Chapter 39: Pictures, Part 2
Eric hadn’t heard Sookie’s quiet whimpers until he was almost at the bedroom door. The sight that met him as he entered the room made his heart throb with pain. She was lying on her side, her eyes swollen and wet from tears that were still falling. His first fear was that he’d somehow hurt her—or that their situation had gotten to her.
“Sookie?” he said softly so that he wouldn’t startle her.
At first, she didn’t seem to hear him, so he approached slowly.
“Min sol,” he whispered, as he tentatively sat down next to her. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Sookie immediately sat up straight and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands—as if she’d been caught doing something wrong. Eric reached into his nightstand and pulled out a handkerchief. He held it out to her, making sure to keep his movements slow.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to cry.”
“It’s okay. You’re not doing anything wrong,” he said, offering her a little smile.
She sniffled and took the handkerchief from him. “My dad used to carry these.”
“My morfar too,” he responded.
They sat silently for a few moments as she blew her nose and calmed herself. Eric noticed that her eyes kept traveling to the corner of the room, and he felt the intense need to pull them back to him.
“What’s wrong, min kära?” he asked again.
“What does ‘min kära’ mean?” she asked instead of answering his question.
“It’s an endearment in Swedish. It’s like ‘my dear.'” He smiled a little, happy—if only for a few moments—to help distract her from whatever had upset her. “I’ve never liked English endearments, maybe because the people saying them always sound so fake. My morfar used to call my mormor ‘min kära.'”
She smiled softly in return, though another tear chose that moment to fall as well. “And min sol? Is that ‘my sun’?”
He leaned toward her and kissed her forehead gently. “Yes. That is what you are to me.”
“I didn’t interrupt your work—did I? With my crying?” she asked apprehensively.
He shook his head. “I didn’t hear you. I just needed the bathroom.”
“Oh—well—you should go and then get back to work.”
“It can wait; I just sent the report to Andre. And,” Eric paused, “knowing my father, he will put off his response until the last minute—just to make things more difficult for me.”
Sookie nodded in understanding.
“Will you tell me what had you crying?” he asked. “Are you overwhelmed? Please tell me it’s nothing I’ve done.”
“No. Nothing you’ve done,” she answered quickly. She looked at the wall opposite the bed. “I was looking at your pictures.”
“The landscapes?” he asked. “Pam took those when she was about seventeen and into photography. They’re all taken near my mormor and morfar’s home on Lake Vänern. I always loved them. Pam gave those to me as a housewarming gift.”
“And the family pictures?” Sookie asked, gesturing toward the wall. “That’s your mormor with you and Pam? And that’s your mom?”
Eric nodded even as another tear tripped from Sookie’s eye.
“Please, Sookie. Please, tell me what’s wrong,” he implored, hating to see her cry.
She looked up at him with sad eyes. “How long until you have to work again?”
He glanced at the clock next to the bed. “Appius will probably have Andre email his suggestions to me at about 7:00, so there’s time. And even if there wasn’t, I’d make time. Please—Sookie,” he said, his eyes joining in with his verbal pleas, “why did the pictures upset you?”
She sighed deeply and unconsciously moved so that her legs were against her chest, her arms around her knees. Eric recognized it immediately as a defensive position, so he kept his distance, except for one hand lying gently on her sock-clad foot.
“I was thinking about the two photos I have. Can I bring them here?”
“Of course,” Eric answered quickly. “You can bring over everything you have. We’ll even put your pictures up there if you want,” he said gesturing toward the wall.
She managed to smile at him again. “They’re too small for that.”
“Are they the pictures on your nightstand in Brooklyn?”
Eric had looked at the pictures several times throughout the week. One was very small and its color had faded with age. It was of a man holding an infant. Though the picture was a little out of focus, Eric had seen a resemblance between the man and Sookie. The other picture looked as if it had been taken when Sookie was in her late teens. She was posing next to an older woman, whom Eric guessed was Sookie’s grandmother.
