Chapter 19: A Little Broken
“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.”
Sookie nodded in understanding. “Sometimes—no matter what you do—you can’t stop yourself from feeling—even if it hurts. Or,” she paused, “might hurt.”
“No—you can’t,” Eric agreed almost imperceptibly.
“You said you know me? And not just about me? How?” Sookie asked.
“That first Sunday, you told me that you always choose just one piece in every gallery you visit—just one for your picture.”
“After the first week, it didn’t feel right to watch you exploring the galleries in the mornings. That time seemed like it should be private for you; it seemed,” he paused, looking for the right word, “sacred.”
“Church,” she smiled a little. “Gran wanted me to find one out here, but I’ve never liked church.”
Eric looked at her in question.
“Too many lips saying too many things that go against everything a church should be about,” Sookie sighed. “Church was,” she paused, “painful.”
“And God?” Eric asked.
“He—or she—has pretty much left me alone for most of my life,” Sookie shrugged.
Eric nodded. Faith was a hard thing to hold on to in his world too.
“Me too,” Eric agreed. “But sometimes, I see something that makes me have hope that there is something out there—someone out there—who will let me meet my mother again one day.”
He was looking right at her, his eyes piercing through her, but she couldn’t look away.
“It’s a nice thought,” she responded quietly. “I’d like to see my father again.”
The two were silent for a moment, but their eyes stayed locked.
He squeezed her hand a little. “I know you, Sookie Stackhouse. Somehow I know you,” he added, his voice sounding a little awestruck.
“How can you say that?” she asked, finally able to pull her eyes from his. She looked down at their hands, which were still locked together, though now unmoving. She could barely see her hand wrapped up inside of his larger one, but she could feel every molecule of her skin as it tingled with the contact—the electricity—between them.
He took a deep breath. “I’ve come to the MET nineteen Sundays since we met, Sookie—even though you only knew I was here once. All but two of those times, I was able to pick the pieces that you took pictures of.” He paused for another breath. “It doesn’t matter how big the gallery is; I almost always know the piece as soon as I see it.”
Sookie gasped in surprise as she once more became enraptured by Eric’s eyes. They seemed to be absorbing all the blues and greens of the park as well as the light from the bright sun. They swirled with emotion—just like the sky in Van Gogh’s painting.
“What about the two times you didn’t?” she asked. It was the safer question—much safer than asking him about the seventeen he’d gotten right.
“Gallery 354 and Gallery 919,” he said, recollecting the two immediately.
Hearing those two numbers, she couldn’t help but to giggle a little. “I had no idea what to do with 919,” she confessed.
He nodded and grinned back at her. “Me neither. I’ll admit that the galleries with the more modern stuff haven’t been my favorites, but there were only eleven pieces in 919.” He chuckled. “You’d have thought that I could have at least guessed correctly.” He shook his head. “After all, since I’ve been coming here on Sundays, that’s been the gallery with the least number of things that we’ve visited. Still—I had no idea. It was the only time I picked completely at random.”
Sookie nodded in response. “I picked at random too. It took me forever to decide!” she added, laughing lightly at the memory. Eric felt his own mouth turn upwards a little more at the sound.
“I’d just edited a book about Pablo Picasso—the week before I went into Gallery 919,” Sookie said. “In it was a quote by Picasso, which said, ‘Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a yellow spot into the sun.'” She shook her head. “I really tried to figure out what Clyfford Still was trying to create in his paintings, but I just couldn’t see it.”
He squeezed her hand affectionately. “Me neither.” He hesitated. “I almost picked the yellow one,” he said, his focus shifting to her hair.
Sookie took a deep breath; it felt like it got caught somewhere in her throat. “But it wasn’t Van Gogh’s yellow?” she asked in a whisper.
“No,” he responded, reaching up his free hand to brush a strand of her hair behind her ear. “It was not.”
She sighed and leaned a little into his touch before a wry smile formed on her lips. “I pick Untitled.”
“Well—then I didn’t get it wrong, after all,” he said with a wry smile of his own. “I picked Untitled too.”
