I woke up hearing what sounded like hailstones pounding against my window. I hadn’t heard anything about storms on the news, and after the initial barrage of clinks against the glass, I nuzzled my head back into the pillow to get back to sleep. But I was pretty sure there weren’t any nocturnal birds in the area that made a hoarse call of my name. Rubbing my eyes, I staggered over to the window to see what was going on.
Outside, below my window, I saw Eric grinning sheepishly. “What are you doing here at,” I turned to glance at my clock, “three-thirty in the morning?”
He shrugged at me. “Come down and walk with me. I want to talk to you and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
“I think you mean today,” I mumbled as I nodded and stumbled around to find some shoes. I wasn’t worried about being seen in my Betty Boop pjs while we walked around my yard – in the middle of the night. I made my way down the stairs and out the front door, closing it behind me silently.
Eric met me at the bottom of the porch stairs and greeted me with a huge hug and kiss. Feeling his arms around me, I realized exactly how much I missed him and how hard it was going to be to tell him my news. He took my hand and he led me down the dark path through the woods to the pond.
We were quiet as we walked. It was more of a desperate need to be close to one another. As busy as we were in the fall and the winter, the last time we went this long without seeing each other was at the beginning of school when we had “broken up”. I didn’t like it, but it was something I felt was necessary at the time and would be something I would have to get used to all over again come August.
I grabbed a couple of lounge chairs from the storage shed and set them up on the little dock. “So what was with the clichéd wake-up?” I asked him with a smirk.
Even in the dark, I could see his cheeks get pink. “Sorry, I couldn’t think of another way to get you up. I know how soundly you sleep. It’s not like I could wake you up with a kiss. Although that would have been my first choice.”
I scooted my chair over to rest my head on his shoulder. “How was the rest of the trip?”
Eric rolled his eyes and sighed. “More of the same. Dad was his usual overbearing self. I don’t know why, but he seemed determined to find fault with everything in Knoxville and tried to push me toward Virginia Tech or UNC. If I didn’t know him, I would think he wants me close to home. I decided to take your advice and play along, then take the acceptance from Tennessee. Nothing I saw at the other schools was enough to sway my decision.”
“You’re heading to Knoxville in August. I know that’s what you wanted,” I comment, trying to snuggle closer to him. The early morning air was chilly, and I was coming to grips with the fact that I was going to be losing him soon.
“Yeah, it is. What are your plans after you graduate? I feel like an ass because I haven’t asked you before now.”
I didn’t want to talk about it. To tell him how far away I was going to be and that this would have to end. I hedged and avoided the direct question. “Well, you know I love writing. The paper was always my first love as far as extracurricular activities. The dance team was awesome, but the writing for the paper is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
He nodded. “I knew that. I just didn’t know that you want to write for a living.”
“Eventually,” I shrugged. “Once I get into college, I might find a facet of communications that I like more, but for right now, yeah.”
“Have you given any thoughts yet to what college you want to go to?” he asked me and I had to flick off the angel tap dancing on my shoulder shouting “TELL HIM”.
I decided distraction was my best course of action and shifted off my chair to his lap. I straddled his hips and used the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra to my selfish advantage. Cupping his face, I looked into his eyes before kissing him, softly at first, gentle brushes with my lips until he caught up and held me to him. He deepened the kiss, nipping and sucking on my lower lip before using his tongue to request entrance to my mouth. I quickly granted it.
His long fingers twined in my hair, moving my head to suit his needs. When we broke to breathe, he moved his lips over my jaw and down my neck. “I missed you,” he groaned against my skin. “I hate the fact that we have to be apart for a year, but you know we can make it work. God, I love you.”
My throat closed as I tried to keep the tears from falling. I was wrong. I didn’t know if I could do it. Stomping on the angel that was regaining consciousness and starting to yell again, I pulled him back to my mouth and kissed him again. I put my hands over his and slid them up my body to my breasts. He cupped them eagerly and softly pinched my nipples through my top, growling in my mouth at feeling them harden.
