Club Dead Chapter Two


I tested the doorknob to make sure I'd locked it, turned around, and out of the corner of my eye glimpsed a figure sitting in the swing on my front porch. I stifled a shriek as he rose. Then I recognized him.

I was wearing a heavy coat, but he was in a tank top;that didn't surprise me, really.

’’El - ’’ Uh-oh, close call. ’’Bubba, how are you?’’ I was trying to sound casual, carefree. I failed, but Bubba wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. The vampires admitted that bringing him over, when he'd been so very close to death and so saturated with drugs, had been a big mistake. The night he'd been brought in, one of the morgue attendants happened to be one of the undead, and also happened to be a huge fan. With a hastily constructed and elaborate plot involving a murder or two, the attendant had ’’brought him over’’ - made Bubba a vampire. But the process doesn't always go right, you know. Since then, he's been passed around like idiot royalty. Louisiana had been hosting him for the past year.

’’Miss Sookie, how you doin'?’’ His accent was still thick and his face still handsome, in a jowly kind of way. The dark hair tumbled over his forehead in a carefully careless style. The heavy sideburns were brushed. Some undead fan had groomed him for the evening.

’’I'm just fine, thank you,’’ I said politely, grinning from ear to ear. I do that when I'm nervous. ’’I was just fixing to go to work,’’ I added, wondering if it was possible I would be able to simply get in my car and drive away. I thought not.

’’Well, Miss Sookie, I been sent to guard you tonight.’’

’’You have? By who?’’

’’By Eric,’’ he said proudly. ’’I was the only one in the office when he got a phone call. He tole me to get my ass over here.’’

’’What's the danger?’’ I peered around the clearing in the woods in which my old house stood. Bubba's news made me very nervous.

’’I don't know, Miss Sookie. Eric, he tole me to watch you tonight till one of them from Fangtasia gets here - Eric, or Chow, or Miss Pam, or even Clancy. So if you go to work, I go with you. And I take care of anyone who bothers you.’’

There was no point in questioning Bubba further, putting strain on that fragile brain. He'd just get upset, and you didn't want to see that happen. That was why you had to remember not to call him by his former name ... though every now and then he would sing, and that was a moment to remember.

’’You can't come in the bar,’’ I said bluntly. That would be a disaster. The clientele of Merlotte's is used to the occasional vampire, sure, but I couldn't warn everyone not to say his name. Eric must have been desperate;the vampire community kept mistakes like Bubba out of sight, though from time to time he'd take it in his head to wander off on his own. Then you got a ’’sighting,’’ and the tabloids went crazy.

’’Maybe you could sit in my car while I work?’’ The cold wouldn't affect Bubba.

’’I got to be closer than that,’’ he said, and he sounded immovable.

’’Okay, then, how about my boss's office? It's right off the bar, and you can hear me if I yell.’’

Bubba still didn't look satisfied, but finally, he nodded. I let out a breath I didn't realize I'd been holding. It would be easiest for me to stay home, call in sick. However, not only did Sam expect me to show up, but also, I needed the paycheck.

The car felt a little small with Bubba in the front seat beside me. As we bumped off my property, through the woods and out to the parish road, I made a mental note to get the gravel company to come dump some more gravel on my long, meandering driveway. Then I canceled that order, also mentally. I couldn't afford that right now. It'd have to wait until spring. Or summer.

We turned right to drive the few miles to Merlotte's, the bar where I work as a waitress when I'm not doing Heap Big Secret Stuff for the vampires. It occurred to me when we were about halfway there that I hadn't seen a car Bubba could've used to drive to my house. Maybe he'd flown? Some vamps could. Though Bubba was the least talented vampire I'd met, maybe he had a flair for it.

A year ago I would've asked him, but not now. I'm used to hanging around with the undead now. Not that I'm a vampire. I'm a telepath. My life was hell on wheels until I met a man whose mind I couldn't read. Unfortunately, I couldn't read his mind because he was dead. But Bill and I had been together for several months now, and until recently, our relationship had been real good. And the other vampires need me, so I'm safe - to a certain extent. Mostly. Sometimes.

Merlotte's didn't look too busy, judging from the half-empty parking lot. Sam had bought the bar about five years ago. It had been failing - maybe because it had been cut out of the forest, which loomed all around the parking lot. Or maybe the former owner just hadn't found the right combination of drinks, food, and service.

