8. Crossing the Bridge.

Bud Dearbourne hated when his wife went to stay with her sister, not only did he have to deal with her coming home the next day and telling him all the ways that her sister’s house was nicer than theirs and how much more romantic his brother in law was but he had to walk that rat of a Chihuahua that Georgette fawned over. He grunted in disgust as he put his hand in the plastic baggie and picked up the dog mess while Doodlekins looked at Bud like the human wasn’t even fit to do that. Bud dragged the dog behind him on the leash, holding the baggie at arm’s length, towards the trash can at the side of the house. Bud had noted the lack of cars in the Northman-De Castro driveway, there was also a distinct lack of lights on. The ex-Sherriff clucked his tongue and had just made a mental note to talk to them about timer switches for their lights when an Audi soft top pulled into the drive.

Sookie and Eric emerged from the vehicle giggling before making their way arm in arm to the front door, stealing quick kisses every few steps. Bud cleared his throat and yanked at the leash to try and stop Doodlekins from growling at his neighbour.

“Eric, I noticed there was no-one home. You know that means that burglars probably noticed it too right?”

“Uh … I never actually thought about that Mr. Dearbourne but thanks for pointing it out.” Sookie and Eric turned to climb the steps to the front door.

“I can recommend some very reliable timers for your lights, makes it seem like someone’s at home even if they aren’t. Why don’t I pop inside and get the catalogue for ya?”

“That’s okay, we’ll be inside … all night … you could just drop them off tomorrow and I’ll have my Dad look over them.”

“Okay, okay.” Bud took in Eric and his date’s appearance, the girl looked familiar. “You guys are all dressed up, out on a date?”

Sookie stifled a snigger as she heard Eric grind his teeth when he smiled at his neighbour. “Yes, it was a double date so we’re looking forward to getting inside and relaxing y’know.”

“Sure, I hope you had a good time … say … don’t I know you Miss? I can’t place where I’ve saw you but I know I’ve seen you before. Bud Dearbourne, I live next door.”

“Uh … I’m on TV and I’ve been in the papers recently.” Sookie walked towards the older gentleman and stretched out her hand. “Sookie Stackhouse; pleased to meet you.” Behind her Eric shuffled his feet and cleared his throat, Sookie smiled at Bud. “If you’ll excuse us we have a big day tomorrow and need to talk about a few things.”

“Oh sure! No problem, Eric I’ll drop those catalogues in tomorrow morning okay?”

“That would be great Mr. Dearbourne, you have a nice night.” Eric waved to his neighbour while opening the front door, as soon as it was closed behind them Eric let out a breath. “I thought he’d keep us out there talking all night!”

“Eric!” Sookie chided. “He was just being neighbourly; it’s good that he watches out for that stuff.”

“Not when all I want to do is be alone with you.”

Sookie raised an eyebrow. “And now that you have me all alone what are you going to do with me?”

“Uh …” The colour ran from Eric’s face. “I … well … I didn’t plan anything, like details or … I was just hoping …”

Sookie interrupted him with a kiss and tugged his hand so he would follow her to his room. “Why don’t we just see where things take us?”

Eric nodded and let out a sigh of relief that Sookie didn’t expect him to list the things he wanted to do with her. As he got to the door to the basement, his stomach tied in knots and he had to force his body to follow his girlfriend down the stairs. Eric tried to calm himself by listing all of the other firsts he had experienced with Sookie. His first meal in a restaurant, his first date, his first kiss, his first counselling session outside his home or on the phone, his first night out with friends but none of them seemed as important as this. Sensing some trepidation on Eric’s part, Sookie stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned to him, placing a hand on each side of his face.

“I want you to know how special I think this is, this is my first time with you and it really means something but if you want to stop, at any time, please tell me. I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything.”

Eric nodded again and let Sookie lead him to the bed; he wondered when was the best time to bring up the condoms in his sock drawer then figured there was no time like the present.

