A/N: Hey all. A rant is coming. So feel free to skip to the chapter.
First, let me just admit to everyone that I make mistakes sometimes. Even though I edit as carefully as I can, I still overlook errors at times. And—I admit that sometimes I screw up words, “heal” when I mean “heel”—stuff like that. I don’t have beta readers (because editing is such an important part of my own writing process). I certainly don’t intend to make mistakes, and I want to remind that even professional authors and academics have copy editors when they publish.
I’m saying all of this to encourage (or to try to encourage) the person who created the bogus email address, “firstname.lastname@example.org,” (in order to point out errors—as well as all of my other perceived character flaws) to stop “wasting so much of [your] time on this crap.” (Hopefully, you already have.) Yes, I understand that my use of “tenant” when I meant “tenet” was an error, and I’m sorry if that mistake made you question the entire educational system. I’m also sorry that you feel that my work is long-winded and that “the concepts of both brevity and editing appear to elude” me.
To my fans that like my work—I do apologize for the occasional error, but I disagree with the notion that my work is a “mess” that is “littered” with “many errors.” I don’t mind my fans pointing out my errors to me either, for they always do it as part of a useful (or nice) comment about my work in general. To them, I offer my gratitude and love.
To those who just like to be mean, I’d like to invite you to stop reading. My stories obviously aren’t to your liking, so just stop. I’d also like to tell you that I’m sorry my work isn’t appealing to you. I’d love to be able to please everyone, but—take it from my husband—I can’t even please the person that I love most in this world all of the time. You can imagine how little I care about people who are willing to be bullies. In short, no one is forcing anyone to continue reading my “dross.”
If you do continue, I can only warn that there will be more of the same. I’m not going to change my writing style or process or content for you. I think there’s a difference between being wordy and telling a long story that explores the inner workings of characters. And I won’t apologize for writing the story I want to write. After all, it’s a win-win situation for all. I get to write something I like. My fans get to read something they like for free. And you can click onto another website while feeling superior to me in every way. See? We all get something out of the arrangement.
Sadly, I’m sure that there will also be more typos and other errors (unintentional, but pretty much unavoidable—any author would tell you the same). In fact, I’d wager that between this rant and the twelve-page chapter that follows, you will find a couple of unintentional mistakes—despiite thu fact I hve edeted both a couples of time. (In case you missed it, those were intentional.)
You implied, among other things, that I was stealing your life with my crappy stories. I hope you have already realized the irony that you were choosing to read the thing you found so abhorrent AND then choosing to create a fake email account AND then choosing to type a rant. (Your message contained a typo, by the way. “Where” should have been “were.”) From my perspective, you are stealing your own life by making such efforts with your time. Of course, your efforts might simply be geared toward making me feel bad—to causing another person pain from the safety of your anonymity. If that’s the case, then your implication that my “obsession” with abuse makes me a candidate for therapy should have been spoken while you were looking in the mirror. I do have to say “thanks” for your message though. That typo, which occurred in the sentence right before you “kindly” pointed out my errors, made me giggle-snort. (Perhaps, however, you were being ironic.)
Now—on with the next long-winded chapter. 😉
Chapter 28: Looking Forward
“Well?” Eric asked giving Sookie a mischievous look.
She chuckled. “Why do you think I picked this one?” she asked, looking at the folio from The Book of Kings that Eric was pointing to.
“The subject matter,” he responded, his lips turning up into a grin that wrinkled the corners of his eyes.
Sookie took a moment to appreciate the beauty of that smile—the ease of it.
“Chess?” she asked, also smiling.
He nodded. “It’s a guess—really. I’m almost certain that you’re going to pick something from this book, but I’m not sure which folio.”
“What about you?” she asked, looking around the room and then back at him. “Although you beat me at chess yesterday, I don’t think this is the piece you’re drawn to—is it?”
He shook his head.
“So—what’s your favorite?” she pressed.
