Chapter 05: Purgatory
“I want to take you on my desk,” Eric practically growled.
“Mmmm,” Amelia responded. “That sounds nice, but I’d rather have you in your hot tub—as you suggested earlier.”
“Why not both?” Eric asked gruffly as there were more muffled noises, this time accompanied by moans and grunts.
Appius was about to turn off the system, given the fact that he didn’t want to hear his own son having sex, when he heard a phone ring in Eric’s office. He sat forward with interest, wondering who could be calling.
“Shhhh,” Eric requested of his companion, who let out a muffled giggle.
“Hello Isabel,” he said a moment later, obviously having answered the phone.
There was a pause.
“No—I’m just hanging out with Amelia. What’s up?” Eric asked.
Appius chuckled at his son’s brazenness.
A few moments later, Eric’s voice was heard again. “Sure. I’m free October 13? What’s the event?” he asked.
There was another pause.
“Yes. That sounds fine. I assume it’s black tie?”
“Alright then. Oh—and we’re still on for the fifth—right?”
“Good. And, Izzy, remember you can spend the night then if you wish.”
After another pause, Eric chuckled and then obviously hung up the phone.
“What’s so funny?” Amelia asked.
Appius was curious too.
“Isabel just said that she’d be busy with her young boy toy after the event on the fifth,” Eric laughed.
“So—he’s really just nineteen?”
“And he was an intern at her father’s company?”
“Did they get together while he was working for her—under her?” Amelia giggled.
“No. You know Izzy. She’s too careful about that kind of thing. She waited until he was done with the summer internship to start up something with him.”
“Is it serious?”
“Oh God no!” Eric responded. “She’s just toying with him.”
“Kind of like I’m toying with you?” she purred.
Appius heard more muffled noises and then an out-of-breath Eric.
“Exactly like that.”
Amelia giggled. “Well—I suppose you’re toying with me too. So it’s only fair”
“Yes—it’s all very convenient.”
“Do you really like the blond hair?” she asked. “I’m thinking of making it permanent—at least for a while,” she giggled.
“I love it. And temporary permanence sounds about right,” he chuckled.
“Good,” she responded. “So—Isabel really has no problem with knowing I’m here with you? Ravaging you?”
“Of course not!” Eric exclaimed. “Izzy knows that you and I just fuck. And it’s not like she and I will ever be exclusive—even after we marry.”
Appius sat forward in his chair a little more, now riveted by the information he was gleaning from the conversation.
“I’d think you’d want to marry for love,” Amelia said with a little pout in her voice.
“Why would anyone do that?” Eric asked incredulously. “My father may be a rat bastard, but he’s got that aspect of life right on.”
Amelia laughed. “Do you really hate the great and powerful Appius Northman?” she asked dramatically.
Eric sighed. “No.”
“He does seem a little hard on you—at least, according to Isabel.”
There was a momentary lull in the conversation as if Eric were thinking about his response.
“My father is a hard man, and I did hate him for a while, but we’ve come to an understanding—he and I. We even have a contract.”
“Yes. The basics are that I get married before I turn 35—to someone who meets his set of standards, of course—and I become CEO for a couple of decades. After that, I should be ready to retire anyway. It’s a win-win.”
“And—of course—your father would approve of perfect Isabel Edgington and her perfect fortune,” Amelia said sarcastically.
“You know—he’d approve of you too,” Eric responded seriously. “And I think I would prefer you too. You’re so,” he chuckled, “flexible.”
Amelia giggled. “You know I don’t want to get married, and you know I usually like women too.”
Eric laughed out loud. “All the better! Just think of the threesomes we could have.”
“Oh I have,” Amelia answered. There were more muffled noises after that and the sound of furniture scraping on the wood floor.
“Mmmm,” Eric sounded. “You and I could fuck like rabbits for years to come, sweet Amelia. We could have a couple of kids. And we could maintain our independence in most ways.”
“No thanks,” she said a little breathlessly. “No offense, but I’m not sure I’d want you for years, and I definitely don’t want to shoot out any brats.”
