Russell nodded and looked back at Eric and Sookie. “Appius is even more of a fool than I could have imagined. If you were my son, I would shout my approval from the fucking rooftops.”
“Me too,” Copely said.
“And me,” Niall added.
Eric felt his emotions rise into his throat.
Russell looked at him with assuredness. “As I said earlier, you have options, and—as you can see—you are not alone.”
Eric closed his eyes for a moment. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” Russell responded. “Now—you have only one thing to decide.”
“What’s that?” Eric asked.
“Just how much Appius suffers,” Russell said.
Chapter 19: Nursery
“The most important part of education is proper training in the nursery.”—Plato
FOUR WEEKS LATER
Eric hated having to spend any time apart from Sookie, but he understood that it was a necessary evil if he was going to delay a confrontation with Appius, and he was determined to do just that for the sakes of Sookie and their son.
For the first time in his life, Eric knew that he had enough ammunition to stand up to his father—enough allies and evidence to truly hurt Appius. And there was a part of Eric that just wanted everything finished with his father—finally finished forever. However, there was a bigger part—a much bigger part—that knew that the right move was to wait. He wanted—no he needed—to make sure that Sookie and Johan stayed safe and healthy.
He dipped his paintbrush into the yellow paint and then studied the picture that he was trying to emulate on the wall of what would be his son’s nursery. He glanced at the clock leaning against the wall opposite him: 6:00 p.m. He smiled and began to brush the yellow paint carefully onto the wall to create the outline of a bird. It was Thursday evening, and he was ready to get back to Niall’s estate—to his wife and child. All he had to do was to make it until 8:00 p.m.—when Debbie Pelt’s shift would end.
He sighed as he put a little more paint onto his brush and formed the curve of the bird’s back. It had been a month since Sookie and he had returned from their week-long honeymoon. And—despite all the negatives that he’d had to face on an almost-daily basis—it had been the best month of his life.
Sookie was now 27 weeks along in her pregnancy, which meant that his child’s chances of surviving a premature birth were at 90%. However, according to Dr. Ludwig, Sookie’s preeclampsia was being controlled. She was still on medicine to help keep her blood pressure down, but Eric wasn’t taking any chances. Just as he’d promised, he’d not spent a night apart from his wife and son—even though he sometimes wasn’t able to get to them until very late at night.
To avoid raising Pelt’s—and by extension Appius’s—suspicions, Henry had kept Debbie’s schedule at Carmichael Tower consistent. She worked each week from Tuesday to Saturday: the 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. shift. So—on Tuesdays to Thursdays—Eric was forced to come home after work and stay there until after she was gone. Certainly, Henry had ways to sneak Eric out of the building without Pelt knowing, but it was safer for Eric to seem to be reestablishing the solitary existence he’d had before his “breakdown.” Franklin Mott continued to watch Eric periodically, though Bill Compton had taken over most of the surveillance.
However, Eric trusted Compton about as far as he could throw him—though Sookie’s ex-boyfriend seemed to be on their side. For now.
Therefore, it was safest for Debbie Pelt to see Eric in the building, so he made a point of swimming most evenings. Or he might go to the front desk to say a word to Henry, who now always worked the same shifts as Pelt.
And after Pelt left, Eric would slip out of his building—unseen by Mott or Compton or whomever else might be around—through a service entrance and walk three blocks to a lot where he’d rented a parking space for the new car that he’d bought. The Corvette certainly wasn’t practical for a baby, so Eric and Sookie had decided on a Toyota Prius for their family car.
Then, Eric would drive the now familiar commute to the Hamptons. It took him about two and a half hours to get to Sookie, but—even though she had insisted time and time again that he shouldn’t commute five hours every day, the thought of trying to sleep without his wife made Eric sick to his stomach. Plus, he was a big believer in what Amy Ludwig had said to him; if it had been Eric’s presence and a little “magic” that had made Sookie well, then Eric was certainly not going to be the one to screw with that.
On Tuesdays through Thursdays, he would slip into bed with Sookie at around 11:00 p.m. Sometimes she would still be awake and they were talk quietly, read together, or make love—depending on Sookie’s mood and “comfort-level.” Eric grinned. Johan had been getting bigger and bigger and was certainly “trying his mother’s patience” as he took over Sookie’s body more and more. However, Sookie had an ever-present glow, despite the kidney kicks from their son. And—some nights—her hormones made her insatiable for him. Eric loved those nights.
