“So are you going to tell me where we’re going?” I asked Eric as we strolled along a somewhat busy street in Stockholm. It was a sunny day and warm for Stockholm, since it was in the mid-seventies outside. Eric hadn’t said a word about where he was taking me, only that we had to be there before lunch.
“It’s a surprise,” he told me, squeezing my hand.
“Not even a hint?” I noticed we were heading away from the busier part of town. The crowd thinned out even more once we crossed the street.
“Have I steered you wrong yet?” he asked me.
“Then be patient,” he said, cutting me off. “You’ll like it, I promise.”
I crinkled my nose at him in disapproval but Eric just chuckled at me as we walked along. When we got to a ferry station, I arched an eyebrow. It supposed it wasn’t’ that crazy. From what I gathered, Stockholm seemed to be a city of islands. There was a lot of water running through it. It didn’t have the canals of Amsterdam, exactly, but there was a lot of water all the same.
What surprised me was that we didn’t get on the ferry. Instead we boarded a water taxi, which was also kind of common in the area, from what I could tell. Eric was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning but I didn’t know why.
“You’re seriously not going to give me a hint about where we’re going?” I asked. The address he gave to the driver was in Swedish and since my Swedish was definitely limited, I had no clue where we were going. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him; I was curious. I liked knowing where I was going.
He leaned over to kiss the tip of my nose. “You’re going to have to live in suspense for a while longer, my dear,” he smiled.
“I don’t like you,” I teased. I had a ridiculous mean face.
“You’re adorable,” he chuckled.
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. That mean face wasn’t fooling anyone.
Eric and I settled into a seat and I was glad he had told me to bring a sweater along with me because it was chilly out on the open water of the Baltic Sea. I supposed we were technically probably in an inlet or something, but still. The water was a beautiful shade of blue/green that reflected the sky so clearly. It wasn’t like some of polluted water back home. I could see mountains in the distance and the tall buildings of Stockholm. It was probably gorgeous at night when it was all lit up. The ride on the water taxi took about forty-five minutes and then we drifted up to a dock extended from the back of a property.
The house – well, houses – were red with white trim. They looked kind of like cottages and exactly what I would expect from old Scandinavian design before everything was all clean, modern lines. These little houses were much more rustic looking, as opposed to the more industrial style in the city. The structures were surrounded by tall trees that were so vibrantly green they almost didn’t seem real.
“Where are we?” I asked Eric as he helped me off the boat and onto the dock.
“This is where I grew up,” he told me. He paid the guy for bringing us before he took my hand to lead me up the dock toward the house.
“Seriously?” It was beautiful and I hadn’t even been inside. “Why would you ever leave this?”
Ireland was beautiful too, but there was something about the little island that was just… I didn’t even know the word.
“I had my reasons,” he shrugged. “As I mentioned, it’s also stuffy here to me.”
“Well it’s stunning landscape,” I said as I looked around. I let him take my hand and lead me up the dock toward the house. “Is there a guest house over there?” I pointed to the left where there were two smaller structures. It looked like one was maybe a garage and the other was a guest house or maybe a workspace or something like that.
“Something like that, I stayed in it when I turned sixteen and didn’t want my mom to hear me with girls,” he laughed.
I arched an eyebrow.
“My brother woulda killed for a little love shack like that when he was sixteen,” I laughed. Gran would have skinned him if he brought girls home to fool around with.
“It was an interesting time,” he told me. “I learned a lot in that little hut.”
“Yeah, I bet you did,” I snickered. It dawned on me, as we walked up the path toward the house that I was about to meet his mother and I smacked his shoulder.
“What?” He stopped walking and looked down at me.
“If I would have known I was meeting your mom I would have dressed a little nicer,” I told him. I was wearing a t-shirt that was a little lower cut than I would have liked for meeting someone’s mom. Eric wasn’t my boyfriend, technically speaking, but still.
“If I was worried about what you’re wearing I would have said something,” he told me. “Now come, she’s waiting.”
“What’s her name?” I whispered like she could hear me or maybe had the place wired for surveillance.
