How could she pull away from me? The rescuers jogging down the beach toward us were about to reach us and I had to tell her how I felt before our real lives could come rushing back in. But the glare in her eyes as she looked at me stunned me into silence. I simply couldn’t process how her mood had changed so drastically in a matter of minutes. We had just finished making love not twenty minutes earlier and now she looked as though she hated me.
I was stuck wondering what in the hell happened when I noticed Sookie had run away from me towards the rescuers and my body automatically followed hers. Hearing them calling her Mrs. Compton was like having a knife twisted in my gut, but when she broke down into sobs all I could think of was I needed to take her pain away. I tried to wrap my arms around her, but she jerked her body away from mine and the knife twisted some more.
One of the men in front of Sookie looked towards me and said, “Mr. Northman, we’re so glad we found you. We’ve been looking for you for months.” I barely registered his words while feeling my whole world crumbling around me.
Hearing him say, “We spotted the fire on the beach and got here as quickly as we could. Is there anyone else here with you?” brought me out of my reverie for the moment and I replied, “No, we were the only survivors.”
I felt helpless watching Sookie cry uncontrollably in front of me, but I was afraid to try to comfort her again. Afraid that she would reject me again. She barely choked out the words, “Can we leave now? I have to get out of here. I want to go home.” How could she do this to me, to us? Why didn’t she want me to comfort her? I knew she loved me. Didn’t I?
I hadn’t been paying attention to whatever it was one of the rescuers said to Sookie, but I had to swallow the bile that quickly rose in my throat when she said, “No. There’s nothing here on this island that I want. It’s all been one huge nightmare and I’d like nothing more than to forget it ever happened.”
The gasp of air that I pulled into my lungs was sudden and involuntary while I felt my body sway where I stood. I was disoriented and confused, but mostly I was devastated hearing Sookie call our time on the island a nightmare. Didn’t I mean anything to her? Didn’t she love me too?
I felt the gaping hole ripping open in the middle of my heart while I watched her walk away from me towards the helicopter waiting for her to turn around. Wanting her to tell me this was all just a bad dream. Needing her to love me as much as I loved her. Feeling my whole world fall apart when she climbed inside without so much as a glance in my direction.
The one rescuer still standing before me broke through the mental fog in my head asking, “And what about you Mr. Northman? Is there anything you’d like to bring back with you before we leave?”
Yes, the feeling I had when I believed that Sookie loved me too. I just shook my head no, unable to form any words, and followed him to the helicopter. I was upset seeing the seat next to her was filled with the other rescuer knowing I wouldn’t be able to look at Sookie without making it obvious to her. I climbed into the front seat and had to fight back the tears as we lifted up into the air knowing that whatever it was we had together on the island was now over.
It seemed like only minutes later when we were landing on the deck of a huge cargo ship. My thoughts were filled with everything Sookie and I had done together on the island. Everything we shared together; physically, verbally, and emotionally. How could it be that my whole world had turned upside down?
We were quickly surrounded by the ship’s crew as soon as we stepped out of the helicopter. Everyone was talking at once and my head was pounding from the onslaught of noise their chattering had produced. I stared at the back of Sookie’s head willing her to turn around and look at me while tuning out everyone else around us, but she never did.
I stood and watched helplessly as a woman leaned down and said something to Sookie that I couldn’t hear before Sookie followed behind her walking away from me.
It wasn’t until I felt someone shaking my shoulder that I came back into the present and saw a man standing in front of me with a look of concern on his face. “Mr. Northman? Are you okay?” He appeared to be concerned, but I didn’t care because I had just watched everything I cared about walk away.
It took me a few more minutes before I was able to respond. “Yes, I’m fine,” I lied. I could barely stand the thought that Sookie and I were over much less being able to form those words out loud. I just looked at him with what I was sure was a completely blank look on my face. He finally started speaking again saying, “My name is Bobby Burnham. Your father hired me to head the search for you.”
I nodded that I understood his words, but I had nothing to say to that so I remained silent. He took that as his cue to keep talking and said, “I’m sure you’re tired after going through the whole ordeal. If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your cabin.”
I followed along behind him down one flight of stairs and through a narrow hallway. I wondered if Sookie was behind any of the doors we passed by, but I didn’t ask, fearful of my inability to stay away from her if I knew where she was when she had made it perfectly clear that she didn’t want me any longer.
He showed me into a small cabin that held nothing more than a bed and a small dresser. There was an attached private bathroom and within a minute of us entering the cabin a steward appeared with some clothing for me to wear as well as a bag of toiletries. I mumbled out a quiet “Thank you” and after assuring Bobby Burnham that I didn’t want anything to eat, they both left me alone with Burnham saying he would notify our families that we were found safe and sound.
