I sat on the edge of the bed never to thankful for a phone call in my life. It’s not that I didn’t want to straighten things out with Sookie, so much as she wanted answers I didn’t have. She was right when she called my behavior self-destructive. That wasn’t me. I’d never been that way in the past. I had always been the kind to carefully weigh my choices, and diligently pursue the things I thought were worth my time. There were precisely two things in my life that I gave a shit about anymore: Sookie and basketball.
I could kiss basketball goodbye for good thanks to the appearance of my own Mr. Hyde. Whether or not I’d lost Sookie was still anyone’s guess. She’d told me she still loved me, which was only a moderate comfort. To be honest, I couldn’t blame her one bit for having her doubts about me. I could have kicked my own ass for not telling her about the fights I’d gotten into in college. I had to wonder how Johan had described them to her, though, because they weren’t attacks like what had happened with Bill.
It was more about a bunch of jocks riding high on testosterone and the drive to win, and when one person started talking too much shit, it had a way of getting under everyone else’s skin. It set a tone. Put too much of that volatile hostility in a room, and you’re going to end up with a fight on your hands. It wasn’t just me. We were young guys who felt like we had something to prove, and no tolerance for the assholes who were trying to step up to us. It was a stupid, macho posturing thing that always managed to get out of control.
The fights were always confined to a basketball court, or the gym. They were never street fights. I wasn’t out there kicking anyone’s ass just for looking at me funny, or for no reason at all. There was provocation in all of the fights I’d been in. Most of them were broken up by fellow players or referees before they got too far past the shoving stage. The last fight I ever got in was before March Madness my senior year.
A player for UNC at Chapel Hill had sucker punched me from behind. I turned around and clocked the guy before I knew what was happening. We ended up rolling around on the floor until we were separated, bleeding and ejected from the game by the officials. I don’t know what happened to the other guy, but I had been suspended from play for six games as a result. It was enough of a punishment back then to get me to chill the fuck out, and take a deep breath before I considered getting violent on someone again.
Sookie yelling from the living room jarred me from my reverie. “Amelia, are you sure?”
My head snapped up, and I stood to go see what was going on with her. I walked into the living room to see Sookie pacing back and forth in front of the undecorated Christmas tree in nothing but her underwear. She had a huge smile on her face, which only furthered my curiosity as I got closer to her.
“Amelia, you have to come back. This could change everything.” Sookie pleaded. “Yes, I know, I know. You and Tray definitely deserve to have that, but something happened over the weekend and your memories could have a big impact on how things go.”
I waved to get Sookie’s attention, and she held up a hand to keep me from talking. I stopped where I was standing and watched her as she resumed her pacing. I could practically see wheels turning in her head as she moved.
“Ame, Eric got arrested on Saturday. Yes, I’m serious. Well, he pretty much beat the hell out of Bill Compton.” Sookie looked to me with a pained expression on her face, and my head sank with guilt. I still didn’t feel bad about attacking that fucker, but I felt like an asshole for hurting her like I had.
I stood there and listened while she described the last day and a half, and I only hated myself more for it. I knew she was holding back some of the things she’d been feeling, but I could understand how she might not want to go into all of it over the phone. I was sure there would be lots of conversation about it when the two of them got face to face.
“Ame, what I’m trying to say is that if there’s a way to connect Bill and Sophie-Anne to the accident, there’s a chance the judge might be more lenient with Eric. Not to mention, there should be criminal charges filed against them. And on top of that, Bill’s wife and son died under mysterious circumstances. If what you’re saying is true, I would think this would give police a really good motive for murder. Maybe they’ll take a second look at the deaths and see what they can find.”
Hearing Sookie talk like she was, was beyond a turn-on. She was sexy as hell, and she had a brain just as amazing as her body. She was perfect for me, and I couldn’t help but think I’d severely fucked up our relationship in the course of thirty seconds. For her, I would take it all back if I could.
“Ame, please, just write down this number and contact Detective Twinings. I’m sure he’s got some questions for you anyway.” Sookie pleaded over the phone. She breathed a sigh of relief, and then recited the detective’s cell number. “Promise me that you’ll call him, okay? Okay. Yes. Call me with your flight info and I’ll pick you guys up from the airport. I know. I love you, too. I missed you. Tell Tray I said congratulations. Right.”