“Those two pictures are the only ones I have,” she commented, looking out the large sliding glass door at the darkening sky of the city.
She didn’t say anything else for a minute.
“When was the one of your grandmother and you taken?” Eric asked, intuiting that that photo would be the easier one for Sookie to talk about.
“Right before my high school graduation,” she said, her slight smile lingering on her face. “Lafayette took the picture and printed it off for me. Gran didn’t have a camera at the time, and—truth be told—she isn’t one for taking very many pictures,” she added in almost a whisper.
“And the other picture? Is that of you and your dad?” Eric asked more tentatively.
She shook her head sadly as another tear fell from her eye. “No. It’s of Daddy and Jason. My mother redid all the photo albums a few months after my dad died,” she said, her voice catching on almost every word. “Because it was blurry, she threw that one in the trash.” Sookie bit her lip a little as if guilty of a crime. “I stole the picture when I took out the garbage. I hid it by taping it to the underside of the dresser in my room, and when I moved in with Gran, I took it with me. You see,” she said as she sniffled and then continued almost mechanically, “because my dad and his parents were estranged, Gran didn’t have any pictures of my dad from that time—from the way I remember him. In fact, most of the pictures she had of him from when he was younger were lost when her and Grandpa’s first house in New Orleans burned down. She kept the older family pictures in a safe deposit box, but most of the albums that had my dad and my aunt in them were lost.”
Eric squeezed Sookie’s foot in support and was heartened when she reached out to take his hand.
She kept speaking as if compelled to go on. “My mother had to redo the albums because she had punished me. There were blank spots in the albums after that punishment, so she had to shift all the pictures.”
“Blank spots?” Eric asked with trepidation.
Sookie sighed and nodded. “She took out every single picture that had me in it, and she made me burn them.”
Her eyes drifted toward the corner of the room again. Eric hated how haunted they looked. He hated Michelle Stackhouse even more—for being the source of that look.
“In her wallet,” Sookie went on, “Gran has a copy of my kindergarten picture, which Daddy sent her in a Christmas card. After that, Daddy and my grandparents didn’t exchange cards. You see—Gran and Grandpa Earl didn’t visit Bon Temps since they were renting out the old farmhouse. Plus—like I said—my parents and my grandparents were estranged, so I didn’t know Gran and Grandpa.”
She sighed deeply. “The day I was punished, I came home from school to find my mom already drunk. All the pictures of me were laid out in three stacks on the coffee table. But it was only after I’d cooked dinner that I learned why they were all out.” She closed her eyes. “First, my mom made me burn all my school pictures. Then I had to burn pictures where I was with Jason or her—or pictures of our whole family. The last stack of pictures was of just Daddy and me.” Sookie shook her head. “I didn’t cry as they were burning because I knew that I’d just get punished worse if I did, but I can’t seem to keep the tears away now.”
A hot tear streamed down Eric’s cheek as he listened to Sookie go on resolutely.
“You see—when I cried as a little girl, my mother would get so mad that she would shake me hard by the shoulders. And, most of the time, she’d hit me too—here,” she said as she brought her free hand up to indicate her ear. “My ears always hurt so much anyway,” she sniffled, “and when she hit them . . . .” Sookie was quiet for a moment as her memory made her quake. “Well—I learned not to cry,” she said finally.
With seeming difficulty, Sookie pulled her gaze from the corner to Eric. “That’s why you shaking me that once in the elevator at the MET made me freeze up a little. But my mom would do it a lot harder than you did.”
“Oh God,” Eric said sadly. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, min kära—so sorry.”
She squeezed his hand. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” he insisted quietly.
“No—what she did wasn’t okay. And for a long time, I wasn’t okay either.” Sookie smiled; Eric was relieved when it reached her eyes. “But now I’m okay.”
Eric moved so that he could draw her into his arms. He wanted to tell her that she was more than just okay—that she was the best person he’d ever known. But he stayed silent, knowing that his words were not what she needed in that moment.
