“I think Dr. Brigant is sweet on you,” I said to Gran when we reached her eye doctor’s office. She’d been seeing Dr. Fintan Brigant, opthamologist, for the last three years. Like Gran, he was getting on in years and the two of them always seemed to be like pre-teens when they got near each other. It was kind of cute to watch, actually.
Of course Gran always poo-pooed that idea, insisting there was no way a sophisticated doctor would be interested in a little old southern belle like her. Like me, Gran had grown up in rural Louisiana. She was the only heir to an old fortune in sugarcane. The family home was currently closed up to preserve it in our absence, but Gran being Gran, she couldn’t bear to part with it. Family history was important to her, which was a big part of how we ended up in Manhattan three years ago.
“Oh, he’s not,” she chuckled. “He’s just a nice man.”
“He is, but he gets all flustered when he talks to you,” I pointed out.
“You might be getting senile, young lady,” Gran snickered.
“Or maybe you’re in denial.”
“No, ma’am. Plus, I’m too old for datin’. Maybe you should look into meetin’ someone,” she suggested.
“You’re not too old for dating. You have your faculties and a pulse,” I said, making her laugh. “Besides, I have a lot going on right now. I don’t know where I’d fit in a boyfriend.”
“You have plenty of places to insert a boyfriend into your life,” she told me. “You just don’t want to.”
I thought it over for a minute before saying, “That’s fair. I just haven’t met anyone worth reorganizing my time for.”
Gran went to the reception desk to check in for her appointment while I took a seat in the surprisingly quiet waiting room. It was pretty much what anyone might expect for a waiting room at eye doctor’s office. Ads for different types of glasses or contacts were posted around the room. Publications about general health were stacked on the tables that broke up the seats that could be in any other waiting room or even hotel lobby across the country. The carpet was an odd shade of green, somewhere between sage and avocado. HGTV was playing on the TV, which would keep Gran entertained while she waited for her name to be called. Once she was checked in, she came over and took a seat next to me.
“Besides,” she continued on. “I’m pretty sure Dr. Brigant is married.”
“What makes you say that? I’ve never seen a ring on his finger.”
“He has pictures on his office,” she said. “I don’t ask about them.”
“Maybe she’s dead,” I suggested.
“Possible,” Gran agreed.
“I hope so,” I said, earning a smack on my arm from Gran.
“Sookie, you can’t wish that kind of stuff on people. I taught you better than that.”
“I’m not wishing for it,” I argued. “Wishing and hoping are two different things.”
“Not in this case,” she told me.
“If he is single, would you go on a date with him?”
“I’m too old for datin’,” she repeated. “He’s a nice, handsome man but I’m not sure about all that.”
I knew better than to keep pressing her on it, so I turned my eyes to the TV. I snorted when I saw Chip Gaines skedaddling around with a silly cowboy hat on.
“How would you like to have to lasso that knucklehead on a daily basis?” I chuckled.
“He seems like fun,” Gran smiled. “I think I’d have a good time with him. You need a fun-loving man like Chip.”
“Oh I do, huh? You mean Bill wasn’t fun enough for you?” My most recent ex was, to put it nicely, a stick in the mud.
“That stuffy old man needs to find someone to pull the corn cob out of his rear end. He may feel a sense of relief so wonderful her might be able to smile for once.”
I couldn’t have held back my laughter if I wanted to. I knew Gran liked that he was stable in the sense of having a job and all that. He also appreciated historical things, just like she did. Unfortunately, he wasn’t ever going to be the type to whisk me away for a long weekend or to go out to Coney Island just to ride the Ferris Wheel. Bill was very regimented and methodical. I’d tried to break down that icy exterior of his, but there was no melting it. I needed someone I could get close to and trust, and Bill just wasn’t it.
I looked to see a nurse in the doorway, holding onto a tablet instead of a folder. My how things had changed. I helped Gran out of her chair but stayed in the waiting room while she went back to meet with Dr. Brigant.
