Fifteen months later:
Hair extensions, lashes, makeup, tan, at least three coats of body makeup to boot! Backstage at my first show was a complete zoo of people, products and clothes. We had eighteen models in all, and thirty looks. Being granted a show at New York Fashion week was a fantastic coup to say the least, and for a first collection out of the gate, it was fantastic. I was slotted in for my Resort collection showing in Paris in the coming months, but for now, my ready-to-wear Fall/Winter collection was my baby. And I wanted nothing more than to show my baby off to the world around her.
The Lincoln Center was packed backstage and beyond, there was so much activity from all ends of the spectrum. But it was exciting and nerve wrecking and crazy and I loved every second of it.
Fashion editors, buyers, celebrities, friends, and of course a select few journalists.
All present and waiting, making that sick feeling in my stomach intensify more and more.
I checked my phone for what felt like the millionth time that day, and I had a text from Pam. She was here! I left the models and the mayhem, and made my way to find her; she said she was at the bar down the street and asked me to join her. I was due a break, and couldn't refuse it. I passed the halls, and the people on my way out, noticing my name and the name of the collection had taken over the space. It was on pillars filled with glass pebbles, it was on cardboard cutouts in 3D. It was everywhere. It was amazing.
"Pam!" I said as I entered, all but running up to hug her. "This is crazy, I'm crazy. Am I really doing this?"
"You are doing this and it's amazing. I mean, I'm biased, but it really is. They're going to love it."
I took a deep breath. "This is what it comes down to, Pam. Thousands of sketches, hours, tears... this and these opinions. Fuck." I panicked as I took the Cosmo out of her hand and took a healthy sip. "How did I do this for so many years, so carelessly? Is this my karma?"
"You'll be fine. The preview of the preview went amazingly well, you got a smile from Wintour, and you don't think that means something?"
That was a rather epic moment, I had to admit. Nothing impressed that woman, and I should have known, I'd been trying for years but gave up and fell in love with her second in command instead. Grace Coddington was my Queen, much to Pam's amusement. Amusement she'd point out when she'd tell me that I was kidding myself in my prior – and her current job, since I latched on to the creative's every time over the business heads.
"I guess. But, I just want it to be over."
"So you can start prepping for next season?"
"Start? You know I've already got half the collection prepped." I laughed, taking a seat at the bar next to her, and ordering myself a cocktail. I deserved it.
"I know that, I don't know why I'm even a little bit surprised." She smiled.
"Work is good. I think I've found 'the one'."
Pam had about as much trouble with assistants that I had, it was a tricky process, finding someone you clicked with, but who was also not a complete idiot.
"That's great, Pam. Really." I nodded, sipping my drink.
"It doesn't help that you pinched the best half of the staff when you left, Sookie." She scowled. It had been a sticking point for us, since I announced I was leaving to start my own venture the year before. The staff, the smart ones at least, were loyal to me and wanted to follow. Who was I to say no? I knew better than anyone that good people were hard to find. So, I took Lafayette and a handful of people from the art department, as well as our head seamstress Marcella.
And Eric of course.
"I can't believe how much has changed, Pam. I feel like I've lost my mind half the time."
"But, it's the other half that keeps you going, right?" She winked.
"That's true, you're right. I'm just... extremely sleep deprived and starving."
"So where is your right-hand man, today? I expected him to be acting like your bodyguard during all this."
I smiled. Eric was insanely protective, ever since the hate mail had started a year before. Crazy stuff, and for a long time we were convinced I had a stalker, but there was no DNA, and we couldn't really prove it, other than a gut feeling. The cops didn't move on 'gut feelings', mores the pity. He and I had been pretty solid since we agreed on our ground rules, though. We fought like cats and dogs sometimes, but we always made up when we swallowed our pride into admitting one of us, or most of the time, both of us were wrong about something. It wasn't easy, at all, but it was worth it. We still weren't living together, at least not in the 'official' sense of the word. With working, and planning, I was often at my place four nights a week, if not there, I was at the studio, and I hated that disruption for Emily. So, we agreed that work was work and we'd be together properly when we both found the time. The time was at least three days a week, no matter what. I missed him, I missed them, in the nights I had to go to bed alone, wake up alone and start my day over again, without them. But, it made the days we were allowed to spend together that much more worth it. With the collections finally finding feet, I knew things would slow down considerably once Fashion Week was over and I got my three week vacation, leaving my staff to handle the madness.
