Chapter 04: Just a Little Pin Prick

A/N:  This chapter takes place one year after the last one.  It occurs one year before Chapter 1.

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Chapter 4: Just a Little Pin Prick 

January 14, 2012

            “Pam was right,” Nora said as much to herself as to Eric.  “She is so fucking odd,” Nora added contemptuously as she looked over Eric’s shoulder at the blonde behind him.  

            “Who?” Eric asked, though he wasn’t really interested in what Nora was saying.  In truth, he was merely keeping an eye on her so that she wouldn’t get drunk.  She’d done a stint at the Betty Ford Center the previous October, but after she got out, she started up her affair with Roman again.  And she’d resumed drinking—though it didn’t seem in excess. 

Yet. 

Eric was just grateful that Nora was no longer taking any of the harder narcotics that had pushed him to convince her to go rehab in the first place.  He sighed.  Nora was prone to excessive behavior—especially when she was dating someone who had a similar personality as her own.  At least, however, she was able to see that she had been losing control of her life when Eric approached her in October after she’d almost fucked up a deal Appius had been working on for months.  At the time, Nora had been dating an up-and-coming male model, who was known as much for his cocaine habit as he was for his abs.  Compared to him, Roman Zimojic was a saint.   

Eric was the only one who knew that Nora’s month-long “vacation” from Northman Publishing was not to a secluded resort on the Riviera, and he’d made sure that her job had been done—and done well—in her absence.  Of course, Appius ‘oversaw’ Eric’s efforts during that time—and offered his requisite criticism—but the patriarch of the Northman family never questioned why Nora left for a month without notice. 

Eric sighed.  He’d expected no different from his father.     

While Nora was in rehab, the model moved on quickly to another rich woman—much to Eric’s relief.  Nora had returned vowing not to get involved in illicit drugs again after the kinds of horror stories she’d heard and the kinds of things she’d seen at Betty Ford.  Eric hoped—for the sake of both his stepsister and the future of NP—that she would be able to keep her vow. 

So far—with the exception of a few drinks here and there—Eric could tell that his stepsister was doing okay, at least at work.  She’d not made any major mistakes since she’d gotten back from rehab; in fact, she seemed to be taking her job as CFO more seriously.  Her temperament also seemed to be more moderate, which was especially welcome. 

Though Nora wasn’t bad at what she did, Eric had realized pretty quickly after she came to work at Northman Publishing that she wasn’t ready to be the CFO of a company the size of NP.  However, she was buffered by a good team, many of whom helped Eric to keep an eye on her.  No one working under Nora would dare to take a complaint about her directly to Appius, whose affection for his stepdaughter was equal only to his love for his infant son.  Thus, any issues regarding Nora were brought to Eric in confidence—outside of the walls of the office, where Appius seemed to be all-knowing.  Happily, the problems had been few and far between since Nora’s time at Betty Ford.

“Eric!” Nora said loudly.  “Are you even listening?”

“No,” he chuckled.  “Sorry.  What were you saying?”

She sighed with frustration, but spoke her next sentence more quietly.  “The strange girl—the one in Pam’s division.”

“Oh,” he said, recalling that Pam had mentioned her to him before as well.  “What about her?” he asked.

“She’s been staring at us for the last ten minutes—like some crazy person.”  Nora gestured toward the other side of the gallery.

Eric glanced over at the girl Nora was referring to. 

His breath hitched. 

There, in almost the exact spot where he had first seen her the year before, was the girl with the hair of gold.  And this time, she was looking back at him with beautiful blue eyes. 

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            As soon as Eric Northman looked at her, Sookie felt as if time had stopped, and for a moment, she was lost in their shared gaze.  However, she soon recovered her wits and purposefully shifted her attention so that it was several yards to the left of Nora and Eric.  She knew that they had caught her looking; hell, she’d been staring in their direction for quite some time.  But she had been waiting for Eric to look at her.  She had wanted to do what she’d not been able to do the year before: to look back.

            Over the years, Sookie had found that if she was caught staring and looked away too quickly, she would only bring more attention to herself, and the last thing that Sookie Stackhouse generally wanted was attention.  Attention always led to her being hurt—always.

            But she had wanted Eric’s attention this time—even if it did hurt her.  She had needed to know something, and that shared look had told her.       