But he loved the other kinds of nights they shared too. Just spending a little time with her was all he needed to recharge after his long days. On the nights that she would already be asleep when he got to her, he would simply settle in behind her and breathe in her scent until it lulled him into his own sleep.
Eric rose each work morning at 4:00 a.m. to take a quick shower, and Sookie always got up with him so that they could share a breakfast before he had to drive back to the city. Then he would tuck her back into bed and head to Manhattan. He would always retrace his route, returning the Prius to the garage, checking in with Henry to get Mott’s or Compton’s position, and then slipping back into his house so that he could leave for work from there.
Due to Claudine’s “orders,” Eric was to work at the office only four days a week, and—surprisingly—Appius had agreed to that new arrangement without argument. Thus, Eric took off each Monday so that he could spend a long weekend in the Hamptons—a fact which he didn’t try to hide from Appius or Mott—or anyone else for that matter. In fact, he flaunted it. On Fridays, Eric drove the Corvette to work and left for the Hamptons straight from there, and then he would have three and a half glorious days with his family. He still worked on Mondays, but working from Niall’s home with his wife reading across the room or napping with her head on his lap as he read reports was definitely preferable to sitting in his office for hours on end.
Eric grinned as he looked at the picture he’d painted on the nursery wall. Though he hated being stuck in the house from about 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, he had been able to get a lot done.
He had started by redecorating the bedroom. In fact, before Eric had even stepped foot back into his and Sookie’s home, he’d arranged for all of the furniture in that room, except for the blue lounge chair which Sookie was particularly fond of, to be removed and donated—after a thorough cleaning, of course.
And—just to be safe—Eric had had Thalia arrange for a professional cleaning crew to come into the house. Their job was to shampoo the lounge chair, as well as any other piece of furniture Freyda might have sat in. They also shampooed all the carpets and polished everything else. Eric had considered fumigation, but Sookie had nipped that idea in the bud with a roll of her eyes. To her, replacing the mattress and bedding would have been enough. However, Eric had decided to go all out with the renovation of their master bedroom—just so the space would be truly his and Sookie’s when they returned to their home. A month ago, they’d spent their whole Saturday looking on the Internet for ideas about how to redo their bedroom. They had also remodeled the whole “gray” side of the house. They added a nursery next to their bedroom—where the “public” office used to be positioned. A door between their bedroom and the nursery had been put in. When Johan was older, they were going to convert the guestroom into his bedroom, but while he was young, they wanted him close by.
Eric smiled as he thought about his and Sookie’s new bedroom. He’d designed their bed himself. And thanks to a furniture-maker in the Bronx, whom Eric had worked with before, the bed had already been made and had been delivered the day before. It was a simple platform bed, but it had a padded headboard to make reading more comfortable. The bed had been made of a light wood, and Sookie and he had decided on an even lighter wood flooring. Sookie had wanted light linens as well to keep the room bright. The lounge chair was still the only real pop of color in the room, but the space seemed to suit Sookie and him much better now. They’d chosen large nightstands, which complemented the rectangular room and would give them room for more books. Eric had had the pictures in the room reframed to a light wood as well, and he added a black and white photo of him and Sookie taken from their wedding—the moment before they had kissed to seal their legal union. Neither Eric nor Sookie had known that Pam had snapped the photo, but it was the perfect photo in Eric’s opinion. The photo showed the joy and contentment as the couple realized that they were bound by both law and love. Plus, it showed the swell of Sookie’s stomach, over which Eric had unconsciously placed his hand. Indeed, the photo was perfect.
To the other side of the bed, Eric had placed other pictures from the wedding, many of which also included the “family” that had grown up around Sookie and himself—a family that still awed Eric with its very existence. Also on his nightstand was his very first picture of Johan from the ultrasound. A slightly different angle of their son—the one Sookie preferred—was on her bedside table already.
Henry had arranged for a contractor to make the necessary structural changes to Eric and Sookie’s house on Mondays and also in the mornings when Debbie Pelt was not working. They were always cleared out by 11:00 a.m. on the days that she was scheduled. In addition to repartitioning the “gray side,” they’d placed new flooring throughout that side of the house and the bedroom. And the house still smelled of the fresh paint. He smiled. There was now no more gray—except for a couch, but it was very comfortable, so it made up for its color.