I couldn't wait.
"He's picking Emily up from her playdate. She's coming to the show, she's so excited."
Pam nodded. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she liked Emily. She was hard not to like, or at least I thought so.
Emily had spent most of the week with Taylor, Eric and I were running around New York like chickens with our heads cut off, attending the parties we needed to be seen at, schmoozing up a storm. The same, but oh so different from the last Fashion Week he and I took on together. I smiled to myself, not only at how much I had changed, and opened up since then, but how much he had as well. He was no longer the gangly, awkward assistant, now he knew the world and how to navigate inside it, and whether or not he was willing to admit it, he loved it. He loved the buzz as much as I did.
He was my 'money guy' as I affectionately referred to him, and he was finally able to put his geektastic number crunching skills to use, and he did a fantastic, honest job of it too. Which of course speedily earned him a decent reputation, and pretty soon my partners took an interest, as did our models. He was making bank, not that he'd ever admit that, either.
I downed the last of my cocktail, hopping off the stool.
"Shall we go? Face the jaws of the lion?" I asked Pam, nervous as anything.
She just nudged me gently.
"You'll do amazing! Let's go!"
An hour later, and it was showtime.
I stood backstage and I watched all the models get lined up. I heard the music start. My heart was in my mouth. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Eric, with Emily in his arms. Both of them smiling.
"You guys made it!"
"Yeah, sorry we're late, traffic was murder." He said, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek, Emily did the same and I took her from Eric. She was getting too big for this, but tonight I didn't care.
"How are you Bubs?" I asked her.
"I'm good! Missed you."
"Missed you too. But, after this week, I'm all yours for a whole month. You ready for our vacation?"
"So ready! Eric said we might visit Disney World."
"We might. If you're good! You wanna come to the side and watch with me?"
She nodded enthusiastically, and so we made it for a bird's eye view just as the lights went up.
"You did it Boss." Eric whispered to me as the last two models took the walk for their final walk. He squeezed my hand in encouragement, as I walked to the start of the catwalk to give my little wave, that was thankfully greeted with a rowdy applause. And flowers. They were unexpected, from Pam too.
Eric was right. I'd done it. I could do this, and I had just proved it to myself, and to the world.
The after party and press was insane, in the best possible way. Eric and I took it in our stride, but afterward I was happy to slip back to our hotel, have dinner and relax. We met with Lafayette and his newest squeeze, and my front of house guy Claude, Pam and Thalia and Sam and Holly and of course Ames and Trey. It had taken a little while for Eric's group to fully allow me 'in', at least a few months when we first came out as couple. They were protective of him and Emily, and while at the time I felt slighted, now I am thankful that he had such good people looking out for them, and now, by extension, me.
Eric and I discussed how bad we felt leaving the girls with a sitter, but it also gave Amelia a much needed night off too, and they wanted to celebrate with us, so we tried hard to push our guilt down and just enjoy ourselves. I had received flowers from Jason and Crystal, and a call to boot. He was working for the company still, in a smaller role, but it involved travel, so they were in Paris. I received a call from Gran, well, actually I received ten calls from her throughout that day. All of which were filled with her regret, sort of difficult to make it out of bed when you've just had your hip replaced. Years of abusing her legs with heels finally caught up with her. I promised to visit before the end of our vacation, and she promised me her housekeeper's son was setting up the show on a stream for her. I was please she wanted to see it. I was pleased she and I had reached the point in our relationship where I felt like her Granddaughter again, more-so than just her employee.
