"Oh my god," I groaned, collapsing in a pathetic heap on the couch. My body ached all over, I couldn't feel my fingertips, and I was bone tired. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, still bundled up. "Please remind me to never move in a snow storm again."
Eric reached over and tugged my gloves off and began to unzip my coat. I didn't move a muscle to help him. "Don't be such a wimp. That's not the Sookie Stackhouse I know."
I groaned again and allowed my head to drop to the side to assess the stacks of soggy boxes littering the living room. After a minute I swiveled my head in the other direction so I could see Eric. "Easy for you to say. You're big and burly; these boxes are a piece of cake for you."
"You know, flattery will get you everywhere," he said, and pushed off the couch. "Do you want a beer? Tea?"
"Peppermint tea would be divine."
I could hear the rapid opening and closing of the mostly empty kitchen cabinets. "Where's your tea and tea kettle?"
My eyes closed in exhaustion imagining the search for a tea kettle among all the boxes. "Make that a beer instead," I called back weakly.
He came back with two beers and settled in next to me on the couch.
We clinked the glass necks of our bottles in a toast.
"To your new home," Eric said and we both took a swig. Considering it wasn't even close to my first choice, the icy beer tasted pretty damn good.
I looked around at Eric's old apartment, mostly bare of his things and laughed. "I always thought if I moved into my boyfriend's apartment, he'd be living there with me."
Eric took another drink. "It's good when you can surprise yourself," he smiled. "That's not an easy thing to do. Plus, it's your apartment now."
I had resisted moving into Eric's place on principle. Plus, it seemed like a potentially messy arrangement. Eric argued we shouldn't make decisions based on what would enable us to walk away from each other easily. I appreciated the sentiment, but remained unconvinced.
After all was said and done, the logic of real estate won out; it was a little larger than my old apartment, less expensive, and you couldn't beat an apartment with Central Park views. Eric's uncle had purchased the apartment for a song in the 80s, and Eric bought it from him at a very reasonable price a few years ago. I assumed the mortgage and maintenance payments, and would be able to sock away a good amount of savings each month.
Even if the real estate market hadn't been down the tubes, Eric didn't want to give the apartment up; this enabled him to hold onto it despite his move to Philadelphia. Of course it meant I had to set aside my own thoughts of home ownership for the time being, but that seemed to make sense anyway as I waited to see how things would develop between us.
"It's still your apartment, Eric."
"Let's not get into this again." He pushed my coat off one shoulder and distracted me with a kiss. I sank further into the couch and sighed contentedly, then pulled him toward me for a deeper kiss. He took the bottle from my hand and I heard the soft thud when it made contact with the floor. Soon we were making out like a couple of horny teenagers. With the single-minded focus of a high school senior, he worked me the rest of the way out of my coat and tossed it to the side before turning his attention to the buttons of my shirt.
Somewhere along the way I'd gotten a second wind and began fumbling to unbuckle Eric's belt, and pulled his shirt free from his waistband. Living in different cities hadn't diminished our relationship at all, and it seemed we were better than ever. We made seeing each other on the weekends a priority; that focused time made up for the face time we missed during the week.
I'd gotten through about half the buttons on Eric's fly when the doorbell rang, followed by the turn of the doorknob. "Hello? Sookie? Eric?" a woman's voice called.
"Oh, shit!" I exclaimed under my breath, wriggling out from under Eric and moving faster that I thought humanly possible to the restroom, tripping over a box and nearly breaking my neck along the way.
Mercifully the front door only opened about six inches before hitting a box. I pulled the bathroom door shut firmly behind me and prayed that Eric would at least have time to rebutton his fly, knowing that box would only hold back his mother for so long.
I splashed water on my face, rebuttoned my shirt, and smoothed my hair down as best I could with my hands before taking a deep breath and heading back into the living room.
"There you are, dear!" Eric's mother Hanna crossed the room and gave me a hug. She was a tall striking woman with thick, shoulder-length blonde hair that hinted it would turn a beautiful snowy white within a few years.
