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The whispers of everyone and their mother's internal monologue unknowingly pressed at me, per their usual. I had been trying to achieve a greater amount of control over the feeling of other's intrusive thoughts, but mostly the lackthereof would have been nice. My eyes darted over to a man sitting in a booth by the window looking miserable. Instinctively I shushed the hubbub of the restaurant and reached into his head to listen.
I don't really want to be here. Good god if my mother talks about how I am supposed to accept her umpteenth boyfriend soon-to-be-husband as a step father, I will vomit all over her face. No joke. I do NOT get the attempt at redemption using new relationships to recreate what never was. If she just apologized for what she did….
Poor guy. I have mommy issues too. And daddy issues. But it isn't really my fault. They died in a car accident and even though I resented them not being here, I know they didn't mean it. I withdrew my mind back into the din around me. It was a little after 4pm and I had time to practice concentrating on my little "gift" of telepathy while I waited for the dinner rush to arrive at Merlotte's Bar & Grill. I'd been waitressing here for years, not having left for college. There were a lot of excuses I didn't go and they probably weren't good reasons, but for one. I just happen to be a telepath and large crowds are panic attacks waiting to happen. If high school had been bad, going to a university would have been like sticking my finger into a light bulb socket.
I was listening to the fragmented musings of the restaurant's patrons and I realized, as I often did, that my life was falling into the isolation of a small southern town. At 25 I was living with my Grandmother in a rather large house for the both of us. Grandfather had died when I was young, and when my parents died Gran had taken my brother Jason and I in.
The house had been built by my great-great-great grandfather and it suited my need for privacy. Old southern houses echoed a past where the families of these great houses lived in relative opulence. Not now. Houses fell into disrepair, families moved away where the jobs were, and the town deteriorated. Bon Temp, Louisiana had a small population of closely knit people, and in that subset there were about 30-50 people who were in my age range. Divide that in half and I had 15-25 potential male partners, not including those who were already committed. So maybe 10, at most 20? Then add the fact that everyone in Bon Temp and towns beyond thought I was bonkers. It put me in a tough position of finding a date, much less a husband. I liked the idea of one, but it probably wouldn't work out. Not that this was a bad thing. I figured I could be sad about the things I couldn't have, or I could be happy about what I did possess.
Unfortunately I've been able to peer inside the minds of others for as long as I could remember. And yes, people's thoughts are uncomfortable. Even nice people had filthy thoughts sometimes. I felt worlds apart; inhuman and alone while I listened to their insecurities, their self-centered ignorance of anything outside themselves. But who am I to judge. I'm sure if someone could read my thoughts they'd think I have a smart mouth and live in a gutter with the rest of humanity.
In any case, I never dated, never loved romantically or slept with anyone, by choice. There was no way to date someone while listening to what they thought about me all the time. Oh she has nice breasts. That was one of the nicer thoughts I'd gotten from boys.
I heard laughter coming from one of the tables in the bar. It was a group of girls and guys around my age drinking, which was all there was to do around here in Bon Temp. A pang of loneliness hit.
She is such a pathetic piece of trash. Look at her looking at us, probably thinking of more lies to say about what we're thinking.
It hurt hearing things like this. This particular incident was one of the last times I had tried to 'help'. The source of the silent venom had been Kelsey, who had an unfaithful partner by the name of Joe.
"Kelsey, look I know you think I'm crazy like everyone else, but Joe isn't bein' faithful to you. He's stepped out with a stripper from Shreveport and-"
"What the fuck did you say to me? You don't have any right to come up to me and tell me these kinds of… lies." Kelsey looked stunned for a moment before hardening her features into one of offense before continuing. "I was never mean to you in highschool, never teased you or any of that! But they were right, weren't they? You're nuts. Straight jacket crazy."
"I'm sorry, I-"
"Stop trying to ruin people's lives, Sookie. It's why no one likes you!"
I had a good game face but the feeling of having done something wrong, even when I hadn't really, never subsided. Joe had been cheating, well, was cheating on Kelsey. But it doesn't matter if someone doesn't want to hear the truth. All of Joe's friend's knew and even a few of Kelsey's. But even they would say "don't listen to crazy ole' Sookie Stackhouse". People are walking contradictions most times. Someone is going to get pregnant and it ain't gonna to be Kelsey.
When I was young, I couldn't control hearing everyone thinking around me. It took years to come up with some sort of shield, but not before I had alienated everyone in town outside family, Tara my best friend, my boss and fellow waitresses who had to get along with me since we worked together.
