Chapter 03: The World Grows Smaller
“The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”—William Sloane Coffin
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Sookie stared out the window, looking at the beautiful spring flowers just outside of it. The June day was unseasonably hot and humid, so Sookie had opted to sit in the sunroom and read, rather than to lounge by the pool as she’d become accustomed to doing. Jake waved as he looked up from his weeding, and she waved back.
It had been more than four months since she’d arrived at Niall’s estate, and so many things were changing—even as everything seemed trapped in a stasis.
Bobby came to Niall’s home a few times a month, though he sent Sookie video feeds so that she could “read” them a lot more often than that. Thalia had been indispensable in that area, finding ways to capture both Appius and Andre on video. In fact, two months before, Thalia had managed to hack into some of the security feeds at Northman Towers. Appius’s and Andre’s offices, as well as the private elevator and conference room that Appius used, were—unfortunately—on an independent system. And Thalia had not yet been able to break into that, though she was still trying.
Sookie sighed. Despite all of the video feeds she’d “read,” they’d yet to find a piece of information that would put the final nail in Appius’s coffin—so to speak.
They’d been gathering a lot of little things against him, however. And they’d also learned about a litany of ways that he was still trying to monitor and control Eric—even though he’d had no direct contact with him since the day Sookie had left.
She sighed as she thought about everything they’d found out. They’d learned that it had been Stan Davis who had provided Appius with the listening device that had been in Eric’s office. Then, the world had become exponentially smaller when they’d learned that it was Lorena Krasiki, Bill Compton’s old flame at the FBI, who had helped to get Appius even more sophisticated surveillance equipment. And then they’d learned that Appius had employed Debbie Pelt to place that new equipment into Eric’s home—in his office, the living room, the kitchen, and the master bedroom. Each of the four next generation surveillance devices recorded audio; however, the one in the bedroom had been installed in a vent and also recorded video.
It had been a week after Henry had hired Debbie Pelt—whose qualifications had seemed impeccable and who had come highly recommended by Alcide Herveaux—that Sookie “read” part of a conversation between Appius and Andre during which they spoke of Lorena, Debbie, and the surveillance items in Eric’s home.
Bobby, along with Thalia, had immediately sought out Henry’s help, and had sprung into action. They’d waited until Debbie was not working and then had gone into Eric’s home. Thalia had made a thorough search both inside the house and on the veranda. Luckily, she’d detected the surveillance devices’ signals before they had detected her, and she had stayed quiet so as not to trigger them. However, because of the sophistication of the devices, she couldn’t tamper with their signals without alerting whoever was monitoring them.
The most difficult part for Bobby had been telling Eric about the fact that more bugs, as well as a video surveillance device, had been planted into his home—a home Eric clearly still thought of as his and Sookie’s.
According to Bobby, Eric had taken the news stoically—emotionlessly—almost as if he were expecting it.
They’d lucked out in that Pam had been the only visitor in Eric’s home from the time that Debbie Pelt had been hired to the time the bugs were found. Eric and Pam had spoken in the living room, and they had spoken of Sookie. However, Pam believed the “official” story that Eric told most of their friends after Sookie left: that she had been gone when he returned from the charity brunch and that he had no idea where she was. Pam was still in shock that Sookie would just leave without a word or a trace, but neither she nor Eric had said anything that Appius could use against them or Sookie. In fact, most of the brother and sister’s time together had been spent with Pam trying to “cheer up” Eric with gossip from work and the social scene.
After Eric knew about the surveillance devices, a choice had to be made—whether to take them out, which would be a giveaway that they knew about Debbie, or to allow them to stay.
Eric had insisted that they stay, even though Henry had wanted to throw the bugs, the video camera, and Debbie out with the trash. But Eric had argued that the surveillance would prove only that Eric was as destroyed as Appius had hoped. Eric had assured the others that he’d done nothing that would indicate that he’d known that Sookie was going. And he’d said that it didn’t much matter that Appius could watch him toss and turn at night.
Eric’s reaction had made Sookie want go to him immediately. She also wanted to go to their home and immediately rip down the video camera, which—according to Thalia—was pointed straight at their bed.
