Chapter 49: Father’s Day, Part 3
“It’s time for brunch!” Sophie-Anne’s voice chimed, breaking Eric from his thoughts.
Eric was grateful that the event was moving along. He glanced at his watch and smiled a little, knowing that Sookie would be engrossed in the gallery she’d picked.
That thought gave him a lot of peace, despite the fact that he felt like he was in the middle of enemy territory.
During the Father’s Day luncheon, the Northman family settled into its normal routine for such gatherings. Pam, Nora, and Sophie-Anne spent most of the time gossiping at one end of the long dining room table. However, every once in a while, Sophie-Anne would switch to dutiful wife mode and talk loudly about what a wonderful father Appius was to Appius, Jr. Appius would accept his wife’s praise with an indulgent smile and then go back to talking to either his mother or Andre. When Grace Northman wasn’t speaking to Appius, she spoke in turn to each of her grandchildren with the exception of Eric, whom she continued to glare at from time to time.
Yes. It was perfectly “normal” for the Northman family dinners Eric had attended.
For his part, Eric tried to stay focused on the discussion he was having with Tamara—about her law practice and the case she was working on. He was also able to draw a still disappointed Gracie into a short conversation about her school friends. Luckily, by the end of the meal, things seemed to be almost back to normal between Eric and his youngest sister.
After the brunch ended, Sophie-Anne insisted that they all return to the living room for “family time,” and about thirty minutes later, Appius, Jr. was brought in by the nanny. The 16-month old was walking a little, and when he spotted his eldest brother, he made a beeline for him—much to Appius’s chagrin—despite the fact that the toddler hadn’t seen Eric in months. Appius knew that intercepting his young son would only cause the child to cry, so he just glared at Eric as he reached down and picked up Appius, Jr.
Eric tried to ignore Appius’s anger and concentrated on enjoying his limited time with A.J. Since Eric had last seen A.J., the toddler had begun talking, and Eric was amused by the fact that A.J. called him, “Ehhkkk,” which was a drawn-out one syllable word for him. After about ten minutes, during which A.J. climbed Eric like he was a tree, Eric watched as Appius said some quiet words to the nanny. Less than a minute later, the woman collected A.J. and took him from the room—much to Eric’s disappointment.
After that, Eric simply tried to stay out of Appius’s way, biding his time until he could make an unnoticed exit. However, the Northman patriarch made his was over to Eric once Tamara and Gracie left the room in order to go to the kitchen to say hello to Margaret.
Out of the earshot of the others, Appius sneered at Eric. “You will bring Isabel with you this coming Saturday.”
“I will have to see if she is free,” Eric said calmly and cautiously. He knew that Isabel had about as much interest in going to the Abbots’ pretentious party as he did—which was none. Plus, he didn’t like the thought of going to any function without Sookie so soon after they’d gotten together. He’d wanted to have more time to talk to her about such eventualities. Even though Eric knew that Sookie wouldn’t begrudge him the fact that he would have to be seen at social functions with Isabel, Eric was sensitive enough to know it wouldn’t be easy for her.
“If you don’t have Isabel on your arm all fucking day Saturday, you will not be getting on my plane to go to Boston,” Appius said coldly. He smirked a little. “It would be a true shame if you disappointed Gracie yet again,” he added before walking away.
Eric reined in his anger over Appius’s threat as Tamara and Gracie came back into the room. After a few more minutes, Tamara announced that they needed to get on the road if they were to be back to Boston by Gracie’s bedtime.
After their goodbyes, Eric glanced at his watch and saw that it was 2:45. He looked toward the other end of the room where Appius was now on the phone and decided that he’d had about all he could take of the Father’s Day “celebration.”
“Seven o’clock—right?” Pam asked Eric as he started to move toward the door of the living room.
“What’s at 7:00?” Nora asked coming up to them.
Eric tensed a little. The last thing he needed was for Nora to try to get an invitation to his home that night. He knew that he couldn’t trust her to keep his relationship with Sookie a secret. Plus, Eric had avoided having Nora in his home—except during business-related events. And—even then—she’d stayed mostly in the “gray part” of the house. He might have had some affection for his stepsister, but he knew where her true loyalties lie—with Appius.
“It’s just dinner,” Pam said quickly, kicking herself a little for having brought it up. Though she was the first to admit that she was self-centered, Pam was intuitive enough to know that Eric didn’t really feel comfortable around many people—not even Nora. That had become especially true after their father’s horrifying idea to have Eric and Nora date. Hell! For a while, Nora had even talked about marrying Eric—which was an idea that still made Pam cringe!
Pam had not been able to believe it when Eric actually tried having a relationship with their stepsister. She could only imagine that he’d done it to please their father. From what she’d heard from Eric right after the failed attempt at romance, it was a subject best left closed. Unfortunately, Nora had over-shared a few months earlier when she’d told Pam that Eric hadn’t been able to “get it up” when they’d attempted to have sex. That information had been much more than even the shamelessly blunt Pam had wanted to hear.
