A/N: I won’t bore you with a long explanation about where I’ve been; let me just say that a lot of things happened at once: with work, with my computer, and with my health. For those of you who emailed or commented with your concerns, I just want to say “thank you” and to offer you an even bigger apology for not responding to you directly. There were many days in the last month that I was really incapable of doing much—other than curling into a ball on my bed and trying not to be freaked out when the pain prevented me from thinking the simple words/phrases I wanted to say to my husband. For those of you with fibro, I know you know the feeling. That said, the last week or so has been “flare-free,” and I’m just trying to concentrate on being grateful for the good days as I get myself caught up with work and life. Again, thanks for all the concern and thanks for those who are sticking with me. I will do all that I can do to be back next week with another chapter.
Chapter 37: I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell
Eric parked his corvette, even as a smiling Christa waved at him before getting into her vehicle. Though the Were had been working full-time for only a couple of days, Eric was already grateful he’d taken Sookie’s advice about getting rid of Bobby. Why he’d not done so before really did come down to the fact that vampires could get very stuck in their habits sometimes. Plus, Bobby had not been inefficient at his job—just a pain in the ass at times. And, of course, there had been the fact that he annoyed Pam, which amused the Viking to no end.
However, Christa would be better in several ways since she could easily complete errands that bisected the human and Supe worlds. Plus, she was telepath-approved. And, ultimately, Bobby was not. That was good enough for Eric.
Moreover—given how quickly she got settled into her vehicle and started her engine—she clearly knew when her services were no longer required for an evening. Bobby would have likely been prattling on about how “well” he’d completed the relatively simple duties he’d been assigned.
The vampire walked around to the trunk to get the flowers and wrapped gift he’d carefully placed there earlier. Despite Sookie’s fiercely independent nature—and her general hesitation when it came to taking gifts—he speculated that she would appreciate the small tokens he had for her.
At least, he hoped.
Suddenly, he felt nervous again—even as he registered that his feelings were mirrored within the woman who was now waiting for him just inside her door. However, that door was already open, and—as the vampire saw her—he wondered if he would ever be able to take his eyes off of her again. Awestruck, he closed the trunk and moved toward her.
And that was when—for the first time in a thousand years—the vampire tripped.
It was only a slight misstep really, a little stumble over a relatively large piece of gravel that had “rebelled” from its place in Sookie’s new driveway.
Sookie’s expression turned from nervous anticipation to surprise to mirth in less than a second.
As for the vampire, he too was surprised by the unfamiliar lack of control over his body, but he quickly recovered and zipped up to his “date” on the porch.
“If your intention was to sweep me off my feet, Miss Stackhouse, you succeeded. You always look beautiful; however, in this moment—to know that you have dressed like this for me. What man would not stumble at such a vision?” he said sincerely as he bent down to softly kiss her cheek.
His sudden appearance within a few inches of her and his sweet declaration worked together to cause a blush to flame Sookie’s cheeks—despite his cool lips on one of them. “Thank you. You look beautiful too—uh—handsome,” she corrected as she took him in.
After he’d heard from Christa that Sookie intended to dress up for the night, he’d selected a gray suit and paired it with a button-down black shirt. Sookie was clearly appreciative of the fact that he’d left a few of those buttons undone.
“I feel like a nervous teenager,” she admitted when he caught her staring at his chest.
He chuckled and ushered her inside, guiding her with the hand that wasn’t holding the courting tokens he had brought for her. “Imagine that same feeling in a thousand-year-old.”
She looked up at him with surprise. “You feel like that too?”
“Yes,” he admitted simply as he handed her the flowers.
“They’re amazing,” the telepath smiled as she looked at the bunch of yellow daffodils and white Gerber daisies before bringing them to her nose.
“I learned something new when I chose them,” the vampire volunteered.
“Oh?” she asked.
“I knew, of course, that various flowers meant different things, but I have never had reason to look up the meanings.”
“You picked them for their meanings?” Sookie asked with surprise.
Eric chuckled. “No.”
“Huh?” the telepath asked, clearly confused as she led them toward the kitchen.
“I initially picked them because they reminded me of the sun—of you,” he informed with a heartfelt smile. “However, I didn’t want to accidentally get you items that would convey a negative meaning.”
“There are flowers that do that?” Sookie asked with curiosity.
He nodded, his eyes full of amusement. “Apparently, I must give you purple hyacinths if I need to beg for your forgiveness or pansies if I wish to declare war! Oh—and you will never receive a yellow carnation from me!” he said with feigned horror.
“Oh?” she asked playfully. “And why not?”
“They symbolize disdain,” he informed.
“Really?” She giggled. “Well—I don’t like carnations anyway. They’re pretty, but they remind me of funerals,” she said, her smile quickly falling to a frown. “So—what do these mean?” she asked of the flowers in her hand as she tried to turn her thoughts from the last time she’d smelled carnations—Gran’s funeral.
