Eric woke up in a daze. His eyesight was blurry as he took in the surroundings. Sunlight seeped through the gossamer curtain. It was bright, too fucking bright.
Where the hell was he?
He felt as if the entire room was spinning. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes as he hoisted himself to a sitting position, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea. He cringed as a bolt of pain shot up from his side. He tugged at his shirt and saw the patch of gauze on the side of his stomach.
The events of the previous night started coming back to him in bullet points.
And last but not the least, the two fuckers in ski masks who mugged him.
His hand immediately clapped against his right front pocket. A sigh of relief escaped his lips as he felt the tiny round bulge at the bottom.
Sylvie’s ring was safe.
His celebration was brief though, as he felt the need to relieve his bladder. Springing to his feet, he found himself alone in the middle of a very outdated living room.
Even without the floral pattern wallpapers, Eric could tell he was in an old lady’s house with all the crochet doilies hanging in almost every surface – the brown sofa, the matching beige winged chairs, and, of course, the runner on the long oak coffee table.
Jason and Sookie could use a trip to Ikea.
The television near the fireplace was a fucking dinosaur. He wouldn’t be surprised if it was still in black and white. There was a DVD player next to the TV, with stacks of boxed DVDs on top of it – five seasons of The Good Wife and two seasons of Top Gear.
Gee, I wonder who watches which.
The room’s only saving grace was the antique bookshelf lined with books –mostly old paperbacks. The collection was impressive, Chaucer, Ayn Rand, Jane Austen, Umberto Eco, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Tolkien, T. S. Elliot, Faulkner and even the hard-as-fuck to read Ulysses was there.
Godric would have loved this, he thought bitterly as he ran his fingers along the spines of the worn-out books. His brother had a long storied affair with rare books. Eric had lost count how many yard sales and antique bookstores he had been dragged into in Godric’s quest to complete his collection.
‘Find something to love, Eric, something to treasure. The sense of accomplishment you get when you find something rare is pretty spectacular. Like a mind-blowing orgasm, a different kind of high.’
Godric was an old soul. Eric wasn’t. If he needed mind-blowing orgasm, he knew where to go. And when it came to chasing a different kind of high, well, his dealer was but a phone call away.
His eyes were getting misty. Fuck, he was getting wistful over some dumb books.
Not cool, Northman.
Shaking off the melancholia, he continued his exploration and was stymied when he heard sounds coming from the next room.
“You cannot be serious?” he heard Sookie raise her voice. “You’re going back to Fantasia tonight? Do you have a death wish, Jase? You know he’s hellbent on finding Eric. If he finds out he’s staying here he’ll tear you to pieces. I don’t think even his fatboy crush on me will be able to save you this time.”
Eric sniggered as he leaned against the wall near the doorjamb.
“The only way Al’s gonna find out Eric’s here is if I tell him, which I’m not stupid enough to do so,” Jason countered, which gave Eric a little relief.
“Why, Jase, why do you have to go there tonight?” Sookie asked. Eric detected a hint of frustration in her tone.
Why, indeed, Jason?
“You know why,” Jason replied, sounding deflated.
“Do you really think that your presence is enough to stop those horny bastards from hitting on Crystal? You’re just torturing yourself, Jase.”
Eric didn’t want to agree with Sookie but she had a point. He had seen how the fat fuck treated Jason and that was before Eric knocked him out cold.
“She’s pregnant, Sook.”
Whoa. Eric didn’t see that one coming. A taut silence descended after Jason’s revelation and Eric could only assume Sookie was in shock too.
“She found out last week. She tried to quit but Al wouldn’t let her – at least not until she paid off her debts.”
There was a soft thump followed by a scratching sound of wood against wood. He sneaked a peek and caught the siblings’ reflection in the glass of the display cabinet. Jason and Sookie were sitting across each other in a round wooden dining table. Sookie had her hand pressed against her forehead.
Jason chuckled. “Can you believe it? I’m gonna be a dad, Sook, and you’re gonna be an aunt.”
Eric remembered his Aunt Ruth in Sweden, she was the one who taught him and Godric how to smoke weed. He doubted Sookie would be that cool.
“How much does she owe Big Al?” Sookie asked after a moment.
“Seven grand, give or take.”
“T’was for her boob job last year. She thought t’was a good investment at the time. She wasn’t gettin’ enough attention in the bar so Al suggested implants and loaned her the money. She thought those babies would pay for themselves but then Yvetta came along and well, you know the rest.”
Eric didn’t know the rest of the story and honestly he couldn’t give a rat’s ass because right now the rest of him was screaming for release.
“I have money,” Sookie said quietly. Like telling someone a shameful secret.
