A/N - I enjoy writing, but have written nothing of length in ages, so I'm using y'all to get my groove back. Here is All Human Eric and Sookie, with some very loose following of the thread of the books. Sookie catches Bill cheating, storms out, and is quickly caught up in Eric's world.
"Am I?" I shouted back at him, surprised. I turned and stared back at him expectantly. This seemed like the least ridiculous thing I had done in ages.
"You...I...just come back inside sweethe-," he started to splutter and I threw my palm up in a stop gesture that effectively halted his floundering. Maybe it was more of a hand-to-God gesture. Either way, I pressed my lips tight between my teeth as I drew a deep breath through my nose, trying to push aside the dozens of obscenities which he so richly deserved rather than the last shred of my composure I determined to give him.
"No. No more of 'sweetheart' from you, Bill Compton. We are through. Do not call me. Do not write. Do not send flowers. You have humiliated me. You brought another woman into my bed and let me find you there? You don't get to say anything else to me. You just shut. Your. Mouth." I finished firmly as he stood there gaping like a fish out of water. It wasn't a brilliant last retort, but he had made it pretty clear that he did not consider me to be a brilliant woman. My own bed. He had her in my own bed. I turned away again, stepped into the back seat of the hired town car, and slammed the door, clicking the lock.
"Airport," I said to the driver, my voice breaking. I turned to stare at the oversized purse I had hauled into the car with me. I had a change of clothes, a book, and my cell phone. The phone started to ring, and I turned it off. As we pulled into traffic, I finally let myself dissolve into tears.
The forty minute ride to the domestic departures terminal passed quickly. I hastily overpaid the driver and practically leapt from the car, pausing only to thank him. I must have looked a wreck as I stepped up to the booking counter.
"Home is in Louisiana. Please get me there, quick as you can," I said to the woman with an imploring tone, placing my license and a credit card down on the counter with an apologetic smile before turning my gaze downwards. No doubt I was pink, splotchy, and swollen. There was a cute little airplane pattern on the navy blue carpet, like you might find in a children's play room. The service woman told me there was a flight in three hours, but she had only first class seats left. Otherwise, I could wait until tomorrow. I told her I'd take it. I didn't know how I was going to pay for it, but the quicker I could put two thousand miles between me and Bill, the better.
I found myself in the bathroom of the first class lounge sometime later. I hadn't really been paying attention on my way in. People have emergencies all the time. I'm sure mine was not the first tear-stained face that the staff here had come across. Suddenly I felt horrible. They could be thinking someone had died, or was near to death. Ugh. Pull it together Sookie.
There was a shower stall in the bathroom there, so I went right ahead and took one. I actually did feel better. I pulled on my change of clothes, a cosy sweater and a pair of jeans. I brushed my hair out and pulled it back into a neat ponytail. I didn't bother with makeup. I was casual as can be when I settled into one of the deep leather armchairs in the lounge to wait for my flight. I accepted a gin and tonic with a grateful smile from the steward. I pulled my tacky romance novel from my bag without a second thought and started reading. Distraction was good.
"Can I freshen this for you Miss...?" came the voice over my shoulder as I saw a hand in my peripheral view start to pull my drink away.
"Stackhouse," I finished for him, turning around with a grateful smile that fell as soon as I caught sight of who was standing behind me.
"Sookie Stackhouse," he said with a grin.
"Eric Northman," I grimaced.
"Gin and tonic, was it?"
I motioned to take the glass back from him, "Never you mind," I clipped. Bill's boss. Bill and Lorena's both, come to that. Bill's lecherous, jerk of a boss. He just has to show up here, now, tonight. Bill's rich, smarmy boss with his gorgeous butt and his stupid smile. Did he know? He had to have known. All this time. What an ass! So what is he, gloating? He pulled the glass back out of my reach, giving me that smile. He seemed to be gloating. Yes, shame on me for not being unfaithful to my ultimately unfaithful boyfriend. I've certainly had my comeuppance, haven't I, Mister Northman? Now go have your laugh at me out of my earshot. I pressed my lips into a thin line again, stifling my internal tirade, and turned back to my book. Not here. Not here, not here, not here. I'll be home in hours. Real home. I can fall apart there. Or maybe at the nearest airport hotel. Not here.
I heard his chuckle as he walked away. A few minutes later a fresh glass was set down on the small table next to me, while he settled into the chair adjacent. I did not look up. I could feel that my cheeks had flushed in my anger again and I was trying to calm myself.
"Where are you headed?" he asked, politely.
"Home," I stated.
"Ah. The twelve-thirty flight?" he asked. And I nodded. "What a coincidence," he said. I could hear him smiling. "I have a business lunch in the city tomorrow," he continued, "but I'm free for dinner." I couldn't help myself. I looked up, shocked at his nerve. He winked at me. I slammed my book closed. The soft thud of the paperback was barely audible over the surrounding noise of the lounge, but the expression on my face could not be mistaken for anything but irritation.
"Mister Northman, please leave me be. I can't..." Oh great, there we go. Tears are back. "I can't be the butt of your jokes right now," I finished lamely. This is just perfect. He looks taken aback as I give a large sniff and press my balled fist into my eye, wishing my hair were down to better hide my face.
