Chapter Ten: A Shoulder
IT’S SO FUCKIN’ GOOD TO BE HOME!
Or as much as Eric’s condo is ‘home.’ Whatever. I’m just glad to not have any more needles in my arm or gettin’ woke up all the time for blood tests or bandage changes.
“Remember, we gotta go back for a checkup in four days. We gotta keep your bandages clean-”
Sooks is yammering away, bustling around me like a mother hen cause the hospital’s never released someone so soon after bein’ shot all over so many times. But they said I was stable, didn’t show any signs of internal bleedin’ from the ultrasounds or MRI. They said, except for the holes, no one woulda thought I’d just been shot.
Including the first day in the hospital that I’d been unconscious the whole time, I was only admitted three days total before they said I could go. Four days sooner than they’d ever sent anybody home after a shot to the abdomen, and I’d took four. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Dr. Ludwig’s ‘Miracle Juice’ ain’t what kept the damage from being worse.
After all, three little shots to my shoulder, and a fuckin’ year and a half of excruciating damage was gone instantly. That was bone, muscle, and cartilage. The bullet shots were just a bit of tissue damage.
“Dr. Ludwig,” Sookie looks at me sharply. “That’s the doc that Eric sent ya, right?”
“Yeah, why?” I frown, then remember my sister’s a telepath and probably got intrigued by that stray thought of mine.
“Did she give you more shots on Saturday?” she asks me.
“Yeah. Again, why?”
Sookie shrugs, “You kinda made me wonder if she’s why you’re okay. You just made some really good points.”
“Yeah, well, it just seemed more likely that treatment is what helped, and not my organs and arteries knowin’ well enough to get outta the way of bullets,” I mumble.
“Agreed,” Sookie nods and takes my duffle bag to my room and her own to hers. “C’mon,” she snaps at me, “get back in bed!”
I roll my eyes, but go down the hall anyway. “I’ve been in bed three days already,” I argue.
“Yeah, but ya still got four holes in your chest. Bed. Now,” She points at my door and I shuffle on past her. When I sit on the bed, Sookie drops down and undoes my shoes for me cause I ain’t supposed to bend over. Honestly, I couldn’t even if I wanted. It fuckin’ hurts. Three of the bullets got me in the abdomen, the fourth went through the gap ‘tween my collar bone and first rib close to my left shoulder. They all fuckin’ hurt in their own ways. This one hurts when I lead with my right leg, this one if I lead with my left, that one if I stand too long, all of ’em if I turn at my trunk. The one by my shoulder just never stops hurtin’. Inhale or exhale, it’s all painful.
Once Sooks has my shoes off, I stand up real slow and shoo her outta the room before dropping my pants and gingerly crawling into bed. “All right, I’m under the blankets,” I call and Sooks comes right back in. She brings in the checker board with her and we play a few games, chattin’ about the upcoming New Year. We talk about the classes we’ll be takin’, the things we’d like to do together now that work ain’t pushin’ us apart. I joke about finally teaching her to drive, but she wants to believe I’ll do it.
We pretty much talk about everything to avoid acknowledging the fact we got slammed by reporters comin’ out the hospital. I guess slammed is kinda overkill. I think there was six or seven of them, but it felt like they were everywhere with the way they were barking and pushin’. You’d think they’d have the curtesy not to jostle a guy that’s just been shot up.
It ain’t the media that bothers me so much. I’m a quarterback playin’ college ball. My picture’s been in the paper before, even got quoted one time, but that was something I chose. I chose to play college ball. I didn’t choose to be shot. I sure as hell didn’t choose to have my very private moment with my sister broadcasted all over the freakin’ state. At least no one could hear her end of the conversation. Dispatch’s recording could only pick up my end. Still, it was fuckin’ embarrassing to have the media playin’ that call on an infinite loop. Not only that, but hearin’ myself, remembering how scared Sooks was, how scared I was, thinkin’ ‘This will be the last conversation I ever have with my baby sister. I really did fail her.’ Shit like that hurts worse than all the wounds I could be covered in. For five or ten minutes, I really thought I was gonna die, and leave Sookie all alone.
