I was restless, as I had been since I had left London and it was now two weeks later and I still felt no ease in my mood. I was back ‘home’ in a sense but it did not feel like home at all. Niall was still rather ill, confined now to his bed most of the time, and it was a rare occurrence when he made it downstairs for a meal, which left the house very empty and extremely lonely. Thor did his best to keep me occupied, but even a two mile walk every day in the brisk frost did not do much to booster my feelings. The staff had been even more distant than usual, and I wondered if I could really take on this house, and all the responsibilities that came with being ‘Lord of the manor’ in this sense. As things stood, I didn’t think I could at all. I made my business stretch out every day, my letter writing and ensuring things were moving as swiftly as usual in Sweden, that in itself seemed to just flow ahead like water, no need for my interference the majority of the time, run well and wonderful by the staff that my father had hired years before. I wondered if I should sell up many times over the years, but a part of me loved what he built and I did not want to see it in the hands of another, and I was assured the staff there didn’t want that either. They loved the company, and they loved the freedom my father gave them in their roles, and the freedom I continued to give them in the everyday hands on running of the business. The money kept generating, the books kept selling and the business was still relevant and it improved the quality of the area and the people in it. Those were the reasons I wanted to keep it in my family, the reasons to keep it going at all. I wanted to think the same of Niall’s estate, his offer to me, and the inheritance I was to get when he passed. I wanted to take charge of the large grounds and use them for something that would benefit the village. I wanted to help the tenants on the land that Niall owned now more than ever, I wanted to expand their options, because they had options and they needed to know that. I wanted to optimise the agriculture as much as possible, wherever possible. The land was rich for all manner of growth; it was just figuring it all out and how to do it at a low cost and high return.
My busy thoughts shooting through my mind giving me headache, I turned then to the mail on my desk, kindly and silently dropped off by Amelia that morning.
I had gotten a letter from Sookie.
My heart may have skipped several beats as I opened the carefully folded pieces of paper that was adorned with her dainty and swirling handwriting.
I was her ‘Dearest Eric’, and she filled me in on the entire goings on in London with Pam and her elaborate wedding plans. She said she was healing nicely, her fingers at least now able to hold a pen to write something legible. She hoped I was doing well, though she could sense, she said, my boredom all the way from there. It made me laugh, as she said that she hoped to be united with me soon, if to nothing else, alleviate my boredom and talk some sense into me.
I smiled from beginning of her letter to the very end where she signed off as ‘your Sookie’, reminding me that she loved me and again that she hoped to see me soon. Her ending was followed by a reminder that I was expected to be a part of Pam’s wedding party, and thus would be required for a fitting soon. That I was to also expect a telephone call to arrange such details.
I went to Niall when I knew he would be finished his lunch, but before his medications, they made him sleepy and not all that much fun to hold a conversation with.
“To a man?” He asked when I informed him of Pam’s plans to get married.
“Yes, for a number of reasons…”
“None of them love or attraction I assume, unless she’s changed drastically in the past few months.” He smiled. “I know a lot of people that would be up in arms about her life style, the fact that much of what she indulges in is illegal for one thing…”
“But you, friend of the London crime scene have no such issues?” I grinned making him roll his eyes.
“They aren’t bad people, just a little… misguided. And, besides all that, they helped you did they not?”
I nodded, we had discussed this upon my return, but it was still something we brought up.
“That they did, and I am thankful, as is Sookie.”
He pursed his lips at a mention of her, while he wasn’t completely convinced on the subject of Sookie, he was coming around to it. And he had offered a huge deal of help in finding her, that assure me he was not as heartless as he wanted to appear to others.
“How is young Sookie… or do we call her Susannah now? I am never so sure.”
“Sookie is fine, she prefers it I think now, and Sookie is who she is now. Susannah is who she was then.”
“Well, how are both of them then?”
I smiled at his dig.
“Wonderful, I got a letter from her this morning in fact. She’s healing, which is the main thing, and she’s helping to plan this madness that Pamela is dubbing a wedding. I am glad she has such distractions.”
