I was definitely surprised to see Johan at the bar. He and Pam had definitely pulled off a pretty big surprise, which was shocking considering my twin’s big mouth. After having a quick discussion over what sort of things he’d been filling our mother’s head with, I was convinced Johan had been the one to put the idea in her head that Sookie and I were talking about marriage as something we were seriously considering in the near future. I wanted to kill him.
“You realize that every single time she calls, she asks if I’ve proposed to Sookie, right?” I glared at my brother.
“She wants to be a mormor, lille bror.” Johan shrugged. “We all know I’m too irresponsible for that.”
“She’s been wanting to be a grandmother since we turned twenty-five.” I rolled my eyes at the thoughts of all the nagging conversations about how Johan and I needed to get ourselves settled.
I’d tried to explain that not all of us were lucky enough to find our soul mate the way Mom and Dad seemed to have done, but it went in one ear and out the other where my mother was concerned. Frankly, the fact that Johan didn’t have a few little ones running around was a little on the shocking side. He had certainly been less discriminating where women were concerned.
“She wants us to be happy, Eric. I might be the flighty one, but she obviously worries about you more.”
It was true. Mom had always worried more about me, while Dad had worried about Johan. I think it was because I had inherited my father’s more disciplined personality. When I set my mind on something, I didn’t let anything get in my way of obtaining it. The most impetuous thing Dad had ever done in his life was fall in love with Mom. It was a risk that had paid off quite well for him, and I could see shades of the same thing happening between Sookie and me. Without really knowing her all that well, I had let myself fall for her. But I wouldn’t change it any more than Dad would go back and do things differently with Mom.
I knew Mom worried about me because I was more of a perfectionist. I saw things a certain way, and I had no tolerance for plans not going accordingly. She worried my drive, or need to have things go my way would ultimately lead to heartbreak for me. Thing was, I’d never had to worry about not getting what I wanted. I never expected anything to fall into my lap. I worked for everything I had. There was no coasting along, waiting for opportunities to find me like they did with Johan. My twin would have made an excellent hippy, which was part of the reason he and my father clashed so frequently.
“Tell me something I don’t know, stor bror.”
“You’re wasting your time with Sookie.” Johan said in a dead serious voice.
“Excuse me?” My defenses rose, and for a second, I thought I might have to punch out my brother.
“You love her, yes? You’ve told me you’ve talked about marriage. You want to marry her. You live together. She loves you. She wants to marry you. So what the hell is stopping you from putting a ring on her finger already? Don’t dick around waiting for some perfect moment that’s never going to come.” Johan jabbed me in the chest before walking off to go dance with Pam.
I glanced over at Sookie, who was laughing with Felicia, while helping her slice limes. I excused myself from behind the bar to go take care of some paperwork I knew Pam was waiting for me to sign off on. I really didn’t want to have to come back to the bar just to sign papers. If all went according to plan, I wouldn’t be setting foot in the bar until after the first of the new year.
I looked over the papers Pam needed me to sign, and made quick work of them. I flagged the papers I wanted copies of for my own personal records before leaving the office. Johan’s suitcase was in the corner, and I wondered if Johan would be staying with Pam before the two of them followed us to California. My father and Pam together was one hell of a combination. It was hard to tell which of them had been in the service when they got rolling. Sookie was certainly in for a treat.
I sighed and stood against the wall for a minute. The office door opened and Pam stepped inside. “There you are. I was starting to wonder where you’d disappeared to. You’re almost unrecognizable these days without a curvy blonde attached to your side.”
“Stifle it, Pam.” I wasn’t in the mood.
“What crawled up your ass and died?”
“What’s going on with you and my brother?”
“Can’t we team up once in a while to pull one over on you?”
“If I thought that’s all you were doing, I wouldn’t care. Where’s he staying while he’s in town?”
“I encouraged him to stay with you, but he reminded me how cranky you are if you aren’t getting laid regularly.” Pam snorted before taking a seat on the edge of the desk.
“Pam…” I shook my head.
“Oh get your knickers out of the twist they’re in, will you?”
