Bon Temps didn’t have much of a budget for its library. Frankly, I was lucky they hadn’t shut the doors on it. Thanks to the internet, the library had become viewed as obsolete by a lot of people. Unfortunately, sites like Wikipedia and Breitbart News didn’t disseminate accurate or reliable information. Like the time the Chicago Bulls Wikipedia page was changed to name LeBron James as the team’s owner after a particularly bad loss. Or the time Breitbart News admitted in a correction that they completely lied about the identity of an attorney that was the focus of one of their smear campaigns. With all the Alternate Facts, a.k.a. BULLSHIT, floating around it seemed to me that more than ever we needed libraries.
Books that contained opinions in one section, the fiction section, and facts in another, the non-fiction section. Sadly, my collection of books was dwindling due to age. Our last purchased set of encyclopedias was from 2002 and didn’t include entries on the iPhone or any real smartphone. The irony of using books to research smartphones was rich.
With the current political climate, I felt like it was important to have accurate, reliable information out there. It had nothing to do with liberal or conservative, just the truth. Social media had become a cesspool of differing opinions based on statistics cherry picked to support one’s argument. My best example was Jason Chaffetz during his questioning of Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood during the abortion video scandal. He used bad information from a pro-life group that made absolutely no sense. In his ‘ah-ha moment’ he put up his graph of nothing and claimed it was sourced from Planned Parenthood’s own literature. Unfortunately, the aid who made the slide left the actual source on the graph, making Mr. Chaffetz look like a complete dunce.
I wanted the kids in my community to grow up to be smarter than that. No matter what their beliefs, I wanted them to be armed with accurate information to back up their claims so they didn’t look like one of those strutting pigeons I’d seen so many times in the comments section of Internet articles. We’ve all seen them before. They’re the ones who are completely incorrect and/or not making a lick of sense in their argument, yet they’re acting as if they’ve won the argument just because they said so. My need to spread truth had seen me pulled into several arguments before I realized how futile it was.
If I wanted to change things, I needed to start with younger minds I had any hope of reaching. So I started campaigning for a budget increase for the library. It wasn’t just the children who would benefit. Being a lifelong resident of Bon Temps, I knew all too well that there were plenty of adults in need of mind broadening. Getting them to do it was another story. There were lots of folks happy to do things the way they were always done. Folks who, after 150 years, still refused to see why the Confederate flag was considered offensive by a lot of people. Even if the kids chose to ignore that fact, I wanted them to understand why people felt that way.
Rather than allocating more money to the library in the last budget meeting, funds were increased for improvements to the high school football field. While I agreed that sports were important for the team building skills learned from them, I didn’t like that other things were constantly pushed to the side in order to fund it. Was improving our high school football field really worth our limited funds, especially given the fact that it had just been completely overhauled three years prior?
“Ms. Stackhouse, I appreciate your passion for education. I understand wanting to improve the local library. We simply don’t have the funding to do it,” Mayor Sterling Norris said.
“That, Mayor Norris, is horsepuck, as my dearly departed Gran used to say.” My response got a collective gasp from the others at the meeting, along with a few quiet chuckles.
Bill Compton slammed his gavel a few times to restore order to the room.
“Ms. Stackhouse, I’ll ask that you refrain from using such language in the presence of children,” Bill said. I couldn’t believe I dated the slimy prick.
I was going through my desperate phase. That was my only explanation.
“If there is no other business here this evenin’, I move that we put this proposed budget to a vote,” Mayor Norris said.
I sat down, defeated. In the past I had done fundraisers but they barely recouped the cost of advertisement. It turned out to be a lot of work for very little reward.
The only holdout on the vote was the town secretary, Ashby Whitney, and it was only because he lost his bid for mayor and voted against everything proposed by Mayor Norris. I walked back to my office feeling disgusted and a little hopeless. Town meetings were held in the same library no one wanted to give more funding to. We also hosted programs for children, adult literacy, tutoring, the Descendants of the Glorious Dead held meetings here… The library was an important building. Structurally, it needed work. If my pay was cut any further, I’d be paying the town to let me volunteer.
I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to find the money to do the things I wanted to do. A knock on my office door got my attention. I looked up to find a tall, muscular frame darkening my door. He had blonde hair, Caribbean blue eyes and a smile that was more like a smirk when he was up to no good.
“Eric, what are you doing here?”
Eric Northman was like a sexy Disney villain. He was good looking, smart, witty, very good at banter, and the son of a very rich man. He had been making advances for years. Eric was the type who enjoyed the chase but quickly grew bored with the object of his infatuation when he caught it. I had to learn it the hard way.
“You know I enjoy watching you get fired up, Stackhouse. Seeing you burn like that brings up old memories.” Without being invited, Eric took a seat across from me. “Plus, I had to write a report on it for the paper.”
By trade, Eric was a journalist. His father owned a media company that included a newspaper, radio station and local television station. Someday it would all be Eric’s, but for the time being he was a reporter for the Bossier Bugle and had his own exposé show on WNNN, the TV station his father owned. Eric was a lot of things, but lazy wasn’t one of them. How he found time for so much tomcatting between jobs was anyone’s guess.
“Come for a sound bite, did you?”
“If that’s the only nibble you’ll offer me,” he said without missing a beat.
“You know I’m not letting my mouth anywhere near you without a notarized doctor’s note stating you’re disease free.”
“That’s all it takes? I can have one on your desk by morning.”
Our history was sordid and complicated but the short story was he managed to catch me for a while. For a minute I was happy. Then the wind blew and took his fidelity with it. His eyes wandered and I wasn’t interested in being his backup choice to I cut him loose. It was the first time a woman ever gave him his walking papers and it bothered him.
“What do you want, Northman? I have work to do here.” I motioned to the piles on my desk. I could only afford a staff of three and that was in serious jeopardy if the plumbing went down again. I was very careful about where I spent money. My friend Alcide had some connections as a contractor to a plumber who was willing to give us a small discount for any work he did, but it was still expensive work.
“I have a proposal to make,” he said.
I laughed and said, “It’s on my list of biggest regrets that I dated you. I’m not interested in marrying you.”
He didn’t take the bait, surprisingly enough.
“In your plea to the officials out there you mentioned that the last set of encyclopedias purchased by the library was from 2002. I’d like to change that,” he said.
“The library is always grateful for donations,” I replied.
“Well this isn’t quite a donation.” Of course it wasn’t. I sighed and motioned for him to continue. “I’ll be happy to purchase a new set of encyclopedias for the library, providing you willingly participate in an activity for every letter of the alphabet.”
I scoffed, balked and laughed. He was crazy.
“No,” I said. “And trying to extort sex from me is disgusting.”
“Who said anything about sex?”
“I know how your brain works,” I argued. “A for anal, is that it?”
There was that smirk and it was accompanied by a raised eyebrow that both infuriated me and turned me on. Damn him!
“I like the way you think, Stackhouse,” he said.
My eyes narrowed. “It’s not happening, Northman.”
I yanked open my desk to retrieve a journal I kept there. I flipped through the pages to my list of regrets. Right between #32: Eating Maxine Fortenberry’s chili surprise and #34: Wearing a thong and skirt so close to Aunt Flo’s scheduled arrival was #33: Believing a word Eric Northman ever said. I turned the book around to show him.
“See this?” I tapped the entry with his name. “I let you fool me once but I’m not going to let it happen again.”
It was Eric’s turn to sigh.
“I was a bag of dick tips, Sookie.”
“Nah, a bag of dick tips would have been sensitive. You didn’t give a damn about my feelings.”
“I’ve apologized.” Not that it meant a fucking thing to me.
“You have,” I acknowledged anyway.
“I’m different. All I’m asking for is a chance to prove it.”
“Why? Is this about ego, Eric? The plump, frumpy librarian cut you loose and it bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“This is about the way you looked at me first thing in the morning when you were half asleep but to me, it was the prettiest you looked all day. It’s about how you wanted to know me and not what I could do for you. You never asked for anything but my time and loyalty. I fucked up, Sookie, and I wasn’t mature enough to see what I was throwing away.” Eric sounded sincere. I was pretty good at sniffing out bullshit and I wasn’t catching any whiffs of it from him.
Was I really willing to sell myself for a set of encyclopedias?
“Twenty-six dates for a set of books? That seems a little lopsided,” I replied. Eric was an opportunist, I knew that. He was also a pragmatist who enjoyed negotiating.
“I can negotiate,” he said.
“Twenty-six dates gets me a set of encyclopedias and ten grand in cash per date,” I said.
Eric’s eyebrow went up again.
“I think $1,000 per date is fair.”
I scoffed in offense.
“That’s all I’m worth to you is a measly thousand dollars?”
“It’s business,” he shrugged.
“Fine. $8,500,” I countered.
He smiled and said, “Six is my final offer.”
“Deal,” I agreed. The agreement would get me the books and $156,000 to pad my library bank account. I could do a lot with that kind of money.
“Deal.” Eric extended his hand to shake mine.
When I reached out to take it I felt an unexpected chill run up my spine. Yes, he was good looking. Yes, he was great in bed. Yes, when things were good between us they were really good. I had good reasons to be leery of what he was proposing.
“Will you be seeing other women between these dates you’re planning? I just want to know what to expect,” I said.
“You’ll be the only one. You are the only one.” Sly fox kissed my knuckles before he stood up to leave my office. “You’ll receive your books and a check upon completion of our dates. Dates are even better than activities. You’re already a step ahead of me, Stackhouse. I like it.”
That smug look and tone of voice made me want to smack him.
26 dates. You can do this, Sookie. Just don’t get too attached and everything will be fine.
My brain was on board. My heart, on the other hand, was getting its armor ready. Eric had wounded me once. I hoped he wouldn’t do it again.
Wear something you don’t mind getting dirty. That was what came in an email from Eric the morning of our first date. I still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t trying to get me into bed with him. He was tricky. At least I was aware of it, unlike three years ago when I thought I was going to be enough for him. It took a while for me.to come to grips with the knowledge that Eric’s inability to commit wasn’t about me at all. Rather it was about his own issues that he needed to sort through.
Like anyone else, he wasn’t all evil. There were things about him that I liked. If there weren’t I would never have gone out with him in the first place. I couldn’t really be too mad at him for noticing beautiful women. He had eyes after all. Not to mention, I’d be lying if I said my physical attraction to him didn’t factor in my decision to date him. It took some work to peel back the layers, but once I did I realized there was a lot more to him besides skirt chasing.
What he had in mind that started with the letter A but wasn’t anal, I couldn’t fathom. Obviously there were options and lots of them. Eric said it wasn’t about sex or getting in my pants but on some level that was a lie. He wasn’t planning activities because he wanted us to be peas and carrots. He wanted to park his shrimping boat in my port first chance he got. How did I know? Because Eric was Eric. Whatever leaf he turned over didn’t include celibacy, I was sure of it.
At Eric’s direction, I wore an old pair of jeans that were ripped at the knees and had paint smears on them from the last time I had to paint around the house. I opted for a t-shirt in a similar condition. My hair went up in a messy knot and I chose some old Converse sneakers.
Aviation. I hated flying so I hoped not.
Eric was a good dancer, which I knew. He had invited me to be his date at a gala honoring his father’s achievements. I wore an ice blue dress that he said made me look like an angel. That night was the first time we slept together. That was when I thought his feelings for me would be enough to get him to settle down. I was wrong. So, so wrong.
