I baked a cake today. I am rusty and this little kitchen is new. Even the flour is different. But I made something for myself, with utensils and ingredients I bought, with money I got paid for sitting in a supe meeting with Desmond Cataliades. That was new too.
I stood at the window in my little kitchenette and carefully cut a piece. I put the slice on a plate and took a bite. It wasn’t very good. But tears slipped my eyes while I ate the cake I made.
“Mommy is going to get better little peanut.” I rubbed my growing belly with my other hand and talked to my child. “By the time you come out, I am going to bake the best cakes you’ll eat. You excited for that?”
Peanut answered my question with a kick.
“It’s like that huh? You like sweet things? How about we try baking some cookies. Would you like oatmeal resin cookies?”
“How about chocolate chip?”
Another kick. Ok then.
“Oh, so you know what chocolate chip cookies are? Chocolate it is then.”
Someone knocked my door. I covered the cake dish and went to answer. It was a smiling Shikha, holding a covered bowl in one hand and a brown bag in the other.
“I got fresh figs and banana bread for you from the kitchens.”
I made way and she walked into my kitchen area. She put the dish and the bag of figs on the counter.
“Cook made them especially for you and Lily. Says they’ve good iron for pregnant women. Oh, you baked a cake. I hope you put the currants I got for you in it?”
“Yes of course. Thanks, Shikha. Would you like some blood?”
“No. I’ve supped for the evening. Don’t have time to talk right now. Just came to deliver the goods and give you some pointers on the big midnight meeting.”
The big midnight meeting. I’d been freaking out over that. The last meeting I sat on, had been between two werewolf alphas and their betas. Five people I could handle. This one later at night had way more people in it. All different kinds too. Vampires, werewolves, humans and demons.
“I need all the pointers you can give me right now.”
Shikha nodded and turned to face me.
“First, dress formal. Cover your neck and wrists. The business suit we bought last week should be perfect. Second, people would be very interested and will ask about you. Frankly you are a little hard to miss and you smell divine. Let Desmond handle your introduction and steer the conversation the way he wants. He knows what he is doing with these people and they always try to derail the talks or distract him. So, third, don’t talk over him or to anyone else for that matter. Your job is to keep your ears and head open, not pitch in to the conversation, no matter how impassioned you might feel about the things they will discuss.”
“What will they discuss?”
Shikha sighed and gestured for me to take a seat over at the lone barstool in my small kitchenette, the one I use to sit on when my feet started killing me while cooking.
“Asset management.” She said after I had adjusted myself on the stool, with my slice of cake in a small plate.
“Sounds innocent enough.” I replied.
“Not in the least. These are live assets Sookie. They are here to discuss contracts for sharing supernatural beings in neighboring kingdoms. Although we have mediated such discussions before, this particular meeting is between three very avaricious vampire monarchs. They are brutal in politicking and haggling. Concentrate on not taking offense.”
I took a deep breathe, feeling it right to the strap of my bra. I had papers on each participant and had gone through them as soon as Desmond delivered the file to me three days ago. The meeting was still making me nervous. I hoped I could deliver. I hoped I could be useful and could gather some sort of insight that could help Desmond in his work. Feeling useful was about the only thing that was driving me at the point.
I took another bite of the cake and chewed thoughtfully. Peanut seemed to have woken up properly, no doubt from the sugar in the cake. I could feel small kicks at the top pf my bladder. Which reminded me.
“I’ll have to leave a couple times for bathroom breaks. I won’t be able to hold it in. Would that offend anyone?”
“Shouldn’t” Shikha shrugged, “These are very old supes. They would be able to hear the two heartbeats and should understand. However, just slip in and out with an excuse me.”
I nodded. Shikha regarded me carefully for a few moments as I polished off my cake slice.
“So, how did your dinner with Merlotte go?” She asked out of the blue.
“Oh.” Was what I managed, as I brushed a crumb of cake from my lap, “It was fine.”
I could feel her gaze boring at the top of my head as I refused to look up from my lap. Dinner with Sam Merlotte the shifter had happened yesterday, after him being adamant about celebrating my first month at the Temple refuge. Sam was a good guy, always ready with smiles and helpful hands around for anyone in need. Didn’t hurt that he was from Louisiana too and hearing that twang in his accent was very comfortable. I hadn’t thought of it as a date. But by the end of our meal, I had a nagging feeling that Sam was looking at it as if it were a first date, to be followed by more.
“Did you enjoy yourself? Will you go out with him again?” the handmaiden prodded.
I smiled a little and met Shikha’s eyes.
