Chapter 20: Past, Future, Now
“Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.”—Denis Waitley
Previously: 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.
Pam and Amelia had insisted upon taking Sookie shopping on Saturday morning, and Eric had insisted that Sookie take his credit card. He’d argued that the only reason why Sookie would be under intense scrutiny that night was because she would be arriving on Eric’s arm.
Sookie hadn’t argued. After all, they were now “together,” and that meant that all of their possessions—or lack thereof—were shared. Plus, Sookie knew that Eric would feel better if he could buy her dress, and he was already tense enough.
The dress that Sookie had ended up with was what Pam had called “couture chic.” Horizontal strips of black prints and nude fabric the exact color of Sookie’s skin created the shell of the dress. A few curved vertical lines crossed those strips on the bodice to create a slimming effect.
When Sookie had seen the dress on the stick-thin mannequin, she’d thought that there was no way in hell the garment would look good on her, but both Pam and Amelia had insisted that she try it on.
Judging from the dropped jaw of her normally composed man, she’d made the right choice.
Sookie grinned and stepped toward Eric to straighten his tie. “Don’t drool, Mr. Northman. You don’t have time to change your shirt.”
Of course, she had to remind herself not to drool too; after all, he looked mouth-wateringly good in his tux.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said softly, as the backs of his fingers grazed lightly over her bare shoulders. “And so tall,” he added with a little smirk as he looked down at the 4-inch heels she was wearing.
She giggled. “Even in these, you have more than half a foot on me.”
He kissed her forehead and then his expression sobered. “Are you ready?”
She nodded in affirmation and hooked her arm around his.
While Sookie had been shopping with Pam and Amelia, Eric had “chaired” a meeting with Bobby, Henry, Blake, and Thalia. After he and Bobby had gotten the others caught up on Franklin Mott, Eric asked them what they thought about his idea of hiring a guard to stay with Sookie when she wasn’t at home.
Sookie hadn’t liked the idea, nor had she felt that a guard was needed. However, Eric had convinced her that if an ex-Navy SEAL, a current NYPD detective, an ex-Navy surveillance specialist, and Bobby agreed with him, she’d accept the guard—at least for the short-term.
In truth, Eric didn’t even know if a guard was needed. Appius had never been violent before—as far as Eric knew. No—Appius had only ever hurt Eric using emotional and mental cruelty. However, Appius’s goal always seemed to be the removal of those things that Eric cared about the most from his life. And Eric knew that Appius would try to do just that; he just didn’t know how far Appius would go to accomplish his goal.
The thought of Sookie getting hurt was physically painful to Eric.
In the end, the group decided that Appius likely wouldn’t harm Sookie physically, but that it would be best if she didn’t go out alone for the time being—at least not until Appius’s next moves could be anticipated. Both Henry and Bobby figured that Appius might try to approach Sookie if she were on her own—and there could be no good outcome from that. Unfortunately, there was nothing that they could do if Appius tried to approach her at work, but Pam had promised to keep an eye out for her father in order to make sure that Sookie wasn’t left alone with him.
As it turned out, Alcide Herveaux, one of Henry’s part-time guards and the man whom Bobby had initially hired to surveil Sookie the year before, was available to act as a part-time guard for Sookie. He’d be escorting her to and from work and to her counselling sessions with Claudine. Sookie was normally with Eric at other times.
Bobby had called Alcide to set things up for him to guard Sookie, while Eric had called Sookie to let her know about it. Luckily, she’d accepted the arrangement without further argument, but had insisted that the topic be revisited in two weeks’ time. Eric could live with that.
“Nervous?” Sookie asked as the car he’d hired for the night turned south onto 5th Avenue.
“Yes,” Eric said honestly.
He sighed as he felt her squeeze his hand comfortingly.
“You know I couldn’t do this without you,” he said, looking at her sincerely.
“I think you could,” she responded quietly. “I know you’re a better man than Appius is, Eric. And I know you’re stronger. You’ll know that too one day.”
He didn’t say anything as he leaned over and kissed her forehead before resting his head on her shoulder. As the car moved closer and closer to the MET, he let himself relax a little as her hand stroked his hair.
After the others had left the night before, Sookie and he had decided that now that Appius knew about them, they would no longer hide the fact that they were together and planning to marry as soon as Eric was out from under the yoke of the contract.
And having made that resolution, Eric and Sookie had decided that they were done with secrets. Eric had resolved to make the first move by speaking with Appius at the Northman party. He planned to inform his father that he intended to break the contract on his thirty-fifth birthday. He was going to tell him that he intended to marry Sookie and that he would be leaving Northman Publishing on his thirty-fifth birthday as well—unless, of course, Appius wanted to renegotiate the contract in order to get rid of him sooner.
Eric had made this decision partially because he wanted to live with Sookie openly and partially because he was done being Appius’s whipping boy. Moreover, he wanted to gauge Appius’s reaction to the news.
Eric prayed that his father would be satisfied with what he was going to be getting when Eric broke the contract. Appius would get all of Eric’s remaining stock. And he would get Eric’s trust fund as well.
