Rise By Sin34.

EPOV:

 

I woke up with a weight on my chest. A weight that was breathing, and smelled like jasmine. Then I remembered the night before. She and I had talked about everything, for hours. We’d gone over all those horrible things that had happened to her while I was gone, how she’d felt about them, and how she was dealing with things now. How she’d survived it, I’d never know. Had something similar happened to me, I think I would have wanted nothing more than to curl up and die in a corner somewhere.

 

But not Sookie.

 

She fought on, and while most of her fighting was done internally for a long time, she still did it. And now, she told me, she felt she’d come out the other side a new woman—one that knew what she wanted from life, and was tired of wasting her time.

 

When she’d told me about the baby, I didn’t really know what to think. My initial reaction was, of course, anger. Anger at them, at their actions, for killing a baby I hadn’t even known about; for the pain Sookie must have endured for it; and guilt. Guilt over not being there to protect her or our baby, guilt over not dealing with Geraldine when I might have had the chance. Sookie assured me Geraldine and Bill were paying for their actions. Not just towards her, but Selah—may she rest in peace—as well as all the other children over the years that had suffered at their hands.

 

It gave me some hope for the kids because Aggie was in charge now. She had a pure heart and a good soul and things that I’d hoped would help her steer them all in the right direction. I had woken up only for my watch to tell me it was just after five a.m., and it was still dark outside. Sookie and I had talked and sipped our respective drinks till well after one a.m. I felt torn at the realization she and I feel asleep in what could only be described as a ‘cuddle’ position.

 

“Hey…” she said. Groggy as she was, she said it with a shy smile. “I guess we talked ourselves to sleep, huh?”

 

“Guess so.”

 

“What time is it?”

 

“Just after five. I should really go.”

 

“At this hour?”

 

“Well, yeah I mean, isn’t it weird?”

 

“Only if someone has been up all night worrying about you.” she hinted to Claudine.

 

“No there won’t be. Not tonight.”

 

Truth was, Claudine and I saw each other, maybe twice a week if that. She was so busy with her work that took her all over the country. Our relationship wasn’t exactly conventional; it was convenient.

 

“Okay, well what do you say we get a few more hours of proper sleep then?”

 

“Where?”

 

“Oh, on my swing on the roof. In my room, of course.”

 

“Uh, Sookie…”

 

She just rolled her tired half asleep eyes.

 

“Eric, I just got this incredibly massive bed yesterday afternoon and I want to sleep in it. If you want to sleep on this little love seat, then you go right ahead, but there’s plenty of room. And it’s not like we’d be doing anything other than sleeping,” she reasoned as she walked to the back of her apartment.

 

The cramps in all my muscles made the decision for me. I’d sleep, but only for a little while, then I really had to go.

 

“Well, that’s a big bed.” I echoed my sentiments from the last time she and I got into a bed together.

 

Her bed really was massive, and beyond comfortable. I took off my shoes and crawled in on the opposite side that she was laying on, curled up into a tiny ball with her clothes still on underneath her three blankets.

 

“You get cold or something?” I mused.

 

“No, they’re soft and beautiful, so they get to stay. I just kick ’em off if I get too hot,” she answered me with her eyes closed.

 

“Goodnight, Sookie.”

 

She reached over for my hand and she held it.

 

“Goodnight, Eric.” She smiled with her eyes still closed.

 

I tried to sleep, but really all I could do was look at her. She still looked like the girl I once knew so well, the girl who held my heart. Sure her hair was a lot shorter, her skin was tanner, and she was a little thinner, but she was still Sookie Stackhouse. Just a free version.

 

And she was free finally. I hoped that whatever else she’d gone through in our time apart she’d realize that while she might feel different, she’s still the same girl with the huge heart and concern for everyone else but herself. I knew she had changed though, just as I was sure I had changed. Everyone does, at some point.

 

I knew we’d just have to take our time and get to know each other again. I hoped these new versions of ourselves liked each other as much as the old versions did.

 

As much as I didn’t think I’d sleep, I must have because I was awakened by the smell of coffee.

 

I looked around and saw a steaming mug sitting on the bedside table. Sookie was back in bed, curled up again, but this time with her eyes open.

 

“Hi,” she said. “Coffee’s yours. You still addicted?”

