A melodic falsetto lifted me up and out of my slumber to greet the dawning of a new day. Dark drapes retracted of their own accord, spilling sunlight into the bedroom, showering me with warmth. “Morning Niall,” I said cheerfully. The sun seemed to brighten at my salutation.
Although the sorcerer was not in the room, I could feel a tingle of magic working in the air as music played in my head. My tender revival, “This Woman's Work” by Maxwell.
This song was not my normal genre. In fact, I only think that I’d heard it a few times before. I thought it was a play-list being piped in via the intercom until I heard my name in the lyrics. It spoke to me now, as he knew it would, strumming my hearing like a caress that beckoned me to blossom and permit the charms to saturate my being.
I kept my eyes closed, smiled a wide smile and basked in the angelic serenade. I pushed back the deep blue duvet, in a hard, full bodied stretch, letting the encouraging words wash over me. So grateful that my sleeping chamber (Hallelujah!) was not a coffin.
I could get used to having my own personal cheer committee. Paradise cannot be any sweeter, I thought to myself. I took in a great gust of air into my lungs. Air that I had taken for granted all my life. My strong thumping heartbeat was music to my ears. I was so very thankful to be counted among the living.
I slipped on the encouraging vibes like a second skin. I truly felt like I had a new lease on life and I was so ready to walk into my new season.
My extra sensory perception was in rare form this day. CJ was somewhere on the grounds, in another wing or maybe even another building. It sounded like he was right next to me. I could feel his breath on my ear and smell the faint combination of Obsession for Men and man.
I prepared for my day in pampered surroundings. Everything I needed was thought of and at my fingertips. A glorious “Aaaahhhh!” drew my attention to a room that I was certain wasn’t there when I went in the shower. The closet, nestled between the bedroom and bathroom, was about the size of my bedroom at home. It looked like a clothing store suited just for me. Everything neatly folded and stacked according to color or hanging on padded satin. There was an island in the center with nooks along the sides that held shoes, shoes and more shoes.
I looked around the room and spotted a dressed, headless mannequin. It had a white Karate gi arranged neatly with a white belt around the waist. An attached pearlized envelope read, “Me First!” with a smiley face. It was in CJ’s writing.
The package seemed pretty innocuous at first but upon further inspection I noticed that the contents were sliding around and trying to burst out. I snatched it up and it exploded at my touch. I screamed out loud at the shock and then held my arms out while the glitter and confetti came streaming down around me. A marquee hovered in the air with multi-colored blinking lights sounding a gentle, “Tada!” The blinking scroll read, “ENJOY THE FIRST DAY OF YOUR H.E.A. PRINCESS!” (Happily Ever After.) That lit a fire under me and I dressed with eagerness. I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the day held for me.
The choices of what to wear were endless. I was glad that I didn’t have to borrow any clothing. Tomorrow I would send most of the clothes back to the store. I would reimburse my hosts for the remainder. Sookie is no one’s kept pet. But not today! Today I’m living my life like it’s golden!
“Ooh flossy, flossy. The glamorous. The glamorous, glamorous, Ooh flossy, flossy.” Fergie didn’t have anything on me. I was singing. I can’t sing but there I was crooning along with yet another song in my head and dancing. I got side tracked by the bling that glistened on a jewelry carousel as it rose from a hidden compartment in the center of the island, as if answering a summons.
“Shepherd of Judea!” I whispered. My vision was glued on the centerpiece as it turned around and around. My grandmother left me a few pieces of jewelry that she kept in a cherry wood case. It was nothing like this. This was like being at Tiffany’s, tier upon tier of boxed sets. I tried on an antique looking bracelet with matching chandelier earrings.
My favorite of the collection was a thin necklace with a single pearl drop crystal that hung low accentuating my lovely lady lumps. It also had matching earrings and bracelet. It completely clashed with the kung fu get up but that little black dress would be perfect or that red pant suit.
