Two hours earlier…
Sookie glanced at her watch and groaned. It was fifteen minutes before midnight and there were still three tables left to clear.
If she was lucky, she’d be able to hit the bed at two. And that is if she skipped the shower which, judging by the stink of cigarettes and fried food clinging to her skin, not to mention her hair, was non-negotiable. She shrugged to herself, maybe she could skip the shower, it’s not like anyone would complain if she reeked. Ah, the perks of being single.
Yay, me. Twenty-five and still free as a fucking bird.
“Sook?” a husky voice called out. It was her employer, Sam Merlotte, the owner of Merlotte’s – Bon Temps’ most popular bar and grill according to his post on Yelp. “You still here?”
It was a conscious effort not to roll her eyes. After all, wasn’t it Sam who asked her close shop on a Tuesday night because all of her non-single coworkers, apparently had lives outside the bar. Arlene had two kids who wouldn’t want to miss tucking her children to bed. Dawn had a hot date. Jessica had to beat her boyfriend home. Lafayette had to meet some ‘clients’ who were in dire need to get high.
Even her best friend Tara had ‘something’. So when Sam asked who could close the bar, they didn’t even need to draw straws, they only needed to look at her with their doggone puppy eyes for her to cave in because she was ‘such a trooper’.
Trooper, my ass. One day, their lame excuses wouldn’t fly. One day, those ‘pretty please’ looks wouldn’t work on her anymore.
“Yep, just me,” she replied without bothering to look up to meet her boss’s eyes as she continued to wipe the metal table.
“Ah…” Sam hummed. “Will you be long? Do you need help?” The last question sounded like an afterthought and they both knew it. Sam wanted to lock up and she was keeping him from going home to his trailer park a few steps from the bar.
“S’okay, Sam I’m just finishin’ up here.”
“Well… if you say so. I’ll just leave the keys with you and you can lock up here.”
Half an hour later, she was finished. Tables were clean, chairs were upended, laminated menus were tucked in the shelf by the wall and all the lights were turned off. She was finally done for the day. All she had to do was tape the keys in the left tire of Sam’s trailer.
She trudged towards the trailer park while peeling off duct tape from its spool. It wasn’t until she had the keys securely fastened on the tire when she felt the mobile house bounce – maybe not bounced but more like hiccupped – followed by a series of squeaking sounds. At first she thought the trailer was moving and it made her panic. Then she heard mewling followed by ‘Yes, Sam, yes’.
The small hair at the back of her head bristled. She recognized that voice. It was coming from her best friend, Tara.
So that’s what Tara meant by ‘something’. She couldn’t help but smile. At least one of them was getting laid. It had been a while since Tara had been with someone. After the shock wore off, Sookie quietly backed away from the trailer and made a quick dash to the parking lot to her 15-year-old yellow Honda.
She climbed in the driver’s seat, threw her leather sling bag in the back and hugged the wheel. She was tired. No, she was fucking tired. She had been working double shifts for the past four days. Her feet were swollen, her legs were burning and her head was pounding.
Dig deep, Sookie, she pepped herself up.
She needed the extra money for medical school. She had already put off taking the MCAT for a few years, strictly because of financial constraints. And to be perfectly honest, she needed the time to recover from the sting of her first failed attempt. This year she decided, procrastination was off the table. She would take the MCAT again. Come hell or high water she’d take that damn test, ace it this time and finally go to med school.
With that thought, she straightened her back and slapped her cheeks. She had to stay awake. First things first, she had to get home and sleep her ass off. It was a good thing her house is only a 10-minute drive from the bar.
As she drove off, her mind wandered back to Tara and Sam. They seemed like an unlikely couple. Tara was outspoken, brash at times but fiercely loyal, Sam, on the other hand, kept mostly to himself. Perhaps, opposites do attract. If only that could be true for her too.
What kind of sex are they having? Is Tara on top? Is Sam a good lover?
She shook her head and gave her cheek another slap. Dog burn it, what am I thinking? She gripped the steering wheel tighter. She was like a dog in heat. Maybe she could wake up ‘Alex’ when she gets home. Ah, Alex, the one guy who never disappointed her, patiently waiting for her in the bottom drawer of her bedside table. She didn’t even have to cook for him. He was always ready to please her. As long as he had two AA batteries.
Another perk of singlehood, hurrah!
The thought of her Alex excited her. She deserved some me time with her toy – a giveaway from one of the many bachelorette parties she attended.
Her carnal musings had been interrupted by the ringing of her phone in her bag. Judging by the ringtone it was either Jason or Crystal. It didn’t bode well for her.
She pulled over and reached for her cell. Checking the caller ID, she knew it meant trouble.
She knew the minute Jason had spotted her. She could practically see him sweating bullets from across the room. Good, she could still inspire fear. He might not be as wasted as Crystal thought.
With slow, deliberate steps she made her way toward her inebriated sibling.
“Sook!” Jason sputtered, swaying on his feet. “What’re you doin’ ‘ere?”
“Crystal called. She thought you might need a ride home.”
The man sitting on the stool beside Jason let out a sound that was a cross between a snort and a snicker. “Aww, aren’t you sweet?”
Sookie raised her eyebrow and trained her gaze on the man. “Not really.”
The man straightened up and arched a brow at her before his lips formed into a sneer.
There was something about the guy that she found very unnerving. He wasn’t unattractive, she’d give him that. She’d even go as far as call him appealing.
Not to her, though, oh cheeses no.
He just looked so… entitled. So unforgivably smug.
It could be his patrician features, those chiseled cheeks that could cut through glass; his neatly styled short blonde hair; or maybe it was the way he looked her up and down; or the way his thin lips curled into an irritating smirk when he saw her. Or maybe, it was the economy of his motions – like his every move, every glance, and every word had a purpose. As though he knew he was too good for this place.
