Chapter 23: Just the Basic Facts, Part 1
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Claudine Crane had listened without comment as Sookie had told her about the time she’d spent with Eric Northman since Sunday. The story she was telling was incredible in many ways—the stuff of fairy tales.
It was the story of a gorgeous, rich man who was the first to really “see” an insecure, introverted girl who had the potential to shine brighter than any sun.
It was the story of a prince—albeit one of New York high society—who seemed arrogant and cold on the outside. However, on the inside, he was sensitive and warm.
It was the story of a kindhearted, though “odd,” girl undergoing a transformation from a “commoner” to a “princess”—at least symbolically.
It was the story of two hurting, young heroes who had been treated cruelly by their “evil” parents for all of their lives.
It was the tale of two people who—against all odds—had found a “magical” connection—maybe even what the stories would call “true love.”
Yes. The story of Eric and Sookie contained many fairy tale motifs.
However, Claudine understood the pitfalls of fairy tales. Some didn’t end well for the protagonists at all. Hell—even when there was a happy ending, there was much pain to be suffered along the way. And Eric Northman was not promising Sookie a “happily ever after”; on the contrary, he’d already made clear that such an ending would not be possible.
Thus, their tale would—inevitably—end in tears.
The therapist sighed as she looked at her client, who was busy writing down a list of pros and cons related to being with Eric Northman “in the present.” In all honesty—since the case was unlike anything that Claudine had ever dealt with before—she wasn’t sure how to advise Sookie. Therefore, Claudine was using the time as Sookie completed her list-writing exercise to gather her own thoughts.
Though Claudine—as a Brigant—and Eric—as a Northman—were both considered part of the social elite in New York, she didn’t know him well at all. She was roughly the same age as Pam Northman and Nora Gainesborough, so she had met them many times—at functions designed for young, rich people. She was friendly with Pam, though she could take or leave Nora. However, Eric had always been away at boarding school as they were growing up. Of course, in recent years, he had become a part of Manhattan’s social scene, but after college, Claudine had opted to back away from that lifestyle and now attended only a few Brigant-sponsored events each year. She had seen Eric at some of these functions, but she’d certainly not gotten to know him personally.
Therefore, most of what she knew about him had come from one of three sources, each of them skewed in its own way. The first was her cousin Bobby Burnham. The second was Sookie. And the third was the society pages of newspapers and local gossip programs.
Despite being a triplet, Claudine had always felt more kinship with her cousin Bobby than she had with her own siblings. Claudette and Claude were the ones who shared the “special bond” often present in those who had shared a womb. Of course, that fact was fascinating in and of itself, for Claude and Claudette were as unlike as two people could be. Claudette had taken after their parents and their grandfather Niall. She was savvy and successful in business and in science. With determination that Claudine greatly admired, Claudette was driving the family pharmaceutical company into the future at full throttle. But—then again—Claudette had always been an overachiever, and she thrived on difficult challenges.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Claude was an exotic dancer/interior designer/hair stylist/painter/whatever his mood dictated at the time. The moniker “free spirit” was the perfect way to describe him. In fact, the only profession Claude had kept for more than a month had been his dancing. And Claudine had to admit he was good at it. According to Claude, both male and female customers put exorbitant amounts of money into his G-string.
Claude had used part of his inheritance to buy a strip club, and he’d turned it into something classy—under Claudette’s guidance, of course. As the owner, Claude didn’t really have to dance, but he gave command performances when he felt like it, which was usually about once a week. However, at times, he would simply “check out,” refusing to take care of the club when something else struck his fancy. In fact, the year before, he’d gone to Asia for six months without telling anyone he was going—except for Claudette, who got a call after he’d landed in Nepal. He’d apparently met a man the week before who was going on some kind of pilgrimage. Claude had returned a little thinner and with several tattoos on his body; he’d also become a Buddhist.
Claudine stifled a chuckle as she thought about how only her brother would think that Buddhism and stripping were complements.
Luckily, Claudette had stepped in—as always—to make sure Claude’s business kept running smoothly in his absence.
Claudine was “the triplet in the middle”—as her grandfather Niall liked to say. And he’d given her that label for many more reasons than just the fact that she’d been born second. Although Claudine had not chosen to go into the family business, she’d always been driven in her own way—though she wasn’t nearly as ambitious as Claudette. Claudine had become a successful therapist and was content with her life. Those things were enough for her, though she did hope to have a family of her own one day.
Bobby was similar to her in a lot of ways. He too was independent and stayed out of the social scene. Claudine had enjoyed getting to know him after he moved to New York to go to NYU. Before then, she’d seen him only sporadically at her grandfather Niall’s estate. Now they met for drinks or a dinner once a week or so.
