Title: You’ve Got Dead Mail
To: California Kat
Summary: Sookie loves her first online fan, Vamp5, who loves her first fanfiction story. Sookie hates Eric Northman, the man who forced her to close Merlotte’s. What seems a simple choice between two men becomes complicated, but then when is love simple?
Rated T. Sookie and Eric.
Disclaimer: This Secret Santa doesn’t own the Southern Vampire Mysteries characters, nor do I own You’ve Got Mail, but it’s one of my favorite movies.
Sookie checked her email and saw one from Fanfiction. It said, “Favorite: Vamp5 has favorited you.”
She excitedly clicked on the link to Vamp5’s profile, but was disappointed to find no information on her page, no avatar, and no stories. Sookie was the only favorite author listed. There were no favorite stories.
She wished she knew more about the one and only fan she’d acquired since posting her fanfiction story about the film, You’ve Got Mail. One of the reasons she’d started going on Fanfiction was to connect to people—new people, people whose thoughts she couldn’t read through the internet, people who didn’t know all the drama in her life and who wouldn’t judge her with their small-town minds.
She clicked on the link to send a private message to Vamp5 and wrote, “Thanks so much for favoriting me. You made my day.”
Sadly, she thought, this little moment would very likely be the best part of her day. She closed her laptop, washed her breakfast dishes, and finished dressing before heading out to meet the reporter from Shreveport at Merlotte’s.
On the drive she’d made nearly every day for much of her adult life, she fought the tears again—the ones that always seemed to come when she thought of the bar.
As she pulled into the parking lot, she took a deep breath and regained control of her emotions. She parked and took her compact and tissues from her purse, dabbing her eyes and powdering her nose.
“Okay, get a grip,” she said to herself in the mirror. She was determined to be cool and collected for her interview. People were curious about Merlotte’s closing, and she wanted to tell her story, but she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep it together.
She knew what she wished she could say, but also knew Gran would turn over in her grave at the language she’d need to use to truly express her feelings. What had happened to Merlotte’s? It went under. Why? Because of the bastard that killed their business.
Sookie got out of the car, adjusted her skirt, and walked to the front door, determined to be professional and to be a lady in spite of the venom in her heart for the cheeky vampire she’d love to stake—the one who had ruined her life–the Sheriff of Area 5 himself, owner of Fangtasia, asshole extraordinaire … Eric Northman.
“I’m so glad I made your day,” Eric wrote. “I loved You’ve Got Dead Mail. I thought the Tom Hanks character made a great vampire. And I loved how you made “dead mail”—something undeliverable to its recipient–a metaphor for the love Kathleen had to give, and yet couldn’t be “delivered” to her anonymous suitor because he was unidentifiable. So what happens next? Are you writing a sequel?”
The door opened and Pam walked into his office. Eric slammed the laptop shut. “Heard of knocking?” he asked brusquely.
“What’s wrong? Were you jerking off to fanfiction again? Find some lemons?” she asked.
“I told you, I have no interest in that crap. What do you want?”
“That reporter from the Times is at the bar. Should I send her in?”
“Yes, let’s get that over with,” he said. “And make sure her drinks are comped.”
This time, Pam knocked before opening the door and she escorted the reporter in. “Eric, this is Kat Floyd from the Shreveport Times,” she said.
Eric smiled and gestured to the chair across from his desk. “It’s a pleasure. May I call you Kat? Please sit down. Can we get you anything?” He noted she didn’t have a drink. “Pam, please bring Kat a … what are you having?” he asked the reporter.
“Nothing, thank you,” Kat said.
Pam closed the door behind her as Kat sat across from Eric.
“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Eric said, giving her his most winning smile. “I would have remembered.”
“No, we haven’t,” she replied. “I just moved here.”
“Oh? Welcome, then. Where are you from?”
“California,” she said curtly, removing a pen and notepad from her purse.
“Beautiful state, California,” Eric said.
“As you know, I’m doing a piece on Merlotte’s,” she started, seemingly uninterested in small talk, and unfortunately, unimpressed with Eric’s charm.
“Yes, very unfortunate business, that was,” Eric said soberly.
“Yes, it was. So, how’s Fangtasia South doing since Merlotte’s closed its doors?”
“Bon Temps has graciously welcomed Fangtasia South. What a lovely town. And the people are simply charming. So full of spirit.”
“Has your revenue increased since Merlotte’s was forced out of business?”
“Well, first of all, no one was forced to do anything, I can assure you. Fangtasia South has filled a niche—given the good people of Bon Temps an exciting choice for their evening’s entertainment.”
Kat flipped a few pages of her notebook and read aloud, “Eric Northman single-handedly destroyed Merlotte’s. He has no regard for Bon Temps. He just wants to make a buck, and will ruin anyone who gets in his way.”
Eric forced a smile as he said, “That’s just not true. I have great regard for this town. We offer a better alternative than the establishment that used to be across the street, that’s all. Our drinks are more affordable, our dining experience more pleasurable. We have dancing, pool, darts, live music on the weekends, a better ….”
“So, you didn’t have a personal vendetta against Sookie Stackhouse, the widow of Sam Merlotte, because she says ….”
“Please. There is nothing personal about what happened to Ms. Stackhouse. This is business. Merlotte’s had run its course, and Bon Temps wanted a better nightclub. Go out there and ask any of our patrons. They love it here. You can see for yourself.”
He stood and walked around the desk, holding his hand out until Kat put her notebook away and stood to shake his hand.
He pulled her towards the door, and opened it to find Pam waiting on the other side.
“Pam, please show our lovely friend Kat around. Make sure she has everything she needs.”
Pam smiled sweetly and took the reporter by the arm as she led her down the hall.