He held her for a long time, as they both looked out the window, watching the evening sky turn from a pale yellowish gray to a deep blue. Eventually, Sookie’s tears stopped, and Eric felt the tension drift from her body as she curled into him fully.
They were interrupted by a beeping from Eric’s phone.
He sighed loudly as he looked at the clock and saw that it was 7:15. “That’s likely the email from Andre. I should probably go read the damage?” he said as if he were asking her if that would be okay.
“I don’t want to leave you,” he said.
“I’m fine,” she replied, looking up at him. “Just ghosts.”
“Ghosts suck,” he said, kissing her forehead.
“I thought that was vampires,” she punned lamely.
He chuckled. “You’re right. Ghosts—uh—are ghoulish,” he said cheekily.
A smile lit her face as she giggled at their bad puns. She kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Get to work. I still have to explore, and I’m getting hungry. I’ll bring you a sandwich or something in a little while.”
“You will?” he asked, surprised. “I mean—you don’t have to.”
“Then I won’t bring it because I have to,” she said, kissing him again—this time on the lips. “Now—go potty,” she ordered. “You’re probably about ready to burst by now. And get to work.”
He chuckled, but obeyed her.
Sookie waited for Eric to go back to his office before she got up from the bed. She sighed. Somehow just being close to him had helped her to face one of the worst memories of her life. And his presence—along with Claudine’s relaxation techniques—had helped her to stave off the bout of depression that usually accompanied reliving a bad memory so vividly.
“Ghosts,” she whispered aloud, even as she looked back at the two pictures of Eric and his family. She couldn’t help but to guess that he, too, had limited moments of his life captured on film. Maybe that was why she took her pictures at the MET every week. Maybe she needed to capture an image of something that had survived the test of time, something that thousands and thousands of eyes had beheld—something that was sheltered from fire because of the security measures of the people protecting the artwork.
She sighed as she looked one last time at the pictures. Maybe—it was Eric and she who had truly been the ghosts.
“Until now,” she said with a little smile, knowing that she felt nothing like a ghost when she was with him.
She got out of bed and straightened the comforter a little. She smiled as she thought about how Eric and she had made the bed together that morning; that small domestic task had felt so natural with him—as natural as making love to him had felt. She couldn’t help her blush as she closed her eyes and remembered how “right” Eric felt inside of her. At first, she’d been nervous about having sex again—especially with Eric. But sometime during the night, her nerves went away—because of Eric. She smiled at the paradox. She’d been worried that she—in her inexperience—wouldn’t satisfy him, but she no longer had any doubts about that.
The idea of two lovers fitting together like jigsaw puzzle pieces had become cliché; however, it suited her and Eric. They did “fit.” And Sookie could tell that the way they fit was not common. Eric had been with so many women, but that didn’t scare Sookie anymore. If anything, it made her surer of him. What they shared now—their connection—was something he’d never felt before, despite his experience. And she could tell that he wouldn’t take it for granted—just as she knew that she wouldn’t.
Sookie looked once more around Eric’s lovely room—their room. She felt peaceful there. And she felt safe and loved. Ironically those comforting feelings had probably been what had enabled her to delve into her bad memory. She had intuited that even if she sank into that memory, she would not drown in it—not when Eric was so close.
She smiled. She was glad to see that Eric didn’t have a television in the bedroom. She enjoyed watching shows or movies from time to time, so she was glad that there was one in the sitting room, but she’d never had one in her bedroom before. And, truth be told, she was looking forward to doing other things in bed. She blushed as she thought about all the sex that she and Eric would—no doubt—be having there. But she also looked forward to other things too—like reading together or talking with one another. Having a television in the bedroom might have taken away from those times.
Sookie’s stomach growled, and she decided to answer its call; however, first, she wanted to get a little air—to shake the funky mood that was still lingering a little. She went over to the door that led outside and unlocked it before moving out onto the terrace. She grinned happily when she saw that there was a hot tub to her right. There were two chairs and a small table to her left, near the end of the good-sized terrace space. The table was gorgeous, its top a blue mosaic pattern. As she got closer, she noticed that the chairs had a unique design; they didn’t have back “legs.” Instead, a long rectangular panel made up both the back of the chairs and their “legs.”
