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Dead until dark, p.15
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       Dead Until Dark, p.15

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  “Thanks,” I said. “I’m better now.”

  But he didn’t remove his finger.

  “Oh,” I said. “Would you like to do it again so soon? Can you do that?” And as his finger kept up its motion, I began to hope so.

  “Look and see,” he offered, a hint of amusement in his sweet dark voice.

  I whispered, hardly recognizing myself, “Tell me what you want me to do.”

  And he did.

  I WENT BACK to work the next day. No matter what Bill’s healing powers were, I was a little uncomfortable, but boy, did I feel powerful. It was a totally new feeling for me. It was hard not to feel—well, cocky is surely the wrong word—maybe incredibly smug is closer.

  Of course, there were the same old problems at the bar—the cacophony of voices, the buzzing of them, the persistence. But somehow I seemed better able to tone them down, to tamp them into a pocket. It was easier to keep my guard up, and I felt consequently more relaxed. Or maybe since I was more relaxed—boy, was I more relaxed—it was easier to guard? I don’t know. But I felt better, and I was able to accept the condolences of the patrons with calm instead of tears.

  Jason came in at lunch and had a couple of beers with his hamburger, which wasn’t his normal regimen. He usually didn’t drink during the work day. I knew he’d get mad if I said anything directly, so I just asked him if everything was okay.

  “The chief had me in again today,” he said in a low voice. He looked around to make sure no one else was listening, but the bar was sparsely filled that day since the Rotary Club was meeting at the Community Building.

  “What is he asking you?” My voice was equally low.

  “How often I’d seen Maudette, did I always get my gas at the place she worked. . . . Over and over and over, like I hadn’t answered those questions seventy-five times. My boss is at the end of his patience, Sookie, and I don’t blame him. I been gone from work at least two days, maybe three, with all the trips I been making down to the police station.”

  “Maybe you better get a lawyer,” I said uneasily.

  “That’s what Rene said.”

  Then Rene Lenier and I saw eye to eye.

  “What about Sid Matt Lancaster?” Sidney Matthew Lancaster, native son and a whiskey sour drinker, had the reputation of being the most aggressive trial lawyer in the parish. I liked him because he always treated me with respect when I served him in the bar.

  “He might be my best bet.” Jason looked as petulant and grim as a lovely person can. We exchanged a glance. We both knew Gran’s lawyer was too old to handle the case if Jason was ever, God forbid, arrested.

  Jason was far too self-absorbed to notice anything different about me, but I’d worn a white golf shirt (instead of my usual round-necked T-shirt) for the protection of its collar. Arlene was not as unaware as my brother. She’d been eyeing me all morning, and by the time the three o’clock lull hit, she was pretty sure she’d got me figured out.

  “Girl,” she said, “you been having fun?”

  I turned red as a beet. “Having fun” made my relationship with Bill lighter than it was, but it was accurate as far as it went. I didn’t know whether to take the high road and say, “No, making love,” or keep my mouth shut, or tell Arlene it was none of her business, or just shout, “Yes!”

  “Oh, Sookie, who is the man?”

  Uh-oh. “Um, well, he’s not . . .”

  “Not local? You dating one of those servicemen from Bossier City?”

  “No,” I said hesitantly.

  “Sam? I’ve seen him looking at you.”

  “No.”

  “Who, then?”

  I was acting like I was ashamed. Straighten your spine, Sookie Stackhouse, I told myself sternly. Pay the piper.

  “Bill,” I said, hoping against hope that she’d just say, “Oh, yeah.”

  “Bill,” Arlene said blankly. I noticed Sam had drifted up and was listening. So was Charlsie Tooten. Even Lafayette stuck his head through the hatch.

  “Bill,” I said, trying to sound firm. “You know. Bill.”

  “Bill Auberjunois?”

  “No.”

  “Bill . . . ?”

  “Bill Compton,” Sam said flatly, just as I opened my mouth to say the same thing. “Vampire Bill.”

  Arlene was flabbergasted, Charlsie Tooten immediately gave a little shriek, and Lafayette about dropped his bottom jaw.

