32.

EPOV:

 

After I left Bon Temps, I used the long drive back to New York to give myself somewhat of a mental pep talk. Sure, I’d never really known what life without Sookie might be like. We’d been apart, that’s true, but I’d always had her there at the end of a letter. Just knowing that she was out there and that I could talk to her whenever I wanted—well, it was something I realized I had taken for granted. She’d been in my life since I was a child and now I had to face the fact that she wasn’t anymore, nor where we children. It broke me just a little bit that day. Seeing her with that guy, that he was the one making her happy, making her smile that gorgeous smile of hers—I died a little inside.

 

I’d told her once that I’d never give up on her, but she’d never actually told me the same. Maybe my faith in us was just stronger than hers? I knew it was a problem she’d always had. She had more faith in God than in herself—than in her ability to be a strong woman, to stand on her own two feet and take charge. I knew she had it in her after years of survival in that place. How could she not? But she needed to tap into it.

 

Of course, what she tapped into now was none of my business. I was the one she loved, or so she said but one that she just wasn’t ready to be with. It was her choice. I was no one’s second best and I would never force someone to be with me just because it’s what I wanted. I wasn’t a child and she wasn’t my toy.

 

I had to let her go.

 

Once I got back to New York, I knew I had to stop wallowing in my own misery. If Sookie could move on, then, I guess, so could I.

 

Pam, while not thrilled Sookie seemed to be moving on so easily, forgave my ‘idiotic trip into the wilderness’ and was happy I’d come back at all.

 

“So, what are you going to do now? I mean, have we moved past the drunken-feeling-sorry-for-myself phase? Please tell me we have?”

 

“I think we have.”

 

“Thank you, Jesus…” she deadpanned. “Okay, Northman, first things first, we’re taking you shopping. I have a rather … demanding lifestyle, one I’ve been dying to show you since you first came here. Now, it can be tedious at times, but sweetie, with that face and that body, they’ll love you.”

 

“Who will love me?”

 

“Society, darling.”

 

“Pam…” I whined.

 

“No, this isn’t like my father’s version of society, sweetie. There are few and far between boring dinners or luncheons. My crowd is more, Studio 54 for a whole weekend, followed by a charity dinner to balance out the karma of having such a good time.” She winked. ” Now, I love you, but flannel just won’t do. I’ll call Fred and have him send over some samples.”

 

“Fred?”

 

“My father’s tailor. He’s amazing. Do you have a preference on color? Material? Designer?”

 

“For what?”

 

“Oh, Eric, do try and keep up. Your new wardrobe.”

 

“Oh. Can’t I just go buy some jeans or something?”

 

She raised her brow at me.

 

Guess not.

 

I let Pam treat me like her own personal Ken doll for one weekend. She got one weekend of fussing around before I snapped at her and walked out. She chilled significantly after that. I mean, I knew she meant well, and really it was her guilt as well as her daddy’s credit card doing the talking. But really, there was need and then there was excess, and Pam was the queen of excess.

 

I did however throw myself into her so-called lifestyle for a time. It was a welcome distraction from what Pam had taken to calling my ‘quarter-life crisis’ and I was ‘too young and too fine to be so fucking miserable.’

 

So I went and partied with her; I drank—in moderation, of course—and I felt bad for days afterwards. When Pam threw a party, she really threw a party.

 

It had been almost another six months of mindless existence, instead of wallowing in self-pity. I partied with the New York social scene till the wee hours of the morning. Pam and I were splashed all over the papers for one event or another, and while the attention and the attrition was appealing and exciting at first, I soon grew extremely tired of it.

 

So, I decided to go back to school. I did have my degree from seminary, and I had a good education thanks to the priesthood, so college for teaching credentials was no problem. I took the loan from Pam—one I was working off in her father’s ad agency when I wasn’t in school. I managed to get my new degree and teaching license in just under two years. I was focused, and as always, a good student.

 

Teaching wasn’t something I’d thought I’d ever do, until I had to do my first mass. I never realized I found speaking to large groups of people oddly comforting. I didn’t really know why. Philosophy was obviously an interest. And while I was an expert in all things Catholic, the knowledge and desire to know more about other religions was something I’d always wanted to tap into. So, I did.

