I want to thank the superb BathshebaRocks for all the help and advice she gave me with this one. Couldn't have done it without you, Inge, you're truly a star.
Berlin Song can be searched for on YouTube if anyone wants to hear the piece - it's truly inspirational.
I Write The Songs. CONTEST ENTRY
TITLE: Berlin Song
CHARACTERS: Eric & Sookie. Also Pam & Alcide and others.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the Southern Vampire Mysteries or any characters; they all belong to the lovely Charlaine Harris. I also do not own the works of Ludovico Einaudi.
PEN NAME: Drumbjo
BETA NAME: BathshebaRocks
VIRGIN WRITER: NO
TEASER: Sookie works for record label boss and pain in the arse, Eric Northman. Yet can they help each other through the pain they both hold
"Are you trying to fucking kill me?"
He slammed a large red coffee cup down onto my desk. The spillage narrowly missed my laptop, but ended up coating the papers I was working on. It was lucky that they were only photocopies as otherwise people were going to be very pissed off.
"I'm sorry," I flinched, not entirely sure what I had done wrong this time. I looked up at my boss to see his ice cold blue eyes staring down at me like I was a piece of dog shit he'd just scraped off his shoes. "Is there something wrong with your coffee?"
"Is there something wrong with my coffee?" he repeated, the venom in his voice making it abundantly clear that there was. "It tastes like fucking shit! You drink it and tell me that there is nothing wrong with it."
He pushed the mug violently in my direction, causing more of the hot liquid to spill over my desk. I picked up the mug, knowing that there was no other option but to do what he asked. He drank his coffee without sugar, so I knew that it would taste like shit anyway, but I complied with his request.
I managed to swallow the mouth full I'd taken. "I'm sorry; the milk has gone off."
"No. Fucking. Shit." He was glaring down at me and I felt about as small as a mouse. The man really was an arse – a beautiful arse, and in fact his own was absolutely perfect – but he was an arse nonetheless. "Get and make me another one! And I don't care if you have to go and get more milk, just fucking go!"
He stalked out of my office, slamming the door loudly behind him. I clenched my jaw firmly shut to try to get a grip on myself. I was not going to cry again because of his words. I needed this job and had no intention of losing it, so it was best just to do as I was told.
Once my emotions were under control, I closed my laptop and packed my papers away in my drawer, before picking up my thick winter jacket and scarf. The girls in the outer office gave me sympathetic looks, obviously overhearing the boss-man's rant at me.
"Anyone want anything from Tesco?" I asked as I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck and pulled on my coat.
"Some doughnuts would be good if you're offering," Arlene requested.
I should have known, in the six months that I'd been working at Northman Records, Arlene always asked for doughnuts. And the worst thing was that no matter how many of the bloody things she ate, she always remained stick thin. I would no doubt put on half a stone just carrying the things down the road.
"Sure," I replied, "anyone else?"
Since no one else wanted anything, I made my way to the lift to descend the four stories of the building and brave the cold January London weather. I waved at the security guard and receptionist, before leaving the warmth of the office and out onto the icy street. I was just hopeful that I could make it to Tesco without slipping and breaking any bones. My shoes were by no means appropriate for the winter weather.
I survived the short walk to the store and grabbed a basket before picking up the skimmed milk he always had in his coffee, along with two bags of jam doughnuts for the girls. I added a cinnamon bun for the boss since they were his favourite. I figured a little sucking up wouldn't do me any harm on this occasion.
I returned to the building, pleased to be out of the cold since I'd forgotten to take my gloves and my hands were frozen. I walked back into the office and deposited the bags of doughnuts in front of Arlene.
"Save me one, I think I'll need the sugar hit once I'm done with him!"
"What's with the führer today? He seems even worse than normal?" Holly asked. I just shrugged.
"No idea, but he obviously didn't appreciate sour milk! I'd better get his coffee to him or else I'll probably be fired!" It was a joke but I was sure that given half a chance he would fire me, even for such a trivial mistake.
I went to make him his coffee in the way he liked it. It had taken me at least a month until I'd perfected the right way to make his morning coffee, but this was the first time for a while that it had been sent back. Once made, I picked up the cinnamon bun, took a deep breath and knocked softly on his door.
"What?" came the barked response through the door, and I had to admit that I flinched at his tone. He really did seem in a foul mood today, and I made a mental note to stay the hell away from him as much as possible.
I tried to calm myself and entered his office slowly. He was sat in his large leather chair with his feet on his desk, reading a file and scowling at me as I entered.
"I brought you a new cup of coffee," I stated, not knowing quite what else I could say. "I'm sorry about earlier, it won't happen again."
"Damn fucking right it won't happen again Snooki, and I can assure you that you'll be out on your fucking fat ass if it does. Got it?"
"Yes, Mr Northman." I said, my voice quivering.
I tried to ignore all the insults he'd managed to cram into a single sentence, but I knew my face was betraying me. I gritted my teeth, my jaw clamping shut as I placed the mug of coffee and bun on his desk, and made a hasty exit. I couldn't face returning to my desk, and instead made a beeline to the ladies and locked myself in a cubicle before the sobs and tears consumed me.
I had no idea why he was such an arsehole to me. I'd done my absolute best in that job, working many more hours than I was paid for. He'd made it very clear that I was not going to be paid overtime. I had been warned by the temp agency that working for Eric Northman would be a tough job, but I had no idea quite how tough.
I was at least the eighth temp that had been sent there in the last two years, but to date I was the longest serving. I suspected that the other girls had made bets on how long I'd last, but I'd managed to surpass all expectations, even if I had considered quitting on many occasions.
