I actually felt a little sad watching Sookie and Amelia walk across the bridge. What the hell was wrong with me? Shit. This whole thing was crazy. What were the odds, really? First, that I would come here, to the town she had moved to, and second that she would come out of that alley at the same time I was being stalked by paparazzi? I had been following her blog, but never even considered the woman that wrote it. I mean, in my head The Queen of All That is Delicious had been a fat old woman, and Sookie was far from that. She was beautiful, kind, funny, and oh yeah, she had amnesia.
I went out to the balcony to see what fuckery Alcide and Pam had worked out in order to spin things. Cide had his back to me and was still on the phone. He didn’t hear me come outside and continued bitching about me to Pam I assumed. Alcide was my assistant, but when I traveled he filled in on some of Pam’s publicist duties, doing exactly as she directed him.
“How was I supposed to know she lost her fucking memory? Leave it the Boy Scout to bring her home with him… No, she’s nice. It’ll be fine… Well, she’s not a model, but people could understand why he might like her, because she’s kind of all American or whatever…I don’t know Pam. I think he actually fucking likes her…Yeah. I’ll tell him to call you.”
He turned around and practically jumped over the railing when he saw me behind him. “Jesus, Eric. You scared the shit out of me.”
“Oh good, you know my name. I was afraid you thought it was Boy Scout.”
“Fuck. You know what I mean. You’re always being all nice and shit.”
I raised my eyebrow.
“Most Hollywood types would have just called an ambulance and walked away. You fucking brought her home!”
“I am not a Hollywood type and I brought her home because I didn’t know what else to do with her.”
“Um. The hospital? Ever hear of it?”
“Yes, jackass. She didn’t want to go.” I ran my hand over my face. It sounded ridiculous. I should have taken her to the hospital and I knew it. But there was no going back, certainly not now that there were pictures of us together out there for everyone to see. Which reminded me; “I need to see the pictures. Are they online?”
“Of course. Pam sent me the link. I’ll go fire up the laptop so you can see them.”
He went inside and I stood looking out at the beach. I couldn’t imagine what was so bad about the pictures. I mean, I’m a single guy and I brought an attractive woman home with me. We’d established that Sookie wasn’t going to say anything horrible about me and that she would play along so that I didn’t look like a womanizing man whore. What was the big deal?
I watched the waves coming into the shore. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t have feelings for Sookie, but that was a joke. When I saw her in my doorway last night my heart almost stopped. And this morning, Christ, I woke up draped around her like a second skin. It took every ounce of will power I had not to kiss her. Then before she left, Sookie had to go and ask for my phone number in case she needed me. Shit. When she said that I almost pulled her into my arms and told her to forget it, that I wasn’t letting her go anywhere without me. I exhaled, putting my head on the railing. What the fuck had I gotten myself into?
Heading into the house, I took off my shirt, putting it on the back of the chair, and grabbed some socks from the laundry room before pulling on my running shoes.
“Dude, I’ve got the pictures loaded if you want to see them.”
“Just leave the page up, Alcide. You can take off. I’m going for a run.”
“Ah, okay. So, you’re going to call Pam and get the scoop later?”
“You mean to find out what kind of bullshit you two are going to spread about my life?”
“Eric. You know how this business works man.”
I sighed. This wasn’t his fault. “I know. I’m sorry. I just really don’t like it today.”
“Yeah. I understand.”
“I’m going to dinner at Amelia’s tonight with Sookie. You should probably call Pam and let her know.” I grabbed my car keys off the counter and held them towards Alcide. “Take the Vette and leave me your keys. I’m not driving it while I’m here, it’s ridiculous.”
“They could still be sitting out there waiting and follow you in whatever you’re driving.”
“I know, but that damn car makes it impossible to blend in. Just take it. Whatever. I’m going for a run.”
“Later,” he called after me and unfortunately, I knew that I would have to talk to him during my vacation. I had planned to ignore both him and Pam but that was no longer an option.
