Watching her walk away with her friends, leaving my declaration of love hanging in the air like a rapidly spinning plate on a stick, I felt ill. Though, that could have just been the bottle of whiskey I’d inhaled over the course of the evening… either way Sookie leaving didn’t help that feeling.
Slightly dizzy and a little queasy, I knew I couldn’t make a silent entrance back into my sleeping quarters. After taking a short nap—that may or may not have lasted a few hours—on a park bench channeling my inner hobo, I laid and watched the stars, which thanks to my rapidly approaching hangover they were swaying all across the sky.
I needed to know how she felt, and if she felt anything close to what I was feeling. Would she want to act on it or would she shun me from her life forever for making her question her commitment to God.
It had never been my intention—at least in my head—to do that to her, but honestly what did I expect? That she’d be fine with me loving her? Maybe love me back and we’d … what? Carry on a relationship while I wore my holy collar and she wore her habit? That we’d just be together, shunning our vows every chance we got? This assuming she felt the same way at all!
No, while I admit my reasons for choosing the priesthood were clouded, at best, misguided despite advice to the contrary… Sookie had nothing but pure intentions when she took her vows. Of course, they aren’t her final vows, but to Sookie I knew that wouldn’t matter.
A few stolen kisses and moments of weakness were so much less life altering than admitting feelings for a man—me. It was after five when I got up off the creaky and extremely uncomfortable park bench and decided to walk around the town. Businesses were opening shortly before six, and I managed to find a bakery open; their sign for steaming hot coffee was just too appealing to ignore.
A rather… flamboyant man stood behind the counter. His apron was adorned with tiny colored crystals, he wore a bandana on his head … and what looked like eye shadow covered his eyes. It was an unusual sight in late 1958, southern Louisiana, to say the least.
“What can I get you sir…? Coffee no doubt. By the looks of you, you’s had a rough night.”
“You can say that again. Yeah large coffee, milk, two sugars and um a couple of those iced things…” I pointed to the display beside him.
“Comin’ right up, first customer of the day, you get the pick of the seats.” He gestured with a smile to the empty establishment.
I thanked him and took a seat near the window. I liked people watching, in a non creepy kind of way of course. Just regular people going about their regular lives. It was nice; it was peaceful.
The man was by my side within five minutes, pot of coffee instead of a cup in hand, and a plateful of sugary goodness.
“Lafayette. And you is?”
I held out my hand, “Eric Northman. Nice to meet you Lafayette.”
“Eric….Ohhhh, ah see.” Recognition flashed in his eyes, though I never recalled meeting him before. Perhaps he attended the church?
“You wouldn’t know a delightful little thang by the name of Sookie Stackhouse would you ?” He said with a sly smile.
“I… Yes, I do actually. You know Sookie?”
He rolled his eyes with a smile before taking the seat opposite me. “Do I knows her? Of course I know her. That little Virgin Mary and her Mary Magdalene friend Amelia, they’re friends of mine. They frequent my other job, you know it? Merlotte’s, bar and grill? Best burgers this here side of Mississippi.”
“No, can’t say I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Well you must. Burgers are to die for, if I do say so myself.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.” I smiled digging into my coffee and amazing coconut jam sugar pastry thing which I had no idea of its name.
“Mmmhmm, Ames has been coming to me for lunch for a few years now. How that girl stays so skinny I will never know! I try my best to fatten her up for that man of hers, but it does her no good! Sookie though, she’s got a figure of a screen goddess—all lips an hips and fabulous hair.”
I looked at him then. I didn’t like him talking about her body. Yeah I’m a jealous guy, this I was beginning to realize. Lafayette picked up on it right away and laughed out loud.
“Oh honey pie, don’t get it twisted. I love women, I just don’t love women, if you gets me….” He looked me up and down slowly for good measure.
“Oh… well okay, then?”
“Mmmhmm, I think it’s ok.” He smiled.
While I knew my stance on a guy sexing another guy was … well that was their business. Sure I was meant to preach that it was wrong and that it was against God’s plan and all, but then again if God’s plan had been to have families with just a man and a woman raising their kid, why did he take the parents of so many children away from them? Leaving them at the mercy of people like Geraldine? No, personally I thought that maybe God didn’t have a plan, or if he did have, it wasn’t necessarily just ONE plan. To each their own was good enough for me. That, and well he won me over with the sugary goodness and the much needed coffee.
“So you’ve known little Sooks a long time, yeah?”
“Since we were kids…We kind of grew up together, under um…special circumstances.” Did I divulge? It seems like I didn’t need to ask myself that as he continued.
“In the orphanage surrounded by those bitch ass holy Joes. Yeah, I know.”
