“I won’t beg you,” he gritted out, his eyes a stormy blue. “If you walk away now, I won’t chase you. Not anymore.”
The tears biting her eyes, spilled.
“I won’t ask you to,” she said almost inaudibly.
Pam begged her not to leave. Sookie steeled herself as she kissed her sister’s forehead and told her she’d be back.
“Just after everything settles down around here,” she lied, knowing for certain things in the Northman household would never revert to its old ways. Ever.
Pam was too clever to believe her, though. “When will that happen?” she asked, drilling her with a pointed glare. “When that old hag dies? She’ll outlive us all, Sook. She’s the fucking devil!”
Sookie clucked her tongue in reproach. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t let anyone hear you talk like that!” Flinging her arms around her sister’s neck she pulled her into a hug so tight, hug she feared she might crush her. “It’ll be easier for you and Mom if I’m not here.”
Pam let her tears show, along with a pained, whimper she always made when she was suppressing a wail. “I hate you,” she stated without conviction.
“I know, Pammie,” Sookie sighed in defeat.
“Eric will hate you.”
Sookie locked a pocket of air in her lungs. She knew that too. All too well.
“He’ll move on,” Sookie hushed. She brushed the tears off her cheeks before she drew away from her sister. “Just keep an eye on him, will you?”
She left Seattle two days after she returned from Los Angeles. She only had two semesters left in WSU but after recent events she doubted if she could still finish her studies. Michelle could support her schooling but with Pam also in college, Sookie was certain her mother wouldn’t be able to afford it. And Sookie would not take a cent from Godric, not after Lilith accused her of being a gold-digger.
She had called Hadley, her second cousin from her father’s side who lived in Brooklyn, and asked if she could stay with her for a while. Hadley and Sookie were almost the same age and relatively close. She was now living alone after her roommate moved to Paris to be a professional model, so she didn’t mind having Sookie around.
The week after she got settled in New York, she was visited with two guests. One she didn’t expect to see. One she didn’t want to see.
Her first visitor was her mother. She was in the middle of her shower when Hadley alerted her of Michelle’s arrival. Hadley left them so they could talk in private and Sookie appreciated the gesture.
“What are you doing here, Sookie?” was Michelle’s form of greeting when Sookie emerged out of her bedroom in her black-skirt-and-plain-white-shirt-uniform. Hadley had helped her get a minimum wage job as a waitress in a diner a few blocks from their building. She was overqualified to be a wait staff, but it was New York and she was an undergraduate. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Michelle was dipping a teabag in her steaming cup of water, sitting by the single-seat sofa near the window overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.
Sookie didn’t offer a response as she gave her mother a cursory peck on the cheek.
“Come back to Seattle with me,” Michelle implored.
“You know I can’t do that,” was Sookie’s snippy reply.
Her mother let out an audible sigh. “I never wanted this for you, Sookie. I want you to have the best life possible. I want you to finish college, get a good job. I didn’t raise you to serve coffee to strangers who would never give you a second glance,” Michelle began preaching. Hypocrisy seemed to run thick in their family. “Come back home with me. We can move past this… this…” Her voice trailed as she tried to come up with the appropriate word to call the incident in Los Angeles.
“This what, Mom?” Sookie spat through her teeth, cold eyes boring holes into Michelle.
Her mother matched her glare as she raised her chin and answered, “Mistake.”
“Mistake?” Sookie scoffed. She turned around, taking deep breaths, as she tried to regain composure. After a pregnant pause she swiveled to face her mother, whose expression became less confrontational at the sight of her daughter on the brink of a breakdown. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing when you told me you were marrying Godric and that he wanted to adopt us.”
“You know why we did that,” Michelle replied without missing a beat.
Sookie’s lips thinned. “Yeah. Because you said you love him and it’s the right thing to do.” Her eyes were getting glassy but she bit back her sob. “How, Mom? How can it be the right thing to do when you knew about me and Eric? You knew I love him.”