As the tears spilled down my cheeks I heard the door to the ladies open and the clack of heels walking up to the cubicle where I'd hidden myself.
"Sook, what did he say this time?" It was Amelia's voice, and I opened up the cubicle after grabbing some toilet tissue to wipe the tears away.
"He called me Snooki and then said I had a fat ass." I told her, simply. There was never any point beating around the bush when it came to Amelia.
"That fucking bastard! You do realise that you could sue him for saying that to you?"
I wiped the mascara away from underneath my eyes and gave Amelia a half smile. Out of all the girls that worked in the office, she was the one I'd gelled best with. She was energetic and bubbly, but stood up for herself and always spoke her mind. It was something I could certainly learn from instead of keeping things to myself.
"If I want to keep my job that's probably not recommended!" I took a few deep breaths and found calm from somewhere within me. "I'll be fine, and I'm sorry for being such an idiot."
"You're not the one being an idiot. You're the best PA he's ever had and he knows it. If you do leave it'll be his own fucking fault."
"Yeah, but I need this job. It's not as if there's many going around and I bet there are a million girls who'd be happy to take my place."
"Maybe, but most wouldn't last a day. You're obviously good at what you do or he wouldn't have kept you on. But you shouldn't let him walk all over you. Just stand up to him, you might even find that he respects you more for it. Most girls get so overawed by his looks that they just turn to mush and try to get in his pants."
I had to admit that Amelia had a point, and I gave her a quick hug before returning to my desk. I spent the rest of my day keeping my head down and trying to stay out of Eric's way. He'd given me plenty of work to be getting on with, and most of our communication was by email, despite the fact that his office was only a few metres away from mine. At least with email he couldn't tell when I was upset by any of his comments.
Since I'd probably lost an hour or so with my trip to Tesco and the brief stint crying in the ladies loo, I stayed later than normal. Eric worked to a regimented routine, coming into the office early, but always leaving dead on five each night.
One of the larger jobs that Eric had given me required extensive research from the archives, and I was required to search through many boxes of papers stored in the basement of the building. I knew it would be a laborious task and it was one that I'd been putting off for a while, but I figured that I might as well get on with it.
The top floor of the building was made up of the offices, the floors down below housing recording studios and boardrooms of various descriptions. The basement was split into an archive room and a practice studio. The girls in the offices had mostly since left, but the lower floors remained busy as the artists, engineers and producers worked late into the night.
I took the lift down to the basement and walked into the small archive room, leaving the door slightly ajar. I didn't like the idea of being stuck down there. It wouldn't have locked automatically, but I still preferred not to be closed in the room by myself. As I found the box I was looking for and pulled it off the metal shelving, I heard the sounds of someone playing the piano floating in through the crack in the door.
The music brought me an instant sense of peace and took me to happier times. It was beautifully played, and I recognised the music as Ludovico Einaudi's 'Berlin Song'. It was a piece I loved, and only wished I could play – my own piano playing being limited to 'Three Blind Mice'. I put the box on the floor and moved nearer to the door, opening it further so I could see in the direction of the practice room.
I was shocked to see was that it was Eric who was sat in the glass-lined room playing the piano. I had no idea that he came down here or that he was such a talented pianist. No one had ever mentioned that he played. I watched and listened to him as he executed the piece perfectly, sounding every bit as good as the recorded version I'd listened to so many times.
Eric played a few more pieces by Einaudi before I saw him stand up to leave the room. I quietly shut the door of the filing room, hoping that I hadn't been seen.
I sat down on the floor feeling completely stunned at what I'd witnessed. The feeling he'd played with; the way he'd hit every note perfectly. I just couldn't believe that it was the same man that had made me feel so small earlier that day. How could he play like that? And why did he keep it a secret?
I left the room, locking up behind me. I carried the file I'd needed up to my office and sat down to another hour's work before leaving my completed report on Eric's desk and heading out onto the freezing London streets.
All the way home on the tube, all I could think about was Eric's playing, and I searched through my iPod until I found the same music, listening repeatedly to 'Berlin Song' on my journey back to my flat in Chelsea. Eric's playing had been truly note perfect, and I'd always prided myself on having an ear for music so I knew quite how good he was.
What I didn't know was whether to approach him about it. Eric Northman was a very private man. No one in the office knew anything about his personal life, his family or where he lived. Amelia had warned me in my first week that he could be a complete bastard to the staff he employed and had fired more than one PA who had tried to flirt with him. The staff who remained knew just to admire him from afar.
There was a lot to admire about him.
He was well over six foot, but not lanky as he had the muscle tone to go with it. The office had a strict business-wear dress code, but on the odd day that we were allowed to dress casually and I'd witnessed Eric in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I'd found my chin on the floor and drooling. The man had the body of an Olympic swimmer or gymnast, with strongly muscled arms and chest and a slim waist. I didn't doubt that he also had incredible abdominal muscles, but annoyingly his t-shirt had always remained in place.
And then, of course, there was his face.
The thing you always first noticed about him was his eyes. They were a uniquely piercing shade of pale blue and seemed to drill holes in you. His shoulder length blond hair, a reminder of his Swedish heritage, was usually tied tightly at the back. He had a strong, manly jaw that more often than not was clenched shut.
Although he was good looking, I was in no position to go looking for another man so never entertained the thought of approaching him. And I wasn't too sure I'd like the rejection, anyway.
I realised that if I wanted to keep my job I needed to keep my mouth shut about what I had seen, but I already knew that I wasn't going to be able to keep myself away from the practice room. I'd already made the decision to go down there at the same time the next evening. I did have more archive work to do, after all.
