Chapter 35: Better and Worse
Eric had been awake for a while, but he’d not moved. He’d been surprised to find that sometime in the night, he and Sookie had reversed their positions. While she’d gone to sleep with her head on his chest, he was now resting his head on her stomach. Her hands were placed on his body soothingly, one on his shoulder and the other in his hair. Periodically, she would move one or both of her hands in her sleep, stroking him as if to comfort him.
Her actions made him feel cherished—which he’d never felt before Sookie came into his life—so, other than making sure that he wasn’t putting too much weight on her body, he didn’t move. Not a muscle.
Eric couldn’t help but to think about how amazing it was to wake up with a woman—this woman. He marveled at the idea that he’d never gone to sleep with someone he’d had sex with—even though he’d been with a “gross” number of women. He smiled at the double meaning of Sookie’s word choice. Of course, now he didn’t ever want to wake up without Sookie again. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would give up everything he had to be with Sookie Stackhouse: his home, his car, his money, his position at Northman Publishing. Those things were nothing compared to her.
Unable to stop himself, he thought about the possibility of running away with Sookie. He let himself fantasize for a moment, imagining them on a deserted island where Appius couldn’t find them. However, Eric knew that he couldn’t run; a hundred and four lives would be affected if he did. Moreover, he knew that his father wouldn’t let him escape.
Eric sighed as his daydream faded. But he couldn’t help smiling again as he appreciated the sounds Sookie made in her sleep. Lying on her back, she snored lightly with each inhalation of her breath. And when she moved her hands on him, it was almost as if her exhalation became a contented sigh—as if she were glad to find him still underneath her touch, still with her.
A hot tear stung the corner of his eye, but as with the ones that had arisen the night before during Sookie and his lovemaking, he was able to blink it away.
He glanced at the clock and noticed he’d been asleep for more than six hours. Undeniably, he had slept better with Sookie during the previous week than he had in his entire life. For years, nightmares and insomnia had plagued him to the point that he had sleeping pills in his bathroom for times when he was past the point of exhaustion and had to sleep. Eric hated taking them, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped. Most nights, he’d be lucky to get three hours of continuous sleep. On his best nights, he would get five. But there had been many nights when he would move in and out of a light sleep for a few hours before giving up and doing something productive.
Indeed, night was when he got most of his own NP work done—given the fact that his father required that he attend a myriad of meetings each day. Appius Northman had never required that of himself, but he enjoyed controlling Eric’s actions as much as he could.
And, in truth, Eric knew a hell of a lot about the company—all facets of it—because he had to attend all those meetings. He had thought of countless policy changes that could be implemented to make the company grow more efficient and cutting-edge. At first, he’d included his ideas for improvements in the reports that Appius required from him for each meeting he attended. But Appius had let Eric know—in the belittling way that he’d mastered—that any “puerile notions” Eric had were unwelcome.
The only exception to that had been when the company went public. Appius had been resisting going public for years, despite getting a lot of advice that it would be a good business move. Eric had been just one of the voices telling his father that they should take Northman Publishing public, and—as expected—his voice was the one least listened to. It had been Stan Davis, Nora, and Appius’s lawyers who had finally convinced him. But it was Eric that Appius put in charge of the transition; thus, it was Eric whom he resented for supposedly “taking the company out of family hands.” Of course, that wasn’t what had happened, but Appius still liked to berate Eric nonetheless. It didn’t matter that Appius still had ultimate power. And it didn’t matter that Appius was now several billion dollars wealthier than he had been.
Naturally, Eric had stopped bothering to share his ideas with Appius. He simply went to the meetings and wrote up his mandatory reports like a glorified administrative assistant taking minutes. Oh—he still had many ideas for making the company grow stronger, but he kept those to himself for the most part, though he’d been known to drop hints to Pam or Nora or other department heads about things that he thought needed to be dealt with immediately. And those people knew enough to keep Eric’s name out of any proposals made to Appius.
Eric was—because of the terms of the contract he had with his father—able to control his division of NP, the international operations of the company, and he’d managed to grow that division exponentially in just six years of running it. In addition to officially taking on all of Larsson Publishing’s clients, the European operations of NP had spread. And Eric had lucrative deals in the works within several Asian, African, and South American markets too.
As Sookie once more moved her hands to caress him, he could tell that she was beginning to wake up. He smiled and gently kissed her stomach, though it was separated from his lips by the sheet. He closed his eyes tightly, wondering how he would keep his sanity after saying goodbye to the woman who was holding him in her arms.
He must have unknowingly spoken his question out loud because Sookie’s still-tired voice answered him. “I feel the same way about you—you know.” She was brushing his hair with her fingers more purposely now, making him want to purr. “Saying goodbye to you after last night—after last week—seems impossible right now.” She took a deep breath. “Claudine told me something very wise though.”