A cherry red Corvette pulled into my driveway. Eric was a Corvette guy. He liked driving fast and challenging the laws of physics. We argued multiple times about his lead foot and how I didn’t want to die because he liked speed. In turn, he hated that I drove like a grandmother. I didn’t, he was just crazy. I let him come to the door. If he wanted another chance with me, he knew what it was going to take.
Manners and etiquette went a long way with me. Hopefully he remembered that.
When I saw him exit his vehicle with a bouquet of wildflowers wrapped in brown butcher’s paper, I couldn’t help smiling. He remembered.
Don’t get too excited. He’s on his best behavior because he has to be.
The skeptic inside me wasn’t going to be won over easily. I hoped he knew that.
Eric climbed the front steps and knocked on the door. I grabbed my purse off the couch and set it by the door before I opened it. He was dressed similar to me, also in old jeans and a t-shirt with the NYU logo on it. He had gone to college there. I had gone to a small community college.
“Hello,” he said as he handed over the flowers.
“Hi. I’m glad I’m not under-dressed for whatever you have planned,” I said. “Come in. I’ll put these in some water and then we can go.”
“The house hasn’t changed much,” he remarked, following me back to the kitchen. “I take that back…”
“There was an electrical fire two years ago. I had to rebuild the back half of my house,” I explained.
“Damn. I’m sorry, Sookie, I had no idea,” he said.
“Why would you? I wasn’t hurt. I lost a few things I wish I could have kept. Gran’s recipe box was destroyed. That hurt more than anything.” My parents died when I was a child. Gran had taken on the task of raising my brother and me. Everything I knew in life I credited to her.
She passed away six months after I broke up with Eric. I missed her every day. Despite what he did to hurt me, Gran would have encouraged me to give him another chance.
No one is beyond redemption, Sookie.
“Well I’m sorry you lost it. I know how important she was to you,” he said.
“Thank you. I scanned a lot of my favorite recipes but it’s not the same as having her old copies. Anyway… do I get any hints about where we’re going today?”
“No, but you’ll find out soon enough,” he said. “We don’t have far to go.”
I got the flowers settled in a vase and set it on the kitchen table. They looked nice there.
“Okay, well, let’s get this shitshow over with, shall we?”
“Look, I know I earned your skepticism and even your bitterness, but I’m trying here. I’d appreciate it if you did too,” Eric said.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was right. If I was just going to be catty and treat him like trash, why bother? I could keep my distance and hold my tongue at the same time.
On my way out I locked the front door. Eric walked me to the passenger’s side of the Corvette. It was different than the one I had ridden around in three years ago. He traded up every year. With pockets as deep as his, he could afford it. I, on the other hand, was driving a used Toyota Camry almost as old as I was. The car had been on its last life for five years but it kept running.
“Nice ride,” I said when he got in behind the wheel.
“Thank you. I’ll try not to drive like a maniac.”
“I would appreciate that.”
The engine started and music immediately came out of the speakers. Blues? Since when was he into the blues?
“I told you I changed,” he said as he put the car in gear.
“What got you into the blues?”
“I was in New Orleans last year and I couldn’t avoid it any longer. Something struck a cord and it’s been something I can appreciate since then,” he explained. “I still like System of a Down too.”
I didn’t. I didn’t like music that screamed at me. Whether it was rock, pop or country, I didn’t want to be screamed at.
“Well I’m glad you left Serj at home,” I snickered, amazed that I remembered the name of the lead singer of a band I hated.
Eric seemed impressed by it too. I listened when he talked before. Obviously he knew that since he had made it a point to say that he missed that I wanted to know him.
He turned out of my driveway and made quick work of getting through town. Bon Temps wasn’t a very big place so it took about four minutes to get from one end to the other if you got stopped by the only traffic light in town. I wasn’t sure where we were going until we got there.
Eric turned his shiny red Corvette into the parking lot of the Renard Parish Animal Shelter out on Andouille Road. I was instantly confused about why we were there. It was written all over my face. Eric parked the car and got out without saying a word to explain why we were there. He opened my door and offered a hand to help me out of the very low to the ground vehicle.
“Why are we here?” I asked once I was upright on my own two feet.
“Animal shelter. A.”
“Yes, I get that, but what are we doing here?”
“You love animals. You told me once that you wanted to volunteer. Now’s your chance to show your bite is as big as your bark, so to speak.”
“You’re going to do volunteer work without a camera crew around to document it?” There was that snark he was talking about before.
“I have a selfie stick,” he retorted.
“Keep it in your pants, mister.” The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I didn’t need to be making dirty jokes and encouraging him.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, you and your gutter brain,” he teased.
Yeah, like he didn’t enjoy it. My money was on him think about how my hands felt on said stick. I wasn’t going to ask for confirmation. If I was wrong I was poking a sleeping bear.
Ironic since we’re talking about his poking device…
Ugh. It had been too long since my last hook up with someone. Lately I was so busy with work that I didn’t have time for a boyfriend. I had hooked up with Sam Merlotte a few times but it was nothing serious for either of us. I certainly wasn’t in love with him. For the time being it wasn’t going to happen. I was on my own unless I suffered head trauma and agreed to sex with Eric.
We walked into the shelter where we were greeted by an older man named Milo. He had a bushy gray beard and his thinning hair was tied in a low ponytail. His hand was meaty and hot when he shook mine.
“Y’all here to volunteer or to shop?”
“Volunteer. I believe we spoke on the phone…”
“Oh, right. I remember now. Thank y’all for comin’ in today,” he said in a thick accent. He was definitely a good ‘ol boy. “We’re happy to have all the help we can get. Today we’re just gonna have y’all walk a few of our senior dogs if y’all don’t mind.”
“No, not at all,” I answered.
Milo handed each of us a blank name tag. I used a pen from the front desk to write my name on it.
“Sookie was my sister’s name,” Milo told me. “She’s been twelve years now, bless her heart.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied and passed the pen to Eric.
“She was mean as a Texas rattler,” he informed us.
Oh… okay then.
“I have a few ex-girlfriends like that,” Eric joked.
You’re lookin’ at one.
“Follow me and I’ll show y’all which dogs need walkin’,” Milo said.
Right away I was saddened by how small the kennels were. Dogs were packed in as tight as could be and I knew the shelter didn’t have the capacity for lifers. Animals had a limited amount of time before they were farmed out to rescues, fostered or put down. It broke my heart thinking of innocent animals being killed for no good reason. We had a cat named Tina when I was growing up. That cat lived to be more than twenty. For a while I wondered if it was immortal.
Milo took us to a section where dogs with gray around their muzzles were pacing, lying on concrete and generally looking miserable. It was so sad. I wanted to take them all home with me but that wasn’t going to happen. Since Tina passed the only pet I had was a goldfish that Alcide won for me when we went to a carnival together five years ago. The fish lasted about three months before it died of what I assumed were natural causes. The library wasn’t a place where I could bring my pet to work with me. My hours could be a little crazy and even if I ran home multiple times a day to let a dog out, it wouldn’t be fair of me to be gone twelve, sometimes sixteen hours a day.
“Now, y’all gonna take the dogs in this here section for a walk and then give ’em a bath down here.” Milo led us to a big room that reminded me of the locker room showers in high school. The difference was, water ran through a hose and I was guessing it wasn’t very warm.
“What about their kennels? Do those getting cleaned?”
“We hose ’em every few days,” Milo answered. I wasn’t too confident that was the case. “If y’all got any questions, I’ll be up front. You can go out through the side door here. Ten minutes per dog is enough.”
How sad. They got a few minutes of sunlight and then back in a cage.
Milo handed each of us a loop leash and then waddled back to the front desk.
“Where should we start?” I asked. Dogs were barking and some seemed pretty excited to have company.
“At the back? We can work our way up,” he suggested.
“Works for me,” I agreed. “I’m surprised you set this up.”
“As much as I liked your suggestion, I thought this might be more meaningful.”
Eric looped an old Labrador mix and handed me the leash. He took the one Milo had given me so he could go to the next kennel to get the American Bulldog in it on a leash. The Lab’s name was Winslow. The Bulldog’s name was Maple. Both dogs were excited to be going outside. I noticed urine puddles in various kennels and that made me sad too. Were the animals really better off in a stinky, concrete cage with puddles and piles of their waste? It seemed like the safety was marginally better but the quality of life hadn’t improved much at all.
Seeing the animals put my own problems into perspective. I decided, before we even finished our first walk, that I was going to come back to volunteer again. The animals deserved it and it would be good for my soul. As much as I hated to admit it, Eric couldn’t have picked a better activity for our first date. Damn it.
“The date wasn’t a disaster?” Tara looked as stunned as I felt.
“I know. I wasn’t expecting it either, but it was… great. We had a good time at the shelter, sad as it was, and then we had dinner afterward at Crawdad’s.” That was four days ago. Tara had just gotten back in town from a two week vacation. She and her boyfriend Eggs had taken a cruise around the Caribbean.
“Sounds pretty low-key, not very Eric at all,” she commented.
“I thought so too. He still drives the flashy car, but he was listening to the blues. The weird thing is, I didn’t get the feeling like it was for show. I kept waiting for him to get annoyed with the music but it didn’t happen.”
“Maybe he’s changed?” Tara suggested. “We all have to grow up sometime. Maybe Eric finally reached that point.”
“Or maybe he’s playing me,” I countered. “I didn’t think he paid that much attention to the things I said before but obviously he did.”
“So you’re mad at him for paying attention?”
“No, not mad, just… skeptical. Suspicious.”
“You realize that’s unfair and kind of ridiculous, right?”
“I’m guarded around him and I think I’ve earned it. Hey, I’m giving him a chance, I’m just not being naive. If he’s truly changed, eventually I’ll accept it. I’m not convinced after one date that he’s The One,” I replied.
“Fair enough,” Tara relented. “So where to tonight?”
“I don’t know. He won’t give me any hints about where we’re going or what we’re doing.”
Tara smiled and said, “I think that’s fun. It’s kind of an adventure. Plus you get to see how much effort he’s willing to put into things on his own.”
That was true. He hadn’t phoned in the first date.
“For this one he told me to wear something comfortable I might not mind getting wet.”
“Leave your panties at home then,” she teased.
“He’d skip right to F if he found out I wasn’t wearing underwear,” I snorted.
“Speaking of, have you told your F buddy that you’re dating the best you ever had guy again?”
“No, I haven’t been by Merlotte’s in over a month. I’ve been too busy at work,” I sighed. “You think I should tell him?”
“It’s the courteous thing to do. You’re not his girlfriend, obviously, but I’m pretty sure you would want to know if he started seeing someone,” she pointed out.
“You’re right. I’ll call him tomorrow.”
Just then I heard the Corvette pull up. I was dressed in another pair of jeans but they were nicer than the last pair. I was also wearing a black tank top and knee high boots. I left my hair down, except for a french braid in the front along my hairline to keep my hair out of my face. The necklace Tara brought back from the Bahamas was clasped around my neck.
“Don’t wait up,” I told her.
“Text me if you need a rescue.”
“I will, I promise.” I tucked my phone in my purse and went outside to meet Eric as he was climbing the steps. “Hi. You’re early.”
“Traffic was better than I expected. I take it you’re ready to go?” He was also dressed in jeans but he was wearing an untucked white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and an appropriate number of buttons left undone. His shoes were what caught my attention.
“Are those boat shoes?” I pointed at his feet.
“It’s B day,” he answered with a smile. “I hope you don’t get seasick.”
