A/N: Hey! Before I apologize for the extremely long wait, let's read it, right? It's a huge, and I mean HUGE, chapter. I hope you enjoy it!
I owe an immense amount of thanks to Sunkisz for being her extremely kind self, and beta'g this chapter for me. CassMello, my magnificent beta also worked her magic with this one! I dedicate Pam's POV for her! Anyway, this wouldn't be any good without them! Thank you, ladies!!
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters; they solely belong to CH. Except for Annika, of course. She's all mine. Eric may hire you as her babysitter though. :)
Chapter 15 – Down The Rabbit-Hole
I woke up with a smile plastered on my face; the whiff of waffles and brewing coffee knocking me out of bed. Peeking at the digital clock on my bedside table, I made out that it was only 9 o'clock. I was a tad surprised Sookie was up this early making breakfast. It was a Sunday, for fuck's sake. Above and beyond, I was expecting her to be fairly tired and to be sleeping in considering last night's action. I worked very hard to make sure both of them would. Eric couldn't have spent the night here, could he? No, he had a shift to attend this morning. Could my plan have backfired then? Ugh! Those two will be the death of me.
Throwing a robe over myself, I secured it around my waist, since my lovely roommate was firmly against nakedness within the perimeters. Sookie could be very squeamish over plain things like nudity and very forthright over other more complicated like politics. The reasoning behind her contrariness was beyond me.
I stepped out of my room and went straight for the bathroom, and the mouth-watering smells of homemade goodies got even stronger. After minding my business, I marched towards the kitchen, my stomach growling in expectation with a backup plan taking form in my head.
"Good Morning, Pam," Sookie said cheerfully, noticing my presence. I stopped in my tracks, amused at the amount of food scattered over the counter.
"Well, morning! Are we expecting an army for breakfast? Should I put some clothes on or save myself the trouble and take all off?" I asked with a leer.
"Sorry, roomie. No Marines to reckon your topography at the moment. This is just for the two of us. I made your favorite breakfast food to express my gratitude for what you did for me and Eric. Thank you, Pam," she uttered turning around, giving me a bear hug. So it worked? She went back to her previous spot after squeezing me with her gratitude.
Contented, I perched myself on a stool. "I might as well enjoy it then, Marines or no Marines," I compromised while picking what I liked the most: waffles, fresh orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, and yogurt. "How did it go? Great, I hope, though you being up this soon can't be a good sign."
"Oh, no, it was the most perfect date ever," she told me, beaming, and took a seat on the opposite side of the counter. "I couldn't sleep after Eric dropped me home. I was so restless, thinking about the date, him and me, what we mean to each other now… since we didn't come to terms on that specific part. Plus, I had to find a way to thank you. When I thought of something, I settled for cleaning, cooking, and baking as an alternative to letting my mind go on overdrive." My, her tongue was the one in overdrive now. "I still can't believe you did it all for us. Eric told me he helped a little, but that you did most of it. Why give yourself the trouble, Pam? It wasn't like you had to or anything."
"It was nothing. Eric didn't have the time to plan something special for you like he wanted, so I stepped in and did it for both of you. I'm glad you liked it. I just wanted the two of you to have a chance to relax and get to know each other better." I told her the short version. There was no need to get into the particulars yet, if ever.
"Yup, it worked. That's for sure," Sookie said, eyeing her mug as she poured coffee in it, her mind visibly somewhere else. I could imagine where from the hint of smile on the corner of her lips.
"So you guys had sex?" I asked without preambles. For some reason, I suspected the answer would be a big "no". They probably didn't because it had been their "first date" and all that shit. I set things up to put them in the right mood, knowing they could do whatever they wanted, and hoping they would put those expensive pillows to good use. I even put some condoms in the picnic basket, if you have to know. Maybe they didn't find them? Well, one couldn't say I slept on the job.
"Pam!" she shrieked, blushing ten shades of red.
"What? Just tell me already!"
"Well, that's none of your business. You may have set up that incredible date for us, and I am very grateful for that, but I won't get into such details over my private life. I'm not that kind of girl and you know it. And he's your brother, which makes it all the more weird," she said, shifting uncomfortably on her seat.
What did I say about her being squeamish? "Oh, no need to put fifty layers of armor on, my friend. I asked with the best of intentions," I retorted, appeasing her.
"How is the food? Do you like it? Did I forget something you like?" she inquired, changing the subject.
"Everything is wonderful, Sookie. I haven't eaten this well since I left Eric's home almost three years ago, and that's got to mean something," I said, on the second round of buttery waffles.
She stopped chewing her toast with jam and asked, "I didn't know you had lived in his place. When was that?"
"When Annika was born. I practically lived there for the first year and a half. Eric needed all the help he could get, and Mrs. Öberg and I were the ones there for him. That's one of the reasons I started college three years after I finished high-school."
"It must have been so hard for him, even with your help and Mrs. Öberg…" she contemplated.
"It still is." I wanted to make sure she understood what she was getting in to. I was positive she could handle it, as I was convinced she was the perfect woman not just for Eric, but for Ann too; otherwise I wouldn't have given myself the trouble to put these two together. Except she didn't know it yet, and neither did he. I was afraid this was something they needed to find out for themselves.