Running down the beach I passed everything from families setting up for the day, college students slathering on lotion as they popped open beers, and an elderly couple walking the shore in pants and long sleeves to shield themselves from the sun. I loved the mix of people here, but it was nowhere as extreme as the people you saw at the beach in California. There were no rollerbladers or street performers, just average Midwesterners enjoying their short summer.
When I made it back to the house I caught sight of a photographer that thought he was well hidden in the tall grass. I wanted to stop and yell, “Hey asshole, I can totally see you,” but that would have given him what he wanted, a prime photo opportunity, so instead I headed inside to do my cool down. I would have loved to finish up outside in the sunlight, but I wasn’t giving the fucker any ass shots while I stretched my legs.
Finishing my stretches, I ran upstairs and took a quick shower. I felt refreshed and headed to the living room to check my voice mail and finally look at the fateful pictures that had everyone so stirred up. Grabbing my cell phone, I saw that I had two messages and four missed calls. According to the call log there had actually only been one caller: Pam. I was a little disappointed that Sookie hadn’t called, which was crazy, but it also meant that she was okay, so I couldn’t be too upset. I moved my finger over the mouse touchpad on my laptop to refresh the screen and called my voicemail.
Pam’s voice came through the phone like nails on a chalkboard, I hated it when she was mad. We had been working together for a few years and we got along fairly well, but when she was pissed, she was a crazy bitch.
“You’re avoiding me. You should have answered the phone because now I’m upset. I am trying to do what’s in your best fucking interest out here drama queen. I can’t believe you took some girl back to your house. What are you? A horny college student? I’m putting out fires all over Hollywood because of your little indiscretion and you can’t answer your fucking phone? Nice, Northman. Call me.”
Whey did she work for me again? Because she was the best. And because on a good day, we actually got along well. Fuck. I deleted it and prepared for the next, even more pissed off, message from Pam.
“So apparently we’re going with the old, ‘They met online’ story. It’s almost stupid enough for the public to believe. Luckily, you are a complete tool and there is documentation that you’ve been to this foodie blog. Seriously, you sit around on the internet surfing a food blog? That is so, just, not sexy. I can’t believe I have to publicize that.” She sighed, gathering steam to continue. “I’m making plans for you to take her on some romantic day trips while you’re there. If you can call anything in that god forsaken redneck land romantic. Alcide said it took thirty minutes to get to a Starbucks. I had no idea places like that existed, except in mother fucking North Dakota. I understand you are going to dinner with this, “Sookie,” and her friends tonight, that’s fine, it fits with the story. You should take her to breakfast in the morning and let them take your picture so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to hide anything, but don’t speak to them. Be sure your friend can say, “No Comment.” We have other details to discuss. Call me when you get this message, or I will call you multiple times until we speak. That’s all.”
Deleting the message with a stab of my finger, I realized that there was a growling sound coming from the back of my throat. Damn she pissed me off. She seemed to think that I needed her approval for my dinner plans and she was dead wrong on that. But the comment about breakfast floored me. She clearly thought I was planning to spend the night with Sookie and she wanted me to flaunt it. Fuck you Pam, my sex life is really none of your business. Oh shit. How did I make that jump in thoughts? I was so screwed.
Internet Explorer had opened to the webpage for OK! Magazine and there we was a spread of pictures showing Sookie and me together. In the first shots, we were walking towards my car and then there was one showing my hand on Sookie’s back as I opened the door for her. There was a close-up of her face looking up at me before closing the door and one of me as I walked to my side of the car. Finally, there was a picture of Sookie alone, and it was obviously from her wedding day. She was breathtaking. I could hardly pull my eyes away from that picture.
Cursing, I was angry at myself because I should have known that this would happen. I had seen the photographers coming down the street behind us, but I thought that we had gotten in the car before they spotted us. I hated having my personal life dissected and plastered on the front page.
