I’d like to say I have no idea how I got all the way back to Amelia’s without realizing my purse was missing, but that’d be a big lie. We’d been at the bar just long enough for Amelia to get extremely drunk (she swore it would help heal her recently broken heart), when the source of said heartbreak walked in with a bleach blonde, long legged floozy hanging on him. Now, Amelia is usually the type to shake it off and move on when relationships don’t work out, but Tray had been different. She’d genuinely fallen in love with him. The relationship had changed her. She’d toned down her wild ways and doodled his surname when she talked on the phone. She started talking (at least with me) about how many kids she wanted to have and how she’d always wanted a June wedding.
I’m not entirely sure what went wrong with Tray and Amelia, but somewhere along the way Tray decided she wasn’t the one and broke things off. Amelia took it badly, even talking about finding someone who could put a voodoo curse on him, but I knew she didn’t mean it. She was just hurting something awful and I hated to see her so sad. Amelia was the bubbly one who was always focusing on the solution instead of the problem.
It had been her idea to go out for drinks and since I couldn’t very well let her go alone when she was so vulnerable, I went with her. A one night stand might feel good in the moment, but I knew once she sobered up she’d hate herself for it. So we went to The Third Bar, owned by Amelia’s friend Pam, and set ourselves up at a table near the dance floor. I let Amelia do most of the drinking since one of us was going to have to drive home.
She decided her poison that night was going to be Southern Comfort, which was just a terrible choice but it was her liver and digestive system. As long as she didn’t puke in my car on the ride home, I didn’t care. I stuck to water, mostly, but allowed myself two cocktails. I danced when Amelia wanted me to, and I sat and listened to her cry or bitch about Tray when a song would play that would make her think of him.
It was painful to see Amelia so torn up, and since she was a mess for the better part of the night she wasn’t getting the attention from guys I knew she’d been hoping for. Honestly, I couldn’t blame guys from staying away. I mean, what guy in his right mind wants to pick up a drunk woman who is bawling her eyes out and occasionally wailing another man’s name in between sobs? There might be a few, but no way in God’s creation was I letting a single one of them take her home unless it was Tray himself.
But then Tray walked in with the nameless blonde latched onto him like he was a life raft in a high tide and Amelia just lost it. Before she could make a total fool of herself, I wrestled her out of the bar. Half way to the car she got sick and threw up in the parking lot. It was a disaster. I’d put the car keys in my pocket earlier in the night just in case and my purse was completely forgotten until I had Amelia tucked into bed for the night.
When I realized it was missing, I debated over what to do. It was almost three in the morning and last call at the bar was at two. Sure there was clean up to do once the place closed but by the time I got there, I might be out of luck. I decided it was worth the risk and got back in the car. I broke just about every traffic law on the way, which was stupid of me considering I was driving without my license or insurance. I thanked God I’d at least had the sense to stay sober so if I did get pulled over, at least I wouldn’t get a DUI on top of everything else.
The parking lot at the bar was just about empty, except for two cars. I lunged out of the car and ran for the front door of The Third Bar like my pants were on fire, and said a small prayer, thanking God, when the door opened. I looked around in a daze, only to hear a deep, booming voice say, “Bar’s closed for the night.”
“I know,” I whirled around to face where the voice had come from. “I just came back because I left my purse here.”
My eyes settled on a man in tight jeans and a black t-shirt who had his back to me while he swept up broken glass. I sucked in a breath when he bent down to brush the glass into a dustpan. I’m not usually one for ogling men. I think it’s rude, undignified and just plain disrespectful, but ask me if I cared when my eyes locked onto that man’s behind. If my Gran were the ogling type, which she wasn’t, she would have said it was like two Christmas hams packed into the seat of his pants.
I tried to keep my smile in check when he stood up to face me. It turned out his backside wasn’t the only fun thing to stare at. His slightly shaggy blond hair was tussled in a just-rolled-out-of-bed look that had me biting my bottom lip. I imagined running my fingers through that hair while kissing his slightly thin pink lips. His eyes sparkled, even in the dim light of the bar, and I could tell they were a deep shade of blue. The line of his jaw tightened just a little bit when he looked at me, and just like him, my eyes continued to travel, taking in everything he had to offer.
