I quickly discovered that I was a little too used to traveling with someone. The train ride from Berlin to Gdańsk seemed to be going on forever. Of course there were stops to be made and all that and it didn’t help that I didn’t speak a lick of Polish. My German was essentially nonexistent. I didn’t know if Eric was fluent in German but in speaking with a shopkeeper in Berlin, I had learned that German and Swedish were similar because they had Germanic roots.
Before going to the train station I had made it a point to go to the Berlin concentration camp. It hadn’t housed as many people as Auschwitz or Dachau had at one point, but it was estimated that Sachsenhausen saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 deaths due to illness, exhaustion, medical “experiments” gone wrong, malnutrition and poor living conditions.
Arbeit macht frei.
Work makes you free.
The gate made my skin crawl.
There was something about Germany that I understood in a way that someone from Utah might not. Down in Louisiana there were plenty of plantations still standing with the slave quarters also still standing on the property. There were families in my hometown that had been in the area since the town was founded back in 1818. Ancestors of the founding members had traced back generation after generation and most of them had been slave owners.
My own family had been a part of that up until my great-great-grandfather decided that wasn’t how he wanted to make his living. He was exceptionally liberal for his day. Of course the other families in town thought Luther Lee Stackhouse had lost his mind, but he didn’t care. The former slaves remained living on our land but as employees and freemen, not as property. Staying with us afforded them some form of protection, I supposed.
Genocide and slavery weren’t the same thing, of course, but in each instance a group of people was overpowered, persecuted and abused by another group. I learned that modern Germans were sensitive to the history of their country and that they weren’t proud of Hitler. There were still Nazis in the country, politically speaking and there were people with anti-semitic views but it didn’t apply to the entire country. Being German didn’t mean hating Jews any more than being southern didn’t mean I hated black people.
It was a sobering experience, visiting Sachsenhausen.
I wanted to call Eric and talk to him about it but I was sure he was busy dealing with the aftermath of the fight at the pub. So instead I pulled up the picture of him I took in our hotel room in Amsterdam while he was lying in bed shirtless and sent it to Amelia, my roommate back at school. I hadn’t told her about him yet but there was no time like the present.
Ames: Is that a real life Greek statue?
Me: No, it’s 6’5″ of Swirish multiple orgasms.
Ames: O. M. G! Are you doing that?!
Ames: What’s a Swirish?
Me: He’s Swedish but I met him in Dublin so his accent is confused lol
Ames: Unf. Is it sexy or cute? Or both?
Me: Both. His name is Eric. He owns a pub in Dublin. He’s great in bed.
Ames: I don’t think I’ve ever been this proud of you.
Ames: Wait. Is he traveling with you?
Me: He was. There was an emergency in Ireland so he had to go back. I fucked up, Ames. I miss him. A lot.
Instead of responding in text my phone rang.
“I want to get off my train and fly to Dublin instead of going to Helsinki in three days,” I told her. That was a problem. We were supposed to be having fun and great sex. That’s all.
“I’m sorry.” I could tell she was frowning. “I’m sure it doesn’t help that you’re all by yourself. You would kick yourself if you missed part of your trip though.”
“I know. He doesn’t need me getting in the way while he deals with the stuff going on at the bar,” I sighed. “I’m not supposed to have feelings for him. It’s probably just the sex, right? Lots of orgasms just have my wires crossed.”
“Sure, that’s it.” She wasn’t very convincing. “Is he going to join you again when he’s done with whatever he’s doing?”
“First of all, you’re not very convincing. Second of all, he’s supposed to find me in Stockholm next week. I’m worried he won’t. He said that last night wasn’t goodbye, but shit happens and we both know this is going to end. Maybe it’s better if he doesn’t find me in Stockholm. Then my stupid heart won’t go falling in love with him,” I said.
Amelia was quiet for a moment before she said, “That might be too late. Has he called? Are the feelings reciprocated?”
“He’s busy with fixing his bar or something. There was a fight and someone got hurt pretty bad,” I explained. “I know Eric likes me and we have fun together but I don’t really know how he feels. He uh, he said I make his world lighter.”
“Oh girl,” she chuckled. “He’s either really smooth or you’re both in trouble.”
“The first time he said it, he said it in Swedish and I almost pounced on him in the middle of an Anne Frank exhibit,” I told her. “Tell me it’s the sex, Ames.”
“It’s the sex,” she said a little more convincingly. “He’s clearly a sex God and you’re just having a good time.”
“He is and I am. It’s legitimately impressive that I’m not walking funny,” I said.
She laughed at that. “Do you have any other pictures of him? Does Gran know about him?”
“Gran knows and yes I do.” I pulled the phone away from my ear and sent her a picture of us in Amsterdam and one of just Eric, asleep on the train to Glasgow.
“Oh my God, he’s adorable, Sookie. You two together are… how old is that guy?”
“Thirty-six, I think?” Yes, he was older than me by quite a bit, there was no denying that. There were plenty of reasons why he and I shouldn’t work but for some reason we did. I needed to believe it was just amazing sex playing tricks on me. The alternative was problematic, to say the least.