“Oh, Rhett, I will marry you.” I said to the three-panel mirror flirtatiously. I stood on a pedestal before it and turned to appreciate every angle. The emerald green mermaid dress draped fabric in the revealing back, and had a tiny yellow tassel that hung on a thin cord around the waist. It fit like a dream. Of course, I had to do the pearl bracelet over the long satin gloves. “Jimmy Choo! Woo hoo! Those shoes would be perfect!”
I don’t know how long I was at it but I looked around and someone had completely wrecked the place. Clothes, shoes and jewelry were strewn every where. I was a tad more excited than I thought. I fell back on the chaise in a pink baby doll dress and silver platform heels. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths before I took on the daunting clean-up.
I took a moment to admire the exquisite four strand pearl bracelet as I returned it to its home. The sun poured in from the skylight above me, reflecting light off of the tiny diamond spacers in between each pearl. It was simply beautiful. After a final good bye, I spun on my heel to face the not so beautiful mess.
Each and every piece was back in its original place and I had on my gi to boot. “Sa-weet!” I said aloud. I could get used to this. I dreaded leaving my clothing heaven and looked back at it longingly several times before moving on. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
I was supposed to be following the music “Get Here if You Can” to locate my song bird. As I closed the door to the room, I was hit with an unexpected disharmony of voices.
I staggered and held on to the wall and quickly let go. I developed a thing about finger prints and walls thanks to my roommate, Amelia. She was a neat freak and couldn’t stand finger prints on the walls. She always had a Mr. Clean Eraser at the ready.
My powers were all the way up to ten. Even the animals were talking to me. I drew the line at becoming the next Dr. Doolittle and slowly pulled up my own shields. I surfed for brain patterns that held some familiarity.
“Hot Dang! It looks like someone was slaughtered in here!” It was a serviceman here to remove the ruined carpeting in the dining room. He was a loud broadcaster. His name was Joseph or Joe (He liked to be called). His five year old daughter . . . um, Destiny, played Old Maid with him before work this morning. He saw her add cookies to his lunch pail as a surprise. I switched frequencies.
“Honey, she ain’t got the sense the Good Lord gave a billy goat.” Switch.
“Rack of lamb and roasted potatoes sounds delightful for dinner.” Pierre, head servant. He had worked for the estate for more than twenty years and would be honored to do twenty more. His favorite phrases: “Breakfast is served, lunch is served and dinner is served.” This was, by far, his favorite meal and he asked the cook to prepare it with peas and the little pearl onions that he liked so much. Switch.
“Masseur Marley, oh, oh, oh my, you are so . . . !” Oops! That was TMI in any language. Seems that Tyrese Marley was collecting on some of the company’s fringe, or should I say French benefits. Fefe was her name. The newly hired maid was under the impression that he could help her get ahead at Carmichael Enterprises. (So to speak.) I think they were in a broom closet or some other small space. I started flipping channels with a quickness. I didn’t want to know Marley’s thoughts. Switch. Switch. Switch!
“Do these pants make my butt look fat?” Switch.
“My toys! My toys! I can’t do this job without my toys!” Switch.
“Obsequies of the late Ms.” Switch.
“Pearl onions, I got your pearl onions!” Switch.
“You may store the furniture in the drawing room until the carpet is installed.” Pierre told Albert. The “T” was silent so it sounded like Al-bear. It caught my attention because Pierre seemed agitated. Albert was Joe’s co-worker. Joe had fled the scene, saying that he felt a bad vibe about the place and didn’t bring his gris-gris, or good luck charms with him. Albert was all about the Benjamins and was not going to miss an opportunity to collect some.
Hold up! Let’s back this thing up, past Al and Pierre, past the peas and the pearl onions, before the toys. Sounds like somebody died. I didn’t recognize the woman’s voice. I was privy to, not thoughts, but a conversation a few doors down the pristine, lengthy corridor.
“Surely, that cannot be her real name, can it?” She said, nearly laughing. Curiosity made me follow the trail and I padded down the hall to find out. I wanted to know who they were speaking of.
