Chapter 38: Pictures, Part 1
Life is a canvas of many strokes where shades from different palettes meet into a picture so concrete that some forget it is their own, so become framed themselves.—Vanna Bonta
“So—what do you think?” Eric asked as Sookie took a moment to study one of the portions of his home that she’d already seen the night before.
“Um—it’s certainly monochromatic,” Sookie responded as she looked around the long room that lined the side of Eric’s home that faced the Hudson River.
He chuckled. She was right. Everything was a shade of gray. “Pam decorated this half of the house,” he said. “It’s used mainly for parties—not that I have many. But Appius demands that I host small business gatherings from time to time. Luckily, this house is big enough to accommodate a space for them,” he paused, “and a space for me.”
She nodded and walked around a little.
To take advantage of the view of the river, there were large windows all along the long room, and the space was open. In the middle was a seating area—what Eric had called an informal living room—with a large couch, a couple of chairs, and an oval-shaped coffee table with a glass top. The living room lacked decorations, other than some beautiful crystal pieces. The space was elegant, but “cold.”
To one side of the living room was a dining area with a round table and six chairs. That table, too, had a glass top, and the chairs looked comfortable, though heavy. Sookie couldn’t help but to wonder how often they were sat in. To the other side of the living room was a small office space with a leather couch, a chair, an oversized ottoman, and a uniquely-shaped desk. Nothing about the large room seemed “lived in” at all.
“Well—it’s beautiful,” Sookie remarked she looked at Eric, “just not that homey.”
“I don’t really spend much time in this part of the house,” he admitted. “I know that’s a waste, but I like the living area on the other side of the house better.”
Sookie smiled. “Well—it is beautiful. It just doesn’t seem like you.”
“Like I said,” Eric commented nervously, “sometimes I have to host cocktail parties here for important clients of my division of NP or for members of my team. The desk is there in case any business has to be done at them. It’s also where I teleconference when I’m at home, but I usually work in my office on the other side of the house.”
Sookie nodded as she took in everything around her.
“It really is a waste of space,” Eric sighed. “I usually only walk through this part of the house to get to the kitchen or to the balcony. And I hate that room,” Eric said, pointing to the lounge area between the foyer and what Sookie was already thinking of as the ‘gray side’ of Eric’s home.
She looked at the lounge. It was a good-sized interior room with two large curved sofas facing each other. It too was gray. “Why do you hate it?” she asked.
“Appius is often in attendance at the cocktail parties I host, and that’s where he likes to,” Eric paused, “hold court.”
She nodded in understanding. “So how often do you have parties?”
“Just three or so times a year,” Eric said, dragging his hand through his hair. “That’s really the only time my father comes here, however, so that’s good.”
Sookie nodded again.
“Pam always organizes the functions. My only job is to schmooze.” He chuckled, but Sookie could tell that his heart wasn’t in it. “There will be one here in September when a delegation from China visits New York. That one I’m looking forward to—however. I like the people I’m working with from Guangzhou Press.”
Sookie nodded. “I’ll ask Amelia if I can stay in Brooklyn when there are parties here.”
Eric sighed resignedly. “Okay. Or you could stay in the other part of the house. I block that part off, but,” he paused, “Brooklyn would be safer.”
A look of acceptance settled across her features. “It’s okay, Eric. We’ll work it out.”
He bent down to give her a lingering kiss on her forehead and then took her hand, leading her to the kitchen. “You saw this room already—of course—but I want you to know that you should make yourself welcome—in any part of the house. Feel free to move stuff around, or let me know if you need something that’s not here.”
He took a small notebook from one of the drawers in the kitchen island; the first page had a grocery list started. Sookie noticed that there was a stack of delivery menus in the drawer too, which wasn’t surprising since he’d told her that he ordered in most nights. She glanced at the grocery list and noticed things like bread, sandwich fixings, and fresh fruits and vegetables—foods that didn’t require much preparation before eating.
“Thalia shops every Thursday,” Eric informed. “I keep this list, so add whatever you like. I drop it off at the front desk for her every Thursday on my way to work.”
