I was so amazed to see the amount of readers who had actually stuck with this story during its hibernation – and all the new ones who came along. Thank you for all your sweet reviews!
And thank you so much to Rascalthemutant who betaed this story. Hugs and kisses!
On the second of December I didn`t get two turtle doves. What I did get was a ginger-snap heart. Or at least I thought it was ginger-snap.
“No, it`s a peppercake,” Eric corrected me.
“There`s pepper in it?” I asked and looked at the beautiful heart with suspicion.
“Yes, there is. I should know since I baked it,” he smiled.
And then he went to the stereo and put on a children`s CD called the `The Animals in the Hakkebakke Forest` and had me listen to the song about the little rabbit trying to learn how to bake peppercakes. I didn`t get the lyrics at first. I had, after all, only learned Norwegian for half a year and Eric and I spoke just as much English as Norwegian with each other. Eric made me listen to the song until I understood how the rabbit had mistaken the amount of sugar (one kilo) for the amount of pepper (one teaspoon) and how he had made the mean old fox eat them.
Eric was almost jumping up and down in excitement over the song and one of the reasons it took me ages to understand the lyrics was because Eric was singing them too.
But we ended up singing them together and then I shared my heart with him. My peppercake heart.
Eric had been very inventive and had wrapped up all kinds of sweet and heartwarming little presents for me and I looked forward to getting up every morning. Sometimes the presents were more racy than sweet, but I loved those too.
I tried to give him at least a few presents, like when I made a big sign with the number 6 on it for December 6 and wore it on a string around my neck, knowing that 6 and sex were pronounced the same way in Norwegian. It took Eric a few minutes to understand the meaning of my present, but then he unwrapped it and made sure we both enjoyed it.
On December 12th I reused the sign and made another one, laying the two numbers on our bed, one next to the other.
“Can you add?” I asked innocently and he could. Then he turned the last number upside down and that was the kind of sex we were having that morning.
Eric and I had fun and we had sex. We also had a lot of great conversations, good food and some cozy evenings on the couch, just holding hands.
One evening when we were holding hands on the couch and were staring into the fireplace, a deep dark secret suddenly found its way through my mouth. Before I knew what I was doing, I was telling Eric about how Uncle Bartlett had… well, what Uncle Bartlett had done to me when I was a kid.
I tried to stop myself. Tried to make myself shut up. But the words just poured out ofmy mouth.
I couldn`t really look at Eric while I was telling my story and was glad we were sitting next to each other. He was still holding my hand, squeezing it a little too hard sometimes, and it felt as if he was holding his breath too.
I had finally finished my story, managing somehow not to cry during my tale, but now I was empty. Empty and scared. I didn`t know what reaction I feared the most from Eric.
Disgust? No. Though I had always imagined that people would be disgusted with me if they knew, I was somehow sure that would not be Eric`s reaction.
Anger? Yes, he might be angry, but what good would that do anyone? Uncle Bartlett had been dead for years. I didn`t want anyone`s anger. I had made the mistake of telling Bill about Uncle Bartlett and he had been furious. He had almost stalked out to dig up Uncle Bartlett, call him to life just so that he could kill him again. I hadn`t needed Bill`s anger and it had torn us apart.
Pity? Yes, pity would probably be the worst feeling Eric could show me. I was a successful woman and not one to be pitied. Pity would mean that Uncle Bartlett also took away everything I had worked so hard for these last many years – just as he took away my childhood. I could never have survived it if Eric had shown me pity. Or rather, I would survive, but we wouldn`t.
I was almost afraid of moving, of breathing, when Eric unclutched his hand from mine and pulled it around my shoulders.
“I have a story too,” he said in a voice I couldn`t recognize. I tried to gaze up at him, but he held me so close I couldn`t move my head enough to see his face.
“Please, Sookie, I need to tell you this without having your eyes on me.” He paused and sighed. “It started when I was 14 and my parents sent me on vacation to my godfather in Italy.”
I feared what I was going to hear, but I leaned into his chest to motion him to go on.
“My godfather is a very rich and important man and my parents were proud when he agreed to hold me at my baptism. They were even prouder when he said he would take me under his wings and teach me what I needed to know.” Eric paused again and swallowed. “Little did they know what he intended on teaching me,” he said almost to himself.
“He taught me all he knew. He had been in the business world for ages, and he was a fighter, as I am, so we had that in common. But he liked men, boys really, and that took some getting used to. I had never done that. I hadn`t had sex at all, actually.”
“You were only 14,” I interrupted with a whisper.
“Yes, yes, of course. I was big for my age, but I was still a boy,” he answered as if he needed to remind himself of that fact. “It wasn`t that I had anything against gay people, but I had always known I never swung that way. I mean….” he trailed off. “My godfather had ways to ensure that I enjoyed it … eventually.”
“You had to comply,” I said.
“Oh, he was much stronger . . . though I was a bigger man than him—taller, longer arms. He had done this so many times, he’d lost count. And of course, he was my godfather. An important man. I had to obey.” Eric shrugged.
I almost got angry and I almost pitied Eric, but then I remembered what he needed, what we both needed.
“Even if you ended up enjoying it, it was still not right. He still committed a crime against you. You know that, right?”
“Yes, my head knows that,” he said. “But my heart is being a bit stubborn there.”
I leaned into him.
“I know the feeling,” I whispered.
We sat in quiet for a while.
“I`ve never told anyone about this,” Eric suddenly said.
“Well, I told Bill and nothing good came out of that.” My voice was bitter.
“So really, you told nobody too.”
The thought worked its way through my brain and then I started laughing. Yes, Bill was `nobody`.
