“He’s been in an accident. You have to come home.”
Sookie shifted in her seat and pulled the window shutter up. It was a starless night. Even in the dark she could see the smog in the air. Nothing had changed in three years. Her world was still dark. It had been dark since the night her mother married her second husband.
“Pam said he’ll be fine. He’s stable. He only had shallow cuts and bruises. And probably a fractured arm. Must you really rush back to Seattle for this?”
Bill said he understood. But he never did. No one could understand her bond with him. From the first time she saw him flash his self-indulgent smirk in her direction as he walked up to the meanest bully in their street she knew right then that he was a cut above the rest.
“Why did you tell him?” she asked Bill through gritted teeth, her fingers curling into a fist.
“Do you really think he wouldn’t find out?” Bill countered her question with another question. “Isn’t it best that he hears it from one of us?”
She fell silent. Bill was right. He would find out eventually. She only wished she would be the one to tell him. As to when it would be, that she didn’t know. She couldn’t go home. Not yet.
She shrugged her tailored black jacket off as soon as she got inside the cab. It was wet and she was cold. Heavy rain welcomed her home. How rhetoric.
But it wasn’t like the universe was conspiring against her. It was September and it was Seattle.
“Seattle Gen, please,” she told the middle-aged driver with a thick gray beard that made him look like Santa Claus.
After getting stuck in the rush hour traffic for almost half an hour, she finally reached her destination.
She caught her reflection on the automatic glass doors as she dashed into the lobby of Seattle General Hospital. God, she looked like a wet dog. Her hair that was pulled up in a French bun was damp and sticking to her forehead. And her silk beige blouse was decorated with skidding droplets of water. Her skinny black slacks were, thankfully, still presentable. But she was still a mess. She was in such haste to catch the first flight out of New York that she didn’t bother to change out of her office clothes.
She went to the reception in the middle of the lobby. “Can I have Eric Northman’s room, please? He was brought here last night. Motorcycle accident.”
“Sookie!” she heard someone yell from one of the winding corridors of the hospital.
She turned to the sound. Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled. It wasn’t a so-nice-to-see-you-again smile. It was more of a sigh of relief.
“Where is he?”
“He’s still out. But the doctors said there’s no concussion. Thank God!”
Sookie could feel the tears forming at the corner of her eyes. She tried hard not to blink.
“Mom?” Sookie asked in a hush.
Pam shook her head. “They left an hour ago.”
“With Godric?” Sookie asked.
They stepped inside the small lift that would take them up to the third floor, where Eric’s private room was.
“Nora’s here, too,” Pam whispered as they walked side by side in the well-lit hallway.
Sookie bobbed her head, pulling her bag behind her. She had heard about Nora. Every time Sookie would call her sister, Pam would fill her in with gossip. Some she didn’t need to know while some she didn’t want to know. Nora was in both categories. She didn’t need nor want to hear about Eric’s newest fling.
“But she went down to get us coffee so if we hurry we can still lock her out of his room,” Pam whispered conspiratorially.
Sookie chuckled. It was a hollow sound. Meant only to humor her younger sibling.
They reached his room. The sound coming from the television clashed with the soft beeping of the heart rate monitor beside his bed.
The breathlessness that overtook her caught her by surprise. It wasn’t because of the superficial cuts that looked out of place on his handsome face. It wasn’t because he looked so fragile in a white hospital gown that was so different from his usual black tees and stonewashed jeans.
It was because it had been too long since she had been in the same room with him. Too damn long.
With slow, uncertain steps she approached the side of his bed, running the tip of her fingers on the white blanket that covered half of his body.
His palm was turned up, revealing the inside of his wrist, where the IV needle was attached.
His hair was longer from the last time she had seen him. But not as long as when he was 12 years old and his grandmother, Lilith, would not let him have a hair cut because of her fascination with the young and hunky Fabio from her pocketbook covers.
Even when his eyelids were shut she could still discern the telltale of the bags under his eyes. He seemed tired. Tired from his restlessness and his seemingly endless search for the next big adventure.
“Quit being a wimp, Stackhouse. Join us this weekend,” she remembered him goading her to accompany him when he and his ‘minions’ were going to Tum Tum Mountain because one of them had the brilliant idea to bungee jump over the Pacific Northwest Bridge. She was 13 then and he was 15.
