My first clue that something wasn’t right should have been the fact Sookie wasn’t attached to some part of my body when I woke up, like she had been for the last seven or so years of my life.
But given I was still half asleep and the fact it was the dead of summer, I didn’t think too much of it at the time and rolled over on the bed to get away from the sunlight streaming through the window I could see through my closed eyelids. The bedroom windows faced the east, which was why we’d bought blackout curtains, but we must have forgotten to close them the night before.
Then thinking harder for a moment, I realized I couldn’t really remember anything about the night before.
But it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and deciding my wife’s neck would work just as well to block out the sun’s rays in the meantime, my hand automatically reached out for her to find she wasn’t there.
And my grasping fingertips told me neither were the sheets.
“Sook?” I mumbled, popping one eye open and at the sight that greeted me, I didn’t know whether I should be amused or pissed to see that she’d managed to strip the bed with me still in it.
I’d been leaning towards amused, until my other eye popped open and I really looked around. Not only was the bed stripped of the sheets and pillows, but the nightstand on Sookie’s side of the bed was clear of the clutter that normally sat there.
And the pictures from our wedding weren’t hanging on the wall.
The curtains were gone too.
Bare walls and floors met my eyes at every turn, but seeing the empty closet through the open door, I launched myself from the bed now wide awake and yelled out, “SOOKIE!”
Unable to stop myself, I ran from room to room in a panic, eyeing the unfamiliar boxes stacked on the floors that I suspected held all of our belongings, but I didn’t dare stop to check when the only thing I wanted to see was my wife.
It was all exactly the same and yet nothing was how I remembered it –how it should have been – but it felt too real for me to believe I was caught up in a nightmare.
A nightmare, I could wake up from. But something in the back of my mind told me no matter how illogical it all was, I wouldn’t be waking up from this.
I hadn’t even realized I was still dressed in the clothes I’d worn the night before until I heard my shoes pounding across the bare floors and down the wooden stairs, but it only added to my confusion and came out of my chest in a nearly hysterical shout of, “SOOKIE!”
The kitchen was empty and the countertops bare, save for the bouquet of flowers sitting in a vase I didn’t recognize. But seeing them caught me short and my feet came to a stop, with memories of a different bouquet filtering into my mind.
A bouquet of peonies.
I’d given Sookie a bouquet of peonies.
They’d matched the bouquet she’d carried at our wedding.
The night before I’d given Sookie a bouquet of peonies, but the bouquet sitting on the counter weren’t peonies. Those were carnations and Sookie hated carnations with a passion.
She said they were meant for funerals and sent by someone with no imagination.
The plate of cookies sitting beside the flowers offered no help either because, while finding baked goods in the kitchen was nothing out of the ordinary, those were store bought.
Or as Sookie called them, unacceptable.
Just the sight of them always made her bake a batch from scratch to satisfy her cookie craving the store bought cookies brought out in her.
The house was right.
But it wasn’t our home.
Running out of the kitchen and straight into the living room, I found more of the same.
Our furniture was still in place, but all of the little things that made the house our home were gone.
The framed pictures that once lined the mantle above the fireplace had been replaced by a small grouping of candles.
The hideous afghan her grandmother had made and that Sookie refused to part with, usually lay across the back of the couch, but was nowhere in sight now.
The piles of books that were normally stacked on the coffee table and both end tables – because Sookie insisted she was in the middle of rereading all of them and therefore they couldn’t be put away on the bookshelves – were missing.
None of it made sense.
Even if I could have convinced myself that Sookie was leaving me – which was so far out of the realm of possibility it existed in an entirely different galaxy – I knew there was no way she could have packed up the entire house in a single night while I slept through it all.
I could have been standing there for seconds or hours, trying to come up with an explanation that actually made sense, when I heard the unmistakable sound of someone walking up the front porch steps.
Replacing the old warped wooden boards had been on my to-do list for the following weekend. But hearing voices accompanying the footfalls, I swung around and headed towards the front door, stopping just shy of getting smacked in the face when it swung open.
Only instead of feeling any relief at finding Sookie on the other side of it, I managed to catch myself from running straight into someone entirely unexpected.
Four years earlier…
Staring up at the big old farmhouse in awe, Sookie whispered at my side, “So what do you think?”
That a stiff breeze could knock it over?
