7: Play With Fire

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September 1996

Eric and Sookie sat side by side at the kitchen table with their parents at either end, staring intently at them. While she hadn’t been surprised by what she saw when she came home, Michelle wasn’t terribly happy about it either. Sookie and Eric had separated pretty quickly, as awkward as it was. Michelle told them to go to their rooms, thankful Eric was on the first floor and Sookie would be upstairs. She was at a loss for what to say. Just what was the appropriate response for a mother who walked in on her foster son making out with her sixteen-year-old daughter?

There was a part of her that wanted to nip it in the bud and forbid them from dating but she knew that was moot point. They would continue to sneak around if they wanted to. It was better to set some ground rules. It was obvious Eric was nervous. She could see it in the way he fidgeted and flinched while she and Corbett spoke.

Before calling the kids down to discuss it, she and Corbett had decided they weren’t really so upset the two them were dating, if, in fact, that was what was happening. Eric was a good kid. He did well in school and they knew he genuinely cared for their daughter. Frankly, they couldn’t ask for a better boyfriend for her. The problem was proximity. The danger was temptation. Neither of them was ready to be grandparents any more than Eric and Sookie were ready to be parents.

“Are you having sex?” Michelle asked, earning her wide-eyed, terrified looks from both kids.

“No!” They both said emphatically at the same time.

“Good. Keep it that way,” Corbett said, knowing full well they would do what they wanted, no matter what sort of edict was handed down to them. It wasn’t so long ago he was sneaking around with Michelle under her own parents’ noses.

“Are you dating?” Michelle asked them.

Eric and Sookie looked at each other and the smile on their faces was answer enough, but it was Eric who spoke up. “Yes. We have been going on dates for more than two months now.”

That was news to both Corbett and Michelle. They’d suspected something had changed between the two of them but they’d certainly done a good job of keeping it quiet. Eric and Sookie spent so much time together they really didn’t have any reason to think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It had more to do with the way the two of them looked at each other when they thought no one was paying attention.

“Two months?” Corbett looked from Sookie to Eric.

“We wanted to tell you. We just weren’t sure how you would react,” Sookie offered, getting a chuckle from her father.

“So you thought you’d let your mother catch you necking on the couch?” Corbett glared hard at Sookie when she had to restrain herself from laughing over his use of the term ‘necking.’

“Usually we’re more careful,” Sookie admitted with a whisper.

“Well, let me tell you how it’s going to be from now on,” Michelle said in her stern mother’s tone. “We know we can’t stop you from seeing each other. First of all, you live in the same house. Second of all, we trust you to make good decisions. Neither of you have ever given us a reason to think you would be stupid kids all of a sudden.”

“But hormones get in the way,” Corbett cut in. “And we’re not ready to be a Pop Pop and a Gran.”

“That’s good, because we’re not ready to be parents,” Sookie assured her parents.

“Definitely not,” Eric chimed in.

“Good.” Michelle sounded a bit relieved. “You’re going to do what you’re going to do, but you’re not going to do it under our roof. This is not a love shack.”

Sookie was again restraining giggles. As if I could have sex with Eric knowing my parents are in the next room, she thought, thankful her brain filter was stopping her mouth from letting the words out. Instead she nodded obediently and squeezed Eric’s hand under the table.

“There will be no making out on the couch or any other room of this house. That includes the front and back porch and if I so much as think I hear you in the bushes, I reserve the right to turn on the hose on you.” Corbett stared alternately at each teen.

And you two will not be allowed in each other’s bedrooms without the door open,” Michelle warned.

Michelle and Corbett weren’t stupid. They knew the no make out rule was sure to be broken plenty of times but they were giving it their best shot.

“If things change and you decide to take the next step, I’ll take you for birth control,” Michelle offered.

“And I’ll buy a shotgun just in case,” Corbett grumbled under his breath, not bothering to clarify whether it would be for a wedding or a murder weapon.

“Curfew stays the same. Don’t be surprised if we wait up for you and do random bed checks just to make sure you are where you’re supposed to be.” Michelle looked from Eric to Sookie. “Are we clear?”

“Crystal.” Sookie nodded.

“Yes, ma’am.” Eric nodded as well.

“Good.” Michelle exhaled slowly.