“Yes, London is full of distractions, if you look hard enough. After my wife died, I spent many months there, most of them far from sober.”
I hadn’t known that, I suppose he and I coped the same way in that regard. When Sophie and the baby first passed, I misplaced a month, more even, due to being out of my head on whatever alcohol I could find. I spent my time in my room, wallowing, and the mistake with Dawn happened because I was just drunk and lonely and heartbroken. I assumed many mistakes came about in that manner, though I wished she had not been one of them. Dawn was a hard working woman, her emotions got the best of her in certain situations, but if something needed to be done, she did it. I just wish it had been easier to let her down than what it was. I hated the idea of hurting any woman, and I knew by how she looked at me now that that is what I had left her with. Hurt.
“Niall, I wanted to run something by you.”
“Yes, Christmas here at the house… I hope Sookie will be able to make it up by then, I was wondering what your plans were.”
He laughed causing himself to cough.
“Eric, other than living to breathe badly through another day, I would say my plans are …not a whole lot else. If you have plans to make, make them.”
“Surely you must have something –”
He looked at me curiously.
“Son, I am in no shape to hold the usual parties. Look at me.”
I did, it was not pleasant to admit that a man once so full of life could be cut down so slowly and in such a way.
“I am looking at you.”
“And do you see the dying man before you?”
“You may be ill, Niall, but you’re not dead.”
“Not yet.” He added bitterly.
“No, not yet which is exactly my point.”
He sighed and I knew the conversation was hopeless, hopeless because he himself had lost hope.
“I’ll leave you be. I have to walk Thor or he gets impatient.”
He just nodded dismissing me. By the time I got outside to where Thor was happily snoozing, I felt like joining him, at least out there I would have a friend.
“This?” I offered as we spent our second day in a row exploring the stores of London, looking for various materials and jewellery for Pam. Her wedding ideals were rapidly getting out of hand, how she thought she and I alone would plan such an event – and that is what it was becoming, not just a wedding, an event! I had no idea how to do it all, or how to quell her spending.
“I think I need more Italian lace, you know if we were in New York right now this would not be a problem.” She sniped knowing full well the sales assistants could over-hear us. I just shook my head.
“Well, we’re not. So can we please choose already, we need to get things underway if you expect –”
“Yes, yes.” She sighed, circling the fabric samples laid out for her, and me my extension, but if I was honest the attention was all on her, and that’s just how I liked it. I said my pleases and my thanks yous, and minded my manners because while I was to be Eric’s wife one day, I was still just me, and I had a feeling that even as his wife I couldn’t treat women so indifferently. Pam wasn’t indifferent, she was however not her usual polite, wonderful self. Instead now she was fully in bride fever and it was spreading like wildfire!
“This is just so cheap looking… I do not want to look cheap.” I checked the price per yard and almost had to break out a fan to provide myself with some air, cheap? Unless you were a Sultan or something that was most certainly not cheap.
I glared from under my hat.
“Fine.” She sighed. “Let me see this for the main silk, and that for the lace overlay, oh, and some of that Indian import for the bridesmaid dresses.”
We had joked many a time now that it was nothing but fitting for me to end my time in service as her Bridesmaid, since I started off our relationship as a maid of sorts, ending it on such a nicer version of my job was something I found rather humorous. It was I and her cousin Alexia from Texas who was to be her maids on the day, much to her mother’s discontentment, she wanted all the cousins and the second cousins invited to be there in the wedding party. Pam was having none of it, though she was allowing the smaller children to be involved, but I mostly think that was for the benefit of choosing their attire for the day too. Pam did love to shop.
“You could have been a tad nicer you know, those girls were just –”
“Being idiots, you know I have no time for idiots.”
“I was going to say they were just doing their jobs.” I finished as we sat down at one of the smaller cafes not far from shopping central for some tea, not that there was anything wrong with the tea we made at home, but apparently we ‘had’ to stop out.
“Sookie, you know me. I am a staunch feminist when it comes down to certain things, I donate to the movements here, hell, I’m even involved in the States with the damn NWP for heaven sakes and I’m not even living there full time anymore. I support my fellow woman, and why would I not? I do love them so.” She grinned with a sly glint in her eye. “But I have no time for idiots, man or woman.” She finished taking a large bite of her jam scone.