Not long after Sookie had “heard” about Debbie, a newly placed video camera outside of Eric’s building—a secret one that only Thalia, Henry, and Bobby knew about—captured Debbie speaking to Lorena, who had given Debbie a device that she could use to record the signal from Eric’s cell phone. After the frequency of Eric’s phone had been recorded by the device, Lorena would be able to track it—and Eric. And—even worse—Lorena and, therefore, Appius would be able to monitor all of the conversations Eric had on his cell phone.
Again, Eric had met the news with ambivalence. Bobby now gave Eric a new disposable phone every week for private conversations, but Eric still carried his other phone to work every day, and he still spoke to work colleagues using it.
But he’d also made and received personal calls on it—calls that he wanted Appius to hear. He had told Mormor that Sookie had left him using that phone. He had found out that Hadley had died on that phone. He had discussed engagement and wedding plans with Isabel on that phone. All of these calls were “true,” and all would have convinced Appius of both Eric’s misery and his compliance.
After Thalia had begun to steal feeds from NP, Sookie had begged Bobby to send her some of the video from Eric’s office so that she could, at least, see him. She knew that it wasn’t fair that she got to see him when he didn’t get to see her—or even know that she was close—but nothing about the situation was fair.
Sookie sighed deeply and fought her rising tears. Eric’s eyes were sunken and sad every time she got a good look at them. She could tell that he wasn’t sleeping well. What she read from his lips told her that he was working and functioning. But in his eyes, she saw the same pain and longing that she saw in her own reflection when she looked in the mirror. However, his pain was worse, for his eyes held almost no hope.
A million times Sookie had wanted to tell Eric the truth. But each time, she’d stopped herself.
Sookie frowned. Bobby and she simply didn’t have enough information to conquer Appius yet. The proof they’d gathered of Stan Davis and Lorena helping Appius to illegally obtain surveillance equipment would be more damaging to the Senator and the FBI agent than to Appius. And the evidence that Appius was spying on his son would get him only a slap on the wrist.
They now had a lot of proof that Appius’s marriage to Sophie-Anne was in name only, but exposing the fact that Appius was bisexual and was having an affair with his wife’s brother would only be a scandal as long as it took the next B-list celebrity to have a meltdown.
Sookie felt her stress level rising, and she knew she needed to relax and calm herself. So she closed her eyes and made herself think of the good things that had happened during the time she’d been in the Hamptons.
One of those good things was the feeling of family she’d found at Niall’s estate. Niall treated Sookie as if she were a granddaughter, and he truly was wonderful company. He’d even encouraged her to work on the project that she’d been planning to submit for her dissertation before she’d dropped out of the Ph.D. program at Old Miss in order to leave Bill Compton behind and begin afresh in New York. Sookie found it exhilarating to speak about her academic work with Niall, who sometimes seemed almost professor-like in his ability both to push her and to encourage her to push herself.
The others on the estate had also immediately treated her like family. Louise—just as Bobby had said—ran the household with an energy and a verve that was almost intimidating. But Sookie liked her from the start. When Sookie asked if she could help with the meals a bit, Louise had asked Sookie a single question: “Do you want to help because you like to cook or because you feel an obligation?” Once Louise had learned that Sookie truly enjoyed cooking, the older woman he opened “her kitchen” with grace. Niall had been astounded, given the fact that he was shooed from the kitchen anytime Louise was cooking.
However, Louise had just rolled her eyes at Niall and reminded him that he’d been “expelled” from the kitchen because he was always “under-foot.”
Jake, Louise’s husband, was a quiet man—at least most of the time. But he was the type of person that everyone listened to when he did speak. He took care of the grounds of the estate almost single-handedly and reminded Sookie of Clive Owen from the movie Greenfingers—except that he didn’t learn how to garden in prison. Sookie chuckled a little as she had this thought. Jake had been teaching her how to care for roses, and Sookie couldn’t help but to feel more connected to Gran when she worked with Jake in the garden.
