Around the time the doorman rang to inform us that the food had arrived I was finally getting feeling back in my legs. Eric went to handle all of that while I got up to go to the bathroom. I needed to get cleaned up a little bit. Eric paused in the walk-in closet and emerged with an army green t-shirt that said “Michigan State” on the front of it.
“Just in case you don’t want to walk around naked,” he said with a charming little wink.
“Thanks.” I wasn’t really one to walk around naked but that was probably because I hadn’t ever really lived on my own.
Even during my college years I had only gone to Tulane, which wasn’t too far from home in St. James Parish. Through all four years of school I had at least one roommate, so walking around naked wasn’t an option. Jessica and I had gone pantsless a few times on really hot days, but otherwise, we kept our clothes on. My roommate freshman and sophomore year had come from a really strict Christian family. It actually surprised me she hadn’t been forced to go to one of those fundamentalist Bible colleges in Kansas.
We remained friends beyond graduation. Jessica got a degree in early education since she couldn’t get a degree in housewifery. She had since opened her own daycare in her little hometown outside of Shreveport. Jessica was also married with three kids, so I didn’t see much of her even before I left Louisiana. Her husband was an okay guy. Hoyt was sweet and supportive, and maybe most important, he didn’t tolerate her father’s abusive behavior.
After I got cleaned up, I put on the Michigan State shirt. It just barely reached my thighs. I walked out of the bathroom and went out to search for the kitchen. I found Eric there unpacking the food he had ordered. It was obviously more than just the General Tso’s chicken he had proposed. I saw egg rolls, fried rice, sweet ‘n sour chicken, and some spicy beef dish I didn’t recognize off hand.
“Smells great,” I said to Eric, who was getting down plates.
“Best Chinese food in the city,” he said. He handed me a plate. “Help yourself. There’s plenty.”
“What’s the beef?”
“Uh, Kung Pao,” he said.
“I think I’m going to pass on that, but I’m all in on the chicken.” I spooned some white rice onto my plate before adding the General Tso’s on top of it. I was glad the sweet ‘n sour chicken wasn’t soaking in the sauce. It was so much better when the chicken was crispy. Eric began making his plate as well.
“Do you want to eat inside or out on the patio?”
“If it’s not too windy, the patio would be nice.” It was late, almost ten o’clock. I didn’t realize we had been in bed for so long, but it was worth it. I needed to call Gran and let her know I was okay. Letting her know where I was had become even more important after losing Hadley.
The constant worry about where one of her grandkids was was enough for her. She didn’t need to be worrying about me too. I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t okay when I was.
“Can you excuse me for a second? I have to make a phone call,” I said.
“Yeah, of course,” he replied.
I slipped out of the kitchen and located my purse on the dining room table. As usual, my phone was at the bottom of the bag. I pulled it out and quickly found Gran’s number. We had a house line because she insisted on it, but in turn I had insisted that she have a cell phone. She had poo-pooed the idea at first, but she was an active woman and Manhattan was a big city. Since she refused to have someone escort her around every day, she had to have the phone. To make her feel better about it I had gotten her one of those AARP old lady flip phones that no thief was likely to want to steal from her. It took six months of arguing with her before she started to remember to turn the damn thing on when she left the house.
“Hello,” Gran said when she picked up the house phone across town.
“Hi, Gran,” I said. “I just wanted to check in.”
“Oh Sookie, I was starting to wonder about you.” She didn’t sound too concerned but it was because I called her to let her know where I was or when I’d be home.
“I’m sorry, I got a little caught up in what I was doing. I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay. I’m not sure what time I’ll be home.”
“You’re a young woman. You stay out as long as you want. I’m just fine here. I’ll be watching the news and then off to bed myself,” she told me.
“Okay. Well you know if you need anything all you have to do is call.”
“I know. You have fun doing what you’re doing. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Alright. Goodnight, Gran.” I hung up and put my phone back in my bag. When I turned around Eric was standing there with both of our plates.
