Sookie lay flat on her back, stretched out under the very warm sun. It wasn’t officially summer yet but it sure felt like it. She was flanked on either side by Tara Thornton and Claudine Crane. The three of them were dressed in skimpy bikinis and sunglasses, soaking up all the rays they could. A group of older boys that was comprised of Jason and his friends were farther from the house, pretending to play football. They were really out there to ogle the bikini clad girls.
Claudine giggled and asked, “Could they be a little more obvious?”
Tara lifted her head and looked over to the group of boys who suddenly sprang into action, making Tara and Claudine laugh. “Let ’em look,” Tara said through her giggles and with a shimmy of her chest.
The boys were all shirtless and sweaty. There were lots of hormones flying around the backyard. Sookie kept her head on the ground. There was nothing in her yard she hadn’t seen before, and frankly, there was only one boy she wanted ogling her and he wasn’t there. He was working with her Dad on the road crew. He was saving money for college, even though there was still two more years before he would get to go.
“What’s the deal with you and Eric these days, Sook?” Tara tried to make it sound as innocent as possible.
“We’re friends,” Sookie shrugged.
“Uh huh.” The eye roll was evident in Claudine’s voice.
“We are,” Sookie insisted.
“Y’all two are always making moon eyes at each other,” Tara pointed out.
“We do not!” Sookie reached out and slapped Tara’s thigh.
“Okay, fine. You’re always making moon eyes at him,” Claudine corrected.
“Ugh,” Sookie grunted and sat up, starting another round of awkward shuffling at the other end of the yard. A few boys bumped into each other, making her roll her own eyes behind her sunglasses. “We’re friends. He’s my foster brother.”
“So? It’s not like y’all are related by blood. Besides, you can’t tell me you don’t get all tingly in certain places when you see him coming out of the shower in the morning.” Tara wiggled her eyebrows.
“No, I do not,” Sookie said with conviction, even though she was lying through her teeth.
“He’s a gorgeous boy, Sookie. If you’re not careful, some other girl is going to snap him right up,” Claudine warned.
“Eric’s not dating,” Sookie said plainly.
“Why the hell not? It’s not like there isn’t a whole line of girls who wouldn’t love to date him.” Tara sat up as well. “Is he gay?”
Sookie scoffed at the mere suggestion Eric might be gay. “Just because he’s not dating doesn’t mean he’s gay,” she said in Eric’s defense.
“It’s just weird is, all. He’s the cutest boy in school. He’s got a mysterious past and a bright future. Since you two clearly aren’t gettin’ it on,” Claudine said with a thrust of her hips, getting her a smack like Tara had only moments before. “It just makes sense to assume he’s into men.”
“He’s not gay.” Sookie glared at each of her friends who both just shrugged.
Hearing things like that didn’t make Sookie feel any better. She was more than aware of all the attention Eric got. She overheard girls talking about him all the time and it made her stomach turn. She knew there wasn’t a single one of them he would date, but that didn’t really make her feel any better. She was irrationally jealous where Eric was concerned, and hated any girl who looked at what she considered to be hers with an interested eye.
“He’s got more important things to worry about than silly girls.” Sookie reached for her tanning oil.
“Is that right?” Tara grabbed a magazine and started flipping the pages of it.
“Or maybe he’s just waiting for you to make a move,” Claudine suggested.
“Oh, now you’re just talking silly,” Sookie laughed.
“Come on, Sook, you can’t tell me you never noticed how he looks at you,” Tara scoffed.
“We’re friends. That’s all,” Sookie insisted.
“Mmmhmmm.” Her friends sounded like they believed it about as much as Sookie did.
“I’m going inside for lemonade. Y’all want some?” Sookie stood up to a bunch of catcalls and wolf whistles at the other end of the yard before Jason started threatening to ‘dead leg’ anyone who went near his sister.
The girls on either side of Sookie giggled and said, “Nah.”
“Suit yourselves.” Sookie shrugged and headed into the house.
She was surprised to see Eric sitting at the kitchen table when she walked inside. She hadn’t heard her father’s truck pull up to the house. He was dressed in a pair of dirty jeans and a Parish t-shirt. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He had a serious farmer’s tan going already, and he had only been on the road crew for two weeks. She could see the muscles of his shoulders and back strain against the material of his shirt and she had to stop and take a deep breath before moving any further.
