Eric let himself into the house and almost made it to his room before he was stopped by his Dad saying his name from the doorway of the living room. Turning towards Felipe’s voice, Eric saw him smiling at him with a mug of coffee in one hand and the other in his pants pocket.
“Hey Dad. I gotta go.”
Felipe frowned at Eric’s pale features and watched him throw open the door that led to the basement. The teacher listened to Eric’s heavy footfalls as he descended into his ‘Bat cave’ as Felipe referred to it. Sighing, Felipe wondered what had happened to make his son so twitchy. Eric had returned from NYC with such confidence and now, only a week later, he was back to being withdrawn. Felipe sipped at his coffee and remembered what Eric had said he’d had planned for that day, an interview with some researcher in cognitive behavioural therapy for a book they wanted to write. Al was a cognitive behavioural therapist; surely this writer would have the same skills as Al and make sure Eric was calm and comfortable in his or her presence? Obviously not.
In the basement, Eric had paced for a short time before grabbing a pillow and tucking himself into his safe place. He wondered how it had gone so wrong. How could he have been so blind? It was only a matter of time before someone saw through his bravado and that … woman … who interviewed him for her book made him feel like he was back at school. The way she had spoken to him, the way she had giggled at everything he said. He had been confused at her behaviour in the beginning of the interview but as time went on, he had seen her actions for what they were. She had been making fun of him the whole time.
Eric held the pillow to his face and inhaled deeply, he’d purposefully picked the pillow that Sookie used and he calmed slightly as her scent filled him with happy memories. He tried to focus his thoughts on the last time he had seen her, her undulating body on top of him, her gentle touches and words, her professions of love but he was distracted by the sound of someone walking down the stairs into his room.
“Eric? Are you here?” Felipe looked around the seemingly empty basement and scratched his head in confusion. He certainly hadn’t seen Eric coming back upstairs to leave the house.
Felipe looked around the room, trying to pinpoint where the muffled voice had come from when he spotted movement from under the bed. He wondered if that was the infamous ‘safe place’ that he had heard his wife and Son talking about but decided that if indeed it was, this wasn’t the time or place to be asking questions about it. Once Eric had made himself comfortable sitting on the bed, Felipe tentatively sat next to him.
“Do you want to talk about it Son?”
“I … I don’t know if you’ll be able to help.” Eric turned to his Dad and saw the concern etched into his features.
“Well … I know that talking helps and I’m prepared to listen. Your Mom is at work, Sookie is in New York … I guess we could call Aloysius and see if he can come over. Do you want to call him?”
Eric thought about it for a moment, he could wait for Al to find time to listen to him but his Dad was right there. His Dad was there for him, not just at that exact moment but he had been all along.
“No, don’t call him. Y’know maybe you can help.”
Felipe’s heart swelled as he saw the trust in Eric’s eyes. He patted his Son on the knee and smiled encouragingly at him.
“I had that interview with the writer today. She was … she spent the whole time making fun of me.”
Eric saw his Dad’s eyes flash with anger and the muscles in his jaw twitch. Felipe closed his eyes and reigned in his fury before placing a hand on Eric’s shoulder. “Tell me what she did mi hijo. Did she call you names or make nasty comments about your condition?”
“Huh? Uh … no, actually … it was worse.” Eric tried to dampen the feelings that remembering the writers actions invoked. “She kept giggling whenever I said something and smiling at me like I was stupid. If she’d been straight up abusive I’d have been able to handle it but …”
“She was being nice?”
“Yes! She kept talking about how brave I was with her stupid squeaky voice and she kept rubbing her hand on my arm. It was like that one time in school with Sandy, y’know, when she pretended to like me so I would ask her to the dance?”
Felipe looked away from Eric as his thoughts turned to that day. He had broken up the crowd around the dumpster, listening to all of their comments so he could try to piece together what had happened. Sandy had been flirting with Eric so he would ask her to go to the Harvest Hootenanny with him, when Eric asked her – that was when Victor swooped in and beat Eric for hitting on his girlfriend. It had amazed and disgusted him all at once, that the youths had concocted such an elaborate scheme just to humiliate one person. He looked back at his Son and saw the unshed tears pooling in his eyes.
“Eric, this isn’t school anymore. I know you were damaged by what you went through but I’m finding it hard to understand what would be in it for this woman who interviewed you today.”
Eric shrugged. “I just wanted to get away but before I left she … she grabbed me and tried to kiss me.”
Now Felipe was even more confused than ever. “Son … if she had been trying to humiliate you in some way … I don’t know why she would try to kiss you … is it at all possible that she was honest in her actions?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, maybe she was genuinely flirting with you because she found you attractive. That’s the only explanation for her trying to kiss you.”
“Or she was trying to make a fool out of me!” Felipe could see Eric’s frustration at his line of questioning but refused to give in.
