For two days in a row, after luncheon, I changed into my outdoor boots and found Eric at the side of the house waiting for me with Thor, his dog. The dog was large, with a smooth tan coat, with great big brown eyes and a loyalty that was to Eric and to Eric alone. And other than a sniff or two in my direction, I just tried to stay out of his way, animals always made me jumpy.
Each day we’d exchange pleasantries and begin our walk. He was slower to be sure, though he didn’t have a limp or anything that told me he was in pain. I knew because a man his size and shape shouldn’t be a slow walker, but I took my time beside him and we talked. We talked on a whole manner of subjects, of Quinn who was hastily asked to leave that first morning, of Niall and how he was preparing for London again in the coming days, and of how he hoped he’d feel up to facing the ‘wolves’ at this point, how he’d hoped I was more settled now, and that things could in fact settle for me. We’d walk for a few miles, and then back again, chatter of the war most on our minds.
“It wasn’t the best time of my life, that’s for sure… but being out there, at least I felt at use. Now, I just feel like a nuisance, being here while they’re all out there risking their lives everyday.”
“You did your duty. There shouldn’t be any shame in that just because you got injured,” I admitted as we crossed the lane, back into the property again. The skies were turning grey; we’d made it home just in time it seemed.
“I know, but I feel it anyway. Being young enough to serve, but unable to go back and maybe do some good…”
“Or go back and maybe get yourself killed? That’s another side of the coin you have to consider, and honestly, the war has taken enough. Be thankful it hasn’t taken you too,” I said sincerely as we crossed the orchard, and into the yard.
“That’s what Niall says too. He’s insisting that I start living life again.”
“Well, he and I agree on that. Perhaps in London you’ll have more social opportunities than you would here. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
He sighed, “You would think, but I just don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready, and Niall seems to want me married off again as soon as possible.”
“Well, I’m heir to Sophie’s fortune now, since we were married, and Niall wants it to happen, should he die that I inherit everything.”
“Oh… that’s huge.”
“My thought exactly, Sookie. I just-” with that, Mr. Dearborn rounded the corner and interrupted his sentence. We both grew silent as we got to the house.
“I’d better get back to work. There’s a guest for dinner tonight coming from Glasgow, I think?” I said as I shrugged off my coat, with Eric’s help, and slipped into my house shoes. He simply stood at the back door, waiting.
“Yes, a Lord Andrews. Apparently he’s an old, old friend of Niall’s.”
Eric couldn’t have sounded any less enthusiastic if he tried, I just smiled.
“Well, its roast chicken tonight, I know you actually like that.”
“You and my eating habits-”
“Well, at least you have some now, ones that don’t just involve cake and whiskey,” I shuddered.
“I suppose that is something.”
“It is,” I nodded.
There was an awkward silence, much like the day before ,when we’d finished our walk and just about ran out of things to say to each other.
“Well, I better be going,” I said.
“Yes, me too. I’ve to get Thor fed. He’s bound to be hungry after all his walking.”
“I’ll have them send his food up.”
“Thanks…” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “Are you free tomorrow?”
I smiled. I knew it was coming, but I still liked when it did.
“Yes, I’ll meet you at the same time, weather permitting, of course.”
“Of course, have a good day, Sookie.”
“You too Er-… Mr. Northman.”
He just rolled his eyes playfully before he took off with Thor by his side, and I returned to work.
All eyes in the kitchen were on me as soon as I entered and Di was the first to speak up, “He’s a sweet man, isn’t he?” she said, dreamily.
“He seems quite taken with you. Walks two days in a row for well over an hour at a time, what have you both been up to?” Liam all but hissed, his voice laced with inappropriate innuendo.
“It’s this little thing called walking, Liam, and judging by that belly on you, you aren’t familiar with it at all.”
Mrs. Fortenberry chuckled but stopped herself before she faced me, “Well, personally, I think it’s nice that you’re helping him get more air. He needs to get out of the house more.”
“Pfft,” Dawn said from the hallway, but we just ignored her.
“Believe it or not, all of you, it is innocent and it will stay that way. Don’t go confusing me with … other members of staff that don’t know what boundaries are, or how to stay within them,” I huffed, putting my apron on. Mrs. Fortenberry smiled, handing me the clothes to take for washing.
“Oh is that so?” Dawn spoke up.
