Chapter Nine: Christmas Blues and Reds
I am on a mission.
After alerting Jason that I plan to steal a little of our savings to go shopping for our Christmas Eve dinner, as well as a few trinket-like ‘thank you’ gifts for Pam and Eric, I am now on the streets of Shreveport intent on givin’ us the best Christmas we’ve had in three years. Of course, Christmas Eve shopping is always a chore. A lot of shops close early, and the ones that contain the sorts of things I’d like to get Eric are shut down by noon.
So, here I am in an antique shop with a frustrated crone of a shopkeeper tailing me like I might steal somethin’. After nearly an hour, it’s roundin’ on eleven, and I finally find what I’m lookin’ for. I look at the tag, suck in a breath, and let it out slow. Pricier than I would like, but with all Eric’s given us, I’m prepared to make the leap. It’s a replica, of course, but it’s definitely older than something I could find at a hippy or new age store.
Pam’s not quite as hard to shop for, in the sense that I know she’s more about fashion. She’s difficult in the sense that Jason and I couldn’t afford a darn thing that she would wear. Thankfully, I find somethin’ I think she’ll find amusing, if not practical.
My last stop is the grocery store, and I’m one of hundreds of people tryin’ to get last minute ingredients for Christmas Eve dinner. On the bright side, me and Jason have a different tradition than most when it comes to food on this holiday, so I don’t run into trouble findin’ what I need. I just gotta stand in line forever till I can get rung out.
When I finally get home, I set to work startin’ dinner. It’s a little after one in the afternoon, Jason’s still asleep, and I only got a few hours to get our feast prepared. Eric and Pam told us to eat without them ’cause they had their own traditions they were gonna do before comin’ over. Thinkin’ about it, I don’t think I’ve seen either of them eat before. They’ve sat around with a drink every once and a while, but I don’t recall ever seein’ them actually take a drink.
I shake off my strange observation and buckle down. By the time the chicken’s startin’ to make the condo fill with mouthwatering goodness, Jason comes outta his room, practically bein’ dragged by his nostrils.
“Hey, Sleepyhead!” I grin up at him.
“Hey,” he comes over and dips his finger in the mashed potatoes before I can get them in the pan to bake and crisp up. I mix in heaps of butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, chives, and cheese. We ain’t had twice baked potato casserole since the Thanksgiving before Gran died. She didn’t make it for Christmas that year.
“I’m gonna go change real quick,” I tell him after the last of the food is finishing on the stove or in the oven. “You should grab a shower and change, too.”
“What for? I gotta go to work tonight,” Jason points out.
“Jason,” I whine. “C’mon, it’s Christmas! I want ya to dress nice with me for dinner. Nothin’ fancy, just somethin’ that’s not your sweats and t-shirt.”
“Fine, fine,” he grumbles and starts down the hallway.
I quickly run to my own room and change into a snug pair of white jeans that Pam got me the other night. I put on the red top, hoping I look like I got the Christmas Spirit.
When we meet back up in the kitchen, our early dinner’s ready, and I scoop everything into the nice serving dishes before bringin’ them to the dining table. Once we’re all settled in, I take Jason’s hand and we bow our heads.
“Thank you, Lord, for the food we are about to receive,” Jason begins after a moment to collect his thoughts. “We are blessed to be together this holiday season, and grateful for the many gifts you have given us in overwhelming abundance these past weeks. Thank you for bringin’ us new friends, and strengthening us through their generosity. We pray that we remain strong and grateful for all the days of our lives. We pray you watch out for us and our new friends. Amen.”
“Amen,” I give Jason’s hand a tight squeeze, and then we start loadin’ up our plates like we ain’t eaten in weeks. We’ll have plenty of leftovers, but maybe I can convince Pam and Eric to take some home.
When we’re through with dinner and our dessert of peach cobbler, Jason and I run to our separate rooms and retrieve the gifts we scrounged up for one another this year.