“Look Son, I know this is … out of your comfort zone but hear me out. Sookie finds you attractive, is it beyond your comprehension that other women would too? This woman …”
“Claudine, her name was Claudine Crane.”
“Okay, this Claudine, it’s entirely possible that she did perceive you as brave and that she did flirt with you because she found you handsome and full of many other positive qualities. The writer … Claudine, she had nothing to gain by humiliating you or belittling you.”
“But what if she did? Have something to gain, I mean. Maybe she’s a sick lady who gets some kind of satisfaction from pretending to like guys with mental illnesses?”
Felipe sighed. “If she is then she’s the one with problems, not you. I know this is hard for you, right now you’re finding it hard to see the positives in people, hopefully as time goes on you’ll start to see people at face value.”
Eric furrowed his brow and thought about his Dad’s comment, he knew that Felipe was right – he did go into situations expecting the worst from people. “But if I leap into things head first thinking everyone is my friend …”
“I’m not saying you should do that. Just … just take things as they come, you’ve been doing so well these past months. Whenever you have to meet someone new, try not to have any expectations about them or how they’ll speak to you. Judging characters is something that comes with integration, it’ll take time but you’ll get there.”
Eric nodded. “I get it. Thanks Dad, I’m glad you were here to talk to me about this. I feel better now.”
Felipe nodded and patted Eric on the shoulder before he stood and made his way back upstairs.
Sookie tried to stay calm, really she did, but when Eric had told her over the phone that this … Claudine person had tried to kiss him and spent the entire interview flirting with him she was enraged. It was very common knowledge that she and Eric were together. Since Fintan and Lorena had announced their engagement, she and Eric were in every tabloid’s ‘who’s next’ top 5. She paced the floor of her apartment not knowing what to do. She wanted to go and confront Claudine Crane and tell her to keep away from her man, she wanted to drive to Elmira and claim Eric right there and then, she wanted to make sure no other woman flirted or tried to kiss her boyfriend ever again … Sookie sighed and decided to call Lorena, she would know how to calm her down.
“Hey Sookie, what’s up?”
“I’m angry. That bitch who interviewed Eric tried to kiss him. Kiss him! What a slut! I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to handle this!”
“Okay, okay. First things first – are you angry at Eric?”
“What? No, of course not!”
“Does he know that?”
“Sure, well, I think he knows. He must know!”
She heard Lorena sigh over the phone. “Honey, is there even the teeniest tiniest chance he might think you’re angry at him? Bear in mind that your boyfriend has serious issues when you think about that.”
“Alright, there may be a small chance he thinks I’m angry at him. I should call him shouldn’t I?”
“See! You’re learning so quickly!”
“What if I’ve really messed up this time Lorena? We managed to fix everything after my emotions blew up at the party but …”
“Shut up. You aren’t going to know unless you call him. Suck it up and deal with it.”
Lorena hung up before Sookie could voice any more of her fears, leaving the blonde actress staring, open-mouthed, at the device in her hand. Sookie sighed and poured herself a cup of coffee before calling Eric back. She lifted the cordless phone and started dialling his number, then cancelled the call before it rang. Taking a gulp of her warm drink, Sookie closed her eyes and breathed out before hitting redial. It rang … and rang … just as Sookie’s nerves were making her ‘end call’ finger itchy, the ringing stopped and was replaced with Pam’s voice.
“Pam! It’s Sookie. I need to speak to Eric … please.”
“I … I don’t know about that Sookie. He’s very … upset right now. Can I ask him to call you back when he’s calmed down?”
“Uh …” Sookie quickly weighed the pros and cons of not talking about this right away and steeled herself. “No. I need to talk to him now. Waiting will make it worse.”
“Okay.” She heard Pam sigh and the sound of heels on a hard floor and some mumbling. “Here he is.”
Sookie closed her eyes and mouthed a ‘thank you’ to the ceiling of her living room. “Eric?”
“Yes.” She winced at how cold his voice sounded and detected the faintest of sniffling from his end.
“When you called earlier, I was angry that Claudine had come on to you. I wasn’t angry at you, I just wanted to let you know that and apologise if I sounded … off. I love you.”
“You’re not angry at me? I thought you were angry at me.”
“No baby, I swear I’m not angry at you and I’m really sorry for making you feel like I was.”
“I didn’t like it.”
“I know. No-one likes to feel like the person they love is upset with them.”
“Well, I didn’t like that either but what I meant was I didn’t like it when she flirted with me. It felt like she was making fun of me.”
“Eric.” Sookie sucked a breath through her teeth. “As much as it makes me happy that you didn’t like it, you’re gorgeous – there will always be women who want to flirt with you. I don’t like that because you’re mine but there’s nothing I can do about it except put all of my trust in you.”
