6. The Pretender

Chapter 6 – The Pretender

I had to get so many stories straight with different people I felt like I was covering up a major crime. Before I could go home we had to establish what everyone in the town had been told about my sudden leaving. Other than Gran and Jason no-one else knew I had been sent to Valmont, my parents’ friends and neighbours were told I had gone to live on a working farm for teenagers with behavioural problems. I guess telling people your daughter was an unruly bitch on wheels was better than admitting you had her locked up in the Looney bin.

So we wouldn’t have to explain my sudden reintroduction to society, which was good. There were conflicting stories about what I had been doing, whenever any of the townsfolk asked about me Gran would tell them I was furthering my education but Jason said I was a waitress, not too much of a stretch to tell people I had worked while at college. As to what I was doing now, well apparently at college I got an MBA and now I work in personnel for a prominent New Orleans business woman, if that’s what Bill told me I was to tell people that’s what I’ll do, I just hope no-one asks to see any certificates or wants me to prove my business skills!

I packed enough clothes to last for the couple of days I’d be gone, casual for the day and my dress just in case. I also remembered to take my debit card in the event I needed to buy some books to keep me occupied, I doubt anyone else in Bon Temps will be keeping vampire hours and I don’t want to upset my routines too much.

It was agreed that a driver would take me to Shreveport and stay with me until I was able to check in with the local Sherriff, then Jason would come to take me back to Bon Temps. My driver never told me his name and made it quite clear that talking to me was an option he wasn’t interested in, I was bored out of my mind before we got on I-49. I couldn’t even pass the time chatting to anyone because I hadn’t bought a cell phone yet.

Every area’s Sherriff had to have a place where vampires could meet with them, congregate and socialise and bar’s were the safest option pre and post revelation. Bill had told me a lot about how they work things, Hadley and Frank told me stuff too but it was mainly gossip not history or politics. We stopped outside a drab building; I could see the neon signs said ‘Fangtasia’ even thought they weren’t lit up yet. Fang-tasia? I snorted internally; someone’s got a sense of humour! It wasn’t quite dark yet but I got out of the car and turned when I heard someone shouting my name

“Mr. Burnham!” He knew I was coming here today, same as I had to check in with the Sherriff, his day person would be made available to see to any needs I had.

“Miss Stackhouse, it’s lovely to see you again. How was your trip?”

“Quiet” I looked at my driver and he just raised an eyebrow at my comment. Thank you Mr. Personality.

“Well, I’ve got a key so we can wait inside for my Master, maybe have that coffee?”

At this point I would have been glad to converse with a pineapple “That sounds great Mr. Burnham.”

“Please call me Bobby!”

“Only if you call me Sookie.”

“Sookie? That’s … unusual.” I shrugged “But very pretty!”

Nice comeback. Bobby let us into the bar, I was very interested in what it looked like, I’d never been in a bar before. Unlike many families we didn’t eat out often when I was young so bars, restaurants, cafes, they were all out of bounds for me. It was … well … a vampire bar! Lots of black, red and grey decor, posters of famous TV and Movie vampires adorned the walls. Warning signs covered one wall, I may have turned a little green at the one that said ‘humans expose their necks at their own risk’, I immediately checked to see how much jugular I was flashing.

Bobby went behind the bar and came back with two large mugs of coffee, setting them on the table before picking up my bags and asking if he can store them in his Master’s office for the moment. We sat and chatted about what I’d done the night before, Bobby was very impressed and I could hear him thinking that he was finally able to talk to a nice human woman, who would totally accept his career choice and share intelligent conversation. I kinda felt for him and understood his attraction to me, but I couldn’t reciprocate, his mind was far too loud.

I heard the door open and close and heard heels clacking on the concrete floor, three humans, female, waitresses. They didn’t like Bobby and they weren’t impressed that I was on their ‘turf’.

“She a new girl Bobby?”

“No Ginger” Bobby sneered “Miss Stackhouse is visiting us from the New Orleans Headquarters.”

I stood and turned to smile at her, extending my hand. She just chewed on her gum and looked at me, snapping a bubble and twirling a finger in her hair. She was thinking that I looked uptight enough to be a headquarters kind of girl and wondered where my bite marks were because they sure weren’t on my neck. The other two waitresses gave me the same kind of head to toe stare and one of them, Kerry, concluded that I must be a rare blood type sent to the Master as a gift. I shuddered.

Just then Ginger’s eyes snapped to someone behind me “Master!” she bowed and scraped and the other two waitresses joined in. I didn’t even see people act like this for Sophie-Ann; this guy must really think he’s something. I turned around and Oh Lordy! Its Mr Caribbean eyes Viking. He reached out and took one of my hands kissing the back

“Miss Stackhouse. How delightful to see you again.”

