Chapter 47: Father’s Day, Part 1
“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”—Anne Sexton
Sunday, June 17, 2012: Father’s Day
June 17 had started out cloudy and muggy—the kind of day when the air seemed almost oppressive. It fit Eric’s mood just right.
“You okay?” Sookie asked, wiggling her sock-covered feet on his lap to get his attention. They were enjoying their morning coffee and some scones on the terrace, despite the humidity in the air.
Eric tried to smile at her. “Ask me that tonight?”
“I will,” Sookie said with a half-contented and half-worried sigh as Eric massaged her feet through her socks. “When do you have to be there?”
Eric frowned. “Brunch is at 11:00, and I’m to get there between 10:00 and 10:30.”
“I’ll miss you today,” Sookie said softly.
“I’ll miss you too—but it’s only for a few hours,” he said, clearly trying to make himself feel better about his unwelcome summons to Appius’s house for the Father’s Day brunch that Sophie-Anne insisted he attend.
“Right—only a few hours,” she agreed.
“What gallery will you be going to?” he asked, his voice straining to sound a little lighter.
She shrugged. “I don’t have my little jar with me, so I can’t draw out a gallery number today; plus, it wouldn’t feel right going to the MET without you—not now.”
“Please go,” Eric said, leaning forward a little and begging her with his eyes. “This day will go better for me if I know you’re at the MET—and happy.”
She couldn’t deny him—not when he was looking at her like he was.
“Okay,” she said.
His face immediately relaxed. “Maybe I can even get away in time to join you there this afternoon.”
“If you can find me,” she said playfully. “It is a big place—after all.”
“Luckily I have someone on the inside,” he grinned.
“I’m going to have to get Ben on my side,” Sookie chuckled.
“He probably already is,” Eric returned, running his hands over the soles of her feet. His expression turned serious. “So you’ll go?”
She nodded. “I will, but I have no idea what gallery I’ll go to,” she mused. “Wait—no—I know exactly where I’ll go.”
“You’ll just have to find me, Mr. Northman. It’ll be like me trying to find you in this house.”
He chuckled. Strangely enough, he’d never really thought about the size of his house until that week as he and Sookie had tried to find each other in it. Just two nights before, Eric had gotten home only five minutes before Sookie, but it had taken them about an hour to realize that they were both home because he’d been working in his office and she’d been in the kitchen.
He grinned. “I told you that I’d wear a bell around my neck if you wanted.”
She giggled. “Don’t tempt me.”
He tickled the bottom of her feet.
“Hey—I thought you were going to be sweet,” she said with a pout as she wiggled her feet, trying to escape his tickling.
“I forgot,” he chuckled before his face fell a little.
Sookie reached out to grab his hand. “It’s only 7:30. I say we take a bath.”
“Are you trying to distract me, Miss Stackhouse?” he asked, looking at her with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
“You bet your fine ass I am,” she answered unapologetically.
“You know how much I want to be with you today—right?” Eric asked, concern suddenly filling his eyes.
“I know,” she said softly. “But if you don’t show up at Appius’s house, he’ll wonder why, and we don’t want him wondering anything about you.”
Eric nodded. He was quiet for a minute before his eyes went back to twinkling. “You think my ass is fine?”
“It’s almost my favorite part of you,” she said with an answering twinkle.
“What’s your favorite?”
“Keep rubbing my feet—nicely—and I just might tell you,” she said as she wiggled her toes.
“I thought you wanted a bath,” he reminded.
“I do, but that feels good.”
He chuckled and kept up his rubbing. “Will you tell Ben that the sandwich shop will deliver as always?” Eric asked after a few comfortable minutes had passed. “They just need to call in the order by 10:30.”
Sookie smiled and nodded. “Ben will appreciate that. It’s nice that you want to keep sending them food.”
“I like that Ben and the others are going to be keeping an eye on you when I can’t,” he said seriously. “You don’t mind that—do you?”
“No. Not anymore. I don’t mind you watching over me—either personally or through them,” she said, surprising herself a little, especially considering the fact that she had been self-conscious about being watched for as long as she could remember.
“Good,” he said with a smile.
“Is everything ready for tonight?” Sookie asked, suddenly nervous. Eric and she were going to be “outing” themselves to Pam at dinner that night.
“Yes,” he reassured.
“Bobby is coming too—right?” Sookie asked.
“You just want him here to distract Pam,” he said jokingly.
“Yes!” she answered immediately and unabashedly.
Eric chuckled. “You know—Pam and Bobby have a thing, though it’s off and on. Pam doesn’t think I know, but I do. They are what one might call friends with benefits.”