Sookie continued to study Nora and Eric with her peripheral vision.  She couldn’t help but to notice that they made a striking couple, and the gossip in the office was that the two of them had dated on and off for years, despite the fact that they were stepsiblings.  In fact, the office gossip suggested that Nora’s month-long “vacation” had occurred because her heart had been broken when Freyda de Castro announced that she was engaged to Eric—an engagement which Eric adamantly denied in the press the very next day.  The day after that, the gossip magazines had published the transcript of a “stalkerish,” rambling phone message Freyda had left for Eric, as well as several pictures of Freyda caught by surveillance cameras around the building where Eric lived and Northman Tower.

The latest rumors indicated that Eric and Nora were back together, but from what Sookie had seen, Eric’s demeanor toward his stepsister was congenial, but not particularly warm. 

Sookie couldn’t miss the fact that Eric’s sharp blue eyes had studied her for almost a minute before he turned back to his more attractive conversation partner.  But those seconds had been a lot more than Sookie usually got from handsome men.  Oh—who was she kidding?  No man as gorgeous as Eric Northman had ever looked at Sookie for more than a second or two. 

Moreover, the word “handsome” just didn’t cut it for a man like Eric.

Around the office there was a joke about Eric Northman, and all the straight women and gay men enjoyed sharing it over and over again.  Sookie didn’t mind “hearing” it repeated again and again from the lips of the people around her.  After all, it was true. 

It went like this:  On a scale of 1 to 10, Eric Northman would need a bigger fucking scale. 

Sookie kept her eyes focused on the spot she’d picked on the wall near Eric and the striking Nora.  It was a convenient spot since it was right where the most famous Monet in the room was housed–Haystacks.  Eric looked back at her and then followed her gaze to the painting as well.  His lips turned downward slightly into a frown, a move Sookie barely caught because he almost had his back to her when he looked that way.  However, there was a little profile, so she saw that little frown.

haystacks

Sookie couldn’t help but to smile a little at his reaction.  She had to agree.  She didn’t like that particular painting either, but it was an expedient resting place for her eyes since she wouldn’t allow herself to focus on the most beautiful work of art in the room.  And Sookie had seen a lot of art in the past year, so she could now speak with some authority on the matter.

She’d once compared Eric Northman to a Greek statue, but now she knew that there really wasn’t much comparison.  She’d studied every single Greek statue in Gallery 153 and then—for good measure—she’d spent a similar day in Gallery 162, the Roman sculpture court.  And Eric’s form put every single one of the statues in both of those galleries to utter shame.    

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Eric glanced back at the young woman after seeing which painting she’d been looking at.  He couldn’t help but to notice the tiny smile playing on her lips.  And he had done enough stealthy watching in his time to know that the blonde was still looking at him despite the trajectory of her direct vision.   

“What do you mean odd?” Eric asked his companion, even though he wished that Nora would just disappear so that he could approach the woman, whose hair had appeared in many of his dreams during the previous year.  In those dreams, he’d been trying to find her—but all he’d ever seen were glimpses of her golden hair. 

“Pam says that she never really talks to anyone—at least not beyond business.”

“Well—NP is a business, Nora,” Eric smirked.  “What is she supposed to do?  Gossip all day long?”

Nora shrugged.  “According to Pam, she’s always staring at and studying people.  Pam thinks she’s a little ‘off,’ and I agree.  I mean—why else would she stare like that?”

“Well, we all know how Pam likes to blow things out of proportion,” Eric said, shrugging off his stepsister’s obvious distaste for the blonde who intrigued him so much that his heart was literally in his fucking throat.

The brunette scoffed and looked back at the girl with disdain.  For her part, the blonde kept her eyes on Monet’s Haystacks

“I don’t think Pam is blowing things out of proportion—not after seeing her here today.  Not after the weird way she was looking at us,” Nora commented.  “For fuck’s sake!  She’s at a party and she hasn’t even talked to anyone.”

“Well—not everyone likes parties, Nora.”

“It’s a company party at the MET!” Nora said.  “And we are in the publishing business.  Who doesn’t want to schmooze and booze with people that can help their careers?  Anyway, Pam hates it when she has to work with the girl—Susanna, I think Pam said her name was.  She says that talking to her is like pulling teeth.  She’s fucking anti-social.”

“Well, why doesn’t Pam just fire her then?” Eric asked, looking back at the girl, this time trying to draw her eyes to his so he could fully see them again.    

However, the girl didn’t take the bait; if anything, her eyes moved farther from his, though he would swear that she was still looking at Nora and himself. 

