A/N: I recently had a comment/complaint? from a guest reviewer on fanfiction.net when I indicated that the dorms at Harvard closed over winter break. Indulge me while I address that comment and other related issues.
First, I hope that you will keep in mind that I’m setting a “fictional” story into “real” settings, and this is difficult. Sometimes, for the sake of the narrative, some things need to be fictionalized a little.
However—even if I’m working with vampire characters in the fictional town of Bon Temps—I try to research everything that I can to make my stories as “real” as possible.
For Comfortably Numb, I have spent many hours researching the MET, the New York subway system, Brooklyn neighborhoods, corporate law, boarding schools, etc. I have gone through my own travel journals from when I explored the MET and Central Park in order to include a few things that really struck me. Still, I know that there will be things I don’t get quite “right” in the story, no matter how hard I try.
However, I did—as it turns out—research the question of whether the dorms at Harvard stay open during winter break. I found this Q&A on the Freshman Dean’s website: “[Question:] Can students be in the dorms over winter break? [Answer:] All Freshman students must vacate the dorms by 3:00 pm on Saturday, December 21, 2013. Dorms and Houses open at 9:00 am Friday, January 17, 2014.” I did not find information specifically for the year Eric would have been there in the fictional world of Comfortably Numb, but I assumed the policy was similar then. There is information about students being able to stay in alternative housing on campus during the holiday under special circumstances, but it is more difficult for freshmen to do that. As far as I can tell, there is an application to fill out and parental/guardian approval is needed. Let’s assume that Eric wouldn’t have tried for that with Appius.
While I don’t mind people pointing out inconsistencies and problems with facts in my work, I wish that they wouldn’t do it as “guests.” I am more than willing to admit when I’m wrong about something and answer questions about continuity and facts, but to do that, I need to be able to respond to a reviewer/commenter.
Here’s an example of the kind of research I do: Even as I wrote the chapter that follows, I wasn’t certain if there was a hotdog truck at the MET in June 2012 (when the chapter takes place). The last time I was at the MET myself, there was one there, but that was before June 2012. But—especially if you are a New Yorker—you may be aware that there’s been some controversy regarding the hotdog stand/stands near the MET. The stand I have in mind in this chapter is a “real” one and is run by a disabled veteran. The controversy involved whether the veteran would continue to receive free rent based on his disability. I will admit that I don’t know how it all turned out for sure. The closest information I found to June 2012 was a blog for The New York Times from July 11, 2012: “In a Hot Dog Cart, Prime Real Estate on Fifth Avenue” by Corey Kilgannon (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/in-a-hot-dog-cart-prime-real-estate-on-fifth-avenue/?_r=0). This would put Mr. Rossi, the vendor, outside of the MET in June 2012, the timeframe of the story. So even though I can’t be 100% sure he was there on June 10, I included the detail b/c I once bought a hotdog from this vendor, and it was yummy! However, even if he wasn’t there on that day, I’m “pretending he was” for the sake of the story. (I’m also putting sauerkraut, brown mustard, and dill relish on his menu—by the way. I can’t remember if he had those ingredients, but it’s how I take my “dog” these days, so the Mr. Rossi in CN has them. BTW: This is a picture of the “real” Mr. Rossi from the article mentioned above.
Full disclosure: Sometimes I make up “fake things” about “real things” for the sake of the story. For instance, in this chapter, you won’t find the “quote” that I wrote regarding Gallery 758 in that room. I made it up for the story. The “quote” is based on the “real” pieces and the “real” theme of the gallery, and I have read many essays about art exhibits before, so the “quote” isn’t baseless, but it’s not in the gallery at the “real” MET. It is only in the gallery at the “Comfortably Numb” MET.
All that said, I hope that you all will “give me a little wiggle room” on the facts—if you see that I’ve made a mistake (especially a minor one). I have a full time job and a part time job. I have a husband, a home, and four cats to take care of. I’m not a native New Yorker, though I have fallen in love with the city during my visits there. I didn’t go to Harvard, though I’ve visited its beautiful campus. And—yes—my own dorm at a much less prestigious (and less expensive) university closed its dorms during winter breaks.
