Brighter Than Sunshine

Three Years Ago…

I stood there on my front porch with my mouth hanging open, catching flies. I’m sure my eyes were just as wide. At the tender age of twenty I had two amazing men on their knees; each of them pitching me a future; each of them claiming to want me more than the other did, or ever could. I loved them both. I was torn. It amazed me that I could fall in love with two men who were so incredibly different, but I had.

I looked at each of their faces, trying to find something that was a deciding factor. What was going to push me over the edge one way or the other? The fact that I was so desperate for a sign made me wonder if this was all a huge mistake. Bill was pleading with his eyes, his hand shaking slightly as it held up the plane tickets. He was offering me a trip around the world. He’d said he wanted to show me he didn’t have to be such an ‘old man,’ that being with me made him feel more alive than he ever had.

But then there was Eric, holding up this beautiful ring with a promise in his eyes. Eric was the man who had never been faithful until he met me. He swore he loved me enough to commit himself to only me, that as far as he was concerned, I was the only woman in the world. For me he would walk away from the lifestyle that had been killing him slowly for the last few years. He’d said when he was with me, he felt like that Cure song…you know, the Love Song.

The problem was, I felt like I had unknowingly been auditioning for the job of a wife. I didn’t want to be responsible for making Bill feel alive anymore than I wanted the responsibility of making Eric feel whole or clean. I was twenty-years-old. I was just getting my start in life and I wasn’t ready for the responsibility that came along with being someone else’s everything.

So I did the only thing I could do.

“Bill, I can’t accept the tickets. I’m sure the trip would be amazing, but I can’t take it with you. If what you want is an adventure, then you should have it, but I can’t fix what’s wrong in your life. I can’t be the reason you live,” I took a deep breath and turned to Eric, who was just about to start smirking when I took the wind out of his sails. “Eric, that is a beautiful ring and any woman would be lucky to have it. She would be lucky to have you. I have been lucky to have you, but I can’t marry you. I can’t save you anymore than I can save Bill, so as much I love you both, I can’t accept what you’re offering. You’re asking me to choose, and I’m choosing me. I hope you’ll understand and that we can still be friends.”

Eric looked wounded but closed the box with the ring inside. Bill, always the less mature person, dramatically tore the tickets in half, then in quarters and left them on the porch before stomping off toward his house across the cemetery. I sighed and shook my head, slightly relieved I hadn’t said yes to him. Eric slowly hoisted himself up off his knee and put the ring in his pocket.

“This isn’t over, Sookie,” he gave me one of those confident looks, like he knew something I didn’t.

He leaned down and kissed my cheek, lingering just a moment to breathe me in before stepping back and watching me as he walked to his car.

If it wasn’t over, then how come it was?

Present Day

I stood in the crowd at the bar and made sure I blended into the background. It was a big day for Eric. In the years since he proposed to me things had changed quite a bit. We had each moved on to other relationships, none of them having been very successful since I was single and I knew he was fighting with his current girlfriend. What they were fighting over, however, I didn’t know. I just knew there was tension between them.

It was the grand opening of his bar. He had been working toward this since things had ended between us. Bruised egos and broken hearts had kept us from diving back into being friends right away but in time we were able to smooth things over. If nothing else, Eric had always been a great friend to me. Losing his friendship had been hard but in the beginning, it had been harder to be around each other than it was to be apart.

I was glad, however, that we’d found our way back to being important in each other’s lives, even if it was in a different way. It was amazing what each of us had been able to accomplish in the last few years. Bill had moved away shortly after I turned him down. He took a job in Seattle to work for some big internet company that was on par with Google. I finished college and had a degree in photo journalism. I’d done a lot of traveling in the last year or so, seeing different cultures and milestone moments in the lives of others. I captured moments that were unexpected, heartbreaking, joyous, reverent and serene. I loved my job.

Eric had worked hard to get the bar open for business. He’d done a lot of research and planning, agonizing over the littlest decisions to make sure everything came together just right. He had also become more mature about relationships, having become reliable, responsible and faithful to the women he dated. He hadn’t cheated since before he met me and I knew he was ashamed of the way he had once behaved where women were concerned. It was nice to see I had an impact on him in a good way.

It was too easy to let yourself get bitter after a bad breakup but Eric hadn’t let that happen. He had persevered and turned his tragedy into a lesson to be learned from. All things considered, he had handled our rather unexpected breakup with grace and as much dignity as his ego allowed for. I was proud of him for it.

And as of late, I was also a little jealous of Jessica. She was a sweet girl with a big heart and a slightly naive way of being. There was this innocence to her I was a little envious of since I had seen way too much to look at the world with the same rose colored glasses she seemed to. At the same time, I could also tell she preferred having Eric all to herself and with the opening of the bar, she was going to have to be willing to share him. Not just because the bar was going to suck up a lot of his time but because being a flirt was part of the game; it was part of what made Eric the perfect guy to run a bar in the first place.

“See something you like?” Amelia whispered in my ear while I watched Jessica curl herself into Eric’s side.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I denied immediately.

