Chapter 1: Happy Birthday

SPOV

The first time I saw him was on my eighth birthday. My second grade teacher, Miss Larsson, had been born in Sweden and lived there until she was in high school. As a result, she had many friends there. Her best friend was also a second grade teacher. They’d decided since they loved writing each other letters so much, us kids would probably get a kick out of it as well. Not to mention, it would broaden our minds and help the Swedish kids with their English. It was actually a pretty genius idea, now that I think back on it. Not that all of my classmates agreed with that assessment.

I remember how my brother had warned me that Miss Larsson was going to make me try and be friends with ‘weird people’ who didn’t speak English. Jason had about as much sense as a stick so I didn’t take his warning to heart. Well, not too much. My brother, while a general menace in my life, was nothing if not protective of me when it came to the rest of the world. He had no tolerance for anyone picking on me whatsoever. In that regard, Jason was a good big brother. He preferred to be sweet to me when no one else could see it, which was a phase he outgrew shortly after girls ceased to have cooties. I think I was probably in the fourth grade?

Anyway… the first letter I got from my overseas penpal came on my eighth birthday. Most kids tore through their letters with little regard for what their new ‘friend’ had to say. They were just biding their time until I could pass out the cupcakes my Mom made for the class. They were chocolate and yellow cake marbled together with bright pink icing I’d mixed myself. I was damn proud of those little cupcakes. I was about as eager as the rest of the kids to get to them.

I remember reading through the letter with limited interest. My penpal’s name was Eric. He was also eight-years-old. He was an only child. He played football, which I found out later is what American’s call soccer. For a while I was pretty tripped up on why it was called something different in Sweden. I still don’t quite get it, but that’s not important. What is important is that at eight-years-old my little heart began to race when I looked at the picture Eric had enclosed with his letter.

It was a Polaroid instead of a class picture like the one Mom had insisted I send in my response letter. Eric was missing one of his bottom front teeth, but that was still pretty common among the kids in my class so I didn’t think anything of it. His hair was shaggy and the same shade of blond as my own. His eyes were what really got me. Even then I knew there was something special about them. They were deep blue where mine were the color of the sky. His grin was lopsided and there was what appeared to be a scab on his chin. If I didn’t already have a brother who was always coming home with new injuries, I would have wondered how Eric managed that.

As it was, I knew he was cute. Girls were already starting to whisper about things like that, thanks to boybands. Eric didn’t look like a single one of those boys which was just fine by me since, secretly, I didn’t really think any of those boys were cute anyway. I’m not sure any of the other girls thought so either, but it was just the thing to say at the time. I did like the music, though.

So I wrote Eric back. I told him how I got my nickname and about my big brother always teasing me. I told him I wasn’t a very good football player, but when we played the American way with my Daddy, I always ended up on the winning team. I couldn’t think of much else to say to him, but it didn’t matter. He answered anyway. This continued well beyond the project our teachers had set up for us. We were friends.

I got letters from him throughout the summer and I always responded. Our letters got more and more compelling as we got older and we got closer and closer. It was nice to have someone I could vent my frustrations to and ask for their opinion without ever having to worry that my secrets would be spilled. The only other person Eric knew who lived in America was an aunt on his mother’s side, and she lived in Chicago.

I figured out that in spite of how different our lives were, we had a lot in common. I laughed, without fail, at some point in each of Eric’s letters. He had quite the ego. I imagined if I had to see him on a day to day basis, I’d probably smack him silly. I was used to the preening, though, thanks to my brother. Jason had developed quite a strut of his own by the time he reached high school.

I remember receiving a certified letter from Eric the day before my first day of high school. I’d told him I was nervous about being a small fish in a big pond. Bon Temps wasn’t big enough to have a high school all its own, so we were going to the Renard Parrish High School that combined kids from several small towns. I was mostly nervous about the kids from Hot Shot. No, I’m not kidding, that’s really the name of the town. The kids there were notoriously in and out of trouble and tended to stick to “their own kind”.

Rumors ran wild about inbreeding there, and most parents in Bon Temps tried to look the other way about their children being forced to associate with those social misfits. Gang problems weren’t really something a parent had to worry about in Bon Temps unless their kid started hanging out with someone from Hot Shot. Then all bets were off.

