Was it wrong to feel ridiculously happy hearing her say she felt right in my home? Or maybe she just meant cleaning up the dishes? Whatever she’d meant, she was still stuck with me for at least two days if not longer. I had plenty of staples stocked up and a freezer full of meat, so we didn’t have to worry about food, but I felt bad that she would be stuck wearing my clothes, unless, of course…
Did I want to go there?
The truth of the matter was that there were lots of clothes packed away in boxes in the spare room that would fit her. Lots and lots. They were only there because I hadn’t bothered sorting through them so I could finally get rid of them once and for all, but I knew by showing them to Sookie I would likely have to explain where they came from and who they belonged to; explanations I wasn’t so sure I was ready to give. It wasn’t something I ever talked about because I’d left my past firmly behind me, but that didn’t mean the ghosts didn’t find a way to haunt me every now and again however it only took me seeing her trip over the too long sweatpants she was wearing for the umpteenth time that morning for me to get over myself already. I felt guilty about a lot of things, but I shouldn’t be ashamed over what I now knew was beyond my control and asked Sookie to follow me into the spare room.
Besides the spare mattress and a few odds and ends that hadn’t found their way out of the room were several cardboard boxes stacked everywhere there was space; boxes filled with memories of a life I tried hard to forget and I gestured to them, saying, “Since you’ll be stuck with me for a bit, you’ll probably be more comfortable in clothes that fit.” I pulled the tape off of the box nearest me, ripping the scab off an old wound in the process, and pulled out handfuls of women’s clothing, many with the tags still hanging from them, and held them out to her saying, “These should be better than what you’ve got on now.”
Ripping open the box wasn’t so much painful as it was irritating, or perhaps debasing because in doing it I was acknowledging a part of my life that I was still a little ashamed of. It could also be that revealing this part of myself to someone as kind and sweet as Sookie was a factor, so I tried not to think on it too much and just continued to watch her watching me. I knew she was curious as to why I had boxes full of women’s clothing, all of it designer, and the majority of it unworn, but unless she asked, I didn’t plan on telling.
Falling asleep while holding her hand the night before had felt odd, but in a good way. It had been a long time since I’d shared my bed with anyone and I’d never brought any woman home since I’d moved to Wyoming, but seeing Sookie lying there didn’t feel as weird as I thought it should have. Waking up next to her was an entirely different story though because while we’d both gone to sleep with each of us on separate sides of the bed and only our hands connected, I’d woken up with my body curled around the back of hers with my arms wrapped around her and her own arms holding them in place.
I won’t even mention the other part of me that was happily cuddling up very inappropriately with her backside or the way she moved back towards me in her sleep with every inch I shifted away from her trying to be a gentleman. I finally had to force myself away from her and slid off the mattress onto the floor before she could unknowingly tempt me further.
Just thinking about it made my eyes shoot back to her perfectly heart shaped arse, even though it was now hidden by the sweats she was wearing, but I knew was there just the same thanks to my unplanned wake up call. She was bent over at the waist digging through the box I’d opened and had no idea I was ogling her behind, but I hadn’t been kidding her the night before at the bar when I’d talked about her curves. She was walking perfection in my book and her southern accent only sweetened the pot.
I tried to physically shake it off knowing she was in no place to be looking for any kind of relationship, nor was I looking for one either, but had we met under different circumstances I would’ve definitely chatted her up. Hell, I’d even tried that while her boyfriend was standing there glaring at the two of us.
I should’ve just punched his gob and been done with it.
I wasn’t looking forward to her leaving, but knew nothing could be done for it and left her to sort through the boxes on her own while I made myself useful building another fire knowing I’d need it to thaw out after going out to try and clear off some of the snow that had accumulated. I’d have to do it all over again later whenever it stopped, but at least if I got started now there wouldn’t be as much to do later on.
Sookie joined me in the living room just as I was finishing up and I grabbed the cordless phone, handing it to her before she could ask about the clothes, and said, “I’ll be outside for a bit trying to get ahead of the snow, but feel free to help yourself to anything in the house.”
Her lips formed the question I knew she wanted to ask, but when she looked into my eyes, whatever she found there made her purse them instead and say, “Thank you Eric,” for what felt like the hundredth time. I knew she was grateful I’d helped her out of the spot she was in, but I couldn’t help but be bothered feeling like she felt like she was a burden. I could only nod my head in response, not sure of what would come out of my mouth if I dared to open it, and headed into the bedroom to get changed into something warmer.
I’d been outside for a couple of hours without making much headway and it was coming down even harder than before when I finally gave up and headed inside. Once I peeled off my outer layers, I’d planned on jumping in the shower to warm up a bit, but finding Sookie crying on the couch halted my steps.
“What’s wrong?” I asked softly, hoping she hadn’t called the gomey boyfriend and gotten another earful from him, especially considering where she’d spent the night.
“I can’t…I don’t…” Her ragged breaths increased to the point I thought she might hyperventilate and I wrapped my arms around her rubbing up and down her back while gently shushing her hoping she’d calm down.