 

“As ever,” I smiled and she just rolled her eyes.

 

“Remember when you tried to switch me to decaf? The horror!” I smirked.

 

She sat up against her plush headboard. “It was for your own good… and maybe mine. You talk a lot on coffee.”

 

“It’s my drug of choice.”

 

“Of course, it is,” she laughed.

 

“Can I bring something up, something that might … well, IS incredibly inappropriate when I realize I’m laying in your bed?”

 

“Uh, sure?” She got up, sipping her own coffee this time, allowing me to do the same.

 

“Claudine wants to meet you.”

 

“She’s met me.”

 

“No. Properly. She wants us to have dinner, Pam too.”

 

“Oh. I don’t know, Eric.”

 

“Believe me, I’ve talked to Pam about her behavior towards you. She had no right to talk to you that way, and I made sure she knew that it isn’t going to happen again.”

 

“Look, I don’t want you to force her to like me. She’s allowed her own opinions.”

 

“Her opinions are wrong though. She doesn’t know you like I do, or did…”

 

“You can get to know me again, just like I can get to know you,” she smiled.. “That’s the beauty of this whole thing, Eric, we have all the time in the world now.”

 

And she was right, we did. And we used our time well. Over the next two weeks we’d met up four different times. Once for coffee—of course, Amelia came along because she thought it was a crime she had been in New York so long and we hadn’t caught up. I admit, as nosy as she is, it was nice seeing her again. Sookie spent more of that afternoon quietly observing us with a smile. We then met up alone for dinner in Soho, it was this little grimy Italian place I’d found, but loved all the same. We’d walked to the subway stuffed and happy that night.

 

Then we met at the Met. She’d told me it was the one thing she’d wanted to visit since she moved to the City, and since I’d been more than once, I offered to be her escort for the day. She giggled at my terminology but agreed to meet me on the front steps at noon.

 

She was sitting off to the side on the third step leading up to the building—her short hair kept in place by a pretty band and she was wearing jeans. It was the first time I’d ever seen her in jeans. They were tight and fitted drain piped jeans, cropped at her ankle. She also wore this pretty black and red checkered shirt tied at her tummy. This wasn’t the shy nun I once knew, that’s for sure.

 

“Hi!” She smiled when she saw me, standing up to give me what had become our customary hug upon seeing each other. The weather for September was mild, though she still carried a jacket with her purse.

 

We walked around while admiring the art. Sookie would sigh thoughtfully at a certain piece, or sit happily and just stare off into the distance with admiration. It was one more thing I could add to the list—Sookie liked art. And not just any old art. She seemed to gravitate towards abstract artists since she liked that she could ‘make up her own story’ on what they were. Of course, I argued that one could do that with most art. Was it not about how it was interpreted? She ‘hmm’d’ before telling me that life could be considered the same way, one person’s interpretation was another person’s misinterpretation.

 

I couldn’t really argue with her on that one.

 

“So, Ms. Stackhouse, what do you think of New York?” I asked her as we made our way into the park.

 

“I love it so far—the freedom, the people, the anonymity. It’s wonderful.”

 

“And the hot dogs.”

 

She quirked an eyebrow before she saw what I saw, a hot dog vendor serving up what I hoped she’d agree to be our lunch.

 

“What, no silverware?” she joked before ordering two dogs with mustard.

 

“I like to eat. Food is … it’s too nice to ignore, and these, oh my God,” she said with a mouthful as we walked. “I guess those upper Manhattan girls like to watch their weight, huh?” She smiled.

 

“If you mean Claudine, then yes, I guess she does. I really don’t know.”

 

“You two don’t eat together much, then?”

 

“We do when we can. I mean, she’s busy. She travels a lot for her job… we’ve been together six months, but we’re not… it’s not…”

 

“It’s not my business,” she finished for me.

 

“No! Nothing like that. It’s just not something I’m all that comfortable talking about.”

 

“Talking about, or talking to me about?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

I could tell she was curious about Claudine and me, but she’d bring it up and put it right back down again, almost like she wanted to know, but didn’t all at the same time. The previous two weeks had been ones of hope and renewed friendship between me and Sookie. While I knew Claudine didn’t exactly approve of me ‘courting my ex,’ as she put it, I suppose, in a way, she might have been right. Sookie and I did see each other a lot—almost more than Claud and I did—but we weren’t dating. We were simply spending time together, making up for lost time. And it was, believe it or not, totally innocent.