“Not usually,” I replied.
“Good. Let’s get going.”
Once again Eric opened the passenger’s side door for me. He came around to the other side while I put my seatbelt on. The casual boat attire looked good on him.
“So you have a boat?”
“My father does,” he clarified. When the engine started it wasn’t the blues that came on. Jimmy Buffett poured out of the speakers. I felt like I was being trolled.
“You might say that,” he smiled. “Do you have a problem with Jimmy Buffett or the Coral Reefers?”
“Can’t say I do.”
“Good. So how’s work?”
His question was basic. It shouldn’t have thrown me for a loop but it did. Eric drove away from my house heading west.
“It’s alright. Same stuff different day. Although yesterday we had one of our computers finally bite the dust. Everything is behind there,” I sighed.
“Do you ever think maybe it would be better if they closed it down and used the funds for the school library?”
“No. The money wouldn’t go to the school library. The baseball team might need something or the soccer field needs repairs or any number of things will absorb that money before the library does. Besides, it’s not just kids who use the public library. We teach senior citizens how to surf the internet. We have multiple book clubs that meet throughout the week. We’ve taught countless people how to read or helped them sharpen their aptitude. Kids have made friends or discovered new worlds. Teenagers are exposed to different types of music and can browse magazines from thirty years ago. The building itself hosts multiple other groups in the evening that might not have another place to meet. The library, for me, isn’t just about books; it’s about community.”
Eric waited until it was safe to turn left. He got in the right lane and drifted over to the highway on ramp. I said a silent prayer in the hope that if Eric got us killed, I’d at least die quickly instead of languishing in a coma for thirty years.
“I’m not saying the library should close, but it sounds like it’s a burden to keep it running,” he pointed out.
“I think it’s a matter of prioritizing. There’s money there, it just needs to be divided and allocated better. Last year, for example, extra money went to infrastructure to replace sections of Hummingbird Lane and Catahoula Court. Oddly enough, that money was all used up before either road was repaired. Where did it go?”
“That’s a good question,” Eric said. “Did anyone explain?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know if most people pay close attention.”
“You should ask questions. You pay taxes. You have a right to know where the money is going. I’m sure there are others who want to know.”
“If that was true Sterling Norris wouldn’t have been re-elected.”
“If you don’t ask questions you’re ensuring that he does in two years,” Eric pointed out.
I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I uncovered information that someone was pocketing funds or misspending them. I wasn’t a journalist. Most people would just assume it was bad blood and that I had concocted evidence to frame the mayor. It wasn’t an easy job, being in local government. There was more to it than opening supermarkets and waving to folks from his car as he drove around town. The job meant pissing someone off at some point. I understood lots of people had their hands out and there was only so much money to go around. The priorities were just way off.
“I don’t want to talk about that anymore. I’ll just get frustrated and it’ll put me in a bad mood,” I said.
We fell into a silence that was only moderately uncomfortable. Eric didn’t press his luck by trying to hit triple digits on the speedometer. In about forty minutes we reached our destination. Lake Shelby was a beautiful spot. There were lots of nice summer homes facing the water. I couldn’t call them cabins since most of them boasted of at least 3,000 square feet. It wasn’t unusual to see RVs parked on the properties, along with nice cars or SUVs. They were the kinds homes a modestly paid librarian like me could only ever dream of owning.
Eric pulled into the long, winding driveway of an antebellum style home. The front staircase was insane. The main level of the home was obviously the second floor. The first level probably had a rec room area that walked out to the backyard. I didn’t know enough about homes to say how big it was, but a four car garage fit underneath the north side of the house.
“Wow. Is this your parents’ house?” I asked as the Corvette came to a stop at the back end of the driveway.
“Yes. They bought it a few months after we stopped seeing each other.” Eric cut the engine.
“It looks like a beautiful home.”
“It is. I spend more time here than they do. Although they do throw a nice Independence Day barbecue here. We have enough lawn space and an outdoor kitchen in the back.” Eric got out of the car and came around to get my door for me.
“Sounds nice.” I got out of the car and looked around. Lake Shelby was a nice area. There were big shade trees lining the water near the house. I suppose that offered a little extra privacy.
“Would you like a tour?” Eric offered.
“Nah, not now. I assume you wanted to catch the sunset out on the water. I don’t want to miss it.”
Eric smiled and went to the trunk. He popped it open and lifted a cooler from inside. I closed the trunk for him so he didn’t have to put the cooler down. We walked around the house and I took note of a boathouse beside the pier. Eric had to put the cooler down to unlock the boathouse door. Inside was pitch dark until Eric hit the button to trigger the overhead door at the other end of the boathouse. A nice, new pontoon boat was docked inside the boathouse. There was a nice swim deck off the back of the boat. Two comfy looking lounge chairs also faced the back end of the boat.
“You should have told me to bring a swimsuit,” I told him.
“I didn’t want to give away too much.” Eric carefully brought the cooler aboard. He set it down on one of the chaise lounges before offering a hand to me.
“This is a beautiful boat, Eric.”
“Dad has good taste.” He lifted the cooler again to put it in a storage compartment under one of the seats lining the side of the boat.
“Make yourself comfortable. I have to untie the boat.”
I looked around the boathouse and smiled at a photo that was framed and hung over the table at the back end of the boathouse. Eric and his doppelganger father holding up a marlin. Palm trees were in the background and both of them were wearing baseball caps and funky Hawaiian shirts. They were tan and smiling. It was nice to see them happy. From what I remembered, there was tension between Eric and his dad. In that photo I didn’t see that.
“Where was that picture taken?” I asked once Eric was on the boat.
“Key Largo. Dad decided he wanted an old man and the sea experience two years ago, so we went down to Florida for our first father/son fishing trip. It was quite an experience,” he chuckled.
“Obviously you didn’t kill each other. I assume things are better between you two now?”
The boat engine came to life. Slowly, carefully, the boat drifted out of the boathouse. Eric closed the overhead door.
“It’s been a work in progress. He was concerned I was spending too much time chasing tail,” Eric explained. “Dad always dreamed of passing his company off to me someday when he was ready to retire, but he wasn’t going to do that if I wasn’t going to take it seriously. It’s a big job, doing what he does. At twenty-two I wasn’t ready to take the reigns. Honestly, I’m still not but I’m making the effort to learn more so that when the time comes I’ll be able to hit the ground running.”
“What was his backup plan if you decided you wanted to be a rockstar or a zoologist?” It was pretty lucky that Eric had a passion for journalism. It just happened to be in the WNNN wheelhouse.
“I honestly have no idea. He probably would have started grooming someone else for the job and stayed on as the majority shareholder,” he said.
“I’m glad you were able to come to some kind of understanding,” I said and I meant it. Since my parents died when I was young I always felt like it was a waste for others to flounder on a relationship with their parents. In Eric’s case it was especially frustrating to me to see him blatantly disregard his dad while clearly enjoying the lifestyle that was made possible by his dad’s work.
It seemed like that air of entitlement was gone. He had a broader understanding and deeper appreciation for what it took to build the kind of company Jakob Northman had been able to establish. Not bad for a child of Swedish immigrants who didn’t even speak English when he started school. I respected that man a great deal.
“You know he was pissed at me when you broke up with me,” Eric confessed. “He told me girls like you weren’t a dime a dozen and I was a damn fool for throwing you away for a cheap piece of ass.”
“He was right.” We really could have had something. There was potential between us, but Eric either wasn’t ready or didn’t want it. I didn’t want to admit that he got under my skin. Stiff upper lip Sookie didn’t like to admit she had vulnerabilities, but I did.
“I know. I wasn’t in a frame of mind at that point to really get it,” he said.
“Yeah,” I nodded. I wasn’t going to keep rehashing what went wrong. Eric knew he messed up. I couldn’t keep holding that over his head if I was really giving him a second chance. There was no taking back what he did but if I couldn’t let that stay in the past we were wasting our time.
Eric drove the boat out toward the middle of the lake. Pontoons were great for lazing on. I took my boots and socks off before putting my feet up. It was too bad I was in jeans. The temperature was going to drop quickly once the sun was gone though, so maybe it was for the best. Eric dropped anchor and left the country music playing at a nice ambient level. He shifted some cushions and things to set up a hidden table at the front of the boat.
“I brought the stuff to make salads if you’re hungry,” Eric offered.
“A salad would be nice,” I agreed.
Eric lifted the seat where the cooler was stashed and I got up to help him get things out for dinner. In addition to the salad fixings, there was a bottle of wine and a pair of plastic cups. He had bottled water as well. Finally, there was a container of what looked like chocolate mousse. Eric had thought of everything.
He really wasn’t kidding about a second chance.
I had to admit to myself that I was a little scared to give it to him. I didn’t want to get hurt again. My life was going just fine without him in it. Yet, there was the little voice in the back of my mind telling me that without risk there was no reward. I was never going to know what we could have if I didn’t take a leap of faith.
There was really only one band that Eric and I could agree on as being good. We were both fans of Coldplay. It was rock enough for him and pop enough for me. I didn’t go to a lot of concerts, but Eric managed to get us good seats to see them in Shreveport. I didn’t know the opening acts but it gave us time to get drinks and find our seats. It was a good show. I had a good time and Eric seemed to as well.
About halfway through the set they played Warning Sign. My favorite Coldplay song was Fix You. It never failed to make me cry, no matter what. Warning Sign, however, landed on me different for some reason. The words hit home in a way they hadn’t in the past. I had spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince myself that Eric didn’t matter and what we had was no big deal. As a matter of self-preservation I had spackled over the cracks in my heart. I brushed off the sadness and disappointment I’d felt. I kept it together, not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’.
I was letting all that go and trying to give him a clean slate. The effort was there. He was trying. I wasn’t expecting it when he came in to propose the deal we struck. He hadn’t even really made a move, although I was sure he wanted to. Eric was a sexual being. In the four months we dated, we had spent more nights together than apart. At home he saw nothing wrong with walking around naked. I couldn’t really complain because he looked good in his birthday suit.
The fact that he wasn’t even trying to hold my hand gave me pause. He was a cuddler; a fan of touching. I wasn’t sure if it was just me or if he was waiting for me to make the first move. Was he trying to make a point that it wasn’t just about sex? It was an awkward conversation to have but I needed to have it just in case I had read everything wrong. Maybe he just wanted to be friends?
I wouldn’t know until I asked.
I danced and sang a little bit, grateful we were in an audience that opted to stand for the show. It was fun. The music was good as ever and the band put on a great show for us. There were two encores before it was all said and done. Getting out of the arena was a pain in the ass, but we managed. Rather than trying to fight traffic to get out of the parking lot, Eric and I hung out by his car.
He didn’t complain when I parked myself on the trunk. It was a nice night. There was a chill in the air that made me shiver. Eric’s big hands rubbed up and down my arms.
“I have a sweater in the car if you need it,” he offered.
“I might. Thank you for tonight. It was a great show.”
“You’re welcome. It was a toss up between Coldplay tickets and camping, but I didn’t think you’d be down with an overnight trip yet,” he admitted.
“Probably not. Maybe at some point if things keep going well.” It occurred to me that both of us were walking on egg shells, which wasn’t like us at all. That wouldn’t last forever. “So I have to ask you something.”
“Go for it.”
“When you said you wanted a second chance you initially said you were planning activities. I was the one who used the word dates. Did I jump the gun by doing that?”
