What in the hell was Lorena doing here?
My eyes darted around the room wondering if Bill was there too, but only because I’d never seen her without him there as well, even if it didn’t make any sense for her to be there at all. I’d only ever met her once, early on in our relationship, at a holiday party for Bill’s work and, honestly, I was almost just as surprised that she remembered me at all. I’d long ago given up on the thought he might come back, even if a little part of me was still afraid that he would, but whatever her reason was for being there, I wanted nothing to do with him at all. I wasn’t the same person he’d left stranded four months ago. I’d grown stronger; I knew I was worth a hell of a lot more than the crappy way Bill had treated me; I knew it was Bill who was the lesser of the two of us and while I hated having wasted so much time on a relationship that was toxic, a big part of me was grateful because it had brought me to Eric. He was the one to show me what a true gentleman was; he was the one to convince the old me to come out of hiding and I would forever be in his debt because of it; he was the one who saw all of the good in me and, if he saw my faults, he seemed okay with them too. Around him I could be myself knowing he liked me for me and didn’t have to worry about what I said or did in fear of being berated. And while I’d known Bill leaving me there would be freeing in every sense of the word, Eric was the one who just made me feel free because I knew, no matter what, he’d always be there for me.
Because he was my friend.
What I hadn’t counted on was falling in love with him and for a long time I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t; convince myself that I was confusing his kindness for love because of the way Bill had treated me, but no matter how many times I tried to ignore my growing feelings, he’d do or say something that would make my heart skip a beat. I often found myself just watching him when he wasn’t looking and my insides warmed every time I heard his voice. There were many times I’d simply find myself in a trance-like state imagining what it would be like to be held in his arms – how his lips would feel on mine – and it got to the point that he was pretty much all I could think about. I knew he didn’t see me that way – I was just his friend and employee – and he’d said so himself that he’d never become romantically involved with one again, so I did my best to not let on how I really felt about him and had even briefly considered taking Tara and Sam up on their offer of going to Germany to live with them, but the thought of not seeing Eric every day made my chest ache, so I selfishly gave myself one year. One year to enjoy his company; one year to try and get over my feelings for him before I would have to leave him behind and since I didn’t have enough money to move back home and live on my own, I had the perfect excuse not to go just yet.
I may have even secretly hoped Sam would reenlist in the Army for four more years.
But, I knew ultimately, I couldn’t stay with Eric forever. I was sure I was cramping his style and while I didn’t want him to go out on any dates with anyone, I knew that wasn’t fair to him. He probably would’ve felt weird bringing another woman home with him – I know it would’ve been more than just weird for me to see it happen – but it was just as obvious that nearly every woman that walked into the bar had eyes for him. He could fill up the whole room with just his presence alone, so it would’ve been impossible for anyone to not notice him; to not be drawn in by his smile; to not let their eyes roam over his broad shoulders, watching the way his tattoos seemed to come to life as he used his arms; to not marvel over how many shades of blue his eyes contained; to not fall head over heels in love with him.
The tricky part, it seemed, was getting him to notice you.
“Doll?” I heard at my side with Eric’s voice drawing me out of my thoughts.
Thank God he wasn’t telepathic.
“You can use my office to talk, if you’d like,” he continued on hesitantly.
“Uh…sure, that would be great,” I replied just as hesitantly. I had no idea of what she could possibly want to talk to me about, but knowing it probably had to do with Bill, I didn’t want to talk where everyone else could hear us. “I’ll try to be quick,” I added with my eyes looking around the bar. It was much busier than usual and I didn’t want to leave for too long knowing Eric would have to pick up my slack, but as I started walking towards the back and motioned for Lorena to follow me, it wasn’t until we reached his office door that I noticed Eric had come along too.
I figured he was just being careful in case Bill was hiding somewhere in the crowd, so I showed Lorena into the office and turned back to face Eric, saying, “I promise I won’t be too long,” but before I could shut the door, he stopped it with his hand and said, “Do you…uh…want me to come in? You know, like for moral support or something?”
He really was a good friend, but seeing the concern on his face and the warmth in his eyes, I knew I would have my work cut out for me over the next year trying to work through my unrequited feelings.