“I … I bought protection …it’s … uh … they’re …”

“Shh.” Sookie wrapped her arms around his neck and silenced him with her lips. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

–**–

Eric let Sookie push him onto the bed and watched her intently as she climbed onto his lap, straddling him, pressing her hands against his chest to make him lie down, bringing her face closer to his and covering his mouth with her own. Sookie’s hands explored every square inch of Eric’s chest as their kissing became almost frenzied; Eric gasped and squeezed his eyes closed as Sookie circled her hips, grinding her pelvis against his already rigid length. He gripped her thighs with his large hands and pushed her away from his arousal, knowing that the anticipation of the moment had already made him sensitive to her touch and he was terrified of disappointing his girlfriend.

“Sookie, please, I don’t want this to end too soon.”

Sookie sat up and looked confused for a moment before realising Eric was worried about his excitement getting the better of him. They had only just started and he was concerned about it being over?

“You’re close? Already?”

“Well, not right now but I don’t want to … uh … get carried away.”

Sookie nodded and wondered what she could do; she kissed him softly on the lips before moving her mouth towards his ear and whispering. “I’ll take care of you, then you can relax and just enjoy what we do afterwards.”

Eric grunted as she squeezed the bulge in his pants. “But what if I can’t … y’know … again.”

Sookie shushed him and pulled at his belt. “We’ve got all night baby.”

Eric relented to Sookie’s onslaught, passively allowing her to remove every stitch of his clothing, bucking into her hand as she stroked him, gritting his teeth and pulling at the zipper of her dress as she brought him closer and closer to the edge. The movement of her hand slowed as she shrugged her outfit over her shoulders and Eric whimpered with need, burying his face into her exposed cleavage and sucking her flesh through the lace of her bra. Sookie took a sharp breath as his mouth found her aching nipple and shuddered as Eric’s hand snaked up her thigh and between her legs. When he felt how damp Sookie’s panties were, Eric panted and thrust into her grip faster, grunting, shaking, nipping at the uncovered flesh of the swell of her breasts until he stiffened and dug his fingers into Sookie’s firm buttocks as he spilled his seed over her hand and wrist. Sookie remained still until she felt his grip loosen on her behind, then she silently went to the bathroom and came back with a warm washcloth to clean them both up.

Eric was still dazed from the experience and tried to move to help Sookie clean up but found he was unable. It seemed the only part of him that was working at that moment in time was his voice.

“God, Sookie, I love you.”

Sookie stopped what she was doing and suddenly Eric’s body was fully functional. He sat up, making her jump back with surprise, and she saw the fear and panic in his eyes. She set the wash cloth to one side and sat on his lap to prevent him from running; taking him in her arms she covered his face in soft kisses before looking him in the eye.

“I love you too Eric. I love everything about you, I love how you make me feel, I love how strong you are, I love how sweet you are.” She smiled and ran her fingers through his hair. “I love you.”

She prevented him from saying anything else by placing her mouth over his, their tongues moving against each other. The stiff peaks of Sookie’s breasts brushed against Eric’s chest and made both of them shiver with delight, Eric pushed Sookie off his lap so she was standing before him and tugged her dress over her ample hips, Sookie kicked it to one side and stood before him in her underwear and shoes. Eric stared at her almost naked form, licking his lips as his eyes travelled from the black patent high heels, up to her face where she was smirking at his reaction to her. Eric felt sated yet in need of more, his desire for Sookie was a fire that he wasn’t sure would ever be extinguished; he pulled her back onto his lap and weaved his fingers through her hair as he kissed her.

Eric lifted Sookie and turned so he could lie on top of her on the bed, he wanted to touch her, taste her, to cover every inch of her skin with his hands and mouth. He tugged impatiently at her lacy under things, making Sookie giggle into his hair as he softly ran his tongue along her clavicle, up her neck, her giggle turned to a gasp as Eric sucked on her earlobe and placed a hand on her breast. Sookie arched her back as Eric kissed, licked, sucked, pinched, rolled and kneaded all of the sensitive spots around her body until she was writhing beneath him, rubbing her thighs together, desperate for him to pay attention to the throbbing between her legs.

His hands fumbled with the hooks of her bra and his kisses had stopped to make room for the huffs of exasperation Eric was issuing as he tried and failed to unfasten the garment. Feeling his body tense with frustration, Sookie reached back and seconds later she was throwing the lace and wire contraption off the bed. Eric wasted no time in worshipping her naked torso, devouring the milky white skin of her mounds which contrasted the golden tan of her shoulders, arms and stomach, her hands yanked at his hair as he paid attention to the rosy pink peaks. Sookie could feel his manhood twitch against her leg and smiled, maybe they wouldn’t need all night after all.