“Uh huh,” Amelia rolled her eyes.

“I don’t,” I insisted a little stronger, but knew it was for nothing. Amelia always knew when I was full of shit and judging by the look on her face, her bullshit meter was ringing off the charts.

I’m sure it started ringing even louder when Eric’s eyes found mine in the crowd and he smiled at me. I smiled back, unable to help myself. I’m sorry, but when a guy like Eric Northman smiles at you, you smile back. It’s a reflex like breathing or closing your eyes when someone blows in your face. Besides, there was nothing wrong with smiling at each other, was there? Geez.

“He’s with Jessica. He’s happy with Jessica. I want him to be happy,” I told Amelia, who just nodded along in her placating fashion.

“And if he wasn’t with Jessica, then what?”

“Then he wouldn’t be with Jessica,” I shrugged.

“Would you make a move?” Amelia squinted at me like she was trying to read the answer directly from my brain.

“It’s a moot point since he’s with Jessica,” I shrugged, feeling like I’d dodged a bullet.

Amelia looked me up and down before grunting, “Mmhmmm.”

I sighed, rolled my eyes and looked to where Eric had been standing with Jessica, only to find he’d moved on. I searched the bar and found Eric sitting on a dais in a medieval looking chair with Jessica in his lap. The tinted lights overhead made her pale skin look almost milky and translucent. Her red hair flamed away from her face. Her eyes were big, blue and full of laughter. The Sunday School special dress she was wearing gave completed her look of chastity and virtue.

Minus the red hair, she reminded me a lot of the girl I had been three years ago, which sent a shiver through me. Was that why Eric was so happy with her? Was he essentially fucking a stand-in? My stomach turned just a little, but rather than walking out of the bar like I should have, I made my way to the dais. Before I knew my legs were even moving, I was standing in front of them.

“Sookie,” Eric smiled at me in that dazzling way of his.

“Hey, guys,” I smiled back.

Jessica’s smile changed and there was a flicker of something in her eyes, but I didn’t know her well enough to know what it was. She knew I was Eric’s ex. Pam, Eric’s business partner and oldest friend, had been quick to point that out to Jessica. I wanted to hate Pam for the delight she took in torturing others at times, but she made up for it with her snide comments about how she figured Jessica to be nothing more than a passing fancy.

“Hi, Sookie,” Jessica finally said in a voice so quiet I could barely hear her.

“I can’t stay, but I wanted to congratulate you, Eric. The bar looks great and if tonight’s crowd is any indication, it’s going to be a great success,” my eyes locked on his as I said, “I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you,” he was sincere and asked, “Can’t you stay for a drink? It’s early.”

“I wish I could, but I have to get home and pack. I have an assignment in California and an early flight. I’ll be back on Monday, though.”

“Oh,” he seemed disappointed. “Well, give me a call when you get in or come by and we’ll have that drink then.”

“Sure,” I nodded, then smiled at Jessica. “Keep an eye on him for me.”

“I’ll do a lot more than that,” Jessica snuggled against him and let her hand move up his thigh, effectively marking her territory.

Right, that was my cue to leave, so I did.

EPOV

As soon as Sookie was gone, I lifted Jessica off my lap and got up. I started toward the exit that leaded to a flight of stairs that would take me up to the second floor where my apartment was. I’d decided living above the bar was the best thing for me since it would mean I was always close by and I was terrible at hearing alarm clocks for early deliveries from vendors and suppliers.

As I expected, Jessica followed me upstairs, stomping petulantly the whole way. No sooner were we in the apartment than we were yelling at each other. “What the hell was that about, Jessica?”

“I don’t like that she hangs around so much. I know she’s your friend but I’m your girlfriend, and the fact that you two spend so much time together really bothers me,” she glared at me.

“We’re friends. She’s been a big part of my life for a really long time. I’m sorry if that bothers you, but I’m not just going to cut her out because you can’t get along with her,” I shrugged.

“Well, I’m not sure we can be together anymore if she’s going to be around. I love you, Eric, I really do, but I can’t help thinking maybe you’re not over her,” Jessica’s eyes filled with tears.

I ran my hand through my hair and said, “I don’t know what you want me to say here, Jess. I care about her; I always will.”

“I want you to say that she’s a part of your past and that’s it. I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me that I’m crazy for thinking you’re still in love with her,” Jessica folded her arms over her chest, her eyes daring me to do the things she’d just requested I do.

“I can’t say she’s just in my past, Jessica. She’s my friend in the present and I see her in my future,” I shrugged again.

“Then what do you need me for?” Jessica snickered and shook her head.

“I don’t understand where this is coming from! Is this because I asked her to stay for a drink, or because I want to hear about her trip?” I really was confused.

I had been honest with Jessica about my history with Sookie. I didn’t have much choice after Pam told her I’d proposed to Sookie a few years ago. It wasn’t a decision I regretted in the least. It had hurt like hell when she turned me down, but I understood why she had. Although, it had taken quite a while for me to get it. Sookie had been in a somewhat impossible position when I proposed to her, and I can admit my motives had been slightly off when I’d done it.