"I wanna get them alone, maybe, I don't want to make a big scene." I said quietly to Eric as he poured me more wine. We'd gotten them a vacation for the three of them, as a thank you for stepping in and taking care of Emily when we both needed to be away. They really were amazingly generous with their time, and they loved her and we knew that too. Dinner was had, toasts were made, and I finally felt myself relax as Eric and I took a cab back to our hotel, I wanted to sleep for a week. Ames and Trey left smiling with their ten days all inclusive trip to Spain. Somewhere I'd always heard Amelia saying she'd like to see. I couldn't wait to pack my bags and head for the sun myself soon.
"I mean it went really well, the New York Times review was fantastic, and I know the others will follow." Eric explained as he started to strip off for bed.
"I hope you're right, or we're done with everything this past year and a half has been about."
"Of course I'm right, I'm always right... right?" He smirked. I came out of the bathroom, freshly brushed teeth and makeup free. Walking straight into his embrace, I took the comfort it gave me, and hoped I gave him some comfort right back.
"I have a present for you." He whispered. Causing me to smirk.
"Honey, we've been over this as much as I love it. Your dick is not a gift, its-"
"Ha. Ha. Ha." He deadpanned, holding my shoulders, before he turned to dig something out of his bag. If it was what I thought it was, I felt my nerves build. It would be just like Eric to do something so huge on an already huge night. He was the king of the romantic, but ill-timed gesture.
He held the small box, a grin on his freshly shaven face, before he handed it to me.
Huh. That wasn't how these things were meant to go.
"Um, thanks?" I said, confused. But, opening the box quickly.
It was a key.
I exhaled. If he was going to ask me any other questions that require a box with something shiny in it, I kind of expected a little bit more of an occasion made for it. Call me petty, but I just did.
"It's a key?"
"Yes it is."
"Okay? It's a very … shiny key?"
He giggled a little, pulling me to the bed to sit next to him.
"It's a key to our place."
"Oh... Eric I already have a key to your place." I was still catching up. A week without sleep or a decent meal would kind of do that to you.
"No, a key to our place, Sookie. I think we need to moved in together. I've been wanting it for the longest time, and I know it's something you want too. I'm tired of putting it off and putting it off every time something else comes up. I love you, and I want us to start that part of our lives together."
"It has been insane, hasn't it?"
"And a little dumb. Renting two places, and business space and going back and forth. I know we've talked about it, but this last few months have really shifted things into a different perspective for me. We work to live, not the other way around, and I think we've started to lose sight of that a little. I don't want to lose sight of us."
"Me either." I said, taking his hand. "I love that I can rely on you, to see the biggest part of the big picture when we're concerned, it's a gift, really."
"Are you rubbing my ego before you say no?" He queried with a smile.
"No, I think this is one of those oh, so, rare moments when you're right."
He scoffed at my choice of words pulling me down so we were both laying down, facing each other, our legs dangling off the bed.
"Let's do it. Let's find somewhere and do it. The whole nine yards. Picking curtains, colour schemes... the lot."
"I'm glad you said that. Tomorrow. I want to show you something I'd been thinking about. Will you come with?"
I agreed of course, my curiosity peaked to an all time high. Before I kissed him as if my life depended on it. Sex with Eric now was different. The sense of urgency we felt when we started out was rare, but it was replaced with something else. Something better, in my opinion. I would say it was familiar, but still surprising, safe but not boring, I trusted him completely and that translated to our sexlife in the best way I ever imagined. I felt free to experiment with him in ways I never dared before. He trusted me too, and it was huge deal for both of us, having been burned so many times before. It never seemed to be enough, though. For us, when we were intimate, no matter how exhausted, there was always a part of me, at least that just wanted to keep going. I took it as a good sign, one that meant we made a good team in the sack, as well as out of it. His orgasm face still made me giggle, as did his mutterings of math under his breath sometimes when things got that little bit too intense. I tried to pretend I didn't notice, but he caught me more times than I could count.
"You know, your 'O' face is funny too, you always look so surprised and confused all at once, but do you see me giggling at you, nooo." He said, kissing me once before we rolled over, messy and sweating, but completely at ease.
"I don't mean to laugh … but it is funny. I'm not making fun. I laugh with love."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Stackhouse. Whatever you say."