She also noticed several large—though empty—blue mosaic pots in the corner of the cozy little eating area. She wondered if Eric would mind if she planted some flowers or herbs in them. She closed her eyes and imagined Eric and her having lunch or morning coffee outside, the breeze lacing the air with lavender or jasmine.
With her smile now fixed on her face, Sookie walked toward the hot tub to take a better look at it. There was a small wooden deck built around it, and the tub itself wasn’t too big, making her think that Eric saw it as a private oasis. It was, however, certainly large enough for two—even if one of those people was Eric-sized.
Blushing, she continued to walk toward the corner of the building as she enjoyed the view of the darkening New York skyline. She was glad that Eric’s house was situated so that it had views of the city, the river, and the park. She was excited to discover that Eric’s terrace actually wrapped around the corner of the building—instead of being broken into two separate spaces.
She looked up and saw that the tower seemed to rise in sheer verticality to the roof, which was still several stories away. When she ventured to the edge of the terrace, where a good-sized barrier stood between her and the edge of the building, she looked down, appreciating the large oval base of Carmichael Plaza, which made the building unique.
According to Eric, that base contained many amenities that could be used by anyone who lived at Carmichael Plaza and included a large fitness center; several conference rooms; three large pools, one of them indoors; and even a ballroom, which residents could rent for parties. In addition, tower residents had access to several more amenities, including a private indoor pool, which Eric had promised to show Sookie within the next few days. There were also two subterranean levels, mostly serving as the parking areas for the residents of the structure.
Sookie marveled at the way the tower soared upward for the base. “Beautiful,” she said to herself as she studied the building. Every five floors or so, the tower tapered a bit so that once it reached its top, the floors were quite a bit smaller than at the bottom. Eric’s floor was the lowest one in the top portion of the tower, which meant that it had less surface area than those below it. But, of course, his floor was still plenty big!
From what Sookie could tell from the outside of the building, there was a terrace formed in each place where the building tapered; Sookie couldn’t help but to be happy that Eric’s was one of the floors that included such a terrace.
Continuing her exploration around to the corner, which was shaped to create a more private area, she saw a uniquely-designed lounge chair built for two—one side facing the Hudson and the other facing the city. Actually, the chair looked more like a piece of art rather than a piece of furniture. Thinking that it would be uncomfortable, Sookie carefully sat on the side facing the river. Surprisingly, the chair’s shape allowed her body to curve into it easily, and a smile curved onto her lips when she thought about perhaps lying out and working on her tan, which had all but gone away in New York. Yes—she thought to herself—with a blanket spread out over it, the chair would be perfect for lounging in the sun. She quickly added suntan lotion to the list of things she needed to get. She had a swimming suit already, but it was still at Amelia’s. Meanwhile, she could sit out in shorts and a tank top.
She stood up and ran her fingers over the metal of the chair, which still held some of the warmth from the day. It was a beautiful piece, as were most of the other pieces of furniture in the home. In fact, other than the “gray side” of the house, all of the furnishings she’d seen had been either extremely comfortable or unique in some way—special. She smiled as she thought about how all those adjectives could be applied to Eric too.
Walking around the corner, Sookie found the seating area where she and Eric had had their conversation the night before. She noticed a telescope and then admired the rounded, covered chair that she could imagine Eric and her snuggling in. With a little skip to her step, she made a beeline for the swing that she’d wanted to sit in ever since the night before.
The swing wasn’t like any porch swing she’d ever seen in the South. It was wicker and almost egg-shaped, and there was a weatherproof cushion inside of it. The swing was held up by a chain, which connected to a piece of metal that curved downward until it joined with its base, which was another piece of metal—shaped like a C. Sookie had a seat and enjoyed the sweet comfort of the gentle swinging until her stomach decided to gurgle again. She chuckled and walked over to the door that led into the “gray side” of the house. She found it locked, but there was a key pad next to it. Smiling, she entered the code Eric had taught her: “poptart.”