Granted, I’d grown up in the city and had never lived in a single dwelling home. But I’d fallen in love with a country girl, so I’d had some idea of what I was getting myself into when I married her a year earlier.
I just hadn’t realized a haunted house would be her ideal dream home.
So feeling her nudge my side with her elbow, I turned to her and smirked, “I think we could be forced into a bidding war with the producers of American Horror Story, if they’re scouting locations for next season’s show and see this gem.”
“Sissy,” she huffed with a playful eye roll and smack aimed my way. But she shrieked in the next second and nearly climbed me like a tree when I pointed behind her and said, “Spider.”
“Now who’s the sissy?” I laughed, when she finally turned to see the spider-free lawn behind her.
“You’re such an ass,” she glared, with no real heat behind her eyes.
So I added a different kind of heat to both my eyes and voice, when I reminded her, “You love my ass.”
She did too.
So much that I was surprised she hadn’t worked it into our wedding vows.
“Too bad I couldn’t have just married that part of you,” she jokingly snitted.
Me being me, I just took it as a win that she hadn’t denied it.
But – me being me – I couldn’t leave well enough alone and challenged, “I’m pretty sure you’re fond of the part on the flipside too.”
“Meh,” she shrugged. “I can go buy one just like it. Maybe get one that even vibrates.”
“I’ll show you vibrate,” I growled, snatching her up into my arms and tickling her sides until she was flailing like a newborn baby ostrich trying to take flight and gasping for air.
Sookie was mid-squeal and my face was buried against her skin, playfully chomping on the tickle spot where her neck and shoulder met, when we both stopped short hearing someone clearing their throat behind us.
I couldn’t tell if Sookie’s flushed skin was from embarrassment or our tickle session – probably a bit of both – when I put her down and we both turned to face an impeccably dressed woman, who seemed unimpressed at the sight of us in front of her.
“Selah Pumphrey,” she offered, with a forced smile that magnified her angular features in an unflattering way.
“I would’ve put money on Maleficent,” I muttered under my breath, making Sookie try and hide her involuntary snort with a cough, before she schooled her features and smiled brightly with her reply of, “Sookie Northman. And this is my husband, Eric.”
Ignoring our childish display, she nodded and gestured towards the overgrown property, immediately launching into her sales pitch by saying, “As you can see, the yard needs some work, but there’s plenty of land, so once the house is torn down, nearly any size home can be accommodated.”
“Torn down?” Sookie responded in horror, as though the woman had suggested opening up a kitten slaughter house. “Why would anyone want to tear down that house?”
Because putting it out of its misery would be the humane thing to do?
Thankfully, my wife wasn’t a mind reader, so I avoided the ball punch she would’ve aimed my way otherwise, and I silently stood at her side, prepared to back her up in any attack she decided to unleash on the unsuspecting realtor, if she decided to push her point of view on us.
Glancing back at the house for a long moment – as if to make sure we were all looking at the same one – she turned back to face us and offered slowly, “It would need a lot of work.”
And as if she was certain we’d arrived there on an invisible short bus, she added, “You do realize that the property is being sold as-is. The previous owner passed away more than two years ago and the heirs aren’t entertaining any offers contingent on any work being done.”
“Yes,” Sookie replied in that tone.
That tone that made my balls creep up into my torso to hide from the tornado in their midst.
“English is our native language,” Sookie added, with a slight narrowing of her eyes. “So we fully understood both the sales ad and our previous conversation over the phone when we called you about the property.”
Even the birds seemed to go quiet, while the two women stared one another down, but it was the realtor that wisely backed down and forced another smile, as she nodded and gestured towards the house while she said, “Shall we do a walkthrough?”
She was one of only two realtors in our small town and had been the one who’d sold the house to us four years earlier, so I recognized her immediately.
I just didn’t know what in the hell she was doing in our house.
“Selah?” I panted out, with my heart feeling like it was about to pound out of my chest. “What in the hell are you doing here? Where’s Sookie?”
Breezing into the house like she owned it, Selah was staring down at the phone in her hand, while speaking to the two men left in her wake, ordering, “I want you to gather all of the boxes upstairs and take them down to the moving truck. We’ll leave the furniture in place until after the open house and then I want all of it moved out too.”
“We’re still living here!” I exclaimed in frustration, but she strode into the kitchen as though I wasn’t even there, with the two men seemingly intent on following their orders and paying me no mind either.