I giggled again, allowing him to scoop me into the nook under his arm. My happy place, I thought, as I rested my head on his chest.
"I'm a fashion designer." I giggled.
He just chuckled and kissed me on the forehead, "I know, Boss. I know."
With that I drifted off into the best sleep I could remember having in at least six months. I finally felt like I was good enough to do what I'd always dreamed of, I had been doing it.
I would do it.
"Are you taking me out here for a drug deal, Eric?" I questioned as I looked at my surrounding, as remote as they were. I had no idea what this 'surprise' was, and liked it even less since he would give me no hints.
He knew I hated surprises.
"Just hold on, we're almost there." He said as we pulled into this abandoned lot. I was just very confused. I clinged onto my morning coffee, willing it to give me life or at the very least, wake me the fuck up.
"We could be in bed right now, all snuggled and post-orgasmic, but no. You're dragging my ass out to... what appears to be the middle of nowhere, on the river." I complained, getting out of the car with him.
He smiled, pulling keys out of his pocket as we approached the big looming warehouse.
"Okay, seriously, what's going on?"
"Sookie, Sookie, always so impatient. What is going on is this. My idea." He nodded to the warehouse.
I looked up at it.
"But, I already have one of these. Darn it. Let's get back into the car." I said jokingly as I motioned to the car. He just rolled his eyes.
"The key. Last night. The suggestion of us living together?"
"I do recall. Yes." He reached for my hand to lead me to the door.
"Well. This was the idea I had. Us, moving in together in a place that's ours together."
Slowly the pieces of his crazy-ass idea were coming together.
"Eric, honey, are you high? Did someone slip you something last night? Have you and Sam been hanging out? Because don't think I don't know what goes on at those 'meetings' you guys have at his place at six in the evening, Buddy."
Maybe he fell and hit his head at some point?
He didn't answer me, instead unlocked the door and led us inside the seemingly derelict building.
"I think this could be the option for us."
It was empty. And dusty, and old, and did I mention a tad creepy?
Well, it was.
"I don't...get it." I got it. I was just afraid of what I got. "Eric, I know I've been working a lot of late nights lately, but we can slow down now, and we'll have more time together. I know you need a project if you're bored but –"
"Hear me out, okay? And if you hate the idea, we can go back to the drawing board." He asked, all hopeful and excited. I hadn't the heart to crush that. So, I listened. I listened as he explained in elaborate and intricate detail; the potential of the creepy building.
He had a file inside the building with photos, and floor plans, and all kinds of things. He really was bored, I realised. But I also realised how much he cared about an 'us' together all the time. He continued to surprise me, I really liked that. I then realised the more he unfolded his idea? The more I fell in love with it, too.
"And the best part? Sam said, his guy said, that this place is going for a steal right now because of the market. Like, only a few years ago it was going for twenty-million. Now?" He showed me the paper with the number on it, and for a building this size; it was surprising how little they wanted for it.
"I mean, we'd have to convert the whole place... but I think it could end up being really amazing. A project that we both get something out of in the end. A badass, unique-enough-to-impress-your-fashiony-friends, and somewhere we can really grow." He laughed at his own words as he continued to explain, like a kid at Christmas just dying to show off his new toy. By giving us room to grow, I knew what he was getting at. The way we were living now was necessary, but not ideal. But we tried to spend as much of it as possible outside of our working hours together. Where we were now was a literal in-between point of both our lives at this point. Between our offices, my studio, and life in the city as we knew it, as well as being close enough to Emily's school for it not to be a problem.
I took both his hands in mine, and moved in for the cuddle, ignoring the fact that my new shoes were stepping in something icky.
"You've really done your homework, haven't you?"
"I was always the one kid that liked homework." He grinned, his black-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose a little in the process. I popped them back in place, as was my usual manoeuvre.
"Do you hate the idea?"
"No, I really don't. I mean, I won't lie, when we got here I was extremely sceptical. But, you've made it seem legit, and kind of amazing."
He smiled, big and wide, kissing me immediately and sweeping me off my feet in the process.
