Chapter 27: A Meeting with the Devil
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”—William Shakespeare
The week ran by more quickly than any Eric and Sookie had ever experienced. Sunday night, they’d invited Pam over so that they could tell her that Appius was aware of her lying and that he’d threatened her position at the company. Pam had gone ashen white before Eric had assured her that it would be fine. When she asked why Sookie had left the party at the museum so abruptly the night before, Eric claimed that Appius had said some cruel things, but that it wasn’t anything that he and Sookie couldn’t deal with. He’d claimed that he and Sookie were simply postponing their “official out” date until his birthday.
That done, Sookie and Eric tried to act as ‘normal’ as possible. Each day, they hurried through their work so that they could get home early. There, they cooked together and played with Ned. They talked a lot about work or art or what they were reading, but they didn’t talk about the future. And Appius’s name wasn’t spoken.
Unbeknownst to Eric, Sookie had called Sid Matt and had arranged for Eric to have power of attorney when it came to the remaining aspects of Gran’s estate. Sid Matt had sent the paperwork by courier on Wednesday, and Sookie had it signed, notarized, and in the mail back to Sid Matt by the next day. He’d also sent her all the necessary paperwork she needed to finalize the transfer of the Mulberry house to Jason. Hoyt and Jessica Fortenberry had made an offer on the farmhouse, and—though their offer was slightly under the market value for the property—Sookie accepted it, so Sid Matt was able to send that paperwork too. Once the sale went through, Sookie knew that Eric would make sure the money went to Hadley, Remy, and Hunter.
Of course—in addition to practical things—Eric and Sookie also made love during their last week together. A lot.
Sometimes it was slow and tender. At other times it was hard and fast. By Friday morning, they were sleep-deprived and red-eyed, but neither one of them cared. They were on borrowed time, and they both knew that they could sleep once they were no longer together.
Eric looked at the wall clock in his office. It read 11:00 a.m., which was the time he would be leaving to meet Isabel for the charity brunch the next day. Suddenly, the fact that he had only 24 hours left with Sookie hit him like a ton of bricks, and he ran into his private bathroom to empty his stomach.
“You okay?” Clancy asked when Eric came back into his office.
“Yeah. It’s probably just a touch of food poisoning,” Eric lied.
Andre picked that exact moment to come into Eric’s office. He had a sneer on his face. “You look unwell, Eric. I hope it’s not a recurrence of that bad flu you had a couple of weeks ago,” he said sarcastically.
Surprised by Andre’s disrespectful tone, Clancy looked at the man with confusion, but wisely left Eric’s office without a word after Eric gave him his next task to complete.
Andre closed the door after Clancy and then sat down in Eric’s chair as if it were his office.
“Your father wishes for an update on Miss Stackhouse,” Andre said as he brazenly thumbed through some documents on the top of Eric’s desk.
“Do you know what I look forward to, Andre?” Eric asked with spite in his tone.
“The day I don’t have to work in the same building as you. When I take over as CEO, none of my father’s lapdogs will be welcome here anymore.”
Andre rolled his eyes. “Without Appius in charge, I wouldn’t want to work here anyway. You really are the lesser man,” he added malevolently. “Now—what should I tell Appius about Miss Stackhouse?”
“That he can fuck off,” Eric seethed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Now that’s not nice,” Andre said with a smirk. “It would be a pity if your father had to put himself out by going all the way down to the third floor to visit Miss Stackhouse himself, and that is Pamela’s floor too.” He grinned evilly. “Appius keeps on forgetting that he needs to punish her for helping you. Perhaps, going down there would be just the reminder he needs.”
Eric glared at Andre. “What does he want to know?” Eric choked out.
“Where are you in the process of arranging for our Miss Stackhouse to have appropriate living arrangements?” Andre asked, looking at his computer tablet as if he were checking a meeting agenda. Hell—he probably was.