  “Honey, couldn’t you just date a regular human fella?” Arlene asked when she got her voice back.

  “A regular human fella didn’t ask me out.” I could feel the color fix in my cheeks. I stood there with my back straight, feeling defiant and looking it, I’m sure.

  “But, sweetie,” Charlsie Tooten fluted in her babyish voice, “honey . . . Bill’s, ah, got that virus.”

  “I know that,” I said, hearing the distinct edge in my voice.

  “I thought you were going to say you were dating a black, but you’ve gone one better, ain’t you, girl?” Lafayette said, picking at his fingernail polish.

  Sam didn’t say anything. He just stood leaning against the bar, and there was a white line around his mouth as if he were biting his cheek inside.

  I stared at them all in turn, forcing them to either swallow this or spit it out.

  Arlene got through it first. “All right, then. He better treat you good, or we’ll get our stakes out!”

  They were all able to laugh at that, albeit weakly.

  “And you’ll save a lot on groceries!” Lafayette pointed out.

  But then in one step Sam ruined it all, that tentative acceptance, by suddenly moving to stand beside me and pull the collar of my shirt down.

  You could have cut the silence of my friends with a knife.

  “Oh, shit,” Lafayette said, very softly.

  I looked right into Sam’s eyes, thinking I’d never forgive him for doing this to me.

  “Don’t you touch my clothes,” I told him, stepping away from him and pulling the collar back straight. “Don’t tend to my personal life.”

  “I’m scared for you, I’m worried about you,” he said, as Arlene and Charlsie hastily found other things to do.

  “No you’re not, or not entirely. You’re mad as hell. Well listen, buddy. You never got in line.”

  And I stalked away to wipe down the formica on one of the tables. Then I collected all the salt shakers and refilled them. Then I checked the pepper shakers and the bottles of hot peppers on each table and booth, the Tabasco sauce, too. I just kept working and kept my eyes in front of me, and gradually, the atmosphere cooled down.

  Sam was back in his office doing paperwork or something, I didn’t care what, as long as he kept his opinions to himself. I still felt like he’d ripped the curtain off a private area of my life when he’d exposed my neck, and I hadn’t forgiven him. But Arlene and Charlsie had found make-work, as I’d done, and by the time the after-work crowd began trickling in, we were once again fairly comfortable with one another.

  Arlene came into the women’s room with me. “Listen, Sookie, I got to ask. Are vampires all everyone says they are, in the lover department?”

  I just smiled.

  Bill came into the bar that evening, just after dark. I’d worked late since one of the evening waitresses had had car trouble. One minute he wasn’t there, and the next minute he was, slowing down so I could see him coming. If Bill had any doubts about making our relationship public, he didn’t show them. He lifted my hand and kissed it in a gesture that performed by anyone else would have seemed phony as hell. I felt the touch of his lips on the back of my hand all the way down to my toes, and I knew he could tell that.

  “How are you this evening?” he whispered, and I shivered.

  “A little . . .” I found I couldn’t get the words out.

  “You can tell me later,” he suggested. “When are you through?”

  “Just as soon as Susie gets here.”

  “Come to my house.”

  “Okay.” I smiled up at
him, feeling radiant and light-headed.

  And Bill smiled back, though since my nearness had affected him, his fangs were showing, and maybe to anyone else but me the effect was a little—unsettling.

  He bent to kiss me, just a light touch on the cheek, and he turned to leave. But just at that moment, the evening went all to hell.

  Malcolm and Diane came in, flinging the door open as if they were making a grand entrance, and of course, they were. I wondered where Liam was. Probably parking the car. It was too much to hope they’d left him at home.

  Folks in Bon Temps were getting accustomed to Bill, but the flamboyant Malcolm and the equally flamboyant Diane caused quite a stir. My first thought was that this wasn’t going to help people get used to Bill and me.