“Well—if you change your mind, let me know.” He sighed. “I’m ambivalent about the kids’ thing too,” he said flippantly. “But I have to produce or adopt at least one according to the terms of the contract. But—no matter—there’s no reason why you and I can’t continue to have our fun even after Izzy and I marry—if we want.”
“When are you planning to do that?” Amelia asked.
Appius sat forward a little more.
“At the last fucking possible minute: the weekend before I turn thirty-five,” Eric laughed. “We’ve decided not even to get publicly engaged. We’ll just elope in Vegas when the time comes. Thankfully, Izzy isn’t the romantic type, and she wants her freedom for as long as possible—just like I want mine.”
“But you’ll still be free,” Amelia purred.
“Yes,” Eric said, “but Izzy and I will both have to be more,” he paused, “discreet, and we’ve agreed not to see other people until she’s pregnant. Hopefully, that doesn’t take too long.”
“I can’t really see you as a father,” Amelia chuckled.
“I like kids, and,” he paused dramatically, “I can afford a nanny,”
They both chuckled.
“Plus,” he added, “Izzy wants a couple of kids, and she’s told me that she wants them to be mine, so as long as you don’t change your mind, I think she’s my best choice.”
Amelia laughed. “Don’t ever let her hear you say it that way. It sounds like you see her as some kind of consolation prize.”
Appius could almost picture Eric shrugging. “No—I just see marriage as an obligation that I have to fulfill: a hoop to jump through.” He sighed audibly. “Anyway, I think I’d prefer you. You make me laugh more, and Izzy seems to prefer her younger men when it comes to sex.”
Amelia giggled. “So your ego’s been bruised.”
Eric chuckled. “Maybe—a little. That’s why I need you to stroke it,” he said suggestively.
“Mmmm,” she sounded.
Appius heard a few muffled noises.
“Like this?” Amelia purred.
“Yes,” Eric panted.
There were more muffled noises and the sound of a grumble.
“Hey—why’d you stop?” Eric asked with a pout.
“I don’t want your ego to get too big,” she said coquettishly.
He chuckled. “You didn’t complain about its size earlier.”
“Hmm. Anyway, I’m still curious. Why Izzy? I mean—she’s nice and all, but why be with someone who doesn’t prefer you?”
Eric scoffed. “It’s not like you would prefer me if we were together for long either. And I don’t want a vapid wife with no independent thought! No. The thing that you and Izzy have in common is that you are both capable of having an intelligent conversation—at least on occasion,” he added teasingly.
Appius heard what sounded like a smack to Eric’s bare shoulder.
“Hey,” he said with mock injury. “I’m just saying that I appreciate both you and Izzy—a lot more than I would some mindless debutante who trailed me around like a romantic schoolgirl. And I don’t have to lie to you. Neither of you has any false notions of what I can give you.”
“I suppose that’s a comfort,” Amelia said after some consideration.
“More than you know. But—realistically—Isabel is the better choice for me for marriage.”
“Hey!” Amelia cried out, sounding a bit offended.
Eric chuckled. “Hey yourself. You are the one who said that you don’t want kids or marriage. And Isabel does—with me. Of course, if you change your mind in the next three and a half years, that’s a different story, and we could have this conversation again.”
“I won’t be changing my mind, Eric,” Amelia warned.
“Fine,” he responded somewhat indifferently. “Izzy and I already have an arrangement anyway. And, frankly, as long as I find someone willing to bear my children and to give me my freedom, I’m fine with almost anyone.”
“As long as she meets your father’s standards,” Amelia reminded.
“Of course,” Eric said. “In fact, that’s why I’m not really fucking around with too many other women right now. For one thing, I prefer fucking you, and Izzy’s nice for a lay sometimes as well. Other women just complicate things.”
“You’re such a sweet talker,” Amelia deadpanned.
“Would you prefer I talk dirty to you?” Eric purred suggestively.
“Abso-fucking-lutely,” Amelia returned, “especially if you do it in the hot tub.”
“I thought we were starting on the desk,” Eric said.
“I’m leaving in an hour and I want the tub,” Amelia insisted.
“Fine,” Eric chuckled.
Appius heard what seemed to be Eric picking Amelia up.