Eric turned to see Sookie standing there and it was obvious her attire affected him just as much. She suddenly felt self-conscious for approaching him in what was essentially her underwear. It’s not like Eric hadn’t seen her in a bikini before but the last time he did, she wasn’t quite so filled out. Her body had changed quite a bit since the previous summer, as was evident by the way Eric’s eyes bugged out of his head.
Sookie opted to shake it off and said, “I didn’t hear the truck.”
“I had to get out of the sun for a while. I was getting a little lightheaded so Corbett told me to eat lunch at home,” Eric explained.
“I see,” Sookie said as she retrieved the lemonade from the fridge. “You want a refill?” she offered after filling her own glass.
“Yeah, thanks.” Eric smiled at her.
Sookie glanced down at him once while she filled his glass and noticed his eyes had settled on her barely covered breasts. There was a little tingle that went off in those places Tara had been referring to earlier and she quickly turned away in hopes Eric wouldn’t notice the pebbling of her nipples.
“So, um, how’s it going?” Sookie asked after she was safely facing the other direction.
“Good.” Eric sounded distant.
“Daddy’s taking good care of you out there?”
“Good.” Sookie kept her back to him, although she wasn’t sure that was much better than being face to face with him. “Well, I should get back outside. Tara and Claudine are waiting for me.”
“Yeah, right. I should finish up here and get back to the crew.” Eric took another bite of his sandwich.
“I was thinking to check out the movie at the drive-in later. You want to go?” Sookie paused at the back door. You did not just ask your best friend out on a date, she told herself, although she wasn’t so sure she hadn’t.
“Yeah, that would be fun. I’ll be home around three,” Eric promised her.
“Cool. Well,” she grinned a silly grin and looked over her shoulder, knowing Eric was looking at her. “Have a good day at work, honey.”
Eric winked at her and watched her walk out of the house.
Eric navigated them back to the chair where he’d put his shirt. Sookie tumbled onto his lap, straddling him easily. Their lips never parted. He’d forgotten how good she tasted, which he didn’t think was possible. Kissing her was the easiest thing in the world. From the minute he’d done it, he’d known she was special. Technically, he’d known that before but the kissing elevated her to a new kind of special. She wasn’t the first girl he’d kissed but as far as he was concerned, Sookie was the only one that mattered. That feeling hadn’t faded almost fifteen years later.
They didn’t stop kissing each other until Sookie moved to pull off her shirt. She got the soft material just past her stomach when Eric stopped her. It took every ounce of strength he had to do it, but he had to.
Sookie’s chest heaved in time with Eric’s as they both struggled to catch their breath. She dropped her sweater and pressed her forehead to Eric’s. “It’s always going to be there, isn’t it?”
He didn’t need to answer her question. They both knew it would be. Whatever it was between them, no matter where they went in life, they would always be able to pick up where they left off. Only this time neither of them could afford to get attached. Just like it was years before, their lives were about to go down two totally different paths and the other couldn’t follow.
“It’s not fair,” Sookie whispered.
“Life is rarely ever fair.” Eric tucked some of her hair behind her ear.
“You know there’s this part of me that really wants to forget where we’re headed and just be here with you, right now.” Her breath fell warmly on his face.
“I think I know which part that is.” He shifted again underneath her so his erection rubbed against her core, making her groan.
“Don’t do it if you don’t mean it.” She looked deep into his eyes.
“I always mean it.”
“Yeah.” She bit her bottom lip, and then started to climb off his lap.
His hands reached out and grabbed her hips to keep her in place. “If we did this, it would be complicated.”
Sookie’s mouth hung open. “It wouldn’t be forever.” She realized how many ways that particular sentence could be taken, but she was sure Eric got the spirit in which it was intended.
He wasn’t good with indecision. He saw what he wanted and he went after it. He never let anything stand in his way. Only this time there were too many forces working against them. When the trial was over, she was going to have to go away. He would go back to searching out the bad guys and bringing them to justice. She would settle somewhere unknown to him with a new life. He hoped she would find someone to love, marry and have children with. He wanted her to have all the things she wanted, even if she couldn’t have them with him.
