Chapter Twenty-Three: Goodbye, Old Life
After I end the call with Stackhouse, I finish pulling my clothes back on. In the time between my Maker’s phone call and Jason’s final decision, I fucked my Bonded nearly into a coma, in part to buy some time, but more selfishly because I knew she would not be in the mood to play again, possibly the remainder of the evening.
“Where ya goin’?” Sookie mumbles from the thoroughly disheveled bed.
I smile down at her, lean over, and kiss her warm forehead, “I forgot to grab the mail, even though we were outside all day,” I confess honestly. “Go back to sleep.”
“Why are you worried if you’re just gettin’ the mail?” she demands softly.
I sigh and softly fall onto the bed, “Because I have something very sad to tell you, and I was not looking forward to doing it just yet.”
Sookie sits up quickly, “Jason-”
“Is perfectly fine. I hung up with him only minutes ago,” I assure her. Sookie frowns at my comment, uncertain of what could possibly be sad news if her brother was not involved.
“Pam and Godric-” she demands suddenly.
“Are Impervious Immortals now, Sookie,” I smile at her concern. “I daresay we will have several centuries before anyone could fathom a way of slowing down either of them. Now, will you stop guessing and allow me to tell you what has happened?” I tease softly, attempting to lighten the atmosphere before plunging it into darkness. Sookie pulls her lips between her teeth and pinches them into a tight seal. “Your Aunt, Linda, and cousin, Hadley, were found dead in their home last night,” Sookie gasps, then brings her hand to her mouth. “It appears to be an overdose and suicide,” I finish gently.
“Oh,” she whispers quietly, too stunned to speak.
“The Monroe police just notified Jason, but he did not want you to feel obligated to stay with him. He reluctantly asked if I would tell you and keep you here,” I explain further, soothing her hair back while she absorbs all the information.
“Oh,” she whispers again, staring blankly at my chest. I feel a blend of several emotions swirling inside me through her end of our Bond, regret, disappointment, concern, and the smallest twinge of anger. All of that, and guilt is still the strongest emotion flowing around inside her. I offer comfort in return of these unwanted emotions, and she begrudgingly permits herself to be soothed. “So,” she begins after a long moment of silence, “you think Linda found Hadley dead and killed herself?”
“That appears to be the consensus,” I nod carefully, still stroking her blonde locks. “You are angry.”
“Linda didn’t deserve that,” Sookie whispers. “I know Hadley’s been through a lot, but when you really look at it, Linda’s been through even more. I mean, just imagine findin’ out someone hurt your daughter the way Hadley was, and you didn’t do anythin’ to protect her? Linda’s husband blamed her for what happened to Hadley because it was Linda’s uncle who did it. Linda lost her husband, brother, father, and mother. Then she had to watch her daughter destroy herself with drugs?” Sookie shakes her head sympathetically. “I feel so bad for Aunt Linda…”
I can only nod and tuck Sookie’s head beneath my arm as I continue soothing her. “They both suffered greatly,” I murmur, “but do not feel angry, Sookie. Yes, Hadley was selfish and self-destructive, but she should not be hated for her weakness. She was only human. Do not be angry at her for something she could not control.”
Sookie nuzzles into my side and makes an assenting sound in reply to my plea. I do not enjoy feeling Sookie’s anger. Even though I understand from where that negativity stems, I would rather not encourage it.
“I guess it’s easy to be angry,” Sookie murmurs after a moment. “It’s better to forgive.” Slowly I can feel her ire receding while she attempts to find forgiveness within herself. “Besides,” she whispers after a moment, “what good does anger offer?” I nod in agreement as she continues her internal struggle. “I just wish I could understand better, y’know? Understand what she went through.”
“No,” I shake my head, “you would not wish to understand that at all. I would never wish for you to truly understand it.”
Her head peeks up at me, giving me a curious gaze, “Do you understand it?”
Oh, how the hell do you explain something like this? I wonder with a touch of frustration. “Sookie,” I start carefully, “if I were to tell you of my understanding, it would mean divulging another’s story.”
Her face falters as she comprehends that this is not my story to tell, but her eyes speak of a need that encourages me to share.