I thought Sookie was going to hang up, but instead she held out her phone to me. I took it from her and held it to my ear. “Amelia?”
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Amelia started on me in her mother hen tone of voice she usually only used on Tray when he failed to take out the trash or mow the lawn.
“I was thinking that asshole had something to do with hurting my girl, and hurting two of my friends.”
“You know, Eric, you’re a big boy. There comes a time when throwing punches causes more problems than it solves.”
“Don’t do it again.” Amelia said in a stern tone.
“I don’t think it’ll be necessary.” I sighed, enjoying the grin on Sookie’s face as I was being chastised by a woman half my size, but with twice in the intimidation factor. Amelia Broadway, simply put, was one hell of a bully when she wanted to be.
“For what it’s worth, I probably would have clocked him once myself.” She admitted, and I cracked a smile. “But Sookie loves you. Did you think about that when you decided to give him the Rodney King treatment?”
The truth was, I hadn’t thought about anything other than hitting the guy. “Not really.”
“Well, you might want to factor that into your decisions from now on.” Amelia advised. She was right, of course.
“Yes ma’am.” I agreed with her.
“I’ll let Sookie fill you in on the rest. And Eric?”
“Work it out. Don’t let her run. It’s going to be really easy for her to think you’re Quinn right now. I know you’re not, and deep down, so does she, but her gut is going to tell her to run. Don’t let her do it.” Amelia advised.
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon.” She said, and with that, she was gone.
I hung up the phone and handed it back to Sookie. “Well, Amelia is definitely back.”
“Oh, she’s back, firing on all cylinders and then some.” Sookie agreed.
“So what’s the rest of the news you’re supposed to fill me in on?”
Sookie’s grin broadened and sincere happiness filled her eyes. “Amelia and Tray got married earlier this morning. They hopped a plane to Vegas last night, and they got married this morning.”
I smiled right along with her. “Good for them.”
“Yeah, it’s about time.” Sookie nodded, and tossed her phone to the chair. “But there’s something else.”
Sookie stepped closer to me, and it was like I was looking at the Sookie from before the attack. For the moment, all traces of her sadness and disappointment with me were gone. She grabbed my hands and pulled me over to the couch to sit down beside her. I was disappointed she didn’t sit in my lap the way she almost always did whenever we ended up on the couch, but given the situation, the fact that she was urging me to sit anywhere near her was more than good enough for me.
“Amelia remembered something pretty crucial from the night of the accident.” Sookie could barely contain the smile that was straining her face.
“What did she remember?” I tried not to let her enthusiasm sweep me away, too, but it was hard not to.
“She said that after the crash, her eyes opened and she could clearly see who was driving the other car.”
“That’s what I said. Well, at least in my head. Anyway, the point is, when she told Tray that she had seen who was driving, he Googled a picture of Lorena.” Sookie paused for dramatic effect, and I had to wonder if she was drawing this out just to make me crazy.
“And?” I prompted.
“And the person driving the car wasn’t Lorena.” Her smile only broadened, which stopped my heart from sinking.
“Sook, you’re killing me here.” I sighed.
“The person who hit the car, and almost killed me? It was the Red Menace.” Sookie squeezed my hand.
“What?” My eyes locked on hers. “Is Amelia sure about this?”
Sookie nodded and said, “She said the only thing she’s ever been more sure of is how happy she is she married Tray.”
“Well, then, I guess she’s sure.” I was a bit dazed. What did this revelation mean for me?
“Eric, this could change everything. I don’t think it’ll get the charges against you dropped, but if the police can link Bill to being involved with the accident, the judge might be more lenient with your sentence. I really don’t want to think about what I’m going to do if he throws the maximum at you.” Sookie gave me those pleaded eyes of hers.
“Believe me, I don’t want to think about it either.”
“I got Amelia to promise me she would call the detective. If Bill and Sophie-Anne really were going to leave the state like they said, maybe it’s for the best you put him in the hospital. It wasn’t the ideal way to keep them here, but it might give the police a chance to question them again. Maybe they can get them to flip on each other.” Sookie suggested.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You watch too much Law and Order, lover.”
She slugged me playfully on the arm, and it felt good, oddly enough. It was something my Sookie would do. But just as quickly as her good mood had come, it started to fade again. She looked up at me with serious eyes, and surprised me when she climbed into my lap so she was straddling me. She held my face her hands as she spoke. Feeling her slight weight and the intense heat from between her thighs definitely had me paying attention to whatever it was she was about to say.
