Chapter 36: Perspective
“Are we talking about the same Eric Northman?” Amelia half-asked and half-exclaimed as she sat on a kitchen stool watching Sookie put together a soup. Amelia was well aware that she was painfully inept in the kitchen, except when it came to making coffee, so she was staying out of Sookie’s way even as she enjoyed the emerging aroma from the bubbling mixture on the stove.
“Yes,” Sookie confirmed, a little uncomfortably, “Eric Northman.”
“The CEO of Northman Publishing?” Amelia asked, still incredulous. When her friend had told her that she had a boyfriend, Amelia would have never guessed—not in a million years—that it would be a playboy like Eric Northman. She’d pictured someone who worked at the library that Sookie frequented—or maybe another Preston Pardloe type.
“Eric’s father is the CEO,” Sookie corrected, “but yes—that Eric Northman.”
Amelia sat dumbfounded for a moment. “But, Sookie, you don’t even date—not really—and then you suddenly land the most eligible bachelor in New York?” Amelia asked, trying to hide her shock so that she wouldn’t hurt her friend’s feelings. In truth, however, Amelia was shocked. It wasn’t that Amelia thought something asinine—like that Eric was out of Sookie’s league. It was that Sookie was one of the most introverted people she’d ever known, and—though it was feasible that she’d met Eric at her place of work—Amelia couldn’t imagine her actually speaking to him, even if he made the first move.
Sookie took a deep breath as she stirred chopped carrots into the pot. “Something like that,” she said before looking at Amelia nervously. “But we have to keep our relationship a secret. So you can’t tell anyone—not anyone. Remember your promise to me before I told you who he was?” she asked, her tone now tinged with desperation. “Please, Amelia. We are telling only a few people about this.”
Immediately, Amelia felt her anger rising. “Why are you so scared of people finding out? Not telling is his idea—isn’t it? He’s not ashamed of you—is he?”
“No. He’s not ashamed of me,” Sookie answered quickly as she returned to her cutting board and started prepping another vegetable for the soup.
Amelia wanted to believe her friend, but she knew something of Eric Northman’s reputation. And he wasn’t known for having committed relationships, except for one—with Isabel Edgington. And as far as Amelia knew, they were still dating. In fact, rumor had it that they’d be announcing their engagement before long. Amelia took a deep breath and considered her response carefully—again not wanting to hurt Sookie.
“You know that I think you’re a wonderful person, but I’m worried, Sookie. If there’s one thing I know firsthand, it’s how the people in so-called high society operate. It’s why I turned my back on that kind of life.” She sighed. “I don’t want to think that Eric’s just using you, Sook, but I’m scared for you.”
“He’s not using me,” Sookie responded calmly. “I appreciate your worry; I really do. You’re right about our differences in social class being one of the reasons why Eric and I need to be secretive. But it’s not because Eric thinks I’m unworthy. It’s. . . .” She stopped speaking for a moment, obviously considering her words carefully. “Appius, Eric’s father—he’s the problem.”
“How so?” Amelia asked, trying to hide her skepticism.
Sookie took a deep breath, again taking time to consider her response. “If Appius finds out that Eric’s serious about me, then he’ll interfere.”
Amelia’s eyebrows furrowed. “Listen. I understand—more than most—the pressure that parents can put on kids when it comes to relationships. And I know a little about Appius too since he and my dad used to be thick as thieves.” She paused. “So it doesn’t surprise me that Appius would disapprove of Eric’s getting serious about someone he doesn’t approve of. My father—at least before my mother died—was always trying to interfere with my personal life, especially after he found out that I’m bisexual. And when I didn’t conform to his wishes, he basically disowned me!” She paused again. “I mean—my dad has changed and he’s accepted me for who I am now, but, Sookie, I don’t see Appius changing. I remember him as pretty rigid.” She let out a long exhalation. “I’m sorry to be the one who has to say this to you, but I can’t see Eric being able to be with you—not if he wants to remain Appius’s heir.”
For a moment, Sookie stopped chopping the onion that was—perhaps—responsible for the tears rising in her eyes. “I know,” she said with a sigh. “Eric and I aren’t going to get a happily ever after. The way we figure it, we have fewer than four years to be together. After that, Eric will have to marry someone that his father deems suitable.”
“So he’s already told you when you’re breaking up? And you’re with him anyway?” Amelia asked, shaking her head.