"Sookie? What is wrong?" he asks, more quietly. What on earth is he playing at?
I've known Eric Northman almost as long as I've known Bill. He's a vice president at Area Five, technology conglomerate, where Bill works, under Lorena. And over her, too, apparently. I shuddered, returning momentarily to the scene I'd walked in on tonight before I snapped myself out of it.
"Bill," I answered softly, waiting to gauge his reaction.
"Is he...?" he started to ask a question but I finished for him.
"Ah." No tone of surprise. I was right. He had known. Everyone had known, but me. Poor, silly Sookie, sad and blind. My field of vision filled with azure blue as he pushed his handkerchief in front of my face. I stared at the cotton anachronism for a moment before taking it and dabbing at my eyes and nose.
"Pam will be so pleased I've finally managed to put one to use," he says dryly. "She buys so many."
I said nothing in response, staring down at the black embroidered N on the small fabric square. I knew Pam too, of course, from the same of Bill's work parties and social functions where I knew Eric. She was his second. She was technically an executive assistant, but I'd never confused her for anything like a mere secretary. They were a team. I liked Pam well enough.
"I suppose she assumes you always leave them weeping," I said with another sniffle and a weak attempt at a smile, folding the cloth and tucking it surreptitiously into the sleeve of my sweater.
"Yes, that is the joke," he confirmed without humor. "Though they rarely cry," he finished. After a pause, he gave me a winsome grin.
"So, Bill's a bastard after all, hm?" I nodded in response. "Better you know now," he finished lightly.
"Better? Now?" I asked incredulously. "What, now that I've moved clear across the country?" I started to go shrill immediately. Well, I had tried to warn him off. He was the one who was pressing conversation.
"You could have married him," he pointed out, all practical helpfulness. I could have laughed. I started to, and found myself sobbing. Again. He hadn't wanted to get married! It was such an antiquated notion. Who did we need to justify our relationship to but ourselves? Almost three years. I was an outright fool. I was not going to confirm that to Eric Northman, however. He had already made it clear in the past that he assumed it. I forced myself to calm down again and turned my attention to my drink, ignoring the giant lady killer hovering in the adjacent chair for as long as I could.
"Thank you Eric," I finally said. "It's been nice to see a friendly face," I added, feeling genuinely proud that I could muster such convincing pleasantries. "But I'm afraid I'm not very good company just now. I'll leave you to wait for your flight," I finish, and hastily gather my book into my purse, stowing his handkerchief as well. I know better than to offer it back to him after using it. Yuck. Before he can say anything else, I have made my way out of the lounge and back into the bright bustle of the airport. I had thought to do some shopping, but all the many stores and restaurants that line the terminal seem to be already closed or closing up for the night. I guess I'll find a toothbrush when I land in New Orleans. So I walk, up and down, past a dozen gates and back again. I'll be sitting for long enough, soon enough.
After passing my gate for the third time, I finally heard my boarding call. I double (quadruple?) back, and join the long line already queued up to enter the plane. I glance down to make sure my ticket and boarding pass are all in order. B4, that's my seat. I start to muse on that as I trudge forward one step at a time with the rest of the passengers. It is indeed a full flight. I'm heading back to... before. Except what was actually left? I hadn't even thought about the house. I'm suddenly immensely grateful that we hadn't found - that I, singular, hadn't found tenants before I'd, we'd, left. Oh hell. My name is Sookie Stackhouse, and I am newly single. Please pardon my pronouns for the next several weeks as I readjust. So I'm heading back to before, before. Before Bill. Before Lorena. Before Area Five. Before closing up my Gran's old house. Before moving to Seattle. Before betrayals and big fat broken trust and a sad little weeping heart, before. B4. Next to B3.
"Hello again," he smiles up, from the aisle seat.
I returned his grin with a weary smile of my own as he stands and I inch past him to settle into my seat.
"Nothing for the overhead?" he asks me, shrugging out of his suit jacket and handing it to the attendant. She seems very eager to attend to him. I smirk to myself, passing over my own coat.
"Nothing else," I answered, and give my purse a pat. "I'm travelling light."
He gives me a confused look before asking, "When did..?"
"Just tonight," I interrupt. "At our new place. In my bed," I finish smoothly. I sound way more nonchalant than I feel. I've probably over-shared. Thankfully I seem to be out of tears for the time being.
"And you came directly to the airport?"
"Yes," I nod. The flight attendant has finally taken the hint and leaves to stow our coats.
"Well that's extreme," he says, and begins to pull his shoes off. "Do you want a blanket? I usually try to sleep on these."
I blink and then nod at him. And then feel the need to clarify. "Yes, the blanket. What do you mean extreme? What was I to do, wait around and listen to his excuses?"
"Well you've been together what, two or three years now? And something catastrophic happens, and your first response is to immediately leave the state?"
My mouth falls open and my eyes go wide of their own accord. Is he actually sitting here condemning me for hastiness in this?
"I mean all that time and you wouldn't want to stick around and find out..." he continues, reacting to my glare. "Or, I don't know, at least pack?"
He has the blankets now out of the overhead, and I snatch mine from him and turn into the wall, pressing my forehead against the tiny window. I huddle down under the thin felt wishing it were more of a barrier. He seems to take the hint, though, and doesn't ask anything else.
