In order to help eliminate temptation, I opted to wear pants on Tuesday. I didn’t know where Eric and I were going, but just about everywhere required we dress nicely. I opted to go for white pants and a layered scoop neck top that showed off an appropriate amount of cleavage. Just as I was finishing up getting my makeup on I heard Gran talking to someone, followed by the unmistakable sound of Eric’s voice.
I stepped out of the bathroom to find Gran holding a potted orchid. She was grinning from ear to ear, but I couldn’t blame her. Eric had brought her a beautiful plant. If he let her, she’d drag him up to our rooftop garden where she was growing her own herbs and had quite the flower garden growing. Gran had insisted that wherever we end up she had to be able to have a garden. Gardening was her Zen thing.
“That’s a beautiful orchid, Gran,” I commented. Eric just scored mucho points with that.
“Your handsome new beau has good taste,” she smiled.
Eric unveiled a bouquet of golden daffodils he had hiding behind his back.
“For you, Lover,” he said with a charming little wink.
“Thank you. I love daffodils. They’re so cheerful.” I took the bouquet from him but I knew Gran would be the one to trim them down so I could get going. “I’m just about ready. I bet Gran has some grilling to do before we leave.”
“Of course I do,” she chuckled. “Go get ready. He’ll be in one piece when you’re out, honey.”
“He better.” I winked at Eric and went back to my bedroom to get my shoes. I located a pair of pumps that belonged to my sister.
After it became obvious that the police weren’t going to be expending a whole lot of energy trying to find Hadley, I made the executive decision to box up her things and put them in storage. Her apartment was too expensive to keep paying her rent from month to month. Before the divorce she had put aside a sizeable amount of money in a trust for Hunter. She knew she wasn’t capable of being in his day to day life like he needed her to be, but she did love him. Hadley wanted him to have a good shot in life, so she’d established a trust of a quarter million dollars that he could access by annuity once he turned twenty-five. I was listed as the executor of her estate.
She hadn’t been declared legally dead. Seven years she had to pass first with no sign of life. We were more than halfway there.
I slipped on the fancy Badgley Mischka pumps with crystals at the toe and heel. The plan was to come home but Eric could be awfully persuasive, so I opted to carry a bigger bag that contained a change of clothes. Just a pair of leggings and a long t-shirt, nothing fancy. I found a pair of comfy flats and tucked those in my bag too. Last but not least, in went my toiletry bag and my phone charger. On my way out of the bedroom I turned off the lights. I brought the daffodils to the kitchen so Gran could trim them and get them in a vase.
“We have a reservation at 7,” Eric told me.
“Should I expect to see you home tonight?” Gran asked me.
“I plan to be home tonight. We’ll see how bad of an influence Eric is on me.”
“I’m a great influence,” he winked. “You look absolutely stunning, by the way.”
“Thank you. You look nice too.” He was in a suit again, but that wasn’t a surprise.
“You two have fun tonight. Eric, I’m going to hold you to that promise,” she told him.
“I’m a man of my word, Mrs. Stackhouse,” he smiled.
I crossed the small space to hug Gran.
“If I see Scott Conant I’ll get his autograph,” I whispered. She had a little crush on the celebrity chef.
“Oooh, you better,” she grinned. “Have a good time, Sookie. You deserve it.”
“I will. Goodnight.” I kissed her cheek and then led Eric out of the kitchen. I stopped when I realized he wasn’t right behind me, but had stopped in the living room where there was a picture on the wall of Hadley and me from when I was her date to the MTV Movie Awards when we were eighteen.
“Who’s that?” Eric asked without looking away from the picture.
“That’s Sookie’s sister,” Gran answered. “That’s my Hadley.”
He looked back at me.
“You didn’t tell me you had a sister,” he stated.
“You didn’t ask,” I pointed out.
“Right.” He shook himself from the haze he was in. “We should go. I look forward to seeing you soon, Adele.”
“You too,” Gran smiled as she waved us off.
“We’re dismissed,” I laughed. Something was off with Eric but I didn’t know what. We left the apartment and walked to the elevators. “I didn’t tell you about Hadley because it’s a difficult subject for me. She’s not just my sister, she’s my twin.”