“Sookie, you were only 17 then. You’ve been with Eric for what? Two years? Two tumultuous years. You were on and off like a stupid switch. Your so-called relationship was toxic.”
Sookie kept her face blank. Their relationship had been turbulent at best. He was raucous and she was sagacious. They were compatible in their incompatibility. Her mother should have seen that. Apparently, she hadn’t.
“Do you know how painful it is for a mother to hear her daughter cry over something she can’t protect her from? Every time he breaks your heart, mine breaks even harder.” Tears, her mother’s weapon of choice. The same tool she used to manipulate her. “Call me selfish all you want but I will stand by my decision. I love you. And I love Godric. I want you girls to have a father again. I won’t stand idly by while you and Eric try to tear each other apart, hiding behind what you deemed to be love.”
“It was love!” Sookie bellowed. “It still is. No matter how many times we fight we always find a way back to each other. You know that. Why don’t you just admit it, Mom, you didn’t have faith in us. You’re afraid that if Eric and I fall apart we’ll drag you and Godric with us.”
Michelle at least had the decency to call a spade a spade. “You’re right.”
Sookie blinked, letting the tears pooling in her eyes cascade down her cheeks. “Do you wanna know why I let him adopt me? Because I want you be happy.”
They must have the thinnest of walls back in their old house because like Michelle, Sookie could also hear her mother sob at night for years after Corbett passed away. Michelle, who was always a delight, had a smile for everyone like a true Southern woman. Polite and polished. No one outside their family knew that after dark, after she tucked her two girls to bed she would spend an hour in the corner of her room just staring at their wedding photo on the wall. Sometimes she would sneak in a glass of wine or a bottle of beer and just talk to her dead husband. She would tell him about her day or something Sookie or Pam did or something utterly trivial. Her stories varied every night but her parting message never did. She would tell him how much she missed him and how she wished he didn’t have to leave so soon.
There was even a time when Pam, in all her volatile youth, had marched into her mother’s room and screamed at her to stop talking to the man who would never answer her. Forever silent, held by nails on a wooden frame.
“When you told me you love Godric I believed you. I was happy for you because you found someone who will fill the void Dad left. I still am, Mom. I only wished it didn’t cost me my own happiness.”
Michelle was the first to make the move as she closed their gap and wrapped her arms around Sookie’s heaving shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
“I don’t wanna be his sister, Mom,” she said haltingly, returning her mother’s hug, burying her face in her mother’s silk blouse.
“I know, sweetheart, I know.” Michelle threaded her fingers in Sookie’s damp hair. “I’m sorry this happened to you and I can’t do anything to help you.”
“You can,” Sookie interjected, pulling back to stare at her as she wiped her nose dry with the back of her hand. “Have the adoption revoked. You can do that,” words came tumbling out in earnest.
Michelle’s beautiful face crumbled into a mix of sorrow and sympathy. “It’s not as simple as that. Godric spoke to his mother after she got out of the hospital. She was going to cut him and Eric off completely for condoning what happened between you and Eric.”
Sookie gasped, her eyes shifting wildly.
“When Godric didn’t budge, she threatened to sue us if he tries to push through with it.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Sookie stepped back from her mother. “She’ll sue her own son?”
Michelle’s cheeks hollowed as she tried to strangle a sob. “No, Sookie. She’s going to file an assault charge against you.”
Sookie sucked in a sharp breath. “But she attacked me!”
“I know that. Then again it’ll be your word against her. There’s a chance we can still win but Lilith has the money. She can drag this on just to bleed us dry. Roman was willing to testify that it was you who attacked Lilith when she came to the B&B to confront you,” Michelle relayed the depth of Lilith’s hatred toward her. “If this goes to court and they ask you what you were doing in that inn and who you were with, you’ll be subjected to public ridicule. You and Eric. No one will bother with your history. You will always be the girl who slept with her brother. I don’t want that for you, Sookie.”