The stimulation of his skillful hands made it easy to lose ourselves in each other. While one hand continued to play with my breast, his other drifted down my back to cup my ass and pull me tight against him. I could feel his arousal growing through his jeans and couldn’t help grinding against it. Feeling his chest rumble in pleasure at my actions turned me on even more… and made me feel even guiltier that I was using sex to distract him.
DAMN IT! I wasn’t that kind of girl. I didn’t avoid unpleasant topics and I sure as hell didn’t use my body to get out of difficult or uncomfortable situations. I always sneered at girls that tried to do that and here I was, doing the same damn thing. However, the devil that was still meditating on my shoulder chanted that we might as well have our fun. It was only fair since I’d worked him up and, really, the middle of the night after he’d been traveling all day wasn’t the best time to have this particular discussion.
I agreed with my devil and gave in. Eric wasn’t the only one that I’d worked up. I figured “what the hell” and pulled him closer again as I rolled my hips over his erection. While his hands squeezed and tweaked my boobs, I worked at getting his shirt off. He only removed his lips from mine for the split second it took to get the shirt over his head before returning his mouth to my skin hungrily.
I used the time to pull my own little pajama top off and his lips moved immediately to my nipples. God, his mouth was capable of so many amazing things. Flicks of his tongue and scrapes of his teeth drove everything else besides him and how he made me feel right out of my mind.
My panting sped up as he slipped his hand up the leg of my sleep boxers and maneuvered under my panties. I whimpered against his chest as his fingertip brushed over my clit. I worked my hands between us to unfasten his pants. I managed to get the button and zipper of his jeans undone and tugged, silently asking him to lift his hips so I could pull them down. He jerked them up and helped me push his pants and boxers down as his mouth made strategic nips and sucks over my shoulders and collarbone. After they were around his ankles, he tugged down my boxers and ground his freed erection against my center. I couldn’t hide the whimper of want that drew out of me.
Neither of us was much in the mood to play. We both knew what we wanted. I wanted the connection with him before the inevitable happened. His fingers rubbed and tapped over my clit rapidly and I could feel myself getting wetter at his masterful knowledge of my body. His lips found that small spot on my neck right below my ear that always gave me chills and I felt my orgasm coiling in the pit of my stomach. He knew it too and right before his hand took me over, he pulled aside my panties and thrust into me from below. He slowed and let me ride out the tidal wave of pleasure that set off fireworks behind my eyelids. As I came down and was able to control my movements again, I heard a soft, tender whisper. “Look at me, Sookie.”
My eyes met the blazing Caribbean blue that never failed to make my breath stutter. His eyes locked on mine while he guided my hips over his. His thrusts were slow and deep and I could feel him from my toes to my hair. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held on to him as tightly as I could. As he got closer to his own happy moment, I felt another building. Our hips moved in tandem, determined to get to that spot both of us craved. At the same time I started moaning “Oh God… Oh…”, his growls of “Sook… God I’m…” mingled in the spring morning air with the sound of skin on skin. With one final hard, deep push into me, I bit into his shoulder to keep from screaming with the explosion of ecstasy that paralyzed my limbs. He howled my name when he came, holding me tightly to his as aftershocks rocketed though both of our bodies.
I rested my forehead against his chest while we tried to catch our breath. I was a little overcome by emotions and bit my lip to keep from letting my tears fall in front of him. Lifting myself off his lap, I distracted myself by collecting our clothes from the dock. As I stepped back into my pajamas, Eric inspected the neat rows of teeth marks I left when I came. “Really Sook? I never would have thought you were one for the rough stuff.”
Thank God he was making light of it. “You know you bring out the animalistic side of me. Don’t hate if you don’t like the effects,” I kidded.
He chuckled as he pulled his t-shirt back on. “I really didn’t plan on this. I honestly just wanted to see you after having been gone for almost a week,” he said as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders, holding me to his side while we made our way back to the house.
“I know. I missed you too. I have an idea,” I started, nuzzling my cheek against his chest. “You have one more excused day… I can’t remember a single day so far this year that I’ve missed… What do you say to spending the day together? No interruptions, no one else around. Just you and me.”