The table of twentysomethings were now staring at me out of the corner of my eye. A few were laughing behind their hands. It was like highschool all over again.
"Oh honey don't you mind those kids. They wouldn't be acting this way if their mothers were here!" The bottle-redhead Arlene swung over by me with an empty tray hanging in her hands. She was smart enough to not put an arm around me, to confirm to the others that I was wounded. I liked Arlene, and I liked that she thought of looking out for me like finding a lost child in the grocery store. Maybe that's condescending to others, but sometimes that's how it felt when she would usher me away from others when I would get that usual grimace.
Sometimes I thought about giving people, like the ones over at the table giggling, their just desserts and issue them a laundry list of all the terrible things they'd thought and things they'd done to each other. But I then imagined Gran's disappointment, and my own. It wasn't something I'd ever actually do.
"Thanks Arlene for looking out for me. It would help if the rush would start and I could get a table instead of getting stared at by them. You'd think they'd have somethin' better to do. Apparently not." I said that last bit loud enough for them to hear. Serves them right to know their opinion ain't wanted.
"Looks like your next table just walked in!" She looked pleased as punch, as if she had summoned the customers to the bar herself just for me. They were a nice looking couple and I led them over to my section, handing them menus as they sat down.
"Welcome to Merlotte's, what can I get for ya'll today?" I said cheerily. The husband and wife looked at each other, distracted by the fact that they hadn't had a date together in ages and they hardly knew what to say or do regarding the other person. They had become strangers in some respects. The things having children can do to you.
"Uh, I will have a Bud Light and I think she will have…. a Stella? You like the Stella right honey?" He asked with such concern that he had gotten it wrong. It weighed on him that he had forgotten critical facts about his wife, whom he loved.
"Oh yes darling". She turned to me with her genuine smile of happiness at her husband having remembered.
"Comin' right up then!" I cooed. It was second nature to lean on my customer's thoughts to ensure I provided the best service to them. Lately I had concerns about my reliance on my ability and how it effectively propped up my interactions with others artificially. I felt a bit dim that I hadn't realized this sooner.
Look at that fucking bitch Sookie. She may think that blonde hair, blue eyes with a nice T and A is good enough, but the only way she'd ever look hot is on my dick.
Mack Rattray. Creepers gonna creep. At least his equally yucky wife wasn't here. I was convinced they stayed married because they wanted to one up each other on who was the worst person between the two of them.
Sam Merlotte, my boss and the bar's owner, always ran the bar and made the drinks. Inasmuch as anyone ever ordered anything but beer and shots. "Bud Light and a Stella please! With a single cold glass". Of course, I had seen in my customer's heads how they would drink their beer. The woman wanted a cold glass, and was planning on asking me for one as soon as the beer arrived. I snagged my drinks just as Sam set them down and proceeded to my table.
"Here you are! Have ya'll had enough time with the menus?" The woman said nothing at first, waiting on her husband to order for them. It was a small happiness she cherished.
As he gave me his order and then his wife's, I could hear the woman question how I knew to get her the glass, but the woman chalked it up to me being a good waitress. Little does she know.
Order finished, I went back to the bar to wait for my table's food and to see when the next customers came in.
I found it was better to frame anyone's questions about "how she knew" as something related to myself. Oh I like to drink out of cold glasses all the time, and I just had a thought you might be like me. I imagined the exchange. Before my learning the extent of my ability, first came the need for survival.
"Never let on to people what you are", said Gran. "Who you are, yes. You are wonderful, and special. Always believe that you are loved and deserve the best. But your gift is not something everyone will understand. And they don't have to. Don't subject your self-worth to their scrutiny. And Sookie, do take care that you do not cause them to want to hurt you by parading their fears in front of them."
These words had helped bolster my fragile self esteem in my youth. All teenagers want to belong, however they may act aloof and above the rest. I was not exempt from these feelings, and reading other's thoughts made belonging an impossibility. It could have moulded itself into hardness, but somewhere along the line I picked the path of being as nice as possible. Genuinely nice. Unless they did something to deserve a little bit of smite. Most people meant well. And like many things, the relationship with the townspeople and myself was a bell curve. The good ones might not outweigh the bad or neutral in numbers, but I didn't have to listen to those people.