Part of him prayed that Appius would be happy that he had decided to leave the company. After all, it was clear that Appius didn’t like having Eric around. And surely he could find another “place-holder” for Appius, Jr. Maybe Appius could even convince Nora to step in. With help, she might even do a respectable job. However, the largest part of Eric worried that his father would have his own tricks up his sleeve. Keeping Eric at Northman Publishing and under his thumb—and thereby keeping him unhappy—seemed to have been Appius’s main motivation for the contract in the first place.
But Eric was done being made unhappy by his father. Eric had already liquidized many of his investments and had moved that money into an account in his mormor’s name—thus making sure she would be taken care of no matter what happened. And Eric knew that he and Sookie could be happy living a much simpler lifestyle than they were now.
For the present, however, Eric’s contract with Appius would stay in effect unless Appius decided to break it or renegotiate. That meant that Appius couldn’t take action against the International Division for several years. Eric hoped that would be enough time for him to slowly transition all of his employees to other jobs—if, indeed, Appius seemed bent on going through with his threat to eliminate the International Division as soon as Eric broke the contract.
After much thought, Eric had decided that going public about the potential elimination was the best thing he could do for his team of employees. He would no longer have to be secretive about warning them to seek out other jobs in preparation for the fact that the international division would likely be dismantled by Appius. In fact, Eric was beginning to wonder if he couldn’t simple “take” the division with him when he left. If he got the right backer—maybe someone like Russell Edgington—he could start up his own publishing house and just work with international clients. He could keep his team intact and keep them employed. And he would be his own man. He couldn’t help but to like that idea!
Of course, Eric would have to get through the next three years—until he could legally break the contract. And he knew that Appius wouldn’t make those years easy on him. However, with Sookie by his side, Eric knew that he could get through anything.
Perhaps he was naïve.
But Eric also had some ammunition of his own—some things he planned to use to incentivize Appius to renegotiate the contract. Eric had a preliminary contract in his pocket that would null his previous one with Appius. He would offer Appius the 7% of NP stock that was held between Mormor and Bobby, his own NP stock, and his trust fund; in exchange, Eric hoped to “buy” the international division of NP right away and extract himself from Appius and NP sooner rather than later. Since Appius clearly wanted to reclaim as much NP stock as possible, he might just be tempted to take Eric up on his offer.
Eric sighed. He had called Mormor earlier that day and had told her all about Appius’s past and current behavior—as well as his threats to her income. As expected, Eric’s grandmother had chastised him for not telling her that Appius had been using threats against her to keep Eric in line; she’d also assured him that she had enough money in savings to live quite comfortably since the expenses on her land were few, and she still had a little inheritance from her own family that she’d not dipped into yet. She’d also told Eric that his mother wouldn’t want for him to be miserable and that any scandal Appius stirred up about Stella would be something that they would all be able to get through.
Still—Eric couldn’t foresee that things would go smoothly with Appius; in fact, he was shaking a little—just at the thought of confronting his father.
“I’ll be with you the whole time,” Sookie assured as if she could read his thoughts.
Eric nodded. In fact, she would be. The plan was for Eric to go in first so that he could talk to his father.
Eric would ask to speak with Appius in private and then would lead him to Gallery 826, which was one of the Northman Galleries, but was not being used for the party. Another reason for the choice of this gallery was that the camera equipment had recently been updated, as the museum was slowly swapping its older surveillance cameras for newer items which were of the motion detection variety and which left very few blank spots in a room.
There was no audio, but that wouldn’t matter. Video would be enough.
While Appius spoke to Eric, Sookie would be with Ben in the control room. She would be able to “overhear” their conversation by reading their lips. But—more importantly—she would be able to “follow” Appius after their talk. Eric was pretty sure that Appius would speak to one of his confidants—Andre or Stan or Nora—after their discussion ended, and he and Sookie were hoping that Appius might give away his real reaction to Eric’s words, as well as any plans Eric’s words had set into motion.
After the talk, Eric would wait for Sookie to text him, which she would do after she felt she’d gotten a good read on Appius’s reaction. Then he would go to the front entrance where Sookie would “arrive.” After that, they would make their public debut as a couple.
As previously instructed, the driver pulled over at the far north side of the MET, well before they got to the main entrance of the museum, where a group from the Press would certainly be waiting to snap pictures of important party guests for the society pages. Eric leaned in and kissed Sookie lightly on the lips.
“Good luck,” she whispered, even as her car door was opened by a smiling Milos. He had come to lead Sookie in through one of the employee only entrances and then would take her to the control room where Ben and Tony would be waiting. Tony would be helping Sookie to keep Appius in her sights until it was time for Eric to take her into the party. After that, Tony would be recording Appius—as much as possible—for the rest of the night so that Sookie could “read” more from him later.
“Hiya, Sookie,” Milos said.
“Hey, Milos,” Sookie returned warmly.
She looked back at Eric. “I love you.”
He closed his eyes and gave her a gentle kiss. “Thank you.”
