So, I posted the intro to this the other day. I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to continue it, because I’ve learned my lesson about forcing things to come when they won’t. I’m actually happy with the story I’ve told, even if the ending is a bit ambiguous. I’m not saying I won’t continue it, just that I’m not going to force it. RealJena is just simply amazing with all the support she’s given me through this. And although nothing is graphic, I should warn you guys that rape is a significant issue here. So here goes, BEFORE ff.net (eye roll)…
You’re such a hard act for me to follow…
April 17, 2010
“Finally,” I sigh quietly, not wanting to wake my soundly sleeping toddler. Chasing Hunter after his grandparents stuffed him full of fruit punch and cake was not how I envisioned spending the reception of Jason’s wedding.
I slip off the first lilac heel as my mom slides silently through the door adjoining our hotel rooms. “Is he finally out?” she whispers, flicking her eyes toward the pack-and-play set up in the corner.
Wiggling my tortured toes in relief, I nod. “Once his sugar high crashed, he was out like a light. I just wish I could have enjoyed the celebration instead of racing around trying to keep up with the little ball of hyper.”
“Jason and Dawn arranged for there to be an open bar until the lounge closes. It’s still fairly early… if you want to go back down, I can keep an eye on this little guy until you get back. You’re still young. There’s no law that says once you’re a mom you can’t act your age now and then.”
I agree and swap the lavender meringue that my sister-in-law wanted her bridesmaids to wear for black skinny jeans and a white tank top. Once I slip on some black kitten heels, Mom grins and nods her head toward the door. “Go. It’s fine.”
I hesitate. “He’s going to be down there, isn’t he?”
Mom sits on the bed. “Probably,” she answers. “Don’t you want to see him?” It’s been… what… ten years, right?”
I sigh and nod. “Almost. I nearly booted one of those dyed-to-match monstrosities right up Jason’s ass for not warning me that he’d be here. I didn’t even know they were friends.”
“I’m not sure they are. They seemed more like associates than friends. I think he was invited as an acquaintance or friend of the family. If I remember correctly, he was also invited to your wedding… I don’t think his absence there surprised anyone though. It’s not like he ever got any kind of explanation.” She arranges the pillows of the bed and reclines with the remote.
I sit next to her stretched-out legs. “I don’t even know what to say to him after this long. Hell, he probably doesn’t even think about me anymore. Ugh! I really want to kick Jason’s ass!”
Mom shushes me and gives me an indulgent smile. “You spent the whole time downstairs chasing after Hunter. You were so focused on him that you didn’t even see it.”
“Eric couldn’t take his eyes off you.”
You wanna know about atrocity…
“Ames, I really don’t want to go to this thing tomorrow night. Why can’t I just hang out with you and Tara like we planned?”
My best friend looks me in the eye sternly. “Because you only turn sixteen once. Lafayette is throwing a massive party that just happens to fall on your birthday. What sounds like a better celebration to you: watching ‘The Perfect Storm’ with your two girlfriends or hanging out at one of the biggest houses on the waterfront, dancing, swimming, and having a blast in general?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” I ask wryly, ignoring her sneer. “It’s just that I told Eric I was going out with you guys when he asked what my plans were. He’s coming for a visit in a couple of weeks, did I tell you?”
Her bright brown eyes roll at me. “Only about once a day since the plans were finalized. It’s awesome that you have a boyfriend and it sucks that he lives so far away. He’s not going to begrudge you partying on your birthday. Did he tell you what he did for his?”
I smirk at her. “As a matter of fact, he did. He and some friends went boating on the river before going home and playing ‘Resident Evil’ all night.”
“Oh that guy of yours is a just a par-tee animal, Sook,” she says sarcastically. “I don’t know how you keep up with a wild man like that. Come on, Sookie,” she starts whining. “You never go out any more. You just sit at your computer IMing this boy you only get to see maybe every other month, at best. You’re coming out, having fun, and celebrating your birthday properly. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
She grins at my exasperated sigh. “Okay, fine. You win. But I’m emailing Eric tonight to let him know about the change in plans. And when I’m ready to leave Lafayette’s, we’re done, no arguments. Deal?”
Shaking my outstretched hand, she grins wickedly. “Deal. You are going to have an awesome night tomorrow, I promise.”
It’s my turn to roll my eyes and I walk her out to the bright blue Miata that her “Daddy” bought her for her sixteenth birthday back in May. Once she’s gone, I head up to my room to boot up my computer.
Eric lived next door to my Aunt Linda, who moved three hours away when I was little. He and I met last summer when I got bored visiting and started wandering down her street. I didn’t get far.
A beautiful blond boy who looked to be about my age was shooting baskets in his driveway. As I walked past, he turned, smiled, and invited me to play. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know Eric James Northman who was twenty-one days older than me and happened to be the grandson of one of my of my dad’s oldest friends. We separated that evening with email addresses and a promise to keep in touch.
