Chapter 23

A/N:

Today is my birthday and I`m stuffed with chocolate cake and anticipation for my romantic birthday dinner later tonight (yay!).

Thank you so much for all your great reviews and comments. I really love reading them. Especially after the last chapter where half of you wanted to punch Eric in the nose and the other half were ready to give him a hug (some of you probably wanted to do more to him too *wink*).

And thank you to the great Rascalthemutant who not only has read this through and weeded out the annoying mistakes I keep making, but also made a great birthday banner at the Alexander Skarsgård Library Forum. Wow. Also thank you to all the lovely ladies there for your virtual birthday cakes and beer with birthday candles (you guys know me too well).


Eric and I had been avoiding each other for almost a week, which was pretty hard since we both lived and worked together, when he came home and declared he had to go on a business trip.

“But you won`t have to be all alone, Sookie,” he said in a voice I couldn`t determine whether it was sarcastic or with real concern for my wellbeing. Given Eric`s state, it was probably both. “Do you remember Charles from the football match you watched this summer? I believe he made some wisecrack remark to you.”

The summer seemed so far away. I remembered the football match. I also remembered the nude swimming afterwards and felt my heart sink in sorrow over lost times.

“Yes, I think I remember him vaguely.”

“Well, Charles called me and asked if he could stay at my house the next couple of weeks. Apparently they are installing a new bathroom in his apartment and he wants to of shower both morning and night – which he can`t now.”

“Okay,” I said. What else could I say? If Eric wanted his entire football team to live here, he could. It was his house.

Suddenly he leaned over me and actually had real concern in his eyes for a second or two.

“And I wouldn`t worry about him, Sookie. He`s gay so you`ll be perfectly safe.”

I didn`t really know what to think. It was sweet of Eric to make sure I was safe, but I had had enough reminders of Bill`s rape to last me a lifetime.

“Thank you,” was all I replied. I kept my face free of any emotions.

Eric looked at me and I suddenly felt like I was under a microscope. “I wish that I could read your mind,” he said. “I wish very much that I could know what was going on in your head. I wish I knew why I cared what’s going on in that head.”

I looked at him and then I looked away, not knowing how to respond. I had a dreadful impulse to say, `You told me you loved me and would stay with me forever.` But I didn`t.

Xxxx

So this was how Charles Twining came into Eric`s house. He was the kind of person you had to like instantly. He met me with a smile, but wasn`t too forward. He stuck out his hand and nodded slightly with his head.

“Charles Twining at your service, madam,” he said with a wink.

“Nice to meet you, Charles,” I answered with a smile. It was nice to smile again.

Charles was blond like Eric, but that was where all comparison ended. He was short, just a little taller than me, and very thin and bony. He was a bit older than Eric and his face looked as if he had been a sailor or a fisherman. It was very tan for this time of year and also had the wrinkles and thick skin that came with excessive sun tanning. I knew because I had tried to avoid those since I`m a incorrigible lover of the rays – from the sun or from the tanning beds.

Charles was also very sweet and attentive and soon we spent the evenings gossiping like old friends. Even if Charles was Eric`s friend, I felt he became my friend too. He was a great listener and asked me all the right questions.

As Eric`s friend he was obviously curious about what was going on between us and was pretty blunt in his questioning sometimes, but I managed to avoid answering directly. What could I have said? `We flirted for months, had sex when he was sick and now he`s mad at me for some reason`?

I couldn`t even explain it to myself.

Charles never told me much about himself and I figured it was because he had had to keep his love-life a secret when he was younger. Being gay was not a problem to most people here in Norway, but Charles had grown up in a very religious family on the west coast and they had cut all ties to him when he finally told them what he was. Or rather who he loved.

It was a sad story and I felt for him when he told it. He told me not to pity him as he had good friends and a substitute-mother who was very sweet to him.

“We all need love you know, Sookie,” he smiled and looked at me. We were on the couch together.

When I didn`t answer, he continued.

“I`ve been asking and asking, honey, but you`ve never told me what the deal between you and Mr. Hunky is. You obviously sleep in his bedroom, but does he sleep there too?”

I just smiled at him. I couldn`t help it. He was nosy, but he was nosy in a charming and sweet way.

“You know that whenever people talk about Eric, your name pops up?”

