Chapter 22: The Good Kind of Fear
Again, Eric contemplated leaving, running shoeless and shirtless into the night. But that would be running away from his heart’s desire. And he just didn’t have the strength to do that—not anymore.
Instead, he opened the toothbrush Sookie had given him and brushed his teeth. Then he sat on the edge of the tub and waited for his erection to go down enough for him to use the bathroom. It took him ten minutes of reciting memorized poetry in his head before his dick finally cooperated.
While washing his hands, he looked in the mirror. The man he saw there looked unfamiliar. He looked younger than he had that morning. He looked lighter. His shoulders were relaxed. He had a small smile on his lips. He looked happy.
Eric had never seen the man before.
Barely controlling the butterflies in her stomach, Sookie turned on the two lamps in the room and then turned off the overhead light. She got into her bed, noticing for the first time just how small it seemed. She propped her pillows up a little and leaned against them, trying to analyze why she felt so ready—impatient even—for Eric Northman to sleep in her bed.
It certainly wasn’t because she’d had wonderful experiences sharing a bed with Bill in the past. On the nights that Bill would stay with her, they slept together after they had sex, but Bill had claimed that he would get too hot if he held her during the night. Thus, sharing a bed with Bill hadn’t really been that intimate; of course, now that she knew better, Sookie understood that sex with Bill hadn’t been that “intimate” either. After all, true intimacy couldn’t be based on deception and manipulation.
She’d been with Bill for quite a while before he’d kissed her on the lips and for quite a while longer before she’d lost her virginity to him. After that, they’d quickly fallen into the routine of spending two nights a week together: every Monday and every Wednesday—like clockwork.
Those nights were always the same, and even for Sookie, who enjoyed routine, they’d seemed scripted—too scripted. At precisely 9:30 on each night that they spent together, Bill would take her hand and lead her to the bedroom. He would always turn around to undress himself, so that is what she would do too. Then they would both climb under the sheets.
Bill would initiate their kissing immediately, and the path he followed was always the same. He would spend a little time on her lips. Then he would move to her breasts, which he seemed to like. Then he would trail kisses back up to her neck—often marking it or her collarbone with a small hickey—before giving her a last kiss on the lips.
After that, he would grab the condom he’d left already opened on the nightstand. From their first time to their last time, he always entered her from above. Bill seemed to enjoy the missionary position, and Sookie had never had sex any other way, so she had nothing to compare it to, nor had she been confident enough to ask for anything else.
Plus, that position had felt nice—except for her first time, which had hurt a little. Bill had—to his credit—gone slower that first time, even touching her a little to make sure she was “ready” before he put his member into her. The touching had been especially pleasurable, but—unfortunately—after that first time, touching was no longer part of the routine. It was as if Bill prioritized their actions, and anything that didn’t fit into his timetable was simply left out.
As if even his ejaculations were on a schedule, Bill would “finish” at around 9:45 each night they had sex. Then he would always lie on his back pulling her to his chest until the clock on her bedside table read 10:00. Those minutes of cuddling soon became Sookie’s favorite part of sex. However, at 10:00, Bill would indicate that he needed to get to sleep. At that point, he would get up, go to the bathroom, shower, and put on his pajamas before getting back into bed.
Sookie had soon learned that his preference was for her to do the same as soon as he was done in the bathroom. So she would. He was always snoring—his back turned away from the bed’s center—by the time she was done with her shower.
Still—despite the formulaic nature of it—she had liked sex with Bill. It had felt good, and—for once—she’d felt like a “normal” girl.
After their second time together, Sookie had even felt confident enough to rock her hips along with him, and doing so had increased her pleasure. However, when she’d gotten lost in her enjoyment and had tried to move a little more, Bill had groaned in frustration as he lost his rhythm. After that, Sookie had concentrated on keeping her hips still during sex, which seemed to make Bill happier as he slipped in and out of her at a rapid cadence, taking himself to completion with the consistency of a metronome.