Emailing led to instant messages which led to phone calls. It was something new for me; none of the boys here get me the way Eric does. A couple of months after our initial meeting, he asked to tag along when his grandparents came for a visit.
The attraction that had been blossoming exploded when we saw each other again. He held my hand as we walked through the fields and woods around my house. We talked about everything and nothing for hours. When we sat on the small dock at the pond, he leaned over and shyly kissed me. I knew by the stars I saw behind my eyelids that he was it for me.
Since we saw each other so rarely, we never really got the chance to progress past that. I would tag along on Dad’s visits to Aunt Linda and Eric would carpool when his grandparents wanted to reminisce with my parents. When my cousin Hadley got married earlier this year, Eric and I shared every dance and the kiss he gave me before he left made my head spin in ways I’d never experienced before.
That was two months ago and I’m literally counting the days (thirteen) until I get to see him again. I know he’s working tonight, so I just send him a quick email about Amelia bullying me into changing my plans – he’s met her, he’ll understand. I grin at the picture on my nightstand of us taken at Hadley’s wedding. Neither of us had noticed the camera; we were too busy smiling at each other.
I wake up early on my birthday, eager to get my driver’s license at long last. Once I have the laminated card in hand, I rejoice in driving the ancient hand-me-down Oldsmobile that was now all mine. I spend the rest of the day tanning on my deck, singing along (loudly and terribly) with the radio, wondering how long I’m going to have to stay at this party tonight. Lafayette is a sweet guy, but these big parties always get wild and are filled with people I either don’t know or don’t like.
After dinner, I put on my blue bikini before pulling on some khaki capris and a black tank top. I know I’ll end up in the water at some point and I’m not one of those girls that will go swimming in their underwear and say it’s the same thing.
Amelia borrows her father’s Mercedes to pick up Tara and me since her Miata is only a two-seater. Fifteen minutes later, we pull up to a driveway and yard filled with cars. I glare at Amelia. “Happy Birthday to me… riiiight.”
“Oh, come on sourpuss. Let’s go dance.” She parks on the side of the cul-de-sac and leads Tara and me, weaving around the cars, until we get to the front door where she lets herself in.
It looks like every clichéd party scene in the movies exploded in the Reynolds’ house. There are clusters of kids drinking, couples making out, the cheerleader running through the house half naked, giggling, while being chased by a leering football player, and the obligatory girl crying in the corner, being consoled by her friends. I shake my head at the whole scene, really wishing I was watching Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney battle the weather.
“Aww, Sookie Sookie now! Hey there, Sugar! Give me some love!” a voice calls when I walk onto the pool deck. Strong arms pull me into a hug that I return enthusiastically.
“LaLa! This place is a madhouse!” I exclaim loudly to the host, shouting so I can be heard over the noise of the crowd and music.
“I ain’t got no cake, but I’m sure I can whip up a birthday cocktail with your name on it. Go ahead and jump in the pool, Sweetness, and I’ll bring you a treat so yummy you’ll swear you’re sinnin’! Be back in a few,” Lafayette yells, waving spirit fingers at me as he heads inside.
I giggle at his flamboyance and start to strip down to my bikini with Tara. Amelia abandoned us as soon as she saw her current crush – Bob, the preacher’s son – walk by dateless. Neither of us were surprised.
“Well, well, well. Lookie here. Seems like little Sookie Stackhouse has grown up,” a pompous, nasal voice growls from behind me.
I turn with a grimace and see the short, bleach-blond form of Andre Paul, one of my brother’s former baseball teammates. “Really, Malfoy,” I chuckle. “At least one of us has.” He’s nose to nose with me at five-foot-six. “Aren’t you a little old for this party since you graduated like three years ago? Still looking for girls that haven’t hit their growth spurt yet?”
Tara cracks up at the confused look of offense on his face and we turn our backs on the jerk to dive into the pool. When I surface, it looks like Andre is gone and LaLa holds up my birthday drink. I acknowledge him by blowing a kiss before going back underwater – the noise isn’t as deafening there.
Tara gets thrown and dunked by our friend JB; I jump out of the water before he can do the same to me. The two of them get challenged to a chicken fight by another couple as I wrap a towel around my waist. I relax in one of the cushy chaises, watching the frivolity and sipping the drink Lafayette left for me. When I taste his concoction, I have no doubt that that boy will be a professional bartender whenever he decides to grow up. Whatever this is is sweet, citrus-y, and fruity with only the slightest bite of alcohol. It’s so tasty that I empty half the red SOLO cup faster than I thought I could.
