Chapter 24: Just the Basic Facts, Part 2
Ostensibly working on some other patients’ files, Claudine studied Sookie as inconspicuously as possible while the blonde continued to write her list of the pros and cons related to a relationship with Eric Northman.
The therapist smiled to herself. Undeniably, the woman before Claudine seemed happier than she’d ever been before—at least in Claudine’s experience with her. And she seemed so sure of herself compared to the previous December—or even the previous week. It was—frankly—a joy for Claudine to see, especially considering what Sookie had been like when they’d first met—little more than a shell.
Claudine—unfortunately—had many patients who had suffered from abuse, both physical and mental. But she’d rarely encountered a story of a mother inflicting the level of emotional abuse onto her child as Michelle Stackhouse had done to Sookie.
Truly, Michelle Stackhouse was a monster, and though Michelle’s mother, Sookie’s grandmother Bonnie, shaped that monster, Claudine had seen many brave people—including Sookie herself—strive to overcome their pasts rather than to let themselves continue a cycle of abuse. However, Michelle didn’t just continue the cycle; she embraced it.
By some miracle, Sookie had managed to “shield” a part of herself from Michelle Stackhouse. The girl had closed herself up—walled herself in—so that she could survive. Claudine had seen such defense mechanisms before—children insulating the essential parts of themselves in order to live through abuse. Of course, in hiding herself, Sookie had failed to develop in many ways, but she’d been working on that, and Claudine was extremely proud of the young woman’s progress.
Claudine sighed. The hardest thing for Sookie to do had been to fight against her mother’s voice in her head. Sookie had told Claudine that even when she’d been deaf, she’d heard that voice—even when Michelle’s lips hadn’t been moving. It was the sound of that harsh, cold voice—not the chirping of birds or the whisper of a breeze or the melody of beautiful music—that Sookie had remembered most throughout her deafness.
Unrelentingly, Michelle Stackhouse’s voice had tried to convince Sookie that she was damaged and defective. That voice had attempted to persuade Sookie that she deserved her abuse. However, the incredible thing about Sookie was that she’d never fully believed Michelle’s voice, and she had developed her “shields” to limit the efficacy of her mother’s words—both the ones that she saw on Michelle’s lips and the ones that she heard in her head.
However, her shields had also had a negative consequence: they had left Sookie numb for years.
When Sookie really opened up about her deafness, Claudine’s heart had broken for her. At first, Claudine had assumed that Sookie had lived in total silence, but that had not been the nature of Sookie’s condition at all. When she was four years old, Sookie’s hearing problems began with pressure and buzzing in her ears, and over the next few years, those things slowly encroached upon any meaningful sound. Instead, the brutish noise got louder and louder in Sookie’s head until there was nothing left but it. Claudine couldn’t imagine it. Instead of living in silence, which may have carried with it a certain level of peace, Sookie had learned to cope with perpetual clamor.
Sookie had also learned to endure continuous pain. Her inner ear disease had brought swelling to Sookie’s eardrums, which had caused her to have terrible headaches. And, of course, she’d never complained about them because she’d feared her mother’s wrath. With no other choice, Sookie had been forced to build a tolerance to the pain.
In truth, Claudine was amazed that Sookie hadn’t become as “crazy” as Michelle had labeled her to be. On the contrary, she had somehow managed to be a good student—despite pretending otherwise in order to avoid more of her mother’s ire. Sookie had taken refuge in books, and concentrating on their words and ideas had helped to preserve her.
But—of course—during her childhood, there was really no “life” to Sookie. No “life” for her. She didn’t remember laughing when she was a child, she didn’t remember smiling, and she didn’t remember playing. She hadn’t known how to do those things.
Part of her still didn’t.
Claudine had noticed—on the occasions when she’d been in social settings with Sookie—that her friend still had trouble doing those things that others found so simple. Her smiles didn’t come easily, and when they did come, she often unconsciously covered them with her hand. Even when she’d gone out with the group to celebrate Amelia’s birthday, Sookie would look almost apologetic when she laughed, though it had been clear that she was trying to have a good time. Claudine sighed sadly; even now, Sookie didn’t know how to “play.”
But that was no surprise. Sookie had had no time and very little opportunity for “play” as she’d grown up.
Claudine wrote down a few notes in her friend’s file. With the never-ending buzzing in her ears as her childhood soundtrack, Sookie had learned to do two things to survive: she’d read books and she’d read people’s faces.
