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Dead until dark, p.16
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       Dead Until Dark, p.16

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  Bill was lying on his side, looking down at me. We’d been to the movies; Bill was crazy about movies with aliens, maybe having some kindred feeling for space creatures. It had been a real shoot-em-up, with almost all the aliens being ugly, creepy, bent on killing. He’d fumed about that while he’d taken me out to eat, and then back to his place. I’d been glad when he’d suggested testing the new bed.

  I was the first to lie on it with him.

  He was looking at me, as he liked to do, I was learning. Maybe he was listening to my heart pounding, since he could hear things I couldn’t, or maybe he was watching my pulse throb, because he could see things I couldn’t, too. Our conversation had strayed from the movie we’d seen to the nearing parish elections (Bill was going to try to register to vote, absentee ballot), and then to our childhoods. I was realizing that Bill was trying desperately to remember what it had been like to be a regular person.

  “Did you ever play ‘show me yours’ with your brother?” he asked. “They now say that’s normal, but I will never forget my mother beating the tarnation out of my brother Robert after she found him in the bushes with Sarah.”

  “No,” I said, trying to sound casual, but my face tightened, and I could feel the clenching of fear in my stomach.

  “You’re not telling the truth.”

  “Yes, I am.” I kept my eyes fixed on his chin, hoping to think of some way to change the topic. But Bill was nothing if not persistent.

  “Not your brother, then. Who?”

  “I don’t want to talk about this.” My hands contracted into fists, and I could feel myself begin to shut down.

  But Bill hated being evaded. He was used to people telling him whatever he wanted to know because he was used to using his glamor to get his way.

  “Tell me, Sookie.” His voice was coaxing, his eyes big pools of curiosity. He ran his thumbnail down my stomach, and I shivered.

  “I had a . . . funny uncle,” I said, feeling the familiar tight smile stretch my lips.

  He raised his dark arched brows. He hadn’t heard the phrase.

  I said as distantly as I could manage, “That’s an adult male relative who molests his . . . the children in the family.”

  His eyes began to burn. He swallowed; I could see his Adam’s apple move. I grinned at him. My hands were pulling my hair back from my face. I couldn’t stop it.

  “And someone did this to you? How old were you?”

  “Oh, it started when I was real little,” and I could feel my breathing begin to speed up, my heart beat faster, the panicky traits that always came back when I remembered. My knees drew up and pressed together. “I guess I was five,” I babbled, talking faster and faster, “I know you can tell, he never actually, ah, screwed me, but he did other stuff,” and now my hands were shaking in front of my eyes where I held them to shield them from Bill’s gaze. “And the worst thing, Bill, the worst thing,” I went on, just unable to stop, “is that every time he came to visit, I always knew what he was going to do because I could read his mind! And there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it!” I clamped my hands over my mouth to make myself shut up. I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. I rolled over onto my stomach to conceal myself, and held my body absolutely rigid.

  After a long time, I felt Bill’s cool hand on my shoulder. It lay there, comforting.

  “This was before your parents died?” he said in his usual calm voice. I still couldn’t look at him.

  “Yes.”

  “You told your mama? She did nothing?”

  “No. She thought I was dirty minded, or that I’d found some book at the library that taught me something she didn’t feel I was ready to know.” I could remember her face, framed in hair about two shades darker than my medium blond. Her face pinched with distaste. She had come from a very conservative family, and any public display of affection or any mention of a subject she thought indecent was flatly discouraged.

  “I wonder that she and my father seemed happy,” I told my vampire. “They were so different.” Then I saw how ludicrous my saying that was. I rolled over to my side. “As if we aren’t,” I told Bill, and tried to smile. Bill’s face was quite still, but I could see a muscle in his neck jumping.

  “Did you tell your father?”

  “Yes, right before he died. I was too embarrassed to talk to him about it when I was younger; and Mother didn’t believe me. But I couldn’t stand it anymore, knowing I was going to see my great-uncle Bartlett at least two weekends out of every month when he drove up to visit.”

