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Dead until dark, p.6
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       Dead Until Dark, p.6

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
“No matter. Look at my face.” And he stepped in front of me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders, and looked down at me. I could see the faint shine of his skin and eyes, and I peered up at him, wondering if I’d begin to squawk like a chicken or take my clothes off.

  But what happened was . . . nothing. I felt only the nearly druglike relaxation of being with him.

  “Can you feel my influence?” he asked. He sounded a little breathless.

  “Not a bit, I’m sorry,” I said humbly. “I just see you glow.”

  “You can see that?” I’d surprised him again.

  “Sure. Can’t everyone?”

  “No. This is strange, Sookie.”

  “If you say so. Can I see you levitate?”

  “Right here?” Bill sounded amused.

  “Sure, why not? Unless there’s a reason?”

  “No, none at all.” And he let go of my arms and began to rise.

  I breathed a sigh of pure rapture. He floated up in the dark, gleaming like white marble in the moonlight. When he was about two feet off the ground, he began hovering. I thought he was smiling down at me.

  “Can all of you do that?” I asked.

  “Can you sing?”

  “Nope, can’t carry a tune.”

  “Well, we can’t all do the same things, either.” Bill came down slowly and landed on the ground without a thump. “Most humans are squeamish about vampires. You don’t seem to be,” he commented.

  I shrugged. Who was I to be squeamish about something out of the ordinary? He seemed to understand because, after a pause, during which we’d resumed walking, Bill said, “Has it always been hard for you?”

  “Yes, always.” I couldn’t say otherwise, though I didn’t want to whine. “When I was very small, that was worst, because I didn’t know how to put up my guard, and I heard thoughts I wasn’t supposed to hear, of course, and I repeated them like a child will. My parents didn’t know what to do about me. It embarrassed my father, in particular. My mother finally took me to a child psychologist, who knew exactly what I was, but she just couldn’t accept it and kept trying to tell my folks I was reading their body language and was very observant, so I had good reason to imagine I heard people’s thoughts. Of course, she couldn’t admit I was literally hearing people’s thoughts because that just didn’t fit into her world.

  “And I did poorly in school because it was so hard for me to concentrate when so few others were. But when there was testing, I would test very high because the other kids were concentrating on their own papers . . . that gave me a little leeway. Sometimes my folks thought I was lazy for not doing well on everyday work. Sometimes the teachers thought I had a learning disability; oh, you wouldn’t believe the theories. I must have had my eyes and ears tested every two months, seemed like, and brain scans . . . gosh. My poor folks paid through the nose. But they never could accept the simple truth. At least outwardly, you know?”

  “But they knew inside.”

  “Yes. Once, when my dad was trying to decide whether to back a man who wanted to open an auto parts store, he asked me to sit with him when the man came to the house. After the man left, my dad took me outside and looked away and said, ‘Sookie, is he telling the truth?’ It was the strangest moment.”

  “How old were you?”

  “I must’ve been less than seven ’cause they died when I was in the second grade.”

  “How?”

  “Flash flood. Caught them on the bridge west of here.”

  Bill didn’t comment. Of course, he’d seen deaths piled upon deaths.

  “Was the man lying?” he asked after a few seconds had gone by.

  “Oh, yes. He planned to take Daddy’s money and run.”

  “You have a gift.”

  “Gift. Right.” I could feel the corners of my mouth pull down.

  “It makes you different from other humans.”

  “You’re telling me.” We walked for a moment in silence. “So you don’t consider yourself human at all?”

  “I haven’t for a long time.”

  “Do you really believe you’ve lost your soul?” That was what the Catholic Church was preaching about vampires.

  “I have no way of knowing,” Bill said, almost casually. It was apparent that he’d brooded over it so often it was quite a commonplace thought to him. “Personally, I think not. There is something in me that isn’t cruel, not murderous, even after all these years. Though I can be both.”

  “It’s not your fault you were infected with a virus.”