“Thank you Sherriff Northman, I understand you require my signature on some documents before I run off to Bon Temps.”

“A formality. If you would like to come with me we’ll get the paperwork out of the way, I was hoping you would join me for a drink, we didn’t get to have much conversation at the compound.”

“Uh … well maybe one drink wouldn’t hurt.” I didn’t want to refuse such a polite host. Kerry was trying to decide if I was very very important or very very good in bed because the Master never spoke or treated any of them like that. Bobby was as shocked as the waitresses but he was pleased his Master was showing me the respect I deserved. I was led to a medium sized office which contained a large desk, a couple of bistro style chairs and a worn but comfy looking leather couch. My bags had been left next to the couch, good; I was worried Bobby would have stored them so well I’d have to ask him to get them for me.

“I trust Bobby kept you entertained while you waited for me.”

“Oh yes Sherriff Northman, he made me coffee and everything!”

“We can dispense with the official titles Sookie; I would very much like you to call me Eric.”

Don’t blush, don’t blush. Shit, too late. I felt my cheeks heat up and watched an annoying, but very sexy, smirk form on his lips. Why did he have to be in charge of area 5? He’d made quite the impression on me; I mean who wouldn’t he leave an impression on? He was very very attractive and even though I could tell he knew that, it didn’t seem to negate his allure.

“Okay Eric. Let’s get these papers dealt with and we can chat for a bit.” He smiled and pushed some forms towards my side of the desk with a pen on top of them. One of them was a disclaimer that if I left the safety of his area he couldn’t be held accountable for any fates that may befall me. One was confirming the address I would be staying at but the last one made me very angry.

“What is this?”

“I can see you’re upset but please hear me out.” I sat back and crossed my arms “I read over your contract and the Queen consulted with me about your fears of being fed on without your consent. Whenever you enter an area you are under the care of its Sherriff and allowing them to claim you as theirs could save your life if you are approached by a vampire in their area.”

“So I just sign this form and if any vamps try to bite me I show it to them?”

“No, you would have to tell the vampire that you belong to me.”

“WHAT? No. No way. I don’t belong to anyone, I’m a contracted employee!”

“Vampires in court and the hierarchy know that but your average vampire on the street doesn’t. We’re very guarded about your presense and don’t want every vampire knowing who you are. In Fangtasia for example we can have 15 vampires on one night, yet only myself and Pam will know who you are. If you don’t belong to a vampire you’re fair game. We’re just trying to protect you; all of the Sherriff’s agreed that it’s a good idea when you are in their area. The Queen is very … enthusiastic about your safety and comfort.”

I found it hard to be indignant when he’d explained things so well. I picked up the pen and started to sign the form, the last thing I wanted if I was scanning humans in the vampire bars was horny vampires thinking I was a free agent.

“You know it would work even better if you smelled like me.”

“Excuse me?”

“If you were truly mine you would have my scent on you.” Well that explained Bill’s twitchy nose when I’d been with Frank.

“Is there a way to do that without being … intimate?”

“Yes, but it’s not as much fun. Do you have a scarf or something that you could wear around your neck?”

“I have a bandanna to wear in my hair, is that okay?”

“It will do. I’m going to rub my scent onto it so you don’t have to worry about bathing. As long as you don’t wash the bandanna you should be good for a couple of days.”

I fished the bandanna out of my bag and when I turned around Eric had his shirt off. I was literally speechless; I held the fabric out to him with a shaky hand trying not to look at my first naked male torso and what a torso it was. The nurses at Valmont had a hunky men calendar near their desk and the guys in that had nothing on Eric. I watched him rub the fabric against his face, neck, chest, upper arms, down to his abs and oh my! It’s very warm in here. That was the last thought I had before the floor zoomed towards my face at an alarming rate.

I could hear voices from far away. A woman was asking what had he done to me, I didn’t know who she was, I wasn’t sure which ‘he’ she was referring to, let alone what that person may or may not have done to me. There was another noise, a door, a voice a little louder and clearer

“Master! What happened to Sookie … and why don’t you have a shirt on?” Bobby? He was thinking that his Master better not have touched me because I was far too nice to be treated like the other women who come into Fangtasia. Ah! Now I remembered where I was and what happened.

“She’s coming round, Bobby go and get a glass of water.”

“Of course Pam.”