Karen, Louise and Jake’s daughter, was a bit younger than Sookie. Karen helped her mother in cleaning the house and was also going to Suffolk County Community College for her Associate’s degree in business. When Karen came to Sookie for help with an essay she was writing, Sookie felt like an older sister—a feeling she quite liked.
Sookie also learned that Louise and Jake had two other children, both older than Karen. Their oldest child, Danny, was working for Claudette at Brigant Pharmaceuticals in Manhattan. And their middle child, Stacy, was getting her degree in childhood development and was working as a nanny in Boston.
Mikey and Sean, Louise’s younger brothers, seemed content to work as Niall’s security guards/drivers. Both had wonderful senses of humor. However, while Mikey seemed to be a perpetual playboy, Sean had been in a serious relationship with a woman named Mindy for almost five years, and they were due to marry the following year when she finished her residency. Though Sookie had met Mindy only a few times, she could tell that the couple was very well-suited for each other.
Indeed—the only problem Sookie had in her interactions with Niall, Louise, and the others was that they all thought of her as “Ruby Jones.” Sookie hated the fact that she had been lying to them all about her name—but she’d tried to reconcile herself to the fact that it was for the best.
She once again tried to expel her more anxiety-inducing thoughts as she forced herself to concentrate on the other positives that had occurred over the last several months.
The best thing had involved Bobby and Thalia. Their “pretend” relationship had morphed into a very real relationship over the months, and Bobby had even been spending time with Thalia’s kids. Moreover, Sookie could tell that Bobby was happy—much happier than he had been while he was pining away for Pam. Bobby had even confided in Sookie that he was thinking about proposing to Thalia.
Pam and Amelia were also doing well, though they’d broken up more than once in the months that Sookie had been gone. Bobby had told her that those break-ups tended to coincide with one of the two of them feeling frightened because of the level of commitment they were achieving. But none of their break-ups had lasted more than two days. The two relationship-phobic women were obviously a bit spooked, but they were also understanding when the other needed a few days to “regroup.”
Sookie had also learned from Bobby that Eric had continued their tradition of going to the MET each Sunday, a day which Henry kept Debbie off the schedule so that Eric could leave his phone in the house and sneak out. Sookie wondered about the galleries he was visiting each Sunday, and—of course—she wished that she could join him at the MET, but it was too much of a risk. She was glad to know that Eric was seeing Ben and the others each week. She knew that they all cared about Eric, and that’s what he needed right now: a lot of people around him that truly cared.
Months before, she’d asked Bobby to get her a print of Wheat Field with Cypresses—the Van Gogh she thought of as hers and Eric’s. And she’d put it on the wall in her room—right over the fireplace. But it didn’t have the same textures as the real painting, and no matter how much she stared into it, she couldn’t quite find the shades of blue that made Eric’s eyes.
Once again in danger of becoming upset, Sookie forced herself to look back down at her book. Thinking about the pain Eric might be feeling was not good for her blood pressure or her appetite, and she’d promised Niall, Bobby, Claudine, and her doctor that she would try to keep her stress levels down.
“Ruby, is it Bobby’s baby?” Niall asked gently, interrupting Sookie’s reading.
“No,” Sookie chuckled, looking up at the older gentleman as he entered the sunroom.
“Oh,” Niall said with a little disappointment. “Well—no matter.”
Sookie patted the chair next to her. She had known that Niall had been hoping that her child was his great-nephew’s. But Niall hadn’t come right out and asked her before.
“Doctor Ludwig said that she’d been able to tell the gender of the child?” Niall asked as he sat down. “But she wouldn’t tell me,” he added with a little pout that looked charming on the older gentleman.
“Yes. A boy,” Sookie responded with a chuckle.
Niall smiled. “That’s what you thought all along.”
Sookie nodded and smiled back, even as her hand drifted down to her ever-expanding belly. Luckily, the doctor that Bobby and Niall had arranged for, an almost troll-looking woman named Amy Ludwig, still believed in house calls—on Sundays, no less. The doctor was an old friend of Niall’s and had gone over to the Forester’s home for a visit with Louise after she’d left Sookie an hour before.
