Missing at the Table
"A happy family is but an earlier heaven."—George Bernard Shaw
___________________ ______________________ ____________________
"Happy Thanksgiving, Tray," Sookie Stackhouse said as she reached out to hug her bodyguard and good friend.
"You too, doll," he grinned rakishly.
"Thanks for doing the turkey, honey," she returned.
"No problem, sweetie pie," Tray said with an even wider grin and an even more saccharin tone.
Willa looked at the two with concern in her eyes. "Better not let Eric hear you talkin' like that," she said. After roaming around for a while, Willa had come back to Bon Temps and had been staying with Jessica and Hoyt for the last month; she was slowly trying to rebuild some kind of relationship with her maker.
Lafayette snorted out a laugh. "That big vamp thinks it's funny as hell how these two goes on and on with their cheesy-ass pet names," he smiled.
"His all-time favorite is when she calls me 'day-husband,'" Tray informed, even as he winked at Willa, with whom he'd been flirting since she'd arrived.
If the young vampiress could have blushed, she would have.
Sookie giggled and crossed her fingers under the table, hoping the obvious spark of attraction between Tray and Willa would flame and ignite.
She smiled at her guard and reached over to squeeze his hand. Tray Dawson had become like another brother to her during the past few years.
At first, Eric had had a hell of a time convincing her that she needed a guard, but—in the end—her own guilt had won out. Tray had been down on his luck, really down on it. His car repair shop had burned to the ground and his insurance company had declared that it wouldn't pay because the situation was "suspicious."
But that wasn't nearly the worst of it. A week after his shop had burned, so had his home. Tray, his wife, and his baby boy had all been inside. It was a blessing that none of them had been burned up, but Tray had been the only one to be resuscitated after their neighbors had pulled them from their house.
He'd mourned for a long time. He and Sookie had mourned their losses together.
It turned out that the same arsonist had set both fires. It had been a vampire named Victor Madden, who'd been trying to cause unrest in the area in order to destabilize Louisiana's new queen, a vampire named Thalia. Eric had been offered the job as monarch, but had turned the representatives from the "New Authority" down.
Thankfully, the new ruling body had actually offered "choice," unlike the last. Having a long history of mutual respect with Thalia, Eric was happy about his new arrangement and was currently sharing sheriff duties with Pam, even as they raked in money hand over fist because of NewBlood.
Eric would be handing over his reigns as sheriff to Pam completely—once the baby was born.
Sookie glanced again at Tray, who handed her the mashed potatoes. After Alcide had abdicated, Tray had been made the new packmaster of the Shreveport Weres. That's why he'd been targeted by Victor.
"Thanks," Sookie said with a smile, even as she noticed that Tray's brown eyes fleeted back to Willa's.
Again, Sookie sent up a little prayer to heaven and Gran and Tara and whoever else might be listening. Tray deserved to find happiness again.
Sookie sighed as she remembered the circumstances that had forever linked Tray and Eric. Tray had scented a vampire outside of his burned-down home the day after the fire, and he'd gone to Eric immediately. In turn, Eric had begun an investigation, which had led to Victor and his king, Felipe de Castro. I knew from Tray's head that Eric had sent Felipe 20 boxes via FedEx, each one containing a little bit of Victor goo. Eric had allowed Tray to kill the vampire who had killed his family. And Eric had sent the remains for one reason only—to inform the Nevada king that Louisiana did not take kindly to foreign invaders.
Given the fact that that had occurred almost four years before, it seemed as if de Castro had gotten the message, and Thalia was now well-established as queen and had—ironically—begun marriage negotiations with de Castro himself, though Eric said she was doing that only so she could yank the "caped-king's" chain.
Sookie had met Thalia twice. She liked her, though she was scared to death of her. Thankfully, Thalia didn't seem interested in Sookie beyond the fact that she was now Eric's bonded and wife, which was why the queen had extended "Louisiana's protection" over her. Sookie was thankful that she was staying relatively off the Supe radar.
Still, she knew that Eric worried about her—especially now that she was getting ready to have their baby. Of course their daughter wasn't biologically Eric's, but—after much soul-searching—they had decided that artificial insemination was the best way to go for their first child—since vampires couldn't officially adopt.
Eric had—at Sookie's request—chosen their donor. She knew only that the donor was tall and blonde—with Nordic roots. She couldn't say she was sorry about that. She supposed that if Eric and she had been living a fairy tale, Niall or Dr. Ludwig would have shot some magic into him or her so that Eric and she could have conceived their own child. But—a fairy tale they were not living.
They were living a "normal life"—at least by the standards they'd both come to treasure more than anything else. It wasn't any more or less strange than any other life when Sookie thought about it, especially as she looked around the table.
She sighed, disappointed that Niall wasn't sitting there. But he was currently "kicking ass and taking names in Faerie"—according to his own description. During his last visit, he'd told Sookie and Eric that Queen Mab was no more. And he'd been working to acclimate the human-fairy hybrids trapped in Faerie, including Barry, to their new lives as "free" fairies.
Sookie smiled at Tray as he took it upon himself to serve her some turkey. He had begun guarding her when Eric feared the Yakuza might decide to look into Mr. Gus's disappearance. Luckily, they hadn't because it seemed that Mr. Gus had kept his plans close to the vest.
After Sookie had staked Bill, she'd spent quite a while grieving for both him and Alcide—letting her heart heal for almost a year—before she'd walked into Fangtasia in a white sundress with yellow flowers on it. The colors had been significant—white standing for new beginnings and yellow for optimism.