“Because,” Nora replied in a hushed voice, “according to Pam, she’s the best and most efficient copy editor the company has ever seen.  And her clients love her.”

“Then she can’t be that antisocial,” Eric commented keeping his eyes on Susanna and testing the name in his mind.  “Susanna” didn’t seem to fit the singular creature he was looking at, nor did “Susan” or “Sue” or “Suzy” or “Anna” or any other nickname he could derive from the name.   

“She works with them via email mostly,” Nora said. 

“Well—that’s how the majority of our copy editors do things these days, Nora.”

“Well—I still think there’s something off about her,” Nora commented.

Eric shrugged.  With difficulty, he turned his attention away from Susanna and began to talk to Nora about other things, though he kept an eye on her.

“Eric, I was hoping to see you here,” came Freyda’s voice from behind him.  Her words and tone were meant to sound like a seductive greeting, but they made Eric’s skin crawl.     

“Strange,” Eric said, turning around to face her and trying to keep from openly cringing, “I was hoping that you wouldn’t be here.”

She sighed.  “Had you just married me as your father counseled, none of that unpleasantness would have happened.  Just think about it—the two biggest publishing houses in New York could have been united through us.”  She brought her hand up to his lapel and flattened it on his chest, an act that clearly made Eric uncomfortable. 

He stepped back, causing her hand to drop, before stepping toward her again, this time with his hands in a defensive position—ready to bat down any more attempts she might make to touch him. 

He spoke to her in a barely audible, clipped tone.  “You and I fucked exactly two times, which was one more time than the number of dates that we had.  And had I known that you would become a stalker, following me to both my place of work and my home, not to mention the phone calls, I would have never fucked you in the first place.  You need to get over this, Freyda.”

“Eric, what we had was precious—special,” she insisted, even as she sneered at Nora, who had stepped back a few paces.

“What we had was a total of about three hours almost a year ago.”

“We were engaged,” she insisted.

“Freyda, just because you went to my father and he agreed with your insanity doesn’t mean that I did.”

“You humiliated me,” she said, sniffling a little and wiping tears from her eyes. 

Eric could tell that they were crocodile tears.

“You humiliated yourself,” Eric shook his head pityingly.  “Listen—I’m sorry that my father made you promises on my behalf, but you and I are never going to happen.”

“Why not?  We’re perfect together,” she persisted.

“Name one goddamned thing we had in common other than a completely forgettable orgasm or two?”

She laughed incredulously.  “We have a lot in common.  We both come from the right kind of family.  Just think of the empire we’d have,” she said, her eyes wide.

He shook his head.  “You’re nuts,” he whispered.  “And if I see you following me again, I will have you arrested.  I can’t imagine your daddy would want that scandal on top of the last one.”

She glared at him.  “You can’t just sleep with someone and discard them.”

“You knew what we were doing,” he hissed.  “I made that clear before I even touched you.”

“You just don’t see the truth right now,” Freyda said insistently.  “But someday, you’ll come running to me, Eric.  I’m your father’s choice, and I know that you’ll eventually see how things should be.”

Eric shook his head.  “If you’re Appius’s choice, why don’t you just wait around a few years?  By then, he’ll probably be ready for another wife.”

Freyda huffed and turned on her heel to walk away. 

“No wonder the odd little blond girl doesn’t faze you,” Nora deadpanned when she moved so that she was next to him again.  “You’ve had to deal with crazy Freyda for a year.”

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Sookie sighed and tried not to let the conversations she’d “overheard” bother her too much.  She’d been able to read people’s lips since she was a little girl, but it wasn’t always a good idea to “listen.”  It was just a hard habit to break. 

As soon as the woman, whom Sookie recognized from the tabloids as Freyda de Castro, had interrupted Nora and Eric’s conversation, Sookie moved so that she could more clearly see both Freyda’s and Eric’s mouths. 

She hated to admit it, but for the last year, she had often found herself looking for Eric at Northman Publishing, though she’d not actually seen him that much.  He’d been to her department only a couple of times so that he could meet with Sam.  Pam’s office—though on Sookie’s floor—was actually on the other side of the building with the main editing team.  The copy editors kind of stayed to themselves. 

On even rarer occasions, Sookie had seen Eric in the staff café at Northman Publishing or in the large auditorium when there were meetings that involved the entire staff.  During those gatherings, she would observe that Eric would stay out of the limelight and keep to the corner of the room.  His eyes seemed to take in almost everything, but she’d gone out of her way to make sure they’d never fallen on her—not until ten minutes before, that is.   