I made a few wrong turns and ended up in the kitchen. It was bustling with activity of the morning. No one noticed me though. I went in one swinging door and out the other.
I also discovered an indoor pool on my accidental tour, an extensive library and a theater filled with nostalgic posters and other paraphernalia of the past. Nothing scary, I was happy to note. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the things that went bump in the night. It had a real soda fountain, a popcorn machine and a candy counter. Tara and I would punish our tongues with Sour Patch Kids until we couldn’t take it anymore. Those lazy days of Summer, with my best friend, was brought to mind as I took a gander at all the goodies behind the glass counter. Maybe later CJ and I could catch a movie and I could snag a bag.
Stumbling across the hallway allowed me to resume the trail. “Amelia only called her the one name although I am sure it was a nick name,” Copley’s snooty voice commented. “I think you are right. No one would name their child that.”
“I wonder how you spell it,” the woman said. She registered as a longtime employee of Copley’s and had an identical stick up her butt.
Copley gave a deep sigh of genuine regret. “Anna can you please write this down to go in tomorrow’s early edition?” There was no verbal response but I heard papers rustling. “Her family cannot afford a formal announcement, I’m sure. I think it’s the least we can do. Make it read as thus: Obsèques of the late Sookie Stackhouse. The lifetime resident of Bon Temps, died at the tender young age of twenty . . .”
My pace picked up when my name was attached to that grim report. Copley and I had not seen each other since the night I arrived. I just assumed he was incapacitated after his transformation or just embarrassed that I had witnessed it. It’s hard to turn your nose up at someone when they know your alter ego is a hideous beast.
I quickly entered the sun filled room, anxious to prove to them and myself that I was definitely not dead. I got the exact reception that I was expecting; open mouths, catching flies. It’s not everyday, you see someone who you thought was dead come strolling in for breakfast.
The space was like a formal dining room of a posh restaurant, married to a solarium. Windows walled most of the room that protruded from the side of the mansion. The glass ceiling allowed me to see straight up to the heavens. Large green plants were everywhere. There were several small white linen covered tables for two, a breakfast bar and a long table filled with food in silver serving trays. A chef, in a crisp white uniform, stood by just in case anyone had a hankering for something special.
Anna was a sophisticated lady with brunette hair that looked reddish in the sunlight. Counting the wrinkles on her face I would say she was well over 50 but don’t count her out just yet. In her day she was a knock out. I could tell by the way she carried herself. Her neck was long and swan-like. Her posture, perfection. I was sure that picking up her face would reveal a pleasant smile that brought life to those gun metal gray eyes. She had on a colorful fitted blouse to show off her augmented upper region. Sinewy legs extended from a short black skirt and black pumps covered her feet.
Copley appeared to be in control, which is the only reason I didn’t bolt. Besides, CJ wouldn’t let me roam if there was a known danger, I was sure. Papa Carmichael’s skin looked darker than the last time I saw him. I think he liked sunbathing more than I did. Maybe it was the contrasts of his bright white dress shirt, making his skin appear to be a warm baked bronze. The two put me in the mind of Bogie and Bacall (favorites of my grandmother) in Key Largo.
My serene paradise was about to go to hell in a hand basket. I was not having that. New and improved Sookie grabs life by the horns and rides that SOB into the dust; talking the talk and walking the walk.
“Hold the presses people,” I stated, tartly. (Cause I didn’t like how they made fun of my name.) Hadn’t anybody learned them that speaking ill of the dead, undead or people who you thought were dead, just wasn’t nice?
My outfit was perfect for intimidation. I don’t know Karate but I am extensively trained in Ka-razy. My hair was spun around in a chignon on top of my head. I was one Fu Manchu mustache short of a Shanghi warrior. (In my mind’s eye.)
The stunned duo gaped at Sookie, the ghost or whatever the heck they thought I was. Seeing is believing, was just too much like right.
I was blindsided with the mouth watering fragrance of my one true weakness; strong, dark, rich, hot . . . wait for it, wait for it. Bam baby! There it was . . . chicory coffee. I knew that they would have it and there it was in all its shiny silver urn glory.