"He didn't tell her to leave," I finally said. I didn't turn around to face him. We were taxiing by now. He was probably not asleep yet. "She just stayed in my bed. He jumped up, when I walked in... but she... stayed there. The whole time. She didn't even pull the sheets over herself. She asked me what I was doing there."
He pushed the armrest between our seats up and pulled me into a hug. He shifted himself so his legs stretched out under the seat in front of mine. I presume the gesture wasn't entirely selfless, as he can definitely benefit from the leg room, but it was pretty appreciated in that moment. He hushed me as I murmured my thank you. I wrapped my arm around his ribs and cried silently into his chest through takeoff, until I finally fell asleep.
Some time later, I was shaken awake. "Sookie," I heard Eric say, as though he's been saying it for some time. I pulled myself up abruptly, rubbing sleep from my eyes and pushing my hair back. I'm pretty sure I had just been snuggling with Eric Northman.
"There's a storm in Nola. They're landing us in Dallas." He sounded annoyed. Well, I couldn't blame him. I wanted to be home, but I had no time frame. This was a business trip for him, I thought. He would have to reschedule things.
"How bad?" I asked immediately, worried. Habit.
"Just bad enough to fuck up my day tomorrow I'm sure," he practically spat. Someone is definitely grumpy when he first wakes up. "They're saying they could put us in some kind of motel for the night and fly us out 'as weather permits'. I'm going to see if I can rent a car."
"Eric, it's 500 miles," I started to say.
"You don't have to come then," he barked back. "I need to be in the city by one o'clock this afternoon."
"Eric they'll understand the weather," I tried. He gave me a look that indicated that anonymous 'they' most certainly would not, and that I was pretty dumb for even suggesting they might.
"We'll be on the ground in twenty minutes. Fuck." He said again. He took out his phone and began playing with it. A few moments later his slammed his fist into the ceiling, over the call button. The very attentive flight attendant appeared a moment later with her pretty smile.
"Sir?" she started to ask, before he thrust his blackberry at her.
"Get this connected to the internet. I need to have a car waiting for me when we land."
"Sir, if you follow the instructions on the homepage, you will be able to access our in-flight wireless servi-" He was practically growling halfway through her recitation. I leaned across him, patting him on the knee and took the phone back from her hands, offering an apologetic smile. I quickly accessed the in-flight wifi for him, using my own credit card number, before handing it back to him. He'd comforted me. I could spend the $14.95 on 6 minutes of internet service for him. Plus, it was nice to solve someone else's problems so readily, when mine seemed completely beyond me. And besides, he gave good hug, even if he was kind of a jerk in general.
"Sir we will be landing momentarily, I will need to ask that you turn off all..." This time he was ready to roar, and I did my lean across thing again and mouthed 'one moment' to her, letting her know I had the matter in hand. I took the phone back from him a second time and quickly navigated through to confirm an SUV at the Dallas airport before holding the phone aloft so she could see me switch it off.
I finally pulled myself into a proper sitting position and nudged his legs away. He had his arms folded, still looking extremely irritated. I rubbed my eyes again and tried to straighten my hair. "We have the reservation in. They'll have a car waiting for us. We'll have to drive all night, but we'll get there. Okay?"
"You're coming then?" he asked abruptly.
"Well it's in my name. I would have had to rent one when I got in to New Orleans anyway," I half-lied. I'd been planning on spending a couple of days in the city before heading north to the house. I didn't have any of the utilities back on again. It had only been closed down for a month. How long could it take to get everything switched on again? I could still get a hotel after I'd dropped him off wherever he was going. I'd probably need one night at least, and then I could head to my brother, Jason's. I had a semblance of a plan. I pulled my shoes back on feeling somewhat better as I felt the plane angle into sharper descent.
Dallas International airport was huge and packed with people. Apparently they were getting all the reroutes from the gulf region. I didn't know the airport very well, but Eric seemed to. He'd carried on a garment bag along with his laptop, and I just had my bulky purse, so we didn't have to wait around for luggage, which seemed a blessing to me as we breezed past the madhouse surrounding the baggage carousels on the way to the rental desk.
"Aren't you glad I didn't pack?" I tried to quip, when we finally reached the line at the desk. I was mildly out of breath. He had quite a stride and had made a bee-line. He glowered down at me, and I rolled my eyes. He maintained his grimace when we were called up, and the rental man seemed relieved to be able to direct all his talking to me, doing his best to ignore Eric's withering stare. I did my best to be perky at four a.m. and Jeff seemed to be struggling with same. He was in for a lousy day full of unhappy people. Poor Jeff.
Once the paperwork was through, we made our way up to the parking garage and found our vehicle waiting. Again I had to pity the young man who was waiting to meet us and survey the rental, cringing as Eric snapped at him and practically seized the gps device out of his hands while the poor kid was still giving his standard spiel. When Eric moved to take the driver's seat I had to interject.
"Nuh uh," I said, pointing across to the passenger seat and giving him a not very soft push out of the way. "I'll take the first leg. You plainly need a nap."
"Do you drive like an old southern woman?" he asked, without moving.