We quickly hand each other the packages, and I tear into the mine excitedly. I squeal at what I find. The first volume of “The Boxcar Children.” This was my favorite book when I was little. When I was only three, I remember Jason readin’ it to me. When Mamma and Daddy died, he read it to me every night for a month. Over and over and over. When Gran died… We couldn’t find the book, but he would try and retell it from memory, me piping in at details he had forgotten.
It’s a used book. The spine is cracked and well-loved and read. The pages are bloated and fan wide from age, but still cling to their spine with surprising integrity. I open the book and look at the familiar silhouette of the children gathered with Watch over a picnic blanket. Between the picture and the title, I see Jason’s handwriting scrunched in:
~ “Then Henry began to think of winning the race. He knew how much the twenty-five-dollar prize would mean to Jessie and the rest of the children.
“I am going to win this race!” he said to himself.”
“Oh, Jason!” I sob, flingin’ my arms around his neck and squeezin’ him like my life depended on it.
“Hehe, you like it?” he asks, pattin’ my back and kissin’ my head.
“I love it,” I tell him.
“Good. Now, let’s see what ya got me,” He’s grinnin’ while he sets the package on the table.
He tears it open, looks at it confused, and then his grin returns.
“’Tough times don’t last. Tough people do,’” he reads the quote I have written within the old window frame. It’s also got as many pictures of us as I could pull together. There aren’t many from the last three years. The coach found a few that got taken of us at the game, but most are from when we were young. The ones of just the two of us. Jason teachin’ me how to throw the kid’s size football with a perfect spiral. The two of us fishin’ in the pond behind our parents’ old house. Me mashin’ a fistful of flour in Jason’s face. Jason readin’ the very book now in my hand in Gran’s rocking chair. There are more, but lookin’ at it makes me tear up again, so I look away.
As we’re both tryin’ to wipe up our eyes, the doorbell rings. I quickly go over to let Eric and Pam in.
“Merry Christmas, Sookie,” Eric leans down and kisses my cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Eric. Merry Christmas, Pam,” I smile up at Eric’s sister and she gives me a big grin. “What?” I ask.
Pam’s grin widens further and she reaches out of my field of vision. Next thing I know, there’s this great big Santa Bag bein’ pushed through the door.
“What is this!?” I cry as Eric takes the bag into the condo.
“Your Christmas presents!” Pam’s grin could make the Devil relent his throne to her.
“No!” I object. “I don’t even know what’s in here, and I know it’s too much!”
“Really, guys,” Jason’s behind me. “This is too much.”
“It is all practical,” Pam assures us and shoves her way inside.
“Well,” I scratch the back of my head before admitting, “I got you guys some stuff, too.”
“Sookie, that was not necessary,” Eric protests. “We want for nothing.”
“I know,” I nod. “It’s nothin’ impressive, just stuff I thought you guys would like. It’s from the two of us, and I promise I didn’t spend too much.”
I dash out of the livin’ room and retrieve their presents. When I return, I hand them each a package. Eric takes the small box from me and looks at Pam nervously. She’s already rippin’ hers open. She laughs at what’s inside.
“Is this your way of saying you do not wish to go to the salon with me again?” she teases at the mani/pedi kit.
Eric laughs and finally opens the little box with his gift, “Oh, Sookie, this is perfect.” He pulls a small leather chord from the box and a small, iron, Norse serpent dangles from a small ring.
“Well, when we were talkin’ the other night, you seemed to fixate on Vikings, so I figured it was your favorite historical topic,” I explain.
Pam cackles at my observation, “Yes, Eric, you do have a certain fixation with that era, don’t you?”
Eric shakes his head at her comment. He leans in and gives me another kiss instead of replying to her. “Thank you, Sookie.”
“What did you two get for each other?” Pam asks me.
Jason and I proudly show off our gifts. Pam and Eric smile softly, nodding, but sayin’ nothing. I don’t know what to make of their silence, but part of me thinks that they’re humbled?