Eric felt and guessed at the reason for her momentary sadness. He responded to it by bending down to place a light kiss on her forehead before answering her question. “The daffodils are quite appropriate for this night—as they refer to new beginnings.”
Sookie smiled widely, her previous sadness eclipsed by a very different feeling: hope. “What about these?” she asked of the Gerber daisies. “Actually, this kind of flower is one of my favorites, but I’ve never known what it meant.”
“Innocence,” Eric responded.
The two looked at each other and then shared a little laugh. “I don’t know if that one really applies to all the thoughts I have about you,” Eric said suggestively.
“Why, Mr. Northman,” the telepath flirted back, “what kind of girl do you think I am?”
“Hopefully the kind that is having a few naughty thoughts of her own,” he chuckled.
She blushed again, but made no denial as she put the flowers on the table in order to get a vase from under the sink.
“Wait,” the vampire entreated when it became clear what her purpose was. “Open this first.”
“I specifically remember us havin’ a talk about gifts,” she scolded playfully.
“You cannot blame me for falling back to what I remember of courtship,” he said, his eyebrow rising.
“Oh?” Sookie asked curiously.
“In my human days, an interested man would take gifts to a woman he wished to court; to not do so would have been considered an afront—an insult. Of course, gifts were taken to the family of the woman too, but I don’t really want to offer your brother goats or chickens. Maybe a 12-pack of beer?” he added playfully.
Sookie laughed at that thought. “Actually, he’d probably like that. Alright, let me check out the damage,” she grinned, holding out her hand for the gift.
Eric bowed in a courtly fashion as he handed her the beautifully-wrapped package. Excited, she made quick work of the wrapping and pulled out a beautiful glass vase. Sookie gasped as she spun it around to look at the swirling patterns of different shades of yellow.
“The flowers will eventually wither and die,” the vampire said softly. “So I wanted you have something that I could refill for you.”
“If you ever need forgiveness?” she asked, wiping a tear away due to Eric’s thoughtfulness. “Or want to declare war?” she added with a little smirk in order to lighten the mood.
“Exactly,” he chuckled before clearing the packaging away and taking notice of the beautiful table Sookie had set for them. “This looks lovely, Dearest One,” he said.
She smiled proudly, but a little shyly. “Thanks. It’s Gran’s good china and crystal. I guess mine now,” she sighed.
Eric nodded. “Are you hungry?”
Sookie answered eagerly. “Yes!”
He chuckled at her enthusiasm.
“Don’t make fun,” she scolded as she arranged the flowers in the vase and added water before putting them on the table. “I ate light and early because I didn’t want to spoil my dinner. And my mouth’s been watering ever since Christa came by to take my dinner order. Thanks for that—by the way.” She gestured toward the kitchen counter where a small box was set. “She said the stasis spell would last for a few more hours as long as the box wasn’t opened.”
“But why wait?” Eric asked as he went with her into the kitchen to get their meal set up.
Two hours later, the new couple had still not put in the movie they’d decided upon, opting instead to continue talking.
Their meal had been delicious for both—with Eric enjoying one of the new blood concoctions from the “designer blood” company he co-owned. Meanwhile, Sookie had moaned her way through her meal, causing the vampire to have to shift quite a few times as he hardened at the sight and the sounds of her.
Of course, she had no idea of her effect and apologized several times before he finally made it clear that her eating in front of him did not bother him in the least. At one point, he’d thought that he would have to get up and drop his pants just to prove how much her eating did NOT disgust him.
He’d left dinner with a new appreciation of the magic worked at Les Deux Poissons, as well as a new reason to kill Bill Compton. Just because the Antebellum asshole was too “delicate” to stomach being around human food didn’t mean that he should have led Sookie to believe that all vampires were like him. Eric had needed to clarify that only a few scents actually bothered him, and he’d laughingly told her that garlic wasn’t one of them. That had led the two of them to a discussion of the foods he didn’t like the smell of, which included almost anything that had been burned and items with too much turmeric or sage.
As he’d come to expect of her, Sookie had listened to the little details he’d shared with interest and a slew of questions. And they’d kept their conversation away from business for the most part.
Indeed, the closest they’d come to “shop talk” had been when she’d asked him his opinion about Internet providers and computer equipment. Ultimately, after Eric had told Sookie about Molly’s prowess with computers—both in building them to fit the needs of a specific customer and equipping them with the highest security possible—the telepath had agreed that getting a “Molly Creation” was a good idea, as long as she’d be the one paying for it. Respecting Sookie’s need for independence, Eric didn’t argue. Instead, he merely offered to see if Molly was available for a short meeting the next night—after they met with the demon lawyer—so that she could get a sense of what Sookie wanted. He also put in his two-cent’s worth about Internet in rural areas since he’d arranged for Internet access for a couple of his more secluded properties. Again, he’d offered to put her in touch with a company who could get her “connected” in the most secure way possible, and they’d agreed to share the cost—since the guardhouse he was going to be building would need the connection too.