I had Garçon whip up some eggs with ham, green peppers and pimento (I saw that omelet on the cooking channel). I also added some goat cheese (cause it sounded fancy) and tried not to drool. I was starved and about to devour the buffet of sweet goodies. I added French vanilla cream and sugar to a dainty, yet substantial, porcelain cup that had a silver band around it with a bold “C” on the side in swirling calligraphy. The faint watermark design was reminiscent of the blue toile pattern of my grandmother's heirlooms that were slightly more, um, used. Her dishes had become mine upon her death but weren't nearly as fancy but I was happy to have them. I imagined that I was back home in my own kitchen as I filled the cup to the rim with hot steamy goodness.
Finally, I spun around to look them both in the face. “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Coffee sloshing around and spilling over into the saucer kind of ruined the delivery of my favorite Mark Twain quote (I’d always wanted to say that) but I still pulled the presentation off.
I guess I could have just said “Hey cancel the hearse, I’m alive!” It just wouldn’t have been as theatrical. I was making light of the situation but their expressions of disbelief said that they were as serious as the grave.
CJ nonchalantly sauntered into the room, past Anna and her shaking fingers that mis-dialed a phone number for the sixth time and past his father who was rising to his feet. CJ’s back facing them told me he had the situation under control, despite the fact that Anna had pulled out a Rosary and was hailing Mary while Copley reached across the table, opened the salt shaker and dumped the contents in his pocket to ward off the evil spirit. "I'm still me" I started to say, but was interrupted by a melodic voice.
“Good morning, sunshine,” he beamed. “How is my little apprentice this fine day?” So that's our story, huh? I better stick to it, I thought. He took one of my hands in his and my hot beverage in the other and placed it on the table. He twirled me around like a ballerina singing, “Beautiful girls all over the world.” I actually giggled. This is how he greeted Amelia and it made my heart melt whenever he did it. CJ possessed just enough Rico Suave in him to make the trite gesture look debonair.
“I thought you might appreciate a challenge.” He held up a hand and a servant, a young man who seemed to be no older than 17, confiscated my gourmet entrée and cup of Joe in a quick swipe, swipe and replaced it with a fruit smoothie that looked pretty appetizing and a green concoction that tasted as bad as it looked.
I gagged. “You got anything that doesn’t taste like shoe polish?” He needed to put a charm on that stuff.
“No pain, no gain,” he told me. He had identical drinks and downed them quickly. Food wasn’t for enjoyment, I would soon learn. Not for CJ anyways. It was fuel for the journey. He would pump himself up on the ingredients that served as the best fuel. Pleasing the pallet was secondary.
The couple stared daggers at us from across the large room as we conversed. I wanted to ignore them but I knew first hand that Copley was harboring a deadly creature within his fragile frame. He could probably take me in one gulp. I should have been as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I had no fear though. I wasn’t sure of why that was but my blood seemed to pump with more vitality and courage today. I had a Superwoman “S” singed into my chest (figuratively). Nothing could vex me.
Anna was no fighter but she was certainly ready to knitting needle me to death. She had snagged that from her purse and a nail file. She was ready and had the guts to shank me if I got too close. She mouthed the words to her boss, covering her mouth with a manicured hand, just in case lip reading was among my talents. “She’s a haint or zombie.”
I lied. “Yo mama’s a zombie.” My mumbling was barely coherent but they heard me say it before she finished her insulting comment. “And she eats kitty litter.” I stared at the ominous pair. I didn’t mean to lose my cool but the thought of me being “dead” stung with a vengeance.
It made me think of something that Long Shadow had said to me when I first came to know of the walking dead. He was a bartender at Fangtasia and told me that all people who hung around them wanted to die. “That is what we are . . . death,” he’d said.
In hindsight, that was my Smeagol warning to “Leave now and neva come back!” Did I heed? No! I cozied up to my precious Death, kissed it in the mouth (and so many other places) and smiled as I was chewed up and spit out ten times over.