“Godric came from a human existence of abuse and degradation. As a human, he was a slave boy, scooped from the fields of Gaul, and then later sold to a vampire in ancient Rome. That vampire abused and mutilated Godric for several years before turning him. He scarred and tattooed Godric until he was satisfied with the modifications he made, and immortalized his art.”
Sookie’s jaw slackens with surprise and disgust at my explanation of Godric’s origins. I continue soothing her hair, trying to ease the resentment the story brings.
“Godric was very angry… For a long time, he took that anger and ruthlessness out on any and all he encountered. He was vicious and cruel, mostly to those he found performing acts on others that had been performed upon him up until his Maker’s True Death a few centuries before he turned me. After his Maker was gone, some of that anger was quashed, but his temper remained volatile. After Godric turned me, I think that is when he truly began to heal. He could tell me his secrets, and knew that they were safe…”
“I’m sorry,” Sookie whispers urgently. “You can stop. I won’t tell him that I know-”
I sigh. He would understand. “He spoke to me about the overwhelming loss of hope. He whispered to me the experience of having all your strength and will stripped from you. His pain that he shared through our link was a lesson that bridged a gap in my perception that I needed to fully understand. I needed to fully understand so he could begin healing. So he could have a partner through time who understood his pain.”
“You’re grateful for that, aren’t you?” she asks me in a soft, but surprised voice.
“Eternally,” She stares at me in disbelief. “You could say it was the first dose of compassion I ever knew. If he had not shared and taught me this emotional pain I had never known, I would not have been able to console Pam upon her turning.”
“It’s difficult to fathom,” Sookie admits after a moment. “Even after what was done to Hadley when we were children, I never fully understood any of it. I thought I did, but as I grow older, the memories hurt differently. It’s scary in new ways, but not painful. I can’t comprehend the pain.”
“I am grateful for that,” I tell her softly. “I never want you to know that pain. Even the pain I have experienced is second-hand. My Maker protected me from knowing it, as I will protect you, and so will he.”
“I love you,” she whispers, and I can hear the tears building in her eyes by the strain in her voice.
“As I love you,” I answer before we dissolve into a thoughtful quiet.
We lay in silence for awhile longer, our hands exploring comforting touches. I can feel that she is still out of sorts, but cannot determine if her unease is due to her family or the story I shared. It was a poor time to disclose that information, but it is far too late to take it back. Also, in a way, she needed to know that I understood her cousin’s suffering on a slightly better scale than she originally thought. In a way, I prayed I could always protect her as Godric protected me.
I can’t get my mind off Hadley and Linda. Though my unwanted anger has subsided, a piece of me is still reeling at the terrible news. I want to go to Jason and curl up with him. I know he doesn’t need to be comforted and really, neither do I. Still, the thought that we’re literally the last of the Stackhouses is makin’ me want to be near my brother.
Maybe it’s a need of fortifying our strength as a family after you find yourself thrust into potential oblivion. Maybe it’s just ’cause we’ll be attending yet another funeral, and I need some inner peace before that event.
And today was such a good day, I think morosely.
The last time Jason and I saw Linda and Hadley was at Gran’s funeral. It had already been a trying day, then I’d found Hadley shooting up in the bathroom of the funeral home. I’d told Jason, and he’d gone and told Linda to get Hadley the heck outta there. Then our battle with Social Services had begun, and Jason and I wouldn’t risk goin’ anywhere near our family in fear of being caught in proximity with drugs might do to us.
I begin to wonder if things might have been different if Jason and I hadn’t distanced ourselves so completely from Hadley and Linda. I remind myself I can’t think that way, trying to blame myself for their misfortune. Jason and I had to protect ourselves and I shouldn’t feel guilty for that.
Eric’s kissin’ the top of my head and playin’ with my hair while we continue layin’ in bed together. It’s cozy and content, and I focus on that instead. I start fantasizing about being in London with him, curled up in bed, waiting for our next adventure to begin.
“Never thought I’d see somethin’ so sad,” Jason says softly, giving my hand a squeeze.
I look slowly around the mostly empty room. The only ones occupying the space are me, Jason, Hadley, and Linda. No one has been by the wake all day. It’s just been me and my brother in a room with two dead bodies all day.