“What the hell are you doing with my brother? You never used to keep secrets from me, Pam.”
It was true. In fact, Pam was the queen of TMI, and I often found myself cringing from the things she told me. I didn’t really need to hear about her menstrual cramps or about the irritation caused from an over-zealous bikini waxer. Pam had always just rolled her eyes and told me to get over myself. If she was keeping mum now, it had to be something big.
“Did it ever occur to you that there are some things that happen in my life that aren’t any of your business?” Pam glared at me. Oh, she was definitely hiding something.
“Pam, you tell me all sorts of shit that isn’t my business. If you’re hiding this from me, you must be ashamed of it.” From the look on her face, I knew she was- at least on some level.
“You remember when Thalia broke up with Johan?” Pam could barely look at me.
“How could I forget? It was during March Madness our senior year.”
“Yeah, well, I never told you I went up to New York when Johan called me. I missed the UCLA game because of it.” Pam looked me right in the eyes as she spoke. “I spent three days in New York with him. We talked about what happened with Thalia. On my last night there, it was St. Patrick’s Day. We got stinking drunk on Irish Car Bombs and whiskey shots. We ended up sleeping together.”
I laughed through my nose. Of course they slept together. Why the hell hadn’t I put it together sooner? It certainly explained a lot. I just shook my head. I really didn’t want to know any more about their relationship. I was sorry I’d even asked. I don’t know if it was the fact that the two of them had been lying to me for almost a decade, or if it was just the knowledge that they’d slept together at all. Either way, I was pissed off.
“That’s enough, Pam.” I waved her off and left her in the office. I couldn’t be around her anymore.
I walked out to the bar intending to get myself a shot of tequila, and then dance with Sookie until I wasn’t pissed off anymore. Instead, I found her face to face with Bill Compton and the Red Menace, who had been keeping a surprisingly low profile since the accident. In fact, the last time I remembered seeing her was the night of the accident. Not that I’d missed her. As far as I was concerned, she could fall off the planet, and it wouldn’t make the least bit of difference to me. I just wasn’t crazy about how close she was to Sookie.
When Bill reached out to touch Sookie, I snapped. Before I knew what was happening, I was across the room and throwing a punch at Bill that sent him flying into some unsuspecting girl standing behind him. But I didn’t stop there. I was vaguely aware of Sookie yelling from behind me to stop what I was doing, but I couldn’t. It hit him over and over again. I couldn’t stop myself. I completely lost whatever control I had, and it wasn’t until Johan and Chow pulled me off of Bill that the fighting stopped. Actually, it wasn’t really a fight so much as me completely annihilating Bill.
I was shaking with rage, and would have gone back for more if Johan wouldn’t have pulled me toward the back of the bar. Felicia was already on the phone calling 911, since Bill had lost consciousness. Sookie was following behind us with a look of pure shock on her face. Pam wiped her tears as Johan pushed me into the office.
“What the hell happened?” Pam took one look at my bloody hand and stared from me to Johan to Sookie.
“Rambo here decided to unload whatever frustration he was feeling on that Compton asshole.”
“What?” Pam about shrieked. “What the fuck is that asshole doing in my bar?”
“Apparently he got past security. A little ice would be nice, Pam. The cops will be here soon.”
Pam groaned and shook her head. “Great! Thanks, Eric!”
“Fuck you, Pam!” I yelled at her. The last thing I was worried about, at the moment, was Pam’s party.
I collapsed on the couch and closed my eyes. The office door closed and then Sookie’s smell filled my nose as her small hand reached for mine. I could feel her staring at me, waiting for an explanation, but I couldn’t get my eyes to open.
“What the hell was that about, Eric?”
“I was pissed off at Pam, and then I saw Bill touch you after everything that’s happened, and I just snapped.” I explained to her.
“I’ll say.” She sounded tired and extremely disappointed in me.
“I’m not sorry.” I opened my eyes and looked into hers. “I probably should be, but I’m not. That fucker is going to get away with all of the shit he pulled.”