“You owe Amelia a huge thank you. She reminded me to trust my instincts where you’re concerned because they’ve never failed me before. I don’t think I’ll ever approve of what you did, but I want to understand it because I want to understand you. I love you, Eric. I want us to work. But I meant what I said. I think you should see someone about what happened, and I think you need to work out whatever it is that’s going on in that head of yours. I’ll do whatever I can to help you, but you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting on this one. If you can promise me that you’ll do your part, I promise I will meet you half way on this because the truth is, I can’t lose you either.”
“I swear, Sookie, I will do whatever you want me to to make this better.” I looked her dead in the eyes as I spoke.
She searched my eyes with her own before she nodded. She licked her lips and then leaned forward to kiss me. It was a kiss meant to seal the deal, but it quickly grew into more than that. Sookie’s hips had just started to rock against mine when my cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I didn’t want her to, but she pulled away.
“You should get that.” She said breathlessly.
“Voice mail.” I went to her neck, but she pushed me back.
“Eric, that could be your lawyer.” Her eyes dropped sadly.
I sighed with frustration that was only compounded when she climbed off my lap and left the room to give me some privacy. I pulled my phone from my pocket, and growled quietly when I saw Pam’s name flashing on the display. I wasn’t in the mood for her just yet. I really didn’t need to get my ass chewed out by her yet.
“Hello?” I tried to keep an even tone to my voice.
“Thanks for the update, lille bror.” It was Johan. Thank God.
I sighed and answered him in Swedish. “I had more important things to worry about.”
“You better call Mom and Dad.” Johan warned.
“You called them?”
“I didn’t have a whole lot of choice, Eric. We didn’t know if you were going to be released, or if you were going to be stuck in there until your trial.”
“There isn’t going to be a trial. I pleaded guilty.”
“You did what?”
“You heard me.”
“Eric, are you insane?”
“Johan, how the hell was I going to come with a defense for what I did? There were how many witnesses that saw me come out of nowhere and just wail on the guy.”
“So you’re going to throw away your life over this fucktard?”
“I’m taking responsibility for what I did. I fucked up, bror. It’s the adult thing to do. If I’m lucky, the judge will give me probation and a fine.”
“And you’ll have a record for the rest of your life.”
“I’m going to have that either way, Johan.” I sighed, contemplating hanging up on him. “And thanks, by the way, for telling Sookie about the old days.”
“Fuck you, lille bror. I would have thought you would have told her that yourself. We all have shit in our pasts we’re not proud of. She probably would have taken it better if she’d heard it from you.” He was right, but that didn’t make me dislike him any less in that moment. “So, Eric, about Pam and me-”
“Not now, Johan. I can’t even go there right now. I have too much other shit on my mind to get caught up in whatever you and Pam may, or may not, have going on.”
Johan snorted and said, “Bet you wish you would have felt that way Saturday night.”
“Fuck you.” I retorted, but couldn’t help the smile that cracked my face.
“Look, bror, you know I have your back, right? If I would have seen that asshole anywhere near Sookie, I probably would have done the same thing you did. Well, not exactly the same thing you did, but I wouldn’t have been buying him a beer, either. I know things are different now than they were ten years ago. This was special circumstances.”
I sighed and said, “Yeah, well, I hope the judge sees it that way.”
“There isn’t a whole lot you can do about that, other than be completely honest. Worry about Sookie.”
“Did you know she was thinking about leaving?”
“She mentioned maybe taking some time to herself. I think that might be a good idea.”
“You think she should leave me?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. You know I like Sookie. I think she’s good for you. The problem is, right now, I’m not sure you’re good for her. If you love her, you have to put her ahead of yourself. Take some time and get your shit together, bror. Then when you get your head straight, you go back to her and you work things out. Don’t make your problems her cross to bear.” Johan advised.
As much as I hated to admit it, I was pretty sure Johan was right. I certainly had a lot to think about. We got off the phone a few minutes later, after I promised to do a better job of keeping him up to date on what was happening, as well as to call our parents. I knew I was going to have to deal with them, too, but I figured one thing at a time was the best way to go.