I raised my brows in surprise—surprise at the fact Sookie had told them at all, and that his opinion of the nuns and priests didn’t seem to be one of respect, or in the case of most people, fear. It was more on the side of disgust and indignation.
“Yeah something like that.”
“I think it’s disgusting what they did to that little girl; I just don’t understand how she can stand to be there much less work with those people. Fucking abusive nuns and ignorant priests … No offence. She tells me you’re a different kettle of fish—a tall, blond, sexy thang of fish.”
Before I could respond he continued, “So I’m good at reading people Eric. It’s what my mamma would have called one of my gifts, and you are one tortured soul of a man. Subject of said torture being our little Sookie. Am I as right as I think I am?”
“Um, no offence Lafayette but…that’s not your business.”
“Oh really? I think that’s where you’re wrong see, Sookie is a friend of mine, and I look out for my friends Eric, no matter what. I’m sure you can appreciate one’s desire to want to protect someone like her—she’s good people. Despite all that’s been thrown at her, she’s a good soul. Now I sees you, you has that good soul too. It’s just a little more tarnished right now.”
I sipped my coffee and let him ramble on. ” What I’m saying is, that girl, she has feelin’s for you. Ones a person in her… or your position probably shouldn’t be havin’. You see what I’m saying?”
“You loves her?”
I gave up and simply nodded too.
“Praise, Jesus. Have you told her?”
I nodded again, questioning myself as if he’d rendered me mute.
“And I’m guessing she didn’t go running into those incredibly buff arms of yours confessing her undying love for you… considering your current state.”
“Not exactly.” I cleared my throat quietly. “She left.”
He made an ‘O’ shape with his mouth in surprise.
“Lafayette, I don’t know you, but you seem to know an awful lot about me, and Sookie, and our … um…”
“Situation… but I’d appreciate it if you… and I’m guessing that Amelia girl, keep this to yourself. Something like this getting out, if anyone from the church—”
“Viking man, don’t sweat it. You’re Sookie’s, and Sookie is one of us. Like I said, I look out for my friends. But you should know, that also means if you hurt her, I hurt you.”
He was top to toe in glitter or jewels and yet something in his stance and way of speaking told me that this man was no push over—no sissy. I respected his honesty and the fact that he seemed blunt on personal matters. I liked that. I never understood pussyfooting around what you wanted. You want something badly enough you go and you get it.
I wanted Sookie, I knew that, she knew that, and hell apparently her friends knew that now too. But, there was only so much I could do. There was only so far I could take us on my own. At some point she needed to step up, she needed to tell me how she felt about me, what she wanted from me. If we could find a middle ground in all this mess, then that was an amazing starting point. If she didn’t love me like I needed her too, then I… wasn’t sure how I’d deal with that. I’d live of course, but my existence would be that much duller. Could I be around her all the time if it turns out her feelings aren’t reciprocated?
No, I don’t think I could. It would be too difficult. Seeing her every day and not being able to be with her like I wanted. Was that selfish? Yes, but then maybe I had to be selfish when it came to my heart. Sure she pretty much owned my heart since I was maybe ten years old, but the idea of her taking it now and smashing it to pieces didn’t sit too well with me. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt Sookie, but, at the same time, I just hoped she didn’t hurt me either.
Getting back to the church late in the afternoon was a chore. I had been severely hung-over; I was deathly tired due to being up till the early hours worrying and fretting over the events of the night; I was starving since the idea of eating anything all day hadn’t appealed to me in the slightest; and to top it all off I was on church cleaning duties for mass at eight. Mass that Eric would be officiating, which of course I thought was slightly hypocritical of him given our antics the night before. But again, I would have to group myself in that category too as I replaced my casual clothes, and my freshly washed hair back into a bun to go under my stiff and freshly starched veil.
