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Dead until dark, p.28
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       Dead Until Dark, p.28

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  What a sweet guy. I didn’t believe in his devotion for a minute, but I did believe he knew how to make a woman feel good, even if she was as sure as I was that I looked breathtakingly bad. I felt pretty bad, too. Where were those pain pills? I tried to smile at JB.

  “You’re hurting,” he said. “I’ll send the nurse down here.”

  Oh, good. The reach to the little button had seemed longer and longer as I tried to get my arm to move.

  He kissed me again as he left and said, “I’ll go track that doctor of yours down, Sookie. I better ask her some more questions about your recovery.”

  After the nurse injected some stuff into my IV drip, I was just looking forward to feeling no pain when the door opened again.

  My brother came in. He stood by my bed for a long time, staring at my face. He said finally, heavily, “I talked to the doctor for a minute before she left for the cafeteria with JB. She told me what-all was wrong with you.” He walked away from me, took a turn around the room, came back. More staring. “You look like hell.”

  “Thanks,” I whispered.

  “Oh, yeah, your throat. I forgot.”

  He started to pat me, thought the better of it.

  “Listen, Sis, I gotta say thank you, but it’s got me down that you stood in for me when it came time to fight.”

  If I could have, I’d have kicked him.

  Stood in for him, hell.

  “I owe you big, Sis. I was so dumb, thinking Rene was a good friend.”

  Betrayed. He felt betrayed.

  Then Arlene came in, to make things just peachy keen.

  She was a mess. Her hair was in a red tangle, she had no makeup, and her clothes were chosen at random. I’d never seen Arlene without her hair curled and her makeup loud and bright.

  She looked down at me—boy, would I be glad when I could stand up again—and for a second her face was hard as granite, but when she really took in my face, she began to crumble.

  “I was so mad at you, I didn’t believe it, but now that I’m seeing you and what he did. . . oh, Sookie, can you ever forgive me?”

  Geez, I wanted her out of here. I tried to telegraph this to Jason, and for once I got through, because he put an arm around her shoulders and led her out. Arlene was sobbing before she reached the door. “I didn’t know . . .” she said, barely coherent. “I just didn’t know!”

  “Hell, neither did I,” Jason said heavily.

  I took a nap after trying to ingest some delicious green gelatin.

  My big excitement of the afternoon was walking to the bathroom, more or less by myself. I sat in the chair for ten minutes, after which I was more than ready to get back in bed. I looked in the mirror concealed in the rolling table and was very sorry I had.

  I was running a little temperature, just enough to make me shivery and tender-skinned. My face was blue and gray and my nose was swollen double. My right eye was puffy and almost closed. I shuddered, and even that hurt. My legs . . . oh, hell, I didn’t even want to check. I lay back very carefully and wanted this day to be over. Probably four days from now I’d feel just great. Work! When could I go back to work?

  A little knock at the door distracted me. Another damn visitor. Well, this was someone I didn’t know. An older lady with blue hair and red-framed glasses wheeled in a cart. She was wearing the yellow smock the hospital volunteers called Sunshine Ladies had to don when they were working.

  The cart was covered with flowers for the patients in this wing.

  “I’m delivering you a load of best wishes!” the lady said cheerfully.

  I smiled, but the effect must have been ghastly because her own cheer wavered a little.

  “These are for you,” she said, lifting a potted plant decorated with a red ribbon. “Here’s the card, honey. Let’s see, these are for you, too . . .” This was an arrangement of cut flowers, featuring pink rosebuds and pink carnations and white baby’s breath. She plucked the card from that bowl, too. Surveying the cart, she said, “Now, aren’t you the lucky one! Here are some more for you!!”

  The focus of the third floral tribute was a bizarre red flower I’d never seen before, surrounded by a host of other, more familiar blooms. I looked at this one doubtfully. The Sunshine Lady dutifully presented me with the card from the plastic prongs.

  After she’d smiled her way out of the room, I opened the little envelopes. It was easier to move when I was in a better mood, I noticed wryly.

  The potted plant was from Sam and “all your coworkers at Merlotte’s” read the card, but it was written in Sam’s handwriting. I touched the glossy leaves and wondered where I’d put it when I took it home. The cut flowers were from Sid Matt Lancaster and Elva Deene Lancaster—pooey. The arrangement centered with the peculiar red blossom (I decided that somehow the flower looked almost obscene, like a lady’s private part) was definitely the most interesting of the three. I opened the card with some curiosity. It bore only a signature, “Eric.”

