"Mean this from the heart or call it off now," I said, keeping my voice very low. "You're committing my life to this, too. Can you keep the promises you're making to this woman and her community, or not?"
Jason looked at Crystal for a long moment, and I had no right to be in his head, so I pulled out and instead cast through the crowd for random thoughts. They were mostly what you'd expect: a bit of excitement at being at a wedding, a bit of pleasure at seeing the parish's most notorious bachelor shackled to a wild young woman, a bit of curiosity about the odd Hotshot ritual. Hotshot was a byword in the parish - "as weird as a guy from Hotshot" had been a saying for years, and Hotshot kids who attended the Bon Temps school often had a hard time of it until after the first few playground fights.
"I'll keep my promises," Jason said, his voice hoarse.
"I'll keep mine," Crystal said.
The difference between the two was this: Jason was sincere, though I doubted his ability to stick to his word. Crystal had the ability, but she wasn't sincere.
"You don't mean it," I said to her.
"The hell you say," she retorted.
"I don't usually say one way or another," I said, making the effort to keep my voice low. "But this is too serious to keep silent. I can see inside your head, Crystal. Don't you ever forget I can."
"I ain't forgetting nothing," she said, making sure each word had weight. "And I'm marrying Jason tonight."
I looked at Calvin. He was troubled, but in the end, he shrugged. "We can't stop this," he said. For a second, I was tempted to struggle with his pronouncement. Why not? I thought. If I hauled off and slapped her, maybe that would be enough disruption to stall the whole thing. Then I reconsidered. They were both grown-ups, at least theoretically. They would get married if they chose, either here and now or somewhere else on some other night. I bowed my head and sucked up my misgivings.
"Of course," I said, raising my face and smiling that bright smile I got when I was really anxious. "Let's get on with the ceremony." I caught a glimpse of Quinn's face in the crowd. He was looking at me, concerned by the low-voiced argument. Amelia, on the other hand, was happily chatting with Catfish, whom she'd met at the bar. Hoyt was by himself right under one of the portable lights rigged up for the occasion. He had his hands thrust in his pockets, and he looked more serious than I'd ever seen him. There was something strange about the sight, and after a second I figured out why.
It was one of the few times I'd ever seen Hoyt alone.
I took my brother's arm, and Calvin again gripped Crystal's. The priest stepped into the center of the circle, and the ceremony began. Though I tried hard to look happy for Jason, I had a difficult time holding back my tears while my brother became the bridegroom of a wild and willful girl who had been dangerous from birth.
There was dancing afterward, and a wedding cake, and lots of alcohol. There was food galore, and consequently there were huge trash cans that filled up with paper plates, cans, and crumpled paper napkins. Some of the men had brought cases of beer and wine, and some had hard liquor, too. No one could say that Hotshot couldn't throw a party.
While a zydeco band from Monroe played, the crowd danced in the street. The music echoed across the fields in an eerie way. I shivered and wondered what was watching from the dark.
"They're good, aren't they?" Jason asked. "The band?"
"Yeah," I said. He was flushed with happiness. His bride was dancing with one of her cousins.
"That's why we hurried this wedding up," he said. "She found out she was pregnant, and we decided to go on and do it - just do it. And her favorite band was free for tonight."
I shook my head at my brother's impulsiveness. Then I reminded myself to keep visible signs of disapproval at a minimum. The bride's family might take issue.
Quinn was a good dancer, though I had to show him some of the Cajun steps. All the Hotshot belles wanted a dance with Quinn, too, so I had a turn with Calvin, and Hoyt, and Catfish. Quinn was having a good time, I could tell, and on one level I was, too. But around two thirty a.m., we gave each other a little nod. He had to leave the next day, and I wanted to be alone with him. Plus, I was tired of smiling.
As Quinn thanked Calvin for the wonderful evening, I watched Jason and Crystal dancing together, both apparently delighted with each other. I knew right from Jason's brain that he was infatuated with the shifter girl, with the subculture that had formed her, with the newness of being a supernatural. I knew from Crystal's brain that she was exultant. She'd been determined to marry someone that hadn't grown up in Hotshot, someone who was exciting in bed, someone able to stand up to not only her but her extended family...and now she had.