Especially during her first month of having sex with Bill, Sookie hadn’t questioned his bedroom behavior; in fact, in her nervous inexperience, she’d welcomed the routine. However, eventually her mind went back to the information she’d found out about sex throughout her life. It was certainly a common topic, so the lip-reader had “overheard” quite a few conversations about it. People tended to discuss it as something extremely coveted and pleasurable. And—if the shape of Bill’s mouth were any indication—he certainly seemed to have a transcendent moment each time they had sex. So—naturally—Sookie had begun to wonder what was wrong with her and why her body couldn’t produce an orgasm during sex.
Other than the lips of people whispering about sex, most of what Sookie knew about physical intimacy had come from a Harlequin Romance novel she had discovered in Gran’s bookcase. Not knowing what kind of book it was, Sookie had read the romance novel one Saturday after she’d finished To Kill a Mockingbird, a book she’d brought home from the school’s library. It was about six months after Sookie had moved in with Gran, and the older woman was spending the day with a sick friend. Gran had always said that Sookie could borrow any book she wanted, but Sookie had been reticent to do so, not wanting to disturb anything and risk being sent away. However, that day, she’d picked a title off the shelf that had always caught her eye: Separate Lives. On the cover was a man and woman who looked happy as they sat on the floor playing with a couple of kittens.
Needless to say, the book had been eye-opening to the introverted sixteen-year-old.
Not long after reading Separate Lives, Sookie had touched herself for the first time and discovered how to bring herself to an orgasm. The people whom she had overheard talking about orgasms at school and church had been right; they were wonderful. However, after a few months of having sex with Bill, Sookie reconciled herself to the fact that she was somehow broken, for no matter how hard she tried to concentrate on the pleasant pressure that built inside of her while Bill was pumping in and out of her, she could never get over the edge—so to speak.
Resolving to be grateful for the nice sensations she did get from sex with Bill, Sookie had concentrated on doing anything she could to make things better for him. His lips showed her that he liked it when she gripped his upper arms while he was thrusting into her. He also groaned a little more pronouncedly when she spread her legs wider when he was inside of her, and even though her impulse was to wrap her legs around him, she did what he enjoyed.
She also started reading some articles and books about sex, hoping to learn more specific information so that she could be pleasing to Bill. Some of the articles suggested that sex between a couple improved as they got to know each other’s bodies more and more. Thus, Sookie began to hope for that.
But other things in the articles that she read made her apprehensive. Almost all of them indicated that “spice” and “variety” were necessary in a long-term sexual relationship, so Sookie began to fear that Bill would become bored or frustrated with her. She also worried that he’d set such an unvarying routine only to accommodate her.
Consequently, she decided that she needed to try to do something more for Bill. Her lip-reading had told her that many people enjoyed oral sex, so she read several articles about how to give a man a blow job, and after downing half a bottle of wine before Bill arrived one night—and then another glass with dinner—she gave him one. Bill had seemed to enjoy himself and had definitely had a release, but he’d made no attempt to return the favor—so to speak. They’d not had regular sex that night either, nor had there been any cuddling; however, Sookie still hoped that the new facet of their sex life might eventually lead to other things and make him happier with her.
She’d been wrong.
The second time Sookie had tried to take his member into her mouth, Bill told Sookie not to. He’d lectured her matter-of-factly that it was “untoward for committed couples to do such things and that—as a proper lady—she shouldn’t even want to do them.” He’d said that he was actually happy that she was such a “neophyte—and so unskilled—in the art of fellatio.” He added that while he had appreciated her “efforts to please him,” he didn’t want her to continue doing such “a degrading thing.” Of course, his words had taken the wind out of Sookie’s sails when it came to trying new things.
Those words had also made her feel ashamed—ashamed that she had, as Bill claimed, degraded and cheapened herself somehow. And—given her own inexperience—she had followed Bill’s lead. In fact, she had even stopped herself from “wanting” to have an orgasm with Bill after he’d explained that “proper women ought not to be overly passionate.” She’d also stopped bringing herself to releases on the long, lonely nights when she had sexual urges.
Despite her growing nervousness about sex, however, Sookie had been grateful to be in a relationship—too grateful to “rock the boat.” With Bill, she had no longer faced a future of perpetual loneliness. And even though he didn’t touch her or hold her as much as she would have liked, it had been nice hearing his breathing and feeling his warmth from the other side of her bed when he stayed over. She hadn’t necessarily gotten more or better sleep when he was with her, but she had enjoyed not being alone.
