Finding out that Eric was coming to America was a huge deal for me. After all that time of talking, writing letters and whatever else, it was strange to think he would finally be in the same room as me. I had asked him to go to prom with me before I could think twice about it. I felt guilty afterward, though. Did he really want to spend his first night in America at some silly high school dance? Although, I supposed the important thing would be that we’d be together for a change. I know I wouldn’t care where we went if I were going to Stockholm.
And I’d thought about going to Stockholm – I’d thought about it a lot. I worried that if I went, and things went as well with Eric in person as they did in my dreams, I’d never want to leave him. Could I really see myself living in another country for the rest of my life? Would I be willing to give up my friends, family and all the other plans I had just for him? I was afraid to answer that question. I also knew I was getting way ahead of myself.
Yes, Eric and I had built a friendship over the last ten years, but who’s to say things wouldn’t go to hell the second we laid eyes on one another? Talking over webcams and on the phone wasn’t the same as being in the same room. I thought about him constantly. What I was going to do if things didn’t work out? It wasn’t a pretty scenario.
I went back to school the day after my birthday. For years, Jason and I had a deal with Mom where if our grades were good and we hadn’t missed any school that quarter, she would call us in sick on our birthday. Jason, the perpetual academic underachiever, always fell short. I, on the other hand, never had a problem meeting Mom’s criteria. I was thankful for the day off and I returned to school with a much deeper tan and a spring in my step that was immediately noticed.
“Girl, you look like you’re floatin’,” my best friend Tara teased as I walked toward her.
“I had a very good birthday,” I grinned and leaned against the bank of lockers to my right.
“Define good,” Tara narrowed her eyes at me.
“Well, first I had flowers delivered to me.”
“That’s nice,” Tara looked at me strangely.
“They were from Sweden.” That got Tara’s mouth to drop open.
“Tall, blonde and studly sent you flowers?” Tara didn’t care much for Eric, but I figured that had more to do with her being jealous (on several levels) than because she could find a personality flaw. “Who knew he ever thought of anyone but himself?”
“Tara!” I hated it when she did that.
She’d talked to him once on my webcam, and it just so happened that she’d shown up unannounced. Eric and I were in a pretty deep conversation and it was the first time we’d been able to get simultaneous webcam time for more than a month. I’d desperately needed the face time with him. Tara had rudely interrupted so she could tell me about the latest drama with her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Mickey. Eric had been about as annoyed as I was that Tara had just burst into the room, only I was too nice to snap at her. Eric, on the other hand, had let her have it with both barrels. They’d been ‘enemies’ ever since.
“He’s just so rude,” Tara complained, failing to see her role in what had happened.
“I don’t want to argue about this again.” My good mood was rapidly fading. I hated that my two best friends couldn’t seem to get along. Up until yesterday that wasn’t really a problem.
“Well it’s a good thing he lives across the Pond.” Tara rolled her eyes. When I didn’t say anything else, she looked at me expectantly. “What?”
I couldn’t stop myself from giggling and then grinning like a fool. “He’s coming here.”
“Say what?” That’s what Tara always said when she heard something she didn’t like.
“We’re going to prom together!” I bounced up and down like a six-year-old on a pixie stix and Redbull diet.
“Say what?” she repeated. “How did this happen?”
“He graduates from high school before us, and he has an aunt that lives in Chicago. She bought him a plane ticket so he could come visit her. He’s going to start his trip in Louisiana and work his way north.” I explained.
“And he’s going to our prom?” Tara looked horrified. I could only nod my head with excitement.
“Please, Tara, try to be nice. I know you think he’s a jerk, but he’s not. He’s really sweet. And he’s funny and…” I trailed off.
“That’s all you got? Sweet and funny?” Tara looked me up and down.
“I want you to decide for yourself.”
“I already decided. He’s no good for you, Sook.”
I sighed heavily. I should have known Tara would rain on my parade. “You’re just saying that because he put you in your place.”