Eric sighed. “I’ve been in touch with Paul Carmichael. He has a building with some newly renovated apartments in Gramercy Park. Sookie will be closer to work,” Eric said stiffly. “We’re meeting Paul on Monday evening to take a look at one of the apartments.”
“Does Miss Stackhouse know about this?” Andre asked with a sly smile.
“I plan to tell her at dinner tonight,” Eric said, his jaw clenched.
Andre typed a few notes into his tablet. “Gramercy Park will be acceptable. Just remember—nothing too nice. We don’t want Miss Stackhouse spoiled now.”
Eric growled when Andre showed no signs of getting up. “What else do you want?”
“Appius would like to meet with you and Sookie in his office after lunch today. He wants to make sure that your little floozy understands what will be expected of her.”
“No!” Eric said gruffly.
“Your presence at the meeting is not required. You have been invited only because Appius believes Miss Stackhouse will respond better with you there. But you would do well to remember that you do not play an integral role in your father’s plans for the girl.”
Eric closed his eyes tightly. When he opened them Andre was smiling widely and had stood up.
“Appius really despises you—you know,” Andre said.
“I am well aware,” Eric responded.
“I know only some of the reasons why he hates you. Something about your mother—correct?” he asked in his reptilian voice.
“I have been told that she and Appius used to share a lover and that the problem stems from him.”
Once more, Eric nodded.
“Appius is an excellent lover,” Andre commented.
“However, I do not delude myself that he loves me. I suit his needs; that is all.” Andre leered and took a step toward Eric. “Have you ever had a male lover, Eric? You are quite handsome, and I could make things easier between you and Appius. I might even be able to convince him not to use your Miss Stackhouse quite as often as he plans to. I believe you would find me an excellent ally and quite discreet. You could just close your eyes and fuck me. I wouldn’t even be offended if you yelled out your tart’s name when you did,” he chuckled.
“Go. To. Hell!” Eric said through tightened lips.
“Oh well,” Andre said with a shrug of his shoulders. “Perhaps you will change your mind someday. Who knows? You might find yourself in need of an ally. And I have no doubt—no doubt whatsoever—that you could learn to enjoy the variety that a male lover could bring.”
“Go. To. Hell!” Eric repeated, this time louder.
Andre chuckled. “Shall I tell Appius that he can expect you and Miss Stackhouse in his office at 1:00?”
Eric glared at the man, but nodded.
After Andre left, Eric ran back into his bathroom and vomited everything else that was left in his stomach.
“Miss Stackhouse,” Appius said as he extended his hand to shake hers. His voice was warm and friendly, the exact opposite of everything Sookie knew to be true about him.
“Mr. Northman,” she responded somewhat timidly. He took her hand, and she immediately wished she could wash it. It wasn’t that his touch was oily or his palm sweaty. No. The problem was that she knew what he was inside of the false package he was presenting. She couldn’t help but to wonder in that moment if Eric had ever received a congenial shake of his father’s hand—fake or otherwise. And that thought angered her.
“Have a seat, Miss Stackhouse, or may I call you Susanna?” he asked, his voice still warm.
Sookie glanced at Eric. His face was neutral, so unlike the man she knew when they were alone, and just as much of an act as the face that Appius was projecting.
“Um—Susanna’s my given name, but I like to go by Sookie,” she said, knowing that she needed to carefully keep up her act during the meeting. She wanted to come off as meek and easily influenced. She wanted to seem like she was dependent upon Eric. She wanted to seem just as introverted as Nora likely reported that she was. She needed for Appius to believe that she was naïve and that she didn’t know much about Eric and his father’s relationship at all.
“You must call me Appius,” the older man said with a sincere-looking smile. Sookie was sure in that moment that she was looking at the devil himself.
“Thanks,” she responded with a nervous smile of her own. Truth be told, under Appius’s scrutiny, pretending to be intimidated and a little frightened wasn’t difficult for Sookie.
