The week before I left for Sweden was the longest of my life, I was so excited even Gran had to tell me to calm down a time or two as I shopped for a new winter boots. Knowing from my conversations with Eric that if I was going there I would be needing them, and as many layers as I could manage before I turned into a big marshmallow. It was so difficult as well, keeping the surprise to myself, every time Erik and I talked on the phone or over the computer, I fought the urge to blurt it out. But, I wanted to surprise my sad puppy of a husband because I would turn that frown upside down and all that good stuff as soon as we saw each other again. I was sure of it. If my night-time reading had taught me anything, it was that I could make my man do anything now, within reason of course.
I had illustrations and everything!
“You should get waxed.” Isobel suggested as we took me shopping for reunion supplies – consisted of nice underwear, and a lot of thermal stuff too for actually being there because I was not an idiot, I was a Southern girl and we just did not do well with that climate. I also picked up some nice smelling body lotion, and an inflatable pillow for the plane, big mistake last time without one. But the key things were the pretty underwear. Not that I really thought my husband would care what my underwear looked like after a month of no sex and no me and no sex with me, but I wanted to feel pretty anyway.
“No, I shouldn’t. He knows what it’s like down there, he hasn’t complained so far.” I waxed once, nope, never again. Legs sure, who-ha, not natural, no thank you.
“It makes the sex better, I swear, everything is so sensitive!” She exclaimed as we browsed the women’s section of Ann Taylor where I was picking up some nice scarves and things for his mom and grandmother. I had already used up my discounts in Coach for them too, so I think for them present wise I was all-good. I had no idea what to get his grandfather, and since I had never met his father, I had even less of an idea of what he might like.
“Of course it makes it better, every damn nerve down there is on edge because you’ve just ripped it open with scalding hot wax and yanked. Nuh-uh.”
She just laughed at me.
“You excited to see him? Almost a month to the day is a long time.”
I was excited, I was nervous, excited, a little scared. I was not scared of him but I was a little scared of things being awkward between us maybe, or just not being the same as they had been before. I knew I was worrying for nothing, but still, I worried because it gave me something to do, I guess.
“I am so excited, and I’ve been schooling myself.” I nodded smugly as we left and headed to Starbucks, their caramel hot chocolate had my name on it, even if it wasn’t that cold here to justify it. I told her about my educational readings and she then asked to borrow them when I was done, with a giggle and a sip of her cappuccino, I was flying out in a day and the closer it got the more anxious I was, and the harder it was not to tell Erik what was happening.
“Yes, there is a lot of work in the shop so that is good times to keep my mind busy of thoughts, thought of you and not being here and me not being there…” He sighed as we did our nightly chat, him there hours ahead of me, and me this time on the couch with Sam as we chatted via our laptops.
“That’s good though that you’re keeping busy, I’m busy here too…”
“Yes is your Grandmother’s Christmas shopping going well, she told me before she looks forward to that.”
“She does, she starts in November she likes it so much and she buys gifts or make ‘em for half the damn town.” I said rolling my eyes, she really did put herself to too much trouble. Including with spending a pretty penny to send me to Stockholm, but I couldn’t tell him that yet.
“I’ve got you a few things,” I began with a smile, “some of which I know you’ll love, some fun things too, just silly things.”
“I have some presents for you also.” He smiled. “One I even made the other day in the shop.”
“Oooh, fancy. Can I have a hint?”
“Nope.” He grinned.
“Aw come on. Is it big or small?” I whined. And he just rolled his eyes but didn’t stop smiling.
“With me things are always big but this it is… littlier.”
“Littlier? That’s not a word, Hun.” I smiled. He meant littler but I wasn’t going to point that out right then.
He waved his hand as if I was talking nonsense.
“Blah blah smaller than large then.”
He cracked up at that.
“What are you now Irish girl?”
“To be sure to be sure.” I said in my worst leprechaun-esq accent, I was ashamed but he still laughed.
“Never say that to an Irish person, it is like singing Abba to a Swede.”
“But I’ve sung Abba at you…” I admitted, again with the shame. He just glared comically before smiling again.