Hmm … the woman was called Pam. I tentatively started to sit up, keeping my eyes closed. I asked if Eric had a shirt on yet and heard rustling fabric and an amused ‘yes’. I opened my eyes to find two smiling vampires; Eric and an equally blonde female who looked a little like a milk-maid with fangs. Bobby came in with a glass of water and handed it to me

“Sookie, are you okay? What happened, are you ill?”

“I’m fine Bobby; I was just a little … overwhelmed.” I noticed the way Eric was looking at me “Y’know, with all the forms and signing. I’m new to all of this.”

Bobby nodded and was dismissed by Eric; he didn’t really believe my excuse for fainting. Eric didn’t believe it either but hid his smirk behind tented fingers. Pam crossed her arms and stood in front of me, eyeing me like a judge at a dog show trying to work out whether I was a prize winning pooch or a mangy mongrel.

“So this is the Queen’s telepath? She smells … different.”

“I’m right here you know! It’s rude to talk about someone like they’re not even in the room!” Pam and Eric raised their eyebrows “I was wondering if it would be possible for me to use your phone. I need to call my brother to come and pick me up.”

“No need, I will take you to Bon Temps myself.”

Pam whipped round to stare at Eric like he’d just announced he liked to pretend he was Olivia Newton-John on Friday nights. I took this to mean that Eric didn’t offer to drive people to backwater towns very often. The last thing I really wanted was to be alone with Eric, the effect he had on my bodily functions was very worrying but I didn’t want to take the chance that refusing his hospitality might make him less amenable to keeping me safe now or in the future.

“It’s very kind of you to offer and it would save him the trip out here but I still need to call him to let him know how I’m getting into town.”

“Of course, that’s very responsible Sookie.” He pushed a phone to the edge of the desk and I went over and picked up the handset before he looked at me intensely “Are you always such a good girl Sookie?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by that, so I’ll yes for the time being.”

I called Jason, he was a little put out that we wouldn’t be spending quality time together driving back from Shreveport but I told him we’d have all of tomorrow day and night to talk and he could drive me back to Shreveport on Thursday afternoon. For the entirety of my call Pam was speaking to Eric in hushed tones and showing him what looked like invoices but Eric kept his eyes on me the whole time. I hung up and went back to the couch sipping on my water until Eric told Pam to go and mind the door, when she left he leaned back in his chair and looked at me like I was a puzzle waiting to be solved.

“Sookie, would you like to accompany me into the bar for that drink?”

“I’m not sure. It’s been a tiring day and I’d like to get to Bon Temps and see my family but I’ve never drank in a bar before so I’m wondering if I should get it over with and see what the fuss is about.” He laughed, it was a nice deep, rumbling laugh.

“You’ve never been in a bar and you pass out when you see a half naked man. Where on earth did the Queen find you – a convent?”

I just smiled my ‘crazy Sookie’ smile and stood up “Shall we?”

He nodded and held out his hand for me to take, which I thought was strange; he backed up to his desk and pulled me towards him. My heart felt like it was going to burst through my rib cage it was hammering so hard, but relief flooded me when he reached back and picked up my, now Eric scented, bandanna to tie in my hair. Once it was tied he pressed his hand to the small of my back and ushered me out into the bar area. This guy was touchy feely for a vamp and it kind of threw me for a loop.

The place was packed, there were men and women dressed in leather and latex trying to look like stereotypical vampires. There were others dressed in smart/casual clothes with cameras, they looked like tourists. There were also a fair few vampires dotted around. As we walked out onto the floor, I noticed Kerry and the other waitress; they looked at me like I was pond scum and wondered what the hell was so special about me. Eric noticed Kerry sneering at me and caught her attention, pointing to an empty booth. The fact that there was an empty booth when the place was so busy led me to believe that this was Eric’s personal space and was always reserved just for him. We sat either side of the table and Kerry sauntered over, giving smouldering looks to Eric and flipping her hair before asking if there was anything that he needed.

“Kerry, Miss Stackhouse is our esteemed guest here, you should be trying to impress her with your customer service skills rather than shooting daggers at her and ignoring the fact she is sitting at this table without a drink.”

He said it quiet enough that only the three of us would have heard and Kerry looked apologetic before taking my drink order and stomping off thinking that if I took her Master’s attention away from her before she could have sex with him she’d kill me. I blanched and suddenly found my fingernails were the most interesting thing on the planet.

“You don’t get any luxuries, do you Sookie?”

“What do you mean?”

“I could see that you obviously heard something that disturbed you from Kerry’s mind. It must be hard finding out what everyone thinks of you, complementary or otherwise.”

