Four months later Eric was still living with me. It turned out he wasn’t actually a terrible roommate. We respected each other’s space. I think it helped that we each had our own space to retreat to when we wanted to be by ourselves. As far as I knew he wasn’t dating anyone else, which was an accomplishment for someone like him. Considering the fact that he was also working the bar at Tric, it was doubly impressive. Eric was a good looking guy. Plenty of young girls looking for a hot guy to go home with made their way into Tric six nights a week. The club was closed on Monday night. Live acts performed there on Friday and Saturday night so it was extra busy.
It just happened to be a Monday when I came home completely exhausted. Brooke ended up calling me at the ass crack of dawn to see if I could open for her. Her twins were both down with the stomach flu which sounded like a nightmare. Of course I agreed to open for her. I was supposed to close but to be honest, I didn’t mind the extra money. Haley showed up before the lunch rush. Jamie had basketball practice after school but that wasn’t reason enough for him not to come into the cafe afterward to help bus tables. He did homework when it wasn’t busy and ate dinner at the counter. Haley’s husband was freaking gorgeous, by the way, but I kept that to myself. Despite only being a few years older than me they had already been married almost fifteen years.
I walked into the house, staggered to the big comfy couch in the living room and collapsed. Rusty came running down from Eric’s room to greet me. My sweet boy jumped up on the couch to give me my welcome home licks and get his pets.
“Were you the best boy today?” I asked him while I scratched his happy spot on his chest. His short legs twitched with excitement. He was so damn cute.
I kicked off my sneakers and put my feet up on the chaise part of the sofa. Eric came downstairs, ducking a little to make sure he didn’t whack his head. He’d become way more relaxed in the last few months. It seemed like North Carolina agreed with him. I refused to take any credit for it.
“Hey, you. How was work?” He walked over to the couch wearing nothing but a pair of basketball shorts. He plopped down at my feet, lifting one so he could rub my left foot.
“It was a crazy day. I swear I saw everyone in Tree Hill at least twice.” I closed my eyes and moaned quietly when his thumbs found the right spot on the sole of my foot.
“It’s a full moon,” he told me. “Everything is a little extra crazy today.” His fingers threaded through my toes and he slowly worked my ankle around, loosening it up.
“Ohmygoddon’tstop,” I gasped.
“Mmm, I love it when you say that to me,” he chuckled. He didn’t stop.
I was aware I was pretty much making sex noises but I didn’t care. He didn’t seem to either.
“Well if full moons make you give me foot rubs, bring it on,” I said. My right foot was starting to get jealous of the action Leftie was getting. “How was your day off? I’m guessin’ the maid still hasn’t come to do your laundry.”
“No,” he sighed dramatically. He rested my left foot on his thigh so he could move on to the right one. “I washed it all. I just need to get the energy to put them away. I also figured out the crockpot. There’s a pot roast in there, but I’m sure you can smell it.”
“Yes I can, and it smells amazing. I was wondering what was cooking in here.” I looked over and sure enough there was my Crock-Pot on the counter. “Is it just meat or did you put veggies in there too?”
“There’s some potatoes, onions, carrots, and… Wait, that’s it. After Rusty and I went for our jog I was in the mood so I looked up a recipe.” His knuckles rubbed up and down my arch.
“Mmm… well it smells great. If it smells good, it should taste good.” I reluctantly lifted my head. “If the bartending thing doesn’t work out, consider a career as a gigolo. You’d be perfect for it.”
“As great as that sounds, I still have my eye on someone,” he smiled. “I’m not sure she’d like it if I dated other women, even if it was for money.”
“You should ask her. She might be down with it.” I gasped when he found another good spot and I managed to hold back the moan that wanted out.
“Would you be cool if I dated women for money?” he asked me.
“Only if we’re talkin’ seven figures,” I answered. So far we were just friends. I was on the fence with him. The friendship thing was working out pretty good. I was kind of scared to rock the boat.
“It might take me a while to make that much.” He did the ankle thing again.
“Fuuuuck, mama likey,” I moaned. I got a chuckle out of him but the noise that came before it told me the laughter was more of a cover up for whatever he was really thinking. I was sure if I let Leftie run up his thigh I’d be able to feel what he was thinking.
“You know my hands work on more than feet.” To show me what he meant his gentle hands started to massage up my right calf.
“I know very well what your hands work on.” My memory was as long as his. Our eyes met in the dim living room light and I saw a twinkle there. His eyes were almost the same color as my couch. I never thought about it until that very moment.
“How about you tell me when to stop.” He didn’t move past the middle of my calf, staying respectful.
“We should probably go try out that roast you made,” I suggested. If he kept it up eventually his hands would move up and I’d be in a real quandary over whether or not to let him keep going.