The thin material of his shirt stretched over his shoulders, chest and abs before just barely meeting the waistband of his jeans. The slightest shift of his body gave me a glimpse of the v-cut of his hips and I could see just a trace of the golden hair below his navel. I couldn’t remember my heart ever pounding quite that fast or my body reacting like it was in that moment. Dirty thoughts ran through my head and my Gran would have been scandalized by every single one of them.
The way his eyes settled on me made me very aware of several things: first, that we were alone. Second, I had an extra helping of cleavage on display thanks to the deep v-neck halter top I was wearing. Third, we were alone. Wait, did I mention that already? I sighed internally and tried to think of something intelligent to say but it just wasn’t happening. Every single thing I thought sounded like a bad pick up line, and I’d heard plenty in my day. Looking like he did, I was sure he had as well.
All the same, I muttered a quiet, “Biscuits and gravy,” under my breath before feeling my face burst into flames. The gorgeous man standing a few feet away smiled at me and I knew I was in big trouble when I saw the pearly white rows of his teeth.
Are you testing me, Lord?, I silently asked, closing my eyes and praying for the strength to keep my hands to myself.
“You said you left your purse? What’s it look like?” he asked, leaning a little on the broom.
What did my purse look like? Think, Sookie, think, I berated myself. “Uh, brown leather shoulder bag. There’s a brown wallet, a Motorola cell phone and a Cover Girl lip gloss in Beam in it,” I rambled.
He smiled at me and then walked behind the bar to his left. He disappeared for a few seconds but quickly popped up with my bag in his large hand. “What’s your name?”
“Sookie. Sookie Stackhouse. Check the license if you want,” I shrugged. I had nothing to hide in that bag, well, assuming he didn’t check the emergency pocket where I had a tampon, some clear nail polish, $20 and a pack of Trident gum.
“I already did,” he held out the bag to me. “Nice picture on your license. I always look like I was just electrocuted.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I took my purse back and looked to make sure everything was in there that was supposed to be. “Thank you so much for holding onto this for me. I don’t usually leave my things laying around like that.”
“Happens more often than you think. Everything in there?” he asked curiously, his hands braced on the bar top.
“Looks like it,” I smiled up at him. “What’s your name?”
“Eric,” he gave a small smile in return.
“Thank you, Eric,” I stepped forward with the intention of shaking his hand, but he ended up kissing the back of mine instead.
It was an unexpected move that had me knocked off kilter. The feeling of those lips anywhere on my skin was putting me into overload, and his breath warm and gentle on my wrist wasn’t helping much. Our eyes met and I felt the strangest feeling… yes, his eyes were beautiful, but it wasn’t just that. I felt like I was looking at an old friend, even though I knew I’d never seen him before. I’d made many, many trips to the bar earlier in the night and I hadn’t seen him once. I was sure if he had been around I would have noticed.
“Mind if I ask how you managed to forget your purse?” Eric asked me when he released my hand.
I flushed slightly and said, “I had to wrangle a friend out of here before she attacked her ex. They just broke up two weeks ago and she’s having a hard time with it. He came in here tonight with a trampy blonde hanging on him and my friend saw.”
“Ouch,” Eric grimaced.
“Yeah, I don’t think Amelia was prepared for it,” I leaned against the bar.
“It’s not easy seeing someone you once loved with someone else,” Eric agreed.
“That’s a true story right there,” I nodded. “So, what’s the craziest story behind a purse being left?”
Eric’s face brightened at my question. He thought for a moment before he started telling me several stories. I sat on one of the stools and without him even seeming to realize he was doing it, he put a glass of water down in front of me. His body seemed to be moving of its own accord, since his eyes never left mine while he talked. He told story after story about some of the crazy things that happened in the bar.