Enclosed with his letter was a recent picture of Eric, and I’m pretty sure my heart stopped beating when I saw it. He was a far cry from the gangly and awkward eight-year-old he’d been when we first started writing one another. He told me he was almost six feet tall already and his mother was constantly yelling at him for forcing her to take him shoe shopping. You know, since Eric had control over how big his feet were going to get? I couldn’t help but sigh right along with him on that one.

I’d carried his letter around with me in my pocket the first day of high school. Turns out I’d been worried for nothing. Jason, who was a senior that year, was by far the most popular boy in school. I was instantly popular by association, yet I credited Eric’s letter for some of it. It gave me confidence to walk with my head up, like I belonged in those hallways.

The last line in his letter, before he signed his name, was, “Hungern är bästa kryddan,” which he translated for me. It meant ‘hunger is the best flavoring.’ Those five words changed the way I thought about a lot of things, including Eric. I suppose you could say I was just a silly teenage girl asking for trouble, but with each letter Eric and I sent after that, I grew to love him just a little bit more. I thought of him often and there were times when I would get incredibly sad that he wasn’t closer to me. I would have loved to be able to turn to him and tell him about something funny someone had done in class or about my brother’s most recent cheating scandal (since Jason couldn’t seem to stick to one girl at a time).

It wasn’t until my sixteenth birthday that I heard his voice for the first time. I was well aware of the time difference between us. It was just after nine in the morning. I was helping Mom make my traditional birthday breakfast of chocolate chip waffles, when the phone rang. I figured it had to be Gran or Aunt Linda calling to wish me a happy birthday. My girlfriends were all still sound asleep and none of Jason’s friends would be calling me.

“Hello?” I spoke with a cheerful tone, just waiting for someone to burst into song. Aunt Linda was especially fond of singing on birthdays. Lucky for the rest of us, she had the voice for it.

But the voice that started singing to me wasn’t at all the one I expected. In fact, it was completely different from any other voice I’d ever heard in my life. It was husky and low, but not in a creepy prank caller sort of way. The accent was unmistakable. I knew, without even asking, who was on the other end of the line. By the time he was done singing to me, I was in tears.

“Sookie, sweetheart, are you okay?” Mama reached for the phone, thinking it was a horrible prank call.

“Mom, it’s okay, it’s Eric.” I dabbed at my tears. “Hello, Eric.”

“Is this Sookie Stackhouse?” I was gone. Right then and there, I was gone. I didn’t know how many thousands of miles were between us, but he had officially killed me right then.

“This is.” I tried not to sound like a sniveling teenage girl. I failed. Epically.

“Happy birthday, Sookie.” He sounded excited where I sounded like a deflated balloon.

“It was pretty brave of you to just start singing like that. For all you knew, my Daddy was going to answer the phone.”

“Then he would have put you on the phone and I would have done it again.” Eric spoke casually. He had confidence I didn’t. I couldn’t help but laugh at the image of what Daddy’s face might have looked like had he been the one to take the call. “How is your birthday?”

His English was pretty good. I felt awkward with Mom standing right there. I looked at her with pleading eyes and she made herself scarce. She also managed to run interference to keep Jason out of the room when he stumbled down for breakfast an hour later. I could hear him growing impatient, but all I cared about was the sound of Eric’s voice. By the time we hung up the phone, I was floating.

“About time.” Jason grumbled when I finally announced I was off the phone. “See, Dad, this is why we need to get one of those cordless phones. I don’t want to get kicked out of the kitchen every time Sook gets a call she don’t want us listening to.”

“You hush.” I kicked my brother under the table. He kicked me right back. Our parents cleared their throats in warning. Jason and I just winked at each other, our silent truce was settled.

“So that was that Eric kid you’ve been writing letters to?” Daddy had asked, earning him a warning glance from Mom. “What?” He looked around the table.

“Yes, Daddy, that was him.” I couldn’t look up from my waffles.

“Sookie’s in love with him.” Jason taunted, purely to get a rise out of me.

“Shut up, Jason!” I kicked him again as my cheeks burned bright red. I had always been a blusher.

“Jason!” Mama’s voice took on the same tone of warning it always did when we was irritated with either of us. Usually it was Jason that was the source of her irritation.

“Well, maybe y’all’ll meet one day.” Daddy winked at me.