I stripped off my clothes and climbed into the shower where I finally broke down. I’d never felt so much grief and despair in my life. Sookie meant everything to me. I thought I knew how much she meant to me before we were rescued, but I truly hadn’t realized just how much until now. I’d never felt so lost and alone, even after my parents shipped me away at a young age to boarding school for the first time and I cried myself to sleep for a week straight.
I don’t know how long I’d been in the shower, or when my legs had given out because I was no longer standing, when I finally stood up and actually got myself clean. My whole being was exhausted, both mentally and physically, so I climbed onto the bed and waited for sleep to take me away.
I tossed and turned unable to fall asleep and I knew it was because I wasn’t wrapped up in and around Sookie’s body. I’d grown accustomed to having her curled around me every night with my face buried into the top of her head. I’d never missed someone or something as much as I missed her in that moment.
The tears leaked from my eyes as I lay there remembering all of the happy times we’d spent together on the island. I remembered how scared and sad she was when she came to in the life raft and how right it felt when I held her in my arms for the first time. I smiled through the tears remembering her triumphant expression at catching the fish on her very first try. The tears fell faster when I remembered the touch of her lips on mine for the very first time and I couldn’t hold back the sob that escaped from my throat any longer. I felt like someone close to me had died and in a way I guess it was true. The Sookie I thought I knew was gone, replaced by one that looked identical to her only without the love we had felt for one another.
I never did fall asleep and when the sun started shining through the porthole window I finally climbed out of bed and went into the bathroom. I was shocked seeing my reflection for the first time in months, not having noticed anything but my grief the night before. I knew my hair had grown out in the time we were on the island, but actually seeing it brush against my shoulders was odd. I had a full beard now which also looked odd considering I’d never let it grow for more than a few days at a time before then.
I dug around in the bag of toiletries and found a pair of scissors which I used to cut off the majority of the beard and then slathered on the shaving cream. I focused all of my attention on shaving my face needing a reprieve from the emotions I’d been feeling since the rescue.
Once that was done I rinsed off my face and brushed my teeth. I ran a comb through my hair, but I didn’t feel confident enough to try to cut it on my own so I just left it down for now. I was just putting everything back into the bag when I heard a knock on my door. My heart jumped in my chest and I ran over throwing it open hoping to see Sookie standing there, but it was only Bobby.
“How are you feeling today Mr. Northman?”
I gave him the answer he probably expected and said, “I’m fine.” I was far from fine, but he wasn’t the one that could make it better. She was somewhere else on this ship.
“Well, I just wanted to see if you’d like to call your family now. We made the notifications last night after you were on board, but your father asked that you call him when you were up to it. The helicopter will be flying you to Guam in a little bit and a private jet will be flying you home from there.”
Home. That word held no meaning for me without Sookie by my side. I just nodded my acceptance at everything he’d just told me and followed him towards the Captain’s office. He pointed out which door led to the office and stepped into the galley telling me he would wait for me in there.
I continued down the hallway and my breath caught in my throat when I heard her voice coming from the office. I slowly made my way to the doorway and had to steady myself with my hands on the doorframe seeing her again. She was facing away from me, but just the sight of her made me feel the tiniest bit better. Until I heard her words.
“Okay, if you think its best. I can’t wait to see you tonight.” There was a longing in her voice that I’d never heard before and my heart stopped beating with her parting phrase.
“I love you too. I’ll see you tonight.” She hung up the phone and stood, turning around to face me. I could see the surprise in her expression at seeing me and I could only guess it was because she knew I’d overheard her conversation. She had lied to me. She’d never stopped loving Bill and now she knew that the cat was out of the bag. I couldn’t find it in me to be mad at her. Not yet anyways. I just felt broken inside.
I couldn’t stop staring at her while my thoughts were screaming inside of my head wanting to ask her why? Why had she lied to me about Bill? Why had she pretended to feel something for me? Was I just a temporary distraction? A way for her to pass the time? Did she ever feel anything for me?
I wanted the answers to all of those questions, but when I opened my mouth the only thing I could say was, “I was going to use the phone.” She started walking towards me but I couldn’t move. My body had come to lean against the doorframe and I was sure it was the only thing keeping me upright at the moment.
Her eyes wouldn’t meet mine as she stood within arm’s reach of me and my body screamed out for me to gather her into my arms and hold her tightly, never letting her go. I was about to do just that when she spat out, “Well, it’s free now.” The anger in her tone was enough to break through my desire so I stepped aside as she rushed passed me out the door.
It took me a minute to get my feet to work and I stepped into the office before allowing myself to fall into the chair Sookie had just vacated. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact that Sookie didn’t love me. I had been so sure of it before last night, but now it was if it had all been a dream. None of it was real, but this nightmare certainly was.