Somehow, after he renamed the place and renovated it, Sam had turned balance sheets around. He made a nice living off it now. But tonight was a Monday night, not a big drinking night in our neck of the woods, which happened to be in northern Louisiana. I pulled around to the employee parking lot, which was right in front of Sam Merlotte's trailer, which itself is behind and at right angles to the employee entrance to the bar. I hopped out of the driver's seat, trotted through the storeroom, and peeked through the glass pane in the door to check the short hall with its doors to the rest rooms and Sam's office. Empty. Good. And when I knocked on Sam's door, he was behind his desk, which was even better.

Sam is not a big man, but he's very strong. He's a strawberry blond with blue eyes, and he's maybe three years older than my twenty-six. I've worked for him for about that many years. I'm fond of Sam, and he's starred in some of my favorite fantasies;but since he dated a beautiful but homicidal creature a couple of months before, my enthusiasm has somewhat faded. He's for sure my friend, though.

’’'Scuse me, Sam,’’ I said, smiling like an idiot.

’’What's up?’’ He closed the catalog of bar supplies he'd been studying.

’’I need to stash someone in here for a little while.’’

Sam didn't look altogether happy. ’’Who? Has Bill gotten back?’’

’’No, he's still traveling.’’ My smile got even brighter. ’’But, um, they sent another vampire to sort of guard me? And I need to stow him in here while I work, if that's okay with you.’’

’’Why do you need to be guarded? And why can't he just sit out in the bar? We have plenty of TrueBlood.’’ TrueBlood was definitely proving to be the front-runner among competing blood replacements. ’’Next best to the drink of life,’’ its first ad had read, and vampires had responded to the ad campaign.

I heard the tiniest of sounds behind me, and I sighed. Bubba had gotten impatient.

’’Now, I asked you - ’’ I began, starting to turn, but never got further. A hand grasped my shoulder and whirled me around. I was facing a man I'd never seen before. He was cocking his fist to punch me in the head.

Though the vampire blood I had ingested a few months ago (to save my life, let me point out) has mostly worn off - I barely glow in the dark at all now - I'm still quicker than most people. I dropped and rolled into the man's legs, which made him stagger, which made it easier for Bubba to grab him and crush his throat.

I scrambled to my feet and Sam rushed out of his office. We stared at each other, Bubba, and the dead man.

Well, now we were really in a pickle.

’’I've kilt him,’’ Bubba said proudly. ’’I saved you, Miss Sookie.’’

Having the Man from Memphis appear in your bar, realizing he's become a vampire, and watching him kill a would-be assailant - well, that was a lot to absorb in a couple of minutes, even for Sam, though he himself was more than he appeared.

’’Well, so you have,’’ Sam said to Bubba in a soothing voice. ’’Do you know who he was?’’

I had never seen a dead man - outside of visitation at the local funeral home - until I'd started dating Bill (who of course was technically dead, but I mean human dead people).

It seems I run across them now quite often. Lucky I'm not too squeamish.

This particular dead man had been in his forties, and every year of that had been hard. He had tattoos all over his arms, mostly of the poor quality you get in jail, and he was missing some crucial teeth. He was dressed in what I thought of as biker clothes: greasy blue jeans and a leather vest, with an obscene T-shirt underneath.

’’What's on the back of the vest?’’ Sam asked, as if that would have significance for him.

Bubba obligingly squatted and rolled the man to his side. The way the man's hand flopped at the end of his arm made me feel pretty queasy. But I forced myself to look at the vest. The back was decorated with a wolf's head insignia. The wolf was in profile, and seemed to be howling. The head was silhouetted against a white circle, which I decided was supposed to be the moon. Sam looked even more worried when he saw the insignia. ’’Werewolf,’’ he said tersely. That explained a lot.

The weather was too chilly for a man wearing only a vest, if he wasn't a vampire. Weres ran a little hotter than regular people, but mostly they were careful to wear coats in cold weather, since Were society was still secret from the human race (except for lucky, lucky me, and probably a few hundred others). I wondered if the dead man had left a coat out in the bar hanging on the hooks by the main entrance;in which case, he'd been back here hiding in the men's room, waiting for me to appear. Or maybe he'd come through the back door right after me. Maybe his coat was in his vehicle.

’’You see him come in?’’ I asked Bubba. I was maybe just a little light-headed.

’’Yes, ma'am. He must have been waiting in the big parking lot for you. He drove around the corner, got out of his car, and went in the back just a minute after you did. You hightailed it through the door, and then he went in. And I followed him. You mighty lucky you had me with you.’’

