Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have walked over to see what was on the deck. Bill and Eric seemed subdued, and when vampires seem subdued, it means you don't really want to go investigate.
"We'll have to burn the cabin," Eric said from a few yards away. "I wish Callisto had taken care of her own mess."
"She never has," Bill said, "that I have heard. It is the madness. What does true madness care about discovery?"
"Oh, I don't know," Eric said carelessly. He sounded as if he was lifting something. There was a heavy thud. "I have seen a few people who were definitely mad and quite crafty with it."
"That's true," Bill said. "Shouldn't we leave a couple of them on the porch?"
"How can you tell?"
"That's true, too. It's a rare night I can agree with you this much."
"She called me and asked me to help." Eric was responding to the subtext rather than the statement.
"Then, all right. But you remember our agreement."
"How can I forget?"
"You know Sookie can hear us."
"Quite all right with me," Eric said, and laughed. I stared up at the night and wondered, not too curiously, what the hell they were talking about. It's not like I was Russia, to be parceled out to the strongest dictator. Sam was resting beside me, back in his human form, and stark naked. At the moment, I could not have cared less. The cold didn't bother Sam, since he was a shapeshifter.
"Whoops, here's a live one," Eric called.
"Tara," Sam called.
Tara scrambled down the steps of the deck and over to us. She flung her arms around me and began sobbing. With tremendous weariness, I held her and let her boo-hoo. I was still in my Daisy Duke outfit, and she was in her fire-engine lingerie. We were like big white water lilies in a cold pond, we two. I made myself straighten up and hold Tara.
"Would there be a blanket in that cabin, you think?" I asked Sam. He trotted over to the steps, and I noticed the effect was interesting from behind. After a minute, he trotted back – wow, this view was even more arresting – and wrapped a blanket around the two of us.
"I must be gonna live," I muttered.
"Why do you say that?" Sam was curious. He didn't seem unduly surprised by the events of the night.
I could hardly tell him it was because I'd watched him bounce around, so I said, "How are Eggs and Andy?"
"Sounds like a radio show," Tara said suddenly, and giggled. I didn't like the sound of it.
"They're still standing where she left them," Sam reported. "Still staring."
"I'm – still – staring," Tara sang, to the tune of Elton's "I'm Still Standing."
He and Bill were just about to start the fire. They strolled over to us for a last-minute check.
"What car did you come in?" Bill asked Tara.
"Ooo, a vampire," she said. "You're Sookie's honey, aren't you? Why were you at the game the other night with a dog like Portia Bellefleur?"
"She's kind, too," Eric said. He looked down at Tara with a sort of beneficent but disappointed smile, like a dog breeder regarding a cute, but inferior, puppy.
"What car did you come in?" Bill asked again. "If there is a sensible side to you, I want to see it now."
"I came in the white Camaro," she said, quite soberly. "I'll drive it home. Or maybe I better not. Sam?"
"Sure, I'll drive you home. Bill, you need my help here?"
"I think Eric and I can cope. Can you take the skinny one?"
"Eggs? I'll see."
Tara gave me a kiss on the cheek and began picking her way across the yard to her car. "I left the keys in it," she called.
"What about your purse?" The police would surely wonder if they found Tara's purse in a cabin with a lot of bodies.
"Oh… it's in there."
I looked at Bill silently, and he went in to fetch the purse. He returned with a big shoulder bag, large enough to contain not only makeup and everyday items, but also a change of clothing.
"This is yours?"
"Yes, thanks," Tara said, taking the bag from him as if she were afraid his fingers might touch hers. She hadn't been so picky earlier in the evening, I thought.
Eric was carrying Eggs to her car. "He will not remember any of this," Eric told Tara as Sam opened the back door of the Camaro so Eric could lay Eggs inside.
"I wish I could say the same." Her face seemed to sag on its bones under the weight of the knowledge of what had happened this night. "I wish I'd never seen that thing, whatever she is. I wish I'd never come here, to start with. I hated doing this. I just thought Eggs was worth it." She gave a look to the inert form in the backseat of her car. "He's not. No one is."