I love writing and sharing my stories with people who love reading them—and I do this free of charge. For myself and all my readers, I spend hours upon hours writing, revising, editing, and—yes—researching to create a story that comes to life in a “real” way. If my job title were “writer”—not “assistant professor” and “lecturer” and “wife”—I would spend even more time. So if you see something you think might be “factually wrong,” I just ask that you give me a tad bit of artistic license. And—if you do feel compelled to tell me about it—I wish you would also point out something else about the story: maybe something you like that has compelled you to read all the way to Chapter 14+. Otherwise, it just seems like you are “looking for problems”—nitpicking and maybe even hoping to find them. I really hope that’s not the case. Perhaps, you were trying to be helpful, which—again—is appreciated. However, most of all, I hope that you are enjoying the overall narrative. That is—after all—why I write, and a little thing (like whether a Freshman dorm is really open over winter break) seems kind of small (to me) in the grand scheme of things when it comes to this story. However, even if that’s what you have a question about (because we are all different, after all), I would be happy to answer it; just don’t comment as a guest, and I will.
Thanks for reading this message. Now onto the next chapter! Please enjoy.
Chapter 18: A Moment of Art
June 10, 2012
Sookie smiled to herself as she quickened her pace toward Gallery 823. In fact, for probably the first time in her life, she felt like skipping, but she refrained—likely because she wasn’t quite sure how to skip. She forced herself not to giggle out loud at that idea, even as she let her moment of happiness envelop her without a fight—just as Claudine had been teaching her to do.
Through Claudine’s guidance, Sookie had realized that she was often her own worst enemy when it came to feeling any kind of happiness. Indeed, Michelle’s endless criticism of Sookie had trained her to feel as if she didn’t deserve anything good in her life, so she had often resisted “the good” without knowing it; she had run from it without being able to help herself.
However, Claudine had helped her to see that there were many potentially good things waiting for her in the world. There were people ready to befriend her. There were wonderful things she could see and learn about. There were new places to visit.
The trick was to allow herself to experience the “good” without automatically—though unintentionally—disqualifying herself from it because of Michelle’s “training.” And Sookie was slowly learning to do just that; she wasn’t always successful, but she was learning.
It had been a good week. But—more importantly—Sookie had been able to pause her active mind at times so that she could simply enjoy the experience of that week.
That Tuesday, she’d made a big step in her therapy. She’d told Claudine the whole story about Bill, including her niggling suspicions about the night they met. It had been an emotionally exhausting session for Sookie, but she’d felt the better for it. In fact, after she was done talking, she realized that the hurt she’d felt because of Bill’s betrayal was gone. So was the love she’d once felt for him. And—in its place was not numbness, which was what she’d felt for so long after she’d learned of Bill’s duplicity.
No. Sookie had discovered that she felt “okay” concerning Bill—not quite indifference, but not pain either. His duplicity had left a scar inside of her—to be sure—but it had healed, leaving behind only a phantom sting when she thought about it. Simply put, she felt like she had moved on from Bill and from what he’d done to her. She felt that her relationship with him was now something to learn from, not to be stifled by. And realizing these things had felt good—really good.
And the good hadn’t stopped there.
The previous Wednesday had been Amelia’s birthday, and Sookie had met up for dinner and drinks with her friend at the Blue Water Grill, a restaurant once featured on Sex and the City. The eatery was in Union Square, a section of the city that Sookie hadn’t visited, and she’d found herself excited to see and experience the “new.”
Claudine and Luna Merlotte had also been at the small birthday gathering. And Amelia had urged Sookie to bring Holly. The five women stayed at the restaurant for nearly six hours all told. The meal was wonderful, and Sookie tried several cocktails that she’d never had before. However, the best part of the meal—the part that Sookie would always remember—was the easy laughter between the women at the table.
