Eric almost immediately starts to fight the tube in his throat, but I grab his hand to stop him from pulling it out on his own. “Eric, don’t do that. A nurse is coming and she’ll help you.”
He stares up at me with a hint of panic in his eyes. Luckily Felicia comes in a second later to find her patient awake and definitely wanting the tube out of his throat.
“Hi, Eric. Nice to have you back with us,” she smiles at him and starts to grab other tubes and things. “I’m going to get that tube out of your throat, just stay calm for me, okay? Sookie, why don’t you step back just a little for me?”
“I’m right here, babe,” I say after stepping back.
Felicia explains everything she’s doing as she does it. She suctions out his lungs and the back of his mouth, and then starts to untape the tubes. I want to hold Eric’s hand through all of this but I stay right where I am.
Finally Felicia says, “Okay, Eric, I need you to take a deep breath for me and on the count of three you’ll exhale and I’ll pull the tube out.”
I see Eric’s chest rise with the breath he takes. Felicia counts to three and when she pulls the tube out Eric coughs violently. I can only imagine that feels awful on his stomach. When Felicia nods to me I step close to the bed again. She slips a mask over Eric’s face to make sure he’s getting enough oxygen.
“How’s your pain on a scale of one to ten?” she asks.
I’m sure my tough guy boyfriend will just shrug it off, so it surprises me when he let’s go of my hand to hold up eight fingers. Felicia nods and promises to get him some pain medication. She notes his vital signs and then leaves the room to call Eric’s doctor.
Eric squeezes my hand to get my attention. I look down at him and smile. By the look in his eyes I know he’s going to be okay.
He lifts his mask and asks, “What happened?”
For a minute I’m panic stricken, afraid he doesn’t remember me, or what happened to him.
“Do you remember what happened in the alley?” I ask and he nods.
“You were brought in late last night. You passed out on the floor in the diner, probably from blood loss. Jess and I had to do CPR, and the paramedics had to shock you, but we got you back. You were taken in for surgery to remove the knife and to repair the internal damage. You’ve been asleep since you got out of surgery, but the doctor says you’re going to be okay,” I tell him.
“How long do I stay here?” His voice is raspy and cracking thanks to the intubation, but I know that will fade.
“A few days at least. They want to keep an eye on you. I’m not going anywhere unless they make me,” I promise.
“I took him for a walk and fed him. When I go home tonight I’m going to pick him up and bring him home with me.”
Eric looks relieved. Sunday is probably his best friend, so it’s sweet that he’s worried even though I know he’s in a lot of pain.
“I talked to Stan so he knows you’re going to be off work for a little while. Is there anything from home you want me to bring you?” I offer.
“No, I’m okay.”
I might bring him some pajama pants. For the moment I know he’s got a catheter in, but they’ll take that out soon enough and I doubt he’ll want to wear a gown for days on end.
“I have to go to the police station to sign some papers and file a report for the assault you stopped. I never threw away my clothes from that night so I gave them to the police to be tested for Bill’s blood and DNA. There was security footage of you being attacked and the police have it, so as soon as they find Bill he’ll be charged with attempted murder, at least.”
Eric nods and then winces. I decide to stop talking so I don’t overwhelm him. I sit on the edge of his bed and hold his hand. Eric puts his mask the way it belongs, and a few seconds later Felicia comes back with a syringe of pain meds she injects into Eric’s IV. The doctor will be coming in soon to explain things to Eric and give him the plan for his care.
The time comes for me to go home so Eric can get some more rest. He’s struggling to keep his eyes open as it is, so I’m okay with leaving him.
“If you need anything just call me. I don’t care if it’s three AM and you just want to listen to me breathe,” I say as I brush his hair back. “I love you, Eric.”
He nods but doesn’t say anything back. I move his mask to press my lips to his. He gives back weakly, but I’ll take it. I get my coat on and give him a little wave before I leave. I manage to get all the way to the elevator before I burst into grateful tears. Now I can only hope that dad and Jess are right that Eric isn’t going to hate me.
I don’t take it personally that he didn’t say he loves me back. Talking is difficult for him and I’m not going to let myself get all wound up in negativity, at least not around Eric. If I’m going to freak out, I’m going to do that away from him. He doesn’t need me making things more stressful on him right now.
Since I know I’m not going to sleep right away I decide to stop at the police station to sign off on my statement. Detective Bellefleur will be going to talk to Eric tomorrow to get his side of the story. I’m introduced to another detective by the name of Thalia Singh, who will be handling the report I file against Bill and Andre.
