2. Bars on the Windows

–Present day–

Felipe was getting ready to leave for another day at Southside High when Eric called for him from the door to the basement. He sighed and turned back, thinking that at some point this would have to stop. Eric was an adult, his ME was barely evident, his website design business was making him a good few thousand dollars a month but he had only left the house three times since Dr. Ludwig came to see him after his anxiety attack. Two of those three times had ended abruptly with Pam bringing a quivering, hyperventilating Eric back home fairly soon after leaving, the third time had been better, even if it was only a trip to the all night convenience store but he had to have Pam with him.

“What’s up Eric?”

“Could you bring me home some Mountain Dew? Code Red – not the green stuff.”

“Well, your Mom is taking a half day today so she can start to clear out the garage before the yard sale tomorrow. Why don’t you wait until she comes home and she can take you out?”

“Umm … I dunno … maybe. I’ll see how I feel when she gets back.”

Felipe nodded and left the house, he fully expected a text from Eric after lunchtime to either ask him to pick it up or that Pam had already done it. Eric went back down to the basement after talking with Felipe and sat at his computer, his business didn’t take up a lot of his time, he purposefully chose clients that would have very little need for his services after the initial build but he did spend a lot of time on forums and fan sites for his new TV favourite ‘Galaxy Pioneers’. It was like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Firefly’ got together and made an awesome Sci-fi TV series baby. He didn’t think much of the Captain, John Luke Kirkton, but maybe that was because the actor who played him was dating Sookie Stackhouse.

He didn’t think of her as ‘his’ and he wasn’t jealous, well maybe just a little, but whenever he saw photo’s of them together there was something … off about the way he positioned himself around her. It was like he was stopping her from going somewhere, even if she wasn’t trying to get anywhere. He thought about what Felipe said as he browsed through the latest news and spoilers about the crew of USS Bon Temps, maybe he should go out later. It had been a couple of weeks since he last left the house and the trip to the Sunoco at the end of Kinyon Street had been good, a ten minute walk there and back, didn’t bump into anyone they knew and no-one looked at him twice but then, they had gone out at 7am on a Sunday morning.

Eric’s musing was interrupted when he saw something wonderful on his monitor. Sookie Stackhouse was back! She had been cast as the new ship’s doctor Troisha DeAnnet, a telepathic humanoid from a new planet to enter the Universal Peace Alliance. This was very good news, the last thing Eric had seen her in was ‘Hunters’, a really bad straight to DVD movie that didn’t rip off ‘Supernatural’ – it almost parodied it, but at least the red eyed demon was hot. After Googling until his search results were worn out, he decided to spend some time on his exercise equipment. Every day he thanked his lucky stars for his Mom and Felipe, not only were his energy levels evening out but his body was toned and muscular, he wasn’t skinny like he used to be, sometimes he looked in a mirror and didn’t recognise himself.

He went to his weight bench and done a few reps on his upper body muscle groups when a realisation hit him, he didn’t check Sookie’s official site to see what they were saying about her new role. Believing you should always finish what you start; he completed his set and went back to the screen. It was strange but there was only a small mention of it at the bottom of the page, thinking that her agent was either completely dense and not web design savvy or that maybe another site had been set up to dedicate to Troisha DeAnnet, he searched Google again.

“This is crazy!”

Eric spoke out loud even though there was no-one to hear him as he trawled through the mountain of hate sites that had already been shabbily created in a hurry by Bill Compton, or rather John Luke Kirkton, fans. The only complimentary pages he found were on the official Galaxy Pioneers site and even those had been tarnished by rabid fan girls making very nasty comments about her under the articles.

How on earth is she supposed to have a chance? She hasn’t even shot an episode yet and already the negativity is overwhelming, if her character isn’t liked, the network won’t include her in episodes and eventually write her out – just like in that crappy soap opera.

Eric decided that if anyone needed his services it was Sookie Stackhouse, he went back to her official site and clicked the ‘contact us’ button and started drafting a lengthy e-mail as to why Miss Stackhouse was in need of an official fan page, even if he didn’t get the ‘okay’ for an official one, he’d create an unofficial one anyway but it would be nice if her agent would endorse it. He was still tapping away at his keyboard when his Mom came home and popped her head through the doorway upstairs.