"I know he has a lot on his plate. I'm aware of that," she told me, raising a steamy mug of coffee to her lips. "Even so, I'm willing to give it a shot."
And I would be dammed if I didn't make sure her shot hit the target. "You better," I recommended. She raised both her brows at me, and I laughed. "You can't say I'm not on your side!"
"I guess you have always been, haven't you?" she asked, smiling meaningfully.
"For as long as I remember, roomie."
From the moment I saw her I knew she had been marked. And I didn't mean a tattoo. It was the fleeting grief-stricken shadow that every once in a while clouded her eyes that would sell her out. I knew that look all too well. I had been marked myself.
I was sitting on a bench, absently flipping the college brochure, bored to death, when an interesting girl entered my field of vision. Her figure instantly caught my attention, and I decided I might as well use the distraction; I didn't have anything better to do anyway. Leaping into a more alert mindset, I rested the brochure by my side as my eyes keenly tried to fathom the nature of her. She had a shrouded somber air to her sprightly countenance, like joy was a long forgotten, yet welcomed, emotion for her. She took a seat under a live oak next to my bench, retrieved a book from her bag (Pride and Prejudice if I remember correctly) and began reading it; although she seemed too excited to focus. She'd lowered the book and glanced over the surroundings every two seconds.
At first look one might have thought she was the epitome of the pretty, though obtuse, blue-eyed blonde, and at times I believed she leniently favors that notion to avoid further nuisances. I, being a blue-eyed blonde myself, was familiar to the preconception. However, this girl was nothing like the socially inflicted petty label. Nobody interesting ever was.
I watched her saunter around the campus for a while before making a move. Don't get me wrong. While the method had its attraction, I was no Dexter Morgan, lurking around for a culprit in the hopes to unleash my deep sociopathic needs. (Referring to Hannibal Lector would make me look too full of myself, wouldn't it?) And I wasn't planning on hitting on her either. I prefer saucy brunettes when it comes to women, and I usually go for men. They are less intricate and considerably easier to please, and I seemed to be very fond of a certain anatomic component they have (if they know how to properly use it, of course).
Barry, the guide, finally called us out for the tour of our lives, gushing over the honor of walking through and seeing those sacred grounds. I thought I was going to puke. I got into the bus at last and spotted Barry trying to sit next to the blonde I had been observing – not to say stalking – and watched as he made a terrible pass on her. He was downright pathetic and she seemed so uncomfortable I had to intervene. "This seat is already taken, flee," I said tersely. His head snapped around, and found my stern face. To his credit, he tried to apologized, but I was sure the words caught in his throat.
I took the vacant seat by her side after Barry staggered away mumbling. I introduced myself with a scornful comment towards the excuse of a guide. She thanked me and quipped back on the double, to my surprise. The conversation flowed easily enough from there. Eventually we found out each other's names and even shared lunch. I reconsidered my preference for brunettes at least four times while we chatted. I was absolutely right (no surprise there) with my previous assessment of her; she was indeed out of the ordinary.
Before the terrific sightseeing ended, we exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses. She agreed to call me the next time she came to Shreveport after I made sure it would be okay for the tenth time; difficult to persuade that one. She'd come to town once a week in the search of a place to rent for when classes started. I'd help her with the dreary hunt, have a cup of coffee and an animated chat; within a month we were good friends. I found out it was remarkably easy to talk to her. There was something about her that made you want to open up and be yourself. I wasn't used to female companionship, unless it was under the sheets. My friends were mostly men, except for Felicia. But we stopped going out like we used to after she met my brother's best friend, Rasul. What a floating relationship those two have. Hence, we only spent time together when they fight.
Somewhere between pricy and shitty apartments, none of which Sookie could afford by herself, I decided we should be roommates. I was planning on leaving my parent's house – no, cross that – my mom and her boyfriend's house for quite some time. I hadn't done it earlier because I had the best of excuses to crash at Eric's pretty often while Annika was still a baby. She was almost five now and didn't need me there as much anymore. Therefore I had to stay at my mom's more than I thought physically and emotionally bearable. She never forgot that after my father died, as opposed to staying by her side, grieving and lamenting like a good daughter, I ran away. I finished my senior year, got emancipated, took half of the substantial legacy my father left for me, applied the other half, and headed off. One could say my motto was "carpe viam" (seize the roadway), rather than "carpe diem". Another thing Sookie and I have in common, I've notice.
I was no good at grieving, I found out later. I had a very close relationship with my dad; I dare to say he was my best friend besides my brother. We had the same interests and liked the same stuff; we were so much alike that sometimes I forgot we were father and daughter. We had our fights, sure, but it never took long for us to be laughing our silly selves about it. He had his flaws. God, he was far from perfect, but I overlooked all of them and benefit from the other, more important traits he had to offer. The unexpected loss of someone so special, so deeply loved, hauled me up into a devastating tornado of self-destruction and oblivion.
I traveled through Europe, doing some modeling, attending tables, and babysitting when the money got too short to maintain my way of living and new vices. I roamed from one city and another until I got jaded or in trouble, which occurred frequently. I settled mainly in Valencia, after approximately a year traveling around. There I met Victor. He was a self-taught artist a lost, young soul like me would find enchanting, and I confess I did, but only for a short while.