I felt a bit flustered at the prospect. “Maybe,” I conceded and dug into my waffles. That was the end of the discussion.

That was two years ago. Today is my eighteenth birthday. I have officially known Eric for ten years today. When I woke up the sun was shining and birds were chirping outside. It was almost summer, my favorite time of the year. I would be graduating from high school in the next month and I was excited about going off to college in August. I’d been waiting tables at Sam Merlotte’s bar, just working the lunch rush on weekends and the dinner shift during the week. The fact that I wasn’t supposed to be serving alcohol didn’t deter Sam from hiring me. Everyone knew Bud Dearborn would look the other way on it. I wasn’t one of the kids he had to bring home weekend after weekend from one party or another. In fact, it was hard to believe Jason Stackhouse and I were related at all, much less brother and sister. We were as different as siblings could be.

The doorbell rang downstairs and a few seconds later, I heard Mom greeting somebody. The next thing I knew, I was being summoned. “Sookie, you have a delivery!” Mom called up the stairs to me.

I threw my blankets off me and ran downstairs in my little shorts and tank top. It was already in the seventies outside. It was going to be a hot day. I planned on having breakfast, putting on a bikini and laying in the sun until I couldn’t take it anymore. I know it doesn’t sound fancy, but I had no desire to run out and buy a pack of cigarettes just because I could. That was how my cousin Hadley had started smoking. I wasn’t going to fall into that trap.

I made it downstairs in record time to find my mother holding a massive bouquet of flowers. My jaw dropped. “Those are for me?”

Mom nodded and set them down on the table nearby. “They’re heavy. There’s a card.” She was grinning from ear to ear.

“Did you and Daddy do this?”

“I wish we’d thought of it.” Mom wrapped me up in a hug and walked me over to the flowers.

I leaned down to smell them. They smelled like heaven. There were pink roses and lillies and then ten white roses were mixed in with the other flowers. They were beautiful. I plucked the card from the middle of the bouquet and pulled it from the envelope.

I wish I could be there with you today, but hopefully you have a wonderful day all the same. Happy birthday, Sookie.

-Eric

My eyes filled with tears and when I looked at my mother, I saw that she was crying, too. “I’m going to call him.”

Mom nodded and said, “You better.”


EPOV

The hottest girl in the world was a few thousand miles away. It was her birthday and the only thing I could think of to give her was flowers. I had another trick up my sleeve, but I was going to wait until the next time we talked to lay it on her. Not only was it Sookie’s birthday, it was also our anniversary. I had officially known her for ten years. It was hard to believe it had been that long.

When my second grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, had given us the assignment to write a letter to a kid in America, I’d thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I wrote the letter, not really caring if the recipient ever got it, much less wrote back. I’d included the most ridiculous picture of myself that I possibly could, thinking it would be enough to scare my new ‘friend’ away. Little did I know the fates had aligned to allow my letter to fall into the hands of some strange girl named Sookie Stackhouse. All I knew of her when I sent that letter was her name and that she was a second grader in Louisiana.

When I got a response letter from her a few weeks later, I was surprised to see she was a pretty girl. I figured with a name like Sookie, she had to be somewhat of a mess. She wasn’t. If anything, she looked like the female version of me, only I knew she wasn’t as tall. She never would be either. She was a sweet girl where I was more widely known as…well, not sweet. She was well-mannered and kind. I learned all sorts of things about her through her letters that most people would know about her, but there was quite a bit I knew that I was sure most people didn’t.

Sookie wasn’t necessarily the shy sort but she she wasn’t what I’d call an extrovert either. I wondered if she would still be as open with me when we were face to face. I planned on telling her I would finally be making my way to see her that summer before going to Chicago to visit my Aunt Maggie. I’d had ten years to imagine what it would be like to be in the same room as Sookie. It wasn’t until we got to be about fifteen that I really wished I’d been born somewhere else.

We’d watched each other grow up in the photographs we traded. We’d started out typical kids with missing baby teeth and awkward haircuts. We progressed into the pre-teen era with her just starting to wear makeup and me rebelling against my parents and growing my hair out to my shoulders. Then once we got to the high school years, I quickly realized Sookie was a hottie. It hit me like a runaway freight train. There I was, sitting on my back porch with her most recent letter in my hand. It was the end of summer before our second year of high school. She sent me a picture of herself that was taken at the Gulf of Mexico. Her long blond hair was whipping in the wind. Her cheeks pink from being out in the sun too long. The rest of her was glowing tan. She was wearing an American flag bikini that had me saluting immediately.