I dropped the phone on the couch and got up to see what Sookie was doing. I found her in our bedroom, stretched out on her side. She’d put on a t-shirt, but nothing else. Her eyes were closed, and she looked like she was asleep. I wanted to climb into bed with her. God knows I was tired. Instead, I pulled off the clothes I’d been wearing since Saturday, and headed for the bathroom to take a shower.
After washing up, I stood under the hot water until it started to run out. I stepped out of the tub, and wrapped a towel around myself. Sookie had rolled onto her other side, giving me a wonderful view of her ass. I took a deep breath and corralled all the thoughts I had of just getting in bed with her. I brushed my teeth and combed my hair out before tousseling it with my fingers. I dried off the rest of the way before going into the bedroom to retrieve a pair of boxers. Normally, I would just get into bed, but given the circumstances, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea.
No sooner did I lay down on my side of the bed, than Sookie was rolling over and cuddling up next to me. I breathed a sigh of relief and wrapped an arm around her before closing my eyes. The next time I opened them, Sookie was gone, and the house smelled amazing. Christmas music wafted in from the living room. The darkness in the room told me I’d slept well into the afternoon. A glance at the clock next to the bed it was actually into the evening. I stretched out before getting out of bed.
I walked through the living room where Jeter was still laying near the heat vent. I could hear Sookie quietly singing along with Nat King Cole, and I couldn’t help but smile. She was standing over the stove with a wooden spoon in her hand. It was then that I realized she was wearing one of my t-shirts, and I wanted to attack her. It was strange to have to curb that instinct. Just three days ago, I could have completely distracted her from whatever she was doing, and she wouldn’t have complained.
“How’d you sleep?” Sookie asked without turning around.
“How’d you know I was here?”
“I feel you watching me.”
“You look good in my clothes.”
Sookie smiled over her shoulder at me. “I’m swimming in this.”
“Doesn’t matter.” I stepped closer to her. “What are you making?”
“Beef stew with dumplings.”
To say my mouth was watering would be an understatement. “It smells amazing.”
“It’s my Gran’s recipe.” She opened a cabinet to reach for a mixing bowl. I would have gotten it for her, but I was too busy staring at her. With her reaching like that, the shirt she was wearing had revealed more of her body to me. Fighting my instincts wasn’t easy.
“You need help with anything?”
“It just needs to simmer. I’m going to start on the batter for the dumplings in a half hour or so. Dinner should be ready in an hour.” She explained as she finally got the bowl she wanted, and set it on the counter. “So, you never answered my question.”
“How’d you sleep?” She smiled at me again.
“Very well. I’d forgotten how much it sucks to try and sleep without you next to me.”
“I know what you mean.” Her lips pressed into a thin line. She took a deep breath, and I could pretty much figure out what she was thinking. “I don’t know if I could do it for a year.”
“Look, Eric, we have to talk about it. I mean, there’s a chance you might end up going away for a while. What am I supposed to do for that time?”
“Do you want to break up?”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, that’s the last thing I want. What I want is for things to go back to the way they were, but that’s not going to happen.”
“I want that, too.”
“I have a confession to make.” Sookie came closer to me.
“I wasn’t sleeping earlier. I was just laying down. When you got into bed next to me, everything just felt normal again for a little while. The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore. I wish there was a way to push the rest of it out as long as we’re in this house, but it doesn’t work like that. I started thinking about how things are going to change for us, and about the things we’ve been talking about lately.”
“You mean getting married?”
She nodded and said, “I think that’s a discussion we should table for a bit. I’m not saying I’ve changed my mind. It’s just that we have some things we need to work out. We’ve both been worried about rushing into things, and I think maybe what happened proves we did a little bit.”
“Do you regret any of it?”
“No.” She said with conviction, and stepped closer to me. “I meant what I said earlier when I told you I wanted us to get through this together. I know that you’re good for me. I don’t doubt that you love me, and I really hope you don’t doubt that I love you, because I do.”
“I know you do.”
“Good.” Sookie pushed herself up onto the counter behind her, and I closed the distance between us by standing between her knees.
“Johan suggested that maybe it was a good idea if you spent some time at your old house.” I wanted to see her reaction to the suggestion.
“I’m not convinced he’s wrong about that.”
“Is that what you want?” My hands settled on her bare thighs, and I felt the goose bumps spread underneath them.
“Honestly, Eric, I don’t know what I want. There’s this war going on inside of me. I am completely torn on this. I want to be there for you. I want to help you with whatever’s going on with you. I want us to work on things in our relationship. I want to understand you better. On the other hand, I feel like maybe it’s better if you don’t have me around as a distraction.”