Detective Singh is a little pit bull. She obviously doesn’t blame me for the attack. When I tell her about the fourth of July party she asks for names of other people who were there so she can try to corroborate my story. There may also be other victims out there that haven’t reported Bill for what he’s done. It strikes me how selfish I’ve been by not coming forward sooner.
A guy like Bill doesn’t belong on the streets and I’ve put countless other women at risk by not doing this sooner. Now’s not the time to kick myself. I’ve come forward and that’s the important thing. Detective Singh asks about Andre but I don’t know anything about him.
Then I remember what the Berts said about one of the Tonys being at the hospital the night I was attacked.
“If I can use a phone I can find out what hospital they were treated at the night I was attacked. One of the customers from the diner saw them there when he was visiting his kid,” I tell her.
Detective Singh gives me a little smile and says, “Give me their names and I’ll handle it.”
I write it all down for her. I like Detective Singh. She’s sharp as a tack and her questions jog things in my mind that help me remember things I wouldn’t have thought were important. By the time I leave the police station I’ve filed my report and supplied information that could help both cases. I also sat with a sketch artist to get an image of Andre out there.
The house is quiet when I get home with Sunday in tow. It’s officially Christmas Eve, and the last place I want to be is at my step-grandparents’ house later. All I care about is getting some sleep and going back to the hospital. Sunday sniffs around the house since it’s a new environment for him. I set up his food and water in the mud room and show him where it is.
It’s too late to be calling Jessica’s house to tell her about Eric, but I can brief her in the morning before I go back to the hospital. Sunday follows me upstairs to my room and I leave the door open a little so he can get out if he wants to eat or drink. I change clothes and get ready for bed.
Sunday curls up on the floor at the foot of my bed and after a few minutes of restless moving around I find a comfortable position and fall asleep.
Eric is wide awake when I get back to the hospital. I bring him crossword puzzles, Mad Libs, word searches, two pairs of pajama pants and the copy of The Grapes of Wrath that has the Wrigley Field picture in it.
“How are you feeling?” I ask after kissing him hello.
“Doped up,” he says with a silly little smile on his face. His coloring is better and I can tell his bruises are starting to heal a little already.
“You look better today.”
“It’s scary to think I could look worse, but I know I could. What’s in the bag?”
“Well, I know you prefer reading to watching TV, so I brought you some things to keep your mind active,” I explain and show him the games. “I also brought you pants and this copy of The Grapes of Wrath.”
I give him the book and he asks, “You saw them, didn’t you?”
“A while ago,” I admit. “I never brought it up because I figured you would when you were ready, but I thought you might want to have them close to you now.”
“You’re an angel,” he says with sincerity that threatens to make my eyes well. “So how long do I get to keep you before you have to go be with your family?”
“I’m off the hook this year, so it looks like you’re not going to keep your tradition of spending Christmas alone. Sunday is at my house and Jess has offered to go over and let him out for me so I don’t have to leave until they kick me out. You’re stuck with me.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with anyone else.”
Eric picks up my hand and kisses the back of it. I sit down on the edge of his bed and tell him about meeting Detective Singh the night before and all of the processes I went through.
“I’m proud of you for filing that report,” he says. “I understand why you didn’t want to, but you at least deserve a shot at getting justice for what they did to you.”
“I know. I thought about it a lot last night while I was talking to Detective Singh and I realized part of the reason I didn’t report it is because I blame myself,” I tell him. “I think of all the things I could have done differently and it’s hard not to think it all could have been avoided if I had been a little more careful. I should have listened to my gut that night. It’s especially hard not to blame myself because you’re hurt. I know it’s not my fault that Bill and Andre chose to do what they did, but there’s still that voice in my head telling me that I could have been safer.”
“I heard what you said to that cop in the ambulance,” Eric says. “And I understand the way it feels when something violent happens that’s out of your control. You second guess yourself and your decisions because you want them to make sense when sometimes things just don’t make sense. They were wrong, Sookie, plain and simple. They had choices to make the same as you. They just weren’t expecting their choice to come with a free ass whipping.”
I smile at him and ask, “So you don’t hate me?”
“Honey, why would I hate you? You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, internal bleeding and all.” Eric squeezes my hand reassuringly, and I lean forward to kiss him.
I want to get into bed with him but there isn’t really enough room and I don’t want to hurt him.
“We’re going to be okay, Sookie,” Eric says when I pull back. “I’m going to get better and when they let me out of here we’ll get back to our lives.”
I believe him and I’m thankful he’s not running the other way, or pissed off at me for putting him in this position. I open the Mad Libs and we get started on making up a funny story.