Eric had saved several of the renovation projects for himself—so that he’d have something to do on the days that he was stuck waiting for Debbie to get done with her shift. He’d especially enjoyed painting the simple mural on the nursery wall. He’d also loved working in what had once been the “gray lounge.” Eric smiled. That room had gone from being his least favorite to one that he treasured more and more with every minute he spent in it. He and Sookie had decided to make it a playroom for their child, but it was currently more like a workroom, housing a piece of furniture that Eric was constructing himself.
Though Eric and Sookie had made all of the decisions regarding the renovations together, she’d allowed Eric “free-reign” in the playroom, and Eric had designed a space that he knew his child would love when he got a little older. Plus, working with the wood had been cathartic for him—so much so that he’d asked Niall for a workspace at his estate too. Currently, Eric was working on a rocking chair during his weekends in the Hamptons.
“Hey,” Milos said from behind him, “that looks really good!”
Eric turned around and smiled at his new guard. Ben had been very understanding when Eric had “stolen” one of his best people. Milos had been looking for a different job for a while, and—thanks to the fact that Sookie had turned out to be an heiress—Eric and she could actually afford him full-time. Milos had—at least for the short-term—moved into the guestroom. His job was to make sure that Debbie Pelt didn’t sneak into Eric and Sookie’s home while they weren’t there. Eric was scared that she might discover the renovations, especially the nursery or his and Sookie’s wedding pictures, and he didn’t want to take any chances. Moreover, he didn’t want Appius to have the opportunity to place any more surveillance devices in his and Sookie’s home. The days of Eric allowing Appius to invade his sanctuary in any way were over.
“There’s some lasagna in the kitchen,” Milos informed. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe.”
Eric smiled at his friend/guard. “Did Sookie call you again and tell you to cook for me?”
Milos shrugged. “She knows I like to cook. And she knows that you sometimes forget to eat when you’re here.”
Eric nodded as he looked at his painting. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Milos chuckled. “And I’ll be back in fifteen when you forget. Seriously, my grandmother’s recipe is not to be missed. And Sookie’s not to be messed with.”
Eric chuckled and looked back at his painting. Though Eric and Sookie had gotten to know Ben’s team at the MET pretty well over the last year or so, Milos had always stood out as a fun person to be around—especially once Eric had started hosting the poker games he used to have once a week. He’d stopped doing that after Sookie had left; in fact, he’d stopped doing most things that could have been considered “living”—except for going to the MET on Sundays. But he was already looking forward to reinstating the poker nights. Tray, who was probably the best poker player in the group, asked him about the games almost weekly.
Tray, Rasul, Calvin, Miranda, and Jarod—most of the guards at Carmichael Tower—had been brought “into the know” about Eric and Sookie’s wedding and the situation with Appius, as well as the duplicity of Debbie Pelt. Eric had also told Ben a bit about the situation—right before he “stole” Milos. And—of course—since he was staying in the house, Milos knew everything, right down to the plans that Eric had made for Johan’s playroom. And Milos was also pretty handy with sandpaper, which made him good help as well as good company.
Eric sighed as he once again looked at the clock. It would be another hour before Debbie left. He covered his paint and beat down the lid before taking his paintbrush to the laundry room to wash it in the utility sink. Then he joined Milos in the kitchen.
The two men argued about the Red Socks versus the Mets and then about the Patriots versus the Giants as they ate. Eric had developed a devotion for the Boston teams, given the fact that he’d gone to school in Massachusetts and Bobby was such a fan of the Boston teams. In fact, it had taken Thalia much effort to help Bobby out of his doldrums when the Celtics lost to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs in early May.
The conversation between Eric and Milos was easy—brotherly even. Eric still couldn’t quite reconcile the “him” that could have a light conversation with Milos with the “him” that could hardly even talk to Bobby two years before.