“No wonder the sex is good. He’s probably been doing it as long as you’ve been alive,” she snorted.
I laughed and said, “Probably. Plus he’s… endowed.”
“Like baby’s arm endowed? Because I’ll need a picture of that too if so.”
“Well it doesn’t have an elbow but it probably could.”
“First order of business in Stockholm. Get me a picture of that thing,” she told me seriously.
“Yeah, hold your breath for it.” It wasn’t happening. “I kinda got high in Amsterdam and fucked him in front of a window.”
“You naughty bitch,” she laughed. “I like this guy. I like the Sookie you are with him.”
“You like that you look like the responsible one by comparison,” I snickered.
“No, I like that you’re not being stuffy and following the rules to the letter,” she replied.
“I’m glad I’ll be vegging out on the beach in Poland and that’s about all. This trip has been exhausting,” I told her. “I think I’ve lost eight pounds since I left.”
“It’s all that walking and sex,” she told me.
“Oh I know. I’ll gain it all back in Paris,” I laughed. “Between the wine and pastries, I’ll gain it all back and then some.”
“Not if Loverboy meets up with you in Stockholm like planned.”
“Wine and pastries are happening no matter what. I can eat and fuck at the same time if I have to,” I chuckled.
“That sounds divine,” she laughed.
“Gives a new meaning to double stuffed.”
“Oh boy,” she snorted. “I’m sure he’d like to double stuff something on you.”
“He tried to talk me into a threeway when we walked through the Red Light District. I’m not into girls, unfortunately for him.”
“You should’ve tried it. You never know.”
“Pass. I have zero interest in it.”
“Too bad. It’s fun. To each their own, though.”
My call waiting beeped and I smiled when I saw Eric on the display.
“Ames, that’s him on the other line. Can I call you later?”
“Sure. Have fun!” With that Amelia hung up.
“Hello?” I said when I switched lines.
“How’s Poland treatin’ my pretty American girl?” he greeted me.
“I’m still on the train,” I pouted. “And I’m bored.”
“Awww, I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish I was there with you. I’d find a way to keep you entertained.”
“I’m sure you would. You’d have an easy time of it too since I’m finally wearing the little denim skirt,” I smiled.
“Ugh, I wanted to see you in that so bad,” he groaned. “Believe me; what I’m dealing with here is complete shit. I’ve never hated owning a pub as much as I do now.”
“I’m sorry. I can send you a picture if you want,” I offered.
“Of course I want,” Eric chuckled. “I also want to throw the fucker that started the fight into the ocean. He’s makin’ me miss out on the skirt live action.”
I laughed at his outrage.
“That’s nothing. You’re missing my bikinis in Poland,” I reminded him.
“Damnit, Sookie,” he said in a mock anger. “You know, I can live without the bikinis in Poland. I get full nude in Sweden.”
“That’s the plan.” It worked out that he was gone while I had my period.
“We’re not leavin’ the hotel for the first twelve hours, you know that, right?”
“We’ll have to stop for refreshments,” he reminded me.
“Oh good. I thought your old age was getting to you,” I teased.
“I’m like a fine wine, Miss Stackhouse. I only get better with age… maybe more like a good Scotch.”
“You’re something alright,” I smiled. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell Eric I missed him but that was a bad idea. If Ames was right and Eric had feelings for me too it was best for both of us to step back.
The line suddenly went dead, putting an end to Eric’s laughter. It was for the best. My signal was lost but I needed to conserve my battery anyway. It was going to be a few more hours until I got to Gdańsk and I didn’t want to be without a phone. I was staying at a small hotel in Hel, just off the beach of Gdańsk Bay. In addition to spending time at the beach, I also had reservations to tour a brewery (Eric’s idea) and I was planning on visiting Old Town and Royal Way. St. Mary’s Cathedral was also on my list.
I wasn’t Catholic but I could appreciate the old churches. Truth be told, I liked old churches in general. There was something serene about them. They were quiet and at least for me, inspired me to find my center. I wasn’t sure how I felt about God. Having been raised in the South, the church was a big part of my upbringing. After I had made my confirmation, Gran left it up to me whether or not I wanted to continue attending services. I had – most Sundays – until I left for college. I went for her, sure, because I knew it was important to her, but I also liked being able to unburden myself.
Whether or not God was really there and listening wasn’t the point for me. It made me feel better to believe in something bigger than myself and the small piece of the world around me that I was familiar with. The notion that all of us were connected in a pretty basic, human way made it harder to feel alone.
I stared out the window and wondered if Eric was staring at the same cotton ball clouds I was. That was probably an indication that it wasn’t just sex between us but I didn’t want to think about it. Thinking about it meant putting a name to the things I was feeling and it was better to stay in denial. Staying in Europe wasn’t an option and Eric wasn’t going to move to the States to be with me. I didn’t even want to get my hopes up that he’d find me in Stockholm, just in case.
“It’s a good thing you went back to Dublin. You’d demand a different room,” I told Eric as I got into bed. The room had side by side twin beds. That would never do for him.
“Oh yeah, is it tiny?” he asked me. I could hear papers shuffling around in the background.
“Twin beds pushed together like it’s 1952,” I chuckled.