They had discussed the funny habits of the men or—in the case of Amelia—the women that they had dated. Luna shared that Sam sang show tunes in the shower—including “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. Claudine talked about how her current boyfriend wore underwear with comic book characters on it. Amelia bemoaned the fact that she’d been forced to break up with the “best girlfriend she ever had” because she made “geese-like” sounds when they had sex. Holly then talked about how the father of her two children used to wear an exfoliating facial mask several times a week. Sookie even felt comfortable enough to add to the conversation. She told her friends how Bill ironed and starched everything he wore, including his socks and underwear. The laughter around the table was plentiful as the women tried to outdo each other with the ridiculous behaviors of their past or present partners.
Certainly, Sookie had been the shyest of the five women, but she hadn’t felt left out. And she’d gone to bed that night with her mouth sore from all the smiling she’d done.
Friday night, Amelia had been sans date for the first time in a long time, and she and Sookie had gone out to see a move. It had been Sookie’s first time going to the cinema.
Amelia had wanted to see what she called a “mindless action flick” in order to temporarily forget about her newest break-up, and Sookie was up for anything, so they’d decided upon a movie about an alien invasion called Battleship. They had giggled through some of the more ridiculous plot points, and both had agreed that the best part of the movie was “killed off” way too early when a hunky costar was sacrificed in order to create melodrama for the main male lead, who was pretty unlikeable—and not nearly as handsome. Regardless of the fact that Sookie and Amelia hadn’t really cared for the movie, they’d had a fun time.
Sookie smiled a little wider. Also wonderful had been the gallery she’d visited that morning. The galleries didn’t always fascinate her equally, though she’d found something she could appreciate in each one thus far. But she tended to enjoy it most when history and art wove together, and she’d learned a lot that morning.
She liked choosing the galleries at random. She’d drawn Gallery 301 out of her jar the night before, and it had been packed with ancient Roman and Byzantine pieces, including a lot of interesting jewelry. The gallery even had some items from the Viking culture, which she had been reading about thanks to one of her most recent acquisitions from the public library. Sookie had been especially drawn to all the unique brooches. She couldn’t help but to appreciate the decorative functionality of the brooch.
So—yes—the week had been really “good,” probably the best she’d ever had. And she couldn’t wait to get to her and Eric’s gallery where—in a strange way—she could cap it off by spending time “with” him. Or, at least, relive her memories with him. She sighed as she thought about the bench he’d gotten for her. It was the best gift she’d ever received.
When she got to Gallery 823, however, she stopped in her tracks.
The bench was not empty.
He was there.
She took a breath.
He was there.
She closed her eyes and then opened them again.
He was there.
He was sitting on the bench and looking at their painting. Part of her wanted to back out of the room and leave before he noticed her, but she’d been carefully tending to the flicker of confidence that had awoken in her, and now it was large enough for her to take a step toward him. Moreover, as always, her body seemed to have a mind of its own when she was near him.
She walked to him slowly—the gazelle approaching the lion. And she felt brave. Without a word, she sat on the bench next to him.
Although it was clear that he knew she’d joined him by the way his body tensed and then relaxed, neither of them said anything for a few minutes.
“You read de Castro’s and Madden’s lips,” Eric finally opened the conversation in a low voice, though his eyes stayed on the painting in front of them. With his peripheral vision, he saw her cringe a little.
He continued, “I imagined corporate espionage. In my most jealous moments, I imagined you had found out about Felipe because you were Quinn’s lover. Hell—at once point—I even thought of ESP, but I never thought of lip-reading.”
He turned slightly on the bench so that he was looking at her. Her breathing was now faster, betraying her anxiety. He found that he hated making her nervous. Slowly, he reached out and took her hand, keeping his grip light. She was taking steadying breaths now as her eyes stayed locked into his. He found himself taking them with her.
“Would you take a walk with me, Sookie?” he asked after a minute. “It’s a nice day.”
She nodded, her body answering before her mind could react.
Slowly—as if trying not to scare her off—Eric rose to his feet, but kept her hand in his—now more firmly. She rose with him, and then they walked out of their gallery together.
They boarded the same elevator they’d been in the January before. Neither of them spoke during the short ride down, both of them seeming to hold their breaths.
