I watched Sookie’s eyes wander over to Eric for the umpteenth time since we’d come to the kitchen. Eric, for his part, was totally engrossed in whatever Zoe was telling him and his smile was truly genuine -something I hadn’t seen in a long time.
I ached with hope that maybe-just maybe-this could be the change he needed. I missed the old Eric and desperately wanted my friend back.
I turned my attention back to Sookie while stirring the sauce in front of me.
“So-which father is the lawyer? And what do you do?”
She smiled, the love she had for her family evident in the glow she gave off. “Jesus is the lawyer. Lafayette and I run our own business: SnickerSnacks.”
My mouth dropped open and the spoon slipped out of my hand, splattering tomatoes across the stove. SnickerSnacks was the latest trend among kids and parents alike, a trend that was quickly sweeping across the nation.
“What?” I cleared my throat, trying to force the squeak away, “You-run…SnickerSnacks?”
Her nose wrinkled adorably and I bit back the laughter that tried to bubble out of my throat.
“Yeah. Lafayette and I started cooking with my Gran when we were…god, probably around six? Yeah, it was just after my Daddy died. When Zoe was born, he got so paranoid about what she ate. It was ridiculously adorable,” she said before giggling slightly. “So, he set out finding the healthiest ways to make snacks for kids that tasted awesome. And when Zoe started having playdates, the other parents would beg me for them because their kids loved them so much. We started the business on a small scale, just selling locally and online. But then one of Jesus’ colleagues suggested setting up a brick and mortar shop. So my cousin Claude came down and helped us open the shop. It’s really taken off in the last year and we totally need to hire some more staff. I almost couldn’t get away to bring Zoe down.”
A thought entered my mind and I stopped, setting the spoon down and grabbing the tongs to mix the bowl full of salad.
“Wait, you still live in Bon Temps?”
“Yeah. We bought a place out by my Gran’s and renovated it.”
“Uh-how long is the drive, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Three or four hours usually, provided Zoe doesn’t have to pee every half hour.”
“And you’re going to drive back tonight? After dinner? In the dark, with all of the drunks of New Orleans racing around?!” The hysterical note in my voice was apparently unexpected because she looked at me like I’d grown another head. “It’s just-I’d feel better if you stayed the night.”
She smiled and it positively lit up her already gorgeous face. “I’d already planned on staying. My brother has a small apartment down here, but since he can’t be bothered to answer his phone, I was just gonna grab a hotel room somewhere. Do you know any good places to stay around here?”
I shook my head; nothing in this area would do. “Since we’re the ones putting you out, I insist you stay here. I can crash at Eric’s. You and Zoe can stay in my room-the bed is more than big enough.”
She stood quickly, a frantic look in her eye. “No, I couldn’t. We’ll be just fine in a hotel-”
“Let’s compromise, shall we?” I waved my hand to cut her off. “Stay here, in my bed and I’ll stay on the couch. It’s no imposition…I fall asleep there regularly.” She still looked like she was fretting and I put on the most pathetic expression I could manage. “Pleeeeeeeeeaaassseee…”
Finally, she cracked a smile as she settled back onto the bar stool. I felt the glow of triumph and smiled back. “There’s no talking you out of this, is there?” She asked, narrowing her eyes at me.
“Nope.” I said, popping the ‘p’ as I grabbed a spoon to taste the sauce again, cranking the heat slightly to meld the flavors as it simmered. “Look Sookie. This is a small production with a small cast. I’m hoping that we’ll all at least get to be friends, if not more like family. So, this is really not an imposition. Alright?”
She shrugged, her shirt slipping slightly down her shoulder. She tugged it up again, cracking a smile as she did so. “Alright, alright. I know Zoe will be thrilled.”
“Now here-” I held the spoon out, blowing on it quickly before she dipped her head. “What do you think of this sauce?”
x . x . x . x . x
Eric’s smile was dazzling, in both it’s span and intensity. I hadn’t seen him smile like that…well-ever. Sookie glanced quickly at Zoe who was sprawled gracelessly on the rug by her mother’s feet, drooling into the black shag.
“Hang on. Lemme put her in bed really quick.” She held a finger up to Eric before turning to me. “Are you SURE Godric? She’s tiny-she can sleep on the couch…”
I waved her away, gesturing towards the hallway. “Don’t even think about it, girlie. You just go down the hall, third door on the left, and plop her right on down in the bed.”
