After I was able to stop laughing over Sookie’s hot beef comment, we drove to Pinks at the corner of Melrose and La Brea. It was only about fifteen miles, but with the traffic, it took over half an hour to get there. There was a long line, there was always a line at night, and we took our place, waiting with everyone else.
Sookie joked that she should try their version of a Chicago dog, but continued ooh-ing and ah-ing over the menu as we slowly moved forward. When it was our turn, she still couldn’t decide what she wanted and ordered a Mullholland Drive Dog with grilled onions and mushrooms, nacho cheese & bacon, as well as a Guacamole Dog with tomatoes and salsa. She joked about her love for Mexican food and I raised an eyebrow at her. I ordered a Nacho Chilli Cheese Dog and fries, and we stepped aside to wait for our food.
I carried our tray to the small area that held a few tables, and we grabbed a table for two as another couple left. Sookie snapped a few pictures with her phone before digging in to try her dogs. She was adorable, focusing on her food, oblivious to everything around us, including a few people snapping pictures of us.
She picked up the Mullholland dog, and I thanked god I was sitting down as I watched her lips wrap around the bun. Nacho cheese dripped on her chin as she pulled the dog away from her mouth. I wiped away the cheese with my finger, then sucked it off and watched Sookie’s eyes go wide. I winked at her and picked up my own dog, making the same ‘O’ shaped face that she had.
“Who’s the trouble maker now?” She laughed.
“What? I’m just eating my hot beef.”
She threw her head back and laughed, then leaned forward for a kiss. My eyes caught on a photographer over her shoulder, and I wondered if she realized how many people were watching us, and how many people would see the picture of us kissing by morning.
“I’m ignoring them,” she said quietly, and then her lips touched mine.
It was a soft, short kiss that couldn’t be mistaken as anything but intimate, and I felt her burrow a little further into my heart.
She sat back and raised an eyebrow at me, as if to say, “See, I’m not afraid,” then picked up her Mullholland dog again. She took a couple of bites, and then stopped to wash it down with lemonade.
I reached across the table and took her hand before she could pick up her other hotdog. I looked at our hands, then up at her eyes. “Promise me you’ll tell me when you can’t ignore them, or when it gets to be too crazy.”
“I will,” she said quietly. “You might have to let me go home once in a while to recharge.”
“You can do whatever you want. You don’t need permission. I just,” I sighed. “I know it’s a lot.”
She shrugged. “It is, but I love you a lot, so it works out.”
We finished eating and managed to get back to the car with only a couple of paparazzi following us. I had seen Jay Leno pull up while we were eating, so thankfully the photographers were occupied with him. I looped around to head back to Malibu, and we talked about the Los Angeles landmarks that she wanted to see, like the Capitol Records building and Gruaman’s Chinese Theater. She really wanted to see the Hollywood sign, and asked me what I knew about it. I told her what I knew, that it was built in 1923 to advertise a new housing development called “Hollywoodland” and the last four letters were removed in 1945, and promised to look up more for her later.
It was late by the time we made it back to the house, and Sookie was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. She stopped when we got inside, and looked around.
“Can you show me where stuff is in the house tomorrow?”
I smiled at her. “What do you need, lover?”
“I need a glass. I wanted a drink of water last night, and I had no idea where they were. You got mugs out for coffee this morning and I ate the fruit and cheese Martini brought for lunch. So, yeah, I don’t know where anything is.”
I walked over to the cabinet and pulled down a glass for her, sitting it by the sink, then turned and wrapped her in my arms. “Sorry. I guess I’m a shitty welcoming committee. I’ll show you where everything is tomorrow, or you can explore on your own. Whatever you want.”
“Right now I want to sleep. I’m exhausted.”
I took her hand and we headed down the hall to our bedroom. It should have been crazy to think of it as ours since she’d only slept there one night and hadn’t done anything but unpack her suitcase, but it seemed natural to think of it that way.