Amazed at the recovery his body, especially his penis, had made, Eric ran a hand down Sookie’s body to stroke her thigh as he leaned on one elbow and continued to enjoy ravishing her natural bounty. When Sookie attempted to move her hips closer to Eric’s hand, he stopped to look at her, her brow was creased in frustration, he moved his hand to her stomach, down to gently caress the waistband of her panties with his finger tips. He groaned as she lifted her hips from the bed, chanting his name softly, she wanted him to touch her so badly, to give her some relief, following the instructions Sookie’s body was giving him, Eric moved his knee between hers and nudged her legs apart, stroking her through her damp panties and watching her facial expression change. Sookie hissed with pleasure and tried to push herself against Eric’s hand harder, she needed more.

“Pleasepleasepleaseplease.”

Eric was at full mast, hearing Sookie beg for his touch, he slipped his hand inside her panties; she was so wet, so hot. Her quiet chanting continued as he stroked her, gathering her juices on his fingers and circling her sensitive bundle of nerves delicately, slowly. Sookie sobbed as he removed his hand to take off her underwear, kneeling back, Eric stared at his girlfriend as her fully naked form was revealed to him. He kissed her knee, the inside of her thigh, watching as she began to massage one of her own breasts, plucking at the hard pink bud and biting her lower lip. His eyes were still trained on her as he lowered his mouth and lapped at her folds for a short time before probing her opening with his fingers.

Sookie grabbed at Eric’s hair, holding him against her, grinding onto his hand while she moaned out his name, she felt him change the position of his hand and his fingertips rubbing around her channel until he found the right spot. Her bucking hips threw Eric slightly off balance as she panted and moaned, closer, closer, he tried to keep his concentration as Sookie’s fingernails scrabbled at his shoulders, urging him to climb up her body and sheath his erection within her walls but he resisted. Sookie was lost to the wave of pleasure cresting, her vocalisations becoming louder as her stomach clenched, her vision clouded in silver stars and her inner muscles gripping at Eric’s fingers as she toppled over the edge into orgasm.

Laying soft kisses over her body, Eric moved up her shivering form to claim her lips, Sookie could taste herself on his tongue and grabbed at his hips, pulling him into her.

“Wait, wait … the condom.”

“I’m on the pill, leave it, I need you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Eriiiiiic!”

Sookie pulled harder, cupping his buttocks and digging her fingertips into the firm flesh until he relented and placed himself at her entrance. Eric puffed out his cheeks and slowly, carefully, pushed into her, his eyes screwed closed and his hands gripping the sheet beneath them. She felt better than anything his imagination could ever come up with as his hard member slipped inside her, meeting minimal resistance, Sookie was tight around him but obviously not in any pain as she was wrapping her legs around his waist, insisting he carry on until he was buried to the hilt. Eric bit his lip to stem the string of profanities that was threatening to burst from his mouth, when he opened his eyes, Sookie was arching from the bed, attempting to rock against him. He held her with one hand behind her shoulder and one on her lower back and bent his head to her nipples, holding her in place as he pulled out and thrust back in at an agonising pace. Sookie wiggled and braced her hands behind her, desperate for leverage as she struggled to make Eric go faster.

“I need more Eric, faster, pleeeeease.”

Eric released her nipple and crashed his mouth to hers, lowering her back to the bed and quickening his movements; Sookie met him thrust for thrust, the sensation of him filling her, his pelvis rubbing against her bump every time he pressed into her. Eric grit his teeth, he didn’t want this to end, being inside Sookie was so right.

“Sookie, look at me.”

Her eyes snapped open and Eric moved his hand to settle his thumb over her pearl, pressing it lightly and circling as he forged into her again and again. He was entranced by the feelings he saw in her eyes, he could see it, she loved him; he hoped that she would see the same thing when she looked into his eyes. Sookie could feel another climax barrelling towards her and struggled to keep her gaze locked on those two blue orbs, the intensity was overwhelming and she could tell that Eric was close to having his own moment of ecstasy. Surrendering to the pleasure, her breath burst from her chest in short gasps as her brow creased, her fingers gouged at Eric’s shoulders as she shuddered with completion. Eric was fighting to keep going and when he felt Sookie’s walls clamp around him, making her tighter, his own powerful conclusion ripped a primal groan from his chest and he froze in place, holding Sookie tighter than she was comfortable with and burying his head in the crook of her shoulder.

