Chapter One: December 2000
One more year, Stackhouse, I tell myself as my shoulder throbs. My little sister brings a bag of ice over and silently puts it against my upper arm without a request. It’s almost like she knows I’m hurtin’.
Sookie’s been a real gem these past three years. When our Gran died suddenly when she was only fifteen, I freaked! The State wanted to take her. I’ll be damned if my baby sis gets thrown in the fuckin’ foster system while I’m livin’ it up in college! FUCK THAT!
She curls up against my good side on our shitty couch, in our shitty livin’ room, in our shitty apartment. We don’t say nothin’, but I can almost feel her wantin’ to say, “It’s okay. You don’t have to do this anymore.”
“I got this, Baby Sis,” I grunt, leaning back into the couch, grimacing as a spring digs and adjust. “I ain’t lettin’ the State take ya.”
“You work too much,” Sookie whispers and I feel my heart break.
“If it didn’t mean so much to ya, I’d quit school and then I wouldn’t have to work so hard,” I point out and her face drops. “Aw, Sooks, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know,” she touches my shirt, rubbing my chest. “I can start workin’ more hours in a couple weeks when school lets out for Christmas. It’s only a week and a half, but you should take the time off and recover.”
“Forget it, Little Girl,” I nudge her. “This is when we should be workin’ our asses off so we got some money saved up. I hate you workin’ at that restaurant. Don’t think I din’ see that asshole grab your butt.”
“It’s no big deal,” she tells me with a shrug. “We need the money.”
“Your job is gettin’ that scholarship, Sooks. You’re so close!” I tell her.
“Don’t quit school,” she murmurs. “You’re almost done. One more year.”
“I’ll do it, Sooks,” I reassure her. “Then it’s all about you, okay? I’ll go to work, even if I can’t find a job for my degree. I’ll get a job diggin’ ditches and get you through school. All right?”
Sookie turns eighteen in May. Fuck me! Six months and two weeks and the State can’t do shit to her! If she weren’t my baby sis, I’d be tellin’ her to find a man who can actually support her. Seein’ as she is my baby sis and smarter than hell, I’m inclined to tell her men can wait ’til she’s thirty and has a solid career.
Smiling at me, Sookie asks if I want any dinner and I nod slowly while she gets up and goes to the fridge. There’s hardly anything in there. Just enough that Social Services don’t freak out on us. I do my best to help keep the place clean, but I got a football scholarship at Endene University, two part-time jobs, and school. There needs to be more than twenty-four hours in a day.
Sookie comes back with a bowl of generic Cheerios for me and I watch as she heads back to the kitchen and fries some eggs for us. I’m surprised neither of us has scurvy or some shit disease from malnutrition. The only time there’s fruits or veggies in the house is when we start getting paranoid about another visit from Social Services. A couple Granny Smiths, some celery, the cheapest healthy food we can afford. Sookie pines for peaches. Every time we go to the store for our measly grocery shopping, I see her eyes stray to the pre-made peach pies. Instead, I throw a bag of Wonder Bread in the cart, and we nickel and dime our way through the rest of the list.
“Sooks,” I call to her as she cracks a couple eggs in the skillet and starts scrambling them, “you get that report done?”
“It’s on my bed,” she calls back.
I stand up, holdin’ the ice to my shoulder and walk gingerly toward the only bedroom. Though she’s the only one that sleeps in here, both our belongings are kept in the single room. There’s a dresser with both our clothes. Two drawers on the top are for me, two drawers on the bottom are for her. I feel like shit, especially when I know that all that’s in our closet is four pairs of blue jeans, a couple of belts, two pairs of shoes, and a buncha second hand t-shirts with pinholes all over them.
Am I being selfish? Am I being stupid? Would she have been better in foster care? I wonder this as I pick up her history report on Pope Clement II. Bringing it back to the livin’ room, I carefully sit back on the lumpy couch that also serves as my bed and start goin’ over her paper. Shit. She ain’t gonna like all these red marks.