“Jason,” Sookie’s bottom lip is trembling and her eyes are filling with tears. Shit, she heard all that. “I never woulda thought you failed me. I know you woulda fought as hard as ya could, but none of that matters. You’re fine. You’re gonna stay that way. Hear me?”
I smile at her, “Yeah, Sooks. I hear ya.”
We go back to just bein’ happy to still be together.
There are a few things I have learned to like about humans over the centuries. Their blood, their warmth, and their indisputable ability to bring me amusement. However, the past three weeks have taught me new things to appreciate. Amazingly, those things have nothing to do with how they directly involve me.
While visiting Stackhouse in the hospital the last two evenings, just before visiting hours ended, I observed the siblings curled up, reading children’s books, and just being content to still live. When I turned on the TV to catch the news clip about the Runway Riot in New York, I also forced Jason and Sookie to listen to yet another story about the shooting. The two had been tense, embarrassed, and over all morose, as the one-sided proclamation and apology given by Jason was played for the millionth time in a single day.
I never thought a pair of humans could encourage me to want only the best for them. I completely changed the mock up design for their apartment, as it is still in the structural part of renovation. Changing the scheme from a more modern feel to a rustic one went against my entire core as a designer, but I knew that something more “southern country” would appeal to them better. I managed to blend my modern ideals with their simple ones, and I think the eclecticism will be both a comfort and enlightenment to the Stackhouses.
This evening, their first back in the condo, I am taking Sookie for a trip to the spa. I figure waxing will put her in enough physical pain to keep her mind from wandering to the emotional pain of the last few days. Eric is planning on sitting with Jason while we are gone to see how he is actually holding up emotionally and psychologically without Sookie there to keep face in front of.
I suppose there is a great chance I will end up being the same shoulder to lean on for Sookie once we are on our own. That is not something I look forward to, but for that little blonde, I will make an exception. The Stackhouses need to stay strong for each other, and if falling apart on Eric and I help them grin and bear it later, then we are prepared to do that.
What have they turned us into? I wonder bemusedly.
Sookie is quiet when I pick her up and drop Eric off. He gave her a very chaste kiss when we arrived before heading into the condo, and I watched as Sookie stared at his back before following me to the van.
“Is everything all right, Sookie?” I ask as we drive toward the salon.
“Yeah,” she whispers, staring at her hands.
“There is something on your mind,” I attempt to draw her out.
She is very quiet until we are only a block from the salon. Finally, she utters, “Do you think Eric will get impatient with me?”
“Impatient about what?” I ask in bafflement.
“The kissin’ stuff,” she is still whispering.
I glance at her in surprise. This is not the discussion for which I had prepared myself. “How do you mean?”
She lifts her shoulders noncommittally before elaborating, “He’s so much older than me. I’m sure goin’ so slow will irritate him.”
“Eric enjoys his time with you,” I tell her.
“Enough?” she asks and looks at me worriedly.
“More than enough,” I assure. “I will not lie to you and say that Eric is a patient person. I will not tell you that he is not a sexual person. I will tell you that when he is with you, he is content, and there is not an ounce of impatience within him. He enjoys being with you, Sookie, and if this is the pace you wish him to move at, he is determined to work with that.”
“What about when I do want more?” she asks as I pull into a parking space in front of the salon.
“Then tell him so, but I know that he has already promised your brother that nothing is happening before you are eighteen. He respects your brother, even more so now, and he would not break his promise to Jason,” I inform her of the agreement between my Maker and her brother.
Sookie lets out a long breath, “So I got a few months to figure things out?”
“Sookie,” I roll my eyes, “you have more time than that. I am telling you that if you want less time, you will just have to sit pretty and wait. Eric will not budge on his agreement.”
We step out of the van and walk toward the doors in thoughtful silence. Our personal conversation is put on hold while I walk Sookie through getting waxed.
I cannot wait until I have the same ability as Eric to control the magic of my body from re-growing my body hair every night. Currently I must shave every evening since my hair returns to the exact same it was when I was turned. Apparently I will have no control over this regeneration until I am nearly half a millennium old. Unfortunately, I will need to be Eric’s current age to master power over specific regeneration. Therefore, if I break a nail, my body hair would come back in. At least our magic seems to understand injury and does not undo our beautification rituals when we are wounded and need to heal.