Sookie’s eyes softened. “Thank you-both of you.”
Without another word, she scooped up the sleeping angel and carried her steadily down the hall. I chuckled as I turned back to see Eric staring after her-his eyes not even fixed on her ass.
“You like her.”
His head whipped around as he hushed me quickly.
“Oh please. These walls are thick enough that she won’t hear a quiet murmur. Besides, what’s the big deal?” I raised my eyebrows as I yanked an ottoman over with my foot. “She likes you too.”
His award-winning ass slipped off the couch as his back went ramrod straight, his eyes shooting to look in my own. I let out a laugh as he hauled himself back up, rubbing the sore spot he’d just created.
“No. She’s got a kid and a guy and…”
“Did you not even ask her about Zoe’s father?” My nose wrinkled and I rolled my eyes. “Dude, seriously?”
“Well, we were talking about other things…”
“Like how you both love pasta and bread, how tennis is the devil’s sport, how she prefers shades of blue but you like reds…yeah I heard all that. I’m gonna go hit the couch in the office. Keep talking to her. I have a feeling it’ll do you good.”
Eric huffed as he threw his considerable height backwards, smooshing the cushions on the back of the couch. “You’re wrong Godric. She’s gonna be an awesome friend, but there’s no room for me as anything besides that.”
I smirked, shaking my head as I stood. He’d see. It was already plain to me….he’d see soon.
I grabbed his empty beer bottle off the coffee table, taking both his and mine to the kitchen to rinse and deposit in the recycling bin.
I paused as I heard Sookie return and flop back down on the couch. When I peeked back in the living room, she was a good foot closer to him, their bodies angled toward each other and their legs touching. I stifled the smile threatening to break over my face. Sighing in relief and gratitude to whatever deity was sitting up there in the clouds, I made my way through the foyer and to my office.
I was just hoping I’d wake up to something just as promising.
x . x . x . x . x
That deity must’ve been working overtime. I shook my head as I stirred my coffee, peeking around the corner again.
There, on my couch, were Eric and Sookie. His head was draped across the armrest with his left leg stretched along the back of the sofa and the right dangling toward the floor. Nestled in tight to his body was Sookie, curled up with her head on his chest, and her fingers wrapped loosely in his as his other arm circled her shoulder.
I nearly spit my lovely caffeinated goodness as I heard a tinkling giggle behind me.
“They like each other…”
I caught Zoe peeking around the corner behind me, clearly just having woken up. Her dark hair was mussed and she had pillow lines pressed into her cheek. Her eyes though were bright as she watched her mother and co-star snooze on each other.
“Yeah, I think they do. Is that alright?”
I gently steered her toward the counter, helping her up on a barstool. I quickly filled a glass with water and passed it to her, smiling as her little feet dangled high off the floor.
“Totally. My dads are happy. And I know Mommy needs someone like that.” I was still astonished at this girl. “Besides-they’re so pretty together.”
That time I really did spit my coffee.
x . x . x . x . x
I can’t believe she said yes. Though her hungry child may have been a huge factor in Sookie deciding to have breakfast with us. But I’d take whatever I could get.
I’d never felt so in tune, so connected, with another person in my life. That was the best night I’d ever spent with a woman, which could actually be sad if I stopped to think about it too much.
“Eric!” Godric’s voice broke me out of my reverie and I shook my head slightly. “Are you coming man?” Zoe and Sookie were staring at me, or glaring in Zoe’s case since she was apparently ‘hungry enough to eat a unicorn’. Little girls were weird…and slightly scary.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” I smirked as Sookie’s cheeks flushed slightly. I can’t even describe the feeling of lightness I had in my chest since she’d explained their family dynamic. Maybe I did have a chance after all.
Damn it. Godric was never gonna let me live this down. Though, if everything worked out, I’m not sure if I’d really care.
“So, where would you like to go?” Godric spun theatrically as we paused at the corner. I’m so glad the droves of tourists weren’t out quite this early, since I knew Jackson Square would soon be overrun.
“Well, Cafe du Monde is always a favorite,” Sookie nodded across the street. “But if y’all are up for a short hike I can take you to our favorite spot.”