He was just about to lean in and kiss her when his phone buzzed in his pocket. They both exhaled slowly while Eric reached for his phone. Sookie got off his lap and put her sweater to rights before resuming her pose on the couch. Eric looked at the call display to see that it was Pam.
“What?” he snapped when he answered the call.
“We have a problem,” Pam announced.
“What is it?” Eric pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Madden just got on his private jet. The flight log says he’s headed to Mexico.”
“Fuck me,” Eric groaned.
“I’ll leave that to Sookie,” Pam retorted quickly.
“We need to file charges, Eric, first thing in the morning. You know what a pain in the ass extradition is from that miserable country.”
“Don’t stay there all night.”
“What are you, my mother?”
“You’re thinking with your dick.”
“Goodnight, Pam. Don’t call me again unless it’s an emergency.”
“Oh, darn, and here I thought we might talk about—” Eric hung up before Pam could finish her sentence.
“What’s wrong?” Sookie asked quietly.
“Does Victor have a house in Mexico?”
Sookie thought for a moment and said, “He’s got several, actually. He also owns several properties in South America. His crown jewel is in Columbia.”
“Wonderful,” Eric sighed heavily.
“Pam’s just looking out for you, Eric,” Sookie offered.
“Pam’s looking out for Pam. This case means a lot to both of our careers.”
“So what does it mean that Victor’s fled the country?” Sookie got right back to the professional stuff.
“It means I’m going to have a lot of paperwork to do and the feds are going to be called. The U.S. Marshals will be scouring third world villages until they find him.”
“And when they do?”
“We’re going to have to fight like hell to bring him back here.”
“And if they won’t give him up?”
Eric smirked his usual, cocky smirk and said, “Sookie, I always get what I want.”
Sookie smiled at him, knowing all too well how true that statement tended to be. But then her smile faltered and said asked, “Even me?”
Sookie sat on the porch swing, staring up at the stars shining brightly overhead. Crickets chirped in the woods that surrounded the house. It was a humid, sticky night, which was perfect for the first of July. She pulled her hair up away from her neck with one hand, and fanned herself with the other. All things considered, she’d had a good sixteenth birthday.
Her mother had fussed and fawned over her all day long, making her a special breakfast before taking her shopping for her birthday present. She wasn’t one of those girls who would be getting a car for her birthday but she didn’t mind that one bit. In fact, she didn’t want her parents to hand her anything. She wanted to work for what she had. She figured if Eric could do it then so could she, and she’d had a much better head start in the world than he had.
She was just thinking about going inside to get a Popsicle from the freezer when Eric appeared in the doorway, carrying two of them. She grinned at him, hoping one was for her. He sat down on the swing next to her and handed one over.
“Yes! You’re such a mind reader.” Her smile sparkled in the darkness as she unwrapped her Popsicle. “God, this is delicious.”
Eric laughed at the child-like delight with which she attacked her treat. Normally, Sookie was the sort to take her time and savor things, but it was simply too hot for that. She polished off her Popsicle in record time and set the stick down on the railing beside the swing. She piled her hair on top of her head and secured it with a perfectly white scrunchie.
“Okay, so this is going to sound weird,” she shifted on the swing, arching her back so her breasts were pushed out. She ignored the fact that Eric was trying not to stare at her. “But I really wish they had bras with ice packs in them.”
Eric laughed beside her and said, “You come up with some of the weirdest things, Sookie.”
She pulled her tank top with the built-in bra away from her chest to get some air against her skin. “You have no idea how hot it is in there!” she pointed down her shirt.
The look on his face was priceless. Teasing that had once been good natured in a best friends or even sibling sort of way had evolved into something more like flirting. Their words were tainted with sexual undertones and occasional innuendos. It was becoming more and more difficult to push away the attraction they were feeling to one another and the harder they tried to hide it, the more obvious it seemed to be to everyone else.
Eric finished his Popsicle and set the stick on the armrest beside him. “So, there’s something I want to give you but I didn’t want to do it in front of everyone else.”