  Malcolm was wearing leather pants and a kind of chain-mail shirt. He looked like something on the cover of a rock album. Diane was wearing a one-piece lime green bodysuit spun out of Lycra or some other very thin, stretchy cloth. I was sure I could count her pubic hairs if I so desired. Blacks didn’t come into Merlotte’s much, but if any black was absolutely safe there, it was Diane. I saw Lafayette goggling through the hatch in open admiration, spiced by a dollop of fear.

  The two vampires shrieked with feigned surprise when they saw Bill, like demented drunks. As far as I could tell, Bill was not happy about their presence, but he seemed to handle their invasion calmly, as he did almost everything.

  Malcolm kissed Bill on the mouth, and so did Diane. It was hard to tell which greeting was more offensive to the customers in the bar. Bill had better show distaste, and quick, I thought, if he wanted to stay in good with the human inhabitants of Bon Temps.

  Bill, who was no fool, took a step back and put his arm around me, dissociating himself from the vampires and aligning himself with the humans.

  “So your little waitress is still alive,” Diane said, and her clear voice was audible through the whole bar. “Isn’t that amazing.”

  “Her grandmother was murdered last week,” Bill said quietly, trying to subdue Diane’s desire to make a scene.

  Her gorgeous lunatic brown eyes fixed on me, and I felt cold.

  “Is that right?” she said and laughed.

  That was it. No one would forgive her now. If Bill had been trying to find a way to entrench himself, this would be the scenario I would write. On the other hand, the disgust I could feel massing from the humans in the bar could backlash and wash over Bill as well as the renegades.

  Of course . . . to Diane and her friends, Bill was the renegade.

  “When’s someone going to kill you, baby?” She ran a fingernail under my chin, and I knocked her hand away.

  She would have been on me if Malcolm hadn’t grabbed her hand, lazily, almost effortlessly. But I saw the strain show in the way he was standing.

  “Bill,” he said conversationally, as if he wasn’t exerting every muscle he had to keep Diane still, “I hear this town is losing its unskilled service personnel at a terrible rate. And a little bird in Shreveport tells me you and your friend here were at Fangtasia asking questions about what vampire the murdered fang-bangers might have been with.”

  “You know that’s for us to know, no one else,” Malcolm continued, and all of a sudden his face was so serious it was truly terrifying. “Some of us don’t want to go to—baseball—games and . . .” (here he was searching his memory for something disgustingly human, I could tell) “barbecues! We are Vampire!” He invested the word with majesty, with glamor, and I could tell a lot of the people in the bar were falling under his spell. Malcolm was intelligent enough to want to erase the bad impression he knew Diane had made, all the while showering contempt on those of us it had been made on.

  I stomped on his instep with every ounce of weight I could muster. He showed his fangs at me. The people in the bar blinked and shook themselves.

  “Why don’t you just get outta here, mister,” Rene said. He was slouched at the bar with his elbows flanking a beer.

  There was moment when things hung in the balance, when the bar could have turned into a bloodbath. None of my fellow humans seemed to quite comprehend how strong vampires were, or how ruthless. Bill had moved in front of me, a fact registered by every citizen in Merlotte’s.

  “Well, if we’re not wanted . . .” Malcolm said. His thick-muscled masculinity warred with the fluting voice he suddenly affected. “These good people would like to eat meat, Diane, and do human things. By themselves. Or with our former friend Bill.”

  “I think the little waitress would like to do a very human thing with Bill,” Diane began, when Malcolm caught her by the arm and propelled her from the room before she could cause more damage.

  The entire bar seemed to shudder collectively when they were out the door, and I thought I better leave, even though Susie hadn’t shown up yet. Bill waited for me outside; when I asked him why, he said he wanted to be sure they’d really left.

  I followed Bill to his house, thinking we’d gotten off relatively lightly from the vampire visitation. I wondered why Diane and Malcolm had come; it seemed odd to me that they would be cruising so far from home and decide, on a whim, to drop in Merlotte’s. Since they were making no real effort at assimilation, maybe they wanted to scotch Bill’s prospects.

  The Compton house was visibly different from the last time I’d been in, the sickening evening I’d met the other vampires.