Sookie had been—for lack of a better word—captivated by thoughts of Eric during the previous year.  The way he studied his surroundings and the slightly lost look she saw when she really studied him drew her in and frightened her away all at once. 

She couldn’t name what she felt when she saw him.  And she also couldn’t explain her contradictory impulses.  Her feelings scared her, even as she wanted desperately to feel them more. 

When she saw Eric’s lips berating Freyda for stalking him, she felt slightly ashamed, knowing that she had been doing something comparable—though certainly not to the same degree as Freyda.  But Sookie did “look” for him, and when she saw him, she watched without his knowing. 

Sookie sighed.  Maybe she was “crazy,” as Nora had said.  But—then again—her interest in Eric seemed like the least crazy thing in her life sometimes.  After all, everyone seemed interested in him. 

Sookie could point to several moments in her life that had been pivotal—that in retrospect had made more difference than any others.  Strangely, they were always her lowest moments—the ones when she wondered if she should just give up, but something had always stopped her. 

The year before, that “something” had been Eric Northman.  She hadn’t met him, and she’d not even exchanged eye contact with him the year before, but he had unwittingly changed her life.  There was something about him that seemed so familiar to her—like she was looking into a mirror when she saw him. 

And that confused her.  After all, they came from radically different worlds, and they would likely never meet—never speak.  But when she got back to Amelia’s house after last January’s NP party and thought about the way that Eric had surveyed the gallery when he thought no one was looking, she had realized a fundamental truth: she wasn’t alone.

She didn’t know why Eric’s eyes were like hers—why they held the same mixture of guardedness and neutrality when others were looking and pain and longing when they were not, but the important thing was that they were like hers.  She’d never found a connection like that before, and—though it had taken her a year to discover enough courage to test it—she now knew that it was real.  And it was not one-sided.

She’d only been able to do it for a moment, but she had looked at him.  Just as importantly, she’d let him look at her—let him see her eyes without her safeguards in place.  But that was all it had taken to show him that he wasn’t alone either.

Connection.  It was sometimes almost impossible to find, but once found, it could make all the difference in the world.

Sookie closed her eyes for a moment in order to make sure that she’d taken an accurate mental image of Eric’s eyes when they’d stared into hers.  She had.  They were a perfect blend of cerulean and cobalt—with just a touch of steel blue.  She wanted to gaze into them for hours in order to pick out every single shade and memorize every single line. 

But that was not one of her goals for the evening. 

She thought of the list of three goals that she and Claudine had formulated and discussed the week before at their therapy session.

Sookie had met Claudine Crane via her housemate Amelia.  Claudine was Amelia’s best friend and had visited the house in Brooklyn several times.  The perceptive psychologist had handed Sookie her card one day when she was waiting for Amelia to get ready.  At the time, Sookie had been trying to be a good hostess, channeling what she thought Gran would do in a similar situation.  She had gotten Claudine a glass of iced tea, had spoken to her about the weather, and had even managed to smile without it seeming too fake—or so she had thought.

Claudine had—without pity in her eyes—given Sookie the card and told her to come by her office some Tuesday after 5:00 since she always stayed late to get caught up on paperwork that day.  It had taken Sookie exactly twenty weeks after that to compel herself to go.  At first, she’d worried that Amelia had told Claudine that she was “odd.”  And then she had worried about what she could say to Claudine. 

Just four weeks before, however, right before the year anniversary of Dr. Dekker’s death, Sookie had shown up at Claudine’s office.  

During their first meeting, Claudine had asked about Sookie’s job.  She’d asked about Sookie’s hobbies.  Sookie had told her about visiting the MET on Sundays and going to the public library on Saturdays.  Claudine had asked about Sookie’s Master’s degree, which she’d finished the spring before.  Sookie had volunteered that she was going to be staying in New York for Christmas, which was the following Sunday.  She admitted that she was sad because the MET would be closed that day.  She’d told Claudine that she was planning to make a batch of Gran’s chicken dumplings on Christmas day since they took a long time to prepare and since Amelia would be out of town for a week, beginning that Friday.  Again—without pity in her eyes—Claudine had asked Sookie to bring her some leftovers the next Tuesday. 