  That was all I needed. How the hell had he heard I was in the hospital? Why hadn’t I heard from Bill?

  After some delicious red gelatin for supper, I focused on the television for a couple of hours, since I hadn’t anything to read, even if my eyes had been up to it. My bruises grew more charming every hour, and I felt weary to my bones, despite the fact that I’d only walked once to the bathroom and twice around my room. I switched off the television and turned onto my side. I fell asleep, and in my dreams the pain from my body seeped in and made me have nightmares. I ran in my dreams, ran through the cemetery, afraid for my life, falling over stones, into open graves, encountering all the people I knew who lay there: my father and mother, my grandmother, Maudette Pickens, Dawn Green, even a childhood friend who’d been killed in a hunting accident. I was looking for a particular headstone; if I found it, I was home free. They would all go back into their graves and leave me alone. I ran from this one to that one, putting my hand on each one, hoping it would be the right stone. I whimpered.

  “Sweetheart, you’re safe,” came a familiar cool voice.

  “Bill,” I muttered. I turned to face a stone I hadn’t yet touched. When I lay my fingers on it, they traced the letters “William Erasmus Compton.” As if I’d been dashed with cold water, my eyes flew open, I drew in a breath to scream, and my throat gave a great throb of pain. I choked on the extra air, and the pain of the coughing, which pretty much hurt every single thing I’d broken, completed my awakening. A hand slipped under my cheek, the cool fingers feeling wonderfully good against my hot skin. I tried not to whimper, but a little noise made its way through my teeth.

  “Turn to the light, darling,” Bill said, his voice very light and casual.

  I’be been sleeping with my back to the light the nurse had left on, the one in the bathroom. Now I rolled obediently to my back and looked up at my vampire.

  Bill hissed.

  “I’ll kill him,” he said, with a simple certainty that chilled me to the bone.

  There was enough tension in the room to send a fleet of the nervous running for their tranquilizers.

  “Hi, Bill,” I croaked. “Glad to see you, too. Where you been so long? Thanks for returning all my calls.”

  That brought him up short. He blinked. I could feel him making an effort to calm himself.

  “Sookie,” he said. “I didn’t call because I wanted to tell you in person what has happened.” I couldn’t read the expression on his face. If I’d had to take a shot, I would’ve said he looked proud of himself.

  He paused, scanned all visible portions of me.

  “This doesn’t hurt,” I croaked obligingly, extending my hand to him. He kissed that, lingered over it in a way that sent a faint tingle through my body. Believe me, a faint tingle was more than I’d thought I was capable of.

  “Tell me what has been done to you,” he commanded.

  “Then lean down so I can whisper. This really hurts.”

  He pulled a chair close to the bed, lowered the bed rail, and lay his chin on h
is folded arms. His face was maybe four inches from mine.

  “Your nose is broken,” he observed.

  I rolled my eyes. “Glad you spotted that,” I whispered. “I’ll tell the doctor when she comes in.”

  His gaze narrowed. “Stop trying to deflect me.”

  “Okay. Nose broken, two ribs, a collarbone.”

  But Bill wanted to examine me all over, and he pulled the sheet down. My mortification was complete. Of course, I was wearing an awful hospital gown, in itself a downer, and I hadn’t bathed properly, and my face was several different shades, and my hair hadn’t been brushed.

  “I want to take you home,” he announced, after he’d run his hands all over and minutely examined each scrape and cut. The Vampire Physician.

  I motioned with my hand to make him bend down. “No,” I breathed. I pointed to the drip bag. He eyed it with some suspicion, but of course he had to know what one was.

  “I can take it out,” he said.

  I shook my head vehemently.

  “You don’t want me to take care of you?”

  I puffed out my breath in exasperation, which hurt like hell.

  I made a writing motion with my hand, and Bill searched the drawers until he found a notepad. Oddly enough, he had a pen. I wrote, “They’ll let me out of the hospital tomorrow if my fever doesn’t go high.”

  “Who’ll take you home?” he asked. He was standing by the bed again, and looking down at me with stern disapproval, like a teacher whose best pupil happens to be chronically tardy.