Claudine had first heard Eric Northman’s name from Bobby’s lips. She’d, of course, known of all the other Northmans; the members of prominent families in Manhattan tended to keep up with each other, and Claudine’s mother was a big part of the social scene. But Claudine had not known that there was a Northman child older than Pam and Nora until Bobby told her about him seven years before, which was just a little before Eric moved to Manhattan and began working at NP.
Claudine had been surprised when Bobby told her that Eric had been his closest friend for years and that they’d known each other since Bobby was ten and Eric was six. After Eric moved to Manhattan, Claudine suggested that he join Bobby and her for drinks sometime so that she could meet him properly. However, according to Bobby, Eric was shy—a bit of a recluse even.
That assessment certainly did not gel with what Claudine had read in the society pages or with what she’d observed at the social gatherings where she’d seen him. He’d seemed like a playboy to her, and he had a different starlet or socialite on his arm at almost every event until recently—when he’d been photographed almost exclusively with Isabel Edgington. Whatever woman he was with, however, Eric Northman looked anything but shy and reclusive.
Claudine’s third perspective of Eric had come from Sookie. Her opinion wasn’t skewed in a normal sense, probably because the young woman herself was not “normal.” However, Claudine couldn’t quite reconcile Sookie’s view of Eric with what she had observed of him herself.
When Sookie had first come to Claudine, she’d been suffering greatly due to the after-effects of many years of physical and mental abuse by her mother and—to a lesser extent—her brother. She’d also been traumatized by an ex-boyfriend, Bill Compton, who had demolished what little trust Sookie had left. Because of them, she’d built thick walls—shields—around herself. And—understandably—she’d tried to shut the world out.
Two months into her therapy, Sookie had told Claudine that until she was sixteen, she’d lived with physical pain, as well as mental torment, because of her hearing ailment. And even though Sookie’s grandmother—Gran—had offered her “sanctuary” and had even helped the girl get medical treatment for her inner ear disease, that situation, too, had been problematic. Sookie’s mother sending her away to live with someone else had been experienced as another rejection by Sookie—just another sign of her “freakishness,” which had been a word Sookie would often use to describe herself during their earlier sessions.
To make matters more complicated, even Gran—the most positive influence Sookie had ever had—was not innocent. Like Sookie’s father, Adele Stackhouse and her husband had not been around enough to see the signs of the abuse that was occurring in Sookie’s childhood home. Sookie had justified that Gran wasn’t there because she had lived in New Orleans and because there had been a falling out between her parents and grandparents, but in Claudine’s mind, that excuse was flimsy. Corbett Stackhouse was even more culpable. He had recognized that something was wrong with Sookie, but he’d listened to Michelle’s take on what that was, instead of questioning his wife and really opening his eyes to see what was happening to his own daughter.
Of course, Claudine did not criticize Corbett or Gran to Sookie. The young woman would initiate that criticism herself one day if she continued to progress in her recovery.
Claudine had quickly learned that Sookie’s way of trying to heal herself was idiosyncratic. But it was also methodical and effective, and Claudine was often more of a facilitator than a therapist to Sookie. Sookie’s mind was quick and creative, probably from years of processing so many visual signals all at once as she tried to “cover” and “make up for” her deafness. And—of course—through all of that, Sookie had needed to compartmentalize both her physical and mental torment.
Sookie had learned to survive through study—as much as anything else. She was well-read and would throw herself into a topic that intrigued her. In fact, Sookie was familiar with even more research than Claudine was when it came to unhealthy sexual relationships. Sookie had—in effect—diagnosed Bill Compton’s dysfunction even before telling Claudine just how cold their relationship had been. Claudine had merely confirmed Sookie’s deductive reasoning about Compton’s Madonna-Whore complex. However, even beyond her reading, Sookie’s main therapy was not the sessions she shared with Claudine every Tuesday. No—it was her trips to the MET. Sookie had the ability to connect herself with the art, and—through that experience—she was blossoming and opening herself up to the world more and more.
Her transformation was—in Claudine’s professional opinion—a beautiful thing to behold. She’d seen other clients become “stuck” in their pasts, but Sookie had an innate sense of stubbornness that wouldn’t allow for that.
Hell—if Claudine was being honest, she now saw her role in Sookie’s life as more of a friend than therapist. However, Claudine was determined to continue to support Sookie in both of those capacities, and the experienced psychologist knew that Sookie needed the aid of their sessions to talk more freely than she’d be able to with a “friend.” Therefore, Claudine was more than willing to keep the sessions going as long as Sookie needed.
The brunette sighed. After Sookie had “escaped” from Bon Temps, Bill Compton had entered her life as a very different kind of “prince” figure than Eric Northman. Though Sookie hadn’t realized what he was doing at the time, Bill had relegated her to the damsel in distress figure, a powerless role he seemed all too happy to make permanent. To Claudine, Bill’s obvious desire to stunt Sookie’s developing confidence had been his worst sin—though that had not been all he’d done to her.
