Chapter 9: Head Over Feet
“Jess, I’m going home with Eric,” I tell her toward the end of our shift.
She gives me a knowing look and says, “You’ll have to let me know just how good that tongue is.”
I throw my head back and laugh.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I promise.
The diner is pretty much dead when the three of us leave at two.
“You two want a ride?” Jessica offers as we walk around to the back of the diner.
I look to Eric and he says, “It’s up to you.”
“Holy shit, he does talk. Sookie, you’re like that miracle worker lady that worked with Helen Keller.”
I roll my eyes but Eric laughs. Laughs.
Jessica doesn’t know what to do with herself. I can pretty much guarantee she’s never heard Eric laugh before. The talking is a big enough surprise, but the laughing is almost too much.
I want to say I told you so, but I don’t. Eric’s not making a liar out of me and that’s good enough.
“It’s cold, but I think I want to walk,” I tell her.
“Okay. Then I’ll see you guys later.” Jess hugs me and even hugs Eric, too. He doesn’t hug her back, but he doesn’t panic. “You’ll get used to that. Sook and me are a package deal.”
“It’s true,” I tell him. “But I’ll get her to tone it down.”
Eric does his best to not look uncomfortable, even though I know he is. He’s not used to being social and I don’t expect him to come out of his shell overnight. Honestly there’s a part of me that likes the idea of having him to myself for a while. It sounds selfish, but I know once his walls come down he’s going to make a ton of friends.
He deserves it. After all the things he’s been through he deserves to have everything he’s ever wanted. Granted I don’t know what those things are, but regardless… I want him to have it all.
Jessica gets in her car and we start walking toward Eric’s apartment.
“How long have you and Jessica been friends?” he asks.
“Since we were twelve, so for almost fourteen years now.”
“That’s a long time.”
“Yeah, it is. She’s like the big sister I never had. Sometimes she’s like my mother, too, but I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She gets a little intense sometimes, but she means well.”
“I like her sense of humor,” he admits, and with that alone I know he and Jess will get along fine in time.
“Jess is definitely a character.”
“I’ve never really had many friends,” Eric confesses. This doesn’t surprise me at all. “I’ve been afraid to get close to people since my parents died. But the minute I saw you I knew you were different from anyone I’ve ever met.”
“What made you think that?”
“I don’t know if I can put my finger on it,” he says and it doesn’t seem like a copout.
Sometimes just an intuited feeling is enough. I don’t know how to explain that either. It’s that feeling where it makes your hair stand up, or you feel like you’ve been sucker punched. The feeling is just there from out of the blue. I don’t know why or where it comes from, but it’s there.
“I know what you mean,” I smile up at him.
Eric reaches for my hand and I’m more than willing to let him take it. Being with him is easy. It scares me a little how easy it is.
The walk back to Eric’s apartment doesn’t take too long. When we get there Sunday is whining on the other side of the door. Whether he’s eager for a little human contact or a bathroom break I can’t be sure.
“I need to take him out. You can stay here if you want,” Eric offers.
I weigh my options and decide that staying in might be best considering how cold I already am.
“I think I might stay here and warm up. These sweatpants aren’t as warm as they look.”
“Okay,” he says as he leashes the dog. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Make yourself comfortable.”
“I’ll be here.”
Eric grabs a plastic shopping bag, presumably to pick up Sunday’s mess, and before they leave Eric gives me a little kiss goodbye. I take off my boots so I don’t track melting sludge through his apartment and then go to the bank of windows that overlook the street below. Eric and Sunday are walking to the right when they come out of the building and I watch until I can’t see them anymore.
After that I take off my scarf, coat and gloves. I stuff the gloves in the pockets and the scarf into the sleeve. I take off my hoodie and then unzip my uniform. It feels sort of weird to be almost topless in Eric’s place, but only because I’m not sure what his reaction would be if he walked in to see me this way.
When he brought me home after I was attacked and I jumped off the glider, his eyes weren’t fixed on my chest like I might have expected them to be. I’m glad they weren’t, though, given the fact that he knew why my uniform was in such disarray. I fold up my uniform and stuff it into my purse. I’m not ashamed to admit that I thought ahead about this. Just in case I packed one of my little spaghetti strap tank tops in there.
I put that on and then my hoodie over it. In the bathroom I check my makeup and brush my teeth with my finger to get the taste of stale coffee off my tongue. I’m looking over Eric’s book collection when I hear Sunday coming up the stairs. As soon as Eric opens the door his dog comes running toward me. Sunday greets me enthusiastically, licking my hand and nuzzling against me, while Eric takes off his coat and boots.
“It started snowing,” he says while I’m giving Sunday a good head scratching.
“I hope there’s snow on Christmas morning. It’s bad enough that my step-mom seems to have an aversion to real Christmas trees; I don’t know if I can handle dad barbecuing dinner again like last year.”
That gets me thinking about Eric’s plans for Christmas and I realize that he probably doesn’t have any. It makes me sad to think of him spending the day alone when he should be spending it with family. Sadder still is knowing he’s been spending Christmas alone for years.
I suddenly feel ungrateful for complaining about anything. Okay so Jason is annoying, and yes Pam puts up a tacky ass tree, but at least I have a family. Eric has no one.
“What do you do for Christmas?” Eric asks me.
“Well, on Christmas Eve we usually go by my step-mom’s parents’ house and on Christmas day we stay home. We do gifts in the morning and my step-mom makes dinner. Sometimes we go see a movie or something, but usually we just stay home all day.”
“Sounds nice,” he smiles.
“What about you?”
I can’t help but notice he doesn’t have any Christmas decorations up. Maybe he’s not christian.
“I don’t really do the Christmas thing,” he says, his eyes avoiding mine. “Not since… you know.”
I feel a stab in my chest.
