Chapter 07: Coming Through in Waves
There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move
But I can’t hear what you’re saying—Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”
Eric had decided to take a taxi to the office so that he could look over his report about NP’s partnership with Guangzhou Press one last time. Luckily, Liang and Guo had been willing to help him move a few publications along a bit more quickly than previously planned, and the government grant had come through to offset the price of printing most of the books. Eric hoped that these things would appease Appius; however, the realist in him knew that his father would find plenty of things to criticize.
Of course, Eric knew that the contract he’d signed with Appius would prevent the older man from interfering with his division too much, especially given the success of that division. But that didn’t mean that Appius wouldn’t do all he could to make Eric’s life miserable for the next hour or two.
Eric ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes.
“Hard day?” his taxi driver asked in a thick accent that sounded Indian.
“Not so far,” Eric answered congenially. “But I expect the next few hours to be difficult.”
The driver nodded and then went back to weaving in and out of traffic. Eric made a note of the driver’s name. He had a couple particular drivers in town that he always called first if he needed a taxi. Months before, Eric had stopped driving his car to work, given the fact that he feared Appius might try to place some kind of surveillance device on it too. Thalia had checked the vehicle over thoroughly more than once, but Eric didn’t want to take any chances.
Plus, the taxi drivers he used seemed to count on him tipping well, and he counted on them to offer the perfect mix of conversation, silence, and efficiency. With the holidays, neither of his usual taxi drivers had been available that morning, and he was thankful that he’d lucked out with someone who didn’t want to carry on a lengthy conversation.
He sat back and closed his eyes. He couldn’t help the little smile that tugged on his lips as he recalled his Christmas night with Sookie. Despite the untimely work Appius had given him to do, Eric hadn’t let it ruin his and Sookie’s first Christmas together. As they’d cooked their dinner together, they’d discussed Eric’s time at Appius’s house earlier that day, getting the bad parts out of the way first—before dropping the subject of Appius entirely and focusing on Eric’s time with his brothers and sisters.
Then they’d eaten in the kitchen before exchanging stockings by the fireplace in the “man-cave.” The smile on Eric’s lips etched deeper into his face. It had been the first stocking that he remembered receiving, and Sookie had filled it to the brim.
She’d given him both practical things and fun things. The practical had included the beautiful amber cufflinks he was wearing even then. She’d also gotten him a protective case for his phone—something called an “otter box”—so that no more “breaking incidents” would occur. She’d added a few Xbox games and some books they’d discussed reading together. However, the highlight had been something red and lacy, which Sookie modeled for him—while she was wearing a Santa hat and red high heels. The thought of her in that outfit made him have to adjust himself a bit.
Of course, the best Christmas present had been what was inside of that negligee. And it hadn’t even been the sex that he got that night—though it had been pretty damned epic—that had been the best thing. It had been everything that came in the package called Sookie. And—because of her—he’d “felt” Christmas for the first time.
For his part, Eric had had a lot of fun filling Sookie’s stocking. Having learned of Sookie’s love for scarves—both for warmth and to accent an outfit—he had gotten Sookie two for her stocking. One was a hand-painted silk scarf in various shades of blue, which reminded Eric of Sookie’s eyes. The other was a soft cashmere scarf which would complement her new coat. He’d added a Kindle, which had earned him many kisses. He’d kept the jewelry that he gave her to a minimum so that he wouldn’t get into too much trouble, but—in the museum one day—he’d discovered her love of yellow gems, so he’d gotten her a pair of yellow diamond drop earrings that were relatively modest in their karat count. Of course, those drew one of Sookie’s “looks,” but he realized that he wasn’t in too much trouble when he got several kisses for the earrings too.
His smile broadened again. She’d modeled those earrings for him just the night before. And, given the fact that he had been weary from spending all day on the report now in his hands, seeing her in that jewelry—and nothing else—had certainly been a treat!
“Here we are, sir,” the taxi driver said, tearing Eric from his reverie as he came to a quick stop in front of Northman Tower. Eric handed the driver the fare plus a good tip and then steeled himself mentally as he went into the building to face Appius.
Eric had been asked to arrive at noon, which was a common time for his meetings with Appius. Appius enjoyed eating during his meetings with Eric. He always ate at a leisurely pace—looking only half interested as he thumbed through whatever report he was requiring from Eric that day.
Of course, Eric was never asked to partake in any food. In fact, Appius always began their meetings with the same words: “I assume you’ve already eaten.”
