“Are you sure this is a good idea?” As we have gotten closer to the home of Sookie’s parents, I have asked this question with more frequency. I am for all intents and purposes going into hostile territory. Meeting a girl’s parents for the first time is always a daunting prospect, but meeting Sookie’s parents is the equivalent of trying to climb Mount Everest on crutches, with one arm, and one good eye. Sookie and I have history, one forged on the lies of those who selfishly kept us apart, but it’s still helped forge the feelings her parents have for me. They don’t know, yet, that Freyda and Pam manipulated us for their own petty ambitions. It doesn’t matter that I never cheated with Freyda; Mr. and Mrs. Stackhouse only know that their little girl was heartbroken and pregnant with my child. She has raised a beautiful angel on her own, having to play the roles of both mother and father. The Stackhouses only remember their daughter struggling in the beginning with the lack of sleep that comes from having an infant, the lack of money for diapers and daycare, and having to give up her dream of a college education. It doesn’t matter that Sookie found fame and fortune along the way. And it sure as hell doesn’t matter that I love their daughter and granddaughter with every fiber of my being; that my heart beats in time to their names. First impressions are lasting impressions, and even though their first impression is incorrect, it will forever cloud their judgment towards me. I am the silver-tongued devil that broke their daughter’s heart. My rise to fame and fortune came at the cost of Sookie’s happiness. Never mind that I suffered too; they aren’t my parents so they don’t care about that. They may even think I deserve it because I let this situation happen.
Sookie rolls her eyes before giving me a sideways glance since she is focusing on the road as we drive from Shreveport to Bon Temps. We flew in earlier on a chartered flight, opting for privacy and comfort since we have yet to execute our plan in regards to Pam. I want it to stay a secret for as long as possible that Sookie and I have reunited, because I want to be there to see the look of horror and panic on Pam’s face when she realizes that I know everything and that I am taking away everything she holds most dear. There are a few variables we need to work out in terms of our plan, the main one being that I need to get healthy. Sookie had insisted I take a pain pill last night and again this morning once settled on the flight. I’d argued that I didn’t need it but I ultimately gave in to her badgering. Truth be told, I’m glad I did. It’s not as painful today as the day after it happened, but sitting up for long periods of time still hurts. Once we got in the SUV her family had left at the airport for her, I’d lowered the back of my seat so I was reclining more, putting less pressure on my ribs. Sookie had looked over at me with concern, but said nothing. Now that we’ve been in the car for close to an hour, I’ve moved the seat upright. Of course, I keep fidgeting. I’d like to think it’s because I’m tired of being cooped up and want to stretch my legs, but there is this nagging fear that Sookie’s father and brother are going to greet me with a shotgun barrel pointed at my face or chest.
“I never would have believed you to be a pussy, Eric Northman,” Sookie states. I know what she’s doing. She’s trying to rile me up so I forget about my fear, but I’m not rising to the bait. She rolls her eyes again before glancing at me. “Look, I told my family I’m bringing you with me. They know that I said we wanted to talk to them about everything, explain the whole story because things didn’t happen exactly like we thought it did. They know to not say anything to Allie. Man up, Northman, we’re here,” she says as she puts her turn signal on and drives down a road that most people would have missed if they didn’t know what to look for. We bump along the dirt path and I grit my teeth against the rocking, jolting pain that rolls through my torso. Sookie veers the car to the right, which eventually evens out to a nicely graveled path. Once we round a curve, a two-story yellow farmhouse comes in view. I do not know what I was expecting her family home to look like, but this wasn’t it. The house is definitely old, at least a hundred years, I’d guess. The lawn and exterior of the house are well cared for. Flowers are planted in the beds that line the house; whoever did this had an eye for color and design because the gardens looked like they were done by a professional. The tall oak tree by the house had a ladder nailed against the trunk, leading a few feet in the air to a tree house painted the same color as the color of the trunk. The windows of the tree house are decorated with blue and white gingham curtains. I have no idea what is in the tree house, but I like the idea of it. Every child should have a place to call their own. When I was a child, there was a small cave on the beach by my parents’ house. I’d thought of it as my special place, my fortress of solitude. I’d gone there to cry when I was mad or hurt, hidden my most prized possessions in the rocky terrain, and did some of my deepest soul-searching there. I’d gone back there when I’d visited Mor and Mormor a few weeks ago. The cave is much smaller now than I remember, but I still felt like it was my place, as if I was the only person in the world that knew about it. It was in that cave that I’d finally said good-bye to the past I’d been holding on to with Sookie. Back then I’d had no hope of ever being with her again. Fate is a funny bitch, but there is no place else I’d rather be.