And then there’s the little one, I think depressed. Hadley had been two and a half months pregnant when she died. That’s the reason they think Linda may have intentionally overdosed her own daughter. Linda’s thumb print had been found on the plunger of the needle that delivered the fatal dose of heroin. The police think Linda killed her daughter before turning her Winchester upon herself. Maybe we’ll never know the whole truth…
“It’s too bad Eric couldn’t come,” Jason murmurs, puttin’ his arm around my shoulder.
“Yeah, he said the three of them took enough chances that first day. Until they’re ready to let their kind know about their lack of limitations, they really can’t risk bein’ caught on camera anywhere durin’ the day,” I say sadly.
“I know,” Jason sighs. “It just feels … so empty in here.”
“Are you as creeped out as me?” I ask in a whisper.
“Hadley don’t look like herself at all,” Jason nods. “It’s like they gave us a police sketch to bury.”
“He did a real nice job on Linda,” I offer.
“Yeah,” Jason nods again, lookin’ more and more uncomfortable.
“How long do we have to keep this goin’?” I ask guiltily. It’s goin’ on four in the afternoon and we’ve had no one come in to pay their respects.
“I dunno,” Jason confesses. “When Gran died, we coulda kept goin’ a week and people woulda shown up… I feel terrible, findin’ out that Linda did a pretty solid job of isolatin’ her and Hadley, y’know?”
“Yeah,” I reply sadly. Gran was the only one who could get Linda or Hadley to come out among regular people. Linda would only speak with Gran and her psychiatrist. As far as I knew, Hadley only spoke to her dealer and whomever she saw at the gas station where she worked.
We stand in silence a while longer before Jason combs his hand through his hair and mumbles, “We’ll end it at five, I guess?”
“Okay,” is all I can offer along with a comforting pat to his arm.
The minutes tick by slowly, and each one makes me feel worse for longing after it. Am I a terrible person for just wanting to go home already?
Of course, me and Jason are both sad about what’s happened, but, at the same time, we haven’t seen Hadley or Linda since I was five-years-old. That’s not counting the four-minute, awkward conversation during our parents’ funeral, or the twenty-minute sob fest at Gran’s funeral. Over the last thirteen years, I’ve seen my cousin and aunt for a total of thirty minutes.
When we finally leave for the day, hand-in-hand, I ask Jason, “How terrible of a person am I for wanting to get outta there?”
“Not a terrible person at all, Sook,” Jason assures me, kissin’ the top of my head while we walk to his truck. “I’m just surprised no one came. Ain’t like Bon Temps is a boomtown or somethin’. They may not remember Hadley, but the old timers and Linda’s old classmates shoulda remembered her,” he grumbles, put off by the lonesome afternoon.
“I guess… Do you mind drivin’ me to the store on the way to the house?” I ask as we make our way to his truck.
“That’s fine. What do you need?” he asks, helping me into the tall truck since my heels and skirt make it difficult.
“Just some staples,” I reply. “Eric mostly had a lot of non-perishables in the house. I just want to cook some real food… Want to join me for an early supper?” I ask.
“Sounds good,” Jason nods before going to the driver’s side and clamberin’ in.
We go to the little grocery store in Bon Temps. There’s a few cars parked out front, and I hope Jenny isn’t still the cashier. Three cars in the parking lot will keep us in line for a good ten minutes if she’s the one checking us out.
“Sookie?!” I hear, crowing at me down the bread aisle. I turn and see my former best friend, running toward me with her arms flung open.
“Tara!” I shout in surprise, opening my arms to receive her while she nearly hugs the life out of me.
“Girl, I haven’t seen you in so long! What have you been doin’?” Tara asks excitedly.
“Well, I just had my graduation the other day,” I offer. “How have you been?”
“Really? You goin’ to college?” She doesn’t reply to my remark, and I see in her mind that she dropped out and lives in the nearby trailer park. At least she’s out of her mother’s house, I think sympathetically.
“Yeah, I got my acceptance letter from Endene the other day,” I tell her. “What’s new with you?”
“And Jason Stackhouse!” Tara grins up at my brother with her glossy, white teeth. “You’re lookin’ pretty good there!”
“Thanks, Tara,” Jason smiles at her. “You’re lookin’ pretty good yourself.”
“You seen Hoyt yet?” she asks him.
“Nah, this is really the first I’ve stepped into town since around Christmas,” he shrugs.
“What’s with the clothes? You look like you’ve been to a funeral,” Tara frowns.