Yes, I wanted to marry her but I also didn’t want her to run away with Bill. Bill was her first love and she had left him because she wanted to see what else was out there in the world. He was content to stay right where he was, settle in and get married. He was in his early twenties but living like he was in his fifties. Sookie wasn’t the wildest girl in the world, but she wanted something more exciting than church socials on Saturday nights and Tupperware parties with the other housewives. I couldn’t blame her for that one bit.

When I met her, I had come to a point where it had gotten old to see how many women I could bag, and sometimes bed, in a week. I was ready for something more serious. Sookie was the exact right person for me to meet. I could show her something more adventurous and she could keep me grounded. We balanced each other out nicely, and, as it turned out, we had the same sense of humor. I never laughed more in my life than I did when I was with her. For once, I was happy.

“If you shit a rainbow, I’m having you committed,” Pam had once threatened. The scary thing was, with Sookie, it was entirely possible it might happen. I was just that happy.

I was also in love for the first time in my life. The idea of loving someone had always scared me in the past. Being in love meant being vulnerable and sharing everything. I didn’t have any secrets from Sookie. I told her everything about myself. I had laid it all out on the table for her and she hadn’t rejected me. If anything, she was proud of me for being so honest with her and that only made it easier for me to love her.

It was the first time a woman had ever put her foot down and told me to knock it off with my bullshit. She saw past the harder exterior I’d worked for so long to craft and she didn’t buy it when I tried to tell her I was happy in the past. It was because of her that I learned what true happiness was. I loved her more than I ever thought I could love anything, but that wasn’t why I asked her to marry me.

I asked her to marry me because I was afraid of losing her. I didn’t trust her enough to turn Bill away when he offered her that trip around the world and the chance to rekindle what they’d had together. Bill had made a dick move by trying to reclaim what he had thrown away but I had put Sookie in a difficult position by proposing to her for the wrong reason.

When she turned me down, I was devastated but not for the reasons she thought. I wasn’t angry at her for saying no. I was angry at myself for not being the better man in the whole situation. I should have trusted her and believed in our relationship more. Instead, I panicked and made a grand gesture that was for all the wrong reasons. She was right to make the choice she did, as much as I hated to admit it.

“You want to know where this is coming from?” Jessica marched past me to the bedroom area of the loft.

She opened the top drawer of my dresser and reached into the back of it, feeling around for something. When she found what she was looking for she marched back to me and then threw whatever it was she was holding when she was a few feet away. I caught the small black box and immediately knew what it was. I sighed and opened the box anyway. Sookie’s engagement ring. I never returned it. Fuck.

“How long were you planning on holding onto that, Eric? Were you going to give it to me, because I don’t want some sloppy secondhand ring. I don’t want to be married to a man who makes me feel like I’m always going to be second best. I deserve better than that.” Jessica’s lower lip trembled as she fought her tears.

I didn’t know what to say. I’d had plenty of time to return the ring and God knows I could have used the money. It was a relatively simple ring since Sookie’s taste and modesty would prevent me from putting an opulent diamond on her finger, even if I thought she deserved it. The ring I had picked out had a simple platinum band and a one carat square cut diamond fixed to it. Sookie’s face had lit up when she saw it and at least I knew I had chosen the right ring. If only my timing had been better.

“What are you saving this for, Eric? If you’re over her, then why do you need this ring?” Jessica demanded.

“I don’t need it. I just haven’t returned it,” I said as casually as I could. “I forgot I even had it.”

“Bullshit,” Jessica spat. “You don’t really expect me to believe you just forgot you were holding onto this, do you?”

“Jess, it’s just a ring,” I sighed.

“No, Eric, it’s not just a ring. It’s a symbol of a promise you were ready to make to another woman and you’re just fooling yourself if you think it’s just a piece of jewelry. And even if that’s all it really is to you, it makes me uncomfortable. I want you to get rid of it,” Jessica sniffled and wiped the tears from her face.

“Jess…” I trailed off.

“No, Eric. Either you get rid of that ring, or we’re through,” Jessica turned away from me, leaving me to contemplate my choices.

Did I want to move forward with Jessica, or hold onto my past?

SPOV

I was zipping up my carry-on bag when I heard tires on the gravel outside the house. I slipped on my shoes and grabbed my bag, figuring it was the car that was taking me to the airport. My brother had offered to drive me but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with Jason. Not to mention, he wasn’t exactly reliable and I didn’t want to miss my flight because he decided to play with his most recent flavor of the week instead of showing up for me.

The doorbell rang and I hustled for the front door. My suitcase was already there waiting for me. I was mostly packed the night before but I had decided to take a few extra lenses with me just in case I needed them. I ran through my mental checklist to make sure the house was all locked up and secure. The windows were all closed, timers were set on the lights, the coffee machine was off… everything was as it should be.

I opened the door and was surprised to see Jessica standing there, looking exhausted and devastated instead of a cab driver who looked exhausted and annoyed for having to wait. She was still wearing the same dress she had been in the night before. Makeup was smeared on her face and her eyes were rimmed with red from crying.

