Hello all, I know it has been over a year but I promise I have been working on this fic. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, review and follow this story over the years. It is because of all of you that I keep going.
That having been said I am not happy with this chapter at all but it is important to set up Eric's character.
Warning: Mentions child abuse. If you do not want to read about this subject please avoid reading the last half of this chapter.
Chapter 6 (The Man Behind the Songs)
Joan woke the next morning with a spring in her step, feeling like she could take on the world. She bounced down the stairs and greeted her family with a bright smile and a kiss to the cheek for each. Her behavior no doubt leading her parental units to question her sanity and the necessity of demanding a drug test but Joan was oblivious to it all. Nothing could bring her down today.
While waiting for the bus to arrive Joan decided that perhaps conquering the world was a bit too lofty a goal for a Friday morning, instead she would just have to settle for conquering high school. Content with her goals for the day, Joan walked into school happily, only half listening to Grace chatter on about the latest political or economical crisis going on in the world today. Instead she was keeping a discreet eye out for a certain rebellious and musically gifted mop of dark brown hair. By the time second period rolled around Joan's sunny demeanor was starting to dim.
'Where is he?' she silently demanded, half tempted to stomp her foot like an enraged ten year old but as that wasn't very attractive she refrained.
At this point Grace was getting fed up with Joan's lack of attention. She had been a little wigged by her exuberant behavior this morning but had chalked it up to over compensation for the whole Adam/Iris debacle. As the morning progressed Joan seemed even more distracted and her chipper mood was darkening by the minute.
There was defiantly a chance of rain in the forecast.
"What's your problem Girardi? If you don't stop frowning I'm going to start questioning whether or not you're bi-polar or something."
Seeing Joan's confused stare, Grace heaved a sigh before trying again. "Are you still stressing over Rove, because if you are you best listen well because I'm only going to say this once. HE IS NOT WORTH IT!"
Startled back to reality, Joan turned to Grace waving off her assumption. "For your information I haven't thought about Adam all day. I'm just a little…distracted today." With that said she turned her eyes to continue scanning the crowded halls.
Grace watched her friend with skeptical eyes for a minute before the proverbial light bulb flashed over her head.
"Is this about the new guy?"
The candy apple red splotches that bloomed across Joan's cheeks confirmed her suspicions. Opening her mouth to interrogate her friend Grace was interrupted by the warning bell. With a promise that this conversation was not over she scurried off to her next class leaving Joan alone with her thoughts.
Joan had been looking for Eric all day but to no avail. Her mood continued to darken and thunder rolled in the distance when Eric didn't show up for chemistry. This confirmed her suspicions that he was MIA on his third day of school. Her mood changes had also provided Grace with ample ammunition to gill her over lunch about her 'obsession' with the new boy.
While Grace preformed her own rendition of the Spanish Inquisition, complete with a heavy dose of guilt and threats of bodily harm, Joan practiced the art of multitasking. She was thinking up a way to find out where he was and why he hadn't shown up after last night.
Eureka! She knew just what to do.
Claiming a headache, Joan ducked out of 5th period but instead of heading to the nurse' office, Joan went to the main office. She knew that her mother would still be out to lunch and that that would mean Dexter would be manning the front desk as it was his free period.
'Over achiever,' Joan mumbled under her breath.
Joan pulled her tank top down a little more to expose her none existent cleavage, fluffed up her hair and worked up her best flirtatious smile. Game on.
"Hey Dexter, how are you doing today?" She greeted casually, but she made sure to smile invitingly at the pimply faced red head behind the desk. Joan noted that there were a few adults mulling around but they seemed too be engrossed in their own tasks to notice her.
Dexter flushed at her attentions and pulled at his tie nervously. Joan knew that Dexter had a crush of her and although she wasn't the type to be cruel, she had never gone out of her way to acknowledge him either.
"So Dex," she attempted to purr. It probably came out sounding like a dying cat coughing up a hair ball but Dexter didn't seem to notice.
Leaning casually against the desk she continued, "I have a little problem I was hoping you could help me out with."