“He said he liked me and wanted to go out again. He will let me know when and where.”
“Do you like him too?”
I thought about the question. She plucked the empty plate from my hand and proceeded to cut another slice for me while I thought it over. I liked Sam as a person, yes. But did I like him like him? Peanut had been unusually quite all through the dinner, even over dessert. I had noticed that the the tyke perked up and started moving when I talked to certain people and promptly went to sleep for others.
There had been a phone call early on in my time at the temple when the kid was just tumbling around like mad. I knew we wanted to hear from Eric again. But apparently, he was a busy vampire and hadn’t called since. I told myself all the time that we weren’t sad at the lack of contact. Something about Eric Northman just made me want things. I didn’t even understand what all things I wanted.
Then there had been an incident of a visiting emissary asking me out on dinner and I swear the little hellraiser planted two legs on my bladder and kept pressing till I had to run to the bathroom in the middle of a sentence. My child had opinions about my life and I took it seriously. It was just the two of us Stackhouses in the world after all.
“Sookie, do you like Sam Merlotte?”
Shikha asked again.
I gulped to wet my dry throat, realizing Shikha was not going to let it go. I tried to think of a way to say what I wanted to say. Shikha, astute as always, filled up a glass of water and handed it to me, gave me the few minutes I wanted to drink the cool water and gather my thoughts.
“I don’t know if I like him for dating or not. We had a comfortable talk. Sam was courteous, listened when I talked and didn’t ask me personal questions. I’d like to eat more meals with him. But I also know that he would want more.”
“Would you want more too?”
“I don’t know Shikha. What am I supposed to look for, before wanting more? I have to think about my child, my sanity and our future. What if he seems fine but turns out a psycho later? What if I am trapped into something I can’t find a way out of? What if I need him and he is not there? It is just too much pressure.”
Shikha stepped in front of me and gently held my shoulders. I met her eyes and found compassion and a smile.
“Slow down! No one is asking you to marry the guy after a dinner. And if they do, you let me know.” She used her take no prisoners tone and I immediately felt better for it.
“Look at it this way, you are just meeting people around you and making friends. If you are attracted to someone, excited to be with them, then you go forward from there. Otherwise, you do what feels right. Tell me Sookie, did Sam excite you?”
“Excite me, how?”
A voice from across the wall behind us piped up.
“She means did you want rub your naughty bits to his naughty bits? Did you at least manage to see his naughty bits?”
I could feel warm behind my ears in embarrassment and Shikha stared at the offending wall in exasperation.
“It is bad manners to listen at your neighbor’s walls Diantha!” Shikha admonished.
“These walls are awfully thin. I was just sitting here, minding my own bloody business, and then you two started talking about that fine Sam Merlotte. I’ve heard he is big. I just want to know. Is it a crime to want to know things?” The wall argued.
Shikha shook her head and I had to snort in amusement. Diantha Cataliades was my next door neighbor, and the walls were thin enough that bits and pieces of conversations sometimes floated around for the others to hear. Didn’t help that she was nosy and entirely unapologetic about it.
“No Diantha. I didn’t see his naughty bits.” I giggled.
“Humph.” The wall groused.
“Would you like to see mine?” The opposite wall decided to join the conversation.
I groaned. There these two went again. Always flirting through my walls.
But just to be clear, “Alcide, are you offering a peak to me or Diantha?”
The wall was silent. Men!
“Oooh Alcide, I want to see yours.” Diantha answered, her voice unmuffled this time.
I glanced to my left and saw Diantha’s upside down grinning mug at the top left corner of my huge front window, which now stood open to allow Diantha to contribute more effectively.
“What are you doing up there you freak?” Shikha scolded the she-demon, “Wait till your father hears about you taking to hanging at people’s windows again and wanting to see random penises. I thought we’d gotten over that phase.”
“My penis is not random!” groused the offended wall.
“You said it was bad manners to talk through walls.” Said Diantha with a pout, “So I am hanging in here. Don’t worry. My feet are stuck well on the wall.”
Shikha rubbed the bridge of her nose. I beckoned the literal demon child to come in.
Diantha smiled her devastating smile. Her legs walked the circle from up the wall to the side of the window, her head snapped ninety degrees and finally, the girl jumped to the ground. She dusted her clothes, came to stand at my open front door and gave a polite knock.
“Please come in Diantha. Would you like some cake?”
“You bet.” Diantha cleared a section of the counter-top and took a seat.
“How come no one offers me cake?” grumbled the wall adjoined with Alcide Hervoux’s apartment.
