Chapter Seven: Tasteless Thanksgiving
“Are you ready yet?” Eric groaned at his sister who was still preparing for their Thanksgiving with the Stackhouse family.
“Fine, fine,” Pam grumbled as she flicked her lashes with one last coat of mascara and finally rose from her vanity. “You know, Mrs. Stackhouse said we didn’t have to be there right at one.”
“They were kind enough to let us join in their Thanksgiving, Pam,” Godric called from his room. His sister’s voice had a habit of carrying. “Otherwise it would be the three of us, and you’d get stuck with most of the cooking. Be thankful.”
Pam huffed as she slipped her shoes on and followed Eric out into the hall. Godric emerged from his room, straightening his tie.
“Is this really going to be a tie situation?” Eric groaned as he saw his brother holding another one in his hand.
“If Jason isn’t wearing one when we get there then we can take them off,” Godric promised as his younger, but taller, brother leaned down for him to tie his noose.
Eric resigned himself to the situation as his older brother knotted his tie and clapped his shoulder for a signal of finality. After that, the siblings made their way downstairs, and out onto the front lawn. What they did not expect was to see a brunette woman stepping out of her sleek, red sedan.
“Can we help you?” Godric called to the mysterious woman in the lovely, flowing dress.
“Are you the Northman children?” the woman called as she came closer to the front steps.
“Who wants to know?” Eric asked with a frown.
“I’m Maryann Northman! Your aunt!”
Sookie stood anxiously near the door, smoothing the front of her dress and fussing with her hair. Every so often she’d get sidetracked with straightening a throw pillow or folding the corner of one of the afghans over the back of the couch. Then she would be back at the door, craning her neck to see if her friends were coming.
“What’s her deal?” Hadley grumbled from the couch. She couldn’t believe her mother had dragged her to Gran’s house again. She’d hoped after last year’s fiasco; she’d be banned from all future family gatherings.
“Her boyfriend and his family are joining us for dinner, Hadley,” Linda sighed as she reminded her daughter for the third time about the dinner party.
“Are you feeling alright, Dear?” Gran asked of Hadley as she came in with a platter of crudites.
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Hadley rolled her eyes and slumped further into the couch.
“Hadley Delahousse!” Gran snapped, but her granddaughter didn’t even flinch. “You better remember your manners when the other guests arrive!”
“Yeah, whatever,” Hadley scowled.
Linda placed her head in her hand, and Sookie could have sworn she heard her begin to count slowly.
Rather than focus on the drama in the living room, Sookie instead pressed her face against the glass of the door before realizing it would leave an imprint of her makeup. Panicking, she ran to grab the Windex and a paper towel.
On her way back to the door, the phone rang, and Sookie’s hand shot out to answer without even thinking. When the receiver was at her mouth, Sookie froze and then began looking around for help.
“Hello?” Godric’s voice came over the phone.
Crap! What do I do!? Sookie did the only thing she could think of and pressed a number on the keypad, so a BEEEEP came over the line.
There was a short pause and then a chuckle, “Sookie, did you answer the phone? Beep once for ‘yes.'” She pressed the button again. “Go get Gran. I’ll wait.”
Running back to the living room, Sookie pointed at Gran and held her hand up to her head like she was taking a call.
“Sookie, did the phone ring?” Gran asked her as Sookie bounced into the living room.
“And you answered it?” Hadley snorted with a laugh. “What’d you do? Forget you were a mute?”
“Shut up, Hadley,” Jason groaned.
“Don’t be rude, Jason,” Gran chastised as she headed for the kitchen.
“I’ll stop being rude when Hadley shuts up,” Jason called.
“Manwhore,” Hadley snapped at her cousin.
“Junkie,” Jason retaliated without pause.
“Red neck,” Hadley shot back.
“You’d know all about dicks in your face,” Jason pointed out lazily.
Hadley retorted by throwing a pillow at Jason’s head from which he easily tilted his face away. Sookie quickly picked the cushion back up and put it back in its proper place.
“Listen up, everyone!” Gran called as she returned from the kitchen. “Godric’s aunt has apparently shown up for Thanksgiving, but since we’ve already invited the family, I told him to bring her along. Now, none of us have met Maryann, so I want everyone on their best behavior!”