 

I may have omitted that I’d slept in Sookie’s bed, but really, did I want Claudine to doubt me when there was nothing to doubt? All we did was sleep next to each other. That was innocent enough, right?

 

Was I attracted to Sookie? Of course I was. I think I’d always been, and I probably always would be. She was beautiful, and it seemed that age did her many favors, as did freedom. She had a glow about her that she lacked before. How could a guy not find that pleasing? She and I, there were times when we’d talk and we’d get a little too close, accidentally of course, or we’d walk and our hands would brush and I’d get this urge to want to touch her. I couldn’t, of course, because we weren’t dating. I had a girlfriend. One that, while I thought it was too soon to know if I loved her, I certainly liked her, and things with Sookie—well, we just never discussed our feelings for each other. Instead, we focused on our feelings for just about EVERYTHING else on the planet to avoid what was most on our minds—each other.

 

As we walked around Central Park weaving our way through the various crowds of people, I thought it as good a time as any to bring up what Claudine had been requesting since she knew Sookie was in town.

 

“So, Sook, how would you feel about having dinner with me this weekend? Say Saturday?”

 

“Sure!” she smiled eagerly.

 

“Would it still be a ‘sure’ if Claudine would be there, too?”

 

This time she scowled, though she tried to hide it.

 

“Eric, really? I mean, won’t it be awkward? There’s just so much wrong with that idea…”

 

“She’s really dying to meet you.”

 

“So she can size up the crazy girl that broke you? No, thanks.”

 

“Claudine isn’t like Pam, and really that Pam you met isn’t like Pam. I promise the next time you and Pam meet, she’ll be nice.”

 

“Eric!” she whined before turning to me, “I told you, I don’t want you forcing her to like me, that’s not fair to her! And it’s not fair to me. Look, if she hates me, she hates me. I don’t care what she thinks of me!”

 

“But you care what Claudine thinks of you?”

 

“No, not exactly.”

 

“Then what, exactly?”

 

“I just… I’m not sure I can be in the same room with the woman you’re sleeping with, that’s all.”

 

“Why?” Yes, I know how stupid a question that was.

 

She didn’t need to know that Claudine and I hadn’t been… together like that since the day before she showed up, and that had been weeks.

 

She glared.

 

“Isn’t it obvious why?” she sat down on the grass with a sigh. “I just, what good would it do? What would we even talk about?”

 

“You could bring a date, I mean, if you… are dating?” Sneaky of me, sure, but I was curious since she never mentioned the man from Louisiana and I hadn’t heard if she was seeing anyone in the city or not.

 

“Dating? Oh no, Eric, I’m not dating. I mean, Ames calls what we’re doing ‘dating’ but I don’t think she’s in the right frame of mind right now to be judging anyone,” she said with an eye roll.

 

I didn’t know what that meant.

 

“So… you’re single?” I flat out asked, taking a seat beside her.

 

Instead of answering me she just sighed, “Fine. I’ll meet her for dinner but I’ll be bringing a date. So let’s book wherever for four people, okay?”

 

I agreed and we said we’d talk before this dinner went down. She was still apprehensive about meeting Claudine, and I couldn’t really say I blamed her. If she was dating someone, the last thing I’d want to do is sit through a dinner with them. But Claudine knew my history with Sookie. Well, she knew some of it—bits and pieces of stories that had peppered our conversations about my life over the last six months. She was intrigued by Sookie, and if it was possible, I think she was intimidated by her, too.

 

I let myself into Claudine’s apartment that afternoon to find her working at her desk—her glasses firmly on the tip of her nose, and her head almost fully into whatever book she was referencing.

 

“Oh hello!” She smiled standing up to greet me with a quick kiss to the cheek.

 

“What have you been up to today? I thought you’d be by sooner?”

 

“I would have, but Sookie and I went to the Met. She’d never been and I wanted her first time to be with me.”

 

“Much like most of her firsts, I’m assuming,” she smiled knowingly.

 

“It’s not like that.”