We spent most the next day alternating between relaxing at the pool and exploring the house. When we went through the kitchen, Sookie sat on the counter and watched as I opened cabinets and drawers, showing her where things were. She quizzed me and started a list of things she would either have Amelia ship or buy. Apparently, a roasting pan was an important piece of kitchen hardware, and the hand mixer that I had would not work to make Christmas cookies. In the living room, we made out on the couch for a while before I showed her how to use the remote control that worked the TV, surround sound, and DVR. In the afternoon, I went to the gym for a quick workout while Sookie got some sun by the pool, then we showered and changed before heading into Hollywood for fireworks.
When I got back from Michigan, I ran into my friend Nicole at the store and she invited us to join her and her husband at her in-laws’ house in Malibu for fireworks. However, she and her husband Alex were trying to get pregnant, and Nic had told me that her in-laws secluded pool was a great place to skinny dip, so I didn’t want to intrude. I figured they could use the alone time to make their own fireworks, so I declined, promising to get together with them soon. I thought about the fireworks shows that I knew of, and decided on the one that I thought would be the best way to experience L.A. and see the fireworks at the same time.
I made a quick stop on our way through town to pick up food from Malibu Kitchen. They didn’t have the friendliest staff, but the food was delicious. We jumped on the highway and headed for the Hollywood Bowl. Sookie had been thrilled when I told her where we were going, and I thought she might burst with joy when I grabbed the picnic basket on our way out the door. I had gotten us tickets in the boxed seating area down front and used my donor parking pass for valet. I carried the picnic basket in one hand, and held Sookie’s hand in the other as we walked to our seats.
She did a good job of looking nonchalant about everything, but her hand was sweaty, and she was sticking tight to my side. I nodded at a few people I recognized; directors and producers from some of the smaller shows I’d done, and a few big names that had Sookie squeezing my hand. We made it to our seats and settled in, we were sharing a box with a couple named Deirdre and Allen Stephayn. We enjoyed our dinner and sipped wine and in typical form, Sookie made friends the Stephayn’s, and soon we were all talking about wine, the summer concert series at the Bowl, Bloodlust and Sookie’s blog.
After a while I heard Deirdre ask Sookie how long she would be in town. I waited for her answer. We hadn’t made any kind of official statement, and I wondered how she would answer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sookie glance at me and then turn back to her.
“I’m not really sure,” she laughed. “I guess you could say until he kicks me out.”
I shook my head and put my hand on the small of her back. “Then I guess I’m stuck with you,” I said quietly.
Both women grinned, and Deirdre said, “That’s sweet.”
I wondered exactly how long before the play by play of that interaction would be posted in a tabloid. I kind of hoped it wouldn’t be; Deirdre was closer to our age while her husband was my parents’ age, so I had a feeling that she knew what it was like to be talked about. I hated that I was becoming so cynical that I thought about the paparazzi and tabloids with almost every move we made together.
Deirdre was talking with the women in the box next to us and Sookie turned towards me with a smile. “I’m still okay. Are you?”
It was spooky the way she could read me sometimes. Our eyes met, and I nodded, smiling at her reassuringly. She looked at me for a few seconds, like she was making sure she believed me, then Deirdre spoke to her again about places that she had to visit while she was in L.A. I turned back to Allen, who was talking with the men in the next box over, and joined in their discussion about baseball and our favorite golf courses.
A little while later, the performances began and took our seats. I tried to sit in the corner so I didn’t block the view of the people behind us. With my arm around Sookie’s shoulder, I found the Los Angeles Philharmonic much more interesting than they had ever been when I sat with Pam. Sookie’s face was expressive as she listened to the music. She would lean over and tell me about particular pieces that she liked or about someone funny that she noticed in the crowd. Vince Gill did a set, singing some of his hits, I recognized one or two of the songs, and so did Sookie, but country wasn’t really our thing.
When it was fully dark, the finale began with a fireworks display synchronized to music by John Phillip Sousa. I smiled and leaned close to Sookie, telling her that Sousa was one of my dad’s favorites. She grinned back, and then was startled at the pop of the next firecracker. I leaned over and kissed her as the sky was illuminated with colors above us. The kiss was short, but sweet, and as intimate as it could be in the middle of 180,000 people. When the kiss ended, I tightened my arm around her shoulder, and her hand came up to hold mine while she snuggled up against my side.