"Were you able to finish your Christmas shopping in this mess?" I gestured to the driving snow out the window. The Northmans usually came to the city the weekend before Christmas to do some shopping and see a play or two.
She waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, I picked up a couple of things, but David and I holed up in a hotel bar with a fireplace and drink Irish coffee instead. It may have been my favorite trip here yet."
I couldn't help but adore Eric's parents. They were genuine, intelligent, easy-going people with a lust for life and a sense of adventure. Suddenly I wondered where David was and glanced around the room.
Hanna was a perceptive woman and answered my question before I was able to ask it. "David's at the hardware store, he'll be here soon."
Eric walked back from the kitchen with a bottle of water and stretched across a box to hand it to his mom. I blushed a bit when I saw his disheveled state. His hair was sticking up on one side of his head, and his shirt was only halfway tucked in.
I spied a stack of towels on a box near Eric's feet. "Eric, would you mind taking those towels into the bathroom before I knock them onto this filthy floor?"
Without a word he scooped them up and headed to the bathroom. I hoped he would glance in the mirror before heading back out. At least he could be more presentable in front of his father.
"Are you sure you'll want to drive up to Vermont tomorrow morning?" Hanna asked surveying the mountain of work I had before me. "We'd be happy to stay an extra day or two and help you put things away."
"Oh, no. That's so kind of you, but I'll be fine. You and David have already been such an enormous help and I certainly won't miss seeing these boxes for a few days. They'll still be waiting for me when I come back."
She hooked her arm through mine and patted my hand. "If you insist, but we'd love to help."
"I'd much rather spend my time with your family in Vermont."
She squeezed my hand and smiled. "Everybody is excited to see you again. The boys can't wait to play hide-and-go-seek with you and Uncle Eric, and the adults are hoping you'll bake another of your Gran's pecan pies. Only one Northman holiday under your belt and your baking prowess is already legendary."
I had gone home with Eric to Vermont for Thanksgiving. The concept of a big family gathering had been so foreign and more than a little intimidating to me, but they'd taken me in right away and treated me as though I belonged in their flock.
I came away from Thanksgiving with a more profound understanding of the person Eric was. In those few days, I had seen him as a devoted son; a younger brother; a worshipped uncle - and I could imagine him as the kid who knew what he wanted to do with his life and set out to achieve it. It made me love him even more.
Eric emerged from the bathroom looking much more put together than he had going in and gave me a sly grin behind Hanna's back when I caught his eye. The doorbell rang again, and in stomped David, coated in a layer of snow and clutching a brown paper bag.
"Oh, gosh. Let me take your coat. I'll hang it up in the bathroom." I offered.
"Thanks, Sookie." He shrugged out of his coat and handed it to me along with his scarf and hat. David was every bit as tall as Eric, and maybe even a hair taller. I picked my way through the boxes to the bathroom.
"Boy, we're really getting it today. I'd say we've already gotten six inches and we may get another six."
I smiled to myself. I had always imagined fathers would do things like go to the hardware store and talk about the weather. When I came back from the restroom, David was emptying the contents of the paper bag on top of a box.
"What did you get?" I'd assumed he'd picked up something they needed for the car ride back.
"Oh, just a little WD-40 to take care of that squeaky closet door for you, and a hammer. I noticed you didn't have one in your toolbox. Every home needs one."
I felt my chest tighten at the thoughtfulness of these small gestures. "Thank you. You shouldn't have done that in this snow, I…"
He brushed off my thanks. "Oh, it's nothing. Son, come back and help me with this."
In their absence, Hanna and I began sorting through some of the boxes and trying to make some sense of the chaos.
"I don't know how I've managed to accumulate so much stuff." I laughed. "I moved to New York with a suitcase and now…" I waved my hand across the sea of boxes.