When her breathing got back to normal, I pulled back and asked, “Care to try again doll?”
She looked completely broken as her eyes dropped to her lap and she whispered, “I have nowhere to go.”
“Your friends won’t help?” I asked a little louder than I’d meant to.
Did she have nothing but gobshites in her life?
Her head was already shaking no when she replied, “I can’t get a hold of them,” and then she took another deep breath, adding, “I haven’t talked to them in a long time, but I’ve known Tara and Sam for most of my life. I was sure they would help me, but both of their numbers have been disconnected. I have no way of contacting them or know if they’re even in Louisiana anymore.”
Her eyes welled up again making me attempt to keep them at bay with nothing more than awkward pets to her arms, saying, “You’re having a poxy time of it lately, aren’t you.”
It seemed to work because where her lip had been trembling, it stopped as it pulled into a small smile with her sniffling out, “Poxy? That doesn’t have anything to do with balls, does it?”
I couldn’t help smiling hearing her say ‘balls’ that sounded like ‘bawls’ and tried to hide the true extent of my amusement, answering, “No, more like shitty.”
She smiled back and took another deep breath, clearing away some of the gloom from her face, and announced, “Well, on the bright side, I’m learning something new every day.”
“There’s Miss Sunshine,” I said with relief. She deserved to throw herself a giant pity party, but that didn’t mean I had to like seeing her suffer. I’d much rather keep her smiling and was rewarded with another one when she said, “Actually, it’s Miss Stackhouse. Sookie Stackhouse.”
It seemed weird to not have known her last name before now considering what I was about to say, but feck it.
“Well, Miss Stackhouse, since it seems you’ll be needing a place to stay to get back on your feet and I’m needing a new waitress, what do you say to us helping each other out a bit?” Hearing myself basically asking her to move in with me should’ve made my palms sweat. We hadn’t done anything more torrid than hold hands with suggestive spooning in our sleep, but for whatever reason, I knew I couldn’t let her leave with nowhere to go.
My ego was a bit bruised when her head violently shook no while she said, “No Eric. I couldn’t impose on you like that.” Her eyes dropped back down to her lap where her hands were wringing themselves and my gut twisted when she added, “I’ll just…I’ll call Bill and apologize. I’m sure he’s probably looking for me right now. He probably came back last night and I was already gone.”
My fists clenched automatically hoping I would run into the fucking fiend at some point soon, while she continued to mumble to herself, “Of course I don’t know what I’ll tell him about where I’ve been. He’ll be so upset if he knows I was here with you. Maybe I can tell him you let me stay in your bar overnight. Alone.”
“Is that what you want?” I asked incredulously and at a volume that made her jump. How could some sweet little beour like her think so little of herself as to put up with an arsehole like him?
She didn’t answer right away and instead stared down at her hands some more until her head finally started shaking no again, only this time much more subdued as she confirmed in a whisper, “No.”
Thank feck for that.
Before I could get too excited though, she continued, “But Eric, I can’t impose on you like that.”
“You’re not imposing,” I interrupted her. “If anythin’, you’d be helpin’ me out. I’ve been tryin’ to find a waitress for a while now, but there’s been no takers. None of the kids that want it are old enough to work in a bar and I happen to know for a fact that the other two that put in for it would likely drink the place dry, so really, you’d be doing me the favor.”
“But…” she started to say, but I again cut her off. It was rude of me, but I couldn’t help it.
“But nothin’. You need a job. I need a waitress. You need a place to stay. I need a…” I scrambled about trying to think of something to insert there, but came up with nothing. I didn’t want to lie and say I needed a roommate when I didn’t. My former life funded my current life, so money wasn’t an issue.
When I didn’t finish my sentence, she asked, “You need a…?”
Her skin had such a healthy glow to it and if I didn’t know better, I might’ve wondered if she glowed in the dark. She was pretty, and while I’d been with women that were considered drop dead gorgeous, there was something about Sookie that put them to shame. I just couldn’t figure out what it was, but whether or not I ever did, didn’t really matter. What mattered was I wouldn’t let her leave knowing she had nowhere to go. There was a time in my life where I firmly believed the world, if not the entire universe, revolved around me and even though I paid a hefty price for it, I knew my karmic points were still in arrears and I offered, “I need a good deed.” When she looked at me questioningly, I added, “You know, for when I get to the pearly gates and Saint Peter asks me ‘What’s the story?’ I can say, ‘Once upon a time I gave shelter to an angel on earth.'”
It was probably a bit over the top, but her eyes misted up just the same and it wasn’t all that much of a lie. Granted, I didn’t know her very well and she might very well go mental on me at some point later on, but at the moment, she seemed pretty angelic to me. I didn’t really know what I expected her to say, but I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when she asked, “Whose clothes are these?” and pointed to the sweater and jeans she had on.
