Leap of Faith
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Reunion
I was in the produce aisle when my life imploded for the second time. One minute I was reaching for some fresh ginger and the next, I bumped into this brick wall, but it wasn’t a wall, it was him. I was totally shocked; I just opened my mouth and words tumbled out, “Eric, what on God’s green Earth are you doing here?”
He was equally stunned, “Sookie?”
Just then my brother, Jason, came around the corner of and saw us. “Aw, shit,” he said glancing at me, “I didn’t know he was back Sookie.” Then he looked at Eric, “Dude, just go.”
“Jason, I…” Eric shook his head, but he was looking at me. “I just got home. I heard you were in Atlanta. Are you living in Bon Temps now?”
He heard I was in Atlanta? He was keeping track of me? Backthetruckup. I gave Jason a quick look before saying, “No, I’m just here for a long weekend.”
He nodded and looked at me with those eyes. Oh, those eyes. “If you have time while you’re here…we really should talk.” He licked his lips, “I mean…I…there are things to say.”
Before I could come up with a response Jason stepped in between us and spoke, “Dude, she’ll talk to you if and when she wants to. Okay?” Without waiting for a response, Jason grabbed my hand and pulled me away from my past.
Eric Northman had been the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and a freakin’ tsunami that left me destroyed. No one was really mad at Eric for what had happened, okay, some people were mad, but mostly they were just protective of me. It took all I had not to turn around and stare at him. Hoyt’s mom, Mrs. Fortenberry, was doing enough staring for all of us though. Damn. Everyone was going to know that I’d run into Eric before we even got home.
He was here. He wasn’t overseas anymore. How had I not known that? I guess because no one wants to give you updates on your ex after they tear your heart out and leave you to deal with the aftermath. Sweet Shepherd of Judea! It had been, what seven years? Who was I kidding? I knew how long it had been – to the day. Lord, I let out a sigh and my mind was just boggled. Was he married? I hadn’t even thought to look for a ring! Crap. But he wasn’t dead; that was a good thing, right? And he looked good too. He was tan and fit. The shirt he’d been wearing smoothed over his skin to detail every curve and bulge. Jesus, Mary and Joseph – that fact that I had even just had that thought irritated me. This weekend just kept getting worse.
Jason dragged me through the checkout quickly and into the truck. We were headed back to Gran’s to drop me off. He had made sure I had enough groceries for the weekend and we’d gotten some supplies for tomorrow’s guests; paper plates and things that we knew we would need.
We didn’t talk the entire way back to the house. He put the truck in park and turned to look at me, “Sookie…I am so sorry. I really had no idea he was here. He must have just gotten into town. Shit.”
I nodded, not sure what to say. I looked around at Gran’s flowers and well kept lawn. Sighing, I said, “It’s okay Jason, really. I just can’t believe… I mean…it’s just been so long. I thought I’d be okay if I ever saw him again. I mean, we both grew up here. It was bound to happen. But…wow.” I leaned my head back against the seat, “This trip really sucks so far. Is there anything else I should know?”
“No, I mean, not that I can think of.”
Jason helped me unload everything and had a glass of tea with me in the kitchen before he left. He gave me a hug that lasted a little too long, you know, the kind you give to someone who is totally damaged, and told me he’d see me in a few hours.
Life in Atlanta was so much different than home, so much faster and impersonal. But that’s what Bon Temps, Louisiana would always be – home. I had just needed to get away and start over after I fell apart. Coming back after college still hadn’t been appealing and, honestly, there weren’t a lot of jobs here. So I found a job and made a life for myself in Atlanta. If you didn’t know me from before, you wouldn’t have known that I was half dead inside.
I have friends, I laugh, and I even have fun. I go on dates occasionally. I’ve had a couple of serious boyfriends and I almost got engaged once, but that was a disaster. I’m in a book club and a dinner club; I even take a dance class. Crap, I’m defending my life to myself.
Today, seeing Eric though, it’s like it all just happened again. Memories of us together were flooding my brain. It was bittersweet. There were so many good memories, but they always brought me back to the end, with me sitting alone on the porch swing trying to figure out what the hell had happened.
Eric was older than me by three years, and we had known each other as long as I could remember. I thought he had always just seen me as Jason’s sister, but one day during my junior year everything changed. He was home from Tulane University over in New Orleans for the holidays and was playing a game of pick-up basketball in the park when Tara and I came to watch her cousin Lafayette.
We found seats on one of the benches on the far side of the court. I was in my white sundress with the little red flowers; it was one of my favorites. Eric was in basketball shorts. No shirt, his team was skins. LORD. I had always thought he was hot. The guys kept on playing and didn’t even notice us until there was a break in the game. Hoyt went in for Eric and when he turned to leave the court our eyes met. My eyes were usually on him; I couldn’t help it really. He tripped a little and I smiled. He shrugged and grinned back, wiping himself off with a towel.