“Sure.” He gently set my foot down before he stood up. He held out his hand to help me up. “Unless you want me to bring you some.”
“No, I can get off my lazy butt.” I did, however, let him pull me off the couch. I followed Eric to the kitchen, as did Rusty who was probably hoping he’d get some leftovers in his bowl. I got down bowls for us while Eric lifted the lid on the pot and stirred things around a little bit. “If I wasn’t so close to going to bed I’d make gravy out of that broth in there.”
“Maybe next time. And, you’re not lazy. You’ve been on your feet all day.”
“That’s true.” I handed Eric one of the bowls so he could serve himself.
“Thanks. Go sit down, I’ll bring you some,” he told me.
“Okay.” I wasn’t going to argue. I stopped at the fridge to grab myself some apple juice since I had been drinking it like it was going to evaporate off the face of the earth at any moment. I carried the glass over to the dining table and sat down.
While I sat there I watched Eric. If I was being honest, he was a really good guy. He definitely had changed in the almost two years since we broke up. The night I quit the Bellefleur Lounge was the last time he and I were together sexually speaking. In fact, I’d only been with one other guy since then and it was before Eric showed up in town four months prior. It meant a lot to me that he hadn’t gotten discouraged when I didn’t immediately pick up right where we left of. I didn’t want to do that.
If we were going to try again, I wanted it to be better than before, not just a repeat of the same old mistakes. I was happy in my life and I didn’t want to ruin it because I knew the sex would be great. Like him, I had reached a point where I wanted to do something with my life. Maybe working at a cafe wasn’t anything big but it made me happy. That was what mattered, right? I didn’t have to be the one to cure cancer. Maybe it was enough to be a friendly face people could chat with and see on a regular basis. Brooke was launching a bakery in the next couple of months that would be right next door to the cafe. Baker Man was going to be in need of an assistant manager and I wasn’t above throwing my hat into the ring for the position. I hadn’t decided on that, though.
“Thanks,” I said to Eric when he set down my bowl in front of me. A fork was sticking out of it. Rusty knew better than to come begging at the table. He went and laid down on the bed he had in the living room but rarely used. “Seriously, this smells incredible, Eric.”
“Thanks. Who knew I could follow directions?” he winked. He sat down across from me with his own bowl and a beer. “I bought one of those seasoning packets for pot roast. It was meant for the oven, but I figured it would work just as well in the crockpot.”
The roast was fork tender, as were the veggies in the bowl. One bite told me his instincts had paid off.
“Mmhmm… Yep, it was a good call,” I said with my mouth full. I cut a piece of potato and added that to the bite I was working on.
So. Goddamn. Good.
“It’s good?” He looked relieved I liked it. He cut into his, bringing a bite to his mouth. “Mmm… damn,” he moaned.
“Right?” I nodded and took another bite. “You done good, Northman.”
“Thanks. I’ll be the official pot roast maker from now on.”
“Fine by me. I’m still going to make pulled pork tomorrow, if you think I can handle it,” I teased.
“You know I can,” he smirked.
“I can bring you some sandwiches at the bar for dinner if you want,” I offered. I wasn’t sure if he was working the next day or not.
“Yeah, that would be nice. I take my break at 7:30. Drinks are on me,” he replied.
“Count me in.” I was off the next day so I just had laundry of my own to do. Maybe a little grocery shopping too. If the weather was good I was thinking about taking Rusty to the beach for a while.
We went quiet while we ate. I liked that we didn’t have to talk constantly to fill the silences. When we were done eating Eric packed up the leftovers while I washed out the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. He was kind enough to put some of the leftovers into Rusty’s dish. As soon as Eric set it on the floor, Rusty was up like a shot to come get it.
“Whoa. As if you didn’t already have a best friend,” I chuckled as Rusty wolfed down his people food.
“He’s been smelling it all day. It’s only fair,” Eric chuckled.
“You’re just lucky he didn’t figure out how to jump up on the counter and play sous chef.”
“Oh, that would have been a sight,” he laughed.
“Especially when he got his little butt locked in timeout,” I snickered.
“He was a very good boy today. I noticed he’s a little better well behaved when I take him on a run.”
“That’s good. The Shepherd in him needs the exercise. The little weiner dog in him just wants to snuggle in bed.” I picked up his water dish to add some fresh water since I knew he’d want a drink when he was done eating.
“I like him a hell of a lot more than I expected to,” Eric told me.
“He’s not too bad for a little dog, is he?” I knew he liked bigger dogs better. “You know, if you wanted to we could check out the rescue in Tree Hill and see if they have a bigger dog that gets along with Rusty.”
“Maybe. For now I’m happy with him. He’s my little daytime buddy,” he smiled.
