Runway: Chapter 2
I had never met Eric Northman in the nearly five years I’d been booking at Merlotte’s. He’d come to L.A. several times for occasional print bookings, but it seemed every time he’d come into the agency, I’d been out of the office for one reason or another. He had a reputation for being a real lady killer, being basically the handsomest man on the planet and one of the few completely straight male supermodels.
Of course, I was curious to see him in person, but figured it was probably for the best that I’d missed meeting him. My crush was bad enough. Seeing him in the flesh would probably just make it worse.
Eric’s sister, Pam, had become a very dear friend. (I discovered that they were actually half-siblings which explained their different last names.) She had single-handedly landed me my dream job by coming to Merlotte’s on that open call. When she agreed to come to us, nineteen of her friends came as well, instantly putting us on the map as the new hot runway agency in Los Angeles. Pam put me in touch with all her clients and within six months, our budding little runway division had grown to thirty-two models and we were the top runway agency in town just like that.
I worked hard developing relationships with clients and courting new ones. I was inexperienced but determined to deserve Sam’s confidence. As our runway division grew, so did my salary. Sam was generous and appreciative of my dedication.
I briefly considered moving into a bigger apartment, but opted instead to save my money in the hopes of one day buying into the agency. I wanted to be a partner to Sam, so I invested my money carefully and conservatively with my eye on the future. I had no idea what it might cost to own a part of Merlotte’s, but I saved as much as I could.
I didn’t date much, although I did have a brief relationship with an events planner named John Quinn. We met at The Standard Hotel one night when I was out with Pam. She left me to go flirt with a pretty brunette girl (Pam preferred dating women.), and Quinn, as he liked to be called, kept me company.
Pam always referred to him as “q-tip head,” but he was nice enough. (He did have a shaved head, and yes, it did look a little like a q-tip.) We dated occasionally for a few months, but didn’t sleep together. We did kiss, but that was it. It bugged me that he always called me “babe.” I wondered if he secretly couldn’t remember my name, and it turned me off. We never really broke up. He just stopped calling and I let him. No big deal.
I occasionally went to the shows that I booked. Most of them were on the weekends. Once in awhile, I’d go to watch one and then Pam and I would go out afterwards for a drink.
I had booked fourteen models for a big Calvin Klein show at The California Mart on a Saturday night and decided to go watch it. Yes, Eric Northman was one of the models in the show, and yes, I wanted to see him in person. He had flown in from New York for a print job the day before and agreed to do the show before he left the following day. Sam had always handled his bookings and the show was no exception. I’d never actually spoken to him on the phone.
Pam and I had made plans to have a drink later, but when I got to The Mart before the show, she said she’d have to cancel and didn’t give me a reason.
I was standing backstage before the show talking to some of the girls when I saw him. He was sitting in a makeup chair getting powdered. Even though he was seated, I could see he was very tall even for a model, at 6’4″ and had long blond hair—his signature look whether it was in style or not—and the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. He smiled at me from across the room before closing his eyes as the makeup artist brushed his face with powder. I felt a rush of adrenaline and blushed like a school girl. Before he could open his eyes again, I left the backstage area and went out front to find my seat in the audience.
Sophie-Anne Le Clerq was the show coordinator and had greeted me as an honored guest and reserved a seat for me in the front row. The audience grew quiet as the lights dimmed. The room was pitch black before spotlights hit a handful of models posing on stage. The music came up and the models moved in unison, walking down the runway as it was lit. We all applauded and I was so proud as I watched my models. Pam came out in the second group looking stunning in a crisp black skirted suit with a wide-brimmed hat.
In the entire first scene, all the models wore black, and they posed and walked in groups of three or four until the final model appeared alone: Eric Northman. He took the stage, walking slower than the others and not in sync with the music at all. But in doing so, he owned the stage in his perfectly fitted black suit and stood out as something very special. The audience clapped at the superstar and as he passed by me, he looked directly into my eyes and smiled the same smile I’d gotten backstage. Could he see me? Was it my imagination? I smiled back like a fool, feeling like we were the only two people in the room rather than two of the two hundred or so sitting in the seats with me.
He casually turned at the end of the runway and strolled back to the stage, turning one last time to face the audience before the lights dimmed. I caught a last twinkle of his stunning blue eyes as they caught mine again just before the stage went dark. My heart was pounding in my chest.
Eric appeared seven times on stage and each time, he seemed to single me out and give me a smile. I honestly wondered if I was losing my mind. Surely, it was my imagination that he connected with me. Maybe that was his gift—to make every woman in the room feel as if he’d noticed her. I let the lights and the music and his blue eyes lure me into a trance as I watched the show, fantasizing with every scene that I was alone in the room with Eric Northman—that we were the only two people on earth.
