All Together Dead

Chapter 19


I'D BEEN TERRIFIED THE WHOLE TWO-DAY DRIVE: that I'd be stopped and they wouldn't believe I'd gotten permission to use the car, that Frannie would change her mind and tell the police I'd stolen it, that I'd have an accident and have to repay Quinn's sister for the vehicle. Frannie had an old red Mustang, and it was fun to drive. No one stopped me. The weather was good all the way back to Louisiana. I thought I'd see a slice of America, but along the interstate, everything looks the same. I imagined that in any small town I passed through, there was another Merlotte's, and maybe another Sookie.

I didn't sleep well on the trip, either, because I dreamed of the floor shaking under my feet and the dreadful moment we went out the hole in the glass. Or I saw Pam burning. Or other things, things I'd done and seen during the hours we patrolled the debris, looking for bodies.

When I turned into my driveway, having been gone a week, my heart began to pound as if the house was waiting for me. Amelia was sitting on the front porch with a bright blue ribbon in her hand, and Bob was sitting in front of her, batting at the dangling ribbon with a black paw. She looked up to see who it was, and when she recognized me behind the wheel, she leaped to her feet. I didn't pull around back; I stopped right there and jumped out of the driver's seat. Amelia's arms wrapped around me like vines, and she shrieked, "You're back! Oh, blessed Virgin, you're back!"

We danced around and hopped up and down like teenagers, whooping with sheer happiness.

"The paper listed you as a survivor," she said. "But no one could find you the day after. Until you called, I wasn't sure you were alive."

"It's a long story," I said. "A long, long story."

"Is it the right time to tell it to me?"

"Maybe after a few days," I said.

"Do you have anything to carry in?"

"Not a thing. All my stuff went up in smoke when the building went down."

"Oh, my God! Your new clothes!"

"Well, at least I have my driver's license and my credit card and my cell phone, though the battery's flat and I don't have the charger."

"And a new car?" She glanced back at the Mustang.

"A borrowed car."

"I don't think I have a single friend who would loan me a whole car."

"Half a car?" I asked, and she laughed.

"Guess what?" Amelia said. "Your friends got married."

I stopped dead. "Which friends?" Surely she couldn't mean the Bellefleur double wedding; surely they hadn't changed the date yet again.

"Oh, I shouldn't have said anything," Amelia said, looking guilty. "Well, speak of the devil!" There was another car coming to a stop right by the red Mustang.

Tara scrambled out. "I saw you driving by the shop," she called. "I almost didn't recognize you in the new car."

"Borrowed it from a friend," I said, looking at her askance.

"You did not tell her, Amelia Broadway!" Tara was righteously indignant.

"I didn't," Amelia said. "I started to, but I stopped in time!"

"Tell me what?"

"Sookie, I know this is going to sound crazy," Tara said, and I felt my brows draw together. "While you were gone, everything just clicked in a strange way, like something I'd known should happen, you know?"

I shook my head. I didn't know.

"JB and I got married!" Tara said, and the expression on her face was full of so many things: anxiety, hopefulness, guilt, wonder.

I ran that incredible sentence through my head several times before I was sure I understood the meaning of it. "You and JB? Husband and wife?" I said.

"I know, I know, it seems maybe a little strange..."

"It seems perfect," I said with all the sincerity I could scrape together. I wasn't really sure how I felt, but I owed my friend the happy face and cheerful voice I offered her. At the moment, this was the true stuff, and vampire fangs and blood under the bright searchlights seemed like the dream, or a scene from a movie I hadn't much enjoyed. "I'm so happy for you. What do you need for a wedding present?"

"Just your blessing, we put the announcement in the paper yesterday," she said, burbling away like a happy brook. "And the phone just hasn't stopped ringing off the wall since then. People are so nice!"

She truly believed she'd swept all her bad memories into a corner. She was in the mood to credit the world with benevolence.

I would try that, too. I would do my best to smother the memory of that moment when I'd glanced back to see Quinn pulling himself along by his elbows. He'd reached Andre, who lay mute and stricken. Quinn had propped himself on one elbow, reached out with his other hand, grabbed the piece of wood lying by Andre's leg and jammed it into Andre's chest. And, just like that, Andre's long life was over.

He'd done it for me.

How could I be the same person? I wondered. How could I be happy that Tara had gotten married and yet remember such a thing - not with horror, but with a savage sense of pleasure? I had wanted Andre to die, as much as I had wanted Tara to find someone to live with who would never tease her for her awful past, someone who would care for her and be sweet to her. And JB would do that. He might not be much on intellectual conversation, but Tara seemed to have made her peace with that.

Theoretically, then, I was delighted and hopeful for my two friends. But I couldn't feel it. I'd seen awful things, and I'd felt awful things. Now I felt like two different people trying to exist inside the same space.

If I just stay away from the vampires for a while, I told myself, smiling and nodding the whole time as Tara talked on and Amelia patted my shoulder or my arm. If I pray every night, and hang around with humans, and leave the Weres alone, I'll be okay.

I hugged Tara, squeezing her until she squeaked.

"What do JB's parents say?" I asked. "Where'd you get the license? Up in Arkansas?"

As Tara began to tell me all about it, I winked at Amelia, who winked back and bent down to scoop up Bob in her arms. Bob blinked when he looked into my face, and he rubbed his head against my offered fingers and purred. We went inside with the sun bright on our backs and our shadows preceding us into the old house.

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