"Hush, Allison’ll hear you," she whispered.
"You’re still in the closet?"
"Here at work I am," she said, her voice deeper and rougher. At least she didn’t look frightened any longer, which had been my goal. "You know how hard it is for two-natured girls, when they start changing? Harder than it is for the boys. One in twenty of us ends up a permanent psycho bitch. But if you can get through your teens, you’re pretty nearly home free, and I’m almost there. Allison is nice, and this is a low-stress place. I’ve worked here every summer. I want to keep this job." She looked at me pleadingly.
"Then zip me up, okay? I have no intention of talking about you. I just need a frickin’ dress," I told her, really exasperated. I wasn’t unsympathetic, but I truly felt I had enough problems at the moment.
She hesitantly reached up with her left hand to grip the top of the dress, held the zipper with her right, and in a second I was enclosed properly. The bow covered the zipper and was held in place by snaps. Since summer is prime tanning time, I was a lovely brown, and the deep yellow looked . . . wonderful. The dress wasn’t cut too low at the top, and it was just high enough at the hem. A little dab of my previous good mood returned.
While I hadn’t enjoyed Rosanne’s assumption that I’d "out" her simply for my own pleasure, I could understand her worries. Sort of. I’d met two or three women who hadn’t made it through their supe adolescence with their personality intact; this condition was something to fear, all right. With an effort, I shoved the whole exchange away. When I could focus on my image in the mirror, I felt a flutter of sheer gratification. "Wow, it’s so pretty," I said. I smiled at her reflection, inviting her to lighten up with me.
But Rosanne was silent, her face still unhappy. She was not going along with my "we’re all happy girls" program. "You did do that, right?" she said. "Bring the shifter back from the dead."
I could see I wasn’t going to get to enjoy the thrill of shopping victory. "It was a one-time-only event," I said, my smile vanishing. "I can’t do it again. I don’t even want to do it again." I realized I might not have used the cluviel dor if I’d had time to think about it. I might have doubted it would work, and that doubt would have weakened my will. My witch friend Amelia had told me once that magic was all about will.
I’d had plenty of will when I’d felt Sam’s heart quit beating.
"Is Alcide doing all right?" I asked, making another effort to shift the topic.
"The packmaster is well," she said formally. Though she was a Were, I could see into her mind clearly enough to tell that though she’d overcome her initial fear, she had deep reservations about me. I wondered if the whole pack now shared that distrust. Did Alcide believe I was some kind of super witch?
Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d never been super anything.
"Glad to hear he’s okay. I’ll take the dress," I said. At least, I figured, I can salvage something from this encounter. When I went to the checkout counter, I saw that while Rosanne and I had had our uncomfortable heart-to-heart, Tara had found a couple of pairs of shorts and a pair of jeans, very good labels. She seemed pleased, and Allison did, too – because she wouldn’t have to look at any more baby pictures.
As I left the shop, the dress in a bag over my arm, I looked back to see the young Were watching me through the front window, a mixture of respect and fear on her face.
I’d been so absorbed in my own reaction to what I’d done to Sam – for Sam – that I’d never worried about how other witnesses might react.
"So what was with you and that girl?" Tara said abruptly.
Tara gave me a massively skeptical look. I was going to have to explain. "She’s a Were from Alcide’s pack, but she’s keeping her second nature a secret from her employer," I said. "You don’t feel obliged to tell Allison, I hope?"
"No, who Allison hires is up to her." Tara shrugged. "Rosanne’s been there since she was a kid, coming in after school. As long as she does the work, what difference does it make?"
"Good. We’ll keep it under our hats, then."
"Rosanne didn’t look happy with you," Tara said, after a long moment.
"No . . . no, she wasn’t. She thinks . . . I’m a witch, a really terrible witch. Terrible in the sense of being very powerful and scary."
Tara snorted. "I can tell she doesn’t know you worth a damn."
I smiled, but it was a weak effort. "I hope it’s not a widespread opinion."
"I would have thought they could smell if you were bad or not."
I tried to look indifferent. "They should know better, but since they don’t, I’m just going to have to weather it out."
"Sook, don’t you worry. If you need us, you call JB and me. We’ll strap those babies into their car seats, and we’ll be right over. I know I’ve failed you some . . . disappointed you some . . . in the past couple of years. But I swear I’ll help you, no matter what."
I was taken aback by her vehemence. I looked sharply at my friend. There were tears in her eyes, even while she pulled out into traffic and turned the car back toward Bon Temps.
"Tara? What’re you talking about?"
"I did fail you," she said, her face grim. "In so many ways. And I failed myself. I made some really dumb decisions. I was trying so hard to escape the way I was brought up. For a couple of years, I would have done anything to make sure I never had to live like I had at my folks’ house again. So I looked for protection, and you know how that turned out. When that was over, I hated vampires so much I couldn’t listen to your problems. I’ve grown up now, though." She gave a sharp and decisive nod, as though in her opinion she’d taken the final step in spiritual growth.
This was the last thing in the world I’d expected: a declaration of reconciliation by my oldest friend. I started to deny every negative thing she’d said about herself. But she’d been so honest that I had to be honest in return – at least, in a tactful kind of way. "Tara, we’ve always been friends. We’ll always be friends," I said. "If you’ve made mistakes, I have, too. We just got to do the best we can. We’re coming out the other side of a lot of trouble, both of us." Maybe.
She pulled a Kleenex out of her purse and blotted her face with one hand. "I know we’ll be okay," she said. "I know it."
I wasn’t convinced of that, at least about my own future, but I wasn’t going to ruin Tara’s moment. "Sure we will," I said. I patted her hand on the steering wheel.
For a few miles we drove in silence. I looked out the window at the fields and ditches, choked with growth, the heat hovering over them like a giant blanket. If weeds could flourish with such vigor, maybe I could, too.