“Uh-uh,” Jason mumbled, shaking his head. “I’m not takin’ your savings.”
“It’s a loan, Jase, not charity.”
“No!” Jason repeated. “I mean it Sook. You’ve been savin’ up for med school for years. It’s bad enough that you have to foot Gran’s hospital bill by yourself. I’m not lettin’ you put your future on hold just to pay for Crystal’s boob job.”
“She’s pregnant, Jase.”
“Damn straight. I’m the one who knocked her up, remember? So I should be the one to help her get through this. I’ll find a way to get the cash. You just focus on passing that darned test. It’s about time you get that fucking white coat.”
Goddamn. It’s too early for drama-fucking-rama.
He had to make a move now. If Jason broke into tears it would be harder to butt in. And Eric would have no choice but to piss on a tree outside like a stray dog. He had suffered enough humiliation in Louisiana to be caught with his dick in his hand.
Stepping into what he could surmise was the kitchen, he cleared his throat.
“Sorry, excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt the family conference here but I really need to take a leak.”
Sookie and Jason snapped their heads to him. Jason was the first to recover as he peeled off his chair.
“‘Course man, bathroom’s over there.” Jason pointed to the blue door to the left.
Eric careened to the bathroom. It was utilitarian and clean and Eric had never been so happy to see a toilet bowl in his life as he pissed last night’s bourbon away.
When he came out, Jason was nowhere in sight. Sookie was by the counter with her back to him.
He cleared his throat again. Apparently that was his go-to icebreaker when it came to her.
Sookie whipped around with a plate of sandwich in one hand and big ass knife in the other.
He swallowed thickly. It seemed Sookie with a gun was hot but Sookie with a knife? Not so much.
She marched in front of him, putting the plate on the table but keeping the knife close to her chest.
“He’s on the phone with Crystal. He had to take it outside because the cell signal’s poor inside the house.” She pulled up a chair. “Sit. You should eat something. You have to take antibiotics and you can’t take it on an empty stomach.”
He did as he was told while keeping a close eye on the sharp object she was carrying. After last night, he realized he wasn’t a big fan of knives.
He started tackling his sandwich. It was chicken salad, which wasn’t half bad. She watched him eat as she sat on the chair across him, putting the knife in front of her.
“Does it hurt?”
He put his food down and swiped the side of his mouth with his thumb. “What do you mean?”
“Your wound? Does it hurt?”
Like a motherfucker. “It’s not so bad,” he lied.
He understood pain. He knew how it functioned, he could choose to acknowledge it or he could choose to ignore it. He decided to go with the latter.
“Can I see it? I probably need to change the dressing.”
“After you’re done eating.”
“Uh… actually I was planning on making a phone call first.”
“Sure, you can use Jason’s phone. Mine’s charging. After we change your dressing.”
She sounded so bossy. And it was irritating that he was powerless to say no to her. So he nodded his assent and resumed nibbling his sandwich. Sookie stood up and marched to the counter again.
“You want iced tea or coffee?”
“Do you have OJ?”
“We’re out of juice. But I can make you some lemonade.”
Her tone was as dry as his meal. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to make any more requests.
“Coffee’s fine.” He was tempted to add ‘make it Irish, while you’re at it, doll’ but decided against making jokes.
She poured him a cup and went back to her chair.
“How’s Big Al?” Actually, he couldn’t care less about the fat fuck but he needed a material to make light conversation. Sookie watching him chew was uncomfortable as fuck.
“I’ll tell you when I start caring.”
“He had it coming, you know that right?”
Sookie furrowed her brows, leaned back and crossed her arms. “What do you want me to say, Eric? Thank you?”
Eric was jolted by the condescension in her tone. He shrugged it off and said, “Well… yeah.”
Her lips formed a taut line, eyes mutinous.
He put the sandwich back on the plate. “Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for all these. I just want a little credit too.”
She gaped at him, incredulous. “For what? For hitting Al? No one asked you to rock that stupid boat.”
“Someone has to,” his tone raised up a notch in defense. Would it really kill her to show a little appreciation? “He called you a cunt and Jason a cripple for fuck’s sake.”
The glare she shot him could have single-handedly warmed his coffee. Her expression almost made him back off but he was done being a fucking pussy in front of her.
“That’s exactly why I don’t like you Eric. You come here and act like you’re some sort of Messiah. Here to save us from our shitty lives and expect us to bow, when in fact, you’re just a punk. You’re reckless, you operate with impunity. I don’t want that kind of behavior rubbing off on my brother.” She paused to take a deep breath. “Let me ask you one thing, if I had punched or slapped Al, who do you think he’d go after?”