“Yeah, I would definitely demand a different room,” he laughed. Eric went quiet for a moment before he added in Swedish, “Jag saknar dig.”
“Say what now?”
“I miss you…”
It would be a lie if I said that didn’t make me happy and sad at the same time. I also didn’t know how to respond. It was probably better if I stopped asking him to translate.
“The walls are probably soundproof here. They’re brick,” I told him like he didn’t just make an emotional confession.
“Now I’m upset I came back to Dublin,” he chuckled. “I could be makin’ you scream my name right now.”
“I’m sure there’s a pretty Irish girl who would be happy to take my place.” Just suggesting it made my stomach turn.
“Aye, but it’s the pretty American girl I want,” he told me.
“Too bad she’s lonely in Poland,” I pouted.
“I’ll be seein’ you soon enough,” he promised. “You should be out doin’ Polish things and meetin’ the locals.”
“Maybe find a nice Polish boy to keep me warm at night?” I suggested. I felt dirty even saying it.
“Don’t get crazy now,” he chuckled. “Although, I don’t have a claim on you…”
Do you want one?
“Well then it’s not so crazy,” I replied. “We’re both free to do whatever or whoever we want.”
“We are,” he agreed. “Can we talk about somethin’ else?”
“What do you have planned tomorrow? I don’t know if you changed them since I’m not with you.”
“Well the brewery tickets were already paid for so it seems silly to blow it off. I have that and then I’m going to Old Town to look around. The day after I’m going to the beach,” I told him. I hadn’t been to a single beach since I’d started traveling. “Are there beaches in Stockholm?”
“There are, would you like to go to one?” he asked me.
“Depends. How cold is the water?” I laughed. I was used to the Gulf of Mexico, which was pretty warm.
“It’s warm-ish,” he laughed with me. “It’s probably colder than you’re used to, but the women still wear bikinis. I can wear a speedo for you.”
“Do they make ’em extra large in front?”
“You’re good for my ego,” he laughed.
“It’s a legitimate question,” I giggled. “Kids might think it’s a tree branch in there.”
“Fine, I’ll stick to the shorts. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone,” he chuckled.
“Or get arrested. Or is public nudity allowed in Sweden?”
“No, but I wouldn’t be naked.”
“Part of you would be with a too small Speedo on,” I laughed. “My roommate would like those pictures though.”
“Uh oh, have you told her about me?”
“I have. You have her approval.”
“Good to know. I’ve been teased mercilessly about you since gettin’ back,” he told me. I could hear his smile.
“Oh yeah? Well I guess it’s not every day you go chasin’ a crazy American girl across Europe.” I snuggled into the pillow. “I can hear the bay from here. I’d sleep like a rock if you were snuggled up with me.”
“Mmm, I believe it. I’ve been sleepin’ like shit since I got home,” he admitted. His voice went a little softer before he said, “I can’t wait to have you in my arms again, Sookie.”
“Me either. I think maybe we shouldn’t leave the hotel for the first day,” I said.
“I’m fine with that. We can order in if we need to eat,” he suggested.
“Do you still want to keep me away from your mom?”
“I didn’t really want to keep you away. I just didn’t think you wanted to see her,” he told me. “She would love you.”
“It would be rude not to go see her, wouldn’t it?” I turned on my side.
“It would be very rude,” he agreed. “I think I want to surprise her. I haven’t told her we’ll be there yet.”
“Do you have any siblings?” I couldn’t believe I never asked him.
“I have a younger sister, Karin,” he answered.
“Does she live in Sweden?”
“She does. She has a flat a few blocks away from my parents,” he said. “She still has dinner with them every night.”
“Ah, so she’s the good one,” I teased.
“She is,” he laughed. “My mother calls me every now and then to try to get me to come home.”
“Do you miss it? Sweden, I mean. I know you fell in love with Ireland but it’s possible to love one thing but know you belong somewhere else,” I said. I definitely wasn’t thinking of us when I asked those questions…
“I do, I always thought if I got sick of the pub someday I’d go home. But that plan may change…”
“Let me guess… The brunette angel in Amsterdam, right?”
“Of course,” he deadpanned. “A pretty American said she’d move to Amsterdam if I lived there too.”
“Oh she did, huh? Well maybe I should bow out now. That sounds like it could be true love,” I said with a little smile.
“Or you could keep good on your word when the brunette angel is a flop,” he replied.
“It’s something to consider,” I said quietly. I couldn’t afford to be thinking about moving to Amsterdam. If I did I’d throw away everything I had been working for to be with him and I didn’t want to be one of those girls.
“Who knows, maybe Amsterdam isn’t all that wonderful,” he told me. “Maybe when the old guys stop drinkin’ and I get tired of dealin’ with fights I can check out America. I hear it’s full of pretty girls. I think I found the prettiest one, though.”
“I think your beer goggles are on too tight,” I replied.
“Mmm, nope. I have perfect sober vision when I look at you.”
We were dancing around saying things we shouldn’t but in my gut I knew things were going to explode when we got to Sweden. The time was ticking by far too slowly and I was starting to get antsy. Enjoying the trip was difficult without him.
Ames was right; we were fucked.