It actually worked out pretty well for Rusty since he almost always had someone home with him. It was rare that both of us were out of the house and he didn’t tag along with one of us. He had great car etiquette. Usually if Eric and I went out together we’d go in his truck. Rusty would happily sit on my lap with his big head out the window, charming anyone we passed by.
“I think I’m going to go take a bubble bath before I take him for his nighttime walk,” I told Eric.
“Want company?” Eric offered.
I smiled and said, “I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll brave that big tub all by myself.”
“Need someone to wash your back?” he grinned.
“I got it.” I did, however, push up on my toes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for dinner.”
“You’re welcome, beautiful. If you change your mind in there you know how to find me.”
“Yes I do.” I set the water bowl on the floor and then headed for my bedroom.
It was tempting to open the door once I shut it and tell Eric I’d changed my mind, but no, I wasn’t going to do it. Instead I walked back to my bathroom and started the water for my hot bath. Alone.
♥ ♥ ♥
The dress I chose to wear to Tric was a little more revealing than the average dress in my closet, but it looked good on me. It was a black dress with lace trim. I paired it with black pumps and I left my hair down in loose curls. On my way out I grabbed the sandwiches I had put together for Eric. I’d wrapped them in foil and kept them warming in the oven. They went in an insulated bag, along with some homemade potato chips and the stuff to make himself a strawberry shortcake. He wasn’t the only one in the house who could cook.
When I left Rusty was taking a nap on his doggy bed. I wouldn’t be gone too long anyway. He’d be fine. I made sure he had plenty of food and water. I got behind the wheel of my Rav-4 and hit the button on the visor to raise the garage door. The SUV started up no problem and off I went. It was less than a ten minute drive to get to Tric. It was on the far side of Tree Hill, which wasn’t saying much. I found a parking spot and once I was in, I reached into my bag to retrieve my ID. I was pretty sure they were carding me because it was mandated and not because I looked like I was underage.
By that point Owen knew me well. He had been working the door ever since he fell off the wagon six months ago and decided that tending bar was a bad idea. He was a nice guy, though. We’d flirted a little before he started going to meetings again.
“Hey, Owen, how’s it going?” I asked when I walked up to the door. If I had known he was working I would have brought him dinner too.
“Good. What brings you in tonight? You look good,” he smiled.
“Awww thanks. I told Eric I’d bring him dinner.” I held up the insulated bag. “If I had known you’d be here I would have brought you some too.”
“Eh, I’ll be fine. Next time you need to bring me something, though,” he winked.
“Deal,” I promised. I handed over my ID so he could scan it with their little doohickey at the door. He handed it back once it passed whatever test it needed to pass. My guess was it was all about authenticity, but I had no idea.
“You’re good to go. Eric’s working the back side of the bar tonight.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you on my way out.” I smiled at him as I walked into the club. I walked past the coat check and paused momentarily when I walked into the main space of the club. I spotted Eric at the far end, just like Owen said. I smoothed out my dress and then put a little extra oomph in my hips as I headed Eric’s direction.
He stopped moving when he saw me. His eyes scanned up and down my body before a slow smile spread across his handsome face.
“Hungry?” I asked him. I wasn’t sure if I was talking about the food I’d brought and maybe for the first time since he moved to North Carolina, I didn’t care what his answer would be.
“Starving,” he purred. His eyes flicked down to my cleavage. “I have about ten more minutes before I break.”
You can say that again.
I lifted the bag and set it on the bar.
“Two Eric size sliders, some homemade potato chips and strawberry shortcake made with Gran’s biscuit recipe,” I said as I pushed the bag toward him.
“You’re a woman after my heart.” He leaned over the counter to kiss my cheek.
“You’re welcome.” I said. “The sandwiches should still be warm when you get to them. I toasted the bread a little bit. Oh, and extra sauce on the side in case you need it.”
I didn’t like my pulled pork super saucy.
“Are you going to join me or stay out here?”
“Your call.” I took a seat at the bar since the one next to where I’d been standing was available. “Doesn’t look too busy tonight.” It was a Tuesday night so I wasn’t surprised to see a thinner crowd than usual.
“It’ll get a little busier later. What are you drinking?”
“I’ll take a whiskey sour if you got it.” I was sure that was no big deal.
“Coming right up.” He turned around to grab a glass so he could make my drink.
On weeknights Tric closed at midnight, so his shift was about halfway over. When Eric handed me my drink I gave it a quick stir before pulling the cherry off the end of the stirrer with my teeth. The cherry was the best part, in my opinion.
“Mmm… I don’t know why I love maraschino cherries so much. People talk shit about them on the Food Network but I think they’re delicious. Maybe I’m not a big enough food snob,” I said before sipping the drink.