Sookie has stopped the car by the time I finish assessing her home. There are three other vehicles where we’ve parked. She’s looking at me with a small smile on her face, but I can see the excitement in her eyes. “Are you ready to see our daughter?”
Our daughter…I still get chills up and down my spine when Sookie says that. I know biologically it is true; there is a tiny cherub that walks this earth with half my genetic makeup. I’ve seen her, talked with her, and she is the most beautiful little girl to ever exist; I’m sure of it. But it’s still very surreal to realize that I have a daughter. Even in talking with Sookie about everything Allie over the last few days, it’s still an abstract concept. Not for long though.
I grab my beloved’s hand and kiss her palm, my tongue snaking out to lick slowly along the line that runs from her thumb to her wrist. It’s a move I’ve done since we worked at Merlotte’s. Anyone can kiss your hand, but only a lover would do something like this. It is a reminder of the love I have for her, while also reminding her of how much I want her. And Sookie reacts the same way now as she did years ago; her pupils dilate as her irises darken, her breath catches between her wet, parted lips, and if I could see her toes, I’d bet they are curling inside the confines of her shoes.
“I love you, Sookie.”
“I love you, too, Eric,” she says with a happy smile. “Don’t worry, big guy; I’ll protect you from Daddy. He can’t shoot so well if we hide his glasses from him.” Her eyes twinkle with mischief as she hops out of the SUV.
“Not funny, Sookie,” I grumble as I release the mechanism of my seat belt. Opening the door, I find Sookie waiting for me, ready to help me out if I need it. We had chosen to wait a few days before leaving New Orleans, staying in her hotel room since no one expected me to be there. I am more mobile than I was after the first day, but I am still not one hundred percent back to my old self. It’s been six days since the attack; thankfully most of the cuts are now just scabs and the bruising has faded to an ugly yellow color. Still, I get a little wobbly on my feet, so I am thankful for Sookie’s steadying hand when I slide out of the SUV to stand on my feet. She waits until I signal I’m ready before we move towards her family’s home, our hands joined together as we walk towards the porch.
As we’re walking, the screen door opens and a middle-aged couple walks out from the house. It’s like looking in a time machine; I can see exactly how Sookie is going to look in thirty years. The resemblance between them is uncanny. Her mother’s blonde hair is fading from its once bright gold color to white. But her smile is exactly the same as that of the woman holding my hand; it’s as warm as the sun, inviting, and full of happiness. The only difference between Sookie and her mom is their eye color; Sookie’s mom, if I remember correctly from the pictures I’ve seen, has hazel-colored eyes. The love of my life has the same eye color as her father. However, hers always seem to be full of mischief, and there is nothing at all mischievous about the man standing in his jeans and flannel shirt on the porch. In fact, he radiates nothing but hostility. His legs are braced shoulders-width apart at the top of the porch steps and his arms are crossed over his chest. His body is hard and toned from years of working manual labor. But what makes my steps falter is the gun belt strapped to his waist with the gun holstered in it; his hand rests against it.
“Daddy, you stop that right now,” Sookie calls from my side in a laughing tone. She squeezes my hand as we reach the bottom of the porch steps but then she bolts up the steps to her parents. Her mother is the first to embrace her, tears of joy running down both their cheeks even as they giggle happily.
While the two women hug, her father stares at me with an inscrutable expression; if I were a lesser man, I would turn and go back to the car, not willing to put up with his intimidation tactics. I do not back down from his stare; instead, I climb the steps to approach him. When I am two steps beneath him, I stop and put my hand out. “Mr. Stackhouse, my name is Eric Northman. It’s nice to finally meet you.” I wait to see if he will take my hand.
“Daddy,” Sookie says in a warning tone as she stands with her arm around her mother’s waist. Her father continues to stare at me with his hand resting on the hilt of his holstered weapon. I lower my hand slowly when I realize he is not going to shake it. My eyes flicker to Sookie who looks worried for the first time today.
“I’m sorry, darlin’,” he says to Sookie. “I’m happy you’re here, but I can’t pretend to be happy to see him. You mighta been able to forgive him for everything he’s done to you, but I can’t. I don’t care what excuses he gave you, there’s no excuse in this world that’s gonna make me forgive him for breakin’ my baby’s heart,” he says firmly while staring me in the eyes.