I saw very little of Eric the next day as he was in and out of meetings, but did notice that his he left his office at five and disappeared out the door.
I felt a little nervous as I climbed into the lift, checking my hair and make-up in the mirrored walls as I descended the few floors to the ground floor, and then taking the last floor using the stairs so he wouldn't hear the lift. As I walked the few metres of the corridor, I could already hear the sounds of Eric playing 'I Giorni', another favourite of mine.
I managed to slip into the archive room without being noticed and left the door ajar so I could listen to his playing. Again, I marvelled at his ability. He was easily as good as any professional I'd ever heard, and it wasn't just the technical skill of his playing; you could feel the intensity and the emotion in the way he played.
His playing made me feel incredibly emotional. It made me think of the good times with Alcide before he got sick; the simple times as we used to lie in bed watching a film or walking hand-in-hand on the hills of Scotland. But it also caused me to grieve for him too. I remembered him lying in the hospital bed as I pleaded with him to hold on, but ultimately he couldn't. I remembered the private funeral we held for him in the tiny church outside the city and how I scattered his ashes along the coastline he loved so much.
Pulling myself out of the daydream I'd fallen into while listening to Eric, I started quietly going through the boxes to find the files I needed. Of course, as is always the case, the files I needed were on the top shelf, and out of my reach. My only option without leaving the room to get a ladder was to stand on the lower shelves to reach the box I required.
But of course, the shelving unit wasn't attached to the wall.
I'd barely lifted my weight off the floor before the unit started to wobble and tip haphazardly towards me. I stepped back off the shelves and pushed the unit back against the wall, but the boxes on the upper shelves came crashing down around me and I fell backwards heavily, landing on my back and shoulder as I hit the ground.
Eric heard the commotion his music stopped instantly and heavy footfalls echoed down the corridor. I was struggling to pull myself from underneath the fallen boxes when the door flew open and Eric stood glaring at me in the open doorway.
For the second time in two days, he looked down at me with venom. "What the fuck are you doing down here?" he asked, with no concern for the fact that I was sprawled out on the floor. "Are you spying on me? Is that it?"
"I'm doing what you asked me to!" I hissed back at him, pushing the fallen boxes out of the way and standing up painfully. I hoped to god that he hadn't noticed the agony I was in. "I'm doing my fucking job and you should be lucky that I don't sue you for not fixing those shelves to the wall!"
"What were you doing? Climbing on them?" He glowered at me and I looked away from him, aware that I had caused the accident myself by not using a stepladder. "I'm surprised the shelves didn't fall down," he sneered, "they're not exactly designed to take that kind of weight."
I was shocked at his words and froze on the spot. For the second time in as many days, I found myself on the brink of tears from his harsh words. And this time there was no escaping him. I clenched my teeth tightly together and held my breath to quell the sob that was building.
He remained stood in the doorway of the room watching me while I tried to avoid his gaze. I didn't trust my voice, so I started to pick up the boxes that had luckily remained sealed, and started shoving them back onto the shelves.
"Leave it," he said his tone still harsh.
I ignored him, picking up a box and lifting it to shoulder height to place back in its rightful place. It hurt like hell and the sudden movement caused me to cry out in pain from my injured back.
"I said, leave it," his tone was softer this time and he took a few steps in my direction, taking the box from my hands and placing it in its rightful back on the shelf. "I'll do this later. Go home, Sookie."
"Okay," I muttered, a sob escaping my lips as soon as I'd unclenched my jaw. I felt a traitorous tear snake down my cheek, which I wiped away angrily. I picked up the file I'd been trying to get, then hobbled from the room as quickly as possible. I chose not to wait for the lift, which was on the fourth floor and walked up the five flights before collapsing into my office
I allowed the tears to consume me, but I was annoyed that I let him get to me in such a way. He'd been nothing but a complete bastard to me for the six months I'd worked for him. Amelia had told me that he was like that with all the girls he'd employed for the role, but I didn't see what I'd done to deserve the treatment I received from him.
I sat at my desk with my head in my hands until I felt composed enough to leave. I pulled out the compact mirror I'd kept in my desk and wiped away the tell-tale black smudges from underneath my eyes, then grabbed my coat and handbag and walked painfully to the lift, not quite feeling up to taking the stairs this time.
Unfortunately for me, as the lift doors opened, Eric got out. My eyes met his briefly, before I lowered them, not wanting to see more anger in his pale blue eyes. However, as I tried to escape into the safety of the lift he gently caught me by the arm.
"Take the rest of the week off, you're obviously in pain."
I glared up at him, feeling the anger boil inside of me. "No," I hissed. "I need the money and the agency doesn't pay sick pay, so I don't have an option." He was about to say something but I cut him off. "You're going to have to put up with me until you can find some lame-ass excuse to fire me because I actually like this job, despite that fact that you're a complete arsehole."
I pulled my arm from his grip and pushed past him, hitting the button again to make the lift doors re-open. I didn't dare to look at his expression, and half expected that I'd just given him the opportunity to fire me anyway since I'd called him an arsehole. Oh well, I wasn't going to make it easy for him by just quitting.
I braved my way onto the icy Camden streets heading to the tube station to begin my lonely journey home.
I watched in horror as Sookie left the office. I felt like a complete shit, and quite simply I was. She was by far the best PA I'd had. She was hard working and knew the industry incredibly well, but I was evidently doing my best to push her away. I hadn't meant what I said to her and I hated that I'd upset her. She was by no means fat; she was curvy in all the right places and had a fantastic figure.
