Healing is a slow process and Eric is having a difficult time letting me take up the slack. We have yet to really argue, but the tension is building up. The elation over Bill’s arrest got us through the first three days of the new year. I took Eric in for a line up and we went in separately to make the identifications. As soon as Bill got picked up he turned on Andre, and claimed the attack on me was all Andre’s idea.
I don’t believe that for a second, nor did the prosecutor I met with. Bill and Andre were both arrested for aggravated assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping. Bill had the additional charge of possession of a controlled substance, which was unrelated to the attack on me. Bill is also facing an extra count of aggravated assault plus a count of attempted murder. They’re both looking at serious jail time and hoping to point the finger at the other to catch themselves a break.
Bill is facing two separate trials. The prosecutor wants to try my case first because if there’s a conviction for what he did to me, the chances of him pleading out or being found guilty for what he did to Eric will be greater. Whatever it takes to make sure Bill stays behind bars for as long as possible.
If he never gets out I’m just fine with that.
As it is he’s been denied bail, so he’s cooling his jets at Cook County jail. I’m sure he’s making all sorts of new friends there, whether he wants to or not. Now he gets to see how the other half lives. For his sake I hope he never drops the soap.
“Sookie!” Eric calls from the couch while I’m washing dishes after breakfast a week after he came home from the hospital.
“What?” I need to finish this up so I can start getting ready for work. As much as I would love to take more time off I can’t afford it anymore. I have a car payment and if Eric and I are going to move in together I need to have rent money.
“Come here real quick and take a look at this apartment I found!”
“As soon as I’m done with the dishes!”
“Just two seconds!”
“When I’m done!” I roll my eyes and reach for the skillet I made scrambled eggs in for us.
Eric’s getting a little stronger everyday, but he’s not back to full strength yet. Getting up and sitting down is easier for him, but it’s still not as easy as it should be.
“Just look,” he says, suddenly standing behind me.
Last time we went to the grocery store he picked up like four of those apartment guide things on the way out. He’s been looking at them, making notes and asking me a million questions about what I want. I’ve only ever lived in the city but I’m thinking moving out to the suburbs might be better.
I take a deep breath and turn my head to look. The listing he’s showing me looks almost exactly like the last three.
“It’s great, Eric,” I say in a dismissive tone.
“Did you really look or do you just want me to go away?”
“I want to finish cleaning so I can get ready for work. I’ll look at the apartment stuff later. I thought we weren’t going to rush into anything?”
“Then why are you looking at these things all day?”
“What else do I have to do?” Eric points out. “I’m not good at feeling useless.”
I know he’s frustrated too, and probably more than I am. I take a deep breath and remind myself to be patient with him.
“Okay, show me again,” I say.
Eric holds up the booklet again and I’ll admit the apartment looks nice… Unfortunately I think it’s probably double what I can afford unless I want to start working double shifts.
“It’s great, but it’s way out of my price range,” I tell him. I don’t know what Eric makes working at the diner, but it’s got to be somewhere around the same as what I bring home.
Eric makes a face that I can’t interpret, but it’s not a happy face.
“Okay, then I’ll keep looking,” he says with one of those unsure smiles I haven’t seen in over a month.
I watch him walk away from me until he gets himself situated on the couch again. Another five minutes later the kitchen is straightened up so I go to the bathroom fix my hair and makeup. When I come out Eric’s still on the couch looking through the apartment books. I grab my uniform from the closet and lay it on the bed while I strip out of my clothes.
“Sook, there’s something I think I need to tell you,” Eric says from behind me.
“Okay.” I grab a fresh bra and pair of panties to put on.
“You remember I told you there was a big insurance payout after my parents died, right?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“The money was put into a trust for me that I couldn’t touch until I was eighteen. I’ve used some of the money here and there, but not much of it.”
Truth be told I’d forgotten all about the insurance thing. I’d wondered, briefly, why he didn’t use the money for school but the answer to that seems obvious given Eric’s issues with being social.
