“You know when I asked you to marry me; I said I’ll always be here for you. Always,” he said, fixing his eyes on the glass he was spinning slowly. “I still mean it. Even if I’m not your always.”
She caught his wrist, stilling its movement. He looked up and his face softened when he saw her chin quiver to suppress a sob. She wanted to tell him he was her always. Tell him she didn’t marry Bill for love but for convenience. But before she could utter a single word Pam burst through the hallway, the office door bouncing against the wall in the wake of her abrupt exit.
“Oh god. Oh god. Oh god!” Pam chanted excitedly as she marched toward the counter, the spiky heels of her red pumps clicked wildly against the black-and-white chessboard tiles. Her hand that was gripping her mobile phone was shaking as she stretched it to Sookie. “It’s time!” she exclaimed. “Amelia’s water broke! She’s on her way to the hospital! We have to go. Miriam will meet us at Seattle Gen.”
Sookie stole a glance at Eric and her heart clenched when he looked away.
One and a half years ago…
The past had a way of sneaking up on her like a virus.
That virus was Bill Compton.
Just when she thought she had seen the last of him she was proven wrong when he came back two months after their chance encounter. She dodged him like a bullet but that didn’t stop him from coming back the following month and the month after that. Although she wasn’t seeing anyone, she remained blissfully dense when it came to Bill’s not-so-subtle courtship.
“It’s been more than a year, Sookie. Don’t you think you’ve punished yourself enough?” Bill asked her when he managed to corner her in her office and invited her to lunch.
“I’m not punishing myself, Bill. This is me moving on,” she lied through her teeth. It was the same argument she had with him four years ago when she visted Lilith in Los Angeles.
It had been more than a year since she had lost Eric and their child but she still hadn’t recovered. Maybe there was no moving on from that kind of loss. Eric was her past and her child was her future – their future. She only had her present and Bill was robbing her of that too.
Eric had stopped calling her and she thought she had succeeded in helping him move on. The only problem was, he might have let her go, but she hadn’t. She couldn’t.
It was Eric’s 26th birthday when she completely lost it. She had spoken with Pam that week and she told her that Eric would be spending his birthday at the French Riviera. After their New York trip five years before when they were still dating, they had planned on going to Cote d’Azur for their next trip. She was supposed to be with him. Not some floozy he picked up from some shithole.
She went out that night with the sole intention of drowning her sorrow. She turned to old reliable Jose Cuervo and after she downed half the bottle, Joe claimed her sanity.
Wasted as she was, she came to a decision to give Eric a piece of her mind. She was never one for drunk calls but she was enraged, irrational and inebriated enough to do just that. The only problem was instead of calling Eric she accidentally pressed Bill’s number. It was an excusable mistake considering Eric’s name was listed under A. Eric, so he’d be the first on her contacts and Bill was, well, under B. Compton.
She couldn’t remember her exact words, only that she used the words hate and love in one breath more than once. Without realizing she had been lashing out on the wrong bastard, she hung up the phone and went back to finish what she started with Joe. Terry the barkeep, who was moonlighting for most of Sookie’s events, instinctively called the last number she dialed when Sookie left her phone (but not her bottle) on the counter when she went to the ladies room. Terry gave Bill the address of the watering hole and Bill, like a knight in shining armor, swooped in and took her back to his loft because he didn’t know where she lived.
She didn’t know how it happened but when she opened her eyes, she could only see sapphire eyes and golden hair. She murmured apologies and told him she loved him. I never stopped, she whispered. I don’t think I could, she sobbed.
Bill didn’t say anything as he laid her down on his bed. Say something, Eric, she yelled as she tugged at his collar.
He pried his shirt out her fingers as he spat, “I’m not Eric!” then as though to drive his point home, he sealed his lips with hers to shut her up.
She wanted so much to blame it on the booze when she didn’t push Bill away and let him kiss her. She realized she was tired from pushing everyone away. She had been alone for so long that she couldn’t remember the last time she wasn’t.
She just closed her eyes and imagined someone else’s hands gliding all over her body.
Bill whispered something in her ear but she turned her head away. If Bill started murmuring then the spell would be broken and she would know for certain he wasn’t Eric.
