Chapter 19: Performing Brave
“We become just by performing just action, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave action.”—Aristotle
Last Time: One of the last people to approach the casket looked at Sookie a little bit too long for Eric’s comfort; in fact, once Eric noticed the man, he realized that he seemed to be studying everything too much, and his expression didn’t look like it belonged at a funeral. Eric’s neck hairs immediately stood on end, and every instinct he had told him to get Sookie away from the man.
Eric caught Bobby’s eye; then he subtly gestured toward the stranger. Understanding immediately what Eric wanted, Bobby nodded and subtly pulled his phone out of his pocket. He turned on the video and held his phone so that no one would be able to tell he was filming. It wasn’t long before he captured the mystery man’s image.
[Friday, January 11, 2013 (one week and one day after the previous chapter)]
Bobby had to hand it to Eric. His friend’s hunch about the bad intentions of the mystery man at the funeral had been right—though Bobby wished the situation had proven otherwise.
While Bobby had been carefully making sure that the more obvious threats to the secrecy of Eric and Sookie’s relationship—Bill, Michelle, and Jason—remained silent, the real threat had slipped in right under his nose, with only Eric catching a whiff of him.
“Son of a bitch,” Bobby cursed to himself as he disposed of his cigarette. Needless to say, his New Year’s resolution to stop smoking wasn’t going well.
It had taken him a little more than a week to discover the identity of the mystery man at the funeral, and that right there had been enough to tell Bobby how cunning the man was. He ran his hand through his hair nervously as he walked into Carmichael Tower.
He had bad news to give, and he didn’t want to give it.
Eric could tell that there was something wrong with Bobby as soon as he saw him.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Where’s Sookie?” Bobby responded, answering Eric’s question with one of his own.
“She, Pam, and Amelia are looking through Sookie’s wardrobe to decide what she’s going to wear to the MET tomorrow night.”
“For the Northman Publishing party,” Bobby said, closing his eyes as if in a little pain.
“What’s wrong?” Eric asked again—this time more forcefully.
Bobby sighed. “Get Sookie. I’ll tell you both at once.”
Eric narrowed his eyes, but did as Bobby asked. He found a smiling Sookie sitting on the little ottoman in their closet. Her profile was to him. She was watching Pam and Amelia with great amusement. Ned was lying on her lap and watching the two women as well. From what Eric could tell, Pam and Amelia were quarreling passionately over what shoes Sookie should wear the next night. Pam was arguing that Sookie should borrow her black Louboutins. But Amelia countered that such expensive shoes would surely attract questions.
Eric leaned against the closest door and enjoyed the show for a moment. Despite his worry over Bobby’s behavior—or maybe because of it—he stayed quiet and focused on Sookie. It was Ned who gave away his presence with a loud meow.
Sookie turned to him, and her smile immediately fell as she recognized his concern.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Eric sighed. “I don’t know. But Bobby’s here, and he’s not,” he paused, “Bobby-like. He looks like he’s about to get a root canal.”
Pam looked at Eric with immediate concern in her eyes as well. “Is he okay?”
Still holding Ned, Sookie got up, even as Eric shrugged in answer to Pam’s question. He took Sookie’s free hand and led her toward the kitchen, where he’d seen Bobby going. Bobby was downing a shot of tequila as they walked in.
“Bobby?” Eric asked.
“Let’s go to the lounge,” Bobby requested.
“You know I hate that room,” Eric said quietly.
“I do too,” Bobby replied, his voice also low. He poured and quickly drank another shot before leading Eric and Sookie to the gray lounge. By then Amelia and Pam had caught up with them.
“Can we stay?” Pam asked, taking in Bobby’s look and immediately knowing something was wrong.
Bobby nodded and sank heavily onto the couch.
“What the fuck is going on?” Eric asked impatiently as he and Sookie sat on the opposite side of the room.
Bobby sighed. “Franklin Mott.”
“Who’s Franklin Mott?” Sookie asked.
Bobby ran his hand through his hair, and Sookie suddenly realized that he had some gray in it. The thought that it might be new worried her.
“He’s a private detective by trade—a good one, though unscrupulous.” He looked at Eric. “He was the man you noticed at the funeral.”
“Hired by my father?” Eric asked with barely controlled rage and a hint of fear.
“Yes,” Bobby answered. “I found a trail between Mott and Andre.”
Eric sighed deeply even as he placed an arm protectively around Sookie. It was an unconscious motion for him—an automatic response to danger.
“What now?” Pam asked.
“We have to assume that Appius knows about Sookie and Eric’s relationship,” Bobby answered regretfully. “Mott was at Adele’s funeral and saw Eric and Sookie together; he could have no doubts about their closeness,”
“I’m so sorry,” Sookie said in a small voice.
Eric pulled her even closer. “No, Sookie. There is nothing for you to be sorry about. Nothing.”
Her eyes brightened by unshed tears, Sookie looked up at him. Her eyes told him of all kinds of things that she was thinking—all of them negative things about herself. He could see that she blamed herself for their being caught by Appius. He could tell that she felt that her weakness—her need to have him near—was what had led to their being discovered. He knew that self-blame was always her kneejerk reaction to issues where she should feel little or no guilt—just as his first reaction to such situations was trying to stifle and evade his feelings. They had both been working to “change the narrative,” as Claudine liked to say.
Eric leaned toward her and gently kissed her forehead. “No, Sookie,” he repeated gently. “Change the narrative,” he whispered so that only she could hear. “None of this is your fault. Even if you hadn’t needed me there, I would have needed to be there with you.”