“I didn’t use the word because I thought if I did you’d laugh me out of the office,” Eric replied.
He was right about that. I almost did anyway.
“I’m just wondering because you haven’t even tried to hold my hand. Rubbing my arms a minute ago is the most physical contact we’ve had. I just want to be sure I’m reading all this right,” I explained.
“Last time we rushed into things. We didn’t really take the time to get to know each other. Would we be here right now if I had tried to get you into bed with me on either of the other dates?”
“No,” I confirmed.
“Exactly. I told you, I’m learning from my mistakes. The more time we spend together, the more I regret the shit I did to you three years ago. You didn’t deserve it. Any of it.”
I took a deep breath and scooted a little closer to the edge of the trunk. Eric’s eyes met mine.
“I forgive you.” It wasn’t just for him, but for me. It had to happen if that clean slate wasn’t going to have smudge marks from the past all over it.
“It’s time. I don’t want to carry it anymore, do you?”
He shook his head.
“Then we let it go. This is the last we speak of the bad parts,” I told him. He nodded, looking relieved and lighter. Maybe even more relaxed.
And since it was the end of an old chapter I leaned in to kiss him. One of us had to make the move. I needed him to know it was okay if it was him in the future. There was a feeling that washed over me that I wasn’t expecting. I wouldn’t be so cheesy as to say it felt like going home. It was more like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. If it didn’t work out with Eric, it didn’t work out, but that kiss suggested the chemistry we had three years ago hadn’t evaporated. There was still something between us that could catch and ignite at any time.
A passing car honked and catcalled at us, breaking up the kiss and making us laugh quietly amongst ourselves.
“You felt something, right? It wasn’t just me?”
“It definitely wasn’t just you,” I confirmed.
“Good.” Eric came in for a second kiss. It was a little deeper than the first and a nice way to pass the time. His fingers tangled in my hair, which felt nice.
He was passionate and experienced. I didn’t want to think too much about how he got all the experience. It was a good thing I was already sitting, though, or my knees probably would have gone weak. Kissing was a nice way to pass the time while we waited for the lot to clear out.
“I have a taste for ice cream. You want ice cream?” Eric offered.
“I’d like ice cream,” I smiled. My lips were probably a little swollen from all the kissing. It felt good, though.
“Then let’s go.” When Eric pulled back I couldn’t help noticing the bulge in his jeans.
A warning sign, you might say.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said when Eric pulled into the parking lot of Texas Motor Speedway.
“Look, I know you think speeding is reckless and stupid. You’ve made that very clear to me,” he said as he drove over to the appropriate lot to park in. “However, if you really want to get to know me too, this is something that’s important to me. There’s a lot of science that goes into all this decades in engineering and experimentation were required in order to make all this possible. This is a closed course, not street racing. Please, just give it a chance.”
He was right. I wasn’t a fan of racing but I also didn’t know much about it. NASCAR never appealed to me. I didn’t know really anything about cars, aside from how to put gas in mine or refilling the windshield wiper fluid. I think I checked the oil once in my car. Jason tried to teach me to change a tire, but cars just weren’t my thing.
That said, cleaning up dog shit wasn’t Eric’s thing but we had spent several hours doing just that on our first date. Whether or not I was into cars wasn’t the point; the point was they mattered to Eric. Sometimes you had to do things you weren’t necessarily crazy about just because it was important to the other person.
“What kind of races are these?”
“Drag races. It’s street style racing on the eighth mile pit road,” he explained.
“Have you ever raced here?”
“Oh yeah,” he smiled. “Yeah, I’ve raced here many times.”
“No, absolutely not. I have a ‘67 Chevelle I built with my buddy Dawson’s help. It’s strictly for racing.”
“Is it street legal?” I knew that term thanks to my brother the cop busting people for racing out on Camille Boulevard. There was a nice straight away that didn’t have much traffic on it from about eleven at night until four in the morning. At least once a week the sheriff’s office got called out to break up the races.
“Street legal? Where did you hear that term?”
“I know some things,” I chuckled.
“It is street legal but I don’t go cruising in it. There’s a lot of power in the car. I prefer to keep it on the track,” he told me.
I wasn’t brave enough to suggest he take me around the track in it sometime. Maybe someday I’d get to that point but I wasn’t there yet.
We got out of the car. Eric went to the trunk and retrieved some headphones.
“It can get pretty loud on the track,” he told me.
I smiled and took the headphones from him. It was sweet of him to think about that. I appreciated it.
“So what is a good time for a race?” I asked as we headed for the entrance.
“It depends on the track length. For where we’re at, I’d say less than seven seconds is pretty remarkable,” he told me.
His hand found mine as we walked. I liked the way our hands fit together. Of course his hand was much bigger than mine but still, there was something about the way our palms met, like they were made to fit each other. Eric paid the entry fee at the gate. He showed me around a little, pointing out the clock and the different staging areas.
When he started explaining the different racing classes it might as well have been a different language to me. I knew nothing about engine sizes, camshafts, carburetors, manifolds or nitrous. The only blowers I knew anything about removed leaves from my lawn in the fall. What I noticed was how animated Eric got when he talked about racing. He tried to explain to me how swapping out certain parts could make a car run faster and give it more power. I listened to every word he said, but honestly it didn’t really stick.
I tried, though.
Eric and I finally found some seats. He wasn’t kidding about the noise and I was glad he’d thought to bring me headphones. I noticed he put in a pair of earplugs. Since it was all Greek to me anyway, I didn’t really need explanations. Besides, the stopwatch was all I needed to pay attention to. A big screen allowed us to get a better view of the races as they happened.
It was definitely more Eric’s thing than mine, but I found it made me happy to see him happy. Only four dates into his second chance I realized I was starting to like him again. It occurred to me, as we watched the races, that this wasn’t something he would have shared with me three years ago. There was a lot we didn’t share back then. It wasn’t just him, it was me too. Maybe deep down I wasn’t convinced it was going to last.
Now it felt different. There was intimacy building and not just in the naked way. That would come in time. When it did, it was going to mean something to both of us. If I thought about that too much it gave me anxiety.
Eric squeezed my hand and I turned my head to look at him. He leaned over to kiss me, and if I didn’t know any better I might have sworn he somehow knew what I was thinking. That wasn’t possible. Eric Northman was no mind reader.
But he was a great kisser.
His lips on mine settled me down. He smiled at me and it made my heart flutter. Man, I was falling fast.
“You’re getting glitter everywhere!” I laughed when Eric blew on the Easter egg he was decorating. When he informed me we were decorating Easter eggs I was… amused.
He was just full of surprises.
Like the flowers he had sent to the library the day before. It had been a month since we started seeing each other again. Things were going well. He wanted me to go to his parents’ house for Easter brunch on Sunday. They weren’t church goers but they loved to entertain. I knew Eric wasn’t religious and I had no desire to change that. I was going to church and then driving out to Lake Shelby to meet them. Again.
“I’m not trying to,” he laughed.
“It’s a good thing we’re doing this at your place. I don’t want glitter all over.”
Eric had a nice condo in Shreveport. It was much more grown up than the house he was living in three years ago with a couple of his pals. It was like a frat house. Furniture didn’t match and it smelled like an old gym sock. It was pretty gross. His new place was much nicer and neater. The building was new construction so he had a gorgeous kitchen with quartz countertops and a travertine floor. It was a one bedroom condo with bonus room that couldn’t technically be marketed as a bedroom because it didn’t have a closet or a window.
It made a great office though. Eric had notes, photos and things pinned up on one wall for stories he was researching. I was impressed with his level of organization. On top of that, there was a nice powder room for guests. The master bath was incredible. His shower was big enough for two with a bench running along the back wall of it. There was also a nice soaking tub and a dual vanity. I liked the overall feel of the condo. It was much more grown up and elegant than I had expected when he gave me his address.
“Don’t worry, if you get glitter all over you I’ll take one for the team and help you get cleaned up.”
“You’re such a gentleman,” I deadpanned.
“I like to make Mama proud,” he winked.
I lifted the egg I was holding part way in blue dye. I was going to dye the other two-thirds green. I wanted to put a ring of gold glitter around the egg dividing the two colors.
“When is the last time you decorated Easter eggs?”
“Shit… maybe 1998?”
We both laughed at that. His condo wasn’t at all decorated for the holiday. It made sense since he wasn’t religious.
“What about you?”
“Every year I do it. Usually we have an egg coloring thing at the library for the kids,” I explained. “I spent most of Tuesday night blowing eggs out of the shells for tomorrow’s decorating party.”
“I don’t know what you make, but I guarantee they don’t pay you enough,” he said.
“They don’t but I love my job. I like making my community it a better place. It’s one of the perks I wouldn’t trade for anything and it’s the main reason why I haven’t quit to go work in Monroe or out here. I’m sure the pay is better and so are the conditions, but I have a special connection to the library in my hometown. I don’t trust anyone else to love it as much as me.”
“You’re probably right not to. I think it’s cool that you’re so passionate about your work. It’s nice to care about what you do and feel like you’re making a difference,” he said.
“I couldn’t imagine working somewhere where I didn’t feel those things.”
“If you weren’t a librarian what do you think you’d be doing?” Eric dunked a new egg in red dye.
“I’d probably be an English teacher. It was what I started out my college education in. About halfway through sophomore year I changed my mind. From the time I was little I loved books. The library was always my favorite place to go. To me it was better than any park or swimming pool. There was adventure after adventure waiting for me. I loved reading but I realized that I wasn’t so interested in telling other people what they were supposed to take away from a story. To me it’s open to interpretation, like music,” I told him.
“You might be surprised by this, but I read a lot,” Eric informed me.
“Three years ago I might have been, but not now. I imagine it’s a necessity in your line of work.” Judging by his office his stories were very well researched. I’d pulled up a few of his pieces online and found that Eric was an eloquent, intelligent writer. He delivered facts and found a narrative without an inherent bias.
“It is, but I read for fun too. Not as often as I should. Lately my spare time has been spent reading in a different way.”
He was doing a good job of it too. I felt like he was listening to me this time. He was engaged in our conversations and not just patiently waiting for me to shut up so we could get back to fucking.
The more time we were spending together, the more I was looking forward to that side of our relationship taking off. It could have been partially because of the little drought I was experiencing, but it wasn’t just that. Things with Eric were going much better than I expected.
“What’s your favorite book?” Eric asked me.
“The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. There’s a very valuable lesson to be learned from the book.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever read that. Is it a newer book?”
“No, not even close. It’s a children’s book, by the way.”
I nodded. “I remember my mom reading it to me a lot as a kid. When I was little she read to me every night before bed. Dad used to make up these crazy stories about fish he caught or wrestling bears while he was hunting. I think that’s where Jason gets his tendency to embellish things from. It’s kind of nice, in a way. It makes me feel like I still have my dad close by in a way,” I told him.
“You were nine when they died, right?”
“Ten. For years I wouldn’t go near open water of any kind. I didn’t even like baths,” I admitted. My parents died in a flash flood. The family station wagon was swept off a bridge. My parents’ car was found two days later when the water receded.
“I’d probably be freaked out too. My mom told me one time when we were in Massachusetts visiting her family that I freaked out while we were on a bridge and I told her I died there once,” he told me.
“Yeah, I’d be pretty creeped out if my kid said that. How old were you?”
“Three or four. I don’t even remember it. It made me curious about doing a past life regression, though.”