Still—Sookie had survived both Michelle Stackhouse’s cruelty and Bill Compton’s duplicity.
Even from her and Sookie’s first official session, Claudine had been amazed by Sookie’s ability to function as well as she did, given the trauma she’d faced. And the young woman was continuing to make new strides almost every week! She was learning how to operate in different kinds of friendships with Amelia, Holly, Luna, and Claudine herself.
Before coming to New York, Sookie had had very little experience with friendship. Though Sookie had used the word “friend” to describe Tara Thornton, Claudine would not call what she had with Tara a “friendship.” As far as Claudine could tell, Tara was a rather weak individual, who had used Sookie and who had put conditions on their friendship in order to hide it from others. Though Claudine felt bad about Tara’s own childhood predicament, which Sookie had explained in order to justify her “friend’s actions, Claudine’s sympathy lay with her own patient/friend.
Moreover, Sookie had undoubtedly experienced Tara’s “friendship” as another kind of rejection. Hell—Tara had even participated in bullying Sookie at times! Moreover, when Sookie had stepped in to try to save Tara from facing abuse from a boyfriend, her reward had been more rejection. Even now, however, Sookie rationalized Tara’s actions bullishly. Claudine couldn’t help but to admire Sookie’s loyalty, even if it was misplaced.
Therefore, Claudine had to consider the possibility that Sookie’s loyalty was being misplaced in Eric Northman too.
Unquestionably, Lafayette Reynolds had been a better friend to Sookie than Tara had been, but his presence in her life had always been too sporadic to count him as a truly close friend to the young woman. He too was “different” from the “norm,” and—apparently—Sookie had felt empathy from him. But other than a few exchanged emails a year, Sookie maintained no contact with him. However, Claudine had encouraged Sookie to call Lafayette several times during the last few months, and he was becoming a more consistent presence in her life.
Sookie had also made strides in forming casual relationships. She was able to carry on friendly exchanges of small talk with the guards at the MET and with people like Sam Merlotte. Clearly—the thought of having various kinds of conversations with people was becoming less troubling to her, and that was an encouraging sign to the therapist.
Claudine looked up to see that Sookie was still composing her list; the young woman’s eyes were closed and she was lost in thought. Claudine glanced up at the clock and saw that their official session still had fifteen minutes.
The therapist had to admit that when Sookie had first told her about Eric Northman, she’d been wary of the man’s potential effect on her—and the harm that someone like him could cause. However, there had been no real interaction between Eric and Sookie when her patient had first mentioned him, so her “crush” had seemed harmless enough. It was, after all, the kind of thing any “normal” straight woman might feel for an attractive man.
According to Sookie, she’d first seen Eric at the 2011 NP January party. He’d been “scanning,” which had turned out to be the word Sookie used to describe how he studied the room. Sookie’s instincts had told her that Eric was “scanning” in order to make sure he was safe. She’d talked about Eric’s eyes and what she’d seen in them. However, Sookie had turned away before he was able to see her—well, except for her hair, apparently.
Sookie had left the party soon after that—in order to avoid the newest incarnation of bullies that the world had thrown at her. However, seeing Eric Northman at that party had lit something inside of Sookie; it had done something to the walls that she’d built up. Apparently, whatever she saw in his eyes had made Sookie think that he could see right through those walls. That was why she’d turned away from him them. But it was also why she couldn’t stop thinking of him, despite the fact that she didn’t exchange any contact with him for the next year.
Claudine sighed. No matter what Bobby had said about Eric, she had been skeptical when Sookie had told her that she felt like she could make a connection with the man who had just been chosen as “New York’s most eligible bachelor”—for the fifth year in a row. Claudine feared that Sookie was setting herself up for certain rejection. Victims of abuse often did, after all. They sometimes unwittingly played into their abusers’ hands by perpetuating their own pain even after the direct abuse had ended.
The cold, hard truth was that Eric Northman had not seemed like a good candidate for a relationship partner with Sookie—at least not on the surface.
However, after her first two visits with Sookie, Claudine had recognized that her patient had the ability to “see” others clearly and accurately even if she’d had very little interaction with them. So Claudine had not discouraged Sookie from making contact with Eric at the NP party in January 2012, even if it was just making eye contact with him. The therapist had made sure that Sookie didn’t get her hopes up too high. In truth, Claudine wasn’t expecting much to happen; however, if Sookie was right about having a connection with Eric, then the therapist had hoped that the two might become friends. At the time, Sookie had certainly needed a friend. There was no way that Claudine could have predicted what really did happen between Eric and Sookie when they met.
After their first two encounters in January, Claudine had felt conflicted about how to best advise her patient.