“Actually,” Sookie said as she bit her lip nervously, “Thalia did shop. That’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Now that we’re gonna be living together, I want to do the cooking. And I certainly don’t want anyone cleaning up after me.”
“But Sookie . . . ,” Eric started.
“No—I don’t need anyone taking care of things like my grocery shopping,” Sookie interrupted, her innate—though long-buried—stubbornness bubbling to the surface. Her tone surprised them both, and it also made them smile.
“Are we going to have a fight now?” Eric asked as if the idea were novel to him.
“If you think I’m gonna let someone else pick up after me—then yes,” Sookie responded, surprising herself with her own vehemence. The closest she’d ever had to a fight with Bill happened the day she found out about Lorena and his job with the FBI. And that argument was one-sided. She’d told him quietly that she didn’t want to see him again, and he’d yelled at and pleaded with her from outside of her apartment for hours. However, it hadn’t really been much of a confrontation—especially after one of her neighbors called the police when Bill’s pleas became especially noisy.
“Okay—then we fight,” Eric said calmly, before taking Sookie’s hand and leading her to the lounge. “When we fight, though, we should do it in here.”
She looked at him curiously. “Why here?”
“Well—it’s already my least favorite room in the house,” he answered matter-of-factly. “So I say that—unless you like this room for some reason—we should do our fighting in here so we don’t spoil the rest of the house.”
She smiled at his reasoning. “Okay.”
As they sat down next to each other on one of the long couches, Sookie noticed that each sofa looked as if it could seat at least eight Eric-sized people.
“So—I’ll start—okay?” he asked.
“Okay,” she agreed.
He took a deep breath. “I figured that you would resist the idea of someone doing all the stuff that Thalia does for me, but I have some things for you to consider.”
“Okay,” she said again.
“First, this is a larger space than Amelia’s, especially since there are many rooms that you are not responsible for cleaning in that house.”
“True,” Sookie relented.
“And, while you were in the bathroom today, I asked Amelia what she did about housework,” he said a little guiltily. “And she told me that she has a cleaning person come once a week.”
Sookie sighed. “Yes—but that person never cleaned up my room, and I always kept the kitchen clean since I was the once who used it.”
Eric squeezed her hand, which he was still holding. “Okay—good point. But taking care of this place gives Thalia part of her income. I know that she could find something else, but I’m not particularly messy or demanding, and I pay her well for what basically amounts to eight workdays per month.”
“Okay—good point,” Sookie relented echoing Eric’s words, “but what about the fact that Thalia will now have to clean up after two people?”
“I could offer her a raise,” Eric tried.
Sookie rolled her eyes.
“How about we compromise?” Eric asked.
“Okay—what’s your idea?”
“I don’t have one yet,” Eric admitted. “But I know that compromise is good for settling a fight.”
She giggled. “I wouldn’t know; this is my first real fight with someone I’m—uh—involved with. Bill and I didn’t fight.”
“Oh,” he said, “this is my first fight too.”
She smiled. “Okay—I think that compromise would be good.”
Eric smiled back at her. “Well—how about this? On the nights when you aren’t too tired from work, I’d be happy to let you cook for me to your heart’s content because you know I love your cooking, and I know that you like to cook. On the nights you’re tired or get home late, we can order in. And I think Thalia should still pick up our list of things each week. She uses one of the building’s SUVs, so transporting a lot of items is easy for her.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I know you usually carry your groceries in that little trolley you have at Amelia’s, but if you’re shopping for two people, you might not be able to do that—especially since I sometimes have heavy things on the list, like a twelve-pack of beer or something,” he said reasonably.
Sookie sighed. “I can live with that compromise—on one condition.”
“Okay,” Eric said with relief. “What is it?”
“Do you work on Saturdays?”
“Sometimes, but usually I can get away with doing any weekend work I have from home. Why?”
“Well—I actually like shopping for food and letting the fresh ingredients I see inspire me a little, especially in New York where there are so many things to try. So I want to go to the market on Saturday mornings—maybe while you’re working—and then I can make a meal that takes more time on Saturday evenings. Plus, I like to pre-make several meals for the week on Saturdays. It’s easier to heat things up after work rather than to start from scratch.”