“Oh yeah?” Sookie beamed at him, adjusting herself on the swing so she was angled toward him. She held out her hands expectantly, wiggling her fingers. “Gimme.”
Eric’s smile softened while he leaned to the side to reach into his pocket. He produced a little black velvet box and dropped it in Sookie’s waiting hands. She looked down at the box, prepared to chide Eric for spending too much money on her.
“Open it.” His eyes were serious and stopped her from protesting.
She licked her lips, delighting in the citrusy flavor that clung to them. Her smile re-emerged when she looked at Eric. He was smiling right back at her, anxious to see her reaction to her present. She opened the box and looked down. Inside was a gold necklace with a little golden hammer hanging from it. She recognized its meaning immediately and felt tears sting her eyes.
“Eric, you shouldn’t have,” her voice cracked.
His large fingers plucked the chain from the box. “I take it you remember what this means?”
She nodded and asked, “How could I forget?”
He opened the clasp and put the chain around her neck closing the clasp again. The hammer fell lightly on her chest, just above the deep valley of her cleavage. She looked down at the little hammer resting against her skin and smiled at it. It was perfect.
“Thank you.” She smiled up at him.
“You’re welcome. Do you like it?”
Her jaw dropped for a moment before she said, “I love it. It was very thoughtful of you. Thank you.”
He nodded to her and started to rock the swing with his long legs. She stayed angled toward him, fidgeting with the empty box in her small hands.
“So, was that what you wanted to give me or was there something else?” she asked shyly.
“Greedy,” he teased her.
Her mouth dropped open again and she slapped his arm playfully. “Shut up! That’s not what I meant. I’m just wondering why we had to be alone for you to give this to me.” She reached up for the first time to slide the hammer back and forth over the chain.
“Well, there is something else I wanted to give you.” His voice sounded different and it made her shiver. “Close your eyes.”
She had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up in case she was wrong. All the same, her heart thundered in her chest and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. She closed her eyes like he asked and tried to keep herself calm. She felt him move on the swing beside her and then his fingertips were under her chin, changing the angle of her face. She drew in a sharp breath and then his lips were on hers.
His lips were so soft. She knew they were from the few kisses he’d brushed on her cheeks or her forehead in the past, but it was different to feel his lips on hers. She detected the faint taste of cherry from the Popsicle he’d finished only minutes before. He tilted his head to the side and then she felt his tongue lick her lips. She froze for a moment. She’d never kissed anyone like that before.
JB du Rhone had tried it once and she’d stomped on his toes. She wanted to kiss Eric like a grown up, with tongues, heavy breathing and all the passion she had in her body, but she was afraid she was going to do it wrong. She was afraid it would ruin their friendship and she couldn’t bear it if that happened. Eric was patient though and waited another minute before trying again.
Something in her brain told her to just give it a chance. She was never going to learn if she didn’t try. So she opened her mouth just the tiniest bit for him and he deepened the kiss just a little, slowly easing her into it. It was strange, at first, to feel his tongue against her own, but only because she’d never felt something like it before. She’d never really understood how touching someone else’s tongue was a big deal, but she understood when hers touched his.
She pulled back for just a second, needing a moment to catch her breath. Eric’s eyes were locked on hers, his fingers still under her chin. He opened his mouth to say something to her and she launched herself at him, picking up right where they’d left off. They stayed that way for the longest time, exploring each other’s mouths and the kinds of sounds they could get each other to make using only their lips and tongues.
He didn’t try to grope her or get her to go farther than the kisses. He took the scrunchie out of her hair so he could run his fingers through it, but that was the closest he came to putting his hands on her. She followed in kind, twirling strands of his shoulder length hair around her own fingers, tugging every once in a while when she wanted him to move his head a different way.
When they finally pulled apart it was like they were seeing each other with new eyes. She smiled at him peacefully and fingered the hammer on her chest. She didn’t think she’d ever be able to stop smiling. Kissing him had been perfect. It felt right, like it was what she was meant to be doing. She leaned in once more and kissed the tip of his nose.
“Sweet dreams, Eric.” She got off the swing and headed to the door.
“Happy birthday, Sookie.” He looked every bit as dazed as she did.