First of all – thank you for all your great comments and reviews. I really appreciate them!
I also want to thank Suki59 for betaing this, but all mistakes (linguistic and/or medical and/or metrological and/or … yeah, well all mistakes) are mine. Writing this story has taught me why I usually situate my stories in Scandinavia. Even going to the doctor in the USA is entirely different from here. It`s a sure case of “write what you know”. Luckily Suki59 asks me all the right questions.
I was one lucky bastard. I was a bastard too, but right now, sitting on the plane to New York, I couldn`t stop grinning.
Yes, I knew I should feel bad about Sookie`s thinking she`d messed up with her pills and about her being nervous wondering whether I wanted the child or not … and deep down I probably did. But I didn`t want to focus on it.
Sookie and I were going to be parents. I wanted to do cartwheels up and down the aisle but instead I just sat there grinning like a fool.
Was I going to tell Sookie the truth? No fucking way! What good would that do? Sookie would know that she hadn`t forgotten to take her pills, that her memory was not as bad as she thought, but she would also know that ….
No, I was never going to tell her. And if I didn`t tell her – how would she know? The burden of my deception was one I needed to carry all alone.
I`d already booked the ticket to New York when Sookie told me I was going to be a father. To be truthful – I`d done it because I was afraid of what Sookie would do if she found out she was pregnant after she`d gone home. She`d spent almost three months with me. I had messed up with her pills quite a lot towards the end of her stay and it wasn`t until she`d left that I`d given it a second thought. And a third.
What if she didn`t want a child? What if she didn`t want … me?
I was thrilled she`d told me as soon as she`d found out she was pregnant. I`d been so worried that she might be pregnant and decided to bring up the child alone. Or that she ….
I definitely was a bastard and I`d felt bad when Sookie had blamed herself for her pregnancy. But now I was on my way to see her and I couldn`t stop myself from smiling. Sookie had that special spark that I couldn`t get enough of. Even Bill`s beating her up hadn`t killed it. She`d become a little sadder, perhaps, and she`d held back at first, but that was part of her too.
For the first time in my life I`d liked a woman for what she was, not just for what she could do for me or for how great she was in bed. During our summer together I`d come to realize that Sookie was the woman I wanted to spend my life with. My entire life.
And now she was going to be the mother of my child. Could life be any more perfect? I scratched my head. There was the little detail concerning where we were going to live, of course.
To be honest – I wanted Sookie to come live with me. She was an author and could live anywhere. She didn`t have much family and seemed to have few friends. If she moved in with me I would get paternity leave. I wouldn`t get that if I moved to New York.
I would play my cards safely, though. The most important thing would be for us to be together and if that meant I had to move to New York ….
No, I didn`t like the thought. From the moment Sookie told me about the pregnancy, I began visualizing my kid having the same upbringing I`d had. Not a kid growing up in a New York apartment and my walking around with a stroller in Central Park.
So after having manipulated a pregnancy on Sookie I knew I now had to manipulate her into accepting a move back home with me. It was all for the greater good – or so I told myself. I knew it was for my greater good but since I couldn`t see any harm for Sookie, apart from the fact that she would have to learn a new language, then why not?
I tapped my fingers lightly on the little box in my jeans pocket and looked forward to seeing Sookie again.
I saw her before she noticed me – which is incredible with my almost two meters towering over all the other passengers making their way through customs.
My heart did a little flip-flop at the sight of her and though I knew she wasn`t pregnant enough for anyone to notice, my heart did another flip-flop at the sight of her stomach. In there was Sookie`s and my future.
She turned her attention in my direction and her face lit up in a smile. I threw my bag on the floor and opened my arms and was thrilled when she jumped into them. Lifting her up and sniffing deeply into her hair – it was like coming home.
Sookie was my family. The little kid was my family. Since my parents had died I`d felt rootless. I was like a ship with no sails and now that was gone. I`d dropped my anchor when I met Sookie. I shook my head at my own mental metaphors.
I let Sookie get back down on her feet and knelt down. I`d planned on asking her at some fancy restaurant, making it all romantic. But I knew I couldn`t wait. This was why my very first words to her were:
“Will you marry me?”
Belatedly I pulled out the little box I`d carried all the way from home and opened it for her. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed people staring but I couldn`t care less. I wanted my grandmother`s ring on Sookie`s finger and I wanted it there now.
I wasn`t sure what I had expected. For her to throw herself into my arms. Tears of joy. That she would faint into my arms. Some romantic stuff. And I knew that I had expected her to say yes – even if it was only with a whisper or a nod because she couldn`t speak.
“Eric ….” she started.
It took me several seconds to realize that she wasn`t saying, “Eric, I love you so much,” or, “Eric – of course, I`ll marry you.”
She was rejecting me.
I got up very quickly, grabbed my backpack and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. The people staring at me were suddenly something I wanted to get away from.