What I was worried about was that she'd heard me play. Had she been there before? To be completely honest I wasn't sure that she knew it was me, but I couldn't risk anyone finding out. My playing was my private passion, something I only did within the secrecy of the office, not allowing anyone else to find out. It calmed me, centred me, and I had a great respect for Einaudi's work. I loved the raw emotions he evoked within me every time I played and the way I could allow myself to love in those minutes, to feel like a normal thirty year old man who hadn't ruined everything in his life.
I picked up my coat and laptop before setting off for my Chelsea home. Locking my Corvette in the garage, I took a deep breath and walked slowly into the huge house that had once belonged to my parents. I missed them both hugely and the house was a constant reminder of them and my failures, but I couldn't leave.
"Pam, I'm back!" I yelled.
"In the kitchen," she shouted back. "You okay?" she asked as I walked in to give her a hug. "You look a little stressed."
"It's nothing," I lied, pulling out a chair at the table and stealing one of the carrot batons she had carefully chopped.
"Who is she this time? I know you, Eric; this mood is about a girl." Her tone was bored and snarky. "You know you can date. You don't have to stay around for me. Hell, I get more action then you do."
It was true, Pam was hugely independent but I couldn't help feeling guilty for what I had done to her, the chair she sat in a constant reminder of how I had fucked up her life. I'd killed our parents, and left her paralysed. But she worked part-time from home running her fashion business and she went out and dated. It was the guilt eating me away that prevented me from doing the same.
"Quit it!" she snapped, as I stole another carrot from her before she placed the pan onto the specially lowered hob that she used when cooking. "And I don't just mean quit nicking the carrots. You need to get laid, dear brother. I'm not a total invalid and I don't need you babysitting me all the time. In fact," she said, pausing to look at me, "I've been looking for a place on my own."
She turned to look at me and I could see the resolve on her face. There would be no arguing with her. The truth was I didn't doubt that it would do her good to have more independence. I just knew that I would miss her.
"Do you want me to buy your half of the house from you?" I asked her. The look on her face told me she was expecting me to put up a fight. It was a conversation we'd had many times before and it usually ended with us yelling at each other, her telling me to stop feeling so guilty about what happened, and me being over-protective.
"I want you to be happy, Eric. I want my big brother back."
Pam was seven years younger than I was and I'd always been protective of her; we were as close as a brother and sister could be. "I'm happy as long as you're happy."
"Bullshit. Your happiness is not dependent on mine. And anyway, I am happy! I've seen a great ground floor flat, and if you do buy my half of the house from me I'd easily be able to afford it. I was kind of hoping that you'd sell it to me." She wheeled over to me and gave me a hug. "So, are you going to tell me who she is?"
"She's called Sookie. She's my PA." Pam rolled her eyes at me. "It's not what you think. She's a great PA, but I don't date the staff."
"So? You're the boss; you can make your own rules."
"It's not that easy."
"It never is with you. Not every woman is like Sophie-Anne."
I winced at the sound of her name. Sophie-Anne was the last woman I'd allowed to get close to me, but she'd left me when I wouldn't put her before my sister. She wasn't supportive of me despite the fact that I'd lost both of my parents. She couldn't recognise that Pam was all I had left, that it was my duty to look after her.
We'd been together for three years before the accident, but I felt like she didn't know me at all. It had been two years ago that I'd split from Sophie-Anne and I'd not allowed anyone to get close to me since.
"I've been nothing but a complete bastard to her since she started working for me."
"What changed today?"
I didn't quite know how to respond without giving myself away. "I've just been particular evil to her these last few days. I don't blame her for hating me. She called me an arsehole and she was quite right to."
Pam smiled at me. "She's exactly what you need, dear brother. You need a woman to stick up to you, to call you on the shit you spew at times. Make it up to her, prove that you're not a complete prick and then ask her out. It's not as hard as you make out, Eric."
I truly loved my sister at times and she was wise beyond her years. I had taken everything from her: her livelihood, her parents and her freedom to do as she liked. She always told me not to feel guilty about what happened, but how could I not? I had been the one driving. I had killed our parents and ruined her professional playing career; yet I walked away with only a broken wrist.
"I can't. And anyway, I'm her boss. She's never shown any interest in pursuing me; it's the reason I hired her in the first place. I don't think she's married, but she's probably got some long term boyfriend or she's a lesbian or something."
"You think any woman that isn't interested in you is a lesbian?" she asked with humour.
"No!" I growled, throwing carrot peelings at her. "I imagine that she's got a boyfriend!"
"Why don't you try being nice to her and seeing where that goes?"
If only it were that simple.
"When did you get so wise, little sister?"
"Birth, probably. It comes with the two 'x' chromosomes."
Pam and I bantered for the rest of the evening as I helped (hindered) her cooking, and cleaned up the kitchen afterwards. She later showed me the flat she'd been looking at, and I agreed it would be a good purchase and only a few streets away from me. I knew that I was being clingy, but she was all I had left and I genuinely didn't want to see her go.
When I arrived into work the next day, I could only imagine what kind of monster Sookie was portraying me as, but I didn't hear anything from the staff, despite paying closer attention to the gossip than normal. Sookie herself kept her head down and worked as hard as she usually did, coming into my office only when essential. I wanted to apologise, as I truly felt bad about upsetting her.
I was well aware of the reputation I had in the office, and I knew it was a running joke about the number of PA's I had employed and let go. The girls in the office said that I'd been through more PA's than Spinal Tap had drummers. At least I hadn't actually killed any off, not yet at least. I just hoped that my stinking attitude towards her wouldn't make her leave.