"What's that…Joan?" He croaked out after a few swallows.
Got ya! Joan mentally applauded her performance so far. Damn near Oscar worthy, if she did say so herself. "You see, that new guy…Eric Wyatt and I were partnered up for a project in English," a class Dexter did not share with her; so he wouldn't know she was making this stuff up as she went, "and we are supposed to meet at his place this afternoon to work on it but I kind of lost his address."
She was laying it on thick now but it seemed to be working; a fact that Joan was enormously grateful for. The boy was practically drooling over her little performance. Yay her! "So I was hoping that you could look it up for me…please?"
Dexter all but swallowed his tongue before looking up at her nervously. "Oh…well Joan. I really can't give out student information like that."
A trickle of sweat rolled down his face and Joan began to feel a bit bad for him, but she was on a mission from God and she needed that address to complete it. Or at least that's what she told herself.
"I know, Dex, and normally I would never ask you to bend the rules but…" one hair flip and a wink for good measure, "I would really appreciate your help. I really don't want to fail this project. I would consider it a personal favor."
With that Dexter gave her a mega watt smile. "Just this once, but you can't tell anyone I gave this to you."
Joan made a 'cross my heart' gesture, which earned her a cleavage leer before Dexter worked his magic on the computer and handed her the address.
Blowing him a kiss out the door, Joan had to contain the urge to jump for joy. Glancing down at the address, a frown replaced her smile. Park Street? That was on the other side of town, not too far from the club. After a moment of thought she decided that the location didn't matter and made planes to head over after school.
It took two buses and some heavy duty hiking to get to Park Street and all she found when she arrived was a line of rusted trailers that looked as though any good gust of wind might send them crumbling to the ground in a heap of twisted metal.
This was not exactly where Joan had pictured Eric living, although to me honest she hadn't given much thought to where Eric would live. Sucking it up, she smoothed down her jeans and marched down the row of rust buckets on wheels.
After a minuet or two she found number 211. Tattered yellow lace curtains hung from the trailer windows and she could see the remains of some sort of hanging plant dangling by the door. The over all stereotype was completed by a mistreated mid 50's Ford tuck parked off the left of the double wide trailer. The rear tires were missing leaving the end propped up by a few well placed cinder blocks.
A few tentative knocks and the front door swung open nearly knocking her over to reveal a beast of a man that looked like he would just assume shoot her than talk to her. Suddenly Joan was questioning if Dexter had given her the right address or if he had figured out her little misdirection and had decided to get her back.
Joan attempted a hello but fell short as the man looked her up and down like she was a piece of meat. It took everything she had not to turn tail and run back home at that look. Suddenly she was having a flash back to her first visit to Adam's home a few months ago, only this guy looked a hell of a lot scarier than Adam's father.
"Sorry, is there an Eric Wyatt that lives here?"
The beasty didn't respond, only crowded the door and licked his barbecue sauce covered lips and continued to leer at her. Just when she was beginning to curse herself for not taking karate or some other Ninja based self defense class she heard yelling from within before the man was pulled back and Eric appeared looking mad enough to do some major damage with the slightest provocation
"Get lost Mike!" Eric yelled and after a very tense moment were Joan wished more than anything that she had thought this plan out a little better before coming over, 'Mike' retreated back into his cave leaving them alone in awkward silence.
Eric watched Mike until he planted himself in front of the television before turned back to Joan, his eyes still ablaze but cooling rapidly. He wanted to kill Mike for harassing her but as he didn't want to end up in jail just yet he rained in his temper and took a good look at the girl in front of him.
After last night Eric hadn't been able to get his 'stalker' out of his mind. The sweet sent of her hair, the attractive blush that seemed to continuously highlight her cheeks, the way her mind ran off with it's self and took her strait to crazy town. Yep, he was a goner alright. Hook, line and sinker because he was dangerously close to becoming just as obsessed with one Ms. Joan Girardi as she seemed to be with him. A dangerous possibility for a guy like him, he knew.
It didn't help that he had been so distracted by their dance last night he had wondered home well past curfew and gotten a shiner and a split lip for his mistake. Not that he didn't give as well as he got these days. The old man didn't get on him as much as he used to now that he fought back.