Eric had grinned as he’d told her the story of how he’d come up with the security code. The first day Eric had met Henry, the chief of security had been enthusiastically eating a whole box of Pop Tarts. Eric had not been expected that day, and he’d found Henry overseeing the security measures for his home. As if caught doing something clandestine, Henry had immediately made Eric swear that he wouldn’t tell anyone that he’d been eating the Pop Tarts.
After a few awkward moments, the chief of security had told Eric that he’d asked a friend from the construction crew to “smuggle” in the treats since his fiancé, Blake, and his security team made fun of his love for them.
Henry had been flabbergasted when Eric told him that he’d never had a Pop Tart. The chief of security had immediately insisted that he try one. Henry and Eric had sat on the concrete floor of the terrace and had shared their first “real” conversation over the treat. Henry had told Eric that Pop Tarts were coveted in his unit when it was deployed. He’d also admitted that Blake was something of a health nut and would always lecture Henry about the “artificiality” of the product. Thus, Henry ate them only in secret; he’d laughingly called them his mistress.
Right after their conversation—when Eric had needed to come up with a seven-digit code for the alpha-numeric keypad—”poptart” had seemed like the obvious choice. And—ever since then—Pop Tarts had always been on Eric’s shopping list. Apparently, Henry had permission to sneak into Eric’s house every now and then to enjoy one of the treats. Sookie chuckled as she stepped through the now-unlocked door.
Her smile fell away as she was once again struck by the “gray.” She shook her head a little. While she could appreciate Pam’s decorating skills, the “gray side” of the house literally seemed chilly. Sookie could certainly see how it was appropriate for the kinds of business-related cocktail parties that Eric had described needing to host earlier. However, she was intimidated by the area. And she couldn’t help but to notice that Eric seemed to dislike the space as well.
Entering the kitchen from the dining area, Sookie’s face brightened. Though its size overwhelmed her a little, she liked the kitchen immensely. She took a moment to gaze out of the north-facing windows, enjoying the view of Riverside Park. The trees in the park were lush and looked deep green and mysterious in the darkness. She could see lights winding around the park; they were likely flanking walking and running trails, but from her viewpoint, they looked like fairy lights creating a swirling and almost-otherworldly design.
Sookie washed her hands before dragging her finger lightly along the smooth marble countertops. She shook her head at the sheer scale of the kitchen space. The middle of the large room was dominated by an enormous island that had two comfortable-looking bar stools on one side. She figured that many of Eric and her meals would be had there.
On the opposite side of the room from the windows, there were several ovens and two ranges. One of the ranges looked “normal,” while the other looked half like a regular grill and half like a smaller version of the smooth hibachi grill she’d seen in the Japanese restaurant she and Eric had eaten at. She opened the very large refrigerator and wasn’t surprised to find that it looked only sparsely filled—despite the fact that it actually contained quite a bit of food.
After doing a quick inventory of the refrigerator’s contents, she pulled out ingredients to make sandwiches, but chuckled when it took her a while to find the bread, which turned out to be in one of the drawers around the island.
She also took a few minutes to familiarize herself with the contents of the two hutches that framed the entrance from the dining room; they contained mostly dishes and linens that seemed a little too fancy for everyday use. However, in the cabinets on the other side of the room, Sookie struck pay-dirt, finding dishes and silverware that looked “normal”—for lack of a better term. She also found new-looking pots and pans of any size she might ever need in the cabinets next to the refrigerator. She chuckled as she saw that there was a television in the kitchen, but then shrugged, knowing that it would actually be nice to have something to keep her occupied if she were making a time-consuming meal.
She turned to the simple meal she was putting together and had the sandwiches constructed and the kitchen tidied within a few minutes. Deciding to have a beer with her food and figuring that Eric wouldn’t object to the same, she grabbed two Newcastles out of the refrigerator. Luckily, she’d seen where Eric kept the bottle opener the night before, or she’d have needed to go on another odyssey for it.