 

“Of course it’s not. I mean, you’re not dating your ex. Not at all.”

 

“Claudine, she’s a friend! I haven’t seen her in a very long time and we’re just spending some time together.”

 

“Some time, is fine, but it seems that ever since she’s walked back into your life all your time is spent with her. Forgive me for feeling a little neglected.”

 

“You weren’t even in the city last week. Don’t you think you’re being a little over dramatic?”

 

“Maybe a little, but my point still stands.”

 

“She’s agreed to meet us for dinner. She wants to meet you too.” I lied a little. Clearly Sookie was a sore spot for Claudine. No matter how confident and at ease she seemed, something was off.

 

“She has?” Finally, she smiled. “Oh, I am pleased! I just hope she likes me.”

 

“I’m sure she will. What’s not to like?”

 

She blushed as I touched her cheek.

 

“I get that she was this huge part of your life, Eric, and now I’d like to think that I’m a part of your life—even if a small part—and well, I’d just like to get to know your oldest friend.”

 

“You will. She’s pretty easy to get along with, as long as you aren’t depending on her for your morning coffee fix…”

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, it’s just something stupid. Anyway, I said I’d call her when you decided where we should all meet so, it’s up to you.”

 

“How about the Rainbow Room?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Sure, I mean. it’s lovely…”

 

“But?”

 

“I thought we’d go for something a little less… well, a little more low-key?”

 

“Well, if you don’t want to go there, we can pick somewhere else…?”

 

“No. No. It’s fine. More than fine. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

 

“Good,” she smiled. “I’ll make a reservation for three then?”

 

“Four. She’s … I think she’s bringing a date.”

 

She smiled even wider at that piece of news.

 

“Oh, wonderful. Four it is then.”

 

SPOV:

 

“I can’t do this. This is stupid. Why did I agree to do this?”

 

“Because, Eric asked you and you’re still in love with him so you’ll cave to whatever he wants.” Lafayette said, looking bored sprawled out on my bed as I tried to find a suitable outfit.

 

“Thank you, Ms. Sarcasm.”

 

“It wasn’t sarcasm darling, it was cold hard facts. I can’t believe you’ve been spending all this time with him and neither of you have made a move. What do we need to get you two turned on here, a collar and a habit?”

 

I threw a pillow in his direction.

 

“You’re really not funny and you’re not helping! Come on, we have this stupid dinner tomorrow night and I have nothing to wear!”

 

He finally got up and started to root through my wardrobe.

 

“Sookie, did you not get the news? You aren’t a nun anymore, please, stop dressing like one.”

 

“I like my clothes!”

 

“Sure, they’re nice and country, but this is New YARK CITY, and you are not on the farm anymore pumpkin!”

 

“So, what do you suggest, then?”

 

“That you let me take you shopping, Cinders.”

 

Six hours, eleven stores and almost two hundred dollars later, I had a selection of clothes that Lafayette deemed ‘right.’ Including one stunning Marilyn Monroe inspired dress that I just didn’t have the confidence to wear. But according to Lafayette, I had the legs and the breasts… I just wasn’t sure.

 

One other luxury I’d found since being in the outside world was the joys of a hair salon. They were magical places where you went in looking like a train wreck and came out shiny and new. Well, your hair done, and maybe your nails, too. It was wonderful, and something Amelia and I indulged in weekly if we could make it.

 

That Saturday came far too quickly, and I was beyond nervous. We’d be meeting in the Rainbow Room for dinner and chit chat. While I’d never been and it sounded beautiful, my nerves overtook me too much for me to care where we ate.

 

Lafayette picked me up, looking very dapper in a freshly pressed charcoal suit—no makeup, no bandanna, no diamond rings. He looked very handsome, and very, very masculine.

 

“Why are you not dressed?”

 

“I don’t want to go. Can you call him and tell him I’m sick or something?” I begged.

 

“Uh, no.”

 

“Why! Laf, please? This is so stupid. Okay, so he has a girlfriend, good for him. I don’t need to be friends with her! I don’t want to be friends with her.”

 

“Because you’re ‘friends’ with Eric, right?”

 

“We are friends.”

 

“No, you’re not.”

 

“What? Yes, we are!”