“Sorry we don’t all know each other better yet,” I find myself apologizing. “If we did, maybe I coulda figured out somethin’ more personal.”
“Sookie, I like my gift very much,” Pam announces. “It is a very nice set.” She looks super uncomfortable, like being this reassuring is foreign to her, and she’s lookin’ at Eric as if she’s wondering if she said the right thing.
“I love my gift, Sookie,” Eric tells me and reaches behind his neck to tie the chord of leather. The serpent settles right in the notch of his throat. God, that looks sexy!
We all stand awkwardly a moment before Pam starts walkin’ toward the couch like a silent indicator that we need to leave the unpleasantness behind us.
Once we’re all gathered around on the couch, Pam opens the big bag ‘o’ gifts and starts sorting through them. There’s several long, narrow packages that I’m guessing are clothes.
“Well, go on,” Pam insists once the bag is empty. “We do not stand on ceremony. Start opening them!”
Tentatively Jason and I start opening our gifts. Mostly it’s clothes, and I’m thankful Pam didn’t shove tons into each box. When I go to open the next one, Pam frowns, takes it from me, and says, “Wait until Jason leaves to open that one.”
I stare at her in bewilderment and Jason’s face goes real red.
“It is very generic, basic undergarments, Stackhouse,” Pam rolls her eyes at him. “However, considering how bashful the two of you get, I thought it inappropriate for her to open them in front of you.”
I nod appreciatively and put the box under the couch for later. Looks like I’ll spend my Christmas day doing laundry, I think amusedly.
We each receive two small boxes which turn out to be cellphones. They’re already charged and have each other’s number programmed in them as well as Eric’s and Pam’s.
“Oh, open those two at the same time!” Pam points to one more narrow package and another that is slightly larger. Jason takes the big box and I take the little box. Mine is a laptop and several reams of paper, his is a printer.
“No more late night library trips!” Pam claps her hands.
“No!” Jason and I say in unison, making Eric and Pam laugh.
“Every college student should have a laptop,” Eric tells him.
“But-” we say in unison again, and are again cut off.
“This is much more about your sister’s safety than generosity,” Eric tells Jason firmly.
“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Jason mumbles, lookin’ at the gifts. I can tell he’s overwhelmed, but even though there are a lot of boxes, the amount of gifts is reasonable. I don’t think the labels on the clothes are anything that’ll turn heads. The laptop, though expensive, is very practical.
“Thank you, Pam,” I break the silence. “Thank you, Eric.”
“You are very welcome,” Eric answers.
“Y-yeah! Thanks. Thank you very much, guys,” Jason regains his manners and reaches over to shake Eric’s hand. He gives Pam a small smile that actually reaches his eyes.
We talk and hang out until Jason has to leave, a bit bitter after being schooled on several historical events by Eric. Even Pam managed to site some key points about the Civil War. Once he leaves, Pam retrieves the gift of underwear from beneath the couch, leans in, and whispers, “I lied.”
My eyes widen as I take the package, and nervously open it. There is nothing generic about the underwear in that box! Laces, satins, bras, panties… Lingerie I don’t even know the names for! I quickly shut the box and look apprehensively at Eric who is sittin’ across from me smirking.
“What?” I grouch, shoving the box back beneath the couch.
“Nothing,” he raises his hands innocently. “I just thought the look on your face was adorable.”
I run my hands up and down my leg anxiously as Pam stands up and starts to wander around the condo. I can hear her in the kitchen and wonder if she’s gonna raid our leftovers.
“I really like all the stuff you got us,” I mumble.
“I am glad… That book your brother bought you, does it have a special meaning to you?” he asks.
I explain mine and Jason’s connection with the book, and Eric is nodding as I tell him about the comfort it’s brought me over the years. “Have you ever read it?” I ask.
“No,” Eric shakes his head.
“It’s a good book… Well, I guess it would be pretty silly to you readin’ it for the first time at your age, but when I was a kid it was real great. Even though it’s very simple to me now, it’s just… Comfort.”