"No more than you charm like a Northman this morning," I retorted. Again, not my best, but it was too early, or too late, for my wit, and he'd been a first class jerk for the last hour. He took the passenger seat. I signed the release, tipped the attendant, programmed New Orleans into the little talking box, and off we went, guided by the dulcet murmurings of an authoritative British woman.
We made it to the highway without incident, and after a few minutes the tension that has been rolling off him seemed to ebb. "So you're not great with surprises, huh?" I hedged.
"Not today," he replied.
"What's today?" I asked. I could feel him staring at me, but I didn't look over. He said nothing, but after another long silence I couldn't help but ask, "What?"
He gave a sigh, agitated that he should have to explain. "You know, I guess I should be pleased that Bill honors his NDA even if he ignores his personal commitments." I raised an eyebrow. He could see my expression, but I still didn't turn my eyes from the road. "We're preparing for a merger. It's running a little differently than our general course of acquisitions because it's intended to be a true marriage of the companies. Top levels from both will be staying on board. But it's still a power struggle, and it's a lot of trust expended. It's precarious. My meeting is with them. We're not at a stage where there's a lot of leeway for fuckups."
I hold up my hand to stop him. Business gets done, and I have little interest in this sort of thing, which I'm sure helps Boy Scout Bill uphold his Non-Disclosure Agreement at home. Helped. Past tense. He won't have to mind his tongue with Lorena around. His tongue and Lorena. Ugh. Damn it. "Important meeting with important people. Got it," I said shortly.
"It's not that alone. We're concerned about the possibility of a takeover. In approaching this as we are, we're leaving ourselves open to..."
I cut him off. "Look, this sort of thing is even less my concern than ever. But we will get you there. On time. Don't worry. Maybe you should sleep."
"Is something wrong? You seem," I caught his sweeping gesture out of the corner of my eye, "Bothered, about something?"
Unbelievable. "Well yes, I received some mildly distressing news last night in a mildly distressing fashion. I may have mentioned it."
"Bill again? You seemed fine at the airport."
"I. Seemed? It's not as though I had much of a choice with you being plainly on the verge of tirade with everyone we've met."
"Do you intend to harp at me for the entire drive?"
I said nothing further. Eric Northman, ladies and gentleman. Still the asshole I knew he was. I wonder what he was drinking last night that made him so sweet for an hour or so. Honey straight from the comb maybe. Only thing I can think of. I snorted to myself in the silence then switched on the radio, low. It was some drawling country singer and I hummed along, neither in the right key nor with the right rhythm. I didn't care one bit. About half an hour later he started to snore.
The first time I'd met Eric had been one of Bill's business functions, a black tie fundraiser for community outreach and development. You know, the same sort of thing that my sorority was doing, hands on, every weekend. Well whatever. Businessmen want to build playgrounds, who am I to stop them. I was still in school at the time but he had just sold his startup to Area Five and was eager to impress his newly acquired bosses. So I had my new dress, in periwinkle blue, with dyed satin strappy shoes to match. I tried, but just couldn't find anything else in the right color. They didn't look bad though. I hadn't thought so, anyway. I'd had my hair done up, my nails buffed, my legs waxed. I was nervous, but I thought I looked pretty great. And Pamela Ravenscroft thought I looked like Arm Candy Barbie, and Eric Northman had agreed, with mirth. They hadn't realized I'd overheard that while I was at the bar getting a Dr. Pepper, I'm pretty sure.
By the time I was properly introduced to them later, Eric had been joined by his own escort, and yes, I certainly do mean the connotations attached to that word. The girl had less class than a habitual truant. Her dress was skimpy and gold colored, her hair could have used a wash, and she looked in sore need of a sandwich or three. I tried to be gracious, I really did. I pretended not to notice as she implied that my breasts were fake (they are not). I ignored her remark about the cut of my dress being forgiving to 'excess bulk' (they're called hips, twiggy, women have them). She had entirely too much fun with the idea that I worked as a waitress to cover the costs of my tuition. She strained my big fake smile as she pulled Pam over by the arm and introduced me as "Bill's Barmaid". That was it for me. I remember squaring my shoulders and explaining softly that I'd been proud to pay my own way through school, and that I was on track to graduate cum laude. I said that I was lucky to have a job that paid as well as it did, while accommodating my class schedule, and that I was happy in it because my co-workers tended to be kind and considerate by nature. And then I politely excused myself. And then I walked out to the patio. And then I kicked the stone balustrade in pent up frustration and snapped one of the straps on my sandals.
"Those dyeables just don't hold up," drawled Pam, who had apparently followed me.
"No, I suppose not," I retorted. "But the Pierre Hardy's were two semesters worth of books and I could find nothing else in the right color."
That remark apparently earned me a smile. "All in good time, my dear. You're finished in May?" I nodded. "And your plans? Are you in software as well?"
"Secondary education," I'd said. "I plan to teach middle school."
"How wholesome," she'd snarked. "Well, you know what they say. Those who can, do..."
I rolled my eyes at her. "Did you need something Pam? I know I'm meant to be here to help Bill impress you people, but this Bimbo Barbie is pretty much through being played with tonight."
There was her smile again. "How long have you and Bill been together?"
"A couple of months, why?"
"I could say it's because we're a family oriented business and we like to know our employees, but really, I'm just being nosy." She paused. "What do you think of the boss man?"