“Elin,” he answered. “Look.” He pointed toward the house and there was a tall, thin blonde woman standing there with a huge smile on her face.
Eric’s mom was beautiful, there was no denying that. She had the same eyes as her son. I waved at her as Eric pulled me toward the house. I shouldn’t have been nervous, but I was. I didn’t speak Swedish well and I didn’t know if she spoke English fluently and I didn’t want to sound like an idiot, butchering her language.
“She’s beautiful, son,” his mom said with a strong Swedish accent. She didn’t take her eyes off of me.
“I know,” he replied with a smile. “Sookie, meet my mother, Elin. Mor, this is Sookie, my… American… friend.”
“Hallå,” I said in her native language since it was one of the few words I knew in Swedish. I could at least say hello.
“Hallå, Sookie,” Elin greeted me with a big smile on her face that matched her sons. “Come in, I have lunch ready.”
When she turned to lead us into the house Eric lifted my hand to kiss the back. As we walked I noticed how light and airy it was inside. Eric didn’t give me a chance to look around. We went straight to the kitchen. I paused when I saw what looked like a cake with words written in Swedish followed by my name.
Grattis På Födelsedagen, Sookie
“Happy birthday, baby,” Eric whispered in my ear as he wrapped his arms around me from behind.
My jaw dropped.
“How… I never told you my birthday,” I whispered and my head swung around to look at him. I had never once mentioned my birthday.
“I have my ways,” he winked.
“I made köttbullar… meatballs for you Sookie if you would like some,” Elin told me. “They’re Eric’s favorite.”
“I… yes, thank you,” I replied. I was stunned. Eventually the shock was going to wear off so I could close my mouth like a normal person. “Thank you for having us,” I said randomly.
“Thank you for getting my son to come see me,” she chuckled as she moved around the kitchen to dish up lunch. “I’ve been trying to get him home for months now.”
“Oh, uh, I don’t know if I can take credit for it, but you’re welcome,” I told her. “You have a beautiful house. It’s so… light.”
There were lots of windows so tons of natural light came through; everything was open. I had noticed in Germany that things were so closed off. There seemed to be a door everywhere and the doors were always closed. Privacy was a big deal, I supposed. It seemed it was the opposite in Sweden.
The walls were natural wood and I loved the mosaic tile backsplash in the kitchen. It was different shades of blue that fit in perfectly with the view of the water out the windows. There were stools lined along the other side of the island and there was a dining table in the kitchen as well. It looked old, like maybe it was original to the house. I didn’t know heaps about Scandinavian architecture so I couldn’t be sure how old the house was but if I had to guess, it was probably built around 1930.
I smiled when I looked out one of the windows and noticed the treehouse. It was hard to imagine Eric was ever small enough to have played inside it, but he obviously hadn’t always been so big. I didn’t know what his sister looked like but it was easy to assume she was tall and blonde, like her mother and brother. Eric hadn’t said much about his father so I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t in the picture, if he had passed on or if they just didn’t have much of a relationship worth speaking about. Since I lost my parents when I was so young I couldn’t really relate to the struggles that other people my age had with their parents. Sometimes I wanted to shake them and tell them to quit being such ungrateful shits. I didn’t know what I’d do without Gran but that didn’t give me the right to judge situations I didn’t know much of anything about.
I moved to the sink to wash my hands since I had no clue what or who had been on that water taxi before me. Eric passed me a towel to dry my hands on and then Elin presented me with a plate of steaming köttbullar, meatballs, and smashed potatoes.
“Thank you. This looks delicious,” I said. It smelled good enough that it made my stomach rumble.
“Thank you, I hope you enjoy it,” she smiled. “Have a seat; I want to know all about the young girl that’s intrigued my boy so much.”
I moved over to the dining table and took a seat facing the water. Eric and Elin joined me a minute later with plates of their own. I waited until everyone was seated before reaching for my fork.
“I’m a student at Louisiana State University,” I told Elin. “I’m studying architecture.”
“Is that what brought you to Europe?” she asked. “Did Eric tell you he studied to be a police officer, but got bored in Sweden?”