We both cracked up at that.
As we signed off for the night, I couldn’t help but feel guilty as I told him a little white lie.
“I’m going out of town for a couple of days –“ his face sort of fell then. “It’s a work thing, a new supplier up in New Orleans, they want to meet and discuss the figures in person, so I leave tomorrow for the weekend.”
“Oh. That’s is nice.” He sounded sad. “Will it have the Wi-Fi?”
I grinned but stopped myself.
“I’m not sure actually, the place is pretty remote, so that’s why I’m saying now, I might not be here when we usually Skype, if the connections are limited.”
He frowned but forced himself to seem happy it was too cute.
“Oh, well, then I will see you in a few days then?”
This time I did grin, I couldn’t help myself. Because he really would see me in a few days, only it would be in person.
I had spent the previous day sanding down the oak for the table top we were working on. My father was constructing the legs, I was sanding, my grandfather, well, he was sitting down occasionally painting something but mostly dispensing advice that no one asked for.
“Americans they like therapy too much, in all the shows it is boring people with note pads making thousands of dollars to listen to other people’s problems. Erik, you should do that.” He began causing me to narrow my eyes at him.
“No really, they are like hookers for the feelings when you think about it. You pay this man or woman a lot of money to sit and listen to your problems and then, they tell you what they think of you – probably that you are crazy because hey, you just paid thousands of dollar to talk when talking is free… and then you leave. The prostitutes of the mind!” He chuckled to himself then, spinning in his office chair back to the work at hand.
“Dad do you have whiskey back there by any chance?” My dad asked his dad and of course, the answer was yes. It explained so much.
An hour later of listening to his rambles, this time about our government, the meaning of why snow is white and just why can’t we call cauliflower the albino broccoli rant later I offered to take him home in the truck. He never used to drink on the job, but with his arthritis, the way it was now, all he really could manage was painting a few small parts here and there and answering the phones. It was a huge step down and it annoyed him.
“Ack, Erik I’m drunk. That happened accidently.” He said as I helped him out of the car.
“It did, and faster this time than usual. You been drinking a lot lately?” I helped him into the house, I would have to go out and shovel the drive again soon, fucking never ending snow.
“Some… a little here and there but not a much.”
“Hm. You talking your pills?”
“Ah pills this that and the other you sound like your grandmother.”
“We worry is all.”
“I know son, I know.” He petted me on the head as we walked inside. Thankfully, my grandmother was out so I was able to get him into bed without her commentary that I was sure in the mood he was in would only make things worse.
“We miss you around here you know? It seems so … lifeless with you gone.” He said quietly from his bed where I tucked him in, leaving water next to him, knowing that when he woke for dinner he would be dying of thirst.
Whiskey was an unforgiving mistress.
“I’m here now right?” I said, not really sure of what else to say. I was here now but not for long. I knew my wanting a life somewhere else had hurt my family, but my reasons for that were never because of them. Now I was beginning to see that maybe their feelings should have factored in a little more, the feeling of guilt suddenly hit me like an overwhelming wave that I could not escape. I instantly wanted to see Sookie’s face and talk it through with her, hear her words of reassurance. I couldn’t because she was sadly out of town. I was glad she was, she was running her business and living her life, and I never wanted her just sitting around waiting for me to call. I knew that wasn’t the woman I married but right in that moment I cursed that out of town florist!
Instead, I called my friends, who came over with fast food and beer, and we retreated to my bedroom as we did when we were teenagers. Jonas, Lucas and Emil arrived with burgers and beer and we began our free therapy session, my grandfather would have been proud it was free.
“It is okay to have a life away, Erik most people do.” Emil reasoned with me after they listened to my tale of woe.
“I know, I do, but I just feel so guilty.”
“It’s okay to feel guilty too, people get old and it’s hard, but you have life to live too. We all do.”
“I just wish there was more I could do for them here, and when I go I feel so disconnected from them and that everything is just pushed pleasantries for the sake of keeping all of us under the fake illusion that everything is okay.”