 

I was concentrating so much on my work, my day job, and Pam that I had thankfully gotten her off my case about my serious lack of a ‘love life.’ It was always a difficult conversation with Pam. By her own admission, she’d never been in love before. What she didn’t understand was I didn’t want a love life, I wanted the love of my life. Everyone she tried to fix me up on dates with, they just didn’t compare, and I had truly given up.

 

That’s when I met Claudine. She lived in Pam’s building. She was an art buyer for Christie’s Auction house, and was, by all accounts, very good at what she did. She was tall, for a woman. Even in heels I’d say she was almost six foot. She had long flowing brunette hair with tiny flecks of gold when the light hit it just right. She had the deepest brown eyes I’d ever seen, and she was tan, too. According to Pam, it’s what a summer in St. Bart’s did for a girl. All I knew was she was beautiful, and the complete opposite of what Pam assumed was my type—the small blondes she kept setting me up with in the hopes of forgetting the one small blonde I’d never forget.

 

Claudine was funny, but in a very understated way. She was a lady, first and foremost, elegant and almost regal in the way she carried herself. Of course, behind closed doors she was a hoot when she had too much wine. She and I began dating. At first, it must not have been all that easy for her. I was a very closed off, guarded guy. I’d let her know very little, but she persevered with me, not giving up easily like the others had when I attempted to drive them away. She stayed and she listened, and she ultimately brought me out of the hard shell I’d created for myself. She and I progressed at a snails pace. Where she got the patience from, I’ll never know. But we dated for months, very innocently at first—lots of talking and a few trips Upstate. We’d been dating four months before she and I became intimate, but even then, it didn’t feel right. Not as right has it had felt with …

 

But she was a good woman, a great woman really. We laughed and ultimately felt comfortable with each other, and even if only for a little while, neither of us were lonely anymore. At that time, for both of us, that’s what we needed.

 

Almost three years after I came to New York, I finally had done enough so I could start teaching. While Claudine and I saw each other periodically over the previous six months, it was a pressure free relationship. She wasn’t one of those women who felt the need to get married or have kids right away. She was interested in maintaining a career, and I, for one, fully supported that. The other women Pam had set me up with were what I assumed SHE assumed was what I wanted. A wife. A Sookie replacement. And that wasn’t what I wanted at all. Truth be told, I was happy enough with just some company, and that’s what Claudine and I were—comfortable company.

 

Teaching was the most fun I’d ever remembered having. I’d settled into a small community college on the Lower West Side. It was filled with people of all ages, all colors, and all walks of life. I loved it. I loved the interaction and the playfulness of ‘teaching’ people my own age—and sometimes older.

 

The hippie generation was in full swing. No one cared if you were a preppy guy or a hippie guy, a girl with braids, or a girl in a box hat and pearls. It was to each their own, and in that classroom for the first time, possibly ever, I felt like I’d found a home.

 

SPOV:

 

Once I’d decided that I was leaving Bon Temps, I was a woman on a mission. I knew something in me had changed. I didn’t feel scared of what people thought of me anymore. I didn’t feel scared period. It was an odd feeling, or lack thereof, having spent a good part of my life purely terrified.

 

“You sure, Sook? I mean, this is a huge step. Are you sure it’s something you’re ready for?” Jason asked me over lunch as I stood with his son balanced on my hip. Corbett was getting big. He’d be long and strong like his daddy in no time.

 

“I am. Amelia has been nagging me for months to come. Lafayette’s moved out there now. Apparently, she’s been nagging him too—telling him that his fabulousness is squashed in Louisiana. And I think it’s time for a change. I mean, Jason don’t get me wrong, I love you, and Corbett and Crystal, and I’m so thankful for you all. But I need to …”

 

“Spread your wings?” he finished for me.

 

“Something like that.”

 

“Well, they sure are pretty wings. Too pretty to be wasted in this town.” He was a sweetheart, he really was.

 

“I guess if you’ve set your mind to it, then I have a going away present for you.”

 

“What? Jason, what are you talkin’ about?”

 

“Just, don’t tell Crystal, okay? She thinks we got a lot less than we did for the old man’s farm when I sold it.”

 

He handed me a check he’d hidden away at the bottom of a drawer.

 

There was almost twenty-five grand on that piece of paper.

 

“What the hell? Jason, what is this!”

 

“It’s your piece of old man Bartlett’s farm. I figured the old fucker had no right stickin’ you in that place. Least he could do is pay for it.”

 

“I can’t take this,” I protested.