When I drain the dregs through the ice remnants, I crinkle my nose and halfway gag at the salty-bitter aftertaste that I hadn’t noticed before. I pull my clothes back on and wander into the kitchen to hunt down something to clean the nasty taste out of my mouth. Grabbing a bottle of water, I sip on it, hoping to rinse the acerbic taste from my tongue. I quietly wander through the various rooms before settling in an overstuffed armchair to people watch.
I don’t know exactly when it hits me, but I start to feel dizzy and sleepy. A vague, blurry figure settles on the armrest of the chair; I can’t tell what the deep voice is saying over the buzzing in my ears. Not totally realizing what’s going on, I’m helped to my feet and led into a dark room. The cool air feels good on my overheated skin and before I know it, I’m asleep.
“Sookie? Sookie, wake up! Oh my God, what happened to you?! Sookie? Tara, get in here and help me!” An incredibly loud and shrill voice vibrates through my skull, making me groan.
“Damnit Amelia. I was sleeping and now I have a headache thanks to your screeching. Leave me alone,” I mumble, twisting into the pillows so the bright overhead lights will stop assaulting me through my eyelids.
“Honey, you need to get up now,” a gentler voice coaxes me. That same angel addresses the banshee from earlier. “I think you should call Octavia. You know as well as I do what happened here.”
I twist to sit up and my head throbs with the movement. “Ugh… I feel so gross… and cold.” I pull the blanket laying over me tighter. “God, everything hurts!”
Amelia is talking to her older sister in the background when Tara climbs onto the bed I’m lying on and wraps her arm around my shoulders. “Do you remember who you came back here with?”
Despite the throbbing between my temples, I try to rack my brain. There’s not much there besides pain and fog. “I don’t remember much after I left the pool. I got a bottle of water and… then Amelia was screaming at me to wake up. Why do I hurt so bad?” I flex my legs and arch my back; it feels like every muscle between my neck and knees is stiff and achy.
A low beep tells me Amelia has ended her call. “Tavi says we need to get her to the hospital pronto,” she tells Tara. “There’s no telling what was in her drink. They have to run tests and they can give her something to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant.” WHAT?!? “Should we call her parents?”
They talk among themselves and I look under the blanket. The cups of my bikini top are pulled to the sides, exposing my breasts. Further down, my khakis and bottoms are gone and dark red streaks my thighs. I think I’m going to be sick…
“No,” I choke out over the bile rising in my throat. “Don’t tell them. Call and say I’m spending the night with one of you. I’ll go to the hospital, but you can’t tell my parents.”
“Sook,” Amelia starts, tempering her tone and volume so as not to make my headache worse, “they should know. What if there’s some sort of complication… something the hospital doesn’t catch…”
“If that happens, I’ll deal with it then.” I’m adamant and it’ll hurt, but I will fight them if they argue this with me.
They relent and Tara uses Amelia’s phone to lie to my parents. Amelia searches and finds my top, pants, and bikini bottoms on the floor. They both gently support me as we make our way through the crowd to the car.
The drive to the hospital is quiet. There just isn’t a lot to say. With the exception of the nausea, the headache, and the fact that it feels like I’ve been beaten with a Louisville Slugger, it could have been a normal night. Yep… happy birthday to me.
I go through the invasive exam… and I’m numb. None of this seems real. Tara lets me spend the night with her afterward, making a truth out of the lie. She doesn’t question me about anything, just rubs my back for comfort when the tears finally start coursing down my cheeks.
When I eventually get to sleep, my dreams are of Eric. Of how disappointed he’d be… how different he’d treat me… how he wouldn’t be able to look at me the same. I always thought it would be him. He’s planning on staying for a week for this next visit and we’d get plenty of alone time. I’d thought we’d lose our virginities to each other. I love him and I know he loves me…
Shit. The visit.
I can’t let him come now. I barely know how to act around my friends that have known me forever; how am I supposed to act around him? When I get home the next afternoon, I see a response to my email and a birthday e-card. Both are so sweet and affectionate that I can’t help but get weepy again. I click reply on the email and force myself to type.
I hate to do this, but some things have come up and I need to cancel your visit. I know the last minute timing sucks, but it can’t be avoided. I’m sorry if this screws up your summer. I was really looking forward to seeing you. I’m sorry again.
I know about two minutes after he reads that, my phone is going to ring. Like the coward I am, I make myself scarce. I grab a book and a blanket to lie on and head to the pond in the woods. Spreading out the blanket over the warped boards, I lay on my stomach to read.
Although I have the book in front of me and I see the words, for the first time ever, I’m not able to lose myself in Harry Potter’s adventures at Hogwarts. I give up and turn onto my back to watch the clouds and wonder if Eric has gotten the email yet. How mad is he? Has he tried calling yet? And the worst part is, I don’t even really understand why I’m pushing him away like this. I try to think my way through it.