“Yes, it is as a matter of fact. I’ve told Mr. Northman that too-”
“You have?” Di spoke up, an excited look on her face. “You really told him that?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I have no interest in being anyone’s mistress…” I said in Dawn’s direction, a hit not missed by the rest of the staff. “Nor have I any delusions of grandeur of being anyone’s wife. I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and I have no desire to do so again.”
“I wonder if Mr. Northman knows he’s befriended an old maid, soon to be literally in your case, Sookie,” Dawn snarled, arranging the trays.
“Well, I suspect he does, and yet he still prefers it over soon to be homeless unemployed maid with a streetwalker’s reputation if she’s not careful. Funny that, huh?” I snapped back, making my way into the servant’s hallway to set the table for our dinners.
Tensions rose between Dawn and I for the rest of the night, and I was sure it wouldn’t change until something happened to make the change, one neither of us was willing to concede to. As far as I was concerned she was very much in the wrong treating me as she had been, and I hadn’t done much to deserve it, at least not at first. After that though, I didn’t make a big deal out of spending time with Eric, but I did secretly enjoy the look on her face when I would do so. Pamela and Selah left that night, and I had to admit I was sad to see Pam go, and in truth I think she was genuinely sorry I wasn’t going with her. But, we exchanged goodbyes, and she promised she’d write and that we’d keep in touch until the boys and I got to London, and we’d catch up then. In short, I felt bad because Pam seemed sad to be going back to London alone. And as it turned out she wouldn’t be there long alone, at least not from what I heard from the staff. They were off in a day or two, and I would be going with Amelia, Bobby and Trey – something that made me extremely nervous.
The next afternoon, I was kept more than busy since Dawn was conveniently ‘sick,’ and had to take to her bed all day, thus making it near impossible to take my break and my walk with Eric. I was disappointed to be sure, but at breakfast I made sure to let him know he’d be walking Thor solo that afternoon.
“I am sorry to hear that,” he said, looking up from one of his books.
“I am too. I’ve come to enjoy the little breath away from the madness here.”
“There’s madness here?” He quirked a brow, with a sly smile. “I never would have guessed.”
I sighed, “No, no one ever would. Everyone is just ever so calm all the time.”
“I’m sure I could charm Maxine into letting you away for an hour or so though, if you’d like?”
I blushed, shocked that he’d bother to go to any lengths to spend time with me, and I was flattered even if I didn’t have the right to be.
“That’s very sweet of you, but I can’t. With Dawn down, there’s her work as well as mine to do, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it to Amelia alone.”
He nodded. “That’s understandable.”
“Well, perhaps tomorrow?”
He looked up again. “Yes, perhaps. I hope you’re going to London with us? Niall likes to have staff on hand, but really there is plenty of staff in the London home as it is, he’s just odd that way.”
“I look forward to it. Seeing actual sunshine for one thing,” I smiled.
“That is true. Scotland just loves its clouds, doesn’t it?”
“Just a little…” I said, gazing out the window for a second. Then I looked around the library, it was the second one in the house, the larger much grander one being downstairs.
“You love your books, don’t you?” I asked, scanning the titles on the shelves.
“A little, I suppose it’s how I was raised. Always with books, from just about everywhere. My father was a big fan of reading.”
He smirked. “You don’t know … who I am, do you Sookie?”
That confused me. Was I meant to?
“You’re Eric Northman, who else?”
“Ah, but I mean my silly status. You never wondered where it came from?”
“I just assumed you were born into high society like the rest of them?”
He chortled a little before he stood up beside me. “Not at all.”
I looked at him then, more confused than before, hoping he’d clear the clouds on the conversation.
“I was born the son of a miner’s daughter and a small town librarian, believe it or not,” he smiled. It was a sad, almost regretful smile.
“I don’t understand?”
“My father and my Grandfather had this little idea, a little idea that they grew into this huge thing, when I was just a baby. They pulled their money together and turned a very small library in Sweden, into a publishing empire. The biggest in the country, one that is still going today.”
“I see… Well, that’s good?” I said awkwardly.
“You see, Sookie, I think it’s why I just don’t feel comfortable here … not here, here,” he motioned around the room with open arms. “But I think it’s just not who I was born to be. I’m not noble, I’m not anything other than extremely wealthy, and I’ve certainly not done much to really earn it, not really.”
I sat in the leather chair and he sat in the one across from it.
“I see. So that’s why you keep pushing for the even footing, with us and you,” I nodded to myself.