“Fine,” I smiled. I took my plate from him. “When we met the other day I was there as my grandmother’s escort. I live with her, so I don’t like to be out too late without letting her know I’m okay.”
“I’m sure she appreciates that.”
“She does.” I didn’t want to talk about Hadley. She was a big part of my life, despite not physically being in it at the moment.
I followed Eric back to his bedroom. I hadn’t paid attention to the french doors leading out to the balcony. Eric had a little table and two chairs set up out there. I wasn’t sure what floor we were on, but it was high up. The view was impressive. The city looked beautiful from up there. I was sure he paid a few million just for the view. Eric pulled out a chair for me and I took a seat. He was dressed only in a pair of pajama pants when he sat across from me.
“So did you go to Michigan State?” It seemed like a reasonable question to ask given the shirt I was wearing.
“I did,” he confirmed. “I’m actually from the Midwest, which was why I chose Michigan State. It was close to home. I double majored in marketing and business.”
“Wow. One major was enough for me,” I chuckled.
I left out that I’d been thinking about going back to school to pursue a degree in political science. My sister going missing made me want to help others with missing family members. There had to be answers out there somewhere.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself when I started college. I had drive, so I went for it,” he shrugged.
“Good for you. It seems you’ve made a pretty good life out of that uncertainty.” I speared a piece of General Tso’s chicken and put it in my mouth. Yum.
“I have,” he nodded. Eric took a bite of his food. “After college I moved here to be with my ex-wife. We met in college and she got a job offer in the city. I moved all my shit out here six months later.”
“Do you like New York? It took me a while to get used to it. It’s nothing like rural Louisiana.”
“It took me time to adjust as well,” he said. “I’ve been here close to twenty years and it’s home now. It’s weird to go back to Indiana these days.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.” I hadn’t been down to Louisiana for a while. Gran would go down a few times a year to check on the house and make sure everything was okay down there. Not to mention, I think she needed the break from all the noise and activity. At almost eighty-years-old, Gran pushed herself to stay active so she didn’t get old.
“How long have you been here?” He took another bite of chicken.
“Three years as of March.” Five months after Hadley disappeared I moved to New York. Gran followed a short time later. I was actually surprised when she came up. I thought she would stay in Louisiana in case Hadley turned up there.
“Do you plan on going back to Louisiana?”
“For visits, sure, but I couldn’t live there again after living in New York. I don’t know if I see myself here forever, but for now it’s home.”
“I have to leave the city every now and then,” he told me. “It gets to be too much sometimes. I grew up on a farm, so all of this,” he waved out over the city, “Can still be a lot.”
“I know. I grew up on a sugarcane plantation, so I completely understand.”
He hummed quietly before saying, “I just had an image of you on a farm… I like it.”
“You think a girl all sweaty and streaked with dirt is sexy?” I never saw working out in the fields as sexy, but hey, there was something for everyone.
“I didn’t imagine you sweaty and dirt streaked,” he chuckled.
“Did you imagine some chick shaking her butt on a tractor like a Luke Bryan video?” I laughed.
“Definitely. He has a good thing going with that song,” he laughed with me.
“I danced on a tractor once but there was a lot of apple pie moonshine involved,” I admitted.
“I’m sad I missed that,” he winked.
“Well get your hands on some apple pie moonshine and a tractor, and I might recreate it for you,” I replied. I bit into the egg roll and I was relieved to find it wasn’t full of grease.
“I might be able to do that. You’d be surprised at what I can get my hands on.”
“A tractor in New York City… I suppose stranger things have happened here.”
“We’d probably have to leave the city,” he laughed. “Although, I have seen some pretty weird shit here.”
“This city idles at weird shit,” I snickered.
“That’s an understatement.” He picked up his egg roll and took half of it in one bite.
“So… the audition…” I said after a few quiet minutes.
“It went well. How do you feel it went?”
“Pretty good,” I casually answered. “I wouldn’t mind being seen in public with you again.”
