Thanks to FairytaleAmber for all the hours of brainstorming and awesomeness in general. All remaining mistakes are my own. This story begins just before the books.
Charlaine Harris owns almost everything. I own the rest.
Sookie and Arlene worked across from each other, filling saltshakers after another long shift.
“Anyway, I was saying, my kids are starting to drive me nuts!”
Sookie laughed. “That’s what kids are good for. Especially during summer. Listen, if you need a break, you just send them over to their Aunt Sookie and I’ll take care of them.”
“Tomorrow?” Arlene bit her lip.
“Sure, I’ll watch them before my shift tomorrow night. You drop them off at my place then I’ll bring them by your house before I come in.” Sookie smiled at her.
“Thanks, honey. That’s so nice of you to offer!” Arlene hugged her. “It’s been ages since I’ve had any time to myself.”
“Well don’t mention it. You know I love those kids. Don’t think twice about asking me.” With her babysitting job lined up, Sookie gathered her things to head home.
Crickets chirped in the forest behind Merlotte’s, singing the melody of hot, humid nights. Sookie closed her eyes and listened, picking up a few night calls of birds and a stray croak from a frog. She smiled as the sounds filled her head, and then, they stopped. She shook her head. Did I go deaf? She hummed. Nope. What in the world is going on? It’s as if everything went still all at once. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she stared into the shadowy trees. Something is out there. Something scary. She fumbled with her keys, and drove away as fast as she could. She watched the dark patch of woods in her rearview mirror, half expecting some kind of monster to leap out at her, but nothing happened.
The next night, as she parked her car, she surveyed the area behind the parking lot. Nothing is out of the ordinary. Must’ve been crazy last night. She closed her eyes toward the low sun, soaking in what little light there was left before facing another closing shift at work.
She tucked her purse in Sam’s office, clocked in, and took over for Danielle.
“It’s been pretty dead tonight, you’ve only got a couple people in your section,” Danielle said. “See ya.”
Sookie got to work checking on her customers, making sure to keep tips separate to split with Danielle later.
“I need two pitchers of beer,” she said to Sam.
“Comin’ right up.” Sam slid one across the counter as he filled up the second. “There you go.”
Sookie turned with them, intent on delivering them when a man walked in. Something about him got her attention. His skin gleamed, pale and bright, and his dark cold eyes looked straight into her. She stood frozen in the middle of the room, staring at him.
“Hey Sookie, are we gonna get our beers?” A man shouted from the other side of the room.
She blinked and tugged her mouth into a smile. “I’m coming!” She looked over her shoulder once and saw the man sit in her section. She put the pitchers down carefully and apologized before heading over to deliver a menu to the table for one.
“Take your time, and let me know when you’re ready to order.” She opened her mind to him and couldn’t mask her shock when she found a big blank spot.
He glanced at the menu quickly. “Do you have any synthetic blood?” he asked in a whisper.
“No, we’ve never had a vampire in here before.” She smiled stupidly. No wonder I can’t hear him, he’s not alive!
“Then I’ll have a glass of red wine.”
“Coming right up.” She snatched the menu and bustled over to the bar. “He’s a vampire! A real one. Sam, I think you aught to order some of that bottled blood.”
Sam glared at the man. “What’s he doing here?”
“Getting a drink? Red wine, please.”
Sam poured the wine into a large wineglass. “Be careful, Sookie.” Sam ground each word out of his clenched teeth.
“Always am.” She delivered the wine to him and then said, “If you need anything else, just let me know.”
“I need a lot of things, but they’re not on that menu.” He lifted an eyebrow suggestively and eyed her breasts.
Yuk! She tried to laugh it off, just like she did every time a drunken fool made a pass at her. Along with his leer, she also could feel something else. Like a mosquito buzzing in her ear, something pressed against her brain.
He watched her for the next hour, and when he left, the wine sat untouched next to a twenty-dollar bill.
When she got home that night, she told Gran all about it. Her first time meeting a vampire!
“What did you think of him? Was he scary?” Gran’s eyes went wide.
Sookie thought about it for a minute. “Not scary. He seemed like a regular guy. Well, except for the pale glowing skin. He certainly looked at me like most guys do. Like a piece of meat.” She huffed.
Gran patted her hand. “I want you to be real careful now, you hear?”
“I am. Sam walked me and all the other servers to their cars tonight. I guess he’ll do that every night. That vampire set him on edge.”
“Do you think he’ll be back?”