“Fine, just maybe think before you snap next time, I thought that poor girl was going to have a stroke!”
She rolled her eyes.
“Have you heard? Parliament here is apparently moving towards passing a bill of sorts for women, over thirty I heard, but still…” She added before sipping her tea to continue.
“It is movement finally, if nothing else. In the States though I really don’t seem them budging on it fully, the bastards.”
No, as it stood so far it seemed the fight for freedom in America was only realistic if you were a rich, white, and male and that was that. It didn’t stop the rest of us from speaking out though, and I wanted so badly for those women to succeed, they were an inspiration to the rest of us in so many ways. I often read of the suffering they were enduring, the setbacks and the abuse, it churned my stomach to know that something simple as a basic right was being held back. It was as if we were in the dark ages all over again.
“Speaking of succeeding… Heard from Eric lately?” She asked.
“Succeeding as what? A wife or a horrid feminist?”
“Married women can’t be feminists? Well I’ll be damned.” She smiled before poking me in the arm. “Don’t be stupid, you of all people know the struggle we go through, more so than most even. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve some happiness.”
“I sent him the letter a few days ago,” I sipped my tea, “it took me hours to write, my hand is still not fully functional.”
I missed being able to bake most of all, but handling the dough’s and the hot plates just wasn’t on the cards as I healed.
“Have you told him he’s required?”
“I did.” I smiled, she was back in bridal mood again I noticed. “He will come of course he will.”
“Good, my wedding party will be so handsome with you, and my only truly attractive relative and of course Eric by my side. Claude is inviting his third cousin to stand as his best man; he wanted to invite his …friend…” She winked, “But even I thought that to be in bad taste on our wedding day.”
I giggled with her as we spoke more of her plans, and then it came back around to me.
“Do you plan on marrying Eric?”
I blushed as she asked making her roll her eyes.
“Darling really? This is me you’re talking to.”
“I know…” I sighed. “I just don’t know, I mean I don’t count my chickens, Pam.”
“Why not how else do you keep track of the damn things.” She smiled. “Look, you know he loves you, you know all of this because not only is it obvious but it’s been told to you numerous times mostly by moi!”
“I do love him so.” I admitted freely looking out at the early December chill.
“So what’s the holdup then? Is it what you want?”
“To be with him? Of course.”
“Ah, but it all that that entails that is perhaps giving you the pause?”
“I am not sure I can go back there, Pam. Not as…”
“Lady of the manor, so to speak?”
“It’s just rather ridiculous don’t you think?”
“I do think it is, but in the best possible way. You I think is just what that place needs… a little heart.”
I wasn’t so sure.
“Sookie that man is stronger than he realises but he needs a strong woman and you, my lovely, are that woman. You are both forward enough thinkers in your own way, and more importantly he’s not afraid of a woman with a mind or one that speaks it either. I may not bed down with them, but I know men, and I know that one in particular. He’s a catch.”
I knew he was, in so many ways I knew he was wonderful for me and so unlike Bill in every way that mattered, but the idea of returning to that estate with the staff there judging me? It was enough to flip me sideways.
By the time we got home that afternoon, our arms weighted down with bags and boxes, there was a gentleman standing in the drawing room by the fire.
Stood there in the warm glow in his well pressed grey suit with a contemplative look on his face as he gazed into the flame, one that quickly dissipated when he saw that we had entered the room.
“Sookie! Pam!” He smiled coming over to greet us in a flurry of excitement, taking our bags and boxes from us, he went to hug Pam first, but kept an eye on me, then he came over more gently to my side, taking my hands in his and kissing my cheeks.
So polite all of a sudden.
I couldn’t help the smile that took over my face in seeing him again, even though it had been a handful of weeks, it had still been too long. I had missed him more than even I had realised.
“Are you well?” He asked Pam, and then looked at me. “Both of you look very well. All rosy cheeked and smiling, it is a sight I do love to behold.”
I laughed looking to Pam, she was grinning too.