’’Thank you, Bubba. You're right;I'm lucky to have you. I wonder what he planned to do with me.’’ I felt cold all over as I thought about it. Had he just been looking for a lone woman to grab, or did he plan on grabbing me specifically? Then I realized that was dumb thinking. If Eric had been alarmed enough to send a bodyguard, he must have known there was a threat, which pretty much ruled out me being targeted at random. Without comment, Bubba strode out the back door. He returned in just a minute.

’’He's got him some duct tape and gags on the front seat of his car,’’ Bubba said. ’’That's where his coat is. I brought it to put under his head.’’ He bent to arrange the heavily padded camouflage jacket around the dead man's face and neck. Wrapping the head was a real good idea, since the man was leaking a little bit. When he had finished his task, Bubba licked his fingers.

Sam put an arm around me because I had started shaking.

’’This is strange, though,’’ I was saying, when the door to the hall from the bar began to open. I glimpsed Kevin Pryor's face. Kevin is a sweet guy, but he's a cop, and that's the last thing we needed.

’’Sorry, toilet's back-flowing,’’ I said, and pushed the door shut on his narrow, astonished, face. ’’Listen, fellas, why don't I hold this door shut while you two take this guy and put him in his car? Then we can figure out what to do with him.’’ The floor of the hall would need swabbing. I discovered the hall door actually locked. I'd never realized that.

Sam was doubtful. ’’Sookie, don't you think that we should call the police?’’ he asked.

A year ago I would have been on the phone dialing 911 before the corpse even hit the floor. But that year had been one long learning curve. I caught Sam's eye and inclined my head toward Bubba. ’’How do you think he'd handle jail?’’ I murmured. Bubba was humming the opening line to ’’Blue Christmas.’’ ’’Our hands are hardly strong enough to have done this,’’ I pointed out.

After a moment of indecision, Sam nodded, resigned to the inevitable. ’’Okay, Bubba, let's you and me tote this guy out to his car.’’

I ran to get a mop while the men - well, the vampire and the shape-shifter - carried Biker Boy out the back door. By the time Sam and Bubba returned, bringing a gust of cold air in their wake, I had mopped the hall and the men's bathroom (as I would if there really had been an overflow). I sprayed some air freshener in the hall to improve the environment.

It was a good thing we'd acted quickly, because Kevin was pushing open the door as soon as I'd unlocked it.

’’Everything okay back here?’’ he asked. Kevin is a runner, so he has almost no body fat, and he's not a big guy. He looks kind of like a sheep, and he still lives with his mom. But for all that, he's nobody's fool. In the past, whenever I'd listened to his thoughts, they were either on police work, or his black amazon of a partner, Kenya Jones. Right now, his thoughts ran more to the suspicious.

’’I think we got it fixed,’’ Sam said. ’’Watch your feet, we just mopped. Don't slip and sue me!’’ He smiled at Kevin.

’’Someone in your office?’’ Kevin asked, nodding his head toward the closed door.

’’One of Sookie's friends,’’ Sam said.

’’I better get out there and hustle some drinks,’’ I said cheerfully, beaming at them both. I reached up to check that my ponytail was smooth, and then I made my Reeboks move. The bar was almost empty, and the woman I was replacing (Charlsie Tooten) looked relieved. ’’This is one slow night,’’ she muttered to me. ’’The guys at table six have been nursing that pitcher for an hour, and Jane Bodehouse has tried to pick up every man who's come in. Kevin's been writing something in a notebook all night.’’

I glanced at the only female customer in the bar, trying to keep the distaste off my face. Every drinking establishment has its share of alcoholic customers, people who open and close the place. Jane Bodehouse was one of ours. Normally, Jane drank by herself at home, but every two weeks or so she'd take it into her head to come in and pick up a man. The pickup process was getting more and more iffy, since not only was Jane in her fifties, but lack of regular sleep and proper nutrition had been taking a toll for the past ten years.

This particular night, I noticed that when Jane had applied her makeup, she had missed the actual perimeters of her eyebrows and lips. The result was pretty unsettling. We'd have to call her son to come get her. I could tell at a glance she couldn't drive.

I nodded to Charlsie, and waved at Arlene, the other waitress, who was sitting at a table with her latest flame, Buck Foley. Things were really dead if Arlene was off her feet. Arlene waved back, her red curls bouncing.

