5: Man In the Box

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Eric stretched out on his bed three blocks away from where Sookie was. She was so close. It turned out she had been close by the entire time. It amazed him their paths had never crossed, given their round-the-clock coffee cravings. Then again, he was sure Madden had someone fetching coffee for his girlfriend whenever she wanted it. Hearing the details of how Sookie had gotten involved with Madden hadn’t been easy on him.

It’s not that he expected Sookie to remain celibate in his absence – Lord knew he hadn’t – but it was hard to hear how she’d been manipulated into a really bad situation. He’d heard enough of the battered wife defense to make his stomach turn, but in Sookie’s case… well, he told himself his judgment wasn’t tainted by his feelings for her. He also knew that was complete bullshit. He planned to call in every favor owed to him to make sure Madden was brought to justice for what he’d done.

The vigilante part of him started thinking of all the ways Madden might meet his end in prison before the trial was even over. He would be facing charges of domestic violence, in addition to multiple murders, drug possession, intent to distribute, coercion, flight from justice, resisting arrest, possession of a firearm (he was already a convicted felon), money laundering and a whole bunch of other things. Everything Eric could nail him for was going to get tacked on to the list. Hell, he could even throw in multiple kidnapping charges considering Sookie had left him several times, only to be dragged back to his apartment against her will.

Madden was going to die in prison one way or another.

He pushed thoughts of Madden to the back of his mind and let Sookie take center stage. He could still taste her on his tongue. The warm scent of cinnamon clung to him. It was going to suck when he had to shower in the morning and lose that smell. He could still feel the feather light touch of her fingertips tracing the lines of his tattoo and it made him shiver.

It was beyond unfair to know they still had the same chemistry they’d always had and there was nothing they could do with it. When the trial was over she was going to disappear. He’d meant it when he said he couldn’t get over her again. Although, after spending a few hours with her, he realized he’d never gotten over her a first time. He’d just pushed all of his thoughts to the back of his mind, burying them deep with all of the other things in his past that haunted him.

He’d gone through quite an angry phase not long after going to live with the Stackhouses. He’d hidden it well from just about everyone except the therapist he was forced to see twice a week in Monroe. That was the only place he felt comfortable talking about Mr. Ocella. While it was true he’d bonded with Sookie rather quickly, he didn’t want to scare her away with the horror story that was his life before he’d met her. He’d built a comfortable world for himself to escape to, telling himself that what he went through was what all kids went through. Even though he knew it wasn’t true.

Living with the Stackhouses proved Mr. Ocella was a monster. Discipline was one thing. He didn’t mind that. As he got older, he grew to understand the difference between discipline and abuse. He wasn’t sure what the word was for what he’d been through, but abuse seemed too big of a catch-all. Mr. Ocella had done some time in prison after Eric was taken away but it wasn’t nearly enough. The kinds of things Eric had gone through left scars that were never going to go away and the worst of them weren’t of a physical nature.

He rolled on his side and closed his eyes. The blurry image of his mother’s face floated into his mind. He rarely thought of her anymore. He’d thought of her all the time while he was still in Mr. Ocella’s ‘care’. Her name was Stina. She was tall. She had pretty blonde hair like her son’s. She had dark blue eyes and a radiant smile that could light up a dark room. She had a good sense of humor and she was smart. She was the one who taught Eric the alphabet and how to count.

She also had a heroine habit that often took precedence over caring for her son. She would try to get clean and maybe for a while, she’d stay that way. But she inevitably went back to the drug induced haze she could never seem to lose the craving for. Eric lost his mother when she accidentally overdosed. He was just four-years-old. That was when the abuse at Mr. Ocella’s hands really got bad.

Eric couldn’t remember his mother’s funeral or if she’d even had one. He wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t. There wasn’t money for something like that. As a kid, he wondered if his life would have been any better if she had survived. Before her death Mr. Ocella preferred to abuse Stina instead of Eric. He guessed it was only a matter of time until it was his turn but he would never know that for sure. Things could have been very different.

He rolled onto his back again and stared up at the ceiling. He hadn’t thought of his mother in years. He tried to get his mind to go blank. He needed sleep. He was exhausted. The entire day had been one thing after another and seeing Sookie again had taken a lot out of him. It brought up a whole host of memories he’d tried to suppress over the years because it was just too much to think about it all.

He sighed heavily and closed his eyes again. They snapped right back open when his cell phone rang on the nightstand. He scrambled to grab it and breathed another sigh of relief when he saw the code name he’d given Sookie flashing on his phone. “Thora” was calling.