Tara looked offended, which I suppose maybe she had a right to. “I’m saying that because eventually he’s going to go back to the Mother Land, and where is that going to leave you? Don’t think I don’t know you have the mother of all crushes on this guy. I know you, Sookie. Every time you mention Eric, you get this big dopey look in your eyes. I get it. I may not like him, but I’m not blind. He’s gorgeous.”
“Who’s gorgeous?” Arlene decided that was the right time to pop up. Shit.
“Eric.” Tara dropped his name like she couldn’t hold it anymore.
“You mean the pen pal from second grade?” Arlene looked at me. She knew damn well who Eric was.
“Yes, that Eric,” I confirmed for her. My good mood was officially gone. Damn it.
“I can’t believe you still talk to him,” Arlene shook her head. She wasn’t impressed.
“He’s coming here,” Tara dropped the bomb for me. “He’s taking Sook to prom.”
Arlene looked horrified. “You’re going to your senior prom with a foreigner?”
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. “You two are horrible.”
“Say what?” They said after sharing a glance.
“I like Eric. Y’all don’t have to, but I do. He’s been a good friend to me, and I’m excited to meet him face to face. I’d like to think that my friends would be happy for me, but apparently y’all forgot what it is to be a friend.” I stormed off, not really wanting to see either one of them for the rest of the day.
“Sookie!” I froze at the sound of the last voice I wanted to hear. “Good morning, Bill,” I said when he sidled up next to me.
“Here, this is for you,” He handed me a little wrapped box.
“I wanted to run it by your house last night, but I got caught up with some computer science homework. I really want to ace the final.” Bill Compton was a nice enough guy. He was sweet on me, but I just couldn’t see us as anything more than friends.
“I’m sure you’ll do well. You’ve always been real good with computers.” I smiled at him.
“Open it.” Bill nodded toward the box.
“Oh, Bill, I think I’ll just wait until I get home later.”
“No, go on. I’m sorry I missed your birthday yesterday. I forgot you wouldn’t be at school.”
There was an eager look on his face, and since I was too nice to tell him for the hundredth time that we were never going to date, I decided the least I could do was open his gift. I carefully removed the paper from the box and then opened it. I looked inside to see a pretty necklace with a pink pearl on the end of it. It was beautiful.
“Bill, this is too much.” I sputtered and tried to hand it back.
“Don’t be silly. The second I saw it, I knew it was made for you.” He pulled the chain from the box and went about clasping it around my throat. He leaned in close to me as he did so. “Happy birthday, Sookie,” he whispered in my ear and then kissed my cheek. It was a pretty gutsy move.
“Thank you, Bill.” On a scale of discomfort, I think I was somewhere around a forty-three.
“So, listen, I was thinking since neither of us have dates, maybe we could go to prom together.”
My eyes caught his for a moment and then I looked away. I deflated just a little. I didn’t want to hurt him. “About that…”
“Oh, you have a date?”
“Yeah. I sort of asked someone yesterday.”
“Well, he doesn’t go to school here.”
“Oh. Oh, I get it.” Bill looked angry and stepped back.
“It was a last minute thing.”
“No, it’s fine. You have a good time, Sookie.” Bitter. I could understand. I’d rejected him. Again. That couldn’t be fun for him.
“Bill…” I called out after him but he just kept on walking. It was probably for the best.
I didn’t find my good mood again until the next weekend when I got an email from Eric telling me he’d changed his flight plans. He’d sent the email when it was three in the morning, my time. I got up late, having stayed up to get some studying in so I could enjoy my weekend. School was winding down and finals were fast approaching. Only two more weeks until prom, and then finals started the following Monday.
I screamed like a school girl, which technically, I am, and bolted for the stairs to share my good news with Mom. She was mopping the kitchen floor, dancing and singing along with the radio. Mom couldn’t dance worth a darn, but she had a voice I would never have. I envied her that talent just as much as she envied the fact that I could dance so well.
“Morning, sunshine,” Mom stopped dancing long enough to kiss my cheek.
“Mom, you are never going to believe the email I just got!” I gushed, staying right where I was outside the kitchen since I was barefooted.
“Oh?” Mom stopped mopping again to look at me.