Eric matched Sookie’s pace and then kept his eyes front and center as they passed the front guard station. Milos and Jack’s reaction at seeing Eric leave with Sookie after so many months was anything but subtle. Luckily, Sookie seemed too preoccupied with the unexpected situation she found herself in to notice their gaping mouths.
“Hungry?” Eric asked, motioning toward a hotdog vendor at the foot of the MET’s steps.
He looked down at her and noticed her nod again.
He squeezed her hand a little and walked them over to the hotdog truck.
“Mustard and sauerkraut,” she said in a voice just above a whisper as they got closer to the front of the line.
“Brown mustard—I assume?”
“What else would I have with sauerkraut?” she asked. Coming from anyone else’s lips, that statement might have seemed sarcastic or sassy. But from Sookie, it was simply a statement of fact.
Eric smiled, both at her words and the length of her sentence. Other than her warning him about de Castro and Victor, it was the longest sentence she’d ever said to him. “People say that you’re odd, but I guess not,” he said with a little smirk. “Brown mustard is the only logical choice.”
She blushed a little but then gave him a smile in return.
“I like a Coke with mine,” he said as the man in front of them was paying for his order.
“Me too,” she responded.
Eric nodded and then ordered his own hotdog with brown mustard, chili, and dill relish, before ordering hers. Soon, they each had a hotdog and a can of soda occupying their hands as they walked into the park. Sookie led them to the bench she usually sat on, and they ate silently.
“I should have gotten two,” Eric said with a little smile when they both finished. “But I didn’t want you to think I was a pig.”
“I don’t,” Sookie said, looking up at him sincerely.
“You should,” he sighed. “I’m sorry about the way I treated you in January—in the elevator,” he said, shaking his head regretfully. “You would be justified to think me an animal.”
“You didn’t hurt me,” she said quickly.
His eyes seemed to be boring into hers as he tested the veracity of her statement. Satisfied, though still obviously regretful, he took their trash to the nearest wastebasket and then held out his hand for her. She took it and stood with him. The two began to walk slowly down one of Central Park’s many trails, one leading past the Turtle Pond. The warm spring Sunday had brought out many New Yorkers and tourists.
“How did you find out—about what I can do?” she asked tentatively after a few minutes of silent walking.
He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair. “Can we walk for a few more minutes more? I’m afraid that after you know, you will never want to see me again. And I want a few more minutes of this,” he said as he squeezed her hand a little.
When she looked up at him, her blue eyes held a million questions, but she didn’t ask any of the ones she wanted to. She didn’t—because his eyes were imploring her not to.
“Are you an axe-murderer who’s chosen me for your next victim?” she asked instead, her lips twitching into a little smile.
He chuckled. “No.”
He shifted the grip of his hand so that their fingers entwined and then led her over to a quiet bench near Belvedere Castle. There they sat for several more minutes, both of them watching their joined hands; their fingers were now moving in exploration. As the minutes passed, each of them got a little lost watching their fingers play and feeling the sparks they created together.
“You make me think so many things, Sookie,” he finally stated quietly. “You make me ask so many questions.”
“I think about you too,” she confessed, as their eyes locked.
He took a deep breath. “After the NP party, I took the information you gave me to my father, but kept your name out of it.”
“I figured as much. Thanks,” she said.
“That Sunday after the party, I wasn’t here because I was following you, though I did have you followed starting later that day.”
Sookie gasped a little.
“Don’t worry about your observational skills, Sookie. I warned the people I had following you that you were good at noticing things, and they stayed quite far back from you. Plus, both of them are good at being ‘invisible’ when they want to be.”
“Why did you come to the museum that Sunday then?” she asked, ignoring—for the moment—the fact that he’d had her followed.
“Our painting,” he said, his free hand running through his hair once more. “I wanted to see the gold in it.”
“But I saw you in the other gallery—the Egyptian one.”
“Gallery 111,” he said. “The Magic Wand.”
“You remember that?” she asked.
