My eyes, as usual, were zeroed in on Sookie as she went from table to table taking or delivering orders of food and drinks to the usual crowd that came in every Saturday night. It had been close to four months since she’d first arrived with the wanker; four months since she’d begun working at the bar full time, and four months minus ten hours since I’d shoved my foot so far into my mouth I should’ve shat out Doc Martens the next morning. I blamed my fatigue at the time for letting my mouth get away from me and wanted to take it back the moment the words fell from my lips, but Sookie had jumped out of the car with a quick, “Of course,” thrown over her shoulder and scampered into the house. While I hadn’t planned on keeping the truth from her of why I’d let Felicia go, if she’d really wanted to know, I hadn’t meant for it to sound the way it did.
As though the phrase ‘never again’ had included her.
At the time I hadn’t even been sure if it did include her, so I’d kept my gob shut. She’d literally just gotten out of a poxy relationship and we barely knew one another, never mind the fact that I’d never really been in a real relationship, but I knew she wasn’t a one night stand kinda gal, so I’d left it alone. It didn’t take long after that for me to figure out I did want something more from her, but now that I’d said it, she’d taken it as though God himself had come down and delivered it to her personally on a stone tablet. She hadn’t really treated me any differently afterward, but there was an underlying ‘hands off’ vibe about her that hadn’t been there before and if I was being honest, I feckin’ hated it. But it was my own damn fault for being feckin’ honest and while it took some doing, I’d managed to talk her out of trying to pay me any rent, but it seemed I’d been relegated into the doomed ‘friend zone’ from then on and to really rub salt into the wound, for the last few weeks or so she’d been trying to talk me into asking out one of the gals who’d been coming into the bar and makin’ eyes at me. A bit of flirting never hurt anyone and I’d learned it was good for business a long time ago, but I hadn’t done any of it at all since she started working there and while I might’ve been game for a little fun with Dawn four months ago, now I only seemed to have eyes for Sookie.
Who only saw me as her friend/roommate/boss.
She’d even made it a point to call me boss whenever we were at the bar and only ever called me Eric when we were at home. It almost made me want to fire her only so I could rehire her without that stupid ‘never again’ rule included. Of course that was only assuming she might see me as anything besides her boss or friend, but a part of me wondered if maybe she just didn’t trust me enough to be anything else more to her. I couldn’t say that I blamed her considering everything the eejit ex had put her through, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t at least try and help her see that not every man out there was a gobshite.
Or maybe she already thought I was a gobshite thanks to me being honest about my own past.
That was another thing. I was sure if I looked hard enough, I could find Sookie’s picture underneath the heading for ‘Damsel in Distress’ from when we’d met that very first night, so I’d initially questioned my own growing feelings towards her wondering if maybe I was subconsciously wanting to make amends for how I’d treated Sophie; wondering if I feel any differently towards her if she’d just walked in off the street needing a job. I would never know for sure, but I had my doubts I’d feel anything but what I felt for her now. Watching her move around the bar now, I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to have her as their own nor could I imagine anyone finding any fault with her which only made the eejit ex even more of an arsehole. She was smart, funny, beautiful, sexy as hell, and nothing but sweet goodness from the inside out. Perfect was the only word I could come up with to describe her, but I was so far from perfect myself it made sense she didn’t feel the same way about me.
I might’ve still given it a go, but what held me back the most was knowing how much she wanted to return home and while I knew she liked me well enough, it obviously wasn’t enough for her to want to stay, so I put a lot of effort in ignoring the part of me that didn’t want her to go. Early on I’d suggested she try finding her friends through Facebook since it seemed everyone (other than me that is) was on it and sure enough they were too. It turned out that her friends Sam and Tara had ended up getting married to one another and Sam had joined the army. He’d gotten stationed in Germany, but they were due to return home the following year when his enlistment ended and they offered her a place to stay with them there or when they got back, but thankfully she wanted to wait until they returned home to the States so she could save some more money. She’d been saving her paychecks and was building a nice little nest egg for herself, but it wasn’t enough to move back home on her own yet, so I had some comfort in knowing she’d at least be around for a little while longer.