I snapped out of my fantasy as the models all snaked out onstage for the finale, clapping their hands as they followed one another out to the end of the runway and then back and offstage. The house lights came up and I reached underneath my seat and retrieved my purse.
I watched the room full of people head for the exits as I went to the door beside the stage and knocked. Sophie-Anne herself let me in and I congratulated her on a great show before finding my way to the dressing area. I stopped and spoke to several of the women as they dressed before I came to Pam. Her dresser was pulling her very tight jeans up as she stepped into her heels.
“You were great!” I said.
“Thanks, Sookie! Did you get to meet Eric?”
“No.” I glanced towards the men’s side and caught a glimpse of his perfect butt as he pulled on a pair of jeans over his black boxer briefs that fittingly said “Calvin Klein” on the waistband. His back was to me and I quickly looked back to Pam. “He was great though. You all were.”
“I’m sorry I had to cancel on you. Amelia’s in town.”
“That’s okay. Tell her I said hi.” Amelia was a New York model that Pam had a thing with from time to time.
“I’ll introduce you to Eric.” She was buttoning her blouse.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll meet him some other time.” I’m not sure why I was so nervous. I didn’t dare look to the men’s side of the room again. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
Pam gave me a hug and I got several hugs from some of the other girls as I made my way to the exit. I found my way back out into the house and followed the remaining audience members out to the lobby.
As I emerged into the night air through the front doors of the building, I was relieved to get outside and away from the supermodel who’d made me so nervous. I crossed 9th Street to the parking lot where I’d left my car. I waved goodnight to a couple of my models while I dug through my purse for my keys. As I approached my car, I realized that my keys weren’t in my purse and started to panic a little.
I checked my pockets and kept digging into my purse. No keys. I turned and headed back to The Mart, passing the last people coming out the doors. I hurried through the lobby and fortunately, the doors to the theater weren’t locked. I opened one and found the room empty and dark, lit only by the lights still on at the back of the stage. I found my seat and got down on my hands and knees to feel around the floor underneath my chair. As soon as I felt the keys in my hand, I heard my name.
I stood and looked up on the runway and there he was, beautifully backlit, wearing jeans and a gray cashmere sweater, looking like a god.
“Yeah, I know. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“You too.” He hopped off the four-foot high ramp and landed a little too close to me.
“You were great in the show,” I said, and wondered why my voice sounded so shaky.
He didn’t answer me but just looked into my eyes wearing the sweetest smile. It was dark, but his eyes caught the light from the stage. They were such a piercing blue. He took a step closer. “Sookie.” He said my name as if he just wanted to hear the sound of it.
And then his lips were on mine. I was so shocked that I don’t think I even reacted at first. But then I was so overwhelmed with how soft his lips were and how great he smelled and tasted and how strong his arms felt as they wrapped around me. I simply melted and parted my lips, inviting the tongue of a stranger in—a first for me.
We stood there kissing for a long moment. It was surreal being in the arms of this man—like a fantasy come true. I laced my fingers through his hair and pulled him closer. He turned us around and pressed me up against the runway as his breathing became heavier and his tongue more forceful. I moaned into his mouth and became aware of an erection pressing into me.
I knew I should stop him, but I couldn’t. All I could do was hold him tighter and kiss him harder and press my body into his. I’m not sure how long we stood there mashing our bodies together, but soon the fantasy was interrupted by a woman clearing her throat.
“Excuse me, but I need to lock up.”
It was Sophie-Anne.
I pushed Eric away and broke the kiss.
“I’m so sorry. I was just leaving,” I spoke towards the voice. Eric was staring at me, his chest heaving.
I grabbed my forgotten purse and keys off of the floor where I’d dropped them behind Eric and walked briskly towards the door, suddenly terribly embarrassed by my behavior. And in front of a client. Jesus.
I kept going out into the lobby and then out the front door into the night. I didn’t know if Eric was following me or not, but I started to run and luckily, caught the light just right, dashing through the crosswalk towards my car.
I got the car started and as I pulled into the street, I glanced over to The Mart, but didn’t see anyone.
What in the world had just happened to me? I had lost my mind. And had I also lost a client? Good lord, I could probably even lose my job. What I had done was so unprofessional on so many levels, I couldn’t even begin to list all the reasons it was so wrong.
When I got home, I opened my sofa bed and threw myself onto it, curling into a little ball. I was so ashamed and upset at the thought of tossing my whole career away because I was swept off my feet by some pretty-boy supermodel. God, it was embarrassing. How would I ever be able to explain it to Sam when I couldn’t even explain it to myself?
I didn’t even bother to undress, but just pulled the covers up over me as I wallowed in self-pity and self-loathing. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse, I found a way to make it just a little bit worse by admitting to myself that even though it was completely wrong and completely embarrassing, it was also completely wonderful. I fell asleep more confused that I’d ever been in my life. Confused about Eric Northman and how he’d made me feel.