Thus far, they had met three other times—every Tuesday.  After the first meeting, Sookie had asked to pay like anyone else, and Claudine had made sure that a bill was waiting for her the next week.

A month’s worth of counseling hadn’t yielded any sweeping breakthroughs or existential epiphanies.  What it had yielded, however, were practical measures, a lot of questions, and some answers. 

During their second meeting, Claudine had asked Sookie what she wanted most in her life.  And Sookie had said the first thing that came to her mind: connection.

Claudine had asked Sookie if she thought she deserved to make connections with others.  Sookie had answered that she didn’t. 

Claudine had asked Sookie if it mattered if she deserved the make connections.  Sookie had answered that she didn’t know. 

Claudine had asked Sookie if she’d ever had a true connection with anyone.  Sookie had asked if the other person had to know about it for the connection to count. 

And then Sookie had told Claudine about Eric and the unexplainable bond she felt with him.  From that, Goal #1 had been born for the NP party: to catch Eric Northman’s eye and see if the connection went both ways. 

Goal #2 was for Sookie to practice talking to people socially—to see if she could begin to make other kinds of connections.  Claudine had reminded Sookie that she’d already had a lot of practice with Amelia, who considered Sookie to be a friend.  Sookie had been shocked by that revelation, but she had also been bolstered by it.

Goal #3 was to try to stop her mother’s voice from being the dominant one in her brain while she was at the party.  Sookie was all too acutely aware that it was Michelle Stackhouse’s voice that determined the way that she operated in most high-pressure situations.  Michelle had always insisted that Sookie “be normal,” even as she’d berated her for not being that way.

Claudine had asked Sookie to define “normal.” 

Sookie had answered that to be “normal” was to be invisible. 

Again—without pity—Claudine had suggested that “normalcy” was actually a huge spectrum of behaviors and that fitting in and standing out could both belong in that spectrum.  She suggested that Sookie’s goal—to make connections—was perfectly “normal,” for instance.     

She’d also suggested that if Sookie did feel a deep connection with Eric that she should try to initiate a conversation with him.  Sookie wasn’t so sure she’d be able to do that, but she promised both Claudine and herself that—at the very least—she would practice speaking with others.

As Eric wrapped up his conversation with the apparently very delusional Freyda de Castro, Sookie was once again a little scared that she was somewhat crazy for fixating on an individual just because she’d almost shared a moment with him the year before—“almost” being the operative word.

She’d shared that fear with Claudine several times during their session on the previous Tuesday.  But the therapist had allayed Sookie’s fears, telling her that nothing she’d done in regards to Eric had been wrong.  All that she was guilty of was spotting someone for whom she felt a sense of understanding.  However, Claudine had cautioned that what Sookie had felt might just be one-sided and that she should be prepared if Eric was indifferent. 

Sookie smiled a little.  Eric had been anything but indifferent when he’d looked at her.  He’d been curious.  He’d been intrigued.  He’d been surprised.

His eyes had been kind.

Sookie slipped out of Gallery 819, feeling a lot more confident than she’d entered it.  Goal #1 was completed.  Thus, she resolved to work on Goal #2.  Sookie had decided to go in search of Sam Merlotte, her boss.  He had been nice to her during her year at Northman Publishing, though it was clear that she made him feel a little uncomfortable at times—mostly because he had to deal with the complaints that poured in about her from the others in her department.  Arlene and her minions had—in the last year—taken it upon themselves to complain about Sookie’s “peculiar ways” to anyone who would listen. 

Sookie was just glad that she still had a job, though she was always nervous that the other shoe would drop—likely in the form of one of Pamela Northman’s expensive pumps.  Sookie figured that the only reason she still worked at NP was because Sam had advocated for her several times.  She knew that she was an excellent copy editor, but she also knew that she wasn’t important enough to be indispensable. 

As Sookie looked around Gallery 800, she recalled the articles that Claudine had given to her about mingling.  All she had to do was approach a group of people, smile, and say hello.

“Easier said than done,” Sookie thought to herself.  

Sookie had spent hours memorizing a list of topics she could discuss at the party, everything from recent newspaper articles related to publishing, to new trends in fashion, to how the New York Giants were faring in the NFL playoffs.  And, of course, she knew that she could talk about the art in any of the galleries where the party was being held.  Sookie had grown to love the MET, and she was quite familiar with many of the galleries since she spent every Sunday there.  The first ones she’d studied had been the Northman Galleries, starting with the Monet gallery where she’d first seen Eric, Gallery 819. 

