I made sure the hospital had my phone number before I left so they could contact me with updates. I hope to be there when Eric wakes up. If my face is one of the first things he sees I think he’ll be much calmer. Knowing him he’d rip out all of the stuff they hooked him up to and leave the hospital just to come and check in me.
And then apologize for scaring me.
When I got home from the hospital I took a long shower and then fell asleep on the couch with my cordless phone in my hand. I slept for about two hours before a call from Detective Bellefleur woke me up. He just wanted to remind me I was going to have to come down to the local precinct to sign my statement and file the assault report.
“Sookie?” Dad calls me from the kitchen.
I get up off the couch and find my father sitting at the table. I stretch and go to the coffeepot to pour myself some. I need to call Stan and let him know I’m going to need to take a few days off. I’m definitely not going back to work until Eric is awake and stable. When he’s released from the hospital, Eric’s probably going to need a lot of help at first and I plan on being there for him, even if it means Stan fires me.
“So are we going to talk about what was in that bag those cops took out of here last night?” Dad asks me.
Oh yeah. I forgot about this conversation.
“Remember how I told you I slipped and fell on some black ice?”
I turn to face dad and say, “I didn’t slip and fall. A couple of customers from the diner trapped me in an alley and attacked me.”
“What?” Dad looks murderous. “Were you… Did they…”
“No,” I say softly. “No, it was close, but Eric came from out of nowhere and put a stop to it. He brought me home and stayed with me until I regained consciousness. He was following me home when I was walking late at night to make sure I was safe.”
Dad takes a minute to absorb the information and then asks, “So what was in the bag?
“My clothes from that night. I never threw them away and I thought there might be some of Bill or Andre’s blood on them. Bill is the one who stabbed Eric last night.”
“Jesus,” Dad mutters and rubs his eyes. “You didn’t report this to the police, did you?”
“No,” I admit. “I just wanted to put it behind me. But I told the detective what happened. I’m going to file a report. Eric is a witness and if Bill’s blood is on my clothes that’s pretty good evidence.”
Dad shakes his head and says, “I wish you would have said something sooner, Sookie.”
“I didn’t want you to feel guilty or anything. I knew you would and it’s not your fault.”
“It’s not yours either.”
“I know that.”
Dad lets out a deep breath and says, “It’s a good thing Eric came along. I’m sorry he’s been hurt for defending you.”
“Yeah, me too.” My eyes water and dad gets up to give me a hug.
“Sweetheart, it’s not your fault that Eric got hurt. You had no way of knowing that jackhole would come back and do something like this.”
“If I would have gone to the police right away he would have been arrested and Eric wouldn’t have been attacked how is this not my fault?” I’m angry. I’m so angry I could spit nails.
I’m angry at myself. I’m angry at the situation. I’m angry with Bill. I’m angry with the choices I made. I’m angry that this could cost me someone I love very much.
“It’s not your fault because you’re not responsible for someone else’s decisions. You didn’t put the knife in Bill’s hand, right?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you’re as much of a victim as Eric. Sweetheart this could be more about getting back at you than getting back at Eric. By hurting Eric, Bill’s hurt you too,” Dad points out.
He’s right, of course. I suck in a deep breath and hope that Eric will see it the same way whenever he wakes up. Dad and I talk a bit more about things and then I remember Sunday. He’s been alone, cooped up in the house for almost twenty-four hours.
“Hey Dad, do you think it’d be okay if I brought Eric’s dog here for a few days until he comes home? Sunday’s house broken, well trained and very friendly but he can’t be left alone in the apartment for days.”
“Yeah, I think that’ll be okay. I’ll talk to Pam about it.”
“Thank you.” I hug him tightly. Having Sunday around will make me feel better and I’m sure Eric will feel better knowing his pet is taken care of.
Before we left the hospital a bag of Eric’s personal stuff was given to me, including his house keys. I go upstairs to get changed and then get ready to go. I leave Eric’s phone number for dad in case the hospital calls while I’m there, and then I head over. On the way home that morning we stopped at the diner so I could pick up my car.
Up in Eric’s apartment Sunday is definitely happy to see me. I crouch down to pet him and scratch behind his ears. Sunday licks at my face and hands.
“Hey, buddy. I bet you’re wondering where Eric is. He got hurt last night so you’re going to come stay with me for a few days. We’ll go for a walk now, but I’ll be back later to take you home with me, okay?”
As if Sunday gets a vote.
I get him leashed and then we go out for a good walk around the neighborhood. When we get back to the apartment about a half hour later I discover there’s a little mess in a corner. Thankfully there are rubber cleaning gloves under the kitchen sink. I get the mess cleaned up and then refill Sunday’s food and water bowls.
When I put my coat on to leave he starts to whine. In effort to keep him feeling a little less lonely I turn on the TV for him. Gran used to do that for her old cat, Tina. She swore by it so I changed the station to a news network and stopped when I saw that Eric’s story had made the news. The police had obtained a copy of the security footage from the back of the diner, which was something I hadn’t even thought about. Of course it couldn’t be shown on TV and would probably only be made public if there was a trial.