“You think we live more than one life?” I picked up a paint brush to start painting an egg while my dyed one dried off.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never been hypnotized, at least that I’m aware of. I did some reading on it and it’s been suggested that our phobias are the result of soul memories from previous lives. It’s pretty interesting stuff, at least to me. I don’t know if there’s any truth to it, obviously, but I wouldn’t mind researching it some more.”
“So you think it’s possible you died on a bridge in Massachusetts?”
“Anything is possible,” he replied. “Do you think we have more than one life?”
“I don’t know. It’s not what my religious beliefs have set me up to believe. I suppose I’m open to the possibility, but I’ve always thought we get one chance.”
“You don’t think it’s a pretty tall order to expect a person to learn everything in a single lifetime? Humans really don’t live that long. Even with time being a relative concept, I can see that our lives are a drop in the ocean. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is nothing in the scheme of billions,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to live longer. I couldn’t imagine being immortal and watching everyone I love die one by one,” I told him.
“Think of all the people you’d get to meet by being immortal,” Eric pointed out. “Yeah, it would hurt to see people die but you wouldn’t be alone. You’d move on, find new friends or a new husband.”
“It just seems so… cold. Like yeah, I’m 8,431 years old and I’ve had 13,000 husbands and 50,000 kids. They’re all dead and gone, but I’m still here. Nope, no thanks.” Eric snorted at my numbers but I had a point. “I guess it just seems really lonely to me. Eventually everything and everyone you knew will be gone. That’s scary to me.”
“I think it’s exciting. There’s so much we don’t know. Hell, we don’t even use the majority of our brains. I’ve seen documentaries on people who claim to be psychics or mediums. They did MRIs while the people did readings and channeling, and they found that brain activity changed completely during the process.”
“I don’t know if I believe in psychics either. It’s probably because there are so many fakes on TV trying to get you to spend five bucks a minute talking to some crackpot,” I said.
“I know a psychic. She’s always been accurate in my experience.”
“You know a psychic? Who?”
“Marnie Stonebrook. She owns the Moon Goddess Emporium on the other side of the river.”
I gave him a skeptical look. Sounded like some hippie nonsense to me.
“Have you ever been to a psychic?”
“No. Tara and I went to a palm reader once at the state fair, but I didn’t put much stock in the things she said,” I admitted. Truth be told, I couldn’t even remember what she said.
“Would you go with me if I set up an appointment?”
“Sure,” I shrugged. “As long as she doesn’t tell me how or when I die. I don’t want to know.”
Eric smiled and said, “I agree with you on that. I don’t want to know either.”
I was reaching for the black permanent marker when Eric blew glitter at me.
“Eric! You turd.” I narrowed my eyes at him. He obviously did that on purpose. There was red glitter in my hair. He thought he was hilarious. “Keep laughing. I hope it’s funny while I’m showering alone with the door locked.”
“Awww come on, I’m perfectly capable of helping you.”
“I don’t think so, Tim.” I had to go get that shit out of my hair. I was actually pretty annoyed with him.
“Are you seriously mad right now?”
“I’m annoyed. Do you know how hard it is to get glitter out of your hair?”
“Uhhh, no, not really,” he admitted.
“Then you should sit there and be quiet.” I pushed my chair back and stood up.
“Sookie, come on…”
It was a nuisance, yes. I had a choice. I could get mad or I could get even. So I grabbed the purple glitter off the counter and dumped it on Eric’s head.
“Now we’re even,” I laughed.
He looked up at me, eyes narrowed.
“Purple? You couldn’t have gone with blue or green?”
His eyes traveled up and down my body.
“You go shower first. You’re a bigger mess than I am,” I told him. As much fun as showering together would eventually be, I wasn’t quite ready yet for that.
“You’re not coming with me?” he pouted.
“Not tonight. Another time.”
He was disappointed but accepting of the decision. Eric stood up carefully and went to the sink to get some of the glitter off him. It was going to go everywhere. Sure enough, it went floating in the air. He was going to be finding glitter in random places until Halloween. I didn’t even feel sorry for him.
I was standing next to Eric at the Craps table. He was on a hell of a roll. Up $13k and letting five of it ride on the next toss of the dice. He held them between his fingers in front of me.
“Blow on ’em,” he requested.
“For good luck,” he said.
“If you say so.” I took a deep breath and slowly blew that breath toward the dice. Eric smiled and without looking away from me, he tossed the dice.
“Seven!” the dealer yelled, making the others around the table cheer.
Eric tossed the dice again and got an eight. I didn’t understand how the game was played. I wasn’t a big gambler. Usually I parked my happy ass at a slot machine and stayed there. He moved some chips over to the eight on the table before tossing the dice again. Ten. I didn’t know what he was shooting for. Two. Nothing was happening so I guessed that was a good thing. Six. He was up almost $20k. If he won his bets, he was going to pretty much double his winnings. I would have walked away already. If he lost, he still had $8k to show for it.
Eric tossed the dice again.
“Eight!” the dealer called and again everyone around the table cheered.
I jumped on Eric and kissed him.
“Are you going to keep going?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
He had almost thirty thousand dollars.
“Quit while you’re ahead,” I told him.
He nodded, much to the disappointment of the others around us. Eric collected his winnings. Even after he paid taxes on it he had enough money for a nice vacation.
“So what would you do with $28,000?” Eric asked me. A security guard escorted us to the cage so we could cash out.
“I don’t know. Probably donate it to the shelter back home,” I said.
“You wouldn’t do something for yourself? Buy a new car or go on a vacation?”
“A vacation would be nice. I haven’t taken one in years that was longer than a four day weekend,” I admitted.
“Where would you go?”
“Hmmm… Somewhere with a nice beach. I’m over my fear of open water.”
“Have you ever left the country?”
“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “The farthest from home I’ve been was Gettysburg for one of Gran’s Descendants of the Glorious Dead trips.”
“What about your bucket list? You don’t have travel on there anywhere?”
“Of course I do.”
“Number one is Greece,” I told him. “I love mythology. Number two is China. Australia comes in third.”
“I’ve never been to any of those countries. Maybe we should go,” he suggested.
“Eric, I can’t afford an international vacation,” I told him.
“I just won more than enough money to pay for it,” he pointed out.
“I can’t let you do that. It’s very generous of you but…” I trailed off. He was looking at me in a way I couldn’t figure out.
“You already pay for everything. I know you make more money than me and that’s fine, but I’ve never wanted to be someone’s charity case.”
“You’re not a charity case, Sookie.”
“I know, but I’d feel like one if you plunked down thousands of dollars for a vacation.”
“What if I let you pay for meals?” Eric offered.
“I can’t leave work for that long right now. There’s too much to do there that no one but me knows how to do.”
“You’re avoiding the issue,” he said.
“And you’re not taking no for an answer.”
“Do I ever?”
My eyes narrowed. He was smirking back at me. Jerk. I didn’t know if I wanted to hit him or kiss him. Damn it.
Eric got his money. We had a room at the hotel attached to the casino. It was our first overnight trip. Our room had two beds. Easter brunch with his parents had gone well. They were impressed that I was giving their son a second chance. At Eric’s insistence, our F date was to see Marnie, the fortune teller. Since I didn’t really want a sneak peek into my future, she had tapped into the medium side.
Marnie had channeled both my parents and Gran. At first I was skeptical of the whole thing, but somehow she knew my dad used to call me Ladybug. She knew I had Gran’s wedding ring in my pocket. Eric didn’t know either of those things so he couldn’t have told her about them. Before we left, Marnie said she saw good things for us and they would be coming quickly.
Almost $30,000 less than ten days later could be construed as a good thing coming fast.
“Do you want to go upstairs or should we try the slot machines since I have a horseshoe up my ass?” Eric asked once he was cashed out.
“I think I’ve had enough. If you want to stay and gamble some more I’ll be fine upstairs… naked… wet…”
“Upstairs is good,” he quickly said.
Eric guided me toward the elevators. We had a standard room, nothing too fancy. There was a nice view from our fifth floor room. My bed was closer to the windows. When we got back to our room, Eric stashed his cash in the built-in safe. I kicked off my shoes and reached back to unzip my dress.
“Need a hand?” Eric offered.
“Sure,” I agreed and turned to let him finish unzipping my dress for me.
We were four hours away from home up in Oklahoma at the WinStar. Gambling was our G date. It never would have occurred to me to go gambling, but then I was something of a penny pincher. I had to be. Eric and I grew up completely different. His family never worried about money. After my parents died Gran heavily relied on the social security checks Jason and I received on their behalf. There had been some life insurance but not enough. It didn’t last long.
As a result, I got good at living on a budget early in life. There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room. My tax return money went into a savings account for emergencies. The electrical fire that destroyed my kitchen, back porch and one of the bedrooms had wiped out my savings. My safety net was gone. There was no trust fund, no family member at the ready to bail me out if I had another catastrophe.
My dress slipped down my body and I heard Eric suck in a breath. He knew what I looked like naked. He’d seen it before. Since the last time we were together my body hadn’t changed much. I was older, of course, maybe with five or ten pounds of where I was. There was a constant fluctuation going on. I went back and forth regularly from a size ten to a twelve. On a really good day I could squeeze into an eight. Eric didn’t seem to care. He liked that I was curvy.
If his words weren’t proof enough, the tent forming in his slacks was.
“I’m going to go wash the casino smell off me,” I told him.
“I’ll be here,” he said.
I smiled and stepped out of my dress. I heard the groan of appreciation and maybe frustration when I headed for the bathroom. The bathroom door was left open an inch or two behind me. While the water heated I took off my bra and panties. I took the bobby pins out of my hair and let it fall around my shoulders. Steam started to accumulate on the glass shower door and wall. The rain showerhead was more than high enough to accommodate someone my size. I was only five-foot-six. Hopefully Eric would fit in there too. We were only staying the night. Both of us had to be back to work Monday.
Just as I was lathering my hair with hotel shampoo, the shower door opened. I wasn’t really surprised that Eric was crashing my shower. After almost two months of seeing each other regularly and talking on the phone almost daily, the tension between us was reaching a fever pitch. Big hands found my sides and moved up to my chest. He kneaded my breasts while I massaged my head with the shampoo in my hair. We didn’t speak but there was nothing to say in that moment.
I turned around to rinse my hair. Eric watched the water bounce off my skin and roll down my chest. I knew he was turned on and ready to go.
I wonder if he’d be pissed to know I named his dick Jenny?
Eric’s lips crashed into mine. My arms wound their way around his neck. I found myself pressed against the tile wall. As the kisses got deeper, Eric’s hand slipped between us. His deft fingers went in search of my clit. When he found it he began to rub and occasionally probe my center. Eric was a master at foreplay. Assuming he hadn’t developed an aversion to it in the last three years, he would likely spend a good amount of time going down on me.
In fact, after our last date to go see Marnie, we had finally gone beyond making out and feeling each other up. I knew as soon as I wrapped my hand around his thick, swollen shaft that it was only a matter of time before we went all the way. Eric had sent me several pictures of the morning wood his dreams of me were causing and he wasn’t shy about telling me how he jerked off in the shower while thinking about me. He was very open, sexually speaking.
For me it was a work in progress.
When Eric’s lips moved to my neck I knew it wouldn’t be long before one of two things happened. Either he was going to end up on his knees going down on me or I was going to get altitude sickness when he picked me up to fuck me against the wall. Generally speaking, both options were appealing but not for our first time. Yes, yes, we’d had sex before but this was different. At least I hoped it would be. I wanted to feel a connection, not just orgasms.