Sookie tried to calm her nerves.  Unlike the previous year, she had been able to look the part of a young woman at an important publishing party.  She was wearing a simple black sheath dress with a pleated neckline that provided full coverage for her modest breast-size.  The garment neither accentuated nor hid her curves. 

Sookie had chosen the dress because the pleats made it look a little unique—but not too different—and because it was a bit longer than a lot of cocktail dresses.  She’d bought it two months before when Sam had pressured her to take a few of the vacation days that she’d accumulated so that she wouldn’t lose them.  So Sookie had spent two whole days looking for something appropriate that she could afford.  She had even found some black Jimmy Choos in a secondhand store.  They’d been scuffed, but she had used shoe polish to make them presentable.  Of course, the name brand had made the shoes cost 100 dollars despite their wear, but Sookie had splurged once she realized how comfortable the shoes were. 

Another reason she’d spent a bit more on the dress and shoes than she’d originally planned was because they could also be worn to work if she paired them with her charcoal gray suit jacket.  Given the fact that the money she allowed herself to spend was still quite limited, Sookie had to stretch every penny.  But her savings account was looking better and better, and she was able to send Gran three hundred dollars a month, so Sookie couldn’t really complain.       

The only piece of her outfit that could be construed as anything other than conservative was the scarf she was wearing around her neck.  Sookie had debated all day about whether she should wear it.  It was impractical for the cold temperature outside, but Sookie loved it.  It had been the color—a soft red—that had drawn her to it.  It was very thin and made of delicate creped silk chiffon, and she’d bought it in the same secondhand shop where she’d found the shoes, but she’d not had occasion to wear it yet, so she finally decided to just go for it.    

Sookie's dress

Sookie smoothed out her dress and took a deep breath, deciding that she would get a drink and then find Sam.

She walked toward the opposite side of the long room and then into the hallway where an open bar was set up; however, she was at a bit of a loss at first as she scanned the many bottles of expensive-looking liquor. 

“What can I get you?” asked the friendly voice of the bartender. 

“Um,” she fumbled a little even as she remembered that most people were walking around with cocktails or champagne.  She was not overly fond of mixed drinks, and the one time she’d had champagne, it had given her a headache.  It wasn’t that Sookie didn’t like a drink now and then; however, she preferred wine or beer.  But she didn’t see those options. 

“How about one of our signature cocktails?” the bartender offered helpfully.  “It’s basically a gin and tonic with a little raspberry juice.”

“Thanks,” she said, grateful for the man’s help.  “That sounds good.”  She’d had a gin and tonic before and had liked it, so that choice seemed safe enough.

The bartender just nodded and quickly went to work on her drink.  Sookie gave the man a smile for his efforts when he handed the beverage to her.  She took a quick sip of the liquid courage and then went back into Gallery 800, in which most of the party guests were congregated since it was the largest of the Northman Galleries. 

Sookie forced herself to smile a little and then to keep that expression in place.  She’d been told by her mother many times that the fake smile that she had used for most of her life made her look like she was “crazy,” but Claudine’s articles said that it was important to seem to be welcoming and friendly and that a smile would accomplish those things.   

When Sookie had discussed with Claudine her fears over her “Joker smile”—as her mother had called it—Claudine had suggested that Sookie try to think of something that made her happy and then to smile at that.  Sookie had planned to think about her time exploring the MET during the previous year.  Doing that always made her feel content.

However, all she could think about now were Eric’s eyes.  His orbs had been deeper than any she had ever seen, yet it still seemed as if what she saw was only the tip of a huge iceberg peeking out of the water.  She found herself smiling softly and naturally as she thought about what lie under the surface.  She intuited that it was that which was making her feel connected to him.    

Her smile in place, Sookie spotted Sam, who was talking to Pamela Northman, whom everyone called Pam—at least to her face.  Behind her back, people called her a lot of things, and very few of them were flattering.  However, Pam seemed to like all of the negative monikers about her.  In fact, Sookie knew for sure that Pam’s current favorite was “the blood sucker.”  She’d picked up that information from Pam’s own lips earlier that very evening as she’d been laughing with Sophie-Anne, whom Sookie knew was Appius Northman’s wife.

