4. Cracks in the Plaster.

Sookie made sure to make plenty of noise going down to the basement so Eric wouldn’t be surprised by a presence in his room. Noting that he was nowhere to be seen, Sookie figured he was still in the bathroom and rapped lightly on the door.

“Eric? Hi, it’s me … uh … Sookie. I just wanted to say thank you for everything you did today, I couldn’t have done it without you.” She turned her back to the door and slid down until she was sitting on the floor outside the bathroom. “I really felt comfortable talking about things with you there; I don’t think I would have been able to … be so open with anyone else there. I trust you not to judge me, even though I know that everything was partly my fault.”

Eric listened to Sookie’s words from under his bed and loosened the grip he had on his pillow a little. He identified with her situation more than a little, if he hadn’t concerned himself with what everyone else thought of him, he wouldn’t be in his situation either but he trusted Sookie not to judge him for letting the cruel taunts of others affect his life so much.

“I was bullied at school.”

He tightened his hold on the soft comfort against his chest as Sookie looked around the room, knowing that his voice hadn’t come from the bathroom. She wondered where he was hiding but then figured that he was hiding for a reason and decided not to wander around looking for him.

“You were? That’s awful Eric! I wish there was something I could say or do to make it all better, bullying is horrible and cowardly … I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“It’s …” Eric took a deep breath. “Its part of the reason I’m so fucked up, I have a hard time talking to people because I think they’re only going to make fun of me or try to humiliate me.”

It was easier talking to Sookie than it was with Al, maybe it was because Eric couldn’t see her or her him but it had only been in his 3rd session with Al that he spoke about his fears of talking to people other than his Mom or Felipe. He saw her legs move from crossed to stretching out in front of her, one of her feet was about six inches away from the side of the bed, Eric scooted further away. Sookie heard the noise from under the bed and realised where Eric was, she felt humbled when she compared her situation to Eric’s.

“You’re not fucked up, not really, think about all the people who get bullied and it twists them, makes them treat people badly – that’s fucked up. Trying to prevent yourself from being hurt is just sensible, you might have taken it a step further than most …” Sookie giggled a little and Eric found himself rolling over to face the direction she was sitting. “I can’t imagine finding something to make fun of you for; you’re … a really nice guy Eric. The first guy, my age, I’ve felt that I could open up to and talk to and I hope you feel you can trust me like that.”

“You don’t think I’m lame? I’m hiding from the world, afraid to leave my house, running a business from my bedroom and freaking out when the wrong words slip out of my mouth?”

He saw her body move slightly as she shrugged, after she did it she realised he wouldn’t be able to see her.

“I don’t think you’re lame, I would tell you what I really think of you – and it’s not bad or mocking but I get the feeling that even compliments would make you freak out.”

“Not if it’s you saying them.” Eric whispered and sighed.

“Sorry did you say something Eric?”

“No!” He cleared his throat. “Just … uh … who were we talking about?”

Sookie giggled at Eric’s deflection and decided to follow his lead. “So Al is really cool huh?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him. I was set on not telling you or Arlene why I couldn’t meet to discuss the website and letting the opportunity pass me by.”

Sookie nodded. “And he told you to tell the truth?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m glad he did, I googled you y’know, you had ME?” Her question was met with silence and she cringed at her blunt enquiry. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to press you; I just want to know all about you. You seem like the kind of person who’s worth the time it takes to really get to know.”

Under the bed, Eric smiled and revelled in the knowledge that Sookie Stackhouse wanted to get to know him. “I want to get to know you too, the real you, not the TV you.”

Sookie wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do but she moved away from the door and lay on the floor next to the bed and saw Eric in the dark of his safe place. There was fear in his eyes, which was the last thing she wanted.

“Cool pillow. Do you have another one? That looks like it could be very comforting.” She smiled when Eric’s eyes darted to the mattress above his head and stood up to grab his other pillow from the bed before settling back down on the floor. She hugged the pillow to her body and rubbed her nose into it, her nostrils filling with the scent of Eric’s hair. “Mmmmm … I wish we didn’t have to go. I’m enjoying being here with you.”

“I’m enjoying you being here.”

They stayed that way for a long time, just hugging their pillows and looking at each other, until Arlene and Aloysius came down to the basement to say it was time for Sookie and Arlene get head back to New York. Both the agent and the counsellor were surprised when Sookie jumped up from the floor when they came into the basement but thought better than to ask why. Sookie rapped her knuckles on the bathroom door and Eric smiled, she realised that his hiding place was secret and that meant a lot to him.