He kissed the top of my head. “I can’t think of a better idea. What about work?”
I thought a moment. “Once the sun rises and normal people are awake, I’ll call Senior. He’s pretty easy going and I can just work a different night this week. You and I need some alone time.”
We spent the day together in epic relaxation. Spending just six days away from her made me appreciate how hard the following year would be. But it wouldn’t be too hard. After I left in August, we could deal with phone calls and Skype for five months until I came home for the holidays, abbreviated as it may be depending on bowl season. Three more months until Spring break, then two final months until I came home for the summer and she could follow me back to Tennessee. I took the chance once I got home that morning to look over the course catalogue I got in Knoxville and saw that UT had a fairly large communications department. She could be there with me and neither of us would have to sacrifice.
Over the following weeks and months though, I noticed a distance. Nothing I could specifically put my finger on, but there was something there that just didn’t seem right. She hemmed and hawed throughout April, but eventually said that unless I really wanted to, she had no desire to go to the prom that year. I couldn’t say I was disappointed. We spent the night at her brother’s cabin in the mountains, just enjoying the uninterrupted time together.
Finally graduation came and Dad appeared once again. I knew he had an apartment in the city. Although his commute would be less than an hour if he lived with us, he claimed it was easier to live closer to work. It was bullshit. I was pretty sure he had a girlfriend stashed somewhere, but Mom didn’t seem to care and as long as he kept his overbearing ass out of my life as much as possible, I was fine with it. Sookie and her family came to cheer along with Mom, Dad, and Pam as I crossed to stage and received my diploma. After the ceremony, Sookie planned to come with me back to the house where my parents were hosting a graduation party. In the parking lot, I saw her kiss each of her parents on the cheek and come to join me.
She grinned at the black gown with blue accents and wrapped her arm around my waist as she greeted my parents. Her manners were always impeccable and my mom gave her a small hug. My dad just leaned back and coolly looked her over. “So what are your plans for the summer, uh…”
“Sookie, Dad. Her name is Sookie,” I grumbled. I never thought he’d be an asshole this soon.
“Right, Sookie,” he said with a bitter grin.
She shrugged. “I’ll probably work at Merlotte’s when they need me until school starts again. Spend some time with my family, and Eric, until he has to leave for Knoxville.”
His eyes turned cold and he faced me. “You accepted Tennessee?”
Shit. We weren’t even out of the parking lot yet. “Dad, let’s get back to the house or our guests are going to beat us there. We can talk about this later.”
He shot me a furious look as he headed for his Jag. I held Sookie’s hand as we headed in the opposite direction for my Camaro. “Did I say something I shouldn’t have?” she asked softly.
I shook my head. “No. It’s something he would have known if he’d bothered to stick around or, hell, even come by for a visit after our trip. He just dropped me off and headed off to his apartment. This is the first time I’ve seen him since then. If he wants to keep updated on my life, he needs to make more of an effort.”
She shook her head sadly. “I hate that you guys have that kind of relationship.”
I sighed and opened the passenger door for her. “I do too, but it’s what I have. I play the cards I’ve been dealt and try to make the best hand that I can.”
The drive to my house was in silence, and we barely arrived before other friends and their families started showing up. Three of us had graduated – Max, a kid named Charles who went to some small private school and whose mom worked with mine, and myself – and there were three tables set up for gifts. I ran to my room to change out of the shirt and tie I was required to wear under my robe and pulled on a t-shirt. I heard the door open then slam shut while I changed.
“What the hell were you thinking, taking Tennessee’s offer? The whole point of that trip was to open your eyes to other possibilities,” my dad fumed.
“I’m aware of your reason for dragging me around the southeast. However, I have had my decision on colleges made for almost nine years and if you’re too damn stubborn to respect that, it’s not my problem.”
His eyes narrowed. “It’s your problem if I don’t pay the tuition that the scholarship doesn’t cover.”