Sookie sits next to me and hands me the plate with more eggs. Neither one of us wants more dishes to wash, so we eat with our fingers when we can. I shrug when I leave a grease stain on her paper. She’s gonna have to rewrite all these errors out anyway.
“Ninety-Five, Sooks,” I hand her back her report and she huffs before reviewing my scoring. “I gotta go to work, Baby Sis.”
“I gotta go back to the library and retype this,” she tells me when she takes our dishes, and using the smallest bit of soap as possible, washes, rinses, then dries, and puts them away.
I groan and look at my watch. I don’t like Sookie being out of the apartment after dark without me. “When’s your report due?”
“Two days,” she tells me, and I scratch the back of my head.
“Can you go before school tomorrow and just catch the bus from there?” I ask.
“It’s on our USB drive. You need that for school tomorrow,” she reminds me and I frown.
Shit, I can’t even ask her to just fix it at school if it’s on the USB ‘cause her school don’t allow students to use USBs on their computers, I think in frustration.
“What if I retype it for you at the campus library? You did all the work anyway. Not a big deal if I just retype it. Besides, they don’t charge us nothin’ to print. They do at the public library.”
“You know I don’t like that,” Sookie frowns with an annoyed look on her face. “It’s my paper. I need to do the footwork.”
“You did the footwork,” I plead.
“Jason, I’m seventeen. I think I can handle taking the bus a few blocks and coming home from the library,” she argues.
“And I told ya, you ain’t goin’ nowhere after dark!” I holler back.
“I’m a big girl, Jason. Trust me, okay?” she’s adamant, and she’s got the same Stackhouse stubbornness as me.
I run my hands through my hair and I know I don’t have the time to argue. There’s a good chance she’ll just go after I leave anyway. At least I can get her to call me at work when she’s leaving the library and again when she gets home safe if I just let her go.
“Fine, but you call me before you leave and then when you get home with the door locked. Okay?” I lay down the law.
She smiles at me sweetly, comes over, and kisses my cheek. “You got it!”
“Don’t lose the USB, okay? This is my last project before next semester. If I fuck this up, it’ll put me behind for starting my student teaching next Fall. Got it?”
“Yes, Sir!” she giggles and it makes me smile.
She’s happier with me than any fucking foster parent. Even if we’re struggling, this is better for her. I’m doing the right thing.
“I love you,” Sookie tells me suddenly, and it makes me tilt my head in confusion. “I just want you to know that I’m happy. Okay? I love you.”
My shoulders sag and I scratch my head, a bit rueful. “It’s like you read my mind sometimes, Baby Sis,” I tell her before planting a kiss on her head. “Hey, tell you what? Grab your shit. At least I can make sure you get to the library all right.”
She nods and runs to grab her book bag. She puts her marked up report in her bag, shoulders it, and follows me out of the apartment. Before we leave the building, I double check that she’s got her keys, money for the bus, money for copies, her rape whistle, and Mace. Fuck, I wish I could afford to get us some cell phones!
We walk to the bus stop together, me with my good arm over her shoulder, and her with her head against my chest. It might seem weird that siblings are walking like that, but she don’t get harassed nearly as much when people think I’m her boyfriend. This might sound fucked up, but my sister’s beautiful. She needs as many male deterrents as she can fuckin’ get. Walkin’ like this don’t bother me none though. It’s December and it’s fuckin’ cold at night for two people who only got a hoody over a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
When the bus stops at the library, I stand up with her, kiss the top of her head, and nudge her toward the door. She smiles at me and I watch from the window to make sure she gets in the library doors safely. When they shut behind her, I sit back in my seat and try to grab a quick nap before my 8-3 shift working security at the stadium.