Sookie bolstered her courage and decided to approach Sam anyway—even though Pam was with him.  She determined that she would talk to both of them.  After all, they all worked in the same place, and Sookie had seen the dress that Pam was wearing in one of Amelia’s fashion magazines.  Sookie decided that she could comment about that if no other topics came to mind.  And she already had a topic to speak to Sam about: Luna and he were due to have a child soon.

Pam's Dress

However, Sookie stopped in her tracks when she automatically began to read the words from Pam’s lips; they were words about her, and even though Sookie could see only the profiles of the pair, she could still “listen” easily. 

“Then—you need to give Susanna a workspace out of the way of everyone else,” Pam said.  “There are just too many complaints about her.  I know that you don’t want to have to fire her, but I will do it for you if the complaints don’t stop.  The HR department informed me just yesterday that a second official grievance has been filed by Arlene Fowler.”

“What for this time?” Sam asked.

“A hostile work environment,” Pam responded.

“I don’t understand,” Sam said, looking frustrated.  “Susan does her job; in fact, she does it very well.  You can’t let a bunch of bullies sway you.”

Pam sighed.  “Listen, Sam.  I know you and that wife of yours collect stray animals, but don’t you think it’s time for you to let this one go?  Granted—Arlene and her little groupies are like a clique from a bad high school movie, but I can’t exactly blame them for being uncomfortable around Susanna—can you?” Pam asked.  “I don’t even have to deal with her that often, and I find her off-putting.” 

“Susan’s just a little shy,” Sam defended weakly.  “But she’s the best copy editor I’ve ever seen.” 

Pam sneered. 

Sookie prepared herself to “hear” something she didn’t want to hear.  Pam wasn’t known for her kindness; she was known for being blunt. 

“That’s part of the problem,” Pam said.  “She’s too good—too efficient.  So the others are intimidated and jealous.  And then there’s the way she just stares at things as if she’s in another world or just escaped from a fucking loony bin.  If you want her to keep her job at NP, then you need to—I don’t know—hide her.  Put her into a goddamned storage closet or a fucking corner for all I care!  But do something about it, Merlotte.  I don’t want to see or hear another complaint about her.  If I do, I’ll take care of it myself.” 

Still about fifteen feet from Sam and Pam, Sookie turned on her heel before they saw her.  The last thing she needed was to be caught staring at them now.  All of her courage evaporated in an instant, and her mother’s voice—ordering her into the corner and telling her that she was defective—was all that she could hear. 

Sookie’s breath caught in her throat, even as she tried to expel her mother’s voice from her head, using some of the techniques that Claudine had taught her.  They weren’t working. 

She shook her head and stood awkwardly in the middle of the long room.  The party was in full swing, and everyone was talking in groups—little circles of people gossiping or networking or flirting.

None of them were alone.  Except her.

“You don’t belong at a party for ‘normal’ people,” Michelle Stackhouse’s voice said into her head as if she were standing right next to her.

Sookie couldn’t agree more.

She felt her feet moving.  It took her a moment to realize where she was going.

Back to Gallery 819.  Back to find Eric.

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A/N:  Thanks to everyone who wrote in last time with a review or a comment!  I really appreciate all the support!

Also, I want to give a special thanks for everyone who voted for Come Back to Me in the Fangies!  The winners were announced today, and I was honored to receive 2nd place in all the categories in which I was entered.  And given the quality of everyone nominated, I was very pleased with that outcome!  And should the winner not be able to fulfill his/her duties, I will step in and take the crown and … oh wait.  Sorry.  That’s the wrong speech.  😉

Again, thanks for the voters and the organizers of the Fangies!!!!!

New Character Banners by Seph

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17 thoughts on “Chapter 04: Just a Little Pin Prick

  1. I loved this chapter. It is so hard to “push”yourself into social situations. Most people that I know don’t realize how I struggle to enter a room full of people. My throat closes up and my heart will race. I do great with Kidd and older people but my peers..I have learned how to make myself sociable but it takes thought and effort. I tend to chatter when nervous and can seem to be deranged or lime a cheerleader on crack.