If only he was gay.
“No Eric,” I smiled back reassuringly. “I’ll be fine and besides, the bar is packed so someone needs to be on the floor.” He still didn’t seem to want to go, but I could already hear Andy Bellefleur calling his name, so I gave him a quick pat on his chest to let him know that I’d be okay (and I may have let my fingers linger there for an extra second or two) and then shut the door before my hand took it upon itself to wander anywhere else on his body.
I stood there staring at the closed door – not knowing why – but just as unable to walk away. It wasn’t like I could hear what they were talking about – not that I was even trying – but something told me that when Sookie came out of that room, everything was going to change.
And it scared the shit out of me.
It was only thanks to Andy’s bellowing that got my feet to eventually move at all, but the whole time I served drinks at the bar one eye was on the back hallway waiting for Sookie to emerge while the other kept looking for the arse. Apprehension and anger fought their way through me, both worried about whatever it was Sookie was being told by that Lorena woman and anger at the thought of him sending someone, his boss no less, to try and talk her into going back to him. That was the only thing I could think as to why she was there. Maybe his work was suffering; maybe he finally pulled his head out of his arse and realized just what he’d given up – what he’d done to her by leaving her stranded with nothing – and had gone off the deep end.
Maybe it was just too feckin’ late for that!
But that was what worried me the most. Maybe it wasn’t too late; maybe Sookie would forgive him; maybe she hadn’t really gotten over him at all; maybe she wanted him back.
Maybe she still loved him.
That thought alone threatened to send me off the deep end. It was one thing for her to not want me because the likes of me didn’t deserve someone like her, but it was something else altogether if she thought he did. Imagining his filthy hands on her – holding her the way I longed to – kissing her like I’d been dreaming of for months was quickly making my blood pressure skyrocket, but it came back down just as quickly when I saw the two of them finally come back into the bar. It was obvious the two of them had been crying and I was shocked seeing Sookie walk her to the door where she gave her a hug before they exchanged a few more words with Lorena leaving on her own.
I felt better seeing that Sookie didn’t leave with her, but instead of coming to tell me what had happened, she went straight back to work checking on her tables. What bothered me the most was that she refused to make any eye contact with me and it was only then that I realized we always did. If our attention wasn’t being directed at someone else in the bar, our eyes always met each other’s whether we were standing side by side or from across the crowded room, but now she wasn’t looking at me at all and I didn’t know what to make of it.
But it couldn’t have been good.
I was too afraid of what she might say if I tried to force the issue – for all I knew she’d made plans to go to Seattle with Lorena and was putting off telling me – so I let her be and when she finally had to come up to me to order another round for one of her tables, I asked, “Everything okay?”
My heart dropped when she forced a smile – something she’d never had to force before – and replied, “Yep. We can talk about it at home.”
That was a little too close to ‘We need to talk’ for comfort.
I was tempted to yell out ‘last call’ just so we could get out of there, but it was still early yet so I tried to not think about whatever it was she was going to tell me and instead tormented myself with thoughts of her going back to him and therefore leaving me. I decided then and there I wouldn’t try and stop her if she wanted to leave, but she would damn well be going, knowing how I felt about her. I might not deserve her but he sure as hell didn’t and if that was unfair of me to do, then feck it.
We both knew all too well life wasn’t always feckin’ fair.
The night seemed to drag on, but eventually it was time to go. Of course my eyes had stayed on Sookie the whole night – easily accomplished since she wouldn’t look at me – so I knew she hadn’t shed another tear since Lorena had left. She fidgeted at my side the whole way home, but didn’t say a word and when we walked into the house she went straight into her room and shut the door. I almost went after her, but I was too afraid of what she might say if I did, so instead I grabbed a bottle of tequila I hadn’t drank from since before she’d come to stay with me and fell down onto the couch taking a nice big swig of it knowing I’d need it if she ever decided to come back out and face me.
And face me she did.
She came out of her room wearing one of my t-shirts that she’d commandeered weeks earlier that she wore as pajamas. I was tall enough and she was small enough that it feel to her knees, but it showed enough that I always had to watch myself around her when she was in it because it would be too easy to access everything I wanted underneath it.