“Eric! Felipe called and told me you might want to go out for something, are you up for it?”

“Uh … sure Mom, gimme a minute.”

He sent his e-mail away and jumped into the shower without even thinking about the fact he’d agreed to go out with Pam with no reservations, no fear at the thought of leaving the house and no thoughts over who he might meet while outside. He made his way upstairs and into the garage, where Pam was digging through some boxes that had been taken down from the attic earlier that week, Pam smiled at him, wondering what had happened that Eric’s apprehension was practically nil.

“I’ll just wash my hands and then we’ll get going sweetie.”

“Sure Mom, I’ll wait outside.”

Pam stared at Eric with her mouth agape for a moment before going to clean up, when she grabbed her keys and locked the door, she noticed Eric standing in the front yard looking up at the sky. Tears stung at her eyes as she saw the afternoon sunlight beam down on her baby boy for the first time in years. Pam took a deep breath and strode towards him.

“Let’s go Eric.” Pam put on her shades and slung her purse over her shoulder as they walked down the Street towards Pennsylvania Avenue. “So what is it that’s got you in such a good mood baby boy?”

“Nothing, really, I did send an email off to someone offering to design a site for them.”

“I thought your clients contacted you?”

“Usually they do but I saw an opportunity and it’s something I have an interest in.”

They stopped at the crosswalk and Pam looked at her son, whatever it was he was interested in certainly had an impact, she crossed her fingers behind her back and hoped that whoever it was Eric emailed got back to him soon and agreed to whatever he suggested – if it could have this effect on his condition in such a short time perhaps having a project based on it would bring about a vast improvement. They walked into the store and Pam grabbed a hand basket, Eric looked around warily for the first time since they left the house then his eyes locked on the cashier. Pam felt Eric stiffen next to her and tried to work out what it was that had spooked him.

“I’m gonna wait outside Mom.”

“What? Wait!”

Before she could stop him, Eric was back out of the door. She knew not to follow him or make a scene that might draw attention to him, so she calmly made her way through the aisles to pick up what they needed. While she was deciding whether to pick up a trashy magazine or a fashion magazine she heard the cashiers giggling and looked over to see one of them leaning over the counter and another standing at the door looking out.

“I’m sure it’s him!” The girl at the door hissed. “I’m gonna go out there and talk to him.”

“Sandy! Come on! Stop goofing around, Cam already hauled you in for a meeting once this week.”

Sandy grinned at her colleague and was out of the door before Pam could comprehend what was about to happen. She watched in horror as the girl, Sandy, tapped Eric on the shoulder. Eric thought it was his Mom who was trying to get his attention but felt the sweat prickle on his brow and his heart start thumping against his ribcage when he saw it was Sandy Sechrest.

“Hey Eric! Where you been?” Eric couldn’t talk, his vocal chords had seized and every muscle in his body wanted to curl into a ball. “You’re lookin’ kinda pale, are you okay?”

Sandy remembered the horrible things she’d said to Eric in school, she laughed at him when he had been sick and she laughed when Victor had kicked him in the back making him fall face first into the puddle of vomit. Sandy had told him he should kill himself; he came back to school once after that then no-one ever saw him again. Sandy was wracked with guilt for years because she thought maybe he had killed himself.

“What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you for years; did you leave and go to school somewhere else?”

Eric just stared at the matriarch of his tormentors, he’d had nightmares of her laughing at him since Victor Madden gave him his first wedgie and now she was here … being nice to him. Eric was sure it was a trick, any moment now she’d kick off that high pitched giggle and point at him chanting ‘Skinny freak sick boy’. Instead she sighed and looked frustrated, was it because he wasn’t falling for the niceness? Eric’s eyes darted around looking for Pam, just at that moment she came out of the store after being detained by the other cashier for trying to leave with the basket full of goods. Pam saw the distress written across Eric’s features and grabbed his arm to take his attention away from the situation. She had to try and get him to a less public place before he started hyperventilating, Eric turned to take one last look at Sandy as he headed back down the street with his Mom.