“Well, that’s why I like being around vampires. I can’t ‘hear’ you. Where your thoughts should be there’s just a space, not a complete blankness but more like a bubble of nothing if you know what I mean. I know the brain is there but I don’t know what’s running through it.”

“So you can only read humans?”

“Well I’ve found that I can read Were’s if I touch them and concentrate really hard, but they also have to be trying to project a thought to me. If they aren’t its just colourful swirls of mist.”

“Interesting. You never answered me before.”

“Before?”

“When I asked where Sophie-Ann found you.”

“Oh that.” Kerry came back with my drink, smiling sweetly; I kept out of her mind this time. “Okay a) I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell you, b) I’m not sure I want to tell you and c) I don’t think you’d want to know.”

He laughed again and took a cell phone from his pocket; it looked like he was sending a text. I was counting the days until I got paid again so I could learn all that stuff. He sat smirking at me until his phone started chirping and he checked what was obviously a reply to whatever he sent.

“Well Sookie, a) Sophie-Ann just confirmed that you can tell anyone protecting you about your past, b) I hope that if I haven’t earned your trust for you to divulge this, that I will in the near future and c) I find myself wanting to know every little detail about you.” The strange thing was I found myself wanting to tell Eric every little detail about myself.

“Well, I’ll save it for the drive to Bon Temps; it’ll give us something to talk about.”

As it turned out I spent most of the drive to Gran’s house with my eyes screwed shut and a death grip on either side of the passenger seat of Eric’s Corvette, there was very little talking. Mr. NASCAR eventually slowed down to 80mph when he heard me muttering the Lord’s Prayer under my breath.

“Sookie, with my superior vampire senses there is very little chance of us being involved in an accident.”

“Yes, well there is still a chance and although you might be immortal, I am not.”

“No you aren’t” he glanced at me “Now, I believe you offered to inform me of how the Queen came to meet you.”

“Oh that. You know that new injured vampire facility in New Orleans?”

“Ah! Yes, you worked there?”

“No. It used to be part of a hospital, Valmont mental hospital. Hadley spotted me on a balcony when she and Sophie-Ann came to see some vampires.”

“You were a nurse in the mental hospital?”

“No. Stop interrupting me! I was a patient there. My … telepathy was hard for people to understand when I was young and I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. I was sent there when I was 16 and spent 9 years pretending I was mentally ill.”

I told him everything, even about how I used my mind reading to avoid the sexual violence that occurs when male guards are in charge of vulnerable young women. Turns out when you scream enough about certain guards and wake up an entire facility, they end up keeping those guards away from you to make everyone’s lives easier.

*****A/N: I know that last part is just wishful thinking but I want to spare Sookie the trauma*****

He stopped in front of Gran’s house and looked at me “Sookie you have missed so much of the world, I know the Queen has a soft spot for you and her past has much to do with that. You must be very careful now, you know vampires and the supernatural world can be very dangerous but like a family pet they can turn on you if you make the wrong move. Learn much and quickly, your innocence will make you a target and always trust your gut instinct. I will always make myself available to answer any questions you might have. Have a nice time with your family.”

“Thank you Eric, I will.”

I opened the car door and saw Gran peeking through the curtains. I waved and grabbed my bags as she almost tore the front door off its hinges to get to me and pull me into hug. Jason was right behind her and he hugged us both before Gran pulled me inside.

“Sookie, I’ve been waiting for this day so long child!”

“Me too Gran. I missed you all so much.”

“We missed you too Sook.” Jason left my bags in the hallway and pulled me onto a sofa next to him “Even though I’m not sure about you working for the vampires, I’m glad you’re out of the nut house.”

“Jason!”

“No Gran, it’s okay! I call it that too sometimes, even when I lived there. I know vampires are scary but they’re treating me real nice and keeping me safe.”

“Safe?” Gran had a look of horror on her face “Why would you need to be kept safe?”

“From the Fellowship loonies, from hungry vampires, from people who don’t like that I know what they’re thinking.”

“Oh my! I knew it was dangerous but I had no idea!”

“It’s okay Gran. I have a guard during the day, Frank, he’s … special, I like him a lot. At night I have a vampire called Bill who guards me but also teaches me all about vampires and their history and politics and Hadley spends time with me too.”

“So uh…” Jason was rubbing the back of his neck “Was that Bill? Who dropped you off in the ‘vette?”

“No, that was Eric. He’s kind of my vampire guide when I’m here. I’ll have different guards and guides in different places.”

“Sookie! Bodyguards and guides? It’s like you’re famous or something!”