I looked into the small mirror that held my beaten up old brown dresser together. Gone was the smiling girl with the glowing skin, shiny hair, ruby lips and sparkling eyes. Instead she was replaced with the old me—the me that was a little paler, makeup free and devoid of color. Father Niall was still gone visiting his sick friend, Bill was… well who knew what the heck Bill was up to in that office of his, but Eric I knew would be back and I hadn’t seen or heard from him all afternoon. I expected to run into him at the church or at dinner, or even as I loaded six batches of laundry… but nope. No sign of him. It wasn’t until I, along with the other sisters, the choir and the rest of the congregation took our seats for the mass that I got my first glimpse of him in twenty four hours. He came out in his white robes this time, completely calm, flanked by two of the altar boys. Tommy and Peter were nice boys from the orphanage. They weren’t in my class of course, since they were about fourteen, but they seemed to admire Eric. I’d overheard them talking as I finished getting the church presentable, and they just ranted on and on about how Fr Northman seemed ‘cool’ and he was more ‘chill’ than the other two priests. That Fr Brigant wasn’t ‘so bad’ but that ‘old Bill’ was ‘slimy’. I couldn’t have agreed more with their assessment of all three, they were smart boys. It’s just a pity they didn’t have the best record when it came to paying attention. A few times their bell ringing was late—once too short and the second time far too lengthy. Eric began his service with the usual prayers, took his stand at the pulpit and his eyes went directly to me, his voice clear and strong. A tingling ran up my spine as I saw his mouth rise slightly in a well disguised smirk. I fought the urge to smile back, big and wide like I wanted to. Instead I broke the eye contact in favor of reading my bible, though I allowed myself to look back every few minutes. Every time I did, I’d find his eyes trained in my direction.
His gospel, I felt, given the activities of the last few weeks was extremely pointed. Pointed right at me. As he talked about love, and all the different kinds of love one can feel, funnily enough he didn’t wax on like Bill or Niall on the sins of Lust when incorporated with love—like he probably should have. But with every syllable uttered on how allowing oneself to let love in was a blessing, I felt myself blush harder. I, of course, knew I was taking his words in the literal sense, when it should have been in a spiritual, Godly sense. But with those intense ice blue eyes trained on mine, all I could think was how much I wanted to let his love in over and over again. When mass ended there was the usual line of residents waiting to bid goodnight to the Father. The ladies were out in full force as usual, only this time I felt very little in the way of jealousy towards them. Maybe it was because of how he smiled at them but dismissed them quickly. Maybe it was because he paid them very little attention altogether? Or maybe it was because when it came to my turn to wish him goodnight he held onto my hand a little longer than necessary, rubbing his thumb gently over my wrist before letting go.
One thing about Eric that never changed, he was huge on eye contact. He was intense with it at times. He believed that if you looked someone in the eye when talking they knew you meant what you said or felt. That it was harder to lie to someone when looking them straight in the eye. There were times when his desire to look at you so directly felt unnerving. It was, at times, as if he was seeing into my mind, into my soul. It was beautiful but also terrifying.
It was after nine when I got back to the convent. I secured the kitchen doors that led outside before putting away a few stray dishes and giving the place a once over with a bleached cloth on the countertops. Since I was on cooking duty in the morning, it was always nice to start off with a fresh clean kitchen rather than picking up the pieces from the night before, then getting to work. It was just too time consuming. Sister Alda, a middle aged woman visiting the convent from a neighboring convent in another state, was getting her nightly glass of water when Eric appeared in the kitchen. Obviously hoping to catch me alone, he masked his surprise well making polite small talk with the plump German accented nun. He asked her of her time in the States, how she found Louisiana different from Boston, how she found Boston different from her homeland. She seemed happy to talk, but then again not many nuns or priests were all that engaging when you thought about it. Cold as stone most of the time really. She sat at the smaller table we used as a portable chopping board to finish her water while I finished up the dishes at the sink. Eric offered to dry as I washed and we did silently, until she bid us goodnight and made a swift exit.
Eric and I still remained silent as I handed him the last plate, but instead of taking it from me he didn’t let go and neither did I. The dam of silence was flooding with every second. He didn’t say anything and neither did I, but the intense eye contact that he was sporting said a thousand words all at once. Fear, pain, regret, hope, panic and something else. Something softer and more unsure behind his expressions. He finally set the plate down with one hand before replacing his hands on the side of the sink to lean against it. In doing so, he brushed my bare arm with his. Sparks. Those damn sparks again, like a tiny excited current of electricity jolting through me. I wanted so badly to just tell him that his words affected me, that his silence now was affecting me. That I loved him. That I’d always loved him; that I wanted him like I thought he wanted me. I wanted to disobey, I wanted to ignore the rules and take what I wanted for a change. But somehow, why I don’t know, the words just couldn’t come out, they wouldn’t. I knew that’s what he was waiting on, he needed my approval now. He’d taken his steps now and he was waiting on me to take mine… to meet him somewhere in the middle of this mess of emotions.
But I couldn’t. The fear crippled me and froze me in place.
The sad realization of my silence dawned upon him. I saw it in his eyes; that little glimmer of hope was extinguished by my silence.
He simply shook his head as if understanding what my silence meant, what it meant for us. Resigned, his shoulders slumped a little. Not a word was spoken between us as he exited the kitchen. And in just as equal and deafening quiet, I shed tears. Tears for him, tears for myself and tears for what I wanted us to have but lacked the bravery to step forward and claim was my own.
I was a failure.