I’m torn between wanting to invite him and not wanting to pressure him into a social situation, and one with implications since it would mean meeting my family. It took him four years and an extreme situation before he finally talked to me. I can’t imagine him feeling comfortable around Pam or Jason.
“Well there’s no pressure, but if you don’t want to be alone you could come by my house,” I offer just because I don’t want him to feel like he doesn’t have any options.
“That’s very nice of you but I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet,” he says a bit awkwardly.
“It’s okay. I just hate to think of you being alone.”
“I’m used to it,” he shrugs casually.
It kills me that to him it’s not a big deal. I cross over to where he’s standing and hug him again. More than anything I find myself wanting to hug him. Maybe to try and make up for all of the hugs he hasn’t gotten in his life. I know I can’t erase however many years of loneliness it’s been, but I can try.
“Will you stay here with me tonight?” Eric asks. I lift my head off his chest and tilt my face up toward his. Before I can say anything he says, “Just to sleep, I promise.”
“Well that’s a little disappointing,” I respond with a smile. “But yes, I can stay here if you’re sure that’s what you want.”
He nods and I push up on my toes to kiss him. I’m guessing he’s the only person that’s ever slept on his bed but of course I could be wrong about that. Eric pulls back and excuses himself to go get ready for bed. He goes to the sectioned off area where his bed is and comes back with a pair of flannel pants.
Eric pauses on his way to the bathroom to kiss my forehead and then he goes in. Sunday circles my legs and licks my hand a few times. I scratch behind his ears for a few seconds until I hear the water running in the bathroom. I retract my hand and go to the kitchen to wash my hands. When I see the refrigerator front I stop short.
There’s a picture hanging by a magnet from the Halloween party at work two years before. The picture used to be on the bulletin board in Stan’s office. It also used to include more than just me. I wonder how long Eric has been in possession of this picture.
Then I remember what he said on the way home about how he knew right away that I was different from everyone else. Does this mean he’s had a crush on me for four years? Jiminy crickets.
The bathroom door opens and I hustle to start washing my hands. I’m still lathering them up when Eric comes up behind me and grabs onto my hips.
“How long have you had that picture on your fridge?” I ask. I’m probably not, but I feel like I’m entitled to an answer.
“A while,” he says and lets go of my hips.
I rinse my hands and turn off the water before turning to face Eric. He’s got this nervous look on his face and he’s shirtless.
“I’m not upset, Eric. I’m just trying to get a handle on things, that’s all. We’ve known each other for more than four years now, and up until two weeks ago you never spoke to me. I’m so glad that you did because you’re amazing and sweet and funny in your own way. The thing is, I feel like you’ve got me at a disadvantage.
“I know that opening up to people isn’t something you do easily and I don’t expect to know everything about you all at once. I like that you’re revealing things little by little. You’re letting me in and I feel honored that you are. On the other hand you’ve had four years to get to know me, to overhear conversations, watch my mannerisms… to know that I prefer water to coffee when I’m upset. Four years of working together and all that time you had feelings… If I hadn’t been attacked would you ever have talked to me?”
“I’d like to think so, but I don’t know,” he admits.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me Eric. I’m only trying to understand, that’s all. I know this is new for you.”
For once I’m really not in a rush the way I usually am, and it’s because my gut tells me that he’s worth waiting for, the same as he waited for me.
“I’m trying,” he says.
“I know. I promise not going to ask for anything more than that.”
“Are you tired?”
Eric reaches for my hand and leads me over to his bed. Sunday is already curled up on his bed in the corner.
“Which side do you usually sleep on? I ask.
“The middle,” Eric admits with a small smile.
“Get comfy. I’m going to go lock up and then off the lights.”
Eric leaves my side and I pull back the comforter. The huge bed is on a frame, but there’s no headboard. I climb up as the lights go out. The locks click into place and as Eric’s coming back I unzip my hoodie to take it off. My bra follows and Eric watches me.
I’m keenly aware, as he’s getting into bed with me, of all the skin that’s exposed and of how close we’re about to be to each other. Eric stretches out and I do the same. We turn so we’re face to face and he pulls the blanket up around us. His bed is comfortable.
“Are you cold?” he asks.
“No, I think I’m okay, thank you.”
We’re not touching at all and that doesn’t seem right. I scoot a little closer and put Eric’s hand on my hip.
“Goodnight, Eric,” I say quietly.
I lean in to kiss him goodnight, but what was meant to be an innocent peck on the lips doesn’t stay that way. His lips feel too good on mine and even though I know I should pull back I can’t seem to make myself do it. The hand on my hip moves to the small of my back and pulls me closer to him. I don’t mind it at all, especially when that hand slowly moves up my spine and his fingers tangle in my hair.
I end up flinging a leg over his, and pulling him on top of me when I want to roll onto my back. Eric braces most of his weight on his elbows, but not all of it, and I like being pinned under him. I break the kiss and move my lips along his jaw until I reach his neck. I know I’ve found the right spot when he makes a little noise and I wrap my legs around him.
When I thrust my hips up a little bit I get the first hint of his size and holy guacamole. I have never been so thankful to not be a virgin in my whole life. I keep working that spot in his neck and when Eric moves to touch my boob, I don’t stop him. In fact, I would gladly take off my tank top if he asked me to.
I keep rubbing my hips against his very sizeable erection until Eric is the one to pull the plug. I could easily keep going but I respect his request to stop.
I kiss his chin and unwrap my legs from around his waist. Eric rolls to the side and a little voice in my mind tells me to offer him a hand release, but Eric was the one to stop things and I don’t want him to think I’m being pushy. I roll onto my side so my back is to his front, but I make sure I’m not too close.
Eric drapes his arm over my stomach, and without another word we both close our eyes and go to sleep.