“Okay Eric, we have to go. I hope we’ll see you again soon.”

She walked over to the bed to place the pillow back where she found it and felt her heart jump when Eric’s fingertips skimmed the top of her foot.

“Uh … yeah Eric, we’ll be in touch and you’ll post that video after the news of its existence has gone viral right?”

“Of course he will Arlene! Eric is a professional; he knows what he’s doing!”

The women grabbed their bags and headed back out to their car, while they were smiling and throwing things in the trunk, Sookie was sure she saw the neighbours curtains twitch and hoped that it didn’t mean hassle for Eric.

–**–

Pam and Felipe entered the house to the sounds of laughter and conversation coming from the kitchen. They had spent the time after work at the mall in Horseheads, getting some dinner at Red Lobster and window shopping, although Felipe was very thankful when they eventually got the all clear to come home from Eric, window shopping was not his favourite thing. Eric and Aloysius were sitting at the dining table sharing a bowl of cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew, chatting as if the tornado of anxiety that morning hadn’t happened.

“Well! I can guess that today went well for you, baby boy! Did your famous friend get her project finished?”

“It … it went really well Mom. Sookie’s a really sweet girl, the video we made will be posted on the site when the circle completes.”

“Circle?”

Eric nodded and took a sip of his drink. “Yeah, there’s a ‘gossip circle’ within the Galaxy Pioneer fandom. Maybe circle is the wrong description; it’s more like a phone tree. I created a ‘Sookienews’ account on the Galaxy Pioneers forum, I post that there’s about to be a press release or new post on her official site. The people from the official forum repost it on the fan forums and the word spreads, viral campaigns are becoming the most effective way to gain attention.”

He adjusted Aloysius’ laptop so Pam and Felipe could see and pointed out the forum they were watching was a John Luke Kirkton/Bill Compton fan site and when the word of Sookie’s video being posted on her official site reached it, he would upload to the official site. All four of them crowded around the small screen, holding their breath every time Eric hit the F5 button, after ten minutes the post they were looking for appeared. Pam sucked in a shocked breath as she saw the title of the post was ‘Slut features wants us all to know something! LOL’.

“Oh my! Is that what his fans call her? That’s awful!”

Eric shrugged. “It’s the perils of fan girls … and fan boys but fan boys are generally less bitchy.”

Eric excused himself and went down to his room to upload the video to Sookie’s site, he sent text messages to both Sookie and Arlene the moment before he hit the button to send it live and once it was up and he made sure there were no technical problems, he went back to the forums and posted that the video they had been waiting for was now viewable.

–**–

In New York Rasul was in his office, he was torn between feeling bad for Sookie since she had been through so much and rubbing his hands together in glee at the publicity this would bring the show. Thinking of the possible rise in Sookie’s reputation for coming out and speaking about a traumatic event made him realise about how Bill Compton’s reputation would plummet after his obviously false press statement. He called the writers and producers to arrange a meeting, you could have a generally nice guy play an asshole and it worked out well but to have an asshole playing a nice guy wouldn’t work.

–**–

Also in New York, Bill and Clancy both had their heads in their hands at the release of Sookie’s video; it made them look bad, very bad.

“Face it Bill, there’s no way for you to come out of this looking good. Did they do this because we refused to retract and apologise?”

“No Clancy, maybe if she’d done this before … she told me about everything that happened with Quinn.”

“Sh … You knew?! You knew the whole ‘dark sexual history’ thing was a lie and you still let us use it in the press release?” Clancy slammed his fist on the table before leaning over in his chair and pointing his finger in Bill’s face. “Bill, I’m sorry but you’ve dug your own fucking grave. How could you be so … callous? For the first time in my career I’m going to have to do damage control that goes against my client’s interests.”

“What do you mean?”

“You knew that press release was a lie, yet you let me go ahead and publish it! You LET me publish something that had the potential to make us look like lying sacks of shit because YOU withheld information from your agent. This clusterfuck could have been avoided if you were honest with me and now I have to relay that to the directors and release a public apology on behalf of the company so my ass doesn’t get fired!”

“So … what do I do?”

“Find other representation, good luck with that.”

Clancy marched out of his office and headed to the director’s floor, the sweat was already gathering on his upper lip as he thought of how he was going to explain everything. Even though he could rest the blame entirely on Bill’s shoulders, he had to take some of the heat for denying Bill cheated even though there was photographic evidence. Realising that Mr. Compton was in the building, unescorted and pissed off at being dumped by his agent, Clancy called down to the security office to have a couple of the boys remove him from the premises.