“No, he didn’t,” I answered as I cut into a meatball. “And yes, I thought it would be lovely to visit some of the places I’ve studied in books.”
“It’s nice to be able to get to see it all, isn’t it? So much history.”
“It is. Eventually I’d like to visit Prague, Italy and a few other places but I couldn’t fit them all in my itinerary for this trip. Maybe after I’ve graduated and have some more money squirreled away I’ll get the chance to come back here.”
She smiled at me again. “I’m sure you’ll love it. Maybe you can do it without a giant attached at the hip,” she chuckled.
“Oh I’m sure by the time I get back here he’ll have a pretty wife and even prettier babies,” I said as I cut into a meatball. I lifted a bite to my mouth and it was even tastier than it smelled.
“I doubt that,” Eric said from the other side of me.
“He’s very picky, which is why I was so excited to meet you,” Elin told me.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picky when it comes to picking a spouse or the potential other parent of your children,” I said casually. I was picky about that too. I wasn’t looking to have children with just anyone or everyone I was sexually involved with.
“Oh, I don’t think so either, but it was a surprise when he told me he was bringing a pretty American girl to meet me,” she smiled. I knew that was exactly how he described me.
“There are tons of pretty American girls running around Europe,” I said with a little shrug. “I’m hardly irreplaceable.”
“You are to me,” Eric said casually. “You’re also the prettiest American girl I’ve ever seen.”
“You see why I was so intrigued? The charmer had very nice things to say about you,” Elin said.
If Eric truly felt like I was irreplaceable, leaving Europe was going to be much more difficult than I thought and I was already preparing myself for the ocean of tears I was sure I was going to shed on the plane ride home. No doubt I’d land in Louisiana with tomato red eyes and epic snot face thanks to it all, not to mention the slightly broken heart that was going to take some time to heal. Whether or not I wanted to admit it to myself, deep down I knew Eric was special to me. Under other circumstances, at a different time in my life, things might end differently for us. I might even stay for him.
But I couldn’t. Not then. I had a life to get to and so did he.
I smiled at Eric and felt another one of those twinges in my chest at the way he was looking at me. Right about then I just wanted to get through lunch without boo-hooing all over myself.
“I’m glad I came,” I said without looking away from him.
“Me too,” Elin said.
Eric leaned over to press a lingering kiss to on my lips. “Me too,” he whispered before he pulled back.
I took a deep breath and tried to shake it all off so I could eat my lunch without feeling like I was going to hurl from all the nerves and emotions making a perfect storm in my belly.
I shouldn’t have done the things I was doing. It was her birthday, though. I wanted her to feel special. I didn’t care that it was only going to make things harder on me when she left.
I sat up again to work on my lunch. My mother was an amazing cook, and I was glad I got to share some of it with Sookie. When I saw her passport I figured out that we would be in Sweden on her birthday. That was perfect. I told Mor all about her when I stayed a couple nights before and asked sweetly if she’d make Sookie a red velvet cake. I learned it was her favorite when we were eating dessert in London one day at the beginning of the trip. Mor owned a bakery in town, so I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.
After lunch I told Sookie to stay, that I’d be right back. I went to my old room and found the gift I’d gotten for her. My mother and I went shopping when I first got back and I found a gorgeous pair of vintage earrings, gold with little lavender flowers. When I saw them I knew they had to be hers.
When I went back to the kitchen Mor was cleaning up, telling Sookie to sit down. She didn’t need to help, not only was she a guest, but it was her birthday.
“Sookie,” I said her name when I joined them again. When she looked back I motioned for her to follow me. I wanted to go spend a few minutes with her alone down on the dock. There was a small table and chairs out there.
She got up and followed me out of the house. Sookie pulled her sweater tighter around her as we walked out to the dock.
“If I had known we were going to be out by the water I would have worn something warmer,” she said with a little smile. “This place is heaven, Eric. I have no idea how you ever left it.”
“I needed the change,” I told her. I actually just had to relocate to Ireland for work.
When we got down to the dock I took a seat on one of the chairs and pulled Sookie down onto my lap. As soon as she was settled I wrapped my arm around her and held the small box up for her.
