The night before Eric’s press junkets are set to start, I decide to stay over at his house since we’re going to have to be up early to get him to the TV stations in Los Angeles. I’ve obviously never attended a press junket before so tomorrow will be an interesting experience for me. Eric’s at the gym getting in a last minute workout and I promised I would make him a light, healthy meal so I’ve got marinated chicken grilling, brown rice steaming on the stove and a medley of summer veggies roasting in garlic grapeseed oil and sea salt in the oven. It smells like fucking heaven in here.
While I’m waiting for it to be time to flip the chicken, I’m doing a little research. The episode with the card got me thinking about things. I know he hasn’t spoken to his mom in years so I decide to surprise him by getting her out to see him. I don’t know where she lives since that card doesn’t have a return address on it. I checked his phone this morning while he was in the shower and I didn’t see a number for ‘Mom’ in there anywhere so I assume he doesn’t have it.
What I do have is access to his social security number and his birth certificate, so I use those things to locate his Mom. Sonja Ocella lives in South Carolina in a modest, ranch style house. She works as a translator for the county courthouse. That makes me wonder if Eric speaks Swedish. I know he lived there until he was eight, so he did as a child.
The timer goes off so I get up to flip the chicken. Just to be safe, I close my laptop before I go outside. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about why they haven’t talked. I know it’s none of my business, but I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring it up.
I turn the chicken and go back inside to get my phone. Sonja’s phone number was easy to find. I take a deep breath and dial her number, praying she isn’t furious that I’m calling her.
“Hello?” she answers hopefully.
“Hi, I’m looking for Sonja Ocella,” I reply.
“Oh,” I can hear her voice fall a little. “This is she.”
“Oh good. My name is Sookie Stackhouse and I’m Eric’s personal assistant,” I tell her.
She lets out a breath and says, “I saw the California number and hoped it was him.”
“He doesn’t know that I’m calling you. He got your card last week and it upset him quite a bit. You should know that he hasn’t told me anything about you, other than the fact that he hasn’t spoken to you in years. He’s going to be doing press for his new movie all week, but I was hoping you would be willing to come to Los Angeles. I think it would mean a lot to him to see you.”
She stays silent for a few minutes before she says, “I don’t think it would mean that much, Miss Stackhouse. My son hasn’t spoken to me in eight years, and I don’t blame him.”
“Mrs. Ocella, he said he needed his mom,” I tell her.
“And I wasn’t a mom. I was blinded by a man that abused my son and I chose not to believe him when Eric told me,” she admits.
It takes a minute for that to sink in and when it does, all the pieces fall into place. My heart breaks for Eric when I realize she’s implying that Eric was, at the very least, molested by his stepdad.
“Mrs. Ocella, I think if you want the chance to make things right, someone has to take the first step,” I say and wipe a tear off my cheek.
“I’ve told him, he knows how to reach me and he hasn’t. I doubt flying across the country to get the door slammed in my face isn’t the best idea.”
I sigh heavily. Maybe she’s right.
“Maybe you’re right. I shouldn’t have called,” I tell her.
“Tell him I’m proud of him and I love him and that I’m here when he’s ready,” she sniffles.
“Mrs. Ocella, for what it’s worth, Eric is a good man with a forgiving heart. I don’t think that will ever apply to your husband, but I know he loves you. I wiped up his tears when he got your last card, and if I was in your shoes I would do absolutely anything to make sure my son knows that I’m sorry for what happened. It’s very easy to let cards and letters go unread,” I remind her. I don’t think he’s read a single one of those cards she’s sent. I’m assuming the congratulatory card wasn’t the first.
Again, she goes silent. This time it’s only two minutes before she finally asks, “When would be the best time?”
“He’s going to be busy all this week doing press and whatnot for the new movie, but he’s got some time the week after that before he has to leave to start filming again,” I tell her. “I was hoping I could fly you out on Tuesday and you could stay until Friday.”
“Something tells me you already have the flight booked, Miss Stackhouse.”
“I don’t. I had to do some sleuthing on the internet just to find you,” I admit. “But I can have it booked by tomorrow. I just need you to say yes.”
“I’ll book it. I wouldn’t want him to be upset if you flew me out on his dime.”