“Eric … ” Sookie said again, her voice softer. Soothing. She came up behind me.
“Let`s get out of here,” I said and grabbed her hand.
“Eric!” Now her voice was hard, in command.
If I hadn`t been one huge chaotic mess inside I would probably have smiled at the three very different ways she had said my name.
“Yes,” I said without looking at her or slowing down. “That`s my name.”
“Stop!” She pulled hard on my hand. “I`m not saying that I don`t want you. It`s just … marriage. Is that necessary?”
I swallowed. Necessary? Of course marriage wasn`t necessary. Half my countrymen had kids without getting married and most of my male friends would avoid marriage talk like the bubonic plague. Hell, some of my female friends would too. I was being romantic and got shut down.
“No, of course it isn`t necessary,” I said between gritted teeth. “We can just fuck around as we please.”
Now it was Sookie`s turn to walk past me and she did not grab my hand to pull me with her. She stalked towards the taxis and if my legs hadn`t been twice as long as hers, she would probably have driven off without me.
I got into the taxi Sookie had picked and looked straight ahead when she gave her address to the driver. This wasn`t the way I had pictured our reunion. This wasn`t the way I had pictured anything.
We didn`t speak until after she closed the door to her apartment. With me inside, luckily.
“Stop this, Eric,” she said. “Remember what happened when you were here at Easter time?”
I deflated like a balloon. I remembered Easter.
“So why are you so against our marrying?” I asked, trying to keep my anger and disappointment out of my voice.
“I just had a nasty divorce, Eric.”
She almost rolled her eyes at me and I certainly rolled my eyes at myself. Inwardly, at least. It wasn`t that she didn`t want me. It was the mental scars Bill had given her that had made her act the way she did.
I took her hand and pulled her towards the couch and beckoned her to sit down. Then I sat down next to her.
“I`m not Bill,” I said.
A tiny smile curled her lips. “I know.”
“I love you,” I continued.
“I know that too.” She looked at our hands – together, the way they were supposed to be.
“There`s also the practical side to it,” I said when she just kept looking at our hands. “One of us needs a permanent visa to the other one`s country and marriage seems to be the way to get it.”
Her gaze moved slowly from our hands to my face.
“Yeah, there`s that,” she said.
“I want to be close to the kid,” I explained. “And you, of course. I don`t want the two of you to live in a different country from me.”
“So you want us to move in together?”
I grinned. “That`s usually what a proposal means.”
“But where? Would you want to move to New York?” she asked and I nodded.
“If you want us to live here, I`ll live here. It`s not important. As long as we`re together.”
I was a lying bastard but I was not going to tip the boat by saying I wanted us to live in my country.
“What would you do here?”
“I`m sure they need nurses in New York as well. I`ll find a job and if I need to take courses to be approved as a nurse here, I`ll take those courses. If I can`t be a nurse, I could always drive a taxi or work at a store.”
“But you love being a nurse.”
“I love you more.” Now that was the truth but I said it because I hoped it would soften her towards moving back with me. After all, that would be easier. Well, maybe not for her, but it would be better for the kid. And me.
The kiss she gave me told me she was considering the option I wanted all along. The kiss also told me it had been way too long since we`d had sex and soon it went from romantic to needy and hungry. I wanted Sookie in all the meanings of the word.
“I want to stay at home with the kid,” I said out of the blue when we were eating breakfast in bed the next morning. Sookie was morningsick and I`d made us the breakfast – after having promised her not to make anything that had any strong smells. Well, apart from coffee. Apparently she couldn`t live without her morning cup.
We ate toast with butter and drank coffee and though it was a fairly boring breakfast, I loved every bite of it.
She turned to look at me. “For how long?”
I smiled. Now I could tell her about the fantastic paternity leave rules back home. “As long as I can. If we have the baby in my country, I could be home for almost a year.” I pretended to be shocked at my own statement. “Not that I was suggesting that we move, of course. It`s just that it`s a pretty good deal. The state actively encourages fathers to stay at home and I would have 80% of my wages all those months.” I smiled. “You could write and I could look after the kid. Then you could nurse it when needed and go back to writing.”
Sookie took a big bite of her toast, chewed it and swallowed it.
“You could still be home with the kid here.”
“Oh, sure, but I wouldn`t have any money.”
“I have money.” Sookie took another bite of her toast.
I nodded. “You do.”
“But you don`t want to live off me.” It was not a question.
“I would prefer not to.” Especially if the alternative was living back home and earning my own money – or rather, getting paternity leave money. “I could sell my apartment, of course, and live off the money.”
“You could.” Sookie`s voice didn`t sound too sure – to my utter delight.
We ate the rest of our breakfast in silence and took a stroll out into the sun. It was a hot day so we only took a short walk but it was a nice feeling to walk hand in hand with her, knowing that I would soon be bringing my future wife and child home with me.