“Jessica, my goodness, what happened? Is Eric okay?” I was immediately terrified something awful had happened to him.

“I don’t really know how Eric is,” Jessica sighed heavily.

“What happened?” I asked again.

“Can I come in?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” I stepped back and let her in.

Her tall, willowy figure made its way through the door but she didn’t go into the living room and make herself comfortable. I hated to admit it, but she was beautiful, even with makeup smeared on her face and a rumpled day old dress. I knew she was sweet and polite, which was why I didn’t hate her. She had a bright smile and she was a great cheerleader for Eric. She had been supportive of his dream to open the bar and had made an effort to blend in with our group of friends. Pam didn’t like her but then Pam didn’t really like anyone.

“Can I get you something to drink?” I offered because it was polite, even if I might have to usher her out before we got to finish the conversation we were about to have.

“No, thank you,” Jessica looked around.

I’d had her and Eric over for dinner before and I knew first hand how uncomfortable it made her to be in my house. It was even harder for her since Eric had just helped himself to things and handed me utensils in the kitchen without having to ask where they were kept. It was little things like that that made it harder to accept it when someone you loved moved on, or flaunted their past in your face. I knew Eric had other girlfriends but I had never been to any of their homes for dinner. I had invited Jessica over in hopes of getting to know her better but now I saw how horribly awkward that must have been for her and I felt terrible for it.

“I won’t take up too much of your time. I just came over here to ask you to do me a favor,” Jessica sniffled quietly and ran her slender fingers through her long hair.

“Sure,” I smiled softly at her, wondering what she could possibly want from me.

“I want you to let Eric go,” she said with determination.

“Excuse me?” my eyes widened.

“I love him. I see a real future for us but he’s holding onto you and I think if you let him go, then he’ll do the same,” Jessica explained.

“Jessica, we’re just friends,” I said as kindly as I could. “We haven’t been more than that in a really long time.”

“He never got rid of the ring, Sookie,” she said bitterly and wiped at her cheeks when tears started to fall. “He’s been holding onto that ring this whole time and I think if he knew it was really over with you, he would let it go. I love him but I can’t be second place and I won’t take the pieces of his heart that are left over. So I’m asking you to please do this for me.”

I felt terrible standing there, watching her cry like she was. It was obvious to me that she really did love Eric and I hated that I was reason she was hurting so much. I wanted to hug her but figured that was probably a mistake. She didn’t want my comfort, she wanted Eric. I hadn’t realized he was mine to give away, but maybe he was. At least to Jessica, he was.

“Jessica, I don’t know what to say,” I really didn’t. “I had no idea Eric still had the ring.”

What did it mean that he’d been holding onto it for so long? Had he just tucked it away like I did with old cards and letters from friends and family? Was it a reminder of a time in his life that made him happy? Or was he hoping that someday I’d give him another chance to put that ring to use?

“Well, he did, and I want him to get rid of it. I want him to let you go and be with me, and only me. You had your chance, Sookie. He asked you to marry him and you turned him down. Now it’s my turn,” Jessica sounded like a petulant seven-year-old but I couldn’t exactly blame her.

“Look, Jessica, I’m sorry you’re going through all this. I wish there was something I could say to put your mind at ease on all this-”

“Tell me you don’t love him. Tell me that everything you have is in the past and that I have nothing to worry about,” Jessica stared at me with sad eyes that broke my heart.

“I can’t say I don’t love him,” I admitted in a whisper.

The truth was, I did love Eric and I always would. Every boyfriend I had since Eric and I broke up had put me in the same position Jessica did just then. I always had to choose between Eric and the person I was with and my inability to leave a dear friend was reason enough for my boyfriend to leave. But it wasn’t just a dear friend I was attached to. It was true Eric and I hadn’t been romantically involved with each other in years, but he was someone I cared deeply about. I’d made love to him dozens of times and if the circumstances had been different, I would have accepted his proposal.

All of a sudden it was like a light came on. How had I never realized that before?

The cab rolled up with perfect timing, effectively bringing the discussion to an end. I didn’t make Jessica any promises. Really, the ball was in Eric’s court since he was the one with a choice to make. If Jessica was what he wanted, I wouldn’t stand in his way. She was right when she said I had my chance. Maybe I had blown it by turning him down, but I realized I loved him enough to sacrifice my happiness for his.

That was true love, wasn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.

EPOV

I was pissed at Jessica for giving me the ultimatum she did. I was even more pissed off that she admitted she found the ring while she was snooping in my apartment one day. She tried to play it off like she had been looking for a pair of socks to wear but it was the middle of summer. Socks were completely unnecessary. My bullshit meter was pinging at an all-time high.

After she left, I went back down to the bar. Pam was closing things up for the night and I hadn’t realized how much time I had spent upstairs arguing with Jessica. I missed most of the night and I was really aggravated that Jessica had picked that night, of all nights, to have a fight. Judging by the way Pam was giving me the stink eye, she had definitely noticed I had gone missing and she wasn’t thrilled about it either.

“So what’d she bitch about this time?” Pam asked when I got behind the bar to poor myself a scotch.