Given her past, it had been easy for her to accept what she’d been given without complaint.
However, Bill had started to seem distracted during sex in the last couple of months they were together, and Sookie feared that it was because she was doing something wrong in the bedroom. Finally, she decided that she had to talk to Bill—to find out what she needed to “fix.”
So—on one of their appointed nights together—about a month before her relationship with Bill ended—Sookie finally summoned the courage to ask him if they could talk about something important. She had cooked him his favorite meal and had just poured him a second glass of wine when she broached the topic of their sexual relationship.
She certainly hadn’t expected the response Bill gave her. He shocked her by getting down on one knee and producing what he called a “promise” ring. They’d been together eight months by then, and he explained that he would ask her to marry him “properly” when the time was “right.” Meanwhile, he said that he wanted her to wear the small gold band he’d gotten for her so that she understood the depth of his affections as well as his intentions for their future together.
After he’d slipped the ring onto her finger, Sookie had forgotten her initial purpose for the evening. Almost formally, Bill had asked her if they could alter the routine that they’d been following so that he could stay with her an additional night each week. Given their “pre-engagement,” he suggested that they add Friday nights to their Monday/Wednesday schedule; he even indicated that he could stay with her into Saturday afternoon on the weeks when he didn’t have projects due, instead of leaving early in the morning as was his usual practice after spending the night. Sookie had agreed happily.
She had hoped that their spending an extra night together and having a morning “to sleep in,” as Bill put it, might lead to less hurried sex. She had also hoped that being “promised” to each other would make her feel a closer connection with him.
Her hopes had been naïve.
In fact, sex between her and Bill did change after he’d given her the promise ring. First, it became less frequent, and—ironically—she saw him less often because he would often cancel their weekday nights together, citing the “extra weekend time they’d added” as an excuse.
Less than a month after Bill had “pre-proposed” to her, Sookie received her visit from Lorena, who proceeded to let her know that Bill was so “bored” when he had sex with Sookie that he’d needed to seek out someone more “satisfying.” Lorena was graphic as she gleefully reported the ways she and Bill had found mutual “satisfaction” together. And Lorena’s cruel laughter had certainly reinforced all of Sookie’s fears regarding her own lack of sexual skill. That laughter had followed her to New York.
Luckily, one of the first books she copy edited when she got to NP was a textbook about sexual relationships. From it, Sookie began to understand that it might actually have been Bill who was a bad lover—and a selfish and manipulative one at that. After editing that book, she checked out others from the public library and did a lot of internet research about unhealthy sexual relationships.
It had taken Sookie months of research before she acknowledged that Bill had been using sex as a tool of control with her. He’d pursued her with false intentions, and then he’d wanted her to fit the mold of a genteel Southern lady.
Claudine had helped Sookie even more, and though Sookie had talked about her relationship with Bill in only general terms until recently, her therapist had guided her in overcoming much of the trepidation and shame she’d developed about sex. Once getting the whole story, Claudine had posited that Bill was likely incapable of having a healthy, balanced sexual relationship. She figured that Bill had used both Lorena and Sookie for opposite reasons–that he suffered from what psychologists called the Madonna-whore complex. Sookie had been Bill’s “Madonna,” someone he felt he could mold into the “perfect woman.” On the other hand, Lorena had been Bill’s “whore,” someone he could use to fulfill his “darker” sexual urges. In truth, neither of Bill’s conceptions of the women in his life had been real; both were projections of his own desires, likely fueled by something in his past.
Whatever Bill’s malfunction, Sookie was working very hard to make sure that her screwed up relationship with Bill didn’t frame her current interest in intimacy with a certain tall blonde.
In fact, thanks to her reading and Claudine’s guidance, Sookie understood that she’d done nothing wrong when it came to sex with Bill. Moreover, Sookie had come to think of herself as still a virgin in a lot of ways—not in a physical sense, but in an emotional one. She looked forward to a time when sex wasn’t stilted by a schedule. She looked forward to a time when a lover thought more of her than himself. Yes—she had started to accept the fact that she deserved much more than she’d gotten from Bill.