Zoe giggled and tugged Godric down to whisper in his ear and his eyes cut to me as he choked on a laugh.
“What? What are you saying about me, you little butt?” I snarled playfully as I grabbed the tiny girl and swung her up over my shoulder. Her shrieks of laughter echoed off the stone of St. Louis Cathedral and I dug my fingers lightly into her ribs. Sookie chuckled as Godric ‘stole’ her back from me, sheltering her behind his body.
“No, you brute! Take me, instead!” He swooned dramatically and dipped backward as Zoe threw her arms up to push him up. Sookie guffawed loudly, a soft snort escaping her, much to her apparent chagrin. Her hands flew up to cover her nose and her face screwed up with more laughter as Zoe gracelessly giggled and pointed at her mother.
I shook my head, a huge smile pulling my cheeks tight as I grabbed her hand and bowed. “Lead the way, oh Mistress Mine! I shall follow you wherever you shall lead!”
She snorted again, though she didn’t let go of my hand, much to my delight. “Alright, kind sir. Let us away!”
And so we trekked the 3 blocks to Royal Street, laughing and joking the entire way. This was what I’d been missing for years, maybe for the last decade. I’d never felt so comfortable with anyone except family.
Sookie led us down the block before she stopped in front of what I had mistaken for a florist. The potted vines and trees around the entrance gave way to a rounded brick interior that was deceptively large once you were inside. Wrought iron tables and chairs littered the floor space all the way to the counter in the back. My mouth watered at the delicious aromas wafting toward me-clearly this place made more than the traditional beignets.
I could actually feel my face fall as she tugged her hand gently away. Godric elbowed me and smiled as he handed Zoe, who he’d been carrying on his back, to me. I propped her on my hip, my arms supporting her slight weight with ease and it was ridiculously natural.
She laid her head on my shoulder and smiled at me before we both turned our attention to Sookie and the older gentleman she was hugging.
“It’s so good to see you Gordon! How’s Esther?”
“Oh, I can answer just fine on my own girlie! You just give this old lady a squeeze right now, you hear me?!” The older woman who bustled out of the kitchen elbowed her husband out of the way and latched onto Sookie like a leech, rocking back and forth as Sookie patted her back softly.
“And my darling girl.” Gordon approached me quickly and dropped a kiss onto Zoe’s hair before he offered a hand to me. “Lovely to meet you. Gordon, Gordon Wyatt, at your service.”
His posh British accent was a stark contrast to his wife’s thick Southern drawl and I found myself perplexed at the energy these people exuded.
“Well, this is Godric and Eric. Godric is directing a movie and had an open casting call. Zoe is now one of the leads, along with-”
“Eric Northman.” I gulped as Esther narrowed her eyes in my direction. “I know all about you, young man. You’re not going to string my lovely God-granddaughter along now are you?”
I shook my head violently as she stalked toward me, the previously unnoticed rolling pin in her hand catching my attention.
“I’ve seen your movies and I know what all you Hollywood types are like! My Sookie is not like that, you hear me!”
“Esther, for the love of beignets, let the boy breathe. You’re scaring him to death!” Gordon rolled his eyes as he retreated back behind the counter.
Godric chuckled as Esther cracked a smile, her lips pursing as she tried to hold back her laughter. “I’m sorry, young’un. I had to do right by Adele and make sure you know what you’re getting into.”
Sookie scoffed. “We just met last night. I’m pretty sure it’s a little early to be handing out ultimatums with a shotgun-or rolling pin.”
Esther narrowed her eyes at me again, her appraising gaze sweeping me from top to bottom, lingering on the grip I had on Zoe. “Oh no, little girl. This one-I see good things for you two. This is the real deal.”
And then she whirled around, leaving a puff of flour in the air behind her as she ventured back to the kitchen.
Godric glanced my way and cracked up at what I guess was the astonished or terrified expression on my face. I felt a little shell shocked.
“Don’t mind my shrew of a wife. She fancies herself something of a fortune teller and tries to pass on her ‘wisdom’ to whoever she can.” His brow furrowed slightly as he swung his eyes back toward Sookie. “Though she’s never tried to push anything on you, so perhaps it is something you should keep in mind.” He shrugged and propped his arms on the counter, his face breaking into another large smile. “Now, what can I get everyone for breakfast? On the house!”
