Runway: Chapter 19
I found Pam’s apartment door open and went inside calling her name.
She was sealing a box in the kitchen and there were only a few boxes and some plants left in the whole apartment.
“Sookie! Oh my god, I’m so glad to see you. It’s been quite a day, but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Is it 3 already?”
“Yeah. So, what can I do?”
“Just start putting the plants into your car. I’ll get these last boxes.”
Within a half an hour or so, we had everything loaded into our cars except the box of cleaning supplies and a broom, which we left behind.
I drove behind Pam, following her to her new place. As we turned down Crenshaw Boulevard, I got a little feeling of dread, and when she turned into Lafayette Square, I seriously felt sick to my stomach. We passed Virginia Road and turned onto Buckingham.
Pam parked in the driveway of a huge and incredibly gorgeous craftsman house. I parked on the street and got out of my car. As I approached Pam standing in the driveway, she looked at me apologetically.
“Don’t worry, he’s not here,” she said.
“This is Eric’s house?”
“Yeah. It’s something, isn’t it?”
“Beautiful.” I just stood and gawked. It was really spectacular.
“I’m in the guest house over the garage.” She started to open the gate across the driveway and a big black dog came running out. His tail was wagging so hard, his entire body wiggled.
“Lafayette! Get back here!” Pam called out.
Pam and I both went past the gate towards the garage and the dog followed us. Pam closed the gate behind us. The dog jumped up and planted his paws on my chest.
“Down!” Pam said sternly. The dog obeyed, but still kept wiggling and kissed my hands. “Sorry about that. He’s learning. He’s getting better about it, believe it or not.”
“I know this dog.” I realized I had seen him the day Eric and I were in Larchmont Village.
Pam said, “Do you? Eric got him from a rescue group called Hounds of Hope. He’d already been returned once because he’s a little wild. We’re trying to train him not to jump up on people anymore.”
I knelt down and let him kiss me. “Lafayette. Hi, baby.” He was so sweet.
“Let me just put him in the house and stop up the doggy door.” I watched her lead him into the back door of the big house and then come back out to me. “So, this is my new house.”
Pam gestured to the second floor of the garage. She opened the garage door and there was a red Corvette on one side. I stood back while she opened the gate and drove her car into the space beside the Corvette.
We each took a box from her trunk and Pam led me up the stairs into a beautiful storybook cottage.
“It still needs some work, but it’s very cute. Two bedrooms,” she said.
“Oh my god, Pam. It’s great.”
“Thanks. I think so too.”
We finished unloading both our cars and Pam closed the gate before we headed back upstairs with the last of her potted plants.
“Let’s take a little break,” she suggested. We both plopped down on her living room chairs, surrounded by boxes.
I looked around the room and could see how adorable it would be once it was all straightened up.
“So, he did buy a house here after all. I’m glad,” I said.
Pam looked a little sad. “I promise I’m not trying to force the two of you together, Sookie. I never would have asked you to help me if he were going to be here.”
“I love you both, and the last thing I want is to see either one of you hurting any more.”
“I appreciate that.”
“You want something to drink?”
I was happy for the change in subject. “Sure. Water would be great.”
Pam went into the kitchen and I heard her open a box, presumably looking for a glass or maybe a bottle of water. I stood and looked out the living room window at the backyard. It needed some landscaping, but the fence looked sturdy. Suddenly, Lafayette went running through the yard.
“Pam, the dog got out,” I called into the kitchen. “He’s in the backyard. We closed the gate, didn’t we?”
Pam came back into the living room and looked out the window. “Fuck. What time is it?”
I looked at my watch. “Almost 4:30.”
“He’s early. I’m sorry, Sookie. Eric must be home. Let me just get you some water and then we’ll get out of here.”
She went back to the kitchen, back to opening boxes.
I looked out the window again, but I couldn’t see the dog anymore. I was craning my neck, trying to see the back of the main house when I was startled by the sound of toenails on hardwood floors behind me. I turned around and saw Lafayette wiggling my way and Eric standing in the doorway behind him.
Eric wore a pale blue long-sleeved t-shirt in some sort of clingy cotton and dark jeans. We both just stood there looking at each other for a long, painful minute.
