As Sookie and Eric were walking back into the main bar area hand in hand, Jarod was walking in the front door. He nodded to the couple and then went to Miranda’s side and gave his mate a quick kiss.
Eric’s phone buzzed with a text. He whispered into Sookie’s ear, “Pam may be here later, min kära. She is busy with Lillith right now.”
Sookie looked up at Eric in question. “Does ‘busy’ mean what I think it means? You know it’s kinda awful that we are basically pimping out Pam,” she returned quietly.
Eric chuckled loudly, drawing a somewhat surprised look from Sam. He shook his head and then whispered to Sookie, “You will have to tell her that, lover.” They had taken a few more steps toward their tables when he stopped them. He looked at his mate with a smile in his eyes, “But wait until I am there before you do tell her. I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Sookie popped her vampire on the arm. As they got to the table, Eric bowed a bit. “Good evening everyone,” he greeted.
Sookie pinched Eric playfully because of his formality. She smiled up at her husband; Eric would never be what she would consider ‘social,’ but she could see the effort he was making for her. She looked around the table. “Hmmm―I don’t know if everyone has officially met. Eric,” she looked toward Luna, “this is Luna Garza, Sam’s―uh,” she paused.
“I’m Sam’s girlfriend,” Luna stated as she nodded to Eric. “It’s nice to meet you, sheriff. We haven’t met formally, but I’m familiar with your work.” She smiled politely at Eric and then looked over the vampire’s shoulder to see Sam smiling at her. The shifter behind the bar had heard Luna say the word “girlfriend” for the first time, and he couldn’t stifle his scruffy grin.
Eric glanced over his shoulder and interpreted the situation correctly. “It is good to meet you, Miss Garza. It is nice to see that Merlotte has found someone with whom he shares so many common interests.”
“Yes,” Luna answered with a little blush. “We are both lucky. And call me Luna—if you like.”
“Then I am Eric,” he bowed a bit.
Sookie looked around the table. “I don’t know if you’ve met Arlene and Terry Bellefleur, Eric. They both work here at Merlotte’s.”
Eric looked at Arlene evenly. He knew that she was not a fan of vampires from his previous encounters with her, but he resolved in that moment to behave as Sookie would desire. His wife had obviously chosen to include these people in their group for a reason. “I have talked with Mrs. Bellefleur before.” He bowed toward her, but I have not met Mr. Bellefleur.”
“Nice to meet you,” Terry said looking away from the television to take in Eric for the first time. The practiced eyes of a veteran soldier met Eric’s, and the two one-time warriors took in the full measure of each other in seconds.
“You were in war?” Eric asked.
“Iraq,” Terry answered. “You?”
“Many,” Eric returned.
The two nodded at each other. Eric had learned enough about the man through their brief exchanged look to be predisposed to like him. Terry Bellefleur had the sharp eyes of someone who knew how to survive in battle, but he was gently holding a child to his chest, a child whose features did not match his genetic make-up at all. Eric had been alive long enough and had studied humans to a great enough degree to be almost positive that the child Terry held was not his own, but the Iraqi veteran cradled the boy as a father should. A quick inhalation confirmed Eric’s suspicion. Both Arlene and Terry had Type O+ blood, but the child had Type A+. Yes—Eric liked Terry immediately.
For his part, Terry had seen Eric before―several times, in fact, during the year when Sookie had gone missing. He’d told Arlene at the time that the vampire looked like a man who was in the middle of a battlefield trying to find a lost comrade or loved one. He’d seen that look more than he’d wanted to while he was serving in Iraq. Taking in the vampire before him now, Terry saw the familiar look of a fellow warrior. And he also noticed Eric’s almost-nervous grip on his woman. Terry understood that―just like him―Eric had a woman who was much more inclined to the ‘social graces’ than he was. In that moment, he wondered if vampires fished.
Their silent conversation and understanding established, Eric turned his attention to Coby and Lisa. “Ah,” the vampire said, “I see the tea-cup humans are here. It is nice to see that you have survived to grow taller.”
Arlene looked at her children and stammered, “You know this vamp―I mean―vampire?”
“Yeah!” Coby said excitedly. “He showed us his fangs, and he can fly!”
“Oh no he can’t neither,” Arlene said, looking at Eric apologetically. “You can’t just be makin’ up stories like that, Coby!”
“But we saw him,” Lisa said, backing up her brother’s story.
“Mrs. Bellefleur,” Eric said evenly. “It is true. A few vampires can fly, and I am one of them.” The redhead looked at him in surprise, and Eric continued casually, “Sam Merlotte brought your little humans into my bar when your town was overrun by the Maenad. He was seeking my help. Unfortunately, I was forced into a very long,” he paused, “Yahtzee game,” he paused again,” with my boss, and I couldn’t make it back in time to be of any assistance.”
“You play Yahtzee too?” Coby asked excitedly.
“No,” Eric said quickly and passionately as he shook his head, “never again.”
