Chapter 13: When I Fall In Love

Time passes quickly and I’m finding it harder and harder to go home to sleep alone. True to his word, dad took me car shopping. He matched what I could put down and called it my Christmas and next birthday present. I ended up with a new car instead of a used one and as a result I am now the proud owner of a metallic summer rain colored Prius. The hybrid makes the most sense economically, plus it’s better for the environment.

It isn’t the zippiest car on the market but I don’t care much about that. I care about getting to and from work without worrying about being attacked again, or freezing my ass off on the walk.

The word is out about Eric and me. I’ve even told my father and Pam about him. They weren’t terribly surprised to hear I’ve been seeing someone new. This year’s been somewhat of a revolving door for me where boyfriends are concerned. Dad insisted I invite Eric over for Christmas, but I told him that wasn’t going to work out. Trying to come up with a reason that didn’t make Eric sound like a weirdo wasn’t easy.

In the end I told them the truth about Eric’s past. My father was stunned, as I had been. All of the talk about Eric’s parents got me thinking about my own mother so for two the last two weeks she’s been on my mind a lot. She’s still living in Louisiana, as far as I know.

I’ve been thinking about trying to get in touch with her, if only to clear the air. For pretty much my whole life my father’s been making excuses for her or trying to explain away her abandonment so Jason and I don’t hate her. As fathers go, he’s done everything right. I don’t know if I could ever welcome my mother into my life, but maybe there’s some sort of common ground we can stand on. I’m not going to get my hopes up.

There’s less than a week to go until Christmas. I’m at Eric’s apartment and we both have the day off. I tried to talk him into a Christmas tree, but he’s not interested. Maybe next year.

We’re lying in bed together, blissfully naked and thoroughly fucked. At least for the moment. I doubt it’ll last long. It rarely ever does.

“What are you doing on new year’s eve?” I ask him.

“You tell me.”

I smile. “You’re getting the hang of this boyfriend thing.”

He chuckles and says, “I just want to be with you.”

He lifts my hand to kiss it. I turn my head so I’m looking up at him. We haven’t been together for very long but I feel like I know him very well. He’s talked more about his parents with me in the last three weeks than he has with anyone in decades. I think it’s been good to have someone to share it with. What happened to them is a heavy burden to carry alone, and Eric knows I told my father and Pam about his past.

I can understand why he doesn’t want it to get out, but I don’t want him to be ashamed of it either. What happened wasn’t his fault. On some level I think he knows that, but some of the things he’s said have eluded to extreme survivor’s guilt. It’s heartbreaking to think he’s spent nearly twenty years blaming himself for something he couldn’t have prevented or put a stop to.

“Well my parents usually have people over that night. Mostly my step-mom’s family and a few of the neighbors. I’ll understand if you don’t want to come, but I think you’d have fun. It’s up to you.”

“I’ll think about it,” he promises.

That’s all I can really ask for. Really, he’s gotten better. I don’t know that he’ll ever be the chatty Cathy with others that he is with me, but at least now he’s saying hello to people instead of looking at the floor all awkward-like.

“What if I promise to kiss you at midnight and then spend the night here with you doing any dirty thing you want?” I offer. I’m not above bribing him with sexual favors to get what I want.

“Temptress.”

“Just keep it in mind in your decision making process.”

“Keep talking about dirty things and we’ll be crossing a new position off the list,” he warns in what I’ve come to know as his sex voice.

“Keep talking to me like that and I’ll hold you to it.”

I haven’t had a sex drive this high in… well, ever. It would be embarrassing if Eric wasn’t as ready and willing to go as I am. Being that the man has time to make up for, he’s set on not wasting a second. Not that we strictly spend time in bed together when we’re alone. We have gone out together and done some stuff.

We took a train down to the loop and walked around the German market at the Daily Center. While we were there I learned that Eric’s father was Swedish, and he was fluent in the language. He was teaching it to Eric when he was killed. Eric wants to finish learning the language and it gave me an idea of what to get him for Christmas.

But I also learned that as a result of the spotty Swedish my boyfriend (yes, I do a little mental happy dance every time I use that word) understands, he also understands a little bit of German. Who would have thought the guy who never talks would be good with languages?