“With the interest that’s accrued on it over the last almost twenty years I have almost a half a million dollars,” he says and my eyes go wide.
“Wow. That’s a lot of money.”
“It is,” he agrees. “I always told myself that I wasn’t going to blow the money on useless junk. Every year since I’ve had access to the money I’ve made a donation to a child welfare charity and I’m sure I’ll be using some of it to pay off my hospital bill as well. As of now I plan to use the money for school, and maybe to buy a car. But I could also use some of it for a down payment on a house.”
I take a few seconds to let all of that sink in before I say, “It’s your money, Eric. You should do what you want with it.”
Buying a house together seemed like a pretty big deal. Things had been moving quickly and there was a little part of me that said we needed to slow things down just a little bit.
“I’m not saying we have to look at houses, but it’s an option. Either way, I thought it was only fair you know about the money.”
“I appreciate you telling me, but it isn’t really any of my business what you do with that money. You could go spend it all on lottery tickets if you wanted to, but I understand why you don’t want to do that. I think for now we should keep looking at apartments, but if something else catches your eye that’s okay too.”
I pick up my uniform and take it off the hanger. Until we knew where we were going to go to school it seemed silly to decide where we were going to live. There were a lot of ducks to get in a row, and figuring out school had to come first. Once that was decided the rest would fall into place.
“That’s probably a good idea,” he agrees and turns to go back to the couch but the he turns again and adds, “I’m sorry if I get a little pushy sometimes. It’s just that I feel like I have something to be excited about and I think there’s a part of me that’s afraid I’m going to wake up and find out it’s all just a dream. I’ve wanted to be with you for so long and now that we’re together I’m afraid I’m going to lose you.”
I stop what I’m doing and go over to hug him. Eric is an excellent hugger now and he holds onto me tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere, Eric. It’s okay that you get excited. Actually, it’s good that you’re excited. I’m happy you are.”
“But you’re not?”
“No, it’s not that,” I assure him. “It’s just that I’ve done the living together thing before and I think maybe there’s a part of me that’s just as scared as you are that things might not work out. This has all happened so fast and we’ve been through a lot in such a short period of time. The optimist in me says that has to be the worst it’s going to get, but the realist is saying we should slow down a little because there’s no need to rush things.”
Eric pulls back and says, “You’re right. I know you’re right. Just… will you do me a favor?”
“Just remember I’m not like the other guys you’ve dated, okay?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” I smile up at him.
I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never find another guy like Eric. He leans down to kiss me and I’m careful of his stomach. He’s getting his stitches out tomorrow.
“Are you coming back here after work?” Eric asks me after a minute.
“If you want me to.”
“Of course I do.”
“Then I’ll come back later.”
Eric smiles at me and I finish getting ready for work with him watching me. When I’m ready to go he walks me to the door.
“If you need anything just call me, okay? Stan knows you’re not back to your full strength yet.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“I’m sure you will be too, but just in case. I love you.”
“I love you too. Don’t worry about me, Sookie. Sunday and me will be fine.”
We meet halfway to kiss goodbye and then I’m out the door.
Four hours into my shift I’m behind the counter, shooting the shit with the Berts.
“How’s Eric doing?” Bert 1 asks.
“He’s good. I mean, I think he’s going a little crazy from being cooped up in the apartment and his stomach is definitely still tender, but he’s good. I think Bill and Andre getting caught really helped. I know it lit a fire under him.” I refill their coffee and pour myself one as well.
“You know I heard on the news you’re not the first… You know they uh, they did it before,” Bert 2 says. “That’s a sick thing. But after gettin’ a look at ’em, I can see why they’d have to resort to that.”
Bert 1 slugs Bert 2 on the shoulder and says, “That’s such bullshit. There are plenty of ugly bastards in the world and they manage to get laid without doing it against a woman’s will. I mean look at all the trashy fuckers on Jerry Springer.”