Sookie was the only one in the room who didn’t glare at Hadley, but the black sheep of the family was pretty sure it was because she was too busy wiping down the front door window.
Eric said they never even met their father’s sister, Sookie thought to herself curiously. As far as any of them knew, Maryann just disappeared when she was 16, and their father never saw her again.
Sookie managed to do one more round of straightening up before Eric’s family arrived at their front door. She made sure not to swing the doors open too swiftly, and smiled politely at their Aunt Maryann as she came into the house. Maryann gave Sookie the sweetest of smiles as she passed through. Sookie paused at the aunt’s pleasant expression. It reminded her of a more refined way Sookie herself smiled most days. An attempt to be charming while simultaneously uncomfortable. Maryann had apparently been practicing her smile for quite some time.
“You must be Maryann,” Gran greeted the stranger graciously. “Please, come in. There are some appetizers in the living room, and dinner will be finishing up in about an hour.” Gran ushered the unexpected guest into the living room and began gesturing around the room. “That young man there is my grandson Jason. Those two ladies are my daughter, Linda, and her daughter, Hadley. The young lady who is right behind you is my granddaughter, Sookie.”
Maryann glanced behind her shoulder at Sookie, and the young woman felt like she’d just had her cheeks licked by a roaring fire. The smile on Maryann’s lips made the younger girl’s heart beat quickly. For whatever reason, her boyfriend’s aunt seemed to take an instant interest in Sookie. Usually, the silent girl would have thought that pleasant smile directed at her was suspicious, but if Maryann was related to Pam, then perhaps Northmans just had an immediate liking for her? This thought waged war with the previous look that Maryann had worn. Unsure which expression to believe, Sookie waited silently for more evidence.
Suddenly, Maryann’s demeanor changed as she focused solely on Sookie, and everyone was stunned as she signed, “Hello, Sookie.”
“I’m not deaf. You can talk to me,” Sookie signaled back.
“Sorry, I know only that little bit,” Maryann mumbled to Gran. “What did she say?”
“She said,” Eric boomed, “that she isn’t deaf and that you can talk to her like normal.”
“Did you tell her I sign?” Sookie asked of Eric.
“No. I told her we were having dinner at my girlfriend’s house,” Eric replied.
“It’s not polite to have side conversations like that,” Maryann chastised.
“Sookie can’t speak,” Gran explained. “Eric’s been teaching her to use sign language these past couple months.”
“But she’s not deaf?” Maryann asked again.
“No, not at all,” Gran cleared her throat uncomfortably. She wasn’t sure what this woman’s fixation with Sookie was, but it was unsettling. “Please, sit. Would you like something to drink? There’s tea, ginger ale, water-“
“If you have a dry red, that would be fine,” Maryann told her.
“I have a cabernet?” Gran offered reluctantly. She’d prefer not to serve alcohol in front of Hadley.
“That’s fine,” Maryann waved her hand at Gran, and Jason found himself sitting up straighter in his chair. He didn’t like the woman treating his Gran like a waitress.
As his grandmother left the room, Jason stood from his seat and followed her into the kitchen. “I got it, Gran.” He took the corkscrew and bottle from her to start opening it.
“Are you alright, Jason?” Gran asked, touching his arm consolingly.
“I don’t like that Aunt,” Jason admitted in a low voice. “She just shows up at a stranger’s house, tries to bond with Sookie and then orders you around like a staff member?”
“I want to know why she thought Sookie was deaf in the first place?” Gran confessed as she took the open bottle from her grandson and began hunting down a wine glass. She didn’t bother letting the wine breathe before sloshing it into a glass and handing it to Jason to serve their guest. Jason begrudgingly followed Adele back to the living room and heard the mysterious aunt’s voice beginning her tale.
“I’ve been looking for my brother’s family for years now,” Maryann Northman’s voice was saying to Linda as Jason and Adele returned to the living room together. “If I hadn’t been in New York around the time he died, I wouldn’t have even known where to begin looking for anyone! If his walk in front of a car hadn’t caused such a huge traffic jam, I doubt his death would have made it beyond the obituaries.”
Sookie looked to Pam whose face had tightened into a sour expression.
