Chapter 3

The next morning I wake up to find that I’m alone in my bed. The gift Eric brought me is sitting unopened on my night stand with a note propped against it. I reach for the note first, and rub my eyes a little to get them to focus on his surprisingly neat handwriting.

Dear Sookie,

I’m sorry I didn’t wake you up, but you looked peaceful so I couldn’t do it. I only left because I have to be at work in half an hour. Believe me, I would rather stay in bed with you all day, or at least until you got sick of me and threw me out. I thought about the things you said last night, and while I won’t lie and tell you I’m not disappointed, I also don’t want you to feel obligated to make this into something more. The ball is completely in your court, but if this is it, I just want you to know that I will never forget you.

Even if it doesn’t mean the same to you, last night means everything to me. I don’t think there are words to describe it, really. Maybe my gift will help you understand.

Thank you again, Sookie, for everything you did for me without even knowing it.

Always,

Eric

I swear, he couldn’t be sweeter if he was a Nicholas Sparks character come to life. I read over his note once more, still stunned to have been such a big part of his life without knowing it. As a teacher that is what I had always aspired to, but the things Eric feels for me go so far beyond that. It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest.

I set the note aside and reach for the bag. After pulling out a few sheets of tissue paper I get to the actual gift, and it’s a very old copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It’s a book I haven’t read yet, but has always been on my list. I shift on my bed and consider whether or not to call Eric and thank him, but given the time I’m sure he’s still at work so it would be a wasted call. I’m just about to flip through the book and skim over a few pages when my cell phone rings. By tone I know it’s Amelia calling, and I’m surprised she’s awake already considering how trashed she was when she left the night before.

I put the book down on the night stand and grab the phone instead to check in with my best friend.

“Morning, sunshine,” I say cheerfully.

“Stop shouting, please,” she whimpers.

“Head bothering you a little?” I ask, and I can feel her glowering at me from where I am.

“I swear to God, Sook, I’ve never thrown up that much in my life. Tray’s truck is… well, I redecorated it,” she tells me and I laugh quietly. “I feel like a fucking trainwreck personified.”

“Awww, sweetie,” I coo at her. “Want me to come pick you up so we can go have a greasy as sin breakfast together? I have a story to tell you about last night anyway.”

“What kind of story?” she asks, since Amelia is the type who lives for gossip.

“I had sex last night,” I confess, and I know I’ve got her attention.

“I’ll be ready in ten minutes,” she says, and hangs up the phone.

I knew that’d get her. I get out of bed and realize I’m still quite naked from the night before. I don’t have time to shower before Amelia starts calling me every three minutes to find out where I am, but I go to the bathroom and get myself cleaned up a little bit before putting on a summer dress and piling my hair up on my head in a messy bun. I wash my face, brush my teeth and decide to leave Eric’s note at home. There are some things in my life that Amelia just doesn’t need to know about, no matter how much I love her.

When I get to Tray’s house fifteen minutes later Amelia is waiting for me on the porch with a pair of Audrey Hepburn style sunglasses perched on her nose. She’s got on a pair of what have to be Tray’s pajama pants, as well as one of his old t-shirts. I can’t help but giggle at how drunk she still seems to be, but I don’t really care. She gets into my car and groans dramatically as she sinks into the seat.

“I hate the sun,” she whimpers and fastens her seatbelt.

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel much better after we get one of those meat lover’s skillets in you,” I pat her knee and start to back out of Tray’s driveway.

“Speaking of meat lovers,” Amelia’s eyebrows wiggle up above the frames of her glasses, and it makes me laugh. “Spill it, missy.”

I know Amelia is going to want as much detail as I’m willing to give, maybe more than that. I tell her how Eric and I met, and then get into what happened after she left. I tell her about how Eric ran into me years ago when I first started teaching at the high school, and the unknown impact I had on his life. She sits quietly while I glaze over the details of the sex I had the night before. I’ve never been the kind of girl who gives the play by play to my friends unless something happened that freaked me out. With Eric, however, the only thing freaky about it was how right it felt, and I tell Amelia that.

“How big is he?” she asks, and I’m not at all surprised. Amelia is nothing if not a size queen.

I roll my eyes and ask, “What does that matter?”

“Bitch please,” she stares at me like I should know better, and I do. “He’s got catcher’s mitts for hands. I bet it was like a beer can.”