“Have you talked to Sookie about it? What does she say?” Jonas asked.
“I haven’t, not yet, and she’s not around for a few days she said she was going out of town on business. I did not want to bring it up then.”
“I think she would understand greatly, she has a grandparent close by?” Lucas reasoned with a nudge.
“She does, she moved back home to be closer to her, they are very close.”
“So then she would understand the guilt, maybe she can give you better talk than us.” He carried on with a shrug of sorts, as if it was so easy.
“I think so, maybe. I know you all live near your families as well, but it will not always be the case.” It wasn’t’ going to be because Emilie, Emil’s sister had moved to England and came back occasionally when her husband was away in the army, and they visited often. But now Emil had been offered a job in Stockholm and was taking it, and Lucas was considering going back to university, this time perhaps in England too. So everyone was leaving as I would soon be going back to America too, so all my friends and I were scattered to the wind. I knew in my early thirties that this should have been something I was okay with, and was better able to accept perhaps than when I was younger. But the fear was there still and very real in its presence. Things would never be the same again, and even if they were, emails and Skype just wasn’t the same as in person. As the month with only seeing Sookie thought a screen had taught me.
That evening was a tense one between my grandparents. My grandmother was scolding him for drinking at all, never mind during the day, at work around work tools. He dismissed her worries as nagging and insisted that he knew what he was doing and he wasn’t stupid. I went to bed early after texting Sookie but receiving no reply. I knew she was probably travelling or with other people and she wasn’t one to sit on her phone being anti-social to the people she was with. I decided that sleep was the best option before I depressed myself into eating the entire contents of the fridge. It was a close call but thankfully for my waistline, sleep won out.
I was awakened the next morning by my grandfather standing over my bed, his hands on his hips.
“Erik you must get up we have a delivery I need you to make for me.”
“What time is it?”
“Are you serious? Go back to bed it is still night-time. Look, it is still dark.”
“Erik you are in Northern Sweden in winter do you really expect a decent sun rise? I think not. Therefore, it is moot now please get up. I have breakfast.”
I groaned again.
“Where is the delivery too and why can’t Simon do it?”
“It’s two towns over, and he can’t because I am asking you. The van is already loaded up.”
Two towns over meant it would take me until at least after noon, damn it, I would need breakfast.
“There are things in the shop I need you to move for me before you go too, if that is okay.” He asked when I made it sleepily downstairs. Granma was still asleep, and I think after the tense evening the night before, we both wanted her to have a long lie in bed.
I checked my phone and I had a text from Sookie, and it made me smile. Something that caught my granddad’s attention.
“Someone is suddenly happy?”
I just smiled.
“Sookie texted me on the phone.”
“Yes, she says she’ll see me soon. We’ll probably have a laptop date later tonight, I won’t text back just yet, and it’s the middle of the night there.”
He just nodded, turning back to the eggs in the pan with a grin that seemed he was trying to suppress.
“That is good that you will see her soon, I bet it will be nice after a couple of days of not.”
“I do not know how people did this before the internet.” Then again, I would never have met her at all if not for the internet either, so it was a huge part of our coupledom.
“We survived, we wrote real letters, had real conversations because the wait of weeks at a time to hear back… well it always added to the anticipation of what your beloved had to say.”
“Did you and Gran write?”
“We did. Many letters a week at times when I was away.”
“And yet now you’re not talking to each other, that doesn’t seem right.”
He just sighed serving my breakfast, despite my insistence that I could and would do it myself.
“Married life is long, Erik. You are at the starting gate, she and I … we’ve been in this race together a very long time.”
“But you’re not at the finish line yet and don’t you forget it.”
I hoped he realised that he wasn’t at the finish gate where anything was concerned in life, mostly life itself. But that was another conversation for another time. I had work to do.
Who the fucked expected deliveries on a Sunday anyway?!
Getting out of the airport was a shock to the system. The warm welcome to Sweden this time was not so warm at all; in fact, it was so far below zero I questioned people’s sanity to live here at this time of year. My baggage and I caught a cab to the train station, where I spent the majority of my day nodding off, reading my sex books shame free – it was Sweden after all, and no one knew me there. As far as they were concerned, I could have been some kind of sex expert brushing up on some light reading.
