A horrible wave of nausea pulled me from my sleep. I got out of bed as carefully as I could so I wouldn’t wake Eric. We’d stayed up much later than either of us had planned, talking about my freak out the night before. I’d never had such a powerful reaction to sex in the past, and I felt bad about the panic he’d been feeling. Although, to be fair, I wasn’t exactly Joe Cool. I made my way downstairs to the bathroom in the basement. I started the shower for good measure before another wave of nausea had me diving for the toilet.
I gagged a few times, but nothing came up. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail just in case. My stomach continued to churn, and after a few more minutes of gagging and retching, whatever had been left in my stomach from the night before finally came up. I stayed there, hovering over the toilet until my stomach started to feel a bit normal again, and the gagging had stopped. I flushed the toilet and went to the sink to rinse my mouth out. I found a bottle of mouth wash under the sink, and swirled it around my mouth until I could get back upstairs to brush my teeth.
I had no way of knowing if Eric was awake, although I had to assume he was still in bed. If he’d heard me throwing up he would have broken down the door to check on me. I chalked up the episode to residual upset from the night before, and stripped off my clothes to shower. I emerged a few minutes later when I felt another wave of nausea. I didn’t think there was anything left to throw up, but I was wrong.
By the time I finally got upstairs I had been down in the bathroom for over an hour. Eric was definitely awake, since there was a pot of coffee waiting for me in the kitchen. The side door of the house was left ajar, suggesting Eric and Jeter were out in the yard. I was just about to put a couple of slices of bread into the toaster, when Eric’s phone started ringing in the living room. According to the clock on the microwave, it was just after ten in the morning.
I dropped the bread in the toaster, but didn’t lower it down. I went to the living room to see who was calling, figuring it was probably Pam or Johan. My breath caught when I saw it was Eric’s parents. Since I didn’t want them to worry any more than I was sure they already were, I answered the call.
“Sookie, sweetheart, is that you?” Stella’s voice greeted me with relief.
“Yep, it’s me.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” More relief. “I was starting to worry when we didn’t hear from Eric yesterday. He was supposed to call us.”
“He wanted to, but he needed a little time to figure some things out.”
“Are you with him? Oh, what a silly question. You’re answering his phone.” Stella laughed nervously. “Although, I suppose he could still be…” She trailed off, her breath catching in her throat.
“No, no, he’s here. He’s just out back with Jeter. I can call him in, if you’d like?”
“No, that’s okay, I can wait. I’d like to talk to you, anyway.”
I pushed the button to start my toast, and settled in to listen to whatever it was Stella had to say. She mostly rambled on like a nervous mother, which was to be expected. She praised me for not just walking out on Eric, and for having the loyalty to stand by him in the face of what he was going through. I don’t know if it occurred to her that I didn’t have much of a choice. It’s not like I could just turn off my heart and walk away, even if a part of me wished I could do just that. It’s not that I didn’t want to be with Eric anymore, so much as I just didn’t want to feel all of the emotions that came along with being him at the moment.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to be able to come visit now, are you?” Stella said with disappointment heavy in her voice.
“We’re waiting for a call from his attorney before we change our plans.” If I didn’t want to tell Stella Eric had been arrested, I sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to tell her the trip had been canceled.
“Well, Tom and I got to talking this morning, and we were thinking it might be better if we came to Chicago, anyway. Tom’s never been there, and I haven’t had a cold winter since before I was married. We thought it might be a nice change of pace.” Stella said with as much cheer as she could muster.
“I’m sure Eric would like that.” I didn’t really know what else to say.
Thankfully, the side door opened, and Jeter went down the steps to the basement. Eric kicked off his shoes, and closed the door. He smiled when he saw me standing there watching him. My toast popped up a few seconds later, and I reached into the fridge for butter. Stella was talking about how much she wanted to see the Magnificent Mile all lit up at night, when another wave of nausea hit me.
“Oh God…” I groaned and thrust the phone at Eric before taking off for the bathroom.
“Sookie!” He called out after me, but I didn’t stop for him.
I enclosed myself in the bathroom and prayed I would just gag some more. I was sure there couldn’t possibly be anything left in my stomach. I heaved and gagged and prayed for it all to stop. I was still bent over the toilet when Eric came into the bathroom, and attempted to crouch down next to me.
“Are you okay?” He asked gently.
“Do I look okay?” Tears were running down my face from the force of the gagging I’d been doing.
“Can I get you something?” He asked.
“A damp washcloth and some water would be nice.” I said a bit more gently.
Eric was on it immediately, starting with the washcloth. It was delightfully cool, and felt good pressed to the back of my neck. The water came shortly after that, but I learned the hard way I needed to sip, or it was going to come right back up. The whole episode had taken more energy than I ever would have thought possible, and when I tried to stand up, my knees gave out. Eric picked me up gently, and set me down on his side of the bed.
