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 just 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.
He turned to me, his face going instantly pale. Though just as I spoke, another woman walked into the room. She was tall and graceful, slim and beautifully poised. She walked straight up to Eric and kissed him on the cheek.
“Darling, I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic was murder and I can’t stay either. Simon has a late lunch with some buyers and he’s insisting I come along… Eric?”
That’s when she turned to look at me, the girl he hadn’t taken his eyes off since she’d walked into the room.
“I’m sorry, I’m clearly interrupting something,” the tall woman said.
Eric snapped out of it, looking to her finally.
“Claud, I’m sorry this is … This is…”
“Sookie, Sookie Stackhouse,” I offered.
She smiled and there was a slight recognition in her eyes.
“Oh. Oh, I see. Well then, I really am interrupting something.” She looked to Eric.
“I’m fine,” He said to her, grabbing her hand and kissing it. “It’s fine, really,” he reassured her, and my heart broke all over again.
“Okay, well, it was nice to meet you, Sookie.
“You too …?”
“You too, Claudine,” I smiled, just barely. The sudden urge to cry overwhelming me again.
“I’ll leave you two to it. Eric, call me later?”
He nodded in her direction before she smiled at both of us, walking just as gracefully from the room as she entered it.
“She’s beautiful, Eric.”
“She is,” he agreed. “Sookie, are you really here? I mean, is this―”
“Hi,” I offered lamely. With all the things I needed and wanted to say to him, this is what I do? Good one, Sookie.
I had heard the footsteps behind me, but I figured it was one of the girls running late in leaving. I paid it no mind and continued to sign the term papers I had to leave in the office for my approval. That’s when I heard her voice― Sookie. That voice was unmistakable, so unmistakable in fact, I was sure I was imagining it.
I whipped around as fast as I could, and there she was, standing before me like a vision.
An above the knee pink dress, tan skin, glowing cheeks. Her eyes were filled with un-shed tears and that was the thing that struck me the most. I couldn’t find my voice. She was really here. It seemed she couldn’t find her voice either as we just stood there, the air thick between us with everything that had gone unsaid, everything that needed to be said. I took a deep breath to try and speak but just as I did, Claudine walked through the door, scaring me half to death. Seeing the woman I was dating in the same room as the woman I was … whatever I was where Sookie was concerned, was a rather out of body experience. I never thought I’d see her again, and having them both meet, seconds after she shows up again― well, it left me rather speechless. One minute, Claudine was there, the next she was walking out the door, and honestly, I couldn’t tell you two words either of them said to me. I was in shock.
It was just as Sookie was about to speak again, after uttering a very eloquent “Hi,” Tara came flying through the door in a rush.
“Hey, Eric. I’m sorry for interrupting y’all but see the third and forth books on the list for reading?”
I blinked a few times, forcing myself to look away from Sookie.
Tara knew by the look on my face, and the fact that Sookie had taken to looking out the window, that something was amiss.
“Yeah, they aren’t available in the library for another two weeks. What can we do?”
This really wasn’t something I wanted to deal with right now, but I knew she was persistent, if nothing else.
“Um, I…It’s fine. The reading isn’t due for three more weeks. Either reserve the books, or go to the bookstore and see if you can get a used copy for cheap. Ronan’s Books on Fourth should have them.”
She nodded and smiled at me before adding, “Ok, well have a good weekend, Eric.”
“You too, Tara.” I closed the door behind her before turning to see Sookie looking out the large bay window with a distant smile on her face.
“You were always good with calming down hysterical women. It’s a gift.”
She looked at me again, smiling through her silent tears.
Silence. Awkward silence.
There was so much I wanted to say. I thought and dreamed of this moment for so long, and when I did, I wasn’t standing there like some mute dolt unable to say what I needed to say.
Thankfully, she seemed as speechless as me, though comforting as it was, the silence wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
“You cut your hair.” Good one, Northman. Stellar, really.
She put her hand up to her chin length bob self-consciously. “Yeah, I uh…I needed a change. I remember that you liked it long it’s just―”
“No, I love it. It…you look so grown up.” Really, someone just strike me down.
She smiled. God, I missed that smile.
“Speaking of grown up, you’ve finally been able to grow some scruff. That must have been a challenge.” She quirked her brow at me smiling, before she sighed. “It’s good to see you, Eric. I …Well, it’s been a long time.”
“It has. Too long.” I paused more for a breath than anything else.” I…God, Sookie I have so much I need to say, that I want to say.”