Leaving the dark thoughts behind he gave Joan his full attention and judging by the rounding of her doe eyes he should have remembered to put some of his mom's coverup on his eye this morning.
"He didn't try anything did he?" He asked trying to distract her from asking any uncomfortable questions that were better left unanswered.
Tearing her eyes away from the painful looking black bruise staining Eric's left eye Joan looked down in embarrassment. In all her scheming to get here, it had never occurred to her to come up with a cover story as to why she came looking for him. Ops…
"No, just a little creepy is all. Who is he anyways?"
"He's my father." Was his dead pan response.
Double ops. "Oh well he's just lovely in that case." One of these days she would learn to think before she spoke, but thankfully a small smile broke over Eric's perfect if not discolored face.
"Don't sweat it Joan. He's an ass. So what brings you to my crappy abode, dear stalker?" And just like that Joan felt the urge to swoon.
So not fair!
"Oh well, that…you see I noticed that you weren't in school today and I just wanted to make sure you were OK, and did that sound as lame as I thought it did?" Mortification was most defiantly the theme of her life as of now.
"Yes it did but your cute so I can over look it. Come on, I'll walk you home." Slamming the screen door behind him he pulled her arm gently until she fell into step beside him.
"Oh you don't need to do that." Joan quickly assured fighting her swoon reflex yet again while simultaneously wishing the ground would just open up and swallow her now before she made an even bigger fool out of herself in front of him.
He stepped in front of her, stopping her mid step. "In case you haven't noticed Joan, this is not the kind of neighborhood you want to be wondering around in after dark. " The hand on her arm trailed down until his fingers laced with hers and gave them a light squeeze. The action was enough to send her little heart into the stratosphere.
"So as I said, I'll walk you home." He gave her hand a final squeeze before letting her go, hoping the gesture was enough to sooth any sting his words may have caused.
Just like that her dark mood of the past seven hours evaporated in a cloud of over stimulated hormones. With a bounce in her step Joan skipped to catch up with him.
"Where did you get my address from anyways?" He inquired after a few minutes of silence.
With a secretive smile Joan looked away. "I have my ways."
Eric watched her fidget with her bag and knew there was more to the story, but as he wasn't one for sharing himself, he respected her privacy and let the subject go.
They continued to walk in silence. Joan watched him from the corner of her eye until a gust of wind caused him to wince painfully, the action was enough to peak her curiosity once again.
"I know it's none of my business, but…how did you get all of this?" She motioned to his face instead of voicing her question for fear her voice would betray her nerves.
She could practically hear his muscles tense beside her, his breath hitched but he remained silent. "Was it your..." she trailed off not knowing how to voice the shadowy suspicion manifesting in her mind.
"Was it my father?" He supplied to her surprise. "Yeah, this is his way of keeping me in line." The sarcasm in his voice was evident as he looked off into the distance, and suddenly Joan felt her stomach revolt at the thought that a father could do something like that to his own son. Oh no…the thought came to her with the force of a hurricane. Is this why God sent her to Eric, because of his father?
Eric noticed her stricken look and his chest tightened in response to her distress. Despite every instinct he possessed, Eric found himself laying his secrets out on the table. He had a suspicion that he would tell he just about anything if only he could wipe that look from her pretty face. "Look, my dad had an accident on the job a few years ago and ever since he's been spending a little too much time with a bottle. When he's had too much he get's upset and takes it out on the closest object. Sometimes that's me, but he doesn't do it as much now that I fight back alright. It's no big deal Joan."
Eric was good at spinning a tail, that much Joan already knew but she didn't believe that it was 'no big deal'. She remembered his song from last night, the way he sang the words as if he were declaring his pain to the world and the pieces started to fall into place for Joan. Only she didn't know what to do now.
"What about your mom?" She dared to ask. How couldn't a mother let this happen to her son, she needed to know even if she was afraid of the answer.
He shrugged and kicked at a rock in their path before answering. "She works two jobs to support us, dads disability isn't enough. I don't let her see."