The room fell silent as tension settled in. “Does this mean you’re not going to kick me out?” Eric asked carefully.

Sookie gasped beside him at the notion of him leaving. She hated the idea of them going different ways after graduation for college and that was in more than a year and a half. That was going to be hard enough. She couldn’t handle losing him now because of a few kisses on her parents’ couch.

“Eric, look at me.” Michelle reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. Eric turned to face Michelle. “You’re stuck with us, you hear me? You’re a good boy and we love you. We just want to make sure that you and Sookie don’t make a stupid mistake in the heat of the moment that changes your whole life. You both have such bright futures in front of you. We don’t want to see you throw it away.”

Eric nodded, feeling a huge weight lift from his shoulders. “Yes, ma’am.”

“We want you to be happy. Both of you,” Michelle insisted. “Now go finish up your homework while I get started on dinner.”

Both kids nodded and pushed their chairs back from the table. Sookie paused and asked, “Can we still do our homework together?”

“As long as it’s not in a locked bedroom.”

Sookie grinned up at Eric and said, “I call dibs on the couch.”

***

Present Day

Sookie was tucked into Eric’s side, his fingers trailing feather light up and down the curve of her side. His head swirled with all sorts of emotions. He didn’t regret having sex with her. He would never regret that. He did, however, want to kick himself for being so… he wasn’t sure what the right word was. Brazen? Eager? Reckless? Obviously Sookie had been very much in favor of it or she would have kicked his ass without thinking twice. She was no doormat.

She lifted her head and propped her chin on his chest. “So, do you want to tell me why you looked so freaked out when I opened the door?”

Eric sighed, feeling like a moron for his overreaction. “I called you a couple of times and you didn’t answer. I got worried. Then I got here and there was red splattered all over the walls. I heard the water running in the bathroom and I don’t know… I just freaked. I couldn’t handle it if… I thought something happened.”

Sookie pushed herself up and kissed him sweetly. “Well, as you can see, I’m fine. That red stuff you saw splattered all over was marinara sauce I clumsily knocked off the stove.”

“Yeah, I sort of figured that out while we were…” he trailed off, knowing she’d get it.

Sookie giggled quietly and let her hand slide down his chest to his stomach. At the same time both of their stomachs growled. Reality was closing in. As much as he didn’t want her to, Sookie moved away from him and got out of bed. He watched her search the dresser in front of the bed for something to wear. For a split second he contemplated jumping out of bed to tackle her back but decided against it.

“I hope you’ve lifted the frozen pizza embargo of 2001, because that pasta is way overcooked by now.” Sookie said as she slid a nightgown over her head.

“It’s not my preferred food, but I can make an exception.” Eric sat up and reached over the side of the bed for his boxers. He was one of maybe a million college students who had detested frozen pizza. He had outright refused to eat it and couldn’t remember the last time he’d had pizza in any form.

“Good.” Sookie walked out of the bedroom with Eric following behind her.

She got the oven started while Eric grabbed paper towels and a sponge to start cleaning up the spilled sauce that was all over the kitchen floor and walls. They worked in silence for a few minutes before Sookie excused herself to go to the bathroom. Eric stopped what he was doing to watch her walk away. A door had opened he’d thought was slammed shut long ago. Thinking about having sex with her and actually doing it were two very different things.

He’d told himself he wasn’t going to go down that road again and he hadn’t been able to keep his promise for one whole day. Although why he even bothered, he didn’t know. Deep down, he knew better. When he heard the bathroom door open a few minutes later he got back to work cleaning up the mess. It didn’t take long to get the kitchen squared away with the two of them working on it. The easy domesticity of the situation wasn’t lost on him.

This is what I want, the thought crept into his mind. Too bad I can’t have it, he reminded himself. He watched Sookie put the pizza in the oven and then set the timer on the microwave. The two of them made their way over to the couch. Sookie reached for the remote and handed it to Eric.

“Anything but CNN or ESPN,” she warned him.

“CNN?”

“Yeah, don’t you stuffy, lawyer types love that shit?” Sookie teased him.

“Stuffy lawyer types?” He arched an eyebrow at her.