  “I’ll get them to call Jason, or Charlsie Tooten,” I wrote. If things had been different, I would have written Arlene’s name automatically.

  “I’ll be there at dark,” he said.

  I looked up into his pale face, the clear whites of his eyes almost shining in the gloomy room.

  “I’ll heal you,” he offered. “Let me give you some blood.”

  I remembered the way my hair had lightened, remembered that I was almost twice as strong as I’d ever been. I shook my head.

  “Why not?” he said, as if he’d offered me a drink of water when I was thirsty and I’d said no. I thought maybe I’d hurt his feelings.

  I took his hand and guided it to my mouth. I kissed the palm gently. I held the hand to my better cheek.

  “People notice I am changing,” I wrote, after a moment. “I notice I am changing.”

  He bowed his head for a moment, and then looked at me sadly.

  “You know what happened?” I wrote.

  “Bubba told me part of it,” he said, and his face grew scary as he mentioned the half-witted vampire. “Sam told me the rest, and I went to the police department and read the police reports.”

  “Andy let you do that?” I scribbled.

  “No one knew I was there,” he said carelessly.

  I tried to imagine that, and it gave me the creeps.

  I gave him a disapproving look.

  “Tell me what happened in New Orleans,” I wrote. I was beginning to feel sleepy again.

  “You will have to know a little about us,” he said hesitantly.

  “Woo woo, secret vampire stuff!!” I croaked.

  It was his turn to give me disapproving.

  “We’re a little organized,” he told me. “I was trying to think of ways to keep us safe from Eric.” Involuntarily, I looked at the red flower arrangement.

  “I knew if I were an official, like Eric, it would be much more difficult for him to interfere with my private life.”

  I looked encouraging, or at least I tried to.

  “So I attended the regional meeting, and though I have never been involved in our politics, I ran for an office. And, through some concentrated lobbying, I won!”

  This was absolutely amazing. Bill was a union rep? I wondered about the concentrated lobbying, too. Did that mean Bill had killed all the opposition? Or that he’d bought the voters a bottle of A positive apiece?

  “What is your job?” I wrote slowly, imagining Bill sitting in a meeting. I tried to look proud, which seemed to be what Bill was looking for.

  “I’m the Fifth Area investigator,” he said. “I’ll tell you what that means when you’re home. I don’t want to wear you out.”

  I nodded, beaming at him. I sure hoped he didn’t take it into his head to ask me who all the flowers were from. I wondered if I had to write Eric a thank-you note. I wondered why my mind was going off on all these tangents. Must be the pain medication.

  I gestured to Bill to draw close. He did, his face resting on the bed next to mine. “Don’t kill Rene,” I whispered.

  He looked cold, colder, coldest.

  “I may have already done the job. He’s in intensive care. But even if he lives, there’s been enough murder. Let the law do it. I don’t want any more witchhunts coming after you. I want us to have peace.” It was becoming very difficult to talk. I took his hand in both of mine, held it again to my least-bruised cheek. Suddenly, how much I had missed him became a solid lump lodged in my chest, and I held out my arms. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed, and leaning toward me, he carefully, carefully, slid his arms under me and pulled me up to him, a fraction of an inch at a time, to give me time to tell him if it hurt.

  “I won’t kill him,” Bill said finally, into my ear.

  “Sweetheart,” I breathed, knowing his sharp hearing could pick it up. “I missed you.” I heard his quick sigh, and his arms tightened a little, his hands began their gentle stroking down my back. “I wonder how quickly you can heal,” he said, “without my help?”

  “Oh, I’ll try to hurry,” I whispered. “I’ll bet I surprise the doctor as it is.”

  A collie trotted down the corridor, looked in the open door, said, “Rowwf,” and trotted away. Astonished, Bill turned to glance out into the corridor. Oh, yeah, it was the full moon, tonight—I could see it out of the window. I could see something else, too. A white face appeared out of the blackness and floated between me and the moon. It was a handsome face, framed by long golden hair. Eric the Vampire grinned at me and gradually disappeared from my view. He was flying.

  “Soon we’ll be back to normal,” Bill said, laying me down gently so he could switch out the light in the bathroom. He glowed in the dark.

  “Right,” I whispered. “Yeah. Back to normal.”

 


 

  Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark

  (Series: Sookie Stackhouse # 1)

 

 


 

 
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