Eric had said only four words—"I have been waiting"—before he'd captured her lips with a kiss.
Pam had been less that pleased when her maker and Sookie had restarted their relationship. But almost four years of commitment between them had made Pam lukewarm toward Sookie. And that was progress.
And—oddly enough—Pam was now planning a baby shower for Sookie and "her sister," the girl who was currently sleeping and not kicking against her mother's bladder. "Thank God!" Sookie said a little prayer of Thanksgiving for those small miracles.
Everyone had loaded his or her plate by then, and Andy, the honorary "head of the table" for the first half of the dinner stood up—after being nudged by Holly, of course.
"Um," Andy began awkwardly, "I guess it falls on me to get us started. But—uh—I ain't so good at this kinda thing, so I thought it'd be best to go 'round the table. Each of us can say what we're thankful for." He sat down quickly, and Holly stood up just as fast—to let him off the hook.
"I'll start!" she said brightly. "Uh—Andy and I are thankful that next year at this time, we'll have a new little one of our own!" she smiled, patting her barely there baby bump. "Oh—and I'm also real thankful that my doctor gave me the go-ahead to have one glass of wine tonight," she winked as she raised her glass.
Lafayette chuckled and took his cue to stand up. "I's thankful for the new amendment to this state's constitution," he said, as James stood beside him. Vampire-human marriages had been made legal all over the country thanks to the Supreme Court. Likewise, gay marriage had been legalized across the country three years before, but same-sex vampire-human marriages had lagged because of the language of those two laws. Happily, the problem had been fixed, and Lafayette and James were set to be married in a month—right before Christmas.
Sam and Nicole stood up next, and Sam looked to his wife, who was currently holding their second child. "May I tell them?" he asked and she nodded.
Sam beamed. "Well—uh—we have an announcement of sorts. We're not just here for the holiday. We're here to look into buying a house and moving back to Bon Temps!"
Already having "overheard" the news, Sookie smiled as a round of cheers was heard around the table. Oddly enough, once Weres and shifters "came out," it was the little towns that had seemed to accept them the easiest. And Bon Temps was already primed for the accepting, given its history with maenads and vampires—and Sam himself.
As Sam and Nicole sat down, Jason popped up. Bridgette stayed in her seat, bouncing her and Jason's youngest, who was not to be disturbed when she was happy. She had quite the temper and had aptly been named after her aunt.
"Well—uh—we're thankful that the new septic tank's workin' good," Jason said.
Bridgette looked up at him with meaning. "And?" she prodded.
"Oh—yeah—we're also thankful that little Niall's not teething no more."
"And?" Bridgette pushed, looking as if she were losing her patience.
"Oh!" Jason exclaimed. "And we're also thankful for my promotion to detective!"
"Here, here!" Andy exclaimed, as the others around the table clapped.
Adilyn and Wade stood up next. "We're thankful Daddy finally gave us his blessing to get married!" Adilyn raved.
"Finally," Wade reiterated.
"Well—she's still only five," Andy muttered—eliciting the laughter of those around him.
Sookie was next, and she smiled at everyone present, but she didn't try to stand up. At eight months pregnant, standing was an activity she did as little as possible.
"I'm thankful for you all being here," she said sincerely. "I'm thankful to call you all family—and to be welcoming a new Adele into the world," she added, patting her belly.
"As am I," came a deep voice from behind her.
Sookie stood up for that sound.
"I thought you weren't gonna get to come for a couple hours," Sookie said as Eric approached and gave her a tender kiss on the forehead.
"As usual, I got bored," he explained. "And this is a holiday about family—correct?"
"And I have many things to be thankful for," he added, looking around the table. He nodded to his youngest child—now in a relationship with him by choice—and then looked back at the woman he'd made his wife two years before—the very day vampire-human marriage had become legal in their state.
As usual, one of his large hands drifted to her belly.
"God kväll, min dotter," he said as the baby woke up and kicked his hand. [translation: Good evening, my daughter.]
She always woke up to greet her daddy.
"Pam not come?" Sookie asked quietly.
Eric shook his head. "She's still being obstinate about you. Plus, there are clients waiting to see Ms. Newlin."
Sookie took in a deep breath to steel herself. She still had mixed feelings about what Pam and Eric were doing with Sarah Newlin. They'd turned her into a blood slave, selling her blood for a hundred thousand dollars a minute. Sookie would have objected more vocally had it not been for two reasons. First, Pam and Eric didn't allow anyone to take Sarah sexually. Second, from Sarah's mind, Sookie had learned—several years before—that she'd hoped to string up Eric in a similar way, offering the blood from his veins and his sexual prowess to anyone who would pay the hefty price she demanded. Sarah had hoped to make an experiment out of Eric's torture—to see if the ancient vampire would learn to "like" his status as her "whore."
Sookie shook her head to clear out that thought and then sat back into her seat with Eric's help.
Tray had already gotten up from his chair and had pulled another one next to Willa, leaving the space at the "second head of the table" for Eric.
The vampire nodded toward the Were he trusted with the daily safety of his wife and daughter. Tray had earned his respect and his trust over the years, thwarting several attempts against Sookie by radical human groups. Moreover, Sookie had come to love and respect Tray Dawson as a brother, so she no longer complained about having a guard.
And that had made Eric's life much easier.
The ancient vampire sat in his place and reached out for his wife's hand, only to find hers waiting for him.
And then he told the table what he was thankful for: Everything.