’’How're the kids?’’ I called, beginning to put away some of the glasses Charlsie had gotten out of the dishwasher. I felt like I was acting real normal until I noticed that my hands were shaking violently.

’’Doing great. Coby made the All-A honor roll and Lisa won the spelling bee,’’ she said with a broad smile. To anyone who believed that a four-times married woman couldn't be good mother, I would point at Arlene. I gave Buck a quick smile, too, in Arlene's honor. Buck is about the average kind of guy Arlene dates, which is not good enough for her.

’’That's great! They're smart kids, like their mama,’’ I said.

’’Hey, did that guy find you?’’

’’What guy?’’ Though I had a feeling I already knew.

’’That guy in the motorcycle gear. He asked me was I the waitress dating Bill Compton, since he'd got a delivery for that waitress.’’

’’He didn't know my name?’’

’’No, and that's pretty weird, isn't it? Oh my God, Sookie, if he didn't know your name, how could he have come from Bill?’’

Possibly Coby's smarts had come through his daddy, since it had taken Arlene this long to figure that out. I loved Arlene for her nature, not her brain.

’’So, what did you tell him?’’ I asked, beaming at her. It was my nervous smile, not my real one. I don't always know when I'm wearing it.

’’I told him I liked my men warm and breathing,’’ she said, and laughed. Arlene was occasionally completely tactless, too. I reminded myself to reevaluate why she was my good friend. ’’No, I didn't really say that. I just told him you would be the blond who came in at nine.’’

Thanks, Arlene. So my attacker had known who I was because my best friend had identified me;he hadn't known my name or where I lived, just that I worked at Merlotte's and dated Bill Compton. That was a little reassuring, but not a lot.

Three hours dragged by. Sam came out, told me in a whisper that he'd given Bubba a magazine to look at and a bottle of Life Support to sip on, and began to poke around behind the bar. ’’How come that guy was driving a car instead of a motorcycle?’’ Sam muttered in a low voice. ’’How come his car's got a Mississippi license plate?’’ He hushed when Kevin came up to check that we were going to call Jane's son, Marvin. Sam phoned while Kevin stood there so he could relay the son's promise to be at Merlotte's in twenty minutes. Kevin pushed off after that, his notebook tucked under his arm. I wondered if Kevin was turning into a poet, or writing his resume.

The four men who'd been trying to ignore Jane while sipping their pitcher at the speed of a turtle finished their beer and left, each dropping a dollar on the table by way of tip. Big spenders. I'd never get my driveway regraveled with customers like these.

With only half an hour to wait, Arlene did her closing chores and asked if she could go on and leave with Buck. Her kids were still with her mom, so she and Buck might have the trailer to themselves for a little while.

’’Bill coming home soon?’’ she asked me as she pulled on her coat. Buck was talking football with Sam.

I shrugged. He'd called me three nights before, telling me he'd gotten to ’’Seattle’’ safely and was meeting with - whomever he was supposed to meet with. The Caller ID had read ’’Unavailable.’’ I felt like that said quite a lot about the whole situation. I felt like that was a bad sign.

’’You ... missing him?’’ Her voice was sly.

’’What do you think?’’ I asked, with a little smile at the corners of my mouth. ’’You go on home, have a good time.’’

’’Buck is very good at good times,’’ she said, almost leering.

’’Lucky you.’’

So Jane Bodehouse was the only customer in Merlotte's when Pam arrived. Jane hardly counted;she was so out of it.

Pam is a vampire, and she is co-owner of Fangtasia, a tourist bar in Shreveport. She's Eric's second in command. Pam is blond, probably two hundred-plus years old, and actually has a sense of humor - not a vampire trademark. If a vampire can be your friend, she was as close as I'd gotten.

She sat on a bar stool and faced me over the shining expanse of wood.

This was ominous. I had never seen Pam anywhere but Fangtasia. ’’What's up?’’ I said by way of greeting. I smiled at her, but I was tense all over.

’’Where's Bubba?’’ she asked, in her precise voice. She looked over my shoulder. ’’Eric's going to be angry if Bubba didn't make it here.’’ For the first time, I noticed that Pam had a faint accent, but I couldn't pin it down. Maybe just the inflections of antique English.

’’Bubba's in the back, in Sam's office,’’ I said, focusing on her face. I wished the ax would go on and fall. Sam came to stand beside me, and I introduced them. Pam gave him a more significant greeting than she would have given a plain human (whom she might not have acknowledged at all), since Sam was a shape-shifter. And I expected to see a flicker of interest, since Pam is omnivorous in matters of se*, and Sam is an attractive supernatural being. Though vampires aren't well-known for facial expressions, I decided that Pam's was definitely unhappy.