“We’ll do it your way this time,” Eric said, “but I reserve the right to fuck you on my desk another time.”
Appius listened to footsteps leave the room and then something that sounded like a door closing. And then there was silence. He got up and poured himself another Scotch before returning to his seat.
The fifteen minutes that Amelia and Eric read through their lines for Appius’s benefit was definitely the most awkward fifteen minutes of Sookie’s life. However, she knew that it was probably much more awkward for Amelia and Eric—especially Amelia.
The moment that Eric had read through his script—complete with stage directions from Bobby—Eric had threatened to rip it and Bobby in two. However, then Bobby clarified that the things he had called the “extra bits”—which included the kissing and the moaning and the grunting and the pawing and the pushing around of items on the desk—were meant for Eric and Sookie to do.
While Amelia was in the room!
Hearing that, it had been Sookie who had almost torn up the script. However, Bobby had convinced Eric and Sookie that it would be best if a little fooling around was thrown into the performance so that it sounded more authentic. And since Eric and Amelia certainly didn’t want to fool around with each other, Sookie would be “filling in” for that part of the act.
Bobby would have volunteered himself and Pam to do that part, but the fewer people in the room, the better. Plus, if the looks passing between Pam and Amelia were any indication, they were probably going to be moving toward that more exclusive relationship Pam had been wanting, and Bobby didn’t want to throw a wrench into that by making Amelia witness him playing tonsil hockey with her soon-to-be girlfriend.
Eventually, it was decided that Sookie would already be sitting on Eric’s desk when Thalia relinquished control of the listening device. Eric and Amelia would then walk into the office together and begin their lines. And when Eric was supposedly fooling around with Amelia, he would actually be fooling around with Sookie. Bobby led the reluctant actors through a rehearsal of sorts, and then to ensure that it wouldn’t sound as if Amelia was too far away from Eric, it was determined that Eric would have to lift Amelia up on the desk before the first “make-out” session with Sookie. At Sookie’s insistence, Amelia swore that she would close her eyes during those parts.
So that he wouldn’t steal the show, so to speak, Ned was left with Henry and Bobby since “Aunt” Pam refused to watch out for him. Meanwhile, from the master bedroom, Thalia had pretended to be Isabel and had called Eric during the scene. Then she’d moved to the sitting room where she’d awaited Eric’s signal to take back control of the listening device.
In truth, the performance had gone flawlessly, and despite the fact that they were play-acting, the passion between Eric and Sookie had flared as it always did. The only hitch had come when Eric had to lift Sookie from the desk once the show was over. Amelia had been unable to miss the erection Eric had gotten from pawing Sookie, and she’d gasped and then giggled a little. Thankfully, those sounds had fit with the script.
Right after the “performance” was over, Thalia hijacked the signal from Appius’s bug again. And then the group moved back to the gray lounge after Eric and Sookie had made sure Ned had some kitten chow and fresh pet milk. They were happy to hear from Henry that their little guy had visited “his” room and his litter box on his own while they were away from him.
The group made small talk while Bobby and Thalia refreshed everyone’s drinks.
Right as the duo reentered the room with several newly opened beers, Henry received a text from Rasul, which indicated that “the Bert” who’d been staking out the building had just left.
A collective sigh of relief spread around the room.
“Do you really think it worked already?” Sookie asked nervously as she leaned into Eric so that Ned could settle onto them both.
Bobby and Eric shared a look, and then Bobby nodded.
“It likely did work, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Sigebert and Wybert for a while—just to be sure,” Bobby said.
“What if they see you watching them?” Eric asked pragmatically.
Bobby rolled his eyes. “They won’t see me, and you know it. Those buffoons stick out like sore thumbs; you know that the only reason you missed the Bert yesterday was because you were . . . .” He paused.
“Freaking out?” Eric asked with a hint of a smirk.
Bobby smirked back. “Yeah.”
“Just in case, I should probably leave in half an hour or so—since that’s when I said I was going to,” Amelia said, looking at Pam.
Pam took that as her cue to get up. “Then let’s make the most of that time,” she said to Amelia. She reached her hand out to the other woman, and her expression softened markedly when Amelia stood with her.