Pff! Such a cliché, I thought when I heard about him. How wrong I was; Victor was far from my premature assumptions. I should have learned not to pass judgment by then. What can I say, I'm not perfect. (But I'm close enough).
He approached me at his own vernissage that night. "¿Te gusta?" he asked, pointing to the painting standing ahead of me.
I glanced at him, and asked, "In English, please." I was somewhat familiar with the language, but in no mood to have a conversation in Spanish if it could be in English. Also, I said please, didn't I?
He nodded and repeated, "Do you like it?" I turned my eyes back to the painting and had to slant my head slightly to take all in. It was an especially dark colored canvas. The reds, grays and blacks created a surreal tangle of bodies, a breathtaking scene of carnal love between a man and his woman. No doubt that she was his; the hold he had on her looked almost painful, if not extremely pleasurable. The crude passion of it was entrancing. He was good, very good.
"I suppose I do, but I am not an expert," I replied, eyeing him over the rim of my glass. His charm was undeniable, even if he wasn't exactly my type. He was a bit taller than me. His dark hair was short and curly, combed perfectly for the night. He had light tanned skin and a savvy pair of brown eyes.
"Nobody is, cariño. People just pretend to analyze art and find a meaning where it isn't. A painting or any art work for that matter is good as long as it makes you feel something," he told me in a sluggish, rich accent. "Did this one say something to you?"
"Yes. It tells me I should be in bed trying this position with the artist who painted it, instead of admiring his work," I replied blatantly.
"I shall solve this for you then," he asserted courteously.
I sneered. "Really? And how would you?"
He extended his hand towards me with a devious smile, and introduced himself, "Victor Madden, the artist you should be in bed with."
We spend that night together and many ones after that. We had a rather intense, if not to say obsessive, relationship. We'd fight every day and make up every night; maybe not every night. The wild fixation of it all was too exhausting at times.
Slowly, I was falling into a place where no one could save me, not even myself. Victor tried to help me, with buoyant words and escalating attentiveness, but I was beyond any help he could offer. I had been running away from the pain for so long; muting its cries with sex, drugs, and self-delusion, merely existing as a numb shell of the old me. That when the grief caught me was a full force strike.
And then Eric called.
He had found me through a mutual friend that I had casually encountered in Paris several weeks before. Eric was exceptionally angry at me for deserting our family. I felt guilty and ashamed, but I didn't fail to tell him I had my reasons - my righteous, fucked-up reasons. Nevertheless, he told me the news that would shake my life from its rocky bottom. "Come home, you crazy dumbass. You're going to be an aunt in two months."
I packed my things and flew back home at the same day. Victor followed me and ended up deciding to establish himself in America; perhaps even opening his own gallery (which he did quite fast). I broke up with him subsequently, but we continued to be friends; a much healthier association for both of us.
Annika Elin Northman was born a couple months after I came back. I always rolled my eyes when people were "Awwing" at the sheer sight of a newborn. Still, the moment I held that frail, tiny baby in my arms, I was a goner. I understood the compelling force of a child at last.
I practically lived in Eric's house then, given that Sophie-fucking-Anne had the guts to abandon not only my brother, but her own daughter as well. He needed all the help he could get, that's for sure. Annika wasn't an easy baby by all means. She would wake up at night, demanding attention, and then fall asleep for a couple more hours, just to cry her lungs out all over again. It was like that every single night until she was about one year old. It hurt me to think she was missing the mom she never had, and it made me hate that she-devileven more.
Mrs. Öberg and I would alternate taking daily care of Ann while Eric kept up through Med School. He thanked me and our sweet, old nanny profusely each night when he got home and saw how well his baby girl was. He didn't know caring for Ann was more helpful to me than anything. For the first time in my life, I felt as though someone truly needed me, and it was all the healing I didn't know I needed. She made me believe life wouldn't screw things over this time.
Now that I live with Sookie and got into business school, I'm not as available for Ann as I was before. I only get to see her three times a week at most. I honestly never thought a child could turn me into a softie, but she has. I miss my niece fiercely on the days I don't see her. I was so used to seeing her every day, even when I went to live in my mom's house again, soon after Ann's first birthday. And then I applied to college, at Eric's insistence. Even though he was struggling with his own fucked up life, my brother had the thoughtfulness to consider me and help me out the best way he could. I owe him so much; if wasn't for him God knows where I would be right now, probably six feet under the ground.
In fairness, after blowing my chances with a crappy SAT score (I'm not stupid, if that crossed your mind, my dad had died the week before the test), I didn't deem possible getting into a good school, but Eric insisted I should at least try. I did and despite that slight disadvantage, I was admitted at the LSU. (My last name and my father's preceding donations to the university might have being the main reason.)
I chose business for a sole reason: the clothing. I liked pastels colors, twinsets, and suits - kill me. Okay, that's not entirely true. We have a family business, and someone needs to take the horse by the reins. It might as well be me since Eric was in the white scrubs bash, and there was no one else on hand. My brother never did consider assuming my dad's legacy. I do, and I plan on kicking some ass at it when the time is right. In the interim, I plan on getting Eric and Sookie together. (It's so much easier to intrude and make other people life better than our one.)