It was just one more thing that made Appius an ass in Eric’s eyes—another tactic that he’d used to hurt Eric. Now—after months with Sookie and months in therapy with Claudine—Eric had learned not to allow Appius’s small machinations to affect him. After all, in the grand scheme of things—the scheme that included only Sookie and their true “family”—Appius no longer mattered.
Eric took a deep breath as he studied the others in Appius’s office.
That day, Neave, Lochlan, and Andre were also attending the meeting, and they all scoured through Eric’s report as he sat and waited patiently for the inevitable berating to begin. Thankfully, he had his own private copyeditor at home, so he knew there were no typos in the quickly-constructed report.
Fifty-five minutes after Eric had arrived, Appius had a list of things for him to “deal with.”
As he always did, Eric bore the brunt of Appius’s derisive criticism with forbearance and somehow kept his tone even and matter-of-fact when answering questions.
But Eric’s cool was broken when his phone chimed. As always, Eric had set his iPhone to be silent during his meeting with Appius; however, there was one exception who could interrupt him any time: Sookie. Of course, Eric always kept her informed of when he was meeting with Appius, and she had never contacted him during those times. But he felt better knowing that she could—if she ever really needed to.
He took a deep breath. He’d left her only ninety minutes before and knew that she wouldn’t have contacted him unless it was an emergency.
His phone chimed a second time.
“I hope we aren’t keeping you from something you interpret as more important,” Appius sneered.
Eric took in his father’s baleful glare and made a quick decision. In a choice between Sookie and Appius, there would only ever be one option. He reached into his pocket for his phone.
There were two texts from her.
The first one broke his heart just as it must have broken Sookie’s as she’d typed it: “Gran’s had a massive heart attack and isn’t expected to live. The doctors told me to come as fast as I could.”
The second read, “A flight leaves from LaGuardia in eighty minutes.”
As he was reading that message, he received a third. “Come later.”
Eric found that he was already on his feet and moving toward the door. There was no way that he was going to wait; if Sookie was leaving town in eighty minutes, he would be too.
“Where the fuck are you going?” Appius stormed. “This meeting is not over!”
“Yes it is,” Eric said.
“I said—this meeting is not over until I say it is!” Appius snarled.
Eric turned around to face the man whose DNA made up half of his own. “You’re welcome to berate and to critique me later, Father. But for now, we’re done here.” Eric barely registered the surprise on Appius’s face before he left the office and sprinted to the elevator, his phone already in his hand. He texted Bobby for a ride and was happy when his friend indicated that he was only five minutes away. Eric knew that if there was anyone in Manhattan who could get him to LaGuardia through traffic, it was Bobby.
As soon as he was outside the building and away from its “ears,” he called Sookie.
“Eric,” she said his name like a prayer when she answered. “Gran—she’s dying.”
Eric could tell that Sookie was obviously trying to hold herself together, but was having a difficult time doing so.
“I have to go to Louisiana,” she said.
“I know. Me too,” he replied.
He heard something that sounded like a cross between a sigh and a sob from her. “You’re coming?”
“Of course, min älskade. Do you know the flight number?”
He heard her sobbing softly, and then he heard Pam’s voice on the line.
“Eric,” Pam said in a strained tone, “Blake’s driving us over to LaGuardia with his siren on so that Sookie can be sure to make the flight. It’s United 1748. It leaves at 3:05 p.m. and connects in Atlanta. It’ll have Sookie in Shreveport in seven and a half hours. It was the shortest duration I could find,” she almost growled.
“How many tickets did you get?” Eric asked, even as Bobby pulled up to the curb and Eric quickly got into the car.
“Two,” Pam said. “Sookie told me to hold off on getting you one since you were in your meeting, but I didn’t listen.” Her voice lowered. “She only texted you when I threatened to take the phone from her and do it myself.”
Eric closed his eyes. It was like Sookie—so like her—to think of him before herself, even in a time of tragedy, but he wasn’t going to let her do that. It was his job to think of her first—to put her first. Always. And he was going to do that job in any way he could.
Pam went on. “I packed you a small bag, and I got you a ticket—if you can get to LaGuardia on time.”
Eric held on as Bobby wove his way around the street. “I’ll be there,” he said. “Bobby’s driving me. Tell Sookie that I’ll see her soon.”
“Okay,” Pam said as he disconnected the call.
“Sookie okay?” Bobby asked, sensing that something was very wrong.
“No,” Eric responded. “It’s Gran. She’s had a massive heart attack.” He looked at his friend. “The doctors don’t think she’s going to make it.”