“I’m still thinking about it,” he responded, keeping his gaze fixed on hers.
“You’re lying,” she challenged.
He chuckled and nodded. “Yes. But—how about I tell you my favorite another time?”
Her eyes took themselves to the Mihrab. When she looked back at him in question, he gave her an almost imperceptible nod. She frowned.
“Can I tell you why it’s my favorite another time?” he asked quietly—gently.
“Okay,” she said in barely a whisper.
“Thanks,” he reponded, giving her a quick kiss on her forehead.
“There’s too much to list,” he said, smiling again. “And I’m anxious to find out if I’m right about your choice.”
She smiled. “Well—you were close, but,” she paused dramatically, “no cigar.”
“Darn,” he chuckled. “You were right. I did pick this one because I beat you at chess yesterday,” Eric said with a wink as he looked down at the manuscript page again. He read the label aloud, “Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Chess.”
“I don’t know who Buzurgmihr is,” Sookie reported, her face scrunching up a bit as she read the unfamiliar name.
“Me neither,” Eric responded.
She winked at him. “And I’m not sure you can claim that you’ve mastered chess.”
“Me neither,” he repeated with a chuckle.
“Now—if it had been called “Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Scrabble,” her voice trailed off as she smiled at him playfully.
He chuckled a little louder. “You should be aware that I ordered both Scrabble and Chess today. And Monopoly. And Trivial Pursuit. And Clue. And Battleship.”
“When?” she asked with a laugh.
“While you were in the ladies’ room. After lunch.”
She grinned a little wider. “No—when will they be here?”
“Anxious for a rematch?” he asked, stepping closer and taking her hand, which was already poised for his.
She nodded. “Yeah—it was fun.”
“Playing or winning?” he asked.
“Hey—you won one of the games too,” she reminded.
“I remember. I had fun too.”
“Playing or winning?” she asked impishly.
“Both,” he replied honestly.
“Me too,” she smiled.
“So—if you didn’t pick the folio about chess, which one did you choose?” he asked, his eyebrow rising.
She pointed to a folio near the one they’d been discussing.
He grinned. “I knew you’d choose something from the Shahnama. Eric read the caption next to the folio Sookie was indicating. “‘The Funeral of Isfandiyar.’ Why this one?” he asked, tensing up a little. “The subject matter is a little,” he paused.
“Morbid?” she offered.
Sookie shrugged. “It’s weird, but I always kind of liked funerals. Most people say nice things at them—’Sorry for your loss’ or ‘He was a good man.’ Stuff like that. Or they share nice stories about people’s lives at them. My mom always wanted me to use my lip-reading to find out gossip about people, but after funerals, I’d just tell her the stories I’d ‘heard’; it never took her long to get bored with them and leave me alone.” She smiled sadly. “At my dad’s funeral, I watched two of his old teachers share stories about him. Before that, I hadn’t known that he won an essay contest for a paper on Hamlet or that his best subject was math or that he rode a motorcycle.”
“I’ve never been to a funeral,” Eric said quietly as he looked at the vibrant manuscript page.
“But your mom. Your grandfather. Your morfar,” Sookie said in a whisper.
Eric closed his eyes. “Morfar died during the middle of a school term, and my father refused to give me permission to go. I wasn’t allowed to go to my grandfather John’s funeral either, even though I was called to attend the reading of his Will.”
He shrugged. “I’m pretty sure that Pam and I didn’t go because people thought we were too young. I can’t be sure.” He opened his eyes. “And my father threatened to take Pam’s division away from her if I went to Godric’s funeral a few years ago. I still haven’t forgiven myself for not being there for Bobby,” he sighed.
Sookie took a step toward him and laid her cheek on his chest, listening to his heart. She had come to love its strong, steady beat in the time they’d spent together.
“From what you’ve told me of Bobby,” she said softly, “he knew you were there—even if you weren’t.”
Eric tightened his arms around her.