“So you thought maybe you’d exact your own brand of justice on him? You could go to jail for this, Eric! You think he’s not going to press charges? You just assaulted him in a bar full of people for no reason. I wasn’t in eminent danger. He didn’t have a knife to my throat or a gun to my head. He hadn’t said anything remotely threatening to me. In fact, he was the same creepy polite he always is to me. There are witnesses to what happened, and none of it is going to look good for you.” Sookie stared hard at me.
The reality of the situation started to filter in. I still wasn’t sorry I’d clobbered Bill, but I was sorry for the trouble I was about to cause everyone involved. In a matter of seconds I’d managed to beat Bill to hell, ruin the bar’s Christmas party, and maybe it’s reputation. The worst of it was, I clearly had a very pissed off Sookie sitting next to me who wasn’t feeling too sorry for my situation. I’d really fucked things up.
Johan came back into the room with a bucket of ice and some napkins. “The cops are here. They want to talk to you.”
“Yeah, of course they do.” I sighed.
“I can take Sookie home, if you want?” Johan offered.
Sookie and I locked eyes. “That’s probably a good idea. I’m sure Eric’s going to be there for a while.” Her voice was bitter, and I didn’t blame her one bit. “Call me when you know how much your bail is.”
She didn’t kiss me goodbye or offer me any sort of comfort before she got up and stormed out. I was seriously in the doghouse with her. From the look on Pam’s face, it was obvious Sookie wasn’t the only woman in my life who was pissed at me. I walked over to Detective Twinings, and pretty much turned myself in. The detective looked disappointed as he pulled a pair of handcuffs from his jacket pocket.
“Eric Northman, you’re under arrest for the assault and battery of Bill Compton…” He read me my rights as he closed the cuffs around my wrists.
I nodded along numbly, but couldn’t take my eyes off of Sookie, who was crying silently in the corner as she watched.
Up until that night, I figured the worst night of my life was the night Annika died. I hadn’t realized how much I loved my sister until I lost her. Not to mention, it was like she’d taken a part of all of us with her when she’d gone. It was while I was being interrogated at the police station that I realized I’d seen a look in Sookie’s eyes that was very similar to the way my mother looked when she’d told Johan and me about Annika’s death. I felt like shit, and I hated myself for putting her through this.
I told Detective Twinings everything he wanted to know. I really didn’t have any excuse for what I’d done. I’d attacked Bill because he was the most convenient punching bag at the moment. The detective seemed slightly sympathetic, and admitted that if he had been in my position and saw someone like Compton touching his wife, he’d probably react badly, too.
“Look, Eric, I get it, I do. You just can’t go around beating the hell out of people like that.” Detective Twinings rubbed his eyes.
“It’s not how I normally deal with things.”
“Yeah, I know. You don’t have anything more serious than a speeding ticket on your record.”
“So what happens now?”
“Well, I’m going to type up your statement. You’ll read it over and sign off on it. You’ll go back to lock up until your arraignment, which won’t be until Monday since tomorrow is Sunday.”
I grimaced at the idea of having to spend more than a few hours in jail. This was really, really going to suck, but it’s not like I had a choice. “Can I make a phone call?”
“Yeah, you get one phone call.” The detective nodded.
Great. I really hoped Sookie would have her cell in her hand when I called. At least I wasn’t issued a jumpsuit. Since Franklin Park was a smaller town, I didn’t have to worry about sharing my cell with a bunch of gang bangers and drug dealers. I did, however, have to start thinking about how I was going to explain my shiny new arrest record to the school board, since I was pretty sure they would be notified I’d been arrested for a violent crime. My life started to flash before my eyes, but I had to put a stop to it. I wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of what I’d done quite yet.
First, I needed to know where Sookie stood with me. Coming to terms with everything was going to be much easier if I knew she wasn’t going to walk away from me. The realization that she was the absolute, hands down, most important thing in my life had me thinking about what Johan had said behind the bar. He was right. I had been wasting time where Sookie is concerned. I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. Nothing else mattered anymore if she wasn’t there. If she couldn’t forgive me for this, jail time would be the easiest part of the consequences I suffered.
