“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.
At five minutes to 1:00, just as Eric crossed the street onto Fifth Avenue, his phone rang.
“Northman,” he said in greeting, since the number on the caller ID was unfamiliar to him.
“Uh—Mr. Northman—uh, it’s Ben—Ben Anderson—from the MET?”
“Yes,” Eric said, glancing at his watch. He was only a couple of blocks away from the museum at this point.
“It’s just that Suzy’s—I mean Sookie’s—doing something different today than she usually does,” Ben said. “She’s broken her routine for the first time in almost a year,” he added, the surprise clear in the chief of security’s voice.
“What is she doing?” Eric asked, quickening his pace.
“She left Gallery 111 at 12:30, similar to her usual time, but she hasn’t left the museum yet. She’s not in the park for her lunch.”
“And it’s not raining!” Eric heard Doris’s voice from the background.
“Where is she then?” Eric asked.
“Gallery 823,” Ben reported.
“Our gallery?” Eric asked, almost to himself. He wasn’t sure when he had begun thinking of it as theirs, but he had.
“Uh—yeah—the one you were in last night. Yeah. Yours—I guess.”
“I’ll be there in five minutes. Can you have an escort waiting to bring me to you?” Eric asked.
“I’ll wait for you myself,” Ben said.
Ten minutes later, Eric was standing transfixed as he looked at the monitor. With his peripheral vision, he noticed that Tony, Doris, Milos, and Ben were also captivated by the image of Sookie’s profile as she looked at Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses. According to Ben, she had been studying that painting ever since she had entered the gallery—almost forty minutes before. Standing right in front of the piece, she really wasn’t moving much, just a slight tilt of her head every now and then. Others coming and going from the gallery seemed annoyed that Sookie wouldn’t take their hints and just move so that they could get a better look at the famous painting; however, a guard was standing in the corner of the room, and it was pretty clear that his current job was to keep others from bothering Sookie.
“Why isn’t there a bench in that room—like there is in most of the other Northman Galleries?” Eric asked out loud.
“I’ve no idea,” Ben answered.
“Isn’t Tony supposed to be out front while Milos is as lunch?” Eric asked offhandedly as he remembered what he’d learned that morning about the crew’s usual schedule.
“Like I said earlier, Tony’s best with the computers,” Ben said, smiling at Eric’s attention to detail. He would have made a good guard. “I sent Mark down to the desk,” he added.
“What did she bring you this morning?” Eric asked in Milos’s direction, though he kept his eyes fixed on Sookie.
“Huh? Oh—my favorite—the chocolate chip scone.”
“How does she know it’s your favorite?”
Milos shrugged. “Who knows with that one?” he said gesturing to the screen. “Suzy’s not exactly like everyone else.”
“Sookie,” Eric said evenly.
“Yeah—Sookie,” Milos corrected himself. “Anyways, she always gets me the scone and brings a donut with sprinkles on it for Jack; that’s his favorite too. But we never told her that; she just started bringing them one day.” Milos smirked. “‘Course I always have to josh Jack about it ‘cause he’s always so damned excited about those sprinkles. I’ve told him that a grown man shouldn’t admit to wanting sprinkles.”
Everyone chuckled at that—even Eric. For some reason, he liked these people, though he’d only just met them. They seemed “real” to him—like a family, almost.
Eric looked back at the screen. “I guess she’s a mind-reader then,” he said softly, wondering how Sookie could have known what treats were the men’s favorites.
Nobody remarked on Eric’s comment as they watched Sookie turn and then walk out of the gallery. Tony tapped the computer keys which would allow them to follow her progress.
She stopped in the hallway and waited at least a minute before pushing the button for the same elevator that she and Eric had gotten into the night before.
Tony shifted the camera to the view inside the small conveyance, and Eric once more regretted his rough treatment of her the night before. He was glad that he’d not asked his new-found comrades to look up that video feed. Given how protective they were of her, it was likely they would have kicked his ass. Hell—he figured he deserved it.
After exiting the elevator, Sookie quickly walked to the entrance of the museum, waving at Jack and Mark when she got to the front lobby.
“Call me when she gets back,” Eric said as soon as she had exited the building. He left the room that held the hub of the MET’s security and headed for Gallery 111.
Eric took two hours to peruse the Egyptian art in Gallery 111; however, he didn’t read everything about each piece. He enjoyed art and history quite a bit, but he didn’t have the time to read everything. He had one objective and one objective only.
When his phone vibrated, he answered it quickly.
“Mr. Northman,” Ben said. “She just got back and she’s headed your way.”
“Put me down for the Magic Wand,” Eric said into the receiver. “It’s five dollars—right?”
“Uh—yes. Wait—you want to enter the betting pool?”
“Yes—the Magic Wand.”
“The ivory from the hippo?” Ben asked.
“Yeah,” Eric confirmed. “And don’t worry. I’m good for the five dollars.”
Ben chuckled and hung up as Eric moved into the next gallery over so that he could observe Sookie unseen. A few moments later, he heard her entering, her tennis shoes almost silent on the polished floor. He watched in fascination as she walked around the gallery again, occasionally jotting down a quick note. People roved in and out of the gallery, though few stayed for long since the larger artifacts from ancient Egypt were in other rooms. Sookie paid them no mind, keeping her eyes only on the exhibits in that gallery.
As always seemed to be the case, Eric was transfixed by her and kept watch.
Finally, a little more than an hour later, she pulled her camera from her bag and took a purposeful step toward the piece Eric had guessed—the Magic Wand.
Objects, such as the one Eric had been drawn to, were common enough during the late Middle Kingdom in Egypt. The particular one Eric had chosen showed signs of wear on the tip; according to the information written next to the artifact, its wear suggested that it had been used for a while before being placed in the tomb it was eventually found in. The piece was decorated on one side with figures of protective deities, most of whom carried knives to ward off evil spirits. The piece was labeled Magic Wand.