“Because then there’d be nothing left for us.” Diantha smirked at the wall, “We are serious about home-made cake here you ever hungry mutt! Besides, haven’t you heard? It is bad manners to listen at the neighbor’s wall.”
Wall two grumbled, cursed under the breath and fell silent.
“So, naughty bits?” Diantha prompted excitedly and Shikha closed her eyes with a grimace.
I got the girl some cake and took a seat on the bar stool again.
“Have you seen some?” I asked her.
“No” she huffed, “People are too scared of father and won’t let me.”
“You are too young for these things Diantha! You fascination with the male anatomy is not normal.” Shikha told her.
“I am twenty five!” the demon said, affronted, “Not thinking about male anatomy at my age is not normal.”
“In demon life span, you are a toddler. How did this discussion go from counselling Sookie in the ways of modern dating to ascertaining the right age to be exposed to penises and vaginas?” Shikha exclaimed and looked at me for help.
Help, Shikha needed. Diantha wouldn’t give up on her case of her right to have sex when she wanted. The apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree for her. Her round about arguments even frustrated her father and he was supposed to be the slyest, most conniving talker around town. I had discovered that direct truism, delivered politely, was more effective than debate with the demon.
“Let me finish talking about my date Diantha. Please?” I asked nicely.
Diantha shrugged and helped herself to a slice of cake.
“Thank you.” Said Shikha, “Now, where were we? Oh yes, are you attracted to Sam?”
Attraction. The word seemed dangerous. The emotion, more so.
“He seemed attracted to me. I mean, that’s why he wanted to go out again right?”
Shikha and Diantha exchanged a glance I didn’t understand.
“You are a beautiful woman Sookie.” Shikha said, her voice kind.
“Total bombshell babe. I mean your hair is this perfect blond and your tits! Woooo-“
“Not what I was saying at all.” Cut Shikha with a look to Diantha before turning her attention to me, “You are kind and unfailingly polite. You are empathetic to people around you. Everyone, bar none, feels good while in your presence. And with your attractive outer attributes, of course Sam was floored. However, what is it that you like? Do you want to go out with him again as a date or as a friend?”
“Definitely a friend.” I answered immediately.
“Well then there you have it. Tell him you want to go out as friends. I am sure Sam would be happy to know.”
“You think so?” I asked Shikha. She seemed pretty clear about these things. “Would he be offended if I don’t want to date him?”
“That’s his problem. Not yours.” Said Diantha.
“Thank you she demon. That’s the most intelligent thing you have said here. But yes Sookie, your problem is letting him know what your boundaries are. Then it is the man’s responsibility to respect the boundaries.”
“Some women like aggressive men though.” Alcide put in his two pence through the wall.
“And they can clearly convey that to the men I am sure. It’s called consent werewolf. Look it up.” Shikha told the wall.
“I don’t want to date Sam.” I told all of them. Peanut kicked up in solidarity. That settled it then.
“Now that we have that settled,” Shikha continued, “Do you have any other questions about the meeting tonight?”
“I have the relevant information on the monarchs and their retinues, thanks. Only the Louisiana people haven’t confirmed one place in their party yet. It says on their paperwork that an area sheriff will be part of the group accompanying the queen. But who is it and what do I need to know about this sheriff?”
“Haah!” Diantha jumped, suddenly looking excited and gave me a sheshire cat grin I felt wholly suspicious, “Louisiana sheriff you say? Oh holy handmaiden of the Ancient one,” she turned to Shikha, “might I inquire if this is might be a certain sheriff of viking origins?”
“We don’t know Diantha. Their queen hasn’t confirmed. Otherwise Sookie would have received information on him in her packet.” Shikha answered patiently.
“Is this someone we know Diantha?” I asked the entirely too happy demon.
“Oh Sookie my dearest! I wish it is the one I am thinking about. If it is, then you will know the moment you look at him. He is one fine hunk of a man.” Diantha said, eyes trained to the heavens.
Louisiana. I knew someone I wanted to see from Louisiana. Would he come?
“That’s enough Diantha. This is the reason your father hasn’t asked you to sit in on any meetings yet. Sookie, just follow Desmond’s lead and remember everything I told you. You’ll be fine.”
Shikha came in front of me and placed the tips of her fingers on my tummy. She’d asked early on if I minded the contact and I didn’t.
“Goddess bless the life within.” She whispered.
“Right. Is there more cake?” Diantha asked.
“For me too? Please?” The wall asked.
I burst into giggles and invited Alcide over too.
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