Leap of Faith
Chapter 6: Homework
The kiss was soft and lingering, with no urgency, but a whisper of hope. It was such a familiar rush, the tingle down my spine and the pooling heat between my legs. Kissing Eric was just, yeah, wow, there was nothing else like it. We pulled back and sat quietly, forehead to forehead, gazing at each other.
There was a knock at the door, and Tara waited a second, but came in before we answered. I forced my eyes away from Eric’s gaze to see Lafayette coming in behind her. They carried cocktails and an entire pecan pie with four forks. I love pecan pie. I could consider climbing off of Eric’s lap for pecan pie and a cocktail.
“Sooks, you made the right move hidin’ out in here. Hoyt’s momma is in RARE form. We left Amelia and Claudine down there to keep her in line,” Lafayette said, talking with his hand and pursing his lips. There was no denying that he and Tara were related when you saw that look.
I took the gin and tonic Tara was offering and smiled when I realized she’d brought a beer for Eric too. G&T didn’t really sound like it would go with pecan pie, but it had been a crazy day, Hell, a crazy weekend, and I didn’t care.
“Let me go change,” Eric said, moving me off his lap to stand. I felt the loss of our connection and briefly considered how screwed I was already, in terms of getting my heart stepped all over, then he hugged me and kissed the top of my head and the thought was lost.
Eric smiled at the three of us. “I can’t drink in my Blues. I brought some clothes,” he said as he pulled a garment bag out of my closet. When did he bring that in? He saw the look on my face and continued, “I was hoping to stay for dinner, so I brought them for later, I hope that’s alright.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s fine,” I said, “I was actually trying to figure out when you snuck them in there more than anything.”
He smiled and waggled his eyebrows. “I’m a Recon Marine. We’re sneaky,” he said, heading towards the bathroom to change.
Sneaky alright, in a completely sexy way. Damn. I needed to pull it together.
Tara and Lafayette sat on the bed and I went back to the rocking chair with a sigh.
“So,” Tara said, “You okay?”
“I’m going to be okay. I just had too much drama. I can only take so much, ya know?”
Lafayette laughed, “Oh, I know, girl. Drama’s my middle name, not yours!”
Since she’d broken the ice, Tara pulled out the big guns, asking what she really wanted to know, “What was up with ragin’ Cajun?”
“Oh, Lord,” I answered. “He wanted to pay his respects; but he flipped out when he figured out who Eric was.”
“Pay his respects, my ass,” she said, “Did his dick accidently fall into anyone while he was here?”
Lafayette put his hands on his hips and tried to look at his own ass, “Nope. I’m good.”
We all burst into laughter and it felt great. Eric came in, raising an eyebrow.
“Had to be there,” I said. “We waited for you. Want some pie?”
Eric hung his garment bag on the back of my door. Grabbing his beer, he came over and perched on the corner of the bed. “I’d love some pie,” he said. “Are we eating out of the pan?”
“Unless you want me to feed you, Mr. Man,” Lafayette answered, batting his eyelashes.
We ate, talking and laughing like old times. I could sense some bad vibes coming from Tara, but she was behaving. I knew it wasn’t a truce; just a temporary retreat, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Lafayette had stretched out on the bed and was beginning to snore, so Tara slapped him awake. He woke with a startled squeal and called Tara a dirty hooker.
When I finished laughing at them, I knew that it was time to go and face the other mourners. I was not being a good hostess, and I prepared myself to mingle.
“Do I look okay?” I asked no one in particular.
Affirmative answers came from everyone, so I straightened my shoulders and cocked my head towards the door. “Shall we then?”
Lafayette took my arm with a grin, “We shall.”
Tara and Eric followed behind as we made our way back into the main area of the house. Jason was sitting in the living room with Hoyt and Sam. Amelia and the cousins were in the kitchen with Mrs. Fortenberry, and Sheriff Bud Dearborn was asleep in an arm chair in the parlor. I started to apologize to my brother for missing everyone else, but he spoke first.
“Are you okay sis? You did the right thing, hiding out in there. You don’t need to deal with any more shit today. We’ll get this all cleaned up.”
“Who are you and where is my brother?” I asked him. It seemed like the temporary peace with Eric had spread amongst my family and friends, but I didn’t want to push my luck with Claudine. I was glad she was in the kitchen.