Lafayette went into the kitchen and I heard Pam say, “Oh, hi, puppy. How’d you get in here?” She came into the living room asking, “Did we leave the door open…” and then stopped in her tracks when she saw Eric. “Oh, hi. I wasn’t expecting you until tonight.”
“I took an earlier flight. Thought maybe I could help you unpack. Hi, Sookie.”
“Hi.” I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
“I saw your car out front,” he said.
“She helped me with the move,” Pam explained.
“That was nice. Thanks.”
“Sure. No trouble.” I tried to smile.
“We were just on our way back to my apartment to clean up.” Pam picked our purses up off the sofa and handed me mine. “You ready to go, Sookie?”
“Do you want to see the house?” Eric asked.
Pam looked at me and gave me a look I couldn’t quite read.
“Sure. I’d love to.” I was fairly surprised to hear my own answer.
“Okay,” Pam said. “I’m just going to run over and clean the apartment. Just close the door behind you when you leave.” And then she was gone, brushing past Eric, saying a last, “Bye,” as she headed down the stairs.
“So, you’ve met Lafayette. Do you remember him?” Eric started off.
“Yeah, of course. I’m really glad you got him.”
Eric stepped aside and gestured for me to walk out the door in front of him. He closed Pam’s door behind us as Lafayette joined us and we headed down the stairs and through the yard towards his back door.
We stepped into an empty room with high ceilings. “This is the breakfast room, but will eventually be a part of the kitchen.” He led me into the kitchen. “And, this will obviously be much bigger.” It was already about the size of my apartment.
From the kitchen, we moved into a huge empty dining room with dark blue wallpaper and an ornate crystal chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling. One wall held dark wood built-in cabinets with glass panels. “All the floors will be refinished, of course, and the walls need paint, obviously. I love that all the trim is still dark wood. It won’t have to be stripped of layers of paint.”
The dining room led into a front entry way with a huge staircase. From there, we walked into the enormous and also empty living room. “The tile and mantel are original and still in good shape. The chimney cracked in the Northridge quake and will need to be rebuilt. And I need furniture, obviously.”
The dog followed us through each room.
Beyond the living room, which was the length of a bowling alley, we found the den. “This will probably be a library/office thing. Maybe I’ll put the TV in here. Not sure yet.”
We continued back into the breakfast room and then back towards the front entry way again. “This is a bathroom and over here under the stairs is a guest closet and a pantry. I might make this the laundry room. Or I might put it off of the kitchen. I haven’t decided. Right now it’s in the garage.”
We started up the stairs. “There are four bedrooms and two baths up here plus the terrace that overlooks the back yard.” We wandered through the large empty rooms. I realized I hadn’t said a word. I was just so overwhelmed.
“Everything is really amazing, Eric. I love it. I’m speechless, really.”
There was a wrought iron table and four chairs on the terrace. Eric gestured to them and said, “Those were in the garage. I just cleaned them up a little.”
When we walked into the last bedroom which was also the biggest, he said, “This is the master suite.”
There was an unmade queen bed in the center of the room and a dresser beside it with a lamp on it. A large round dog bed was on the floor beside the bed. I noticed a lavender robe was lying across the foot of the bed and felt a little sting in my heart—did a woman live here with him? I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility and realized that the idea was extremely painful.
He must have sensed my reaction and picked up the robe. “Pam stays here when I’m in New York and takes are of the dog.”
I felt a rush of relief. But then I reminded myself that he still could very well be involved with someone.
He stepped into the closet with the robe and then came out with a Bloomingdale’s bag and said, “This is yours.”
He handed the bag to me and I thought he must be mistaken until I looked inside. My little cotton nightgown was neatly folded inside—the one I’d left on his shower rod in New York. There was also a new pair of fishnet tights still in the package. I felt a rush of emotion. I was embarrassed and sad at the same time. I thought of the night my others were torn. My lower lip quivered and I bit it, willing myself to keep it together.
“I wasn’t sure about the size, so I just guessed. You can exchange them if they’re the wrong size. The receipt’s in there.”