She had been very quiet when she first started the job; it seemed to take several weeks for her to make friends with the other girls in the office, and there had always been a distinct sadness about her that I could not place. As the months went on, she became more confident and seemed to take my put-downs less personally. However, I was all too aware that I had upset her on many an occasion.
I didn't want to be such a bitter and fucked-up bastard, but I couldn't help myself. Sometimes my mouth seemed to speak of its own accord. I didn't mean to insult her; she did a great job and was truly beautiful, but my rudeness was a defence mechanism and easier than letting someone get close to me. Pam had tried to force me into therapy, telling me that I shouldn't shoulder all the guilt for our parents' deaths and her spinal injury, but she was wrong. It was my fault and I should be the one to pay for it.
Several evenings passed before I could go down to the basement again. I hated the evenings when I didn't get to play, and noticed that my mood was normally worse on those occasions. I'd promised to leave early on Friday night and to take Pam out for a meal later that night, so at four o'clock I shut up my office and made my way down.
I sat down on the well-used leather bench, flexed my fingers and legs and began to play my favourite Einaudi piece, 'Berlin Song'. I'd played the piece so often that I hardly looked up at the music, relying on my fingers to find the right position on the keyboard. Having this private time meant so much to me, it was the only time I could let go; forget what had happened with Pam and how I'd destroyed her career, and how I had killed our parents.
I let the music consume me and pull me into another dimension where I wasn't bitter and twisted from the pain I had caused. A dimension where I could love and be loved.
I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of the lift pinging to announce its arrival in the basement. I instantly stopped playing and looked up to see Sookie's panicked face staring back at me through the glass. I watched as she turned to press the button to leave, but the lift had already started its ascent to the upper floors.
"You don't have to go," I told her as I stood up and she spun around to meet my eyes. "I don't mind if you stay." I couldn't quite believe that I had told her that. I had never liked people watching me play, even Pam. Sophie-Anne had no interest in my ability, since it wasn't money making, and actively encouraged me not to play since it took up my time.
"Are you sure?" Sookie asked in a small voice. "I don't want to disturb you."
"It's okay, really."
Sookie stayed outside the room as I resumed my place on the stool. I thought it would be difficult to play with her listening, but it seemed somehow right that she was listening to me. I felt like I was playing for her. I closed my eyes and started playing the piece again, allowing the music to flow through me, losing myself in the music, and this time not alone.
When I finished I looked up at Sookie; she had tears falling down her cheeks. She looked so beautiful, but so vulnerable as well. I could see that something or someone had broken her heart and I hated that my attitude had caused her further hurt since she'd been working for me. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself walking towards her, and pulling her into my arms. She sobbed gently on my chest, her tears soaking through my shirt.
When she eventually made a move to pull away from me I looked down at her, her beautiful blue eyes still full of moisture. I ran a thumb under each of her eyes to dry her cheeks.
"What is it?" I asked softly.
"You play so beautifully," she told me. "I have never heard anyone play 'Berlin Song' as well as you did then. I could listen to you play forever." She let out a small smile, stepping back from me slightly. I noticed as her eyes fell to my chest and her face dropped. I looked down at the wet patch on my shirt that her eyes were drawn to. "I'm so sorry, I ruined your shirt," she began quickly, her face panicked.
"It's okay, it doesn't matter," I told her soothingly.
"Why don't you play professionally?" she asked, her blue eyes searching mine. I took a step back to lean against the doorway and looked down at her.
"Who hurt you, Sookie?" I asked, dodging her question.
She gave a wry smile. "You're avoiding my question," she said tenderly.
"You're right, I am. But I want to know about you. I don't know anything about you."
"From what I've heard you don't know anything about any of the PA's you've hired." She raised a challenging eyebrow at me.
"Touché," I said with a smirk. "But then none of the others have been as good you. Tell me."
"Only if you will tell me why you're not playing professionally."
I had to admit that the girl had courage and I admired her for it.
"Fine." I walked back into the practice room, holding the door open for her and shutting the door behind her and closing the blinds in the room in case anyone should see us both there. Sookie sat down on one of the leather chairs at the side of the room, while I resumed my position on the piano stool. She looked at me expectantly and I took a deep breath before starting.
"Believe it or not, I never was the talented pianist in my family. My younger sister, Pam, was a huge talent from an early age. She played all over Europe as a teenager and at eighteen went to the Royal College of Music to study." I smiled, remembering how excited she was when she got her place, how proud our parents were of her. "She was brilliant with a fantastic career ahead of her."
"What happened?" Sookie asked kindly, her eyes meeting mine.
"What do you mean, Eric?" I was fairly sure that it was the first time I had ever heard her call me by my first name.
"I destroyed her career and killed our parents at the same time."
I watched as her eyes went wide. I didn't blame her for hating me as well. She said nothing and waited for me to continue. I looked away from her, not wanting to the disappointment on her face.
"It was two and half years ago and I was driving Pam and my parents back from one of her performances. It was late and there was little on the road. I was going faster than I should have been and I didn't see the car that pulled out from the side street." I shut my eyes, the images flowing through my mind as if it was yesterday. "I tried to swerve to avoid him, but I clipped another car and we rolled before smashing into a lamppost."
I looked over to Sookie to see an expression of horror on her face. "My parents were both killed instantly. Pam fractured her thoracic spine, meaning she's now confined to a wheelchair with little movement in her legs. But I walked away with only a few cuts and bruises, and a broken wrist."
"I'm so sorry, Eric."
"Yeah, well, I pay the price for it now." I said bitterly.
"How is it your fault?" Her eyes were back on mine.
"Of course it's my fault. I was the one driving and I should have been more careful. I should have been paying better attention to the road."