He gave me a smirk that had melted the panties off plenty of women, saying, “Hey, can’t a guy be nice to his sister?”
I kissed the top of his head, “Thanks Jay.”
“No problem,” he said, standing and signaling Sam and Hoyt to get up as well, “We’ve got this.”
Tara murmured something about helping too, and Lafayette loudly said that he would dry the dishes. It was kind of like someone yelling “Shotgun!” to ride in the front seat.
When Eric and I were alone, except for Bud’s snores, and he drew me into his arms with a sigh.
“Let’s sit,” he said after a few minutes, pulling me down to the couch with him. I think he intended for me to sit next to him, but I climbed back on his lap like we’d been sitting upstairs. My arms instinctively curled around his neck, and I snuggled into his chest.
“Are you going to fall asleep?” he said teasingly.
“I might,” I said, and I felt his chest rumble with quiet laughter.
“I’ll be here when you wake up,” he said softly.
“I know. That’s why I sat on you.”
And with a few deep breaths, I fell asleep wrapped in the warm arms that I had missed for years.
I woke feeling warm and disoriented. As my senses came back to me, I realized that I was draped completely around Eric’s chest and still blanketed with his embrace. His head was leaning back at a horrible angle, resting on the back of the couch and his mouth was slightly open.
The sun was beginning to set and I wondered just how long we’d been asleep. I untangled my arm to check my watch; he made a little snorting noise closing his mouth, but didn’t wake up. It was 5:30pm, which explained why my stomach was beginning to growl; all I had eaten for lunch was a few bites of pecan pie.
Mentally, I debated staying in his arms versus foraging in the kitchen. I must have been wiggling unintentionally, because I felt Eric’s arms tighten and he groaned, “Please stop moving your ass Sookie, you’re killing me.”
“I’m hungry,” I whispered.
He opened one eye and I realized how what I said could be interpreted.
“For food,” I said, slapping his arm.
He rubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah, me too. Kitchen raid?”
I nodded and we were off.
There was a note from Amelia on the table saying that she’d gone to Merlotte’s with Claude and Claudine. We were invited to join them if we wanted to, but Eric just shrugged and I said I didn’t feel like it.
“Holy Jesus,” Eric said when he opened the refrigerator. “How many casseroles did people think you needed?”
I laughed, “I know, it’s a lot of food. What looks good?”
“Well…” he said as he moved things around, “I see Mrs. Fortenberry’s pistachio pudding pie.”
“Oohh yeah. Mmmm.” It was a favorite at every potluck in town.
“But that’s dessert,” he laughed. “Oh, here’s that taco pie that Mrs. Smith from the library makes and some lasagna that I think Bud brought.”
We found a few other things that we liked and piled plates with what we wanted. Kicking our shoes off, we took our traditional seats at the kitchen table and dug in. We ate in easy silence and smiled at each other over our forks.
Suddenly, ACDC Thunderstruck was blaring in the kitchen, and I looked around, trying to figure out where it was coming from.
“Shit!” Eric said, startled, “It’s my phone.”
He fumbled in his pocket and flipped it open, saying, “Northman.”
There was murmuring on the other end, and Eric’s face lit with a smile. He nodded, saying, “Yes, I made it home safely. I know. I’m sorry I didn’t call.”
I was struggling with my emotions. Who could he be talking to? I couldn’t hear the voice on the other end of the phone. He said he was single, but my heart was pounding; and part of me was pissed that I even cared who he was talking to.
He listened some more and laughed. “No, I actually don’t need to go to Atlanta.”
What in the Hell? His eyes were sparkling with humor as he gazed at me, but I didn’t understand, “What?” I mouthed.
He held up a finger telling me to wait and said into the phone, “Hang on a sec and I’ll put you on speaker phone.”
Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he said to me, “Sookie, this is my best friend’s wife. She’s going to flip out when she finds out I’m here with you. Just play along, I’ll explain later.”
With the push of a button, and no time for me to process or react, he put the phone down and said, “Okay, Soph. You’re on speaker phone.”
“I hate speaker phone Eric and you know it,” the voice said. It was a soft, feminine voice, with a southern lilt, but clearly a no-nonsense attitude.
“Sophie Anne, say hi to Sookie, she’s sitting right here,” Eric said.
“Whatever. Don’t dick around with your friends for two weeks, asshole. I gave you an assignment,” Sophie Anne snipped.