Sookie accepted Milos’s help out of the car, and then they hurried toward an entrance at the northeast corner of the MET. Along with Ben and Tony, Milos was a frequent guest in her and Eric’s home for the weekly poker game, and over the last months, Sookie had certainly come to think of many of Ben’s Sunday crew as her “family.” Luckily, Ben had overseen the Northman party for the past nine years, and he had been more than willing to help her and Eric.
Sookie noticed as soon as she entered the control room that the usual Sunday crew was all there. She looked around and then smiled at Ben.
“I like my crew,” Ben said, answering her unspoken question.
“And we like the double overtime,” Doris deadpanned.
Sookie smiled at them all. “Thanks for helping us.”
“Anything for you and Eric,” Ben said sincerely. And he meant it too. Ben was good at figuring people out, which was just one of the reasons he was so good at his job. His gut was rarely wrong, and his gut had always told him to look after Eric and Sookie. Even the betting about Sookie’s museum choice each week had begun with Ben’s desire to watch over the lonely-seeming woman. That desire had only grown since he’d met Eric, who had been just as lost and lonely as Sookie—probably even more so.
However—since they’d been together—the two had opened up in a way that made Ben feel something akin to pride for them both.
Ben and his wife had tried for children when they were younger, but his wife had suffered a late-term miscarriage, and the trauma of that—both physical and mental—had left her unable to carry other children. However, Ben felt quite paternal when it came to the woman in front of him and Eric Northman. Those feelings had increased since the couple had begun inviting him into their home once a week for a poker night. And there, Ben had been able to pick up a bit of information about why the two had started off so forlorn. There had never been any question in his mind that he would help Sookie and Eric when Eric had called him that morning.
“Hi, Tony,” Sookie smiled at the young computer whiz who was already punching in orders to his computer.
“Hiya, Sook,” Tony returned with a smile as he looked over his shoulder at her. Sookie could see that he was already tracking Appius on the computer monitor in front of him. On a second monitor, she saw Eric enter the building. He nodded to Jack, who was one of the guards at the entrance and glanced up at the camera and gave it—her—a little smile.
She prayed that he could feel her love and support in that moment.
“I gotta get back out front,” Milos said. “I can check your coat and bag for you—if you want,” he said to Sookie.
She smiled at Milos. “Thanks, but remember that I’m going to go back the way I came and then enter through the front once I’m done here.”
“That’s right,” Milos said, remembering the plan. “Alright then. Good luck, Sookie.”
She smiled at him and turned back to follow Eric’s movements as Tony switched from one camera to another.
“I’ve been taping the miser for you since he got here,” Tony reported, gesturing toward the monitor in front of him.
“The miser?” Sookie asked.
“It’s the codename I came up with for Appius Northman,” Tony said conspiratorially.
“Yeah, that one thinks he’s some kind of spy tonight,” Doris remarked sarcastically. “He’s been calling Eric—Thor.”
Ben and Sookie exchanged a smile. “Well, you’re all spies all the time—sort of,” Sookie remarked.
“Yeah, yeah,” Doris remarked good-naturedly as she turned her eyes back to the bank of monitors showing the rooms of the party.
Ben looked at Sookie meaningfully. “I’ve told Tony to try to keep the cameras on Appius’s face and to record the faces of people he talks to as well so that we can see their,” he paused, “expressions.”
Sookie nodded and bit her lip a little as Ben patted her hand. Eric had told Ben about Sookie’s ability to read lips that morning when he’d spoken to him about the plan. According to Eric, Ben had taken in the information without question or comment. And clearly he’d not told the others.
“Thank you,” she said to Ben, hoping that he knew that she was thanking him for everything he had done for the last year as well as for everything that he was doing that evening.
Eric stood as tall as he could. However, in truth, he had a knot in his stomach the size of a bowling ball. Confronting Appius was not something he’d ever done before—at least not in the way he intended to do it now.
His therapy with Claudine and his many talks with Sookie had helped him to understand just how afraid he was of his father—just how cowed he’d always been around him. He’d also come to realize that the thing he’d always craved the most in his life was affection from his father, and he’d judged himself a failure when he hadn’t gotten it.
Eight months with Sookie and five months of therapy had helped him to understand that he shouldn’t measure his self-worth by Appius’s love for him—or lack thereof. At least, he could intellectualize that fact. But every time he saw Appius or talked to him or even thought of him, Eric’s first impulses were longing and defensiveness. Claudine had assured him many times that it was okay to feel that way—natural even. After all, thirty-one years of abuse couldn’t be erased in a week, or a month, or a year, or even a decade. Maybe not ever. But that didn’t mean that Eric couldn’t be strong in the face of his abuser. That—he could do.
And that he intended to do.
Two weeks shy of his thirty-second birthday, Eric Northman was going to take hold of his own life.
A/N: I’m so sorry for the tardiness of this chapter! I’ve been working on another story (and got swept up in it)! I’ll get you another chapter of this story before I transition to Uninvited. Meanwhile, I hope that you will be on the look-out for my new story, which should be starting soon. It’s called The Sleeper Must Rise.
Up next: Eric confronts Appius and tries to take hold of his own life. Will Appius let him?
P.S. As always, thanks for the continued support for this story!