“You think it’s a stomach bug?” He sat at the edge of the bed next to me.
“I have no idea.” I turned onto my side and curled up a little bit.
“Do you want anything?”
“I think I better just lay down for a while. I hope I didn’t freak your Mom out too badly.”
“She was worried. She’ll probably call back in a bit to check up on you.” Eric’s thumb rubbed my upper arm gently.
“Ginger Ale might be good.” I smiled up weakly at him.
“I can get you some.” He smiled back.
“Your Mom suggested she and your Dad might want to come here for Christmas instead of us going to California. I didn’t tell her we’d already talked about that alternative.”
“I’m sorry, Sookie, I didn’t want you to be stuck in the middle of this.”
“I think it might come with the territory from time to time.”
“Mom can be a bit of a bully. She just hides it better than Dad because she’s so sweet most of the time.”
“Yeah, I noticed. It seems to run in the family.” I patted Eric’s knee and closed my eyes.
He chuckled softly and said, “If that wasn’t so right, I’d be horribly offended.”
Eric stayed there with me until I fell asleep. When I woke a while later, it was because my stomach rumbled with hunger instead of nausea. I slowly pushed myself out of bed and headed for the kitchen. Eric was on the phone, and from the tone of his voice, I assumed he was talking to his parents again. I listened to his end of the conversation while I attempted to make toast for the second time. Hungry as I was, I wasn’t willing to chance losing the contents of my stomach to something stronger.
A two liter of Ginger Ale was chilling in the fridge, along with fresh orange juice and a tub of the tapioca pudding I loved so much. I buttered my toast lightly when it popped up, and sat down at the island to eat while Eric finished up his conversation with whichever of his parents he was talking to. His shoulders were tense. His brow was furrowed, and he looked like he’d aged ten years since I’d seen him last.
“Yeah, I know, Mom. I don’t know why she puts up with me either. No, she’s not awake yet.” Eric winked at me, and I smiled at him. I just wasn’t in the mood. “No, it’s fine. Yes, I’ll pick you up from the airport. No, not in the Corvette. Sookie’s going to go visit her family for a few days, so I’ll probably drive her car. What difference does it make?” Eric shook his head, and I could tell his patience was wearing thin. “Yes, I know Dad’s got a bad knee. I know he can’t…Mom? Mom! Would you please…” Eric sighed and held the phone away from his head.
I gestured for him to give me the phone. I quickly swallowed my bite of toast, and took the phone from him. “Stella, is that you?” I asked sweetly.
“Oh, Sookie, Eric said you were still asleep?”
“Just woke up. Listen, while I’m in Louisiana, Eric is more than welcome to use my car to pick you and Tom up from the airport. I know how tricky it is to get in and out of that Corvette.” I winked at Eric, who just rolled his eyes at me and called me a traitor under his breath.
“You know, he’s going to have to trade that in when you two have babies.” Stella said with frustration in her voice.
The mention of babies had my stomach turning again. Like a ton of bricks, a possible explanation for my nausea dawned on me. I’d been so busy lately I hadn’t given any thought to when I’d had my last period. I gulped for air, and tried to stay as calm as possible. I was on birth control. I was supposed to get pregnant when I was on birth control. Not that it didn’t happen. It wasn’t one hundred percent effective against pregnancy, and being on antibiotics only lowered its effective rate. Since Eric and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other for more than a few hours at a time, the chances of me being pregnant as opposed to just late because of stress were sky high.
I said whatever I needed to in order to get Stella off the phone. By the time she hung up, my toast was cold- not that I had much of an appetite left. I gave Eric back his phone, which he promptly turned off to avoid another phone call from his mother.
“You look a little green, lover.” Eric said with concern, his large hand stroking my back.
“I must have caught something.” I tried to sound flippant about it, but inside I was panicking a little. “Are you sure about me going to Louisiana? I don’t want to come back to a body count.”
Eric kissed the top of my head and said, “I’ll have Dad here as a buffer. It’ll be fine.”
I hoped he was right.
Two days later, I stepped off a plane to find Jason waiting for me in the terminal. I couldn’t ever remember being so happy to see him in my whole life, and for the first time I could ever recall, I ran to hug him. Jason and I had always had a hot and cold relationship. We were very different creatures, and we had a hard time seeing where the other was coming from. Our current choice of significant others put us on more equal footing, I suppose.
Eric had manned up and called my parents and Jason himself to explain why he wouldn’t he joining me for the visit. It was a nice preparation round for how he was going to deal with his own parents. Although, with my family, they weren’t so focused on the fact that Eric completely snapped and lost touch with reality, as they were that he’d rescued me again. They were outraged that Eric had been charged with a crime at all, since they were convinced Bill had a hand in the accident. Given that Amelia remembered seeing Sophie-Anne driving the car that hit us, I wasn’t so sure they were wrong.