So I took another swig of tequila.
Her eyebrow arched watching me as I swallowed and she sat down next to me – taking the bottle from my hand and swallowing a good bit of it herself – saying, “Bill’s dead.”
Would it be crass of me to say, ‘Cheers!’?
Probably, however I remembered seeing her tear stained face when she’d come back into the bar, but – even though I hadn’t cried when Sophie died – I couldn’t fault her for being upset over the prick being dead. Unlike me, she’d actually loved him once upon a time (or maybe she still did?), but at any rate, I offered, “Sorry.”
She didn’t say anything right away and instead took another long draw from the bottle before I took it back to take another drink of my own, but I nearly spat it out when she said, “I’m not, sorry that is, but I should be, shouldn’t I?”
“Well I didn’t really mean it,” I half snorted from the fatigue, relief, and liquor working its way through me, but remembering her tears, I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “But you were crying earlier.”
“Well,” she huffed, “she was crying and I felt bad for her.” She went on to tell me that Bill had apparently been cheating on Sookie with Lorena and while they’d met the one time, Bill had told Lorena that they’d broken up not long after that. She’d just thought Bill was afraid of commitment and she was fine with that until she’d turned up pregnant. Sookie said he’d often had out of town work trips, but he was really staying with Lorena on those nights, so when Bill wouldn’t man up, Lorena put in for a transfer to Seattle and ended things with him. Bill hadn’t been promoted and instead had gone behind her back to get his own transfer to Seattle, but he’d called her before the move telling her that he wanted to try and make things work out between them. How in the hell he planned on doing that by bringing Sookie along I’ll never know, but he’d already proven himself to be an eejit, so that’s all I had to work with. He’d gotten as far as Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State when he ran off the road in a snow storm and died in the crash. The state police had called Lorena when they found him because hers was the last number called on his cell phone. For the next few weeks she’d gone through everything in the moving truck and she knew right away he’d still been with Sookie all along.
“She only looked for me here because he’d called her just after he left and told her where he was and that he’d be there in a couple of days. She found his bank statements along with the paperwork from when I’d sold Gran’s house and put two and two together. Their daughter Jessica was born a couple of weeks before we left Shreveport, but I guess maybe he was going to try and at least do right by her because he’d had a will drawn up leaving her everything. Lorena said it’s still all tied up with Bill’s parents trying to contest the will, but…” She paused and reached into her purse where she’d left it next to the couch, pulling out a cashier’s check, and continued on with, “she doesn’t want her daughter having money that wasn’t his to begin with. She knows she’ll win in court, but this money is from her own account. It’s everything he’d saved up, not just my money. I tried to tell her no – that I would only take what was mine – but she wouldn’t hear of it, especially after I told her how he’d left me here. She doesn’t want anything of his either, but she’s fighting Bill’s parents on principle alone. She had all of my things put into storage in Seattle and told me to just call her with an address and she’ll have it all shipped to me whenever I want it.”
I wanted to jump up and down – happy that God saw fit to smite the fucker – and now she’d have her things back, but my elation quickly died when she took another swig and added, “So, I guess I’ll be getting out of your hair.”
She was clearly drinking too much so I snatched the bottle back and took another swig myself, saying, “No.”
Maybe I was drinking too much too?
She snorted and slapped my arm, saying, “What do you mean ‘no’? Aren’t you sick of me by now? Don’t you want get back to whatever it is you used to do before I was here to pick up your towels?”
Her voice had steadily lowered with every word she’d spoken until she finally ended in a whisper. Her eyes had dropped to her lap, but there was no missing the newly formed unshed tears and while Sookie wouldn’t be leaving me to go back to the arse, she could very well leave me whenever she wanted to now that money was no longer an issue. I didn’t have a year to work with anymore. For all I knew, I had hours, so I knew I had to make them count.
I set the bottle down and pulled her chin up so that she’d look at me and answered all of her questions one by one. “No,” and I kissed the tears away from her right eye. “No,” I repeated, both my answer and my actions on her left eye, and lastly another, “No,” before I finally found out what it felt like to press my lips against hers.