Chapter 12: What We Don’t Choose

Chapter 12: What We Don’t Choose

Eric exited the museum at a quick pace.  He didn’t want to leave; he wanted to keep looking at her—looking out for her—all day, but that was impossible.  The last thing he could afford to do was miss the gathering he’d been summoned to. 

He glanced at his watch and found that he had 20 minutes before he was to meet with his father and the others about Felipe de Castro.  Luckily his father’s estate was nearby.  He pulled on his gray hat and walked south on Fifth Avenue. 

He looked down at his attire, knowing that Appius would not approve.  He’d intended to go home to change into a suit before the meeting at his father’s house, but he’d been swept up in the mystery of Sookie Stackhouse.  Despite the cold temperature—especially when he left his house early that morning—he was wearing only a simple black sweater, a dark gray long-sleeved T-shirt, blue jeans, and black boots.  Thankfully, he’d had the foresight to grab his messenger bag, but he knew that he looked more like a graduate student than a business executive.  Pam called it his “vagabond” look. 

EXCLUSIVE: Alexander Skarsgard in Stockholm

She’d insisted upon putting herself in charge of his suits the year before after she’d seen the sparseness of his closet and—as she had put it—“the shameful lack of color” in his tie collection.  After graduating from business school, Eric had been at a bit of a loss about what to wear to a place like NP.  He’d never had anyone to teach him about the kinds of suits to buy.  Luckily, he’d wandered into a Calvin Klein store, and the attendant had helped to fit him for a few suits. 

Despite having gotten a sizeable inheritance from his grandfather John Northman and having a high-paying job, Eric had been unused to owning many clothes.  In fact, he was still trying to get used to Pam’s insistence that he needed new suits each season, especially when they looked like suits he already owned.  He’d had to find subtle ways to curb her desire to overspend since she didn’t know that he had limited disposable income now that he was paying a mortgage; however, he still had a lot more work clothes than he’d ever had before.  And—of course—he had to admit that Pam’s tastes were impeccable.  The Ermenegildo Zegna suit that she’d insisted he needed six months before was probably the best-fitting suit he’d ever owned.  Of course, she was already hinting that he needed to “move on” because the suit was “last season,” but Eric was determined to put his foot down about that particular item.    

As Eric continued walking the few blocks to his father’s Manhattan home, he texted Bobby Burnham.  He asked for a thorough background check to be conducted on Susanna Stackhouse, but he requested that it be done discreetly.  He also asked if Bobby could play Sookie’s shadow during the upcoming week. 

Bobby didn’t disappoint.  By the next block, he’d texted back and agreed. 

Eric sent a follow-up text, warning Bobby that Sookie was a person that seemed to notice a lot about what went on around her.  Of course, he’d seen the exception to that rule at the museum earlier that day as he’d watched her on the monitors.  In the gallery, she’d become lost in her explorations of the art, oblivious to the other patrons around her.  Eric wondered why she allowed herself to be so completely relaxed as she studied the art—especially since he’d seen her so guarded at other times—but then he realized that she must feel safe in the galleries; surrounded by art and strangers, she had nothing to fear. 

In truth, he could see the attraction of that kind of thing, and since Ben and his crew were watching over her, Eric was also certain that she was safe there—safe to spend hours on end each Sunday lost to the world.  Eric intuited that Sookie needed that.  And he was—for a moment—very envious that she had something like that.  He didn’t know for sure why he was envious, however.  Was it because he too wanted an activity that could give him such peace and escape?  Or was it because he wanted to be the one to provide Sookie with safety and respite from the world.

It was this last thought that disconcerted Eric the most.  What did he want to “be” to Sookie—for Sookie?      

With difficulty, Eric pushed the enigmatic blonde from his mind.  It didn’t matter what he wanted to be to her, after all.  What mattered was that his being in her life would hurt her; it was inevitable. 

He shut his eyes tightly for a moment and focused on what was coming—a family meeting, at least of sorts.  Most of the time—if Eric were involved—such a meeting would take place at Northman Tower and involve mostly business.  However, today, Appius had insisted that everyone—including Eric—gather at the mansion, given the fact that there were at least two spies at Northman Publishing, one being the head of security.