“Breaking up isn’t something Eric wants,” Sookie said softly. “We haven’t been together long, Amelia, and it’s difficult to explain, but it feels like we’re supposed to be together.” Her eyebrows furrowed a little before she continued. “It’s actually impossible to explain. But the important thing is that I’m going to seize all the time with Eric I can get and try to enjoy it.”
Amelia bit her lip a little. Her friend was trying to be so calm about the fact that Eric had told her that their relationship couldn’t last; however, Amelia could see the pain in Sookie’s eyes. “Eric could rebel against his father’s expectations—like I did,” she offered, trying to instill hope into her tone.
“No. He couldn’t,” Sookie said enigmatically—and ominously.
“Why not?” Amelia asked.
Sookie started peeling the outer layers off of another onion. “There are going to be a lot of things that I won’t be able to tell you about all of this, Amelia. I just need for you to try to understand that Eric’s giving me all that he can. And—so that we can enjoy the time we have—we need to make sure Appius doesn’t find out about us.”
The two were silent for a while as Sookie chopped the second onion and then used a pan to sauté the onions and some garlic in some cooking oil. The quiet only served to heighten Amelia’s concerns for Sookie. Her friend was just beginning to come out of her shell—just beginning to wake up to life. Amelia knew that Sookie saw Claudine for counseling once a week, but—of course—Claudine had never told Amelia anything about Sookie’s sessions. However, it hadn’t been difficult for Amelia to discern that Sookie had suffered a lot of mental and/or physical trauma before coming to New York. After all, the Sookie that she first met might as well have been a zombie; hell—Sookie barely spoke ten words at a time to Amelia for the first six months they lived together.
It wasn’t that Sookie had been a bad housemate—far from it, in fact. It was just that she seemed scared to interact with anyone beyond the most casual of topics. It had been a desperate move on Amelia’s part when she invited Claudine over to the brownstone when she knew she’d be running late and Sookie would be alone. Amelia hadn’t told her best friend much about her roommate—beyond the fact that Sookie was quiet. However—just as Amelia had hoped—the therapist had immediately seen that Sookie was in trouble and needed help. Thankfully, seven months before, Sookie had taken Claudine up on the counseling.
Since then, Sookie had been slowly changing. She’d been relaxing more around friends. And she’d even gone out a few times. Thus, Amelia couldn’t help but to be afraid of the emotional battering for which Sookie seemed to be setting herself up.
“So—what happens to you if you fall in love with him?” Amelia asked quietly—hoping to somehow get Sookie to see reason before it was too late to save her heart.
Sookie bit her lip a little, but didn’t look up from her task.
“Shit,” Amelia cursed quietly. “You already love him—don’t you?”
Sookie added the sautéed mixture to the soup and then looked over at Amelia. “I do love him,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I’m going to enjoy that love for as long as I can. Eric and I are both being very realistic about where our relationship will end up. But—for right now—we’re living for the ‘now.'”
“You can’t be okay with that,” Amelia said disbelievingly.
“I am okay with that. Eric has been upfront and honest with me from the start, and I’ve made my choice to be with him, Amelia,” Sookie said firmly.
“Surely you couldn’t have told Claudine about this,” Amelia responded.
“I did. She said that I needed to make sure the gain would be worth the loss.”
“And you think it is?”
“I know it is,” Sookie said confidently. “And I really need you to keep quiet about my relationship with Eric; otherwise, it’ll end sooner than it has to.”
Amelia considered Sookie’s response. She had no doubt that Claudine would have guided Sookie to make the right choice regarding Eric. But Amelia still had her doubts.
“What about the fact that Eric is dating Isabel Edgington?” Amelia asked with concern, fearing that her words would hurt Sookie, but believing that her friend needed to hear them nonetheless.
“Isabel and Eric are friends. They used to be more than that, but now they are just friends, who go to events together. It makes things easier for them.”
“You believe that?”
“I know it,” Sookie responded unequivocally.
Amelia shook her head. “And you accept the fact that Eric has a pretend relationship with Isabel?”
Sookie nodded. “Yes. In fact, he already showed me a schedule of events that they plan to attend together for the next several months.”
Amelia pinched the bridge of her nose. “So—to sum up—you are with Eric Northman, but you are keeping your relationship a secret so you can stay together as long as you can because, otherwise, his father would break you up. But—regardless—you know it’ll have to end within four years? And you already love him?”
