I was already punching in 911. I described the situation to the dispatcher, and she said, "Sookie, we’ll be right over to get Tara. You tell her not to worry. Oh, and she can’t eat or drink anything, you hear?"
"Yes," I said. I hung up. "Tara, they’re coming. Nothing to eat or drink!"
"You see any food around here?" she said. "Not a damn thing. I’ve been trying to keep my weight gain to a minimum, so Mr. Bare-Naked Booty will have something to keep him home when I get over having his children."
"He loves you! And I’m calling him right now!" Which I did.
After a frozen moment, JB said, "I’m coming! Wait, if you called the ambulance, I’ll meet it at the hospital! Have you called the doctor?"
"She didn’t put him on my list." I was waving my hands in agitation. I’d made a mistake.
"I’ll do it," JB said, and I hung up.
Since there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to help Tara (she was sitting absolutely still with an expression of great concentration on her face), I called Mrs. du Rone. Who said very calmly, "All right, if you’re going to stay there with Tara, I’ll drive straight to the hospital. Thank you, Sookie." Then, without hanging up, she shrieked, "Donnell! Go start the car! It’s time!"
I hung up. I called McKenna, who said, "Oh my God! I just got out of bed! Lock up and I’ll get there within an hour. Tell her I said good luck!"
Not knowing what else to do, I went to stand by Tara, who said, "Give me your hand." I took her hand, and she got a death grip on mine. She began to pant in a rhythm, and her face turned red. Her whole body tensed. This close to her, I could smell something unusual. It wasn’t exactly a bad smell, but it was certainly one I’d never associated with Tara.
Amniotic fluid, I guessed.
I thought all the bones in my hand would snap before Tara finished puffing. We rested a moment, Tara and I, and her eyes remained fixed on some far-distant shore. After a short time, she said, "Okay," as if I’d know what that signaled. I figured it out when we started again with the huffing and puffing. This time Tara turned white. I was incredibly relieved to hear the ambulance approaching, though Tara didn’t seem to notice.
I recognized the two EMTs, though I couldn’t recall their names. They’d graduated with Jason, or maybe a year ahead of him. As far as I was concerned, they had haloes.
"Hey, lady," the taller woman said to Tara. "You ready to take a ride with us?"
Tara nodded without losing her focus on that invisible spot.
"How close are the contractions, darlin’?" asked the second, a small, stocky woman with wire-rimmed glasses. She was asking me, but I just gaped at her.
"Three or four minutes," Tara said in a monotone, as if she thought she’d pop if she spoke emphatically.
"Well, I guess we better hustle, then," the taller woman said calmly. While she took Tara’s blood pressure, Wire Rims set up the gurney, and then they helped Tara up from the chair (which was soaking wet), and they got Tara onto the gurney and into the ambulance very quickly, without seeming to hurry in the least.
I was left standing in the middle of the store. I stared at the wet chair. Finally I wrote a note to McKenna. "You will need to clean the chair," it said. I stuck it to the back door, where McKenna would enter. I locked up and departed.
It was one of those days I regretted having a job. I could have gone to Clarice and waited for the birth of the babies, sitting in the waiting room with the other people Tara cared for.
I went into Merlotte’s feeling ridiculously happy. I just had time to put the mail on Sam’s desk when Kennedy came in the employee door, and India was hard on her heels. Both of them looked pretty down in the mouth, but I wasn’t having any of that. "Ladies," I said. "We are gonna have us a good day here."
"Sookie, I’d like to oblige, but my heart is breaking," Kennedy said pathetically.
"Oh, bullshit, Kennedy! It is not. You just ask Danny to share with you, you tell him what a man he is and how you love his hot body, and he’ll tell his heap big secret. You got no reason to be insecure. He thinks you’re fabulous. He likes you more than his LeBaron."
Kennedy looked stunned, but after a moment a small smile flickered across her face.
"India, you’ll meet a woman who’s worthy of you any day now, I just know it," I told India, who said, "Sookie, you are as full of bullshit as a cow is of milk."
"Speaking of milk," I said, "we’re going to hold hands and say a prayer for Tara, cause she’s having her babies right now."
And that was what we did.
It wasn’t until I was halfway through my shift that I realized how much more enjoyable work was when you had a light heart. How long had it been since I’d let go of my worries and simply allowed myself to enjoy the happiness of another person?
It had been way too long.
Today, everything seemed easy. Kennedy was pouring beers and tea and water with lemon, and all the food was ready on time. Antoine was singing in the kitchen. He had a fine voice, so we all enjoyed that. The customers tipped well, and everyone had a good word for me. Danny Prideaux came in to moon longingly at Kennedy, and his face when she gave him a smile-well, it was all lit up.
Just when I was thinking I might glide through this day with happiness all around, Alcide came in. He’d clearly been working; there was a hard hat impression in his thick black hair, and he was sweaty and dirty like most of the men who came in at midday in the summer. Another Were was with him, a man who was just as glad to be in the air-conditioning. They breathed simultaneous sighs of relief when they sank into the chairs at a table in my section.
Truthfully, I was surprised to see Alcide in Merlotte’s. There were plenty of places to eat in the area besides our bar. Our last conversation hadn’t been exactly pleasant, and he’d never responded to the message I’d left on his cell phone.
Maybe his presence constituted an olive branch. I went over with menus and a tentative smile. "You must have a job close to here," I said, by way of greeting. Alcide had been a partner in his dad’s surveying company, and now he owned the whole thing. He was running it well, I heard. I’d also heard there’d been big personnel changes.
"We’re getting ready for the new high school gym in Clarice," Alcide said. "We just finished. Sookie, this is Roy Hornby."
I nodded politely. "Roy, nice to meet you. What can I get for you-all to drink?"
"Could we have a whole pitcher of sweet tea?" Roy asked. He gave off the strong mental signature of a werewolf.
I said, "Sure, I’ll just go get that." While I carried a cold pitcher and two glasses filled with ice over to the table, I wondered if the new people at AAA Accurate Surveys were all two-natured. I poured the first round of tea. It was gone in a few seconds. I refilled.