~~Chapter 28: Taking the Plunge~~
"Are you ready to do this?" Eric asks, taking my hand in his.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess." I nod solemnly and gently bite down on my bottom lip. I had known this day wouldn't be easy, but I hadn't expected it to be quite this emotional.
He squeezes my hand in his, tugging me ever so gently closer to him as he leads me out to the employee parking lot. I had just logged off my computer for the last time at the Grand Ho`olaule`a; the last pieces of business wrapped up and passed along to Maria to oversee.
After a few days of weighing my options - of talking everything out with Amelia, Eric, Pam and even Diantha -I had made the decision to take the job in Kauai. The choice hadn't been an easy one. Eric aside – and believe me, he was one of the biggest considerations – Oahu is where my friends are; it's where I became the changed woman I am today. Picking up and moving to the unknown so shortly after having finally settled in – no matter how close or far away – is a bit scary. But as intimidating as it is, it is clear that staying isn't an option. If I didn't accept the job, if I didn't make the move, I had known that I would be kick myself eventually. When I really thought about my transformation these past few months, I knew that the most important lesson I'd learned is to trust myself; to trust my instincts. My instincts were screaming at me to make the move.
That decision had been nearly two months ago, and I'd be lying if I said it had been an easy two months leading up to this day. I had never had a group of friends the likes of my co-workers at the Grand Ho'olauele'a, and they had ensured that my last weeks at the hotel were celebrated appropriately.
I look over at Eric, the setting sun reflecting off of his too long blond hair and feel the familiar lump in my throat. I step closer to him, wrapping my arm around his waist and barely contain a sigh when he brushes his lips across the top of my head.
"You okay?" he asks.
I nod and pull to a stop, forcing us to turn around and look at the resort one last time. I can't help but get choked up as my eyes take in the panoramic view. So much has happened here that helped me become the person I always wanted to be. If I hadn't come to Hawaii; if I hadn't agreed to work for Amelia, I don't know where I would be. Whatever it would have been, I can't imagine that it would have been better than what I have now.
"It's not the last time you'll see it," Eric says, running his hand up and down the length of my bare arm.
"I know." I swallow back my tears and shake my head resolutely. "I'm just being sentimental I guess."
"Of course you are. It's natural that you'd feel this way."
I take a deep breath and look out at the water one last time. The setting sun casts brilliant hues of pink and orange on the horizon and I try to commit the vision to memory. When I'm satisfied that I've made enough of a mental image, I look back at Eric.
"I guess we should go."
He nods and leads me to his car, opening the door and helping me climb inside. He stops short of buckling my seat belt for me, but I think it's only because of the look I give him. He brushes a kiss across my lips before shutting the door behind him and walking around to the driver's side.
The drive back to the house goes quickly – too quickly almost. This is the last night we'll be there together. Everything is packed and ready to go first thing in the morning, well, everything that I hadn't shipped over the week before. I give myself a pep talk as Eric pulls into his driveway, so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I don't notice the cars that line the street and driveway until I climb out and run into one of them.
"What?" I ask, shaking my head. "Whose cars are these?"
Eric doesn't say a word, only smiles down at me as he takes my hand and walks me up to the front door.
"What's going on?" I ask, looking up at him.
He shrugs as the door swings open to reveal a very excited, very intoxicated Amelia.
"I thought you'd never get here!" she squeals, wrapping her arms around me in a giant bear hug. "Pam said you two would be late; something about taking extra time to say goodbye."
I blush, both from Pam's suggestion, and the bawdy wink Amelia gives Eric before she continues. "I know exactly how you Northmans like to celebrate these occasions."
Eric's laughter fills the air as he lets go of my hand and tosses his arm over my shoulder. "She took a long time saying goodbye. Longer than I expected."
"I'm sure she did. That linen closet is awfully convenient, isn't it?"
Eric nods with a chuckle.
"Eric!" I nudge him in the ribs with my elbow, and turn to address Amelia. "We didn't go anywhere near the linen closet. I was going over everything with Maria one last time."
"Um hmm." Amelia steps to the side. "Whatever you want to call it, but you two need to get your butts in here. We can't have a going away party without the party who is going away."
She spins on her heel and heads back into her house, leaving us to follow at our own pace.
"Did you know about this?"
He shrugs, raising his hands to plead his innocence.
"I could shoot you Eric Northman! I 'm not dressed for a party."
"You look perfect." He leans down to whisper in my ear, his breath sending a shiver down my spine. "And I can think of a million things you'd rather do than shoot me."
"You're going to pay for this." I scowl and playfully slap at his arm before turning to follow in Amelia's wake.