’’What's the deal?’’ I asked, after a moment of silence.

Pam met my gaze. We're both blue-eyed blonds, but that's like saying two animals are both dogs. That's as far as any resemblance went. Pam's hair was straight and pale, and her eyes were very dark. Now they were full of trouble. She looked at Sam, her stare significant. Without a word, he went over to help Jane's son, a worn-looking man in his thirties, shift Jane to the car.

’’Bill's missing,’’ Pam said, shooting from the conversational hip.

’’No, he's not. He's in Seattle,’’ I said. Willfully obtuse. I had learned that word from my Word-A-Day calendar only that morning, and here I was getting to use it.

’’He lied to you.’’

I absorbed that, made a ’’come on’’ gesture with my hand.

’’He's been in Mississippi all this time. He drove to Jackson.’’

I stared down at the heavily polyurethane-coated wood of the bar. I'd pretty much figured Bill had lied to me, but hearing it said out loud, baldly, hurt like hell. He'd lied to me, and he was missing.

’’So ... what are you going to do to find him?’’ I asked, and hated how unsteady my voice was.

’’We're looking. We're doing everything we can,’’ Pam said. ’’Whoever got him may be after you, too. That's why Eric sent Bubba.’’

I couldn't answer. I was struggling to control myself.

Sam had returned, I suppose when he saw how upset I was. From about an inch behind my back, he said, ’’Someone tried to grab Sookie on her way into work tonight. Bubba saved her. The body's out behind the bar. We were going to move him after we'd closed.’’

’’So quickly,’’ Pam said. She sounded even unhappier. She gave Sam a once-over, nodded. He was a fellow supernatural being, though that was definitely second best to him being another vampire. ’’I'd better go over the car and see what I can find.’’ Pam took it quite for granted that we'd dispose of the body ourselves rather than doing something more official. Vampires are having trouble accepting the authority of law enforcement and the obligation of citizens to notify the police when trouble arises. Though vamps can't join the armed services, they can become cops, and actually enjoy the hell out of the job. But vamp cops are often pariahs to the other undead.

I would a lot rather think about vampire cops than what Pam had just told me.

’’When did Bill go missing?’’ Sam asked. His voice managed to stay level, but there was anger just under the surface.

’’He was due in last night,’’ Pam said. My head snapped up. I hadn't known that. Why hadn't Bill told me he was coming home? ’’He was going to drive into Bon Temps, phone us at Fangtasia to let us know he'd made it home, and meet with us tonight.’’ This was practically babbling, for a vampire.

Pam punched in numbers on a cell phone;I could hear the little beeps. I listened to her resultant conversation with Eric. After relaying the facts, Pam told him, ’’She's sitting here. She's not speaking.’’

She pressed the phone into my hand. I automatically put it to my ear.

’’Sookie, are you listening?’’ I knew Eric could hear the sounds of my hair moving over the receiver, the whisper of my breath.

’’I can tell you are,’’ he said. ’’Listen and obey me. For now, tell no one what's happened. Act just as normal. Live your life as you always do. One of us will be watching you all the time, whether you think so or not. Even in the day, we'll find some way to guard you. We will avenge Bill, and we will protect you.’’

Avenge Bill? So Eric was sure Bill was dead. Well, nonexistent.

’’I didn't know he was supposed to be coming in last night,’’ I said, as if that was the most important fact I'd learned.

’’He had - bad news he was going to tell you,’’ Pam said suddenly.

Eric overheard her and made a disgusted sound. ’’Tell Pam to shut up,’’ he said, sounding overtly furious for the first time since I'd known him. I didn't see any need to relay the message, because I figured Pam had been able to hear him, too. Most vampires have very acute hearing.

’’So you knew this bad news and you knew he was coming back,’’ I said. Not only was Bill missing and possibly dead - permanently dead - but he had lied to me about where he was going and why, and he'd kept some important secret from me, something concerning me. The pain went so deep, I could not even feel the wound. But I knew I would later.

I handed the phone back to Pam, and I turned and left the bar.

I faltered as I was getting into my car. I should stay at Merlotte's to help dispose of the body. Sam wasn't a vampire, and he was only involved in this for my sake. This wasn't fair to him.