  The contractors were really coming through for Bill, whether because they were scared not to or because he was paying well, I didn’t know. Maybe both. The living room was getting a new ceiling and the new wallpaper was white with a delicate flowered pattern. The hardwood floors had been cleaned, and they shone as they must have originally. Bill led me to the kitchen. It was sparse, naturally, but bright and cheerful and had a brand-new refrigerator full of bottled synthetic blood (yuck).

  The downstairs bathroom was opulent.

  As far as I knew, Bill never used the bathroom; at least for the primary human function. I stared around me in amazement.

  The space for this grand bathroom had been achieved by including what had formerly been the pantry and about half the old kitchen.

  “I like to shower,” he said, pointing to a clear shower stall in one corner. It was big enough for two grownups and maybe a dwarf or two. “And I like to lie in warm water.” He indicated the centerpiece of the room, a huge sort of tub surrounded by an indoor deck of cedar, with steps on two sides. There were potted plants arranged all around it. The room was as close to being in the middle of a very luxurious jungle as you could get in northern Louisiana.

  “What is that?” I asked, awed.

  “It’s a portable spa,” Bill said proudly. “It has jets you can adjust individually so each person can get the right force of water. It’s a hot tub,” he simplified.

  “It has seats,” I said, looking in. The interior was decorated around the top with green and blue tiles. There were fancy controls on the outside.

  Bill turned them, and water began to surge.

  “Maybe we can bathe together?” Bill suggested.

  I felt my cheeks flame, and my heart began to pound a little faster.

  “Maybe now?” Bill’s fingers tugging at my shirt where it was tucked into my black shorts.

  “Oh, well. . . maybe.” I couldn’t seem to look at him straight when I thought of how this—okay, man—had seen more of me than I’d ever let anyone see, including my doctor.

  “Have you missed me?” he asked, his hands unbuttoning my shorts and peeling them down.

  “Yes,” I said promptly because I knew that to be true.

  He laughed, even as he knelt to untie my Nikes. “What did you miss most, Sookie?”

  “I missed your silence,” I said without thinking at all.

  He looked up. His fingers paused in the act of pulling the end of the bow to loosen it.

  “My silence,” he said.

  “Not being able to hear your thoughts. You just can’t imagine, Bill, how wonderful that is.


  “I was thinking you’d say something else.”

  “Well, I missed that, too.”

  “Tell me about it,” he invited, pulling my socks off and running his fingers up my thigh, tugging off the panties and shorts.

  “Bill! I’m embarrassed,” I protested.

  “Sookie, don’t be embarrassed with me. Least of anyone, with me.” He was standing now, divesting me of my shirt and reaching behind me to unsnap my bra, running his hands over the marks the straps had made on my skin, turning his attention to my breasts. He toed off his sandals at some point.

  “I’ll try,” I said, looking at my own toes.

  “Undress me.”

  Now that I could do. I unbuttoned his shirt briskly and eased it out of his pants and off his shoulders. I unbuckled his belt and began to work on the waist button of his slacks. It was stiff, and I had quite a job.

  I thought I was going to cry if the button didn’t cooperate more. I felt clumsy and inept.

  He took my hands and led them up to his chest. “Slow, Sookie, slow,” he said, and his voice had gone soft and shivery. I could feel myself relaxing almost inch by inch, and I began to stroke his chest as he’d stroked mine, twining the curly hair around my fingers and gently pinching his flat nipples. His hand went behind my head and pressed gently. I hadn’t known men liked that, but Bill sure did, so I paid equal attention to the other one. While I was doing that, my hands resumed work on the damn button, and this time it came undone with ease. I began pushing down his pants, sliding my fingers inside his Jockeys.

  He helped me down into the spa, the water frothing around our legs.

  “Shall I bathe you first?” he asked.

  “No,” I said breathlessly. “Give me the soap.”

  Chapter 7

  THE NEXT NIGHT Bill and I had an unsettling conversation. We were in his bed, his huge bed with the carved headboard and a brand-new Restonic mattress. His sheets were flowered like his wallpaper, and I remember wondering if he liked flowers printed on his possessions because he couldn’t see the real thing, at least as they were meant to be seen . . . in the daylight.

 
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