However, despite her progress, Sookie couldn’t help but to be nervous about the idea of sex with Eric. He was so experienced, and she just wasn’t. Still—next to her nervousness was not fear. It was exhilaration and anticipation. Sookie intuited that making love to Eric would be better than anything she’d ever imagined, especially given the reaction of her body when they’d kissed. In fact, she felt her stomach tying itself into knots as she remembered how their tongues had entwined so seamlessly. She warmed at the memory of his hands—so passionate and tender—on her face. She wondered what those hands would feel like in other places on her body.
Sookie shook her head to take herself out of the thoughts that threatened to take her over. She knew that tonight was not the night to have sex with Eric—no matter how much the prospect thrilled and tempted her.
She took a steadying breath and put Eric’s talented hands and mouth out of her mind—at least for the moment. Instead, she tried to figure out why the thought of his leaving her house earlier had made her feel like she’d be losing a part of herself if he did.
Despite her immediate connection with him, she hardly knew Eric, and what she did know wasn’t necessarily flattering to him. Many called him a womanizer, and most everyone at the office thought he was involved with Isabel Edgington. But Sookie had believed Eric when he told her about his friendship with Isabel and his “non-relationships” with the others.
More disconcerting to Sookie was the fact that he’d had her followed, even if—as he’d claimed—it had been only to make sure she was safe. Moreover, he’d basically admitted to stalking her for several hours each Sunday!
In addition to those red flags, Eric Northman was so far out of her league when it came to money and looks and social position that it wasn’t even funny.
Still, Sookie felt something with him that she’d never felt before. She just couldn’t name what that something was yet. She wasn’t even sure that it had a name, but she wanted to continue feeling it.
Was it love?
She shivered and grabbed one of the books off of her nightstand. She didn’t want to think about whether or not she loved Eric Northman; she couldn’t—not yet. Quickly, she opened her book to the place where she’d left off, even as she concentrated on taking deep breaths. Eric had the ability either to make her breathe easier or to take her breath away. She couldn’t help but to guess that it would be the latter when he walked back into the room.
She wasn’t wrong.
He was in only his dark gray boxer-briefs when he reentered her room, and they didn’t leave much of his lithe body to the imagination. With great effort, however, she kept her eyes on his eyes.
“Do you close your door when you sleep?” he asked.
She nodded, “Would you lock it too?” She knew that Amelia wouldn’t be there that night, and—even if she was—she wouldn’t come into Sookie’s room without knocking, but Sookie always locked her door at night just the same.
Eric nodded and then turned around to face the door. When he did, Sookie couldn’t prevent her eyes from traveling to his perfect bottom. In his suit, he looked good from behind. In his jeans, he looked amazing. And in next to nothing at all, he was sin itself—better than any masterpiece she’d ever seen.
Almost tentatively, Eric closed and locked Sookie’s bedroom door. He’d spent a total of fifteen minutes in the bathroom, much of that time willing his erection away. However, it had threatened to return with full force as soon as he saw Sookie waiting for him in her bed.
He concentrated with all of his might on keeping his dick at bay—at least until he could hide it safely under the blankets. Feeling the heat of her gaze as she checked him out was certainly not helping in that cause, so he moved to “his” side of the double bed without looking at her too closely. He also tried to keep his cock turned away from her so that she couldn’t see it springing to life in his underwear.
At home, Eric had a California king-sized bed, so fitting himself into Sookie’s standard-sized bed was going to be a challenge, especially since he was sharing it and didn’t know how close Sookie would want him. He carefully situated his 6’4″ frame on “his” side of the bed and then turned to look at his bedmate, immediately glad that he’d waited to do so until his cock was under cover.
She looked gorgeous. In the soft light of her lamp, he could see even more freckles spattered across her cheeks than he had before. He wanted to reach out and trace each one on her face and then go seeking out any others that were hidden on her body. But—with difficulty—he refrained.
“Do you have a book for me?” he asked, his voice rumbling a little as he gestured toward the opened book on her lap.
She nodded and reached over to her nightstand to get him something to read.
“The Vikings by Else Roesdahl,” he said, reading the cover of the book. He chuckled. “Light reading?”