I laugh at that last bit, convinced I’m not the only one who sees that hot mess and figures if those people can find love then there’s gotta be someone out there for me too. My someone is sitting at home, flipping through apartment guides and maybe naming our future children.
“You know I was watching this one episode and I swear this… I think it was a woman… I swear she had an extra chromosome or three. It had more chromosomes than teeth, I’ll tell you that,” Bert 2 says.
“Why do you watch that mess?” I ask.
“Where else can I see an ‘it’ like that get in a fight with a midget while they’re waiting on DNA results for a pair of infant twins that are each a different race coming out of the womb?” Bert 2 says.
“No way!” Bert 1 says incredulously.
“My hand to Jesus,” Bert 2 lifts his hand.
The two of them get on a roll and I have to leave them to deliver a pattymelt and a blue plate special to a pair of people sitting in a booth by the windows. Jessica comes bouncing into the diner with a huge grin on her face.
“I have news,” she says as she gestures for me to follow her.
“What’s up?” I ask, trailing her to the back room. “You can’t possibly be this happy I’m back at work.”
“I am very happy to see you, but that’s not my news.” Jessica takes off her coat and hangs it up.
“Do I have to guess, or are you going to tell me?”
“How about I give you a hint?” she suggests and then thrusts her left hand toward me. A beautiful -and huge- diamond ring is parked on her ring finger.
“Holy crap!” I grab her hand and look a little closer. “Jessica!”
“I know!” she bounces. “I didn’t even know he went looking for a ring, and then last night we went downtown to the Sears Tower and up to the observation deck. I was scared shirtless because, you know, I was like a mile up in the air and I turned around and there he was on one knee. I swear to God it was the sweetest thing, Sook.”
“Sweetie, I’m so happy for you!” I pull Jessica into a hug.
Hoyt is such a great guy and as far as he’s concerned Jessica is the only woman in the world. He adores her and I know he would rather cut off his right arm than hurt her.
“Thank you. My parents think we’re too young, but whatever. They were younger than I am now when I was born. Besides, look at their marriage. They aren’t exactly who I look to for advice on relationships.”
I don’t blame her there. Her parents have threatened divorce more than once and to make matters worse, her mother has straight up said that she never would have married Jessica’s father if she hadn’t gotten pregnant with Jessica. I can only imagine how that makes Jess feel. My mom is a hot mess but Dad has never blamed Jason for their marriage.
“Honey, if Hoyt is the one, then that’s all that matters. We’re not kids anymore. You don’t need your parents’ permission to get married.”
“I know, but it’d be nice if they weren’t so damn negative. I swear you’d think Hoyt is an awful person if you just listened to what they say about him.”
Her parents are ridiculous. Hoyt treats Jessica very well, he loves her, he’s got a good job, goes to church and takes care of his mother. What else could they possibly want for her?
“Well I think it’s great,” I tell her. “I’m excited for you both.”
“Good, because you’re my maid of honor,” she says, and pulls me into a hug.
From the time we were thirteen we always said we would be the maid of honor in each others weddings. It’s just one of many pacts best friends make as children that, as an adult, I don’t necessarily expect her to make good on. You know, like giving her first daughter the same middle name as mine.
“Are you sure?” I ask her.
“Of course I’m sure! Sookie, you’re my best friend. Who else would I ask?”
“I know, I just don’t want you to feel obligated or something.”
“Don’t be silly. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want you to do it.”
“Well you didn’t exactly ask,” I point out.
“True. So why are we having this conversation?”
We both laugh while Jessica ties on her apron. Even if she had asked there was no way I would turn her down. For better or for worse she’s my best friend.
“You know, we could pull one of those Brady Bunch double weddings,” she suggests as we leave the back room.
“Thanks, but no. Eric and I aren’t there yet, but definitely pencil him in as my plus one.”
“Pfffft… Girl, I’m gettin’ the permanent marker out for that one. I don’t even know who you’re trying to fool.”
Jessica goes off to show the Berts her ring and I go to Stan’s office to call Eric and see how he’s doing.