“Shit,” Bobby said with a sigh. He glanced in his rearview mirror.
“Is he back there?” Eric asked. He’d seen one of the Berts following them from NP.
Bobby shook his head. “Not any more. The Bert was on us longer than I would have expected though. They’re getting a little better.”
“But you lost him?” Eric asked to make sure.
“Oh yeah,” Bobby said with a hint of a smirk on his face. “A little better doesn’t mean that they’re any good.”
“Does your great-uncle still have his Leer Jet at LaGuardia?” Eric asked pensively. “The commercial flight won’t put us at the hospital for more than nine hours from now,” he said worriedly. “I’m afraid that won’t be enough time.”
“Uncle Niall—yeah. And—before you ask—yes.”
Bobby whipped out his phone and made a call, even as he continued to zigzag through the traffic with ease. Within minutes, Eric was calling back Pam and telling her that there was a change of plans and that Niall’s private plane could take them straight to Shreveport and that it could be wheels up within fifteen minutes of his and Sookie’s arrival.
When Eric got off the phone with his sister, he looked at Bobby.
“Thank you,” Eric said.
“Don’t mention it. I’m just glad that Uncle Niall keeps his employees on retainer so that he can justify giving them fulltime salaries. The pilot and copilot live only ten minutes from LaGuardia and will beat us there.” Bobby smiled. “They’re a husband and wife team. The jet is being prepped right now; there won’t be a stewardess, but who the fuck cares.”
“Thanks,” Eric said again. “And please thank Niall too.”
Bobby shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Uncle Niall hardly ever uses the plane anymore, and he’s told me and the Claudes that we can use it whenever we want.”
Eric nodded and closed his eyes. He wished he could send Sookie his strength in that moment—wished it with every fiber of his being. But he couldn’t.
“We’ll be there soon,” Bobby said, patting Eric’s forearm. He didn’t say anything else, but Eric could feel the car speed up a little, though he kept his eyes closed. In that moment, Eric appreciated Bobby more than ever before.
As it turned out, due to his skillful—and probably highly illegal—driving, Bobby was able to beat Blake to LaGuardia’s hangars for private planes by about five minutes. Thus, by the time Eric saw Blake’s car pull up, the pilot had already filed their emergency flight plan, and Bobby had already convinced Eric that it would be best if he came too. Bobby had grabbed his duffle bag, which held his gym clothes, and was talking to the copilot when Blake pulled up next to a pacing Eric.
Moments later, Eric was doing exactly what his body had been aching to do for the last thirty-three minutes: holding his Sookie.
Fifty minutes earlier
Sookie was taking the last batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven when her cell phone rang? Thinking it was likely Amelia or Claudine, she answered without looking at the caller ID.
“Is this Sookie Stackhouse?” came a female voice she didn’t recognize.
“Yes? Can I ask who’s calling?”
There was a sigh. “My name’s Halleigh Robinson, and I’m a nurse at the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport.”
Immediately, Sookie’s mind began to move a mile a minute. “Gran,” she whispered.
“Yes,” the compassionate voice confirmed. “Your grandmother, Adele Stackhouse, is my patient.”
“Adele called 9-1-1 early this morning—around 4:00 a.m. An ambulance was dispatched immediately, but given the woman’s rural location, it took ten minutes to reach her.” There was another sigh. “By the time paramedics got there, Adele’s condition was critical; she’d suffered a massive heart attack.”
“Oh my God,” Sookie said, her hand shaking so much that she could barely hold the phone.
Halleigh went on. “The ambulance brought her straight to LSU Med since the hospital in Monroe doesn’t have the facilities to treat her. The trip to Shreveport took forty minutes, and your grandmother’s heart stopped two times along the way, but the paramedics were able to restart it. Immediately upon getting to the hospital, Adele was rushed to emergency surgery, but she was too weak for the length of procedure that was needed to make all the necessary repairs.” She paused. “But they stabilized her the best they could. She’s in ICU right now, and if Adele improves, her doctors are gonna try the surgery again in 24 hours.”
“So she’s alive?” Sookie asked, with a flicker of hope in her voice.
“Yes,” Halleigh responded. “I’m Adele’s primary nurse in the ICU, and I recognized the name ‘Stackhouse’ since I’ve been dating a police officer from Bon Temps. I called my boyfriend, Andy Bellefleur, and he—in turn—called Jason Stackhouse. Is that your brother?”
“Yes,” Sookie whispered.