Eric was rarely asked to come to the Northman Mansion.  The exceptions were for a yearly brunch on Father’s Day, which was an “event” that originated when Sophie-Anne married Appius four years before, and for Christmas day, which was the only time when the entire family was expected to gather altogether.  Eric was painfully aware that there were many other times when his siblings were invited into their father’s home, and Nora still lived there most of the time, though one of the penthouse apartments in Northman Tower had been given to her as well.  There was a time when Eric had been allowed to live at Northman Tower—right after Eric had graduated from Harvard Business School and started at NP—but Appius had had a motive for that “generosity,” and it hadn’t lasted long. 

Eric took several deep breaths to calm his nerves as he crossed Fifth Avenue and turned onto East 80th Street.  Despite being a shitty father to Eric, Appius Northman was actually brilliant at business, and, according to some, his most noteworthy trait had been his ability to settle his children into his company without causing dissention between them.  Since he was the oldest, Eric had been integrated into Northman Publishing first—as the company’s Deputy CEO.  He’d been in charge of the international division of the company since then.  And he would take over as CEO when he turned 35.

Nora had been the next one to step into the business.  However, unlike Eric, she’d needed no “probationary” period.  She’d been installed as the company’s Chief Financial Officer one week after getting her MBA from Columbia University.  The former CFO had been given an order to train Nora, and then six months later he’d “retired” with a stellar severance package. 

A year later Pam started at NP, becoming the manager of the Editing Department.  From the first, Pam was excellent at her job, efficient and somewhat feared.  She liked to joke that Machiavelli’s The Prince was her bible.  Not surprisingly, her department had grown, despite the steady decrease of the need for printed materials as the Internet became more and more prominent. 

Yes.  By outsiders, Appius was heralded for seeing the business potential of his children.  However, Eric knew better.  He now knew why Appius had installed him at NP.  He sighed.  Appius had never intended for Eric to last very long at the company.  However, much to Appius’s displeasure, Eric was still at NP and had become successful in his own right.   

Eric was also very much aware that Nora sometimes needed help to do her job correctly.  It wasn’t that Nora was unintelligent; it was just that she was in over her head and tended to be a little lazy.  On the other hand, Pam was “better” than the job she’d been given.  Hell—if Eric were in charge, Pam would be CFO, but Eric was certainly not in charge, and even when he became CEO, he wouldn’t have the power to remove Nora from her current position.  

Having arrived at Appius’s estate, Eric looked up at the home that his father had bought not long after Eric’s mother had died.  It had once been the old Woolworth Mansion, one of the most luxurious and coveted homes in Manhattan.  Of course, Appius had jumped at the chance to buy it when the property came onto the market, and—of course—he’d redubbed it the “Northman Mansion.”   

Northman Mansion

Woolworth Mansion

However—despite its name—the Northman Mansion had never been Eric’s home.  He had been sent to boarding school just a few months after his mother died.  In fact, the only times that he’d been invited into his father’s home before he’d turned 18 were during his boarding schools’ winter breaks—when the campuses would shut down completely.  Even then, Eric was always the last one to be picked up from his schools and the first one to be brought back each January. 

Eric vividly remembered being picked up by a limo for every winter break from the time he was five to the time he was seventeen.  The partition between the driver and the passenger seats was always up, and Eric always traveled alone.  A bagged sandwich and a bottled water were always left for him in the seat.  However, Eric learned after the first five-hour ride that the limo would only stop if gas was needed, so he avoided drinking anything during the trip so that he wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom. 

However, after he’d turned 18, Eric was no longer welcome to stay the night in the familial estate, and for many years he was just expected on Christmas day. 

Eric sighed as he looked at his watch and realized he had eight minutes before he was expected.  He took a deep breath, deciding to spend five of them outside. 

He was the only one of Appius’s children who had never had his own room in the building.  But Eric couldn’t really complain about that.  He wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time there.  Before he turned 18, Eric faced only discomfort and his father’s yearly lectures about his shortcomings during the three weeks out of the year that he was in Appius’s home. 