Sookie’s hands clapped over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. This wasn’t happening, she chanted in her head. Her legs weren’t strong enough to keep her up as she sank to the floor. Michelle kneeled in front of her, stroking her arms like only a mother could, black streaks of mascara tainting her alabaster face.
“Does Eric know?” she asked without looking up.
Michelle shook her head. “Godric didn’t tell him. He’s afraid Eric might do something rash. You know how he is.”
She did. She knew Eric would try to fight Lilith with all that he had. He was the willful one between them. His sheer determination was his most admirable trait. She envied him for that. She hoped his doggedness would rub off on her. She could use some of that right now.
“What happens now?”
Michelle pinched Sookie’s chin, tipping her head up to lock gazes with her daughter. “I’m going to give you something I didn’t give you before,” she spoke gently. “A choice. You can choose to forget him. Come back to Seattle with me. We’ll talk to the university so you can get your degree. You’ll find a job. You’ll meet a good man, someone who’ll give you the life you deserve.”
She lowered her gaze to the floor. She already had a vision of what kind of life she deserved and the one person she wanted to spend it with.
“Or,” Michelle seized her attention back to her, nudging her chin up. “Or – and I know this makes me a bad Christian for saying this out loud – Or… you can wait until the witch dies. You said it yourself; you will always find your way back to him. After Lilith’s gone and if you still want to be with Eric, then Godric and I will file for divorce. Lilith only has a few more miles left in her. I’d kill her myself if I could. Lord knows I’ve thought about it when she laid her hand on you.”
“Mom…” Sookie gasped. Hearing her sweet, gracious mother speak of such a thing caught her off guard.
Michelle chuckled bitterly. “Alas, I can’t do that to Godric. She’s still his mother,” Michelle sighed. “The choice is yours, hon.”
It wasn’t really much of a choice because none of those options would give her what she wanted now.
The silence that hung in the air was staggering – thick and uneasy. After what seemed like an eternity, Sookie pulled herself up, hauling her mother with her. “I should leave. My shift starts in half an hour and I can’t be late.”
“Sookie,” Michelle called out when she brushed past her.
“I’m not going back to Seattle, Mom.” She took her sling bag off the wooden coat stand beside the door and draped it over her shoulder. “If I can’t be with him then I’d rather stay here. I told him I won’t pretend to be his sister anymore. I owe him that much.”
Her second visitor was Eric. He called her after he found out she had left when he came back to Seattle two weeks after the incident in the B&B. She didn’t take any of his phone calls but that didn’t stop him from leaving her messages. His voicemails varied from worried, to angry, to frustrated, to desperate. There were so many times when she almost caved in and picked up, but Hadley was always there to stop her. She was like a recovering alcoholic and Eric was a shot of bourbon.
She was coming home from work when she found him. His long legs stretched out and occupied two stone steps as he hunkered down on the landing, thus blocking half of the entrance to her building.
She called Hadley and asked her to tell him that she wasn’t living with her anymore. He refused to believe her cousin. He sure was as stubborn as hell.
He stayed for a couple more hours, as though he knew she was watching him. Then he yelled out for Hadley to come down from her second-floor apartment. He gave her the room number of the hotel he was staying in, “Tell her to give me a call when she decides to be an adult again,” were his exact words.
Sookie went to his hotel that same night only to turn back around when she was only a foot from his door. She could hear the thumping sound of the television blaring like ricocheting cannonballs inside her chest. She realized then that she was indeed a coward. A child, like he accused her to be, ill-equipped to face his wrath. She went to the café outside his hotel and lingered longer than she was supposed to. Hoping she could catch even a glimpse of him. She left when the coffee shop was about to close and darted to the nearest payphone booth. She didn’t know what to pray for. For him to still be awake or for him to be blissfully asleep so she could just leave him a message that was as pathetic as her. The sigh of disappointment that bubbled out of her throat when her call went straight to voicemail was her answer.
She stayed with her coworker from the diner for three days while Eric was in town. He dropped by Hadley’s apartment everyday like clockwork. He gave up after the third day and Sookie went back to Hadley’s place, feeling worse than when she first arrived.
