Chairlaine Harris owns almost everything. I own the rest. All mistakes are my own.
“Is she coming back tonight?” Pam asked after her latest adoring fan slithered away.
He shook his head. “No. She’s working.”
“When are you leaving for Bon Temps?” She smiled.
“Shut up, Pam.”
She did but it didn’t erase the smug look on her face.
The distance between Eric and Sookie was too great for him to know how she was feeling. On more than one occasion, he found himself wondering. The last two nights had filled him with a sense of peace he hadn’t had for years. Being near Sookie was pleasant, and not just because of the way her soft, warm body pressed against his. That was an unexpected bonus. He wanted her very much, but her reciprocating was too much to hope for.
Kneeling by the side of the couch, he inhaled deeply and held it. Sookie’s scent clung to the leather like morning dew on a blade of grass. He could almost taste her.
She wasn’t coming back, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t go to her. It was just before midnight.
“Pam, I’m leaving early tonight,” he said on his way past her.
Pam only smiled. The satisfaction of being right would make her a pain in the ass for a while, but he didn’t care.
The drive to Bon Temps went by quickly. His Corvette purred as he parked behind Merlotte’s next to Sookie’s pathetic excuse for a car. Intense sadness penetrated his heart the moment he got into town. Sookie’s sadness. Apparently, his timing was perfect.
Forever watchful, Eric surveyed the dimly lit parking lot behind the tiny bar. Crickets chirped ceaselessly, but even so, he could hear her crying. He was by Sookie’s side a moment later. She gasped in surprise, interrupting the sad flow of sound coming out of her mouth.
“Are you injured?” He scanned her face, looking for signs of a fight.
She shook her head. “There’s a difference between hearing about it and seeing it for yourself.” A low sob shook her shoulders.
He frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Bill.” Another sob. “He’s here with another woman.”
Eric sat down next to her on the back step. Her misery was palpable, replacing her usual sunny disposition with a dingy cloud of gray. He hated it. “When are you done working?”
Sookie shrugged. “A half hour, I guess.”
“Would you like me to keep you company?” He put his arm around her experimentally and couldn’t help but smile when she leaned into him.
She sighed. “Yeah, that would be nice.” She pulled away from him, stood on the stair above where he was standing, and looked into his eyes. They were almost the same height. “Don’t hurt him, okay?”
“He hurt you. He deserves pain.”
“No.” She fought another round of tears. “Please?”
Bill doesn’t deserve you. “I won’t hurt him.” Threaten him, yes. Hurt him, no.
Sookie dried her cheeks and smoothed her hair. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and then marched through the back door.
Eric entered through the front door, smiling at Sookie as he waited to be seated. Bill watched him carefully, ignoring the brunette seated across from him.
Sookie spoke to a shifter standing behind the bar. Eric assumed he was Sam Merlotte. She identified Eric as her friend. Sam’s intensity ratcheted back a notch, but he continued to watch Bill and Eric as if he were waiting for a fight. The humans in the bar were too drunk to pick up on anything, and hardly registered Eric’s presence.
It didn’t take long before Bill and his date stood to leave. Bill threw a pile of money on the table and guided her outside. Eric followed them. “Bill.”
The woman looked like she might scream, but remained poised and prim.
“Portia, please wait in my car.” Bill handed her the keys and nudged her. She nodded her head and practically ran to the car. “Eric, what brings you to Bon Temps?”
“Sookie.” Honesty was always a good policy. “If you are with another human, you relinquish your claim on Sookie.”
“Portia and I…”
“Good. That’s what I thought.” Eric stretched his neck from side to side. “There is no need for you to bother her anymore.”
“Bother Sookie?” Bill’s voice remained cool, but it carried a hint of mischief.
“Come now. You knew how Sookie would respond by showing up tonight.” It took everything in his power to resist crushing Bill’s throat. “Leave her alone, or the next time, you will wish you had listened to me.”
Bill nodded slightly and then backed away toward his car.
Eric’s hands were balled into fists, and his fingernails had dug into his skin, leaving angry red crescents. He waltzed back to his booth and turned his attention to the menu still on the table.
Sookie rushed over to him and whispered, “What happened?”
He smiled. “I’d like a True Blood. O neg.”
She gave him a long look, but didn’t press for more information. She returned with his blood and then turned her attention to the saltshakers and ketchup bottles on each table.
He left when the bar closed, and waited against his car. It took another twenty minutes before Sookie emerged from the back door.
“I’m done,” Sookie said as she approached. “Thanks for keeping me company.” She seemed to be on the verge of saying something else, but kept her mouth shut.
“I would be happy to accompany you home.”
A small smile tugged up the corners of her mouth. “Really? I’m so tired, and I just can’t…”
“Shh. Let’s get you home.” He followed her through three miles of winding dark roads until they were in front of her house.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Sookie offered as she put her purse and keys down on the kitchen table.
His gaze lingered on her neck, but he shook his head.
Her shoulders sagged as she shuffled through her house. “I’ll be right back.” Water ran in the bathroom, and then Sookie was standing in front of him in a soft blue nightgown. She held her hand out to him and led him into the front room. The couch was covered with a sheet and had a pillow and blanket arranged neatly on one end. A crossword book was propped on the top of the pile. “I’ve been sleeping here, since yours is so comfy.”
Eric smiled and sat next to her.
“Why did you come tonight?” She turned her tortured face up toward his while she tucked her feet under her body.
“I thought you might need me.” It’s a better answer than admitting I miss you. Even if it’s true. “I’m sorry Bill hurt you.”
“What happened when you followed him outside?” Tears filled her eyes.
“I told him to leave you alone.”
“Oh. So I won’t see him anymore?” Her chin wobbled.
Eric shook his head. “No.” He opened his arms to her and held her while she cried. Her tears soaked a patch of his shirt, but he didn’t mind.
The sobs finally subsided and then she spoke, “Thank you for coming out here and making me feel better. I should hire you to be my sleep aid.”
Eric laughed and wrapped his arms around her body a little tighter. “I’ll be here every night, if you would like.”
“Mm hmm,” she mumbled half asleep, and then her entire body relaxed against him.
That was how it started. Officially. Every night when Eric and Sookie were both done with work, they would meet, talk for a little bit, and then sleep. Every night got a little easier, a little more comfortable, and a little further from the pain Bill had left in her heart.
Two weeks had passed since Eric’s encounter with Bill at Merlotte’s, and as far as he knew, Bill had taken his threat seriously. It was just what Sookie needed to get over him.
Very early on a Friday morning, Sookie stretched and thanked Eric for another wonderful night of sleep. She had driven to Fangtasia hours before and had spent the night on his couch.
“What time do you want me to come out tonight?” Eric asked. They took turns driving.
“I work the lunch shift, and I was planning on going to a game, so I guess after … unless you want to go with me?” Her mouth pressed together and twisted. Her nervousness made Eric nervous too.
“High school football. The whole town goes. So, do you want to pick me up?” She bounced on the balls of her feet.
“I need to be here—” he said.
Sookie’s shoulders fell. “Oh, that’s okay.”
“I need to be here for a couple of hours, but I can meet you there.”
Her smile returned brighter than ever. “Great. See you then.”
He had a date. With Sookie. At a high school football game.
On to Stay: Chapter 7