I slumped back on the couch preparing myself to talk about my former life for the first time in six years. After I left it all behind, I hadn’t spoken about it to anyone. No one there knew about my old life and, had the bar not been up for sale on that fateful day when I’d pulled into town on my motorcycle needing gas, I doubt I would’ve ever thought to put down any roots here. The little Wyoming town I now called home was nothing like where I’d last lived, which made it close to perfect, but only close because it was nothing like where I’d grown up in Cork. I missed it more than I ever thought I could, but I still couldn’t bring myself to go back, even after all of the time that had passed. However, her question could be answered without revealing all of that and I answered truthfully, “They were my wife’s.”
Her eyes glanced down to my bare left hand where the tan line had faded away a long time ago as her lips quirked to one side, but before she could ask, I offered, “She died a little over six years ago.”
She looked at me apologetically as she said, “Oh Eric, I’m so sorry.”
I just shrugged in response and since she’d been so open with me the night before, I began telling Sookie all about it. It was what it was and as far as I was concerned that was a whole other lifetime, one I didn’t look back on fondly, and if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t. Sophie and I married for all of the wrong reasons and love was never in the equation for either one of us, so her death, while tragic, only haunted me in the fact that my indifference to our relationship blinded me to what was going on right in front of my eyes. If nothing else, as her husband, I should’ve cared enough to do something to try to help her; to save her from herself, but I was too consumed with my career to pay attention.
Back then I was the golden child on Wall Street. I’d left the small village in Cork I’d called home to come to the States where I busted my arse to put myself through school and was recruited into one of the most prestigious investment firms in New York City. Sophie’s father was the founder and CEO of the firm, so by marrying her I cemented my status in that world and guaranteed my future. Sophie had a bit of a wild streak and she only married me at her father’s insistence, knowing otherwise she wouldn’t be able to touch her sizeable trust fund. Sophie liked to party; she liked the city life and mostly she liked that I didn’t care what she did as long as she put on the pageantry required whenever I needed her to attend any business functions with me. In the beginning, I liked the power, the money, and the adulation I got for my success on Wall Street and marrying Sophie was really nothing more than another necessary bullet point on my resume. We both cheated and neither one of us hid it. We both preferred busty blondes, but it wasn’t until I came across evidence that the asset management unit of LeClerq Investment Securities was nothing more than a massive Ponzi scheme that it all began to fall apart.
Sophie’s father Andre and I had a massive falling out over it. He demanded my fealty to him and to his financial empire, but ultimately, I couldn’t go along with it. I’d given up everything, alienating my family and friends back in Cork to pursue a life I thought I wanted; a life I thought would be better than what I would have had if I’d stayed back in Ireland; a life I thought I deserved after working so hard to attain it, but the further I immersed myself in it, the less I liked myself. I had already begun to question my choices in not just my career, but my life in general and that had been the tipping point for me, so I turned Andre in to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and just like that, LeClerq Investment Securities was no more. The subsequent scandal made Sophie a pariah in her social circles, but I had no idea of how badly she was affected until I found her lying nude in the bathtub of our penthouse. I knew she liked to dabble in drugs recreationally, but I never thought she would’ve overdosed on purpose. She didn’t even leave a note, but then I didn’t really think I deserved one.
I didn’t regret turning Andre in, but I did regret not looking out for Sophie. I didn’t love her, nor did she love me, but I should’ve looked out for her. I should’ve tried to protect her from the shit storm we’d found ourselves in after Andre’s arrest. Her father had indulged her for her entire life, as did the world she surrounded herself in, so I should’ve known how badly it would’ve affected her. I should’ve known she was hurting and done something about it. I should’ve protected her somehow, but all I could do was bury her next to her mother and as soon as the trial was over, I had our penthouse packed up with everything put into storage. I bought a motorcycle and took off with no destination in mind, sticking mostly to the back roads, and just mindlessly traveling through town after town. I indulged in the little things I’d always wanted to do but never did and grew my hair long along with getting the tattoos I’d always secretly wanted, but would’ve been career suicide before then. By the time I pulled into a sleepy little Wyoming town needing gas eight months later and saw the for sale sign on the bar, it struck a chord somewhere deep inside of me. While I wasn’t the arrogant jackass that left his estranged family back in Cork so many years ago, I sure as hell wasn’t the same man that left New York City eight months earlier either. By then I was ready for another change and my personal portfolio was well diversified and I’d inherited Sophie’s trust fund when she died, so my own personal fortune wasn’t badly affected by the LeClerq scandal and I decided then and there to set up shop and call this nowhere-town home for now.
Sookie had listened silently, riveted to every word I’d said over the last hour or so and when I finally finished, I asked, “So, does any of that change your mind about stayin’?” I wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to take off as soon as the snow let up now that she knew I was a bigger tool than the one that left her there, but if she left I’d insist she at least let me give her enough money to get back home safely.
Wherever that would end up being.
She was silent for so long that I started to get nervous thinking I’d said too much too soon. She had enough of her own problems to deal with and there I was unloading my own baggage onto her shoulders, not that I was looking for her to do something about it, but still. She must have thought I’d gone mental and I suddenly wished I hadn’t said anything at all. For some strange reason I felt like her reaction, either good or bad, would affect me more than I cared to admit, but I bate on, warily asking, “Sookie?” and held my breath waiting to see what she would say.