Every scar had a story. A memory embedded on his flesh making terrible days impossible to forget.
The pale patch of skin on his knee was when he lost his footing on one of the ladder rungs of his treehouse when he was seven. It wasn’t because he was clumsy. It was because his father had yelled his name so loud and so frantic that Eric thought the entire block thought there was a fire.
There was only one reason his father would shriek like a banshee: His mother had another seizure. Ever since his mother had been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy five years ago it had been an everyday battle for the Northmans. Every day could be the last for her.
Eric had scraped his knee against the rough branch when he tried to break his fall by hooking his leg on one of the nailed up steps. He fell flat on his ass and he cringed as he pushed his bloody knee to his chest.
He couldn’t remember how he managed to push himself up and skip back inside the house. He was trying to get to her quickly.
But he wasn’t fast enough.
His skinned knee had been nothing but a filmy patch by the time he could remember how he got it in the first place. Because for a very long time, the only memory that scar brought was the day he was too late to say goodbye to his mother.
The small slash under his chin was from the first fight he almost lost.
That was too close a call.
Four years after his wife died, Godric finally found the courage to pack up their bags, leave their house in Chicago and relocate to Seattle with his 11-year-old son.
Eric was the new kid in town. It was one bleak Saturday when he decided to break-in his badass mountain bike to get the lay of the land. Although they managed to get a house in the city, the subdivision they were in was still ho-hum compared to their residence in Chicago. Everything screamed suburbs.
As he sped off through one of the streets, he heard a rumble of voices from the small park on the corner under the jungle gym.
“Idiots,” he muttered under his breath.
His eyes made a quick scan of the surrounding. This was pathetic, he thought in disdain. His foot was already on the pedal, gearing up to drive away, when he caught a glimpse of a girl in a light blue dress and two perfect braids that made him think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz that his grandmother made him watch once. (He refused to sit through the encore the following week.)
The girl didn’t look interested in the fight. She almost looked bored.
He thought maybe it was time to stir things up a bit if only to entertain her.
He was from Chicago and if there was one thing they knew how to do right, it was how to fight like a boss.
It was a poorly executed plan, though. He didn’t expect Alcide, the resident bully, to have a whole pack backing him up. He didn’t even see the right hook that made a big gash under his chin. Two burly teenagers named Tray and Calvin had both his arms before he could reciprocate with a punch. He was caught off guard.
But what shocked him even more was the basketball that flew in front of him and hit Alcide hard on the face when he motioned to give Eric another uppercut.
“Ow! Sook! What’s that for?” Alcide exclaimed at the girl with the Dorothy braids.
She walked up to them and took her ball back. “That’s for bein’ a primate,” she deadpanned. She turned to the two guys who were grabbing Eric and shot them an unhinging glare. “Is this how you welcome a newbie?” They let him go at once, sending Eric bending on his knees.
Without another word she walked back to her two-story house that was five houses away from Eric’s.
There had been a couple more brawls against Alcide and his pack before Eric had redeemed himself from that humiliating first fight.
Eric came home that night with a shiner and a bloody chin. But nothing hurt more than his bruised ego.
If he flexed his fingers on his right, he would be able tell where he plucked the shards of glass that punctured the skin on his knuckles.
It was from the worst night of his life. That was, ironically, one of the best of his father’s.
He couldn’t accept it. Not when Godric broke the news to him that he would remarry after more than a decade of being a widower. It wasn’t because he had a huge mommy issue. Oh, god, no. He was too fucking old for that. He would have been ecstatic for his father if he weren’t marrying Michelle Stackhouse.
Why the hell did it have to be Mrs. Stackhouse?
It could have been Maxine Fortenberry, who could make a mean batch of casseroles, from two blocks away. Or the younger and saucier Portia Bellefleur – their real estate agent, who seemed torn between the two Northmans.
No. It had to be the mother of the only girl he loved.
“We’re family now, Eric,” Godric said when he rested his elbows on top of the bar, where his 19-year-old son had been lounging the entire night.
“No.” Eric shook his head, slamming back the rest of his stiff drink. “I didn’t marry into this family. You did. They’renot my family.”
“Goddamit, Eric!” Godric whisper-yelled, but Eric was far too drunk and too mad to give a damn.
He would find someone else, they said. It wasn’t love, they said. What the fuck did they know?
He caught her gaze from across the room. She was looking at him with the same sad eyes. But she was more understanding than him. She was more forgiving.
Not him, though. He wouldn’t make it easy for any of them. Not even for her.
He dragged his feet to the backdoor. He was in no mood to pretend to be happy for anyone. He could hear the clicking of her heels behind him. He knew he was a lost cause if he could tell it was her by the mere sound of her footsteps.
“Eric!” he heard her call him when he shoved the double glass doors with his palms. “Where’re you going?”
He didn’t say anything. He just kept on moving. She was running now but her short legs weren’t fast enough compared to his long strides.
“Eric!” she yelled again.
Then he heard her muffled gasp. Gone was the click-clacking of her heels. There was only the faint noise from the music inside the ballroom.