  “He still lives?”

  “Uncle Bartlett? Oh, sure. He’s Gran’s brother, and Gran was my dad’s mother. My uncle lives in Shreveport. But when Jason and I went to live with Gran, after my parents died, the first time Uncle Bartlett came to her house I hid. When she found me and asked me why, I told her. And she believed me.” I felt the relief of that day all over again, the beautiful sound of my grandmother’s voice promising me I’d never have to see her brother again, that he would never never come to the house.

  And he hadn’t. She had cut off her own brother to protect me. He’d tried with Gran’s daughter, Linda, too, when she was a small girl, but my grandmother had buried the incident in her own mind, dismissed it as something misunderstood. She had told me that she’d never left her brother alone with Linda at any time after that, had almost quit inviting him to her home, while not quite letting herself believe that he’d touched her little girl’s privates.

  “So he’s a Stackhouse, too?”

  “Oh, no. See, Gran became a Stackhouse when she married, but she was a Hale before.” I wondered at having to spell this out for Bill. He was sure Southern enough, even if he was a vampire, to keep track of a simple family relationship like that.

  Bill looked distant, miles away. I had put him off with my grim nasty little story, and I had chilled my own blood, that was for sure.

  “Here, I’ll leave,” I said and slid out of bed, bending to retrieve my clothes. Quicker than I could see, he was off the bed and taking the clothes from my hands.

  “Don’t leave me now,” he said. “Stay.”

  “I’m a weepy ol’ thing tonight.” Two tears trickled down my cheeks, and I smiled at him.

  His fingers wiped the tears from my face, and his tongue traced their marks.

  “Stay with me till dawn,” he said.

  “But you have to get in your hidey hole by then.”

  “My what?”

  “Wherever you spend the day. I don’t want to know where it is!” I held up my hands to emphasize that. “But don’t you have to get in there before it’s even a little light?”

  “Oh,” he said, “I’ll know. I can feel it coming.”

  “So you can’t oversleep?”

  “No.”

  “All right. Will you let me get some sleep?”

  “Of course I will,” he said with a gentlemanly bow, only a little off mark because he was naked. “In a little while.” Then, as I lay down on the bed and held out my arms to him, he said, “Eventually.”

  SURE ENOUGH, IN the morning I was in the bed by myself. I lay there for a little, thinking. I’d had little niggling thoughts from time to time, but for the first time the flaws in my relationship with the vampire hopped out of their own hidey hole and took over my brain.

  I would never see Bill in the sunlight. I would never fix his breakfast, never meet him for lunch. (He could bear to watch me eat food, though he wasn’t thrilled by the process, and I always had to brush my teeth afterward very thoroughly, which was a good habit anyway.)

  I could never have a child by Bill, which was nice at least when you thought of not having to practice birth control, but. . .

  I’d never call Bill at the office to ask him to stop on the way home for some milk. He’d never join the Rotary, or give a career speech at the high school, or coach Little League Baseball.

  He’d never go to church with me.

  And I knew that now, while I lay here awake—listening to the b
irds chirping their morning sounds and the trucks beginning to rumble down the road while all over Bon Temps people were getting up and putting on the coffee and fetching their papers and planning their day—that the creature I loved was lying somewhere in a hole underground, to all intents and purposes dead until dark.

  I was so down by then that I had to think of an upside, while I cleaned up a little in the bathroom and dressed.

  He seemed to genuinely care for me. It was kind of nice, but unsettling, not to know exactly how much.

  Sex with him was absolutely great. I had never dreamed it would be that wonderful.

  No one would mess with me while I was Bill’s girlfriend. Any hands that had patted me in unwanted caresses were kept in their owner’s laps, now. And if the person who’d killed my grandmother had killed her because she’d walked in on him while he was waiting for me, he wouldn’t get another try at me.