That gig, three nights a week, pays a pretty penny. I usually manage to catch three to four hours of sleep and then go to classes afterward. The part-time job at the Bag’n’Buy is nearly worthless, but it’s easy money workin’ 11 PM to 7 AM four nights a week and doing all my school work. Sookie’s a gem, typing up all my reports that I write longhand at work, savin’ them to our USB, and then I print them out when I get to school. It would be so much easier if we had a laptop or somethin’.
Sooks only gets about sixteen or twenty hours a week at the restaurant, but it covers our household expenses each month while my jobs cover our rent and utilities. We even managed to save a couple grand over the past three years when we suddenly found ourselves homeless.
We lost our parents’ house after they died. There was just no way Gran could afford the mortgage. Then after Gran passed away three years ago, Sookie and I couldn’t afford to stay in Bon Temps or pay the property tax on the house while we scrounged around for money to survive. The fact that Gran owed so much in back taxes that the government reclaimed the house didn’t work in our favor none either.
“Hey, Stackhouse, wake up! It’s your stop!” the bus driver yells at me and I jerk out of my catnap.
“Thanks, Hank,” I mumble with a smile as I clamber out of my seat and make my way to the door.
“No problem, kid. Hey, you takin’ us to a bowl next year?” he teases me.
I rotate my sore shoulder, but manage a bemused grin, “Sugar, Man. Sugar.” Hank gives me a sad smile. He knows I’m strugglin’ with my shoulder. He tells me I work too hard and my body just can’t recover. Durin’ a bus stop confessional one night, I admitted that I don’t even give a shit about football, except that it’s payin’ my way through college. I plan on being a high school history teacher after I graduate. Won’t need a good shoulder for that.
“Don’t work too hard tonight, Stackhouse,” he tells me as I leave the bus and head to the guard station.
“Hey, Stackhouse,” Larry at the post waves at me. “How’s Sookie?”
“Workin’ on her report at the library. Will you radio me when she calls? She’s s’pose to call me when she leaves the library and then when she gets home.”
“’Course,” Larry nods. “How long you think she’ll be?”
I look at my watch. Shit! I gotta clock in.
“She should probably call the first time at nine or nine-thirty. Again a half hour after the first. She knows to let me know if she misses the bus.”
“All right, Jason, I’ll keep you posted.
“Thanks, Larry!” I call as I run to the security room to clock in, grab my radio, and put on my Batman Belt as I like to call it.
There ain’t really shit to do on this job. Mostly walkin’ around, sometimes there’s a disturbance, but it’s usually some drunk idiots tryin’ t’ break in. We zip tie ’em up and call the real police. Nothin’ to it.
I watch Mallory from Ticket Sales walkin’ down one of the corridors. The fast clank of her heels makes me think she’s ready to get the hell outta here. Probably been crunchin’ numbers on sales in prep for the upcoming tax season. She’s a redhead, smokin’ hot, long legs and great tits. Shit. When’s the last time I got laid?
Four months, twenty-eight days, and fourteen hours ago, I recall miserably. To be fair, I’m so exhausted all the time, I don’t even think I could get it up anymore. Plus, I sleep on a shitty little couch, I work over forty hours a week, and go to school full-time while being on a college football team. How are there really only twenty-four hours in a fuckin’ day?
I glance at my watch. It’s going on 9:15 and I still haven’t gotten a radio buzz from Larry about my sister. I’m gettin’ real nervous. The bus at that stop usually comes ten minutes early. Unless Jacob is driving. If that prick blows past her ‘cause she’s the only one at the stop again, I’m gonna beat the livin’ hell outta him!
If Sooks doesn’t call within the next five minutes, that means she’ll have missed the bus and have to wait until 9:40. If she misses that bus, she’ll be waiting until 10:15. Shit.
As if God decided my heart couldn’t take the anxiety, I hear Larry’s voice over the radio.
“Stackhouse, Sookie called and said she’s running to the stop now. She’ll call at 9:50 when she gets home.”
“Thanks, Larry,” I reply.