No.  Eric much preferred his boarding school and his room in his grandparents’ home in Sweden. 

Pam and Nora, who were less than two months apart in age, had both gone to private school in Manhattan, so they had lived with Appius until Pam had gone to college in California.  Alexei had also stayed in the Northman household until he was shipped off to boarding school in Switzerland after getting a twenty-year-old girl pregnant when he was only fourteen.  Though Eric could sense Alexei’s potential, his younger brother was a “special case” according to the wording most often used by the family.  Now 22, Alexei showed no interest or aptitude in anything.  Eric hadn’t been able to spend much time with Alexei during the last several years, but he intuited that his younger brother just needed Appius to step in and tell him to get his shit together; in other words, he needed his father to care enough to tell him to straighten up, but Eric didn’t see that happening anytime soon. 

In truth, Alexei had always been spoiled—excessively.  However, Eric couldn’t really blame anyone for that; after all, Alexei’s natural charisma drew others to him and got him almost anything he wanted.

Alexei had inherited his outgoing, appealing personality from his mother.   Beth Gainesborough-Northman had been born Lizbeth Appleton, a distant cousin of British royalty.  In fact, the Appletons boasted ties to several European kings and queens, and they were incredibly wealthy.  And, of course, Appius thought of himself as the fucking king of Manhattan.  Thus, Alexei had been treated like a prince from the second of his birth.  Eric, however, could muster up no jealousy for his little brother.  On the contrary, Eric felt only a sense of protectiveness when he thought of Alexei.    

Eric checked his watch and approached the front door.  His father’s long-time butler, Markus, was waiting to open it as if he’d known Eric had been there.  Markus gave Eric an affectionate pat on the back as Eric walked in and took off his cap.

Northman Mansion_interiors

“Hello Markus,” Eric said with a sincere smile.

“Mr. Northman,” Markus answered.  “You don’t have a coat?” he asked with a little worry in his voice.  “It’s quite cold outside—you know.”

“You and Margaret always did call me a Viking,” Eric chuckled.

“That we did, Mr. Northman,” Markus said fondly, remembering how Eric only ever wore a light jacket outdoors—even on the coldest days of his winter vacations.

“Eric,” the young man corrected, “please.”

Markus looked somewhat sympathetic.  “Sorry.  You know I can’t do that.”

Eric sighed and nodded.  Appius demanded a certain amount of formality from his servants, even those who had been with the estate for decades, and ever since Eric had turned 18, he had become “Mr. Northman” to them. 

“How’s Margaret?” he asked of Markus’s wife, who was also the cook for the estate. 

“Fine.  She’ll be sorry she missed you.”

“She’s not here?”

Markus shook his head.  “No—she’s in Newark with her mother this weekend.”

“Is everything okay?” Eric asked, remembering that Margaret had been concerning about her mother’s health at Christmas. 

“Margaret’s mother had another heart attack, I’m afraid,” Markus sighed.  “But she’s doing better now.  Margaret’s moved her into assisted living, and she seems to like that.”

Eric nodded.  “Will you tell her I said hello?”

“Sure,” Markus said with a smile before leading Eric to one of the several living rooms in the mansion—the one that Sophie-Anne called the “informal living room.” 

Informal living room

Eric wasn’t surprised to see Lochlan and Neave Faeman in the room.  They were partners in the firm that represented Appius personally; in fact, Eric didn’t know if they did anything else other than his bidding.  The term “sharks” came to mind when Eric thought of them.  Oh—they were good at their jobs, but he was pretty sure they had sharp teeth and could tear apart any miserable souls that they chose as their victims.  Afraid of losing various body parts, Eric was just glad that they weren’t part of the team of corporate lawyers in the legal department at Northman Publishing.  They poked their noses into NP business on occasion, but Eric had been forced to work with them directly only a few times.                

Eric also wasn’t surprised to see Stan Davis in the room.  Stan had, after all, been Appius’s personal attorney before he’d been elected to the Senate.  Davis, Faeman, and Associates had been one of the most prominent law firms in New York for over 75 years; it had been opened by Stan Davis’s grandfather and the Faemans’ great-grandfather.  Stan’s own father had been a U.S. Senator, and when Stan had decided to follow in his footsteps and run for his vacant Senate seat after Stanley Sr. had died, Appius had backed him with his wealth and influence. 

