Chapter 40: Join the Dance
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.—Alan Watts
Sookie took her time with her meal, enjoying the June night on Eric’s terrace. She’d decided to eat at the little blue table so that she could enjoy the city view; however, when she saw that it was 8:45, she got up and collected her plate and empty beer bottle, knowing that Eric’s conference call was due to begin soon and wanting to see if he needed anything and to wish him luck before it did.
She was surprised when he wasn’t in his office. His laptop was also gone, as were his used dishes. The mystery of his location was solved, however, when she passed through the gray area on her way to put her own dirty plate into the dishwasher.
“Hey,” he said from the end of the room where the large desk was.
“Hey yourself,” she replied, though her eyebrow rose in question.
“The video conferencing equipment is set up in here,” he reminded, gesturing toward the large computer monitor on the desk.
She nodded. “You look nice,” she smiled as she took in his dark blue suit.
He smiled back. “It always feels weird when I put on one of these so late at night, but they definitely expect it.”
Sookie nodded as he came out from behind his desk to give her a kiss.
“Bare feet?” she asked.
He chuckled. “They can’t see that part.” He winked. “I’d do it in my boxers if I wasn’t worried about the angle of the camera.”
She giggled. “That would be a sight.”
“Later,” he said flirtingly as he gave her another peck. “How was your exploring?”
She shrugged. “I’ve still not gotten to most of the house, but I love the terrace and the hot tub!”
“Good,” he said waggling his eyebrows, “because I have plans for you, me, and that hot tub once my schedule normalizes so that I have a free evening.”
“Oh, you do—do you?” she asked, biting her lip.
He nodded and leaned down. “Yes,” he whispered, his lips slightly grazing her earlobe, “very detailed plans.”
She moaned as he gave her lingering kisses along her jawline and down her neck.
His fingers gently moved over her bare arms, causing the goose bumps that his kisses had already elicited to double in size and number. They both sighed as their lips met.
He groaned as he pulled away about a minute later. “I’d better finish setting things up for my call.”
“Need any help?”
He shook his head. “After it’s over, I’ll come find you, but in case it goes longer than an hour—which it might because of some of the changes Appius wanted me to make—you should feel free to go to bed whenever you want.” He sighed. “Or just enjoy whatever you like in the house.”
Sookie nodded and smiled before placing a gentle kiss on his cheek. After taking her plate to the kitchen and putting it into the dishwasher, which wasn’t nearly full enough to run, she decided to grab another beer to take with her on her tour of the rest of the house. She also decided—once she heard Eric’s voice coming from the other room—that she’d sneak through the “secret passage” from the utility room to the foyer so as not to interrupt him. She chuckled when she remembered that one of the games he’d ordered was Clue; though she knew little about the mystery game, she was aware that it included secret passages. She remembered ‘hearing’ about them in commercials when she was a child.
Once back in the foyer, Sookie took a moment to appreciate the Turner painting again. When she turned away from it, the elevator was directly to her left and the hall leading toward Eric’s master bedroom suite was to her right, so she went beyond the elevator and to her left. The short hallway there led to three doors. The first one—she knew—would take her to the guest bathroom she’d used the night before. Having seen that room already, she opened the second door and found a small home gym. There were free weights of a variety of sizes and a punching bag in the corner of the room. There was also a treadmill, and a television was mounted in the corner so that anyone using the machine would be able to easily see the screen.
Sookie smiled a little. Since moving to New York, she’d definitely been getting a lot of exercise from walking; however, she was happy to see the little exercise room there. Now that she was getting older, she’d been wanting to learn how to properly use weights in order to tone her arms so that she didn’t end up with the kind of underarm flab that Southern women called “bingo wings.” Plus, the idea of watching Eric punching his bag caused her to break out into a cold sweat. She fanned herself, giggling that that action alone could be a good anti-bingo wing exercise.
Still smiling at the thought, she took a quick drink of her beer before exiting the room and proceeding to the door at the end of the hall, where she found a guest bedroom. Not surprisingly, the most striking feature of the room was a wall composed almost entirely of windows. Sookie ventured forward and once again enjoyed the view of Riverside Park. She looked around. The room itself was decorated in shades of brown, ranging from chocolate to tan. The only pop of color was a touch of orange, found in some accent pillows in the room. There were only three pieces of furniture: a queen-sized bed, a nightstand, and a long couch unit that took up the entire wall next to the windows. Clearly, the couch had been designed for the room.