Well, whatever it was, it was grating on her nerves.
Jason might have sensed the tension between her and his drinking buddy as he snapped up and wedged himself in the middle. “Oh hey Eric, this is my li’l sis, Sookie. I told you about her.”
Jason’s drinking buddy turned slightly toward her, his pale blue eyes appraised her making her feel exposed. “Sookie? Is that short for…”
“Sookie,” she answered dryly before turning her attention back to her brother. “Settle the bill, Jase so we can hit the road.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s my treat,” Mr. Fantastic butted in, pulling out crisp dollar bills from his wallet and handing it to Ginger. “This enough, gorgeous?”
Ginger, whose cheeks resembled the beet root Sookie had for lunch, bobbed her head and grinned from ear to ear.
Sookie wished Ginger would at least try to be subtle.
“This is too much, sugar,” Ginger crooned as she counted the bills.
Gorgeous? Sugar? Get frickin’ a room already!
Mr. Fantastic dazzled Ginger with his megawatt smile and told her to keep the change.
“You sure, man?” Jason chimed in, scratching the back of his head.
Eric shrugged as if it was no big deal.
Jason patted his new friend’s shoulder. “Thanks brother.”
Sookie could only shake her head in annoyance. How could her brother be so foolish? Was she the only who could see through this guy’s game? One look at Eric the Fantastic and she could tell he was an arrogant jerk. She knew his type. That smirk, those clothes, that condescending tone, he was a city boy looking for an easy lay. Why else would he go to Fantasia? She had been serving drinks to men like him for years – the drunkards who would cop a feel and act like it was no big deal. Because, hey that’s what tits are for, right?
God, she had even dated men like him. They were the men who would pay for dinner and expect blow jobs in return. They would enter a room and act like they walk on water.
Men like him were the reason why she’d rather go home to a toy.
“Can we go now Jase?” Sookie didn’t even try to hide her impatience.
“Gimme one minute Sook, just wanna say goodnight to Crystal.”
Without waiting for response her brother scurried to the table near the dais where Crystal was sitting with the rest of her crew. Sookie’s gaze followed her brother, groaning audibly when she saw Jason grab a chair next to Crystal. This would take more than a minute.
Letting out a resigned sigh, she hopped onto the stool vacated by her brother. Resting her hands on the sides of her forehead she began making circular motion with her thumbs to ward off an incoming massive headache.
“Can I get you anythin’, Sook?” Ginger asked, finally peeling her googly eyes off Mr. Fantastic.
Sookie gave Ginger a weak smile. “Do you have coffee?”
Ginger chuckled. “Sorry babe but you’ll have to go across the street for that. Big Al doesn’t want us serving anythin’ that can sober up his precious customers.”
As if Ginger had summoned the Devil, Big Al walked in from the back door, with his paunch threatening to burst out of his bowling shirt.
“Sookie Stackhouse, as I live and breathe,” the devil incarnate bellowed as he circled around the bar to close their gap. “You here to pick up the cripple?”
Sookie gnashed her teeth. She hated that word. “Don’t call him that.”
“Ooh, touchy,” the asshole chuckled, patting his stomach as he inched closer. She could smell the stench of tobacco and rum in his breath. She backed away slowly as Big Al stared at her chest. Shower just moved up to the top her list.
“I see you still work for the dog.”
“Living in a trailer park doesn’t make him a dog.” And living in a mansion doesn’t make you a man.
“Loyal… I like that,” Big Al hummed, pinching the pointed end of his distasteful moustache. “I like you, you know that. I always have. How about I take you out to dinner? How’s that sound?”
Forcing a saccharine smile, she slid off her seat and jutted her chin. “Don’t take this the wrong way Big Al, but I’d rather drink pipe-cleaner than go out with you.”
Big Al’s eyes narrowed into slits as he let go of his tacky moustache. Contrary to his self-imposed monicker, Big Al wasn’t really that big. However, compared to the five-foot-two Sookie, Big Al’s five-foot-seven height seemed to make all the difference as he hovered over her.
“You best watch your mouth you little cunt just because I like you doesn’t mean I can’t whack that smart mouth of yours.”
Her hands twitched at her sides itching to whip the asshole’s pudgy face.
Don’t be stupid, Sookie. He’s not worth it.
The asshole leaned farther, his putrid breath blowing against his cheek, making her skin crawl. Big Al’s mere proximity rattled her as a sense of déjà vu battered her like a tidal wave. Her eyes suddenly searched for her brother in a rush of panic. And just as she feared Jason was already on his feet, hobbling toward her. She wanted to shake her head and tell her brother to stand down but Big Al’s imposing frame was blocking her.
Big Al must have sensed her discomfort and decided to take advantage of it as he grazed his hairy knuckles over the length of her arm and grinned.
“If I were you Sookie I’d go down on my knees and -”
The slimy bastard didn’t get to finish his sentence as he went crashing to the floor with a loud thud.
Sookie clapped her hand over her mouth, stunned and relieved at the same time.
“Holy shit! You punched him!” Ginger shrieked at Eric who was pulling out bills from his wallet.
“Thanks for the commentary gorgeous. I’ll be sure to watch the replay on ESPN later.” He slung his bag over his shoulder and threw the money on the counter. “That’s for the chair. I’m not paying for his face.”
Losing her ability to speak Sookie watched as Big Al squirmed like a worm on the floor while cradling the side of his face. She could see Big Al’s bouncers bounding toward the bar while customers and the rest of the staff formed a semi-circle around them.
Eric took one step closer to her, hooked his thumb under her chin and leaned in. “Take care of yourself, Miss Stackhouse,” he whispered in her ear, sending goosebumps up her arms.
Then just as she was about to utter a reply he kissed her forehead and made a quick dash through the front door.