Her gaze went out the window. Eric followed her line of sight and saw Jason leaning against a pole at the porch, pressing his cell to his ear.
“Walking away doesn’t make me a coward, Eric. It only means I have bigger battles to fight.”
He had heard that screed many times before from Godric. And damn if it didn’t hurt.
He had changed. He was no longer that Eric. He had turned his life around. Who was she to prematurely compartmentalize him?
Who the fuck does she think she is?
Before Eric could summon his own monologue, Jason walked in the kitchen, a stupid grin plastered on his stupid face.
“What’s up?” Jason asked no one in particular.
Sookie peeled herself off her chair and walked out of the kitchen without a word. Eric, in return, balled up the rest of sandwich and shoved it all in his mouth.
Jason hobbled toward the table and sidled up next to him. There was definitely something wrong with the way Jason was strutting. It appeared his left foot was dragging his right. Fuck if he cared. He was done giving a shit about Jason or his judgmental sister.
“How’s it goin’ man?” Jason asked, grinning at him like the clueless dimwit that he was.
Eric made a show of carefully chewing his food as he wrapped his fingers around the coffee mug that said ‘World’s Greatest Grandma’.
“I promised Alcide I’ll help you report the mugging and I was thinkin’ maybe we can do it here in Bon Temps instead of driving back to Shreveport since I know the Sheriff here much better. But we’ll have to wait for Crystal to bring my truck though. She’ll be here around three. Is that okay?”
Eric replied with a one-shoulder shrug. Unlike Jason, he wasn’t that keen on going back to Shreveport. The one thing he was looking forward to was giving Pam a thorough dressing down.
The Frost Queen from Bon Temps came strutting back, carrying a small plastic box.
“You done?” she asked, looking pointedly at him.
He downed his coffee, wincing at how bitter it was. Someone had forgotten to put sugar and cream.
“Take your antibiotics and follow me in the living room.”
He was tempted to give her a middle-finger salute but he didn’t want to give her any more bullet in case she decided to speak from the pulpit again.
He decided to take different approach instead as he took his sweet time getting water from the tap. It wouldn’t kill her to wait.
Swallowing his frustrations down, he started perusing the label on the orange pill bottle.
He blinked and checked the name again.
Rothman? When did he become Jewish?
“Eric,” Jason called out, “something wrong, man?”
Eric gaped at Jason then again at the bottle. Did Jason get the right prescription? He scanned the other details on the label. Everything seemed to be in order, except for his last name.
Hmm, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to mess up his last name. It wasn’t like he was planning on staying here for a considerable amount of time. Besides, Sookie made it perfectly clear she didn’t like him, so what the hell. In this case, anonymity was his friend.
So, Eric Rothman he would be.
Trailing Jason back to the living room, he found Sookie kneeling on the floor while unwinding a spool of gauze.
He sat in front of her. Was this what she meant by bowing to him?
“Should I take off my shirt?” he said tugging at the hems of the blue scrub top.
“No!” she yelped, which made his brows hike up to his forehead. “Keep it on.”
“Won’t it be easier if I just take it off instead of holding it up?”
“This won’t take long. Just keep your shirt on.”
He caught Jason snickering behind the sofa while Sookie kept her head down, avoiding any eye contact. Eric shook his head. These siblings were fucking weird.
Sookie helped him lift the hem of his scrub top and started peeling off the gauze gently. Her hands were so tiny and soft but they worked with surgical precision. It almost made him wonder how someone so abrasive could be so tender.
A loud buzzing sound made him twitch, knocking off her hand, making the edge of the adhesive tape stick to the tip of the surgical thread.
“Shit, it’s Tray,” Jason mumbled behind them as he stared at his vibrating phone. “I forgot to tell him I’m not coming in the shop today.”
Sookie skewered her brother with a glare. “Can you take that outside?” she asked through gritted teeth.
“Yeah, sorry, sorry,” Jason murmured as he retreated back to the porch. “Tray, dude -”
Sookie’s attention returned to his wound as she carefully yanked the tape off the thread. Eric couldn’t help but hiss as she tugged.
“Sorry,” she whispered meekly, which actually caught him off guard. Sookie was apologizing? That was a first.
He didn’t respond. He was still pissed at her.
“I’ll change your bandage to keep the wound dry.”
She examined his stitches, her face inches away from the side of his waist.
“It looks good,” she assured him, picking up a cotton pad soaked in warm water and started dabbing. “The suture’s intact. The wound seems clean. Alcide did a fine job.”
“Who?” Curiosity struck before he could stop himself.
She looked up. “Alcide, your doctor.”