Sookie opened the door on the left-hand side of the bedroom and found a narrow, though long, room. At one end was a closet with built-in shelving units. The closet was empty except for a couple of folded quilts and several packages of unused hangers. Sookie made a mental note to ask Eric if she could use them when she moved the rest of her things in.
It was the other end of the room that caught Sookie’s attention, however. A large built-in bathtub was adjacent to the window in the room, and Sookie could see that any bathers would have a lovely view.
Leaving the guestroom, Sookie made her way back to the foyer. There was one other hall; it led to the east side of the house, which Eric had told her was his main living area. In that hall, Sookie noticed two photographs of landscapes and wondered if Pam had taken those too. Though not black and white, they looked like they could have been pictures from Sweden, and Sookie couldn’t help but to notice that Eric seemed to love that country, probably because he had always felt loved by his mormor and morfar there—or maybe just because he was so far away from his father when he was there. Sookie sighed. She had to admit that moving first to Mississippi and then to New York had been like medicine to her. Just being further away from her mother geographically had helped her immeasurably.
Sookie was met at the end of the hall by interior French doors with frosted glass. She could tell that the doors could be locked, and she was sure that this was so that Eric could maintain his privacy in this part of his home. Filled with curiosity, she opened the doors and entered the long room. Just like the “gray side,” the room was a continuous space broken up by various functional areas. However, unlike the “gray side,” the east side of the house looked warm and lived in. There were many large windows, and like its opposing side, there was not much variety of color; however, the scheme seemed harmonious as opposed to “chilly.” It was decorated in lighter browns and creams and blues, which Sookie was beginning to recognize as Eric’s preferred color palette when it came to the spaces he wanted to relax in.
She immediately felt comfortable there.
She left one of the French doors open as she ventured inside to better explore the space. First—to get her bearings—she walked to the far south side of the room and opened the door she found there in order to confirm that it led into Eric’s office. When she found that it did, she closed that door and then looked around the area she was in. The main piece of furniture was a pool table, constructed in a modern design. She decided to ask Eric to teach her the game—if only so that his body would have to be in close proximity to hers in order for him to do so. There was also a large television mounted on the long interior wall and a comfortable-looking, chic blue couch along the wall that was shared with the office.
Sookie walked into the middle portion of the long room, which was a sitting area; from the selection of magazines on the table between the two light blue chairs that made up the main part of the area, Sookie guessed that Pam frequented that particular spot. There was also a long window seat, and Sookie immediately knew where she’d be spending a lot of her time in the house.
On impulse, she quickly left the room and retrieved her laptop case, which was still on one of the chairs in the foyer. Upon return, she decided that the table between the blue chairs in the little sitting area would be the perfect spot to put her computer when she was at Eric’s—at their—home.
She smiled and took in the rest of the room.
Next to the sitting area was what Sookie would call a living room area; there were several newspapers on the coffee table there. They were the closest thing Sookie had come to finding anything “messy” in the home. Again, the furniture was very nice—and most likely very expensive—but it looked lived upon, the slightly askew cushions showing evidence of indentation. Being in the corner of the house, the living room was flanked on two sides by windows, but what really attracted Sookie’s attention was the piano between the living room and the sitting area.
Having been deaf for much of her life, Sookie had always thought that the majestic-looking instrument was exotic and somehow beyond her reach. There had been a piano in the church Sookie had been forced to attend with her mother. There had been a piano in the music room at her grade school, but—as could well be imagined—music class had been Sookie’s least favorite part of the school day, especially during the years when few people were aware of just how profound her hearing loss had become.
After her hearing had been restored, Sookie had listened to any kind of music she could, though she soon settled upon classical as her favorite genre. She enjoyed the whispering, vibrating notes of stringed instruments the most—from the somber tones of the cello to the smooth sounds of the piano. However, she’d always kept her distance from the instruments themselves, for some reason afraid to touch them.
Eric’s piano, a baby grand, was nicer than any that she’d ever seen before, and like the man who owned it, the piano was hypnotizing in a way. She reached out and tentatively pressed down a note. To even her unschooled ears, the pitch sounded perfect, and the note reverberated around the room since the floors were wood. Sookie saw that Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was on the music rack. She closed her eyes for a moment and pictured Eric playing the haunting, melancholy tune, his long and graceful fingers moving methodically over the piano keys.
Beethoven’s music playing in her head, she turned her attention toward the door on the interior wall of the living room. She was a little confused since her spatial intelligence told her that the guestroom would be on the other side, yet she’d not seen a door in there that would lead to the living room. She chuckled as she realized that it was yet another “secret passage.” The door on the guestroom side was barely perceptible, and—as before—once she let the door close, she was “trapped” and had to wind her way back to where she’d been.