“Have a seat,” Appius said, gesturing toward one of the two chairs facing his desk. Eric took the other one, and Sookie immediately reached out for his hand—just as they’d planned. Eric looked at his father nervously, but then took her hand—again, just as they’d planned.
“Can I get anyone a drink?” Andre asked, taking up a position to the side of Appius.
“I’ll take a scotch,” Appius said, “the St. Magdalene from 1982. Do you enjoy scotch, Miss Stackhouse?”
“I—uh—have to go back to work after this,” she said uncertainly.
“Not at all!” Appius said with a smile. “Why don’t you and Eric take the rest of the day off after this meeting? I have been told that you have dinner reservations this evening. In fact, I also hear that you will be doing some apartment shopping with my son this coming Monday. Why don’t you take that day off too?”
Eric shifted uncomfortably as Sookie looked at him. “Eric? Apartment shopping?”
Eric forced a smile. “I just made the arrangements this morning, dear. I was going to tell you about it at dinner tonight.”
“Oh,” Appius said with feigned apology, “I’m so sorry I let the cat out of the bag.” He lifted a brow in Eric’s direction.
In that moment, Sookie felt the full force of Appius’s manipulation. He was truly a master, and if things were as they seemed to be, Sookie would have just lost a little faith in Eric and developed a little trust in Appius.
She affected a hurt look and directed it at Eric. Though they both knew it was not real, Eric couldn’t help but to cringe a little.
“Already?” she asked Eric. “You didn’t tell me that I’d have to move out of your house so soon.”
“It would be best to get you settled into your own place,” Eric said with pleading eyes that conveyed his true pain. “Remember how I told you that you could decorate the place yourself? You are looking forward to that part—right? And you’ll be so much closer to work. It will be,” he paused, “much more convenient for both of us.”
Though still affecting a crestfallen look, Sookie nodded with resignation. “Okay.”
“Should you need any help with decorating, Sookie,” Appius valiantly offered, “I have a person on retainer. Sophie-Anne swears by her.”
Sookie offered Appius a timid smile and tried to bring it to her eyes. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
Appius waved off her words as if the favor would be nothing.
“Now,” Appius said, “how about that scotch.”
Sookie looked nervously at the bottles. “I’m afraid that I don’t like hard liquor that much.”
Appius nodded. “Andre, bring Sookie a glass of white wine then. Actually no—bring us all glasses of champagne. There is much to celebrate. Sookie will soon be getting a new home, and she is getting a new job too!”
Andre quickly pulled a chilled bottle of bubbly from the mini-bar’s refrigerator and opened it with a practiced flourish. Soon there were four glasses poured and distributed.
“To you, Sookie,” Appius said, lifting his glass, “and to your talent.”
Sookie raised her glass to toast and then took a small sip. “I’m afraid I won’t be of much use to you,” Sookie said almost apologetically. “I’m sort of out of practice with my lip reading, but,” she paused and bit her bottom lip before glancing nervously at Eric, “if it helps protect the company from people like Felipe de Castro, then I’d be happy to do what I can.”
“That’s all that we can ask for, Sookie,” Appius said in a slithery voice. “And we really won’t be taking you away from your regular work that much—just a few company parties and board meetings and the like. And my wife, Sophie-Anne would like to get to know you as well—if you’d be amenable to that. She has need for more female friends near to her own age, and—as you might imagine—some members of our social circle lack sincerity.”
“Uh—Mrs. Northman wants to meet me—be friends with me?” Sookie asked, her voice sounding a little awestruck.
“Of course!” Appius assured. “She loves getting to know new people, especially intriguing ones.”
“Uh—I’m not really that intriguing,” Sookie said bashfully.
“My son seems to think you are,” Appius smiled, “and that is enough for me. Why—when Eric told me about your ability and suggested ways that you might be able to help the company—I simply had to meet you. And Sophie-Anne feels the same.”
“Thanks,” Sookie said. She even managed to look embarrassed and to blush as if she’d been complimented—though it was thinking about kicking Appius and Andre in the nuts that actually made her skin redden.