“Partly, yes. I mean I know it’s custom, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Perhaps, had I earned my millions by working hard like my father, or my Grandfather, but as it stands all I did was out live hard working men… And now? Niall wants to give me his worldly goods too, when I clearly haven’t earned any of it.”
I knew Eric Northman to be a man of extreme internal conflict, that much was obvious. Not just by his personal loss, but his personal gain as well.
“I hope you aren’t expecting me to molly coddle you here?” I smiled a little, as I touched his hand to get his attention. He looked at our hands, and then looked at me. His hands were warm, and soft, which surprised me.
“I won’t sit here and say I understand your conflict, I never could. I don’t have that luxury, but you do have options here.”
“What are they?” he asked, sounding as lost as I’d ever heard anyone.
“Well, you can choose to sit here, in this dark room, and read all the books you publish until the day you die – or until your eyesight gives out from reading in such bad light,” I chided with a smile. “Or you can get up and get out there and do something with yourself. Earn the respect you receive, earn the money you get. If not by working for it, then by using it for something good!”
He looked confused. “I do like books, Sookie. They somehow make me feel safe, is that silly?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“No, getting lost in another world for a time… sometimes it’s the welcome reprieve from the real world that we all need. See, just by keeping the business running you’re surely helping more people than you realize,” I smiled. “But I’m talking of using your name, your influence, for those with neither of those things in the real world. Just … think about it,” I said, checking the large clock on the wall, I had to get going.
“I will. Thank you…” he said, taking my hand in his again and kissing it once. “You are a huge help, Sookie.”
I just smiled. “It’s what they hired me for, Sir,” I said before giving his hand a quick squeeze and bidding him good day.
For two days I saw little of him, we were all busy getting everyone packed and ready for London. The Lord was quite a clothes horse, that’s for sure. He had many parties planned, I was told, and he had a lot of Opera dates planned with his friends, and lots of dinners. I was tired just thinking about it!
“Dawn, can you pack his Lordships shoes in the large trunk by his bed? I’ve set it up for you,” Mrs. Fortenberry said as I kept on folding shirts.
“It’s just not fair!” she said to Amelia, though I could still hear her from the end of the room. “She’s only new. She knows nothing of how they operate in London!”
“Well, aren’t you still ill?” Amelia asked innocently enough, and with a point, Dawn had been ‘ill’ for a few days, and milking it for all its worth.
“Not so ill that I couldn’t be of some use, unlike some people.”
I just rolled my eyes, having had enough of her inane insults to last a lifetime.
“If that’s the case then why don’t you stop your belly aching and help pack instead of just standing there complaining about it?” I said, snippy as you’d like before I walked out of the room and into Eric’s bedroom. Only I couldn’t get in because Thor was in my way.
“Okay … shoo…” I said, waving my arms at him, and he just looked at me – bored.
“Thor, I have to get cases so … let me in?” I waved my arms some more, but he just laid down.
“If I step over you, do you promise not to jump up and bite me?”
He huffed. I took that as a ‘yes Sookie, you’re nice, I won’t eat you,’ and stepped over him.
I stepped in to find Eric standing there completely naked holding a small towel to the back of his wet hair, he stood with a shocked look on his face that I’m sure matched my own.
“OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY … I … I’M SORRY,” I said, turning around faster than I’d moved in my life.
“Sookie! I … I’m not… ready to go down yet.”
“Right, yes … no … right … Okay, sorry I just needed the last case for-” I said putting my hand over my eyes when I heard a low chuckle, and then feet padding in my direction.
“Here,” he said, but that meant I had to turn around and face him. Instead I just put out my other hand, and he chuckled again, placing the handle in my hand.
“Thanks,” I said before I reached for the door handle with my other hand, trying not to peek. “Sorry…”
“I’m not,” he said, and I could almost hear the smug smile as he said it. I didn’t stick around enough to hear more, instead I walked out and closed the door tight behind me. Amelia was going down the hall and passed me with a surprised look on her face.
“Are you all right?!”
“I just…” I took a breath. “Oh, I’m so embarrassed. I just saw Er … Mr. Northman…”
“Well that is his room, silly,” she smiled but I lowered my tone.
“No, I just … saw him in the nude.”
She laughed, and grabbed the case from me. “Yes,” she sighed dreamily. “It is a treat, isn’t it?” She winked before she walked off, leaving me to deflate my embarrassment.