After much arguing over our ability to pay for our own food and Gordon’s staunch refusal (and possibly a few threats from Esther in the back), we stepped over to one of the small tables. Zoe steadfastly refused to let go of me and settled comfortably in my lap as we reclined to wait for our food.
Sookie’s eyes kept coming to rest on the two of us, though she barely participated in the conversation. After a particularly interesting tale from Godric about one of the other actors who we’d be working with, Gordon called Zoe over to pick her beignets from the fresh batch they’d just taken out of the fryer. Godric glanced my way as he stood, waving off Sookie’s attempts to follow her daughter.
Her eyes lingered on their backs and she smiled again as Godric swung Zoe up in his arms to see the top of the worktable behind the counter.
“I’m sorry about them, Eric. They were best friends with my Gramps and Gran, so they sort of ‘adopted’ my brother and I when Gran died. Esther is just…well, she’s a little intense.” Her brows were low over her eyes and her teeth worried at her lip as she glanced up at me.
I leaned over, dropping my head toward her ear. “It’s fine, Sook. I get it. It’s actually really sweet. I’m glad you’ve got people looking out for you and Zoe.”
She smiled and leaned back in her chair, her shapely leg twining itself around the chair leg nervously. “And, uh-I’m sorry. About what she said. Like, Gordon said, she spouts all kinds of crap all the time. Feel free to-uh…ignore what she said.” Her face flushed again and her fingers twisted themselves together, a sure sign that she was uncomfortable.
“Well,” it was my turn to be nervous. I cleared my throat and checked to see that Godric and Zoe were still engrossed in whatever Gordon was doing with the powdered sugar. “What if-uh…what if I don’t think what she said was so crazy? What if I, maybe-uh…wanted to possibly-explore. This. Whatever this is. I mean-”
I cut myself off before I really started to sound like an idiot and was gratified to see the huge grin spread across Sookie’s face. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves before I threw myself back out there. “So, would that be something you’d want?”
x . x . x . x . x
“Oh my god! That was delicious!”
Esther popped her head out from the kitchen at my words, her lined face crinkling even further as she smiled.
“I’m glad you liked it Cher! Now you know where to come when you want a good meal.” Her eyes swept over Godric and I again. “Y’all are too skinny.”
Sookie threw her head back and laughed, which captivated me in a completely inappropriate way. Though I was ecstatic that I now had the leeway to reach for her hand whenever I wanted. “Be careful, now guys! She’ll start making your food with extra cream and lard!”
Zoe giggled from her place on Godric’s lap, her face and hands (and most of her shirt) covered in powdered sugar. Gordon chuckled as he pulled a small T-shirt bearing the ‘Cafe Beignet’ logo from under the counter and tossed it toward us. “Clean yourself up, munchkin. Your daddies will be missing you girls.”
Sookie smirked my way as Godric helped Zoe wipe her face with some wet naps. I gathered the empty trays and toted them to the counter, eager to help this lovely couple anyway I could.
“Why, thank you, young man! I appreciate it. These old bones aren’t quite as spry as they used to be!” He reached a hand over the counter to shake. His eyes cut to Sookie, who was engrossed in Godric and Zoe, before he pulled me slightly toward him over the counter. “I know what my wife said, and I know how Sookie keeps looking at you. Frankly you seem half in love with her already. But since her father and grandparents are gone and her mother couldn’t be bothered, I’m giving you your friendly warning. Do not break her heart. Or you’ll find certain parts of yourself get broken in return. I know her brother will come along gladly.”
I gulped, though I also steeled my nerves for what I was about to confess. “Gordon, I can honestly say I’ve never felt this way about anyone. We fell asleep talking last night and I woke up with her curled into my chest and it was the single best feeling I can ever remember. Believe me, if I break her heart I’ll bring you the crowbar to use on me.”
My knees were shaking slightly, though I was heartened to see the smile on his face as I pulled back. I blanched for a moment as I saw Esther over his shoulder, though she shook her head silently and put a hand over her heart. I could have sworn I saw tears welling in her eyes.
And then the next moment, they were gone and the Wyatt’s were shooing us out of the restaurant, insistent that Zoe and Sookie get a move on before the midday traffic started.