I forced a grin at him. “Not when Grandma and Grandpa set up trust funds for Pam and I. Those trusts were specifically marked for college and I have full access to it… hmmm… as of today. ‘Upon high school graduation or the age of eighteen, whichever is later’ was how it was worded, I believe.”
He grimaced. “Your mother’s parents spoiled her and even after they’re gone, they’re spoiling you and your sister.”
“How the hell is Mom spoiled? She works her ass off and refuses to take anything from you. Even when you demanded that she give up the job she loves, she refused. You just hate it when variables bite you in the ass and don’t let you get your way. Well guess what Dad. You don’t rule the world. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I’ve wanted to go to Tennessee since I was ten damn years old and now that I have the chance to live one of my dreams, I’m going to. You have no fucking say in what I do anymore.” I really felt like I was fucking close to punching my father.
“Fine. Do whatever you want. You are no longer my concern. Let your mother deal with you. Be prepared to move out by the end of the week.”
My eyes widened, only marginally. “You’re kicking me out? That’s really damn funny since I haven’t seen you in almost 3 months. You don’t really live here anymore and Mom wouldn’t allow it, even if you did. If you want me gone, try being a part of our fucking family for once, not just when it suits you. Try actually showing up for dinner. Why not ask Pam about what’s going on in her life? Did you know she had a pretty big role in the play she was in this spring? Did you even go to a single performance? Did you know she has a boyfriend? Did you know she’s been asked to be part of the community theater over the summer? No, you don’t know any of that because you don’t care. Are you just now realizing that you are nothing more to us than a sperm donor? You may be part of us genetically, but you are not a father. Just leave. You don’t want to be here and I don’t want you ruining my graduation party.”
I sat at the foot of my bed and waited for his footsteps to fade. I didn’t even have to strain to hear the Jag start up and peel out of the driveway. With a deep breath, I rejoined the party in my backyard, holding Sookie tight, never wanting to be without the comfort being close to her brought me.
I rushed to get my car packed for the lake before I went to pick up Sookie from her shift at Merlotte’s. She had been acting differently as more of the summer passed by. Every time I tried to ask her about it, she would distract me or blatantly change the subject. That wasn’t like her, and by the end of July, I’d had enough.
We got to the field by her dad’s cabin and I spread out an old quilt for us to lie on. She curled herself against my side and rested her head in the crook between my neck and shoulder. Her breath tickled and gave me goosebumps. The sensations only increased when her fingertips ran lightly over my stomach, under my t-shirt. After enjoying the feeling, probably longer than was smart, I covered her hand with mine, stilling her actions. I turned my head to kiss her hair, then tilted her head to meet my eyes. “What’s going on with you, Sook?”
She shifted her eyes from mine and started kissing and nipping at my neck. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” she mumbled against my skin.
Her lips always made me lose my train of thought. But she had played that card too many times to count recently and I wasn’t going to fall for it again. Going against my baser desires, I pulled away from her and sat up. “Don’t. You’ve been hiding something from me for weeks. I’m leaving in less than fourteen days and I want to know what the hell is going on with you.”
She huffed and sat up also, still refusing to meet my gaze. “I don’t suppose you’d accept me saying that I don’t want to talk about it right now?”
I shook my head and scooted backwards to remove myself from the overwhelming urge to wrap my arms around her. “No, I wouldn’t. You’ve avoided talking to me about anything real since I got back from the trip I took with my dad in the spring. Every time, every single time I try to talk to you about something serious, you blow me off or distract me with sex. Damn it, I love you, but I’m sick of it! Talk to me! Please!”
Sookie hung her head, then stood and walked to the lake silently. She took careful steps down the rickety dock and sat, dipping her toes in the water. After too long in silence and seeing that she wouldn’t be returning to the quilt anytime soon, I stood and followed her. I was finally fed-up and frustrated enough to force the issue and stood behind her, waiting.