But they’d left the front door open behind them and looking outside for the first time I saw not only a moving truck in the driveway, but a ‘For Sale’ sign at the end of it. So I ignored the sound of them lumbering up the stairs and decided to go after the woman in charge.
Storming into the kitchen until I was standing right behind her, I growled out, “What in the hell is going on?”
Still tapping away on her phone, she completely ignored me and only shuddered slightly, when I yelled out her name at the top of my lungs next.
But other than that, she gave no indication she even noticed me. However, my previous dealings with her uppity nature had me thinking this was more of the same.
And it had me seeing red.
While I’d never hit a woman before, I was coming close to it.
The implausible nigh downright impossible didn’t even occur to me, until she turned at the sound of another’s voice behind me and seemed to be looking through me, when she smiled and said, “Welcome. I take it you’re here for the open house?”
Spinning around on my heels, I saw a young couple about the same age as Sookie and I, standing in the doorway with the woman’s eyes taking in every detail of the kitchen, while her husband sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and said, “We are. I’m Hoyt and this is my wife Jessica.”
“I love this house, “Jessica gushed, swirling into the kitchen and peering into the cabinets she opened at random, which allowed me to see that they too were empty inside.
Like I was feeling more and more, the longer I was being ignored.
Willing someone – anyone – to acknowledge me and put me out of my misery, I snarled out, “This house is NOT for sale!”
Shaking her head, Selah almost seemed regretful. If it weren’t for the other two people in the room, I could’ve attributed it to her resting bitch face attitude at my snarled denial, but I was admittedly thrown for a loop when she offered, “The couple who used to live here…if you could’ve seen what it looked like when they bought it four years ago, well…you would know just how much work they put into it. The wife loved it even then, but I never would’ve imagined it could’ve looked like this.”
“I can’t believe it’s really ours,” Sookie dreamily sighed, staring up at the house before us.
“Believe it, doll,” I smiled, but wanting to sigh for a decidedly un-dreamily reason. The house needed a ton of work.
A metric fuck ton, if you wanted to get specific.
But Sookie’d had her heart set on it and I just wanted her to be happy. And as long as I had her by my side, I was happy, so as far as I was concerned it was an even trade.
I was a staunch believer in the old saying, ‘A happy wife, a happy life.’
Taking her hand in mine, so we could walk up the front steps together, I reminded her, “We just signed our lives away on about a thousand sheets of paper to make it ours.”
Having never owned a home before, I hadn’t known just how many times I would need to sign my name in order to buy one.
A lot, I’d learned.
“The paint color is different than what I’d always imagined, but I can live with it for now,” she smiled and then frowned. “The garden is another story.”
Laughing at her OCD coming out to play, I pulled the keys from my pocket and pulled her the rest of the way up the front porch steps behind me, with both of us wobbling on one of the warped boards.
Before she could say anything, I looked down at her and said, “It’s on my list.”
“Oh yeah?” she grinned and then waggled her brows, asking, “What else is on your list?”
“It’s a very long list,” I smirked down at her, no longer talking about the house. “In fact, big might be a better word for it.”
“You sure?” she challenged with a smirk of her own. And then she clued me into the fact she was no longer talking about the house either, when she teased, “Maybe it’s average. You know, there’s nothing wrong with having an aver…”
Sliding the key into the lock to open the door, I playfully growled and scooped her up into my arms before she could finish that thought – because we both knew nothing about me was average – with my ploy working, when she gave up that line of thought and shrieked, “What are you doing?”
Knowing any response that had to do with her being big, average, or above average would backfire on me in ways I wanted no part of, I only replied, “I’m carrying my bride over the threshold.”
Technically she’d been my bride for a little over a year, but tradition dictated my actions.
Besides, I didn’t want to jinx us at the start of the newest chapter in our lives.
We’d been diligent in saving up enough money to buy a house and since we’d gotten this one at a bargain as-is price, we had enough left over to do most of the repairs that would be needed to make it livable.
Neither one of us ever shied away from hard work, so I knew, slowly but surely, we would be able to get it done together.
Kicking the door shut behind me, I set her down on her feet in the empty living room. But instead of letting her go right away, I held her close and together we danced from room to room to a song only the two of us could hear.
Later on that night, we lay together on a pile of blankets in our newly christened bedroom, whispering in the dark to one another, as we planned out the rest of our lives.
