**A/N: The years passed… The tone of this part is different from Part 1 – I hope it comes across well. You’ll see.**
Sookie cursed as she stowed her phone then straightened her new pale blue skirt.
Misty had done it again, which of course shouldn’t surprise her since it wasn’t exactly a rare thing, but still, every time she did it… There were very few times she regretted going into the catering business with the daughter of her former boss, but this was always one of them.
At least she didn’t have to deal with those accounts herself.
She jerked the matching light-weight suit jacket on, closed and locked her car door, and strode into the building.
Tasty Morsels, the rather macabre name she’d suggested for their joint venture, had taken off with a bang and hadn’t slowed down once in the past five or so years. She and Misty were both shocked…and not shocked with their success.
Hard work tended to produce results, and both ladies had worked their asses off.
Sookie had always worked hard, couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t in some way or another, so busting her gut for her own business was a given.
So for years she’d worked her ass off, had shed the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, but she’d done it.
At least with TM she got both credit and compensation for all the time and effort she put into it.
And she had put a massive amount of both into first maintaining her job and then growing her business over the years.
Her “down home” cooking skills had been vitally important during their early days, but as usual, her secret ability had proven the most valuable in the long run.
That first apartment didn’t even have a tv, but it had something worse – neighbors. Dealing mentally with those neighbors had taught her right quick how to strengthen her shields or go even more nuts.
These days her shields could be considered a national weapon.
After she had moved into her corner-lot townhouse, she’d finally broken down and bought a tv…to watch cooking shows and the weather.
She didn’t have time for anything else, but their menu offerings had benefited mightily.
With her talents combined with Misty’s accounting and organization skills, not to mention Misty’s father’s networking genius, failure had not been an option.
That Misty’s father was a well-known local restaurateur, a frat bro who had cheerfully maintained all his old contacts while sitting on several city boards, hadn’t hurt.
While she wouldn’t classify Misty as a bff, she was the closest thing to a friend she’d bothered having since she’d left Gran’s house so long ago.
A faint prickling of something she chose not to clarify tinged at her conscious when she thought of that old house, but logic assured her that Jason had surely seen to the place.
As the years had blurred by, she’d vaguely thought several times about contacting him, but that would have opened a whole can of worms and she’d never really liked fishing.
One question would lead to 20 then…
She knew he’d see to the house, though, even if her gut twisted at the thought of him invading the secret sanctuary she’d shared with…
Sookie stalked into her office mumbling once again under her breath about Misty.
She knew she had no right to be even a little irate with the woman – it wasn’t as though she’d ever bothered telling her anything about her past or how she felt about certain things.
Misty, however, wasn’t exactly clueless when it came to evasion tactics even if they always worked on her.
At some point along the way the woman had at least somehow managed to come to the conclusion that Sookie was “scared” of vamps, so that helped.
As she made sure her long blonde hair was secured in the necessary bun, she sternly reminded herself that her problems were her own and that in all honesty Yuma had been damn good for her.
Warmth, sunshine, and anonymity…three of her favorite things.
It wasn’t her fault supes had started invading her chosen haven.
She sighed as the bun failed to hold and impatiently scooped her hair back again.
Their first two years in the catering business together had been golden.
Had she not lost faith in silly things like “luck” and “fairy great-grandfathers”, she rolled her eyes – even Niall had disappeared without a trace – she’d have sworn they’d somehow been blessed. Her tired feet and back and sometimes aching head, however, had been proof enough that their success had been solely due to their hard work…and Misty’s dad’s contacts, of course.
Between the two-point-five of them they had built from the ground up the leading catering company not just in Yuma and the surrounding area but were gaining ground in the entire state.
Starting out it had been just the two of them in the back of one of her dad’s conveniently unused restaurants, but she and Misty had been forced to hire a couple ladies to help after barely a month.
Now they had a full-time staff of 15 with up to 10 part-timers willing to come in as needed. “Special events” were being scheduled more and more often, so those part-timers were a godsend.
She smiled tightly.
Within another month or so she planned to ask at least three, possibly four, of them to switch to full time. Being able to offer dependable full-time employment with decent pay, affordable insurance, and other benefits to singles and family people alike felt like an appropriate homage to bygone family members who’d worked so hard for so little.
Hair contained, she turned to her desk to check over that day and evening’s various plans and schedules.
After it had quickly become obvious that their catering business was going to be more successful than the two of them could handle food-wise, Sookie had followed her gut and trained the small staff how to cook and bake her “down-home” specialties as well as the other items on their ever-expanding menu.
Now it had been years since she’d had to spend any time in the huge kitchen for anything other than running interference and the necessary quality checks.