"I can remove your memory, too." Eric made the offer offhandedly.
"No," she said. "I need to remember some of this, and it's worth carrying the burden of the rest." Tara sounded twenty years older. Sometimes we can grow up all in a minute; I'd done that when I was about seven and my parents died. Tara had done that this night.
"But they're all dead, all but me and Eggs and Andy. Aren't you afraid we'll talk? Are you gonna come after us?"
Eric and Bill exchanged glances. Eric moved a little closer to Tara. "Look, Tara," he began, in a very reasonable voice, and she made the mistake of glancing up. Then, once her gaze was fixed, Eric began to erase the memory of the night. I was just too tired to protest, as if that would do any good. If Tara could even raise the question, she shouldn't be burdened with the knowledge. I hoped she wouldn't repeat her mistakes, having been separated from the knowledge of what they had cost her; but she couldn't be allowed to tell tales.
Tara and Eggs, driven by Sam (who had borrowed Eggs's pants), were on their way back to town when Bill began arranging -a natural-looking fire to consume the cabin. Eric was apparently counting bones up on the deck, to make sure the bodies there were complete enough to reassure the investigators. He went across the yard to check on Andy.
"Why does Bill hate the Bellefleurs so much?" I asked him again.
"Oh, that's an old story," Eric said. "Back from before Bill had even changed over." He seemed satisfied by Andy's condition and went back to work.
I heard a car approaching, and Bill and Eric both appeared in the yard instantly. I could hear a faint crackle from the far side of the cabin. "We can't start the fire from more than one place, or they may be able to tell it wasn't natural," Bill said to Eric. "I hate these strides in police science."
"If we hadn't decided to go public, they'd have to blame it on one of them," Eric said. "But as it is, we are such attractive scapegoats… it's galling, when you think of how much stronger we are."
"Hey, guys, I'm not a Martian, I'm a human, and I can hear you just fine," I said. I was glaring at them, and they were looking perhaps one-fiftieth embarrassed, when Portia Bellefleur got out of her car and ran to her brother. "What have you done to Andy?" she said, her voice harsh and cracking. "You damn vampires." She pulled the collar of Andy's shirt this way and that, looking for puncture marks.
"They saved his life," I told her.
Eric looked at Portia for a long moment, evaluating her, and then he began to search the cars of the dead revelers. He'd gotten their car keys, which I didn't want to picture.
Bill went over to Andy and said, "Wake up," in the quietest voice, so quiet it could hardly be heard a few feet away.
Andy blinked. He looked over at me, confused that I wasn't still in his grasp, I guess. He saw Bill, so close to him, and he flinched, expecting retaliation. He registered that Portia was at his side. Then he looked past Bill at the cabin.
"It's on fire," he observed, slowly.
"Yes," Bill said. "They are all dead, except the two who've gone back into town. They knew nothing."
"Then… these people did kill Lafayette?"
"Yes," I said. "Mike, and the Hardaways, and I guess maybe Jan knew about it."
"But I haven't got any proof."
"Oh, I think so," Eric called. He was looking down into the trunk of Mike Spencer's Lincoln.
We all moved to the car to see. Bill's and Eric's superior vision made it easy for them to tell there was blood in die trunk, blood and some stained clothes and a wallet. Eric reached down and carefully flipped the wallet open.
"Can you read whose it is?" Andy asked.
"Lafayette Reynold," Eric said.
"So if we just leave the cars like this, and we leave, the police will find what's in the trunk and it'll all be over. I'll be clear."
"Oh, thank God!" Portia said, and gave a kind of sobbing gasp. Her plain face and thick chestnut hair caught a gleam of moonlight filtering through the trees. "Oh, Andy, let's go home."
"Portia," Bill said, "look at me."
She glanced up at him, then away. "I'm sorry I led you on like that," she said rapidly. She was ashamed to apologize to a vampire, you could tell. "I was just trying to get one of the people who came here to invite me, so I could find out for myself what was going on."