“We both do.”
“You need to know Sookie, I didn’t leave. I mean, I left, but I didn’t leave YOU. I didn’t want to leave. God, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I tried, I really did but Niall…he made me go Sookie, and I tried to come back for you, I did, numerous times, but they were on lock down. They wouldn’t let me―”
She held up her hand to me.
“Can we not talk about that just yet? Please? I just…Can we get out of here? Get a coffee or something? You still like coffee, right?” she grinned sweetly.
I suggested the little café that was just down the street from where we were. We both walked out of the college, down the steps and down the street in total silence. But it wasn’t a comfortable silence, it was brain eating silence that had you on your toes because of all the things you needed to get out in the open― things that apparently, she didn’t want to talk about.
“I know that you came for me. I read your letters…” she said finally, after the longest minutes of my life making small talk about the city weather.
“You got them? If…if you got them, why not respond? Sookie, for months I sat in complete misery. I … no word, no nothing from you! I didn’t know what to think! And you’d gotten them?”
“Don’t be angry at me! Eric, you don’t know the whole story!”
“Well, why don’t you tell me then? Tell me how you’ve gone three years and I’ve not heard a damn word, Sookie! Have you any idea how―”
“Of course, I know! But Eric, things aren’t that simple for goodness sakes,” she whispered.
I took a deep breath. I needed to calm myself as much as I could. I wasn’t being fair to her. I’d been taking all that pain, anger and pent up rage out on her, and that just wasn’t right.
“I’m sorry, I… don’t know what… It’s just, there’s so much I don’t know and you don’t seem to want to tell me.”
“I know. I’m sorry, too.”
“Why don’t you start with what happened when Niall made me leave.”
She shook her head, no.
“Not yet. It’s… this isn’t the right time.”
“Ok… how about, what you’re doing in New York? How long have you been here?”
“I’ve been here about two months. I … needed a change so I came to stay with Amelia for a little bit, and I guess I just wound up staying.”
“You knew I was here, right?”
She nodded again. “I did, and believe me, I wanted to…it just wasn’t―”
“The right time…right.” I needed to shake my pissed off attitude; it was even beginning to piss ME off.
“So, have you been teaching long?” she asked, with a subtle as a brick change in the conversation.
“Few months, after I came here. I was in a funk, according to Pam, so to get out of it as best as I could, I decided to use my schooling and put the certificates I’d earned in seminary to some use. I applied for a degree and shockingly got it. So, I studied for it and randomly applied to the community college just to see, and they said I could have a shot. That was almost six months ago now.”
“Your class seems to love you… Not that I’m surprised, you always had a way of holding an audience in the palm of your hand… particularly the women.”
“They just like to learn,” I shrugged, innocently.
She sipped on her coffee, every few minutes smoothing out imaginary creases in her dress with her hands.
“I met Pam,” she said with a cautious smile.
“Oh… Right, I was wondering how you found where I was,” I smiled back. “What did Pam say? Was she a total bitch? If she was, I’m sorry.”
“No she… Yeah she was. A little bit, but I think I can handle Pam.”
“That makes one of us then. I’m sorry, she’s just real protective.”
She nodded sipping her coffee. “I know, and I respect that. She’s your family so it’s like her job to be protective, especially towards crazy girls who she’s not real familiar with.”
“You’re not crazy, Sookie.”
“I thought I was, for a long time. After everything that happened. Eric, I wasn’t… I just wasn’t me for awhile.”
I was silent. She said she didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want to push her.
We were bathed in silence for a few never-ending minutes before she spoke again.
“So… How long have you and Claudine been a couple?” she asked.
I didn’t want to talk about Claudine, not with Sookie. It felt wrong.
When I didn’t answer she kept talking, “She seems like a lovely woman. She’s so tall, and very beautiful. I mean, I’m sure you both make a lovely couple.”
That was it, after all these years that’s what she wanted to talk about, my girlfriend.
“Do you love her?” she asked, finally making eye contact with me.
“No, don’t answer that. It’s not my business, and I’m not really sure if I want to know if you love her or not. God, this is overwhelming,” she admitted nervously. “I’m sorry. I know we have so much ground to cover and one coffee isn’t going to do that. I just… I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. I’m nervous too―”
“No. I mean, I’m sorry, Eric. For everything.”
I was nervous, more so than even I expected at seeing her again.
“Sookie, I have a class in ten minutes. I um, I really should go…”
I saw how disappointed she was, her face giving away whatever emotions she was fighting with inside.
