Chapter 41: I Struggle to Swim, Part 1

We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.—Confucius


“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.

“Have you ever been in a sauna?” Eric asked after a while—when he noticed that both his and Sookie’s skin had begun to pucker.

She shook her head and raised herself up from his chest. She was glad to see that his tears were gone; in fact, his eyes held only affection and curiosity.

“Is this a Scandinavian thing? Having sex in a tub and then getting into a sauna?” she asked playfully as he rose.

“Yes. Absolutely,” he chuckled as he stepped out of the tub and wrapped a towel around his narrow waist, not even bothering to dry off. He then helped her out of the tub and wrapped another towel around her, before pulling up the tub’s drain and then leading her across the black tile floor to the sauna.

Immediately after Eric “turned on the room,” Sookie began to appreciate it. She especially appreciated the view since he left his towel hanging by the door. She wasn’t quite “Scandinavian” enough to do that yet, however.

“I like this,” she smiled as she and Eric settled in next to each other.

He grinned back at her. “Good. I try to come in here a few times a week.”

“Another Scandinavian thing?”

“Yep,” he responded. “Pam uses it every once in a while too, and my mormor is in hers at least once a day.” He sighed as his smile faded. “According to her, my mother was the same way. Mormor once told me that my father had a sauna put in for my mother in every house they ever lived in.” He continued in a quieter tone. “Of course, that kind of gesture from Appius seems unimaginable to me.”

“Eric?” she asked tentatively.

“Yes?”

“Why do you sometimes call your father, “Father,” and sometimes call him, “Appius?”

“It’s a long, complicated story,” he sighed.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she responded quickly.

“I do want to tell you,” he sighed. “I want to tell you—everything. “It’s just that I,” he paused, “didn’t think I’d ever be able to tell anyone. Bobby knows some things—because he was there when they happened—and Mormor now knows a little. But—no one knows the whole story,” he said, his voice almost inaudible by the end of his sentence.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she repeated.

“I want to,” he said, kissing her forehead.

“Then you don’t have to tell me now.
“I need to,” he said, his voice vibrating with emotion.

“Okay,” she replied.

“You already know enough about my relationship with my father—with Appius—to know that it’s,” he paused, “difficult.”

Sookie nodded and took his hand comfortingly.

Eric squeezed her hand in thanks. “When I began to work at Northman Publishing, I was twenty-five; I started a week after I graduated from business school. It was then that I broached the idea of calling my father ‘Appius’—at least in work situations.” He chuckled glumly. “I mustered my courage, went to his office, and raised the issue with him. I had practiced a whole speech.” He paused and raked his free hand through his hair. “I explained to him that I wanted to be known as my own man at the company—not just as Appius Northman’s son.” Eric shook his head and continued, “I figured my father wouldn’t have a problem with me calling him ‘Appius’—or even ‘Mr. Northman.’ You see—he’d never introduced me as his son before. When I was growing up—on the rare occasions that I was around to be introduced to anyone—he’d say things like, ‘This is my son Alexei and these are my daughters Pam and Nora. And this is Eric.'”

Sookie found herself rubbing her thumb against Eric’s palm in a comforting motion.

He stopped talking for a moment, looking as if he didn’t know what to say next. “I should go backwards in the story—to when I was a kid,” he mused.

“Okay,” Sookie responded.

He took a breath. “As you know, from the time I was five until I was eighteen, I spent only winter breaks at my father’s house. Most of the other kids would be gone from the school during Thanksgiving and Spring Break—but Appius always negotiated with Headmaster Burnham so that I could stay at Murray Academy during those times.”

“Godric,” Sookie said.

“Yeah,” he responded. “Godric was the closest thing I ever had to a father.” He sighed, again running his hand through his hair. “There were always a few kids from Europe that didn’t go home for the short breaks either, so I wasn’t totally alone then, but—truth be told—they didn’t much mix with me. No one did.” He was quiet for a few moments.