–**–

Sookie drove up to the studio at less than five miles per hour, there was no way she could go any faster without injuring a member of the paparazzi that had swarmed around her car. She eventually got to the lot and made sure to keep her head held high as she entered the building, just like Arlene told her. As Sookie walked the corridors towards costume, she heard running behind her, it didn’t register highly with her, people were always running around like crazy in there, she only took notice when her name was called.

“Sookie! Sookie, can I talk to you?”

Sookie turned to Lorena, ready to tell her where to shove her ‘talk’ but paused when she saw the pleading look on the fellow actresses face. “Lorena? Are you okay?”

“Sookie I’ve been going out of my mind the last couple of days! You have to know … Bill told me he’d broken up with you and that you were only appearing together for the cameras. He told me that you knew we were seeing each other in secret, I had no idea you were still … y’know and I can’t believe I fell for his bullshit. I’m so sorry, when I saw the look on your face; I knew he’d lied to me.”

“Oh my! Well, it’s over now right? I’m so sorry he played you but you have to admit it’s not half as bad as what he did to me.”

“I know honey … oh Lord; you’re so brave to go public with what happened to you! I can’t believe Bill thought all of those stories were true!” Lorena huffed in a ‘what an idiot’ fashion. “Anyone who actually worked in the business should have seen that there was something wrong with that whole sorry mess.”

Sookie nodded, knowing that she didn’t really want to get into the why’s and wherefore’s with Lorena in the corridor of a studio. “Hey, I gotta get to costume but thanks for letting me know what happened.”

Sookie walked away from Lorena but it wasn’t long before she was stopped by someone else, Rasul no less. “Sookie, Sookie, Sookie! Girl, you certainly know how to make a scene don’t you? Have you got any idea what’s been going on since your little speech went live?”

“Uh … no, is it bad Rasul? I’m sorry, I just had to get it off my chest, I couldn’t live with the secrets any longer!”

Rasul laughed. “Oh Sugar! It’s so not bad you won’t believe it, you’re gonna be a fucking gold mine for this show sweetie!”

Rasul linked her arm though his and led her to the conference room.

–**–

Eric woke up feeling happier than he had felt in … well … ever! He showered, shaved and dressed in record time before bouncing, literally bouncing, up the stairs to the kitchen for breakfast. He felt energetic, revitalised somehow, and for the first time since he was 15 – he headed for the coffee pot and poured himself a mug full of hot brown liquid. Pam and Felipe stared at Eric, mouths agape, as he sipped from the mug and smacked his lips appreciatively.

“Eric? Honey? You know it’s been a while since you had coffee, maybe you should take it easy there?”

“I’ll be fine Mom, I’m over the whole ME thing, I’m healthy as a horse! Well, physically anyway.” Eric peered at the table and the spread of breakfast foods on top. “No paper yet today?”

“No, I haven’t had the chance to go out and get it yet.” Felipe immediately stood and headed for the door.

“Wait! Can I …” Eric cleared his throat. “I’ll get the paper this morning Felipe.”

Felipe and Pam watched Eric tentatively open the front door and peer outside before cautiously wandering over to where the day’s paper lay on the dewy grass of the front yard. After picking up the paper, Eric turned and smiled triumphantly at his Mom and Felipe. Felipe turned to Pam and whispered out of the side of his mouth.

“I don’t know what the hell this Sookie Stackhouse chick has done to him but I think we should ask her to move in!”

Pam nudged her husband and stifled her giggles as she watched her son bring the paper inside the house and settle down at the dining table to eat and read. Eric flipped through the paper to find what he was looking for on page 2.

Sci-Fi Starlet Comes Clean About Traumatic Experience
Sookie Stackhouse, new cast member on ‘Galaxy Pioneers’, has released a video confession on her official website citing that the stories which blackened her acting career were all lies. The 22 year old broke down several times during the 1 hour clip as she spoke of losing her virginity as part of a date-rape ordeal, with John Quinn supplying the spiked drink to enable the experience to happen. Miss Stackhouse refrained from accusing Mr. Quinn of the crime itself, most likely due to lack of medical evidence that he had sexual relations with her. The lack of evidence is no accident, several east coast papers have interviewed the doctor who was called to her house the day after the incident and he has confirmed that he was sent away from the property by none other than Debbie Pelt (John Quinn’s agent) and Barry Horowitz (Representative of ABS network who televised Rich Men’s Families) as the parents of Miss Stackhouse and her former agent, Alcide Herveaux, argued that she should be examined by a professional.

