I was stretched out on a bunk that was way too small for someone of my size, staring up at the ceiling, when my name was called. I rocketed up off the bunk, hoping someone was coming to tell me the charges had been dropped and I was free to go. Somehow, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. Still, I walked over to the bars of the cell, and stopped short when I saw Sookie approaching with Detective Twinings behind her.
“I really shouldn’t be letting her back here. You have five minutes.” The detective said in a stern tone before turning and walking away.
“Hi.” I spoke softly, taking in her face.
Sookie looked every bit as distraught and exhausted as I had imagined she would. She looked like she hadn’t slept at all, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit. I knew I sure as shit hadn’t. If I wasn’t thinking of her, I was thinking of the million things I would have done differently the day before. The fact that she’d come to see me gave me hope that all wasn’t lost. Maybe we could work this out.
“You look like shit.” She said with a straight face.
“I feel like shit.”
She stepped closer to the bars and put her fingers up. I reached out to touch them back, and when we made contact, her eyes closed. A single tear rolled down her cheek, and I felt a lump rise in my throat. I wanted to find a way to explain to her what had happened, but I just couldn’t get the words out.
“I talked to Johan, and he told me what happened with the two of you yesterday. He told me about him and Pam.” Sookie whispered, unable to meet my eyes.
“No, let me talk.” Sookie took her fingers back. “I’m not even going to try and pretend like I understand why you would fly off into what I can only assume to be a jealous rage. I don’t believe for a single second that you were worried about them getting hurt. They’re adults. Johan knew what he was getting himself into when he got involved with Pam. Whatever happens between them has nothing to do with you. So why you took it the way you did doesn’t make any sense unless you have feelings for Pam.”
“I do not have feelings for Pam.” I insisted, which caused Sookie’s eyes to finally meet mine.
“I don’t believe you.” She shrugged as more tears fell from her eyes. “Maybe if Johan wasn’t your brother, I might believe that, but…”
“Sookie, I swear, I don’t have feelings for Pam. I love you. You’re the only one that matters- the only one who ever has.”
Sookie nodded, but I could tell my words weren’t really sinking in. “Look, I came here because I wanted to tell you that I’ll be at the hearing tomorrow morning. I’ll bail you out and take you back to the house, but I think after that I’m going to spend some time at my house.”
So this is what a broken heart feels like, I thought to myself. “Sookie, don’t, please. We can work this out. Just please, please don’t leave.”
“I’m not leaving you, Eric. I just need some space, and I think you need to work out whatever it is you’ve got going on in your head.” Sookie’s voice cracked as she talked.
“Sookie, please…” I trailed off, letting my head rest against he cool iron of the bars in front of me.
Her fingers wrapped around mine and I felt her lips press against my forehead. “I love you, Eric. That hasn’t changed.”
I knew that was meant to reassure me, but all I could think of was her not being in my house- our house. It wasn’t going to feel like home anymore. I was going to see her everywhere, but she wouldn’t actually be there. There had to be a way to fix this. I had to find a way to convince her to stay. I couldn’t lose her, too.
“Time’s up!” Detective Twinings called from the doorway.
“I love you, Sookie. Please, please, reconsider. I can’t lose you.” Tears fell from my own eyes. I hadn’t cried since the night of her accident.
“I love you, Eric.” She kissed me once more, and then she walked away, taking my heart with her.
I stood in front of the full length mirror in the bedroom, checking to make sure my skirt was smoothed out properly. Just what was a girl supposed to wear to her boyfriend’s arraignment, anyway? I settled for a knee length wool skirt and a crisp button down shirt. My hair was pulled back in a twist, and I was wearing minimal makeup, since I was pretty sure I was going to cry when I saw Eric come shuffling into the courtroom.
The sight of the bag I’d packed the night before sitting in the corner made me tear up. I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. I needed some space to figure things out, and I figured it would be better to give Eric some time to do the same thing. I debated over whether or not it was a good idea to make arrangements to go home for the holidays to see my family. Maybe a little time with them would help me to gain some perspective on what was happening.
I slipped my shoes on and grabbed my purse before heading for the front door. Jeter trailed behind me, watching carefully as I put on my coat and opened the door. He’d spent the last thirty-six hours looking for Eric when he wasn’t at my side. He barked when I opened the door, and I turned to face him.
“Don’t worry, Jeter, Eric will be home soon.” I gave the dog a weak smile before scratching the top of his head. I hoped I was right.
My left knee bounced against the car door the whole way to the Maywood courthouse. The parking lot was a bit of a nightmare, not that going to Rolling Meadows would have been much better. I took only what I had to inside with me. I waited in line for my turn to go through the metal detectors, and once I was cleared through security, I checked the index to see if I could find the listing for the Honorable Niall Brigant. I found he was up on the third floor, and made my way to the elevators.