Eric gave a wave and said, “Have a nice evening,” before he retreated back into his office and closed the door, dropping his fake smile and returning to his computer.
He opened his email and searched for a reply from Fanfiction. “[New PM] from Hummingbird1.”
He clicked on the link and eagerly read his reply.
“Thanks so much, Vamp5! Yes, I’m thinking about a sequel. Obviously, things are just getting started for Joe and Kathleen, but I’m not sure where I want the story to go. Do you have any suggestions? I noticed you’re new to Fanfiction. Do you write as well?”
Eric started to type: “Thank you for your quick response, Hummingbird. Yes, I’m very new to Fanfiction. A friend essentially dared me to look into it—as a joke really. (I told her I wasn’t interested.) But I quickly discovered that it’s a very effective escape from the doldrums of real life. I was particularly impressed with your story—the way you wrote Joe as a vampire was intriguing. And of course, making Kathleen a telepath was brilliant. No, I’m not a writer, but an avid reader, and much to my surprise, becoming a fan of fanfiction. Believe me, it’s not the sort of fiction I expected to be drawn to, but clearly, I’m interested now.”
Eric hit “Send Message,” and began scrolling through his email. He spent the next hour answering emails for the bar and hitting “Send/Receive” a little too frequently until he saw another email from Fanfiction. He immediately went to read the new message.
“Hahaha, Vamp5! Welcome to fanfiction addiction! Yes, it is a wonderful escape. I have a feeling you’re referring to the lemons when you say you’re “drawn to” the stories. I totally get it. As women, we tend to need romance in our lives, and fictional romance is sometimes a welcome substitute for the real thing. I don’t mean to imply you don’t have a great personal life—I guess I was thinking of myself when I wrote that. Anyway, I’m glad you’re finding pleasure in your discovery of fanfiction. I did as well, which is why I started writing it.”
Eric wrote back: “I’m not a woman.”
He waited and watched his email for the next few hours, and when he got no response from his new fanfiction friend, he began to regret his last message. The truth was he hated the thought that he had scared off Hummingbird. He’d found chatting with her to be a pleasure—even more of a pleasure than reading her story had been.
After closing the bar, he drove up to his house in Shreveport for the night, and spent the last hours before dawn reading more fanfiction. The more he read, the more he felt his connection to Hummingbird was special. He decided if he hadn’t heard from her by the following night, he’d write another message and try to coax her back to some sort of friendship. He liked her, and liked communicating with her more than he’d ever expected to. As he prepared for his daytime rest, his mind was filled with messages he’d compose when he woke to his new favorite person, Hummingbird1. And then dawn came and his thoughts disappeared as they had every day for a thousand years.
He’s not a woman. Sookie pondered that message all day the following day. She had started a correspondence with a new friend, thinking she was a woman, and now the knowledge that she was a he somehow changed things.
Sookie hadn’t been on a date since Sam died. That was three years ago. She’d spent those years comfortably busy running Merlotte’s. Of course, that had all changed when Fangtasia South had opened across the road. After that, all Sookie’s energy had been spent just trying to keep Merlotte’s open, and she’d failed.
Every time she thought about it, her stomach tied in knots. Why on earth had that awful vampire chosen to open his bar so close to Merlotte’s? For months she’d been mad at all her friends—the regulars from the bar who had jumped ship and chosen to spend their drinking dollars across the street. But in the end, she couldn’t blame them for wanting to try something new, and all that was left was blame for Eric Northman. She held him accountable for losing the business her husband had left her—the life he’d left her. Now she had no idea what to do next. She felt lost.
She thought of Vamp5’s comment about Kathleen being unable to “deliver” her love, and realized she still had love to give as well, and no one to give it to. She only named her story You’ve Got Dead Mail because she wanted the word “dead” in the title to indicate Joe was a vampire. Vamp5 seemed to have psychoanalyzed her via the internet—read more into her writing that she’d intended to put there, and touched on something she hadn’t even considered. Since Sam’s death she did have a need to love.
She had turned to writing to fill her time and occupy her mind, and had discovered she truly enjoyed it. Her You’ve Got Mail fic was the first she’d posted, but she was toying with several more story ideas, and had started a sequel to You’ve Got Dead Mail after hearing from the very insightful Vamp5.
She spent most of her afternoon working on her outline and tinkering with the first chapters, and as the sun began to set, she went to the Fanfiction site and composed her answer to Vamp5’s last message.
“Oh, okay. I’m sorry to have presumed. I guess I just thought everyone on FF was female. Obviously, I have a lot to learn. Anyway, it’s still nice to meet you. I’ve been working on that sequel you suggested today, and would love your input. I’ve never been to New York City, and I was thinking of moving the story down to Louisiana where I live. I was going to have Kathleen inherit an old farmhouse in a small town and have Joe follow her down and open a bar. Do you think that’s too OOC?”
She went back to her writing, but kept checking her email until she got a reply.
“It’s nice to meet you as well, Hummingbird. I like your story idea although I don’t know what OOC means. I also live in Louisiana—what a coincidence. I don’t want to pry into your personal life, but am curious—do you live in a small town? I’m in Shreveport. It’s a small world, isn’t it? I’m eager to hear where you’re taking the characters. I can definitely see Joe following Kathleen, but you need to give them some conflicts to overcome. Keep focusing on their differences—that he’s a vampire, and she’s a human. I’m assuming FF is Fanfiction?”
She wrote back: “Yes, FF is Fanfiction. OOC is out of character. Wow. I live in a small town south of Shreveport. What are the odds of that? I’m thinking of having Joe meet another woman—maybe someone in the bar. Is that the kind of conflict you mean?”