Copley and Anna regarded me in silence, conviction registering simultaneously in their eyes. Copley realized that the rumors about my mind reading were true and that I was indeed still me, kinda-sorta. They were a good twenty feet away and knew that I could not have overheard her words and therefore must have plucked it out of her mind. Anna thought there was no way the dead and gifted could occupy the same body. She also wanted to meet me outside, in the playground, at three o’clock to discuss mammas.
“Perhaps, if you had told us, we would have been better prepared to receive your company.” (With a stake, I was sure.) Copley spoke stiffly to his son. Translation: She was dead. I saw her die. Why is she not still dead?
“There is nothing to tell. She is my guest and she is staying as long as need be,” CJ said to his father. “She walks in the day. End of discussion.” I wanted him to use some sorcerer charm and quell things but he didn’t. The agitation building in his father’s tone said that he might want to rethink that.
“The last I heard, you were digging the dead girl a grave!” Copley shot back, waving his hands in frustration.
“He said that he was digging her LIKE a grave!” Marley said, sarcastically as he entered the room. His mannerism and voice were cool, calm and meant to antagonize. “I keeps my finger on the pulse of the youth today.” Anna giggled. “I know what their little colloquialisms and code words mean.” CJ snorted and rolled his eyes.
Marley was as full of wind as a corn-eating horse. He was around the same age as CJ and me or at least he looked it. The look they gave each other told me that there was no love lost between the two men.
“Tai Chi?” CJ offered, ignoring the group who was clearly not on the Princess Sookie HEA band wagon. He ushered me out and was following but Marley had to have the last word.
“Care to tell little Ms. Ignorant Bliss what she has signed on for, Merlin?” Shields snapped around my mind so fast that my ears rang, preventing me from hearing further thoughts. The smirk in Marley’s face went from taunting to outrage to terror in seconds. The large man trembled and fell to his knees. Sweat beaded his brow.
“Junior!” His father said in rebuke. CJ had no response that I could see. He just stood there in the doorway, with his back to them, as if he didn't have a care in the world. Marley fought the mental hold. His stiffened body trembled to break free. I had been on the receiving end of the debilitating grip. I knew it would be futile to fight it.
One trembling hand of Marley’s inched out and grabbed a nearby table for leverage and he struggled to his feet. He shook himself and cracked his neck by tilting his head from side to side. He took long, deep breaths for a while and his eyes burned with fury.They were both looking toward me when I noticed, for the first time, they had the same golden hazel eyes.
Marley continued to taunt CJ as he rose to his full height in challenge. The room grew portentously silent, the air charged with aggression. “That was pretty good, Harry. Did Dumbledore teach you that?”
Picking a fight with a sorcerer was like poking fun at Mike Tyson’s voice; both could result in a thorough pummeling. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would tread such treacherous territory. Unless . . . you were like Mike, yourself.
I was tired of everyone picking on my friend for saving me. I walked over to CJ and leaned close to whisper in his ear. He had to lean down to hear me and his large hands circled my waist. “Take me away from here.”
There was a collective gasp when I put my hands on CJ’s shoulders. Copley actually advanced a few feet. Marley cursed under his breath.
“Cousin, I’m not the enemy here. You can lie to me but not to yourself.” His tone was threatening yet tender.
“You need to let this one ride, Cuz.” CJ spat the last word like a curse.
“Come on man!” Marley walked in a semi-circle, stalking as if he was going to pounce on the threat (which was me) when he saw the tiniest opportunity. His movements were stiff now, mechanical. The hold that CJ had put on him was still doing things to him. Marley forged ahead. “She is looking mighty white.”
Now that was the biggest insult of all. I prided myself the healthy glow that I obtained with the close relationship I had with Bon Temp's only tanning bed. I had not been there in a while but I thought I still looked fine.
“She is white you fidiot!” CJ spat.
Marley was looking me up and down with appraising eyes. He wondered if I had any fight in me. I pulled my top closed and moved to the side so that CJ could block Marley’s view of me.