The firework show only lasted about ten minutes, but it was spectacular and felt truly patriotic. It had been my first time at the Bowl for fireworks, and I laughed to myself, thinking how absolutely right I had been when I told her we would start a new tradition together; I could imagine coming here every July with her for years to come.
I loved L.A. It was pop-culture and glamour to the extreme, and although I wasn’t sure where I fit in to that mix, I was enjoying everything about it. I could already tell that Sam and Daphne were going to be a blessing as friends. They would definitely help keep me grounded in reality, and Daphne understood how skittish I was about the whole fame thing.
I was proud of myself for surviving two major tests; the party at Ben and Jen’s and the Hollywood Bowl Fourth as our first public outing in L.A. So far, the only thing that had shown up in the rags, as Eric called them, were pictures of us at the airport and at Pinks. The ones at Pinks were my favorites, well, aside from the pictures of us slathering sunscreen on each other in Michigan.
These new pictures were similar to the sunscreen pictures, in that they captured a moment that I could see much more clearly as an outsider. Sitting there at Pinks, eating my hotdog, Eric had looked like he wanted to jump over the table and devour me, and I had no idea what I had done, but in the pictures, holy hell, I saw what he saw. I hadn’t even thought about it at the time, but my mouth around that hotdog bun was pretty damn phallic.
“I don’t think I will ever be able to eat a hotdog around you again without thinking about sex.”
He laughed over the top of the morning paper. “That makes two of us.”
We drank coffee on the patio, trading sections of the newspaper after I finished looking at the pictures of us online. When my coffee was gone, I sighed, knowing that it was time to get in the shower and get ready for the day. Not just any day, the day. The meet Eric’s parents day.
We were flying up to San Jose and coming home in the morning. I thought flying there was crazy until Eric told me it would be a six hour drive and only an hour flight. I offered to pay for my ticket, and he just told me thanks for offering, but it was taken care of.
I wasn’t used to either of those things yet; not paying my way or being taken care of, and I just stood there watching him as he went about packing his overnight bag. It was a good feeling, knowing that we were in it together. Even when I was with Bill I’d mostly been on my own. This team mentality with Eric was something entirely new to me.
“What?” he asked, setting his bag on the bed and putting his hands on my shoulders.
I hadn’t realized how long I was standing there until he touched me and I saw that his bag was zipped closed and he was ready to go.
“Oh my gosh! I got lost for a second there.”
He nodded. “I noticed. Good thoughts?”
“Yes.” I smiled. “Let me get my things from the bathroom and I’ll be ready.”
We walked towards baggage claim holding hands, and I saw a very tall, very blond woman bouncing up and down with the biggest smile humanly possible covering her face. The man standing next to her was equally as tall, with a little bit darker hair and small reading glasses with round frames. He was smiling too, but you could tell he was much more subdued than his wife. Together, they were everything that made up Eric. His looks, his charisma and his desire to blend in, were on full display in these two people who were thrilled to see him.
For a brief second I felt sad that there was no family to welcome me home at an airport; that I would never be able to introduce Eric to my parents, and then his mother was crushing me in a hug.
“Oh Eric, she’s so tiny!” she gushed. Then she released me and I was afraid she might cry. “You’re so pretty! She’s so pretty in person!”
“What? Oh. I’m sorry, Sookie.” She stood a little straighter and took a deep breath. “Hi, I’m Elsa and this is my husband, Jens. It’s so nice to meet you.”
Eric’s dad had clasped him in a slap on the back man-hug, while his mom was clutching me. After the introduction he gave me a smile that said he knew how insane his wife was and gave me quick hug.
“Luggage?” Jens asked.
“No. We’re good.” Eric answered.
“Sookie, let me take your bag.”
I thanked him and gladly handed off my duffel. Eric reached to take my hand at the same time his mother linked arms with me on the other side. I glanced at Eric and he shook his head and released my hand.