It’s also incredibly sexy when we’re in bed, but that’s another story.

“I’m not a machine, woman,” he teases.

“Oh, I beg to differ.” I roll onto my stomach but keep the top half of my body on his.

“I was pure as the driven snow until I met you,” he tells me and that gives me pause.

“Wait, does that mean you never even a kissed a girl before me?” I ask him.

“Yep,” he says without a hint of shame.

I’m stunned. Eric does not kiss like a beginner.

“Then you must be naturally talented because I had no idea, and I’ve kissed a lot of guys.”

Eric knows about my past. First of all, he’s been around long enough to have heard it in real time. He knows about the guy I lived with a few years ago. He was around for that breakup and saw what it did to me.

“Was it hard for you to hear me talking about being with other guys?” I ask suddenly.

“Sometimes, yeah. I knew it was my own fault for not having the guts to just talk to you. I wanted to so many times; I just didn’t know what to say.”

“Hello would have been a good place to start.”

Eric smiles and says, “But that’s so… common.”

“Yeah, I get that you like being unpredictable,” I laugh.

“I love the way you laugh,” he says and his fingertip traces up and down my throat.

I’ve always been oddly self-conscious about the way I laugh. I’ve always thought it’s too loud and just goofy sounding, but I don’t argue with Eric’s opinion.

I kiss his chest and it just so happens there’s a scar under my lips. My eyes flit up to Eric’s and his hand moves into my hair, which is all messed up from the night before. We really need to get out of bed and shower.

“I’m hungry. Are you hungry?” Eric asks.

“Starving.”

“Then how about I take Sunday out and you start breakfast?” he suggests.

“You want me to cook? Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Eric found out the hard way that even though I work in a restaurant and I’m great at serving food, I’m not really good at cooking it. We all have our strong suits and cooking isn’t mine. Eric left me in charge of breakfast once before and I nearly burned down his kitchen.

“You know where the fire extinguisher is,” he smirks.

I narrow my eyes at him. Eric lifts his head and kisses me.

“You can do it. Just don’t put the heat up so high this time.”

Somehow I don’t think it’s just that simple, but I’ll try. I sigh and roll off his bed. Eric stays put and watches me put on one of his t-shirts. I don’t bother putting underwear on.

“Come on, get up,” I smile over my shoulder and head for the kitchen area.

The first time I was in Eric’s apartment I wasn’t really sure if I liked it. I’m so used to doors and compartmentalizing things that it seems strange to have everything bleeding together. But now, as I look around, I realize I’ve come to appreciate the openness of it. The only thing I don’t like are all the windows. They’re large and since Eric is a minimalist when I comes to decorating, the only part with curtains of any kind is where his bed is at.

I like all the natural light, but not first thing in the morning when I’m trying to sleep. Thankfully I have a boyfriend that doesn’t mind me burrowing into him, but still…

The fridge is fully stocked thanks to our late night shopping trip the night before. I hear Eric getting dressed while I pull bacon, eggs and a few other things out of the fridge. Instead of frying the bacon I start the oven. When I told Jessica about the breakfast debacle, she suggested baking the bacon instead. I find a cookie sheet and start laying the bacon out on it.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Eric kisses the top of my head and then whistles for Sunday.

While my boys are out I get the bacon in the oven and crack eggs into a bowl so I can beat them for scrambling. At some point I might become a proficient enough cook to fry eggs but for now I’m better off sticking to scrambled. Eric doesn’t seem to care, but then I’ve learned that Eric will eat just about anything. Luckily, he’s also teaching me how to cook, or at least trying to.

He’s patient with me, which is good, because I really don’t think I missed a calling to be a chef. I tried to get Pam to teach me but she never had the patience for that. After a while I just gave up. Pam is the kind of step-mom who likes to take me shopping for clothes, shoes, makeup, purses and more if her tacky ass decorations. She’s not the kind that wanted to bond over domestic responsibilities. Then again, if we could have afforded it, Pam would have hired a maid.

By the time Eric gets back the bacon is just about done and I’ve got the eggs cooking slowly in a nonstick skillet. Sunday comes trotting over to me, hoping I’ll drop something for him.