There are rumours of at least 3 other young women now coming forward with accusations of spiked drinks and unwanted sexual advances from John Quinn which they were previously bribed or blackmailed out of reporting – just like Sookie Stackhouse. Tomorrow, Amelia Broadway will be running a full page article on the mistreatment of young actresses in the Television and movie industry and the misogyny which prevents them receiving fair treatment.

Miss Stackhouse, originally from Syracuse – now living in NYC, also spoke of the bogus press statement published on her ex-boyfriend, Bill Compton’s website. In the statement Mr. Compton blamed Sookie’s inclination towards group sex for their split and since the news that those proclivities were all a lie, things have been decidedly quiet in the official Compton Camp but his fans are quick to label Sookie’s video release as a sham to gain sympathy in the aftermath of her relationship ending on such a public note.

Eric’s brow furrowed as he read the last few lines, the thought that Bill’s fan girl’s would follow him so far down the moral abyss that they would accuse his ex-girlfriend of lying about being date-raped was unfathomable. He finished his cheerio’s and coffee and went down to his room to see what kind of activity had blown up on Sookie’s site.

–**–

Sookie’s meeting with Rasul had been interrupted by several phone calls, Arlene had called Sookie to tell her about the 15 newspaper, magazine and website interviews that had been requested, the network reps had called Rasul to alert him to Bill’s unrepresented status and Bill had called Sookie twice – both times being diverted to voicemail. Rasul bemoaned the fact that a 10 minute meeting was now taking 45 minutes due to the number of distractions but managed to convey to Sookie about how sorry he was that her last big gig had screwed her over – his words exactly. Rasul sent Sookie away to costume and dialled Bill’s cell phone.

“Bill, where are you? You were due on set 30 minutes ago.”

“I’m having some problems Rasul; I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Don’t bother, I know your agency dropped you, you’ve got your work cut out for you. All of your scenes are currently being rewritten anyway so …”

“What do you mean rewritten?”

“Don’t fucking interrupt me again or you’ll be written out altogether! Bottom line is, you’re a douche and John Luke Kirkton is a good guy – douche’s playing good guys never works, so Capitano is getting his asshole costume on.”

“Where do you get off calling me a douche?”

“Hmm … let’s see, well, you got caught fucking another woman by your girlfriend and tried to make her look bad in the press to cover up your guilt, not only that but you lied about still being with your girlfriend so you could fuck the other woman – Bill a nice guy doesn’t do that, a douche bag, however, does. I know everything that goes on around here; you can’t keep secrets from me.”

Bill sighed and ended the call; this was not how it was supposed to go and it was all Sookie Stackhouse’s fault, if she’d have just kept her damn mouth shut like every other piece of arm candy, he wouldn’t be in this mess. Now her bitch of an agent was still demanding a public apology, Lorena was ignoring him and only his most ardent fans were on his side, it galled Bill that she kept quiet for so long after Quinn but refused to even give him an inch.

–**–

Clancy put the finishing touches on the statement for Fantasia, as per the ‘request’ his bosses made of him. As soon as Bill admitted that he knew the Stories about Sookie in Cali had been a lie, the words ‘libel’ and ‘lawsuit’ flashed across his mind and he was damned if he was letting Bill Compton take him, and the agency he worked for, down with him. The statement was emailed to the network, the network’s reps, the manager of the Galaxy Pioneers website and, finally, to Arlene Fowler. Clancy knew she was bad ass, he had a lot of respect for her, not to mention a healthy dose of lust for the redhead, he also knew that the legal team for Shining Star would be gearing up for libel action if the apology didn’t come soon. It’s always a good idea to make sure your ass is covered before the shit starts flying.

–**–

Sookie collapsed into the driver seat of her car after a busy day and groaned as her phone rang – again. She looked at the caller ID and huffed out a breath, it was Arlene, for a second she’d thought it was Bill calling again. She’d listened to his voicemails while having a quick cup of coffee between costume changes, they’d ranged from angry to pleading to hateful and none of them really expressed what he wanted from her – it was as if he had no-one else to vent his frustrations at despite all of his problems being of his own making. She had been completely boggled at how he could make his trying to blackmail her, cheating on her and then releasing a statement that he knew was a pack of lies, her fault. He’d seemed so … sane when they began dating. She picked up her cell and prepared her ear for a ten minute assault consisting of Arlene’s voice.