“Yes,” Sookie said. “I know it’s hard to understand, and I wish I could tell you everything, but Eric makes me happy, and,” she paused and used a paper towel to dry a few tears from her eyes, “I really want to be happy, Amelia. For a very long time, I didn’t think I deserved to be; I didn’t know that I could be. But Eric—being with him—makes me happy.”
“You do deserve to be happy,” Amelia said quietly, “but you also deserve to stay that way. What if I ask my father to speak to Appius?” she asked, trying to infuse her tone with optimism that she didn’t quite feel. “Like I said, they used to be really good friends. Maybe Eric’s wrong. Maybe Appius isn’t so Draconian that he’d deny his own son happiness. After all, the Northmans already have more money than God. Why would Eric need to marry into more of it?”
Sookie shook her head. “I’ve not been around Eric for long, but I’ve already learned that Appius is a cruel bastard—especially where Eric is concerned. Appius would use every tool at his disposal to keep Eric from marrying someone like me. And—as for caring about whether Eric is happy? He doesn’t. Appius is a monster; he’s happiest when Eric is miserable.”
“But why?” Amelia asked dumbfounded.
“Does it matter why a parent is intentionally cruel to his or her child?” Sookie asked quietly.
“No,” Amelia answered softly as she took in the woman before her; Sookie Stackhouse had proven that she was a survivor—though Amelia wasn’t sure what all she’d had to survive. Amelia had, however, intuited that Sookie’s pain stemmed from a cruel parent of her own—her mother. Amelia didn’t know a lot about Sookie’s relationship with Michelle Stackhouse, but she knew enough to be certain that there was a big difference between what she’d gone through with her father as opposed to what Sookie had gone through with Michelle Stackhouse. And—from the subtext of Sookie’s words—it sounded like Appius Northman might be more than just the run-of-the-mill high-class father who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and lamented the fact that arranged marriages were no longer the norm.
Amelia may have had to suffer through a couple of years’ worth of her hot-tempered father’s stubborn misgivings about her choices, but she’d never doubted that his love of her and his worry for her were the foundation of those misgivings. And—even when Copley Carmichael had “disinherited” her—he’d still made sure she had access to her trust fund. And he’d kept track of how she was doing through her mother and brother. And he’d left her messages about once a week telling her that she should visit home more often—for her mother’s sake. Of course, Amelia had known—even then—that his requests were really because he missed her.
No—unlike Copley Carmichael—Michelle Stackhouse was clearly an abuser. Amelia had answered the phone the only time that Michelle had called Sookie in New York. It was about a week after Sookie had moved in, and Michelle had clearly thought that Sookie had answered. Without so much as a “hello,” the baleful woman had begun attacking her daughter, berating her for ruining things with someone named Bill Compton and screaming that she was going to fail in New York. It had taken Amelia a minute to process who the woman on the phone was, and in that time Sookie’s mother had spewed out nonstop venom. Not knowing what else to do, Amelia had hung up the phone and then had immediately called the phone company to have them change the number. She’d paid extra to make sure it remained unlisted.
She’d never mentioned the call to her friend.
After that incident, Amelia had thanked her lucky stars that she and her father had reached an understanding about her life. At one point, he’d tried to use guilt to get her to take a job at Carmichael Industries, but her mother’s long battle with cancer and her subsequent death had changed Copley Carmichael into a man who had become more concerned with building strong relationships with his children and grandchildren as opposed to architecting more business deals. He hadn’t even minded when she’d wanted to be known as Amelia Broadway—Broadway being her mother’s maiden name—when she started her business.
Moreover, during the last few years her dad had invested in Amelia’s work and had bought her the brownstone in Brooklyn so that she would have a shorter commute. Much to everyone’s satisfaction, her brother had pretty much taken over Carmichael Industries. And Amelia couldn’t help but to be proud of Paul, who managed to run a multi-billion dollar company as well as make sure that his wife of ten years and his five children knew that they were his first priority.
As Amelia watched Sookie making something that looked like cornbread, she realized how truly lucky she’d been. While alive, her mother, who was a bit of a free-spirit herself, had always supported Amelia’s endeavors, and after her death, it was as if a new father had been given to her and Paul.