We shuffled toward the waterfront where Sookie had parked in a garage, trying to draw out the time we had together. The laughter drew stares from passersby, some who did a double take as they recognized who I was. At one point, we were stopped by a small group of teenage girls who giggled their way over to ask for a picture.
Godric just laughed and shook his head as he swung Zoe up onto his hip, whispering in her ear as she giggled. Sookie just chuckled and offered to take the picture, which gave me hope that she wouldn’t be too put off by my job.
By the time we’d made it to their car, Sookie’s fingers were entwined with mine as Godric walked ahead of us with Zoe on his back. I chuckled at the spectacle he was making of himself, even if it was just the four of us. I’d never seen him around children and I was surprised at how much of a natural he was.
Sookie glanced shyly over at me as she paused next to a blue understated SUV. “Well, this is us.”
“Okay, well-uh…drive safe. And let me know when you’re back. Here, gimme your phone.” I took the small device from her and programmed both Godric’s and my numbers into it. “There.”
“Mommy, I don’t wanna go home.” Zoe’s face was screwed up into a pout, which sadly was incredibly adorable. I have no idea how Sookie would ever punish her.
“I know, Doodlebug. But we have to get home cause Daddy and Lala miss you. Plus, maybe Eric and Godric could get the contract drawn up during the week and come for dinner on Saturday? Would that be alright?”
Oh, me. She was talking to me. Godric laughed as he slid Zoe down his back and placed her gently on her feet. “That would be perfect, Sookie. Thanks for the invitation.”
I stumbled slightly as Zoe threw herself onto my legs, her tiny fingers curling themselves around the denim as she clung to me like a monkey.
“No. I wanna stay here.”
Sookie sighed and tried to pull Zoe away, but I was completely taken aback when the girl started screaming bloody murder. Damn, were all little girl’s voices so shrill??
She crouched down to her daughter’s level, which was doing very inappropriate things for my imagination, and began murmuring softly into her ear. Zoe quieted slightly though her brows were still furrowed and her breathing was shallow. Godric raised an eyebrow at me, clearly wondering where the polite little girl we’d met yesterday had gone.
“Hey Zoe?” I hoped I was conveying the apology I was feeling with my eyes as I glanced toward Sookie. “Come here.”
With minimal coaxing, I swung her up into my arms, balancing her against my stomach as I hugged her. “I need you to do me a favor, okay?” Her little head bobbed wildly and I grinned. “I need you to go home and get your room ready for me to see, okay? And I need you to keep your mom company for me. See, I kinda like her and I don’t want her to get lonely. And she’d be really really lonely if you stayed here with me. Can you do that for me?”
Wow. Those bright blue eyes were actually brimming with tears. Well if that didn’t tug at my heart strings…
“But I wanna stay with you. You’re my new best friend.”
Seriously, this girl was killing me. A glance at her mother just solidified it. Sookie was holding back…well, I couldn’t quite tell if it was giggles or tears.
“I know, Angel. But we’re gonna come up next weekend to see you and then we’re gonna start shooting soon. And we’ll be together so much that you’ll definitely get sick of me. I promise.”
She leaned forward and tucked her head into the crook of my neck for a moment as her little arms squeezed me as hard as they could. “Okay. But can you buckle me in?”
I glanced to Sookie who quickly pressed the button to unlock the car doors. I pulled open the front door and started to bend when Zoe tapped me quickly on the shoulder. “I’m too little to ride up here. I ride in my seat in the back.”
Clueless. I felt utterly clueless as I opened the door to see this huge contraption of a car seat. Thank God Sookie took pity on me and climbed in from the other side to direct me. A few minutes later, Zoe was safely buckled (verified by her mother) and Godric had stepped in to say goodbye. I rounded the car and quickly pulled Sookie into my arms for a hug.
“Please text me when you get home. I want to know you’re safe.” She nodded silently against my chest and I sighed in contentment.
“I will. Y’all be safe too.” She stood on her tiptoes and pressed a soft kiss against my lips. My heart nearly beat out of my chest. Nope, never had such a simple kiss caused such a reaction.
I almost felt like crying a few minutes later when their SUV pulled out of the garage. I couldn’t wait until Saturday.