She sure as hell didn’t mind not having to stand over a huge pan of gravy or baking sheets full of damn mini-biscuits anymore but thought it was hilarious that those “old home” recipes were still the most requested “brunch” items on their menu.
Weren’t “ladies who brunched” supposed to salivate over twee little quiches, finger sandwiches, and strange veggie combos? They sure liked those mini pecan tortes…
It had been well over a year before she’d been able to bring herself to bake pecan pies in the first place. They weren’t as good as her Gran’s, but she suspected no pie ever would be.
They were pretty damn close, though, and one of their most requested dessert items until she started making the mini versions.
Her chin trembled and she refocused her meandering thoughts on the short stack of printouts in her hand.
The spreadsheets on the computer were fine but she couldn’t mark on them with a pen.
She glared at the menu page for one of the “special events” coming up. Part of the blame for the night’s upcoming event rested at Rick’s feet.
If there had been a fairy-anyone sending luck their way, it had been Misty’s father. While Rick could be a little on the sleazy side, the man knew pretty much everybody.
Mostly, though, he had been willing to hire her without references as a waitress that day around nine years ago. From what little she could, or wanted to, remember, she must have looked like a half-dead waif. It was a testament to the man’s well-hidden but good heart that he’d even let her in the door.
Later, Sookie squinted as she tried to remember if it had been months…maybe it’d been a year or so? Either way, a while later, when the restaurant’s beloved main breakfast cook had suddenly quit due to health reasons, Rick had gladly allowed her to “fill in” until he could find another full-time cook. The “replacement” breakfast cook hadn’t been hired until she and Misty had happily turned in their two-week notice.
One thing about it – the man didn’t mind giving people chances. Sookie had taken that ideal – if not the man’s unintentional breast fascination – to heart when hiring their own staff.
That she could read them, too, helped minimize any risks.
She studied the next paper in the stack. A job was a job no matter how “special” the “event”, and working in the background suited her just fine.
While they encouraged their clients to create the menu of their choice and Misty often spent hours to Sookie’s minutes helping to choose from the growing multitude of options, they also offered pre-planned “project specific” menus that they would then submit to the client for final approval.
Their catering service seemed especially well-suited for vampire-based events where no one wanted to deal with choosing food menus but where extremely high quality, lavish displays of wealth, and “only the best” would do.
Sookie knew her vampires… While she determinedly kept the past in the past, she used the knowledge gained to her best advantage.
Vampires wanted the best and tended to want to at least give the illusion of having spent the bank and gotten their money’s worth.
As expected, the menu presented no problems. It wouldn’t have anyway since she’d been given a free hand in choosing it when the event had first been scheduled. Now to go over the “special provisions” for the food serving area…
The set-up wasn’t unusual for supe events. Misty would be dealing with that, as usual, but had wanted to run everything by her partner before showtime…also as usual.
Misty was just as much a perfectionist as Sookie was.
She’d gotten to know her future business partner first as a co-waitress then as an acquaintance turned arms-length friend. Both had dreams of owning their own business and both recognized that they only really knew the food service industry.
The food set-up plan for the side room off the main banquet/meeting area seemed to be fine…plenty of outlets for warmers since open flames might not be well-tolerated…now, on with the scheduling review…
Deciding to work with what they knew and daring to think ahead, they had eventually pooled their brains, brawn, and bank accounts.
Cue Tasty Morsels.
Rick had been ecstatic.
With an explicative Sookie noticed a conflict in that evening’s rotation and sat down to nix the problem. As talented and dependable as Maria was, she doubted the lady could cook while she was driving…
When they had first opened, thanks to Rick’s frat connections various events were automatically theirs out of fraternal loyalty, but as their reputation rightfully grew, so did their business.
Sookie’s gift came in especially handy during new client consultations, and before long they were regularly catering brunches for local ladies-who-lunched, dinner parties for ladies-who-flaunted, and many of the growing multitude of conventions, conferences, and private meetings being hosted at the city’s new and highly-touted Cultural Center.
Weddings, bridal showers, wakes, retirement celebrations, and ritzy birthday parties were their specialties. They left the cakes to the pros but could handle everything else with class, crass, or sass depending on the event’s theme.
Misty was often amazed at her ability to suss out what potential clients actually wanted.
Sookie knew exactly how to get them to say what they fucking meant. She was nice but she didn’t play around – time was money.
Misty certainly didn’t know about the blonde’s gift, and if it were up to Sookie no one would ever know about it again.
At some point along the way she was surprised to discover that she now considered her telepathy a true gift, but along with the rest of her past – the good and the bad and the really, really bad – it was hers and hers alone.