“Hi Arlene.”

“Sookie you are not going to believe this!”

“A lot of stuff has happened to me that I didn’t believe could sweetie.”

“Yeah, I guess it has, anyway! You remember how it was set up to go public with the Lorena pics if Bill didn’t retract his statement and apologise publically?”

“Yeah?”

“Well his agent, Clancy, just released another statement completely burying him in shit. So rather than bring Lorena into things the legal team suggested threatening a libel suit!”

“And that’s good news because?”

“It’s good news because after what Clancy put in print, it’s a slam dunk honey! If he doesn’t take the deal of a public apology, he’ll be paying you damages for the next 20 years.”

Sookie absorbed this information slowly, yes – she was angry at how Bill had treated her since she joined the cast and she was disgusted at the break up they had but she didn’t think it was worth a civil suit. Bill wasn’t an idiot; surely he would climb down off his high horse and release a retraction and apology?

Sookie managed to crawl through the crowd of reporters at the gate again, through the rolled up windows of the car the flash of bulbs and shouting of questions was extremely distracting, she’d had an emotional and tiring few days and all she wanted to do was curl up with a mug of hot chocolate in her fuzzy penguin jammies. All hope of that happening disappeared when she turned onto her street and saw more press outside the building she lived in.

“Shit!” She took a right turn before her block and pulled in, hitting Arlene’s speed dial as she put the hand brake on.

“Sookie, sweetie! What’s up?”

“I had to wade through reporters to get out of the studio today and now there are around 8 or 9 of them outside my apartment building. Can I stay with you?”

“Honey, if you want to avoid reporters the last place to do that is with me! I’ve been fielding calls and turning down the opportunity to comment wherever I’ve went today. Can’t you call your parents? Your brother maybe?”

“Yeah, yeah, good idea. I’ll call them, thanks Arlene.”

She called her parent’s house, no answer, then she tried her Mom’s cell.

“Sookie baby! How are you holding up?”

“I’d be okay if I got a little peace; can I stop by your place and chill for a day or so?”

“Sorry but your Dad and I are in a hotel right now, he fell through the kitchen floor two nights ago! Wet rot, can you believe that? Anyhoo, the insurance company is paying for our mini-vacay and they’ve got the repairmen in, we should be back there in about 4 days time.”

“Oh … I was kinda hoping to get out of the city, like, now. I’ll call Jason; see if he can put up with me for a while.”

“He’s in Vegas honey, I told him to call you but … he’s met some girl, Crystal Norris, they swear its true love and now they’ve run off to get married.”

“Seriously? Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”

“Because he knows you’d try and talk him out of it, me and your Dad … well we just let him get on with making his mistakes but you always try to stop him from making them!”

“Okay, he’s got a point.” Sookie sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “So, none of you are at home for the next few days?”

“Sorry honey, bad timing I guess. Don’t you have a friend you can stay with?”

“I’ll find … I’ll sort something out, don’t worry about me.”

The actress rested her head against the steering wheel and racked her brain for somewhere she could go. Her family had been ruled out, the only person she considered a friend was having the same problem as her and there was no way she’d be able to check into a hotel or motel without the press being tipped off by the staff. Sookie’s distinct lack of people she trusted had served her fairly well but she was paying for keeping everyone at arm’s length now, was there anyone out there who could … yes! All of a sudden she realised that she had met someone she trusted and she knew that that person would help her escape from the public eye – he’d been doing it himself for long enough!

–**–

Eric looked at the ringing phone on his desk, frowning at the interruption to his task. He was almost done approving or deleting the backlog of comments on Sookie’s site and after he’d finished that he’d have to make sure everyone was behaving themselves on the forum, he needed help – that was a certainty. He picked up the phone and looked at the caller ID, surprised that Sookie had the time to call him, from the email he got from Arlene early in the afternoon; he’d thought she’d be far too busy to speak to him.

“Hello?”

“Hi Eric?”

“Yup, are you okay Sookie? You sound out of sorts.”

“Uh … I am, there’s a problem … for me, not for you but I was hoping you might be able to help me.”

“You need my help? What can I do?”

“I need somewhere to stay for a few days.”

“What?”

“The press are everywhere, at work, at my home, at Arlene’s office … they’re following us around everywhere and now I’m hiding round the corner from my apartment so they don’t see me! I’ve already asked my parents and my brother but they can’t put me up … I don’t have anywhere else to go Eric.”