  Bill snorted, even managing to sound elegant doing that. “There have been theories as long as there have been vampires. Maybe that one is true.” Then he looked as if he was sorry he’d said that. “If what makes a vampire is a virus,” he went on in a more offhand manner, “it’s a selective one.”

  “How do you become a vampire?” I’d read all kinds of stuff, but this would be straight from the horse’s mouth.

  “I would have to drain you, at one sitting or over two or three days, to the point of your death, then give you my blood. You would lie like a corpse for about forty-eight hours, sometimes as long as three days, then rise and walk at night. And you would be hungry.”

  The way he said “hungry” made me shiver.

  “No other way?”

  “Other vampires have told me humans they habitually bite, day after day, can become vampires quite unexpectedly. But that requires consecutive, deep, feedings. Others, under the same conditions, merely become anemic. Then again, when people are near to death for some other reason, a car accident or a drug overdose, perhaps, the process can go . . . badly wrong.”

  I was getting the creepies. “Time to change the subject. What do you plan on doing with the Compton land?”

  “I plan on living there, as long as I can. I’m tired of drifting from city to city. I grew up in the country. Now that I have a legal right to exist, and I can go to Monroe or Shreveport or New Orleans for synthetic blood or prostitutes who specialize in our kind, I want to stay here. At least see if it’s possible. I’ve been roaming for decades.”

  “What kind of shape is the house in?”

  “Pretty bad,” he admitted. “I’ve been trying to clean it out. That I can do at night. But I need workmen to get some repairs done. I’m not bad at carpentry, but I don’t know a thing about electricity.”

  Of course, he wouldn’t.

  “It seems to me the house may need rewiring,” Bill continued, sounding for all the world like any other anxious homeowner.

  “Do you have a phone?”

  “Sure,” he said, surprised.

  “So what’s the problem with the workmen?”

  “It’s hard to get in touch with them at night, hard to get them to meet with me so I can explain what needs doing. They’re scared, or they think it’s a prank call.” Frustration was evident in Bill’s voice, though his face was turned away from me.

  I laughed. “If you want, I’ll call them,” I offered. “They know me. Even though everyone thinks I’m crazy, they know I’m honest.”

  “That would be a great favor,” Bill said, after some hesitation. “They could work during the day, after I’d met with them to discuss the job and the cost.”

  “What an inconvenience, not being able to get out in the day,” I said thoughtlessly. I’d never really considered it before.

  Bill’s voice was dry. “It certainly is.”

  “And having to hide your resting place,” I blundered on.

  When I felt the quality of Bill’s silence, I apologized.

  “I’m sorry,” I said. If it hadn’t been so dark, he would have seen me turn red.

  “A vampire’s daytime resting place is his most closely guarded secret,” Bill said stiffly.

  “I apologize.”

  “I accept,” he said, after a bad little moment. We reached the road and looked up and down it as if we expected a taxi. I could see him clearly by the moonlight, now that we were out of the trees. He could see me, too. He lo
oked me up and down.

  “Your dress is the color of your eyes.”

  “Thank you.” I sure couldn’t see him that clearly.

  “Not a lot of it, though.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “It’s hard for me to get used to young ladies with so few clothes on,” Bill said.

  “You’ve had a few decades to get used to it,” I said tartly. “Come on, Bill! Dresses have been short for forty years now!”

  “I liked long skirts,” he said nostalgically. “I liked the underthings women wore. The petticoats.”

  I made a rude noise.

  “Do you even have a petticoat?” he asked.

  “I have a very pretty beige nylon slip with lace,” I said indignantly. “If you were a human guy, I’d say you were angling for me to talk about my underwear!”

  He laughed, that deep, unused chuckle that affected me so strongly. “Do you have that slip on, Sookie?”

  I stuck out my tongue at him because I knew he could see me. I edged the skirt of my dress up, revealing the lace of the slip and a couple more inches of tanned me.

  “Happy?” I asked.

  “You have pretty legs, but I still like long dresses better.”

  “You’re stubborn,” I told him.