I watched Joanna try to wrangle Chip in for a while before I pulled my cell phone out of my purse to play a word search game instead. Gran could watch HGTV for hours but I had my fill after about two segments’ worth. It just so happened I had a text waiting for me from a source on an article I was working on. I smiled to see that my source had the info I had been waiting for and wanted to meet in the next few days to pass the information off to me. I sent a text back to make an appointment to meet at Empire Diner, as we’d done several times in the last few months.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall man enter the waiting room. Quickly I side eyed him, intending just to glance that way. Over six feet, blonde, broad in all the right places. There was enough bass in his voice that I heard it clearly over the din of conversation and the commercials playing on TV.
Eric Northman was his name.
My eyes went back to my phone to start the word search game, but they glanced up again when he was finished checking in for his appointment. I didn’t intend to watch him walk across the room but it was hard not to. There was something about him that drew my eye, and not just the fact that he was a very good looking man. He didn’t have a perfect face, oddly. There was something about his nose that was less than perfect and when he smiled at me I could see he had just a bit of an overbite. It was charming, though, and not nearly enough to make him unattractive. If anything, those imperfections made him that much more attractive.
I felt my lips curve up in a smile of their own, but instead of introducing myself or saying something terribly awkward, I returned my attention to the word search.
I was still looking down when I saw a shadow before the shadow disappeared and I felt his body heat radiating off of him when Eric Northman sat next to me.
“Hello,” he said directly to me.
My head snapped up and I looked to my right where he was seated. Upon closer inspection, he had beautiful turquoise blue eyes.
“Hello,” I replied.
“I’m Eric.” He offered his big hand to me.
“Sookie.” I shook his hand. It practically swallowed mine.
“Pretty name for a pretty girl,” he said with a flirty smile.
“Thanks. I’d ask what brought you here, but I’m not that blonde.”
“Good to know,” he chuckled. “I couldn’t help but to come talk to you. You managed to catch my attention without even saying a word.”
“Is that good or bad?” I turned off my phone screen and slipped it in my purse.
“I hope it’s good for both of us. You have a beautiful smile.”
“Thank you, so do you.”
“You’re being too nice.” His smile got a little bigger. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but do you have a boyfriend? Or a husband, or a wife, or girlfriend…”
“None of the above. My grandmother was just giving me a hard time about being painfully single,” I admitted. “What about you? Wife, fiance, husband?”
“Wife once upon a time, but she’s moved on to greener pastures with a nice man named Stanley,” he told me. “I am currently single and actively looking.” His eyes flicked down to my chest before meeting mine again.
“Auditioning, so to speak?”
“Auditioning would be a fitting word,” he agreed.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever auditioned for someone before.” There was a first time for everything, and I liked that he was being mostly polite but not exactly shy about any attraction he was feeling either.
“How would you like to audition for me sometime?” he asked.
“Depends. What do I have to do?”
“How about we talk about it over drinks?” he suggested.
“I think that’s a good start,” I agreed with a smile.
He looked up at the nurse that called his name so she knew he heard her. He stood up from his chair and reached into his back pocket to pull out his wallet. Eric retrieved a business card and walked over to the check in desk. He used a pen to scribble something down before bringing it back to me.
“That’s my personal cell on the back. Call me.” He turned to follow the nurse back to an exam room.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch his ass as he walked away. It was totally worth it if he caught me looking.
I sighed and looked down at the business card once Eric was gone. He had neat handwriting, which was impressive. Most men I knew wrote like they were having a grand mal seizure while doing it. I flipped the card over to find that he was the CEO of a talent agency. Interesting.
All I knew about the entertainment business I learned from my twin sister. Hadley was older than me by twenty-four minutes. She was my fraternal twin, but we looked damn near identical. The differences in our appearance was subtle. Her eyes were hazel while mine were blue. Her lips were a bit fuller while my hair was a little thicker. Both of us topped out at 5’10” and had a thicker frame. Big boned, as they say.
But our appearances were where the similarities stopped.
At the tender age of eight, my twin decided that she wanted to be a movie star. Hadley, from the time we were born, needed attention the way everyone else needed oxygen. If she wasn’t the focus of everyone around her, she was unhappy and annoying. Maybe it was because from the time she in the womb she had an audience. I couldn’t say. Hadley started out doing local things, beauty pageants and commercials for nearby car dealerships or restaurants. It took years of sending out audition tapes and doing theater productions before anyone took any real interest in her.