Pam already had the contact info for my attorney, and I knew she was probably already making the call before I was even being taken out of the bar. I waited in the interview room while Detective Twinings typed up my statements for me to sign. After that was done, I was taken out to the hallway to make my phone call from a dirty old phone mounted on the wall. Detective Twinings stood there while I dialed Sookie’s cell number, and prayed she would answer.
“Eric?” The sound of her voice brought tears to my eyes.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“So, what’s the damage?”
“I’ve been charged with Battery. It’s a Class A Misdemeanor.”
“What do I have to do to get you out?”
“My arraignment will be on Monday, so I’ll be in lock up here at the police station until then.” The sound of her gasping and then sputtering for air on the other end of the line broke my heart. “Don’t cry, Sookie.”
“You’re an idiot, Eric.” She spat at me.
“I don’t think you do.” She was agitated and as sad as I was, I knew it. “What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t.” I said simply, since it was the truth.
“What about your lawyer?”
“Pam’s taking care of it, I’m sure.”
“I’ll follow up with her. What time is your arraignment Monday?”
I looked to Detective Twinings and asked him.
“Nine.” He said loud enough for Sookie to hear.
“Did you get that?”
“Where?” I looked to the detective.
“Maywood.” He said loudly.
“I’ll be there.” Sookie sounded resigned.
“Sookie, I’m sorry.” I apologized to her.
“No, you’re not.” She said coldly. “I love you, you son of a bitch.” She hung up before I could say it back, and it broke my heart all over again.
I couldn’t believe it. Eric rarely even cursed in traffic, much less did I think he was capable of something like what he did to Bill. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined taking a swing or two at the man myself, but I never would have acted on it. To see Eric fly off into a rage like he did was just shocking to me. It made me wonder just how well I knew him. I thought I knew everything, but after the attack, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
I didn’t say much after Eric had been taken from the bar. I wanted to go over and kiss him goodbye, but I just couldn’t do it. Johan had driven me home like he’d promised he would. He offered to stick around but I really just wanted to be alone for a while. I needed time to think about things, and I didn’t want Johan around when Eric called. I promised to keep him updated on what was going on before he left.
I took off my dress and hung it in the closet. I pulled on a pair of warm flannel pajamas and crawled into bed. I rolled into Eric’s pillow, and before I knew it, my body was wracked with sobs. I cried until there was nothing left. I tried to imagine where Eric was, and the idea of him in some dirty holding cell made my insides twist. I wanted to call Amelia and tell her all about this. She would know what to say to make me feel better. If nothing else, she would drop whatever she was doing to sit with me until I knew what was going to happen.
When my cell phone finally rang, I took a second to clear my throat before I opened the phone to take the call. Eric sounded as broken as I felt, which didn’t make things any easier. He told me he was being charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, but I didn’t have any idea what that meant. I knew it was better than being charged with a felony, but I still didn’t feel good about it. Finding out he was going to be stuck in jail until Monday, at least, was hard to take. I was angry with him, but I wanted him home.
When I hung up on him before he could tell me he loved me, I immediately regretted it. I didn’t doubt he loved me. I knew something was up with him even before we went to the party, but obviously something had happened with Johan to make things worse. After a second round of more tears than I thought my body was capable of producing, I called Johan.
“Eric’s being charged with Battery.” I told Johan, although from the sound he made, he already figured that much out. “He’s being arraigned on Monday at nine at the Maywood courthouse.”
“I’ll be there. So will Pam.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Look, I don’t know what happened between you two before he snapped like that, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea if you and Pam are there.”
“Sookie, he’s my brother.” Johan argued.
“Yeah, I know, which is why I’m asking you to put him before yourself.” I didn’t want to fight with Johan. “Let me bail him out, assuming that’s even possible, and then when he gets home you two can talk.”
“I don’t like this, Sookie.”
“You think I do?” I yelled at Johan since there was no one else to yell at. “I’m sorry. I’m mad at Eric, and I’m taking it out on you. It’s not fair.”