Who and what she’d been was nobody’s fucking business.
Some of her worst nightmares had involved vampires hunting her down for either her blood or her ability, or both.
For her mental safety she had started her life in Yuma keeping everyone at arm’s length. What had started out as protection evolved into a comfortable way of life for Sookie.
Even her occasional flings were flung to the wayside when they started asking too many questions or getting too possessive.
Hell, even their hugs were sometimes too claustrophobic, but it wasn’t because of her gift.
Over the years her shields had strengthened to the point that she could block at will.
Of course she only chose to consort with the nicer guys, but the minute she could tell that they were getting serious about her, she would gently, or not so gently depending on the case, set them free.
None of them ever felt quite…right.
The sex might have been ok but something was always…missing.
She’d refused to look too deeply into the cause but had a rather bitter laugh at the irony of finally finding human men who wanted relationships with her now that all she wanted was friends with benefits – the vaguer the friendship and the more casual the sex, the better.
Other things had changed, too.
The past rarely crossed her mind if she could help it. It was all a thing that happened “back then” and held no bearing on the current day.
Sleep – when she got any – was a thing she did so that she could work.
Books when she read them were for advancing her business acumen and recipe collections.
When she sunbathed during the rare occasions she carved out the time, she didn’t think about former castles built in the clouds.
Clouds were a dream that flew away.
Instead she would sleep until a timer chimed to tell her to turn over or to go shower.
That she easily worked her 8.5 and more hours a day and didn’t particularly like going out after dark unless she had to for work – especially now that vamps had begun trickling even faster into the area because of that damn Center – provided convenient excuses to keep friends, lovers, and neighbors from getting too close.
The vamp situation…
She shook her head. The scheduling conflict had been fixed but her phone pinged to let her know that Angela’s newly adopted baby was sick. She briefly replied for her to not worry and to get the kid to the doc, then dialed JT.
That dumbass reminded her more than a little of her brother and not just because his first name actually was Jason, but he had a more considerate soul than her brother ever would. He quickly agreed to take Angela’s cooking shift that night in exchange for “pay plus pie”, pecan of course, and she ended her call. She noted the schedule changes then pulled up the next month’s baking supplies order.
After their first two years catering, things for Sookie had taken a rather discomfiting turn.
The recently-built Center, the city’s newest pride and over-hyped joy complete with attached super-luxurious hotel and conference facilities of all sizes and purposes, had brought them even more business, which had been great.
She suspected Rick’s seat on several boards had been in part why the Center didn’t have its own internal food systems. That some of all the new business was supe related…wasn’t so great.
Thankfully as a co-owner she herself was rarely ever required to be on-site even during the course of normal business since she knew Misty enjoyed dealing with “the public”.
Misty was weird that way.
Through skillful questioning during preliminary phone conversations she was more often than not able to discern if the event in question was supe-related, and if it was, well, the call was routed to Misty’s desk.
…plain flour… baking soda… baking powders… Himalayan pink salt… fleur de sel… sugar… turbinado sugar for dusting those stupid cookies… molasses…
While she couldn’t detect vampires over the phone, her ability to detect voids had increasingly proven to be a godsend.
The first time she’d sensed one less than 20 yards away she had fled in terror from the convenience store.
She didn’t remember getting home to her now two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath townhouse in a swanky development just outside town, didn’t remember parking her car in the internal garage…didn’t remember going inside…
What she did remember was rocking for over six hours on the floor in the corner of the kitchen talking to herself, pleading with herself, crying to herself to just get up, to just get up and get over it and…and just…
She knew, logically, that she actually didn’t have anything to fear from vampires in general, knew they were just people who had most likely been Turned without their permission, but “Fairy Sookie” had gone into reactive, self-protective, freaked-the-fuck-out hiding.
Bill…all that damn blood…that van…the Rattrays…all that blood…the van…
Vamps thought she smelled delicious – after all, hadn’t Lorena called her a “morsel“?
Bill, he’d practically drained her using his “starvation” as a convenient excuse.
But Eric…he’d been hers for a little while, her haven while not in his right mind…her sweet Eric…
He hadn’t almost drained her even when suffering from those damn silver chains…he’d never pushed her for blood…except for that one frat-boy incident in Godric’s house he’d never even tried to force his blood into her and certainly not at every chance…
He had been a gentleman…had tried to be sleazy about her house but he hadn’t pressed the point beyond a hopeful leer…it was all kind of funny in retrospect…but…but even he’d called her “sunshine in a pretty blonde bottle”…
She was a vampire’s dream buffet.
