She had to be joking. Eric was positive this was some huge cosmic joke. She expected him to get IN that thing? First off, it was filthy. Secondly, it looked like a death trap just waiting to claim its’ next victim.
“Come on, Princess. We gotta go!” Alcide chuckled, patting the side of the huge jeep.
“Uh,I’ll just wait here, thanks,” Eric backed away slowly. He shoved his hands in his pockets and spun around to go back to the house except Sookie was in his way…on an ATV.
“It’s ride in that, or ride on this. Your choice, Daisy Duke, but we have to go now,” she twisted the left handle, flooring the gas and revving the engine.
Eric heaved a sigh and reluctantly climbed into the backseat of the jeep. With a whoop and an ear splitting roar, the jeep jumped forward over the grass.
Jason and Alcide talked between themselves during the drive and Eric reclined in the backseat, wind whipping through his hair. Maybe this wasn’t as bad as he thought. They certainly couldn’t expect him to do much on whatever field trip they’d dragged him on.
Twenty minutes later Eric was groaning, cursing whatever karmic forces were fucking with him. He stood hip-deep in mud, the gooey brown muck seeping into his pants and underwear, squishing in between his toes. Thankfully he’d had the foresight to take his shoes and socks off, but hell if that would be any comfort now!
Sookie gently handed him a third baby bird. He passed it to Alcide who had somehow managed to stay out of the mud.
“How many more, Sook?” Jason called as he stood next to the jeep, scribbling on a clipboard.
“Uh…” she waded further into the muck, yanking herself up on a low hanging branch. “It looks like there were a few more, but I don’t see them. A raccoon or cat probably got them.”
With a disgusting sounding ‘plop’, she landed back in the mud pit, splashing Eric’s torso and neck in the process.
He grit his teeth and glared at her smiling face. She held out a strong, calloused hand motioning for him to move toward her.
“I’ve got a branch under here to make getting out easier,” she explained as she guided him gently to her. He grimaced as his shin caught something under the mud and he stumbled, falling even further into the mud.
“Oh, cheer up, Dixie cup! This is an easy run. Just you wait until we have to wrestle a gator!”
“Alcide! Don’t scare the poor boy on his first day!” Sookie turned to Eric, once again trying to help him out of the lake of brown filth.
“Alright, Sook. You guys good? We’re gonna get these guys back to the house,” Jason gave a small salute as he and Alcide climbed back up into the Jeep.
“Wait! I’m not riding with them?” Eric’s slightly shrill voice carried in the swamp, making birds flutter from their perches.
“Not covered in mud you’re not. Alc would skin you alive if you brought that muck anywhere near his baby!” Sookie giggled at the look of astonishment on Eric’s face.
“Yeah, cause that hunk of metal is just pristine. Let me tell you.”
Sookie’s eyes sharpened, glaring daggers at him. “Alright, Eric. I’m going to give you some good ol’ down home, hard to hear truths, ya got me? And you, sir, are going to shut the fuck up while I’m talking.”
She hauled herself out of the mud; wiping her hands down her long legs, flinging as much off of her as possible. Then she plopped her delectable ass down in the grass, not moving to help him at all. He crossed his arms over his chest as he waited in indignant silence, eyebrow raised.
“You are a brat.”
He scoffed at her simple declaration. “Is that all, m’lady?” he sneered. “Or do you have other pearls of wisdom to impart to me from on high?”
“Oh, I’m just getting started, Princess. Despite having some of the most loving and generous parents,-who I know tried to raise you right-you are still a spoiled, entitled, pompous jackass. You don’t care about anyone but yourself. Do you even have a clue about anything your parents do? Do you have an inkling of what they’re going through? Do you ever stop to wonder?”
He blinked at her, silence engulfing their small clearing.
“Yeah, I thought not,” Sookie drew her knees up to her chest, hugging her arms around them and smearing her further with mud. “I met your mother about 7 years ago. I was only 15. You were a senior and getting ready to graduate. Do you know where I met her?”