“What about coming over here in nothing but a trench coat and heels so I can have my way with you?”
“That could maybe be arranged. Are you only looking for a fuck buddy?” He’d said he wanted to get back into dating, so I wanted to be clear about his view of what our relationship would look like.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m looking for. I stay pretty busy so it’s hard to date, but I also don’t want to see other women. If it turns into a relationship, I’m not opposed to that,” he told me. “Dinner together when I can get the evening off, maybe a show now and then…”
“With lots of nudity in between, I imagine.”
“Yes,” he smiled. “Is that okay with you?”
“Truthfully, I wasn’t really looking for a relationship,” I told him. “I have a lot going on with my career right now and I’m okay with letting that be my focus. I’m not opposed to spending time with someone, but I don’t know if I’d let it be my focus in life.”
The more time went by, the less I was sure about whether or not I wanted to be a wife and mother. I used to think that was my end game. I wanted to be someone’s wife and a mom to three or four little someones, but the picture started to change after I lost Hadley. Finding her was a bigger priority than being a mom, and I knew as long as she was missing, a part of me would be gone too.
Sometimes I’d hear my sister’s voice in the back of my head, telling me not to get too jaded or to let my sadness overrule the things I’d always wanted. I had to ask myself if the change was because of me or because of her, but the sad thing was, there wasn’t much difference. It had been years since I felt her, but I refused to give up. Even if Detective Weiss was right that we were only searching for a body, I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t accept that my sister had been reduced to nothing more than a bunch of bones.
“Sounds like this might be a good thing for both of us,” Eric stated.
“Might be,” I agreed. I was okay with him not expecting to take up all my time. “Just so you know, this is the most unconventional first date I’ve ever been on.”
“I’m glad I can pop your unconventional date cherry,” he chuckled. “So far it’s been fun. I hope it continues after dinner.”
“What did you have in mind for after dinner?”
“I’m just pausing to refuel,” he told me. “I’d like to get you out of that shirt again and continue to have my way with you.”
“So for you sex is a marathon, not a sprint,” I smiled.
“As long as I have time for the marathon. Tonight I do. I’ll promise now to never leave you unsatisfied in this relationship, if we continue to do this.”
“That’s a pretty big promise.”
“Mmhmm. I don’t make promises I can’t keep,” he smiled.
“That’s good. What are three things I should know about you?” I scooped up some fried rice and a piece of chicken.
He set his food down while he thought about it. A few seconds passed before he said, “I already told you I keep my promises, so I won’t count that in the three. I’m very passionate about the relationships I have, whether it be a sexual relationship or platonic. I give a hundred percent. I talk to my mother every other day, even if I don’t have anything new to tell her. I’m allergic to shellfish.”
“That last one is especially good to know.” I didn’t want to show up with food that could kill him. It was also a relief to hear he had a good relationship with his mother. I was a strong believer that a man who treated his mother well did the same for his significant other.
“I learned the hard way. My parents didn’t eat it, so I didn’t know until I was an adult. I spent half of my first spring break in the hospital after I ate lobster for the first time. It was delicious, but deadly.”
“Yikes. That sucks. I’m glad you survived it, obviously.”
“Me too. I’m pretty sure I wished death about a thousand times. My whole body was swollen. My eyes were stuck shut, that was why I had to stay in the hospital so long. I’m severely allergic.”
“Well now if I wanted to kill you I’d know how,” I joked.
“Please don’t,” he laughed. “I go to a lot of parties I can’t eat at. People think I’m being rude but I don’t feel like I have to tell everyone I come in contact with I might die if I eat shrimp.”
“That’s fair. Although they might back off if you tell them that,” I chuckled.
“I’ll tell them if they get pushy.” He picked up his food again so he could take a bite of sweet and sour chicken.
The wind picked up and I got cold. It was hard to eat at that point. Instead I sat back and pulled my knees up to tuck them underneath the shirt I had on.
“What? It’s cold,” I said when Eric gave me a strange look.