Back in what she was now thinking of as the “warm side” of the house, Sookie made her way to the only door she’d not yet opened. It was along the interior wall of the sitting room, near the French doors. Sookie gasped as she opened the door. Dominating the room was a huge, white bathtub, facing a big screen television and a fireplace. Everything in the room was black and white.
“I see you found what Pam calls the man cave,” came Eric’s voice from behind her.
Sookie was surprised to find that she’d not been startled by his voice—not at all.
“Man cave—huh?” she asked, taking in the shelves of movies and stereo equipment on one of the walls.
He chuckled. “Pam didn’t have a hand in designing this room either.”
“I’m starting to get the impression that you like to take baths,” Sookie quipped, thinking about all the tubs she’d seen in the house, as well as the hot tub outside.
He chuckled even louder. “I do. Come,” he said, pulling her hand. “Let me show you something else I like.”
She bit her lip; from the look in his eyes, the “something else” was going to involve them both being naked—not that she was complaining. He led her to a room just off of the “man cave.”
“A sauna?” Sookie asked in surprise.
“Yep,” Eric said. “Because of safety regulations and building codes, it can’t get as warm in here as in the one at my mormor’s home in Sweden, but it’s not bad.”
She smiled and looked up at him. “I like the house—this side especially.”
He smiled back.
“I especially like the secret passageways.”
He chuckled. “Did you find both of them?”
She nodded. “Yeah—how did you end up with them?”
“Well—as you said last night, rich people are odd. The one from the foyer to the utility room is likely concealed for aesthetic reasons. As for the one between the living room and the guestroom? I have no idea why that one’s there,” he chuckled.
“So—how was your call?” Immediately, Eric’s face clouded a little, and Sookie almost regretted asking.
He sighed. “They were a little reticent about accepting some of the changes my father wanted.”
“Our profit margins versus theirs,” Eric said with another sigh—this one a little louder and a little longer. “But I already had a compromise drafted, which will benefit Guangzhou Press more in the long run. That’s what I was working on when you brought me my dinner; thanks again for doing that—by the way.”
She looked up at him. “You’re welcome. So—they agreed to the compromise?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. Appius won’t like it. But in the short term it will benefit us more than them, so he’ll accept it,” he smiled ruefully. “I’ll just have to accept a bit of haranguing from him in the meantime.”
Sookie nodded sadly. “Do you need to go back to work now?”
He shook his head. “No—not for another three hours or so; that’s when the next call is scheduled. Since I had the compromise ready and they went for it, I don’t need to make any adjustments, so I’ll just have to wait around for the people I just spoke with to confer with their superiors. Hopefully, the deal can go into the final stages after the next call. Tomorrow morning, I’ll fax everything over to our lawyers to finalize, and then I’ll review the finished contract myself before emailing it to China tomorrow evening. Then, there will be another round of conference calls tomorrow night in order to make any last-minute changes to the contract. And, hopefully, we’ll sign on Wednesday night.”
“That’s good—right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he responded, running his hand through his hair. “If Appius doesn’t interfere again, it’ll be really good.”
“Will he?” she asked.
Eric considered for a moment. “I don’t think so. He’s seen the numbers, and he’ll let me do my job now—I think.”
“What’s better is that now I have some time to kill. Can you think of any way to help me do that, Miss Stackhouse?” he asked, a playful light immediately replacing the stress that had just been in his eyes.
“Hmmm,” she answered coyly, “I can’t think of anything. Do you have any ideas, Mr. Northman?”
He just nodded and led her out of the sauna room. He let go of her hand, walked over to the tub, and turned on the water before dumping in some bath salts.
He turned to Sookie and loosened his tie. Mesmerized by this movements, she watched him pull the strip of silk over his head before dropping it to the floor in front of him. Her eyes followed it and then raked up his tall, lean body, only to find him slowly taking off his jacket. His movements as graceful as a lion’s, he carefully draped the garment over the back of a white leather couch, which was along the wall of the room next to the entrance to the sauna. His eyes didn’t leave hers as he methodically unbuttoned and removed his light blue dress shirt before placing it over the jacket. In only his dress pants now, Eric moved back over to the tub and tested the water’s temperature.
His back turned to her, he took off his pants before placing them on the towel rack right next to the tub. Then he turned back to face her.