When she hadn’t heard a feckin’ word from the dick after a couple of weeks, I’d offered to hire an attorney for her to try and get her money back from the wanker, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Said she didn’t want anything to do with him and if it took letting him have everything she’d owned, that it was worth the price and while I strongly disagreed, it obviously pained her whenever I brought it up, so I eventually just dropped it. Sookie didn’t have a materialistic bone in her body and while I knew she was probably okay with letting the tool keep her money, she couldn’t hide the fact that what she wanted most of all were the things she’d saved that were her Gran’s. Her wedding dress; quilts she’d sewn with her own two hands; her jewelry that Sookie said wasn’t worth nothing at all, but was priceless to her. No amount of money could replace the sentimental value of those things and I’d offered more than once to fly out to Seattle and retrieve them for her, but again, she’d said no.
I even had a fist or two with Bill’s name on them I’d be more than happy to let him have and I still might fly out there and give them to him after she returned home.
Everyone who came into the bar loved Sookie straight away. With her southern grace and bright smile, it was hard not to and the only one who didn’t was Felicia when she’d skulked into the bar one night a couple of weeks after Sookie had started working there. Daggers were thrown by each of them once Sookie learned who she was and while I wanted to read more into her reaction, I knew it was probably just because she was looking out for me.
And while I’d been honest in that I hadn’t needed a roommate for financial reasons, I couldn’t deny having her around was just as much of a good thing for me as it was for her. It was nice having someone to talk to at home, to laugh with watching stupid movies together, or just waking up to the smell of breakfast cooking. She was a sweet gal – a bit timid at first – but over time she’d blossomed into a vibrant woman, both inside and out, who could light up a whole room as soon as she walked in. It had only taken about a month after she’d first arrived for me to figure out that I was falling hard for her – hell, I probably knew it before the snow had ever let up those first few days she’d stayed with me – but I knew she didn’t see me that way. At first I was confused myself over the feelings I had for her and had done my best to just try and be there for her like a friend because I knew that was what she needed at the time. The last thing I wanted was to take advantage of her vulnerable state. It took some time and a lot of talking on my part to convince her that she was worth so much more than she gave herself credit for – more than the gobshite deserved – but my efforts weren’t wasted. I could see the difference in her with her self-confidence growing every day and it made me proud of her, but it stirred up feelings of more than pride – or even lust – seeing the real her shine through. But whenever I’d test the waters with a little bit of flirting on my part, she would always just blush a bit and then wave me off for being a git like I’d been joking around. We joked and laughed together all of the time – it was one of the things I loved about being around her – and since she seemed immune to my charm I was pathetic enough to try and get her attention in different ways, like leaving my wet towels on the bathroom floor just so I could hear her southern twang-filled rant at me about it while she dramatically picked them up to hang on the towel rod asking what would I do if she weren’t there to make it right, although that ended up backfiring on me as well.
Because I hated thinking about when the actual day would come that she wouldn’t be there to do it.
The more I got to know her, the more time we spent together, the harder I seemed to fall. I couldn’t say for sure that I loved her because it wasn’t an emotion I’d ever known in that sense, but what I did know was whatever it was I felt for her was more than I’d ever felt for anyone else – all-consuming to the point she was all I could think about anymore. It was an odd place for me to be in. I’d changed a lot since I left New York and my former life behind me, but I knew I still held onto a little bit of that part of my personality that had, for lack of a better term, swagger. It had always been a part of me – at times my ego knew no bounds – and I knew it and while I’d dropped the superiority complex I’d had back then and let the blue collar me come out, I couldn’t seem to muster up any swagger whenever it was just me and Sookie. With her I couldn’t be anything but just plain old me and – even better – that seemed to suit her just fine.
I’d had more women in my lifetime than I’d cared to admit and never had any issues trying to seduce one into my bed, but my mind drew a blank when it came to trying to get Sookie there. I wanted her there, but the problem was I knew I wanted more than just sex from her and the fact I knew she just didn’t see me that way was the hang up. I often found myself just staring at her; watching the way she’d absentmindedly twist a strand of hair around her finger whenever she was deep in thought; the way her eyes would light up hearing me tell yet another embarrassing story about my childhood; how her lips would pucker with her whole face scrunched up whenever I’d use any Irish slang she didn’t understand and I’d even made up a few just to see it happen. There were so many times in the past few months where I’d just wanted to reach out and touch her, pull her into my arms and press my body against hers just for the sake of wanting to feel her next to me, and while we’d shared a hug or two in the past those had been born out of friendship.