“You’re not a distraction.” My hands moved to cup her face so she was looking at me. “I want you here. I always want you here.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I promised you I would stay as long as you made the effort to meet me half way, and get yourself together again. I’m not going to go back on that promise.” She bit her bottom lip, a clear sign she was about to say something she wasn’t sure I was going to like. “Can I ask you something that might sound completely out of left field?”
“You can ask me anything.” I stroked her cheek with my thumb.
“Why did you cut your hair?”
I couldn’t help but laugh quietly. “I guess I decided it was time for a change.”
“You should have stopped at the haircut.” Sookie gave me a pointed stare that had me smiling back at her.
“Yes, you’re right about that.”
“You know, I’m not so mad that you hit Bill.” Sookie my hands from her face and looked at them. My right hand was bruised up, and there were a few scabbed over cuts on my knuckles. The fact that I hadn’t broken anything was amazing. “I think if I can understand what went into it, I’ll feel better about it.”
I sighed, and leaned in to hug her. The gesture seemed to catch her off guard. She was tense for a few seconds before she melted against me. The honest to God truth was, a perfect storm had happened in my brain. There were a whole bunch of things I was thinking about right before it happened, and seeing him so close to Sookie just pushed me over the edge.
“I know you think I have feelings for Pam.” I pulled back a little, and made sure I caught her eyes. “Sookie, I swear that’s not even close to being an issue. Do I care about Pam? Yes, very much. She’s been my best friend for a very long time, and it wasn’t until you came a long that she started to be like a third wheel in my life. It’s an adjustment for us both. My brother is always going to be a part of my life no matter what. I couldn’t get Johan even if I wanted to. I’m stuck with that guy.”
“He’s not so bad.” Sookie smiled up at me.
“No, he’s not. In fact, sometimes I think maybe he’s the better twin.”
“Eric, you both have your strong suits. This thing that happened, it’s a single moment in your life. It doesn’t have to define you for whatever time you have left, but you have to make the choice to rise above it.” Sookie laced her fingers with mine.
“I want to explain something to you.” I squeezed her palms to my own. She nodded for me to continue. “I know you think that if things don’t work out wth Johan and Pam, that I’m not going to get caught in the crosshairs, but you don’t know that. Regardless of whether or not they intend for me to end up there, I’m going to because I love them both. It’s going to cause a problem, and it’s a stress I really don’t need. I want them to be happy, Sookie, and I know both of them well enough to know they aren’t ever going to be happy together.”
Sookie bit her lip again and asked, “But don’t you think that’s their call to make, and not yours? Johan has been nothing but supportive of your relationship with me.”
“He doesn’t know you.”
“What about Pam?”
“Pam is still hoping you’ll come to your senses and realize you should be batting for her team.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Forget I asked.”
“I was also pissed off they didn’t tell me about this years ago. Maybe it was none of my business, but the fact that they’ve been lying to me for almost a decade? Yeah, I feel like I have a right to be mad about it. You’re right in that what they do is their own business. I know I can’t control it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. You know, kind of like your brother and Crystal?”
Sookie glared at me for bringing her brother into it, but I was just trying to put things into terms she could understand. Sookie had made it more than clear that if she’d been given the power, she would have vetoed her brother’s marriage to Crystal. That got me thinking about traveling, and whether or not it was possible for us to still go to California, since I wasn’t scheduled for sentencing until after the first of the year. Shit.
“I’m not friends with Crystal.” Sookie pointed out.
“Okay, well, imagine if Jason married Amelia, then.” I suggested, and Sookie recoiled at the thought. “See?”
She sighed and said, “Fine, fine, I get what you’re saying.” Sookie paused for a moment, and then it was like a light went on in her eyes. “You think of Pam like a sister, don’t you?”
“And you already lost a sister.” Her voice was distant.
“You don’t want to lose another one.” Sookie’s lip trembled. The last thing I wanted was for her to start crying. I hadn’t even connected those dots myself. Leave it to her to know before I did.
“No, I guess I don’t.” I know I sounded surprised by my words, but that’s because I was.
“I think you need to have a talk with Pam.” Sookie told me.
“I think you’re right.” I agreed with her.
“Duh.” She nudged me with her knees, and then tilted her face up to kiss me.