She’d been afraid to do anything else—let alone give herself the freedom of “playing.”
Living with her grandmother, Sookie’s life had changed for the better—exponentially. She had finally been taken to see a doctor who could help her, and after two surgeries to repair Sookie’s problem and the damage that it had caused, the girl could hear again. But—according to Sookie—the best part was that she could experience quiet.
Sookie had adapted to hearing again as well as someone in her situation could have been expected to, and in college, she’d found an existence that was comfortable to her. Not surprisingly, people found her odd, but—no longer forced to deny her intellect—she’d proven herself to be an excellent student, even though she hadn’t yet been ready to be “social.” Eventually, she’d even started a relationship—with Bill Compton.
From what Claudine had gathered, there had been a lot of dysfunction in Sookie’s interactions with Bill from the start. However, there was no “overt” abuse, and—frankly—Sookie didn’t have the experience to notice the passive kinds of mistreatment that Bill was guilty of. She’d been ignorant of his manipulation of her until she’d been told of his betrayal—by the worst source possible: Bill’s mistress.
But after learning the truth, Sookie had proven her resilience once more. Despite having been decimated emotionally, she had chosen to strike out anew for a second time—to bravely come to a city known for its noise. She had found a good job. And—though it had taken her a while—she had found a few friends, though she was still learning how to be open and to enjoy herself with them.
However, it seemed that with Eric, Sookie didn’t have to struggle to smile or to laugh or to play.
Claudine looked down at her notes. Perhaps, she ought not to be so hesitant in seeing Eric as a good partner for Sookie—even if he could only be a short-term one. Perhaps her own opinion of Eric was skewed too much by what she’d read about him in the newspapers. After all, gossip rags were not known as paragons of the truth. Perhaps her own eyes had been fooled by a persona that Eric adopted only in public.
And, perhaps, Eric was the only one with whom Sookie could be truly “free.” But Claudine didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about that thought.
Sookie had attempted to give another romance a chance a few months before when she’d gone out on two dates with Preston Pardloe. The best thing about Sookie’s two interactions with Preston—at least in Claudine’s opinion—was that she had opted not to go out with him a third time. Though it would have been easy for Sookie to fall into a relationship with the first man who’d asked her out in a very long time, she’d been discerning about him. There had been something about Preston that Sookie didn’t trust; however, instead of “settling,” she’d listened to her gut and had ended things, despite Preston’s continued interest.
After Sookie’s second date with Preston, Claudine and she had spent a whole therapy session talking about her dates with him. Claudine had been concerned that Sookie’s continued interest in Eric might have prevented her from giving another man a chance. And—undeniably—Preston had seemed like a perfectly nice person when he’d first approached Sookie.
It turned out that Sookie had broken things off with Preston at least partly because of Eric—just not in the way Claudine had feared.
As she began to try to get to know Preston, Sookie sensed that he was presenting her with a façade, rather than his “true” self. Oh—Preston had seemed polite and kind. He had a good job and was intelligent. And he made no secret about the fact that he was interested in continuing to date her. But—in Sookie’s words—there had been something “off about him.”
As was still her habit, Sookie used her ability to read lips even while listening to Preston speak. According to Sookie, there were many truths that couldn’t be “heard.”
Claudine had been fascinated when Sookie had told her just how much information she could pick up from a twitch of the lips or a slight sneer or a flashed smile. Of course, in Claudine’s studies, she had read books about microexpressions; after all, in her line of work, she needed every tool she could get when it came to testing the veracity of what her patients told her.
However, no matter how much Claudine had studied facial tics, Sookie was the true expert in using microexpressions to learn about people. She’d confessed that sometimes Bill’s lips hadn’t matched his words but that she’d ignored the twinges of mistrust she’d had about him. However—to her credit—Sookie had refused to do the same with Preston. So when his facial muscles twitched contempt when Sookie mentioned what she did for a living or when his lips rose into a sneer when he said that he was happy to take things slowly between them, she “listened” to something other than what she “heard.”
Where Eric’s influence had come into play was that Sookie had forced herself to pull her eyes from Preston’s lips and to look into his eyes when he wasn’t speaking. She’d never been able to do that with Bill—or anyone else for that matter. However, looking into Eric’s eyes had come naturally to her during their encounters. And looking at him like that had given her the courage to look into the eyes of others.