The wand had been made with ivory from a hippopotamus and was inscribed with several beautifully carved symbols. When Eric had read what the Egyptian symbols meant, they’d struck a chord inside of him. They read “protection by day” and “protection by night.”
According to its description, the Magic Wand had likely been used to draw circles of protection around people, most often while they slept; such wands were meant as a defense for people when they couldn’t defend themselves. The wands could protect the living, but they were also placed in tombs to shield the dead.
The Magic Wand was the piece that Eric would have chosen to take a picture of—if he were the one choosing. He longed to be shielded from the harsh light of his days and the lonely dark of his nights. He longed to sleep in peace—to be safe from the nightmares that had plagued him for most of his life.
Sookie snapped her picture of the piece he’d picked, even as he walked back into Gallery 111—where she stood looking lovingly at the Magic Wand.
“Are you allowed to take pictures in here?” he asked from behind her.
Her body immediately stiffened, and she turned around slowly.
Several moments of silence passed between them as their eyes locked and learned of each other.
“Of course, you didn’t use flash photography, so it is likely allowed,” Eric commented. “Am I right?”
“Are you following me?” she stammered.
“I entered this wing of the museum over three hours ago,” he replied. “You tell me.”
She closed her eyes. “Am I going to be arrested?”
“Did you do anything to be arrested for?” he asked with amusement in his voice.
She shook her head as she opened her eyes.
“Well then,” he said by way of an answer. He was well aware that he’d not directly responded to her concern, but Sookie seemed to take it as such and relaxed immediately.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
He smiled a little. “Why are you here?”
“I like it here,” she answered.
She bit her lip as if she wanted to say something, but then looked away.
“What else will you take a picture of—other than this,” he paused, making a show of leaning in and reading the caption, “Magic Wand?”
“Nothing,” she answered, clearly inhaling his scent as he leaned closer to her.
“Is there nothing else you like in this room?” he asked suggestively, enjoying the blush his comment elicited.
“No. I mean,” she stammered, “I like everything.”
“Then why no other pictures, Susanna?” he asked.
Immediately, her expression fell. “Sookie?” she said as if asking a question.
“Yes—Sookie,” he corrected.
Her expression immediately lightened. “Thank you.”
“For what?” he asked.
“Mr. Northman, I,” she started.
“Eric,” he corrected in a whisper. “The people I care about call me Eric.”
That comment stopped her words again.
“Why only one picture, Sookie?” he asked taking a small step toward her.
“My phone,” she said.
“What about it?”
“It’s my only camera,” she said, staring into his eyes. Only when he moistened his lips did she move her focus to them.
“And I want to take a picture of everything,” she said.
“My phone won’t hold everything in the MET,” she answered.
“But it will hold the best thing—your favorite thing?”
“Do you come here a lot, Sookie?” he asked, taking another small step forward.
She nodded again. “Every week.”
“Did you visit our gallery today?” he asked.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes,” she whispered, looking back up into his eyes.
He bent down a little, but this time—instead of capturing her lips—he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“Next week, there will be a bench there for you to sit on,” he whispered even as he let himself be momentarily entrapped by the scent of her hair. An errant piece had fallen from her ponytail, and he carefully tucked the golden strand behind her ear, the backs of his fingers gently grazing her jawline after he did.
With great difficulty, he pulled himself from her presence and walked out of the gallery. He hurried toward the front entrance, looking behind him a few times to make sure she wasn’t following.
“You could offer her nothing but misery,” he reminded himself when he was tempted to run back to Sookie.
When he reached the front of the museum, he nodded to Milos and Jack—whose nametag read John—and then proceeded down the hall to the surveillance room. When he got there, Doris, Ben, and Tony were looking right at him.
“What?” Eric asked as he moved toward the computer station that he knew would still be showing Sookie. He wasn’t wrong. She seemed frozen in her tracks, but a small smile was playing on her lips.
Eric watched until Sookie closed her eyes and seemed to come out of her stupor. After that, she walked toward the gallery door.
“Well—I guess you earned this,” Ben smirked, gesturing toward a jar of money.
Eric kept his eyes on Sookie as Tony continued to switch cameras. He pulled his wallet out and took out a ten dollar bill. “I’ll be back next week. Double or nothing,” he said before he left the surveillance room so that he could follow Sookie out of the museum.
A/N: Sorry that this chapter is shorter than the chapters usually are, but this was a natural stopping point.
As always, thanks so much for reading! And a special thanks to those who reviewed or commented upon the last chapter!
A note about the art for this chapter:
I chose Gallery 111 kind of how Sookie did–at random. I basically ran my mouse around the map–while my eyes were closed–and when I stopped, it was on Gallery 111.
So–you might ask–how do I pick Sookie’s “special piece” for the day. Well–the MET website is wonderful. What I do is go to the gallery and look at all the pieces inside of it. And then–though it sounds cheesy–I let the piece “pick me.” After that happens, I do a little research on it. And–in the case of the Magic Wand–I did a bit of research on the type of object too. Then, I basically let the chapter develop around the piece. In this case, the purpose of the Magic Wand–as a protective device–really struck me. The Egyptians used such an object to draw a circle around the one that needed to be protected.
Can you imagine it? Parents drawing protective circles around their children? The weak having circles drawn around them? The more I thought about it, the more the idea moved me. And I could see how this piece would be meaningful to both Sookie and Eric.
Of course, they would both pick it as their favorite! Sookie has felt this odd connection for over a year, but Eric is new to it. However, he’s opening himself up as much as he can by letting the art connect them. In this case, that connection is–indeed–magic. And it is also protective.