Sookie shrugged. With my luck, he’ll probably be back every night.
She hated being right.
The next night, at almost the same time, the vampire walked into Merlotte’s. He ordered a glass of red wine again, but never touched it.
While Sookie bustled around him, he got her attention by crooking his finger at her. She rolled her eyes. He motioned for her to sit in the chair opposite him, but she declined.
“It’s not time for my break yet. Do you need something?” She pulled her notepad out of her pocket. There it is again, that annoying buzzing. The more she thought about it, the more she realized it happened whenever he looked at her directly.
A sly smile slid across his face. “I was wondering why a pretty girl like you works in a place like this.”
Oh brother. “It pays the bills.”
“Are you married?” He glanced at her bare fingers.
Sookie frowned. “That’s mighty forward of you. I don’t believe that’s any of your business.”
“I’ll take that as a no.” Smug satisfaction contorted his face.
Sookie clenched her jaw and forced a smile on her lips. “I need to get back to work.”
Some time later, he disappeared without her noticing, leaving behind another large tip.
The third night he came into Merlotte’s he started asking questions the minute he sat down. Each more personal than the previous one. It didn’t sit well with her, not one bit. Vampire or not, she knew how to handle men like him, and after a curt explanation of her rule not to date customers he more or less left her alone. For the moment.
“Is he bothering you?” Sam asked as he glared at the lone vampire while he polished the bar.
Sookie shrugged. “No more than any other jerk. I told him I don’t date customers. That did it.”
“I don’t like it.”
“He tips well, and I could sure use the money.” Utility bills were due in a week.
“Sorry I can’t pay you more.” Sam looked down at the polished counter.
“You pay me plenty, but big tips are nice.” She gave him a gentle smile that seemed to put him at ease.
“I’m getting a shipment of that bottled blood tomorrow, so when your pale friend comes in, you can offer him something real to drink.”
“I’m sure he’d like if I offered something else,” she said.
Sam tensed up again and didn’t say another word until he walked her to her car that night.
“Sam, have you noticed how quiet it is out here at night? I first heard it a few nights ago.”
Sam narrowed his eyes and peered into the dark trees. He sniffed the air like a bloodhound. “Damn. The wind shifted. All I can smell is Lafayette’s gumbo.”
“Do you think someone is out there?” Goosebumps sprouted along her arms.
“I don’t really know. You should get home before it gets any later. See you tonight.”
“See ya, Sam.” Sookie ducked inside her car and drove away. “Sam’s a strange man,” she said to herself as she watched him smelling the air again after she left.
The lone vampire came back the next night, right on time. No one else in the bar seemed to even notice him, and she wondered if he cast some kind of spell on them. She laughed at the thought. Maybe they were too drunk to realize he was different. Whatever the case, Sookie had his undivided attention as she walked up to his table.
“You’re in luck. We just got a shipment of synthetic blood. Would you like one?”
“Yes. Warmed, if you have a way of doing that.” His gaze drifted down her body, settling firmly between her legs.
That time, the pressure against her brain made her eye twitch. “We have a microwave.” Sookie nodded and turned her back on him, hiding the disgust on her face. I can’t let him see how much he gets to me. If I do that, he wins. I will not let him win. She played his game every night he came in: he said something inappropriate and she pretended not to know what he meant. Seemed to be working just fine.
When Sookie delivered his drink, he thanked her a little too much. I have to get away from him, if only for a few minutes.
When she got back to the bar, she said, “Sam, is there garbage or something that I can take out? I need a little fresh air. He’s really on one tonight.”
He bundled the bag under the counter and handed it to her. “It’s got coffee grounds in it from the lunch shift, so don’t hold it too close.”
“Got it,” she said as turned to leave.
The dumpster out back stood nearly as tall as Sookie, so she struggled to get it open. “Who does he think he is? Coming in here and saying that stuff to me?” she said to the bag of garbage. “I’m not some dumb blonde who jumps into bed with every man who makes a pass at her.” She grunted. “I have half a mind to tell Sam to kick him out. Good tips or not. I don’t think I can take it for much longer.” The corner of the bag caught on the rusty edge of the dumpster, spilling dry coffee grounds all over her arm and shirt. “Damn it! Well, at least they’re not wet. That would be way worse.”
Just as she tried to lift the lid a third time, a hand appeared out of the darkness and did it for her. “Sweet Jesus, you scared me!”
On to Worth It: Chapter 2