Well I never!
The journey to London took a long time, but thankfully I was in a coach with Amelia for company this time, and I gather I had heard her whole life story by the end of the journey. When we stopped to eat, we always ate with Eric and Niall, and they were even sweet enough to send us all tea from first class, which was welcomed on the long journey. The trip was faster for us this time, less stops and a solid destination. It was still a day later when we finally arrived, and I was ready to sleep for a week, but couldn’t – there was just too much to be done. The London house was thankfully smaller, but still huge by anyone’s standards. There were small part-time staffs employed at the house year round, just to keep things up and running. We met Sam Merlott. He was the man of the house you could say. When things were quiet, he provided butler service and cared for the grounds. When his Lordship came he was a jack of all trades, or so Niall joked, as we were all introduced. Then there was Barry Horowitz, the footman, and Dillon Prince the chauffeur. I could see why the maids were required as there were none at the London house, not all the time anyway. Once we got settled in and grabbed a quick lunch – a much appreciated bowl of thick vegetable soup with homemade bread provided by the cook, Hallow – Amelia and I got to work putting the house to rights as Eric and His Lordship ‘took a stroll out to lunch.’
“Do you girls need a hand? Those fabrics are rather heavy,” Sam asked, coming into the drawing room as Amelia and I were taking all the dust sheets off the furniture.
“No, it’s fine, thank you Sam,” Amelia said with a shy smile, and something told me she was sweet on Sam, and by the way he looked at her I’d have guessed the feeling was very mutual.
“It’s nice to see you again, Ames,” he said, helping her anyway.
“Yes, it is nice to see you too. I was hoping they’d need me here this summer, again,” she said with a blush, and I felt very much like I was eavesdropping, so I excused myself to go start the bedrooms, if only to give them a little privacy. I winked to Amelia on the way out, which only served to deepen her blush. It was sweet.
After freshening up the bedrooms, making sure all the windows were open, and all the beds were aired out, I took the shopping list from the kitchen and volunteered to go into the markets to fetch what was needed for dinner. I was getting ready to leave just as Eric and Niall came back. Niall took to his study to make some phone calls, whereas Eric caught me by the side exit.
“Where are you off to?” he said, a relaxed look on his face. He was even a little pink around his cheeks and ears. It was adorable.
“Just off to get some necessitates for the next few days, and to clear my head. How was your lunch?”
“It was nice, I forgot how busy things were down here. How loud and crowded,” he said, looking to the ground whilst scratching the back of his head, rubbing his shortened hair.
I nodded. “It’s taken me a while to get used to the quiet up at the Estate. Being back in the city is bound to be an adjustment after so long in…”
“Self inflicted seclusion? You can say it, it’s fine,” he smiled.
“Fancy anything in particular for dinner?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Surprise me. We have a few guests coming tonight, did they tell you?”
“They did, a Duchess of all things. That must be exciting?”
“I suppose. I knew her from here a few years ago. Last I heard she’d moved to America but now she’s back, and with a new husband that Niall must meet, apparently,” he rolled his eyes. “Such is life here, moreso than in the countryside. We’re expected to be social every night,” he sighed.
“And that’s worse than hell for you, isn’t it?” I chuckled.
“Just a little.”
I laughed fully then; he was like a little boy being told he had to do something he just really didn’t want to do.
“How about I do you a favour then?”
“How about just after the last course I come and get you with some very urgent phone call that will take you away most of the night…” I said, smiling, and his smile matched mine soon enough.
“Would you? Really?”
“Of course, as long as Lord-”
“He can lump it, all this was his idea anyhow. Thank you.”
“No problem. I better be going, I have to go to the butcher too for tonight, and try and find a decent amount of un-rationed sugar,” I sighed. Everything was on lock down, or so hard to find these day, and what was there – well the prices were out of this world! I had a little bit more hope of change after news broke the day before that the Americans had finally decided to pull their weight and join the war. I hated the idea of more loss, but if it could gain a win it was all for the one good.
“Well, why don’t I drive you? We could get you there and back in half the time and I do owe you for getting me out of the conversations from hell, later on.”
“Oh … I … there’s no need, really…”
“I don’t mind, but if you don’t want to, I understand.”
I thought it over for a second, and it was a generous offer, but I thought it would be crossing whatever tiny bounds he and I had left, so I declined.