From that point on, my thoughts of her went from wondering simply what she was doing to what she looked like naked. I felt a little wrong for thinking of her that way but I didn’t let it stop me. I’d woken up with sticky sheets on more mornings than I can count because of some dream I had about her. All hope was lost when she got a laptop for Christmas last year. We started video chatting with one another. The fact that she never saw how excited I got to see and hear her was purely amazing.

I was stretched out on my bed, wondering if Sookie got the flowers I’d sent her when I heard my computer make a noise. Someone was inviting me to a video chat and I had a pretty good idea who that someone was. I reached over to my desk and grabbed my laptop. Yep, it was Sookie. I accepted the chat without a second thought.

Her face appeared on my monitor, tears running down her cheeks. “Hey stranger.”

“Eric, thank you.” She wiped her flushed cheeks.

“You’re welcome. Shall I sing to you now, or later?”

She laughed and said, “How about we skip that this year?”

“You don’t like my singing?” I’d been doing that since we were sixteen and I talked to her the first time over the phone. It had been a short five minute conversation, but I had the whole thing memorized.

“You hush,” she admonished me with that sweet drawl of hers that made it difficult for me to keep my laptop in my lap.

“You like the flowers?”

“They’re pink, smell like heaven and they came from you. I love them.” She certainly wasn’t shy about telling me how she felt. Well, in most ways.

“I am happy to hear that.”

“So how’ve you been? We haven’t talked in a while.” That was mostly my fault. It got harder and harder (no pun intended) to talk to her like this and not be in the same room as her. “I was starting to think I did something wrong.”

“Don’t be crazy, Sookie,” I chided her. She hadn’t done a damn thing wrong. It was me and my hormones that were fucking things up. I took the chicken way out and lied to her. “I’ve been busy with football lately.”

“Oh.” She seemed relieved to hear that. “How’s your team doing?”

“We have done well so far this season, but there is much room for improvement.”

We chatted about little things for a while. She mentioned having gone prom shopping with her mother the week before. Her dress was white, but she wouldn’t show it to me. She told me I would just have to wait until she sent me pictures when she was all dressed up. She was an angel one minute and a tease the next. I loved that about her. Then there was a knock on her bedroom door and she sat up. I hadn’t realized she was laying on her stomach. Like me, she was also on her bed. When she got up I was treated to a lovely shot of her cleavage, quickly followed by the curve of the lower half of her body when she got off her bed.

Hello hard-on.

She spoke to her mother in hushed tones before returning to her bed. God, she was so fucking sexy and she had no idea. I wondered if I drove her as crazy as she drove me. I sincerely doubted it. Not that I couldn’t have a girlfriend. I’d had a few in only the very loosest of terms. The problem was, none of them were Sookie. I found myself comparing them to her which was pointless, since none of them would ever be her. I had it bad for this girl I’d never met. Talking over webcams didn’t really count, in my opinion. It was definitely an upgrade from letters and phone calls, but it wasn’t the same as being face to face in the same room.

“Sorry about that. Mom just wanted to make sure I still wanted the traditional birthday breakfast.” Sookie grinned at me. Her tank top had ridden up a bit to reveal her tanned stomach. Damn.

“Chocolate chip waffles?”

“You betcha.” She nodded and then leaned closer to the computer again, treating me to another shot at her cleavage. I determined then that she was trying to kill me. Two could play at that game.

I rearranged my laptop on my bed and then stretched out a little. I paid close attention to Sookie’s face as I moved. She blushed. Sookie was a notorious blusher. She’d written about how embarrassing it was years ago. I’d definitely caught her looking at me and she knew it. I decided to let it go, though, since it was her birthday and all.

“So, there’s something I need to tell you.” I made sure to keep the monitor north of my waistline, since I was sporting some serious wood by that point.

Sookie, the minx, was sprawled out on her bed in a similar position to my own, only she didn’t bother making sure the monitor was trained any particular way. Not that it would have mattered at that point. She looked a bit nervous. Her hand fell over her exposed stomach and her slender fingers drummed against it. Her thumb pressed just under her breasts.