I rather liked that idea.
I had called Erik’s grandfather, knowing that by what Erik told me he slept weird hours and would be up into the middle of the night. It was a risk, getting him on the phone and not Erik or his grandmother, but it had paid off when I told Carl of my plans.
He was giggling like a school boy at the idea of tricking Erik, and me surprising him. He was happy to go along with the rouse.
It took hours on that damn train, and I was starving by the time I arrived two towns over from the town where my love currently slept soundly in his bed. My body clock was messed up, but I knew when the train pulled in and I found myself at a little adorable bed and breakfast, I would be doing the breakfast, and then bed, I knew Erik wouldn’t be there until the middle of the day which gave me more than enough time to ‘get ready’ to see him. Getting ready required eating what Braedeen, the owner of the establishment and grandmother to six don’t you know, provided me with a large breakfast my tired, hungry self all but devoured, a bed and a shower after. The room on the other hand was not as welcomed at first.
The bed was on four ropes and …swung. The looked I gave her as she handed me my key made her laugh, and she said something in Swedish I did not understand but patted me on the back. I touched the bed and it rocked.
It was the weirdest sleep I had ever had, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best sleep. It literally swayed me to sleep. I wondered when I woke, if it was sturdy enough to hold both Erik and I, and what I had planned for us when he got here.
I hoped it did, if it did not we’d land with a bang.
In more ways than one, that’s for sure!
Damn snow, there was at least four feet of it being cleared off the roads, traffic out of the town was a nightmare, and I knew that the stupid delivery would now not be made until at least one. I couldn’t even stop for food because if I wanted to be back home at a decent hour – judging by the roads I might have been safer to stay the night in the other town, but I had a laptop date with my wife and it was much more important than some stupid frame for some demanding woman.
I got a call from my grandfather, reminding me that this woman – Susannah Consort – was staying at the little B&B by the water, he knew the owner apparently a nice woman, gives out amazing dinners. He heavily suggested I eat there. By my third hour in the car, I was not inclined to argue with him on that matter. I had left home at ten, the work in the shop having taken longer than either of us anticipated. Nevertheless, it was now the afternoon and I had pulled up at the address given, unloaded the large wrapped frame from the back of the truck and braced the heavy falling snow to traipse inside.
The cold wind that blew around the corners and up through the streets felt that it could literally cut you in two it was so sharp and intense, and the more I thought about driving straight back home, the less appealing it seemed, especially when I walked into the warm hug that was Braedeen Novak’s business. The warm oak wood floors shining, the rich gold of the wallpaper, teamed with the smell of chestnuts and cinnamon it was like the hug I desperately needed.
“Hello, I have a package for a guest I think is staying here?” I said in our native tongue, as I had spoken to everyone since I had arrived. I knew my English would suffer from lack of use, but there was just no need for it without Sookie.
The woman behind the desk nodded and directed me to the third floor of the large town house that was now their bed and breakfast establishment, I had no doubt they also lived her too. From the looks of the place it held at least ten rooms for guests, I wondered if they had fun doing something like this, something that didn’t require driving hours at a time in the damn snow so some woman could have a picture frame.
I got to room three hundred and five, and knocked politely and waited. And waited some more.
“Hello?” I said before I knocked again.
When the door opened I was about to speak when all ability to speak just seemed to fail me.
Ms Consort was my consort, my wife.
She stood there, in a simple red sheer blouse and a wavy black skirt; she was barefoot with her hair in big soft looking curls, a massive smile on her happy face. I don’t think I’d ever see anyone look so beautiful.
“About time my package arrived, you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you!” She played.
I was sure I had lost my voice; all I could do was stare at her, a smile matching hers.
“Well, you gonna come in or you gonna make you drag you in?”
She had surprised me, usually I hated surprises, but this was one I could get used to.
Little did I know that it was the first of many surprises she had for me that afternoon.
The first of many was an understatement.