Unfortunately, my anxiety isn’t relieved. Now I have to wait a damned half-hour to know she got home all right. God, bein’ a brother and dad at the same time is a heart attack waitin’ to happen. That’s the thing though; not just knowin’, but experiencin’ how sudden and cruel life can be. Ma and Dad killed in an instant durin’ that flash flood. Gran missin’ a step on the stairs, breakin’ a rib and piercing her lung. Fuck, that memory hurts real bad. Sookie had been at school when it happened. She came home and found our Gran at the bottom of the stairs with blood pourin’ out her mouth, already dead.
I wish I could un-see that for her. She’s been quiet ever since she saw our Gran dead like that. Not, like, silent, just real quiet… What a fucked up thing to happen though. Next thing I know, Sookie’s not just my sister, but my daughter in a way. I became her legal guardian. God knows I wasn’t about to let her go live with Aunt Linda and her heroine junky daughter.
I get that our Great Uncle did some fucked up shit to Hadley when she was a kid, but Sookie put a stop to it. Sooks was only four and she called the police on Bartlett. I guess she found some pictures of Bartlett’s that scared the piss outta her and she called the cops. I wish I was older then so I could’ve appreciated what she done. I woulda kissed her head over and over and told her how brave, smart, and good she was for doin’ that.
Instead, I’m pissed at Hadley. Her little cousin stopped the abuse and instead of recoverin’, she sunk into a deep depression. When she was thirteen, she started smokin’ pot and by fifteen, she was fuckin’ shootin’ up heroine. I don’t really know what Bartlett did to Hadley, but Sookie gave her a real great gift and it feels like our cousin threw it away because she couldn’t let go of the past.
Maybe I’m being a dick. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout how shit like that fucks with you, or how long it hurts. Maybe it always hurts? That thought makes me shudder. It can’t be raw as all that, right? Can’t feel new and painful every day, right?
I mean, Ma and Dad dyin’ took me a couple years to come to grips with, and man, that hurt so bad. Sooks was still young enough that she actually took Gran’s death harder than our parents’. I was the opposite.
I look at my watch. It’s 9:51. I swallow hard and try to ease the racin’ of my heart. One minute ain’t a big deal. 9:52.
“Larry, my sister called?” I bark into my radio.
“Sorry, Jason. Not yet. No calls since the first one.”
I swallow the lump in my throat, but keep on my rounds. I shouldn’t have thought about Hadley. I probably just put bad juju in the air. C’mon, Sooks. Call me. I need to know you’re okay!
Would screamin’ make me feel better? Sookie knows the first thing she’s s’pose to do after lockin’ the front door is fuckin’ call me!
It’s a couple minutes after ten when the radio crackles, “Stackhouse.”
Oh, thank Christ! She finally fucking called! I think with relief.
“You need to come to the guard station. The police are calling for you.”
My heart plummets into my stomach and is devoured. I can’t feel my legs even as I’m runnin’. There is this sound, like white noise or waterfalls in my ears. WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH, over and over as I run from damn near the other side of the stadium to Larry at the guard station. His face is white, his eyes are wide, and he’s holdin’ the phone out at me like he’s apologetically offerin’ me poison.
“SOOKIE!?” I yell into the phone.
“This is Patrol Officer Thompson,” A guy’s voice comes over. “Are you Sookie Stackhouse’s guardian?” He sounds pissed.
“Yes! God, is she okay? Where is she? Is she okay? What happened? Is she okay!?”
“She’s a little beaten up,” Thompson tells me and I can’t stop the sob that cracks my voice. “We think it was an attempted mugging, but a good Samaritan stepped in, chased the guy off, and called the police. Your sister says he broke the guy’s wrist and we’re already checking hospitals for people coming in with that injury. She’s at the hospital right now, and I’m still with her. She got hit pretty hard and they’re taking x-rays to make sure she didn’t break anything.”