“Oh. The friendly doctor,” he stated drily. “Are all doctors here that chummy or is it just him?”
She smiled. There was a spark in her eyes that he hadn’t seen before. Damn, he should have taken a picture. It was so rare; he probably wouldn’t see it again.
“Alcide’s an old friend. He went to high school with Jason. They were joined at the hip before Alcide went to college.”
“And you?” Oh my God, Northman, when did you turn into a fucking gossip?
“What do you mean?” She lowered her gaze, clearly dodging his, and went back to tending to his injury.
“Were you joined at the hip with the fine doctor too?” At this point he gave up trying to stop himself from caring.
She bit her lower lip and stared at his wound.
Was she actually ignoring him? He clenched his jaws. No one – no, cross that out, no woman – had ever ignored him. It was fucking annoying. This must be how Sylvie felt every time he turned up the volume of the television whenever she tried to ask him something trivial and personal. Goddamn, he missed the days when he was the laconic one.
“Pardon my curiousity. It’s just that I sensed some kind of tension last night when Jason told him I was your boyfriend. Obviously I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”
She straightened her back and tilted her head to meet his gaze. “First of, you don’t have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes since we’re not really a couple. And to answer your question: no, my hips and his were never attached. There’s no history between us – none whatsoever.”
His brows arched at the way she responded. She sounded subdued, upset, seemingly saddened by the admission. And that, surprisingly, didn’t sit well with him.
Does she like Alcide?
Was it possible that Elsa the Ice Queen was interested in the doctor? If so, then for fuck’s sake, why? What was so special about that damned doctor? He was mediocre at best, forgettable even. For one, he looked like a fucking caveman, who had never heard of the thing called razor.
Eric turned his head sideways to study her.
She was chewing her lip again. Her eyes fluttered as she cleaned his wound.
Were her lashes always that thick and long? There was no way they were natural. Sylvie always wore fake lashes. The sight of Sylvie tugging her lashes from her eyelids was something he would never forget.
They highlight my eyes, she had explained defensively.
He dipped his head a little lower, careful not to swivel his torso to avoid pinching his stitches, to get a better vista. Damn, they were real.
Suddenly, he felt a sting and winced.
“Its alcohol, sorry,” she hushed as she held a Q-tip cotton swab.
Wow, two apologies in one sitting, must be some kind of a record.
This time he answered, “S’okay.”
She discarded the used Q-tip and picked up another, this time with Betadine. She leaned in closer to his waist and started blowing at his wound.
Her breath was warm against his exposed skin. Damn that felt good. For a second there, he had forgotten how cold she was to him.
For a second there, he let himself forget about Sylvie.
For a second there, he let himself wonder how soft Sookie’s lips were. How beautiful her eyes were up-close. How good it would feel to have those tiny hands against his chest; to have her nails digging into his back.
He felt his pants get tighter as his cock began swelling.
No. Nonono. Stop!
He wanted to twist his hip to hide the slowly growing bulge in his pants but that might only draw her attention to ‘it‘.
Fuck. Please, stop.
He shut his eyes, cutting off images of Sookie and her tiny hands and soft lips and big, round eyes.
God, even the way she said his name was making his cock even harder.
He forced his eyes open. “Hmm?”
“I’m done,” she said, pulling herself up from the floor. “You can change the dressing again when you take a shower. The water will help loosen the bandage but try not to blast it with water. It’s still swollen so try not to move around so much to keep it from tearin’. I washed your shirt; it’s drying on the clothesline at the back. I don’t think any of Jason’s jeans will fit you but he has an old tracksuit that might do the job.”
Shower? Do I smell?
She gathered the first aid kit, barely throwing him a glance. Then just before she could march back to the kitchen, she turned slightly to him and he noticed she was flustered.
She darted a glance at his middle and he realized why her cheeks were burning.
“Take a shower, Eric. You look like you need one.”
Eric was beyond mortified. As soon as she was out of the room, he buried his face in one of the throw pillows to muffle his groan.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
He should go after her, tell her he wasn’t a pervert. That he wasn’t interested in her. That he was thinking about his former fiancée – his gorgeous, French lover.
Yes, I was thinking of Sylvie.
Sylvie. I love Sylvie. I want Sylvie. I want Sylvie. I want Sylvie.
His mental chant wasn’t doing him any good as images of Sookie’s flushed cheeks kept flashing back in his head. He grabbed the pillow and stuffed it in his mouth as he let out another groan. He had to get out of this podunk town quickly, before he completely lost his mind.
I want Sylvie. I want Sylvie. I want Sylvie. I want Sylvie.
Then just before he could stop it, he thought: I want Sookie…