“Ugh! Eric … need to breathe!”

“Oh God! Sorry!” Eric let go and rolled to Sookie’s side before gathering her, gently, back into his arms. “That was … you looked … it felt … like you enjoyed it.”

“I did, very, very much … you?”

“I … I don’t think there is a word for how much I enjoyed that. I feel manly.”

Sookie laughed. “Well it’s a good thing you’re a man then isn’t it? I’m enjoying snuggling with you but we should get cleaned up.”

Eric nodded but didn’t let Sookie go, he groaned in protest and tried to pull her back to the bed when she got up to retrieve the wash cloth she’d used earlier. He closed his eyes and waited for her to come back to him.

–**–

Sophie-Ann LeClerq sat in the hotel suite, impatiently drumming her acrylics on the table with one hand and flipping through her notebook with the other as Chow set up his camera and the stylist quietly arranged different pots, jars and brushes in the bedroom. She had been annoyed when Sookie’s boyfriend had been mentioned on Tube Tattler with that amateur Delahoussaye but once word had spread that she, Sophie-Ann LeClerq, would have the exclusive interview as they publicised their relationship, it was all good.

“So, Davis actually said that this would make cover?”

She pursed her lips and closed her notebook when Chow interrupted her train of thought. “Stan said, and I quote, ‘if this is done right it’ll be the best cover story in months’, so, no, he didn’t say it would definitely make cover. You make them look good and I’ll make them sound interesting, it should be a slam dunk.”

“Did the Shifter issue guidelines?” Chow sneered as Sam’s nickname spilled from between his lips.

“Nope!” Sophie-Ann grinned. “This is a no holds barred affair, and you know how much I like those!”

Chow shook his head and laughed, remembering when he and Soph first worked together, he thought she was an uppity, heartless bitch and she thought he was incompetent but by the end of the job they were firm friends and hadn’t worked with anyone else since. Stan called them his ‘dynamic duo’; they had more cover stories than any other team at OK! And contrary to what many outsiders thought, they never made anyone look bad who didn’t deserve it.

–**–

Sam Merlotte paced by the entrance of the Homewood Suites at Tompkins Regional Airport, he was waiting for Sookie and Eric but mostly he was making sure that there weren’t any other paps around to make this difficult. He had warned Hadley not to ask about Sookie’s love life and what did the stupid bitch do? She asked about Sookie’s love life in a way that would be very suspicious if Sookie didn’t answer! The ET! Channel had been informed that any future interviews with clients of shining star agency were to be undertaken by professionals who respected the system, not glamour whores. It wasn’t like he hadn’t offered her anything in return for keeping to the preferred questions, just like he did with Sophie-Ann – he promised her an exclusive if she backed off, that was the system, tit for tat, you scratch my back and I scratch yours. Hadley Delahoussaye had not scratched Sam’s back.

He thought back to the conversation he’d had with Arlene, Eric’s Mom had some crazy idea about announcing Eric as Sookie’s boyfriend at the actual premiere of Galaxy Pioneers. That would have been a massive fail on so many levels it was beyond belief, one because Soph wouldn’t have gotten her exclusive, two because the focus of the premiere should be on the show and not the stars personal relationships and three because going to a huge party would be stressful enough for Eric without adding the stress of it being his first time in the public eye. Sam sighed and lit a cigarette, ten minutes, if they weren’t here in ten minutes he was calling Sookie.

–**–

Sookie’s eyes glanced at the clock on the dashboard for the hundredth time since she and Eric had left the Northman-De Castro house. When they had fallen asleep naked, then woken up naked, leading to more naked things, she hadn’t considered said nakedness might possibly affect their plans for the next day.

“We’re not going to be late, the interview isn’t until one, its 12.30 and we’re ten minutes away.” Eric was surprisingly calm in the passenger seat, which made Sookie nervous. “Trust me, if we wanted we could stop and have a quickie and still be there on time!”