“What’s this?” She lifted a hand to take the box from me. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“When I saw it I knew I had to,” I told her. “Happy birthday, Sookie.”
“Thank you.” She kissed my cheek before she opened the little box. A smile spread across her face as she looked at her gift. “These are perfect. I love them.”
“Good,” I smiled back. I turned her face toward mine and gave her a real kiss. The moment our lips met I slipped my tongue into her mouth for a slow, passionate kiss that made my fuckin’ cock twitch. That had to wait until we got back to the hotel. “I just wanted to give you that in private,” I whispered when the kiss broke.
“That’s probably for the better. I wouldn’t want your mom thinking she was being invited to a conception,” she giggled.
“You’re cute,” I chuckled. “Mor made you a red velvet cake.”
“You’re sneaky,” she said. “How did you… are you a spy or something?”
I laughed at that. If she only knew…
“I told you, I have my ways.” I tickled her side, making her giggle. I kissed her one more time and added, “I wanted today to be special for you. I wanted to give you the feelin’ of family, and all of your favorite things.”
“Well I’d say you’re successful so far,” she told me. “Are there any Swirish birthday traditions I should be aware of?”
“Mmm, just that the birthday girl gets a kiss for every year she’s been alive.” That was completely fabricated. “Because I like you so much I think I want to double that, though.”
“Hmmm that’s forty-two kisses,” she said.
“It is, old lady,” I chuckled. I peppered her face with kisses and then said, “Come on. Let’s go eat cake then we can walk over to the local pub.”
“I’m hardly old,” Sookie snickered.
“I don’t know.” I reached up to tug at a strand of hair. “I think I just found a gray hair.”
“Oh shush!” Sookie smacked my shoulder again. “If I’m old that makes you a relic.”
“As long as you still want my old man balls, it doesn’t matter,” I laughed.
“Yeah, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll meet a sexy Irishman at the pub,” she teased.
“Seein’ as I’m the closest to an Irishman in town, I’d say you already have him,” I teased back.
“Hmph,” she snorted and got off my lap. “I’d offer to race you to the house but I wouldn’t want you to break a hip.”
I wrapped my arms around her from behind and whispered in her ear, “If that position I had you in last night didn’t break a hip, I’m more than willin’ to beat you back to the house.”
“You think so, Gramps?”
“What do I get when I win?”
“Hmmm… How about a nice sponge bath to soothe your aching joints?” she giggled.
“Will you be bouncin’ on my cock when you bathe me?”
“Eh,” she shrugged. I wasn’t sure what that meant but it wasn’t a no.
“Better yet, you could just bathe my cock with your tongue,” I chuckled as we moved closer to the house. “Or, since it’s your birthday I might let you win. You can get the gift of your choice if you do.”
“You already got me a gift,” she pointed out.
“I would give you the world if I could,” I told her in Swedish. She stopped asking me what I was saying a while back, which was probably for the best. “I’m allowed to give you as many gifts as I’d like to give you.”
“That’s true, but I don’t need anything else. Well, a magic wand might be nice,” she smiled.
“This isn’t enough magic for you?” I joked as I pressed my flaccid cock against her ass.
Sookie laughed and said, “Calm down there, wild and crazy guy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, we’ll have to spend some time with YouTube later.”
“The only magic wand I can think of is Harry Potter’s…” I didn’t know what she was talking about. She was good at talking about things I had no clue about.
She shook her head and continued on toward the house. When we got inside, Mor was pouring us glasses of her strawberry punch. It was full of vodka.
“Thank you, Mor,” I said. I realized I did forget to speak English sometimes while I was in Sweden. It was natural to me to speak it. “Sookie, you are in for a treat,” I smiled. “You’re also probably going to be pretty drunk soon.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” she asked as Mor handed her a glass of punch.
“It doesn’t taste like alcohol so you forget you’re drinkin’ it. Two or three in and you’re slurrin’ your words,” I told her. I took my punch from my mother and took a big drink.
“Sounds dangerous.” Sookie took a drink from her glass and smiled. “That’s fantastic.”