    1. Thanks, Padore. I think it is more common than is thought that people have anxiety in social situations. And Sookie’s past really influences her abilities to interact too. Thanks for sharing your personal story.
      XOXO
      Kat

  2. great chapter, she has a lot of demons and her Mom is the root of those demons. i like that Sam was trying to stick up for her and Pam was being Pam .Arelens is still a bitch . i feel for Sookie i really do, she seems so lonely and her oddity is a plus in my books, i would gladly be her friend Kristie

  3. I just can’t help feeling bad for Sookie – I’ve been through horrible situations like this with coworkers. Gah – nothing like an office full of women who would rather spend their days cruelly tearing apart another person instead of doing their jobs! So, so glad I was forced into early retirement & now just work from home! These women Sookie works with are brutal, even Pam who’s supposed to be above office gossip & such, wants to fire her just for being odd? Seems Sookie has more grounds for making a claim regarding a hostile work environmet instead of Arlene. Love Melanie Griffith as Michele Stackhouse – perfect!

    1. I think that bullying is probably more common in the workplace than we think. It’s sad but true. And Pam is sort of being “Pam” here–in that unfeeling way she has about her. But we all know there’s a lot more to Pam when you start peeling layers. And–indeed–if Sookie were the kind of person who could fire back at the bullies, she definitely could. Hmmm….maybe she’ll learn how to…. 😉

      I’m glad you like Melanie as Michelle. It just seemed to “fit.” I “cast” her because she was the person I “saw” as I wrote.

      That’s how I often “cast.”

      I don’t “dislike” the actors I cast into unlikeable roles. In fact, sometimes I love them. I can’t say I love Melanie Griffith. I haven’t seen her much lately, and all I can criticize her for is too much plastic surgery. But back in the day (as my students would vaguely say), I loved her in “Working Girl.” Or did I just love Han Solo? (I mean Harrison Ford.)

      Kat

  4. The office bullying happens a lot. A lot of Young women,especially those in their 20s, think they need to stab others in the back to get ahead. I went through that several times when I worked in corporate. I think it is less prevalent in women in their 30s & 40s because women start families and have other obligations outside of the office. As for social anxiety, I have always suffered from that to an extent. When I am depressed or emotionally hurt, I tend to pull away from everyone. Sookie was not loved by the one person who should have loved her unconditionally. She has withdrawn from a world that never gave her the love and encouragement she needed. I get that. It is soooo hard to put yourself back out there. There is the chance at making a connection, but their is the chance of being disappointed again. Sometimes it seems safer and easier to just hide yourself away.

    1. Sadly, all too true. I’ve experienced the same, and I’m very happy to have left that world to freelance. Office bullying is something I never beieved could happen in the “adult” world until I became the target of it. I finally realized, after years of tolerating so much, one is not handed their “mature” card at 18; maturity comes with experience & wisdom, not age. Now my social anxiety has evolved into a “just don’t bother me” attitude. I no longer suffer from it. I enjoy where I’m at & couldn’t care less about others & their crazy. I’ve recovered, I’m happy, I remarried, and life couldn’t be more wonderful. Self-preservation is more important than working to please others.

  5. Oh, I knew this fic was going to be an angst fest, but I didn’t expect it to break my heart! I had been having a hard time starting this because the first chapter is so incredibly sad, but I soldiered on and read the first couple chapters, and now I’m hooked in spite of the knowledge that I will probably be crying at the end of every chapter. I did cheer at hearing Sookie is talking to Claudine – I’m a mental health advocate, and I think everyone could use a therapy session at some point in their life. I just want this Sookie to have a support system! I’m sure Lafayette could find a drag bar to work at in New York! Can that happen? Please?

  6. I just started to read this last night. I’m really enjoying it. I don’t know if anyone has asked this before. I was wondering Out of all the people that work there at NP, not one person has talked to Sookie? Or tried to be her friend?

  7. I feel so bad for her. I just want to give her a hug. Your writing is so convincing. I give her much credit for even showing up at these parties or work for that matter. It’s so hard to do.

  8. I apologize it’s taken me till chapter 4 to write; I am enjoying this story. The all human story is what drew me in (I was in the mood for a less supey story) starting it in the present w/ these two already love tore is what drew me in secondly. They layers just keep coming! Thanks for the visual family tree and other helpful guides to give us easy access to your world; it looks like you put a lot of thought and hard work into it.

    It’s so inconceivable that Sookie could loose her job for doing it well but not being a social gamer; I say inconceivable but I mean that I hate that that’s the world we live in. Good for Sam to be in her corner and obviously Eric will eventually see her worth as well next up is Pam.

    So far all of your incarnations are believable and great with all their flaws. Can’t wait to keep reading this story not to mention the two other sequels!!

  9. so sad to read about sookie’s situation, hope it improves soon!….perhaps with a little help from a certain someone!!

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