Reading the text of the article, I ground my teeth. The author claimed that I had skipped out on the screening Crescendo, my film at the festival, to spend time with a woman who spent the night with me. They stated that she had been identified by her ex-husband, William Compton, DDS., as Sookie Stackhouse, a food writer from Chicago. Jesus Bill, why don’t you just take out an ad for your dental clinic while you’re feeding Sookie to the wolves? Bill made it clear that their divorce had just become final, but he neglected to mention his girlfriend and their new baby. Douche. The author then went into detail about Crescendo, giving it’s release date in theaters around the country, and then listing some details about the Waterfront Film Festival.
I examined the picture of her smiling up at me again. The image captured her face before we realized she didn’t have her memory. She looked trusting and sweet. It did look like we were on a date, but I didn’t see what was wrong with that. Shit, I was making excuses. I knew that wasn’t the issue. I could go on dates, I just couldn’t look like I spent my nights with random women, and I didn’t want anyone to think that about Sookie. I exhaled, leaning back on the couch. I really hoped she was getting her memory back, or that she needed me to reassure her if she didn’t. Fuck, that was all kinds of twisted.
My phone rang and I was hopeful until I saw that it was Alcide’s number. I answered and he told me that he had spoken with Pam. He gave a long explanation about how the producers of my film and the festival people weren’t upset at me at all. The producers and the film festival would not have received nearly as much press in Los Angeles today if Sookie and I hadn’t been photographed together, so they didn’t care. In fact, the producers were thanking Alcide and couldn’t wait to work with me again. Hollywood. One man’s scandal was another man’s cash cow.
I still had a couple of hours before I needed to head over to Amelia’s, so I dug out a stack of scripts that I had brought along to review. Some were easy to discard after only a few pages. I had no desire to play a futuristic, half robot superhero. Other scripts needed to be read more thoroughly, so I set them aside. I wouldn’t mind playing a cowboy again and the human sexuality professor role looked interesting.
Pam called again, telling me that she had made some reservations for Sookie and I near Traverse City and she had a couple of other outings that she wanted to suggest for our summer fling. I informed her in no uncertain terms that Sookie and I would be choosing our own excursions and making it clear that her Christmas bonus would be in jeopardy if the paparazzi was tipped off to Sookie and my activities. Before I knew it the afternoon had passed, and I needed to change clothes for dinner.
Putting the address into the GPS in Alcide’s, now my, rented Jeep, I followed the turn by turn directions into town. I didn’t see anyone following me, but I wouldn’t really know if I’d been spotted until the papers came out or Pam was called for an official comment.
Amelia’s house was only a few blocks from the main shopping district, as I pulled in, I saw a Camry parked next door with Illinois plates and knew that it was Sookies’ house. I wondered for a second if I should have parked over there.
Climbing the stairs, I could hear activity in the house coming through the screen door. Sookie was laughing and a man was saying something about never liking dentists anyway. I assumed he was talking about her ex-husband and smiled. I knocked and was greeted by a large man with shaggy dark hair.
“Mr. Northman. I’m Tray Dawson. Come on in.”
“Thanks. And it’s Eric, please.”
Nodding, he led me into the kitchen where the ladies were putting the finishing touches on a garden salad and drinking margaritas. I was pleasantly surprised when Sookie came over to give me a hug. Amelia giggled at us over her shoulder and Tray looked a little shocked. Well, at least we’re all on the same page: this was both nice and weird all at the same time.
I returned her squeeze. “Hi. Did you have a good day? Remember anything else?”
She sighed. “It was okay. I remembered a couple of things.”
“You did? That’s great! What do you remember?”
“Come on, let’s go sit outside and I’ll tell you.”
Tray held out a beer, which I gladly accepted and followed Sookie outside to a fenced-in back yard. We sat at a wrought iron table and Tray put some steaks on the grill while Amelia finished up in the kitchen.