“I got an email from Eric. He’s coming in on Wednesday instead of Friday.”
“Honey, that’s wonderful,” Mom gave me a heartfelt smile, though I knew she had her reservations about Eric coming to visit.
My parents had reluctantly agreed to let him stay with us to spare him the cost of a hotel, providing he understood that he was never to be alone with me in my bedroom with the door closed. He would also be sleeping in the guest room right across the hall from their bedroom. Any attempts from either one of us to sneak in, or out, of that room would result in Eric being turned out on his rear end and I would be grounded. Eric had sworn, over video chat with my parents, that he would respect their rules. My parents trusted me, but they had no reason to trust Eric. Frankly, I was a bit surprised they made the offer at all. I was prepared to go talk to Sam about seeing if one of the apartments he owned was available.
I guess the way my parents saw it, it was better for Eric to stay with us where they could keep an eye out than for him to be alone in some hotel where we could get into any kind of trouble. By that, I figured they had assumed we’d be spending his entire visit humping like bunnies, and neither of them were anxious to be grandparents just yet. That suited me just fine, since I had no desire to be a mother just yet. I could only imagine the look on Eric’s face if I told him I was pregnant with his baby.
But again, we were all getting ahead of ourselves. Mom had even gone so far as to suggest I consider going on the pill. My eyebrows had shot into my hairline at that. Just what did she expect? I guess that was my first clue that everyone was on to me where Eric was concerned. I loved him, no doubt about it, and I’d shared more than a few gushing stories with my Mom over the last decade.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go visit Dr. Ludwig?” She whispered since Daddy was walking around the house with heavy feet. I was willing to bet Daddy didn’t know about Mom’s suggestion.
“Mom, I really don’t think that’s necessary. Eric and I are just friends.” I could barely get the second sentence out of my mouth.
Mom leaned the mop up against the counter and then reached a hand out to me. “Come on.”
“The floor’s wet.”
“So? Come on. Your feet’ll dry in the sun.” Mom nodded for me to follow her out the kitchen door.
I hopped across the floor as gracefully as I could and followed Mom away from the house. She looked over my shoulder to make sure Daddy and Jason hadn’t followed and weren’t anywhere in the yard. It was already hot and sticky outside and it was just barely eleven in the morning. As soon as we were done with what I was sure would be another sex talk, I was going to go inside and get into my bikini and take advantage of the sun. Maybe I’d do a little more reading while I was out there.
“Honey, your father would probably file for divorce if he heard me telling you this,” Oh this wasn’t going to end well. I could already feel myself starting a pre-emptive blush. I really hoped this wasn’t one of her over-share sex stories. “But you’re young, and Eric is … well, he’s gorgeous.”
“Mom…” I whined.
She waved a hand at me. “I know, I know, I’m your mother and that’s probably grossing you out to no end. I get it.” Her tone dropped like she was afraid we were going to get busted. “You know I always told you when it comes to boys to be smart. Your heart can get you into a lot of trouble if you’re not using your head. The two should be working together in matters like these. It’s easy to just turn it all off and let your body do what it wants to do, and when you’re in a loving relationship, you should do that.”
“Eric and I aren’t like that, Mom.”
“You don’t know that, sweetheart. You’ve had ten years to get to know one another. You know each other pretty well, but there’s a whole new world you’re about to step into where he’s concerned.”
“I know that.” I wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell me. “What’s the point here, Mom? You’re not making a whole lot of sense.”
Mom sighed and then regaled me with the story of a summer romance before she met Daddy. I listened, if only because she skipped a lot of the more sordid details. I sure as hell didn’t want to hear a single word about my mother’s sex life. It was bad enough I knew she’d done it those two times Jason and I were conceived. That was more than enough for me. Jason and I both turned a blind eye to their locked bedroom door on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. It was none of our business and we didn’t want to know.
Although, if I were to be completely honest about it, I thought it was sweet. It was obvious to me my parents loved each other. My father had set a pretty high standard in my life for any other man who might want to be a part of it. There was a big part of me that was hoping Eric would be that man.