“Of course,” she said nodding as if she expected it.
“Can… I mean, we can see each other again, right?”
“Of course,” she repeated. Taking a pen and a small piece of paper from her purse, writing down her address.
“I’m teaching over at the grade school a few blocks from West End Avenue. That’s not that far from here… My address is near there.”
I realized her address and her new job were mere blocks from where we were.
I took her paper, promising I’d call her as soon as I could. It was when I hugged her that everything actually started to feel real. I had imagined what it would be like if she appeared in my life again, if we talked and what would happen. It was never as awkward and stalled in my head as it was in reality. She smelled liked Sookie, she felt like Sookie― if a little thinner than what I remember― but there was a hope in her eyes that I wasn’t used to. Whatever she had been through, she was finally strong enough to put it past her enough to let the hope shine through.
Walking back to work was surreal. Had she really just shown up? What were we to each other now? What about Claudine? Would we ever get back to how we were? Was it a good idea to even try to get back to what we were?
We were kids before― idealistic, naive kids. Now, everything was different.
Watching him walk away from that café was a hell of a lot harder than I ever expected it to be.
My heart sank to my toes. On the other hand, what did I really expect? That’d after I’d ignore his existence for three years, I could suddenly show up and expect us to fall, without complication, into each others arms? My life was never a fairytale and I didn’t expect it to start being one now.
Losing the baby as I did was something I knew that no matter how old I lived to be, I’d never forget, or forgive. Had I wanted to be a mother? No. It was not exactly a life choice for a Nun, but once I found out I was pregnant, that changed. I was happy. Beyond the fear of being found out, the other emotions in me were love and happiness, and for it to be stolen from me so brutally and without my permission―well, it hurt like hell and took me a really long time to deal with that. To realize there wasn’t anything I could have done differently in that situation so Eric and I could have had our baby…
I knew I had to tell him; it was weighing on my mind so heavily that it was all I could think of when I saw him. When I hugged him, it took all my strength not to just cling to him and tell him everything that was floating around in my head.
Amelia and I had gone shopping that Saturday. I was indulging in my one splurge item I’d always wanted when I knew I was getting my own place―I wanted a giant bed. After years of sleeping on a small cot with a mattress full of springs and the thinnest of blankets and pillows, I promised myself that my one luxury, should I ever be able to have it, would be a big, comfy bed. After fawning all over the furniture store for more than an hour, I’d finally picked my bed and all it’s accessories. I made my way home with my grocery shopping in-hand to eagerly await it’s same day delivery.
“And you didn’t tell him anything?” Amelia pressed, for the nineteenth time that day.
“It wasn’t exactly the right time, Ames. He was on a break from his job and we were in a café, for crying out loud. What was I supposed to say? Hi, Eric. Sorry I’ve been silent these last three years, but just one small thing―I was pregnant when you left, they killed our baby, Bill killed Selah, oh, and Niall retired. How’ve you been?”
“No need to be snippy.” She rolled her eyes at me.
“Well, I’m sorry but this isn’t an easy thing, okay?”
“I know, and I’m sorry, too. Let’s talk about something else…”
“I think I might be gay.”
I spat out my water. She what now?
“I… well, remember I was telling you I’ve been through some changes since moving here? Well, that’s one of the changes.”
“Oh, okay, um, explain?”
She pulled herself onto the couch, turning to face me fully.
“When we first got here, Trey was working non-stop and it was great because he was earning more money, and it meant we didn’t need to rely on my trust fund or anything, and he was feeling really good and you know, husbandly about it. I was bored to tears sitting at home every evening so I went to this church group.”
“Uh what? Did we not get our fill of churches?.” I asked, half kidding.
“No, not like your whack-a-doodle church. A Wicca meeting. They call it the church.”
“Oh… because that’s better?”
“Well, I think it is. I met other women who think like me and I made some really good friends. We started to meet once a week, well one of the girls― Candice. She’s very well integrated in New York Society, but she’s a party girl, too. Anyway, she’s a real nice girl―little snobby, but there you go.”
“What has this to do with―”
“I’m getting there.”
“So, we’d go out and have a good time and whatever―Trey was fine with it and all―and well, this one night I met this woman, one of Candice’s friends. She’s from the Upper East Side, her name is Pamela and we hit it right off. We’d meet for lunch a few times a week but it was pretty clear she was interested in me beyond a shopping buddy, you know?”
“And you were interested in her?”