I won't lie and say the moment I met Sookie I thought she was the perfect woman for Eric. But I sure as hell considered the possibility once I saw them eye-fucking each other when they first met. But my resolution to make them a couple only took the form of a mischievous plan when I saw the instant liking Annika took for Sookie. I owe Ann big for saving me and granting me so much happiness over these years. And the only way to pay her back would be by giving her the best mom she could have, and that person is Sookie, in my not so humble opinion. I would do anything for my little niece. See her happy is my main purpose. Plus, I have Eric and Sookie's well-being in mind as well.
In truth, Eric had always been too damn proud, and Sookie could be so stubborn, I knew if I didn't get my hands dirty they probably wouldn't date whatsoever. I started to pull some strings at the housewarming party. I saw Sookie's outfit and remember Eric had something very similar in his closet. I thought it'd be the perfect topic to start a conversation. I called his housekeeper and asked her to iron the ensemble I wanted and place it neatly on his bed. I expected him to be tired and pick whatever was nearest as he often did. Through the party I kept myself busy, far away from the door. It all worked; Sookie was the one receiving Eric and things only got better and better from then on.
Ah, the fight. I had my part in that too. When I laid my eyes on Sookie's ex I saw trouble, which meant golden prospects. I gave Eric the push he needed to intercede, letting slip about Alcide appearing to be dangerously out of his mind again, enough to hurt my roommate badly. He bit the bait and went to her rescue right away. I caught them getting it on later. That's how well it worked, my friend. I had to stop it though. There was a nagging chance they'd never be a steady couple if they had sex so quickly. Eric could lose his interest in her (men are that shallow) or she could think it was a huge mistake and avoid further contact (women are that silly).
I began to pick up Ann at preschool, so Eric would go to the apartment regularly, and my niece could get to know Sookie better. I set up that dreamy date for them, and they didn't have sex. What a fucking waste of time and money. Well, maybe it was for the best, the longer it takes, the higher the chances are that they would last. It's never easy; both of them are so much trouble. Even so, I'll continue to lend a hand until I have to throw a bridal shower.
You have my word on that.
I officially hate Mondays.
I received a phone call from my mom early this morning. She informed me the bank was cutting personnel and would send her away by the end of the month. She was so upset with the news, I felt sorry for her. My mom loved to work as a bank manager. She could have a chat with the patrons, have her own money, be active, and feel useful. More to the point, she hated any kind of housework, thus she was extremely displeased with the sudden change. She also informed me she and dad wouldn't be able to help me pay my bills anymore. "Things are very difficult at the moment," she told me.
I'd have to find a job at flank speed. I didn't waste time and looked at the campus long after class. I decided to head home when I found nothing that fitted my schedule. Thank God my parents had saved the money Gran gave them for my education over the years, otherwise I'd be lost.
As I drive my way back home, a sick feeling I'm forgetting something important nags at the back of my mind. I try to remember what is it, but nothing comes to surface. My muscles are aching from the tension I had been through the entire day. Small drops of rain are starting to fall from the gloomy sky, warning thunders roaring ominously close as if in tune with my current mood. Yep, Mondays suck.
While I pull in to the parking lot of my apartment building, I find myself wishing Eric would be upstairs, waiting for me in my room. His big, warm hands moistened with apricot kernel oil, in order to offer me the most delicious massage of my life, which would lead into other more delicious things. I shiver down to my toes at the thought of it.
Out of the blue, something ridiculously large launches into my direction, spooking the hell out of me. I hit the brakes just in time to avoid a full collision. Oh my, did I run over a chubby deer? You're not in Bon Temps anymore, dumbass. I step out of the car in a rush, leaving it still running. The smell of burned tires and rain fills the air. I spot it then. "It" is a tall, hairless man, spread on the concrete floor in a very uncomfortable way. "Are you okay? I'm so sorry–" I begin, but the anger in his eyes makes me swallow the rest.
"God Dammit, you almost killed me! Are you fucking blind?" the man snarls, getting to his feet and patting the dust off of his butt.
His shirtless body is utterly impressive at full height, with the whole six-pack abs and well-defined pecs combo. Although his khaki shorts appear to have fresh, muddy stains at the side; dog poo, perhaps? A foul smell floats in the air subsequently. Yep, it's definitely poo. "You have –" I'm saying, but he cuts me off again.
"If I hadn't jumped away I would be lying under this piece of crap right now," he accuses angrily.
He had been under a piece of crap alright. Doesn't he know? I blink. Oh, he means my car. That ticks me off. "Excuse me. Did you just call my car a piece of crap? Who the hell do you think you are? You were the one that came out from nowhere."
He sizes me up in disbelief. "You can't be serious. Are you insinuating this is my fault? I should call the police and have your deadly driving skills taken out of circulation."
"I'm not insinuating anything, buster. I'm stating this is your fault," I retort decisively, "and call whomever you want, I don't care one bit. Call the armed forces if you must!"
"Fucking unbelievable," he grumbles and dispels a big lungful of air. Only then, he notices the stench coming from him. He examines his shorts thoroughly and takes his hand to his nose. He hisses, his smug face contorting in pure disgust, follow by utter rage. "Shit! See what you did, you nutcase?"
I don't try to suppress the snicker that escapes my throat. "It serves you right, your pretentious ass!" I snap back. I don't know what has gotten into me. In normal circumstances, I know I'd be afraid of someone as angry (and in shape) as him, but somehow he has me more infuriated than anything else.