“We can go in,” he offered.
“You don’t want me stretching your shirt out?”
“You’re more than welcome to stretch it out. If you’re cold, I’d rather get you warm,” he told me. “I don’t think any stretching you do will ruin that shirt. In twenty years, it’s taken a beating.”
“We can go inside. I’ll have to check out this view when it’s a little brighter outside.” I let my legs down and picked up my plate to follow Eric back inside.
He waited for me to walk into his apartment before he closed the door. He took his plate to the kitchen to set it on the counter.
“Would you like some water?”
He grabbed two glasses from the cabinet before going to the fridge to fill them with ice and water. Eric walked over to hand me the glass. Before he released it he leaned over to give me a soft, lingering peck.
“I’m happy I met you,” he said quietly.
“I’m happy I met you too.” I smiled when his glass of water clinked against mine before he took a drink. He was charming, I’d give him that. I was excited to see him again and the night wasn’t over yet.
Gran was at the dining table when I got home. She was reading the newspaper and sipping coffee. It was just after seven in the morning.
“Hi, Gran,” I said.
“Have a good night?” she asked as she looked me up and down.
“I did.” I set my purse and Starbucks cup on the credenza and slipped off my red pumps. It was obvious I was coming home in my clothes from the day before, even though I had a bag of bagels and cream cheese under my arm.
“Care to tell me where you were?”
“I met a man at Dr. Brigant’s office the other day and he invited me out for drinks,” I told her. I brought the bag to the table and began to unpack the bagels and cream cheese. “I got you cinnamon raisin, if you’re hungry.”
“I’ll eat it in a little bit. Tell me about this man you apparently spent the night with.”
I went to the kitchen for a couple of plates and knives to bring back to the table. Before I sat down I retrieved my coffee from the credenza.
“His name is Eric Northman. He has a successful talent agency here in the city. He has degrees from Michigan State in business and marketing. He’s divorced, but no kids.” I grabbed a banana nut bagel and started to slice it.
“Do I get to meet him? I assume you’re going to see him again.” She took a sip of her coffee.
“I’m sure you will at some point. We each agreed that a relationship isn’t our top priority,” I said. I reached for the strawberry cream cheese to spread some on my bagel.
“What are the kids calling that these days? Friends with benefits?” she chuckled.
“Something like that. It is what it is.”
“I’m not sure how all that works, but if that two of you have it figured out, I can’t say anything about it.”
“I’m not sure how it works either. If it doesn’t work for me, we’ll go our separate ways.” I took a drink of the coffee. “He has a very nice penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side. Great view from up there.”
“Do you plan on seeing him often?”
“I don’t know. We just met.”
“As long as he stays respectful I don’t have a problem with it,” she told me. “I do want to meet the young man you’re spending time with, though.”
“I’ll see what I can do. He’s originally from the Midwest. He grew up on a farm in Indiana and he calls his mother regularly.”
“That’s a good sign. If he has a good relationship with his mother, he’ll treat you well too,” she said. “If I don’t get to meet him right away I want to see what he looks like.”
I got up to retrieve my phone. I didn’t take any pictures of him, but Google was amazing. So I launched the Chrome app and searched for Eric Northman. Sure enough, I found a few photos of him. My favorite was one of him in a tux at the last Met Gala. I turned the phone to show Gran.
“Oh, he’s a handsome one,” Gran said as she studied the picture. “Very tall, too.”
“He is. I won’t have to worry about Little Man Syndrome,” I said.
“That’s good. I feel like Bill had a touch of that,” she chuckled.
“Yes he did,” I confirmed. Bill was six-feet-tall so if I wore heels I was taller than him by an inch or two, but it bugged him.
“Well, I wish you luck with this fella,” she said.
“Thank you.” Eric and I didn’t have firm plans to meet again, but I was sure we would. The alarm went off on my phone to remind me that I was meeting my source in two hours. I needed to eat and get ready so I could get on with my day.