“Well, not at first. I mean, I’m a married woman and all… But anyway, I’d been thinking about it, and I did find myself attracted to her, and that scared me a little bit.”
“Because of the whole being married to a man part?”
“Exactly. Anyway, this carried on for a few weeks before she right out told me she wanted me. I mean, I was floored but, I talked to Trey. I had to; it wasn’t something a wife should keep from her husband. And we talked about it, and Trey decided that if I was going to be with anyone else for some reason, he had no issue with it being a woman. But if it were a guy, he’d divorce me.”
That was… odd.
“I didn’t understand it, but I talked it through with Pamela and Trey together and well, Pamela and I are sort of a couple, too.”
“Wait so you… what? Trey has no problems with you having sex with another person just because it’s a woman? Well, that’s slightly hypocritical.”
“Marriage vows, Ames. They don’t say forsaking all others except some hot, posh lesbian action.”
“You’re one to talk about vows, Sookie.”
“I’m… I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that,” she said blushing.
“No. It’s fine. I mean, it’s not like you’re wrong. You’re right. I did break my vows for Eric, and it was a horrible thing to have to go through, but I guess breaking marriage vows are different,” I snipped in her direction.
“It is not different; it was a really hard decision to make, Sookie.”
“And … I mean, how does it even work?”
“I see Pam and I’m with Trey. It’s all very amicable. They don’t really talk to each other, but if she comes over and he’s here, we all just sort of join―”
“Oh, okay you know what, Ames, I don’t think this is really any of my business.”
“But it’s fun! Sometimes―”
“Ah. No. Please? I’m happy you’re happy. Can we just … not?”
I didn’t want to think of Trey and Amelia having sex, let alone adding a third person into the mix. How did it not get confusing? I mean, what went where?
I hadn’t heard a peep from Eric since our little lunch break the week before. I was starting to give up hope of him ever calling me, when one rainy Sunday evening I got a rather swift knock at my door―well more of surprising buzzing sound, really.
“Yes?” I called out.
“It’s Eric,” was all he said, as I tried to― again―work out the buzzer system. There was a button for the main door, then one for the inner door, and a switch for my lights. I’d ended up locked out in the dark a couple of times since moving in.
I took several quick deep breaths, so fast I thought I’d pass out, before I heard his footsteps in the hall outside. It took him a second too, before he knocked.
“Hi,” I smiled, doing my best to cover my completely frazzled nerves.
“Hi, uh these are for you.” He handed me a very well handled bouquet of flowers. Nice to know I wasn’t the only one nervous as all get out.
“Come in, please.”
He did, shedding his jacket in the process. He was in a dark green button down and dark blue jeans, his scruff was neatly trimmed and his hair― though longer than I remembered― was as blond and shiny as ever. He’d slicked it back slightly but it didn’t look wet or greasy. I didn’t know how that worked.
“So, this is where I live,” I said awkwardly.
“It’s lovely. This is a good neighborhood, too. I pass it every morning on the way in to work.”
“You do? How funny…”
Awkward small talk, was, well, awkward.
“I have wine. Do you like wine?”
“It’s … Yeah, it’s good.”
“I have beer if you’d rather? I mean, it’s Trey’s. He and Amelia and Laf decided they wanted to throw a housewarming party for me. I think it was really more for themselves since I was the one left cleaning everything up,” I laughed.
Did I mention this being awkward?
I showed him my small kitchen and wash room, poured my wine and handed him his beer. I turned on the best gift anyone had given me. Amelia had given me a television set as a housewarming present. She said in case I got lonely. It was fascinating.
“So…” he said, looking around again as we took to the living room to sit.
“Can I just say how much I hate this? This…”
“YES!” he said smiling, “It’s not right. You and I were a lot of things Sook, but awkward wasn’t one of them.”
“I know. This is just so crazy! Okay look, I have a lot to say and I’m just going to say it, okay? I mean, that’s the best way to just get everything out in the open and deal with it, right?”
“If that’s what you think is best?” He shrugged slightly, never taking his eyes off me.
“I do. I think.” I stood up and for some reason began to pace.
“Okay so, after you left…” he instantly looked guilty. “Not that you left, but you know when you… when they…”
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“I… Well I … God, this is hard. Eric, I was pregnant.”
His eyes went wide.
“I didn’t know until almost a month later. Geraldine and I had a smidgen of a disagreement and I ended up at the bottom of the basement stairs.”
He stood up. I could almost see the rage in his eyes.