"That's the one."
"Good taste in suits and assistants, terrible taste in dates."
"I picked the suit," she smirked.
"Well. Good job there," I had nothing else to say. Bill had wandered out to the patio then, followed closely by Eric and Escort. I hastily tucked my snapped strap between my foot and the sole of the shoe and stepped to Bill's side to give him a Meaningful Look. I hoped he was done impressing, because I was ready to go. He took my hint.
"Well it's been great to see you both away from the office," said Bill, speaking mostly to Eric but turning to incline his head toward Pam as well. "I'll phone your office next week to setup that lunch we discussed."
"Certainly," said Eric, before turning his attention to me. He lifted my hand weirdly by my fingertips, as though her were going to kiss it, but then thought the better of it and let it drop after a moment. "Miss Stackhouse, a pleasure to meet you."
"It was nice to meet you as well Mister Northman," I stated coolly before turning to his assistant and flashing a plastic grin. "See ya 'round, Pam."
"See ya, Barbie," she quipped, and this time I chuckled along with her as Bill took my arm and turned us to lead back through the party to the exit.
"Oh, Compton," called out Eric, and Bill paused. "See if you can't find Ball on your way out. She was looking for you earlier."
I had to wonder now if there was something going on between them even way back then, and if he knew. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to have it confirmed. But if I were going to find out, wouldn't it be better to take in the full measure of the betrayal at once? As much as I was hurt, I realized I was in equal parts livid. Keeping one eye on the road I fished for my cell phone, and powered it on for the first time since last night. After a moment it started chirping and chiming to alert me of missed messages and emails, and even a voicemail. Seriously Bill? Voicemail?
I checked my texts first.
Sent by Bill - 8:07 p.m. Where are you going?
Sent by Bill - 9:15 p.m. Call me back ASAP.
Sent by Bill - 9:20 p.m. Turn on your phone.
Sent by Bill - 9:55 p.m. At home alone waiting for your call.
Nice, Bill. Glad to see you took time to finish her off before sending her home.
Sent by Lafayette - 10:15 p.m. y is your bf callin me 2 ask for "her gay friend Lafayette"?
I snorted at this. I know exactly how that conversation went. "Good evening, this is William Compton, Sookie's boyfriend. Is this her gay friend, Lafayette?" He always refers to Laf as my "gay friend, Lafayette," to distinguish him from the myriad other Lafayettes in my acquaintance, I'm sure.
Sent by Bill - 10:20 p.m. Contacted your gay friend Lafayette, he is worried as well.
My ex is kind of an ass independent of the whole being a lying cheating rat bastard thing, huh?
Sent by Bill - 12:05 a.m. Going to bed.
Sent by Bill - 1:35 a.m. Good night. I love you.
I scoffed audibly and flicked down the visor. The sun was well up at this point. We had crossed into Louisiana a short while ago and were just a few minutes outside of Shreveport. We were about 6 hours from New Orleans. It was just after 7. I'd have to drive extra fast for a little while. But first, time to fill up the gas tank and use the ladies'. Eric was still dead to the world as I pulled into a rest stop along the highway, even with the sun shining full in his face. If he was pretending, he was a great faker. I tried to ask him what he wanted in the way of coffee, but he didn't stir. I paid and pumped the gas. My poor credit card was getting a workout today. It occurred to me briefly that if he really wanted to, Bill could probably look up my transactions online. He'd have my bills at home, and he could probably answer any security questions I'd set up to bypass my passwords. Not that it was such a big secret where I'd go, once he'd figured out I'd left Washington, but, the thought made me uncomfortable.
I called my credit card company from the ladies' wash room and explained the situation. They said it would be best I cancelled my card and got a new one issued, but I didn't want to proceed with that until I was settled somewhere, since I still needed to use it. So we blocked the online access as a temporary measure, and established a security phrase for all phone transactions. Prompt: Who is asleep in the SUV? Answer: Eric Northman. It was something I'd never forget, and he'd never guess in a million years. Really, what were the odds? They couldn't tell me over the phone if anyone had tried to access the records already. I wasn't clear on if they didn't know, or they weren't allowed to tell me. The setup would have to do for now.
I went inside and grabbed two cups of coffee (I went ahead and just fixed them my way, milk, no sugar. If he didn't like that, well, he should have woken up!), a redbull, a bottle of coke, a bottle of tea, a raspberry Danish, a granola bar, a banana, an apple, and a turkey sandwich. Figuring I had all the bases covered for both a healthful and a not so healthful breakfast, I got back on the road. Once I hit the the I-49 South I felt a little more confident about speeding. These were my stomping grounds, and the run from Shreveport to Nola was familiar. I knew where the speed traps were, and that they weren't usually set at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. By nine we were past Alexandria and I was flagging. I bit my lip, a little afraid of waking the grump, but we were only about three hours out of our destination with four hours on the clock. That should be okay, right? I dithered for another twenty minutes as I cruised on toward Baton Rouge, before finally trying to wake him in earnest.
"Northman! Wake up." Nothing. "Northman!" I tried again. Finally he groaned, stirred, and then suddenly jumped up with a jolt.