She slept with Bill that night and the next morning she slipped out of his loft feeling more horrible than she had felt in years.
She started seeing Bill a few weeks after they had slept together. He was unrelenting and she was exhausted. He had worn her down.
It was unfair. To her, to Eric and to Bill. But fairness was only an illusion –a myth that some people held onto to keep their hopes alive.
They were like those old couples who were stuck in a rut. Funny, because she and Bill were supposed to be at their honeymoon stage. The second time she slept with Bill was three months later. She was again drunk thirteen ways to Wednesday. That was the only way she could digest his kisses. Those were the only times she could numb herself enough to let herself believe she was being taken by someone who was miles away from her. She would shut her eyes and bite her lip to stop herself from screaming a different name out loud.
She had managed to keep up her act for a while until two months ago, when in the middle of their rump a name slipped out her lips like a plea.
Two syllables that caused Bill to stiffen and pull out of her. She had never seen someone get dressed that quickly as Bill ran out of his own loft, slamming the door behind him.
She trudged out of his place that night, thinking that it would be the final straw for Bill.
But it wasn’t. A week after her Freudian slip, Bill went to her apartment, calm but desolate.
“I’m at the end of my rope,” he started. “You told me you’ll give us a chance.”
“I told you I’d try,” she tried to reason.
“I’m so sorry, Bill,” she hushed in defeat. There were no more words to say, she was a despicable person for using Bill and her actions were inexcusable.
“Marry me,” he blurted.
“I know you want to come home. I heard you talking to Pam the other day, she wants to adopt with Miriam and you told her you’d come home if you could. You want to be with your family.” He didn’t say his name. There was an unspoken rule never to utter his name. And she broke that rule.
“I can’t. Not while Lilith’s still alive.” Lilith had stopped hounding her when she left Brooklyn after her miscarriage. She knew Lilith was still keeping tabs on her and the only reason she had left her alone was because she hadn’t made contact with Eric.
She was almost certain that as soon as she boarded a plane to Seattle, Lilith would release the hounds again. The statute of limitations on assault had already passed and Lilith was no longer suitable to file a civil charge against her. She wasn’t scared of Lilith in the first place. But she was afraid of what Lilith would do to Pam or her mother. Or worse, to Eric. The spiteful old hag might not be capable of hurting her precious grandson but that was something Sookie couldn’t leave to chance.
“Let me be your alibi,” Bill answered with steely resolve. “Marry me and you can go back to Seattle and show Lilith you’re over him.” Bill still refused to say his name.
She shook her head.
“You have no life here, Sookie!” he bellowed as he gripped her arms and shook her hard her teeth chattered. “Can’t you see? You’re letting her win. Stop being a fucking martyr and get your life back. He had no problem moving on, why can’t you?”
His words were like knives to her chest. Pam had been keeping her updated on Eric’s love life or the lack thereof. He had flings every now and then but no one stuck around for second dates, until a few months ago when he started seeing Nora. The slut was a chef at Lilith’s restaurant, Pam informed her. She was by far the longest relationship Eric had after Sookie.
She wanted to ask Pam more about Nora but she was a coward and she wasn’t sure she would be able to handle the torture if her sister told her Eric was serious with Nora. How could she pass judgment on Eric and the slut he was dating when she had been seeing Bill for a while now? Hypocrisy must be her middle name.
“I can’t love you,” she whispered to Bill as she sagged in his arms.
Her brutal honesty made Bill’s fingers tightened around her arms, his teeth grinding so hard they squeaked. “Try,” he gritted.
His fingers left bruises on her arms. The bruises would fade but his proposal never would. He came back after a couple of days asking her the same question. And she gave him the same answer.
“What would you get out of this, Bill?” she inquired the fourth time he proposed when he came to pick her up from work. If there was anything she learned from Lilith it was to question everything.
“You,” he answered without missing a beat. “I’d get to have you.”
“No, Bill. You won’t.”
He didn’t offer a rebuttal as he flashed a gentleman smile and walked out the door only to come back the next day and the day after that. Bill could be very tenacious. And on the fourteenth time he asked her, she finally said yes.
Sookie could only watch as her sister frantically dash through the emergency room in search for Amelia Broadway’s room. Amelia was the teenager from Philadelphia, who would make Pam and Miriam’s dream of parenthood come true.