Pam looked at Eric. “Can I hitch a ride to work tomorrow?”
Eric nodded. “Sure—but I’m leaving at 6:00 a.m.”
Pam cringed a little, but then nodded in affirmation as she led Amelia toward the elevators after kissing Eric on the cheek.
“Are they together now?” Henry asked in Bobby’s direction. “Together-together?”
“That seems to be what Pam wants,” Bobby indicated.
“Amelia too,” Sookie smiled. “At least that’s what I think she wants.”
“And now all they have to do is communicate that fact with each other,” Thalia observed dryly. “And I’ll wager fifty bucks that it takes them a year to get that done.”
Everyone in the room chuckled at the truth of that statement before Henry turned serious. “Tray took advantage of the timeframe between the Berts’ visits and installed a camera pointing directly toward where they’ve been stationing themselves. The camera’s well-concealed, so they’re unlikely to spot it. As long as the Berts stay predictable, which I’m sure they will, we’ll know when one of them is here, and we’ll text you, but—for now—I think it’s best if Sookie doesn’t use the front entrance.”
Eric nodded, even as Sookie went to protest. “But I have to leave the building to get to work.”
“Rasul or I can drive you to the 86th Street station in the mornings,” Henry said, his voice firm.
“And when she comes home?” Eric asked.
“She can talk for herself,” Sookie said. “And she likes the walk home. So she’s gonna keep doing it.”
Eric looked at her with concern in his eyes.
“But I’ll text Henry when I’m a block away,” Sookie sighed, trying to ease Eric’s fears, “and I won’t come in through the main entrance.”
Henry smiled at Sookie. More and more every day, she was speaking up for herself, and the little spitfire, who was coming into her own, was becoming even more endearing to him.
Eric looked at Henry, who quickly nodded in agreement to the plan.
Thalia spoke up even as she was checking something on her laptop. “I have some information about the listening device.”
“What is it?” Sookie asked nervously, leaning into Eric a little more. Ned, now completely stretched out onto his back in the crack at the juncture of their thighs, didn’t move.
“Just as I thought when I first saw it,” Thalia said cautiously, “it’s Government Issue, but it’s not next-generation. The SEALs are using more sophisticated, passive devices, which are a lot more difficult to detect,” Thalia informed. “The one Appius is using is passive—in that it only activates when the sound goes above a certain decibel level—but it generates a continuous signal. It’s the kind of thing the FBI was using ten or so years ago.”
“How do you know all that?” Eric asked.
Thalia shrugged. “Part of my job in the Navy was sweeping for surveillance equipment. We had a lot of locals helping us out, but it was sometimes difficult to tell friend from foe.”
Eric nodded in understanding, once more amazed at the service both Thalia and Henry had done for their country.
“Are you sure you’re not going to have a problem controlling the signal?” Sookie asked.
“Nah—that part’s easy,” Thalia assured. “I’m just using a simple hacking program to hijack Appius’s signal.”
“You should call Isabel tomorrow,” Bobby said to Eric, “and explain what’s going on—at least as it pertains to her.”
“Will she help?” Henry asked.
“Yeah,” Eric responded. “She’ll help. This doesn’t change anything between Isabel and me—not really. And I think she’ll definitely be willing to pretend that we have a secret marriage arrangement, especially since we sort of did.”
“She won’t be bitter—when you tell her that’s off?” Thalia asked.
Eric shook his head. “No. We were each other’s back-up plan, but it’s not like there is an emotional attachment between us—not beyond friendship, at least.”
Bobby nodded. “Eric’s right. Isabel is much too pragmatic to be vindictive.”
“And,” Eric added, “things might be even easier for her after tonight. Given what we let Appius hear, it won’t matter if Isabel’s seen with other men. Just as long as Appius thinks we’re going to elope right before my thirty-fifth birthday, nothing else we do will really matter—as long as she doesn’t decide to marry anyone else in that time, that is.”
Bobby sighed. “We can cross that bridge if we come to it. Meanwhile, you just need to be careful.”
“This little guy is going to cramp my style,” Eric chuckled. He and Sookie were facing each other in their bed, and little Ned had planted himself between them so that he could receive petting from both of them.