“You … you think I would do something with someone else?” The shock and hurt was evident in her boyfriend’s voice and Sookie cursed herself. She felt stupid for mentioning that last part but what’s done is done.
“No, I don’t Eric, because I trust you. Not only do I trust that you wouldn’t do that to me but I trust that you’re not that type of person.”
“Oh. Okay. So … are we not mad at each other?”
“No Eric, we’re cool. I’ll be up to see you in three days.”
They spent another 20 minutes on the phone, talking about Eric’s driving lessons, Sookie’s upcoming appearance at a sci-fi convention in Denver and Lorena’s plans for an Irish themed wedding in tribute to Fintan’s heritage. Three days seemed like a lifetime away.
Pam closed her eyes in annoyance as Eric sighed … again. She knew his moping wouldn’t stop until the morning he woke up and knew he’d be seeing Sookie that day, and that day was still 24 hours away.
“Eric, honey, if you’re bored you could study for your driving test some more.”
“I already did that today.”
“Okay, have you checked Sookie’s website today?”
“Yeah.” Another sigh.
“I know you miss Sookie but you’ll be seeing her tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow night. It feels like it’ll never get here.”
“Y’know, when me and Felipe missed each other like that was when we knew we had to see more of each other.”
“He moved in the week after.” Eric nodded. “I remember you telling me that you wanted to spend more time together.”
“Exactly.” Pam smiled.
Eric blinked. “You think Sookie should move in with us?”
This time Pam sighed. “No, Eric. Sookie has her life and work in New York City. You though – you can pretty much go anywhere you like.”
“Yes. Your work goes wherever you do. You’re out of the house almost every day. You haven’t had to see Al for a while. You even stayed in a hotel overnight!”
“Are you saying I should ask if I can move in with Sookie?” She saw the fear in his eyes and patted the back of his hand gently.
“Maybe not move in with her, but maybe you could ask if you could stay for a few days and see how it works out.”
“Like a vacation at Sookie’s.”
“Exactly! It would save Sookie travelling all the way here for a while and you wouldn’t have to put up with me and your Dad hanging around either!”
The cogs in Eric’s head started turning and Pam quietly went into another room to let him connect the dots and make a decision in his own. Her boy was a man now and while others the same age as him were actively seeking independence, she knew that her Son needed the seeds to be sown before he would think about making the bigger steps.
Sookie tapped her fingers against the all access passes and worried at her bottom lip with her teeth. The party had been one thing, one night. But this was different. This was two whole days in a packed conference centre. She wondered if Eric would be able to handle being away from Pam that long. Adding in travelling time, he would be away from Elmira for almost four days. She thought the timing would have to be right before she asked him; he would have to be relaxed so he didn’t freak out or get stressed at the thought of it. She grabbed her bag and smiled as she got out of her car and let herself into the house.
“Honey, I’m home!”
Eric poked his head out of the kitchen, grinning from ear to ear before rushing over to Sookie and lifting her off her feet to twirl her around.
“I’m so glad to see you, Sook. I’ve had an idea … well, it was my Mom’s idea but I liked it so much I ran with it!”
He put her down and took her bag before grabbing her hand and leading her down to his room. When Sookie got down the stairs she noticed a brand new set of luggage sitting next to Eric’s desk. She could feel the passes for the Sci-Fi convention burning in her pocket and wondered if she’d been wrong about the possibility of Eric getting stressed at the thought of going.
“Did your folks get new suitcases?”
“No.” Eric grinned. “They’re mine, for when I take vacations.”
“Wow! That’s pretty … good timing!” Sookie laughed. “I was going to ask if you’d like to come to Nebula-Con with me. I got two all access passes – one each!”
Sookie’s sudden mention of the convention put Eric off his stride a little and his face fell. Sookie noticed right away and her excitement was quashed by her insecurities. While Eric was trying to think of how to accept the pass and then suggest that he go to stay with Sookie for a while after the convention, Sookie was wondering where Eric had booked his solo vacation to.
“If you have other plans I can give your pass back to my agent. I’m sure there’s someone out there dying to get hold of one.”
“What? No!” Eric went over to the bed and sat down, patting the space next to him. “I’d like to go, because it would mean spending time with you. I want to spend more time with you – that’s why the luggage is there. So I can take vacations to you.”
“Eric, that’s a great idea!” She threw herself into his arms and peppered his face and neck with kisses. “I’d love it if you came to my apartment for a vacation.”
“Since I’m coming to Nebula-Con … it would make sense for me to go back to New York with you. Maybe I could hang around for a few days when we get back from that?”
Sookie smiled and nodded but in her mind she wondered if it would actually happen. Nebula-Con was a very busy Convention, but she kept hoping that Eric would be able to handle it and that he wouldn’t be racing to get back to his basement after one day amongst the Sci-Fi fans. All Eric could think about was getting to spend more time with the woman he loved.