I was the only one who wanted more.
But I kept telling myself it was probably for the best. Sookie deserved to have a good man in her life – someone who didn’t come with massive amounts of baggage like me – so I tried to squelch my own desires knowing she’d never be mine. I was the arse who chose to lead a less than honorable life, so I didn’t deserve to find happiness with the likes of someone as good as her. Of course Sookie would have none of that talk whenever I’d make any off the cuff remarks about my own worth, but a part of me still believed it to be true for the sheer fact she kept that little wall up in between us. Somewhere inside of herself she knew I wasn’t the one for her – wasn’t good enough for her – no matter how much I wanted to be, so my question had already been answered without it ever being asked.
The only bright side, for me at least, was that the wanker never came back. I would never understand how he could have left anyone – much less Sookie – stranded in a strange place with nothing to their name. The town was so small there was only a one man police force and Andy Bellefleur was a regular patron, so I was sure he would’ve said something had the arse called the station looking for her.
After all, how many people could possibly be named Sookie?
I’d thought of hiring a private investigator to find the fiend just so I could exact my own brand of justice on him, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it from Sookie. Even lying by omission felt wrong with her, so instead I just hoped and prayed he would come back looking for her just so I could just beat his arse for even trying to get her back.
I already had his burial plot picked out.
That night wasn’t just a regular old Saturday night, it was Saint Patrick’s Day to boot, so there was a sea of green with a lot more cheer being spread around that night than any other. The bar was packed and after watching Sookie disappear back into the kitchen, my eyes automatically went back to what I was doing behind the bar, so I didn’t notice the stranger that had wandered in until she’d bellied up in front of me, saying, “Excuse me.”
“What can I get for ya?” I asked with my eyes lifting up to see a woman who looked a little out of sorts. She definitely wasn’t from around there and by the looks of her, was likely from one of the larger cities considering her outfit would’ve fit right into one of Sophie’s closets. She wasn’t hideous to look at, but this brunette – like every other woman it seemed – couldn’t hold a candle to the blond I could hear laughing at whatever Lafayette had said to her in the kitchen.
“Actually,” she hesitated nervously, “I’m looking for someone. Do you by chance know a Sookie Stackhouse?”
My hands stilled hearing her say Sookie’s name with them clenching around the bar towel I’d been holding. I’d seen pictures of her friend Tara from Facebook so I knew it wasn’t her standing across from me and Sookie would’ve mentioned finding any other of her long lost friends, so I had to wonder if maybe she was a private investigator the wanker had hired and asked with an edge to my voice, “Well who might be asking?”
She didn’t look like a private investigator and she looked too nervous for me to feel good about whoever she was or whatever reason she had to be asking about Sookie, but just as she opened her mouth to answer, I heard Sookie’s voice coming from my left, asking, “Lorena?”
My eyes, like always, were drawn right to her and saw she seemed just as shocked as her voice had sounded, but I looked back at this Lorena woman just in time for her to say, “Sookie, I’m glad I finally found you.”
My feet carried me to Sookie’s side before I even knew that I’d moved and when my hand automatically reached out for her, this time I didn’t stop myself from taking her trembling hand into my own.
After all, it was the least a friend could do.
Her blue eyes looked up into my own and I was sure she could see the question in them, so she explained, “This is Bill’s boss, Lorena Ball.” Looking back at the woman, she added, “Lorena, this is Eric. My boss.”
Not even her friend?
My hand let go of hers hearing her words while my eyes temporarily lifted looking for the wanker, but I didn’t see him anywhere in the bar and when I looked across from us I noticed Lorena’s eyes had gotten glassy with unshed tears hearing his name as she said, “Actually, there’s more to it than that. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”
She hadn’t even been talking to me and yet my stomach dropped hearing the phrase, ‘Can we talk’, knowing no good could come from whatever it was she had to say.