Thank fuck I’m not drinking anything or she’d be wearing it.

“All you’re getting is that my fingers didn’t touch when I wrapped my hand around it,” I tell her and she grins in a way that makes me uncomfortable. “Stop it, or I swear…”

“Oh calm your tits,” she says, and even though I can’t see it I know she’s rolling her eyes behind her enormous sunglasses. “Well now I know the size of the boat. How was the motion of the ocean?”

“Amazing,” I say, not having to even think twice about that.

“Amazing because you’ve had nothing but calm seas for the last five hundred years?” she suggests, and I slap her leg. “Or because he made you come like it was monsoon season?”

“Oh my God, shut up!” I laugh.

“Answer my question,” she insists, and I know if I don’t she’s just going to keep coming up with awful euphemisms for orgasms.

“Option number two,” I admit as color creeps up my neck.

“Thank fuck!” she says with relief. “So where is the Viking sex God this morning? Why not keep him chained to your bed for as long as possible?”

“He had to work,” I explain. “He left me a note, though.”

“What’d he say? Are you going to see each other again? Is he in love with you now that he’s finally made love to you, or is this a hit and quit it situation?” she rapid fires her questions at me.

I pull into the diner parking lot, and decide to answer her questions once we’ve been seated. As soon as the busboy comes by with coffee we’re both eagerly flipping our mugs over. Amelia handles the sugars for our coffees while I appropriately dose hers with creamer. Once we’ve each had a sip, I start talking again. Some things are just better discussed with a little caffeine in the system.

“The note basically thanked me for last night and for all the things I did for him without even knowing I did any of them. He’s really sweet, and there’s a part of me that thinks I would be nuts to just walk away from him,” I tell her.

“But?” she asks because she knows there’s one coming.

“I don’t know, isn’t it a little strange that he’s had all these intense feelings for someone he doesn’t even know? What if he just thinks he’s in love with the fantasy version of me?” I suggest.

“Did he use the word ‘love’ at any point?” she asks me.

“No,” I shake my head, and that’s the truth. Not even in the note did he mention the word love.

“So then I think maybe you’re getting a little ahead of yourself, don’t you think?” she finally takes off her sunglasses so I can see how bloodshot her eyes are.

“Oh sweetie,” I shake my head and laugh.

“Yeah, yeah, I look like hell, but here’s the thing… when I woke up this morning Tray was laying right there next to me. No matter how big of an ass I am sometimes, or how much we get on each other’s nerves, he’s always there. I love him so much more than I ever could have imagined I would ever love anyone, Sook, and I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life alone because you’re always looking for reasons not to give your heart to someone. If you look hard enough you’ll always find those reasons. Eventually you just have to let go and let yourself be happy. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but you’re never going to know if you don’t try.

“You’ve been hiding, Sookie, and I never really said anything about it because we both know you’re a stubborn ass woman who would rather cling to her pride than admit she’s wrong a lot of the time. It’s one of the things I love about you, but it’s also what can make you your own worst enemy. Maybe he does love the fantasy version of you, but it sounds to me like Eric wants the chance to know who you are now. That’s a start, and I think you owe it to yourself to take that chance.

“Besides, he’s had feelings for you for at least six years… that’s a long time to carry that around. Give the guy a chance. The worst that can happen is you go out to dinner and find out he’s a total freak show. At least you get dinner out of the deal and the knowledge that you tried. But you gotta start somewhere, honey,” Amelia reaches for a croissant in the bread basket sitting on our table.

The waitress comes over to see if we’re ready to order. We both get the meat lover’s skillet, but I get mine without ham. I get pancakes and Amelia gets an English muffin just like we always do. We change the subject after that and talk about other things. My mind stays on Eric, though, and I find myself thinking about what I’m going to do.

Amelia has raised a series of good points, and it both makes me feel good and pisses me off that she knows me so well. But that’s what a best friend is for, right? They’re supposed to hold a mirror up to us when we act like fools to get us to see reason. Even so my stubborn nature wants to stick to my original thought that maybe getting closer to Eric is a mistake.

Two days later it’s my day off again, and I finally get around to settling in with the book Eric gave me. It’s a rainy day, but I can still sit on my porch swing while I read. I prop my feet up on the railing in front of the house and start to flip through the book. I’ve always had the habit of skipping around and reading random passages just to get a feel for the tempo of the book. I never read the last page beforehand, though.