Pam managed to get Eric back inside the house without further incidents and he immediately went down to his room and curled up under his bed. Pam peeked beneath the mattress and saw Eric’s sobbing form, kicking off her shoes, she slid through the dust bunnies and gathered he baby boy into her arms.

“Shh … it’s okay sweetie. Whatever she said, it doesn’t matter now. You’re home and you’re safe.”

“P … promise me you’ll never leave me all alone outside Mom?”

“I promise sweet boy, I promise.”

Pam closed her eyes and made the decision to go along with Felipe’s idea of having a counsellor come to the house. This had to stop; it was stressful that her full grown son couldn’t leave the house without her, that he needed her comfort so much. Pam knew that even though Eric liked Felipe, he would never have the same level of trust in her husband as he had with her. Yes, tonight she would have Felipe call Mr. Cataliades.

–**–

Sookie sat in her new agent’s office sipping a large half-fat latte, since she was based in New York now and Alcide was too busy to arrange many things for her, he had transferred her to his colleague Arlene. She was thankful to Alcide for sticking by her through the dry spell but knew that she had been low maintenance for him and that’s why he hadn’t dropped her. If she’d taken any of the jobs that came through his office for her, he’d have taken her off the books years ago. Sookie was bone tired, it was 6pm and she’d been up since 5am getting her costume for Galaxy Pioneers fitted and then going for photo shoots with SyFy Magazine, an interview with The New York Times alongside Bill and some of the other actors on the show, a rehearsal for the first episode she’d be in and now she was with Arlene Fowler scheduling the other engagements and commitments she’d agreed to. Sookie had known this role would be demanding of her time but at this rate she’d barely spend any time at home.

“So Sookie, this was the first time you got to meet everyone on the set. Pretty exciting stuff huh?”

“Yeah, tiring but exciting! I’ve been so used to not having anything to do, it’s gonna take me a while to get back into the swing of things.”

“Well you’d better find your swing soon, Galaxy Pioneers has a massive following and they all want to know about the new ship’s doctor. Did you have any … odd questions from the interviewer?”

“She asked if I had a problem with all the attention that Bill got from his female fans, I told her it didn’t bother me.”

“Yeeeees … well, you might change your tune when you see what those female fans are saying about you. With that in mind we’ve had an interesting offer; a Mr. Eric Northman has requested endorsement for a fan site. I’ve looked at his previous work and it’s pretty good, clear, well laid out, good use of colour schemes and placement of photographs. It’s not every day that you have someone offer to do this, sure he’ll need to be paid but it’ll be easier than searching out a design company to do it.”

“Don’t fan sites just spring up on their own? What’s wrong with my official site?”

“Fan sites usually do pop up more often than I’ve had hot dinners but not for you, sorry to say this honey but your past coupled with the fact you’re dating one of the hottest lead actors on TV at the moment isn’t making you popular. You’re official site is … well last week it was adequate but now it needs to be a beacon of your talents.”

“So we ask this Evan Northman …”

“Eric, his name is Eric.”

“Right, Eric, well we ask him if he can redesign the official site and make it suitable for fans and prospective employers.”

“That’s a pretty good idea; maybe we can hire him to maintain it too? If he’s a fan he’d be able to ensure positive news gets to the right group first. I’ll set up a meeting with him, get him down here so we can talk about what we want the site to look like, make sure he has the right promo shots for it, that kind of thing.”

“Cool. Is there anything else Arlene? I’m really tired and I was hoping to get the chance to spend time with Bill tonight.”

“Nope, I think that’s everything. You get going Sookie, another early day tomorrow for you and we don’t want you having panda eyes on your first shoot.”