He leaned towards me, and said quietly, “It’ll be okay. She’s just excited.”
“So,” Jens said. “Christoffer is at the house.”
“What?” Eric and I both asked at once.
“He flew down for a meeting and extended his weekend. We’ll bring you all to the airport in the morning.” Eric shrugged and his dad said quietly, “I think he wanted to see your mom’s reaction to Sookie.”
“Oh, I know that’s what he wanted.” Eric laughed.
We made it to the car, an Audi sedan, and I almost burst out laughing when Jens inclined his head at Elsa, directing her to the front seat.
Eric sighed. “Mom. She’s coming home with us. Back off or we’re staying at a hotel.”
Her head whipped around faster than I thought possible, and I squeezed his hand tightly, she looked heartbroken.
“Eric,” I whispered.
“Mom, we’re not staying at a hotel. Just bring it down a notch okay?”
The ride to his parents’ house was fairly quiet. Eric had definitely hurt his mom’s feelings, and his dad was letting things settle down. Eric and his dad talked quietly, and Jens asked me a few questions about my trip to California. There was no way in hell that I was dropping the bomb that I moved in with Eric. That was on him, and I seriously hoped he told his mom soon, and in private.
Chris was on the patio waiting for us. He had a pitcher of margaritas mixed and looked like he had already sampled one or two of them.
“Bro! What’s up? Sookie! Good to see you!”
Oh yes, he’d been into the margaritas already.
We said our hellos, and I stepped back, “Elsa, could you show where the bathroom is?”
Eric smiled and sat down with his brother and father, while his mother led me back into the house.
“Um. I guess I should apologize,” she said nervously. “I’m just glad to see him happy. And you seem like such a nice girl.” I looked at her blankly. “The boys told me all about their trip to Michigan. They’re all pretty taken with you, and that’s impressive.”
“Oh, well, I’m pretty taken with all of them, too.” I laughed. “But the oldest one in particular.”
She smiled at me, and it was genuine, not overly excited and crazy. “Here’s the bathroom. Eric’s room is across the hall, you two will sleep in there. It’s a small bed, but I’m sure you’ll make it work.” She winked at me, and walked away.
I stood there, dumbfounded. Eric had said his mom was excited to meet me. He never mentioned that she wanted us to have sex in his childhood room.
Thoughts of going to the bathroom put on hold, I pushed the door to Eric’s room open; it was full of the remnants of high school Eric. There were newspaper clippings, pictures, and medals on the cork-board, along with prom and senior pictures on the shelf. There was a double bed, thank god it wasn’t a twin, but it would be plenty small to share with Eric’s gigantic body.
Jens had put my bag on the bed, so I found my face wash and headed to the bathroom. When I opened the door to put my things back, Eric was standing near the desk, reading something on the cork-board.
“Hey,” he said, turning to face me. “I am so unbelievably sorry. I can’t even explain to you what the fuck is going on with her.”
“Well, I can. Your brothers have already given me the stamp of approval, and she just told me your bed was small but we’d make it work.” I raised an eyebrow at him and waited for it to sink in. “She wants grandkids, Eric. And you’re the closest one to having them.”
“Sven is moving in with Rachel. She doesn’t even know that you moved to California.” He sighed. “She’s always been a little nutty about the people we dated. I was just hoping she wouldn’t act crazy in, oh I don’t know, the first ten seconds of your visit.”
I laughed and put my arms around him. “It’s okay. She totally freaked me out at first. But I thought about it, and it’s actually kind of sweet, in a neurotic thank god she lives six hours away from us kind of way.”
His arms came around me, and he chuckled, nodding. “I should go tell her that you moved in with me. She’ll probably squeal and end up needing to go to her room.” He sighed. “Please don’t flip out if she starts showing you her wedding pictures or something. I mean, I know the baby pictures are coming, but she’s off the charts today, I can’t even predict what she’s going to do.”
“It’s okay, Eric. Just remind yourself how lucky you are that you don’t have to meet my parents.”
“I would love to meet your parents.”
“Oh yeah? My dad would have met you at the front door with a baseball bat.”