Yes, everything is still very fresh and raw in my mind. I can look back at last night and recognize my stupidity at drinking something that had been left unattended, but I don’t blame myself for what happened. Some unidentified person (only one based on the exam) did this to me for an equally unknown reason and that’s something I have to learn to deal with and accept.
As hard as it will be, I know I need to get myself to where I can do that before I can focus on anyone else. As much as I love Eric and as much as I don’t want to hurt him, I know that I need to put myself first… for a while. Maybe a long while.
I don’t return home until well after dark and go straight to my room. My computer stays off and I don’t attempt to answer the phone when it inevitably rings – and it does – several times. I just stare at the swirly white ceiling above me, letting my temples and neck get cold and itchy from the tears I don’t feel the need to wipe away.
Every day passes in much the same way. I haven’t turned my computer on since the day after my birthday and I certainly don’t have to courage to answer the phone, although it’s not ringing as often as it was four weeks ago. The day Eric was supposed to arrive, I curled up on my bed and bawled, missing him more than I thought I could. All I wanted was his arms around me, lending me his strength and support. But that part of me that knew I would be a disappointment to him kept me from reaching out.
A couple of weeks before school starts, Jason and his girlfriend Amy head to Richmond to work on Aunt Linda’s house. Jase is working on his building construction degree and our aunt is “letting him get some practice” by building her a screened-in porch. When I decline his offer to come along, he knows something’s up. He may not be the world’s most attentive big brother, but even he’s noticed my voluntary solitude. He exchanges suspicious glances with Amy, but holds his tongue, for which I’m extremely grateful.
A few days later, Amelia and Tara come over so we can compare our schedules for the new school year. I let them talk me into going shopping for new clothes and supplies. So relieved to have me even a little bit back to my old self, Mom simply hands me her Visa card, gives me a (very generous) spending limit, and shoos me to go out with my friends.
When I am dropped off that evening, many bags heavier, the first thing I want to do is change back into my comfy cutoffs and a baggy t-shirt. Lying on the pillow of my bed is a single envelope. I know this handwriting, even if the return address didn’t give it away. Shit. Shitshitshitshit. I pace the room tapping the sealed letter against my palm debating. Unable to restrain my curiosity, I rip open the envelope and unfold the note inside.
You won’t respond to emails or answer your phone, so this is the only way I can contact you. I never thought you were a coward, but I also never thought you were the type of girl to cheat. It sucks that I was so wrong about you. But thank you. Thank you for cancelling my visit. Now I don’t have to waste my time on a girl who wasn’t worth any of it to begin with. In case any of this is unclear, we’re done.
I did this to myself. I don’t know where he got the idea that I cheated on him, but maybe it’s for the best. Maybe now I can stop worrying about how much my avoidance is hurting him. Yes, it probably hurts more for him to think I betrayed him, but now it’s done. He can move on.
That knowledge still doesn’t stop me from crying myself to sleep over losing him.
I can’t help but have my suspicions...
August 4, 2000
Jason and Amy pull into Linda’s driveway, still talking about how strangely his sister’s been acting, a conversation that had dominated much of their three-hour drive. He circles the pickup to open the door for his girlfriend and help her down from the lifted body. “Naw,” he says once she’s steady on the ground. “I still don’ believe it. That ain’t Sookie.”
“I’m just tellin’ you that’s what Maudette told me! She told me that Holly told her that Sookie got it on with a coupla guys at that party Lafayette threw last month. Said she heard Andre, Malcolm, and Liam swappin’ stories at the bar while she was waitin’ on ‘em and one of ‘em said they popped Sookie’s cherry.”
Jason grimaces. “Man, that’s my baby sister. Don’ say shit like that; I don’ wanna think ‘bout it. I still say whoever it was was talkin’ shit. Sookie ain’t done more than kiss any boy, maybe three in her whole life. And she’s so head over heels for Eric that she don’ even see other guys.”
Amy nods, considering his words. “Yeah, but she hasn’t been herself since her birthday; even I’ve seen that. Maybe waitin’ on Eric to come around was gettin’ hard on her and she decided to get a taste of… well, whatever else was out there?”
Jason pauses in his steps. “Maybe. She has been avoidin’ the phone and I ain’t seen her on her computer like she used to be. Knowin’ Sookie, she just didn’ know how to tell him. She’s still a fuckin’ kid. I bet anythin’ she didn’t break up with him before it happened and… well, she ain’t real experienced with guys. She’s been avoidin’ him for more than a month now; even the dumbest guy has to have gotten the picture by now.”
As they knock on Linda’s heavy oak door, neither notices the blond boy at the foot of the driveway holding a basketball, panting at the conversation he just overheard.
I just can’t be with no one else…
October 13, 2001
“Sookie Adele, the open house is this weekend. We’ve been planning on going since this summer. We’ve had the hotel reservations for months. Give me one good reason why I should change our plans,” Mom demands and I know I need to tell her the truth.