Sookie pecked Arlene on the cheek to say good bye and drove to Bill’s apartment, she had a key but wasn’t ready to move in with him, no matter how convenient he tried to convince her it would be. They had feelings for each other, Sookie wouldn’t have willingly had sex with him if she didn’t, but she wasn’t sure if it was love on her end or his. Sometimes Sookie felt that she clung to her relationship with him because he seemed to be willing to see beyond her past and support her in her plans for the future. Other times she felt like Bill was with her because she was easy to control to an extent, he was the first man who had paid attention to her for reasons other than thinking she was into kinky sex. Sookie tried not to be beholden to Bill for that but it was hard not to feel grateful for him giving her a chance, even if he occasionally spoke down to her or acted like she was a possession rather than a person.

Letting herself into the apartment in Williamsburg, Sookie called out to Bill as she put her keys back in her purse and hung her jacket up on the hooks behind the door. A smiling Bill leaned against the doorframe leading to the living room.

“Hi there sweetheart. I made pasta for us, I wasn’t sure exactly when you’d be back so I kept it warm in the oven.”

“Oh thank you honey, I am famished! I just hope I can stay awake long enough to eat it!”

“It’s been a busy day but you should get used to it, most days are like this when we’re filming or it was last season anyway.”

“I can’t thank you enough for letting the casting director give me a chance. Trying to get an audition after … everything, well, it’s my biggest hurdle.”

“I didn’t do much darling, I just asked them to take the time to see you in action. I knew once they saw what you could do they’d want you on the team.”

“Still, if you hadn’t I’d be serving wing and rib combo’s right now.”

“What did Arlene have to say?”

“Urgh! So many things to do on top of actually being on the show! I did get an offer from a web designer to create a new site, apparently there’s a distinct lack of positive attitudes towards my new role.”

“Oh? I haven’t checked to see what the Galaxy Pioneers site has written about Troisha, they wouldn’t say anything bad though.”

“They haven’t, it’s the comments from fans. Specifically fans of Captain John Luke Kirkton. Your girls don’t like me at all Bill.”

“Pfft! As if their opinions matter!”

“They do if it’s all the network sees! If the public hate me how long will it be before I’m turned into the villain of the show or worse – fired or being unpopular!”

Bill nodded, he saw what Sookie’s problem was and he felt bad for her but he was more concerned that if he kept dating her, his fans would turn on him. Maybe, he thought, it would be best to cool things off, no need to break up – she was good in bed so it would be stupid for him to burn any bridges and she was dependant on him enough for him to get away with a number of indiscretions and still be forgiven.

–**–

To: Eric Northman
From: arlene.fowler@shiningstaragency.com
Subject: Re: Sookie Stackhouse Website.

Dear Mr. Northman
After discussing your request to create a fan site for my client, we have decided to make you an offer which would be greatly to your benefit.
The examples of your previous work were very impressive and as you have mentioned, the official Sookie Stackhouse site is in need of an overhaul. Our offer is that you redesign and maintain the official site; in exchange for this service you will receive a one off payment for the rebuild and further monthly payments for maintenance.
We would appreciate a prompt response to this correspondence and, if you are amenable to negotiation, setting up a meeting with my client present to form a plan of what the site will look like and contain.
Regards
Arlene Fowler.

Eric sat in his chair and stared at the text in front of him, all he had contacted them for was to see if they would endorse his fan site and now they want him to be the webmaster for the official Sookie Stackhouse site? The rebuild would be fine; it was the upkeep he was worried about. He’d need to spend a lot of time making sure trolls didn’t spoil the positive spin the site would need to put on Sookie. If it was a fan site, he would have more freedom in letting whoever post whatever they want but with an official site he’d have to constantly make sure visitors were behaving.

Not only that, they wanted a meeting, with Sookie Stackhouse in the same room as him … possibly. The address at the bottom of the email was in NYC, there was no way on earth he was ready to go to a huge city and meet with strangers. He’d agreed to get counselling and some old friend of Felipe’s was coming over tonight to talk to him but Eric knew from internet research that there was no quick fix for his problem – how could he explain to this Arlene chick that there was no way he would be able to come to New York for a meeting? Maybe this Mr. Cataliades would be able to help him work out what to tell them.