Sookie blanched and gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Is this all it’s going to be about now? Sex? How much you can get and when you can get it?”

Eric’s mouth opened in shock. “I … I was just trying to lighten the mood, I didn’t mean anything by it … no it’s not just about sex, it never was and it never will be!”

The actress sighed and circled her shoulders in an attempt to relax. “I’m sorry baby, I … I shouldn’t have said that. I know that you care about more than the physical stuff, I’m an ass, last night was your first time – it would be ridiculous if it wasn’t on your mind more than before.”

Eric smiled. “Oh good! I thought you’d turned me into a deviant! I haven’t been able to think about much of anything except … what we did last night … and at 4am … and when we woke up … and after breakfast.”

Sookie held Eric’s hand over the centre console and grinned at the faraway look in his eyes. “Truth be told, it’s been occupying my thoughts too. Maybe I should focus on all those things rather than what we’re on our way to do and I might be as relaxed as you!”

Eric snorted. “If we get to the suite without me having a meltdown it’ll be a good day!”

Although they were said in jest, those words prayed on Sookie the rest of the way to the airport. As she pulled up across from the hotel, Sookie kept her eyes on Eric, watching, waiting for the first signs of panic but he smiled sweetly and kissed the back of her hand before they got out of the car. Sam was waiting for them at the entrance, his hair in disarray and smelling of Marlboro lights, the Shifter quickly herded them inside and straight into an elevator. As soon as the doors slid closed, Eric began to chuckle.

Sookie and Sam looked at Eric, then at each other. “Is he … uh … okay? You didn’t give him anything to relax him did you?”

“Sam! Of course not!” Sookie put a hand on Eric’s arm. “What’s so funny baby?”

“I was just thinking about meeting Fin last night, he’s a nice guy, I’m looking forward to talking to him again.”

Sookie nodded in understanding and Sam accepted Eric’s explanation without asking why an elevator would make him think about Lorena’s boy toy. It wasn’t until they were walking along the corridor towards the suite where Sophie-Ann waited that Eric’s posture started to stiffen, Sookie wrapped one of his arms around her shoulder and placed a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles through the soft fabric of his shirt. Sam knocked on the door and failed to notice the silent war going on in Eric’s expressions behind him, Chow, however, locked on to Eric’s terrified features as soon as he opened the door and greeted them.

“Mr. Merlotte, Miss Stackhouse and this must be Mr. Northman.” He grinned. “Very nice! I hope you’re photogenic!”

The colour drained from Eric’s face and Sookie had to nudge him forward to get him to enter the room. “You can do this baby, I know you can.” She whispered, hoping he could hear her.

Sam stood a few feet into the room, looking around to check and see who was there. Chow, Sophie-Ann and another girl, he pointed at the unknown member of the entourage and scowled.

“Who are you?”

“I … Jennifer, Jennifer Cater … I’m the st … stylist.” The poor girl stuttered and folded her arms across her body, trying to make herself seem smaller … less of a threat.

Sam raised an eyebrow in Sophie-Ann’s direction. “A stylist? That’s very kind of you Sophie-Ann, I appreciate it.”

Jennifer relaxed and waited for the golden couple to appear, that’s what it seemed like they were anyway, she had overheard Soph and Chow talking about how they couldn’t wait to see this Northman guy up close. From the way they spoke, it seemed like he was off-the-thermometer hot but Jennifer knew that the kind of people she worked with had the tendency to exaggerate. When Eric walked through the door, Jennifer choked on her own spit, earning her an angry glance from Sookie and making Eric more wary of being there than he already was. Jennifer smiled nervously and excused herself to make sure everything was ready.

Sophie-Ann clapped her hands and grinned widely. “So what do you guys want to do first? Talking or photos?”

Sookie looked at Eric’s ‘deer in the headlights’ expression and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Talking please, Eric is a little nervous and I think once the interview is over he might relax enough to look … not nervous in the photos.”

“Well let’s just jump right in then shall we?” Sophie-Ann gestured to the love seat and watched as Eric moved stiffly and sat down as if he had a rod in his back. “I can see you’re … ill at ease Eric, may I call you Eric?” He nodded slowly. “I’d like to let you know that we’re not here today for me to dredge up your dirty little secrets and make you look bad.”