 

“No. You’re ex-lovers and once you cross that line, Sookie, you can’t ever just be ‘friends’ again, no matter how much you’re both fooling yourself into thinking that you are.”

 

He handed me a bottle of wine.

 

“Open that. We’ve still a good hour before we have to be there. A drink might settle your nerves.”

 

I nodded, popping it up and sipping quickly as I sat there in my dressing gown.

 

“What if she’s a bitch? Pam was a bitch.”

 

“She’s family; we can’t pick our family. I don’t see Eric hooking up with someone like that, Sookie.”

 

“True.”

 

“So, when are you going to put a stop to this little charade?”

 

“Not you too. I’ve had enough of this from Amelia.”

 

“Sookie, you know you love him. Why are you wasting time? You told me that was one thing you weren’t going to do anymore, waste time. And yet, it’s what you’re doing!”

 

“He’s involved with someone else. I can’t just walk up to him, tell him I love him and kiss him or something. It’s just not realistic!”

 

“Why not make it real? Why not do just that? Tell him how you feel and show him how you feel, too. It might be the best thing you could do for both of you.”

 

“Or it could be the worst. What if I do that, and he still chooses her? What am I left with then? No. Not happening.”

 

He shook his head walking to my bedroom and coming back out with the red dress that I had laid out on my bed. It was between that and the yellow skirt and suit—the suit was much more me, and not so… trampy.

 

“It’s not tramp, Sook, it’s vamp!” he reasoned.

 

“Well, I’m not a vamp either!”

 

“Oh, yes you is. Underneath that Catholic girl prim and proper exterior, I know lies a sex kitten. Now, please, let her out to play?”

 

Forty-five minutes later, we were walking through the Rainbow Room, being seated at our table by the hostess. I took several deep breaths before I sat down, glad we were the first to arrive.

 

Of course, minutes later, in they walked. Eric looked dashing as ever in a fully tailored suit, tie and the shiniest shoes I think he’d ever owned. Claudine was absolutely beautiful in a full-length dress in gold and brown hues, and her long brown hair was swept up into a huge bun at the back of her head. Her makeup was plain, but still complimentary; something that wasn’t difficult with someone as pretty as her.

 

Unimportant small talk was made as we all mused over the menu, but things soon changed.

 

“So, Sookie, how are you finding New York so far? It must be a drastic change from… where was it in Louisiana you’re from?”

 

“Well, all around really, but most recently I’d been in Bon Temps, with my brother.”

 

“Oh, that’s right, Eric mentioned you found your brother.”

 

“He did?” I looked to him for confirmation. Just how much about me had he told her?

 

“Yes, you two have been spending quite a bit of time together lately, so he’s been keeping me filled in.”

 

Lafayette coughed, going for his water.

 

“Well, we’ve had a lot of missed time to catch up on,” I said fidgeting with my fork.

 

“Yes, he mentioned that, too. Though, I suppose it’s a blessing that I’m not a jealous person, otherwise it might bother me that my boyfriend was ditching me to spend time with such a beautiful woman.” She laughed and it was sincere. Really, couldn’t she have just been a bitch and let me not like her?

 

“Oh, I think Eric knows what he’s got at home with you. He’d be a fool not to,” I complimented her. And she actually blushed.

 

We talked about New York, my work, her work, Eric and Lafayette’s work; and we managed to cover news topics and movie stars. By the final course, and several glasses of wine later, I learned that Claudine had a wicked sense of humor and she really didn’t mind poking fun at herself. It was refreshing, and dare I even say it, endearing. I really could see what had attracted Eric to her in the first place. Lafayette had charmed her and she him. They were like old friends in a matter of an hour.

 

“Oh, honestly, Sookie… that’s an unusual name by the way, Sookie. It sounds like Cookie, but not really,” she laughed, her well enunciated English slurring slightly. “But, honestly don’t mind Pam. I’ve know her for years. She’s just got a stick so far up her backside about certain things that she really comes off as a bit of a bitch.” She patted my hand reassuringly.

 

Eric laughed almost choking on his wine. “It’s true, Sookie. Most of the time she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it until one of us points it out to her.”

 

“True, that and I think she’s just sexually frustrated,” Claudine commented. “Well, not sexually frustrated because all she seems to do is fly around town… more emotionally frustrated. I’ve told her this dozens of times. She just needs to find the right person and let her guards down. It might be the making of her.”

