regained its cold clarity.

  He worked on in silence for a while, until I could tell the comb was running free through my hair. He picked up the white towel I’d tossed on the arm of the couch and began to pat my hair dry, and as it dried he ran his fingers through it to give it body.

  “Mmmm,” I said, and as I heard it, it was no longer the sound of someone being soothed.

  I could feel his cool fingers lifting the hair away from my neck and then I felt his mouth just at the nape. I couldn’t speak or move. I exhaled slowly, trying not to make another sound. His lips moved to my ear, and he caught the lobe of it between his teeth. Then his tongue darted in. His arms came around me, crossing over my chest, pulling me back against him.

  And for a miracle I only heard what his body was saying, not those niggling things from minds that only foul up moments like this. His body was saying something very simple.

  He lifted me as easily as I’d rotate an infant. He turned me so I was facing him on his lap, my legs on either side of his. I put my arms around him and bent a little to kiss him. It went on and on, but after a while Bill settled into a rhythm with his tongue, a rhythm even someone as inexperienced as I could identify. The nightshirt slid up to the tops of my thighs. My hands began to rub his arms helplessly. Strangely, I thought of a pan of caramels my grandmother had put on the stove for a candy recipe, and I thought of the melted, warm sweet goldenness of them.

  He stood up with me still wrapped around him. “Where?” he asked.

  And I pointed to my grandmother’s former room. He carried me in as we were, my legs locked around him, my head on his shoulder, and he lay me on the clean bed. He stood by the bed and in the moonlight coming in the unshaded windows, I saw him undress, quickly and neatly. Though I was getting great pleasure from watching him, I knew I had to do the same; but still a little embarrassed, I just drew off the nightshirt and tossed it onto the floor.

  I stared at him. I’d never seen anything so beautiful or so scary in my life.

  “Oh, Bill,” I said anxiously, when he was beside me in the bed, “I don’t want to disappoint you.”

  “That’s not possible,” he whispered. His eyes looked at my body as if it were a drink of water on a desert dune.

  “I don’t know much,” I confessed, my voice barely audible.

  “Don’t worry. I know a lot.” His hands began drifting over me, touching me in places I’d never been touched. I jerked with surprise, then opened myself to him.

  “Will this be different from doing it with a regular guy?” I asked.

  “Oh, yes.”

  I looked up at him questioningly.

  “It’ll be better,” he said in my ear, and I felt a twinge of pure excitement.

  A little shyly, I reached down to touch him, and he made a very human sound. After a moment, the sound became deeper.

  “Now?” I asked, my voice ragged and shaking.

  “Oh, yes,” he said, and then he was on top of me.

  A moment later he found out the true extent of my inexperience.

  “You should have told me,” he said, but very gently. He held himself still with an almost palpable effort.

  “Oh, please don’t stop!” I begged, thinking that the top would fly off my head, something drastic would happen, if he didn’t go on with it.

  “I have no intention of stopping,” he promised a little grimly. “Sookie . . . this will hurt.”

  In answer, I raised myself. He made an incoherent noise and pushed into me.

  I held my breath. I bit my lip. Ow, ow, ow.

  “Darling,” Bill said. No one had ever called me that. “How are you?” Vampire or not, he was trembling with the effort of holding back.

  “Okay,” I said inadequately. I was over the sting, and I’d lose my courage if we didn’t proceed. “Now,” I said, and I bit him hard on the shoulder.

  He gasped, and jerked, and he began moving in earnest. At first I was dazed, but I began to catch on and keep up. He found my response very exc
iting, and I began to feel that something was just around the corner, so to speak—something very big and good. I said, “Oh, please, Bill, please!” and dug my nails in his hips, almost there, almost there, and then a small shift in our alignment allowed him to press even more directly against me and almost before I could gather myself I was flying, flying, seeing white with gold streaks. I felt Bill’s teeth against my neck, and I said, “Yes!” I felt his fangs penetrate, but it was a small pain, an exciting pain, and as he came inside me I felt him draw on the little wound.

  We lay there for a long time, from time to time trembling with little aftershocks. I would never forget his taste and smell as long as I lived, I would never forget the feel of him inside me this first time—my first time, ever—I would never forget the pleasure.

  Finally Bill moved to lie beside me, propped on one elbow, and he put his hand over my stomach.

  “I am the first.”

  “Yes.”

  “Oh, Sookie.” He bent to kiss me, his lips tracing the line of my throat.

  “You could tell I don’t know much,” I said shyly. “But was that all right for you? I mean, about on a par with other women at least? I’ll get better.”

  “You can get more skilled, Sookie, but you can’t get any better.” He kissed me on the cheek. “You’re wonderful.”

  “Will I be sore?”

  “I know you’ll think this is odd, but I don’t remember. The only virgin I was ever with was my wife, and that was a century and a half ago . . . yes, I recall, you will be very sore. We won’t be able to make love again, for a day or two.”

  “Your blood heals,” I observed after a little pause, feeling my cheeks redden.

  In the moonlight, I could see him shift, to look at me more directly. “So it does,” he said. “Would you like that?”

  “Sure. Wouldn’t you?”

  “Yes,” he breathed, and bit his own arm.

  It was so sudden that I cried out, but he casually rubbed a finger in his own blood, and then before I could tense up he slid that finger up inside me. He began moving it very gently, and in a moment, sure enough, the pain was gone.

 
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