“Thanks. I’m sure they’re fine.” I kept my eyes down looking into the bag, not trusting myself to look at Eric without crying.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked, cutting through the air that had grown thick with emotion.
I took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’d love some water.”
We walked back down to the kitchen, and I was grateful to get out of his bedroom.
There was a little table and one chair in the kitchen. I set my purse and Bloomingdale’s bag on the table which was covered with plastic bags from Home Depot full of who knows what.
“Have a seat,” Eric offered.
I sat in the chair as he took two water bottles from the refrigerator and handed me one. He hopped up onto the counter and opened his bottle to take a drink.
“Thanks,” I said, opening mine and taking a sip. Lafayette lay down on the floor at my feet.
“So, I obviously have a lot of work to do, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“It’ll be fun, I’m sure.”
We sat like that and drank our water for awhile while Eric talked at length about his plans for renovation. I mostly listened and tried not to think about how being in the room with him made me tingle all over and feel a little dizzy.
He was explaining his plans for a deck in the back and maybe a pool and when he came to the end of his descriptions, he said, “You know, when I last spoke to you…I said some awful things.”
I looked down at the floor.
He went on. “I’m so sorry, Sookie. It was…I was…very upset. That’s no excuse, I know. I never should have spoken to you like that.”
In my head, I heard his voice raised in anger saying it took five minutes for me to suck a new guy into my bed. It hurt because it was true. I’d slept with Eric so quickly.
“It’s okay.” I looked up at him. “I know you were mad.”
“No, it’s not okay. I hope you can forgive me.”
“I forgive you, Eric.” I’d forgiven him months ago.
“Thank you. And I should have called you back. It was childish of me not to talk to you about what had happened. I was just…you know…upset.”
“I know. I’m sorry I upset you. I…uh…I made a mistake asking for Quinn’s help. I should have talked to you first. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I was really…misguided.”
“Well, it’s water under the bridge now.”
“Yeah. Water under the bridge.”
“So, how is the agency working out for you? I heard Quinn bought the whole thing. Except for the runway part, I guess.”
“No, he owns that too.”
He looked surprised. “What happened?”
“He returned my money.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t really want to own the agency anymore.” He looked a little sad. “Eric, I’m sorry you weren’t able to buy the house on Virginia Road. I know how much you loved it. I thought that when you got the money back that you’d loaned me, you’d be able to buy it, but I guess that didn’t work out.”
“It’s okay. I like this one better anyway.”
“Well, it’s really great—amazing, really.”
He waited a beat and I could tell he was working something out in his head. “Sookie, did you cut me out of the deal so I could put that money into the house offer?”
“Well, yeah. I knew that buying that house was your dream and I couldn’t let what I wanted get in your way. I figured with that extra money, you’d be able to make a higher offer.”
“I didn’t need that money to make another offer. I had more money. I just didn’t want to go higher. I thought the house was overpriced.”
“Yeah. That wasn’t my dream house. I’d be happy with pretty much any house in this neighborhood. I knew there’d be another one. I wasn’t married to the idea of having that particular house.”
“No. Jesus. That’s what that was all about?”
“Well, this is embarrassing. I had no idea you didn’t need that money. I feel more than a little stupid.”
“I wanted that money to buy the business with you, Sookie. And you’re not stupid. Your heart was in the right place. I just wish we’d talked about it.”
I took a deep breath. “So do I.”
“Well, anyway, it’s all over now. I’m sorry you decided you didn’t want to own the agency, but you still run it at least.”
“Actually, funny you should mention that. I…um…I quit a few days ago. Quinn and I had a difference of opinion. I left the agency.”
“Wow. I hadn’t heard that. What are your plans?”
“Not sure. Don’t look at me like that, Eric. Please, do not feel sorry for me. Trust me, I brought all of this on myself. And I’ll be fine. I’ll figure something out.”
“I have no doubt that you will. You’re a very capable woman. You walked into my life and turned it upside down in a mere few weeks.”
“Yeah.” I nodded and looked at the floor again.
“It was pretty crazy, huh?”
“Yeah, pretty crazy.”
