He slept. Deader than a corpse. It was ironic because it was the first time he felt so alive in years.
He dreamed of a nameless infant lying on his chest, snoring softly through his rosebud lips. He could smell the talcum powder on the baby’s back and he succumbed to the call of the heavenly scent of his soft head. He tilted his head ever so gently; he wouldn’t forgive himself if he roused the little guy who had mistaken his torso for a warm mattress.
He smiled at the sight of those plump rosy cheeks twitching, just begging to be kissed or pinched. He swore if the baby wakes up, looks up at him with his notorious blue eyes and say ‘Dada’ he would have a heart attack. The good kind.
Alas, the baby boy in his dreams stayed asleep – peacefully tucked under the curve of his arms. That would do for now.
He couldn’t quite understand it before, how someone so little could take up a huge space in his heart. The phantom child who held such power over him. Just like his mother.
His tiny little legs stirred against his chest and his vibrant blue eyes peered up at him. Small frost-white fingers wrapped around his thumb and that was when he fully grasped what cruelty really was. Because at that exact moment, he contemplated if he was better off not knowing about the child he could never hold.
He woke up with a jolt. He blinked a few times to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. His traitorous vision had done it before. Conjuring up images of her only to take them back the minute he reached out only to find an empty space.
She shifted without opening her eyes, pushing her legs up to her chest, curling in a fetal position. Her parted lips moved. He couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched her mumble in her sleep. He had told her time and time again about her sleep-talking habit and she would always go off on him like a poked bear.
Maybe he should take a video so he’d have evidence this time.
However, procuring his smartphone lying on the TV rack would require him to move and leave her side. Nah, he’d let the punk slide this time. He would have plenty of time to catch her on tape later.
He pressed his cheek on the backrest, mirroring her stance as she slept facing him. He was mesmerized by the steady rise and fall of her chest. He couldn’t remember who fell asleep first; but the throw over his chest solved the mystery. Was she watching him sleep? Oh shit, did he snore? Did he drool? He remembered how she and Pam would make fun of him every time he dozed off in their house during movie nights. The Stackhouse sisters were tiny devils back then, doodling on his face with glow-in-the-dark markers. He made a mental note to check for neon drawings in the morning.
With minimal movement he draped the blanket over her shoulder. She had thin Southern blood and yet she was stubborn enough to cover him with the duvet. He bit back a yawn as he darted a glance to the clock hanging by the wall behind him: 5:05 AM. His eyes were getting heavy. He really should catch some snooze before she woke up but he wasn’t quite done watching her. Not just yet.
The past three years barely touched her. She still had that buoyant glow in her, save for a few crinkles at the corner of her eyes. It was as if those years never existed and she was still the girl he promised to elope with. He felt a shiver ran through him when his eyes landed on her lips, which were slightly bruised from the assault of his insatiable mouth. A sigh escaped her, a two-syllable sigh that resembled his name.
Ah, sweet victory.
He was pulled out of his slumber by a divine scent wafting out of the kitchen. She was no longer beside him. And he panicked at once. He glanced at the clock over his head and realized he had slept for four more hours. The duvet he wrapped over her had slithered back onto him. He rolled his back and tipped his head to the side to stretch the stiff muscles around his neck for sleeping upright on the sofa.
It was a small price to pay for the night he had.
He heard scuffling from the kitchen and thought he better pinched himself for good measure because there was no way in God’s green earth that Sookie could conjure anything with a mouth-watering scent like that. If he wasn’t mistaken, he was the cook between the two of them. It wasn’t because he loved doing it but because she was hopeless cause in the kitchen.
At first, he thought Pam was exaggerating about her sister’s lack of culinary skill until one day after school he unearthed Sookie’s Achilles heel when he witnessed her burning canned minestrone. He didn’t know someone could mess up heating soup until she did.
Wait, fuck, was it Bill?
That neutered wimp wasn’t supposed to arrive in a couple more days.
He padded to the adjoining room on his bare feet which suited his stealthy attack in the kitchen. He ducked through the open door and saw her.
The girl, who thought a spatula was part of a human anatomy, humming while whisking something inside a deep stainless bowl. His heart did a somersault. The view was nothing but perfection. Straight out of his fantasy.
There could only be one explanation for this sorcery. He had somehow entered an alternate universe where Sookie knew how to turn on a stovetop. Yes, that would be it. Or he could still be sleeping.
“Good, you’re up,” she chirped as she swiveled to face him with a wooden spatula on her hand. Yes, he realized the irony. “Grab a chair. Waffles are almost done.”
Like almost every room in the house, the kitchen was also modest in size. It had overhead wooden cupboards painted in beige and marble island bar with three high stools. The toaster made a ding. She grabbed the two slices of bread that popped up and tossed them quickly on the plate by the counter. She dropped the spatula back in the frying pan and traipsed to his side carrying three full plates like a pro. Two separate ones for what looked like eggs benedict and one for a pile of bacon.