"But I still don't understand why you don't play. You're brilliant!"
I smiled at her sweetness. "Pam told me that I should play professionally, but that was her career path, not mine. I started this record label instead to help other musicians follow their dreams."
"But you wanted to play professionally?"
"Always. But it wasn't for me. Much to my parents disappointment I wasn't good enough to get into the Royal College or Royal Academy and I was discouraged from applying elsewhere." I had hated it that Pam had always been seen as the golden child, the prodigy of the family.
"Does she know that you still play?"
"God no, it would break her heart. How can I let anyone hear me play when it should have been her that could play for people? No, I'm not good enough and I won't do that to her. I destroyed her life; I couldn't bear to hurt her more."
"Does she see it that way?" Sookie asked with great insight.
"No," I admitted. "She's remarkably independent. I moved back into our parents' home after the accident to care for her, but she told me only last night that she wants to move out on her own. She amazes me, she really does. She's started her own business in fashion and she's doing really well."
"So why wouldn't she want you to follow your dreams?"
I sighed and ran my hand through my hair, loosening it from the tie at the back and shaking it down around my shoulders. "I can't. I won't do that to her." I looked over to the piano keyboard and played a few notes before turning back to Sookie. "So, tell me, now you've heard my story, what is yours?"
It was her time to sigh. "My story is that my fiancé died a year ago, and I miss him every day."
I officially felt like the biggest bastard on the planet. How could I have been so evil to her when she was still grieving for him?
"I'm so sorry, Sookie."
"Thank you." She played with her fingernails for a few moments before continuing. "I'd been with Alcide for eight years. We met when we both studied English at university. He was gorgeous, tall with shaggy dark brown hair and green eyes, not to mention the fact that he was damn sexy and spoke fluent French."
She smiled as she remembered him and I could see in her eyes the love she still held for him.
"We were due to get married last summer at his family's gite in the Loire Valley. But around eighteen months ago he started getting headaches and a few months after that that he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour."
I felt my heart break for her; the pain was so evident on her face. "He only lived for three months after diagnosis. It was the best and worst time of my life. The best because I spent so much time with him doing everything he'd always wanted to do. And the worst because he died in my arms."
Her voice broke and she sobbed softly. I got up from the stool and knelt down in front of her, wrapping my arms tightly around her again and letting her cry it out.
"Your music," she whispered into my ear, "it was just so beautiful. It made me think of all the great times I had with Alcide. How much I miss him. I'm not sure that I will ever be able to get over him."
"You may never get over him, Sookie. You certainly won't ever forget him. But you will learn to live again. You don't have to feel guilty about living."
"Like you don't?" she retorted.
"That's different." I replied a little too harshly. "I killed my parents; I ruined my sister's career. It was my fault."
"No it wasn't. It was the fault of the other driver who made you swerve. Don't blame yourself, Eric. You haven't had things easy either. I'm sorry that you didn't get to follow your dreams, but it's not too late. How do you know that your sister wouldn't be supportive of you?"
"I just know." I said stubbornly.
"No, you don't. She wants her independence and she's moved away from music. If she loved it so much why didn't she find some other way to continue playing? Do you know for sure that she didn't feel pressurised into following that route?"
It was a thought that I had never considered before. Was it what Pam had always wanted or was she just never given an option by our parents? She had, after all, settled into her knew career in fashion very easily and didn't really seem to miss music at all. Had I been mistaken?
"I might be right, mightn't I?" she said with a kind smile.
"I honestly don't know. You could be."
"You should talk to her. She sounds like she cares for you a great deal and I bet that she'd be supportive of you following your dreams."
I looked at Sookie. She was without doubt one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. But she was also so kind and generous. I could see that she held a lot of love in her heart and I realised that Alcide had been a very lucky man to have had her in his life. I wanted to help her heal; I wanted to be a friend to her.
"Thank you, Sookie."
"No, thank you for playing for me."
"Any time. And I'm sorry I've been such an arse to you. I'm sorry that I have upset you. You're by far the best PA I've ever had and I've been considering offering you a pay rise and a permanent contract if you're interested." It was a thought that I'd been considering for a while, and she certainly deserved it.
"Wow, are you sure?" She looked genuinely pleased and that brought a smile to my face.
"Of course. Although I do have a few conditions." I gave her a slight smirk.
"And what would they be?"
"Well, firstly you have to carry on making my coffee as you make it much better than I do. And secondly, please don't blow my cover."
She let out a laugh, a sound that I could very easily become used to. "Of course, I wouldn't want anyone to realise that our hard-arse boss was actually a very talented softy."
"Oh, I hardly think I'm a softy! Think on it, Sookie. I'll have a contract for you on Monday if you're interested."
I got up from my kneeling position and took her hand in mine to help her up. We walked out of the room and she wrapped her arms around me, resting her head on my chest. "Can we be friends, Eric? I feel a kindred spirit with you. No one else seems to understand the loss I feel; but you do. And please promise me you will never stop playing."
"I will always play for you," I told her honestly.
Deciding whether to accept the permanent contract Eric had offered me took very little thought. And it wasn't just the money and benefits, although they would be a great advantage. I felt now that we understood each other on a personal level after our talk in the practice room. He had seemed to be such a cold-hearted bastard, but now I knew better.
I'd known from the first time I heard him play that there must be more going on beneath his hard exterior. Now I knew that he was internally torturing himself for events that were not his fault, even though he did a very good job of hiding it all with his hard man mask.