“Well, if you can’t yell at Eric, I guess I’m the next best thing.” Johan joked, but I wasn’t in the mood.
There was a long pause before Johan said, “If you really think it’s better for us to stay away, then that’s what we’ll do. Besides, I know you two probably have some things to talk about, and you don’t need a peanut gallery decked out in Prada telling you your business. Ouch!” Johan shouted something to Pam in the background I couldn’t quite make out. “Just promise you’ll call me if you need anything.”
“I will, I promise. Goodnight, Johan.”
“Goodnight, Sookie.” He said before hanging up the phone.
I closed my phone and put it down next to my pillow, praying for a miracle that would somehow get Eric out of this whole mess. Somehow, I was pretty sure my prayer was going to go unanswered.
In order to keep my mind off of what was happening with Eric, I decided to stick to my original plan for Sunday. I woke up later than I wanted to, but I still made myself the waffles I’d been craving. After I ate, I showered and got myself dressed. I only stared longingly at Eric’s side of the bed twice before I forced myself out of the room. Jeter had taken on the role of my shadow, as he almost always did whenever I was in a bad mood. He’d spent the night cuddled up at my feet, and didn’t complain when I called him into the house after I’d let him out to do his business.
I started to wonder whether or not our plans for Christmas would have to change. Could someone facing criminal charges leave the state? I groaned at the thought of having to call Eric’s parents to see if they would be willing to come to Chicago instead of us flying out to see them. I had really been looking forward to a break from the cold weather, but the more I thought about it, the more I was sure Eric wouldn’t be able to cross state lines without facing further charges.
I got in my car and headed for a tree lot in Mt. Prospect I’d been told had really good trees. I immersed myself in Christmas music, hoping it would help lift my spirits. Singing along with Brenda Lee had done its part, but then the song changed to “Please Come Home For Christmas,” and I almost had to pull over, I was crying so hard. My makeup was completely ruined by the time I got to the tree lot on the corner of Golf Road and Busse Highway. I cleaned up my face as best I could before getting out of the car.
I started drifting along the rows of trees, looking for a tree that was about six feet tall. I was walking through the rows of trees when a man that looked a little too much like Eric for my own liking approached me to ask if I needed any help. He wasn’t quite as tall, and his complexion was a bit more ruddy, but he had the same masculine lines to his face. His shoulders were just as broad and his build was very similar.
“Anything I can help you with?” He asked with a warm smile, in spite of the chill in the air.
“Just looking around.” I offered a weak smile in return.
“Alright, well, if you need me, I’ll be just over there.” He pointed to a small trailer at the other side of the lot.
“Thanks.” I nodded, and went back to looking at trees.
It took a while before I found one I liked, and headed over to the little trailer to pay for the tree. The young blond man was sitting with a brunette girl who had a hearty laugh and bright hazel eyes. The way they were sitting suggested they were probably a couple. The girl kissed the boy on the cheek when he got up to help me, and I hated them both for a split second. They looked so happy with one another. All it did was remind me that Eric was supposed to be doing this with me. We were supposed to pick out a tree together. We were supposed to take it home and drag it into the house. We were supposed to decorate it while listening to Christmas music. We were supposed to sit on the sofa and admire our work until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. That wasn’t going to happen now.
I paid for the tree and let the blond man tie the tree to the roof of my car. I was thankful I didn’t have to get on an express way in order to get home. I would be taking the drive slow as it was. Just getting the tree in the house could potentially be a problem. I was hoping it wasn’t too heavy. I really didn’t want to call Johan over to help me, but I worried I wouldn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. The drive home took longer than I thought it would, thanks to a train that stopped me in Bensenville.
I tried to get the tree off the roof, but to no avail. So, I begrudgingly called Johan. He promised to leave immediately. Twenty minutes later he was pulling into a parking space across the street from the house. It was hard to see Johan walking toward me, knowing that even though he was wearing the face of the man I loved, it wasn’t him. We greeted each other silently with a wave and a smile.