If this was a dream he would skin anyone alive who would dare wake him up.
“Coffee or juice? I only have orange juice, though. With pulp.” He hated those squishy, stringy pulps. Hence the warning.
It was as if someone had chopped off his tongue as he continued to gape silently at her while she grabbed a carton of orange juice from the two-door refrigerator. She was waltzing back to him and it was the first time he noticed the words on her apron: Kiss the Cook.
Who was he to question the solemnity of the almighty apron’s command?
He smirked as he peeled himself off the stool to stand behind her when she went back to fetch the waffles. He wrapped his good arm around her waist as he leaned down to give her nape a chaste peck which made her jump back in surprise.
The blush that slowly spread on her cheeks as she trotted to the island was his wake-up call. Good morning, indeed.
“Come here and eat your waffles. There’re only two. I ran out of flour so you better hurry up or I’ll duel you for your share,” she ordered in a stern voice that he always found so fucking charming.
“Where did you learn how to make these?” His eyes made a quick scan of the countertop that doubled as the dining table. A complete breakfast set. And by god they all looked appetizing. It was like a prisoner’s last meal.
“I told you I can cook now, didn’t I? When I lived in New Hampshire, Gran’s friends taught me a few dishes. Breakfast is their specialty,” she explained while she smeared Nutella on top of the waffle. She then sliced it into bite sizes, making crunching noise that made Eric stomach growl from starvation. She slid the plate in front of him before she worked on her own piece. “So prepare to lose your six-pack because I’m gonna make you fat.”
His lips tugged into a Cheshire grin. “So you noticed my abs, huh?” he purred. “I thought you weren’t looking.”
She kept her eyes on her plate, dodging his teasing gaze. “I had to look to check if they were airbrushed.”
He dipped his head low enough to press his lips to her ear. “Oh, honey, there’s nothing fake here. What you see is what you get,” he cooed.
She swatted his shoulder playfully, making him chuckle as he pulled away. Don’t let her innocent looks mislead you, because her dainty little fingers could still inflict pain.
Scent could also be deceiving as well that heavy dollop of chocolate-flavored peanut butter. So as he as clutched on to that fork with his aching fingers, he was also steeling himself to keep a straight face when he showered her with fake praises. It was one of those few husband duties he opted to perfect. To his amazement, there was no need to lie. It wasn’t horrible. Not at all.
He pounded on his plate like a famished bear and cleaned his plate in no time. He decided he wanted more. His eyes raked the table and found Sookie’s untouched waffle. Perfecto.
His fork flew and landed right at the equator of the round checkered pastry. However, before he could steal it from her plate, her fork clashed with his like swords.
“Leggo my eggo, jack,” she chided, staring him down. The slight twitch on the corner of her lips belied her warning.
“No dice, toots,” he countered, playing along with the all too familiar game.
“Let go or I’d clobber you with a baguette,” she threatened, her other hand reaching for the French bread on top of the thick wooden chopping board.
“You’d beat up a cripple for a waffle?”
“I’ve done worse for less.”
Violent little spitfire, I tell you.
He was beginning to crack. He could feel the side of his mouth tugging out of reflex but he fought the urge to break into a grin.
“Well, color me shocked. I guess age had mellowed you both down. I was actually expecting to see a crime-scene tape by the front porch,” Pam drawled as she posed by the door with one hand on her hip.
“What are you doing walking in daylight? Aren’t you afraid you’d burn?” Eric snarked back without breaking his standoff over the last piece of waffle.
Pam’s glossy red lips twisted into a scowl. “Ha-ha. You’re hysterical,” she drawled. “Where d’you find him?” she turned to Sookie, who was suppressing a smile of her own. The shallow dimple on Sookie’s cheek was giving her away. “I was this close to calling animal control.”
“Oh shut up, both of you.” Sookie rolled her eyes. “Do your bickering after breakfast.” She was the first to relent as she withdrew her fork and Eric wasted no time as he forked the waffle over to his plate. What he didn’t count on was Pam’s quick thieving hand as she snatched the pastry off his plate when he reached for the knife.
“Sonofa!” he spat earning him a disapproving glare from Sookie. He had forgotten what a primate Pam was behind closed doors.
“Where did you get this?” Pam said as she took a bite off the sticky waffle while she leaned against the counter, the small of her back pressing against the marble edge.
“I made it,” Sookie chimed, looking like a child dying to show-off a new skill.
Pam looked at Sookie then to Eric. He answered her unspoken query with a slow shrug.
“Seriously, Sook, where did you buy this?”