I made my way over to the happy couple and gave each of them a kiss on the cheek. Now Crystal was family, after all, and I would have to accept her as such and leave the two to work out their own life together. I gave Calvin a hug, too, and he held me for a second before releasing me and giving me a reassuring pat on the back. Catfish danced me around in a circle, and a drunken Hoyt took up where he'd left off. I had a hard time convincing the two that I really meant to leave, but finally Quinn and I began to make our way back to my car.
As we wended through the edges of the crowd, I spotted Amelia dancing with one of her Hotshot beaux. They were both in high spirits, both literally and libation-wise. I called to Amelia that we were leaving, and she yelled, "I'll get a ride with someone later!"
Though I enjoyed seeing Amelia happy, it must have been Misgiving Night, because I worried about her a little. However, if anyone could take care of herself, it was Amelia.
We were moving slow when we let ourselves into the house. I didn't check out Quinn's head, but mine was muzzy from the noise, the clamor of all the brains around me, and the extra surges of emotion. It had been a long day. Some of it had been excellent, though. As I recalled the very best parts, I caught myself smiling down at Bob. The big cat rubbed himself against my ankles, meowing in an inquiring kind of way.
I felt like I had to explain Amelia's absence to the cat. I squatted down and scratched Bob's head, and (feeling incredibly foolish) I said, "Hey, Bob. She's going to be real late tonight; she's still dancing at the party. But don't you worry, she'll be home!" The cat turned his back on me and stalked out of the room. I was never sure how much human was lurking in Bob's little feline brain, but I hoped he'd just fall asleep and forget all about our strange conversation.
Just at that moment, I heard Quinn call to me from my bedroom, and I put thoughts about Bob on hold. After all, it was our last night together for maybe weeks.
While I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I had one last flare of worry about Jason. My brother had made his bed. I hoped he could lie comfortably in it for some time. He's a grown-up, I told myself over and over as I went into the bedroom in my nicest nightgown.
Quinn pulled me to him, said, "Don't worry, babe, don't worry...."
I banished my brother and Bob from my thoughts and this bedroom. I brought a hand up to trace the curve of Quinn's scalp, kept those fingers going down his spine, loved it when he shivered.
I WAS WALKING IN MY SLEEP. IT WAS A GOOD THING I knew every inch of Merlotte's like I knew my own house, or I'd have bumped into every table and chair. I yawned widely as I took Selah Pumphrey's order. Ordinarily Selah irritated the hell out of me. She'd been dating Nameless Ex-Lover for several weeks - well, months now. No matter how invisible Ex had become, she'd never be my favorite person.
"Not getting enough rest, Sookie?" she asked, her voice sharp.
"Excuse me," I apologized. "I guess not. I was at my brother's wedding last night. What kind of dressing did you want on that salad?"
"Ranch." Selah's big dark eyes were examining me like she was thinking of etching my portrait. She really wanted to know all about Jason's wedding, but asking me would be like surrendering ground to the enemy. Silly Selah.
Come to think of it, what was Selah doing here? She'd never come in without Bill. She lived in Clarice. Not that Clarice was far; you could get there in fifteen or twenty minutes. But why would a real estate saleswoman from Clarice be...oh. She must be showing a house here. Yes, the brain was moving slowly today.
"Okeydokey. Coming right up," I said, and turned to go.
"Listen," Selah said. "Let me be frank."
Oh, boy. In my experience, that meant, "Let me be openly mean."
I swung around, trying to look anything but massively irritated, which was what I actually was. This was not the day to screw with me. Among my many worries, Amelia hadn't come home the night before, and when I'd gone upstairs to look for Bob, I'd found that he'd thrown up in the middle of Amelia's bed...which would have been okay by me, but it had been covered with my great-grandmother's quilt. It had fallen to me to clean up the mess and get the quilt to soaking in the washing machine. Quinn had left early that morning, and I was simply sad about that. And then there was Jason's marriage, which had such potential to be a disaster.