My only real friend, besides my brother Jason, was Tara. Tara came from a broken home with an alcoholic-addict mother. She knew what survival was, in a completely different manner than myself. But that did not matter; what did was that Tara was not afraid of me. I loved her deeply for it. The fun things we got up to using my gift to play pranks on people were the hallmark of my childhood. Like that time we moved all of Mrs. Bellefleur's potted plants around multiple times. She never figured it out! Never thought cute little Sookie would do such a thing. I had used my mental scanner to ensure she wasn't coming near us. Tara and I had ruthlessly exploited every aspect our young minds could think up, which wasn't that much compared to the thoughts I'd been having lately about how to use my gift.
The door clinked. I instinctively looked up since I was up in rotation. The man who walked in was an average height with pale skin, soft blue eyes and black hair. Reflexively my mind reached for him. Nothing. Not a single thing was there on the spot where the man stood. I had never met anyone who didn't have thoughts pouring out of his or her head. Maybe he's just polite and doesn't think anything. I said to calm myself. Who didn't think anything?
But there truly wasn't 'anything' there where the man stood. It was a vat of emptiness, and I sunk into it. A black hole that ate and ate my attempts to get inside. I pulled out and looked into the eyes of this stranger of a man. He didn't smile at me, or seem to notice how my body was tensing. Instead he held my gaze and I tried not to break under the weight of quiet and emptiness in front of me.
"Hi there! Booth or table?" I distantly heard the sound of my voice.
The house of my mind was on fire. Everything was burning and I was burning up with it. I could hear the roar of my blood over his words. I had only just realized that this was happening. I had met someone I could not hear, for the first time in my life. Yippie skippy.
Despite all the turmoil rolling through me, I wrapped myself up in a smile and a skip as I lead him to a booth with a menu. He pushed the menu away.
"What can I get for you to drink?"
"I'll take a bottle of True Blood."
"Be right back with that!" I kept the smile on my face not a second longer than it took for me to face away from him. I walked how I always walked to the bar but with my insides churning. Vampire. I felt less responsible for my perceived failure to read him immediately.
Vampires had only come out in the past couple years, and most of the media wasn't able to handle it without jokes and laughs about silver, garlic and crucifixes. Small town America and the deep south hadn't woken up to the reality that the undead were among us. I'd always thought that a vampire would blink at Bon Temp and immediately walk away with contempt. Maybe they like the swamps for body disposal.
Ever since True Blood was invented, word on the street was that vampires didn't need to eat people anymore. I'm sure drinking luke warm blood ain't the same thing as what they're used to. I shivered.
I stood at the bar, saying nothing. Luckily Sam had already heard the order and placed the bottle on the counter, warmed. He kept his hand on it and his keep-sookie-safe eyes bored into my skull.
"Sookie, we only have O blood type. But for the future if we get more vamps as customers we may stock more variety. Don't worry about anything cher."
"Thanks Sam." Just as Sam knew I was a telepath, I knew he was a shifter. For a while I thought it was just our supernatural status that bound us together and generated these moments of protectiveness from him, but he was falling in love with me. I could hear his thoughts occasionally and always his emotions. His feelings started with a need to keep me safe and ended in his loneliness for someone to understand him. Honestly it bothered me that he wanted to sweep me up like some princess and hide me in a castle from the rest of the world. That feeling of him constantly trying to keep me away from things when I was a person who liked exploring irked me such that I never considered moving Sam out of the friend zone.
Normally I would have been acting a lot more interested in a vampire, but I also didn't expect that they'd be so unlike humans as to not broadcast their thoughts.
"Here you go sir. Can I get you anything else?"
"Not presently, no. Thank you".
He sat there for the remainder of the evening. 5:00pm until 11pm just as my shift was finishing up. And then there was his watching me from his booth. Back and forth. Even Arlene noticed and was weirded out.
"That man has been eye'n you all night Sookie. Do you need a ride home with someone?"
"Thanks Arlene, but I think I'll be fine with Sam here."
"Ok Sookie... " She said, disbelief in her voice regarding my safety.
My nerves were completely frayed by this point and he had drank 6 True Bloods, exhausting our supply. He was watching me slowly and agonizingly lose my mind. I had been totally fine for the first hour, apprehensive the second, annoyed the third, freaked out the fourth and the fifth and sixth had been spent fuming punctuated by fear. Sam tried to reach out and comfort me, and I kept telling him I was fine even when I wasn't. When I am afraid, I know I turn into a controlling 'I can do this all-on-my-own' kind of girl. I was like that all the time, but especially when I felt scared which wasn't often. The object of my fear sat there. And sat there. Staring and sipping mechanically like some Las Vegas statue that you pay to move. Too bad he can't be paid to leave. Is he fucking enjoying my discomfort? What an uncivilized vampire... man... person.