Sookie looked up at him in question.
Eric softened his tone, “But if you would like, little human, I will teach you how to play Chess one day. That is a game that requires skill and not luck.”
Coby brightened, “Cool! And you can call me Coby―if you want.”
Eric nodded. “The last time we spoke, you told me you liked vampires―unlike your previous ‘almost stepfather.’ I am happy to see that has not changed and that you have traded up in the stepfather department.” Eric once again nodded to Terry, whom he had noticed was looking on at Arlene’s two older children with as much pride as he was showing toward the young one in his arms.
At that moment, the door to Merlotte’s opened, and Tray walked in. Sookie smiled brightly in his direction. “Miranda had his number,” she said to Eric excitedly. “I thought it’d be nice to have some of your frie-,” she paused and winked at Eric, “associates here too.”
Tray walked up after sharing a nod with Sam. “Hello Northman. Hello Sookie.”
Sookie gave Tray a grin and then introduced him to everyone as Holly brought over another pitcher of beer and a bottle of blood for Eric. After everyone had sat down, Terry and Jason continued their conversation about the Saints. Within moments, Tray had joined them in a deep discussion about Drew Brees and his relative merits over the other quarterbacks in the league. Listening to their conversation, Eric could not hold in his scoff.
Sookie looked up at him and said, “Hey wait, Mister. I thought you said you were a Saints fan!”
At this, all eyes at the table turned to him, and Eric shifted a bit uncomfortably. “That is true,” he said. “I do enjoy the Saints and even contributed to the Superdome rebuild,” he added quickly.
“But?” Terry asked perceptively. In that moment, Eric imagined the veteran would have used the same tone of voice with any prisoners he’d interrogated in Iraq.
Miranda couldn’t help but to let out a cackle as she texted Pam with a report of the goings-on. The lioness in her sensed a coming conflict like a storm cloud on the horizon.
Eric gave Miranda a glare.
“Eric?” Sookie pushed.
Eric shifted a bit more and then flooded the bond with comfort. “No you don’t, Mister!” Sookie said. “Don’t you try to distract me from Terry’s question. Are you a Saints’ fan or not?”
“I am,” Eric said with certainty, but then in a lower voice, he added, “but they are not my favorite team.”
At this, Jason put his mug down on the table just a bit too loudly for normal and asked, “Who is your favorite team then?”
Eric answered calmly. “I prefer two teams over the Saints, actually: Minnesota and New England.”
Jason sat back in his chair with a dumbfounded look on his face. “Don’t tell me you’ve jumped on the Brett Farve bandwagon with Minnesota!”
“Of course not,” Eric stated, looking a bit offended. “Minnesota has been my favorite team since 1961 when they entered the league.” He looked at Sookie with something akin to pleading in his eyes, “The Saints did not originate until 1967.” He looked back at Jason and spoke in a lower voice, “However, I do admire Farve’s work this season. Though bruised and injured, he has proven himself to be a warrior on the field of play. He is often too,” Eric paused, “prone to error, however. It is good that they also have Adrian Peterson. He is an excellent runner.”
Terry took a deep breath and then spoke seriously, “I can respect your preference, Eric; however, if the Saints play Minnesota in the NFC championship game, you should probably not show yourself that night. It’s one thing to be a vampire in this day and age and try to stay safe from the Fellowship; it’s another thing to be a Vikings fan in the middle of Saints’ world.”
Luna and Miranda both laughed at the serious tone of the conversation, but Luna immediately had the sense to look apologetic when she saw the stern look on Sam’s face as he joined them. He, of course, had been able to hear the conversation from the bar. He cleared his throat, “And why the Patriots, Eric?”
Eric looked at them all and then settled his gaze onto Sookie, who was looking up at him as if she’d skin him alive if his answer didn’t satisfy her. “Two reasons, really,” he began carefully. “The first is that I admire the strategic methods of the coach, Bill Belichick. I also enjoy the tenacity of their quarterback, Tom Brady.”
Jason scoffed at this, “I’d take Brees over Brady any day of the week, and though Farve’s okay, he’s over the hill.”
“That must make me ancient then,” Eric said jokingly, trying to lighten the mood. He stroked Sookie’s hand and tried pushing comfort through the bond again. She just shook her head and then gave him a half-smile.
“Well―I guess your preference in football teams is not a deal breaker.” She smiled a little wider, “I suppose that I can still live with you, vampire. But if the Saints do end up playin’ Minnesota in the playoffs or New England in the Super Bowl, you’d better tread carefully.”
Eric smiled down at her and kissed her forehead affectionately, “Always, min kván.”
From across the table, Tray laughed out loud and had a look on his face like he’d just discovered the key to some long-unsolved mystery. “Oh―I get it!” he exclaimed in triumph.
“What?” Jason asked, looking genuinely confused.
Miranda was busy again, gleefully texting.
