Chapter 55: Faith in Silence
“Do not tell secrets to those whose faith and silence you have not already tested.”—Elizabeth I
A warm day had given way to an unseasonably cool night, and since it was drizzling lightly, Eric had asked Bobby and Pam to wait in the living room on “his” side of the house while he and Sookie quickly cleaned up the kitchen.
The dishwasher full and running and another bottle of wine opened in case it was needed for their talk, Eric leaned against the counter, trying to steady himself for what was to come.
“What if she doesn’t believe me?” Eric asked in a strangled tone.
“She will,” Sookie responded. “Pam may not have received the same poor treatment as you did growing up, but she’s not an idiot. She would have seen things, even if she wasn’t aware of what she was seeing.”
“What if she believes me—but still chooses him?” he asked so quietly that Sookie barely heard him.
She sighed and leaned against him, putting her head against his arm. The connection not being enough, he quickly turned and pulled her into his full embrace.
“She might not choose either side, Eric,” Sookie said cautiously. “But if she does choose him, I’ll be here. However, I really don’t think she would abandon you—especially not after she learns the truth. You’re her brother.”
“And Appius is her father.”
“Yes,” she sighed, “he is.”
Eric pulled her even closer and rested his cheek against the top of her head. “You’ll be right beside me?”
“Yeah,” she responded, tightening her arms around his torso. “I’ll be right next to you.”
“Okay,” he whispered, pulling away from her after placing a gentle kiss onto her forehead.
Sookie took his hand and picked up the bottle of wine while he picked up their two glasses with his free hand.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, though his voice shook a little.
“I still don’t understand what all this is about?” Pam said, as she sat down heavily onto one of the couches in the living room. “I mean—I get that Daddy would try to block Eric from seeing Sookie, so I won’t tell that Eric’s slumming.”
“Pam!” Bobby said warningly.
“Fine,” she said. “He’s not slumming—if you say so.” She pouted a little. “But it’s not like Eric would need to convince me to keep his confidence. Of course I will! And he should know that! I just want to know how they got together—why they got together,” she huffed. “However, I get the feeling that Eric is going to tell me something else—isn’t he.”
“Yeah,” Bobby confirmed as he sat down next to her and took her hand into his. “I think so.”
“You’re not getting any tonight, Bobby,” Pam said gruffly, pulling her hand away.
“Maybe I don’t want any tonight,” he said with a glint in his eyes.
“Oh—you always want me,” she said with certainty.
He chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right. I absolutely always want you,” he responded, managing to sound both sincere and sarcastic at the same time.
She rolled her eyes. “It is too bad that you don’t have a vagina. You really are one of my favorite people.”
“I can’t blame you,” Bobby said with a wink. “I love a good vagina too.”
Pam laughed but then became serious again. “Bobby, do you know what’s going on with Eric? What did you mean when you said that he’s been ‘pretending’ to be happy?”
Bobby closed his eyes. “Pam, what can you tell me about Eric’s childhood?”
“Eric childhood? What do you mean?”
“I mean—what do you remember about Eric when he was a kid?”
Pam sighed. “Well—he was a good brother. When we were at Mormor and Morfar’s house, he always looked out for me. And then after Morfar died, he was extra attentive. He taught me how to ride horses and to swim and to drive the boat. He was cool.”
“You didn’t spend your whole summers in Sweden—did you?”
Pam shook her head. “No—generally just a few weeks. Three or four, I think. Eric always wanted to stay the whole summer though.”
“Did he?” Bobby asked.
“Yeah. It hurt Daddy’s feelings to know that Eric didn’t really want to spend more time at home.”
“Did it,” Bobby stated acerbically, his jaw tightening.
“Yes—it did,” Pam responded defensively.
Bobby sighed. “What of Thanksgivings? Why wasn’t Eric at home during his Thanksgivings?”
“He had school,” Pam said. “He needed extra tutoring.”
“And spring breaks?”