“You’re not?” Eric and Sookie spoke at the same time and Sam chuckled in the corner.

“Sookie, Eric, did you think I’d lead you into the lion’s den?” Sam smiled at them. “Soph is here for a story, she wants your side, if all she wanted to do was wreck your reputations she would have printed any old crap she dug up on the internet.”

Sophie-Ann nodded and looked serious for a second. “Speaking of which, I have been doing a considerable amount of digging.” She waved her notebook in front of her. “I’ve found out a lot, especially about you Eric but the purpose here is for me to converse with you about what I’ve found out and for you to tell me, in your own words, what the story is behind that info.”

“What if Eric doesn’t want you to know the story?” Sookie blurted out. “Eric is a very private person and it should be up to him to decide how much you should know.”

“That’s very true.” Sophie-Ann nodded and turned her full attention back to Eric. “As I was saying, you’re ill at ease, if at any point you don’t want to answer a question … I guess I can live with that, I’m a good writer, believe it or not, I know when to pad out a story to prevent missing information being noticed.”

Eric relaxed a little and Sookie moved along the seat to lean against him as Sophie-Ann continued. “Okay, so first I’m going to ask Sookie about her past and how she’s been hurt by the men in her past, that will lead us to how she met you, Eric, and then I’ll ask you some things about your past and how you feel about being involved with someone as well known as Sookie. Does that sound okay to you guys?”

Sookie and Eric both smiled and nodded at Sophie-Ann before turning to the clicking noise coming from Chow. “Sorry, you both looked so comfortable and natural; I wanted to take some snapshots before we do the proper shoot.”

“That’s a great idea Chow!” Sophie-Ann flipped her notebook open. “In fact, would it be okay if Chow snaps a few more as we’re talking? I’ve gathered that Eric is ‘Joe Normal’ so giving the feature some casual images would suit better than posed shots.”

Sophie-Ann turned on her Dictaphone and started by rehashing everything with Quinn, then Bill’s attempt at ruining Sookie’s career. She spoke a little about Sookie’s friendship with Lorena before moving on to Galaxy Pioneers.

“The show premieres in two weeks time, are you excited about how your fans respond to actually seeing you play the part?”

“I’m terrified to be honest!” Sookie laughed. “There’s been so much hype; I’m worried about living up their expectations!”

“Rumour has it that Galaxy Pioneers is already earmarked for nomination for Best TV Show at the SFX awards with other nominations soon to follow, how does it feel to be involved with something so big after your career being in the doldrums for so long?”

“It’s amazing, I feel so honoured to be a part of it. There were times when I thought about maybe just giving up on acting but I knew it was something I was good at and it’s what I always wanted to do, I just had to wait until I found a break.”

“And a break you got! Not only in your career but your love life too, you wouldn’t have met Eric if it wasn’t for Galaxy Pioneers would you?”

“Actually no, I don’t think I would have.”

“Eric is the designer behind you and Lorena’s websites and several others that we’ve come across, what made you go to him rather than anyone else when it came to making your video statement?”

“Well it was my agent, Arlene’s idea to go to him but we knew we couldn’t trust anyone else. It’s so strange but even though we’d never met, I just … had this feeling that he would never do me wrong. Before I even laid eyes on him I knew he was special.”

“Speaking of that, Eric, I understand that you had a tough time growing up. Can you tell me a little about that?”

“Uh …” Eric wriggled in his seat and cleared his throat. “Yes, I did have a tough time. I was that kid, the one with something to point and laugh about and the stress made me … pretty ill, I didn’t get to finish school.”

Sophie-Ann nodded sympathetically. “I saw the website that you made regarding your ME, it was fascinating reading things from a subject’s point of view rather than a doctor and I understand that you’re hinting that you were bullied at school, did the ME come before the bullying or after?”

Eric looked at Sookie, Sookie looked at Sam and Sam shrugged his shoulders and deferred back to Eric. Sophie-Ann had obviously done her homework, it was to be expected, and her line of questioning wasn’t offensive or intrusive, Eric’s ME was online for the public to see, asking if bullying was the cause of the illness wasn’t the kind of question Sam thought he should put a stop to. Eric took a deep breath and pulled Sookie closer to him.

