Chapter 7: Evil
The next night I ask to borrow dad’s car to take to work. When he finds out Jase left me stranded at work the night before he’s none too happy about it. I wouldn’t say Dad treats me like a princess, exactly, but he doesn’t like it when Jason is a little shit that doesn’t take good care of his sister.
“Time to quit thinkin’ with your pecker, son,” Dad says while I’m sipping coffee at the kitchen table.
“Dad, I was drunk!” Jason argues. “Sook coulda took a cab home.”
“Or you could have kept your promise to me,” I argue. “Would it really have been that hard to stick to just two beers last night?”
“Maybe it ain’t my fault you needed a ride. If you woulda gone to college like you shoulda, you wouldn’t be workin’ overnight in a shitty job you’re too good for and you’d have a better car and wouldn’t need my help,” Jason fires back at me.
I stare at my brother in disbelief. Way back when I was a senior in high school I had been offered a scholarship to ISU. At the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go away to school. I had a boyfriend I was in love with and I liked working at the diner. Back then I wasn’t really thinking about my future in bigger terms.
When I look back I do wish I had gone to school instead of sticking around for a relationship that didn’t last, but it pisses me off that Jason’s bringing this up as a way of absolving himself of any wrongdoing. But then that’s Jason for you. This manchild thinks nothing is ever his fault, even when it’s blatantly obvious that it is. I’m not blaming him for my decision about school because that’s totally on me. What I amblaming him for is his inability to man up and take responsibility for breaking his promise.
“You are unbelievable! I didn’t go to college which is why you couldn’t keep your promise? That is the biggest crock of horse shit I’ve ever heard! Why not try thinking of someone other than yourself for two seconds? You’re so damn selfish! I should be able to count on you and I can’t!” I yell at him and since I’m on a rant it takes everything in me not to tell my brother and father that I had been attacked the week before.
I’m determined to keep this information from them. Telling them will only make them both feel guilty about it and as much as my brother pisses me off I don’t want to burden him with this. There is nothing either of them can do now, aside from being angry at themselves for not figuring it out sooner that I didn’t really slip on some ice.
“Oh grow up!” Jason retorts.
“You first!” I glare at him.
“Enough!” Dad interjects. “You two have been at each other since you were kids and it needs to stop. I’ve had about enough of it. Either you two start working things out and treating each other the way a brother and sister should, or I’m putting you both out.”
Jason and me fighting is a sore subject for Dad. His sister, my Aunt Linda, died two years ago after a long battle with breast cancer. They were very close and Dad always hoped Jason and I would be the same way. Maybe we would be if Jason wasn’t such a self-absorbed a-hole.
“Sookie, you take my car tonight. Next week we’ll go looking for a new car for you. I don’t like you walking around the city so late at night so close to Christmas. You never know what kind of crazies are out there,” Dad says.
“Dad, I don’t have enough money saved up yet.”
“So you’ll pay me back,” he shrugs.
I would argue but the look he shoots me says there’s no room for arguments.
“Thank you, Dad,” I say sincerely.
I finish off my coffee and then go upstairs to shower. Afterward I wrap the gifts I bought at Target a few days before and put them under the tree downstairs. Most of my shopping is done but I still need to buy for Jessica and Holly. We do a grab bag at work every year and I realize I missed the drawing while I was out sick.
When it’s time I change into my work clothes, and at the prospect of seeing Eric I put a little makeup on. I want to feel pretty, and I want him to think I’m pretty. This realization gives me pause. It’s a feeling I’m not prepared for, nor was I expecting it.
Yet every time I think of Eric I smile. There’s something about him I’m extremely curious about, and he makes me feel safe without making me feel weak. They’re good feelings-feelings I haven’t felt for someone in a long, long time.
Maybe that’s why things haven’t worked out for me with other men. I forgot about the butterflies and how important it is to get that rush. I didn’t get those feelings with Alcide. I looked at how he fit all these criteria for what I think makes the perfect mate and I wanted him to fit the mold, but he didn’t. Then I think of Eric and how he’s the opposite of what I want in so many ways, and yet he’s shown more caring for me without saying a word than many men who never stop talking just so they can hear themselves speak.
I leave for work at 1:30 for my 2:00 shift. I’ll be getting off at ten, and I’m off the next day. I park in the employees only lot behind the diner as close to the door as I can. After slicking on another coat of cherry flavored gloss I get out of the car and walk around to the front of the diner. The Berts are parked on their usual stools, drinking coffee and eating pie.