  “That’s what my wife always told me.”

  “You were married.”

  “Yes, I became a vampire when I was thirty. I had a wife, and I had five living children. My sister, Sarah, lived with us. She never wed. Her young man was killed in the war.”

  “The Civil War.”

  “Yes. I came back from the battlefield. I was one of the lucky ones. At least I thought so at the time.”

  “You fought for the Confederacy,” I said wonderingly. “If you still had your uniform and wore it to the club, the ladies would faint with joy.”

  “I hadn’t much of a uniform by the end of the war,” he said grimly. “We were in rags and starving.” He seemed to shake himself. “It had no meaning for me after I became vampire,” Bill said, his voice once again chilly and remote.

  “I’ve brought up something that upset you,” I said. “I am sorry. What should we talk about?” We turned and began to stroll back down the driveway toward the house.

  “Your life,” he said. “Tell me what you do when you get up in the morning.”

  “I get out of bed. Then I make it up right away. I eat breakfast. Toast, sometimes cereal, sometimes eggs, and coffee—and I brush my teeth and shower and dress. Sometimes I shave my legs, you know. If it’s a workday, I go in to work. If I don’t go in until night, I might go shopping, or take Gran to the store, or rent a movie to watch, or sunbathe. And I read a lot. I’m lucky Gran is still spry. She does the wash and the ironing and most of the cooking.”

  “What about young men?”

  “Oh, I told you about that. It’s just impossible.”

  “So what will you do, Sookie?” he asked gently.

  “Grow old and die.” My voice was short. He’d touched on my sensitive area once too often.

  To my surprise, Bill reached over and took my hand. Now that we’d made each other a little angry, touched some sore spots, the air seemed somehow clearer. In the quiet night, a breeze wafted my hair around my face.

  “Take the clip out?” Bill asked.

  No reason not to. I reclaimed my hand and reached up to open the clip. I shook my head to loosen my hair. I stuck the clip in his pocket, since I hadn’t any. As if it was the most normal thing in the world, Bill began running his fingers through my hair, spreading it out on my shoulders.

  I touched his sideburns, since apparently touching was okay. “They’re long,” I observed.

  “That was the fashion,” he said. “It’s lucky for me I didn’t wear a beard as so many men did, or I’d have it for eternity.”

  “You never have to shave?”

  “No, luckily I had just shaven.” He seemed fascinated with my hair. “In the moonlight, it looks silver,” he said very quietly.

  “Ah. What do you like to do?”

  I could see a shadow of a smile in the darkness.

  “I like to read, too.” He thought. “I like the movies . . . of course, I’ve followed their whole inception. I like the company of people who lead ordinary lives. Sometimes I crave the company of other vampires, though most of them lead very different lives from mine.”

  We walked in silence for a moment.

  “Do you like television?”

  “Sometimes,” he confessed. “For a while I taped soap operas and watched them at night when I thought I might be forgetting what it was like to be human. After a while I stopped, because from the examples I saw on those shows, forgetting humanity was a good thing.” I laughed.

  We walked into the circle of light around the house. I had half-expected Gran to be on the porch swing waiting for us, but she wasn’t. And only one dim bulb glowed in the living room. Really, Gran, I thought, exasperated. This was just like being brought home from a first date by a new man. I actually caught myself wondering if Bill would try to kiss me or not. With his views on long dresses, he would probably think it was out of line. But as stupid as kissing a vampire might seem, I realized that was what I really wanted to do, more than anything.

  I got a tight feeling in my chest, a bitterness, at another thing I was denied. And I thought, Why not?

  I stopped him by pulling gently on his hand. I stretched up and lay my lips on his shining cheek. I inhaled the scent of him, ordinary but faintly salty. He was wearing a trace of cologne.

  I felt him shudder. He turned his head so his lips touched mine. After a moment, I reached to circle his neck with my arms. His kiss deepened, and I parted my lips. I’d never been kissed like this. It went on and on until I thought the whole world was involved in this kiss in the vampire’s mouth on mine. I could feel my breathing speeding up, and I began to want other things to happen.