“So you guys are unusually close,” he said absently. He reached out to press the button to call for the elevator car. When he stepped back he settled his hand on the small of my back.
“We were,” I confirmed. “She’s missing. More than three years ago she vanished. She was supposed to go to an audition and she never showed up. No one has seen or heard from her in years. I moved here hoping I could find her. So far, I’ve been unsuccessful.”
He looked down at me with an empathetic look. “I’m sorry, Sookie. I understand why it’s so hard.”
The elevator doors dinged. When the door opened Eric and I stood there stunned. Dr. Fintan Brigant was standing there on the elevator, getting ready to exit.
“Dr. Brigant,” I said. He seemed just as surprised to see Eric and I.
“Hello…” He stepped off of the elevator. “Mr. Northman, good to see you again.”
“Likewise,” Eric nodded. He took my hand to tug me onto the elevator when I didn’t move.
“Making a house call?” It wasn’t my business but I didn’t let that stop me from asking.
“Of sorts,” Dr. Brigant answered. “You two have a good evening.” He turned to head down the hallway toward our apartment.
“Saucy old broad,” Eric snickered as the door closed.
“I wonder how many times this week he’s made a house call,” I said. Gran never mentioned that she’d called him.
“That’s probably why she doesn’t mind you staying with me,” Eric laughed. “Good for Gran.”
“Yeah, it is.” I was surprised but happy for her. Whether they were just friends or something more, I was happy with the idea of her having a special someone in her life. “She hasn’t had a man friend since my grandfather died when I was eight. That’s a long time.”
“She just needed to meet the right man. Maybe we can double date sometime,” he suggested.
“I wouldn’t mind but it’ll depend on if she can admit she’s got a boyfriend.” The elevator stopped and the doors opened. “So where are we going for dinner, Mr. Northman?”
“A little Italian place near Central Park. It’s near Puzzles.”
“I love Italian. It features my two favorite food groups, pasta and cheese.”
“Perfect,” he grinned. When we stepped outside Eric surprised me when he led me to a Town Car instead of hailing a cab. “After you.” He motioned for me to go first when the driver opened the door for us.
“Thank you,” I smiled. I got into the car and slid over. There was plenty of legroom, which was good since both of us had long legs.
“I decided to get all fancy with the car,” he chuckled once the door was closed.
“Well I suppose it’s easier than hailing cabs all night, especially if it rains like Al Roker said it might.”
“It is. It’s a lot cleaner too.” He lifted my hand to kiss the back.
“It sure is.” I watched out the window as the driver pulled away from the building. “I have a car parked in a garage. I should go for a drive next weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve done that.”
“I do too. It’s parked under my building. I also have a house in the Hamptons,” he confessed.
“Do you ever go out there?” A workaholic like him probably didn’t get to enjoy it as much as he wanted to.
“Not very often. I used to spend a lot of time out there, but the last few years I’ve been focused on work. I need to go out there soon. It’s been about four months since I was there last.”
“Well if you ever want company…” I smiled at him. I’d been out that way before a few times. “My friend Amelia has a place in Montauk. It’s 15,000 square feet of tacky, but it’s quiet.”
“My place is far from tacky,” he chuckled. “If you’d like to go out there sometime we can. Gran is welcomed too. I don’t have a sex closet there, so I’m not worried about her seeing something she shouldn’t.”
“Maybe for Memorial Day,” I suggested. Gran would probably be okay with a trip out of the city for that. It was coming up in a few weeks.
“We can do that,” he nodded. “I need to drive up and air it out. It’s been closed up.”
“Well like I said, if you want company just let me know. I might go down to Louisiana for Independence Day. Depends on my birthday plans this year.”
“When is your birthday?”
“July first. I’ll be thirty-one this year.”
“Uh oh, you’ll be officially in your thirties,” he smiled. He leaned over to give me a quick kiss. “After meeting you I think I need to talk to Luna about scheduling me work/life balance days.”
I smiled back at him. The idea of us just being casual was floating further away with every day we spent together. Our hands settled on his thigh and I rested my head on his shoulder. There was something comforting about being around him. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but we connected. It was a good feeling.