I was sure he had just tripped on his own feet, and that it had nothing to do with me until he turned and gave me another long look. “Shit Sookie. Did you see that? He was checking you out! Eric ‘Mr. Hottness’ Northman!” Tara giggled.
Tara and I were total opposites, the cute blond southern belle and the obnoxious black girl with street cred. I don’t know why our friendship worked, but it did. She was as close to me as a sister. Tara’s family hadn’t really ever been there for her, so she was pretty much an adopted Stackhouse.
When the game finished we all headed to Merlotte’s bar for something to eat. Sam worked there and always hooked us up with extras. Eric sat next to me, and I was lucky to string two words together, but I managed. We talked about trivial things, laughed and flirted. It got late and Lafayette had to get home so Tara gave him a ride. I tried not to act nervous, but that left me alone with Eric.
He smiled, “Well, Miss Stackhouse, I guess you need a ride.”
“I guess so,” I said, biting my lip.
He kept his hand on my lower back as we walked and opened the door for me. He was always a gentleman. The drive home was uneventful, but he walked me up on the porch and everything in the world was different. With the moonlight shining and the sound of Gran’s TV show in the background he asked to see me the next day. I couldn’t do anything but nod. He kissed my cheek and I know it sounds cliché, but that was it.
That night changed everything.
We were inseparable from that point on. Well, he was away at school during the week, but we were together every weekend.
I hadn’t dated much before Eric. Being Jason’s sister was a blessing and a curse. I met lots of guys with my brother, but I knew way too much about them to actually want to date them; and Jason would have killed them for trying.
But Eric Northman was different.
Sure, everyone thinks that they guy they date in High School is the one, but over the three years, I knew Eric was the one. He waited for us to consummate our relationship until I was truly ready. He never pressured me, and when I was ready, he made our first time romantic and special. I was irrevocably in love with him.
He came to homecoming and prom with me and did all of those things that a college boyfriend should hate until I joined him at school. But he didn’t hate it. He used to say that it didn’t matter what we did, as long as we were together.
I moved to New Orleans when I graduated and started school at Tulane with him. For nearly three years there was no Sookie or Eric, it was always Sookieanderic, or Ericandsookie. It was disgusting, and I loved it. I always thought he did too.
We were home for the summer and went to dinner at Mon Cheri in Ruston. I had worn my best dress, not too churchy and not too slutty, and I was SURE this was it. Eric had graduated the week before and it was time to start the next chapter in our lives. He had been acting a little strange lately, and I was certain I knew why. He was going to ask me to marry him and make me the happiest woman in the world! I would finish college while Eric was in medical school, we’d have babies and we’d live happily ever after.
But dinner was finished, and it hadn’t happened. Then we sat on the porch at Gran’s, and I was so touched that he waited to ask me there. Since my parents died, Gran’s house was a safe haven for both Jason and me. We rocked on the swing, and Eric looked nervous.
He turned and looked at me, “Sook, there’s something we need to talk about.” I grinned at him, but his eyes weren’t dancing with joy, they were drawn tight and looked pained. My heart skipped a beat. Something was very wrong. He took my hands and let out a big breath, “Sookie, I need you to understand that it’s not because of you.”
Oh. My. God. Ohmygod ohmygod. This was NOT happening. I felt nauseous.
He smoothed my hair back, as if he needed to touch me. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he continued. “You know how hard it was when my Uncle Bill died in the September 11th attacks, and I…I’ve been feeling that I need to do something. I can’t just pretend that it didn’t happen, and I can’t just sit back and do nothing.” Then he took my hands, trying to rub my wrists to calm me.
“Eric. I’m not following. What does this have to do with us?”
He shook his head and let out a deep breath, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…Sookie…I’ve enlisted.”
My mouth fell open and I began blinking like an idiot. Catching flies Gran would say. I tilted my head to the side and just looked at him, “I’m sorry. You did what?”
“I joined the Marines.”
My mind was trying to process everything. He wasn’t breaking up with me; he was leaving for the military. There were so many questions, but the first thing I said was, “But, what about Med school?”
“This is more important to me Sookie. This is what I need to do.”
“Okay,” I continued, still trying to process what was happening, “So, how will we…Are you sure about this? Where are you going? Should I come too? Should I meet you there later? When do we leave?”
His eyes welled up, but no tears fell, “No baby. You can’t come. I’m starting at Parris Island in South Carolina and then I’ll go from there.”
Taking a deep breath, he put a hand on my cheek, “Sook, you can’t come. I have to do this, and I can’t make you wait for me. I don’t expect you to, and I don’t want you to.”
“No, nonononono,” I said shaking my head. “Eric, I love you. This doesn’t change anything. You’re not making me wait. I won’t be waiting. I’ll just come with you.”
“I know, but…Sook, what if I don’t come back? I don’t want you to go through that. I can’t do that to you.”
“Eric – No. Listen to me; I understand that you think you have to do this, but you don’t have to do it alone. I mean, I liked your Uncle Bill; he lived just back behind us. It’s okay, I’ll come with you.”