He hadn't been able to follow his dreams, and perhaps he held some resentment towards his parents because of that. Added to that was the guilt that he'd been driving the car when the accident claimed their lives. It was eating him up inside and was unhealthy for him. He was a hugely talented pianist, and although he did a great job of running his record label, it wasn't where his true love lay.
I'd not told anyone about Alcide before, and it was somehow cathartic to tell Eric about him. No one else in work knew about my loss, as I'd deliberately made the move from Bath to London after his death. I'd sold the large townhouse we'd owned there and bought my London flat as I needed to get away. There were too many memories for me in Bath, too many ghosts. I knew that Alcide would always live on in my memory, but I didn't think I could deal with the constant visual reminders of him.
That weekend I opened up some of the boxes of his belongings that I'd brought from our house, laughing as I looked at photos and remembered our good times together. There were many tears as well, and I also took the time to phone his parents and sister to catch up with them. I'd been avoiding them over the recent months.
It was amazing at how much better I felt after talking to Eric, and I hoped that to some extent the two of us could continue our mutual therapy to offer each other support. I hoped that I too could help Eric overcome some of his own grief and guilt, and I even found myself wondering what his sister was like, whether she was as gorgeous as he was.
On the Monday morning, I brought Eric in his usual cup of coffee and I found a contract waiting for me on his desk. He looked up at me and gave me a warm smile, telling me that he'd be in the practice room at his usual time after work. I picked up the contract and went back to my own office. I was really quite shocked to see that I was essentially getting a six grand pay rise, not to mention the luxury of sick pay and a company pension. I had no hesitation in signing.
"I want to thank you, Sookie." Eric told me as soon as I met him after work.
"You spoke to your sister?"
"I did. And you were right, Pam did feel pressurised into playing by our parents, but also felt like she had my expectations on her shoulders as I had missed out on my own dreams. She's happier now. Sure, she misses our parents as I do, but I think she relishes the freedom."
"Did you tell her that you still play? That you still have that dream?"
He smiled, his eyes lighting up and his handsome face becoming even more beautiful. "She asked me to play for her. I'd locked up the music room after the accident as I feared it would remind her of what she'd lost. I enjoyed it almost as much as playing for you."
His eyes were serious as he looked at me, but I struggled to believe what he was saying. "Hardly, I mean, she's your sister!"
"No, Sookie. You changed everything for me. I'd not played for anyone for years before I played for you, but I somehow knew that I could confide in you, that I could trust you. And I thank you for that." His eyes were earnest and I felt my heart swell.
"I want to thank you as well. I've never told anyone in London about Alcide either."
"You didn't live here before?"
"No, I moved not long before I started here. I needed a fresh start; I needed to be somewhere where I wasn't constantly reminded of him. But over the weekend, I had the courage to talk to his parents and sister, something I hadn't done for months."
"That's great," he said with genuine encouragement. "Do you have a picture you could show me?" I smiled at his genuine interest and pulled my wallet out of my bag. I only allowed myself to carry one photo of him around with me so I didn't become too indulgent.
"This was taken the day we got engaged." I gave Eric the photograph and watched his reaction.
It was a picture of both Alcide and I on the beach in Cornwall. We'd been staying in a cottage on the south coast and had been cliff walking. Alcide had packed us a picnic lunch and when we found a secluded spot, he had set down a blanket and then proposed to me. The sky had been a deep blue and the early May sun was warm but not scorching. When I'd accepted his proposal, we drank champagne and made love in the open air. It had been the most perfect day and I would remember him like that until the day I died.
"I'm so sorry for your loss, Sookie," Eric said softly, after I'd recounted the tale to him. "You looked perfect together."
"I think we were." I admitted. "But it obviously wasn't meant to be; otherwise he wouldn't have been taken from me." I closed my eyes and a tear slid down my face that Eric softly wiped away. I felt myself unconsciously lean into his touch as I let out a sigh.
"So, do you have a girlfriend or wife?" I asked before thinking though the question. I tried to hide my face, but heard him chuckle and he moved my hands out of the way.
"It's okay, you can ask. I've been single for over two years now. I was living with my girlfriend, Sophie-Anne at the time of the accident, but she just wasn't there for me. She couldn't understand my guilt and why I wanted to move back into my parent's home to be with Pam after she was released from hospital. It made me see how selfish she was. I split up from her a few months after the accident."
"You've really been single for over two years?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Yes, I have," he said with humour and a slight smirk.
It was good to enjoy a laugh with him, and we spent quite a few evenings together in the music room. Often we'd talk and other times he'd just play for me as I sat quietly and thought of Alcide or my family. I'd noticed a change in Eric in the office as well; he came out of his shell, his walls lowering slightly. He certainly wasn't the complete bastard to work for anymore.
Of course, most of the office assumed that something was going on between Eric and I, and wouldn't believe it when I said that we were just good friends. But as much as I denied having feelings for Eric, I could feel them growing slowly inside me.
A month or so later he invited me to his house and introduced me to his younger sister, who I loved instantly. I could see why Eric had such affection for her, but I could still sometimes see the guilt burning behind his eyes as he looked at her. I imagined that he would never forget that, as I would never forget Alcide.
Pam amused me greatly, she was snarky and sarcastic but had a great attitude on life and didn't let anything stand in her way when she wanted something. The three of us would quite often go out for meals, or spend time listening to Eric play. Even Pam played at times, and I could see the look of pride on Eric's face whenever she did.
I encouraged him to pursue his dream, and with the bullying of Pam he started entering the odd competition here and there. It was of no surprise to Pam and I that he won everything he put his hand to.