Sookie stifled a sob but nodded in acceptance. He watched as she took several deep breaths; he knew that she was thinking about her counseling sessions with Claudine. He kept looking at her and recognized the moment when she banished her guilt as the expression in her eyes changed from regret to resolution. He kissed her forehead again, feeling his pride and awe and love for her grow even more.
She gave him a little smile and a nod, signaling that she had—indeed—”changed the narrative.”
Eric squeezed her hand. “What’s your assessment of the situation?” he asked, changing his focus to Bobby.
Bobby shook his head. “I don’t know how Franklin found you in Bon Temps, given the fact that you and Sookie took the private plane, but we have to operate under the assumption that Appius knows you were deceiving him at least part of last week when you were pretending to be sick in Manhattan.”
“So he knows I helped,” Pam observed, sitting down heavily next to Bobby.
Bobby nodded. “Even if he’s not certain, Appius will be greatly suspicious of your actions from now on. He might believe that Eric was deceiving you as well, but it’s more likely that he will hypothesize that you and Amelia are both complicit in the situation.”
“He’ll also suspect that we are aware of his bug then,” Eric said.
Bobby nodded again. “Maybe. The last time that we staged something for him to hear, however, was on December 30. Mott would have seen you at the funeral on January 3, so it is possible that Appius won’t know that we are aware of the bug and have been using it all along to feed him false information. It is also possible that Appius will think that you are in relationships with Amelia, Isabel, and Sookie, but . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“But if Mott is any good at his job,” Eric continued and then stopped suddenly. He looked at Bobby with concern. “Appius already knows!”
“Knows what?” Sookie asked both Eric and Bobby.
“Likely, Mott will have already told Appius how much Eric loves you,” Bobby supplied simply.
“So that means that Appius will already be working on ways to hurt Eric by using me,” Sookie stated matter-of-factly, leaning her head against Eric’s shoulder.
“Yes,” Bobby said softly. “That’s what we have to assume.”
Everyone was silent for several moments.
“I got a call from Bill Compton late last night,” Bobby said.
“Bill?” Sookie stammered.
“What did he want?” Eric asked.
“Surprisingly enough—to help. He gave me the heads-up that someone had asked him about Sookie. When I texted him the footage of Mott from the funeral, he confirmed that it was the same man who had paid him a visit. He also ran Mott’s prints—from a glass Mott used at the bar where he approached Bill. That was how I confirmed who Mott was. Compton said that he didn’t say much in answer to Mott’s questions—though he did indicate that he’d been involved with Sookie in the past. However, Compton told me that Mott seemed to know quite a bit about Sookie already.”
Sookie sighed deeply. “So he likely talked to my mother. She would have been the one to tell him about Bill.”
Bobby nodded. “I think we have to assume that.”
Sookie gasped. “Oh no!”
“What?” Eric asked, his concern growing.
“Tara! When I talked to her a couple of days ago, she told me that she’d met a man in Bon Temps—a man named Franklin. She said that he’d sort of swept her off of her feet,” Sookie reported. She sighed loudly. “She also said that he was great because he was so easy to talk to.”
Eric frowned. “Would this Mott hurt Tara?”
Bobby shrugged. “I doubt it. I’d imagine that he’s done with her by now.”
“Make sure,” Eric said stiffly.
Eric threaded his fingers with Sookie’s as everyone looked at him—looked to him for what to do next.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, he was looking right at Sookie. “We knew Appius would find out about us eventually,” Eric said softly. “And this changes nothing in regards to what I want. Does it change things for you?” he asked nervously.
“No,” she responded immediately.
“Good,” he sighed with relief. “He’ll try to break us up—to break us—once he learns that I’m going to break the contract on my thirty-fifth birthday.”
“He won’t succeed,” Sookie vowed.
“If Mott has talked to your mother, Appius may know all about you—your past.”
“He won’t know the important things,” Sookie said squeezing his hand.
“Still—Appius will try to use your mother to hurt you,” Eric said.
Sookie sighed. “Yes. But I’m not going to let her maliciousness and spite injure me anymore.”
The couple shared a brief kiss and looked at each other—Eric gauging whether Sookie was as resolved as she seemed to be and Sookie letting Eric know that she was going to stand by his side through anything that came their way.
Bobby cleared his throat. “If my hunch is correct, Appius may be planning to do something tomorrow—at the party.”
Eric nodded. “Agreed. He will have found out that Sookie works at Northman Publishing.”
“You were planning to take Isabel to the party?” Bobby asked.
Eric nodded. “I was. But not anymore.” He was still looking at Sookie. “It’s time I stopped being afraid of my father. So I’ll be taking the woman I’m going to marry—if she’ll go with me.”
“She’ll go with you,” Sookie nodded, even though her voice quivered a little.
“Good! Then she borrows my shoes!” Pam announced triumphantly.
A/N: Hello all! Sorry this chapter is a bit shorter than usual, but it was a necessary transition. I appreciate everyone who is sticking with this story and commenting upon it! I’m hoping there aren’t proofreading errors, given the fact that I rushed this one out a bit; I wanted to get you a third chapter this week.
Up next in this story? January 12, 2013. Do you remember how Comfortably Numb began? Well—guess what. In the chapters I’m planning for the next cycle, we’ll see what leads up to that scene. Many of you have speculated that Eric and Sookie were putting on an act to fool Appius. Soon you’ll know.