“Sweet Sookie, I’m sorry, I really am. I have to do this alone though,” he said as he tried to pull me in to his arms.
I fought him, hitting and pushing him, but he kept pulling me, and I gave in. I whispered through the tears rolling down my face, “Eric, you can’t do this to me.”
There was more talking that night, but really it was all a blur. Nothing I said swayed him; nothing he said made me understand. I was sobbing, he was trying to make me accept that he was leaving and I couldn’t come…And then I was sitting on the porch swing alone.
You know in “New Moon” when Bella collapses in the woods and gets found later by Sam? Some people said that was a little dramatic, but me, I understood completely. At that moment, sitting on the swing, I was more dead inside than alive; the only thing keeping me going was my autonomic nervous system. I couldn’t have directed my muscles to move or my mouth to make a sound to save my life. I didn’t think that when Eric walked away he realized how destroyed I was. I mean, really, how could he have not have known? But if he knew, how could he leave?
I just sat on the swing in a daze. Jason showed up looking for some of Gran’s coffee cake in the morning and I was still there, one leg up with my arms wrapped around it and my chin on me knee. It wasn’t until he got to the top of the steps and saw that my hair was covered in dew that he knew something was wrong. When I didn’t respond to anything he said, he picked me up and carried me in, all the while terrified that he would find Gran dead inside or something. At least that’s how he tells it. Like I said, I don’t really remember any part of it.
Gran was devastated for me. She and Tara knew that I had been expecting a ring that night. She told me that she covered me with blankets and forced me to drink broth and tea but that I didn’t really even begin to communicate until the next day. Even then she said I was a train wreck, sobbing and struggling to say anything that made sense. Jason says now that he hated that part, and that he liked me better when I was just kind of comatose; he never could deal with crying women.
By the time I was able to dial a phone or get myself together enough to try to go to Eric’s house, I knew he was gone. I found out later that he left two days after telling me goodbye. For a few weeks I floated around in a haze of pity and gossip. I couldn’t decide if it would be better to go back to school and jumpstart my life, or stay home with my friends and family for support.
My decision was made during a trip to the post office for Gran. I had heard everyone whispering how sad it was and all the “poor Sookie” comments I could stand, but that day I overheard Arlene say that she would have known how to keep a man like Eric from leaving town. I nearly broke my leg rushing out of there so fast. I threw up in the parking lot, and I knew that I’d never get over him if I stayed in town, not that I ended up doing a great job of healing on my own, but that’s not the point.
Eventualy, Jason told me when Eric was sent to Iraq. That was one of the few updates over the years that people thought I needed to hear. He said, “I was afraid that I’d have to tell you later that he was dead, and I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t told you he was there first.” Thanks Jason, he’s always been a genius.
But I was glad I knew. Before that I had just been clueless about Eric. He was doing what he had set out to do. I don’t know what he did in the Marines, I don’t know how his tour of duty went; and after seeing him in town today, I don’t even know if he had to go back again.
I heard a car door and glanced up. Somehow I had walked myself out to the porch to rehash all of my memories and was sitting on the stoop, though I don’t remember doing it. And now my past was walking up the driveway towards me. Note to self, Eric drives the flashy red corvette Jason and I had seen in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Of course he does. Preparing for what was to come, I let out a deep breath. I had figured I wouldn’t get away without talking to him this weekend, but I was hoping I’d have more time to get used to the idea.
He stopped at the bottom of the steps, “Mind if I sit?”
“Does it really matter?”
He gave me a crooked smile and shook his head, “No, it really doesn’t.”
“I didn’t think so,” I said with a sigh. He sat on one of the bottom steps, his long legs folding, his knees jutting up, reminding me just how tall he was.
He was looking me over, not trying to hide it, “You look really good Sookie. Are you well?”
I huffed, and shook my head, “I’d like to say I am, but no, not really.”
He looked slightly shocked at my honest answer. “Sookie, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to upset you,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here. I just got into town myself. And I just… I just wanted to talk.”
I actually started to laugh and then caught myself and stopped. He was going to think I was crazy. I closed my eyes but that didn’t stop the tears that filled them. Before I could say anything I heard a car pull in the driveway and opened my eyes to see Tara pulling up.
She got out of the car with a garment bag and headed toward the porch. I looked at him again, wanting him to read my thoughts and understand everything that was going on in my head. Since that didn’t work I just said, “Eric…this is so not the time for this conversation.”
He looked at me kind of funny and Tara came right up to him and drew his attention, speaking fast, the way she does, “I heard you were back. Exactly what are you doing here? You bring a ring this time?”
He and I spoke at the same time. I wanted to pretend she hadn’t made the crack about the ring and hoped he would forget about it.
“Never mind, asshole. Why can’t you just leave her in peace? Jesus. She comes to town to bury her granny and you gotta get all up in her business?”