“Wh-which hospital?” I ask, trying to send a rescue line to my heart.
“St. Mary’s,” he answers sympathetically. I don’t know if he’s dropped the pissy attitude ‘cause he can hear how distressed I am, or ‘cause he thought he was being unprofessional.
Shit, how am I going to afford this? I wonder before shaking my head and dispelling the unwanted concern. Medicaid will cover the hospital shit, but we can’t afford for me to lose five hours of work. Sookie will feel so guilty if we got to dip into our savings, but I’ll just have to remind her that’s exactly why it’s there.
“Larry,” I look at my coworker and he’s on his personal phone noddin’. “LARRY!”
“Hold on,” he mumbles into the phone. “Hey, I got Ross on the line, he’s gonna hurry over here as fast as he can and cover the time you’re gone. Don’t worry, you can come right back here with her and finish your shift. You go. Hurry!”
I nod, “I’ll be there as soon as I can!” I holler into the phone and throw it at Larry before runnin’ down the street.
Shit, which bus goes to St. Mary’s?
A sweet red Corvette is driving past as I bolt down the street. It comes to a stop at the light, several cars down, and practically in front of me as I pant in front of the bus schedule. Apparently being in great shape don’t mean you can run full speed for three blocks when your heart was already goin’ a mile a minute before you bolt.
“Is something wrong?” I hear called to me and I lean around the schedule at the driver of the Corvette. It’s a beautiful blonde chick, like “National Lampoon” blonde in the Ferrari hot. This girl could be the Ferrari chick’s cuter, younger, Corvette sister!
I shake my head from the distraction and go back to lookin’ at the times for the line to the hospital.
“Are you sure? You look like you are in a hurry.”
“I have to get to St. Mary’s,” I tell her as I realize that the next bus on that circuit doesn’t come for another twenty minutes.
“Baby on the way?” she guesses.
“My sister got hurt,” I tell her.
“Do you want a ride?”
I eye the blonde suspiciously. She’s maybe 5’5”, and not built. Hell, she looks the same age as my sister! What the hell is she doin’ givin’ rides to strangers? I’m desperate. Just be grateful!
“Yes, please. Thank you,” I tell her, running to the car just as the light is turnin’ green. The cars ahead of her begin to creep forward and then she’s drivin’ like a bat out of hell! “I-I’m Jason,” I tell her as I grip the side of the car for dear life.
“Pam,” she replies as her hair banners behind her. It’s fuckin’ December. Why is the top down?
“Nice wheels, Pam,” I compliment, clenching my jaw against the cold and the fact that she just took that right turn at forty miles an hour.
“It is my brother’s car,” she tells me, but she has a strange smirk on her face when she says this. I want to ask if she stole the car, but again, I’m desperate and decide not to say a word. I start wipin’ down the surfaces of the car that I’ve touched with my hands just to be safe though. “He had to leave suddenly with someone, and he requested I bring him his car.”
After all of the anxiety tonight and the fact that I’m still tryin’ to tow my heart out of my stomach, I remain quietly tense as Pam begins quizzin’ me about Sookie.
“How did your sister become injured?” she asks me.
Shit! I can feel my eyes prickle with tears, and it’s gonna be hard to blame it on the cold wind. Why did I let her talk me into goin’ by herself? “She had a report to finish. I took the bus with her to the library, but I work the-the 8-3,” Shit, my voice is breakin’ up. “She called and told me she was catchin’ the bus, but she never called and said she got home,” I’m beginning to babble and I turn my head away fast as I can ‘cause I feel these fat, pussy ass tears drippin’ down my cheeks. “I didn’t have anyone to send lookin’ for her. God,” fuck I can’t stop crying, “all I can think is the cop din’ tell me everythin’. What if there’s more to it that they din’ wanna say on the phone? What if they found her somewhere she wasn’t s’pose to be? What if a little beat up means more than a bump on the head and a black eye?”