“Let me get this straight? You want me to take a 200-foot fall directly over a river with nothing but a buncha strings to hold me?” Sarcasm was dripping in her voice.
He rolled his eyes. “Not strings. Harness. You make it sound so reckless and juvenile.”
“Because it is reckless and juvenile.”
He tugged the end of her one-sided braid. “Live a little, Stackhouse,” he said with a wink. Then he leaned forward until his lips were almost touching her earlobe. “And you can relax. I’ll be there to catch you.”
She swatted his upper arm with the back of her hand, which made him chuckle. “Think about it,” he said before he turned around and left her to tend to her rose garden.
She was glad he didn’t stay or he would have seen her cheeks turn rosier than her flowers.
“Eric?” she whispered as she sat on the edge of his bed. “Can you hear me?” she asked. Pushing stray hair off his forehead, she let her fingers graze his temple. “The tree that Barkley crashed into was fine. I can’t say the same about Barkley though. Not after I send that bike of yours to the chop shop.” Barkley was the name Eric gave his black 1997 Harley Davidson. The motorcycle he was driving when he had the accident.
A mix between a snort and a cough gave him away. He was awake. He had been awake long before she came. He had fought the drowsiness the drugs brought as soon as Pam told him she was coming home.
He knew it was her without looking at her. He felt her before he smelled her.
He could pick her scent from a wide array of perfumes. She had been wearing the same brand since she was a teenager.
His eyes fluttered before they zeroed in on her face. Those warm blue eyes. Her small pixie nose. Her wet, pouting lips. And her rich blonde hair that was almost the same shade as his natural color. He had made it a point to have his dyed three shades darker than hers.
“You’re here,” he stated lamely.
“Someone has to kick your ass,” she volleyed just as feebly.
Their eyes locked, and they fell into another uncomfortable silence. They both knew why he went out that night, drunk and agitated. He found out she had married his oldest friend, Bill Compton.
“Where’s your husband?” he almost growled when he broke the impasse.
She bit hard, turning her gaze from his face to the machines attached to his chest, which was starting to spike at an alarming rate.
“He’s in New York. He’ll be here after he closed up all our accounts there,” she stated in a flat tone.
Another awkward lull.
“All your accounts?” Always the wolf, he never missed a word.
“We’re moving back here,” she replied, keeping her eyes trained on the heart rate monitor while evading his scrutinizing gaze.
He didn’t reply. He pressed his cheek against the pillow and closed his eyes.
“You should go back to sleep. Don’t worry, I’ll let you say your goodbyes to Barkley,” she patted his bed after she slid off. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She was about to march out of the door when his hand caught hers.
“Stay.” He didn’t open his eyes as his fingers tightened around hers.
“I will.” And she did.
Pam, who was scrolling through her messages on the phone as she leaned at the side of the door, looked up to greet the brunette holding out a disposable cup of coffee to her.
“Medium roast. Two Splenda. No foam,” Nora enumerated Pam’s order.
Pam followed Nora as the dark-haired beauty waltzed inside Eric’s room.
Sookie and Eric had fallen asleep. She was in the brown lounge chair near the bed with her head lying just below his armpit while his arm that was connected to the IV was resting over her back.
“Who is that?” Nora whisper-hissed when Pam seized her elbow and pulled her out of the room.
Pam’s lips curved into a leer. “That is the one girl you won’t be able to live up to. Believe me, many have tried and I’ve seen them all fail,” she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “So, Nora, don’t even try.”
“Sookie,” Nora breathed out the name of her rival. Of course she knew Sookie. Every family had a secret. Sookie was the Northmans’ skeleton in the closet.
Someone clearing her throat loudly broke Nora’s reverie. It was the night shift nurse, making her usual rounds to take Eric’s vital stats.
“Who will be staying with Mr. Northman tonight?”
“That’ll be Sookie. She’s already inside. You can wake her up if you need her to move,” Pam replied, shooting Nora a silencing glare when the brunette looked like she was about to object.
“I’m sorry. Only family members are allowed to stay overnight,” the nurse with the soft but shrill voice said.
“She’s family. She’s his stepsister.”