"We're less than three hours out with a little time to spare if we stay on track. I need a break from the driving when you're ready, but there's breakfast in the bag by your feet. The coffee's gone cold, but we can get fresh when we stop to change if you want," he was already rummaging the bag and had cracked open the redbull. He had the apple in the other hand and the sandwich and the Danish in his lap. I guess I'd chosen well. I took the turnoff for the next rest stop and tossed him the keys. He'd still barely spoken. "Your turn for gas. How do you take your coffee?" I asked him.
"Just milk." He answered, and I nodded approvingly. I collected the empty cups, cans, and wrappers, and left him to top off the tank while I took care of business inside. I bought a toothbrush. Glancing into the mirror while I washed up, I realized I looked exactly like I'd been awake all night after crying for most of the evening. I splashed my face with cool water, straightened my sweater, and rolled my eyes at my own reflection. Breakup Barbie. I fixed his coffee, grabbed another couple of sandwiches and headed out. He was still fussing adjusting the seat when I entered.
"Did they have a step ladder out so you could reach the counter to pay for all that?" He griped, as the electronic mechanism slowly allowed his knees to unbend enough behind the wheel. At 5'6", I fall well into the average range of height. I lifted my eyebrows, saying nothing. Yup, still a grouch. A jolly green grouch at that. I wonder how long this takes to wear off. I seriously hope this wears off.
Handing him his coffee over the seat I said, with a big fake smile, "Good morning sunshine! Are we ready for our super important business meetings today?" Without waiting for his response I hoisted myself into my seat (positioned approximately two miles from the dashboard) and fastened my safety belt. He sort of grunted again, but smirked, and we were off on the final leg of our journey.
I closed my eyes. I was still a bit too caffeinated, not to mention uncomfortable, to fall asleep, but my eyes needed a rest. After a long silence he asked, "Sookie?"
"Mm?" I responded.
"What is the plan, once we get there?"
"Oh, I'll just drop you off at your meeting and take the car back to the airport. I think I'm going to stay in the city for a night before heading back north. I need to call my brother, and I need to get everything turned on back at the house."
"You and Bill bought a house down here?" he asks, surprised.
"No, I - My grandmother left me our house. We didn't find a tenant before his job started in Seattle so we just closed it out. It shouldn't be too much trouble to get settled back there."
He paused for a long moment before seeming to settle on, "Well that's convenient."
"Yup," I chirped. I was a little bit irritated by his obvious surprise that I owned my own house. "Inheritances come in blue collar as well as white, you know. It's no mansion, but it's more than enough for me."
"Not what I meant," he replied quickly. After another pause, "And then, you'll teach up there again?"
I grimaced. "I suppose I will. I'd been trying to find a job in Seattle, but it's difficult mid-year, but there's always tutoring. I have enough to live on until I'm settled. I guess I'll need a car again." I'd sold mine before the move. We hadn't needed two, up north. How did he even know about my teaching? I couldn't remember having that conversation with him. I suppose Pam must have blabbed some of our girl talk at some point. It made me uncomfortable to think I'd been a further subject of conversation between them.
"But you'll be in town tonight?"
"Where are you staying? I think I promised you a dinner. I certainly owe you after all this." We'd finally caught up to the rain, but the worst of the storm had blown out. He'd clicked the wipers on and their steady swish swish gave a tempo to the silence.
"Oh, wherever I can get a shuttle from the car place, I think. I'm not too picky. I just need a good night's sleep and a chance to warn my brother I'll need a crash pad for a few days. In fact, I should call him now," I added, more to myself. I started to fish around in the fathomless depths of my purse for my phone again when it started to chirp. Well, the homing beacon helped. Unfortunately, the caller was, "Bill," I sighed, hitting the ignore button. "I had it off until a couple of hours ago. He texted seven times and left a voicemail." After a moment it chirped again. "Make that two voicemails."
"He seems pretty determined for a guy caught with his pants down," Eric offered.
I scoffed and dialled my phone to hear what he had to say.
"Yesterday at. Ten. Thirty. Nine. ... Sweetheart, I know you walked in on something you perceived to be unconscionable. I completely understand your immediate reaction to the incident this evening. I hope that you will call me when you calm down. I am planning to contact some of your friends and your brother to alert them of your distressed state. I am worried about you. Please come home, or call me, if you need me to come and get you. I know I will hear from you soon. I love you Sookie."
I stared at my phone in disbelief. Eric's interest was piqued. He was watching me practically more than the road. I pointed forward with a scowl and told him to concentrate on driving, but I replayed the message again on speaker. Then I deleted it. I played the next, keeping the volume up.
"Today at. Ten. Forty. Five. ... Sookie, I woke this morning to find that you hadn't returned my calls and do not appear to have returned to the condo. The car service you hired stated that they took you to the airport, and I am assuming that you are there now, or have gone to Louisiana to visit your family." Shit. "I have left a message with your brother Jason asking him to contact me. I need you to contact me so that someone is aware of your location. I had hoped you would have come to your senses by now, but I can see you need more time. I will phone again this evening, at 6 p.m. Seattle time." Shit shit.
"He sounds like.."
"Don't," I cut Eric off, putting up my hand. Whatever he was going to say about Bill, it wasn't anything I wanted to hear right now. I'd heard enough. I turned off the speakerphone and called my brother Jason. There was some loud noise in the background. He must already be at work.