"It will take time, and work, and both our money –"
"I can –"
"Both our money, if it's going to be our place."
I nodded. He was making bank now, I knew that much. Between working with me, and his side gigs' for Sam's businesses, and accounting for a few models I knew. He wasn't just my struggling assistant anymore, that's for sure. Not that I minded either way, but at least now we were on more of an even footing financially.
I looked over his floor plans again. The closets were actually huge. There was even a room called ' Sookie's clothes'. My Eric knew me so well. There was also a room labelled 'nursery', that one earned him a look. He just smirked, knowing well what the look was for too.
"You trying to tell me something, Northman?"
"No Ma'am. Just... in case, that's all."
"Just in case, huh?"
"Like I said, this place will give us the ... freedom to grow. Should we want to? At some point. In the future." He looked at me then, a sly look in his eye, sneaky. I couldn't help but laugh.
"I see." I hummed, taking a short walk further into the building. Four floors, industrial sized space. It would be a big job, but, we knew people that knew people. It could be done in less than a year if we went full steam ahead. A year from then, would I want to fill that nursery? It wasn't something that scared me as much as it had in the past, which in itself was promising.
We agreed on the warehouse, and I called my building guy to go the next day and get the ball rolling, and to hire his architect and get us some more details on the original blueprints that Eric had drawn up. We were really going to do it, we were not just buying a house, we were making one out of the remains of a place that was once a hub of activity and life. We were breathing life into something that everyone had given up on. I refused to believe that I was over-romanticising the idea, I simply loved the thought of bringing new life to something long forgotten or tossed aside. We did it in fashion all the time, with trends and materials and patterns. Why should real-estate be any different?
Six hours later we'd signed off on getting the ball rolling on our warehouse-home. Eric was like a kid waiting for Santa as he made the necessary phone calls to various builders and contractors and all kinds of handymen I'd never even heard of before. I was the one in charge of finding an architect and an interior designer though, again, he knew me so well.
I was packing my vacation luggage, and my overnight bag for Eric's place all at once, Eric had taken Emily to the dentist and I was put in charge of making a list of what they'd need to bring with them. We were doing two weeks in the Bahamas, and a week in Florida. Of course in order to get out of the city, I'd been fielding calls left right and centre from my new team. We had orders, we had a business to run after all. The show had been a success, and with that under my belt I felt a little bit more comfortable letting things go, letting the team do their job now, loosen the reins a touch. As I'd been so extensively requested to do, numerous times.
Then I got a call from a number I didn't recognise, which normally I wouldn't answer and let run to voicemail, but for some reason, I answered.
It was Claudine.
"Why are you calling me? Is Gran okay?"
"Gran's fine. I'm... in your neighbourhood, I was wondering if I could stop by."
Huh. A request I never thought I'd hear come out of her mouth, that's for sure.
"Um, I'm a little busy..."
"But, I guess that's okay. I'm just packing. Come over whenever, I'll leave your name with the doorman."
Officially the strangest thing that happened that week. And that was saying something.
I had to call Eric to tell him.
"And she just called you up out of the blue?"
"Yes. This is weird. Maybe she's dying."
"Well? I can't think of another reason she'd be reaching out to me. Fuck, Eric we haven't talked since that Thanksgiving. What the hell could she want?"
"I guess you won't know until you find out."
"Thank you, Einstein."
With that we said our 'see you laters' and a few seconds later there was a buzzing at my door. My curiosity got the better of me.
"Tina, let's see what she wants, huh?" I said, passing my cat to open the door. There stood Claudine with a bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne.
Ok, what the hell?
"These are for you. A congratulations, of sorts. On the show. I heard it was a hit. All the blogs are talking about your seamless transition to designing."
I accepted, cautiously.
"Thank you. Come in, please."
We walked awkwardly to my living room where we silently took our seats.
"Coffee?!" I offered, more than anything to break the tension.
"No, thanks. I have a meeting in a half hour but I just wanted to stop by, with those, but mostly... to talk to you."
"Oh... okay? Can I ask, why? You're not dying are you?" Blunt, sure but you never know!