“Wake, actually. Our aunt and cousin passed away the other day,” Jason tells her.
“Hadley’s dead?” Tara frowns. “Dang, guys, your family can’t catch a break!”
I grimace at Tara’s comment, but I’m also confused by it. “We put out a local obituary,” I say.
Tara shrugs, “I don’t read any newspapers. I’m surprised Hoyt’s momma didn’t tell the whole town. Gossipy bitch.”
I frown at my friend’s harsh words. “So,” I try once more to find out what’s been going on with Tara, “what have you been up to lately?”
Tara dismisses my inquiry again with a wave of her hand, “This and that. Mostly watchin’ every sorry ass gal we shoulda graduated with together marry the first piece of shit who got them in the backs of their Chevys.”
Jason immediately takes my hand in his, clenching it around my engagement ring to hide it from Tara’s sights. Deep down, I’m grateful for his defending response. The last thing I want is to listen to Tara gripe about me being a ‘child bride.’
I don’t know what’s been happening to Tara over the past three years, but it’s plain to see those years have been about as kind to her as they have been to me and Jason.
“Well,” I begin awkwardly, “we have to get goin’. We haven’t eaten all day.”
“Why you shoppin’ here?” Tara tilts her head curiously. “Thought you two was livin’ it up in Shreveport now?”
“We know the guy who bought the farmhouse,” Jason answers smoothly. “He’s lettin’ us stay there, what with the wake and funeral stuff goin’ on.”
“Ugh,” Tara makes a dissatisfied noise, “you see what he done to your old place? I saw demo crews coming in and outta it for weeks.”
“It’s actually really nice inside,” I protest. “He mostly just replaced damages, added a garage, and redid the kitchen layout.”
Tara snorts dismissively at my defense, “Yeah, whatever. Big shot comes in and buys up all that land, practically robs you guys of your heritage, and you cozy up to him? Girl, you just be careful what you bargain to try and get your house back.”
My face creases into a frown, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
With a knowing smile, Tara looks at me, “Sook, it’s plain as day what you got on your mind.”
“Really? ‘Cause I don’t see it,” I try to keep the snarl out of my tone, but at Jason’s warning squeeze of my hand, I know I failed.
“You’re gonna try and charm your way back into your old house,” Tara tells me. “That’s cool. You got the goods. I bet you could pull it off.”
My lips purse with dissatisfaction. I don’t know what’s happened to my former best friend these past few years, but, at this point, I couldn’t care less! My brother and I limped through losses, CPS threats, hunger, and exhaustion. We didn’t let all that change us into whatever Tara’s on the verge of becoming.
“Tara,” I begin slowly, letting the disappointment ring in my voice, “I don’t know that you were ever my friend if that is what you think I’m capable of. If you’re going to make up tales like that and believe them, fine! Spread them around if it makes you feel better about yourself, but the next time you see me in the grocery store, you’d be better off ignoring me!” I yank my hand out of Jason’s and hold up my engagement ring for her to see. “You can believe this is the result of me worming my way back into my childhood home, but the truth is, I cared about that man before I even knew he owned it.”
Tara blinks rapidly at my declaration, unable to fathom the rock on my ring finger. I hear her thinking the diamond can’t possibly be real, but I’ve already dismissed her opinion of being of any importance to me.
“Get yourself together, Tara, and stop blaming everyone else for how your life is turning out. If you think everyone’s an asshole, maybe you should take a long, hard look in the mirror to realize that asshole is you,” I take Jason’s hand back into mine and drag him toward the checkout. We don’t have everything we came for, but I don’t want to be near my former best friend any longer than necessary.
“Dang, Sooks!” Jason gasps. “I ain’t ever heard you talk to someone like that!”
“I hope you never do again,” I reply, practically slamming our food on to the register. “Can you believe her?!” I demand icily. “Did you hear how she said ‘we should have graduated together with’?! Like moving to Shreveport was my idea?!” Jason catches the carton of eggs I was about to smash in to the belt.
“Whoa, Sookie, calm down!” Jason laughs. “You know Tara, she’s always been like that. Her problems are always everyone else’s fault. Failed her English test, and it was your fault for not being a better tutor. Couldn’t do her science lab and it was the teacher’s fault for not explaining it properly. Missed the eighth-grade dance and it was Lafayette’s fault for getting high with her beforehand.”