“Would you care to take a bath with me?” he asked seductively as he slid his boxer-briefs over his slim hips.
His question—and his perfect naked body—spurred Sookie into immediate action. She put down her still half-full beer bottle on a table next to the couch and then pulled her T-shirt over her head, hearing Eric’s sharp intake of breath when he saw that she wasn’t wearing a bra.
Eric watched her with almost glowing eyes as she finished stripping, but neither of them said a word as Eric reached over to turn off the water and then climbed into the tub. Sookie was not far behind him; she settled in front of him with her back to his chest.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered into her ear as their bodies sank into one another’s.
“So are you,” she returned.
“So you really like the house?” he asked, his voice suddenly awash in uncertainty. “We can change anything you want.”
“I really like it,” she said, “except for the gray part. I don’t like that part, but that can’t be helped—right?”
He nodded. “Right. And the rest? Could you see yourself here? With me?”
“Yes,” she said with certainty. “But there is something I wanted to ask you.”
“Anything,” he said.
“The extra hangers in the spare bedroom—can I use those while I’m here?”
He laughed heartily. “I think that can be arranged. Or just add more to Thalia’s list.”
“I don’t want you to buy stuff like that on my account,” she sighed as she turned to face him a little. “And I want to contribute some money—at least to the monthly bills and food budget.”
“You don’t need to do that,” he said.
“I know. It’s just that I moved to New York to be independent—really and truly independent.”
“I understand,” Eric said after a moment. “Thalia leaves the receipts each week, and I do the bills once a month. We can figure out how to split things from there.”
“All right,” she said, sinking into him more.
“But you will still be paying half rent at Amelia’s,” he said somewhat cautiously, “and I don’t want your monthly expenditures to rise because you’re with me. Promise me you won’t get yourself into a bind financially—just to be with me?” he questioned.
“I promise,” she said.
“Okay,” he responded, more relaxed now.
“I didn’t know you played the piano,” she commented as they began to play with each other’s fingers under the water.
“At boarding school, learning an instrument was required.”
“Why did you choose the piano?”
Eric didn’t answer.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Sookie said after a while.
“My mother played,” he said at a low volume. “When my grandparents still had a big house in Stockholm, the piano she learned on was there.”
“Did you ever get to play it?” Sookie asked in almost a whisper.
She felt Eric’s body sway a little, and she didn’t need to look to know that he’d shaken his head to indicate he hadn’t.
“The only reason Appius let me learn to play was because the headmaster lied in the yearly reports he sent to my father.”
Sookie felt Eric nod.
“Appius always tried to block me from doing things that I liked,” he said in a faraway voice. “If one of my headmaster’s reports said that I was excelling in something or that I enjoyed it, my father would tell him that he wanted me to change activities. Appius claimed it was to make me ‘well-rounded.'”
“But it was really to stop you from doing things you liked,” Sookie sighed.
He nodded. “Godric figured it out during my fifth year of school though.”
“He was your headmaster at Murray Academy? Bobby’s father—right?” she asked, checking to make sure that she remembered correctly. Eric had told her a little about Godric Burnham earlier in the week. She intuited that he had been very important to Eric, but he hadn’t told her much about him.
“Yeah,” Eric confirmed. “I went to Murray for nine years and then to Exeter for four. The headmistress there was named Dorothy Ripley. Luckily, Godric and she were friends, so she would lie in the reports too.
“So they would lie and say that you didn’t enjoy playing the piano?” she asked.
He sighed and tightened his hold on her. “Yes. That—and other things.”
“Me too,” he responded. “I’ve always liked playing. It’s relaxing, and I could practice alone when other people were . . . .” His voice trailed off and he sighed. “Over the years, I got really good. Of course—the headmasters’ reports always claimed that I was not very proficient,” he added quietly.
“Would you play for me sometime?” she requested in a similarly hushed tone.
“Yes,” Eric said as he kissed her shoulder affectionately. “I practice several times a week—at least most weeks.”
“And you wouldn’t mind if I listened to you?” she asked.
“No—I would like for you to. It’s,” he paused, “emotional for me to play, so I don’t generally play for others, but I’d like for you to be there.”
“You don’t play for Pam? Or for your mormor?”
“Not really. I’ll play little things—holiday songs and stuff like that. I don’t play pieces that I really feel. He was silent for a moment. “Does that make any sense?”
“It makes sense,” she assured. “But you would play the ‘feeling kind’ for me?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “I want to do everything with you, Sookie.”