Sookie opens her mouth to protest but I hold my hand up to stop her. I return my gaze to her father. I can’t fault him for his thinking; if Allie were to ever go through something similar I would go nuclear. The carnage that I would leave would rival that of some of the most horrific battles in history if my baby girl were to ever come crying to me saying that a stupid boy had cheated on her. I have a new appreciation for Mr. Stackhouse’s position in all of this and I can only hope that when he hears the full explanation of what happened between us he will re-evaluate his position. I know I have yet to interact with Allie in the traditional sense of a father, but I know that I already have all the protective instincts in place. If anything, I’m going to be overprotective to make up for all the time that has been taken from us.
“Mr. Stackhouse, I understand you must feel I betrayed your daughter in every way imaginable. In some ways, I did betray her because I let my career become more important than the love I feel for her. I was young and stupid; I didn’t realize how lucky I truly was to have the most wonderful woman in the world to love me completely.” My head turns and I stare at Sookie whose eyes are shining brightly with emotion. “I lost the woman I love because other people conspired to keep us apart. These same people kept my daughter hidden from me. I can’t go back in time and fix everything, but I promise you, Sookie Stackhouse, you will never have reason to doubt me in the future. I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up to you and Allie what was stolen from us,” I vow. Both Sookie and her mother are crying because of my words. Sookie releases her mother to come hug me, her arms wrapping gently around my waist as she hides her head under my chin. Her tears are warm against my chest and my hand cups her head protectively as I murmur softly to soothe her. My eyes seek out her father. I see where Sookie gets her confused look; it’s the same one her father has now. His head is tilted to the side with his eyes slightly narrowed. One hand scratches the back of his head while the other still rests on the hilt of his gun.
With a sigh, he hands his wife a handkerchief. “If you’re gonna be around the women in this family, always carry a handkerchief,” he advises. “They cry at everything. Hell, Michelle teared up the other day at an ice cream commercial,” he teases his wife.
“I did not,” she protests as she dabs at her eyes, careful not to ruin her makeup. “It was one of those damn ASPCA commercials. I can’t even hear that damn song now without bawlin’ like a baby,” she says with a shake of her head and a laugh. She walks back to the screen door and opens it. “Come on inside you two; it sounds like we’ve got a lot to talk about. There’s coffee and I made a pecan pie for us to have as a snack.”
“Where’s Allie Cat?”
“She’s with Gran over at Jason and Holly’s,” Mrs. Stackhouse explains as we walk in kitchen. You can tell the kitchen has been recently renovated but it still has a cozy, country charm. The cabinets are a stark white with clear glass doors which contrast starkly with the black countertop that looks either marble or granite. All new stainless steel appliances are in their respective niches and the backsplash looks to be some type of glass tile with a large design above the flat stove top. Sookie guides me to the breakfast bar where a warm pecan pie is cooling on the counter. My mouth waters because pecan pie is my absolute favorite. Sookie and Lafayette were always making it when the four of us lived together. That damn pie is the reason I gained fifteen pounds in two months. Once I moved out, I stopped eating it; the pie always tasted like sawdust when I would get it restaurants. I’m sure there was nothing wrong with the pie; it was my own guilty conscience.
“Eric, do you want coffee or tea?” Sookie asks as she reaches in a cabinet with mugs and glasses. I give her a look and she turns back laughing. Never have I acquired a taste for Southern sweet tea; it’s too sweet to me. Sookie brews two cups of coffee using her parents’ Keurig. She sets both mugs on the breakfast bar and goes to the refrigerator for cream before grabbing the sugar bowl. Her mother grabs plates from another cabinet before moving over to the pie. She slices the pie quickly and efficiently, plating two large slices and two smaller ones. Mrs. Stackhouse puts the large slices in front of me and her husband, and slides one of the smaller ones to Sookie. Her mother sits in her seat and looks at Sookie and me expectantly.
“Now, why don’t you and Sookie start at the beginning? Something tells me this isn’t as black and white as we all thought,” she says sagely.
So, Sookie and I tell them everything, leaving nothing out.
A few hours later, dusk settles over the old homestead. It took a while to tell our story, and Sookie’s parents interrupted several times to ask questions. Sookie’s mom cried throughout much of our story until she learned of Pam’s role in all of this, how she orchestrated everything. Then Sookie’s father had to hold her mother back from going to get his shotgun and flying straight up to New York to confront Pam. I definitely see where Sookie gets her spunk. The only thing that had calmed Michelle Stackhouse down was hearing the plan we have hatched against Pam. She makes a few suggestions, things Sookie and I would have never considered. Her primary suggestion is downright outrageous, because I don’t think there is any way we can make that happen.
