“I don’t want you to do this,” Sookie said firmly.
“I know,” Eric said for the thousandth time. “I don’t want to do it either, but I have to.” He sighed. “I could be wrong—you know? This feeling that I have—it could be nothing. Grace could be sincere.”
Sookie shook her head. “Or she could be baiting you with promises of acceptance; it could be some kind of trap—emotional or otherwise,” she said, stroking his cheek with her fingers.
“I know,” he said.
The couple was a block and a half from the home that had belonged to the Northman family since the 1880s. Agent Batanya had given them a moment of privacy in the back of the FBI van that was acting as the command center for the operation that was about to occur.
As a precaution, Eric had already been fitted with a wire and a bulletproof vest. When he’d gotten off the phone with his grandmother the night before, he’d been hopeful for a reconciliation. However, he’d woken up during the early hours of the morning due to Johan’s loud crying and yelling. His son had never cried like that before—never. It had taken Eric more than two hours to calm him down—so long that he’d thought about calling the doctor. However, Johan had had no fever.
He’d seemed physically fine. If anything, it seemed as if the tiny child had been awoken by a nightmare. As Eric had walked him around the house over and over again, his own mind had revisited his phone conversation with his grandmother. And as he’d replayed it again and again, something began to nag at him: possibility.
Appius used to lure him in—to control him—with the possibility of love and acceptance. And Eric had always gravitated toward that possibility like a moth to a flame. Could Grace be doing the same thing? Could she be trying to manipulate him—to hurt him emotionally and/or physically? Could her promises of reconciliation and love be as toxic as his father’s had been? Could she be as lethal—as suicidal or as homicidal—as he had been in the end?
Or was she being sincere?
He sighed. His grandmother had spent years showing him nothing but coldness and derision. He wanted to believe—desperately wanted to believe—that she was contrite.
And that she loved him.
However, as he worked to calm Johan, he recalled his own recent nightmares, which involved memories of his father holding his child and his wife at gunpoint. They involved searing pain from gunshot wounds tearing through his flesh—tearing through their flesh.
By the time Johan had settled down, Eric knew two things for sure. First, he was going to give Grace a chance—even though she didn’t deserve his forgiveness. He needed to do it for himself more than for her. Second, he didn’t trust Grace; he wouldn’t trust her.
For hours after the child had finally drifted back to sleep, Eric had held Johan in the rocking chair he’d built with his own hands.
And he’d let his mind drift.
The previous Sunday—the day after the NP party—he and Sookie had visited the MET. Since Bill had been spotted in the area the night before, they’d left Johan with Mormor and Niall, who were still staying with Claudine. But they’d not wanted to skip their Sunday, and they’d slipped into the museum unseen thanks to Ben. Miranda had shadowed them, and Ben had sent a guard to do the same.
Their gallery for the week had been number 231, which was full of Japanese art, including many prints.
Eric had liked the clear lines of the art, while Sookie had enjoyed the whimsical nature of some of the pieces. Their favorite piece had been “Various Moths and Butterflies,” a woodblock print by Kubo Shunman.
Since they didn’t want to risk being out in the open in the park, Ben had let them eat lunch in an empty gallery, where they shared what they knew about the differences between moths and butterflies. Sookie knew that moths tended to be nocturnal, while butterflies were diurnal, meaning that they were active during the day. Eric knew that moths tended to spread their wings while at rest, while butterflies normally rested with their wings folded together. Using their phones, they’d read more about the differences between moths and butterflies. Sookie had giggled when Eric told her that he thought she was a butterfly, while he was a moth.
Sitting with Johan and looking out the window toward the Hudson, Eric felt acutely like a moth. He’d always left his wings open—left himself exposed to the volleys of his enemies. And Grace had been his enemy—just as much as Appius had—for more than a quarter of a century.
Had she stopped being an enemy? Eric realized it didn’t matter.
Regardless of Grace’s motives, it was time for him to close his wings—to protect himself and to enfold his family in safety. It was time for him to snuff out the flame, instead of to touch it.
That realization had led him to call Kate Batanya at 4:00 a.m., and that call had led Sookie and him to where they were now.
Sookie squeezed his hand. “I don’t want you to go in there,” she reiterated. “I can’t lose you.”
He sighed and laid his hand against her cheek. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. But this all needs to end—one way or another. I don’t want us to be afraid for the rest of our lives. I don’t want Bill Compton to hang over us like a specter. And if my grandmother is helping him—though God knows I hope she’s not—then that needs to end too.”
“I almost lost you once,” Sookie whispered. “I won’t do it again. I can’t.”
“That’s why I have this on,” Eric said, tapping the vest that was concealed under his suit. “And that’s why Kate has agents watching the house from all angles.”
“I know, but,” Sookie stopped for a moment and stifled a sob, “what if Grace does something to hurt you before Kate can get inside? I need you. Our son needs you.”
“And you’ll have me,” Eric promised. “Anyway, this might be much ado about nothing—just my overactive imagination.”
Sookie shook her head. “I don’t think that’s true.”
“I don’t either,” he admitted. “The only thing that’s been too good to be true in my life is sitting in front of me.”
Sookie leaned forward and kissed him as if it might be the last time she would ever see him.