Later that afternoon Sookie was scheduled to see her physician and I was going to accompany her. We took the subway there and once again, I enjoyed the feeling of walking next to Sookie, knowing this was not just some temporary thing.
“So this is the father?” It was the first thing the doctor said when he saw me.
I shook his hand. “The proud father – that`s me.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the doctor said in a neutral voice but I felt his scrutinizing eyes on me. I almost started feeling guilty about Sookie`s pills but how would he know about them? I gave him a smile.
Not that I cared what he thought of me. I did care what Sookie thought of me, though – and I wanted her home with me as quickly as possible. The doctor might just be the person to help me out there.
“It came as a surprise,” I started. “The pregnancy,” I explained when he gave me a questioning look. “But I couldn`t be happier. I mean, I love Sookie and I would love nothing more than to start a family with her.”
Sookie`s doctor gave me one of those professional smiles.
“It seems you`ve started the family already,” he said in a dry voice.
I laughed a little at his silly joke. “Indeed we have. And we don`t even live together.” I paused. “Yet.” I squeezed Sookie`s hand.
“It`s hard to be a family with an ocean between you,” the doctor said while directing Sookie to lie back on the examining table.
“We`ll figure it out,” Sookie said.
I moved closer to Sookie and held on to her hand.
“You wouldn`t happen to know whether nurses with diplomas from other countries can work here?” I asked, hoping he would give me a discouraging answer.
“You`re a nurse?” he asked. I nodded. “It all depends on whether your education is classified as “registered nurse”. I know there are special rules for nurses from Canada, but I`m not sure how the rules are for nurses from your country. You may have to take some additional courses or redo some of your exams. Of course, some hospitals might have a problem with your education anyway. Most of them prefer people with educations from schools they are familiar with.”
“Oh. I tried to sound disappointed and then glossed over it. “But I`m sure it`ll work out somehow.” I gave Sookie a smile.
Sookie`s doctor looked at her. “But you`re an author, aren`t you?” he asked. “You could work anywhere.”
I wanted to kiss the doctor right then and there but chose to kiss Sookie`s hand instead. I noticed her lips getting tight, but then she nodded. She freaking nodded. Not much but enough for me to notice.
“I could,” she said. Then she let the hand I wasn`t holding glide over her stomach. “I was hoping Eric could hear the heartbeat.”
“You know that it`s still early,” the doctor said. “I can`t guarantee anything so I don`t want you to worry if we aren`t able to hear the baby.”
I was still smiling from Sookie`s nod and wasn`t paying much attention to the white instrument the doctor pulled out. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed him set a few buttons on a computer. Then he let the instrument glide over Sookie`s stomach and I began to hear strange sounds.
First it sounded like a microphone being stuck into deep water but then suddenly I heard it. A heartbeat. I heard the heart of my kid. My little baby inside Sookie`s stomach.
A tear ran down my cheek and I wasn`t ashamed of it. That sound was the most amazing sound I`d ever heard and I couldn`t get enough of it.
I heard Sookie laughing and saw her beautiful blue eyes looking at me. I just had to bend over and give her a kiss. My entire future was in those eyes. And in that stomach.
“I`ll marry you,” she whispered when I broke the kiss.
That made me kiss her even harder. Now I only needed Sookie to come home with me and everything would be perfect.
I feel the need to stress two things here:
1, I still don`t condone what Eric has done even if I have him manipulating Sookie some more. I write him as I see him in this story – a man with flaws. Yes, it`s inexcusable to trick someone you love like Eric has tricked Sookie but that doesn`t mean that it doesn`t happen every day. I wanted to keep this story “real” by describing a relationship with no perfect heroes but where there is still love.
2, I like Eric very much even if I choose to write him with flaws. There`s a fine line here between excusing what he`s done (which I won`t) and hating him for it (which I don`t).
On paternity leave: We`re having a very interesting debate here in Norway. The rules are that the parents get almost a year off from work (a little less if it`s on full pay and a little more if they choose to get 80%). 9 weeks are for the mother just after she`s given birth and 10 weeks are for the father and can be used whenever he wants to. The rest is to be divided between the two as they see fit. Usually the mother takes most of it but lately there`s been a huge call from fathers who want more time with their babies and suggestions have been made that they should have at least 1/3 of the time home and not just the 10 weeks. I know there have been similar debates in Sweden. So Eric is not so far off wanting a long paternity leave – he`s Scandinavian, after all.
On a personal note: My husband and I shared our time at home by having me home full time the first six months. The rest of the time at home with the baby we shared by staying at home every second day and going to work the other days. It was perfect, really, because then you got the best of both worlds. Both of us got to be with our little baby and both of us got to be at work. Perfect, really
I hope you enjoyed the chapter in spite of Eric`s manipulations (or I will send him home to manipulate you into loving it!)