I hear him say that he looks forward to it, but don't bother to turn around. I know he's behind me without even looking.
Just like the first night I'd come to the party at Eric's house, the living room is full of beautiful people. Unlike that night though, I know them all. The urge I'd felt to cower in the corner that night is gone, replaced by smiles and greetings to the familiar faces.
It appears that we are the last to arrive, not that it stopped anyone from starting without us.
"Look what the cat dragged in," Amelia announces to the crowd, stopping in the doorway to the kitchen and tilting her head in our direction.
"It's about damn time," Pam says, hopping down from her perch on the counter. She unceremoniously shoves two glasses of Amelia's famous punch in our hands without another word.
"Nice to see you too, Sis," Eric smirks. "It's nice to see you went all out." He raises the red plastic cup in his hand before taking a long drink.
"It's easier to clean," she shrugs. "You know I don't like getting my hands dirty."
"That's not what Amelia told me," Lafayette chirps in, leaning forward to brush a kiss against my cheek.
"That's a different kind of dirty," Pam shrugs. Her lips curl up into a smile as she looks at me. "What are we going to do now that we aren't going to be able to embarrass poor Sookie here, Laf?"
"There's always Maria," he replies with a shrug. "She seems pretty innocent."
"Oh God," I chuckle, leaning back into Eric's chest as he wraps an arm around my waist. "Leave the poor girl alone. You two are terrible."
"Guilty," Pam shrugs. "But you do turn such a delicious shade of red."
"You do," Eric murmurs into my ear; I feel his lips curve into a smile. "Red's a good color on you."
"You can't monopolize her all night, Eric," Amelia interrupts, pulling me out of his embrace. "You're going to have her all to yourself soon enough." She shakes her head. "My best friend moves out to live with me, shacks up with you and now you're sweeping her away from me. I don't even know what to say."
"Technically," Eric replies, letting go of me without a fight, "she's sweeping me away."
I still can't believe the way things turned out; that Eric had called his mother to suggest that he take on the management role at the new property. I hadn't asked him to go with me – wouldn't ask him to move unless he wanted to – but it had certainly helped make my decision a heck of a lot easier. Diantha hadn't been surprised when Eric made the call, in fact she'd straight out asked Eric if he was moving because of me. Apparently we hadn't hidden our infatuation as well as I had thought. And, just as Eric had suggested initially, Diantha hadn't been upset by our relationship. In fact, she seemed to like the idea of the two of us together. She'd called me as soon as she'd hung up with Eric to tell me as much.
"It was your choice," I point out.
"As if I had a choice." His eyes sweep down the length of my body. "I wasn't about to let you get away."
"Would you two please stop?" Pam interjects, wedging herself between my body and Eric's. "Enough of this goopy, lovey dovey stuff. I'm stealing your girlfriend for the night and I don't want to hear anything about it."
I take Pam's outstretched hand and smile over my shoulder in Eric's direction with a shrug. "See you later?"
I barely have time to see him nod before Pam and Amelia sweep me out of his reach, and onto the patio. There are torches lit around the low walls, casting dancing shadows across the crowd that has spilled onto the beach beyond. The air is filled with the thumping bass pouring out of the speakers, bodies moving in the otherwise still night air.
I finish one drink, then two more. All the stress of packing and moving I'd felt throughout the last few weeks dissipates with every sip, and I find myself out on the makeshift dance floor without a care in the world. I haven't let go like this for a long time; I haven't felt this carefree in years. I don't know how long I'm out there before I catch Eric's eye as I spin around. A smile crosses my face and I wave for him to come join me, frowning when he shakes his head in denial. I haven't danced with him before, but if his grace on the surfboard and in the…well… anyway, I imagine he'll have a few moves on the dance floor.
I excuse myself from Claudine and Lafayette, and weave my way through the throng of dancing bodies.
"Hey," I say when I reach Eric, standing up on my tiptoes to kiss Eric's cheek. I laugh when I lose my balance and fall into the hard wall of his body.
"Hey yourself," he replies with a chuckle, reaching out his free hand to steady me. "Looks like you had a few of Amelia's cocktails, eh?"
"A few," I nod, leaning into his body. The cotton of his button down shirt feels cool against my heated skin, and I press my forehead into his chest.
"Do you want to go get some air?"
"We're outside," I point out. "I don't know how we could get more air. What I want, is for you to come join me on the dance floor."
He shakes his head and unwraps my arms from around his waist. "Let's go for a walk."