“There’s a party at the end of next week, my dear,” Appius said as he sipped his champagne. “It’s nothing major—just people from the publishing industry getting together to discuss new trends and such. I would love for you to attend.”
“Um—okay,” Sookie answered nervously. She squeezed Eric’s hand a little more. “Eric will be there too—right?”
Appius narrowed his eyes a little, though his critical look was aimed at his son as if Eric were to blame for Appius’s next statement. “Eric did explain that he didn’t want for you two to be known as a couple—correct?”
Sookie bit her lip and nodded. “Yes.” She felt her eyes brimming with tears; that part wasn’t an act as she watched Eric have to withstand his father’s cruelty.
Appius leaned forward and motioned to Andre, who seemed to magically produce a box of Kleenex for Sookie.
“This is a difficult world we live in, Sookie, and people of worth, such as yourself, are often discounted because of their backgrounds.” Appius spoke with regret as if he wasn’t one of the chief members of the very society that would judge her. “Take it from me: the truest loves must sometimes be hidden so that they are preserved. But those are also the most cherished.” He looked at Andre warmly. Sookie wondered if —for just a moment—she was witnessing something real, but then she remembered to whom she was speaking.
Appius sat forward a little. “I am going to share with you something that few people know. Is that okay, Sookie?”
She nodded her permission.
“I am in a relationship with Andre. He and I love each other—deeply—but society would not approve, so we must hide our feelings. Thankfully, Sophie-Anne understands and loves us both. That is the only reason why we can be together. But I cannot be open about my love for Andre—not in public.” He sighed.
“I’m sorry,” Sookie said, trying to act as if Appius was telling her a secret she didn’t already know. “I’m sorry you have to hide that way.”
Appius sighed. “We all have to hide sometimes—for the sake of others. Do you understand, Sookie?” Appius asked, giving her a penetrating look.
“I’m trying,” Sookie said in a stilted voice as she glanced at Eric. “And some things are worth sacrificing for,” she said, meaning every word of that sentence.
“Exactly,” Appius said with a benevolent smile. “Because I cannot escort Andre to the party and must stay by Sophie-Anne’s side, would it be okay with you if Andre escorted you to the party? I believe that Eric is planning to bring Isabel Edgington—are you not?” he asked his son.
Nobody missed the very real cringe from Eric.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed, his voice slightly shaky.
Sookie quickly wiped away a tear from her own eye, even as she was clearly holding others back.
“Do not despair, Sookie,” Appius said kindly. “It is not all bad. You will have a lovely apartment and the means to furnish it. And you will be receiving a raise, of course, for your,” he paused, “consulting work.”
“A raise?” she asked.
“Certainly,” Appius said. “Do you find twice your current salary adequate for a start?”
“Double what I make now?” Sookie asked incredulously.
Appius smiled. “Yes. And bonuses for when you provide information that helps the company. Just think of all the good you could do for your family. Eric told me you have a little nephew who will likely lose his mother to AIDS soon.” Appius shook his head as if regretful. “That’s a terrible situation, but imagine the help you could provide to the little child.”
Sookie nodded. “Thank you, but I still don’t know if I’m worth all this fuss or all the money you’re offering me.”
“I’m sure you are,” Appius said confidently—with something akin to paternal pride in his tone. “Now,” he added, finishing his champagne, “why don’t you kids get out of here and begin your weekend.” He winked at Sookie.
“Thank you,” Sookie said again even as she awkwardly looked for somewhere to put down her glass. Andre quickly swooped in and took it. She noticed that Eric’s glass of champagne had not been touched.
Eric stood and she stood with him, their hands still twined together. His hand managed to tell her everything that his face couldn’t in that moment. The rub of his thumb on her palm. The soft but firm pressure of his grasp. The electricity that flowed between them because of the shared touch. The way his hand engulfed hers as if longing to protect her.
“I will see you Tuesday, then, Father,” Eric said, almost choking out the last word, but keeping his countenance relatively calm.