Eric’s brow furrowed as he tried to recall his senior year. He had played football and was at a party nearly every weekend, drunk off his ass. Shaking his head slightly, he raised his eyebrow at her again. “I have no idea where you would have met her. I’m not her keeper.”
She snorted inelegantly. “Ah, yeah. That’s just like you. Brush it off so you don’t have to face the fact that you are a shit son and an even shittier person in general. I met her at the fucking oncologists office!”
“Well, she’s a good friend. She was probably just giving someone a ride.”
Sookie stared at him, mouth opened wide and eyes even wider. “Seriously? You didn’t know?”
Alright, now he started freaking out even more than when that weird slimy thing had slid through his toes before.
“Know what? What am I supposed to know?”
“Shit. She said she was going to tell you. Your mom had cancer-”
His head began shaking, violently sweeping from side to side. He was trying to shake the words right out of his head.
“No! No, she would have told me. She…just-no!”
“Deny all you want Eric, but it’s true. Anyway, I got to know her and your father and they are amazing people. My parents died when I was about 5, so I lived with my Gran until she died when I was 17. But your parents treated me like a daughter. They are the ones who helped me with college. They are the ones who helped me get the Rehab started, and they are the ones who continue to donate their time and money so that we can keep the Rehab open. I’ve seen them help countless people and every single one of those people is a hell of a lot more grateful than you.”
She jumped to her feet and began pacing. “I know all about you too. Believe me, your mother has cried about you so many times, it’s insane. I know that when you were seven, you found a dog on the side of the road and brought it home. Your parents let you keep it and you named him Frodo because the Lord of the Rings was your favorite book. You used to make your dad read it to you before bed every single night. I know that when you were nine, you fell out of the huge willow tree in your front yard and broke your arm. Your mom cried the entire time you were in the emergency room and you just kept patting her hand and telling her that it would be okay. I know that when you were 13, your grandfather died and you went with your parents to Sweden to bury him. And I know that when you came back from that trip it was like you were a completely different person.”
Sookie looked at him with sad eyes.
“Your parents love you so much. But I really don’t blame them for being fed up with you. You’re 24, two years older than me, and you haven’t even managed to get a Bachelors’ degree, despite having gone to college since you were 18. You’ve never had a job and don’t have a clue what you want to do, except drink and fuck bitches who want to drain you dry. And you let them! You let them steal your happiness; you let them steal all those essential parts of you that make you a good person. What I know is that this Eric, the Eric I see right now, is not a good person. I see glimpses of that man, but he’s buried so far inside you that I don’t even know if you could let him out anymore.”
Eric stood; stunned by the verbal bitch slap she’d just delivered.
“Come on, I’ll get you out,” Sookie held out her hand and began yanking him towards her, nearly dragging him through the mud. Once he was on semi-firm land again, he flopped down on his back beside her.
“She really had cancer?” he turned his eyes to hers, seeing the nearly aquamarine orbs shine with pity.
“Yes. But she’s okay now,” she picked up his hand gently, holding it in her own. “Your hands are soft and…well, they were manicured,” she giggled slightly. “You need to use these hands for good. You need to let people in, to see the real you, the good you.”
Eric shut his eyes against the sunlight filtering through the trees. “I’m not sure there is anything good in me anymore.”
The streaming bright light behind his eyelids suddenly darkened. He opened his eyes to see Sookie, backlit and glowing like an angel. “There’s good in everyone, Eric. You just have to find it.”
She stared at him a moment longer before popping up to her feet. “Come on. I’m filthy and so are you. We should go shower and change.”
“I didn’t bring a change of clothes,” Eric grumbled. His mother could have at least warned him.