"Sookie did that for you," Bill said mildly.
Portia's gaze darted over to me. "I hope it wasn't too awful, Sookie," she said, surprising me.
"It was really horrible," I said. Portia cringed. "But it's over."
"Thank you for helping Andy," Portia said bravely.
"I wasn't helping Andy. I was helping Lafayette," I snapped.
She took a deep breath. "Of course," she said, with some dignity. "He was your coworker."
"He was my friend," I corrected.
Her back straightened. "Your friend," she said.
The fire was catching in the cabin now, and soon there would be police and firefighters. It was definitely time to leave.
I noticed neither Eric nor Bill offered to remove any memories from Andy.
"You better get out of here," I said to him. "You better go back to your house, with Portia, and tell your grandmama to swear you were there all night."
Without a word, brother and sister piled into Portia's Audi and left. Eric folded himself into the Corvette for the drive back to Shreveport, and Bill and I went through the woods to Bill's car, concealed in the trees across the road. He carried me, as he enjoyed doing. I have to say, I enjoyed it, too, on occasion. This was definitely one of the occasions.
It wasn't far from dawn. One of the longest nights of my life was about to come to a close. I lay back against the seat of the car, tired beyond reckoning.
"Where did Callisto go?" I asked Bill.
"I have no idea. She moves from place to place. Not too many maenads survived the loss of the god, and the ones that did find woods, and roam them. They move before their presence is discovered. They're crafty like that. They love war and its madness. You'll never find them far from a battlefield. I think they'd all move to the Middle East if there were more woods."
"Callisto was here because… ?"
"Just passing through. She stayed maybe two months, now she'll work her way… who knows? To the Everglades, or up the river to the Ozarks."
"I can't understand Sam, ah, palling around with her."
"That's what you call it? Is that what we do, pal around?"
I reached over and poked him in the arm, which was like pressing on wood. "You," I said.
"Maybe he just wanted to walk on the wild side," Bill said. "After all, it's hard for Sam to find someone who can accept his true nature." Bill paused significantly.
"Well, that can be hard to do," I said. I recalled Bill coming back in the mansion in Dallas, all rosy, and I gulped. "But people in love are hard to pry apart." I thought of how I'd felt when I'd heard he'd been seeing Portia, and I thought of how I'd reacted when I'd seen him at the football game. I stretched my hand over to rest on his thigh and I gave it a gentle squeeze.
With his eyes on the road, he smiled. His fangs ran out a little.
"Did you get everything settled with the shapeshifters in Dallas?" I asked after a moment.
"I settled it in an hour, or rather Stan did. He offered them his ranch for the nights of the full moon, for the next four months."
"Oh, that was nice of him."
"Well, it doesn't cost him anything exactly. And he doesn't hunt, so the deer need culling anyway, as he pointed out."
"Oh," I said in acknowledgment, and then after a second, "ooooh."
When we got back to my house, it didn't lack much till dawn. Eric would just make it to Shreveport, I figured. While Bill showered, I ate some peanut butter and jelly, since I hadn't had anything for more hours than I could add up. Then I went and brushed my teeth.
At least he didn't have to rush off. Bill had spent several nights the month before creating a place for himself at my house. He'd cut out the bottom of the closet in my old bedroom, the one I'd used for years before my grandmother died and I'd started using hers. He'd made the whole closet floor into a trapdoor, so he could open it, climb in, and pull it shut after him, and no one would be the wiser but me. If I was still up when he went to earth, I put an old suitcase in the closet and a couple of pairs of shoes to make it look more natural. Bill kept a box in the crawl space to sleep in, because it was mighty nasty down there. He didn't often stay there, but it had come in handy from time to time.
"Sookie," Bill called from my bathroom. "Come, I have time to scrub you."
"But if you scrub me, I'll have a hard time getting to sleep."
"Because I'll be frustrated."
"Because I'll be clean but… unloved."