 

“You can, and you will. Consider it money for the life you should have been living all those years, but because of him you couldn’t.”

 

Jason and I had had lots of talks during our time together. When we’d cook together, when he taught me how to drive, when we’d go raid old Mrs. Fotenberry’s orchard for apples for the pies I’d make. All of the little things I’d learn about him added up to him being one amazing brother—one that it broke my heart to have been without for so long.

 

I bought a used car with part of my money from Jason’s little surprise. The rest was sitting safely in the bank. I was scared though; I’d never had that much money in my life. I didn’t want something to happen to it. I had to use it wisely. I had to make myself a life, once and for all. And what better place to do that than a city so full of life.

 

The drive to New York was one I’ll never forget. It was scary at times and calm at others. I wasn’t a big fan of motels but they managed to serve their purpose. I had written down Amelia’s directions, which for her were surprisingly detailed, and I’d finally made it to my destination. It was just after five p.m. when I pulled up to what I hoped was her brownstone building, with wide front steps and a big entryway. I buzzed the button marked “Dawson’s” and hoped it was the right one.

 

“Oh my God!” I heard from the top of the stairs before her front door even opened. It dragged on until a very excited Amelia opened her door and tackled me into a hug that almost threw me back down the steps again.

 

“Sookie, you’re here! You’re actually here, I can’t believe it! Oh my goodness! Hi, oh look at your hair, it’s so pretty! Look at YOU, you’re so pretty! Hi!”

 

“Hi yourself, Mrs. Dawson!” I smiled when she finally let me go.

 

“Oh God, don’t even. I feel like someone’s mother whenever someone calls me Mrs.”

 

“And are you?”

 

“Hell no. Trey and I are enjoying being married for now,” she said as we lifted my bags from the trunk and dragged them to her second floor apartment. Everything about it just screamed Amelia, with a few pieces that I guess where part of Trey. Theirs was a family they’d created with just the two of them, and it showed in their home.

 

After much talk, and a little too much wine, she and I decided we’d celebrate my first night in New York by going out for a big, fancy dinner, which we did. Uptown Manhattan was intimidating, to say the least, and my first hour there I spotted Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I was aflutter with excitement.

 

The excitement didn’t wear off either, not for a long time. Amelia and I, it honestly felt like I’d just seen her yesterday, and not years ago. She explained how she tried, and how Eric tried to get in contact with me back then; how it broke her heart to see him so beside himself. She didn’t deal with it very well either, she told me. Of course, I did my best to let her know she had no need to feel guilty, nor did Eric for that matter. There really wasn’t anything anyone could have done for me. I didn’t need a knight on a white horse. I saved myself and it was only in doing so that I realized how much more I wanted from life. My week with Amelia turned into a month, then turned into two. Trey was, of course, his usual calm self, but I could tell he was happy when I told them both that while I’d be staying in the City, it was time for me to give them some peace and give them back their couch. I was ready to find my own place.

 

Which I did, not far from Amelia’s—about a fifteen minute walk. I liked the neighborhood and I had gotten to know it well. About a month after I moved into my own place—a two bedroom apartment, with my own private roof deck—Amelia came over with her happy face on.

 

“I’ve got you a job!” she exclaimed.

 

“A job? I haven’t even been looking—”

 

“I know, which is why I have been looking for you. Look, it’s at my school,” that I knew to be mere blocks from where we lived, “and it’s perfect for you. It’s first grade, they’re amazing kids, and Sandy, who used to teach, had to quit because her husband got a promotion and they’re moving to Chicago… Anyway, she hasn’t announced it yet, but she’s going to tomorrow, and well, what would you say if I recommended you? I mean, you are planning on staying here, right?”

 

I had no plans to leave. I loved New York and all it offered. I love how free I felt there, and how it seemed I wasn’t being judged. Since no one knew me, that was also a huge help, I guess.

 

“Of course not. I love it here. I … if you’re sure?”

 

“Of course, I’m sure. Eeek! This will be so great, Sookie! We get to almost work together! How fun!”

 

“You are so excitable; it’s kind of contagious!” I admitted with a smile.

 

“Well, good because you could use some excitement!”

 

That I could. But I just wasn’t ready.

 

“Have you called him yet?”

 

“Ames…”

 

“No, don’t Ames me. Have you?”