“I … uh … can I call you back?”

“I’m sorry Eric, I know this is all … well it’s much more excitement than you’re used to but I don’t want to stay in a motel in case the reporters get tipped off by one of the staff and I know you wouldn’t do anything like that. I just really need to get away from them right now.”

“I’ll call you back as soon as I’m able.”

Eric ended the call and started his deep breathing exercises before going upstairs to let his Mom and Felipe know about the new development. Felipe was in his study marking essays and Pam was in the kitchen straining the water from the pasta, Eric went to Felipe’s door first and asked him to come into the kitchen, Felipe took off his glasses and tried to read Eric’s facial expression. It was a mixture of scared and excited, which probably meant it has something to do with Sookie Stackhouse. When Felipe entered the kitchen, Eric was leaning on the table and drumming is fingers against the surface.

“Baby boy what’s wrong?”

“I just got a call from Sookie, she … uh … the reporters and photographers are everywhere she goes in the city and she asked if she could come and stay here for a few days.”

Pam dropped the pot she was holding in the sink. “Well if they’re everywhere she goes won’t they follow her here?”

“Unless someone tips them off about where she is, they won’t know where she’s disappeared to.”

“What about her job? Isn’t she supposed to be … y’know … acting?”

“Well I never asked about that but I’m sure she wouldn’t just skip out on her pay check.” Eric raised his head to look his Mom in the eye. “I’m sure she just needs somewhere to … absorb everything, I want to help her.”

Pam nodded and looked at Felipe; the teacher kissed his wife on the forehead and walked towards the door. “We still have that air mattress in the bottom of the wardrobe don’t we?”

Eric smiled and let out a breath of relief, for a moment he thought his Mom was going to tell him a big fat ‘no’. He went downstairs to call Sookie back and make sure that she could remember where to go.

–**–

Sookie cursed as she wished she’d splashed out on SatNav for her Audi TT Roadster but she’d bought for a song, second hand from the guy two floors down from her when he was made redundant. Hindsight being 20/20, maybe it would have been better if she’d stayed awake when Arlene drove her up here a couple of days ago but all she could do now was suck it up and call Eric back to get directions to his house. She slowed down so she could see the street names and pulled into the parking lot of a Sunoco, the phone only rang once before the call was answered.

“Sookie? Are you okay?”

“I’m lost Eric, well, not lost as such. I know I’m in Elmira but I can’t remember where to turn to find your street.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m at the Sunoco on Pennsylvania Avenue, I came up Kinyon Street off the Parkway and now I don’t know where to go.”

“Oh it’s not that far, I could walk it in ten minutes if … y’know …” She heard Eric speaking to someone in the background. “Okay, just stay where you are. My Step-Dad is going to drive down and lead you back to our house.”

“Thank you so much Eric!”

Sookie opened the packet of Milk Duds she had in her glove compartment and whiled away the time until Eric Step-Dad appeared.

–**–

Sandy snapped at her gum and nudged her boss, Cameron, nodding to the solitary car in their lot. The roof was up but the view through the windows was pretty clear.

“Is that the chick who’s all over the papers today Cam?”

Cameron looked up from the float he was counting and stared in the same direction as Sandy. “I’ll be damned! What the hell is Sookie Stackhouse doing in Elmira?”

Sandy shrugged. “I dunno but she’s been sitting there for a few minutes now, she made a call to someone. Looks like she’s waiting for something, or someone.”

Cameron finished with the till and walked around the counter to get a closer look through the window. “You think she knows someone in this shithole?”

“Well she’s not here for the fucking nightlife is she? That girl’s used to clubs and wine bars not bowling alleys and dive bars.”

Sandy walked around to stand next to Cam and they watched as another car pulled in and stopped next to Sookie’s. The cashier’s eyes widened as she watched one of her former teachers hug the actress and then drive off with the Audi following.

“Did I just see that? How the fuck can Mr. De Castro get a piece of ass like Sookie Stackhouse?”

“Sandy – tell me the security cameras are working tonight.”

“Yeah, Benny checked them yesterday and made sure the feed was … being … recorded.”

They looked at each other and scrambled, Cam running to the back room where the security footage was recorded and Sandy to the Computer in the manager’s office to look up the phone number for OK! Magazine. Both of them wondered how much they’d get paid for this little nugget of gossip.

–**–

Pam felt dizzy watching Eric pace back and forth across the living room floor; she sipped at her coffee and flicked through the channels on the TV. She usually skipped the ET! Channel but stopped when she saw footage of Sookie on the screen.

