Chapter 14: The Best Medicine
When a man asked who it was, Bill made sure that he answered in a strong, deep voice. “Bill Compton,” he said assertively.
Bill could hear muffled voices and light footsteps from inside the house.
“Susanna?” he called out after a few moments, making sure that his voice oozed with the kind of concern he wanted to project to her.
He heard more muffled voices, though he couldn’t make out what was being said.
A moment or two later, the door was opened by a dark-haired man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. It was not Eric Northman.
Bobby appraised Bill Compton in ten seconds flat. The man in front of him was full of hubris and projected confidence, but Bobby speculated that Bill’s posturing was hiding weakness of character. He really didn’t know much about Bill Compton; he’d heard the name only once before from Eric. Bill Compton was Sookie’s ex, and Eric had told Bobby that something had happened between them which had rattled Sookie for a while. And that information alone was enough to make Bobby dislike the man before him.
“Come in, Mr. Compton,” Bobby said, keeping his own expression blank and his tone even. “Sookie has decided to speak to you.”
Bill was thrown off his game—to say the least—by the hawk-like eyes of the man who had opened the door to Adele Stackhouse’s home. He knew that it wasn’t Susanna’s brother; he’d seen Jason Stackhouse before. No—if Bill hadn’t known better, he would have pegged the man before him as a Bureau man. He had the look of someone who’d been an agent for years.
“And you are?” Bill asked as he walked over the threshold.
“A friend of Sookie’s,” the man stated, his voice remaining even and indifferent.
“You mean Susanna?” Bill asked, somewhat confused.
“Hello, Bill,” Susanna said from the door leading toward the dining room. “I never thought I’d see you again.”
Bill immediately turned his gaze from Bobby to Susanna.
“Susanna!” he said excitedly as he took a step toward the woman who’d invaded his thoughts so many times during the two years they’d been apart. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. The first thing that he noticed was that there was a light in her eyes that hadn’t been there before, and she was a little slimmer, though her curves were still apparent. He would have hardened at the anticipation of bedding her if a tower of a man wasn’t standing slightly in front of her: Eric Northman.
Immediately, Bill allowed concern to take over his features. “How are you, darling? When I heard about your grandmother, I came immediately to make sure that you were okay,” he emoted, making sure that his Southern accent was at its most prominent.
“How did you learn of Adele’s passing?” Northman spoke up, his eyes boring into Bill even more than the other man’s had.
Bill took another step forward and reached out his hand toward Eric Northman. “Hello,” he said, “I’m William Compton. I’m a friend of Susanna’s. And you are?”
Northman took a small step forward, though his left hand stayed locked with Susanna’s.
“Eric Northman,” he said, looking down at Bill’s proffered hand but not taking it. “And I’m someone who knows that no friend of Sookie’s calls her Susanna.”
Hearing Bill’s voice outside of Gran’s door had startled Sookie and brought back a lot of unpleasant memories, especially of Lorena coming over to her house and telling her the truth about Bill and his job as a “talent scout” for the FBI.
Sookie had felt crushed at the time—betrayed and alone and empty. Hell! When Bill had rushed to her house after he’d learned of Lorena’s visit, she’d almost taken him back—despite his deception. But she was a different woman now. And even if Eric hadn’t been by her side, she knew that she would never fall for the likes of Bill again.
And that thought made her feel good about herself and the progress she’d made.
Still, Sookie had been afraid that she would feel vulnerable upon seeing Bill—that she’d feel sad or angry or hurt—but, in truth, she felt very little emotion. And it wasn’t as if she was numb either. She knew the feeling of numbness well; it had been the emotion that had dominated her life—until she’d met Eric. No—she was not feeling that kind of empty blankness as she looked at Bill.
She wouldn’t even use the term “ambivalent” to describe her feelings, for they were not mixed in any sense of the word. In fact, she felt indifferent towards Bill—curious about why he was there, but apathetic. After all the pain she’d gone through because of him in the past, she was pleased to find that she simply didn’t care about him or their past anymore.
She’d moved on and was the better for that movement.