“You seemed to manage earlier,” Sookie said with a coy smile.
He chuckled. “Yeah—I have to hand it to the little fella. He definitely seemed to know when to make himself scarce.”
“He was probably scared of all the noises you were making,” Sookie smiled shyly as she moved her petting to Eric’s bare chest.
“The noises I was making?”
“What about your noises, Miss Stackhouse?”
“What noises?” she replied with false ignorance, even as a blush spread across her cheeks. In truth, both Eric and she were almost always very noisy when they made love.
“Shall I remind you, min älskare?” Eric asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I think you’d better,” she purred, even as the other purring creature on the bed took the hint and jumped off the bed so that he could further learn his new territory and get away from the earthquake about to happen on the bed.
Appius smiled as he took a puff on his second Cuban cigar of the night. It was a “special occasion,” after all, and he felt like celebrating.
Everything was falling into place perfectly.
He had been relieved to learn that Eric already had an arrangement in place with Isabel Edgington. Appius himself was a big believer that marriages were best when the couple got together based on similar goals, versus antiquated notions of love. The only time he’d ever married for love had ended disastrously. It seemed that Eric was—unwittingly—a chip off the old block in that he recognized that “business-type” marriages were best.
He sighed. Of course, it would be better if Eric were miserable with someone like Freyda, but to live a half-life was the next best thing. It was—after all—the kind of purgatory in which Appius had been forced to live ever since he’d learned of Peder and Stella’s betrayal.
He closed his eyes. They were the two people for whom he would have given his life. Ironically, in the end, he had given up “life” because of them—because of their duplicity.
Whoever said that purgatory was better than hell was a fucking idiot! It was just a different kind of hell—a worse one—for it was close enough to heaven so that Appius knew what he was truly missing.
He took a long swig of his scotch and then opened the bottom drawer of his desk. He reached into the back of the drawer, a trek that his hands had taken so many times over the years that he didn’t even need to look. He pulled a well-worn picture out, but kept it face down on his desk for a moment.
Appius sat back and stared at the yellowed paper, even as he listened to the recording of Eric and Amelia again.
He sighed. Eric was behaving just as Appius wanted him to. Clearly, Eric seemed determined to fulfill their contract, which was all Appius could ask for. And—even better—Eric was on his way to a loveless, empty marriage of convenience.
“It’s what he deserves,” Appius grumbled into the empty room. “Her son doesn’t deserve to know love,” he continued, “because she took love away from me.”
He flipped the picture over and saw the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Even after all these years, it still affected him—still made his throat tight and his eyes burn.
The image had been captured moments after Eric had been born. Appius had cut the cord and then watched in awe as the doctor placed the wiggling boy onto his mother’s chest. Immediately, Eric had stopped squirming and crying and had looked upward to find the sound of his mother’s voice.
Two sets of brilliant blue eyes had locked tenderly together.
That was the moment captured forever on film—the best moment of Appius Northman’s life.
His beloved wife. His beloved son. His future. His happiness. His love. His everything.
His fleeting heaven.
A/N: Well—this chapter required less revision than I thought it would so it’s out ahead of schedule. That means that, despite the grading, I might be able to get one more chapter to you before Wednesday.
Thanks for all the comments and support I got for the last chapter! I appreciate those of you who take the time to remind me that this story is loved, even if it doesn’t have as many followers as my others. Truth be told, as I said in one of my replies, I would write it even if I were the only reader because the story is so close to my heart. And—I know that those of you who are still with me feel the same. And I treasure that fact!
So—that’s it for September. The next chapter will jump to late December-and you know what that means? Yep-that will put us closer to the first chapter of Comfortably Numb. Was that chapter an “act” for Appius’s benefit? Or was it real? I will tell you that it wasn’t a dream. I’ve been getting PM’s asking if I was going to Bobby Ewing you. (Does anyone still know that reference? LOL) I’m not going to do that. I swear! That chapter was not a nightmare that Eric or Sookie was having, but nice try. 😉
That said, I’m not going to answer whether the first chapter was an act or real right now. For that—you’ll have to stay tuned.