“Well. He arrived with his mother—your mother—right as Adele was getting out of surgery.” Halleigh’s tone was contrite as she went on. “I apologize for not calling you sooner, Sookie, but I figured your family would take care of all the necessary notifications. But then Adele woke up for a little while about fifteen minutes ago, and she asked for you. She even gave me your phone number.” She paused. “Adele asked that I call you personally and not leave it up to your brother.”
“Thank you,” Sookie said weakly, even as she sank down to the kitchen floor. Immediately Ned was next to her, rubbing her free hand and trying to offer comfort. Sookie gathered him onto her lap, thankful for his warmth.
“Your grandmother’s very weak, but it’s obvious that she’s hanging on for something,” Halleigh said softly. “I think she’s hanging on to see you.”
Sookie let out a sob. “Is she going to die?” she asked.
Halleigh sighed. “The doctor will tell you more, but,” she paused, “I really think you need to get here as soon as you can, Sookie. She’s stable—for now—but even if she’s strong enough for the surgery tomorrow, it’s very dangerous.”
Sookie began to weep outright, and it was at that moment that Pam walked into the room, a pizza in hand. Since Eric had his meeting, the two had planned to eat lunch and watch a chick flick.
“Sookie!” Pam gasped, quickly putting the pizza down on the counter and crouching next to her friend. “What’s wrong?”
Sookie couldn’t speak, so she handed Pam the phone.
“Who’s this?” Pam asked.
As Halleigh relayed the information to Pam about Gran, tears began to gather in Pam’s eyes, but she wiped them away before they fell.
“What’s the prognosis?” she asked.
There was a pause.
“I understand,” Pam said. “If Adele wakes up again, tell her that Sookie is on her way—just as quickly as possible.”
Pam felt as if she’d been hit in the stomach. Adele, the vibrant, beautiful woman who had become like a third grandmother to her, would likely be dead within the next twenty-four hours. In disbelief, she stared at the phone for a moment and then took in the form of her sobbing friend.
Pam shook her head, promising herself that she would call Amelia and cry for her loved one as soon as she got Sookie on a plane, preferably with her brother.
“I’ll call Eric,” she said, beginning to dial Sookie’s phone.
“No!” Sookie said quickly. “His meeting—with Appius.”
“Sookie,” Pam said softly, “you need him, and he’d want to be with you.”
“No,” Sookie cried out, taking the phone from her. “Please.” She looked up at Pam. “Can you help me get tickets? I don’t think I can . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“Don’t worry, Sookie,” Pam assured. She pulled out her own phone and immediately called Henry. After giving him a thirty second version of what was happening and asking if someone could give them a ride to the airport once they made arrangements, she called an old girlfriend, who was a travel agent.
Soon—two tickets to Shreveport via Atlanta were purchased for Sookie and Eric.
Next, Pam texted Bobby, telling him to be ready to pick up Eric from NP if he called and promising him details later.
All Sookie wanted to do was to collapse into Eric’s arms, but—knowing where he was—she couldn’t let herself call him. So she concentrated on staying on her feet as Pam whirled around her making plans and packing bags. Soon after, Henry and Blake joined Pam. And before Sookie knew it, she was in Blake’s car, speeding toward LaGuardia.
She concentrated on remaining numb; it was either that or fall apart.
“Text Eric!” Pam ordered, breaking Sookie out of her trance-like state.
“I can’t,” she whimpered.
“Either you do it, or I will,” Pam warned.
“I can’t,” Sookie repeated, her expression a mixture of stubbornness and despair.
Pam’s voice was softer. “Eric might be out of his meeting already. And—either way—he’d want to know as soon as possible. He loves Gran too. Just do it—please. My call won’t go through if he’s in a meeting.”
“Okay,” Sookie responded wearily. She barely contained her tears as she typed three messages into the phone. The first alerted Eric to the fact that Gran was likely dying. The second informed him that she was taking off as soon as she could from LaGuardia. The third asked him to come later if he could.
Her phone ringing again shook Sookie to the very core. She feared it might be the nurse—telling her Gran had died—but seeing Eric’s number, her heart leapt.
For all the money in the world, she couldn’t have retold Eric’s words to her, but as soon as she heard his voice, she suddenly “felt” again and knew that if she could just hold on for a little while longer, he would take care of her and everything else.
When she could no longer talk, Pam took the phone, and Sookie closed her eyes. She’d picked up only one thing from her conversation with Eric: he was coming.
Sookie felt Pam’s hand take hers, and she was grateful for the comfort.