“Despite being out and about today, Sookie Stackhouse has yet to make any comments about the revealing video that was posted on her website. Her agent has stated that she will give interviews about her declarations but only when she has come to terms with the entire country knowing what she went through.

The Galaxy Pioneer’s star is said to be staying with a friend until a date and time for an exclusive interview has been scheduled. You can be sure that when the actress decides to speak about this topic – Entertainment Tonight! Will be there to get the scoop!”

“How do they get this information so quickly?”

Eric shrugged. “Phones, internet, email, it’s great that technology has made it easier to share information but it would be better if all the information was worth sharing.”

Just then they heard the rumbling of engines in the driveway, Eric went to the window and peered through the blinds. “She’s here!”

Pam stood and smoothed her outfit, then patted her hair, it wasn’t every day you met someone who was in all of the newspapers and magazines! She waited in the hall with Eric, noticing how her son was nervously picking at his clothes, when the door opened and she heard her husband laughing she relaxed. Felipe was an excellent judge of character and if he’d disliked her – even for a moment – his silence would give it away.

Sookie stepped through the door, spotting Eric immediately and smiling at him then noticing the blonde woman by his side – this had to be his Mom. They had the same blonde hair, although the woman’s was a little paler, and both had blue eyes. Sookie went to the woman and outstretched her hand in greeting.

“Hi, I’m Sookie! It’s a pleasure to meet you …”

Pam grasped the offered appendage and squeezed lightly. “It’s good to eventually meet you too. I’m Pamela Northman-De Castro but you can just call me Pam!”

“Okay. Thank you for welcoming me into your home Pam and, of course, you too Felipe!”

Sookie turned to the teacher and he nodded to her, Eric took a small step forward towards the actress. “DoyouhaveanybagsSookie?”

“Just the one!” She held up a back pack. “It’s just some sweats I keep in the trunk, I got stranded in a coffee soaked skirt suit once and promised myself I’d never be that unprepared again!”

“Oh we’ve all been there!” Pam laughed. “I’m sorry, we don’t have a guest room but we’ve got an air mattress with clean sheets in the study.”

“If it’s clean and not surrounded by paparazzi it’ll be heaven!” Her expression turned serious and she looked into Eric’s eyes. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t let me stay here. I just need a day or so to get my bearings after … everything, I knew the video would create waves but I didn’t think I’d have reporters and photographers trying to peep in my bedroom window!”

Felipe looked confused. “Don’t you have family? Friends?”

“Oh yes, but my parents house is undergoing some major work and they’re in a hotel right now and my brother has decided to elope … almost like I was meant to stay here huh?”

Eric smiled and wondered if maybe, after all of the crap he’d been through, fate was finally throwing him a bone. Pam took Sookie’s bag and led her through to the study, showed her where the nearest bathroom was and where everything in the kitchen was kept. While his Mom was familiarising the actress with her safe house, Eric went down to his room to send a text to Arlene, letting her know that Sookie had arrived safely.

He was just approving the latest messages of support and deleting the callous comments of Bill fans when he heard footsteps on the stairs behind him. He heard Sookie’s voice asking if it was okay for her to come down and worked quickly to get rid of the nasty abuse some people had written in the comments form.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Uh … nothing!” Eric spun around and placed himself in front of the screen before she could see a particularly venomous entry.

Sookie quirked an eyebrow and smirked, putting her hands on her hips. “Are you watching porn?” She hissed.

“What? No! Of Course not!

“Then what’s so secret?” She craned her body to the left to try and see what was on the screen, recognising the colours and pattern of the border on the site Eric had designed for her. “Are you working on the site? Cool! Can I see what you’re doing to it or will there be a big unveiling?”

Sookie looked excited and Eric struggled to find the right words to explain what he was really doing. “Um … not really, just approving comments and … uh …”

“Ooh! Can I see?”

“NO! I mean … I’m not done yet and.” Eric sighed. “There are some … less complimentary comments that I was in the middle of deleting. They’re just trolls and flamers but I didn’t want you to see because it might upset you.”

Sookie stepped back and regarded him for a moment before speaking. “Thank you Eric, I … you’re right. Even though I know they’d be trolls, I’d probably still be affected by what they say. Is it okay if I watch some TV down here while you finish up? I like your Mom and Step-Dad but I don’t think I’m comfortable around them enough to snuggle on the sofa.”

“Yeah sure, make yourself comfortable.”