“Pam slow down, you’re makin’ me dizzy,” Sookie said as she hooked her arm around Pam’s.
“I can’t. There are still so many things we haven’t ticked off our checklist. I haven’t installed the car seat yet. What if they don’t let me have the baby because of that?” Pam mumbled in a hurry, looking left and right to check the room numbers of the wide corridor that smelled distinctly of antiseptic.
Eric was two steps behind the sisters and Sookie didn’t have to turn around to see his gaze was trained on her.
“Calm down. Y’know, if Amelia sees you panicking like this she might change her mind,” Sookie teased. She realized her joke was in poor taste as Pam shot her a withering glare. “Sorry, sorry. But if it’ll help you relax, I’ll install the car seat for you. And we’ll check off everything on that list as soon as Miriam gets here.”
Pam arched her brow incredulously at Sookie, a smile creeping at the corner of her red lips. “You? Install the car seat? Oh please. My left hand has more skills than you.” And Pam was a rightie.
Eric snorted derisively behind them and it took all her control not to smack him at the chest.
“I’ll put the car seat for you,” Eric butted in, falling into step with her.
Sookie rolled her eyes at him, but the slight tug on her lips was betraying her.
He could make fun of her all he wanted, she was only glad he was talking to her again. That was progress.
They found Amelia in the recovery room. Apparently she was already on her way to the hospital when her water broke because she had been having contractions at regular intervals. Smart girl, Sookie thought. The delivery was quick and swift. She hardly went into labor, which was a huge relief.
The baby, a seven-pound boy with green eyes, was taken to the nursery to be cleaned and prepped before Pam could see him. Miriam arrived shortly after they did and when the woman from the adoption agency came in, Sookie and Eric knew it was time to make themselves scarce.
They were still a bit tipsy from a few fingers of whiskey they had from the Tavern. They opted for vendo-machine coffee because the cafeteria was already closed for the night as they waited for Pam at the visitors’ lounge. They found an empty three-seat metal bench at the waiting room and they took the seats at the both ends.
“Do you know if they have a name yet?” Eric asked when the silence became too stifling.
She shrugged. “They don’t have a car seat yet. What do you think?” she quipped with a tight smile.
He sighed, squaring his shoulder, and leaned against the metal back of the bench. “That baby will be spoiled rotten.”
She chuckled in agreement. “Pam kept nagging me to get onesies that only Brangelina’s kids wear. As if I know what the hell that was.”
His hearty laugh filled the room. “Doesn’t she know you don’t ‘ship’ Brangelina?” he mocked dryly, using air quotes to use Pam’s vernacular. He really knew her well. After Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina she swore she would never watch Girl, Interrupted again.
She was jolted back to the present when she heard the unmistakable heels click-clacking of Pam’s heels on the floor. She turned her head around the same time Eric did.
Sookie froze when she recognized the woman with dark hair and green eyes wearing a white lab coat walking side by side with Pam.
Her head pivoted as she curled her fingers around the paper cup.
Eric remained seated, throwing her a bemused glance.
Breathe, Sookie commanded herself, three years is a long time.
She flashed Eric a fake smile as she stood up and turned back to the incoming tandem.
Pam was beaming as she pointed a finger at her. “Doc, this is my sister and -”
Going incognito was no longer an option when the female doctor immediately recognized her.
“Sookie, right?” Dr. Robinson repeated when Sookie remained mute.
She could feel the blood leaving her face when the gynecologist, who did the emergency D&C on her three years ago, looked at her expectantly.
Pam’s smile faltered as she turned to the doctor then to Sookie. “You know my sister?”
Three sets of eyes were glued to her as they waited for a response. But it was Eric’s gaze Sookie was most scared to meet. She was afraid he would see what she was hiding by a mere stare.
“Dr. Robinson,” she forced her voice to lilt with faux excitement, extending her hand to the woman, who could expose her secret any second. “What’re you doing in Seattle?” She could feel her eyes twitching as she kept her gaze on the doctor.
“I moved my practice here a year ago,” the physician replied. “How about you? I haven’t seen you in,” she paused as she did a mental count, “three years?”
