Chapter 30: A Sacredness in Tears
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”—Washington Irving
The minutes ticked by quickly after the alarm clock went off. Eric and Sookie took a shower together, and their tears mixed with the warm water. They toweled each other off and made love—knowing that it might be for the last time.
At 9:30 a.m., they finally made their way to the kitchen and made coffee. Neither of them felt much like eating, but Sookie fixed a little toast with some of the preserves she’d brought back from Gran’s house.
They wrapped themselves into Eric’s afghan and sat on the balcony to eat their small breakfast. The morning was overcast and cold, the sky a misty gray that enveloped the city and them.
They drank their coffee slowly and snuggled together as the relentless clock continued to count down.
At 10:45 a.m., Eric rushed in to put on his gray suit. Sookie went in with him; they kept their eyes on each other as he dressed, soaking in every second that they could with each other.
She walked with him to the elevator, holding his hand and leaning against his side.
When they were in front of the elevator, neither of them moved for at least a minute. Sookie finally reached out to press the button that would call the conveyance to them.
They turned to face each other, and their lips met in a frenzy of need and longing and sorrow.
“I love you,” she whispered against his lips when they finally broke contact because of the elevator announcing its arrival with a ding.
“The ring is inscribed,” Eric said, his eyes intense with a stormy sea of blue.
He bent forward and kissed her again—this time softly.
The kiss was the goodbye that neither of them would—or could—verbalize. It was the goodbye that neither of them wanted.
With the last ounce of strength he possessed, Eric broke their embrace and entered the elevator. He looked at Sookie as if the weight of a thousand years were falling onto his shoulders. “I love you, Sookie. Find happiness for the both of us.”
The doors closed.
Unable to stay on her feet, Sookie sank onto the floor, looking at the steel elevator doors. Confused, Ned had come into the foyer and was looking at her curiously, though keeping his distance.
“Find happiness,” she whispered. She knew that there was only one way to do that, and it involved finding a way to defeat Appius so that she and Eric could be together.
Sookie stood up, determined. “For the both of us.” She took a deep breath. “We’ll be together again,” she vowed to the elevator doors. “I don’t care how long it takes. I won’t stop until you are free of him.”
She bent down to scoop up Ned and hugged him close. Bobby would be there in less than half an hour, and she had a lot to do. Her first order of business was packing. She quickly dressed in a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, putting her gray hoodie to the side for when she was ready to go. She laughed ruefully.
“Gray seems to be the order of the day,” she said to Ned, who was busy sniffing the suitcase she’d pulled down from the shelf. It didn’t take Sookie long to gather the clothing she wanted. She took mostly comfortable things—things that she figured someone might want when “on the lam.” She grabbed one of her work suits and one dress, just in case she needed something nicer, but she knew that she could always replace her clothing. There were more important things that she needed to save room for.
She opened the bottom drawer of her dresser and took out the box of pictures from Gran’s house. In the same drawer was the sweater that Eric had gotten her in Sweden. She quickly placed the garment and the pictures into her suitcase and then grabbed the other things she wanted from the dresser: the locket from Mormor, her scarves and earrings from Eric, and the hat and gloves Gran had knitted for her.
She next went into the bathroom and grabbed her toiletries before taking the two pictures and the letter about the ring from her nightstand. She walked back to the closet and added them to her suitcase. Next, she took her phone and went into Eric’s office. She glanced at the clock: 11:20 a.m.
She plugged her phone into the printer and put in a piece of photo paper before printing out the picture Henry had taken of her and Eric the night before. It had captured the moment perfectly: both the love and the tragedy of it.
That done, she left her phone on Eric’s desk and took the picture, tucking it into one of the notebooks in which she’d recorded her thoughts about the art in the MET. She added all those notebooks and her Kindle to her suitcase. Then she put in the data storage device which held all her pictures from the museum, as well as other pictures she’d taken during her time with Eric. Knowing she’d have to leave her phone behind, she’d uploaded the pictures she wanted to keep earlier in the week. Finally, she stuffed her red coat into her suitcase. The garment stood out too much for her to wear it that day, but there was no way she could leave it behind.
She put on her hoodie and rolled her suitcase out to the foyer just as the elevator arrived. She closed her eyes for a moment, part of her hoping that Eric would step out of it, but she knew that wouldn’t happen. No. Despite the fact that he’d called himself selfish, Sookie knew that Eric was prepared to consign himself to a life of loneliness and pain in order to protect those he cared about.