Still, did that excuse what Eric had done? I added it to the list of questions in my head, and things I needed to think about. While I knew hugging my brother was nothing like hugging my Mom, which I couldn’t wait to do, it felt good to be with family.
“How was the flight?” Jason asked when we pulled apart.
“Not bad. I read most of the time.” I shrugged as we walked. “How’s Crystal doing?”
Jason sighed and said, “She’s Crystal.”
“What’s that mean?” I had to ask since I wasn’t too sure.
“She’s been feeling better physically, lately, but I know she’s still worried something’s gonna go wrong with this pregnancy, too.”
“You mean this isn’t the first time she’s been pregnant?” News to me.
Jason actually had the sense to look a bit abashed when he said, “She was two months along when we got married.”
I managed to stop myself from asking if that was the reason he’d married her, since I hadn’t figured my brother for the marrying kind, but my brain filters seemed to be functioning properly. Instead I just nodded along, and let Jason tell me about the miscarriage they’d already been through together.
“I’m sorry, Jason. I had no idea.” I said sympathetically.
“I’m surprised Eric didn’t tell you.”
“Why would- Eric knew about this? I’m your sister, but my boyfriend knew?” I slugged him on the shoulder.
“Crystal got sick while Eric and I were watching the Family Guy, and we ended up talking on the porch before Hadley showed up. I needed to hear a guy’s perspective on the whole thing, otherwise I woulda told you about it.”
“And you didn’t think to, oh, I don’t know, mention it since then? I’ve talked to you once a week!” I glared at my brother.
“Yeah, well, it’s not like we’ve been the kind of siblings who share everything, Sook.” He reminded me with the same intense stare I was giving him.
“You’re right.” I backed down just a little. “You still could have told me.”
Jason rolled his eyes at me and picked up my bag when it came by on the conveyor belt. “Jiminy Christmas, Sook, what’s in here?”
“Your Christmas present, you dolt.”
“Oh.” That effectively got him to stop bitching.
The ride back to our parents’ house was filled with conversation about what had happened the previous weekend. Jason was totally on Eric’s side in the whole thing, and was adamant he would do the same thing if someone ever treated Crystal the way Bill had treated me.
“I’m not saying maybe he didn’t go overboard a little bit, but if I were in Eric’s shoes, I probably woulda done the same thing. That fucker had no right to even talk to you, much less touch you. He’s lucky Eric didn’t break his neck.”
I sighed and said, “I get the protective instinct. You and Daddy have always been like that, so I understand. The thing is, you weren’t there to see it, Jase. You didn’t see the look in his eyes. That calm, laid-back Eric we both know wasn’t there. Elvis definitely left the building, and it scares me to think what would have happened if Johan and Chow wouldn’t have pulled him off of Bill.”
“Yeah, but Sook, you can’t really think about the what-might-have-been angle here. You’re charging him with a crime he didn’t commit, and that’s not fair to either one of you.”
Huh. Jason had a point. It wasn’t really fair to think about what might have happened, since it didn’t. I also knew, deep down in my gut, that this was a one time thing. All of the things I knew about Eric, his past notwithstanding, pointed to this being an extreme case of bad judgment compounded by really bad timing. I needed to focus on the things I knew, and the questions that could actually be answered. I had to let the rest of it go.
“Is it really that easy, though, Jason? I mean, if Crystal just up and did something that was completely out of character for her, would you be able to just look the other way?”
“Sook, I’m not saying you have to look the other way. I’m just saying you have to stick to what’s important about all of this. I mean, do you really think Eric is capable of what I think you’re suggesting he’s capable of?”
“Do I think he would have killed Bill?” I looked at Jason, who was looking over at me. “No, I don’t think he could have done that.”
“Well, alright then. There’s one thing you can stop worrying about.” Jason grinned at me like he’d just cured cancer. God bless my brother for being such a simpleton sometimes.
We pulled up to the house to find Daddy wrapping lights around the railings of the front porch. He and Mom always fought over decorating the exterior of the house, since it was set so far back from the road. No one could really see it, and Daddy thought it was pointless to run up the electric bill to put on a show for the woodland creatures. I probably would have been more inclined to agree with him if it weren’t for the fact that he always did such a nice job. I sometimes thought Mom and Daddy argued just because they liked to, and because they were good at it.
Their arguments were mostly them teasing or mocking each other back and forth, almost berating the other into submission. My parents never said anything to one another in a nasty tone where us kids could hear it, so if they ever fought over something serious, they hid it well from Jason and me. I wasn’t foolish enough to think they had a perfect marriage, but I admired them for never airing their marital problems in front of us kids.
I climbed out of Jason’s truck and ran over to my father much the same way I did when I saw him at Thanksgiving. He swept me up in a great big bear hug that felt better than I ever could have imagined. No matter how old I got, I was always going to be a Daddy’s girl. Really, my father was what I should be measuring men by, and not what Quinn did.