“Listen, I hope you’ll feel comfortable coming around to see Pam. You’re welcome here anytime.”
“I hope we can be friends.”
“Of course.” We had both finished our bottles of water and I wondered how much longer I could go without crying, so I said, “I should get going.”
“Okay, well, it was great to see you.”
“You too, Eric.” I picked up my purse and Eric hopped off the counter.
He and Lafayette walked me to the front door and I turned and said, “Well, bye.”
“Bye, Sookie.” He leaned down and gave me a very quick and very platonic hug, but I felt like my body was on fire where he’d touched me.
I turned and walked down the front sidewalk and crossed the street to my car. Once inside, I looked back and Eric was waving from the front door. I gave him a wave and drove off.
I didn’t realize it, but of course, the road dead ended because Lafayette Square was a gated community. I turned around and pulled over and stopped the car. I was feeling a little shaky and wanted a minute to get a hold of myself.
It had been very tough to see Eric. There was no point in lying to myself and saying I was no longer in love with him. I was just as in love with him as I had been on that last weekend we were together. Just being in the room with him made me feel like a current of electricity was running through my body.
I couldn’t believe how foolish I’d been—giving him back the money he didn’t need, didn’t want. What a ridiculous mistake I’d made and what a high price I’d paid. Because of my actions, Merlotte’s was owned by a man who knew nothing about the business. I had dozens of models whose livelihoods were now in jeopardy. I was unemployed myself. And I had lost the one man that I’d ever loved—worse than that, I had hurt him.
I couldn’t stop the tears anymore, so I just sat and let it out. Once I felt back in control again, I took a tissue out of my purse and blew my nose. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my red eyes and splotchy face and said out loud to myself, “Don’t look at me. This is all your fault.”
That made me laugh a little and I decided I was all finished with my little meltdown for the moment and put the car into drive and started driving forward again.
Within a few seconds, I saw Eric standing on the sidewalk in front of his house holding the Bloomingdale’s bag that I had apparently left sitting on the table in the kitchen. I thought, oh my god, how long has he been standing there? What must he have thought of my taking so long to turn around?
I pulled over and stopped, pressing the button to roll down the passenger window. Eric set the bag on the seat and smiled into the car, saying, “You forgot this.” But when he saw my face, his smile quickly faded.
I smiled and said, “Thanks,” and hoped my red eyes hadn’t given me away.
“Can I sit down for a second?” he asked.
I unlocked the door and he sat in the passenger seat, putting the Bloomingdale’s bag in the floor. He closed the door and rolled his window up. Then he just sat there for a minute, looking out the windshield.
He finally spoke. “You okay?” He turned to me and I hated to see the pity in his eyes.
He nodded and looked back out the windshield before continuing. “Are you free for dinner?”
“I don’t have any plans, but really, Eric, I’m fine. You don’t have to do that.”
“Take me to dinner just because I’m upset.”
“Oh. Well, that’s not why I wanted to take you to dinner. I actually didn’t realize you were upset when I decided I wanted to take you to dinner.”
He turned and looked at me again. “I was thinking after you left, well, really before you left…I don’t want to be friends. I’m not sure why I said that.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t seem to say much other than “oh.”
“We both fucked up. We both really fucked up. But my feelings haven’t changed. Have yours?”
I shook my head, not trusting my voice.
“Maybe we could try again. Maybe we could be a little more careful with each other’s feelings this time. Maybe we could just start with dinner.”
I nodded my head and we both smiled a little. My heart was fluttering in my chest.
“I want to help Pam unpack some first, so why don’t I pick you up…uh…let’s say around 7?”
“You know, I could help her unpack as well. I could go and pick up some dinner for the three of us and come back to help. How does that sound?”
His smile grew bigger. “That sounds perfect.”
Eric leaned towards me and gave me a very soft kiss on the lips that made it hard for me to breathe; then he opened his door and got out. He took his wallet out and handed me a $50 bill.
I just looked at it and said, “No, it’s my treat.”
He grinned and stuck the bill into the bag on the floor. “Nice try. I’ll see you in a little while then?”
“Yeah. I’ll be back in an hour or so. How’s that?”