“Except for Bobby. He visited his dad at the school during those holidays,” Sookie said, remembering something Eric had told her earlier in the week.

Eric nodded. “Bobby’s five years older than I am, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I was younger. And I got to have a Thanksgiving meal every year—with him and Godric. And we always went to the beach at least once during spring break. It was,” he paused, “nice.” He sighed. “But neither of the boarding schools I attended allowed students to stay over the winter break—so I had to go to Appius’s home for three weeks each year.”

He closed his eyes—as if his memories brought him pain. “And every year—until I was eighteen—my winter break would include two meetings with my father, one right after I got to his house and one right before I left. My siblings—I eventually learned—didn’t have such meetings.”

“What were the meetings like?” Sookie asked quietly—almost afraid to hear his response.

“They were all conducted in Appius’s office,” Eric responded as if on autopilot. “I was to sit and be silent while Appius read the report that I was required to bring him from the headmaster. I realized after a few years that no other kids received such a report, but Appius demanded one from Godric—and then later from the headmistress at Exeter. After reading, Appius would spend about an hour writing his response. After he was done, he’d read me what he’d written.

“What did he write, Eric?” Sookie asked, her voice shaking and her eyes already filling with tears as she anticipated his answer.

“A list—of the various ways I was a disappointment to him and the family that year,” he said quietly. “After he read it, he would tell me that I needed to do better—be better—so that he wouldn’t have to be so ashamed to have such a disappointing son.”

“Oh Eric,” she said as a tear slipped down her cheek.

“Those meetings would always end with him saying that while I was in the Northman home, it would be best if I stayed out of his sight whenever possible so that he wouldn’t have to be reminded of my failures. After that first meeting every year, I would be lucky if he said two words to me before the second one.”

“And what would happen at the second meeting?” Sookie asked, her voice almost as haunted as his.

“I would be given a file to pass back to the headmaster. It would include the activities that my father deemed worthy of my time. Like I told you earlier, if I liked doing a certain activity, I would be stopped from doing it. The same thing held true if I became too good at something. For instance, Murray Academy required all the kids to play a team sport beginning in second grade. I began with field hockey and loved it,” Eric smiled a little at the memory. “I was also very good at it. Unfortunately, at that time, Godric hadn’t yet figured out that he needed to hide that information, so I was forced to quit the team. Appius then required that I be put on the swimming team, and I liked that too, but I didn’t show it. However, Godric’s report proclaimed that I was a very good swimmer—a natural—and after that, I was switched to the polo team. By the next year, Godric had caught on, and he began to lie in his reports, downplaying the fact that I had become an excellent rider and polo player.”

Looking even more troubled than before, Eric went on, “That year, Godric didn’t seal his report well, and I read it during the ride to Appius’s house. I was in fourth grade. I was,” Eric stopped midsentence and leaned against Sookie a little, as if gathering the strength to keep speaking. “Since Appius was always so critical of me, I had started to worry about what Godric was writing in the reports. I was so afraid that Godric,” Eric paused, “hated me too—just like my father did.”

Despite the heat in the room, Eric was shaking a little.

“But Godric didn’t hate you,” Sookie said. “He was trying to protect you.”

Eric nodded. “At the time, I didn’t know that though. When I read the letter, I was,” he paused, his voice catching, “confused about what it said. And—in the three weeks I was at Appius’s house that year—I became certain that Godric loathed me too.”

“Because he had lied about you?”

“Yes. In the report, Godric said that I was ‘incompetent’ at polo and didn’t enjoy it because I was not comfortable around horses. He said that I’d almost drowned during a physical fitness test and had become fearful of the water.” He sighed. “There were other things in the report too. According to Godric, I was getting bullied by the people on the debate team. Always before, he’d included who I was friends with in the reports, but—starting that year—he claimed that I didn’t have friends. And I didn’t by then—not really. He also said that I wasn’t doing very well academically.” Eric shook his head and winced a little. “Godric claimed to be personally disappointed in my lack of progress.”