"It is close to dawn," Bill admitted, his head poking around the shower curtain. "But we'll have our time tomorrow night."
"If Eric doesn't make us go somewhere else," I muttered, when his head was safely under the cascade of water. As usual, he was using up most of my hot. I wriggled out of the damn shorts and resolved to throw them away tomorrow. I pulled the tee shirt over my head and stretched out on my bed to wait for Bill. At least my new bra was intact. I turned on one side, and closed my eyes against the light coming from the half-closed bathroom door.
"You out of the shower?" I asked drowsily.
"Yes, twelve hours ago."
"What?" My eyes flew open. I looked at the windows. They were not pitch black, but very dark.
"You fell asleep."
I had a blanket over me, and I was still wearing the steel blue bra and panty set. I felt like moldy bread. I looked at Bill. He was wearing nothing at all.
"Hold that thought," I said and paid a visit to the bathroom. When I came back, Bill was waiting for me on the bed, propped on one elbow.
"Did you notice the outfit you got me?" I rotated to give him the full benefit of his generosity.
"It's lovely, but you may be slightly overdressed for the occasion."
"What occasion would that be?"
"The best sex of your life."
I felt a lurch of sheer lust down low. But I kept my face still. "And can you be sure it will be the best?"
"Oh, yes," he said, his voice becoming so smooth and cold it was like running water over stones. "I can be sure, and so can you."
"Prove it," I said, smiling very slightly.
His eyes were in the shadows, but I could see the curve of his lips as he smiled back. "Gladly," he said.
Some time later, I was trying to recover my strength, and he was draped over me, an arm across my stomach, a leg across mine. My mouth was so tired it could barely pucker to kiss his shoulder. Bill's tongue was gently licking the tiny puncture marks on my shoulder.
"You know what we need to do?" I said, feeling too lazy to move ever again.
"We need to get the newspaper."
After a long pause, Bill slowly unwrapped himself from me and strolled to the front door. My paperwoman pulls up my driveway and tosses it in the general direction of the porch because I pay her a great big tip on that understanding.
"Look," said Bill, and I opened my eyes. He was holding a foil-wrapped plate. The paper was tucked under his arm.
I rolled off the bed and we went automatically to the kitchen. I pulled on my pink robe as I padded after Bill. He was still natural, and I admired the effect.
"There's a message on the answering machine," I said, as I put on some coffee. The most important thing done, I rolled back the aluminum foil and saw a two-layer cake with chocolate icing, studded with pecans in a star pattern on the top.
"That's old Mrs. Bellefleur's chocolate cake," I said, awe in my voice.
"You can tell whose it is by looking?"
"Oh, this is a famous cake. It's a legend. Nothing is as good as Mrs. Bellefleur's cake. If she enters it in the county fair, the ribbon's as good as won. And she brings it when someone dies. Jason said it was worth someone dying, just to get a piece of Mrs. Bellefleur's cake."
"What a wonderful smell," Bill said, to my amazement. He bent down and sniffed. Bill doesn't breathe, so I haven't exactly figured out how he smells, but he does. "If you could wear that as a perfume, I would eat you up."
"You already did."
"I would do it a second time."
"I don't think I could stand it." I poured myself a cup of coffee. I stared at the cake, full of wonderment. "I didn't even know she knew where I live."
Bill pressed the message button on my answering machine. "Miss Stackhouse," said the voice of a very old, very Southern, aristocrat. "I knocked on your door, but you must have been busy. I left a chocolate cake for you, since I didn't know what else to do to thank you for what Portia tells me you've done for my grandson Andrew. Some people have been kind enough to tell me that the cake is good. I hope you enjoy it. If I can ever be of service to you, just give me a call."
"Didn't say her name."
"Caroline Holliday Bellefleur expects everyone to know who she is."
I looked up at Bill, who was standing by the window. I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee from one of my grandmother's flowered cups.
"Caroline Holliday Bellefleur."
Bill could not get any paler, but he was undoubtedly stunned. He sat down very abruptly into the chair across from me. "Sookie, do me a favor."