“So, we wandered through my house today, and I looked at a lot of pictures. Some of them look familiar, but more like I’ve seen the people before, than like they’re my friends or family.”
“That’s a start.”
“Yeah.” She chuckled.
“Eventually my cell phone started ringing like crazy. The first call was from my friend Lafayette, who we need to come back to because he lives in L.A. Then my brother, the editor from the Tribune, my old landlord and my former yoga instructor all called to comment on the pictures of us. Oh, and Bill called, I lost track of how many times, he never left a message.”
“Oh shit. I’m sorry.” I was spending a lot of time apologizing to her. There probably isn’t any way to make up for being the reason someone has lost their memory and been sucked into Hollywood subterfuge, but I was trying.
“Well, the only one who was actually upset about it was my brother. Otherwise it was a lot of ‘congratulations’ and ‘why didn’t you tell me you knew him?’ comments. I didn’t actually talk to any of them, I just let the calls go to voicemail. I made Amelia listen to help me figure out who they all were.”
“So one of their messages triggered some memories?”
Her eyes looked a little sad, but she smiled. “No. It was actually the pictures. I looked at them online.”
I waited. What in the pictures of us had triggered her memory? And then I knew.
“Oh Sookie. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” Her eyes welled a little. “Did you see? I was a really beautiful bride. Amelia says I gave the dress to charity.”
“I’m so sorry that’s what you remembered. I’m sure it was a great day, but now, knowing about Bill…” I trailed off.
She shook her head and wiped her eyes. “It’s okay. I mean, I remembered Bill and our wedding and then I was so mad that he gave that reporter my name that I recalled some of our fights too.”
“Did you remember anything else? Or did anything feel familiar?”
“I think I kind of remember my Gran. I didn’t at first. Amelia had to tell me who she was in the pictures. But later I found some stuff in the medicine cabinet and I just knew it was hers. Oh, and I remembered I hate celery. Amelia asked me to cut some up for the salad and I automatically launched into a speech about how it was evil and disgusting. She and Tray died laughing, because she knows how much I hate it and was just testing me.”
“Well, then we’ll just have to keep trying new things and you’ll remember what you like and what you don’t like. We have a couple of weeks to get to know each other.”
The corner of her mouth rose creating a little dimple, and I cursed the Gods when Tray’s voice interrupted making me break eye contact with her.
“How do you like your steak, Eric?” Amelia was coming down the stairs with a stack of plates and Sookie stood to help her set the table.
“Medium-rare,” I answered Tray and went to stand with him near the grill. We made manly small talk, discussing the merits of gas versus charcoal grills, while the steaks finished and the girls brought out the rest of the food.
We ate and continued to talk about everything except the bizarreness that had brought us together. Sookie laughed and even remembered some things about a girls trip to Cancun she and Amelia had taken with Felicia and Ginger. They were all considerate and tried to keep me involved, but I was really just enjoying their interactions. I had to admit that I was sad that I didn’t have very many friends that I could hang out with like this anymore. Hell, I didn’t usually have time to hang out like this anymore.
Amelia served Sookie’s tiramisu for dessert. We toasted to Rose Angelis, along with Sookie’s blog, laughing about the way we found each other.
The silky dessert was as good as I remembered, even though it came out of the freezer.
“My mom would be so jealous,” I said between decadent bites. We all laughed and had second helpings before Sookie declared she wouldn’t let us eat all of her emergency stash.
The ladies cleared the table when we were finished while Tray made another batch of margaritas. We all regrouped at the table and for the first time, there was an uncomfortable silence. I knew it was time for me to lay the plan out, it wasn’t much, and I was a little nervous about their reaction.
“So, let me tell you what my publicist came up with, and you tell me what you think.” I looked around the table, it was clear that this was a team Sookie meeting, not a team save Eric’s ass meeting, and I needed everyone’s approval.