"Perfect. Just perfect. First a crazy bitch tries to kill me, and then the fucking sky begins to fall," he grunts as heavy rain begins to pour over our heads merciless.
Asking for a bolt of lightning to strike him wouldn't be very Christian of me, right? Nope.
I turn my back to him, and go lock my car. Huffing, I grab my things and make a bee line for the entrance hall. To boost my irritation, he walks in right behind me. We bump into each other several times while running up the stairs. He keeps blocking my way up by forcing his big, muscled body in front of me like a 12-year-old brat. "Jackass," I mutter under my breath and nudge him on his ribcage every time he pulls that dirty trick.
"Crazy bitch," he says in response.
The last time I elbow him, I hit him with so much force he slips on his damp sneakers, loses his balance, falling to the floor and taking the rusty handrail with him. I look back at his scattered form to check on him, feeling really bad for knocking him down like that.
"You're paying for this!" he growls, staring up at me visibly dumbfounded.
"Whatever," I scorn and stride away, not-so-worried anymore. He deserved it.
When I finally reach my destination, I fumble with my keys, trying to open the door. Shiny head walks past me and trips on my doormat on purpose; causing my forehead to lurch against the door.
"Yousonofabitch," I shout out of my head, spinning on my heels, ready to slap him. He has the guts to smile and wave at me as he quickly enters the apartment next door. Grr! Why the world's biggest, good-looking jackass has to be my neighbor? Why?
"Jackass," I bark to myself, banging the door shut behind me.
"Jackass!" I hear a small voice repeat. I lower my gaze to find Annika standing on my living room, smiling like she discovered the greatest treasure at the end of the rainbow.
"Oh, shit," I mutter nervous, immediately clapping a hand over my mouth. What's wrong with me?
"Oh, shit," Annika mimics my faux pas again, much to my dismay. "Oh, shit, jackass!" She runs away giggling and repeating the words as if they're a song.
"Thank you, Sookie," Pam chides walking into the living room. "Annika, stop acting like a baby! You know you can't say these kinds of words."
"Why not? Sookie said them," she retorts, her chin coming up in defiance.
"Sookie is an adult, you're not," Pam scolds exasperated.
"The other kids say bad words all the time at school."
Pam clicks her tongue disapprovingly. "Well, good to know. Thank you for the information. I'll see what can be done about that." She pauses and taps her chin thoughtfully. "Eric will be very displeased. I see another week without TV and dessert ahead of you," she adds, smiling brightly.
Annika looks abashed for about a second. "So what? I don't care."
Another week, Pam said? What could she have done to deserve that? She's always so sweet and polite. With the exception of today, I never saw her speak with Pam with this tone. That's odd. "You'll be grounded and perhaps even prohibited to visit us and play. Besides, you're not like the other kids, sweetie. You're a princess, and princesses don't say such ugly words," I chime in. It's my fault after all, and Pam looks like she'd appreciate the help or Annika, for that matter.
"I like coming here. I don't want to be grounded again," Ann says pensive. "So what do princesses say when someone says bad things to them or pulls their hair?"
You got caught, Stackhouse, by a 4-year-old. Now what? I glance over at Pam, my eyes pleading for back up, just to see her trying to cover a grin. "Well, they take a big breath and smile to the person who did it, forgiving them for good," I say eventually. They actually do that, don't they?
"Why didn't you do that then?" she asks, narrowing her eyes at me.
For Christ's sake, is she a mini Pam? "Because, because I'm not a princess like yourself, and sometimes grownups let a bad word slip when they're really angry with something."
"Next time, breathe and smile, Sookie. Maybe you can turn into a princess then," Pam offers matter-of-factly, her grin flaring in full swing then.
Annika nods vigorously, and says encouragingly, "That's right, Sookie! You can be a princess too, just be a good girl."
I shake my head, chuckling amused. "Thanks, honey! I will, I will."
I give her a kiss on the cheek, take off my soaked jacket, and drop my keys and bag at the coffee table. I head to the kitchen next, Pam trailing right behind me.
"So who is the jackass?" she asks, raising an eyebrow at me.
I groan at the memory. "You know the bald guy who lives next door?" I ask while fetching a glass of water for myself.
"No, I don't think so," she says, climbing on the counter and crossing her legs.
I lean against the fridge nearby and take a big gulp of water in the hopes to unwind, before answering, "I was parking my car when this guy came running out of nowhere, making me almost hit him. Damn bowling ball head!" I peek over my shoulder to verify Annika whereabouts. All clear, she's playing with her dolls at the living room. "We exchanged some compliments after that, and he really got onto my nerves as you can see."
"Seems like a real jerk to me," she offers nonchalantly.
"Can you believe he was running without a shirt, just shorts and sneakers? Who does he think he is? Matthew McConaughey? Except for the hair, I mean. Ugh, what an exhibitionist... I should have run him over," I conclude fuming, swallowing the rest of the water.
"Really? Hm, I need to see this guy for myself. One casual meeting and you already hate his guts? Interesting…"
I roll my eyes at her. "Be my guest! Though he probably plays for the other league… he was too lean and sculpted and smooth all over for a straight guy." Pam raises both her eyebrows at me. "Fine, I'm been mean. He doesn't look gay at all. Happy?"