“Same thing,” Pam retorted.
“Every year?” Bobby asked.
“Yeah,” Pam answered a little more hesitantly. “Eric always had a hard time with his studies,” she said. “Everyone knows that.”
“Pam,” Bobby said more gently, as if she were a wild animal he didn’t want to startle away, “Eric graduated from Harvard Business School at the top of his class. He also graduated summa cum laude from Harvard—where he got degrees in both marketing and business law. And he was Valedictorian of his class at Exeter Academy, which is one of the most academically rigorous high schools in the U.S.”
“Well—I guess the tutoring helped,” Pam defended.
Bobby sighed and shook his head. “You have never asked me how I met Eric.”
“You’re his personal attorney,” she said, her eyebrows scrunching together a little.
He chuckled. “Yes. But I obviously knew him before that. You and I met at his graduation from Harvard Business School, after all.”
“Did you go to Harvard with him?”
“No. I met Eric when he was six and I was ten.”
“So you went to boarding school with him?”
Bobby shook his head. “No. My father, Godric Burnham, was Eric’s headmaster. My parents divorced, but I spent most of my vacations with my dad. When I was ten, he asked me to befriend a young kid with no friends. That kid was Eric.”
“That’s ridiculous. Eric’s always had lots of friends.”
“Really? Name someone other than me and you who’s been to this house.”
“Tons of people have been here.”
“I’m not talking about for work parties, Pam.”
“Okay,” Pam relented after a moment, “but Eric is private.”
“Yes—and there’s a reason for that, Pam.” He sighed. “When I was a kid, I hung out with Eric only two weeks a year, but I’m his closest friend. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?”
“Well no,” Pam huffed a little. “After all,” she added sarcastically, “you’re likeable.”
Bobby chuckled, but then his expression soured again. “The real reason is that Eric is afraid to truly connect with anything—or anyone. He has been ever since I met him. But—after years of my coming around—he started to trust that I would keep coming around. And—since I didn’t come around often—there was less of a chance of Eric becoming dependent upon a friendship he didn’t think he would be able to keep, so he let his guard down just enough for me to sneak in. But—make no mistake—he’s allowed for me to stay his friend only because I’ve never pushed to get too close to him.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Pam said, though her eyes held a little uncertainty.
Bobby sighed. “Every year, Eric would eat Thanksgiving dinner with my father and me. And he and I would hang out and play video games during Thanksgiving break and spring break. Hell—even after Eric went to Exeter, my dad and I would drive up to get him during those school holidays. And—for the record—Eric never needed a tutor for anything in his whole life.”
Pam sat silently stunned for a moment. “Then why didn’t he come home?”
“Pam,” came Eric’s quiet voice from the doorway of the room, “I didn’t have a home.”
Pam whipped her head around to face Eric, who seemed frozen in the doorway—until Sookie gently pulled him into the room and over to the couch opposite the one Bobby and Pam were on.
“I’m sorry, Eric,” Bobby said contritely. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It’s okay,” Eric said to his friend, even though his eyes were still on Pam’s.
“Of course you had a home,” Pam said. “You had a home!” she repeated insistently. “You just didn’t like being there.”
“Did I?” Eric asked quietly. “Where was my room?”
Pam’s eyebrows scrunched together. “You weren’t home enough to need your own room,” she replied, her voice wavering a bit.
“You’re right. Until I was eighteen, Father allowed me into his residence for only three weeks out of the year, but that was only because it would have been too suspicious for him to ship me to Sweden for winter breaks too.”
“But you wanted to spend your summers in Sweden,” Pam asserted. “I remember.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “I was always happier in Sweden. But, Pam, I wasn’t given a choice.” He sighed loudly. “I was only five when I was sent to boarding school. It was the fall after Mom died. I only remember flashes from that first year. I remember feeling incredibly sad and alone. I remember that I was younger than everyone else living at school. I remember going to our old house for Christmas and playing with my trains because I wasn’t supposed to leave my room. The only good thing I remember about that year was making a friend named Justin. But after Christmas break, Justin would no longer be my friend.”