“I’ll be here another three weeks. The idea is that Sookie and I will spend time together here in Saugatuck and take some day trips near by. We won’t have any kind of staged photos or anything, if the paparazzi see us, then they can snap a picture. In a couple of days Pam will issue a statement that Sookie and I met because of the blog and that we’re dating. Pam doesn’t think it’s wise to mention the amnesia, and I’d have to agree. That wouldn’t look good for either of us. So, on top of all of that, we’ll spend time with you guys to help Sookie get her memory back.”
“Wow. You thought that out.” Sookie looked a little stunned.
“I had to scale back Pam’s original plan for a completely orchestrated public courtship. What do you think?” Amelia looked like she wanted to say something, but I needed to hear Sookie’s reaction.
“It sounds good. I mean, I think we’ll have fun.”
“Sookie. We don’t have to do this. As a matter of fact, I kind of expect you to tell me this is ridiculous, and have Amelia take you to the hospital.” Fingers crossed behind my back.
Everyone laughed at that, but Amelia chimed in, “He’s right Sook. We can head to the hospital or whatever you want.”
Sookie shook her head. “No, things are coming back to me. I’ll be fine.” She gave me a shy look, “I’d really like to spend the next couple of weeks with you.”
And I with you. “Great.”
Tray cleared his throat. “It’s getting dark and the mosquitoes are going to come out. We ah, have some home movies of Sookie, if you want to check them out.”
“Oh, that’s embarrassing.” Sookie looked nervous.
“Bah! We’re in them too!” Amelia laughed.
We headed inside to camp out in front of the television, laughing and watching home videos for a couple of hours. Sookie remembered a few things, but only when they came on the screen. Nothing seemed to come to her without prompting. Eventually, she began to yawn and I knew that it was time to break up our little party. I had no idea how the evening would end between Sookie and I.
“Do you want me to walk you home?”
“Mm hm. Yeah, I should get some sleep. Tomorrow’s another day of figuring out who I am.”
Everyone chuckled, but I had a feeling it was starting to weigh her down. We made plans for the four of us to go down to the film festival the next night, then Sookie and I said goodnight and walked arm-in-arm over to her house. I didn’t know if this was the end of the evening for us, but I won’t lie, I checked to make sure my Jeep was parked so that Tray and Amelia’s cars could get out in the morning.
She unlocked the door and turned to me. “Do you want to come in for a bit?”
I leaned on the door frame and looked at her, silhouetted by the porch light. “That sounds great.”
She turned on a light and we went into the living room. “I would tell you about the pictures and stuff, but I don’t remember most of them. Here’s my Gran though.” She handed me a picture of a woman with long silver hair and a bright smile.
We sat on opposite ends of the couch, and it actually felt a little tense. “I can go, if you want to go to bed or something.”
She looked away, and I thought I saw a tear. Oh, hell, I should have just gone home and called her in the morning. This was all too much for her.
Her eyes came back up to mine, and I was right, they were full of tears. “That’s just it. I don’t want to go to sleep. I don’t want to be here alone.” Her breath hitched. “I’ve remembered some things, but I don’t feel like this is my house. God. I’m being a baby.”
That was it. I gave up.
“Come here.” I pulled her into my arms. “I’ll stay here or you can come home with me. You don’t have to be alone.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?”
“You and I have been thrown together into a crazy situation. We need to stick together. I’m here for you. Whatever you need.” I was rubbing circles on her back and breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, she smelled fucking delicious.
She sat back a little and put her hand on my cheek. I felt a jolt of electricity as our eyes met.
Oh, no, thank you. I needed to pull it together.
She took her hand away from my face and briefly looked around the room. “We should probably stay here. I mean, I guess I should get used to it.”
“Whatever you want,” I said quietly.
I wanted to ravage her, but I didn’t think that was what she had in mind. Every moment I spent with her made me fall just a little bit harder for her. I hoped to god that as she gained her memory she didn’t pull away from me.