This time the answer came quickly. “No, he wouldn’t be interested in another woman. He’s too mature for that. Maybe create some conflict in their work lives—it would be hard on her having him work all the hours a bar would require. She’s at home writing while he’s working. She feels left out perhaps?”
“No, I don’t think that would work, Vamp. She doesn’t mind his work at all—maybe she grew up with relatives that owned a bar or something. I actually think working in a bar is pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a barfly or anything. I just think it’s a perfectly fine way to make a living. I can’t see why Kathleen would object to that. Should I give him a different business?”
“No, the bar idea is a good one. Stick with it. Why don’t you bring in some vampire business that she doesn’t like? Or introduce some Weres. Do you like living in a small town?”
“Yes, I do. I grew up here, so it’s home. I like Shreveport as well. Are you from there? Yes, maybe some Weres. Should I give her some suitors? That should provide conflict.”
“No, I can’t see her cheating either. I’m not from Shreveport, but I’ve lived here a while now. Do you come to Shreveport often?”
“Not really, although I don’t mind the drive.”
“You’ll have to let me know when you’re planning to come here next. Perhaps we could meet? Speaking of driving, I have to get to work.”
“No problem. We’ll chat later then.”
Sookie sat and stared at his last message. Perhaps we could meet? Oh dear. What was she getting herself into? How did this go from a fan favoriting her story to a blind date in Shreveport? The idea of it made her nervous, but not necessarily in a bad way.
She decided to put her laptop away for the evening, and read one of her romance novels, take a hot bath. Now that she was writing herself, reading romantic fiction was like doing homework (but for a class she loved), and any guilt she’d ever felt for enjoying it before was removed completely.
It was hard, but she didn’t look at her email again before going to bed. He’s at work anyway.
She fell asleep working out a conflict between Joe and Kathleen in her mind and wondering what Vamp5 might look like waiting to meet her somewhere in Shreveport. She tossed and turned for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on until sleep finally took her.
He wrote, “Thanks for your patience. I’m at work now.”
No emails from Fanfiction or FF as he’d started to think of it, thanks to her.
He’d obviously spooked her. He kicked himself for suggesting they meet. It was too soon. He should have waited.
He checked his email hourly, and agonized over writing another message, but decided to stop worrying about it—to forget it. At the end of the evening, he closed the bar, drove home, and spent the rest of the night not worrying about it, grateful when dawn finally silenced his mind.
She waited until she had her coffee ready before she opened her laptop, already composing a good morning message to him in her mind.
When she read his last message, she kicked herself.
“I’m sorry,” she wrote. “I didn’t realize you could still email at work. I just figured you were busy. Anyway, I’m here. Would love to hear from you.”
She removed the last line and then wrote it again before hitting “Send Message.” Was she getting braver?
She waited a moment for a response, but then decided to check some websites instead. She had two new very nice reviews on Fanfiction, and then she headed over to the Shreveport Times site. Today was the day her article was supposed to come out, and sure enough, there it was.
She read with tears in her eyes about the demise of Merlotte’s, and clenched her jaw when it came to the part about that smug, awful vampire, Eric Northman. He clearly felt no remorse whatsoever about closing her bar down and stealing all her customers. The reporter didn’t have to stretch the facts a bit to make him look like a big fat jerk. He took care of that all by himself.
When she’d finished the article, she wiped the tears from her face and went back to the Fanfiction site, writing, “I feel like taking a drive today. Are you around? Maybe we could meet up somewhere in Shreveport?” Since he’d gone to work at night, she thought maybe his days were free.
She ate and showered and put on her cutest sundress, then headed up the interstate to meet someone who just might make her feel better.
When he woke, he went straight for his laptop like a drug addict. He felt a wave of elation when he saw the number of messages, but that faded as he discerned their content.
“I’m at the mall. Free for lunch?”
“No worries. I just took a chance you’d be around. I have plenty of errands to run here. Will check later to see if you’re available today.”
“You’re obviously busy—that’s fine. I should have checked with you before driving up. It’s no big deal. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Heading back home. Had a fun day. Lots of shopping. Hope you’re well.”
He sat and thought of what to write. Should he tell her he’s a vampire? He thought his name—Vamp5—would indicate it, but apparently he was wrong about that. She had hoped to meet him today. His unbeating heart sank at the thought that she was wandering around the stupid mall alone while he was dead to the world.
He wrote, “I’m sorry I missed you today. It’s my turn to take a drive. Why don’t we meet tonight at Fangtasia South? Are you near that area? Say nine o’clock? Wear something red so I’ll know you?”
She responded, “My dress has red roses on it. That’s how you’ll know me.”
He showered and dressed, although he changed his clothes three times and was late arriving at the bar. Pam had things running smoothly, naturally, and he sat in his office checking his email until ten ‘til nine. Then he went out to the bar, scanning the room for a woman with roses on her dress.
He spotted her sitting at the bar in a white sundress with red flowers in the print. She was absolutely stunning—blonde hair, a voluptuous figure, and a sweetness he rarely encountered in his world. He watched her for a moment looking heartbreakingly vulnerable, glancing around the room for a stranger that could so easily disappoint her and very likely would. For the first time since he could recall, he wished he were human—the kind of man a sweet fanfiction writer from Louisiana would want in her life. But then he remembered the sexy love scenes she’d written in her story, and he felt bolder—like maybe he was the kind of man she needed, human or not.
He approached her at the bar. She turned her head towards him as he got closer and their eyes met. He felt the heat in his cold heart and knew she felt it as well. She smiled tentatively and glanced around the room as if to make sure he was the one. Yes, I’m the one.
“Eric, can I get you anything?” the bartender asked, breaking him from his spell.
He turned to address the fool, but before he could get a word out, the goddess on the barstool said, “Oh my god, are you Eric Northman?”