Eric turned back to the screen and continued to delete the numerous contributions that called Sookie a lying whore while listening to the TV cycle through the stations. Hearing the familiar strains of a ‘My Name Is Earl’ re-run, he smiled; it seemed Sookie had the same taste in comedy as he did. Finishing as quickly as he could, he spun his chair around just after the first ad break was done; Sookie was lying on her stomach on the bed with her feet at the head board.

Sookie Stackhouse is on my bed. The Sookie Stackhouse is on my bed.

Eric cleared his throat and Sookie turned to him, smiling. “Hey are you done? It’s the episode where Earl and Randy have to go through the trials for Catalina’s hand in marriage!”

“Oh! Have they done the bit with the rakes yet?” Eric got up from his chair and perched on the edge of his bed, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans.

“No, not yet.” Sookie looked at Eric before shuffling further over on the bed and patting the space next to her. “Sorry, I’m really bad for hogging all the space when I’m watching TV, I like to spread out!”

Eric swallowed audibly and moved further onto the mattress, extremely aware that Sookie was the only woman, apart from his Mom, who had ever been on his bed. They continued to watch the re-run laughing at the same things, during the episode Eric felt his eyes continually drawn to the actress and when she noticed him looking at her she would smile sweetly. A couple of times she had asked if he was okay, he said he was fine but Sookie knew he wasn’t as comfortable as he could be, despite the reasons for their lives colliding and the way they finally met, she didn’t feel like he was too close or that he knew too much about her. He cared that people said bad things about her and wanted to protect her, he’d seen her cry lord knows how many times, he knew how some of the men in her life had thrown her away when they were done with her but he wasn’t disgusted with her.

While Sookie was evaluating her reasons for being so open and relaxed around her web designer, Eric was marvelling at how accepting the actress was of his situation. He was aware that the fact he still lived with his Mom and Step-Dad would usually make him a figure of fun, even if he didn’t have problems leaving the house and panicked like a 12 year old at a school disco when he thought about being with a girl. If Sookie was an average woman she would have run for the hills when she found him under his bed the other day, but she didn’t, she mirrored Eric’s position on the floor next to him to make him more comfortable and she had no idea how much that meant to Eric.

Sookie glanced at Eric again and noticed his posture wasn’t as stiff and that he’d shuffled further onto the bed, his knee was almost brushing against her hip and she remembered the way he had stroked her foot from beneath the bed the last time she was here. When the credit’s rolled for the programme, she rolled over and placed her hand on his knee lightly.

“Hey, it’s still early. Do you have any movies we can watch?” Eric was staring at her hand, so she lifted it and put it on the bed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …”

“No, its okay, I’m just … yeah I’ve got loads of movies. What are you in the mood for?” he got up and lifted the lid on a wooden box. “There’s no romance but mostly every other kind of movie you can think of.”

Sookie got off the bed and kneeled on the floor next to him as he lifted a tray of DVD’s from the box to reveal another layer underneath. She gasped and grabbed at one of the cases.

“Omigod! I can’t believe someone actually bought this! I thought ‘Hunters’ would languish in the bargain bins for all eternity!”

“Well … umm. So! See anything you want to watch?”

Eric nervously ran his hands through his hair and begged whoever was up there not to let her ask why or how long he’d had that DVD. Sookie regarded his actions and wondered why he was so cagey all of a sudden; she picked out ‘The Fifth Element’ and smiled widely at him.

“You can’t beat Luc Besson for taking your mind off your troubles!”

“Or Milla Jovovitch.” Eric said absentmindedly before looking at Sookie with wide eyes. “Uh …”

Sookie sniggered and handed him the case. “Well I happen to have a thing for Gary Oldman so you’re off the hook!”

They smiled at each other again and Eric placed the disc in the player before scooting up the bed to sit up against the headboard, as the menu came up he put down the remote and stood.

“Hey do you want some snacks? A drink maybe?”

“Ooh! Do you any mountain dew? The Code Red kind, not the green?”

“Are you kidding? It’s my favourite!”

Eric grinned as he made his way up to the kitchen, Pam and Felipe saw him as he walked past the doorway of the living room and looked at each other.

“Honey, do you think they need a chaperone?”

“Pammy, he’s 24 not 14. Frankly, the fact he’s having that reaction to spending time with a woman should make you happy not protective.”

Pam nodded, despite hoping all these years that her Son would someday have a normal life, it was still hard for her to let go when he’d depended on her for so long.

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