Police canvassing the area got them Bill’s last name. A public appeal had been made for anyone with information about Bill Compton, or the violent attack against Eric, to contact their local precinct. When the story changed I decided it was time to get going. Sunday seemed okay with the TV on so I left him there and headed for the hospital.
Eric’s room in the ICU has a big window by his bed. He’s alone in his room for the time being. The nurse on duty assigned to him is a kind blonde woman named Sarah. Her husband is one of the hospital chaplains. I don’t know Eric’s views on religion, but I imagine if he’s not celebrating Christmas religion can’t be too important to him.
He still hasn’t woken up but Sarah insists that’s not indicative of a problem.
“The body heals best after trauma with plenty of rest. He’ll wake up when he’s ready,” she says.
I want to move into his room, but I doubt they’ll allow it. I’d just be in the way. I will, however, be there for as many hours in a day as they’ll allow.
“The call button is here,” she shows me where on the bedrail. “If he wakes up the intubation will probably agitate him but don’t let him pull the tube out. Just push the call button and we’ll take care of it. If he starts breathing on his own it’ll trigger the vent anyway and an alarm will go off.”
I nod, taking in the information she’s giving me. After she leaves the room I take a seat in a chair I pull close to Eric’s bed. I’m careful when I pick up his hand and kiss the inside of his wrist. He doesn’t look quite as pale as he did before. I can’t tell if it’s just a change in the lighting or if he’s really getting better.
I hope for the latter.
My eyes dart back and forth between the monitors that show me his heart rate and respiratory levels and his face. He’s expressionless. It’s not like when we’re home in bed. There he looks peaceful and content. Here he barely looks like himself.
An hour passes and I remember I need to call Stan. I let go of Eric’s hand to use the phone on the other side of the bed.
“Stan’s Diner,” Holly answers.
“Hey, Holly, it’s Sookie.”
“Hi, honey, how are you? How’s Eric?”
“I’m… I’m not sure how I am. Eric’s still unconscious but he came through surgery well so we’re just waiting for him to wake up.”
“Good. I’m glad he’s going to be okay.”
“Me too. Listen, is Stan around?”
“He is. Hang on a minute. Say hi to Eric for me when he wakes up. Let him know we’re all thinking of him here.”
Holly puts me in hold and a minute later Stan gets on the phone.
“Hi, Sookie,” he says. “How’s Eric?”
I give him a more detailed update than I gave Holly so he knows it’s going to be a while before Eric comes back to work, if ever. Just getting out of the hospital could be a few weeks, but Eric won’t be fully recovered when he’s released. Then I’m sure there will be physical therapy, weight restrictions and a whole bunch of other things to deal with as a result of all this.
“Well just keep me informed,” he says. “And I already covered your shifts for the rest of this week so don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you,” I say, feeling relieved that he’s not going to give me shit for taking time off. “I may need a few more days when Eric is released from the hospital, but I’ll let you know.”
“That’s fine. We’ll figure something out. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“You turned the security tape over to the police and you’re not firing me so that’s good enough.”
“We’ll make due here. You just take care of Eric,” he says.
We talk for another minute or two but then he’s got to go. I hang up the phone and call dad to let him know what room Eric is in if he wants to come to visit. After talking to dad I step out to get some coffee and a used paperback to read. I make a mental note to bring Eric the picture I found of him with his parents. He doesn’t know I found it and he hasn’t mentioned it to me, though I doubt he forgot it’s there.
The coffee is like bitter, burned mud, indicating its been sitting in the pot for too long and there isn’t enough cream and sugar to make it taste better. I take it back to Eric’s room with me anyway. My book is an easy read romance novel, the kind I usually reserve for summertime when I’m laying out on the lawn. There were a number of murder mysteries and psychological thrillers to choose from, but at the moment I don’t want to think too much. Romance novels are perfect for that. Entertaining without being thought provoking.
I settle back in my chair and spend a few more minutes just staring at Eric before I start to read. Only I read out loud instead of to myself. I figure maybe the sound of my voice might give him some sort of comfort if he can hear me. Every few paragraphs I pause to look at Eric. Every time one of the alarms go off I stop to look. Sarah comes in to administer medications and check Eric’s vital signs.
Time passes slowly. That surgical nurse was way off the mark with her estimation. I haven’t eaten anything all day but I’m not even hungry. A dinner tray is brought in for Eric, as if he’s going to eat. Even when he does wake up I’m sure he’ll be on a restricted diet for the time being. I pick at the roll on his tray and eat the soup since I’m sure broccoli cheese isn’t going to be on his list of approved foods.
Visiting hours end at eight and I’m afraid he’s going to wake up in the middle of the night when I’m not here. Sarah goes home for the night and her replacement, Felicia, seems just as nice.
I resume my reading and I’m just about to get to the good stuff when I see Eric’s hand move. I drop the book and jump up to lean over the bed. I let Eric find my hand. When he does, he gives it a good squeeze.
“Hey,” I smile as tears well in my eyes. “I felt that. Do it again.”
Tears spill down my cheeks and I lean down to kiss his forehead, nose, eyes and everything else I can before pulling back. Eric’s eyelids start to flutter and I push the call button on the rail like Sarah showed me. My eyes flit back to Eric’s just in time.
His lids lift and there’s the beautiful blue that’s been missing from the day. Eric is awake.