“You told me that Bobby didn’t really get along with anyone.”
“Well—he’s not that likeable,” Eric grinned. “But he has that in common with Pam.”
“You like Bobby,” she reminded.
“Yeah—but I’m the only one.”
“Not anymore,” she challenged.
Eric smiled. “I still can’t believe that you took to him so quickly.”
“What?” she asked. “Bobby clearly has your back. And I like that about him.”
“Yes, but he was a prick to you when he met you.”
Sookie had to agree with that assessment. When Eric had invited Bobby over the Thursday before, he had been wary of her at first, but they’d warmed up to each other, and she’d found that she quite liked him. He certainly didn’t pull any punches, but that was a relief, given the way she was normally treated, even by those whom she thought of as her friends. By the end of the evening, Bobby had even taken on the kind of brotherly air that he used with Eric when he talked to her.
Eric was frowning when she looked at him over her coffee mug.
“Just because I read from his lips that he thought I might be ‘a gold-digging whore’ doesn’t make him a prick,” she said.
“I still want to kick his ass for saying those words,” Eric growled as he thought about what Bobby had whispered to him from across the room when he thought that Sookie couldn’t “hear” them. Of course, she’d been able to read Bobby’s lips, a fact which Bobby had conveniently “forgotten” about—or, at least, so he’d said. However, Eric wouldn’t have put it past Bobby to say something like that on purpose—just to “test” Sookie.
“Yes, but you know that he’s just trying to protect you. And it didn’t take him long to come around,” she reminded with a contented moan as he worked on the arch of her foot.
“Hmmm. If I didn’t know better, I would be jealous,” Eric commented jokingly. “You certainly charmed him.”
Sookie grinned. “My snicker doodles charmed him.”
He shook his head. “That’s a ridiculous name for a cookie.”
“But he loved them all the same.”
“I loved them too,” Eric said, looking at her meaningfully. He’d still not said the “L” word about their relationship, but he’d made a point of saying how much he loved things she did or made. Both of them knew that was the best he could offer her for now. And both of them accepted that.
“Who’s gonna be there—at Appius’s house?” Sookie asked. “Gracie?”
Eric smiled and nodded. “Yeah. And A.J. will be brought down for a while.”
Sookie grinned at Eric. He’d told her that he was the only one who called Appius, Jr., A.J. He’d also shared that the one-year-old always wanted to be held by him when they were in the same room, which was pretty inexplicable given the fact that the toddler had hardly ever seen Eric.
“And Pam’s gonna be there,” Sookie said.
“Yeah,” Eric nodded.
“And Nora and Sophie-Anne?’
He nodded again. “And my grandmother Grace.”
“So you might not even have to speak with Appius at all—right?”
“Right,” he agreed.
“So no big deal,” Sookie said, taking her feet off of his lap and leaning forward to kiss his lips.
He sighed and deepened the kiss, taking comfort in the distraction she gave him from his dread.
“I think it’s bath time,” she said breathlessly as they broke the kiss.
“Yes. Bath time.”
Eric had decided to walk from the MET to the Northman Mansion, which was only a two and a half block stroll from the front entrance of the museum. To make his and Sookie’s time together last for as long as possible, he’d ridden the subway with her to 86th Street. Then, he’d walked her over to the coffee shop across from the MET, where she’d gotten Milos’s and Jimmy’s customary treats. She didn’t need to get any coffee for herself that morning since she and Eric had gone through a pot at home.
“Home,” Eric said to himself as he made the turn up 80th Street from Central Park East. He slowed his pace, feeling himself weighed down as he moved further and further away from the woman who had made him feel as if he truly had a home for the first time in his life. Of course, it didn’t help that he was moving toward a place where he’d never been welcome.
His father had bought the old Woolworth mansion when he married Beth, only a few years after Eric’s mother had died. But Eric had never felt at home there. The room that he stayed in during winter break hadn’t even been consistent. He was rotated around between various guestrooms or old servants’ quarters when he was there, though he always stayed somewhere on the otherwise uninhabited second floor. The rest of the family had much larger and grander suites on the third and fourth stories of the mansion. But Eric hadn’t seen much of those floors, other than his siblings’ rooms and playrooms. And—even then—he’d seen those rooms only a handful of times. He’d never been to the fourth floor, which was where Appius had his room.
Eric looked up as he approached the intimidating Northman Mansion. No—it had never been a home to him. Other than the clothing that Eric packed and then repacked each time he visited the house, there had never been anything personal of his in the rooms where he stayed. And—certainly—nothing of his had ever been left behind.