“Mom, I’m not going on the pill,” I told her when she told me about her experience with it.
“I want you to be safe, sweetheart. I don’t want you to get caught up in the moment and be sorry for it later.”
“Not to burst your bubble, Mom, but I know a thing or two about the pill. I could start on it tomorrow and it wouldn’t be effective by the time he got here. Not that I have any plans to hop in the sack with him anyway.”
Mom smiled at me, biting her bottom lip to keep from laughing. “You say that now, but you might feel differently when he gets here.”
“Are you telling me I should have sex with Eric? Is that what you’re getting at?” I was dumbfounded.
“I’m telling you to use your head and follow your heart.” Mom patted my arm.
“Shelly! Do you need the oven on? It’s hotter than Satan’s undershorts in here!” Daddy hollered from the porch.
Mom and I burst out laughing. Daddy was always finding interesting ways to describe the heat. “Sookie’s breakfast is in there, but you can shut it off!” Mom turned to me with a smile on her face. “I’ve been married to that man for twenty-three years and I love him a little more each year. That’s what I want for you, baby.”
“That’s what I want, too.” Maybe I’d find it when it arrived on a plane from Sweden.
My parents had little to say about my trip to America, other than to ask me when I would be coming back. They weren’t thrilled that I hadn’t made plans for college. As their only child, I suppose I could understand their concern. But they had never been imposing parents. My father had no misguided dreams of me someday following in his footsteps to become a corporate accountant. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I didn’t want to spend it behind a desk crunching numbers. My mother had stayed home until I was in junior high school. After that, she’d gone back to work for the city of Stockholm in the commerce department.
My parents were the very definition of average. It was easy to see they wanted something better for me than they had for themselves. I knew I was more than smart enough to sail through college, so that wasn’t an issue. I just had a general lack of ambition. I was quite content to see what opportunities presented themselves to me. So far, the greatest opportunity had been Aunt Maggie buying me a plane ticket to go to America. I figured I would be crazy to turn it down.
I wasn’t married. I didn’t have children or a job. I wanted to see what else was in the world. It would be foolish to turn away that chance when I had nothing holding me back. The decision to leave sooner had more to do with an argument I had with my mother than anything else. My father seemed to understand my reasons for holding off on choosing a career path. My mother, on the other hand, worried for me. It was a very motherly thing to do. I didn’t hold it against her, but I didn’t want to listen to her nag me either.
It also dawned on me that arriving the day of Sookie’s dance might be a mistake. I knew there was little chance I would get much sleep before I left. I planned to sleep on the plane as much as possible, but that plan could easily be ruined with a single screaming child. I was beyond excited when she emailed me back to tell me she was thrilled I’d be arriving sooner. I couldn’t wait to see her.
I didn’t much care about the pomp and circumstance that surrounded graduation. I knew I had finished. Wearing a silly robe and getting a piece of paper didn’t matter much to me. I went because it made my parents happy. It gave my mother a new picture to hang on the refrigerator. I figured that might be the last thing I’d do to make them happy for a while. I could take one for the team.
My parents had met Sookie’s parents via webcam. My father’s English wasn’t as good as my mother’s, but it seemed they all understood one another well enough. I actually left the room when I noticed Sookie was out of sight of the camera. I assumed somewhere, thousands of miles away, she had done the same thing. I went downstairs to the kitchen to make myself a snack while I waited for them to finish talking. I overheard bits and pieces of the conversation but tried not to listen in on it too much. I know my mother traded email addresses with Sookie’s mother. That didn’t bother me at all. I understood why her parents were leery of having me stay in their house.
That was Sookie’s idea, however. I was perfectly happy to stay in a hotel somewhere nearby, but she had mentioned how silly it was for me to pay for a hotel room when I could stay in the spare room in her house. The conversation with her parents about the ground rules for such a thing was a bit on the awkward side. I don’t know what they expected, exactly. Did they think I was coming a couple thousand miles just to sex up their daughter the whole time? Not that I would complain if that ended up being the case, but that wasn’t the purpose of my visit.