“A funeral doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” she whispered. “It can be about beginnings, just as much as endings. I feel like that little girl who grew up so sad and hopeless and lonely in Bon Temps is all but dead now.”
Eric pulled away a little so that he could look at her eyes. “What killed her?”
She smiled up at him. “I did. But you helped.”
“How?” he asked.
“This,” she said, putting her hand over his heart.
“This,” he corrected, laying his own hand gently onto her heart.
The noise from a group of tourists interrupted their quiet moment.
Sookie took out her phone and snapped her picture of the folio page.
She smiled up at him. “It’s funny, but I’m looking forward to things now,” Sookie said, sounding a little surprised.
Eric nodded. “Me too.”
“I can’t say I’ve ever done that before.”
“Me neither,” he offered. “What are you looking forward to?”
“One thousand three hundred and twenty,” she smiled.
She nodded. “Give or take. I didn’t inherit my dad’s love of math, I’m afraid; it always gave me a headache.”
He chuckled. “Days when we can share breakfasts,” he said.
“Lots of Sunday trips to the MET,” she offered.
“Beating you at Scrabble.”
She snickered. “Beating you at Chess.”
He pulled her closer again. “Holding you.”
“Snuggling together,” she sighed.
“I like that one,” he murmured, kissing her hair.
“Shit!” she exclaimed loudly, even as she pulled out of his arms.
He looked dumbfounded at her sudden change of mood. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Sex!” she said, still too loudly.
The group of tourists looked disapprovingly at the couple; one even went so far as to “shush” them.
As soon as she realized she’d basically yelled the word “sex,” Sookie glowed red. Eric turned them so that his back was to the tourists and he was concealing Sookie’s body from them.
He whispered. “Sex? Are you—um? I mean—we don’t have to do anything—um—right away. We can wait until you’re comfortable.”
“No!” she cried immediately and loudly. She laughed nervously as they were “shushed” again. “I don’t want to wait,” she added in a whisper. “It’s just that—um—it’s been a while.”
“You don’t want to wait?” he asked, looking for confirmation—and suddenly looking a little nervous himself.
She shook her head.
“So—um—tonight?” he asked hopefully.
Her teeth tugged at her bottom lip. “If you—uh—want. I mean, we don’t have to do,” she started.
“No!” he exclaimed. It was his turn to get “shushed.”
“No?” she asked.
“I mean—yes?” he said, looking confused.
He took a breath. “I mean I don’t want to wait either.”
She smiled, but then frowned. “Would you mind if I—uh—called Claudine?”
“Claudine? Why?” he asked, confused again.
She let out a nervous laugh. “Because I’m freaking out a little, and I—uh—well, I don’t want to wait until my session with her on Tuesday to talk about it.”
“Oh—um—sure,” Eric said, looking around them and noticing that they were alone in the room again.
“Thanks,” Sookie said, looking relieved.
“I’ll just go say goodbye to Ben and meet you by the entrance?” Eric questioned.
He bent down and kissed her chastely on the lips. “I meant what I said,” he whispered. “I’d be willing to wait until you aren’t freaked out.”
She went back to biting her lip. “Thanks. But I really don’t want to wait,” she said, blushing again. “I just need to—um,” she paused, “talk to a therapist and a woman.”
He chuckled. “Claudine’s a good choice then. I’ll be waiting by the entrance once you’re done with your call.”
Eric felt a rush of anxiety mixed with anticipation as Sookie came into sight. She looked a little flushed, but much calmer than she had been when he left her in Gallery 455.
“Good call?” he asked, as she laced her fingers into his.
“Yeah. But she—um—gave me some topics we should discuss before we—uh,” she paused. “I wrote them down.”
“Okay,” Eric said simply.
“Okay?” Sookie asked.
He nodded. “How about we walk through the park and then get some dinner? And—uh—do you want to come home with me tonight? Or we could go back to Brooklyn?”