The emotion in his voice compelled her to turn fully around in his arms to face him. They looked at each other silently for a few minutes, knowing that their whole lives up until then had been spent looking for each other.
“Eric,” she asked almost inaudibly—huskily, “is there a condom in this room?”
He reached over the side of the bathtub and took one out of the pocket of his trousers that he’d placed conveniently close.
“Yes,” he answered hoarsely, “with you in this house, I thought I should carry one with me at all times.”
Her smile was an amalgamation of shyness and boldness. “I want you,” she said simply. “I always want you.”
His face softened at her words. “Good.”
They leaned inward and met in a kiss that felt to them both as if they’d been practicing for decades. As their lips moved in concert, nothing was awkward. There were no bumped noses as their mouths and then tongues melded. There was no uncertainty or hesitation, as they somehow knew exactly what would bring the other pleasure.
Shortly after their mouths began their dance, the rest of their bodies joined in—grinding and pressing themselves together. Before long, they were using their hands to rub each other’s sexes. And not long after that, he was tearing open the condom.
“I’ve never put one of these on while I was submerged in water before,” he groaned impatiently as she kissed and then bit his nipple.
“It’ll work though—right?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” Eric said as he leaned up out of the water and finally got the condom on. He settled back into the tub and pulled her body to straddle him once more.
However, instead of immediately sinking onto his erection, Sookie cradled his face with her hands and looked at him with a look he’d never seen in anyone before. It took his breath away.
“Eric, there’s something you need to know.”
“What is it?” he asked breathlessly.
“I love you,” she said.
“Sookie, I,” he stopped speaking abruptly and a look of intense fear entered his eyes.
“You love me too,” she said with certainty. “But if you say it, you think it’ll make me go away.”
“Yes,” he said, tears immediately brimming his eyes. His voice was tortured. “If I say it, he’ll find out and take you from me.”
“That’s why you don’t have to say it,” Sookie whispered as she raised herself and lined Eric up with her entrance. “I wanted to tell you that I already know that you love me. And I wanted to tell you that I feel the same way.”
“But you deserve to hear it,” he said as she lowered herself onto him. They both groaned as he became fully sheathed inside of her.
“I deserve to feel it more than hear it,” she said. “And you’ll tell me one day,” she said, “before we say goodbye.”
“I promise,” he vowed, as he raised his hips to meet her own downward movements.
A few tears falling down his cheeks now, he spoke to her in Swedish, trying to say everything that was in his heart, except for the three little words that scared him more than anything else. Even in another language—one that Appius didn’t understand—he was afraid of them. “Jag är glad att du kan känna min kärlek, min vackra sön. Du kommer att ha det tills den dagen jag dör. Jag svär,” he whispered, looking at her intently. [I’m glad you can feel my love, my beautiful sun. You will have it until the day I die. I swear.]
She leaned forward to kiss him—to kiss the words that she had felt to her very soul. She didn’t need to ask him what those words meant. She didn’t need him to speak in English. All she needed was the man in her arms, and she endeavored to show him just that as her lips moved hotly against his.
They made love slowly—unhurriedly. She moved and he moved, and the water moved around them, rolling around the tub in waves.
“Sookie,” he gasped. “You feel so good. You feel so right.”
“You too,” she agreed with a moan as they continued to move with each other: thrusting and withdrawing, ebbing and flowing.
“Eric,” she sighed against his mouth, just as her walls began to contract around his shaft. He thrust a few more times and then came with a sigh of his own.
They stared at each other for a few moments, lost in their love and trying not to get lost in the inevitability of the loss of that love. She laid her head against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her.
Neither of them minded the fact that the water had gone cold.
A/N: Thanks so much for all the messages/comments for the last chapter! I really appreciate them. Well—now you’ve “seen” all of Eric’s home. Some reviewers have commented that his home is indicative of a kind of “split” in his personality. It is in a way—though he doesn’t have the mental illness. He—like Sookie—has suffered years of abuse. In many ways, he sees his home as she sees the MET. It is his oasis, but there is a part of it that is “spoiled” because it has to conform to his father’s expectations (the gray part). The other parts of the home “fit” him more, though Sookie is right; there is a maze-like quality to the home. Again, Eric is anxious to protect himself, and I designed the layout of his home to demonstrate that.
I’ve included a floor plan below. Note that not all the inspiration photos have the right “view” from their windows, but you’ll get the idea of what I’m visualizing.
Spoilers: In the next chapter or two, you will finally learn why Appius hates Eric so much. I hope you will stay tuned.