An expert at noticing things that others didn’t, Sookie soon saw flashes from Preston’s orbs that confirmed her hesitancy about him: a slight leer when he looked at their waitress, an amused glint when a couple next to them was having a talk that made the woman cry, a hint of smugness and then guilt when he saw a man that he knew from work.
All in all, those miniscule moments had been enough to make Sookie lose her interest in Preston Pardloe, and Claudine couldn’t blame her. If Sookie didn’t trust Preston, then any future dates would have been pointless.
She did, however, trust Eric Northman. And it had been both his eyes and his lips that had compelled her to forge that trust so quickly. Sookie had explained to Claudine that in Eric’s case, the flickers in his eyes and the pulses of his lips all matched his spoken words. In short, while she’d seen signs of deception in both Bill and Preston—deception that she’d learned not to ignore—she’d sensed nothing but truth from Eric.
But could Sookie’s infatuation with Eric be dulling her usually unerring “reads” of people? Claudine couldn’t be sure, but she highly doubted it.
And that meant that Eric’s intentions toward Sookie were honorable—even if they were temporary. And—even if their relationship was fleeting—the therapist knew that it could be a blessing for both of them.
Claudine thought back to a young man she’d had as a client a few years before. He was very interested in establishing a relationship with a woman he’d met. However, the woman had cancer, and though she was getting treated, her prognosis wasn’t promising. The young man was in agony over his choice. Should he pursue a relationship that had the potential to make him very happy? Or should he do the “safe” thing and protect his heart from loss?
Sorrow would follow one choice and regret the other.
In the end, he’d pursued the relationship, had seven wonderful months with the woman, and had been utterly desolated by her death. He was still one of Claudine’s clients, and he continued to mourn the loss of the woman he’d loved. But he didn’t regret his choice, and he was learning to move forward. During one of their sessions, the man had read her Tennyson’s poem called “In Memoriam.” The last two lines of that poem had become cliché—so familiar and recited that they’d lost their impact—but the man had clung to those lines and the rest of the poem for comfort all the same:
I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Claudine was not blind to the fact that Sookie’s plight was both similar to and different from her other client’s struggle. It was similar in that there was a pre-determined limit on the amount of time she’d have with Eric. However, it was different in that illness wouldn’t be separating them; death wouldn’t come between them. No—it was a contract between Eric and Appius Northman that would break them up. And—in some ways—the fact that it was a piece of paper and not an act of God that would rip them apart made things worse.
However, Claudine couldn’t help but to believe the sentiments of Tennyson’s poem: loss was preferable to regret.
Moreover, Claudine was beginning to think that the real loss would come if Sookie didn’t pursue a relationship with Eric.
Undeniably, Eric Northman had already been good for Sookie. Claudine looked at the lilies on her desk; she’d received them from Charlie, her current boyfriend. She sighed as she studied the different stages of the flowers. Some were still unopened green buds, just waiting for their petals to release the beauty within. Others were mature blooms set free to showcase their inner beauty. Whether he’d intended to or not, Eric had helped Sookie to bud, and it would be a shame if that bud never truly blossomed.
Certainly, the bud was lovely too. And—invariably—once the blossom came, the life of the flower waned before the petals finally dropped away. But there was nothing more sad than the thought of a flower that never opened—that stayed forever frozen in that moment before it could show its true loveliness. And it wasn’t as if the unopened bud wouldn’t die too. It held onto its unfinished life longer than the bloom, but it still eventually fell to the ground all the same.
Claudine sighed. When Eric had approached Sookie for the first time in the museum, something he’d done had made her feel something she’d never felt before: special, wanted, and—most importantly—connected.
That connection hadn’t dimmed after their first encounter in the museum. It had grown. And after their second meeting—just one day later—it had gained momentum. Despite evidence that indicated Sookie was in league with people bent on doing harm to his family’s company, Eric hadn’t revealed that Sookie was the source of the information about de Castro.
On the contrary, he had—seemingly—forgotten all about her.
In truth, however, he’d not forgotten at all. According to Sookie, Eric had been a subtle shadow in her life since their January encounters. Claudine’s instinct was to warn any woman to be wary of stalker-like behavior, but—again—the situation was unlike any other the therapist had come across.