"Sure, baby. What is it?"
"Go over to my house and get the Bible that is in the glass-fronted bookshelf in the hallway."
He seemed so upset, I grabbed my keys and drove over in my bathrobe, hoping I wouldn't meet anyone along the way. Not too many people live out on our parish road, and none of them were out at four in the morning.
I let myself into Bill's house and found the Bible exactly where he'd said. I eased it out of the bookcase very carefully. It was obviously quite old. I was so nervous carrying it up the steps to my house that I almost tripped. Bill was sitting where I'd left him. When I'd set the Bible in front of him, he stared at it for a long minute. I began to wonder if he could touch it. But he didn't ask for help, so I waited. His hand reached out and the white fingers caressed the worn leather cover. The book was massive, and the gold lettering on the cover was ornate.
Bill opened the book with gentle fingers and turned a page. He was looking at a family page, with entries in faded ink, made in several different handwritings.
"I made these," he said in a whisper. "These here." He pointed at a few lines of writing.
My heart was in my throat as I came around the table to look over his shoulder. I put my own hand on his shoulder, to link him to the here and now.
I could barely make out the writing.
William Thomas Compton, his mother had written, or perhaps his father. Born April 9, 1840. Another hand had written Died November 25, 1868.
"You have a birthday," I said, of all the stupid things to say. I'd never thought of Bill having a birthday.
"I was the second son," Bill said. "The only son who grew up."
I remembered that Robert, Bill's older brother, had died when he was twelve or so, and two other babies had died in infancy. There all these births and deaths were recorded, on the page under Bill's fingers.
"Sarah, my sister, died childless." I remembered that. "Her young man died in the war. All the young men died in the war. But I survived, only to die later. This is the date of my death, as far as my family is concerned. It's in Sarah's handwriting."
I held my lips pressed tight, so I wouldn't make a sound. There was something about Bill's voice, the way he touched the Bible that was almost unbearable. I could feel my eyes fill with tears.
"Here is the name of my wife," he said, his voice quieter and quieter.
I bent over again to read, Caroline Isabelle Holliday. For one second, the room swung sideways, until I realized it just could not be.
"And we had children," he said. "We had three children."
Their names were there, too. Thomas Charles Compton, b. 1859. She'd gotten pregnant right after they'd married, then.
I would never have Bill's baby.
Sarah Isabelle Compton, b. 1861. Named after her aunt (Bill's sister) and her mother. She'd been born around the time Bill had left for the war. Lee Davis Compton, b. 1866. A homecoming baby. Died 1867, a different hand had added.
"Babies died like flies then," Bill whispered. "We were so poor after the war, and there wasn't any medicine."
I was about to take my sad weepy self out of the kitchen, but then I realized that if Bill could stand this, I pretty much had to.
"The other two children?" I asked.
"They lived," he said, the tension in his face easing a little. "I had left then, of course. Tom was only nine when I died, and Sarah was seven. She was towheaded, like her mother." Bill smiled a little, a smile that I'd never seen on his face before. He looked quite human. It was like seeing a different being sitting here in my kitchen, not the same person I'd made love with so thoroughly not an hour earlier. I pulled a Kleenex out of the box on the baker's rack and dabbed at my face. Bill was crying, too, and I handed him one. He looked at it in surprise, as if he'd expected to see something different – maybe a monogrammed cotton handkerchief. He patted his own cheeks. The Kleenex turned pink.
"I hadn't ever looked to see what became of them," he said wonderingly. "I cut myself off so thoroughly. I never came back, of course, while there was any chance any one of them would be alive. That would be too cruel." He read down the page.
"My descendant Jessie Compton, from whom I received my house, was the last of my direct line," Bill told me. "My mother's line, too, has thinned down, until the remaining Loudermilks are only distantly related to me. But Jessie did descend from my son Tom, and apparently, my daughter Sarah married in 1881. She had a baby in – Sarah had a baby! She had four babies! But one of them was born dead."