“Eric,” I said in a breathy voice, trying to get his lips away from me.
“Hmmm?” He seemed pretty happy right where he was.
“Not in here. Let’s dry off,” I suggested. I was only halfway through my shower. Since I was about to get messier, it didn’t really matter.
Eric reluctantly backed off. He reached out to turn off the water while I opened the door to retrieve a towel. Eric took the towel from me and dried me off gently, I grabbed another towel to deal with my sopping wet hair. He dried himself off and we made our way back into the bedroom. Eric stopped at the overnight bag he’d brought along with him. Out came a box of condoms, which I was relieved by. He was prepared, something he never was three years ago.
“Better safe than sorry,” he said.
“I’m on birth control,” I told him. “I’m also clean. I just saw my doctor last month.”
“I got tested after the last person I was with just in case. I’m better about protection these days. I took a lot of stupid risks before.” He used to shrug it off if he didn’t have a condom and stupid me, I let him get away with it more often than I should have. Pregnancy wasn’t really what I was afraid of anyway. At that point I knew he was extremely sexually active so I was worried about what he might pass on to me.
“I’m happy to see you’re smarter and safer these days.”
Eric set the box on the nightstand before he came over to where I was standing at the foot of the bed, anxious and a little bit unsure of what to do with myself. My lover, on the other hand, knew precisely what he was doing. He knew what he wanted, making me wonder how many times he had played out these moments in his mind over the last two months. I was content to let him take the lead because I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Just as I expected, Eric made himself comfortable between my thighs. His talented tongue knew just how to pull every moan and sigh from me he could get. Our fingers laced together at my hips. When I looked down his eyes were looking up at me. I was getting the connection I needed to feel and we hadn’t even gotten to the main event yet.
It was obvious to me that there were things Eric hadn’t forgotten when it came to things I liked in bed. In that regard, our previous relationship had its perks. I didn’t have to spend time tutoring or guiding him and by the time he had the condom in place I felt more secure in what I was doing. I didn’t shy away from it when he sat against the headboard and pulled me over to straddle him. In that position I knew how deep he would get and it only made me that much more excited to slowly take him inside me.
“Fuck, I forgot how good you feel, Sookie.” His big hands rubbed my hips, helping me begin to rise and fall.
“So did I,” I breathed. My hands found purchase on his broad shoulders. I liked the way his hands felt on me. They moved around to rub my back and then to my ass.
Up. Down. Up. Down. Over and over again I rose and fell. It seemed to go on forever. Eric had impeccable stamina in bed. How he did it, I didn’t know, but he was nowhere near a two pump chump.
Eventually I found myself on my back. My legs wrapped around his narrow hips. My hands grabbed his perfectly toned backside to pull him in deeper. When he kissed me it made my heart both sing and stutter. His forehead rested against mine with his intense blue eyes searching my own. I knew by his increasingly jerky movements that he was finally getting close.
I couldn’t breathe for a moment. Emotions overwhelmed me. It was everything I wanted and more. For a second I actually had to throw up a roadblock for the tears that wanted to pool in my eyes. If I started crying I knew Eric would freak out and think he did something wrong, when nothing could be further from the truth.
When the pleasure erupted I took him with me. His large body hovered over mine while he had his own release and then he collapsed. We were quiet for a minute or five. I wasn’t sure if either of us knew exactly what to say. I’d never experienced anything like it before. Things were definitely different with Eric.
He had to pull out to throw away the condom.
“Well that was fun. You can go now,” he joked. My hands didn’t find it funny. The right one reached out and punched him just an inch or two away from his goody bag. “Hey! Careful!”
“You’re lucky I missed on purpose, jerk.”
“Good. The target was big enough,” he replied with one of those smug smiles.
“I hate you, you know that, right?” This wasn’t the post-coital conversation I had been imagining.
Eric tied the end of the condom so some poor maid from housekeeping wouldn’t find herself covered in spunk. He came back to the bed and leaned over me.
“Lover, you can say what you want but your body doesn’t lie. That was fan-fucking-tastic.” He kissed me. It was fan-fucking-tastic. Ugh.
“Why’d you have to ruin it with your stupid attempt at a joke?”
“Because I’m still working on getting comfortable in really emotional situations,” he admitted with sincerity.
I took a deep breath and let it out.
“Next time please do us both a favor and ask yourself if your comedy routine is worth a junk punch,” I requested. “Next time I won’t miss.”
“Yes, dear,” he agreed. He kissed me again and then stretched out beside me. I rolled onto my side to rest my head on his chest. His fingers ghosted up and down my side.
The emotions passing back and forth while he was inside me said everything we needed to say. Scary as it was, I knew I was falling in love with him.
The first Sunday in May I found myself back out at Lake Shelby where Eric’s parents were hosting a Kentucky Derby party. I had never been to a derby party before. It took some research just to figure out what the appropriate attire was for such an event. Thankfully, Gran had raised me with good garden party etiquette. I found a dress appropriate for the event and one of the silly hats to go along with it.
The hard part was going to be keeping Eric’s hands off me in front of polite company.
I settled on a strapless flamingo colored dress with a ruffle covering my chest. My hair was pinned low at the right side of my neck in an elegant chignon. I found a gold wrist cuff with hand painted flamingos on it, as well as a flamingo ring. The really fun part was finding a hat that looked good with the dress without looking ridiculous on me.
A giant tent had been set up out in the yard to offer folks a break from the sunshine. The weather suggested there might be rain in the later afternoon anyway, so it was best for the guests. Mrs. Northman had planned the event, same as she did every year, and she did a fabulous job. She had opted for an emerald green and gold color scheme that year. It took three days for her to get everything set up at the summer house.
Caterers were offering traditional derby dishes. Two bars had been set up on the premises. Of course mint juleps and hurricanes were traditional derby drinks, but I took note of plenty of men sipping bourbon and women enjoying wine or champagne instead. Personally, I was on my second hurricane. I had arranged to take the next day off. Eric and I were going to spend the night at the summer house instead of trying to drive home. He was on his second or third Old Fashioned himself.
The race hadn’t even started yet. It was set to begin at 2:30 and it was only 1:00. Without even asking, I knew there was a lot of money walking around the yard. With Mrs. Northman’s permission, I had invited Tara and Eggs to come out as well. I felt a little more comfortable with a few people on my level around. I was showing Tara around the house while Eggs and Eric were down at the boathouse checking out the Pontoon boat.
“This place is insane,” Tara said when we walked out onto the third floor balcony that extended off the back of the house.
“The crazy thing is that it’s not even the biggest house on the lake. Sometime we’ll have to take the boat out so Eric can show you the Eyesore.”
“It’s this gaudy, awful house across the lake that has all these hideous cherub statues on the lawn and they’re always dressed.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Tara laughed. “They dress the statues?”
“Swear to God. Last time we went out they had little raincoats and galoshes on.”
“Shut the front door,” she scoffed.
“I’m serious. Before that they were in bunny costumes for Easter,” I laughed.
Tara burst out laughing too.
“Freaking rich people, Sook. Does Eric have any collections of useless crap?”
“Not that I’ve seen. He lives in a one bedroom condo though, so maybe he has a storage unit where he hides his junk,” I giggled.
“I’m still blown away by the whole one bedroom condo thing. With the way he was I’m surprised he doesn’t own the Eyesore,” she snorted.
“Three years ago, I would have said the same thing. He’s grown up, Tara. Eric finally got his priorities in order,” I told her. “I never thought I’d be in a position where I actually want to be with him and think maybe there’s a future for us.”
“You’ve been spending a lot of time together. I hardly see you on your own anymore,” she said with a hint of sadness. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you. I think it’s great that you’re happy; I just miss my friend.”
“Sorry. I know I’ve been busy lately. I’ll make more time for you,” I promised. She and Eggs were past the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Things for them were more settled and routine. Eric and I were still trying to find our footing. “You know, most days I wake up wondering if I dreamed the last two months. If you had told me three months ago that I’d be spending the weekend at the Northmans’ summerhouse I’d say you needed to put down the crack pipe.”
Tara chuckled and said, “I would have agreed with you. They say timing is everything.”
“I’m pretty convinced it is. When I look back on things, Eric obviously wasn’t prepared for a serious, monogamous relationship but I see now that it wasn’t just him. Yeah, he cheated on me and his eyes wandered which were huge problems, but I didn’t really give as much as I could have. Deep down I don’t know if maybe I knew it wouldn’t last or if I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was for something serious.”
“Both of those things are possible simultaneously,” she said. “Three years is a long time. You’re in a different place now than you were then.”
“No shit.” I sipped my hurricane. “Eric took me to a jiu jitsu class last week.”
“Shut the front door!”
“I don’t know what he was thinking, but it was actually interesting. He’s really good at it. I’m not sure it’s for me, but it was fun watching Eric spar,” I admitted. It surprised me to learn that taking the classes had helped him find discipline and focus.
He took it very seriously and I felt honored that he decided to share that part of his life with me. It was another building block in the intimacy pyramid.
Tara and I went back inside and I walked her down to the ground floor so we could join our dates out on the lawn.
“Sookie, there you are!” I stopped when I heard Mr. Northman’s voice.
“You go on ahead,” I told Tara and headed over to Jakob. He was talking with a dark haired woman I vaguely recognized but couldn’t place. “Hello, Jakob.”
“Hello. Sookie, this is MaryAnn Forrester. MaryAnn, this is Sookie Stackhouse. She’s the head librarian in Bon Temps,” Jakob said.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Forrester.” I extended my hand to her.
“It’s nice to meet you as well. Jakob was just telling me that you’re looking to expand your adult education programs,” she said.
“Yes, I am. Thankfully we aren’t seeing as many adults these days who can’t read or write but there are many who struggle with reading comprehension. Additionally, there are lots of seniors in my community who aren’t comfortable with technology but want to learn. Whether it’s emails, social media or online banking, it would be nice to be able to feel current.”
“I agree,” Ms. Forrester said. “If it’s possible, I’d love to take a look at your plans. If you could develop your dream program, what would it look like, that kind of thing.”
“I don’t exactly have that prepared,” I admitted. “I don’t have the funding for such a program and won’t for the foreseeable future.”
“My mother grew up in Renard Parish, Ms. Stackhouse. She recently passed away after spending the last fifteen years battling with dementia. It was awful watching her mental faculties decline each day. One of the things that gave her joy in her last years was going to the Bon Temps library with her caretaker, Miriam.”
I gasped and covered my mouth. Right away I knew exactly who her mother was. I had been wondering where Lucille Forrester had gone. Given her age I had presumed she passed or was in the hospital but I didn’t know for certain.
“I’m very sorry to hear that Lucille passed. I enjoyed her visits,” I said sincerely.
“Mama spoke very highly of you,” she said. “I feel blessed to be able to potentially be able to help you with your vision. I know Bon Temps is a small town struggling to keep its head above water. There’s always some other cause that seems to take precedence over education.”
“If we could meet sometime soon, that would be wonderful.”
“Yes, absolutely. Off the top of my head I don’t know what my schedule looks like but I’ll need a week to get the presentation together for you,” I told her.
“Yes, of course.” MaryAnn retrieved a business card from her little clutch and passed it to me. “Give me a call when you’re back in the office and we’ll set something up.”
“Thank you, I absolutely will.”
Eric appeared at my side and kissed my temple.
“MaryAnn, nice to see you again,” he said.