I learned, through those stories, that Eric was actually Pam’s business partner and he’d met Amelia a time or two in the past. He confessed that he had seen us briefly earlier in the evening, but I had been in the process of fighting Amelia out the door. He had been the one to confiscate my purse and he’d put it behind the bar in the hopes I’d come back in a few minutes later to retrieve it.
“I almost didn’t come back tonight,” I admitted with a shy smile. “I figured you’d already be closed up for the night.”
“I was waiting. Just about to give up, actually,” Eric winked at me. On anyone else, it would have been cheesy. On Eric, it was sexy.
“What’s with the broken glass you were sweeping up?” I asked him, looking over my shoulder to where a broom was still propped up against a table.
“One of my waitresses, Ginger, she’s better at flirting with the customers than she is serving them drinks,” Eric explained with a hint of aggravation in his voice.
“Dry cleaners must love you,” I shot back a wink of my own, earning me a great big smile.
We talked a while longer, trading stories and making each other laugh. I quickly figured out I very much liked the way Eric laughed. It was a hearty, booming laugh that let me know it was on purpose and not just because he was being polite. I learned that he was thirty-two, unmarried and originally from upstate New York. He’d met Pam when he was bumming around Europe after college. He had been staying in a hostel in France, much to Pam’s horror, when they met. He admitted what had started out as a potential one night stand completely backfired when he found out Pam was a lesbian.
Instead, they became travel partners, and later, business partners. They had spent some time checking out bars, pubs, dives and nightclubs all over the place to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. They had ended up in Louisiana because Pam came from money and her parents would only give her the necessary start up capitol if she agreed to stay close by and settle down some. To that end, Eric was perfect. As far as Pam’s parents were concerned, Eric was going to put a ring on Pam’s finger any minute now. It was all a sham but one he’d been comfortable with since it meant being able to run his own business.
“It doesn’t bother you that you’re giving her parents false hope? They’re planning a wedding and grand babies and they have no idea it’s not going to happen like they want it to,” I shook my head.
“They just want someone to carry on the family name,” Eric shrugged.
“And how will Pam getting married accomplish that, exactly?” I arched an eyebrow at him.
“You don’t know Pam very well, do you?” Eric chuckled while I shook my head. “Even if Pam were into men, she isn’t the type to take another person’s last name. She’s perfectly happy as Pamela Swynford.”
The hint of agitation in his voice suggested I had offended him with my judgment so I apologized. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s none of my business what you do with…well, your business.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Eric waved it off.
“No, really I shouldn’t have-”
“Sookie, stop. It’s okay. Pam and I have always had a unique relationship and way of doing things. You don’t have to apologize.”
“You’re sure? I didn’t mean to offend you,” I frowned slightly.
There was a mischievous look in his eyes when he said, “Well, I’ll let it go under one condition.”
“What’s that?” I gave a nervous smile.
Eric practically grinned before coming around the bar and going over to the old jukebox near a row of booths. He reached into his pocket, effectively thwarting any hopes I had just then that my atonement might be made while doing naked things on top of the bar. He pushed a dollar into the machine and then punched a few numbers like he knew exactly what he was looking for. A pretty country song I’d loved for as long as I could remember began to play as he turned around to look at me.
“Dance with me,” he held out a hand.
I didn’t even have to think about it. I slid off my stool and took the dozen or so steps over to where he was standing. Being so close like we were, it sank in just how tall he was. Eric towered over me by at least six inches, and that was with me wearing heels. My right hand fit perfectly in his left. My left hand settled on his shoulder while his right hand cradled my hip like we had been built with the other in mind. It was uncanny how natural it all felt.
I’d never experienced anything like it in the past. Aside from my moment of thoughtlessness, everything had been perfect. I didn’t realize how much time passed, or that we kept dancing long after the song had ended. Just swaying quietly with him was enough for me. I tried to pick out the tune he started humming after the second song had ended but I was never very good at remembering song names. Still, hearing the rumble of his chest was soothing to me and before I knew what I was doing, I’d laid my head near his shoulder, just above his heart.