“Oh God,” Sookie muttered. “And you thought he was telling the truth.”

Eric nodded. “Yeah.” He closed his eyes. “And even when I learned that he had been lying, I still couldn’t shake the words I’d read—at least not fully.”

Sookie held him close and let out a shaky breath. “What happened when Appius read that report?”

Eric’s slight trembling continued. “I was scared of what Appius would say—so scared—but my meetings with him weren’t as bad that year.”

“Because he was happy that you weren’t doing well.”

He nodded. “After that winter break, Godric called me into his office.” Eric closed his eyes even tighter at the memory. “I thought he was going to berate me like my father.”

“Because the letter had said that he was disappointed in you,” Sookie said quietly.

“Yes. But Godric didn’t yell at me. Instead, he showed me the letter of instructions that my father had sent him. In it, Appius suggested that I stay on the polo team and be put on the swimming team so that I could ‘overcome my fears and build character.’ Appius also suggested that I join the debate team in order to ‘learn to stand up for myself.'”

“So every negative discussed by Godric,” Sookie stated, “was capitalized upon by Appius.”

“Yes. That’s when Godric told me that he’d lied in his report to my father. He asked me if there had been negatives that arose from those lies. When I told him ‘no,’ he asked me my permission to continue sending bogus reports.” Eric let out a long exhalation. I never told Godric that I saw his report. I never told him that I’d been afraid that he, too, despised me.”

“And even though he’d explained the report, the words still hurt you,” Sookie said perceptively.

“I tried not to let them,” Eric said almost desperately. “I mean—rationally, I knew that it was because of Godric that I got to do many things I wanted to do, though I still had to be careful not to stand out too much. And—after that—I tried to trust Godric and Bobby more. But I was always worried.”

“You were afraid that you were a burden to them,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” he admitted.

“I was always afraid that I was a burden to Gran too.”

“But she was your family,” Eric said.

“And Bobby and Godric were yours,” she commented in a low voice.

He pulled back a little to look at her. “You’re right. They were. It’s just,” he stopped midsentence.

“Hard to trust,” she finished.

Eric nodded. “When I had to move to Exeter after the eighth grade, Godric met with Headmistress Ripley. After they talked, she went along with his idea to falsify the reports. She also never told Appius that Godric and Bobby would come to Exeter and collect me for Thanksgivings and spring breaks after I moved there.” He closed his eyes again. “But they always did come.”

Eric continued in a strained voice, “I wasn’t allowed friends at school, which was why Bobby became so important to me. My father always wanted to know who my friends were, and—at first—Godric had no reason not to tell him in the reports. In the first few years I was at school, I actually made several friends. But I would always lose those friends after the winter vacation. For a while, I didn’t understand why—not until I was seven years old and my friend Ryan told me that his father said that he couldn’t be friends with me anymore or he’d lose his allowance.”

Sookie roped her arms around Eric comfortingly.

He sighed at the gesture. “I’ll never know how my father was able to do it, but he managed to ensure that anyone I became friends with discontinued their interactions with me. After Ryan told me why he couldn’t be my friend anymore, I simply stopped letting myself get close to anyone.”

“But Bobby was safe,” Sookie observed.

Eric started trembling again—his body almost vibrating. “I wanted to hope so. I didn’t pray very often, though my mormor and morfar always prayed at dinnertime. But I remember praying that Bobby was really my friend.”

“And he was.”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I only got to hang out with him twice a year, but that was still better than nothing. And—eventually—Pam also became my friend because we spent time together in Sweden.”

“But you seem so—uh—popular now,” Sookie said.

“Superficial relationships are safe relationships,” Eric said as if he were quoting a bumper sticker. “I didn’t become a recluse in school as much as I became semi-popular with everyone, but close to no one. That seemed the safest way. And through everything, I did excel in my studies,” Eric said somewhat, proudly. “Godric saw to that by always making sure that I was doing my homework.” He chuckled a little. “Truth be told, he didn’t need to. I loved being at school. It meant that I was away from Appius, and my schools became my homes—along with Mormor and Morfar’s house in Sweden. I’m surprised my father didn’t try to keep me from them, but they would have become even more suspicious of how my father treated me if he had. Plus, Appius wanted to remain in control of Larsson Publishing after Morfar retired, and—to do that—he had to stay on their good side.”