“You too, Eric. I loved your last analysis piece on the LeClerq murder trial,” she said.
“Thank you. I’m actually going to visit Ms. LeClerq next week. Her case is fascinating to me,” Eric replied.
Sophie-Anne LeClerq was convicted of murdering her husband, criminal defense attorney Peter Threadgill just three months after their wedding. She claimed it was self-defense but the discovery that she was having an affair with a former lover. It had been alleged that the relationship never truly came to an end. There was also evidence there was violence in the marriage. Prior to their wedding, and multiple times after they were married, police had been called because of violent arguments. Sophie-Anne had been to the hospital each time the police were called. Peter Threadgill was found shot in the back after Sophie-Anne called 9-1-1. Again.
It was a convoluted case that for me, based on all the things I’d seen in Eric’s research, was riddled with reasonable doubt. To me, the conviction had more to do with the affair than with all of the evidence that supported her battered woman defense.
“Hopefully she’ll be granted a retrial,” MaryAnn said.
“From your lips to God’s ears.” I raised my glass, as did the others. We all took a drink and then Jakob was pulled away to greet the freaking governor of Louisiana, Truman Burrell.
MaryAnn followed him, leaving Eric and I alone together.
“MaryAnn wants a meeting to talk about possibly funding the adult education program I’ve been wanting to start,” I told Eric.
He grinned and said, “Sookie, that’s great. I had no idea MaryAnn was looking for an investment opportunity.”
“Her mother was a frequent guest at the library and apparently she was very fond of it. She was a nice woman. Always cheerful and excited to find new books to read,” I told him. “MaryAnn wants to see what it is I’m interested in putting together for the adult education program so I guess I’ll be working on that this week. It would be fantastic to be able to get that program started. I think it would do a lot of good.”
“So do I. I’m proud of you,” he said.
I turned my head to kiss him. Eric put his arm around me and led me across the lawn to the tent so we could get some lunch. I was excited about the possibility of getting the program up and running. It was one of the things I had been dreaming about doing for years and never thought I’d get the chance to do. I felt like I was going to burst. I almost wanted to leave Lake Shelby to get to work but I realized that part of attending parties thrown by Jakob Northman would be networking. If it meant being able to drum up donations for the library, I was going to take advantage.
I was exhausted. The last few weeks has been a blur of activity. The L date was lady’s choice and I chose Netflix and chill. We ordered takeout and ate in bed at Eric’s condo while binge watching House of Cards. I loved Kevin Spacey. It was a great show. I was hooked from the first episode. The M date was a Marvel movie marathon. Captain America, X-Men, Deadpool, the Hulk… it was a great way to spend a Sunday. Memorial Day was in two days. Tara and I were going to have a few friends over for the holiday.
I was lying in bed, cursing the fact that I was getting older. In just a matter of weeks I was turning twenty-nine. Time was ticking by quickly. There was a lot I wanted to get done in my life and I was starting to worry that I had wasted too much time on bullshit. Things were going well with Eric. We were coming up on three months together. I was enjoying being with him. He was helpful where he could be in regards to helping me get the presentation for MaryAnn.
While it was likely that she would have tracked me down without Jakob Northman’s help, I was grateful to have met her in a more relaxed environment. We ended up having a drink together the day of the derby to talk about other things than money and what I was willing to do for it. Fostering business relationships with donors wasn’t something I ever really thought about, but spending time with MaryAnn changed my view on that.
There was a knock on the bedroom door and I rolled over to see Eric come in with a big ass mug of steaming hot coffee in his hand.
“Morning,” I smiled. “You’re here early.”
“I am. It’s N date day.”
“Oooh napping?” I said hopefully.
“Maybe later, but it would be an encore. For you, my dear, I’m going to plant new rose bushes.”
“That’s a date?” I arched an eyebrow as I sat up. Doing so left me naked from the waist up.
“You said you wanted new rose bushes, right? Just go with it.”
“Fine. You want to plant new rose bushes, I’ll be happy to sit back and watch.”
“Oh no, this is a date. You’re helping.” Eric sat down on the bed and leaned over to kiss me. “Sleep well?”
“Okay. I missed you,” I admitted.
“Play your cards right and I might be convinced to stay tonight.”
I took the coffee he offered me and sipped it. We liked our coffee the same way. The use of one particular pronoun hadn’t escaped me. It was the first time I thought of us as a ‘we’ in all the time I’d known him. That was a pretty big deal in my eyes. We were more than halfway through the 26 dates and a lot had changed since the first day at the animal shelter.
“Although, the way you’re sitting there right now, maybe the nap is a good idea.” Eric slowly pulled the sheet down to see that I was nude. He let out a low whistle. “Good enough to eat, Lover.”
“Have you had breakfast yet?”
“Nope. I brought us beignets, but I can wait if you can.”
“I can wait,” I smiled and sipped my coffee before he took it away from me. It was for the best so I didn’t spill all over the place.
Eric pulled his shirt over his head and tugged the sheet back, leaving me completely bare on the bed. He positioned himself between my thighs and tugged my lower half closer to him. Eric winked at me and then got to work.
“I’m sorry, who’s birthday present is this, yours or mine?” It was the day before my birthday, technically, but Eric insisted our T date was part of my birthday present.
“Come on, trampolines are fun,” he argued.
Our S date was skydiving. When he told me we were doing it, I freaked out. I never wanted to jump out of a plane. At first I refused to even get out of the car. It led to our first big argument that was only resolved later that night. He called me a chicken, which I wasn’t; I just wasn’t a moron. I ended up rising to the challenge. Obviously I survived but I never wanted to do that again. Once was enough for me and he owed me one. I was going to keep that in my back pocket.
Before that, our R date was spent reading. Not to each other, but as volunteers as the hospital in Clarice. Three years ago I would have thought he was just trying to make himself look good by arranging the volunteer stuff we had done, but it turned out he had volunteered several times in the past. He got into it because of his father’s company, but he chose to do it on his own time because he was wowed by sick kids who didn’t complain about being stuck in a hospital going through horrific treatments and surgeries that may not even save them in the end.
It was the P date, however, that sealed the deal for me. Way back on our H date we went hiking. On that date I told him that I’d missed my senior prom because at the last minute I got incredibly sick with double pneumonia, bronchitis and a terrible sinus infection that almost put me in the hospital. My date was able to find a replacement but I was stuck at home, miserable and depressed. It might have been for the best. Bill Compton’s replacement date Caroline got pregnant that night and he married her three weeks after graduation. I never got my prom experience until Eric decided to create one for me. He did everything. Everything.
To say I was impressed by that would be an understatement. He invited my brother, Tara, and a few other friends. He included some of his own friends. Someone even spiked the punch bowl. It was a great night and I had a great time. I truly couldn’t believe he went to all that trouble for me. It meant a lot.
So it was hard for me to be mad that he had brought me to one of those indoor trampoline park deals. Besides, it would be fun.
We were busy people with jobs we were passionate about. He spent a lot of time researching for stories and preparing for his TV show. The good thing was, he usually taped three or four shows at a time. It still required a lot of work and preparation beforehand. I was working with MaryAnn, who had agreed to fund the adult education program I pitched to her. The town council had approved it. I think they were mostly grateful I had already found the money to make it happen.
I was dressed in a pair of capri length yoga pants and a snug tank top. Eric told me to wear what I’d wear for working out. Thank God I’d put on a sports bra.
“Think you can do a backflip on this thing?” Eric asked as he jumped.
“I don’t know. My gymnastics days are long over.”
“You were a gymnast?” I knew that look on his face.
“I wouldn’t go that far. I took a tumbling class when I was seven or eight before I decided I liked dance more. After my parents died Gran couldn’t afford to keep me in those kinds of classes,” I told him.
“I’ve seen your moves, Stackhouse. I think you do just fine,” he said, eyebrows wiggling. I’d shown up at his office two days ago and gave him a lapdance. It was probably against company policy to fuck on the premises, but there was no way I was leaving without at least two orgasms after that.
I smiled and started to bounce higher. Eric’s eyes temporarily trained themselves on my tits, which I fully expected from him. Hell, I actually would have been worried if he wouldn’t have been watching my tits bounce. He didn’t focus on it for too long, thankfully, or he probably would have been ejected for sporting a chubby in a room full of kids.
To change things up I let myself plank out on my back and I tried to get back to my feet on the bounce up. It didn’t quite work out but it made me laugh. One of the things I realized about Eric as I watched him jump around like a little kid on a sugar high was that he was really good at getting me to loosen up and have fun.
Whether it was the I date when we learned how to make our own ice cream or the O date when we went to the Opera or the Q date when we rented quads to go mudding, he knew how to have fun. I liked that he brought out a different side of me. In doing so he made my work seem like less of a grind. I was happier, lighter and more excited about coming to work than I was before. I always loved my job but I was energized. That hopeless feeling had disappeared and I knew it was because of him.
I stopped bouncing and leaned against the trampoline wall to catch my breath. Eric bounced his way over to me and picked up my hand to kiss it.
“Having fun?” he asked.
“I am. I wasn’t sure I would, but you always seem to know what I need,” I told him. I shifted my hand to lace our fingers together and I lifted them to kiss his hand too. “You know as well as I do that four months ago neither of us thought we’d be here right now; happy together, having fun and enjoying being in the same room. I was wrong about you, Eric. I’m glad I didn’t laugh you out of my office that night. You’ve opened up my world a lot and I don’t think I can ever repay you for that.”
I wasn’t planning on crying, but a pair of tears slipped down my cheeks. Eric’s free hand reached up to wipe them away.
“I’m glad you didn’t either. This has been a very interesting four months,” he agreed.
“It has. It’s been eye opening. Life changing, at least for me. I…” I looked up into his pretty blue eyes and added, “I love you, Eric.”
“I love you too.” By the look in his eyes I knew he wasn’t saying it back out of obligation. His lips pressed against mine much softer than I would have expected them to. The kiss did deepen and his fingers wanted to play with my hair. Unfortunately it was up in a ponytail.
When the kiss broke he pulled me away from the wall so we could keep jumping. We’d celebrate the next step later. For now, we were going to have fun.
It was officially a year since Eric had proposed I go on 26 dates with him in exchange for a set of encyclopedias. The last eight months had flown by. My adult education program was going to launch in the spring. With MaryAnn’s help I was able to get tech professionals to donate their time to help teach the senior computer classes. With the donation coming from Eric I was going to be able to get the building repairs done and purchase some much needed newer equipment. All my work dreams were coming true. My dedication and hard work were paying off.
I had even decided to hire an associate director to take some of the day to day load off my shoulders. A recent college graduate named Barry Horowitz was as passionate as I was about the importance of libraries. We seemed to see eye to eye on a lot of things. Barry was a fast learner and very capable of running the library while I took my first real vacation in years.
Eric had planned the trip to Greece we had argued about way back on our G date. We were spending two whole weeks in Athens. Our hotel had a package deal where if we stayed for three nights we got a free day cruise around the islands. From our room we could see the Parthenon. We were within walking distance of a big museum. It was absolutely stunning at night.
“This view is incredible,” I said over my shoulder. Eric was plugging in his phone charger. It had been a long day of traveling.
Our flight departed from Dallas at seven o’clock the night before. We landed in London just over nine hours later. There was a three hour layover there and then an almost four hour flight to Athens. A shuttle van brought us to the hotel. I presumed it was by Eric’s request that there was a bottle of champagne waiting on ice for us when we reached our room. The hotel was nice and more modern in design than I was expecting. It was also a small hotel with only forty guest rooms. There weren’t any fancy suites, just standard rooms.