As Jason lists examples, I begin to wonder how Tara and I ever remained friends. My face frowns at the thought. Tara wasn’t all bad. Sure, she had issues accepting she brought most of her misfortunes upon herself, but, at the same time, Tara had a mighty strong cop-out. Her mother.
Ms. Thornton was an abusive alcoholic. Tara spent more nights at Gran’s house than she did at her own. We shared everything, and practically grew up as sisters. After Gran died, I wasn’t the only one who lost her mother figure. Tara had, too. The difference was, I had Jason. Tara didn’t have anyone.
I was conflicted now. Maybe if I’d tried harder to stay in contact with her after I’d left, things wouldn’t have been so hard on her. Maybe she could have made it through high school.
“Sookie,” Jason nudges me out of my thoughts, “I know that look, and I know when to tell you to let it go. There was nothing you coulda done.”
“I could have stayed in touch,” I mumble.
“How? Sook, we were both working and going to school every minute of our lives! You couldn’t have taken a minute outta studyin’ and won that scholarship to Endene. We’ve been fighting tooth and nail since we lost Gran, and we finally managed to crawl out of a hole!”
“No, Sook,” Jason hands Jenny the money for the food and takes the grocery sacks from the bagger, “there are no ‘buts’. Sometimes friends grow apart. It happens. You can’t take responsibility if a former friend’s life went south. It’s Tara’s life, and you can’t let her bring you down this way. Tara’s doing what she’s always done, tryin’ to blame someone else for not keeping her shit on track.”
“I just feel like I should help her,” I admit while we walk back to the truck. Jason puts the passenger seat forward to set down the groceries, then helps me into my seat.
“Of course, you do! You’ve always tried to help everyone you could. You spent every spare second you could doin’ those high school charity events. I think you was workin’ on about as much sleep as I was those times. You starved yourself last winter just so I could keep my rations the same. You tutored classmates at the diner. Sook, you do enough. There’s no rule sayin’ none of that means anything just ’cause Tara wasn’t one of the people you helped.”
He closes my door and walks around the truck to the driver seat. When he’s settled behind the wheel, he takes my hand and starts driving us to the farmhouse.
Once we arrive home, Eric is already walkin’ out to meet us and helps me out of the truck while Jason gets the groceries.
“How are you feeling, Sookie?” Eric asks me sweetly, pushing some loose strands of hair behind my ears and looking in to my eyes like he’s tryin’ to judge by them alone.
“We’re Bonded, Eric. You know the answer,” I tease weakly.
“Knowing how you feel and knowing why you feel that way are two completely different things,” he points out.
I sigh as we make our way to the kitchen. Jason and I quickly unpack the food, and I begin preparing an early supper.
“What can I say?” I flounder a moment. “It was a crappy, depressing day. No one showed up for the wake. We sat around with a couple corpses all day, and then I ran into my former best friend at the grocery store. She proceeded to talk crap about me, and I feel like a jerk for abandoning her-”
“Sook, you didn’t abandon Tara!” Jason snarls. “Get it outta yer head already. She’s a bitch, and she ain’t worth your time worryin’ over her.”
“I am confused,” Eric sits at the kitchen counter next to Jason while I bustle around the kitchen. “Why do you feel guilty for dropping a friend who treats you terribly?”
“Because Sookie should fix everyone’s problems,” Jason answers sarcastically. “Nothing’s ever anyone’s fault but hers.”
“You see, that makes sense,” Eric nods in agreement. “After all, an eighteen-year-old woman has all the time in the world to fix every problem under the sun.”
“Oh, don’t forget, she has to be an honor roll student with a full scholarship, community service hours, workforce experience… Oh, and she has to know what it’s like to starve-”
“Enough!” I snap. “I get it. I’m spreading myself too thin! I still have the entire summer. I could at least help her try to get her GED.”
“Sookie,” Eric interrupts me, “we leave for England this weekend and will not return until the week before your first day of college.”
“Oh, right,” I mumble, going back to the meal I’m working on.
“Just let it go,” Jason begs.
I murmur an apology and a tentative promise to do my best. I don’t know if I can keep that promise, though. I don’t know if I can abandon Tara, no matter how much help she does or does not deserve from me.