He smiled brightly. “Okay. See? We do compromising well!”
“We aren’t done,” Sookie said, barely containing her laughter at the boyish grin on Eric’s face. “I really don’t like the idea of someone cleaning up after me.”
Eric’s eyebrows furrowed a little. “I’m pretty neat, actually. I pick up after myself, so all Thalia does is clean the floors and dust a couple of times a month. I think she rotates the rooms each week. Oh—and she cleans the bathrooms and does the laundry too. And she takes care of my dry cleaning.”
Sookie sighed. “Okay—I’ll accept her doing the floors and the dusting in most of the house, but I’d like to take care of your bedroom and bathroom and the kitchen—since I’ll be using it so much.”
“Our bedroom,” he corrected. “Our bathroom.”
She smiled. “Yes—ours. Oh—and I’ll probably do spot cleaning in the rest of the house too—especially on the days before Thalia comes.”
“So you’ll clean before she cleans?” Eric asked, looking a bit mystified.
“Hey!” she said playfully. “We’re compromising! Oh—and she can still take care of the dry cleaning, but I’ll do the rest of the laundry. I don’t like the thought of someone else touching my undies.”
“How about if I touch your undies,” he purred, leaning in close and then raining ticklish kisses along her neck and shoulder.
Giggling, she pushed him away. “Don’t you have work to do, buddy?”
“Buddy?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.
Sookie winked. “I’m trying out pet names.”
“Not buddy,” he said with mock sternness.
“Hey,” he said with sudden realization, “are we done with our fight?”
“I think Claudine would call this a discussion—or a negotiation—but yes.”
Eric looked somewhat disappointed.
“What?” Sookie asked.
“Fights are followed by make-up sex,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.
She giggled. “I think you have a one track mind, mister!”
She shrugged. “Better?”
He shook his head in an exaggerated way, causing her to giggle again.
“I’ll keep trying,” she said with a grin.
“Hey—can we fight over your pet names for me?” he asked hopefully.
She giggled again. “You just want make-up sex.”
“Yeah,” he admitted without apology.
“Don’t you need to work?” she reminded.
“Okay,” he relented, getting up from the couch and pulling her up too. “But I have a few more minutes, and I want to show you my favorite part of the house anyway,” he said sarcastically.
“I thought you showed me that last night,” she responded, waggling her own eyebrows.
He chuckled. “You don’t make it easy for me to think about work, Miss Stackhouse,” he growled before tickling her sides.
She chortled and tried to wiggle away from him.
Finally, when she was gasping for air, he let her go and made her gasp even more when he dipped her and gave her a toe-curling kiss. “After work,” he panted. “You. Are. Mine.”
With a dazed look in her eyes, she nodded.
He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Unfortunately, I really do need to get my report finalized. Dear old dad wants me to email it to Andre before 6:00, and then I’m sure that he’ll have some more ‘suggestions’ which I’ll have to try to integrate without fucking up the whole deal,” he said, his tone edged with bitterness. “Guangzhou is thirteen hours ahead of us. I have my first conference call scheduled from 9:00-10:00 p.m. our time. After that, I’ll likely have some more work to do before our follow-up call at 2:00 a.m. our time. But I’ll have some breaks,” he said, leering at her and enjoying the resulting blush on her cheeks.
He took her hand and kissed it before leading her to the master bedroom suite. Sookie took a moment to take in the sitting room, which led to Eric’s bedroom. It too was somewhat monochromatic, but the room was much warmer and more inviting than the “gray side” of the house. She didn’t have time to really study the room, however, before Eric was tugging gently on her hand. It was then that she noticed that he was carrying the largest of her bags for the week—the old and tattered suitcase that Gran had given her when she’d left for college.
Initially, Sookie had been concerned that she was bringing too much with her since the original plan had been for her to stay at Eric’s for only a week, but she’d needed a couple of work outfits, which required her to bring a garment bag, which was still in Eric’s foyer. She’d also stuffed her backpack with some library books, and she’d had to bring her laptop too. All told, the corvette’s tiny trunk had been packed. However, Eric had shrugged off the number of bags she’d brought with her, telling her that when Pam traveled for a week, she always took so many bags that a special car had to be hired to accommodate her luggage, especially for the return trip since her number of suitcases always grew exponentially while she was on vacation.