“Our mother died of cancer that same week,” Eric injected. “Would you like to make light of that too?”
Maryann’s face softened, “I didn’t know your mother at all. I would never have a thing to say about her, but my brother was a piece of work. Are you saying he changed at all? I remember him as selfish, cold, and dismissive.”
“Remind you of anyone else?” Jason grumbled in Sookie’s ear as he passed her. His sister’s face squished down to repress a smirk.
“Even if our father wasn’t the best one out there,” Eric continued, “at least we spent more than six years with him. Kids are greedy and stubborn. Are you going to pretend you knew a thing about him just because you knew him as a child?”
That you-poor-kid look on Maryann’s face only grew more prominent at Eric’s uncharacteristic defense of his father. “You’re defending the man who killed himself and left his kids to fend for themselves?” Maryann stared. For the first time Sookie could remember, she wanted to slap someone.
“You know,” Hadley sighed, annoyed with the situation, “I really couldn’t give a shit about any of you. Regardless, you shouldn’t talk about all this in front of another family who’ve lost their mom and dad. Some people are sensitive about that kinda shit.” Hadley stood up from her seat.
“Hadley, where are you going?” Linda asked anxiously.
“To smoke a joint. Wanna come?” Hadley grinned darkly.
“Hadley!” Linda gasped.
“Suit yourself,” Hadley shrugged and headed for the door.
“Is Hadley not using heroin anymore?” Jason asked in surprise.
“Not since May, as far as I know,” Linda mumbled.
“Well, heck, I’d take her using weed over needles any day of the week,” Jason nodded approvingly.
“She’s still using drugs,” Linda snapped.
“Yeah, well at least she’s not gonna get AIDS from a joint,” Jason pointed out. “Although, I wonder if she’s more likely to have a relapse if she’s smoking pot?”
Maryann stared at the family members, seemingly annoyed to have been forgotten during the young woman’s argument and somewhat unorthodox departure from the group. Eric, however, was staring at his girlfriend in concern. She had seemed to lose focus on the conversation when Hadley had spoken up.
Tapping Sookie’s shoulder, Eric asked, “It still really hurts, doesn’t it?” Sookie slowly nodded, having nowhere near the number of words she needed to express her feelings on the situation. Eric felt lost momentarily as he absorbed the guilt that shimmered around her like a foreboding aura. In the past months Eric had suspected that his girlfriend carried a heavy burden of survivor’s remorse. He wished he could take that weight from her shoulders. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Sookie’s head lowered as she refused to accept his assurances. If she could remember the day of the crash, maybe it would be easier to believe.
Without meaning to be so forward in front of their families, Eric was already reaching for Sookie. An urge to bring Sookie reassurance and comfort outweighed the faux pas of the intimate kiss he gave his girlfriend. It wasn’t one of their school worthy pecks on the lips. It wasn’t a kiss of desire like the ones they had exchanged in his bedroom. This kiss was a flood of protectiveness. Sookie felt marked by this lips as if they had put a good luck charm on her. For a moment, she felt like he was blessing her, cleansing her of any and all wrongdoings.
As his mouth left hers, Sookie found herself wanting the moment to last a moment longer. She wanted to continue feeling that sense of absolution, and her brain fixated on keeping Eric and his lips within reach. “Eh,” Sookie found her throat close as he pulled away. Far more than the pleasurable ‘ah’ while they made out the previous week, Eric was filled with happiness. The first sound of his name had managed to slip past her lips.
“My name?” he asked hopefully. She nodded in embarrassment. “Best moment of my life so far.” She looked up at him shyly as he said this, hardly daring to hope that he was honest. There was doubt in her mind that the sound had been voluntary. It felt more like a sob, much like when she listened to Pam playing the viola. However, if that simple, little noise could give Eric that much happiness, why would she take it from him with her doubts?
Adele watched the young couple with her heart pounding. In eight years, she hadn’t heard her daughter utter a sound that wasn’t out of pain or sadness. To listen to her voice sound out of love or appreciation was the greatest gift. That small sound was one of the greatest moments in Adele’s long life. For the first time in a long time, Adele finally had hoped she would hear her granddaughter speak again.