She just settled herself beside him, her head resting between his chest and shoulder. His arm draped over her shoulders. It was a perfect fit. Then again, it always had been. The TV clicked on and not too surprisingly, a soap opera rerun appeared. Eric immediately changed the channel.

“How can you watch that crap?” Eric muttered.

Sookie huffed and said, “Because they’re good stories, jerk.”

They settled in comfortable silence on the couch. Eric channeled surfed, pausing briefly to check the score of the baseball game that was on. Sookie cleared her throat loudly, reminding him of his promise not to force her to watch sports. The only sport Sookie tolerated well was football, and football season was long over. He noted the score and the inning before changing the channel.

The Braves were playing the Rockies. He didn’t really care for either team but since Louisiana didn’t have a team of its own, he tended to root for the Braves. He’d check the final score whenever he got home. In the end they settled on a horror movie on Spike TV. Sookie wasn’t a big fan of horror movies, per se, but she would tolerate them if she could burrow into Eric’s side during the especially gory parts.

“It’s sick how much you like this stuff.” Sookie’s voice was muffled as she hid her eyes from some creepy looking serial killer with a deformed face and a hatchet in his hand.

“It reminds me life could be worse,” Eric said honestly, and Sookie snorted before looking up at him.

“You have a sick sense of humor, Northman.”

A woman on the screen screamed, sending Sookie back to her hiding place. Eric tightened his grip on her and laughed. “You’re a scaredy cat.”

“Shut it,” she growled from under his arm. The timer started to go off a few minutes later, and she jumped off the couch. “Oh, thank God!”

Eric changed channels again, flipping until he came to a rerun of That 70’s Show. He watched as a Red dragged a tree branch out and lay down under it. He started screaming for help, bringing an unsuspecting Midge out of the house.

“Run, Bob, run!” Red screamed as Midge tried to help free him from the fallen branch.

Eric laughed as Bob appeared from nowhere and shut himself in the house. “I remember this episode!” Sookie shouted from the kitchen with pure joy in her voice.

“I still say the best episode is the one when Hyde makes the pot brownies for the garage sale and the parents all get stoned on accident,” Eric said as he got off the couch.

Sookie already had plates on the counter for the both of them while she cut into the pizza that was cooking on the cardboard disc it had been packaged on. “Sorry it’s not the gourmet meal I had planned.”

Eric barked out a laugh that had Sookie glaring at him again. “Sorry, Sookie, but the last time you attempted to make me dinner, you nearly set the house on fire.”

Sookie scoffed, her mouth hanging open as wide as her disbelieving blue eyes. “Yeah, okay, but do you remember why the house almost burned down?” She poked him in the chest.

Oh, he remembered. It was during their junior year of college. Rather than going home for spring break, Sookie opted to go stay with Eric at his apartment. She’d driven all the way from LSU to the University of Tennessee to see him. It had taken her hours, but it was well worth it. She’d gotten to his place late and they’d spent the night getting reacquainted with each other on every flat surface (and a few vertical ones) in his apartment.

He’d taken a quick trip out to the grocery store to get a few last minute things she needed and when he came back she was dressed only in one of his t-shirts and a pair of boy shorts that made his mouth water and his pants impossibly tight. They’d ended up fucking right there on his kitchen floor, completely forgetting about the chicken that was frying on the stove a few feet away. It wasn’t until the smoke alarm went off that they remembered what was going on around them.

“If you could control yourself…” she trailed off.

“I can control myself,” Eric said in his own defense.

“Right, like how you didn’t jump me when you got here?”

“First of all, I don’t recall you trying to put the brakes on. Second of all, you’ve done a fair share of jumping yourself,” he reminded her, making her blush at whatever memories were running through her head. He leaned down closer to her ear for the last part. “And finally, if I had no control, I would have fucked you until you couldn’t move last night. I wanted to, you know. The second I saw you all I wanted was to rip off that sweater, yank down your jeans, bend you over the kitchen and table and fuck you until my legs gave out. Then I would have pulled you down on the floor with me and fucked you until you begged me to stop.”

Sookie stayed right where she was, taking a series of shallow breaths Eric was sure were meant to calm whatever fire he’d just stoked by talking to her like he did. She was a sweet southern girl, but a little dirty talk did all sorts of things to her. It got her motor running, for starters, and it certainly made her one hell of a phone sex partner. That was how they’d gotten through the long stretches apart from each other when they were in college.