“How is it outside?” I ask Eric while he gets out of his coat and boots.

“Cold, but the sun is really warm so as long as the wind doesn’t kick up too much it’s not terrible.”

“That’s good. I’m still not going out unless I have to.”

I stir the eggs a little with a rubber spatula and so far it’s not a total disaster. Eric comes to stand behind me. His hands land on my hips and I squirm a little at how cold they are.

“That’s it, I’m getting you gloves,” I tell him while my hips wiggle against him. “Your hands are like ice.”

“You realize by moving like that you’re not exactly giving me a reason to let you go, right?” Eric kisses my neck and I almost let myself get distracted by it.

“Hey, I’m cooking here,” I shrug him off. “You can molest me after breakfast.”

Eric backs off and pulls the bread from on top of the fridge to make us toast. A few minutes later the bacon is done and so are the eggs. We plate up our food and Sunday follows us to the little table, still hoping one of us will drop something for him. Eric is a sucker for Sunday when he begs, and even I have to admit it’s cute.

I wait for Eric to try the eggs first, and when he doesn’t spit them out I take that to be a good sign.

“How is it?” I ask nervously.

“Very good,” he smiles and takes another bite.

I try the eggs and they are actually pretty good. I’ve cooked my first edible breakfast, and no one had to call the fire department. Yay me!

%%%%%%

“Oh my god, you two are going to make me hurl,” Jessica says the next night while we’re at work.

The diner is dead, aside from the Berts, who are still sitting at the counter. Since we’ve got nothing else to do and Stan isn’t at the diner we’re just sitting at one of the tables, playing poker with sugar packets instead of chips. Charles is most likely asleep behind the flat top. It’s been a quiet night. Even the dinner rush wasn’t all that busy, but we’ve got only three days until Christmas.

“You’re just jealous,” I tease her and then turn my head to kiss Eric since I’m sitting in his lap.

“You two need to come out with Hoyt and me. I hardly ever see you anymore unless we’re at work,” she says.

It’s true. I’ve been ass deep in the most intense honeymoon phase of a relationship since I started dating Preston when I was sixteen. I’m lucky that my best friend is understanding and not super needy. She’s been incredibly supportive of my relationship with Eric, and it makes me happy that the two of them get along because I know how much it sucks when your boyfriend and best friend hate each other.

“I’m sure we can do that after the holidays are over,” I tell her.

Eric graves my ass a squeeze and it makes me smile when I think about the way he was just a month before when he could barely look me in the eyes. Now he’s pulling me into dark corners to make out and when we’re at his place we rarely have clothes on. I’m ridiculously happy and I know Jessica knows it, which is what she’s not bugging out on me.

Our shift is nearing its end. I’m going back to Eric’s place for the night. I haven’t slept at home for the last three days. I don’t want to go home and Eric doesn’t mind having me at his place one bit. It seems too soon to be talking about living together, but maybe it’s not. We certainly spend enough time together and I never get sick of him.

The bells jingle at the front door and Jessica excuses herself to see who’s come in.

“I need to take the trash out so we can leave on time,” Eric says, and kisses my cheek.

“Okay.” I get up off his lap so he can get up too.

Eric is smiling at me like he knows something I don’t but when I ask he says, “I’m just happy.”

I know the feeling. I grab his shirt to pull him closer and look up at him. He’s scruffy, his hair is tied back at the nape of his neck and he’s almost a foot taller than me. Eric works a dead end job by choice, hasn’t finished high school, doesn’t have a family and doesn’t really see the need for a social life. On paper, he’s all wrong for me. And yet he makes me happier than anyone else ever has.

“I love you,” I tell him. “I just want you to know that.”

His smile grows and he dips his head to kiss me. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would fall in love with Eric, but here I am.

“Jesus Christ, will you two give it a break?” Jessica asks.

Eric and I both laugh, still kissing, and slowly pull apart. I can practically hear her rolling her eyes at us. She protests but I know she thinks we’re cute together.

Eric excuses himself to go take out the trash and I follow Jess to the counter. I can see Charles moving around in the kitchen and Tony Nose is sitting over by the Berts waiting for his order to come up.

“I love Eric,” I blurt out and Jessica freezes.