 

One of the waiters came to the table.

 

“Ma’am terribly sorry for interrupting but there is a phone call for you,” he aimed at Claudine.

 

She excused herself politely before going to the reception area to take her call.

 

“She’s nice, Eric,” I admitted.

 

“I know you were expecting a fire-breathing dragon, but really, she’s a good person.”

 

I nodded.

 

“You two look good together.” Lafayette swiftly kicked me under the table.

 

“Eric, doesn’t Sookie look just ravishing tonight?” He nudged me under the table, and I swear I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

 

“She always does,” he complimented with a shy smile. “But that dress it… well, like Laf said, it’s simply ravishing on you.”

 

“He convinced me to get it. Apparently, I still dress like a nun.” I shrugged.

 

“I don’t think it matters what you wear, you always look beautiful.”

 

With that, I really did blush. I could feel my cheeks go warm.

 

When he looked at me then, never breaking eye contact, it almost felt like he was undressing me with his eyes. While my head told me it was a horrible idea, my body wasn’t agreeing. My body really rather liked that plan.

 

It was only when Lafayette coughed that we broke our stare. Claudine came back seconds later with an air of frustration surrounding her.

 

“I have to leave,” she sighed.

 

“Why?” Eric asked her.

 

“That was Simon. He’s working in my place tonight so I could do this. Apparently there is something wrong with the antiques for the auction on Monday and he needs me and Sally down there tonight to fix it. Total nightmare. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Well, let me take you down and get you a cab…” Eric offered.

 

“No, no I called one from the desk. I just have to go to the doorman, it’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch, yes?”

 

“Sure,” he nodded, and she smiled kissing him on the cheek.

 

“Sookie, it was wonderful to finally meet you. Honestly, I thought for the longest time Eric was trying to keep you all to himself.”

 

That made Lafayette chuckle. She told him how amazing he was and with another kiss on the cheek to Lafayette, she was gone.

 

We sat and chit chatted for a few more minutes before the bill was left.

 

We all argued over it, but Eric won with his reasoning that he’d invited us to dinner so it was only right that he pay. Laf and I made sure to leave a hefty tip, just the same.

 

“Eric, can you take Sookie home?” Lafayette asked.

 

“You’re ditching me? Some date you are!” He pulled me to the side with a whisper,

 

“Sookie, I’m a lousy date for a girl. Eric on the other hand … which of us would you rather take you home, honestly?”

 

“But still, you’re my date tonight.”

 

“And you need to stop putting it off. Tell him.”

 

“No.”

 

“Yes.” He poked me playfully. “Tell him how you feel, or so help me, I will!”

 

“Eric?” he asked again as Eric came with our coats in his hands.

 

“Oh, of course. No problem.”

 

“No, it’s fine. I’m so far away from where you live. I can just get the subway.”

 

“Alone, at this time of night? No way,” Eric argued.

 

“Lafayette, where are you going anyway?”

 

“Oh me? I um, have a friend who lives nearby. I told him if I was ever in the neighborhood, that I’d stop by…” he winked at me as we got to the door.

 

With that, he hopped in a cab and waved goodbye.

 

“So much for him being my date,” I sighed, faking my annoyance making Eric laugh.

 

“Can I admit to being relieved? I thought for sure you’d bring some big beefed up guy and I’d have to watch as he tried to flirt with you all evening.”

 

“That… doesn’t sound appealing at all.”

 

“It wasn’t but the things I thought before we got here… I was sure… Well, I’m just glad it was Lafayette, that’s all.”

 

“So you’re saying if I’d showed up with a great guy, who you know, liked women, you’d have been jealous?”

 

“Completely,” he admitted without a second of hesitation.

 

“And yet you want me to sit through dinner with your girlfriend? Nice.”

 

“It was her that wanted to meet you. Believe me, it was as awkward for me as it was for you in there.”

 

“It didn’t seem that way to me. In fact, you two seem like a great team.”

 

“We’re not. In fact, she and I barely see each other.”

 

“Someone needs to tell Claudine that, because she had practically wrote E and C forever in salt at one point.”

 

“Come on, don’t be that way.”