It hadn’t surprised anyone in New York society when Tamara Davis, Stan’s sister, had become Appius’s third wife.  Sadly, the marriage hadn’t lasted long. 

Tamara had married Appius when Eric was seventeen.  Since the wedding coincided with one of Eric’s winter breaks, Tamara had insisted that he be included in the ceremony, though Appius made sure to tell Eric—in private, of course—that he hated the idea of his being there.  Eric had been an usher, but had been escorted out of the sanctuary by Dermot Faeman, Lochlan and Neave’s now-retired father, during the wedding ceremony itself. 

Tamara and Appius had had only one child, Grace Lauren Northman, named for Appius’s mother.  When Appius and Tamara decided to divorce after only four years of marriage, the “transaction” had been amicable, and Appius had pretty much “won” Stan in the settlement.  Gracie—as their now twelve-year-old daughter was called—lived with her mother in Boston and seemed quite down-to-earth and well-adjusted, compared to Appius’s other children.  Tamara—it seemed—hadn’t been too keen on Appius’s notions of parenting their child by sending her off to boarding schools, which was what had precipitated their divorce.  Appius had agreed to Tamara’s terms in the divorce: she wouldn’t take any of his money if he let her educate and raise Gracie as she wanted.  Appius had stipulated that Gracie would receive a trust fund from him only if she eventually joined Northman Publishing, and their deal was struck.

During her four years of marriage with Appius, which corresponded roughly to Eric’s time as an undergraduate in college, Tamara had always been nice to him—even though he saw her only three times following his eighteenth birthday.  However, since the divorce, she had been even kinder to him, inviting him to Boston several times a year so that he could spend the day with Gracie.  It hadn’t take Tamara long to recognize that Eric was not exactly welcome in Appius’s home.  And it also hadn’t taken her long to understand that Gracie adored Eric; even when she was an infant and only saw him once a year at Christmas, she would light up around him.  Eric smiled to himself.  Gracie had treated him like a giant jungle gym for the first ten years of her life.  Now that she was in her “pre-teen” years, she always wanted to talk to him about some boy or another—to get the “male perspective,” she would say.      

Of course, Appius had tried to stop the visits when he learned of them, but Tamara had held firm, a fact which Eric had been extremely grateful for as he’d gotten to better know his little sister.  In fact, the last time he’d been to Boston was for Halloween, and he’d gotten to walk with Gracie through her neighborhood as she went trick-or-treating in a fireman costume.  He was also planning a February visit for the weekend before her birthday, and—of course—there was her dance recital in June.  Yes—it was safe to say that Eric was extremely grateful to Tamara that he got to spend time with Gracie—beyond the two times a year when he would see her at their father’s home.    

Eric looked around the room as if he were analyzing a battlefield.  Nora was sitting with their grandmother, Grace Northman, on the shorter sofa in the room.  Andre, Sophie-Anne, and Appius were sitting on the long sofa.  Andre and Sophie-Anne were flanking Appius, both of them looking “spouse-like.”  The Faemans were standing behind Appius, and Stan was standing behind Grace.  Pam was sitting in one of the chairs that formed a three-sided square with the couches.     

“You’re late,” Appius said disapprovingly in Eric’s direction.  “And this is a business meeting, not a rock and roll concert,” he added, glaring at Eric’s outfit. 

As a matter of fact, Eric was exactly on time, but he didn’t say anything to contradict Appius.  Instead, he reached into his knapsack and took out several files.  “I have gathered some information on Quinn and Sandy,” he informed, handing the files to Appius.  Bobby had sent Eric some of the information in the early hours of the morning, and Eric had spent much of the rest of his sleepless night gathering more.

Eric sat down in the chair next to Pam, who was his only ally in the room. 

“And?” Appius asked, sifting through the files. 

“Quinn is from Las Vegas.  From what I’ve been able to find out, he owes de Castro for some gambling debts amassed by his mother,” Eric reported.