“She found Sookie’s engagement ring and she told me I have to choose,” I admitted to Pam before tossing back the scotch.

“That’s what happens when you date Skipper,” Pam smirked.

“Skipper?” I arched an eyebrow.

“Barbie’s little sister.”

I narrowed my gaze and said, “She’s not that much younger, Pam.”

“Whatever. The point is, she’s not the one for you. If she was, you wouldn’t be carrying around the ring. You would have gotten rid of it years ago,” Pam poured herself a shot as well and sat down on the other side of the bar.

“I didn’t hold onto it because I wasn’t over Sookie,” I insisted before pouring another drink.

“Then why did you keep it?”

“I don’t know,” I set the bottle down. “I think I kept it, at first, because I was hoping she would change her mind. But then, as time went by and it was tucked away, I just didn’t think about it very much. She moved on, I moved on…we became friends. The ring was just always there, chilling in my dresser and it was no big deal.”

“Right. So it has nothing to do with the way you drop everything and run to her every single time she has a problem, or how she was the one who was going over paint samples with you and helped unpack the glasses when they were delivered?” Pam arched an eyebrow at me. “Face it, Northman, you never got over her. You just told yourself you did because that made it easier. The truth is, you’re in love with her and you always have been. So why are you sitting here debating what was decided so long ago?”

I sighed, drank my shot and poured another. I kept going like that until I decided it was better to just take the bottle upstairs with me before I passed out on the floor of the bar. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I wondered if the bar had been locked up properly the night before. Even worse, I wasn’t sure I really cared if it was.

I showered, hoping it would help sober me up and kick the hangover that was threatening to make my head cave in. I got some breakfast as a local greasy spoon and made my way to the library where Jessica worked in the children’s section. She was great with kids and had told me she definitely wanted some of her own; the sooner the better. I should have known then that Jessica wasn’t the one, since the idea of having kids with her didn’t sit right with me.

I wanted kids. I had figured that out when I was with Sookie, but it wasn’t until I heard Jessica talking about being a mother that I realized maybe I only wanted kids if I was having them with Sookie. I had pushed the thought away, having decided it was just because the conversation was happening so early in my relationship with Jessica. I was just having a moment of panic, I’d told myself. It didn’t have to mean I was still in love with Sookie.

I knew Jessica didn’t start work until eleven on Saturday mornings and it was just a few minutes before that. Her car wasn’t in the lot and I wanted to catch her before she went inside. The sooner I put an end to this, the better I would be. I decided I wasn’t sure what the deal was with Sookie and me, but I was sure Jessica wasn’t the one and it wasn’t fair to let her think that was going to change.

When her car pulled in, I took a deep breath and got out to wait for her. Her hair was still deep crimson and stringy, which meant she had showered recently. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and her face was puffy from crying. I walked over to her and she stopped in her tracks when she spotted me approaching. I could tell she was holding her breath, bracing herself for whatever it was I was about to say.

“I thought about what you said last night,” I started since it seemed the logical way to go.

“And?” Jessica folded her arms over her chest.

“And I think you were right. I was holding onto the past and I realized I can’t let it go. I can’t let her go, and you’re right that it’s not fair to you,” I watched as she nodded, her jaw set and her eyes filled with tears she wouldn’t shed.

“So that’s it then?” she asked coldly.

“I’m sorry, Jessica. I never meant to hurt you,” I really hadn’t.

“Yeah, well,” she shrugged and blinked back the tears. “For what it’s worth, she’s not over you either. I’m not going to wish you well, but don’t make the same mistake twice.”

With that, she stormed past me into the library. That was the end of that.

SPOV

I got the lens I wanted locked into place and turned the camera on. I pushed the button to make sure my memory card was clear and gasped when I saw that it wasn’t. Instead, I found myself looking at a picture of Eric and me that had been taken after my last breakup. Alcide and I had dated for about six months before things went sour. I wouldn’t say I was devastated by the loss so much as I had been frustrated by it.

I hadn’t told Eric that he factored into the breakup since it didn’t seem pertinent at the time and I didn’t want him to feel guilty over it. We ended up getting in the car and just driving for a while until he got a flat tire that forced us off the road just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. It was the middle of the night and we didn’t get cell phone reception out there.

To make matters worse, the spare tire in my trunk was also flat, forcing us to spend the night in the desert until it was bright enough to start walking back into town to get to the gas station about five miles away. We had stretched out on the hood of my car together, shared a bottle of wine and more snack food than either of us had eaten in years.

What could have been a rather tragic night ended up being one of the best of my life. Eric had memorialized it by grabbing my camera from the backseat, climbing onto the hood with me and taking our picture. I smiled every time I saw that picture. It was such a simple thing, and yet it defined the way our relationship had always been; making the best of a bad situation. It seemed like no matter how bad things were, as long as we were together we could make it okay. We found the little things to laugh at and appreciate.

I felt a dull ache in my chest and I decided I was wasting my time in California. I didn’t belong there. I belonged with Eric. I turned off my camera, detached the lens and packed my equipment up. My bosses were going to be pissed I was ditching my assignment, but I didn’t care. I had waited long enough.