“Ow! Oh my gosh, ow!” Sookie yelps as she has her first wax strip removed.
“Suck it up,” I tell Sookie as I flip through a magazine while Yan rips off another strip of wax. I watch amusedly as Sookie clenches the table. As Yan works her way up Sookie’s legs, she stops, turns, and asks me in her native tongue what Sookie wants for her bikini area. A mischievous grin tugs at my lip and I tell her to remove it all. Even though I cannot annoy Eric with the request at this time, I know he prefers women to at least have some pubic hair. However, I am hoping that if I can get Sookie liking a Brazilian wax now, she will be bald as a Buddha by the time she lets Eric take her pants off.
When Yan moves the sheet to begin waxing Sookie’s privates, the girl sits up like she has been bit, and looks between me and Yan with trepidation.
“She is going to clean up that… Mess,” I point between her legs. “Dear God, have you ever heard of landscaping?”
“Pam!” Her face is red and mortified, but she flops down like a good girl and lets Yan do her work. I grin at the way Sookie’s body tenses when the first strip tears away that ugly shag carpet she’s been sporting. All the way through the process, Sookie is doing Lamaze breathing, but she does not grant me an actual scream. Here I was expecting bawling, but the little girl sucks it up and gets through the procedure like a seasoned pro.
“You will acclimate to it,” I tell her as Yan plucks away stray hairs, cleans up residual wax, and finally soothes the angry flesh.
“Pam, that was the most embarrassing thing of my whole life,” Sookie whimpers as she dismounts the table and begins pulling her bottoms back on. “Why didn’t you get anything done?” she asks me.
“I cannot wax again yet,” I tell her simply. It just is not worth the effort unless I am attending a big event where I need to be sinfully smooth.
Sookie nods and then hobbles over to me, “Oh, gosh, this hurts,” she exclaims before sitting down next to me. “My jeans feel like they’ll rub me raw!”
“The first few times you have this done it will feel uncomfortable. The results are amazing though,” I assure her.
“It sucks that they have to take it all off to do that,” she frowns. “I feel like a little girl without anything down there.”
I stifle a laugh. Perfect! She has no idea that there is anything other than Brazilian!
“Yes, it is a shame,” I pat her back comfortingly.
“How are you doing, Jason?” Eric asks as I walk carefully to the fridge for some juice.
“Well, everything hurts,” I reply as I get a glass, fill it up, and put the carton back in the fridge. “Other than that, pretty good.”
Eric nods as I come back to the living room. I set the glass on the coffee table, put my hip into the arm of the couch, and sorta slide onto the cushion so I don’t gotta tense my abs none. Once I’m sittin’, I get comfortable and grab my drink.
“Have you had any nightmares since the shooting?” he asks me, and I shake my head. It’s true, I ain’t had any trouble sleepin’ the past three nights. I’m sure I’d get anxious if I had to step foot in that store again, but other than that, I think I’m only a bit jumpier than I was before. “Jason?”
I shrug at his persistence, “It’s nothin’, just a bit jumpy is all. Loud noises make me wanna hop outta my skin sometimes. Sooks tossed one of her books on the table last night, about scared me half to death. I dunno, it was a weird night. The guy shot me… He was off, y’know? Came in, talkin’ to himself, almost sounded like he was cryin’,” I shake my head with pity. “He didn’t say much before he shot me, but just the way he was actin’ got the hairs on the back of my neck standin’ on end. I was just freezing behind the counter because I didn’t know if he was tryin’ to pretend he was in distress or something, or off his meds? I just kept standin’ there, starin’ at him. Then he looked at me, sobbed, and… I didn’t even see the gun. I shoulda been lookin’ him over for weapons, but I was just stuck on his face. He looked so sad and hurt. Then five shots go off, first one hit the register, the rest hit me. I guess the only reason he didn’t shoot me in the head to finish me off was because he only had the six, and wanted to off himself, too. Few seconds before he shot himself, he said he didn’t wanna go alone. Like he was apologizing or something.”