She sighed as she thought about the man she loved. He would be arriving at the brunch about then, and his would be the most difficult performance of the day. He would have to pretend that everything was okay so that she could make a clean break.
Bobby stepped out of the elevator with Henry and Thalia. Sookie shared a quick look and a nod with the other woman. To her great credit, Thalia had told no one when Sookie had explained what she needed. Henry, on the other hand, was clearly a little confused as he looked at the suitcase.
“Are you ready?” Bobby asked her.
“Almost,” Sookie said as she went to her messenger bag, which she tended to leave on the chair in the foyer; she took out her wallet. Then, she removed her ID and her lone credit card before putting her wallet into a pocket in her suitcase. She put the items with her name on them back into her messenger bag.
“Sookie?” Henry asked confused. “What’s going on?”
She looked at her friend and took a deep breath. “I’m going to disappear. Eric’s father found out about my lip-reading ability and is planning to use me to get a leg up on the competition—so to speak. But mostly, he just wants to hurt me or exploit me so that Eric is hurt.”
“Sookie,” Henry said somewhat cautiously, “Eric would never allow that.”
Sookie sighed. “No—he wouldn’t. He knows I’m going, and Bobby is helping me get away without leaving a trace. But Eric is trapped here.”
“Trapped?” Henry asked.
Sookie nodded. “Appius has threatened to hurt Pam and Mormor and my family, as well as every person working in Eric’s department and people from the Chinese company he’s working with. Appius has manufactured evidence of wrongdoing in regards to the China deal. And if Eric doesn’t do exactly what Appius wants, he’ll likely be arrested. On the other hand, if he leaves with me, the others will be hurt.”
Henry was silent for a moment as he took in the information. “Sookie, Blake and I could help. I’m sure that Blake could help Eric prove that he’s done nothing wrong.”
Sookie sighed. “We thought about that, but even if Eric were able to keep himself out of prison, it wouldn’t stop Appius from hurting others and gutting Eric’s department at Northman Publishing.” She shook her head. “All those people losing their jobs in this economy would tear Eric apart. And Appius has threatened Pam’s place in the company too. He even controls the property that Mormor lives on!” she added desperately. “And Appius wouldn’t hesitate to kick her out of the home she shared with Johan.”
Sookie closed her eyes. “I’m scared that Appius will punish Eric when I go, but I can’t stay. I won’t be a means by which Appius hurts Eric even more!”
Henry ran his hand through his red hair. “How long have you known that you were leaving?” he asked, trying to keep his tone steady.
She sighed. “Since last Saturday.”
In the next moment, Henry had engulfed her in a hug. “I don’t want you to go, Sook. You’ve become one of my best friends: another sister to me. Don’t go. We’ll figure this out. I love you, Sook.”
“I feel the same way about you, Henry,” Sookie said as she sank into his embrace. “I know that I will never have a real relationship with Jason, and I used to feel really sad about that, but I don’t have a reason to be sad anymore because I have you. And you’re the best brother I can imagine.”
“Then don’t leave,” Henry said, hugging her a little tighter.
“I have to go—both for Eric and for me,” Sookie whispered. “And I need your help getting away. Will you help me?”
Henry pulled back from their hug and looked at her closely. He saw her resolution, and he nodded. “I’ll always help you. What do you need?”
Sookie smiled. “Thank you, Henry. Will you promise to keep an eye on Eric too?”
The redhead nodded. “Yes. I swear. And—one day—you’ll come back to all of us.”
“I hope so,” Sookie said in a whisper.
Henry looked at Bobby. “What do you need me to do?”
Bobby nodded to Henry gratefully and then responded, “Just in case Franklin Mott is better than I have given him credit for—Sookie and I will need a discreet ride to a car I have parked about ten blocks from here.”
Henry was quiet for a moment and then reached up to brush a tear from his eye before going into what Sookie thought of as his “command mode.”
“The building owns a couple of vans for deliveries and pick-ups,” Henry said. “The windows in the back of them are blacked out. They’re in a garage on the east side of the building that has a separate exit. We’ll take one of those. I’ll drive you and have Tray drive the other one in the opposite direction.”
“Perfect,” Bobby said.
“Thank you,” Sookie said, squeezing Henry’s hand. She looked at Thalia, “Are you ready?”
Thalia nodded. As planned, Sookie and Bobby had confided in Thalia about their strategy to find information that could be used against Appius, and they had asked for her help. She was the only one—other than Sookie and Bobby—who knew that Sookie was going to be “reading” Appius. And she had agreed to use her considerable skill in surveillance to help Bobby and Sookie make that happen. She’d also agreed not to tell anyone—not even her brother—that Sookie would still be in the area.