Part of what tipped the scales in favor of me spending some time back at my own house was the research I’d done on the charge Eric was facing. It was entirely possible the book could be thrown at him. If the judge decided to make an example of Eric, he could be facing up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.00. I was hoping that since Eric didn’t have a record- that I knew of, anyway- and was rather prominent in the community he lived in, the judge would be lenient with him.
Although, I was pretty sure the school board wasn’t going to be very forgiving. Barring the charges being dropped, I was pretty sure Eric was going to lose his job over this. Not that Eric didn’t have other options, but I knew how important coaching was to him. The only real silver lining to this whole clusterfuck of a situation was knowing that he wasn’t facing a felony charge. The charge could still be upgraded if it was determined any of the damage Bill had suffered was permanent, though.
I stood outside the courtroom, tapping my toes against the marble floor while I waited for the courtroom doors to be opened. I didn’t know whether or not to feel comforted by the number of other nervous people standing in the hall with me. I checked my watch every couple of seconds, appalled that time wasn’t moving any faster. My throat was dry and my hands were all jittery. My heart was racing. In short, I was scared to death that things were going to go horribly wrong.
Finally, a bailiff opened the doors, and I waited my turn to walk into the room. I took a seat toward the back of the room on the left side. I watched as lawyers and other people filed in to wait for the proceedings to begin. I caught a few distraught faces of middle aged women, and I had to assume they were someone’s mother come to find out the fate of her child. I started thinking about Eric’s parents, and how they must be coping with all of this.
I’d left it to Johan to deal with Tom and Stella since I had yet to meet them, and frankly, I didn’t want to be the one to give them the news that Eric was in jail. I could only imagine the way Stella would break down at the news, and that didn’t do much to make me feel any better. I tried to shake the thoughts, but that was much easier said than done.
It seemed to take forever, but court was finally called to order. I stood with everyone else as Judge Niall Brigant entered the courtroom. He was a regal looking man who appeared to be old enough to be my grandfather. He had flaxen hair neatly combed back. His face was lined with light wrinkles. He had kind eyes and a warm smile- not at all what I would have expected from a judge if what I’d seen on Law and Order was any indication of what a judge should look like.
I was surprised that Eric’s case was the first one called. When he was brought into the courtroom, I got so transfixed on him that I completely lost focus of what was being said. He looked miserable. It was obvious to me he hadn’t slept at all. My heart went out to him. I wanted to launch myself across the courtroom and wrap myself around him, but I couldn’t do that. I sat there quietly, just staring at him. What finally got me to pay attention to what was going on was Eric’s plea.
“Guilty, your Honor.” Eric said clearly.
The judge’s eyes snapped up from his paperwork. Clearly he wasn’t used to hearing a defendant admit guilt in his courtroom. I watched the judge’s face as he looked Eric up and down. He looked at the lawyer standing at Eric’s side before speaking.
“Are you sure about this, young man?” Judge Brigant asked, his eyes shifting back to Eric.
Eric nodded and said, “I have no defense for what I did, your Honor.”
I wanted to jump out of my seat and say something, but I couldn’t do that either. My outburst wouldn’t curry any favor with the judge, and Eric’s best bet was that his honesty and remorse for what he’d done would get him a lighter sentence. It was up to the judge’s discretion whether or not Eric would face jail time. He could be sentenced to probation instead, and that’s what I was hoping for.
After conferring with both lawyers, Judge Brigant set a date for sentencing. Eric would be released pending his sentence, and since it was a misdemeanor charge, no bail was set. I breathed a sigh of relief over it, and slumped back in my seat. The next case was called, and I watched as Eric was escorted from the room. On his way out he turned to look at me over his shoulder.
He mouthed the words, “I love you.” before he was taken out of the room.
I blinked back my tears before gathering up my things and heading out of the courtroom.
I stood in a hallway where an officer had directed me to wait for Eric. I worried that once I saw him, I wouldn’t be able to breathe any easier. When the door finally opened, and he stepped through it, my heart did a flip-flop in my chest. It was like my brain completely turned itself off, and my body took over. I dropped my coat and bag right where I was and threw myself at him. He caught me easily and held me tightly to him.
We stayed like that for a few minutes before I squirmed for him to put me down. He reached for my hand and led me over to where my coat was. I stooped down to pick up my things without letting go of his hand. My emotions were so conflicted. On one hand, I wanted to hold onto him tighter than I ever had before. On the other, I was sure I needed time away. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I had so many questions, and it was like nothing made any sense. I wanted my Eric back, but I was pretty sure he was gone.