Eric nods again, puttin’ his hands on his knees, “How did being put in such a life or death situation make you feel? How do you think it affects you now?”
Dang, he’s goin’ full psychoanalyst on me!
“Honestly, all I was thinkin’ about when I got shot was Sookie. I just had this image of her plastered to my eyes. Like, just think of who you’d leave behind. There wasn’t much else I could think at the time.”
“Then why did you call her if you were so adamant about not dying?” Eric presses.
I shrug weakly at his question, but I whisper, “Because everyone’s left her without a goodbye or last ‘I love you.’ If I… If I couldn’t make myself live, I could at least give her that. I mean, I was scared, but I was more scared for her, y’know? Sure, I bet you woulda stepped up and thrown money every which way to keep her safe and taken care of, but she needs me. She’s just lost so much so young, and she ain’t ready to not have me anymore.”
“You are only three years older than her, Jason. Do you not feel like you have had too many taken away from you, too?”
“Of course I do,” I confess. “I ain’t sayin’ if the roles weren’t reversed I’d be any better off. I need her just as bad. I’d never deny that. I think I’d kill myself if I lost her,” I admit. “It ain’t so much about bein’ alone… It’s more about not seein’ any good anymore. Sooks and I didn’t deserve what we got dealt, but we’ve rode it out the best we could, and we never blamed anyone or asked ‘why us’. Not once. But, if Sookie were killed or got sick, like real terminal sick, that’s when I think I’d just give up. God can’t exist, or he can’t be a very loving God if he got nothin’ better to do than to fuck me over so hard every few years. Misfortune’s one thing, builds humility, but that shit is a fuckin’ tragedy.”
Eric’s noddin’ his head in understanding, and honestly, I’m just grateful to get all this off my chest. I ain’t suicidal or nothin’, but if I said this shit to the trauma counselor, they’d probably have told Social Services and then Sookie might’ve been yanked outta my custody. Maybe mine and Sookie’s relationship is kinda unhealthy. We’re super codependent, and we know that. Shit, I’m almost twenty-one and she’s almost eighteen, and there’s still nights we sleep in the same bed cause one of us just had a really bad fuckin’ day.
“Sooks and I still share a bed sometimes,” I confess to Eric quietly.
“Oh?” He sounds surprisingly curious without bein’ judgmental.
“Yeah. Usually it’s her who can’t sleep right, and she asks me to stay in bed with her. I’ve had my nights, though, where I just gotta hold her and listen to her breathe. Know she’s still with me, that I ain’t alone. Is that sick?” I ask him. I’m not sure if Sookie knows I’d slip into her bed with her sometimes for a few hours between the graveyard shift and school. It kinda felt healing, ’cause I didn’t get to see her all day, maybe if I held her while she slept, she wouldn’t miss me so much?
Eric sighs and shakes his head, “I think you are both emotionally injured children, and that no one can possibly know the damages that have been done to you other than each other. You have both been put under great stresses. I do not think you two sharing a bed is sick,” he assures me. “I hope that with the stresses relieved from you that you and Sookie might progress to a more traditional role of brother and sister. Perhaps your childish comforts will not be necessary after Sookie turns eighteen and you know that she can no longer be taken away.”
“Maybe,” I nod. “Thanks again, for helpin’ us out. Really, you’ve just come in and fixed everything for us like our problems were so simple!”
“They were simple, Jason,” Eric tells me. “But simple does not mean they cannot be damning. Money is always a simple thing. You either have enough or you do not. Food is a simple thing. Sleep, another very simple thing. When you have none of them, things do not seem very simple, do they?”
I laugh, “Yeah, I guess that’s true…”
“I am glad that you do not seem too much worse for wear after your taxing Christmas morning. You seem in surprisingly good spirits for a man shot four days ago.”
“I am,” I nod. “I’m gonna make a full recovery. No lasting injuries once they heal up. I don’t gotta work for the next eighteen months, so I can rest up, put weight back on, work out, and come back my senior year like I was a Freshmen again. Tell me that ain’t somethin’ to boost some shitty morale! Tell me that ain’t something to lift Sookie up!”