“Why do you have to push this?” she asked in a choked whisper. “I know you’re leaving soon. We both know that soon you’re going to be living over five hours away. You’re going to be surrounded by people who want nothing more than to say that they know you. You’re going to have women, beautiful women, throwing themselves at you. You are going to be so busy with classes, practices, games, and everything else that comes with starting college that I’ll be lucky if you’ll even remember my name, much less any phone or Skype dates that we might be able to fit into your schedule. I hate that you’re leaving.”
I knelt down and pulled her back to my chest, holding her tight against me. “Do you really think that you mean so little to me? Sook, you have made yourself at home in my head for over a year. Not a day has gone by since that first field party that I haven’t thought about you. Do you really think a few months will change that?”
She spun around to face me. “A few months? It’s not just going to be ‘a few months’. Fuck!” she swore. “You’re making this really hard for me.”
I stood and stepped back, confused. “You think this is only going to be hard on you? I’m going to be dealing with about twenty-five thousand strangers sharing a campus with me while I try to adjust a new team, learn new plays, live with a roommate who I’ve never met and learn my way around a city I’ve spent less than twenty-four hours in, all while living five hours away from my family and the girl I love is a year away from joining me! What part of that sounds easy?” I asked exasperatedly.
Her brow furrowed. “What do you mean ‘join you’?”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at her almost-adorable cluelessness. “When you come to Tennessee for college.”
She tilted her head, seeming ever more confused. “Are you deciding colleges for me now?”
I chuckled. “Well, you never said one way or the other if you had decided on where to go. I checked the course catalogue. Tennessee has a big communications department. You’ll apply there in the fall and of course your brilliant ass will be accepted. We’ll have the next four years together, five if I’m redshirted.
Her expression became uneasy. “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. After we got our SAT scores back, I thought, on a whim, I’d apply somewhere as an early decision applicant. It’s kind of my dream school and I never thought anything would come of it, but I was accepted and I made the decision. I already have my college lined up.”
My heart stuttered. I looked up at the stars and prayed that she was going to tell me that she had already been accepted to Tennessee. But she wouldn’t be looking so uncomfortable if that were the case. “So where are you going?”
“Northwestern,” she said in a tiny voice that I could barely hear.
“Fucking Chicago? What the fuck, Sookie? Don’t you think we should have talked before you decided to go to a goddamned school over twelve hours away?” I exploded.
Her back stiffened and she met my eyes full on for the first time that night. “No, I don’t really think so. Tennessee has been your dream school for over half your life; Northwestern has been mine. They have one of the best Journalism schools in the country and it’s a really big deal that they accepted me this early! It’s an honor that I had no intention whatsoever of turning down!”
I was still floored, not by the fact that she wouldn’t be joining me in Knoxville. I could get over that. It was the fact that she had done this without even mentioning it to me. “How long, Sookie? How long have you known that you’re going to going to college in Chicago and kept it from me?”
She whimpered a little before she answered. “I got the acceptance around the same time as you got your letters from Alabama and Tennessee.”
“FOUR FUCKING MONTHS? Are you fucking kidding me? You have sat on this information for four Goddamn motherfucking months? Never said a word, never even considered what I would think?” I could see I was being selfish, but it fucking stung that I wasn’t a consideration at all.
As he ranted, I winced. I had never seen him get that mad before and it was intimidating. I didn’t like being scared of my giant boyfriend, but I stood my ground. “Do you think that, just maybe, this kind of reaction would be why I didn’t say anything?”
Even in the moonlight, I could see his blue eyes blaze and is chest heave. “Do you think that if you had told me about this sooner, I wouldn’t have such an extreme reaction?”
I turned away from him and looked over the water, just barely rippling with left over wakes from far away boats. “Maybe I just wanted to enjoy the time we have left without this hanging between us.” I was intentionally choosing my phrasing, not wanting to say the specific words.
He stiffened in my peripheral vision. He wasn’t the dumb jock lots of people took him for; he was smart as hell and he knew what I was saying. He started shaking his head silently. After a few moments of pacing, he leaned over me and pressed his forehead to mine.. “No,” he groaned, his breath ghosting over my cheek.