“Why didn’t you notice this when we hired him?” Appius snapped at Eric accusingly.

Used to his father berating him, Eric answered evenly.  “I am not in charge of the Human Resources division.”

Appius glared at him.  “As Deputy CEO, you need to know everything that goes on at NP!”

Eric ignored the fact that Appius’s logic was faulty—since the CEO should also “know everything.”  He also didn’t remind Appius that he had preferred the other candidate who had interviewed for the position of chief of security at NP; in fact, right after the interviews, Eric had told Appius that he thought there was something untrustworthy about John Quinn.  Of course, that practically ensured that Appius would hire Quinn—just to go against Eric’s preference.  Instead, Eric responded calmly.  “Our usual background checks don’t include bribes and searches into the Nevada organized crime syndicate.  This report did.”

“And Sandy?” Appius seethed.

Eric sighed.  “If I had to guess, I’d say that she’s been feeding information to de Castro since she left him and started working for you.”

Appius glared at Eric.  “I doubt that very much.  The current situation is all your fault.”

“Of course,” Eric said impassively.  “But it seems that Felipe is just as vindictive and obsessive as his daughter.”

“If you had just married her, none of this would be happening!” Grace Northman spoke up harshly.

“Indeed,” Appius agreed with his mother.  “We had things arranged satisfactorily, but you had to fuck it up—as always.” 

Eric took a breath.  “Be that as it may, we still have to figure out what to do about de Castro now.”

Appius glared at his son.  “Well—since you have all the answers today, what do you propose?”

Though he knew that whatever he said would be rejected, Eric outlined his plan.  He suggested that Sandy and Quinn be watched for a while so that solid evidence of their spying could be accumulated.  Eric posited that if enough evidence could be gathered to have them arrested, then they would likely testify against Felipe to save their own skin. 

Eric’s strategy would be more subtle and drawn-out than the “shock and awe” plan that he was certain his father would advocate, but his proposal would likely end with de Castro and Madden behind bars or, at the very least, unable to target Northman Publishing again.  It would be a clean and legal solution—though it would likely take a few months to implement.

Of course, Appius vetoed it immediately with a dismissive wave of his hand. 

“What of the NP stock?” Appius asked Nora.

“I’ve confirmed that NP stock is being bought up by a single individual—almost fifteen percent so far.  The family still controls fifty-three percent,” she added.

Appius growled.  “We should have never gone public,” he said, looking in Eric’s direction.  “I believe that was your hair-brained idea.”

Eric sighed.  “Even with fifteen percent of the company, De Castro can be little more than an annoyance.  Even if he sells it all off quickly and the stock prices dive, we can recover just as quickly.”

“Bad publicity is not something to be shrugged off!” Appius yelled.  “You would do well to learn that!”

Eric steadied himself with a deep breath.  “I have already contacted the PR department with some preliminary plans about how to spin the situation in our favor.  Plus, if it is eventually leaked to the Press that de Castro is behind the sale and the spies, I don’t think we’ll be hurt at all.  In fact, I think that we would garner public sympathy and support from such an incident.” 

Appius glared at Eric.  “I don’t like not owning every damned share of my company.”

Eric spoke evenly.  “I am well aware of that, but the family still controls the majority of the stock.  And as long as we maintain above fifty percent, you will continue to control the board.  I was very careful in how I set things up when we went public, Father.  As long as there was nothing illegal for Sandy or Quinn to find, we were never in any real danger from de Castro’s machinations.  They are an irritation at best.  And now we can use his spies to either feed false information to de Castro or to bring him down,” Eric added reasonably.  

“I don’t like de Castro’s hands in my fucking pot!” Appius yelled out angrily.  “Your so-called plan would take months, and I want him and his spies out of my hair now!  What are our other options?”

“Pressure,” Stan said from where he was standing behind Grace and Nora.  “I can call de Castro today and explain to him that his actions with Quinn and Sandy have been unacceptable.  And then I can prod him to sell his stock.  I have a feeling that he will cower when he knows we are on to him.  And his company still has several lucrative contracts with the government.  I will simply remind him that I’m on the subcommittee that decides who publishes the thousands of government documents each year.”