That had taken the two to a brief discussion of that guardhouse, and he had taken into account her preferences about its location. Ultimately, Sookie decided that it would be best if the house was placed on the other end of her property from her own home. It was currently rough and overgrown in that area, but access to the road behind the cemetery would be easy to make, and the guards would have their own entrance in and out so that the telepath’s day-to-day existence would be affected very little because of the new house. Since the Weres and other guards were already parking along that backroad, the house location made even more sense.
A little more time was taken discussing how the house would look, and Eric was surprised to learn that Sookie was actually quite interested in architecture. That led to them talking about the classes offered at LSU on that topic, as well as joking about Pam’s quick work in getting Sookie admitted—though the telepath did hold back the information about Pam having a file on her.
After that, Sookie listened with rapt attention as Eric talked about some of the buildings he’d witnessed being constructed.
“Wow! The Sistine Chapel!” Sookie enthused as he told her about his time in Rome.
“I wasn’t there for the painting of the ceiling,” he qualified. “Back then, the building of churches was a decades-long project.”
The telepath shook her head in wonder. “I can’t wait to see places like Rome—all the history!” She smiled. “Gran would have been thrilled that I get to travel. She always wanted to do it herself, and she loved history! But she was sort of stuck in Louisiana because of lack of money.” She sighed. “She didn’t mind though. She threw herself in the history that she could see up close—the history of this part of the world. And she loved my grandfather and the life they shared a lot.”
“I regret that I was not more,” Eric paused, “direct in my interest for you when we first me.”
She lifted an eyebrow in challenge. “Your interest seemed clear enough.”
He chuckled. “Well—yes. That kind. But I wish I had tried this back then,” he said, gesturing toward the fire he’d lit for them earlier.
“Tried—uh—a fire?” she asked.
“Courting,” he clarified. “Of course, things were complicated because of Compton, but I could have done more back then—if I’d not been in my own way. I could have met your grandmother—Gran—maybe even found a way to stop her from,” he paused, “being murdered.”
“Oh,” Sookie said—the interjection sounding more like a breath than a word.
“What I’m saying is that I would have liked to have met her,” Eric said sincerely—even as he reached out to take her hand.
Eyes glistening a little, but tears not falling, Sookie looked at their entwined fingers and then at him. “She was an amazing person.” She smiled a little. “She wouldn’t have wanted goats or chickens either though.”
Eric laughed loudly, thankful that Sookie could speak about her deceased relative without her tears overtaking her.
He had no way of knowing that that was the first time the telepath had done so.
“You would have had to help me know what she would accept as I courted you,” the vampire said.
“That new driveway would have probably made you a saint in her eyes,” Sookie chuckled.
The two continued to talk casually—her about her life with Gran and him about the places he’d been.
At 1:00 a.m., the conversation finally lulled a little, though not uncomfortably.
“Would you like to put the movie in?” Eric asked. “I don’t want to presume how late I can stay.”
“You could stay the night if you wanted,” Sookie said, though she blushed as soon as she realized what her statement had sounded like. “I mean—I’m not tired, and I like having you here, and . . . .” When she tried to wring her hands together, Eric moved to hold them both.
“Dearest One, I have no expectations of sex tonight.” He grinned. “I may not have lived as a human man for a thousand years, but I know that you are the kind of woman who would wish to give her body only after you are certain of a commitment.”
“What if I am certain?” she asked, despite her blush. “Would a girl—from you time—have waited if she were certain?”
“Usually, she would wait for her wedding night—if she were from one of the higher-class families from the village. But it was not unheard of for a betrothed couple to,” he paused, “become impatient.”
“Are you impatient?” Sookie asked him, biting her lower lip.
The vampire considered for a moment. “No. Not impatient. I look forward very much to making love to you when you are ready, but I will wait for you to be ready. And—though I like very much the feelings I am getting from you through our blood tie—I can also feel a little hesitation from you.”
“It’s not that I’m not sure—about us,” Sookie insisted quickly. “I just . . . . I . . . .”
“No explanation is needed, Dearest One,” Eric assured softly. “After all, it is only our first date,” he added mischievously.
“It feels like our fiftieth and our first—all rolled into one,” she responded.
“And that is likely the reason for your hesitancy,” he guessed. “After all, things are not going as either of us would have expected two weeks ago.”
Sookie nodded in agreement.
“So—a movie?” he asked.
“Do you—uh . . . .?”
“Do I what?” he asked, smoothing a strand of her silky hair behind her ear.