He turned around and saw her slumping on the ground, rubbing her ankle. His anger faded into concern and he was on her side in an instant. “What happened?”
Her hand flew and caught the side of his head with a sharp whack that caught him unaware. “You’re so predictable! Do I need to play damsel in distress to get you to stop?”
He gaped at her for a moment. From the gleam of the lamppost he could tell she had been crying. Her nose was shiny and ruddy and her thick lashes were spiky and wet.
This wasn’t over, he thought gravely. Not by a long shot. His palm cupped her jaw, forcing her to look up before his mouth dragged over hers. She gasped and the opportunist in him took that time to pierce her mouth with his tongue.
Slanting his head, he deepened the kiss. He was certain she could taste the bitterness of the alcohol in his mouth because he could sure taste the peaches she had for dessert. It had been too long since he had tasted the peaches she loved so much from her tongue.
This was right, he chanted silently. He didn’t care if legally they were related. This felt fucking right.
Then he felt the push. It wasn’t hard at first. Like a gentle pinch. Then it became insistent. The push turned into shove.
Her hand clapped over her lips as soon as their mouths parted. Without another word, she pulled herself up and ran back to the reception hall.
He wanted to follow her but he couldn’t. It was like someone had rammed a fist through his chest and he couldn’t breathe. She had given up on him.
It was a miracle he didn’t hit anything with his sports car that night when he drove back to his loft. Flipping the switch on, the bright light from the fluorescent flooded his modest bachelor pad his grandmother Lilith had given him for his 18th birthday.
The walls were blank. He didn’t care for interior design. There was only one picture he had with him and it wasn’t hanging on the wall for everyone to see. It wasn’t meant for anyone. Only for him. He went to straight to his bedside table and opened the bottom drawer. Plucking the photo frame that was as big as a mobile tablet then stared at it. With closer inspection one could discern the smudges over the glass from the countless times he brushed his fingers across it.
It was taken during their first trip to New York. She wanted to go to the Empire State building. He thought it was a woeful cliché only tourists should do. But he indulged her whim anyway. She said she would be Meg Ryan and he would be Tom Hanks. It was perfect, she stressed, since they were both from Seattle and the movie she wanted to re-enact was called Sleepless In Seattle. He cringed and pretended to be annoyed to retain just a little bit of his dignity.
She was a sucker for chick flicks and he was a sucker for her.
She was so excited that she shamelessly walked up to an old woman and asked her to take a photo of them. She was standing on her tiptoes when she threw her arm around his neck to pull him down so she could press her lips to his cheek.
He wasn’t one for public displays of affection. But she was. And he was glad she was.
His fingers grazed the side of her face through the thin glass before his fingers balled into a fist and slammed against the photo frame, crushing the glass.
The awful truth about that scar was that Eric would later find out that it wasn’t from the worst night of his life because there would be more godawful nights after that.
He tapped the cast wrapped around his arm. He didn’t know if it would leave another mark. Scar or not he knew he wouldn’t be able to forget the day he found out she had broken their pact.
He hadn’t heard from her for nearly three months. It wasn’t like he had heard anything directly from her at all since she left Seattle to go to New York three years ago. But every once in while she would send him trivial things like a basketball signed by Michael Jordan – the greatest player alive – or a New York Yankees baseball cap or Phil Jackson’s More Than A Game book with an autograph from the legendary coach himself.
He didn’t like any of them. He knew how she got them or who obtained them for her. It was through Bill’s efforts since Compton was working as a sportswriter for the New York Post. But he kept them anyway. If only as reminders that she was thinking of him, too.
He scrolled through his list of contacts until he found Bill’s number under F for Fucktarded Weasel. It wasn’t personal he just couldn’t think of any name appropriate for the scumbag who slithered his way into her life. AndScumbag was too polite a word.
She wasn’t on his contacts list anymore. He had erased her two years ago after she intentionally dropped all of his calls. It was futile, of course, because by then he already knew it by heart.
The bastard let him wait for four rings before he picked up. “Hello, Eric?”
“Bill,” was Eric’s curt greeting. He took a deep breath before he spoke again. “Hey, how’ve you been?” Like he gave a fuck.
“I’m good. I mean, we’re good,” Bill replied, his tone tightly guarded.
“Didn’t see you at the courtside last game,” Eric kept the conversation light. He wasn’t a Knicks fan but he taped some of their games after that one time he caught her watching a Chicago-New York match at the Madison Square Garden. He even guffawed when she accidentally cheered for the Bulls when she was sitting at the Knicks’ side.
There was a strained pause on the other line.
“Uhm… I was on leave for three weeks,” Bill started. “I was… uh… we went to Vermont.”
Vermont? Eric felt his blood chill. ‘Don’t say it. Please, don’t you dare say it.’
“Sookie and I got married two weeks ago.”
There was a crash as his phone hit the black-and-white checkered tiles of his bar when he loosened his grip on it. He didn’t bother to pick it up before he grabbed his leather jacket off the counter and dashed out of his pub. Why would he bother with pleasantries if she didn’t even have the decency to give him a call to tell him she was marrying someone else?