“I’m talking, borrow Michael Jackson’s make-up, white.” Marley continued. I stifled my giggle. Hey, it was funny but CJ didn’t find any humor in anything he said. He was incensed that the discussion had escaladed so far and that I was afraid enough to hide behind him. CJ and I held each other’s gaze in a silent communication as Marley continued to talk, talk and talk. “He was one of y’all you know.” I heard Marley say.
It took me a minute to figure out what he was saying. “Was he really?” I said peeking under CJ’s arm. Bubba aka “The King,” was his father-in-law in a round about way. Maybe he brought him over. “Hey! No Fair.” He tricked me.
“She admits it!” He pointed an accusatory finger at me. “I say she’s dead and we all know you got skills as a nec.”
“It could happen.” I said only to myself. I’ve seen one of “them” walk in the day. I also watched CJ manipulate the living and the dead.
“Ask yourself, Junie, has the one you embrace lost the hots for you? Does her skin glow a little in the night? Did her alluring aroma of pheromones become dry as the desert?” The doubt I felt was written all over my face. I was beginning to believe this non-sense myself. CJ looked down at me with a positive wordless response in those eyes. He hooked the stray strand of hair behind my ear.
Poor guy. I thought when I looked at him. He hadn’t signed on for any of this. He was just trying to help his sister’s messed up friend who was in way over her head. That pretty mouth crooked up in a smile and I knew we were seconds from disappearing. Aaaany second now. Come on! We didn’t move.
Marley did. He was standing in the hallway, on the other side of me. “Better yet, why don’t you let Big Sexy check her temperature?” Marley aka Big Sexy said in a low voice behind me. Yeah. That went over real well. CJ’s body stiffened at the thought of Marley violating my person with a hands-on (or whatever else he was going to use) inspection.
“Déjà vu.” Seeped out of my mouth in a whisper. It was like Bill at the Supe hospital all over again. My imagination went into overdrive thinking up offers that would make CJ forget about the challenge and sift us into another space and time. I reached my hand up and softly cradled the side of CJ’s face while whispering so very close in the opposite ear. “CJ, Please.” I rubbed my cheek to his.
His body was very hot, feverish. His body was rigid, every friggin’ inch. The narrow space between our bodies grew closer as our feet stayed planted firmly on the ground. His hands were tender and gripped my waist like and fragile flower. The real freak show was the eyes. They were molten gold and burning like lava. Ah yes, it was ‘bout to go down!
CJ began a low chant. I couldn’t understand most of it but I’m positive that I heard “Hold my mule,” somewhere in there.
Marley refused to shut up. “Don’t worry, June bug. I won’t hurt her, much.”
“Handle your business,” I said, adjusting his gi and patting him encouragingly as I got out of the line of fire. My mama didn’t raise no fool. Being caught in the middle of two Supes fighting, one time, was enough for me. I didn’t get all upset either. This was the testosterone Man Rule thingy he schooled me about when Jason and Alcide were horsing around. No one was going to get hurt. Right?
They moved closer and stood chest to chest like two brawny bookends. The stand off was silent to me but I think that they were having a full conversation without saying a word. The suspense was killing me. I didn’t know whether to say something or take off running.
Click, click, click, the sound of high heels on the marble floor broke the silence and put an abrupt end to the commotion. Marley cursed under his breath. The big tough guy exchanged his snarl for a smile in seconds and he tried to melt into the wall. The click, click, click, click rounded a corner. CJ was still in the frame of the door and I was hiding behind him in the breakfast room. I heard her voice ring out like a chime, “There you are Hubby.”
I hated her from the moment I saw that twenty-inch waist as she came into view. Melody was Jessica Rabbitt personified, minus the red hair. “I’ve been looking all over for you Honey.” She said to – one of them? I put my hands around CJ from behind. His heart thumped violently, like it was bout to come out of his chest. He squeezed my hands with his, dropped his head and took a deep breath.