Eric smiles and nods like he understands, and I find myself rising from the couch and goin’ over to the loveseat he’s occupying. I sit next to him and take his hand in mine, playing with his long fingers. They’re always so cool.
After a moment, Eric raises his hand, effectively bringing my hand to his mouth and kisses it. His mouth grazes the inside of my wrist next, and his eyes are starin’ into mine. When he leans in and his lips touch mine, my heart starts racin’. My face gets warm. Then his tongue brushes against my bottom lip, making me take my hand from his and twirl it in his hair. His tongue brushes my lip again, then the seam where my lips meet.
He wants you to open your mouth, Sookie! my brain finally informs me.
Immediately I part my lips, and his tongue is caressing against mine. It’s like a wave, lapping over me again and again. It’s hypnotic and soothing, but it gets my heart beatin’ hard. I’m gasping against his mouth, holdin’ his hair tight as he’s kissing me. All I want is to kiss him till Christmas!
I don’t know how long we’re making out, but at some point I’m in his lap. His hands remain on my sides or shoulders, never venturing any lower than my hips or higher than my third to last rib. I’m relieved he doesn’t tempt me at all, cause I don’t know I could resist him if he did. Even when he’s just touching me all simple and unassuming, I can feel myself desperate for more. My ‘wait for marriage’ mentality is caving quick, but I don’t have the nerves to go any further myself. If he made the move, though, I’m almost positive I’d follow.
“Let’s watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’!” Pam announces suddenly, only a couple feet away from where Eric and I are enjoyin’ our holiday.
Eric glares up at Pam, which makes me giggle, but I think he’s a little relieved. Oh, he wouldn’t try anything in front of his sister! Is he glad she grinded us to a halt?
“You are maddeningly sweet, Sookie,” Eric rumbles under his breath before standin’ up with me in his arms and taking me back to the couch. Pam hops over to the TV, pops in a DVD, and then takes our previous spot on the loveseat.
Eric sidles back into the couch, pullin’ me back against his chest, and huggin’ me close.
I manage to catch the time of eleven o’clock when the TV turns on. I don’t even make it to George’s sore ear before I fall asleep.
“Sookie, your cellphone is ringing,” Eric whispers from somewhere nearby.
I jerk awake and Eric is standing in front of me with my new phone. I take it from his hand and need a moment to find the button to take the call. It’s Jason, and it’s almost one in the morning.
“Hey, Jason,” I yawn.
“Sookie, I love you so fuckin’ much,” Jason is gasping into the phone. My spine goes ramrod straight at the sound of his voice. He sounds labored or hurt. “I’m so sorry, Sooks. I’m so sorry-”
“Jason!” I stand up and Eric is already running to the door. I follow him without thinking. “Jason, what happened!?” I’m shouting into the phone, chasing Eric. He’s in his car, the passenger door flung open.
“Sook, I’m hurt really bad- I’m-Umm. I’m shot,” I choke on a sob when he says that and his breathing is gettin’ so harsh that I’m panting with him. “I-I’m so fuckin’ sorry, baby sis. I’m so fuckin’ sorry. I love you so much.”
“Jason,” I’m paralyzed, but some sane part of my brains blurts, “have you called an ambulance?”
“Y-yeah, I’ve got… Dispatch. Ambulance is comin’… I’m just…” When he pauses a long time I start crying.
“Jason! JASON!?” I shriek. “JAYCE!?”
I can hear him sniffling now and I let out a relieved breath, but I’m cryin’ so hard, I don’t know what to do.
“I don’t wanna leave you, Sook,” Jason tells me and that just makes me sob harder. “I love you.”
“I love you, too! You’re gonna be all right! You can’t die! You’re my brother! You can’t die! Don’t leave me alone! Don’t leave me!” I’m screamin’ and babbling, guilt tripping, bargaining. Anything I can think of while the world stops turnin’.