Eric was every bit as relaxed as I was, which made me feel better. So it isn’t just me, I smiled as we danced. Could it be possible I had found the person I was supposed to be with? It sure felt like I was in the right place at the right time with the right person. I knew moments like those were few and far between and I was beyond excited I was experiencing such a moment with Eric. It seemed absurd to have such deep feelings for someone I had just met and knew so little about but my gut was telling me Eric wasn’t going to be just another guy in my life.
I used to think people were making it up when they said there was this little voice whispering when they had met ‘the one.’ I figured it was just some dramatic detail added for romantic effect to give the story of how a couple came to be a little more oomph. But then I realized maybe it was just one of those things I couldn’t understand until I experienced it for myself, like childbirth or finding out I had cancer. The longer I stood there with Eric, the more convinced I became that I had found the one I had been looking for ever since I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time and Rhett carried Scarlet up the stairs.
The question was: did Eric feel the same way?
Six Months Later…
I rushed out of work, anxious to get to The Third Bar to see Eric. He’d told me he had a surprise for me the night before and refused to give me any hints as to what my surprise might be. I hated surprises and he damn well knew it. On our second date I’d given him a list of my dislikes and pet peeves, but surprises were on a list all their own. Nothing good ever seemed to come from a surprise that had been sprung on me.
I suppose the only exception to that was Eric, since he had definitely been a surprise. Our relationship had developed quickly but smoothly. We’d had a few fights in the last six months but nothing too serious. We were solid, really. We were very different people but we had just enough in common to give us something to bond over and the most important thing was, we were crazy about each other. My friends had warned me not to move too fast with Eric. They all thought I should slow down and take a breath but that voice in my head telling me he was the one had only gotten louder.
And it wasn’t just me Eric had charmed. He’d won over my Gran both with charm and respect and it didn’t hurt that he was willing to drop by her house to help her spread mulch, clean out the gutters or do little repair jobs my brother was too lazy or forgetful to do. Gran’s approval was the only approval that mattered to me and knowing I had her blessing made moving forward with him that much easier.
Even better, Eric seemed to be just as smitten with Gran. Things were a little rocky with my brother but I didn’t mind that since my relationship with Jason idled at rocky. Eric got along with my friends and he didn’t get too jealous over the fact that I was still friends with a few of my ex-boyfriends. I think it’s because he knew he had nothing to worry about and I didn’t try to hide the friendships. It also helped that both Alcide and Bill were dating other women.
Alcide was close to getting engaged and I was thrilled for him. I really liked his girlfriend, Maria-Starr. She was a sweet girl who was good for Alcide and made him smile. I couldn’t ask for more than that. Bill, on the other hand, hadn’t been quite so lucky. We’d broken up because I found out through the grapevine he was cheating on me with his ex. I confronted him with what I’d heard and he’d denied it. Unfortunately, his ex was either not too bright or she just didn’t care if Bill got caught because she had the audacity to show up at his house one night. She was all dressed up like she was supposed to be somewhere other than Bill’s front porch, only her face was a mess of runny makeup and dried tears. Turned out Bill was supposed to be spending the night with her but he’d canceled and she was sick of being the other woman. She actually gave him an ultimatum right in front of me and when I saw the pained indecision in his eyes, I made his choice for him. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s second choice.
Getting over Bill had been hard, in spite of the way things ended. He’d been my first serious boyfriend. I’d lost my virginity to him. Hell, I even thought we might get married someday. Looking back on it all now, I see the signs that things weren’t right. Back then, I was naive and relatively inexperienced in dealing with men. I should have known better, however, thanks to the way my brother treats women. The only good thing to come from that relationship was that I had learned what to look for so I wouldn’t fall into the same trap again. That was part of the reason Alcide and I didn’t work out. He didn’t cheat but I knew he was still hung up on his ex and I wasn’t interested in going down the same road as I had with Bill.