He remembered very well the first time he “visited” the house. It had been Beth who had led the then seven-year-old Eric to the room where he’d be staying. She almost seemed apologetic when they entered the small basic room that had a view of only the building next door.
Beth had given him a nice smile and had tried to be friendly to him, though he’d only just met her. What Eric remembered most about that visit was that none of the things he was familiar with had been moved over from his old house. In that house, he’d had a room with toys, a Superman bedspread, and even a collection of trains from his Grandfather John. Eric had loved looking at and playing with the trains, especially during the previous two winter breaks when his father had told him to stay in his room unless it was time to eat. However, neither the trains nor anything else could be found in the room Eric was to stay in, and when he asked his new stepmother about them, she’d not known where they were.
During his “meeting” with his father later that day, Appius had criticized Eric for bothering Beth about his old room’s contents. Appius had also told Eric that everything from that previous room had been thrown away or given to a deserving child. Eric had cried, but had forced himself to stop when Appius scolded him for acting like an infant. Appius had told him that he was too old to have toys anymore and that no one was interested in hearing his bawling.
Of course, Nora was less than two years younger than Eric, but her room was full of toys and personalized to her liking as if a princess lived there. Pam was five by then, and her room was also made up to suit her tastes.
It was that year—as Pam and Nora had buzzed around the house happily while Eric tried to stay out of Appius’s line of sight—that Eric had truly begun to accept that he would never be treated like the other children. It was that year that he made the conscious decision to “stop” being a child altogether in hopes that it would please his father.
Intuitive by nature, Beth soon picked up on the fact that Eric would not be receiving any real attention from Appius—or any items with which to play. Eric overheard Beth talking to Appius about him—asking Appius if she could make Eric’s room more comfortable or at least lend him some of Nora and Pam’s toys or puzzles. However, Appius had gruffly told Beth that Eric was being punished for misbehaving at school. The next day, Beth had brought a set of classic books to Eric’s room. She’d asked him to keep the books in the dresser and to not read them when he wasn’t in his room.
Eric had appreciated Beth’s kind gesture, but her pity-filled looks disconcerted him, so he made an effort to avoid her after that.
By the next year, Eric had learned that he should take care of his own “leisure time” by bringing books from the school library. That year, he was also allowed to spend some time playing with Pam and Nora in the mansion’s newly reconstructed pool room—but only because Nora had requested it. However, when Appius was home, Eric kept mostly to his room or—if the weather wasn’t too cold—the garden. Occasionally, he’d hang out in the kitchen. The household cook, Margaret, had come with Beth to the Northman Mansion, and she would let him help her with little things.
Eric’s first visit to Northman Mansion was also the first Christmas that Eric had vivid memories of, though that Christmas could have been any of the others throughout his childhood years. They were all the same as far as presents went. Each year, Eric was taken shopping by one of his father’s assistants for “non-school” outfits. Three new uniforms were given to him at the beginning of each school year, though Godric had stepped in and bought Eric a few items when he’d gone through major growing spurts. However, most years, Eric would just have to live with pants that were too short.
Every year, Appius allowed his assistant to purchase a set menu of items for Eric: two pairs of jeans, one pair of dress pants, two polo-style shirts, one nicer button down shirt, two pairs of shorts, three plain T-shirts, three pairs of pajamas, a jacket, a pair of gloves, ten pairs of socks, and ten pairs of underwear. Without fail, it was always the same allotment. The assistant would be instructed to buy some of the clothing in Eric’s current size and some in the next size up in order to account for any growth over the year. Then, two of the clothing items—usually the jacket and the nicer pants—would be wrapped and put under the family Christmas tree for Eric. The only variable might be if his current stepmother bought him something, but after the first year—when Beth bought Eric a model plane and received a disapproving look from Appius—his stepmothers’ gifts skewed toward the practical. Eric would receive a watch or a belt from his stepmother. Beth had also given him a wallet once—just a few months before she died. It had been his first.
Eric stopped in the shadow of his father’s opulent home and then took a deep breath before ringing the bell. As far as he knew, he was the only one among the children who did that. But—then again—he was the only one without a key to the home. The butler, Markus, opened the door immediately and nodded at Eric.
“Good morning, Mr. Northman. The others are in the east living room already.”
“Thanks, Markus. Are you well? I don’t think I’ve seen you since January.”
“I’m fine,” the butler answered with an easy smile. “And—yes—it has been too long.”
“Is Olivia still at Northwestern? And Margaret? Last time I was here, her mother was ill. Is she doing okay?” Eric asked conversationally.