In fact, I tried not to think along those lines at all. I didn’t want to put pressure on Sookie to do something she didn’t want to do. Given that she’d never once made mention of us being anything other than friends, I sincerely doubted it was likely we’d be having any sexual encounters at all. I can’t say that wasn’t a disappointing thought. I’d been thinking of Sookie in increasingly sexual ways for the last few years. I was pretty sure the second I saw her I’d have a hard time keeping the lower half of my body from standing up and taking notice.
My father had agreed to take me to the airport since my flight was leaving late at night. I would be arriving in New York at about seven in the morning. From there I would fly to Dallas, Texas. Then I would be taking a small commuter flight to Shreveport where Sookie had agreed she would pick me up. In spite of her mother’s protests, she had insisted she come alone to get me. I’d overheard part of the battle between her and her mother. It had gotten pretty vicious. In the end, Sookie had reminded her parents that she wasn’t stupid and that they had ways of contacting my parents if anything happened. Besides, I had absolutely no intention of harming Sookie whatsoever. Still, they were just doing their job as parents.
I talked to Sookie via webcam for the last time the afternoon before my flight. She was getting ready for school that morning and had woken up early to talk to me. She sat on her bed, wrapped in the luckiest towel in the world with her damp hair clinging to her shoulders. Even soaking wet, she looked gorgeous. I was fucked.
“Well good morning, gorgeous.” I greeted her, earning myself one of those adorable blushes of hers.
“You hush. I look terrible.”
“Nonsense. A little damp, perhaps, but still beautiful.”
“Yeah, yeah, lay it on thick, buster.” She rolled her eyes. She was always dismissive of a compliment I paid her. I wondered why. She had to know she was beautiful. “You’re all packed, right?”
“My bags are by the door, just waiting to be loaded into the car.” I nodded and sat back in my desk chair.
“I have a secret.” Sookie leaned in closer to the computer, a nervous look on her face.
The sun was just starting to rise in America. The sky was lightening up behind her, sunlight just starting to come through her windows. It gave her this halo effect that made her even more beautiful. I never would have thought that was possible.
“Do you?” She nodded and looked at what I assumed was probably her bedroom door to make sure no one was coming close to her room. “You want to save it for later?”
She shook her head and bit her lower lip. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“I already think that.” I teased her because I knew it would loosen her up a little. She stuck her tongue out at me, which did little to help ease any discomfort I might have been feeling in that moment.
“You’re not helping.” She huffed after putting her perfectly pink tongue back in her mouth.
“I’m sorry. Please continue.”
Sookie bit her lip again, her brows furrowing together while she figure out the right words. “Are you scared?”
“No, not that.” She stood up and disappeared from view for a moment, but I could still hear her.
“Of what, Sookie?”
“Well, I mean, we know each other, but we don’t, you know? I guess I’m just worried that once we’re in the same room we’ll see each other differently. You’ve been my best friend for a really long time. I don’t want to lose that.”
It killed me not being able to reach out and hold her hand while she said those things. I wanted to be able to look her in the eye (and without the filter of a camera between us) and reassure her that wasn’t going to happen. “I won’t answer you until I can look at you.”
When Sookie came back into sight she was dressed in a pair of capri pants that sat low on her hips and a wife-beater. Her hair was still damp, but it was a bit curlier than before. God, she was gorgeous. I swallowed hard and hoped I didn’t look like a goon.
“We’re friends, Sookie. That isn’t going to change. I promise you that.”
She nodded with sad eyes and I wondered if I just said something wrong. “I hope you’re right.”
“It’s going to be great. You’ll see.”
“Yeah.” She smiled but it wasn’t her real smile. “Look, I have to get going. Call me when you land in Dallas so I know when to leave.”
“I will. Just think, in a little more than twenty-four hours we’ll be in the same place at the same time.” I couldn’t help but smile at that.
She nodded, her eyes all teary. “It’s pretty crazy.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” It felt good to say that and mean it.
“Yep. See you tomorrow. Fly safe.” She blew me a kiss and then she was gone.
As usual, I went straight to the shower.