“And you never told them—about Appius and the meetings? About what he did to make your life miserable?”

Eric shook his head. “What could I say that would have done any good? Until I was about ten or so—I really didn’t understand that my situation wasn’t normal. And—after that—I was smart enough to know that Appius could do a whole lot more damage to me than I could him. He didn’t physically abuse me. He sent me to the finest schools. The worst he could have been accused of was neglect. And,” he paused, “honestly, I worried that I would make things worse if I said anything.”

“I know what you mean,” Sookie said quietly.

Eric leaned in and kissed her lightly. “I know.”

“My mother and your father were made for each other,” she said.

He chuckled.

“A match made in hell, min älskade?”

She nodded against him.


A/N: This chapter is short. I know. But—in the end—Eric and Sookie’s conversation was 45 pages! So I broke it into three chunks, and this was the first natural stopping point. This section is a kind of tour de force for letting you know what Appius did/does and why he did/does it from Eric’s POV. I wanted you to find out about all this as Sookie is finding out. On the other hand, you learned more about Sookie’s past before she and Eric were together. In so many ways, she is closer to healing than he is. And that is because Eric is really still trapped.

Some of you have PM’ed me to ask if this story will have an HEA. All that I will say is that the story doesn’t end where it began (in Chapter 1). It goes beyond that day, and Eric and Sookie have happy days after it. (How’s that for cryptic?

Cheers!

Kat

P.S. Thanks to all who commented on the last chapter. I hope you will comment on this one. 😉

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10 thoughts on “Chapter 41: I Struggle to Swim, Part 1

  1. usually, I go with the flow, and not really care about font and such, but really, this bigger font is a little over the top. and it kills the margins too…

    excellent chapter, as always. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Yeah–I wish the font were a little smaller (but I’d have to pay to be able to change it). There are just no blog formats–that I like–that offer a medium size. Sigh. I hope it’s something that you can get used to and that isn’t too bad.
      Meanwhile, I’m glad you liked the chapter!
      Kat

  2. Excellent chapter. I’m looking forward to reading why Appius treats Eric as he does. There has to be more to this emotional battering & mental abuse than the pain suffered over the loss of a beloved spouse. I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s loss of their spouse – please don’t misunderstand – I’m fully aware of the things people do to their children even in the “best” situations. Neglect on Appius’ part seems almost kind versus what Eric’s life was like when he was actually in his physical presence during his winter break; truly though, for a very young child, the cold detachment of a parent is as abusive as that of a parent who beats them for being bad & then begs forgiveness.

    I like the bigger font. It makes me pretend I don’t have to get trifocals!

  3. I cant imagine why Appius could be that horrible to Eric, no one deserves to be treated so badly. I like the bigger font too its much easier to read thankyou xx

  4. you know i always thought my dad was an a-hole but Appius tops that… thank you for sharing what Eric has gone through and that there may be happy days after the rough night of chapter 1… looking forward to the next chapter…. KY

  5. I’ve lost a spouse and would never, NEVER hold it against my babies…..in fact, the fact that my daughter looked like her father brought be great comfort, that a piece of him lived on in her…. So, it has to be more than just Appius being reminded of Eric’s mother….much more, much darker, much deeper…..
    Great chapter!
    Pat

    1. There is something more. Let’s just say this. For some reason, Appius was given a reason to hate Stella, but he couldn’t. (You see–he really DID love her in the best way he could.) So, his hate went elsewhere–to Eric. In the next 2 chapters, you will learn why.
      😉
      Kat

  6. another emotional chapter…..it will be interesting to read more about appius….even though we all hate him!!!!

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