“You said that Jo called and wanted to get together since Eric was going to the same open house, right?” I ask tentatively. Since the letter I got last summer, I haven’t heard from or seen Eric, nor have I made any attempt to explain what happened. To anyone.
“Sookie, this is more important than some crush. You guys were together and it didn’t work. That is no reason to miss out on something that could determine your future.”
“Mom, I can’t see him. I just… can’t.” Try as I might, I can’t hide the wavering in my voice.
She sits next to me on my bed and puts a finger under my chin to turn my face to hers. “What happened Sookie?”
I take a deep breath and decide I need to tell her. Everything. From being bullied by Amelia into going to the party to everything that happened there and immediately after. Every bit of color drains from her tan face and her jaw drops lower and lower. By the time I sum up everything, both of us are in tears.
“Honey, why didn’t you ever tell me? You’ve been suffering through this all by yourself when there wasn’t a need!”
“Honestly Mom, since I don’t remember it, after the first few months, the only times it really hurts is when I think of Eric and how I dealt with everything with him. I wonder if I should have told him. I just didn’t know how to put something like that on a boy my age when I didn’t really know how to handle everything myself. It seemed better for both of us to let him go. Where he got the idea I was cheating on him, I don’t know. I just know that I can’t even take the chance of running into him. Seeing him look at me with the anger I know he has to have or worse, ignoring me completely, would break my heart even further.”
She nods her head and pulls me sideways into a tight hug. “I was already scared for you going away from home for college; this only makes it worse. At least you know the dangers of what can happen and know better than to put yourself in a situation like that again, right?” She stares into my eyes waiting for some kind of confirmation, which I give with a nod. “We’ll change the hotel reservation and go up to the campus on a different weekend. It’ll be less crowded and you’ll get more personal attention that way.” I thank her and she grabs a tissue from my nightstand to wipe her cheeks before leaving my room. “And if I can just offer an opinion…?” I nod and smile at her. She’s never been the “friend” kind of mom, but I know I can trust her with personal things. “Maybe you should find a way to tell Eric what happened. He would understand – he’s quite mature for his age and I think he’d handle it better than you think. Just my two cents,” she concludes and leaves me to my thoughts.
Well, of course I can’t do that. Even though she’s right, that he would probably understand more than I gave him credit for, I don’t know how I would even start that conversation. And to give her credit, Mom doesn’t bring it up again after making the initial suggestion.
Fight fear for the selfish pain, it was worth it every time…
October 21, 2002
“You’re coming with us whether you like it or not, Sookie,” my roommate Sophie cajoles me. “How many times can you say that you got to see The Violent Femmes up close and personal?”
“Since I didn’t even know who they were until you played them on repeat for 36 hours straight, I can say never,” I reply sarcastically. How do I keep ending up with friends who are pushy broads that don’t give a damn about what I want to do with my free time?
“They’re playing The Drafthouse in a few weeks and I already have tickets. All you have to do is accept the ticket I’m giving you, be good company for the hour drive it takes to get there, and sing along with the three songs you know.”
“Four,” I correct. “You forget that song from the movie. That’s the only one I really like.”
“Whatever. I just know that a bunch of guys from VMI are going to be there… boys in uniform,” she purrs and closes her eyes with a shiver.
“Umm, Soph, you know that they probably aren’t going to be in uniform if they’re out at a club, right?”
“Dream-killer,” she grumbles half-heartedly and leaves the room to do… whatever it is that Sophie does when she has down time. I still haven’t figured out if she goes to class; I’ve never seen her study or even open a book. I shrug my shoulders and go back to my creative writing assignment. I could have done worse for a roommate.
My personal “Golden Trio” disbanded after graduation. Tara went to Atlanta for design school and Amelia moved to New Orleans to “earn her keep” by living in and managing an apartment complex her dad bought just for her. We still keep in touch, but being so far apart has taken it’s toll on our friendship… at least for the moment.
VMI is two hours away and I know from the communication between my parents and Eric’s grandparents that he was accepted to the prestigious military academy. Knowing my mom will have the information I want and she checks her email nightly, I send her a message wanting Eric’s address – email or mailing, it doesn’t matter. She responds within a few hours. With Sophie out of my hair for the time being, I take the quiet time to compose my thoughts, trying to figure out exactly how to approach him. After writing several drafts, I finally sit at my computer, take a deep breath, and just go for it.
I know you probably never wanted to hear from me and I really don’t blame you. I have a very good reason for acting the way I did the summer we broke up and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve felt comfortable discussing the issue with anyone else, family included. I’m going to be in Roanoke the weekend of November 9th. If you’re interested, I’d like to meet you if you’re able to get away. I’m aware that this is out of nowhere, but there’s a lot that has been left unresolved and I’d like the chance to explain everything that happened face-to-face.
