Chapter 26: Etchings
Wrapped up in their afghan from Gran, Sookie and Eric watched the sunlight tease the Hudson River through the January clouds. The morning of Sunday, January 13 was crisp and cold, but the couple lounged together outside anyway—enjoying the warmth of each other, the blanket, and their coffee.
“Should we talk about it?” Sookie asked.
“Talk about when you’re leaving?” Eric asked in an almost strangled voice.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
“Just once. Just now,” he said. “Then,” he paused and choked back a sob, “I can’t anymore. I can’t.”
“Okay,” she said as she leaned more fully against him.
“We can’t tell anyone but Bobby,” Eric said with regret.
“I know,” Sookie responded, hating the fact that she wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to all of her friends—her family.
“Bobby called me this morning while you were in the bathroom. He’s already making the plans,” Eric said quietly as he caressed her hair. “We’ll need to do everything as we normally do this week,” he added, a relentless edge to his voice.
Sookie realized that Eric needed the “normal” just as much as they needed to project it for Appius.
He went on, “We’ll go to work and come home. We’ll live as if everything is the same. We’ll go out to our favorite sushi restaurant on Friday night. On Saturday, there is a brunch fundraiser for the children of the victims of 9-11. Appius and Sophie-Anne will be there, and I had already planned to go with Isabel. That morning at 11:30 a.m.—after I leave for the brunch—Bobby will come to get you. You can take one suitcase and Ned’s travel carrier. But you’ll need to leave your driver’s license and passport here, along with your phone.”
“I can’t take Ned,” Sookie said immediately.
“Please,” Eric said. “Bobby said it would be okay. And I don’t want to imagine you,” he paused, “alone. Please.”
“What about you? You’ll be alone here.”
“Please, Sookie,” he said with a little sob. “Please.”
“Okay,” she relented.
“Thank you,” he responded with a sigh.
They were silent for a while.
“Will we go to the MET today—as usual?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes,” she answered. “I already drew a gallery number: 690.”
She could feel his lips turning up a bit into a smile as he pressed them against her neck. “We’ll sneak out the back so the Berts don’t know we’ve left.”
“Good idea,” Sookie said, forcing herself to chuckle, though any kind of smiling or laughter was difficult. It would be her last time at the museum for the foreseeable future. It would be their last Sunday together until Appius could be defeated. But for Eric—and for herself too—she was determined make it a “normal” day.
To their great credit, Milos and Jack didn’t behave as if anything was wrong when Sookie and Eric entered the museum. The only thing different was that Ben was waiting at the front desk. He motioned for Eric and Sookie to come over to him, his eyes conveying his concern.
“Tony’s finishing up with the video records he captured of Appius last night,” he conveyed. “We’ll have a disc for you to take this afternoon.”
Eric nodded. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem,” Ben said. He intuited that many things were very wrong with the couple in front of him, but he could also tell that they didn’t want to think about them. He wouldn’t make them. “Where to today?” Ben asked mustering up a little smile.
“Gallery 680,” Sookie said with a little smile of her own.
“Ah—I like that one,” Ben responded. “It’s full of drawings and prints from the museum’s permanent collection. That gallery is one of the ones that gets changed up quite a bit.”
“Oh?” Eric asked with interest.
“Yeah,” Ben informed. “There are over a million drawings and prints in the permanent collection, and new ones come in all the time. A new selection of them goes up in Gallery 680 every three months or so. Right now, there’s a whole bunch of stuff highlighting the Italian Renaissance in there.” He chuckled. “Just wait till you see the drawings based on Leonardo de Vinci’s stuff.” Ben leaned in conspiratorially. “We’ve got Milos convinced that he looks just like one of them. Be sure to give him some funny looks when you come out for lunch.”
Eric and Sookie both laughed at that, and Ben couldn’t help but to notice that they looked surprised at their laughter. It was almost as if they had believed that they wouldn’t be laughing again.
“Well—on your way,” Ben said, shooing them off before the suddenly more jovial pair sobered up again. “There’s a lot of stuff to see up there.”
Eric and Sookie both smiled at Ben before they took the main stairs up to the second floor.
The irony of the situation was lost on neither Eric nor Sookie as they looked at the etching by Giulio Bonasone. They’d been in Gallery 690 for almost two hours and had walked it together, often hand in hand, though Sookie stopped them every once in a while so that she could take a few notes in her notebook.
They had laughed a little when they’d seen the grotesque faces that Ben had told them about; they had speculated about which one the others had teased Milos about. However, now they were not laughing at all.
The last engraving they looked at was called Epimetheus Opening Pandora’s Box.
Eric chuckled ruefully. “I remember reading about this alternative to the Pandora myth. In it Pandora is not to blame for the world’s problems at all. She is given to Epimetheus by the gods as his bride. And her box—or jar in this case—is simply one of her possessions.”
“And he foolishly opened the jar containing all the world’s ills,” Sookie finished. She chuckled. “Sadly, it’s not the popular version of the myth.”
Eric smirked a little. “Women always end up getting blamed for all the shit that happens in the world.”
“Well—we are harpies,” Sookie deadpanned. “And men are powerless to resist our charms.”
Eric chuckled and bent down to kiss her forehead. “So true.”
“Do you want to go to our gallery?” she asked as they moved to leave the room.
“Of course,” he responded. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s right next to where you were last night—with Appius.”
Eric sighed. “I know, but this is our . . . .” He stopped midsentence as his voice thickened.
He didn’t need to complete his sentence. She knew what he meant. It was their last week coming to the museum like this, and Eric wasn’t even bolstered by the same possibility of hope for the future that Sookie was.
She wanted to tell him about her and Bobby’s plan. She ached to tell him, but she refrained. Eric would try to stop her if he knew. Or he would inadvertently give something away to Appius if his eyes held hope in them.
“Then let’s go,” she said, smiling at him.
A/N: Sorry for the shortness of this chapter. It truly is a transition piece between the previous and the next chapters. I almost took it out, but then I decided to leave it. I like having the other version of the Pandora myth introduced. And—there are a few other moments that I liked in this little chapter too. So—in the end—I kept it. Let’s just say that I’m including the “deleted scenes” in the story rather than making you “buy an extra DVD months later.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that….
That said, I should have one more chapter for you before I transition back to Uncharted.
Thanks to all who commented on the last chapter of this story.
Up next: Appius demands a meeting with Eric and Sookie.