I laughed out loud, slapping my hand over my mouth, but I couldn’t stop myself. Not many people stood up to Eric, and he was getting it good this weekend. He was, however, grinning from ear to ear, ignoring Sophie Anne’s attitude and evidently enjoying completely confusing her.
“Who is that? Eric, don’t mess with me,” she continued.
He was holding back his laughter and he motioned for me to talk.
“Um, hi,” I said. “This is Sookie Stackhouse. Eric said you’re married to…”
I looked at him, and he mouthed, “Cal.”
“Cal,” I continued. “I appreciate you calling to check on him; he had a long drive I guess.”
There was a muffled sound on the other end of the phone and then a man’s voice came on the line.
“Dude, what did you say to her? She just handed me the phone and walked away. She looks like she’s having a fucking stroke,” the voice, that I was guessing was Cal, said with a laugh.
“Hey Cal. I didn’t say anything, I just let Sookie say hi,” Eric told him.
“Ha! Seriously? Wait, Sookie’s there?”
“Yes. And you’re on speaker phone, so don’t say anything obnoxious.”
“Oh, yeah. Fuck. That explains why Soph is freaked out. Um, hey Sookie, nice to meet you finally, sort of.”
“Ah, hello to you to,” I said.
This was a very strange conversation. These people seemed to know who I was, and I couldn’t tell if they were upset that I was with Eric or not.
The look on my face must have matched the confusion in my head, because Eric spoke up, “Cal, I’m gonna go. Tell Soph I’m doing my homework, and I’ll talk to you guys later.”
“Right, man. Okay, bye Sookie.” Click.
Raising my eyebrows, I did my best Ricky Ricardo impression. “Lucy,” I said, “You got some ‘splainin’ to do.”
He laughed, and I saw a flash of happiness behind his eyes, and then it was gone. “I guess it’s my turn to confess, huh?” he said.
“So, that’s Cal and Sophie Anne. They, ah, are kind of my family away from here,” he said. After a second he asked, “So, where should I start?”
“The beginning is always good.”
“Thanks. Yeah, so, the beginning… I haven’t really had good luck dating since you and I, well, I guess I haven’t really tried,” he said, running his hands through his hair.
“Anyway, long story, short; Sophie Anne told me before I headed home that I needed to decide if I wanted to find you and beg for another chance, or I had to get over you and get my head out of my ass. That was my homework assignment.”
“Wow,” I said. What a mess we were. How had we gotten this fucked up? And could we untangle everything and fix it?
“Yeah. When I saw you at the store, it took me a minute to figure out that I wasn’t seeing things; that you were really there.”
I smiled, “I felt that way too.”
I thought he was finished, and even though there was so much more that we should talk about, I was nervous, so I gathered our plates in order to take them over to the sink. Eric stopped me, taking my hand in his on the table, and I stopped what I was doing. I met his gaze and he looked so sad…I realized that there was more to his story, and I was petrified to hear it.
“Sookie, I have to tell you something else.”
“You really don’t,” I said. “It’s been seven years Eric. A lot has happened, to both of us. You don’t have to tell me everything.”
Nodding, he said, “I know, but I need to tell you this.” He took a deep breath and rubbed my hand. “I need to tell you about Hadley. I need you to know, I just…Shit. I feel so guilty about what happened to her; and with everything I found out this weekend. I just feel like, if our families had been honest with us it might never have happened. I feel like shit about it, so I need to tell you. Okay?”
“Eric,” I said, squeezing his hand, “Please don’t tell me if it’s going to hurt me.”
Taking his eyes away from our joined hands, he looked me in the eye. “Sookie, I really need to tell you this. It’ll be okay,” he said.
Seeing him there, looking so vulnerable and tormented, I felt awful for him. I never wanted to see him hurt this way. Eric and I had always had some strange magnetic chemistry, and at that moment, I knew that I had to be touching him, more than just our hands, to hear this story. Keeping hold of his hand, I stood and stepped closer to sit on his lap. He took me in his arms without a word and let out a ragged breath, telling me the rest of the story in a low, sad voice.
“Soph and I, we talk about everything. She’s known about you and me, and how I left you, for a long time. At first she told me to find you, but I told her I thought you moved on, so she just dropped it. I think she knew that I just wasn’t ready. Eventually, she got tired of seeing me lonely and tried to set me up with her friends, but it never worked out. Then I met Hadley at a party Soph threw when we were home on leave. She worked at the public library, and Soph had invited her specifically to meet me. Sophie has some kind of freaky premonitions, but that’s an entirely different story.”