“I was hoping we could go to your place. Amelia’s—uh—coming home today. And—uh—it’d be good if it was just,” she paused, “us—I think.”
He smiled. “Okay. I’ve been anxious to show you my place anyway.”
“We could have gone earlier in the week,” Sookie said, still biting her lip nervously.
He shrugged. “I was happy to be in our bubble for the week.”
She smiled and relaxed a little. “Me too.”
So—we’ll wait until we get to my place to talk about Claudine’s topics. And then we’ll go from there? Sound like a plan?” he asked.
She blushed. “Yep.”
Eric and Sookie left the museum after exchanging waves with Milos and Jack. Unlike the week before, Eric led them across the park in a more direct path so that they’d emerge on Central Park West at 81st Street.
By the time they were halfway across the park, Eric’s own nervousness had begun to rise. Actually, he felt a little like he had when he was sixteen years old and about to lose his virginity. Yvetta had been an eighteen-year-old exchange student from Russia, and she had seemed like the most exciting thing in the world to him. He’d lasted for about sixty seconds inside of her before he filled the condom. And—to last that long—he’d been trying to picture Rosanne Barr in the movie She Devil, particularly the part where the camera showed an extreme close-up of her mole. Her large, hairy mole.
It hadn’t taken Eric long to realize that Yvetta had sought him out in hopes that he’d spend a lot of money on her. However, Yvetta had been an “instructive” first lover in that she’d given him a crash-course on “getting her off” with his fingers and tongue while they’d waited the ten minutes it had taken for Eric to get hard again. He’d lasted five minutes his second time.
After it was over, Yvetta asked him to take her out to a fancy restaurant. She’d been horrified when he told her that he didn’t receive an allowance—let alone a four-figure one like many of the others at his school did. She’d left his room in a frustrated huff, complaining about his inexperience and cursing in Russian. By the next week, she was sleeping with someone else and wearing a new diamond tennis bracelet. The week after that, another boy and another piece of jewelry clung to her body.
Eric had learned two important lessons from his interactions with Yvetta. First, he’d learned that sex—even with someone he didn’t really like—was enjoyable. So he’d endeavored to have more of it. Second, he’d learned that it was best to be upfront about what he could and couldn’t offer. Luckily, there was not a shortage of girls who were willing to accept casual sex with him. They enjoyed his body and his discretion. In turn, he enjoyed the distraction and release they could give him.
Over the years, Eric had acquired control as he worked to make sure his sex partners received pleasure before he took his own. And other than from Yvetta and Nora, he was proud to say that he’d had no complaints about his stamina.
Yes. He’d learned how to deliver physical pleasure to his partners. And he’d been happy to receive pleasure in return. However, the women he’d been with before were interchangeable for the most part.
By contrast, the emotional connection he shared with Sookie was something foreign to him. He cared for her—more than just cared, actually. And when his physical attraction—an attraction that eclipsed anything he’d ever felt before—was factored into the equation, it was no wonder that he was nervous.
Instinctively, he knew that having sex with Sookie would be better than any physical pleasure he’d ever experienced before. Therefore, he was worried that he might lose “it” once he was finally inside of her. And he was pretty sure that picturing Rosanne wouldn’t even do the trick.
Yes. He was definitely feeling a little stage fright about the prospect of being with Sookie.
He took a shaky breath; failing to satisfy Sookie sexually was the last thing he wanted to do. He knew that he’d be only her second partner, and although she’d not yet told him everything there was to know about her relationship with Bill Compton, Eric could tell that Sookie’s pleasure had not been at the top of the man’s list of priorities.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Sookie asked, breaking into his reverie as they passed just north of the Delacorte Theater.
He chuckled. “You probably don’t want to know.”
She looked up at him and smiled. “And what if I do?”
“Then, I’ll tell you, and you’ll blush.” He chuckled again. “Or I’ll blush. Probably both of us.”
“Hey—I’ve been known to blush,” he said, swinging their connected hands playfully.
“When?” she asked, truly curious.