“It sounds as if you are very ready to start the new year with a clean slate,” Eric’s grinnin’ all big.
“That’s the truth,” I nod with enthusiasm. We are a bit quiet for a while, both of us just cool with sittin’ around in silence. That is till I open my big mouth, “Y’know, I never got to speak my mind about you and Sooks….”
“We did not cover all of this the other night?” he asks me in surprise.
“Nah, you kinda had to put words in my mouth ’cause I was all in shock about it. Not shocked that someone noticed my sister, y’know? Just shocked that I never really thought ’bout havin’ to deal with that.” Eric nods in understanding, and I feel brave enough to keep going, “Ya put some nice restrictions and stuff on the two of ya. Stuff a big brother or daddy would appreciate, seein’ as I’m kinda both to her, I was real relieved that you were gonna take it real slow with her,” I’m lookin’ at my hands while I talk, too uncomfortable to look him in the eyes. “The thing is though, the time don’t mean nothin’ to me. I ain’t gonna like it whether she’s eighteen or thirty. That’s just the way it’ll be. The thing I couldn’t stand is if she gave ya something real special, and you just treated that like nothing. So, whenever whatever happens between you happens, just make sure your heart’s in the right place, okay? It doesn’t matter what age she is, just so long as it’s love.”
Eric’s lookin’ at me with surprise written all over his face. “Jason,” he says quietly, “I can tell you with complete honesty that my heart is entirely in the right place.” My body tenses because I was hoping he wouldn’t try and cajole me none right after lifting his own deadlines. “However, I will not tell her how I feel because she needs to know me in ways much more important than physically. I want her to know exactly who I am before bedding me. It will take time to introduce Sookie to the different faces I wear, and prepare her for knowing exactly the type of person I am. You will know, too, because I feel a camaraderie with you, and I respect you. I cannot tell you everything all at once, and I request your patience as it is spoon fed to you.”
I stare at him a good, long while before I blurt, “Are ya some kinda arms dealer or something?”
Eric laughs and shakes his head, “No, nothing like that. However, I will tell you that I have, on several occasions, performed less than legal actions. Most of the time I am not forced to do things illegally because I am wealthy enough to buy and sell most of my problems. There are situations that need to be dealt with less publicly at times, but that is all. If you find yourself guessing at who and what I am, I would encourage you not to ask me. It may force me to lie to you more often than I would like. These truths about Pamela and I must be… dispensed carefully. Do you understand?”
I’m frowning, not because I don’t understand, but because I do understand. Northman’s in love with my sister. Like, really, head-over-heels, honest to God, in love. I know he is ’cause whatever it is that Northman’s hiding is fuckin’ huge. Like cartel smuggling, assassin, some kinda illegal thing without bein’ illegal. I don’t think he was lyin’ to me about that. He’s said he won’t lie about what he tells me, only what I force him to answer.
What kinda fuckin’ secret that’s got nothin’ to do with illegal shit is such a big fuckin’ deal?
Instantly Sookie’s telepathy comes to mind. What if Eric and Pam are special like my sister? Am I the only boring, normal guy of the bunch of us!? Shit! That sucks!
“I get it, Eric,” I tell him. “I don’t know what your secret is exactly, but I know it won’t matter. It won’t matter to Sookie and it won’t matter to me. If ya still feel like ya need to hold our hands through this, fine, that’s your decision. Just don’t think we would run screamin’ for the hills. There’s plenty we’ve seen already. We don’t scare off easy.”
Eric laughs and shakes his head, “Screaming for the hills is not far off from my expectations of your reactions.”
“We’ll see,” Already I’m resolving myself that no matter what Pam and Eric’s secrets are, they’ll still be two of the best friends I’ve ever had.
“I will keep my fingers crossed,” he murmurs.
After all the heavy shit’s outta the way, I turn on the TV and we just hang out like two buds watchin’ ESPN. Around ten, Pam and Sooks come back from their “girl time,” and I ask what happened ’cause Sooks walks in like she been sucker punched.
“Her legs are tender,” Pam tells me. “The first couple waxings can be quite shocking to the system.”