Fuck them. Fuck her.
She was always the runner. A fucking escape artist. She told him she was leaving Seattle through a voicemail. She refused to meet with him when he followed her in Manhattan that same week. It was for the best, she said through another voicemail. Maybe he should check his voicemail just to make sure she didn’t leave another half-assed goodbye.
It wasn’t his intention to get drunk that night. He owned a bar for fuck’s sake. If he wanted libation all he had to do was flick his finger. He only needed some air. But when he passed by her old house where Pam and her partner had moved in, he was instantly swarmed with all things Sookie. All rational thoughts were thrown in the gutter.
He took Barkley out of his father’s garage. He kept his motorcycle in his father’s house because Sookie begged him never to use it again after he almost took a nosedive into a bridge when a drunk driver tried to cut him from the side.
He would break his promise that night. She broke hers, why shouldn’t he?
It wasn’t his finest moment when he stopped by a liquor store to grab a bottle vodka. He was celebrating theirunion with her favorite drink. Even though he wasn’t included in the ‘their’ part.
He managed to drive two more blocks before he decided to test which was tougher, the Douglas Fir or his Barkley.
Again, it wasn’t one of his shining moments. But he was a little drunk and overly bitter.
Turned out in a battle between tree and bike, the rider was always the loser.
Before he lost consciousness all he could think of was maybe if he were lucky she would come home for his funeral.
The middle-aged doctor who was almost half his size patted his good arm as she finished up checking his vitals. He gave him a clean bill of health before she flashed him the stink eye and waved a finger at him.
“The next time you have a fight with your girlfriend, go to a strip club or better yet, just dump her,” Dr. Ludwig chided in a whisper to make sure Nora wouldn’t hear them. “You’re quite a heartthrob, kid, there’d be plenty more for you. If you want I’ll give you the number of my niece.” The pint-sized doctor smiled and winked before she left.
He sighed. If Dr. Ludwig only knew how many tricks in the book he tried just to get over her.
“Are you ready to go?” Nora chirped as she sauntered to the side of his bed.
He trained his eyes at the narrow passageway leading to the door where Sookie was standing meekly. She was trying so hard to look preoccupied by reading the hospital hygiene guide that was plastered on the wall.
“I’ve taken a couple of days off work so I can take care of you. You know… help you take a bath or…” Nora let her words hang in the air as she waited for Eric’s approval.
They had been dating on and off for six months and she still didn’t have a key to his apartment. Or a toothbrush in his bathroom. She wasn’t even allowed to sleep over in his place.
Sookie couldn’t help but steal a glimpse in his direction when she heard Nora. But when she saw Eric staring at her she lowered her gaze to the floor immediately.
“Are you staying at Pam’s?” he asked Sookie, pointedly ignoring Nora’s mumbling.
Sookie slowly lifted her eyes back to him before she shook her head. “I told Pam she could turn our old room into a nursery as they wait for the adoption agency to approve their application.”
He knew that wasn’t the reason she wasn’t staying at the old Stackhouse residence. It was because it was located near the Northmans’ house.
She had been in Seattle for two days and she had yet to pay a visit to her mother. She was avoiding them like the plague. Especially, Lilith.
“Where are you staying?” he asked again, making Nora feel like an intruder.
Sookie swallowed before she took a couple of steps toward him. “I’m staying at the Sheraton until the renovation is done in the new place. The movers will be here next week and there are still so much work needed to be -”
“Stay at my place,” he blurted, cutting her off. Nora’s jaw slackened as she folded her arms over her chest and stared at him indignantly.
“Eric,” Nora started in a sweet syrupy voice, “there’s no more room in the apartment. Do you want your sister to sleep on the couch?” The enunciation of the word sister was hard to miss.
Sookie forced a chuckle. “Do you really think I’d fall for that?” Another hollow laugh. “I know what you’re doing, the only reason you want me to stay in your place is so you can have me for your slave to cook and clean for you.”
No one bought it. But it was still a nice try.
“Be careful with this one, Nora. He’s a spoiled little rich boy,” Sookie continued with her act as she turned to Nora.
The tightening of his jaw was as obvious as his glare. “Nora, can you check downstairs if the car is ready?” he asked the brunette without sparing her a glance. When Nora didn’t move, Eric was forced to direct his attention to her as he added, “Please?”
Eric Northman would never get a medal for his bedside manners. So when he used the word please, Nora knew it was as good as a ‘get the fuck out of here’.
She left with a harrumph that Eric decided to let slide.
“Why are you here, Sookie?” he asked as he stood to his full height so he could hover over her.
She raised her chin. “I told you we’re moving back to Seattle,” she replied nonchalantly.
She dropped her eyes again as she racked her brain for answers.
He seized her elbow with his good hand and forced her to look up.
“Is it because you’re married now? Is that it? So you can appease Lilith? So you can prove that there’s nothing between us anymore?” he hissed.
She refrained from blinking as she met his hateful gaze. “I’m tired, Eric. I’m tired of running away. I’m tired of running from you.”