***

July 1996

Eric walked into the kitchen to see Sookie dancing along to the Spice Girls while she cleaned. He paused in the doorway with a smile on his face. She was so lost in what she was doing that she didn’t even see him standing there watching her. She opened the fridge and stuck her head inside, leaving her ass hanging out and wiggling along to the music. Watching her move was amusing and an incredible turn-on at the same time.

He’d been suffering terrible cases of morning wood for months on account of her and having fresh images of her strutting around the house and yard in her bathing suits didn’t help at all. He was torn over his feelings for her. It was a complicated mess of emotions that was difficult to navigate. He saw her in so many different ways and she filled so many roles in his life. She was like a sister. She was his best friend. Now that he’d kissed her she was like… well he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but he wanted to be able to call her his girlfriend.

Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Stackhouse might have a thing or two to say about that. He wondered what would happen to his living arrangement if they found out he was dating their daughter. Would they be okay with that? Would they want him to leave? He panicked a bit and accidentally knocked over the broom when he tried to turn around to leave. Sookie yelped and stood up, rubbing her head.

“Eric? My stars, what are you doing?” Sookie clutched at her chest while he picked up the tattle tale broom.

“I was… well, you know I uh…” he could have kicked himself for being such a bumbling mess. “Sorry.”

He stood there wondering if Sookie’s heart was beating anywhere near has hard as his own was. It had been a little more than thirty-six hours since he’d kissed her and all he wanted was to do it again. They hadn’t spoken of it at all. Sookie had been treating him like she always did, although he could see there was something different in her eyes.

“Where are Corbett and Michelle?” His voice came out all weird.

“Shopping for the barbecue. Jason’s out with Hoyt and the boys.” Sookie looked at him oddly. “Are you okay? You look like you’re going to pass out.”

Eric took a few deep breaths as he made his way to the kitchen table and sat down on one of the chairs. Sookie got him a glass of water and stood over him. She smoothed his hair away from his face in what was meant to be a gesture of comfort, but her hand on him in any capacity just drove him crazy. She couldn’t so much as pat his shoulder anymore without raising the interest of parts below his waist. It was crazy how that happened, as far as he was concerned.

“Eric?” She bent her knees just a little so they were eye to eye.

One minute they were looking at each other and the next Sookie was climbing onto his lap while their lips hungrily attacked each other. Good God, she was an amazing kisser. Or maybe it was just because he was kissing her that it was so good. He didn’t know and he didn’t care. Her willowy arms circled his neck, holding him close to her while her tongue licked his lips. His mouth opened easily to her and they were off and running just like it had been on the porch swing.

Thirty-six hours without kissing her was too long. He never wanted to go that long again.

***

Present Day

“I hope I didn’t wake you,” Sookie whispered into the phone.

“Nope, not even close,” Eric sighed.

“I can’t sleep either, if it makes you feel any better.” She stared into the darkness, listening to the creaks and groans of the building around her, letting herself get acquainted with its noises.

What she didn’t say was how she wished he would have stayed. Even if it was just for one night and all they did was sleep, it would have been nice to be next to him. She always slept better when he was close and she was sure it was the same for him. As it had always been with them, he seemed to know what she was thinking.

“I shouldn’t be having sleepovers with you,” Eric said regretfully.

“I know. It sucks though.”

Eric actually laughed a little and said, “Yes, it does.”

“Do you remember camping out in the backyard when we were kids?” Sookie rolled onto her back and closed her eyes. If she concentrated hard enough she could still smell the damp summer air and feel the breeze on her cheeks.

“I remember you waking up screaming in the middle of the night because a spider was crawling up your leg.” Eric was really laughing now.

“That was terrible!” Sookie gasped, shivering at the memory. “That thing was as big as my head and you know it!”

“Sookie, it couldn’t have been bigger than a lady bug,” he argued.

“It was crawling on my body, so I think I know how big it was,” she argued in a stubborn tone.

“You’re such a drama queen,” he teased.

She scoffed and said, “This coming from the boy who would take off like a shot anytime he got within a few inches of a bee?”

“Hey, I have a good excuse for that. I’m allergic,” Eric reminded her.

They’d found that out the hard way when he’d been stung his first summer at her house. He’d swollen up and broken out in pretty bad hives. He was a mess for two days afterward. He’d tried to hide it, not wanting to cause any trouble for the Stackhouses by making them take him to the doctor. He still wasn’t used to anyone caring when he was hurt.

“Excuses, excuses,” Sookie teased. The banter between them felt good but it didn’t make things any easier.

“Before you called I was thinking about Stina,” Eric admitted in a more solemn tone.