“You are both ungrateful shitheads, y’know that?” she spat, wagging her finger at him and her intrusive sister. Pam shrugged dismissively pulling a stool beside her sister, creating an infuriating barrier between him and his lover.
“So I guess you two made up?” Pam inquired, filching a piece of hickory bacon strip from Sookie’s plate. “I should have known when all my calls were diverted to voicemail. You could have called me, y’know. So I could call off the search.”
Sookie’s eyebrows arched. “You were calling me?”
Pam nodded, her mouth filled with stolen goods.
“Both of you. You left your phone at Tray’s by the way,” she nodded pointedly at him before she turned to her sibling. “Yours just kept on ringing. And now I see why.”
Sookie tucked her lower lip under her teeth to repress another girlish smirk. “I’ll go check my phone. Save me some bacon,” she said, sliding off her stool while avoiding her sister’s scrutinizing stare.
He could hear her tiny footsteps climbing the stairs to her bedroom.
“No promises!” Pam yelled to her before she faced Eric, her smile dissolving into a solemn line. “I called Hadley. She said you got to her first.”
Eric reached for the steaming cup of black coffee. This conversation required something stronger.
“Tell me you’re gonna do something about it or I swear Eric, I don’t care if she’s your fucking Memaw, I’ll go Dexter on her ass for what she did to my sister.” That was something he could always count on in Pam, she had no qualms broadcasting her thoughts no matter how depraved they might be.
Well, if Pam wanted to go psycho on Lilith, she would have to get in line.
“I’ll handle Lilith and Cataliades,” he replied in a clipped tone. “I called Alcide last night. He’ll be in LA before the week ends to start digging dirt on Cataliades.”
Alcide Herveaux, Sookie’s first boyfriend, was running his own private investigation firm in Arlington. He wasn’t filthy rich like Eric but he was a damned good PI who catered to the politicians and oligarchs of DC. Alcide was actually overbooked, but he knew better than to refuse Eric’s request.
“Does he know why?”
Eric shook his head. “If I told him, he’d beg me to bury Cataliades himself.”
Alcide had carried a torch for Sookie long after they had broken up. There was even a time when Eric and Alcide had a royale rumble that could rival Thrilla in Manila with Sookie as a prize. That brawl earned them both a thwack to the head and the Best Caveman award from the girl they were fighting over. But that was a story for another time as he seized a crisp strip of bacon before Pam inhaled all of them.
He saw Pam purse her lips and give him a once over. He was certain that they had reached an understanding. He and Pam might not have a lot of things in common but they only needed one to form a sturdy alliance. Sookie.
“Do I want to know how that happened?” She nudged her head to his bandaged hand.
“Tray’s punching bag,” he shrugged.
“I can see who got the last laugh. So, what’s the verdict?”
“Sookie wants to amputate it, but she thought I’ll suffer more if we just wait for it to fester and fall off.”
Pam grinned. “I have machete she can use if she changes her mind.”
He rolled his eyes as he dug into his Benedict before Pam beat him it to. He stole a quick glimpse at the door. Sookie hadn’t been gone for ten minutes and he already missed her. He was certifiably screwed alright. He dropped his gaze to his plate as he poked his egg making gooey, yellow yolk ooze out.
“So. What happens now?” Pam asked, breaking the silence. “This house in a fucking prairie is going to collapse once Bill gets here. You know that, right?”
He lifted his gaze as his lips broke into a languid smirk.
“Who says we’ll wait for him?”
Pam drew her brows together, her lips gaping in confusion.
“Didn’t I tell you? She’s leaving him. We’re flying to Manhattan today to deliver the good news. Apparently this kind of conversation needs to be face to face. And if he refuses it’ll be his face and my fist.” He would have made a perfectly good argument if he was able to make a fist.
“Shut the fuck up!” She slapped his shoulder hard. It almost made him fall off his stool. See, volatile, vicious devils.
“No, I won’t.”
The glint in Pam’s eyes was unmistakable. He and Pam could fight like real siblings. She could be pretty damned insufferable most of the time. And not once had he contemplated shaving her eyebrows so she couldn’t waggle them mockingly at him anymore. But if there was one thing he knew without a doubt, Pam was Team Eric all the way.
“About fucking time you man up!” Pam exclaimed her hands shooting up in the air.
He didn’t get to voice out his retort when Sookie trudged in the kitchen, face as white as chalk, shoulders sagging.
This did not bode well for him.
She was cradling her mobile phone with both palms to her chest. “I just returned Bill’s call,” she started her voice barely a whisper. “There was a fire in his parents’ retirement home last night. His parents didn’t survive. Bill’s on his way to Dallas. He wants me to meet him there.”
Just like that all the forward momentum he established came crashing down. He should have whisked her away when he had the chance because there was no way she would leave her husband now.