"Eric, my father is the Chief of Police, I'm sure he could do something…" She trailed off. Her heart was firmly lodged in her throat, and her hands were shaking as she waited for his reaction.
Her words seemed to register with him after a second, before she could react he rounded on her, invading her personal space with menace. "Wait! Hold up. You never mentioned anything about your father being the Chief of police!"
He was inches from her face now, his hot breath scorching her cheeks, chocolate eyes blazing and she wanted nothing more than to take every word that spilled from her mouth back if only it would take away the pain in his eyes.
"Eric, please." She whispered imploringly, a trace of fear creeping into her voice.
"No, you listen to me. I don't need saving, not by you, not by anyone!" He spat, his mind was in a panic as all of the possible consequences to telling this girl his secrets played though his mind, only as he looked down at her and watched her beautiful eyes widen in fear his heart slammed painfully against his rib cage.
Joan was afraid. She was afraid of him. Taking a mental step back he took a deep breath to calm his temper.
Eric had promised himself long ago that no matter what he would never end up like his father, never.
"Hey, I'm sorry for getting in your face," he soothed softly taking a tentative step toward her. When she didn't retreat he reached out to catch her trembling fingers "but I need for you to promise me that you won't tell your father about any of this Joan. It may not seem like much to you but it's all that I've got. Please…"
Joan looked up into familiar honey coated eyes and felt as though her world was falling away around her. She could see the fear lurking behind his eyes as he implored her to keep this secret. Logically she knew what she should do, what every adult in her life had drilled into her head from birth. When someone needs help, you help them; but what if getting them that help means betraying their trust and possibly destroying everything they know?
For the first time in her life Joan wished God, in all of his infinite wisdom would appear and tell her which road to take.
"Please." He begged softly.
Swallowing down her conscious Joan turned her eyes to meet his pleading gaze. "I promise not to tell my father." She whispered.
They stayed like that for an undetermined period of time, standing toe to toe, just watching each other, breathing the same air in and out. Eric was the first to break the moment, taking a deep breath all his own he pulled away. Rather than lose the connection completely he kept her hand locked securely in his own grip, tracing his thump across her index finger in slow circles. The feel of her soft skin against his calloused fingers grounded him in a way that he had never thought possible before now; it left him feeling something resembling hope. A feeling he hadn't experienced in a long time.
"Well now that my secret is out, maybe we should get you home before it gets much later." He joked to lighten the mood and tugged her along by their joined hands.
On the inside Joan felt like a steel vise had just been secured around her middle and she was suffocating under the pressure but she managed a half smile for his sake. "Yeah, maybe we should."
The rest of their walk was spent in a tense but companionable silence, each too lost in their own thoughts to speak.
"So are we getting close to your house or do we need to stop for directions?"
Startled, Joan stopped and looked around only to realize that she had walked them a block past her house. "Oh, I'm so sorry. That is my hours back that way."
Eric only grinned and pulled her back to the house she indicated. Once they reached the porch Eric released her hand a little reluctantly. "Are you going to be ok?" Joan whispered when he didn't say anything.
"Yeah, the old man will be passed out by the time I get home. No worries." Joan wished she could be as comforted by his words as he seemed to be.
"So I guess I'll see you Monday." He said scratching at the back of his head awkwardly. When she didn't respond he turned away with a wave and started to head back the way they came.
"Eric!" She called after him with a sense of deja vu. Maybe it was her own over active imagination playing ticks on her but she thought she saw relief color his dark eyes when he turned to her.
"You know the Skyline Bookstore in town?" He nodded with his hands stuffed in his jean pockets, he made the perfect picture of indifference. So cool and clam around on the outside but Joan was just starting to realize how much of that was an act to cover up all of his frayed edges. "I'm working there this weekend and I thought that if maybe you wanted to stop by and hang out while I'm working, say 2pm tomorrow, that would be cool."
He watched her for a second with a slow smile turning up the corner of his lips. The knot in her stomach loosened somewhat.
"I'll think about it."
With a wink he disappeared into the shadows.
Until next time…