“Listen,” I said, “I don’t know what you heard, but he’s not… we’re not… like that.” Charles looked at my face and wisely said nothing. At least for a while. Then he stood up and walked towards the door. Just before he left, he turned around.

“All I know is that Eric hasn`t had any girlfriends since this summer when you came to Oslo. For Eric, that`s a long time.” And then he was gone.

I stared at the empty space he left not knowing what that piece of information meant to me. Yes, it was a confirmation that Eric had been dating anything in a skirt before he met me, but it also told me that ….

I got up, not wanting to pursue that thought.

Then the phone rang. I never really liked answering Eric`s phone, but I was the only one around to do it.

“Hello?” I answered. I`d always been taught to answer with your full name, but I couldn`t do that here, not in Eric`s house.

It was quiet on the other end of the line for a minute. Then I heard a well-known voice.

Sookie?” Eric asked.

“Yeah.”

“Why didn`t you respond with your name?”

“This is your home, Eric. I just don`t feel comfortable answering your phone.” I could hear how silly I sounded.

“Sookie. It`s your home too.” He breathed a little. ” You know, I`m very so…” There was a pause. I knew what he was trying to say, but it was apparently impossible for him to actually get the word `sorry` over his lips. “One day you and I will have a long talk, Sookie, and I hope I can make you see why I was … why I am … pretty frustrated right now. Now tell me how you and Charles are doing. Is it working out okay?”

I smiled.

“Yes, Charles and I are gossiping like old friends. He is kind and sweet and so much fun to be with.” I knew I was exaggerating, but I wasn`t sure why.

“Right,” Eric answered and I could almost see his jaw tighten. “And how are things at work? You know it`s very frustrating that I can`t go to my office with everything that`s going on now.”

“Don`t worry. Pam is doing great and we have been able to pick up the pieces. We are planning a great campaign for the new game.”

“Good, good. It seems I`m at the only place where I`m actually needed right now then,” he sighed.

“And where is that?” I had never asked him where he was going.

“Oh, just some family affairs.” He was quiet for a while. “So I told you I would go back with you to your country and we could stay together forever?”

I gasped. This was a change of subjects if I`d ever heard one.

“Yes, but I couldn`t let you, could I? Not in the state you were in.”

I was probably expecting an emotional scene, maybe some gratitude. I didn`t know what I expected, but not this.

“Quite,” he answered. That was all.

We were quiet for some time and I almost wondered if he had hung up on me. Maybe he was checking something on the internet and was so busy looking at hot babes, he forgot I was on the other end of the line. Maybe he was remembering that he hadn`t bought toilet paper. Maybe he was thinking about what I`d said. I had no way of knowing.

Suddenly he coughed a little.

“Should I just move out for good and end it all?” he whispered. “I would never have to think about you again. Thinking about you is an annoying habit, and one I want to be rid of. Or should I come back and we could again have the best sex I’ve ever had?”

I didn’t think I was going to get a vote on this. I cleared my throat. “Eric,” I said, a little hoarsely, “we need to talk about something.”

“What?” he asked.

“Well, everything. What`s going on? Why are you pulling me onto this emotional rollercoaster?”

Eric was quiet again for a few moments. Now I wanted to check out hot guys online, read the paper or even make doodles with my pen just to occupy my racing emotions with something.

“I`ll be back in a couple of days, Sookie. We`ll talk then.” His voice was thick with regret, but I had no idea if it was because he was sorry for the way he had treated me or because he had ever met me.

Xxxxx

I threw myself into work, which wasn`t hard to do. There was more than enough to do with planning the release of the new game and I was dead set on doing everything right. Actually I wanted it to be perfect. I tried to tell myself that it had nothing to do with me proving myself to Eric and everything with making my CV look great for my next job.

But I couldn`t fool myself. I wanted to stay in Oslo and I wanted to be wanted here. And I wanted to be wanted for my skills in PR because I felt that was my safest bet.

I tried not to think about why I wanted to stick around because it certainly wasn`t the weather or the sun that kept me here. With the dark winter nights approaching, my only source of sun was the tanning beds of Brun og Blid, or Tanned and Happy as it would be in English. I settled for at least being tanned.

So I worked my butt off and got home and chatted with Charles – and that was my life those two weeks Eric was away.