One Year later …
Eric shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the studio assistant clipped the microphone to his tie. His eyes immediately went to Sookie and his Mom on the other side of the green room. Pam smiled encouragingly and Sookie nodded to him as the music from the studio blared over the monitor. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the small screen as the host came on to the stage and put his hands up to quieten the audience.
“Welcome to Tonight with Jonathan Ross. What a line up we have for you tonight ladies and gentlemen – let’s have a look at the green room and you can see Rihanna is in there. She’ll be talking about her role in the movie Battleship. Comedienne Sarah Millican will be here to tell us about her new one-woman show DVD release. We’ll be having some tunes from Snow Patrol to celebrate their new album hitting the stores but first, ladies and gentlemen, first we have author Eric Northman.”
The audience joined the host in applauding and the assistants gestured wildly to Eric, pointing him in the right direction to get on stage and patting him on the back in support of his appearance on the show. Eric smiled nervously and gave the crowd a little wave as he came out of the doorway and made his way to the leather sofa next to Jonathon’s desk. He put his sweaty palm in Jonathon’s and tried to convey how terrified he was with one look at the interviewer. Mr. Ross winked at him and patted Eric’s hand before indicating he should sit down. Eric made sure all of the wires were out of the way and straightened his suit jacket and tie after sitting.
Pam chewed her lip nervously in the green room. “You’d think he’d be used to all this by now.”
“This is different. We’re in the UK and this interviewer in particular can cut pretty close to the bone.”
Sookie grabbed Pam’s hand and tried to send as much love and support to Eric as she could without being next to him. Back in the studio, the music had stopped and Eric was stiff as a board on the sofa as Jonathon picked up a copy of Eric’s book and the cameras panned in on it.
“So, Eric, you’re in the UK for the book tour of ‘Love Conquers All’. Seeing as the book is about overcoming agoraphobia, it would be a bit silly to ask if you’ve been to the UK before.”
Eric cleared his throat. “I guess it would be, yes.”
“Now, I’ve read this – cover to cover – and it’s an amazing story because every day you hear of people with mental illness not making it, not living and just existing. But this is special because it’s not just your story but a kind of manual for others out there suffering the same problems.”
“It started out being just my story but, as I was writing, I realised that I had knowledge and experience that I could pass on to others and it snowballed from there.”
“I know a lot of Mental Health charities have applauded you touring with this book over here because – and this is shocking, ladies and gentlemen – one in four people in the UK suffer from Mental Health problems. But here you are, out here, you’ve written this book, you run your own business – you’re the proof that certain Mental illnesses can be practically cured. Is that a heavy load to have upon your shoulders? That people are looking to you for answers and hope?”
“A little, now you mention it. I didn’t think of it like that when I was writing. My mantra has always been ‘one day at a time’ and I still live to it.”
“As I mentioned, the title is ‘Love Conquers All’. There have been a couple of groups that have misconstrued this and some have mentioned that your method can lead to unhealthy dependence on one person. But I’ve actually read this and you’re not insinuating that at all, it’s not just romantic love that you address but familial love and trust. Although the title is misleading, because, really, it’s trust that conquers all.”
“Yes it is but my editor said ‘Trust Conquers All’ wasn’t such a snappy title.”
The audience laughed and Eric smiled at them. Pam and Sookie relaxed a little as they saw Eric loosen up. They talked some more about the book and Eric’s life while he was most affected by his mental health problems. Sookie smiled at the monitor as Eric became more at ease with the questions.
“You put a lot of your recovery down to your parents, Pam and Felipe, and your counsellor Al but the person who made the biggest difference is now your girlfriend.”
“Yes, Sookie. She’s … she’s my everything.”
The women in the audience swooned and the cameras in the green room panned around to show Sookie’s shocked face for a second before she buried her head in the crook of Pam’s neck.
“And despite whatever problems you had, you really pushed the boat out to help her with her own problems – is that right?”
“I didn’t even think when she asked me for help, I just did it and that was a turning point in my recovery.”
“Well, you have to admit – if she asked any red-blooded man to help her out they’d probably do the same thing.” Jonathon whistled appreciatively and wiggled his eyebrows at Sookie in one of her brief moments of not hiding. “Stand up love, give us a twirl!”
Sookie’s face flushed as Pam pushed her to get her to stand up, the two women giggling as Sookie danced around in a circle. Her dress showed off her small baby bump proudly and her engagement ring caught the lights and flashed attractively as the audience whooped in appreciation.
“Cor, Eric, tell you what – you might not be right in the head but obviously your pipes aren’t blocked!”
Eric blushed and looked at his pregnant fiancée, his eyes full of love and adoration. One day at a time got him a little further every week.