"Jas, it's Sookie. Did Bill call you?"
"Hold on Sook," after a few moments pause, the sound of machinery died away a bit. "Sook? Ya there?"
"Hi Jason. Listen did Bill call you?"
"Yeah, he left a message this morning. You okay? He sounded like you were hurt or something, I was gonna call you on my lunch, I know it's still early out there."
"Jas, I'm in Louisiana. About two hours out of New Orleans."
"Oh yeah? Miss me already, huh?"
"Jason, I left Bill."
"Yeah." I said. I didn't want to get into it too deep right now, so I just left it at that. He seemed to be mulling something over.
"Am I gonna need my shot gun?" He was serious. About what exactly, I wasn't sure, but big brother had showed up to work today. Thank. Goodness.
"Maybe just to scare him off. Listen Jason, I'll be home in a couple of days, and I could use a place to stay while I sort out Gran's house..." I trailed off. Come on big brother.
"Yeah of course, Sook. Call me when you're coming in. You gonna need a ride up from the city?"
"I think I'm going to rent a car, but I'm staying a night down here. I need to catch up on some sleep before I make another drive. I'll fill you all in later. Listen, if he calls again, just don't answer. He seems to know I'm here, but he doesn't need confirmation."
"Okay," he paused, hesitating to ask for more information. This is as tactful as my brother got, and I was grateful he was giving it his all. I gave in.
"I caught him cheating in my bed." I answered simply, and held the phone away from my ear until the tirade on Bill and his mother were over.
"Alright Sook, you just get here. That Son'bitch won't have any welcome if he tries to track you down."
"Thanks Jason. I'll call you tonight."
"Love you brother."
Eric said nothing as I hung up. He'd heard enough of the conversation to have a clear picture that all was well there, and I didn't really want to open up my brother as a subject for discussion. He and Eric were two very different people, and I wasn't about to brook any insults cast his way. Not this morning, and not from Eric Northman.
"Barring another emergency, we should get in with enough time for me to stop at my hotel to shower and change," he said at last.
"That's fine. I can wait with the car if you are concerned about valet taking too long."
"I'm thinking we should check you in as well. You said you were going to stay anyway, and it's a nice place."
"Eric, I don't think so," I started to say. First of all, whatever boutique garden hotel he would book was probably well beyond my budget, which, after factoring in my plane ticket, was negative twenty-five hundred dollars. Second, we were just about even Steven in my book, and there was no need to push it farther in either direction. He'd been a surprising comfort when I needed it badly, and I'd helped him get to his meeting with a few hours of sleep under his belt. Third, just no.
"Hear me out," he continues. "This is a perfectly justifiable business expense, lodging for an assistant on a business trip. You have certainly served that purpose today. Since it is a business purpose, you are assured occupancy owing to the arrangement my company has with the hotel. They keep rooms for our use, in lieu of our maintaining a corporate apartment here. Next, you are in need of some essentials, clothing and sundry items for the day, and this place is convenient to shopping. The concierge service at the hotel will be able to accommodate the return of this rental while you sleep. They can even reserve a car for you to drive back north tomorrow. They can probably even do the shopping if you provide a list. As I seem to have stumbled onto your care, I will be certain that you have safe lodgings and thus will not be distracted throughout my business day for fear of what may befall you at a seedy airport motel. Finally, Pam will be joining me tomorrow, and I am sure she would like to see you. My understanding is that you two are friendly."
He finished his long speech with a smile. I sighed, and then I nodded. I suppose this was Eric in businessman mode, with possibly a little drunk on honey mixed in. Charming, persuasive, hard to resist.
"Eric, I don't understand you," I said, shaking my head. "I'll be happy to stay, but sometime, you need to explain..." I made a sweeping gesture, toward all of him, "Yourself. To me."
"Eric the only time you haven't been a royal terror since I woke up on the plane was when you were asleep and even then, you snore. Loudly. And suddenly now you're super sweet, logical argument guy again."
"Ah," he offered. In explanation.
"It's just hard to keep up."
"Yes, we should have a chat about this," he said. Somehow I sensed he was mentally pencilling me in for later in the day, or the week. He continued on just as carefully. "I apologize for behaving like a 'royal terror' and I hope you will not hold it against me. It has been an unusually stressful day, and you have not only borne my poor humor, you have found solutions. I am grateful. Bill Compton is a fucking idiot."
And at that, I could only laugh. "It's sort of amusing to see you in and out of businessman mode."
"Yes," I answer. "Surely you're aware that you're doing it? Everything out of your mouth is so," I paused, "carefully crafted. Deliberate. Thought out. As opposed to what I presume is regular you, who doesn't bother to hide the fact that he hasn't had enough sleep, and who hugs strange women just because it's obvious they need one," I finished with a smile.
"Well, how I deal with people certainly effects my success with my work. Maybe it accounts for more than half of my work in general, really. I hope you do not mind if I use you to keep my skills honed." He is effecting a playful tone. It's hard not to roll my eyes again, but I manage to just keep smiling.
"Oh, they're razor sharp, I assure you."
"Did I mention there's a spa?"
