I woke up to the sound and smell of bacon frying and opened my eyes feeling a bit disoriented until I remembered the events of the night before.
Bill had left me.
And not just in the ‘he left me for another woman’ sense or something else a little more palatable. He’d literally left me in the middle of nowhere with exactly $3.78 in my pocket. I didn’t even have my cell phone because it was packed away along with every other thing I owned which Bill also took with him.
I was stunned when I’d stepped outside the bar the night before and saw that the moving truck with his car hitched to the back was gone. I’d thought he’d only taken off in a huff, but not once did I think he wouldn’t be back and it didn’t take long for me to get cold enough to go into the motel office to request a second key to our room. Bill had held onto the one we’d gotten when we checked in, but the desk clerk just looked at me oddly as he told me that Bill had already checked out.
I wandered back out into the cold with a small part of me actually feeling relieved he was gone, but it didn’t take long before a much larger part of me was terrified. I’d already decided I didn’t want to be with him anymore, but I wasn’t ready to be away from him just yet. I needed time to make plans; I needed time to save up any money and then figure out a way to get back home to Louisiana, but now not only did I have no home to go back to, I had no way to get there. He’d left me completely stranded.
Both relief and fear warred inside of me because of it.
If it hadn’t been for Eric’s kindness I imagine I very well might have frozen to death and I certainly didn’t deserve his charity after the way I’d treated him, but I was grateful for him beyond words. He was a complete stranger, but for some reason he made me feel safe. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time, probably not since before Gran had died, but I knew I couldn’t rely on his kindness for very long. I’d never been one to take handouts and had always worked for everything I had, but seeing as how Bill had left me with nothing I would have no choice but to swallow my pride and gratefully accept whatever I might be offered until I could figure out what to do, but no matter how much I tried to focus on my own problems, my thoughts kept drifting back to Eric.
And they were exactly innocent thoughts either.
He was no doubt a very handsome man and while I knew there was no way he could fall for someone like me with all of my baggage, I still couldn’t help but wonder why someone as nice and as good looking as him was single. He clearly lived alone, so I surmised he might have a girlfriend somewhere, or a boyfriend for all I knew, but something told me he was straight.
It was that same something that told me to mind my own business and stop thinking about him like that because not only did I not need to jump into another relationship, but the likes of Eric Northman would never like me in that way.
It was none of my business, all of it. I had my own problems to deal with, so I pulled myself out of bed and wandered into the bathroom to take care of my morning routine and once my teeth were brushed and my hair suitably tamed with a little water from the sink, I made my way into the kitchen where I saw Eric standing at the stove. He must have heard me coming because he didn’t even turn around as he said, “I hope you’re hungry.”
God. I’d somehow forgotten about his Irish accent and ignored the way it made my stomach flutter, along with one or two other bodily reactions that couldn’t be helped, as I agreed, “I am.” I actually felt like I was starving, given I really hadn’t eaten much the night before, and since I already felt bad for imposing on him like I was, I quickly asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
He turned and flashed me a blinding smile, making way more than just my stomach flutter, saying, “I’ve got it handled. Why don’t you get yourself some coffee and have a seat.”
I did as I was told and tried not to stare at the back of him as he cooked, but he was a big guy in a small kitchen, so there really wasn’t much else to look at, but I forced my eyes away from him and started picking apart a paper napkin out of nervousness, saying, “I really appreciate everything you did for me last night.”
“‘T’wasn’t nothin’ at all,” he replied. “Me auld lade would have me hide if I left a fine young lady such as yourself out in the cold.”
“It wasn’t ‘nothing’,” I argued, while making a mental note to ask him later about the words he used that I didn’t understand. “If it wasn’t for you, I can’t imagine what I would’ve done or where I would’ve gone.” Tears pricked my eyes just thinking about it and I didn’t realize Eric had turned around until his hand reached out wiping away one that broke free.
“Now, now,” he said softly. “We’ll have none o’ that around here. You’re much prettier when you smile, so why don’t you give that a whirl?”
I don’t know if it was his words, his accent, or a combination of both, but my tears dried up just as fast as they’d appeared and a small smile formed on my lips. I wasn’t even close to beautiful that morning having noticed in the mirror that my eyes were puffy and red and my hair was all over the place since I’d gone to sleep with it wet, but of course he was too nice to say anything about it.
‘Nice’ was nice for a change.
He slid a plate with heaps of food on it in front of me and I waited for him to start eating before putting a dent into it all. “You’re a great cook,” I said in between mouthfuls. It wasn’t a lie either. Bill was great at finding the blandest recipes in history on the internet, but I was the one that did all of the cooking. I took the fact that Eric could cook and didn’t seem to mind doing it as another ‘nice’ perk.
“Me auld lade taught me all I know,” he said a bit wistfully.
I wasn’t quite sure what an ‘auld lade’ was and felt ignorant, but asked anyway, “Is that like your old lady? Are you married?” A flash of something flitted across his eyes too quickly for me to hold onto, but when his face settled on being a little amused, I apologized, “I’m sorry. I’ve just never heard that word before.”
His hand started to reach towards my own, but he pulled back at the last minute and I tried to hide my own disappointment seeing he was still wearing a smile as he said, “Me ‘auld lade’ is my mum; mom; mother. ‘S all the same thing.”
I let it slide that he didn’t answer the part about him being married, but since he seemed open to explaining some things, I remembered not quite understanding what he’d said to Bill in the bar the night before and asked, “And what about bollix? You told Bill to ask your bollix.”