"Lean, sculpted, and smooth, huh? Seems like a yummy piece of meat," Pam comments expressionlessly. Yeah, yummy piece of meat covered in poo, I remind myself, which makes me giggle. "Are you sure you didn't like him one bit?" she probes, eyeing me suspiciously.
"Hell, no! In fact, I was thinking about Eric when the bald guy materialized in front of me," I reply, slightly outraged.
"I'm glad to know," she tells me with a distinctive edge to her voice. "I believe you're the one to blame in that case, rather than the McConaughey wannabe. Oh, was he wearing briefs? The actor seems to forfeit those…"
I completely ignore her comment, given that I'm quite certain he wasn't, actually. Withholding a blush from creeping on my cheeks, I ask, "Is Eric coming to pick up Ann or are you taking her home tonight?"
She has the nerve to pout at my disregard, even so she answers, "Not sure yet, he said he would call."
I find myself hoping fiercely he would. We had talked to each other Sunday night again, but still I missed him. Eric was a constant on my mind ever since we met. To tell the truth, thinking it over, I was so deep in thought that I didn't see the bald guy coming. Geez, maybe Pam was right. The near-accident was indeed my fault. He was merely jogging, and I just about killed him. Shit. Should I knock at his door and apologize to him then? I sure as hell don't want to. He was outright nasty, calling me a nutcase, crazy bitch, not to mention my car a piece of crap and hitting my head to the door. Oh, well… He was right in being mad at me. And I wasn't very nice either, was I? Don't think so.
My line of thought is suddenly interrupted by Pam's ring tone blasting inside her purse. She picks it up on chorus of Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For" and motions for me to hold on. "Yes, I can do that," she says. "I see. Uh huh." After a brief pause, she adds, "I'm putting you on the speakerphone."
I shoot her a questioning look. She shrugs, her teeth flashing in a mischievous grin. God help all of us.
"Hm, thanks Pam," Eric says clearly disconcerted. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads through me at the sound of his voice.
"I'm not your secretary, Eric. Now you can speak to Ann and Sookie yourself," she informs him. "Annika, your daddy is on the phone." Pam calls out, holding the phone still so all of us could hear it.
"Daddy, daddy!" Ann squeaks animatedly and innocently tries to grab the phone. Pam gestures for her to calm down and listen instead.
"Hey Eric," I say a little embarrassed.
"Ann, Sookie," he greets. "Ann, Aunt Pam will take you home tonight. I can't leave the hospital right now. We are receiving a few car accidents shortly because of the thunderstorm," he explains the last part mostly to my benefit, I believe.
"No! I don't want to go home! I didn't play with Sookie yet, daddy. She just got here! And it's raining outside, I don't like when it rains," Ann cries out, distressed as a resounding boom rips the sky. "I won't go, daddy. I want you."
"Annika, you do as I say. Go pack your things right now. Pam will be taking you home in a minute," he reprimands, his tone letting no room for negotiation. "I'll call you before you go to bed and tell you a story."
"Won't you forget?" she asks, sobbing.
"Of course not, sweetie. It's a promise," he offers more tenderly. "You don't need to be afraid of the thunders. Nanna will be there with you."
"It's not the same, daddy," she whimpers in a cracking voice.
My heart wrenches at her heartfelt confession. Instinctively, I pull her up to my arms and wipe the tears away from her rosy cheeks. "Don't cry, Ann. Your daddy will be with you when you wake up, isn't that right Eric?"
"Yes, it is," he reassures her.
"And we'll have plenty of time to play next time you come over, okay?" I offer.
She nods, still pouting a bit. I sit her down on the counter and instruct her to blow her nose in a paper towel. She does it without complain. "There you go. Much better, huh?"
Annika is about to answer when another bout of rumbling lightning sounds off, making her hop in my arms scared. She hugs me tight, pressing her face to my chest. I caress her blonde head soothingly, and murmur, "Shhh… It's okay, sweetie. It's going to pass in a minute."
"What's happening? Somebody talks to me," Eric cuts in.
Pam, who was watching the whole thing, finally speaks up, "All is fine in Wonderland, Eric. Sookie has everything under control."
"Can I speak with her privately?"
"Oh, I almost forgot," she shouts, paying no heed to his request. "I've been meaning to tell you, I'll be out of town next week. Victor asked me to help him at the opening of his new gallery in New Orleans and I'll have to go. So, I think you should take Sookie with you and Ann to the State Fair. You can't go with Ann at most rides because of your ludicrous height. Mrs. Öberg is too old for that stuff and hiring a sitter is just pathetic. Sookie's the best replacement for me."
"Yes, daddy. Let's take Sookie with us! Please! Pretty please!" Annika pleads, cheering up with the suggestion.
"Thank you for letting me know at this exact moment, Pam," Eric scorns.
"My pleasure!" she retorts, grinning shamelessly.
He laughs, resigned. "No need to make myself repeat all that. So, would you like to come with us, Sookie?"
"Say yes, Sookie! Come with us!" Annika begs, pulling at my shirt eagerly.
I smile at her, and say, "Sure, I'd love to go with you."
"Great! Can I speak with you now?" Eric requests without further ado.