I called a cab and went back to the airport. The next flight to Louisiana wasn’t for a few more hours but there was one leaving for Dallas in a few minutes. I changed my ticket, got on the plane and didn’t look back.

There were so many things I could say to him and I wasn’t sure where I was going to start. My heart went crazy in my chest while I sorted through it all. By the time the plane landed in Dallas, my foot was tapping nervously. I was the scared sort of excited. I had never taken such a risk in the past. I wouldn’t say my feelings were coming from out of nowhere, exactly, but there was the chance I was too late.

What if I had waited too long and he had made his choice already? I chased that thought away and decided that if even I was too late, it would be worth it because at least he would know how I felt. Whether or not he reciprocated wasn’t really the important thing, even though I desperately wanted him to. What mattered was clearing my conscience and making sure he had everything he needed to make an informed decision. I needed him to know how I felt because even if he didn’t feel the same way, he deserved to know. And if he had chosen Jessica, at least I could start to really put him behind me.

When we touched down in Dallas I went to a rental car company and rented a car. It was just starting to rain by the time I got behind the wheel and headed for Shreveport. I stopped for gas just once and got a cup of coffee. I turned the radio up loud and let myself get lost in pop music, dancing in my seat in hopes of burning off some of the nervous energy I was dealing with. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through me and I wondered how long it would take for that to burn out.

The rain followed me from Dallas to Shreveport and it was pouring by the time I got to Eric’s bar at just after two in the morning. The bar closed at midnight but he was living right upstairs. I had helped him pick out the furniture for his new place. He was clueless when it came to interior design. He knew what he liked, he just didn’t know how to put it together and since I had an eye for what looked good, I had been the natural choice to help him without bankrupting him the way Pam would have.

I parked the car on the street and ran for the door of the bar. As I expected, the doors were locked and I started pounding them them as hard as I could. I prayed he wasn’t going to open the door half naked and freshly sexed. Not only did I not want to think about him fucking another woman, I would have a hard time controlling myself when I saw the bedhead. Eric could rock bedhead like a boss.

I lost track of how long I was standing out there in the rain pounding on the doors for, but by the time Eric finally made an appearance, I was soaking wet and ready to give up. He looked stunned to see me standing there, and stepped back to invite me inside. Instead, I stayed right where I was in the rain, a few steps back from him, and started talking.

“Look, I know this is probably coming from out of nowhere and I know I’m probably too late but I just wanted you to know that I still love you. I never stopped loving you and if I would have known how things were going to be, I would have answered differently all those years ago,” I wiped some of the rain off my face since it was starting to get hard to see and I wanted to look into those beautiful blue eyes of his while I talked. “I found the pictures of us from Roswell today. I never erased them. It made me realize that no matter where I go, or who I’m with, there’s always going to be a part of me that belongs to you. And the truth is, if you let me, I’ll give you everything, Eric, and I’m sorry it took me this long to see it. All I want is for you to be happy, so if that’s not with me, that’s okay because at least I’ll know that I loved someone for all the right reasons and for a little while, at least, he loved me back.”

I took a few deep breaths and felt the weight that had been on my shoulders lift off and float away. I’d done what I set out to do. He knew how I felt. What happened next was up to him. I waited…and waited…and waited for what felt like an eternity for him to say something but he remained silent. Eventually, I just smiled and turned to walk away.

The good thing about crying in the rain is that no one can tell.

EPOV

“Sookie, wait!” I called out and took off after her. Ask me how many fucks I gave that I was running out into the street barefoot in the middle of a thunderstorm. If you said anything more than zero, you’re wrong.

“Eric, it’s okay, you don’t have to explain,” she sounded defeated.

I caught up to her easily and turned her around so we were face to face. Even in the rain I could tell she was crying. I hadn’t hesitated because I was unsure of my feelings but because she was the one to say it first. Sookie didn’t open up easily and never had. She had always been afraid of her feelings and I knew she had a tendency to run from them sometimes. It was something we had in common that had never changed, which made our arguments that much more passionate and our making up nothing but primal.

“I broke up with Jessica,” I told her.

“What?” she looked stunned.

“She told me to choose and I decided you’re the only one that has ever mattered. You’re the only one that ever will. I love you, Sookie, and I want you. I want everything with you and I always have,” I held her face in my hands.

Her bottom lip trembled with the tears the rain was cleverly hiding from me. We stood there under a streetlight with rain falling all around us, my hands on her face and her hands reaching up to grip at my button down shirt. The way her eyes searched mine told me she was thinking the same things I was. I had to kiss her.

So I did. Hard. Right there in the street for the whole world to see.

It amazed me how easily my lips remembered hers and I knew just what to do to make her melt against me. My hands tilted her face from one angle to the next before sliding into her wet hair and holding the back of her head. Her fingers clawed at my chest and before I knew it she was backed against the car, then trying to climb me. I lifted her easily and let my hands settle under her backside, holding her firmly in place without ever breaking the kiss.