They shared a little laugh. Six of the ten paintings by Clyfford Still in Gallery 919 had been labeled Untitled. The others had been titled by year.
“I picked the red one with the blue crack,” Sookie said.
“And I picked the orange and brown one with the black crack,” he smiled.
“You did?” she wrinkled her nose a little. “Why?”
“It wasn’t,” he paused and shrugged, “as big as the other ones.”
She giggled. “You know—the one you picked was right next to the one I picked.”
He nodded. “Both in the same corner.”
Her face clouded for a moment.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
She bit her lip a little. “What about Gallery 354?”
He didn’t comment on the fact that she’d avoided his question. Instead, he answered hers. “Do you remember House Post?”
“There were several house posts,” she said, her brow furrowing in concentration. “Wait! The one by the windows in the east part of the gallery? The one that looked like a ‘Y’?”
He smiled. “Yeah. That’s the one.”
“From the Sentani village?” she remembered.
“Yeah. I liked how it was both a piece of art and something practical too.” He grinned—almost boyishly. “A family used it to keep their house standing up.”
“But made it beautiful as well,” she added.
“Yes, beautiful,” he said, squeezing her hand again.
She smiled. “I liked that one too.”
Eric nodded. “My grandfather—my mother’s father—would have liked it as well. He ran a publishing house—in Sweden—but he loved architecture too. I guess I inherited that interest from him.”
“Are your grandparents why you have a little accent?” she asked, looking at his lips.
“Most people don’t hear it,” Eric said, a little self-consciously.
“I can see it more than I can hear it,” she said softly, still focusing on his lips.
“What do you see?” he asked, his voice lower.
“It’s the way your lips move when you say certain things—almost like they are fighting with your brain a little.”
“Fighting?” he asked.
She nodded. “It’s what people’s lips tend to do when they are trying to avoid speaking with an accent.”
He looked at her with wonder in his eyes. “It’s most likely because of the cadence. Swedish has a different cadence than English.”
“You speak it then?” she asked, looking back into his eyes.
“Some. I spent summers with my grandparents there. My morfar—grandfather—spoke Swedish to me. My mormor—grandmother—spoke mostly English.”
Sookie smiled. “I did like the piece you picked—the house post. In fact, I thought about picking that one too,” she said with some awe in her tone.
“But you picked the Yam Mask,” he smirked.
“I liked the story behind it,” she smiled. “Can you imagine having a person that you exchanged your biggest yam with every year—just to try to prove your manliness?” she giggled.
“No. But it was probably a better—a ‘truer’—way of determining social clout than the things that determine it now,” he chuckled.
“The size of a yam versus the size of a bank account?”
They smiled at each other for a while before turning their focus to the Turtle Pond; in the distance, three small children squealed with delight as they pointed to a cluster of turtles along the shoreline. The breeze had picked up a little, rustling the leaves of the park’s lush trees and perfuming the air with the scent of wildflowers.
Both Eric and Sookie were filled with a contented ease that felt—for lack of a better word—”alien” to them. Neither of them was used to speaking so much—and certainly not so openly. And neither of them was used to feeling “close” to another. However, there could be no denying that the two were comfortable being with each other. Their bodies leaned instinctively close, Sookie’s head tilted so that it was almost resting on Eric’s broad shoulder.
Almost—but not quite.
“This is easy,” Eric said quietly. “Talking to you is so easy,” he added, his voice betraying his astonishment. “And it’s hard.”
Sookie looked up at him and nodded. She couldn’t help but to agree.
She took a deep breath. “So—the other seventeen Sundays? You were always able to tell which piece I would pick?”
Eric sighed. “The things you choose—they speak about who you are. Right?”
“They also speak about who I am.”
“Who you are?” she asked.
They were silent for a few moments.
“Eric, how do you know what I’m going to pick?” she asked her question again, this time barely audibly.
She looked at him in confusion.
“I pick my own favorites,” he said. “Well—not my ‘favorites.’ It’s hard to explain.”
“Try?” she requested—not demanding, just asking.