Undeniably, Sookie and Eric’s first encounter had included a moment when the man had manhandled her. And generally, the psychologist counseled her patients—especially her female patients—to expect only an escalation when it came to physical abuse from their partners; however, the case with Eric Northman had seemed different.
From what Sookie had conveyed—and she was not one to hold back ugly truths—Eric had grasped her shoulders and even shaken her a little when she’d not responded to his questions about how she’d known of de Castro’s spies. But his touch had barely bruised her; Claudine hadn’t even been able to see the finger marks when Sookie came to her office three days later. And she had looked for them—very carefully, ready to call the police if Eric’s assault demonstrated true violence. However, there had been nothing marring Sookie’s skin.
More importantly, Sookie hadn’t been scared of Eric—not at all. Her eyes had held neither denial nor fear. And Claudine knew that women almost invariably knew instinctively when they were in danger from their partners—even if they weren’t ready to admit to that danger.
No. Sookie’s trepidation in the elevator hadn’t related to Eric. It had come from the memories he’d inadvertently triggered in Sookie—memories of her mother shaking her violently. According to Sookie, those vicious encounters had always left her badly bruised—so much so that she couldn’t wear short-sleeved shirts for weeks after her mother’s particularly “angry days.” Michelle was also a fan of slapping her child, most often right over her ears—which had been a constant source of pain for Sookie anyway.
No. Claudine hadn’t been concerned that Eric Northman would hurt Sookie physically. But she had been and was still worried that the girl would be hurt by him emotionally. It had taken Eric only a few words and two kisses to enrapture Sookie in January. And now, they were sleeping together—though, in their two nights sharing a bed, they’d not yet had sex.
Sookie had told Claudine about the expiration date that would come if she and Eric had a “relationship.” And the therapist was worried that Sookie would be destroyed when Eric and she parted ways in three years and eight months—which was the timeframe Sookie had indicated was available for them. Frankly, Claudine was concerned that they wouldn’t even make it that long.
What if Eric got bored with Sookie—as his reputation suggested he would? Or what if he succumbed to his family’s pressure to marry someone they deemed appropriate before his deadline? If he did, he would steal away even the short amount of time he’d offered her.
Being from the “so-called” upper crust of society herself, Claudine understood well the pressures that would be brought to bear upon the eldest of the Northman children if he tried to defy Appius Northman, whom Claudine knew was a ruthless son of a bitch—for lack of a better description. Claudine laughed a little to herself because of the joke she’d inadvertently made. Indeed, Appius’s mother Grace was a bitch—by all accounts—so calling Appius a “son of a bitch” was especially appropriate.
But that was another thing that concerned Claudine. Knowing what she knew about the upper echelon of New York society, she understood well that Sookie wasn’t the “kind” of girl that would be welcomed into the Northman family folds. She wouldn’t even be accepted as someone with whom Eric could have a dating relationship. In the eyes of the Northmans, Sookie might be seen as good enough for Eric to have a one-night stand with, but anything beyond that would be deemed as unacceptable.
Despite that fact, the therapist couldn’t help but to wonder why Eric felt so trapped in his situation. Sookie had indicated to Claudine that he had some kind of contract with his father, and that contract included a clause that Eric marry someone that met with Appius’s approval by the time he turned 35. Sookie didn’t know all the details about the contract, however, and Claudine wondered why Eric didn’t just quit NP and take control of his life. Surely, a man like him could find other work and another place to live. Then again, Claudine wondered what Appius might be holding over Eric’s head. Men like Appius Northman covered their bases, so if he wanted Eric controlled, then he would certainly have a way to control him.
Thus, there was seemingly no way around the expiration date for Sookie and Eric. They had an end before a start.
Claudine sighed deeply. No. Their situation was definitely not a fairy tale with a happy ending; it was more like a Shakespearean tragedy—though hopefully without the deaths.
Still—Claudine couldn’t deny certain truths about her patient. For her whole life, Sookie Stackhouse had been merely existing. She had experienced very little joy or happiness, and—even with all the strides she’d been making—everything was an effort for her, from the simplest conversation to the slowing down of her work so that she could better fit in at the office.
But Sookie’s description of her time with Eric seemed very different. Clearly, it required very little effort on her part to relax with him. And—perhaps—that was the greatest tragedy of all. Both Eric and Sookie seemed to feel a profound connection with each other that had created trust and ease between them.
But no matter how perfect they were together, they would not be able to stay that way.
Yes. It was a goddamned tragedy.
A/N:FYI–the chapter title came from the lyrics of “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd (Songwriters: Roger Waters & David Jon Gilmour)
I hope that you enjoyed this chapter and getting Claudine’s perspective. Sometimes, in a story this long, it’s important to “review,” and this chapter—hopefully—helped that to happen without seeming redundant.
Once again, thanks to all that reviewed/commented. I appreciate all the support more than I can say!