“I get the Minnesota thing,” Tray started. “That one’s obvious.”
“Huh?” Jason sounded.
“They’re the Vikings,” Jesus supplied helpfully.
“Huh?” Jason sounded again.
Lafayette rolled his eyes, “Geez, bitch. Just look at him―tall, blonde, Nordic, a thousand years old.”
It took Jason a few more seconds. He looked at Eric with surprise in his eyes. “You were a Viking?”
Eric gave a little smile to Sookie and then answered, “We did not call ourselves that, but yes, I was what you would call a Viking.”
“Cool!” Coby spoke up. “Did you have a helmet with horns and everything?”
Eric scoffed, “Myth! My helmet was made of leather with some wood and iron to reinforce it. I did not see the horned helmets you speak of in my time. Thinking of their impracticality alone makes them an insult to my people—who were quite intelligent and ahead of their time.”
“But Hagar the Horrible wears one,” Coby said.
Eric scoffed again. “Mere caricature.”
“The Minnesota Vikings’ helmets have horns on them, and the mascot is a Viking with a horned helmet,” Sookie said.
Eric sighed unnecessarily. “After many years, I have forgiven this mistake,” he said simply as almost everyone at the table laughed. Miranda texted even more furiously.
Tray laughed louder than the rest.
“What?” Jason asked, still looking a little confused.
“It is the New England thing that is the funny one!” the Werewolf said.
“What?” Sookie asked. “He likes the coach and quarterback. That’s not funny.” She looked sheepishly up at Eric. “I have to admit, I kinda like that particular quarterback too.” She blushed a bit as Eric looked down at her in surprise; a bit of jealousy shot into the bond, and Sookie chuckled, patting his hand.
Meanwhile, Tray sat back triumphantly and pointed to the couple. “See―this is exactly what I mean!” He motioned toward Eric and Sookie.
“What?” Jason asked once more.
“Yeah what?” Jesus added. Usually very perceptive, even the brujo seemed confused about what Tray was getting at.
“Well―just look at him!” He gestured toward Eric again, and everyone at the table looked at the vampire, including baby Mikey. Eric shifted again in his chair before leveling a warning stare at Tray.
The Were laughed it off and continued. “What is Tom Brady―6’3”, 6’4”? Tall? Skinny? Blonde? Hell they even both have clefts in their chins for goodness sakes?”
Sookie tilted her head. “Hey―they do.”
“Now wait a minute,” Eric started.
“Yep!” Tray said sounding certain. “Either Eric here has an egotistical-sized man crush on Tom Brady, or he wants to be just like him.”
Eric scoffed, “I would have made an excellent professional football player had I chosen to be one.”
“And if you could play in the daytime,” Jason added practically.
Everyone at the table laughed again, except for Jason and Eric. And at their silence, everyone laughed harder. Miranda, looking as if she’d just won the lottery, quickly sent another text.
Sookie looked up at Eric and pulled him into her embrace. She giggled and whispered into his ear, “Don’t worry, Viking. You are so much hotter than Tom Brady to me.”
Eric felt his wife’s amusement and joy through the vampire bond―along with her love for him that was always at the foundation of all of her other feelings. That love insulated him. He smiled and then chuckled, “Well then,” he whispered back, “I have nothing to worry about.” He pulled back and kissed her sweetly on the lips before looking at the others.
He winked at Lafayette and spoke formally, “I am man enough to admit to the occasional man-crush. But my wife has pointed out that I am much better looking than Brady, so I find him beneath my notice in that respect.”
This time, everyone at the table burst into laughter, including Eric and even Jason, though he looked a bit uncomfortable at the subject of man crushes.
Fifteen minutes later, the kickoff of the game was about to occur when Coby looked at Eric, of whom he was obviously quite awestruck. “Hey Eric?”
“Yes little human?” Eric responded in a joking voice.
“Who are you rooting for in the game―the Browns or Ravens?” Coby asked.
“The Ravens―definitely,” Eric answered.
“Why’s that?” Coby asked.
“Ah,” Eric began. “One of the Viking gods named Odin had two ravens, which he sent out to collect information for him. I always enjoyed the stories of those birds. They were quite crafty.”
Sookie watched with interest as Eric went on to tell the boy a story about Odin’s pair of ravens. Coby was enthralled by Eric’s tale.
As Eric finished the story, Sookie squeezed his hand. He felt a twinge of sadness enter their bond and correctly perceived that it was because they could not have a child of their own for him to tell such tales to. He turned to her and kissed her forehead. She looked up at him with brightened eyes and stroked his cheek lightly, feeling his pang of sadness just as clearly as he’d felt hers. Sookie leaned into Eric’s shoulder and squeezed his hand again. Despite their shared moment of regret, both members of the couple sighed contently as they touched. A few minutes later, they watched the kickoff of the game along with everyone else in the group.
If you don’t know much about American football, this is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
(I’m with Sookie; I have a crush too.)