What Eric wasn’t prepared for was Sookie setting her plate down and turning to face him. “So who says you can’t do any of those things?”

He arched an eyebrow at her, challenging her to see if she was serious. She stepped around the counter and moved over to the kitchen table. She looked him right in the eye and pulled off her shirt. Challenge most definitely accepted.

***

October 1996

Eric stood nervously at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for Sookie to make her grand entrance. They were only going to the stupid homecoming dance because he was on the football team and it was sort of a mandatory thing that he be there. He hadn’t seen Sookie’s dress. He was sure she would look great. All she would tell him was that it was aqua. He already had a suit, so all he had to do was get a tie. Only it seemed his idea of aqua and Sookie’s idea of aqua were two different things. She said what he’d gotten was turquoise. So rather than sending him back to pick up something that was sky blue or teal, she went looking herself.

When she found what she was looking for, she’d thrust the tie in his face and said, “This is aqua.”

She could be such a pain in the ass sometimes but he was sure she’d make it worthwhile. She always did. He looked over at the grandfather clock when it started to chime in the corner. It was six o’clock. The dance was starting in thirty minutes. He didn’t care if they were late. Hell, for all he cared they could skip it and spend the night driving around on back roads, just talking and listening to radio stations fade in and out of static. Being with her was all that mattered. He didn’t care where they were.

Finally, Michelle appeared at the landing upstairs with a big smile on her face and tears in her eyes. Shit, if Michelle’s crying, I’m fucked, Eric thought to himself. As sweet as Michelle was, she wasn’t real big on tears. She was definitely as rough and tumble as her daughter.

“She’ll be down in just a second.” Michelle all but bounced down the stairs as Corbett appeared from the living room with a camera in hand.

Eric heard the soft clicking of Sookie’s shoes on the hardwood floor upstairs. His heart stilled, as did his breath. His eyes were glued to the landing where Michelle had been standing moments before while he waited for Sookie to appear. When she did, his heart dropped into his feet before sling shooting up into his throat and lodging there. God, she was beautiful.

The shimmering aqua material was like a second skin on her body, and looked amazing against her still golden brown tan from the summer. Her hair was down and curled perfectly. He tried not to stare directly at them, but her breasts her pushed up high and round, peeking up from the sweetheart neckline of the strapless dress. He told himself over and over to get his mind out of the gutter. Their parents were standing right there and Corbett wouldn’t hesitate to box him in the ear if he thought it was necessary.

Sookie advanced down the stairs carefully in a pair of strappy sandals, holding a small beaded bag in her hand as she held onto the railing. She hated wearing heels. She dressed for comfort, rather than style. He liked that about her. There were no facades or masks with her. Then again, he’d been seeing her first thing every morning for years. He knew about the way her hair tangled while she slept, giving her serious bedhead overnight. He knew she was quiet first thing in the morning and only coffee brought her to life. Hell, he even knew the exact right ratios of coffee, cream and sugar she required before she would even let the necessary caffeine boost pass her lips.

She didn’t know it but first thing in the morning was when she looked sexiest to him. She would probably balk at the notion and say he was being ridiculous but it was true. He was of the opinion she didn’t need makeup or to get all dressed up to look good. She could wear nothing but baggy sweats and leave her hair a wild mess and she’d still be gorgeous.

God, I love her, he thought as she got closer. The thought gave him pause. While it was true he’d loved her as a friend for as long as he could remember, he knew the word meant something different now. His hands started to sweat and by the time she got to the bottom of the stairs, he was a total mess. She smiled up at him and reached for his hand.

She immediately noticed the clammy shaking of it and gave him a questioning look. He told himself to chill the fuck out or he was going to ruin everything. They were just going to a dance. That’s all he needed to focus on. He could think about the rest of it later when he was alone. He didn’t want to screw anything up by moving too fast. She laced her fingers with his and squeezed their palms together. His pulse slowed just a little but it was going to take more than that for him to completely relax.

“Alright you two, say virgins for life,” Corbett said to get them both to laugh.

They didn’t say what he asked them to but the picture still came out great. Little did they know that it would still be hanging on the Stackhouse’s refrigerator fifteen years later.

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