“There’s nothing wrong with liking maraschino cherries. I also enjoy the sound you make when you eat them,” he chuckled. “Did I already tell you you’re beautiful tonight?”
“Not in so many words but I got the hint.” I took another sip. Eric was good at making drinks. I could taste the whiskey but it wasn’t punching me in the face. “I might be a little overdressed, though.”
“I think you look perfect,” he said.
“Thank you. It’s nice to get fancy once in a while.”
“You’re welcome to get fancy to come visit me anytime you want.” He reached down to grab a glass so he could fill it up at the tap. Once the beer was poured he walked down the bar to deliver it before he joined me again.
“I was looking around on GroupOn after you left this afternoon and I found a thing for a weekend at one of the hotels down in Myrtle Beach but it’s for two…” I told Eric. That was as good of a way as any to start the conversation, right?
“I’m a big guy, but I don’t think I can be considered two people,” he joked. “Do you want to go to Myrtle Beach soon?”
“Heck yeah. It’s beautiful there. I was thinking about asking Felicia if you don’t want to go. I thought I’d give you the first shot at it. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to share a room with me for a whole weekend.”
“Sookie, you’re not dumb, sweetheart. You know I’d love to share a room with you. Especially if it just had one bed…”
I actually smiled at that. The idea of one bed didn’t make me want to run screaming. Maybe it was the foot massage. Maybe it was dinner. Maybe it was the stroll we took the night before with Rusty before we went to bed in our own rooms. Maybe it was the fact that I stared at my ceiling for almost two hours, contemplating whether or not it would be a good idea to go crawl into bed with Eric. Not because I wanted to fuck him, necessarily, but because I wanted to be closer to him. Although, if I was being honest, fucking him had crossed my mind too. It crossed my mind again in the morning when he came back from his run and again when he came down from his shower. Then a third time when he changed into his work clothes. His ass looked so damn good in the jeans he was wearing.
“Sookie?” He waved a hand in front of my face.
“Sorry.” I shook off the haze in my brain and hoped my legs didn’t rub– too late. My thighs were rubbing together. The look on Eric’s face told me he knew something was up.
“Break time,” he said.
“Right.” I picked up my drink and followed him away from the bar.
There was a quiet break room where he could sit and eat dinner without the loud thumping of the music system. A flat screen was mounted on the wall in there. There was also a nice couch up against the wall across from the TV. Two round tables with four chairs placed around them were also set up in the break room. Eric put the insulated bag on one of the tables and unzipped it so he could remove his dinner. Right away I could smell the barbecue. It smelled pretty damn good if I did say so myself. Judging by the happy noise Eric made, he completely agreed with my assessment.
“The only thing better than pulled pork is having a pretty girl to sit with me while I eat,” he winked at me.
“So in other words you’re having a good night.”
“I’m having a damn good night. You wanna share this with me?” He pulled out a chair for me to sit down. Once I was seated he took a seat in the chair next to me, a little closer than normal.
“I’m stuffed. That’s all yours.”
“Thanks. You’re an angel for bringing me this.” Before he took a bite he looked over at me. His eyes searched my face for a moment before he leaned over to kiss me. He didn’t linger, it was just a quick peck. “Seriously, thank you. You’ve done a lot for me.”
“You’re welcome.” I wasn’t ready to say so out loud but him kissing me caused a few flutters in my chest. I liked it.
Eric put his focus on his food. He unwrapped a sandwich and took a massive bite. He let out a deep, rumbly moan as he chewed.
“Good, huh?” I smiled.
“Delicious. You definitely get to make the pork from now on,” he chuckled once he swallowed.
“Yay, I get to keep my job,” I said and took a drink of my whiskey sour. “So if I stick around and dance for a while it’s not going to be too big of a distraction for you?”
“I think it’ll be a good distraction if anything. You may even get me to join you if I have a couple free minutes.”
“Ha! If you join me you’ll lose track of time,” I pointed out.
“I have a partner out there to come and get me if I do. Or, I can wait and we can dance at home…”
“We should probably save it for home. We’ll be less likely to get arrested.”
“Mmhmm, especially with you wearing that,” he said, motioning to my dress.
“By the time you get home I’ll probably be in my pajamas.”
“Or you could be naked…”
I laughed at that and said, “Okay I know I didn’t put psychedelic mushrooms in your sandwich.”
“Hey, it’s worth a shot,” he winked.
I appreciated his humor. Honestly, I was thinking about it. There was a slow evolution to our friendship over the last two years. That time apart obviously did us both some good. If I was being honest, I was afraid to diving in head first but at some point I was going to have to take a leap of faith. The tension between us was growing and when the bubble burst it was either going to be the best thing or a complete catastrophe. Why did relationships have to be so damn hard?