“But would your mom have crushed me in a gigantic hug?”
I snorted. “I don’t know about that, but she would have made you sleep on the couch, that’s for sure.”
We went back out to the pool to visit with the rest of the family. Chris was telling their parents that Sven had called while they were picking us up. He had moved his things down to Denver and was getting ready to start work. Jens and Elsa laughed when Eric mentioned that he was planning to send him a care package that included dress shoes.
The rest of the afternoon passed by without another weird outburst from Elsa. She asked appropriate questions about my life and my blog. Eric told his parents about our emails and that Sam had wanted us to meet, and Elsa thought it was the most romantic thing she’d ever heard. Jens leaned over and told me quietly that she said that about once a week.
Elsa stood to excuse herself to make dinner and Chris smiled in excitement.
“What?” Eric asked him.
“She got up early. She made meatballs and boiled potatoes this morning. She’s making your favorite Swedish meatballs and my favorite mashed potatoes.”
“Language,” Jens admonished.
Chris laughed at Eric getting in trouble. “Yeah, I saw herring and pickled cucumbers in the fridge from that specialty store in Oakland too.”
“The Nordic House? Cool. Sookie, do you like herring?”
“I’ll eat a little.”
“Eric,” his father said quietly. “Go tell your mother that Sookie has moved to California.”
I looked at his dad in shock. Had Eric told him? How did he know? From the look on Eric’s face, I realized that he was surprised as well.
“You’re still scary dad.”
“I just know these things. You want me to come with you?”
“Kind of. She might strangle me with joy.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
They went inside, leaving me at the table with Chris, who had continued drinking margaritas.
“Did he forget to tell you our family was nuts?”
I laughed. “He warned me about your mom.”
He shrugged and sipped his drink.
I heard Elsa scream in excitement from the kitchen, and Chris and I laughed. We sat and talked quietly for a while and then both Jens and Eric came to join us. I asked if I should go help, but they told me no because she wouldn’t let me help anyway.
Eric quietly told me that after screaming, his mom left the room for a minute, then she came back wiping her eyes and gave him a big hug. He said his dad told her to behave and went back to making mashed potatoes like nothing had happened.
A little while later, Elsa called us in for dinner. The table was set beautifully and there was a spread of food that would feed way more than the five of us. She had poured wine for all of us and when we were all seated she gave a toast.
“To Eric and Sookie finding each other.”
It was unexpected, but sweet, and I could see Eric watching her, afraid she was going to say something more, but she was finished. We all clinked our glasses with each other and began passing the serving bowls around to fill our plates.
The food was delicious and small talk continued around the table as we ate. When the main course was finished and at least two bottles of wine were consumed, Elsa brought over a chocolate cake. She expertly cut into it, the way that only a mother who’d put on numerous birthday parties could, and began passing out slices of dessert. And then she made me want to hide under the table.
“Sookie, I read that you were divorced. Were you married for a long time?”
“Mom!” Eric and Chris said at the same time.
“It’s okay.” I loved that even Chris was protective of me. “We were married eight years, but we were together for ten.”
“Oh, I see. That’s a long time. Did you not want children?”
I was so mortified I couldn’t speak. Eric’s fist was tight around his fork, and Chris was shaking his head. It was Jens that spoke.
“Elsa. Enough.” Then he said something in angry rapid Swedish.
She looked surprised at our reactions. “I read that he has a baby now. You were together a long time, but you didn’t have kids.” The color drained from her face. “Oh, sweetie, you can’t have kids?”
Tears were pouring out of my eyes. I had no idea what was going on around me, but I stood and mumbled, “He didn’t want children with me, apparently.”
I turned and walked to the bedroom in a daze. I heard Eric’s voice behind me, but I had no idea what he was saying, and I really didn’t care.
When I grabbed the door and went to swing it shut, it stopped hard, banging on what turned out to be Eric’s foot behind me. I didn’t turn around. I had no idea what to say. Eric and I had talked about kids, we both knew we wanted them, but we hadn’t really talked about having them together, which clearly was what his mother was trying to get at when she questioned my fertility.