After the shakes and shivers had come the hysterical laughing until the morning light had soothed the path to another nightmare-filled sleep.
It hadn’t been the first time and it wasn’t the last time, either.
Not once since “then” had she acknowledged the lingering lightening shocks of grief over Bill’s willful death and the betrayal of the love she’d at least thought she’d felt for him, but after that first vampire-void incident she had taken up smoking to try to befoul her scent.
She was no vampire’s portable lunch box, dammit.
That had lasted about a week.
Then she had tried heavily scented body sprays and other perfumes, but that hadn’t lasted long, either – they all smelled too much like badly matched chemicals or, even worse, bug spray after a few minutes.
Plus who wanted chemically fragranced deviled eggs?
So she had stayed inside even more religiously after dark. It wasn’t that hard to do. For some reason being out in the early morning dark just before the sun rose wasn’t a big deal.
Night-time dark, though…
…olive oil… sesame oil… coconut oil… solid vegetable shortening… lard for biscuits and pie shells… truffle oil… walnut oil…
At least she was able to schedule more sleep at night even if she didn’t always find it.
She didn’t know what was wrong with her, just that something still wasn’t quite…right. She’d made a shiny new life for herself in this new city – she had a thriving business, numerous professional contacts, she even had a rotation of preferred hairdressers!
For fuck’s sake – she even lived on the opposite side of town from that damned Center with its too widely publicized “lavish” vamp hotel and “luxurious” underground facilities.
Sookie was determined not to let its existence nor the fact it seemed to be drawing more and more vamp business push her from her new life.
Her phone beeped, and Sookie glared at the clock.
Fucking Misty might not quite get the point Sookie had never actually made to her, but she did work her ass off on a regular basis and seemed mostly clueless to the issue, so Sookie knew she had no reason to feel such irrational anger toward the other woman.
It was the situation, she knew, not Misty.
She also couldn’t see herself telling the other woman exactly what supes were or why she avoided all of them at all costs, either, so the point was actually moot.
Sookie couldn’t understand why she felt the way she did about the vampires and the Weres and all the other supes out there – she just did.
It didn’t make any sense, either, not after so long.
Sometimes it all made her feel like an extreme failure…useless, out of control…
Sure, she’d managed to go shopping in Phoenix three different times now knowing they had a higher concentration of supes – the place was crawling with Weres and had what seemed more than its share of vampires… And sure, she’d managed to avoid running screaming from stores each time she sensed a nearby void, but the fact she’d felt the need – still felt the need – to run and hide and go…go somewhere…was so disheartening.
Weres were just…Weres, weren’t they?
Vampires were just…vampires, right?
Nobody was going to fang-rape her and nobody was going to use her as arm candy and…and nobody was going all-but order her to kill them again, were they?
Something about both groups of people, though…something about them still made her gut clench, made her spine burn as frissons of fear stabbed their way up and down.
Weres could sense her otherness and would know things about her that she didn’t want them to know..vampires…most vampires would think her blood was more valuable than her life.
Long ago she had decided that Fairy Sookie must have something to do with all this…this caution…with these reactions. They both liked the sun, sweet iced tea, blue nail polish, and not being used or drained by supes.
At least she hadn’t endured one of those horrendous nightmares in a while now.
That was good.
She was still considering putting a pillow on the floor in that corner of her kitchen, though.
Misty might not be the strongest clue-catcher on the block, but Sookie was relieved she’d come to that conclusion about her being scared of vampires.
She’d never abused her of that notion and had gladly allowed the other woman to unofficially take over all direct dealings with them.
Better safe than…otherwise.
She’d seen “otherwise” and it wasn’t pretty.
Several times Misty had nearly asked Sookie about the situation but the poor thing had learned long ago that Sookie was highly talented in artfully dodging unexpected questions and seemed to have an almost magical ability to change the subject or leave the room before she had a chance to voice most questions.
Misty could have all the vampire contracts she wanted.
Just because she knew that there was no logical reason for her to feel as though her heart was going to throb out of her chest whenever she sensed a void didn’t mean it didn’t happen, and any time there was a gathering at that damn Center, Yuma seemed to be crawling with them.
Sookie caught a glimpse of her nails as she typed in another item on the list, and grimaced at the tiny chip in her polish, then shrugged. It was time for another shade of blue anyway.
She had almost 20 different shades to choose from now.
…pecan halves… almond slices… blanched almonds… almond flour… macadamias… pistachios… sesame seeds… poppy seeds…
**A/N: She’s…she’s doing better, hella better, but she’s not quite “back to whole” yet, it she… To misquote a song I love: she’s not crazy – she’s just a little…unwell. So…what did you think?