A/N: New story! I hope you all enjoy the start of this.
The Devil You Know
To say that I was surprised when I saw the name Eric Northman in my inbox would be an understatement. It'd been six years since I saw him. Six years since we spoke. Six years since he went off to college in New Orleans and I didn't hear from him again. Just the memory gave me a headache, and I promptly shook it from my head. Why would he suddenly reach out to me after six years without so much as a hidey-ho?
Actually, I knew why. Eric had a knack for coming in and ruining everything. He was good at that. And now there was something in my life for him to ruin. I glanced down at my engagement ring. A moderate sized diamond nestled between two smaller ones; Bill had known my taste without having to ask. But he did ask, of course. He asked because he was considerate, and kind, and not at all the type of person that would leave town the day after graduation and then never call again.
I would delete the email. That was the sensible thing to do. I'd gone six years without hearing from Eric Northman, and there was really nothing he could tell me that I absolutely needed to hear. Or read. It would just get me all upset, and since the wedding venue had just decided to hike its price up twenty percent, I didn't need anything to upset me further. I'd delete it.
I opened it, anyway. Reading through it quickly, I felt my cheeks flush. It was only a few lines, opening with some banal greeting that made me want to reach through the screen and strangle him. If that were possible, I wouldn't have hesitated. Below the greeting, there was a simple message.
I'll be dropping into town in a few days. We should get together and talk.
It seemed Bon Temps' prodigal son had returned and already he'd ticked me off. Talk? What was there to talk about? The fact that he hightailed it out of town the minute graduation was over, without even saying goodbye? Or hey, how about the fact that he ignored my phone calls and didn't respond to my emails? If we met up, there'd be little talking and a whole lot of yelling. Probably mostly from me.
"Screw you, Eric," I said, slamming my finger down onto the delete button on my keyboard. "Screw you and your dropping in."
I realized my reaction was a little overdramatic. We had only dated in high school. And he probably acted no differently than the average 18 year old thrown into a bevy of available college girls who were ready and willing. But that didn't stop it from hurting any less when he dropped me like a sack of potatoes. It was on prom night, no less. He went on about how we were going in different directions, and we'd only hurt each other. What I think he really meant to say is, "I want to sleep around with a bunch of hos without having a girlfriend back home on my conscience." I'd heard about his time at college, and he was hardly mourning our relationship.
Whatever his motivations, he dumped me, dumped Bon Temps, and never looked back. After college he went to business school and then opened his own consulting firm in New Orleans. There'd been a big launch party for it that I read about on the internet. The article was filled with pictures of a smiling Eric, the predictable glamazon with perfect hair and a tight dress on his arm. It had been years since he'd stepped foot in Bon Temps. He didn't even make an appearance for his sister Pam's wedding. I was sure he'd show, and pathetically spent a bit more time on my hair and make-up for the big day, but he's been noticeably absent. His mom made up some story about him being caught up on a project, but we all knew better. Eric was too good for us now. He had his fancy consulting business and a conveyor belt of luxury out in New Orleans. What did he need from poor, backwoods Bon Temps?
Apparently now, the answer that question was a vague something, but I wasn't about to subject myself to finding out exactly what. Eric Northman back in town could only mean one thing for me, and that was bad news.
I knew the moment that Eric was in town, because the whispers started. Everyone in town knew about Eric and my history – at least the public parts – and they all were keen on seeing my reaction to his return. I made an effort to be cheerful and aloof while on my shift at Merlotte's. Despite the glances, I kept my smile in place and delivered all their orders without even a slight tremble of my hand. I was determined to not let Eric returning affect me. It'd been years since everything happened. Since then I not only became part owner of Merlotte's, but I'd also found Bill and somehow managed to get him to propose to me. Sure, I wasn't managing some big consulting firm, but what I had was enough.
Sam watched me deliver a burger and fry to our sheriff Bud Dearborn, smile so wide that it felt like it was cracking my face. When I went back to the bar he told me, "You can tone it down a bit, Sook."
"The billboard wide smile there? Makes you look half insane."
Well, that worked pretty well to wash the smile from my face. I wiped my hands on my pants and said, "I thought you wanted everyone here to be cheerful."
"You can take today off if you want."
"Why would I need to do that?"
"You seem off," he said. I didn't buy that for a second and gave him a look that told him that much. "Okay," he relented. "I also knew that Eric Northman drove into town this morning, and maybe you'd like to talk with him."
"I'd like no such thing," I held firmly. "His coming back here doesn't affect me at all. Water under the bridge, Sam."