So, she knew who he was. He smiled and extended his hand, saying, “Yes, I am. It’s such a pleasure to see you here,” in his most charming voice.
She looked down at his hand as if it smelled bad and stood up, backing away. He was puzzled, and then she said, “You’re such an unbelievable … I can’t even think of the words … you are just … ahhh, I hate you!”
“Excuse me?” he asked, bewildered.
“You’re an ass–, I mean, an awful person! I hate you!” She looked around and added, “You stole everything—all these people. They were our customers!”
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why don’t we step into my office?” He didn’t want to make a scene.
“I’m not going anywhere with you!” She looked across the bar at the bartender. “Did you read the paper today? Do you know what kind of jerk you work for?”
The Times article must have come out. He’d forgotten about it. “Please,” he said. “I can explain .…”
“Explain? You mean explain how you closed down my bar? How you stole all my customers? How you put Merlotte’s into bankruptcy?”
“Yes, Merlotte’s! My bar. My former bar.”
And then it hit him. “You’re Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Sookie Stackhouse Merlotte.”
“I see,” he said. So his dream girl was the woman he’d put out of business. And she completely hated him.
He looked around and saw the faces of his patrons staring with contempt, his own bartender unsure of what to say. He smoothed his jacket down in the front, gave a tug to the hem, and said, “I’m sorry to have troubled you, Mrs. Merlotte. Have a good evening.”
He turned and walked back into his office and closed the door. In an extremely unusual moment, he regretted a decision of his—the decision to come to Bon Temps and open a bar.
He sat and stared at his desk, lost in remorse until he heard the ding of his computer, announcing email had arrived.
He looked at the time. She’d apparently had time to get home. He clicked on the Fanfiction link and read the subject of her message: “I’m sorry.”
“My dear Vamp5,” she began. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to meet you tonight. I went to the bar, but had to leave when I saw an awful person—someone I shouldn’t even waste a moment of my time on, and I regret that he upset me to the point I had to leave before getting the chance to meet you. I know we shouldn’t probably get too deep in telling each other personal details, but I just have to say this person is someone I need to forget. You’re the kind of person I should be spending my thoughts on—not him. Don’t worry—he’s not an old boyfriend or anything. He’s someone who just did something horrible to me personally. I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but he did, and now I’m feeling terrible because you and I didn’t have the chance to meet. I hope I can have a rain check? Please tell me I haven’t ruined everything.”
He closed his laptop, and went out the back door. Driving home, he vowed to leave Sookie Stackhouse Merlotte alone. And that’s exactly what he did.
For three months, he went along with his life just as he had before he’d discovered fanfiction and found a friend in Hummingbird1. He heard about Ms. Stackhouse-Merlotte occasionally through his employees—former employees of Merlotte’s. He heard about a pretty dress she wore to a wedding at the Bellefleur mansion (and wondered who her escort had been). He knew she’d baked a chocolate cake and walnut brownies for the church bake sale. He knew she could be spotted in the library every Monday night in the romance section, only this past Monday she wasn’t there because she had the flu.
He went to the Fanfiction site for the first time in months and saw she’d started a sequel to You’ve Got Dead Mail in which Joe and Kathleen did indeed move to Louisiana. Joe opened a bar and Kathleen wrote romance novels. The conflict in their lives came in the form of an evil vampire sheriff who made Joe’s life hell and who opened a bar right next door to Joe’s bar, trying to put him out of business.
In spite of the new character, Eric enjoyed the story and found he was disappointed when he came to the last chapter posted and wanted more. She hadn’t posted a chapter in nearly two weeks, and her reviewers had begun to beg.
He started to write in the review box at the end of the last chapter: “Great story, Hummingbird. I hope to see the next chapter soon.” He deleted the second sentence and sat and contemplated the screen for a moment before deleting the entire review and leaving the website.
He closed his laptop and went out into the bar to tend to business. Pam had been off for the past four nights—on vacation in New Orleans with a new human, and Eric was looking forward to her return.
He was back in his office sorting through invoices when Pam entered and stood at his desk wearing a smile.
He looked up and said, “Knock, please. Welcome back.”
“Thank you. I hope I was missed.”
“We managed. How was New Orleans?”
“And your new human?”
“I’m so pleased you’ve found a woman who brings joy to your heart.”
Pam spit out a laugh. “Oh yeah, she does that. When was the last time anyone did that? For me or you or anyone else we know? That’s a good one.”
Eric didn’t know what to say, so he just sat and watched as Pam left with a “Getting back to work, boss. Later.”
He sat at his desk still holding the stack of invoices, but just looking blankly at the door for a long while. Then he set his papers aside, opened his laptop and found Hummingbird’s latest chapter again, this time writing in the box, “I love this story, as I knew I would. I look forward to hearing more from you. When you post a chapter, it makes my day.”
He clicked on “Post Review as Vamp5,” closed his laptop again, and headed out the door.
Sookie had been in bed with the flu for nearly a week. She’d slept a lot with a mild fever and a headache that just wouldn’t go away, making it impossible to write.
She was anxious to finish a new chapter of her fanfiction story, knowing her readers were getting antsy. And she wanted to get back to her novel. She had nearly a third of it written. It was something she’d wanted to try all her life, but had never found the time working in the bar. She loved reading romance novels, and had dreamed of becoming a romance writer. The encouragement her fanfiction readers gave her inspired her to try an original novel.
In the months she’d been writing fanfiction, she’d made lots of new online friends, was on the favorites’ list of many readers, and watched for reviews like a crack addict waiting for her dealer to arrive. She often thought of the day she was first favorited by Vamp5 and how it had made her feel having her very own fan. Now she had many, and she treasured them all, but none compared to that first one.