Her question had been totally inappropriate, but what had me reeling, was the thought that she had gotten her skewed idea from the stupid tabloids. The ongoing Sophie Anne debacle was bad enough, but now I got this slap in the face. Were there thousands of people out there thinking that I didn’t want, or couldn’t have, children? And did I care, or was I just shocked that people might think that?
I walked over to the window, not so much ignoring him, but lost in thought. I looked out at the pool area, trying to stop hearing her voice in my head. Eric’s arms wrapped around me, and I felt his chin on top of my head.
“I’m so sorry. We really can go stay at a hotel.”
I started to laugh, and tried to cover my mouth with my hand to make it stop, but it was too late. I was laughing and crying at the same time, and Eric didn’t know what to do with that, so he just continued to hold me.
When I pulled myself together, I wiped my eyes and turned to face him. “We don’t need to go. I just needed a minute.”
“So you know, I think she’s crying too. She feels awful.”
“I’m sure she does,” I snorted. “Sorry. She didn’t know.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“No,” I sighed. “The excuse is that she wants grandbabies, and she was afraid I was defective.”
“You are not defective. And that is no excuse either.”
I sat down on his bed, it was the only place in the room to sit, and exhaled. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s forgivable.”
He stretched out on the bed and reached over to pull me down next to him. I contemplated leaving my back turned to him, because I knew he would snuggle behind me, but I needed to ask him something, and I needed to see his eyes, so I rolled over to face him.
“What?” I crinkled my eyebrows.
“You’re so understanding and willing to forgive.”
“Well, she’s just being a mom, a neurotic one, but a mom.”
He laughed and leaned over to kiss me, but I put a hand on his chest. “I need to ask you something.”
He nodded, keeping his eyes on mine.
I bit my lip and hesitated. “I have to ask, because I spent ten years thinking I knew Bill’s answer.”
“Sookie,” he started to interrupt, but I continued.
“Do you, I mean, if we stay together, would you want to have kids with me?” I didn’t mean to start to cry, but I felt my eyes welling up again. I had no idea what I would do if he said no.
He groaned. “Sook. You’re breaking my heart.” He put his hands on either side of my face. “Yes. I want to have children with you. I’m in love with you.”
“Okay. That’s good.” I nodded and smiled shyly, hoping he didn’t think I was needy, or crazy.
He leaned forward again, and I let him kiss me that time, then I curled into his body. I tucked my head against his chest, and felt his large hands rubbing circles on my back.
There was a soft knock at the door, and Eric looked at me for approval before he called out for whoever it was to come in. As I expected, Elsa stood in the doorway.
“Sookie. I’d like to apologize. I should have never asked anything about your divorce or about having children. It’s none of my business.” She paused for a second and cleared her throat. “It’s no excuse, but, I think that since my sister died, I’ve been worried that I won’t see any of my boys get married or have kids. I’ve always been overly involved in wanting them to date, Jens calls it meddling. It’s been worse since Brigetta died, I put more pressure on the boys about settling down and starting a family, and it just sort of spilled over onto you. I hope you can forgive me.”
I glanced at Eric and he looked sad; he had probably never considered that her urgency in marrying him off had anything to do with her sister’s passing. I squeezed his hand and climbed off the bed to walk over to where Elsa stood.
“I lost my parents when I was in college. I understand the feeling that you never know how much time you have.” I looked back at Eric; he had sat up and was leaning on the headboard watching us. “I’ll be with Eric for as long as he’ll have me.”
“Thank you for understanding. I’ll behave.” She smiled and gave me a quick hug. “Would you like to look at embarrassing pictures of Eric?”
I nodded my head and laughed. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Mom and dad Northman. I do love them so. Thanks so much for reading! You know I always like to know what you think, so…drop me a review. (You know you want to. C’mon. Everybody’s doing it!)
Info for stuff in this chapter:
Malibu Kitchen – google it for reviews. It sounds amazing, but their customer service must be awful.
Nordic House in Oakland, CA (They also have mail order)