“Well, that’s the thing Gran, in the vampire world I am. Telepath’s are pretty rare, there’s a lot of work for me with them, as much as a lot of humans don’t trust them, they don’t trust humans much either. Just last week I heard that a vampire businessman in Mobile was duped by his human girlfriend, drained of his blood and robbed of anything he owned.”

“Why would they drain a vampire Sookie?” Gran looked thoroughly confused but Jason stepped in

“Vampire blood is like a drug, they call it ‘V’, I’ve heard of some people who’ve taken it.” I could see in Jason’s head that he’d been tempted but chickened out, ever the athlete; his only poisons were beer and burgers.

We chatted for a long time, I assured them that the only time my blood had been drawn was when I shaved my legs and lost my concentration for a second. Jason said his goodbyes and I kept Gran up until 2am talking about Frank.

OoOoO

The next day I was woken by voices outside my bedroom door at 11am. Gran and Jason were debating whether to wake me up or not. Gran thought it wasn’t healthy to sleep this late and Jason figured I would be a night owl these days and didn’t really need to be awake during the day. I spared them both any further arguing by putting on my robe and opening my door.

“I’m up. A little earlier than I’m used to, I keep vampire hours these days.”

I could hear Gran muttering her disapproval as she shuffled back towards the kitchen but Jason gave me a bright smile and suggested I get dressed and go somewhere called Merlotte’s for something to eat. I showered and pulled on my jeans and a cute fitted plaid short sleeved shirt and met up with them in the living room.

I was making sure I had some cash in my wallet when there was a pounding at the door. Gran answered it, very annoyed that a simple knock wasn’t good enough for whoever was visiting us. On the front porch were a sweaty man in a pit-stained shirt and tie and another man in uniform, a closer look told me that he was the town Sherriff.

“Mrs. Stackhouse.”He nodded to her “We were hoping to talk to Jason here.”

“Why would you want to talk to my Grandson?”

“It’s just an enquiry Mrs. Stackhouse; we won’t keep him but a minute.”

I could see in his head that a girl had been killed and that Jason was the last person seen with her, in his opinion that made my brother the most likely suspect and he was hoping to pin this on him so he didn’t have to do so much work. I was livid. Jason stepped forward.

“Bud, Andy. What can I do for you?”

“Maudette Pickens was found murdered last night and you were the last person seen with her. Where were you between the hours of 10pm and 1am last night?”

“I was here with my Gran and sister. I got here not long after dark, we were waiting on a call from Sookie so I could pick her up in Shreveport but she got a … friend to bring her here instead. We stayed up talking; I left about 12.30 to go home to bed.”

The Sherriff, Bud, looked at me and Gran. He wasn’t happy that Jason had an alibi at all and he was wondering how convenient that his sister showed up the same night Maudette had been murdered. I remembered a Maudette from school, she was in the same class as me and teased me something awful, I wouldn’t kill her though.

“You two ladies confirm this?”

We nodded and the two policemen trudged away dejected. Jason turned and looked at me; he knew I’d been reading their minds the whole time so I told him how they thought he was the easiest target to pin the killing on. He’d dated her for a while and apparently they’d had sex recently, they wanted to wrap up the murder in a neat little ‘jealous lover’ package and stamp a big ‘solved’ on the case file. Jason shook his head and unlocked his truck for me to get in, I was a little surprised when Gran didn’t come with us but she thought Merlotte’s was too rowdy for an old woman like her.

When we walked in Jason was greeted with a lot of ‘Hey’s’ and ‘Hi’s’ but when folks seen him holding my hand all of a sudden the whole place went quiet. The older ones seemed to figure out I was his sister but the younger people wondered where he’d managed to find such a sweet looking lay for the night. I was instantly offended but such was my curse I had to slap on my saccharine smile and wait to be introduced to everyone.

Two of Jason’s work colleagues from the road crew were having lunch so we sat with them. Hoyt and Rene were part of the ‘Jason’s got a new piece of ass’ group so I could only assume he didn’t really talk to them much about family stuff. Hoyt seemed nice, very open; his mind was nice, like he couldn’t think badly of anyone. Rene I wasn’t sure of but before I could creep in his head we were accosted by a fake red-head waitress who obviously had some kind of relationship with Rene. We ordered our burgers and Jason brought up the visit from the police. I took that opportunity to check Rene’s mind and had to hide my shock at the darkness in there. Whenever Jason said Maudette’s name there would be an explosion of anger. At first I thought maybe he was angry that she was dead but his thoughts didn’t seem to come from a place of grief, they came from a place of hate but there he was smiling at Jason’s jokes as if everything was normal and he was thinking about baby pandas.

Rene was someone I’d have to keep an eye on.

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