I could almost see Selah fondly recalling that initial conversation with Sookie. The one where she’d had that tone, but rather than endear her to me at all, she only pissed me off more, so I yelled, “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
All three of them seemed to shiver, which was odd since it was the dead of summer, but no one mentioned it – and none of them reacted to my shouting voice – with the one named Hoyt, stating more than asking, “They were young.”
What in the fuck did he mean ‘were’?
We are young.
Only at the tail end of our twenties, we had our whole lives ahead of us. We had three empty bedrooms upstairs ready and waiting to be filled with towheaded babies.
They’ll be tall like me.
They’ll be stubborn like their mother.
In other words, they’ll be perfect.
Shaking her head again, Selah reached up and dabbed at her eyes, nodding, “Too young for something like this to happen.”
Something like what?
I wanted to yell and to scream. I wanted to tear the house down around them. But more than that, I wanted answers.
Answers I seemed to only be getting in bits and pieces.
Like my life seemed to be now.
Bits and pieces of me – of us – were everywhere, but without Sookie, I wasn’t whole.
In the silence that stretched on, I tried to recall my last memories.
Sookie and I had gone to Shreveport for dinner. We’d held hands across the table and probably glowed like two idiots when we agreed that she would stop taking her birth control.
We were going to have babies. Raise a family in the house we’d painstakingly turned into a home.
It had finally been the right time.
We’d planned on going dancing afterward, but talks of babies led to thoughts of how babies were made, so we ditched dancing in favor of going home and getting started on them.
The last thing I could remember was being in the car.
We were in the car.
What happened in the car?
“It was a drunk driver.”
The sound of Selah’s voice answering my unspoken question pulled me from my memories and I turned towards her in time to see her take a deep breath and continue on by saying, “Senseless. It was a senseless death. They had their whole lives ahead of them.”
Was I…I was…dead?
Our house really was haunted. I just never imagined it would be by me.
When the realization sunk in, I would’ve sworn my knees buckled a second later, but somehow I managed to stay upright.
And I would’ve torn from the room to get away from my nightmare turned reality if I wasn’t so desperate to hear someone say where Sookie had gone to.
She had a cousin that lived in New Orleans and a brother that had moved east for college and stayed, but she wasn’t particularly close to either one of them and both of her parents were gone.
I knew her better than anyone and yet I had no clue where she would go if – no – when I died. But at least it explained why everything was boxed up.
Why the house was for sale.
If it had been me that survived, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there either. I couldn’t have stayed there, surrounded by all of the memories we’d made or the plans we had made that would never be fulfilled.
We’d done the grownup thing and had a will drawn up not long after we’d bought the house. And we’d also discussed in the vaguest of terms what we would want done if the unimaginable happened and one of us were to die.
‘Vague’ in the sense that we had each forbid the other to die, but with the caveat that if it were to happen, the other could expect to be haunted by our ghost for the rest of their life.
Admittedly, not very rational or adult-like, but there you have it.
Sookie and Eric Northman, in a nutshell.
But still, I needed to know where she went, if I was going to fulfill my promise to haunt her for all of eternity.
But first I needed for one of them to say out loud where that was.
Then, in the silence that still pervaded the room – and just as thoughts of hospitals and ICU’s began to invade my mind – I heard a distant voice.
One I recognized immediately.
Flying out of the room and out of the house, there at the end of the driveway I saw my salvation.
Looking up at the sound of my voice calling her name, I was both relieved and heartbroken to realize she wasn’t looking through me.
She was looking at me.
Still dressed as I last remembered her, there wasn’t any indication she’d been hurt in any way and for that I was grateful.
And I was even more grateful when I finally got close enough to reach out and touch her, she felt real and solid in my arms.
“Eric?” she hiccupped, with tears streaming down both of our faces. “I don’t understand. What…what’s going on?”
I couldn’t answer her. Not right away.
The breath – I apparently didn’t need anymore – had left my body, stolen by the sight and feel of the woman in my arms.
So I could only silently watch as she took in the ‘For Sale’ sign next to the mailbox, with her head then turning to face the house at the sound of the two movers now carrying boxes full of nothing important at all, down the warped wooden steps I’d never gotten around to fixing.
But I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in relief – and admittedly, selfish gratitude – seeing her face screw up into that stubborn pout I loved so much and hearing that tone coming from her lips, when she looked back at me and snarled, “This house is not for sale.”