 

Eric. The subject came up a lot with Amelia. She felt somewhat protective over him since their few weeks together after everything went down. She loved us, and told me she wouldn’t be happy until he and I were back being ‘sickeningly adorable’ together.

 

“No, I haven’t.”

 

“And why again?”

 

“Look, it’s not that easy okay? I … We have a lot to talk about and I’m just not sure if I’m ready to dig up all those old skeletons yet.”

 

“I get it, but don’t you think you’re making it worse by waiting? If he finds out you’ve been here this whole time and didn’t bother to call…”

 

“I know, believe me I know. But what if he doesn’t want to see me? What if he’s moved on…”

 

“Didn’t you tell him to?” She offered.

 

“Yes, but that’s just because I hated the thought of him alone and miserable.”

 

“So if he’s un-alone and un-miserable with another woman, what then?”

 

I took a deep breath. That, I’d have to deal with. Even if just the thought of it made my heart ache.

 

“I’ll just … jump off that bridge when I come to it.”

 

“I think the saying is cross—cross that bridge when you come to it.”

 

“Yeah, not where I come from.” I smiled.

 

After a couple of weeks of worrying, I decided to kick myself in the ass and just do it. Digging out Eric’s letters from my case brought back some painful memories, but I got the address I needed from them. I put on my prettiest dress, used my new curlers in my hair and did my makeup to perfection. I knew his address was uptown, very uptown. Though I knew it to be Pam’s, I still wanted to look my best. Not only for him, but the people in that part of town who didn’t mess around with style. I wanted to fit in.

 

I took a very expensive cab ride and pulled up at their Fifth Avenue apartment. My stomach was doing flip-flops and my heart was threatening to stop, it was beating so incredibly fast.

 

Was I ready to see him? Was he willing to see me? What if he was married? What if he had kids?

 

Oh, God.

 

The more I thought about things, the longer the elevator ride to the penthouse lasted. I got out though, on wobbly knees, and knocked my most confident knock.

 

That’s when a woman with the longest blond hair I’d ever seen answered. She had striking blue eyes and a jaw-line most models would kill for. She was stunning.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Hi. I uh, I’m…” I swallowed back my fear. “I’m looking for Eric Northman. Does he still live here?”

 

“No.” Was all she offered.

 

“No?”

 

“No, he doesn’t still live here.” She tapped her foot on her tiled floor impatiently.

 

“Oh, okay. Well, might you be able to tell me where he does live?”

 

“I might.” She looked me up and down. “It depends what you want with him, exactly.”

 

“Look, lady, I’m not some weirdo okay. I’m … a good friend.”

 

“A friend who doesn’t know where he lives, so you can’t be that good of a friend.”

 

“That’s true. Lately I haven’t been, but in the past he and I … Well, he was … is important to me.”

 

“You’re Sookie, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Hmm. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

 

“I’m sure you have, Pam,” I guessed, and she raised her brow at me. “Just like I’ve heard things about you too, over the years.”

 

“Sookie, no offense, but I don’t like you. I don’t like how you’ve treated my cousin, and I don’t like the person you helped turn him into. It took me a really long time to bring him back, and I don’t want you just showing up to fuck with his head again. We clear?”

 

“Look, Pam, I get it. Believe me, I get it. But the last thing I ever wanted was to hurt him any more than he already was—”

 

“Well, you did. He was fucking mess.”

 

“And for that, I’m truly sorry, but I never meant to … look you don’t know the whole story—”

 

“I know enough,” she barked, cutting me off.

 

“Look, you can hate me all you want and that’s fine, I don’t really care what you think. But I care what he thinks, because I care about him. I always have.”

 

“And it took you three years to work that out, huh?”

 

“No, no that I always knew. But what I didn’t know back then is if I’d survive inside my own head enough to actually be the Sookie he knew before. So yes, I pushed him away and I stayed away because of that, but Pam, you don’t know shit about what I’ve been through. You can judge me all you want and that’s fine but you can’t judge me FOR him. Shouldn’t it be up to him if he wants to see me again or not?”

 

She looked me over for a long minute, as if she was pondering if I was telling the truth or not.

 

“Fine, I’ll give you his address. But Sookie, trust me… you hurt him this time, just once, and I’ll have no problems smashing that pretty little face of yours. Got it?” she smiled, and for a minute, I felt a little scared. But I decided that no one had made me feel scared in three years, and I wasn’t going to let her be the first.