I could think of a few more items to add to the list (down to the dripping tap in my kitchen), but you get that my day was not a happy one.
"I'm here working, Selah. I'm not here to have any personal chitchats with you."
She ignored that.
"I know you're going on a trip with Bill," she said. "You're trying to steal him back from me. How long have you been scheming about this?"
I know my mouth was hanging open, because I just hadn't gotten enough warning that was coming. My telepathy was affected when I was tired - just as my reaction time and thought processes were - and I was heavily shielded when I worked, as a matter of course. So I hadn't picked up on Selah's thoughts. A flash of rage passed through me, lifting my palm and raising it to slap the shit out of her. But a warm, hard hand took mine, gripped it, brought it down to my side. Sam was there, and I hadn't even seen him coming. I was missing everything today.
"Miss Pumphrey, you'll have to get your lunch somewhere else," Sam said quietly. Of course, everyone was watching. I could feel all the brains go on alert for fresh gossip as eyes drank in every nuance of the scene. I could feel my face redden.
"I have the right to eat here," Selah said, her voice loud and arrogant. That was a huge mistake. In an instant, the sympathies of the spectators switched to me. I could feel the wave of it wash over me. I widened my eyes and looked sad like one of those abnormally big-eyed kids in the awful waif paintings. Looking pathetic was no big stretch. Sam put an arm around me as though I were a wounded child and looked at Selah with nothing on his face but a grave disappointment in her behavior.
"I have the right to tell you to go," he said. "I can't have you insulting my staff."
Selah was never likely to be rude to Arlene or Holly or Danielle. She hardly knew they existed, because she wasn't the kind of woman who really looked at a server. It had always stuck in her craw that Bill had dated me before he'd met her. ("Dated," in Selah's book, being a euphemism for "had enthusiastic and frequent sex with.")
Selah's body was jerky with anger as she threw her napkin on the floor. She got to her feet so abruptly that her chair would have fallen if Dawson, a boulder of a werewolf who ran a motorcycle repair business, hadn't caught it with one huge hand. Selah grabbed up her purse to stalk out of the door, narrowly avoiding a collision with my friend Tara, who was entering.
Dawson was highly amused by the whole scene. "All that over a vamp," he said. "Them cold-blooded things must be something, to get fine-looking women so upset."
"Who's upset?" I said, smiling and standing straighter to show Sam I was unfazed. I doubt he was fooled, since Sam knows me pretty well, but he got my emotional drift and went back behind the bar. The buzz of discussion of this juicy scene rose from the lunch crowd. I strode over to the table where Tara was sitting. She had JB du Rone in tow.
"Looking good, JB," I said brightly, pulling the menus from between the napkin box and the salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table and handing one to him and one to Tara. My hands were shaking, but I don't think they noticed.
JB smiled up at me. "Thanks, Sookie," he said in his pleasant baritone. JB was just beautiful, but really short on the brains. However, that gave him a charming simplicity. Tara and I had watched out for him in school, because once that simplicity was observed and targeted by other, less handsome boys, JB had been in for some rough patches...especially in junior high. Since Tara and I also both had huge flaws in our own popularity profiles, we'd tried to protect JB as much as we were able. In return, JB had squired me to a couple of dances I'd wanted to go to very badly, and his family had given Tara a place to stay a couple of times when I couldn't.
Tara had had sex with JB somewhere along this painful road. I hadn't. It didn't seem to make any difference to either relationship.
"JB has a new job," Tara said, smiling in a self-satisfied way. So that was why she'd come in. Our relationship had been uneasy for the past few months, but she knew I'd want to share in her pride at having done a good thing for JB.
That was great news. And it helped me not think about Selah Pumphrey and her load of anger.
"Whereabouts?" I asked JB, who was looking at the menu as if he'd never seen it before.
"At the health club in Clarice," he said. He looked up and smiled. "Two days a week, I sit at the desk wearing this." He waved a hand at his clean and tight-fitting golf shirt, striped burgundy and brown, and his pressed khakis. "I get the members to sign in, I make healthy shakes, and I clean the equipment and hand out towels. Three days a week, I wear workout clothes and I spot for all the ladies."