And that was when she knew for sure that she’d never really loved Bill Compton at all. Once upon a time, she’d truly believed that he was the best that the world would ever offer her, and that’s why she’d been willing to settle for him. And the Bill Compton she’d been “presented with” hadn’t been a horrible choice either. He’d offered her a sense of stability and some companionship, and she’d been so insecure—so isolated—that his paltry offerings had seemed sufficient. But they weren’t.
The man staring at her with fake empathy—as if she were some kind of trophy to be won—hadn’t even bothered to learn what she liked to be called. And he was supposed to be some kind of fucking spy! By contrast, Eric had discovered her name preference after just a few minutes. And that tiny detail told the whole story in Sookie’s eyes. She tightened her grip on Eric’s hand—not because she was nervous or afraid to speak with Bill, but because she loved Eric and wanted to hold him just that much tighter.
He looked down at her and winked a little. Somehow he seemed to be able to read everything that was going through her head. He could read the “real” her because he too was so “real.”
On the other hand, the Bill she’d met three years before had been only a lie. And the one before her now seemed to be just as much of a lie. But—frankly—she didn’t care. It didn’t seem worth her time to even think about someone like Bill Compton. She smiled a little. She couldn’t wait to tell Claudine of her revelations!
“Susanna,” Bill said, ignoring Eric’s words about her preference of names. “I was hoping to be able to speak with you—in private. I’d like to convey my sympathies about your grandmother and to talk to you—about us,” he finished softly.
For perhaps the first time, Sookie studied Bill’s eyes—instead of his lips—when he spoke to her. Before the night of her second Northman Publishing party—when Eric’s eyes had drawn her in so fully—Sookie had generally focused on people’s lips as they spoke. It was a habit from when she’d had to do so in order to know what they were saying. When she knew Bill, looking into the eyes of a speaker would have been secondary to her—distracting even—for Sookie had been programmed by Michelle to get every word exactly right. Thus, she’d not had the luxury of honing the skill of matching words to eyes.
After Sookie’s confidence had built up a little, she and Claudine had begun to work on Sookie’s eye contact with others. And she’d learned that there was so much to pick up from people’s eyes. Though things had always been different with Eric in that Sookie often couldn’t tear her gaze from his, she’d been slowly making progress in maintaining eye contact with others too.
She couldn’t help but to wonder if what she now saw in Bill’s eyes had always been there. His dark, dodgy orbs conveyed that he had a plan that he was following, a checklist ticking off in his head. They told her that he wanted to try to convince her to believe something—to believe a lie that he thought was the truth. They bespoke of false grief for Gran—false concern for her.
They were eyes that concealed as much as they revealed.
They were eyes that she didn’t trust.
“There will be no private talks between you and Sookie, Mr. Compton,” Eric said with a tone that brooked no argument.
Sookie kept her eyes on Bill, who seemed momentarily taken aback and intimidated by what Sookie knew was “Eric’s no-nonsense work tone.” She couldn’t help but to chuckle a little, and she saw Eric’s lip rise up into a smirk after she did.
Bill pretended to be unfazed. “Surely, Susanna can make up her own mind about whom she wants to see,” he said stiffly—defiantly.
“I already did,” Sookie spoke up, “before you were let in.”
Bill looked at her in question. “Susanna?”
Sookie sighed. “I go by Sookie, Bill. I’ve never liked Susan or Sue or Susanna. I like Sookie.”
“Sookeh?” Bill tried, his old-fashioned accent not quite handling the nickname.
Sookie sighed again, thinking that it might be better if he called her what he wanted if he was just going to butcher her name.
“Bill,” she said, “I have to admit that I’m curious about why you are here and how you knew about Gran, so I’m willing to talk to you, but Eric is not going anywhere.”
Sookie was able to catch both the uncertainly in Bill’s eye and the sneer of his lips.
“Can we get you a drink?” Bobby asked, walking around Bill and going toward the kitchen.
“Thanks, Bobby,” Sookie said. “I forgot my manners. Would you like a drink, Bill? We have beer and iced tea and, of course, water.”
“A beer would be great,” Bill said, keeping his eyes on Susanna—or Sookie if that’s what she wanted to be called now. Bill was excellent at adaptation. It was a part of his job, after all.
“Would you bring it to the living room?” Sookie asked the enigmatic man who had let him in. Bill was glad that he now had a name for him: Bobby.