He decided to fill the time until Mr. Cataliades arrived by doing some preliminary designs for the site, he already had a cache of photo’s of Sookie to work from and chose a feminine but subtle colour scheme. He reproduced the information from her current site but added some buttons down the left side to navigate to other areas that would need to be included, the details were the same but Eric chose a larger, more elaborate font to make it look like the facts were interesting without even reading what was there. When Pam shouted downstairs that dinner was ready, Eric was shocked that he had been so absorbed in his task he didn’t notice that 5 hours had passed. It was 6pm; he would have a little more time after eating to tinker with the design.

“So, Eric, how was your day? Are you looking forward to finding out what Al has to say?”

“Al? Is that Mr. Cataliades’ name?”

“Well, it’s what I call him but we went to university together, I’m sure he’ll tell you what you can and can’t call him.”

“Okay, well today I got an offer to design a TV stars official website so I was messing around with some designs all afternoon.”

“A TV star?” Pam and Felipe asked in unison

“Uh huh, Sookie Stackhouse. You remember her right?”

Pam rolled her eyes; she should have known her son wasn’t totally over his obsession with the young actress. “How could I forget? The Apple Pie princess turned orgy whore, are you sure getting involved with that kind of business is a good idea Eric?”

“What kind of business?”

“The porn industry, that’s what she’s doing now right? I definitely read somewhere that when she hit 18 the offers started rolling in.”

Eric ground his teeth and glared at his Mom. “She’s never done anything like that, the … orgy was a set up, I’m sure of it, she was drugged but that’s all in the past. She’s got a new role, a big one, on Galaxy Pioneers.”

Pam and Felipe both nodded, Felipe took things at face value and knew Eric was good at judging which jobs would be lucrative and interesting at the same time but Pam was wary. She thought Eric being involved with the actress who created such a scandal five years ago was not a good thing, even if it was on a professional level, Pam was all too aware of the obsession he had with Sookie Stackhouse when she played Helena Falmer and was sure that he had gotten over it and moved on, it concerned her that he hadn’t. She would need to keep an eye on him, but then maybe her being so protective was what had gotten them into this mess? They ate in relative silence, only voicing their appreciation of the meal Pam had made. Eric knew his Mom didn’t approve of his move to work on the Sookie Stackhouse website; it was obvious from the tone of her voice and the frown creasing her brow. He knew that Pam thought he had some sick obsession with the actress and that he was stalking her, which wasn’t entirely accurate, he had an unhealthy interest in her – but it’s not like he had a great deal of scope for hobbies and such and he didn’t stalk her, he just checked up on her online on a regular basis – the same as any fan of a celebrity would do. Right?

After dinner Eric excused himself to go back to working on a different layout and colour scheme for Sookie’s site for a while before his counsellor arrived. He wasn’t so absorbed in his work that he didn’t hear the doorbell when it rang, on one hand he was eager to get help for his issues but on the other hand he was apprehensive about talking to a stranger about his problems. He saved his work and waited for his Mom or Felipe to let him know Mr. Cataliades was there to speak to him, he waited for 15 minutes and still there was no knock on his door or call from the hallway outside the entrance to the basement. Eric started to get worried; didn’t this counsellor want to talk to him? Had Mr. Cataliades realised that Eric was a complete loser and didn’t deserve his time? Eric felt his heart speed up as he remembered all the times he’d spoken to people other than his Mom and Felipe. Dr. Ludwig pitied him, the guys at school had ridiculed him and the girls at school had stood back and laughed at him, his palms were slick with sweat as he eyed the space under his bed. He imagined Mr. Cataliades coming down to the basement and taking one look at him before laughing and calling him Boo Radley like his Mom’s friend Sheena did a few years ago.

Eric walked over to the bed and grabbed his pillow, hugging it to his chest as he panted; he was on his knees ready to crawl into his safe area when he heard the door open over the ringing in his ears. Unable to get to the hiding place without it being discovered, Pam was the only person who knew about his safe space; he scooted backwards until the wall stopped him from going any further. His eyes were screwed closed so tight he could feel the muscles in his cheeks hurt from the exertion, a hand touched his shoulder and he flinched away from it.