  And I could relax with Bill, a luxury so precious I could not put a value on it. My mind could range at will, and I would not learn anything he didn’t tell me.

  There was that.

  It was in this kind of contemplative mood that I came down Bill’s steps to my car.

  To my amazement, Jason was there sitting in his pickup.

  This was not exactly a happy moment. I trudged over to his window.

  “I see it’s true,” he said. He handed me a Styrofoam cup of coffee from the Grabbit Quik. “Get in the truck with me.”

  I climbed in, pleased by the coffee but cautious overall. I put my guard up immediately. It slipped back into place slowly and painfully, like wiggling back into a girdle that was too tight in the first place.

  “I can’t say nothing,” he told me. “Not after the way I lived my life these past few years. As near as I can tell, he’s your first, isn’t he?”

  I nodded.

  “He treat you good?”

  I nodded again.

  “I got something to tell you.”

  “Okay.”

  “Uncle Bartlett got killed last night.”

  I stared at him, the steam from the coffee rising between us as I pried the lid off the cup. “He’s dead,” I said, trying to understand it. I’d worked hard never to think of him, and here I thought of him, and the next thing I heard, he was dead.

  “Yep.”

  “Wow.” I looked out the window at the rosy light on the horizon. I felt a surge of—freedom. The only one who remembered besides me, the only one who’d enjoyed it, who insisted to the end that I had initiated and continued the sick activities he thought were so gratifying . . . he was dead. I took a deep breath.

  “I hope he’s in hell,” I said. “I hope every time he thinks of what he did to me, a demon pokes him in the butt with a pitchfork.”

  “God, Sookie!”

  “He never messed with you.”

  “Damn straight!”

  “Implying what?”

  “Nothing, Sookie! But he never bothered anyone but you that I know of!”

  “Bullshit. He molested Aunt Linda, too.”

  Jason’s face went blank with shock. I’d finally gotten through to my brother. “Gran told you that?”

  “Yes.”

  “She never said anything to me.”

  “Gran knew it was hard for you, not seeing him again when she could tell you loved him. But she couldn’t let you be alone with him, because she couldn’t be a hundred percent sure girls were all he wanted.”

  “I’ve seen him the past couple of years.”

  “You have?” This was news to me. It would have been news to Gran, too.

  “Sookie, he was an old man. He was so sick. He had prostate trouble, and he was feeble, and he had to use a walker.”

  “That probably slowed him down chasing the five-year-olds.”

  “Get over it!”

  “Right! Like I could!”

  We glared at each other over the width of the truck seat.

  “So what happened to him?” I asked finally, reluctantly.

  “A burglar broke into his house last night.”

  “Yeah? And?”

  “And broke his neck. Threw him down the stairs.”

  “Okay. So I know. Now I’m going home. I gotta shower and get ready for work.”

  “That’s all you’re saying?”

  “What else is there to say?”

  “Don’t want to know about the funeral?”

  “No.”

  “Don’t want to know about his will?”

  “No.”

  He threw up his hands. “All right,” he said, as if he’d been arguing a point very hard with me and realized that I was intractable.

  “What else? Anything?” I asked.

  “No. Just your great-uncle dying. I thought that was enough.”

  “Actually, you’re right,” I said, opening the truck door and sliding out. “That was enough.” I raised my cup to him. “Thanks for the coffee, brother.”

  IT WASN’T TILL I got to work that it clicked.

  I was drying a glass and really not thinking about Uncle Bartlett, and suddenly my fingers lost all strength.

  “Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea,” I said, looking down at the broken slivers of glass at my feet. “Bill had him killed.”

  I DON’T KNOW why I was so sure I was right; but I was, the minute the idea crossed my mind. Maybe I had heard Bill dialing the phone when I was half-asleep. Maybe the expression on Bill’s face when I’d finished telling him about Uncle Bartlett had rung a silent warning bell.

  I wondered if Bill would pay the other vampire in money, or if he’d repay him in kind.