I hope your freshman year is starting well and I really hope I can see you in a few weeks.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and hit send before I can overthink it. Knowing it’s all I can do for the moment, I refocus on my classwork and try to make sure I have everything done before I turn in.
Per usual, I check my email while I sip on my morning coffee. The vmi dot edu address is like a beacon for my attention. I click on it with nervous curiosity.
Only morbid curiosity had me opening your email. I don’t know exactly what has me responding.
To be wholly honest… I just don’t care anymore. Your actions and lack of response proved to me that you weren’t the girl I thought you were and I’ve moved on. Furthermore, as a Rat I only have limited chances to leave the grounds and I don’t think my girlfriend would be very happy if I spent that time meeting an ex for a little “face-to-face” meeting. Enough time has passed where the thought of you doesn’t feel like a knife to the chest. Whatever we had… it’s not going to happen again, no matter what excuses you think I would buy that would make up for your deception.
Don’t write to me again. I’m not interested.
Well. I guess that’s it. My cowardice and insecurity ruined what could have been the best thing to ever happen to me. I don’t have any choice but to move on. Time has blunted the pain I feel at his loss to a dull ache in my chest, but it’s still pain. I don’t have any choice but to give up on any dreams I might have had for a future between he and I. But I allow myself one last night to cry over him. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll let him go for good.
I don’t know where to start, I’m just a little lost…
April 17, 2010
Walking into this lounge is harder than I thought it would be. Jason and Dawn knew their peer group well by having the lounge keep serving even after the reception was done. I’m just proud that they are doing so well in their home renovation business that they can afford to have the open bar.
The attire is mixed: some people are still in their dressy clothes from the wedding and other have done as I have and changed in their rooms before returning. I intentionally don’t look around as I make my way to the bar.
It may have been ten years, but since my sixteenth birthday I haven’t been much of a drinker. I order an amaretto on the rocks as something sweet to sip on that won’t completely knock me on my ass with my ridiculously low tolerance and park my rear on one of the cushy stools at the counter.
“Hi…” a quiet, awkward voice says from behind me, but I’d know it anywhere.
“I was wondering if you were going to talk to me,” I respond without turning around. “Last time I tried, I was pretty much told to leave you alone.”
He steps around to my side and I get my first good look at him in over a decade. He can still make my breath stutter. His hair is only slightly longer than the buzz he was required to get at VMI, but it’s a good look for him. Taller than I remember, his black t-shirt clings to his chest and biceps and the dark jeans hang delightfully low on his hips. “I was a bitter eighteen-year old kid, Sookie. I’ve grown up a lot, just like I’m sure you have. Can we talk and at least try to get to know each other again?”
I hide my smile by taking a sip of my yummy drink. “I suppose…” Heaving an over-dramatic sigh, I grin and hop off the barstool to follow him to a more secluded table.
He sips a bottle of beer and takes in my appearance. I know I’ve changed physically since he last saw me: shorter hair, fuller figure, and more mature features. “You look good, Sookie,” he offers softly.
I can’t help but return the compliment then ask, “So what are you doing with your degree? You stayed at VMI right?” It takes a lot of discipline to make it, not just Hell Week and the Rat Line, but through four years of challenging training and academics. It’s not unheard of for someone unprepared to decide it’s not worth it and drop out.
He gives me a wry grin. “Hardest four years of my life so far, but completely worth it. I went into I.T. and actually do a little work for Jason’s company, along with a few other smaller places that aren’t big enough to warrant their own I.T. department. What about you? Did you finish at Tech?”
The banal small talk isn’t exactly what I want, but it’ll do for now. “Yeah, I did. I lost a lot of interest in the whole communications thing though and ended up majoring in business. I work in Human Resources for a non-profit now. It’s not thrilling, but it pays the bills and keeps food on the table.”
We talk a little bit more about our respective college years and chosen careers. Almost out of the blue, he asks, “Where’s your husband? I expected to see him with you tonight.”
I roll my eyes a little and give him a little smirk. “I’m not married.”
He looks surprised; I guess he and Jason only talk about work. “I know I wasn’t hallucinating the invitation that came about three years ago.”
I shake my head. “You weren’t. I guess I should say, to be more precise, that I’m not married anymore.”
He gives me the sympathetic look I hate. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Why? I’m not upset over it. My husband was a twelve year old masquerading in an adult’s body. A little over a year after we married, he couldn’t handle all the attention the other male in my life was getting and we decided to split.”
Okay, wrong tactic for me to take and definitely the wrong person to make that mistake with. His face darkens and asks, “You had a guy on the side with him too?”
Yep, gonna have to clear this up fast. “Sure did. I was giving all my attention to this amazing guy with chestnut curls and bright blue eyes. He’s almost three feet tall and has a huge preoccupation with Duplo blocks. He’s not a big talker, but can communicate with sign language until his vocabulary grows. Jonathan Hunter Quinn, my son, will turn two at the end of June.”