Pam seems to take notice since she hands me her cell phone this time. I walk to my room as she takes Ann to the living room, to gather her things. I close the door behind me, and say, "Hi!"
"Hey," he answers. "I don't have much time. I just wanted to ask you, when am done tonight can I come over to see you?"
"Yes, Eric, of course. I'll be waiting anxiously," I say truthfully.
"Until later then, my dear."
I take Pam's cell phone back to her. She's packing Ann's toys, while her niece puts on her pink raincoat. I help them and soon enough we're done. I give Ann a kiss on the cheek and a hug before they leave. Next I take a much needed shower, put some comfy, yet nice pajamas on, and make myself a sandwich for dinner.
Pam gets back home as I finish rinsing the dishes. I ask how it was and she tells me Ann was much calmer when she dropped her at her house, since the storm had lessened into only a drizzle. I'm positively relieved to hear that. I tell her Eric would be coming by later on and ask if she wants to watch a movie or something. She politely declines my offer and retires for the night soon after freshening up. I brush my teeth and settle for watching a movie by myself while waiting for him. Surely if I waited on my bed reading, I would fall asleep in a second.
I stretch out comfortably on the couch, throw a blanket over myself, and peruse through the channels until I find An Affair to Remember, at TCM in its early beginnings. I start to watch it mildly interested; too many thoughts are ricocheting on my mind. Yet, a few minutes later I find myself diving into the timeless love story.
Somewhere between Deborah Kerr being hit by a car and Cary Grant anxiously waiting for her at the Empire State Building, completely oblivious to what had happened to his darling, the steadfast smile such a romantic classic had plastered on my face fades away, and I begin to cry. The tears flow freely on my face as I envision myself in that same situation three years ago.
Suddenly, it's all clear as if a flimsy fog of fleeting happiness had been dissipated before my eyes. I'm appalled I didn't remind myself of it earlier. How could I have forgotten? How could I? Days elapsed before a movie brought the memory back to my mind. The important thing I couldn't bring myself to remember earlier today was the third anniversary of Bill's death.
God, those three years had passed in the twinkling of an eye. Impossible as it is, sometimes I catch myself wishing I could go back, to a time where I had never met Bill, where he would be alive and happy, and I unscathed. Although, what would I do if I never met Eric in that alternative world? Would I be willing to let him go too? I don't know. No, I couldn't. I have developed feelings for him I can't ignore. Well, thank God I'll never need to figure it out since I'll never have this double-edged sword to deal with. Bill is gone and will always be. All I can do is remember him and treasure what we had.
Still, I'm not doing my best with the task at hand, evidently. His anniversary was five days ago. Five freaking days, and the bell never rang. I didn't even think about him over the past week. In fact, I haven't being thinking about Bill in a long time. But that is a good thing, right? It proves I am moving on.
Eric is part of my life now, even though I have no idea what we have, I know it's something big, something meaningful for both of us. I can feel it. Maybe a small part of me was afraid to remember, afraid to feel that amount of pain again. And as it hits me I'm guiltily glad its force diminished into a rather bearable sorrow, into only a remembrance of a life that is in the past and a great love that was good while it lasted.
I climb off of the couch, brushing the lingering tears away. I'm pleased to see at least the movie ended with a happy finale. Its past midnight and I don't think Eric will show up anymore. I fold the blanket neatly and stretch my sore muscles, wistfully thinking about that massage. As if on cue I hear a quiet knock at the door. I straighten up my pajamas and hair before answering it.
"Hi," I welcome him with a smile.
He leans in to kiss me, and then says, "Well, hi. Waiting for me in pajamas as demure as a nun's habit as punishment for my lateness, my dear?"
I laugh. I missed him. "Nope, it never crossed my mind," I reply, holding my hand out for him. "Come on in, you're soaking wet."
He snatches my hand and follows me to the kitchen, his shoes making funny noises as he walk. He takes a seat on the nearest stool while I gather a bucket, towels, and a rag to clean up the mess he's making. I hand him a towel, and start to take off his shoes. "I didn't notice it was raining again."
"It began once more when I was already at my way here," he says, wiping dry his hair and face.
"You need to take this wet shirt off or you're gonna to get sick," I tell him as I hang his shoes out to dry, and come back to mop the floor. "Do have to go back to the hospital tonight?"
"No, my shift it's over. So, take off my clothes you said? Gladly," he quips back, stripping off his shirt and pants. I don't recall telling him to get rid of his pants, they aren't that soaked, but damn, who cares? Then again, Eric standing in front of me, in a pair of black boxer briefs is probably too much for my poor heart to handle. The man is a vision of ultimate perfection in my book. I allow my eyes to travel leisurely over his well-defined muscles, stopping for a second too long at his rather plentiful package. By Golly, how could someone be so beautiful and that big?I look back at his face, a genuine smile dancing on my lips.
He smirks before pulling me to his arms. "I see you missed me dearly, huh?"
"You have no idea how much," I admit as I wrap my arms around his neck, my face inches apart from his.
He tucks a stray of hair behind my ear, his eyes fastening with mine. "You know what else I see?" He asks quietly. I shake my head no, "That you have being crying and told me nothing about it yet. Why is that, Sookie?"