“Eric honey, it’s Mommy. You’re okay baby, come back to me.”

Eric opened his eyes and found his Mom kneeling in front of him before she gathered him into her arms. He noticed Felipe and a rotund man standing behind her but focussed on the soothing motion of being rocked back and forth by his Mom and having his long hair stroked by her loving hands.

“Is he always as bad as this?” The rotund man, obviously Mr. Cataliades, had a comforting baritone voice that sounded as rounded as his belly.

“Not when he’s been at home, there have been a few times after he’s been outside but … I have no idea what may have set this off.”

Mr. Cataliades nodded. “We should go back upstairs until he’s calmed down, Pam could you let me know when he’s ready?”

“Sure Al, I’ll come get you.”

Pam continued shushing her baby boy until his breathing regulated and she felt the tension lessen in his shoulders. She urged him to stand up and guided him to sit on the edge of his bed without unwrapping her arms from around her body. It was easier when he was a child, now he was an adult and well over 6 feet tall it was slightly more of an operation.

“Are you feeling better baby boy?”

“A little.”

“What brought that on honey? Are you scared of talking to Al?”

“I’m not scared of talking to him, I just … I thought that he would make fun of me, like Sheena and the kids from school did.”

“Oh honey! He’s here to listen not to judge or voice his opinion on you. Will you speak with him? Please?”

“Do I have to go upstairs?”

“No, no honey. I’ll go get him, you stay here.”

Eric nodded and tentatively placed his pillow back on the bed where it was supposed to be. Moments later Pam came back with Mr. Cataliades, he looked friendly, kind and like he wanted to listen to people. Pam sat back on the bed next to Eric as the counsellor rolled Eric’s chair over from his desk, the wheels moving back and forth as his weight settled into it.

“Hi Eric, I’m Aloysius Cataliades. You can call me Al.” The counsellor laughed at his Paul Simon imitation before clearing his throat. “Anyhoo, I’m just going to try and get to know you a little tonight, would you like your Mom to hang around for that?”

Eric nodded vaguely and Al clapped his hands together before standing to remove his jacket, Pam took one of Eric’s hands between both of hers and smiled at him encouragingly.

“Felipe tells me you’ve got your own web design business, run right here from this very room! Impressive, do you have a big client base?”

“Uh … yeah. I just got offered some work for a very high profile client actually.”

“Cool! I see you’ve got long hair, is that a conscious thing for the ladies or lazy chic?”

“No it’s not … I don’t … there are no ladies, I just … I hadn’t actually noticed.”

Aloysius nodded and took in Eric’s appearance further, if he wasn’t so pale he could be a model, he had a handsome face, broad shoulders, strong arms and even though he was sitting down it was apparent that he was a tall man.

“So is there anything you want to talk to me about?”

“Uh … I don’t know. Shouldn’t you be analysing why I was having a panic attack earlier?”

Al waved his hand to dismiss the notion. “Another time, tell me about this high profile client you have.”

“She’s a TV star, just landed a big role and wants me to update and maintain her site … actually maybe there’s something you can help me with. They want me to go to New York and have a meeting with them but …”

“Yes, yes, you’re in no shape to be in the big city with strangers. Tell them the truth; until you start being upfront about your anxiety instead of trying to hide from it you’ll always be caught in a cycle. I wasn’t going to touch on your agoraphobia tonight but you need to accept your issues before I can even begin to help you with them.”

“So if I just tell everyone I’m a freak I’ll get better?” Eric heard Pam’s sharp intake of breath at his description of himself and noticed Al’s raised eyebrow.

“Is that how you see yourself Eric? A freak? If that’s your opinion then you’re one of 1.8 million freaks in North America and that’s just the agoraphobics, in fact around 18% of people in your age group suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind, that’s a lot of freaks … around 40 million freaks to be specific.”

Eric opened and closed his mouth a few times, making himself look like a suffocating fish; he wondered why he’d never done any research on his agoraphobia. He exhausted the information that was online about his ME, what stopped him from doing it with his panic attacks?

Because I thought it was just me being a crazy freak. ME has distinct physical attributes but mental illness is … well … mental.