Now he looks confused. “You and your husband divorced… because you had a kid?”
Sighing, I explain. “It’s a little more complicated than that. We learned the hard way that while reliable, birth control isn’t guaranteed and I came home from our honeymoon pregnant, but didn’t know until about a month later. Jon was having conniptions about how it was too soon and we hadn’t even gotten to enjoy being married yet. I don’t know how many times I had to cut off a temper tantrum – from an adult, mind you – and tell him to grow the fuck up because he was going to be a father in less than a year. He faked his way through being supportive through my pregnancy, but never took any real interest in what was going on. After Hunter came home, he never helped with the diapers or even a feeding now and then so I could catch up on sleep. After three months of being a married single mom, I told Jon he needed to take responsibility for his son and help me out or we were done. He decided he didn’t want to be a dad more than he wanted to be my husband, so he left. The only difference I can tell between then and now is that no one steals the covers in the middle of the night.”
“Wow…” he stammers, “that sucks.”
“Eh,” I shrug, “it’s not too bad. Mom and Dad help out a lot and Jason, whenever he comes around, loves getting to play Uncle Jase. I’m surprised Jo and Clancy hadn’t told you,” I say, referring to his grandparents. “They knew about Hunter and the divorce. God knows Mom and Dad talk to them about everything.”
“They learned a long time ago that I didn’t want to hear anything about your life. At the time I was more than a little resentful about everything that happened that summer and they just stopped talking about you to me. While we’re on the topic though…” his eyes narrow.
“Hold that thought. I have a feeling I’m going to need something stronger before we start this conversation,” I tell him and side away from the table to go back to the bar.
While I wait on my margarita, I think about how I want to tell him. It’s going to have to come out and he deserves to know, especially after this long. To be fully honest, I don’t think about it as much anymore; it’s just something that happened. The green drink is passed to me and I savor the mix of lime and salt as I head back to the booth where Eric is waiting patiently. I slide into my seat and gesture for him to resume.
“I guess I just want to know… why didn’t you break up with me before hooking up with someone else? We’d made all kinds of plans for that summer and coming up in the fall… was it the distance?”
I shake my head emphatically. “Eric, I didn’t cheat on you. I never even looked at anyone else after I met you.”
“So… you didn’t lose your virginity at that party you went to for your birthday?” He looks at me with both doubt and confusion in his blue-green eyes.
I nod though. “Well, that happened, but…”
“You screwed another guy while we were together. How is that not cheating, Sookie?” He’s not yelling, but his tone clearly says he’s furious.
“I didn’t screw another guy. Some guy screwed me.”
His eyes blaze at me. “That’s the same damn thing!”
“Not when I was drugged, unconscious, and unable to consent. I had no participation or choice in that particular act,” I retort spitefully. “I woke up mostly naked with Amelia and Tara freaking out. I had to go to the hospital and deal with that exam while I was still coming off of the GHB that my drink was spiked with, then I came home to the incredibly sweet email and card from you.”
I look down at the table, not wanting to see his reactions until I’m done. “I was just sixteen. I didn’t know how to handle what happened to me, so I pulled away from everyone. I didn’t know why it had happened or who would want to hurt me like that and I didn’t think I could cope with how you would treat me differently if you knew. Mom didn’t find out until a little over a year after it happened and as far as I know she never told Dad or Jason.
“All I wanted was some time, and I know I was at fault for cutting off all communication. I just couldn’t think about you and not break down. When I wanted to talk to you face-to face… yes it was more than two years after the fact, but it’s not something a girl wants to put in an email, you know? After you blew me off, I figured it was over and done and I finally let myself get over you.”
He stares at me, jaw gaping, eyes wide… dumbfounded and stunned. The silence stretches beyond comfort and finally I have to ask softly, “Say something… please.”
He swallows hard a couple of times and meets my eyes. “I hate that you had to go through that alone for so long. Nobody deserves that, taking all of that on by yourself. If you had just told me… had a little faith that I would have done anything and everything that you needed me to, this whole thing could have been so different.”
It’s my turn to gawk, totally unprepared for that reaction, but he continues. “You never gave me a chance to take care of you. I was so in love with you and would have done anything for you. When you shut me out…” He closes his eyes and shakes his head, “You never even gave me a chance.”
I reach out tentatively and touch his hand. “Eric, I didn’t know what I needed; how could I have possibly told you? It wasn’t a lack of faith… not exactly. My first sexual experience came while I was drugged and unaware. I had trouble coming to grips with that in my own head and I needed time alone.. You can’t fault me for having doubts that a sixteen-year old boy would be able to handle what happened to me any better than I could.”