“Yes. And do not worry. We will run the ship well enough without you. After all, your priority should be getting Sookie settled in,” Appius said with a smile. “And I will see you a week from today for the little party, my dear,” Appius said, turning his seemingly sincere smile to Sookie. “I imagine that my daughter, Pamela, can help you select a dress. The one you had on the other night at the NP party was breathtaking.” His voice became tinged with regret. “I just wish you’d have been able to stay a bit longer that night so that we could have met then.”
“I—uh—wasn’t feeling that well,” she stammered by way of explanation as she glanced at Eric, whose eyes were lowered to the floor with guilt.
“Ah—then it was best that you didn’t stay too long, my dear,” Appius said, his voice seemingly full of concern. “We wouldn’t want you to be unwell.”
“You’re very kind,” Sookie said with a smile.
“Be sure to take good care of our Sookie,” Appius said in Eric’s direction. “She’s a wonderful asset to this company.”
“I will,” Eric said stiffly before leading her out of the office and to the elevator.
Sookie knew that there was surveillance equipment tracing their path through the building, and Eric had told her that some of the cameras—like the ones in the elevators—even had audio capabilities, so it was necessary to keep up their act.
“He was nicer than I thought he’d be,” Sookie said quietly, looking up at Eric and biting her lip a little, as if she was nervous about his reaction.
Eric’s body tensed up. “My father can be very engaging.” He forced a smile and brought her hand to his lips.
Sookie leaned into Eric a little as the elevator continued its descent to her floor. “He did make me feel better about all this,” she said quietly, “about the lip-reading thing.”
Eric closed his eyes, and pain was etched onto his beautiful face for a moment. “That’s good.” He kissed her forehead.
“Are you—uh—sure your father wouldn’t approve of us getting married? I mean—could you ask him?” Sookie asked.
“Things are complicated, Sookie,” Eric sighed. “I can’t ask him.”
“Oh,” Sookie said as she lowered her head and tried to hide her tears from Eric.
“Why don’t you go inform Sam that you will be taking the rest of today and Monday off?”
Sookie nodded but didn’t look up. “Do you think I’ll get into trouble for it?”
“Of course not,” Eric said with a forced smile. “If Sam says anything, have him talk to Andre. In fact, I imagine that Andre has already informed Sam of my father’s,” he paused, “generosity.”
Sookie’s eyes rose a little and she nodded. “Okay. Um—should we just meet at your house then?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. And take a taxi this time,” he indicated, pulling out his wallet and handing her some cash.
“The subway’s fine,” Sookie said, trying to give the money back.
“Will you humor me?” Eric asked. “It’s cold outside, and my father did ask that I take good care of you.”
Sookie brightened a little. “Okay. Just this once though. But—uh—can’t I ride with you this one time? Since we’re leaving at the same time and all?”
Eric smiled somewhat stiffly and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “I have a bit more work to finish up, so I’ll meet you at my house in an hour or so,” he said as the elevator got to her floor. It broke Eric’s spirit just a little more as he used the word “my” and not “our.”
“Oh—okay,” Sookie said timidly as she put the money into her jacket pocket and exited the elevator.
Though her and Eric’s encounter with Appius had been an act—and a successful one at that—she didn’t feel like celebrating. The very real look of desolation in her beloved’s eyes made her want to curl up in a corner and cry.
But she didn’t. She couldn’t.
A/N: Well, this will be our last chapter this week. I hope you enjoyed it! Please—no one go into ballistics about Andre propositioning Eric. I’m not going to go there in any way, shape, or form—okay? But Andre is a deplorable human being, and I had to write him that way.
I’ll catch you during the next “cycle” of this story.
Next up: Get your box of Kleenex ready.
Hello. This will likely be the only time we “see” Clancy, and he wasn’t on my original “list” of characters for Seph. So Clancy didn’t get one of Seph’s banners. However, I thought you might like to know who I visualize as playing him.