“The ME came after. I was bullied because I had some scarring from a bad dose of chicken pox … it sounds so stupid now.” He shook his head smiling. “Kids are cruel even if you don’t have any physical flaws for them to target but it got pretty bad and my immune system just couldn’t handle the stress of going to school after lying awake worrying about it and then being pushed around and shouted at all day. The last full day I had at school must have been when I was 16, I never graduated, never took my SAT’s, never went to prom.”

Sophie-Ann hadn’t expected Eric to actually answer, she had thought he would shut down altogether or fob her off with some lame line about bullies not affecting his life. She flipped to a page of her notes she had really wanted to use but didn’t think she would have the chance.

“I spoke to a couple of people who were in the same class as you, Sandy and Victor.” Eric snorted. “Sandy wanted me to tell you that she’s sorry for everything she said to you and Victor … well he seemed to be under the impression that you were dead. Is there a reason that he would think that?”

Sookie closed her eyes and squeezed Eric’s hand, she heard him take a breath and felt her heart thunder in her ears, he was going to answer the question.

“He wouldn’t have seen me around town, with the illnesses, the bullying then the ME … I developed another condition. I’m agoraphobic, I have panic attacks … in short, I have mental health problems.”

Sophie-Ann’s chin dropped, she couldn’t take her eyes off Eric as she dropped her notebook to the floor. She was completely speechless; she watched as Sookie wrapped her arms around Eric and told her how proud she was of him. She listened as Chow clicked his camera as they kissed tenderly on the loveseat and gazed into each other’s eyes, it wasn’t until she heard Sam clearing his throat that she tried to find some line of questioning … anything to make her look like the professional she was!

“Uh … well I didn’t expect that! Staying on that subject slightly … yes, you were bullied but here you are – a successful businessman with a beautiful, famous, girlfriend, obviously you’re making strides with your mental illness seeing as you’re here today and the ones who bullied you are single and languishing in dead end jobs. Do you think that’s Karmic?”

“Saying its Karmic is reading a little too much into things I think. People make choices, sometimes they aren’t the right choices, sometimes the ability to choose is taken away from you.”

“And what choices of yours brought you and Sookie together?”

“I chose to contact her about her website, she didn’t seem to have an organised fan base and there was a lot of negativity from other camps. A well designed site can be the hub of your fan base; there are still some who don’t see the impact a poor site can have on their image.”

“And the rest, as they say, is history?” Sookie and Eric both laughed. “So in the space of, what? A month? You’ve gone from reclusive web designer, who some people considered dead due to lack of appearances, to boyfriend of the most gossip-worthy starlet in TV fandom. How are you going to handle the fame that comes with associating with Sookie?”

“One day at a time, Sophie-Ann, that’s all anyone can do.”

“Sookie, do you worry that the limelight will put a strain on your relationship?”

“I do.” Sookie nodded and sighed. “But I think what Eric and I have is stronger than that, we’ve come a long way together and whatever we come up against, we’ll work together to get past it and come out the other side stronger than ever.”

“Clichéd but I can see your point. So will there be wedding bells in the near future?”

Eric coughed so hard and long, Sam had to get him a glass of water, Sookie was patting his back, trying to hide her annoyance at his reaction. Sophie-Ann’s lips were stretched to the limit as she tried to hold in her amusement. “I’ll take it that’s a ‘no’ then Eric?”

“Ah … it’s not that.” He pulled Sookie back to his side and kissed her temple softly. “What you have to remember is that I’ve been very isolated, as you pointed out yourself, it’s been a rollercoaster month for me. I’m not saying I don’t want to marry Sookie; you took me by surprise because I haven’t really thought that far into the future yet. Like I said earlier, one day at a time.”

Sookie relaxed into his hold and placed a hand on his chest, smiling up at him tenderly and trying to ignore Chow snapping away in the background. Sophie-Ann cocked her head to one side and smiled, she thought that they really were a cute couple, with their matching hair and his large frame wrapped around her protectively despite the fact that Sookie seemed to be the stronger one in the relationship.

“Okay one last question and then we’ll get the two of you spruced up for some cover shots.” Sookie and Eric turned to her and nodded. “Sookie, have you been approached by any other studio’s for work? Now you’re back on track with your career, I would imagine many directors would be interested in hiring you for different projects.”