When we reached the restaurant, Napoli’s, Eric helped me out. He opened the door to the restaurant for me and I walked in ahead of him. Eric went to the hostess station and we were escorted to a booth with tall red seats. It cut down the noise a bit and gave us a little privacy.
I took a seat on one side of the booth and Eric sat across from me. Right away he ordered a bottle of the house red. I’d never been to Napoli’s before so I opened the menu to check it out.
Eric left his menu on the table. He sat back in his seat and I felt his eyes on me but he stayed quiet.
I looked up at him with a nervous and curious expression. “What?”
“Nothing,” he smiled. “You’re fun to watch, is all. You make cute faces as you study things.”
“Oh.” I grabbed my glasses from my purse. Eric hadn’t seen me in them yet but it was because I hadn’t done much reading in front of him.
“The chicken piccata is really good,” he told me. “If you prefer chicken over red meat.”
“Usually I do. I’m not a big fan of tomato sauce on meat, oddly enough. No matter how good the components are separately, they almost never taste good to me when they’re combined.” It didn’t help that I wasn’t a big fan of tomatoes. The texture in a chunkier sauce was just weird to me. “Usually I get fettuccine Alfredo with chicken or broccoli. Today I’m thinking about the baked manicotti.”
“That’s good too. The piccata has a lemon butter caper sauce that’s to die for,” he chuckled.
“I don’t care for capers.” Little briney salt balls.
“They’re an acquired taste.”
“Yes they are.”
The bottle of wine and two glasses were brought to the table by a handsome dark-haired waiter in his twenties. He uncorked the wine and poured a glass for each of us.
“Thank you,” Eric smiled. “May we get an order or arancini?”
“Of course,” the man replied. He took note of me reviewing the menu still. “That’ll be right up. I’ll be back shortly for your order.”
“What are you getting?” I asked Eric once we were alone.
“I think I’m going to get the eggplant parm today,” he replied. “They perform some kind of magic on it I can’t explain, but it’s amazing.”
“I’m not a fan of eggplant. It’s oddly spongy.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. I had a taste of the parm here once and fell in love,” he chuckled. “I’m usually pretty picky about what eggplant I eat.”
“I’m like that about chicken parm. If it’s mushy, no thanks.”
“I don’t like mushy anything,” he said. “Except for the eggplant here. It’s fried well.”
“I think I’m sticking with the baked manicotti. I haven’t had it in ages.” I closed my menu.
“Good choice,” he smiled. “I hope you like it. This is my go-to Italian place. I usually get it to go when I’m in a rush or on my way home.”
“It looks like a nice place.” I could smell the garlic as soon as I walked in.
“I hope you enjoy it. I haven’t been on an actual date in a long, long time. It’s usually business meetings,” he said.
“Almost the same thing,” I chuckled.
“I’m still selling something,” he smiled. “A client, or in this case myself. How is it going so far?”
“So far so good. You charmed Gran, which is a plus. You didn’t pick some big name restaurant like you felt you had to show off or prove something. I like that.”
“Good. I don’t feel like I need to prove something. You’ve already met me, so what’s taking you to the hottest new restaurant going to show you that you haven’t already seen? As for Gran, she charmed me,” he chuckled. “When I gave her the orchid she informed me I need to come over so she can show off her garden to me.”
“Oh she’ll take up your whole day and then cook you a big southern dinner.”
“So you’re telling me I chose the wrong Stackhouse?” he asked with an arched eyebrow.
“Ouch,” I laughed.
“I’m joking,” he laughed too. “I have the perfect Stackhouse for me.” He reached across the table to play with my fingers.
“Good. I don’t want to know if… nope, not gonna finish that thought.”
“Now I’m intrigued by it,” he smiled.
“It involves you comparing and contrasting Gran’s bedroom prowess.”
“Oh, I do not want to think about that,” he laughed. “I’m pretty sure she’d be paddling me if it ever happened.”
“That’s a safe bet.”
“Then it’s safe to say I made the right choice.”
Our waiter returned to take our dinner order. I got the manicotti and Eric got the eggplant parmesan. The house wine was delicious. Hopefully it didn’t give me a headache. Red wine usually did. I carried Tylenol in my bag so I wasn’t too worried about it if it did.