But what if we could?
It’s an idea that’s almost too preposterous to entertain. But now that it’s taken root in my brain, I can’t let it go. I will have to call my lawyer and see if we can make this happen. Maybe not now, but definitely something worth pursuing in a few weeks.
Sookie’s father did not say much of anything after we finished our tale. I had hoped that hearing I never actually betrayed his daughter would change his attitude towards me, but he said nothing. When Michelle and Sookie had begun to prepare dinner, Corbett went outside to sit on the porch. The smell of a cigar drifted in through the open screen door and the sound of a rocking chair thumping against the wooden porch was the only sound he made. I looked at Sookie for guidance, but she too looked at a loss for words. Her mother had whispered that her father would come around eventually, that he was simply being stubborn. He had it all set up in his mind that I was the villain and now he has to change his way of thinking.
“Eric, get out here,” Corbett’s voice calls through the open door.
Sookie and I share a look and she tries to smile reassuringly. With both reluctance and stiffness from having sat too long in the same position, I walk slowly out to the porch. Corbett is nearly halfway through his cigar, the end glowing in the soft light of dusk. I stand along the porch railing, too sore from the plane, car ride, and then sitting in the kitchen to even think of sitting in the rocking chair next to Corbett. The silence stretches between us. I expect it, yet it is unnerving. I’m also getting nervous because I know Allie will be here soon. Sookie’s entire family will be here for dinner; her parents, her brother and his wife, as well as her beloved Gran. The house we are in now actually belongs to her Gran, but when she’d suffered a massive heart attack years ago, Sookie’s parents had moved in with her to help take care of her. Jason’s brother had moved in to her parents’ old home which is where he and his wife now live. Gran has stayed with Jason’s wife because she is supposed to be on bed rest during the last stages of her pregnancy. And because they knew we were coming today, Gran had taken Allie with her so that we could have some privacy for our initial conversation with her parents.
“That’s quite a story you and my baby girl told,” Corbett finally says when his cigar is little more than a stub between his lips. He takes the cigar out of his mouth and crushes the end in a bucket of sand that sits by his side. “So what am I supposed to do with it? Is all of that supposed to erase the six years I’ve spent detesting everything about you? Am I supposed to welcome you with open arms and call you ‘Son’ now that everything is OK?” He looks at me expectantly as if I am supposed to have all the answers.
“I would at least hope that for the sake of your daughter and your granddaughter that you would be willing to be more open-minded and get to know the person I really am as opposed to the person you thought me to be,” I say while staring at him in challenge. I refuse to be scared of him anymore. He knows the truth; if he doesn’t want to accept it, that’s his problem. The only two people whose opinions I care about are the woman I love and my daughter. If he doesn’t like it, screw him.
I’ll never admit that out loud, unless he does something to Sookie or Allie. Then all bets are off.
Corbett stares at me for a moment, his eyes narrowing as he assesses me in the dying light. I look at him without blinking. The silence spreads between the two of us only to be broken by the sound of tires coming down the drive. My head turns towards the car, excitement suddenly taking over as I realize my daughter is here.
As the car moves slowly down the drive, Corbett rises from his rocking chair. He comes to stand next to me, the first genuine smile I’ve seen on his face as he looks at the incoming vehicle.
“I’ll tell you what; we’ll revisit this conversation in about ten years or so when some asshole is sniffing around your little girl. Then you can tell me what you would do if you were me,” he says with a knowing look as the vehicle stops. The doors of the vehicle open and I can hear Allie’s excited chatter coming from within. An elderly woman climbs out of the backseat followed by a little angel.
My little angel.
I don’t need to wait ten years to have that conversation with Corbett. I already know how I’d feel.
“Yeah,” he says as his grin widens and he slaps me on the shoulder when he sees my face harden. “I thought you’d see things my way. Don’t worry; I’ll make sure you know how to shoot a gun before then.” Corbett winks at me before heading towards the house. Sookie passes her father as she comes to stand next to me on the porch.
“In case you couldn’t tell, that was him welcoming you to the family,” she says with a happy smile.
Family… I watch as Allie comes running towards us, shouting with excitement. I can definitely get used to that.