“Say what?”

“You heard me. I love him. I know it’s crazy and it’s fast but it feels right. There’s nothing controversial about him, at least to me. Everything makes sense and I know that on paper he’s all wrong for me but look how many perfect on paper guys I’ve been with and all of those relationships failed.”

“You don’t have to sell me,” she says, and sets down a cup of coffee in front of me. “I like Eric. He’s still a little on the shy side but as long as you’re happy and he treats you well, you want hear anything out of me to convince you to move on. Besides, remember how wrong I thought Hoyt was for me when we first got together?”

Oh, I remember it well. Jessica was not at all interested the first time Hoyt asked her out. She thought he was too sweet, boring and much too much of an introvert for her to ever be interested in a guy like him. She was smack dab in the middle of being able to drink legally, and had zero interest in tying herself down. Jess had just moved into her own place and Hoyt was a mama’s boy still living at home. Like Eric, Hoyt was all wrong on paper.

But he didn’t give up. Hoyt was persistent and eventually Jess said yes to a date thinking if she went out with him once he would see they had nothing in common and that would be the end of it. Only it ended up being the best date Jessica ever went on. She was so conflicted about it afterward. On one hand she’d been out on this great date and they’d had a fantastic time. On the other she wasn’t sure it was the right time for her to get in a relationship.

In the end she decided the drinks happen all the time, but great dates don’t. It wasn’t a case of lowering her standards, but of finding something she didn’t know she was looking for. And if these two aren’t engaged within the next year I will be completely shocked.

“You can’t choose who you love, right?” I added cream and sugar to my coffee.

“Nope, and I think that’s both the blessing and the curse of it all.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be kind of awful if you picked your one, but they already picked someone else.”

“Not just that, but if you’re honest you do have some hilarious stories about all the wrong guys and they’re definitely part of what makes Eric look so good.”

“Oh I think Eric looks good all on his own,” I wiggle my eyebrows.

“He does,” she agrees and steals a drink of my coffee.

“I want to go back to school,” I tell her. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and it’s time. I don’t want to be here forever and I’ve been stuck in a rut for so long because it’s safe. I don’t want to stand still anymore. I want to start living out loud, and I want to do that with Eric.”

Jessica grins and says, “I think that’s great, Sookie. What are you going to study?”

“I don’t know, but I have to start somewhere. I figure maybe taking a few classes will help me figure it out.”

“Absolutely,” she nods.

The bell rings in the window behind her and Jessica turns to get the pattymelt Tony Nose ordered. I smile into my coffee and don’t pay much attention to the conversation Jess is having with the Berts and Tony. Everything in my life feels like it’s on the right track.

Then I look up and see Eric staggering toward me. His hands are clutching his stomach and he’s bleeding from the side of his head.

“Eric!” I jump off my stool and run toward him.

He starts to fall forward and that’s when I see the knife in his stomach.

“Oh god! Someone call 911!” I shout as Eric clutches at me and I lower him to the floor. “Baby, what happened?”

Tears sting my eyes as I try to figure out what happened to him. Obviously he’s been stabbed and when he tries to pull the knife out Jessica stops him.

“Eric don’t do that. You’ll bleed out if you do,” she advises as she kneels down with clean towels to apply pressure to his wounds.

Bert 2 calls for help and I cradle erivs head in my lap. He’s breathing and staring up at my face.

“Eric, what happened?” I ask him. “Who did this to you?”

He tries to speak but I can’t hear him over the chaos surrounding us. He motions for me to learn down. He’s getting paler by the second and when I finally get close enough to hear him all he says is, “I love you.”

I look at his face and hold his hand, begging him to stay with me as my tears fall on his cheeks, but his eyes close.

“Eric! Eric, stay with me!” I try to wake him up, but nothing’s happening.

Jessica reaches in to check his pulse and says, “Shit! Sookie, put his head down. I can’t find his pulse.”

I do as she says and look around us. There’s so much blood. Jessica starts to do chest compressions and when she tells me to I lean down to breathe into his mouth for him. I see his lungs inflate, but only when u breathe for him. All I can do is cry and pray that help comes fast.

I can’t lose Eric; I just can’t.

 

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