“Ready for what?” Henry asked.
“A parting shot at Appius,” Sookie responded.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Bobby asked. “You don’t have to.”
“No—I want to. And I need to. Right now, Appius sees me as this weak little thing. And—if I leave without a word—he’s going to suspect that Eric made it possible for me to go—probably using you to do it,” Sookie said looking at Bobby. “And he’d be right, but we need for him to think that he’s wrong. I need to try to convince him that leaving is all my doing—my idea.”
Bobby sighed. “That’s probably smart, Sook. And, inadvertently, Appius has given me an alibi.”
“Because Mott has been tailing you?” Thalia asked.
“Yeah. And I have to hand it to him,” Bobby said. “When he knows that I’m out and about, I haven’t been able to ditch him without making it obvious that I know he’s there. Of course, he still hasn’t figured out that I can exit my building without his knowing it.”
“Why do you think Appius is having Mott follow you and not Eric or Sookie?” Henry asked.
Bobby looked at Sookie and then back at Henry. “Appius knows that Eric and I are close. When I helped Eric to compose his contract with Appius, the old man came to pay me a little visit. He asked that I alter the contract without Eric’s knowing.”
“He tried to bribe you,” Henry said angrily.
Bobby nodded. “Yes—Appius offered me a lot of money to change things so that he would have final say over everything that Eric did at NP.”
“Eric doesn’t know about that part, does he?” Sookie asked perceptively.
Bobby shook his head. “No. He was already too hurt by the whole paternity test thing. And he was already suspicious—rightfully so—that Appius would try to screw him over, so I didn’t need to warn him about the need to read the fine print.” He sighed. “That’s why Eric came to me for help in the first place. I think he knew that Appius could get to and influence most people.” Bobby smiled a little. “It was one of the first times that Eric really let himself trust someone, and he chose me to trust. I wasn’t going to repay that trust by reiterating that his father was a son of a bitch—not when Eric was already painfully aware of that fact already.”
“So Appius is having you followed so that you can’t help Eric again?” Henry asked.
“More likely to find something he can use against Bobby,” Thalia commented astutely. “Appius must figure that Bobby is Eric’s most loyal ally. It seems like the old bastard wants either to drive a wedge between Eric and Bobby or to figure out how to blackmail Bobby so that he’ll betray Eric. Either way, Eric loses his best friend.”
Impressed by Thalia’s analysis, Bobby looked over at her and nodded. “That’s what I think too.”
Sookie sighed and looked at Thalia. “It’s time that we get this done. Eric plans to be back around 2:30 p.m., and it needs to look like I left at least an hour before that.”
Thalia nodded. “It’ll take me about five minutes to set up,” she said, patting her laptop bag.
“I’ll get Ned ready to go,” Sookie said.
“You’re taking him?” Henry asked.
“Eric insisted,” Sookie said guiltily as Thalia went to set up her equipment.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Henry asked her.
Sookie shook her head, and, in that moment, she was glad that she didn’t yet know. She already hated holding things back from the man she’d come to think of as family. But, other than the fact that she was going to stay in the area somewhere, she had no idea where Bobby would settle her. She’d not asked, and Bobby hadn’t offered up the information either.
“She’ll be safe though?” Henry asked Bobby.
“As safe as I can make her,” he replied.
“How safe is that?” Henry asked with narrowed eyes.
“Very,” Bobby promised.
Sookie squeezed Henry’s hand and then went to get Ned’s little travel carrier and a Ziploc bag of his food—just in case. Bobby had indicated that everything would be arranged for Ned—including food and a litter box—when she got to her new home, but Sookie figured it was better to be safe than sorry. After tucking the food and a few of Ned’s favorite little toys into the carrier, she got Ned settled into it. The kitten, of course, wasn’t very happy about the prospect of getting in—having already associated the carrier with travel to the veterinarian, whom he could live without. However, his discomfort couldn’t be helped. Sookie was tempted to leave him to keep Eric company, but she knew that would upset Eric even more. More importantly, she’d promised Eric that she’d take him, and she didn’t intend to break any promises she made to her “husband.”
Not even the ones he didn’t know about.
“I’m ready,” Thalia said as Sookie brought the cat carrier—with a mewling Ned inside—into the foyer.