 Eric didn’t bother bringing up the point that the kind of “pressure” that Stan was talking about was illegal.  It didn’t matter anyway.  His father was never shy about flirting with the legal/illegal line. 

Eric ran his hand through is hair.  As angry as he’d initially been the night before, he’d quickly cooled down and realized that there was no real threat from de Castro—unless NP was participating in illegal activities he wasn’t aware of. 

The Northmans still controlled enough stock in NP to prevent any corporate raiding schemes that de Castro may have had in mind.  Appius owned 30% of the company outright, which was the maximum that any one individual could own.  Eric owned 7%.  Nora owned 10%.  Since each of them had more than 5% of the company, they had to officially disclose that information at the end of each year; however, those with less than 5% did not.  Thus, it was not commonly known that the family still held over 50% of the company’s stock.  Pam held 3% as did Alexei—through a trust controlled by Appius.  That brought the family up to 53%, and—unbeknownst to Appius, Eric also controlled an additional 7% of the stock.  With part of his inheritance from his grandfather John, Eric had been able to buy 2.1% of the publicly-traded stock, which he’d put in his maternal grandmother’s name so that his father wouldn’t know about it.  The other 4.9% belonged to Bobby Burnham, who had bought the most stock he could without having it publicly reported. 

Bobby had done that for three reasons.  First, it had been as a favor to Eric; in fact, Bobby planned to sell the stock to Eric when the time was right.  Second, Bobby hated Appius and knew that his having the stock would piss him off.  Third, Bobby was no idiot; he recognized that the stock would make him a lot of money.  And it already had.   

Indeed, Eric had been extremely careful about keeping the amount of stock controlled by the family above 50%, though the Northmans didn’t advertise that fact.  Thus, it had been Felipe’s ignorance and arrogance that had led him to believe that he could cause any real damage by buying up the stock.

“So if we pressure him, he’ll sell?” Appius asked Stan.

“Yes.  I think so,” Stan replied.

“Good.  I don’t want him to hold any stock in Northman Publishing when this is done.  Use this information to link him to Quinn,” Appius said, gesturing to the file of information Eric had gathered.  “Then blackmail the fuck out of him!  I want Quinn and Sandy gone tomorrow!  No one fucks with my company!” Appius stormed. 

Stan nodded.  “I’ll do it today.  In fact, I’ll speak with Felipe personally.”

Appius rose, glared at Eric, and then left the room without another word.  Sophie-Anne and Andre trailed after him like puppies.  And Neave and Lochlan slinked out behind them. 

Grace glared at Eric.  “You could have prevented all of this if you had simply married Freyda.  Instead of dealing with this mess, we could have been planning a wedding and a merger.”  She shook her head.  “After all that Appius has done for you, I cannot believe that you wouldn’t act for the benefit of this family.”  She sighed dramatically.  “All of this drama has made me extremely upset,” she said, still looking right at Eric with a hate-filled stare.

“Why don’t I escort you home then?” Stan offered congenially. 

“That would be lovely,” Grace said, rising to her feet.  She quickly kissed her two granddaughters on the cheek.  Eric, of course, was offered nothing in parting except for another scowl. 

“That went well,” Nora deadpanned when only the three siblings were left in the room.

“Yes,” Eric said simply, giving nothing away. 

Pam scoffed, “Eric’s plan could have put de Castro in prison—thereby eliminating the competition.  Why wouldn’t Father just wait?” she asked, truly mystified.

“Waiting was Eric’s idea,” Nora chuckled, her very slight British accent poking through.  “And that is never acceptable.”  She winked at Eric and then practically skipped out of the room.

“She can be such a bitch,” Pam said under her breath. 

Eric gave a little shrug but said nothing. 

“Heading home?” Pam asked.  “Father lent me the car.  I had some shopping to do before the meeting this morning.”

Eric shook his head.  “No—I need to run by NP,” he lied.

“I could drop you,” she offered.

“That’s okay.  I’ll use the subway.”