"Sure," he said reasonably. "But you go tense every time the door opens thinking it might be him."
"I do not." The moment I said it, I knew it was a lie. Well. I'd been such a good actor I even fooled myself.
"It's not wrong to want some closure," Sam said.
"It was years ago," I said. "Besides, it was only high school. That's like, little league when it comes to relationships."
Sam smiled a bit, shaking his head. "Yeah. I guess. But you guys were always a little different."
"Don't say it," I begged. The last thing I wanted to hear was Sam Merlotte waxing poetic about Eric and my previous relationship.
"Fine," he said. "But I still think you should talk to him. You know, some friendly advice from a friend."
"Well, thank you friend," I returned, my voice a bit harder than I'd intended. "But hell will freeze over before I willingly talk to Eric Northman."
Behind me our cook rang a bell for an order and I turned on my heel as I tossed off, "And there's my order!"
It was hard that knowing not even a friend like Sam was on my side for this. I thought him of all people would understand why I wanted to avoid Eric. He'd been with me those first few weeks after Eric left. I was not in a good place, to put it mildly. To put it correctly, I was an absolute wreck who took to swearing and throwing things at anyone who tried to help. Sam himself had a heavy Jane Austen novel chucked at him at one point that awful summer. I was hurt that Eric left and embarrassed that I'd thought he'd do anything different. It made me question everything we had, and ultimately made me decide that in the end we had nothing at all.
"But now you can have everything," I reminded myself under my breath, taking the order out to table seven. Just as I thought this, the physical embodiment of my everything walked through the door. Bill was a well built man, all lean muscle and excellent form. He looked fine in his crisp black suit, but I tended to think he looked even finer without it. He caught my eye and smiled comfortably, settling in his usual table at the back of the bar. I quickly scanned my other tables and then walked over to him.
"Mr. Compton," I said, fighting back a goofy grin. I loved when he visited my work. Made the day move faster. "What can I get you today?"
"Lunch with my fiancée."
I grinned, tilting my head to the side. "Bill, you know I'm working now."
"You're part-owner. Doesn't that entitle you to a lunch break?"
"My break is in an hour," I said.
"Well, then move it."
"It doesn't look good to the other employees if one of their owners is playing around with their breaks."
"Alright, you've convinced me," Bill relented with a soft smile. He hadn't really expected to get me to shirk my work, anyway. "I'll just have a burger and onion rings today."
I winced and said, "No onions today, sorry. Our shipments got messed up this morning. No onions but double the tomatoes."
Bill scrunched his nose. He hated tomatoes.
"Fries then," he said. "And, if I may request such a thing, a slow departure from the table."
I narrowed my eyes at him, but my mouth curved into a smirk that I was unable to fight. I leaned forward and said, "Behave."
I took the walk back to the bar slowly, anyway, sparing a glance over my shoulder at him. I had to laugh at the look of complete lust that was displayed on his face. Sam looked between us and said, "You know this is a family restaurant, right?"
"Oh, cool your jets Sam."
I only worked until four that day, and when I got home I spent the early evening straightening up the house. I lived with my Gran, and while the house was usually in tip top shape, she'd had her Daughters of the Glorious Dead meeting that afternoon, and there was still some mess from that. I was finishing up the dishes when the phone rang.
"Hello?" I said, wedging the phone between my ear and shoulder as I continued to scrub the dishes.
"He's here," Arlene said, no introduction given. In her defense, I didn't really need one.
"He looks good," she said, as if she were disgruntled that it was true. "He's wearing these dark jeans, grey t-shirt, and leather jacket."
"Really don't need a full fashion description. In fact, I don't need any description."
Arlene was quiet for a moment, and I could hear someone's voice growing louder. I recognized it almost immediately as Eric's.
"Ssshh," she said. There was some commotion and then his voice grew fainter. "Don't you know not to interrupt when someone's trying to eavesdrop?"
"Well, gee, how could I have forgotten that?" I returned sarcastically.
"I was able to catch a bit," Arlene said, voice conspiring. "And I can tell you, without a kernel of a doubt, that he was asking about your schedule."
I sighed. Of course he was. He must have heard that I worked at Merlotte's, and what better place to ambush me than my place of work where I have to be?
"Well, whoop dee doo," I said unhappily. "Who'd he ask?"
"And I'm guessing she went ahead and told him everything?"
"Uh huh." There was a pause. "You really can't blame her, Sook. She was distracted by the dimples. I'd forgotten how good the dimples are."