We were barely in the bar when she ripped my shirt open and buttons went flying everywhere. The temptation to deposit her on a table and claim her right there was strong, but I wouldn’t give in to it. I growled when her mouth moved from mine and settled on my neck, alternately licking and sucking and I was sure I was being marked. I managed to get us up the stairs and as soon as we were in the apartment I put her down on her feet. I peeled off her jacket and threw it on the floor while her lips and teeth attacked my chest.

Piece by piece, our clothes came off while we shuffled around the apartment toward my bed. Sookie pushed me back on the bed and straddled my lap, grinding her hips against me and crashing her lips down on mine. I loved that she tasted like a coffee and I knew exactly how much cream and sugar it had taken to get her to taste that way just as much as I loved the way she knew I liked it when she tugged on my hair when I kissed her. I liked that she wasn’t afraid to challenge me or take control. She never let my size intimidate her the way it did a lot of women and she wasn’t afraid to put me in my place when my ego got the better of me.

I could taste the salty rain water that had soaked through her clothes into her skin. I remembered the first time we slept together and the way her skin smelled like oranges and honey. I wondered if the rain had washed away that smell or if it had just changed in the years since the last time I made love to her. I loved that no matter where I touched her, she filled my hands, almost like she was made for me. Whether I touched her breasts, hips, ass, even her hair, they just filled my hands to give me something soft to hold onto.

My lips fastened around one of Sookie’s dusky pink nipples and teased with the appropriate flicking to sucking ratio to make her back arch and her hands tug harder at my hair. I switched to the other side a few minutes later, just as one of her hands moved between us and wrapped itself around the base of my cock. I groaned against her skin when she started to stroke. Apparently she hadn’t forgotten the right pressure to twist ratio and before too long, I had her underneath me at the center of the bed.

Her legs wrapped around me, keeping me close to her which was only a problem because I had other places on her body I wanted to sample to see if they were as delicious as I remembered. My hand moved from her hip down the smooth skin of her thigh and tickled behind her knee. She yelped, then giggled as her legs unlocked.

“Cheater,” she breathed, smiling up at me with one of those smirk/smiles I only saw when we were in bed together. I didn’t want to know if she ever made that face for anyone else, or if it was just for me.

“I promise to make it up to you,” I raised her leg and turned my face to the side to kiss the inside of her knee and down her thigh.

One of the things Sookie could always count on with me was that I kept my word.

SPOV

Why had I ever walked away from him? I couldn’t remember my reasons, or really much of anything, when Eric kissed me. All I thought about was him and the way he made me feel, and I felt wonderful. Yes, I had cried outside the bar but it wasn’t because I was sad. Well, not entirely. Mostly I felt relieved, having said the things I had been thinking. I had put myself out there and it was hard thing to do, whether he wanted me back or not.

The fact that he did want me back, even after all the time that had passed… well, my heart was ready to burst. This was it. He was the one and no matter what we came up against in the future, I was sure we could get past it if we stuck together. In celebration of that fact, I was more than happy to let him have his way with me, even if I gave him a little guff for it.

Eric liked a challenge and I definitely had it in me to be a pain in the ass. I didn’t mind fighting with him, actually. It’s not that I went out of my way to do it but I wasn’t afraid of it either. We had fought as friends and definitely as lovers. I knew what to expect with him just like he knew what to expect with me. It was nice having that inside track with each other. Having shifted gears in our relationship so many times since we first met, we could appreciate each other in ways other couples probably couldn’t.

He didn’t disappoint with his promise to make things up to me either. I knew there were things we needed to talk about that I probably should have addressed first but I wanted him. The rest could wait because I knew we would both be thinking more clearly if we got some of the tension out of the way. Eric was as talented as ever, using every trick in the book to make me squirm, moan and beg for more until I was sure I was going to die if he wasn’t inside me soon.

My eyes closed with the intensity of the orgasm I was experiencing and didn’t notice Eric’s long arm dipping into his nightstand to retrieve a condom until I heard the package being ripped open. My eyes opened in time to watch him roll the latex on and I bit my bottom lip. It wasn’t that I had forgotten how big Eric was; it was more like I was still impressed by it. Quinn, one of my exes, had been pretty close in size but he didn’t quite have the same skill Eric did at using what he’d been blessed with. He wasn’t bad in bed but Eric was better.

Then again, I hadn’t been in love with Quinn. I’d liked him a lot and the sex was good enough to keep me interested for a while but when I realized I wasn’t ever going to fall in love with him, I’d broken up with him. It just didn’t make sense to keep leading him on when I knew the relationship had gone as far as it was going to. Did I mention Quinn was also my rebound guy after Eric? Rebound guys aren’t supposed to last forever. They’re supposed to be likeable and good in bed without being someone you get attached to. Quinn was perfect for the job and when the time was right, I cut him loose.

Eric shifted his body so he was on top of me, his erection hard and heavy against my thigh. I drew my legs up around his hips and stared into his eyes. He gently tucked some of my hair behind my ear and smiled down at me. My fingers lazily traced up and down his back.