Pam shook her head in confusion. “But five year olds can’t go to boarding school. They’re too young—right?”
“Not if their fathers pay extra,” Eric said. He closed his eyes. “I have more memories of the next year—when you all had moved into Northman Mansion. All the toys that had been in my room in our old house were gone—as were the pictures.” He opened his eyes. “I remember meeting Nora and Beth that year. And I remember my first official meeting with Father in his office at Northman Mansion.”
“Meeting?” Pam asked even as she noticed Sookie leaning into Eric as if to comfort him.
“Yes. Father took me into his office and made me sit at attention.” He smiled ruefully. “I remember wishing that I would be swallowed up by the chair I sat in.”
“Why’s that?” Pam asked in barely a whisper.
“Father told me that I was doing poorly in school. He told me that I was a disappointment as a son. He told me that I needed to be a better child so that he didn’t have to be embarrassed by my existence.
Eric took a deep breath. “I had similar meetings with Father every year. He required that Headmaster Burnham send him reports about my progress each December, and when I returned in January, the friends that I had made were no longer allowed to hang out with me, and the things that I liked to do were no longer available for me to do. That happened until the headmaster began to lie in the reports, but—by then—the damage was already done.” He took another breath. “Father always arranged for me to stay at the school for the short holidays—Thanksgiving and Spring Break. Mormor and Morfar would take me during the summers, so that meant that Father had to deal with me only three weeks out of fifty two each year. I never asked for that life, Pam. And I was certainly too young to choose at the time. But it was the existence that Father wanted me to have.”
“But,” Pam started and then stopped for a moment. “I don’t get it, Eric. Why would Daddy do that?”
Eric sighed loudly and shook his head as a tear fell from his eye. He looked at Sookie and spoke a single word, “Please.”
Sookie nodded in understanding. “Pam,” she said picking up the story for Eric, “Appius found out some information after your mother died that proved that she had an affair with a man named Peder Lang. Peder was also your father’s first male lover, and Appius loved him very much. He also loved your mother.” She sighed and looked at Eric, who nodded for her to go on. “When he found out about your mother’s affair with Peder―an affair which had been going on for a very long time, despite your mother promising to give up Peder when they were all in college together—your father was outraged. Your mother was dead, but Eric was not. Appius became convinced that Eric wasn’t his son, so he—uh—punished him for his mother’s affair.”
“Stop!” Pam said forcefully before looking at Eric. “This isn’t true!”
“It is true,” he sighed. “Do you remember when I started at NP? I was put in charge of the international division of the company right away, and I was told that Larsson Publishing, Morfar’s company, had to increase its profits by a certain percentage or we’d have to sell it.”
Pam nodded. “Yeah—I remember something about that. Daddy told me that it had been losing a lot of money.”
Eric shook his head. “No—it wasn’t. It just wasn’t making that much money anymore. I was given a year to increase its profits by ten percent.”
“But—that would have been practically impossible for anyone,” Pam stated, “let alone someone just out of school.”
Eric shrugged. “I wasn’t meant to succeed, Pam. But I still tried. In the first three quarters of the year, there was a 4.5% increase in profits, but that wasn’t good enough for Father, so I proposed an official merger between NP and Larsson Publishing.” He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair. “I wasn’t aware when I started the merger proceedings that Father didn’t have the power to liquidate Larsson Publishing because it was a part of my trust fund, but even if I had been aware, I would have still proposed the merger. It made fiscal sense, especially given the fact that a lot of publishing work is now done over the Internet. Maintaining the Stockholm site was a financial drain that we didn’t need to have in order to keep Larsson Publishing’s clients. So Father gave me access to my trust fund just long enough for me to merge Larsson Publishing with NP.” He stopped, his voice once again tangled up with emotion.