Maryann sat sipping her glass of wine and watching the events around her unfold. I waited too long, she realized in annoyance. She had known if she suddenly appeared after her brother’s death that her nephews and niece would be suspicious of her timing at trying to enter their lives. Unfortunately, when they had left New York and moved to Bon Temps, Maryann had believed they would take a while to transition to their new home. I should have realized they would adapt faster from transferring around as kids. She scowled a bit as she took another swallow of the cheap cabernet. The worst part was that her private investigator had severely misjudged her younger nephew’s girlfriend. She’d gone and made a fool out of herself, having already come up with the excuse of recognizing little telltale signs that the girl was deaf. She wasn’t deaf at all, and now everyone was wondering why she had used ASL in the first place.
Maybe it’s not even worth the attempt, Maryann thought miserably. Ever since she was sixteen years old, she’d been a master at conning grown men out of their hard-earned money. The woman had figured it would be a cakewalk to convince her brother’s children to let her manage the household while they finished school. By the time they were all done with school, she would have siphoned every last penny of their inheritance and vanished before anyone knew what had happened.
The problem was, her charisma always tended to lean toward the sexual end of the spectrum, and she wasn’t quite as adept at getting her way by other means. On occasion, she managed to form a kinship that didn’t revolve around sex, but those were temporary roles with the children of the men she swindled. She was good at playing the ‘fun girlfriend’ that kids loved, but ever since she had met with her nephews and niece, she felt like a gate had closed between them. They wanted nothing to do with her. Getting along with her wouldn’t appease a soul, and they knew it.
Whether her brother’s children suspected what her intentions were or not, it was evident that a short burst of friendship wouldn’t get her what she wanted. The children had already allied with one another. She’d have a hard time breaking it without leverage, and Eric’s girlfriend had been meant to become that leverage. Thanks to a lazy private investigator, though, that possibility seemed far less attainable. Sookie was suspicious of her too. She’d never be able to drive in that wedge now.
In a last-ditch effort, Maryann had tried to bond over anger toward her brother, but that too had been fruitless. Their suspicion of her was not allowing the Northmans to create any sort of rapport with their aunt.
“Would you like another glass of wine, Maryann?” Adele asked politely, interrupting the woman’s musings.
“I suppose,” the woman thrust her glass at Adele and Jason had finally had enough.
“Well, y’all must’ve gotten your manners from your mama, ’cause it definitely didn’t come from your daddy’s side,” Jason snarled. Pam smirked, and both Godric and Eric flinched. “M’am, if you don’t start showing your hostess some respect, I’ll have to ask you to leave our house.”
“Jason!” Adele scolded.
Maryann raised her eyebrows at the threat, “Are you saying your manners are better than mine?”
“Nope, I’m a total asshole,” Jason replied. “That’s why I’m speaking up for everyone else.”
“Gran,” Jason looked at his grandmother with a stern expression on his face, “you can smile politely, but I won’t let anyone walk over you.” Moving his gaze from Gran to their unwanted guest, Jason stared the stranger down. “I’m just gonna say exactly what you need to hear, lady.” Maryanne raised her eyebrows at him expectantly. “Godric, Eric, and Pam don’t control their inheritance. A lawyer up north does. They don’t get a real dime to themselves for at least another six years.”
Rising from her seat, Maryann sighed and walked to the door, “Well you’ve certainly saved me some deliberating.”
“What are you talking about?” Godric asked coldly, and Maryann smiled at the look in his eyes.
“You already know the answer to that, don’t you, Godric?” Maryann assured him.
“You wanted to get to our inheritance,” Godric acknowledged. He’d had a sinking suspicion, but hadn’t wanted to push away their last remaining relative out of paranoia.
“Bingo,” Maryann snapped her fingers. “Seeing as it would involve a lot more effort than I’m willing to utilize, I guess I’ll just cut my losses.”
Sookie looked at Eric in surprise and concern, but her boyfriend seemed less than impressed by the turn of events. She could have sworn that he looked relieved.
“Well, then I happily ask you to get the fuck out,” Jason laughed as he bounced ahead of her to open the door. “Don’t let it hit ya on the way out!”