I’d explained all of this to Eric when we talked about our previous relationships. He was understandably protective of me when Bill came around. Eric didn’t overstep his bounds or anything like that but I knew he definitely got some enjoyment from reminding Bill of what he lost and frankly, there was a part of me that didn’t mind reminding him either. I didn’t make a production out of it since that would be mean and hurtful, but I didn’t slap Eric’s hand away when it slid too low on my back and I didn’t pull away when he’d kiss me. My loyalty wasn’t to Bill anymore and the way I saw it, if he didn’t like it, he could leave my life any time he wanted. Eric was what mattered.
We’d been dating for a little over three months when he told me he loved me. I’d been thinking the same thoughts as him since pretty much our first date but I’d convinced myself I needed to think about it some more. I didn’t want to freak him out by telling him I’d known from the very beginning that he was different from the other guys I’d dated. I didn’t want to come off sounding like some crazy, obsessive stalker girl.
It amazed me how easily our lives bled together. I realized one morning while I was getting ready for work and I found some of Eric’s clothes on the bathroom floor in his apartment, that our relationship didn’t feel like work the way some of the others I’d been in did. We would disagree on things but we never had any of those emotional bare knuckle brawls I’d previously experienced. We compromised and there was a rotation of give and take we both adhered to. I didn’t mind bending and letting him have his way because I knew I’d get back the next time around.
Sometimes I worried it was all happening too easily. Was it normal to be as happy as I was with him? I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop, exactly, but him saying he had a surprise for me and asking me to meet him at the bar made me curious. His tone had been a little ominous when he’d suggested it. I didn’t think he was going to break up with me but his lack of enthusiasm made me wonder what he had up his sleeve. If it was a good surprise, wouldn’t he sound more excited than he did?
It drove me crazy all day at work. I’d even sent a text to Pam, hoping she would be able to give me a hint but she was completely tight lipped. There had been some friction between us initially. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other so much as Pam was used to being the number one girl in Eric’s life. His love life consisted of a lot of flings and flirtations. Pam was the closest thing he’d been to a serious relationship in years. When it became obvious that things between Eric and I were serious, he and Pam had finally gone to Pam’s parents and told them that while he and Pam were still business partners they were no longer a couple.
The Swynfords had been slightly devastated by the news, although how they hadn’t figured it out sooner was baffling to me. I started to understand what Eric meant when he’d told me Pam’s parents were really just interested in their own legacy and not their daughter’s happiness. Pam could be selfish at times and it became clear who she had inherited it from. It was an innate trait as opposed to a learned one. The Swynfords had threatened to cut Pam off but she was in a position where she didn’t need them anymore.
The Third Bar (I still didn’t know how they’d settled on that as a name) was doing very well and turning a nice profit. I didn’t know what Eric’s financial standing was and I didn’t ask. I didn’t love him for his money or the little bit of status that came with being his girlfriend. I didn’t hang out at the bar in hopes of scoring free drinks the way previous “girlfriends” of his did. I went there to see him and I didn’t care if that meant sitting in his office, slicing lemons or bussing the occasional table for him.
So when I pulled into the parking lot at The Third Bar it was a little after six. There were maybe half a dozen cars in the lot not counting Eric’s car. Pam was on vacation, enjoying a cruise in Australia. I’d asked her to smuggle a koala back for me but I doubted that was going to happen. She was uncomfortable enough when she’d drop by my apartment and my cat, Tina, would plop down in her lap.
“When I said I like pussy, this wasn’t what I meant,” Pam had glared at me but winked at Amelia.
In the wake of her broken heart, Amelia and Pam had hooked up for a bit. It seemed Amelia was back to her wild ways but then she ran into Tray about a month ago when she was out on a date one night. Tray was with someone else but it was obvious he was just as unhappy as Amelia was. They agreed to meet for coffee the next day and it must have gone well because Amelia spent the entire weekend locked up in Tray’s apartment. She came home late Sunday night with a case of permagrin and starry eyes. They had worked out their issues and decided to give it another chance. I was happy for them. They certainly seemed happy together. Pam, however, had taken the news harder than Amelia knew, which was part of the reason she had gone on vacation.