He'd also started playing us his own compositions, some of which were completely beautiful and I didn't think that I would ever be able to hear enough of his music. Conspiring against him, Pam and I had entered one of his own compositions into a prestigious nationwide competition. Eric was thrilled when he won, although Pam and I did get it in the ear when he realised what we'd done.
Eric had told me fairly soon after we first became friends that he had a rule of not dating work colleagues, but as our friendship grew over a few months we both became increasingly attracted to each other. We kept it professional, however, and stayed just friends as per his rule.
I found it very difficult not to feel like I was cheating on Alcide by even thinking about Eric. I still loved him – I always would – but with my attraction to Eric as well, I considered myself to be betraying him.
Another difficulty was how to play our friendship with our work colleagues. The girls were already jealous of my friendship with him and none of them believed that there was nothing going on between us, no matter how many times I protested. It meant that work got quite difficult for me at times and my friend count was decreasing rapidly.
But it all went to shit one night when Eric, Pam and I were out for a meal and we were on the next table to Amelia and her boyfriend, Tray. Of course, by the next day the whole office knew that Eric and I had been out together, Amelia conveniently forgetting to tell anyone that Pam was also with us as well. No one believed me when I told them it was a meal between friends.
It was around seven that evening that I heard a knock on the door. When I opened it, I saw Eric pacing in the corridor. I opened the door wide for him to enter and he did so without comment.
"You okay?" I asked eventually as he continued to pace a line on my kitchen floor.
"I can't do this." He stopped pacing and looked directly at me, heat evident in his eyes.
"What can't you do?" I was a little scared by his actions
"This." He stepped closer and indicated to the air between us. "I know that you are still grieving for Alcide, and I never want to overstep my mark, but I want you, Sookie. And I know that I have these fucked up rules about not dating my staff and I know that it will cause all manner of shit in the office…," he paused briefly and stepped closer to me.
"You're rambling," I told him with a smile. It was a very un-Eric characteristic.
"I know, but I want you."
Alcide had told me before he died that he wanted me to love again, that he wanted me to be happy. I knew that I was happy when I was with Eric and I knew that Alcide would be supportive of me. I felt sure that Alcide would like Eric, they couldn't have looked more different, but they were very similar in many ways.
"Are you going to sack me?" I asked, closing the distance between us.
"I'd prefer not to," he purred. "I like seeing you at work in those short skirts of yours."
"I think that's sexual harassment." I said with a wry smile.
"Much as I want to take you over your kitchen table, this has to be your call. I'm not a complete villain."
I had to respect Eric's restraint and I'd come to realise over the few months we'd been friends that he normally got what he wanted. The question being was I ready to be with him; I had a feeling that I was.
"I know you're not. Are you here because of what was said at the office today?"
"Partly. But Pam's been bugging me for months to make the move on you. She knows me too well."
I smiled at his confession. Pam was always very blunt and told it exactly as it was. "What are we going to do about the girls in the office?"
"Going to do?" he asked with a smile.
"Well, I mean what do you think we should tell them about us?" I ran a finger down the front of his shirt.
"That depends on what there is to tell. But I think they should mind their own fucking business. They're just jealous of you."
"Lafayette in particular is going to be so gutted." I said with a grin. Eric rolled his eyes at my mention of Lafayette. He was overtly camp and – as long as Eric wasn't around – made it very clear how much he wanted him.
"Well, he's going to have to be jealous with the rest of them because I want you to be mine."
"Only if you're mine." I told him as he pulled me close to his body.
In an instant, his lips were on mine. It started off slowly as we explored each other's mouths, trying out kissing styles and rhythms until we found one that suited us, our tongues dancing together as we panted into each other's mouths.
I pulled away and my eyes met his, his need for me evident on his face. I didn't doubt that I was wearing the same expression.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked me.
"Very. I want you as well."
He let out a very sexy growl and leaned down to capture my waiting lips. He pushed me against the fridge causing the glass bottles inside to rattle and hoisted me up so his arms supported me, my knees gripping onto his waist.
"How many bottles of wine do you have in there?" he asked, in between kisses on my neck.
"Lots. I have this complete arse of a boss that drives me to drink most nights." I moaned as he nibbled on my pulse point.
He leaned back and raised a very sexy eyebrow at me, his eyes sparkling with humour. "Oh really? What appears to be the problem?"
"He's very hot, but apparently he doesn't date the staff."
"You think he's hot?"
"Very." My eyes met his and held them. "But I like him. I like him a lot."
"What if he likes you too?"
"Then I think he should screw the rule of not dating staff –"
"And screw you instead?" he interrupted with a sexy smirk.
I smacked him gently on the chest. "No need to be crude, Mr Northman."
"Mmmm, I like it when you say my name like that."
"I bet you do." I leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on his lips. "We're really doing this?"
"Yes, we are." He confirmed, kissing me gently back. "Have you eaten?"
"Fancy coming over to mine and getting take-away pizza?"
"On one condition."
"And what's that?"
"Play for me?" He smiled at me and placed me back down on the floor.
"Yes, 'Berlin Song'. It was the first thing I heard you play and it'll always remind me of you."
"Of course." He bowed as if I were royalty.
"Give me a sec and I'll grab my stuff."
I walked out of the kitchen and to my bedroom where I grabbed a duffle bag and started pulling a few items from my wardrobe.
"What are you doing?" Eric asked as he leaned against the doorframe.
I turned to him and smiled. "Packing." He raised an expectant eyebrow. "So I don't have to come back here tomorrow morning. And it's much more economical if we –"
I didn't get chance to finish my sentence as Eric's lips found mine, my arms automatically wrapping around his neck as he pulled me close to him.
This, I could get used to.