Sookie’s good mood started to deflate. Eric only thought about his mother when he was feeling troubled. “Tell me about her,” she wanted to keep him talking, knowing that if he rambled on long enough, whatever knots were in his mind would work themselves out.

“I don’t want to ruin your night.” Eric was attempting to block it but it was pointless.

“Don’t be like that. If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t ask,” Sookie told him, just like she always did.

It amazed her how every time he talked about his mother, he remembered something new. It was usually something little, like how she never wore the color yellow or how she’d tried to teach him about football. Sometimes it was something bigger, like the way her voice sounded when she was happy or the songs she sang to him when he couldn’t sleep. His memories were distant and buried deep. He’d worked hard to bury them because it was too painful to remember.

She laid there listening to everything he had to say about a woman he hadn’t seen in almost thirty years. She often wondered, much like he did, how different his life would have been if she had managed to stay clean. Although Sookie was willing to bet if Stina had gotten herself cleaned up, she never would have met Eric. God, how different would her own life be if that had never happened?

She could tell the talking was working because Eric’s voice started to take on a sleepier tone. “Eric?”

“Yeah?” He was barely awake.

“Will you leave your phone right there by your pillow for a little while?” Sookie whispered.

“Sure.” There was a rustling sound she assumed was him turning over on his bed.

She imagined him curled on his side and she did the same, trying to convince herself that he was curled up behind her. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of him breathing. It didn’t take long before they were both sound asleep.

***

August 1996

Sookie writhed underneath Eric when his lips made contact with a special spot under her ear. He’d found the spot a few weeks before and made sure to spend ample time there whenever they found themselves making out. They had been on a slew of dates and had managed to keep their relationship a secret from everyone. They made sure to go out to places away from Bon Temps and when they did go out in public together with their friends, it was easy enough to act normal.

In fact, it was a bit of a turn-on to deprive themselves of the physical contact they both so desperately wanted. They were careful not to look at one another for too long or sit too close, although going to movies was probably the most difficult thing in the world. They were trapped in a dark room right next to one another. Just the brush of his elbow against hers on the armrest was enough to send chills all through her and more than once she’d excused herself to go to the bathroom mid-movie. Only once did she stay away for too long so Eric could follow her.

Their make out session was hard and fast but it was enough to let them return to their seats a little less wound up over each other. That was also the night he’d found the spot on her neck that made her squirm and moan. When they were at home they were equally as careful about the way they acted around each other. Sookie suspected her parents knew something had changed but they had yet to make any commentary on it.

At the moment, Eric and Sookie were alone in the house with both of her parents off at work. Jason and was already down at LSU for the school year. He’d managed to get himself a football scholarship and had jumped at the chance to play college ball. Eric and Sookie would be starting their junior year in a week and a half. They were intent on making the most of their last few days together before the drama of high school crept back into their lives. Never had Eric been so grateful to be set back two years in his education as he was right at that moment.

Sookie pushed on his chest, still squirming under him. “What’s wrong?” he asked breathlessly.

“We have to stop,” she said almost reluctantly.

“No, we don’t.” Eric dipped back down to resume where he was but Sookie pushed at his chest again.

“Believe me, I don’t want to but if we don’t we’re going to cross a line that I’m not ready to cross yet.” Sookie moved out from under Eric, who dropped to the bed, making Sookie bounce on the mattress.

“You think I’d try to push you into something you don’t want?” Eric stared up at the ceiling with a sour expression on his face.

“Well, I did just try to pull the plug and you ignored me.” Sookie’s expression matched his.

“That’s because I was perfectly happy with the speed we were going at.” Eric folded his arms over his chest. “And I’m guessing you weren’t.”

“Did I say that?” Sookie scoffed.

“I should get back to work.” Eric sat up quickly and pushed himself off the bed.

“You’re seriously leaving because I won’t make out with you anymore?” Sookie stared at his back as he headed for the door.

“I’m leaving because I have to go back to work. I’ll see you later.” He didn’t offer her a chance to say anything else before stomping down the stairs and slamming the front door behind him.

Sookie groaned loudly and threw herself back on the bed. She had half a mind to trail him to the job site she knew he was working on a few miles away. If her father wouldn’t have been there to witness the argument, she would have done just that. As it was, they had plans to go out later that night. There was a carnival over in Minden. It was the perfect event for them to go to. If they were spotted holding hands in the throngs of people, no one would think anything of it.