Eric half-laughed and half-choked on the food he’d just put into his mouth and covered it with his hand as he tried to chew and swallow while chuckling. His eyes were leaking tears when he finally caught his breath enough to ask, “Are you sure you want to know? It’s not really polite conversation for a man to be having with a woman.”
Bill used to parcel out information piece by piece whenever he saw fit and it was just one more thing to add to the funeral pyre of our relationship. I swore to myself right then and there that I was done with not only Bill, but living in the dark and while whatever it was he was might possibly tell me wasn’t important, I did want to know. I wanted to have a give and take conversation where I didn’t have to censor myself or my thoughts. I wanted to speak freely with someone else and know that there would be no repercussions because I might have my own opinion that opposed theirs, but they wouldn’t berate me or brow beat me with my lack of education or knowledge of how things are done in the real world.
It felt nice to be out of my ‘cage’ and stretch my legs as it were, but just feeling that way made me realize just how bad it had been and I didn’t know if I should cry over having put up with it for so long or cry in joyous relief that it was finally over. I already knew a small part of the old me was clawing her way to the top for the sheer fact I hated Bill had been the one to leave me first and not the other way around, but I had no intention of seeking him out just to try and right the scales of justice in my mind’s eye, nor did I have any reason to take out my Bill frustrations on Eric. I’d already done that once and he was wonderful enough to overlook it in my time of need, so I looked back him and said sincerely, “I would like to know. I promise I won’t be offended.”
He just shrugged his shoulders like it was no big deal and enunciating his words, he explained, “Translated, ‘ask me bollix’ means he should ask my balls. In other words, I could care less what he was asking for so he might as well be talking to my balls.”
“Oh,” I replied. I felt my cheeks enflame hearing him talking so casually about his…uh…balls, but I didn’t find him to be crude at all. If I was honest, I actually found him to be quite charming and definitely handsome. He was the exact opposite of Bill in both looks and personality, but I found I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t stand a chance interesting someone like him and I really shouldn’t be looking to interest anyone at all right now. Bill and I had just broken up and what I needed to figure out was what I was going to do now that I was free.
I only further depressed myself knowing I should’ve meant, ‘now that I was single.’
We finished our meal in relative silence and I got up from the table insisting he allow me to clean up, but while I was clearing off the table I figured I might as well get it out of the way and asked, “Do you mind if I use your phone when I’m done?”
“Sure,” he hesitated. I wondered why until he asked, “Calling your boyfriend to see if he’s come to his senses yet?”
To say the words left a bitter taste in his mouth would be putting it mildly considering the way his lips were contorted, but I was hardly lying when I scoffed, “Not if he was the last man on earth. I was going to try and get a hold of one of my old friends to see if they could loan me the money to get home and maybe put me up for a while until I can find a job and someplace to live.”
“Oh,” he replied and continued to just stare at me with an odd expression on his face until I finally turned around to carry the dishes to the sink when he said, “Well, I’m afraid you’ll be stuck with me for the next few days at least, so I hope that’s okay with you.”
“What?” I asked whipping my head around to face him again only to see him pointing at the window. I walked closer and looked outside for the first time that morning not really believing what I was seeing while knowing it was real. Everything was white and I do mean everything. I remembered seeing he had a garage on that side of his house from when we’d pulled up the driveway the night before, but I couldn’t see it from where I stood with the snow piled up at least waist high, if not more, and it was still coming down.
“Oh my God!” I said to no one in particular. “I’ve never seen so much snow.” Snow was extremely rare back home and it never stuck to the ground whenever we got the occasional flakes, but it seemed I was in the midst of a complete white out.
And I felt a little giddy from it wanting to pull ‘A Christmas Story’ and run outside to stick my tongue onto the nearest metal surface. At least I wasn’t likely to put an eye out doing it.
“Don’t worry,” I heard him say from behind me. “You’ll warm up quick once you get a rhythm going with the snow shovel.”
“Of course,” I agreed and turned around to face him again thinking I could just wear his clothes over the top of my own. Layering was the way to go and I was sure he was right in that I’d stay warm from the physical exertion alone. “Just point me towards one and I’ll get started as soon as I change clothes.” It was the least I could do after everything he’d already done for me and I wasn’t about to turn down my first chance at experiencing a real snowfall.
A look of horror came on his face as he stood up waving his arms around like he was trying to put out an imaginary fire, saying, “I was just kidding. There’s no way I’d allow a guest in my home to shovel snow. I’m having a hard enough time sitting still while you clean up. It feels wrong.”
My spirits plummeted again as I felt my jaw clench when he’d said the word ‘allow’, with it bringing back unpleasant Bill related baggage, but I forced myself to relax knowing Eric hadn’t meant anything bad by it. It only fueled my realization over just how damaged I was and I took a deep breath to try and calm myself down. Even though Bill had left me without a word; without any money or clothes or even a place to stay at the time, for once in my life I actually knew something wasfor the best and now that I was finally free of him I could feel just how much our relationship had weighed on me because the burden of it was no longer there. My body had already come to this conclusion all on its own because my shoulders were no longer drawn inwards and my back stood straight with me literally feeling lighter than I had in years, but seeing Eric’s unsure expression, I forced myself to smile and tried to ease his anxiety by saying, “I have to disagree.” I turned back to the kitchen sink and flipped on the faucet, adding, “It feels right.”
Without a doubt, any future without Bill in it was right for me.