  I got through work in a frozen state. I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was thinking, couldn’t even say I was sick without someone asking me what was wrong. So I didn’t speak at all, I just worked. I tuned out everything except the next order I had to fill. I drove home trying to feel just as frozen, but I had to face facts when I was alone.

  I freaked out.

  I had known, really I had, that Bill certainly had killed a human or two in his long, long, life. When he’d been a young vampire, when he’d needed lots of blood, before he’d gained control of his needs sufficiently to exist on a gulp here, a mouthful there, without actually killing anyone he drank from . . . he’d told me himself there’d been a death or two along the way. And he’d killed the Rattrays. But they’d have done me in that night in back of Merlotte’s, without a doubt, if Bill hadn’t intervened. I was naturally inclined to excuse him those deaths.

  How was the murder of Uncle Bartlett different? He’d harmed me, too, dreadfully, made my already difficult childhood a true nightmare. Hadn’t I been relieved, even pleased, to hear he’d been found dead? Didn’t my horror at Bill’s intervention reek of hypocrisy of the worst sort?

  Yes. No?

  Tired and incredibly confused, I sat on my front steps and waited in the darkness, my arms wrapped around my knees. The crickets were singing in the tall grass when he came, arriving so quietly and quickly I didn’t hear him. One minute I was alone with the night, and the next, Bill was sitting on the steps beside me.

  “What do you want to do tonight, Sookie?” His arm went around me.

  “Oh, Bill.” My voice was heavy with despair.

  His arm dropped. I didn’t look up at his face, couldn’t have seen it through the darkness, anyway.

  “You should not have done it.”

  He didn’t bother with denying it at least.

  “I am glad he’s dead, Bill. But I can’t . . .”

  “Do you think I would ever hurt you, Sookie?” His voice was quiet and rustling, like feet through dry grass.

  “No. Oddly enough, I don’t think you would hurt me, even if you were really mad at me.”

  “Then . . . ?”

  “It’s like dating the Godfather, Bill. I’m scared to say anything around you now. I’m not used to my problems being solved that way.”

  “I love you.”

  He’d never said it before, and I mi
ght almost have imagined it now, his voice was so low and whispery.

  “Do you, Bill?” I didn’t raise my face, kept my forehead pressed against my knees.

  “Yes, I do.”

  “Then you have to let my life get lived, Bill, you can’t alter it for me.”

  “You wanted me to alter it when the Rattrays were beating you.”

  “Point taken. But I can’t have you trying to fine-tune my day-to-day life. I’m gonna get mad at people, people are gonna get mad at me. I can’t worry about them being killed. I can’t live like that, honey. You see what I’m saying?”

  “Honey?” he repeated.

  “I love you,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I do. I want to call you all those gooshy words you use when you love someone, no matter how stupid it sounds since you’re a vampire. I want to tell you you’re my baby, that I’ll love you till we’re old and gray—though that’s not gonna happen. That I know you’ll always be true to me—hey, that’s not gonna happen either. I keep running up against a brick wall when I try to tell you I love you, Bill.” I fell silent. I was all cried out.

  “This crisis came sooner than I thought it would,” Bill said from the darkness. The crickets had resumed their chorus, and I listened to them for a long moment.

  “Yeah.”

  “What now, Sookie?”

  “I have to have a little time.”

  “Before . . . ?”

  “Before I decide if the love is worth the misery.”

  “Sookie, if you knew how different you taste, how much I want to protect you . . .”

  I could tell from Bill’s voice that these were very tender feelings he was sharing with me. “Oddly enough,” I said, “that’s what I feel about you. But I have to live here, and I have to live with myself, and I have to think about some rules we gotta get clear between us.”

  “So what do we do now?”

  “I think. You go do whatever you were doing before we met.”

  “Trying to figure out if I could live mainstream. Trying to think of who I’d feed on, if I could stop drinking that damn synthetic blood.”

 
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