Pam rolled her eyes.  Her own aversion to the subway was very well known.  “Why must you travel like a commoner?” she asked rather snobbishly, looking at his clothing with disdain as well.

Eric ignored her comment.  “Dinner tonight?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  I’m having Dawn,” Pam informed him with a smirk, “and since I’m not kinky like Nora, I won’t be asking you to join us.”

Eric cringed.  “Thanks for that,” he responded. 

Pam sighed.  “Father should have done what you suggested, Eric.  It was the best way—the legal way.  I’m sorry I didn’t speak up to say that, but he just seemed so dead-set against your plan from the start.” 

Eric shrugged.  “If I’d really wanted my way, I would have asked Nora to suggest the plan,” he sighed.  In a moment of uncharacteristic unguardedness, he continued in a lowered voice, “If Father had his way, I wouldn’t even be employed at NP.”

“Sure you would,” Pam returned somewhat optimistically. 

“The head of the custodial department?” Eric joked.

“The head?” Pam smirked.

“You’re right,” Eric smiled at his sister as he extended his arm for her to take.  “I would have had to work my way up the ranks.”

“That’s more like it, Mop Boy,” she kidded as the two walked to the front entryway and Markus helped her put on her heavy coat.  She looked up at her older brother, who seemed to carry more and more weight on his shoulders as the years went by.  She wondered if anyone else saw the tiny bit of gray hedging its way into his blond locks. 

“You okay?” she asked.

“Of course,” Eric lied.  “Always.” 

“You know—if you just tried a little harder with him, you two might get along better,” she said hopefully.

Out of the corner of his eye, Eric saw Markus sigh as he left the room.  Eric knew that the competent Butler was probably already calling for Pam’s car.

“I don’t know how to try harder than I already do,” Eric responded honestly. 

Pam smiled a little.  “I just wish you two would get along.”

“Me too.”

“Well—he won’t be CEO forever,” she said lightly. 

Eric raised a brow.  “No.  But he will likely live forever,” he joked, trying to add levity to their serious conversation. 

“A god?” Pam asked with a grin.

“More like a vampire,” Eric chuckled, “draining me of my blood.”

“And everything else,” Pam continued quietly, though her expression suddenly held no mirth.

“Yes,” Eric responded, also serious again.  “Everything else.”

“I’m sorry, Eric,” she said.  “I wish things could be a little easier for you.”

He shrugged.  “You know that Father and I have never seen eye to eye,” he said, trying once more to brush off the serious conversation. 

“He loves you though,” Pam said, sounding more unconvinced than she usually did when she said it.

“Of course,” Eric said evenly.  He gave his usual, rehearsed response.  “If he didn’t, he wouldn’t push me so hard.”

He smiled and kissed her forehead before leading her out of the house.

“Only six months until our visit with Mormor,” Pam offered, not quite buying Eric’s act.

“Yes.  And I’m going to try for two weeks this year,” Eric smiled. 

“Good luck,” Pam deadpanned.  “Still—maybe if we staggered things?  We could have our week together; I could go a week earlier than you, and you could stay a week later.  Nora might be a bitch, but she would cover for us.”

Eric nodded.  “Let’s try, lillasyster.”  [“little sister”]

“Yes.  Let’s, storebror.”  [“big brother”]

Eric waved as he turned to walk away from Appius’s house.  It was a cold day, but it was sunny, and he had just enough time to get to the MET before 1:00.


A/N:  Thanks so much for reading.  And I appreciate all the responses to last week’s chapter. 

Just FYI: When I envisioned Appius’s home, I thought of the Woolworth Mansion, one of the most expensive homes in Manhattan.  And it is only a few blocks from the MET, so it worked perfectly to imagine Eric walking there.  I included a few images from it, but the “informal living room” is from a different house (it just captured the layout I was picturing for that particular space better).

Also, I have good and bad news.  First the good—the first draft of Comfortably Numb is almost done (and “weighs in” at around 350,000 words).  There’s just a bit more to write as I resolve various plotlines.  That means that I’ll be able to start focusing more on editing and less on producing the draft.  And that will lead to more than one chapter a week!