Amelia sighed. She had seen the cutthroat world of New York high society, and she knew that Appius Northman was at the center of that world. A decade before, her father had been standing right next to him. However, the Northman patriarch was no longer a part of her father’s life as far as Amelia could tell. She’d heard rumors about something happening at one of the NP January parties—something involving Appius’s stepdaughter, Nora, throwing herself at Amelia’s father not long after her mother had died. But Amelia didn’t know the details. However, she did know that Appius hadn’t been invited to Copley’s recent sixtieth birthday party, though many of the most powerful New Yorkers of her father’s generation—including Russell Edgington and Mary Brigant-Crane, Claudine’s mother—had been there. Even Niall Brigant, Mary’s father, had attended, and he had become a bit of a recluse by most accounts.
But Appius Northman hadn’t been welcome. Amelia couldn’t help but to take that as a sign that Appius hadn’t been accepting of her father’s life changes. So—it stood to reason that he would be even less tolerant of his son’s personal desires.
Amelia took a deep breath. She was still concerned about Sookie—maybe even more than she had been before. But her friend deserved to find happiness when and where she could, and Amelia wouldn’t begrudge her for that. She took another breath. What Sookie needed wasn’t judgment or endless questioning about the man she loved; what she needed was a friend who would be there when her heart was inevitably broken, and Amelia was determined to be that friend.
Amelia broke the somewhat awkward silence that had arisen between the two women. “I won’t tell anyone about you and Eric,” she promised. “And I’ll do anything I can to help you two.”
Sookie gave her a smile. “Thanks. I wanted you to know mostly because I think Eric and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. I’m not sure if it will be here or at his place, but I—uh—don’t like the idea of spending the night without him.” She sighed. “We haven’t made any decisions about where we’re going to live yet, but,” she paused, “I think it will be together. “We make each other feel better.”
“Oh?” Amelia asked, as she tried to lighten the mood in the room. Her eyebrow rose as she latched on to the naughtiest possible connotation of Sookie’s words. “Is Eric Northman the stallion in the sack that rumor claims him to be?”
“Amelia!” Sookie said sharply, dropping her spoon into the soup pot.
“What?” Amelia asked with false innocence as she handed Sookie a dishrag so that she could clean up the splatter of soup now on the stove. “You are the one that said he makes you feel better.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Sookie said with exasperation as she carefully fished out the spoon and then washed it off.
“But you guys have had sex—right?” Amelia fished. Sookie immediately blushed brightly, and Amelia smiled, having gotten her answer.
Sookie bit her lip. “Yes,” she responded. “Last night was our first time, and it was,” she paused, “nice.”
Sookie smiled. “No—not just nice. Actually, there’s not a good enough word for what it was like to be with Eric,” Sookie said with stars in her eyes. “He was wonderful.”
“I want details,” Amelia said, looking like a dog who’d just found a juicy bone.
Sookie shook her head. “Sorry, but that’s all you’re going to get.” She chuckled at Amelia’s crestfallen look. “Anyway, what I was referring to before—when I said that he makes me feel better—was that I’ve been sleeping better.”
Amelia’s face immediately became more serious and thoughtful. “That’s really good, Sookie,” she said, knowing that her friend often had a difficult time falling and staying asleep. On many occasions, Amelia had been woken up by Sookie’s loud nightmares even though her bedroom was on the other side of the house. And she had also heard the floorboards creak some nights as Sookie would get water from the kitchen or pace for hours in the living room.
Before Amelia could say anything else, the door buzzer rang. The brunette couldn’t help but to notice Sookie’s expression lighten noticeably. She looked—for the first time that Amelia had known her—truly happy.
“Can you stir this while I go answer the door?” Sookie asked excitedly.
Amelia smiled. “Sure. Just don’t be too long. You know how things tend to burn around me,” she laughed.
“Be back in a minute,” Sookie promised, practically dashing from the room.
Yes—Amelia promised herself—she would do what she could to try to keep Sookie’s smile on her face as long as she could. God knows—if there was one person on the planet who was due for a measure of happiness, it was Sookie Stackhouse.
A/N: Hello all! I wanted to thank you so much for the comments for the last chapter! So—this chapter is short too. But I have a surprise. The next chapter is almost done, and I’m going to post it in a few hours as long as no one bugs me during my lunch break at work and I can finish a couple of tweaks. But—even if they do—I’ll have it for you by tonight!
I hope you liked this peek into Amelia’s head. Most of the chapters in this story are from Eric/Sookie’s view(s), but I find that I need to step back every once in a while to think about what this couple would look like from the outside.