“I’m sure we’ve got something that’ll fit you. You and Alcide seem to be around the same size,” she tugged on his arms, trying to lift him to his feet. “Come on, Buttercup, before the boys send out a search party.”
x . x . x . x . x
Sookie burst into a huge round of laughter as Eric emerged from the bathroom on the second floor. He was holding up the pants Alcide had graciously provided. Despite having a drawstring, the waist was clearly much too big for his slender frame and they were about 2 inches too short.
“You look…you look just lovely,” Sookie managed to say before she collapsed into another fit of laughter.
“Yeah, yeah yuk it up. What else is on the schedule of torture for today?”
Sookie glanced at the clock and Eric groaned seeing that only 2 hours had passed since they’d gone out on the rescue.
“Well, this is usually the time we eat. Let’s see, today is,” she scrunched her nose as she thought, “chili and homemade bread. And I made some brownies last night that I managed to save from the bottomless pits down there.”
Eric followed dutifully as Sookie wandered through the old farmhouse, calling for Jason, Alcide and Stan.
“Lunch?!?” Stan’s head poked out of the room he’d been in before. Sookie cracked up again as she waved for Stan to follow.
“Where do we eat? I’m not eating in the maggot kitchen!”
She shot a glare at Eric and he blanched. “Check your ‘tude, dude, or you’ll be watching us eat and starving.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed momentarily before he sighed. “I apologize Sookie. I’m just not used to…these conditions.”
“See, now was that so terrible?” Stan covered his mouth to stifle a chuckle as Sookie flounced away from them.
“Sook, I’ll take him to the house. Jase and Alcide went out on a run to the feed store, so they can eat when they get back. Do the rounds and meet us there,” he offered.
Waving them away, Sookie grabbed a covered bucket and retreated to the back porch while Stan led Eric out the front door.
“What’s she doing? And where are we going?” Eric’s voice wavered as Stan pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. Leading the way to a brightly painted VW van, Eric cringed as Stan waited expectantly for him to get in.
“We’re heading up to her place. It’s just down the road, though still on the property. She’s just feeding the rascals.”
“Oh, sorry. Our resident raccoons. They’re almost ready to be released. Well, most of them. We may have one that is a permanent fixture,” Eric noticed the melancholy note in Stan’s voice.
“Why is that bad? I would have thought a pet raccoon would be right up her alley. She’s got penguins for fuck’s sake,” he flinched when his mouth worked faster than his brain, but Stan took no notice.
“We don’t ever aim to keep animals. We want them to get better so that they can go back into the wild. The penguins…wow! That’s a clusterfuck she’ll have to tell you about herself, but you’ll see the lengths she goes through for them in a minute,” Stan cranked the radio, though they only made it through half a song before they pulled up in front of another house.
“Come on in.” Stan led the way into the tiny house.
Eric stepped inside and gaped at his surroundings. The entire bottom floor was smaller than his living room at school. The tiny spiral staircase in the center of the room led up to a darkened loft above them.
“Come on,” Stan’s voice floated to him from across the room. Eric’s nose finally began working and he nearly orgasmed from the delectable smells wafting around him.
“Oh. My. God! What is that?!?” the awe in Eric’s voice made Stan laugh heartily.
“Chili and bread. And…dude! She made pudding cake!” Stan groaned as he saw the second crock pot on the counter.
“She made what?”
“Lemon Berry Pudding Cake. It is, without a doubt, the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. Thank fuck the Wonder Twins aren’t here, otherwise we’d never get any,” Stan said as he pulled three bowls off the open shelves and began dishing up chili.
“Hey, open the bread machine and start slicing it for us, please.”
With direction from Stan, Eric managed to locate a cutting board and knife. He brought them to the table where Stan was just sitting down. A bowl of steaming deliciousness was waiting for Eric when he finally slid into his seat.
“How long will Sookie be?” Eric whimpered as he stared at the bowl in front of him, willing her to get there faster.
“Oh, just eat. Sookie’s gonna want a shower before she eats anyways,” Stan’s voice was muffled due to his mouth being stuffed with food.
Eric chuckled. Maybe this gig wouldn’t be so bad after all.