Damn those dimples.
"There's nothing to blame her for. It's fine that he knows my hours," I said with more airiness than I felt. "I was bound to run into him eventually. Better it be in a public place."
"Alright, good, well I thought I'd give you an update. I figured you'd be chomping on the bit for one."
I hadn't been, but I figured there was no use telling her that.
"Thanks Arlene. I'll see you tomorrow."
Gran padded into the kitchen and saw that I had done the dishes. She smiled gratefully and said, "Dear, I would have done those."
"I don't mind," I said. I liked doing dishes, especially when there was a lot on my mind.
"How was your day?" she asked, sitting at the table. I noticed she didn't mention Eric, and I decided that if she didn't know he was back I'd keep it that way.
"Boring. Nothing really to report."
Gran smiled placidly, reaching forward and grabbing the magazine on the table. She began to flip to it, humming softly to herself, and I wondered if that little white lie made me a bad Christian. I'd pray mighty hard about it on Sunday. A little repentance went a long way. Besides, I figured God sort of owed me a free pass on this one since he made the stupid guy that was causing all this trouble in the first place. Content with my inner pep talk, I dried the last dish and set it on the drying rack.
The next afternoon was a scorcher. Temperatures were in the high nineties, the humidity so thick that even Gran had trouble standing it. I set up a lawn chair outside to get some sun. I figured that sunbathing was at least an appropriate reason to be half-dressed, and that's what this weather begged for. I put on my newer polka dot bikini and stretched out on the chair. I'd brought my iPod out, but ended up just enjoying the silence. Gran and my house was on the outskirts of town, and save for a few passing cars, the only sounds came from chirping birds and rustling trees.
"I always did like you in a tan."
My eyes flew open and Eric was standing above me, his tall form almost glowing from the bright sunlight. I picked up my towel next to me and scrambled to cover whatever I could of myself. Eric smirked.
"Come on, Sook, I've seen you in a lot less than that."
"What are you doing here?" I hissed. Last I'd heard he'd been scoping out Merlotte's, not my house.
"You didn't answer my email."
"Yeah. That was intentional."
"Well, I didn't know how else to get in touch with you," he said reasonably. "I went to Merlotte's, but I figured you could just avoid me there. My chances of seeing you seemed highest if I came here."
"Well, you saw me. Congratulations. Now, please leave."
He laughed. "I see you're stubborn as always."
"And you're clueless as always," I returned irritably. "Look, let's just get this out of the way? What do you want?"
"What do I want?"
"There's obviously some reason that you're here," I said, sitting up straighter. "And the sooner we cut to chase this stupid who's on first routine can end. So, come on, Eric. Let's cut to that chase."
His expression changed, and I didn't know whether the look he was giving me now was disappointment or something else. Just as he was about to speak, Gran walked out of the front of the house. What happened next could not have been more perfect if I planned it myself. Eric saw Gran and smiled wide, expecting a better homecoming than I'd given him. To his surprise, Gran planted her hands on her hips and set him with one of the deadliest glares I'd ever seen pass her face.
"Eric Northman, you get your bottom off my property before I go and get my husband's shot gun!"
Eric stood there in stunned silence, body rooted in place. I almost felt bad for him, emphasis on the almost. Him and Gran had gotten along really well when we'd dated. They'd have long chats and she was always pushing cookies and cakes on him. There was no reason for him to know the tide had changed. But, oh, had it ever. Gran didn't get upset over many things, but those few things were sure to put you on her shit list. It just so happened that hurting her granddaughter was one of those things.
"Did you hear me?" she practically yelled. "Off my property, now!"
Her words had jolted him out of his reverie and he mumbled a sort of apology before grudgingly hightailing it back to wherever he'd come from. Gran came over to me and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"You alright, dear?"
I nodded. I thought of something and asked, "Does Grandpa even have a shotgun?"
"No," she replied easily. "But I thought it was a good enough thing to scare him off."
I smirked. "Well, thank you."
"My pleasure, Sookie. That boy is no good. I don't want him near you."
I nodded, my gaze drifting in the direction he'd gone. I thought then that he had been about to tell me the reason he was here when Gran came out. I decided it was a good thing. I didn't need to know why he was here. Whatever the reason, I was sure it wouldn't keep him here long. Still, even as I convinced myself over and over that it didn't matter, I knew wholeheartedly that it did.
A/N: I'd love your thoughts on this! I have some plans for this one, so let me know if you want to see this continued :D