“I was going to pay for myself to surprise him,” I tell her. I could have the tickets reimbursed by the paper. It hits me then that this is the big secret I knew he was hiding. The things his stepfather did to him…
“Okay… I’m sorry if this gets you fired,” she says.
“Don’t worry about me, Mrs. Ocella,” I assure her. Even if Eric does fire me for this, I’ll be okay.
“Send me the information once everything is booked. I need to go so I can put in for time off.”
“Thank you for not hanging up on me. I look forward to meeting you,” I tell her.
“You too, thank you for taking care of my son.”
“You’re welcome.” I don’t know what else to say so I hang up the phone. I set it on the patio table and go over to the grill to take the chicken off the heat and let it rest. As I’m bringing it inside I hear the front door shut.
Shit, I still have tears on my face. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Eric stops dead in his tracks when he sees me.
“What happened?” he asks with concern.
“Oh, uh, sad song,” I lie. “Stupid Katy Perry song always makes me cry.”
“Uh huh,” he replies. “I’m not so sure I believe that.”
“Well dinner’s almost ready. Grilled chicken, brown rice and veggies,” I tell him.
“Thanks. I’m going to take a quick shower.”
“Okay. I’ll be here.” I give him a smile and then bend to check the veggies in the oven. They look done so I pull the pan out to let them cool a bit.
Eric heads back to his bedroom to shower while I finish getting dinner together. I set the kitchen table, open a bottle of wine and start plating up food. Before he comes back, I run out to the patio to get my phone. I save her contact as Charlotte, as in South Carolina, which is where she lives. I doubt Eric would go looking through my phone but just in case he does…
I’m just coming back inside when he’s coming in from the back of the house.
“Dinner’s ready. Do you want to eat inside or outside?” I ask him.
“Outside with a fire. I’ll get that started,” he says and slips on the flip flops he leaves by the back door.
“Will you take the wine out with you? I’ll bring our plates.”
“Sure.” He grabs the wine bottle along with our glasses and heads out back.
I have our meals plated up and it’s easy to tell which is his and which is mine, but I put the rice into a serving bowl and the veggies into another in case he wants more. I load everything onto a serving tray to take it outside and have to pause a few times to get the patio door open and closed. Eric is waiting for me at the covered sitting area in the back. I set the tray down on the coffee table and hand him his plate.
“How was your workout?” I ask him as I hand over his silverware.
“It was good,” he shrugs. “This looks delicious.”
“I’ve never had brown rice before,” I admit. “But the smell of the veggies roasting was killing me.”
“Brown rice isn’t for everyone. Sorry if you don’t like it. It’s a lot better for you, though.”
“I’ll try it,” I shrug. If I don’t like it I’ll just stick to the veggies and chicken.
“What did you do while I was gone?” he asks. “Other than cook.”
“RSVP’d to the award show parties you’ve been invited to,” I tell him. Actually I did that earlier today but he was at a meeting so he doesn’t know about that. He was invited to just about every freakin’ party going on after the Oscars.
“Are you coming with me to those?”
That catches me off guard.
“Ummm… I don’t know. Am I?” I wasn’t expecting him to invite me.
“If you want. I end up talking to a bunch of fucking people I don’t care about and trying to make sure I don’t drink too much. I just figured since you’re my assistant you would go with me to all that shit.”
“I can if you want me there,” I nod.
“Alright,” he nods too and takes a big bite of chicken.
We go quiet as we eat. I’m not really sold on the brown rice so I concentrate on the vegetables instead. A few less carbs won’t kill me. Eric goes back for seconds on the chicken.
“I guess you like the chicken then?” I guessed on the marinade.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good,” he nods. “Thanks for cooking.”
“No problem. Thanks for letting me stay here. This is much easier than leaving my place at two in the morning to get you downtown before sunrise.”
“I have plenty of room,” he shrugs. “Plus if I wake up with a hard-on in the middle of the night I’ll have someone to help me out,” he teases.
“I’ll make sure to lock my door,” I tease right back.
“Not if I coerce you into sleeping in my room,” he winks.
“Yep,” he says, popping the P. “I guess I could just ask you.”