“Are you hungry?” I asked him once my coat was on. I hadn’t had breakfast. I was afraid to eat anything on the chance that Eric wasn’t released. I was pretty sure I would have thrown it all up.
“Starving.” He raised my hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it.
“Me, too.” I offered a weak smile and tugged him toward the door.
We walked through the parking lot hand in hand, and I handed over my keys to let him drive. He followed me to the passenger’s side and backed me against the side of the car. He leaned down with an intense look in his eyes that made my heart race and my lips part just a little.
“I missed you.” He whispered to me, his warm breath a nice contrast to the cold wind kicking up around us. Whether it was his tone or the cold that gave me the shivers, I couldn’t tell you.
“I missed you, too.” I looked into his eyes.
He moved just the few inches necessary, and kissed me gently. It took a second for me to respond, but when I did, he deepened the kiss immediately. I’d never realized how conflicted I could feel about a kiss. I wanted him so badly. I always wanted him. From the second I saw him behind the bar when all I knew about him was that he was a gorgeous man, I wanted him. Chemistry and lust would never be a problem for us. The problem was, my trust was shaken, and I wasn’t sure if I could just let that go.
“Eric…” I pushed him back gently, his taste lingering on my lips.
“I’m sorry. I’ve just been thinking about you for the last thirty-six hours.”
I scoffed and said, “You didn’t think there was something more pressing to consider than sex?”
“That’s not what I meant.” He reached up to stroke my cheek. “We have a lot to talk about.”
“Yeah, we do, but we should go eat first.” I pulled away from him.
He sighed heavily and opened my door for me. I sank into the passenger’s seat and reached over to open his door for him. It was something I was used to doing out of habit. I watched him fold himself into the driver’s seat. I’d forgotten to push the seat back before getting out of the car earlier. In no time, Eric had the seat adjusted the way he needed it, and we were off.
Breakfast was awkward, to say the least. In fact, I think it rivaled our first morning together. I almost wished Pam would be around to make some sarcastic comments to break the ice. We ate slowly and made small talk. We both had things we wanted to say, but I wasn’t willing to discuss them in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I paid the check since Eric didn’t have cash on him, and then we headed back to the house.
As expected, Jeter went nuts when Eric walked through the door. “He was looking for you.” I told Eric, as he played with the dog.
Jeter settled down a couple of seconds later, and made himself comfortable over the heat vent. Eric looked around the room like he’d been gone for years instead of just hours. I couldn’t blame him. I’d moved around his furniture to make room for the tree. I’d ended up sending Johan home after he filled me in on what had happened Saturday night. I needed to process what he’d told me, and I decided I didn’t feel right about decorating the house alone until I knew I didn’t have any other choice.
“You went tree shopping.” Eric walked over and sniffed the tree.
“I needed something to do to keep my mind off you.” I said quietly.
“Did it work?”
I snickered and said, “Not like I hoped it would.”
Awkward silence filled the air. When I couldn’t take anymore, I forced myself up off the couch and went to the bedroom to change. I was down to my underthings when Eric walked into the room. My heart leapt into my throat, and for a minute, I couldn’t breathe. I was battling with myself again, part of me wanting to cover up, while the other part wanted to tackle him back onto the bed. Eric sat down while I moved toward the dresser to get some comfier clothes.
“Sookie, wait.” He reached out, his hand curling around my hip to gather me closer to him.
I found myself standing between his parted knees. His head lowered so that it was pressed against my stomach. My hands rested on his shoulders, and it took a moment before I realized he was crying. The sagging of his shoulders my my spine stiffen.
“Eric, what’s going on with you?” I reached down and forced his face up so he had to look at me.
He tilted his face down just enough to kiss my stomach, and of course, my traitorous body responded, inching closer to him. Before I could get too lost in the trail of kisses he was leaving along my skin, I pulled away from him. We needed to talk. Sex wasn’t going to fix this, no matter how much I wished it could.
“You’ve always been straight with me, Eric. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you. But right now, I feel like you’re hiding something from me, and until I know what it is, we aren’t going to be us.” I told him.
He sighed heavily as he looked around the room. His eyes settled on the bag I’d packed. “You’re really leaving, aren’t you?”
“I don’t want to.” I admitted.
“So then don’t. Sookie, we can fix this.”
“Not if you don’t start talking. Eric, I’ve shared everything with you. Every other problem we’ve come across in this relationship, we’ve worked through together. I’ve had your back, and you’ve had mine. I want to be there for you, and help you with whatever it is you’re dealing with, but I can’t do that if you won’t let me in. If you can’t let me in, then I have no place here. So either you start talking, or I leave. It’s up to you.”