He cleared his throat and continued, “Anyway, Hadley and I hit it off right away, and we spent a lot of time together before I shipped out again. We were actually home for six weeks that time, so we really got to know each other. I wasn’t really interested in the long distance thing, but she said she just wanted to keep in touch, be pen pals and shit. She sent me some really great care packages. Candy and magazines and CD’s and stuff, that shit’s like gold over there,” he laughed.
“We were gone for nine months, but when I got home, we just picked up where we left off, which is weird because we both knew I was only home for a few weeks.”
“Eric, really, you don’t have to tell me this,” I said again, more for myself than him. I was so afraid he was going to tell me that he loved her, and my heart would break into a million tiny pieces. I had to know one way or another though; I couldn’t let him continue without finding out.
In a whisper, I asked, “Did you love her?”
Sighing, he nodded his head, but said, “I should have. She deserved it. But I wasn’t in love with her.”
He kissed my forehead. “I need to tell you this Sookie. I just need to get it out. Okay? I mean, she’s dead, and I feel like it’s my fault,” he said, barely pausing before he continued, but it was enough time for my mind to catch up.
Hadley was dead. Had I heard him right? I felt sick to my stomach. It was like seeing a car wreck. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away. Oh my God. How was he involved? Why did he feel so guilty? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but he was still talking, and I couldn’t stop listening.
“It was a couple nights before I was due to leave, and we’d gone to dinner with Cal and Soph. Then we were back at my place, just the two of us, and she was teasing me about writing letters, saying she would rather get e-mails because she couldn’t read my handwriting.”
Inappropriate as it may have been, I chuckled, because deciphering his writing was nearly impossible. Sometimes I had needed to decode his notes word by word before I could figure out what the entire message was.
“We were leaving for twelve months that time; going in to replace another Recon unit that had been on the front line for close to eighteen months. I knew that it was going to be a bad tour. There was just too much shit going on over there at the time. So I tried to tell her that I didn’t want her to wait for me, that if she found someone else, she should, you know, go out with them. I think I was trying to warn her that I might not come back. But she got pissed at me.”
I huffed, completely understanding how she had felt. He laughed for a second, but it was bittersweet.
“Then she said something; she couldn’t have known what it would mean to me. Tears were streaming down her face, I remember, and she said that she would be there when I got back. That she would be ready when I realized that I was the only one waiting for my life to start while it had been passing me by. And it just hit me, Sook.”
“I didn’t want my life to start with anyone but you. The look on my face must have been bad, because she knew. She just knew. She flat out asked me if I left someone at home when I joined the Marines, and I couldn’t lie,” he said shaking his head.
“She said she was glad that she found out before things went any further. I kept saying I was sorry, that I never meant to hurt her. God it was awful. I mean, I never saw it coming. I’d told myself I was over you for so long, that I just hadn’t found the right person, and all of the sudden I understood. Finally, she just got up, kissed me on the cheek and told me goodbye.”
He stretched his neck and sniffed. “She left that night and got hit by a drunk driver. She was killed on impact.”
“Oh, Eric,” I said, hugging him. “That’s not your fault.”
“I shouldn’t have let her leave. I should have driven her home. Shit, I shouldn’t have started dating her in the first place.”
Taking his face in my hands; forcing him to look at me, I said, “Eric, this is not your fault. You cannot put this on yourself. What if you had driven her home? It might have been you that died.”
“Shit Sookie, I’ve felt so bad about it for almost two years. I’ve just been lost. And now, this weekend I find out that if everyone had been honest with us, I might never have met her, and she wouldn’t have been there night.”
“Eric, you’re not God. You didn’t do this to her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even if we had been together, the same thing could have happened to her. There’s no way to know what would have happened if things were different, and we can’t go back and change it.”
Brushing my thumb over his lip, I asked, “What would she want for you? Would she want you to be miserable?”
His eyes were hazy, but connected to mine. “Before she left she told me that she wanted me to be happy.”
I smiled, “Okay, then, let’s work on that.”
“Fuck,” he said, drawing me back into an embrace while he pulled himself together.
God, this man, he pulled on every string of my heart. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what he must have looked like right after leaving me, and it was one hell of an eye-opener.