Niall took one of Sookie’s hands. “Now I know that I’ve said that it doesn’t matter why you came here, and I haven’t asked a lot of questions—not even when you told me that you were pregnant, but . . . .” He stopped for a moment.
“But?” she prompted.
He sighed. “There are times when I say your name that you don’t answer. And then there’s the fact that Claudine seemed to know you when she first saw you here. And then there’s the fact that your hair had been dyed red when you came here.”
Sookie smiled at Niall a little and squeezed his hand, even as she rubbed her belly with her other hand. The light in the room caught the light in the yellow diamond in her ring.
“Is the person that got you pregnant the one who gave you that ring?” Niall asked.
Sookie nodded, but then shrugged. “Yes. Kind of.”
Niall looked confused at her words.
Sookie clarified, “The baby’s father gave me the ring, but my grandmother gave it to him before she died so that he could use it as my wedding ring.”
“Are you married?” Niall asked.
“Only here,” Sookie responded, motioning to her heart. “I can’t be with the baby’s father.”
His concern evident, Niall squeezed Sookie’s hand. “Did he hurt you? Or hit you?” he growled out.
Sookie shook her head vigorously. “No! He’s given up everything to protect me. And he,” she paused, “doesn’t even know about our child.”
Niall sighed. “Why does Bobby come here almost every week? What do you discuss with him for hours on end? I don’t believe it’s your brother’s situation.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “I’m sorry I haven’t told you the truth.”
He patted her hand. “Ruby, you have become part of this family. I hope you know that. It doesn’t matter what may have happened before. But I see how unhappy you are, and the doctor is concerned with your health. We all are.” Niall sighed. “Please, tell me how I can help you.”
“You already are,” Sookie assured.
Niall sighed. “Then tell me how I can help you to be happier, Ruby. You are having a child, and I know that you love him. But I also know that you are very unhappy.”
“Not with my life here,” Sookie said quickly.
“Oh—I know that!” Niall said, shushing her.
“I do love my baby,” she sighed, looking down at her belly, “so much.” Sookie looked back at Niall and decided it was time to tell him the whole truth; plus, she wanted to tell him. “When Bobby comes here, he and I discuss how we can help the baby’s father,” she said honestly.
“How do you know Bobby?”
Sookie took a deep breath. “Through Eric.”
Dots seemed to be connecting in Niall’s still-supple mind.
“Eric Northman? That’s the only Eric that Bobby cares enough about to do anything for,” Niall observed.
Sookie nodded in confirmation and took a deep breath. “My name isn’t really Ruby,” she said quietly. “It’s Sookie.”
Niall accepted that information without question. “Is Eric the father of your child, Sookie?”
She nodded and then went on to tell Niall about how she and Eric had met and fallen in love. She told him of her lip-reading ability and how it had developed. She told him about her mother’s treatment of her, as well as about Bill’s betrayal. She told him about her move to New York. She told him of Appius’s treatment of Eric—from the time when he was a boy, to the day of the paternity test, to the confrontation in the museum the previous January, to the incident when Appius had left bruises on Eric’s throat. She told him about the contract and about the threats Appius had made against Eric—the threats that had driven her away. She told him about the surveillance equipment and the spy in Eric’s building. She ended by reiterating that Eric didn’t even know that he was to be a father—that Sookie was afraid that Appius would use their child as a pawn if he found out about him.
“And you still love him?” Niall asked, after having listened to her whole story without a comment.
“Yes. Eric is my soul mate,” she said simply. “But Bobby and I haven’t yet found anything that is big enough to make Appius stop hurting Eric.” Sookie allowed the tears that she had been holding in for weeks to fall. “Every day, I want to go to him.” She shook her head. “When Dr. Ludwig performed the ultrasound this morning, I felt horrible that I had kept Eric from that. Only I got to see the little life that Eric and I made.” She wiped her eyes with a Kleenex handed to her by Niall, wishing more than anything that she had one of Eric’s handkerchiefs.