I make a I-don’t-wanna-know face because I really just don’t wanna hear about my baby sis gettin’ waxed. Gross. Eric is glarin’ at Pam and she’s got a devil-may-care grin like she got when she dropped in the middle of a sidewalk and sucked me off. I don’t know exactly what that exchange means to them, but Eric seems annoyed that Pam got Sookie to wax. I don’t know why he cares; he’s said he ain’t gonna get in my sister’s panties any time soon. And I officially want to stop thinkin’ ’bout this…
Ooh, Eric’s mad! Fun!
“What’s wrong, Eric?” I taunt as we are driving to the meeting area where he conducts Sheriff’s business.
“Did they take it all, Pam?” he snarls at me and I cannot help but cackle. “You made them take it all!” he accuses.
I shrug at his ire, “What do you care? You will not be seeing it any time soon.”
“That is beside the point,” he snaps.
“You really need to embrace the changes and evolution of the beauty industry, Eric,” I tell him.
“I do not need to embrace bedding grown women with prepubescent genitalia!” he argues right back.
“You know you love the smooth skin,” I taunt further. “I know I do. Especially when it is kept up on. Smooth, velvety, wet skin. Not to mention I don’t spend the next five minutes picking pubes from between my teeth,” I tell him with distaste. “You should really let me clean up the disaster you have going on down there.”
Eric rolls his eyes at my suggestion, “No one has ever complained about my pubic hair.”
“Probably because there is a mighty oak overshadowing the damn forest you have in there,” I retort. “I promise I will not shave you. Just let me do some trimming and thinning out?”
“Pam, I will throw you out of the car while it is still moving. Stop it,” he warns.
Once we are pulling up to the warehouse in which we conduct our vampire activity, I start in on him again, “Just think about it! You let me shorten your hair!” I tug at his shoulder length blond which, once upon a time, had been nearly as long as Sookie’s. He finally let me take it up to his shoulders when I explained that in this era, he would need to buy a Harley or Indian to warrant such lengthy tresses. I promise, one day, he will let me cut his hair like a modern man’s.
“If I see a razor, Pam, I will throw you into Cross Lake out of a moving vehicle,” Eric tells me adamantly.
I clap my hands excitedly. However, I have to temper my enthusiasm until we are home. Our first appointment has arrived.
“Tallis,” Eric greets the tall, dark-haired female. Tallis is one of us vampires who really looks the part. Waist length, straight black hair, blood red nails, smoky eyes, and a delicate, pale face. She is a little over a hundred years my superior, and she can do things with her tongue that I still fantasize about on occasion. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I am having issues with a local coven,” Tallis’ voice is husky and warm, like an exhale of perfumed smoke. “They have put up wards within my neighborhood that are making it extremely difficult for me to traverse. If I were one of those gifted with flight, I would not bother you with this matter. However, if they put up one more ward near Fox Ave, I will be effectively boxed in or out of my residence,” she explains, frustrated and scowling.
“I see,” Eric nods in understanding. “I will talk to their High Priestess about the wards. This would be the Dark Moon Coven, yes?” Tallis nods and Eric dismisses her. I know Eric hates dealing with witches, but he has some of the best negotiating tactics since he can acquire many “in demand” Wicce paraphernalia, which just happen to be extremely illegal in many countries.
Our next meeting is a business dispute between two vampires. I am rather uninterested in the situation, but find great pleasure and enjoyment to see Eric practically maim the plaintiff. Apparently the accuser was being greedy, attempting to secure more profits from his partner than what he was entitled.
By four in the morning, Eric is in a poor mood. Sophie-Anne has called, informing Eric that a new body has been discovered in the bayou of Baton Rouge. It seems that Eric has a vampire body count to raise as punishment. I would not be surprised if he ends more than just one vampire. The bayou down there is teeming with vampires, and a culling of the herd might not be a bad idea.
When we arrive in Bon Temps, Eric and I both freeze at the scent in the air. I look up at Eric guardedly, but his back is straight, shoulders squared, and he is storming for the door. “Stay here, Pamela,” he commands me, and my feet stick to the spot. When is the last time Eric commanded me like this?
And why is he afraid of me going in with him? Why am I not allowed to see Godric, too?