 

“What way?” I argued and we stopped walking. “What way am I meant to be, Eric? I don’t like this. Any of this!”

 

“What do you want then?”

 

“I want for things to be simple. I want for us to stop with this stupid charade! I want… you.”

 

He was silent, and really I didn’t care if what I was saying was scaring him. I’d realized since my time in the convent that I was done walking on eggshells for other people.

 

“Eric, I get it, believe me. But I need to know, do you love her?”

 

“Like you said, things aren’t that simple.”

 

“It’s a pretty simple question if you ask me! You either love her or you don’t. Kind of like how I love you and I’ve never felt what I felt for you, and still feel for you, for any other person.”

 

“Sookie, I …”

 

“No, okay. I know! I’m mad at myself for even thinking this but it’s all I can think of! Eric, I love you. I’ve loved you most of my life and I think I’ll probably always love you. So seeing you, with her, it’s like a knife through my heart. And I hate thinking that way because she’s sweet and beautiful and you two seem so… And here I just show up and everything is different! But it’s not so different that I don’t think we couldn’t make this work now. I know you still love me. You might love her, but you can’t love her like you loved me just like I know I’ll never love anyone the way I love you. And okay so I’m a little drunk, which is why I’m yelling…” I looked around rather aware we were still in public, “… but it’s all true. All of it. I know I screwed up where we were concerned, okay? And if I have to grovel, I will. But I just… don’t want to waste anymore time. So there, I’ve told you.”

 

He turned to face me then, finally, his trench coat flapping in the wind.

 

“I came to see you, you know?”

 

“What?”

 

“In Bon Temps. I came down there. I was going to just come get you, and tell you how I felt and how I needed you to not push me away and how we needed each other. Your letter broke my heart, Sookie.”

 

“But now you know why!”

 

“Yeah, I do, but I also know that you looked happy… with him.”

 

“Him? Who? Jason?”

 

“No… at least I hope not Jason. You two seemed… sweet on each other. The guy with the pickup truck—dark hair, hat, plaid shirt, and jeans. You two were fawning all over each other on the way into your house… I assumed he was your boyfriend.”

 

“My… you mean Alcide?”

 

“If that’s his name…”

 

“Jesus,” I ran my hands through my hair. “Alcide. He and I met at the market that day. He gave me a ride home. He was telling me how he got engaged again and how happy he was. I was just… being nice.”

 

Eric had the sense to look well and truly bashful at my admission.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yeah, oh. You big …ox! Seriously? You thought I was off hooking up with strange men! And you didn’t even come inside! What did you do? Lurk outside or something?” I yelled, madder than hell at him now.

 

“Or, something.”

 

I shoved at his chest.

 

“YOU… you are unbelievable. I mean, here I am spilling my guts to you in the middle of uppity-ville New York, and you, you think all along that I was just messing with your head? Fooling around on you or something? NO! Okay, no. I was picking up the pieces of my life, Eric. It’s why I told you to move on. I didn’t want to think of you alone and miserable like I was—of course being selfish where you’re concerned—but I didn’t want you to fall in love with anyone else either. I guess I can’t have it both ways.”

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you back then. I was feeling…”

 

“Sorry for yourself?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

I just rolled my eyes and walked ahead of him, well, marched ahead might be a better term for how I was walking.

 

I was so mad at him, at myself, at the whole screwed up situation.

 

“Sookie… Sookie, would you wait up?”

 

“I’m in heels, and you’re not. It’s up to you to keep the pace,” I shot back at him.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“Home. Just like you should, too. Go home to Claudine, and make posh beautiful babies with her or something! Go shopping for diamonds or whatever it is rich people do.”

 

“Sookie.”

 

“No. Forget it, forget what I said, forget all of it.”

 

Did I mention I was mad?

 

“How can I forget it?”

 

“Kind of like how you forgot what I meant to you or what you meant to me.”

 

“I haven’t forgotten,” he said, his face serious. “You think I’d just forget like that?”

 

“It’s how it seems.”

 

“Well then look harder! I haven’t forgotten Sookie, and I haven’t stopped loving you. Not one second.”

 

He grabbed my shoulders, his eyes as intense as I’ve ever remembered them, and that’s when he leaned into me. He leaned in to kiss me and I leaned right back.

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