Eric did call me from time to time and I felt great and sad at the same time every time I spoke to him. He tried to make sure I still felt welcome in his house and he was a great and reassuring boss. If I had never slept with him, Eric and I would have been perfect friends.

But I had slept with him. And that complicated things.

Luckily I had Charles. I started to confide more in him, which was new for me. He would make gløgg when I came home from work and it took me a while before I realized that the hot, sweet drink with the raisins and nuts actually had vodka in it too. No wonder I loosened up in his company.

I loved coming home to Charles and usually didn`t exactly sneak in the door, but this day I was listening to a voice mail from Eric, of all people, when I walked through the door. This was why I never shouted out that I was home.

I heard Charles on the phone with someone and was about to go to my room to give him some privacy when something he said gave me a déjà vu. And a really bad feeling.

It wasn`t just what he was saying, that made me want to throw up, it was who he was saying it to. Charles was talking to Eric`s mother.

“But would it be so wrong for them to stay together, Sophie Anne? Sookie is a great girl,” Charles` enthusiasm wasn`t shared by the person on the other end of the line.

“No, I don`t think they are planning marriage just now, but they might in the future. Eric hasn`t looked at anyone else since this summer and you know how rare it is for him to go for that long without some clinging bimbo hanging around his neck. And Sookie is hard working and a good influence.”

I felt like a slave being assessed by the prospective new owner.

“Well, I don`t have that kind of influence, Sophie Anne. I know it`s frustrating for you. I have tried my best to work her.” Apparently Sophie Anne wasn`t pleased. “Well, it is hard when you are keeping Eric at this family thing you are all at. They need to be together to get married and they also need to be together to break up. Keeping them from each other just makes Eric stay unmarried and you without grandkids that much longer.”

I couldn`t believe my ears. Was it that important for Sophie Anne to get Eric married and have kids?

I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I had never lost my stomach from eavesdropping before, but then this was just sick.

I had to go lie down and once well under the covers in my bed I started to connect the dots. It suddenly made sense why Eric would react this strongly to people trying to run his life. I could not imagine how it would feel to have your mother trying to run your love-life and I could understand why it was so important for him to be strong and not let anyone take any kind of control.

It didn`t excuse his behavior to me, but it might explain it.

There was a knock on the door and Charles` head popped in. I got nauseous again.

“What`s wrong, honey?” Charles looked worried. “I saw your purse on the floor in the hallway. I didn`t even realize you were home.” Now his worry had found a friend called `nervous`.

“No, I suppose you didn`t,” I answered and he gasped. He knew I had heard. Everything.

“Oh, Sookie honey. You have to realize that I never meant to hurt you. Sophie Anne has been so good to me when I lost my own family and she wanted a small favor. How could I say no?”

“Leave,” I said in my calmest tone of voice.

“No, Sookie. Let`s sit down and talk about this.” He came over to my bed.

“Will you get your things packed and leave this house? You are no friend of mine and I`m pretty sure you won`t be any friend of Eric`s anymore when I tell him about this.”

Charles fell to his knees.

“Please, Sookie. Eric is like family. Don`t do this.”

“Apart from Pam, it seems Eric has shitty relations and now even his pretend-family is an asshole. Get out!” I was losing patience and fast.

Charles got up and went to his room. Fifteen minutes later I heard him go out the front door.

Half an hour later my phone rang in my purse. I got up slowly and stumbled out to retrieve it.

“Sookie,” I whispered.

“What the hell is happening, Sookie?” Eric was agitated, but tried to stay calm. “I got a call from Charles asking me for my forgiveness, but he wouldn`t say for what. He just said I should go back to you as fast as I could.”

I couldn`t help letting out a sob and I hated myself for it.

“Sookie, talk to me. Tell me what happened. Take a deep breath.”

I looked up at the ceiling, then at my hands, trying to find a way to tell him. Then I figured there wasn`t anyway to break it to him nicely.

“Your mother planted Charles here to spy on you and me,” I finally said.

Eric was quiet for some time.

“I`ll be home in a couple of hours, Sookie,” he said. “Please stay.” The last two words were a whisper.


A/N:

Do you still want to punch Eric?

I am leaving for my Christmas vacation very soon (I`m going to various parts of USA, YAY!) but I hope to be able to post at least one more chapter before I leave. And I am currently writing the (hopefully) final chapter on Dead on a Football Field which I hope can be posted later this week.

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