“Hey, Sookie,” they wave at me.
“Hi boys,” I smile at them and head on to the back room.
Stan is already back here, looking over the receipts from the night before.
“Hi, Stan.” I unzip my coat and hang it up.
“Hi, Sookie,” he says without looking up.
“Was there a grab bag drawing this year?” I ask.
“Yeah, there was. I forgot to tell you. Hang on a second,” he says and leaves the room.
I don’t see Eric’s coat hanging up so I’m sure he’s not here. Usually I’m not scheduled to work until closer to evening on Saturday, but I don’t mind getting off before the drunks start showing up. I appreciate Stan cutting me a little slack. At this point I’m the waitress with the most seniority. Jessica isn’t far behind me and Arlene isn’t far from her.
“Here you go,” Stan hands me an envelope with my name on it.
I tear off the side of the envelope and reach into it to pull the name from inside. Last year I had Charles, the night cook, and the year before that it was a waitress named Sweetie that didn’t make it to Valentine’s Day. When I see Eric’s name I can’t help but smile. Honestly I would probably get him a gift anyway, but now I feel justified in doing so.
We always exchange at work on the twenty-third. The diner is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We close early on Thanksgiving and really that’s about it. Otherwise, Stan’s Diner is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Stan gathers up his receipts and goes out to the counter to do his work. The man has an office but rarely ever uses it. I think it gets used more for naps or quiet time than it does actual work. I tie on my apron and put the envelope in my purse.
Just as I’m about to take drink orders at my first table, Eric walks in. He smiles at me and it knocks everything else out of my head.
Man, am I in trouble.
My shift ends before Eric’s, but we agree to hang out after work. I decide to run home and change clothes and Eric gives me his address so I can meet him there at two. The last time I went to a man’s house at the time of the night it wasn’t just to hang out.
I ditch my uniform and put on a pair of yoga pants with a layered v-neck top. I set my alarm clock for one hour to get in a little nap. I don’t think I ever really fall asleep but the rest energizes me. When my alarm goes off I take my hair out of the braid I put it in earlier and leave it hanging in waves down my back. I touch up my makeup just a little and then head out again.
Eric lives three blocks away from the restaurant. I leave a note for Dad just in case he wakes up before I get home so he’s not worried about me. Finding a parking space near Eric’s apartment isn’t easy, and I end up walking a block and a half to get back to his place. He lives above a Cuban restaurant and I can smell fried plantains outside the place when I stop to ring the buzzer.
I see lights on in the apartment above the restaurant. A few seconds later Eric comes down to open the door for me. He’s changed clothes as well and he’s accompanied by a very friendly chocolate Labrador retriever that is immediately sniffing me out.
“You made it,” Eric says as if he’s surprised to see me.
“Of course,” I smile back. I reach down to pet his dog and ask, “Who’s this friendly fella?”
“Sunday,” he says.
“Sunday?” I look up at Eric.
“That’s the day of the week I got him,” he shrugs.
His practicality in naming his pet makes me grin, and he corrals his dog back inside so I can come in. Sunday leads the charge up the stairs to the apartment and Eric follows behind me. He lives in a studio space but since it’s just him and Sunday, I don’t suppose he needs more room.
A bunch of bookcases section off his sleeping area. There’s an old couch, a small TV and a little table big enough for two. I’m guessing Eric doesn’t have very many house guests.
“Would you like some ice cream?” he asks, and that catches me off guard.
“Ice cream?” I look at him with a smile. “No, thanks. It’s a little too cold for ice cream.”
“Suit yourself.” Eric goes to his freezer and gets a pint out of there.
He’s interesting. His bookshelves are fully stocked and I notice an old record player in the corner. I go over to look at the albums he has.
“Those belonged to my parents,” he says as I flip through them.
“Really? How did you manage to hold onto them?”
Eric looks a little uncomfortable for a few seconds before he explains, “My case worker held onto them for me. After my parents died the court appointed a guardian to look out for my interests so that my foster parents couldn’t bleed my inheritance dry. There was a big payout from the insurance company.”
“There was a double indemnity clause in their policies, so it was a lot of money,” he says, but doesn’t say how much.
I don’t ask because it’s none of my business. Given where he’s living the money is either all gone or he never touches it. His apartment isn’t one I would expect someone living off of an inheritance to live in.