Maybe he was special because he was probably the only man among her readers, or maybe because she’d developed a friendship with him through their private messages. Or maybe it was because he’d made her feel special for the first time since Sam had died—special like a man makes a woman feel special.
She cursed herself for the thousandth time for screwing things up, and then cursed Eric Northman again for ruining the night she was supposed to meet Vamp5. She had apologized for standing Vamp5 up, but never heard from him again. She had composed a dozen messages trying to explain herself again, but didn’t send them. She couldn’t blame him for being angry. She’d made a mistake, and her payment was the loss of a friend. A friend who maybe could have been more.
A knock on her door roused her from bed. She checked the clock, wondering who would be calling on her this late. She wrapped herself in her tattered old robe, wiped her nose, and headed out to the living room.
Eric Northman’s smiling face peered through the glass of the front window. He was the last person she ever thought she’d see on her front porch, and wondered what in the world had brought him here. She opened the door and looked up at his grinning face, too stunned to say a word.
He placed his finger beneath her chin and pressed up gently, closing her mouth.
“Good evening, Mrs. Merlotte,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve heard you’re under the weather.” He held out a pair of plastic shopping bags in his hand and looked beyond her into the living room. “May I come in?”
“Yes, please,” she said, her manners overriding her shock at seeing him. She stepped aside and he walked past her towards the kitchen.
She closed the front door and followed him inside. He had set the bags onto the kitchen counter and was opening cabinets. He pulled out a bowl and started opening one of his plastic bags.
“I understand chicken soup is a wonderful remedy for human illness,” he said as he opened a cardboard container and poured soup into the bowl he’d retrieved. “Are spoons in here?” he asked, opening a drawer.
“No, in that one,” she answered, gesturing to her utensil drawer.
He brought the bowl and spoon over to the table and set them both down. She started to sit obediently when he stopped her, stood behind her and began to remove her bathrobe from the back of the collar. He pulled it off like an experienced men’s valet and draped it over a kitchen chair before turning to the second plastic bag on the counter.
He produced a long fluffy rose colored bathrobe, shook it out and held it for her to place an arm in.
“I was hoping to find a blue one to complement your eyes, but, well, the store was closing, and I decided warmth was the key factor, rather than color,” he said as she placed both arms in the robe and he pulled it up to her shoulders.
She felt his head suddenly incredibly close to the back of her neck and she jumped and turned to face him.
He smiled, his fangs showing for the first time, unnerving her further, and said, “I didn’t mean to alarm you. I was just biting off the price tag.” He held it up, still attached to the broken plastic loop that had secured it in place in the label of the robe.
He tossed the tag on top of the discarded plastic bags on the counter and reached down to pull her robe closed and tie it in loosely in the front.
“I think it’s a good fit, don’t you?” he asked. “Now, please sit and enjoy your soup. I’ll get out of your hair.”
He gathered the plastic bags and put them in the trash can, then tore off a paper towel and brought it to her.
“You need to blow your nose,” he said, and she took the paper towel and wiped her nose, too embarrassed to thank him.
“I’ll see myself out.”
“Thank you,” she finally managed to say. “I … uh …”
“No need to thank me,” he replied. “You take care now.”
She watched him turn and walk to the front door, and give her a little wave as he left, closing the door behind him.
She started eating her soup, which was actually delicious, and contemplating what on earth could have gotten into Eric Northman to bring her gifts. She recalled how much she hated him, but then couldn’t deny that what he had just done was extremely thoughtful. She actually loved the color of the robe, and found herself wishing he hadn’t seen the old ratty one she’d been wearing. This one was so much prettier.
She finished her soup and got back into bed, still feeling weak from her flu symptoms, but toasty warm in her new robe and with her stomach full. She fell asleep wondering how she’d be able to continue hating Eric Northman now that she’d seen such a kind side of him. And kind or awful, she decided he was definitely the handsomest man she’d ever seen. There was no denying that.
Eric wasn’t surprised or disappointed that he didn’t hear from Hummingbird that night. He knew where she was and that she wasn’t feeling well.
He was happy to wake to a message from her the following night—happy that she had replied and happy that she was feeling better.
“How nice to hear from you, Vamp,” her message read. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you as well,” he wrote back. “And I’m sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. I had to tend to some personal business.” He deleted the last sentence and replaced it with “I was out of town.” Then he deleted that sentence as well and decided not to make an excuse. They would all sound hollow and insincere because they would all be lies.
She wrote back quickly, “I’m just glad you’re back.”
“I’m really enjoying your new story. I’m pleased to see that the conflict in the plot is due to an outside character, and not because there is friction in their relationship. I like how well they click together.”
“So do I,” she replied. “I love their chemistry together. I saw an interview once with Tom Hanks where he talked about the chemistry he had with Meg Ryan—how people said they just loved them together in Sleepless in Seattle, and he pointed out they really only had one scene together in the whole film. I thought that was interesting.”
“People don’t necessarily have to be physically in the same place in order to have good chemistry, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Why, Vamp, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re flirting with me.”
He loved how playful she was, and suddenly how forward as well. He wrote, “I’m absolutely flirting with you, Hummingbird.”
He got just a smiley face in return, and wrote, “I’m off to work. Talk later.”
Later that night, he got a notice that Hummingbird had posted a new chapter, and he was quick to read it and leave a review: “This was the best chapter yet, Hummingbird, and like many good things in life, well worth the wait.”
He didn’t expect a reply as the hour was late and he knew she needed her rest. As he ended his night, he felt good for the first time in months. He had something to look forward to again, and a plan to remedy what had gone wrong the first time he met Sookie. He thought of her sitting on that stool in her flowered dress, and felt a determination—a purpose in his life he hadn’t known for many years. He had joy in his dead heart, and wanted nothing more than to bring it to Sookie’s life as well.