But after only a second's hesitation, I drove away. Bubba could help him, and Pam - Pam, who knew all, while I knew nothing.

Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of a white face in the woods when I got home. I almost called out to the watcher, invited the vampire in to at least sit on the couch during the night. But then I thought, No. I had to be by myself. None of this was any of my doing. I had no action to take. I had to remain passive, and I was ignorant through no will of my own.

I was as wounded and as angry as it was possible for me to be. Or at least I thought I was. Subsequent revelations would prove me wrong.

I stomped inside my house and locked the door behind me. A lock wouldn't keep the vampire out, of course, but lack of an invitation to enter would. The vampire could definitely keep any humans out, at least until dawn.

I put on my old long-sleeved blue nylon gown, and I sat at my kitchen table staring blankly at my hands. I wondered where Bill was now. Was he even walking the earth;or was he a pile of ashes in some barbecue pit? I thought of his dark brown hair, the thick feel of it beneath my fingers. I considered the secrecy of his planned return. After what seemed like a minute or two, I glanced at the clock on the stove. I'd been sitting at the table, staring into space, for over an hour.

I should go to bed. It was late, and cold, and sleeping would be the normal thing to do. But nothing in my future would be normal again. Oh, wait! If Bill were gone, my future would be normal.

No Bill. So, no vampires: no Eric, Pam, or Bubba.

No supernatural creatures: no Weres, shape-shifters, or maenads. I wouldn't have encountered them, either, if it hadn't been for my involvement with Bill. If he'd never come into Merlotte's, I'd just be waiting tables, listening to the unwanted thoughts of those around me: the petty greed, the lust, the disillusionment, the hopes, and the fantasies. Crazy Sookie, the village telepath of Bon Temps, Louisiana.

I'd been a virgin until Bill. Now the only se* I might possibly have would be with JB du Rone, who was so lovely that you could almost overlook the fact that he was dumb as a stump. He had so few thoughts that his companionship was nearly comfortable for me. I could even touch JB without receiving unpleasant pictures. But Bill ... I found that my right hand was clenched in a fist, and I pounded it on the table so hard, it hurt like hell.

Bill had told me that if anything happened to him, I was to ’’go to’’ Eric. I'd never been sure if he was telling me that Eric would see to it that I received some financial legacy of Bill's, or that Eric would protect me from other vampires, or that I'd be Eric's ... well, that I'd have to have the same relationship with Eric that I had with Bill. I'd told Bill I wasn't going to be passed around like a Christmas fruitcake.

But Eric had already come to me, so I didn't even have the chance to decide whether or not to follow Bill's last piece of advice.

I lost the trail of my thought. It had never been a clear one anyway.

Oh, Bill, where are you? I buried my face in my hands.

My head was throbbing with exhaustion, and even my cozy kitchen was chilly in this small hour. I rose to go to bed, though I knew I wouldn't sleep. I needed Bill with such gut-clenching intensity that I wondered if it was somehow abnormal, if I'd been enchanted by some supernatural power.

Though my telepathic ability provided immunity from the vampires'glamour, maybe I was vulnerable to another power? Or maybe I was just missing the only man I'd ever loved. I felt eviscerated, empty, and betrayed. I felt worse than I had when my grandmother had died, worse than when my parents had drowned. When my parents had died, I'd been very young, and maybe I hadn't fully comprehended, all at once, that they were permanently gone. It was hard to remember now. When my grandmother had died a few months ago, I had taken comfort in the ritual surrounding death in the South.

And I'd known they hadn't willingly left me.

I found myself standing in the kitchen doorway. I switched off the overhead light.

Once I was wrapped up in bed in the dark, I began crying, and I didn't stop for a long, long time. It was not a night to count my blessings. It was a night when every loss I'd ever had pressed hard on me. It did seem I'd had more bad luck than most people. Though I made a token attempt to fend off a deluge of self-pity, I wasn't too successful. It was pretty much twined in there with the misery of not knowing Bill's fate.

I wanted Bill to curl up against my back;I wanted his cool lips on my neck. I wanted his white hands running down my stomach. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to laugh off my terrible suspicions. I wanted to tell him about my day;about the stupid problem I was having with the gas company, and the new channels our cable company had added. I wanted to remind him that he needed a new washer on the sink in his bathroom, let him know that my brother, Jason, had found out he wasn't going to be a father after all (which was good, since he wasn't a husband, either).

The sweetest part of being a couple was sharing your life with someone else.

But my life, evidently, had not been good enough to share.

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