“Is Appius definitely at the brunch?” Sookie asked. If he wasn’t, she wouldn’t risk doing what she was planning to do.
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “Pam texted and will text me again when he leaves.”
“She doesn’t know why she’s keeping an eye on him—does she?”
“No,” Bobby confirmed. “And, to her credit, she hasn’t asked either.”
Sookie nodded and thanked God that Pam—like Henry and Bobby—would be there to help to take care of Eric after she disappeared. She grabbed a sealed envelope and a folded piece of paper from her messenger bag before following Thalia into Eric’s office.
Bobby and Henry waited in the foyer.
Thalia’s computer was on the pool table. “You’ll be live thirty seconds after you go in the room.”
“And the bug?” Sookie asked.
“It’s already on the desk—along with a little gift for you and Eric,” Thalia said with a hint of a smirk.
Sookie nodded and entered the office, closing the door behind her. She felt like she had to do what she was about to do alone. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t just for Appius that she was going to be leaving the message. It was for the memory of her mom too.
Sookie gently placed the envelope onto the desk and looked at the bug that Thalia had put on top of it. Then she unfolded the piece of paper and read.
I want you to know that I feel sorry for you. You have a son who is the best man that I have ever met—despite the fact that you have mistreated him in some screwed up attempt to get back at your first wife.
I know all about parents who commit crimes against their children. And make no mistake—you have committed a crime against Eric. But the real crime is that you don’t see the man I see—the one who is good in spite of you.
I’m talking to you now to tell you that I won’t let you use me against him. I won’t be a pawn to a parent bent upon hurting his child for no other reason than malice. And if there is any justice in this world, then Eric will get free of you one day. If you had a heart at all, you would let him go.
But I have no confidence in your heart being anything more than a hollow organ keeping you alive. So I’m leaving New York and breaking the heart of the man I love because I don’t want him to become heartless and jaded like you.
Eric is the better man, Appius. No matter how many petty battles you win or machinations you construct. Eric is—and always will be—the better man. And you are to be pitied for not understanding his worth. Pitied and despised.
But Eric doesn’t despise you, and that shows the quality of his heart. But I’m not as good of a human being as he is, Appius. So—I’ll hate you enough for the both of us. But I won’t let you use me to hurt him.
Oh—and by the way—your days of listening to Eric in this home are over, you son of a bitch.
Sookie picked up the small hammer that Thalia had left for her. The listening device was on a white hand-towel on the desk.
“Good-bye, Appius, and fuck you!” Sookie cried out as she slammed the hammer down onto the bug, crushing it. She brought the hammer down a second time, enjoying the sight of the mangled electronic device. She put down the hammer and left the room.
“Did it feel good?” Thalia asked with a smirk.
“Only for a second,” Sookie answered honestly.
Thalia’s smirk disappeared immediately. “We’ll get the bastard,” she said quietly, “and we’ll get you back to where you belong.”
Sookie just nodded and hurried to the foyer. She was leaving her home, but she prayed to whatever God that might be listening that she would return to that home—which was Eric himself—very soon.
A/N: Hello all! Here I am with another chapter. I am now three days headache free, but I still plan to take it easier than usual for the next week. That being said, I still am getting more time to write and edit b/c the semester is over! In fact, I am on vacation (though I’m not going anywhere) until the first of July! I love traveling, but sometimes a “home vacation” is the best thing in the world!
Thanks for all the support and comments about the last chapter! Many of you commented upon the wedding, and I tend to agree with the idea that Eric and Sookie really are married in all the ways that matter. In a lot of ways this chapter is one of the high points for Sookie. This is a Sookie who is just about as healed as a human being can be (after the abuse she suffered as a child). She is determined to best Appius and get her man.
So—I have some news about this story. As I was reading ahead (to remind myself of some things), I decided that it would be best to split the work into two—to make the whole Comfortably Numb universe into a trilogy instead of a duo. This won’t change a lot of things. There shouldn’t be more of a delay than usual between the end of Touch the Flame and the beginning of the third part, which will be called Burn out the Pain. I’ve decided to split things up because there is a “natural” kind of split that occurs a few chapters from now (both in mood and theme). It just works better as a trilogy. But—again—the third part of the series will come right at the heels of the second, so you won’t have to wait long.
As for Touch the Flame, there will be three more chapters and then an epilogue. Then Burn out the Pain will begin.
As of tomorrow, I’ll be transitioning to Uncharted for a bit, so I’ll see you with more of this story after a “cycle” of that one as long as my head doesn’t explode. 😉