I walked around to the front of the building and waved to Sam behind the bar. He was a nice guy who had flirted with me the first time I came in earlier in the day. He’d been disappointed to discover I was the boss’s girlfriend but even if I wasn’t, I didn’t see Sam that way. I’d like to think we were friends but that’s all we were ever going to be. I smiled as I walked over to the bar. The regulars were seated at their usual stools, tables or booths, paying attention to their drinks and shelling their peanuts.
“Hey, Sam, how are ya?” I leaned against the bar.
“Been pretty good,” Sam nodded with that warm, welcoming smile of his.
He was a good ole boy from a small town just over the border in Texas. He was wearing his unofficial wardrobe of tight jeans, cowboy boots, a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a dishrag tossed over his shoulder. His strawberry blond hair brushed the collar of his shirt and the redness on his neck indicated he’d been out and about since the last time I saw him the week before.
“How’ve you been?” Sam asked in kind.
“Same as always,” I shrugged with a smile. I really had no reason to complain. “Where’s the boss?”
“Right behind you,” Eric whispered in my ear, sending shivers down my spine. He kissed my neck just under my ear before stepping around the bar.
“I’m gonna take my break if that’s alright with you,” Sam said quietly and took off. He had a hard time seeing Eric and me together every once in a while and I guessed it was just one of those days.
“How was work?” Eric asked me once we were as alone as we were going to get with the dozen or so customers scattered around the bar.
“Not bad. I had a hard time focusing though,” I admitted. I wouldn’t tell him this, but my heart was racing and I was nervous about whatever it was he was planning to spring on me.
“Why’s that?” Eric asked with a knowing smile. Jerk knew I hated surprises and he was having way too much fun with it.
I glared and said, “You know why. So what’s the big surprise?”
“We’ll get to it,” he said casually, which was the exact wrong thing to say if he didn’t want to flip my bitch switch, as Amelia called it.
“You’re making me crazy here, Eric. Can’t you just tell me whatever it is you need to tell me, or give me whatever it is you’re going to give me?” I was borderline begging, which only seemed to further amuse him which made me want to slap the smug grin off his face. “Eric!” I admit it, I whined.
When he started to shake with quiet laughter, I looked away with my arms angrily folded over my chest. My eyes filled with equally angry tears. I didn’t like feeling like I was being mocked or made fun of. I took a few deep breaths in hopes of forcing back my tears and maybe a little bit of my anger. I didn’t want to fight with him in the middle of the bar. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who had a fit when she didn’t get her way and I definitely didn’t want to be the kind who guilt tripped her boyfriend into things by having a public tantrum.
I took one last deep breath and turned back toward Eric. He was leaning against the bar with his elbow propped up on top. Between his thumb and index finger, he was holding up a ring I very easily recognized as my Gran’s. My Grandad had given it to her back in the 1950’s when he’d proposed. The realization of what was happening washed over me quickly and the tears in my eyes couldn’t be contained. Silently, they slipped down my cheeks and my mouth fell open. He hadn’t said a word and I was already speechless.
“Your Gran gave this to me at your birthday party. She told me this ring was the beginning of a wonderful life. She wants you to have the same and so do I. More importantly, I want to be part of that wonderful life. I know people will think it’s crazy and we’re moving too fast but I don’t care. I love you, Sookie. I think I loved you the minute I saw you. Will you marry me?” Eric asked with a hopeful smile.
I was overwhelmed, to say the least. “This is the last thing I expected,” I could help but laugh with a little bit of relief.
“Is that a yes?” Eric asked as he reached for my hand and slid the ring on my finger. It fit perfectly but I wasn’t surprised, since Gran knew my ring size.
I smirked at him and said, “On one condition.”
Eric quirked an eyebrow at me and watched as I slid off my stool and walked across the bar to the jukebox. I fed a dollar into the machine and quickly punched the numbers for the same song Eric and I had first danced to. I turned to see him grinning at me from behind the bar. I held out my newly bejeweled hand to him and said, “Dance with me.”
He was around the bar and had me swept up in his arms in record time. I never technically said yes but I didn’t need to. We danced.