Sookie finally felt well enough to get back to her routine. She was feeling good about keeping up with regular chapter updates on Fanfiction, making some serious headway on her novel, and enjoying her renewed online friendship with Vamp5.
She still didn’t know what had happened before—why he’d disappeared from Fanfiction, and they hadn’t touched on the subject of their botched blind date again. She decided not to push it—to just move forward, and not dwell on what had gone wrong in the past. Exchanging messages with him was always the highlight of her day, and she decided to be satisfied with an online friendship for now, and to simply enjoy it.
Vamp5 seemed particularly interested in the paranormal aspects of her fanfiction story, and she decided she needed to bone up on the genre a bit. She was in the library on her usual Monday night thumbing through a vampire romance at one of the long tables when she felt the presence of someone standing before her.
She looked up, and there stood Eric Northman looking ridiculously gorgeous in a taupe t-shirt and black suede jacket, holding a book and smiling down at her.
“Good evening,” he whispered. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.”
“Yes, thank you,” she replied, also in a whisper.
“May I join you?”
She moved her purse and her stack of books over to make room. He sat and opened his book, gave her a broad smile and looked down to read.
They sat in silence together for some time. She glanced up a few times—once getting caught, unfortunately, before returning her attention to her book.
Once he shifted positions in his seat and she sneaked a peek at the cover of his book, curious as to what he’d chosen to read: Golf Digest, Ultimate Drill Book. She sat and considered for a moment why a vampire would be interested in golf. She thought of it as a daytime sport. She pictured him in a collared knit shirt, plaid pants, and maybe a billed cap with his hair pulled back, squatting down on the green to line up his shot, his muscular thighs causing a strain in the plaid fabric of his pants ….
“Is something wrong?” he whispered, interrupting her thoughts.
“You were frowning.”
“Oh, no,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I think I’m done here.” She decided it was too hard to concentrate on her book sitting across from this vampire golf expert with the hard thighs and tight shirt.
“Me too,” he said, closing his book.
“I just need to check out,” she said, gathering her pile of romance novels.
“Yes, so do I.”
They both stood and headed towards the librarian’s desk.
“So, you don’t strike me as a golfer,” she said as they walked.
“Golf. You know, I didn’t peg you for a golfer.” She gestured towards the book he carried.
He looked at the cover, and seemed a little surprised. “Ah yes, fascinating sport, golf. No, I don’t play, but I just wanted to … um … read about it.”
They got to the desk and the librarian asked for their library cards. Eric set his book down and patted his pockets.
“Uh …,” he began. “Yes, I suppose I need to apply for one.”
“You can use mine,” Sookie suggested.
“Oh, well, you know what—that’s okay. I’ve decided I don’t really need this particular book at the moment.” He scooted it towards the librarian with a smile. She blushed.
Sookie pulled her card from her purse and waited while her books were processed.
“Let me get those for you,” Eric said as he picked up her books and extended his arm, inviting her to walk in front of him.
When they got outside, he asked, “Could I interest you in a cup of coffee? I believe the diner across from the park is still open.
“Oh, okay,” she said, surprising herself. “That sounds nice.”
Walking through the park, she wondered if she’d made a mistake, agreeing to coffee with a man she was supposed to hate, but he had been so pleasant, and she reminded herself how kind he was when she was sick, and decided it would be wrong of her to say no. And it was just coffee, after all.
When they arrived at the diner, they sat in a booth, and she ordered coffee and a slice of cherry pie even though she wasn’t really hungry. She fiddled with it a bit while they made small talk about the town, the weather—safe subjects. Nothing about bars or vampires putting women out of business.
“So, what are your plans?” he asked, dangerously close to the topic of her occupation, or lack of one.
“Actually, I’ve started writing,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I’m writing a book.”
“That’s wonderful! Pursuit of the arts is always commendable.”
“Well, I don’t know if you’d call what I write art. It’s romance, really. Paranormal romance.”
“Interesting,” he said. “What’s the book about?”
“A telepath in a small town who falls in love with a shape shifter.”
She thought she detected a tiny change to his smile, but then maybe not.
“Based on your marriage, no doubt,” he said, and added, “It’s a small town. People talk.”
“Yes, they do, and no, not really,” she said. “I mean, yes, I’m a telepath, and my husband was a shape shifter, but … well … our marriage was more of a very good friendship, not really a romance.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ….” She realized she was probably revealing too many personal details to this man whom she barely knew, but when she saw the genuine interest in his eyes, she felt compelled to go on.
“It’s fine,” he said. “So you were very good friends ….”
“Yes. I mean, I did love him. I … it just wasn’t maybe what you’d expect. We were always very close friends, and then business partners. It’s hard for me to have … you know … something normal with a man. I hear their thoughts. Well, you can imagine.”
“And can you hear mine?”
“No, and I couldn’t hear Sam’s very well, which was a big reason I chose to marry him.”
“And we were happy, really. And then the car accident—well, I guess you’ve heard about it.”
“Yes. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. He left me with some life insurance money and this idea for a book.” She chose to omit that he’d left her the bar. “And so now that’s what I’m trying to do. I want to be a writer.”
“And so you shall be,” he said with a smile.
“Well, we’ll see.”
Eric walked her to her car and she watched him standing on the sidewalk as she drove away, thinking he was certainly full of surprises. She was surprised at herself as well, opening up to him about her relationship with Sam, but he seemed sincere in his interest and not the type to gossip. She wondered if she’d made a mistake trusting him with personal information, and then decided it felt good to talk to someone about it, and maybe he would turn out to be a friend rather than an enemy after all.