“How are you, baby girl?” Daddy asked once he set me down.
“I’ve been better.” I smiled against the gloved palm on my cheek.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here. You know I approve of that man of yours, but I think it’s probably a good idea you put some space between you for a spell.” Daddy gave me a sympathetic look.
“I’m inclined to agree with that.” I nodded.
“Are ya inclined to help me with your bags?” Jason asked from behind me, earning him a stink eye from Daddy.
“How ’bout I get Sookie’s bags, and you shimmy up on the roof and hang lights for your Mama?” Daddy countered.
“Daddy, do you really want Jason playing with your power tools?” I nudged our father, and Jason’s jaw dropped.
“Hey, that nail gun had an easy trigger, and it’s not like Hoyt lost that toe.” Jason said in his own defense.
I just shook my head and laughed. Jason and Hoyt had decided to build a fort out in the woods behind the house when we were kids. To this day no one knows exactly how it happened, but Jason somehow ended up shooting Hoyt in the foot with the nail gun. Ever since then, I make it a point to run screaming from the room at the mere mention of Jason with any sort of power tool at his disposal.
“Whatever you say, Jase.” I continued to grin at him.
He grumbled under his breath before going on into the house. Daddy just shook his head as Jason walked on. It was funny to me how Daddy and Jason were so similar in just about every way except smarts. While Jason was standing in the line for charisma, he missed the line for brain power.
“So, you feel like holding the ladder while I string lights around those befrigged gutters?” Daddy asked me.
“Sure.” I nodded. “Just let me run inside and say hello to Mom.”
“I’m glad you’re here, baby girl.” Daddy pulled me into another hug.
“Yeah, Daddy, me, too.” I kissed his cheek, and then headed into the house.
I was walking toward the kitchen when another wave of nausea hit me full force, sending me to the bathroom instead. I barely made it before the snack I’d had on the plane came rocketing out of me with brutal force. I hadn’t taken a pregnancy test yet, mostly because I wasn’t really ready to deal with the results if it was positive. I wanted to tell myself it was just stress, or maybe some bug that was going around like Eric had suggested. Was bringing a baby into the mess I was currently in a good idea?
I took a few minutes of quiet to get myself together before going off to find Mom. She was sitting at the kitchen table clipping coupons from the weekly paper. I don’t know why she bothered with it. I couldn’t recall her ever actually using them. Mom turned when she heard me approaching, and set down her scissors.
“Holy Hannah, honey, what’s the matter with you?” Mom launched herself out of her chair to take a closer look at me.
“I think I have some kind of stomach bug. I haven’t been feeling well the last few days.” I didn’t want to talk about the pregnancy possibility until I knew for sure if there was anything to talk about.
“Of course you haven’t.” Mom wrapped me in a warm hug that only she could give me. “You’ve had one hell of a week.”
“You have no idea.” My lip quivered.
“Oh, sure I do.” Mom rubbed my back, but didn’t let me go. “Relationships are never easy. I remember when your father and I were just starting out, and old Catfish Hennessy got fresh with me. Catfish was always a talker, and your Dad, well, he didn’t appreciate the kinds of things Catfish was saying. The point is, I’d never known Corbett to be the fighting type. We were having dinner at The Old Plantation House rover in Ruston, and Catfish just happened to be there. It was the fanciest place I’d ever been in my whole life, and your Daddy was so nervous about screwing up. It was the cutest thing.” Mom paused to giggle at her memories. “It was the first time I ever saw him in a suit, and I think I fell in love with him right then. Anyway… Catfish had been asking me out and I kept turning him down on account of the fact that I was already seeing your father.
“So there we are at the restaurant. Your Daddy mumbled and made the most awkward small talk all through dinner. It was horrible- at the time- but now when I look back on it, I know it was probably the best date we ever went on. We were on our way out the door, and had to pass by Catfish’s table to get out. Catfish grabbed my backside, which was completely unappreciated, and your father punched him right in the nose. That was after I threw Catfish’s water in his lap. I’d never seen that side of your Daddy before, and I’ll tell ya… there was something scary, but sexy about it. Now, I know it’s not quite what you’re going through with Eric, but honey, I really think he was just trying to protect you from someone he thought might hurt you worse than he already had. He was trying to do the right thing, even if he went about it the wrong way.” Mom fingered my hair before stepping back some.
I nodded because I knew she had a point on some level, but mostly, I didn’t have it in me to correct her about Eric’s motives. There were some things about Eric that just weren’t any of her business.
“Thanks, Mom.” I smiled at her. “I have to get back outside. I told Daddy I’d hold the ladder for him.”
Mom breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God. I was afraid Jason was going to get at the power tools again.”
That joke was never going to get old.