“Eric, sit down please…”
He somehow seemed taller when he was mad.
“Look, I tried to hide it from them, but …they found out.”
“How did they find out?”
All or nothing right?
“Bill was, he was… well, he tried to―”
Eric stood up again, this time both of his hands went to his face in horror.
“Tell me he didn’t rape you.”
I swallowed the tears of the memory.
“No. He didn’t. He didn’t because I told him I was pregnant.”
I could see the tears brimming in Eric’s eyes through my own water soaked rims.
“He took me to her and she… they decided the baby couldn’t be born, that it was a huge mistake and they weren’t going to deal with my ‘problem.’ I guess a nun having a child would be pretty bad advertising.”
As he fell back onto the couch, Eric let his tears fall. Seeing him in such a state just made me feel worse.
“Sook, what did they do?”
“I don’t really know what they did. All I know is, I woke up eleven days later, chained to my bed, bruised, empty, broken.”
“Oh, my God… Sookie, why didn’t you tell me sooner. I …”
“What could you have done?”
“Killed those bastards with my bare hands, that’s what!” He stood up again. This time I grabbed his hand and yanked him down to sit next to me.
“You’re taller when you’re angry. Sit,” I told him.
“Jesus Christ, I can’t…”
“I got out, though. I got out, but not before I found my letters, and not just from you… From Jason, too.”
“She’d kept them from you?” he asked.
“Jason wanted to take me home since I was sixteen, Eric.”
“All of this, all that pain, it could have been avoided… That old bitch.”
“Believe me, I know. I did stab her though.”
“Not with a knife. Well, kind of, her rusty old letter opener. It sort of made her lose her hand,” I added swiftly. Not that I assumed he would be mad, but it was still a horrible thing to have to admit to.
“Pity it didn’t kill the old bat.”
I nodded. Not one to condone murder, but where those people were concerned, it was a different matter.
I had so much more to tell him, but I figured I’d get the big stuff out of the way first, like ripping off a Band-Aid.
Eric ran his hands down his face again, turning to me, taking both my hands in his.
“Sweetheart,” my heart skipped several beats at that endearment, “I am so, so sorry you had to go through that―that you had to go through that at all―but more so that I wasn’t there to stop it.”
“Please don’t, okay? Don’t feel guilty. It wasn’t something in your control. Or even mine, really. Eric, it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with this, and I know this is a shock to hear but I hope that it in some small way, makes you understand why I did what I did. Why I pushed you away.”
“I just thought you didn’t love me anymore.”
“Wha―Eric, no, that wasn’t it at all.”
“I know that now, but then, Sookie, things were so confusing and difficult. And then when I heard you were okay, I was so happy because I thought ‘okay, we can start our lives now…’ but you didn’t want that. And it broke my heart all over again.”
I held back a sob.
“I never meant to hurt you. I know I did and I know I’ve been incredibly selfish where you’ve been concerned, but I never meant to―”
“I know.” He inhaled a deep breath to level out his tears. “I just thought we were done and it nearly killed me.”
“I wasn’t ready to tell you back then. It took me almost three years to be able to tell Jason, for goodness sakes. I felt… wrong. Broken, inside and out. I felt shamed because I couldn’t protect my baby, our baby. I felt like I had somehow let them do that to me. Maybe it would have been better for Bill to have taken me and taken what he wanted that day if it meant our baby got to live… The racing around in my brain, Eric, it was exhausting for a very long time. I couldn’t bring you into that. It would have killed whatever we’d had, that much I did know.”
He wiped his red rimmed eyes, taking another deep breath. I hadn’t seen Eric cry, not since we were little kids, and even then he hid it well.
“What happens now, Sookie? I mean, what are we going to do now?” he sat, looking dejected as I’ve ever seen him.
“I guess, we just grow, live and try to pick up whatever pieces we can. I think we start fresh from here on out. No nuns, no vows, no priests.”
“No churches. Or chores.” He attempted to smile.
“Speak for yourself, Fifth Avenue. Some of us don’t have a butler.”
“I don’t ha―”
“I’m kidding,” I smiled to reassure him.
“Thank you, Sookie. Thank you for telling me everything. I know it couldn’t have been easy to relive it all like that.”
I nodded. “You’re the only one who really deserved to know. It was your loss, as well as mine, and I’m sorry for that.”
Before I knew what was happening, I was engulfed in a hug so tight I couldn’t breathe. But it was a welcomed embrace, one we didn’t break for a good long while.