I can see out the corner of my eye that Pam is lookin’ at me in alarm, or maybe she’s looking at me like I’m the most paranoid fucker she’s ever met. Hell, maybe she thinks me and my sister are some real redneck trash and we’re, like, datin’ or somethin’.
“You sound like a father, not a brother,” Pam comments after a moment.
“We’re all we got,” I reply roughly and try clearin’ all the emotion out of my throat. The action catches and I involuntarily hiccup on another sob. “They said they had to take x-rays,” I shake my head suddenly. “Sorry, you didn’t ask about any of this. Fuck. I don’t even think I answered your actual question. She got mugged. That’s how she got hurt. She was waitin’ for the bus and she got mugged.”
Pam takes pity on me and we are silent the remainder of the way to St. Mary’s. When Pam pulls up to the ER entrance, I hop out and thank her again.
“It was my pleasure,” Pam is frowning and that confuses the hell out of me.
“Eric,” I find my Maker waiting in the parking lot of St. Mary’s hospital.
“What did you find out about that girl’s useless brother?” he snaps in irritation. “What was he doing instead of keeping her safe?”
“I think we have much more pressing concerns than worrying about a pair of human siblings,” I tell him, particularly when Sophie-Anne is planning to raise Eric’s tribute expense by nearly fifty percent more than all of her other Sheriff in her Queendom. My Maker is not bothered by the fact he is being ripped off. His official response is that he can afford it, and it keeps the cost of living in his Area down. This is causing more vampires to take up residence in Area Five, however, which is another reason his annual tithe has become obscenely expensive.
“She is skin and bones,” he snarls very low in his throat, disrupting me from my internal pouting. I do not like my Maker allowing others to take advantage of him. “I want her family’s address. Someone is abusing that girl!”
My eyebrows raise at Eric’s adamant tone. I have never seen him so frustrated or persistent, especially over a human. During the past five years, he has managed to become even more disgruntled with humans. Mostly because of Godric.
Fucking Godric and his human sympathizing ideals, I think uncharitably. Normally I find my Maker’s Master a hoot to be around. It’s always fun to see Eric chastised. Unless, of course, Godric tries to push the envelope of attempting to instill empathy in a thousand-year-old Viking.
That is the crevice that divides Godric and Eric on several topics. Empathy.
Godric, though abused and tortured in his human adolescence and vampire infancy, eventually developed the ability to identify with mortals. After a little over a millennium, Godric turned rather philanthropic where humans were concerned and attempted to socialize and improve many mortal lives.
Now with the Great Revelation on the horizon, Godric has commanded Eric to do something that goes against the warrior’s very nature. Help. Godric wishes for Eric to spend ten years helping humans wherever he can. Eric had talked back, saying he would rather rob a blood bank and go into hiding for ten years than to go out of his way to help humans. Thus, Godric extended his order so that Eric would wander every night in public, assisting those in need for no less than two hours if he had not already done so before midnight.
“You do not understand, Young One,” Godric had smiled sadly at us. “With our existences on the precipice of exposure, we must learn to adapt. These cruel and cold ways cannot last forever. Eric, you have been a promising progeny from your first rising, but we are part of a culture that needs more than just warriors and tacticians. You must learn other means than threats and violence to make your point.”
Did I also mention that Eric is supposed to avoid killing humans unless his own existence is seriously threatened and that he is only to use glamour to prevent exposure of his supernatural affiliation?
It has been like living with an addict going through withdrawal! The frustration reached the point where I had to run away to Minnesota for two years just to have a few moments of peace, and we still have another three years left of this crap!
“By the sounds of it, they are the only family they have, Eric,” I tell him with a shrug. “He made it sound as if they do not have any other living relatives. They apparently do not have a car because I had to drive him here. He was panicking at the bus stop.” It is lucky I recognized him from a brief post-game interview he gave at his final game of the season. Otherwise, I would not have known to offer a ride. It is also lucky he was at work and not out gallivanting. Eric had sent me to the stadium to question employees after seeing a security pass for the building on the sister’s bag. I had not expected to see the boy come charging out as I pulled around the corner.