Sookie gestured toward the old record player in the corner of the room. “Do you like to dance?”
“You wish to dance with me,” Eric realized, a soft smile quickly playing on his lips.
She nodded, even as her cheeks betrayed another blush—though this one was more muted than the last.
“I’d love to,” the vampire said, leaning forward to kiss her cheek before rising to go over to the record player.
He held up an Elvis record. “I like this one—but better not,” he chuckled as she came to stand next to him. “We don’t want the real one to get upset.”
She nodded in agreement as he selected a Patsy Cline album.
Clearly knowing how to use old-style record players, Eric quickly had the machine turned on and the record loaded. Right before he placed the needle, Sookie let out a nervous laugh.
“You know-the first time I slow danced was with Alcide—at Club Dead.”
Feeling no affection from her for the Were through the blood tie, Eric was able to prevent himself from feeling jealousy at her words.
“It sucked too,” she chuckled. “Not because he was a bad dancer—though he did have to count in his head as we moved around the dance floor.”
Eric chuckled at that. “Why did it suck?” he asked curiously.
“I was dancing with him to be able to better hear people’s thoughts around the room,” she shared. “It sucked because I couldn’t let myself enjoy it.”
He gently placed the needle and rose from his crouched position, offering her his hand.
“Then it is my great pleasure to have this dance, Sookie Stackhouse—the first one you can absolutely enjoy.”
She took his hand as the first notes of the song “Crazy” played.
And she did enjoy herself as they danced to that song and many others. In fact, they danced—sometimes holding each other closely and sometimes swaying as they kissed one another—until the dawn was only about an hour away, and Sookie was practically asleep against his body.
He lifted her into his arms when her legs seemed ready to give out and chuckled at her sound of protest.
“One more dance,” she requested somewhat groggily.
He chuckled. “You are practically asleep on your feet, Dearest One, and I must go.”
“You won’t stay?” she asked.
“If we are to meet the Demon at 8:00 p.m., I need to go to my home tonight so that I can do some work both before I rest and when I awaken,” he explained as he carried her to her bedroom.
“Okay,” she said, though it was clear she was a little disappointed. “Is it weird that I miss you when you’re not here? It’s not like you’ve been here much, but since Friday . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“I miss you when I am not by your side as well,” he said softly as he placed her into bed. She’d changed out of her dress and heels into something more comfortable hours before—when it became clear that she desired to literally dance the night away. He’d insisted that she—at least—not risk blisters on her feet. She’d also visited the bathroom about thirty minutes prior, so he did not ask her if she needed to address her human needs before laying her down.
She looked up at him with sleepy eyes. “So I’ll see you tomorrow evening at 8:00 p.m.?” she asked.
He nodded in confirmation. “Yes. Thalia is already aware of the meeting and will escort you to Fangtasia.”
The vampire went to rise, but Sookie’s hand on his stopped him.
“Give me a goodnight kiss?”
“With pleasure,” the vampire smiled as he bent down to softly kiss his almost-sleeping beauty.
“I love dancing with you,” she whispered.
“I love dancing with you too,” he agreed.
“You know what else I love?” she asked, now clearly half asleep. Mostly asleep.
“What?” he asked.
She didn’t respond as she drifted into unconsciousness. However, he did feel her emotions; he’d felt them all night.
They were clear to him.
“And I love you as well,” the vampire whispered before leaving her room. He quickly made sure the fire was out completely and then shut off Sookie’s Christmas tree lights. Then he used his preternatural speed to clean up the dining room that she’d so carefully prepared for their date.
He took special care when cleaning the dishes Sookie had told him belonged to her grandmother.
After taking one more look around the house and finding nothing amiss, Eric put back on his jacket and left the house.
“I saw,” Thalia said from the shadows. “I saw you trip,” she clarified, her tone much more gleeful than Eric had ever heard it before—except when she was in the midst of a battle.
“I had good reason,” he said, neither denying that he’d done exactly that nor taking the vampiress’s bait.
She chuckled. “I suppose you did.”
“See her safely to Fangtasia tomorrow night,” the Viking requested of the being to whom he’d most entrusted Sookie’s wellbeing.
She simply nodded before backing into the woods once more.
The Viking picked up the rock that had been the agent of his tripping—though not really the cause of it. Seeing such a beautiful sight as Sookie, he may very well have tripped over thin air. Still he decided he’d take the object with him as a reminder of the night.
The most perfect one he’d spent thus far as vampire or human.
Somehow, he knew his future nights would only get better—as long as the reason he tripped was a part of them.
As long as nothing else tripped him up.
A/N: Hi again. I hope you liked their first “official date.” Please leave a comment if you have the time and inclination. I can say with certainty that your kind words have been bright spots through both my good and my bad days.