For a fleeting moment, Eric wondered if it would be. When they finally pulled away from each other, he just looked at her, wondering if he should take the risk at all. But seeing his wife’s beautiful face looking at him with fear-filled eyes, he knew that the risk was worth taking. Whatever happened to him, he needed to be assured of one thing: that neither Grace nor Bill nor anyone else could purposely harm Sookie—or their child.
Eric closed his eyes. Grace had wanted him to bring Johan. Thus, if harm was her intent, then his tiny son had been one of her targets. And if that was the case, then Eric was determined to take the bitch out of the equation once and for all! Or—if Grace had, indeed, changed her ways—then he owed it to his child to heal the remaining rifts in their family.
“I’m going to be okay,” he promised his wife, trying to will truth into his words. “Miranda and Milos are going in there with me, and Kate will be only a heartbeat away.”
Sookie pulled his hand over her own heart. “You aren’t a heartbeat away from me, Eric,” she said. “My heart is you.”
“As you are mine,” he whispered, placing her other hand over his heart. “It will be okay, Sookie. I’m not going to leave you or Johan.”
“Okay,” she whimpered. “Just be careful, and if your phone buzzes,” she started.
“I’ll duck and cover,” he said, trying to smirk.
“You’d better,” she ordered.
As Eric left the van, Sookie closed her eyes and prayed that no lives would be lost—that Eric would be safe. That Grace was telling the truth and meant them no harm.
She had no way of knowing that it was already too late for God to answer her first prayer. And—in mere moments—her second prayer would be denied too, for Grace did mean him harm and her husband would be anything but safe.
There were 86,400 seconds in a day—86,400 moments in which a life could be taken. On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, six entwined individuals took lives. Two killed out of loyalty. One killed out of duty. Two were motivated to kill out of hatred. And one killed for love. However, no matter how pure or impure the motive, it didn’t change the fact that six people stopped breathing that crisp January day.
The first died at second number 57,900.
The second was lost at second number 65,460.
The next was gunned down at second number 65,463.
Another died at second number 65,821.
The fifth was killed at second number 65,890.
And the last fell dead onto the cold marble floor of Grace Northman’s foyer at second number 65,941.
A/N: Well, dear readers, things are about to come to a head in this story. And—yes—you read that last part correctly. Before I’m done, six people will have been killed. Care to guess who will die? And who will kill them?
LONG RANT ALERT! I got quite a few “guest” reviews after the last chapter. More than one person indicated that if I let Eric get hurt in the confrontation with Grace, they would stop reading. Part of me “gets” this inclination. I know that Eric’s already had to survive the violence of his father, but I would hope that people who’d read for 2 parts, plus 37 chapters of the 3rd, would go ahead and finish—would give me the benefit of the doubt that I have a satisfactory ending in mind—since there are only 3 more chapters + an epilogue. But your choice to read is always that—yours. And I respect that.
Much more head-scratching for me were the TEN LONG anonymous reviews (probably written by the same person) which condemned Eric for being a “pussy” and me for “de-balling” the character of Eric worse than Charlaine Harris ever had. This reviewer also shared that he/she couldn’t believe that he/she had continued reading this “never-ending” story for this long. Again, you are the one choosing to read, so you’ll get no pity from me on that point. LOL! What I will argue about is the notion that Eric is somehow weak because he wants love from his grandmother. Geez! We ALL know that Grace, even if she were being sincere, doesn’t deserve a chance to reconcile with Eric, but this is NOT for Grace. It’s for Eric. And in my world, the ability to forgive when forgiveness isn’t deserved is a sign of strength—not weakness. Is Eric weak because he wants his grandmother to love him? NO! I think he’s pretty brave! Moreover, in the last chapter we were witnessing Eric’s initial reaction to his grandmother’s call.
I know from personal experience that the first reaction of an adult who has survived childhood abuse is often to “go back” to the reaction felt as a child. As a child, Eric longed for love and acceptance. The adult Eric, who has been in therapy with Claudine and who has become a husband and father, STILL wants love and acceptance. But he’s also learned that he cannot sacrifice himself to get it! It just took him a while to get to that realization. As someone who was mentally abused as a kid, I can tell you that my “default” reaction to any kind of denigration is to “shrink until I feel two inches tall.” But then I take a moment to remember that the scars of my abuse can be just that—scars instead of open wounds. I take a moment to consider my response—to take all that I’ve learned about my strengths and weakness since my abuse ended. And then I remember that I can change my outlook and control my further reaction. But the initial reaction? Well—I’d imagine that many survivors of abuse can tell you that that’s hard to stifle or to change.
Anyway, we see in this chapter that Eric’s realized that caution with Grace is needed. To me, this is another sign of his strength—another sign that his recovery from his childhood abuse is still going strong. For those who still consider him at weak? I can only say that you and I have a VERY different definition of weakness—which is your right. But—please—stop with the dumbassery of anonymous reviews (unless—I suppose—that’s how you deal with your own anger issues). You are—at this point—writing in a vacuum. After reading a fraction of the first LONG diatribe, I deleted the subsequent ones after “recognizing the gist.” Your words aren’t going to see the light of day on ff.net. They have already been deleted. And, honestly, they aren’t flattering—for you.