I can hear sirens on his end of the phone and I hold my breath as my chest is contracting with hiccups. I wanna throw up. Then I hear the EMT’s through the phone.
“Looks like four GSW-”
“Get the guy’s phone. Dispatch said he was talkin’ to his sister-”
“Is that it?”
“Is this Sookie?” A new voice comes over the phone.
“Y-yes,” I sob.
“This is Officer Mitchell. EMTs are takin’ Jason to St. Augustine’s,” Before I can answer, Eric takes the phone from my hand.
“We are right on top of you. We will follow the ambulance,” He says into the phone before handin’ it back to me.
“Is my brother okay? How bad is it? Who shot him? Will he be okay? How-How-”
“He’s bein’ put in the ambulance right now. We’ll have to ask your brother what happened exactly, but it looks like the guy who shot your brother killed himself right after. We don’t have to look for him-”
“IS JASON GONNA BE OKAY!?” I scream.
“He took four rounds to the torso. EMTs are gonna do everything they can to make sure he gets to the hospital okay, Sookie.”
Hunching over in my seat, I drop my head between my knees and try to calm my labored breathing. A full blown panic attack is wrackin’ my body, and the little catch breaths between inhales are makin’ my lungs ache. Despite the pain, I can’t stop cryin’ to alleviate the ache of my ribs or the sickeningly heavy feelin’ in my stomach.
When I flop back into my seat, clutching my phone like a lifeline, all I can think is, my brother would never leave me… God wouldn’t take Jason, too! God doesn’t hate me that much, right?
I am sitting in the waiting room. Sookie will not let me take her hand. Instead she stands at the doors we are prohibited from passing. There is only just enough space for them to swing without hitting her, and she is standing like a bouncer in a nightclub. Waiting.
I rise from my seat and go to stand by her. Though she will not let me touch her, I at least try to offer the consolation of my nearness. She is breathing hard. I want to ask a doctor to see if she is in shock, but she will not let anyone touch her.
After four hours, a surgeon finally arrives to speak with us.
“I am astounded,” he announces, “Jason is going to be perfectly fine. It’s like all of his vital areas jumped away and made room for the bullets!”
Sookie falls toward the ground in a dead faint, and I only have a fraction of a moment to catch her. She is not out long, only forty-five seconds.
The doctor is checking her pulse, respiration, and then her blood pressure. “Got a little too relieved there, huh, Kiddo?” he teases.
“Jason’s okay?” Sookie begins crying, and she finally accepts my touch as I smooth her hair.
“Jason will be perfect. There is some irritation around his lung and small intestine and the wounds themselves, but not a single organ was impaled. His aorta should have been severed, but, like I said, it’s as if everything important bent out of the way.”
Sookie is nodding numbly, “C-Can I see him?”
“Yes, he should be coming around in a few hours,” I help Sookie from the floor and we walk toward the door. “I’m sorry, are you family?” he asks me.
“Only family outside of visiting hours,” the doctor tells me apologetically.
“Sookie,” It is getting close to dawn, and I need to leave, but I cannot bear to leave her.
“I’ll be okay. You go home and get some sleep,” she tells me, squeezing my hand.
I lean in and kiss her, vowing to suffer through the bleeds so that she can call me at any point, “Call me if you need support,” I tell her.
“Okay,” She nods and follows the doctor out of my sight.
I decide to take refuge beneath the condo this evening with Pam. Neither of us wishes to return to Bon Temps under these circumstances. As I leave the hospital, all I can think in regard to Jason’s good luck is, thank goodness he was injected with my blood yesterday.
When I arrive at the condo, Pam is pacing anxiously. Once I tell her that Stackhouse will be okay, she nods, and starts for our chamber. Pam is not one to dwell, and now that she knows all is well, she immediately accepts that and goes back to her usual self.
I, however, am not so easily placated. Instead of going on with my evening, I am dwelling on the fact that I abandoned Sookie in one of her darkest hours. My heart is screaming in my chest, aching, and wailing to tell her I cannot stay because it would destroy me. That I would stay and die a final death if that would do her any good. That something as inconsequential as sleep is not what keeps me from maintaining a vigil for her and Jason, but the inescapable sun that locks me into shadows in exchange for my immortality.