Eric led her into a walk-in closet that was off of the sitting room and almost as large as her bedroom at Amelia’s house. She gasped.
Seeing Sookie’s reaction, Eric chuckled.
“The closet was initially planned to be twice as big. However, since Pam and I bought into this building while it was still under construction, we were able to tweak our floor plans. Needless to say, she more than doubled her own closet space, and I halved mine.”
Eric motioned to the wall to their right. “The room on the other side of that wall is one of the tweaks I made.”
“What’s in there?” Sookie asked.
He gave her an impish grin. “You’ll find out when you explore the rest of the house while I’m working.”
She giggled as he bent down and kissed the tip of her nose. Then he set down her suitcase.
“This closet is still too big for me,” he informed, moving a few shirts from one side of the space to the other in order to clear her a whole rack for her clothing. “Pam, of course, designed it,” he remarked as he looked around. He chuckled. “And she is determined to fill it too. Every once in a while, I’ll come home and find a new suit in here—or something else that Pam deems necessary for me.” He sighed. “Of course, unlike her, I’m not a packrat when it comes to clothing. Every year or so, I cycle out the things that I no longer wear and donate them to charity.”
Sookie giggled again. “I’m sure that whoever gets the Armani suits is grateful.”
Eric grinned. “Actually, the charity I give the clothing to provides business attire for people who can’t afford it on their own. It’s a Manhattan-based charity. I sometimes imagine that I’m outfitting guys who are fresh out of college and trying to make it in the business world on their own.” He winked at her, “At least the tall ones.”
She giggled. “I think it’s nice that you do that,” she observed.
He shrugged. “Pam wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if—God forbid—I wore a suit from three years ago.” He scoffed. “As if the style of suits changes much. Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in the same outfit twice.”
They shared a laugh at that comment. Eric motioned toward the right side of the closet. “I don’t really have much on this side, so it can be your side,” he said with excitement in his tone. “Oh—and you can have that dresser too,” he said pointing to the object in the middle of the back wall. “I know that there are at least a few empty drawers in it, so those will get you started. By the time you bring the rest of your things, I’ll have the rest cleared out for you.”
Sookie shook her head. “I couldn’t take part of your closet, Eric. I’ll just use one in another room or something.”
“The guest room is all the way across the house,” he informed, moving slightly closer to her. His tone was soft and unsure—as if he were scared of frightening her away. “I know everything about this place probably seems excessive to you, and it is excessive, but it’s also my home, and I would very much like it to be your home too—just as much as mine—for as long as it can be. Please, share this space—and all spaces—with me,” he finished intensely.
Sookie felt tears welling in her eyes as she leaned upward to place a soft, slow kiss onto his lips. She nodded as she did so and felt his lips turn up into a smile.
They stayed quiet for a few moments as Eric brought her against his chest and held her.
“Thank you,” she finally said as she motioned toward the half of the closet that he’d so eagerly given to her. She understood that making room for the few items she owned was not a burden for him, but it was also a deeply symbolic gesture. He’d changed his life to make room for her as if it were the easiest and most natural thing in the world for him to do. And it felt just as natural for her to step into that space.
“You need to work,” she reminded once more, looking up at him.
He nodded. “My office is just on the other side of the sitting room,” he said as he pointed. “Come see me after you’ve looked around?”
“Okay,” she agreed, “but I wouldn’t want to bother you.”
“You won’t be,” he smiled. “I like the idea of you being here. I like the idea of you coming into my office while I’m working just to give me a kiss.”
“Then I’ll be sure to do that,” she said, gazing into his emotion-filled eyes.
Sookie decided that she would unpack before taking her time to explore the rest of the house. Eric had already told her that, while he was working, she should take a self-guided tour so that she could “snoop.” Truthfully, she was just glad that she could take the tour slowly—so as not to be overwhelmed. She went back to the foyer area and grabbed her backpack and her garment bag, leaving her computer bag because she wasn’t sure where she’d be keeping it.