She looked at Eric’s eyes, which seemed to be begging her for help. She obliged him, knowing that the prospect of work was the only sure-fire way to deter their nosey stepsister when she sensed that there might be something going on. Pam wasn’t exactly sure why Eric wanted her to come over for dinner, but she intuited that it was something he didn’t want Nora in on. Hell—maybe it was even about their stepsister, who’d been drinking more and more lately. God knows that they didn’t need her delving into drugs again!
“A working dinner,” Pam said, amending her earlier statement. “There are some personnel files that I want Eric’s input on.”
Pam saw a flicker in Eric’s eye—something resembling surprise, but he quickly covered the emotion, as he was disposed to cover up everything. She sighed a little, though Nora didn’t notice. Pam wished that Eric could be more open, but he’d always closed himself off—from the time when they were kids. Inarguably, he’d been a dutiful brother—protective even—but he wasn’t exactly what she’d call “fun.”
Always wanting to be closer to her older brother—who had been away at boarding school most of the time when they were younger—Pam had hoped that she and Eric could become real friends when they moved into the same building. But that hadn’t happened. In fact, she was beginning to think that there was something a little “off” about Eric—a personality flaw that prevented him from being close with anyone.
Pam wasn’t blind to the fact that their father was a bit harder on Eric than he was on the rest of his children, but she figured that if Eric could just be more pleasant around their father—instead of so nervous all the time—things would be better. In fact, she resolved to speak with him about just that during their dinner. Pam’s attention was drawn from her thoughts by Nora, whom she realized was trying to get her attention.
“It’s a pity you have other plans. I’m taking Daddy to Le Bernardin for dinner for Father’s Day. I was going to ask you if you wanted to come,” Nora said, addressing her comment to only Pam. All three of the siblings knew that Appius wouldn’t have welcomed having Eric along.
Pam sighed again. To her that was the problem. Their father didn’t want Eric around because Eric just wasn’t “pleasant” to be around in a social setting. Again, she resolved to have a discussion with him later.
“That’s okay,” Pam replied to Nora. “I need to make it an early night anyway,” she said honestly. “These next two weeks are going to be hellish as I make sure everything’s caught up in the editing department before my trip to Sweden.”
“Ah—yes,” Nora said with a nod. “You’re leaving the first week of July right? And you’re spending two weeks?”
Nora looked at Eric. Pam noticed some trepidation in her stepsister’s tone as she lowered her voice. “You know—Daddy mentioned that he wasn’t happy you were taking two weeks off as well, and that’s right when the Millner account needs to be renegotiated.”
Eric nodded in understanding. From the look in their stepsister’s eyes, Pam could tell that the Millner renegotiation was not something that Nora felt comfortable overseeing. And—as for their father—he had certainly not been reticent when it came to expressing his loud disapproval of Eric’s vacation plans. Pam had heard her father’s complaints several times; somewhat selfishly, she was just relieved that she had avoided any of her father’s consternation about her own vacation plans.
“I’ll do some work on the Millner account next week,” Eric said in a low tone that only Nora and Pam could hear, since Sophie-Anne and Grace were not that far away from them. “And I’ll make sure it’s ready for you the week before I go to Sweden. In fact,” he said, glancing in Appius’s direction, “I think I’ll take off right now so that I can get a good start on it for you before tomorrow.”
Immediately, Nora looked relieved. “Excellent! Yes, you should get going then!” she said a little too loudly and a little too enthusiastically. Unfortunately, her outburst attracted Appius’s attention.
“You are not leaving yet—are you?” Appius said with clear disapproval as he crossed the room in long strides with Andre tracking right behind.
Nora looked at Eric apologetically and then tried to run interference with her stepfather. “Oh Daddy,” she laughed a little, “you know Eric. He’s a stick-in-the-mud. He’s got some work he wants to do. And—anyway—our reservation is in just a couple of hours, so I need to go upstairs so that I can get ready.”
Appius gave Nora a genuine smile. “You are right, dear,” he said with a level of warmth in his voice that made Eric involuntarily stiffen with jealousy. He brushed that feeling aside as Appius continued speaking. “Yes—it is time that Eric left so that we can all move on to a more pleasurable part of our day.”
Appius looked over at Andre. “Andre,” he said, giving his lover a meaningful look, “why don’t I get you that book we were speaking of earlier?”
Glancing quickly at Grace, in front of whom Appius and he continued to keep up the pretense that they were only friends, Andre spoke up, “Yes—thank you.”
Appius kissed each of his daughters on the cheek and then left the room with Andre on his heels. He didn’t bother sparing Eric another look.
Oblivious to the tension, Nora gave Eric air-kisses near each of his cheeks.
“Thanks, Eric. You’re a lifesaver,” she whispered before turning to Pam. “Hey, Sis, come see me before you go?” Nora requested of her stepsister. “I can never get my hair right without you.”
“You can’t do anything right without me,” Pam drawled jokingly.
Nora gave Pam a quick, but gentle punch to the arm before leaving the room.
Happy to have been dismissed, Eric said polite goodbyes to his grandmother and stepmother before kissing Pam on the cheek.
“I’ll see you later,” he whispered to her.