“But, thank you…”
“Have a good afternoon then, Sookie.”
His tone was a little lower than before, the pep had gone from his stance too. I wanted to soften the unexpected blow to his happy mood.
“You too … Eric.”
He put his hand on my shoulder to bid me good day, to pat me in passing, to just touch me innocently. Only it didn’t feel so innocent, and I didn’t want it to be so. In that moment I knew that I had to stopcrossing my boundaries with him. A friendship was one thing, but I still had to remember my place, and he of course had to remember his if he didn’t want to earn the wrong kind of reputation. It would be frowned upon to say the least, and I just didn’t want any more dramatics in my life. The walk into town did me good, but like Eric, I too found it a bit of an adjustment to the noise and the crowds again, even after only a half a dozen weeks away.
That night, as dinner was slowly winding to a close, I kept myself busy above stairs, keeping an ear out for when they’d move rooms to talk further of the events of the day, and when that happened, I was to make my move. When I did so, the look of sheer relief on Eric’s face said a lot, since he was currently in the grasps of Lady Luna Garza, a friend of the Duchess, from France. She was a stunning woman, no doubt about it, with her caramel skin, and big brown eyes, shiny, long chestnut hair. Personally, I wondered why he was so quick to dodge her obvious charms, especially if like he said, Niall wanted him settled again – and soon.
We got to the end of the hallway, and well out of ear shot when he laughed.
“That was genius, what did we ever do before the telephone! Thank you, again.”
“You sound unsure of something,” he commented as I lifted the basket of fresh sheets I had waiting for me to leave upstairs. He took the basket from my hands wordlessly.
“I just … no, it’s not my business.” I shook my head in an attempt to forget it, but he wouldn’t let me.
“You know I enjoy your opinions, as harsh as they may be sometimes,” he grinned as we took the large staircase together.
“She’s very beautiful, I’m just not sure I understand your reluctance to converse with a beautiful woman, that’s all.”
We reached the top and he handed the basket back to me, again, wordlessly.
“She is beautiful, that’s true, but then I talk with a beautiful woman every day and that bothers me none…”
It took me a second to register that it was me, I was the beautiful woman that he conversed with. I blushed and suddenly found the basket to be the most interesting thing in the world to look at.
“You’re flirting with me,” I said, facing him finally.
He grinned, a pink tint to his cheeks too, as I was sure there was to mine. “Am I?”
“You know you are.”
“Oh…” he continued to grin.
“I’m not one of your ladies, Eric. Not in that manner. I thought I made it clear.”
“You did, crystal clear, but it doesn’t mean the mirror doesn’t get foggy every now and then, does it?”
I sighed. He really was treading on dangerous ground.
“Don’t, okay? Please don’t. We agreed that it would be a friendship, and that’s all I can offer you. If you’re expecting me to behave like Dawn or others-”
“I would never expect … or want you to behave like anyone but yourself, Sookie.”
“Well … I … I …” I stammered, not really sure of where this conversation was actually going, besides in circles.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“Yes, you are.”
“I don’t mean to … or maybe I do.” With that, I looked him right in the eye, I wasn’t sure what I saw there, but it wasn’t malice or ill intent and that put me a little at ease.
He looked from my lips, to my eyes and back again, and I knew that look, it just wasn’t one I’d ever received from him before.
“I like you, Sookie … I think you know that,” he said, lowering his head as if to try and catch my eye, my eye that was trained on the carpet.
The feeling of panic began rise on my skin again, sweat breaking out just a little at his words.
“We agreed. You know how I feel about things like this.”
He pursed his lips together and took a step back, a curious look on his face.
“Sadly, I do.” With a sigh, he took another step back. “I’ll say goodnight then.”
With that, I took a step back too, a little shocked that his walls went back up so quickly, and then I chastised myself for even feeling shocked. I didn’t want his walls down, or I shouldn’t have wanted that. I didn’t want to be the object of his boredom, I just wanted to be a friend, and to do my job, and bother no one. But I had bothered him, the look on his face as he returned to his room was evidence of that, and in turn I had bothered myself because of the bother I had caused him. I sighed to myself as I called it a night, hoping to put an end to my circle of confusion where Eric Northman was concerned, but something told me that this was just the beginning.
Just the beginning indeed.
A/N: Tut tut, Mr Northman doesn’t like being Friend-zoned at all, does he? 😀 Remember reviews are just adored! x