It felt good laughing just now. Not that what we had spoken of was a laughing matter, but it was a relief to hear both Eric`s and my own laughter mix with each other and turn into a mutual laughter.
“I did tell Gran too,” I remembered. “After a while I told Gran and she made sure we never saw Uncle Bartlett again. Jason was so angry with me and Gran, but she would never tell him why Uncle Bartlett was suddenly persona non grata.”
“Pam was always so jealous that I was going to Rome and she wasn`t. She was only a kid, but she knew all about Italian designers and expensive handbags. She was so sure I was keeping my godfather to myself and in some way I was. Even if he preferred boys I didn`t want to take the chance with him getting his paws on my little sister. So I told my parents he didn`t want her to come.”
I had to smile at little spoiled Pam who wanted to go to Rome to buy handbags, but it also saddened me how Eric only got jealousy back for trying to protect her.
“You never told Pam about this?” I asked.
“No, I bottled it up and hid it deep inside me. This was something that happened in Rome. Not something I wanted to drag home with me. And eventually I got too old for his attentions and I turned my own attentions on girls. Many girls.”
I could feel Eric`s smile against my hair, but it wasn`t a smug smile.
“I know what it feels like to hide things deep inside,” I said, not wanting to begin a discussion about his extravagant love-life.
Then I leaned up and he loosened his grip on me. I gave him a tentative kiss.
“I can imagine you do,” Eric answered and kissed me back.
We stayed up all night and talked. Not about Uncle Bartlett or the Roman Godfather whom I later learned was called Appius Livius Ocella.
We talked about dreams, about our lives, about who we were and what we liked.
The night turned out to be a painful and wonderful night all in one.
Christmas was getting closer, day by day, present by present. I discussed with myself if I should go back to celebrate Christmas with my family, but since Jason was the only one I had left and he had found some new floozy and didn`t want his sister to ruin it by pointing out the fact that she was married and had kids, I discarded the thought.
Eric and Pam were planning a Christmas celebration in his house and the way they assumed I was part of the guest list warmed my heart. They treated me as a member of their family and I enjoyed the sentiment.
I was of course married to Eric and he had told me he loved me, but it still warmed my heart that they considered me family. That Eric considered me his wife. Because when we got married, it hadn`t been for love and happy ever after. It had been for my work permit.
December got darker and darker, but also lighter and lighter. All the snow was sparkling from the millions of lights in the streets, trees and windows of the houses. For the first time since Gran died I had a true Christmas feeling.
On the morning of the 24th I slept in. I had had way too much gløgg the night before after Eric and I had decorated the Christmas tree. Who would have thought that a hot, sweet and spicy drink could contain that much alcohol?
The 24th was THE day apparently. It was on the night of the 24th Christmas presents were exchanged here in Norway, not on the morning of the 25th.
“But only to the good little girls,” Eric had smiled at me. “So tell me, Sookie, have you been naughty or nice this year?”
I had batted my eyelashes and smiled. “Nice, of course,” I had answered him in my sweetest voice.
That had made Eric grab me and carry me to bed.
“We`ll just have to make up for that, then,” he had laughed and I had definitely shown him how I could also be naughty. Very naughty.
On the morning of the 24th I was stretching in bed, trying to get my very well-used body to cooperate, when I felt something next to me in bed.
I opened my eyes and they caught a little box with a huge 24-sign on it. My heart started racing as that little box had a very definite shape. I forgot all about the ring I was already carrying because all I could think of was the box and the ring that would be in it.
I took a deep breath and tried to convince myself that anything could be in that box. Maybe this was a clever way to disguise yet another condom? And why would Eric give me a ring when we had been engaged and married already?
With shaky hands I ripped off the paper covering the box and held my breath when I opened it.
First I was confused. There was no ring there. No jewelry at all, as a matter of fact, in spite of the box coming from the classiest jeweler`s in Oslo.
Then I saw the folded paper, took it out and started opening it. My heart began leaping again when I saw Eric`s handwriting, which was silly. Who else would have written me a message in that box?
I let my hand slide over the paper before I started reading Eric`s message.
I love you very much and am grateful to call you my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Therefore I ask you to be my real wife, my wife of heart, my wife to love and honor until death do us part.
I do not wish to force this on you, which is why I`m asking you in a letter and leaving you alone to decide.
Should you want us to have a real marriage I ask you to give me the box you are holding in your hand. If you, on the other hand, wish for us to stay married for the work permit and nothing else, you just leave the box in the bedroom and we will speak no more of it.
I will be waiting in the living room.
Yours, if you will have me
If I had been sleepy and hung over, any sleep deprivation or headache disappeared while I read Eric`s letter. I read it a couple of times, trying to make sure I hadn`t misunderstood what he had written.
Then I got up, took a shower, dried my hair, made little waves in it and put on a little make up. I then got dressed in a nice blue winter dress and panty hose and went to the living room – carrying the box.
I tried to look my best for this important moment. I wanted to tell Eric that he was indeed my husband of heart and that I wanted for him to continue to be so. I got slightly emotional when I pushed down the door handle, looking forward to throwing myself at Eric and telling him what he wanted to hear.
With a huge smile and eyes half-closed to blink away unwanted tears of joy, I opened the door.
Eric was not alone. Victor was there as well.
I hope this chapter wasn`t too emotional for you?
If you are wondering about this Hakkebakke-thing – this is the song Eric is teaching poor Sookie: www . youtube watch?v=9YRTUaeYXyQ The little film also shows you the peppercakes (pepper-cookies would be a more correct translation, but they are called pepperkaker in Norwegian and peppercakes just sounded so close). The whole song is actually the recipe for the peppercakes.