“We’re well, all the better for seeing you though.”
Pam stepped forward to kiss Eric on the cheek before glancing at me.
“I’ll catch up with you in a while. I got some new hats, and if there’s one thing I know Claude adores about me is how I wear a new hat. I’ll call for some tea for both of you, please.” She nodded towards the couches before she grabbed a few bags from her side, winked at me, and made her way out of the room shutting the door.
“Pam as subtle as ever, I see,” He smiled before walked the three small steps it took to get right in front of me for a hug. I embraced him as tightly as I could.
“Are you well, really?” He asked as we took our seats beside each other by the fire.
“I am. I am healing nicely… inside and out. I am not so naive to think that I will forget what has happened as quickly as my scars will fade, but it is a start.”
He nodded, his hand sliding to mine.
“I’ve missed you, that house is just not the same without you there. It’s cold.”
“Amelia lights a lousy fire that’s why.” I laughed as did he.
“I do not think that’s the reason.”
“The drafts then? Old houses are full of –”Before I could finish my joke his lips were on mine in a kiss so intense and desperate in its need to find me, that I almost felt a little faint. My hands crept to his neck, enjoying the feel of his short hair there, before I grabbed hold of his face to keep him close. He was warm and familiar and I was so glad he was there.
“I’ve missed you too.” I said when we broke apart, but stayed close and intimate with our whispering.
“I’m hoping I can steal you away to dinner tonight, if that’s possible?” He asked stoking my cheek gently.
“It’s very possible.”
An hour later, I was refreshed and changed and had also discovered that Bobby was with Eric this time, been told his requirements were needed for the suit fitting. I was not looking forward to seeing him when the time came, just as I was not looking forward to seeing any of the staff from back at the Estate. It gave me terrible anxiety to say the least.
I met Eric in the hallway, where he had changed into a dark tux with a bow tie, I was thankful Pam had chosen a slightly more expensive dress for me to wear that night, as I was sure where we were going would frown upon something less so. I was in a dark ruby sleeveless dress that held an embroidered beaded bodice and sash around the drop waist. I felt very lady like and rather dainty in it too. Since it was winter time and I was not a fool, I borrowed the coat that I had been wearing since I had arrived at Pam’s, the black pea coat with gold buttons. He had arranged for the car to take us across town, and when we arrived it was to a part of London I had never been before, and a place that looked stunning inside but it didn’t help me feel anything but out of place – even if I looked the part.
“How have you been coping… for clothing and for money?” He asked as we sipped our drinks awaiting our food. I did not think he would just come out and ask such things and I think he knew by my face that I was thrown.
“Sookie I am concerned for you, that is all.”
“I’ve been doing fine, Pam has been very generous.”
“Yes, I assumed she had been. I just don’t want you to… have want for anything. If you need money –”
“I’m fine!” I smiled.
“You’re proud, I understand that believe me but just know that the offer is there –”
“And it’s very generous of you of course, but I will be fine, I will heal and shortly begin to look for work here.”
That seemed to surprise him, but he must have known that since nothing was set in stone with us, my option to stay with Pam was not a lifelong one, and I would have to find my feet eventually and I told him as much.
He looked bashfully chastised as I told him that I wasn’t one to count my chickens, as I had told Pam the same. And I wasn’t one to take too much advantage of other’s generosity and over stay my welcome.
“I love that about you know? You aren’t just willing to sail along without pitching in.”
“Of course not, that’s just lazy.”
He grinned in agreement as our food arrived and we talked of all things in general as we ate. Everything from the end of the war to the lasting affect it will have and the impact on the world, and then things got around to the Estate and the running of things.
“I think the main thing is to consider the tenants, they’re the ones living with the choices he makes every day. The land is rich; the agriculture could be expanded if you wanted to go down that route.”
“You’ve got a good head on your shoulders when it comes to this stuff, I never knew that.”
“We lived beside sheep farmers back home, I was friends with their daughter growing up, I heard things.” I smiled.
“Is that so? I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future then.” He grasped at my hand softly, “I’ve been thinking of our future an awful lot since I went back there. Not that I had much else to do, or many others to talk to.”