“Fourth grade choir performance—zipper down in front of the whole school.”
“Eleventh grade debate team—zipper down in front of the Supreme Court.”
“What? Really?” she exclaimed.
“Yep,” he said, cringing a little at the memory. “My school’s team won a national contest, and we got to present in front of the Supreme Court Justices. In the pictures I saw later, my tighty whities were,” he paused, “prominent.”
She grinned. “Do all of your embarrassing moments involve your zipper being down?”
At that question, he laughed heartily. He realized he’d not ever laughed like that before—so free. It felt good. Strange—but really good.
“What’s so funny?” she asked with a giggle of her own.
“Actually—most of my embarrassing moments do involve my zipper being down,” he responded. “I was just thinking about what a disaster I was the first time I had sex with someone. And,” he paused, his cheeks pinking up, “I have to admit to a little performance anxiety about—uh—tonight.”
She stopped in her tracks, halting him too. Her eyebrows shot up almost comically, and she started and stopped speaking several times. She, of course, was blushing even more than he was by that point. “You? You’re nervous?”
He shrugged and nodded. “I can’t help it. I want you to,” he paused, “enjoy yourself.”
Sookie squeezed his hand and chewed her lip. “And I want you to enjoy yourself.” Her blush became impossibly redder, traveling all the way down her throat and disappearing under the top of her dress. Eric couldn’t help but to follow its heated path.
As he felt himself grow a little hard—a signal that didn’t bode well for his self-control—she stammered on, “I’m afraid—uh—I won’t have the—uh—experience the—uh—other girls you’ve been with have had. What if I—um—bore you?”
He quickly pulled her into his arms. “Not possible,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head.
“So we’re both nervous about tonight?” Sookie asked after a few moments, still obviously surprised by Eric’s confession.
“So it seems.”
“Good,” she said smiling up at him. “That actually makes me feel better.”
“Me too,” he chuckled as they started walking again, hands still joined and swinging once more.
“So—um—do you mind if we go to that sushi place again for dinner?” Sookie asked after a few minutes.
Eric chuckled. “I think I’ve created a sushi monster.”
She giggled. “I think you’re right. I’ve been craving it since the day after we had it.”
“Then sushi it is,” Eric agreed. “In truth, I’ve been craving it too. I usually go there a couple of times a week.”
“So we’re both sushi fiends?”
“Looks like it,” he chuckled.
As they emerged from the park, Sookie looked to her left and took in the impressive architecture of the American Museum of Natural History. She sighed. “I like how the MET and the natural history museum flank the park on either side.”
“Have you been there?” Eric asked.
“Once,” she responded. “I prefer art to natural history; however, we should think about going there if we run out of MET galleries to explore.”
“We,” he whispered aloud, but seemingly to himself.
“Or we could try the Guggenheim or the Museum of Modern Art. And then there are always new exhibitions at the MET. And the MET galleries you haven’t been to. I wouldn’t mind going back to those.”
“Sounds good,” Eric said, his voice a little thick.
“All,” he said. “Especially the we part.”
Sookie looked up at him. “Something to look forward to?”
He nodded as he turned them up the street toward the restaurant.
He inhaled deeply. The air was still warm as the afternoon turned to evening, but there was a slight breeze, despite the fact that the tall buildings of New York were serving as wind blocks. He caught the scent of flowers blooming in the park, and he smiled at the gentle fragrance, even as he thought about all the things that he was looking forward to because of the woman whose hand was swinging gently with his.
A/N: I hope you liked this chapter. I overhauled it yesterday since it had been told as a remembered event rather than in “real time.” The dialogue is basically all new, but I’m happier with the chapter now, so I’m glad I redid it.
Thanks for the comments about the last chapter! I continue to be floored by how many people support this story and me in general. You make it easier to withstand people who try to use anonymous comments as bullying opportunities. My fans are why I post my stories. You are appreciated and loved!
Until next time,