  Suddenly Bill pulled back. He looked shaken, which pleased me no end. “Good night, Sookie,” he said, stroking my hair one last time.

  “Good night, Bill,” I said. I sounded pretty quavery myself. “I’ll try to call some electricians tomorrow. I’ll let you know what they say.”

  “Come by the house tomorrow night—if you’re off work?”

  “Yes,” I said. I was still trying to gather myself.

  “See you then. Thanks, Sookie.” And he turned away to walk through the woods back over to his place. Once he reached the darkness, he was invisible.

  I stood staring like a fool, until I shook myself and went inside to go to bed.

  I spent an indecent amount of time lying awake in bed wondering if the undead could actually do—it. Also, I wondered if it would be possible to have a frank discussion with Bill about that. Sometimes he seemed very old-fashioned, sometimes he seemed as normal as the guy next door. Well, not really, but pretty normal.

  It seemed both wonderful and pathetic to me that the one creature I’d met in years that I’d want to have sex with was actually not human. My telepathy limited my options severely. I could have had sex just to have it, sure; but I had waited to have sex I could actually enjoy.

  What if we did it, and after all these years I discovered I had no talent for it? Or maybe it wouldn’t feel good. Maybe all the books and movies exaggerated. Arlene, too, who never seemed to understand that her sex life was not something I wanted to hear about.

  I finally got to sleep, to have long, dark dreams.

  The next morning, between fielding Gran’s questions about my walk with Bill and our future plans, I made some phone calls. I found two electricians, a plumber, and some other service people who gave me phone numbers where they could be reached at night and made sure they understood that a phone call from Bill Compton was not a prank.

  Finally, I was lying out in the sun turning toasty when Gran carried the phone out to me.

  “It’s your boss,” she said. Gran liked Sam, and he must have said something to make her happy because she was grinning l
ike a Cheshire cat.

  “Hi, Sam,” I said, maybe not sounding too glad because I knew something had gone wrong at work.

  “Dawn didn’t make it in, cher,” he said.

  “Oh . . . hell,” I said, knowing I’d have to go in. “I kind of have plans, Sam.” That was a first. “When do you need me?”

  “Could you just come in from five to nine? That would help out a lot.”

  “Am I gonna get another full day off?”

  “What about Dawn splitting a shift with you another night?”

  I made a rude noise, and Gran stood there with a stern face. I knew I’d get a lecture later. “Oh, all right,” I said grudgingly. “See you at five.”

  “Thanks, Sookie,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.”

  I tried to feel good about that. It seemed like a boring virtue. You can always count on Sookie to step in and help because she doesn’t have a life!

  Of course, it would be fine to get to Bill’s after nine. He’d be up all night, anyway.

  Work had never seemed so slow. I had trouble concentrating enough to keep my guard intact because I was always thinking about Bill. It was lucky there weren’t many customers, or I would have heard unwanted thoughts galore. As it was, I found out Arlene’s period was late, and she was scared she was pregnant, and before I could stop myself I gave her a hug. She stared at me searchingly and then turned red in the face.

  “Did you read my mind, Sookie?” she asked, warning written in her voice. Arlene was one of the few people who simply acknowledged my ability without trying to explain it or categorizing me as a freak for possessing such an ability. She also didn’t talk about it often or in any normal voice, I’d noticed.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” I apologized. “I’m just not focused today.”

  “All right, then. You stay out from now on, though.” And Arlene, her flaming curls bobbing around her cheeks, shook her finger in my face.

  I felt like crying. “Sorry,” I said again and strode off into the storeroom to collect myself. I had to pull my face straight and hold in those tears.

  I heard the door open behind me.

  “Hey, I said I was sorry, Arlene!” I snapped, wanting to be left alone. Sometimes Arlene confused telepathy with psychic talent. I was scared she’d ask me if she was really pregnant. She’d be better off buying an early home pregnancy kit.

 
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