I stopped a respectful distance from the steps and eyed the dog. Sam could transform himself into almost anything warm-blooded, so it was possible this dog was Sam . . . but I didn’t think so. He usually picked a collie form. This sleek Labrador just didn’t have the right feel.
"Bernie?" I asked.
The Lab gave a neutral sort of bark, and her tail started wagging.
"Are you going to let me knock on the door?" I asked.
She seemed to think about it for a minute. Then she trotted down the steps and out onto the grass. She watched me go up to the door.
I turned away from her (with a little misgiving) and knocked. After a long, long minute, Sam opened it.
He looked haggard.
"Are you okay?" I blurted. It was clear he was not.
Without speaking, he backed up to let me in. He was wearing a short-sleeved summer shirt and his oldest blue jeans, worn so thin in spots that there were little splits in the fabric. The interior of the trailer was surprisingly gloomy. Sam had tried hard, but he couldn’t make the trailer completely dark – not on a bright, hot day like today. Between the drawn curtains, the light came in in sharp shards, like brilliant glass slivers.
"Sookie," Sam said, sounding somehow remote. That scared me more than anything else. I eyed him. Though it was hard to see the details, I could tell Sam was unshaven, and though he was naturally wiry, he looked as though he’d lost ten pounds. He’d showered, at least; maybe Bernie had insisted. When I’d evaluated Sam, I looked around at the living room, as best I could. The sharp contrasts of light hurt my eyes.
"Can I open the curtains?" I asked.
"No," he said, his voice sharp. Then he seemed to reconsider. "Well, okay, one."
Moving slowly and carefully, I pulled back a curtain over the window mostly shaded by an oak tree. Even so, as light brightened the trailer, Sam winced.
"Why does the sunshine bother you?" I asked, trying to sound absolutely calm about it.
"Because I died, Sookie. I died and came back." He didn’t sound bitter, but he sure didn’t sound happy.
Okayyyyy. Well, since I hadn’t heard a word from Sam, I’d figured he wasn’t dancing in the streets over his experience, but I guess I’d thought he’d at least be, I dunno, pleased about it. That he would say something along the lines of, Gosh, you wonderful woman, now that I’ve had time to rest and reflect, I thank you for altering your life forever by bringing back mine. What an amazing gift.
That’s what I’d figured.
So. Wrong again.
Sam’s mom scratched at the door. Since Sam was still standing in his "tense and tortured" pose, I obliged. Bernie walked in on four paws, nosed at Sam’s leg for a second, and went into the little corridor leading to the bedrooms.
"Sam," I said, to get his attention. He looked at me, but I wasn’t getting a lot of expression from him. "You got a bar to run," I said. "You got people depending on you. After all the stuff you’ve been through, don’t flake out now."
His eyes seemed to focus on me. "Sookie," he said, "you don’t understand. I died."
"You don’t understand," I retorted with some heat. "I was there. I had my hand on you when your heart quit beating. And I brought you back. Maybe that’s what you should be thinking about, huh? The ‘brought back’ part?"
If he said "I died" one more time, I was going to slap him silly.
Bernie, in woman form, entered into the living room dressed in khaki shorts and a blouse. Sam and I were too locked in our conversation to speak to her, though I sort of waved my hand in her direction.
"You had a cluviel dor," Sam said. "You really had one."
"I did," I said. "Now it’s only a pretty thing that looks like a compact."
"Why did you have it with you? Did you expect what was going to happen?"
I shifted uneasily. "Sam, who could expect that? I just figured there wasn’t any point in having something like that if you didn’t have it on you to use. Maybe Gran wouldn’t have died if she’d kept it on her."
"Like a fairy Life Alert," Sam said.
"Yeah. Like that."
"But you must have had a plan for it, a use. I mean, it was a gift . . . to keep. Maybe to save your own life."
I looked away, getting more and more uncomfortable. I’d come over here to find out what was happening in Sam’s head, not to raise questions (or answer questions) that might lay a burden on him he shouldn’t have to assume.
"It was a gift, which means I could use it as I chose," I said, trying to sound brisk and matter-of-fact. "And I chose to start your heart again."
Sam sat down in his dilapidated armchair, the only item in the trailer that looked as though it needed to be kicked to the curb.
Bernie said, "Have a seat, Sookie." She came farther into the room and stared down at her oldest son, the only family member who had received the shifter gene. "I see you looking at the old chair," she said conversationally, when Sam didn’t speak. "That was my husband’s. It was the only thing of his I gave away when he died, because it just reminded me of him too much. Maybe I should have kept it, and maybe if I’d looked at it every day, I wouldn’t have married Don."
Maybe Bernie’s problem wasn’t so much marrying Don as not telling him before the wedding that she could turn into an animal. But Don shouldn’t have shot her when he found out, either. You don’t just haul off and shoot the one you love.
" ‘Maybe’ is such a bad word," I said. "You can ‘maybe’ yourself back to Adam and Eve and the serpent."
Bernie laughed, and Sam looked up. I could see a glimmer of his former self in that look. The bitter truth welled up in my throat like bile. The price of bringing back Sam from death was that he wasn’t quite the same man anymore. The experience of death had changed him, maybe forever. And maybe resurrecting him had changed me.
"How are you feeling physically?" I said. "You seem a little shook up."
"That’s one way to put it," he said. "The first day Mom was here, she had to help me walk. It’s weird. I was okay riding back with you that night, and I drove home okay next morning. But after that it was like my body had to relearn things. Sort of like . . . after a long sickness. I’ve felt so bad, and I can’t figure out why."
"I guess part of it is that process of grief."
"Well, it would only be natural," I said. "You know. Jannalynn?"
Sam looked at me. His expression was not what I expected; it was compounded of confusion and embarrassment. "What about her?" he asked, and I could swear his puzzlement was genuine.