“Thank you, sweetie,” Mor replied. “I’ll send the recipe with you when you go.”
“You see why it’s so easy to get drunk from it?” I chuckled and took another sip. Sookie hadn’t seen me drunk. I wasn’t sure I wanted her to.
“I do.” She took another drink, one much bigger than the first.
“Is there anything you want to do today?” I asked after a moment. “It is your day, after all. I don’t want to push you into my plans the whole time.”
“No, I don’t have any plans,” Sookie shrugged. It was obvious that she liked Mor’s punch, though.
“Come,” I said, motioning for her to follow me. Before we left the room I stopped to refill my drink.
Sookie followed me through the house, up the stairs. We walked into my old bedroom and I told her, “This is where I spent all of my formative years.”
“Not in the love shack?” She looked around the room. “It’s impressive that you don’t have a permanent dent in your head because of the slanted ceiling here.”
“I stayed in this room until I was sixteen,” I reminded her. “Believe me, when I was growing I got a lot of headaches.” I knocked on the wall. I actually moved out because I outgrew the room, not for sex. That happened though, a lot.
“I can’t believe you wanted to be a police officer.” Sookie plopped down on my old bed. “Maybe later I’ll let you frisk me.”
“I’m lookin’ forward to it,” I smirked. “And I did. I actually was as police officer for about two years. Things… got all mucked up and I ended up leaving the force.” I was actually drafted into the agency, but Sookie didn’t need to know that.
“Still got your handcuffs?” Sookie asked curiously.
“Aye.” I kept a pair in my suitcase that Sookie didn’t know about. I walked through my old room and opened a drawer. I pulled out a pair of handcuffs and tossed them at her. I also grabbed an old picture that I had tucked away when I stopped talking to my father. It was a family photo taken at my academy graduation. Sookie wasn’t likely to see, or hear, about my father while she was at my mother’s. I handed her the photo and took a seat behind her. I wanted to share with her what I could.
“Is this your sister?” Sookie pointed to Karin.
“Yep.” I kissed her head. “That’s my father, and you’ve met Mor.”
“You look… like her,” she said. “You don’t look much like your dad. Are your parents divorced?”
“Aye,” I nodded. “He met a younger woman…” Kinda like Sookie. “He couldn’t keep it in his pants and alienated all of us. We’re better off without him.”
She frowned and said, “I’m sorry. It’s too bad you lost touch.”
“You know, if I really wanted to I could go see him. He lives on the other side of town. I choose not to, though. He hasn’t reached out to me either. It’s not something I share with too many people,” I told her. “I know what we have is supposed to be a fling, Sookie, but you mean quite a bit to me.”
Sookie smiled and said, “I understand not talking about it. If you do, people think they can offer their opinion or maybe offer you advice about how to fix what they perceive to be something broken. I’m unique because I don’t have parents so I can’t offer you advice on how to fix things, assuming you even want to. I’m guessing you don’t. I think it takes guts to define your limits and live by them. That doesn’t make what happened less painful or disappointing but I can understand why you might not be interested in forgiving someone who could throw away his whole family, even if it was the right thing for him. Maybe I’ve had too much punch…”
“No, you haven’t had enough,” I chuckled. I tilted Sookie’s head to face me so I could give her another sweet kiss. The sweetness only lasted for a moment before I slid my tongue into her mouth. The slow, steady dance was… perfect, as it always seemed to be with her. I pulled back after a couple minutes and breathed, “Maybe we should go back downstairs.”
“Good idea. Apparently I need more punch,” she said. “But if I get silly drunk I’m expecting you to arrest me for public indecency when I strip off my clothes and jump in the water.”
“You got it,” I winked as I rubbed my hand over her cleavage.
“Mmm… I’m already thinking of the dirty things you can make me do in order to get a translator,” Sookie smiled as she stood up.
“As am I,” I replied.
Sookie and I left the room before we got too carried away. We ended up spending the rest of her birthday in my hometown. We hung out with Mor for the day, laughing and telling stories. Sookie got a kick out of little Eric stories, which made me smile. She was clearly having a good time, which was all that mattered to me.