“And his tiny heart, Niall,” she continued in stutters, now almost weeping, “the baby’s heartbeat is so strong. Even Dr. Ludwig said that she’s never heard a stronger one. But all I can think about is that Eric should have been here when she told me that we were going to have a son. Eric should have been here to hear that our son had inherited his father’s strong and beautiful heart.”
Niall held Sookie tightly as she cried in his arms. He rubbed her back trying to sooth her. Never had Niall felt so powerless to make someone feel better. His life had been spent in the pursuit of curing human illness, but there was no drug that could take away the pain that Eric and Sookie were enduring. There was no medicine that would take away the years of childhood abuse both had suffered.
As he rocked the young woman that he’d come to think of as a grandchild in his arms, Niall wondered how humans—especially parents—could be so cruel. How could a mother do to Sookie what Michelle had done? How could a father do as Appius was doing? Niall had intuited that Eric and Appius didn’t get along well. Hell—why else would Eric have spent all of his winter vacations while he was in college with Bobby in the cramped apartment his great-nephew had at the time, rather than in his father’s home? Niall now knew that it was because Appius had not given Eric a home since Stella died.
Niall sighed. Years before he’d died, his nephew, Godric, had once told him that there was a boy in his school that his heart broke for, but Godric had never told him the name of that child. Godric had told him that Bobby had befriended this lonely child. However, there seemed to be a need to keep the child’s identity and the friendship a secret so that there would not be retaliation by the father; thus, Niall had never initiated a discussion on the topic again.
Now all the pieces clicked, and Niall chastised himself for not seeing the clear picture before. That child had been Eric. Bobby and Eric hadn’t become friends when they were young adults—as Niall had assumed. Eric had been the child that Godric had told him about those many, many years ago.
Niall closed his eyes and recalled the college-aged Eric, who had once spent a week with Bobby at Niall’s home the winter that Bobby’s apartment was undergoing some repairs.
Eric must have been nineteen or twenty then, a few years younger than Bobby. Eric had been so quiet and polite that it was as if he wasn’t even there. Viola, Niall’s wife, had still been alive then, and she and Niall had spoken about the guardedness of the young man—who was so unlike Bobby’s other friends. Now Niall knew what Eric had been guarding against.
And Niall also now knew why Bobby was so intent upon keeping Ruby—or Sookie—safe. And now there was the child to consider too. And there was Eric. Niall shed a tear of his own as he thought about the little family that was unable to be together. Eric and Sookie had both been cheated out of family when they were younger, and he could tell that they were living a half-life without each other.
They both deserved so much better!
Niall vowed right then and there that he would use all of the influence he still possessed to help Sookie and Bobby accomplish their goal of bringing Appius Northman to his knees.
But, in that moment, he just wanted to comfort the forlorn girl in his arms—and reunite her with her beloved.
He could understand that secrecy was needed; however, there had to be a way to let Sookie and Eric safely spend time together, and Niall was determined to find it.
As Sookie continued to sob, Niall closed his eyes, and his mind wandered a little as he continued to rock her in his arms. The memory of an old family story his father had once told him came to his mind. He decided to tell it to Sookie, hoping that it would give her hope. After all, the story was quite similar to her own.
“You know,” he started, “the name Sookie suits you. But as we’ve sat here, I’ve recalled a story about a young girl named Ruby. I would like to tell it to you—if you don’t mind.”
He felt her nod her permission against his chest.
“Well,” he said, his distinctive voice soothing her, “my father, James, told me the story many, many years ago—must have been fifty years back. It concerned my father’s older brother, Niall, for whom I was named. My father idolized his brother. That Niall, however, disappeared when he was twenty-seven years old; my father was seventeen at the time.”
“Disappeared?” Sookie asked, her light sobbing having stopped as she listened to Niall’s tale.
“Yes. You see, Niall fell in love—but with the wrong girl, at least according to my grandparents. They had a great fortune, and my uncle—their eldest son—was expected to marry a girl with a dowry and a position that would increase the family’s prominence, but Niall’s heart did not cooperate. He fell in love with a servant in the family estate, a beautiful young woman named Ruby.”