“Well, I’ve had my hands full recently, after not working in the business on such an intense scale for so long, I’m happy to just be working on Galaxy Pioneers. I can tell you that I’ve been contracted to resume my role of Troisha next season but I haven’t got any projects lined up for the show’s hiatus.”

“And we’re done!” Sophie-Ann called Jennifer back into the room and explained what kind of look she wanted Sookie and Eric to have. “I have to say, this has been amazingly insightful. Eric, I’m sure you’ll have quite a few people knocking on your door after this is published.”

“What? Why?” Eric tried to turn towards Sophie-Ann but Jennifer held his chin as she was applying powder to his nose and forehead.

“Well, talking about being bullied and how it’s affected your life will bring you to the attention of all sorts of people. Charities looking for someone to be the face of a campaign, psychologists looking for someone to include in their next study, you might even be asked to consult with authors on books regarding your experiences.”

“I … I don’t think I want that.” Eric mumbled as Chow pushed him gently into a chair and told Sookie to sit in his lap.

“Whether you want it or not, they’ll come.” Sophie-Ann laughed.

“She’s right Eric.” Sam pushed himself away from the wall where he’d been leaning and rubbed his scruffy chin with his hand. “I’ll help you where I can, but I can’t do it for free. I’ll speak to Siegebert and Wybert at Shining Star and see what we can come up with.”

“Uh … okay.” Eric looked at Sookie and she smiled at him, cupping his cheek with one hand and looking into his eyes. Eric placed his hand over hers and kissed the tip of her nose, making her giggle.

“Perfect!” Chow exclaimed. “One last shot, I want you to get real close and smile at me like I’m a puppy who’s done a cute trick!”

–**–

Pam and Felipe were having dinner when their peace was interrupted by Eric, Sookie and Sam entering the house. Pam quietly set her fork down and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, closing her eyes and waiting for the worst. Felipe, being more optimistic, stood from the table and called out to the trio.

“We’re in here guys, plenty of food still warm if you’re hungry!”

Eric appeared at the door, smiling and holding Sookie into his side. Pam sighed in relief and grinned at them, eyeing Sam curiously.

“Oh! Mom this is Sam Merlotte, you may remember Arlene referring to him as the Shifter.”

Felipe moved around and stretched his hand out, Sam accepted but was slightly shocked when Felipe pulled him into a back slapping hug.

“Sam! It’s good to meet you! I’m Eric’s Dad, Felipe and this is his beautiful Mom, Pam.”

Pam nodded to Sam and extended her hand to meet his when he offered it. Sam was thankful Pam hadn’t hugged him too; he wasn’t really the touchy-feely type. A little confused, he turned back to Felipe.

“I thought you were Eric’s teacher … you know what? Never mind!”

Eric smiled at Felipe and squeezed Sookie a little tighter. “He was my teacher but now he’s … he’s my Dad, the only Dad I’ve ever had and the only one I’ll ever need!”

The moment was interrupted by Pam stifling a sob, she dabbed at her eyes with her napkin, she knew that Eric had been more than accepting of her relationship with Felipe and that Felipe had always had fatherly affection for Eric but hearing them say, out loud, that Felipe was Eric’s Dad was more touching than anything her own father had said to her and more meaningful than any gesture Frank Northman had ever made to his own flesh and blood.

“Mi Reina, Mi Diosa del Amor, are you okay?” Felipe was at his wife’s side in an instant. Pam sniffed and waved her hands as if it would make everyone in the room stop looking at her.

“I’m fine, Niño Grande, just fine.” She winked at her husband.

Sam felt his face flush and cleared his throat, wishing he wasn’t fluent in Spanish; he could do without such personal sweet nothings being declared in his presence. As they all settled at the kitchen table and extra portions of lamb and tomato casserole were heaped onto plates already loaded with wild rice, Sam looked around at the family. He could see where Eric got his strength from, and his humility. The love between Pam, Felipe and Eric was obvious and Sookie looked like she’d been born to sit at the table with them. The Shifter closed his eyes as a chunk of juicy lamb practically melted on his tongue and realised the world would be a better place if everyone could find somewhere they belonged.

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