Sookie swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. “I live here. Pam’s my sister.” She didn’t want to dwell much on the time frame, knowing it would only be a matter of time before Eric or Pam could piece things together.
“Oh,” Dr. Robinson replied. “I thought the woman who brought you in was your sister.”
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up! What was so special about my case that you still remember every miniscule detail about me?
Sookie gave the doctor an apologetic smile. “No. That was my cousin, Hadley. Are you the one who delivered Amelia’s baby?” she deflected immediately.
“What did you treat her for?” Eric cut in suspiciously, his eyes flitting between Sookie and the chatty doctor.
Dr. Robinson turned to Eric and her eyes lit up like light bulbs.
If Eric started using his charm to his advantage then all bets would be off.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Robinson sighed with seemingly genuine regret, “Doctor-patient confidentiality.”
The doctor’s cell phone buzzed in her lab coat as if on cue and she excused herself with Pam trailing her at the nurses’ station.
Sookie took a big gulp from her cup and instantly regretted it when she burned her tongue.
“How did you know her?” Eric asked without preamble, his eyes inscrutable.
“Vagina stuff,” she said with an offhanded shrug, trying to spook him with the use of the V-word.
His eyes narrowed, drilling her. Knowing Eric, he would never buy her ambiguity. She could practically hear the wheels spinning in his head. He was a wolf. He could smell fear in the air and right now, Sookie was sweating with fright.
Luckily, Pam strolled back to the waiting room to rescue her.
Or so she thought.
“I need to talk to you,” Pam spat in a lethal tone before she tugged at Sookie’s wrist, pulling her away from Eric. Her coffee almost spilled if she hadn’t secured the cup with a steady grip.
Pam dragged her to the end of the hallway, making a sharp turn toward the line of vendo machines until she found an empty corner beside the room that said ‘Staff Only’, far from Eric’s scrutinizing glare.
“Doc Robinson asked me to give you this,” Pam started in a low voice as she shoved a calling card in her palm. “It’s a grief counselor.”
Sookie stared at the card for a moment.
“Would you like to tell me why she thought you’d need that?”
“Pamela,” Sookie hushed exasperatedly, using an old trick to silence her sister.
“Don’t Pamela me,” Pam stressed, stabbing a finger at her. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Sookie stayed still, not giving anything away. This wasn’t the time nor the place for this conversation. Not when Eric was only a few meters away.
“Did you have a miscarriage while you were in New York?” Pam asked with a penetrating squint.
Sookie pursed her lips and kept her face blank, refusing to respond.
“Did you, Sookie?” Eric’s voice came from behind her making her breath hitch.
She blinked rapidly, fighting the tears that were threatening to swell.
He moved in front of her, his eyes piercingly cold, invading the space Pam was occupying. “She said three years ago,” Eric echoed the doctor’s words. “Were you pregnant when you went to New York?”
Pam’s lips parted as she gasped, as though she had just uncracked the code.
“Were you?” He loomed over Sookie with a stone cold expression.
Sookie gnashed her teeth together. Traitorous tears were biting the corners of her eyes.
Eric took that as a yes.
He swallowed hard, taking half a step back, recoiling from her. “Was it mine?” he asked, his tone strained to an almost inaudible hush.
Her chest heaved as she tucked her bottom lip under her teeth to strangle a sob. This wasn’t how she wanted Eric to find out. Then again, there seemed to be no appropriate time.
“Yes,” she whispered.
Eric’s shoulder sagged as he took a couple of steps back swaying on his feet as though someone had knocked the air out of him.
Pam clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle another gasp.
“Eric,” Sookie breathed, reaching out to touch him.
He began shaking his head. “Why – why didn’t you tell me?” he mumbled haltingly.
She blinked and the tears she had been trying to dispel desperately spilled. “I didn’t -” she choked, “I didn’t want to tell you because -”
“Because what?” He raised his eyes to her and she almost thought she would freeze and break like ice. “Because you thought I couldn’t handle it? Or that I’d leave you? Or was it because you thought I wasn’t good enough?”
All she could do was shake her head.
“Were you even planning on telling me?”
Her silence was all the answer he needed. With a final stabbing look at her, he spun on his heel and left.