“I choose the ones that make me feel the most,” he said after thinking for several seconds.
She smiled a little. “I like that. But I wonder what it means.”
“Doris thinks we’re star-crossed lovers,” Eric said with a little smile.
“One of the usual Sunday guards in the control room.”
“Where you watch me?”
“They must think you’re the odd one,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“They do. I’m lucky they haven’t called the police. I’m lucky—for once—that I’m a Northman.”
“For once? You don’t like being one?”
“No,” he answered simply. “I don’t like being one.”
“Eric?” she asked.
“I don’t like being watched when I don’t know I’m being watched. It happened a lot when I—uh—couldn’t hear. When I was younger.”
“After Bobby told me what he learned in Bon Temps—I figured that might be the case,” he said begging for her forgiveness with his eyes. “That’s why I didn’t watch today—not at all. I don’t even know what gallery you went to. I just waited for you in ours.”
“Thank you,” she said, squeezing his hand.
He closed his eyes, thankful for the fact that she was still touching him—that she hadn’t run from him. “You should run from me,” he couldn’t keep himself from saying. His instinct was to protect her, after all. And even if he could no longer stay away, maybe she could protect herself from him.
“People I care for,” he paused, “they get hurt.”
“Do you hurt them?”
He opened his eyes; they showed more pain than she thought a person could bear—more hurt than she’d even seen in her own eyes.
“Not intentionally,” he responded.
She squeezed his hand again, comforting him. “Then there’s no reason for me to run,” she whispered.
He sighed deeply. There was no fear in her eyes. There was questioning, but there was also acceptance. And—for the first time Eric could remember—the hole inside of him didn’t feel so very large. As selfish as he knew it made him, he was glad she’d not run from him.
“Can I watch you?” she asked after a few moments of silence.
He tilted his head and raised his eyebrow in question.
Her face pinkened a little. “Can I watch you choose in the—uh—gallery I went to today? Gallery 301? I want to know what you pick. I want to watch you pick it.”
He smiled at her and stood up, their fingers entwining again. “I’d like that very much,” he said.
Eric felt her eyes on him.
“You’re distracting me,” he said without turning around. They’d been back in the museum for two hours, but he was yet to get through all of Gallery 301, though he already had a pretty clear idea of what he was going to pick.
Still, there were a lot of pieces that he wanted to look at, and Sookie’s presence was quite distracting, especially given the fact that a big part of him wanted to grab her and kiss her until they were both senseless—just as he’d done the first night he met her. Her scent, now fueled by the sun, permeated the gallery, despite the fact that it was a long room; that scent infused him as well. And his dick was threatening to take complete control as he felt her eyes studying him—”learning” him. Those eyes inflamed him.
Strangely, he’d had an easier time controlling his more lustful urges earlier—when they’d been holding hands in the park. Perhaps that was because he’d been so scared of her reaction to his stalker-like behavior.
Or perhaps the few feet now between them literally screamed to be crossed.
And with the purpose of tasting her lips again.
January had been too long ago. And there was no denying that he’d been craving the taste of those lips—of the woman. Having Sookie close enough to stimulate all of his senses had only intensified that yearning, especially now that she’d not run from him.
“Sorry,” she said half-coyly and half-apologetically. “I don’t mean to distract you.”
“I know,” he smiled. “Don’t you have more notes to write or something?”
“Nope. All done,” she answered, a smile in her voice. “Just waiting for you.”
“Then stop distracting me,” he said with a fake growl.
He turned around to see her smiling. She was beautiful.
“Go sit in the corner or something until I’m done,” he said jokingly.
Immediately the smile disappeared from her face, and she stiffened. The air seemed to go out of the room. Eric quickly walked over to where Sookie was sitting and knelt before her, but he didn’t touch her.
“I’ve said the wrong thing,” he said softly, frightened by the haunted look he’d unwittingly put into her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he added, his voice catching.
Sookie’s eyes glanced nervously toward the nearest corner, and she began to shake a little.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Eric. I’m just broken,” she said with a quiet whimper.