Sookie decided to take Eric his meal first and then return for hers since she couldn’t figure out how to maneuver two bottles and two plates in only two hands; plus, she’d already decided that she was going to eat her own meal outside where she could enjoy the evening breeze. She only wished that Eric could join her.
As she wound her way back to the sitting room off of the master bedroom, she was once again struck by the fact that Eric’s home was like a maze, but knowing him as she’d begun to, she understood why he would need the entrances to the part of his home that he truly loved to be more private and difficult to get into. He wouldn’t want anyone he didn’t trust in those spaces.
She entered Eric’s office quietly through the sitting room. She couldn’t help but to be struck by the sight. The backdrop to the beautiful man in front of her was another gorgeous view of the city. Being in the corner of the building, the office had large blocks of windows on two sides. Eric’s back was to her, and he seemed lost in his work as he typed away on his keyboard.
Eric’s desk itself was quite simple and situated so that he could look outside. There was also a sleek, though comfortable-looking, black leather couch in the room. Other than that, there were two very large, packed bookcases, one along the wall shared with the sitting room and another along the other interior wall. The walls and the floors were white, so the only colors in the room were black, white, and the medium brown of the furniture. Still Sookie liked the space right away. Its simple practicality seemed to suit Eric’s professional side.
“Hey,” he said, looking over his shoulder.
“Hey yourself,” she smiled as she walked over to him. “I like your office.”
Eric grinned. “I decorated most of this side of the house, including this room. Pam was thinking dark wood paneling and a big mahogany desk, but that seemed too stuffy. Plus, her way would have actually covered up some of the windows,” he cringed a little.
Sookie smiled. “That would have been a shame. I really like the view.”
“Me too,” he said, staring at her intensely.
Suddenly, she felt like she was the dinner, so she held out his food. “I—uh—thought you might like a beer too,” she stammered as her cheeks glowed.
His leer immediately transformed into a grateful smile. “Thanks. I need one.”
“That bad?” she asked as he put his meal down on his desk.
“Unfortunately,” he sighed, patting his lap.
She sat down with a sigh of her own and curled into him as he held her silently for a few minutes.
“God—I’m glad that you’re here, Sookie. I’m grateful that you brought me dinner when I probably would have forgotten to eat tonight. But most of all, I’m grateful that your presence makes me feel like I can deal with—” he paused in the middle of his sentence, “with anything.”
She smiled down at him from her perch on his lap and then kissed him lightly, before resting her forehead against his. “You’d better get back to work, Northman,” she said a little playfully after a few more minutes. “I’ll check back in later?”
“Please,” he said, kissing her again and then letting her up. “And thanks.”
She smiled softly at him before returning to the kitchen. While there, she poked her head through a door at the back corner of the room and found a long, narrow utility room. In addition to having a top-of-the-line washer and dryer, the room housed cleaning supplies, as well as kitchen items like a large mixer and a food processor. There was a door at one side of the room, and Sookie was surprised to see that it led to the foyer area, where she’d not seen a door before.
“Cool,” she said to herself as she closed the door behind her and saw that it virtually disappeared into the wall of the foyer, which was just to the side of the elevator. Unfortunately, she couldn’t figure out how to get back through since there was no knob. She chuckled and made a mental note to ask Eric how to do open the “secret passage” later before winding her way back to the kitchen by way of the gray part of the house.
As she went, she thought of the man who was working away in his office. She couldn’t help but to marvel at the fact that he’d found the “secret passage” to her heart—a pathway she’d never even known existed before he’d traversed it.
A/N: Hello all! Thanks for all the comments/reviews of the last chapter. I am especially appreciative given the fact that I haven’t had time to respond to all of your gracious comments. I hope you know how much I appreciate them, even when I cannot respond personally.
I’m hoping to have the next chapter up by Saturday.
Up next: Sookie continues her exploration of Eric’s home, which will offer her more insight on the man himself.
Thanks so much for continuing to read!