“Ned,” Sookie said, trying to think about practical things for a moment.
“Don’t worry. Amelia is going over to your house now. She’ll check on Ned. I’ll even take him for a while if need be.”
Sookie opened her eyes and looked at Pam skeptically.
“What?” Pam asked with a smirk. “It’s not like I’d kill him or anything. I’ll just make sure he doesn’t get into my closet.”
Sookie found herself smiling a little and marveled at the fact that she could still do that. “Thank you, Pam.”
Pam squeezed her hand.
Sookie gave her friend a little nod and then closed her eyes again. She concentrated on the sound of the siren in Blake’s unmarked police car. No one spoke for a little while—until Pam answered Eric’s call and then relayed the information about the changed flight plans.
Sookie said a prayer of thanksgiving for both Eric and Bobby. Because they’d be able to take Bobby’s great-uncle’s jet, Eric and she would be in Shreveport in fewer than four hours, rather than almost nine. Something inside of Sookie told her that she might not be able to spare the five hours that taking the commercial flight would have added onto her trip.
Despite that sobering thought, Sookie steeled herself, telling herself that she needed to hold it together for just a few more minutes—until she could collapse into Eric. Thankfully, Blake got them through the security gate that led to the hangar quickly, and Sookie let out a deep sigh of relief as she saw the man that she loved already waiting for her.
And then—in the next moment—he was holding her, and then holding her up, and then picking her up.
“I have you,” he promised. “I have you.”
She believed him.
“Well—where the fuck is he!” Appius demanded.
“I lost him,” Sigebert admitted.
“Find him!” Appius yelled, before hanging up the phone.
“I need to know why he left here like he did,” Appius seethed in Andre’s direction. “He looked like someone had died.” Appius raked his fingers through his hair in a jerking motion. “I didn’t think that he cared about anything that much—except for maybe that cunt, Elsa Larsson!”
Andre smiled. “Maybe she died.”
“I only hope for such luck!” Appius sneered. “Whatever it was upset him more than I’ve seen him upset since he was a fucking child! And I want to know if I can use it against him!”
Andre nodded. “Don’t worry, my love,” he said as he took Appius’s hand in his. “I’ll find out what he’s up to.”
Appius leaned into his lover and allowed himself to be comforted in Andre’s embrace for a moment before he stood up straight again and walked over to the window. He took in the view he’d seen thousands of times—the little kingdom he’d carved out for himself.
He contemplated what he’d just seen from his eldest son. From the time he was eight or so, Eric had been a stoic son of a bitch—harder for Appius to rattle than anyone he’d ever come into contact with. But Appius still knew how to pull Eric’s strings to the point where he’d get a reaction most of the time.
However—he had to hand it to Eric. The boy knew how to keep his emotions close to the vest. The six-year-old child who’d cried in his room when he came home for the winter holiday was long gone, though Appius still hoped to see more of his son’s tears. He’d just not found the perfect formula for eliciting them in a very long time—too long.
But—then again—he’d never seen Eric as he’d been today. Never in the six years Eric had been working at Northman’s Publishing had he taken a call or even checked his phone in Appius’s presence. But today, three texts had sent him shooting out the door.
Appius had watched the surveillance footage of Eric literally sprinting through the building. And then Eric’s bastard lawyer Burnham had picked him up.
Appius closed his eyes and remembered Eric’s look as he’d checked his phone. It had started with shock, but immediately had transformed to concern—concern with a touch of grief. That made Appius doubt that Eric’s maternal grandmother had died. No. Eric’s had been a look of worrying and planning. It had been a look of powerlessness even amidst the mustering of strength. It had been a look of longing and suffering.
But on someone else’s behalf.
Appius knew that look. He’d seen it in the mirror every single day when his beloved Stella lay dying of cancer.
He turned around and faced Andre. “Eric’s in love,” Appius said with certainty. “Find out with whom—because I know that it’s not Isabel or Amelia. Call in Franklin Mott to help.”
Andre nodded sinisterly as he dialed his phone.
A/N: Well—I’m back! Thanks for all the continued support of this story!
That said, I probably need to duck. I’m sorry about what I’m doing to Gran; I really am. I didn’t set out to do it. It was my muse (the evil b*tch). I love Gran too, but this is the story that came out of me.
I’m going to try to get you two more chapters this week. As before, I have a stack of papers to grade, and my carpal tunnel is threatening to flare up, so we’ll see. But two more is my goal.
P.S. I hope you don’t hate me too much.