He wanted to tell her that she wasn’t, but he recognized that something in her was broken—just as he knew that something inside of himself was broken. He wanted to promise to fix everything, but he knew that he could never keep that promise. He couldn’t fix her any more than she could fix him. He just hoped that he might soothe her—at least for a little while.
Gently, he put his hand against her cheek and turned her head so that she was looking at him again. “Being a little broken makes you no less beautiful,” he said softly. “It doesn’t make you any less beautiful—to me,” he clarified.
Her lip quivered as she was struck by the sincerity in his eyes.
“You think I’m beautiful?” she asked, her tone betraying her disbelief—her bewilderment. Never in her life had she been told that before.
“You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met,” he answered with passion in his voice.
They stayed as they were, her sitting on the bench and him on one knee before her. His hand lingered on her cheek, barely touching her skin. For several long moments, blue eyes met blue eyes. His churned with cerulean and teal. Hers were darker, and there was less green in them; they shone true blue and sapphire, and they searched his as if looking for the answers to hundreds of unspoken questions. Importantly, however, his stubborn gaze wouldn’t let her eyes go. Thus, they couldn’t retreat to the corner. She could only focus straight ahead, and her heart swelled with gratefulness at that fact.
Their silent moment was interrupted when a new group of people, a large family of tourists from the looks of them, entered the room. Quickly, Eric rose and then silently sat next to Sookie.
Inconspicuously, as was both of their practices, the two watched the family wander around the gallery. Only two of the group members seemed interested in the room; the others looked around restlessly, without seeing much. The family had obviously been in the museum for a long time, probably for most of the day. And they all had slightly glazed over looks in their eyes—as if their minds had been overloaded and could no longer process much information. Both Eric and Sookie had seen that look a lot in their months of visiting the MET.
There were several children in the group—all younger than teenagers from the looks of them. They milled around aimlessly and impatiently while two women in their late thirties or early forties laughed about some of the more showy jewelry in the room.
“I wanna see the Viking sword!” the youngest boy whined in a high-pitched voice after the group had been in the gallery for about five minutes. He looked to be about five or six years old. He also seemed to be in physical pain at having to wait for the women—probably his mother and aunt—to be ready to leave the room.
The child stomped around the room loudly, his long day of having to “appreciate” art obviously causing his temper tantrum. “I wanna see the Viking sword!” he repeated.
Eric watched as one of the men in the group went over and bent down before the child. The man and the child were across the long room from Eric and Sookie, so Eric couldn’t hear what the man was saying to the child, but he could see their expressions from their profiles. The man’s face remained even and composed, while the little boy’s expression went from angry to pouty to finally calm. The boy gave the man a little nod, and the man ruffled the boy’s long bangs as he rose. A few minutes later, the women had had their fill of examining the jewelry, and the family left the gallery.
“What did the man say?” Eric asked Sookie, knowing that she had “read” the boy and the man.
Sookie used to hate being forced to tell her mother what she’d “heard” from the lips of others, but she didn’t hesitate in sharing the information with Eric.
“The father asked the boy if stomping around and throwing a fit had ever gotten him anything he wanted. The little boy said a reluctant ‘no’ before the man reminded him that his mom would probably be just as bored by swords and suits of armor as he was bored by jewelry. However, she was still going to go with them to see those things. He also reminded his son that they were going to get him the toy sword that they saw in the gift shop.”
“Was the father threatening not to buy it—or to take it away—if the boy misbehaved?” Eric asked, his voice showing his captivation with both Sookie and story she was telling—the snapshot, the moment of life, that she was giving him of the family they’d seen.
“No,” she said. “But you’re right. Usually parents threaten misbehaving kids with punishment. This one was just reminding. He also reminded his son that his mother was going to be getting some jewelry in the gift shop. He said that by the end of the day, everyone will have seen what they want to see and will have gotten what they want from the shop. And then he reminded his son that they still planned to play with his sword together in the park after they left the museum, but that they had quite a few more galleries from their list to get to—including the ones in the armory that the little boy was excited about.”
Sookie and Eric sat in silence for a while. At some point, without either of them noticing when, their hands had come together again.