“Are you sure this is what you want? There’s no going back after this,” Eric warned and I knew he was serious because I felt the same way. I was relieved to hear him say it.

“I’m sure,” I nodded.

His head lowered to mine and he kissed me sweetly, at first, then more aggressively. He braced most of his weight on one elbow while his other hand moved between us to position himself at my entrance, making sure to rub the tip of his erection between my folds and tease my clit before he slowly started to push inside me. I moaned into his mouth and let my hands settle on his ass, the part of him I had decided long ago was my favorite. He’d been stunned by it, considering he was packing what I had dubbed ‘a gracious plenty’ in the front side of his pants, but his ass just looked amazing in a pair of low-slung jeans.

I was torn between wanting to pull him inside me quickly and get down to it, and letting him take his time and savoring the moment. Inch by inch he filled me and I felt him squirm just a little when I brought my knees up high and grazed his sides. That’s right, he was ticklish too. I laughed quietly at the realization I knew this about him and had forgotten it.

Eric stopped and pulled back to look me in the eyes. “What’s so funny?”

“This,” I said and moved my knees again and watched with delight as he squirmed again. The movement made me moan since he had shifted inside me as well. “I forgot how ticklish you are.”

“Then I guess I’ll just have to make you forget again,” he whispered against my lips and got busy doing just that.

There were lots of things to like about sex with Eric, but my favorite thing was probably the variety he offered. I knew better than to expect the same thing twice with him. I couldn’t remember ever having boring old missionary sex that lasted just a few minutes before he blew his wad. That wasn’t Eric’s style, much to my relief. He always made sure I crossed the finish line, preferably before him. He was a bit of a voyeur and had once told me that watching me get off was an extreme turn-on for him, especially when he knew he was the reason I was getting off.

For that reason alone, I put a little extra effort in the noises I made. I wasn’t faking, mind you. With Eric, that simply wasn’t necessary. All the same, I figured being a little theatrical from time to time couldn’t hurt. So I let myself get lost in all the feelings and sensations and made as much noise as I wanted, throwing in the occasional curse word at the right moments.

We moved together easily, like we were doing an old choreographed dance. When we rolled so I was on top of him he grabbed my hips hard enough I was sure there would be slight bruises the next day but I didn’t care. I swiveled my hips every time I sank down on him, making sure to give him a squeeze from the inside before rising again. Already his eyes were starry and I knew he was close to finishing when he planted his feet on the bed bent his knees, forcing me forward so he could thrust up into me fast and hard.

Our eyes met and we watched the expressions in each other’s eyes as we came together. It was, without a doubt, the single most intense thing I had ever experienced in my life. I saw every single thing Eric felt for me flash in his eyes. Love, adoration, lust, need, elation and maybe even a little frustration passed over his face before his lips found mine and I relaxed against him. My chest heaved against his and I could feel his heart beating against my skin.

I didn’t want to move but I had to. I carefully lifted myself off him and made myself comfortable while he disposed of the condom and went to the bathroom to get cleaned up a little. He came back with a warm, damp washcloth and slid into bed next to me. My eyes focused on his while the washcloth did its job between us.

“So I have to ask…” Eric broke the silence between us after a few minutes. “What prompted you to show up here like this?”

For the first time it dawned on me how my actions might come off as desperate but did it even matter? I felt the way I felt; I’d simply found the courage to admit what I had been holding back, or had been too afraid to admit to myself. I told him the truth, how my feelings had been creeping up on me slowly but I’d pushed them away because of Jessica. But her showing up on my doorstep looking like hell had been somewhat of a wake up call, a reminder that I couldn’t stay stagnant forever. Then finding the pictures on my camera had pushed me into action.

“I know I said no last time for the right reason. We weren’t ready for marriage back then and I think I would have always felt a little resentment toward you for treating me like I was a trophy to flaunt in Bill’s face. I never wanted to be a prize that was lorded over someone else,” I told Eric, who looked disappointed.

“I’m sorry I treated you so badly. I wish I could take it back. I think things would have been very different for us if I had trusted you more.” Eric admitted quietly.

“We were young,” I shrugged and rolled onto my side to face him. “I think we needed this time and these other relationships to really understand just what it is we have with each other. I know now that what we have can’t be duplicated and I can’t just replace you like I tried to tell myself I could.”

“Did you ever really think you could replace me?” Eric arched an eyebrow at me in that delicious way of his that said I better choose my words carefully.

My fingertips grazed his inner thigh, making his body tense up and the gleam in his eye turn dangerous. I smiled at him and said, “Well, I knew there was definitely a big void to be filled. No one ever came close to measuring up.”

All of a sudden I was rolled under Eric, who was staring down on me with those intense eyes of his. “In all fairness, lover, I did tell you this wasn’t over.”

I lifted my eyebrows, trying to remember but then it dawned on me. The day he proposed to me he had said it wasn’t over. Did that mean he had never given up? Was he always just waiting for me to see what he already knew?

“I love you, Eric,” I pulled his face to mine and kissed him.

If he was the last man I ever kissed, I’d die a happy woman.

– FIN –

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