Eric’s arms fold over his chest. He appears almost frustrated with my assessment. Apparently he was hoping that the brother was out fucking or partying. Instead, he discovers the kid was working a graveyard shift while going to school full-time and supporting his little sister.
“She is a teenage girl, Eric. She convinced her brother she would be safe and he took a risk that all families eventually take,” I point out to him and Eric’s arms tighten over his chest. “Why do you care so much? It is just another human.”
He is eyeing me speculatively, as if gaging how much he wishes to tell me, if anything at all. “You would not understand. You would, in fact, reject my explanation if I shared it with you.”
I shrug, “You are probably right. I already reject this response to a human no matter the feeling or explanation.”
“Would you back off if I merely told you that she is different and that my curiosity is getting the better of me?” he offers.
“That I will accept,” Eric can’t resist a good mystery. He has more dirt on every creature, living, dead, or living dead than anyone else I know. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Council occasionally tapped him for information.
“Find out more about the Stackhouse siblings,” he tells me. “I want to know where they live, their annual income, Social Services reports, anything you can find. If he truly is her guardian, I want to see what the State has to say about his parenting.”
I nod, making a mental list. I also decide to see how both of them are doing in school, wondering how bright these Stackhouses are.
Eric drops me at the police station and I quickly hop out of the car, find a filing clerk, and glamour a few commands into her head before leaving just as swiftly as I arrived. Next, I am walking down the street with my cell phone, calling Eric’s hacker, and giving him the information I have on the Stackhouse siblings and demanding more. With any luck, Eric will have all the information he needs to satisfy his curiosity, and we can move on to the next poor, helpless victim whom we have been drafted to assist.
I roll my eyes. This is going to be the longest three years of my existence.
“Please,” I hear my sister’s voice as I head to the room the tired woman at the nurse’s station gave me, “let’s not make a big deal out of this! It could happen to anyone, and I’m going to be eighteen in less than half a year.”
“That may be, Ms. Stackhouse,” Shit, it’s Social Services! “but the reality is that you are still a minor, and you are under very tight observation with the situation in which you and your brother are living.” I lean against the wall next to the door and listen rather than enter. I want to know what SS has really been sayin’ to my sister. I’ve already talked to the cops, and I know the extent of her injuries from them and one of the docs. I’m so grateful all it was was a good knock to the noggin’ and nothin’ worse. “You are barely meeting the minimal food requirements. The living conditions are on the cusp of removing you. His annual income is barely living paycheck to paycheck.”
“We have money saved up for emergencies,” Sookie argues. “And just because we can’t afford a nice lookin’ place doesn’t mean it’s not clean!”
“Which is why we haven’t placed you somewhere else,” the social worker explains patiently. “We know you and your brother love each other, Sookie. There’s not a doubt in anyone’s head about that, but this incident just proves that you have no real supervision.”
“I was out for all the right reasons!” Sookie protests. “I was working on my report at a public library! I had a can of Mace and everything. I wasn’t even out past curfew until I was brought to the ER!”
I’ve heard enough at this point. Sarah’s gettin’ my sister all worked up and we’ve both had a shitty night already. I push open the door, wave at Sarah, our caseworker, and go straight to Sookie where she’s sittin’ on her hospital bed lookin’ livid.
“Baby Sis,” I mumble as I look at her bruised up face. I cup her unblemished chin and kiss the top of her head over and over. “What’d the x-rays show?”
“No breaks,” she assures me and leans her face carefully against my chest as I keep plantin’ kisses all on top her head.
“That’s good,” I tell her with a sigh of relief. Looking at Sarah, I raise my eyebrows and ask, “You got anythin’ to say to me?”