Before I can follow Pam downstairs, I see the copy of ‘The Boxcar Children’ sitting on the dining room table. I taste the air and know that I can make it to the hospital and back before sunrise if I fly.
Grabbing the book, I take to the sky. I am over the hospital shortly, descending as quickly and discretely as possible. When I run up to the nurse’s station, I glamour the nurse at the desk, commanding her to take the book directly to Jason Stackhouse’s room. When she leaves to do as I have ordered, I run back out of the hospital, and am once more in the sky.
My chest is heavy, Godric’s presence of Concern and Alarm is weighing on me. The sun is rising. I can feel my exposed skin prickling. I am on the ground. I am running. My skin feels as though boiling water has been splashed across it.
I am in the condo. The burning is now only a warning. I am underground. Pam is already dead for the day and I am grateful she was not aware to panic over me.
The pain is still reminding me of my stupidity, but Godric’s presence within me has calmed to that of Concern and Curiosity. I collapse onto the floor, and cannot resist the sun now that I have exposed myself to its early morning rays. I die to revive.
I’m shocked when a nurse wanders into our room and hands me a book. When I see which book it is, I smile, and then I’m shocked again. This is the book Jason gave me… like the book. I read the quote Jason left, runnin’ my hand over it softly. Eric must have run back to the condo and brought it here.
I frown and look at the clock. Even if he blew every stoplight and was goin’ 60, he couldn’t have made it home and back to the hospital this quick.
Rather than dwell upon another peculiarity surrounding the Northmans, I open the book with one hand while holding Jason’s hand with the other.
“’One warm night, four children stood in front of a bakery….’”
I jerk awake suddenly and find Jason starin’ at me in his bed.
“You’re awake!” I choke, standin’ up and huggin’ him real careful. “How are ya feelin’? What can I get ya?”
“Just some water,” he rasps and I nod frantically. I run out the door with the empty pitcher and tell a passing nurse that my brother’s awake. She smiles, nods, and tells me she will go tell the doctor.
By the time I’m back in the room, a doctor’s already come to see him.
“You are one lucky man, Jason,”
“Look, Doc, I just wanna go home,” he’s complainin’.
“We need to monitor you a while, Jason,” the doctor tries to explain, but Jason’s already tryin’ to rip IVs outta his arm.
“Jason, it won’t be so bad,” I come in with the water and pour him a glass. “We’ll hang out, watch TV. It’ll be great. I already called in to both our jobs, and in a really nice way they said not to worry about comin’ back. So, let’s just hang out. I’ll leave Eric a voicemail and ask him to bring us some clothes. It’ll be fun!”
Jason snorts at my suggestion, but begrudgingly agrees.
I call Eric’s cell, but he doesn’t pick up. I’m not surprised though. Jason told me Eric sleeps all day….
Sookie, you’re bein’ paranoid. Cold hands, doesn’t eat, sleeps all day, pale as a ghost, and a huge history buff. Strange combination? Sure, why not? Impossible combination? Of course not!
“Hey, Eric, it’s Sookie. Jason’s awake and doing’ well. Upset he’s stuck in the hospital a few days, but good. Can you or Pam bring us some clothes, though? I don’t wanna leave him. He might try and make a break for it. Hope to see you soon. Bye!” I quickly hang up and turn back to Jason. He’s scooted to the far side of the hospital bed, makin’ room for me to join him.
I grab the TV remote, sidle into bed next to him, and hit the power button.
“… Shooting at the Route 20 Buy’n’Bag-”
I quickly change the channel.
“… heart wrenching call to his little sister while lying wounded in the store-”
I switch again.
“… Shot four times-”
I give up and turn off the TV.
“Boxcar Children?” Jason suggests.
I reach for the book and start at the beginning.