When their aunt had left, the Northmans looked at one another uncomfortably before launching into immediate apologies to their hosts.
“I won’t hear it,” Adele waved off their apologies. “You were giving your family a chance, and they just wanted to hurt you. You have nothing to apologize for.”
Before things could get any more awkward, Pam rose and announced, “I’m going to check on Hadley. If she left because of our aunt, I’d like to make sure she’s alright.”
Gran gave the girl a grateful smile. “Remind her that dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes.”
Pam nodded as she stepped outside. Looking around a moment, Pam decided the best place for having a joint would probably be downwind of the house, so she headed toward the woods.
“Hadley?” Pam called.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be back in a minute,” Hadley grumbled from behind a large fir tree.
Pam paused as the girl came into view. As her friend’s cousin came closer, Pam sniffed her hair. She smelled saturated in perfume, but there was no lingering odor of marijuana.
“Did you shoot up?” Pam accused.
“The fuck do you care?” Hadley pushed past her to head for the house, and Pam caught her wrist. “Let go.”
“You’re not high.”
“Mark it on the calendar,” Hadley snapped, trying to yank her hand back.
“How long have you been sober?” Pam asked.
Realizing that this stranger wasn’t going to let up, Hadley sighed, “Since May.”
“Why are you letting your mom think that you still smoke pot if you’re not on anything?”
Hadley scoffed, “You wouldn’t get it.”
“I get hiding things about myself,” Pam assured her lazily. “If you don’t want to talk about it, you can say so, but you haven’t told me it’s none of my business.”
Hadley stared at her cousin’s friend for a moment before she rolled her eyes and sat down in the cold grass. “You promise not to tell anyone?”
Pam had to admit this was the first time someone had made her promise not to tell that they weren’t using drugs, but she nodded in agreement.
“Gran’s sent me to rehab once already,” Hadley whispered. “Paid for it out of her pocket even though she’s gotta raise my cousins by herself… And I failed. I mean, completely failed. I wasn’t back from rehab two days before I was using again.”
“But you’re clean now,” Pam pointed out encouragingly.
“I had a miscarriage back in May,” Hadley whispered. “I didn’t even know I was two months pregnant. I didn’t know who the father was. Fuck, I didn’t even know that I’d slept with anyone at that time. I just knew the God-awful cramping, and the fever was enough that I went to the ER. They told me I was having a miscarriage. I’d killed my baby I didn’t even know I had.”
Pam sat quietly beside the woman as she listened to her confession.
“I wasted my Gran’s money, and I killed my baby,” Hadley continued as she looked out into the sky that was turning a beautiful, burnt orange. “So, I decided if I were going to quit, I wouldn’t burden anyone else I knew with it. I got a job at a gas station, and I always told my mom my shifts were an hour longer than they were. I’d go to addiction groups either before or after my shift. After I hit my first thirty days, I guess I was scared I’d jinx myself if I told anyone. Maybe I’d get their expectations too high.”
Hadley let out a long sigh as if a giant weight had finally come off her shoulders. “So I showed you mine. You gonna show me yours?”
Pam flinched, “Well, I’m not entirely alone in mine. My brothers know, and it’s less about overcoming and more about accepting.”
“Oh, just spit it out,” Hadley rolled her eyes before staring at Pam expectantly.
“I’m a lesbian, and I never grew the backbone to tell my parents before they died. Also, I was pretty in love with Sookie for awhile,” Pam confessed.
“Yeah, I totally kick your ass at demons in the closet,” Hadley commented as she looked out at the landscape once again. “But, I guess it can’t be easy figuring out all that crap, and you did come out to your brothers eventually. That had to be hard.”
Pam shrugged, “They love me. It was harder seeing my brother get the girl I wanted, but I can’t change the fact that Sookie’s straight. We can’t all be perfect.”
Hadley snorted with a laugh, “Yeah, well, to be fair, your brother is super hot.”
Pam shook her head, “That’s what I keep hearing, but don’t tell him that. He already knows.”
“Sookie really likes him,” Hadley told her. “Before you guys got here, she was running around like a scared rabbit getting everything just-so.”
“I know she does. I’m her best friend. I can tell too,” Pam smiled. “She’s a lot less stuck in her head when he’s around. She smiles more naturally and is a lot sassier.”