“Can I ask what happened to them?” I ask. I know what a double indemnity clause is, so if the insurance company paid out on it then it’s not like his parents died of natural causes.
“They were murdered,” he says, and I can’t stop staring at him. “My father was a researcher for a very secretive chemical company. At the time he was commissioned to do research into the possibility of making a synthetic blood that could sustain a human life in times of crisis when there might be a blood shortage.
“Word of the project leaked. If my father had been successful it could have changed the face of medicine. Instances of communicable diseases being passed via blood transfusion would basically be nonexistent. In times of natural disaster there would be an immediate blood supply to treat the wounded. It was a brilliant idea and my father was very close to cracking the code, so to speak.
“Except there were some very right wing extremists who thought this was a little too much like Frankenstein science. They believed that life and death isn’t up for mankind to determine. They threatened my father’s company, but he didn’t let that deter him from his work. The threats became more frequent but Dad ignored them. Then one night I had parent/teacher conferences at school. Both of my parents attended.
“When we got home they were already inside the house. I went up to my room to get ready for bed and I heard my mother screaming down stairs. I went down to see what was happening and there was a bunch of yelling. When I got downstairs my parents were struggling with five large men in black. I froze where I was. My father was already bleeding from his face. A sixth man grabbed me from behind.
“My mother begged and pleaded for them to let me go, or at least for them not to hurt me. I don’t really remember everything they said to my father, but every time he didn’t answer a question the way they wanted, either my mother or I were stabbed,” he tells me.
Tears in my eyes spill over as I realize where all of those scars come from.
“Why didn’t your father just tell them what they wanted to know?” I ask without thinking about the way the question probably sounds to Eric. If someone was holding my son hostage and stabbing him for every time I refused to answer a question I would tell them everything they wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” Eric says. “There are a lot of things about that night I blocked out. The torture went on for hours. Eventually I decided to play dead, thinking they would leave me alone. They left me on the living room floor and went after my parents. I watched as they were murdered a little at a time. Before they left they ransacked the house to find my father’s research, but he didn’t keep that stuff in the house.
“They didn’t leave until just before sunrise. By then I’d lost a lot of blood but I was able to get to the phone in the kitchen to call for help. My father’s throat had been cut and he bled to death before the paramedics arrived. My mother and I were rushed to the hospital. She died in surgery from internal bleeding. I was in the hospital for two weeks, watched by armed guards. I didn’t get to go to my parents’ funerals. They left everything to me.
“They were both only children and my grandparents were all already dead. I was taken in by my father’s former employer for a few years. He felt guilty for my parents’ deaths. I acted out a lot, and it got to be too much for them to handle so I became a ward of the state at the age of ten. I bounced between foster homes and halfway houses until I ran away at fifteen and made my way west. I got as far as Chicago before I stopped running and I’ve been here ever since,” Eric concludes.
I don’t even know what to say. Now I know where all of his scars come from and I don’t just mean the ones on his body. I feel like anything I could say right now wouldn’t be quite right.
“I don’t know what to say, other than I’m sorry, Eric. I can’t imagine going through the things you did as a child,” I tell him.
What worries me is his level of detachment from what happened. I’m wiping tears off my cheeks and hurting for him and Eric looks like this is no big deal. While it’s true he’s had a lot more time to deal with all of this than I have, his silence makes me think he hasn’t talked about this very much.
“The people who did this, were they ever caught?” I ask him.
“It took a while, but yes, they were. They were all convicted of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, home invasion, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and a few other things,” he says. “Four of the six had prior murder convictions and were given the death penalty. The other two were given life sentences. One died of cancer two years ago and the other was killed in his cell.”
I go over to the couch and sit down. That was a lot of information to get in a matter of minutes and I have a much better understanding of why Eric is the way he is.
“If you think I’m a freak now I understand,” he says.
I look up at him and say, “Eric, I don’t think you’re a freak at all. I think you’re an incredible person to go through all of this and maintain your sanity.”
I stand up and cross the room to hug him.
“Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me your story,” I say as I squeeze him tightly.
He’s getting better at this hugging thing, although I can tell it still makes him a little uncomfortable. I feel Eric petting my hair a little bit and it makes me smile. When I look up at him he looks less haunted.
Something has shifted between Eric and me and I like it. I like it a lot.