A/N: I really didn't intend to dedicate an entire chapter to this, but it kind of got away from me. I'm not sure how it turned out. And I'm not the best judge. I suck at being impartial.
Disclaimer: SVM belongs to CH.
He wasn't there when I woke up, but I hadn't expected him to be. Eric was restless all night long. He sighed intermittently at the most obnoxious times, while we were sitting up reading Kafka. Then, when we finally turned off the lights, I tried to kiss him but he got all nervous and antsy and ended it quickly. As if Pam had gotten the idea to kiss from watching us make out.
He moved around in his sleep a lot more than normal. Eric was usually an anchor—once dropped he stayed in place. But he wasn't like that. He was like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for morning. He pulled and pushed the covers. He continued that annoying sighing. And he rolled over every forty-five seconds like clockwork.
I'm not really sure how I was able to fall asleep in the middle of all his movement, but I did. And even asleep, his nerves were able to prod me. Sleep was shallow. And completely pointless. I woke up just as tired as I had been when I fell asleep.
The smell of bacon wafted from the kitchen. My stomach growled before I even opened my eyes. I could just imagine him in there making all of Pam's favorite foods; we would, no doubt, have way too much food for the four of us.
I slid out of bed, my bare feet padding along the cold wooden floors.
He was standing in the kitchen in just pajama pants, his shoulder blades like tectonic plates, shaking the whole world when he shrugged. My eyes followed his spine from his disheveled but never messy hair all the way to the hem of his pajama bottoms. He was beautiful. A masterpiece. And I still loved to just watch him, look at him, see his muscles tense and release.
I crept up behind him and kissed between his shoulder blades.
Eric's spun around, a nervous smile painted on his face. "Morning."
"How did you sleep?" And when he didn't answer, I asked, "Did you sleep?"
"Ballpark it for me."
"On what planet is that enough?"
He turned back around to the scrambled eggs, so I hopped up on the counter where I could see his face. "I used to get by on little more than that." Eric happened to look up as I was rolling my eyes. "Honestly. I would stay at Glasir until two. Come home and read until I fell asleep and then wake up and get Pam and Lex up for school."
"Why didn't you sleep?" He shrugged like he had no idea what caused this sudden bout of insomnia, but he frowned like he knew exactly why. We both knew why. "You know you can talk to me. In fact, it would be better to talk to me about what you're feeling before you verbally vomit all over Pam." Better for him to say something to me that he regrets than something to Pam that he'll regret.
"I don't know what to say to her."
"Well, it's kinda too late to ignore it like it never happened.."
Eric sighed loudly.
The egg timer went off and he took blueberry muffins from the oven. He placed them on a cooling rack and went back to stirring the fluffy scrambled eggs. And he sighed again.
"I shouldn't have yelled." Okay. That was…something. At least he was saying something. "I think we should move."
"What? Why?" He wouldn't meet my eyes, no matter how much I tilted my head and contorted my neck to look at him.
"We live in the South. In Louisiana. Sookie, if she…I don't want her to…Kids suck. They're mean and lash out at what they don't understand. And I don't want her to have to go through that."
I put my hand on his shoulder and he flinched at the contact.
"Your fingers are freezing."
"Eric, she's going to have to face it wherever she goes. That's the world we live in. I know you want to protect her. I do too. But uprooting her now? She's just started to make friends and she's excelling in school. Making her adjust all over again would do more damage."
He turned off the fire and started putting bread in the toaster, his back to me again. "I just…I never ever considered that she wouldn't be…I wanted to walk her down the aisle, give her away."
"Like Pam would let you give her away. She's her own."
His head bobbed. a few times. Eric turned back. "I wanted to see her get married. She won't be able to here. It'll be the last state to allow it."
"No, that'll be Oklahoma." He shrugged. "She's eight, Eric. We don't even know if she is. She doesn't know if she is. And, anyway, she can't get married for a long time. Who knows what the world will look like in ten years?"
"What do we tell her? What do we say?"
He turned around to grab the toast that had popped. He put more bread in as he buttered the fresh pieces.
"That we love her. That we'll always love her."
Lex stumbled in the room, his steps looked more like he was drunk than tired. "You should also tell her not to kiss anyone, because kissing will get you mono and chicken pox."
"I've already had chicken pox," Pam said from the dining room. She stepped into the doorway. "I did. When I was five."
"How long have you been snooping?" Eric asked, trying to look stern.
"You've never had chicken pox. That was a rash." Lex said as he snatched a piece of toast.
"I did too. I went to the doctor and everything."
Lex scoffed at Pam. "Dr. Folger said it wasn't chicken pox."
"What would he know?"
"It's not like he went to medical school or anything. Or that he's been in practice for thirty-five years. What qualifications does he have to tell you whether or not you have chicken pox." Lex rolled his eyes, and he reached for another piece of toast, having already devoured the first.
"Exactly. I think I know my body better than he does. And I say I had chicken pox."
Lex stumbled through the kitchen, grabbing plates from the cabinets and silverware from the drawers. Pam remained in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. She wouldn't look at Eric. And Eric was staring off over her head.
"How did you guys sleep?" I asked, hoping that Pam wasn't ignoring me too.
"Fine, I guess," she said with a shrug.