"No. Not dying. Just going through a divorce, which feels about the same sometimes."
I was expecting it, it wasn't surprising. What was surprising was her admitting it to me in any shape or form. She was always one for putting on the big pretense.
"I'm ...sorry to hear that." I said.
"Are you sorry? If I were you, I wouldn't be sorry. I'd be gleefully pointing and chanting 'I told you so'."
"Yeah, well, you're not me."
"No. I' not." She sighed. "No matter how hard I tried to be..."
"Having Ralph serve me with divorce papers was hard enough, but now he's threatening to take my Mila from me too."
I almost felt bad for her, but I wasn't totally convinced the kid wouldn't have a more saner upbringing with her father, rather than her mother.
"But..." She composed herself, "that's not why I came here. I don't intent to cry on your shoulder."
"Good, because I wasn't offering it." I snapped. I could be sympathetic, but who were we kidding here?
She pursed her lips.
"I came to say, that ultimately, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for how things went to shit with us, and for so long I tried not to be sorry for it. I tried to see you as the bad guy in all things, when really, I was the one that was scheming and jealous."
I blinked. I thought for a second I was hearing things.
"I've been seeing a really good therapist this past year. She's made me...realise a few things. One of which being my internal competition with you. Ever since we were kids."
"So you went after -"
"Ralph because he was yours? Completely."
My heart sank. Not because it was something I didn't already know, but I suddenly felt very sad for her and her life.
"I don't get it."
"Neither did I. I guess I was jealous of everything you had -"
"I was twenty one, Claudine. All I had was the last remains of the Freshmen fifteen and overdue rent!"
"I know, but you had this guy that seemed to love you, and he was artistic and amazing and you were happy. I wasn't. That's all it was."
"And you're surprised he's divorcing you?"
"I grew to love him, in time, and with Mila. We did become a family. But he always loved you more, and that fucking killed me. He was with me out of obligation to his daughter. I always knew that."
"This is just insane... You know that right?"
"Hence the shrink." She sighed. "Sookie, this isn't easy for me, in any sense of the word."
"Yeah, no shit. You've spent the last part of ten years... more if it's since we were kids... just resenting me for things I had no control over. What the fuck, Claudine, seriously? I never did ANYTHING to you to deserve all of that."
"I KNOW. You think I don't know that. If anything your innocence and obliviousness to my hate just made it worse. But I never realised it before now. One of my … steps... I guess they're called. Is to face this shit. Which is why I'm here, making a fool of myself."
We talked, mostly she talked for another twenty minutes, and we cleared the air. The air that at one point resembled the aftermath of an atomic bomb, now felt like a foggy winter in the city. Not perfectly clear, but somehow it was a lot easier to breathe around her. Self realisation wasn't something I expected from her, but I was glad she was getting there, we all needed a little nudge in the right direction sometimes. I only hoped her divorce would let her see that it was only meant to be a chapter in her story, not the whole book. It left me wondering if we would appear in any future chapters of each other's books. It was something to think about, that's for sure.
The next morning at the airstrip, two sleepy eyed Northman's and my over-caffeinated self took off on the Stackhouse company jet for our beyond overdue vacation. I was still allowed to borrow it, every now and then, I had a bit on an 'in' with the CEO an all. Emily was planning everything she wanted to do in Florida. We fully expected to spend that week in various theme parks, and I wasn't sure who was more excited. Emily or Eric.
It made me smile, they were so alike sometimes it was a little scary. They certainly shared a sense of humour too. And a sense of ninja sneakiness. Because what I didn't know at the time, was that both of them had been on a mission to pick me out another gift. This one in a smaller box, with diamonds. A gift that came with a very important question at the end of it.
Little did they know, my answer was already Yes. It would always be Yes.
A/N: And that's really all she wrote. The end, Fin. All that good stuff. I really had ball writing this story, and I have loved hearing all your theories and ideas, and comments throughout. Thanks again for the support, and be sure to let me know what you think even if you catch this after I've hit the little 'complete' button. Thinky thoughts are always welcome! xo