“I remember them all,” he said, closing his eyes, afraid of the doubt which had flickered into hers. Their hands had stopped moving against one another’s, but she hadn’t yet broken the grip they had on each other. He took that as a good sign.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He opened his eyes and faced the music of her uncertain gaze. “That Sunday—the first one for me—I followed you into the museum, but lost you. I used the Northman name to get the guards to help me spot you, and on the museum cameras, I watched you. And since then—almost every Sunday—I have continued to watch you—though, after that first week, I haven’t let myself watch you for very long. Now, I just watch while you’re in our gallery for the most part,” he said contritely.
Eric had decided to make his own confessions without implicating Ben or the others. Mostly that was because he didn’t want Sookie to know about the bets—at least not until he could gauge how she would react to them. He didn’t want for her time at the MET to be tainted in any way.
“You’ve been stalking me?” she asked, removing her hand from his.
He looked down at his empty hand; her pulling away was what he had thought would happen once he told her. And, also just as he’d thought, he felt cold and empty without her touch.
“Yes. Yes I have been,” he admitted. “For five hours a day on Sundays, I am at the MET to see you and to visit the galleries you visit. And yes. I had Bobby—the person I hire for things I need—follow you for three weeks, beginning that day we were in Gallery 111 together. And then after that, I arranged for another person—Alcide—to keep watch over you from Friday evening to Sunday morning.”
“Which part?” Eric asked.
“Let’s start with the reason your people have been following me,” she answered after a moment of thinking.
He nodded. “At first, it was because of the de Castro thing. At least, that’s what I told myself.”
“And what didn’t you tell yourself?”
“That I was intrigued by you? That I felt like a fish on a hook being pulled to you. That I wanted to make sure you stayed safe.”
“Don’t,” he said, grabbing her hand again.
“Don’t what?” she asked, not pulling away.
“Don’t question yourself like that. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You are unique. And one look into your eyes made me feel like everything bad in my world could be burned up by your gaze. So don’t question yourself like that.”
She bit her lip. “You don’t know me.”
“I feel like I do,” he responded. “That’s the strangest thing. From the first moment I saw you looking at me, I felt like I did know you. I didn’t know about you, but I felt that I knew you all the same.”
“Eric,” she whispered.
He closed his eyes again—this time to enjoy the sound of his name on her lips. He savored it.
He didn’t open them until he resumed speaking almost thirty seconds later. “Bobby followed you all the time for three weeks after the party. I found out where you lived and who you lived with. After I confirmed that Amelia Broadway’s father was not in league with de Castro, I should have stopped having you followed. But I didn’t. I wanted to know more.”
“And what do you know?” she asked hesitantly.
He sighed. “You stay in most nights—except for Tuesdays when you visit a psychiatrist. You go to the grocery store and the library on Saturdays. You come to the MET on Sundays. Your employee report says that your productivity has gone down slightly since last January, but your numerical evaluations from Sam Merlotte have gone up.”
“How did you know about my—uh—ability? The lip-reading?”
“Last week, I decided that I needed to answer a question about you—about us. But to do that, first I needed to know how you knew about de Castro.” He paused. “I’m sorry, but I had to know the answer,” he finished in a whisper.
“To what question?” she asked, her voice also barely audible.
“The most important one,” he answered. “What if?”
“What if?” she repeated.
“Yes,” he responded. “What if we could be happy—even if it was just for a little while?”
“You’re not happy,” she stated rather than asked.
“No,” he answered simply. “I’ve never been happy—not that I remember, at least. Have you?”
She sighed and shook her head. “No—not really. I’m better now, and I have happy times, but I’m not really happy—not like I,” she paused, “want to be.”
He closed his eyes tightly and then opened them. When he did, she could have sworn that he was looking at her from the inside out.
“What ifI could make you happy, Sookie? Even if it was just for a little while—for as long as I could. What if I could be happy? Just for a little while?”
“A little while,” she repeated.
“Yes—if only for a moment—a moment of art. Like the gallery last week—Gallery 758.”
She smiled a little. “To capture an ordinary moment of life on canvas,” she said, remembering the words she’d read in the description of the works in Gallery 758. She’d written those words down in her notebook and had looked at them often throughout the week.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“So—you decided to answer the question.”