Sookie picked up the story for him. “The day after the merger was complete, Eric was brought into Appius’s office for a surprise DNA test. He met Peder Lang, and he was shown a letter that your mother wrote to Peder when she realized that the chemotherapy wasn’t going to work against her cancer. In it, she said goodbye and told him that she loved him.”
Eric squeezed Sookie’s hand and resumed. “It was clear that day that Father still had feelings for Peder, but Peder was there only for the DNA test. He,” Eric’s voice caught, “wanted me to be his. At least—I think he did. It,” he paused, “felt good to be wanted.”
Pam sat stunned for a moment. When she did speak, she chose to ask the “easiest” of the questions that were rumbling like freighters through her head. “But why would Daddy have to give you access to your trust fund, Eric? We got our trust funds when we graduated from college.”
Eric sighed. “Father was always in control of when we got our trust funds, Pam. You and Nora received yours when you graduated from college; however, I still haven’t gotten mine, and I won’t be getting it for a very long time—if ever.”
“But how did you afford this house without your trust fund?” she asked, still not wanting to directly face her father’s apparent cruelty.
Eric smirked a little. “I have a mortgage, Pam.”
“A mortgage?” she asked, the word sounding almost foreign to her as she said it.
“Yeah. And I used some money Grandfather John left me for the down payment.”
“Wait!” Pam said after a moment, thinking of another question that wouldn’t hurt too much to ask since she already had figured out the answer. “You said there was a paternity test?”
“Yes. Appius Northman is my father.”
Everyone was silent for a few minutes after that. And Pam was grateful for that silence. It felt as if a bomb had gone off in her head—in her life—and she needed a moment to absorb and to assimilate the information she’d been told. Seeing the sincerity in Eric’s eyes, she couldn’t help but to believe what her brother had told her, but how could her father have been so cruel? Even if he didn’t think that Eric was his, why would he intentionally inflict suffering onto a little child? And why not just have a DNA test conducted years ago and be done with it? Pam shook her head a little. She wasn’t sure when DNA testing was developed, but surely her father could have done something to confirm or to disprove his suspicions long before he did! The only reason for the delay seemed to be that her father had wanted to take Larsson Publishing, which was her mother’s legacy—Eric’s legacy. And the way he’d done it—making Eric orchestrate the whole thing—seemed sadistic!
“Daddy got you to give away Larsson Publishing,” she finally said, looking for confirmation to her thoughts. “He did that and then he immediately tried to disprove that you were his. That was to hurt you as much as possible—wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Eric responded quietly. “I think so.”
“What if you had been Peder’s son? What would have happened then?” she asked, intuiting that her father would have had a plan in place for that outcome. She didn’t want to hear that plan, but she knew she needed to.
“Father already had papers drafted,” Eric replied. “If I had agreed to sign away my Northman Publishing stock from Grandfather John, I would have been allowed to keep the other things he left me when he died. I would have also been allowed to keep what was in my bank accounts. There was also paperwork drawn up for me to begin the process of officially changing my name. And I was to leave New York immediately.”
“But why would you have done all that?” Pam asked. “Why wouldn’t you have fought—at least to get something for the stock?”
Eric sighed. “Father had the letters between Peder and Mother, and he had proof that Mormor had known about them. At the very least, he would have been able to sue me for fraud and—even if he lost—my accounts would have been frozen for years. He also threatened to drag Mother’s name through the mud. Plus, he said he would place a stop on Mormor’s income if I didn’t comply with his wishes.” He paused. “So I would have done as he said if I had been Peder’s son.”
“And me? Would you have just left New York without saying goodbye?”
Eric sighed loudly. “Appius told me that I had to cut all ties with the Northman family, including you. But I had hoped that I would be able to stay in contact with you through Mormor.”
“But the DNA test proved that you’re Daddy’s son.”
“Yes, I am.” Eric nodded. “After the test, I was going to leave NP and New York anyway. But Appius blackmailed me into staying.”