“Is sleeping in the same bed a good idea?” I ask. That seems a little too coupley to me.
“You don’t have to,” he says. “It was just a suggestion.”
“I think that might be a little too… boyfriendy,” I tell him.
“Okay. Then I’ll kick you out before I fall asleep,” he winks.
“You’re a class act, Northman,” I deadpan.
“I have my moments,” he chuckles.
I shake my head and take my last bite of chicken before setting my plate aside. It’s a little chilly out with the sun going down, but the fire feels nice. I rest my head on the back of the chair and close my eyes. I don’t know if this stuff with his mom is going to pan out, but I really hope that it does.
I don’t know just how bad it was with his stepfather, but I hope that somehow he and his mom can put it all behind them. When I look at Eric it’s hard to imagine he was ever small enough to be someone’s victim. My emotions start to get the better of me when I think of how scared and ashamed of himself he must have felt as a child and I have to turn my head so he doesn’t see the tears welling in my eyes.
“Sookie, come here,” Eric says quietly from his spot on the couch.
“Eric, I’m fine,” I tell him. “Just hormones.”
“Come here,” he requests again.
I take a deep breath and blow it out. I force myself out of the chair so I don’t seem like any more of a weirdo to him than I do right now, and take a seat on the couch near him. He tugs me closer and wraps his arms around me.
“Sometimes we all need a hug,” he whispers and brushes my hair back.
If he knew what had me so upset he might not feel the same way. Hell, his mom is probably right. This will probably get me fired.
The strange thing is, even with this smoking gun that’s fallen into my lap and the fact that I could definitely use this to make a name for myself, I decide that I don’t want to. I don’t want to expose him like that. I don’t want to be the scumbag “journalist” that makes a name for herself on someone else’s tragedy and personal shame. Amelia was right when she said I wasn’t the right girl for this.
Tear leak from my eyes even though I implore them to stay put. Eric sweetly strokes my hair and lets me cry all over him. The thing is, I’m not crying for me. My mind keeps reeling back to the things his mom revealed on the phone. I was lucky enough to never be put in that position myself, but my cousin Hadley was. Our great uncle touched her where he shouldn’t when she was a preschooler. I was only a baby at the time, but I remember her telling me about it years later when a girl in her class was date raped by another boy in town.
The whole thing brought back her memories and Hadley wouldn’t get out of bed for a week afterward. I know what Uncle Bartlett did to her has left a lasting impression on her life and I can only imagine that it’s done the same to Eric. The more I think about it, the more I realize they’ve followed similar paths where their sex lives are concerned. Granted, there’s still an awful lot about Eric that I don’t know, but I do know that he has a regular rotation of women that he goes to for sex. They’re like relationships, but without the real intimacy of being in one. He can kiss us, cuddle us and then go on with his life like he’s free as a bird. Hadley’s done the same thing. She never truly lets any of the men in her life get close to her, and I have a feeling Eric is the same way.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize once the tears stop. I pull away from him and start to gather up the dinner dishes to take them inside. I’m not his maid and I’m not required to clean up, but I need to keep myself busy.
“It’s okay,” he says as he stands with me. “Sit, I can do this.”
“No, I got it. I made the mess, I’ll clean it up,” I tell him.
“Okay…” He takes a look around and then turns off the fire before he makes his way to the house.
I load everything back onto the tray but pause to gulp down the rest of my wine and pour myself another glass. I gulp that down too and then take the tray into the house. I don’t see Eric anywhere when I walk in. I take my time washing the dishes and then go out back to retrieve the bottle of wine. When I bring it in, Eric’s sitting on the island with a pint of ice cream and a spoon. I cork the wine and put it back in the fridge.
My computer needs charging so I pick it up and take it back to the spare bedroom. Once I have it on the charger I go to the United Airlines website and book the tickets for Mrs. Ocella. My first paycheck from Eric was more than two grand, so I can more than afford to buy his mother her plane tickets. I book her into a hotel as well just in case Eric flips out and doesn’t want her to stay with him. I forward her all of that information and then close the laptop.
Unsure of what else to do, I go across the hall to the bathroom and start the tub. Maybe a long, hot soak will help clear my head.