First of all, the surveillance on Sookie had been motivated by her telling Eric about de Castro’s spies. And it made sense that a man in Eric’s position would need to figure out if Sookie was involved in corporate spying. Clearly, his instincts had been to trust in Sookie. However, he’d kept watching her or having her watched even after he’d been certain of her innocence.
The previous night, Sookie had asked Eric to tell her everything about the surveillance, and he had seemingly been upfront about what he’d done and why he’d done it. He’d had Bobby—whom Sookie was surprised to learn was Claudine’s cousin—follow her for the three weeks after the NP party.
Claudine had been both disturbed and comforted that it was Bobby who’d done it. She was disturbed that he did that kind of thing at all. Oh—she knew that her cousin had some “interesting” associates and did some “interesting” things for a living, but she didn’t like to think of him lurking in shadows or being involved in potentially dangerous situations. However, she also knew that Bobby wouldn’t participate in a situation that would put an innocent woman at risk—not even for his best friend.
After that initial surveillance, Eric had hired a man named Alcide Herveaux. According to Eric, Alcide had been installed into an apartment across the street from Sookie. From there, he’d watched over her—more than he’d watched her. It seemed that Eric had worried about Sookie being alone so often, so he’d paid Alcide to keep an eye on her from Friday nights to Sunday mornings—when Amelia was rarely at the house.
To tell the truth, Claudine had worried about Sookie too. The therapist knew Amelia very well, and her best friend could be counted on to spend most of her weekends in bed with one of a series of companions. Because of this, Claudine had started texting Sookie once or twice a weekend—mostly just to check in.
It seemed that Eric had had the same idea as she’d had; he’d just taken things a step or two—or ten—further.
Claudine made a few more notes. Once again, she contemplated whether Eric’s Sunday “stalking” indicated any danger for Sookie. Claudine sighed as her instincts once more leaned toward believing in Eric.
The therapist intuited that Eric went to the MET looking for the same thing Sookie was—connection and healing. And she couldn’t fault him for that. In fact, every new piece of information she got about Eric told her that he was just as wounded inside as Sookie was. Or maybe his situation was even worse. After all, Sookie’s wounds had begun to heal now that she was out of the spheres of her mother and Compton. On the other hand, Eric’s wounds were likely still being actively inflicted.
From what Sookie had told her, it was clear to Claudine that Sookie had affected Eric as much as he’d affected her. Eric Northman was not one who needed to make a Herculean effort to bed a woman; thus, his patience and efforts toward Sookie seemed sincere. The more she thought about it, the more Claudine was certain that Eric Northman wasn’t out to use Sookie—or to hurt her.
Still, Claudine needed to make sure that her patient’s eyes were wide open to the pain that would be coming her way if she became more entangled with Eric.
“Okay—I’m finished,” Sookie said, looking at her two lists with a little triumph in her eyes.
The therapist smiled. “Excellent. Just put them in your purse and add things as you think of them, or cross things out if they no longer seem important.”
“You—uh—don’t want the lists?” Sookie asked. “You don’t want me to read them?”
Claudine shook her head and looked at the clock. “Nope. Those lists are for you; plus, our time is up—that is—if you are still planning to eat with me tonight,” she chuckled.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. I already told Eric and you and I got dinner after our sessions, and I,” she paused, “enjoy that time too much to miss it, though I miss Eric too.”
Claudine smiled. “I enjoy our time hanging out too, but I would understand if you’d prefer to cancel dinner and spend time with Eric.”
Sookie thought for a moment and then shook her head. “No. This way, I’ll get to spend time with both of you.”
Claudine looked at Sookie in question.
“I’m going to call him when I’m ready to leave the restaurant, and he’ll meet me there with a taxi,” Sookie informed.
Claudine nodded in understanding. “So he’ll spend the night with you again?” she asked in a nonjudgmental tone.
Sookie smiled. “Yeah. I know it’s probably too soon and I know that I probably should have decided before I invited him to spend the night the first time, but I like having him close.”
“Every relationship is different,” Claudine said thoughtfully. “There’s no right or wrong way to them. And if spending the night with Eric is what your instincts tell you is right, then you should follow them.”
Claudine rose from her chair and collected her things, giving the flowers on her desk one last look.
A/N: I treasure any words you gift me with, and I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate them if I can’t respond. I hope you will continue to tell me what you think.
Thanks for reading! I promise we’ll get back to Eric and Sookie together by the end of the next chapter, so be patient. 😉
Have a wonderful weekend!