“How?” Pam asked.
Eric looked at Sookie for encouragement and then pulled what looked to be a letter out of a file folder on the coffee table. As he handed it to her, Pam noticed that his hand was shaking.
“What’s this?” she asked, trying to keep her own voice from quivering.
“A letter,” Eric said quietly. “I received it from Appius the day after the DNA test.”
Pam opened the letter and immediately recognized her father’s distinctive handwriting. She began to read. First, there was a list of demands that her father had for Eric—most of which were unreasonable or downright harsh—like the one about Eric marrying whomever Appius wanted or the one about Eric’s kids being scheduled so that they would never really see Eric. Following that was a list of “incentives” that would be the rewards of Eric’s compliance. Finally, there was a list of repercussions—which amounted to nothing short of blackmail—if Eric didn’t submit.
“Oh my God,” Pam said in disbelief, after reading the letter through twice. Suddenly, she felt Bobby’s strong arm around her shoulder, and she was being pulled into his body. She’d never been more grateful for him, and she sank against his comforting embrace before looking up at her brother.
“Eric?” she asked, though she wasn’t sure what she was asking for.
“In the end, I was able to negotiate a better contract for myself,” he said.
“What did that cost you?” Pam asked astutely.
“Seven percent of the stock Grandpa John left me.”
“The seven percent you gave Nora a few years ago?” Pam asked.
Eric nodded, and Pam immediately felt a rush of guilt. The fact that Eric had given Nora half of his stock for seemingly no reason had been a point of contention between the siblings, mostly because Pam had whined because Eric hadn’t given her any of his stock.
“So you have a contract with Father?” Pam asked.
Eric nodded. “When I’m thirty-five, I will be made CEO, and Appius will step down, but there are conditions. First, there will be an expiration date on my tenure as CEO—twenty years. Second, if I don’t keep the company within certain profit margins, Appius will be able to step in. Third, I must marry someone Appius would deem appropriate before my thirty-fifth birthday and stay married to that person for as long as I am CEO.”
Pam interrupted him and looked at Sookie. “You knew about this?”
“Yes,” Sookie replied.
“Appius won’t let it be you,” Pam said to her.
“I know, but we’re happy. I love him,” Sookie said.
Pam and Bobby both breathed in sharply at the implications of her remark.
“I have a limited amount of time to be happy, Pam,” Eric said in a low tone.
“Why did you do any of this at all? Why not just quit NP?” Pam asked, though she already knew the answer. Eric had been trying to protect the people he cared for—just as he’d always looked out for her.
“You, Godric, everyone in my division, Mormor. Our grandfathers. They were both very,” he paused, “kind to me. And Northman Publishing and Larsson Publishing are together now. If I leave, Appius will eliminate the international division, and Larsson Publishing will be gone forever.”
“You’ll have to give up Sookie—eventually,” Pam said quietly.
Eric tensed up, and it was Sookie who commented. “Eric and I will have as long as we have. Some people don’t get even a day to feel the way I feel when I’m with your brother. I’m lucky. We’re lucky.”
Pam’s eyes narrowed as she took them both in for a moment. Part of her wanted to accuse Sookie of somehow manipulating Eric into making up everything that she’d learned that night, but her gut told her the truth. And the letter—clearly in her father’s handwriting—confirmed it. That letter had threatened her brother’s freedom—as well as everyone he cared about.
That was a truth that couldn’t be ignored.
Plus, Pam wasn’t blind. It had always been apparent that Eric and her father weren’t close, but Pam had assumed that their tepidity was something mutual between them. She’d believed her father when he’d told her that Eric had to receive extra tutoring throughout his school years. She’d believed her father when he’d said that Eric had insisted upon spending the summers in Sweden. She’d overlooked the fact that she’d never seen a “room” in the house for Eric, even though Alexei had a room—despite the fact that he hadn’t lived at home for years. Hell! Pam hadn’t lived in her father’s home for close to eleven years, yet she still had her room, where there were fresh linens and flowers placed whenever she was at home—just on the off chance that she would stay overnight.