“What was that?”
“She said that if we chose to be with each other, we couldn’t dwell on the fact that the clock is running down.”
“Live in the moment?” he asked once more kissing her through the sheet.
“Yes. You were right about what will happen when it’s time for all of this to end; we’re going to break.” She sighed. “But until then, we should enjoy what we’ve been given. Some people don’t ever find this at all,” she said, tightening her hand on his shoulder.
He tilted his head up to look at her. All he could do was nod in agreement.
They lay quietly for a while, Eric still cuddled into her side.
“You had a nightmare last night,” she said softly.
“I’m surprised I was able to go back to sleep then,” he mused. “Those usually keep me up for the rest of the night. It must have been having you here,” he smiled as he looked up at her again.
“So—are you saying that I’m good for you?” she asked playfully.
“Let me show you how good for me you are,” he purred as he began pulling the sheet from her body. It had just cleared her breasts when Eric’s phone buzzed.
Both he and Sookie groaned as they heard the unwelcome sound.
“It’s after 8:00; I have to get it,” he said apologetically as the phone buzzed again.
She nodded and sat up as he scrambled out of bed and retrieved his phone from his discarded jeans. She couldn’t help but to appreciate the view of her naked and aroused lover.
“Eric Northman,” he said into the receiver.
Sookie noticed that he was using his “business tone.” The pitch was a little lower than what he normally sounded like, but still smooth and polite. She knew that Eric was well-respected because he was both approachable and decisive at NP. Sookie had heard from both Sam and Pam’s lips on more than one occasion that they wished that Eric was the one who oversaw the editing division—instead of Appius, who was certainly more of an authoritarian.
Still, Sookie knew—also from Sam and Pam’s lips—that Eric had passed along some suggestions for improvements, and, thinking they had come from Pam, Appius had approved many of them. Sookie now understood a little better why those ideas had needed to be put forward by Pam and not Eric.
Eric sat down heavily onto the bed, and Sookie could hear that the voice on the other end of the call belonged to a man, though Sookie couldn’t make out the man’s words. From the slump of Eric’s shoulders and his overall demeanor change, she guessed it was his father.
Eric spoke evenly even though his body was tense. “As I put on the schedule three weeks ago and reminded you on Friday, I’m not going to be in the office until Thursday. I’m going to be . . . .”
Eric had obviously been interrupted, and Sookie could see his free hand flexing as if searching for something to steady him. She reached out and took it. When he looked down at her, she saw his body relax a little, and he even managed to give her a little smile before he began speaking to Appius again. He kept his eyes on hers as if they somehow settled him.
“I know that you are not a fan of this deal with Guangzhou Press, but it concerns my division and, therefore, the final decision is mine.”
Again, the voice on the other end began speaking, this time so loudly that Sookie could almost make out the words.
“You already have those numbers,” Eric said, clearly trying to maintain his calm. His thumb was moving over Sookie’s palm in a nervous, rubbing motion, though his touch was not rough. “I sent you the projections before I pursued the deal, and I have updated them for you several times. I emailed the most recent projections—done last Friday—to Andre since you now want things to go through him.”
Eric took deep, deliberate breaths as his father spoke again.
“No—I am not blaming Andre for my incompetence,” he said in a deflated tone. “I am just explaining where the latest projections are and reminding you of my calendar, which was sent to you weeks ago.”
Appius yelled out something that Sookie could tell was a question based on his inflection.
“No. The estimated profit projections have actually increased, given the fact that there is so much interest in producing translations of work from China.” Eric took a deep breath. “And remember that we will likely be able to get government subsidies that will cover most of our operating budget for the project.”
Again, the gruff tone of Appius came through the receiver.
“No,” Eric said. “I didn’t go to Stan because he’s not associated with the kinds of educational subsidies we’re applying for.”
Again, there was yelling over the receiver.
Eric’s voice stayed unruffled; however, his eyes were a storm of frustration and pain. “No—if we get the subsidies, we’ll have to provide free copies of some of the items to various public institutions and schools,” Eric reported.
Again Eric’s shoulders slumped as Appius spoke harshly.
“No—the subsidies aren’t sure things. And I can’t apply for them until after the deal goes through, but my contact on the Congressional Subcommittee is excited about the project. The government is just as interested in getting good translations of Chinese materials as others are. My contact is almost certain . . . .”
Eric closed his eyes and listened after he was interrupted yet again.
“Speak to Stan if you want to, but I don’t believe he’ll be able to do anything in this matter, or I would have gone to him myself.”
Again Eric listened. This time Appius went on for a long while. Eric looked like he was in physical pain because of his father’s words.
“Yes,” Eric said finally. “I am well-aware of your opinion that I am unable to effectively run my division, Father. However, unless you want me to cancel the deal with the Chinese and give up a project that could mean billions for the company, you should let me get back to work.”