Once she was back in the closet, she smiled a little as she took her work clothes out of the garment bag and hung them up on the rack that Eric had cleared for her. Next, she tentatively opened the drawers in the dresser he said she could use. It had four drawers—with the top one narrower than the others. As Eric had said, there wasn’t much in the dresser. Sookie figured that was because there were several other drawer units in the closet.
She found some warm-looking sweaters folded in the lowest drawer, but the top three drawers were empty. She unzipped her suitcase and was easily able to fit her underwear, pantyhose, and socks into the upper drawer. She’d brought a couple of pairs of jeans and several pairs of flannel sleep pants, as well as some T-shirts, shorts, nightgowns, a sweater, and a hoodie. She quickly put those into the other drawers and then found some empty hangers for the nicer blouses that she’d brought to go with her suits. She made a mental note that she’d need to buy hangers since the ones that she was using at Amelia’s house actually belonged to her roommate.
Sookie stowed her work pumps, tennis shoes, and sandals on an empty shelf made for holding shoes and then stood back to look for a moment at her things in Eric’s closet. The sight made her smile. She took out her bag of bathroom items and made sure the suitcase was empty before putting the unpacked garment bag inside of it. She looked around, trying to figure out where she should put her luggage. She looked up and saw Eric’s luggage housed on the top shelves of the walk-in closet, but there was no way she could reach that high without a ladder, so she opted to just ask Eric for help later.
Before leaving the closet, she decided that she would change clothes—just as she would if she were at Amelia’s house; after all, she was “home” at Eric’s now. It would just take her a while to get used to all the “bells and whistles” of Eric’s place—their place, at least until their time was up. Banishing that thought from her mind, Sookie maneuvered out of her bra without taking off her T-shirt and then changed from her cargo pants to flannel lounge pants. Earlier, she’d noticed that Eric’s house was a little cooler than she was used to, which was why she’d brought them to hang out in, despite the hot temperature outside. She put on a pair of ankle socks and then looked at herself in the mirror.
She looked comfortable—for lack of a better word—and there was a smile on her face and a lightness in her eyes. Grabbing her bathroom bag, Sookie exited the closet and went through the sitting room into the master bedroom and then into the master bathroom. She was beginning to notice that Eric’s house was a little like a maze. There were lots of rooms leading to other rooms, instead of hallways leading to rooms. But she sort of liked the close-in feeling of the house, especially the parts that seemed to fit Eric’s personality, like the bedroom and bathroom.
It didn’t take Sookie long to find homes for her few bathroom items. She already had a new toothbrush in the holder—thanks to the fact that Eric had put one on his list of things for Thalia the get the Thursday before. There was an empty drawer in the cabinets across from the sink, and it was a perfect size to house her make-up, hairbrush, and lotion, as well as the few other things that she would bring over from Amelia’s. However, she was actually pretty low maintenance about her “beauty regimen.” She found a medicine cabinet where she put the sleeping pills and the anti-anxiety medication that Claudine had prescribed for her. She noticed that the medicine cabinet held Eric’s deodorant, some cologne, some Tylenol, and several medicine bottles similar to her own. Eric and she had already talked about their respective prescriptions and how they tried not to use them. She blushed deep red when she noticed two large boxes of condoms as she was closing the cabinet. She couldn’t help but to wonder if Eric had put those on Thalia’s list too.
Shaking off her embarrassment, she found spots for her shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving cream, and razor on one of the vacant shelves in the shower. Her stowing done, Sookie availed herself of the toilet and then took her empty bathroom bag to the closet.
Seeing that her backpack was the last thing left to unpack, she grabbed the library books that she’d brought—including the ones that Eric had checked out the Saturday before—and decided to place most of them in Eric’s sitting room on the round glass coffee table. Finding the comfortable-looking lounge chair next to the table impossible to resist, she tested it and promised herself that she would spend many quality hours reading there. She closed her eyes for a few minutes. She could barely make out the low sound of instrumental music and the tapping of fingers on a key board from the next room.