I could not even look at Bill. Instead, I looked at the window. It had begun raining. My grandmother had loved her tin roof, so when it had had to be replaced, we'd gotten tin again, and the drumming of the rain was normally the most relaxing sound I knew. But not tonight.
"Look, Sookie," Bill said, pointing. "Look! My Sarah's daughter, named Caroline for her grandmother, married a cousin of hers, Matthew Phillips Holliday. And her second child was Caroline Holliday." His face was glowing.
"So old Mrs. Bellefleur is your great-granddaughter."
"Yes," he said unbelievingly.
"So Andy," I continued, before I could think twice about it, "is your, ah, great-great-great-grandson. And Portia…"
"Yes," he said, less happily.
I had no idea what to say, so for once, I said nothing. After a minute, I got the feeling it might be better if I made myself scarce, so I tried to slip by him to get out of the small kitchen.
"What do they need?" he asked me, seizing my wrist.
Okay. "They need money," I said instantly. "You can't help them with their personality problems, but they are cash-poor in the worst possible way. Old Mrs. Bellefleur won't give up that house, and it's eating every dime."
"Is she proud?"
"I think you could tell from her phone message. If I hadn't known her middle name was Holliday, I would have thought it was 'Proud.'" I eyed Bill. "I guess she comes by it natural."
Somehow, now that Bill knew he could do something for his descendants, he seemed to feel much better. I knew he would be reminiscing for a few days, and I would not grudge him that. But if he decided to take up Portia and Andy as permanent causes, that might be a problem.
"You didn't like the name Bellefleur before this," I said, surprising myself. "Why?"
"When I spoke to your grandmother's club, you remember, the Descendants of the Glorious Dead?"
"And I told the story, the story of the wounded soldier out in the field, the one who kept calling for help? And how my friend Tolliver Humphries tried to rescue him?"
"Tolliver died in the attempt," Bill said bleakly. "And the wounded soldier resumed calling for help after his death. We managed to retrieve him during the night. His name was Jebediah Bellefleur. He was seventeen years old."
"Oh my gosh. So that was all you knew of the Bellefleurs until today."
I tried to think of something of significance to say. Something about cosmic plans. Something about throwing your bread upon the waters. What goes around, comes around?
I tried to leave again. But Bill caught my arm, pulled me to him. "Thank you, Sookie."
That was the last thing I had expected him to say. "Why?"
"You made me do the right thing with no idea of the eventual reward."
"Bill, I can't make you do anything."
"You made me think like a human, like I was still alive."
"The good you do is in you, not in me."
"I am a vampire, Sookie. I have been a vampire far longer than I was human. I have upset you many times. To tell the truth, sometimes I can't understand why you do what you do sometimes, because it's been so long since I was a person. It's not always comfortable to remember what it was like to be a man. Sometimes I don't want to be reminded."
These were deep waters for me. "I don't know if I'm right or wrong, but I don't know how to be different," I said. "I'd be miserable if it wasn't for you."
"If anything happens to me," Bill said, "you should go to Eric."
"You've said that before," I told him. "If anything happens to you, I don't have to go to anyone. I'm my own person. I get to make up my mind what I want to do. You've got to make sure nothing happens to you."
"We'll be having more trouble from the Fellowship in the years to come," Bill said. "Actions will have to be taken that may be repugnant to you as a human. And there are the dangers attached to your job." He didn't mean waiting tables.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." Sitting on Bill's lap was a real treat, especially since he was still naked. My life had not exactly been full of treats until I met Bill. Now every day held a treat, or two.
In the low-lit kitchen, with the coffee smelling as beautiful (in its own way) as the chocolate cake did, and the rain drumming on the roof, I was having a beautiful moment with my vampire, what you might call a warm human moment.
But maybe I shouldn't call it that, I reflected, rubbing my cheek against Bill's. This evening, Bill had looked quite human. And I – well, I had noticed while we made love on our clean sheets, that in the darkness Bill's skin had been glowing in its beautiful otherworldly way. And mine had, too.