“Yeah,” she said, looking up at him. “Oh—and I have something I want to talk to you about tonight,” she said a little tentatively.
“Okay,” he nodded before leaving the living room as quickly as he could without drawing undo attention from Grace or Sophie-Anne.
Eric didn’t relax until he reached the kitchen and found Margaret sitting in her usual chair in the corner of the kitchen next to the large hearth. Her legs were propped up on the little stool he’d gotten for her for Christmas almost a decade before, and she was reading the newspaper Appius had finished and discarded that morning. Eric smiled; he knew that Margaret could be found in the same chair and doing the same thing every afternoon she worked. Also familiar was the scent of something baking. It smelled delicious.
“Markus told me that you had gotten some help in here,” Eric remarked as he walked to the counter and helped himself to a used whisk that still had cookie dough on it. He knew without having to ask that Margaret had saved it for him.
She smiled at him affectionately and put down her paper. “You just missed my helper—actually. Her name’s Mandy, and she started last week. Usually, she comes in to help with lunch and dinner, but I had her here early since Sophie-Anne wanted for there to be six courses for the brunch.” She rolled her eyes.
Eric chuckled and picked up a second whisk. “Markus told me that Olivia is graduating in the spring,” he said casually as he sat down on one of the tall bar stools next to the counter.
“Yes, and Markus told me that you’d basically offered Olivia a job,” she said a little sternly. “Now, I’ve got no problems with you interviewing Olivia, but she needs to earn the job on her own merit—okay, Mr. Northman?”
“Eric,” he corrected for what must have been the fiftieth time since he’d turned eighteen and had suddenly become Mr. Northman to the staff.
“I’m sorry,” Margaret said congenially, “it’s just that you’re all grown up now.”
“Not so grown up that I don’t want these,” Eric said gesturing toward the whisk he’d already licked clean.
Margaret chuckled and got up. Eric looked on in concern as her knees popped loudly, but she waved off his worry. She picked up a little brown bag. “I made you your banana bread—just like you like it—with pecans.”
Eric kissed the older woman on the cheek. “Thanks. And don’t worry. I’m not even in charge of hiring people at NP.” He winked. “So she’ll only get a job if she’s qualified. And tell her that she doesn’t even have to try for it—unless she wants to.”
“I will put in a good word for her though,” he grinned.
“Oh—away with you!” Margaret shooed good-naturedly, but then continued in a more serious tone. “I wish we could see more of you around here.”
“I wish I could see you more too, Margaret,” Eric said sincerely. “But we both know I’m not invited here often, and even when I am, I’m not exactly welcome.”
Margaret sighed. “You will always be welcome in my kitchen,” she affirmed.
He bent down and kissed her on the cheek he’d neglected before.
She looked at him intuitively. “You seem happy, Eric.”
He looked around to make sure they were still alone. “For the first time in my life, I feel happy too,” he shared quietly. “But don’t tell; we wouldn’t want for that fact to get out.”
She nodded. “No one but Markus,” she agreed.
“Tell the old man I said goodbye,” he said, grabbing the brown bag containing his banana bread.
“I’ll tell him just that,” she smirked. “I assume you’re going to sneak out through the kitchen gate as always?”
Eric nodded and then exited through the kitchen door. He took the path that led past the servants’ house, which was a two story dwelling catty-corner to the main house. Markus and Margaret lived in the downstairs section, and Olivia stayed there too when she was in the city. Two fulltime maids and the fulltime gardener lived upstairs. Sigebert and Wybert lived over the garage, which was a separate building at the back of the property, but—thankfully—they were nowhere to be seen. He passed the gardener on his way to the gate and exchanged a nod with him before sneaking out into the alleyway where deliveries to the house were brought. The gate locked from the outside automatically, and Eric checked it before hurrying toward the street.
He glanced down at his watch to see that it was just after 3:00. He smiled, knowing that Sookie would have probably already returned to the museum following her lunch. He smiled even wider, thinking about her walking through the exhibit she’d chosen, carefully reviewing her notes.
For every second he’d been away from Sookie, his body and mind had been aching for her. As he’d spoken to Appius—especially in the office—Eric had imagined her beside him, taking his hand and holding him steady. Every time that he’d felt Appius’s stare bore into him from across the table or across the room, it was as if Sookie was there, standing between them and blocking Appius’s view of him.
But—mostly—it was the idea of her leisurely strolling through her beloved museum that had gotten him through the uncomfortable time with his family. And now he was just looking forward to seeing her again—though he did pause every now and then just to make sure Appius hadn’t had him followed.
Thankfully, he hadn’t been.
A/N: Well, I’m back from my mini-vacation/time with in-laws, and I had a pile of grading waiting for me! Eek! Luckily, final’s week is coming and I’ll get a little reprieve after that.
Thanks to all who are continuing to follow this story. Sorry for the short chapter, but I wanted to get you something. I hope you enjoyed this little insight into Eric’s dynamics with his family. I experimented a little with some Pam POV. Right now, Pam is quite self-centered. She is going to have a hard time once she learns more about Eric and Appius’s relationship. She will have to “grow up”—finally. And she will have to pick sides.