Bobby patted Susanna’s shoulder as Eric gestured toward the living room. Bill turned and walked that way.
“The house looks different,” Bill commented, hoping to be able to throw Eric Northman off of his game by demonstrating his past knowledge of the dwelling—and, therefore, his history with Susanna. He also hoped to remind Susanna of the time they’d spent together in the house. They’d never made love there—for propriety’s sake—but they had shared a visit with her grandmother. Given the fact that the woman was now dead, that kind of memory wouldn’t be possible for Northman to make with Susanna.
“Yes,” Susanna answered in a low tone. “I’ve been going through everything, figuring out what to save and what to give away.”
Bill turned back toward Northman and Susanna, who had followed him into the room. “Of course,” he said sympathetically. “I’d be happy to help you with that—now that I’m here.”
“Where exactly are you staying?” Northman asked. “I didn’t hear a car pull up.”
“I’m staying right across the cemetery,” Bill said to Susanna, hoping that she would see just how much he wanted to be close to her—to help her.
“In that old mansion?” Susanna asked with interest. “Gran said that place was part of a time-share or something.”
“I’ve rented it so that I can be here—for you,” Bill emphasized.
Susanna smirked, an expression that Bill had never seen on her face before. In fact, she radiated a different kind of energy than he’d seen from her in the past. She was obviously more confident and sure of herself—perhaps because of the man who was taking a seat beside her on the couch.
Bill sighed. Part of him hated that he was going to have to crush Sookie’s new-found spirit by telling her the truth about Eric Northman, but he knew that he would be there for her throughout the fallout. And he’d help her to regain that confidence; only this time, he’d be its cause.
Bobby entered the living room and handed him an unopened bottle of beer. Bill noticed that it wasn’t a twist-off.
“Bobby,” Susanna said with a slight, chastising laugh.
Bobby raised his eyebrow innocently. “Yes?”
“Bobby,” Susanna said again, this time more firmly.
“Fine,” Bobby chuckled, grabbing the beer and quickly opening it before handing it back to Bill.
“Thank you,” Bill said formally, trying not to glare at the rude man.
Ignoring Bill, Bobby looked from Susanna and Northman. “I’ll be outside,” he said in a gentle tone before kissing Susanna on the cheek. “Right outside if you need me.”
“Thanks, Bobby,” Sookie responded. She shook her head a little as she watched the man leave. Northman leaned down and kissed her forehead lightly. Bill cringed slightly at the tenderness he saw between them, but then quickly restored his concerned countenance before Susanna and her current paramour turned to look at him.
“Why are you here, Bill? How did you learn about Gran’s death?” Susanna re-asked her earlier questions after the front door had closed behind the mysterious Bobby.
Bill had managed to avoid those questions twice, and he’d hoped that they wouldn’t be asked again. Looking at Susanna now, he determined that he wouldn’t be able to avoid them. He also decided that partial truth was best given the situation.
“I learned about your dear grandmother’s death only today,” Bill said. “Your mother phoned me. She is concerned about you. And so am I.”
Northman spoke gruffly, “Michelle Stackhouse contacted you?”
Bill looked at Northman. “She knows how much I still care for Sookeh,” he said with sincerity.
“How did she know where you were?” Susanna asked, her voice now a little shaky.
Bill celebrated inside. The emotion in Sookie’s tone indicated that she was beginning to understand just how much he still loved her—just how much he’d do in order to retain a connection to her.
Bill decided to take advantage of that opening. “We’ve kept in touch out of mutual concern for you,” he relayed.
She sighed. “And where does the FBI keep you these days?” Susanna asked.
Bill smiled as he saw that Eric flinched a little at the mention of the FBI. That likely meant that Susanna hadn’t told her current beau about their previous relationship. He enjoyed having the upper hand over the New York businessman.
“Dallas,” Bill responded.
“So you’ve found a new target to seduce?” Susanna asked, her tone suddenly cold.
It was Bill’s turn to flinch. His Susanna would have never been so astringent with her words. Immediately, he hated Northman for his bad influence. But—then again—her tone may also have indicated jealousy; Bill took that as a good sign.