We had a nice queen size bed that was going to be a little small for my giant traveling companion, but he’d make it work. There was a little sofa in our room that could be a twin size bed if need be. A small writing desk was tucked in the corner opposite the sofa. We had a balcony that I was looking forward to sipping coffee on in the morning. Even though we had flown overnight, I hadn’t slept much. We tried to stay awake in the hope that the jet lag wouldn’t be too bad.
“From where I’m standing, Athens should be admiring you,” he said.
“You’re tired,” I laughed.
“Yes I am,” he agreed. “But you’re still beautiful.”
I looked like crap. I was sure the bags under my eyes were heavier than my suitcases.
“I’m going to unpack and then shower,” I told Eric.
“I have no objection. Are you hungry?” He was always hungry. Airplane food was never that great. Our last meal was in London. We had to get fish and chips, despite the fact that it was more breakfast time than lunch time. Baked beans had no place on a breakfast plate, no matter what. I just couldn’t do it.
“Yes, I could eat,” I replied.
“Then we’ll unpack, get cleaned up and we can go grab some dinner,” he suggested.
“Sounds good to me.”
Eric and I had both researched the businesses and things near our hotel so we wouldn’t be spending a small fortune on cab fares. We chose the hotel we did not just for that package deal, but because it was in the best location for all the things we wanted to do while we were in the country.
“How many times do you think we’ll hear Dance of the Zorba while we’re here?”
I laughed as I unzipped my suitcase. It was playing in the airport when we got off the plane. Then again in the van on the way to the hotel.
“If today is any indication, probably three or four thousand,” I answered.
There was ample closet space in our room. The bathroom was a little small but I wasn’t planning on spending much time in there anyway. No tub, just a shower. If I wanted to soak I was going to have to go down to the hot tub by the pool. It was a little cold for going swimming but I brought my swimsuit anyway just in case.
While I unpacked Eric showered. There was no way the two of us were going to fit in there. It was for the best anyway. As much as we liked each other the honeymoon was over. Some of his habits annoyed me and it was the same for him. It was nothing either of us considered a deal breaker, but a few minutes alone in the shower after being together all day long didn’t sound like a bad thing.
I unpacked Eric’s stuff too or it was liable to stay in his suitcase the whole time. Hopefully there were public laundry facilities close by because I didn’t pack enough to have a new outfit every day we were gone. Two weeks didn’t seem like a long time until I had to pack for it. It helped that Eric and I knew what we wanted to do while we were in Greece. Our first stop in the morning was the Acropolis Museum so we had a little more background information on the country before we went out to see the ruins. No matter where we were going, I was excited. I was crossing something off my bucket list and doing it with the man I loved. Win/win.
Greece was beautiful. I quickly fell in love with the sights, the laid back energy and the rich history. I loved the culture and the pride locals had for their heritage. Greece was absolutely not a financially well off country but it had spirit. Maybe in that regard it reminded me of home. Even with the language barrier I felt a kinship.
Eric and I were standing in front of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It took 638 years to complete construction on the building. It began in 8th century BC and wasn’t completed until 2 AD during the rule of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
“Excuse me,” a young woman said from behind me. “Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” I answered. There were English speakers in Greece but the folks with thick accents were hard to understand. The woman standing behind me was clearly American.
“Oh thank goodness,” she said with relief. “Would you mind taking a picture of my husband and me? It’d be nice to have one that doesn’t look like a selfie.”
I chuckled and said, “Sure, no problem.”
“Oh bless you,” she smiled. “I’m Callie.”
“Sookie. Where are you from in America?”
I took the camera Callie offered me. It was a nice, professional type camera and not a cell phone. I didn’t know too much about how those types of cameras worked but Callie assured me it would automatically zoom to get the best shot. All I had to do was push the red button to trigger the shutter.
Callie posed beside her dark haired husband who was dressed in cargo shorts and a tank top, despite the slightly chilly weather. It was in the low sixties, which was pretty comfortable, but not quite shorts and tank tops weather for me. I supposed it was different for Chicagoans. I took one picture of them landscape and then I turned the camera to get more of the temple in the shot for them.
“There you go,” I said after I took the two shots. Callie came over to check them and grinned.
“I love it! Thank you so much, Sookie.” She hugged me. I wasn’t prepared for that, but I appreciated her enthusiasm.
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You too,” she said before going back to her husband.
Eric’s big hands landed on my shoulders and gave them a rub.
“You ready to move on to the next attraction?” He kissed the top of my head.
“As soon as we take a mandatory selfie.” I replied.
Zeus’s Temple was as good a place as any to have our Z date. One year ago exactly we had gone to that animal shelter to walk sad animals and clean up dog shit. We had come a long way since then.
Eric and I smiled at his cell phone and he took our picture. I turned my head to kiss his cheek and he made a silly face before taking a second. We could never do anything completely normal. He had rubbed off on me too much. I didn’t mind, though. Life just seemed to keep getting better and I knew I had him to thank for that.
“Happy anniversary, Lover,” he said to me after pocketing his phone.
“Of course I remembered. I never cleaned up so much shit in my entire life,” he laughed and so did I.
“Good preparation for when one of our babies inevitably has a shitsplosion,” I said.
“You’re going to handle muddy diapers. I’m going to be available to play Airplane.”
I playfully punched his arm. “Not if you have a broken wing. Besides, if anyone knows about shitsplosions, it’s a guy who can’t make it out of Chipotle without a problem.”
The fact that we could make poop jokes was oddly comforting and gross at the same time. It just showed how different things were from a year ago. I had gone from being skeptical about his reasons for wanting to be around me to not really wanting to be around anyone else.
“It’s not even that good but I can’t stay away from it,” he sighed.
I shook my head as we walked away from the temple. Onto the Parthenon we went…
Myrtos Beach was stunning. It was our last stop on the day long island cruise. I could see myself honeymooning exactly where I was standing with Eric. The sunset was breathtaking.
“I don’t want to get back on the boat.” I hugged Eric’s side. “Let’s just stay here and open a bed and breakfast. You can still be a journalist and I can take care of all the kids…”
“All the kids, huh? How many are you thinking?”
I was coming up on 30. Time was ticking.
“Mmm… I guess I could cut back to seven,” I joked.
“Just seven? Let me guess, two sets of twins and a set of triplets?”
“You know it. All girls, by the way.”
I laughed quietly.
“I think you would be great with daughters. You would do a great job showing them how they’re supposed to be treated,” I told him. The difference from four years ago was night and day. Four years ago I would never have thought that I would say Eric was a great example of how a man should treat a woman, but he was. Somehow he had given up all the shitty habits and was treating me like a damn princess.
“I think you would probably get annoyed with me having a house full of girls to take care of. You know I wouldn’t want any little gargoyles getting their dick beaters on my little angels,” he pointed out. “I’d be better off with boys so I could knock some sense into them when they inevitably get too arrogant.”
“Now why would they get arrogant? It’s not like you’re full of yourself,” I chuckled.
“Man am I glad you didn’t know me in my teen years.”
“Your early twenties was bad enough,” I joked. Kinda.
“Exactly. It was worse. You caught me at the tail end of my debauchery.”
I let go of Eric so I could take some pictures. The horizon was stunning with the setting sun. I wanted a picture of the two of us on the beach. The idea of being there for the rest of our lives really did speak to me. I’d probably feel the same way about a million other beaches before I died.
The particular beach I was standing on was between two mountains on the island of Kefalonia. It felt like a hidden gem, tucked away from the rest of the world. I took several pictures of the beautiful sunset. The sky reflected beautifully on the crystal blue water of the Ionian Sea. I turned around to get Eric into a selfie with me and froze when I found him on his knee… holding up a box with a diamond ring in it.
“Oh my God…” I whispered. Tears filled my eyes before he even started talking. I knew where it was leading.
“This past year has been the best of my life. I know it’s because of you. I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be, because of you. For a long time I wouldn’t admit it to myself but now I know that I got my life on track because of you. It hasn’t been easy. We fight. We bust each other’s balls. But I’m also your biggest fan and I know you always have my back. The last year has been such an adventure, Sookie, and I know it’s just the beginning. You’re the one I want to finish the journey with, Sookie. Will you marry me?”
Of course I was damn near sobbing by the end of his proposal. I had to nod because I couldn’t talk.
“Yes?” Eric asked.
“Yes,” I managed to get out.
He grinned from ear to ear and slipped the ring on my finger. It was a beautiful platinum band with little diamond chips and in the center was a marquise cut diamond. It was too big of a stone, just enough to catch the eye and sparkle in the light. I loved it.
“I love you,” he said when he stood up.
I hugged him tightly and for a few minutes we just stood there while I collected myself. He tilted my head up to wipe tears off my cheeks before leaning in to kiss me. It was, quite possibly, the best kiss of my life and I was thankful those were the last new lips I’d ever kiss.
“Seriously, do we have to leave this beach? It’s magic here,” I said when the kiss ended.
“Nah, we can stay.” He knew we couldn’t. Eric lifted his phone to take a few pictures of us and made sure to get a shot that included my new ring.
“Eric, this ring is perfect,” I told him once we started walking back to where we were supposed to meet our guide to get back on the boat.
“It was my grandma’s ring. Mom’s mom,” he told me.
“So your parents know you were going to propose to me. They’re okay with that?”
“Are you kidding? They love you,” he assured me. “Dad was particularly happy about it. I think it makes him feel like I’m a real grown up, like maybe he can start thinking about retirement.”
“And your mom is excited about your dad retiring?” Lana and I had actually talked about it before. She loved her husband and was looking forward to spending more time with him. At the same time, she knew he was initially going to drive her crazy while he figured out what to do with himself.
“I think the feelings are mixed,” he admitted. “But I’m sure she’ll feel better once she’s got a few grandchildren to keep them busy.”
I never thought I’d be talking about starting a family with Eric. At the moment I was in a daze. We had talked about marriage here and there. I wasn’t expecting him to propose in Greece, but then the more I thought about it, I probably should have seen it coming.
“I have to apologize in advance. Any idea you ever had about a small wedding probably won’t happen,” he said.
“Not necessarily. We could have a small, private ceremony and then the huge reception later,” I said. “I don’t want my wedding to be a circus. I understand that your family has social obligations so we can’t avoid the insanity, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do something quiet and private.”
“It’s your family now too, you know,” Eric pointed out.
“I know. Do you want the crazy?”
“God no,” he laughed. “If it was up to me, we’d go get married by a volcano in Hawaii.”
“That’s random,” I said between giggles.
“I think it’s awesome. It would be super casual. Bare feet, flowers in your hair, the smell of pineapple, a beautiful sunset…”
Eric painted a nice picture. Oddly enough, I could see it.
“Let’s do it,” I said. He had succeeded in bringing out my fun side. “You, me, some friends and our close family are all we need. Then we can go back to Louisiana for the big reception.”
It was a compromise. That was a crucial part of marriage, right? It was about give and take, finding a way to make everyone happy. I could live with that plan. The way Eric smiled at me and squeezed my hand, I knew he could too.
“Lover, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he winked.
I was almost pee on myself happy. It’s not what I ever would have expected from being with Eric, but I couldn’t imagine a better life than the one I was living. I tilted my head up to kiss my best friend and future husband as we walked off into the sunset.