I gasp surprised at his unwelcomed acuity. I wasn't expecting that. "It was nothing, really. An Affair to Remember always makes me shed some tears," I tell him indicating the TV with my head.
"A movie you say. And why I don't believe you?" he insists, his gaze unbending.
"I had a rough day, that's all," I whisper against his chest, brushing my lips to his alabaster skin.
"Tell me about it, my dear," he asks as he positions me on his lap and holds me close.
Well, that I wasn't expecting at all. I nestle my head in the crock of his shoulder, enjoying the feel of him next to me immensely. He smells so good, like soap, rain, and himself. I feel safe and happy in his arms. I tell him about my day, my mom's news, the need to find a job right away, and the accident I nearly caused. I skip the Bill part though. I don't know how to even go down that road. Do I really need to tell him? Is there a rule where I should tell him everything about my ex-boyfriends? I don't think so. Authors, scientists, psychologists, even more experienced girlfriends actually advise you to never talk about exes to the new guy, don't they? Yeah, I'm one hundred percent with them. I'm not saying a word about Bill anytime soon. Sue me.
"Are you forgetting anything?" he asks, faintly narrowing his eyes at me. For Christ sake, is that a genetic trait or something?
I shake my head, and say convincingly, "No." As Bob Dylan more than once sang, I ain't a-gonna grieve no more. "Tell me about your day. How was it?" I deflect.
He sighs profoundly, resting his chin on top of my head. "The hospital was that messy, draining routine I'm used to. Nothing atypical happened, expect for the extra car accidents given that was raining, and for the three people who happened to die on my watch," he pauses as if thinking what to say next.
"Oh, Eric… I'm so sorry for your loss. It must be so hard to lose a patient. I can't even imagine losing three in the same shift." He nodded, acknowledging my words. "But there is something else bothering you. Am I right?" I probe delicately, while fondling his arm with my fingertips.
"I received a phone call yesterday. I have been told my daughter got into a fight with one of her friends. I asked her what happened and she won't tell me." Sighing, he runs his fingers through his hair, before continuing, "She's been really difficult lately. I don't know what to do; she has never being violent prior to this incident. And now the Pelts won't let her go to their house for play dates or send Debbie over, because Annika hit the girl in the head with her doll, pulled her hair or something," he relates clearly upset with the whole thing.
Now Annika's odd behavior this afternoon makes total sense. She's having problems at preschool. I believe she told me about this Debbie Pelt girl before. What was it? Gah, I wish I didn't have the memory of a goldfish. Maybe I could help somehow? She seems very open to talking to me. "Eric, I could talk to her."
"You don't have to, Sookie. I'll find a way to fix this."
"I want to. Let me talk to her and find out what's going on before it gets worse," I say, lifting my head to look him in the eyes. "Let me at least try."
"I only wished she'd talk to me…" he utters frustrated. "Thank you for doing this though," he says meaningfully, tilting my chin up and covering my mouth with his.
It's a tender kiss at first, almost reverential in its need. I'm not sure how long we stay like that, our lips lightly touching again and again, relishing into the warm softness of the other. At some point, Eric picked me up and laid both of us on my bed. I'm partially undressed and being covered with a cottony comforter as his lips begin to work their magic, aided by very competent hands, and fingers. As much I want him to have his way with every fraction of my body, I simply can't handle it tonight. All I need is for him to hold me and make everything go away. Somehow, I suspect that's exactly what he needs as well. "Eric, I…" I begin to say, pausing a moment as I try to find the right words.
"Yes," he asks, searching for my face. His features soften noticeably when our eyes meet. "It's okay, Sookie. I understand."
His much appreciated forbearance takes a burden I didn't know I was carrying off of my back. "Could we just lie here together, you holding me until I fall asleep?"
"That's all I want," he says, shifting on the bed. He lies sideways, and I position myself accordingly, my back to his chest. He wraps his arms around me securely and kisses the top of my head. "Sweet dreams, my dear."
"Um hm… You too," I mumble back. My bed has never felt this comfortable and inviting in the past. I find myself wanting to go to sleep in this sense of complete safety Eric's presence, and his presence only, provides me as many times as possible. I hadn't felt this protected for a long time, perhaps since I was a child. It's one of the most peaceful sensations in the word. Soon enough I drift off to sleep in the arms of the man I am falling in love with.
My dreams are indeed sweet.
A/N:First of all, I'm deeply sorry it took me this freaking long to update. I'm having a truly hard time conciliating school and writing. Thus, it'll probably take another month or so for me to update again. I only hope you guys stick with me. All I can say is that I won't leave this story unfinished. I love it too much, and it pains me that I can't put it out faster for you!
Now, did you guys like Pam's POV? What about Quinn showing up? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I have an awfully busy week ahead of me, I could really use some review love!
My heartfelt thanks to each and every single one of you who is still with me! We have Eric, Ann, and Sookie's first day out together to look forward! :)
Meanwhile, you should check the fantasy casting list in my profile. I updated it! Everybody who was ever mentioned in the story is there! Ann is sooo cute! Let me know if you like it! You guys should also read Lindsayk's Graveyard of Good Intentions for the Eric and his Great Pumpkin contest! I'm in love with it, and she'll turn it into a multi-chapter story when the contest ends. Awesome, huh?!