For two months all she got was radio silence from Eric. Then one day, on her way to the diner for the swing shift, she received a text from Hadley informing her that Eric was back in town and was waiting for her in the restaurant. She managed to evade him by calling in sick only to follow him around the city.
She shadowed him as he visited the places they had been to when they went to New York six years ago. She watched him as he fiddled with his food like a kid and retired to his hotel like a nomad. Once in a while he would look over his shoulder, somehow sensing her presence. And she would duck behind a wall or a tree like they were playing hide and seek. Only they weren’t playing. Those days were gone.
They were now chasing each other’s shadows.
‘Go home, Eric,’ she would implore him silently all the while wishing he would spend one more day in the same city with her. One more day, she would beg the God she had forgotten in a while. One more day with Eric and she could survive another month.
“After all these years you’re still a fucking hypocrite,” he hissed, shaking his head in disappointment. There were a couple of passersby, who couldn’t help but steal a glance at them in the alleyway.
She pressed herself harder against the bricked wall, hiding in the shadow that embraced her like an old friend.
(Early Summer, 2010)
It was easy to get lost in the Big Apple. But it was easier to get lost in her own thoughts.
She followed Eric to midtown Manhattan when he left the diner the next day. Her heart skipped to her throat when he went inside the Empire State Building. She didn’t trail him there, though. It was the kind torment she wasn’t ready for.
She marched into Walgreens and went straight to the feminine care aisle, running her fingers across the selection of pregnancy test kits. She closed her eyes for a moment, transporting herself back to the time she and Pam purchased the purple box more than six years ago.
(Summer, 2004. Seattle)
The air was muggy like it was now. It was summer and the heat was unforgiving. Beads of sweat rolled down the back of her neck. They were in her backyard garden. Eric, in his plain black wifebeater and track pants, was studying her as they sat side by side on the wooden porch swing beside the rose bed.
“I missed my period,” she blurted when the silence became stifling.
Eric gawped then stilled. She hoped he would say something. Anything.
“Are you – I mean – have you taken the test?” he stuttered after a long pause. It was the one test Sookie didn’t want to pass.
She shook her head. “I just realized today when Pam asked me if I needed a new batch of tampons.”
Crickets chirped to fill the stillness in the air.
“Eric…” She turned to him. He was catatonic, face devoid of color. “I’m – I’m not asking you to do anything. I just thought you should know, in case…”
He pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head as though he was getting rid of water in his ears. “Yeah. Yeah. Of course. I’m glad you told me.”
They succumbed to another awkward lull. As the song went, someone must be watching over them, because a few minutes later that someone had sent Pam to rescue them from the growing discomfiture that came with her news.
The screen door of the kitchen swung open and Pam ducked her head to tell Eric that Godric was on the phone.
Eric left with heavy steps and a promise to drop by again later that day. She could only nod her response as she waited for him until the following day. But no Eric showed up. She found out from Godric that Eric drove to Vancouver the previous night to visit his cousin from his mother side. Sookie instantly became despondent. She cried her frustration out that night and the one after that while tuning out Pam’s incessant muttering on how they could exact revenge on the spineless bastard who upped and left her.
On the fourth night he came back, sneaking into her room like an unwanted disease. Pam almost bashed his head with a curling iron if it wasn’t for Sookie’s hushed plea. “You have five minutes,” Pam told him, playing the part of the protective sibling.
He didn’t speak, though. Instead he pulled out a small cushion cut diamond ring set in a gold band. Pam scoffed at the size of the rock, “So this is what Rhode Island looks like from Google Earth.”
“Pamela,” Sookie snapped to silence her sister. Pam, snark and all, knew it was time to shut up when her sister used her full name. She stomped out of their room but not without shooting Eric a stabbing look.