Bad news: I probably won’t be able to work on the end of the draft at all this week b/c I have tons of essays to grade, but the spring semester is over after Friday, so I’ll be sure to get a chapter to you next weekend.  After that, you can expect them to come faster (but not one a day like I did with Come Back to Me.  That was too hard—maybe 3 a week or so.)

Again, thanks for reading and commenting on this story.  It is nice to know that there are people out there who like this piece.

Have a wonderful week!


Character Banners by Seph!


Grace Northman_Seph



Stan Davis_Seph

whole cast CN




family tree icon

19 thoughts on “Chapter 12: What We Don’t Choose

  1. Aww. I thoroughly enjoyed this! Poor old Eric. I love the fact that you completely draft your pieces first. I have so many stories that look never to be finished. X

    1. I’m glad you liked it. Yeah–the only story that I haven’t had done or almost done before starting to post was INNER, and its been languishing for so long that I feel tremendous guilt. But I learned my lesson.

  2. Eric’s dad really hates him. Will we find out why and his paternal grandmother reminds me of mine. Looking forward to more chapters a week.

    1. Yeah–it does. Sigh. But will start back later. Of course, finals are this week and summer session starts the next, so no real “time off,” but summer is easier.

      And yes–Eric is being treated as no one should.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. As usual another great chapter and looking forward to the more frequent updates as your schedule allows!
    I feel so bad for this Eric- his father is so awful and my heart breaks for him. I wish he was able to stand up to him and tell him where to go. I hope he will get is HEA in the end.

    1. Eric is going to try to stand up to Appius soon, but he needs to gain self-confidence before he can. Sadly, Appius has knocked him down emotionally for a long time, so it will take Eric a while.


  4. loved the chapter. my head aches for this Eric… Appius is a ahole… loved Markus and his character banner is awesome. as for Grace Northman what a bitch and seeing who you picked just makes her more catty to me., never liked the woman… I don’t now what is wrong with Nora but not trusting her and Pam, i know she is just CHA (covering her ass) but damn she could have stood up to their father… does she not realize Eric doesn’t have the wealth she does and the Mansion is just pretentious enough for and ahole like Appius. until the next post and finding out why Appius detests his oldest son, i am thinking he reminds him of his dead wife and out of siight is out of mind is better than loving him, but i could be wrong and it he could be a child from an affair… but i hope not. Kristie

    1. You’re definitely onto something when you speculated about why Appius hates Eric so much, but that’s all I’m saying. 😉
      I’m glad you liked (or disliked) the characters I picked. And in Pam’s defense, she doesn’t know a lot. Eric hasn’t told her.


  5. Oh, my heart hurts for Eric. I can’t wait for the backstory as to why Appius hates Eric so much. I am torn as to who I think is the most damaged – Eric or Sookie. I hate that Pam is somewhat reluctant to really see how Appius really feels for Eric…and to think he has never had a room in the mansion and that when others are invited he is not – so sad. I am very excited for what is coming – I can’t wait! Also, intrigued by the statement in regards to disposable income and mortgage….

    PS I read Back and Forth AGAIN last week – love summer vacation!! I guess I will tackle Come Back to Me next week!

    1. Thanks for reading B&F again. I hope it held up. In Pam’s defense, Eric hasn’t told her much, and it would be hard to think about how a father who has always loved you has emotionally abused your brother.

      Thanks for writing a comment–as always.


  6. Ah….you know, I have to say that since I know that your Appius is Jeff Bridges, I can certainly hear “The Dude’s” voice and cadence in his dialog.
    Ah….I hope the owners of the NP stock come back to bite Appius in a big, big way —maybe this is a foreshadowing??

    Great chapter! Eric can only take being browbeaten so long…then “BAM” I expect there will be fireworks!

      1. Eric’s father will always hate him. He will always blame him for his mother’s death. He’s so set in his ways nothing will ever change that. Even when and if he dies (vampire) LOL. He’ll leave nothing to Eric.

  7. Great story so far! Sad but so ripe for them to begin healing each other. Funny this scene and the dynamics of Eric’s family remind me so much of Succession! Can’t wait to see Alex in that.

Please comment and tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.