She giggled, and any awkwardness in the room melted with the sound. “I like reading a lot of things, but one of my favorite subjects is history. You’re lucky,” she said, gesturing to the book.
His eyebrow waggled. “Just how am I lucky, Miss Stackhouse?” he asked half-playfully and half-suggestively.
She blushed. “Last week, I had something on the Aztecs, but this is better since you’re probably—you know,” she paused and smiled at him, “descended from Vikings. You sure look like it.”
He laughed heartily, though Sookie caught some pain hiding at the edges of his eyes. She didn’t ask about it.
“Probably,” Eric replied, his smile fading. “My father hates it, but I favor my mother’s side of the family, and—as I told you—they are from Sweden.”
“But Northman seems like a Viking name. Is your father’s family from Scandinavia too?” she asked.
Eric shrugged. “The first of my forebears in this country was named Erik Northman too, but it was spelled with a ‘K.’ That’s the more traditional Scandinavian way, but that Erik was born in northern England. Of course, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t descended from Vikings. Still—my father doesn’t like it that I,” he paused, “look so much like my mother.”
“Oh,” Sookie sounded, not knowing what to say.
“And what about you?” he asked, changing the subject. “What are you reading?”
She grinned. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’d never read it before, and it seemed appropriate.”
“Indeed,” he grinned back. “Your résumé indicated that you were an English major. Did you specialize in something? You would have had to when you got your master’s degree—right?”
She nodded. “I liked the British Early Modern period best.”
“That’s the Renaissance—right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
“Yes. But I love the other playwrights too. And the poets.”
“Ah,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Beauty no other thing is, than a beam / Flash’d out between the middle and extreme.”
“Markus Herrick,” she said with a little surprise.
Eric chuckled, “I have a confession to make.”
“I’m not sure what that poem even means. In the boarding school I went to, we had to memorize a certain number of poems, and I never quite understood that one—maybe because it’s too short or too straightforward.”
“Well—they don’t come much shorter than that one,” she smiled.
“So—Miss Renaissance Scholar, what does it mean?”
“Hmmm,” she said, crinkling her nose playfully. “I’ve got no idea,” she lied.
He chuckled and settled against his side of the headboard, his book on his lap. He opened the volume to the introduction and began to read.
About five minutes later, he felt her head make contact with his shoulder, and he raised his arm and lowered himself into the bed a little so that she could more easily settle against his side.
“Is this—uh—okay?” she asked tentatively. Sookie seemed not to have realized that they had been touching until he moved, though she had initiated the contact. Eric felt her hesitation to lean fully into him.
“Yes. Very okay,” he reassured before pressing a kiss to her forehead and gently pulling her closer until her head was resting almost directly over his heart. They both sighed at the contact and closeness.
“Thanks,” she said softly.
His answer was just as soft, but came in the form of another kiss to her forehead.
Within moments, they’d resumed their reading and had relaxed into each other as if they’d been together ten years and not ten hours. After about thirty minutes, Sookie yawned.
“Are you ready to sleep?” Eric asked her.
“Yes. I should set my phone alarm,” Eric said, reaching for his cell phone. He put “his” book onto “his” nightstand before changing the settings on his alarm. When that was done, he turned off the lamp on “his” side.
Meanwhile, Sookie placed her book onto her nightstand. As soon as she flipped the switch turning off the lamp on her side, Eric noticed that several nightlights became illuminated in the power sockets around the room.
“Oh—I can take all those out,” Sookie said, clearly a little embarrassed.
“They don’t bother me,” Eric assured. “I like seeing you; plus, I’m used to the lights of the city in my bedroom.”
She smiled softly and turned to lie on her side so that her pose mirrored his.
His sharp eyes, quickly becoming accustomed to the dim light, studied her lovely face—just as her eyes studied his.
“May I give you a goodnight kiss now?” he whispered.
“Yes,” she said a little breathlessly.
He leaned in, and she leaned in, and their lips met softly in the middle. The kiss was chaste and lingering, an exchange of breath as much as an exchange of touch.
“Good night, Sookie Stackhouse,” he whispered as he leaned back to where he’d been before.