“Everything okay?” she sounded concerned.

“Fine. I actually have good news.” I could barely contain the grin on my face. I refused to let myself think she wouldn’t be happy with my news.

It had crossed my mind she might have a boyfriend but I figured she would have told me if she did. I certainly would have seen him at some point during our conversations. The only boy I’d ever seen in her bedroom was her brother.

“Well, I’m not getting any younger.” Sookie stuck her tongue out at me.

My one track mind went straight to wondering what that tongue tasted like, and what it would be like to have it in my mouth, not to mention on various other parts of me. The urge to reach into my boxers was unimaginable. I forced myself to keep my hands where she could see them.

“I’m coming to America,” I announced it just like that.

“Shut up!” Sookie sat upright and nearly knocked her computer off her bed. I couldn’t help but laugh. I’d certainly succeeding in surprising her. “When?”

“I graduate in the middle of May. I will be leaving the Friday after.”

“Holy shit.” I’d never heard Sookie curse before. It was sexy. “How long are you staying? Where are you staying?”

“I haven’t decided how long I’m staying. I’ve been saving money for this since I started high school and my Aunt bought me the plane tickets.”

“Wow. That’s an awfully generous gift.”

“I’m her only nephew and the closest thing she has to a child of her own. She has a step-daughter, but she and Pam don’t get along so great.”

“So you’ve told me.”

“So what do you think?”

“What day, exactly, will you be landing in the States?”

I looked over at my calendar and said, “May twenty-eighth.” Sookie cringed and closed her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Prom is that night.” She looked like she was going to cry again.

“Oh.” She’d never told me what day her prom was. “Well, then I will see you the next day.”

I could tell she was about to offer to skip the dance. I wouldn’t let her. Not in a million years. She’d been talking about it for the last three months. She’d told me about going to three different cities before finally finding a dress she deemed acceptable. I wouldn’t let her ditch it at the last minute because of me.

“You could go with me?” she volunteered out of nowhere.

“What?”

“Prom. You could go with me.”

“Would your school even allow that?”

Sookie rolled her eyes. “I’m sure I could talk someone into letting you in the gym. It’s not like you’re fifty or planning on packing heat, right?”

I’d be packing something, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t be a firearm. “Not to my knowledge.”

“Then don’t worry about it. All you have to do is say yes.”

“Yes.”

Her eyes lit up. “This is the best birthday ever!” She did one of those girly squealing things that mostly only dogs could hear but I couldn’t fault her. I was one cleavage shot away from doing that myself.

“I’ll email you the flight information.” I promised her. It was getting late, and as much as I didn’t want to let her go, I had homework to do. Not to mention, a massive hard-on that was becoming painful.

“I always forget that it’s so much later there,” she said when she came down from her little high. “Eric, thank you. Really. I don’t even know…” She trailed off and took a deep breath to stop herself from crying for a third time. “You know you’re my best friend, right?”

Usually hearing something like that would be the kiss of death. With Sookie, I had the feeling that was the in I needed. “I do. You know it’s mutual.” And it was. It really was.

“Thank you for the flowers. I noticed there were ten white roses. I’m touched that you remembered.”

“It’s our anniversary.” I smirked at her.

“Who’d have thought when I opened that letter and found a picture of a tall blond kid with a jack-o-lantern grin that I’d be looking at my best friend ten years later?”

“I thought the same thing when I saw your pigtails.” I teased right back.

“Oooh I could wear pigtails when I see you,” her eyebrow arched. The look on my face must have been priceless because she cracked up. “I was kidding, Eric.”

She shifted again on her bed, her body pulling the neckline of her tank top further down than before. Oh, dear God. I thought for sure I was going to have a stroke right then and there. It figured I’d die before I got the chance to actually meet this woman. She was going to kill me. I knew it.

“I should get going.” I didn’t want to, but I had to before I exploded right there in front of her.

“Are you okay?” Shit. She knew something was up.

“Homework. You know how it is. I have exams coming up soon.”

“Right. Okay, well, let me know when you’re getting in. I’ll pick you up from the airport.”

“That would be nice.”

“Cool. Alright, see you later.” She blew me a kiss and then disconnected from the chat.

I went straight to the shower.

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