She exhaled and smiled as she thought about Eric in his office, only a room away. With a sigh, she got up, grabbing two of the books from the pile—the one Eric had been working on the last night they’d spent in Brooklyn and the one she’d been reading—she took them into the bedroom. She placed Eric’s on the nightstand on his side of the bed and then put hers on the nightstand on her side.
Then Sookie spent a moment really looking at her new bedroom; the night before it had—understandably—been a blur in the midst of thrown clothing. The bedroom was sparsely decorated in light browns and creams, except for a unique-looking blue lounge chair and ottoman near the door leading to the terrace. The bed was humongous—definitely a California King or maybe even bigger—which wasn’t surprising, given Eric’s height. The bed, the nightstands, the lounge chair, and a thin bed bench were the only pieces of furniture in the large room.
Sookie studied the beautiful black and white photographs on the wall opposite the bed. Some of them were landscapes, but there were two with people in them. One had a picture of Eric, Pam, and a beautiful older woman, whom Sookie figured was Eric’s mormor. Another one was of a young Eric—probably no more than three years old—with a gorgeous blond woman; Sookie knew immediately that it had to be his mother. The two had been caught in a candid moment. Little Eric, already gangly and slender—and already looking so much like himself—was leaning into his mother, who was looking down at him and seemingly wiping a crumb from the corner of his mouth. She too was obviously tall and slim. She looked at ease and happy—like the kind of person that everyone would feel comfortable being around. And though Sookie couldn’t see the color of her eyes, she guessed them to be about Eric’s shade based on the lightness of them in the black and white photo.
Sookie sat down on the bed and thought about the pictures she owned. She had only two. One was a small, slightly blurry Polaroid print; it was the only picture she had of her father. She’d stolen it before moving to Gran’s. It was of her father next to a Christmas tree. An infant Jason was sitting on his lap.
Sookie closed her eyes and lay down for a moment. She let a few tears fall as she thought about how her mother had made her burn all of the pictures with her in them after her father had died. Her mother had made a game of it when she decided that Sookie needed to be “punished” after she’d been unable to tell her any significant gossip after church one day.
Sookie trembled a little. She’d been fourteen when that particular punishment had happened. Her father had died only three months before that. Sookie had been required to build a fire in the family hearth. And Michelle had stacked all the pictures in front of her. In actuality, there hadn’t been many pictures of Sookie anyway, but some had needed to be taken over the years—just so that Corbett wouldn’t suspect Michelle’s abiding hatred for her daughter. The school pictures had been the first to be burned as Michelle and sometimes Jason provided commentary about each photograph—pointing out every flaw they saw in Sookie.
It had been Sookie, of course, who had been required to place the pictures into the fire after she “listened” to what her mother and her brother had to say about them.
One by one, the pictures had all turned to ash.
She felt more hot tears stinging her eyes as she remembered what it felt like to see the evidence of her life go up in flames—the photo paper curling up with black edges before finally disappearing into the fire. She’d not cried when it happened, and she’d not thought about the event for years, but now—as she looked at the beautiful photograph of a mother and her beloved child—she couldn’t help herself.
“Sookie?” came Eric’s soft, concerned voice as he entered the bedroom.
A/N: Hello! Thanks to all of you who continue to honor me by reviewing and reading! Y’all are the best.
So—though it might be a little tedious—I wanted you to get a good idea of what Eric’s house looks like, so I included my inspiration pictures. I’m very visual as I write, and it was important for me to “see” where I was putting Eric and Sookie—where I was setting up this couple’s “home.” The scale of my inspiration photos (and the views from the windows in the pictures) don’t always meld to the layout perfectly, but I wanted you to get the idea (if you are interested, that is).
Also, I want you to be aware that one of the odd things about me is that I spell the word “gray/grey” with an “a” sometimes and an “e” sometimes because I read so much British literature, but I live in the U.S. In the U.S., the “a” form is much more common, but I see the word with an “e” more. I tried to be consistent, but I know that I failed. Please forgive me for this little idiosyncrasy, as well as for any other errors you see.
Character Banner by Sephrenia