I finally picked up the phone and called my father’s private line. He picked up after the second ring saying nothing more than, “Northman.”
“Hello father.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Eric! How are you son? Your mother and I have been so worried, but we never gave up hope that you were alive. You’re a Northman after all. We’re survivors.”
“I’m fine.” I tried to find more to say, but all of my thoughts were on Sookie so I kept quiet.
“I’m glad to hear it son. They’ll be flying you to Guam where my private jet will be waiting for you. I sent them there the minute we were told you’d been found. How is Ms. Stackhouse? I was told you two were the only survivors.”
I didn’t think I would be able to say much about Sookie without breaking down so all I said was, “She’s fine.”
“Good. Her husband has been making quite a ruckus since you two disappeared, so hopefully now he’ll stop.”
Of course he was upset, they’re married and in love I thought to myself.
“Well son, I’m glad you’re okay. I felt horrible after you went missing knowing the last time we’d seen each other we’d had that heated discussion about you marrying Sophie Ann. At the time I thought a merger with the LeClerq Corporation was the most important thing, but after living for six months afraid that I’d lost you, my only child, I’ve seen the error of my ways.”
He paused for a moment and I was stunned with his next statement. “I love you Eric. I know I haven’t always shown you that, but it’s true. I want nothing more than for you to be happy. If that means you’ll be staying on at Northman Inc. or if you want to join the circus, I’ll be proud of you no matter what.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Who was this man and what had he done with my rigid-my-way-or-the-highway father? Knowing I had him in my corner to support me, the corner that had recently been filled by Sookie, brought out all of the emotions of the last 24 hours and my voice broke when I said, “Thank you.”
I knew he would be able to hear the breath hitch in my throat as I tried to push it all back down again and I was stunned again when I heard it echo through the phone from his end. “No, thank YOU son for giving your old man a second chance.”
We each said our goodbyes with both of us too emotional for much more than a ‘See you tonight’ and I hung up the phone. I sat there in disbelief at the complete turnaround my father had shown me. The entire time we’d been on the island the thought of him trying to force Sophie Ann on me if we were ever rescued never left the back of my mind. I’d just dreamt about it two nights ago, our last night on the island.
That thought made me remember everything else that happened that day and how much I’d needed to hold Sookie close that evening. That nagging feeling I’d had that it could be our last time together had become a reality only it had nothing to do with Sophie Ann like my nightmares. It had to do with the fact that Sookie hadn’t loved me. I was just a stand-in for Bill.
I couldn’t think about it anymore and went to find Bobby. I ate a small lunch before we were herded into the helicopter. I was surprised to see the same woman from the night before with Sookie, but I did my best to avoid looking at both of them.
I also avoided all thoughts of the island the entire ride to Guam and instead filled my head with the conversation I’d had with my father that morning. I still found it hard to believe that he’d said everything he had and I was a little worried he might take it all back when he saw me that evening.
We eventually made it to Guam and were immediately loaded into the jet. It was bigger than the last one and I was a little disgusted seeing my father’s preferences in flight attendants still held true. I ignored her and found a seat in the back of the plane so I wouldn’t have to see Sookie, knowing it would tear me in two again.
I don’t know how much time had passed when I woke up to the sound of someone knocking on a door behind me. I’d had the nightmare again with Sookie running away from me while Sophie Ann stood at my side only it was different this time. This time Sophie turned to me and said, “Go after her Eric. You belong together.” Her words freed my feet from the spot I’d seemed eternally frozen in and I looked at her gratefully saying, “Thank you Sophie,” before I took off after Sookie.
The knocking had woken me before the dream could progress any further and I turned to see Sookie’s companion knocking on the bathroom door while calling out, “Sookie? Are you okay?”
My worry for her health came back quickly and I could hear her getting sick in the bathroom. I thought maybe it was from being scared of flying on a plane again and I tried to calm myself knowing there was nothing I could do for her, but it was the knowledge that she didn’t want me to do anything for her that kept me in my seat.
She eventually came out and I could hear her telling the woman she was okay as she made her way back to her seat. A part of me held out hope that she would at least look at me on her way up the aisle so I was crushed again when she didn’t even turn her head to acknowledge I was there.
I must’ve been asleep for a while because as soon as she returned to her seat the plane started descending and the pilot’s voice was heard throughout the cabin telling us to prepare for landing.
As soon as the plane came to a stop on the tarmac the door was opened by the flight attendant and we all filed out with Sookie and the other woman ahead of me. There was a large crowd gathered with lights and camera flashes going off everywhere temporarily blinding me as I stood halfway down the stairs.
When my vision returned my heart broke all over again when I saw Sookie standing on the tarmac with, I assumed by her description of him, her husband’s arms wrapped around her in a loving embrace.