"Yes, you could go this afternoon if you are not too tired. Or perhaps you and Pam could go tomorrow, so that she can decompress from the stress of first class travel."
"Sure," I murmur. Sleep has decided it won't be held back any longer, and my lids grow heavy.
"Sookie. Sookie wake up."
Something was touching my face, patting my cheek and smoothing my hair. "Baby?" I murmured. "What time is it?"
"Just after twelve, listen we're still in a hurry, wake up."
"Eric?" I jumped in my seat, hit against the seatbelt, and fell back, wide awake.
"Good afternoon, sleeping beauty," he said with a chuckle, reaching across to unfasten my seatbelt. "We're here, and I'm still in a rush so get up."
"Sure Eric," I mumble, turning over and practically falling out of the SUV, pulling at my sweater and smoothing out my hair before pausing to stretch. Ahh. So much better. Eric grabbed my hand, plainly tired of waiting for me, and led me through the lobby. We met a pleasant looking pair at the front desk. Rick and Trudy introduced themselves to me cheerfully and both seemed to already know Eric.
"Listen, Rick, we actually got grounded last night in Dallas and we weren't sure if they'd have us on another flight before my one o'clock. I'm desperate for a shower before I've got to fly across town could you," Eric started, but Rick interrupted him with a room key card.
"Go on up Mister Northman, 602, as usual, we'll get Miss...?"
"Stackhouse," said Eric, in a hasty introduction, already half turned to go. "Sookie, I'll see you after my meetings. Rick, she's on my corporate account for anything she needs." With that, he was practically sprinting to the elevators while Trudy was typing furiously.
"It's so good of you to accommodate us," I turned back, smiling. "He's been anxious he'd be late since we got the news they'd closed the airport down here."
"Mister Northman is a very good client, we are happy to meet his needs," assured Rick.
"Oh! I don't suppose we could phone in a taxi, or a town car? I don't think he'll want to drive, but I doubt he'll be more than ten minutes," I began to fret.
"The hotel keeps several drivers Miss Stackhouse, I'll have one out front, and call up to the room so he knows. Is Ms. Ravenscroft still checking in tomorrow morning?"
"Oh yes, I believe she is," I answered.
"Then we'll keep her in 604 as usual. I'll put you just downstairs in 503, if that's acceptable?"
"Oh anything really. I know I did not have a reservation. I got an hour on the plane and one in the car, but I've been up since practically yesterday. Any bed will do," I offered an apologetic smile.
"You poor thing, you must be dead on your feet," soothed Trudy. "Luggage?"
"Just my carryon," I said, holding up my overstuffed purse.
"Oh my goodness, did your bags not make it to Dallas?"
"We were in such a hurry," I said, hoping this would be explanation enough. Hurry to catch the flight? Hurry to catch the car? Leave them to figure it out.
"Will you be needing our personal shopper while you are here?" she asked, quite kindly.
"Eric mentioned there is shopping nearby, I think I will head out after I have a bit of rest," I assured her.
"Oh, is it your first time visiting New Orleans? Will you need reservations for dinner? The Spa?"
"Trudy," I said, flushing slightly pink, "what I could use more than anything right now is a nap."
"I'm so sorry Miss Stackhouse, of course. Let me walk you upstairs, we're all set here."
Trudy came around the front of the desk and escorted me to the elevators, pressing the button up to five.
"Have you been with Area Five long?" she asked, conversationally.
"Oh, I don't work for Eric," I responded quickly. Maybe that wasn't the right thing to say. The rooms were being paid for with corporate money weren't they? "We've been acquainted for nearly three years, through one of their previous acquisitions." That was true, and it sounded good. Good and business-y and vague. Trudy nodded in understanding. Her small talk was excellent.
"Will I find a spa menu in the room? I believe Eric intends to treat Pam tomorrow, and I would like to join her."
"Please call me for that. I'll be at the desk until seven. Ms. Ravenscroft is very particular, and I would be happy to coordinate something she will find pleasing." She was leading me down the short hall now, fitting the keycard into the little slot to coax the door open.
The room was, well, a suite. The entry kept a coat closet and a small powder room and opened to a large sitting area with a soft leather couch and two wingback chairs set on either side of a large coffee table. A large flat screen television sat on a long console table across from the setup. A small wooden bistro table and two chairs were just to my left, and at the far end of the room, glass doors opened onto a balcony. Pocket doors in the left wall opened to the bedroom where a massive king sized bed was luxuriously dressed in cream and aqua linens. The master bath was marble, with a separate shower for two, and the whirlpool bath was enormous.
"Oh, this is heaven," I murmured, letting my purse fall to the bed, before I remembered myself, and fished for my wallet.
"Oh no, Miss," Trudy explained as I tried to tip her. "I thank you for your generosity but a gratuity is included in our service agreement with Area Five. This includes all of the services of the hotel for your stay." I nodded hesitantly. I'd have to ask Eric later. "I'll leave you to rest then. Would you like to arrange a wakeup call?" I thought about it for a moment and asked her to ring up at five. Trudy let me know that I'd find a binder full of hotel services in the console table, and left my key card on the table in the front room.
It took all of thirty seconds for me to strip down to my bra and panties and crawl into bed. I was asleep again before I could do more than smirk at the thought of my five-star flight to freedom.