I shrug and take the hand he offers to me, allowing him to lead me around the perimeter of the patio and down the steps leading to the beach. I nearly run into his back when he stops short and bends down to undo the buckles on the straps of my platform shoes. I mutely follow his instructions as he lifts one foot, then another; and let out a sigh when the cool sand covers my toes.
We walk hand in hand away from the crowd, the noise from the party fading into near silence by the time we stop. I sink down to my knees, sitting back on my heels and look out to the waves lapping against the shore. It's a familiar sight by now, but one I won't see in exactly this spot for a while. I think back to that first night I'd met Eric – or at least met him officially as Eric. I'd been in nearly this exact spot when he'd come out to find me after I'd wandered away from that party. Or, more pointedly, away from him. I had been so set on avoiding him that night; it is funny how life came back full circle. Here we were, together, on the last night for both of us on Oahu.
I look over my shoulder at Eric. His eyes are on me, the corners of his lips upturned in a smile. He pushes up from his relaxed position and reaches a hand out to me, beckoning me to curl up against his side, which I do willingly.
"Do you remember the night of your party?" I start. "The night I found out that the hot surfer was actually my boss?"
"You thought I was hot?"
I chuckle and look up at him. "As if that was even a question."
"If I remember correctly, you were here on a date. With Alcide."
I nod. "I don't know that I'd call it a date."
"He did," Eric laughs.
"Really. And I was happy for him, right up until the moment I realized that you were the girl he was here with. Then…well I think I expressed my sentiments about that."
I smile as I recall Eric's reaction to my supposed date with Alcide. It had seemed so slick, so disingenuous at the time. And who knows? It probably had been. Eric hadn't known me from Adam.
"I was just thinking about how much has changed from that night."
Eric says nothing, his silence encouraging me to continue.
"When I decided to visit Amelia, I thought I needed a quick break; a way to get away from Bill. I never expected to stay out here; never expected to get a job or…" I shake my head. "I was so afraid of everything. I'd spent so much time living within the confines of what others wanted that I wasn't even sure what I wanted."
"And now you know?"
I nod. "And now I know." I tip my head back and look into his eyes. "It took me a while to figure it out."
"I, for one, am glad you did. Though we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and headache if you'd just done this that night."
He doesn't respond with words, instead closing the gap between us, his lips capturing mine in a kiss. My body sinks into his and we fall back against the soft sand.
I pull away, pressing a kiss to the tip of his nose before propping myself on my elbow and looking down on him.
"You're sure you want to make this move?" It is something we've discussed more times than I can count, but just as I am afraid of doing something for him, I am afraid he's doing this for me; that it's not something he really wants.
He chuckles and props himself on his elbows. "How many times do I have to tell you this, Sookie?"
"I don't know," I reply honestly. "I just don't want you to make a decision like this based on me."
"While you were a deciding factor, you weren't the only one. I've told you that I've been thinking about taking a more active role in the company. As much as I like being nothing more than a surf instructor, I've learned a few things myself over these past months. I've been hiding from my responsibilities. I thought the lifestyle I had was everything I ever needed until you came along."
He reaches out and tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear, stopping to rub his thumb along my jawline.
"I thought it was enough to date around, to help whenever I was needed and no more. But watching you come out here, making yourself a new person…it made me realize that I was wrong. I want to go to Kauai because you're going there. But even more than that, I want to go so that I can finally start doing what I'm supposed to do. It's…" he trails off. "It's a bit like surfing."
"Well, you can spend your entire life paddling in safety and think you're having a great time. You can push yourself to try to stand up, and when the waves knock you down, you can give up and go back to paddling."
"And you staying here is…?"
"Paddling; playing it safe. The waves are still out there, still ready to knock you over. And it's a matter of what you chose to do with it. I'm choosing to stand up and try it out. Because, while you can't stop the waves, you can learn how to surf."
And in that moment, I know that we'll be okay no matter what happens. With his words, I know that Eric is moving as much for himself as he is for me – maybe even more so. Despite his outward veneer, maybe Eric too is just trying to figure it all out too, taking it one step – or wave in his case – at a time. And I know that no matter what happens on this next adventure, I wouldn't want to do it without Eric by my side. And that's what makes this different than any other decision I have ever made; I am not doing this for him, or even for me. We are doing this together; for us, and I can't imagine it any other way.
AN: Well folks, that's it for the surfer and his little beach bunny. I hope you enjoyed the ride! I can't tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you that have taken the time to read this story through all its ups and downs – thank you for sticking with it!
Massive thanks (or perhaps I should say Mahalo) to pfloogs72 for pre-reading and offering the best advice around. It wouldn't have been the same without you.