 

“Just as long as you don’t mind if I smash yours in return.”

 

She smiled again, this time quirking her brow in a quizzical manner before walking into her entryway and handing me a small piece of paper with an address and phone number on it.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“I’d say you’re welcome but I’ll see what Eric thinks first.”

 

I nodded, and offered her a smile before I turned to walk away. She must have reconsidered because she called after me.

 

“You won’t find him there, not until after five. He’s teaching now.”

 

Eric was a teacher? That was new.

 

She gave me the address of the college where he taught. Coincidentally, it was mere blocks from the grade school I’d just started working at a few weeks before.

 

“Thank you, Pam. Really I …”

 

She rolled her eyes, “If you’re going to cry I’m closing the door.”

 

I didn’t cry, instead I just left.

 

I was going to see Eric.

 

I watched him from the back of the room, sliding into my seat as inconspicuously as I possibly could. I noted the class was filled with people around my age, some even appeared to be older. It was a healthy mix of people—preppy looking guys, hippies guys with more facial hair than hair on their heads. And lots of women—most of whom took up the first two rows—not that that was surprising. Wherever Eric was, there would probably always be women, swooning. Not that I can blame them. When he finished rooting around in his desk he looked up and smiled. God, I’d missed that smile. He addressed his class and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt to his elbows. He was tan, and he looked more filled out muscle wise. He had a beard forming with a serious case of scruff on his face. Like I said, I couldn’t blame those girls for swooning. I think I felt a little swoonie myself.

 

“Alright guys, we left off on Thursday, saved by the bell, just before we got to everyone’s favorite topic. Creation.”

 

The class all but groaned, making Eric chuckle.

 

“I know, I know, it’s a pain in the ass, believe me, but let’s embrace it shall we?”

 

Someone, a girl in the front row, raised her hand.

 

“Yes, Tara?”

 

“Is it true, the rumors?”

 

He smiled, a knowing smile, “What rumours would that be, Tara?”

 

“About you, that you used to be a priest.”

 

I tensed but Eric sighed. The class seemed to perk up in interest.

 

“Hmm, yeah, that would be true.”

 

Some people reacted with surprise, others, mostly the guys, laughed. One of the guys, an unwashed bearded man spoke up. “No fuckin’ way man! You’re way too cool for that shit.”

 

“Thank you, Freddy, but uh yeah. It’s still true. I was a priest, not for a very long time mind you, but yeah I was.”

 

The Tara girl spoke again. “So you’re a Christ lover. What are you teachin’ philosophy for?”

 

“Just because I believe in one thing, Tara, doesn’t mean I can’t make room and open my mind enough that I can’t see how other’s believe in something else, too. I believe in Christ, some believe in Buddha, some in the power of belief. I like other religions, I like learning about, and exploring them. But sure when I pray, it’s to my God. That doesn’t mean I discriminate if I’m wrong and any other god is out there and wants to listen in . They’re all more than welcome.” He laughed. “You get me?” he asked her personally, and she smiled back nodding.

 

“NOW, if that’s all the personal questions for today—”

 

“Why’d you leave?” hippie guy asked, causing Eric to pause for a second. There seemed to be a far off look in his eye, and in that moment, I felt my heart stop. It was almost as if I could hear him thinking about me.

 

“I…Well, it just wasn’t the life I was meant to lead. I…Yeah, that’s all you’re getting out of me today, nosy assholes.” He smiled and the class laughed. Clearly they got, and understood, their teacher’s sense of humor.

 

He went on to tell them to turn their books to a certain page, before he began to talk. He’d always been good at holding a crowd in the palm of his hand—this class was no exception, paying complete attention to him. I, on the other hand, slipped out the door when he turned his back. I just needed a little time to get my wits about me again. I never realized that seeing him—just seeing him again—would cause such a strong emotional reaction in me. So, being the big baby I was, I walked to the ladies and cried a little. I managed to fix my ruined makeup just as the bell began to shrill, notifying the classes of their end. I used the second entrance, the one I’d slipped through before, going largely unnoticed. I saw him standing with his back to the seats, signing papers over his desk. I felt my heart beating a mile a minute as I made my way down the aisle of desks. I stood before him, as I did my best to summon any and all courage that I had left. I cleared my throat slightly before pushing out my words.

 

“Hello, Eric.”

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