I frowned then, I knew better than anyone what an isolating place that house could be.
He shook his head.
“It is all right now, I am here, and you are here… and we have many things to discuss and that makes me happy.”
“That is true, I tend to brighten you up like a lamp being turned up, I like that I can do that.” I admitted bashfully.
“I hope I can do the same for you, I hope I can do many things for you Sookie.”
“That’s funny, because I was just hoping I could do the same for you.”
He grinned at my answer and we stopped neglecting our food and finished our meal in peaceful, comfortable silence. A few stolen glances were taken of course, such was just our way.
By the time we had finished, he asked me if I could take a walk with him and that he had in our time apart missed our walks together.
Even though it was freezing, cold enough for snow, how could I have refused such a sweet request? I could not. So, we walked past the closed stores, the other small restaurants with few customers coming in and out, the frost in the air causing smoke to appear as we talked. I loved this kind of weather just as much as I hated it. I loved that crisp air that came with winter, the freshness of all things covered in a light sheen of frost, but I was also a Louisiana girl and the cold never did agree with me fully. I assumed it was just in my bones to love the heat.
We walked for a little while longer before we found a bench that sat in front of a now abandoned park, the green grass covered with the white beginnings of the freeze.
“Can we sit a moment?” He asked, and while I had thought he had lost his mind in the cold, I agreed, sitting closer to him than normal for some form of warmth.
“I know it’s cold but I had something to say, before we got back to the house.”
“Something you can’t say while picking up a brisk pace back to the car?” I smiled, only half serious.
Well, maybe more than half.
“I’ll make it short and sweet, I hope.”
Make what, I wondered.
“Sookie, I no longer want to put things off for tomorrow that can be done today. I think we both know how easily our lives and the things we love in them can be snatched away from us.”
I took a deep breath; it was true we both knew that more than most. By God, by evil men and their crazy ideas, there were many ways our lives could be taken from us so quickly.
“Yes, that is sadly the truth; we never really know what we’re going to meet around each corner.” I agreed.
It was then his turn to take a deep breath as he stood up, towering over me as I sat still on the bench. Then he lowered himself to his knee, and I think my heart skipped several beats. He grinned that boyish grin of his, when he knew that I knew he was up to something.
And he was.
He pulled out a red velvet box from his pocket and I wasn’t sure if I was breathing then or not to be honest.
The ring took my breath away, although I was sure the frost didn’t really help, but I laughed out of nerves as he smiled looking at me and then to the ring.
“I think we know what I’m down here for, don’t you?” He laughed as nervous as I was holding the emerald and gold diamond cluster ring in between his finger and thumb.
“He … the jeweler told me that the green in the emerald was meant to signify a healing love, and when he said that I could think of no other more suited to you than this. You healed me, in ways I did not even know I needed to be healed until you came into my life, Sookie.”
I bit my lip trying my best to not cry all over his lovely speech, but it was useless as my eyes filled with tears anyway.
“It’s true, and I know that we have many things to work out, many aspects of our lives to face… but I only hope that we… that you… will want to face these things with me by your side. I would be honored if you would say yes and be my wife?”
I laughed my nerves getting the better of me, my tears finally ones of happiness instead of pain and I wrapped my arms around him where he kneeled giving him my answer properly.
“Of course I will, of course I will…” I said over and over as we embraced, I didn’t care who saw us, or even that it had started to snow. I didn’t care about the cold, or about the pains in my hands now, I didn’t care about Bill, or Niall, or the rest of God awful society. All I cared about was this feeling and how he made me feel, and how happy I felt to be loved.
“I am much more eloquent on paper.” He admitted with a laugh as he slipped the ring on my finger with ease and picked me up into his arms, lifting my feet off the ground.
“But I am so very glad you agreed.”
We kissed then, neither of us noticing the people walking past, or the snow fall that was rapidly increasing around us, it was just us inside this little bubble of happiness, one I knew I never wanted to leave.
AN: Happy Sunday folks! Hope all is well and that you enjoyed the update! If you’re reading drop a review, you know you want to 😉 xo