Sarah bristles at my attitude, but her prissy ass is makin’ me see red. Privileged Yankee bitch who thinks she’s givin’ back ‘cause she’s taken a public service job. Instead of takin’ defenseless babies from their crack whore moms, she’s scarin’ the shit outta my little sis for who I work my ass off and give everything I possibly can. I’d quit school and work even more if Sookie would let me. That’s right, Ms. Angora Sweater, my sister won’t let me drop out.
Maybe I’m bein’ harsh with Sarah, but I can’t help it. No matter how the State sees it, I really am doin’ my best, and Sooks is just grown up enough that she can handle all this bullshit if it means stayin’ with me. She ain’t a little kid. She can tilt her head up and overcome, just like me. We’re Stackhouses, damn it! We can muscle through anythin’!
“C’mon, Sooks,” I tug at Sookie’s arm and she follows me out of the room. I know she’s only been in here a couple minutes ‘cause they don’t like to have these shit interviews with only a privacy screen. Sookie’s holdin’ her discharge papers, and I quickly pay her bill with her Medicaid card, and tuck her under my arm to head back to the stadium.
Larry waves at us, comes out, and gives Sooks a big hug when he sees her face. “Aw, Kid, that looks painful. Want my pudding cup?” Larry has a four-year-old, and right now everythin’ is fixed with a puddin’ cup.
“Thanks, Larry,” Sookie smiles at him sweetly and takes the offered snack. I’m relieved to see her get something with some fat in it. I don’t care if its crap food. If she gets any skinnier, Sarah’s not gonna turn a blind eye anymore to the fact Sookie’s almost twelve pounds too light.
I’m no good for her. I’m no good at this at all, I think miserably as I look at her beat up face and the way her eyes light up at the chocolate Snack Pack. My heart’s an achin’ mess at the face she’s wearin’ for somethin’ as easy to obtain as a cup of chocolate goo.
“I love you, Jason,” she smiles at me, and I can’t help it. I break down and sob. I fall to my knees, bury my face in her lap, and sob. “We’re okay. I’m fine.”
“He coulda killed ya,” I hug her tightly around the hips as I let my tears soak into her jeans. I ignore the brief thought in my head that she feels even bonier than I remembered. Her hand is in my hair, soothing it back and forth like she’s scratching a dog’s belly.
“It’s okay, Jason,” she reassures me again. “Get back to work. I’ll sleep here tonight. Okay? You can check on me between circuits.”
I nod, but can’t pull my face up just yet. I hate when I get these weak moments. I hate her seein’ me like this. If I wasn’t such a fuckin’ selfish loser, she could have the world.
“Go on,” she encourages me to get up and I finally stumble to my feet. I radio back up and wait for Ross to finish his circuit.
Ross waves to me as he rounds up, and I shake his hand gratefully, “I’m so sorry, Ross. You came all the way out here just to cover me for ninety minutes. Thank you. Thank you.”
“It’s cool. I know you can’t afford to lose the whole rest of your shift. Is Sookie okay?” I nod and assure him she’s fine, and he pats me on the back, heads to the security office to drop off his gear, and clock back out.
I start the next set of rounds, and like my sister suggested, I pop my head into the security office to check on her. She’s raided my locker and has made herself a little nest out of the blanket and pillow I usually use for my 4-7 nap before classes. I check on her every ninety minutes until it’s time to clock out. The morning security shift is just arriving, and I manage to catch the guys before they get in the office.
Both Mike and Ryan nod and offer their condolences, askin’ if Sookie’s all right, but I tell them I just didn’t want her home alone after the night she had. They promise not to tell the boss that she spent the night in the office. The boss makes allowances for me because he knows I have classes starting at 8:00 AM, but he would blow a gasket if he found out Sookie had slept here.
After Mike and Ryan have gotten ready in the locker room, I change into my street clothes, curl up next to my sister, and manage to squeeze in a three-hour nap before Professor Kenji picks me up to head for campus.