Rubbing his hand against the five o’clock shadow along his jawline, he began his explanation. He admitted that he drove across the border and went to Vancouver, where he stayed with his cousin, Alexei for a couple of days. Alexei was good in auctioning off used stuff on ebay and he helped Eric sell some of his pricey gadgets online, including his black Volvo. When she asked him why he took so long, his only reply was, “I took the bus.” That was saying something because Eric Northman would never take public transport for anything.
“This is just a loan until I can get you the ring you deserve,” he whispered as he slipped the gold band on her trembling finger. “Marry me, Sookie. I can’t promise you it will be easy but I can tell you will always be here. Always. What do you say?”
She couldn’t help but smile. The gesture took her by surprise. His plan was flawed and hasty but damn if it didn’t knock her off her feet. She cupped the side of his face and he leaned into her palm as he waited for her response. “Your proposal needs work.”
He chuckled. “Do you want me to go down on one knee?”
She shook her head. “I got my period yesterday. You’re off the hook. But it’s nice to know you’re ready to man up, Northman,” she managed to say while strangling a sob. “And just so you know, I don’t like gold. It’s a pompous piece of metal. Get your car back before your dad kills you. When you get me a new ring, I promise I’ll say yes.”
She must have imagined it but she swore she saw a flicker of disappointment flash in his eyes. He swore he’d give her a ring that was made of silver just to annoy her. She giggled, “Don’t think I won’t take it.”
He slept in her bed that night while Pam was relegated to the couch. He must have been so tired because the minute his back hit the mattress all Sookie could hear was his soft snoring. Sookie watched him sleep, encasing her body in his arms, breathing in his scent. She drifted off that night with a single thought in her head: One day she would be a Northman.
Six months later, her wish was granted. She became a Northman.
“Why did you marry him?”
Wringing her hands together, she felt the absence of her wedding band. “Where’s my -?”
She didn’t get to finish her question when Eric cut her off. “I threw it away,” was his callous response.
“That won’t change the fact that I’m married now,” she hushed, trying hard to put some edginess in her tone, but failing miserably.
“To Bill Compton?” She could tell when he was forcing a sneer. “I didn’t realize you were that desperate to get away from me.”
He got one thing right. She was desperate.
(Early Summer, 2010)
It was as if some cosmic power had told her to get out of the drugstore when she did because as soon as she stepped outside the Walgreens she spotted him immediately. It wasn’t an incredible feat considering he was freakishly tall and he seemed to have the power to stand out in the crowd.
Keeping her distance, she went after him again. Call it obsession. Call it masochism. Call it insanity. She couldn’t bring herself to give a damn. Her eyes followed him as he marched back to his hotel. She would stop punishing herself tomorrow. Tomorrow she would let him go. Today she would saturate herself with his presence.
She got back to Brooklyn a little after midnight with Hadley waiting for her. “This isn’t healthy, Sook,” Hadley observed with a disapproving glower. She was getting accustomed to receiving that particular gaze.
She nodded mutely before she went to the bathroom. She was about to take a certain test for the second time in her life.
She stared at the stick lying on the sink for a long time, watching another faint line appear beside the first one. Her mother was right. No one would bother with their history. No one would read the footnote at the bottom of the page. She wanted to cry foul but she was afraid no one would listen.
That night as she lay in the hard mattress of Hadley’s spare bed, she put her palm on her stomach and wondered if Eric had kept the ring.
“You never should have returned,” he told her with unblinking eyes. He turned his back to her before he started walking away.
Every cell in her body shuddered in protest. ‘Don’t go,’ she almost yelled out. Her shoulder quaked as she watched him leave until his shadow disappeared completely. She straightened her stance, dusting off invisible dust on her skirt. Brushing her cheeks dry she started her trek back to her empty house. She kept her eyes to the ground, kicking the dried leaves that were helpless against her assault.
She thought she could do it. Love him without having him. She had been deluding herself that love was not a possession. That as long as she could see him, close their gap, she would be fine. She thought there was nothing worse than to miss him from a distance. She was wrong. This was worse.
Back in the darkness of her room, she let herself go. It was easier to break down when no one was watching.