She thought about Kathleen’s need to give her love to someone in You’ve Got Dead Mail, and while Sookie had no intentions to give anything of that nature to Eric Northman, she did recognize that it felt good to maybe have found a friend— one she’d never expected to have.
Eric was pleased with the progress of his relationships with Sookie. Online, they chatted nightly, and he loved every exchange. The anonymity of their friendship was a great factor in its appeal. Most people Eric encountered were intimidated by his physical size and the fact that he was a vampire. They expected a certain persona because of who he was.
He tried to imagine discussing romantic fiction with anyone he currently knew, and it was a laughable scenario. And yet, Hummingbird was always happy to share her ideas and listen to his opinions on the subject. After a thousand years, it wasn’t easy to find new interests in his life, but that’s exactly what he’d managed to do when he discovered fanfiction and Hummingbird in particular.
In real life (or RL, as Hummingbird had called it), their friendship was moving a bit slower, but that was fine. He’d found it a challenge to catch Sookie around town, as she didn’t seem to go out much at night. He had apparently missed her at the library one Monday, and then arrived just as she was leaving on another. He was able to walk her to her car on that occasion, but the diner was closed for repairs, and he was unable to suggest another casual meeting place. Fangtasia South was out of the question, of course, and he wasn’t familiar enough with other local establishments to come up with a spontaneous invitation.
Later that night, in their online exchange, Hummingbird asked, “Do you think we should try to meet again?”
“Soon,” he responded. “I’m working on a project at the moment, and will be available to meet you very soon. I look forward to it very much.”
The following night he decided his plan to run into Sookie in town needed tweaking, and so he showed up at her house with a cherry pie and a book on publishing for new writers. She seemed genuinely surprised to see him, but not unhappy about it as she invited him in.
“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to offer you,” she said. “I don’t keep Tru Blood in the house.”
“That’s perfectly fine,” he said. “I do hope you’ll try the pie.”
She cut herself a slice and poured a glass of milk, and they sat together at her kitchen table while she ate.
“Publishing 101,” she read aloud as she held her new book. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Since you said you were knew to writing, I thought perhaps you’d be interested in learning about your publishing options. I assume you haven’t published anything yet?”
“No, not really,” she said, and seemed to blush. “I mean, sort of. I have this place online where I … well, I have some stories ….”
“May I see them? I’d very much like to read them.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she said. “Trust me.” She smiled and squirmed a bit, which was quite adorable. “It’s romance—romantic stuff. My readers are almost all women.”
“Well, there’s this one guy,” she said, and then she bit her bottom lip.
Eric felt a swell of excitement, knowing, of course, that he was the guy.
“A suitor, perhaps?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, clearly flustered.
“It seems that you do know,” he teased. “Are you seeing him?”
“No, I’m not. But … there’s a hope.”
Eric could hardly contain his pleasure at seeing her reaction to his line of questioning. He decided to take the opportunity to tease her further “So, it’s your wish to date a man who reads romantic stories? Are you sure he’s straight?”
Her mouth opened, and then closed abruptly. “Yes, he’s straight!”
“And you don’t mind that he’s a pansy?”
She laughed, making him feel even happier—with joy in his heart, actually.
“And what’s this man’s name, might I ask?”
She waited for a beat, seeming to debate how much to reveal. “Vamp5.”
“So, you don’t mind that he’s a vampire?”
Her smile dropped. “A vampire?” She looked deep in thought for a moment. “I didn’t think ….”
Eric’s mood changed dramatically. She hadn’t worked that out yet? Surely, she realized he was never online during daylight hours by now. Would that be a hindrance to their relationship?
“I just assumed, because of the name,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s really none of my business.”
“No, that’s okay. I just hadn’t thought of it, but you know, you’re probably right. I thought it was because he was a fan of vampire stories, but maybe he is a vampire.”
Eric nodded, not sure what else to say.
“In Shreveport,” she said. He could almost see her working it out in her mind. “That’s Area 5, right? Vamp5. Area 5.”
Eric kept silent.
They just looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment until she said, “Oh my god, you must know him. You’re the Sheriff of Area 5, aren’t you?”
He would have let out a breath of relief had he breathed. “Yes, I am. And perhaps I do know him. I’ll be on the lookout for vampires who read romantic stories.”
She smiled again, and he felt immediately better.
“So, you wouldn’t mind if he were a vampire—this suitor of yours?” he asked, fearful of her response.
She seemed to take her time to consider her answer. Her eyes roamed over his face and settled on his lips before returning to his eyes. “No, I wouldn’t,” she said.
Eric said nothing, wanting to savor the moment. He wished he could kiss her, but felt it was too soon. He had a plan and thought it best not to deviate from it.
He finally changed the mood by saying, “I should go. I’ve taken up enough of your evening.”
Sookie stood and took her empty glass and plate over to the sink, saying, “Thank you for the pie and the book. I’m so sorry I didn’t have anything to offer you.”
He stood and replied, “That’s alright.”
She ran water in the sink and said over her shoulder, “I’ll pick up some Tru Blood at the store, so next time ….”
Eric was thrilled at her suggestion, and decided perhaps he should accelerate his plan a bit.
“How about Friday? Are you free?” he asked.
She turned off the water and faced him. “Sure. How about nine o’clock?”
“That sounds perfect.”
“Won’t that be a busy night at the bar though?” she asked.
“I think I can take an hour. I’ll see you then.”
He said his goodbyes at the door, and drove to the bar, eager to get to his laptop and to his nightly correspondence with the woman who held his happiness in her hands.
As the week progressed, Sookie found herself looking forward to Friday night. There was no sense in denying her attraction to Eric Northman. Since she’d gotten to know him, he was no longer the awful man who had run her out of business. Now he was an incredibly thoughtful, charming, gorgeous, sweet friend. Who would have ever thought she’d think of him as sweet or as a friend? But she did.