This was the first fight they’d ever had that wasn’t over what movie to watch or what kind of music they wanted to listen to in the car. It was different, fighting with him as his girlfriend. There was more at stake now when they fought. She wanted to believe this was a silly argument brought about by raging hormones and the fact that they hadn’t really talked about sex. Well, okay, they hadn’t talked about sex with each other. It seemed like that was a topic they needed to cover. And soon.

Sookie spent the bulk of the afternoon feeling miserable for accusing him of forcing himself on her, even if she did think he was a little hyper-defensive about it. But, she supposed, Eric was just giving as good as he got. She should have known better. She really hadn’t been so upset with him for wanting to kiss her more. She liked kissing him. She very much wanted that to continue. She wanted more than just kisses and that was part of the problem.

They were both so young and she wasn’t sure she was ready for more than kisses, even though she wanted more. It was kind of like how she sometimes wished she lived on her own but knew she wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility of it yet. She didn’t want to rush into something so important just so she could say she’d done it, or because she couldn’t keep control of her body. The fact that Eric didn’t pressure her for more wasn’t surprising to her. She knew he respected her too much to treat her like she owed him sex just because they were dating.

She took a long shower and got dressed for their night out, hoping he still wanted to go. She was reading on the porch swing when the truck pulled up with both her father and Eric inside. She marked her page with her thumb, expecting Eric to stop to talk to her like he did most days when he got home. Instead he walked right past her and into the house. He didn’t even look at her. Her heart plummeted into her feet.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” Corbett asked as he approached his daughter.

“Eric and I had a stupid fight earlier.” She could at least take some comfort in knowing she wasn’t lying to her father.

“Eh, you two’ll work it out,” Corbett said with confidence. He stopped to kiss her head before going inside. He paused for a moment at the door and looked over his shoulder. Sookie’s eyes were filled with unshed tears. “For what it’s worth, whatever you two fought about had him in a mood. Just talk to him.”

Sookie nodded but stayed right where she was on the porch. She knew it was better to let Eric come to her when he was upset about something. He retreated when prodded too much. It was residual from the abuse he’d suffered. She hated the twisting in the wind part of it. She hated to know he was tormenting himself over something and there was little she could do to help until he decided to let her. But when she stopped to think about it, she realized she was the same way. She hated being pushed into a corner and forced to explain herself.

She could wait for him. She would wait for him. He would come around.

***

Present Day

Sookie sat up in bed, her cell phone open on the mattress near her hand. The call was no longer connected but she wasn’t expecting it to be. She looked to see how long it had stayed connected since she couldn’t remember hanging up. The last thing she remembered was hearing Eric’s occasional soft snore on the other end of the line. It wasn’t the same as having him in bed with her but it was a comfort all the same.

The call had connected for more than three hours. Eric must have been the one to end it. She closed the phone and plugged it into the charger. She got out of bed slowly and made her way to the bathroom. She did her business and then looked into the mirror over the sink. Her eyes widened when she noticed a slight discoloration on her neck.

“Holy hell,” she muttered. She hadn’t had a hickey since she was maybe seventeen and of course, that had been Eric’s handiwork too.

She thought about calling him to tell him what he’d done but instead she pulled her hair up into a ponytail and took a picture of her neck. Before she could stop herself, she sent him the picture via text message along with the message, “Maybe I should call you Vampire instead of Viking.”

It took about thirty second for her phone to ring. The word ‘Viking’ was flashing clear as day on the display. She felt an extreme giddiness in her chest as she pushed the button to accept the call.

“I take it you got my message?” she sounded way flirtier than she planned.

“Sorry about that. I didn’t realize we’d gotten so carried away,” Eric apologized.

“It’s nothing a frozen spoon won’t clear up,” she shrugged. “Although I will say the last time I had one of these things you were also responsible.”

“What can I say? Your neck is delicious.” The words went straight to points further south on her body. But of course, Eric remembered himself. “Sorry. I shouldn’t say things like that.”

Sookie sighed heavily. They had agreed they were going to be professional about things. They couldn’t let their past interfere with their mission. It was a bullshit agreement and they both knew it.

“Eric, let’s be honest for a second.”

“Aren’t we always?” The quirk of his eyebrow was evident in his voice.

“Our past is a part of us. It’s going to have a role in everything we do, whether it’s putting Victor behind bars or the way we relate to each other. It’s always going to be there.”

There was silence on the line. Sookie pulled the phone away from her ear to make sure Eric hadn’t hung up on her. They were still connected.

Finally, he spoke. “I want to see you again.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she laughed feebly. “You’re welcome anytime.”

“I’ll be there at seven,” he promised.

“I’ll be waiting,” she said, and then he was gone.

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