“Susanna—I mean, Sookeh—I swear that it’s not like that. I told my superiors that I would never again allow myself to be put into a situation like what happened to us. I know that what I did was wrong—so wrong—but I was following orders. I didn’t expect to fall in love with you. That’s what I came to tell you, Sookeh. I love you. The two years we’ve spent apart has been torture for me. I want us to try again—to build a life together.”
On his drive from Dallas, Bill had planned for many possible reactions from Susanna once he declared his love for her.
Laughter had not been one of them.
Eric was—just barely—controlling his desire to beat the man sitting across from Sookie and him into the ground. When Bill had said that Michelle Stackhouse had been the one to tell him about Gran, Eric had wanted to send Bobby across town so that he could throttle Sookie’s DNA donor. And when Compton told Sookie that he loved her—with a cloying accent that made her name sound like “Sookeh”—Eric started thinking of places where he could bury the asshole’s body.
Eric wasn’t—not in any way, shape, or form—jealous of the man before him. From what he knew about Sookie and Bill, which admittedly wasn’t much, their relationship had been based on deceit and manipulation. And Bill was obviously trying to manipulate Sookie’s feelings again. That fact alone was enough to make Eric want to snap Bill’s neck. What stopped him was Sookie’s laughter.
“Oh God!” Sookie laughed out, leaning against Eric’s side and squeezing his knee as if she could hardly contain herself. “Bill, you can’t be serious!”
“I assure you, Sookeh, I am,” came Bill’s somewhat affronted reply. Eric couldn’t blame him for being upset. It wasn’t every day that a declaration of love was met with laughter. Of course, Eric was also somewhat envious of Bill on that account. Bill seemed to have no problem proclaiming his love for Sookie, even though his pronouncement was clearly suspect. For his own part, Eric was still afraid to tell Sookie that he loved her out loud—afraid that it would somehow bring the wrath of Appius Northman onto them.
Beside him, Sookie finally got her laughter under control. “You know what? Since you can’t manage to say my name properly, why don’t you just call me Susanna?” she said with a snicker.
Eric could feel himself literally radiating with pride for Sookie. Not only was she standing up for herself, but she also seemed like she was ready to let Bill have it. And Eric was content to sit back and enjoy the “Sookie Show.”
Bill, however, seemed a bit clueless, and though his shoulders had slumped, he soldiered on. “Susanna, what we had—what we could have again—is too precious to waste.”
“Precious?” Sookie asked incredulously even as she shook her head. “Bill, let me remind you of some facts that you have obviously decided don’t matter. Our whole relationship was based on a lie. Everything you ever told me was a lie, and—worst of all—you never had any intention of telling me the truth! In fact, I would have never known anything if your unhinged lover, Lorena, hadn’t sought me out. But you know what? I’m extremely thankful that she did. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have the life I have right now.” She sat up a little straighter—a little prouder. “I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”
Eric smiled a little and bent over to brush a kiss onto Sookie’s forehead. She looked at him, and as soon as their eyes met, Eric could see the pride that Sookie now had in herself. She’d never been more beautiful to him. Unable to help himself, he kissed her forehead again.
Bill interrupted the tender moment between them with his truly hideous accent. “Sookeh—Susanna, I know that I hurt you in the past, and I’m willing to spend the rest of our lives making that up to you if I have to. I just want the chance to prove myself to you, sweetheart. But,” he glared at Eric, “even if you can’t forgive me, you need to know that the man you are with now is not who you think he is.”
Sookie suddenly radiated anger as she squeezed Eric’s hand. “And who is he, Bill?” she demanded, her tone now icy.
“When Michelle told me whom you were with, I looked into his background,” Bill said, his voice oozing concern that Eric could tell was fake. Again, Eric wanted to throttle Bill, but he knew that it would be more satisfying to watch him dig his own grave.
“Why would you do that?” Sookie asked.
“Because I still love you. Because I want to protect you from the likes of him. Because you deserve to know the truth about him.”
A/N: Hello! I’m happy to be back to Touch the Flame for the week! I’m not sure how many chapters I’ll get you this week, but I’ll try for at least a couple more. I’ll be editing during grading breaks though b/c I’ve got another busy week.
Thanks to all who continue to follow this story. And a special thanks to all who take the time to comment. I love hearing what you have to say! Especially in high-stress weeks like this one, I get a lot of positive energy from you all!
Until next time,