He helped me get the tree into the house and upright in the stand. I’d shifted the furniture around before he’d come by, and had to decide what to do with the arm chair that was usually in the space the tree was occupying. I went to get the boxes of decorations Eric had retrieved from my house for me from the basement where he’d left them. Johan was fiddling with the stereo upstairs, searching for the station that played Christmas music.
“You’re looking for 93.9.” I told him.
“Thanks.” He smiled over his shoulder at me, and my heart cracked.
“So, no Pam?”
“She wanted to come, but I wanted to talk to you alone.” Johan turned toward me after finding the radio station he was looking for. “Pam told me what happened with her and Eric last night before the fight happened.”
“It wasn’t really much of a fight, now was it?”
“I don’t think Eric was hitting Bill last night.”
“No, that was Bill.”
“That’s not what I mean. Years ago I was dating someone years ago, and it ended badly. It was the first, and only, time I’ve had my heart broken. I thought Thalia was the one. Apparently, she felt differently. Anyway, it was a messy breakup, and I was devastated. It was around the same time Eric was just going into March Madness, so it’s not like he could take a leave of absence to help me deal, but I wasn’t really ready for the guy attitude of keeping a stiff upper lip about things. I ended up calling Pam to get the female perspective on what went wrong.
“I’d known Pam for about three years at that point. We weren’t super, but that was exactly what I needed. I needed someone object to my situation to tell me things like they were. If anyone will tell you like it is, it’s Pam. So she came up to see me for a few days. We hung out and talked about what happened with Thalia. After the first twenty-four hours she told me to regain possession of my balls, and start moving forward. We ended up going out and getting extremely drunk on St. Patrick’s Day. Everything after we left the last bar we were at is pretty fuzzy, but I know for sure that we slept together.”
“And that’s what pissed Eric off? You and Pam had sex years ago, and Eric completely flipped his wig and attacked Bill because of it?” I looked at Johan suspiciously.
I refused to believe Eric lost his shit over finding out Johan and Pam had slept together. There had to be something else going on with him that no one knew about. I just didn’t have the slightest idea as to what might be going on in that head of his. Eric was usually pretty open about what was bothering him. Once again, I found myself thinking that maybe I didn’t know Eric nearly as well as I thought.
When Johan open his mouth to speak, I held up my hand to stop him. “Is this the first time Eric’s done something like this?”
Johan looked hesitant to tell me, but after a few seconds of pleading with my eyes, he relented. “No, this isn’t the first fight Eric has ever been in. It’s the first time he’s ever attacked someone unprovoked like he did last night, but he’s been in fights before. It sort of comes along with the jock package he signed up for when we were younger. Testosterone runs high, guys talk smack and the next thing you know, they’re throwing down.”
“So Eric has a violent streak in his temper, is that what you’re telling me?”
“I’m saying he used to. He hasn’t gotten into it with anyone since college.”
“Until it came back with a vengeance last night.” I flopped down on the couch, buried my face in my hands and cried.
I didn’t know what to think when I found out I’d lost more than a month of my life. I’d been in a coma for forty-eight days. When Copely called to try and talk to me, I told the nurses I didn’t want to speak to him. All I needed was for Tray to get to Louisiana, and I was history. I was leaving. I would go back to Chicago and follow up with my regular doctors.
I was going over the results of the tests my doctor had ordered shortly after I woke up, when Tray walked into the room. My heart stopped for a second to see him standing there. My head got light, and at first, I thought I might pass out. My doctor seemed to get the hint that Tray and I needed a minute alone, and promptly excused himself from the room.
“You look so much better vertical.” Tray grinned at me as he practically ran across the room.
“I missed the sound of your voice.” It was all I could think of to say.
In no time flat I was in his arms, being squeezed senseless. I sobbed against him, holding him as tight as I could. I had no idea it was possible to miss a person as much as I had missed Tray. Whatever anger I was feeling toward my father was momentarily pushed aside so I could focus on being with Tray. His lips found mine, and it was like my whole world slid back into focus.
When we finally pulled apart, I looked deep into Tray’s eyes and said something that should have been said long before that particular moment. “Marry me.”