“I don’t even know where to start.” Eric sighed.
“How about at the beginning? Johan told me this isn’t the first fight you’ve been in.” I informed him.
“Great.” He muttered.
“Hey! Don’t be mad at Johan. He’s not the one who tried to hide something from me. Maybe it wasn’t his place to tell me, but he had assumed I already knew. I wish I would have.”
“I didn’t tell you because that’s not who I am anymore.”
“Oh no? Eric, you could spend a year in jail because of this!”
“This is different from those other fights.” He shook his head.
“How? Because you didn’t get arrested for those? Eric, whether or not you faced criminal charges isn’t the point. The person I thought I knew couldn’t do something like what you did to Bill. I understand that you probably thought you were protecting me, on some level, but you went above and beyond that. What would have happened if Johan and Chow hadn’t pulled you off of Bill? Have you thought about that, because I have. You could have killed him, Eric. I saw it in your eyes. It scared the hell out of me to see you like that. You were so numb to it, like it didn’t even matter. That’s not the person I fell in love with.”
“I know it sounds like an over-simplification on my part, but it was a case of really bad judgment. I was pissed off at Johan. Then Pam had to go and tell me about whatever the hell situation she’s in with him, and to top it off, I walk out of the office to see that scumbag putting his hands on you. Yeah, I snapped. I completely lost my shit.”
“What is it about Pam and Johan together that bothers you so much, Eric? If you don’t have feelings for Pam, then I don’t get it.”
“They’re my family, Sookie. They’re two of the most important people in my life, and I can’t lose either of them. Johan is the other half of me. Literally. And Pam… she’s been with me for so long that I…” He trailed off, at a loss for words to describe it.
“Eric, I get that they’re important to you, but you have no control over what they do. They’re adults. They’re also mature enough not to put you in the middle of their problems. Look how well they’ve handled their situation. They managed to keep it to themselves for almost a decade without you having the slightest clue as to what happened between them. You don’t need to protect them from each other.”
“I’m protecting myself, Sookie.”
“No, Eric, you’re not.” I moved closer to him again and held his face in my hands. “You’re tearing down everything you worked so hard for. Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know.” The honesty in his eyes floored me. He really had no idea why he was acting so crazy all of a sudden.
The words ‘mental disorder’ popped into my head. Could he be manic? It would certainly explain the break in his character, but that seemed a bit extreme. I took a deep breath and tried to think of some sort of rationalization for all of this.
“I think you need to see someone about this.”
“You mean a shrink?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m not crazy, Sookie.”
“I know you’re not. But I also know that whatever is going on in that head of yours is something I can’t fix. I’ll talk to you about it as much as you want, but maybe there are things you need to get off your chest that you can’t say to me. If that’s the case, then you need to find someone you can say them to. You need to figure this out, Eric.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“I need you to stay, Sookie. I already know I’m going to lose my certification for this, which means I pretty much fired myself this weekend. No more coaching. No more teaching. I can live with losing those things, but I can’t live with losing you.”
I had just opened my mouth to answer Eric when my cell phone rang. By the ring tone, I knew it was Amelia calling. I didn’t want to leave Eric, but I had to take the call. I excused myself from the room and ran to the living room to get my phone from my purse.
“Hey, Ame, how are ya?” I tried to sound cheerful.
“Married. How are you?” She said with glee.
“You’re what?” I shouted into the phone.
“Tray and I did it this morning. We hopped a flight to Vegas and got married at sunrise.”
I was stunned, to say the least, but very happy for them. “Well, it’s about time. Congratulations. I wish I could have been there.”
“Oh, we’ll have a party like no other when we get back. We’re going to spend a few days in the desert soaking up the heat and casinos before we head back to Chicago. Listen, I’m calling because I started to get some of my memories back from the night of the accident.”
“You did?” I’d always thought Amelia was too drunk to know what the hell was going on.
“I know it happened fast, but I remembered something about those few seconds after the crash. My eyes opened and I could very clearly see into the front windshield of the other car.” Amelia told me.
My heart stopped for a second. “Ame, what did you see?”
“Well, Tray Googled a picture of that Lorena chick that everyone was convinced hit the car.”
“And the woman I saw behind the wheel didn’t look a damn thing like her.”
My heart sank. Did that mean we were back to square one? “Well, I guess that solves the mystery, then.”
“Oh, you bet your sweet ass it does.” Amelia said with smug satisfaction.
“How do you figure?”
I could almost hear the smile in Amelia’s voice when she said, “Because the woman I saw behind the wheel was Eric’s neighbor.”