The two young women were quiet for a couple of minutes as they absorbed everything they had shared with one another. Eventually, Pam looked at Hadley and asked, “Is Sookie still really sensitive about her parents’ deaths?”
Hadley nodded, “Yeah. Jason didn’t help matters any by blaming her for the accident, but we were all kids at the time. Jason just needed someone to blame, I guess.”
“And Sookie just believed he was right?” Pam demanded.
“No,” Hadley shook her head, “I don’t think that was it. As far as I know, she doesn’t remember what happened the day of the crash. A lot of people asked her, but the only thing my cousin wrote was that her dad was yelling a lot. I don’t know if she thinks he was yelling at her, or maybe he was. Either way, I don’t think it had anything to do with Sookie.”
“Why do you say that?” Pam asked.
“Because Great Uncle Bartlett hasn’t been seen since that day either,” Hadley whispered.
Pam raised her eyebrows like Hadley was unexpectedly telling a ghost story. “What does that mean?”
Hadley rose from the ground and began brushing grass from her skirt, “See if Sookie remembers at all. She’s your friend right?”
“Hadley!” Pam jumped to her feet as well. “Are you saying that your great uncle hurt Sookie?”
“I’m saying,” Hadley’s face darkened, “that if you told me he did, and that Uncle Corbett did something about it; I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Pam felt nauseated all through dinner. Her meal, though delicious, was barely even registering on her taste buds. She couldn’t manage to look at Sookie throughout the entire meal, and she was worried her friend would soon notice her avoidance.
How the hell am I supposed to ask anything about that?! She wondered angrily as spite for Hadley festered in her stomach. Does Hadley expect me to go up to Sookie and ask if she was raped by her great uncle and witnessed her father murdering her rapist!?
“Pam, are you feeling alright, Dear?” Adele asked. “You look so pale!”
“I don’t think I’m used to eating so much,” Pam uttered as she put her utensils back on her plate and rubbed her stomach.
“Oh, my,” Adele fretted, “I’ll get you a peppermint to suck on. Godric, maybe you should take your sister home. She looks terrible!”
“Don’t worry about me,” Pam tried to ease the old woman’s concerns. “I feel bad that I can’t clear my plate.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Adele returned with plastic wrapped peppermint candy. “Suck on that and maybe go lay down on the couch for a little bit.”
Grateful to be excused from the dining table, Pam curled up on the sofa and pulled a homemade afghan over her body.
Is it worth knowing? She wondered. If Sookie doesn’t remember, is it worth hurting her to find out? Is she better off never remembering?
The thought of some sick, old man chasing after Sookie made the turning in Pam’s stomach intensify. At that moment, she hated Hadley for putting that image in her head. Did Sookie call her dad screaming for help? Pam felt tears build in her eyes. Whenever she’d been in trouble, she’d always run to her brothers. She couldn’t remember a time her father came to help her when she asked. It was always Eric and Godric that dropped what they were doing to go to her concerts. Her big brothers were still the ones who stepped in when she got picked on, or a guy gave her attention that she didn’t want.
A gentle hand pressed against Pam’s shoulder and she looked up to see Sookie crouching in front of her.
“You okay?” she asked with just the movement of her lips and the simplest tilt of her head.
“Yeah,” Pam mumbled.
Sookie fell to her knees and then rested herself against the side of the couch. Pam watched as Sookie took her hand and began stroking it soothingly. Her friend was always so gentle and calm. She couldn’t allow Hadley’s theories and ghost stories to haunt her.
Then again, maybe Hadley had a run-in with this Bartlett guy, and that’s why she’s worried about it? Pam wondered. Maybe there’s someone else I can ask about that day…
Pam shivered at the idea of asking Adele about it. Hey, Mrs. Stackhouse, do you know anything about a guy named Bartlett trying to molest your granddaughters? That opening would surely go over like a lead balloon whether Adele knew anything or not. Still, Adele was her best hope to figuring anything out.
The only consolation Pam could take was that she didn’t need to act immediately. She had time to build up the courage to get nosey. Maybe in time, she’d forget the whole mess and let the Stackhouses bury painful memories for good.