And now it seemed she had a sort-of date with him on Friday. An hour-long visit at her house. She’d stocked up on Tru Blood, hoping he’d be back for more visits as well.
Meanwhile, she’d gone back and looked at all her messages from Vamp5, and sure enough, they had all been sent at night. She suspected that he was indeed a vampire, and decided it was time to find out.
On Thursday night, she sent the first message of the night: “May I ask you a personal question?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Are you a vampire?”
“Yes, I am. I hope that doesn’t change anything between us.”
“No, it doesn’t. I was just curious.”
“I guess since your stories are about a vampire and a human, I assumed–well, I suppose I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“No, it’s fine. I love that Joe’s a vampire. I obviously think he’s very sexy. I wrote him that way.”
“And are you a telepath like Kathleen?”
“Yes, and like her, I can’t hear vampires’ thoughts—probably why I made Joe one. He seemed like a logical match for her.”
“Yes, they are perfect together.”
She spent the next couple of hours editing and posting a chapter for Fanfiction. Vamp5’s review was the first to come in: “I love how you’ve written these two as the perfect match. As always, I look forward to more from you.”
She was composing her response when she got a notice of a private message from him.
It read, “Can you meet me in the park across from the Bon Temps Diner tomorrow night at ten?”
She felt her face flush. Finally, they were going to meet! She started her message, “Yes, …,” but then stopped. She had a sort-of date with Eric at nine at her house. Should she ask Vamp5 for another night? She didn’t want to discourage him—after all, it had taken a long time to get to this point. And Eric had said he was taking an hour from work, so yes, theoretically she could meet both men.
She finished her reply. “Yes, I’ll be there at ten. How will I know you?”
“I’ll be carrying a red rose.”
The following night at exactly nine o’clock, Eric Northman stood on her front porch looking insanely handsome in jeans, a black turtleneck and gray flannel blazer. This time he bore no gifts, but sat on her living room sofa sipping Tru Blood and making casual conversation.
Sookie sat beside him, having a sweet tea, and hoping he didn’t notice how frequently she glanced up at the mantel clock.
She wore her favorite dress in a soft gray cotton with embroidered flowers on the bodice and a flouncy skirt.
“You look particularly beautiful tonight,” Eric said, and touched her knee for emphasis.
Her heart was already racing, and that didn’t help. Why did he have to be so unbelievably sexy? And nice. And … well, sexy.
“Thank you,” she replied, more than a little flustered.
Checking his watch, he said, “I should probably go.”
He set his bottle on the coffee table and stood. She set her glass down and followed him to the front door.
When they stopped, they faced each other and he took a small step forward, taking her hand in his. Her breath caught in her throat. He squeezed her hand in both of his and looked into her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “About the bar.”
She hadn’t expected that, and didn’t know what to say. He bent down a little and looked at her mouth. Would he kiss her?
“I hope someday you’ll forgive me,” he said softly, his face inches from hers.
She found she couldn’t speak, but just looked into his beautiful blue eyes. The nearness of him, his holding her hand—it all took her breath away, and she wished more than anything in the world that he would touch his lips to hers.
But he took a step back, and opened the door, letting go of her hand.
“I’ll see you soon,” he said before turning and walking out the door.
She watched him walk to his car and fought an overwhelming urge to call him back, to run after him, to throw herself into his arms. She wanted him. But instead, she watched him go.
Driving downtown, she was so incredibly torn about meeting Vamp5. He was wonderful—had touched a part of her no one else had, and all just by writing to her, but she wanted Eric Northman.
No, what she really wanted was for Eric Northman to be Vamp5. She fought back the tears as she realized her real wish was to have the two men be the same man—the man who had just held her hand and asked for her forgiveness.
She loved Vamp5 for his heart, but her body wanted Eric.
She parked and walked to the center of the park, and stood to wait for her rendezvous. She scanned the park—there were very few people out at this hour. She spotted two couples and a woman walking her dog. So far, there was no mysterious vampire looking for her.
She waited for a few minutes, wanting to climb out of her skin with anxiety. She didn’t have a watch, but wondered if he might be late by now. Maybe he would stand her up, as she’d done to him that night at Eric’s bar. She thought of Eric again, and then in a panic decided she couldn’t wait any longer.
She started walking, winding her way through the park, but as she came into view of the street, she was startled to see Eric’s car pulling into a parking space in front of the library across the street. She stopped and watched as he opened the door and stepped out. He looked both ways for traffic, and then started to walk towards her, his eyes locking with hers.
She held still, unable to breathe.
As Eric approached Sookie standing at the edge of the park, she had a panicked look in her eyes, and he hoped he’d made the right decision, revealing himself in this way.
He came to her and stopped as she said, “Eric. Did you follow me?”
He nodded, and she searched his face for answers. “I was planning on going to the library. To read some books about golf.”
She laughed, breaking the tension. Then she looked a little more serious as she said, “What are you doing here?”
He opened his jacket, revealing the red rose in his inner pocket, slightly crushed, and said, “I brought you this.”
She gasped and put her hand to her mouth, her eyes filling with tears.
He removed the rose and held it out to her. “I had to cut the stem to get it to fit.”
She took it from him, her hand trembling. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she looked up into his eyes.
He wiped her tears away, saying, “Don’t cry, Hummingbird.”
She whispered, “I wanted it to be you.”
He smiled and said, “It’s me,” and then took her in his arms and kissed her.
He’d wanted her for so long—for her sweetness and her strength, and her ability to make him feel young—to make love feel new again. For the first time in more years than he cared to consider, his heart was filled with joy, and his arms held a woman who made him happy. He didn’t know what would happen next, but he had hope, and that was enough.