“Eric.” Aloysius continued. “Were you diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? I’m wondering this because you should have been offered medication to help you cope with everything.”

“No drugs, Dr. Ludwig suggested them but … no more drugs.”

“It’s taken you a long time to decide to seek help but now you have, well done! It’s a big step but we have a long way to go, you’re actually very lucky to have your Mom and Felipe, their support for you will be very important throughout the processes of healing but you can’t hide, you have to be honest with yourself and this new client you’ve gained.”

Eric nodded and Al made arrangements to return the next evening, bolstered by his counsellors words, Eric went to his PC and started to reply to Arlene’s email.

–**–

The young actress was still on a high from her meeting with the director and producers after the shoot. Sookie was dizzy from the amount of praise they piled on her abilities, she had been nervous as one of her final scenes had been Troisha advising the ship’s second in command Sula Wharton, played by Lorena Ball, to end her pregnancy due to the foetus being damaged by radiation while out on a mission. Both Sookie and Lorena had acted their socks off and had shared a very emotional embrace after the cameras stopped rolling. Even Bill’s lack of enthusiasm had failed to bring her down, he’d told her that praise was good but as long as she stuck with him she’d have a place on set, it had angered her momentarily that he would tell her that she got the part on her own merits one day then insinuate that she only had the role because of him another. After everything with Quinn she’d swore not to let her professional life depend on her personal life, but appearance was everything in her business and if she broke up with Bill now it would look like she’d used him to get the part on Galaxy Pioneers and dumped him as soon as she could after.

She got to her apartment and was dialling Arlene’s number before she had her jacket off. Her agent picked up after two rings, excitedly asking her how everything went.

“It was amazing! It was so good to be in a really meaty role and the director and producers totally kissed my ass afterwards!”

“I knew it Sookie! You are gonna be the next big thing girlfriend!”

“Fingers crossed Arlene, Bill was being pissy, told me as long as I stuck with him I’d be fine.”

“Oh no he didn’t! That ass! I swear if it wouldn’t make you look like a complete bitch I’d advise you to kick his weedy butt to the kerb.”

“I know, the time will come Arlene, I just need to wait for the right moment. So is there anything for me? Oh! Did our potential web master get in touch? Uh … Ewan … no! Eric, right?”

“Umm … yeeeah about that, there’s a little problem. He can’t come and meet with us.”

“Oh? Doesn’t he want the job? I have to say if he doesn’t he’s an asshole, it’s a totally fantastic …”

“He wants the job honey, he sent screenshots of a mock-up site he produced yesterday and it looks amazing. He can’t come and meet with us because … uh … I don’t quite know how to say this so I’ll quote from his email. Due to an unfortunate past, I suffer from an anxiety disorder that makes leaving my home highly uncomfortable and stressful. I am willing to correspond through email and, perhaps later, telephone conversations but at this time I am unable to travel to New York for a face to face meeting. He’s basically agoraphobic, it’s up to you but from the design he sent me I’m leaning towards saying ‘fuck agoraphobia, let’s get him onboard’.”

“Is it that good?”

“Sookie, the font, the colour scheme, the photo’s he picked out … it’s like he knows you.”

“Okay, let’s get him working then. Do you think he’ll want some personal photos from my family album to use?”

“He might, I’ll ask when I email him back. Do you want his details, in case there’s something you want to include?”

“Yeah, just forward the mail with the mock-up attached, I’ll get his address from that.”

“Will do. I’ll get this show on the road as soon as grab another coffee. You take care sweetie, have another great day tomorrow!”

“Oh I will Arlene, I’m back in the game now – there’ll be no stopping me!”

Sookie decided that coffee sounded like a fantastic idea and started a pot brewing as she booted up her lappy. Stirring her cup, she wondered if the stuff on the other sites was as bad as Arlene made out, she put the hot mug on the table next to her and poised her fingers over the keyboard before stopping herself.

Nah, that’s a sleeping bear I don’t wanna poke. I’m feeling good right now, why spoil it?