Markus McIntire smiled at the young man who had always taken the time and effort to ask about his own family, even though he was rarely at the family estate. Markus had known Eric Northman for more than two decades, and in that time, Eric was the only member of the Northman family, other than Appius’s previous wives Tamara and Beth, who seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of the live-in staff at the mansion.
Markus and his wife Margaret had taken an instant liking to Eric, whom they’d met when he was just seven years old. He stayed in the house once a year—always over his winter break from school—until he was eighteen. After that, Eric had not stayed overnight in the house.
As was the usual case with servants, Markus and Margaret had seen and heard many things in their employers’ household throughout the years. But they’d seen little of Eric and had heard even less from him. The little boy was quiet and polite almost to a fault—nothing like other boys Markus had come into contract with before. That first year, Margaret had heard Eric crying softly in the small room that he had stayed in, but—other than that—he’d barely made a peep.
Over the years, Eric had opened up a bit more—though he’d never played or even conversed as an ordinary child would have. He never let his guard down. He rarely smiled, and when he did talk, it would be polite and formal discourse. Even before he was a teen, Eric would ask Markus or Margaret about their families, politely listening to their responses and asking the same kinds of follow-up questions that an adult would. And—when Eric did swim in the pool with his siblings—Markus noticed that Eric would behave more like a lifeguard than a child.
During the days—when his sisters didn’t specifically ask for him to be a third participant in their activities—Eric would most often find a corner of the garden to stay in, usually with a book. Markus would try to encourage the boy to stay indoors on the coldest days, but Eric seemed to be anxious to be out of the way, especially when Appius was home. However, Margaret was sometimes able to entice Eric indoors, claiming to need help from the child. However, once inside, Eric would jump out of his own skin and look for a corner to hide in if he heard someone else coming to the kitchen.
Markus sighed. He had come to respect Appius Northman in many ways. He was a good and fair employer. He had even arranged for Margaret to have an assistant in the kitchen now that her arthritis was worse. Markus and Margaret had decided—without question—to stay on with Appius after Beth Gainesborough, their original employer, had died. And they’d never regretted that choice.
Markus had never thought that Appius was the warmest father in the world—except, perhaps, with Nora—but with Eric, he’d always been downright cold. When Markus and Margaret had joined the Northman household, the older chauffeur, who’d seen how Appius had been before the death of his first wife, had told them that it was grief that made Appius distance himself from the boy.
So Markus and Margaret had kept a special eye on Eric when he was living in the home each winter. Once Eric turned eighteen, however, he was in the house only sporadically. Even so, he always asked about Markus and Margaret’s family.
The butler pulled himself out of his thoughts to respond to Eric’s query. “Olivia is doing well in school,” he said proudly. “She’ll be graduating this spring—you know?”
“She’s becoming an accountant—right?” Eric asked.
Markus nodded, not surprised that Eric had remembered that detail.
“Be sure to tell her to call me if she wants to come back to New York. Northman Publishing is always in need of people who are good with numbers.”
“I’ll tell her,” Markus said with a big smile. “Oh. Margaret made you a batch of banana bread, so be sure to visit her before you go. But don’t tell your sisters about it so that you can sneak it out,” he added in a conspiratorial tone as he led Eric toward the east living room.
“Is Margaret doing better? The last time I spoke with her, she told me her arthritis was getting worse.”
Markus sighed with frustration. “Her doctor told her that she needs to cut back on doing the things that are so taxing to her hands, but her idea of cutting back is knitting for two hours instead of three during the evenings.”
Eric chuckled. “That sounds like her—but we would be lost without our new scarves each winter.” He smiled fondly, obviously thinking about the scarves that were waiting for him on his suitcase when he was ready to leave the house each winter.
“I’d be lost without her—period,” Markus mumbled under his breath before looking up at Eric. He shrugged and smirked. “I suppose if she weren’t so damned stubborn, I’d get bored because of nothing to complain about.”
“And—anyway—your father has hired someone to help her out during the day, and that’s been a Godsend.”
Eric smiled and nodded before steeling himself to face what was behind the door.
A/N: I’m sorry that I’ve been posting with less frequency lately. Too much work! However, I am still so thankful for all of your support! I hope that you enjoyed this last chapter. It’s a transition chapter—for sure—but I needed to set up the Father’s Day event.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to get another chapter to you before I leave for my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving. If I don’t, I hope that you have a wonderful holiday (if you celebrate it).
Certainly, among my list of things to be thankful for are all of my readers!
Inspiration Pictures for Northman Mansion