He nodded. “Yes. And to do that, I had to know how you knew about de Castro,” he said again, though this time his eyes also held an apology.
“Why didn’t you ask me?”
“I did—in January.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you then,” she responded.
“Would you have told me if I had asked you last week?”
She nodded. “I think so.”
He sighed. “Then I’m sorry I didn’t.”
“How did you find out?” she asked again.
Once more, he dragged his free hand through his hair. “I sent Bobby to the address you put on your résumé, a house in Bon Temps, Louisiana.” He took a breath. “Bobby has a way of asking questions without people knowing that they are being asked,” he explained. “And I told him to ask about you.”
Eric felt Sookie’s hand shaking a little and squeezed it comfortingly.
“No one was home at the address listed, but at the local bar, Bobby found a man named Jason Stackhouse, and he bought him some drinks.” Eric sighed. “Jason volunteered a lot of information about you.”
“My brother,” Sookie whispered.
“Yes,” Eric said with a sharp edge to his voice.
“He doesn’t much care for me.”
“No,” Eric said simply.
“What did he tell Bobby?”
“That you were a ‘retard,'” Eric said, quoting Jason Stackhouse.
She sighed and smiled ruefully. “He’s called me that—and other things—my whole life. I guess that’s what big brothers do,” she lied. In actuality, she knew that Jason’s behavior toward her was much worse than the norm.
“I am a big brother to five people, including Pam. And I wouldn’t dare,” he said, trying to add just a touch of levity to the serious moment—trying to make her eyes lose just a little bit of their sadness.
“I don’t blame you,” she smiled a little wider—a little more sincerely. “She is the ‘dragon lady,’ after all.”
“Dragon lady?” Eric asked with a raised eyebrow.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah—the copy editors’ nickname for her.”
Eric chuckled. “Fitting. I’ll have to start using that.”
Sookie smiled again and they fell into silence for a moment.
“What else did your person tell you?” Sookie asked.
“Bobby,” Eric said.
“Bobby,” Sookie repeated. “What else did he learn?”
Eric exhaled loudly. “That Jason calls you Susan. That you spent over half of your life deaf.” He paused, “And that your brother is a selfish asshole.”
“Did Bobby speak to my mother?”
Eric nodded, an agitated look on his face. “After she had a few shots of rum in her, Michelle Stackhouse told Bobby that she had only one child that she acknowledged.”
Sookie breathed in and out slowly. “I guess that’s all she’s ever really had,” she said, her head lowering. “She didn’t like it when I turned out,” she paused, “different from other kids.”
There was a moment of silence between them as he began caressing her palm with his thumb.
“Did Bobby talk to Gran?”
Eric shook his head. “Adele Stackhouse is currently in New Orleans visiting her other granddaughter, Hadley. Your cousin—right?”
“She is in a hospital there,” Eric reported.
“Does Bobby know what’s wrong with her? The last thing Gran knew, Hadley was on drugs. I’ve only ever met her once—a long time ago. She was a couple of years older than me—if I remember right. Her mom and mine,” she paused, “didn’t get along. I think Hadley ran away from home when she was seventeen.”
“Bobby didn’t go to New Orleans,” he responded. “But I will ask him to find out what’s wrong with your cousin—if you want.”
Sookie shook her head. “It’s okay. I call Gran every Monday night; I’ll ask her tomorrow. Or—she’ll call me if she needs me before then.”
“Why have you been watching me on Sundays?” she asked, going back to their earlier topic. “Why not just come up to me like you did that first week?”
“I was afraid,” Eric admitted.
“Feeling. I don’t like feeling.”
A/N #2: I hope that you liked this chapter. I have to admit that this section of the story (chapters 18-21) was one of my favorite parts to write.
Please comment/review if you have time; I love to hear what you think of the story.
Also, related to the places in the story, a reader recently asked if I’d chosen the Turtle Pond for a location b/c scenes from What Maisie Knew had been filmed there. Until the reader told me, I hadn’t even known about that. LOL. I chose the Turtle Pond b/c that’s where I meandered to eat my lunch after my first ever visit to the MET. It’s actually quite close to the MET.
Check this out!