Then puberty hit.
At fifteen she was cast on a CW nighttime drama aimed at the teenage demographic. They wanted fresh faces and my sister had the perfect body to play the stereotypical high school slutty type. She threw in a little bit of the Jessica Simpson dumb blonde routine and overnight she had fans. That show ran for five years before it was cancelled. Now my sister didn’t make the same kind of money she might have made on NBC or another national network, but it was the most money she ever made for a job.
The success and notoriety went to her head. For years Maryann Forrester was Hadley’s manager and guardian since she was too young to be living alone at fifteen. Our parents had been killed in a flash flood when we were ten and Gran had been given custody of us. No way would Gran have ever let us end up in the foster care system. At that time, Gran had too many responsibilities to oversee at the family farm to be uprooting for a move to California for Hadley’s career. Having Maryann appointed as a guardian seemed like a good idea. She seemed responsible and dedicated to Hadley.
When the money started rolling in, things began to change. I noticed a change in Hadley’s personality. At first I thought maybe it was just all the pressure she was under to do well and keep herself looking like a million bucks. When she’d come home to Louisiana for a visit, it drove her nuts that she couldn’t indulge herself on Gran’s sweet rolls or scarf down beignets at Café du Monde like we used to when we’d go to New Orleans. At the age of eighteen, it was obvious to me that she had a drinking problem.
Gran, bless her heart, never wanted to see the bad in either of us girls. We got away with far more than we should have, especially Hadley. It became really clear that Maryann wasn’t as good of a guardian as we thought she was. Since Hadley was an adult, there was nothing anyone could do. It surprised us all when she married her first boyfriend, Remy Savoy, when Hadley was nineteen. He’d broken up with her years before because he couldn’t stand to be away from her. Three weeks before filming began on the final season of her TV show, Hadley confided that she was pregnant.
Motherhood was going to be her next full-time job. I was both surprised and happy, and also a little suspicious that Remy had somehow talked her into it because Hadley had never been interested in being a mother. Her career ambitions were too big for children. Having lost our own parents at such a young age, Hadley had responsibly decided that she couldn’t bear to abandon her kids for months at a time to go shoot on location somewhere. It was just too much for her. She wanted the adoration of many instead of the primal love of one.
When or how that switch got flipped I couldn’t say, but eight months later Hadley gave birth to a beautiful baby boy she named Hunter Mitchell Savoy. She was just twenty at the time. For a while everything seemed good. She was enjoying the wife and mother bit. Hunter was primarily her responsibility. Remy was happy as a pig in shit with their traditional arrangement. She stayed home with the kid while he worked and went to school to become a civil engineer. For a while it was a good deal for everyone but just as I feared, it didn’t last.
Three years after giving birth to Hunter, it was obvious my sister was starting to slide. The bubble had burst. I felt it in my own skin. For as long as I could remember, Hadley and I had a sixth sense when it came to each other. We couldn’t read each other’s minds, but I suppose we were extremely empathetic to one another. When her appendix ruptured when we were kids I felt it. Her heart broke with mind when I was sixteen and JB du Rhone broke up with me because I was fat. Hadley was in the middle of filming a scene and she burst into tears that had no business being part of the scene she was filming. It was because of me and my heartbreak.
The downward spiral Hadley went into was sharp and severed her family ties. She filed for divorce from Remy and started contacting Maryann again to see if she had any connections that would be willing to help her get her career rebooted. The worst part was when she signed away her rights to Hunter. How she just walked away from her baby after almost four years, I would never understand. Hadley moved to New York, hoping to land a part on a soap opera or something like that. She didn’t really want to do theater, but if she had to, New York was the place to be.
Getting her career fired up again wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Since she hadn’t been mainstream successful when she stepped out of the little bit of spotlight she had, a lot of people passed her over. It was a hard way to live. She was waiting tables at an upscale restaurant to pay the bills and essentially whoring herself out to every audition she could get. It was frustrating but Hadley seemed somewhat invigorated by the process.