Pam closed her eyes and tried to think of the answer to the question Bobby had asked her earlier. “What had Eric’s childhood been like?”
If she was being honest with herself, she’d known two Eric’s—the attentive brother who’d kept an eye on her in Sweden and the introverted boy who’d stayed out of the way at their father’s home. Both of the boys had been shy and pensive. However, she couldn’t help but to acknowledge the truth of Eric’s earlier words: their father’s home hadn’t been Eric’s “home” at all.
Pam practically jumped to her feet. Suddenly the huge room and Bobby’s strong arms seemed to be closing in on her, and she couldn’t breathe properly.
“I have to go,” she said abruptly as she turned and quickly left the room.
She was at the elevator and had pushed the button already when Eric came up behind her.
“Please don’t say anything to Appius about Sookie and me—or about any of this,” he begged in an agonized voice. “Shun me if you must. Choose him if you must. I wouldn’t blame you for either. But—please—I’m happy, Pam. I’ve never had that, and I think I can have it for a while if I’m careful and if Sookie stays. And she’s said that she’ll stay,” he added in a clearly stunned tone, “despite how fucked up everything is—how fucked up I am. Please don’t tell him.”
“You love her,” Pam stated as she turned to face her brother.
Eric took a deep breath as if he’d been hit in the gut. “Appius takes or threatens everything I like, Pam—let alone the things I love. I’m so afraid that he’ll take you—and her. I just can’t,” he paused. “I just can’t think about losing Sookie right now.”
Pam looked into her brother’s blue eyes. She was used to them displaying coolness or lust for a beautiful woman. She was used to them exhibiting confidence and calm when it came to business. She was used to them watching out for her.
“Father won’t take me,” she whispered. “I just need time to process things—okay? But we’ll talk tomorrow. Bring Sookie down to my place for dinner at 8:00?”
Eric nodded, though Pam could tell that he was still nervous.
“Hey—I won’t tell Father anything about you and Sookie,” Pam assured after a moment. “I love you, Eric. You’re min bror,” she said, the emotion thick in her voice.
He bent down and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” she asked, trying to conceal her hurt that he’d not trusted her.
“Sookie,” Eric said in a whisper.
“Sookie stopped you from telling me?” she asked in confusion.
“No—she helped me to understand that I could tell you,” he responded.
Pam looked into her brother’s blue eyes again and saw what Bobby had seen before—happiness. Bobby had been right. It was a new look for Eric, and it lingered despite the obvious difficulty of their talk.
“Send Sookie down at 7:00 so that we can have some girl talk before you show up?”
Eric immediately tensed. “Pam?”
“I’ll need help cooking,” Pam explained.
“I don’t know if she’d be comfortable with that,” he said.
“I won’t bite her, Eric,” Pam responded, feeling more and more like herself. “I might make her do her nails, however. They’re deplorable!”
Eric shook his head. “Okay, Pam. I’ll ask her. If not, we’ll come down together at 8:00.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
“Pam?” Eric said as the elevator dinged to announce its arrival. “Thanks.”
She exhaled loudly. “I didn’t realize what was happening, Eric. I didn’t know.”
“You couldn’t have,” he said comfortingly. He sighed. “Appius will know if you start to act differently toward him.”
Pam nodded. “I know. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about all this—about him—but I already know what to do about you, Eric.”
“And what’s that?” he asked with trepidation.
She smiled a little. “I’ll do for you what you always did for me. I’ll watch out for you.”
A/N: Well—here you have it: Pam’s reaction! I truly believe that Pam has a good heart, and she shows it here.
Thanks for all the wonderful comments about the last section of the story! I love hearing what you all have to say.
Next up: Sookie and Pam have a private conversation? Will we get “good” Pam or “snarky” Pam?