I’m somewhere in chapter six when I see that a passage has been highlighted. The words cause me to gasp, and I can’t help but wonder if Eric marked that particular passage, or if it was there before he got his hands on the book. The brightness of the yellow marking makes me think it’s pretty new since it’s not at all faded.

“I kissed her and saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into,” says the passage that’s highlighted.

My mind reels back to after Eric and I had finished having sex, and I had blurted out all the jumbled things in my mind. He had leaned over and kissed me, and then my closed eyes. He had done that on purpose, and I had to believe he had done so with the words I was reading front and center in his mind. Even if I’m crazy he accepts me; he wants me as I am. I realize then that I can, and will, do the same for him.

My lower lip started to tremble, and before I can change my mind I run back into the house to get my car keys.

oOoOoOo

The parking lot is crowded when I get to Trader Joe’s. I have no way of knowing whether or not Eric is working, that is until I spy his Corvette in the parking lot. I breathe a sigh of relief and then know I’m going to have to make a run for it. It’s pouring outside and odds are, I’ll be soaked by the time I get into the store, but I don’t care.

I run through the parking lot with a smile on my face that probably makes most people I pass think I’m insane, but that only makes my smile bigger. I walk into the store and look to the left where the cashiers are. I don’t see Eric, but I know he’s around somewhere. I start walking through the store, knowing he can’t be that hard to miss at his height. When I see a blond head in the wine section I quickly move in that direction.

He’s talking with a customer about the differences in the wines she’s contemplating, and even though I’m soaked to the bone I hang back and wait for them to finish talking. When Eric turns to see me standing there, he looks surprised to see me, not that I blame him. I haven’t contacted him at all in the last few days.

“Hey,” he says with a hint of a smile.

“Hi,” I step closer to him, that crazy grin still stuck on my face. “I um, I don’t suppose you have a few minutes so we could talk, do you?”

“I’m actually due for a break. Hang on a second,” he tells me.

“I’ll wait for you outside,” I say, and nod toward the door.

I go back outside where it’s actually warmer, even with the rain, and wait under the awning for Eric to come outside. He’s back in his cargo shorts and another ridiculous Hawaiian shirt, but it still looks insanely good on him. My heart starts beating ridiculously fast, and when he’s standing right in front of me all the words I planned on saying go right out the window. Instead, I reach up to grab his face and kiss him.

I don’t get very far before Eric breaks the kiss and presses his forehead to mine, something not so easily done for very long at his height. I can feel his breath on my face, and his hands cup my jaw, but they’re so big I can feel them on my neck, too. I open my eyes to look up into his and see that they’re still closed. Without thinking twice, I tilted my face and kiss his closed eyelids.

“I got your message,” I whisper to him, and I see the smile slowly spread across his face. “Did you mean all of the things you highlighted for me, or am I just crazy?”

“Both, I think,” he says, and adjusts the tilt of my head again. “Did you mean it when you kissed me?”

I nod and say, “I got hurt before and it was because of me. I let myself get carried away and the first time I laid eyes on you, last week that is, I felt that same thing where I knew it would be easy to get swept up, but I know I can’t keep hiding. I want to take a leap, and I want to take it with you.”

Eric looks into my eyes for a few seconds before his smile starts to grow again. I want to kiss the corners of his beautiful mouth, but he’s holding onto me too tightly for me to move. He kisses my forehead, the tip of my nose and finally my lips. The wind changes and we’re being pelted with rain, but that doesn’t stop either of us. His hands move to my hair and when my warms wrap around his neck he lifts me off the ground. My legs circle his waist and he stands there in the rain, kissing a crazy girl that’s had a lock on his heart for six years. I can’t even begin to imagine what he must be feeling.

The kiss breaks only when Eric’s co-worker comes outside to tell him he’s late coming back from his break. My legs unlock from around his waist and he slowly sets me down on the ground again.

“Will you come see me when you get off work? I think we should talk some more,” I tell him.

He nods and kisses me once more in a way that makes my toes curl, and I stand there watching him as he goes back inside. On my way back to the car I jump in every puddle and laugh like I’ve completely lost it, but I can’t remember ever being so happy.

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