Instead, she decided to Google something of more interest to her – her mysterious agoraphobic web designer. After taking five minutes to dig his full name out of her hazy memories of the last few dizzying days, she typed ‘Eric Northman’ into the search engine with the index fingers of both hands (typing was never her strong suit). A sizable amount of results came up, the first was indexed as ‘A First Hand Account of Living with M.E’, just as she was about to click on it her phone rang – it was Bill.

“Hi there sweetheart.”

“Don’t do that Bill; don’t call me up like nothing is wrong when you completely shat all over my good mood earlier.”

“Sookie.” He sighed. “You know you’re a good actress, I know you’re a good actress, why do you need the higher ups telling you what you already know?”

“Because they pay me Bill, their opinion counts for more in my professional life than yours – just remember that.”

“Or what Sookie? You’ll dump me?” He chuckled into the phone, to Sookie’s ears it sounded incredibly sinister. “You need to remember, that publically, you need to look good and breaking up with me … now … would not make you look good sweetheart. I’ll be over at ten, let’s just put this little bump in the road behind us.”

Sookie hung up on him and counted the hours she had before he would show up at her door. It’s just as well she was a good actress – she was going to need those skills outside the studio for a while … again. All her thoughts of investigating Eric Northman were forgotten as she took her script for the next day and shut herself in her bedroom to read the lines she’d already memorised.

–**–

Eric turned the gadget over in his hands, he had only ever used it to call his Mom or Felipe but tonight he was to have another counselling session with it. Aloysius figured that before he could go out and meet people other than Pam and Felipe, he had to get used to being able to talk to others first, when he was comfortable calling people he had never met and didn’t panic that they would mock or belittle him then he’d be one more step closer to getting better and living a normal life. He looked at the business card with the counsellor’s details on it, then the clock – he still had 10 minutes before his appointment so he decided to put Mr. Cataliades number in the memory of his phone, wondering why he hadn’t done it before now, then sat nervously rocking and drumming his fingers against his desk. Deep down, Eric knew he had no reason to be nervous about calling Al but this was a first and considering he was an almost 25 year old man who had never completed High School, had a real friend or a girlfriend, went out to shop for clothes on his own and he’d never drank in a bar – there were a lot of firsts he thought about, calling someone other than a parental figure was nothing!

It only rang once before Eric heard that comforting voice. “Hello Eric! How are you feeling?”

“Fine, actually. I was a little nervous the first time we did this but I know you won’t say anything that would make me uncomfortable.”

“Good, good, now on a scale of one to a hundred, how uncomfortable or anxious were you just before you dialled my number? With one being not anxious at all, and a hundred as having a full blown panic attack.”

“Umm … 15 maybe, it wasn’t bad at all.”

They spoke more about how Eric was handling thinking about leaving the house, Al gave him some breathing tips and hints about changing his thought processes before giving him his ‘task’ for the next day.

“Now Eric, your project for tomorrow is to call someone you’ve never spoken to before. Call information for a number, call one of your clients or maybe just call a local store for their opening hours. While you’re on the phone I want you to rate how anxious you are before, during and after the call. Do you think that’s something you could do?”

“Uh … I’ll try but if I can’t?”

“If you can’t you can’t, there’s no right or wrong here Eric – I’m just trying to help you extend your comfort zone to include everyday things that many people take for granted. It will take time and it will be hard sometimes but I won’t push you unless I think you’re ready.”

“Okay.”

Eric felt confident after Mr. Cataliades last comment – his counsellor wouldn’t ask him to do something if he didn’t think he was ready for, so therefore Eric figured he must be ready to call someone other than Pam, Felipe or Aloysius. He turned to his computer and logged in to Sookie’s forum as the moderator so he could approve any relevant comments that had been made, there were a fair few members already even though the site had only been live for a week but the trolls and ‘Bill Lovers’ who disapproved of her and Mr. Compton’s real life relationship were a very vocal and persistent minority. From the couple of emails he’d had from Sookie personally, she was very happy with the way the site looked and how he ran it, Eric liked that she always had ideas of what she wanted but she always asked if it was possible rather than demand it be done.

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