“Good night, Eric Northman.”
Under the covers, their hands had already locked together.
Sookie woke up naturally at about 4:45 a.m., just as she always did.
However—immediately—she recognized that two things were different than usual. First, she’d slept through the entire night without waking. Generally, she woke up several times.
Second, she was much warmer than usual, and that was because a man was holding her against his body. Sookie couldn’t prevent her smile. “Spooning!” she thought to herself. She was spooning! And to say that it was like heaven would have been an understatement.
She felt warm, but not just in temperature. She felt comfortable and cherished; actually, she felt “cozy,” an adjective she’d never thought to use for herself before. She smiled a little wider.
Eric’s long, lissome body was behind her, and she was curved into him. Their bodies fit together just as their hands and lips had—like puzzle pieces finally able to lock together with their mates to form a beautiful image. His arm was slung over her waist, his palm resting on her stomach. His face was buried in her hair, and he was snoring faintly.
She lay there and enjoyed the sensation of him all around her. He engulfed her with not only his body but also with his scent and the stir of his breath tickling her neck.
She sighed, realizing in that moment just how difficult it was going to be to tell him goodbye—no matter when she had to do it.
She closed her eyes tightly and placed her hand softly over his. Could she accept what Eric was offering: three years and eight months? She knew that he was promising her much more than he’d ever promised anyone else and more than he’d ever hoped for himself. Her initial response had been to ask why he would offer that to someone like her. But she pushed that question to the side. That “Why?” was for Eric to answer.
“I can practically hear your mind working,” Eric whispered from behind her.
She was surprised that his voice didn’t startle her. “You’re awake,” she said.
“Just,” he answered groggily. “Is this okay?”
She felt the pressure of his hand on her stomach increase just a little. “Yes,” she responded, pressing her own hand more firmly against his.
“Will you tell me what you were thinking?” he asked.
“I was wondering when we got like this.”
She giggled. “I have no idea.”
He inhaled deeply as if memorizing the moment with all of his senses. “I was also thinking about how I’ve never woken up with someone in my arms like this.”
“Do you like it?” she asked tentatively.
“I do—very much—but it scares me.”
“Claudine says that fear is natural—good even—as long as it’s of a certain type.”
“She’s your therapist—right?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, not questioning how he knew that. “I started seeing her last December.”
He turned his hand so that it interlocked with hers. “I’m glad.”
“Because,” he started and then stopped for a moment. “Because I don’t know everything about your life yet, but what I do know tells me that you’ve been hurt. And I,” he paused, “don’t want you to hurt.”
“Claudine’s nice,” Sookie said after a moment of silence, “and she smiles more than I thought any human being could.”
He chuckled. “Will you tell her about me?”
“She knows about you already. But yes. I’ll tell her about yesterday—and today.”
“What is the good kind of fear?” Eric asked as he placed a chaste kiss on her neck.
She gasped a little. “The kind that makes you run from someone who wants to hurt you. Or—the kind that makes you have butterflies. The kind that makes you anxious—but not paralyzed—when things are new and you don’t want to mess them up.”
“And the bad kind?”
“The kind that prevents you from trying something—doing something you want to do—because you’re afraid. The kind that makes you,” she paused, “shut out the world.”
They were silent for a few minutes. Somehow both of them knew that they’d each been guilty of this last kind of fear—though for good reason.
“I have to get up in five minutes,” he whispered sadly.
“Five minutes,” she repeated, even more quietly.
“I have meetings until after 7:00 tonight,” Eric said nervously. “Can I come back here after I’m done with them?”
She nodded and let herself sink further into him.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
A/N: I hope that you liked this chapter. The information about Bill and Sookie’s relationship is still getting filled in, and not everything has been revealed yet, but the other pieces of that puzzle will be coming. Like most people in this piece (except for maybe Michelle), Bill is not wholly good or bad. However, sorry Bill fans, but his presentation in this story isn’t going to be flattering. I’m taking his portrayal in the books (and the show to a certain extent), and I’m tilting it a little.
Thanks so much for all the birthday wishes after the last chapter! I appreciated those and all the comments/reviews.
As always, your support is greatly appreciated!