Then, three months after our twenty-sixth birthday she disappeared. October 17, 2012 she was supposed to audition for a small role in a Lifetime movie. It wasn’t a big part, but it was something and she was really excited about it. I was waiting by the phone for her to call me and tell me how it went. She never called. I called her. I sent texts. She didn’t respond. There were a lot of people in the world she would ignore. I was never one of them. I knew all her deep, dark secrets so it felt incredibly wrong that she didn’t call to tell me how it went. Even if she tanked, she would have said so.
So I got on a plane and went to New York. I had a key to her apartment but I was afraid of going in alone. If it was a crime scene, I didn’t want to contaminate it. I’d watched enough CSI and true crime shows to know how easy it was to fuck up evidence. So instead I went to the local precinct to see if I could get a wellness check or something. The police didn’t really take me seriously and said I was going to have to wait until Hadley had been missing forty-eight hours before they could do anything. She wasn’t old, infirm or “at risk” to be in need of medical assistance. Not answering her phone wasn’t reason enough for them to kick her door in.
I got a hotel room and kept trying. I talked to everyone I could think of that might know where she was. In desperation I even called Remy, but he hadn’t spoken to her directly since they finalized the divorce. Hunter had no contact with his mother. I did, but she didn’t. It was fucked up and confusing for him. No one had heard a peep from Hadley since the night before her audition. The last person to talk to her was her friend Sophie, and she said that Hadley was going out to meet her mystery man lover.
That was the first time I heard anything about Hadley seeing someone, which was strange. No one knew who he was, how they met, or any other details. Hadley had been very secretive about him. I went to her apartment, finally, hoping to find a diary or something. Nothing was out of place, except I noticed she’d left her phone behind. It was sitting on the coffee table with a dead battery. If she left her phone behind, something was definitely wrong. She would have brought it just in case something changed with the audition. As soon as the forty-eight hours were up I went right back to the police station and filed a missing person’s report.
More than three years had passed and I was no closer to knowing where my sister was than I had been when I made the decision to move to New York to investigate myself. The slow speed that the police were moving at annoyed me. Hadley wasn’t a priority for them. She was just another pretty blonde girl who went missing. For all they cared she was raped and thrown into the Hudson. Maybe they didn’t care but I did. So did Gran.
I didn’t realize how much time had gone by until Gran was tapping my shoulder. She had those rollup black terminator looking shades on to protect her dilated eyes.
“Is he married?” I asked when I realized Dr. Brigant had escorted Gran out of her appointment.
“I didn’t ask,” she replied.
“Are you married, Dr. Brigant?” I asked.
“I’m a widower,” he smiled at me. “I’m flattered, but I do believe you’re a touch too young for me, Miss Stackhouse.”
“I’m asking for Gran,” I clarified.
“I know,” he chuckled. He looked over at Gran and said, “I am no longer married. It’s very kind of your granddaughter to ask me such a thing. If you’re interested in going on a date sometime you have my number.”
“Thank you, Dr. Brigant,” Gran smiled and left it at that.
I didn’t push my luck by suggesting they meet for coffee sometime. Gran knew where I slept, after all. I stood up and let Gran take my arm so I could guide her out of the office.
“It was nice to see you again, Dr. Brigant,” I said.
“Likewise,” he nodded at me before he turned to go back into the door they came from.
“So how did it go?” I asked Gran as we walked toward the elevator so we could leave the hospital.
“I can still see, if you can imagine that,” she chuckled.
“You’re not that old.” I pushed the button to call the elevator. “So… would you go on a date with him?”
“I don’t know, Sookie. He’s a nice man, but like I said I’m too old for all that.”
“Well you could be friends, at least. Maybe have coffee or have him over for dinner once in a while,” I suggested.
“Or you can let me figure out my own love life,” she countered. “I will call him if I choose to and you’ll be the first to know.”
I didn’t say anything else about it. Gran and I boarded the elevator and rode down to the first floor. I led her out of the building and hailed us a cab to get back across town to our apartment. We had a two bedroom place in Chelsea. Our bedrooms were at opposite ends of the apartment so we had a little privacy from one another. I loved living with Gran, but I didn’t want us to be on top of each other. Someday I hoped we would find Hadley and bring her home. To me, we weren’t searching for a body like the police said.
No matter how little progress was being made in the search for her, I would never give up on finding my twin.