Again there was a pause as Appius spoke.
“I’m sure that if we don’t strike this deal, others—like de Castro—will jump at the potential of such an enterprise, but we have an almost-finalized contract, and the Chinese are extremely loyal. I know that they will continue working with us, and don’t forget that they are also buying the rights to publish translations of many of the items from our own catalogue in Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as buying a lot of English titles for their students. Our market in China will be as large as our U.S. market by 2018 if my projections hold.”
Sookie heard the tone on the phone shift a little.
“I wasn’t aware that you required my attendance at your meeting with Neave and Lochlan today.” He closed his eyes tightly as Appius spoke again. Sookie squeezed his hand and moved so that her cheek was against his leg.
“I’ll see you at eleven o’clock then,” Eric said before hanging up.
“Is talking to him always like that?” Sookie asked quietly.
“Always,” Eric said with his eyes still shut.
“You have to go in today?”
“Just for a meeting that I’m not needed at—just so that my father can demonstrate his power over me.”
“Surely he can’t be upset about the deal you’re making with the Chinese publishing house. It sounds like it’s a good thing.”
He opened his eyes and stroked her cheek. “It is a good thing, and—no—Appius hasn’t really tried to block my working on it; otherwise, he would have called the Chinese and insulted them—just to undermine me.” He sighed, “He’s done similar things in the past. But even he has to recognize the potential for profit in this deal. He simply likes to make me justify myself over and over again.”
“So he called just to berate you,” Sookie observed, “not because he disagrees with the work you’re doing.”
Eric nodded. “It helped me to have you here,” he said with a small smile.
“I’m glad,” she said as she kissed his hand.
“How about we get cleaned up and grab a quick bite. Then we’ll both head out. You wanted to go to Brooklyn to pick up some clothes for the next few days anyway—right?” Eric asked.
“I’ll drive into the office, and as soon as the meeting’s done, I’ll come to Brooklyn and pick you up.”
“Oooh!” Sookie exclaimed excitedly. “In your baby?” Eric had told her about his “baby,” which was a 2007 red Corvette that he’d bought used two years before. It was one of his few “luxury items.”
Eric chuckled as the tension of his call disappeared from his face. “Sure. It’s about time you met the other woman anyway.”
She giggled. “So your car is a woman?”
“Of course,” Eric answered with an arch of his eyebrow. “Otherwise, it would be awkward for me to say the things I say to her.”
She giggled again. “I can only imagine.”
Eric squeezed her hand as his expression sobered a little. “Sookie, I would much rather do what I’d originally intended to do this morning—hang out and make love to you a couple more times before you left for Brooklyn.”
“I know,” she said. “But—like you said—I have errands to run anyway. Uh—maybe when you pick me up, you could meet Amelia? There’s some food that I want to use at the brownstone so that it doesn’t go bad. I could cook us a late lunch and we could explain things to her?”
“That sounds good, lover,” Eric said.
She smiled a little.
“I shouldn’t like it when you call me ‘lover’ because the connotation isn’t so great, but I sort of do.”
Eric smiled. “In Swedish, min älskare—or ‘my lover’—doesn’t have that negative twinge to it. I guess I think of that word and then translate it. But I can stop calling you that if you wish.”
“No,” Sookie said, nuzzling his leg again. “I like it, but you don’t have to translate. I like it when you speak in Swedish.” Her face went bright red. “You spoke it quite a bit when we were—uh—gettin’ busy last night.” She giggled shyly. “At one point, I’m pretty sure that you were cursing like a sailor.”
Eric chuckled and ran his fingers through her hair. “At one point, I was.”
She smiled. “It’s nice actually—guessing what you’re saying without seeing the English words forming on your mouth.”
He bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead. “Shall we shower together, min älskare?” he suggested.
“To save water?”
“Of course,” he grinned wolfishly.
“I probably couldn’t figure out all the nozzles anyway,” she observed.
“So it really is the most practical decision.”
She grinned in agreement and sat up as he reached into his nightstand to get a condom.
Her eyebrow lifted in question.
“Just in case,” he said with a leer.
She giggled. “Mr. Practical strikes again.”
She wasn’t surprised at all when he picked her up over his shoulder and carried her to the bathroom, once again doing his impression of a marauding Viking. She also wasn’t surprised when the condom didn’t make a return trip to his nightstand after their extremely “refreshing” shower.
A/N: Sorry that this chapter is a bit shorter than usual, but there are two reasons for it. First, the next item on the agenda doesn’t fit with it. Second, I really wanted to get something out to you today b/c I’ll be out of town tomorrow (for a friend’s birthday party—wine tasting).
Once again, thanks so much for all the wonderful comments on the last chapter!