He frowns as he considers my rationale, then relaxes as he concedes the point. His brow furrows again quickly. “Why didn’t you try to correct me when I accused you of cheating back then? Thinking that what I felt wasn’t enough for you… that hurt like nothing I’d ever felt before.”
I remember what I thought when that letter slipped from my hand after reading. “I honestly didn’t know when I would be okay with everything. It seemed kinder to let you go and believe what you wanted than to say ‘Hey, I know I’ve been avoiding you for over a month, and plan on doing so for the foreseeable future until I have some pretty depraved shit in my head straight, but don’t worry about me, we’re fine’. It hurt that you seemed to think the worst of me, but I accepted it. I take every bit of blame for what happened between us back then because I deserve it. You didn’t know what was going on and me leaving you in the dark was painful and I can’t apologize enough for doing that to you. You absolutely didn’t deserve to be treated like that.”
Eric looks down, seemingly overwhelmed that I’m taking such full responsibility and doesn’t quite know what to say. When he finally collects his thoughts, he looks back up. “I had my doubts about coming tonight. I thought for sure I’d see you and your husband, looking happy and in love. For all I knew, you didn’t think of me at all. I remember how I felt when I overheard Jason and his girlfriend talking in your aunt’s driveway…”
“Wait,” I stop him. “What does Jason have to do with any of this?”
He rubs the back of his head, looking uncomfortable. “I overheard his girlfriend talking about how one of her friends had heard from some guys that one of them had… uh… taken your virginity, but in much cruder terms. He mentioned that you were avoiding me and that it probably meant that you just didn’t know how to tell me. Since it seemed to match up with my worst suspicions, I took it as gospel and accused you. I should have known better, but when I tried calling you, I got your answering machine, just like I had every time I tried to talk to you before. I didn’t really hesitate before grabbing the nearest notebook and scribbling out that letter. To be honest, I would have never guessed the truth. No one thinks that that is going to happen to their girl.”
I nod. “I never expected it to happen to me, and I feel grateful that, even though it happened, I can’t remember it. I know it happened – it’s a fact – but it’s like a story in a history book: I wasn’t there to witness it, so I have to go on what I was told by others. It took awhile before I was comfortable enough to reach out to anyone, and that’s why I didn’t email you until college. But I understood your hostility and not wanting to have me in your life again, especially since I never corrected the misunderstanding because I didn’t know where it came from.”
He nods with that same shy smile he had when we were just fourteen and meeting for the first time. “So… your son… do you have any pictures? I was trying to only look at you every now and then during the reception rather than stare like a stalker. You looked a little frantic,” he asks, obviously trying to change the subject to something lighter.
I grin and reach into my purse for my phone. “The would be because Mom and Dad didn’t realize that they were both giving Hunter sweets and sugar, so he was all kinds of hopped up. Giving a 22-month old sherbert punch, heavily-iced wedding cake and jordan almonds is just a recipe for disaster and I was trying to keep him from wrecking the place.” I pull up my pictures and flip to the more recent ones. “That’s my angel,” I tell him, handing the phone so he can see.
“He favors you,” Eric says. I don’t see it; everything except the shape and color of his eyes is his father all over again. “But he has the look of being a little troublemaker when he wants to be.”
“Oh… he is. But he’s the reason my world turns. I’d do anything for him.”
Even in the dim light of the lounge booth, I can see his cheeks get slightly pink. There are so many mannerisms he has that remind me of when we were teenagers. “Could I meet him sometime? When are you leaving tomorrow?”
I roll my eyes and smirk. “Since he’s my living alarm clock, I can almost guarantee he’ll wake me up for breakfast no later than six. We’ll probably check out around eleven, get him some lunch, and head back so he can nap during the drive. If you can handle somewhere that serves kids meals and has a playground on premises, we can meet for lunch?”
“I’d like that,” he answers quickly, as though I would change my mind if he hesitated.
“There’s a Wendy’s down the road by the mall that I saw when we drove in. Want to meet there at eleven-thirty?” I suggest.
“Sounds good. I look forward to it, Sookie. Thank you for hearing me out and giving me a chance.”
I stand and put my phone back in my purse. “No thanks necessary, seriously. There was a lack of communication that just kind of… broke things. Now we get a chance to see if they can be fixed.”
He stands and follows me out of the lounge to the lobby so I can get an elevator. I try to not blush at the warmth of his palm resting at the small of my back. When the ding of the elevator arriving breaks the comfortable silence, I look up. “Good night, Eric,” I murmur, not really wanting to part ways just yet.
“Good night, Sookie. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says back just as softly. After an indecisive moment, he leans down and presses a kiss to my cheek before the doors close.
Mom can’t help but laugh at the goofy grin on my face when I get back to the room.
So there it is, at least the first part. Would love hear thoughts and opinions, especially since I’m still racking my brain for how I want to continue.
Love and Hugs!