I hardly noticed anyone else was in the bar around 10:45pm but the vampire until I caught a thought. Mack was thinking about vampire blood, chattering away in his mind about the vampire who had been sitting here for hours. He was slouched in a booth nursing a tepid miller lite, waiting for the vampire to step out. His girlfriend and friend had already been texted and were waiting outside to throw silver all over him and take every last bit of his blood.
Most of the time I had committed to never getting involved in anyone's business, but I'd never heard someone contemplating murder either. Plus, saving the vampire's life could work out well for me. At the very least it would put me on a more even footing with someone who I had no other leverage over. I can't believe I'm thinking about how to put myself on top of this situation! Am I that frightened of one measly vampire that I want to save his life in order to force him to respect my space?
I leaned down with my hand on the vampire's table and whispered "The man in the corner booth. Don't look. He is planning to throw a silver net on you and drain you outside. He has two helpers. Please be cautious upon leaving." He looked up at my face and finally his expression changed from unimpassioned to one of sharp interest. With his hand placed upon mine ever so briefly, he said thank you.
I stood up and walked away, pulling my hand out from under his fingers. He was cold, did not breathe, nor did he have any of the twitches and rumbles of a normal person's body. Truly he was a statue and I contemplated telling him he could make a killing in Vegas if he wanted to spray paint himself gold or silver.
Sam watched Sookie with an ache. Any interest from her in anyone or anything felt painful. Sookie's heart was locked tight, along with her mind. Nothing shook her, in my experience. And yet, that vampire walked in and managed to extract more from her than I ever had. Sookie's glances at the vampire's table as he looked at her, how her whole path and body rotated around him. Jealousy hit in waves. I did not blame her for being curious, but I started to imagine having to grieve over a relationship that I had not yet had with her.
I was finishing up, cleaning my tables and removing my apron. Mack had already left to go wait out front. The vampire had paid after I had told him about the man in the booth, giving me $200 and told me to keep the change. I almost felt off balanced, but then I reminded myself that a $140 something tip was a paltry sum for saving someone's life. He stood just as I was finished cleaning my last table besides his. He walked towards me calmly, stepping a little too close to me before stopping. I could feel his presence, even if I couldn't get inside his head.
"May I use your back entrance?"
"If he needs to, I see nothing wrong with it." He faltered though. It was clear he was only saying yes because I asked. He'd likely want an explanation.
"Come along then." I confidently bounced in front of him to the back, pony tail swinging.
We walked through the back, past the kitchen and towards the shoddy screened in porch that held the night's trash before it was brought to the bin further away from the building. I spread my mind wide into the night air and found the three persons looking for the vampire. They were out front, waiting. He turned to me.
"I can smell them. You will go back inside now and I will manage them."
I broiled with offence. I had warned him of the impending issue and to be told that I would go back inside, no matter how rational it was, irritated me. So I opened my trap, of course.
"I am going nowhere. And just because you can smell them doesn't mean you will see them coming."
"And how do you think you're going to help." He had been standing slightly turned away from me, but he moved a step into my space and faced me completely. Well hello there broad and fit chest. Have we met before? No? Well maybe we can get to know each other! We were toe to toe and I imagined that they, vampires, were all fit and I decided I would not be swayed by his man-flesh. Then his eyes were drilling into my very skull, and I felt him reach with something. There was a tingle and my eyes opened wide meeting his gaze with fascination at the feeling of him as he slipped over my mind.
"You will go back inside and finish with your usual duties." There was a pregnant pause after during which I felt too stunned to speak.
This guy was nuts. He spoke to me as if I would do the things he was saying. When his eyes shifted back and forth searching my face, I realized he expected what he said to happen and not in the way where he was bracing himself for an argument. Just that I would turn around and walk back inside. I could feel a smirk twist on my lips, and I laughed right in his face.
"I have absolutely no intentions of leaving you until you are safe. You sat and watched me through my entire shift. Surely you must have a reasonable explanation of your interest, which I expect you to provide after the threat has been eliminated." I thought I was putting him off balance by my exacting tone. It was somewhat rude, but he had already been rude and was trying to get me to go inside when I knew I could be of help. And the way he went about it was plain strange.
The vampire reached for my shoulders and held them tight between his hands. I couldn't have moved if I wanted. His body froze and with a click I saw his fangs slink into position under his partially open mouth.
"What are you."
"I am Sookie Stackhouse and you will remove your hands." Just as I would have kicked him, he let go.