A lump formed in Sookie’s throat as the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
Niall continued. “That Niall decided to tell his parents of his affection for Ruby, hoping that they would see how devoted he was to her and allow them to marry. He even offered to step aside and allow my father to inherit the family wealth if his parents would let him follow his heart and marry the woman he loved. That Niall contemplated eloping, but it was his dearest wish that his parents would accept his beloved and treat her as family. He didn’t want Ruby to think he was ashamed of her in any way.”
Niall sighed. “But my grandparents were too tied to the underpinnings of social class to acknowledge the love between the two. They forbid my uncle from seeing Ruby, and—in the dead of the night—they shipped her off to the home of one of their acquaintances in the South. To add to the tragedy, she was with child when she left. My uncle never stopped looking for her though.”
Even as Sookie was stunned into silence, Niall chuckled a little and then went on with his story. “My father said that his brother was the most stubborn man he’d ever known—and the kindest.” His voice softened. “One night, my uncle snuck into my father’s dorm at university to tell him goodbye. He said that their grandmother, who didn’t give a damn about society and who thought that her son and daughter-in-law had behaved cruelly, had helped him to locate Ruby. And with the money he had saved and some more money and jewels that my great-grandmother had given him, he was going to sneak away and reunite with her. And that is just what he did. My father, though heart-broken that his beloved brother was leaving, didn’t tell a soul, so it was more than a week before his parents knew that his brother was gone.”
Niall exhaled deeply and continued, “It was several years after that when my father next heard from his brother—though that Niall asked that he keep the contact a secret and only tell his grandmother. Sadly, she had already passed away by then.”
“Contact?” Sookie squeaked out, her body now shaking a little as she absorbed Niall’s tale.
“Yes. That Niall sent only one letter to my father, telling him that he was safe and happy, but not saying where he’d gone. He shared that he and his Ruby were doing well and had changed their names. He sent a photograph of Ruby, himself, and two children—a little boy and an infant. My father tried to find his brother, but there was no return address on the letter, and Niall didn’t give their new names. My father sent a private investigator to New Orleans, which was where the letter had originated from, but he never located them, and my uncle never wrote again.”
Niall sighed. “But—you see—my uncle Niall and his Ruby were meant to be together—just as you are meant to be with your Eric. It took years for them to reunite, and she’d had a child in the meantime, but eventually things became as they should have been. You must trust in your fate, dear child,” he said kissing her forehead.
Shaking even more now, Sookie removed herself from Niall’s embrace and looked at the older man with shock on her face.
“What’s wrong?” Niall asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Sookie didn’t quite know what to say. “Can you excuse me—for just a minute? I need to get something from my room.”
“Of course,” Niall said, helping Sookie up.
“Will you wait here?” she asked quietly. “I need to show something to you.”
He nodded. “Of course,” he said again.
Sookie rushed as fast as she could to her room and got the letter that told of her ring’s history. She wondered if it was possible that the Ruby in the letter and the Ruby in Niall’s story could be the same person. However, all the details of the two Rubies fit: the timeline when the story’s events happened, the fact that Ruby was pregnant when sent away, where she was sent, the initial “N,” N’s grandmother’s help, the fact that they’d been in New Orleans for a while, the name changes, the number of children they’d had. Yes—it all fit.
She found the letter quickly—despite the fact that her head was spinning with so much new information. And then suddenly the whole world seemed to be spinning and she could feel herself falling. And then everything went black.
A/N: Hello all! Thanks for all the wonderful comments for the last chapter! Well, most of you picked up on the fact that Niall and Sookie were related. Well done! And some of you guessed this a long time ago—right after my very first “hint” way back in Comfortably Numb. Indeed, this makes Bobby and Sookie related too. (And Sookie and Claudine)
Many of you also guessed about the baby (or were clued in by Seph’s clue in this story’s banner).
But would I be so cruel as to allow Sookie to lose that baby? And how will Niall’s involvement change the equation?
Until next time,
P.S. You can find a copy of the Brigant family tree by clicking below if you are interested in seeing how Sookie is connected to everyone.