"Me too. Though I really need to cut back my hours. Work is kicking my ass. I have a research paper due soon that I haven't even started because I'm working like thirty hours a week. And you'll take away the car if my grades slip." Lex shoveled scrambled eggs onto a plate, grabbed a few pieces of toast, and a couple of muffins. Then he went to the table to sit down.
I wished I had his metabolism.
"Pam, are you going to get you anything?" Eric asked.
"I'm not really hungry."
"You need to eat something."
"I said I'm not hungry." She turned on her heels, her footsteps echoing behind her as she ran to her room.
"That went well," Lex said from the table, his mouth full of eggs. While I turned to glare at him, Eric took off after her. That wasn't going to end well.
I filled up a glass with orange juice, grabbed a piece of toast, and sat down at the table with Lex. Half the food on his plate was already missing. I just shook my head. His stomach never ceased to amaze me. It was endless.
"Who do you think is going to win up there?" He pointed with his fork.
"It's not a competition, Lex."
He snorted. "Of course it is. Are you new? They're both so stubborn."
From upstairs, Pam's voice rang out. "It's not okay for me to kiss Yvetta, but you can kiss Uncle Barry and nobody cares?"
"Point for Pam."
"How does she know about that? About Eric and Barry?" She wasn't at the barbecue. And that didn't seem like the kind of story that people go around telling.
"She called Uncle Barry last night."
"After you guys went to bed. Right after I got home. She called Gran and Amelia too."
"Why?" She could have talked to me. I told her she could talk to me.
"She said she was worried Eric would kick her out. But she's a drama queen. As if Eric would let her go anywhere. He loves her the most."
I finally took a bite of my toast.
"I meant out of her and me. You're…different. He loves you differently."
"I know you meant. But he loves you differently too, Lex. You really can't compare." He shrugged. "Do you work tonight?"
"I do not. Why?"
"Can you watch Pam after dinner?"
"Sure. Junk food and television. I got it."
I stared at my toast for a few seconds before putting it on Lex's plate. I wasn't in the mood for food. Instead, I took a shower and got ready for school. The weather was typical Louisiana autumn, but I was a pansy when it came to cold. I put on gray dress slacks and a navy blouse with my cute stilettos. And when I finished, I knew that Pam probably hadn't even started.
I looked at the ceiling, realizing that I hadn't heard either of them in a while and got scared. My heels clacked as I climbed the stairs. I crept to Pam's room and listened through the cracked door.
Pam sighed, sounding exasperated.
"Does it matter? Will it make you love me less? Or more? Does it really matter?"
"I just…I would like to know." His voice was quiet. I had to strain to hear him.
"Yeah, well, I want to know my mom. We don't always get want."
"Pam, we've been through this."
"Why does it matter? I'm going to kiss who I want to kiss."
"You're eight. You shouldn't be kissing anyone until you're at least thirty-five."
She sighed again. "You're such a hypocrite. You're not thirty-five and you and Sookie kiss all the time."
"Yeah, well, I'm not trying to win father of the year."
"You'd be out of the running anyway for all the times you let me have ice cream for dinner."
"I get it, Pam. I'm a horrible father."
"Jesus, Eric. That's not what I'm saying. You're a great dad. I don't care about that stuff. I want you to love me no matter who I like. That's all I want." One more sigh. "I need to get ready. Sookie's waiting." The door swung open slowly. "I heard your shoes on the stairs. You were not blessed with the gift of stealth."
"We need to leave in half an hour to be acceptably late, "I said. Any later and we'd miss the tardy bell. Hopefully traffic would be on our side as well.
"Got it." Pam pulled on Eric arm, directing him toward me. "Take him with you."
But he turned around. He knelt down so that he was eye level with her. "I love you right up to the moon—and back. Always. There is nothing that could make me love you any less."
Then he was up and walking past me, his feet slapping against the wood of the stairs. Pam started crying hysterically. Her legs seemed to wither and she fell straight to the floor. I had her in my arms within seconds, and she latched onto me so tightly that I couldn't breathe.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?"
"H-he…he…still loves me."
"Of course. We both love you. That's not going to change."
She cried all over my blouse, snot and tears making it unwearable. We stayed like that for a good fifteen minutes before I made an executive decision, hoping that Eric wouldn't hate me. I called the school, telling them that Pam was sick and that we wouldn't be coming in today.
She had bags under her eyes. Deep and purple. She couldn't have slept anymore than Eric did. And she couldn't stop crying, though she wasn't gasping for air now. She was in no state to go to school.
I picked her up, carrying her down the stairs as carefully as possible. Bad balance plus stairs plus stilettos plus sobbing child did not equal anything good. I took her in the bedroom, so that I could change. Eric was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. I tried to set Pam on the bed, but she clung tighter.
He stood up and gently removed her from me, cradling her in his arms.
"We're not going in today."
He nodded, but stared intently at Pam.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry for yelling. For making me doubt me. I will always love you."
"I love you too, Dad."
I pulled off my blouse, replacing it with a comfy t-shirt. And I kicked off my heels. "You two should sleep. I'll wake you up for lunch."
Alexei was sitting in the living room with his phone in his hand, arm outstretched toward me.
"I'm not going to be the only one going to school today. Call them up."
"Eric will kill me."
"I'll be your best friend."
"Did you really think that would work?"
"I'll clean up breakfast and help you make lunch."
"Fine. Give me the phone." Eric was going to kill me.
A/N: Chapter title comes from "Being a Mockingbird" by Bobby Long. Thoughts?