"It's amazing, isn't it? We've lived in our house nearly forty years…well, since Eric was born actually. We moved in when I was expecting." She smiled at me. "I always say I love that old house and wouldn't want to leave - which is true – but I think moving is the pits. You couldn't pay me a million dollars to move."
"Your house is perfect. I wouldn't ever move either if I were you."
She laughed. "It's far from perfect, but it's our home. It fits us, and we have so many memories there…" Her voice trailed off and she smiled to herself thoughtfully.
I smiled and got back to work, thinking of Gran's home. I loved her old house, and I had hated to sell it after she passed, but without Gran, it was just an empty house full of memories.
In a burst of energy we moved what seemed to be all the kitchen-related boxes into a convenient spot. Panting a bit, Hanna and I took a seat on the floor and leaned against the wall.
"I suppose we should start getting ready to go to dinner," Hanna looked at her watch and then out the window. Her voice was lacking its usual enthusiasm.
"Probably so," I agreed. The thought of sticking to our plan and getting ready to go out to a restaurant made me more weary than I already was. If I hadn't sensed that Hanna felt the same way, I would have sucked it up and kept my mouth shut. "Or, we could order delivery and stay in."
She nodded her head in relief. "That's a brilliant idea. Especially since we'll be leaving so early tomorrow."
"Did somebody say delivery?" David asked from over our shoulders. They'd finished tinkering around and had rejoined us.
An hour later we were digging into an extra large pizza, and clinking the wine glasses I'd been able to unearth. Hanna eyed her glass of wine appreciatively.
"Wine delivery." She shook her head in disbelief.
"You can't say the city doesn't have its advantages," David added.
"Do you miss it yet, Eric?" his mom asked.
"Some things." He gave me a fleeting look that made my heart skip, and his foot nudged mine under the table. "I've been so busy I haven't had time to miss the city."
Eric had been swallowed up by work from his very first day in October. It would calm down eventually, but it was going to take some time. Most weekends I travelled down to Philadelphia, but he'd been here a couple of times, and once we'd met up in New Hope, Pennsylvania – a charming town on the Delaware River that was just a little over an hour away for both of us.
"I'm just glad you're able to take some time off for the holidays," she said in true mom fashion.
The Northmans left for their hotel not much later, and Eric and I were alone again, sprawled out on the couch.
"Your family is the best."
He smiled and twisted a lock of my hair with is finger. "I'm lucky."
"Yes, you are, but a family like yours doesn't just happen." I could see it took a lot more than gravitational pull; it took conscious effort.
"You're right. It doesn't." Eric bent down and brushed his lips to mine. I leaned into him, then maneuvered to straddle his lap, sliding my arms around his neck. He unbuttoned the top button of my shirt and looked up at me with a half grin as he started on the second.
"Should we pick up where we left off?"
I kissed the corner of his smile and then dragged my lips across his stubbled jaw. "I was thinking the bedroom needs to be rechristened," I murmured into his ear.
In an instant he'd thrown me over his shoulder, and I let out a shriek of laughter as he fought a path to the bedroom.
Sometime after midnight I awoke. It took me a moment to recognize where I was, despite the fact I was in a room I'd slept in many times before. Eric's body was molded around mine, and in his sleep he pulled me closer.
The path I was on was a crooked one; I had wasted so much time and energy fretting over the curves, but I now knew that worrying was futile. I perhaps wasn't where I expected, but I was where I needed to be. I had to keep on my path and trust the two would synch up in time.
Eric's breath warmed my neck and I could feel his heart beat against my back. I wrapped my hands around his and drifted back to sleep.
Well, here we are at the end of the story, but it's far from the end of the road for these two...
Writing this has been such a great learning experience - thank you for so much for reading! And a big thanks to those of you who not only read, but left a review along the way. I think it's safe to say I wouldn't have written beyond chapter 2 if it weren't for your encouragement.
And as always, my gratitude goes out to Miss Construed for being the best sounding board and pre-reader a person could ask for, as well as just an all-around great person to know.
I hope I'll see you again for another story or outtakes here and there.