In that time, he’d changed so much, and looking back, Eric realized that the change had begun even before he’d officially met Sookie—though he’d seen the back of her head and had been captivated by the luster of her hair even before that. Eric remembered well the moment that he felt something inside of himself scream out against Appius. It had been when he saw Freyda de Castro showing off the ring that had once belonged to Grace Northman. That day, something finally broke inside of Eric forever. Maybe it was his hope that Appius would come to care about him. Maybe it was his secret desire to make his father proud—to be a part of the Northman legacy. The ring on Freyda’s finger should have been part of that legacy, but Appius had been trying to use it to steal even more life out of Eric. And—for the first time—Eric had said, “No.” After that moment—even more than after that damned DNA test that had proven Eric’s paternity—things had begun to shift inside of Eric. That moment had made it possible for Eric to approach Sookie in the MET that first night.
Otherwise, he would have been afraid to get too near the sun. Hell—it had taken months for him to muster the courage to ask Sookie for what he really wanted: her heart. He’d already given his to her by then, but he had been too afraid to recognize that too.
But after he did, all of the tiles of his life seemed to make more sense. Sookie was the center. And the group that had grown around them helped to give him things he’d never thought he would have. And then Claudine had helped Eric give names to all the feelings he’d ever experienced. And—in naming them—they had suddenly lost much of their power.
Or—in the case of his positive feelings about Sookie and himself—they had gained power.
Of course, it had been Sookie who had taught him the most important “feeling” of all: home.
“I want him now!” Freyda complained unpleasantly.
Appius sighed as he sipped his scotch. Freyda had shown up at his home unexpectedly—again—and had demanded that he tell Eric to marry her immediately.
“I know,” Appius said, trying to sooth her. “But—as I have told you before—things couldn’t be going better. Eric is ready to take the DNA test as soon as the eighth week of your pregnancy.”
“I’m six weeks along now,” Freyda said becoming slightly less agitated.
“Remember,” Appius urged gently, “you would do well to wait until later. If the child is a boy, a different kind of test will likely be done, and that one would be more conclusive in proving Eric’s paternity.”
Freyda waved Appius’s statement off. “What do I have to worry about? Eric is my child’s father,” she averred.
Appius could tell that Freyda now believed every word she said. He had to hold in his chuckle. Indeed, things were working out perfectly. Freyda certainly thought that Eric and she had conceived a child. And Appius was pretty certain that Eric was beginning to allow for the possibility as well. His press release had made that clear. All that Appius needed to do was bide his time—and hope that Freyda would do the same.
“Just remember,” Appius said cautiously, “we need to do the best test possible. And I wouldn’t want for the baby to be put at risk in any way.” Appius had been told enough by Dr. Sheraton to know that one of the newer paternity tests that could be done at around 8 weeks was completely safe and noninvasive, but Appius wanted for Freyda to stick with the plan to wait until the baby’s gender was known so that they could proceed with more caution.
Freyda sighed. “I know, but I miss Eric, and he won’t come to me until he realizes my child is his.”
“Of course you miss the father of your child,” Appius said sympathetically, feeding her insanity. “But you will have him soon. Eric is nothing if not honorable.”
“Yes—so honorable,” Freyda said wistfully.
“And—in the meantime—you have been planning the nursery. Correct?”
She nodded excitedly. “Yes! It is going to be a wonderland! Eric and I will be using the same person who did Mariah Carey’s baby’s nursery.” She smiled. “Hers cost a million dollars—you know.”
“Consider the nursery a wedding present from me,” Appius said with a smile on his face. “And furnish it to your heart’s content! Just send me the bill.”
At that, Freyda leapt to her feet and ran around Appius’s desk to hug him. “You are so kind to me—and to Eric,” she said.
Appius had to stifle his cringe. Feeling Freyda in his arms again was something he had meant to avoid. He patted her back clinically. “I just want you two kids to find happiness,” he said with a sinister smile on his face.
A/N: Howdy! Thanks for all the comments on the previous chapter. I’m sorry I didn’t get this one to you yesterday—as I’d intended. However, I was working on a PROMO story for Sephrenia’s Fall Banner/Writing Contest! And—surprise, surprise—it ended up being longer than I thought it would be. 😉
If you haven’t checked it out already, the new story is called “My Valkyrie.” And please consider entering Seph’s challenge—or reading/voting once the entries are in. The last contest she ran introduced some wonderful new writers to the fandom—and showcased some of us old-fogies as well.
Up next: Does anyone else hear a baby crying?
Here are some pics of the renovations mentioned.