My hands betrayed my intentions and rubbed up and down his bare arms. “Eric, what would you have us do? You’re going to be in Knoxville for at least four years, maybe five. I’m stuck here for another year, then I leave for Chicago. I probably won’t be able to make it home more than once or twice a year. What kind of relationship would we be able to have?” I was begging him to see my side. “I love you. You know I do. But how can that kind of relationship work? You and I both deserve better than that.”
“Deserve better than what? Being with someone who loves me and who I love in return?” he asked, bitterness tingeing his voice while he rubbed my back.
“No, we deserve better than being glorified pen-pals for years. Long enough to forget why we’re in love and start resenting each other instead. We deserve to let ourselves meet other people. Eric, baby, I’m only seventeen and you’re just a year older. There is so much of our lives left to live. How many people actually end up with the first person they fall in love with?” I asked. It sounded better in my head; saying it out loud made it sound like I wanted to meet someone else.
Apparently he thought so too. “Is this just an excuse to go out and fuck someone else? I never would have thought you were that kind of girl.” His hands dropped to his sides and straightened up, backing away from me.
“NO! Damnit, that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. Try to see for a second where I’m coming from here. You’re going to be going away to school and all these parties and having the previously mentioned beautiful women throwing themselves at you. Eric, as much as it kills me to even think about, I would rather not have you than to have you hurt me by cheating on me or resent me because I’m not there. I don’t think you would break my heart like that, but there are no guarantees. And, well, who am I to say that I won’t meet someone and end up bitter because I want you and can’t get to you? I’m no angel, Eric, and I don’t know if I have that kind of trust in myself.” I paused and took a deep breath. I hadn’t thought this would go well, but it was worse than I imagined. “Who am I to say that you won’t find someone better for you than me and I keep you from being with your ‘The One’? It’s more likely that you’ll meet her there than it being me. If it’s meant to be… at the right time… we’ll make our way back to each other.”
“Goddamnit, Sookie, don’t do this…” he yelled and I sunk to the ground on my knees, unable to keep the tears at bay any longer.
I curled in a ball, hugging my legs and resting my forehead on my knees. “Please Eric, just go. I can’t do this anymore. I need to let you go and you need to let me go too. Please, just let me be alone right now,” I choked out between sobs. The last thing I wanted him to do was leave. I wanted him to hold me, rock and soothe me like a child until I forgot why I was upset. But I knew I was doing the right thing for both of us. I had to let him go.
He started walking away shaking his head. He got in his car and I saw him, blurry through my tears, glancing in the passenger seat, then back at me. Reaching over, he grabbed my purse and the uniform that I had changed out of at the end of shift and tossed them out of his window before spinning gravel turning around to leave “our” field.
As soon as his taillights disappeared, I completely broke down. I stumbled to where my things lay on the ground and took them over to the quilt he left lying on the ground. Not thinking of much else, I grabbed my phone out of its pocket in my purse and hit the number 3 speed dial. When that familiar drawl come through the speaker, I tried to find my voice “Jase?”
“Sook?” His voice sounded concerned and curious at the same time. I managed to let him know where I was before I couldn’t talk anymore. He said he was on his way and ended the call. I resumed my fetal position and bawled.
It wasn’t too long until I heard a loud diesel engine and shortly after, felt warm, strong arms pulling me up. “Sook, what happened?”
I gasped for breath. “I ended it. I told him about Northwestern tonight. I told him we were over. I had to let him go.” I fell against his shoulder and cried my eyes out.
To give Jason proper credit, he didn’t make me talk about it. He just let me weep into his shirt while he rubbed my back. He didn’t shush me or tell me empty clichés that had no application in my situation. He held me until my sobs quieted to whimpers. I was drained after my tear-fest and he helped me up into his truck before returning to the quilt to get my things. He folded the quilt and stowed it in the cabin before driving me home.
I numbly changed into pajamas and curled up under my covers. I turned at looked at my mirror, reflecting light from the moon outside. Stuck in the corner was a picture of Eric and I from Homecoming. I closed my eyes against the memories of that night. “Goodbye Eric,” I whispered into the dark.