“I was born in New York—at a hospital only a few blocks from here. My father lives less than a ten minute walk from here. I was about that little boy’s age when my mother died.” Eric took a deep breath. “After that, my father decided to send me to boarding school, but I was allowed to stay in his house for three weeks a year during my winter breaks.” He paused as Sookie’s eyes caught his. “My family has donated so much money to this museum that a wing is named after us—as you know—but the first time I walked into the MET wasn’t until I was twenty-four, the first year my father told me to come to the Northman Publishing party—the January before I graduated from business school.” He exhaled. “I’ve lived in New York for years. However, I have never seen any of the things that I saw in this room until today.”
Sookie could see Eric’s battered soul in his eyes as he continued. “And I’m not just talking about the art. I’ve never seen a father speak to a son like that.”
Sookie nodded in understanding. “It was a nice family.” She sighed, “Not all families are nice.”
“No,” Eric whispered. “They are not.”
Sookie squeezed his hand, trying to wish the pain from his eyes. They’d turned steel blue and had lost a little bit of their life—their luster.
“I am lucky though,” Eric said after a while. “I have Bobby and Pam and my other siblings. And Mormor.” He sighed. “But I’ve never really,” he paused, “talked to them. I can’t.”
“Do you still visit your mormor in Sweden?” she asked, somehow understanding that it was not the right time to ask him “why” he had a difficult time talking to people. Plus, she didn’t really need to ask. A part of her already seemed to know.
Eric nodded. “Since I’ve been working at NP, I’ve always gone for at least a week in the summer. This year, I am taking two weeks.”
“I have my Gran,” Sookie said. “I flew to see her at Thanksgiving since the copy editing department was closed from Wednesday to Monday last year. I’d like to see her more often, but staying in Bon Temps longer than that isn’t,” she paused, “good for me.”
Eric nodded. “This year—because of you—I’m planning to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo as well as the Birka Museum in Stockholm. My mormor lives in Lidköping, which is about four hours from Oslo and just a bit further from Stockholm, so I’ll take a couple of two-day trips.”
She smiled and teased. “Will you see a Viking sword?”
He grinned back, happy that her smile had lifted his mood. He was certain that a single smile from her could lift the whole world from solemnity. “I hope so,” he answered.
His body nudged forward—pulled to hers in a way he couldn’t understand. His eyes moved to her lips, but he didn’t finish bridging the distance to them.
Her eyes stayed on his, studying the way that he seemed to be struggling with something.
“Can I see your phone, Sookie?” he asked after a few moments.
She nodded and reached into her bag for it.
Eric quickly figured out how to turn on the camera. He stood up and walked to a display case near where they were sitting. It didn’t take him long to find the piece that he was looking for—a beautifully crafted Viking artifact. It was only a piece of a brooch; most of the brooch—the showy part—had been lost over time. But the part that was left was much more detailed and well-preserved than the other Viking pieces in the exhibit. It was made of niello, silver, and gold and was from the 900s.
At over a thousand years old, the small fragment had stood the test of time. However, since the piece was incomplete, a “normal” person might overlook its beauty. But he wasn’t “normal.” And he wasn’t with a “normal” girl, and in that moment he was more grateful for that fact than he’d ever been for anything in his whole life.
He snapped the picture and went back to sit next to her. The awestruck look on her face told him that he was right about his selection, but that wasn’t the thing that he wanted to focus on. He wanted her to know why he’d picked the brooch fragment.
He handed her back her phone, and she stared at the picture.
“It may be broken,” he said in an emotion-filled whisper. “But it is still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
She looked into his eyes and knew that he was not talking about the brooch.
A/N: For those in the U.S., happy 4th of July! (For those in Great Britain, sorry to rub it in.) 😉
I hope that you enjoyed this chapter! This was another fun one to write. You can expect the next chapter on Sunday or Monday. Meanwhile, be sure to send me a comment/review on fanfiction.net, if you want a sneak peek of what’s ahead.
As always, thanks so much for reading! And I’d love to hear what you think.