The arancini was delivered about ten seconds after the waiter walked away. At least the kitchen moved quickly. The balls were perfectly golden brown and looked delicious.
“What are these stuffed with?” I didn’t look at the menu to see.
“Mozzarella and fontina cheese,” he answered. “They’re super cheesy.”
“Yum.” I saw nothing wrong with that. “My heart goes out to the lactose intolerant. Those poor souls.”
“Mine does too. My brother is lactose intolerant. I was a shitty older brother and used to tease him with cheese sticks and ice cream,” he chuckled.
“That’s so mean.” I shook my head as I reached for one of the little golden balls of yumminess.
“Eh, it’s what brothers do. He used to retaliate by farting on my pillow after he ate it.”
“Ha! Well, you did deserve it,” I laughed.
“He would say so,” Eric snickered.
“Does he work on the farm now?” I cut into the arancini and did a little happy dance at all the cheese oozing out.
“He does the accounting. Actually, he does most of the accounting for the town I grew up in. He was never into farming. My parents hired helpers.”
“Good for them. What do they farm?”
“Corn, and my parents have a small local dairy,” he told me.
“Oh wow. That’s impressive. After Hadley disappeared, Gran was too distracted by that to really put anything into the plantation anymore. For the first season since we lost my parents, there was no harvest the next year. It was just too much for her. We still own the land and someday it’ll be mine after she passes. It’s actually kind of a daunting responsibility to take on. I try not to think about it,” I admitted.
The house and land had a lot of history to it. Being there was hard for me. There wasn’t an inch of that home that didn’t remind me of my sister. The old slave quarters were no better. When we were kids Hadley used to make up these crazy stories about a lady name Cecile that I used to disregard as Hadley just being the dramatic, attention seeker she was. It wasn’t until Gran got into doing some research and genealogy that we discovered records from when the house was first built. Up in the attic Gran found an old book containing records for the slaves once owned by my ancestors.
We found three different Ceciles in the book, but one in particular stood out. The woman Hadley always told stories about was a talented seamstress. She was purchased at the age of twelve, separated from her family in Georgia. It hurt my heart, even to this day, to think about how hard it must have been on that poor girl to be wrenched away from her family at such a young age. Times may have been different but people were still people. I realized then how sensitive my sister must have been to the spirit world.
Being the skeptic I was, I needed proof. I needed to see it right in front of me to believe it. Hadley wasn’t like that at all. She believed in things being unexplainable and that sometimes we weren’t meant to know the whole story. How ironic that her life might end up being an unsolved mystery.
“How was it for you after she disappeared?” Eric asked me.
I took a big drink of my wine. That was such a loaded question.
“You know how there’s the five stages of grief?” He nodded so I continued, “I’m stuck in denial. It’s my nature to solve mysteries. I ask questions. I research. I read. I educate myself on things I don’t understand. I’m by no means an expert on much of anything, but I try to get a better understanding of the subject. With my sister, there’s nothing to grasp at. If I’m lucky maybe someone somewhere will see her and call in a tip. Maybe. I am always searching. Everywhere I go I look at faces and I pay attention to the way people walk, thinking maybe I’ll see my sister in it.
“Every morning I wake up and I see her face in the mirror because it’s my face. I don’t know how to say goodbye or even consider the possibility that the last time we were in the same room is it. I think about all the things I didn’t say because I just assumed she knew. There’s a whole list of things we were going to do before we got old and we only did four of them. Four. I can’t do it without her because I don’t want to accept that she won’t come home someday to do them with me. All the time I think any minute now she’s going to call and tell me that she has been on the ultimate vacation and she needs me to get her from the airport. I need to believe that because if I don’t… if I didn’t I think the grief would crush me.”
He wasn’t ready to hear about the nightmares and panic attacks I had sometimes. I was going to have to tell him in case I ever had one at his apartment, but it wasn’t the right time to bring it up.
“I hope you find her,” he said with the sweetest, most sincere look in his eyes.
“Thank you. So do I.” I took a bite of the very cheesy arancini and nodded my approval. “That’s fantastic.”
Eric smiled and popped half of one into his mouth. I hadn’t meant to let things get so heavy, but I was determined to lighten things up from that point on.